Tuesday, November 15, 2005

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEINGOLD VS. HILLARY: Michael Crowley at TNR has a must-read article on Russell Feingold's emeriging leadership of the anti-war movement and its challenge to Hillary Clinton's front-runner status. Here are some samples, but you've got to read the whole thing:
Last month, Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother crusading against the Iraq war, posted an open letter on the website of left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore. Her latest target wasn't the man she staked out last summer--George W. Bush--but the new villain of the antiwar left: Hillary Clinton. Sheehan's letter excoriated Clinton for backing the Iraq war and for her refusal to call for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops. "That sounds like Rush Limbaugh to me. That doesn't sound like an opposition party leader speaking," Sheehan wrote. "I think [Clinton] is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."...

Feingold had never visited Iraq before, and he was appalled by what he saw there. "We couldn't stay overnight in Iraq," he said recently. "We couldn't drive from the airport to the Green Zone. When we went to the Green Zone, the helicopters had to go just over the palm trees so they wouldn't get shot down. We never got to go out to see the rest of Baghdad, because they couldn't take us out safely. We wore flak jackets and helmets in the Green Zone. And people are worried about chaos if we leave?"

Conditions in Iraq are certainly nasty. But Feingold has long harbored wariness about U.S. military action. When Republicans forced a 1995 Senate vote to cut off funding for U.S. military forces in Bosnia, for instance, he was the sole Democrat to join 21 conservatives in support of the resolution. As other Democrats waxed idealistic about human rights, Feingold fretted about Vietnam parallels and worried that "our attempting to police the world threatens our own national security."...

In reality, [Feingold's] odds of winning the Democratic nomination are slim anyway. What Feingold can do is make life miserable for the other Democrats who seek it. Dean didn't defeat Kerry, after all. But he was the proximate cause for Kerry's vote against the $87 billion war appropriations bill--a vote that haunted Kerry in the general election. In 2008, perhaps Feingold will play the role of Dean to Clinton's Kerry, battering her image and dragging her further left than she can afford to go.
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# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN COLE RESPONDS to my post about patriotism and dissent.
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Monday, November 14, 2005

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCORECARD: INSTAPUNDIT VS. KEVIN DRUM. In the post below, I agree with Glenn and Tom that lying about the war is unpatriotic. But Glenn also makes a different argument about patriotism, with support from John Cole. Cole writes, and Glenn concurs, that
Painting as unpatriotic those individuals who change their opinions simply for political reasons is wholly appropriate, and that is what Glenn stated. Reynolds is not, as Kevin Drum would have you believe, simply calling anyone against the war or anyone who believes that the the reasons used to go to war were inaccurate ‘unpatriotic.’
It is wrong and offensive to argue that simply changing one's opinion is unpatriotic, regardless of the motive.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that most Democrats have come out against the invasion only because of the polls. This fact may demonstrate that the Democrats have no ideas of their own about foreign policy, but it isn't immoral. Public opinion has a democratic legitimacy of its own. Therefore, it is in no way unpatriotic for elected representatives to change sides in order to satisfy their constituents.

In democratic systems, there is an enternal tension between representation in terms of doing what the people want and representation in terms of doing what one believes is right. The role of politicians is to balance these competing demands on their allegiance.

This argument does not, however, contradict my assertion below that if the Democrats are consciously lying about the origins of the war, then one may consider them unpatriotic. The right to change positions does not entail a right to lie in order to defend that change of positions.

The reason, I think, that Kevin and Glenn are getting so angry at one another is that they are conflating these two arguments. Kevin paraphrases Glenn as saying that
Democrats who claim that George Bush misled us into war are being unpatriotic.
At times, Glenn makes it clear that it is not the Democrats' claim per se that is unpatriotic, but rather the fact that it is false. Yet Glenn is also responsible in part for the confusion, since his initial post simply said that
The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way -- and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicans pandering to the antiwar base, that it's deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad.
So what's wrong here? The pandering? The effect on the troops? Or the dishonesty? I hope that my efforts to explicate the differences between these arguments has shed some light on a very important debate.
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# Posted 8:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"IF THE DEMOCRATS ARE LYING, THEN THEY REALLY ARE UNPATRIOTIC": That is the basic argument that Glenn makes here, and that Tom Maguire has aptly summed up by observing that

I believe there is a substantial difference between "Your false charges are undermining the troops" and "Your criticism is undermining our troops".
I agree with this argument in the abstract, although I don't think that it justifies what George Bush said. For Bush to be in the right, it should be transparently clear that his opponents are lying. I would argue that while the Democrats may not be telling the truth, it is not intentional. Instead, they have succumbed to confusion, short-sightedness, and unthinking resentment of the President.

Now I recognize that numerous conservatives see the case against the Democrats as black and white. Even according to Kevin Drum, who has lashed out at Glenn for slandering the Democrats' patriotism,

Liberals, for their part, need to accept the obvious: in 2002, virtually everybody believed Iraq had an active WMD program. The CIA believed it, as their October NIE made clear:
Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons....Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons....has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities.... has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX....most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.
The British believed the same thing. The Germans and French believed it. Former Clinton administration officials believed it. Lots of Democratic members of congress believed it. They were all wrong, it turned out, but they weren't lying. The simple fact is that virtually everyone who had access to the full range of classified intelligence at that point in time thought Iraq had an active WMD program.
Kevin adds that Bush lied in order to make his argument more persuasive, but that is secondary (and debatable). The key point is that leading Democrats supported the war because the evidence said Saddam had WMD. As Kevin pointed out long ago in an excellent post, opponents of the war argued that invading Iraq was a bad idea in spite of Saddam's possesion of WMD. For the Democrats to argue now that they supported the war because they were tricked is disingenuous at best.

Even Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, the WaPo correspondents whose "Analysis" column distorted the President's statments, admit in that selfsame column that

The administration's overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.
So what am I holding out against? When not just conclude that the Democrats are lying and therefore unpatriotic? I guess it turns on the Democrats' precise words. John Edwards wrote in yesterday's WaPo that
The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda...

The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.
Going back to another post from Kevin, I think it's fair to suggest that the administration may have withheld certain information and/or misrepresented it. This missing information wouldn't have done much to disrupt the overwhelming consensus that Saddam had WMD, but it justifies saying that we didn't have the "whole story".

So what Edwards is doing here isn't lying, but rather relying on rhetorical sleight-of-hand. He points to the missing information, but totally ignores the overwhelming evidence which suggested Saddam had WMD and which was the basis of his support for the war.

This is playing dirty, but not lying. Or am I just splitting hairs? I guess where I come down on this whole issue is that attacking an opponent's patriotism is so serious that it shouldn't be done unless the case for the prosecution is open and shut. Period.
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# Posted 7:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ATTACKING THE DEMOCRATS' PATRIOTISM: WRONG. What the President said was wrong in both senses of the word. It was wrong because it was unethical and it was wrong because it did far more damage to the President than it did to his opponents.

Well aware of how provocative his message was, Bush prefaced it by saying that "it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war." He nonetheless concluded that
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.
The first thing Bush should have known was that these two sentences would become the next day's headlines, overshadowing all of the other important messages in his long (50 minutes) and otherwise well-crafted speech.

The next thing Bush should have known is that the media instinctively side with those who have their patriotism questioned. It doesn't matter that Bush avoided using harsh words such as 'treasonous' or 'unpatriotic'. He was setting himself up for a fall.

If the President had been wiser, he would've focused on a simple and straightforward message: that the Democrats are lying. Bush was in a very good position to claim the moral high ground in spite of lesser flaws in the administration's case for war, such as the aluminum tubes debate.

But now the discussion has become about whether Bush went too far instead of about whether the Democrats are lying. The strongest point in Bush's favor is, of course, the Democrats' own lavish statements about the threat Saddam Hussein presented because of his weapons of mass destruction.

In his speech, Bush quoted John Kerry' statement that
"When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security."
In its major story on the speech, the WaPo at least noted this critical aspect of Bush's argument and republished half of the quote from Kerry. In contrast, the NYT made no mention of the Kerry quote, although it did report with consummate detachment that
Mr. Bush asserted that Democrats as well as Republicans believed before the invasion in 2003 that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons.
As if it were only an "assertion" that the Democrats believed Saddam had WMD. But this is what happens when a president attacks his opponents' patriotism. The substance of his arguments gets ignored.

Often, the substance of a president's argument gets ignored even when he comports himself with greater decorum. But this time the president had a strong hand to play, and he could've thrown the Democrats back on the defensive if he hadn't let his anger get the better of him.
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# Posted 6:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

I REALISED I WAS ANGRY, so I took out my pen and began to write.

My first banlieue article hits the press today. Please let me know what you think!
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

(And, no, I'm not cherry-picking. I got this photo from the Washington Post website 20 minutes ago. Click here and go to photo #9.)
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# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOURNALISTS KOWTOW TO McCAIN: Take a look at the transcript [.pdf] from yesterday morning's Face the Nation. Almost every question for John McCain was a total softball. Here's my favorite:
[BOB] SCHIEFFER: Senator, if there's anybody in this country that's an expert on prisoners of war -- I mean you spent about five years in that hotel run by the Vietnamese in Hanoi. Why do you feel so strongly about [torture]?
Even though I am a very, very, very big fan of McCain, there's really no excuse for this kind of pandering. It's not as if Bob Schieffer and Elisabeth Bumiller don't know how to ask tough questions. They do it all the time. But McCain gets a pass.

One reason for that pass is that journalists like to use McCain as a foil for Bush. They bring him on the show or do an interview because all they really want is for a popular Republican to contradict the president. In other words, they're not interested in taking a careful look at exactly what McCain thinks and why.

But you also have to consider McCain's reputation as a straight-shooter. He makes journalists feel that he'll give them the truth even if they don't ask tough questions or lay elaborate traps, a la Tim Russert. In addition, McCain cultivates an aura of self-awareness that journalists' value tremendously. Consider this:
Ms. BUMILLER: Senator, let me ask you about a recent poll that shows you neck and neck with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the Republican nomination, and you're just edging out Hillary Clinton for the presidency. When are you going to make a decision and what is your thinking right now about a campaign?

Sen. McCAIN: Those polling numbers are wonderful for the ego, and mine is sizable, but the fact is, they're [a result of] name ID.
A lot of scholars have observed that Ronald Reagan made journalists like him by being self-deprecating. But McCain takes this a very important step further by being self-aware, for example talking about his own ego.

In an earlier post about spin doctors, I argued that self-awareness is the attribute that journalists value most highly. One might object that the cost of being that honest is greater than the benefits. After all, look at what journalists did to Howard Dean after "the scream".

However, McCain's success demonstrates that you can be a media darling for years on end if you know how to play your cards right. What I really want to know is whether McCain will keep getting the kid glove treatment once he is actually running against a Democrat for president.

In the primaries, I'd say it's a foregone conclusion that McCain will get better press coverage than any of his opponents. But in a general election, journalists will begin to realize -- subconsciously, in most cases -- that giving McCain good coverage may actually result in the Republicans holding onto the White House.

Until now, lionizing McCain has had minimal costs. I can't wait to see what happens when the rubber hits the road.
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# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MONEY HAS VALUE, BUT IT IS NOT A VALUE: After talking to Ken Mehlman, Tim Russert spoke with Howard Dean. In contrast to Mehlman, Dean did a much better job of seeming honest and straightforward, even if I disagreed with just about everything he said.

I think Dean did a better job of seeming honest because he often really is. But I also began to get the sense that Dean has become too comfortable with the Beltway regimen of giving talking points instead of answers. Like Mehlman, Dean sometimes rushed to reel off what sounded like a clever answer instead of taking Russert's questions seriously.

I guess Dean has found himself between a rock and a hard place. The media adored him at first then punished him for being too forthcoming. Now he may be too well-prepared and not spontaneous enough. Then again, what politician has discovered the Golden Mean of both disarming candor and message discipline? Answer: John McCain.

Anyhow, what I wanted to do in this post is look at one specific answer that Dean gave to Russert:
MR. RUSSERT: The other issue that the Republicans still have the upper hand with Democrats, strong moral values; 35 percent see the Republicans are better on that issue. Only 18 percent of Democrats. And maybe that's why we're hearing radio ads like this that the Tim Kaine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and governor-elect in Virginia, ran for his campaign. Let's listen.
(Audiotape, Tim Kaine for governor advertisement):

MR. TIM KAINE: The Bible teaches us we can accomplish great things when we work together. I'm Tim Kaine and I've devoted my life to bringing people together to get things done. ... I'm conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that's what I believe.

(End audiotape)
MR. RUSSERT: And then John Kerry, last week, talking about the budget, said it was immoral; "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests--not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance--that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."

Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. And what I encourage people to do, I was--we played a big role in Tim Kaine's campaign. It was a great campaign. He was a wonderful candidate. We funneled a lot of money into the party to try to be helpful and so forth. And he is a great candidate for America in the terms of how he campaigned. He spoke of his faith.

I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith. But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. So there is a--we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values. Tim Kaine did it. I don't think that's the only reason he won, but that's certainly one of them.
That was a cute answer about Jewish Democrats not embracing Christ. But it is also an indication of how most Democrats' immediate response to religious rhetoric is to start worrying about who it excludes.

Notice how Dean immediately recast Kaine and Kerry's embrace of Christ as an embrace "of tolerance and of inclusion." Dean seems to be missing the much bigger point that excessive talk about tolerance and inclusion is precisely what's responsible for making it seem that the Democrats have no fixed values.

Also notice how, in the second half of his answer, Dean equates a concern for values with school lunch programs and health care policy. Yes, there is a moral element to providing food and medicine for the needy. But what the Democrats never seem to get is that voters with an interest in values are concerned precisely about those issues that can't be resolved by spending more money.

When Democrats translate values into money, it reinforces their image as the party that ignores the spiritual dimension of life and responds to every challenge it faces with a reflexive desire to tax and spend.

Now, I do appreciate the Democratic dilemma here. If the party wants to establish itself as the party of values, it can't really do that by touting its pro-choice and pro-gay rights agenda, because "values voters" tend to be pro-life and uncomfortable with gay rights.

I won't pretend that I have a good answer for the Democrats. But I would say that the party needs to think long and hard about its core values, so it doesn't have to fall back on economic answers to ethical questions.
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Sunday, November 13, 2005

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOOD SPIN DOCTORS DON'T SOUND LIKE SPIN DOCTORS: After talking to King Abdullah, Tim Russert had conversations first with Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the RNC, and then Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC (but who needs no introduction).

If you just read the transcript, I don't think you'll get a good sense of just how defensive and disingenuous Mehlman sounded -- and this is coming from someone who agrees with almost everything Mehlman said.

Some of the best advice I've gotten about job interviews is to pause before answering every question. The point is to show the person doing the interview that you're really thinking about the substance of their question. In fact, it is a good idea to take advantage of that pause to really think about the question and how to be most responsive to it before firing off your preferred answer.

Mehlman did exactly the opposite. He rushed to answer every question Russert threw at him but evaded the questions' actual substance. For example:
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't there a cloud over the Bush presidency because of Iraq? The administration said he was reconstituting his nuclear program. Not true. It said there would be vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Not true. He said we'd be greeted as liberators. Not true. Isn't Iraq a political problem for this president?

MR. MEHLMAN: Ultimately, Iraq's not about--should not be about domestic politics. Iraq's about our national security. And on September 11th, we learned that we need to think first and foremost about protecting America. And while wars...

MR. RUSSERT: But there's no linkage between Iraq and September 11th.

MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lessons...

MR. RUSSERT: Saddam Hussein was not involved in September 11th.

MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lesson of September 11th is we're not going to wait.
If I were going to write a how-to manual for spin doctors ("Spin Doctoring for Dummies?") its first principle would be that journalists value self-awareness above all else. Journalists see themselves as being the only profession committed to exposing the manipulation inherent in everything about politics. Thus, they tend to show the most respect to those who are also willing to talk about politics as a game. Conversely, journalists resent most those who play the game without admitting what it is.

When you get a question like the one Russert asked Mehlman above, the first thing to do is acknowledge the question's premise: "Yes, Tim. I can see how someone might think that the absence of WMD in Iraq lends credibility to the Democrats' accusations. But if you take a closer look, you'll see that..."

Journalists think of themselves as committed to carefully weighing all of the evidence for and against everything. Therefore, politicians and their spokesman must, at minimum, go through the motions of showing uncertainty and weighing the evidence.

At times, the journalist's brand of uncertainty can border on the pathological. George Bush could never have discovered the importance of moral clarity by taking lessons from journalists. But I firmly believe that even if he advocated the exact same policies, Bush could get much better coverage from journalists if he presented his arguments in the style with which journalists are comfortable.
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# Posted 9:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOR GOD SAKES, RUSSERT, ASK THE KING A QUESTION ABOUT DEMOCRACY: I may wish I were Tim Russert, but that won't stop me from criticizing him. This morning, Meet the Press somehow managed to get an exclusive interview with King Abdullah of Jordan. As usual, Russert sought to lay a trap for his guest. But it was the wrong trap.

Instead of asking Abdullah why he continues to rule with an iron fist while democracy awakens in Lebanon and Iraq, Russert instead tried to force the king to admit that he was much more pro-American than his subjects.

Well, obviously. But the real question is, what should Abdullah and America do about it? George Bush argues consistently but controversially that bringing democracy to the Muslim/Arab world will transform its peoples' attitudes towards the United States of America.

Bush's critics that the liberalization of Muslim/Arab dictatorships may accomplish nothing more than bringing jihadist regimes to power. I disagree, but it is a very important point to discuss in detail.

And what better case in point than Jordan? Russert could've challenged Abdullah to give his people the freedom they deserve. Or he could've asked Abdullah whether the only alternative to his rule is a jihadist republic. Either way, Russert missed a critical opportunity.
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# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOVING THE BAD OLD DAYS: An author reflects on the East Village before gentrification. I grew up toward the western side of Village and think that the entire neighborhood has improved immeasurably since I was young. Starving artists may no longer be able to afford a Village rent, but revolutionaries should be thinking about the future instead of trying to preserve the past.
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Saturday, November 12, 2005

# Posted 5:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG'S IDEAS ARE MUCH BETTER THAN ITS TECHNOLOGY: In a futile bid to enter the 21st century of home computing, I made an attempt last night to upgrade my laptop from Windows 98 Second Edition to Windows XP. In some respects, the effort was successful. But now my computer is burdened with a tragic flaw worthy of Shakespeare.

Although I can connect to the Internet thanks to my trusted Linksys G wireless card, the connection fails every few seconds. And then returns. And then fails. And then returns. And so on and so forth.

On the bright side, I can check my e-mail and do other basic tasks. But any program that requires sustained connectivity -- iTunes, for example -- is now semi-functional at best.

Just now, I spent an hour and forty-five minutes on the phone with Microsoft technical support. I must admit, I'm very impressed that the technical rep kept up a positive attitude for the entire time I was talking to her. But I think I would've accepted a lesser attitude in exchange for a solution to my problem.

On the off chance that any of you have endured a similar problem while upgrading to XP, please let me know. Until then, I will attempt to maintain my sanity via the continuous consumption of alcohol.
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# Posted 3:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

HAD I BEEN A ROUNDHEAD, I would undoubtedly have finished my thesis by now.
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

PARIS MOMENT: So, shortly after filing Article the First from my cafe yesterday evening and prior to heading to my friend's temporarily ceded flat by Gare St-Lazare to begin work on the second, I was contemplating the inexhaustible number of ways nice crepes were nicer than nasty ones, and in particular, those freely growing on the street to ones housed in restaurants, so nice and so deeply a life-changing crepe experience that I suspected mine of containing not only oeuf, lard, but also liquified crack cocaine (ed: heroin - more upmarket!). My thought was on these weighty and important mysteries when I ended up, in a Parisian moment out of a genre film, meeting an Algerian secretary Salima and a postman named Thierry, neither of whom knew each other but who like me had congregated to listen to a subway musician from Brittany non-Spears play Breton bagpipes. We started talking, mostly when a panhandler asked me for change, I pretended only to speak Mandarin Chinese, and Thierry the postman helpfully translated.

OxBlog (in Mandarin): very nice music, isn't it
Panhandler (in French): money, please
Helpful Pausing Postman: this gentleman is wondering if you happened to have a euro.
OxBlog: it's a very intriguing proposition, but I'm not yet convinced.

Algerian Secretary then exited from the crowd to join this interesting conversation and perhaps offer Arabic translation services. It was, after all, a Friday in Paris, and no one seemed terribly eager to make the subway connection to leave it and go home. So, I suggested to the Postman and the Secretary that we go out for a drink, not solely because it seemed like the sort of random and aesthetic thing one does in Paris. As we wondered through the rues of the northern 8eme, the Secretary then shared her ambition to become a jazz singer and started demonstrating by singing us jazz standards, as we walked out toward adventure, fraternité and the Guinness which upon learning my name my comrades fretted I must instantly be given as a matter of the greatest urgency, or likely death would result. We paused by the nice gentleman speaking about Jesus so the Secretary could share that as an entirely assimilated Algerian, she didn't like the Qur'an at all on literary grounds, and much preferred the Bible of the Christianity to which she converted so that as a better assimilated Frenchwoman, she would instead have it as the religion she didn't believe in.

After much adventure, the scene ended up as follows.

parisienne: you're depressed. i can see it in your eyes.
oxblog: no. it's just 4 am, it's cold and raining on the champs, and i'm in shirt sleeves.
parisienne: tell me about all this pain of yours.
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Friday, November 11, 2005

# Posted 2:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"JESUS CHRIST, WHOM I WORSHIP": There's often a lot of talk among Democratic strategists about how to break the Republican monopoly on religion-in-politics. A perennial suggestion for the Democrats is to talk about religion in a positive manner, in order to avoid the coastal condescension that inhabits most liberal criticism of conservative evangelicals.

But what would it sound like for a Democrat to talk about religion in a positive and persuasive manner? All too often, calculated efforts to talk positively about religion come across as just that -- calcuated. (For example, take a look at Hillary Clinton's ostentatious but maddeningly vague references to religious values in her autobiography.)

But a few days ago, I was listening to Brian Williams talk to Jimmy Carter on C-SPAN. The subject was Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values. While talking about the separation between church and state, Carter referred in passing to "Jesus Christ, whom I worship."

Carter's total comfort and sincerity with these words is what Democrats are searching for.
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# Posted 2:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SOFT BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS: Earlier this week, I had a good bit of fun at Ted Kennedy's expense. But is it really fair to pick apart Kennedy's statements without subjecting Republican senators to the same scrutiny?

For example, Tom Coburn talked to Tim Russert just after the end of Russert's discussion with Ted Kennedy. Russert immediately tripped up the Oklahoma Republican by pointing out his promise to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who refused to outlaw partial-birth abortion. But then after Alito was nominated, Coburn declared his opposition to any single-issue litmus test.

If I felt like it, there's plenty more in the Coburn interview to poke fun at. But what it comes down to is that Kennedy has a reputation as a man of principle and a deep thinker, whereas the media tends to portray Coburn as a not-all-there extremist (except when Coburn criticizes the Bush's profligate spending).

All I can promise is that if the media starts heralding Coburn as a genius, OxBlog will be the first to expose his idiocy.
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# Posted 1:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RETURN TO FALLUJAH: Bing West is a former Marine and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who went with the Marines into Fallujah. He has now written a harrowing account of the violent, house-to-house battles for control of that city. A while back, West got the chance to talk about his book on After Words, the book discussion show on C-Span 2.

Thanks to the magic of podcasting, I got to listen to West even though I missed the original broadcast. (The URL for the After Words podcast is: <http://www.c-span.org/podcast/aw_feed.xml>. For a full list of C-Span podcasts, click here.)

West describes the intensity of the battles for Fallujah in a way that makes you tense and angry just listening to him. In urban combat, there is no choice but to go house to house, fighting at almost point-blank range. Each house is a darkened maze that renders every soldier in it vulnerable to brutal surprise. As West wrote last month in the WaPo,
Fallujah first leaped to national attention last November when it became the scene of the fiercest urban combat in the past 35 years. During that battle, 100 Marine squads engaged in more than 200 firefights inside small, dark cement rooms against suicidal jihadists. A single such ferocious gunfight between police and gangs anywhere in America would receive overwhelming and immediate press attention. The Marines did that 200 times in one week in Fallujah.
But the courage and competence of the US Marines gets little attention because it is so commonplace. We faithfully count the number of soldiers killed in Iraq, but give little recognition to their incredible heroism and bravery. Perhaps that would be a better way to honor their sacrifice.
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# Posted 1:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO VERSIONS OF TRUTH ON THE SAME PAGE OF THE WaPo: On the front page of Wednesday's "C" section, Howard Kurtz wrote about Mary Mapes, the CBS producer responsible for the fiasco involving fake documents about young Dubya's service in the National Guard. According to Kurtz, Mapes
Ladles out plenty of blame but largely defends what she still considers a fair piece of reporting, although an independent panel accused CBS of having "failed miserably" to authenticate the documents before rushing the story to air.
Now, if you follow Kurtz's story to its end on page C12, you will notice that there is a second, entirely separate discussion of Mapes' book by Paul Farhi, who writes that:
It's entirely possible that Mapes was wrong -- very wrong -- about Bush's military record. But that's still only theoretical...

The "independent" panel that CBS hired to look into the story (composed primarily of lawyers, not journalists, and co-chaired by a former Republican attorney general) cast plenty of doubt on the story and CBS's handling of it. But it never said the report was baseless, never accused Mapes or Rather of political bias or called the memos fraudulent.
Now back to Kurtz:
Linda Mason, a CBS News senior vice president, said Mapes was fired because "her basic reporting was faulty. She relied on documents that could not be authenticated -- you could never authenticate a Xeroxed copy. She led others who trusted her down the wrong road." ...

Three of CBS's own document experts say they had warned CBS they could not authenticate the memos. Mapes's source for the documents, former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, later admitted lying about who had given him the memos said to have been written by Bush's long-dead Guard commander.
Personally, I trust Kurtz's account more than Farhi's. Kurtz covered this story from the beginning and constantly provides first-rate coverage of the media. Plus, my own knowledge of the situation suggests that Kurtz is right. But some people will believe Farhi, because he is also a WaPo staff writer who covers the media.

The bottom line here is that journalists have a habit of presenting their own subjective, sometimes wild, interpretations as the unvarnished truth. It is precisely that habit that got Mary Mapes into so much trouble.
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# Posted 12:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

EXCERPT FROM AN EMAIL TO A FRIEND: What lingers for me was the pride the rioters express in the toughness of their neighbourhood - referring to it as 'ghetto' and 'south Bronx', and offering to take you to caches of molotov cocktails, drugs and arms - which seems to tap into a performative identity of images provided by American media of anger and power. When police aren't around, they speak with exaggerated bravado, pointing out wreckage they claim responsibility for. They're kids, generally from fourteen to eighteen, and they were simply having a rather violent holiday, bashing up cars and bus stops because it's fun to do so. Locals don't want to say anything about them, their own children, students or customers, preferring to blame teenagers from other banlieues, as an article of faith. Residents are quite friendly to curious outsiders, and get on with their lives amid all the high fences surrounding each building of their estates, but they grow silent and uncomfortable when you bring up the unspoken current event. There's nothing religious at all to the riots; these aren't kids who reference religion at all, except to claim to you (possibly with some exercise of imagination) that they have friends in Guantanamo, and they might perhaps add Israel, Jews, and Sharon to France, Sarkozy, the police, and other people whose names in their drunken, possibly drugged, and excited invocations follow after the French equivalent of 'Fuck'. But this is acting out a repertory of imitation; the mosques have made off badly, while Jewish targets have by and large not. The mosques for their part have become taciturn and suspicious of outsiders; I was kicked by its imam with some force out of one, unmarked and in an industrial area, where I had been speaking with a congregant. There's a broader economic story surrounding all this, which gets away from the banlieues a bit and I might develop elsewhere, but where the French left and right are both in agreement about the rather Malthusian proposition that there is a limited amount of work to be distributed among the French, differing only in whether they prescribe it be allocated on the basis of non-immigrant status or equally over the population. There's a great disquiet now with the French model among people who while at Sciences Po would have taken for granted its virtue, and only a shared suspicion of fairly change, assumed to come and to bring jarring dislocations. Shortage of jobs and economic opportunities produced by the economy seems ultimately behind the anger of the young toughs; religious militancy or religion at all is not on their minds.

DEPT OF ARS SCRIPTORIA AFFAIRS UPDATE: When I said, incidentally, that my favourite cafe wasn't intolerably touristic, I should perhaps append a corollary for Friday nights: on Friday nights, it is often possible to find someone in my favourite cafe who speaks French. We on OxBlog like to look on the bright side of things. So, here it is that on Friday nights, by going here you can feel really awfully fluent in French!
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# Posted 11:47 AM by Patrick Belton  


Hi Patrick,

You've previously mentioned my Ashes cricket photos at Oxblog (ed: we did, they were rather famously 'some of the best photographs the game has produced'!), so I just wanted to let you know that I've put a poster together for my Ashes blog re-enactment photos. Someone left a comment suggesting that I should do something like this, and I'm crazy enough to give it a try. It's up for sale on Ebay at the moment:

"Now, exclusively to Ebay, you can purchase this fantastic 8 inch by 12 inch print of original re-enactments from The Greatest Series - England v Australia 2005. Each of the five Tests is covered:
a.. Lord's - "Adam Gilchrist celebrates the wicket of Freddie Flintoff - caught Gilchrist, bowled Warne for 3."
b.. Edgbaston - "Ricky Ponting trudges back to the pavilion after being dismissed for a duck."
c.. Old Trafford - "Michael Vaughan salutes the crowd after scoring a century at Old Trafford."
d.. Trent Bridge - "With a beer and a cigarette in one hand, and a ball in the other, Shane Warne very nearly won the game for Australia."
e.. The Oval - "Under dark and gloomy skies, Andrew Strauss is caught by Simon Katich close to the wicket. This photo is a re-enactment of the bad light."
It's not serious - and it's not meant to be - but you will be proud to hang this print up on your wall. It has been professionally printed on photo paper, and it looks just like the sort of thing you would get at the Channel Nine Sport Shop."

Here's the link:


I'll also be donating the entire amount that it sells for to World Vision's Pakistan earthquake appeal ... so hopefully I get at least a few dollars for it. With that in mind, I'd really appreciate it if you could make a short reference to it at your blog.

Thanks mate.


The Ashes blog
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# Posted 11:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

# Posted 2:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

ECSCUSEZ MONSIEUR, JE CHERCHE RACAILLE: I'm in hiding, writing to file the first of two magazine pieces from here.

This from the mail bag, and David Harbottle.

It's great that you got yourself to Paris; I'm envious.

I have some questions. Feel free to ignore them, respond to them or do anything else with them.

To what extent do you think Sarkozy's policing policy caused the riots? Do you think, for example, that it might have disrupted the narcotics economy too successfully and added to the backlash?

According to reporters, there's supposed to be "coordinated organisation" - use of mobile phones, vehicles (gasp, vehicles!), bomb factories. But this sounds like the sort of organisation any reasonably well-nourished Arab gentleman would devise on the fly, rather than a sinister central brain at work. The latter would of course be more exciting, but are you hearing anything to support the idea?

How old is the average rioter? I understand he's around fourteen, and in my view this would explain the light touch of the police - serious injury or death to a child would cause the suburbs to explode. No wait... that's what already happened. But you get my point.

I'll leave it at that. Greetings and best regards from the frozen north of England.

More soon, elsewhere but will link from here. But I must pause to defend a haunt, Sartre's Café de Flore, from vicious charges it's grown intolerably touristic. I defend my loves bitterly; like much of Saint Germain it has free wireless internet, and without the horrid need to procure WiFi cards each 15 minutes, as per Parisian tradition; and though a café crème is 5.50 rather than, i.e., the Bastille's dominant 3.50, you're actually getting a bit over two cups of coffee, by volume, when you take into account the beaker in which it's served you. And among the tourists you're likely to get also some of life's interesting people, such as the hare krishna fellow who just paused to tell me a story about how at the Mac Expo at La Defense several years ago, they killed twenty apple trees for the advertising of a computer. After the hatred and fear of the young rioters of Aulnay, it's rather nice to be around couples embarassing their flower peddler with their displays of affection. I would have taken a photograph.
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

# Posted 12:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN BAN-LIEU OF PICTURES: I had a little scrape in a cité in north Aulney, and so now need to modify two claims made in my previous post. I have now met some rioters, and I no longer have pictures to share, nor come to think of it, a camera. I got nothing of theirs. On the other hand, taking care of myself decently enough I rather nicely got to keep my unbacked up dissertation, wallet, and the passport and press card I'd kept with me in the off chance I had to give an accounting of myself to police. Nasty horrid villains. Pluck though being a virtue, OxBlog will be out there again tomorrow. With a disposable camera, this time. But a thousand words being worth a picture, I suspect I can make it up to you lads.
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# Posted 3:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE 'GIVE A BLOGGER A CHANCE' FOUNDATION prize for the day would go happily to the generous people at Public Radio International, who very kindly had me on to their Radio Open Source programme last night from the banlieu of Aulnay-sous-Bois, where I spent the day from morning till midnight speaking with its residents. Incidentally, the staff at PRI and their Detroit affiliate are really wonderful people, and I enjoyed every aspect of being on their airwaves. You can listen to the broadcast here. It's kind of like podcasting.

I'd arrived at Aulnay-sous-Bois yesterday expecting a seething cauldron on just the point of boiling over. What I found was quite different, and surprised me. Aulnay has seen the worst violence of any of the banlieues to date, but its housing projects had their windows open, laundry hung out to dry, music and laughter spilling out from within; the streets were filled with children playing. The only odd inkling this was a neighbourhood whose violence this week featured in the news of every newspaper in the world was the procession of the odd burnt car being towed away like a discarded effigy; or, in the case of the Hertz station which lay inconveniently by the Cité de l'Europe, a whole parking lot of them. Someone clearly had a bad experience the last time renting.

To back up a moment, two things take place at the RER-B stop immediately before Aulnay's. One, the graffiti stops; and two, all the white people get off. But on exiting the station one could be forgiven an unsettling feeling you'd accidentally got off at the wrong dodgy banlieu. In the vieux pays and the area about the gare - southern Aulnay - the only indication that you're not in another well-heeled metropolitan suburb anywhere in the world is the awfully well-reinforced steel walls setting apart the houses, replete with their gardens and long driveways, from the street. This is a quarter with hotels: the cars on the streets are BMWs. It's only when you go north from there, up toward the Citroën plant and the R.N. 2 which bisects the banlieu, that you encounter the fields of high-rise housing projects, the famous cités. When the first of these were erected in the aftermath of the second world war, they were considered rather nice places to live - they had running water and en suite toilets inside, not by any means a given within the périphérique, where the postwar chaos was such to create the lasting impression on the other side of the Channel that the French were a naturally malodorous lot. It fit in Houssmanian traditions of rationalisation in Parisian city planning, and the aesthetic tendencies of Courbusier. It wasn't until the 1970s, the Algerian civil war and the onset of massive labour migration to Paris from the maghreb, that the acquired the reputation as a no-go zone that they retain today.

Go and talk to their residents, and you're struck that they're actually rather nice to you once you say hello. As assiduously as I donned turtleneck and leather jacket to simulate a Frenchman and, it was hoped, a not too out of place banluisard, I still perhaps didn't quite fit in, whatever diversified portfolio of national identities in which I might traffic, French maghrebian being decidedly not among them. Fairly tough lads, though, will still chat with you quite amiably once you talk to them; at any rate, they didn't seem too eager to engage in busting up any cars while I was there with my notebook and camera, however much I tried to indicate they really should pretend I wasn't there, make themselves at home and just carry on with what they were doing. Most residents of the cités where I spent the day behaved in a way that's quite familiar from housing projects across the world; they queued to pick up their playing children from school, they dropped off teenagers by car in the late evening, and a handful of them engaged in the time-honoured pursuit of sitting about outside with a cigarette or two trying their best to look ominous. Talk to them, and to admit selection bias I haven't yet caught up with anyone with a sledgehammer, and they express intense fury at the rioters, who they feel will quite neatly worsen the lot of the banlieu residents and people of north African descent, playing perfectly into the worst suspicions held about them and mitigating any chance for improving their lot. (This may not be the case, entirely: De Villepin is announcing a ferry of equality-of-opportunity initiatives, to include curiously lowering the age of school-leaving from 16 to 14 for children seeking out an apprenticeship. But social sentiment, and the often expressed feeling that a c.v. bearing the name of Ahmed and not Alain will quickly end up in the bed, is less likely to be so sympathetic.) Shopkeepers are peculiarly angry; they've had to lose business from early closings, and fear for their plate glass. In a sense, then, it is a neighbourhood stricken by fury - but this aimed inward at the rioters and not outward at France, quite to my surprise, really.

Policing is an interesting drama to observe here, and fits this reading of the banlieu riots as the handiwork of determined criminal gangs rather than a spontaneous, Francophone uprising of the oppressed to gladden the hearts of Trotskyists. (So does incidentally the pattern of violence - it dances about from banlieu to banlieu, staying one step ahead of increased policing in a cat-and-mouse strategic tango.) Go to the tourist core, the Champs and Arc de Triomphe, and you will see quite visible policing in spodes. It's policing intended not only to deter, but also to be visible, to comfort tourists and native Parisians that their city is intact. I've noted already the busloads of gendarmes, painted blue and bearing 'gendarmerie' in white letters on the side, and the tens of cars and wagons from the police nationale parked alongside the Champs metro station. But go to Aulnay and a quite different pattern emerges. At first, I'd thought that it was minimally policed if at all; only the periodic patrol car from the well-heeled southern police annexe protecting the respectable cars of the besieged comparably affluent, and the northern annexe situated alongside the projects which is there for quite a different reason. But look closer, and there are signs that here there indeed is a war being fought by the French state, not by massive billeting of troops to quell an uprise and reassert the temporarily abeyed sovereignty of the state and the monopoly of leviathan on force, but a more secret war, being fought by the security services against determined hardened criminal networks, clandestinely and quietly selecting its targets, and in the shadows so as not to alienate a broader and possibly tendentious populace. Look carefully at the cars going by, and there are not only those occupied by project residents and the southern quarter's shopmen, but ones bearing in each seat beefy short-coiffured men clearly only recently out of the forces, if at that, with more than a bit of technological wizardry inside to boot. There is a bus of gendarmes here as well, but this one does not bear the title 'gendarmerie' on the side to comfort those whom it protects and serves; it has its lights out, and is parked at an out-of-the-way stop a few roads removed from a project to effectively simulate an off-duty bus. Peer closer into its darkened windows and it is a hive of activity. The French state is here too; it has not given up on these of its neighbourhoods; it merely joins the battle on its terms, and against its selected enemies. Partially this may reflect the units under the control of the Minister of the Interior, whose remit includes the security services but not the armed ones (these last controlled by a resolute Chiracien at the MOD.) But one hopes that the French state is not so wholly riven by its succession struggle that it is incapable of strategic action; and these instruments would fit that reading of the situation nicely. A state defeats riotous masses with brigades and divisions; but one counters lightly mobile criminal gangs with a tradecraft determinedly more old-school, quiet, hardened and effective.

The banlieues slept quietly last night, the fireworks heading instead on the road to Toulouse; at 5, my drinking buddy from NPR, borrowing quickly my map of Aulnay to scribble down the mosque before heading to meet a bravely non-Francophone parachuter, was summoned to a southern banlieu where, the mobile phone-mediated reportorial meme machine reported, the night's action was to be. (It wasn't; but I'm promised interesting stories nonetheless over our next impromptu stringers' brigade alcohol tasting party à tête.) It's raining, which may just dampen things a bit tonight. I'm headed to the Aulnay mosque to make friends and try and file a lengthier piece from there, being as it is the site of the most resolute violence still. It's hugely ugly weather. I was able to shoot off a memory card of film of images of the Aulnay projects; I'll share them here as soon as I prove technologically capable. The sunset was a striking image, rising red over the banlieues and stamped bright with the white partial moon of the huntress.

(Incidentally, for those of you who hadn't read it already, perhaps the internet censors will permit me to dredge up this piece the TLS kindly ran over the summer about the banlieues. Or, if you're our reader in Mexico, you can wait for the Spanish-language edition which I'm told by my TLS editor is coming out this weekend in the literary supplement of Madrid's newspaper ABC. OxBlog: multilingual since next Sunday.)
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

# Posted 3:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST BECAUSE I'M NOT POSTING DOESN'T MEAN I'M DEAD DEPT: Only that there aren't nearly enough internet spots in the banlieues. No wonder they're rioting. A few quick observations from my first interviews, before I catch the RER up to Aulnay-sous-Bois; then I'll try to write more extensively this afternoon:

There is, in speaking with its people at its cafes and on its streetcorners, a sense of malaise these days in Paris, which I think you could probe further by juxtaposing the despair of the banlieu rioters with the stories of the increasing numbers of graduates of Paris's leading business schools who go to Britain upon graduation, or those of postgraduate degree holders working as postmen. All have in their way given up on the French dream, a comfortable lifestyle sheltered by an extensive and humane welfare state. The Dalrympean take, I suppose, would be to say that in both cases it's the unproductivity of the French economy that's partially to blame, particularly after the massive explosion in the size of the state during the early Mitterand years. People who during their days at Science Po took easily for granted the superiority of the French model, with its educated technocracy and comfortable standards of living, now despair over it. The operatic trio of Chirac (who, in the one sentence all American schoolchildren are taught in school, is un ver), Sarkozy (not only his former political son but, as his daughter's one-time lover, nearly his one by marriage as well), and Villepin may make for lovely libretto, but not for conspicuously good governance: Chirac's eerie absence from the airwaves until Sunday night led commentators to suspect that perhaps he and his preferred successor Villepin wouldn't mind too terribly much if it took a few more days for this to quiet down when the weather turns disagreeable, and the blame were deposited solidly on Sarko's door.

The police presence of the French state is everywhere: if not in Clichy and Aulnay, then at very least along the Champs and by the Place de la Concorde. Last night I was surprised to count ten police cars by the Elysee metro station (in a row, to cite a song from the wrong side of the Channel), then by the American embassy two entire large buses of Gendarmerie (painted blue, no police light on top though, however cool though that might have been) and the odd plainclothes unit (they being the ones who look like cops in suits, rather than French people in suits.)

Commentators have compared the loi sur la voile to the Dreyfus affair, manufactured by the French political class without necessity to reflect the fact the Republic regards some of its citoyens with suspicion. That it doesn't is clear enough: unemployment is high among all sectors of the French economy, but holding constant for education and age, it doubles among France's Muslims, the Algerian and Moroccan descendants who are in this regard the converse of the more professional, and more Levantine, American Muslim community who in educational attainment, salary, and employment rate exceed America's non-Muslims.

Paris is burning. It has done so before. Those of 1848 were the street riots of modernism, heralding enlightenment and republicanism versus the restoration of the ancien regime. The soixante-huitards's were those of postmodernity, seeking to resituate the individual and power at the centre of a discourse which modernity and liberalism's had to their view hidden. One is tempted to see in 2005 the riots of the atavistic, but that would be overdrawing the issue - they are the riots of Newark, Watts, and Brixton come to Paris. Those residents of the banlieues who are religious, even Islamist, are not the ones who are throwing stones or assaulting the Marais's Jews (whatever international activity some of their number may get up to to the side). Contra one recent meme of commentary, the problem of the banleieus in a sense is not that its inhabitants are Muslim, but that they are not.

France's Muslim population is, at 5 million, the largest in Europe. (Germany's comes next at 2 million, and the United Kingdom at 1.5 mn.) I'm off to talk to some of them. I spoke this morning with someone whom I asked, if I wanted to get to the banlieues, which was the best route. His response was to take issue with the premise of my question.
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Monday, November 07, 2005

# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHENEY AND TORTURE: I've only had time to read one article about this subject, but my instinct says that Cheney is completely oblivious to the moral and strategic cost of his lackluster concern for the abuse of American-held prisoners.
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# Posted 11:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DO AMERICAN SOLDIERS REALLY STILL BELIEVE IN THEIR MISSION? Steve Fainaru, a WaPo correspondent in Iraq, strongly suggests that the answer is "No". In an front page article entitled "For Many in Iraq, Death Is Quick and Capricious", Fainaru writes that:

The growing number of U.S. military deaths, which reached 2,000 last month and has since risen to 2,035, underscores a grim reality: There are countless ways to die in Iraq...

Asked if he thought [Sgt. Kevin] Davis's death was justified, [Sgt. Pete] Heidt chuckled darkly, repeated the question and paused for several moments.

"We're soldiers," he said finally. "That's what we do. Sometimes we die."

"Dying for Iraq is a horrible way to die," said Spec. Aaron Novak, 25, of Billings, Mont. "But to die for your buddies, that's the way I look at it. Iraq is going to be here a long time after we're gone."

This passage is just a brief aside in article that focuses mainly on the tragic death of Sgt. Robbie McNary, crushed during battle by his own unit's American humvee. But it drew my attention because those of us who still believe in victory in Iraq often point to our soldiers' commitment as evidence of the fact that this war very much is a noble cause.

Although I don't have much choice but to give Fainaru the benefit of the doubt, the NYT's highly selective (and now infamous) editing of Cpl. Starr's final message to his family and girlfriend leaves me wondering whether communication between soldiers and journalists has become entirely dysfunctional.

UPDATE: Noel Shepard is frustrated with this article for a different reason.
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# Posted 11:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PALESTINIAN TERRORISTS ALSO TARGET HOMOSEXUALS: I guess it isn't surprising that those who murder Israeli children also torture and murder homosexuals. But James Kirchick is also 100% right that human rights activists should be paying more attention to this phenomenon.
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# Posted 11:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOPING FOR A DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION IN AZERBAIJAN: Publius has the story and the latest updates.
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# Posted 10:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSERT PLAYS THE SPIDER TO KENNEDY'S FLY. The transcript speaks for itself:
MR. RUSSERT: Samuel Alito, the president's new nominee -- let me take you back when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit. Here's Ted Kennedy. [Sound of Kennedy's voice, c. 1990 -ed.]:
"Well, I just join in the commendation. You have obviously had a very distinguished record, and I certainly commend you for long service in the public interest. I think it is a very commendable career and I am sure you will have a successful one as a judge. ...We are glad to have you here and we will look forward to supporting you and voting for you."

So I assume based on that, you'll support him for the Supreme Court.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, it's possible, but let me just point out that that was for a lower court and some 15 years ago. And since that time, he's had 15 years of decisions on the circuit court...

The people that were so enthusiastic about knocking down Miers are so enthusiastic for this nominee. We have to find out: Why are they so enthusiastic this time and what do they know that we don't know?
That's pretty funny. Kennedy is an experienced member of the Judiciary Committee, but he's suggesting that Christian conservatives know more about Alito than he does. Now that's what I call oversight. Anyhow:
MR. RUSSERT: It's interesting, Senator, though, the way the Senate has changed and I think maybe you have changed in the way you approach Supreme Court nominees. When you first came to the Senate, you said this. "I want to state that it is our responsibility as members of the committee ...in advising and consenting, that we are challenged to ascertain the qualifications and the training and the experience and the judgment of a nominee, and that it is not our responsibility to test out the nominee's particular philosophy; whether we agree or disagree ..."

You don't question Judge Alito's competence...


MR. RUSSERT: ...or integrity...


MR. RUSSERT: ...but you questioned his philosophy.

SEN. KENNEDY: Judicial philosophy is something that Judge Rehnquist thought was very important...

MR. RUSSERT: But that's different than the way you felt in '67...When Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court, Ted Kennedy said, "It's offensive to suggest that a potential Justice of the Supreme Court must pass some presumed test of judicial philosophy. It is even more offensive to suggest that a potential Justice must pass the litmus test of any single-issue interest group."

And yet if someone came before you as a nominee to the Supreme Court and they said they wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, you'd vote against them.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, if someone came before us and said, "Look, I want -- my intention is to overturn Roe v. Wade," that's bringing an ideology to the court...

MR. RUSSERT: But that's a...

SEN. KENNEDY: Wait a second.

MR. RUSSERT: But that's a single-issue litmus test.

SEN. KENNEDY: Now, wait a second. I am opposed to any litmus test for any nominee. That's been my position. But let me continue...
And continue he does, but let's fast forward a bit:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you this: When there was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And at that time, "In her confirmation hearings, [Ginsburg] promised not to bring an ideological bias to the court but expressed opinions on several issues that put her at odds with some of her conservative colleagues. She acknowledged support for a woman's right to choose, praised the failed equal rights amendment and criticized discrimination against homosexuals."

And yet look at the vote. Ginsburg on August 3, 1993, passed 96-to-3. Stephen Breyer, who worked for you, approved 87-to-9. Liberal jurists, liberal judicial philosophy, and yet Republicans overwhelmingly said, "We know their views disagree with ours, but a Democratic candidate won the presidency, and he has a right to put those people on the court." Why won't you give President Bush the same courtesy?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, I think he is entitled, obviously, for the selection. And he's going to nominate a conservative. The issue isn't so much are they--do they have a conservative view about the Constitution, but whether they bring an ideology to it...
Ah, yes. Here we go again with the "ideology". The good Senator claims that he is tolerant of all judicial philosophies, but will reject candidates who have an ideology. Apparently, the definition of "ideology" is "a judicial philosophy significantly different from my own."

Now, if you've had enough of Ted Kennedy and stop reading this post right here, you are forgiven. But Russert got in two more great shots that deserve to be posted. On the subject of White House personnel, Tim Russert asked:
MR. RUSSERT: Who should leave? Who should leave?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, certainly Karl Rove ought to leave. He should...

MR. RUSSERT: He's not been charged with any crime.

SEN. KENNEDY: He should leave, though. He's being investigated at this present time. We're not assuming either guilty or innocence on any of these individuals.
Remember, Kennedy serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Finally, we come to a set up that I found to be completely transparent, but that Kennedy fell for hook, line and sinker:
MR. RUSSERT: You talked about Iraq. There's a big debate now about whether or not the data, the intelligence data, was misleading and manipulated in order to encourage public opinion support for the war. Let me give you a statement that was talked about during the war.
"We know [Iraq is] developing unmanned vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents...all U.S. intelligence experts agree they are seek nuclear weapons. There's little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop them. ... In the wake of September 11th, who among us can say with any certainty to anybody that those weapons might not be used against our troops, against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater--a nuclear weapon. ..."
Are those the statements that you're concerned about?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I am concerned about it, and that's why I believe that the actions that were taken by Harry Reid in the Senate last week when effectively he said that we are going to get to the bottom of this...

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, what the Democrats stood for on the floor of the Senate in 2002 -- let me show you who said what I just read: John Kerry, your candidate for president. He was talking about a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein. Hillary Clinton voted for the war. John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry. Democrats said the same things about Saddam Hussein. You, yourself, said, "Saddam is dangerous. He's got dangerous weapons." It wasn't just the Bush White House.
In a word: Ouch!
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# Posted 10:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

LANDED IN PARIS: And I've really got to say I'm incredibly grateful to a handful of recent Yale alumni list members and journalist readers of our blog who wrote back to my quick pleas for advice (and, in one noble case, for sofa) that I sent around before ducking out of Switzerland. The only interesting scene to sketch so far was at the Gare Lyon, where a platoon from the Foreign Legion were patrolling with submachine guns, and circled back around two men at the train station's underground metro entrance performing the midafternoon Salatu-l-Asr prayers, clearing searching their memories to remember whether suicide bombers did that before attacking, say, metros. The police presence is quite high - I passed four of what in a different context one might call Paddy wagons of the national police by the Bastille. So, the plan is that tomorrow I'll be following a recent Yale grad around Aulnay-sous-Bois, where she's been doing research, visiting the Paris Mosque, and chatting with staff of a few ngos which work in the banlieues. At the moment I'm rather more pedestrianly sorting out interview queries at a cafe in the Marais, where I was interested to chat with a few people as it's the traditional Jewish quarter, known to arriving Lithuanian immigrants as the 'Pletzl' (who in many cases would arrive at the train station with a piece of paper on which was written 'Pletzl', be ferried by hackney cab here, and then carry on speaking Lithuanian Yiddish as before). (Free wifi at said cafe! Café Le Reinitas, 32 rue du Temple. Come by in the next few minutes and the coffee's on OxBlog!).

Okay, that's it for now; more from this end once I get myself into some trouble for purposes of writing about it!
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# Posted 1:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. Comments will begin as soon as I win my grudge match against the Blogger template.
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# Posted 12:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS MAUREEN DOWD JUST A PARODY OF HERSELF? Last week, MoDo was on the cover of New York magazine. I think the story that went along with the cover photo was supposed to make her look good, but MoDo comes off as pretty shallow and self-absorbed.

On a similar note, MoDo's meditations on feminism in last week's NYT Magazine (full text here) won't do much to change her reputation as a pampered prima donna.

What it really all comes down to is that no one will ever tell you more about MoDo in fewer words than Josh Chafetz did in The Immutable Laws of Dowd.
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

# Posted 11:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAS OXBLOG BEEN SEDUCED BY THE VIDEO iPOD? In Thursday's Slate, Jack Shafer thrashes the MSM for lavishing praise on every mediocre gadget coughed up by Apple.

Taken in by Apple's clever presentation of itself as the anti-Microsoft and by clever advertising that shamelessly exploits the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, journalists provide Apple with an extraordinary amount of free publicity. In exchange, Apple has often given the consumer little more than forgettable gewgaws such as the Newton.

Now, there's no question that press coverage of the video iPod has been pretty shameless. But I have to take issue with Shafer's suggestion that those, like myself, who buy the new iPod are just as naive as the cheerleader journalists. According to Shafer, the video iPod is a
Deliberately crippled by copy protection, low-res, underpowered video appliance that is merely Apple's first try in the emerging market of video players.
Perhaps my standards are too low, but I think the picture on my iPod is superb, and so do most of the people I show it too. Whether the iPod is crippled by copy protection, I don't know. In the next few days, I hope to play around with Videora, which may dramatically expand the range of visual content for my iPod. And I concede that the battery life could be better, although 2-3 hours is more than enough for my daily commute. (NB: If you only use the videoPod for sound, the batterly life is 15-20 hours.)

Regardless, it's never a bad thing to take media hype with a grain of salt. And if you want to laugh while you're at it, check out this parody of all things iPod.
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO CHEERS FOR THE BBC: The first cheer is for the extensive list of podcasts that the Beeb makes available to its listeners. The second cheer is for the excellence of "The Soul Within Islam", a four-part documentary available via podcast from the BBC's Documentary Archive (Podcast URL: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/worldservice/documentaryarchive/rss.xml)

Although Part I seems to have been lost in the sands of time, Parts II, III & IV provide excellent coverage of religious trends in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Morocco. The Indonesian marriage of democracy and Islam is truly inspiring. This marriage may seem natural, since Southeast Asia has a distinctive heritage of toleration and enlightenment within Islam.

Yet the freedom that democracy has brought to Indonesia since 1997 is strengthening its heritage of enlightenment in unexpected. For example, is there any Arab Islamic nation in which truly open theological debates are broadcast on public television?

I don't know the answer to that question for sure, but I strongly suspect it is 'no'.
One can only hope that the freedom of Indonesian religious discourse has a catalytic effect throughout the Muslim world.

In contrast, the Malaysian government relies on propaganda to promote its program of religious toleration. Although the government's objective is praiseworthy, one has to wonder whether Malaysian fundamentalists will gain support because of their ability to portray themselves as noble, even pro-democratic dissidents.

In light of Malaysia's tradition of tolerance, I think it would be far wiser to have a truly open debate about Islam. Yet it is hard for a quasi-dictatorship such as Malaysia to let the people speak their mind in one forum, since they would surely demand the right to speak their minds in another and another.

The one major shortcoming of "The Soul Within Islam" is its unmitigated secular bias. Instead of attempting to understand those who resist moderation and tolerance within Islam, it simply brands them as fundamentalists, conservatives and worse. For the most part, their perspectives are entirely excluded from the documentary.

The real danger here is that "The Soul Within Islam" does nothing to separate the conservative Muslims who oppose women's rights from the even more conservative Muslims who question democracy from the terrorists who murder in the name of the Koran.

In the process of fighting the war on terror, it will be necessary to align ourselves with democratic conservatives against authoritarians and terrorists. And when Muslims who are ambivalent about democracy speak out against terrorism, we must recognize them as well.

I'm not talking here about the Mubaraks, the Assads or the other nominally Muslim dictators that plague the Middle East. Rather, I am talking about various religious organizations and individuals that may remain skeptical of the American agenda of democratization, but still firmly oppose the murderousness of Al Qaeda.

We should not compromise the project of democratization in order to placate the ambivalent, but we should do all that we can to persuade the ambivalent that America has much more to offer them than Al Qaeda.
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# Posted 4:08 PM by Patrick Belton  

GONE FREELANCIN': I've in the last few days received a handful of friendly emails from our kind mums readers, asking why we're not covering the riots in Paris - given that French and western Muslims are of great interest to me and a subject I keep coming back to in my career as a writer. I was in the middle of writing back one of these kind parents readers explaining that I was really overwhelmed with a chapter for a book and another for my thesis, when it occurred to me, you people are entirely right. So I'm taking the 5 am train to Paris, to have a look around, walk around Clichy and talk with people I bump into, and if it works out that way, perhaps file a piece or two. I'll see you guys from there.
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Saturday, November 05, 2005

# Posted 9:53 PM by Patrick Belton  

MUTTERINGS OF A NATION: Hit or miss, but Overheard on the Underground has its moments. ('Of course it's not Halal. It's a ****ing pork chop.') ('Every country has its own fetish: the Germans seem to like ****ting on each other.') ('Goodbye Mein Kampf.') ('A brontosaurus could kill a stegasaurus... easily.') ('No offence like but I can't imagine you being skinny, like ever.') ('You shouldn't stop taking codeine if you've been on it for more than a week.') ('I never know what to say. I just stand there and look at her tits.') ('He sneezed and got snot all over her. It's not a great way to start a date.') ('I can pause live TV! I am practically a God.') ('Eventually, everyone in Asia will get adopted by Angelina Jolie.') ('What is to become of us, now that winter draws close?') ('She's been logging on to that Norwegian dating site.') ('All human tragedy is grist to your sordid entertainment mill.') ('Come with me. Walk with me. I'll buy you a sandwich.') &c.
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# Posted 5:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'The double-negative is a complete no-no.' - Humphrey Lyttleton
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# Posted 4:43 PM by Patrick Belton  


This courtesy the Times, Britan's most respected tabloid.
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# Posted 12:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMMENTS ARE COMING: Our trial period begins on Monday. We will use word recognition ("fuzzy words") to prevent spam, but won't require commenters to have a login. We hope that this will keep spam at a minimal level, which was one of your foremost concerns. If you have any other specific recommendations for how to eliminate spam, please send them along.
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# Posted 11:52 AM by Patrick Belton  


From Flanders to Iraq. OxBlog is happy to wear its poppy.
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# Posted 4:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY GUY FAWKES DAY, GO BURN SOME JESUITS IN EFFIGY BUT DON'T ACCIDENTALLY BURN THE REAL THING, WATCH: And they wonder why I'm sympathetic to British Muslims. Thus the BBC's David Cannadine, 'It's possible to be a Catholic Briton and admire Nelson; it's hard to be a Catholic Briton without wincing at the sight of an effigy of Guy Fawkes going up in flames.'

But no fear. Nowadays for his point of view, Guy has a blog. (Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, reason, and blogs.)
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# Posted 4:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUSH BLAIR BONANZA!: For those of our readers interested in the evolution of the special relationship over time, particularly under the incumbent president and prime minister - and this includes me, since I'm meant to be doing some writing and a conference paper at SHAFR on the topic - the memoirs of Sir Christopher Meyer, recently retired Foreign Office man in Washington, ought to prove a useful and insightful source. His memoir, DC Confidential, is being published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and serialised in the pages of the Guardian (appertifs here and here). I'll see if it's possible for us to review it here, as well.
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Friday, November 04, 2005

# Posted 4:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

BENEFITS OF THE PEACE PROCESS ALREADY IN NI: These in the form of non-sectarian strippers.
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# Posted 10:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

PAGING DAVID: The Pentagon goes Pod.

And they say we're technologically astute apologists for (Anglo-)American power.
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# Posted 7:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE NAKED IRISH CHEF RIDES AGAIN: Or some less unmeaningly allusive title, particularly given our meal of the week is French. Prefatory material: roquefort, camembert. Chapter one: soupe de laitue. (Or, more simply, here.) Chapter two: prawns in a garlic and butter sauce on a bed of tomato paste. Chapter three: crepes, with assorted berries and maple ice cream on the side. Auteur note: serve unshaven while wearing a black turtleneck and smoking an unfiltered galloise.
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# Posted 6:40 AM by Patrick Belton  



Chennai (or a disturbingly large bit of it)


The British coastline; extra points and the (exceedingly prestigious) OxBlog-Mandelbrot prize for guessing its length

He's reputed to fancy planes even more than quite nearly as much as members of the opposite sex.

Our dashing correspondent, ladies. He's the one with flowers around his neck. (Also second from right.)
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# Posted 4:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

BORIS JOHNSON BRAVELY TAKES ON DESERT ISLAND DISCS, or perhaps vice versa. Johnson is one of the brainier, and more humourous, chaps in British politics today; he's also, therefore necessarily, a blogger. His office has a partial transcript, with most of the better jokes redacted. Less interestingly, he hints he will renounce editorship of the Spectator once Cameron takes the Tory leadership battle. The honourable and New York-born gentleman from Henley is also the author of the words with which I intend to submit my dissertation to Oxford University: dark forces dragged me away from the keyboard, swirling forces of irresistible intensity and power.
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Thursday, November 03, 2005

# Posted 8:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

WALKING BAD FOR YOU, DRIVING SAFE: Friends, parents and concerned bystanders, noting I possess the habit of from time to time driving on the continent (on the right, ideally), in Britain and Ireland (on the left, same qualifier), and occasionally ferrying David about in the States (in a super-fly Cadillac El Dorado, side irrelevant), often ask me whether this, something like postgraduate education, poses undue or perhaps unneeded cognitive strain. No; not really. I find there are generally sufficient automobiles about that you can frequently puzzle out which side of the road you're meant to be on, and unless you've driven from Britain to the continent, the side of the car in which you're sitting also provides handy, constant subrational reminder. What I find truly dangerous, though, is walking. Speaking here I hope without excessive anglocentrism, I discovered this morning in Bern I no longer possess any clue which direction cars will come at me from when I cross a street. To be truly honest, I would not be surprised if on closer inspection they proved on replay to come simultaneously from both, and several nonorthogonally intersecting planes besides. (Trams too; this is the Continent.) I find to some extent you can mitigate certain death and tertiodiurnal resurrection as road pizza by (a) inspecting frantically all directions of the sphere until on the other side, and safely back in euclidian space, or, (b) asking an elderly lady to walk you across the street. They have, through long decades of urban natural selection, developed keener abilities in this regard than the rest of us, like bats in caves with sonar. But really; do the healthy thing, do the socially responsible thing, do OxBlog a favour, because we care for you, our readers. Drive a combustion engine automobile whenever possible. Including, if possible, to the toilet.
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# Posted 8:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

TO MARMITE, ADD as worthy of export grade: Rivella, a soft drink made of milk serum (it makes you tell milk), and Knorr's Aromat (a seasoning which can be applied to everything, like cocaine; comparably addictive). Find a way to include all three in the same meal and you're Anglo-Swiss, or just simply weird.
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# Posted 5:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

I OFTEN WONDER if there's an end eventually in the fun to be had with search engine referral logs. Then I think, no, really there isn't. So: OxBlog, your one-stop source for dirty stories in Urdu, Sonia's panties, What is the bipartisan policy?, and MoDo. All of which actually fits, in a way.

(Unlike Ms Gandhi's knickers. David, you can have them back now.)
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

# Posted 8:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PANDACASTING: Sure, you could read about Tai Shan, the baby panda at the National Zoo. Or you could enjoy the very cute photo of him to the left. But really, nothing beats seeing little Tai Shan actually trying to walk or nuzzling with his mom, Mei Xiang. And for that you need a video podcast, courtesy of the WaPo.
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# Posted 7:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOO MUCH NUANCE! I mentioned a couple of days ago that I hope some day to understand what Stephen Breyer means when he talks about "active liberty". To that end, I downloaded an interview that Breyer did with George Stephanopoulos on the October 2 edition of This Week. (Podcast URL: http://abcnews.go.com/xmldata/xmlPodcast?id=940303)

Well, I still don't know what Breyer is talking about. Whenever Stephanopoulos asked Breyer anything, the justice was careful to hedge his remarks by saying that his answer only applied to certain cases. While it is admirable for Breyer not to overstate the value of his theory, I was really left with no sense at all of how to separate those cases to which it applied from those to which it didn't.

And I still don't understand the theory itself. What Breyer says he wants is for the court to take into consideration the Founders' desire to promote active participation in government. But by whom? Citizens? Legislatures? And what exactly counts as participation?

Perhaps the fault here is mine. My knowledge of constitutional logic and history is clearly deficient. And I clearly need to read Breyer's book. But I still get the sense that Breyer should be able to explain his ideas better.

It's not as if I'm asking for a soundbite or an elevator pitch. Breyer had almost 15 minutes on ABC. Not enough to convert a skeptic, but certainly enough to clarify his stance. Which makes me wonder: Is Breyer's maddening subtletly an inherent part of early 21st centuryAmerican liberalism?

Certainly, John Kerry got into plenty of trouble because he couldn't reduce his message to a soundbite. And here's another example: Last night, Chris Matthews had Howard Dean as a guest on Hardball. Take a look at their exchange about abortion:
DEAN: ...all these abortion cases, that's a family's personal business. That's not the government's business. And we'd like to keep the government out of people's private, personal lives.

MATTHEWS: But the Democratic Party [is] a pro-choice party, period?

DEAN: The government...

MATTHEWS: The Democrats, your party, is a pro-choice party?

DEAN: No. My party respects everybody's views, but my party firmly believes that the government should stay out of people's personal lives.

MATTHEWS: But you are a pro-choice party? Are you not? You sound like you're against ever being pro-life. Are you pro-choice?

DEAN: I'm not against people for being pro-life. I actually was the first chairman who met for a for a long time with pro-life Democrats.

MATTHEWS: This is the complicated thing for people. The people believe the Republican Party, because of its record, supports the pro-life position. Does your party support the pro-choice position?

DEAN: The position we support is a woman has the right to make -- and a family has the right to make up their own mind about their health care without government interference.

MATTHEWS: That's pro-choice.

DEAN: A woman and a family have a right to make up their own minds about their health care without government interference. That's our position.

MATTHEWS: Why do you hesitate from the phrase pro-choice?

DEAN: Because I think it's often misused. If you're pro-choice, it implies you're not pro-life. That's not true. There are a lot of pro-life Democrats. We respect them, but we believe the government should...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in abortion rights?

DEAN: I believe that the government should stay out of the personal lives of families and women. They should stay out of our lives. That's what I believe.
I guess Dean should've said something like "Safe, legal and rare." But I think it's significant that Dean attempted to ground his position in a broad philsophical principle, i.e. the exclusion of government from family life, only then to back off from the logical application of that principle to the issue of abortion.

One might say that Dean's position is admirable. He is trying to return tolerance and civility to an issue plagued by divisiveness and resentment. Yet as a result, he comes of looking confused and/or disingenuous.

This is the Democrats' dilemma.
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