Sunday, October 24, 2004

# Posted 9:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"A MAGAZINE OPENED TO REVEAL A PICTURE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL BALLS...FBI forensic testing would later confirm the balls' authenticity."

That is an actual quote from today's WaPo Magazine. It has nothing to do with Bill Clinton. Rather, it concerns the theft of four spherical sporting objects bearing the autographs of Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding and Coolidge.
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# Posted 8:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BAD ROLE MODELS: I wasn't going to write about this story, but it upset my Chinese roommates so much that I figured it must be big news.

So, it turns out that Liu Xiang, China's surprise gold medalist in the 110m hurdles, has signed an endorsement deal with China's #1 cigarette maker.

But hold off before you criticize Liu, because I smell a rat. It turns out that
The official government-backed Track and Field Association has sole right to negotiate product endorsements for the country's athletes, with income split between athletes and the group.
Sounds to me like some bureaucrat is trying to cash in on this national hero's reputation. On a less important but more amusing note, check out this Orwellian statement about the endorsement deal from the CEO of the cigarette manufacturer:
Everyone likes Liu Xiang and hopes he will 'soar' higher and faster, and maintain his sunny, healthy, progressive image.
Sort of like Joe Camel in gym shorts.

UPDATE: Reader DM points out that Baisha, China's #1 cigarette maker, also makes other products. His comment led me to re-read the two articles I linked to above, neither of which explicitly says that Liu Xiang will be endorsing cigarettes.

Instead, Liu will serve as an "image ambassador" for Baisha, which both AP and the BBC describe as China's biggest cigarette maker, with no mention of other products. Moreover, the headline of the BBC article is "Hurdler Xiang to Back Cigaretttes". So did the Beeb confuse its own headline writers, or does it know more about Baisha than it's letting on? (And isn't the guy's surname 'Liu'?)
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# Posted 7:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PROFOUND OBSERVATION ABOUT 60 MINUTES: Ed Bradley should not have an earring. If he is going wear one anyhow, it should be stud, not a hoop.

And notice how Bradley's headshot on the 60 Minutes website is a three-quarters profile that thrusts forward his unpierced lobe while hiding its bejeweled counterpart.
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# Posted 7:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JON STEWART ON CBS: The 60 Minutes profile of Big Jon should be on in around 20 minutes. The CBS internet summary, as well as the commericals I've seen, suggest their going to play Stewart as an equal opportunity critic fed up by American journalists' failures to expose politicians' (read: Bush's) lies. In short, it's the he-said/she-said hypotheis (recently elevated to the status of meme.)

For a better look at Stewart, head on over to Howard Kurtz's profile in Saturday's WaPo. With the help of Ted Koppel and Wonkette, Kurtz pigeonholes Stewart with impressive precision. Wonkette says that Stewart
To say his is just a comedy show is a cop-out in a way. He's gotten so much power. So many people look to him that you can't really be the kid in the back throwing spitballs
Koppel adds:
[Stewart] is to television news what a really great editorial cartoonist is to a newspaper...

A satirist gets to poke and prod and make fun of other people, and when you say, 'What about you, dummy?,' he says, 'I'm just a satirist.'
Naturally, I like Kurtz's message because it's exactly what I've been saying about Stewart for quite some time now. He is gut-wrenchingly funny, but has to stop pretending that his is a noble effort to restore balance to the American political agenda. At least for the past four months, Stewart has been active Kerry partisan who uses his influence to reinforce negative stereotypes about Bush.

That's all fine, it just means that what Stewart deserves is a roasting from his comedic colleagues for adopting as his own the pious ambiguities of the politicians he so loves to mock.

"We don't have an agenda to change the political system. We have a more selfish agenda, to entertain ourselves. We feel a frustration with the way politics are handled and the way politics are handled within the media," Stewart says. Yeah, right.


7:37 PM: Stewart resorts to the "I'm just a fake journalist" cop-out.

7:39 PM: Footage of Stewart making fun of Kerry, helping him do the bi-partisan spin.

7:41 PM: Another CBS pairing of Stewart making fun of the GOP, then Stewart making fun of Kerry.

7:42 PM: "Stewart expects to vote for John Kerry, but that's not an endorsement."

7:46 PM: Great clip of Stewart trashing CBS because of the Dan Rather memo f***-up.

Then Stewart asks why Rathergate is the big scandal but no one cares about Halliburton or the missing WMD. Can you say "he-said/she-said journalism"?

7:48 PM: Clip of Stewart wrangling with Tucker Carlson, bashing cable media for its yelling idiot vs. yelling idiot he-said/she-said journalism.

7:50 PM: CBS is really playing this brilliantly. They defuse charges of liberal bias on their part by letting Jon Stewart subtly argue for the unintentional pro-conservative bias of the mainstream media.

To top it all off, they let the liberal Stewart trash CBS's incompetence as if to make it seem that Memogate was just a little accident that had nothing to do with Dan Rather's politics.

7:55 PM: How come no one told me Mickey Andy Rooney was so funny? (In that laughting-at-him-not-laughing-with-him sort of way.)
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# Posted 6:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG ENDORSES LAROUCHE as idiotarian menace of the year. I got used to the LaRouche activists in Harvard Square, so I just figured that they weren't all that different from the rest of the left-wing kooks who hang out there. Except maybe a little more anti-Semitic.

But this report in the Washington Post magazine demonstrates that LaRouche is a lot more than a failed politician. He is a paranoid cult leader who ruins the lives of countless young men and women. One of them died on a highway is central Germany, hit by multiple cars just minutes after he called his mother in the UK, begging for help.

LaRouche is also a convicted criminal who spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s in prison for extensive fraud. When the eight-time presidential candidate tells you that fascist Jews have sent zombie assassins to murder LaRouche and that they, not Al Qaeda are responsible for 9/11, it's really the least of what's wrong with him.
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# Posted 6:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUPERBOWL QUALITY FOOTBALL: The final seconds are ticking off the clock as the Jets go down to defeat and New England extends its mind-blowing records of 21 consecutive victories. Amazing.
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# Posted 4:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT ARE IBC'S STANDARDS? The most appropriate benchmark for measuring the veracity of IBC's information is the standards that it elaborates on its website. According to IBC:
This database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.
Casualty figures are derived from a comprehensive survey of online media reports and eyewitness accounts. Where these sources report differing figures, the range (a minimum and a maximum) are given.
The test for us remains whether the bullet (or equivalent) is attributed to a piece of weaponry where the trigger was pulled by a US or allied finger, or is due to "collateral damage" by either side (with the burden of responsibility falling squarely on the shoulders of those who initiate war without UN Security Council authorization). We agree that deaths from any deliberate source are an equal outrage, but in this project we want to only record those deaths to which we can unambiguously hold our own leaders to account. In short, we record all civilians deaths attributed to our military intervention in Iraq. [Emphasis in original --ed.]
The ambiguity of this last paragraph is striking. It asserts that collateral damage caused by either side is the result of "our" , i.e. US-UK, intervention in Iraq.

The application of this standard is even more striking. It includes not just those civilians killed by insurgents' bullets and bombs in the heat of battle, but civlians deliberately murdered by suicide bombers affiliated with the insurgents. This is a total perversion of the concept of moral reponsibility.

In order to understand the method behind this madness, one ought to consult the most recent IBC press release, which explains the political significance of its work:
So far, in the "war on terror" initiated since 9-11, the USA and its allies have been responsible for over 13,000 civilian deaths, not only the 10,000+ in Iraq, but also 3,000+ civilian deaths in Afghanistan, another death toll that continues to rise long after the world's attention has moved on.

Elsewhere in the world over the same period, paramilitary forces hostile to the USA have killed 408 civilians in 18 attacks worldwide (see Table 1). Adding the official 9-11 death toll (as of October 29th 2003) brings the total to just under 3500...

For each civilian killed by "terrorists" on and since 9-11, the USA and its allies have brought about almost four non-combatant, civilian deaths in return...

The claim that a strategy which produces 14,000 civilian deaths is the expression of a "philosophy of tolerance and freedom" is a claim which we find incomprehensible. Our incomprehension is shared, we believe, by the majority of the world's people.
The hypocrisy of this statement is stunning. IBC seeks to demonstrate that the United States is more dangerous than its terrorist opponents by blaming the United States for acts of premeditated murder that those same terrorists have perpetrated.

This is why we must work together to reverese the unthinking embrace of IBC's statistics by the Washington Post and other leading publications.
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# Posted 4:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE BODY COUNTS: The credibility and integrity of iraqbodycount.net (IBC for short), rest on the information contained in its publicly available data base of civilian casualties. For the reasons described in my previous post, I believe that the time has come for a thoroughgoing investigation and potential repudiation of IBC's data.

This past summer, my investigation of a limited number of the incidents described in the IBC database exposed major factual and interpretive errors. Even though no individual can fact check such a massive data base, the distributed power of the blogosphere can be brought to bear on this task.

What I propose is a coordinated effort to parcel out all of the incidents in the IBC data base to volunteers willing to check IBC's claims against the publicly available news accounts cited as the source of its information.

I'm not sure exactly how to coordinate this effort, so your suggestions are welcome. But I believe that it can and should be done.
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# Posted 2:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLOOD THE ZONE! FLOOD THE ZONE! Each day, the Washington Post performs an admirable service by updating the number of American soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq, while also providing the names of those fallen soldiers identified by the Pentagon.

This morning, however, the Washington Post committed a grave error by including estimates of Iraqi civlian casualties provided by iraqbodycount.net (IBC for short). The Post deceptively states that the figures are provided by Reuters and IBC. Yet Reuters itself states that the figures for civilian casualties come from IBC alone.

(NB: The Post provides the IBC figures on page A18 of Saturday morning's print edition. I have not been able to locate the figures online.)

In the past, OxBlog has demonstrated conclusively that IBC relies on fraudluent data and that its flagrant dishonesty reflects its lleft-wing extremist agenda.
Principal flaws of the IBC count include:

1) Counting the victims of suicide bombings as victims of American intervention.

2) Counting victims of common crime as victims of American intervention.

3) Claiming false knowledge of the names of such victims.
As my partner Josh Chafetz documented in the Weekly Standard in April 2003, IBC's has a long history of blatant deception. As both Josh and I have shown, mainstream publications have a disturbing habit of citing IBC as a reliable source.

However, the Post's decision to rely on IBC for its daily count brings unprecedented prestige and credibility to a malicious organization. Therefore I ask you that join me in contacting Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler to demand that the Post repudiate the IBC count, investigate why it use was approved in the first place, and issue an apology for this failure to maintain professional standards of reporting.

If you are a blogger, I ask that you encourage your readers to contact Mr. Getler. His e-mail address, provided by the Washington Post, is:ombudsman@washpost.com.

I ask you to join me in this effort first of all in the name of truth. But this particular truth matters because IBC's falsehoods unfairly blacken the reputation of the United States and its armed forces, which have made extraordinary efforts to minimize the number of civilian casualties inflicted during this war.
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# Posted 2:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO ACCOUNTABILITY: Dan Drezner, Ambivablog and The Washington Post have all come out for John Kerry and all for the same reason, more or less.
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Saturday, October 23, 2004

# Posted 8:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

TODAY'S READING: Woody Allen in the New York Times on George S. Kaufman.
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# Posted 1:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE NATION ENDORSES KERRY: Hey, you're not supposed to judge people (or blogs) by the company they keep. Here are some highlights:
The gift of a true electoral mandate now to this previously unelected President would give fresh legitimacy and momentum to all his disastrous policies. And that new momentum could in turn place our constitutional system itself at risk.
Wait, so if the American people actually chose Bush it would put the Constitution more at risk than if the Supreme Court installed him in office?
We believed that the invasion of Iraq was "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time" (as he now describes it) before the war was ever launched; he has come to that conclusion only recently, having voted to authorize the war.
Wait, so The Nation is accusing Kerry of being a flip-flopper?
[Bush] has pandered to a "base" of religious fanatics, many of whom are looking forward to a day of "rapture" when Jesus returns to earth and kills everyone but them.
Instead of ex-felons, why not purge those with unsound theology from the voter rolls!
Yet it is so far only the government that has asserted global imperial ambition, waged aggressive war on false pretexts, condoned torture, strengthened corporate influence over politics, turned its back on the natural environment and spurned global public opinion. If Bush is now elected, then a national majority -- a far weightier thing -- will stand behind these things.
No! Not a majority! Let's turn over the government to a vanguard party instead!
A systemic crisis -- a threat to the Constitution of the United States -- has taken shape. At the end of this road is an implied vision of a different system: a world run by the United States and a United States run permanently by the Republican Party, which is to say imperial rule abroad, one-party rule at home.
To hell with the vanguard party. Bush is already making us more like the Soviet Union every day! (But if Canada tries to invade liberate us, The Nation will insist on absolute respect for American sovereignty.)

The most important reason to vote for John Kerry in November is to safeguard democracy in America.

Kerry's election would not necessarily save, and Bush's election would not necessarily destroy, democratic government in the United States. Even as President, even "in power," Kerry might well find himself "in opposition." In that case, he would need all the help from ordinary people he could get, and there's good reason to believe it would be forthcoming...

For all its importance, the election is only one episode in a longer popular struggle, whether Bush or Kerry is President. Either way, The Nation will devote itself to the fight.

We must take to the streets! We must take to the mountains! Viva la revolucion!
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# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DAMN INTOLERANT CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST LIBERALS: I'm pretty sure this isn't joke. If it were a joke, it wouldn't be funny. I got a press release today with the headline:
United Methodists Call on George W. Bush and Richard Cheney to Repent
It goes on to explain that
United Methodist Church members and clergy are bringing charges against President George W. Bush and Vice-President Richard Cheney.

"Our hope," says Rev. Courtney Ball, "is that President George W. Bush andVice-President Richard Cheney will recognize the sinfulness of their actions, sincerely repent, and move on to change their ways."

Organizers of the website TheyMustRepent.com, Courtney Ball and Josh Steward, are taking action as Christians and United Methodists who are desperate to hold two of their own accountable for their actions in starting an unjust war in Iraq. [Ball & Steward were presumably "desperate" to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for mass murder circa March 2003, but they couldn't, because he is neither a Christian nor a United Methodist. --Ed.]

A letter of complaint at TheyMustRepent.com outlines the justification for bringing charges.
Go read the letter of complaint. The best part is when they accuse Bush of politicizing Christianity.
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Friday, October 22, 2004

# Posted 1:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRYMANDERING: All of the responses to yesterday's post about reforming the electoral college focused on the issue of gerrymandering. My original post built on the analysis of Joshua Spivak in USA Today, and Joshua was kind enough to write in with his comments on my post.

Joshua makes two points. First, gerrymandering has already resulted in the polarization of Congress. Handing out electoral votes by congressional district might have the same effect on presidential politics.

Second, the Maine-Nebraska method is just as likely as the winner-take-all approach to hand the election to the candidate with fewer popular votes. For example, Nixon won a majority of congressional districts in 1960.

Now, as DS points out, one way around the gerrymandering problem is for more states to follow the Iowa precedent of appointing a non-partisan commission to divide the state up into congressional districts.

But what're the odds of that happening, right? As SK points out, adopting the Maine-Nebraska approach without getting rid of gerrymandering ensures that
All the distrcits out there which are "safe" house seats, become "safe" electoral votes.
Such an outcome is possible, but not definite. As part of my thesis research, I've been focusing on a group of about 30 Democratic congressmen, mostly from the South, who supported Reagan's foreign policy. Their critics asserted that this decision wasn't a matter of principle, but just a reflection of their fear that opposing the President would cost them the upcoming election.

Even though I haven't finished my research yet, I have noticed that a lot of these congressmen were re-elected with more than 60% of the vote in 1984 in spite of the fact that Reagan won 60% or even 70% of the popular vote in their districts.

Obviously, this is just one counter-example, and I wouldn't want to adopt the Maine-Nebraksa method without carefully considering its impact. But perhaps that method is worth a serious look.
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Thursday, October 21, 2004

# Posted 11:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVEN THE LIBERAL NEW REPUBLIC is supporting John Kerry. Here's my favorite anti-Kerry point from the article:
Building "firehouses in Baghdad"--a notion Kerry has repeatedly mocked--is not only something we owe the Iraqi people, it stems from the fundamentally liberal premise that social development can help defeat fanaticism. Abandoning that principle under pressure from Howard Dean is the most disturbing thing Kerry has done in this campaign.
Ouch. But here's the crux of TNR's argument against Bush:
The common thread is ideological certainty untroubled by empirical evidence, intellectual curiosity, or open debate. The ideology that guides this president's war on terrorism is more appealing than the corporate cronyism that guides his domestic policy. But it has been pursued with the same sectarian, thuggish, and ultimately self-defeating spirit.
Even though my endorsement of John Kerry focused on his prospective policy for Iraq, I should also have mentioned how strong my instinctive discomfort is with a President who betrays absolutely no desire to measure the actual impact of his policy choices against his initial expectations.

The obvious counterpoint to this argument is that John Kerry's Clinton-esque obsession with processing ever more information results in exactly the sort of paralysis that the United States cannot afford in the midst of its War on Terror.

My preferred counterpoint to this argument is that John Kerry's inconsistent approach to critical issues such as the war in Iraq reflects a lack of firm principles much more than it does an inability to make decisions. Kerry has made decisions -- he simply made them in response to the pressure generated by Howard Dean and then remade them in response to the pressure generated George W. Bush rather than focusing all along on the pressure generated by the situation on the ground in Iraq.

While this sort of inconsistency is an obvious source of concern, my wager on Kerry reflects my belief that it would be in Kerry's own self-interest as President to "finish the job" in Iraq.

But that's not what I wanted to write about (again). I want to focus on the instinctive discomfort with George Bush's policymaking habits that so many hesitant Kerry supporters have. I think that Dan Drezner is talking about essentially the same thing when he talks about preferring a solid process to solid principles/instincts.

As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.

In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts.

So, if my preference for Kerry reflects my general intellectual style, am I engaging in an idiosyncratic sort of identity politics? Perhaps. In my own mind, I am making an empirical judgment about George Bush's ability to adapt to new information and new situations. But I also firmly believe that I have to defend that proposition instead of taking it for granted.
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# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DAMNED IVY LEAGUE CONSERVATIVES: The first time I voted for President I was an undergraduate at Yale. At our polling station, Dole just barely won more votes than the Green Party candidate, while Clinton took home a solid majority.

Yet as Bob Musil points out, an informal poll of the Yale football team shows that 62 players are supporting Bush but only 27 are backing Kerry. I'm half-surprised and half not. There's no specific reason to think that athletes would vote Republican.

On the other hand, if you play the liberal free association game, you'd come up with a result something like this: Football = fraternity = conformist = anti-intellectual = arch-capitalist = Republican. On the other hand, support for Bush may just reflect the fact that he was chapter president of DKE, one Yale's most athletic fraternities.

The real question is, who will get the Skull & Bones vote?
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# Posted 5:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

BLEG MAKES SUCH A NICE SOUND IF YOU SAY IT FAST: If any of our area hand friends happen to (1) have a sense of how Bush and Kerry foreign policy would differ toward their area of specialisation, or even more particularly (2) how foreign policy hands in that capital view the likely results for their country of a Bush or Kerry victory, and (3) would like to be in a magazine article which I've just been given with a super-short turnaround, please do drop me a line! Thanks!
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# Posted 2:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IMPECCABLE LOGIC: If the Red Sox can beat the Yankees, why does promoting democracy in Iraq seem so improbable? Or is the Yankees blowing a massive lead an apt metaphor for the situation in Iraq?
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# Posted 2:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VERY FUNNY: Cheney Vows to Attack U.S. if Kerry Elected.
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# Posted 2:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ENDORSING KERRY may have provoked a lot of critical responses, but it also resulted in a whole bunch of traffic, since uber-undecided Andrew Sullivan decided to mention my post.

Andrew also had an article in TNR last week which argues that the situations in Iran, Iraq and North Korea will force either Kerry or Bush to respond in a similar manner. I think he's more right about Iran and North Korea than he is about Iraq, but my his argument there isn't much different from my own.

And in another important blogospheric development, Matt Yglesias completely agrees with something I wrote in defense of Bush -- and that was before I endorsed Kerry!
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# Posted 1:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RANDOM THOUGHT: What if Kerry loses the popular vote and wins in the electoral college? I don't think that anyone has made this point explicitly, but people seem to assume that only the reverse could happen.

(UPDATE: Dan beat me to it.)

But consider this: The WaPo tracking poll has given Bush the lead quite consistently. But the latest polls from the states indicate that Kerry may be on the rise. RCP has Bush ahead 227-206, with the rest of the votes being a toss-up. Electoral-Vote.com has Kerry ahead 291-247.

The big change, of course, is in Florida, where Kerry has pulled ahead in two of the last three polls. Kerry is also doing very well in Ohio, a state that once favored Bush.

Relying on his gut, Kevin Drum says Bush will win Florida and Kerry will take Ohio and Wisconsin, which means Kerry will be the next President. And the popular vote? Kevin doesn't say.

UPDATE: Matt Glassman has some very imaginative thoughts about what might happen if there were a tie in the electoral college.
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# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRIGHT (ELECTORAL) COLLEGE YEARS: There's a referendum on the ballot in Colorado that would divide up the states' nine electoral votes on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all. Josh Spivak says that's a bad idea, especially because the referendum would affect the current election. In a close race, the Colorado referendum might even cost Bush the White House.

As always, Josh's logic is sound and his historical examples are compelling. But what if every state changed its method of distributing electoral votes? And what if all fifty states made that change in a non-election year?

I'm against a proportional division of votes, but I am tentatively in favor of applying the Maine-Nebraska method to all fifty states. Why not give one electoral vote to the candidate with the most votes in each congressional district (plus two electoral votes for the state-wide front-runner)?

The problem with a proportional system is that it would lead the candidates to ignore the small states almost completely. A district-based system would also represent a major reorientation of the system toward the larger states, but that happens to be the only way to enfranchise California Republicans and Texas Democrats whose votes are worthless right now.
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# Posted 1:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLAST FROM THE RECENT PAST: Wizbang has just posted an exclusive interview with Swift Vet #1 John O'Neill. O'Neill insists that his book tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth and that the media just doesn't get it.
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# Posted 1:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEEK AND THOUGH SHALT FIND: I asked how many troops the French and Germans could send to Iraq if that's what they actually wanted. Todd Bass points out that The Economist answered my question a long time ago:
As it happens, neither France nor Germany are in a position to provide much in the way of men or money. Both countries would struggle to come up with more than 5,000 troops each, compared with some 140,000 American soldiers currently on the ground, backed up by 10,000 from Britain and a 9,000-strong Polish-led force which was deployed this week in central Iraq.
On a related note, a friend of mine who served in Afghanistan said that numbers are misleading because the fighting ability of non-American NATO soldiers is so much less than that of our own. Perhaps that kind of difference won't matter as much during an occupation (as opposed to an invasion), but it still means that our soldiers will have to do most of the fighting and dying in Iraq.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

# Posted 7:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

JESUS, THIS IS GOOD BASEBALL. I mean, my heart beats for the Yankees, but rooting for them has something of the flavour of rooting for the Roman legions against the Gauls: if you’re reading Latin and not Celtic in middle school (n.b. I did both), then they’re clearly your team, but it’s hard to take too much pleasure out of seeing them beat up on the little guy. If the boys from Boston can pull this one off, more power to ‘em.

UPDATE: I seem to be watching a baseball game on a website. Red Sox up 2-0 after the first.
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# Posted 12:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S A MEME! Suddenly, everyone is writing about whether balanced journalism is actually balanced. Today, everyone includes Howard Kurtz.

In Tuesday's morning's paper, Kurtz devoted his Media Notes column to that subject. In this morning's paper, Kurtz offers his own take on whether or Bush or Kerry has gone further when it comes to stretching the truth.

In the former, Kurtz comes down on the side of those big name journalists who think that Bush has shown considerably less respect for the facts. But in the latter, Kurtz bashes Kerry for his misleading statements about the draft and Social Security. The WaPo editorial board also hits Kerry hard for his comments about Social Security and the draft.

The one major omission in Kurtz's two-day round-up is any criticism of Kerry for his indefensible assertion that he can persuade our allies to commit a significant number of troops to Iraq.

The French have already said that a deployment is out of the question, although the German are beginning to suggest that they may be more amenable. Even so, how many troops will they send?

Kerry often talks about the United States bearing 90% of the occupation's costs and suffering 90% of the casualties. Leaving aside the fact that it is Iraqis who are suffering most of the casualties, I doubt that any further commitment of allied troops will bring Kerry's magic number down below 70 or 80 percent.
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# Posted 11:05 AM by Patrick Belton  


(Extra points, incidentally, for counting each time CNN in its story managed stupefyingly to refer to it as a 'gay novel,' such as in the poll question 'Do you plan to read the gay novel that won this year's Booker Prize?', or in the headline 'Gay novel wins Booker prize.' I happen to believe, rather strongly actually, that there's no such thing as a Black novel, or a Woman's novel, or a Ex-Seminarian Who Gets Drunk at a Brothel and Urinates with a Jew novel, only novels, which are written by humans, with particular overlaying sets of experiences and attributes, which they then happen to draw upon. In general, I feel that any use of the phrase 'X novel' is demeaning to X; it has something of the flavour of 'rather good shot, that is, for a girl.' Still, I imagine it's vaguely preferable to 'literary sodomite,' or 'decent enough chap, shame really about him ending up in the fifth circle of hell.')
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# Posted 8:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHEREVER YOU FALL AS REGARDS the neo-conservative vision in foreign policy, it's difficult to dispute that it's one of the more ascendant and significant of intellectual strains in contemporary American political life, and also one of the less well studied - the preponderance of writers taking up the subject quickly succumbing into mouth-foaming tirades linking shadowy power with that bête noir, 'Jews.' Well, one of the deeper thinkers behind that vision, who happens also to be a friend of this blog, will be speaking here at Oxford in the Isaiah Berlin lectures. Next Thursday, Michael Ledeen will be presenting the Isaiah Berlin lecture at 5 pm, in Exam Schools. Do come, wherever you fall on the neo-conservative vision and its drawbacks - he's a sensitive thinker, a gifted raconteur, and an interesting window into an important intellectual strain in the United States at present.
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# Posted 7:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

No sooner do you set foot upon American ground, than you are stunned by a kind of tumult. . . . Almost the only pleasure which an American knows is to take a part in the government, and to discuss its measures. To give but one example of this enthusiasm, at a great outdoor gathering at Auburn, New York, Senator Rivers of Virginia addressed the audience for three and a half hours! After the crowd took a brief stretch, Senator Legarè of South Carolina went on for another two and a half hours!
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# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

KISS ME, I'VE JUST VOTED: No, not in the U.S. presidential elections, for the council of the American Political Science Association. I was very happy to give my meagre support to the 'Perestroika' ticket standing for the cause of methodological diversity and for not neglecting historical, sociological, philosophical, and other non-quantitative methodologies in the study of politics. This even though my own personal research at the moment draws heavily on both rational choice and statistical analysis - I wouldn't want those perspectives to become hegemonic within the discipline, or for the Balinese cock fights or influence within the New Haven Board of Aldermen of the future to go unresearched. Que viva la revolución.

(On the other hand, as they say in the rational choice literature, voting rules….)
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# Posted 1:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG READERS FOR BUSH: The response was overwhelming. I explained why I will (almost definitely) be voting for John Kerry and a whole lot of you wrote in to tell me why I shouldn't.

The best response I got was not a response to OxBlog at all, but a post from Beldar addressed to his thoughtful, patriotic, "non-moonbat" friends who also happen to be Democrats. (Hat tip: BM) Beldar's argument is forceful and well-grounded. Beldar asks how John Kerry, as President, would be able to resist tremendous pressure from the Democratic left to fight the war on terror their way.

Beldar focuses primarily on the disturbing potential for a high-risk withdrawal from Iraq. While I share his concern, I don't think that the Democratic left will be able to win that debate. There is a remarkable consensus right now on the importance of not letting Iraq become a failed state and terrorist haven. (We used to say that we didn't want Iraq to become another Afghanistan, but now we do want Iraq to become another Afghanistan!)

Even though Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to refer to Iraq as a quagmire, it is the Democrats themselves whose arguments embody the logic of the quagmire. Whereas Republicans (and OxBlog) still believe that our exit strategy in Iraq is democracy, Democrats argue that the situation now borders on the hopeless. At the same time, they argue that we dare not withdraw, lest Iraq descend into total chaos.

That is the very definition of a quagmire -- when you know you're losing but you still believe that if you withdraw things will only get worse.

This brings us to the second important point made by several of those who responded to yesterday's post. They describe my essential argument for Kerry as being the hope that Kerry, as President, will do the exact opposite of what he says on the campaign trail.

To a certain extent, that is true. I am hoping that Kerry will become an advocate of promoting democracy in Iraq even though he has studiously avoided that subject on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, Kerry insistence that he will "get the job done" in Iraq is a step in the right direction. While Kerry often insists that he is best equipped to bring the troops home, he has very carefully avoided making any firm commitment on that point.

One interpretation of such rhetoric is that Kerry is a sheep in wolf's clothing; once the election is over, his inner dove will emerge. Another interpretation is that Kerry recognizes (and regrets) the degree to which the Bush administration has committed the United States to a specific strategy for dealing with Iraq. Now he has no choice but to make the best of that situation.

As I said before, decisions about voting often reflect a considerable degree of speculation. Thus, I have settled on the line of speculation that I believe to the most plausible. If I am wrong about Kerry, you can be sure that I will not hesitate to admit it.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

# Posted 5:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

GONE FISHING (FOR A DISSERTATION...) So go over to the New Yorker to read the best bit of writing, on ketchup, ever.
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# Posted 12:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAKING THE DECISION: There are a precious few of us left who still haven't decided to whom we'll be giving our votes. But Greg Djerejian has decided. His lengthy commentary demonstrates that one can be profoundly aware of how grave the situation is in Iraq -- and of how much the Bush administration had contributed to that gravity -- yet still believe that Bush is better prepared than Kerry to handle the crisis.

In contrast, Daniel Drezner demonstrates that one can be profoundly troubled by Kerry's naive faith in multilateral diplomacy, yet still believe that he can wage our war on terror more effectively than George W. Bush. Thus, Dan now estimates that there is a 70% likelihood that he will be voting for Kerry.

So where do I stand in all of this? Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for the 4:50 PM showing of Team America to start, I told a couple of my liberal friends from UVA Law that there was a 60% chance I'd vote for Kerry. Concerned, one of them said to me, "Don't think, man, just vote for Kerry."

I responded: "Don't think? I thought that was your problem with Bush."

When I got home from the theater, I began to ask myself what could persuade me to vote for Bush if I'm already leaning toward Kerry and there are only twelve or so days left before the election. I still don't have an answer to that question, which means that the probability I will vote for Kerry is actually much higher than 60%.

They say that undecideds break for the challenger. Am I falling into that typical pattern of behavior? If I were confident enough in Bush to want him back in office, I should have recognized that long ago. Thus, the question becomes: Am I so afraid of what Kerry might accomplish as President that I prefer to have Bush remain in office?

In contrast to Dan & Greg, my most profound concern about Kerry is his naivete with regard to multilateral diplomacy. Rather, it is his total resistance to making about any positive statement about the importance of ensuring a democratic outcome in Iraq. Even though things are not going well on the ground, I believe that a true opportunity for democratization still exists. But that opportunity will amount to nothing in the absence of an all-out American effort to take advantage of it.

Like Greg, I am well aware of how the implementation of Bush's plans has not lived up to his soaring rhetoric. And like Dan, I believe that the heart of the problem is the closed-mindedness that prevents the Bush administration from adapting in response to its own failures.

Yet if I expect the Kerry administration to be more competent, shouldn't I expect it to be more competent at achieving precisely the objective I opppose, i.e. the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before there is a democratic order in place?

My answer to that question is 'no'. Ironically, I believe that it is Bush's uncompromising commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East that will tie Kerry's hands.

In a more abstract sense, I also believe that the values embedded in American political culture will limit Kerry's options. When America occupies a foreign nation, it cannot withdraw before establishing some semblance of a democratic order.

Sadly, most of our occupations have left behind only a democratic facade that crumbled shortly after the last troops came home. Often, the weankess of that facade reflected the United States' prioritization of withdrawal over democratic reform.

Yet it is extremely rare for the United States to become as invested in an occupation as it is now in Iraq. It was much simpler to pull a few thousand troops out of Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, as we did in the 1920s and 1930s. While the conditions on the ground in Iraq may not resemble those of postwar Germany or postwar Japan, the commitment of American prestige and centrality of American interests is similar.

Finally, I believe there is an ethical core to Kerry's foreign policy that can be put into the service of democratization. In the 1980s, Kerry's concern for human rights led him to denounce Reagan's support for anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua known as 'contras'.

Like his fellow Democrats, Kerry failed to recognize that the price of abandoning the contras was the destruction of any hope for democratic reform in Nicaragua. On a fundamental level, liberal Democrats opposed American intervention in other nations' domestic affairs, even if those nations were being held hostage by Communists.

This broad commitment to anti-interventionism on the left is the legacy of the Vietnam war. I believe that this same anti-interventionism led Kerry to oppose the first Gulf War as well as (to some degree) the second.

But the choice America's faces in Iraq is not one of intervention. We are already there. Our soldiers are already dying. Some might suggest that Kerry would rather save the lives of a few hundreds thane he would ensure the success of Iraq's transition.

I disagree. I believe that Kerry recognizes the danger of withdrawing from Iraq before it is stabilized. And I don't believe that Kerry could accept (let alone achieve) a process of stabilization that isn't democratic.

This doesn't mean that I expect Kerry to consistently make the right decisions about democracy in Iraq. In fact, I fully expect there to be a major struggle within the Democratic Party to define Kerry's agenda should he become President. I will simply do my best to play my small part in that struggle and to persuade as many Democrats as I can that democracy is the answer for Iraq.

Ultimately, I recognize that the arguments made above reflect a considerable degree of speculation about Kerry's motives. Thus, I will not hold it against anyone if they vote for Bush because their subjective assessment of the candidates' motives is different from my own.

Moreover, I do not believe that it is possible to make a decision in this election that doesn't rest on a considerable degree of speculation. In our political system, as in most, running for office entails strategic position-hiding as much as it does strategic position-taking.

Perhaps something will happen in these last few days that will change my perceptions of the candidates. If not, I will be voting for John Kerry.
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Monday, October 18, 2004

# Posted 11:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACTUALLY, JOSH, I had the post ready to go before Kent stepped up to the plate. With Beltran on second, I just knew that something good was going to happen.
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# Posted 11:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOTTOM OF THE 9TH: Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!
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# Posted 4:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE BUBBIE: In one of the few truly entertaining sidenotes of this campaign (err, not involving bloggers or friendly members of the press, that is...), a friend of ours at the NJDC has just released episode two in the Little Jewish Grandmother v. Bush series. In the interests of equal time, we should take pains to note that a 'Bubbie is full of lies' page has quickly appeared, pointing out the obvious forgeries and discontinuities in the Bubbie memo, I mean, movie. Q.v.: (1) It doesn't take her ten minutes to find something in her purse. (2) She doesn't then stop and say "Oy, it's in my other purse.", (3) At no point does she break her hip, (4) Not a single word about education. Without education, her son would have never become a doctor, or her other son the lawyer, or her daughter the doctor, or her grandson at Brandeis studying to be a doctor, or the two grandaughters at Vassar, oh, she's so proud of them; (there are several more, but equal time's just run out...).
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# Posted 2:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"AMERICA, F*** YEAH!" Trey Parker and Matt Stone couldn't have chosen a better theme song for their latest film, Team America: World Police. The film critics, however, can't seem to figure out exactly what the title song means or what the movie is all about.

In the Weekly Standard, Jon Last warns his fellow critics not to pretend that this film is mostly about politics. Above all, what Parker & Stone want is to satirize the formulaic blockbusters that Hollywood churns out on a regular basis.

Last's instinct has been confirmed by Matt Stone himself, who told the WaPo that
"People are saying that [Team America is] about politics...It's a
satire of movies."
Somehow, the Post's film critics didn't get the message. Demonstrating an incomparable penchant for condescension and ignorance, Hank Stuever writes that:
Stunned by all the fun, I am almost moved to salute Parker and Stone for their nuanced and careful takedown of American jingoism and the seemingly disastrous foreign policy that Team America stands for.

Only that isn't quite how it played to an audience on Tuesday night, at one of those free-ticket radio station giveaway previews in a packed cineplex in Northwest Washington. The biggest laughs came when "Team America" assaulted any and all concepts of ethnicity, or when the joke was on gays, Michael Moore or a vast left-wing idiocy.

The movie feels like an elaborate inside joke on the very Americans laughing hardest at its easiest gags, oblivious to the sly, allegorical digs at a USA brand of bravado. What I took as a lampoon of Bushworld seemed to be received, in the seats around me, as a triumph of Bushworld. Pollsters and campaign workers, take note: "Team America" will only further confound your election-year data.
Fellow WaPo critic Desson Thomson applauds the film for it's merciless take-down of
Plain old couch-potato us and our perception of the post-9/11 world thanks to a composite prism of fear, cultural ignorance and government spin. Filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park," are holding up a mirror to our worst sides and making us laugh hysterically for the privilege.
Ironically, liberal critics such as Stuever & Thomson are actually the butt of Parker & Stone's toughest jokes. As the very-liberal-but-much-less-ignorant A.O. Scott points out in the NY Times, Parker & Stone
Expend most of their spoofy energy sending up action-movie conventions and over-the-top patriotic bluster, reserving their real satiric venom for self-righteous Hollywood liberals (with special attention to Alec Baldwin)
It seems likely, though, that their emphases and omissions reflect a particular point of view. "South Park," with its class-clown libertarianism and proudly juvenile disdain for authority, has always been hard to place ideologically, but a number of commentators have discerned a pronounced conservative streak amid the anarchy, a hypothesis that "Team America" to some extent confirms.
The victims of Team America's satire seem to have gotten the message. Sean Penn -- one of Kim Jong Il's principal collaborators in the film -- denounced Team America for
"Encourag[ing] irresponsibility that will ultimately lead to the disembowelment, mutilation, exploitation, and death of innocent people throughout the world."
As far as I can tell, Penn's comments are sincere and not a self-deprecating parody of his left-wing views.

Even though Jon Last is right to insist that Team America is more about Hollywood than it is about Washington, I think that A.O. Scott just happens to be right when he says that the climactic speech at the end of the film represents
One of the more cogent — and, dare I say it, more nuanced — defenses of American military power that I have heard recently.
I would tell you what that cogent defense is, but I don't want to ruin the surprise for those of you who haven't seen the film. I'll just say that for those of you who enjoy both South Park and foreign policy, ten bucks is a bargain for the entertainment that Team America provides.
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# Posted 8:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD STUFF FROM THE LRB'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE, on class in Britain and the long-standing jousting match between Anglo-American and Continental philosophy. In the latter, Anglo-American philosopher Jerry Fodor writes: 'The place on the [Borders] shelf where my stuff would be if they had it (but they don't) is just to the left of Foucault, of which there is always yards and yards. I'm huffy about that; I wish I had his royalties. Royalties aside, what have they got that we haven't? It's not the texture of their prose I shouldn't think, since most of us write better than most of them. Anyhow, our arguments are better than theirs.' So why the declining fortunes of Anglo-American relative to Continental philosophy, at least in the readership of nonphilosophers? Problem one: 'Whereas it used to be said that philosophy is about, for example, Goodness or Existence or Reality or How the Mind Works, or whether there is a Cat on the Mat, [now] it's not the Good, the True or the Beautiful that a philosopher tries to understand, it's the corresponding concepts of "good" "beautiful" and '"true".' Problems two and three are then titled 'Quine' and 'Kripke'. Well worth a read.
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# Posted 7:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

INSPIRATIONAL THESIS QUOTES FROM ENGLISH CHILDREN'S LITERATURE, NO. 5:  PETER gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.
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Sunday, October 17, 2004

# Posted 10:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHAMEFUL: Wearing a Kerry shirt at a Bush campaign event? Expect to be thrown out.
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# Posted 10:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE KILLING CONTINUES: In Darfur. Sadly, the coincidence of genocide in the Sudan with a presidential election in the United States has only benefitted the murderers.

I expect that within a matter of months, both Republicans and Democrats will look back and wonder how they did so little to prevent an impending disaster. Of course, if Europe wanted, it could take advantage of this golden opportunity to demonstrate that multilateralism is not just a codeword for amoral passivity.
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# Posted 10:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HE-SAID/SHE-SAID HEADLINES: The WaPo Ombudsman tackles one of OxBlog's favorite subjects. He concludes that Bush and Cheney have benefited from excessively balanced headlines attached to articles that are far more critical of the President and Vice-President than they are of John Kerry and John Edwards.
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# Posted 10:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PUTIN BEHAVING BADLY: Russia's aspiring dictator claims that he is the victim of a double standard that condemns him for punishing terrorists while praising others who do the same. Yet Stephen Sestanovich, the respected scholar and diplomat, documents how the United States and its allies have held Russia to a far lower standard than they have held themselves.
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# Posted 3:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE POLLS: I don't know much about the reliability of state-level polls, but I think it's interesting to compare electoral college vote projections. My first stop while poll-hunting is always RealClearPolitics. It's a great site and co-editor Tom Bevan happens to be a really nice guy.

Right now, RCP has Bush ahead in Florida and Wisconsin but says that Iowa and Ohio are toss-ups. RCP's judgements reflect an average of statewide polls in each of the battleground states.

Next up is Electoral-Vote.com, which is calling Ohio and Wisconsin for Bush but says that Florida and Iowa are toss-ups.

The outlier among the poll-watchers is Pollkatz, which has Bush ahead in both Ohio and Florida, but mysteriously has Kerry winning in Arkansas and Missouri not to mention Iowa and Wisconsin. I think that these differences seems are a reflection of PK's methodology, which he explains here.

Finally, we come to Rasmussen, which is very liberal about describing states as toss-ups. In addition to the usual four, Rasmussen has a list that includes Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.
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# Posted 3:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OH NO! NOT ANOTHER DEBATE! My old high school has invited me back to participate in a mock debate on election day. As things now stand, I will be representing Bush, although I told the teacher in charge that I don't have much in common with the GOP when it comes to domestic politics. If I'm lucky, she'll find someone to represent Bush and then I can represent the undecideds!
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# Posted 2:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUZZY MATH: Jon Chait dismantles George Bush's indefensible assertion that John Kerry voted to raise taxes 98 times.
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# Posted 2:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE FLU OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST: Kevin explains why there is a shortage of flu vaccine in the US right now.
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# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COLLATERAL DAMAGE: With good reason, Spencer Ackerman is concerned about the civilian casualties inflicted by US airstrikes on Falluja. (Hat tip: MY again.) With reference to the lessons of Vietnam, Ackerman writes that
The insurgency grows stronger, not weaker, as a result of embittered civilians who suffer the consequences of the attack.
I agree. But doesn't the acceptance of this principle imply that the insurgents have antagonized even more Iraqi as a result of their indiscriminate and intentional suicide bombings across Iraq?

How often does the newspaper article (or left-of-center blog post) describing such an attack suggest that it will play to the advantage of the United States? Not often. Instead, one tends to read that Iraqis blame America for failing to provide the sort of security that would protect them from suicide attacks.

One possible justification for this double-standard is the fact that Iraqi nationalism leads most Iraqis to blame the United States regardless of who is responsible for the deaths in question. Or to be more precise, Sunni Arabs in Iraq will blame the United States no matter what, whereas Kurds and Shi'ites -- who are often the victims of such suicide attacks -- will approach such matters with a more open mind.

Yet when a suicide bomb detonates in the heart of Baghdad, it is almost as likely to kill a Sunni as it is a Kurd or Shi'ite. Can Iraqi Sunnis forgive such indiscriminate slaughter even if they support the objectives it hopes to achieve? I suspect not.

Of course, Falluja is enemy territory so there are no suicide bombings there. Thus, civilian casualties tend to be American inflicted. On the other hand, the threat of an American-led assault seems to have provoked a divide between native Fallujans who prefer to negotiate and those foreign fighters who prefer to fight to the death. Let's hope that the sensibilities of the natives prevail.
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# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONLY IN THE PRINT EDITION: In Saturday's morning's WaPo, on the bottom of page A8, there is a priceless photo of the young John Edwards. He looks like a cross between Marlon Brando and Luke, the blond guy from the Dukes of Hazzard.
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THE FAITH-BASED PRESIDENCY": That is Ron Suskind's description of the George Bush's time in office. Suskind develops his argument in great detail in the current issue of the NY Times Magazine. (Hat tip: MY)

Even though Suskind's anecdotal evidence is less than impressive, I share his concern about Bush's apparent inability to question the highly contoversial assumptions on which his policies are based. More than anything else, I think that this explains my instinctive attraction to John Kerry and his thirst for information.

The unique aspect of Suskind's argument is his direct and uncompromising effort to explain Bush's lack of intellectual curiosity as a direct extension of his faith in God. Even though the President's critics often murmur about the connection between his faith and his policies, I can't recall anyone other than Suskind actually making an explicit and detailed argument about the connection between the two.

I am especially wary of such argument because I am aware of my own profound prejudices about the Christian right and its political agenda. After a dozen years of Jewish education, it is almost impossible not to have a negative attitude toward any Christian who insists that the Bible should guide the hands of politicians and policymakers.

Yet for the moment, I have decided to suspend my prejudices about the Christian right and ask how much actual evidence there is to justify the pervasive caricature of evangelicals as simple-minded and intolerant. I am especially looking forward to reading the work of JS, one of my colleagues at the Miller Center, who is now working on a dissertation entitled "Compromising Crusaders: Passion, Deliberation and the Christian Right." Here is how he describes his research:
From the founding of the United States, many thoughtful observers of its political system have regarded the public activities of religious movements as a threat to individual freedom and deliberative democracy. Most recently, social scientists and public intellectuals have denounced the Christian right for violating the norms of a pluralist democracy. Yet scholars have not examined the movement deeply enough to understand the inner workings of its principal political organizations. By doing exactly that, this dissertation demonstrates that the Christian right is not the uncompromising movement that detractors fear.

Although Christian right organizations do—as their critics contend— arouse moral passions, they do so in order to mobilize apathetic citizens. But once they have mobilized citizens, most of these organizations then labor diligently to moderate and inform the passions they have provoked by teaching activists how to become civil, compromising, and strategic actors in the public realm.

Elites within the Christian right undertake these labors because success in electoral politics requires it. Understanding this fundamental tension between the exigencies of mobilization, on the one hand, and successful activism, on the other, is critical to any thoughtful evaluation of the Christian right.
In the opening paragraphs of his NYTM essay, Ron Suskind writes that
Faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.
Susking later observes that:
Every few months, a report surfaces of the president using strikingly Messianic language, only to be dismissed by the White House. Three months ago, for instance, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Bush was reported to have said, ''I trust God speaks through me.'' In this ongoing game of winks and nods, a White House spokesman denied the president had specifically spoken those words, but noted that ''his faith helps him in his service to people.''
I don't think that the White House is above playing such games. Yet if Bush's certainty comes from his faith in God, where do the certainty of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the inner circle come from? For that matter, what about Reagan's legendary certainty and his immunity to facts?

Even though Bush bears far more responsibility than Suskind for reinforcing negative stereotypes about Christian evangelicals, I think that the time has come for America's coastal elites to reconsider their attitude toward political Christianity.
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# Posted 1:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CUBA LIBRE: In a brief post I put up while in Vegas, I mocked the decision of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) to allow Cuban "scholars" to present their research at LASA's recent conference.

There is more to the story, however. As it turns out, there were no Cuban presentations at the conference because the State Department refused to let the Cuban presenters into the country. Moreover, according to a colleague of mine who is quite fair-minded, a fair number of the Cubans are serious scholars, even though others are unofficial propagandists.

If the State Department were smarter, it would have welcomed the opportunity to let the Cubans show themselves for what they are. Instead, it provided the pro-Cuban Americans at the conference another chance to vent their (self-)righteous indignation.

On the second day of the conference, I attended a panel on US-Latin American relations since the end of the Cold War. During his presentation, Prof. Philip Brenner of American University declared that what the United States really hates about Cuba is the fact it has "stood up with dignity" to American efforts at domination.

Whoa. Let me say that again. Whoa. Apparently, Brenner has a bad habit of making such remarks. On Sept. 6, 2001, Brenner suggested to his class that "perhaps Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are only bad from a Western perspective. Think about it." After the September 11th attacks, Brenner suggested that the US had also committed massive acts of terror.

Anyhow, the only one who came close to contradicting Brenner's remarks about Cuba was his colleague from American University, Dr. Robert Pastor. Pastor happens to have been the National Security Council's director for Latin American Affairs during the Carter Administration.

I think that Pastor would have kept quiet if not for Brenner's effort to directly provoke him by insisting that even the Carter Administration was blindly committed to humiliating Cuba at any cost. Pastor sharply and persuasively responded that Carter did his best to improve relations with Havana, but made it very clear to Fidel Castro that if he dispatched another Cuban expeditionary force to Africa, the Carter administration would not be the least bit forgiving.

Fidel sent the expeditionary force and Carter called off the pursuit of detente. As Pastor observed, America extended its hand in friendship, but Cuba consciously chose to slap it down.

So, in conclusion, what you really need to know about LASA is that its most jingoistic, right-wing members tend to be former officials in the Carter administration.
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Saturday, October 16, 2004

# Posted 11:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRAUTHAMMER RIDICULOUS: Josh may have liked Charlie K's most recent column, but I thought it was ridiculous. John Edwards may have said something sort of dumb, but Krauthammer's reaction is completely over the top. Edwards said:

If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
That's optimistic campaign trail fluff. A closer reading of Edwards' statement implies that somehow Bush & Cheney are against Chris Reeve being able to walk again. Edwards' fluff hardly merits that kind of analysis, however. But here's what Charlie K says:

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery...

There is no apologizing for Edwards's remark. It is too revealing. There is absolutely nothing the man will not say to get elected.
A demagogue willing to say anything? Perhaps Krauthammer is confusing Edwards with Dick Cheney. Remember Cheney? He's the guy whose remarks about Saddam and 9/11 George Bush had to publicly disavow.

Of course, there are Democratic demagogues as well. From where I stand, there is no excuse for John Kerry saying that George Bush wants to bring back the draft. By the way, it's worth comparing the NYT and WaPo comments about Kerry's remarks. In a straight up news article, the Post said that

Kerry offered scant evidence to support the allegation of an impending draft under Bush.
So much for he-said/she-said journalism. The NYT avoided that sort of overt analysis, but did include this failry damning paragraph

When the candidates debated a week ago in St. Louis, Mr. Bush ruled out reinstating the draft. "We're not going to have a draft, period," he said. "The all-volunteer Army works." In his rebuttal then, Mr. Kerry did not question the president's assertion.
That last sentence is a classic. It provides coverage of a literal non-event. But it has the exact same connotation as the WaPo's front-and-center analysis.

Anyhow, getting back to Charlie K, I'd like to propose my own candidate for the most loathsome display of demagoguery in the past 25 years. On December 2, 1983, a high school student said to Ronald Reagan:
This week you vetoed a bill passed by Congress which linked military aid in El Salvador with human rights. Why did you veto this bill, and how can we justify supporting governments, be they leftwing or rightwing, which violate human rights?
Reagan gave a fairly detailed response to the question, which included this statement:
We're doing everything we can, not only to help [the Salvadoran] Government deal with these rightwing squads, but I'm going to voice a suspicion now that I've never said aloud before. I wonder if all of this is rightwing, or if those guerrilla forces have not realized that by infiltrating into the city of San Salvador and places like that, that they can get away with these violent acts, helping to try and bring down the Government, and the rightwing will be blamed for it.
Reagan's comments made the front page of the next morning's papers because there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that Communist guerrillas were masquerading as right-wing death squads. While it is theoretically possible that such a masquerade took place, overwhelming evidence indicated that anti-Communist forces were responsible for 90 percent or more of the tens of thousands of civilians murdered during the first years of the Salvadoran civil war (and that the other 10 percent didn't involve masquerades).

Moreover, those murderous anti-Communists were soldiers and policeman employed by the Salvadoran military and acting with its explicit support, not independent "rightwing squads" as Reagan suggested. And his administration knew it. Less than ten days after Reagan's controversial remarks, Vice-President Bush handed a list of known murderers to the Salvadoran high command and demanded their explusion from the armed forces.

In my dissertation, I argue that Reagan's demagoguery was not intentional, but rather a reflection of the 40th President's unparalleled ability to blind himself to the obvious truth. Declassified CIA reports, now available from the National Security Archive, demonstrate that the administration's knowledge about the death squads was detailed and unequivocal.

Of course, anyone capable of reading a newspaper knew what was going on in El Salvador -- that is why Reagan's comments were almost incomprehensible. White House spokesmen backtracked from the President's remarks almost immediately. No other Republican stood up on the President's behalf.

The only plausible explanation for the Great Communicator's self-destructive rhetoric was that he himself believed in it.
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# Posted 7:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

The third model, comparative interbranch strength, places asymmetries of political resource endowments as central in explaining variations over time in the congressional influence on policy outcomes. Those outcomes then reflect the primary preferences of the actor with the greater resources, in proportion to the ratio between the two actors’ allotment of political resources.

Assume three axioms about strength:

1. greater popularity among the public, both in general and specifically of their foreign policy positions, confers strength upon the branch possessing it;
2. a larger Δpop(equal to Positive opinion (branch Bx) – Negative opinion (branch Bx)), which takes into account the distinction between neutral and averse segments of the public, also confers strength upon the branch possessing it;
3. a greater degree of ideological homogeneity in the majority caucus in each house also confers strength upon the legislature.

Strength is, for present purposes, defined as the sum of these three dimensions,


And relative strength, then

ΔΣi=1…3μi = Σi=1...3μB1i - Σi=1...3μB2i

Which is, incidentally, the name of a fraternity at my first university.
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# Posted 5:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

I'M TOUCHED....I THINK DEPARTMENT: From my latest reading material:
'Quilted Velvet ® is deeply quilted, soft toilet tissue that really cares for your bum.'

'If you feel that this product doesn't care for your bum enough, please let us know by sending this pack and its contents FREEPOST to:

Velvet ® Bum Care Department
SCA Hygiene Products UK Limited
Freepost ANG 5856
Dunstable, LU6 3YY
Dunstable, incidentally, was where I went to buy my car. Maybe there's a pattern. More significantly, I have the strong impression that this was written by the same guy who wrote the 'manicure' interview for FOX, a.k.a, the joke that wasn't meant to see print...
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# Posted 8:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEW ARAB REFORM BULLETIN: Edited ably as always by the Carnegie Endowment's (and OxFriend) Amy Hawthorne, with articles on judicial reform, the variegated Iraqi insurgency, and two pieces on the opposition and ruling party in Egypt.
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# Posted 8:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFGHAN ELECTIONS POST-MORTEM: From who else but our dashing Afghanistan correspondent:
Two of my Afghan friends and colleagues arrived in Washington, DC yesterday. Their satisfaction and enthusiasm with the elections in Afghanistan can hardly be overstated. Both showed off the fading indelible ink on their thumbs (one of them had initially gone to a polling place where the pens proved delible, but the mistake was caught early and the voters sent to a different polling station). One said, eyes twinkling: “It was a miracle. There were hundreds of us, and everyone was standing in one straight line. Afghans never stand in line, they always crush in together. But that day, we all stood in line and waited to vote.” The other pulled out his mobile phone and proudly showed the digital photo he’d taken in the privacy of the polling booth: a ballot with a big black checkmark next to Hamid Karzai’s picture.

It’s unsurprising that two young, married Kabulis who work for a Western NGO and who backed Karzai would find the election satisfying. They have everything to gain from a continuation of the policies of the last three years. But after the initial shock of the washable ink and the soon-retracted opposition boycott, the reports out of Afghanistan have suggested that most Afghans throughout the country shared my friends’ enthusiasm. The electoral process was extraordinarily popular. When all is said and done, with a mere 43 purported irregularities under investigation by the joint UN-Afghan panel (from over 5,000 polling stations) and all the major opposition candidates committed to accepting the panel’s findings, it is hard to imagine the delible-ink scandal leaving an indelible blot on the Karzai presidency.

The best news of all, of course, was the remarkably limited violence. On September 24, I argued that the former Taliban and other violent malcontents had already lost their chance to derail the election. In the event, they were almost entirely inactive. A Taliban spokesman afterward claimed that this election-day restraint was a deliberate policy to spare the lives of fellow Muslims. Besides this unprecedented goodwill, a few other factors were probably at work:

• The rebels in southern Afghanistan are not meaningfully a Taliban resurgence (as I argued in July), but a loosely organized ethnic-Pashtun insurgency. As the election approached and Qanuni seemed likely to force Karzai into a runoff, community leaders throughout the Pashtun south realized that if their people didn’t make it to the polls, they might end up with a Panjshiri Tajik president. I imagine at this point they made it clear to the insurgents that everyone in their villages would be voting, for the good of the Pashtuns. And the insurgents blinked first.
• Karzai has been working hard at dialogue with the Pashtun insurgent leaders, particularly those from Gulbuddin Hekmetyar’s Hizb-i-Islami party. It’s possible that many more have been won over or bought off than we know about.
• According to my friends’ reports, Pakistan’s President Musharraf quietly but forcefully increased security along the Afghan border and in Afghan refugee camps in the weeks leading up to the election. This did a lot to keep out al-Qaeda troublemakers. (Iyad Allawi, take note).
• The insurgents dedicated significant resources, perhaps even a majority of their resources, to attempted attacks in Kabul which were thwarted by extraordinary security measures.

Whatever its causes, their failure is a major blow to the credibility of the insurgency, and for all its flaws, this election is a heartening victory. The Afghans are rightly proud and excited; they deserve much praise for this imperfect but important step toward stable democratic government. I’ve also talked to Afghans who feel that the U.S. government deserves more credit than I’ve been inclined to offer. They point to the role of Zalmay Khalilzad (American ambassador and Karzai’s éminence grise) in keeping the warlords on board when Karzai began throwing his weight around. As one rumor has it, all three major Panjshiri ministers tried to resign when Marshal Fahim was dropped as vice-president, but Khalilzad summoned them to his residence for a blunt remonstration. “Without America, you would still be isolated in Panjshir, alone and on the defensive. Do you want to go back there?” He’s also been making the rounds of all the opposition candidates, doing what he can to make sure they’re reconciled to a Karzai victory. Khalilzad’s success as horse-trader-in-chief deserves acknowledgment, and reflects well on the administration that appointed him.

But America’s larger failure in Afghanistan remains: we have not committed enough troops to secure the country, nor managed to convince other countries to commit their troops. Our initial policy of Occupation Lite was reasonable, even prudent – no one wanted to trigger the historically familiar Afghan response to foreign armies. By last year, however, all sides recognized that we were well below the troop threshold that the people of Afghanistan would tolerate. When asked, most Afghans responded that they would welcome more foreign troops if that would bring some accountability to the local warlords. NATO accordingly committed itself to expanding ISAF – and did next to nothing. America had committed the bulk of its armed forces to Iraq, and continued to focus its diplomatic attention on getting support for the war there, not on coaxing uncertain allies into securing Afghanistan.

This election is not a vindication of that policy. It would be an understandable but grave error to mistake the lack of violence surrounding this poll for a stable security situation in Afghanistan. While I don’t share the unrelenting gloominess of Human Rights Watch’s pre-election report, they correctly document that the threat of violence remains the primary political backdrop throughout Afghanistan (in particular for Afghans outside Kabul). As most commentators on Afghanistan recognize, the coming parliamentary poll will be far more precarious than the recently concluded elections. Without major improvements between now and then, the enthusiasm and success attending Afghanistan’s first election will be matched by the disillusionment and failure of its second.

In the first place, the south-eastern insurgency isn’t quite as depleted as its feeble voter intimidation efforts would suggest. Many of the Pashtun leaders who united to prevent a Qanuni or Dostum presidency are still hostile to America and sympathetic to the rebels. In the parliamentary elections, without the clear goal of maintaining a fairly popular co-ethnic president in power, the violent rejectionists will face less intra-Pashtun opposition. If they rally, project their power out of remote provinces like Zabul, Uruzgan, and Khost, and frighten voters away from the polls in populous Helmand and Kandahar, the insurgents could actually threaten the legitimacy of the parliament.

But violent rejection by Pashtun insurgents has never been the main threat to peaceful elections in Afghanistan. The greater, more general threat is from warlords who violently support their client candidates, especially in the ethnically divided north. In the recently concluded presidential campaign, violence of this sort was limited, because it would have been ineffective. It was never likely to affect Karzai’s overwhelming lead, one way or the other; and when Fahim may have been tempted to try it, a prompt and forceful response from Khalilzad and NATO deterred him. In the south, Pashtun tribal differences were set aside in the attempt to get out the vote for Karzai.

The game will be entirely different in the parliamentary elections, with scores of local contests at stake and the overall outcome anything but pre-ordained. In constituencies dominated by a single militia commander, any other candidates risk persecution and assassination. In constituencies divided between rival commanders, the race would be real but potentially bloody. With dozens of close races around the country, a great deal will hang on ballot irregularities and perceived interference at the polls. If the parliamentary elections are monitored as weakly as the presidential election, such disputes are all the more likely to be resolved by force.

My friend Mike wryly writes from Kabul, “I get the feeling that it's easy to arrive in Afghanistan, spend a few days looking around, and then confidently announce that the next few months is absolutely critical to the nations’ future, etc etc.” Still, I do think the next months will be as crucial as any time since the Taliban fell. We have a short window in which to prepare for the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Karzai has repeatedly said that “the time of horse-trading is over” and that he does not expect warlords to have a strong voice in his cabinet. The big question of the coming winter is whether he means what he says; and whether the warlords will accept a disarmed and diminished role.

So what to do? First: we need to get more troops in there to back up Karzai and Khalilzad – their bold strategy of checking the warlords will sooner or later meet a forceful challenge, especially if they do push the disarmament program. These troops will have to come primarily from Europe. (Russia and India, two countries who at one point considered sending troops to Iraq, are both non-starters in Afghanistan). Fortunately, many countries that wouldn’t consider sending troops to Iraq could be talked into reinforcing Afghanistan, especially since the first election proved to be so very un-apocalyptic. Europe has a strong interest in stemming the flow of Afghan opium and refugees. The bad news for John Kerry is that this “internationalization” probably wouldn’t free up many US soldiers – most of the American soldiers in Afghanistan are chasing bin Laden and the Taliban, a task that neither Kerry nor Bush is likely to “outsource.” But more European troops could be invaluable in the coming election campaigns, to protect journalists and opposition party candidates, and to weaken rumors that America is rigging Afghan elections to its own ends.

Second: we need many more election monitors, much better election security (including stepped-up disarmament and demobilization), and an extensive voter education program. Parliamentary elections are more complex than presidential elections, and we should expect more (and more effective) attempts at fraud. Countering this will require increased funding and attention from foreign donors. Security should be provided by Afghan national troops and police where feasible, by foreign troops where necessary, and by warlord militias as rarely as possible.

Third: we need a counter-poppy strategy that is also pro-farmer. Stepped-up interdiction is essential; Karzai should use his strengthened position in the wake of elections to take on the drug lords as well as the warlords in his country, lest it turn into a narco-state. But aggressive eradication strategies will turn rural Afghans against the occupation and the Kabul government. We may hope that this year’s glutted market and price collapse will lead to fewer hectares of poppy cultivated next year. But the primary standard for success in the next few years should be increased hectares of alternative crops and better Afghan agricultural processing facilities, with diminished poppy cultivation as a secondary, dependent indicator. Until there are genuine alternative income sources for rural Afghans, we can’t start ploughing up the poppy fields.

Finally: the United States should be prepared for Hamid Karzai to lose the next presidential election. The enthusiasm with which Afghans are embracing elections recalls nothing so much as the first electoral rounds in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. There, the bubble of expectations surrounding democracy was quickly deflated by harsh economic realities, and (to the horror of many in the West) the second round of elections went to former Communists. It’s easy to imagine a similar scenario playing out in Afghanistan at the end of Karzai’s term, with a disillusioned, still-impoverished electorate responding to the nationalism of a former warlord. The first reports from the vote-counting have Qanuni at 17 percent, compared to 15 percent for Abdul Rashid Dostum. We’ll see how things look when all the ballots have been counted. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see one of the two succeed in four years. As we negotiate the roadblocks of the next few years, we should keep such a contingency always in mind, and not back ourselves into a corner where Karzai becomes indispensable. There’d be no quicker way to dispel Afghans’ enthusiasm for democracy than to foolishly rig the election in Karzai’s favor next time.

(N.B. Many thanks to Mike, by the way, whose dispatches from the frontline have kept me up on events despite the fact that I’m out of the country. His analyses combine equally keen insight and humor, as for example:

“My favorite election quote to date comes from our Uzbek friend General Dostum, at a recent election rally: ‘It will be clear very soon who is a warlord and who is the people’s lord.’ Because ‘people’s lord’ has such a nice, democratic ring to it.”)
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# Posted 7:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

WANT A JOB? Don't brag about your accomplishments. Instead, kiss up.
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Friday, October 15, 2004

# Posted 10:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

I PERK UP ANNUALLY about this time of the year to pay enough attention to baseball to enjoy watching the Yankees win their annual World Series. Then, I go back to generally ignoring spectator sports, apart from the occasional glances at Irish rugby and South Asian cricket. I derive great pleasure from this, because (1) I'm generally most at home in the United States in New York, and spend most of my time there when I'm stateside, and (2) rooting for the Mets, though undoubtedly more authentic, provides limited meaningful opportunities for postseason spectatorship. Particularly via UK telly.

So, a quick review of the relevant facts, going into Game 3 tonight. Yanks begin with a 2-0 advantage at Fenway tonight, after utterly dominating that plucky but masochistic bunch of ruffians from Beantown for the previous two evenings of play. Mussina and Lieber in the bullpen are pitching pretty, holding the Red Sox to one hit in 37 at-bats in innings one through six. And team playing seems to be fairly good, with broad contributions coming from Hideki Matsui (driving in five runs in Game 1), and Bernie Williams (three), Derek Jeter turning a walk into a run in the second game, and this by stealing second and scoring on a single from Gary Sheffield. Nice team. Now any of them want to run for president?
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# Posted 6:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

SCIENCE CORNER: Millihelen: unit of beauty. In particular, a millihelen is the degree of beauty able to launch one ship.
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Thursday, October 14, 2004

# Posted 6:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

WELL BUGGER, I never knew we had Shakespeare blogging for us. (I guess that's one of the advantages of being the Anglo-American blog...)
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# Posted 3:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HE SAID/SHE SAID JOURNALISM: Back when the Swift Vets were still on the front pages, I had a brief exchange with Kevin Drum and Zachary Roth (of CJR) about whether or not professional correspondents mislead their audiences by engaging in he said/she said journalism, i.e. mechanically reporting on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

The subject came to mind again when Kevin linked to an internal memo from ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin which made this remarkable statement:
I'm sure many of you have this week felt the stepped up Bush efforts to complain about our coverage. This is all part of their efforts to get away with as much as possible with the stepped up, renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions.

It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right.
Kevin's take on the memo is that it's about time the media started getting as tough on Bush as it should be. To some degree, the existence of such a memo implies that ABC's correspondents had been holding their punches in the first place.

Yet take note of the author's observation that the Bush campaign had already stepped up its complaints about ABC's coverage. In addition, Halperin bolsters his argument by observing that leading correspondents at both NYT and Newsweek also believe that Bush's attacks on Kerry are on the brink of becoming outright lies -- lies designed to deflect public attention from the administration's failure in Iraq.

Perhaps Mark Halperin doth protest too much? If the NYT and Newsweek are already calling Bush a liar, and the campaign already thinks that ABC has been unfair, does Halperin really need to remind his correspondents that they should aggressively expose Bush' distortions of the truth?

Now let me make my own position clear. If Bush distorts the truth -- which he often does -- then journalists should make that clear. Journalists should interpret events rather than just reporting on them. Objectivity is a relative notion, and nothing produces more bad journalism than false pretensions of objectivity.

All I want is for left-of-center media critics to stop pretending that journalists' passivity lulls the American public into believing Republican lies.
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