OxBlog

Thursday, June 30, 2005

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR LESS THAN INTELLIGENT PRESIDENT: His experience as a politician was limited before he made it to the White House. According to one imperious professor from Harvard, "Never did a President enter upon office with less means at his command." A newspaper observed that he "cannot speak good grammar".

All of his rivals for the Republican nomination were far more accomplished and knowledgeable. He sought to compensate for his lack of expertise by appointing political veterans to his cabinet, but this only resulted in widespread perceptions of the president as a figurehead. Then with utter confidence, he led the nation into a major war that millions of Americans considered to be totally unnecessary and pointlessly destructive.

But enough about Abe Lincoln. He's been dead for a long time, so why rehash old debates about his presidency? By the way, the source for the material cited above is an essay by Doris Kearns Goodwin in the current issue of Time.

Strangely, Goodwin doesn't seem to notice the remarkable parallels between the first Republican president and his current successor. But if you take a closer like at the reasons why Goodwin thinks Lincoln was so great, you'll get a sense of why she is no fan of Bush.

According to Goodwin, Lincoln had eight critical virtues that made him a great president in spite of his inexperience. They were: Empathy, Humor, Magnanimity, Generosity of Spirit, Perspective, Self-Control, A Sense of Balance and A Social Conscience.

Although I don't think Bush scores all that badly on those fronts, you won't find many Americans who think of him as the president that embodies those values. If anything, Goodwin's list seems to reflect a certain desire to put Franklin Roosevelt or perhaps even Jimmy Carter back in office.

Anyhow, while I don't doubt that Lincoln had the virtues mentioned above, I would also speculate that Lincoln's most important virtues included: Moral Clarity, Dogged Determination, and A Willingness to Use Force in Defense of Principle. Then again, such qualities are often overrated.
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# Posted 11:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABE LINCOLN MATTERS! Well, duh. If you needed me to tell you that, then you are either just a little bit slow or are one of OxBlog's first readers from North Korea. But wait -- there is a third a possibility: you are a professional historian.

OK, so that's a slight exaggeration. Historians know Lincoln is still pretty important even though he has been dead for almost 150 years. But the fact remains that it is terribly unfashionable for professional historians to study Lincoln or any of the other great presidents and statesmen who made America what it is today.

Nonetheless, the intelligent layperson seems to maintain an avid interest in our 16th president and his cohort. For example, the current issue of Time has Lincoln on the cover and then provides no less than 27 full pages of information about the 16th president's life and legacy. Putting Lincoln on the cover means that the editors think Honest Abe can sell magazines.

Fortunately, there are plenty of first-class authors willing to research and write about Lincoln in order to satisfy the popular thirst for knowledge about the 16th president. Like my eminent colleague Bill Miller, the scribe responsible for Lincoln's Virtues, many of these authors have real world experience as journalists and commercial writers. They are most certainly not Ph.D.-bearing tenured professors -- which is exactly why they understand that Lincoln is so important.

So why don't professional scholars study Lincoln with similar passion and intensity? Here's one answer: In the preface to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph Ellis writes that
A kind of electromagnetic field...surrounds this entire subject [of the founding fathers], manifesting itself as a golden haze or halo for the vast majority of contemporary Americans , or as a contaminated radioactive cloud for a small but quite vocal group of critics unhappy with what America has become or how we have gotten here.

Within the scholarly community in recent years, the main tendency has been to take the latter side, or to sidestep the controversy by ignoring politics altogether. Much of the best work has taken the form of a concernted effort to recover the lost voices of the revolutionary generation -- the daily life of Martha Ballard as she raised a family and practiced midwifery on the Maine frontier; the experience of Venture Smith, a former slave who sustained his memories of Africa and a published a memoir based on them in 1798.

This trend is so pronounced that any budding historian who announces that he or she wishes to focus on the political history of the early republic and its most prominent practitioners is generally regarded as having inadvertently confessed a form of intellectual bankruptcy.
Although Lincoln was not one of the founding brothers, studying his politics is no more popular among the academic crowd. All of this leaves us with a strange irony: Scholars often lament that there are so few Americans willing to take an interest in sophisticated ideas and detailed arguments. Yet there is a voracious appetite among the reading public for painstakingly researched, fact-laden tomes about Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and other long-dead politicians.

Although one ought not to measure the importance of a subject by its popularity, I think that this time the majority has the merits on its side.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

# Posted 1:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY IS FOX BROADCASTING LIBERAL PROPAGANDA? Right now, I am four episodes away from the end of Season Two of "24", which is simply one of the greatest television shows ever.

I'm so addicted that I'll often watch three or four episodes a night. At the same time, I am profoundly disturbed by the far left ideology that pervades the entire show. I'll elaborate on that some more once I've finished Season Two and can comment on it as a whole.

But here's one incident that was so absurd I just have no choice but to write about it right now: In Episode 20, mobs across the United States continue their mindless assault on innocent Arab-American citizens. One of the victims is heroic intelligence officer Yusuf Auda.

Naturally, Yusuf's attacker wears one of those mesh baseball hats favored by truckers, has three days of stubble on his face, and talks like a redneck. After robbing Yusuf and leaving him for dead, the attacker and his buddies (one of whom, strangely enough, is Hispanic) kidnap the heroic and impossibly thin American blonde Kate Warner, who was working with Yusuf.

Kate promises to give the attackers all of the money in her safe at home if they will just give her back a microchip that Yusuf was carrying in his pocket. When Kate and the attackers arrive at her house, she opens up her safe and hands Mr. Redneck a very thick stack of bills. He looks at the bills and then asks Kate just what the hell she is giving him. "Euros", she says. Twenty thousand of them.

Mr. Redneck responds, "Do I look European?" and tosses the bills aside. One of his friends then discovers fifteen hundred American dollars and takes that instead.

Wow. Repeat: Wow. I guess you could defend the show by saying that we know Mr. Redneck is fairly stupid since he is a violent racist. But throwing away money because it's European? Only pure contempt for Red State America could have come up with that one.
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# Posted 12:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HUFFINGTON: So I finally read one of the posts over at Arianna's site, but only because it was written by a personal friend of mine. Because he is such a fine historian, Tim has put up a post about the analogies between Iraq and Vietnam that goes far beyond all of the usual cliches.

At the same time, Tim's argument manages to be spectaculary wrong in the way that only the best scholars can be. (Or you can chalk it up to his being a liberal Canadian realist.)

The foundation of Tim's argument is a fascinating observation made by LBJ in 1966. On the subject of Vietnam, the President told Gene McCarthy that
Well I know we oughtn't to be there, but I can't get out. I just can't be the architect of surrender.... I'm willing to do damn near anything. If I told you what I was willing to do, I wouldn't have any program. [Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett] Dirksen wouldn't give me a dollar to operate the war. I just can't operate in a glass bowl with all these things. But I'm willing to do nearly anything a human can do, if I can do it with any honor at all.
FYI, Tim is the head honcho of the presidential recordings project here at UVA, which has done a remarkable job of editing and publishing some of the most valuable archival material left behind by some of America's greatest presidents.

Anyhow, the question Tim asks in response to LBJ's observation is:
What would happen if both parties offered Bush the political cover to execute a dignified exit? This administration might stubbornly refuse the offer but future generations will look kindly upon those of both parties who tried to help the Bush administration get out of the Iraqi civil war sooner rather than later.
When I first met Tim at a Christmas party last December, we hit it off immediately because we have so many interests in common. Yet within five minutes Tim managed to locate the major fault line between our politics. He asked me: Are you a realist or an idealist? Do you really believe we can promote democracy in Iraq?

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I told Tim that I was an idealist but acknowledged that the situation in Iraq was extremely challenging and complicated. Secretly, I was hoping that the January elections would vinidicate my idealism.

So now January has come and gone, there was a revolution in Lebanon, there is a multi-ethnic government in Iraq and dictatorships throughout the Middle East are on the defensive. Even the Palestinians elected themselves a moderate president.

Yet still Tim thinks that we should declare victory, go home and risk letting Iraq become another terrorist base camp, like Afghanistan before 9/11. I guess my question for Tim is, what would it take to make him believe that the lives and courage of our soldiers in Iraq are being lost for a noble cause, rather than wasted in a quagmire?
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# Posted 2:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

COOL SITE OF THE DAY: Much has been made over the bicentennary of the Battle of Trafalgar, celebrated yesterday. But one of the quirkier and more neglected bits of the story is the National Archives' Trafalgar Ancestors Finder. Curious to see whether anyone with your surname served with Lord Nelson? Want to read about the exploits of Vice Admiral Adesnik of the line against the Spanish fleet? This is your chance.
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# Posted 2:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOPPING THE OP-ED: If you want to get published, you have to move fast. Bush's speech ended six hours ago. Just now, I sent off an op-ed about the speech to an editor who I hope will look upon it kindly. Here's what I wrote:
Can Bush's Speech Turn Around the Polls?

On Monday, Donald Rumsfeld declared that “Lasting progress and achievements do not come from reacting to headlines or chasing mercurial opinion polls.” Yet judging from President Bush’s decision to address the nation on Tuesday night, the White House isn’t as cocksure as the secretary of defense. History, however, is on the secretary’s side.

Prime-time, televised addresses to the nation are the most powerful weapon in the president’s rhetorical arsenal. Their impact on public opinion polls is often instantaneous. In other words, when the president spins, a certain percentage of the public gets spun.

The problem is that those voters who change their minds after hearing the president are also extremely likely to change their minds right back. What history shows is that the supposedly ignorant American public has a remarkable ability to judge presidents on the basis of their achievements, not their promises.

Over the past thirty years, televised addresses to the nation have rarely shifted the polls more than five percent in the president’s favor. Even the most persuasive of presidents, such as Reagan and Clinton, found it extremely hard to put more than a dent in the polls by speaking directly to the American public.

Conversely, those presidents known for putting their foot in their mouth tend to have almost as much of an impact on the polls as their more eloquent brethren. Thus, there is every reason to believe that Tuesday night’s address to the nation will persuade three or four percent of the American public that things in Iraq aren’t going as badly as the media would have us believe.

Both Democratic and Republican presidents tend to argue that journalists’ obsession with reporting bad news damages their efforts to build public support for the administration’s agendas. As recently as Monday, Secretary Rumsfeld lashed out at the media for reporting only the violence and not the progress in Iraq. However, the record suggests that the American public is no less immune to the media’s pessimism as it is to the president’s optimism.

Over the past month or so, there has been a lot of talk about new polls that show that the American public has finally turned against the war in Iraq. In fact, public support for the war rose significantly in June, leaving it at about the same level it was twelve months ago.

Last week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll showed President Bush gaining or holding his ground on almost every measure of support for the war. Thus, fifty-eight percent of the American public wants our soldiers to stay in Iraq until the job is done. That number has not varied by more than a single percentage point over the past twelve months. Moreover, the public fully understands that getting the job done in Iraq will take years, not months.

Poll data shows that (in hindsight) the American public has decided that invading Iraq in search of chemical and biological weapons was not a good idea. But it also recognizes that Iraq has become the central front in the war on terror.

This sense of priority explains much of the public support for staying the course in Iraq. But the American public also has a long record of supporting only those wars that it believes America can win. When the public turned against the war in Vietnam, it wasn’t because of the rising death toll, but because of a growing sense that the war could not be won.

Thus, one should infer from the stability of public support for the war in Iraq that the American public does have faith in the president when he insists that we are making real progress. The elections in Iraq this past January were a spectacular success that Bush alone seemed to expect. This spring, the Iraqi assembly bridged its ethnic divides in order to form a stable government. Right now it continues to reach out to the embittered Sunni minority in spite of the insurgents’ vicious attacks on Shi’ite and Kurdish civilians.

In the coming months, American support for the war will not depend on how often the president brings television cameras into the Oval Office or how often the latest suicide bombing makes it onto America’s front pages and evening news. Far more important is whether the Iraqi assembly can muster support for its new constitution and whether Iraqi security forces can demonstrate greater resolve on the battlefield.

If the people of Iraq continue commit the lives of their sons and daughters to the struggle for freedom throughout the Middle East, the American people will continue to commit the lives of their sons and daughters as well.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

# Posted 9:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT LIBERALS' FAVORITE BOOKS SAY ABOUT THE DEMS' REPUTATION AS SOFT ON SECURITY: The American Prospect recently asked more than twenty prominent liberals to name the most important liberal book written in the last fifteen years. The fact that only three of those twenty-plus commentators mentioned a book about foreign policy or national security tells you a lot about why the American public feels safer with Bush in the White House even though they disapprove of his policies.

Moreover, it's not just the fact that so few of the books are about foreign policy, but also the way in which the books approach the subject that convey the mismatch between liberal foreign policy and the concerns of the American majoirty.

For example, Harvard professor and terrorism expert Jessica Stern recommends Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry by Peter W. Singer. Stern writes that
Singer examines corporate mercenaries who kill for pro?t -- sometimes bene?ting the world through peacekeeping missions, and sometimes bene?ting only themselves.
Lots of folks I respect have praised Singer's work. But is corporate influence on national security really a defining issue for American liberalism? And if it were, would the American public see the Democratic Party as having its priorities straight?

In defense of Stern, it is worth noting that the Prospect demanded very rapid responses from those whom it polled about the most important books of the last fifteen years. Yet if the Prospect had directed its question my way, it would've taken me all of fifteen seconds to come up with my answer: "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power.

Ms. Power is one of Prof. Stern's colleagues at Harvard, so presumably the latter is aware of the former's work, which won a Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2003. Power's book provides both a history of the genocidal wars against the Kurds, Bosnian Muslims, and Rwandan Tutsi as well as powerful argument that the United States cannot be true to its own principles unless it is committed to stopping such massacres.

Along these lines, Benjamin Barber does recommend Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom as the most important book of the era. Barber describes it as "A persuasive case for democracy in an unjust, globalizing world." Sen's work doesn't exactly have all that much to say about US national security, but at least Barber is on the right track.

And so what about all the books not about foreign policy? The first thing I noticed was how many of them are about race, civil rights, and/or the 1960s. Walter Mondale recommends Judgment Days, which is about the relationship between LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr. The list also includes books about civil rights organizers in Mississippi, the life of W.E.B. DuBois, the legislative work of LBJ, and assorted others.

Naturally, liberals should celebrate the great triumphs of the past. But none of these subjects has much potential to serve as the foundation of a strong progressive, liberal, Democratic movement for the 21st century.

When it comes to the future, the Prospect's contributors seems to think that the right has all the momentum. Thus, the list includes books such as America's Right Turn and Under God: Religion and American Politics.

On a similar note, Al Franken recommends E.J. Dionne's WhyAmerican Hate Politics, which Franken credits with paving the way for Clinton's victory in 1992 by teaching the Democrats how to be tough on crime and welfare politics. In other words, the book taught Democrats how to sound like Republicans.

The question is, where is the book that can teach the Democrats to do that effectively today? Perhaps more importantly, why does it seem that Democrats can only win by sounding like Republicans? What does that say about the disjunction between American values and the Democratic agenda?
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# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG MISSING IN ARUBA? No, just working hard on the dissertation and then vacationing hard after sending in my draft. But I am back, and now I'm live blogging the President's address on Iraq.

8:02 PM: Starting with 9/11. This whole section will get mercilessly dissected for lumping Al Qaeda togther with Iraq.

8:04 PM: And the critics will hit even harder on the president's assertion that we are taking the war to the terrorists in Iraq instead of waiting for them to hit at home.

8:05 PM: Bush acknowledges that some question the relevance of the war in Iraq to the war on terror. Then he quotes Bin Laden to the effect that the war in Iraq is critical to the war against America. Very nice.

8:07 PM: The terrorists can only kill the innocent. They can stop the advance of freedom. Again, very nice.

8:08 PM: The lesson of 9/11 is to stay in Iraq until democracy wins. I agree, but a statement that will be much criticized.

8:09 PM: "Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made."

8:10 PM: Quoting Gerhard Schroeder on the importance of winning in Iraq. Smart.

8:11 PM: Saying we've trained 160,000 Iraqi defense forces and that they've fought bravely. Tough sell. Bush has been burned by the numbers before.

8:12 PM: Just did some channel surfing. The sound is just as bad on every other network, too.

8:14 PM: Is it me, or does Bush sound a little defensive? Remember, that comment is coming from someone who agrees with 99% of what Bush is saying.

8:15 PM: "The new Iraqi security forces are proving their courage every day." More than 2,000 have died.

With each engagement, the Iraqis grow more experienced. Of course, the same might be said of the terrorists.

8:17 PM: There will be no schedule for a pull out. Damn right.

8:18 PM: Our commanders say they have enough troops. Even I find that expression of confidence to be far from persuasive.

8:20 PM: An explicit pledge that Iraqi democracy will respect minority rights. Important, but just a beginning.

8:21 PM: An indirect call for democracy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But what will Bush say about Darfur?

8:22 PM: "The terrorists do not understand America." Exactly.

8:25 PM: Now the sound is out of sync with the picture. As a result, Bush has the wrong emotion on his face when he delivers his message.

8:26 PM: A call to those who are considering military service. A bold approach to a tough problem, or an admission of just how big the problem is?

8:28 PM: Here's Tim Russert (I'm watching NBC).

8:29 PM: Russert says the big question is whether the Iraqis are really committed to overcoming the insurgency. Strange. We know the Shi'ite-Kurdish majority is. The question is competence.

8:35 PM: It's Nancy Pelosi! She says Bush hasn't offered a plan for success. She says Bush has made Iraq into the terrorists haven it has become. She says the president isn't levelling the with the American people and that he is exploiting the memory of 9/11.

8:35 PM: Brian Williams asked Pelosi what the Democrats would do differently. She says we really have to turn the battle against the insurgents over to the Iraqis, have to internationalize the effort, and have to increase the rate of reconstruction.

8:37 PM: Williams' asks if Pelosi is concerned, like John Murtha, about the White House having a secreat cut-and-run strategy in Iraq. She completely evades the question by saying we shouldn't cut veterans benefits.

8:39 PM: Hey, howcome the Democrats don't get their own response time on all of the networks?

8:42 PM: NBC now has a report from Iraq. I guess the Dems won't be getting a response. And so I can start thinking about dinner...
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Friday, June 24, 2005

# Posted 12:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT THERE'S A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE: Well, almost. Just a few minutes ago I put the finishing touches on a full draft of my dissertation. Tomorrow morning, I print it out and ship it out off to Oxford.

If the red tape doesn't get in the way, I will have my defense in October or November. I will still have to do some editing between now and then, primarily in response to whatever comments my adviser has after reading the full draft. But the question now isn't if I'll ever graduate, only when.
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Sunday, June 19, 2005

# Posted 1:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RECLAIMING RELIGION FROM THE RIGHT: I direct your attention to Faith and Justice, a new website/blog devoted to exploring the relationship between religion and politics. F&J's editor-in-chief is my good friend Allison "Allie" Carter, one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever known -- but also razor sharp.

In her introductory post, Allie writes that
Historically speaking, in America, the word "religious" has not meant what it is taken to mean today: relentlessly conservative, against abortion, against gay people.

Faithandjustice.org is therefore, not a beginning, but a reclaiming. This site gives voice to a progressive view of religion in America.
And thus I look forward to many passionate disagreements that leave us all a little bit wiser.
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Saturday, June 18, 2005

# Posted 4:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STARBUCKS IS EVIL! (A FISKING): This front pager from the WaPo is the most enterainingly absured bit of muckraking I have read in a very long time. It reports that Starbucks' overpriced lattes are impoverishing needy students across the nation. I sent my brief response to the Post in the form of a letter to the editor:
Dear Washington Post,

God bless Starbucks. If overpriced coffee ["Javanomics 101", National, June 18] helps more students like myself get through college and grad school, then more power to it. Data from the 2000 Census shows that Americans with a bachelor's degree earned about $15,000 more per year than those with a high school degree. Those with an advanced degree earned an additional $13,000 per year, approximately. This divide has grown steadily over the years and will continue to grow as information and services become more and more important to our national economy. The next time you see a stressed-out student ordering a Double Caramel Part-Skim Macchiato, what you should feel is hope, not pity.

David Adesnik
Charlottesville, VA
My longer response shall take the form of a full frontal fisking, in which I haven't engaged for quite some time:

Javanomics 101: Today's Coffee is Tomorrow's Debt;
The Latte Generation Hears a Wake Up Call

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 18, 2005; Page A01

SEATTLE -- At a Starbucks across the street from Seattle University School of Law, Kirsten Daniels crams for the bar exam. She's armed with color-coded pens, a don't-mess-with-me crease in her brow and what she calls "my comfort latte."

She just graduated summa cum laude, after three years of legal training that left her $115,000 in debt. Part of that debt, which she will take a decade to repay with interest, was run up at Starbucks, where she buys her lattes.

Part of the $115,000 debt Kirsten Daniels of Seattle incurred to finance law school went toward her regular caffeine fix. The habit costs her nearly $3 a day, and it's one that her law school says she and legions like her cannot afford.

My heart is already bleeding for poor Ms. Daniels. To think that she might be only $112,000 in debt if not for the pernicious influence of Starbucks!

And might I ask how much will Ms. Daniels be earning next year? Seattle University may only be #95 in the US News & World Report rankings, but my cousin went to law school at #96, Syracuse, and he is pulling down top dollar at a New York firm these days.

It borders on apostasy in this caffeine-driven town (home to more coffee shops per capita than any major U.S. city, as well as Starbucks corporate headquarters), but the law school is aggressively challenging the drinking habits of students such as Daniels.

"A latte a day on borrowed money? It's crazy," said Erika Lim, director of career services at the law school.

I'm glad Ms. Lim is worried about the really important things that affect her students' prospects for a successful future.

To quantify the craziness, Lim distributes coffee-consumption charts. One shows that a five-day-a-week $3 latte habit on borrowed money can cost $4,154, when repaid over 10 years. She also directs students to a Web site she helped create. The "Stop Buying Expensive Coffee and Save Calculator" ( http://www.hughchou.org/calc/coffee.cgi ) shows that if you made your own coffee and for 30 years refrained from buying a $3 latte, you could save $55,341 (with interest).

Remember how in high school they used to brink in a throat cancer survivor with an electronic voice box to tell you about the perils of smoking? Perhaps Ms. Lim can invite some impoverished middle-aged lawyers to tell the students at Seattle U. about how Starbucks forces their children to go to bed hungry at night.

Inside the Starbucks across from the law school, Daniels seemed surprised -- but unmoved -- to hear all this. "I guess I never had done the math," she said. "On the other hand, I would be a very crabby person without my comfort latte."
Therein lies the rub for those who would curb latte consumption with pocketbook reasoning. As Lim concedes, "no one pays any attention."

How did an ignoramus like Kirsten Daniels ever graduate summa cum laude? Doesn't she know that counting her coffee dollars is at least as important as acing her coursework? And even if Daniels is no Einstein, I bet she can estimate how much more she will earn as a reuslt of having a law degree.

Financial planners, best-selling investment gurus and a number of advice columnists have been warning consumers for years that seemingly insignificant daily spending on such luxuries as gourmet coffee can, over time, sabotage savings and hobble a person's financial future.

It's not the cigarettes. It's not the booze. It's not even McDonalds. It is the gourmet coffee that is forces senior citizens to eat cat food!

But these warnings, too, have been ignored, at least as measured by the runaway growth and profitability of Starbucks, the world's leading purveyor of specialty coffee. Its stock is up more than 1,200 percent in the past 10 years. When it went public in 1992, the company had 125 stores. It now has more than 9,000 locations around the world and long-term plans for 20,000 more.

Call the United Nations! Call Bono! If Starbucks opens another 20,000 locations worldwide, the poverty epidemic may never be stopped. By the way, has anyone suggested to the French and Germans that the real cause of their double-digit unemployment is Starbucks?

Starbucks declined to comment for this article, referring questions to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a trade group. Its spokesman, Mike Ferguson, said that coffee shops provide an excellent opportunity for students to do their homework...

Godd***ed corporate stooges! It's people like Mike Ferguson who put a smiling face on the rape of American youth. And what about Starbucks? It's no better than a child molester walking the courthouse steps muttering to the press, "No comment. No comment."

In decades past, lenders chided college students for excessive spending of borrowed money on pizza and cigarettes, but the staggering ubiquity of Starbucks appears to have narrowed the nagging to foamy espresso drinks...

Don't forget the famous Pizza Crisis of the 1970s! It didn't get as much attention as the oil crisis, but that's just because the Italians control the media. Which reminds me, who do you think invented espresso and cappucino?

"The question that needs to be posed is 'Do they really need to have a Starbucks every day?' " said Jeffrey Hanson, director of borrower education service at Access Group, a Delaware-based organization that is the nation's third-largest provider of graduate school loans. "Since they are living, in part, on borrowed money, they need to be aware of the opportunity cost of that $3 latte. Once they spend it, it is not available for a loaf of bread."...

Hanson is right. Who do you think is really responsible for the legions of ragged students begging for crusts of bread in Cambridge and Berkeley? Starbucks, that's who.

But these warnings have a way of getting lost amid the sweet aromas emanating from university-owned espresso shops inside nearly every major building on campus. The university began a major espresso expansion in 1997, after a survey found that coffee was far and away the favorite on-campus "food."...

It's a sad tale, but true. The thrifty young student comes to campus in pursuit of knowledge, only be to led astray by casual sex, recreational drugs and the sweet aromas of the roasted coffee bean.

At Seattle University School of Law, Lim concedes the futility of persuading students to stop spending borrowed money on high-priced coffee. Still, she refuses to give up. The consequences of latte-larded law school debts are worrisome for the legal profession, she said, insidiously tilting career paths toward jobs that pay more but satisfy less.

Thank God for the lonely crusaders like Erika Lim. Sure, everyone thought that the abolitionists were crazy in the 1830s and 1840s. But just as their persistence ended our enslavement to King Cotton, crusaders like Lim will liberate us from King Coffee.

"The amount of money you owe directly affects the professional choices you have," she said.

Debt-panicked law school graduates, she said, tend to run away from low-paying jobs such as public defender (about $45,000 a year) and into the more remunerative arms of corporate law.

Lim, by the way, is not a latte drinker, unless someone else pays.

Just like me. I don't frequent prostitutes unless someone else pays them. As for the lack of public defenders, I assure you with total confidence that it has absolutely nothing to do with the rising cost of tuition at America's law schools.

In closing, all I can say is: Students of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chain-stores!

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# Posted 3:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONLY BUSH CAN DELIVER THE MESSAGE TO UZBEKISTAN: The White House says that DoD is on board with its efforts to stand up for human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan, but the press has been reporting a split between State and Defense for some time now.

While refusing to actually say that it opposes the State Department's efforts to hold Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov accountable for the recent massacre in Andijon, the military would apparently prefer to preserve access to its bases in Uzbekistan.

If Bush wants Karimov to know that America is serious about human rights and democracy promotion, he will have to deliver the message himself. Otherwise, Karimov will have a strong incentive to interpret the lack of consensus in Washington as a greenlight for further repression. Moreover, Bush will have to back his message up by making firm demands for an external investigation of the events at Andijon.

Almost two weeks ago, the WaPo argued that the value of our bases in Uzbekistan is hardly enough to justify compromising our most important principles in the war on terror. There are bases available elsewhere. In contrast, our credibility will suffer a damaging blow if we allow Karimov to crush legitimate dissent in the name of fighting Islamic terrorists. As the Weekly Standard points out,
The Taliban has been defeated, and, with the liberation of Iraq, the nature of the global struggle to which the Bush administration is committed is no longer exclusively focused on the destruction of terrorist redoubts. We are now committed to a democratizing effort that challenges tyranny along with terror as threats to peace and freedom around the world. The Uzbek regime that was part of the solution in 2001 is now, with its bloody suppression of protests, part of the problem.
Republicans on the Hill have also become increasingly critical of Karimov. The WaPo editorial points out that after returning from a visit to Tashkent, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Sununu all announced that Karimov's behavior has called the value of our diplomatic relationship into question.

Some might suggest that Bush's minimal presence up to this point suggests that he isn't following the issue or isn't concerned about human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan. But for quite some time now, Bush has refused to make excuses for authoritarian allies. He hasn't challenged every one the way he has Putin or Mubarak, but that takes time. Given a little more time, I expect Bush to approach Uzbekistan in a manner fully consistent with his principles.
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# Posted 2:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN ACADEMIC BLOG OF NOTE: Prof. Daniel Nexon of Georgetown (aka OxBlog reader "DN") is now blogging at the cleverly-named Duck of Minerva. Although DN has kinder thoughts about realism than does OxBlog, this post from DN explores a whole 'nother dimension of Kissinger's delusional arguments about China that I barely got to touch on in my original post.
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# Posted 2:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SCHOLARLY DEFENSE OF REALISM: Grad student PS takes OxBlog to task for attacking a strawman version of realism rather than the doctrine itself:
First off, the notion that a nuclear Iraq would be problematic but not inherently disastrous isn’t some bizarre notion – the fairly-insane regimes of Stalin and Mao proved manageable even once they got nuclear weapons. The same arguments made in favor of stopping a nuclear Iraq were also made in the early 1960s about stopping the PRC from getting the bomb (see Frank Gavin’s recent work on the Gilpatric Commission) and have been proven quite terribly wrong in retrospect. So maybe “wow” is one possible response, but another might be “nuclear deterrence is pretty robust, even in the face of genocidal psychopaths.”

Second, you badly misrepresent Mearsheimer’s arguments, and the rest of realism’s approach to the Cold War. He wasn’t a Cold War dove in the 1980s, but neither was he a hawk as you claim – he cut his teeth arguing that the conventional balance in Europe wasn’t nearly as bad for NATO as hawks like Sam Huntington and Eliot Cohen kept claiming it was (see the 1988 exchange in IS between Mearsheimer, Posen, and Cohen for an example; moreover, history has borne JJM out on this argument). His “Back to the Future” article’s analysis was premised on US withdrawal from Europe, which didn’t happen, and so the causal logic hasn’t had a chance to be tested (by the way, it was 1990, not the mid-1990s).

Third, it’s not clear that somehow Morgenthau was wrong in arguing that such fun adventures as Vietnam were not in America’s vital national interests. The twilight wars on the periphery were sideshows from defending the main strongpoints that locked up the keys to world power. It’s not threat deflation to say that American vital interests were simply not involved in places like Africa. Moreover, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re referring to with the Cold War and realism – apparently “many other realists were hawkish then too” but somehow also were “downgrading the threat.” For the most part in the 1980s realists were arguing for robust conventional and nuclear deterrence in Europe and East Asia while trying to keep the US from getting too bogged down in the Third World. Europe mattered, while the Third World only did in certain areas and in certain ways. A mixture of hawkishness and dove-ishness.

Fourth, I don’t understand your critique of defensive realism as ignoring the domestic nature of regimes (an “almost complete disregard”). Walt writes on the effects of revolution, Van Evera on militarism, organizational politics, nationalism, and misperception (you might want to read “Primed for Peace” or “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War” or “Why Cooperation Failed in WWI”), Posen on military organizations (“Sources of Military Doctrine”), and Snyder on domestic log-rolling, bureaucracies and international expansion (“Myths of Empire” and “The Ideology of the Offensive”). Most of this was written during the Cold War or was developed during it and published very soon after. Since then, people like Tom Christensen and Randy Schweller have very seriously looked at domestic politics. So I’m not really sure exactly what your point is. Snyder and Van Evera explicitly talked about democracies as being less expansionistic than dictatorships and especially oligarchic/log-rolling regimes. Maybe that’s “almost complete disregard” but given that these are major figures it’s hard to see how. Some people disagree with them, while others don’t think they go far enough in looking at domestic politics. But it’s not like domestic politics have been ignored.

Fifth, Walt appears to be right that NATO is no longer a very important alliance – the US doesn’t use it for much of anything, and the Europeans are slowly putting together their own power projection force. And if it does exist in some serious fashion, I don’t see how that’s the result of democracy. The US has been allied with Saudi Arabia and Jordan for decades too, and that’s not because of democracy.

Sixth, the offensive/defensive realist distinction you make is wrong – both look at armed force as the only effective deterrent. “The implicit deterrent of alliances” you refer to as the focus of defensive realists is backed by armed force; alliances are about armed force. The distinction between offensive and defensive realism is based on other things, like the efficiency of balancing, the probabilistic or possibilistic nature of state decision-making, the impact of nuclear weapons on deterrence, the ability to signal and detect state “type,” and the impact of domestic pathologies (discussed above) in leading to war. Armed force is crucial to both, as it is to any theory of international security, realist or not.

So I guess I just remain confused by your intellectual history of the field and current read on world politics. And I’m not really comfortable with you casting sweeping aspersions on the beliefs and motives of scholars whose work you appear not to have read, at least in any detail. Realists of various stripes have been right about lots of things, have looked at the issues you claim they haven’t, and have offered much more nuanced arguments than you give them credit for. They’ve also been wrong about lots of issues and ignored others, obviously. It’s always fun to beat up on “realism” but there are good and bad ways to do it.
Let me respond briefly. First of all, I think PS does a good job of illustrating that my previous comments can't do full justice to a scholarly enterprise in which hundreds of brilliant men and women have taken part over the past few decades. For those with a serious interest in realism, there is no replacement for reading actual books written by realists, rather than OxBlog's anti-realist polemics.

That said, I stand by my basic points and continue to disagree with PS. Unless one is comfortable with the current situation in North Korea, I don't see how one can describe deterrence as a robust response to the hypothetical situation of a nuclear Iraq (c. 2002) or Iran today. My previous point about the Cuban Missile Crisis suggests why deterrence was not ideal or safe during the Cold War, either.

Second, Morgenthau deserves credit for his early opposition to the war in Vietnam. However, this in no way vindicates his persistent criticism of Truman and others for taking Soviet ideology very seriously. With regard to the 1980s and the late Cold War, I basically agree with PS's characterization of where the realists stood.

When it comes to the defensive realists and domestic politics, I will avoid further discussion on the somewhat spurious grounds that this debate is too detailed and too distant from actual history and politics. (If I am wrong, and there are a lot of you out there who want to see OxBlog wrangle over the legacy of defensive realism, just send me an e-mail.) The same point applies to the subject of the offensive-defensive divide, although in that instance I tend to agree with PS's characterization of the subject.
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# Posted 1:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOUGHER THAN GETTING INTO HARVARD: In a sharp essay on Iran, Patrick Clawson notes that:
The Guardian Council only approved the presidential candidacies of 8 out of 1,014 applicants.
Those eight must have had some very impressive resumes.
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER REALIST TO KICK AROUND? Larry Kaplan writes that Chuck Hagel is just Kissinger-lite.
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# Posted 1:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING KISSINGER (BUT NOT REALISM): OxBlog is fortunate to have a very sophisticated readership. Thus, not just one, but two scholars have taken the time to critique my recent post about China and Kissinger. AS writes in that
I think you've missed some of the insight in Kissinger's (admittedly dull) commentary on China. The comparison between Clausewitz and Sunzi is more telling than chronology may indicate, for while the current batch of Chinese leaders may be closer in time to Mao, they are far closer in thinking to the legalist and Confucian bureaucrats of millennia past. It is an age-old tradition of foreign peoples trying to conquer the territory of China, only to be conquered themselves by its civilization. It happened first to the Mongols, then to the Manchus, and now to the German/Russian communists.
Although I defer to others' expertise about China, it would seem to me that the old men now running the show in Beijing were thoroughly indoctrinated by the totalitarian Maoist system in the 50s and 60s. Shall we suppose that once Deng's liberalization began in the 80s, these men became sudden converts to the wisdom of Sunzi (aka Sun Tzu)?

On a related note, AS continues that:
While China may be a vast empire, it is run very differently from the Soviet one before it. Russian culture was not developed enough to sustain true authoritarianism--even in the darkest days of Stalin's purges, underground organizers and samizdat publishers continued operating. The entire Soviet Union, not just the non-Russian parts but the Russian as well, were held together by force because they could not be held together by politics. Contrast the experience of the Cultural Revolution, where the sheer development of Chinese society (socially, not economically) created a web of passive oppression that left no free time or individuality for 'counter-revolutionaries.'
Twenty years ago, who would have said that Russian culture, from the czars to the Politburo, wasn't developd enough to sustain true authortarianism? That said, of course I agree that China is very different from the Soviet Union, but primarily because it now allows many of its citizens some very important measures of freedom, primarily economic. Although I again defer to others' expertise about China, my knowledge of the Cultural Revolution suggests that there was very little passive about it. Its brutality was overt and horrific.

Returning to the present day, AS argues that:
This is not to say that the Chinese system is any less oppressive or less evil. It is to say that military force, and the entire web of containment created to combat the Soviet threat, will be far less useful with regard to China...In China, such a scenario is entirely implausible: the country's economic growth, though unsustainable, is not going to collapse into depression. More importantly, the use of political and social power in the background to control society (ever since learning their lesson after Tienanmen) means that the vast majority of native Chinese harbor no real resentment against the system. To talk to them, the communist party is like a big corporation: silly with its rules, policies and propaganda, but ultimately more a joke than a monstrous evil.
I have very serious reservations about the assertion that most Chinese regard the ruling party as little more than a bureaucratic inconvenience. Although what we mostly hear about is economic progress, there is enough violent social tension in China to break onto America's front pages every so often. Although prosperity mitigates such concerns, corrupation and abuse is rampant in the PRC.

AS concludes that:
Put simply, the Chinese state is too well held together by economic success and strong social control to simply succumb to containment.
That I may agree with. But China doesn't have an ideology of global expansion the way the Soviet Union did, so containing it would amount to something very different than another Cold War. In short, we need to defend Taiwan, support the Japanese, and restrict Chinese support for rogue governments and (possibly) terrorist organizations.

What we are waiting for in the meantime is not for the Chinese system to collapse under its own weight, but for the people of China (and perhaps even the government) to see that becoming a First World nation demands political reforms as well as economic ones.
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Friday, June 17, 2005

# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING REALISM (BUT NOT KISSINGER): Dr. DN, a real live professor of international relations, protests that
You can't be serious when you write [about China]:
"Then what? Be prepared, I suppose. Strengthen our alliance with Japan and other allies in the Pacific. And, if at all possible, avoid indulging ourselves in the willful naivete of the realists."
Ever read any Mearsheimer? The realists think China is where *all* the action is at vis-a-vis coming political conflicts, and they don't think much of the liberal "socialization" project for China. Kissinger is an outlier because, to be blunt, he represents a lot of interests that would like us to make nice to China....Don't pin this on realism.
I have had the misfortune to read many things written by Prof. Mearsheimer, but not regarding China. What those readings indicate is that Mearsheimer, like Kissinger, sometimes draws on a remarkable well of naivete in order to justify accommodating dangerous opponents. Although many intelligent individuals opposed the invasion of Iraq on fairly substantive grounds, Mearsheimer and fellow realist Stephen Walt argued that going to war was a bad idea even if we were fully confident that Saddam was in the process of developing nuclear weapons. They wrote:
But what if Saddam invaded Kuwait again and then said he would use nuclear weapons if the United States attempted another Desert Storm? Again, this threat is not credible. If Saddam initiated nuclear war against the United States over Kuwait, he would bring U.S. nuclear warheads down on his own head. Given the choice between withdrawing or dying, he would almost certainly choose the former. Thus, the United States could wage Desert Storm II against a nuclear-armed Saddam without precipitating nuclear war.
Wow. Wow. Repeat: Wow. These guys were confident that a nuclear Iraq would've been no problem to handle. As I responded at the time:
One could have argued at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis that according to strict logic, nuclear war was impossible. Yet no one knew that then and no one knows it now.
What's interesting is that realism has a long pedigree of favoring appeasement. E.H. Carr, the founding father of realism, was a staunch supporter of Neville Chamberlain's accomodationist approach to Hitler. And I think I'm not exaggerating when I say that Hitler was the Hitler of his time.

In the early 1950s, the second founding father of realism, Hans Morgenthau, viciously denounced Truman for being too hawkish toward the Soviets. Now it is true that the other great realist of the late 40s and early 50s -- George Kennan -- elaborated the doctrine of containment. Yet by the early 50s, Kennan had also turned against Truman on the grounds that he was too hawkish. In fact, Kennan even opposed the creation of NATO.

So what we see from Carr, to Morgenthau, to Kennan, to Kissinger, to Mearsheimer & Walt (c. 2002) is a resilient tradition of downgrading the threat presented by aggressive dictatorships. Yet as Prof. DN would be sure to point out, Mearsheimer was the quite the hawk during the 1980s. Many other realists were hawkish then as well.

This countertrend represented the growth of an emerging divide between "offensive" and "defensive" realists. The offensive faction tended to see the costs of aggression as low, and therefore thought of armed force as the only effective deterrent. The defensive faction had more confidence in the implicit deterrent of alliances, for example the Sino-American willingness to punish hypothetical Soviet aggression.

What united the offensive and defensive factions was an almost total disregard for the internal composition of the regimes they analyzed. The idea that democracies don't go to war with one another struck them as being as naive and dangerous.

These days, realism is in a state of flux, primarily because of the end of the Cold War. According to almost all pre-1991 realist theory, a unipolar world is something that simply shouldn't exist. Then, in the mid-1990s, Mearsheimer famously invested his reputation in the prediction that in the absence of a Soviet threat, Europe would descend once again into the internecine warfare of the pre-1945 era. Around the same time, Walt predicted that in the absence of a Soviet threat, NATO would fall apart. As you can see, the probelm with these bold predictions is that they ignored the difference between dictatorship and democracy.

Getting back to China, I'm guessing that the same offensive-defensive divide that bifurcated realist approaches to the Soviet Union is also responsible for mixed opinions about China. In addition, many realists have rushed to embrace the idea that democratizing powers, as opposed to established democracies, are especially war prone. When I track down Mearsheimer's latest on the Middle Kingdom, I'll let you know what he says.

In conclusion, DN is right that I should tar every realist with the stain of Kissinger's Sinophilic accomodationism. But the intellectual impulses responsible for Kissinger's short-sightness are endemic to the realist community.
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# Posted 8:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

PHOTOBLOGGING ROYAL ASCOT: I went with OxBlog's Asia correspondent to York to cover Ascot yesterday, and a bit of photoblogging results. I believe there were several races, though any real proof of this was obscured by the rotation of planetarily-dimensioned hats. I personally did not have a flutter, but can nonetheless attest that all the nicest horses won anyway. This I was told by someone wearing a hat.






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Thursday, June 16, 2005

# Posted 6:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: From CNN (and a story about that perennially fascinating topic, the relationship of mountain-climbing to excrement) "They think they're going out on a pristine climb and there's virus-laden poo all around them."
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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAC-MAN!
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

# Posted 2:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KISSINGER -- THE DELUSIONS OF A REALIST: Once again, old Henry has persuaded the WaPo to publish one of his rambling essays about why America should befriend those nice folks running the government in Beijing. If you're looking for new ideas instead of shopworn cliches, don't bother with Kissinger's prose. But if you want to see all of the flaws of realism as an ideology presented in the space of single op-ed, this essay can't be beat.

I think the place to start is with this delightful paragraph:
Military imperialism is not the Chinese style. Clausewitz, the leading Western strategic theoretician, addresses the preparation and conduct of a central battle. Sun Tzu, his Chinese counterpart, focuses on the psychological weakening of the adversary. China seeks its objectives by careful study, patience and the accumulation of nuances -- only rarely does China risk a winner-take-all showdown.
I wonder how many folks in Tibet would agree that "military imperialism is not the Chinese style". Then again, it isn't exactly fair to judge the current government in Beijing by what its predecessor did more than fifty years ago.

But if Kissinger is trying to argue that China has changed, what's with all of this hokum about Sun Tzu, who lived more than two thousand years ago? In contrast, Mao Zedong said much more recently that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Yet the realistic Kissinger covenienty ignores the influence of Mao on the Party and the republic that he created.

Now here's some more realistic analysis from Kissinger:
It is unwise to substitute China for the Soviet Union in our thinking and to apply to it the policy of military containment of the Cold War...The Russian empire was governed by force; the Chinese empire by cultural conformity with substantial force in the background.
Someone (maybe someone from Tibet) should've told that guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square that China is governed by "substantial force" only "in the background". Apparently, Mr. Kissinger seems to have forgotten that China is still a dictatorship. In fact the word 'dictatorship' doesn't appear in his op-ed. Nor does 'democracy'. Nor does 'human rights'.

As a committed realist, Kissinger desperately wants to believe that American foreign policy can be made without reference to the deeply-rooted ideals of democracy and human rights. And he's right; it can. From 1969 until 1976, the United States displayed almost no concern for democracy or human rights. Coincidentally, Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State from 1969 until 1976. (And the first president Kissinger worked for didn't even seem to be too concerned about subverting democracy within the United States.)

In addition to being an ethical concern, democracy and human rights have a lot to do with national security. As Robert Kagan pointed out in his recent column about China, there is only one clear-cut case of a rising power in the international system making it to the top without fighting a war against the hegemon it displaced. That rising power was the United States. That hegemon was Britain. Rightly, Kagan observes that
The fact that both powers shared a common liberal, democratic ideology, and thus roughly consonant ideas of international order, greatly lessened the risk of accommodation from the British point of view.
So, then, do China and the United States have "consonant ideas of international order"? Kissinger does quite a good job of evading this question. He never seems to tells us what it is that China wants or why some very smart people consider China to be quite threatening. Kissinger does insist, however, that
China, in its own interest, is seeking cooperation with the United States for many reasons, including the need to close the gap between its own developed and developing regions; the imperative of adjusting its political institutions to the accelerating economic and technological revolutions; and the potentially catastrophic impact of a Cold War with the United States on the continued raising of the standard of living, on which the legitimacy of the government depends.
He almost makes it sound as if Jimmy Carter were the president of China. I have to admit, it would be nice if Beijing's concern for social inequality led it to pursue a more peaceful foreign policy. Yet in practice, Beijing seems to be doing exactly the opposite. In order to divert attention from probelms at home, it creates problems abroad. Of course, Kissinger conveniently avoids mentioning how the Chinese government recently whipped up an anti-Japanese furor for no good reason at all.

Now let's get to the point. Assuming that Kissinger's analysis were correct, what kind of policy toward China should America have. Here's Kissinger's advice:
America needs to understand that a hectoring tone evokes in China memories of imperialist condescension and that it is not appropriate in dealing with a country that has managed 4,000 years of uninterrupted self-government.
I thought that realists were supposed to be tough. I thought that realists placed an emphasis on power. Instead, Kissinger wants us to believe that foreign policy is about multicultural self-esteem.

So then, if I disagree with Kissinger (and even dare to mock the Great Henry), what do I think we should do about China? Well, first of all, like Robert Kagan, I think China is the one that's going to decide what kind of relationship we have with it. We should speak out on behalf of democracy and human rights but never pretend that our expressions of interest can change the course of Chinese politics.

Then what? Be prepared, I suppose. Strengthen our alliance with Japan and other allies in the Pacific. And, if at all possible, avoid indulging ourselves in the willful naivete of the realists.
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Monday, June 13, 2005

# Posted 2:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STEALING THE OXFORD NAME: If you thought that calling this website "OxBlog" represented an audacious borrowing of our alma mater's good name, then who knows what you'll think of the three alums who started their own "Oxonian Society" without getting permission from the University.
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AT LEAST THEY WEREN'T LYING ABOUT THE WMD: Here's an interesting passage from the Second Downing Street Memo that hasn't gotten much attention:
8. The Chiefs of Staff have discussed the viability of US military plans. Their initial view is that there are a number of questions which would have to be answered before they could assess whether the plans are sound. Notably these include the realism of the 'Running Start', the extent to which the plans are proof against Iraqi counter-attack using chemical or biological weapons and the robustness of US assumptions about the bases and about Iraqi (un)willingness to fight.
So it seems that the British Cabinet was profoundly concerned about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. Relying on my Sherlock Holmes-ian powers of inference, I therefore infer that the Cabinet was wholly convinced that Saddam actually had chemical and biological weapons. If only they had lied and told us he didn't...
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Sunday, June 12, 2005

# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRITISH MEMO FROM '02 PREDICTED MASS ENTHUSIASM FOR DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ: Yes, I completely made that up. What the WaPo actually reported on Sunday's front page was that
Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation of that country.
As Kevin Drum points out, this isn't exactly a revelation (even if Juan Cole calls it a "bombshell"). No one needed secret intelligence, even in 2002, to discover that the Bush administration hadn't done enough to prepare for the occupation of Iraq. Even so, slightly more evidence in favor of this obvious point still gets front page coverage in the Post.

(NB: The full text of the new British memo is here. Link via Jeralyn Merritt.)

But what about the other side of the story? What about the fact that no one other than Bush seemed to believe that the people of Iraq would display tremendous enthusiasm for democracy once liberated from Saddam Hussein? If a British memo from 2002 had predicted what would happen in the elections of January 2005, that would really be news.

Now, I recognize that journalists must serve as watchdogs, always ready to expose the failures of our government. Thus, the Bush administration deserves to be hammered for its pre-war planning.

But if journalists want to educate the (reading) public, perhaps they should explore why all of the experts failed to anticipate the Iraqi people's enthusiasm for democracy. By the same token, they should explore why the Shi'ites have been so amazingly tolerant of Sunni terrorism.

The reason to provide additional coverage of these subjects isn't that the Bush administration deserves better press. It is that the media is supposed to do more than present worst-case scenarios. In the long-run, looking at both sides of the equation will benefit the media, as well, by restoring the credibility it has squandered so magnificently of late.
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# Posted 11:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW MANY TERRORISTS HAVE WE CAUGHT HERE AT HOME? Last Thursday, George W. Bush said that
Since September the 11th, federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.
That quote from the president serves as the launching point for a major WaPo article/investigation into whether the Justice Department has actually caught as many terrorists as Bush says. The investigation concludes that Justice has only won 39 convictions on charges related to terrorism, rather than 200. Moreover, the majority of those convictions have nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or any other groups planning attacks on the United States.

For some, even the number 39 represents vindication. As Michelle Malkin points out, Paul Krugman is fond of saying that the Justice Department hasn't put a single terrorist in jail. Malkin offers no defense of Bush's statistics, however.

What I would add is that there are two important points that the article doesn't explore, presumably because of space limitations. The first is why so few terrorists have been apprehended and imprisoned. The WaPo mentions in passing that its results
Raise the possibility that the presence of al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers within the United States is either limited or largely undetected, many terrorism experts say.
That's a pretty big distinction. If the answer is 'limited', one might say Bush deserves considerable credit for rolling up whatever Al Qaeda cells were in place. If the answer is 'undetected', then we may all be in very big trouble and have to ask whether the Patriot Act is doing its job.

Which leads me to my second point. The purpose of Bush's speech on Thursday was to defend the Patriot Act and illustrate how it contributes to the search for terrorists in the United States. The WaPo investigation doesn't say much at all about whether the 39 convictions it identified were made possible by the Patriot Act. While it would be more impressive if the Act were responsible for 200 convictions, 39 may well be enough to justify the continuation of those Patriot Act provisions that are set to expire in the coming months.
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# Posted 9:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

OUR ASIA CORRESPONDENT writes a letter from Bangladesh where she has returned after four years:
Very little has changed in the four years since I've been gone. Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 138th on the Human Development Index in 2004 (which still does not put it at the bottom in South Asia - Pakistan ranks 142). The poverty is still breathtaking. The first time I was here, I noticed an alarming number of children and elderly people without limbs begging on the street. After enquiry, I learned that families often lop a limb off one person to increase their begging prospects. One child's arm means food for the other six or seven children. The middle class is miniscule to the point of non-existence. Any Bangladeshi with money or connections almost invariably goes overseas, most to the Gulf, the UK or the US, sending remittances home and providing one of the main sources of income for the country.

IT is the new buzz here, but it is unclear whether it actually exists besides one sad-looking internet cafe with two computers in the 'wealthy' part of town (read: less than abject poverty). Both times I went there was no current and hence no internet, but in theory you could check your email. Dhaka still does not have a McDonald's nor any other international chain, although it does have a Dominous pizza (note the ingenious way around copyright) and a restaurant that has stolen the Chili's logo and sells Thai food. The country has trouble attracting foreign investment because it has one of the highest corruption rates in the world, exacerbated by a political system run almost entirely by two political families who trade off power almost every election. During my visit, two strikes called by the opposition caused economic activity to grind to a halt. Fearing reprisals from the organized crime mobs controlled by each of the families, the entire country shuts down. When I ventured onto the streets around 2 p.m., the only activity I saw on the usually congested streets was an occasional rickshaw.

After several days in Dhaka, I traveled by launch down the Ganges River to the island of Bhola, which served as my home for several months back in 2001. Things here have changed more dramatically, but I fear for the worst. When I was here before, women did not adhere strictly to purdah and many ventured into the marketplace wearing only hijab. Now, women are largely kept to their homes and are required to wear a burkah in public. However, some advances have been made in women's health. Birth control in the form of contraceptive pills from India is now available, although apparently the local Madrassa has organized a campaign against its use (not that it seemed to be having much effect; most of the women see it as a Godsend). The island still only has a handful of doctors for 8 million people; education is spotty, although improving. I was glad to hear that in the past five years, families have begun to send their daughters to school past primary school. I also saw evidence that microfinance projects were living up to their touted potential here. Several women's craft guilds have appeared in the area since I visited last and many women appear to be supporting their families on the income they make.

The biggest difference has to be the proliferation of cell phones and televisions. Before, the only telephone was owned by the police chief, who doled out phone privileges based on bribes or personal connections. Now, every third person seems to have a cell phone. The people in the area may still not have reliable electricity, or safe drinking water, or indoor plumbing, or much of anything else, but now many families do have a television. The children look just as malnourished but now they can sing Bollywood songs. Because of this, the people have a greater awareness of the outside world than they did four years ago. And the more they see of the outside world, the less likely Islamic extremism will make inroads in the area, something that it is constantly threatening to do.

On the final night of my time in Bhola, I went up to the roof of the orphanage where I was staying and watched a storm roll in over the flat landscape. One of the teachers at the school gathered the children in a circle and sang a slow melodic folk song as the wind swept through the branches of the Khrishnachura trees below. When a lightening bolt would cascade across the sky, the red blossoms of the tree named for a god appeared against the night like tiny orbs of blazing fire. It was one of those moments of beauty and tranquility that, perhaps mistakenly, gives you faith in something that transcends the banalities and tragedies of this world. Bangladesh has a way of reminding you of the fragility of human life. I knew that many people would die in the floods that would follow the storms. The orphanage on which I stood was itself an artifact of the brutality of life here, built in the aftermath of the 1971 cyclone that killed millions in a matter of days.

The moment on the roof was ethereal, but it was I who was the ghost, swooping in from another world to which I would shortly return. Most people here view the United States as akin to Paradise and equally unreachable in this life. Yet, life does goes on. Another child is born. Another dies of fever in the middle of the night. And another still is given a chance at making more of herself than the world ever intended. I’m glad I have stayed involved in the community since I left, organizing a program that has given some young adults the chance at a university education and a better life. The misery of the people here is only matched by their potential to rise above it.

I learned later that a launch similar to the one I had taken just days before capsized in the storm that night and 200 people died. The launch had capsized twice before, killing hundreds, and had been condemned by the river authorities. And yet, it had set out that night overcapacity and understaffed. Ironically, it was the first-class passengers who bore the brunt of the casualties. Trapped in their cabins when the boat capsized, they had no chance to swim ashore, while some of those on the open-air lower decks were permitted a fateful reprieve from death. As I paced nervously on the first-class deck the next night on my way back to Dhaka, afraid to retire to my cabin, I reflected on the strange twists of fate that have left Bangladesh permanently on the lower deck in the world today. Hopefully, the boat won't have to capsize in order for them to someday reach the shore.
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# Posted 12:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

CALLING OUR ENGLISH READERS: If any of our friends may be able to spare a bit of time tomorrow afternoon, I can bring a guest to the Garter Ceremony at Windsor Castle at 2 pm. You yourselves don't need to wear a garter. If you did, you'd probably already have an invitation, and a garter too.
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Saturday, June 11, 2005

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAIT, IS THAT ENRIQUE YGLESIAS? Whoever it is, his new blog can be found here. The explanation for why he has new blog can be found here. Congratulations, Matt!
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# Posted 11:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WATCHDOGGING THE GOOD OL' MSM: First, check out David M.'s running coverage/expose of the Columbia Journalism Review's strange effort to hide the appointment of arch-leftist Victor Navasky as its chairman. (Hat tip: Glenn)

Next up, Mickey Kaus provides a humorously scathing compilation of EJ Dionne's efforts to persuade his readers himself that John Kerry was a very formidable candidate. Finally, Max Boot points out how, even after the Newsweek fiasco, journalists have paid very little attention to how the inmates at Gitmo have treated the Koran with far greater contempt than their captors. (Hat tip: Glenn again.)
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# Posted 10:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT EXPERTS SAY ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT: Haynes Johnson, now retired, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Washington Star and Washington Post. In 1991, he published Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years, a bestseller that was re-issued in 1992 and then again in 2003.

For the moment, I will withhold my general thoughts about the book and its portrayal of the Reagan White House. Instead, I will reproduce some of Johnson's comments about Christian conservatives, which struck me as astoundingly narrow-minded for someone who supposedly knows so much about politics. The following is from Page 206 of the 1992 edition:
The rise of the Moral Majority had been foreseen nearly thirty years earlier [i.e. in the 1950s] by a California longshoreman named Eric Hoffer. His small book The True Believer became one of the most important and provocative of a generation. In examining "the true believer" mentality and its impact on mass movements, Hoffer said:
All mass movements...irrespective of the doctrines they teach and the programs they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same type of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of minds.

Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical Communist, and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one.
Without realizing it, Hoffer had described the elements that made up the Moral Majority, or Christian Right, thirty years later [i.e. in the 1980s]. They were America's new old-fashioned zealots. And they were a misnomer. They were more accurately the Militant Minority, and they were created by the same kind of true believer frustrations that Hoffer spoke of in general: "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves." In the eighties, the Moral Majority demonstrated how such a militant and intolerant minority can take control when zealously motivated.
Although American liberalism prizes few things above tolerance, that tolerance does not seem to extend to those who take their with utmost seriousness. I may disagree with many, many of the positions advocated by the Christian Right, but when I criticize them, I try to offer more than pseudo-psychiatry and crude condescension.

I also find Johnson's endorsement of Hoffer's denigration of mass movements to be extremely ironic, given that Johnson won his Pulizter for coverage of the civil rights movement. In addition, a wave of democratic mass movements sprang to life across Eastern Europe in the years just before Johnson sat down to write his book.

Now, it is fair to ask why I am bothering to criticize in such great detail a book that came out fourteen years ago. One answer is that I just read the book and was so offended that I felt compelled to write about it. Another answer is that it is important to establish that there is a long tradition in the United States of highly-educated liberals displaying contempt toward people of faith.

It is important to establish the length of this tradition not just because OxBlog enjoys exposing the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, but because Democrats with an interest in winning elections need to recognize just how profoundly liberals have failed to understand American Christians. It is simply not possible to reach out to a constituency that one believes to be inherently ignorant and delusional.

In light how close the elections were in 2000 and 2004, the Democrats may prevail in 2008 without changing their attitudes toward religion. But in a close race, the last thing you want to do is assume that millions of voters are lost when in fact they might be found.
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Friday, June 10, 2005

# Posted 8:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

READERS AND EX GIRLFRIENDS WILL remember that we at OxBlog are romantic mushes. However, even we have our limits on the mushometer.
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

# Posted 1:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A WHITE HAT FOR ABDULLAH: David Ignatius is convinced that the King of Jordan is one of the good guys. Ignatius says that Abdullah's reformist impulse has only been held back by his conservative intelligence chief, Gen. Saad Kheir. Thus, we should expect good things in the months to come since Abdullah has just demoted Kheir to a less influential post.

However, Jim Hoagland had much less positive things to say about Adbullah back in March:
As Arafat did, Abdullah works against U.S. interests in Iraq and elsewhere while pretending otherwise...

The king has exacerbated tensions with his aggressive championing of his co-religionists, Iraq's Sunni minority, who provided the base of past Baathist power and of the present insurgency.

Abdullah publicly warned against the coming to power of Iraq's Shiite majority as he sought to get Bush to postpone the Jan. 30 elections. He has portrayed Iraq on the edge of a religious war. He has channeled support to CIA favorites among Iraqi factions...

Former Baathist lieutenants who are now key operatives in the Iraqi insurgency still move themselves and money around Jordan without interference. In an incident that Bush should probe, U.S. officials a few months ago identified two such Iraqis and asked that they be questioned.

But the king waved the Americans off, saying that the two were minor figures who did not have blood on their hands. "We came to know that wasn't true, as he no doubt knew back then," one U.S. official told me.
I may not understand the byzantine intricacies of Jordanian court politics, but there seems to be more than enough reason to be far more skeptical of Adbullah than Mr. Ignatius wants to be.
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# Posted 1:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR SMALL BUSINESS WHEN YOU'RE SERVING IN IRAQ? The WaPo provides some answers, and not good ones.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REUSABLE COMEBACKS: My friend JB thinks filibusters are a good thing and in no way undemocratic. Tonight, JB and I were watching some "ultimate" fighting on TV and the main event was decided by a split decision, two judges to one. I said to JB, "Maybe they should let that one judge start a filibuster."
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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

# Posted 10:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT IF THEY THREW A WORLD CUP GAME AND NOBODY CAME? Well, it would look something like this.
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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

# Posted 5:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

ORWELL CORNER: We all know Orwell as the master of English essay style who began his days after Eton as a police inspector in imperial Burma. Orwell would grow up to give the language the word Orwellian, and Burma to provide it with that word's truest contemporary example. Emma Larkin explores that association in a fascinating new book which traces the formative experiences of the English master there, and uses Burma to explain Orwell, and Orwell - the Orwell of 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' - to explain present-day Myanmar.
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# Posted 5:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT A BLAIR WANTS, WHAT A BLAIR NEEDS: Irwin Stelzer looks forward to the Anglo-American summit by detailing what the president should give the prime minister as a sign to other countries of the value of cooperation with America. Topping the list are an aid-for-accountability programme for Africa and the announcement of an American counterproposal to Kyoto at the G8 summit in Edinburgh.
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Monday, June 06, 2005

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CLEVEREST LICENSE PLATE IN VIRGINIA: Sighted on a forest green Mazda Miata at the corner of 17th & N St. NW:
"WOOLF"
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# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CLEVEREST HOMELESS MAN ON EARTH: While walking outside of Union Station in our nation's capital, I noticed a homeless man with the following cardboard sign attached to his shopping cart:
My family was killed by ninjas. Need money for kung fu lessons.
So, you might ask, did I reward this man for his creativity? No, but primarily because I believe in giving to organized charities that use their funds more efficiently than individuals. But if I pass him a second time, you just never know...
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# Posted 8:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

THOUGHT OF THE DAY, not wholly unself-referentially: Nondum amabam, et amare amabam, et secretiore indigentia oderam me minus indigentem. Quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare, et oderam securitatem et viam sine muscipulis. Augustine, Confessio 3.1.1.
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Sunday, June 05, 2005

# Posted 6:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

WANT TO KNOW WHAT CHAPS ARE GOSSIPING ABOUT AT OXFORD? Probably not, actually. But if for some reason you do, the new website www.oxfordgossip.co.uk is indubitably where you'd want to go.
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# Posted 6:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT IS TO BE DONE ABOUT THE FALTERING EU? Timothy Garton-Ash suggests that the answer may just well be Blairism, if that is someone other than the Brits can be found to put it forth.
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# Posted 5:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

MARGARET PAXSON LOOKS to what will become of Russia's intelligentsia in a poignant essay which opens with the line, 'can a nation look for grace?'.
In the 69 years of its existence, the Soviet Union kept the state together with various means—from the white noise of its propaganda machinery to the animal brutality of its repressions. As easy and lulling as it must have been to succumb to the iron will of the state, voices of thoughtful dissent were also nourished in the Soviet Union, in spite of its best designs. These voices belonged to its intelligentsia: artists, writers, linguists, geologists, playwrights, economists, biologists. Sometimes they spoke in the exquisite language of poetry; sometimes they employed irony and satire; sometimes they fell into a simple and quiet insistence on the truth of science and reason and on the need to define one’s humanity through something other than fear. By the 1980s, some of these figures had become emboldened to challenge the state directly, and though the Soviet Union fell at last under the weight of its own political and economic system, the steady crescendo of their voices abetted the dissolution.

Members of the intelligentsia—painfully byzantine in their sense of social order, awkwardly ascetic in their tastes, and often entirely disconnected from the people they claimed to speak for—had spent years in faraway gulags for crimes of thought. It was they who had memorized lines of Anna Akhmatova’s poems because it was too dangerous to keep written copies.
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# Posted 5:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

KHAN ARTIST: James Forsyth and Jai Singh trace the origins of the post-Newsweek Qur'an-flushing riots to a former captain of the Oxford cricket side, Pakistan's playboy-turned-Islamist-politician Imran Khan. Personal favourite line: 'In 1995 he denounced the West with its "fat women in miniskirts" (presumably the skinny ones in miniskirts Khan had dated were okay)'
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# Posted 5:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

HITCHENS ON THE BROTHER KARIMOV:
If Bush's critics are implicitly demanding that he do something about Uzbekistan, are they not also conceding that his policy there blemishes the wider support for regime-change? The United States did not invent or impose the Karimov government: It "merely" accepted its offer of strategic and tactical help in the matter of Afghanistan. Presumably, those who criticize Karimov's internal conduct are not asking that we repudiate such help (or are they?). They are, at any rate ostensibly, demanding that we use our influence to amend Uzbekistan's internal affairs. So it seems as if, when all the rhetoric is examined, the regime-change position is only being criticized for its inconsistency. That strikes me as progress of a kind. (Slate)
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Saturday, June 04, 2005

# Posted 7:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHINA CABINET: Oliver Schell sees in contemporary China a struggle for its soul between the contraposed lures of wounded recidivism and confident pragmatism, with the political contours of the twenty-first century world largely hinging upon the result.

Incidentally, in the antipodes, the Chinese consul for political affairs in Sydney walked out of his post this week past and sought political asylum from Canberra, to protest the bloody suppression of political dissenters by his government. And a Hong Kong journalist has been arrested and charged with espionage for obtaining a manuscript about Tiananmen Square by purged former premier Zhao Ziyang.
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# Posted 7:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

READING OF THE DAY: The first chapter of Michael Ignatieff's endlessly legible Isaiah Berlin: A Life, now available on the New York Times's website.

The temptation to excerpt I couldn't resist:

The voice is the despair of typists and stenographers: there seems nothing to cling to, no pauses, no paragraphing, no full stops. Yet after a time one learns that the murmur has an arcane precision all its own. There are sentences always; paragraphs always. Even if the subordinate clauses open up a parenthesis that seems to last for ever, they do close, eventually, in a completed thought. Each sentence carries clarity along its spine with qualification entwined around it. The order is melodic, intuitive and associational rather than logical. This darting, leaping style of speaking is a style of thinking: he outlines a proposition and anticipates objections and qualifications as he speaks, so that both proposition and qualification are spun out in one and the same sentence simultaneously. Since he dictates all of his written work, the way he writes and the way he talks are identical: ornate, elaborate, old-fashioned, yet incisive and clear. Judging from school compositions, he was writing and talking like this when he was eleven.

Inarticulate intelligences have to struggle across the gulf between word and thought; with him, word and thought lead each other on unstoppably. He suspects his own facility and thinks that inarticulate intelligence may be deeper and more authentic, but his facility is one secret of his serenity. Words come at his bidding and they form into sentences and paragraphs as quickly as he can bring them on. Since the Romantics, the life of the mind has been associated with solitude, anguish and inner division. With him, it has been synonymous with wit, irony and pleasure.

To love thinking, as he does, you must be quick, but you must also be sociable. He hates thinking alone and regards it as a monstrosity. With him, thinking is indistinguishable from talking, from striking sparks, from bantering, parrying and playing. His talk is famous, not only because it is quick and acute, but because it implies that thought is a joint sortie into the unknown. What people remember about his conversation is not what he said -- he is no wit and no epigrams have attached themselves to his name -- but the experience of having been drawn into the salon of his mind. This is why his conversation is never a performance. It is not his way of putting on a show; it is his way of being in company.

I heard the same stories many times, as if repetition proved that he had mastered his life, penetrated its darkest corners and dispelled its silences. It became obvious why he never wrote an autobiography: his stories had done the trick. They both saved the past and saved him from introspection.

At Piccadilly Circus we part, he towards the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, to take tea with a Russian scholar wanting to hear about his night with Anna Akhmatova. In front of the stand selling sex magazines, London policemen's helmets in plastic and piles of the Evening Standard, I embrace him; he stands back, bows ironically, briskly turns and is gone, ducking between two taxis, pointing his umbrella into the thick of the traffic to make it stop, whistling soundlessly to himself.
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# Posted 5:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

ARE JEWS SMARTER? Economist, and, perhaps, this blog both kiss up to our respective readerships.
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Thursday, June 02, 2005

# Posted 12:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

KANAN MAKIYA argues in Middle East Quarterly for the need for more complete de-Ba'athification in Iraq.
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# Posted 3:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

CUBAN SPRING OR TRAP? Our friend Matt Welch considers Cuba's dissidents.
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