Tuesday, August 17, 2004

# Posted 6:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE NYT'S MICHAEL SLACKMAN ON poor Jon Corzine, a victim of his own success. From having to confront on his arrival in Washington four years ago a suspicion that he was a political lightweight who had purchased his Senate seat, he now has to confront the problem of New Jersey Democrats wanting him to run for governor while Senate Democrats need him as their economic spokesman and politically canny fundraising chair.
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# Posted 2:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO SAYS KERRY FLIP-FLOPPED ON THE WAR? Gary Farber asks [via e-mail] whether I've ever actually listened to Kerry's explanation of his vote for war, as given to the Senate in October 2002. The answer is no. My basis for saying that Kerry flip-flopped on the war consists of what he has said in recent months, not his October speech to the Senate.

At the Democratic convention, John Kerry said:
I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war.
At the time, I thought I knew exactly what John Kerry was saying: George Bush is a commander in chief who did mislead us into war. That interpretation rested on the content of the three sentences that followed Kerry's accusation:
I will have a Vice President who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.
If one insists on a hyper-literal interpretation of Kerry's speech, one can assert that Kerry never accused Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld or Ashcroft of doing anything wrong. The Democratic candidate simply promised that certain members of his cabinet would not do certain things associated in the public mind with certain officials in the current administration.

Whatever. Kerry accused Bush of misleading the nation into war, then turned around and said that he would still have voted to authorize the war even if he knew then what he knows now about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The visible and embarrassing clash between those two statements is what led Democratic partisan Jon Stewart to ask whether Kerry wanted to destroy any prospect of Democratic victory in November.

In a defense of Kerry's conflicting statements, NYT correspondent David Sanger reported that
Rand Beers, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton and Bush administrations before he left to help Mr. Kerry formulate his foreign policy positions, said in an interview on Wednesday: "We have said we think there are four elements" in Mr. Bush's approach to the war that are clearly different from how Mr. Kerry would have handled the confrontation with Mr. Hussein.

"Rushing to war is one, doing it without enough allies is two,
doing it without equipping our troops adequately is three, and doing it without an adequate plan to win the peace is a fourth," Mr. Beers

In fact, in interviews since the start of the year, Mr. Kerry has been
relatively consistent in explaining his position.
If you take a closer look at Beers' four elements, you'll notice that none of them has anything to do with misleading the nation into war. On the issue of rushing to war, you can judge for yourself whether six months of pre-invasion diplomacy was enough, or whether a few more months might have resolved the crisis.

Regarding our lack of allies, Beers refuses to say exactly what he means. Would Kerry have refused to go to war without explicit authorization from the UN? Would a greenlight from France and Germany alone have been enough? These same questions also go unanswered in Kerry's October 2002 speech to the Senate (the one that Gary pointed out.)

In that speech, Kerry emphasized again and again that Bush had an obligation to try and work with the United Nations. But each time Kerry made that point, he fell back before insisting that only a UN resolution was necessary for war.

Beers' third element is providing adequate equipment to our troops. From what I can tell, this is a reference to certain soldiers' lack of body armor during the occupation. While that is regrettable, it is a minor point at best that has nothing to do with the decision to invade.

Finally, we come to the issue of Bush's not having a plan to win the peace. I certaintly wouldn't say that Bush did have a plan. But yet again, this "element" is a distraction from the real question of whether Kerry would've gone to war.

Perhaps John Kerry has never literally contradicted himself on the subject of war. Yet in the same manner that Geroge Bush did with regard to the relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda, Kerry approached the brink of untruth in order to create an impression that was the opposite of what he himself knew to be true.
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# Posted 1:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAS THE WaPo GONE SOFT ON DICTATORS? No, of course not. The WaPo just happens to have a correspondent in Venezuela who seems to have forgotten in the midst of Hugo Chavez's ballot-box triumph that Mr. Chavez is hardly a model democrat.

In her opening sentence, correspondent Mary Beth Sheridan attributes to Mr. Chavez a
Highly centralized, populist style of government that has stirred fierce opposition at home and irritated the Bush administration.
"Highly centralized" is a strange way to describe a government that packs the courts, slaps around the media, and throws leading critics in jail on trumped up charges. Then again, one shouldn't expect a man who once led a failed coup attempt and remains close friends with Castro to have the greatest respect for democratic norms.

[On that note, Jimmy Carter deserves tremendous credit for monitoring the integrity of yesterday's referendum. Earlier this year, Carter fought hard to ensure that the referendum would take place, in spite of Chavez's dishonest effort to stop it.

Even though few Americans think much about Venezuela these days, Carter lent his experience and prestige to protecting its people's freedom.]

Moving on, correspondent Sheridan also ascribes unwarranted credibility to Chavez's claims that he is leading a "revolution of the poor". According to Sheridan,
Chavez has endeared himself to the country's downtrodden with his rough-hewn style and delivery of numerous social programs.
While that statement is essentially correct, it leaves the wrong impression in the absence of more detailed information about Chavez's record. Toward the end of her article, Sherdian briefly mentions Venezuela's "woeful economic performance" under Chavez. In fact, Venezuela's GDP has plunged almost 9% in each of the past two years. The reason is Chavez's incompetence.

In the absence of any sort of coherent economic policy, Chavez's much publicized spending on the poor serves as little more than a band-aid. According to Michael Shifter, a leading expert on Latin American politics,
The number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty doubled between 1999 and 2003, Chavez's first five years as president...

Chavez's vigorous and targeted social spending right before an election smacks of the manipulative practices he accused [Venezuela's] traditional parties of [practicing] for decades.
Rather than a revolution of the poor, Chavez is demonstrating the poverty of his so-called revolution.
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# Posted 1:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH: Some of you may have noticed that it has been more than two weeks since the last edition of Accountability Watch. As it turns out, it didn't matter that I forgot about last week's edition since one year ago in mid-August I was on vacation in Northern California.

One year ago this week, there was a blackout across the Northeast that didn't result in any more pregnancies than usual. One year ago this week also marked the publication's of Josh's excellent cover story in the Weekly Standard about the travails of the BBC.

My main publication for the week was a three-part memo on the state of the world, written on behalf of an unnamed friend of mine at a political consulting firm. While one might challenge any number of points I made in the memo, there is one that stands out above all the others as possibly faring worst in the glare of hindsight.

One year ago in Iraq, American fatality rates were below one per day and the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad was still to come. Thus, with considerable confidence I wrote that Iraq had much better prospects than Afghanistan for making progress toward establishing a democratic order.

At the time, "Conventional wisdom suggest[ed] that neither is probable." Yet if my reading of the situation is now correct, journalists are beginning to sense that Afghanistan may become something of a success story, whereas Iraq has borne out their expectations of state failure.

On Saturday, I had the chance to sit down with a foreign correspondent recently returned from Iraq. Without the slightest reservation he said that American soldiers are dying for nothing because as soon as they leave there will be a civil war. I disagreed hesitantly, because it is very hard to contradict someone who has had his boots on the ground while mine have been firmly planted in the library.

This week, my friend departs for Afghanistan. While Seymour Hersh has denounced the American occupation there as a fiasco, others are beginning to sense that there may be a real democratic opening in spite of the warlords and the heroin trade.

The question is 'Why?' Multilateralists can argue that the presence of a multinational force made all the difference. Yet given the less than impressive size of that force, such an argument isn't exactly tenable.

Administration supporters might argue that if things turn out better than expected in Afghanistan, it's because the media underestimated the White House's and Pentagon's efforts. I find that argument unpersuasive as well, since it's hard to point to anything particularly impressive that the United States has done.

Of course, it may be far too early for anyone to start taking credit for Afghanistan. It's a nation that has been under the radar for quite some time now. However, it will soon return to center stage, at least briefly, during September's presidential elections. Perhaps then we will know if there has been an unheralded miracle in Kabul, or whether this optimist's unusual pessimism was actually justified.

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# Posted 1:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WOULD OSAMA DRIVE? Gregg Easterbook launches the latest broadside in his struggle against SUVs.
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Monday, August 16, 2004

# Posted 5:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

PATRICK O'BRIEN COULDN'T SAIL? More power to 'em, I say! Give him joy of it.
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# Posted 5:50 PM by Patrick Belton  

BEST DESCRIPTION OF BLOOMBERRIES, EVER: This from Maev Kennedy, 'People who lived in squares but loved in triangles.'
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# Posted 3:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEPARTMENT OF ACADEMIC AFFAIRS: The same extraordinarily bored soul who reads the (slowly, but steadily, but slowly) progressing chapters of my dissertation may also take a procrastinatory interest in a book review I've just turned in on Chinese foreign policy. Comments are warmly welcome, but if you're writing to upbraid me for not giving due attention to some topic or other, please keep in mind that true to form I'm already far, far over my word length.
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# Posted 1:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

A GREAT DAY ON THE WASHINGTON POST WEBSITE: First story: 'Phelps Loses Key Race: U.S. swimmer now can't tie Mark Spitz's record of seven golds.' Yeah, man, what a loser. Second story: Kiss and Blog: Post's April Witt takes questions on hill staffer's steamy online diary. Whoa - must be ratings week.

Not tangentially, the thought occured to me as I was covering the convention that the principal reason why we've got an insubstantial politics in this country is that we've got an insubstantial press. That was the case when the New York Times was neglecting the fascinating ideas, operatives, and strategies floundering about Boston in order to squander pages on human interest stories about Southern delegates eating clam chowder in Copley Place, and it is the case now as well.

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# Posted 7:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUR AFGHAN CORRESPONDENT CHECKS IN: I ended my last travelogue with our group leaving the pesticide-happy town of Tashqurgan and driving to Mazar-e-Sharif. By the time we arrived and checked into the comfortable World Food Program guest house, I was too worn out to venture out and see the famous shrine (or mazar) from which the city takes its name -- the blue-tiled tomb of Hazrat Ali, with its thousands of white pigeons. We drove past it; it looked lovely from the road. If I ever get back there, I'll head over for a closer look.

The next morning, our Deputy Project Head made a spot decision to drive north to the border with Uzbekistan. If we do manage to get agricultural exports going, after all, most of them will leave through either Pakistan or Uzbekistan, so the Deputy Head wanted to see what the transport facilities were like at the border. He also wanted to see the Amu Darya, the border river that separates Afghanistan from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and decide if it was suitable for a big canal project to irrigate the arid plains of northern Afghanistan. My sense is that the government of Uzbekistan would take strong issue with the idea -- as would every environmental group active in the region, given that the shrinking of the Aral Sea (the inland sea fed by the Amu Darya) is one of the region's most infamous ecological catastrophes. But the DH was undeterred, so north we drove.

The plains soon turned into true desert, with camels and huge, road-swallowing sand dunes. We arrived in the gritty border town of Hairatan, driving through a gate adorned with portraits of Hamid Karzai and Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ethnic-Uzbek warlord. Here as in Mazar, I noticed a few women wearing headscarves instead of burqas. For all his many flaws, Dostum is less of a stickler for Islamist discipline than many of his fellow militia commanders. Women have rather more freedom under his rule than under his rivals in Herat or Paghman.

In Hairatan, we drove first to an oil depot. Afghanistan gets much of its oil from Uzbekistan, and tanker trucks fill up here for their long drive through the mountains to Kabul. The Amu Darya rolled past the depot, sluggish and swirling brown, with a couple of makeshift barges tethered to shore. A few hundred yards away, we could see the Friendship Bridge, built by the Soviets in 1982, who demonstrated their rather Orwellian concept of friendship by sending lots and lots of people across the bridge for an extended visit. There isn't a whole lot of traffic across the bridge these days, if what we observed was an average morning -- a few sluggish trucks, and a single, small train.

We were informed that there was a port facility nearby, and the Deputy Head's eyes lit up -- we could send goods out by water! I told him that the river flowed into Uzbekistan and that was pretty much it, but he was still excited to find an exception to Afghanistan's landlockedness. When we arrived at the gate to the port of Hairatan, we found several armed guards there, looking uneasily at our pack of Kalashnikov-toting Panjshiri escorts. Needless to say, in a region where the main conflict is between the Uzbek-led Junbesh and Tajik-led Jamiat, we didn't make any friends by bringing a bunch of well-armed Tajiks along with us. The guards let us in, but told our shooters to wait outside, and went to call the boss. "The man, Abdullah, who runs this port, he is a big commander under Dostum," our driver Ainodeen whispered to me. "Great," I
whispered back.

The port was underwhelming, containing no barges, a bunch of empty shipping containers, and an out-of-commission crane. While we stood there in the baking sun, Mr. Abdullah showed up -- a hefty, smiling gentleman with a denim jacket, a well-groomed mustache, and a sizable entourage. He told us how glad he was that we had come to see his port, and that he was sure we would be able to provide the resources to get it running at full capacity again. Our Deputy Head asked how far the river was navigable downstream of Hairatan. "As far as Termez," replied Abdullah (through Mohibi's translation). "That's about five kilometers away," I whispered to the DH. "And when you get your goods to Termez, what do you do with them?" the DH asked, slightly disappointed. Well, they would be loaded onto a train, and sent to Tashkent and Moscow and other such places. The Deputy Head pointed up at the Friendship Bridge, where a train had just begun to rumble across, and asked where that train was coming from. "Termez," replied Abdullah cheerfully, and repeated how very glad he was that
we were going to be investing in his port.

It seemed clear that short of wartime border closures or disruption of the rail line, the only reason for the port to exist was smuggling goods over short distances. It also seemed fairly clear that we wouldn't be able to accomplish much in this town (certainly including our Deputy Head's grand Amu Darya canal scheme) without putting some money into Commander Abdullah's boondoggle. So we gave him our business cards, said we'd get back to him on the port thing, and left.

It was a good ten-hour drive back to Kabul. We headed back through the Tashqurgan gorge and the rolling hills around Samangan, to the bridge at Pul-e-Khumre, where the road heads north to Kunduz and south to Kabul. Afghanistan's only functioning textile factory is there, so we stopped for a quick look around. Then we started the long ascent to the Salang Tunnel.

The Salang Pass, one of the few gaps in the Hindu Kush, has long been the main conduit between Kabul and northern Afghanistan. In the early 1960s, the USSR built a 3 km long tunnel a few hundred meters below the pass, to keep the road open year-round. The Salang Tunnel has since become a vital lifeline for southern Afghanistan, the shortest link to northern grain surpluses and Uzbek oil supplies. As such, it was a key strategic point in the fighting against the Soviets and the civil war that followed. There's a gutted Russian tank on the roadside every mile or so. Along most of the ascent, the road is lined with white-and-red rocks; as soon as the asphalt ends, the landmines begin. ("One heck of a rumble strip," as our California consultant observed). Massoud bombed the tunnel on his retreat from the Taliban, in a vain attempt to keep them out of the north. Reopening and shoring up the Salang Tunnel was one of the first priorities of the new Kabul government, but as you can imagine, the road quality is still not the greatest.

As we drove up toward the gleaming peaks, we had to stop a couple times to remove the dust filters from our straining vehicles and have them blown out by a roadside vendor with a compressed air canister. The air grew cold, and patches of snow began to appear at the roadside. At the top of a series of steep switchbacks, we drove into our first avalanche gallery -- a length of road roofed over so it won't be blocked by falling snow. These long galleries are dark to begin with, and the dust kicked up inside them swirls around without ever quite settling... except in the flooded ones, where the snowmelt pours in overhead like a carwash and fills the deep gouges in the road surface. Our drivers sped blindly through the dust clouds and subterranean rivers, dodging the sluggish, wheezing oil trucks and passenger-packed Toyota Corollas, sending up great plumes of muddy water as our vehicles plowed through flooded nine-inch potholes. It was like a particularly manic amusement park ride, with the amusement somewhat tempered by mortal fear.

Finally we reached the Salang Tunnel proper: a dark circle in the mountainside ringed by blue concrete and surrounded by tumbledown Soviet barracks and warehouses. The first hundred yards of the tunnel were the worst -- the road was heavily cratered, and our vehicles bucked and shuddered wildly, spraying snowmelt into the blackness. A wire ran overhead, connecting a sporadic array of dim light bulbs, but for the most part our headlights were the only illumination. I thought about how many trucks and cars I'd seen with their headlights out since arriving in Afghanistan, and squinted anxiously into the gloom ahead. We drove for long minutes through the darkness. At a couple points, construction crews had roped off half the road, and were gamely trying to resurface a few dozen yards. Periodically the shadow of an oil tanker would loom up ahead of us, and our drivers would flash a warning semaphore to any oncoming traffic while doing their best to speed around the truck.

Three kilometers later, we emerged at last into a long avalanche gallery winding along the side of the mountain. To the south, flashing zootropically between the pillars of the gallery, the peaks above Panjshir glowed in the late afternoon sunlight. The sky was dramatically overcast, and we could see the road winding steeply down the long valley below us. Definitely one of the most beautiful views of my trip.

As we descended, I noticed that most of mines had been cleared from this side of the pass; the cliffs were speckled with the white checkmarks and blue stripes that signify "all clear." The south side of Salang is more heavily settled than the north side, with clusters of stone houses clinging to the bluffs and spires high above the road. We drove under several of their "wells" -- buckets sent down from the clifftop villages on long wires to the river. The sun was setting as we reached the foot of the mountains and drove into the Shamali Plain. A couple hours after nightfall, we were back in Kabul -- in time for me to finish off the leftovers from Thursday pizza night at Le Monde Guesthouse. Home again, home again.

Next time: The valley of Panjshir
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Sunday, August 15, 2004

# Posted 10:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

FOOTNOTE TO A SPEECH: As longtime readers will know, I do not lack sympathy for either France or the Catholic Church, having spent substantial time in each. But I was rather fascinated by President Chirac's speech of welcome to John Paul II at the latter's arrival in France.

I've so far only found selections from the speech on CNN, but it includes the line 'France and the Holy See are joined in the fight for a world which places Man at the centre of every enterprise.' This strikes me as entirely in line with the humanist, sternly laic tradition of the Fifth Republic, but it is so strongly removed from the thought of the Pontiff in his encyclicals as to raise the question of whether it was meant as a snub.

If it was, the motivation might be somewhat understandable - given the facts of French history, it would place a French president in an odd position to seem too deferential to a visiting Pope, or even personally religious. I'm more perplexed really by the extent to which the media has neglected to comment on this fascinating showdown between two worldviews, one anthropocentric and the other theocentric - and represented by two no less symbolically intriguing figures than a Pope and a president of the country which first brought you the French Revolution and the tradition of laicism in state affairs. Wherever you fall in this argument, it cuts to the core of modernity, and from either perspective seems a rather sad thing to ignore when so memorably fleshed out.

(See related Spoof article: 'Pope: French Catholics Must Move to the Vatican').
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# Posted 6:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, to all of our friends from India and Pakistan!

Some of our friends and fellow students from Pakistan are today launching a blog called oxTalk, which will address issues in their nation and the world from the perspective of several of Pakistan's western-educated budding democratic intellectuals. We may not always agree on every point, but we happily welcome them to the conversation warmly as friends.

And from India, our long-standing admiration for Antara Datta comes as a familiar fact of the blogosphere to all of our readers. Also among suggested readings: Samachar, which collates news and commentary from all of India's newspapers, and Rediff.com, whose bright up-and-coming reporter Arun Venugopal I was lucky enough to befriend at the Democratic convention.

And to all of our friends from both sides of South Asia, a warm Mubaarak ho!
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# Posted 5:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

REFLECTIONS OF AN ABDUCTED JOURNALIST: James Brandon, the British journalist kidnapped in Basra last week and subsequently released, writes in today's Telegraph about his experience. For all of us whose trade is writing, Brandon is a remarkably humane and inspiring figure, working in a dangerous zone yet covering its people with sympathy.
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# Posted 4:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

FRENCH CUSTOMER SERVICE, BRITISH STYLE: A woman born without limbs was prevented from boarding an Air France flight in Manchester when an airplane employee told her 'one head, one bottom and a torso cannot possibly fly on its own.' The woman, 42-year old Adele Price, has flown frequently in the past and was permitted on to a subsequent flight. She is suing in a New York court.
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Saturday, August 14, 2004

# Posted 9:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HUGO'S MISERABLES: Tomorrow, the people of Venezuela have a change to bring to an end the demagogic and increasingly authoritarian rule of Hugo Chavez. For a brief and damning account of Chavez's efforts to undermine Venezuelan democracy, see Bernard Aronson's column in today's NYT. Aronson writes that:
Two months ago, for example, the Chávez-controlled National Assembly added 11 justices to the Supreme Court, and changed the requirement for confirmation from two-thirds of legislators to a simple majority, guaranteeing Mr. Chávez control of the judiciary. As a result, should Mr. Chávez lose the referendum, the court is likely to ratify his stated intention to run for president in the election to fill his vacancy, even though a disinterested reading of the Venezuelan Constitution suggests that he would be ineligible.

Mr. Chávez's record of subverting democracy doesn't stop there. Though much of the Venezuelan media remains in private hands and is clearly allied with the opposition, it is slowly being strangled by regulations that deny it access to hard currency. And, whenever Mr. Chávez wishes, he decrees that all private television and radio stations, along with the state-owned news media, carry his speeches live.

What's more, his government has manipulated the criminal justice system to thwart political opponents. Henrique Capriles Radonski, a leader of Justice First, a reformist political party, and the elected mayor of the Baruta district of Caracas, languishes in jail on a clearly fraudulent charge of fomenting a riot. María Corina Machado, a director of Súmate, a civic group allied with the opposition, is being prosecuted on charges equivalent to treason because her organization accepted a grant of more than $50,000 from the National Endowment
for Democracy, which is financed in part by Congress, to educate Venezuelans about their voting rights. Yet only one Venezuelan has been arrested in the killings of more than 25 opposition emonstrators in clashes with supporters of Mr. Chávez over the last three years.
At the moment, Mr. Chavez is extremely confident that he will prevail in tomorrow's referendum. If he does prevail, one hopes that it will be a honest victory and not a product of fraud. Yet even a certifiable win for Mr. Chavez will reflect his profligate spending of state oil revenues for political purposes.

While Mr. Aronson and others despair that a victory for Mr. Chavez will usher in a new era of pseudo-democracy or even outright dictatorship in Latin America, I am not so concerned. Mr. Aronson writes that:
Like former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Mr. Chávez represents a new breed of Latin autocrat - a leader who is legitimately elected but then uses his office to undermine democratic checks and balances and intimidate political opponents.
Mr. Aronson avoids taking note of the fact that massive demonstrations by the people of Peru forced Mr. Fujimori to resign. Other impending dictators, such Carlos Menem of Argentina, ultimately found it impossible to extend their term office beyond its constitutionally-imposed limits. Seen from this perspective, Mr. Chavez is more of a talented dinosaur than he is a man of the future.

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# Posted 6:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE SATURDAY NIGHT READING: Ben Yagoda, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, contrasts the Strunk-and-White minimalist approach to writing style (thus Orwell: 'good prose is like a windowpane'), with the therapeutic approach under which 'the object, from page one to the end, is self-expression, self-fulfillment ... I almost said self-abuse.' The last is the view of the postmoderns and authors of popular ars scriptoria tracts hawked at Borders, but also that of the Sophists and the Romantics. Both, according to Yagoda, are fatally incompete without the other.
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# Posted 6:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

HOW DO YOU MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT IDEAS? One of the most frequent criticisms of movies made about poets, physicists, or thinkers of any stripe is that the films capture their love affairs or the quirks of their personalities without reflecting what makes them interesting to us in the first place - their work, and contributions to human thought. The recent film of Sylvia Plath fits this category, at least in its critical reception. But how do you do otherwise, without driving audiences away by filming a chalkboard? Recently two Melburnians have tried to do just that, by producing a film about a lecture Heidegger delivered on the German Romantic poet Holderlin. The film is called The Ister. It will hopefully draw an audience on the art film circuit, and at any rate seems like just precisely the sort of thing that public television networks are there to support.
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# Posted 6:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

ADAM KIRSCH, book critic of the New York Sun, has a piece on Osip Mandelstam, and the misfortune of being an artist in a political age.
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# Posted 6:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

ROUND-UP OF TERRORISM IN THE NEWS: Rita Katz collects the latest developments.
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# Posted 5:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXPORN: OxBlog's friend Addie Stan reports that a porn blocker apparently keeps us from coming up at her workplace. So, forthwith, just think of all the online time you can save here, by taking care of looking at porn and reading about politics at the same time.... On another note, this might reflect the influence of Wonkette and Washingtonienne on the public view of bloggers.
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# Posted 1:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

U.N.-PC: Writing in TNR, Jacob Levy describes how the UN is beginning to overcome the politcally correct assertion that diversity is more important than freedom.
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# Posted 1:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WAS THE GOP THINKING? As soon as Maryland resident Alan Keyes announced his candidacy for the open Senate seat in Illinois, Jon Stewart ran some footage of Keyes from back in 2000 denouncing Hillary Clinton for opportunisitically running for the open seat in NY.

I don't have a link to the Stewart bit, but staunch liberals like Buzzflash are having a field day with Keyes hypocrisy. What I want to know, is who the hell let Keyes run for office without vetting his record at all?
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# Posted 12:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HUMAN RIGHTS AFTER ABU GHRAIB: On Thursday, NPR's All Things Considered explored the difficulties of American efforts to promote human rights after the scandal at Abu Ghraib.

The best thing about the NPR story is that it includes interviews with both Lorne Craner and Harold Koh, the Assistant Secretaries of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under Bush and Clinton, respectively. Their perspectives, especially Craner's are well-worth hearing.

On the downside, the NPR story has the usual negative spin you might expect from, well, NPR. It describes Abu Ghraib as devastating to American credibility and reports that Craner has to begin his meetings with Middle Eastern diplomats by apologizing for what America's soldiers did.

As well he should. But NPR fails to note that Middle Eastern demands for such apologies are part of a cynical effort by oppressive dictatorships to deflect attention from their own horrific human rights violations -- for which they never apologize -- by pointing their collective finger at the United States of America.

Interestingly, NPR notes parenthetically that no one questioned the United States' credibility when it sought to confront human rights violations in Sudan. Apparently, in the face of a real humanitarian crisis, cynical posturing sometimes gives way respectful silence.
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Friday, August 13, 2004

# Posted 10:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

RESEARCHERS IN LA JOLLA HAVE FINALLY ANSWERED THAT AGE-OLD QUESTION, how do you get monkeys to procrastinate less?
They worked their levers like obsessed gamblers, never knowing when the jackpot would be delivered. They stopped only after their thirst was quenched. (LA Times)
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# Posted 10:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

16 YEARS LIVED IN TERMINAL ONE OF CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT: Mehran Karimi Nasser was born in Iran and educated in Britain. He then was expelled from Iran without a passport for demonstrating against the Shah. In 1981, he was granted refugee credentials by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in Belgium - but his briefcase, and the credentials, were stolen in a Paris train station. In August 1988, he turned up at Charles de Gaulle without a passport hoping to fly to Britain. With no country to which he could be deported, he has lived in Terminal One ever since.

For other perspectives on this Kafkaesque existence on a red bench in an airport, see this and this.
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# Posted 8:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

AMERICANS AREN'T COWBOYS, AND EUROPEANS AREN'T WIMPS, says (OxBlog Oxford bureau neighbour) Timothy Garton Ash, in a new book. Rather, the interests and beliefs of the two are similar. America, due to the way its politics and ethnic mixture developed, was the first European Union. Further, with the rise of China and India, Europe and America may be facing their last chance to set the agenda of world politics, and should do so firmly in favour of freedom. Garton Ash is always worth a read, and even more delectably so because he watches The Simpsons.
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# Posted 7:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ASIA TIMES'S MICHAEL WEINSTEIN ASKS what the 'other transition' - the one in Afghanistan, in the event of a Karzai electoral defeat - is likely to look like, in the face of forces tending to pull the country apart:
Afghanistan functions most successfully when the decentralized forces that compose its society trust one another sufficiently to compromise over common concerns and let the rest devolve to localities. The country's political system breaks down into civil war when that trust is lacking, unleashing cycles of defensive aggression. Recent civil wars have eroded trust and left authority over the qaums in the hands of warlords, who have gained in influence over other traditional authorities, especially elders and clerics.

The most likely future for Afghanistan is severe instability that Western powers, expending limited resources, will attempt to contain, but will not be able to resolve.
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# Posted 7:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST returns from a fact-finding mission to the Darfur region in western Sudan, and shares his experiences and steps for saving lives in the Washington Post:
Their stories are horrific, and in most cases much the same: Janjaweed assaults are preceded by aerial attacks by government aircraft. In some cases, soldiers in government uniforms are present and references are made to ‘orders from Khartoum.’ Survivors tell of racial slurs as the militia sweeps through the villages.   The growing toll is by now familiar to many: Tens of thousands have been killed, more than a million forced from their homes, and hundreds of villages razed. The crimes committed also include mass rape, the slaughter of young boys and the destruction of village after village.

Unless the genocide in Darfur is halted immediately, tens of thousands more will die before the end of the year. The rainy season makes roads impassable for relief convoys and facilitates the spread of waterborne disease. The United States has provided more than 80 percent of the supplies now flowing to Darfur and eastern Chad, and has sent more than $140 million to aid the refugees.

The first step toward addressing this problem is to provide adequate security for the refugees to return home and for relief workers to assist them. Khartoum must abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1556: It must disarm (and disband) the militias and bring those responsible for their crimes to justice. It must provide unfettered access to humanitarian workers. And it must begin the political process critical to permanently resolving the differences between the Khartoum regime and the non-Arab peoples of Darfur.

Despite Khartoum's claims that it cannot meet the U.N. deadline, I believe it could do so in a matter of days. But given the government's likely motives, its failure to live up to previous agreements and its past practices, we should not rely on the Khartoum regime alone to fulfill its obligations. Nor can we rely on escalatory steps such as economic sanctions to pressure Khartoum as it employs dilatory and diversionary tactics to complete its final solution.

The crisis in Darfur is a regional problem that demands an African remedy. It requires forces capable of providing security in a timely and credible manner. Such a remedy is available. Forces led by the African Union (AU) are already deploying to the region. They can be complemented by troops from Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which stands ready to provide thousands of well-trained soldiers to protect the people of Darfur.
Frist is also sanguine about the prospect of enlisting the Sudanese People's Liberation Army against the government, though critics could well claim doing so may reignite one of Africa's worst civil wars:
The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is in a unique position to help. During one of the world's longest running civil wars, the SPLA fought Sudanese forces to a standstill. In June the Sudanese government and SPLM signed a historic peace accord that includes creating SPLA-GOS (government of Sudan) integrated units. Creating a security force for Darfur would merely accelerate this peace-building initiative.

Having been victimized by Khartoum for decades, the southern Sudanese understand the plight of their fellow citizens in Darfur. Khartoum claims it does not have the capacity to protect the people of Darfur. The southern Sudanese are eager and ready to provide the balance of forces.

Finally, logistical support for these AU-led forces could be provided by world nations as necessary. This formula builds on available resources and serves the needs of the people of Darfur. It also serves the interests of the region. It should be pursued immediately under U.N. auspices.
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# Posted 7:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

ROUND-UP OF THE COUNTERTERROR NEWS: So in the newspapers today, a 29-year old Pakistani-American has pled guilty in New York District Court to providing Al-Qa'eda with money, night-vision goggles, and other equipment to be used against US forces in Afghanistan. The government has indicated that it is close to releasing Yaser Esam Hamdi from custody after two years in a Navy brig. Pakistan has arrested five more Al Qa'eda suspects within the past fourty-eight hours. A group calling itself Islamic Tawid is threatening to launch terrorist attacks in El Salvador if the nation carries through its current plans to send troops to Iraq. And the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades have declared war on Turkey in a statement claiming responsibility for the explosion of three bombs in Istanbul on Tuesday.

In other defence news, Israel is testing its Arrow II anti-missile system, designed to counteract the Iranian Shahab-3 ballistic missile which Tehran announced its had successfully tested on Wednesday. Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday for consultations on a new counternarcotics initiative, as drug income is being used to fund insurgency and terrorism in the country.
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# Posted 7:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE REAL THREAT: A friend emails, 'forget all this blathering about Arab democracy, here's what we should really be concerned about.'
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# Posted 2:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WILL KERRY SAY ABOUT CAMBODIA? After dismissing the Kerry/Cambodia story as "pointless", I received a flood of critical e-mail. So now I've gone back and read up some more on the issue, and am going to back off my "pointless" comment, at least for the moment.

Now where to start? Both RS and ES take me to task for relying exclusively on Kevin Drum's account of the story, which I did. Kevin's main point is that Kerry has consistently told the exact same story about his experiences in Cambodia ever since he first told it in 1979. So why doubt what Kerry says?

This time around, I decided to click through on all of Kevin's links to see what evidence his account relies on. As a result, I think I've noticed something strange: Kerry himself hasn't made a clear statement about Cambodia in more than twelve years.

In June 1992, Kerry explicitly told the AP that his commanding officers sent him into Cambodia. The next document Kevin cites is a brief US News & World Report article from May 3, 2000 [subscription only] that mentions Kerry's mission in Cambodia but mentions no source for the claim.

Next, Kevin links to an article from last year's WaPo, in which Kerry pulls out his secret good luck hat and says it was "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia." However, this quote doesn't seem to be from the same interview that the WaPo conducted for the article, since it is preceded by the following caveat:
Asked about [the secret hat] on several occasions, Kerry brushed it
aside. Finally, trapped in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.
"An" interview? Which interview? It's a small question but an important one, since this quote is the only indication that Kerry still stands by his earlier account. Of course now that Instapundit is all over the story, I'm sure that Kerry himself will have to clear up the mess.

So what will Kerry say? Ann Haker suspects that Kerry wants the clamor to get as loud as possible. Once it does, he'll pull out evidence to support his position and make his critics look like fools.

That would be pretty impressive, although I don't think it's going to happen. Mark Steyn says that Kerry's own Vietnam diaries show that he clearly wasn't in Cambodia when he says he was. (Kevin Drum disagrees. I'm not sure.)

If Kerry doesn't confirm the story or tries to evade the question, we'll have a scandal on our hands. But will it be an important one, or just a one-day affair? In other words, so what if Kerry lied about or just creatively imagined his time in Cambodia?

As JB puts it, "Senator Kerry's candidacy is based on his resume and the stories he tells." JF, formerly a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne, writes that
Kerry made his Vietnam service central to his campaign for President. [But] I feel it goes even deeper than that. He has always portrayed his Vietnam service as the bedrock of who he is as a person and as a politician. If he “created” events that serve as that bedrock, it calls into question everything about him (to me).
A solid point. But what's harder to know is whether one fib about Cambodia will do all that much damage to Kerry's otherwise impressive war record. If Kerry stopped telling the Cambodia story back in 1992, I think he'll be safe. But if he told it more recently or tries to tell it again (without evidence to back it up), he'll be in a lot of trouble.

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# Posted 12:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"MILITANTS' BOMB KILLS 2 PALESTINIANS": That was the caption that ran beneath a front-page photo in today's NYT. I read it and said to myself "Oh sh**. Some crazy settler has gone and killed some innocent Palestinians."

But of course, that isn't what happened. As the article on page three explains, a Palestinian bomber detonated his explosive charge before reaching his target site, resulting in the deaths of two Palestinians as well as injuring both Israelis and Palestinians nearby.

The Times also came up with a classic headline in its Campaign 2004 update: "For Now, Bush's Mocking Drowns Out Kerry's Nuanced Explanation of His War Vote". [NB: The full headline is only in the print edition, not online.] Since the article is a "Political Memo", it doesn't have to be as non-partisan as a straight-up news report. But author David Sanger doesn't even seem to recognize that Kerry actually has flip-flopped on the war, rather than simply failing to explain the subtle nuances of his position.

Compare Sanger's reaction to that of Jon Stewart: "Noooo! Noooo! Does this guy want to lose the election? I think he's afraid of success!" [NB: Not an exact quote since I don't have a transcript of tonight's Daily Show.] On a similar note, Kerry backers like Kevin Drum have decided that the best way to defend Kerry is to admit that he's a fence straddler and then point out that Bush has been far from consistent on a number of important issues as well.

I agree with Kevin, except the fact is that Kerry has flip-flopped on Iraq, which I care about a helluva lot more than stem cells or a Patients' Bill of Rights.
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Thursday, August 12, 2004

# Posted 11:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BLOGOSPHERIC STEAMROLLER MARCHES ON: On Monday, Paul Krugman began his column with a shout out to Matt Yglesias for exposing the media's [alleged] failure to cover the violence in Iraq after the June 28 handover. Then, just tonight, Jon Stewart interviewed Bryan Keefer of Spinsanity about Spinsanity's new book, All the President's Spin.

While I don't agree with the points that either Matt or Bryan made (although Spinsanity has a great column in today's Philly Inquirer), I think it's very interesting to note how liberal pundits such as Krugman and Stewart are turning to bloggers for criticism of the media and its supposed failure to stand up to the White House spin machine. These sort of arguments, are of course, the inverse of most conservative bloggers' polemics against liberal bias in the media.

Leaving aside the question of who's right (you know where I stand on the issue), I think that a reliance on bloggers to watchdog the media suggest that we are well on our to way to achieving our #1 aspiration: watchdogging the media. It's sort of ironic, I guess. The most important indication of our success as watchdogs is that the media itself, or at least one part of it, is beginning to pay attention.

Which means that now we have to start thinking about how not to get co-opted.
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# Posted 8:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

IF YOU'RE READING THIS, YOU SHOULDN'T BE! Instead, OxBlog recommends you go outside immediately and look straight up. Tonight is one night past the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which is a beautiful sight and strongest between midnight and two a.m. My friend Saskia and I just got back from watching them from Oxford's Port Meadow with wine and berries, as well as with two other fellows we tripped over who were watching the meteorites from the ground.
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# Posted 6:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING TOM BROKAW: Why does OxBlog always beat up on the WaPo & NYT instead of the network news? Mostly because OxBlog never watches the network news. But I'm on vacation now, so here goes:

6:28 PM: Brokaw announces "stunning development" that NJ governor Jim McGreevey is gay and resigning. Is this really important enough to be the lead story?

6:30 PM: By the way, Brokaw is in Athens. Next story: A California court invalidates the first round of gay marriages in San Francisco.

6:31 PM: Now we're hearing about some storms in Florida. Gov. Jeb has declared a state of emergency in Florida. I thought weather reports were for the local news.

6:33 PM: Finally, Iraq. Very favorable coverage of US offensive in Najaf. Tolerant Americans not attacking near Shrine of Ali, even though video shows Sadrists firing mortars from within the Shrine compound. Final comment from correspondent less positive: Is US fighting the insurgency or just making it worse?

6:36 PM: Brokaw interviews a popular female politician from Greece. She lost her husband to domestic terrorists in the 1980s but thinks the US relies too much on force to win the war on terror.

Brokaw: "You resemble Athena. Will you become Prime Minister?" What next, asking Bush if he resembles Zeus?

6:41 PM: Brian Williams reports on drug use by Olympic athletes. I guess this is sort of important. But even the local news covers sports after news and business. By the way, this is NBC's special "in-depth" segment. I now feel educated.

6:45 PM: Commercials. All very boring. Wait...touchy-feely WalMart commercial bragging about its wonderful healthcare for employees. I must admit, I am skeptical.

6:48 PM: Cheney blasts Kerry for saying he would fight a more "sensitive" War on Terror. Dumb comment, reminiscent of Dukakis in a tank, but not really news.

6:50 PM: Next up: "Iraq's Olympic soccer team finally free to play for love of the game."

6:53 PM: "A story that should bring cheers and tears to those from any countries."

6:54 PM: Footage of Uday's torture chamber. Footage of upset win over Portuga. Brokaw smiles benevolently.

6:56 PM: Broadcast closes with footage of the Olympic torch.

6:56 PM: Promo for "Extra" promises to reveal lost scene from Fahrenheit 9/11. I'll probably regret it, but I will watch if they show it first.

6:59 PM: Apparently, Moore cut some footage of Porter Goss bashing the President's record intelligence. Now some footage of Kerry appearing on a sitcom.

7:01 PM: I'm hungry. Time for dinner. Verdict: You could learn five times as much by spending 30 minutes reading a newspaper rather than watching the network news.
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# Posted 6:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ WINS OLYMPIC UPSET: The Baghdad eleven surprised Portugal in soccer.
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# Posted 3:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

KERRY FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR RAND BEERS SITS DOWN with the Council on Foreign Relations to answer questions about what a Kerry foreign policy would look like.
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# Posted 2:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

SOMETHING FISHY HERE (AND IT'S NOT FISH): Yesterday, we linked to a story in Reuters about an MIT linguist named Amy Perfors who published a research note in the New Scientist which correlated the names on 'Hot or Not' pictures to the scores their posters received. The only problem is....the Hot or Not site doesn't list the names of the people in the pictures. Has the New Scientist been had?

Actually, no. OxBlog's own original research showed that Amy photoshopped the names on to the pictures. Also, we've incidentally decided she's pretty hot, even in spite of having the wrong vowels in her name. But kudos to our intrepid readers for pointing this out (especially Chad Brooks, who's somehow more familiar with 'Hot or Not' than we are)!
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOMETHING ABOUT KERRY IN CAMBODIA: The whole thing seems pretty pointless. Kevin Drum has the details. I think conservatives would gain more ground by hitting Kerry on actual issues that matter. In fact, that's probably why the President himself is bearing down on Kerry's concession on Monday that he still would've voted to authorize an invasion of Iraq in spite of what we now know about pre-war intelligence failures.

In an earlier post, Kevin asks:
Does John Kerry sometimes straddle difficult issues in an effort to please multiple constituencies? Sure. So do all politicians. Kerry's real problem, though, isn't that he straddles more than anyone else, but that he does it badly. When he explains his positions, he sounds like he's straddling...

So what explains Bush's reputation as a straight shooter? Two things.
First, he has a pair of signature issues on which he's been as resolute as a bulldozer: Iraq and taxes. On these two issues, both of which have widespread support among both his conservative base and voters at large, Bush has been steadfast.

Second, and more important, his rhetoric is simple and uncompromising and most people are surprisingly willing to uncritically accept his speechwriters' words as a reflection of his real self.
Reason is one is solid but I don't buy reason two. Opinion polls show that Americans don't think Bush is all that honest in spite of his "simple and uncompromising" rhetoric. What it comes down to is that foreign policy is the big issue in this campaign and it's the one on which Kerry wants to straddle the fence.
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# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FISKING FEITH: Josh Marshall rips apart Doug Feith's op-ed in Saturday's WaPo. Say what you will about TPM, Feith deserves a public thrashing for such an embarrasingly stupid piece.

Then again how can you come up with an intelligent argument to defend Feith's suggestion -- made just nine days after September 11th -- that because of
limited options immediately available in Afghanistan [the US
should consider] hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq.
Yes, an undersecretary of defense really did say "a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq." Yet somehow, George W. Bush never made things that clear.
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# Posted 12:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING THE DAILY SHOW: I figure I need some practice if I'm going to live blog the Republican convention, so here goes:

10:58 PM: Reno 911 just ended. Funny show.

10:59 PM: Opening music for the Daily Show. The clock on my computer is obviously slow.

11:00 PM: Robert Novak in a blue dress. Yikes!

11:01 PM: My parents are now watching the show with me. This requires explaining all of the jokes since the pop culture references are lost on them. Then again, having parents who don't recognize Sigfried & Roy probably was good for me.

11:07 PM: Just finished the segment on Republicans who want to put Nader on the ballot. Ed Helms is awesome!

11:12 PM: Stephen Colbert presents "This Week in God". Says Catholicism turns high school girls into either virgins or whores. OxBlog's anecdotal experience confirms this fact.

11:15 PM: Commercial for Arm & Hammer deoderant. Dad says Mitchum's is the best deoderant. It's so strong it will last for two days. But it's expensive.

11:16 PM: Commercial for the Olive Garden. I really don't like the Olive Garden. Italian grandmothers everywhere are rolling in their graves.

11:19 PM: Tom Cruise arrives. He's wearing a retro-70s red leather jacket. Bad choice. Dad reminds me that Cruise is part of a suspicious cult that has something to do with L. Ron Hubbard.

11:21 PM: I can't believe this guy scored with Nicole Kidman and Penelope Cruz. Not that he doesn't deserve it. It's just so unbelievably awesome.

11:25 PM: The interview's over. Funny stuff, especially when Stewart asked Cruise if when he's with his kids, he walks into the room where they are and the suddenly go "Omigod! It's Tom Cruise!"

You know, I actually feel that way about my own parents sometimes. They're pretty cool and there are a lot of people who really admire them for their work. Fortunately, the National Enquirer doesn't publish stories about their love life. That would be so f***ed up.

11:28 PM: The 'Moment of Zen' and closing credits. Now it's time for Colin Quinn. For me, it's time for a sandwich.

Buh-bi-buh-bi-buh-bi, that's all folks!

UPDATE, 11:38 PM: My mother points out that doctoral candidates at Oxford should know how to spell "deodorant".
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# Posted 10:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DISPOSABLE VEEPS: Josh Spivak points out that incumbents from Thomas Jefferson to US Grant and all the way up to Gerald Ford have dumped their vice-presidents from the ticket in order to increase their chances of re-election. But as Josh points out, that doesn't mean Bush has any interest in getting rid of Cheney.
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# Posted 7:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

Linguist Amy Perfors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posted photos of men and women on the U.S. Web site "Hot or Not," which lets viewers rate pictures according to how attractive they find them.

When she posted the same pictures with different names, she found that the attractiveness scores went up and down depending on the vowels, the London-based magazine New Scientist reported.

Men with "front vowels" in their names -- sounds formed at the front of the mouth like the "a" in Matt -- were considered sexier than men with "back vowel" sounds like the "au" in Paul, she concluded.

The opposite held for women, who were sexier with back vowels than front ones.

Perfors said front vowels are often perceived as "smaller" than back vowels, so the difference could be a sign that women are seeking men that are sensitive or gentle, traits usually perceived as feminine. (Reuters)
Hurrah for useful research!
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# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOOD OLD-FASHIONED MUCKRACKING: On yesterday's front-page, the NYT exposed the Bush Administration's corrupt and farcical efforts to regulate the mining industry:
In 1997, as a top executive of a Utah mining company, David Lauriski proposed a measure that could allow some operators to let coal-dust levels rise substantially in mines. The plan went nowhere in the government.

Last year, it found enthusiastic backing from one government official -- Mr. Lauriski himself. Now head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, he revived the proposal despite objections by union officials and health experts that it could put miners at greater risk of black-lung disease.
It's an ugly story that provides a lot of evidence to back up its claims. But how do I know that the NYT is being reasonably fair and balanced? I don't.

Until the summer I started blogging, I operated on the assumption that anything published in the NYT or WaPo was basically accurate, unless it had to do with Israel. Not knowing the first thing about coal mining or its impact on the environment, I don't have any reason to think that the Times' story isn't accurate.

But how often does the NYT run a front-page story exposing the efforts of extreme environmentalists to impose unfair regulations on struggling industries? I can't remember any stories like that, but that may be my fault and not the Times'. I was raised to believe that enviornmentalists are the good guys and that industrialists are the bad.

You might say that I grew up with an admirable degree of moral clarity. But now I walk through a shadowed valley of epistemological doubt. If I'm not an expert on a subject, I try to avoid having firm opinions about it. However, that's sort of unfortunate since democracy thrives when citizens are able to debate a broad range of subjects rather than deferring to the judgment of the experts.

So, is there anything we can do about this as citizens? I'm not so sure. I think the best advice I have is that everyone should start their own blog.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS JON STEWART AN EENSY WEENSY BIT HYPOCRITICAL? Four years ago, I saw Jon Stewart do a live stand-up show in Washington. I have never seen anything that funny in my life. And now when I watch The Daily Show, I can't stop myself from laughing out loud.

But just like The Onion, Stewart is a lot less funny when his one-sided politics result in one-sided comedy -- or no comedy at all.

Last night, Stewart interviewed Bill Clinton. Tonight he interviewed Maureen Dowd. He didn't ask them serious questions. He didn't ask them funny questions. He just went on and on about how evil the Republicans are and then asked if Clinton and Dowd thought so too. Answer: yes, they do.

Now, as certain people people pointed out after I skewered The Onion, you've probably got a baseball bat stuck way up where the sun don't shine if you spend your time denouncing a satire for being unfair. Because isn't the point of a satire to be unfair?

Sure it is. But given Jon Stewart's well-advertised aspiration to fortify his humor with serious intellectual heft, I think he's fair game. Moreover, Stewart explicitly tries to demonstrate that the mainstream media roll over too easily when confronted by aggressive spin. Then Stewart tries to compensate by getting tough with the same spin doctors who take the mainstream for a ride.

Take a look at this interview with Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX), who was part of the GOP's "rapid response team" at the Democratic convention. It's more of an interrogation than an interview and its devastatingly effective.

Unfortunately, The Daily Show hasn't posted any clips yet for the Clinton and Dowd interviews, and I can't find any transcripts on the web. So you'll have to take my word for the fact that Stewart tossed both of them softball after softball. But you don't have to take my word for the fact that there are lot of tough questions out there waiting to be asked.

Now if Stewart came out and said that he's a passionate Democrat and that the purpose of the show is to make the best case possible against George Bush and the GOP, I wouldn't mind his being one-sided. But as long as he poses as a fair-and-balanced man in the street, he should have the guts to get tough with liberals as well as conservatives.
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Monday, August 09, 2004

# Posted 10:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... is from CNN, and concerns Koko, the sign-language communicating ape:
About a month ago, Koko, a 300-plus-pound ape who became famous for mastering more than 1,000 signs, began telling her handlers at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside she was in pain. They quickly constructed a pain chart, offering Koko a scale from one to 10.

When Koko started pointing to nine or 10 too often, a dental appointment was made. And because anesthesia would be involved, her handlers used the opportunity to give Koko a head-to-toe exam.

"She's quite articulate," volunteer Johnpaul Slater said. "She'll tell us how bad she's feeling, how bad the pain is. It looked like it was time to do something."

They crowded around her, and Koko, who plays favorites, asked one woman wearing red to come closer. The woman handed her a business card, which Koko promptly ate.
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Saturday, August 07, 2004

# Posted 5:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VIETNAMESE AMERICANS WILL VOTE FOR BUSH: Instapundit points to this article, which says that their pro-Bush margin is 90 to 10. Even though Glenn doesn't add any commentary to his post, one gets the sense that it is a subtle dig at Kerry for parading his service record. After all, if he was such a hero, why don't the Vietnamese think so?

There are two answers to this question. First, Vietnamese immigrants to the United States tend to be those who suffered (or expected to suffer) most as a result of the Communist victory. They have historically supported Republicans because of their hawkish anti-Communist views.

The second answer to this question is related to the first. Most Americans have forgotten that our withdrawal from Vietnam facilitated brutal Communist repression in the South, after it was overrun in 1975. Anti-war activists such as Kerry tend to avoid any mention of the human cost of surrender, because it damages their moral stature. A complex issue to say the least.
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# Posted 5:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG IS RICH! When I decided to spend the upcoming year at UVA instead of Harvard, it meant accepting a 10% pay cut. Then I saw what the cost of living was in Charlottesville as opposed to Cambridge. Thanks to 75% cut in the cost of rent and utilities, I will have more money than I know what to do with. Even after buying a car, I'm going to have far more spending money than I ever did in Cambridge (or Oxford for that matter).

So, why am I telling you all of this? Because I have to tell someone about this kind of good luck! And if any of you print out this post and bring it to Charlottesville (even if you already live there) the drinks are on me.
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Friday, August 06, 2004

# Posted 12:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

HISTORICAL PORN: BBC muses embarassingly about the first century British guerilla Boudicca as showing the frailty of 'superpowers [who] like to think they are untouchable', particularly ones who try to 'win the hearts and minds of [Iraqis, er, I mean,] Britons'. But this is all about history, of course. And BBC has apparently not learnt the simple lesson that sharing one's pornographic fantasies online is rarely a good idea.
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# Posted 2:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG ON THE RUN: Tomorrow I head down to Virginia to look for a place to live. Since Patrick and Josh are also in transit, posting may be light to non-existent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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# Posted 2:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOTTA HAVE HART: Just in case that last post wasn't enough, check out Phil Carter and Robert Tagorda's thoughtful posts on Gary Hart.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GARY HART'S GRAND STRATEGY: In the spring of 2001, I sat down with Gary Hart to have lunch in the Covered Market at Oxford. We'd gotten to know one another because of our mutual friendship with John Lewis Gaddis, who'd inspired both of us to study grand strategy and think about how the United States might develop one.

Much of what Sen. Hart and I talked about prefigured the central message of his new book, The Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the Twenty-First Century. Both of us strongly believed that a grand strategy built around the promotion of democracy and human rights had the potential to transcend the partisan divide by appealing to the ideals of both Democrats and Republicans.

Back in the spring of 2001, Hart was not yet known as the author of prophetic report about the threat of international terrorism. As Ryan Lizza sums it up in his review of Hart's book,
During the 1990's, when the foreign policy establishment was obsessed with Star Wars and other issues left over from the cold war, Hart headed a commission on national security with another former senator, Warren Rudman. Its report, issued early in 2001, warned of catastrophic terrorist attacks in which ''Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.'' Incredibly, the work of the Hart-Rudman commission was widely ignored by the press and the Bush administration.

[UPDATE: RB points out that much of Hart's work was done before Bush took office and the Clinton folks ignored it as well.]

Prof. Gaddis, however, recommended that I read the report because it reflected a conscious effort to map out a grand strategy for the United States of America. In spite of its prescience, the report said little to nothing about American ideals. According to Sen. Hart, this oversight reflected the difficulty of forging a consensus among the report's many authors.

But now that Hart has his own book, he can talk at length about those ideals. Since I don't yet have a copy, I'm going to restrict myself to addressing the points that Sen. Hart raises in an LA Times column that summarizes the arguments in his book. At first, Hart's call for an idealistic foreign policy comes across as an implicit condemnation of John Kerry's calculated avoidance of any promises to promote democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. But then Hart writes that
Some so-called neoconservatives in the Bush administration have evoked Woodrow Wilson for the purpose of making the United States the missionary of democracy, neglecting the important truth that Wilson's methods were internationalist and peaceful, not unilateralist and militaristic.
Coming from an individual with a doctorate in American history, Hart's thumbnail account of Wilson's foreign policy is profoundly disappointing. If you ask the people of Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua, they will tell you that Wilson was a cynical and aggressive unilateralist whose self-righteous idealism did nothing to prevent him from invading and occupying their homelands. If you ask the people of Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua what they think of the current American president, they'd probably say exactly the same thing.

On a similar note, Wilson also sought to promote democracy at gunpoint in Germany and Central Europe. His League of Nations may have been multilateralist by design, but its significance paled in comparison to the Peace of Versailles, which was imposed on Europe by the victorious Anglo-Franco-American cabal.

Correcting Hart's account of Wilson is extremely important because influential Democrats have been distorting Wilson's legacy for almost thirty years. In the course of my research on US-Central American relations under Carter and Reagan, I have come across countless speeches in which Democrats lionize Wilson for his dedication to multilateralism and peace.

Although sincere, this sort of rhetoric reflected the political imperative of providing a historical foundation for the strident anti-interventionism of the post-Vietnam left. Its policies were those of Jimmy Carter even if Democrats attributed them to Woodrow Wilson.

When Reagan came into power and began to pursue a foreign policy that was truly Wilsonian, few Democrats opposed him more vehemently than Gary Hart. Even though numerous Democrats supported Ronald Reagan's efforts to promote democracy at gunpoint in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Hart refused to do so until the anti-Communists in those nations curbed their horrific abuses of human rights.

As this example demonstrates quite well, the American values that Hart idealizes often come into conflict with one another. At least in his LAT column, Hart misses this point entirely. Instead, he seems to presume that there is a single, correct interpretation of what American values are.

The potential for conflict within the American value system has often been overlooked in recent months because John Kerry has studiously avoided any sort of idealistic pretensions. When OxBlog debates with Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias and Laura Rozen about the importance of idealism in American foreign policy, they defend John Kerry on the ground that idealism is overrated, especially the faux idealism of George W. Bush.

Thus, one might ask whether Hart's idealism places him somewhere on the political spectrum that is further from Kerry and closer to Bush. The answer to that question is a definitive 'no'. Like Jimmy Carter, Hart elevates the principle of multilateralism to a status on par with that of democracy and human rights.

Back in the 1980s, John Kerry opposed Reagan's Nicaragua policy on the exact same grounds as Gary Hart. Kerry described that policy as recklessly unilateralist and totally disinterested in human rights. Back then, multilateralism for Kerry was a matter of principle. Yet now Kerry's portrays his multilateralism as a realistic means of enhancing America's strength.

When I met Gary Hart for lunch in the spring of 2001, I was a first-year grad student who had no appreciation of the potential for conflict within the American value system. While I salute his efforts to reinvigorate the idealism of the Democratic left, I fear that his definition of American idealism will bring us no closer to bipartisanship than Kerry's realist rhetoric.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS LAND IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT YOUR LAND: The music company that owns the copyright to Woody Guthrie's classic song has threatened to sue the Jib Jab brothers, creators of the wildly successful parody based on Guthrie's work. (Hat tip: Bo Cowgill)

The legal issue at play is whether the Jib Jab parody represents "fair use" of Guthrie's work. A key precedent in the matter is a 1994 ruling that permitted photographer Thomas Forsythe to depict "naked Barbie dolls in compromising positions with kitchen appliances." For the record, I'd just like to state that OxBlog's kitchen appliances prefer women with realistic proportions and proper educations.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

# Posted 11:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

READING LIST: So having briefly made it onto the grid again in Manhattan (and that via mooching off of a next-door neighbour's wireless internet), I thought I'd compile together a handful of pieces I think are worth reading:

Jamie Kirchik contrasts the Lieberman, Biden, and Kerry doctrines (in descending order of approval) and writes in The Hill on what the sad response to Lieberman's speech says about the Democratic party.

Carnegie has put out another edition of its always informative Arab Reform Bulletin, focusing on women in the Arab world. And the Transatlantic Democracy Network has released a new Democracy Digest.

Writing in Foreign Policy, John Kerry lays out his foreign policy in a piece with the title If I Were President: Addressing the Democratic Deficit. The subtitle is promising, but receives short shrift in the piece itself - which in its sole sentence on the topic hints that democracy should be aided overseas by education and, more strangely, family planning.
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# Posted 12:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEDERAL BUREAU OF INCOMPETENCE: Dan Drezner is bewildered by what passes for reform at FBI headquarters. Dan also catches the New Yorker exaggerating the impact of outsourcing on US jobs. Before that, Dan caught the Kerry campaign talking out of both sides of its mouth on free trade.

In contrast to his tough reviews of the FBI, The New Yorker and the Kerry campaign, Dan goes pretty soft on Baywatch bombshell Pamela Anderson. Or should I say hard?
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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

# Posted 3:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONTEXT CLUES: Last week I put up a post criticizing the lack of idealism in Democratic foreign policy. The post was based on Laura Rozen and Matt Yglesias' respective accounts of a panel discussion with big-name Dems held during the Democratic conventions.

In response, both Laura and Matt have pointed out that their accounts were not meant to be comprehensive, so the conclusion I pulled out of them do not represent what the panelists said. I hope that's the case, since I was pretty disappointed.

For the benefit of both myself and all y'all, I'd hoped to find a transcript of the panel discussion, but haven't had any luck on that front so far. For the moment, I'll ask a couple of quick questions about Matt & Laura's clarifications. Matt writes that
The reason [Rand] Beers in particular didn't talk about promoting democracy is that, as I said, he didn't talk about promoting anything. His line was that a Kerry administration would have the exact same goals as the Bush administration, so he was going to talk about the differences between Kerry's internationalist method of achieving those goals...

I took Beers to be saying that Kerry, like Bush, believes in achieving long-term victory over the forces of violent global jihad by spreading democratic norms to the Middle East.
Given Matt's suspicion of George W.'s commitment to those goals, it's somewhat strange to give a well-known realist like Beers a free pass because he implied his goals are the same as George Bush's. When I hear something like that coming from Beers, it suggests that he's happy to talk about democracy and then do just as little to achieve it as he [Beers] expects Bush of doing.

Next up, Laura writes that she
was struck listening to the team I heard speak [at the panel] by something that may be better than foreign policy idealism: the marriage of real commitment to do what's possible to make lives better for lots of people on the planet, with an incredible, unideological wealth of experience knowing how to make it happen, from post war nation building, to working with allies on intervening to stop ethnic conflict, to having the right types of troops -- military police, special operatives -- to do these tasks, to getting Republican right wingers to agree to pay the US's UN dues. This is not glamorous stuff. This is the hard learned, hard-slogging negotiations, often done at the domestic level, but internationally too, of marrying often extremely idealistic goals -- getting anti retroviral therapies to as many people infected in Africa, stopping a war that was killing tens of thousands, etc. -- with real how-to knowledge. What's missing of course from the Rumsfeld conduct of post-war Iraq has always been that sort of pragmatism.
I think that's a pretty good summing up of the experience-is-better-than-empty-promises meme that Democratic pundits are using to defend Kerry & Edwards for their lack of idealism. Does it wash? Actually, yes. I certainly take the argument seriously, although I don't see the experience vs. idealism issue as being as black and white as Laura does. (See, I'm nuanced just like Kerry!)

If Kerry's foreign policy is going to build on the Clinton precedent of competence rather than idealism, we can probably expect similar results. Clinton played the idealism card very heavily in his first couple of years in office, talking consistently about enlargement of the democratic world. At the same time, he abaondoned Somalia, ignored Rwanda and protested with great indignance and minimal effectiveness about rampant murder in Bosnia.

In his second term, Clinton finally consummated the marriage of strength and idealism by putting an end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. I'm just concerned that we'll have to wait for year seven of a prospective Kerry administration before getting a policy that's anything like that. In the meantime, the people of the Iraq and the cause of global may be far better served by this administration's reckless idealism.

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# Posted 12:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO COULD DISAGREE WITH THAT? John Kerry said in his acceptance speech that
I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."
As Bob Kagan rightly points out, Kerry would get an 'F' in American history if he wrote that on a final exam. No wars of choice means no wars to stop ethnic cleansing (Bosnia/Kosovo) and no wars to uphold international law (Gulf War I).

If so, what differentiates John Kerry from the isolationists of the past? I'll tell you what: the fact that he didn't really mean what he said. If faced with an impending genocide, say in the Sudan, Kerry would check the opinion polls and, if America wants, declare that genocide is a mortal threat to all that America stands for. If faced with wanton aggression, say a Russian invasion of Georgia, Kerry would check the polls and declare that America cannot be secure in a world without law.

In the finaly analysis, I think Kagan is right about what Kerry believes but doesn't recognize just how much ambiguity there is even in some of Kerry's most explicit statements.
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# Posted 12:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LETTERMAN INTERVIEWS CLINTON: The interview was almost all softballs, with an occasional tough-sounding question thrown in, e.g. Did John Kerry have a lackluster record in the Senate, since his name wasn't on any major bills?

Needless to say, Clinton had no problem dealing with that one. What struck me, though, was that Clinton's praise for Kerry was somewhat lukewarm. More than once, he said Kerry would make a "good" President. Surely an inspirational speaker like Clinton could do better than that.

Clinton also insisted more than once that Kerry should be as specific as possible about what he would do as President, especially in Iraq. I'm wondering if Clinton really meant that. Kerry and Edwards' highly evasive acceptance speeches suggest that they recognize that straddling the fence on Iraq is a political imperative for the candidates of a divided party. And Clinton himself provided almost no specific recommendations of his own, although he did peddle the NATO-will-help-out-if-we-are-nicer-to-them proposal. Yeah right.

Also of note, Clinton rejected Dave Letterman's suggestion that yesterday's Orange Alert in NY and Washington was politically motivated. Clinton said straight that the Bush administration was doing its best to deal with a tough issue.

Finally, here are a couple of questions that I would've asked Clinton:
1. John Kerry constantly insists that his military experience makes him uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief. Did your lack of military experience make you less effective as commander-in-chief?

2. As President, you insisted time and time again that promoting democracy is both a moral and strategic imperative for the United States. In contrast, John Kerry has studiously avoided saying that he will commit American resources to ensuring a democratic outcome in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Is he making a big mistake?

3. John Kerry says that President Bush misled this nation into invading Iraq. While you were President, you vociferiously stated that Saddam Hussein had massive WMD stockpiles and should be deposed. Were you misled? And was Sen. Kerry misled when he voted for the war in the fall of 2002?
Yeah, I know you don't get questions like that on the Late Show. But a blogger can dream, can't he?

UPDATE: The fiendishly clever RB writes:
I would modify your question #1 slightly by asking Bill Clinton the following:

1.      John Kerry constantly insists that his military experience makes him uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief. Would Hillary’s lack of military experience make her less effective as commander-in-chief?

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

# Posted 6:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOLERANCE IN IRAQ: The response of mainstream clerics to the recent church-bombings in Iraq has been almost as inspiring as the bombings themselves were devastating. Rather than speak through an intermediary, Ayatollah Sistani himself described the bombings as "criminal" and declared that Iraqi Christians have a right to live in peace.

Surprisingly, Moqtada Sadr concurred that the bombings were simply unacceptable. Condemnation also arrived from Sunni clerics with ties to the insurgents.

These responses are so important because those who argue that Iraq isn't ready for democracy insist that democracy cannot survive without a tradition of tolerance that compels the resolution of disputes through debate rather than violence. Thus if Sunni and Shi'ite are capable of recognizing the rights of Christians, perhaps they will be able to co-exist with one another as well.
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# Posted 5:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRUGMAN VS. CABLE TELEVISION: There are two good reasons to read Paul Krugman's column in this morning's NYT. First, it cites three blog or blog-like websites in its opening sentence. Second it addresses straight on the issue of media bias. Krugman writes:
CNN used to be different [from Fox], but Campaign Desk, which is run by The Columbia Journalism Review, concluded after reviewing convention coverage that CNN "has stooped to slavish imitation of Fox's most dubious ploys and policies." Seconds after John Kerry's speech, CNN gave Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party's chairman, the opportunity to bash the candidate. Will Terry McAuliffe be given the same opportunity right after President Bush speaks?
I'm guessing McAuliffe will, especially now that Krugman has called out CNN. But more importantly, McAuliffe and Gillespie should have the opportunity to respond right after Kerry and Bush get an hour of free air time in order to broadcast their acceptance speeches. When the President addresses the nation live on network television, the doctrine of equal access compels the networks to let a member of the opposition address the nation live immediately after the conclusion of the President's address.

As such, I'm mystified as to why Krugman describes CNN's interview with Gillespie as a "dubious ploy". However, I'm going to suspend judgment for now because the fact is that I almost never watch CNN or any of the network news programs despite the fact that they are the most influential sources of public information in terms of their access to a truly national audience.

Moreover, regardless of my disagreement with Krugman on points of substance, I'm glad that he's addressing the media bias issue head on. It's a subject that should be debated more often on major editorial pages.

It is also quite instructive that Krugman has chosen to publicize his reliance on blog or blog-like websites to serve as watchdogs for the mainstream media. The blogosphere's ambition to surveil professional journalists is perhaps our most ambitious, and thus it is gratifying to see an influential columnist recognize our success in that endeavor.

Of course, Krugman may have to depend on blogs for such criticism of the mainstream media, since the NYT's own in-house ombudsman/'Public Editor' has set off a firestorm by concluding that this NYT does have a marked liberal bias, at least as far as cultural issues are concerned.

For a good laugh, read the outraged letters to the Public Editor sent in by liberal readers. Almost all of them argue that there's nothing wrong with a liberal slant since liberalism equals truth. For example:
Your examination of where the Times fits -- left or right -- seems to accept the right's contention that there should be equality between the two. But where the left looks for empirical evidence to support its views, the right already has the theological received wisdom that brooks no contradiction. Why give the right's views the same weight as the left's? Why present religiously based arguments as equally valid?
Facing an audience like that, it's no surpise that Okrent has chosent to spend all of August on vacation.
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# Posted 1:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BAY AREA BLOG COVERAGE: San Francisco resident and OxBrother HA points to the following article in the SF Chronicle, which is friendlier to bloggers than most:
Yes, most bloggers blog about blogs.

But the political bloggers, as a breed, are a more focused group...The result was a deserving skewering of the mainstream media for showing up to [a Convention] that most privately gripe about covering...

While the Web log authors were in an appropriate amount of awe of their pioneering role at the convention, no one seemed more obsessed about the historical significance of the moment than the mainstream media. The amount of newspaper articles and columns written about the bloggers (including this one) outnumber the actual Web logs by about 2-to-1 -- even though the 36 credentialed bloggers represented less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the 15,000 total media at the convention.

And most of the articles, according to the bloggers who criticized the missives, got it wrong. In the end, the bloggers prefer to define themselves.
Full disclosure: I am highly partial to newspapers that quote me by name and make me sound oh-so-clever. FYI, WaPo.com quoted the exact same post as the Chronicle. Talk about 15 minutes!
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