OxBlog

Friday, December 24, 2004

# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEE YOU IN 2005: I will be on vacation from tomorrow until January 3rd. It has been a great year for OxBlog and it is continually an honor to work with Josh and Patrick.

This year we covered two political conventions, got more than 1.2 million hits, published mutliple articles in dead-tree media, and got an honorable mention from the Washington Post as best international blog.

I'm looking forward to 2005 and hope that you all will keep on reading and telling us how we can make this a better site for you.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, December 23, 2004

# Posted 5:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I MAY BE IGNORANT about a lot of things, but I'm not as dumb as this post by Kevin Drum (unintentionally?) makes me out to be. Yesterday, I felt compelled to "admit I'm somewhat puzzled" about new poll numbers that show a decisive majority now believing that going into Iraq was a mistake. Kevin responds that
I really don't think you have to look very far for the explanation. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the number of people who think the Iraq war was "worth fighting" ever since the end of major combat operations last May. There are the usual spikes here and there, but basically it's a pretty straight line. The longer the war goes on inconclusively, the less support it has.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise either. The eggheads in the blogosphere might have dozens of explanations for why they think the war was a good idea, but the average joe supported it because he wanted to kick someone's ass after 9/11, and Saddam's ass seemed like a pretty good one to kick. So now that Saddam is gone, why are we still there and why are those ungrateful Iraqis still giving us trouble?
Actually, Kevin's chart doesn't show a straight line, or at least not the kind of straight, downward-sloping line that Kevin is referring to. Obviously, there was a pretty significant decline from April '03 through November '03. Then Saddam's capture threw off the data for a while, so were not sure what was happening in December and January.

But from February through October of 2004, there was no decline. If Americans naturally get tired of inconclusive wars, then why was opinion far more stable during the much bloodier months of 2004 rather than the relatively peaceful months of summer and early fall in 2003?

Finally, the mostly flat line that connects February to October gives way to a sharp spike in November and December of 2004. (It's unclear from Kevin's chart whether this spike represents multiple opinion polls from that period, or just the one WaPo poll to which I referred.) As I asked yesterday, what happened after the election to change people's minds?

Although Josh Marshall endorses 99% of what Kevin says (and subtly suggests that OxBlog is a little thick) he does recognize that something significant happened in November and December. Marshall writes that
Many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other...[Yes, Josh is actually saying that Bush voters systematically lied to the pollsters.] [Josh says this was a total misinterpretation of his post. --ed.]

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.
Josh's explanation is not implausible, although its quite long on speculation and short on evidence. One piece of data that neither Josh nor Kevin sees fit to address is why support for finishing the job in Iraq is exactly as strong today as it was seven months ago. The margin on this point (58-39) is even somewhat larger than the margin of those who now say the war was a mistake (42-56).

If it is so natural for American to be unhappy with inconclusive and bloody wars, then why isn't there more support for a withdrawal? Are Americans just stubborn? Or afraid to admit defeat even in a war they don't support? (I don't think so, but I'm guessing that Kevin and Josh might accept that sort of explanation.)

I understand why a lot Americans are unhappy about the war in Iraq. I'm unhappy about it, too, although I still think we have to give it or best shot. The question is, can Kevin understand why "average joes" (and janes) who just wanted to "kick someone's ass" still want to finish the job in Iraq?

Actually, I'll give Kevin an easy way out on this one. Lots of liberals think the war was a mistake but that pulling out now would be even worse since Iraq would become another pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Maybe the average American is smart enough to recognize that as well.


(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

VATICAN TO CALABRIA: In my time in Europe, I have gone frequently to the Vatican; there are worse places to be a prisoner. Though the emotion of crowds in general scares me, and even at sporting or political events recalls black-and-white footage of the Anschluss, I have always enjoyed the sense of fellow-feeling among pilgrims at the Easter or Christmas papal mass.

An advantage of having contemplated the priesthood is that I have a fairly good grasp of all the responses in Latin; this is rarely useful. Yesterday was one of those rare times. I had the opportunity following the audience to approach to kiss his ring, but then a line of pilgrims in wheelchairs appeared instantly, out of nowhere, and immediately in front of me; I considered elbowing, or rolling, them out of the way, but suspected this might contravene some finer point of Vatican ettiquete. This is the third time I have been able to see this pontiff; I cannot expect that I will see him again.

Travelling south from Rome to Calabria, as the fashion declines, the random acts of friendliness begin, a process which one can even witness on the inside of a train. Just south of Naples, a Calabritana working in Milan approaches me to say I clearly must not be a Calabritano because I am reading a book, and would I like to join them in their compartment? They then proceed to give me all of their food. (No small mercy, as the night before I had been up until 3 am fulfilling my vow of covering every street of Rome by foot, and upon waking rushed straightaway from my elevator-shaft to the Vatican.) Due to my own considerable stupidity and a faint similarity between the words puglizie and policia, I shared a conversation with my puzzled benefactress, a cleaner, about which pistols she preferred.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHUFFED (ADJ., CHIEFLY IR. AND BR., QUITE PLEASED OR HAPPY): I was really extremely flattered to receive a secondary mention in PC Magazine's People of the Year article. As a geeky 8 (as opposed to 28) year-old, I used to read their every issue from cover to cover, and I take it as an exceptional honour two decades later to have made it into one.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM: Yglesias says:
Right now, the Democrats seem to be going through one of their periodic episodes where they abandon the field on national security and hope that the GOP will destroy itself in an orgy of self-immolation.
It didn't work in '02. It didn't work in '04. But maybe in '06...
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THE BLOGOSPHERE MAKING FRIENDS? Jay Rosen thinks so. (Hat tip: TMV)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAS KARL ROVE BEEN MAKING PHONE CALLS? David Brooks and Fareed Zakaria have both published optimistic columns about the Middle East on the same day. The same day, that is, that a new WaPo-ABC poll has recorded the first clear instance of a clear majority (57-42) saying the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Now, you can criticize the WaPo for publishing a headline that ignores the positives for Bush -- a strong majority support finishing the job in Iraq and a 48-44 plurality think that we're making significant progress in our efforts to promote democracy.

Still, this is the first time that the American public has been so decisive in its judgment. By the same token, an identical 57-42 majority disapproves of how Bush is handling Iraq.

I have to admit I'm somewhat puzzled by the numbers. Why were the American public so much more confident on Bush on election day? The media have generally presented the post-election battle in Fallujah as victory for our side. There have been a lot of major bombings, but we had those in October, too.

And consider the public's contradictory attitude toward Iraqi elections. Polls show that a 58-34 majority thinks Iraq isn't ready for elections. Yet a 60-34 majority thinks the January elections should not be postponed...even though a 54-36 majority thinks those elections won't be free and fair.

Steve Sturm's take on all of this is that America supported the first Iraq war (to get rid of Saddam's WMDs) but not the second (to promote democracy in Iraq). That's plausible, but it doesn't really explain why there is such strong support for finishing the job in Iraq even if means more casualties.

Perhaps the best way to describe the public's attitude is 'fatalistic'. There isn't much hope for the future, so we may as well get it over and done with as soon as we can. Personally, I'm still holding out for a nice surprise on election day.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"BUSH DESTROYS ANOTHER 22 FAMILIES": That's Kos's response to the latest attack in Mosul. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack, but a terrorist group with ties to Al Qaeda has taken responsibility. (Hat tip: Glenn)

What really concerns me is that Kos has a reputation for being a pretty mainstream Democrat, not a left-wing nut. What hope does the party have of persuading voters that it is serious about national security if this is how it responds to a terrorist attack?

I understand what Kos is trying to say. Bush got us into a bad war and he's responsible for the casualties we suffer. I disagree, but it's not a stupid point. Yet Kos' decision to vilify the president rather than the actual murderers suggests that he is completely out of touch with the American mainstream.

After a failed uprising in East Germany in 1953, Bertholt Brecht sarcastically remarked that since the people couldn't dissolve the government and replace it with a new one, the government ought to dissolve the people and replace them instead. Kos might want to keep Brecht's warning in mind.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

# Posted 6:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT CHRISTIAN NUT IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Isn't there anyone over at 1600 Penn. Ave who realizes that the leader of the free world shouldn't say things like this:
Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith.
Or that:
Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism. Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life.
Or that
We can stand up and hold up our heads and say: America is the greatest force that God has ever allowed to exist on his footstool. As such, it is up to us to lead this world to a peaceful and secure existence.
Or finally, that:
Faith is evidently too simple a thing for some to recognize its paramount worth...But your husbands and brothers and fathers can testify that in the terrifying nakedness of the battlefield, the faith and the spirit of men are the keys to survival and victory.
If faith and spirit are the keys to victory, then things are looking up for the insurgents in Iraq. But what the f*** did Dwight Eisenhower know about guerrilla warfare?

Yeah, that's right: Eisenhower. Who did you think said all of those offensive things mentioned above? George W. Bush? Bill Clinton?

FYI, all of these quotations come from a 1994 article by Rachel Holloway entitled "Keeping the Faith" in a book entitled Eisenhower's War of Words, edited by Martin Medhurst. Holloway's main argument is that Eisenhower suppressed dissent about his reckless nuclear policies by suggesting that anyone who disagreed with him was either un-American or an atheist or both.

For the record, I don't agree with Holloway. But her take on Eisenhower should make it clear that she has absolutely no interest in defending overtly religious rhetoric by suggesting that even the great Eisenhower was always talking about God. Only OxBlog has the chutzpah to do that.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

CIAO, TUTTI, DI ROMA: After sleeping off my day's journey from Oxford to the Vatican by way of Dublin (thereby confirming the rumoured post-1990 status of Dublin, or at least its airport, as centre of the world), I go out to stroll about St Peter's and down the Tiber to the Piazza Navona. Rome by night cuts a bella figura.

With women on the sidewalk saluting each other with 'Ciao bella,' more fur than in the New York zoo, espresso at the belle monde's Rosati and at Antico Cafe Greco (among whose patrons were counted Lord Byron and Keats), the omnipresent scooters, telefonini, and two-toned leather shoes, I feel as though I'm on the set of Fellini's Roma. Which, of course, I am. As a scooter passes on the sidewalk next to a car illegally parked and blocking traffic, the Romans passing on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II pause to comment about its likely engine power. This is Rome.

There is a sunniness that you don't tend to get, oddly, in the Home Counties. There, speaking with a stranger rivals with being a foreigner for ancient criminal heinousness under the English common law. Here, strangers meeting your eyes say 'buona sera' to you in the street at 2 am. Part of this sunniness (though not at 2 am) is undoubtedly the sun, which unlike in the Home Counties exists here.

I discover there is a 2-step process involved in crossing a busy street in Rome. (1) step into traffic, and (2) begin walking. Try it: it's rather fun once you get the hang of it. (C.f., driving through intersections in Matamoros, Mexico). All traffic signs, semafores, and so forth are strictly advisory in Rome (once again c.f. Mexico).

If Italians were citizens of the world's hyperpower, everyone would be talking about 'loud Italians.' In Oxford, you often want to make them shut up, which is done, presumably, by way of holding down their hands. Here, in their element (and free of the echo chamber of the Cornmarket McDonald's), they're unbelievably cute. I'm dubious that the children here don't receive some form of subsidy from the Italian tourist board.

They're all on scooters, all dressed in scarves, shoes of the moment, sunglasses. The Gucci-to-square-foot ratio is rivalled only by Paris and the Upper East Side. The former, only on the subway underneath the 8th arrondisement. (The latter, everywhere.)

I seem to have, for my nightly sum of 28 sterling, rented a closet next to the elevator machinery, providing the pleasant metronomic accompaniment to my nighttime hours of the lift going up and down. At 3:45 am, I rather suspect the staff are pressing the buttons just to make sure I'm getting my money's worth. For 'former Papal apartment,' in Roman hotel argot, for future reference read 'there's a large, customed inflatable Santa continually inflating and deflating serving as the doorman.'

For 'Irish pub,' read: 'Americans, from Chicago.'

Judging from accordion players by Piazza Venezia, they like Sinatra here - I don't know yet know, though, whether this is principally on account of American tourists or his mafia connections.

At the Temple of Jupiter Moneta: here, adjoining the Vittoriano and under the present-day S Maria in Ara Coeli, lay the first mint of Rome: hence, money. I see a silvered mime popping out for a fag by the Capitoline. We tactily agree not to notice each other.

Graffiti by the Leonine Wall accuses the Pope of being Polish (accurately) and (more creatively) a Jewish fascist. You know something has gone drastically wrong with your reproductive history when you subconsciously begin comparing groups of nuns in terms of which is cuter. On my first full day, I attain the Vatican in time for the Angelus, speak to the Swiss Guards, and find myself proferred an invitation for an audience the following day. (Note to self: in the unlikely event I end up having a conversation with the Holy Father, remember to ask him which blogs he reads.)

I'm always pleasantly surprised to learn, on arriving in Italy, that I speak Italian. There's no reason I should - my mother is Tuscan, and I have the entitlement to Italian citizenship if I ever have to flee a pogrom impending against OxBloggers in Oxfordshire, but I've hardly spent much time at all in the country - but it always seems to come in rather handy when I'm here.

I don't know what it is about exposure to the tourist sector that produces the peculiar mix of smarm and condescension which is so distinctively remarkable in that industry, but the worst, loudest sort of tourists and the tourist-merchants fittingly deserve each other.

A nice trick: when panhandlers ask you for cash and you're not disposed (by reason of their projected alcohol content, &c.) to give it them, rather than saying 'golly, ma'am, I'm sure sorry, but God bless ya'll,' say, 'je suis tres desolee mais je n'ai pas du solde.' Then, when the great revolution comes, the poor of the world will be really p___d off at the French.

A political party of the left has chosen, oddly and rather frighteningly, to adopt the shamrock as its insignia.

I have paid my devotions today both to the successor to St Peter and to the Vestal Virgins, who have no one left to remember them. I remember, and venerate you.

More travelblogging the next time I find an internet point; till then, a hearty ciao di Roma!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN BLAGRANTE DELICTO: Ready for more hard-hitting journalism from the NY Times? For in-depth coverage on the cutting edge of the new media revolution? Then check out the Times Magazine's lengthy article on sex-blogging.

Written by GWU law prof Jeffrey Rosen, it's actually two articles in one. The first article contains pointless, semi-titillating anecdotes about sex in the blogosphere. The second article is actually a very insightful discussion of how blogging has affected social norms relating to privacy.

While annoyed by the semi-titillating anecdotes (I might be less annoyed if they were fully titillating), I give Rosen credit for figuring out how to sell an article to the Times Magazine. Maybe if I throw in some stuff about the First Lady and Frank Sinatra I can get the Times to publish my dissertation.

Anyhow, the hat tip for this link goes to Eszter at Crooked Timber, who is doing a lot of serious thinking about privacy and blogging in preparation for one of her classes in which the students will have to blog. Expect lots more good stuff from Eszter when as soon as the spring semester begins.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVIL FORCES ON THE AMERICAN SCENE: Rhyme-bustin' bloggah Reihan Salam, formerly of Evil Forces, is back in black with a new site called The American Scene. Reihan is joined by co-bloggers Ross Douthat and Steve Menashi.

If you want to check out the latest from Reihan & Co., you'll have to head over to the Daily Dish, where they are guest blogging while Andrew is on vacation. Congratulations, guys.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANIMAL HOUSE OR A BETTER AMERICA? In response to a recent post on OxBlog, Alex Whitlock asks: "What if everybody in America went to college?"

Right now, college graduates are almost guaranteed a decent job. But if everyone had a degree, wouldn't that just mean that educated folks wind up doing low-skill work or even unemployed?

Not being an economist, I don't have the means to answer that question in a very sophisticated manner. But I do have a hunch. Around sixty years ago, right after World War II, someone could've asked whether it was really worth making sure that all Americans got a high school education, since the value of a diploma would go down if everyone got one.

My sense is that getting America through high school represented a critical step toward creating the skilled workforce that was ready to capitalize on the use of new technologies in the 1980s and 1990s.

You might also say that once America went to high school that the value of a diploma did go down, so Americans started to one up another by going to college. Maybe someday we'll start one-upping another in the job hunt by going to grad school.

While some education might be redundant, my sense is that a pool of educated workers with advanced degrees, especially in fields like computer science or biology, would begin to create opportunities for themselves. Then again, an outsource-ophobe might say that our educated workers will have their jobs taken by educated Chinese and Indians will to work for less.

But I'm not so worried about that, probably because I was brought up to believe that knowledge is power. But what if every American got a masters degree or even a doctorate? Would we become a nation of Mondale/Dukakis voters? Yikes.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, December 19, 2004

# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHI'ITES MURDERED: One car bomb in Karbala. Another in Najaf . More than sixty dead. The following reaction seems typical:
"I swear to God, even if they burn all the elections centers, we will still go and vote," said Ali Waili, a 29-year-old taxi driver .
I guess the United States doesn't really have to promote democracy in Iraq -- the insurgents are already doing that for us. But David Ignatius argues that democracy in Iraq means a puppet for Iran:
Iran is about to hit the jackpot in Iraq, wagering the blood and treasure of the United States. Last week an alliance of Iraqi Shiite leaders announced that its list of candidates will be headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim, the clerical leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
My impression has been that SCIRI is not an advocate of Shi'ite fundamentalism. But if Ignatius says it is, then it's time for me to do more research. The one point on which I can't agree with Ignatius is that
Given the stakes for the United States in these elections, you might think we would quietly be trying to influence the outcome. But I am told that congressional insistence that the Iraqi elections be "democratic" has blocked any covert efforts to help America's allies. That may make sense to ethicists in San Francisco, but how about to the U.S. troops on the ground?
I think, or pehaps I hope, that our troops on the ground believe that what they need most is a legitimate government in Baghdad. And covert operations don't have much of a record of producing legitimate governments.

Which isn't to say that we haven't tried to influence the election. From the assault on Fallujah to the distribution of aid to the actions of our the US-sponsored Allawi government, America is already exerting a profound influence on Iraqi politics. If those above-the-board methods aren't enough, I doubt that covert ops will make much of a difference.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LACI PETERSON, YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Under a banner headline on the front page of the WaPo, a lengthy article describes a shocking trend: the murder of 1,367 pregnant women or new mothers since 1990, many of them killed by husbands or lovers.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONGRATS TO POWER LINE on being named Time Magazine's Blog of the Year.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOLDING AUDITIONS FOR THE MAN IN THE STREET: What do a second-rate action movie and a long-term research project by the Washington Post have in common? More than you'd expect.

On yesterday's front page, the Post ran the fifth article in its ongoing look at how hard it is for Americans to make ends meet even when their income matches the national median of around $35,000 a year. Correspondent Alec Klein recounts the story of a women named Kayasa Cobb in order to make a larger point about the experiences of the black middle class.

A Florida resident, Cobb is married and has two children. She doesn't just have a bachelor's degree, but also a masters. She has a full time job and earns $39,000. Her husband earns just over $20,000 as a librarian. He puts in extra hours at a move theater for just a shade over the minimum wage.

And still the Cobbs are barely getting by. They have $80,000 in debt. Day care for their infant daughter costs $520 a month. Health insurance adds another $400.

Cobb and her family still live in a dangerous neighborhood where gunshots are often heard. "Earlier this year, Cobb applied for a local government grant to help buy a home in a safer neighborhood. She was denied, she says, because her family made too much money."

Klein's article never exactly makes clear why the Cobbs are having such a hard time making ends meet despite having a household income of $60,000. I'm not exactly one to criticize, since I don't have any children to support and my parents were never strapped for cash.

But I am curious: How did this family come to be chosen as the representative of an entire social class? Shouldn't Klein tell us how he met the Cobbs and whether their situation is common among those with similar levels of income and education?

In Klein's article, the implicit answer to why the Cobbs are facing an uphill battle in life is that the system is rigged against them:
Even as African Americans and other minorities have made economic progress in the last 40 years, many of those reaching the middle-income rung, like Cobb, are finding it a hollow promise. In earlier decades, a union-protected factory worker or government employee earning such a wage could expect a comfortable life with company-provided health and retirement benefits, and perhaps enough money for indulgences such as the occasional new car...

Beneficiaries of the post-World War II boom in manufacturing, [African-Americans] have lost a disproportionate number of jobs as the factory workforce declined in recent years...

"Even for blacks who are following the model of the American middle class, going to college, getting a white-collar job, blacks have taken it on the chin," says labor economist William Spriggs, former executive director of the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality, which analyzes African-American issues.

That's how Cobb feels.
Now here's what you've all been waiting for: the part of this post about a B-grade action flick. Yesterday, I watched Walking Tall, starring The Rock. Walking Tall is both the remake of an earlier film by the same name as well as fictionalized version of the life of Buford Pusser, a legendary Tennessee sheriff in the 1960s.

The basic storyline of the 2004 version of the film is that Special Forces vet Chris Vaughn (The Rock) returns to his home town only to discover that the local lumber mill has closed down and his father is out of a job. The new game in town is a casino owned by one of Vaughn's high school friends, who has bought off the cops and uses the casino as a front for his drug-dealing operation. No one in the town wants to do anything about this because they all depend on the casino for jobs.

Long story short, The Rock becomes sherriff, beats up a whole lot of people, beds a reformed stripper and busts the drug operation. Then, in the final scence, you learn that the lumber mill has reopened and the elder Vaughn has a good job again.

Unsurprisingly, the film never explains this magical reversal of our nation's transition from an industrial to a service economy. But Hollywood's job is to give us happy endings, so you can't really blame the film for that.

Still, I think that the fantasy on which the happy-ending is based has a lot in common with yesterday's story in the WaPo. Both are animated by a powerful nostalgia for the good old days of solid union jobs with comprehensive benefits.

Perhaps because I am a historian, I tend to doubt whether such good old days ever existed. I'm not suggesting that the "good factory job" is a myth. But even if there were millions of them, did they really represent the typical life of America's middle class? Or does nostalgia for the good old days just lead us to misdiagnose the cause of our probelms today?

I am doubly suspicious of those who suggest that African Americans benefited from the old order as much as their Caucasian counterparts. America's unions have a long history of racism and America's factories had a long tradition of making blacks into second class citizens on the factory floor.

One striking statistic briefly mentioned in the WaPo is that "The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or greater in the United States is 2.5 percent, far below the national average." Wow. I'm willing to guess that the median income for college graduates is also significantly above average. Perhaps the real question we should be asking is not what happened to the good union jobs, but how we can put more Americans through college.

If I had more time on my hands, I could write a research paper comparing the opportunities that white and black Americans have to attend college. I could compare the living standards of college-educated African-Americans with their white counterparts. I could find out what percentage of the black middle class is college educated. I could find out how often college educated African-Americans wind up on welfare -- a fate of which Kayasa Cobb is quite wary.

In other words, I could find out whether the Washington Post's poster child for the failure of the marketplace was chosen because she had the right story to tell or because she really represents a subset of the American workforce that is struggling to leave a decent life despite working as hard as it can.

UPDATE: Kaus is blasting the WaPo for this half-baked article with far more gusto than I can summon. (Hat tip: MD)
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

RECEDITE, PLEBS! GERO REM IMPERIALEM: I'm leaving after a short nap to spend the holidays in Rome, Calabria, and Dublin, with a short likely side trip to Galway, as well. I'll try to do some travelblogging while there, to share some of the more interesting sights and sounds with our friends and readers. Ciao amici!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

FORMER U.N. OIL-FOR-FOOD CHIEF DENIES WRONGDOING: I'm shameless, shameless as a man can be. You can make a total fool of me. I just wanted you to know. (courtesy Billy Joel, recently covered by Benon Sevan.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

THROW THE BOOK AT 'EM, CONT'D: Having introduced in this space the new parliamentary sport of book throwing, Simon Hoggart writes in the Guardian (see, we like them sometimes) about a first-hand view of the first fixture from the stands (or, as known in the technical parlance of this sport, the 'backbenches'):
As the prime minister walked out, helpful Tories yelled at him: "Don't forget your book!" He grinned, but left it lying on the table.

Tories kept up the hubbub. "The book, take the book!" At which point the chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, marched briskly up to the table, picked up the book and lobbed it at the Tory frontbench, catching Alan Duncan right in the groin. Perhaps she meant to be playful, but then again, perhaps she didn't.

Mr Duncan looked every bit as startled as you would do if you suddenly suffered a ... biography of David Blunkett lodged in your crotch.

Eric Forth, another Tory, was on his feet in a trice. "The government chief whip hurled a very substantial book at my hon friend," he said. "Will you, Mr Speaker, sort out the chief whip and throw the book at her?"

The Speaker ... came back with a snappy riposte: "It is Christmas. But the exchange of gifts should be conducted outside the chamber."
Courtesy OxBlog's good friend JC. No, not that JC. That JC.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, December 18, 2004

# Posted 5:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

CREATIVITY IN JOURNALISM WATCH FOR THE DAY: The Guardian has a piece this morning on an obscure Alabama state legislator who has the wonderful idea of banning works in the American theatre canon which 'promote homosexuality.' However, bigoted Alabamans do not an interesting story make. However, state representative Gerald Allen has met President Bush. And therefore, the headline becomes the more interesting, though blatantly fictional, 'President Bush wants "pro-homosexual" drama banned. Gary Taylor meets the politician in charge of making it happen.'
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REALIST SCHOLAR DENOUNCES IDEALIST PRESIDENT: Those of you who follow academic debates may be able guess who wrote this. Those of you who don't should still enjoy the purple prose:
This is the disheartening tale of a noble people ignobly led. The Administration is both author and protagonist of that tale, and to the Administraiton must be read this indictment and this prophesy:

You have deceived once: now you must deceive again, for to tell the truth would be to admit having deceived. If your better judgment leads you near the road of rational policy, your critics will raise the ghost of your own deception, convict you out of your own mouth as appeaser and traitor, and stop you in your tracks...

You have told the people that American power has no limits, for flattery of the people is "good politics": now you must act as though you meant it.

Your own shouts, mingled with the outcry of the opposition, have befuddled your mind...

You will meet public opinion not at a point still compatible with the national interest, but rather where, regardless of the national interest, a deceived populace will support policies fashioned in the image of its own prejudices.

Where a knowing purdent and determined government would endeavor to raise the people to the level of its own understanding and purpose, an ignorant, improvident, and weak government will follow its own propaganda to that low level where uninformed passion dwells. You will become, in spite of your own better self, the voice not of what is noble, wise, and strong in the nation, but of what is vulgar, blind, and weak.

The leader will then have become the demagogue; as the mouthpiece of popular passion, you will at last have forsaken leadership altogether.
This goes on for a good bit longer, so I'll cut things short right here and tell you that this was written by Hans Morgenthau. In 1951. About Harry Truman. (You can find the full text on pages 239 and 240 of In Defense of the National Interest.)

What is the significance of this surprising fact? It is hard to say. First of all, it indicates the degree to which even the best-informed scholarly opinion of the day can utterly fail to anticipate what policies will be vindicated in hindsight.

Some might read into this fact the potential for a vindication of George W. Bush five decades from now. Others will insist that George W. Bush is no Harry Truman. (Althought it might be more accurate to say that Harry Truman was no Harry Truman.)

A less partisan reading of Morgenthau's work might suggest that it points to the striking motivational power of idealistic rhetoric that invokes American ideals as well as the enduring nature of the clash between realism and idealism.

The ever-present as well as most important but hardest question to answer is which doctrine provides greater insight into the challenges of today and how, if at all, it might be possible to combine the strength of both doctrines in order to achieve an optimal outcome.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, December 17, 2004

# Posted 9:33 PM by Patrick Belton  

SOME PRETTY HARD DRUGS IN THE 60'S: Joe Gandelman points out that the KGB is no stranger to the use of chemical weapons on Russia's political opponents.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DON'T HOT CHICKS BLOG? Demonstrating an admirable concern for diversity, Kieran wants to know why the overwhelming majority of academic bloggers are male, even on enlightened and progressive sites such as Crooked Timber.

Kieran's main explanation revolves around the concept of "homophily", which has nothing to do with gay sex. Rather, homophily refers the general social practice of like associating with like. Kieran aptly points out that the biggest problem with this argument is that there is a pretty good mix of lefty and righty blogs out there, but not much balance between male and female authors. Moreover, there is even a considerable amount of interaction between bloggers on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Surprisingly, one issue Kieran doesn't raise is whether the gender gap in academic blogging reflects the gender gap in academia as whole. I have no idea what the latests statistics are, but I feel like it is something on the order of 2 or 3 to 1. Working off of that baseline, the gender gap may not be so remarkable.

Another issue Kieran doesn't raise is whether the political opinions of academic bloggers are as "diverse" as those in the rest of the blogosphere. Since Kieran's comments about the gender gap are based on some statistics compiled by his co-blogger Henry Farrell, I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to tell us what the balance of opinion is in terms of liberals versus conservatives.

My guess is that conservatives will be overrepresented (but not dramatically so) because of their tendency to compensate for being in the minority. In theory, women should also become more vocal in order to compensate for their minority status. But for some reason, that is not how they operate.

Why not? The most interesting idea that Kieran throws out there is that women have a general tendency to be less assertive than men when it comes to demanding attention and rewards for their achievement. Kieran cites this book as evidence.

This identification of significant behavior differences between the sexes opens up a whole Pandora's Box of hypotheses about the gender gap that might sound cliche and sexist if a conservative without a Ph.D. in sociology decided to elaborate them.

First and foremost, my sense is that women shy away from the kind of forceful and often scathing debate that takes place in the blogosphere. Even though women have few reservations about saying scurrilous things about one another (or about men), they seem to have a certain aversion to saying such things in public. You might say women simply accept as given the existence of a double standard that labels aggressive men "ambitious" and aggressive women "bitchy".

It is also worth asking what kinds of rewards the blogosphere hands out for success. The two most important ones are praise from your peers and attention from thousands of readers. In both cases, this recognition consists of an attachment of sorts to people you have never met and probably never will meet. If one hypothesizes that women are far more concerned about receiving praise and recognition from those they interact with face to face, then bloggering offers women very little in the way of compensation.

So is there any validity to what I'm saying? Heck if I know. I don't study this kind of stuff. All I have is experience to go on. In high school, in college, and in graduate school, I have always found men to be far more outspoken in the classroom. Even on a one-to-one level, I have found many more women who shy away from political debate. In almost every organization I have been part of, men have been more assertive about taking a leadership role.

I'm not saying that women lack the capacity to speak out and lead or that it's their fault if they don't get ahead because there are no formal barriers standing in their way. I do think that culture matters. And perhaps it matters when it comes to blogging, too.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

WARNING LABEL: Beware beginning a blog from Oxford with two of your friends. You might well end up the top google cite for brushing your teeth is bad.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

WORD WATCH: Dalrymple mourns the passing of the stiff upper lip, that facing of grief with quiet dignity, and adversity with restraint and determined endurance, rumoured for several centuries to be indigenous to this country.

The first occurrence of the phrase, it may surprise TD, was actually though in the States. Its first recorded use in print is in the 1833 'A Down-Easter in the Far West' by James Neall.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT I SHOULD BE READING: I've always thought of Jeff Jarvis as a pretty calm guy. But on Tuesday he decided to rip Juan Cole a new one. The issue here is Juan's nasty remarks about Omar and Mohamed from Iraq the Model.

I figure it's safe to assume that Cole has no idea what he's talking about, but the real issue here is that I don't really know that for a fact because I haven't made an effort to read Omar and Mohamed's writing, or for that matter Zeyad's or Riverbend's or anyone else's. So I think I should.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, December 16, 2004

# Posted 10:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARROGANT MILLIONAIRE COWBOY: People are always asking me, "How can you like something as stupid as professional wrestling?" Well, here's one reason: On tonight's edition of Smackdown!, heavyweight champ JBL insulted another character by accusing him of being as corrupt as Kofi Annan.

So you know, part of JBL's shtick is to be as offensively conservative as possible. He's an arrogant millionaire cowboy who is supposed to resemble a certain other arrogant millionaire cowboy. (You can see why I had to dress up as JBL when I went to watch Smackdown! live in Washington, DC.)

After dissing Annan, JBL paused for a moment, apparently to check for the negative reaction from the audience he wanted to provoke. But maybe JBL forgot he was in Nashville and that a whole bunch of folks from the 101st Airborne were in the house. Or maybe the whole thing just went over people's heads.

Anyhow, there were plenty of other clever bits in the show. At one point, two henchmen are arguing about which of their bad guy bosses is better. The trump card in their debate turns out to be the fact that one of the bosses -- JBL, in fact -- gives his henchmen full healthcare and dental benefits. Priceless.

And how about this: The new ad for the WWE's annual Royal Rumble features 30 wrestlers dressed up as members of the Sharks and Jets and singing a song from West Side Story with slightly modified lyrics. (I think it was "When you're a Jet".)

Finally, here's something to think about even if this kind of humor doesn't appeal to you. Next Thursday, Smackdown! will be broadcasting from the Middle East, where for the second year in a row the WWE is making a major effort to support the troops by shipping all of its biggest superstars overseas. (Click here for a video clip of some highlights from last year's trip.)

I'm guessing that the show will probably be broadcast from Qatar or Kuwait rather than Baghdad for security reasons, but so what? What was the last time Sean Penn made it to the Persian Gulf?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING THE DLC: Matt has decided that a fisking is in order.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS CBS BIASED OR JUST INCOMPETENT? Kevin points to a bizarre example of Rather Inc. shilling for conservatives.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEWARE OF W.B.O.P.W.A.P.U.L.S.: David Brooks explains.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FORGET ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY: It's Medicare that's in trouble. But Kevin Drum is thankful that GWB has decided to keep his Midas touch away Big Med.

Not that Kevin has any plans to stay quiet about Bush's plans for Social Security. Instead, he says its time for the Democrats to out-GOP the GOP by bringing back Harry & Louise. Kevin's bottom line is that Social Security is a proven winner that is even better financial shape than it was ten years ago.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

APPEARING AS USUAL IN TNR, our friend (and erstwhile Nathan Hale Foreign Policy Society Chicago chapter president) Will Baude argues admirably for Rehnquist's replacement coming from outside the current backup singers on the Supremes. Listen to the man; he goes to the Yale Law School.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

DOING OXBLOG'S WORK FOR US: You know, I was going to wake up this morning and write a persuasive piece arguing that the administration should live up to its democracy promotion rhetoric, yet Democrats today risk becoming the party of small ideas, while the heirs to Kissinger rather than Wilson and FDR now wish to change the world. I would probably have also said that promoting democracy is risky, but propping up autocrats only delays the reckoning with popular anger. The 'Shah solution' has hardly worked in the past. I was then going to close with a grand statement that democracy requires more than red state majority rule, but a decent and humble respect for the opinions of mankind.

Then I discovered Michael Ignatieff had already done it for us.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRE RUMSFELD: Bill Kristol seems committed to dealing with the Secretary of Defense the way Kristol's old boss Ronald Reagan dealt with the Soviets. He's not going to compromise until Rumsfeld says 'uncle'.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RED STATE, BLUE SLEEPER CELLS: According to this dissident Republican prof, even Red State universities with conservative students bodies have aggressively liberal faculty members. (Hat tip: Glenn)

You might chalk it up to paranoia, but I think it's pretty significant that the dissident prof in question is afraid to even publish under his own name. After all, how many college professors are afraid to publish under their own name in The Nation or other lefty strongholds? As mentioned before, I myself have had colleagues who were afraid to publish in the Weekly Standard.

On the whole, I'd say that all this carping about liberalism on campus tends to accomplish very little. Until conservatives are pissed off enough to start becoming college professors by the score, I think that nothing much will change.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THINK AGAIN: This long-running feature in FP is almost always the most entertaining part of the magazine and often the most educational as well. Moreover, OxBlog favorite Tom Carothers (writing along with Marina Ottaway) is never one to disappoint. And even though Patrick has already linked to this article, I think it merits further comment. So let's start here:

“Democracy in the Middle East Is Impossible Until the Arab-Israeli Conflict Is Resolved”

Wrong. Arab governments curb political participation, manipulate elections, and limit freedom of expression because they do not want their power challenged, not because tension with Israel requires draconian social controls...Fear of competition, not of a Zionist plot, leads the Egyptian ruling party to oppose competitive presidential elections. When it comes to democratic reform, the Zionist threat is merely a convenient excuse.

Yet failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict prevents the United States from gaining credibility as an advocate of democracy in the Middle East. Liberal Arabs perceive claims by the United States that it wants democracy in the Middle East as hypocritical, pointing to what they see as American indifference to the rights of the Palestinians and unconditional support for Israel.
So how about proposing the most radical solution of all to the Arab-Israeli conflict: a democratic Palestinian state. Perhaps because George W. Bush doesn't have sufficient credibility, no one praises him for suggesting that the Palestinians should have the same freedom as the Israelis. With any luck, the Palestinian people will take the first step toward liberating themselves by participating enthusiastically in the upcoming election -- and demanding that their elected officials behave democratically once they are in office.

Regardless, concerned Arabs will always have some example of American hypocrisy to point to if they so desire. If not the Palestinians, then Abu Ghraib. If not Abu Ghraib, then Mubarak. If not Mubarak, then Musharraf. Chances are that the United States will have close relations with some dictator or oil sheikh right up until the whole Middle East is democratic.

Thus, the real key to enhancing our credibility is to demonstrate that when we set out to promote democracy that we get the job done. The idea of a rapid-fire reverse-domino effect may be, as Carothers says, an example of "magical realism". Yet if Iraq and Afghanistan have elected, moderately liberal governments five or ten years down the road, Arabs will take notice.

Now here's my favorite point from Tom's article:

“Islamists Are the Main Obstacle to Arab Democracy”

Think again. The standard fear is the “one person, one vote, one time” scenario: Islamists would only participate in elections to win power and put an end to democracy immediately. Hence, the argument goes, they should not be allowed to participate.

True, the commitment to democracy of even moderate Islamists is uncertain and hedged by the caveat that democratic governments must accept Islamic law. However, the chances of an overwhelming electoral victory that would allow Islamists to abrogate all freedoms at once is remote in the Arab world. During the last decade, Islamist parties and candidates have participated in elections in eight Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Yemen), always with modest results. (These elections suffered from various degrees of government interference, but there is no indication that the Islamists would have won in a more open environment.) And Turkey, a country where an Islamist party took power with a large majority, is becoming an encouraging example of democratic success.
I won't comment any further on that one, so let's move on to the most controversial point in Tom's article, at least from a liberal perspective:

“Promoting Women’s Rights Is Crucial for Democratic Change”

False. This myth, a favorite of women’s organizations and Western governments, reflects the combination of correct observation and false logic. No country can be considered fully democratic if a part of its population (in some cases, the majority) is discriminated against and denied equal rights. But efforts to change the status quo by promoting women’s rights are premature. The main problem at present is that Arab presidents and kings have too much power, which they refuse to share with citizens and outside institutions. This stranglehold on power must be broken to make progress toward democracy. Greater equality for women does nothing to diminish the power of overly strong, authoritarian governments.
It's sad but true. The United States managed to build and consolidate a (profoundly flawed) democratic order that brutalized African-Americans and made women into second-class citizens. Fifty years from now, the Arab world may be a sort of women's Jim Crow.

Last but not least, we come to the point in Tom's article that threatens everything that OxBlog stands for:
“Middle East Democracy Is the Cure for Islamist Terrorism”

No. This view is rooted in a simplistic assumption: Stagnant, repressive Arab regimes create positive conditions for the growth of radical Islamist groups, which turn their sights on the United States because it embodies the liberal sociopolitical values that radical Islamists oppose. More democracy, therefore, equals less extremism.

History tells a different story. Modern militant Islam developed with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s, during the most democratic period in that country’s history...It is a complex phenomenon with diverse roots, which include U.S. sponsorship of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s (which only empowered Islamist militants); the Saudi government’s promotion of radical Islamic educational programs worldwide; and anger at various U.S. policies, such as the country’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the basing of military forces in the region.

Moreover, democracy is not a cure-all for terrorism. Like it or not, the most successful efforts to control radical Islamist political groups have been antidemocratic, repressive campaigns, such as those waged in Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria in the 1990s. The notion that Arab governments would necessarily be more effective in fighting extremists is wishful thinking, no matter how valuable democratization might be for other reasons.
This last point will no doubt cheer Matt Yglesias, who is fond of pointing out that the first truly independent government in Iraq will crush the insurgents by resorting to the exactly the sort of horrifically brutal methods that provoke international outrage if the United States used them.

However, there are also numerous examples of unrestrained violence triggering an even more massive revolt. Both the Japanese and the Chinese Nationalists tried to exterminate Mao's communists, only to have Mao & Co. prevail in the end. For those whose political memories extend back to the 1980s (or happen to write dissertations on the subject), Nicaragua and El Salvador provide examples of right-wing dictatorships whose brutality destroyed them.

But this point is secondary. The real issue is whether democratic reform can resolve a problem whose origins clearly include factors other than the lack of democracy. In theory, the emergence of pristine liberal democracies in the Middle East probably would be enough to put an end to terrorism regardless of its cause. The real issue is whether flawed democracies that won't measure up to Western standards for at least a generation can make a difference in the War on Terror.

Disputing that notion, Carothers points to active terroist organizations in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal. What I'd be interested to know is whether there is an observable relationship between democratic progress in those three nations and efforts to fight terrorism. Also, is it just an accident that terrorists in all those nations target their own government rather the United States or Europe? Does democracy lead terrorists to recognize that the answer to their problem lies at home, not in Washington or New York?

UPDATE: MY has some thoughts about the Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HINDSIGHT:
Nowhere has...progress in the last decades been more staggering than with regard to the ease and speed of transportation and communications. It has been remarked that the thirteen days that it took Sir Robert Peel in 1834 to hurry from Rome to London in order to be present at a cabinet meeting were exactly identical with the travel time allowed to a Roman official for the same journey seventeen centuries earlier. The best travel speed on land and sea throughout recorded history until close to the middle of the nineteenth century was ten miles an hour, a speed rarely attained on land. In 1790, it took four days in the best season to go from Boston to New York, a distance somewhat exceeding two hundred miles. Today the same time is sufficient for circling the globe, regardless of season.
Thus wrote Hans Morgenthau in 1951 in the treatise on American foreign policy entitled In Defense of the National Interest. And so it seems that our habit of marveling at the wonders of modern technology is itself a historical artifact.

FYI, the ellipsis in the first sentence above replaced the word 'mechanical', which might have given away the dated nature of the text. In the information age, the mechanical has become the primitive, so instead we refer to 'technological' progess.

In case you're curious, there's no political point to be made here. I was simply reading Morgenthau's book today and was amazed at how much this hardened realist sounded exactly like the techno-prophets who declared the age of globalization to have begun sometime after the Berlin Wall came down.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

# Posted 1:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

FAR BE IT FROM ME, AS A GAEL, to belittle the language of Burns (Robert, not Monty), but I'm not yet convinced the Scottish parliament's Scots language site quite enhances the dignity of the Scottish nation:
The Scottish Pairlament is here for tae represent aw Scotland's folk.

We want tae mak siccar that as mony folk as can is able tae find oot aboot whit the Scottish Pairlament dis and whit wey it warks. We hae producit information anent the Pairlament in a reenge o different leids tae help ye tae find oot mair.

This section o wir wabsite introduces ye til the information that is tae haun on wir wabsite in Scots.

We hae producit a publication cried "Makkin Yer Voice Heard in the Scottish Pairlament” that tells ye aboot the different weys that you can let the Pairlament and the Memmers o the Scottish Pairlament (MSPs) ken whit ye think.

Follae this link for tae look til the publication "Makkin Yer Voice Heard in the Scottish Pairlament” in Scots.
I'm left with the hankering suspicion that the whole thing was translated on one of those silly accent websites. The world eagerly awaits the Valley Girl version of Scottish legislation.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

HE'S OUT: David Blunkett has resigned as home secretary on the heels of (yet another) Nannygate. The quality of representative democracy would, one suspects, be improved considerably if officials took their children to the office with them.

Memorable moment of the day: a copy of Blunkett's authorised biography, in which he attacks fellow members of the government, being thrown across the Commons chamber by the Government's chief whip.

We have for our viewers an action shot of the new parliamentary game of 'toss the book' being played. The book was tossed once by each side across the despatch boxes. There was no word from either side afterward as to how the day's play ought be scored.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOFTWARE TROUBLE: My laptop is acting up, so I will be offline for the next 12 to 24 hours.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

JOBS I'D LIKE TO HAVE DEP'T: Professor John Woods apparently gets to be Professor of Neat Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Chicago. I've always wanted to be director of 'things I find neat studies' at the Kennedy or Wilson School; little did I know that in Chicago you could actually do that. Kudos then to Chicago.

HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE UPDATE: Kindly writes in the South Asia Centre: 'No doubt he feels that all the languages he knows are neat, but the department he belongs to is the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.  Thanks for making our site famous on your blog.  It is almost with a sense of regret that will we be changing Prof. Woods’ entry.'
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

CAROTHERS ON DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Carnegie's Tom Carothers and Marina Ottoway have a gutsy, tendentious, learned, and provocative piece on myths and false perceptions surrounding Middle Eastern democracy in this issue of Foreign Policy.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S EUROPE BUREAU ON THE MOVE: The European third of this blog will be hitting the road between 20th December and the 5th January - first scribbling the remainder of my French Muslims article in some cheap hovel by Rome's Stazione Termini (20th-22nd), then benefiting from a donnish yuletide (23-27) with Larry Siedentop and OxBlog's good friend Guglielmo Verdirame who have generously insisted on abducting me to Sicily for Christmas, and finally on to Dublin, where I've managed to find a sofa to crash on near O'Connell Street for the princely sum of 60 euro from the 28th to the 5th. I'm always happy to have coffee with our readers!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEADLY CHRISTMAS: This sounds to have the makings of a better than average horror film in it. (Okay, so reality's more quotidian: 14 percent more people than usual die on Christmas, for such reasons as people admitted to hospitals receiving care from stripped-down staffs.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE GOOD REPORTING OUT OF IRAN: The Economist cites western diplomats for the belief that popular support for the regime in Iran is now down to 15 per cent.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, December 13, 2004

# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

FREE STUFF, FREE STUFF! And no, we're not purveying tin Lubavitcher menorahs here on OxBlog either. If you ever (1) need to do statistical analysis, (2) are a cheapskate, and/or (3) don't have the seven hundred dollars to shell out on your own copy of SPSS, but also (4) can't be bothered to go to your college's computing cluster, where (5) the IT officer is a dodgy convicted felon - then boy, do we have the offer for you. I've just come across Statcrunch.com, which is a free, on-line, web-based statistical platform which handles multiple linear regressions, ANOVA, nonparametrics, 2-tailed T tests, and lots of other things that sound equally unintelligible and impressive when you drop them in academic papers. From my several minutes of trying to regress my dissertation data onto it, and not really knowing a bloody thing about statistics, it seems to work quite well.

UPDATE: Our friend Zach Mears recommends R, as his preferred free stuff for statistics.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

400 SPIES IN A BUNKER UNDER NAPOLEON'S TOMB: This and other family jewels from French intelligence being spilt in the course of an investigation into abuse of the powers of the presidency under Mitterand.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A FUNDAMENTALIST IS A FUNDAMENTALIST IS A FUNDAMENTALIST: What's the difference between evangelical Christians and Muslim extremists? Not much, according to Garry Trudeau. [LINK FIXED]
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY: Both the previous post and one from earlier today were pretty hard on journalists. So now let's turn to our own failures. CBS News reports that
Two leading South Dakota blogs – websites full of informal analysis, opinions and links – were authored by paid advisers to [Senator-elect John] Thune’s campaign.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the National Journal first cited Federal Election Commission documents showing that Jon Lauck, of Daschle v Thune, and Jason Van Beek, of South Dakota Politics, were advisers to the Thune campaign.

The documents, also obtained by CBS News, show that in June and October the Thune campaign paid Lauck $27,000 and Van Beek $8,000. Lauck had also worked on Thune’s 2002 congressional race.

Both blogs favored Thune, but neither gave any disclaimer during the election that the authors were on the payroll of the Republican andidate.
Lauck responds to the CBS story here. Van Beek comments here. Power Line says
My instinct is that the bloggers' relationship with the Thune campaign should have been disclosed on the blogs (as it apparently was, but obscurely, in FEC filings).
I agree. Prof. Lauck and I had a number of exchanges via e-mail, which got me interested in his blog and resulted in my praising his work without reservation. Now I feel deceived. I would have evaluated Prof. Lauck's work very differently if I knew he were being supported by the Thune campaign.

Now the quesiton is, do I -- and all those who linked to Daschle v Thune -- owe our readers an apology? Should we have a system in place for vetting the websites we link to?

I don't know the answer to that question. There isn't much you can do to protect yourself from someone who is being intentionally deceptive -- especially when such individuals are peddling opinions rather than facts. Before going to air, CBS had an obligation to verify the accusations it levelled at George W. Bush. But you can't verify an opinion.

On the other hand, shouldn't bloggers make some effort to assess the credibility of the sources? Should we have a formal code of ethics that would at least deter some deception? Again, I don't know. But I'm open to ideas.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, December 12, 2004

# Posted 11:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO "COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIP" BETWEEN CHRIST, APOSTLES: This headline is a masterpiece of meta-politics: "Bush's References to God Defended by Speechwriter". The speechwriter in question, Michael Gerson, defended his work at an off-the-record meeting with reporters that Gerson subsequently decided was partially on-the-record.

While we are all familiar with the accepted (but still questionable) practice of providing national security information on background or off-the-record, it seems quite strange for theological debates to be withheld from the public -- especially when the subject of debate is the President's public statments.

Then again, religion is such an explosive political issue that perhaps it should be handled with such extreme care. Yet once again, as in the case of national security coverage, there is an unacknowledged trade-off between public education and professional objectivity.

For example, consider the cover story [subscription required] from last week's issue of Time Magazine. It's title is "Secrets of the Nativity". Naturally, the folks at Time aren't going to tell you that there was no actual news about the Nativity last week, but that they are hoping to capitalize on the relentless merchandizing of the holiday season.

That may seem like a cheapshot, but there's a serious point I'm trying to make. Feature stories about religion are meant to boost sales and you can't do that by antagonizing your customers. On the other hand, journalists don't want to compromise their objectivity. So what you wind up with is a strange sort of hybrid coverage that never makes it own premises explicit.

Imagine for just a second that journalists treated the messages that come from America's pulpits the same way they treat the messages that come from our White House. Instead of emphasizing the beauty and wonder of the Nativity (a la Time), journalists would embark on a wholesale effort to expose the lack of historical evidence for the events described in the Bible. The result would be headlines such as "No 'Collaborative Relationship" Between Christ, Apostles".

Of course, the polarizing effects of such coverage would outweigh any positive value it might have. But since religion is so important in American life, how exactly should journalists describe it?

Time's cover story by David Van Biema resolves this conflict by presenting a highly critical take on the Gospels with an upbeat, pro-religious attitude. The opening paragraphs of Van Biema's cover story are set in a Presbyterian church where
As if on cue, from a Sunday-school classroom upstairs wafts the sound of 70 angelic young voices rendering a still shaky but clearly heartfelt version of Away in a Manger.

Across the U.S., similar scenes are unfolding, as small children progress from incomprehension to playtime participation to the beginnings of actual Christmas understanding.
The literal content of these sentences in no way suggests that there is any inherent validity to the Christmas story or the Christian faith. While some might suggest that the use of the word "angelic" is a little much, the heavy lifting here is being done by the words 'progress', 'participation' and 'understanding'.

Ostensibly neutral, each of these words has a positive connotation in the American political lexicon. Participation and understanding are the prerequisites of democratic deliberation. 'Progress' describes the success of enlightened policymaking. In contrast, when evil individuals, e.g. Iraqi insurgents, achieve success, we tend to describe it as 'sophistication'.

Van Biema balances such positive descriptions by observing that no Christmas pageant
Will be precisely like the New Testament Gospel accounts...a fact that causes concern to almost no one.
As we all know, journalists only pay attention to a fact that causes concern to almost no one only when the jouranalists themselves believe that such facts should cause tremendous concern to just about everyone. Once again, the literal meaning of the sentence is neutral. Yet within the context of journalistic convention, its connotation self-evident.

Shortly after offering up this bit of heresy, Van Biema protects himself by writing that
In the debates over the literal truth of the Gospels, just about everyone acknowledges that major conclusions about Jesus' life are not based on forensic clues.
Van Biema further protects himself by quoting numerous scholars from prestigious seminaries and universities, all of whom have a fairly upbeat (or least diplomatic) attitude toward the Gospels. The one scholar who breaks from this pattern gets introduced to the reader as an "iconclastic feminist critic". And nowhere in this very long cover story do we hear from those who see religion as a dangerous set of myths that promote intolerance and threaten democracy.

Nonetheless, Van Biema still senses the need to put a positive spin on some of his interlocutors already positive quotations. For example,
What jumps out at close readers," [Prof. White] says, "is Matthew's and Luke's different roads to performing the vital theological task of their age: fitting key themes and symbols from Christianity's parent tradition, Judaism, into an emerging belief in Jesus and also working in ideas familiar to the Roman culture that surrounded them." Thus the Nativity stories provide a fascinating look at how each of the two men who agreed on so much—that Jesus was the Christ come among us and was crucified and resurrected and took away sin—could be inspired to begin his story in similar, yet hardly identical ways.
A "close reader" might notice that Prof. White is carefully suggesting that Matthew and Luke were far more concerned about winning converts than they were about the (Gospel) truth. To prevent this point from becoming too obvious, Van Biema reminds us again how much Matthew and Luke did agree on.

This strategy of broaching a heretical suggestion then insisting that it has no such implications characterizes the whole of Time's cover story. Perhaps that isn't a bad thing. Time's cover story accomplishes the important task of introducing readers to a broad range of modern scholarship about the Gospels. I have to admit, I myself found the article tremendously informative.

And yet there is something condescending and disingenuous about the whole approach. Putting on the kid gloves suggests that Christians aren't really ready to grapple with the complexities of their own faith.

Now, I don't pretend to know exactly how journalists should balance the imperatives of candor and tact. Yet I can't help but conclude that the best way to resolve this question is to be open about it and to engage the reader, rather than crafting an unstable and silent compromise. You might say that my philosophy of journalism comes down to just one word: accountability.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW TO START YOUR OWN BLOG: A somewhat pedestrian guide from the WaPo However, I consider it a victory when they don't say anything nasty about us.

In addition to the guide, today's WaPo also has a long round-up of travel blogs, emphasizing their limited utility. Sample quote:
You may happen upon a nugget of wisdom after only a few minutes' search, but you may also feel like you've fallen into a bottomless, inane abyss where someone blathers in less-than-fascinating detail about how hung over she was in Barcelona -- without even revealing which of the latest hip bars she visited to contract the condition.
Sort of sounds like a MoDo column, doesn't it?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LEAKS, TAPS AND PLANTS: Why is the US tapping Mohammed El Baradei's phone? Perhaps more importantly, who told the Washington Post about it?

The information in this morning's front-pager is attributed to "three U.S. government officials". It's pretty reasonable to assume that they weren't all leaking the same information, either individually or in concert. But one of them may have leaked the information to the Post, which then contacted the other two for confirmation.

Since this whole story is pretty embarrassing for the Bush administration, there isn't much reason to believe that the story was planted. Unless, of course, it was a pre-emptive plant meant to head off more embarrassing revelations from unauthorized sources.

One of the interesting things about this story is the way in which it illustrates how the journalistic imperative to educate the public clashes with the imperative of objectivity. As is so often the case with stories about national security, correspondents know far more about the situation than they are allowed to tell their readers. Moreover, they sometimes label their sources in a deceptive manner in order to prevent public identification of those sources.

The issue here isn't ideological bias but rather the intentional confusion of the public. Although written like any other regular news story, the WaPo front-pager about El Baradei omits the information that is most important for anyone who truly wants to assess its significance.

Now, I am hardly the first person to point out how a reliance on anonymous sources threatens objectivity. But I think I am one of the few to note how the presentation of such confusing material is done in exactly the same manner as the presentation of a run-of-the-mill news story.

Thus, the overwhelming majority of WaPo readers don't know that they have to read this kind of story far more carefully than the would any other. And even those of us familiar with the relevant journalistic devices have no way to judge the accuracy of what's being reported.

What it all comes down to is the same issue responsible for so many problmes with the mass media: a total lack of accountability. What I wish I knew was how to introduce some sort of accountability without ensuring a cut off of the valuable information that unofficial sources provide.

Anyhow, getting back to El Baradei, the Post suggests that the US wiretap is part of a vindictive and heavy-handed effort by the White House to get back at El Baradei for being uncooperative first on Iraq and now on Iran. My instincts says that that assessment is just about right. But I prefer evidence to instincts.

If we are trying to bully El Baradei, I think its a bad idea. As the article points out, there isn't much available in the way of replacements. And what exactly could a better IAEA director do to resolve the situation with Iran? Going after El Baradei seems like a particularly self-destructive way of ignoring the message and killing the messenger.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

TODAY IS THE BIRTHDAY of a friend of mine who is no longer alive, Mother Presentation Murphy, a Kildare woman and nun of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who taught me as a child. She had an indispensable (and ever more massive) canine companion, Snowball Murphy, whose deed to his doghouse I wrote, cribbing that of my parents. She was an extraordinary woman, and a credit to her habit, profession, and county. Her birthday of 12/12/12 is a fairly unforgettable mnemonic, and always draws her to my mind this time of year. Happy birthday, Prez.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, December 11, 2004

# Posted 10:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

A NEW academic conference for our postmodern third: pervert studies. Leave it to the Canadians.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG'S BIG TENT POLITICS: In a bold effort to reach out to those with opinions minimally different from my own, I had dinner last night with Matt Yglesias (as well as JO, who doesn't figure in this story but generously let me crash at his place on Thursday night.)

Without hesitation, I can say that Matt up came with the best dis of OxBlog I've ever heard. I can't remember the exact words, but it went like this: "You people make no sense. You spend 364 days a year trashing liberals and defending the Bush administration. Then, come election day, it's all, 'Oh no, I couldn't vote for Bush. I mean, he's just not a good president.'"

I didn't have a comeback ready for that one last night, but 15 hours later, here it is: All presidential election years are leap years. Therefore, OxBlog spends 365 days a year trashing liberals, not 364, before coming out for Kerry at the polls.

Choke on that, sucka!

CORRECTION: Reader TD from MIT points out that neither 1800 nor 1900 was a presidential election leap [CORRECTION TO THE CORRECTION: Obviously, there were presidential elections in both 1800 and 1900. Perhaps my Federalist instincts led me to erase John Adams' tragic defeat from our collective historical consciousness.] year, since those years evenly divisible by 100 but not by 400 are not leap years. JK makes the same point and adds that OxBlog better have a new comeback ready for Yglesias by 2100.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS SANTA ON DEATH ROW? So what if Aaron McGruder is a left-wing nut? He's a really funny left-wing nut.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'OY' IS JUST 'YO' SPELLED BACKWARDS: OxBlog wishes you a funky Chanukah. Turn up the volume! (Hat tip: Dr. Dreidel)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOESN'T RUMSFELD KNOW HE'S JUST ASKING FOR IT? It's a Jon Stewart clip, but well worth watching.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHO KNEW THE NIGERIANS WERE SO PRO-PALESTINIAN? Suha Arafat, who was immortably memorialised by the New York Post as the 'Arafat Lady' (Sings), has now attained a second existence as a Nigerian spammer:
Dear Sir/madam,

This mail may not be surprising to you if you have been following current events in the international media with reference to the Middle East and Palestine in particular.

I am Mrs.Suha Daoud Arafat, the wife of YASSER ARAFAT, the Palestinian leader who died recently in Paris. Since his death and even prior to the announcement, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the new Prime Minister. and who said Nigerian spammers weren't well read in world politics? I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture. As a widow that is so traumatized, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment.

You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet on the discovery of some fund in my husband's secret bank account and companies and the allegations of some huge sums of money deposited by my husband in my name of which I have refused to disclose or give up to the corrupt Palestine Government. In fact the total sum allegedly discovered by the Government so far is in the tune of about $300 million. And they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life. As you know, the Muslim community has no regards for women, hence my desire for a foreign assistance.

I have deposited the sum of $18.5million dollars with a presidential finance house abroad whose name is withheld for now until we open communication. I shall be grateful if you could receive this fund into your bank account for safe keeping and any Inves>tment opportunity. This arrangement will be known to you and my personal Assistant because if i get an attorney,there is every possibility that the informations might be exposed unlike, say, what your husband died of? and with an unknown person in the society who is well furnished and educated,this transaction will be 100% successful if you follow our guidelines i assure you of that fact because with his assistance,no one will have an idea of what i am doing provided you keep this business strictly to yourself. He might be dealing with you directly for security reasons as the case may be.

In view of the above, if you are willing to assist for our mutual benefits, we will have to negotiate on your Percentage share of the $20,000,000 that will be kept in your position for a while and invested in your name for my trust pending when my Daughter, Zahwa, will come of age and take full responsibility of her Family Estate/inheritance. but is she cute? Please note that this is a golden opportunity that comes once in life time and more so, if you are honest, I am going to entrust more funds in your care as this is one of the legacy we keep for our children.

In case you don't accept please do not let me out to the security and international media ah, nobody reads blogs anyway as I am giving you this information in total trust and confidence I will greatly appreciate if you accept my proposal in good faith.
Please expedite action and reply to: Email: suhaarafat@europe.com.
Yours sincerely,
Suha Arafat
So typical for Suha. She doesn't even have a Palestinian email address.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, December 10, 2004

# Posted 6:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE HAVE A CONFERENCE FOR DAVID: Because he's interested in postmodernism. See, OxBloggers look out for each other.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NATALIE PORTMAN: Jon Last has decided to rant about Princess Amidala and America's obsession with "pedophilia chic". Jon says it wasn't Britney or the Olsen twins who started it all, but Natalie (with an assist from Brooke Shields.)

I got two words for ya, Jonny boy: Jodie Foster. Inspired by Foster's turn as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver, John Hinckley decided to kill President Reagan in the hopes of impressing Ms. Foster.

You see, the degradation of our culture and our family values really is a threat to our democracy and the American way of life. Or if you have a slightly different opinion of Reagan and the GOP, then you may think pedophila chic is the Democrats best hope, alongside sterilization.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE'S RESIDENT NYC CARPETBAGGER: And you should see what the TSA does to carpetbags these days. There's a rather intriguing lunch briefing sponsored by the UN Democracy Caucus at the UN on December 16. Not only is there the perennial advantage of free food, but the Community of Democracies movement is a very interesting push, sponsored in the Clinton administration by Secretary Albright and in the current administration by Under Secretary Dobriansky, to make the UN cohere more closely to the Wilsonian vision of a democratic assembly of democracies, by rendering the democratic members into a coherent voting bloc. If anyone goes, please email around and let us know what you find out.
The Council for a Community of Democracies, the United Nations Association-USA, the Democracy Coalition Project, Freedom House, and the Transnational Radical Party will sponsor a luncheon briefing on the United Nations Democracy Caucus at the UN headquarters in New York City on December 16, 2005. At its founding conference in Warsaw in June 2000, the Community of Democracies (CD) endorsed the creation of a caucus of nations sharing common democratic values at the United Nations. On September 22, 2004, the UN Democracy Caucus, composed of member states of the CD, formally met for the first time at the foreign ministers level at the UN General Assembly. The December 16 event will explore how the UN Democracy Caucus can coordinate common positions at the UN to advance the principles of democracy and human rights.

For information, contact Amy Phillips at Freedom House, at this email.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, December 09, 2004

# Posted 5:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAN AND NORTH KOREA NOT JUST FIGMENTS OF BUSH'S IMAGINATION: A producer for a television newsmagazine was kind enough to ask my opinion about a common British perception that Iran and North Korea present no threat to the west or the world, and are only figments of a feverish Texas imagination. (I'd hate to see what they'd think about the Twins.) I drew together a few thoughts, and since we haven't written that much lately about either country here, I thought I might share a redacted version here.
A point I frequently find myself having to make to friends in this country is that, occasionally, some things are true even if Bush believes them. There are threats emanating from both North Korea and Iran at the moment, even if it isn't as clear what ought to be done in response to those threats. You mention the demographic of twenty and thirty year olds; in my experience, young members of the Foreign Office and other national security services have roughly the same appraisal of threat in those two cases as their American generational and occupational counterparts. I think in both nations, there is a segment of liberals with the most noble of political beliefs who impute the same to the leaders of Pyongyang and Tehran, and who overestimate dangerously the rationality, morality, and bona fides of foreign dictators. The Chamberlain tradition is alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic, but there are also political liberals in both nations with more sophisticated understandings of the world, who do not expect negotiation and international law to resolve all political difficulties involving illiberal leaders as in the best of worlds. Traditions of pacificism and Quakerism are admirable as signpoints toward a better world, but the reins of state in our imperfect times have never been entrusted to their adherents. So I think the journalistic tradition of transatlantic division is generally overstated, as is reflected by the public opinion research; New Yorkers are not far removed from Londoners and Oxbridge students, and religious, nationalist West Country Tories have more than a thing or two in common with Middle Americans, though the thought might discomfit some here.

Iran has acceded (in 2003) to the non-proliferation treaty - unlike India and Pakistan, which when they exploded nuclear weapons in May 1998 were under no treaty commitment not to acquire a nuclear capacity. (North Korea pledged in 1994 not to pursue nuclear weapons, in an Agreed Framework agreement which it promptly violated; it was also an NPT signatory from 1985 until 2003, when it withdrew.) Compared with Libya's cooperation with the IAEA about its undeclared nuclear programme since December 2003, Iranian officials have not been especially forthcoming about the extent or activities of their nuclear programme. Inspections have revealed its failure to report importation of uranium from China in 1991, as well as the existence of undeclared uranium and the existence of more sophisticated centrifuge designs and a laser enrichment programme. Two centrifuge enrichment plants at Natanz are partially underground, making them less transparent to observers and inspectors. The IAEA has stated that Iran has not met all of its NPT obligations, but it has not yet declared Iran in violation of the NPT; this is sure to happen shortly, raising the question of what the western response will be.

These will almost certainly take the form of an enhanced, more intrusive, and inevitably imperfect inspections regime, ideally implemented with a strong degree of political commitment from Europeans and Americans as well as other involved nations. Predominant thinking in the foreign policy community in Washington is that the principal downsides to any military intervention in Iran aimed at preventing Iran from arriving at a nuclear capability are that Iran has to this point not done as much as it could to foment Shi'a opposition to U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq; it would be difficult to strike all proliferation sites, many of which being closely held secrets we have not penetrated; and Iran's ability to retaliate, with its massive intelligence apparatus worldwide and depending on the state of its technological attainment, may well extend to include a dirty bomb placed in the San Francisco Bay or New York's East River. Further, the populace of Iran, though the Iranian government has becoming increasingly authoritarian and repressive toward its dissidents, is fairly pro-American, pro-democratic, and anti-regime. While it is difficult to foresee a peaceful transition of power to a democratic form of government, an eventual democratic government in Iran may likely prove a stabilising force and significant regional ally for the United States and Britain. Though North Korea harbours less rosy long-term prospects, though it is unable to sustain a long-fought war with its military's chronic fuel shortages, its ability to exact reprisals for a preemptive strike is also persuasive: North Korea has for the last several years been building up specific elements of its military forces to present as much of an artillery and rocket threat to Seoul as possible; Seoul is only 25 miles from the DMZ; Pyongyang may also attempt to launch one of its ballistic missiles under development, such as the Ro-dong medium-range missile or an improved Taepo-Dong 2, a three-stage experimental intercontinental missile capable of striking North America with a nuclear warhead. In addition, North Korean agents frequently and easily infiltrate their southern neighbour across the de-militarised zone, and saboteurs are widely expected to be stationed in places to wreak havok upon South Korean civilian life and infrastructure in the event of a war; a scenario discussed by western intelligence agencies has it attempting to secretly emplace an experimental nuclear bomb within Seoul, with its population of 10.3 million. In the recent six-party discussions, North Korea has been eccentric, pulling back from initially agreed agreements brokered by a helpful Beijing; its past record of compliance with nuclear agreements is unblemished: it has broken each one, generally in bids to blackmail western payments, but often more quietly by engaging in proliferation purchases from Pakistan and other purveying nations.

We may have no other option in the end than to reconcile ourselves to a nuclear Iran and North Korea. There is the touching notion that both countries will adopt the Indian model, and become duly responsible nuclear and regional powers. Unlike India, though, neither country is liberal, democratic, or within the international system; both have ties to international criminal and terrorist networks seeking different parts of the nuclear puzzle (such as the uranium enrichment centrifuges sold by Pakistan to Iran, and other enrichment technologies which it sold to North Korea and Libya). There is the danger, then, that either country or both might not follow the Indian model; and what would we do then?

Either country selling plutonium to terrorists would lead predictably to the daily elevated danger of dirty bombs in European and American cities, possibly rendering Mayfair or Upper Manhattan uninhabitable for generations; nuclear blasts by any terrorist organisation which obtains nuclear technology would kill civilians on a scale making the horrific bombing of the Second World War seem quaint by comparison; nuclear blackmail will neutralise America's controversial military might and give regional adventurers such as future Saddams or Slobodan Milosevics a free hand in pursuing whatever territorial aggressions or genocides toward their own people or others they may wish to attempt. The picture is not a pleasant one.

There is furthermore a rather dangerous supposition, often voiced by officers within the State Department's Near East Bureau, that the current Iranian government represents a workable Middle Eastern democracy, and left to its own devices, will blossom into an exemplary Islamic democracy. In fact, rather the opposite is true: human rights violations within Iran equal any of the world's most authoritarian regimes, and the trends at the moment are not toward greater democracy but toward greater marginalisation of reformers, who have lost their only seat of power in the assembly, and may have even more to lose in the future than that. (q.v.: peaceful Tehran University student protesters from 1999 remain in prison; secret squads operating under the authority of the Iranian judiciary have tortured internet journalists and civil society activists to write incriminatory 'confession letters'; see Human Rights Watch reports from Nov. 8 and Dec. 6). It is also a regime which, together with Syria, heavily finances terrorist and military activities by the Hezbollah organisation, which contrary to a frequent misconception, is not a fuzzy charity and has kidnapped western civilians (including British journalist John McCarthy, the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy Terry Waite, American journalist Terry Anderson, and Irish citizen Brian Keenan), and attacked civilians in the Western Hemisphere (bombing the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992, killing 29, and an Argentine Jewish community centre in 1994, killing 95). If one is to be truly for liberal government and social democracy, then you must be for these things abroad as well as at home. The tradition of 19th century liberalism did not limit itself to parliamentary or Corn Law reform in Britain or constitutionalism on the Continent, but believed quite strongly that the right to live under enlightened, liberal government extended to all people. We could do worse than to live up to this tradition.

I'm eager to be of help however else I can - please do just let know. with all best wishes,
Patrick
I'd be grateful for any thoughts on either side of this debate, or links to posts or other online resources on the subject, and will share ones that seem particularly useful. I haven't been thinking that much about either country lately, and am eager to. (Although, in the 'coming attractions for early next year' category, I have been thinking a bit about French Muslims and Indian foreign policy....) (Those are separate pieces.)

Not that this is as scintillating a conversation, of course, as whether David or I will lose our virginianity first. But they can't all be.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Home