Monday, January 17, 2005

# Posted 6:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG VISITS THE AMERICAN SCENE: While in DC to interview Dr. Kirkpatrick, I will be crashing with the illustrious Reihan Salam. If you haven't already, head over right frikkin' now to The American Scene, which Reihan edits along with Steve M. and Ross D.

Recently, Reihan has compared himself to Cyrano de Bergerac. It seems that vertically-challenged folks such as Reihan may face social handicaps almost as dramatic as he of the long nose. (Full disclosure: I myself am a good inch shy of the national average of 5'9".)

Meanwhile, in a heartening display of intra-blog solidarity, Steve M. admits to his own insensitivity about the ridicule that vertically-challenged individuals suffer at the hands of corportate titans such as Burger King.

In contrast, Ross D. has decided to ignore the plight of the vertically-challenged on focus on some good old-fashioned prejudice against women -- at Harvard of all places.

That, my friends, is America.
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# Posted 6:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TO INTERVIEW NEO-CONSERVATIVE ICON: Tomorrow, I will have the chance to sit down for thirty minutes with none other than Jeane Kirkpatrick. FYI, Dr. Kirkpatrick was Reagan's first ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1981 through 1984.

I won't be able to provide excerpts from the interview since it is for academic purposes only, although I do hope to write a little more about Dr. Kirkpatrick's ideas.
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Sunday, January 16, 2005

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POSTPONE THE ELECTIONS? Larry Diamond is one of America's most respected scholars of democratization in the developing world. One week ago, he argued in the NY Times that going ahead with elections on Jan. 30 may derail democracy in Iraq.

Diamond makes a number of valid points, especially regarding the ways in which a voting system based on proportional representation will unfairly damage Sunni interests. Yet Diamond simply seems to ignore the major arguments against a postponement. For example, Diamond writes that
Sunni political and social leaders are not calling for an open-ended cancellation of the election. They are requesting a one-time postponement of several months, in order to establish the "necessary conditions" for a fair and inclusive vote.
In contrast, one might argue that in the absence of an election in January, conditions will be just as bad several months from now. Yet Diamond believes that negotiating with the Sunni leadership can ensure substantial Sunni participation in the next election:
Fortunately, it is no longer true, as has often been argued, that there is no one to negotiate with. Over the last few months, Sunni religious, tribal, civic and political leaders have begun meeting and forming alliances. At a conference in Tikrit on Dec. 23, Sunni representatives from seven provinces met, released a statement articulating their concerns and requests, and elected an "executive body" to negotiate on their behalf...

The outlines of a compromise are visible. The Sunnis could get a one-time postponement of the vote, an electoral system based substantially on provincial districts, and certain other political and administrative reforms. The leading Shiites, who have drawn together into the United Iraqi Alliance and seem set to win an election no matter when it is held or under what system, could get a commitment on the part of the Sunni opposition groups to end the electoral boycott and to work to reduce the violence, and thus to create a political situation in which their victory will be worth having.
But can the Sunni leadership really do anything to reduce the violence? Is there any reason to believe that insurgents will respect the requests of (relatively) moderate Sunni leaders? If the insurgents are given several more months to prepare for disrupting elections, should we really expect that much in the way of Sunni turnout, even if there are successful negotiations between the Sunni leadership and the Allawi government?

Diamond is correct to argue that holding elections now is hardly a cost-free proposition:
These elections will only increase political polarization and violence by entrenching the perceptions of Sunni Arab marginalization that are helping to drive the violence in the first place. This would not be the first instance when badly timed and ill-prepared elections set back the prospects for democracy, stability and ethnic accommodation. Think of Angola in 1992, Bosnia in 1996, Liberia in 1997.
Unfortunately, I don't know enough to comment on thesee examples of counterproductive elections that Diamond mentions. Of course, there are also positive examples, such as El Salvador in 1982.

Moving on, I think Diamond is right to suggest that voting with the current system will further marginalize the Sunnis. Yet given how marginalized the Sunnis already are and how much influence the insurgents have, should the United States or the Shi'ites and Kurds really want to take the dramatic risk of postponing the election in order to placate the Sunnis?

More importantly, Diamond ignores the benefits that will come with holding an election. First and foremost, Iraq will finally have a government chosen by almost 80% of its citizens, rather than one appointed primarily by the United States. With the government in their hands, the Shi'ite parties will have a very strong incentive to take ownership of the challenges facing the nation.

An elected government will also have the right to set the conditions under which Coaltion forces can stay in Iraq (or possibly be expelled). Of course, no one should think that the new government will be able to make an entirely independent decision about the fate of Coalition forces. Above all, Baghdad will still need someone to fight the insurgency for it.

Yet if an elected government permits Coaltion forces to remain, the Shi'ites will no longer feel that they are living under an full-fledged occupation regime. The presence of troops will still be problematic, but I think an election would put a permanent end to the kind of resentment that allowed Moqtada Sadr to launch his failed yet dangerous rebellions.

At this point, I think that the best course for the United States is to go through with the January elections and work behind the scenes to ensure that the constitutional assembly produces a document that addresses Sunni concerns. While it may be hard to persuade the newly-empowered Shi'ites to compromise, the same incentives that Diamond mentions will still be there.

In fact, the assembly might prove to be far more effective in negotiating with the Sunni leadership since it will have a democratic mandate, unlike the Allawi government. Instead of enticing the Sunnis with a postponed election, the Shi'ites can hold out the prospect of a constitution that favors district-based elections rather than proportional representation. If the assembly completes it work on time, then the Sunnis will be able to reap the benefits of a district-based system by the end of the 2005.

Admittedly, I have limited confidence in the ability of the United States to steer the assembly in the direction it prefers. Thus, the real question is whether the Shi'ite majority, once it has power, will live up to the ideals of democracy and tolerance it has advocated so consistently during the occupation. I believe it can.
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# Posted 2:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEATH SQUADS, PART II: There have been many passionate responses to my initial post, both via e-mail and on other websites. I will do my best to address all of them.

First, let me to direct you to this very long and very informative post by David Holiday. I should have pointed out before that David has considerable expertise on this subject because he worked for America's Watch/Human Rights Watch more than a decade ago, when El Salvador was still a major subject of public debate.

The main thrust of David H.'s argument is that the Newsweek article which provoked the current round of debate about the death squads may have fundamentally misunderstood what the Pentagon meant when it suggested developing a "Salvador option" for Iraq.

Newsweek presumed that a "Salvador option" entailed the training of something similar to death squads, or at least abduction squads, yet David H.'s careful review of military publications suggests that the Pentagon has a very different understanding of the lessons of El Salvador. Rather than emphasizing the role of death squads in counter-insurgency operations, the Pentagon's interpretation of El Salvador focuses on how best to train the entire armed forces of a developing nation.

As David H. points out, military papers on this subject tend to avoid discussion of the horrific human rights violations that the Salvadoran armed forces committed while under the tutelage of the Pentagon.

While I find David's general argument about the Pentagon's thought processes persuasive, it is still impossible to know whether it is correct in this specific instance since Newsweek provided so little concrete information to substantiate its suggestion that the Pentagon has nefarious plans for Iraq.

Next, I would like to address the concerns of AS, who writes that my initial post
Repeated some false and misleading notions: first, that even without actively supporting the death squads, American officials were happy to tolerate them; second, that they were at all effective.

There were undoubtedly those who supported any measure that would kill comunists. Outside the Oliver North school of Latin American politics (and the naive Reaganites who followed along) however, you'd behard-pressed to find any.
While the "naive Reaganites" may have constituted a small minority, they counted among their number the President, the director of the CIA and certain other high-ranking officials. Thus, their influence far outstripped their strength in numbers.

Nonetheless, AS is right to emphasize -- as I failed to do in my initial post -- how fiercely many of the Americans involved with the situation in El Salvador opposed the mindless brutality of the Salvadoran anti-communists. At the height of the brutality, all of our ambassadors and the overwhelming majority fo embassy officials opposed the violence.

My sense is also that a strong majority of the soldiers assigned to train the Salvadoran armed forces were viscerally opposed to the wanton violation of human rights, yet at the moment I am not familiar with sufficient documentary evidence to make that claim more forcefully.

With regard to efficiency, I think all except the most committed of the "naive Reaganites" understood that human rights violations strengthened the guerrillas and aggravated the civil war. Had the Salvadoran officer corps truly been willing to reform itself, the civil war might have ended a decade earlier, or perhaps never started.

At this point, I'd like to address Matt Yglesias' observation that
I'm not sure the distinction between America supporting a government that supports death squads while tolerating the existence of the death squads and America supporting death squads can really bear as much weight as David [Adesnik, not Holiday] wants to put on it. Being clear on the historical record is worthwhile, but it sort of doesn't make a great deal of difference morally.
I think Matt's observation may reflect the fact that my initial post failed to point out how few Americans wanted to turn a blind eye to the death squads' activities. Moreover, I think there is an important point to be made about the moral status of President Reagan's ability to persuade himself of the virtuous nature of the Salvadoran armed forces.

Even Reagan's harshest critics seem to recognize that the President's ignorance on this subject was sincere. Should some historian discover evidence which clearly indicates that Reagan understood the true nature of the Salvadoran armed forces and intentionally lied in order to defend their conduct, we will all have to revise our assessments of the 40th President. Although ideologically-motivated negligence is damnable enough, it is a far cry from intentional and explicit support for mass murder.

Finally we come to the comments of GC, who writes that
You seem incredulous, but there is ample evidence of active U.S. support for so-called "death squads" in El Salvador, based on recently declassified communications. Of course, we didn't call them "death squads" at the time. We called them "rapid response battalions."

Note that these "rapid response battalions" were created by the U.S. military specifically for the purpose of _counterinsurgency_, which is why they are relevant to discussion of Iraq today. Other far-right armed groups operating at the time in El Salvador, also sometimes labeled "death squads", were not created for this purpose and therefore are not relevant to your discussion of a counterinsurgency "Salvador Option".

In your post, you mention the El Mozote massacre as an example of "death squad" activities. Do you know who was responsible for that particular massacre? A "rapid reaction battalion" created by, trained by, and supported before, during, and after the massacre by the U.S. military. [Specifically the Atlacatl Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa. --ed.]
GC is correct that the United States trained the rapid response battalions (RRBs), often at American installations such as Fort Bragg and Fort Benning. GC is also correct that an RRB perpetrated the massacre at El Mozote, which I mentioned in my initial post but did not attribute to an RRB. Finally, GC is correct that American support for the RRBs did not stop after they committed the massacres.

The critical oversight in GC's argument is his failure to ask whether the RRBs' massacres at El Mozote or elsewhere had anything to do with their American training or whether their brutality reflected their Salvadoran origins. In fact, American trainers made an effort, albeit an insufficient one, to disabuse the Salvadorans of their murderous habits. The curricula for the RRB's included material on the importance of respecting human rights, although this message clearly did not get through.

There is also an important semantic point to be made here. As I mentioned in my initial post, the death squads were not simply uniformed soldiers, such as those in the RRBs, who committed atrocities. They were special units devoted to killing suspected insurgents. Although murder is murder is murder, it would be a very different story if the United States government created and trained special units responsible for murder, as opposed to training soldiers who committed atrocities despite being instructed not to.

(As WAB points out in a separate e-mail, there were individual Americans, some with extensive military experience, who acted in a private capacity to help create certain death squads.)

In many ways, GC's comments point to the crux of the issue being debated here. Newsweek seemed to suggest both that the US government intentionally set up death squads in El Salvador and that it was considering doing so in Iraq. I have tried to show that the United States deserves a different sort of criticism for a different sort of crime.

As part of a poorly-designed effort to prevent a Communist takeover in El Salvador, the Reagan administration turned a collective blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated by the Salvadoran armed forces, at least until December 1983, when Vice President Bush personally lectured the Salvadoran colonels about the total unacceptability of their behavior. Even before Bush's visit, many Americans (and, of course, even more Salvadorans) tried to defend the cause of human rights. But without the support of the White House, their efforts were not enough.
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Saturday, January 15, 2005

# Posted 11:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BLOGOSPHERE'S DISTANT COUSINS: If you are as hip as OxBlog (which isn't saying much), then you probably know that "mashups" are the latest trend in popular music. A "mashup" is the result of a DJ using software to mix together two entirely different songs, for example Madonna's "Ray of Light" and the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen".

What I find so interesting about mash ups is how they represent the triumph of individual pajama-clad keyboard cowboys over the corporate titans supposedly in charge of their industry. The New Yorker observes that
Mashups find new uses for current digital technology, a new iteration of the cause-and-effect relationship behind almost every change in pop-music aesthetics: the gear changes, and then the music does. If there is an electric guitar of mashup, it is a software package called Acid Pro, which enables one to put loops of different songs both in time and in tune with each other. Mark Vidler, known professionally as Go Home Productions, explained some other benefits of digital technology to me in London not long ago: “You don’t need a distributor, because your distribution is the Internet. You don’t need a record label, because it’s your bedroom, and you don’t need a recording studio, because that’s your computer. You do it all yourself."
Yet as in the blogosphere, the work of outsiders is often integrated -- rapidly -- into the mainstream hierarchy. According, the New Yorker a mashup entitled "A Stroke of Genius"
Is so good that it eventually led [DJ] Freelance Hellraiser to do official remixes for [Christina] Aguilera and others, and he has just completed, at Paul McCartney’s invitation, an entire album of McCartney remixes. “Stroke” also inspired a fourteen-year-old named Daniel Sheldon to start a Web site called boomselection.info. “The Remix” remains England’s main hub for mashups, but the rest of the world is being served through Sheldon’s site and getyourbootlegon.com, a message board started by Grant McSleazy, who recently graduated to doing legitimate remixes of Britney Spears.
Although I am concerned about the use of the words "legitimate" and "Britney" in the same sentence, I won't dwell on that subject. Instead, I'd like to note that trends driven by pajama-clad inviduals working out of their own homes on their own computers often produce results very quickly:
Once a graphic designer working for a company that made travel pillows, and long before that a guitarist in a rock band called Chicane, [Mark] Vidler, too, was converted in October of 2001. “I heard ‘A Stroke of Genius’ on the radio and I thought, That’s clever. I could do that,” he said. By April of 2002, Vidler was making his own mashups. His first was called “Slim McShady,” a combination of Eminem and Wings. “I created it on a Saturday, posted it on the Tuesday, and got played on the radio that Friday, on ‘The Remix.’”
Not bad!
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# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOSING THE OIL WAR: The WaPo has an important article about the rising effectiveness of insurgent attacks on the oil industry in Iraq. The government depends on oil taxes for its revenue, so these attacks have a direct impact in Baghdad.

Also worth noting is that a Sunni insurgent group has taken credit for the murder of one of Ayatollah Sistani's aides. Although terrorists have killed numerous Shi'ite clerics before, I can't recall them taking credit for it.

Depending on where you stand, the insurgents' decision to identify themselves reflects either the fact that Iraq is approaching the outbreak of total civil war or that Sunni insurgents have recognized that they do not represent the people of Iraq, but instead an embittered minority. Or perhaps both.
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# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO THE IMAMOSPHERE: I am little embarrassed to admit that I am getting my news about the blogosphere from the NY Times, but I still recommend reading the NYT profile of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former vice president of Iran and Islamic clergyman who has begun blogging (here) in order to speak out against the hardliners in Teheran.
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# Posted 10:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WAS ARIK SHARON THINKING? Mahmoud Abbas took office as president of the PA this afternoon. Yet even before his inauguration, Israel suspended contacts with the PA and accused Abbas of not doing enough to stop terrorist attacks.

Unsurprisingly, the NYT's straight news account of the suspension suggested that Sharon was acting in a foolish and impulsive manner. Rather than finding an expert to voice his opinions for him, NYT correspondent Stephen Erlanger simply reported that
Mr. Sharon's decision was unexpected, because it seemed to allow the militants to distort the Israeli-Palestinian agenda before Mr. Abbas could even form a new government.
Unstated rule of journalism #309: Objectivity consists of inserting the verb "to seem" (or a conjugation thereof) into a correspondent's statement of opinion. On the bright side, the NYT does allow the Sharon government to explain its decision, which was made in response to a recent attack that left six Israelis dead:
"We are not going back to the days when we had attacks in the morning, funerals in the afternoon and negotiations at night, as if nothing had happened," said Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister.
Fair enough. But I also wonder whether Sharon & Co. want to build up Abbas' credibility by portraying him as an enemy of Israel -- credibility that he will need in order to challenge the terrorists Sharon also wants to stop.

On a related note, Israel' suspension of contacts can easily be reversed at a moment when Sharon wants to demonstrate that he is a friend of the peace process. In the meantime, Sharon can tell the right-wing of Likud that the suspension demonstrates just how tough his government is. Convenient, no?
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# Posted 8:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSERVATIVES ARE NOT THE ONES SUFFERING FROM SEXUAL REPRESSION: In his review of the film "Spanglish", The New Yorker's David Denby observes that director
[James] Brooks has committed one of the habitual errors of liberal-Hollywood nice-guyism: he has tried to make a man good by making him sexless...

Since thousands of affluent whites in Los Angeles employ immigrant Latinos as housekeepers, the movie is at least grounded in something real—white guilt, a powerful force in Hollywood. But guilt, when acknowledged, has a way of producing self-consciousness rather than art. In preparation for writing the character of Flor, Brooks spent two years talking to groups of Latina women, and what he’s come up with is an exemplary figure, a successor to the sternly virtuous blacks, dignified Native Americans, staunch Asian-Americans, and other stiff-jointed role models produced by Hollywood over the years as a mistaken way of honoring ethnic minorities...

In the end, we’re meant to believe that [the Hispanic maid] Flor is too fine a person to have any desires of her own. Poor Brooks! His anxiety about giving offense to Latinos has itself become offensive—a classic high-minded blunder. Again and again, liberal Hollywood has to go through the ghastly ritual of ennobling people before it can allow them to become recognizably human.
Then again, who really wants to be human? I'd prefer for everyone to think of me as a noble stereotype, say pajama-clad network-thrashing blogger.
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# Posted 8:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY: It was a simple plea for the NY Jets: lose with dignity. But even that turned out to be too much.

At first, it seemed that the Jets would do the unthinkable and defeat the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Then they missed two field goals in the last two minutes of regulation. The Steelers won in overtime.

Had they simply lost a fair fight, I would have been satisfied. The Steelers are the best team in football. But why tempt one's fans so cruelly with the prospect of victory? We are haunted by the ghost of Michael Dukakis.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

# Posted 6:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU SAY "DEATH SQUAD": Newsweek reports that the Pentagon has now developed a plan for Iraq described as "the Salvador option", which
Dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
There are so many things wrong with Newsweek's statement that it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, the US military provided extensive aid to El Salvador's uniformed armed forces, which were fighting against Marxist insurgents. The reference to "nationalist" forces is therefore confusing, because it implies the US aided unofficial, paramilitary forces.

Especially during the first years of the war, the Salvadoran armed forces slaughtered peasants indiscriminately in provinces controlled by the guerrillas. The most notorious massacre was the one at El Mozote, reported by the NYT and WaPo, long-denied by the Reagan administraiton, and confirmed after the war by extensive forensic evidence.

In addition to murdering peasants, numerous special units within the Salvadoran military and national police forces devoted themselves to murdering anyone with a leadership role in the Salvadoran oppostion, civilian or guerrilla. There were also independent groups, not linked to the military but supported by wealthy businessmen and right-wing politicians, who also committed such murders.

These two types of organizations are properly known as death squads. Newsweek uses the word "allegedly" in connection with the death squads because the US government, in spite of knowing better, consistently denied that the Salvadoran military tolerated such behavior by its officers. Nonetheless, the role of uniformed officers was an open secret in El Salvador and the CIA had extensive knowledge of which Salvadoran officers and politicians were involved in such operations.

The biggest problem with the Newsweek article is its clear implication that the United States developed an intentional strategy of supporting the death squads. That is simply false. What one might say was that the Reagan administration's efforts to shut down the death squads were pathetically inadequate. As such, one might suspect that certain administration officials might have been glad to let the death squads do their dirty work for them.

However, US advisers were strictly prohibited from having anything to do with such illegal activities. Some might believe that American military advisers in El Salvador turned a blind eye to their pupils' extra-curricular activities, and David Holiday mentions one report to that effect.

David H. also writes that what the authors of the Newsweek article
Describe as a potential strategy is in fact what the U.S. government supported in El Salvador...

Now it seems that the U.S. military (or the CIA?) is finally and rather brazenly owning up to its role in the Salvadoran conflict. [Boldface in original]
If by "supported" David means "tolerated", then he is partially correct. Yet once again, there was no strategy to cooperate with or assist the death squads.

By the same token, it's hard to know what the Pentagon is "owning up to" by talking about a "Salvador option" for Iraq. That there were death squads in El Salavador? That the US turned a blind eye to their work? Or that there was active support for the death squads, an allegation for which there still is, to the best of my knowledge, no evidence?

Moving on, another misleading statement on Newsweek's part is that "eventually the insurgency was quelled". Actually, there was a negotiated end to the Salvadoran civil war, prompted in no small part by the rebels' spectacular assault on the capital in November 1989. On a similar note, David Holiday writes that the death squad strategy
Turned out to be quite effective in military terms in El Salvador, but it's also a morally abhorrent one.
Even if the death squads didn't win the war, they did kill thousands of actual guerrilla supporters. If those supporters were civilians who provided logistical support, that is abhorrent. Yet as David H. points out, many of the death squads' victims were urban commandos, who presumably were legitimate targets.

As David points out, one moral drawback to the death squad approach is that it's very hard to separate the logistical men from the urban commandos. But far more importantly, at least in El Salvador, the existence of the death squads helped create an environment of total impunity in which military officers could murder almost anyone for almost any reason.

That impunity led to the indiscriminate slaughter of peasants mentioned above. It also means that powerful officers could murder their personal enemies or operate massive crime synidcates. In the early 1980s, it was common to see fresh bodies, often multilated, lying by the side of major thoroughfares almost every morning

So what would it actually mean to have a Salvador option for Iraq? According to Newsweek,
It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation.
One safe conclusion to draw is that naming this "the Salvador option" was one of the stupidest ideas ever, since it would inevitably generate highly misleading press coverage. If you are going to give this strategy a name, perhaps you could call it "the Israeli strategy", since it sounds a lot more like what the IDF does to Hamas than what the Salvadorans did to their guerrillas. But that's a whole 'nother ballgame.

UPDATE: For more on this subject, see Greg and Glenn.
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# Posted 5:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DO THE MATH: I just came across this bizarre letter to NYT from November 13, 1983:
To the Editor:

I have just returned from a visit to the People's Republic of China and write this not to suggest to future tourists what to take with them but what to leave at home - gifts for the children of China.

As our bus rounded a curve outside Guilin and stopped for picture-taking, I was shocked to see a group of children gathered there, ready for a handout. This was my second trip to China and I had never witnessed this before.

Please, American visitors, don't make a generation of beggars out of the children of China. (I still remember clearly the little beggars in the Philippines who made it uncomfortable for tourists to leave the confines of the bus.)

China knows it will have problems with spoiled kids in their one-child families. Let American visitors restrain themselves from sharing largesse and not contribute to the problem.

I have no idea what this woman's politics are, but she seems to be missing some basic truths here. First, charity does not turn children into beggars. Hunger and poverty do. In China, the cause of that hunger and poverty was communism.

Second, just how many American tourists bearing gifts would it take to create "a generation of beggars" in a nation with, c. 1983, 800 million inhabitants?
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# Posted 2:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRAND STRATEGY 101: If you have enjoyed OxBlog's occasional rumblings about American grand strategy or the lack thereof, then the one you should really be thanking is John Gaddis, who taught me almost everything I know about that subject.

If you think OxBlog's occasional pronouncements about American grand strategy are a load of misguided and pretentious balderdash, then you should hold Prof. Gaddis directly responsible, because he encourages his students to grapple with the Big Questions that that supposedly must be answered only by those the well-groomed experts over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Anyhow, for the moment, I will spare you from any further ramblings on my part, since Prof. Gaddis's own thoughts on American grand strategy can be found in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. (But I won't spare you from my commentary on his thoughts!)

Here's what I found toe be the most thought-provoking paragraph in Prof. Gaddis' essay:
And what if the United States, despite its best efforts, ultimately fails in Iraq? It is only prudent to have plans in place in case that happens. The best one will be to keep Iraq in perspective. It seems to be the issue on which everything depends right now, just as Vietnam was in 1968. Over the next several years, however, President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger showed that it was possible to "lose" Vietnam while "gaining" China. What takes place during the second Bush term in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may well be as significant for the future of the Middle East as what occurs in Iraq. And what happens in China, India, Russia, Europe, and Africa may well be as important for the future of the international system as what transpires in the Middle East. All of which is only to say that Iraq must not become, as Vietnam once was, the single lens through which the United States views the region or the world
This one paragraphs slices though the conventional wisdom of our day like a hot knife through butter. While our strategic commitment to Iraq forces us to treat the situation there as a constant priority, the instransigence of both the war on the ground and the partisan divide at home means that the greatest opportunities for progress may lie elsewhere.

The elsewheres that seems most important to me fall into two categories. First, aspiring nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea. Second, pro-Western Arab dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Gaddis himself points to the importance of the first category, writing that
The Bush team made the worst of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD, while making the best of the more credible capabilities Iran and North Korea have been developing. Whatever the reasons behind this disparity, it is not sustainable. For even if the United States should succeed in Iraq, its larger strategy will have failed if it produces a nuclear-capable Iran or North Korea, and those countries behave in an irresponsible way.
That being the case, one might hope that Prof. Gaddis would have something more specific to say about what exactly we should do about Iran and North Korea. Not that I have any answers myself, but the thing about grand strategists is that their (our?) global prescriptions don't mean much if you can't apply to them to specific cases, especially hard ones.

Although Prof. Gaddis doesn't make specific comments about Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I think they are pivotal states because the first objection always raised to George Bush's vision of a democratic Middle East is that the US supports some of its most backwards dictatorships. Once again, I don't have specific ideas about what to do here. However, my suspicion is that there is a lot more room for American pressure and Egyptian/Saudi compromise than currently thought possible.

Part of what informs this suspicion is an analogy, like Prof. Gaddis, to a situation faced by an earlier Republican president at the beginning of his second term. Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan considered the Philippines, South Korea and Chile as critical bulwarks against the expansion of global communism. Yet during his second term, the Reagan administration -- sometimes over the objections of the President himself -- did quite a lot to push all three of those dictatorships toward dramatic, democratic openings.

It's hard to say whether Prof. Gaddis would endorse such a notion. Although he has been far more generous toward the President's vision of a democratic Middle East than any other scholar of comparable stature, his essay doesn't envision democratic values as a focal point around which the West can unite in the war on terror.

For example, the most important recommendation Gaddis has for the Bush administration is that it must persuade Europe to support its approach to the war on terror. Gaddis writes that:
The American claim of a broadly conceived right to pre-empt danger is not going to disappear, because no other nation or international organization will be prepared anytime soon to assume that responsibility. But the need to legitimize that strategy is not going to go away, either; otherwise, the friction it generates will ultimately defeat it, even if its enemies do not. What this means is that the second Bush administration will have to try again to gain multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power...

The president and his advisers preferred flaunting U.S. power to explaining its purpose. To boast that one possesses and plans to maintain "strengths beyond challenge" may well be accurate, but it mixes arrogance with vagueness, an unsettling combination. Strengths for what purpose? Challenges from what source? Cold War presidents were careful to answer such questions. Bush, during his first term, too often left it to others to guess the answers. In his second, he will have to provide them.
Yet Gaddis often seems to dodge the quesiton of what basis there actually is for true unity of purpose between American unilateralists and their multilateral counterparts in Europe. On a hopeful note, the good Professor writes that winning multilateral support:
Will not involve giving anyone else a veto over what the United States does to ensure its security and to advance its interests. It will, however, require persuading as large a group of states as possible that these actions will also enhance, or at least not degrade, their own interests. The United States did that regularly--and highly successfully--during World War II and the Cold War. It also obtained international consent for the use of predominantly American military force in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. Iraq has been the exception, not the rule, and there are lessons to be learned from the anomaly.
I'm not sure I find any of these examples persuasive. In 1991 and 2001, the United States used overwhelming force to punish aggressors who had clearly violated international law. In 1995 and 1999, it used limited force to confront human rights violations that had minimal direct impact on US national security. Thus, what potential is there for winning multilateral support for controversial enterprises such as the second invasion of Iraq, which are of dubious legal standing and are not framed as humanitarian ventures?

My tentative answer to this question is that our best hope of winning belated European support for the invasion of Iraq is to demonstrate that this controversial action really can create a democratic opening in the Middle East. Although the Europeans may never sign off on the way such an opening was created, they do care about spreading democratic values. If Europeans really come to believe that all of our talk about democracy promotion is part of a sincere commitment rather than a cynical front for aggression, then further debates within the alliance will seem more more like arguments within the family rather than threats to the entire postwar global order.

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# Posted 1:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS YOUR NAME ON THE BLACKLIST? Although OxBlog generally thinks that not linking to your adversaries' websites is immature and childish, racist and anti-Semitic sites like that of the "Anti-Defamation League -- USA" don't deserve even a single hit from OxBlog.

It turns out that ADL-USA is a white supremacist knock-off of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith. (NB: ADL-USA also seems to be known as the "American Defense League")

I came across the ADL-USA website while trying to find a current address for an old contact of mine, someone I didn't even know was Jewish. Yet when I Googled him, his name came up on a list of "Jews in Key U.S. Government Positions", since he was an NSC staffer under Clinton. Incidentally, I can't vouch for the accuracy of the list, since it is attributed to a publication called 'My Awakening' by David Duke.

So why I am writing about all of this? I don't really know. I guess it was just strange to be confronted with such rabid hatred in the middle of a normal working day. It is out there.
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Monday, January 10, 2005

# Posted 3:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THERE HE GOES AGAIN: It seems we haven't heard the last from Scott Ritter. While American publications may no longer have much interest in the writings of such an unusual fellow, Mr. Ritter has found an occasional home with Al Jazeera.

In his latest column, Mr. Ritter explains that Abu Musab al Zarqawi is a "phantom menace" invented by Ba'athist intelligence officers in order to provoke the United States into launching assaults that will cause civilian casualties and thereby turn the Iraqi people against the US-backed Allawi government.

Ritter reminds me of Oliver North -- a self-important fool who will believe anything his unnamed "contacts" tell him. On the other hand, Ritter must be brimming with confidence as a result of the fact he was one of a handful of those who insisted long before the invaison that Saddam had no WMD, chem-bio or otherwise. The only problem is, Ritter may have been paid to say it.

UDPATE: Citing Common Dreams, Lapin (from Daily Kos) says Ritter was the victim of a US smear job. Talk about belieivng one's contacts. More usefully, Lapin points to this CSM article which provides some useful information about Zarqawi and his relationship to the Ba'athists.
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# Posted 2:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FAMILY BUSINESS: A different Kagan bashes Rumsfeld.
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRONY WATCH: Yglesias points to a good one -- a lot of the problems associated with the current election in Iraq reflect the fact that the US listened too closely to the UN, instead of ignoring its advice and making decisions unilaterally.
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# Posted 1:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST HOW BAD WAS OUR PLANNING FOR THE OCCUPATION? Michael O'Hanlon tries to answer that question (among others) in a well-written essay in the latest edition of Policy Review. O'Hanlon makes a lot of strong arguments, but I think his criticism of the administration should be tempered by an awareness of how little we still know about what went wrong in Iraq and why.

In this situation, there are two proverbial "dogs that didn't bark". First, and rarely noticed, is the fact that the Bush administration has failed to come up with any sort of evidence to show that it actually had a reasonable pre-war plan for the occupation and that something resembling this plan was implemented. Instead of arguing that that the Democrats of the media have ignored their plans, Bush & Co. simply try to argue that things aren't as bad as they seem. I agree, but that's no excuse for not having a plan.

Second, and also rarely noticed, is that precious little was said before the war began about what was expected from the occupation. Quite often, critics of the administraiton mock Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz's delusional expectation that the people of Iraq would greet us by throwing flowers. While the Pentagon clearly underestimated the number of troops necessary to sustain the occupation, I can't recall Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz expressing the kind of naive hopes often attributed to them.

At the same time, I suspect that if any of the high-level memo traffic from the Pentagon or the White House was ever made public, there would be more than enough embarrassing statements to go around. Yet that is just a suspicion. It is also possible that there would be no embarrassing statements because no one at Cabinet level or higher spent enough time thinking about the occupation to think such potentially embarrassing thoughts. By the same token, opponents of the war never concerned themselves much with how to handle the occupation.

As I discovered while trying to organize a forum on the coming occupation at Oxford in February 2003, i.e. before the invasion, I discovered that anti-war folks resisted thinking seriously about the occupation because preparing for the occupation, in their mind, meant abandoning the struggle to prevent the war. Ultimately, in order to persuade anti-war groups to participate in our forum on democracy in the Middle East, we had to agree to debate the merits of the yet-to-happen invasion.

But let's get back to O'Hanlon. He writes that
What is now commonly called Phase IV [i.e. the occupation] was handled so badly that its downsides have now largely outweighed the virtues of the earlier parts of the operation...

The problem was simply this: The war plan was seriously flawed and incomplete. Invading another country with the intention of destroying its existing government yet without a serious strategy for providing security thereafter defies logic and falls short of proper professional military standards of competence. It was in fact unconscionable.

Lest there be any doubt about the absence of a plan, one need only consult the Third Infantry Division’s after-action report, which reads: “Higher headquarters did not provide the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) with a plan for Phase IV. As a result, Third Infantry Division transitioned into Phase IV in the absence of guidance.”
That's an interesting bit of evidence, but in this instance, I think silence speaks much louder than words. We don't need the Third Infantry Division to tell us there was no plan because the administration never pretended to have one.

Now, in contrast to the incompetence of those in charge of the invasion,
Many people outside the Pentagon did recognize and emphasize the centrality of the post-Saddam security mission. Some were at the State Department, though State’s Future of Iraq Project produced an extremely long and somewhat unfocused set of papers. Other analysts were also prescient, and much more cogent, in their emphasis on the need to prepare for peacekeeping and policing tasks. One of the more notable was a study published in February 2003 by the Army War College. It underscored the importance not only of providing security but also of taking full advantage of the first few months of the post-Saddam period when Iraqi goodwill would be at its greatest.
The administration deserves no quarter for failing to make better use of the State Departement and War College papers. Moreover, it should have commissioned such studies far earlier. Yet it is also interesting to note that it was other government agencies and not external critics who were paying most attention to the challenges of the upcoming occupation.

One person not thinking about the occupation realistically was Douglas Feith. According to O'Hanlon, who cites George Packer's reporting from the New Yorker,
Such planning as there was, conducted largely out of the office of Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, was reportedly unfocused, shallow, and too dependent on optimistic scenarios that saw Ahmed Chalabi (or perhaps some of Saddam’s more moderate generals) taking charge without the need for a strong U.S. role in the stabilization mission.
Packer, writing in November 2003, presented the situation as somewhat more complicated, although I'm sure O'Hanlon had space limitations to consider. First of all, there were extensive plans for the humanitarian crisis that might follow an invasion of Iraq. The UN had predicted as many as one million civilian casualties among children alone as a result of disease and starvation. Although such estimates were ridiculous even at the time, the US deserves credit for taking such humanitarian concerns serioulsy.

But there was no seriousness about the political crisis that might come after the humanitarian one. Packer reported that
“There was a desire by some in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it,” a senior Administration official told me. “The idea was to put our guy in there and he was going to be so compliant that he’d recognize Israel and all the problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad. Everything would be hunky-dory.” The planning was so wishful that it bordered on self-deception. “It isn’t pragmatism, it isn’t Realpolitik, it isn’t conservatism, it isn’t liberalism,” the official said. “It’s theology.”
As usual, the words of anonymous officials need to be taken with a grain of salt. However, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White did go on the record with Packer to say that Feith's team
Had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived.
Although White has his own axe to grind, the total weight of such evidence is suggestive. Even so it is an unsure foundation on which to describe the pre-war mentality of the administration.

Where am I going with all of this? In some ways, nowhere. With Bush re-elected, the apportionment of blame has become an academic exercise. Yet I still suspect/hope that there is something practical to be gained -- now, on the ground, in Iraq -- by developing a better understanding of what went wrong in the first place.

It is still an open question how wrong things went. An impressive turnout in the Jan. 30 elections may change the nature of hindsight to a certain extent. But I will still believe, regardless of what happens on the 30th, that we could've done a lot better from April 2003 until then. But the problem with the Bush administration was not an ideology of democracy promotion that I defend but many consider to be delusional. The problem was lack of attention to detail, which will be just as necessary after Jan. 30 as it is now.
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Sunday, January 09, 2005

# Posted 5:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

CONGRATULATIONS to Cork, which this weekend begins a year as European Capital of Culture, and has marked the occasion by constructing ten giant hillbillies.
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# Posted 3:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TESTIFY! Everything they say about German toilets is true (and very funny). I spent the summers of 1997 in 1998 in Deutschland and returned for two more visits in 1999. Germany is a wonderful and beautiful country full of friendly and welcoming people, not to mention delicious pastries such as the legendary mohnschnecke. Sadly, it seems that all of Germany's qualified engineers build cars, leaving only the scheisskoepfe to design toilets. (Hat tip: Glenn)

UPDATE: Sasha Castel kindly points to some further commentary on the state of German plumbing.
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# Posted 3:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLACKER THAN THOU: I sure like the way Colbert King began his column in yesterday's WaPo:
Drive-by news gathering, which passes as journalism today, conveys a superficial and misleading picture of gentrification in the nation's capital. The stories tell nothing of the wrenching consequences of people being pushed out of their neighborhoods. But how would those journalists know? They've never lived through the process of gentrification, and they don't spend nearly enough time in the community getting to know what they write about. Facile writers with clueless editors can get away with anything.
Damn right they can. Not all that long ago, I myself made some brief comments about gentrification in the nation's capital. After I spent this past Thursday and Friday in DC, my prior amazement at the pace and intensity of this process continued to grow.

On Thursday night, I stayed over with a friend who lives in a renovated townhouse at 15th St. & Constitution NE. I did a lot of walking on Thu. and Fri. because 15th & Constitution is nowhere near the Metro. Yet by walking, I had the chance to see just how far the gentrification had spread.

Personally, I think it's amazing and good that an ever-expanding part of Capitol Hill has begun to look and feel more and more like Georgetown. The heart of our nation's capital should be a safe, properous and intimate neighborhood. Yet according to Mr. King,
The tragedy is that this benign view of what's taking place in the city is also shared in top D.C. government circles, where our town's tightly drawn class and racial fault lines -- and those established residents who have been made to feel marginalized -- are ignored.
Now, I appreciate how gentrification uproots long-time residents by pricing them out of the neighborhood. Yet given the severity of Washington's decay before the current revitalization began, I don't think there is any other choice.

Colbert King may be right that the DC government should do more to encourage the construction of affordable housing. But he approaches the edge of delusion when he imagines that the alternative to gentrification is the sort of working-class utopia that King grew up in. According to King, the West End/Foggy Bottom of the 1950s
Was a community where a child could walk three blocks and run into someone, a relative or friend, who was known to the family. Financially embattled, yes. But no one went hungry. Neighbors, black and white -- like the Jones family down the block -- didn't let neighbors starve. People looked each other squarely in the eye. They spoke on the streets. We weren't afraid of each other. We enjoyed the same kind of food and music, and played the same childhood games. We were the community.
I will admit to being ignorant about the precise details of what came before gentrification on Capitol Hill. Yet I suspect that in addition to the good citizens Mr. King describes, the neighborhood had its fair share of drug dealers, gang violence, teenage mothers and illiterate adults. If those things are good enough for Anacostia, then why not for Capitol Hill?

King only makes things worse by compounding his self-serving view of the past with racially divisive attacks on (African-American) DC Mayor Tony Williams. King writes that Williams
Is much like the fabled senior black Army officer who, when confronted by overly familiar black enlisted men who thought they had something in common with him, put them in their place with the gibe, "I'm your color, not your kind."
That kind of reverse race-baiting will only anatagonize the corporate interests and white, middle-class Washingtonians who might otherwise welcome a more humane approach to gentrification. Calling the mayor a race-traitor may feel good, but it won't do much to prevent the dislocation and social disruption that King claims to be so concerned about.
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# Posted 2:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EMINEM'S FAMILY VALUES: If, for just one moment, conservatives stopped demonizing Eminem and actually listened to him, they might realize how profoundly his work supports so much that conservatives have to say about family values.

In short, that is Mary Eberstadt's argument in a brilliant essay in the current issue of Policy Review. Eberstadt never apologizes for the violence, misogyny, drug abuse and casual sex glorified by the lyrics of Eminem and others. But she points out that the rappers and heavy metal bands who revel in such behavior constantly insist that there is one reason and one reason alone why they are so maladjusted: because they didn't grow up in stable, two-parent homes. Eberstadt writes that:
If yesterday’s rock was the music of abandon, today’s is that of abandonment. The odd truth about contemporary teenage music — the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before — is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers...

To put this perhaps unexpected point more broadly, during the same years in which progressive-minded and politically correct adults have been excoriating Ozzie and Harriet as an artifact of 1950s-style oppression, many millions of American teenagers have enshrined a new generation of music idols whose shared generational signature in song after song is to rage about what not having had a nuclear family has done to them.
Eberstadt points out that much of this obsession with the fallout from broken homes has autobiographical origins. Papa Roach, Good Charlotte, Pink, Blink-182, Snoop Dogg, Jay Z and Tupac sing about broken homes because that is where they come from.

The one musician, more than any other, responsible for this trend is Kurt Cobain. As Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, observed in an interview almost a decade ago,
"I think it was maybe a shock to both of us [i.e. Vedder and Cobain] that so many people were going through the same things. I mean, they understood so completely what we were talking about...when our first record came out, I was shocked how many people related to some of that stuff . . . . The kind of letters that got through to me about those songs, some of them were just frightening

“Think about it, man,” he says. “Any generation that would pick Kurt or me as its spokesman — that must be a pretty f—d up generation, don’t you think?”
It's hard to disagree. An interesting point Eberstadt doesn't make is that Pearl Jam is one of those rare bands that has responded to its sense of loss and abandonment by praising -- and attempting to practice -- sensitivity and moderation, rather than violence and self-destruction. There is a lot of anger in Pearl Jam's music, but that anger is never an end in itself.

Toward the end of her essay, Eberstadt observers that
Where parents and entertainers disagree is over who exactly bears responsibility for this moral chaos. Many adults want to blame the people who create and market today’s music and videos. Entertainers, Eminem most prominently, blame the absent, absentee, and generally inattentive adults whose deprived and furious children (as they see it) have catapulted today’s singers to fame. (As he puts the point in one more in-your-face response to parents: “Don’t blame me when lil’ Eric jumps off of the terrace / You shoulda been watchin him — apparently you ain’t parents.”)

The spectacle of a foul-mouthed bad-example rock icon instructing the hardworking parents of America in the art of child-rearing is indeed a peculiar one, not to say ridiculous. The single mother who is working frantically because she must and worrying all the while about what her 14-year-old is listening to in the headphones is entitled to a certain fury over lyrics like those. In fact, to read through most rap lyrics is to wonder which adults or political constituencies wouldn’t take offense. Even so, the music idols who point the finger away from themselves and toward the emptied-out homes of America are telling a truth that some adults would rather not hear. In this limited sense at least, Eminem is right.
The ultimate question is what we should do about this crisis. Eberstadt rips into those liberal scholars who speak of "family diversity" as if the embrace of one-parent and no-parent homes would solve the problems they generate. But trashing such ostrich-headed liberals is not enough (although it is probably both fun and necessary.)

What is enough? Hell if I know. I study foreign policy. When something goes wrong with our foreign policy, the answer is to have the government come up with better ideas. But I tend to doubt that the government can take a leadership role in the struggle to fix broken homes.

I think that what it all comes down to is the kind of cultural change that no one knows how to generate. Somehow, Americans need to develop the caution, self-awareness and self-control necessary to make responsible decisions about childbearing, sex, marriage and divorce. As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, there are simple answers to our problems, just not easy ones.
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# Posted 1:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TO SUE NY JETS FOR EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Sure, they won the game. But that's not the point. Or maybe it is. But nothing is going to stop this rant. I don't talk a lot about sports here on OxBlog, but after sitting through four-straight hours of nail-biting football, I've just got to scream.

Last week, the Jets backed into the playoffs by blowing their game against the Rams in overtime. Fortunately, Buffalo also lost, so the Jets got a wild card.

In the first quarter of today's game, the Jets began by missing an easy 33-yard field-goal -- a field goal that would seem very important when the game went into overtime.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Jets were up by 10. Then by 7. Then the Chargers had the ball on the Jets' goal line with less than a minute to play. The Jets held off San Diego for three straight plays, to bring up 4th and Goal on the 1.

This being the Jets, I naturally expected them to collapse. But did they have to do so in such spectacular style? The defense stuffed the Chargers, only to have one idiot get called for a completely unnecessary roughing-the-quaterback penalty. The Chargers got the TD and sent the game into overtime.

Blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in the playoffs. That's so....that's so...Michael Dukakis.

In overtime, the Chargers drove to the Jets 20. Perhaps because God hates the Chargers even more than he hates the Jets, the Chargers missed their shot at a field goal. The Jets hit theirs.

For non-football or non-Jets fans, this all may seem somewhat banal. But the weight of history made it all seem so crushing while I watched. Although Joe Namath was our Bill Clinton, we have only had Mondales and Dukakises ever since.

Next week, we're probably going to lose bad against either Pittsburgh or New England. I just want hope we can do it in a way that is dignified.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SAY IT OUT LOUD: "Pavitr Prabhakar". That is the name of the young boy from Mumbai who will grow up to be India's Amazing Spider-Man. Look for Pavitr's debut in a special four-part mini-series later this year, published as a joint venture between Marvel Comics and an Indian publisher by the unlikely name of Gotham. (Hat tip: D-Pac)
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Friday, January 07, 2005

# Posted 9:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEWS OF THE DAY: Bush elected president.
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Thursday, January 06, 2005

# Posted 11:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

BURMA WATCH DEPARTMENT: A priest working on the Thai-Burmese border reports how the junta has been suppressing news of Burmese tsunami deaths.

(Incidentally, you have to feel sorry for Concern, the Irish charity which just finished placing adverts in every bus stop in Dublin for its Sudan appeal with the words 'the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today.')
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# Posted 10:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

ROLLIN, ROLLIN, ROLLIN ON THE RIVER DEPT: For those of our friends who are interested in migration policy, there's a new issue of Migration News out, produced by the German Marshall Fund and UC Berkeley.
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# Posted 9:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

LE PLUS ÇA CHANGE DEPT: Accused deserter, awaiting court martial, deserts.
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# Posted 1:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TORTURE: Still unacceptable.
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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM WAY BACK WHEN: Ethan J. Leib, who was the captain of my mock trial team in high school, is now an honest to god to lawyer with a (group) blog of his own.

Actually, Ethan has a law degree but for some reason has decided that he needs a Ph.D. as well, so he's getting one of those as well. Earlier this year, Ethan published his first book, about increasing citizen participation in American democracy. On his blog you can read about important things like starving puppies and humping emoticons.
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# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY (BELATED) BLOGIVERSARY: Randy Paul's Beautiful Horizons is a first-rate blog about Latin American politics and culture. Just before Christmas, Randy celebrated two years of blogging. Felicitaciones!
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# Posted 2:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMIC BOOK PHILOSOPHY: One of the things I got to do while on vacation was to waste my time doing things I would never do otherwise, like reading comic books. Mostly I read back issues of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four from the early 1990s which turned up during my parents' recent move to their new apartment.

While the comics themselves were enjoyable, I couldn't help but ask what kind of impact Spidey and the FF might have had on me back when I was 14 years-old. Are comic books good for your kids? Do they educate their readers, or just provide soft entertainment? Is there a political side to comic books?

Back in eighth grade, the books I had to read for English class included Lord of the Flies, Member of the Wedding and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Naturally, those books have a lot more to offer than Spider-Man. But most kids won't read great literature in their spare time, so you have to ask whether the things they actually want to read are good for them. On those grounds, I'd say that comic books are a damn good choice.

If there is one big idea associated with Spider-Man, it is that "With great power comes great responsibility." Although Spider-Man has changed a lot since his debut in the 1960s, that idea has been the touchstone of his outlook on life since the very beginning.

Whereas some might say that superhero fantasies encourage narcissistic and violent behavior, I was consistently impressed with how throroughly Spider-Man's worldview (dare I say Weltanschauung?) informs almost all of his adventures.

On the other hand, the constant repitition of the same moral drama can become boring and cliche for a 27-year old reader. Nonetheless, there was enough sophistication there to provide valuable lessons for a teenager. For example, Spidey constantly has to balance his commitment to the public good with his obligations to be a good boyfriend/husband (a theme that featured quite prominently in Spidey's recent film).

While I wouldn't describe Spidey's relationship with Mary Jane as either all that realistic or all that healthy, I think it does provide young readers with food for thought. From a feminist perspective, Mary Jane's semi-pornographic, Barbie doll proportions definitely send the wrong message, especially in combination with her passive role in most of Spider-Man's adventures. On the other hand, it's hard to get teenage boys interested in women who don't look like swimsuit models.

As for teenage girls, I think the situation may be somewhat hopeless. Even the solid minority of female superheros have Barbie doll figures. And if that isn't enough, the fact that everyone constantly gets beaten up in comic books probably won't win over too many fans in that demographic.

Another possible criticism of superhero adventures is that they provide a lot of moral clarity and very little nuance. To a certain extent, the first and foremost purpose of the comic-book bad guy is to serve as a punching bag. On the other hand, one of the most cliche moments in the world of comic books is when the superhero has to decide whether to punish the bad guys himself or just turn them over to the police. Although certain heroes, like the Punisher, reject the law out of hand, even darker heroes like Batman tend to place a premium on due process.

Thus, if Superman were president and Batman were Condi Rice, it's hard to say whether the United States would listened to the United Nations and stayed out of Iraq. Ultimately, I think you have to hope that kids will learn about foreign policy from somewhere other than comic books.

But I say that with a caveat: Over the past decade and a half, we have seen the debut of increasingly sophisticated comic books that can only be described as literature. Neil Gaiman's Sandman is the most prominent example, but there are many more. If you read The Nation and are a fan of Noam Chomsky, you can only hope that every teenage boy will read Alan Moore's The Watchmen, which demonstrates how certain superheroes have become the enforcers of the American government's imperialist plutocratic agenda. (Even so, for other reasons, The Watchmen is one of the best comics I've ever read.)

The bottom line is that if you can wrench your kids away from their Playstation or Xbox, you should give them a subscription to the Amazing Spider-Man.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

# Posted 1:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

BEST DUBLIN PUB: Undoubtedly it's McDaid's. Of the famous literary pubs, Davy Byrne's has something of the unseemly feel of a left bank cafe bereft of the surrounding Paris. McDaid's staff are more personable and witty, it attracts far more regulars as opposed to literary-venue tourists. Its cherry wood and green-tiled decor are authentic in situ, and they know how to pour. And if you're lucky the bartender just might try to scare you into thinking you've just accidentally ordered a half dozen pints of guinness. I hereby christen it my local, no matter how far from Dublin I might at various points be.
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Monday, January 03, 2005

# Posted 10:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Massive public demonstrations in support of Iraq and in opposition to the military buildup of the U.S.-led coalition [have] taken place in almost every country in the region. This opposition emphasized the common interests and bonds of solidarity between Arabs, and more broadly, between Muslims against Western intervention...

A growing perception of the threat posed by the largely Western-orchestrated and overwhelmingly U.S. interventionary force, its presence near Islam's most sacred cities, and the prospects of a permanent Western military presence in the region took precedence over initial concerns about the threat posed by Iraqi Iraqi agression...

[Nonetheless], the ensuing destruction of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition did not lead to the mass uprising of Arab and Muslim peoples that some observers had predicted.
If you know how fond I am of historical mischief, you may already have guessed that the passage cited above is a description of the Arab response to the first American invasion of Iraq, not the second.

I came across this passage today while making my way through a collection of of essays entitled Cultures of Insecurity, published by the U. Minnesota press in 1999. Naturally, I found the passage quite striking since it challenged the first invasion of Iraq -- which we now consider to be a model of multilateral diplomacy and American restraint -- with the same arguments now arrayed against the current Gulf War.

The significance of this fact is open to debate. Steve Niva, the author of the essay, would presumably argue that the second invasion reflects the total failure of the United States to learn the lessons of the first. (Niva received his Ph.D. from Columbia, teaches at Evergreen State College and is a frequent contibutor to Common Dreams.)

To my mind, the passage above demonstrates how prone American experts are to exaggerate the dangers of provoking the so-called "Arab street". I won't pretend we have many fans out there, but what happened to all the antagonism that center-left critics of the first invasion identified at the time? Some might say that it is still there, but my sense is critics of this war overwhelmingly identified US support for Israel as the real cause of Arab resentment.

As OxBlog is always fond of pointing out, widespread predictions of a pan-Arab uprising in response to the March 2003 invasion turned out to be completely false. It is important, of course, to distinguish a hypothetical pan-Arab uprising from the Al Qaeda-supported Ba'athist insurgency in Iraq. I failed to anticipate the ferocity of the Ba'athist reponse, but it hardly represents a transnational response to American disresepct for the Arab world.

The point I'm driving at here is that in spite of all of their governments' propaganda, Arabs may have more ability than we expect to recognize whether the US has done the right thing. We did the right thing in 1991. We did the right thing for the wrong reasons in 2003. So now we have to prove our good intentions by staying committed to Iraq until it really is more free and more secure than the rest of the Middle East.
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Friday, December 31, 2004

# Posted 8:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S BEST COFFEE SHOP IN DUBLIN AWARD: It's called Coffee Society in Camden Street, and has wireless internet, comfortable chairs, Latin American music, and really, really lovely staff. Many of them, Camden Street being what it is, are from the Ukraine, and a happy bunch at the moment. From now on, this is where I work when I'm in Dublin.

Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh!
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Thursday, December 30, 2004

# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Belton  


Action Against Hunger
247 West 37th Street, Suite 1201
New York, N.Y. 10018
212-967-7800 x108

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
South Asia Tsunami Relief
Box 321
847A Second Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10017
212-687-6200 ext. 851

88 Hamilton Ave
Stamford, CT 06902

American Jewish World Service
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10018

American Friends Service Committee
AFSC Crisis Fund
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19102

American Red Cross
International Response Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013

Catholic Relief Services
Tsunami Emergency
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Md. 21203-7090

Direct Relief International
27 South La Patera Lane
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93117

Doctors Without Borders
P.O. Box 1856
Merrifield, Va. 22116-8056

Food for the Hungry, Inc.
Food for the Hungry
Asia Quake Relief
1224 E. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

International Medical Corps
Earthquake/Tsunami Relief
1919 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 300
Santa Monica, Calif. 90404

Mercy Corps
Southeast Asia Earthquake Response
Dept. W
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, Ore. 97208

Operation USA
8320 Melrose Avenue, Suite 200 Los Angles, Calif. 90069

Oxfam America
Asian Earthquake Fund
PO Box 1211
Albert Lea, MN 56007-1211

Save The Children
Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund
54 Wilton Road
Westport, Conn. 06880

Islamic Relief USA
Southeast Asia Earthquake Emergency
P.O. Box 6098
Burbank, Calif. 91510

US Fund for UNICEF
General Emergency Fund
333 E. 38th Street
New York, NY 10016

Stop Hunger Now
SE Asia crisis
2501 Clark Ave, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27607

World Vision
P.O. Box 70288
Tacoma, WA 98481-0288

World Concern
Asia Earthquake and Tsunami
19303 Fremont Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98133

World Emergency Relief
2270-D Camino Vida Roble
Carlsbad, CA 92009


British Red Cross

Canadian Red Cross

Australian Red Cross

Non-monetary donations
Dear Patrick, I read your list of organizations contributing to the tsunami relief effort, and I'm pretty sure that most if not all of them only accept monetary donations. I found one group, relatively close to home (I live in Queens, NY), that is also collecting clothing, antibiotics, first aid material, rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, camping gear, tools and generators. They are the NY Buddhists VIHARA and they're at 214-22 Spencer Avenue in Parkside Hills. Theyre number is 718-468-4262 if you want to reach them by phone. They have a website. You might have trouble reaching them by phone, because I know that the last time I called they only had one phone line, but if you'de like you can give it a shot. Anyway, just thought I'd mention it,- Leo Shvartsman.

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# Posted 8:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

There's two possible explanations for this story. One is that Myanmar, with 1930 kilometers of coastline, numerous fishing villages and huts on stilts along the coast, and a common border with Thailand - where over 1500 are reported dead - miraculously escaped the effect of the tsunami.

The other explanation is that Myanmar's famously secretive military government hasn't wanted to reveal the extent of the tsunami damage to the outside world... and especially to their own citizens. (As in many represive regimes, it's easier to to get news from outside the country than news from within it.)
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# Posted 7:07 AM by Patrick Belton  


Flirting in North Dublin 101:
bird: so what are you looking at, ye gobshite?
lad: you, y'eejit.
bird: well wouldja fecking stop, ye fecker?
lad: can't.
This was reckoned by all who witnessed it as a quite sweet conversation, and a masterstroke by 'lad'. Okay, it didn't quite happen, but could have.

Department of Motor Vehicles:
When you go out of your nice Georgian doorway in north Dublin in the morning, there's an easy rule of thumb to tell approximately how long it's been since the window was broken in the car on the kerb:
• if glass shards are visible on the outside: the dispersion radius r, the wind velocity v, and Patrick's constant P are related to time t by the proportion t=rP/V. P is a proprietary secret for the moment, as I haven't yet figured it out.
•if the glass shards have been graffitied on: it's been at least an hour.
• if the glass shards are neon: there's a garda standing nearby. it's been roughly a week, and the car's being cited for a parking violation.

NB: Feck, properly spelled feic in Irish, is an irregular verb meaning 'see', or in the imperative, 'look'. It's not indecent in the least, and is good enough for Father Ted. Incidentally, I actually heard someone speaking Irish on Grafton Street this morning! Pretentious twit.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

# Posted 9:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

DUBLINERS: After an evening's sleep in the Roman airport, and a train ride spent practising my Italian on a teacher unlucky enough to be my neighbour, I've moved from Calabria to Dublin. For a post-nationalist who, so long as it provided liberal, reformist democratic governance, would give as warm support to a world government, empire, or system of city-states as to the current Westphalian system of ethnic states, Dublin is a guilty comfort. It is for me what Israel is for every Jew; whenever I need to drop out of my regularly scheduled life for a fortnight, I can always return here, find cheap bohemian quarters in some gritty quarter of Dublin 1, and pass easily into being yet another unremarkable writer named Paddy, holding forth and telling tales and unforgivable puns from McDaid's. I fit in, in a way I find both comfortable and disturbing. There are almost as many of me here as there are Bosnians - and that's saying quite a bit. Unlike in Britain or America, I don't have to apologise for my peculiar post-mediaeval hangups and Catholic victorianisms; they are here what passes for culture.

I'm staying in the edges of venerable, at one time also venereal, Monto, once the largest red light district in the British Empire when redcoats were still garrisoned next door in what today is the Michael Collins Museum. The red has been replaced with the Garda's neon; very small mercies indeed. I am, so far as I can tell, the only Irish person in Montjoy Square; I share a flat with two amiable Frenchmen, a Finn, and an Italian; the possibilities for ethnic jokes seem endless.

So Patrick, you've now blogged enthusiastically from your writing holidays in Italy, Ireland, Paris, and Mexico. What we want to know is, do you ever go of your own choice to Protestant countries? PB: apparently not. Although I was once in Quebec, which is part of one.
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# Posted 9:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM ST STEPHEN'S GREEN I read in the Irish Times this morning that Susan Sontag, God love her, has died at 71. Others will eulogise her intellectual corpus; I for one always found her writing on the use of images to be thoughtful and provocative. For my part I will simply note her astounding quality of presence: when she appeared at Oxford in connection with the annual Amnesty lectures, and briefly caught my eye sitting in the front row before her lecture, she remains the only Social Security recipient to have ever made me blush.
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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.
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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.

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# 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.
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# 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.
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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...
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THE BLOGOSPHERE MAKING FRIENDS? Jay Rosen thinks so. (Hat tip: TMV)
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# 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.
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