OxBlog

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

# Posted 12:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FRENCH W(H)INE:
Both American wine and the American wine consumer continued to be regarded with condescension by the French in the mid-1970s, when the famous, or infamous Paris Tasting finally put them on notice that that America and the Americans might be more important than they had thought, even if they didn't speak French. The tasting pitted some of California's best wines against top French bottlings , and the American side won...

The tasting, on May 24, 1976, took place on the patio of the elegant and luxurious Inter-Continental Hotel...The whites were poured first, then the reds. As the [all French] judges swirled, sniffed, spit, and rated each wine on a scale of 1 to 20, some were quick to pronounce smugly on a wine's origins. "That is definitely California. It has no nose," exclaimed one about a wine that turned out to be a 1973 Batard-Montrachet from Burgundy. "Ah, back to France," sighed gastronome Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand Vefour, after a sip of Napa Valley Chardonnay.

The judges' confusion extended to the reds. One called a Napa Valley Cabernet "certainly a premier grand cru of Bordeaux," evidence of "the magnificence of France."

When the results were tallied and announced, several judges behaved badly, refusing to give up their notes, and one even tried to change his numbers before[the organizer] whipped away the scorecards...The French panel was aghast; their wine industry, no suprise, immediately declared the tasting unfair and denounced [the organizer].
It would be hard to imagine a story that more perfectly confirms the conservative stereotype of the French elite as ignorant chauvinists who resent the United States simply because it is better than them at just about everything.

The story above is taken from The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy, an American journalist. The book is a biography of Parker, the most powerful wine critic in the world and the quintessentially American self-made man.

Parker isn't self-made in the sense that he grew up economically deprived, but rather, one might say, culturally deprived. Aside from a few bottles of mass-market swill, Parker never tasted real wine until he travelled to France as a college student.

While working his day job as a lawyer in a provincial Maryland bank, Parker began to publish a newsletter about wine in his spare time. Eventually, the newsletter became successful enough for Parker to quite the law and become a full-time critic.

According to author McCoy, three factors accounted for Parker's unrivaled success. First, his ability to taste wine quickly and accurately. Second, his Ralph Nader mentality, that led him to blast other wine critics (especially Europeans) as beholden to financial interests, either their own or those of the vineyards and distributors who lavished them with expensive wine and food. From the get go, Parker presented himself as an independent crusader dedicated above all to saving the American consumer from wasting his hard-earned money on overpriced but low quality wines.

Finally, Parker became the first critic with an absolute devotion to rating wines numerically. He wasn't the first to use numbers, but the most succesful. These days, vineyards stand to gain or lose millions or even tens of millions of dollars on the basis of whether Parker gives their wines an 85, a 90 or a 95 out of 100.

According to one book critic, McCoy's overly positive account of Parker's rise is the alcoholic equivalent of jingoistic, flag-waving propaganda. Yet even though McCoy's account of the 1976 Paris Tasting might warm the hearts of those who prefer their burgers with a side of freedom fries, her book should leave no doubt in any reader's mind that the French are still the masters of wine, a status they have earned because of their centuries of devotion to the wine-making arts. After all, an overwhelming majority of the rare wines to which Parker has awarded a perfect 100 are, in fact, French.

In spite of certain priceless anecdotes about French arrogance, the real message of McCoy's book is that Parker's rise has facilitated a sort of trans-Atlantic symbiosis that has been of tremendous benefit to the French as well as the Americans.

The Americans have benefitted primarily in cultural terms. Parker's discovery of wine as a young traveller in France was typical of the critics of his generation, who taught millions of (mostly upper-middle class) Americans to appreciate a beverage of tremendous subtlety and complexity that was once considered the exclusive reserve of the super-rich elites. By learning from the French and their ancient tradition of wine-making Americans in California and elsewhere have begun to produce some of the world's finest.

The benefits for the French have mostly been financial. Although sophisticates on both sides of the Atlantic denounce the absurdity of ranking wines by number, Parker's method has given millions of American consumers the confidence necessary to spend increading amounts of their income on wine. Thus, every year those millions of Americans spend billions of dollars on French wine, whereas once they spent almost nothing.

Toward the end of her book, McCoy spends many, many pages recounting widespread criticism of Parker for unilaterally imposing his narrow preferences on the global wine market. Much of this criticism confirms French stereotypes about American bluster as much as the story of the Paris Tasting confirms our stereotypes about their arrogance.

According to his critics, Parker favors only those wines with the most obvious flavors and which reach their peak tasteability the soonest. In contrast, the French have the patience necessary to appreciate subtle wines that take time to mature. Thus, the whole idea of rating wines on a 0-to-100 scale is not just absurd, but tres Americaine. After all, you wouldn't give Monet a 94 and Degas a 97, now would you?

The bitterness with which Parker and his critics (both American and French) denounce one another is strangely reminscient of the ferocity with which Bush and Chirac's advocates lashed out at another in the months before the invasion of Iraq. And yet there were no soldiers lives' or grand princples of international law at stake. Only money and wine.

Yet underneath it all was a continuing symbiosis that brought great benefits to all particiants in the debate. Although one should not infer too much about international politics from a book about wine, I think that McCoy's work serves as a powerful reminder that democratic nations have a remarkable to both cooperate and resent one another at the same time. Thus, even at the height of the conflict over invading Iraq, the Americans and the French continued to work together closely on counterrorist operations.

There are lessons here for both liberals and conservatives. The former should not see even our nastier conflicts with our European friends as an indication that the "postwar international system" has begun to crumble as a result of American unilateralism. And the latter should not react to anti-Americanism in Europe as if it were nothing more than an attenuated form of the violent and irrational anti-Americanism of the Arab "street".

Instead of "Jihad vs. McWorld", the real conflict may be Jihad vs. Merlot.
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# Posted 12:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INNOCENT IN IRAN? A front-page story in the WaPo reports that
Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and is not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.
There is no he said/she said in the WaPo story; the conclusions of the scientists are presented as definitive. And I'm guessing that they are. The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?

In the case of Iran, why would its government buy black market nuclear equipment from Pakistan if its intentions are peaceful? Is it simply nationalist pride that prevents cooperation with UN inspectors? Or did the Iranians, like the Iraqis, want to preserve the option to develop illlegal weapons should doing so become desirable?
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Monday, August 22, 2005

# Posted 1:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NORSE BY NORSEWEST: Dartblog reports on Hollywood's unusual plans to film an adaptation of the epic poem Beowulf. Neil Gaiman will be co-writing the script, which sounds very promising, but what on earth made them cast Angelina Jolie in this film?
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Friday, August 19, 2005

# Posted 5:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INSIDE THE ARAB MIND: Democracy promotion advocates often argue that Arab resentment of the United States and Israel is a byproduct of theArabs' frustration with being governed by brutal autocrats. Liberal critics of the democracy promotion agenda respond that pro-democracy crusaders, and especially the neo-cons, are too full of themselves to recognize that most Arabs have legitimate reasons to resent Israel and the United States. But perhaps one can reconcile these conflicting positions. Read the rest of this post here.
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# Posted 9:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

ABBREVIATED LIST of places cheaper to fly to from London than Washington, D.C.: Johannesberg, Tokyo. I'm leaving out other less interesting ones, such as, for instance, everywhere else in the world.
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Thursday, August 18, 2005

# Posted 3:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUMSFELD IS EVIL. EEEEVIL! Democrats tend see all of the recent talk about withdrawals as part of Bush's master plan to declare victory and then scamper home from Iraq. In contrast, pro-war Republicans are saying that all of this withdrawal talk is part of a nefarious effort by the SecDef to undermine the President's resolve. Read the rest of this post.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

# Posted 1:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DEFINITION OF A NOBLE CAUSE: Cindy Sheehan wants to know if America's mission in Iraq amounts to a noble cause. A 23-year old National Guardsman from Arkansas has answered her question with a guitar and a definitive 'yes'. Read the rest of this post.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

# Posted 11:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH JUSTICE (OR, WHY I LOVE THIS COUNTRY) WATCH: From the BBC:

It was when the 15-year-old miscreant was hauled into court that the problem was first noticed.

Angered by his unruly, boozed-up behaviour, police had hoped magistrates would punish the youth for breaching his Asbo [i.e., anti-social behaviour order]. He hadn't.

Closer examination revealed that he had mistakenly been ordered not to be in public "without" alcohol and that he was also duty bound to act in a threatening manner likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to others.

After the boy escaped punishment as a result of the misprint, the officials behind the mistake were asked to deliver a new Asbo with more appropriate wording, the Daily Mirror reported.
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Sunday, August 14, 2005

# Posted 10:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOTHING TO FEAR IN EGYPT EXCEPT FEAR ITSELF? Instead of lashing out at America and Israel, Egyptians are beginning to train their sights on Mubarak. Why? Read the rest of this post.
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# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CINDY SHEEHAN, DEMOCRATIC SAVIOR? No matter what you think of her politics, you have to give Cindy Sheehan credit for staging one of the most brilliant pieces of political theater that Americans have encountered in a very long time.

Over the past week, Sheehan has done a perfect job of framing herself as a lonely voice in the wilderness of Crawford, attempting to soften the heart of an American pharoah hiding behind the darkened windows of his limousine. Read the rest of this post.
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# Posted 2:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THERE AN IRON FIST IN THE DEMOCRATS' VELVET GLOVE? On Saturday morning, the WaPo ran an analysis column by Dana Milbank that asked whether Democrats lack the ability of the GOP to go for the jugular. But is the real problem that the Democrats are too nice or that they are incompetent? Read the rest of this post.
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Saturday, August 13, 2005

# Posted 7:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GUEST BLOGGING AT DEMOCRACY ARSENAL: That's what I'll be doing this week. However, I will be posting links and quick summaries on OxBlog of all of my posts over at DA, so you can just come here, get a sense of what I've been writing about, and decide what you want to read.
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Friday, August 12, 2005

# Posted 8:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

COOL NEW SITE THAT'S EVEN MORE EXCITING THAN THIS ONE: Well, maybe our jokes are better. But Mideastwire.com is providing a wonderful service in translating news and opinion pieces from the Arabic and Persian presses into English, and putting it all online. Registration is necessary but is, at least for the moment and hopefully thereafter, free.
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# Posted 8:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

SEEN ON A SHIRT ON THE HIGH: i don't like people who take drugs. Like customs men, for example.

(Note: OxBlog does not condone drug use. Or customs officials.)
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Thursday, August 11, 2005

# Posted 12:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

SILLY OXFORD TRICKS: Tying in somewhat with the intelligent design debate which has appeared this week in these lines and in TNR, a friend of this blog belongs to Jesus College, Oxford. Said college is quite generous in dispensing travel funding to its postgraduates. Which in turn led to our friend rereading his to-do list this morning, to see that it read 'Ask Jesus for travel money.'
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# Posted 9:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

KAREN ARMSTRONG QUITE THOUGHTFULLY ON hermeneutics, holy war, and the mouse:
Many assume that if the scriptures are not historically and scientifically correct, they cannot be true at all. But this was not how the scripture was originally conceived. All the verses of the Qur’an, for example, are called ‘parables’ (ayat); its images of paradise, hell and the last judgment are also ayat, pointers to transcendent realities that we can only glimpse through signs and symbols.

Does the Qur’an really instruct Muslims to slay unbelievers wherever they find them? Does it promise the suicide bomber instant paradise and 70 virgins? If so, Islam is clearly chronically prone to terrorism.

People do not robotically obey every single edict of their sacred texts. If they did, the world would be full of Christians who love their enemies and turn the other cheek when attacked.

Part of the problem is that we are now reading our scriptures instead of listening to them. Most of us are accustomed to acquiring information instantly at the click of a mouse, and have neither the talent nor the patience for the disciplines that characterised pre-modern interpretation.

Historians have noted that the shift from oral to written scripture often results in strident, misplaced certainty. Reading gives people the impression that they have an immediate grasp of their scripture; they are not compelled by a teacher to appreciate its complexity. Without the aesthetic and ethical disciplines of ritual, they can approach a text in purely cerebral fashion, missing the emotive and therapeutic aspects of its stories and instructions.

Indeed, the word qur’an means ‘recitation’. Much of the meaning is derived from sound patterns that link one passage to another, so that Muslims who hear extracts chanted aloud thousands of times in the course of a lifetime acquire a tacit understanding that one teaching is always qualified and supplemented by other texts, and cannot be seen in isolation. The words that they hear again and again are not ‘holy war’, but ‘kindness,’ ‘courtesy’, ‘peace’, ‘justice’, and ‘compassion.’
Extracted rather heavily from her piece on p. 25 of today’s aforementioned newspaper, the last in a series of thoughtful pieces which Armstrong has contributed since the London bombings. An open note to propagandists of various stripes: distribute your newspaper for free in French bakeries with nice jazz and adjoining coffeeshops, and I will read them. Same principle also operative in the case of by far the best jazz radio station in Washington, whose transmissions periodically are interrupted by the mild trotskyist harmonies of Pacific Radio, several cumulative hours of worth I have listened to in my life rather than change the station.
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# Posted 9:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

THERE ARE PEOPLE next to whom the Guardian seem downright sensible watch:
And so to the latest stunt by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, comfortably the most intelligent piece of advocacy for the movement since Paul McCartney described slaughtering animals for food as morally equivalent to ‘what Hitler did to the fucking Jews’. Sir Macca’s argument is extrapolated in Peta’s latest touring exhibition – ‘Are Animals the New Slaves?’ – which touched down in New Haven, Connecticut, this week to a response best described as tepid. Local residents didn’t seem to go a bundle on the giant photographs of people being tortured – mainly black Americans but the odd concentration camp victim too – next to photos of animals being killed or sold. Still, Peta’s hope that the exhibit will ‘generate dialogue’ appears to have been realised. ‘Once again, black people are being pimped,’ the state president of the NAACP is quoted as saying, having arrived on the scene in minutes. ‘You used us. You have used us enough. Take it down immediately.’ Other snatches of ‘dialogue’ quoted in the local Register newspaper include a chap shouting ‘You can’t compare me to a freaking cow!’ and another man who began his response with the words ‘I have relatives who wer in concentration camps…’ Quite a success, all told, and we wish Peta all the best once this thoughtful roadshow reaches the Deep South.
by the always clever and witty Marina Hyde, p. 26, Thursday print edition.
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# Posted 9:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANTI-CORK DISCRIMINATION FOR BEGINNERS BOOK TITLE OF THE DAY: ‘Tree or Three?: An elementary pronunciation course.’ By Ann Baker. Cambridge University Press (ah, you’d expect it from them), 2004, twenty-fifth printing.
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# Posted 9:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

OVERSEEN yesterday morning on my daily countryside bicycle ride from my village to Oxford: ‘ARCHBISHOP BACKS NUNS IN PUB FIGHT.’
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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

# Posted 1:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT MY GENERATION: I regret the loss of Peter Jennings, a man of great integrity, at an age -- 67 -- which now must be considered terribly young. But I am uncomfortable with the way that the editors of the NYT and WaPo have taken this as an occasion to praise the centralization of the American media and launch not-so-subtle attacks on
"Cable, satellite networks and the vast, chattering online universe [that has] gone far to create a world in which no three men will ever again deliver the news to an entire nation with such Jovian authority."
Well you know what? Jovian authority sucks. Jovian authority is what gave us Jayson Blair and CBS's forged documents about Bush and the National Guard.

But what's really ironic here is that journalists should be the first ones to remind us that Jovian authority sucks. In the crucible of modern American journalism known as Vietnam, correspondents earned their stripes by pulling back the curtain that protected the Jovian authority with which President Johnson and his generals declared the war effort to be a great success.

Then, in the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam, America found itself in a situation where the network anchormen, and not the president of the United States, enjoyed the benefits of Jovian authority. Unsurprisingly, this imbalance of power is what has led the editors of the Times and the Post, along with the rest of the embattled media, to wax nostalgic for days gone by. The editors of the Times lament that
The audience of people who routinely stop and sit down around dinnertime to see the news is steadily shrinking and swiftly aging. The next generation seems ready to taste the huge buffet of news and mock-news in print and on radio, television and the Internet.
First of all, my parents had a hard and fast rule that the television got turned off before my family sat down for dinner. More importantly, I can't say that I've ever been all that excited about the evening news because it is suprsingly short on content.

If you read a newspaper for 30 minutes (yes, even the NYT), you will learn a heckuva lot more than you would by watching the news. Besides, if you watch the news, you have to spend around a fifth of your time watching commercials.

Understandly, the experience of getting one's news from the same handsome man at 6:30pm every evening for twenty or thirty years generates a certain emotional attachment to the way things were. But frankly, I'm glad that my generation has been liberated from this maudlin tradition and the Jovian authority it generates.
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# Posted 12:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TEHERAN'S ISLAMIC BOMB: Last week, British, French and German negotiators offered Iran a very generous compensation package in exchange for its commitment to abandon its uranium enrichment program. But the Iranians said no. The WaPo observes:
There is no further room for obfuscation, and no further reason to give Iranians the benefit of the doubt: The real aim of the Iranian nuclear program is nuclear weapons, not electric power.
At the same time, the editors of the Post argue that
The experience of letting the Europeans do it their way, offering trade and economic incentives before bringing in sanctions or making any military threats, has been enormously important...Now, any steps taken to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons will have international credibility.
Finally, the Post adds a caveat
What remains to be seen is whether the Europeans will come through, as they have promised they would, with a tough-minded push for sanctions.
Consider, for a moment, the tension between those last two statements. What if the Europeans don't follow through? If, at that point, we strike out on our own, will we no longer have "international credibility"? In other words, is the price of credibility that we always follow the European lead?

In the case of Iran, I don't mind the current experiment in multilateralism. Since the current National Intelligence Estimate on Iran argues with considerable authority that Teheran is between five and ten years away from having a bomb, we have enough time to test the Europeans' mettle as negotiators.

But how often do belligerent dictatorships give up their hopes of building nuclear weapons? The approximate answer to that question is never. Although promoting democracy in Iran is a long shot, I'm guessing that pushing the fundamentalists out of power is only the way to moderate Iranian behavior.
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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG SAYS "TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!" Step back for a minute from the raging debate about Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Instead of asking yourself which of these theories provides a better explanation for life on earth, ask yourself how we should conduct this debate in order to prevent the rise of even more antagonism between secular and religious culture in the United States of America.

Naturally, I do have a personal opinion about whether Darwinism or Intelligent Design is a better theory. The answer is Darwinism, hands down. In fact, I don't even belive that I.D. deserves to be described as theory in the scientific sense of the word.

However, that does not mean that I believe the best way to deal with the popularity of I.D. is to denounce it as a malicious hoax, a la Paul Krugman. Nor do I think that taunting and consdescension, in the manner of the cartoon above, serve much of a purpose.

But take a second look at that cartoon and ask yourself why alchemy, phrenology, magic and astrology aren't taken more seriously on the campuses of Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago. Is it because the vitriolic denunciations of secular intellectuals have persuaded people that these four pseudo-sciences are full of bunk, or is it because pseudo-sciences can't survive the laboratory competitions imposed on every competing theory by modern science?

You might say that when it comes to Intelligent Design, I prefer a Darwinian approach. Let the better theory survive. In fact, I'm even willing to let local school boards in Pennsylvania and Kansas mandate that I.D. get a fair hearing in the classroom. Let the kids read books and essays by Michael Behe and William Dembski, alongside criticism of their work. (After all, getting kids to read books about anything would be an important accomplishment for many of our public schools.)

Some of the kids who read these books will be persuaded by what they read. I'm guessing that most of them won't. And that might even be besides the point, since the moment any of these kids steps onto a college campus they will be thoroughly indoctrinated by Darwin's heirs. (I was. I don't regret it.)

But here's the real silver lining for all of those liberals who are concerned about Christian fundamentalism invading our schools in the guise of Intelligent Design. If conservatives are serious about "teaching the controversy", then perhaps they will also be willing to teach the controversy when it comes to liberal add-ons to the public school curriculum, such as birth control and homosexuality.

When it comes to education, I like to think of myself as a true liberal: let the kids sample everything, instead of waging culture wars designed to deny them access to controversial ideas.
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Monday, August 08, 2005

# Posted 12:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JEWISH TERRORISM: On Thursday, an Israeli settler shot and killed four Arabs, two of them Muslim and all of them Israeli citizens. In the days before the attack, there had been an extended discussion on the Rhodes Scholarship e-mail list of the role that culture plays in promoting terrorism. A few minutes ago, I posted the following message to the list:

All those who would condemn the bombings that have wreaked so much havoc in London, Madrid, New York and numerous Israeli cities must also condemn in the strongest terms possible the vicious attack by an Israeli settler last Thursday that resulted in the murder of four Arab citizens in Israel. You can read more about this attack in the Observer and the Washington Post.

I fully endorse the statement by the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem that this was "a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens." The intentional slaughter of innocents is murder. The intentional slaughter of innocents in order to promote a political objective is terrorism and murder.

There is no excuse for such behavior. Period. No matter how much you or I suffers, we always have the choice to respect life and reject murder. But the condemnation of terrorism must go far beyond the condemnation of those who pull the trigger.

Thursday's murderer, Eden Natan Zada, belonged to a sick culture that glorifies murder in the name of religion and politics. This same culture helped produce Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish terrorist who murdered 29 Arabs more than a decade ago. And it helped produce Yigal Amir, the terrorist who shot and killed Yitzhak Rabin because of Rabin's committment to peace.

This culture draws its strength from rabbis such as the late Meir Kahane, who preached violence in the name of Judaism, and from terrorist organizations such as Kach, which promotes Kahane's ideas. This culture has its own educational institutions that instill hatred and contempt for Arabs and Muslims.

Rather than being ashamed of itself, this sick culture venerates terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein and transforms their graves into religious shrines. Eden Natan Zada sought to emulate Baruch Goldstein and now may find himself buried next to the elder terrorist.
Although individual terrorists have the choice to respect life and reject murder, cultures of hatred encourage them to make the wrong choice. And for as long as there are weak and selfish men and women, culture of hatred will help turn them into terrorists.

Thus we cannot fulfill our obligation to condemn terrorism simply by condemning individual acts of terror. Instead, we must make a constant effort necessary to expose and dismantle the organzations that provide terrorists with moral support and legitimation.

Sincerely,
David

Although I stand by every word in my post, there was an ulterior motive that reinforced my decision to write it. All too often, the extraordinarily talented young men and women on the Rhodes list display a lack of interest in the culture of hatred and anti-Semitism that motivates Palestinian terrorists.

All too often, those Scholars who describe themselves as exponents of a reasonable and moderate approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tend to frame Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians as a response, perhaps inevitable, to the Israeli occupation. This is not because those Scholars have a pro-Palestinian agenda, but rather because the intellectual culture of Oxford, England and Europe frames anti-Israeli terrorism (and often anti-American and anti-European terrorism as well) as a response to deprivation and oppression, rather than an expression of hatred.

Why don't I make this point explicitly in my post? Because experience suggests that when one who is Jewish and American must address a mostly non-Jewish and non-American audience, one must go to great lengths to demonstrate that one condemns Palestinian terrorism because it is terrorism and not because it is Palestinian.
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Friday, August 05, 2005

# Posted 10:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND: Back on Monday.
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Thursday, August 04, 2005

# Posted 10:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

DECLINING STANDARDS OF PUBLICATION WATCH: I have a piece out in today's Times Literary Supplement about Nicolas Sarkozy, French Muslims, and the republican traditions of the Fifth Republic. It's not on their website, but if you happen to be passing through Border's, I'd be grateful if you picked it up and let me know what you thought.
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# Posted 8:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BAD OLD DAYS: This post, like the one below it, draws on Dinesh D'Souza's book entitled Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. D'Souza's book is definitely something of a hagiography, but is nonetheless valuable because it examines in great detail not just why liberal pundits and intellectuals resented Reagan so deeply, but why so many conservative pundits and intellectuals scorned him as well (a fact that most of them would now prefer to forget).

It was only while reading the brief epilogue to D'Souza's work (pp. 257-264, added to the paperback edition in 1999) that I began to get a sense of why the author was so well attuned to divides within the Republican party of the 1980s, a time now celebrated by most Republicans as a triumphant era of unity and purpose, all made possible by the Great Communicator.

The reason is that D'Souza was writing in the aftermath of Clinton's re-election, at a time of despair and recrimination within the GOP. The fact that Republicans now control every branch of the government often makes us forget how divided the party was less than a decade ago. By the same token, I wouldn't be surprised, if after Hillary's re-elections in 2012, neither Democrats nor Republicans remember how divided the Democratic party was in the age of Howard Dean.

Anyhow, I thought it might be a good idea to quote D'Souza extensively, since his criticism of fellow Republicans is something that hasn't been heard for quite some time:
Since Reagan made his exit from the scene, American politics has dominated by the search for his successor...

Bush was the annointed beneficiary of Reagan who, immediately after the 1988 election, seemed to forget the man to whom he owed his success. Even after working closely with Reagan for eight years, Bush seemed to have learned surprisingly little from him...

Bush entered the White House, distanced himself from Reagan's agenda, and began his own search for what he called "the vision thing." Americans eventually discovered that Bush's campaign rhetoric was an act, and that his real purpose in seeking the presidency, after serving in a series of high-level government jobs, was scarcely more than to complete his resume.
I think it would be fair that this sort of criticism has become almost entirely verboten within the GOP since Bush's son became president in 2001. It also illustrates why George W. Bush has been such an effective uniter (and not a divider) within his own party; he is the literal son of one wing of the party and the metaphorical son of the other.

Moving on:
After a series of showdowns with President Clinton, Gingrich's personal popularity plummeted, making him one of the most detested figures in American politics...

If Bush had been a terrible candidate in 1992, Dole was even worse. In the wake of his ignomininous defeat, the Republican party and the conservative intellectual movement are now aimless and frustrated. The 1998 midterm election was also a disaster, with Republicans losing seats in the House and Gingrich resigning in disgrace.

The GOP leadership now seems utterly bereft of either vision or the resolution to pursue any major new initiatives. Instead, the emasculated Republicans seem obsessed with preserving their fragile congressional majority by testing their ideas against public opinion surveys and focus groups...

The single most important reason for the failure of the Republicans and conservative intellectuals is that both groups have lost their faith in the American people. In the 1980s Reagan converted the right, traditionally the party of pessimism, into an optimistic movement. So perhaps it is not surprising that once Reagan left, the GOP and the conservative leaders reverted to their old familiar ways. If the Republicans fail to learn Reagan's lesson, they will lose their congressional majority and once again become a minority party and a marginal political movement.
How remarkably strange that such prognostications of doom and gloom could have seemed plausible only a handful of years before the GOP consolidated its current dominance. Is the lesson here that such dominance is an illusion? That the Democrats may rise from the ashes at a moment's notice?

Or is this dominance perhaps an accidental vindication of D'Souza's hope for the emergence of a more Reaganesque GOP? After all, who could possibly be more Reaganesque than George W. Bush, all the way down to the cowboy boots that his fans adore and that his critics resent?

Frankly, I'm not sure what the lesson here is. (Try writing that in an op-ed.) At minimum, the placement of current events within a bit of historical context serves to remind us how so much of what we take for granted simply was not so very, very recently.
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# Posted 8:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN'S HUMOR: In addition to his talent for making the unexpected quip, Reagan had an extensive repertoire of set-piece stories calculated to delight his audience. Below are two of them that I came across while reading Dinesh D'Souza's book about the Great Communicator.

The first of the two has a special resonance for those of us who have personally endured the perils of the British welfare state. It is also one of those stories that Reagan probably would've told only in all-male company:
Winston Churchill...arrived at a London hotel for a function when he decided to stop by the men's room. No sooner did he find a position to relieve himself than who should enter the men's room but his old political rival Clement Attlee. To Churchill's surprise, Attlee came and stood right next to him, so Churchill nervously moved a few places away. "My, my, Winston," Attlee exclaimed. "Are we being modest?" Churchill replied, "Not at all Clement. It's just that whenever you see something that is large, privately owned and working well, you want to nationalize it." (pp. 209)
The second of the two is one Reagan's many jokes about life in the Soviet Union:
A man...goes to the Soviet bureau of transportation to order an automobile. He is informed that he will have to put down his money now, but there is a ten-year wait. Nevertheless, he fills out the various forms and has them processed through the various agencies, and he signs in countless places, and finally he gets to the last agency, where they put the stamp on his papers. He pays them his money, and they say, "Come back in ten years and your car." He asks, "Morning or afternoon?" The man in the agency says, "We're talking about ten years from now. What difference does it make? He replies, "The plumber is coming in the morning." (pp. 139)
And to think that some day our children won't even understand why that's funny.
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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

# Posted 3:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ISLAM TO ARABIA VS. COALS TO NEWSCASTLE: I'm glad to see that Oxford hasn't changed much since I returned to the United States two years ago. Writing in Time, Islamic reformist Irshad Manji describes being interviewed by a student journalist in the City of Dreaming Spires:
After giving a speech about Islam, I met this young magazine editor to talk about Islam's lost tradition of critical thinking and reasoned debate. But we never got to that topic. Instead, we got stuck on the July 7 bombings in London and what might have compelled four young, British-raised, observant Muslim men to blow themselves up while taking innocent others with them.

She emphasized their "relative economic deprivation." I answered that the lads had immigrant parents who had worked hard to make something of themselves. I reminded her that several of the 9/11 hijackers came from wealthy families, and it's not as if they left the boys out of the will...

By this time, the Oxford student had grown somber. It was clear I had let her down. I had failed to appreciate that the London bombers were victims of British society...

The student shifted uncomfortably. She just couldn't bring herself to examine my suggestion seriously. And I suppose I couldn't expect her to. Not when Muslim leaders themselves won't go there. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general for the Muslim Council of Britain, is an example. In the midst of a debate with me, he listed potential incentives to bomb, including "alienation" and "segregation." But Islam? God forbid that the possibility even be entertained.
In the United States, however, Muslim leaders seem to be waking up to the importance of destroying the perverted ideas on which terrorists thrive. Just this week, leading Muslims scholars issued a fatwa that condemns terrorism unequivocally. I wonder what sort of repsonse this will provoke among Muslims ins Europe and the Middle East.

Wouldn't it be curious if American Muslims became the driving force behind the anti-terrorist movement in the Islamic world? These days, Americans talk more and more about exporting democracy to the Middle East. But who ever thought that Americans would also be exporting a new and more enlightened brand of Islam to the Muslim world?

As my colleagues in Oxford might say, it's coals to Newcastle.
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# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS LIBERAL INTERNATIONALISM? Outside the Whale makes a solid point: Charles Krauthammer often prefers to use "liberal internationalism" as a punching bag rather than engaging intelligent arguments from the left. But in his own defense of liberal internationalism, I think that JW from Outside the Whale tends to misunderstand the concept as well.

JW describes himself as one of the
Modern liberal internationalists...like Michael Ignatieff, George Packer, Michael Walzer and Christopher Hitchens.
Although I admire all four of those men (and would add Peter Beinart to the list), I would hesitate to describe their approach to foreign policy as liberal internationalism. As a result of their strong support for humanitarian intervention and other muscular approaches to democracy and human rights, Ignatieff, Packer, et al. often find themselves isolated within a Democratic Party that has long hesitated to embrace such objectives -- and now more than ever since George W. Bush has adopted those objectives as his own.

Strictly speaking, the Ignatieff/Beinart "liberal hawk" school of thinking is a form of liberal internationalism. And JW is correct to argue that Krauthammer should not automatically equate liberal internationalism with the instinctive multilateralism and deference to international law of those who opposed the invasion of Iraq on the simple grounds that it was opposed by the United Nations.

Yet in colloquial terms, I think that Krauthammer's definition of liberal internationalism is the one that pervades American political culture, thanks to Jimmy Carter and other liberal icons, such as both of our senators from Massachusetts. Another part of the problem is the name itself, liberal internationalism. To what does 'internationalism' refer if not a commitment to the strengthening of international organizations and international law?

Historically, that definition is not correct. At first, internationalism (in the American, not the European or Marxist sense of the word) was simply the inverse of isolationism. Thus JW is correct to invoke Wilson, FDR and Truman as examples of liberal internationalists who did not shy away from the use of force, or even the bypassing of international organizations, in order to promote American security and American ideals.

But those are the liberal internationalists of yesteryear. Admirably, certain young idealists, such as those of the Truman Project, have embarked on an ambitious and impressive to ressurect this tradition under the Democratic umbrella. However, I sense that the old definition of the term liberal internationalist was a casualty of the Vietnam war. In order to succeed today, Truman's heirs will have to describe themselves in a manner that forcefully indicates why they are not what we tend think of as liberal internationalists.
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Sunday, July 31, 2005

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIBERAL MEDIA OR INFORMAL APARTHEID STATE? Page five of this morning's WaPo describes the results of a new study by the National Urban League entitled "Sunday Morning Apartheid: A Diversity Study of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows."

I'm really not sure what's funnier: that the Urban League is comparing Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos to South African racists, or that the WaPo considers such a ridiculous report to be newsworthy. What's next? The WaPo covering a study by the Anti-Defamation League entitled "Monday Night Auschwitz: A Diversity Study of Players in the National Football League?"

And for those of you who insist that I respond to this ridiculous article with reasoned argument rather than pure mockery, I say this: What percentage of the legislators, government officials, and journalists inter alia who are qualified to be on a Sunday morning talk show are black? I'm guessing it's pretty darn close to the percentage of black guests on those shows. You know, it's not as if someone's trying to keep black pundits off the air.
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# Posted 9:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RACIAL PROFILING: IS THERE ANY OTHER CHOICE? An outraged Colbert King argues that "You Can't Fight Terrorism With Racism". King explicitly takes down the arguments made by Charles Krauthammer, Paul Sperry and Haim Watzman in recent columns on the WaPo and NYT op-ed pages.

Although I don't have statistics to back this up, my sense is that this sort of direct response to other pundits has become far more common in the age of the blogosphere precisely because the blogosphere places a premium on engaging others rather than acting as if one's own opinions are the only ones that exist.

In fact, I was hoping that the online version of King's column would include hyperlinks to the three columns he mentions by name, even though two of them were published in a competing newspaper. Alas it isn't so. It would seem that the blogosphere still stands alone in its ability to provide you with instant access to multiple, clashing perspectives on a single issue.

But lets get back to the issue at hand: racial profiling of terrorists. I agree with King that Paul Sperry entirely avoids the moral issues raised by racial profiling, which he ardently supports as an alternative to the "politically correct suicide" of nonsensical random searches on the New York subway system. Conversely, King totally avoids the utilitarian issues addressed by Sperry. After all, when innocent lives are on the line, how dare anyone suggest that the police should waste their time patting down random grandmothers?

To his credit, Charles Krauthammer approaches the issue from an ethical perspective but provides an unsatisfactory answer. Krauthammer writes that:
We recoil from concentrating bag checks on men who might fit this description. Well, if that is impossible for us to do, then let's work backward. Eliminate classes of people who are obviously not suspects.
Krauthammer then ticks off the list of unthreatening ethnic groups -- Scandinavians, East Asians, etc. -- who don't need to be singled. What are we left with? Young Arab men and a few others.

The problem with Krauthammer's logic is that it still substitutes collective, ethnically-oriented judgment for the evidence-based judgment of individuals. That is exactly the kind of judgment that most conservatives reject when it comes to issues such as affirmative action. Now one might argue that the imperatives of the War on Terror necessitate a compromise of such ideals. But that isn't what Krauthammer argues.

For a sophisticated argument to that effect, the place to turn is this post from Reihan Salam. Although I am hesitant to engage in racial profiling myself, I think it is quite probable that Reihan has written about this subject so insightfully because he is one of the young Muslim males who will inevitably be singled out for additional scrutiny if racial profiling becames an accepted weapon in the struggle for homeland security.

Reihan begins by quoting the words of Tunku Varadarajan, an editor at the WSJ who will also be singled out if racial profiling takes hold in New York. Varadarajan -- a Hindu, not a Muslim -- writes:
Do I like being profiled? Of course not. But my displeasure is yet another manifestation of the extraordinary power of terrorism. I am not being profiled because of racism but rather because Islamist fanatics have declared war on my society. They are the dark power that leads me to an experience in which my individuality is corroded. This is tragic; but it strengthens my resolve to support the war that seeks to destroy terrorism.
I endorse this argument fully, even though Varadarajan's phrasing leaves the impression that the West has no agency and simply must engage in profiling because of our moral obligation to fight terror.

Reihan also agrees with Varadarajan's logic and then recounts a pair of anecdotes that hint at the emotional and psychological price that must be paid by those who will be subject to profiling. The R-dog concludes that
"Reassuring Reihan" shouldn't be a priority. I do care about using our collecti[ve] resources wisely, and preserving an open society. In the end, I welcome increased scrutiny. It means that law enforcement is doing its job. That said, I worry about what will happen when attacks are perpetrated by "unusual suspects," and I hope we're prepared.
Which brings us back to Colbert King. He is also concerned unusual suspects of the Timothy McVeigh or John Walker Lindh vintage. But it's not as if the cops are going to ignore suspicious white people just because they know that South Asian and Arab males are the most likely perps.

Yes, there is a danger that a focus on South Asian and Arab males will endow security officers with a false sense of confidence that will allow other terrorists to go unnoticed. But the danger of such false confidence pales in comparison to the ridiculousness of subjecting all ethnicities, ages and genders to equal scrutiny.

The stakes in this debate are life and death. Thus I believe it is incumbent on those who oppose racial profiling to identify an workable alternative to racial profiling before they demand that it be stopped. Until such an alternative is identified, I think that it is incumbent upon King and others to recognize, as Tunku Varadarajan does, that it is not American racism but Al Qaeda that has forced us to confront that unpleasant choice.

And perhaps King will even learn to emulate Reihan's wise example of welcoming such additional scrutiny because it makes us all safer at minimal cost.
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# Posted 8:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BALTIMORE'S BEST: Many thanks to all of those who wrote in with their recommendations for where I should eat in Baltimore. Here are some of the top choices:
1. Hampton's at Harbor Court (Hat tip: Jennetic) is one place to go if you want an otherworldly four-star experience (with otherwordly prices). The Charleston, recommended by Gene Vilensky, is another.

2. Helmand is an Afghan restaurant run by Hamid Karzai's brother. I've heard great things about it across the board.

3. Brett Marston recommends the quail in grape sauce at Tio Pepe, a Spanish restaurant.

4. Reader DA recommends Da Mimo's for Italian, especially for its seafood ravioli as well as its chops.

5. For seafood, we return once again to some recommendations from Jennetic, who lists Bo Brooks, Obrycki's, and Bertha's. Jenn also says that her favorite hidden gem on the Baltimore restaurant scene is Peter's Inn in Fells point.
It looks like I will be eating very well in Baltimore next weekend, even if I won't have time to sample all of the delights you've recommended.

PS Does anyone know if Marconi's is still open for business?
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# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REIHAN SALAM: Some of his posts, you just don't explain. You just enjoy.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STEM CELL TWO-STEP: Bill Kristol is outraged by Bill Frist's decision to "cell out" by supporting the expansion of stem cell research. Kristol, writing along with Eric Cohen, says that "the incoherence of Frist's position is stagging."
But if incoherence is a problem, then I'm going to ask for a clarification from Mr. Kristol himself. According to the editors of the WaPo,
The emotional debate involves whether to allow scientists to use embryos left over from in vitro fertilization to generate new stem cell lines. The current policy permits federally funded scientists to use only existing stem cell lines, not to destroy additional embryos to develop new ones. Even though the embryos at issue would be discarded in any event, this might have been a reasonable compromise had those lines proved adequate to the promising research that has been taking place in this field.
Kristol acknowledges that the stem cell debate, at the present juncture, is about whether it is permissible to destroy "spare" embryos set to be discarded in order to harvest their stem cells. Kristol opposes the destruction of such spares on the grounds that "none of us possesses the authority to consent to their destruction." But if Kristol accepts that we have the authority to discard such spares -- resulting in their certain destruction -- why don't we have the authority to destroy such spares in a way that may save lives in the future?

The only way for Kristol to square this circle is to come out against in vitro fertilization (IVF), the process that results in the creation of such "spares". But even if Kristol were anti-IVF, the public embrace of such an extreme position might destroy his credibility on the stem cell issue. Thus, at least for the moment, I'd have to say that Dr. Frist is the one making the coherent argument.

For a comprehensive round up of stem cell blogging, check out TMV.
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# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREMATURE WITHDRAWAL UPDATE: At TNR, Spencer Ackerman lines with Slate and WaPo in arguing that the administration really is thinking about pulling out of Iraq. Like Bob Herbert, OxBlog disagrees.
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Saturday, July 30, 2005

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"HE SAID/SHE SAID" WATCH: When conservatives accuse the media of being liberal, smart liberals come to the media's defense by invoking the "he said/she said" hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, journalists mechanically report on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

But in spite of being very smart, the liberals who invoke this hypothesis are also very wrong. As OxBlog has shown, leading correspondents express their opinions rather forcefully in straight news articles on subjects as diverse as Iranian WMD, corporate lobbyists, fundamentalist Christians and, yes, even the Swift Vets. In fact, Mike Allen of the WaPo even admitted that he puts subtle hints in his articles in order to help the "discerning reader" figure what Allen really thinks about an issue.

I'm bringing all of this up at the moment just because two articles in Friday's WaPo struck me as excellent examples of how journalists prefer to express their opinions rather than just quoting both sides in a given debate. In a front page article entitled "Security Costs Slow Iraq Reconstruction", the first two sentences inform us that
Efforts to rebuild water, electricity and health networks in Iraq are being shortchanged by higher-than-expected costs to provide security and by generous financial awards to contractors, according to a series of reports by government investigators released yesterday.

Taken together, the reports seem to run contrary to the Bush administration's upbeat assessment that reconstruction efforts are moving vigorously ahead and that the insurgency is dying down.
Also on Friday, the lead story in the World News section inside the paper carried a semi-explicit condemnation of alleged government hypocrisy:
On the city's streets [i.e. Baghdad], the daily reality involves death, random violence and routine deprivations for people who are beyond anger. But a different view has been presented in the Green Zone, the concrete-barricaded headquarters for U.S. troops, diplomats and contractors, and the interim Iraqi government. There, the situation is described as progressing toward a gradual handover from U.S. forces to Iraqi control.
Presumably, the first liberal response to my emphasis on these articles would be that the Bush administration's effort to whitewash the situation in Iraq is so obvious that journalists can't ignore it. But that argument just makes my own point for me.

Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that the administration's account of the situation in Iraq were a total whitewash, that still devastates the he said/she said hypothesis, because according to the hypothesis journalists refuse to express their opinions even when the truth is obvious.

Now, in spite of my opinion that the coverage of Iraq has become excessively negative, I still prefer interpretive, analytical journalism to the (largely non-existent) he said/she said variety. Smart liberals such as Kevin Drum seem to agree.

However, there is a corollary to such arguments that liberals might find unpleasant. Interpretive, analytical journalism is inherently subjective. If an overwhelmingly majority of journalists are liberal, their interpretation and analysis will reflect their liberal perspective. If liberals want the media to be both interpretive, analytical and balanced, they will have no choice but to admit that balance can simply not be achieved until there are more moderates and conservatives at the major papers and networks.

That said, I think you all can see why I am so obsessed with the "he said/she said" argument. Only by prentending that American journalists aren't already analytical and interpretive can liberals defend the media from the charge of bias. If they admit that "he said/she said" is a myth, they will begin to understand why the center and the right are so frustrated with the media.
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# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IF COFFEE IS BLACK, HOW CAN STARBUCKS BE RACIST? In Thursday's Post, Metro columnist Marc Fisher pointed out this delightful interactive map, which lets you map out all of the Starbucks around where you live or work. For example, there are 39 Starbucks within walking distance of my old office near Dupont Circle. (To see their precise locations, click the "Starbucks" button in the upper left-hand corner of the map.)

But as Fisher points out, there are very few Starbucks in Prince George's County in Maryland, just to the north and west of Washington DC. According to local residents, there is a very simple reason for this tragic deficit: racism.
"There's no reason Prince George's shouldn't have more," says Kwasi Holman, president of the county Economic Development Corp., which recruits retailers.

As Prince George's became the nation's most affluent majority-black county, residents still had to travel beyond the county to shop. Although Prince George's has more households with incomes over $100,000 than Anne Arundel or Howard, those suburbs each have two fashion department stores (Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor), while Prince George's has none.

On paper, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties are similar. About a third of adults in each has a college degree, far less than Montgomery's 59 percent, but that hasn't kept retailers out of Anne Arundel. Many Prince George's residents say the only remaining explanation is race: The county is 65 percent black, while Anne Arundel is 14 percent black.

Starbucks says its slow pace in Prince George's has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the lack of the big-box shopping centers that the chain prefers for its suburban locations. And the big boxes have stayed away because of fear of crime, developers say.
So, is crime just an excuse for corporations that want to avoid black neighborhoods, or is it a serious problem in Prince George's? Well, according to the top story in today's Metro section, "Increasing Crime Provokes Police Rift":
Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High and his rank-and-file officers publicly clashed yesterday over the county's escalating violence, with the police union saying the chief's crime-fighting plan has failed and High responding that his department's biggest problem is unproductive officers...

The public feuding between the officers and the county's top law enforcement officials comes as Prince George's grapples with a growing problem with violent crime. Homicides have increased 26 percent, rapes by 22 percent and carjackings by 45 percent, and robberies have surged 123 percent compared with this time last year.
The rest of the article doesn't make for pleasant reading, either. But maybe the problem really is Starbucks. Why are the cops in Prince George's so lazy? Because they don't drink enough coffee. And why don't they drink enough coffee? Because there aren't enough god***n Starbucks in the neighboorhood!
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# Posted 9:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

SEEN IN THE NEWS: Thus the Guardian's Simon Hoggart quoting NI author Dermot Harrigan,
Meanwhile, police in north Belfast have seized thousands of fake Viagra tablets being sold by the paramilitaries as one of their many rackets. Confronted with a tumenescent terrorist, however, the question will spring to mind: `is that a gun in his pocket, or is he just pleased to see me?' The odds are now somewhat in favour of the latter.
Incidentally, posting somewhat low from this moiety of OxBlog while my computer's in hospital, for which apologies to all, particularly David who has to pick up the slack. But those of you who like to get your Patrick on the side can read next week's TLS or the Daily Standard of this one, with all of the bad jokes you've grown to expect from me.
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FAREED KICKS A**: Check out his latest column in Newsweek. Money quotes:
Like all ideologies, radical Islam is a phenomenon of the educated class...

Radical ideologies of hate and violence have often seduced disaffected young men searching for some great cause. Forty years ago they would have embraced Leninist revolutionary dogma, with Che Guevara as the bin Laden of his day. Today, for Muslims, it is a violent interpretation of Islamic fundamentalism.
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# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOUTER-PHOBIA: In contrast to the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller, who persuaded herself that George Bush cared more about his nominees' exercise habits than their politics, Fred Barnes provides some fairly strong evidence that the White House made a concerted effort to ensure that its replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor would be not just unborkable, but also a staunch conservative.

Barnes reports that Bush's advisers carefully studied how David Souter's nomination came about and then resolved not to make any of the same mistakes. According to one [unfortunately anonymous] White House aide,
"I'm glad we had Souter-phobia. If we hadn't asked these questions about judicial philosophy and the view of the court's role, the nominee wouldn't have been John Roberts."
That reminds me of something a prominent historian said at a conference I attended a couple of months ago. He said he had never encountered a White House so disinterested or perhaps so ignorant of history as this one. I don't buy that in general, but I think that the Roberts nomination should make it clear even to this administration's critics that the White House knows how to take history very seriously when it puts its mind to it.
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# Posted 1:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TORTURE: The WaPo argues forcefully that neither the armed forces nor the White House have come anywhere close to dealing in a honest and candid manner with what we now know about Abu Ghraib.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'V' IS FOR VALUES: I figure we have around two years left until the debate begins in earnest about Hillary's electability. In Slate, Jacob Weisberg makes the case that that the "Hillary can't be elected" folks just can't think straight. I don't have a firm position on that issue just yet, but I can say with conviction that I find Weisberg's arguments to be totally unpersuasive.

Weisberg's emphasis is on three bad arguments that the anti-Clinton camp makes. First, that she is a leftist. Second, that America has had more than enough Clintons in the White House. Third that Hillary is a woman.

With regard to Point A, Weisberg says that
Sen. Clinton's political positioning couldn't be better for 2008. Despite being a shrewdly triangulating centrist on the model of her husband, she remains wildly popular with the party's liberal core: It seems to share the right's erroneous view of her as a closet lefty.
Although I think "shrewdly triangulating" is supposed to be a compliment, that translates onto the campaign trail as "flip-flopper", the accusation that did so much to sink John Kerry. From where I stand, the lesson of 2004 is that perceptions of sincerity or lack thereof are often more important than the subjects that a candidate is sincere about. (Although if you are far enough left on national security, a la Howard Dean, even sincerity isn't worth much.)

The issue of Hillary's sincerity relates to Weisberg's second point, about America supposedly not wanting another Clinton in the White House. I agree with Weisberg that Hillary is more-or-less Lewinsky-proof. If the GOP raises that point, I think it will back fire.

But the real problem for Hillary is that Bill defined the model of shrewd triangulation of which Weisberg seems somewhat enamored. Bill Clinton was the president and the man who would say anything to make you like him. Remember, long before John Kerry flip-flopped, Bill Clinton waffled.

Speaking more broadly, part of what makes it so hard for Democrats to seem like men and women of conviction is that the party doesn't have a set of core beliefs or values that can unite its disparate factions. While reluctant to say that Democrats don't have core values, even staunch and smart liberals such as Matt Yglesias openly acknowledge that the party has no message simple enough to convey clearly and quickly to the average voter.

After explaining why he disagrees with the three most popular arguments for Hillary's unelectability, Weisberg closes out his article by saying that there is one thing about Hillary which may make her truly unelectable, i.e. her cold-fish personality. Well, it's hard to disagree with that one.

But again, I think Weisberg is putting far too much emphasis on the superficial. If we thought of Hillary as a woman of conviction, her overly serious demeanor might make her more electable, not less. But combined with her penchant for shrewd triangulation, it makes her seem opaque and untrustworthy.
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Friday, July 29, 2005

# Posted 4:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BE GRATEFUL FOR THE SMALL THINGS: The NYT endorses CAFTA. Its editors write that
Cafta will benefit the most underrepresented constituency in America: consumers, particularly the lower-income consumers who find that a 50-cent difference in the price of a T-shirt actually means something.
Speaking of which, any plans for the NYT to start charging 35 cents an issue like the WaPo, not one dollar?
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# Posted 4:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG AGREES WITH BOB HERBERT! This is a rare and special occasion. Perhaps it calls for a bottle of expensive champagne. While folks at the WaPo and Slate seem almost desperate to believe that what Bush really, secretly, in his heart-of-hearts, really wants is to pull out of Iraq, Bob Herbert agrees with OxBlog that Bush is committed to Iraq for the long haul. (Hat tip: JK)

Herbert writes that:

[Bush] could declare victory, as a senator once suggested to Lyndon Johnson in the early years of Vietnam, and bring the troops home as quickly as possible...

But don't count on it. The Bush administration has no plans to bring the troops home.
Now, before you get too excited about this sudden florescence of common sense, you should know that Herbert thinks Bush will stay for the long haul because

The whole point of this war, it seems, was to establish a long-term military presence in Iraq to ensure American domination of the Middle East and its precious oil reserves...

It's the oil, stupid.
This is a classic bit of conspiracy theory; it forces you to believe that the evil forces in charge of our governtment are both diabolically brilliant and hilariously incompetent. While smart enough to keep their nefarious plan secret for almost three years now in spite of a global fascination with America and Iraq, these evil forces are so stupid that they didn't even bother planning for the occupation that they supposedly initiated in order to control Iraqi oil.

As I said below, it's amazing how far certain critics will go in order to protect themselves from the admission that George Bush is the idealist and that they are the cynics.
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# Posted 3:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOP'S SECRET PLAN TO CUT-AND-RUN FROM IRAQ: As OxBlog observed yesterday, certain journalists have begun to oversell the Pentagon's caveat-laden talk of a partial withdrawal from Iraq in 2006. Today Fred Kaplan gets in on the act.

Kaplan makes the very good point that Rumsfeld's talk of a possible withdrawal is a tactical maneuver designed to increase the Iraqi government's sense that it better start learning how to defend itself. Yet Kaplan can't resist speculating that what's really going on is that the GOP is afraid of running in 2006 and 2008 with American troops still in Iraq:
Domestic opposition to the war is rising; the latest polls show 55 percent of the American public thinks it's a bad idea and, further, has doubts we can win. It's a fair guess that top Republicans have approached the president or his henchmen to say they'd prefer that the war not be an issue in the 2006 congressional elections—and that it be off the table entirely by 2008.
Not that I'm a relativist, but one man's fair guess is another man's wild speculation. Undoubtedly, some Republicans would prefer to get out of Iraq. Yet there was speculation across the board, starting in mid-2003, that Bush would cut and run rather than face a tough re-election fight with our soldiers still in Iraq. But Bush refused to compromise and won the election decisively. So what makes anyone think that "top Republicans" have much hope of persuading Bush to pull out now?

What it comes down to, I think, is that lots of very smart people are still having a very hard time getting their heads around the idea that a Republican president has become the embodiment of idealism with regard to America's mission in the world. These folks want to believe that the real difference about Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Iraq is that the Democrats are willing to admit that we should pull out because promoting democracy there is a lost cause. But the real difference may be that the President is willing to pay the price of being an idealist while most of his critics simply aren't.
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# Posted 3:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN EDUCATED PALESTINIAN MASTERS THE ART OF DENIAL: Yesterday morning's Post carried an op-ed expressing great frustration with the long wait that Palestinians must endure when they enter and exit the Gaza strip.

The column's author, Laila El-Haddad, is a Harvard graduate and a correspondent for Al Jazeera's English web service. She is also the mother of a 16-month old who is not given to patience when forced to wait on line. As the author points out, the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip will not eliminate such lines, since Israel will still control its borders. Or as the author puts it, the Israeli plan will
Effectively mak[e] Gaza the world's largest open-air prison, with 1.5 million Palestinian inmates.
So, you might ask, what does the author envisage as the best way to resolve this unfortunate situation? You guessed it: Unilateral concessions from the US and Israel. Or as the author puts it:
This disengagement cannot yield a lasting peace unless it brings justice for the Palestinian people. So long as the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to illegal settlements in the West Bank and Israel maintains its control of Gaza's borders -- including its sea and air space and land crossings -- the disengagement will suffer a fate similar to that of [the] Oslo [process].
As someone who often tries to persuade newspaper editors to publish my op-eds, I understand that authors must be as concise as possible or risk having their work rejected. But would it really have hurt Ms. Haddad to pay some sort of minimal lip service to justice for the Israelis as well? Would she have compromised her argument against Sharon's policy by acknowledging that the persistence of suicide attacks may possibly, just theoretically, just hypothetically, have something to do with the long lines on the way in and out of Gaza?

I guess some of you may wonder why I'm even wasting my keystrokes on such a cliche bit of agit-prop. But when a mother and a journalist and a Harvard graduate can't even bring herself to recognize the necessity of compromise, I wonder how any sort of peace process will be possible.
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Thursday, July 28, 2005

# Posted 12:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MISTAH KURTZ, HE DEAD READS OXBLOG: We made it onto WaPo.com!
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDERED FOR BEING GAY: Citing an Iranian student website, Andrew Sullivan reports that Teheran has put two young men to death for the crime of being gay. (Hat tip: Inappropriate Content)
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREMATURE WITHDRAWAL? The WaPo headline reads: US Signals Spring Start for Pullout. That headline conveys a rather formidable sense of certainty about the pullout, implying that the question is not whether but when. However, the statement made by Gen. George Casey seems to be so heavily loaded down with caveats as to be almost meaningless. For example, Casey said that:
If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer,
There are some huge 'if's. I am fairly confident that the political process will head in the right direction, but the Iraqi security forces have a very long way to go. The question then is why the WaPo bothered to make such a fuss over Casey's statement. This sentence from the Post provides the answer:
Rumsfeld and other officials have rejected making a deadline [for withdrawal] public, but a secret British defense memo leaked this month in London said U.S. officials favored "a relatively bold reduction in force numbers."
In other words, this is supposed to be a story about hypocrisy in the White House, courtesy of yet another British memo. I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I saw that the supposed pullout had briefly become the top story on the WaPo homepage. But now it seems pretty clear that the headline writers were jumping the gun.

UPDATE: Times correspondent Eric Schmitt, for whom I have a good deal of respect, covered the pullout story much more judiciously.
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# Posted 12:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I ALMOST SPIT UP MY BREAKFAST CEREAL this morning when I saw that the WaPo had run an entire article devoted to Kos' pedantic criticism of a Hillary Clinton speech. I think Kaus puts it very, very well: "A milestone for the blogosphere! Kos writes 10 paragraphs and makes Dan Balz write eleven."
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BALTIMORE BLEG: What is the best restaurant you know of in Baltimore? I'm willing to pay top dollar for a four-star dining experience.
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# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS CHELSEA CLINTON WORTH 40 GOATS? According to SkyNews, a Kenyan official by the name of Godwin Kipkemoi Chepkurgor offered Bill Clinton the aforementioned goats plus 20 cows in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage. (Hat tip: SH)

Although I can't vouch for the truth of the story, I would like to observe that Chelsea has a degree in international relations from Oxford, which I consider to be worth far more than 40 goats and 20 cows. In fact, I'd say a masters from Oxford is worth a good 60 goats and 30 cows, whereas for a doctorate you'd have to throw in a herd of water buffalo.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

# Posted 4:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FREE TRADE IS FAIR TRADE: Sebastian Mallaby thoroughly fisks Democratic arguments against CAFTA. The editors of the WaPo add that only benefits "anti-American demagogues, starting with [Hugo] Chavez".
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# Posted 2:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A RESPECTED SCHOLAR DEFENDS REAGAN AND BUSH??? No, this isn't some sort of joke. If you don't believe me, then you should read Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism by UVA scholar Tim Naftali.

Of course, Tim would be appalled to discover that I have boiled down his superb and groudbreaking work into the sort of partisan soundbite that he avoids so judiciously throughout his finely balanced narrative. The real message of Tim's book is how all of us, liberal or conservative (or even Canadian, like Tim), can fight terrorism more effectively by paying attention to the lessons of history.

The first lesson of history is somewhat prosaic: Homeland security measures work best when put into place long before the threat to our homeland becomes imminent. Although this lesson has become tragically self-evident since 9/11, Blind Spot demonstrates both surprisingly and disturbingly that partisan politics and special interests have been standing in the way of homeland security not just for four years, but for forty.

The second lesson of history is that we can take the fight to the terrorists and that we can win. Exhibit A in Naftali's argument about how to go on the offensive against terrorists is the Reagan administration's largely successful to disrupt and destroy the Abu Nidal Organization. The administration's success in its war against Abu Nidal is the reason that Blind Spot says of the Reagan era that " After an initial stumble, the Reagan administration reacted with an energetic and largely successful counterterrorism program." (p. 314)

Naftali's account of the Reagan era is both extremely detailed and extraordinarily well-researched. In fact, the eighty-five pages that Blind Spot devotes to the Reagan administration are more than the book gives over to any other administration by far. (Clinton gets sixty. No one else comes close.)

With Reagan's reputation already on the rise among historians, Naftali's work will prove especially valuable to those who want to demonstrate that the merits of the Reagan administration were thoroughly misunderestimated by critics of the time.

Beyond its merits as a work of scholarship, one of the reasons that Blind Spot will prove so valuable to Reagan's advocates is that no one would even dare suggest that Tim has an agenda. As the author of widely-distributed columns comparing Iraq to Vietnam and demanding that Guantanamo be distmantled, no one would ever mistake Tim for a Reaganaut or neo-con. Tim is not necessarily a liberal, but he is the sort of "realist" who generally considers democracy promotion to be a flight of fancy and the invasion of Iraq to be a distraction from the War on Terror.

Nonetheless, even though I often find myself defending Reagan from those who would underestimate him, I think Tim is being far too kind to the Gipper. Although his administration's success against Abu Nidal is undisputable, there is plenty of evidence in Blind Spot to suggest that Abu Nidal himself destroyed his organization, just as Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union.

At the same time, Reagan's failures amounted to far more than an "initial stumble". His retreat from Lebanon was an embarrassment that encouraged Islamic terrorists throughout the Middle East. His punitive strike against Qaddafi made America feel tough but also provoked Libya to kill hundreds of Western civilians in an airliner over Lockerbie. Finally, the stunning hypocrisy of Reagan's effort to trade arms for hostages to Iran demonstrated that sometimes Republicans are the ones with the bleeding hearts that endanger American security.

To Tim's credit, he covers all of these fiascos quite thoroughly in his book. He even suggests that they represented major failures. Thus, some readers may wonder why exactly Blind Spot identifies the American victory over Abu Nidal as the true legacy of the Reagan era.

In contrast, Blind Spot's defense of the George W. Bush administration is more persuasive. On the one hand, the book calls into service the standard explanation that
The Bush team seemed to discount the threat from a terrorist group that didn't have a state sponsor...

Whatever chance there was to put the American system on alert in time to stop [9/11]...was lost in the Bush adminstration's stubborn refusal to understand that the world of 2001 was different from that of 1993. (pp. 316-317)
On the other hand, Blind Spot takes great care to point out that even Richard Clarke was not the prophet in the wilderness that he is often made out to be. As Naftali demonstrates, Clarke had only the faintest inkling that bin Laden was planning a mass casualty strike on American territority. More damningly, Clarke continued to tell Bush during his first months in office that the United States needed a strategy for dealing with bin Laden over the next three to five years.

And what about the infamous Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001 in which Clarke supposedly warned of an imminent attack on the homeland? Naftali describes it as "a curiously weak report" that mostly recycled old information. Naftali writes that "The message misfired badly. President Bush found the item uninformative." (pp. 301-302)

In light of this information, one might even begin to challenge the notion that the Bush administration's emphasis on enemy states rather than transnational organizations such as Al Qaeda does almost nothing to explain its being taken by suprise on 9/11. Just like the Clinton administration, which both Naftali and others credit with being more attuned to transnational threats, the Bush administration discounted the possibility of an attack on American soil and therefore invested minimal effort in coordinating the efforts of the CIA, FBI and other agencies to respond to the threat.
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Monday, July 25, 2005

# Posted 3:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPT. CARTER CHECKS IN: Phil posts a brief report about his pre-deployment training in Indiana. And in FP, Phil defends his modest proposal that we should embed reporters at Guantanamo.
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# Posted 3:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUT WHAT ABOUT JEB? Matt Yglesias writes that
This seem[s] like a good time to mention an all-too-obvious fact that oftentimes seems to elude liberals -- George W. Bush can't ever be elected President again no matter what.
That quote sounds pretty funny out of context, but what Matt's actually trying to say is that if the Democrats spend the next three years running against Bush instead of coming up with a clear definition of the party's agenda and values, it will do just as badly in '08 as it did in '04.
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TOO HARSH ON THE NYT? A plausible accusation, and Erik Jaffe makes a good case. In a recent post about John Roberts (and generously publicized by Andrew Sullivan), I denounced the following bit of commentary from the Times as a condescending misunderestimation of our president:

"Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day," Judge Wilkinson recalled in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill." The president, Judge Wilkinson said, "took umbrage at that," and told his potential nominee that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

"He thought I was well on my way to busting my knees," said Judge Wilkinson, 60. "He warned me of impending doom."

Judge Wilkinson's conversation with the president about exercise and other personal matters in an interview for a job on the highest court in the land was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said. Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.

Eric responds that:
[NYT White House correspondent Elisabeth] Bumiller is an easy target, because so much of her reporting is obsequious and, frankly, unsophisticated. But what Adesnik characterizes as "condescending," is in fact simply a paraphrase of quotes from senior administration officials. Why, exactly, do we have "every reason to believe" that Bush "carefully chose" Roberts as a candidate because of substantive reasons, as Adesnik writes? That would seem to directly contradict what Bush's own officials say.
Eric is 100% correct that everything Bumiller wrote was a paraphrase of statments made by White House officials or other pro-Bush individuals. But take another look at Bumiller's prose and I think you'll see how its curious presentation of those paraphrased remarks makes it sound like Bush's own allies are testifying to the superificiality of the president's intellect.

Bumiller begins by having Judge Wilkinson recount Bush's idiosyncratic criticism of the Judge's exercise regimen. Then, without sayng so explicitly, Bumiller suggests that Bush's criticism of Wilkinson's exercise habits actually influenced the president's decision to nominate John Roberts instead. Specifically, Bumiller writes that Bush's conversation with Wilkinson about jogging "was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said."

Now, did those "White House officials and Republicans" mean to say that Bush actually considered personal habits such as exercise and diet to be relevant criteria for the selection of a Supreme Court justice? Or did they mean to say that the president tried to establish a certain rapport with his potential nominees by asking them about what they do outside of work? Although the latter is far more plausible, Bumiller's phrasing clearly suggests the former.

Now consider how Bumiller's final sentence reinforces that interpretation:
Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.
By juxtaposing this sentence with Judge Wilkinson's anecdote about jogging, Bumiller suggests that the president's reliance on "chemistry and intution" belongs in the same category as Nancy Reagan's infamous reliance on astrologers.

But say what they will about his intelligence, even the president's harshest critics admit that he has remarkable charisma in one-on-one settings. What I would suggest is that Bush wisely relied on small talk in order to make Wilkinson and the other candidates more comfortable -- and therefore more candid -- during their interviews in the Oval Office.

Now, for the benefit of those liberals who have read this far without throwing their hands up into the air and wondering whether OxBlog thinks that there is even a liberal bias to the NYT's weather reports, I say this:

Sometimes, you can read too much into the newspaper. Impending deadlines do sometimes force journalists to prioritize speed over precision. And I don't think for a minute that Elisabeth Bumiller intentionally sought to twist the words of Judge Wilkinson and others into an attack on the president's intelligence.

My best guess is simply that Bumiller heard what she wanted to hear. Her article most probably presents the evidence exactly as it seemed to her. In other words, Bumiller didn't have to spend much time figuring out how to make Bush look foolish, because her instincts already presented the available evidence in that light.

But the far more important question is whether anyone should care about the subtle tilt of Bumiller's coverage. If it takes nine paragraphs to debate two sentences in the NY Times, perhaps the whole question of bias is irrelevant.

I disagree. Although it may take nine paragraphs to explain precisely how Bumiller's language manages to cast aspersion on the president's intellect, I think that even fairly casual readers will come away from Bumiller's article thinking to themselves "Oh my God, this country is being run by a simpleton."

In fact, I would argue that the subtlety of Bumiller's language is precisely what makes it so effective, since intelligent audiences would react very negatively to bias that was more overt. Thus, while ensuring a certain degree of fairness and balance, the informal code of conduct that governs American journalism also has the unintended effect of cloaking bias in the guise of objectivity.
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# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNBORKABILITY UPDATE: E-mailer JK reports that:
"unBorkable" was used in 1990 by the Wall Street Journal in reference to David Souter. The article's name is "Rule of David Souter, Bush's UnBorkable Nominee". It's by L. Gordon Crovitz and was published on 25 July 1990 on page A13.

The word is also used in the article: "President Bush may well have found an unBorkable nominee. Judge Souter has apparently never written a law-review article or given a memorable speech."
I once heard Souter give a speech. The occasione was quite memorable mainly because of the nap I took. Anyhow, if Roberts turns out to be another Souter, I think that would be the ultimate vindication of the Democrats' decision to play hardball with Bork back in '87.
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