Sunday, May 22, 2005

# Posted 8:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS IS ON SPEED. That's the only remaining logical explanation for how he gets to write so much more than the rest of us. This week, he takes on sibling rivalries, including his own, in the pages of Vanity Fair, asks and answers in Slate why the NYT refers to Iraq's jihadists as 'insurgents' (his answer: because they never devastated Manhattan island, simply), takes on literary theory in the New York Times, and has it out with the member for Bethnal Green and Bow in the Weekly Standard.

Um, I'll have what he's having?
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# Posted 7:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

HUSSEIN AGHA AND ROBERT MALLEY look forward to this summer's Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
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# Posted 7:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

FINTAN O'TOOLE of the Irish Times reviews the latest book of one of my favourite novelists and coethnics, John Banville. Also, Bartle Bull takes an interesting look at Iraq's Sadris as a case study of a rebel movement tentatively embracing democracy. And Daniel Johnson looks at the post-Cold War future of chess.
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# Posted 6:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

JOIN ME, JEDI. THE FUTURE IS ORANGE. So Josh and David have made note here of their favourite Star Wars parodies. Mine to the moment is probably from the self-same mobile company that brought you the Northern Ireland advertising campaign 'the future is bright, the future is orange.' Here in better garb, Darth Vader pitches the Orange execs for a spin-off film.
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# Posted 6:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

SPOOK AND TELL: CS Monitor reviews a new genre, that of contemporary clandestine ops tell-alls.
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# Posted 6:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

MAKING THE ROUNDS ON THE INTERNET: If anyone knows who wrote this, considerations of plagiarism and honesty aside, I'm not quite sure I'd exactly want to be regarded as its author.....

This Time on Jeremy Springer: Catfighting Political Theorists

Crowd: Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!

Jerry: Today's guests are here because they can't agree on fundamental principles of epistemology and ontology. I'd like to welcome Todd to the show.

Todd enters from backstage.

Jerry: Hello, Todd.

Todd: Hi, Jerry.

Jerry: (reading from card) So, Todd, you're here to tell your girlfriend something. What is it?

Todd: Well, Jerry, my girlfriend Ursula and I have been going out for three years now. We did everything together. We were really inseparable. But then she discovered post-Marxist political and literary theory, and it's been nothing but fighting ever since.

Jerry: Why is that?

Todd: You see, Jerry, I'm a traditional Cartesian rationalist. I believe that the individual self, the "I" or ego is the foundation of all metaphysics. She, on the other hand, believes that the contemporary self is a socially constructed, multi-faceted subjectivity reflecting the political and economic realities of late capitalist consumerist discourse.

Crowd: Ooooohhhh!

Todd: I know! I know! Is that infantile, or what?

Jerry: So what do you want to tell her today?

Todd: I want to tell her that unless she ditches the post-modernism, we're through. I just can't go on having a relationship with a woman who doesn't believe I exist.

Jerry: Well, you're going to get your chance. Here's Ursula!

Ursula storms onstage and charges up to Todd.

Ursula: Patriarchal colonizer!

She slaps him viciously. Todd leaps up, but the security guys pull them apart before things can go any further.

Ursula: Don't listen to him! Logic is a male hysteria! Rationality equals oppression and the silencing of marginalized voices!

Todd: The classical methodology of rational dialectic is our only road to truth! Don't try to deny it!

Ursula: You and your dialectic! That's how it's been through our whole relationship, Jerry. Mindless repetition of the post-Enlightenment meta-narrative. "You have to start with radical doubt, Ursula." "Post-structuralism is just classical sceptical thought re-cast in the language of semiotics, Ursula."

Crowd: Booo! Booo!

Jerry: Well, Ursula, come on. Don't you agree that the roots of contemporary neo-Leftism simply have to be sought in Enlightenment political philosophy?

Ursula: History is the discourse of powerful centrally located voices marginalizing and de-scribing the sub-altern!

Todd: See what I have to put up with? Do you know what it's like living with someone who sees sex as a metaphoric demonstration of the anti-feminist violence implicit in the discourse of the dominant power structure? It's terrible. She just lies there and thinks of Andrea Dworkin. That's why we never do it any more.

Crowd: Wooooo!

Ursula: You liar! Why don't you tell them how you haven't been able to get it up for the past three months because you couldn't decide if your penis truly had essential Being, or was simply a manifestation of Mind?

Todd: Wait a minute! Wait a minute!

Ursula: It's true!

Jerry: Well, I don't think we're going to solve this one right away. Our next guests are Louis and Tina. And Tina has a little confession to make!

Louis and Tina come onstage. Todd and Ursula continue bickering in the background.

Jerry: Tina, you are... (reads cards) ... an existentialist, is that right?

Tina: That's right, Jerry. And Louis is, too.

Jerry: And what did you want to tell Louis today?

Tina: Jerry, today I want to tell him...

Jerry: Talk to Louis. Talk to him.

Crowd hushes.

Tina: Louis... I've loved you for a long time...

Louis: I love you, too, Tina.

Tina: Louis, you know I agree with you that existence precedes essence, but... well, I just want to tell you I've been reading Nietzsche lately, and I don't think I can agree with your egalitarian politics any more.

Crowd: Wooooo! Woooooo!

Louis: (shocked and disbelieving) Tina, this is crazy. You know that Sartre clarified all this way back in the 40's.

Tina: But he didn't take into account Nietzsche's radical critique of democratic morality, Louis. I'm sorry. I can't ignore the contradiction any longer!

Louis: You got these ideas from Victor, didn't you? Didn't you?

Tina: Don't you bring up Victor! I only turned to him when I saw you were seeing that dominatrix! I needed a real man! An Uber-man!

Louis: (sobbing) I couldn't help it. It was my burden of freedom. It was too much!

Jerry: We've got someone here who might have something to add. Bring out... Victor!

Victor enters. He walks up to Louis and sticks a finger in his face.

Victor: Louis, you're a classic post-Christian intellectual. Weak to the core!

Louis: (through tears) You can kiss my Marxist ass, Reactionary Boy!

Victor: Herd animal!

Louis: Lackey!

Louis throws a chair at Victor; they lock horns and wrestle. The crowd goes wild. After a long struggle, the security guys pry them apart.

Jerry: Okay, okay. It's time for questions from the audience. Go ahead, sir.

Audience member: Okay, this is for Tina. Tina, I just wanna know how you can call yourself an existentialist, and still agree with Nietzsche's doctrine of the Ubermensch. Doesn't that imply a belief in intrinsic essences that is in direct contradiction with with the fundamental principles of existentialism?

Tina: No! No! It doesn't. We can be equal in potential, without being equal in eventual personal quality. It's a question of Becoming, not Being.

Audience member: That's just disguised essentialism! You're no existentialist!

Tina: I am so!

Audience member: You're no existentialist!

Tina: I am so an existentialist, bitch!

Ursula stands and interjects.

Ursula: What does it [bleep] matter? Existentialism is just a cover for late capitalist anti-feminism! Look at how Sartre treated Simone de Beauvoir!

Women in the crowd cheer and stomp.

Tina: [Bleep] you! Fat-ass Foucaultian ho!

Ursula: You only wish you were smart enough to understand Foucault, bitch!

Tina: You the bitch!

Ursula: No, you the bitch!

Tina: Whatever! Whatever!

Jerry: We'll be right back with a final thought! Stay with us!

Commercial break for debt-consolidation loans, ITT Technical Institute, and Psychic Alliance Hotline.

Jerry: Hi! Welcome back. I just want to thank all our guests for being here, and say that I hope you're able to work through your differences and find happiness, if indeed happiness can be extracted from the dismal miasma of warring primal hormonal impulses we call human relationship.

(turns to the camera)

Well, we all think philosophy is just fun and games. Semiotics, deconstruction, Lacanian post-Freudian psychoanalysis, it all seems like good, clean fun. But when the heart gets involved, all our painfully acquired metaphysical insights go right out the window, and we're reduced to battling it out like rutting chimpanzees. It's not pretty. If you're in a relationship, and differences over the fundamental principles of your respective subjectivities are making things difficult, maybe it's time to move on. Find someone new, someone who will accept you and the way your laughably limited human intelligence chooses to codify and rationalize the chaos of existence. After all, in the absence of a clear, unquestionable revelation from God, that's all we're all doing anyway. So remember: take care of yourselves - and each other.

Announcer: Be sure to tune in next time, when KKK strippers battle it out with transvestite omnisexual porn stars! Tomorrow on Springer!
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# Posted 1:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAK UP, GEORGE: The Weekly Standard says it's time for the President to tell Islam Karimov, the very un-Islamic dictator of Uzbekistan, that he can no longer trample on his people's rights. Amen.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO I SAID TO HIM, "YEAH, RIGHT -- AND MY NAME'S OLIVER NORTH!" You definitely meet some interesting people in Washington. This evening, I attended a publication party for two recent books: Timothy Naftali's Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism and Ronald & Allis Radosh's Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance With the Left.

Not having been to any pundit-parties before, I was a little nervous when I got there. In those rare instances when I have in the presence of Washington celebrity types, I've discovered that the best thing to do is to stay far away from them, because they are surrounded by people who want to talk to them only because they are famous.

However, I've also discovered that if there happens to be a celebrity or two afoot, then there also tends to be a good number of un-famous, unpretentious and extremely interesting people around. Moreover, retired folks are often the most interesting to talk to because they have simply lived through so much.

So, earlier this evening, when I arrived at the upscale Bethesda home where the party was being held, I didn't see anyone I recognized, so I introduced my self to a kindly-looking and very well-groomed older gentleman. I said, "Hi, my name is David Adesnik." He said, "I'm John Poindexter."

That threw me for a loop. I couldn't decide if I should be on my best behavior or if I should say something like "Broken any laws today, Admiral?" Or was this not even the John Poindexter?

As it turned out, it was him. I found out that Prof. Naftali had spoken to him extensively about the Reagan administration's counter-terrorism initiatives. The admiral seemed nice enough, although by no means talkative.

I decided stay firmly within the bounds of polite cocktail party banter, even if I was thoroughly tempted to start asking questions about Iran-Contra. After all, Prof. Naftali (also a Charlottesville man) had been nice enough to invite me, so I figured that discretion was the better part of valor.

It turned out that the rest of the party was also filled with neo-con gliterati, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Joshua Muravchik, Stephen Schwartz and Ken Pollack (who is probably more of a realist, leaving aside his anti-Saddam activism). And our host for the evening was Allen Weinstein, the newly appointed Archivist of the United States.

At this point, I must confess that I technically compromised my celebrity avoidance doctrine. I spoke to Josh Muravchik because I am friends with his daughter and son-in-law. I spoke to Stephen Schwartz because he saw the Argentine flag pin on my lapel and started asking me questions in Spanish.

On the buffet line, Amb. Kirkpatrick asked me to identify one of the main dishes. Being the nice Jewish boy that I am, I told her it was pork. Now, I was just a little bit hurt that she didn't recognize me, since it was only four months ago that I spent an hour and a half interviewing her for my dissertation. But she is in her eighties now, so I won't hold it against her.

In closing, I would like to say two things. First, I haven't read either of the books the party was thrown to celebrate, since they are new. Second, I did meet one extremely interesting person who was un-famous, unpretentious and an accomplished scholar in her own right. As it turns out, Prof. H is an acquaintance of Mr. Chafetz as well as an occasional reader of this blog. She was even willing to forgive me for voting for a Democrat for president.
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Saturday, May 21, 2005

# Posted 8:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

WORTH READING: Writing in Foreign Affairs, Fouad Ajami places the Lebanese achievement of self-governance (the kibbeh revolution?) in greater context for the nation.
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# Posted 8:26 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND I THOUGHT GUAR WAS A HAS-BEEN PUNK GROUP: In the 'Things That Wouldn't Make It Onto An American Grocery Product Label' division for the night, a reading from off my Onken Summer Biopot Raspberry Yogurt produces: 'Onken Rasberry yogurt is made from wholemilk and Bio cultures. The cultures consist of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum and Streptococcus thermophilus that combine to give a mild, fresh, creamy flavour.' Yup, that mild, fresh, creamy Streptococcus, bifidobacterium longum (are they just making these names up?) flavour.
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# Posted 6:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

ACADEMICS, WRITERS, WITS? Nah, when it comes down to it apparently we're just a trio of nineteenth century whores.

Bugger, come to think of it, that makes us fairly old whores, doesn't it? I'll at least call dibs on being still resident at Oxford to be the high-class escort, and let my coauthors sort out amongst themselves who gets to be the New Haven whore and the media whore.
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# Posted 10:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOFTWARE PLUG: Note, I do not get any money for these. This is not voluntary. If anyone would like to send me money for these, please email money to whisky_fund@patrickbelton.com.

Lately, I've discovered I'm not only a geek (what, this is new? you're a blogger!), but a geek whose friends move to inconvenient countries like UAE and Bangladesh (motto: literally the most corrupt place in the world!). So I've begun relying on instant messenger to keep in touch with them all, especially the nice ones in Nigeria who are trying to give me money. (And for those of you who didn't know just how much fun you can have with your Nigerian spammer, go read Lads of Lagos immediately.) Except that, and in distinct defiance of the predictions of game theory, there are a number of instant messaging programs and having them all open at the same time makes me feel ... well, just a little too geeky. Fortunately, there's a multi-protocol IM client called Fire for Mac users which permits you to only have one window open, to talk to all your Nigerian spammers and Russian ex-girlfriends at once. *This, you see, is called progress.

* This also gets around the OS X / MSN Messenger 4.0 compatibility issues.
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Friday, May 20, 2005

# Posted 7:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE SUN makes Saddam their page three girl. Circulation plummets.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

(GALACTIC) IMPERIALIST: Apropo of my speculations about the true nature of the Dark Side, Dan Simon recommends this apologia for the Empire by Jon Last, from way back in 2002. Although wary of reading too much into Jon's humorous observations, I find it interesting that the foundation of his argument for the Empire is that
The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.
Moreover, Jon says,
Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet.
I wouldn't exactly call Pinochet benign, but the real point is here is that, these days, no one at the Weekly Standard would ever defend the prioritization of order over justice or of dictatorship over even the most ineffectual republic. As someone or other once said, America's most important "attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable."

UPDATE: After mentioning Jon Last, I figured I should go over and check out whether there is any Star Wars commentary up on Galley Slaves. The answer is yes. First of all, Jon's Star Wars retrospective/review of Episode III is now online at the Standard.

In addition, Jon was kind enough to link to my previous speculations about the Dark Side. Given Jon's prediction that
By the time the HD DVD versions of the movies are released, championing the Empire will be a respected vein of thought,
I take it as a complement that he describes the Imperial officers in Episode III as being "dressed smartly in gray and all have the look of Oxbridge men."

Finally, Jon has revised and updated his 2002 defense of the Empire. This time he makes sure to blast the Jedi for being "oligarchs" who do nothing to defend democracy. Moreover, he asks how a supposedly good Republic could tolerate legalized slavery on planets such as Tatooine. Jon still makes his point about order, but I'd say this is very much a post-Iraq, more purely neo-con defense of the Empire. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

# Posted 3:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWSWEEK -- MY FIRST CUT: OxBlog always roots for the underdog, so I've decided to start my search for an opinion about the Newsweek debacle by heading over to the liberal side of the blogosphere. Until now, I've mostly just read what the WaPo has to say about the story, and its material seems to confirm the conservative story line that reckless American journalists provoked unjustified riots in Afghanistan. For example, a front-pager from this morning reported that:

The report last week that U.S. military interrogators had desecrated the Koran has now been retracted by Newsweek magazine after five days of violent protests in Afghanistan that left 15 dead.
Although the Post is careful not to say flat out that the report caused the riots, this article and many others seem pretty confident that there was a direct relationship. The standard liberal response to this point is that Gen. Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that our commander in the ground in Afghanistan thought that the rioting "was not at all tied to the reporting in the magazine." Brian Montopoli of CJR Daily thinks that Myers' statement pretty decisively clears Newsweek of responsibility for the riots. Josh Marshall seems to concur. But Kevin Drum disagrees. He says of Myers' comments that:

That was five days ago, back when the Army itself still thought the charges of Koran desecration at Guantanamo were plausible enough to merit further investigation. At the time, when they were afraid the charges might be true, they were eager to claim that the riots were entirely unrelated. Now that the charges appear to be false, they're equally eager to pretend that the blood of Afghanistan is on Newsweek's hands.

[CORRECTION: I totally missed the fact that Kevin was trying to be sarcastic, something that he informed me of via e-mail. Strange how something Kevin assumed was patently ridiculous made perfect sense to me. After all, the Army really did have every reason to deny that the Koran incident caused the riots until it discovered that the incident was an apparent fabrication.]

I guess what I'm looking for now are reports from Pakistan and Afghanistan which look at what actually happened on the ground rather than relying on statements from the Pentagon.

Moving, one point that has turned out to be at least as contentious as the facts is the question of its signifiance. The most compelling version of the liberal argument on this point is made by Anne Applebaum in her column from this morning entitled "Blaming the Messenger". In addition to its logic, what makes Applebaum's argument compelling is the credibility of the author. If you follow her work, you know that Applebaum never hesitates to deconstruct liberal shibboleths, such as the moral integrity of the United Nations. Anyhow, the crux of Applebaum's argument about the Newsweek issue is that

The larger point is not the story itself but that it was so eminently plausible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and everywhere else. And it was plausible precisely because interrogation techniques designed to be offensive to Muslims were used in Iraq and Guantanamo, as administration and military officials have also confirmed.
That is a very hard point to rebut. As bad as Newsweek screwed up, the Koran incident pales in comparison to Abu Ghraib, et al.

In contrast, some of the other liberal arguments about the significance of this case seem tendentious and overblown. Josh Marshall, who is certainly no stranger to high dudgeon, says that he sees
A clear pattern -- a White House trying to decapitate another news organization. The parallels with CBS are obvious...CBS brought the Rather-gate avalanche down upon itself with some very sloppy journalism, but the White House quickly saw the opportunity and grabbed it, effectively taming an entire news organization.
I'm not sure how much evidence there is that CBS has been tamed or, if it has, how long it will stay that way, but Josh goes on to observe that
What I see here is an effort by the White House to set an entirely different standard when it comes to reportage that in any way reflects critically on the White House." [Emphasis in original]
I'm not sure how Josh gets to that conclusion either. Hasn't the White House -- both this one and all of its predecessors -- always lashed out at journalists whose work it doesn't like? Somehow, Josh makes it seem that because the White House now has an actual reason to be pissed off at journalists, its criticism is less legitimate than ever.

While I agree that the White House seems somewhat oblivious to its effort to call the kettle black, journalists tend to be equally oblivious to their own shortcomings. So as far as I'm considered, this is just another round of bickering in the well-established love-hate relationship between the press and the White House.

On the bright side, I am always grateful for any scandal du jour that gets Josh Marshall interested in foreign policy, since he always stands four-square behind the principle of democracy promotion, even if he only seems to write about when things are looking bad for this administration.
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# Posted 3:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT LIBERALS WERE BORN YESTERDAY? Tomorrow is my birthday. Today is Matt Yglesias' birthday. You do the math. (And happy birthday, Matt!)
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# Posted 6:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

A SILK ROAD REVOLUTION? Paul Reynolds is sceptical. So is EurasiaNet. Both point to the absence of any organised political opposition in Uzbekistan, as contrasted with Ukraine and Georgia. My personal feelings coincide with Ahmed Rashid: the Andijan massacre represents a sterling and obligatory moment for the United States to reassess their policy of close security coordination with the repressive Tashkent regime, which makes a mockery of America's broader, and more important, ambitions to be seen as a force for freedom and liberty in the world.
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

BY NO MEANS do we intend to dedicate most of OxBlog this week to Star Wars parodies (like this one). But even if we did, it'd be better than gratuitously linking to lists of crap British jokes.
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# Posted 3:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN OPINION, AN OPINION, MY KINGDOM FOR AN OPINION! I was very much hoping to avoid this whole Newsweek business, but the blogosphere seems to be getting so polarized so fast that pleading the Fifth no longer seems like an acceptable option. So expect something later today. But don't expect an opinion. Just some analysis, perhaps. I'm going to handle this one like the bomb squad handles suspicious packages.
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# Posted 2:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND PEOPLE SAY THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS PROGRESS: WaPo: 'A shifting population means baseball diamonds are becoming soccer pitches and cricket ovals.' Bloody brilliant, is what I say. (And the next step in progress is for WaPo headline writers to realise the word 'pitch' goes next to the one 'cricket'....)
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWSWEEK ROUND-UP: Joe Gandelman provides the extensive analysis and links we've all come to expect.
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# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VADER: COMMUNIST OR NEO-CON? Arthur Chrenkoff is up in arms about George Lucas' comparison of Bush's America to the Galactic Empire. I have mixed feelings about Arthur's indignation. On the one hand, I am way past the point where I am willing to get worked up about moderately dumb statements made by Hollywood liberals. On the other hand, Arthur has a very compelling reason to care about the political integrity of Star Wars:
I most fondly remember watching the first trilogy in the late 1970s and the early 80s at the movies, when I was a boy living in the then communist Poland...

We simply couldn't escape the conclusion that the militaristic and freedom-crushing Empire with its legions of stormtroopers is a futuristic version of the Soviet Empire, which had conquered and enslaved hundreds of millions of people like myself...we too cheered when the Death Star was destroyed (twice), but whereas for our counterparts in the Free World this was just a great cinematic climax, for us it embodied the hope ("A New Hope", if you pardon the pun) that one day the specter of totalitarianism will vanish and we will be free again.
I'm not sure, but I've never even come close to thinking of Star Wars as an anti-Communist allegory. Perhaps Lucas' references to the Roman republic/empire and Weimar/Nazi Germany were so overwhelming that I didn't even consider other parallels.

But for a young boy in Communist Poland, what could be more natural than to interpret the films as Arthur did? Now that I think about it, Vader's corrupt existence as half-man and half-machine is the perfect metaphor for Communism's perversion of the soul.

Then again, a committed Communist might say that Vader's condition is an apt metaphor for capitalism's perversion of the soul. But speaking more broadly a Communist reading of the film doesn't work very well because of Lucas' emphasis on individual liberty. The Rebel Alliance's only ideology is freedom.

Toward the end of his open letter to George Lucas, I think Arthur goes a little bit over the top by suggesting that Lucas somehow thinks that Fidel and Mao and Brezhnev were on the right side of history. But what if...what if the entire six-film saga really is just Rebel propaganda?

In the 1960s, the lack of reliable information about domestic affairs in China facilitated the efforts of the European and American left to construct elaborate fantasies about the PRC being the true worker's paradise, as opposed to the corrupt and imperialist Soviet Union.

Now, I think it's fair to say that these days, there is a lack of reliable information about Coruscant, Alderaan, Tatooine and the other planets supposedly under the sway of (or obliterated by) the Galactic "Empire". As such, I think it's entirely probable that Lucas is totally confused about who the good guys and who the bad guys are in that galaxy, far, far away.

Exhibit A is Han Solo. Even Lucas admits that Solo is an amoral, self-centered smuggler. I wouldn't be surprised if the real Han Solo is some sort of organized crime lord or narcotics kingpin.

If the Rebels are really on the up and up, why do they associate with criminals like Solo? For that matter, why is Ben Kenobi so familiar with the inner workings of Mos Eisley, which even Lucas describes as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy"?

Now we come to Luke and Leia. They may have good intentions, but the bottom line is that they are just convenient figureheads for a Rebel leadership about which never learn all that much in any of the six films. Leia especially strikes me as the classic example of a child of wealth and privilege who runs off to join the guerrillas because her parents never taught her the value of hard work.

Finally, there is Vader. Why must the black man always be the villain? Moreover, is it any way appropriate in this day and age to suggest that someone is evil because of his physical disabilities? My sense is that the real Vader may be something of a cross between Martin Luther King Jr. and Stephen Hawking.

But alas we shall never know the truth, until Fox News opens up a bureau on Coruscant in order to provide us with a fair and balanced look at the universe.
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# Posted 3:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

HEY PSSST, YOU WANNA PROCRASTINATE? He is doubtless in the running for the worst spook Oxford and Britain have ever produced, but Richard Tomlinson's memoir makes for entertaining reading - particularly when he sticks to his early operational career and before he goes off the deep end with his theories about, say, the Princess of Wales's assassination.
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# Posted 3:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

OVERHEARD: This is why i sip mojitos whenever i can. Because you never know when you can use a little mojo.
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Monday, May 16, 2005

# Posted 6:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS, incidentally, is how we met David: we found him soaking wet and amnesiac on the side of the road in a pair of pyjamas, and when we set him before a keyboard, he wowed us all by delivering a virtuoso performance of dissecting implicit reportorial perspective in the NYT.
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# Posted 4:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

MY ONE PROBLEM with the Star Wars media frenzy isn't the WaPo's breathless coverage (q.v.: 'Excited about 'Sith' or living in fear of another disappointment? Discuss in our message board!' and 'Mike Kurtz, founder of the DC Metro Area 'Star Wars' Collectors Club, will answer your questions on the subject of 'getting a life'), but rather that there hasn't been nearly enough mention of Star Wars Gangsta Rap.
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Sunday, May 15, 2005

# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HATH EVIL NO DIGNITY? It was bad enough when Bob Dole started plugging Viagra. But Darth Vader doing spots for Burger King, M&M's and Orange cellphones? This is truly a sad day for all of us on the Dark Side of the blogosphere.
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# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ELECTIONS IN ETHIOPIA: It's still not to clear to what degree the polling was fair. However, turnout was extremely high and the campaign was far more competitive than before in Ethiopia.

At the moment, Prime Minister (and sometime dictator) Meles Zenawi seems to have won a third term of office. Whether he really won is hard to say. But a good rule of thumb is that real democratization doesn't happen until the dictators are thrown out office, hopefully in a peaceful manner. Dictators often allow liberalization -- enough to even threaten their hold on power -- but for as long as they stay in office, the government cannot be expected to behave in a democratic manner.
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# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEADWOOD -- SEASON ONE: I find it amusing that so much of what I rent at the video store consists of repackaged television programs. But I refuse to pay for cable (let alone HBO), so instead I have to wait until it all comes out on DVD. That may not sound economical, but now that TiVo and the like have put so much pressure on video stores, I can rent as many discs as I want for just $9.99/month, which is much less than cable (let alone HBO).

The price I pay for this roundabout approach to entertainment is that I see all of my favorite programs long after the MBA-having, BMW-driving, HBO-waching elite has digested them and spit them out. So please forgive me for reviewing the first season of Deadwood, which those of you with MBA's, BMW's and HBO will have seen long ago.

The bottom line about Deadwood is this: It is extraordinary. HBO continues to produce television shows that are far more sophisticated than 95% of what comes out of Hollywood.

FYI, Deadwood was an actual 19th century mining camp in the Black Hills. At the time, the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux, so Deadwood was not part of the United States of America and therefore had no laws, since all of its inhabitants were trespassing on Sioux territory.

The great strength of Deadwood is that it is a show about an entire world. Television is full of doctor shows and cop shows and political shows and romance shows and cowboy shows, but Deadwood integrates all of them into a single vision. By crossing over incessantly from genre to genre, Deadwood smashes the cliches that often make other shows so boring. Instead, it explores relationships that are so rarely portrayed on television.

The character who best represents this crossing and subversion of genres is Doc Cochran, the town's physician. In one of the show's first episodes, Cochran cares for an immigrant orphan whose family was murdered by highwaymen. Whereas most doctor shows just tell you what is wrong with the patients, Cochran jealously guards such information and regularly mispresents the orphan's condition to others in town.

Why? Because Cochran suspects that the highwaymen who murdered the orphan's family are in the employ of saloon owner/crime lord Al Swearengen. If Swearengen expects the child to die, he won't try to have her killed because of her potential to identify his thugs.

The situation becomes more complicated because Cochran earns a good amount of his income from Swearengen, who pays Cochran to be the gynecologist for the whores in his brothel. Because whores in a 19th century mining town are subject to considerable abuse and isolation, Cochran knows that he is often the only one with a sincere interest in the girls' welfare. Yet because of that humanitarian mission, it is dangerous for Cochran to lie to Swearengen about the orphan, since it may prevent him taking care of the whores (and being paid for it).

That is just a sample of the complex relationships in which Cochran is involved. Thus, the wealth of detail provided in the previous three paragraphs just begins to suggest the degree of narrative complexity favored by the creators of Deadwood. As Steven Johnson might rush to point out, watching Deadwood is good for you because it forces to engage in sophisticated intellectual analysis.

At the same time, Deadwood revels in its ability to take televised (or any other kind of) profanity to unprecedented heights. Above all, the screenwriters for Deadwood fetishize the word "cocksucker", which is used to describe just about every male resident of the town, in the way that you and I might describe someone as a "guy".

[NB: Although I make a habit of putting asterisks in words such as "f***" and "s***", that won't exactly work with "cocksucker", since "c***sucker" doesn't accomplish enough and "c*********" would simply be confusing.]

Frankly, I find this obsession with profanity off-putting and gratuitious. In one of the mini-documentaries that comes packaged with the DVD, the show's creator, David Milch, suggests that the use of profanity is integral to the characters' realism. To remove it would compromise the characters' emotional authenticity and thereby prevent the audience from truly understanding them.

First of all, I wonder whether 19th century Americans even used the word "cocksucker" as often as Deadwood suggests. However, I am going to trust Milch on this one since he used to be a lecturer in the English department at Yale. Nonetheless, in spite of the show's admirable devotion to recreating the costumes and architecture of the American frontier, it takes so many liberties with other aspects of realism that toning down the profanity would hardly damage the show's historical mission.

For example, what do you think the odds are that all of the most important people in the real Deadwood mining camp were extremely good-looking? Not high, to say the least. However, Milch doesn't seem to mind giving in to the Hollywood convention that actors must be good looking.

One detail that really hammered home this sort of un-realism was when, in the final episode of season one, we discover that heroic ex-lawman Seth Bullock has perfectly shaven chest. Now, history does suggest that the real Seth Bullock was a heroic ex-lawman. But I seriously doubt whether his pecs were that frikkin' smooth.

I raise this point because Bullock is a character who seems to test the show's commitment to moral and narrative realism. He is simply too perfect. As chance would have it, the most ethical man in town is also the most strikingly good looking. Moreover, Bullock has 21st century attitudes toward gender and race despite living in one of the most racist and sexist parts of 19th century America. (Then again, Bullock is himself an immigrant from Canada, so perhaps that is why he is so enlightened.)

In the course of Season One, Bullock relentlessly antagonizes all of the powerful but morally deficient men in town, regardless of the threat this might present to his own safety. He also rescues and watches over the most beautiful damsel in distress, ultimately bedding her (at which point we discover his shaven chest).

This is where things may get interesting. Bullock is married, and his wife and child are set to arrive on the scene in Season Two. On the other hand, Bullock only married his brother's widow and adopted his child as a gesture of good will, so we know he isn't "really" cheating. So, will the screenwriters find an easy way out for Bullock that allows him to keep both his damsel and his reputation, or will Bullock suddenly turn out to be somewhat human?

Even if the screenwriters make the wrong choice about Bullock, however, this would hardly take away from their superb achievements so far, as well as I what I expect to be an extraordinary sophomore outing.
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# Posted 7:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT MOTIVATES THE TERRORISTS INSURGENTS? This morning's WaPo has a front page story about the overwhelming Saudi presence among suicide bombers in Iraq. Now, it isn't exactly surprising that the nation that gave us Osama bin Laden as well as most of the September 11th hijackers is also providing the manpower for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians. But this article does stand out for taking a closer look at the evidence available for a Saudi presence, much of it consisting of radical Islamist websites.

One of the things I found striking about the article was its opening paragraphs:
Before Hadi bin Mubarak Qahtani exploded himself into an anonymous fireball, he was young and interested only in "fooling around."

Like many Saudis, he was said to have experienced a religious awakening after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and dedicated himself to Allah, inspired by "the holy attack that demolished the foolish infidel Americans and caused many young men to awaken from their deep sleep," according to a posting on a jihadist Web site.
Notice that the apparent motive for Qahtani's suicide assault was not the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq or any other act of American aggression. Rather, it was the spectacularly brutal assault on American territory on September 11th.

Perhaps the WaPo's correspondent was trying to hint at this observation in a very subtle manner. Or perhaps not. Regardless, what matters is this telling bit of evidence that American weakness rather than American power is what motivates the foreign fighters in Iraq.

In contrast, I would argue that it is American power (and Shi'ite power) that motivates the local resistance. The men who once ruled Iraq were thrown out of power and now want to take it back. That is what the insurgency is about, although the insurgents seem terribly afraid to admit it.

One point that the WaPo article makes very clearly is that the suicide bombers in Iraq fit a sociological profile that isn't all that surprising:
In a paper published in March, Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, analyzed the lists of jihadi dead. He found 154 Arabs killed over the previous six months in Iraq, 61 percent of them from Saudi Arabia...Many of the bombers were married, well educated and in their late twenties, according to postings...

Paz said his list -- assembled from monitoring a dozen Islamic extremist Web forums -- now had more than 200 names. "Many are students or from wealthy families -- the same sociological characteristics as the Sept. 11 hijackers," he said.
So in casy any of our friends on the left are still clinging to the "root causes" hypothesis, i.e. that poverty and desperation are the primary motives for terrorism, they can forget about it. If there is such a thing as a root cause, it is the misguided belief that Islam sanctions the murder of innocents.

With regard to the reliability of the evidence from which such conclusions are drawn, I found the following anecdote to be telling:
Evan F. Kohlmann, a researcher who monitors Islamic extremist Web sites, has compiled a list of more than 235 names of Iraqi dead gleaned from the Internet since last summer, with more than 50 percent on his tally from Saudi Arabia...

Some of the Web postings also include phone numbers so fellow Islamists can call a dead fighter's family and congratulate them. Kohlmann called several of the numbers. "I have lists and lists of foreign fighters, and it's no joke. Their sons went and blew themselves up in Iraq," he said.
Those must be some pretty interesting conversations that Kohlmann has when he calls up the bombers' families.

On a tangentially related note, I wonder if any of the suicide bombers blog on a regular basis during the months before they become martyrs. That would be one heckuva publicity gimmick (not that I want to give the bad guys any good ideas, but I'm sure they could've come up with this one on their own.)

What I can say for sure is that there is at least one bad guy out there who thinks that blogging is a good way to keep in touch with his fans...
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Saturday, May 14, 2005

# Posted 11:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND WHO KNEW YOU COULD BE TRITE AND FALSE AT THE SAME TIME? From CNN: 'Almost 30 years since the first film, the enduring appeal of the "Star Wars" franchise is undiminished.'
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# Posted 11:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

'THANK GOD I'M NOT ON VACATION' QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'The problem really came to light a couple of days into the cruise when people realised they couldn't flush their loos properly.' (Rachel O'Reilly, head of public relations, Thomson Cruise Line)
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YES, I ACTUALLY DO HAVE A DAY JOB: This morning I delivered a paper at the Miller Center's annual conference on American political development.

FYI, "American political development", or APD for short, refers to the idea that history is an important part of American politics and that politics is an important part of American history. That may sound obvious, but professional scholars have a marvelous ability to ignore the obvious.

Anyhow, I gave a paper on American efforts to promote democracy in the Philippines in the 1980s. The paper is available as a PDF, but you may want to read the first couple of paragraphs before committing to something so soporific:

Reagan Entrapped: Promoting Democracy in the Philippines

“If Reagan stood for anything, it was standing up for old, anti-Communist friends.”
– S. Burton, correspondent for Time

Although loyalty is a virtue, the tenacity with which Reagan defended his old friends, such as Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, brought the president’s actions directly into conflict with his unmitigated pledge to promote democracy across the globe. In the mid-1980s, the stark contrast between Reagan’s rhetoric and Reagan’s behavior seemed to vindicate the conventional wisdom that the purpose of those idealistic pronouncements that emanate from the White House is to mask the unsavory character of so much that is done in the name of national security. Yet in 1986, the United States instructed Marcos to step down from office, which he did.

If not for the massive protests led by the democratic opposition in the Philippines, these instructions from Washington would have had only a minimal effect or perhaps none at all. Yet for the purposes of this paper, the more interesting question is why the Reagan administration, after supporting Marcos and other right-wing dictators so consistently and for so long, suddenly decided to place its weight on the opposite side of the political scales. This paper will argue that although Reagan never abandoned his sentimental attachment to either Marcos or his other anti-Communist friends, Reagan became entangled in his idealistic, pro-democracy rhetoric to the point where he felt compelled to act on its revolutionary premises...

The Philippines was a former American colony and longtime American ally. More importantly, it played host to the American naval base at Subic Bay and the American air base at Clark Field, both of which the United States considered vital to preventing the expansion of Soviet influence in Asia and the Pacific. In addition, Marcos found himself threatened by a rapidly growing Communist guerrilla force. Thus, when the Filipino dictatorship began to crumble, the United States had to confront a fundamental dilemma of Cold War politics: Should it support a pro-American dictator or should it accept the risk of Communist forces occupying a strategic position in the Third World?

There is a strong consensus among realist scholars of international relations that great powers, including the United States, will not hesitate to compromise their principles in order protect their strategic interests. There is also a consensus among historians of American foreign relations that the United States consistently compromised its democratic principles in order to advance its strategic interests during the Cold War. In certain instances, however, America’s Cold Warriors sought to bring down dictatorships and promote democracy abroad on the grounds that democracy was the best antidote to Communism. Yet according to both scholars and journalists, Reagan demonstrated little to no concern about his allies’ democratic credentials.

Such arguments are correct insofar as Reagan took office in 1981 determined to repair the United States’ alliances with those right-wing dictatorships denigrated by the Carter administration. Yet Reagan’s attitude toward pro-American dictatorships evolved dramatically over time. This paper will argue that Reagan’s decision to break with Marcos represented the turning point at which Reagan began to fulfill his rhetorical commitment to oppose not just the dictatorships of the left, but also of the right.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO DA BADDEST GANGSTA IN POLITICAL SCIENCE? Us academic folks write a lot about violence, but how many of us can pick up a Tek-9 and put a bullet hole in a terrorist's head from 200 yards?

I only know one scholar who fits that description. His initials are JW. If I told you his full name, I'd have to kill you. Back in the old days, J used to conduct "investigations" for a "government agency". But J got tired of being a productive member of society and decided to finish his Ph.D. instead.

These days, J's idea of fun is being written about on OxBlog. He said to me that he wants to see himself mentioned on this site before sunrise tomorrow. I don't usually let people tell me what I'm supposed to write about on OxBlog, but in this situation, my personal safety has to come before my commitment to journalistic principle.
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# Posted 5:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT WE'RE READING QUOTE OF THE DAY: Concerning love, I had best be brief and say that when I read Bertrand Russell on this matter as an adolescent, and understood him to write with perfect gravity that a moment of such emotion was worth the whole of the rest of life, I devoutly hoped that this would be true in my own case. And so it has proved, and so to that extent I can regard the death I otherwise rather resent as laughable and impotent. Christopher Hitchens, quickly becoming with Weiseltier quoted below one of my favourite essayists, who also recently has this to say about Abu Ghraib.
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Thursday, May 12, 2005

# Posted 7:53 PM by Patrick Belton  

UNCLE SAM (AND STEP-UNCLE HAMID) NEED YOU WATCH : This just in from, as ever, the wires,
The Department of Defense announced today the establishment of an Internet site to support recruiting efforts for civilians to work in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, a joint program with the State Department that assists officials at the highest levels of the Afghan government.
The Afghanistan Reconstruction Group (ARG) is presently recruiting for a number of critical senior advisor and staff positions based in the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, to help in the ongoing reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan. The establishment of the ARG recruiting Web site broadens the reach of an ongoing recruitment program.
The Department of Defense oversees the recruitment program, which is led by former Army Secretary Martin Hoffmann.
"We seek and are attracting senior advisors from the private sector," said Hoffmann. "Although these are compensated positions, we are tapping into the vein of volunteerism in America: people want to serve. They know the cause is important. We are finding individuals willing to go where their skills and experiences have great impact, helping to improve the lives of the Afghan people. ARG participants represent the finest American tradition of reaching out to serve in a faraway land."
The ARG recruiting Web site is located at http://www.dod.gov/afghanistan/. The Web site lists position openings, full position descriptions, and application procedures.
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# Posted 7:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

HURRA HURRA: The Transnational Broadcasting Journal's Summer Said takes a look at what Cairo residents have to say about Al Hurra, the American-funded network in the Middle East. Responses fall over a range, with some points recurring - criticism of its announcers' Arabic and its professionalism and flash compared with the commercial networks, comments about reportorial blandness in comparison with the BBC and Al Jazeera, interspersed with praise for its airing of political debate and opposition politicians.
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# Posted 5:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

FROM THE ARCHIVES QUOTE OF THE DAY: On my flight to New York, moreover, I had read Tom Wolfe's "literary manifesto for the new social novel" in Harper's and, because we lingered interminably in the indifferent clouds, had opened Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. And so I was testy, as I tramped through the little lakes of Broadway, and worried over the problem of cultural theodicy, or why the vulgar prosper. Leon Weiseltier, 27 November 1989
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# Posted 2:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR SOLOMON AMENDMENT CASE: Phil Carter wants homosexuals to able to serve openly in the military. He just think that the way to achieve greater tolerance is to bring more Ivy Leaguers into the military rather than kicking military recruiters off campus. (Hat tip: Uncle Jimbo, who puts in his own two cents about "don't ask, don't tell".)
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# Posted 1:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EGYPTIAN SEX SYMBOLS...promoting democracy?
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR THE LUMPENPROLETARIAT! I admit it. I am irrationally disposed to linking to any article or post that uses the word lumpenproletariat. But if it's written by Reihan Salam, how can you go wrong?
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# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBER HAITI? Not long ago, Haitians revolted against their local dictator in a manner reminiscient of their counterparts in Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan. But rather than a democratic success story, Haiti has become (better: remained) a violent mess.

In light of how little attention the American media has been paying to events in Haiti, Randy Paul deserves considerable praise for his continuing efforts to keep us apprised of what is going in Port-au-Prince. To go directly to his long string of posts about Haiti, click here.

Recent concerns about the situation in Haiti include the pardoning of convicted human rights violators, the imprisonment of former ministers on political grounds, and reports of police brutality.

Randy also has plenty of harsh words for the Bush administration (no surprise there), which seems to be taking a somewhat lackadaisical approach to the situation. The Brazilian president, Mr. DaSilva, is also taking a lot of heat since Brazil is in charge of the UN peacekeeping force that is on the ground but apparently not accomplishing much. Really? An incompetent UN peacekeeping mission? Say it ain't so!

In light of how little I know about the situation in Haiti, I don't dare make any suggestions about what the US or any other foreign government should do. All I really can do is keep my fingers crossed.
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Monday, May 09, 2005

# Posted 1:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

JOURNALISM DEEP THOUGHT OF THE DAY: If an article is what results from a pitch, does that make it a son of a pitch?
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# Posted 7:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

IF YOU LIKE JAZZ, DON'T READ THIS: The rest of you can go listen to the long-undiscovered Louis Armstrong original of Brittney Spears' 'Oops, I Did it Again', unearthed by the same enterprising people who brought you 'the world's worst Jewish rap.'
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# Posted 6:53 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRSHAD MANJI AT OXFORD: Author Irshad Manji, a fairly prolific and broadly known feminist Muslim, will be speaking on Tuesday at Somerville at 5:30pm, for our Oxford readership - the title of her talk will be "Confessions of a Muslim Dissident: Why I Fight for Women, Jews, Gays...and Allah." This is part of her book tour for this book, which if you read Arabic or Urdu you can read for free on her website rather than buying. Now whoever said languages never paid?
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# Posted 12:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHOA! Eugene Volokh also has some harsh words for the new sex-ed curriculum in Maryland's Montgomery county. When I suggested that the WaPo underplayed just how overtly theological the curriculum is, I didn't know the half of it.

On a related note, take a look at Gene's defense of allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military. It demonstrates that you can argue for tolerance on rational grounds without smearing your opponents as bigots.
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Sunday, May 08, 2005

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHEN IT ISN'T HE SAID/SHE SAID JOURNALISM: As you may have noticed, OxBlog enjoys every salvo fired in the debate about he said/she said journalism, i.e. mechanically reporting on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

The purpose of this post is to put of a bit of a twist in the he said/she said hypothesis by pointing out that journalists often discard the norm of balance almost entirely. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not going to argue that journalists dispense with the norm of balance by ignoring the conservative side of the debate (an approach that is not unknown).

Rather, I want to point out that journalists consider it entirely appropriate to write articles that focus almost entirely on one side of the debate provided that the articles leave a balanced impression about the merits of that side of the case. In fact, journalists are even willing to focus almost entirely on the conservative side of a debate.

Take for example, the front page article in today's WaPo about Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, architect of some of the most visible opposition to the Democratic filibuster threat. At the very end of this relatively long article, there are two brief quotations provided by Scarboroughs critics. But that's not balance. Rather, it's the way that the WaPo correspondent describes Scarborough that provides balance. The first two sentences of the article run as follows:
In his home town of Pearland, Tex., Baptist minister Rick Scarborough was tireless in promoting his conservative Christian way of thinking.

He attacked high school sex education courses, experimental medical treatments and transsexuals trying to change their gender identification.
"Tireless" is better than lazy, but it's a pretty neutral description. "Attack" suggests that Scarborough tries to win arguments by volume rather than reason, but it's pretty reasonable to describe a staunch partisan as a attacking his opponents.

Shortly thereafter, the WaPo tells us that the filibuster debate
Provides a fiery new front in the culture war. And Scarborough is emblematic of the Christian right leaders who have been drawn to the fray.
This is an interesting pair of sentences. I'd suggest that "fiery fronts" and "culture wars" carry some strong negative connotations. Almost everyone, and especially newspapers, idealize cool, rational debate about substantive policy proposals. References to fire and war suggest that Scarborough deviates from that norm. Nonetheles, he was "drawn" to this debate rather than igniting it.

The first time we hear directly from Scarborough, this is how it goes:
"One of my goals in life is to give the Republican Party courage," Scarborough said in a recent interview. "We have a lot of gutless wonders who wear the tag conservative Republican. Anytime there's any amount of fire, they crater."
Here we have a Republican criticizing other Republicans, so you can't say the article is unfair to Democrats. Yet forgive me for suggesting that this quote made it into the article in order to demonstrate how radical Scarborough is, since journalists almost never describe the GOP as the more timid of the two parties.

The next time we hear directly from Scarborough, it is when the WaPo says of the leadership of the Christian right that
Their real power rests in their unique access to millions of voters "who happen to go to church," as Scarborough puts it. "It's straight to the heart of people from men and women they trust," he said.
In this instance, Scarborough is analyzing politics rather than making the case for his point of view. Thus, the exclusion of his opponents from the narrative makes little difference. I would suggest, however, that this passage hints at the danger of dictating politics from the pulpit. Along with idealizing cool and rational debate, we tend to condemn theological interventions in politics, since they divide audiences according to faith. Thus one might say that what's really happening here is that the Post is giving Scarborough just enough rope to hang himself.

The third time we hear from Scarborough, the minister comes off looking good. In the second half of the article, we learn that
Scarborough, 55, started preaching while a student at Stephen F. Austin State University. His other preoccupation was football; one teammate was future Redskins star kicker Mark Moseley. "I hiked every ball he kicked in college," Scarborough says.
Go Skins! There's always next year! Anyhow, this bit of puff coverage just sets the Post up for his finisher:
[Scarborough's] first foray into politics came two years later, when he attended a local high school assembly on AIDS awareness, and was appalled at the frank talk about condoms and "various sex acts." He read the transcript from the pulpit one Sunday morning and took his complaints -- and at least 400 parishioners -- to the school board. Eventually, the high-school principal was replaced by a supporter of abstinence-based sex education.
So is this an instance of positive grassroots action, or the unforgiving purge of a principal who refused to toe the party line? The Post's description only consists of facts. But the selection of facts is just as important as whether or not they are true. And even the truest facts have connotations.

Now perhaps the situation with regard to that principal was exactly what the Post suggests: an ideological purge. I have no reason to think otherwise except that I am generally suspicious of whatever the Post says about Christian activists. If it was an ideological purge, than readers should have that information available when forming their opinions about Scarborough.

But remember what this post is trying to show: that even by focusing exclusively on one half of the debate, one does not necessarily disadvantage the other side. In subtle ways, a purely factual focus on just one side can be even more effective than splitting the column inches between both.

Since this post is getting long, let's just consider one final quotation from Scarborough. According to the next-to-last paragraph of the article,
Scarborough insists that his broad goal is simply to put in place "constitutionally minded judges."
'Insists' is a fascinating word. One doesn't have to 'insist' about facts. No one insists that the capital of Virginia is Richmond. (Although I guess if someone told you that the capital of Kentucky is Lexington, you might have to insist that it is Frankfurt.)

The use of 'insists' in this article is expecially intersting, since we find Scarborough insisting that his stated opinion is his actual opinion. From that, one should infer that the good minister is not to be fully trusted, even on the subject of his own motives.

Strangely, the article never tells exactly what sort of opinion that Scarborough might be hiding. The answer is obvious, of course: the opinion that the real litmus test for judges is not whether they are "consitutionally minded" but whether their theology resembles that of Scarborough.

So what we have here is a case in which only Scarborough is quoted and he is defending own his opinion, but the article still isn't unfair to the missing side of the debate.

Now, if you're still reading this post, either because you hate it or because you are procrastinating, let me predict that the biggest criticism of this post will be that it reads far too much into the language of correspondents who are constantly trying to meet deadlines and don't have the time to think about the subtle connotations of every one of their words.

As a pre-emptive response to that objection, let me remind you of an observation made by Mike Allen, one of the Post's top political correspondents. Allen told an audience at a public discussion of the US media that
News writers are trying to present both sides' points-of-view, hence the "he said, she said" quality to [their work], but that they're trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who's right based on reading the story. [NB: This is a paraphrase, not a direct quote, provided by one of Allen's fellow panelists.]
I certainly have enough confidence in the WaPo to believe that its correspondents are fully capable of filling their work with interpretive hints, even when they are under deadline pressue. I just wish they would be a little more forthright about their opinions.
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# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMPROMISE ON THE FILIBUSTER? That's what David Broder and the editors of the WaPo are recommending. It seems like such an obvious and reasonable solution. On procedural matters, it makes no sense for ideology to come into play, especially since the Senate is so closely divided that the beneficiaries of any rule change may quickly become its victims.
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# Posted 10:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 7:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

OVERHEARD: 'Being a social scientist - is that like being a social drinker?'
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# Posted 3:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PRELIMINARY MEA CULPA: How ironic. I criticize a journalist for seeking mea culpas from supporters of the invasion of Iraq, only to find myself compelled to offer a mea culpa of my own as a result of my premature and poorly-informed criticism.

I intentionally suggested that Jeffrey Goldberg was a liberal journalist with an axe to grind. But according to a well-informed reader, Goldberg was an avid supporter of the invasion of Iraq and a darling of the neo-cons. For example, Goldberg wrote (and the New Yorker published) this in-depth account of Saddam's mass murder of the Iraqi Kurds. In that same article, Goldberg tantalized his readers with hearsay evidence to the effect that Saddam and Al Qaeda enjoyed (what we might now call) a collaborative relationship.

So, the only preliminary thing about my mea culpa is that it may not entail sufficient recognition of how extremely wrong I was. In the next few days, I intend to read more of Goldberg's writing in order to gain a little more perspective on my own folly.

In the meantime, you may savor the irony of how this inveterate critic of liberal media bias exposed his own bias in such an extraordinary manner.
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# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE IGNORANT CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS? Read this front page article about the new sex-ed curriculum in Maryland's Montgomery County and tell me if you think that the conservative activists opposed to the curriculum are ignorant or well, uh, ignorant. Because that certainly is the impression left by the WaPo's correspondents. Here's the lede:
Maryland's largest school system has become a battleground over what students should be taught about sex and a symbol, some supporters of the new curriculum said, of the increasing influence the conservative movement is hoping to play in public school classrooms.
Interesting how the lede focuses on the opinion of the curriculum's supporters. But you'll see that that's no accident. Here's the first opinion we hear about what's going on in Montgomery County:
"It looks like we're in Kansas after all. I'm appalled. I'm appalled," said Charlotte Fremaux, a parent leader at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, one of six campuses that was to be a pilot site for the sex-ed lessons. "Next, they'll be challenging evolution."
Next we hear from a sociology professor who says that
"It's not an anomaly to have these conflicts break out in liberal, well-to-do school districts,"...

"In those districts, folks are often shocked, but really it only takes a handful of parents to start what can become a bitter and quite divisive campaign."
In other words, a "handful" of conservatives can prevent an overwhelming liberal majority from educating their children the way they want to. So what are those conservative parents' objections to the new curriculum?
They said that though the "Protect Yourself" video discussed condoms, it did not note the dangers associated with anal and oral sex.
Later on in the article, we hear once again from the sociologist. She says:
We've had a growing political Christian right movement that since the 1960s has used sex-ed as an important battleground.
I see. This issue is being "used". There's no substance to it.

How do the conservative activists respond to that accusation?
"We really feel we represent the mainstream,'' said John Garza, the [conservative parents'] group's attorney and vice president.
Wait, but didn't we already learn that liberalism is the real mainstream in Montogomery Country? Even so, one parent who opposes the new curriculum says that,
"All we hear is how liberal Montgomery County is. There's actually quite a few conservatives in the county."
And that's how the article ends. With a conservative seemingly oblivious to how she lives in a majority liberal neighborhood.

Now, if you read this WaPo article online, you wouldn't be in much of a position to comment about the substance of this debate, because the article says almost nothing about the actual contents of the new curriculum. But the print edition of the Post provides some excerpts in an illustration on page A9. Here's my favorite part:
Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.

Facts: Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression. Less than a half a century ago, Baptist churches (among others) in this country defended racial segregation on the basis that it was condoned by the Bible. Early Christians were not hostile to homosexuals.
Wow. Talk about fair and balanced. I'm adamantly pro-gay rights, but should public school teachers be taking an official position on what is or isn't a sin? Will we promote understanding by teaching children that those who oppose gay rights are just as bad as racists?

But what's really crazy about all of this is the way the WaPo's front page article leaves the impression that irrational conservatives are objecting to the new curriculum for no good reason. To be fair, the article briefly mentions the opinion of a judge who dismissed most of the conservatives' arguments as unfounded but
Said he was disturbed by references to specific religious denominations in the teachers' guide and what he characterized as a one-sided portrayal of homosexuality.
Hmm. That's a pretty vague way to desribe a sex-ed curriculum with a clear-cut theological agenda. Interestingly enough, a masthead editorial in Saturday's post also mentions that
School officials need to remove some of the inappropriate "teacher resource" material accompanying the curriculum, particularly documents that praise some religious denominations and criticize others; it's no wonder some parents were upset about that.
Yeah, no wonder. That kind of preaching in the schoolroom is offensive enough that it might even belong on the front page.
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# Posted 1:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHEN NO NEWS ISN'T GOOD NEWS: This week, Darth Vader was on the cover of Time Magazine. Graphically, it's an extremely clever piece of work. The cover has a simple head shot of Vader, as if he were an actual world leader who was on the cover of Time because of some important thing he did recently.

Journalistically, the cover package is trash -- trash that will probably give Time's circulation figures a considerable boost. I guess the magazine has a right to make money and increase its readership. But even the story about Episode III is little more than a puff piece.

Star Wars is such a pervasive cultural phenomenon across the globe that it wouldn't be hard to come up with some very interesting stories about its social significance. Instead, we get a dull movie review spiced up with some quotes from the cast and a crew.

There is also an interview with George Lucas in which Lucas gets thrown more softballs than John Kerry did when he was on The Daily Show. Yeah, yeah, I know Lucas isn't a politician. But after fans around the world spent hundreds of millions of dollars on tickets to see Episodes I & II, Time should at least put this simple question to Lucas: "How come the first two prequels sucked so bad?"

Alternately, "Do you even understand how bad Episodes I & II sucked?"

Or, "Do you live in some sort of fantasy land where no one tells you what they actually think?" Damn it, why can't Sy Hersh infiltrate the Skywalker Ranch and let us know about the real Dark Side?

Anyhow, there is one illuminating quote in the Lucas interview. In response to the question of why he took sixteen years off between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace, Lucas says:
Star Wars was written very carefully around the limits of technology. I had one big technological leap that I had to make, and that was to be able to pan the spaceships. I thought I knew enough about animation that I could make that happen. Everything else was written for what I knew I could get away with, given the fact that I had a limited budget, limited resources...

But then Jurassic Park inspired me. I didn't have to use rubber masks. I could build digital characters that can act and perform and walk around and interact with actors. I can use digital sets. I can paint reality.
In other words, one the computers started doing the work, Lucas stopped trying. On a similar note, according to the WaPo,
Lucas confesses that the early "Star Wars" movies (released in 1977, 1980, 1983) were "painful experiences" because "what I wanted to do, I couldn't do." He means with the existing computer graphics and special-effects technology.
I try not to think of myself as a sadist, but thank God for Lucas' pain. Maybe it is true that all great art is the byproduct of suffering.
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Friday, May 06, 2005

# Posted 2:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TONY VICTORY FOR BLAIR: I'm glad Blair won. He risked his entire political career in order to support the war in Iraq simply because he believed it was the right thing to do. If I opposed the war in Iraq I probably wouldn't feel that way, but then again, I just might. It isn't often that a world leader makes such a momentous decision with so little consideration of his own self-interest.
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# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN SEARCH OF A NEO-CON MEA CULPA: This week, the New Yorker brings us a profile of Douglas Feith by staff writer Jeffrey Goldberg. Or to be more precise, the New Yorker brings us Goldberg's summary of his extended effort to get Feith to admit that the Bush administration had no justification for invading Iraq and that it massively screwed up the occupation. Apparently, Feith understood from the very beginning what Goldberg wanted to get out of him:
"I’m not going to be making some Oprah-like confessions,” he told me at the start.
Goldberg is kind enough to let Feith get a few good shots in, even if he uses the prerogatives of the author to ensure that Feith doesn't come out looking like the winner. For example:
One afternoon, I asked Feith what had gone wrong in Iraq. “Your assumption is that everything went wrong,” he replied.
Naturally, Goldberg never asks Feith what went right in Iraq. He never asks why the Bush administration had so much faith that Iraq's first elections would be a success even though the media and the experts had such great expectations of failure. Nor does Goldberg ask why the Shi'ites -- once portrayed by the American media as fanatical and vindictive -- have demonstrated such remarkable tolerance and such remarkable commitment to the democratic process in spite of the Sunni insurgents' vicious attacks on Shi'ite civilians and religious sites.

Of course, there is much that went very wrong in Iraq. After recounting Feith's barb about his assumption that everything has gone wrong, Goldberg writes that
I hadn’t said that, but I spoke of the loss of American lives—more than fifteen hundred soldiers, most of whom died after the declared end of major combat operations. This number, I said, strikes many people as a large and terrible loss.
And so it is. Feith expresses sympathy for the families of the fallen soldiers, but then offers up one of his weaker arguments in defense of the war: "This was an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11." This sets up Goldberg for his mea culpa request:
I asked Feith if he would have recommended the invasion of Iraq if he knew then what he knows now.
I found Feith's response to that question to be thoroughly unpersuasive although not outlandish:
“Given the ease, as everybody knows, with which one can reconstitute stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if you have the capabilities which he had, I don’t think the rationale for the war hinged on the existence of stockpiles.”
Let me put it this way: Would George Bush ever have been able to get majority support for the war in either Congress or the polls if he said that Saddam Hussein doesn't have chemical weapons? Would Bush even have tried to persuade the American public to go to war against weapons that didn't yet exist? (That was a rhetorical question.)

When it comes to the occupation, Feith fares considerably better. Better than he should, perhaps. Goldberg lets him blame almost everything that went wrong on Tommy Franks and Paul Bremer. Nor does Goldberg challenge the following assertion:
Feith said that the Pentagon carefully considered the possibility that the invasion and its aftermath could be disastrous. He mentioned what he called the “parade of horribles” memo, drafted by Rumsfeld in October, 2002, which listed all the things that could go wrong in the invasion. “Instead of saying, ‘How can we conceal from the President those things that would make him reluctant?,’ we decided we had to go to him before he makes such an important decision with a list of all those things that could possibly go wrong,” Feith said.
I fully believe that there was a "parade of horribles" memo and that Feith and Rumsfeld conveyed its substance to the President. But writing a memo is not the same as planning serioiusly for an occupation.

Why does Goldberg let Feith get off relatively easy on this point if he is so determined to shred apart his arguments for going to war? Well, first of all, Feith blames other members of the administration for what went wrong, so Bush doesn't get off the hook. But perhaps more importantly, I think that Goldberg -- along with many, many others, who spent eighteen months believing that the occupation of Iraq was a quagmire -- have been completely thrown off balance by the democratic surge in the Middle East. Goldberg starts off the closing paragraph of his essay by writing that
History may one day judge the removal of Saddam Hussein as the spark that set off a democratic revolution across the Muslim world. But if Iraq disintegrates historians will deal harshly with the President and his tacticians, the men most directly responsible for taking a noble idea—the defeat of a tyrant and the introduction of liberty—and letting it fail.
Naturally, Goldberg isn't about to celebrate the invasion of Iraq as the midwife of democracy in the Middle East. But ironically enough, the first of those two sentences represents at least as much of a mea culpa as anything Feith stated for the record. While one can have an extended debate about whether the invasion of Iraq had any impact on Lebanon, Egypt, etc., the fact that writers such as Goldberg can even imagine how history will vindicate George W. Bush illustrates how much the terms of debate have changed in just a few short months.
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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOUCHE! The Washington Monthly is hosting a debate about whether or not Bush and the invasion of Iraq deserve any credit for the democratic surge in the Middle East. Blogging in the affirmative is Dan Drezner. Blogging in the negative is Marc Lynch, with occasional commentary from host-man Kevin Drum.

Marc's initial post makes the valid, perhaps even self-evident point that progress in Lebanon and Egypt depended intimately on local conditions and local actors. Of course, Marc says, the invasion of Iraq slightly altered those conditions and encouraged those actors.

But if football is a game of inches, then democracy promotion is a game of slightlies. If the protesters in Lebanon were a little less confident of American support or if the Syrians were a little less concerned about all those GI's next door, might the outcome have been different? Of course, but we have absolutely no way of knowing that for sure.

So what to think in the face of uncertainty? Marc's basic argument is that without definitive evidence on Bush's behalf, there's no reason to give him any credit. In response, Dan makes the very sensisble observation that the stunning success of the Iraqi election in spite of an extremely violent effort to prevent it from taking place fundamentally changed the way that Arabs think about the prospects for democratic reform in the Middle East.

OK, but how does that kind of broad-gauge perception contribute to specific instances of reform, as in Lebanon and Egypt? Frankly, it's quite hard to say. And when I say "quite hard" I mean basically impossible. I'm writing a doctoral dissertation on democracy promotion and I can't think of any substantive research that looks at how political outcomes in one country relate to its citizens' perceptions of events in another. (Not that I really trust political scientists' opinions about anything, but you get my drift.)

Now, in contrast to our relative ignorance about "democratic dominoes" and "demonstration effects", I think we know a reasonable amount about who gets to take credit when good things happen. Throughout his campaign, Bush kept insisting that there could be a democratic revolution in the Middle East. Then he devoted his entire inaugural address to that subject.

In contrast, John Kerry kept talking about how we shouldn't be closing firehouses in Ohio while opening them in Baghdad. For their part, the center-left punditocracy kept projecting a deeper quagmire in Iraq while dismissing the democratic domino theory as a neo-con fantasy.

In other words, the differences between Bush and his critics were anything but subtle. Both sides had placed their bets on very different sets of outcomes. Moreover, Bush placed his bets on a set of outcomes with very, very long odds. And because Bush gambled his reputation on something so uncertain and so unusual, he will get to take credit for it, regardless of whether or not he got lucky.
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# Posted 1:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SEGREGATED BAND OF BROTHERS? In response to my observation that Band of Brothers gave short shrift to racial tensions in the United States Army, George Junior has put up an excellent post showing how Stephen Ambrose, the historian on whose work BoB is based, has directly addressed the tragic fact that "The world's greatest democracy fought the world's greatest racist with a segregated Army."
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# Posted 1:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ASK AND THOU SHALT (IMPLICITLY) RECEIVE: On Sunday night at 11:30 PM, I tweaked Matt Yglesias for devoting all of his guest-blogging at TPM to the subject of Social Security. What I said was "Now that promoting democracy in Iraq doesn't seem like such a ridiculous notion, the President's critics need a softer target."

Magically enough, at 9:40 AM on Monday, Matt starts of one of his posts by writing that
There is more to life -- and to politics -- than Social Security. Perhaps most crucially -- as this bloody week in Iraq reminds us -- there's national security, the issue that metaphorically killed the Democrats in 2004 and literally kills people each and every day.
If I were Mr. Chafetz, I would lambaste Mr. Yglesias for saying that national security "literally" kills people since "national security" can't literally do anything.

In contrast, Sunni terrorists are quite good at killing at people, especially Shi'ite civilians. In fact, if you click on that link provided by Mr. Yglesias, you can see a picture of a little boy wounded by one of the insurgents' car bombs. (The caption doesn't say whether or not he is Sunni, but then again the terrorists have never been too precise with regard to whom they kill.)

Anyhow, enough of the veiled barbs. Matt's post goes on to say something very important that a lot more Democrats should be listening to:
As the author of an article criticizing the Democratic Party's tendency to try and avoid these issues [i.e. national security] and head for the high ground of domestic economic policy, I must admit to some fears that the party -- and liberalism more broadly -- may be falling into just that trap at the moment...

You can bet that national security will be back with a vengeance in the election cycles to come. And rightly so since there's no government responsibility more fundamental than national defense. To succeed -- and, frankly, to be worthy of success -- Democrats need to get better at tackling this stuff.
Hear, hear.
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOW THAT'S MY KIND OF LIBERALISM: Tom Malinowski, the advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, says it's time to stop pretending that anything other than armed force will stop the killing in Darfur. He writes that Clinton hid behind a multilateral strategy in Bosnia and so the killing continued. Now Bush is doing the same in Darfur. As the French might say, that's tres ironique.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCHWARZENEGGER SLEEPS WITH THREE DIFFERENT WOMEN IN TWO HOURS: That's a pretty good summary of Conan the Barbarian, which I saw for the first time a couple of nights ago. I rented it primarily for its kitsch value, but it turned out to be a pretty damn good adventure story.

But let's get back to what's important: sex. Recently, I've been watching a lot of vintage action movies, such Black Caesar and Get Carter (the original, with Michael Caine). What constantly surprises me is just how much sex/nudity there is in these films and how tangential it is to the plot.

Which isn't to say that the sex is gratuitous. Sometimes, it plays an important role in character development. Nonetheless, I don't think it would've been hard to alter the cinematography just a little in order to bring the film down from an 'R' rating to a 'PG-13'.

[UPDATE: Eminent scholar Jacob T. Levy observes (via e-mail):
Ah, youth.

There warn't no such thing as a PG-13 back in 1982, sonny.

I think the advent of PG-13 is actually part of your story-- it created a box-office-friendly category that allowed more violence than a traditional PG, at the price of less nudity than a traditional R. So movies that would once have been made gore-and-nudity fests were now made just a touch less gory and a lot less nudity-filled, in order to bring in pre-17 teenagers.
Yup. I'd say the good professor has a point.]

So what's going on here? Have we simply grown less tolerant of buttocks and breasts? That seems unlikely, given the proliferation of porn on the internet. But on the silver screen, we seem to have become more judicious. On television, however, the edgier programs are beginning to show the kind of things that used to be rated 'R'.

Frankly, it's quite hard to reconcile all of these trend lines running in opposite directions. But let me take a stab at it: We have become less tolerant of sexuality in public forums, such as movie theaters, but more tolerant of it in the private settings where we watch TV and surf the net.

What account for this semi-contradiction? My sense is that concern about the degradation of American culture has led to greater restrictions on what is said and done in public. Yet in private, Americans are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by fiber optic technology.

Clearly, the story is more complex than that. Technology has nothing do with the emergence of the explicit lyrics of gangsta rap. Yet whereas millions of Americans buy such albums and listen to them in private, you won't hear those songs on the radio. Something strange is going on here, and it bears thinking about.
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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

# Posted 12:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH ELECTIONS PARTY PACK: How often can you celebrate on the same day both the continuance of democracy in Britain and the fact that Mexico isn't French? (Um, every day, if you really wanted?) So, to help our readers plan for all of your Cinco de Mayo/election night fests, here is a wonderful resource for those ever obligatory necessities such as party leader masks and party-appropriate cocktail recipes ('warning: masks will need to be removed before swigging', it helpfully notes).
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# Posted 10:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

YOU DON’T SAY AWARD: Currently in the ‘wire reports’ column on the New York Times’s website: ‘Study: Africa Worst Place For Moms, Kids’
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Monday, May 02, 2005

# Posted 9:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRIT BLOGGING: The Church of the Militant Elvis Party, which is contesting a constituency in Erewash in the British general elections, plans to place giant photos of celebrities such as Johnny Vegas, Graham Norton and Chris Evans in Heathrow and Gatwick, 'to discourage undesirable foreigners from entering Britain.'
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