Tuesday, April 26, 2005

# Posted 7:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

TO TAKE BETTER CARE OF OUR READERS, and after cursory reading of our e-mail, OxBlog has opened up a mental health hotline. Click here for detailed instructions on how to call.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSINESS WEEK: Not a publication I usually read, but this week's cover story is about blogs. And there isn't even a photo on the cover page. Just the word "Blogs" in huge red letters followed by the words "...will change your business" and a sentence or two about the story.

It's a pretty good report, although it doesn't come close to living up to the hype created by the cover. I wasn't really persuaded that blogs have, or will, change that many businesses. There are a couple of examples of businesses who make good use of the technology, but it's not as if every Fortune 500 company is about to rush out looking for a Chief Execublogging Officer.

Still, there are 9 million blogs out there. Now, more than a quarter of internet users read blogs. Two years ago, there were only 100,000 blogs. And OxBlog is three years old. Too weird.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POPE VS. EMPEROR: Is Benedict XVI actually the Dark Lord of the Sith? You decide. (No indignant responses please. This is just meant to be funny.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TERRORIST ON THE LOOSE: If Charles Taylor is friends with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and has a well-deserved reputation for committing unspeakable atrocities, why isn't our government trying to stop him?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TV IS GOOD FOR YOU! Still more good stuff in this week's NYT Magazine. According to a forthcoming book by Steven Johnson, the growing complexity of what we watch on television means that sitting on the couch should count as an educational activity. As Johnson incisively writes,

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want.

As always, OxBlog is on the lookout for evidence that the average American is far more sophisticated than the experts want to admit. (Note to social scientists: OxBlog is also on the lookout for evidence that contradicts its hypothesis.)

Anyhow, although Johnson makes lots of good points, I'm going to reserve judgment about his overall hypothesis until I see the book. But here's an anecdote that may spark your interest. According to Johnson, the 1980s cop drama "Hill Street Blues" ushered in the modern age of television:
Before ''Hill Street,'' the conventional wisdom among television execs was that audiences wouldn't be comfortable following more than three plots in a single episode, and indeed, the ''Hill Street'' pilot, which was shown in January 1981, brought complaints from viewers that the show was too complicated. Fast-forward two decades, and shows like ''The Sopranos'' engage their audiences with narratives that make ''Hill Street'' look like ''Three's Company.'' Audiences happily embrace that complexity because they've been trained by two decades of multi-threaded dramas.
"Hill Street" rung a bell because I have vague childhood memories of my parents getting very excited about that show. Since I happened to be sitting on my parents' couch while reading Johnson's article, I rushed into their room to ask them what they remembered about "Hill Street Blues". From under the covers, my groggy father issued an animated denunication of "Hill Street" for having too many sub-plots that made its storylinesimpossible to follow.

I was dumbstruck. I assumed my father was pulling my leg. I asked him three times if he had already read the article by Steven Johnson in the NYT Magazine. He adamantly denied it.

So, you may be thinking, is Adesnik trying to tell us that his father is some sort of paleolithic neanderthal who can't appreciate good television? (After all, the man is from the Bronx and puts ketchup on his steak, sometimes even in restaurants.) The answer: No, of course not. Complexity is never something that has prevented my father from taking an interest. After all, it's pretty hard to get a Ph.D. in biophysics from MIT if you don't deal well with complexity.

So what's going on here? I think the answer is conditioning. My father grew up in the days of simpler television. That's the kind of entertainment he's used to. I grew up in the age of The Simpsons and therefore revel in the contorted plot twists and obscure cultural references of such shows.

In closing, I'll leave with you one more sharp observation from Johnson's article:
There's money to be made by making culture smarter. The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing.
That's so true. I can watch the same episode of The Simpsons again and again and again. I even own a book that summarizes the plots and pulls out the best laugh lines from every episode in Seasons One through Eight. I figure, TV must be getting smarter if you can enjoy reading books about it.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IF YOU LOVED MONEYBALL, then don't miss Michael Lewis' cover story in this week's NYT Magazine. Once again, Lewis shows how our national pasttime has become the prisoner of irrational obsessions that ruin the careers of talented young players.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, April 24, 2005

# Posted 10:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

GEEK CORNER:* The internet telephony company Skype has announced a new service, SkypeIn, whereby customers can have a telephone number assigned to their computer at which to receive calls, for €10 / $13 for three months and for €30 / $39 for a year. There's also a voice mail feature. Telephone numbers are available for the United States and Britain and for Hong Kong, France, and Scandinavia as well. So wow, now there's never any reason to put your computer down.

* If by mistake you were looking for 'Greek corner', we kindly redirect you either to Greek Philosophy at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy or to www.EligibleGreeks.com. If on the other hand you look up EligibleGeeks.com, you'll be promised that it's coming soon. Which will come as a welcome relief to all those beautiful geekophilic women who haven't yet discovered bloggers.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

AS PART OF HUGH HEWITT'S READER GEOGRAPHICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMME, he's posted up a list of state mottos as they should read.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHAG SAMEACH to all of our Jewish readers and friends! Here at OxBlog central studios (where as the Irish Catholic OxBlogger I've been pigging out on all the OxChametz - it's like the reverse Atkins...), we've been chuckling all week over rapper Fifty Cents's rendition of the plagues, courtesy of the fine latter day Yiddish humour factory that is ShaBot6000. And nowadays you don't even have to leave the city for the Catskills!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, April 23, 2005

# Posted 8:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

GOODNESS GRACIOUS, IT'S OUR BLOGIVERSARY! HOW'D THAT HAPPEN? Thanks galore to all of our readers and friends who keep us, er, in business. Three more years! Three more years!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, MANDARIN STYLE: OxBlog's neat site of the day today is the Internet Chinese music archive, a portion of the free internet library iBiblio, which features hours of classical, folk, and pop music from China, and together with several hundred of the disposable chopsticks and bagged fortune cookies (some suggested starters: 'the special sauce come from floor,' 'everyone meal today on you' and 'your dog no longer missing') is really all you need to start up your own Chinese takeout restaurant. Enjoy!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, April 22, 2005

# Posted 10:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PILGRIMAGE TO BOROUGH PARK: Is it appropriate to deliver a eulogy in the blogosphere? When my uncle -- my mother's elder brother -- passed away two weeks ago, I wanted thousands and thousands of people, as many as humanly possible, to know what a wonderful human being he was. My uncle had shown so much kindness to me and to so many others for so many years. This much I owed him.

But I decided that delivering a eulogy online was not the right thing to do. Although I have written back and forth to hundreds of you during my time on OxBlog, the blogosphere is still too much of an anonymous place for emotional intimacy and vulenerability.

I do not believe that bloggers, like foreign correspondents, should separate their personal lives from their writing with a thick red line. But some things must remain private, and this was one of them.

I did speak about my uncle at his funeral. Even then, it was uncomfortable talking about so personal a relationship before an audience of many hundreds. Many of those in attendance I did not know. But everyone there was someone whose life had been touched by my uncle. That much we shared.

Instead of recounting what I said at the funeral, I would like to tell a brief story about my uncle. This story is not so much a memorial as it is a source of consolation, primarily for myself.

For more than twenty years, my father and my uncle had made a special trip to Borough Park, in Brooklyn, during the final days before Passover. Borough Park is where my uncle and my mother grew up. Although kosher-for-Passover foods are now more widely avaiable, they used to be much harder to find except in places like Borough Park. So every year, my uncle would drive my father (a non-driver) out to Borough Park in order to shop for the holiday. And every year they would visit Semel's, the same small grocery store at which my grandfather shopped for Passover while he was still alive.

This year, I drove my father to Borough Park in my uncle's car. When I was in high school, my uncle taught me how to drive. When I was growing up, I always knew that he would be the one to teach me how to drive. And now, in this small way, I began to emulate my uncle, whose life of kindness is an example by which I will always be inspired.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

PHOTOBLOGGING AFGHANISTAN: So this morning we have several snapshots of daily life from our illustrious and famed Afghan correspondent, who remains anonymous as a way of avoiding the large number of teenage girls who would otherwise be emailing him their underwear. (Note I, however, as a young bachelor writer can generally use clean underwear. Please email it to me instead at underwear_appeal@patrickbelton.com.)

Rocket propelled grenades. And, um, chai.

Poppies, the reason we're here. I mean, not that way.

Which isn't to say they aren't often quite photogenic. (Even more so if you're on heroin.)

One of the district governor’s imposing security guys. Don't mess with him or he might just kick your tuckuss at backgammon.

(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, April 21, 2005

# Posted 1:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUT WILL HE BLOG? Our network of far-flung observers (see, we're flinging them even as we speak) report that Benedict XVI now has an email address, benedettoxvi@vatican.va, or if you're like the BBC's conclave team and can't speak a word of Italian, benedictxvi@vatican.va. Can we assume the Popemoblog is next?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

# Posted 8:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

COOL INTERNATIONAL-THEMED WEBSITE OF THE DAY: Both for writing and for prank calling Josh and David, I frequently need to think about time zones before I pick up the phone. No more (now I just prank call them all hours of the night!) - now there's a worldtimezone.com website with a map of the world and the current times within each time zone displayed. All with a certain Tron aesthetic unlikely to be otherwise familiar to, say, our undergraduate readers.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

EASE ON DOWN THE ROAD: In the department of funny road trips, in summer of 2006 I’m planning to celebrate long-overdue completion of my D.Phil. and a numerologically significant birthday by driving the Silk Road together with a dear friend, and we’ll be writing a book together about the people (and changing polities) we meet along the way. Our good friend, Crescat’s Amanda Butler, heard about this and immediately sent me to Mongol Rally, one of the world's zanier road races which I think promptly needs to be shared with our readers:
The mother of all adventures, the Mongol Rally is an 8000 mile dash across 1/4 of the earth's surface in cars that most people consider underpowered for doing the shopping. We have no entourage of support vehicles, there is no carefully marked course, there are no professional drivers, fast cars, or even good cars. It's just you, your shite-mobile and thousands of miles of adventure. … The Mongol rally is a charity event that raises money for an awesome charity with a slightly ridiculous name 'Send a Cow'. (warning: page makes unexpected agricultural noises at you occasionally if you go to it)

Any car that has more than 1000cl of go is strictly forbidden as over-powered, and considered a risk to your ability to have fun. (See their Hall of Crapness for more on the 'Crap Car Rule')
And then from the FAQ section:
Is it safe?
No, not completely

What lovely tropical diseases can I collect?
This is NOT a comprehensive list so for real information contact your local travel clinic who can also tell what to do about minimising the risk, but here's a guide:

Meningacoccal meningitis
The plague

Do I need to be able to speak Russian?
What is very useful is if you have some idea of the Cyrillic alphabet. The road signs, if there are any, will not correspond very well with your maps if you don't.
There are also photographs and diaries of last year's Mongol Rally.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLEGGING FOR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS ON PALESTINIAN POLITICS: Our frequent readers know of our interest in Palestinian democracy, and in Mahmoud Abbas's prime ministership in particular. So, I'm currently open to the idea of spending part of this summer in Ramallah to write a series of articles on Palestinian politics in the era of Abu Mazen. As a result I've been looking to read, and review here, some of the better journalistic and academic works that have been written on Palestinian politics. And so I thought I might ask for suggestions from our readers with backgrounds in that direction, as well as list the books and articles currently topping my list to read and review on OxBlog. I'll very happily share results here.

Here's what I've amassed so far, and I'll cheerfully add to this list as our readers make suggestions:

Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian People: A History (Harvard University Press, 2003).

Mushtaq Khan (ed.), State Formation in Palestine: Establishing Good Governance and Democracy Through Social Transformation  (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004).

Nathan J. Brown, Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords: Resuming Arab Palestine (University of California Press, 2003).

Barry Rubin, Revolution Until Victory?: Politics and History of the PLO (Harvard University Press, 1994).

Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

Yezid Sayigh and Khalil Shikaki, Strengthening Palestinian Public Institutions (Council on Foreign Relations, June 28, 1999).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

# Posted 12:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

HABEMUS PAPAM: The smoke billowed white. BBC's website has free online live coverage from the Vatican.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has a review of the coverage of Benedict XVI. Personally I was hoping for a cuddly Italian liberal. But a conservative German with the nickname 'the enforcer' was probably my second choice.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

VIRTUAL POPE BLOGGING: The BBC, rising to the high level of Sistine Chapel aesthetics in the finest tradition of the Elizabethan Settlement, establishes a Vaticam. Meanwhile, closer to home and in a bonafide Catholic country, Paddy Power has set up www.popebetting.com. The latest odds?
Francis Arinze (Nigeria) 7/2
Joseph Ratzinger (Germany) 11/2
Cláudio Hummes (Brazil) 7/1
Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy) 7/1
Jean-Marie Lustiger (France) 8/1
Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras) 9/1
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Italy) who sounds like he would give great parties at the Vatican... 10/1
Yer man also has bios and assessments of the most papabili of the papabili. Personally, I like the former archbishop of Milan and the current archbishop of Venice.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

VIRTUAL PARIS BLOGGING: A few of this blog’s dear friends were headed to Paris several days ago. So, as part of a day's work in OxBlog's world-renowned reader services department, we made up for them an itinerary around some of our favourite bistros, cafes, and creperies on the Left Bank. In the interests of equanimity, our other readers are now most welcome to use it to daydream, preferably to the accompaniment of Ella Fitzgerald singing April in Paris.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

# Posted 3:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM OUR DASHING, LONG-LOST AFGHANISTAN CORRESPONDENT: 'We love you, Afghan correspondent' - a reader and real live teenage girl. I've been back in Afghanistan for the last five months -- deep in southern Afghanistan, actually, administering a mass employment program to keep the bottom from dropping out of the local farm economy when the poppy eradicators arrive. Due to the sensitivities of my job, I haven't been able to send regular updates, and I'm not going to enter into any great detail now. But here are some comments to accompany the few photos that I'm sending to Patrick. (and that he'll post up soon, he promises - ed.)

These months have introduced me to the Pashtun heartland of the country -- the irrigated desert and mountain areas that initially welcomed the Taliban with open arms, and are now divided on whether to welcome the new government of Karzai. It's a country where young women flinch from your eyes and young men swear they would die for you; where old men roll out their prayer rugs in a field of (religiously prohibited) opium poppy; where the warlords and local drug barons fence cautiously with the new powers of the Afghan National Army and the international occupying forces; where some farmers thrive on grand irrigation systems built by America in the fifties, and others lower themselves fifty meters into the earth, carving two-foot-wide tunnels by candlelight in order to get enough water for bare subsistence agriculture many kilometers away. Working here has been intense, and inspiring, and thought-provoking.

It's hard at times to pierce the superficial hospitality and get to what people really believe and feel about the new order. I've been working in districts that neighbor on Mullah Omar's hometown. During the mujahidin era, they produced fratricidal, drug-trafficking, arch-conservative commanders (one of whose sons is now a major provincial governor). During the Taliban era, they produced conscripts and recruits for the new movement -- first for the campaign to restore order to the Pashtun south, then to conquer the corrupt and fractious north (as it's seen down here). But now war-weariness and the desire for calm seems as prevalent here as anywhere. When I talk to villagers, they mention how glad they are that pseudo-official bands of armed men are no longer able to stop cars on the road or roam the countryside, extorting at will. The UN-led disarmament program has had a noticeable impact even in these areas. Guns still abound, crime is common, and the police in most places are barely-domesticated militias who (in the memorably awful words of a colleague) "haven't quite lost their habit of sitting around, smoking lots of hashish and raping little boys." But for all that, the power of the gunmen and the chaos of the war years have diminished greatly, and people believe they will continue to diminish.

This bears emphasis, in contrast to the unwarranted hysteria of some of the commentary I read on Afghanistan ("an electoral-narco-gulag-permanent-base dependency," passim). Many people still don't understand just how bad things were in Afghanistan, or how hard it is to find the traction to begin rebuilding a country from such a low base. Look at the stats on
where Afghanistan is now (poverty, infant mortality, kidnappings, repression of women, impunity for murderers), and of course it's appalling, of course it's a dependency -- four years ago it was a textbook failed state. Look at the trajectory of the place, and there's reason for much hope.

News reports claiming that the US has set up a network of secret and lawless prisons in Afghanistan are dreadful, if accurate. But these prisons do not impinge on the average Afghan, and my firm impression is that (as with the initial arrival of the Taliban) the great majority of people in this country would bear with considerably more human rights violations if they thought peace would result. The Bush administration's contempt for the Geneva Conventions should be a source of shame to Americans everywhere, but it does not endanger the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the prospect of permanent US bases in the country is greeted with tremendous relief by most Afghans I talk to, whose primary fear at the moment is that America "will abandon us again as they did in the 1990s." And the international military presence throughout the country is becoming ever more international, as US Provincial Reconstruction Teams retire and are replaced by Canadians, Italians, Brits. The securing and rebuilding of Afghanistan is not the simple act of American empire perceived by many critics.

The canard that Hamid Karzai is "only the mayor of Kabul" also grows less supportable by the month. The great majority of provincial governors, including many warlords and clients of warlords, have been replaced this year by Karzai's order. I have personally seen the anxiety in the eyes of governors and district heads at the prospect of the "mayor of Kabul" finding out that their poppy eradication efforts have been inadequate. I've seen the impact when the governor and two of his major local rivals are "DDRed" (the UN's disarmament program has become a common Afghan verb), losing power vis-a-vis the center. The most notorious major commanders, Ismael Khan, Mohammad Fahim, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, remain powerful men, but all are clearly following Karzai's lead, not vice versa. A mere year ago this outcome would have been considered wildly improbable.

Karzai's main electoral opponent from last year, Yunus Qanuni, has formed a "loyal opposition" party to contest the parliamentary elections. These will doubtless be messy and noisy, and probably attended by serious Taliban attempts at disruption -- the insurgents know how much credibility they lost when the presidential elections went off without a hitch. But given the continuing marginalization of the Pushtun insurgents, the steady trickle of Taliban commanders "coming in from the cold," and the non-violent tenor of political competition between factions over the last few months, I think the parliamentary elections are likely to be, on the whole, another small success.

Finally, on the issue of the narco-economy: it's cause for concern, but not panic. In five years, if the best efforts of the international donor community haven't provided real alternatives (crops and credit) to the opium economy, then it'll be time to make comparisons between Afghanistan and Colombia. For now, of course the farmers are planting poppy -- their land has been degraded, their roads and other infrastructure devastated. They need a crop that gets maximum profit per acre and doesn't perish en route from farm to market. They also need credit; a loan up front from poppy traders is a major incentive to get into the cultivation business. We can provide these things. I've found farmers to be generally interested if skeptical when presented with alternative crops, and very interested in alternative sources of income and credit to keep them out of the traffickers' debt in the first place.

Poppy cultivation is going to drop this year, though after last year's bumper crop, that's not saying much. The US and Afghan government eradication efforts have targeted the provinces that cultivated the most opium last year. In the two most populous of these provinces (southern Helmand and eastern Nangarhar) this has had a major impact. The governors and local authorities in Helmand and Nangarhar have reduced overt opium cultivation by at least 60% (though in remote valleys and inside walled compounds, large poppy fields persist). This will likely mean an increase in districts with weaker government control (Orozgan and Ghor in central-southern Afghanistan, Paktika, Khost, and Kunar in the east), but overall there will be less poppy cultivation this year. Can this be sustained next year without social unrest? That'll depend on the state of the Afghan economy, and whether people believe there are alternatives.

None of this is victory, and it's far too early for triumphalism. But enthusiasm, continued commitment, and some degree of optimism -- these are I think proper attitudes when considering the situation in Afghanistan.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, April 11, 2005

# Posted 3:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOTICE: There has recently been a death in our family. I will be spending the coming week in New York in order to observe the traditional period of mourning with my parents and relatives.

At the moments when I need a distraction from the weight of mourning, I may find myself online and blogging, because it is something that I enjoy and that takes me away from my surroundings.

For the moment, I would simply like to observe just how enervating it is to travel a long distance for a funeral. I have always experienced travel as a moment of excitement, of looking forward to a different and better future. It is that expectation of discovery which makes the effort of travel often seem effortless.

But last night and tonight, I have invested so much effort in order to come home and confront a great loss that came long before its time. Instead of discovery, there is emptiness.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, April 08, 2005

# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RESTAURANT REVIEW -- McDONALD'S: Enough of this highfalutin talk about Bobos and documentaries and cultural analysis. Let's talk about what really matters: the food.

Yesterday, in Terminal Seven of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, I became a patron of McDonald's. Why? Because in Terminal Seven there is no Burger King or Wendy's. There is a nice deli, but who wants to pay $6.59 (before tax) for a tuna fish sandwich?

Actually, I didn't save all that much by going to Mickey D's because I decided to order one of their Premium Salads. To be specific, I ordered the California Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken, which cost $5.09 before tax. I must admit that I have been especially curious about McDonald's' selection of salads, since director/guinea pig Morgan Spurlock eats salad at least twice during Super Size Me.

If Spurlock really wanted to know whether there is nutritous food available at McDonald's, why does he pay so little attention to the salads? One possible answer is that very few people actually order salads when they go to McDonald's. But according to Spurlock's own rules, he was allowed to order whatever he wanted provided that he tasted each item on the menu at least once during his 30 day experiment.

So, is a McDonald's salad nutritous? As Spurlock mentions in his film, nutritional information about all items sold at Mickey D's is available on the McDonald's website. Conveniently for bloggers, there are even permalinks to the webpage for each item. So, for example, my salad had 270 calories, approximately 100 of which were from fat. The low fat vinaigrette added another 40 calories, plus 60 for the croutons for a total of 370 calories.

I also ordered a medium fries (350 cal.) and Diet Coke (0 cal.), which brought my grand total up to 720 calories for lunch. Not bad. Not exactly the way to lose weight if you're on a diet, but otherwise reasonable.

On film, Spurlock mentions in passing that he ate approximately 5000 calories per day during his 30 days of McDonald's. Which forces me to ask one very simple question: What the f***, dude? Were you trying to ruin your health?

Naturally, I'm not the first one to point out that Spurlock's supposedly scientific investigation was designed to produce sensational results. Vic Matus had a good article about the film in the Weekly Standard and Tech Central Station has a whole site devoted to the Super Size Con.

So what can I add to all of this widely available information? An opinion, I guess. While you certainly can order a salad at McDonald's, the question still remains: would you want to? My answer is a qualified 'yes'.

The lettuce is reasonably fresh. The grilled chicken is edibly tender. The servings of bleu cheese, diced eggs and other Cobb salad ingredients are stingy at best, but what do you expect for five bucks?

Actually, if you happen to live near a Harris Teeter, you can get a pretty damn good Cobb salad for five bucks. In the shopping center where I usually go for lunch when I'm at my office, there happens to be a Harris Teeter within 200 yards of the McDonald's, so don't expect me to head back to Mickey D's for a Cobb salad anytime soon. But if you're stuck at an airport and want something that is affordable but isn't too greasy, you won't have any regrets about ordering a "Premium" Salad.

Alternately, if for some bizarre reason you decide to eat three meals a day at McDonald's for an entire month, you can probably stick to the salads and not wind up any fatter than you were before.

UPDATE: If this post was too un-highfalutin for you, check out Jake Young's post about McDonald's, Bobos and the Protestant ethic.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

# Posted 2:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER CAPPUCINO CONSERVATIVE: Dan Drezner blogs about the virtues of expensive chocolate.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE EXPERTS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT: I dare you not to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink. There isn't a boring page in the whole book. Which is why you will soon finding yourself reciting Gladwellian anecdotes to all of your friends and neighbors.

But the big question every reviewer seems to ask is "So what?" Gladwell presents himself as much more than a storyteller. He presents himself as a humble conduit for the great but unknown truths of modern science. By presenting himself as the messenger instead of the Word, Gladwell deflects attention from himself and from his role in the (mis)interpretation of the stories he has told.

Blink is about the power of cultivated intuition. That adjective is extremely important, and some of those who have reviewed the book seem to have overlooked its significance. Right up front, Gladwell grabs your attention by arguing that
We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it. When doctors are faced with a difficult diagnosis, they order more tests, and when we are uncertain about what we hear, we ask for a second opinion. And what do we tell our children? Haste makes waste. Look before you leap. Stop and think. Don't judge a book by its cover. We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible. (Pages 13-14)
The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be very bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.(Page 14)
The second task of Blink is to ask why intuitive judgments are sometimes so tragically wrong, as in the case of the four New York cops who pumped 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo because they thought his wallet was a gun. In other words, decisions made very quickly can be far, far worse than those made cautiously and deliberately. Which is why:
The third and most important task of this book is to convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled...The power of knowing, in that first two seconds, is not a gift magically given to a fortunate few. It is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves. (Pages 15-16)
Actually, the evidence in Gladwell's book suggests something slightly different. It suggests that highly-educated experts are capable of making very good snap judgments about questions that concern their particular area of expertise.

For example, the Getty Museum in California conducted extensive research in order to determine whether a $10 million statue it wanted to buy was an ancient Greek original or a later-vintage imitation. Yet before committing to buy, the Museum asked a number of experts to take a look at the statue. Almost all of them instantly declared that it was a fake, even though they couldn't explain why they felt that way...at first. Ultimately, they were able to provide evidence to back up their point.

In contrast, average human beings often make bad snap judgments when high-pressure, high-adrenaline situations cloud their judgment. When you throw racism and other cognitive biases into the mix, the results can be explosive, a la Amadou Diallo.

Which makes you wonder, shouldn't the title of this book be Blink (Sometimes)? As David Brooks pointed out in his review of the book,
Though Gladwell describes several ways intuition can lead people astray, he doesn't really dwell on how often that happens. But I've learned from other books, notably David G. Myers's more methodical but less entertaining ''Intuition,'' that there is a great body of data suggesting that formal statistical analysis is a much, much better way of predicting everything from the outcome of a football game to the course of liver disease than the intuition even of experts.
Brooks is definitely right about Gladwell ignoring a lot of evidence that points to the shortcomings of intuition. But I think Gladwell does have a partial, albeit implicit answer to the question of how often snap judgments are well-made. The answer is "When experts make them."

I can only think of one example in Blink of how expers' intuition can lead them completely astray. As Gladwell relates, female musicians used to have an extremely hard time getting chosen to play for prestigious orchestras. That is, until concerns about sexism led to the innovative idea that during auditions, there should be a screen between the performer and the judges that prevents the latter from knowing whether the former is a man or a woman.

Before the screens went up, the judges always provided aesthetic justifications for their decision to reject female candidates. They insisted that the performances of female candidates were objectively inferior. And they probably believed it. But they were wrong.

In addition to sexism, Gladwell identifies racism as one of the cognitive biases most often responsible for making bad snap judgments. He also identifies physical attractiveness and height as factors that can lead us astray. What these four things have in common is that all of them are basically visual attributes. Moreover, they are all preferences which everyone now condemns as superficial (e.g. looks and height) or morally reprehensible (e.g. racism and sexism).

In other words, Gladwell seems to be telling us that it is easy to make good snap judgments if we are good human beings who don't give in to prejudices that we already know are bad. While no one would recommend giving in to prejudices that we already know are bad, Gladwell seems unable to recognize just how many other sorts of prejudices there are that may lead us astray.

The book I read immediately before Blink was Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Moneyball is a story about how statistical analysis is so much better than intuition that the Oakland A's were able to win 90+ ballgames four years in a row even though they spent only a fraction of what their rivals did on recruiting talented players.

(Coincidentally, David Brooks also talks about Moneyball in his review of Blink. Spooky, no?)

Part of the story about the Oakland A's is that their general manager, Billy Beane relied on an unusual set of statistics to decide whether or not a player was talented. Far more importantly, Beane discovered that other managers didn't notice which players had talent because, over course of decades, baseball had developed a culture that considered certain players to be defective even though they were good at getting on base and winning ballgames.

In short, baseball culture is full of prejudices. According to Lewis, major league scouts are always looking for young players who seem athletic. To some degree, these scouts bought into the myth of good looks that Gladwell describes. Yet they also focused on seemingly objective indicators of talent, such as how fast a player could run around a baseball diamond.

Speed isn't bad thing, but Beane discovered via statistical analysis that the added value of having a fast runner on your team isn't very high at all. However, there is nothing superficial or immoral about having a preference for speed, especially if you are a baseball coach. Thus, a preference for speed is precisely the sort of cognitive bias that Gladwell can't warn us about.

What my intuition tells me is that is almost every field of expertise has the same sort of prejudices as those of major league baseball. Especially politics.

To be continued...
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, April 04, 2005

# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY OXBLOG IS SO CIVILIZED: Have a look at my mother's letter-to-the-editor in Saturday's New York Times. (It's the first of three on the page.) Now multiply that by 18 years and you'll get a better sense of who I am.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN PAUL II, IN MEMORIAM: The president said it well: "The world has lost a champion of human freedom." Even so, John Paul deserves many more kind words. Yet at the moment I am hoping to organize my words of praise into publishable form, so please forgive the laconic nature of this post and expect something more polished in the coming days.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOBOS IN PARADISE HELL: One shouldn't take for granted the upbeat and neighborly tone of David Brooks' socio-comic treatise. Brooks suggests that Bobos are inherently moderate, friendly and willing to compromise. But there is a dark side to the Bobo lifestyle and I became aware of it last night.

Last night, I began to watch Super Size Me, the highly-acclaimed documentary about a director who put himself on a strict, McDonald's-only diet for thirty days. The politics of the film are pretty boring. If you've seen one anti-corporate polemic, you've seen them all. As we all know, corporations brainwash us with slick advertising and spend millions on lobbyists in order to prevent the government from actually representing the voters who put it in office.

What kept me interested was the culture. Super Size Me is the perfect expression of the Bobos' unmitigated condescencions towardAmerica's primitive middle-class or, if you will, lumpenbuergertum. Although the film holds McDonald's responsible for the atrocious eating habits of its very satisfied customers, there is a powerful subcurrent of horror at the ignorance of those who subject themselves to this sort of nutritional abuse.

Although the film never says so explicitly, it has a very rigid, albeit unspoken class structure. The lower class consists of those who love McDonald's, dozens of whom are interviewed by Spurlock, usually in one of our glorious nation's many McDonald's franchsies. The upper class consists of the physicians, nutrionists, scholars and legal experts who practically beg Spurlock not to force himself to eat all that junk food.

According to the pop-psychological theory on which Spurlock bases his argument, manipulative advertising has the ability to instill vulnerable children with unbreakable, lifelong habits of consumption. Yet somehow, all of the educated individuals who advise Spurlock have cleansed themselves of the destructive messages to which they were exposed as children. Although Spurlock never explains exactly how this is possible, the implicit message is clear: educated people simply know better.

While the average American may think that he really enjoys eating at McDonald's, he actually is suffering from what scholars refer to as 'false consciousness'. Early on, Spurlock seems to enjoy some of what he is eating. But after a while, his only reaction is to mock both its appearance as well as its taste. In other words, well-informed people find McDonalds to be self-evidently disgusting.

I have to admit, I find this argument somewhat persuasive, since I also find much of what's for sale at McDonald's to be self-evidently disgusting. (On the other hand, Burger King and Wendy's cook food that I can really enjoy.) However, I don't hold it against anyone that they like McDonald's. In fact, it is perfectly sensible to say that eating at McDonalds is an enjoyable activity in spite of being bad for one's health.

This sort of trade-off between short-term pleasure and long-term welfare is not irrational. It is necessary for living a good life. And it helps explain why people do things like smoke, have extra-marital affairs and vote for Howard Dean. Yet instead of acknowledging that such a rational trade-off is taking place, Spurlock & Co. are genuinely disgusted by the thought of liking McDonalds. Rather, they live in a world where basic choices about personal consumption must reflect profound ethical commitments.

This is classic Bobo thinking. One might even say that it is Bobo religion. Everything must be organic. Instead of instant coffee, there is cappucino made from fair-trade Colombian beans. Instead of low-priced mega-stores, over-priced boutiques. Instead of SUVs, gas-electric hybrids. (NB: Brooks identifies the SUV as the ultimate Bobo vehicle because of its pseudo-ruggedness, but I think he'd now agree that the smart set has come to regard SUV's as a guilty pleasure. Someday, it will loath them as it does McDonald's.)

What prevents the Bobos' condescension from exploding into utter loathing and contempt is the sense that America's primitive majority is not responsible for its crude and ignorant behavior. Instead of contempt, there is a certain pity. If you watch Super Size Me, I think you'll agree that Spurlock betrays a definite affection for all of the misguided McDonalds' lovers he interviews. He wants them to live better and healthier lives, but he would hate himself if he ever became like them.

The ignorant middle-class is the shameful Other that helps Bobos reinforce their identity. The Bobos' confidence in their own enlightment depends to a considerable extent on the availability of a pathetic, pitiful Other. While there may be much to admire about the Bobo lifestyle, it also has a divisive side that Brooks doesn't seem to acknowledge.

When a Bobo sees (on film, of course) a 200-pound woman ordering a Big Mac, large fries and 32 oz. soda, he or she says to himself, "There but for the grace of Harvard (or Swarthmore or Middlebury) go I."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, March 31, 2005

# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KYRGYZSTAN: Even the New York Times seems to think America had something to do with the uprising.

Plus, one of my Oxford classmates has an article about Kyrgyz democracy in TNR. He suggests that
Bush should become the first American president to visit Kyrgyzstan by stopping in Bishkek on his way to Moscow in May. (The president has already scheduled layovers in Latvia and Georgia, in part to recognize their progress toward democracy.)
Hear, hear.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE YEAR OF GOOD NEWS: Arthur Chrenkoff celebrates his blogiversary. I think Arthur's success demonstrates that in the blogosphere, the old guard is still more than willing to welcome new voices into its ranks.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A HEARTFELT RESPONSE: On Monday, I suggested that the WaPo's glowing profile of Sgt. Brett Parson demonstrated a surprising lack of interest in numerous complaints that Sgt. Parson has used excessive force in the line of duty. In response to that suggestion, I received the following response from Chris Grasso, Sgt. Parson's boyfriend (it is reprinted with Mr. Grasso's permission):
Oxblog writes:
But what are we supposed to think of someone who admits to a reporter from a nationally renowned paper that he pushes the limits of acceptable behavior? And what are supposed to think of a reporter who doesn't find that newsworthy?
The answer to the first question: think what you'd like. Newspapers report facts, which they did here; if you decide on the balance of the facts reported by the Post, both positive and negative, that Sgt. Parson is a bad guy, that is your conclusion to draw. The statement that the reporter didn't deem this issue newsworthy is patently false. The reporter explicitly deemed the fact newsworthy: she put it in her story. Oxblog wouldn't have even known of the fact if she hadn't. The reporter gave readers the information they needed to draw their own conclusions. Did she spend the exact amount of column inches on the issue as you would have if you'd been the reporter? Perhaps not; that is the judgment every writer and editor has to make when putting together a piece. But she drew no conclusions herself; she gave the assessment of the chief of police, not her own. If you "presume" the behavior in question is okay, that's your presumption, by definition, not the Post's.

I'm Parson's boyfriend, so I'm obviously biased in his favor. But the fact that a reader of the piece could disagree shows that the reporter did her job.
I wrote Mr. Grasso the following message in response:
Dear Chris,

Thanks for writing. Your name rang a bell but I just couldn't place it until you mentioned you were Sgt. Parson's boyfriend. First of all, let me point you to my statement that "the [WaPo] article will convince you that Sgt. Parson is an extremely talented public servant who [has] done tremendous things for the citizens of our nation's capital."

I stand by that 100%. I don't want to leave the impression that I was trying to reduce Sgt. Parson to a two-dimensional caricature.

With regards to the issue of excessive force, first, let me offer to print your message in its entirely on OxBlog. Normally, I presume that all messages sent to the editor are on the record. However, since you have a personal connection to this article, I didn't not want to assume that you were speaking to the general public.

With regards to being "newsworthy", perhaps my choice of words in that final sentence was poor. Let me point you to my the sentence from my post where I ask, "What happened to journalists looking for both sides of the story[?]" If Ms. Hull didn't look for the other side of the story, then she did not provide readers with the information we need to draw our own conclusions. Reporting what is on the public record in Sgt. Parson's file is simply not enough. If Ms. Hull didn't think that the numerous complaints in that file merited further, independent, investigation on her part, then she didn't treat the issue of excessive use of force as SUFFICIENTLY newsworthy.

I find that judgement extremely questionable in light of the extensive efforts that journalists generally make to ensure that the alleged victims of police brutality have as great an opportunity as possible to share their views. In other words, I am saying that there is a double standard. Why does such a double standard exist? I can only respond with speculation. Perhaps Ms. Hull was so enamored by all of the good work that Sgt. Parson does that she gave him an easy pass on the use of force issue. Or perhaps Sgt. Parson represents a political agenda to which Ms. Hull subscribes and therefore she was less inclined to emphasize his shortcomings.

Once again, I appreciate your taking the time to write in with your thoughts on my work.

Mr. Grasso sent a brief reply to this message and I sent an even briefer one back. I will spare you the details since I believe that we have both elaborated our arguments to the point where one can evaluate their merits.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MAGNIFICENCE OF THE LIBERAL HAWK IMAGINATION: I don't like the term 'liberal hawk', but the individuals to which it refers happen to share almost all of my ideas about my American foreign policy. So therefore, I have no choice but to praise Noam Scheiber's hope that the Democratic party will wake up to the importance of democracy promotion. Noam argues that
By embracing a robust democratization agenda, the Democratic nominee in 2008 will be able to appeal to his [her? --ed.] base while also claiming the new, pro-democratization center. The Republican nominee, who has to win the nomination of a party at best indifferent to democratization, will enjoy no such luxury.
The premise of this argument, of course, is that the Democratic base cares about democracy promotion. Rather than respond to this premise in detail, I refer you to Reihan Salam, who shares both Noam's hope and OxBlog's doubts. One amazing fact Reihan cited was that
When asked
“Should the United States try to change a dictatorship to a democracy where it can, or should the United States stay out of other countries' affairs?”
in a CBS/NYT poll (2/24-28/05), 51 percent of Republicans said we should “try to change.” The number for Democrats? It was 13 percent.
Wow. Let me say that again: Wow. I've got to track down that poll and double-check the results. Although I tend to agree with Noam that "latte-sipping liberals" have a greater interest in global do-gooderism than most conservatives, I wonder if the latte-sipping set is any more in touch with the Democratic base than the neo-cons were with the Republican base circa 1999.

[NB: Even if I someday become more conservative than Pat Buchanan, I will never break off my love affair with latte. In other words, I would become a cappucino conservative.]

As Noam points out, much of the Democrats' current distaste for democracy promotion is simply the result of a partisan reflex that identifies the party as being against anything that Bush is for. But if the Democratic commitment to democracy promotion is that volatile, can it really become a focal point for the 2008 campaign?

Moreover, what if Bush becomes the author of a historic realignment in which the GOP becomes the party of democracy promotion? Reagan's soaring rhetoric inspired numerous Republicans to get serious about democracy promotion, even Democrats dismissed it as hypocritical.

Yet Reagan's inability to distance himself from right-wing dictatorships compromised his rhetoric in a devastating manner. I would speculate that the GOP's turn inward in the 1990s had a lot to do with the inconsistent and hesitant nature of Reagan's commitment to democracy promotion in practice.

In contrast to Reagan, Bush has a sterling record on the democracy front. One can always point to Musharraf or one of the Central Asian dictators as an example of Bush's hypocrisy. But Bush has no contras, no Salvadoran colonels and no Ferdinand Marcos. Abu Ghraib is minor by comparison. If Bush can facilitate the consolidation of democratic triumphs in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, his legacy will match his rhetoric.

What I hope, of course, is that the United States will have two parties committed democracy promotion. This is an interest and an ideal that transcends party lines. Or at least it should.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOW RETURN THE FAVOR: There was a time when the West imposed sanctions on South Africa because it was a racial dictatorship. The United States resisted at first, but it eventually went along with the effort, which helped transform the apartheid state into one of Africa's flagship democracies.

So why is Thabo Mbeki, who never could have become president of South Africa if not for an international commitment to democracy and justice, unable to criticize Robert Mugabe, the thug in charge of neighboring Zimbabwe? Now, Mbeki may turn out to be right that Thursday's parliamentary election in Zimbabwe will be relatively fair. But Mugabe will still be president regardless of the outcome, so Mbeki will have plenty of chances to show that doesn't just care about democracy when he is its beneficiary.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOAGLAND VS. ABDULLAH: The WaPo columnist wants to know why Bush is so nice to the dictator king from Amman who is working so hard to undermine everything America hopes to achieve in Iraq.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, March 28, 2005

# Posted 10:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHEN DOES THE MEDIA APPROVE OF POLICE BRUTALITY? When the perpetrator is a gay rights activist, of course. This morning, the WaPo profiled Sgt. Brett Parson, the head of the DCPD Gay and Lesbian Liasion Unit. I think the article will convince you that Sgt. Parson is an extremely talented public servant who done tremendous things for the citizens of our nation's capital. But this disturbed me:
Parson's file also shows he has been cautioned for being domineering and using excessive force. He freely admits to swatting a mouthy suspect on the back of the head or ratcheting the handcuffs a notch too tight. Parson is in the Early Warning Tracking System, a program that monitors officers with an excessive number of citizen complaints. "Guilty as charged," says Parson, who says aggressive policing brings complaints.

Unlike most sergeants in supervisory roles, he makes arrests, many not related to gays, such as catching a teenager on 14th Street NW one night with 36 bags of crack cocaine. Ramsey calls him "one of the best officers on the force, bar none."
And that's all we get to hear about accusations of Parson using excessive force. Should one presume that as long as an officer is open about ti, it is OK for him to swat "mouthy suspects"?

What happened to journalists looking for both sides of the story. It's not as if Anne Hull, the correspondent for the Post, didn't have time to look at the issue more closely. Her story starts on the front page and fills up two entire pages inside the paper, without advertisements. She clearly spent a lot of time working with Parson. Would it have been impossible to track down one of the "mouthy suspects" who might have been on the receiving end of one of those swats?

Now, I am generally of the opinion that police officers can't do their job with one hand tied behind their collective back. But what are we supposed to think of someone who admits to a reporter from a nationally renowned paper that he pushes the limits of acceptable behavior? And what are supposed to think of a reporter who doesn't find that newsworthy?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I DIDN'T EXPECT TO EMPATHIZE WITH BUSH, but his decision to file a lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-Car seems quite reasonable. In this post from Dwight Meredith (Hat tip: KD), you can find the stories of Bush and several other high-profile Republicans who are avid supporters of tort reform but haven't held back from filing lawsuits of their own. Dwight's main point is that
Perhaps lawsuit abuse would not [according to Republicans] be holding back our economy and costing us so many jobs if Republican politicians did not file so many of those suits they deplore.
But how can Dwight be so sure that the pols in question didn't really have a good reason to file suit? To be sure, some of the lawsuits seem bizarre, like the one in which Gov. Arnie demanded $37 million in damages from a car dealership for using his photo without permission. But here's what happened to Bush:
When one of his twin daughters was involved in a fender bender (in which no one was hurt), then Governor Bush filed a lawsuit to recover property damage to the car. I do not know which driver was at fault, but I found it interesting that Bush sued Enterprise Rental-A-Car.

His theory was that the other driver did not have a valid driver’s license and, therefore, that Enterprise should not have rented him a car. I leave it to you to decide if that is an example of looking for a deep pocket with only a tangential relationship to the damage. Bush collected a $2,500 settlement from Enterprise.
Damn right Bush should've sued Enterprise. It is ridiculously irresponsible to rent a car to someone who doesn't have a valid license. I should know -- I once tried to do that.

Last spring, when I was living in Boston, love was in the air. I had a date with a very beautiful young woman in Vermont. But I didn't want to take the bus up to see her. I wanted to drive. However, my driver's license had just expired and I couldn't get a quick renewal, because I no longer lived in DC, where the license was from.

Swept away by thoughts of romance, I decided to head over to the local Enterprise Rent-a-Car and hope they wouldn't notice my licensed had expired. But they did. And they explained politely but firmly that renting a car to someone without a valid license is absolutely unacceptable. I knew they were right, so I took the bus. Perhaps that why the girl broke up with me.

Anyhow, I've got to get the President's back on this one. Enterprise is lucky that it only had to pay $2500 after renting a car to someone who didn't have a license and managed to hit a car belonging to the governor's daughter.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, March 27, 2005

# Posted 3:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BROOKS! BROOKS! BROOKS! In case that last post wasn't enough for you, check out Brooks' thoughtful analysis of the Schiavo case as well as Matt Yglesias' thoughtful repsonse.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOBOS IN PARADISE, CONTINUED: Almost two weeks ago, I attempted to write my own review of David Brooks' zeitgeist classic, Bobos in Paradise, in honor of its fifth anniversary. I got halfway through what I wanted to write, but then got distracted. So, since I really like Bobos and really want to write about it, let me pick up right where I left off.

In the first half of my review, I observed that Bobos says almost nothing, until its final chapter, about the politics of the bourgeois bohemian class. Then, in that brief final chapter, Brooks suggests that Bobos are inherently moderate because Bobo culture itself represents an effort to reconcile liberal and conservative lifestyles.

With the benefit of hindsight, I have enough confidence to add Brooks to the list of those authors whose generalizations about American politics simply cannot withstand the fallout of an event like September 11th. Naturally, one can't hold Brooks responsible for failing to anticipate an event no one foresaw, but it is still important to point out that the political analysis of Bobos has become an artifact of the post-Cold War era, which came to an end on the morning of September 11th, 2001.

Five years ago, Brooks wrote that:
The politicians who succeed in this new era have blended the bohemian 1960s and the bourgeois 1980s and reconciled the bourgeois and bohemian value systems. These politicians do not engage in the old culture war rhetoric. They are not podium pounding "conviction politicians" of the sort that thrived during the age of confrontation. (Page 256)
More or less, the elected officials of today hold the same offices they did five years ago. And yet we now live once again in age of confronation where both the left and right have more than enough moral clarity to last a lifetime. Alongside the great divide over the war in Iraq, there is also far more talk about values and culture today than there was five years ago. This is clearly not what Brooks expected. He wrote that:
Whereas the old Protestant Establishment was largely conservative Republican, the new Bobo establishment tends to be centrist and independent...Indeed, in the Bobo age disputes within parites are more striking than conflict between parties...

The people of the left and right who long for radical and heroic politics are driven absolutely batty by tepid Bobo politics...Whether you are liberal or conservative, Bobo politicians adopt your rhetoric and your policy suggestions while somehow sucking all the radicalism out of them. (Pages 258-60)
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems the relevant question to ask is whether the moderates of yesterday have simply receded into the background while avowed partisans claim the spotlight, or whether the moderates of yesterday have become the avowed partisans of today because they once again have something to fight about.

I would argue in favor of the latter. Rather than losing its ideological edge, American politics simply went through a more moderate phase during a decade in which there were no great issues to fight about, except for the occasional blowjob. But the ideas were always there, embedded deeply in American culture, ready to reemerge once a new age of peril had begun.

According to Brooks, the essence of Bobo politics is an effort to rein in the excesses generated by the social liberation of the bohemian sixties and the economic liberation of the bourgeois eighties. Thus,
The two crucial words in the Bobo political project these days...are community and control. Across American society one sees effort after effort to restore social cohesion, reassert authority, and basically get a grip on the energies that have been unleashed over the past quarter century...

The main thrust of Bobo politics is the effort to restore the bonds of intimate authority. (Pages 261-64)
George W. Bush was still a candidate for President when Bobos went to press. In light of Bush's rhetorical style on the campaign trail, it is not surprising that Brooks described him as emblematic of the new Bobo consensus. Yet even if one disregards Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy, his agenda has been very un-Bobo. Bush's massive tax cuts and current drive to marketize Social Security are a return to the Reagan era, not a step beyond it. Thus, even if there never had been a War on Terror, it would be hard to defend the proposition that Bobo hegemony was assured.

But there has been a War on Terror, so we have to take that into account. At first, this new war didn't challenge the Bobo emphasis on community and control. But sometime during 2003, the War on Terror transformed itself into a global crusade for democracy. What we saw in Baghdad after its liberation from Saddam was anything but community and control.

And now we look at Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan and see struggles for liberation emerging all around us. Of course, David Brooks has had no reservation about celebrating these remarkable developments. And if you take a closer took at the final pages of Bobos, you can see exactly why. Brooks writes that
I don't want to close witha paean of praise for everything Bobo...In preferring politicians who are soggy synthesizers aand in withdrawing from great national and ideological disputes for the sake of local and community pragmatism, we may be losing touch with the soaring ideals and high ambitions that have always separated America from other nations...

It could have been something like that this that alarmed Tocqueville as he speculated about the future of America. "What worries me most," he wrote in Democracy in America, "is the danger that, amid all the constant trivial preoccupations of private life, ambition may lose both its force and its greatness"...

This is no longer a prediction for the future. Tocqueville's scenario has come to pass. These days most of us don't want to get too involved in national politics because it seems to partisan and ugly. (Pages 272-73)
And yet ironcally enough, now that national politics have become far more partisan and ugly than it was five years ago, Americans are voting in larger numbers than they have in decades, organizing massive protest marches, and donating more money than ever to political causes.

Although we don't usually think of partisanship and polarization as a good thing, perhaps Brooks' reminder that the good old days weren't so good will enable us to appreciate that the kind of politics we have right now are actually quite healthy for America.

Moreover, the direction taken by American foreign policy is almost exactly what Brooks hoped for. In Bobos, he suggested that the process of reinvigoration would entail
Picking up the obligations that fall to the world's lead nation: promoting democracy and human rights everywhere and exercising American might in a way that reflects American ideals. (Page 272)
Strangely enough, that sounds a lot more like what Al Gore was talking about five years ago rather than George W. Bush. Yet somehow, Bush managed to run for re-election by espousing the exact same ideals he once denigrated. The difference, of course, was 9/11. It changed the way that Americans see the world.

And I think the transformation of our president reflects a broader truth about American society that was obscured by the halcyon daze of the late 1990s. We have never lost touch with our ideals. We were just waiting for them to become relevant again.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APROPO OF THE PREVIOUS POST, check out the front pager in today's WaPo entitled "Business Sees Gain In GOP Takeover; Political Allies Push Corporate Agenda". Once again, this is anything but he said/she said journalism. Here's the opening graf:
Fortune 500 companies that invested millions of dollars in electing Republicans are emerging as the earliest beneficiaries of a government controlled by President Bush and the largest GOP House and Senate majority in a half century.
Like so many articles in the campaign finance genre, this one suggests that the GOP has been sold to the highest bidder, without ever asking whether large corporations give more to the GOP because it already shares their interests. By the same token, this article doesn't think to ask whether the Democrats were somehow bought by union or minority lobbies.

Now, I'm not saying that the information in this article isn't important or shouldn't be in the paper. But the article is reported from a very definite perspective, rather than pretending that both sides of the issue have equal merit.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HE SAID/SHE SAID JOURNALISM, THE SAGA CONTINUES: The linchpin of the liberal defense against conservative accusations of media bias is the theory of "he said/she said" journalism. Briefly, the theory states that even if most journalists are liberal, it doesn't matter because they always report every issue as if it had two equal and opposite sides.

By extension, most liberals argue that it is conservatives who benefit from this situation, since their unjustifiable attitudes toward social security reform, bankruptcy reform, etc. are given the same status as rational, evidence-based liberal arguments.

It is with all this in mind that I read an article in this morning's WaPo entitled "Past Arguments Don't Square With Current Iran Policy". Mind you, this wasn't an analysis column or anything like that. It was straight news. And in case you think it's just the headline writers who like to wax interpretive, here are the opening grafs:
Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.
Thankfully, the article does point out that 30 years ago, Iran was an American ally. (You might say the WaPo did the White House a favor by not mentioning that, back then, Iran was a reactionary dictatorship. Or to be more precise, a reactionary dictatorship very different from the one now in Teheran.)

The WaPo is also fair enough to point out that 30 years ago, there were serious questions about whether Iran had enough oil to satisfy its long term needs. The Post suggests, however, that the situation is not much different today.

So all in all, what this story boils down to is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz are a lot more concerned about what might happen if one of our enemies, rather than one of our allies, had the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

Now, it certainly doesn't look good that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz are now arguing against the exact same position they were arguing for 30 years ago. In fact, it's probably an important enough story to be in the WaPo.

But should the thrust of the story be that there is an apparent inconsistency in the arguments made by American policymakers? Or should there be a greater focus on the empirical issue of whether Iran needs nuclear power to supplement its oil reserves? Because it just might be the case the situation now is very different than it was 30 years ago, so it may be perfectly sensible for Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz to have switched sides in this debate.

So what I'm trying to say is not that this is a bad article, but that it is an article with a definite perspective, rather than one that treats both sides of the issue as having equal merit. In fact, one can make a pretty strong case that journalists should identify which side in a given debate has greater merit.

But journalists can't have their cake and eat it, too. They can't insist on their own neutrality and detachment while taking an interpretive approach to their subject. Nor can the defenders of mainstream journalism on the center-left continue to defend the he said/she said theory of American journalism if it doesn't describe the actual behavior of journalists.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion