OxBlog

Monday, October 11, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

2+2=PARANOIA? Under the heading "Scare Tactics Work", I recently read in the WaPo that:
Less than one month after Kerry threw out the suggestion that Bush might reinstate the military draft, a new poll shows nearly half of younger voters swallowed the Democratic nominee's bait, hook, line and sinker.

The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election survey found about 50 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds believe Bush will bring back the compulsory draft. It also found this group is often clueless about the candidate's views. "Young voters are much more misinformed about the presidential candidates' positions on the draft than the population in general," said Kate Kenski, a senior analyst for the group. Bush has repeatedly denied he would reinstitute the draft.
It turns out that this sort of ignorance is no accident. The LA Times reports that Rock The Vote, an officially non-partisan organization supported by MTV, recently
Sent fake draft cards to nearly 640,000 e-mail addresses.

"You've been drafted" was the subject line of the message sent by Rock the Vote. The message contained an image of a draft card addressed to the recipient and warned, "real cards may be in the mail soon if the situation doesn't improve."...

Rock the Vote political director Hans Riemer said the group was trying to inform its members about the limits of U.S. military forces, not persuade them to vote for a particular candidate.

"It would be crazy if young people went to the polls and didn't factor this into their votes, however they come down on it. It's very real," said Riemer. "We're one major military conflict away from the draft. I don't see why candidates get to talk about war all day long and we can't talk about a draft."...

Last week, House Republicans sought to dispel suggestions that the war in Iraq could lead to a new draft by hastily bringing the idea to a vote and defeating it in a 402-2 vote.
I met Hans during the GOP convention. My sense is that he really believes what he's saying and that he has no idea how liberal and partisan his non-partisan activism really is.
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# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOBEL PRIZE FOR TINFOIL HAT? Reader MM points to Ms. Maathai's bizarre comments, recorded in this AFP dispatch:

Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys (since) time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that...

"It's true that there are some people who create agents to wipe out other people. If there were no such people, we could have not have invaded Iraq," she said.

"We invaded Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had made, or was in the process of creating agents of biological warfare," said Maathai.

"In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare," she added.

I guess there are two ways you can look at this. If you're conservative, it serves as a useful reminder that Nobel Peace Prize winners are often out of touch with reality. If you're liberal, it demonstrates that only someone thoroughly out of touch with reality could've supported the invasion of Iraq.
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# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'STROS WIN! 'STROS WIN! Chafetz delirious.
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# Posted 6:16 PM by Patrick Belton  

BEST PARTISAN DEMOCRATIC APPEAL INVOLVING A CARTOON AND A YIDDISH ACCENTED GRANDMOTHER: here.
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# Posted 3:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

INTO THE ARAB MIND: Retired Col. Norvell De Atkine, who teaches at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and is an 'incurable romantic' about the region in which he served during tours in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, in this issue of Middle East Quarterly corrects some of the more misguided factual errors in Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece 'The Gray Zone' about the book The Arab Mind, by the cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai, and its rather less sinister role in Army education about the Middle East than Hersh imagined. De Atkine also presents his own thoughtful, nuanced exposition of the psychology of the Arab world, its potentialities, and his reflections as an area officer traversing the semipermeable membrance separating it from the West. He is, in the end, touchingly an optimist: in a concluding sentence worthy of T. E. Lawrence, he writes 'Ultimately, the Arabs, who are an immensely determined and adaptable people, will produce leadership capable of freeing them from ideological and political bondage, and this will allow them to achieve their rightful place in the world.'
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# Posted 7:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUT OF THE MAILBAG: You wrote in, and in droves, with your own favourite funny stupid national anthem tricks. Here are just three selections:
On the subject of state songs, you should be aware of that of Maryland, my favorite, by far.  You can find it here. Don't stop reading before you get to the last verse.   - Aaron Gurwitz (friend, incidentally, of OxParents Prof. Adesnik and Rabbi Hauptman) In re: 'It was adopted as the State song of Maryland in 1939 and remains so today, possibly because, as Richard Marius points out in The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry, it has had little competition.'

Was rather surprised you didn't mention the Japanese. ed.: Duly remedied It's a lovely song with a somewhat mournful melody, glorifying the reign of the emperor (may you reign for 8000 yrs, etc.) Does he get time off for good behaviour? Some people think it sounds kind of evil. Very different, in any event, from the majority of national anthems. - Adrian Jensen, Columbia

You may already know this, but as far as outdated state songs go, Texas had a strong claim until recently.  From 1959 to 1993, we persisted in claiming, every time we sang "Texas, Our Texas," to be the "largest and grandest" state -- pointedly ignoring that other large upstart with oil so recently admitted to the Union.  (I remember being sentenced by my seventh grade Texas History teacher to stand in the corner for a half an hour back in, oh, about 1970 or so for arguing that I shouldn't have to sing a song that contained such an obvious lie.)  By act of the Texas Legislature in 1993, however, the song lyrics were amended to "boldest and grandest," which certainly puts those mellow Alaskans back in their place!  (Rumor was that the Legislature was trying to work in something about "Big Hair," but couldn't get the rhythm to work.) Plus, we have our own flag pledge. Best regards, Beldar
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# Posted 6:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANDREA GRIMES, a senior journalism student at NYU and shameless anglophile, is on assignment, blogging about the British reaction to the US elections. Her prose is sharp, and bears situating in the tradition of one of my favourite writers, who also wrote his reflections as an American intellectual in England.
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Sunday, October 10, 2004

# Posted 11:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNKNOWN HEROES: Congratulation to Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. I never heard of her until today, but she seems to be a truly remarkable women who has made a tremendous contribution to the growth of human rights, democracy, and environmental protection in her native Kenya.

One passage in the WaPo article about Maathai struck me as unusual, however. Correspondent Emily Wax writes that:
The tall and velvet-voiced Maathai joins past laureates who include former president Jimmy Carter, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr.
Wax might also have written that:
The tall and velvet-voiced Maathai joins past laureates who include amoral egomaniac Henry Kissinger, incompetent terrorist Yasser Arafat and imaginative liar Rigoberta Menchu.
No disrespect is meant toward Ms. Maathai, yet is important to remember that the favor of the international community is a capricious thing. Thus, we should do our best to remember that thousands and thousands of heroic activists who struggle for freedom will never win a Nobel Prize, thus entitling them to the protection that it affords.

Until just a few days ago, Wangari Maathai was one of those activists. Had she been imprisoned or murdered -- she was beaten and arrested in 1999 -- we might never have known.

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# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN VOTES: During a pit stop on the way home from Washington, I saw this morning's top headline in the Post: Afghan Election Disputed. I thought to myself, "Typical. Just typical. And it was probably our fault, too."

When I got home, I saw the next headline up on the WaPo website: Afghan Election Concerns Subside. As of right now -- 10:55 PM on Sunday -- the abbreviated headline on the WaPo homepage reads: "Concerns Subside on Historic Afghan Election".

I guess the Post isn't all that worried about corruption anymore, otherwise it wouldn't make much sense to call the elections historic. For the moment, the evidence of election-tampering seems thin. Even the initial WaPo article on the subject contained nothing more than allegations by losing candidates.

Yet I have heard quite often that the number of registered voters in Afghanistan is greater than the number of eligible ones. So I guess the story isn't over yet.

But whatever the outcome, one story will remain: the massive turnout of Afghan voters. As is so often the case when a long-suffering nation is finally given the chance to vote, the public response has been overwhelming.

The people of Afghanistan have affirmed that even in those nations with no history of democratic rule, there is still a profound human desire to have a voice in the halls of government.

UPDATE: Robert and Glenn have both posted solid election round-ups.

UPDATE: AS writes in that:
The number of registered voters exceeded AN ESTIMATE of eligible voters. But, in reality, nobody has a clue how many eligible voters there are in Afghanistan. There hasn't been a census, there are no birth certificates or ID cards, there is LITERALLY NOTHING to inform us as to how many eligible voters there are. Moreover, millions of refugees have returned to the country -- but, again, nobody knows how many.

So, some people guessed at a number of eligible voters, and the number of registrations exceeded that guess.
Good point.
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# Posted 6:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEATH OF A PHILOSOPHER: We may not have always agreed with what he had to say, but as a prominent man of letters and thought who did much to engage the world of intellectual introspection with the society around him, we will mourn the passing of Derrida.

Several introductions to what indeed it was that he had to say are here, here, and here. By way of requiem, we include one exchange Derrida had a year ago with several filmmakers who were producing a documentary about his life and contribution to contemporary thought. At one point, wandering through his library, one of the filmmakers asked Derrida, 'Have you read all the books in here?'

'No,' he replied, 'only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.'
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# Posted 6:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

SING A NEW SONG: National anthems are by far a fairly execrable lot. China's March of the Volunteers and Ireland's Soldier's Song are melodically unfortunate, and in those instances where the tune is halfway worthwhile, the wounded, martial, defensive nationalism of (royalist) Rouget de Lisle's La Marseillaise is typical of the genre (e.g., 'Entendez-vous, dans la compagnes. / Mugir ces farouches soldats / Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras / Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes', a.k.a., 'Do you hear in the countryside / the roar of these savage soldiers? / They come right into our arms / to cut the throats of your sons, your country.' They get worse: see Mexico's '¡Guerra, guerra! Los patrios pendones / En las olas de sangre empapad. ... Antes, patria, que inermes tus hijos / Bajo el yugo su cuello dobleguen, / Tus campiñas con sangre se rieguen, / Sobre sangre se estampe su pie,' a.k.a., 'War, war! The patriotic banners saturate in waves of blood.... May your countryside be watered with blood, / On blood their feet trample.') A very bloody lot, these songs.

There are better exemplars in the canon. Italy's actually sounds like a feisty Neapolitan number, and India and Pakistan have both done fairly well with theirs. For its part, America, I have always felt, would do much better with the stirring simplicity of 'God Bless America', echoing the godly simplicity of both the frontier and the first Puritan cities of New England, than the bombastic pyrotechnics of the current national anthem, with its melodic past as a drinking song, and its unfortunate susceptibility for mauling at the hands of minor-order pop stars clutching microphones at sporting games and political conventions.

I bring this up because I was just listening to Haydn's string quartet in C, Op. 76, No. 3, first performed in 1797 and most commonly known to all except Haydn scholars as the Deutschlandlied. In the more liberal spirit of 1848, Deutschland was not 'uber alles' with regard to, say, the remainder of Europe and lesser races of humanity to Germans, but rather to, say, Bavaria or Brandenburg in the loyalties of citizens of a country seeking unification. Also, while most second verses are embarrassing, q.v. those of God Save the Queen and the Star Spangled Banner, the Deutschlandlied's is rather nice - invoking Deutsche Frauen, Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang - while Deutchland uber alles may have to be consigned with its unfortunate associations to the symbolic dustheap of history, who could object to German women, German wine, and German song? Read against the European experience, it seems that from the perspective of her neighbours, keeping the Germans pacifically drunken, copulating and singing seems, by and large, A Good Thing. One of the more poignant conversations in contemporary Germany is the extent to which these symbols of German national identity can, at some point, be separated from association with the horrors of Naziism, without disrespect for the memory of those horrors' victims. It's hard to become too worked up, as an interested observer, over the ultimate disposition of the name of the state of Brandenburg, but the Deutschlandlied is preeminently from an artistic standpoint not only worth saving, but justified of being elevated, in its original Age of Enlightenment spirit, to a model. The world could make do with more national anthems of Haydn string quartets, and several fewer evoking a readiness to discard the nation's youth against invaders. There is enough blood of youth spilt in the world as it is.

The second anthem which has been on my mind lately is Virginia's state song emeritus. For practical purposes, however Virginia has not at the moment got a state song, as the present one is generally regarded as unperformable at the moment - mostly because of its references to 'old massa', which clearly have got to go. Ditto, of course, for 'old darky' - the lyrics clearly require a rather massive scrub. But what's interesting to me, at least, is that no one has ever pointed out the extraordinary potential, from the standpoint of racial integration and recognising the contributions of Virginia's quite substantial black population to the state's history, in having a state anthem in the voice of a black Virginian, and furthermore written by a black Virginian, James Bland. It's usually, and quite justly, been criticised for nostalgic references to slavery, of which the principal reference is 'Massa and Missis have long gone before me, Soon we will meet on that bright and golden shore.' The question, though, is how much these references contaminate the entire song, and to what extent these can instead be excised and it can be made to about something else entirely - not nostalgia for segregation and slavery, but instead one of the few recognitions in America at the level of state symbolism of the experience of the African-American people who live there. For my part, I would be rather saddened to see the nation's canon of symbols stripped of one of its few examples of the latter. Attempts to come up with a bland, saccharine cookie-cutter anthem have, for their part, by and large been predictably execrable; witness, for a particularly apropos example, sausage maven Jimmy Dean's attempt to bribe official status for his own forgettable anthem 'Virginia'. My impression, however, is that symbolic lines are probably far too firmly drawn in the American south, and aligned with emotionally laden positions (which are often quite reactionary - see, of course, debates over other much more discardable symbols in other states in that region), for any sort of creative updating of a tradition to make it cohere with modern aspirations while engaging the history of the region.

So there, that's the liberal case for 'Deutschland Uber Alles' and 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginny'. I think I'll unplug my computer before I can get myself into any more trouble today.
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Friday, October 08, 2004

# Posted 5:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHY DO MOST (NOT ALL) COMMONWEALTH COUNTRIES DRIVE ON THE LEFT? On our OxBlog-does-motorworks kick for the week, we thought you might find this interesting - it all has to do with preserving the right hands of feudal Europeans for their epynomous feuds. (Then, in turn, the States and Napoleon's France wanted to be different from Britain and, in the latter case, traditions associated with the Bourbon monarchy as well.)

Incidentally, and while on the subject of carblogging, tomorrow morning I'll amusingly enough be getting up at 6 to...:

(1) catch a series of buses straight across England to a small town in Devon
(2) get there at 5:50 pm (after, of course, doing thesis work the whole way), and quickly test drive and purchase a lovely £300 used coupe
(3) learn how to drive a manual transmission car
(4) apply knowledge gained in the previous step and transport self and car across England to Oxford. Take quick nap and have delightful dinner with friend from India.

If all this goes as planned, I can show off car (step 2) and manual transmission driving ability (step 3) to all of our readers on Sunday (see 4). But if any amusing adventures have taken place (well, more than I've accounted for) between now and Sunday evening, well, you'll have a chance to read about them in detail then, too.
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# Posted 5:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

WE FOUND OUT WHO RUNS THE COUNTRY WATCH: Together, that is, with the (sexually desirable) Jewish Rhodes Scholars and the (less so) little green men in Arizona. CNN busts out a quote this morning from the U.S. Security Administration, as, in fact, does Reuters, perhaps following its lead. Now we on OxBlog (and our minions at Google*) have heard of the Transportation Security Administration, and even that true eminance grise the Social Security Administration, but perhaps CNN has actually stumbled on the true possessors of power in this grand republic?

Or maybe no one actually edits the stuff.

* I had a very nice brunch in Williamsburg with two Googleniks, the last time I was in New York. They were very nice. (Even when I brought up their male leader's propensity for wearing a dress in close proximity to news cameras.)
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# Posted 5:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOT DEAD YET WATCH: One of the most interesting dimensions of the reigning pontiff, wherever you stand with respect to his tenure, is his prior life as a dissident intellectual in Poland - there aren't many senior clerics in any religion who had youth remotely comparable to his, spent working in a Kraków stone quary by day, and by night studying Husserl and helping to keep Polish intellectual and literary life alive during Nazi occupation, by helping to found underground organisations such as the 'Studio 38' experimental theatre group, meeting in basements in evenings following his days of forced labour . This is why it's truly wonderful that in spring of next year, the Italian publishing house Rizzoli will publish a transcript of a series of searching conversations on the philosophy of history the Pope had in 1993 with two Polish intellectuals, professors Josef Tishner and Krzystof Michalski. Memory and Identity, as it's to be called, apparently struggles with questions of the meaning of history in a world after the evils of war and collapse of grand Hegelian narratives. For my part I'll certainly be reading it.

Though his philosophical corpus from before his papacy still awaits collation into a convenient volume, scholars have finally begun to delve into the window into wartime and postwar Polish intellectual life provided by this fascinating man, Wojtyła: see, for starters, here, here, here, here, and here. Much of this, as would be expected, is by devout Catholics; it would be quite nice to see an interesting engagement with the topic from the perspective of more secular intellectual historians, as well.
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# Posted 5:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

SIZE MATTERS: William Boyd, who knows something about both genres, compares short stories with novels.
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Thursday, October 07, 2004

# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

48 HRS. IN VEGAS: I'm here right now for the annual conference of the Latin American Studies Association. This internet cafe is closing in 5 minutes, so I'll keep my comments brief. The most interesting thing I've noticed so far is that there will be a panel tomorrow morning on the subject of: "The Ideas of Che Guevara: A Socio-Political Alternative in the Contemprary Context?"

Most of the participants on the panel are from universities in Cuba. I was hoping that one of them would give a presentation entitled: "How to Persuade American Scholars that You Are a Legitimate Academic Even When You Are the Payroll of a Communist Dictatorship."
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# Posted 5:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

CARLOS FUENTES WATCH: Any of our readers in London who might like are warmly welcome to join a friend and me to hear a reading by one of our age's great novelists, at Carlos Fuentes's lecture next Tuesday evening at Canning House, at 7:30. Tickets range from £12 down to £5 for concessions, and Lord Garel-Jones will be chairing. If you'd like to reserve a ticket, please phone Claire Rivett at 020 72352303 ext. 222, and do say we sent you!
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# Posted 4:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

LIGHT BLOGGING FROM ME TODAY as I ponder the used car market and Pejman's advice. Incidentally, for those of you who might eventually find yourselves in the same situation, Yahoo has a useful feature which allows you to check the blue-book value for any car you like.

Pictures of the Oxmobile forthcoming when available!
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# Posted 9:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHY A YALE EDUCATION REALLY WAS WORTH ALL THAT MONEY WATCH: What other alumni association (okay, don't answer that)* would give official sponsorship to an event with the title 'First Quadrennial Presidential Debate Drinking Game'? (a.k.a., Wednesday, October 13th, River Place North Building #242, 1121 Arlington Blvd., Arlington, VA.)

And come on, you're not really going to buy 79,250 first-class stamps a year, anyway. Or, for that matter, 1,333 of these.

* particularly if you went to school in Texas
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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

# Posted 1:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

PEUGEOT QUOTE OF THE DAY: As I’m about to purchase a fine specimen of this species, for all of 100 pounds, I thought I might pass on a particularly memorable quote I ran across: 'There seems to be some polarization on the issue of Peugeot's image: one camp says that it has no image because the Americans haven't heard of them; the other says they suck.'
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# Posted 1:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

SCOTT BURGESS does another admirable job at fact-checking the Guardian, this time their environmental editor:
John Vidal, the Guardian's environment editor, demonstrates either incompetence or dishonesty today with his comments concerning Exxon's greenhouse gas emissions. Here's what he has to say:
"But its greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 rose 2%, to 135m tonnes. To put that into perspective, the UK last year emitted some 150m tonnes. Exxon is now as great a carbon polluter as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines combined - that's about 350 million people."
Pretty eye-opening stuff - except that it's not true.

Exxon's report does in fact read: "In 2003, our direct equity GHG emissions increased 2 percent to 135.6 million tonnes ..."

However, a look at the accompanying graph indicates that the measurement is being made "on a CO2 equivalent basis."

The figures Mr. Vidal cites "to put that into perspective" are expressed in terms of carbon equivalent, not CO2 equivalent. As we learn from the US Environmental Protection Agency: "Carbon comprises 12/44 of the mass of carbon dioxide; thus to convert from CO2 equivalent to C equivalent, one multiplies by 12/44. [.273]"
So Guardian can't multiply. It makes sense, actually - they all went to Balliol,* after all.

*rival college at Oxford to my own
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# Posted 6:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND THE OXBLOG PRIZE IN ECONOMICS GOES TO: ‘Bidding on eBay: Strategic Behaviour in Second-Price, Continuous-Time, Fixed-Duration Auctions’, by German academic Axel Ockenfels and Harvard’s Alvin Roth. And who said game theory could never be useful?

Sidenote: the best bit of the article comes on page four, in which the authors describe the strategies of proxy bidding and sniping bidding (i.e., where you wait until the final seconds - thereby incurring a risk factor whose terms combine the possibility someone else will outsnipe you with the countervailing risk your internet connection won't record your sniping bid if it falls too close to the end of the auction). In November 2000, the designers of the web service esnipe.com, which automates sniping bidding, put their company up for sale. Amusingly, the first bid came on day ten of the auction, the last day. And the last three bids, including a bid which won the auction at a final price of $35,877.77, came in the last minute during which time the price rose over $10,000, from $25,300 (one increment over the second highest bid one minute before the end.)

In either case, though, you may want to think twice before purchasing nuclear powered submarines off of eBay, nice company though it is.
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# Posted 6:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

NERDS DO SEX: Hey, it got your attention. OxBlog’s model* friend the lovely and svelte Orli Bahcall, who truth be told is no nerd, is as Nature Genetics editor the eminence grise behind this piece in the Economist showing that male philandering existed at least several tens of thousands of years before the birth of Bill Clinton.

More on nerdsex (oh, the hits we’ll get today…) here and here. And lest you think she only has mitochondrial DNA on the brain, Orli's also the mind behind Nature's popular mutant of the month feature.

* Models infectious diseases
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# Posted 6:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

PUT DOWN OF THE DAY AWARD: 'A ping, qualified by a thud.' Rival composer Virgil Thomson on John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano.
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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING-LITE: I am watching the debate, but I don't think I'll be doing a minute-by-minute commentary. However, I will be on BBC FiveLive after the debate, which you can listen to online. (There's a button on the upper right-hand side of their homepage that says "Listen Live".)

9:12 PM: Cheney mentions El Salvador. I guess he reads David Brooks. Or OxBlog.

9:57 PM: Right at the beginning of the debate, John Edwards hit the administration hard for relying on Afghan warlords to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Edwards comments' were especially interesting because Kerry said almost exactly the same thing in his debate with President Bush.

Will this become the Democrats' preferred avenue of attack on Bush's ability to fight the war on terror? My sense is that this sort of criticism can only go so far because the decision to rely on the warlords was apparently made at the opertional level by Tommy Franks. As with Abu Ghraib, I think the President was too far removed from the situation on the ground for him to be held responsible by the voters.

10:07 PM: Bloggers often get criticized for saying whatever crosses their mind rather than searching for information and crafting evocative sentences. Yet I notice that both the NYT and WaPo have already posted lengthy articles about tonight's debate. The quality of their writing is certainly excellent. But I won't comment on their content because I can't analyze the articles at the same time that I'm trying to watch this debate.

10:24 PM: Here's the Factcheck.org commentary on Halliburton that Cheney mentioned earlier.

10:26 PM: Cheney is recalling how when he was in Congress, there was much more bipartisanship. Yet just this afternoon, I was reading through a congressional debate about Nicaragua from 1988 and I can assure you, bipartisanship is not what I saw.

Edwards asks if Washington has ever been more divided. Another topic that came up in my research today was Iran-Contra. You know what? Things really aren't that bad in the United States of America right now. As for Iraq...

10:45 PM: Ix-nay on the Ee-Bee-See-Bay. It turns out I won't be on BBC 5 tonight. But Alex Dryer from TNR is on right now with Clifford May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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# Posted 5:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

COMMENTARY DOES FICTION: Come on, when's the last time you've read a short story? That's what we thought. Commentary leads with a piece of fiction this issue, in a tradition for that magazine which extends back to Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, and I.B. Singer.
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# Posted 4:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE REAL VICTIMS OF OUTSOURCING: Robots. Yes, robots.
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# Posted 1:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? An extraordinarily intelligent dog in the Battersea Dogs Home managed every night to unlock his own kennel, and then those of all the other dogs in the home. Staff were perplexed to arrive every morning to find the dogs enjoying their freedom (you can take our doggie toys, but you can never take our liberty!), until they installed cameras in the building to reveal what was happening. If you have any soft spot for dogs whatsoever (this means you, Josh), do watch the video.
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# Posted 10:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

WE HAVE A WINNER: Readers may remember that several months ago, our foreign policy society announced an essay contest, in which we asked students to submit a memo to the president, written in the name of the National Security Advisor, and arguing in one thousand words for a policy position of the entrant's selection. Our judges were instructed not to rank entries based on the position espoused, but rather solely on the essays' use of evidence and logical structure of argument. Our judges also did not know the names, university affiliations, or any other personal details of the students whose essays they ranked. We can now happily announce our results, and our winners.

Winners of the 2004 Nathan Hale Foreign Policy Society essay contest:

1st Place, Zachary Constantino, American University
2nd Place, Peter Jeydel, Princeton University
3rd Place, the rather auspiciously named Nathan Hale, Columbia University

And our prize books were duly inscribed copies of the following three:
 
A Short History of International Affairs, 1920-1939, by G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1934. (third place)
Memoirs, Sir Anthony Eden, London: Cassell & Company, 1960 (second place)
Nelson, Carola Oman, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1947. (first place)

Here is a copy of the letter which we sent to our three prizewinners. I'd like to publicly thank our essay contest chair, Connie Chung from our San Francisco chapter, as well as our chapter presidents and judges for all of their help. We'll be holding another essay contest in the spring, and a series of foreign policy in the schools events through each of our local chapters - please get in touch, if you're an educator or community worker and we can be of any help! Similarly, if you live in a city where we have a chapter and might be interested in either participating in or helping to organise our foreign policy society's community outreach activities, please let us know!
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# Posted 9:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER WATCH: We on OxBlog love Brahms, as the composer of his century most capable of incorporating the lyricism of the Romantic movement with the intelligible classical structure bequeathed by the century that preceded him. We also - and by 'we', I mean Josh and David - love buxom Germans with a lovely sense of phrase. We therefore note that at 7:30 pm BST (half past two pm EST), our own classical idol will be performing roughly one half of the Brahms Double Concerto, under the baton of Kurt Masur. The programme also includes Dvorak's New World Symphony, and you can listen online here.
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# Posted 7:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHY DEMOCRACY IS GOOD FOR YOU: The NYT runs a piece by several scholars at CFR offering a counterargument to the position that economic development must precede political democratisation.
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# Posted 5:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

THREE DEGREES OF OXBLOG: When I pointed out below that OxBlog stands, interestingly, two degrees of separation from American Taliban John Walker Lindh and the sniper John Muhammad, and embarassingly, a single degree from Kevin Bacon, it hadn't occurred to me until a reader pointed it out that that since of course Lindh met Osama, that makes me and the big tall guy three degrees of separation from each other. (You think that sounds bad to us, imagine what he would think about being three degrees of OxBlog: take that, UBL!)

But, as is hopefully the case with most things on this blog, it gets better. We just heard from a reader (one) who met a lady (two) who smooched Hitler (spits coffee out, I mean, three).

OxBlog: Cavorting with people who cavorted with people who cavorted with the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Hitler, since 2002!
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# Posted 4:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEPARTMENT OF SCHADENFREUDE: Here's a headline you don't see everyday, 'Amnesty Slams Canada'
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# Posted 1:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREMER BLAMES EVERYONE (EXCEPT HIMSELF): In a less than surprising revelation, Paul Bremer attributed the shortcomings of the occupation to a shortage of boots on the ground, especially during the post-invasion looting that contributed so much to a climate of lawlessness.

The WaPo put Bremer's story on the front page and presented it as a blow to the Bush administration's credibility. Fair enough. But they at least should've questioned Bremer's motives. After all, isn't it convenient that all of the most important problems existed before he was appointed as head of the CPA and were the responsibility of someone else?

Not that Bremer's self-interest excuses Bush in any way. But what about the decision to disband the Iraqi army? Did Bremer defend that in his speech or simply pretend that it wasn't a problem? While there is only so much room on the printed page, the WaPo website should provide a transcript of Bremer's remarks.

More importantly, the Post's soft treatment of Bremer is a further indication of the lower standards to which presidential critics are held. Not long ago, the major papers paid minimal attention to the disintegration of Joseph Wilson's credibility, even though his initial accusations once dominated the front page.

While I understand that a president should be subject to far greater scrutiny than a whistleblower, the effectiveness of that scrutiny depends on the credibility of the whistleblower.
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MANCHURIAN INDONESIAN CANDIDATE: One thing that newspapers are supposed to be good at is reporting the basic facts of story. According to this wire report in the WaPo, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has finally admitted that her opponent prevailed in a recent election.

But what do we know about her opponent, a certain Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono? Apparently, he led "the country's anti-terrorist effort as Megawati's security minister." Actually, I'd like to know a little more about the man is about to become the head of the world largest Muslim democracy -- and its first president elected by direct balloting.

According to WaPo article from Sept. 24, Yudhoyono is a retired general. But that's all the Post tells us, even though early returns suggested that Yudhoyono had won by a landslide with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Now, when you say that someone is a former general, especially in a country with a military notorious for human rights abuses, it's important to provide a few more details.

On Sept. 21, the Post reported that Yudhoyono (or is it Susilo?) is "a retired army general with U.S. military training who portrays himself as a cautious reformer." Yudhoyono "bolted the cabinet in March to challenge Megawati" and is "a moderate Muslim described by his associates as an intellectual". So what, is he like the John Kerry of Indonesia? That would be nice.

Yudhoyono's religious affiliation is clearly an important issue in place like Indonesia, but is he a "moderate Muslim", or as the WaPo reported on Aug. 20, a "secular nationalist"? Perhaps he's both. Or perhaps he flip-flopped. Or perhaps he has a nuanced but fully consistent position on this all important issue.

Anyhow, the good news is that Gen. Yudhoyono is not Gen. Wiranto, the third place finisher in the election who
has been indicted by a special U.N.-backed tribunal examining crimes against humanity during a wave of militia killings in East Timor after its 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.
That's a relief. But I'm still trying to figure out who the hell this Yudhoyono guy is.

UPDATE: Here are a few facts from The Economist [via Lexis-Nexis]:
Though he served under [the former dictator] Suharto, Mr Susilo is regarded as untainted, and he has worked well for successive democratic administrations...If he has a weakness, it is that he has revealed little about what policies he might adopt if elected, campaigning more by exuding what appears to be a popular mixture of calmness, geniality and competence—plus a reasonable singing voice. --July 10, 2004

By Mr Wiranto's own account, Mr Susilo is the better singer...Women, it is said, admire his looks. --July 2, 2004
Well now I feel better. Good looking people never abuse human rights or set up dictatorships.
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# Posted 1:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE POLLS: As usual, RCP is the place to go for the latest information. As their chart shows, Kerry's resurgence is for real (although RCP hasn't yet factored in the results from this WaPo/ABC survey which still shows Bush ahead by 5).

The question now is whether Kerry's resurgence will last. On specific issues, especially Iraq and the War on Terror, Bush still has a sizable lead in both in the WaPo survey that shows him 5 points ahead overall as well as the Gallup poll that shows him tied with Kerry.

However, in the Gallup poll, Kerry has made up a lot of ground on both issues. Whereas Kerry was 14 points behind Bush (41-55) on the question of who will do a better job in Iraq, the margin is now just seven (44-51). On terrorism, Bush's 61-34 lead has narrowed to 56-39. On the economy, Kerry has come from behind and turned a 45-51 deficit to a 51-45 advantage.

The question I have is whether presidential debates are governed by a law of diminishing returns. Assuming Kerry wins the second and third debates, will each of his victories result in a similar rise in the polls? Or have expectations now risen to the point where Kerry can only make up ground if Bush's performance is worse than ever before?

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# Posted 1:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEJA VU ON CAPITOL HILL: From the Congressional Record for July 28, 1988:
Mr. Oxley: ...to say that Mr. Rather's conduct last Monday evening was unprofessional is an understatement. In our society, where the media are entrusted with great responsibility, there is simply no excuse for Mr. Rather's conduct or the CBS news department defense of it.

The objectivity and trustworthiness of the media are crucial in a democracy, especially in an important Presidential election year...Mr. Bush correctly stated that Dan Rather was dwelling on mistakes of the past, not reporting news.
Oxley's condemnation of Rather was a response to rather's aggressive behavior in an interview with Vice-President Bush. I actually don't know much about the incident, so I can't say whether Oxley's remarks are justified. I just happened to come across the remarks while reading about Nicaragua and found them to be rather, well, remarkable.

On a related note, it seems that someone offered the Memogate documents to Michael Moore while he was filming Fahrenheit 911, but Moore turned them down because his fact-checking department had doubts about the documents' authenticity. In other words, CBS literally had lower standards than Michael Moore. That's disturbing.
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDERED AGAIN: Another car bomb in Iraq. While I understand that such attacks reflect our failure to provide a reasonable measure of security, it still seems to me that killing innocent civilians will result in a backlash against the insurgents.

After all, when Israeli soldiers accidentally kill Palestinian civilians, we assume that it will only provoke greater resistance. When American airstrikes result in death of Afghan and Iraqi children, we assume that the survivors will resent the United States. So if Iraqi terrorists intentionally kill their own countrymen, shouldn't we presume that they will provoke a similar reaction?
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Monday, October 04, 2004

# Posted 6:22 PM by Patrick Belton  

BIGGEST LAUGH IN AGES AWARD goes to this short film by Bruno Bozzetto describing, in side-splitting detail, the endearing differences between Europe and Italy.
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# Posted 5:16 PM by Patrick Belton  

TWO DEGREES OF OXBLOG CORNER: Longtime OxBlog friends will already know that I am two degrees of separation from the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh - who before any of the rest of us had heard of him, figured prominently in a friend of mine's 'you'd never believe my crazy roommate from when I was studying Arabic' stories. (Short version: white kid pops up from California, dressing in a white robe and turban, and introduces himself as Sulayman. Don't even ask what he was like in the bathroom.)

Well, interestingly, I've just become aware that I'm also two degrees of separation (and I'm not exactly sure I'd want to be any fewer....) from sniper John Muhammad. Remember when he called a church and left the message 'I am God'? Well...I just found out from a New York Times article that the priest on the other end was no other than a distant cousin of mine for whom I used to serve as an altar boy, Msgr. William Sullivan. Sullivan, the Times goes on to report, didn't think the phone call worth reporting to the police.

I'm not sure there's an edifying point here, but the possibilities for a more fully instantiated two-degrees of OxBlog game are fantastic (especially given that both David and I attended a DLC shindig at which Kevin Bacon was playing the...wait for it...harmonica in the corner).
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# Posted 2:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

ENGLAND HASN'T CHANGED MUCH IN 300 YEARS WATCH: BBC Radio 3 was just playing Purcell's ode to English weekend evenings, 'There are Pleasures Divine in Love and in Wine.' So not only have Friday nights of drunken sexual congress comfortingly not changed much in this country since the Baroque period, but we also find out from the same composer that the same is true about the nature of English roses. Purcell has two different pieces about different sorts of English women, 'She who lives for love, but finally discovers the joys of wine', and ' She who lives for love, but soon discovers the joys of wine'.

This all has me feeling strangely comforted. Though I don't believe Purcell did have an ode entitled 'She who nonetheless believes her midriff is worth showing.'
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# Posted 2:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

DID FOX NEWS PHOTOSHOP PICTURES TO MAKE BUSH TALLER? One of our readers writes in to say that's how it looks to him. Here's the evidence he sent in - a photograph which ran in AFP showing a substantial height difference (ed: so did the French make him look shorter?) and one which ran on Fox, with the two contenders seeing eye-to-eye. Both photographs are from the same moment - when the two shook hands - and don't seem at least to be from different perspectives.

Coming after a series of mainstream media mess-ups in the latter portion of this campaign (the Swift Gate memo, Fox's manicuregate story...), revealing biases and distorted reporting toward the left and the right on the part of the putatively objective media, it's no wonder that this has been the election of the blog....

If any of our readers have insights on one side or another of this question, please send them to me and I'll be happy to run them. And note to Fox: if this is true, could you perhaps make me just a bit taller too?



MAILBAG: Answer: probably not. One of our friends found the image Fox used in the AP's image database, and another friend (a research scientist in a real science who probably, ahem, should have been working on his dissertation) suggests that Bush may have been leaning in during the photograph in which he looks shorter. The interesting moral to the story (all OxBlog stories have edifying lessons - see above) is probably that each outlet took the photograph that made 'their' candidate look taller.
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# Posted 9:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

HERE'S ONE REPUBLICAN I CAN ENDORSE WITHOUT HESITATION: Lisa Marie Cheney, running to replace James 'I like to hit people' Moran in Virginia's 8th. It's hard to think of many politicians not sporting short mustaches I wouldn't support in preference to Moran....
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# Posted 1:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SWEEEEEEEEEEEET! (BY PROXY): Why hasn't Josh put up a euphoric post about the Astros' stunning victory in the NL wild-card chase? I don't know, but I'm guessing that he is wandering the streets of Houston in a drunken stupor right about now, overturning cars and lighting garbage cans on fire. (That was a joke, Josh, a joke.)

I'd also like to post a second "Sweeeeeeeeeeeet!" on behalf of Robert Tagorda, whose Dodgers clinched the NL West title. However, I can only hope that the 'Stros and the Dodgers lose in the playoffs so that neither of them has to suffer the indignity of losing to the Yankees in the World Series. With the D-Backs and Marlins out of the playoffs, the Bombers will be unstoppable.
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Sunday, October 03, 2004

# Posted 10:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MY FAVORITE PESSIMIST: Of all the armchair pundits (e.g. OxBlog) with a serious interest in Iraq, I think that Swopa is perhaps the best-informed member of the pessimist majority. If you want to be a serious optimist, you have to be able to respond to Swopa's arguments.

Commenting on Dexter Filkins' upbeat report in today's NYT, Swopa points to evidence within Filkins' story that suggests a possible alignment of Moqtada Sadr's interests with those of Ayatollah Sistani. The basic point of Filkins' story is that Sadr's intention to disband his militia and enter the electoral process will enhance the legitimacy of the January 2005 elections. Filkins writes that:
Mr. Sadr's overtures toward the political mainstream, if they develop into a full-blown commitment, would represent a significant victory for the American-led enterprise here, just a few months before nationwide elections are to be held in January...

Iraqi officials say they are encouraged by Mr. Sadr's recent overtures, and some believe that this time Mr. Sadr might be serious. The reason, they say, is the political and military defeat that Mr. Sadr suffered in Najaf, where the Mahdi Army was badly mauled by American forces and where Mr. Sadr himself was ordered to capitulate by Ayatollah Sistani.
Yet where Filkins sees capitulation, Swopa sees collaboration. Building on suggestions that Sistani fears the rigging of the January elections by the Shi'ite parties within the interim government, Swopa projects that Sistani will align with both Sadr and the Sunni insurgents to form an anti-occupation front that can either win the elections outright or destroy their legitimacy by refusing to participate.

As it so often does, this argument about Iraqi politics comes down to speculations about Ayatollah Sistani's perceptions and motives. First and foremost, I tend to disagree with Swopa's suggestion that Sistani feels "a bit left out in the cold" by the United States and the interim government. Having won every stand-off with the Americans in which he has participated, Sistani should understand just how much influence he has over American actions.

Second of all, I have serious questions about the possibility of any sort of extended cooperation between Sunnis and Shi'ites. In April, the Times and the Post ran major stories about emerging cooperation between Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents. Nothing came of it.

The cooperation of the non-violent Sistani with fundamentalist Sunni fighters seems even more improbable given the Sunnis' intense antipathy toward Shi'ite beliefs. Of course, nothing is impossible. Yet it was this same Sunni fundamentalism that Saddam relied in the last years of his reign to justify vicious oppression of the Shi'ites -- a fact that neither Sadr nor Sistani is likely to have forgotten.
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# Posted 8:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

LOOK, I'M NOT ORDINARILY FOR POLITICS being about this sort of thing, but hey, Senator Kerry does look pretty funny playing football....
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Saturday, October 02, 2004

# Posted 11:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STYLE IS SUBSTANCE: Sam Rosenfeld defends this unlikely point. At least he's honest about his motives.
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# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREAKING FOR THE CHALLENGER: The Prospect provides evidence to back-up of the often-heard claim that undecided voters break for the challenger.
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# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNDER THE INNOCUOUS HEADLINE "U.S. Effort Aims to Improve Opinions About Iraq Conflict", the WaPo suggests that the administration has embarked on a new, desperate and deceptive effort to spin the war in Iraq. (As opposed to the old one, which wasn't desperate.)

The Post's evidence seems pretty good, although it still quite amusing to watch its correspondents write as if they are being detached and objective, rather than advancing their own (probably valid) interpretation of events.

But you know what? The administration is getting what it deserves. Even optimists such as myself can't defend the upbeat assessments coming out of the White House. While I stand by my previous definition of the word "puppet", it does look pretty ridiculous for American diplomats and even a Bush-Cheney spokesman to be involved in the drafting of Allawi's speech. Even in the midst of a re-election campaign, that's going too far.
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# Posted 10:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEHEHE! From the WaPo editorial page:

WE RECEIVED THE following letter from a woman in Yonkers, N.Y.: "Dear editor: This debate made it clear: John Kerry is a leader we can trust to tell us the truth when it comes to our nation's security. George Bush has had his chance; I'm ready for a new direction."

Cogent, succinct, personal -- everything we look for in a letter. So why are we writing about it here, instead of publishing it in the columns to the right? Unfortunately, the letter, perfect in every other way, arrived in our electronic in-box Thursday afternoon, four hours and 14 minutes before debate moderator Jim Lehrer posed his first question.

As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often!
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# Posted 10:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEJA VU c.2002? My cache as a political strategist isn't all that high at the moment, since I seem to have underestimated the impact of Kerry's victory in Thursday night's debate. Even so, I have my suspicions about the Kerry campaign's decision to capitalize on its victory by emphasizing their candidate's domestic agenda. The WaPo reports that:
The aftermath of the debate produced a strategic change for the Kerry campaign, which had used the two weeks before it to launch an argument about Bush's record in Iraq that was designed to take pressure off Kerry's often-contradictory statements on the subject. Heading toward the final two debates that will dwell on domestic policy, Kerry advisers said they will use a big advertising buy to help talk about Bush's economic record...

"This represents a very aggressive move to the domestic agenda," [Kerry strategist Tad ]Devine told reporters yesterday as he described a 15-state, $7.7 million ad buy.
The Democrats tried to run away from foreign policy in 2002 and paid for it dearly at the polls. Admittedly, Kerry position on the issue is much stronger than it was a few days ago and he is headed into a debate specifically about domestic issues. Even so, my (unreliable) instinct says that Kerry should hammer away at Bush on the national security front.
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# Posted 10:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUCCESS IN SAMARRA? The Post's coverage of the recent battle in Samarra consists almost entirely of US and Iraqi officials describing their success. But even Glenn struck a cautionary note, citing this warning from StrategyPage:
The real battle for Samarra [will] take place in the next few months. The people fighting American troops at the moment, and getting killed, are the dummies. The smart guys just hide their weapons and wait for an opportunity to take over the town again. If the new police force cannot hunt down and arrest most of the smarter gangsters and terrorists in the next few months, Samarra will lapse into anarchy again.

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# Posted 7:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALCOHOLISM + CONSERVATISM = LIVE-BLOGGING? As promised, I've taken a closer look at live-blogging to see if it really added anything to Thursday night's debate.

The first thing I noticed was how many live-bloggers were depending on alcohol to get them through the night. Unsurprisingly, VodkaPundit was the most committed drinker, with TLB and myself also raising our glasses.

The next thing I noticed was that live-blogging seemed to be an overwhelmingly right-of-center activity (with moderates such as myself and Prof. Drezner included in that category.) Marshall, Yglesias, the TNR boys, Tapped -- nothing. The exception to the rule is Kevin Drum, whose sparse comments suggests that he wasn't terribly excited about what he was doing.

Kevin did point out, however, that the NYT's Kit Seelye live-blogged the debate on the NYT website. I think that's really interesting because one of the few things that live-blogging does is force you to be share your perceptions before they are inflenced by other people's opinions.

Of course, I'm sure that Seelye was especially careful not to post anything that might compromise her reputation for objectivity. In fact, I thought her comments were probably too kind too Bush, almost as if she were concerned about coming across as overly critical.

Even so, I think if we began to see a broad array of professional journalists live-blog on a regular basis, we'll get some interesting insights into how the news is made.
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# Posted 7:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY? Newsweek's latest poll has Kerry ahead. (Hat tip: Kos)
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# Posted 7:01 PM by Patrick Belton  

GET YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS NOW WATCH: Today we feature the splendid line of products at www.giantmicrobes.com (whose motto triumphantly proclaims: 'We make stuffed animals that look like tiny microbes—only a million times actual size!'). To quote from their website,
Now available: The Common Cold, The Flu, Sore Throat, Stomach Ache, Cough, Ear Ache, Bad Breath, Kissing Disease, Athlete's Foot, Ulcer, Martian Life, Beer & Bread, Black Death, Ebola, Flesh Eating, Sleeping Sickness, Dust Mite, Bed Bug, and Bookworm (and in our Professional line: H.I.V. and Hepatitis).
This Christmas, why don't you help that little person in your life have exciting dreams all year round with their Ebola plush toy?
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# Posted 1:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOX'S CBS MOMENT: Josh Marshall has a whole lot of posts up about an article on the Fox website that fabricated quotes by John Kerry. The quotes themsevles are mind-bogglingly ridiculous, for example:

"Women should like me! I do manicures."

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!"

"I'm metrosexual — [Bush's] a cowboy."

After being challenged, Fox took down the article and excused it as a bad attempt at humor. Not the most credible excuse, but what else can you say about something so bizarre? I just hope Dan Rather is glad to see that bloggers are also giving his competition a hard time.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias takes exception to my characterization of the Fox episode as a "CBS moment":
It is, of course, no such thing. CBS was embarrassed when it was revealed that they had published a story containing an untrue element.
Heh. "Untrue element".
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# Posted 1:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IMAGINE if American citizens were beheading Iraqi insurgents instead of vice versa. Imagine if Americans intentionally slaughtered civilians in order to terrorize them into submission. Imagine if Abu Ghraib were not a national embarrassment, but an official policy.

If you can imagine all of those things, then you can imagine how lowAmerican credibility was with regard to promoting democracy in El Salvador in the early 1980s. The Salvadoran military did all of things described above -- and worse -- yet President Reagan not only insisted on providing the Salvadorans with weapons while denying that they committed such atrocities.

It is only by appreciating this contrast that one can appreciate how much greater American credibility is today than it was the last time that a tax-cutting cowboy embarked on a "crusade for freedom" designed to spread democracy to the four corners of the globe.

Earlier this week, I agreed with David Brooks that the success of American-backed elections in the midst of the Salvadoran civil war suggests that similar elections can work in Iraq. In contrast, three individuals with a very impressive knowledge of El Salvador have argued that the Salvadoran experience demonstrates exactly why next year's elections in Iraq are bound to fail.

The most important points of contention in this analogical debate are first, whether the 1982 & 1984 elections were, in fact, the success that America likes to remember; and, second, whether or not the elections were responsible, over the long-term, for the consolidation of (a still imperfect) democracy in El Salvador.

Marc Cooper, a journalist who covered the Salvadoran elections in 1982 and almost got killed in the process of doing so writest that:

There’s only one small problem with Brooks’ version of Salvadoran history: It’s false.

And one difference between Brooks and me when it comes to that Salvadoran election day of March 28, 1982 – I was there and he wasn’t.

Of course, Diane Sawyer was also there, along with a small brigade of network produces and anchors. All of them ready to document the miracle that the Reagan administration was producing: the supposed birth of democracy in the midst of a barbarously bloody civil war.

Cooper's accusation of media complicity in an American propaganda exercise reflects the prevailing sentiment of the American left in the 1980s, a sentiment best represented in the work of NYT correspondent Raymond Bonner and of Mark Hertsgaard at The Nation. Hertsgaard was particularly harsh, comparing the Salvadoran vote in 1982 to elections in Bulgaria.

What I have found in my research, however, was that the American media expected to cover the abject failure of the March 1982 elections, not their surprising success. In my dissertation, I write that

As election day approached, the press conveyed a sense of foreboding and distress similar to that of the administration’s critics on Capitol Hill. One New York Times headline read “Violence and Cynicism Mar Campaign for Next Month’s Vote”. The week before the election, a front page story in the Washington Post began by reporting that “Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas [of San Salvador] said today that ‘the violent propaganda’ of the parties involved in next Sunday's election has raised doubts about whether the vote can be ‘peaceful and free.’” Newsweek observed simply that “the voting seems likely to backfire.”

[NYT, 27 Feb 1982:A3; WP, 22 Mar 1982:A1; Newsweek, 1 Mar 1982:16.]

Democratic congressmen and academic experts shared the expectations of the national media. It was precisely because expectations for the elections were so low that their success resulted in such wildly positive press coverage. Sample headlines from the morning following the election -- all of them on the front page -- included:
“Turnout Heavy in El Salvador; Thousands Vote Despite Rebel Threats”

“Salvadorans Jam Polling Stations…Votes Cast Amid Gunfire”

“Rural Voters, Despite Fears, Hike for Miles”

[WP, 29 Mar 1982:A1; NYT, 29 Mar 1982:A1 – Col. 6; NYT, 29 Mar 1982:A1 – Col. 5]
Even so, Cooper is right to say, with regard to the violence, that,
It wasn’t just insurgents trying to stop voting. It was, instead, another day of battle in a country suffering in its third year of internal war.
More than anyone, President Reagan popularized the notion that most Salvadorans risked their lives in order to vote. For the next six years, he would answer questions about El Salvador by describing a woman who was shot guerrillas but refused to seek medical attention before being allowed to vote.

The woman was real, although she wasn't representative. However, the Salvadoran guerillas made a major mistake when one of their commanders announced to the Washington Post that the guerrillas were simply against elections and therefore would try to disrupt them with violence. In contrast to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas who won popular support, both at home and abroad, by paying lip service to democracy before taking power, the Salvadoran guerrillas didn't recognize the importance of downplaying their Marxist-Leninist ideology. (NB: According to the American left, the guerrillas were social democrats.)

So what is the lesson here with regard to Iraq? Cooper writes that:
Given the complete lack of physical security, how does anyone in their right mind believe there can be an open and democratic campaign over the next four months? With car bombs and ambushes multiplying daily, does anyone think someone is going to go out and canvass door to door?
As it turns out, liberal critics said exactly the same thing about El Salvador in 1982. The danger, however, wasn't from the guerillas but from the Salvadoran armed forces who made a habit of slaughtering opposing campaign workers. Among the harshest critics was Robert White, whom Carter appointed as ambassador to El Salvador, and whom Reagan promptly fired because he of strong support for human rights (White, that is, not Reagan). In 1982, White testified before Congress that:
Maj. D’Aubuisson [the right-wing candidate] enjoys the protection of a hardline military as he goes around the country spreading his gospel that he will napalm the country of all its Communists, whereas President Duarte [the center-left head of the interim junta], as I said, is a practically a prisoner and does not dare to go out to those places.
As White's comments illustrate, America's moral position in El Salvador was far worse than it now is in Iraq. Imagine if Allawi's henchmen murdered opposition activists on a regular basis while Bush said nothing, lest Allawi let up in his battle against the insurgents.

Tactically speaking, the sitation in Iraq is better in some respects and worse in others. In El Salvador, the military's official status meant it could operate in the open and attack opponents at will throughout the country. In Iraq, the insurgents operate openly only in a few select areas. However, the Salvadoran military's support for the electoral process ensured that the election itself would take place, whereas in Iraq the insurgent may be able to disrupt it.

The final point I want to raise about election day in El Salvador concerns the prospect of fraud. Salvadoran politicians later admitted that they inflated the official turnout numbers in order to heighten the perception that the Salvadoran people supported the election process. In a rare instance of consensual fraud, the three main parties agreed to increase the turnout in a proportional manner so that the underlying result of the election would be preserved. As a result of this consensus, none of the parties complained about the fraud, thus ensuring that when it was discovered three months later, the American public would pay far less attention to the fraud than they did to the election itself.

Nonetheless, the actual turnout -- 1.1 million as opposed to 1.5 million (in a nation with only 2 million-plus eligible voters) was still far greater than the 500,000 to 800,000 projected by American experts. More importantly, the voters interviewed by a wide array of observer missions expressed tremendous enthusiasm about the opportunity to vote.

On a related note, Bill Barnes, who has a doctorate in Latin American politics, points out [via e-mail] that
With regard to the 1982 constituent assembly election, it was considered to be dangerous to fail to vote. There was no registration. Soldiers and police would frequently ask to see the identity documents on which certification of having voted was to be stamped, in a context in which the FDR- FMLN had called for a boycott of the election, and death squads linked to the army and the police were killing on the order of 800 people every month for suspected links to the FDR-FMLN.
Barnes comments, based on the writings on numerous scholars, reflect what is close to being a consensus opinion in the field. However, there are two problems with it. The lesser problem is that Salvadoran voters never expressed as much fear as American scholars attributed to them. One might object, however, that Salvadoran voters were not inclined to reveal their true feelings to elections monitors.

The second problem is that there is no documentation of Salvadoran soldiers abusing or killing anyone because of their failure to vote -- in spite of the fact that 40-45% of the electorate failed to vote and that the Salvadoran armed forces killed thousands of people for other well-documented (if scarcely justifiable) reasons.

In sum, the El Salvador elections really did resemble the coming elections in Iraq because of widespread expectations of failure in the United States and the presence of a security threat that had the potential to disrupt the electoral process.

That is my position on election day 1982 in El Salvador. In my next post, I'll look at the long-term implications of the Salvadoran elections and whether or not there are similar reasons to be optimistic about Iraq.
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Friday, October 01, 2004

# Posted 9:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVEN THE LIBERAL NEW REPUBLIC is trashing Bush's performance in last night's debate. The criticism I agree with most strongly is Peter Beinart's argument that Bush's attack on Kerry for demoralizing the troops is dishonest and undemocratic. Here's the money graf:
When critics said the Iraq war would embolden Islamists to attack the United States, Bush supporters scoffed that the terrorists needed no encouragement--they were already doing everything they could to kill Americans. But, if the terrorists can't be emboldened--if they are always doing their utmost to kill Americans-how can John Kerry be emboldening them now? At a recent rally in Columbus, Ohio, Bush said, "These people don't need an excuse for their hatred. I think it's wrong to blame America for the anger and the evil of the killers." But evidently, it's OK to blame John Kerry.
Next is up is Ryan Lizza's entertaining and insightful analysis of the post-debate spin. Long story short, the Bush folks barely had the confidence to pretend that their man won.

On a more substantive note, Spencer Ackerman dismantles Bush's assertion that the the United States has already trained 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen. Kerry wasn't ready to make Bush pay for that one last night, but he should hammer on it relentlessly in the weeks to come. If Bush changes his numbers, Kerry can call him a flip-flopper. If he sticks with his numbers, Kerry can call him a liar.

Now we get to the question of whether last night's debate will have all that much impact on the race. The formerly-pessimistic Jonathan Cohn is now optimistically hoping that voters are fed up with Bush:
Time and again, Bush retreated to the same old line of attack: that he would protect America because he had strong conviction, while Kerry would weaken America because he changes his positions. Whether or not the charge is true, by now it is simply getting dull. Maybe voters finally started noticing that Bush frequently had nothing else to say when it came to defending his record--because, in fact, that record is so hard to defend.
Sticking with my position from last night, I'm going to disagree with Cohn and agree with ex-TNR man Fred Barnes, who says that
It's the voters outside the Washington-New York-Boston axis who matter. And Bush's firm insistence on a few key points--notably the need for resolve in Iraq--and his repetition of these points, is likely to have appealed to them. Repetition is Bush's long suit.
First of all, who let Boston into our axis? (The axis of yuppie?) There may be a Bos-NY-Wash corridor thanks to Amtrak, but there is no axis. Anyhow, what I really want to see is how much last night's debate closed the gap between Bush and Kerry on whom voters trust to handle the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Regardless, the debate was a high-water mark for Kerry. While David Skinner tries to argue that Bush came across as more presidential because he "had an air of superiority" that was "above Kerry's nitpicking", Skinner highlight precisely that evidence which demolishes his own argument; on eleven separate occasions, Bush said that "this" -- meaning the presidency -- is "hard work".

Said with confidence, such a statement might come off as presidential. But when Bush's relies on it as a plea for sympathy, it's just pathetic.


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# Posted 9:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE ARE COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Tonight was the final night of Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions. The winner took home a quarter of a million dollars. But what's really surprising is that one of the categories in Double Jeopardy! was "Blogs".

So now it's official. Educated Americans are supposed to know what a blog is. The first question -- excuse me, answer -- in the blogging category was what 'blog' is short for. (If you don't know, then close this browser right now.)

The only political blogger who got his name mentioned on the show was Lawrence Lessig. The answer question to the $2000 question answer was Margaret Cho. I didn't even know she had a blog. [And now that I've taken a look at it, I'll have to revise my statement that Lessig was the only political blogger mentioned.]

The only question is, what next for bloggers? Glenn Reynolds hosting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?


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# Posted 8:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAKING AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE: You can't line a catbox with a webpage -- that's why you should subscribe to the paper version of the Washington Post.

Right now, new subscribers can get 12 weeks of home delivery for just $1.50 a week. Pay attention now: $1.50 isn't the delivery charge. It's the price of seven papers plus delivery. The cover price of seven papers at the newstand (six weekdays plus one Sunday) is $3.60.

Even though I'm a blogger, I'll take paper over pixels any day. You can carry it from room to room, you don't have to plug it in, you can flip back and forth from page to page, you can read it from any angle, you can spill coffee on it. What's not to love?
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# Posted 1:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

MISS THE DEBATES? Because, say, they were on at 2 in the morning where you live? Then you can watch them here.
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# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

WEEKEND READING WATCH: Don't be put off from the National Security Archive at George Washington University just because they spin each document they release (the latter in nearly every instance providing a fascinating fine-grained glimpse into American diplomatic history) to be about: (1) US hypocrisy in Latin America, or (2) generally, see (1). (Note: Lest this post reesurface in any future confirmation hearings involving me by any committee of the US Senate, I am for the record also opposed to US hypocrisy in Latin America, as well as hypocrisy and the seven mortal sins worldwide, with the possible exception of one or two I haven't yet made up my mind about.)

Because, with a degree of success unparalleled really in the internet world, the Archive's staff manage to declassify and place on their website more spellbinding soundbites of foreign policy actually in the making, per ounce of bandwidth, than anywhere outside of Condi Rice's hotmail inbox.

Cases in point (and only selecting two from among the more recently posted documents): first, this telephone transcript of Kissinger being informed of the fall of Saigon by a wire service reporter, and second, Kissinger's personal goodbyes after Ford's loss to Carter from Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin (in which Kissinger tells Mr Nyet 'I will miss you too. If it is possible to have a Marxist friend....'). Hunt around the website for more - all of it makes fascinating reading.

UPDATE: OxBlog's friend Randy Paul writes to add: 'Not to mention that the National Security Archives also has the best collection of Elvis meeting Nixon photos here.'

The handwritten letter (on American Airlines stationery) from Elvis to President Nixon is endearingly awful, as is Haldeman's scribbled response to staffer Dwight Chapin's memorandum line 'In addition, if the President wants to meet with some bright young people outside of the Government, Presley might be a perfect one to start with': 'You must be kidding'.
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# Posted 6:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

BAD RESEARCH WATCH: The Malthus award, for unthoughtful extrapolation of present trends into the future, goes to no other than our own university's researchers who extended into the future the comparative rates of improvement of male and female sprinting world records - neglecting to note that women have not been competing in the 100 meters as long or with as broad a base of competitors as men - and lo and behold, arrived via an Excel worksheet at the conclusion that women would beat men at the 100 meter sprint by 2156!

Also, in the papers this morning:

A wonderful review of the history of Granta magazine. Best quote, describing 1979 on the banks of the titular river at Cambridge: 'as far away from me and this office in north London, to which we moved from Cambridge in 1989, as the email message from the penny black.'

Non sequitur headline award... goes to the Independent for: 'Tony Blair was heading into hospital for heart treatment today - as The Independent can reveal that he has bought a Georgian house for about £3.5m in central London' (cynical comment from cynical reader: aha - obviously he has been stressing over the UK housing market bubble)

Ig Nobel awards released, at Harvard. They include:

Medicine - to Steven Stack and James Gundlach, for revealing through analysis of US radio playlists that as the amount of country music played went up, so did the white suicide rate

Public Health - to high-school student Jillian Clarke, for disproving the validity of the five-second rule about the safety of eating food dropped on the floor (which 70 percent of women and 56 of men believe. And they say we're slobs.)

Engineering - to Donald Smith and his father, the late Frank Smith, for patenting the comb-over

Economics - to The Vatican, for outsourcing prayers to India

Peace - to Daisuke Inoue, for inventing karaoke in 1971

Recipients receive, in the words of the official announcement, 'prizes made of extremely cheap materials and a medallion that's pretty awkward to wear'. The most amazing discovery is that you're actually allowed to quietly decline an Ig - everyone who has ever publicly been awarded one has consented.

UPDATE: I WAS GRIEVOUSLY WRONG, GO AHEAD AND EAT IT!: OxBlog's readers write in in droves to defend the five-second rule. The complete body of research is here, and shows that most floor surfaces are remarkably bacteria-free. Matt Boulous from MIT adds 'I do not believe that the 20-second rule (for fancy chocolate) was tested.' OxBlog is happy to stand corrected (as soon as I'm done licking up that spilled Glenmorangie, that is).
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Thursday, September 30, 2004

# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS LIVE BLOGGING A WASTE OF TIME? Live blogging embodies everything that professional journalists say is wrong with the blogosphere. Live blogging involves the publication of every thought that crosses your mind with almost no censorship. But perhaps there is something good about getting the raw reactions of hundreds of well-informed viewers without hindsight getting in the way.

So, what I'm going to do now is go read some of the just-finished live-blogging and see what it adds to the debate. (But don't expect me to live blog about live-blogging. I'll report back tomorrow.)
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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE OF THE SAME: Kevin Drum writes that "Bush is just relentlessly on message. The same phrases over and over and over...." That's why he's doing so well, Kevin. He's consistent.
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# Posted 9:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY PABST BLUE RIBBON: The candidates just walked in. I don't expect all that much in the way of entertainment, so I'll have plenty of PBR by my side.

9:01 PM: Kerry says he can make us safer by leading stronger alliances. Not what I would've said. How about the war in Iraq is diverting resources from the war on terror? After all, alliances don't really make us safer, per se. Their role -- as Kerry himself just said -- should be to absorb casualties and costs in Iraq. [9:30 -- To clarify, I don't think that that's what their role should be.]

9:05 PM: President Bush, will America be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack if John Kerry wins on November 2? Bush is completely dodging the question and rambling about all sorts of things. But you know what? The question was a trap, trying to get Bush to say something offensive.

9:07 PM: Kerry says Iraq represents a "colossal error of judgment". I think he needs to hit harder. I think he needs to brand Bush as a liar and a hypocrite, the way Bush branded him as a flip-flopper. But nice shot about outsourcing the hunt for Bin Laden to Afghan warlords. Misleading, but sharp.

9:10 PM: Nice job by Bush of citing Kerry words to support the decision to invade Iraq. Notice Kerry nodding in assent when Bush cites him -- in order to show that he is confident hasn't been caught flip-flopping.

9:13 PM: Bush is trying to explain why the occupation of Iraq is part of the war on terror. He keeps saying "freedom" and "democracy". But he already has the neo-con vote.

9:16 PM: Kerry says that what makes him different from Bush is that he can bring in the allies. That is not enough. The polls show voters trust Bush more on national security. Kerry won't change that by reminding people that Europe likes him.

9:20 PM: Bush is rambling again, trying to explain what he did for homeland security. Kerry sounds much more confident. Bush: "Of course we're doing everything we can to make America safe." He sounds desperate.

9:22 PM: How will you know when it's time for America to bring its troops home? Bush's answer is mostly about Iraqification.

9:25 PM: Ouch! Kerry says Bush Sr. knew that an occupation would meet with Iraqi hostility. Bush insists on a response and says that a commander-in-chief shouldn't discourage the troops. That sounds naive.

9:26 PM: Kerry says, unequivocally, that invading Iraq was a mistake. The Republicans will try their best to make him pay for that.

9:30 PM: Bush hit the nail on the head. Allies won't send troops to fight what the US President calls the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. To bad Bush didn't sound confident when he said it.

9:31 PM: Cheapshot. Kerry did not denigrate the contribution of our soldiers. Plus, Bush sounds desperate.

9:36 PM: Talk about a softball. Lehrer asks Kerry to give examples of Bush being a liar. And Kerry then insists that Bush hasn't lied, only been less than candid. Josh Marshall must be kicking himself.

9:38 PM: Bush goes back to Kerry's own words. Solid.

9:42 PM: Bush tells the story of praying with the widow of a fallen soldier. A first-rate performance.

9:47 PM: What a strange argument. Kerry thinks that the biggest problem with the occupation is that he hasn't made it clear that we want to leave Iraq and that we don't have designs on Iraqi oil. It sounds to conspiratorial.

9:50 PM: Have we really trained 100,000 troops in Iraq? That seems like a fact Kerry should be able to dispute.

10:05 PM: Every time Bush is in trouble he talks about "freedom" and "democracy" as the way to win the war in terror. How many times has Kerry used either of those words? What is his vision for winning the war on terror?

10:21 PM: I was hoping that Bush would connect the dots and say that democracy in Russia is critical to acheiving a global victory in the war on terror. If democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical why not in Russia?

By the same token, why didn't Kerry challenge Bush to be consistent? Why not ask him why he demands democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan but not Russia? I think it is because Kerry doesn't believe there is an integral relationship between promoting democracy and winning the war on terror.

10:24 PM: "The future belongs to freedom and not to fear." If so, why doesn't Kerry talk about promoting democracy in the Middle East.

10:26 PM: Good closing statement from Bush. I bet he memorized it.

So, where are we now? I don't think anything changed tonight. But when nothing changes, the leader in the polls is the one who benefits.

10:30 PM: It's John Edwards! ( On NBC.) He really is too handsome for his own good. And I had no idea he had such a strong southern accent. Serves me right for not watching television enough.

Brokaw reminds Edwards that the French and Germans want nothing to do with Iraq. Edwards says John Kerry could do it.

Now it's Giuliani time. He's says John Kerry is destorying the troops' morale. That's low. But he is right that Kerry has provided absolutely no rationale for why we should stay in Iraq.

Brokaw asks Giuliani to comment on Musharraf's insistence that the war on Iraq is hurting the war on terror. Why didn't Lehrer ask something about that in the debate? Anyhow, Giuliani is providing the ridiculous answer (often given by George Bush) that we need to go on offense against the terrorists. But how does the war in Iraq relate to that? Much as I support it, building democracy is not the safe as hunting down terrorists planning attacks on American territory.
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# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOMETIMES SPIN IS GOOD: Citing Krugman and Kurtz, Kevin Drum laments that
The thing to watch is less the debate itself than the post-debate spin war. In 2000, for example, most viewers thought Al Gore did fine, but over the following week, as more and more journalists jumped on board the spin bandwagon, opinion finally morphed and Gore's performance was officially declared dismal. Expect more of the same this year as reporters start talking to each other after the show and adopting each others' views out of fear that they've missed the crucial storyline that everyone else picked up on.
It's not hard to detect Kevin's slight resentment of the fact that intelligence proved to be a considerable disadvantage in the 2000 debates. But I don't think that Kevin should differentiate between the true content of a debate as watched by viewers and the post-debate spin influenced by journalists and campaign operatives. Consider, for example, what happened in 1976 (summary courtesy of Howard Kurtz -- from the same column Kevin cites):
The classic example of a debate that morphed into a debacle was Gerald Ford's Oct. 6, 1976, faceoff with Jimmy Carter. A Washington Post story the next morning relegated to the 32nd paragraph Ford's statement that there was no Soviet domination of countries such as Poland. But the next day Carter called the remarks a "disgrace" and "very serious blunder," and on Oct. 8 a Post front-page story began: "President Ford's observation that 'there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe' poses an immediate problem for him." The media furor lasted for days until Ford acknowledged the obvious, by which time the damage had been done.
Ford should have been punished for his incomprehensible statement, but he wouldn't've been if the media didn't step in. Audiences often need to be told what the significance of what they're watching is.
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# Posted 11:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFGHNISTAN BLOGGING: OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent follows up on his recent insightful contribution about the elections in Afghanistan:
Let me add a few qualifications to my cautious optimism about the Afghan situation. Afghanistan is still a country two or three disasters away from collapse. If the assassination attempt on Karzai last week had succeeded, the election would have been thrown into total disarray. If two or three of the major local warlords decide to take up arms against the president, the Afghan National Army might fall apart, and with it any pretense of a national government. If many Afghans continue to feel that their personal economic situation is in decline -- the most troubling bit of the Charney poll of Afghan opinion is that 37% feel less prosperous now than under the Taliban, and only 10% more prosperous -- they may begin looking around for new regime options.

Moreover, there are a whole lot of ways we could still screw things up. The estimates from this year’s poppy harvest are in, and it’s clear that despite the best efforts of the Brits (who were saddled with the thankless task of stemming the drugs trade), Afghanistan will supply roughly three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium this year. This is a new record; and it was largely unavoidable. Afghan farmers have got to eat, and it’ll be a couple more years before all the money the West is throwing into Afghan agriculture allows the farmers to make a better living from (say) fruit and nut exports than from poppy. In the meantime, fairly or unfairly, the poppy explosion is a clear political vulnerability for Bush. There’s a well-established narcotics eradication lobby in Washington, which has grown rich off the war on drugs (spraying and burning crops on a large scale requires lots of money) and can offer the President a dramatic, tough response to the problem. This would turn thousands, if not millions, of Afghan farmers against us and against the Kabul government – just in time for the parliamentary elections next year.

Despite the obvious potential for things to go wrong, Peter Bergen, and Craig Charney, and one or two others are contributing to a more optimistic meme on the upcoming elections. I think they’re right. Matt Yglesias draws attention to exaggerations in Bergen’s piece, but I think calling them “factual problems” is a bit strong. No, Dostum has not entirely stopped his sparring with Atta Mohammad up north; but the intensity of their conflict did noticeably diminish over the last few months, as Dostum geared up for his presidential bid. Similarly, it is too early to state that Fahim and Ismael Khan have been “neutralized.” But their power has been directly challenged by Karzai, and they have backed down, losing a great deal of face. Assuming Karzai wins the election, we’re likely to see a new Defense Minister in a month or two, and Fahim knows it. So does Bergen, and I think we can forgive him a little blurring of the achieved and the anticipated.

The gravest questions about the elections have been raised by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a very fine local think-tank, in a report released a week ago. Their report is sobering, and I whole-heartedly agree with them that we ought to defer the April 2005 parliamentary elections til the end of the year at least, to allow for more voter education, political party formation, and a proper census. The AREU authors are also right that the imminent presidential election demands many more trained monitors than we currently have, and will doubtless be marred by intimidation and irregularities in many parts of the country. “It is impossible to know how many flaws in the process it would take to cross the invisible line between an election that is accepted as legitimate and one that is not,” they warn.

I’m optimistic on this one because I think Karzai will win, and that a clear majority of Afghans want him to win. Because of his popularity, he’ll get legitimacy; that “invisible line” of acceptable flaws will be farther out for him than for others. His record of the last few months leads me to believe that he’ll then use this legitimacy to aggressively push the national disarmament program, even when that requires him to challenge multiple warlords simultaneously. For all the fragility of the current situation, I think we can see the outlines of a positive way forward.

Who takes the credit if the election is successful? David writes:

At first blush, the impending success of the Afghan presidential elections seems like a major victory for George W. Bush. But what does it say about this administration or about the United States that things are far better off in the country where we only have a handful of troops and have kept a much lower profile throughout the occupation?

I think it says most about Afghanistan, a country exhausted by twenty years of war and desperately hungering for some sort of normality. In Afghanistan as in Iraq, we went in with enough soldiers to win the war but too few to bring real security to the country. In Iraq, the results have been disastrous to date (and provide sufficient reason to turf out George Bush in November). In Afghanistan, by bringing security to Kabul, keeping the Taliban on the run, and leveraging our limited remaining firepower to keep the warlords in line, we’ve somehow muddled through so far. But it wouldn’t have been enough without millions of Afghans already on board, eager to try a new system that promises an end to violence. They registered to vote despite the fact that we didn’t put enough soldiers on the ground to protect them. We should also recognize the valiant efforts of the UN (which was in charge of the registration effort, and lost several employees). All in all, a successful Afghan election will be nothing for President Bush to be ashamed of, but no reason for triumphalism either.

Next year’s parliamentary elections will be the greatest challenge to date. It’s easy for war-weary Afghans to vote for national unity in picking a president, but it’s in voting for regional representatives that the ethnic conflicts will really come out. How many representatives will each region get? Will political parties mirror ethnic divisions, or regional ones, or ideological ones? Elections will likely be more closely contested, and thus more likely to be derailed by procedural flaws and irregularities. There will also have to be a lot more voter education for people to understand how the legislative system works. A number of worthy organizations have begun preparing for these challenges. If this October election goes well, we’ll have that much more reason to hope.
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