Tuesday, September 20, 2005

# Posted 12:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONGRATULATIONS, SHAUN! Tomorrow night, Subject2Dicussion and its host Shaun Daily will be celebrating their anniversary on the air. You can listen in at 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern by going to the LVrocks.com homepage and clicking on 'Listen' and on 'Cam/Chat'.

The headline guest on tomorrow night's show will be none other than Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice. FYI, you can also listen to the show as a podcast. (See instructions on the S2D homepage.)

All three OxBloggers have been guests on Shaun's show and enjoyed it tremendously. So check it out!
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# Posted 9:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLOGOSPHERE UNITED: It sounds like a footie team. Remind me to stick with the big fellas.

Bloggers from left to right are agreed that the New York Times's decision to fence off its op-eds from free public consumption, and debate, represents - to put it precisely - A Bad Thing. But then came Amygdala, and all was light. Gary Farber purports to have found a rather straightforward hack, or workaround, or other miscellaneous miscreancy to permit us to continue to read each day, say, our daily Krugman and Friedman. (That sound you're hearing is the roar of enthusiasm from these quarters.) He also suspects, in whispered tones, that some member of staff or broader level of Nice Grey Auntie might have made this so simple on purpose.

Devious buggers, restricting public debate to those who can pay and those who can hack? Has the Straussian conspiracy reached yet so far?

Nah. At least, that's what they told me to say.
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Monday, September 19, 2005

# Posted 6:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU SAY GOODBYE I SAY HELLO, DEPARTMENT: One of this blog's very close friends, about to sojourn for a quick spell in an American as opposed to his accustomed British university, has begun a blog devoted to British politics, Brit Pundit. So we at OxBlog send our warmest welcomes to the blogosphere to a good lad with a great deal to say and a blissful sense of humour, whose profile usefully notes he 'when drunk, will describe himself to anyone willing to listen as an "outdoorsman"', 'is always right, but often changes his mind' and furthermore rather 'convinced that TV, sports and hangovers are getting worse with age'.

Another Brit pundit, and OxBlog knockoff, making white-gloved debut in the blogosphere as a result of the Conservative leadership race is Dr Liam Fox's FoxBlog; though personally, in the 'imitation, flattery, &c department,' and this despite my tendency to support baseball underdogs and sport teams hailing from Gotham, I must confess a certain lingering fondness for SoxBlog.
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# Posted 8:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

OTHER MEDIA WATCH: Here at OxBlog we're always suckers for pieces comparing Americans and Britons. But not as much as we are for any piece with the title 'The Lonely Life of the Visiting Dictator - How Will Belarus's President Spend His Time in New York?
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# Posted 4:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

RUN, MADAME SECRETARY, RUN: If you did, hey, I'd work for you. But you should nonetheless.
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Sunday, September 18, 2005

# Posted 10:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ROBERTS THE UNSTOPPABLE: Joe Gandelman rounds up the onset of moderate Democrats' recognition that JR deserves to lead the High Court.
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# Posted 10:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONDI TO PREVAIL IN IOWA CAUCAUSES? The Quad City Times reports that Condi racked up 30.3% in a trial heat for the 2008 GOP caucus in Iowa. McCain and Giuliani followed with about 15% apiece.

Although I think there's no way Condi will run, I think that kind of result says a tremendous amount about her public image as smart, tough and dignified. In a word: presidential. Or in 2008, perhaps vice-presidential. (Hat tip: MS via TMV)
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# Posted 8:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO, THAT POSTER ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE IRONIC: Recently, there have been a disturbing number of racist incidents at my former home, the University of Virginia. Thus, I am very glad that UVA students have mobilized in the name of racial equality.

But the slogan displayed on the right is pure nonsense. It is a contradiction in terms. If only intolerance is wrong, than how dare we not tolerate it! Although there has long been a shortage of moral clarity on America's campuses, it shouldn't be hard to say "We will not tolerate racism. Racism is wrong. Period."
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# Posted 7:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WaPo TURNS ON A DIME: In spite of Friday's deferential coverage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, today's WaPo casts the Iranian president as an irascible enemy of the West.

Whereas Friday's coverage quoted Ahmadinejad extensively while ignoring his critics, today's includes mostly paraphrased remarks by the Iranian president, followed by commentary from Western diplomats that makes Ahmadinejad look either foolish or belligerent. For example:
In a defiant speech, peppered with anti-American rhetoric and veiled threats, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the United Nations on Saturday that his country will never give up its nuclear enrichment program...

U.S. and European diplomats greeted the speech and comments the president made at a news conference afterward with deep disappointment, saying they fell far short of expectations.
Why the new spin from the WaPo? First of all, today's dispatch was by Dafna Linzer, Friday's by Glenn Kessler. If a single correspondent had turned around like that overnight, it would be very surprising.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I don't think American journalists have clear standards for covering foreign leaders, especially from non-democratic nations. Sometimes their coverage is deferential for no apparent reason. At other times it is far more harsh and one-sided than the coverage to which an American politician would be subjected, presumably since foreign leaders have no constituency to speak up on their behalf.

The recent coverage of Ahmadinejad sort of reminds me of the coverage of Fidel Castro during the 1980s. Sometimes, Fidel would get quoted uncritically when talking about the importance of peace and of Reagan's threat to it. At other times, journalists would point out that Fidel ruled by force and habitually towed the Moscow party line.

To a certain extent, the treatment of foreign leaders serves as an implicit barometer of journalists' attitude toward American foreign policy. Since Ahmadinejad's remarks on Saturday were so belligerent that even the Europeans expressed considerable disappointment, it's not surprising that the WaPo's coverage of the Iranian president was less favorable.

Although the malleability of such coverage is frustrating, I think it is here to stay. Coverage of American politics is much more (but not fully) balanced because journalists have to persuade both liberal and conservative readers of their relative detachment. In contrast, audiences know less and care less about foreign leaders. Therefore, they aren't as demanding.

POSTSCRIPT: It is also worth comparing the NYT's coverage of Ahmadinejad from Friday as opposed to today. The contrast isn't as stark as in the WaPo, but you can clearly see a more critical turn after the Iranian president's confrontational speech to the UN.
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# Posted 6:08 PM by Patrick Belton  

ANGELA'S ASHES: As recently as June, her party looked likely to achieve an absolute majority in the Bundesrat, permitting it to govern alone and taking Europe, and Euro-American relations, in a dramatically distinct direction to its bearings under Chancellor Schröder. But far from being hailed as Germany's Baroness Thatcher, she arrives at tonight with her place in history instead down as the CDU leader who posted her party's third worst performance in history. And this is an extraordinary shame: a Europe led by the likes of Merkel and Sarkozy, with Chancellor Brown hewing hopefully to a more New Labourite line, would have been one of institutional reform and creativity, comity with the United States in managing the dilemmas of international security, and, just perhaps, renewed European economic growth brought about by financial probity and continued free-market reform. These hopes may not have quite gone up in smoke, but they seem a bit dimmer this evening.
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# Posted 5:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

GERMANY BLOGGING, PART DREI: (Or, if you liked the Gore recount, you'll love the new German elections!) According to the German polling shop ARD, 42 percent of Germans (this compared with one percent of bloggers) want to see an SPD-CDU 'grand coalition'.

But far more interesting are the other sorts of coalitions which might result. My personal favourites: the 'Jamaica Coalition', consisting of the CDU (black), the free-market FDP (yellow) and the Green Party (erm, green). And the 'Stoplight Coalition', consisting of the (red) SPD, the (yellow) FDP and the (erm, still green) Greens.

Each poll, incidentally, at around 20 percent. Nation of aesthetes, those Germans.
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# Posted 5:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

AFGHAN ELECTIONS, PART, UM, YAW: Maybe Merkel should have run here instead. The principal news coming out of Aghanistan is that there is little news out of Aghanistan, and this is a remarkable thing. Voting in today's elections for parliamentary and provincial office passed without major incident (among the minor incidents, there were nineteen Taleban-linked attacks upon polling stations, in most instances before they were opened, with three voters being injured); officials of the Aghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body report long queues of women voters; and all but 16 of the 6,200 polling centres established across Afghanistan were operational on voting day (this a marked improvement from last October's presidential election, where security considerations forced the closure of all polling centres in a significant number of Afghan regions). Turnout might have been higher, and seven election candidates died in militant-linked violence over the last half year, but the elections are in general being hailed as a major success nonetheless, and include such poignant images as long queues of women waiting to vote in the former Taleban capital of Kandahar.

In political terms, the present election marks a tilting of Karzai in a bid for autonomy against the advice of the army of UN administrators and foreign diplomats sent to administer in his capital; it was against their advice that he urged adoption of a Single Non-Transferrable Vote voting rule and a electoral system likely to result in a larger number of small party factions in the lower house grouped into shifting coalitions; this rather than voting rules predicted to generate a smaller number of larger factions. This, in short, was Karzai's gamble - that he could manage relations with a fractured and dynamic parliament better than one with a strong majority ending up in hands of his political opponents. A second highwire wager is also playing out, this one in which Karzai preferred his own political instincts to those of the bureaucrats in permitting the registration of a number of warlords and their proxies as candidates: Karzai's bet here is better to engage the warlords and bring them into the political system, permitting the coalescing of spaces of political opposition around groupings within the parliament, than permit them to continue outside the system where the contestation will be solely military. Time will tell if his bets pay out, but he deserves praise for the courage to trust to his own political instincts, rather than govern as the client of the UN's proconsuls.

And Afghan newspapers get even longer than their German colleagues to prognosticate upon the likely result: vote counting begins officially on the 20th September, with provisional results expected in sixteen days.
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# Posted 4:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

GERMANY BLOGGING, PART ZWEI: (Or, your parliament is really hung.) A quick roundup of German elections throughout the blogosphere:

A Fistful of Euros regretfully see knives out for Angela Merkel, as having disappointed worse than Stoiber last time around; and chances high for an Ampel coalition with Schröder as head, since many in the CDU would like both the goodies of (a) being in government for the next four years and (b) having the politically inexpert Schröder to run against then.

Long Sunday calls this election a victory for the left-coalition Linkspartei, the 'unlikely alliance of elderly Communist grannies and hirsute left-wing activists', and predicts their rise as the third quantum in German politics, to displace the Greens.

PeakTalk, who disturbingly seems to have the view from my lavatory window displayed prominently on his blog, feels similarly about the negative consequences of a grand coalition for U.S.-German relations, economic reform within Germany, or a decisive German voice in the development of the EU or relations with the U.S. He also notes an aggregate shift to the left in the vote (adding together the SPD, Green, and Linkspartei totals, who collectively receive more than they did last time), and says that tonight the German electorate went Dutch: both major parties suffer as a result of voter satisfaction, and marginal parties pick up the scraps in protest voting.

Pej reiterates that Merkel snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; which is perhaps to say, pulled a Kerry. And, come to think of it, a Gore.

And the Moderate Voice is blaming Angela's talk of a flat tax for turning the tide against her, and setting the stage for Schröder's Rocky-like come from behind from the televised debate onwards.

I rather suspect there will be more to slot in here shortly. Hopefully, in English. A fortnight in German-speaking Switzerland has not made me fluent, but rather made me realise just what wonderful and intelligible things French and Italian are.
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# Posted 3:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

GERMANY BLOGGING, PART EINS: (Or, what if they threw an election, and nobody won...) Der Spiegel has a live blog through the night of elections, and probably through most of the coming week, in English, here.

The latest development: in elections where both parties dropped off considerably from their result the last time, Merkel's CDU bests Schröder's SDU, though neither gets a majority in the Bundestag and the latter insists, perversely, that he remain chancellor. Dishearteningly, a coalition of some sort seems most likely, though hopefully Germany can avoid a 'grand coalition' in name only of the CDU and SDU, which would be incapable of any decisive action and would be bad for Germany, bad for the EU, and bad for the world.

Also, the Social Democrats remain the strongest party in the Ostländer, demonstrating perhaps that even one decade and a half after reunification and an Ossi running as the CDU's champion, Germany still has not got a national politics.

The night's real winners? Obviously, Der Spiegel. Second, the pro-market FDP which posts gains of 2.6-.7 per cent to 10%, and the Linkspartei (a left leaning coalition between the PDS and renegade SPD), which gains 4.6-.7 over their preceding vote share to 8.6-.7 per cent. The Green (or Grünen, to be pretentious) party have done reasonably well, holding on to all but .4-.5 of their vote share in the last elections with 8.1-.2 per cent of the vote. Schröder's SPD lose 4.3-.4 per cent from last time, down to 34.1-.2 per cent of the vote; and Merkel's CDU/CSU coalition come down 3.3-.5 to 35.0-.5 per cent.

The real losers are undoubtedly Merkel (see above), but also Schröder, who even if he holds on to the chancellorship, manages to seem obstinate and angry in postpoll interviewing by insisting he remain chancellor as the candidate most capable of forming a majority coalition, and gloating the voters denied a mandate to Merkel while ignoring that they denied one equally to him. Sadly, he may actually be right if the Forsa Institute's projections hold up: that public opinion research firm projects the CDU/CSU's slightly larger vote share actually translating into marginally fewer seats, 220 versus 223 for the SPD. But the point isn't yet clear: at bedtime, Der Spiegel's projections had shifted to a 222-222 match between the two parties, the CDU/CSU still edging slightly higher than the SDP in the vote count. UPDATE: current provo results break with the CDU/CSU having 225 seats to the SPD's 222, with smaller parties Free Democrats at 61, Left Party 54, and Greens 51.

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# Posted 3:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

ON THE OTHER HAND, IT IS FUNNY, WATCH: From CNN, endeavouring to demonstrate that the network does indeed have a sense of humour: What's President Bush's position on Roe vs. Wade? Answer: He doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans. (Author unattributed, possibly out of a sense of delicacy or taste.)
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# Posted 11:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

POLITICAL SCIENCE WATCH: Dan Drezner gets into the quantitative literature on the democratic peace.
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# Posted 11:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

CRICKET BLEGGING: So one of our readers writes in to ask whether there might be any restaurants, South Asian community centres, Aussie infested pubs, &c. in the metropolitan DC area which broadcast cricket matches. I thought I might refer this to the wisdom of our readership. In the interests of supporting an awfully nice game, I'd be happy to note cricket-broadcasting joints in other metropolitan American areas as well. Amusingly, our reader says at the moment he's been making do with the cricket sequences from 'Lagaan'- 'an Indian movie combining Bollywood and sports cliches set in the 1860's where a small Indian village plays a cricket match against the British army to win freedom from taxes.'
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Friday, September 16, 2005

# Posted 8:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH WOULD KILL FOR THAT KIND OF PRESS COVERAGE: I think there is pretty strong agreement across the political spectrum that American journalists always make at least a token effort to ensure that both sides have their say in any given newspaper article. But actually, that's not that case.

Take a look at the article about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on page A26 of this morning's WaPo. The article is basically a summary of Ahmadinejad's press conference in New York. Even when he says things that are fairly absurd or insulting, you don't get a counterpoint from any of his critics, domestic or foreign.

Why is that? To some degree, I think that when you are a charter member of the Axis of Evil, journalists assume that no one will believe anything you say, so why take up space with a counterpoint?

The second reason is that Ahmadinejad himself is the implicit counterpoint to what we generally hear from the White House. He can say things like the United States "should not humiliate others, should not consider itself superior to others" because journalists possibly assume that their readers are already familiar with the opposing point of view.

What's interesting is that certain American politicians also benefit from this sort of treatment. If you turn to page C1 of this morning's Post, you can read about Rep. John Lewis' (D-GA) argument that John Roberts isn't fully aware of just how much blacks suffered as a result of Jim Crow. There are actually two brief quotes from Roberts supporters, but the article is 95% Lewis.

In this instance, you obviously can't say that readers will know not to trust what Lewis says. To the contrary, his status as a "civil rights icon" ensures that his argument will carry the presumption of truth. Yet since Roberts' confirmation is now pretty much beyond question, I think that perspectives such as Lewis have become implicit counterpoints, since the argument for Roberts is so well known.

Although Lewis comes pretty close to saying that white conservatives can't possibly be fair to black people, I don't care so much about the lack of balance there because the Roberts issue has already been decided. Plus, there are always lower standards for the 'C' section, even though its contents are often the same as the hard news in 'A'.

But I think it is profoundly irresponsible to give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a free pass. The issue here isn't whether his cheapshots at the United States go unanswered. That's irrelevant. But any article about the Iranian government should also let us know about the ongoing efforts of the Iranian opposition to stop rampant human rights violations in Iran and bring down the clerical dictatorship.
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# Posted 7:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INTELLECTUAL TATTOO OF THE DAY: Spotted on the upper back of a cute girl as she walked into my apartment building in Columbia Heights: Eppur si muove. I wonder what she thinks about teaching intelligent design to America's schoolchildren?
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# Posted 5:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOUTH ASIA? LAW? THE BLOGOSPHERE? Nah, I don't think we'd be interested in this blog at all.

Warm welcomes to the blogosphere, Vikram and Arun!
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# Posted 3:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT YGLESIAS HAS A VERY SHARP POST UP about the profoundly unpopular but surprisingly numerous ranks of Democratic pols and pundits who argue that the Bush administration is courting disaster in Iraq, but that there is still time to turn things around. As Matt observes, congressional Democrats
Warn that we're on the brink of failure, but it's too soon to give up. But they've been saying that for over a year now, and that can't be right. We can't perpetually be on the brink of failure. Calls to take one last stab at changing the course would have more credibility if I felt the callers would ever concede that, if the course isn't changed, it's time to start cutting our losses.
Naturally, OxBlog is inclined to speculate that if such prophecies of doom have failed to come true, perhaps things in Iraq aren't going as badly as the withdrawal advocates suggest. After all, long after Joe Biden pronounced us to be on the brink of failure in mid-2004, there have been purple-fingered elections, followed by the formation of a coaltion government, followed by the writing of a constitution.

On the contrary, Matt suggests that that Biden & Co.'s misguided prophecies of doom indicate that the manifest failure of the occupation was obvious long ago, but that the Dems just can't admit it. Why not? In an earlier post, Matt rejects John Judis' argument that the GOP has intimidated the Dems into cowardly incoherence. Instead, he argues that because so many of the Dems initially supported the invasion, they are loath to support a withdrawal that will make their initial support for the war look foolish.

I disagree. I think it would be very easy for most Democratic pols and pundits to say the invasion was right, but now we know there's no WMD, so it's time to go home. After all, that's what the liberal grassroots wants to hear.

I think the difference between the pols and the grassroots is that the latter has no visible concern about what will happen in Iraq if we pull out. A full scale civil war? Another failed state serving as a base for Al Qaeda? I think the pols and pundits are much more attuned to the fact that they will have to take the blame for whatever happens in Iraq if they begin a successful push to force an American withdrawal.

In the final analysis, I regret that Democrats such as Biden have pursued a line of argumentation that Matt has so ably eviscerated. But I disagree with Matt's contention that the absurdity of such Dems' rhetoric indicates that their resistance to a withdrawal is also absurd. Biden & Co. have simply overplayed their sky-is-falling card because they have a partisan incentive to do so.
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# Posted 2:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL" VS. "PRETEND THEY'RE STRAIGHT": Kevin Drum points to a recent study that says the military has prevented the discharge of gay soldiers in units about to mobilized. Nonetheless, a small number of gay soldiers have been discharged during their tours of duty in Iraq.

The bottom line here is that gay soldiers in no way undermine the cohesion of the units in which they serve. If anything, the lengths to which they go to fight and die for their country despite being treated as a second-class citizens demonstrate just why they are such valuable members of the armed forces.

As with gay marriage, I think that the open acceptance of gays in the military is only a matter of time. Kevin predicts, however, that Bush will appoint a "fire breathing social conservative" to replace Justice O'Connor in order to placate the party's base.

Perhaps, but if I were Bush I would just look for another super-smooth John Roberts type who would make the Democrats squirm with his invulnerability, then vote reliably with Thomas and Scalia.
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Thursday, September 15, 2005

# Posted 1:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE, SAY, A THEORETICAL PHYSICIST to be named Rose of Tralee. But then again, I suppose it never hurts. Fáinne óir ort, go hAoibhínn Ní Shúilleabháin!

There she is...

And staying briefly within the world of Gaelblaganna, go raibh míle maith ag An timeall for generously providing what I suspect is this blog's first mention ever in an Irish-language podcast. Nár lagaí Dia do lámh!
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# Posted 11:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

JOHN LENNON IN REVERSE: Thus Michael Axworthy in the ever-excellent Prospect; imagine:
a country in which no women have the vote and few are employed outside the home. A country in which, through conviction or social pressure most people attend religious gatherings once a week, in which the state religion and the law ban homosexuality, where there are powerful religious movements urging abstinence from alcohol, where it is normal for women over 30 to wear black and where they only appear in public if their bodies are completely covered, in which married women have only recently acquired property rights, and there is a strong social stigma against divorce, illegitimacy and sex outside marriage.

Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Iran? No-this is a picture of Britain in 1900 (in modern Iran and Pakistan at least, many of the above are not true).

In France it is considered important to educate children about the Enlightenment, its thinkers and its values. In the US they salute the flag in schools and explain the constitution. In Britain, whose institutions largely inspired the thinkers and the revolutions in both the US and France, we teach children about the spinning jenny.

Recent initiatives to teach citizenship have run into the arid sand of educationalist jargon. The right way to do it, as David Starkey and Simon Schama have demonstrated in their popular television series, is to learn once again how to tell the stories in which our national history is so rich. We should teach how values of tolerance, justice, freedom and democracy struggled to prominence in the political system of this country. No myths, no jingoism, no pretence that at the time of Magna Carta or subsequently anyone had a blueprint to bring those things about, but just how and with what false turns and setbacks it did come about, and how those ideas were spread around the world.

The young Muslims that carried bombs on to the tube did not reject western values in favour of extremist Islam. They, like the rest of our young people, were never taught about western values. Did we think they would somehow just pick them up?
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# Posted 7:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

CENTRAL ASIAN REGIMES, MONGOLIAN CRICKET, AND OTHER THINGS YOU JUST FIND YOURSELF THINKING ABOUT: This just in from Crescat's Amanda Butler, Central Asian maven par excellence upon whom I might note we here at OxBlog are quickly developing a blogosphere crush:

The latter [being the Mongolian cricket - ed.] is because when I googled for Mongolian news earlier today, this came up.

And the former is about your comments on Martha Brill Olcott's latest. I disagree that "The situation's somewhat better in Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, more open to the recommendations of the international community," so far as that's an accurate statement of Kazakhstan/Nazarybayev's motives. I don't think that Kazakhstan is particularly open to the international community's recommendations; I think that Kazakhstan is simply interested in becoming a member of the international community. While similar, these aren't equal.

Kazakhstan wants to be a nation among nations and not a laughingstock. It put in a bid for Almaty to host the winter Olympics, an opportunity that would have showcased it as a legitimate, functioning, respectable nation. It also sought to become chair of the OSCE in 2009, which would mark it as a reasonably well governed democracy (and Bill Clinton even endorsed the bid for chairmanship). Kazakhstan also sent---and advertised heavily in the Washington Post about this---roughly 30 soldiers to Iraq.

Finally, Kazakhstan also receives a lot of investment from foreign companies, especially those interested in its oil and gas riches: the government is not blind to the fact that "real nations" have strong economies, and does consider that a goal. The national TV news likes to cover economic success stories. My friend Ryan Giordano over there has commented several times that he's met far more Kazakhstanis who believe in the power of capitalism to lift up their personal situations than he has met Americans with a similar faith.

The problem is the lack of democracy (though people in Kazakhstan really do think that they live in a democracy, since they vote for a president and parliament to pass their laws), lack of a free media, lack of people who are trained well in what they are doing (I'm thinking now of teachers and of Olcott's comment that success in the Communist party is one of the worst possible trainings for service in a democractic government), and surplus of bridenapping and incredibly widespread corruption. I'm not yet optimistic about the country's future, but I'm not yet pessimistic, either. There's a last hill to overcome---that of changing the culture, such that the Kazakhstani notion of democracy and good governance much more closely approximates the Western notion of those terms---and that's where I'm afraid it will get derailed into a situation like that of modern Russia.

Well, now that I've blathered enough, I hope Switzerland is treating you well---it sounds lovely.

All the best,
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# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH POLITICS WATCH: Alan Milburn ruins his leadership chances, while Liam Fox keeps his dark horse hopes alive on the 'other side'. (This courtesy of our good friend and Labour correspondent RD.)
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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

# Posted 6:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

OH, WHAT THE HECK, I'LL LIVE BLOG IT: 6:57 pm Eastern Time: My enthusiasm about the Hitchens-Galloway grudge match is perhaps best reflected in the fact that it's 1 am where I am, and I'm up blogging. I'm watching this courtesy of the Democracy Now website, which is quite nobly broadcasting the debate online. You can't actually see their pregame commentators, who seem to be vaguely off below and to the left. Instead, we're looking at some young techie with a goatie, which makes him look oddly dispatched from central casting.

Pregame commentators mostly are complimenting lefties for their courage in taking on righties, or dwelling on the astonishing fact both debaters this evening are Brits. They're also quite chuffed that the Beeb are plugging into their sound board.

We're told the aphoristic and witty title of the debate is The 2003 War in Iraq: Was it just and necessary? Amy Goodman of Democracy Now is moderator; sponsoring organisations include an ideologically broad-based coalition of The New Press, International Socialist Review, Nation Books, the National Conference of Arab-Americans, and the Centre for Economic Research and Social Change.

7:07 pm: All my new friends have just gone away. The feed seems to be down, possibly because of bandwidth, which I throw out as an explanation because I once heard someone refer to bandwidth in a similar situation and it sounded very convincing.

7:11 They're back. They're mostly talking about how lefties need to take advantage of Hurricane Katrina. Because if they don't, no one will notice that the administration massively flubbed the relief effort. Also some grousing about how Hitch is writing for the NY Post, because the pay there is better than at the Nation.

7:13 Real live Brits are here! And they're from the BBC and everything.

Otis from the BBC obliges by going online and saying 'queue.'

7:17 They run the tape of the Paxman v Galloway post-election interview. Presumably this is meant to serve as one of the minor bouts preceding the main events. Maybe Paxman will surprise us by appearing during the tag-team bit of the fight?

They all agree that Paxman is a very, very bad man.

7:20 Shaking their heads, my new friends lament that they had to install metal detectors to screen the audience, after looking at real life right wing websites and finding that they were encouraging their readers to come. Probably that whole second-amendment thing, you know.

7:23 Military recruiters are preying on our colleges and communities. They're all harassing and preying on high school students, and harassing and preying on immigrants by trying to give them jobs and free educations! Metal detectors will also cunningly keep out military recruiters.

7:29 The start is being delayed, mostly by resources needed to kill poor ugly underbellies being diverted to kill Iraqis instead. It's possible the feed is missing a word here and there.

7:35 The pregame announcer's voice and cadences sound faintly familiar, particularly her tendency to make repeated use of first and last names. I expect her at any minute to inform us that 'George Galloway served his country as a soldier and is ready to serve his country now. For more on George Galloway, go to George Galloway's website at www.johnkerry.com.'

7:37 Amy Goodman makes a joke. My new friends briefly stop plugging www.stopthewar.com and journeyradio.org, streaming all over the world, the known world, to gloat at how Goodman is a great comedian. They then briefly make jokes about Christopher Hitchens's mum, in keeping with the whole theme of the evening as far too rare an instance of high-level, heady modern renditions of classical debate style. A winking comment about who do you think inspires the heavy security, the fans of George Galloway or the fans of Christopher Hitchens? Obligatory references to Rupert Murdoch, New York Post, diamond-studded boxers, boo.

7:41 And they're off! Brilliant and witty laugh lines by the introducing speaker include the fact someone in the audience is named 'Ms Wrigley Field', but she's never been there. Ha ha h.

7:45 Hitch opens by calling for a moment of respect for the 216 people sadistically murdered by terrorists in Baghdad this morning. A few warm-up jokes including a nostalgic reference to his misspent Trotskyite youth. If anti-war counsel over the past decade and a half had been listened to, Saddam Hussein would be owner and occupier of Kuwait, in meantime, Slobo would've made Bosnia part of greater Serbia and annexed and cleansed Kosovo, the Taliban would still be hosting Al Qa'eda in Afghanistan, Saddam would still be ruling over a concentration state above ground and a mass grave below it. Advances international legal argument that states lose sovereignty by violating its neighbours', fooling around promiscuously with weapons of mass destruction, violating the genocide convention, or playing host to international gangsters, nihilists, or jihadists. An imploded state would have made things worse, and then Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would have intervened. In fact, all these three powers are trying to meddle, but we're fortunate that there's a coalition there to hold the ring and prevent it from being another Rwanda or Congo. On these main points, it seems to me there's very little room for debate. (applause) Oh, thank you. (he says, doing his best to sound delightedly surprised that someone out there likes him).

7:53 Saddam will follow Slobo and Pinochet into the dock quite soon; I know there are some people here who don't take delight in this, but I'll say that I do. A federal democratic constitution is being debated now on six television channels and perhaps as many as a hundred newspapers in a country whree three years ago it was death, not only for you but your family, and not a quick one either, to attempt to distribute a leaflet or own a satellite dish. The largest stateless minority in the Middle East, the people of Kurdistan, have begun to scramble to their feet to assume something like their full height as a people. Slows speaking pace dramatically to describe chemical wounds of Kurdish women, which burn for years. Speeds up to point out this is an extraordinary and unambiguous gain. Nukes-r-us joke. Notable that when Qadaffi wanted to capitulate he didn't go to Kofi, Chirac (who will quite happily pay for the privilege of selling himself), or Schroeder, he went to Blair and Bush.

7:58 I think it is worse than a disgrace that a member of Parliament goes before a committee of the United States Senate and declines to testify, and generally behaves badly. some jeers if you knew how you looked and sounded when you did that, comrades..... Not content with it, he turns up in Damascus - the man's search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends, Saddam has been overthrown and his criminal comnections with him have been exposed - to tell the Syrian people they're fortunate to have such a leader. Far beyond me, and I hope, ladies and gentlemen, far beyond you and far beneath your contempt.

8:01 Galloway steps into the ring: Slobbering was the note Mr Hitchens chose to end on, perhaps unwisely. 'Bring it on' from CH. Wants to begin by praising Mr Hitchens (long pause), made speech in mezoic age praising me for brave act in 1980 in twinning Dundee with Nablus. I didn't interrupt you so perhaps you won't slobber over my remarks. Oooh, Christopher Hitchens used to be a Trotskyite. Say anything but that....

8:04 GG: Hitchens was against first Iraq War. Bravely, fanatically, stood up to Charlton Heston and a President named Bush and other nasties. What you have witnessed here, ladies and gentlemen, is a first in natural history, the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back to a slug (applause, CH - Hitch, not Heston - says 'well done.') You are covered, Mr Hitchens, with the stuff you like to smear onto others. kinky. People like Cindy Sheehan. hey, this is a family blog.

8:08 People like Hitchens are content to fight to the last drop of other peoples' blood. (applause) Parliamentarians should have been wisely against American independence because the country one day would be ruled by Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft and didn't pick up dead bodies in New Orleans (because the few competent people there were trying too hard to find living ones). Galloway was for Irish independence. Hitchens was apparently in Bloomsbury and slobbering in opposition to it. Funny, neither of them looked quite that old. So he should also be for the right of the Iraqi people to be free and against the foreign people who invaded them. my God, this man should've been a logic professor. Fallujah! (crazed applause)

8:14 Oh how he wishes Hitch would put on a tin hat and go and fight. Then he wouldn't have to debate him No weapons of mass destruction. Hitchens and Bush and Cheney and neo-cons ooo put lots of young men in wheelchairs and morgues. There is scarcely a sentient human being on the planet who believes the war in Iraq was necessary or just or a good idea.

8:16 Our two countries are the biggest rogue states in the world today. um, hello? perspective? It is therefore vitally important that those who oppose the crimes of our governments link hands and rid the world of George W. Bush and Anthony Blair. but what about the neo-cons? will we still have to put up with neo-cons in wheelchairs?

8:17 Hitch's turn. Hitchens takes controversial stance in favour of Irish independence. whew. CH: Rhetorical trick, to hear Mr Galloway speak, you would think he was a pacifist, some sort of opponent of war. But standing next to Syria's president, Galloway referred to 145 heroic operations of Syrians every day against Iraq. These people are not pacifists, or anti-imperialists, but call for restoration of caliphate. (Syrians trying to restore the caliphate? Somebody call Juan Cole, we've got two middle east scholars here tonight...) Of course it's funny that the author of the Vagina Monologues puts George Galloway on tour with Jane Fonda. Calls Assad a human toothbrush (?) and George's new pal. Rebuts 100,000 deaths Lancet comment with reference to Kaplan in Slate. President Talabani isn't occupying Iraq, but is from Iraq and a member of a party which belongs to the Socialist International. We take, on this side of this House, without exception the side of the secular Iraqi left against neo-fascists and jihadists.

Amy Goodman calls for windscreens for microphones. I don't think it was a laugh-line.

8:27 George's turn. Do you think the editors of the Lancet and academics at Johns Hopkins are crazed fabricators? (Rhetorical mistake: gives Hitch supporters in crowd lots of chances to shout 'yes'.) Hitch used to be a Trotskyite!

8:29 Islamists are descending like spores of anthrax on the gaping wounds of Iraq caused by neo-cons oh no, anything but neo-cons! give us anthrax instead!

8:32 You may think that those two planes that attacked this city descended out of a clear blue sky. I think they came out of a sea of hatred created by us. oops, mistake. jeers. that line would've worked in England, though. Created by Sharon's crimes against the Palestinian people hmm, does George Galloway know anything about New York?

8:34 If you live next to a swamp, no amount of fly swats will protect you against things that come out of that swamp. You have to drain that swamp by getting rid of Mr Sharon's apartheid genocidal wall. None of these apartheid regimes would last for a minute unless propped up by the financial support of Rupert Murdoch.

He's really convincing them.

8:35 Hitch's turn. If anything ignited the hatred and violence of the Muslim world, the invasion and annexation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and documented genocide of many Afghans is probably a better candidate than the holding of a free and fair election in Iraq. And if you're opposed to Sharon's wall, obviously the intuitive response is to fly planes into the Twin Towers, why didn't I think of that. May I notice, Mr Galloway, that you picked the wrong city to say that in. much applause and arguably the wrong month, as well, because some of us are still mourning. How dare you say that the Bush administration supports the Assad regime in Syria; we've succeeded, in concert on this one occasion with the French, in securing some measure of freedom for the Lebanese against the illegal occupation of Syria. I think you also say that these Islamist chaps wouldn't be this way if we weren't so mean to them. laughter I think that some of these people came to Iraq after we threw them out of Afghanistan. Obviously the answer is to leave them in control of Afghanistan; don't make them angry. This is masochism, and it's being offered you by a sadist.

8:41 George's turn. It's lies, lies, all lies. Read my book. Don't read his leaflets. He's an idiot. He's supporting more dictatorships than me.

8:42 I'll now recite the names of Bush administration members. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld. Hey, you forgot to mention Vulfovitz! Exact quote from George: 'You were a butterfly but now you're a slug! Damn you and all your works!'

8:45 Second round: q&a, moderator having the questions. She asks Hitch where he would differ from Bush administration. Answer: it should have educated and enlightened, rather than scared, the public.

8:51moderator: and your response to Powell saying that his speech before the UNSC was a stain on his public record? Answer: I don't give a damn what Powell says about anything.

8:52 Moderator asks George if Saddam commited crimes. George: yes, mostly when the friend of the U.S. and Britain.

9:03 Shall I mention this man's friends! Haliburton! Robber capitalists! CH: grunted agreement a repeated, effective, trick in CH's rhetorical quiver

The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American uniforms! Exclamation points a repeated, ineffective, trick in GG's

9:08 I'd like to thank Mr Galloway for providing us with a clear and unequivocal declaration of support for the terrorists who destroyed with explosion (&c) GG (repeated): Are there no depths to which you willl not sink? CH: You're shouting me down, so I can't answer the question. Are you unclear on the concept... .

CH: I don't think it's denied even by the egregious Professor Cole, who's never set foot in the region but claims to speak Arabic and Farsi, that the forces that favour the transition to a democratic government are favoured by the latent majority of the Iraqi people. I think it's a very eloquent campaign by Mr Galloway's friends to prevent the chances of elections; there is a liberation movement in Iraq, it fights on the side of the Kurds, and fights on our side; and thankfully we finally fight on its; shame on the people who call this [the insurgency] a liberation movement.

moderator: Katrina. What makes you think the U.S. is any better in Iraq than New Orleans?

CH: I would caution against making a zero-sum relationship between the two. More than enough soldiers to hand; but the president couldn't order troops into a state without the request of the governor; unless you want to invoke the Insurrection Act, which hasn't been invoked since the Civil War. GG has accused me of bordering on racism, which I consider opprobious and must ask him to withdraw. But I would have first to add, that for people to atttempt to score rhetorical points about people whose bodies haven't yet been identified yet, and to say they would be alive if our money weren't wasted on Arabs, that is an appeal to the most racist, base, and provincial mentality.

GG: Hmm. Repeat earlier line about 'mouthpiece and apologist for the miserable incompetents who can't even pick up bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans'. Bushes! 'You know, Hitchens, you're a court jester.' (His best line yet. Which says something.)

moderator: CH, as you change your views over time, do you feel the media is friendlier to you?

CH: Frankly, I think that's rather a waste of a question.

Both disputants agree (!) that this debate is running out of steam.

Concluding statements: GG's is attempted to be an impassionate close that the Iraq war is a blunder and CH a popinjay, but fails somewhat to build up the necessary steam. CH notes he still has solidarity with his left-secular comrades in Iraq; it is GG who has deserted his comrades because Michael Moore says so, or because someone has offered him some oil for food money, and he's not going to do it. (a hit, a palpable hit). He calls on audience to do something as true internationalists to help the secular leftists of the New Iraq build a civil society. Everyone then seems fairly happy that the debates's over. Not least me, as it's now 3:36 am where I am.

A concluding thought: This match-up proved perhaps slightly less satisfying than I'd hoped, partially because the two were playing rather different rhetorical games. There's a marked difference in the two contenders' rhetorical styles. Galloway's is more shouted, accustomed perhaps to a larger hall or a rally of party faithful. Hitch's is conversational and detached, and paired together in this environment, Hitchens's wins - it permits him to interject an occasional 'yes, of course' or 'please do, i'm waiting for it' in the midst of a slow-building shouted attack, thereby deflating it. Contests generally make more edifying viewing if the two sides are playing at the same sport. Still, as interesting as was the juxtaposition of Galloway's broguish union-hall rhetoric with Hitchens's drawled sophistication, Hitchens's ability to deflate Galloway's points, and his greater variety and command of argument, made it rather more one-sided a contest to my mind than I would have hoped it to have been.
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# Posted 10:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

B&B BLEG: If you happen to live in the Princeton area and would like to have a very nice visiting research fellow from Oxford for a month who's a good friend of this blog's, you're warmly welcome to have him. He's very well behaved, has impeccable table manners, and is going to be at Princeton for the month of October. Thanks!
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# Posted 10:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

CORPULENT AUSSIE RIDES AGAIN: We made mention here yesterday of the Hitchens-Galloway grudge match impending for this evening, viewable free for all you sport fans here at 7 pm EST. Little did we know then that we'd be able to send the Corpulent Australian clear across the globe to cover it for us live at Baruch College tonight. In our Corpulent correspondent, this match-up may have finally found the WWF announcer it needed; stay tuned.
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# Posted 9:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE PROBLEM WITH ENGLAND CRICKET IS THAT we don't have enough bastards. Like this bastard, for instance. Or this bastard.

Not all that surprisingly, really, the surname seems to have died out.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

# Posted 6:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

Arafat was murdered.

No, not that Arafat (Yasser) but the other Arafat (Moussa). The latter was the cousin of the former and at one time his head of military intelligence. When Yasser Arafat died, Moussa was demoted by the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and named an adviser. Last week in Gaza he was dragged out into the street and shot.

It is an odd state -- if a state is what it is -- where brigands can show up at the door and fight it out without anyone's calling 911.

At the recent Ambrosetti conference of Italian and other notables in Cernobbio, Italy, both Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, warned against blunt talk.... And Erekat, for his part, insisted that the term "Islamic terrorist" was likewise an expression of bigotry. This caused the plain-talking Sen. John McCain, a conference attendee, to suggest that the word "banana" be substituted for "Islamic" while I, exhaustively searching for the proper PC term, chanced upon "persons of terror." That cannot offend anyone.
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# Posted 6:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

RED GREENS: China's disastrous environment has been a source of Western comment for years, notably by this blog's friend Elizabeth Economy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Now, it's even a source of rural Chinese comment - and dissent - by local party officials against PM Wen Jiabao, with a group of village leaders joining force and threatening to resign en masse unless the centre takes swift action. This is worth watching.

If only Yahoo had comparable stolidity in standing up to the government in Beijing. Yahoo provided the government with e-mail account information identifying journalist Shi Tao, of Contemporary Business News, which it used to convict Shi under state secrecy laws and sentence him to ten years in prison. Shi had sent notes by email on a government circular spelling out restrictions on the media; with Yahoo's help, the Chinese government was able to trace the email to Shi. (See Wired, Reporters without Frontiers). For once, their name as yahoos sounds remarkably apt, if generous.
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# Posted 5:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

GERMAN ELECTIONS WATCH: Journalist William Drozdiak is interviewed on the CFR website about the most important German elections in four decades. (The ones that are coming up, incidentally; not, say, the 1972 elections returning Willy Brandt...or the 1987 polls returning Helmut Kohl....)
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# Posted 5:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

CENTRAL ASIA WATCH: Carnegie's Martha Brill Olcott has a new book out on Central Asia. Because Carnegie loves you, you get the first chapter free.

Her thesis, in a nutshell: no more than during Central Asia's first chance at political change after the fall of the Soviet Union is there much likelihood now that the region will produce much democratic change during its second chance at political dynamism, in the present context of Western security engagement. The situation's somewhat better in Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, more open to the recommendations of the international community, and in Tajikistan, after its bloody civil war in which 60,000 died; but Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan appeal to the specificity of their national cultures to reject international suasion. U.S. security engagement has served as public demonstration of Russian power in retreat; after years of blustering warning Washington not to reach too deep into its backyard, Moscow gulped and quietly accepted being eclipsed by the United States in areas it had long strategically dominated. But though the United States shows no sign of leaving the region any time soon, nor has it made long-term commitments or binding security guarantees to any states in the region (though its present arrangements on bases and landing rights, on the other hand, give Washington maximum strategic flexibility). States continue to regard their own people as their principal threats, shortly followed by their neighbours, with institutions and initiatives toward regional economic or security integration sputtering to their own halts. A correctly reconstructed Afghanistan would provide a regional jump-start, creating transit corridors to Pakistani ports and the Indian oil and gas market; but for the foreseable future, Afghanistan remains a source of drugs, not jobs, for Central Asia. Not all the blame, actually, is America's. A fish rots from the head down, and Central Asia's leaders have shown little appetite for either economic or political reform.
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# Posted 3:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND IN THE GREAT COUNTRY, AWFUL GOVERNMENT CATEGORY: Sic semper, tyranni. Persecuted Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji has been perversely and cynically returned to prison by the Iranian government after he broke a four-month hunger strike in hospital after being told he would be given his freedom. The journalist, whose reportage in 1998 connected former President Akbar Rafsanjani and other leading conservatives with the murders of five writers and intellectuals and was thought a decisive factor in the conservatives' defeat in the February 2000 parliamentary elections, is presently being held in solitary confinement; he has been in prison since April 2000, except for a brief 12-day period of leave in advance of the 17 June 2005 presidential elections. Ganji has written two letters to the free people of the world, on 10 July and 29 July. He is being represented at the moment by Shirin Ebadi. See Human Rights Watch, PEN, and Reporters sans frontières for further background on his case.

I call the attention of readers to sample letters of protest to the Iranian government drafted by RSF and PEN. The first is suitable for nations without diplomatic relations with the Iranian government; the second for nations such as Britain, Canada, Ireland and Australia which accredit Iranian ambassadors.
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed 'Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o The Presidency
Palestine Avenue
Azerbaijan Intersection
Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my grave and urgent concern about the continued imprisonment of Akbar Ganji. As you know, Mr. Ganji was among 19 writers and intellectuals arrested for participating in an academic and cultural conference held in Berlin in April 2000. I fear Mr. Ganji is being detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which your country has ratified. Please reconsider Mr. Ganji's case and in a spirit of humanity order his immediate and unconditional release.


[Your name and signature]

Iranian Interests Section
c/o Embassy of Pakistan to the United States
2209 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20007


Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince's Gate,

or245 Metcalfe St.
Ottawa, Ontario
K2P 2K2

or72 Mount Merrion Avenue
Co. Dublin

25 Cologoa Street
O'Malley, A.C.T. 2606

Dear Ambassador,

May I draw your attention to the case of the journalist Akbar Ganji, who was arrested on 22 April 2000? To the best of my knowledge, he was simply exercising his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I therefore call on you to take steps to ensure his release.

Yours sincerely,

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# Posted 12:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FINALLY, A BIOGRAPHY ABOUT IDEAS INSTEAD OF PERSONALITY QUIRKS: Today, Random House publishes America's Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar, one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the United States of America. I look forward to reading it. (Hat tip: JC)
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# Posted 11:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

HITCHENS V. GALLOWAY: It seems vaguely reminiscent of one of those 1960s Japanese B-movies, wherein Godzilla takes on Batman, or King Kong the Harlem Globetrotters, or somesuch. (We had a slightly different television set, where I was growing up.) But too good to be true or not, they're squaring off amidst what will no doubt shortly be the wreckage of New York City (q.v. cinematic convention, wherein in quaint regional custom Californians traditionally destroy Manhattan; it's their culture, after all) or at least the Baruch campus, at 7 pm EST tomorrow. Listen to it here, on KPFT.

Amidst his Rockian training regimen of jogging the steps of the midtown Public Library while tossing off bon mots to his left and right, Hitch is talking smack beautifully, and in canonical WWF fashion, in today's Slate. Professional wrestling depends upon a dashing and vaguely admirable bad guy, and I'd like to nominate Gorgeous George for the role - you can almost see him oiling his moustache in the changing room, dressed in a smoking jacket and drawling witticisms like a Bondian villain, only far more fluent and oleaginous.

It really doesn't get much better than this. It really doesn't.
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# Posted 10:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

GETTING HIGH: This is a post about perils of petrol prices, not the plentiful pleasures of alpinism, which are, by contrast, nice. (I cite Amis's law: there is no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones. On a metatheoretical level I also cite Hitchens, whose invigorating essay on Lucky Jim lately marks it as my favourite review of my favourite comic novel.)

In London, one of our correspondents was queued for hours last night for petrol amidst panic purchasing harkened by a hurricane storm of emails and text messages betokening instant exhaustion of the British, if not quite yet global, petrol supply. Panic buying has been reported nationwide by the Cumbrian News & Star, the Norwich Evening News, and in the Brummie press. There have been calls for the Chancellor to cut duties on fuel (Mr Brown has already deferred an inflationary 1.22p litre rise, due in next spring's budget, for six months); the Treasury is almost certain to reject these calls and instead plead for Opec to be more open about their reserves in order to stabilise prices. (In Britain up to 80p in every £1 spent on fuel goes to the Treasury in the form of VAT or other taxes.) (As far as why I'm terribly bothered by all this, being in a Swiss alpine scriptorium, I suppose that having had a breakfast that included an odd chemical substance known as marmite as well as a daily tea intake exceeding three pots a day makes me at present more of a Pom than a not-Pom, see below. If David felt the same way, we could be a pair of pom poms, which would be by far an excess of ps for this post.)

More interesting are calls from motorist organisations to introduce a variable tax, responsive to the market oil price; the Lib Dems call for scrapping fuel duty altogether, in favour of a system of road user pricing based on location, location, and location. (Oh bugger, that's the real estate market. I meant location, congestion, and vehicular emissions.) Noted environmentalist and chair of the PM's Sustainable Development Commission Jonathan Porritt debated Chatham House chair DeAnne Julius, an oil economist, this morning on Radio 4's Today Programme. Porritt was quite enthusiastic that high petrol prices might betoken a broader secular shift toward greater consumer fuel efficiency. Rather than seeing radical revisions in the structure of the petrol market or user habits, though, my guess is to look for all this to blow over instead: in the world market, prices are already showing signs of stabilisation after the Katrina hurricane, and at the pump they'll be shortly back down to their ordinarily high level, instead. (See AP, Forbes; but contra, see Bloomberg quoting DuPont analysts on their expectation that crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum will remain close to their record levels for the foreseeable future.)

Readers knowing more about the oil market and energy policy than me, which isn't hard, are very welcome to write in and contribute their perspectives.
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# Posted 9:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

REGARDING THE NYT'S piece on new writers surrounding the small literary magazine n+1 and constitutive of a generational movement toward which Eggers's systematically overvalued 'Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' is meant to be emblematic, I'm for some reason reminded of Evelyn Waugh's letter of rebuke to the Spectator in 1954, 'Please let the young people of today get on with their work alone and be treated to the courtesy of individual attention. They are the less, not the more, interesting, if they are treated as a "Movement".'
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# Posted 8:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

A HEADLINE NO IRISH EDITOR COULD GET AWAY WITH: Orangemen: why they suck (from this morning's Times; hat tip and credit to Best of Both Worlds).

See also, in a somewhat more liberal spirit, the Minister for Justice's statement that true republicans must do more to reach out to the unionist community, and that a new vision of Ireland must recognise and respect the tricolour's orange panel.
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Monday, September 12, 2005

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

There is nothing patriotic about hating your country or pretending that you can love your country but despise your Government.
Who said that? Bill Clinton of course. It's from his commencent address at Michigan State in 1995. I haven't doctored the quote or anything like that, but in order to fully understand it you have to know that Clinton was speaking out against right-wing militias in the aftermath of the Oklahoma city bombing.

Thus, when Clinton says "despise" he means "despise to the point where you consider violence legitimate". Nonetheless, Clinton's choice of words was somewhat unusual, since the First Amendment obviously gives us the right to despise our government as vocally as we so choose.

In hindsight, the most significant aspect of Clinton's address is not this strange quote about patriotism, but rather the following declaration by the President:
I have insisted that Congress pass strong antiterrorism legislation immediately, to provide for more than 1,000 new law enforcement personnel solely to fight terrorism, to create a domestic antiterrorism center, to make available the most up-to-date technology to trace the source of any bomb that goes off, and to provide tough new punishment for carrying stolen explosives, selling those explosives for use in a violent crime, and for attacking members of the uniformed services or Federal workers.
In the aftermath of September 11th, it's hard to know what to make of this kind of ambitious commitment. According to Blind Spot, a superb book about terrorism by historian Tim Naftali, the Clinton administration did a fairly good job of strengthening America's defense against terrorists attacks.

Even so, Clinton's foremost experts on terrorism (including Richard Clarke) had no idea of what Bin Laden was planning. Mind you, Naftali is no friend of the GOP, so his criticism of Clarke et al. can't be dismissed as partisan.

Finally, a hat tip to Hillary for mentioning Bill's strange quote about patriotism on page 296 of her memoir. (Not that she thought there was anything strange about it.)
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# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FENTY FOR MAYOR? Today marks exactly one year until the primary election for mayor of Washington DC. Of course, in this bluest of blue states colonies, the Democratic primary serves pretty much as a proxy for the general election.

In order to improve upon my basic ignorance about the candidates for mayor, I decided to attend a party this evening held on behalf of Adrian Fenty, the 34 year-old council member/wunderkind who is gunning for the Democratic nomination. If only because of the open bar, I have to consider the evening a success.

When it comes to substance, it's a little bit hard to figure what Fenty stands for. He did give a speech that lasted about ten minutes, eight minutes of which consisted of statements so bland and inoffensive that a bright red Republican could've given exactly the same speech without hesitation.

Far and away, the issue that got the most attention from Fenty was education. He said that he wants to make sure that DC has the best public school system in America and that you shouldn't listen to the skeptics who say it can't be done.

It's hard to disagree with that. But as one of my friends (who has experience teaching in inner city schools) pointed out, the mayor controls neither the school board, the superintendant nor the education budget. So exactly how Fenty will fix the schools remains a mystery.

The issue that made Fenty sound like an old-school, LBJ Democrat was inequality. While acknowledging that DC has made tremendous strides over the past decade, Fenty said that it was time for everyone to share in that prosperity. In terms of equality, the most important item on Fenty's agenda is affordable housing.

In terms of policy, I'm not sure what that means. Fenty has said that he will release a detailed policy proposal by the end of this month. However, in political code, "affordable housing" means protecting DC residents from gentrification. In other words, "affordable housing" is about resisting precisely those market forces that have done so much to transform DC from one of the worst cities in the nation to one of the best.

Now I'm not saying that gentrification is a non-issue. It is unfortunate when long-time residents are forced out of their neighborhoods by ever-rising rents. On the other hand, gentrification has also enabled lower-middle class, mostly black homeowners to make hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling their homes to (mostly) white yuppies.

Frankly, what I'd like to hear a candidate say is that he will make the market work for both the most established residents as well as the newcomers. Before gentrification started, there wasn't much of a pie to distribute. But now that the pie is growing, the best way to spread the wealth is to keep it growing.
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# Posted 7:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY'S Randy Barnett has a piece over at the OpinionJournal (favourably) summing up Rehnquist's career singing lead on the Supremes, as one who argued before them; go read. Also courtesy of Volokhs, BoJack photoblogs from New Orleans.
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# Posted 7:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

LEON FUERTH is guest-blogging over at Kevin Drum's. He's sticking to Katrina-blogging at the moment, but here's hoping we get to see him posting a bit on foreign policy while he's there, too.
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# Posted 6:25 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS WILL INTEREST PRECISELY THREE OF OUR READERS. But they'll really enjoy it, so here goes. Tá blag nua anseo i nGaelige, agus tá podchraoladh aige, freisin. Go n-éirí an t-ádh leis!
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# Posted 6:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

HEADLINE OF THE DAY, FROM THE ARCHIVES: 'My plaice or yours?', which superintends as chapeau above a Guardian article on fish and chips and chippie terminology.
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# Posted 2:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

JOHN ROBERTS CONFIRMATION HEARINGS: It's possible to watch the first day's opening statements live on the Washington Post website, or alternatively on C-Span. The San Fran Chronicle has a hearings users' guide.

NYT has a transcript of his opening statement, for those of you who don't like to watch. The money bits, promising judicial humility and an open mind before legal argumentation: 'Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes. I have no agenda but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I'll remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not pitch or bat.'

I'm looking forward to reading what Tom Goldstein says about the ensuing hearings over at SCOTUSBlog; I haven't been able to open it, but that's possibly just because other brilliant souls had the same idea. [UPDATE: It's working now. Guess all those 0s and 1s just had to climb the mountain.]
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# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

JOHN BAHCALL: Princeton and, indeed, the United States has lost one of its greatest astrophysicists. He was also the father of a dear friend. Among Dr John Bahcall's public recognitions were the National Medal of Science in the United States, and the Dan David prize in Israel. Without his work on solar neutrinos, we would not know how the sun was powered by nuclear reactions; neither without him would we likely have the Hubble Space Telescope. His stature as a scientist is reflected by tribute pieces in the Times and Washington Post, and the over five hundred academic works he leaves to his field; still more is it reflected in his influence as a pedagogue, remaking postdoctoral training at the Institute for Advanced Study and training six of the twelve astrophysics professors at Princeton.

More than that, though, he had the lover's quarrel with the natural world which bemarks the best of physicists, and poets. In a newspaper interview in 2003, Bahcall described the universe as 'unattractive, implausible, crazy, but beautiful.' The light of G_d is the soul of man, says the Shiva ceremony. The light which burned in Bahcall, curious and amiable lover of nature, spread beyond him to an entire scientific community, and world.
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# Posted 8:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE LAST NIGHT OF POMS: Today, with any luck, the England side will capture the Ashes for its first time in over a decade, following a series of exceptionally beautifully played cricket from both nations. BBC are providing live coverage; and in the 'blog before wicket' category, for blog coverage of the play today at Lord's you can do far worse than the Corridor of Uncertainty, The Ashes (with some of the best photographs the game has produced*), Jim Maxwell, and Cricket 24x7 (for a perspective from the South Asians who invented the game - a fact we often forget in light of its rising popularity in Britain these days). As the BBC's Alan Connor helpfully points out, 'after all, the last time England won the Ashes, there were not only no blogs: there was no World Wide Web at all; just 5,000 machines on the net and the odd Usenet post.' And, for those of you who didn't already know the original meaning of the term 'leg before wicket', in a rubber that has already seen its few pounds of flesh on the pitch you can go here for a scholarly discussion of the 'pure bare-faced cheek' of sport streakers across history.

In honour of the Australia side and in recognition of the great Aussie sense of humour, for our part we could do worse in tribute than recycle one of the internet's great forwards, as funny as it is undoubtedly apocryphal:
The questions below are from potential visitors to Australia. They were posted on an Australian Tourism Website and the answers are the actual responses by the website officials, who obviously have a sense of humour, &c., &c., okay, you get the idea.....

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (UK).
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
A: Depends how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only three thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Australia? (Sweden)
A: So it's true what they say about Swedes.

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)
A: What precisely did your last slave die of?

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not. oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked. (Exegetical apparatus: Kings Cross is the red light/non mainstream/anything goes district in Sydney....)

Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)
A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? ( UK)
A: You are a British politician, right?

Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.

Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear and lives in trees. (USA)
A: It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of Gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

Q: Do you have perfume in Australia? (France)
A: No, WE don't stink.

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia? (USA)
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
A: Only at Christmas.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you'll have to learn it first

Q: I was in Australia in 1969 on R+R, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help? (USA)
A: Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.


Getting back to the title of this post, for historical trivia points, the term 'poms' comes from 'pomegranate', which was at some point thought to rhyme with 'immigrant' by someone who hadn't quite mastered the rules of Cockney rhyming slang, but gets splendid points for trying. Points also to the government of New Zealand for managing to include the phrase "Pommy bastards" on a government website.

Finally, if you were misled by the title, were annoyed by all this cricket, and still want to listen to the Last Night of Proms instead, you can hear Saturday's Last Night broadcast on the Radio 3 website here.
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# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUNGLING THE WETWORK: Our friend Addie Stan (who for those of you not already familiar with her work, is not only a talented journalist, but also the most talented and beautiful ukelele player in the blogosphere) has on her website a letter from a correspondent presently volunteering her services as a clinical psychologist with New Orleans evacuees currently being housed in two locations in Dallas. The images there eerily echo those now-familiar ones from the Superdome which have now joined the repertory of images burned into our consciousness:

In the age of computers, we are doing worse than the pencil squibs and the rolls of paper to log in the displaced after World War II. Literacy and computer access seems to be considered as a given for people who have lost it all. Accessing FEMA is through a website. People are in shelters waiting for FEMA to come "in a few days." "Be patient." The Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana pumped my hand and replied to my desperate queries about how to help people find their parents and babies, "Be patient--give us a few days."

The mothers who have lost their children, and there are many, and the children who have lost their parents, have had it with the "be patient" response.... The stories that I know to be true are enough to make me boil. The compassionate foreign doctors who can't find anyone to validate their credentials [ed.: Andrew touches on this point as well], the expensive mobile hospital still sitting parked waiting for federal paperwork to move into Louisiana, the five C130s sitting on the Tarmac in San Diego since the night of Katrina, still waiting for orders to move. Where the hell are the beds? We have some old people sleeping on hot plastic pool floats with no sheets. They are still no showers for people who have walked for hours through fetid waters. Their skin is breaking out in rashes. Still no showers. Where the hell are the DeCon showers bought with Homeland Security money that can shower 30 people at a time?

The convention centers have no bathing facilities so the filth and skin reactions are getting worse. What of lice? There are no clothes for the really heavy and large. I was reduced to writing the women I knew who went to Weight Watchers to comb their attics for "before" outfits. When I arrived with the sack of my gatherings, I had to engage in a full-scale battle and puff myself up to all my red-headed doctor fury to get them distributed to the women still sitting there in their stinking clothes.
She has equally harsh criticism for the media:
I heard Soledad O'Brien say something about the still unrecognized need to address the psychological trauma. I sent a response to the CNN tip-line that there were hordes of every manner of mental health professional working 24/7. CNN's response? Dr. Phil and the stories of the survivors" on Larry King. They went to the guy who lost his clinical license for serious professional infractions [ed: q.v.] to tell the stories? I could see the "entertainer" down there gathering tales of the already exploited so that he and Larry could both pimp their ratings. The real unsung mental health heroes, the counselors, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists dealing with un-medicated psychosis and severe traumatic responses were represented by Dr. "Keep-It-Real"? We don't need tabloid help from the media.
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Sunday, September 11, 2005

# Posted 11:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN JUST A FEW MINUTES, IT WILL NO LONGER BE SEPTEMBER 11TH. Four years on, I don't feel that I have much to offer that can truly give meaning to the defining tragedy of our decade and perhaps of our lifetimes. All I can offer is a reminder of just how hard it is to remember to be grateful for what we have instead of wishing for what we don't.

This morning, while bringing my bed over to my new apartment, I put a small dent in the side of the cargo van I was driving. In most instances, this wouldn't matter because of my insurance. But when I called up my insurance company to tell them what happened, they read me back some fine print of which I wasn't aware and which indicated that I was entitled to coverage for rental cars but not for rental vans.

Coming at the end of a two-week period in which I totaled my car and was assaulted by a stranger, this was the last thing I needed to happen to me. I no longer have a graduate stipend to live on and still don't have a job, so I'm short on funds and therefore find myself asking my parents for much more help than I'd prefer.

When I returned the van to the rental office, I tried to make myself sound sympathetic. The young woman who listened to my plea was remarkably helpful. Sensing my distress, she let slide the two gallons of gas that I had forgotten to put back in the tank. Then, while she was filling out some paperwork, a colleague of hers asked if she had called her family. She said she hadn't, since you can't get through "down there".

A minute later, I asked her if her family had been affected by Katrina. They had, and by the worst of it. She grew up and they live in Bay St. Louis, MI, half way between Biloxi and New Orleans. And some of her family didn't even have flood insurance. And to top that off, her mother is the head nurse (or administrator, I can't remember which) at an emergency room in a hospital hit by the storm.

And to think I was worried about my dent.

Now that isn't a story about September 11th, but the lesson is the same. Until directly confronted by a tragedy of epic proportions, it is extraordinarily hard to place one's own situation in perspective. I can't say that I'm glad that I had to learn that lesson again today, but it's better than nothing.
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# Posted 10:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVING HISTORY, PART I: HILLARY AS REPUBLICAN. I've been on something of a Clinton kick lately, what with my post about Hillary's electability and my review of First in His Class. And now I'm half way through Hillary's autobiography, entitled Living History, which I'm going to start reviewing here.

When you read a book by an (undeclared) candidate for President, you have to lower your expectations. You have to prepare yourself for the faux candor, the boring anecdotes and a one-sided account of just about everything. In fact, you can write an entire book review that focuses entirely on those shortcomings. But someone has already done that, so I'm going to have to write about something else.

My review begins with a question: Given the inevitable restraints on the candor of a White House hopeful, what would the ideal campaign trail memoir consist of? Although one-sidedness is not considered a virtue among scholars, the measure of a good trial lawyer is to present a narrative so compelling that its one-sidedness becomes irrelevant. By the same token, a campaign trail memoir should craft the candidate's life experiences into a compelling demonstration of the candidate's ideology and program of government.

Think of it this way: Candidates for public office often rely on a handful of soundbites and slogans to win over the electorate. If given three, four, or five hundred pages to make the case for themselves, the candidate should be far more persuasive. In spite of conservative predictions to the contrary, Hillary's memoir has sold over a million copies. Never again will she have the chance to make her case in such great detail.

So, does Hillary succeed? Although I won't pass final judgment until I've finished the book, my sense so far is that Hillary has failed. While reading the (Bill) Clinton bio, First in His Class, the funadmental question I asked was what Clinton stood for. Or more broadly, what does it mean to be liberal or Democratic? That book's focus on Clinton's personality made it hard to assess his ideas-- which is precisely why I was hoping that a book written by a Clinton would be informative on that count.

Sadly, Living History isn't. To some degree, you can chalk that up to the ghost writers. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that Hillary played a fairly significant editorial role in terms of deciding what this book was going to be about. If she had a clear set of ideas about the purpose of government, I think it would've found its way into the book.

One thing I can say with a fair degree of confidence is that Hillary certainly doesn't want anyone to think of her as a liberal now days. In the first three hundred pages of the book, she never uses the 'l'-word to describe herself, her husband or any of their policies. If you look in the index, there are no entries for 'liberal' or 'progressive' or anything similar.

In contrast, there are a good number of entries for 'conservative' and an extraordinary number of entries for 'right wing', which is Hillary's preferred way of describing her opponents. I find this contrast especially interesting since Hillary herself was once a passionate Republican. More than just a rank-and-file voter, Hillary was a self-described Goldwater Girl and president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.

Then, within the space of just over a year, Hillary travelled all the way across the political spectrum to become a left-wing Democrat who went up to New Hampshire "to stuff envelopes and walk precints" for Gene McCarthy. This dramatic evolution should have provided Hillary-as-author with the perfect vehicle for describing why she is Democrat and what the party stands for.

Instead, Hillary provides a one-paragraph explanation. In college, she started reading the New York Times, "much to [her] father's consternation". In addition, her political science professors pushed her to "examine [her] own preconceptions just when current events provided more than enough material".

At minimum, this account is certainly plausible. Hillary certain wasn't the first young Republican converted by liberal professors and a liberal newspaper. But the real question is how. What are the arguments and ideas that Hillary found so persuasive? If she herself was converted, shouldn't she now be able to serve as a winning evangelist?

With regard to specifics, Hillary writes that
"during [her] freshman year, [her] doubts about the [Republican] party and its policies were growing, particularly when it came to civil rights and the Vietnam War."
If I were a Republican in 1968, I would've noticed that southern Democrats were the most vicious opponents of civil rights and that a Democratic president was responsible for the quagmire in Vietnam. On the other hand, left-wing Democrats were at the forefront of both the civil rights and anti-war movements, while Republicans weren't. The question, then, is why the latter fact was more important to Hillary than the former.

Unfortunately, we don't find out. In fact, we don't even get much sense of why Hillary opposed the war in Vietnam, which she describes as unconscionable and unwinnable. Given the formative impact of the war on both young Hillary Clinton and on the Democratic party as a whole, you would hope that Hillary would go into greater detail. But she doesn't, even though one of the most important challenges facing the Democratic party today is to apply the lessons of Vietnam to the situation in Iraq.

If I may be allowed to speculate, I might suggest that the Democratic party is so divided on the subject of national security precisely because it has never come to terms with the legacy of Vietnam. On the one hand, it is determined to avoid any more quagmires. On the other hand, it is just as afraid of being branded as soft on national security.

Yet Living History is not much better when it comes to providing a Democratic platform for domestic policy. As a Goldwater Girl who read the Arizona senator's seminal work, The Conscience of a Conservative, Hillary probably had some fairly sophisticated thoughts about the importance of strong markets and limited government.

But where did they go? One might infer that Hillary's conversion to the McGovernite left (she worked for him in Texas in 1972, alongside Bill) entailed a wholesale conversion to the state-heavy social policies of the left, in addition to its stance on the war and civil rights. Although it might be a little embarrassing now for Hillary to explain exactly why she supported the McGovern economic agenda, you'd think that she could at least make the case for a more, moderate Clinton version of that agenda.

Perhaps she will in the final two hundred pages of the book. But I am already well past the part about Hillary's drive for national healthcare and there was little reflection there about the proper relationship between our markets, our society and our government.

So, in closing, one might ask what can fill five hundred pages of memoir if not a real discussion of the issues? Anecdotes, of course.
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