Monday, July 19, 2004

# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KEEPING UP WITH JONES: Joe Gandelman has posted a very thoughtful response to Alex Jones' anti-blog temper tantrum in the LA Times.  For more links, head over to Instapundit.
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# Posted 9:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WILSON WARS: I pretty muchagree with Kevin Drum's conclusion that Wilson's
Credibility as a source is definitely tattered, but perhaps not quite as thoroughly demolished as his enemies are claiming.
It's also important to point out, as Matthew Continetti does in The Weekly Standard, that the problem is not Wilson's credibility as an intelligence source while working for the CIA, but rather the bombastic attacks he launched against the Bush administration after going public in May 2003.
For an opposing perspective on the Wilson wars, check out Josh Marshall, who is still defending Wilson pretty aggressively, perhaps because Marshall's own chestnuts are now in the fire.  As Marshall puts it,
The truth is that we simply don't know whether the Iraqis ever 'sought' uranium in Niger or Africa in the years leading up to the war, though all the evidence we thought we had for such a claim has turned out to be baseless.
Josh has also been pretty insistent about defending the role of Valerie Plame (aka Mrs. Joe Wilson) in recommending her husband for the Niger trip.  While Josh is right that Plame didn't make the decision to send her husband to Niger, Wilson has explicitly stated that she had absolutely nothing to do with it, which is a flat out lie.
On another front, Josh takes issue WaPo ombudsman Michael Getler's response to Josh's critique of Susan Schmidt's embarrassment of Wilson in the Post last week.  Both sides score some points, but the whole debate is something of a red herring since the most important charges against Wilson don't get addressed.
Once you get past all of the specific questions about what Wilson did or did not say and whether it was or wasn't true, you come back to the basic question of "Who cares anyway?"
According to Kevin Drum, the Wilson story is
Hardly a Page 1 blockbuster...Wilson doesn't really matter much anymore except as political sport. The only real issue on the table right now is whether anyone in the Bush administration outed his wife as a CIA agent, and that's a matter under investigation by the FBI.
  I disagree with Kevin pretty strongly.  As Susan Schmidt noted in the WaPo,
Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.
The fact is that Wilson's attacks did considerable damage to Bush's credibility.  The heartfelt conviction of most Democrats that Bush lied about the WMD rests to a considerable degree on Wilson's charges as well as the exaggerated criticisms of Richard Clarke. 
What's at stake right now is nothing less than the critical issue of whether George Bush is a liar.
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# Posted 10:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER VILLAGE LET THEIR IDIOTARIAN SLIP OUT: In a remarkably insubstantial, whiny piece, Alex Jones of the Kennedy School of Government manages to do precisely what he accuses blogs of: making vituperative arguments driven by emotion rather than fact, and marked by remarkable lack of engagement with facts or evidence, or an understanding of the subject matter at hand.

Jones lists the following as the 'common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar'. Oddly, this seems to describe fairly well the fare of most politics shows broadcast over cable networks at the moment. Blogging, as I've experienced it, is characterised by polite running conversations, backed up by evidence. I have to respond to friends on my left such as Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias, and ones to my right such as the Winds of Change. Maureen Dowd doesn't.

Bloggers, says Jones, also 'don't add reporting to the personal views they post online'. Perhaps Jones doesn't understand the point of opinion journalism, which is to add commentary, analysis, and criticism to the facts covered by the news, as well as to examine the very process by which the news outlets report and represent those facts in their reporting.

It would seem that the director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press at Harvard has a thing or two to learn about the press. Let's hope, for his sake, that he does.
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# Posted 7:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE SHOCKING INJUSTICE FROM THE INJUSTICE FACTORY IN TEHRAN: An Iranian court yesterday suddenly halted the murder trial of an Iranian intelligence officer accused of involvement in the death of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi, after hearing one day of testimony about Ms Kazemi's torture and death in Iranian detention.

The sudden halt of the trial took place after the court heard testimony on Saturday from Ms Kazemi's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, that when she received her daughter's body, her breasts had been burned and a hand and foot had been broken. The mother was forced to consent to the immediate burial of the mauled corpse.

The journalist was tortured and killed one year ago, after she attempted to photograph a Tehran prison that is notorious for holding political prisoners. On Sunday, Canadian ambassador Philip MacKinnon and other diplomats and journalists were barred from entering the court.

Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who represented the Kazemi family, has said that the trial was intended as a coverup to protect senior members of the Iranian judiciary who were involved in the torture and murder, including Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.

For more, see NYT, and EUBusiness for the European response.
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Sunday, July 18, 2004

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REPORTING MOMENTUM: In spite of regular car-bombings in and around Baghdad, the combination of the June 28 handover and the lowered intensity of American soldiers' war against Sunni insurgents has led to a temporary sort of optimism in the press. In an essay on the dangers of reporting from a warzone, Ian Fisher observes that
Something in Iraq has shifted, even if it is unclear exactly what or for how long. In the last few weeks, since the new Iraqi government took over, the hair-trigger tension has slackened, and many Iraqis are permitting themselves the luxury of hope in the midst of a long and unpleasant occupation.
In a separate article in the NYT, we read that
Gradually, ever so imperceptibly, the ground is beginning to shift.

The legions of American soldiers who not so long ago erected checkpoints and roared across the capital, guns pointed out of their Humvees, have diminished.

In their place, Iraqi officers are manning checkpoints and swooping down on suspected criminal gangs. Led by their American counterparts, Iraqi soldiers are combing through palm groves in search of weapons caches. One vanguard unit of the new Iraqi Army, known as the Iraqi Intervention Force, is allowed to patrol the streets without Americans.

More and more, the public face of security here is Iraqi.
Of course, if there is a major bombing tomorrow and three or four American soldiers begin to die each day, we will hear that putting an Iraqi face on public security was a failed experiment. Like Fisher, I wonder how long the current calm can last. I may be an optimist in general about the occupation, but I am firmly against reading too much into short term trends.
UPDATE: Jim Hoagland, of all people, thinks that the current calm in Iraq is an illusion created by deficient press coverage and Bush administration spin.  Josh Marshall agrees.

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# Posted 11:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NATTERING NABOBS: The negative thrust of campaign journalism has begun to engulf the Democratic candidates. Although written in a light-hearted tone, this John Edwards profile in today's NYT resorts to simplistic stereotypes about the candidates that sound more like a Bush-Cheney press release than a dispatch from the paper of record. First, we learn that
Mr. Edwards has been talking up Senator Kerry this week like a used-car salesman urging his customers to look past the dents.
Colorful? Yes. Substantive no. Then there this:
Mr. Edwards spins Mr. Kerry's life story as a veteran, prosecutor and senator, assuring voters, "If you have any question about what John Kerry is made of, just spend three minutes" with the men who served with him in Vietnam.
Perhaps the bar for what counts as "spin" has dropped. Perhaps it refers to anything other than a recitation of accepted facts. But I think that the word still carries a strong connotation of manipulation or even dishonesty and thus shouldn't be used in place of "said" or "announced" or "declared". Moving on,
That [Mr. Edwards] is giving Mr. Kerry such a glowing sales pitch is, in a sense, a tacit admission by the campaign that Mr. Kerry has not done a particularly good job of selling himself.
That's pretty much just an editorial comment, and this isn't even a news analysis piece. Besides, what exactly do you expect to hear a vice-presidential candidate say about the man above him on the ticket? Finally, there's this:
While Mr. Kerry can sometimes come off as stiff and aloof on the campaign trail, Mr. Edwards is in effect vouching for Mr. Kerry, telling voters that Mr. Kerry is really a lot like him - a candidate in touch with the common man.
Kerry may not be Mr. Warm, but I don't think there is much ground for stating as a simple matter of fact that he is stiff and aloof. I generally react positively to his demeanor, which I also think has improved since last fall.

Well, I guess the bright side here is that the media is being even handed in its negativism. That is how it persuades itself that it is honest and detached and not being manipulated by the candidates. But if we want more Americans to get out and vote on election day, then we have overcome the sort of kneejerk negativism that turns so many Americans off to electoral politics.
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# Posted 12:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SEARCH FOR EGYPTIAN DEMOCRACY: The New Yorker has published a mournful but still quite interesting portrait of political life in Egypt. The launchpad for David Remnick's essay is President Bush's bold (if you're an idealist) and foolhardy (if you're a realist) declaration that
The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.
To be sure, contemporary reality offers little in the way of evidence that Egypt is ready for a democratic opening. Then again, after Egypt invaded Israel in 1973, who expected that a peace treaty was just six years away? (That's my point, not Remnick's.)

The moderately good news about Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the organized face of political Islam, has become a passive, unmenacing and unpopular (albeit still extremist) organization. Ever since the horrific slaughter of seventy tourists at Luxor in 1997, terrorism has been afraid to show its face.

Or to be more precise, Islamist terrorism has been afraid to show its face. State-sponsored terrorism, in the form of pervaisve torture and arbitrary imprisonment is a simple fact of life. Mubarak has no ideas, so he tortures instead.

Nonetheless, Remnicks seems to suggest that it is not Mubarak's brutality but rather America's aggression in Iraq that truly angers the Egyptians. Remnick reports that
In an atomized political culture like Egypt’s, the one issue that has energized, and enraged, the political opposition today is American foreign policy under George W. Bush. I had dozens of meetings in Cairo—with government officials, religious leaders, opposition figures, intellectuals, students, working people—and nearly every session began with a speech on the perfidy of the Bush Administration
I don't doubt that Egyptians hate Bush or even that they hate him much more than they hated Clinton. But is this outpouring of hatred a direct consequence of American behavior, or rather a sublimation of the intense hatred that Egyptians are not allowed to direct at their own government?

After all, there is a fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of Egypt's hatred. Egypt was the first Arab state to recognize Israel and, as a result, has come to benefit from annual, eight-figure infusions of American aid. If the Egyptian people had their say, would their government turn down this aid and sever ties with Israel? Or would Egyptians follow the Gulf states' tradition of declaring their love for Palestine while abandoning the Palestinians to their fate?

Unfortunately, Remnick doesn't provide much in the way of answers. His focus on Egyptians' assessment of US foreign policy and, to a secondary degree, the prospects for Egyptian democracy, consume all of his efforts.

Remnick's article ends on a hopeless note. He suggests -- accurately, I think -- that Mubarak has absolutely no interest in presiding over any sort of liberalization. Thus, it is only a matter of time before Cairo explodes just as Teheran did in 1979.

While I am more inclined than Remnick to believe that the Egyptian people want democracy, I find myself compelled to agree that that Mubarak's repression is paving the way for a radical revolution.
CORRECTION: As Gary Farber points out, Egyptian aid is in the ten-figure range, not the eight-figures mentioned above.  Stupidly, I knew that Egypt gets a couple billion a year from the United States, but somehow thought that there are eight significant digits in 1,000,000,000.
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# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONSERVATISM AND RACISM? According to Bob Herbert, not much. Herbert accuses Bush of cynically using black Americans as props to create a false image of inclusivity for the Republican Party.

Now, I'm going to agree with Herbert that the GOP convention in 2000 was pretty shameless about directing its cameras toward the few black faces in the crowd. But what about Herbert's statement that the GOP has been "relentlessly hostile to the interests of blacks for half a century"?

Has Herbert forgotten which party governed the Solid South and enforced Jim Crow right up through the end of the 1960s? Has Herbert forgotten that it was a Republican president who used armed force to desegregate a southern university?

But forget about the past. The question is, are Republicans hostile to black Americans now? All of the examples Herbert cites of Republican hostility seem to have no racial component. Supporting tax cuts? Not enough job creation? Not enough health care?

Sure, you can make a good case against Republican policy on most of those issues. But the GOP's policy agenda derives from its conservatism, not its antipathy toward black America. Yes, some of these programs hurt poor blacks. But they hurt poor whites just as much.

Playing the race-card is the worst thing Bob Herbert can do to address this issue. Declaring the black agenda and the liberal agenda to be identical is just one more way of damaging American liberalism by making it seem to be a projection of narrow racial interests rather than an inclusive strategy for improving America as a whole.

CORRECTION: Ralph Luker points out that I have confused the desegregation of the University of Mississippi with the desegregation of an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The former took place while Kennedy was president.
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Saturday, July 17, 2004

# Posted 11:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LAST OF THE NAVEL GAZING: Josh and Patrick have already put up their thoughts about OxBlog's appearance on Page One of the NYT, so I thought I'd add my two cents as well.

According to the NYT, OxBlog was "set up by three Rhodes Scholars". Actually, OxBlog was set up by one Rhodes Scholar -- Josh Chafetz -- who is the Founding Father of our website. (You can read his first ever post right here.) Josh had a bit of help from Anand, Arielle, and Dan, all whom are excellent individuals (or so I've heard!)

But the fact is that Josh is our George Washington. He worked hard to give this site a reputation for quality and then did Patrick and myself the favor of bringing us aboard. I don't think any of us ever thought early on that what we were doing was front page news. It was a just a fun way to write and argue with an intelligent audience about subjects we like. And it still is.
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# Posted 10:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

I LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT MYSELF EVERY TIME I READ ABOUT MYSELF IN THE PAPER, CONT'D: Today I learn from the Times that we're a bunch of young Buckleys. (Yesterday, for those of you keeping track at home, I learned from the Boston Herald that I'm English; the day before, I found out from the Philadelphia Inquirer that I 'bristle with attitude'.) Personally, I've always seen, and described, myself as a centrist, but if it's in the Times it must be true, mate - and whatcha gonna do about it? The more pertinent question is, from my perspective, can I show my face in New York after this? Because I am heading there on Thurdsay ... unless the person at immigration reads the Herald and doesn't let me in.

Or on the other hand, maybe I can seek asylum in the Buckley residence in Connecticut.
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# Posted 5:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANY OF OUR FRIENDS WHO spent time as students in New Haven will probably be interested to know that the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday by a 3-2 margin that graduate students shouldn't be considered workers from the perspective of right-to-organise laws, reversing an earlier decision from four years ago.
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Friday, July 16, 2004

# Posted 5:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

AIDS - THE NEGLECTED SECURITY THREAT: Our good friend, and Nathan Haler, Greg Behrman has been spreading the message of AIDS as a security threat everywhere lately - in the pages of the NYT and Newsweek, and on the luscious sweet soundwaves (hey, it's a Friday evening, after all) of NPR. What's even more poignant is that he's doing this as a memorial for his father, who died while we were students together at Oxford. Good work, our friend.
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# Posted 2:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

EVERY TIME I READ ABOUT MYSELF IN THE PAPERS, I discover something new about myself. For instance, today I found out in the Boston Herald that I'm a Brit. So now my goal is to become a dour Brit; but sadly, that might involve less of both 'bristling with attitude' and occasions when I'm allowed to be 'tickled pink'. Life is so full of tragic choices. Sad.
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Thursday, July 15, 2004

# Posted 4:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG IN THE PRESS: The Philadelphia Inquirer is kind enough to mention us this morning; thanks!
For the first time, bloggers will be covering the action, such as it is, on the floors of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The Old Media that still scribbles in notebooks will confront the New Media of digital pamphleteers. Bloggers are calling it historic.

"The 2004 conventions will be remembered as the conventions of the blog, just as the 1952 Republican convention was the convention of television, and the 1924 conventions were the conventions of the radio," wrote Oxford graduate student Patrick Belton on OxBlog (oxblog.blogspot.com).

Two years ago he [actually, Josh] started a blog - short for Web log, a journal mixing news and opinion and bristling with attitude. Now Belton is flying from England to pick up a convention pass.
I never knew I bristled with attitude before. But then again, I also wasn't aware until shortly that I got tickled pink, either.
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# Posted 3:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

SLATE'S THE FRAY HAS an insightful dissection of myths and false truisms in intelligence reform. A sampling:
First, however, it is essential to understand what is not wrong with the CIA or the IC -- and there are many pet complaints that don't add up. ...

6.It is not necessarily a problem that intelligence analyses are sometimes wrong or not quite right.

Intelligence work is mostly a matter of solving puzzles and making guesses about probabilities. It should go without saying that much intel is going to be wrong, at least in part. But we have a tendency to expect perfection and to call anything less than that an intelligence "failure." Take 9/11. The fact is that we had for years mountains of "intelligence" – most of it in the newspaper – telling us that al Qaeda was a deadly threat and would attack us anyway it could. Plus, we had a lot of solid intel from the IC about who was doing what, where and how. But it is the USERS of intel who failed to draw the right conclusions from the intel. Even near-perfect intel does not automatically mean that military commanders or policy makers will make the best use of it. Prior to the pivotal naval battle at Midway in 1942, Naval intelligence knew the size and composition of the Japanese force and the timing of the attack. Nonetheless, the battle was nip and tuck and won largely due to dumb luck. On the other hand, the supposedly "massive failure" of CIA to forecast the Soviet collapse had almost no effect, since such a forecast doubtless would have been met with derision and the US responded to the changes in the USSR and East Europe with highly successful policies anyway....

I believe the following are real problems:

1)The process for developing the "national intelligence budget," should be focused on allocating funds among the three intelligence collection functions – human, communications and imaging – since only by doing so can the impact of resources be evaluated.

Now, Congress demands a budget divided by operations, R&D and procurement. This is what made it possible for the NRO to obtain and salt away a huge sum for future investments never made. More important, we want to be able to tell what we get out for each dollar we put in....

4)The IC needs centralized doctrine, training and management development.

Intelligence officers in various agencies have no common understanding of their mission or common doctrine about how it should be carried out or shared training in how to manage its various components. ...

6)The FBI should be taken out of the counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism business, except insofar as it is the proper law enforcement agency to be called upon when someone should be arrested. It's intelligence functions need to be placed in a new counter-intelligence agency patterned along the lines of the British MI-5.

The FBI has always been a disaster – or a joke – in this line of work. That's not because FBI agents are stupid; it's because they are cops, and intelligence is not police work. Since 9/11, they may have got better at it, but the true extent of any gains will be forever obscured by the fact that the Bureau has reportedly put as many as 40% of its employees on counter-terrorism duties (compared to about 5% before 9/11).
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BASTILLE DAY! It's time to put our small differences aside and remember that French fries are freedom fries and freedom fries are French.
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# Posted 11:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Private investment has all but vanished [in the West Bank and Gaza]. But donors stepped in, doubling their contributions, to a billion dollars a year, an amount equal to one-third the Palestinian gross national product last year of $3.1 billion. That works out to roughly $310 a person, more aid per capita than any country has received since World War II, the World Bank says. (Source: NYT)
If the Palestinian Authority is that dependent on foreign aid, then the UN and EU (and US?) should be able to exert some pressure on their favorite insurgents.
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# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMMON SENSE: While visiting Cambridge, my very generous uncle and aunt recently gave me a 1940's vintage edition of Tom Paine's classic pamphlet. As I wander through it, I thought you might enjoy the occasional quotation. The following comes from the introduction, page vii in my edition:
The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. The laying a country desolate with fire sword, declaring war agains the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling.
Paine's universalism is breathtaking. How could an unknown man on an unknown continent on a planet ruled by monarchs and despots declare that the cause of America is the cause of all mankind? There is simply something magical about the principles that animated Paine and his fellow revolutionaries.

The stunning triumph of democratic ideals in the few short years since 1776 (or perhaps 1688?) seems to have no historical parallel except for the triumph of monotheism in its Christian and Muslim incarnations. These ideas are so powerful that they seem to go leaping acros cultures and continents, building empires that die but are reborn.

Not long ago, we feared that Communism belonged in this same pantheon beside democracy and monotheism. Some may fear that radical Islam now possesses a similar strength. But I do not. To be that powerful, an idea must liberate the human spirit. Islam has that power, but not when it is bound to hatred, violence and terror.
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# Posted 10:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPIDERMAN IN GIULIANI'S NEW YORK: I saw Spider-Man 2 last night. I liked it. I liked it a lot. But I have some quesitons. And I'm going to ask them, right after warning you that if you haven't seen the movie yet you should stop reading this post right now.

The most disturbing thing about Spider-Man's New York is how crime-ridden it is. Shotgun wielding crooks driving down major avenues in convertibles? Come on! And then things really get nuts when Spidey goes into temporary retirement.

First we get another ridiculous car chase. Then the Daily Bugle tells us that crime is up 75% since Spidey retired (thus implying that crime was also that bad before Spidey showed up). Finally, someone gets mugged in broad daylight in an "alleyway" that Peter Parker -- and hundreds of other people all around him -- can see. When I was growing up in NY in the 1980s, it was pretty rough. But Spider-Man's New York is absolutely nuts.

Next question: If Otto Octavius/Doc Ock has access to incredibly strong bionic arms, why hasn't any other criminal tried the whole bionic-arm shtick before? It's not as if Ock is some sort of specialist in robotics. He's a physicist, for god sakes. Moreover, why does the rest of Doc Ock's body become just as resilient as the bionic arms they get welded to his body? Is Doc Ock also that strong in the Spider-Man comics?

Finally, a humorous question. When Peter Parker rescues that little Asian girl from the burning building, why does he just assume that the first Asian couple he meets outside are her parents? It's not as if there are only two Asian people in New York. And responsible heroes should get some sort of verification but giving away rescued children.

Of course, if you're watching the movie, you know that the Asian couple are the girl's parents because the camera cuts to them three times during the rescue scence. But Peter Parker has no way of knowing that! He's inside a burning building! Is there any justification for this? Perhaps. Maybe it's sort of a Spider-sense in reverse. Instead of picking up trouble, it picks up anti-trouble.

So there you have it, my rant about Spider-Man 2. Take it all with a grain of salt. I'm not actually trying to criticize the film. These are just some things I sort of noticed. For some philosophical questions about the film, check out Matt's comments and the responses from Henry and Brayden.

Also, check out the comments on Matt's post for some speculations about who Spidey's next super-villain will be. As the closing scene of the film indicate, Harry Osborn is getting ready to return as the Green Goblin (or possibly the Hobgoblin). But is the introduction of John Jameson a hint that Venom may play a role in Spider-Man's future? I certainly hope so. He is one of the coolest villains ever.

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# Posted 9:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THIS ISSSUE IS NOT GOING AWAY": That's what Bill Frist had to say about the anti-gay marriage amendment. And you know what? Frist is 100% right. This issue is going to come up again and again every time another state allows gay marriage.

Whatever their personal views about homosexuality, more and more Americans are beginning to realize that depriving homosexuals of their rights is no different than depriving racial and religious minorities of theirs. From where I stand, the President's effort to write prejudice back into the constitution is both shameful and divisive.

Now let me be clear about my personal views. I have absolutely no reservations about homosexuality. It is not immoral. It it is not bad for society. A gay marriage or a gay family is just as good as a straight one.

I don't know whether homosexuality is a product of nature or a product of nurture and I don't really care. Religion is a product of nurture and therefore a matter of choice. I reject discrimination on the grounds of religion. Ethnicity (or at least skin color) is a product of nature and I reject discrimination based on ethnicity.

I recognize that many religious traditions object to homosexuality on ethical grounds. Those same religions also reject pre-marital and extra-marital sex on ethical grounds. And yet not one member of the House or Senate would consider supporting a constitutional amendment to discriminate against fornicators or adulterers. (It would put their jobs on the line, after all.)

I look forward to a day when Americans consider homosexuality and heterosexuality to be not just a private affair, but rather a way of life that must be tolerated in its public expression the same way we tolerate the expression of diverse religious and ethnic heritages. Only then can it be said that gay Americans have secured their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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# Posted 4:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

WAIT, JOSH, is that why Kerry hasn't given his democracy-promotion strategy speech yet?
-Confused in Oxford
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# Posted 5:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

INCIDENTALLY, a neat new website, walkingaround.com, lists every ethnic and national group in the world, and where precisely to go in New York City to find the corresponding neighbourhood. Examples: want Greeks? go to Ditmars, in Astoria. Germans? Gerritsen Beach, in Brooklyn. Syrian Jews? Ocean Parkway, also Brooklyn. Fun for hours!
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# Posted 5:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

LA RESISTENCIA NO VALE NADA: Mexico's attorney general Rafael Macedo and several of his staff have been implanted with microchips to allow their whereabouts to be traced in the event of kidnapping, and to serve as safeguards giving them secure access to a new national crime database. If the Borg should also assimilate taquitos, count me in!
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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

# Posted 8:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD THINGS FROM ME, at comparative first blush, about the selection of Edwards as Democratic vice presidential nominee presumptive. His economic populism aside, the senator's foreign policy proclivities are much closer to this blog's - and, if polling data be trusted, to the nation as a whole - than his running mate's.

This may just well be precisely not because of what Senator Edwards is, but instead what he is not - a foreign policy professional. It may be somewhat ironic for me to assert, given the field of my research training, but it seems to me nonetheless that presidents without foreign policy backgrounds - Clinton, the current President Bush, and to this category add Edwards as a vice presidential candidate - come much closer to reflecting the broadly held assumptions of the American people about, for instance, the role democracy and human rights should play in foreign policy, than do the foreign policy professionals. The amateurs may do imperfect jobs at instantiating those beliefs under the pressure of office - q.v., entries for the Clinton and Bush administrations - but they still cut a compelling contrast with the Kerrys and George H.W. Bushs who have, by foreign policy service, imbibed the realist assumptions of the foreign policy establishment, and its associated sublimation of national value processes to interests and power in their rhetoric.

Edwards, in this schema, emerges as a blissful naif - who on that score, can be expected to hold beliefs much closer to the American people's strong Wilsonian inclinations. And this seems something which is worth applauding. One only hopes that Edwards will wield as much influence with the head of his ticket as Vice President Cheney has been reputed to wield with his.
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# Posted 12:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOE WILSON'S COMEUPPANCE: This week's big report from the Senate Intelligence Committee has broken both ways; it says we invaded Iraq because of bad intelligence but that it was the CIA's fault, not George Bush's. The sub-head coming out of the Senate report is the evidence that Joe Wilson was way off the reservation when he accused George Bush about making up the uranium-in-Niger story.

Unsurprisingly, this development has provoked a collective 'I told you so' from the right, which long suspected Wilson of being a partisan hack. But it isn't just the hard right that's disavowing Wilson. Kevin Drum, for example, thinks Wilson's credibility is pretty much shot.

Josh Marshall has come to Wilson's defense, but Dan Drezner and Greg Djerejian have shot him down pretty thoroughly. As someone who didn't follow the Wilson-Plame affair all that closely in the first place, I'm still struggling to get my hands around the details. But unless the Senate report got something very wrong, this game is over.
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# Posted 12:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BAGHDAD TRAFFIC REPORT: USA Today (link via KD) reports that increasing respect for traffic cops is an important sign of progress in Baghdad:
Adnan Kadhum of the Baghdad traffic police says he noticed the change about 10 days ago: The city's notoriously unruly drivers suddenly started obeying his commands. They stopped when he signaled for them to stop; they went when he signaled for them to go.

"Before, you found hardly anyone listening to you," the 27-year police force veteran says. Kadhum, 48, spent his days flailing around in 105-degree heat, sometimes waving his pistol in a futile attempt to make motorists follow his commands. "Now, by barely moving my hand, I get respect."
This article is actually from July 7th, so 10 days earlier would have been just around the time of the handover, give or take a day. Of course, that could just be a coincidence.

More importantly, does it really make sense to infer national trends from the behavior of crosstown traffic? I don't have a definitive answer to that question, but I can offer a theory and an anecdote. Thanks to Rudy Giuliani, most people are familiar with the broken windows theory of crime. Basically, it's the idea that crime expands exponentially when small crimes go unpunished.

Two summers ago, I was living in Argentina in the midst of that nation's worst economic crisis ever. Across the country, crime was spinning out of control. One afternoon, I was driving down a major thoroughfare in Buenos Aires with a friend. He casually ran a red light and explained to me that because the government had ruined everyone's life, he didn't feel compelled to obey traffic laws anymore.

The logic didn't make much sense to me, since running red lights in Argentina is an especially good way to get killed. (In a car crash. The death squads haven't been active for more than twenty years.) In contrast, I understood exactly why my friend ignored the currency trading laws Argentina had recently put on the books -- it was a great way to make a lot of money fast without much risk.

Conclusion: Traffic may not be rational, but it makes sense all the same.
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Monday, July 12, 2004

# Posted 11:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LENINIST AT THE NYT? In a subtle allusion to the writings of Lenin, Brad DeLong charges NYT debutante Barbara Ehrenreich with practicing a "brand of left-wing politics [that] is an infantile disorder".

Pray tell, what has Ms. Ehrenreich done to deserve this denunciation from a fellow traveler? According to Brad,
Left-wing politics is, for [Ehrenreich], primarily a means of self-expression. The point is not to actually do anything to make the United States or the world a better place..

The point, by contrast, is to assume an appropriate oppositional stance, and to feel good about oneself. Witness her argument that what upper and upper-middle class American women should do is to fire their nannies in order to avoid their children "growing up with the world's class and racial hierarchies stamped on their emerging little world views"--thus depriving relatively poor women of jobs and opportunities they found it worthwhile to grasp.
Hmmm. A female columnist who complains ad nauseam but never comes up with practical solutions? I can't believe the NYT would ever want one of those on its op-ed page!

But moving on, Brad also points to the irresponsibility of Ehrenreich's anti-Gore activism during the 2000 campaign. As she wrote in The Nation:
We are being summoned to save this inveterate bribe-taker [Gore --ed.] because "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." That in itself is a disturbingly Orwellian proposition, easily generalized to "Don't challenge the system, you'll only make it worse."
In spite of all this, Kevin Drum tries to rescue Ehrenreich by explaining that
In politics both policy and persuasion are necessary. Brad has policy in abundance, but Ehrenreich would probably think it bloodless and, in the long run, ineffective, because it does not change people's minds. Likewise, Ehrenreich has polemics and persuasion in abundance, but without good policy this simply produces a mess.
But does Ehrenreich, or Maureen Dowd or Michael Moore really change minds? I don't think so. Just like Rush Limbaugh, they mostly throw red meat to the faithful. There is something to be said for mobilizing the base, but these folks only cater to the extreme half of their partisan base.

As for the NYT, would hiring a Naderite really add much diversity to their op-ed page?

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias offers a non-apology on Ehrenreich's behalf which Brad declines to accept.

On a related note, Henry Farrell takes issue with Brad's allusion to Lenin. While "infantile" is a harsh word, I think that Brad gets the historical analogy just right. Lenin used that word to denounce left-wing Communists whose radicalism threatend to undermine mainstream Communism and ensure the triumph of its class enemies. Brad is using it to attack Naderites who delivered the 2000 election into the hands of George Bush.

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# Posted 7:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG ON CNN: It's the same AP story, but nice to be popping up there nonetheless!
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# Posted 6:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

THEY CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: That is, the bishop's response in the second graf...
Cache of child porn found at seminary
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- A vast cache of child pornography and photos of young priests having sex has been discovered at a Roman Catholic seminary, officials said Monday, leading politicians and church leaders to demand a criminal probe and the resignation of the bishop in charge.

Bishop Kurt Krenn, who oversees the diocese, refused to step down, however, dismissing the images as a "childish prank."
As many as 40,000 photos and an undisclosed number of films, including child pornography, were found.

ed: Pretty massive prank, if you ask me. But it wasn't the child pornography that the bishops were concerned about...

The Austrian Bishops Conference issued a statement pledging a full and swift internal investigation. "Anything that has to do with the practice of homosexuality or pornography has no place at a seminary for priests," it said.

Krenn, a conservative churchman, told Austrian television he had seen photos of seminary leaders in sexual situations with students, but he described the images as part of an elaborate prank that "had nothing to do with homosexuality."
It was straight child porn, people, straight child porn....nothing to worry about here....
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# Posted 2:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

ANYONE WHO'S EXTRAORDINARILY BORED can read my encyclopedia of politics articles on Nietzsche and Hume, and let me know if you have any suggestions.... (This, incidentally, is for the same guy who read my thesis chapter.)
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# Posted 6:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS CONVERSATION seems to me to be rather silly. The question is whether elections ought to be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack. Constitutionally, this is probably allowable, as long as it is done (or expressly delegated) by Congress, and with a key role being played by state legislatures: it falls under Congress's competency under Article II, Section 1 to set a single national date for the meeting of presidential electors for the electoral college's election of the president, currently codified at 3 U.S.C. 7. The method and timing of the electors' selection rests solidly in the hands of the state legislatures, under Article II, which gives them complete power to determine how the electors are to be selected (including whether even to hold a popular election at all, which is a matter for the state constitution to work out). But it falls under Congress's powers to determine when the electoral college must meet, and so it could theoretically postpone the meeting of the electoral college, giving states the ability, if they so chose, to move their elections back as well. (Compare this with the case of the timing of congressional elections, which under Article I, Section 5, Congress can move entirely under its own discretion - the Constitution grants Congress the power to set the dates of popular elections to the House, which the 17th Amendment extends to the Senate as well). Congress couldn't extend the term of the president past four years (article II), but it could, by moving the date of the convening of the electoral college, give the states the opportunity to postpone the election of their presidential electors - consonant with the 20th amendment fixing the term of the president as lapsing January 20, after which point under current legislation the Speaker succeeds to the empty presidency if a president-elect or vice president-elect has not been selected.

But the more pertinent question, it seems, is political - which in turn ought to be read against the context of American political history. The presidential election of 1864 was held at the ordinary time, in spite of the existence of a civil war threatening the very continued existence of the polity, at least in an unfractured form. By analogy, elections under the shadow of a terrorist attack probably ought to be held at the ordinary time as well.

This issue shouldn't be read together excessively with continuity of government and doomsday planning, but there are also useful analogies, I think, to be drawn from the very conservative principles which have guided government continuity planning. In this, the US is distinct from Britain in that the constitutional forms of the government - the cabinet, both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court, the executive agencies- are all to be preserved intact, underground if need be, in the event of an utter armageddon. By contrast, the Commons, in its doomdsay scenario, has legislation ready for emergency use to dissolve itself and relegate all executive power to civil defence commissioners in eleven districts throughout Britain, who will be expected to relinquish emergency command to the national government as soon as possible after the catastrophe. Other measures are in place to ensure the survival of the Government - but not their families- and the Royal Family.

The only area where current US constitutional arrangements are silent, and possibly lacking, is how the Congress is to be reconvened should large numbers of its members be killed or incapacitated. Under the House's interpretation of its quorum rules, a majority of living members may meet to constitute the House. This interpretation is fine as long as the surviving members of Congress are ambulatory, but it doesn't permit the House to meet - even to amend its quorum rules - if, say, a majority of members are living but incapacitated - although there may possibly be room for exercise of speaker's discretion. Reconstitution of the Senate may be immediate, with governors being permitted under the seventeenth amendment to fill vacancies by temporary appointment, but the House, as the people's body, may only be constituted by direct election. Where constitutional ambuity might lie is, among other issues, the selection of the Speaker by an indeterminately constituted or unconvenable House, who might well be called upon to immediately succeed to the presidency. CRS has a report on this and related questions, as does Brookings.

But these latter issues involve catastrophic, nationwide devastation of an order principally contemplated during the darkest days of the Cold War, and the discussion of even these doomsday issues has been marked by careful, salutary regard for the continuity of the constitutional forms . It seems to me that the appropriate political response to a grave terrorist attack which did not challenge the territorial or economic viability of the United States should be guided by similar, principally conservative, concerns - to make as little change as possible due to the attacks in the political life of the republic. Josh?
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ BODY COUNT: Bob Herbert mentions in passing, without reference to his source, that 10,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the US invasion began. To the best of my knowledge, the US military still refuses to investigate the issues, thus opening up the field of play to much less reputable institutions.

One of those less reputable institutions is Iraq Body Count, which currently reports that between eleven and thirteen thousand civlians have died in Iraq. That name may ring a bell, since Josh took a careful look at IBC's flawed methodology shortly after the fall of Baghdad. At the time, IBC had calculated that 1,800 civilians had been killed during the invasion.

According to Human Rights Watch, there is no reliable count of how many civilians have lost their lives during the invasion and the occupation. So, has IBC done anything to improve the situation?

Well, one interesting feature on its site is a list, by name, of 700 civlians killed in Iraq. Next to each name is the individual's age, sex, place of and time of death, cause of death, and source of information about their death.

The fourth entry in the IBC lists refers to the "family of Metaq Ali", 29 of whom died as a result of a US air force attack. Thanks to Google, I was able to track down the wire report that provided IBC with the information about their deaths. It lists none of the 29 names of Ms. Ali's family members. Moreover, there is no verification of their deaths other than Ms. Ali's testimony.

While I am inclined to believe that Ms. Ali is telling the truth, I don't see how a responsible civilian casualty monitoring organization can rely on a single account provided by a witness it never interviewed. Moreover, it takes a lot of chutzpah for IBC to pretend that it knows the names of the 29 individuals allegedy killed by the American attack.

Scrolling further down the list, one notices that it often lists the cause of death as simply 'gunfire'. At first, I assumed that 'gunfire' meant Coalition gunfire, since the title at the beginning of the list says "Named and Identified Persons Killed as Result of Military Intervention in Iraq". But scrolling down a little further, I noticed that it includes more than 90 entries for individuals killed by a massive suicide attack on the offices of two Kurdish political parties this past February.

In other words, IBC is counting Iraqis killed by terrorists attacks -- this one possibly committed by Al Qaeda -- as victims of American intervention. In some abtract sense, this is true. If there had been no American invasion, it is highly unlikely that terrorists would have killed those specific individuals. On the other hand, if there had been no American invasion, it is absolutely certain that Saddam would've killed thousands of other innocent men, women and children.

Even so, it still worth asking whether IBC's own guidelines recommend including the victims of terrorist attacks, or whether the inclusion of the February attack in Kurdistan was a mistake. Answer: I'm not sure. According to IBC's published guidelines,
The test for us remains whether the bullet (or equivalent) is attributed to a piece of weaponry where the trigger was pulled by a US or allied finger, or is due to "collateral damage" by either side (with the burden of responsibility falling squarely on the shoulders of those who initiate war without UN Security Council authorization). We agree that deaths from any deliberate source are an equal outrage, but in this project we want to only record those deaths to which we can unambiguously hold our own leaders to account. In short, we record all civilians deaths attributed to our military intervention in Iraq.
The decision to include deaths resulting from "'collateral damage' by either side" (emphasis added) suggests that the victims of terrorist attacks should be included. On the other hand, 'collateral damage' usually refers to civilians accidentally killed during military operations, not civilians intentionally killed in order to provoke widespread fear. Moreover, IBC's desire to record only those deaths for which one can "unambiguously hold our own leaders to account" forces one to ask how the victims of terrorist bombings can possibly be included in this total.

Now let's turn to the main IBC database where the incidents responsible for the 10,000+ civilian casualties are included. At the top of the list, there is note which says
In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.
Even though I am not familiar with the Geneva and Hague regulations, I'm guessing that suicide bombings are not something that the Occupying Authority can be expected to prevent. Even so, that is the description that IBC itself gives to incidents 'k223' and 'k224'. I'm also pretty sure that incident 'x340', in which two kidnapped Iraqis had their throats slashed, was not the responsibility of occupation forces.

However, the prize for total absurdity goes to entry 'x344' which includes upwards of 1600 deaths described as "violent deaths recorded at the Baghdad city morgue". For details about the morgue reports, see this AP report, cited by IBC. To be fair, IBC notes (see above) the Occupying Authority is responsible for maintaining law and order. Still, what IBC is basically doing is holding the US responsible for street crime.

Before finishing this extra-long post, I think it's worth asking whether anyone takes IBC's numbers seriously. Well, one quick answer to that question comes from IBC's own news clippings site. The sad news is that Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, Reuters, and the BBC. On a personal note, I am particularly concerned about Linda Colley, a very talented professor of mine at Yale, who took the IBC figures at face value in a column in The Guardian. (Although I guess it's possible that there are two British Linda Colleys.)

But, hey, who expected from better from our less-than-unbiased media? As Josh pointed out last year, major media outlets were already swallowing the IBC propaganda hook, line and sinker. Plus ca change...
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# Posted 12:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU CAN'T HAVE DEMOCRACY IF IT ISN'T SAFE TO VOTE: There's trouble brewing in Afghanistan.
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# Posted 12:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WaPo IMITATES BELTON: You be the judge of whether the Post is getting its editorial ideas from Patrick. On the bright side, Patrick did make a pretty important point, so I'm glad it's getting a wider audience.
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# Posted 12:19 AM by Dan  

So much fun, I watched it twice. Turn up the volume and enjoy.
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Sunday, July 11, 2004

# Posted 6:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

FAR BE IT FROM ME to provide a counterexample to my good friend Josh, but Rachel and I have actually been reading the online text of the Odyssey to each other each night lately as bedtime reading.... I treasure as much as anyone the aesthetic experience of a beautifully made book, particularly one obtained in a second-hand book shop and having the smell and craftsmanship of decades woven into its spine - but there's also an extraordinary convenience to being able to call on the contents of Project Gutenberg or the entire Harvard Six Foot Shelf for your bedtime or breakfast reading, without so much as a trip to the library...
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# Posted 7:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

CAMPAIGN TRAIL QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'He has an accent and I don't,' Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, when asked to identify differences between himself and nominee presumptive John Kerry
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# Posted 6:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATHAN HALER AND OXFRIEND GREG BEHRMAN has an important and timely piece on AIDS in this morning's International Herald Tribune:
AIDS threatens global security: A subversive plague
By Greg Behrman

On Sunday, epidemiologists, scientists, public health experts and leaders of nongovernmental organizations will convene in Bangkok for the 15th International AIDS Conference. They will debate the costs and the prevention strategies; they will report on progress in the science. Yet one of the most important dimensions of this pandemic will be almost entirely overlooked: that it is fast becoming one of the greatest threats to U.S. and global security.

In the past 20 years, approximately 60 million people have been infected with HIV; 20 million have died. Eight thousand people - nearly three times 9/11's death toll - die of AIDS every day. By 2010, experts predict 100 million infections worldwide and 25 million AIDS orphans.

AIDS has taken its greatest toll in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is there that the pandemic presents the most immediate threat to global security. AIDS is killing the most productive and needed people: doctors, government officials, teachers. The disease is not only devastating families and communities; it is eviscerating national economies.

All seven southern African countries have adult infection rates above 17 percent, and in two it is 35 percent. Some employers train two or three workers for every job, such are the chances that a worker will become infected and die. Some African armies are believed to have infection rates as high as 50 percent.

The implications for global security are profound. AIDS can reverse the strides many African countries have made toward democratization. Warlords, corrupt dictators and rogue leaders might seize power in weakened states. Lawlessness and disorder can breed violence and conflict.

By 2010, 25 percent of U.S. oil imports are expected to come from Africa, so the United States will be increasingly drawn in to participate in combat and peacekeeping missions there.

In 2002, the White House National Security Strategy declared that for the first time, weak states pose a greater danger to U.S. national security than strong states. What is making states weak today? In sub-Saharan Africa, it is AIDS.

Somalia, Sudan and Kenya have already provided harbor for terrorists. As the disease tears the sub-continent's states apart, terrorists will find more refuge in the rubble. Though there are more Muslims in Africa than in the entire Middle East, Islamic radicalism is still the exception rather than the rule. But the instability and suffering that AIDS is spreading through the continent might well feed radicalism.

Across Europe and Asia, the pandemic's next wave poses longer-term challenges to security. The peril is greatest in Russia, where AIDS is growing faster than anywhere in the world. There are roughly 1 million infections in Russia, and the number is expected to climb to 5 to 8 million by 2010 - a level at which AIDS could generate instability. To Russia's south, India will soon become the country with the highest absolute number of infections in the world. Its HIV-infection tally now stands at around 5 million, and by 2010 that number may reach 20-25 million.

In many ways, India is Africa five to 10 years ago. With large numbers of migrant laborers, widespread prostitution, a flimsy health infrastructure and a mind-boggling state of denial among government elites, AIDS is poised to leap to Africa-like proportions. This in the world's largest democracy, a nuclear power and a key U.S. strategic ally in a volatile region.

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently declared that HIV/AIDS is "the greatest weapon of mass destruction on the Earth." Yet the global community has not met AIDS with the resources, priority and urgency that the gravity of the threat requires. AIDS is the greatest moral crisis of our time, and it is a vital threat to U.S. and global security.
Greg's recent book, which really is a must-read, is The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, The Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time.
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# Posted 5:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

A FEW FIRST THOUGHTS ON THE CONVENTION OF THE BLOG: I'm excited that we'll have a role in covering the convention as a representative of the new media, and blogs in particular. The 2004 conventions will be remembered as the conventions of the blog; just like the 1952 Republican convention was the convention of the television, and the 1924 conventions were the conventions of the radio. Each symbolised the rise of a new technology to mediate between the political space of the public square and the personal, domestic space in people's living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen counters. (We started OxBlog in April 2002; Glenn Reynolds began InstaPundit in August 2001, and the rush of widely read politics blogs followed then in his wake.)

Each of those forms of communication represented, and recreated, political events differently. What's different about blogs is the restoration of the human voice behind them, more in line with the Victorian newspaper, or Bagehot in today's Economist, but quite different from both the 'we' of today's editorial page and the unindividuated speech on page one. Today's newspapers reflect a positivist philosophy of knowledge of the 1950s and Karl Popper, when they attained their present form - each draws one authoritative representation of each political event. The blogosphere reflects the epistemology of the moment, Jürgen Habermas's intersubjectivity, where many individuals speak with each other and compare their different representations of the political event. I think the blogosphere fits in the same social moment as the new economy - it's decentralised, younger, quickly adaptable, and better describable by chaos theories of spontaneous order, than Weber's models of bureaucracy, which correspond to the career foreign correspondent services of the print newspapers.

Blogs are personal - there's a human voice behind them; you write as an humble 'i,' not as the powerful editorial 'we'. You engage in running, for the most part respectful conversations with other bloggers to your right and left, which might well be our day's running conversation of the republic. As a technology for representing politics and mediating between public and domestic space, blogs don't share the passivity of television, or the unspoken biases of print journalism, and because of these running conversations with other blogs - which as a blogger keep you honest, and continually questioning and reframing your assumptions. Something about blogging also forces you to be humble, because you write as an 'i' instead of as 'we', and you relate to people you cover as individuals, which induces respect and humility.

More importantly, though, all this pretentious babbling about German philosophers aside, I'm looking forward awfully much to meeting the other bloggers who will be there. Wonkette writes in that 'if we're lucky' she'll even join us for bloggers drinks. And I think it'll be fascinating to use blogging the convention as a way of getting around the televised spectacle which conventions have become, and looking for the relics of real politics that still exist there - through talking with and interviewing representatives of different factions and groups within the party, to see what's new in their orbits, what trends they think are important, and how the world looks from where they sit, as well as getting to talk to delegates from different parts of the country where I don't get to travel all that often.
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# Posted 3:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST IN CASE AL & TIPPER WEREN'T ENOUGH: The Dems are still the party of love in 2004. The Washington Times isn't happy about it, but OxBlog loves love! (Link via Pandagon)

UPDATE: And there's more love where that came from. (Hat tip: Bo Cowgill.)
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# Posted 2:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THEY HAD COWS: The North Korean state-run media recently reported that Dear Leader Kim Jong Il gave his personal seal of approval to the hamburger. The Dear Leader was also quoted as saying that
"I've made up my mind to feed quality bread and french fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in (economic) hardship."
You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Kim has his own personal McDonalds hidden away somewhere along with his DVD collection and Courvoisier. (Hat tip: TMV)
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# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA HUMBLED, PART II: RECONSTRUCTION WITH A CAPITAL 'R'. Yesterday, I suggested that Hollywood's perceptions of Japan in the 1980s can teach us an important lesson about US-Iraqi relations. Today, I explore how that great fable of the Reconstruction, Gone With the Wind, can broaden our perspective on the reconstruction of Iraq.

But first, a confession: I am completely ignorant of the extensive literature, both popular and academic, generated by Gone With the Wind. I come to the film with fresh eyes, except for the fact that I am still in possession of a Gone With the Wind refrigerator magnet that once belonged to a very sweet and very pretty girl whom I dated for just a short time in college. Much like Scarlett O'Hara, she was a very smart girl who was much tougher than she looked.

Of course, one shouldn't romanticize the past. Accustomed to Hollywood's obsession with political correctness, I was shocked by Gone With the Wind's shameless apologia for the ante bellum South. It is a fairy-tale kingdom without class warfare, racial violence, or religious hypocrisy. It's only apparent flaw is the tragic enthusiasm of its chivalrous young men for confronting the Yankee aggressor on the battlefied.

Perhaps most shocking to modern audiences is the servility of Scarlett's (former slaves) after the surrender at Appomattox. The film doesn't provide even the slightest hint that they were dissatisfied with their old lives or that they now want something more from life than to wait hand and foot on their former masters.

Of course, this servility is an integral part of the fantasy that animates Gone With the Wind. At first, one might dismiss this fantasy as unremarkable given that Jim Crow was alive and well in 1939, when Gone With the Wind debuted. Yet given the prominence of Iraq in today's headlines, I found it impossible not to think of Gone With the Wind as a window into an alternative universe in which Americans are not only the occupiers but also the occupied.

In both the American South and in Iraq, the victory of Washington's armed forces secured the immediate objectives for which the war was fought. Yet in both cases, the victors also hoped to promote their democratic values by transforming the thought processes of the society against which they had just fought. Sadly, the political fantasy at the heart of Gone With the Wind demonstrates just how poorly the Union Army did as advocate of racial justice.

At first, one might hesitate to attribute this failure the cultural divide between North and South, since the culture of both was fundamentally American. Even the racism of the South was not much greater in intensity than that of the North, in spite of the latter's abolitionist impluse. While it had economic roots as well, Jim Crow was an expression of the idea that black Americans should not share the same fundamental rights as their white counterparts.

Given the similarity of Northern and Southern culture, why did the North fail to cultivate in the South even the minimal respect for racial equality that existed in the North? Given that the cultural divide between the United States and Iraq is far greater than that between North and South, is there any hope for a successful transmission of the democratic impulse?

That, of course, is a trick question. If the Iraqi people do not want democracy, there is nothing we can do to make them want it. In that sense, democracy cannot be exported. Yet if the people of Iraq want to embrace democracy as their own, then the United States can prevent opportunistic elites, violent insurgents, and social chaos from disrupting the transition. In that sense, democracy can be promoted.

One hundred years after the end of the Civil War, federal officials returned to the South to enforce Washington's expectations of racial justice. After a century of social and cultural change, their efforts had the chance to be more successful. Thus, I fear that in Iraq it may be another hundred years before women enjoy the basic rights that no American could live a dignified existence without.

However, within democratic nations, democratic values have a habit of burrowing into and taking over every social insitution with which they come into contact. They just need some time.
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Saturday, July 10, 2004

# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE STEP FORWARD? Saudi Arabia has announced that municipal elections will be held in early September. The municipal ballot will be the first elections in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s.

The big question is, will the elections be real? Will the campaigns be fair? Will organized parties be allowed to emerge on a regional and/or national basis? And if the United States doesn't watch the process closely, will the Saudi princes rig the vote?
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# Posted 9:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSIAN ROULETTE, PUTIN STYLE: Paul Klebnikov, a US citizen and senior editor of Forbes' Russian-language edition, was gunned down near his Moscow office yesterday. Klebnikov's aggressive reporting earned him numerous enemies in Russia's corporate underworld.

But the real point here is that journalists don't get murdered when governments care about human rights and the rule of law. While the Putin regime may not have been involved in Klebnikov's murder, it's pervasive corruption and assault on free speech are what makes this sort of violence possible.
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# Posted 7:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

(Note to self: stop making fun of USA Today, at least for a respectable period of time...) Here's what they're saying about us.
Belton, 28, a doctoral candidate in international relations at Oxford University, said he was "tickled pink" when he learned by phone Thursday he had been accepted. [ed: Belton, 28, swears he doesn't ordinarily use phrases like 'tickled pink'] (Notifications were sent by postal mail, but Belton said he hasn't checked his mailbox in days.) [ed: That's because work frequently appears there]

"It will be great fun to participate in the symbolic first convention of the blog," said Belton, who said he's now "trying to scrape the pennies together" for a flight from England.
[Convention spokeswoman Peggy Wilhide] pointed to the approval of at least one "right-leaning" blog, Oxblog, though the co-founder who applied, Patrick Belton, is a registered Democrat who considers himself centrist.
Hey, thanks, guys!
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# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA HUMBLED: In the midst of an aggressive American effort to export its democratic ideals, I think it may prove beneficial to empathize with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by trying to remember those moments in American history when the success of others led to a loss of confidence in our own way of life.

While the the people of Iraq (if not their leaders) have demonsrated an admirable thirst for democracy and human rights, it is never easy for a proud people to admit that foreigners know best, especially in the midst of a foreign occupation. This is not a trait peculiar to Iraqi culture but rather one that Americans share as well. Thus, it may be cultural similarities that are a greater barrier to cooperation in Iraq than cultural differences.

I have begun to appreciate this point more fully over the past ten days thanks to a pair of films that portray Americans in the midst of radical self-doubt. The first is an obscure comedy from the 1980s named Gung Ho. The second is Gone With the Wind, which I had never seen for myself despite its iconic status in the lore of American film.

Gung Ho takes place in a small Pennsylvania town where the close of a local auto factory has led to massive unemployment, the shuttering of countless stores, and a general loss of faith in American industry. In the opening scense of the film, Hunt Stevenson (played by Michael Keaton) travels to Japan in order to persuade the fictional Assan Motor Corporation to invest in the closed factory and bring the town back to life.

When the Assan executive jet arrives at the local airport, the town has assembled on the runaway to meet with hand-lettered signs saying "We Love Japan" and "We Love Assan". The crowd waves miniature Japanese and American flags, while a delegation of local women wear kimonos and the town's children demonstrate their minimal knowledge of karate.

Watching this scene, it was hard not to think of the first moments after the liberation of Iraq, when the celebration of freedom had not yet been marred by the burdens of occupation and reconstruction. The amazing thing, of course, is that the Americans in Gung Ho are not the liberators but the liberated. They welcome the Japanese with a certain reverence reserved for saviors and not for guests. The Japanese are inscrutable, but that only increases their allure because they possess the secret of prosperity.

Even though my memories of the 1980s are hazy at best, I do remember that powerful sense of foreboding that Americans had about the impending superiority of the Japanese. Their wealth seemed unlimited as they began to buy up America. Today we would welcome such investment as an antidote to outsourcing and an excessive dependence on imports. But that is only because we have regained our confidence in the American way of life.

Unsurprisingly, cultural differences lead the Americans in Gung Ho begin to lose patience with the Japanese executives in charge of their factory. In spite of Hollywood's usual passion for political correctness, Gung Ho perpetuates crude stereotypes about the Japanese as authoritarian, cold-hearted and even cruel. In contrast, the greivances of the American factory workers come across as mostly justified, even if their reactions to the Japanese are somewhat intolerant.

When the conflict becomes more than the Japanese can take, they threaten to pull out their investment and go home. Hoping to save the day, labor rep Stevenson (Keaton) persuades the Japanese factory boss to strike a deal: If the Americans can break the one-month production record set by Assan's Japanese workers, then Assan will stay in Pennsylvania. The outcome, of course, is predictable. But what never gets explained is how American workers who weren't productive enough to keep their factory open when it was managed by fellows Americans have suddenly become able to outperform their legendary Japanese counterparts.

In the meantime, the soft-hearted Japanese factory boss begins to embrace his workers' relaxed and individualistic style. Eventually, he stands up to his own boss and demands that the Japanese executive be able to take time off to spend with their pregnant wives and graduating children. Thus, what began as a film about American inferiority ends as a fairly tale about superior American values. Instead of being grappled with, reality disappears.

Now, if Americans in the relatively prosperous 1980s couldn't accept that they actually had what to learn from the Japanese, imagine how hard it must be for Iraqis to accept American tutorials in the midst of an occupation. Now, it would be wrong to suggest that the Ba'athist and Sadrite insurgencies in Iraq are a reflection of cultural differences. In truth, they are a reflection of violent totalitarian ideologies that most Iraqis reject.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised if the everyday business of fixing generators, laying sewage pipes and training security forces suffers from a clash of American and Iraqi egos. In Gung Ho, the cartoon-like rigidity of the Japanese executives prevents them from recognizing that they should compromise with their American workers rather than just demanding that they accept Japanese habits.

Of course, I'm hardly the first one to suggest that cultural differences will complicate our efforts to promote democracy in Iraq. All I hope to add to this debate is the suggestion that cultural similarities may, in fact, cause more trouble than differences. While Iraqis may share our thirst for democracy, they also share our incomparable pride, a trait which make them just as reluctant to learn from us as we were to learn from the Japanese.

To be continued.
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Friday, July 09, 2004

# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

'DROUGHT-CRAZED KANGAROOS TURN DEADLY': Look, I know I shouldn't for some reason find this as funny as I do, but this just came up from the antipodes:
Drought-crazed kangaroos turn deadly
By Elizabeth Colman
July 09, 2004

IT'S an unusual sight - a kangaroo holding a struggling dog under water until it drowns.

But as Australia lies gripped by the big dry, the nation's proud mascot is turning deadly in the capital.

Killer kangaroos have claimed the lives of two dogs and injured at least one person in Canberra in the past week...

[Wildlife ecologist] Dr [Murray] Evans this week issued guidelines to locals living in the bush capital on how to steer clear of an attack by the cuddly looking marsupials. The danger signs are clear - don't approach a kangaroo "when it is standing up and looking straight at you, sometimes it also will growl and snort", Dr Evans said.

"Some people think the kangaroo is being friendly and it's not."
Would they perhaps be willing to part with a few of those, to send several to Iraq?

UPDATE: From our reader MH: 'If the 'Roos are drought crazed, where is this water coming from that they're drowning the dogs under? and why aren't they merely drinking the water instead of murdering dogs?'
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# Posted 12:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE HEROES OF AL-JAZEERA: The subtitle of this film should have been "If Michael Moore Had a Brain". Control Room, a documentary by Jehane Noujaim, takes us inside Al Jazeera's Qatar headquarters during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. With a subtlety not often found in the midst of a presidential election, Noujaim portrays the producers and correspondents of Al Jazeera as the last true heirs of Woodward & Bernstein -- unarmed men and women unafraid to speak truth to power.

The critics' praise for Control Room has been overwhelming. In the NYT, A.O. Scott writes that it is
An indispensable example of the inquisitive, self-questioning democratic spirit that is its deep and vexed subject.
Ann Hornaday of the WaPo writes that it is
The first movie of the year to qualify as urgently important...

This engrossing portrait of competing notions of truth is at once a thrilling real-time chronicle of the birth of a free press and a sophisticated philosophical treatise on the nature of objective reality.
In other words, liberal film critics love Control Room because it advances a firm leftist critique of American ignorance and ethnocentrism while presenting itself as an unbiased and self-aware observer of America at war.

One of the twin protagonists of the film is producer Sameer Khader, who describes Al Jazeera as an institution committed to advancing the ideals of freedom and democracy by providing an alternative to the state-run Arab media. I agree that Al Jazeera plays a critical role in challenging the information monopoly of the Arab dictatorships, but Noujaim drops this point right after Khader makes it.

Instead, Control Room focuses on how Al Jazeera challenges American military propaganda in a manner (supposedly) far more effective than than the (supposedly) co-opted and covertly patriotic journalists of the American media establishment. This is exactly the point that Michael Moore tried to make in Fahrenheit 9/11, but Noujaim does it with far greater panache.

Noujaim systematically builds up her subject's credibility by demonstrating that it has made all the right enemies. First, Donald Rumsfeld accuses Al Jazeera of broadcasting nothing more than Iraqi propaganda. Then an Iraqi spokesman accuses Al Jazeera of broadcasting nothing more than American propaganda.

Then comes Noujaim's coup de grace: After interviewing an American activist who denounces the war as part of an oil-driven imperial project, Khader (the producer mentioned above) berates his subordinate for booking an interview subject with such a one-sided perspective. The subordinate meekly protests that he assumed an American activist wouldn't voice such unfair criticism of his own country.

What better way to establish Al Jazeera's cross-cultural empathy and commitment to journalistic detachment than showing how its employees can recognize when American citizens are criticizing their own government too harshly? Well, I for one am not impressed. Any journalist not on an Arab government's payroll should be able to recognize that Chomsky's court jesters do not have much to contribute to a serious news program.

When not demonstrating Al Jazeera's supposed impartiality, Noujaim tries to demonstrate her own fairness by giving a young US Army spokeman the chance to defend his government's actions. According to the Boston Globe,
Noujaim's film is at its best in its sympathetic and complex portrayal of Lieutenant Josh Rushing, an earnest young US army press officer at CentCom whose naivete about war and news-gathering slowly crumbles before our eyes.
Whereas Michael Moore's bombast often results in the audience siding with his victims, Noujaim's kindness toward Rushing lets us forget that she has cast this one lieutenant as the living embodiment of American ignorance.

Rushing, however, is far from ignorant. What he is is overmatched. Facing off against the second protaganist of the film, veteran Al Jazeera correspondent Hassan Ibrahim (formerly of the BBC), Rushing doesn't stand a chance. To make matters worse, Noujaim devotes the rest of her narrative to undercutting almost all of the points that Rushing makes.

For example, Rushing asks at one point why Al Jazeera insists on portraying the invasion of Iraq as a threat to the Arab world when, in fact, Saddam Hussein has slaughtered far more Arabs than any other ruler alive today. Rushing also asks why Al Jazeera's standard cut-to-commerical montage interlaces footage of American soldiers and war planes with footage of wounded Iraqi civilians. Why not show what Saddam's soldiers have done to the Iraqi people?

In spite of this warning, Noujaim includes extensive and explicitly gory footage of wounded Iraqi civilians without ever pausing to ask whether the Iraqi people suffered more, day in and day out, under Saddam Hussein. Like Fahrenheit 9/11, Control Room doesn't even try to put a number on how many Iraqi civilians lost their lives during the invasion. Instead, Noujaim just replays and replays Al Jazeera footage in which Iraqis stand in front of their bombed out homes asking if this is what George Bush meant by freedom and demoracy.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are no reliable counts of how many civilians died during the invasion, although the number seems to be in the thousands. Saddam's own government announced during the final week of the war that there had been 1,254 civilian deaths. Whatever the true number, it pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands murdered by Saddam. It also pales in comparison to the one million deaths projected by leading humanitarian NGOs.

The saddest thing about Control Room is what it could have been. The rise of independent networks such as Al Jazeera is a revolutionary development in the Arab World. Instead of recycling standard leftist criticisms of the war, Noujaim might have asked whether the democratic aspirations of Al Jazeera's producers and correspondents have awoken similar aspirations in the network's 40 million Arab viewers. Whereas Saddam Hussein fell to American arms, the best hope for the liberation of Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia may be Al Jazeera.

CORRECTION: BH wisely points out that Iran does not speak Arabic, so Al Jazeera is somewhat irrelevant. Besides, Iran is a pretty dumb example given that it has such a strong indigenous democratic movement.
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Thursday, July 08, 2004

# Posted 3:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

STUPID, DUMB, AND SHORT SIGHTED: No, not one of the three OxBloggers. It's the House of Representatives voting today 281-137 to cut $10.5 million from the budget allocation of the National Endowment for Democracy in order to give it to a small-business-loan pork program. The National Endowment for Democracy's projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and elsewhere represent the nation's principal diplomatic and aid-based ways for strengthening democratic institutions and countering terrorism, and should be the very last budget line to take money away from to go spend on buying pork. Democrats voted 193-2 for the short-sighted, and silly, amendment, while Republicans split. Both should be ashamed of themselves. Rep. Frank Wolf said 'The reality of this amendment is that this is a subsidy to put money in the bankers' pockets. If you were helping the poor or the hungry...I would support the amendment.'

Instead of spending $11 million to support democratic reformers in countries where U.S. interests are vitally engaged, what are our tax dollars going to? Funny you asked:

• $500,000 for Disneyland buses in the district of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California)

• $2.2 million in pork for North Pole, Alaska, population 1,570. (Which corresponds to $1,401 for every man, woman, and reindeer in town, courtesy of Senate Appropriations Chair Ted Stevens, R-Alaska).

• $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, thanks to the efforts of Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

• $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A further $100,000 for the Kids Rock Free Educational Program. What would Rock and Roll do without government support?

• And the Congressional Pig Book 2004 has a more complete list, identifying $22.9 billion of pork in the appropriations bills - so much, they've been heard squealing on their way across the Capitol from the House to the Senate.

Now, I'm sure all of these are worthy projects. But I'm not yet nearly convinced that building, say, a "Blue-Gray Civil War Theme Pack" in Kentucky ($225,000) is more deserving of the tax dollars of the nation than helping democratic reformers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. In fact, I think it's fairly silly and short-sighted.
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# Posted 1:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

BOSTON BOUND: We've just received a very nice call from the DNC, saying very kind words about our blog and inviting us to cover the Boston convention as an accredited blogger. I have some thoughts on blogging and the convention, but England is currently beginning a neodiluvian period and so my more immediate thoughts are on the subject of drying off. In the more immediate term, though, I'd be very interested to hear which other bloggers will be at the convention - it would be nice to throw a blogger party and see everyone who will be there. Please drop us a line!
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# Posted 5:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

COOL NEW SITE: If you're like me - or even if you're not really that much like me - you probably often run across monetary amounts from other decades and centuries, and are never quite sure how to convert, say, £500 from 1975 into 2002 money, to say nothing of the £63,176 it cost to construct the HMS Victory in 1765, or the two shillings which you may be fined at Yale for going 'to a Gunning, Fishing or Sailing ... any Court, Election, Town-Meeting, Wedding, or Meeting...which may Occasion Mispence of precious Time without Liberty first obtain'd from the President or his Tutor' (1745 rulebook). Well, a really delightful new site run by Economic History.Net now lets you convert the purchasing power of sterling for any years in between 1264 and 2002 - your 1975 five-hundred quid, for instance, equate to a whopping £2,577.60 in 2002; or £41, 6s, 2d in 1900; or £65, 3s, 9d in 1800 (yes, the pound actually rose in value over the nineteenth century); £7, 0s, 11d at the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth; or even £3, 8s, 10d in 1264, the year of the Battle of Lewes and eight years after Simon de Montfort called the first Parliament at Oxford.

Other sites on EH.Net let you do similar calculations for the U.S. dollar, compare the value of unskilled labour across centuries, and compare the UK consumer price index, and average nominal and real earnings, from 1264 to 2002.
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# Posted 2:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT DEMOCRACY AT ALL? Josh Marshall says no, not at all. Rob Tagorda and Dan Drezner provide a pair of counter-examples. Kevin Drum says the marginal importance of those counter-examples just proves Josh's point.

I'll agree that those counter-examples, while important, are far less than heroic. But I am going to dispute Josh's point that Iraq doesn't count in Bush's favor because
at any time in recent history any American government would have attempted to put in place a government that is at least nominally democratic in any state it overthrew.
Liberals have been predicting for almost a year now that Bush would cut and run rather than face a tough re-election fight with 150,000 troops still on the ground in Iraq. Well, that hasn't come to pass.

And I think it's fair to ask whether John Kerry would have shown the same kind of resolve if he were President when the occupation appeared to be headed southward. In fact, just a few months ago, Kerry began to flirt with the self-destructive idea that there can be stability without democracy in Iraq. With Kerry in the White House, Iraq might suffer the same neglect that Bush has inflicted on Afghanistan.

Kerry's flaws aside, it is hard not to resent the hypocritical way in which this administraiton needlessly embraces dictators in Russia and Central Asia while the President recites paeans to the universal truth of democracy. Then again, Iraq is the big one. If we win there, if the Iraqi people win there, the future will be very different for the Middle East.
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