Tuesday, December 30, 2003

# Posted 4:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NRO ACCOLADE FOR OXBLOG: Along with Merde in France and Innocents Abroad, OxBlog has won the title of "Best Euro-Blog 2003". For these in doubt, let me say that OxBlog is a part of New Europe.
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# Posted 4:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEARTS AND MINDS -- NYT AT THE FRONT: Correspondent Eric Schmitt describes the remarkable ability of American soldiers to adapt to the challenges of nation-building. He writes that
When First Lt. Ryan Peay reported for duty here in mid-October, his assignment was to call in 105-millimeter artillery strikes on the opposing forces' positions. With major combat in Iraq long over, that job lasted about two days.

Instead, Lieutenant Peay, 24, was thrown into the breach as his battalion's civil affairs officer, responsible for hiring the unit's 20 Iraqi interpreters, employing hundreds of Iraqi guards and setting priorities for $1.5 million in requests from local leaders for new wells, schools, hospitals and Internet cafes.

"I had no clue," said Lieutenant Peay, whose background for his new task amounted to his international relations courses at the Virginia Military Institute and a summer study program in Fez, Morocco.

But in two months, his superiors say, Lieutenant Peay has shifted gears smoothly from trigger puller to aid giver, helping to dispense more than 50 projects worth $250,000, parrying the persistent entreaties of sheiks and mayors twice his age and sorting out scam artists from expert engineers. "A lot of it is really common sense," he said.

With civilian aid experts still in short supply or scared off by the security threats, the story of Lieutenant Peay and others like him is told hundreds, if not thousands, of times over as the American military continues to shoulder the biggest effort to help a nation restore its civilian society since the end of World War II.
How is it possible that American soliders with little training and no familiarity with the local culture are doing such a good job? Well, one possibility is that they aren't. Lt. Peay may just be an outstanding soldier who is hardly representative of his peers. After all, this wouldn't be the first time the NYT got a major story wrong by focusing on anecdotes that run against prevailing trends. (Remember how the invasion had become a quagmire after ten days?)

Of course, it is extremely rare for the NYT to report good news that isn't representative of broader trends, especially when it comes to Iraq. Moreover, I can't really think of any articles in the NYT or elsewhere that describe the failure of American soldiers to adapt. There have been stories about language barriers and the stress of counterinsurgency work, but no indications that the soldiers themselves are doing a bad job. If things haven't been going right, it's because the Pentagon didn't plan in advance and now refuses to put enough boots in the mud.

For some more evidence that confirms Eric Schmitt's reporting, turn to today's Op-Ed page, where a Marine lieutenant colonel describes the way his soldiers won over the hearts and minds of local residents in southern Iraq. Admittedly, the south is Shi'ite territory, where local residents have been overjoyed at the American decision to oust Saddam Hussein. But don't forget the warnings that blanketed the media in the first weeks after the invasion: Even the Shi'ites will do everything in their power to get rid of a foreign occupier on Iraqi soil. They may have been anti-Saddam, but they are hardly pro-American.

Even if the odds of success were never as long as the press made them out to be, I still think it's fair to praise the US armed forces for a job well done. Still, that doesn't answer the question of why soldiers trained to kill have proven so adept at reconstruction.

The answer I'm going to give is not a new one. As this author observed back in May,
One of the most important reasons that I have much greater faith in the Pentagon's ability to promote democracy in Iraq (as opposed to the State Department's), is that rank-and-file American soldiers have a long tradition of sharing democatic values with all those they encounter. Even our generals and admirals tend to adopt this same straightforward approach.

While American diplomats have often risked their lives and reputations for the sake of human rights, their measured, cosmopolitan approach is not best-suited to countries in need of a total transformation. From where is stand, the best hope for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan to just let our soldiers do what their grandfathers did in Germany and Japan: be themselves.
Now let me be clear. I'm not arguing that Iraq will someday become a democracy simply because we have American soldiers on the ground. But those soldiers are the foundation on which success can be built if there is enough resolve in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
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# Posted 3:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG GETS A LITTLE FRUITY: I know it's a little late for holiday shopping, but isn't there always someone you've left off of your list? If that's the case, head straight over to the HoneyBell website, where you can ask the folks at Cushman's Farm to send the sweetest Florida oranges in existence to that special someone.

Now I know what you're thinking: Big deal, a bunch of fruit. Well, the first time someone sent me a package of HoneyBells, I thought the same thing. Then I ate one. And another. And another. And another.

Eating an orange will never be the same again once you've had a HoneyBell. Actually, HoneyBells are not oranges, but a cross between a Dancy Tangerine and a Duncan Grapefruit. But if you saw one, you'd probably say it's an orange.

Still, it isn't appearance that matters. It's the taste. Unfortunately, HoneyBells aren't something you can buy at your local store. They are a limited edition fruit available only in January and only from the folks at Cushman's.

Of course, that means that the price is a little higher than it would be for an orange, plus you have to pay shipping and handling. Even so, there are lots of nice packages to send for between $30 and $40. Most importantly, don't forget to send some to yourself, because you want to miss out on this culinary delight.
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# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEW MOTTO FOR INSTAPUNDIT: Created accidentally by OxBlog.
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# Posted 1:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEARTBREAK KID HEARTBROKEN IN TITLE BOUT: Heartbreak who? Title what? We're talking about pro wrestling, so get with the program. Just a few hours ago, live on cable television, Shawn Michaels (aka The Heartbreak Kid) came within a hair's breadth of taking the world title away from Triple H.

I don't watch wrestling much these days because of time constraints, but when I'm on vacation I try to get a few episodes of RAW and SMACKDOWN! under my belt. The reason I'm posting about tonight's title bout was that it was one of the most extraordinary wrestling matches I've ever seen. I haven't seen that many pay-per-view events, but this match easily surpassed those that I have seen and demolished any of the competition from network and cable events.

Beyond their stunning athleticism, both HBK and Triple H demonstrated once again why they are two of the best showmen in the sports entertainment industry. Even though their match lasted for almost 40 minutes, it wasn't boring for a second, because both men made the plot come alive with their expressive physical performances.

Moreover, HBK was performing for his hometown fans in San Antonio, so their rabid enthusiasm added a powerful dimension to an already epic battle. While I may have given away the result of the match, any of you who is even the slightest wrestling fan (and has TiVo or Digital Direct) should stop reading immediately and take a look at the match. You'll be glad you did.

UPDATE: Mike Daley reminds me that the WWE deserves major applause for dispatching its superstars to the deserts of Iraq in order to raise our troops spirits for the holidays.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TPM ON DEANSPEAK: Josh Marshall blasts Howard Dean for playing the defection card again. And rightly so. (Josh also has a very good debunking of the-Kurds-captured-Saddam myth up on his website.)

Given that Dean already had to apologize once for implying he wouldn't back any other Democratic candidate, it seems like the Governor really isn't able to hide his feelings very effectively on this one.

My reading of the situation is that Dean knows intellectually that he will have to back the Democratic candidate rather than become a useful idiot for the Bush campaign, but nonetheless feels that he is the only true Democrat in the race.

Regardless of the validity of that position, Dean's transparent charade makes him look both like a liar and a Benedict Arnold. Given that Dean manages to call his own truthfulness into question on an almost daily basis, his hopes of donning the John McCain/straight-talking mantle are becoming less and less realistic.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRISH PAPAL DIPLOMAT ASSASSINATED IN BURUNDI: Michael Courtney, one of the Catholic Church's most experienced diplomats, had been involved in peace talks in the conflict-ridden central African nation. Blessed are the peacemakers....
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Monday, December 29, 2003

# Posted 3:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHERLOCK HOLMES IN IRAQ: Phil Carter pays tribute to the junior intelligence analysts in the 4th Infantry Division who tracked down Saddam. The full story is available to WSJ subscribers.

All I can add is that the outstanding soldiers responsible for finding Saddam did exactly what Americans are supposedly unable to do: they used common sense and cold logic to understand the inner workings of a foreign culture and the behavior of clandestine guerrillas.

It wasn't just a handful of exceptional soldiers who accomplished this impressive objective, however. The analysts who tracked down Saddam depended on the intelligence produced by countless other soldiers through interrogations, informant accounts and other methods. Thus, it is the United States armed forces as an institution that has demonstrated its adaptability to foreign cultural settings.
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# Posted 2:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DAVID BROOKS PILE-ON: He deserves all the criticism he's getting for this misguided column. Robert Tagorda explains why. For sharply-worded critiques from the Democratic side of fence, take a look at what Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall have to say.
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# Posted 2:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEST OF THE SILVER SCREEN: As a curmudgeonly foe of Hollywood excess, I tend to post film reviews only when I think that popular movies suck. But there are plenty of movies I do enjoy from beginning to end, so here is a salute to two of them that debuted in 2003.

First, Pirates of the Caribbean. There are of lot of films with brilliant special effects and immaculate historical settings. But Pirates stands out from all the rest because Johnny Depp turns in one of the great comedic performances of our time.

Second, Finding Nemo. Another triumph for Disney & Pixar. While other studios struggle to find human actors with real emotions, Disney & Pixar give us fish who express complex thoughts and emotions in language simple enough for children to understand.

For more on the best of Hollywood in 2003, check out this essay by the NYT's A.O. Scott, as well as the attached Top 10 lists by each of the Times' film critics. More amusing, however, is the NYT critics discussion of the worst films of the year.

All in all, I think the three NYT Top 10 lists are pretty good. Naturally, I wish I'd had the chance to see all of the films that Mitchell, Scott, and Holden did. If I went to theater every night instead of once a month, there might be more favorites on my list.
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# Posted 2:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STRAIGHT EYE FOR THE QUEER BLOG: Dan Drezner is already doing good work over at andrewsullivan.com.

According to Dan, the NYT has quietly admitted that Halliburton isn't up to anything nefarious in Iraq. Well, I guess without Cheney as CEO the Halliburton boys just aren't as conspiratorial and malicious as they used to be.

Also, in case you missed it, Andrew handed out his annual awards for public hyperbole just before heading off for Christmas vacation. My favorite is from Bill O'Reilly:
"Eminem may be the 'people's choice,' but he is as harmful to America as any al Qaeda fanatic."
Coming soon -- rhyming fatwas.
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# Posted 1:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAKING EVEN THE DUMBEST SH** INTERESTING: Glenn Reynolds has a fascinating post on metal pans. No, really.

For all of you hidebound traditionalists who think blogs should focus on issues of actual significance, take a look at Glenn's posts on bias in the French and German media as well as anti-blog stirrings on this side of the pond.
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Sunday, December 28, 2003

# Posted 11:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ULTIMATE GUEST BLOG: Dan Drezner will be taking over for Andrew Sullivan this week.

As Voltaire might have said, this is the best of all possible worlds. Dan's brilliance and even-handedness deserve the kind of audience that only the Dish or Instapundit could provide.

As a quick perusal of the blogosphere ecosystem shows, the most popular blogs on both left and right tend to be intensely partisan, often to the point of being shrill. (Drum and Volokh are exceptions.)

There is, of course, no inherent virtue in moderation. In fact, an adversarial approach to political debate is indispensable to democratic dialogue. Nonetheless, an active partisan debate hardly ensures that all relevant perspectives will make it onto the table.

From my experience online, I'd say that Dan Drezner is exactly the kind of principled moderate who brings to the fore both facts and issues that both left and right tend to ignore. With any luck, those of Andrew's readers who get to know Dan this coming week will make his blog a regular stop on their daily tour of the web.
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# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A COMMON MISCONCEPTION: As Matt Yglesias point out, we are not dependent on foreign oil. We are simply dependent on oil.

Since oil is a commodity, it doesn't matter where you get it from. There is a global market for the stuff, so even if we got all of ours from Mexico, events in the Middle East would still determine the price.

In theory, if we had enough oil here in the US to provide for domestic demand, the government could force producers to sell below market price. Of course, that is probably neither a good idea nor one George Bush has any interest in taking.

PS Kudos to Matt for the new photo on his homepage. I didn't think the whole unshaven Josh Marshall-esque thing worked for Matt anyway. I think the new progressive yuppie look is much better. Of course, the real test is whether Matt starts getting more play from his groupies. ;)
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# Posted 10:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOULD OLD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT: As is customary, today's issue of the NYT Magazine is devoted to obituaries of noteworthy men and women who passed away over the course of the last twelve months. Highlights include fitness visionary Lucille Roberts, CIA founding father Walter Pforzheimer and pro-wrestling belle Miss Elizabeth.

There is also a well-deserved essay on UN troubleshooter Sergio Vieira De Mello. Unfortunately, the essay itself is a multilateralist fluffnut rather than an effective tribute to Mr. Vieira's talents.
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# Posted 10:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOWARD DEAN IS REALLY, REALLY RICH: Does it matter that a populist insurgent has a house in the Hamptons and a net worth of $4 million? Strictly speaking, no. But if you resent George Bush for pretending to be a corner-store Texan, you can't let Howard Dean off the hook for his own embrace of political theater. While Dean still has a ways to go before he reaches Bushian levels of faux populism, this issue is probably worth watching.

While we're on the issue of character, I think it's worth mentioning that documents given to the NYT show that presidential politics were, in fact, behind Howard Dean's decision to seal his gubernatorial records in Vermont. While Dean admitted as much last January, he then described his admission as a bit of unserious humor just last week.

What is it with this guy? Is he really so opportunistic that he can't remember what he says from one month to the next? (Cf. NAFTA) While one could dismiss all these examples as nothing more than minor gaffes, I think that they will hurt Dean because so much of his support stems from resentment of how George Bush sometimes plays fast and loose with the facts. If he doesn't occupy the moral high ground, Dean will have a hard time presenting himself as an alternative to Bush.

Finally, the WaPo has a fair and balanced assessment of the former Vermont governor up on its editorial page. The WaPo hopes that the old DLC/mainline Democrat who governed Vermont will re-emerge once the anti-war activist on the campaign trail wraps up the nomination.

Strangely, Matt Yglesias suggests that the WaPo's preference for a DLC candidate rather than a McGovernite demonstrates that there is no such thing as liberal media bias. If the WaPo endorses Bush in November, Matt might have a point.

UPDATE: Another day, another Deanism. Unsurprisingly, Dean has already issued an apology explaining why he isn't the sort of McGovernite as his initial statement made him out to be.
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Saturday, December 27, 2003

# Posted 2:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

RICHARD COHEN ASKS, "Is a metrosexual someone who has sex on the subway? Somehow I knew this could not be the case -- you can't even eat on the Washington Metro -- but knowing what it could not be still left me wondering what it is."

After asking "some young people", he arrives at a research conclusion: "Saddam Hussein, a dapper dictator in his salad days, was a metrosexual but emerged from his hole a pure heterosexual. Tim Russert is not a metrosexual, George Stephanopoulos is, Bill Clinton is an omnisexual, Ann Coulter is a psychosexual and Strom Thurmond was just a pig."
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# Posted 12:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RECONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS: This is another issue I got a lot of mail about, so I thought I'd post some of the comments I got while I was away in California. JH writes that
Regarding the President’s statements on who we will spend our money with, W speaks for the soldiers when he says none want to have to guard the ELF contractors and their supply lines reeking of Brie, and unless the Germans come in to build breweries they can stay home too. In addition approx. 40-50% of the work force for our defense industry served in uniform. They are a vital part of our capabilities and not corporate beggars.
Agreed. I reject the simplistic arguments of all those who portray defense contractors as malicious parasites (even if major reforms in the military procurement process are needed.) Still, the issue in Iraq is what's best for the people of Iraq and the struggle for democracy. Moreover, American companies should have no problem competing in an open marketplace that includes French and German corporations.

On a different note, MK asks
Why should the United States give U.S. taxpayer money to countries who:
1) resisted U.S. efforts in the U.N. in every possible way,
2) lobbied against and slandered us privately and publicly in Europe and the Mideast,
3) never contributed any troops, and
4) likely supplied Sadaam with intelligence and possibly equipment in the war against the U.S.?

It is the U.S.'s money, why should they get it? Don't you think that's the height of hypocrisy, to do everything possible to slander the President and his administration, to obstruct the war effort, and then to cry that they're not getting American dollars to rebuild a country they could have helped relieve from oppression and tyranny?
First of all, some hypocrisy on the part of the French and Germans may have to be tolerated in the best interest of Iraqi democracy. Perhaps more importantly, there is a big difference between French and German corporations and the French and German governments. It is not clear to me why punishing the former is a particularly effective way of threatening the latter.

On a related note, B argues that
[Russia, France and Germany] were
owed by Saddam something in the neighborhood of 20 billion dollars. A debt these nations claim the Iraqi people now owe. It would be better for us and the Iraqi people if these debts were wiped off the books. But that ain't going to happen unless we have some leverage with those nations. Such as these contracts.
Given that no more than a small share of US contracts would go to Russian, French, and German corporations, I'm not sure how much leverage they would provide in terms of pressuring those governments to forgive Iraqi debt. Besides, my understanding is that the governments of our nominal allies are the ones who hold Iraqi debt. Why would they let go of it in exchange for payments to the private sector?

While there were many more readers who wrote in with well-written and well-thought out comments on this issue, most of their main arguments have been brought up by the three letter-writers whose arguments are excerpted above. So thanks to everyone who took the time to write in. Your thoughts are always appreciated.

PS For some good blogospheric criticism of my arguments, check out this post from Steve Sturm.
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# Posted 12:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG VS. DEMOCRACY PROMOTION: For the second time this month, OxBlog is coming down on the anti-democratic side of an issue. The issue this time is freedom for whales.

As demonstrated by the case of Keiko, aka "Free Willy", some creatures do not have an inherent desire for freedom. Animal rights activists insisted that Keiko should be "free", rather than enjoying the benefits of a benevolent dictatorship at any one of a thousand aquariums that would've been proud to have him.

Even though millions of dollars were spent on preparing Keiko for freedom, he never abandoned his desire for human company. According to psychologist Clive Wynne
A love of animals is no bad thing, but when one beast receives more resources than all but the tiniest fraction of the world's wealthiest people, we should at least stop and think for a moment...

It is a classic anthropomorphic fallacy to believe that an animal's best interests are whatever a human would desire under similar circumstances.
Hence, let it be clear from this moment forward that OxBlog is a supporter of human rights.

Also I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to those who criticized me for taking the anti-democratic side in the most recent China-Taiwan dispute. I would've responded earlier if I hadn't been in California. Anyhow, one of the well-thought out criticisms of my post came from JH, who writes that Taiwan's
ballot proposal poses absolutely no threat to anyone, least of all China. It's utterly symbolic, and will not threaten a single citizen of Mainland
China. That being so, there is very little that would justify China's response --and even less to justify our support for China's response.

Even if we didn't endorse the Taiwanese election, what we did was very specifically and forcefully endorse China's right to dictate to democratic Taiwan what it can and cannot choose to do. That's a very chilling precedent considering we're supposedly committed to paying any price to
building a democracy in Afganistan and Iraq...
JH is right that the ballot proposal is utterly symbolic. And that's exactly why there is no need for the United States to support it. It will result in no real gains for democracy on Taiwan or anywhere else. All it will accomplish is the provocation of mainland China.

Another JH writes that
Chen is a politician. Fortunately, he is not an opportunist, except when it comes to democracy.  Not a bad thing. During his tenure, Chen has certainly erred and just as certainly deepened the roots of democracy here in Taiwan. Again, this is not at all bad. Here and now, the defensive referendum is certainly a hot topic and certainly worth examination because the referendum will be the start of a much needed reexamination of the status quo. That is something the powers in Beijing just cannot allow and America must insist upon if we are to follow up on President Bush’s Forward Diplomacy initiative.
Why is the referendum something that "the powers in Beijing just cannot allow"? Because it is a fundamental threat to their hold on power. In abstract terms, that is a good thing. But there is no excuse for risking massive bloodshed when other avenues of reform exist.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANTI-PENILE MEDIA BIAS: If you're going to publish a story about cannibalism, why not go the whole nine yards?
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# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBER PAKISTAN? The NYT Magazine ran this informative article on Pakistan well before the recent assassination attempts on Pervez Musharraf put it back in the headlines.

In contrast to most big media round-ups, this one describes both the limits as well as the growth of fundamentalist influence in Pakistan. Wisely, author Barry Bearak decides that Pakistan is better described than generalized about.

For some additional commentary from a gay Pakistani blogger, click here. Best of luck to all of those whose families and communities aren't ready to accept them for who they are.
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Friday, December 26, 2003

# Posted 11:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHINING AND DINING: Prof. Bainbridge defends grapevine snobbery.
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST BEFORE WE GOT SADDAM, the New Yorker published Sy Hersh's latest dirty-laundry expose about the Pentagon. Its basic message is that American failures in Iraq are pushing the Administration toward adoption of the brutal and self-destructive counter-insurgency methods of the Vietnam era.

According to an unnamed American consultant in Baghdad,
“The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.”
In spite of assembling a number of similar quotes from unnamed sources, Hersh doesn't have much evidence to back up his claim that the United States is about to abandon the civilian-friendly moral high ground.

The low point in Hersh's article is his uncritical quotation of charlatan-slash-turncoat Scott Ritter. While that sort of lapse is noteworthy by itself, the contents of Ritter's quote are especially amusing:
“The high-profile guys around Saddam were the murafaqin, his most loyal companions, who could stand next to him carrying a gun...but now he’s gone to a different tier—the tribes...

Guys like Farouq Hijazi can deliver some of the Baath Party cells, and he knows where some of the intelligence people are. But he can’t get us into the tribal hierarchy.”
Well, evidently someone got us inside whoever it is was guarding Saddam. Now, the fact that we got Saddam doesn't disprove anything Hersh is trying to say. But his willingness to play up worthless sources like Ritter demonstrates how committed he is to portraying the occupation as a failure. Thus, when things go right, committed pessimists like Hersh find it hard to explain how that was possible when we were supposed to be stuck in a quagmire.
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# Posted 10:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GRINCH WHO STOLE MIDDLE EARTH: The Return of the King did not suck. Its climactic battle scene was even more stunning than the siege of Helms Deep in The Two Towers. But all in all, it was just more and more and more of the same.

What I probably resented most about the film was how much it was hyped. This film was supposed to be the Empire Strikes Back of the Ring trilogy, the installment whose narrative depth matched its techincal achievements.

Instead, we got another Return of the Jedi. The loyal audience is there, so why bother being creative? This was a miniseries, not a cinematic epic. At some point in the third hour, the audience at Loews' 34th St. Theater realized that it could dispense with all the pseudo-profundity and simply cheer after each improbably brave deed performed by one of the lovable heroes. Instead of medieval saga, this was a 1950's matinee version of WWII.

There were strong points, however. As the NYT pointed out, Gollum is brilliant. He is a landmark in the synthesis of acting and technology. What the NYT didn't say is that Gollum is literally the only character in the whole film who isn't two-dimensional.

(Note to Chafetz: That was joke. Gollum is literally one of many characters in the film who is two-dimensional and figuratively the only one who is three-dimensional.)

So there. Send me your hate mail. Tell me I've ruined your Christmas. Call me a film snob. Just don't make me sit through that movie again.
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# Posted 10:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KWANZAA IS UN-AMERICAN: Only a black person is allowed to say that. Which is why the NYT found a black op-ed writer who wanted to say that.

Her argument is extremely persuasive. Why should black Americans search for a mythical African past when they have so much to celebrate about their American heritage?

After all, what is more quintessentially American than a downtrodden people's legendary struggle to win those rights reserved for all mankind by the Declaration of Independence? As the NYT op-ed notes,
Indeed, their [i.e. African-Americans'] goals — self-determination, individual rights, social mobility, the franchise, majority rule, religious freedom — had little counterpart in the African tradition. They demanded their American birthright. They panned for gold. They pioneered the West. They educated their children in Europe. Few returned to Africa.
Black Americans have much to resent about their treatment throughout the centuries. Yet their struggles have defined what it is to be American for all of us, both black and white (and every other color). That is something we can all celebrate.
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# Posted 10:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PRODIGAL SON RETURNS: Many thanks to Josh and Patrick for nurturing our collective enterprise while I was off sunning myself at a research library in California. Thankfully, I did have a few days of R&R in the warm California sun, thanks to a reunion of sorts for Trumbull alums on the west coast.

The positive effect of that R&R was lost, however, when a traffic jam on the freeway made me miss my flight back to Boston on the 23rd. I then spent six hours in the airport, took a red-eye flight back to Logan International, and crashed into bed at 7:30 the next morning. I got up at 4, did some laundry, then headed out to South Station to get a train to New York.

I got home to family just before midnight on Christmas Eve. If I weren't Jewish, it would've been a very emotional moment. Regardless, I'm glad to be back online and ready for 2004.

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# Posted 4:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

MICHAEL JACKSON REVEALS HIMSELF AS A MASOCHIST AS WELL AS A PERVERT: "Before I would hurt a child, I would slit my wrists...."
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# Posted 2:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

TODAY IS ALSO BOXING DAY, also known in Britain and Ireland as St Stephen's Day. The origins of Boxing Day, as snopes points out, lie neither in a desire to rid the house of discarded boxes, nor in returning boxes of unwanted presents to the stores from whence they came, but instead derive from the Georgian and Victorian tradition of giving presents on St Stephen's Day to servants and tradespeople. Good King Wenceslas' gifts of meat, wine, and firewood, for example, were made to a poor man with the good fortune to struggle through the snow "on the Feast of Stephen." (Wenceslas, in turn, was a tenth century Bohemian duke assassinated by his rebellious brother en route to Mass, and thenceforth commemorated as a martyr. The familiar music dates all the way back to a 13th century hymn, "Tempus Adest Floridum," "Spring Has Unwrapped Her Flowers," a nice thought this time of the year....)

In Ireland, the feast of protomartyr St Stephen marks the day on which children traipse about from door to door collecting money to cover the burial expenses of a newly deceased bird, singing "The wren, the wren is the king of all birds / On St Stephen's Day, he got caught in the furze / So up with the kettle and down with the pan / And give us a penny for to bury the wren." (The day, in Irish, is known both as Lá le Stiofán and Lá an Dreoilín - the wren's day.) Wrens winged their way to a prominent role in druidic, perhaps even neolithic, ritual and augury. As the king of all birds, they were thought to be greater than even the eagle - because while an eagle could fly higher than all the other birds, a wren perched on an eagle's head could fly higher. (Hey, who said Bronze Age Celts didn't have a sense of humor?) Killing the wren on St Stephen's Day, in turn, could trace either to the Elizabethan idea of Christmastide Lord of Misrule, or the medieval Mumming tradition in which a champion of darkness was killed to bring life back to the world (i.e., the winter solstice; the wren, for its part, creeps along and inside stones, presumably also to include tombs).

So in a venerable English and Irish tradition, give us a penny, if you like, to bury the wren! Josh has some worthy causes here. Hey, David and I'll even sing for you!
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# Posted 2:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY KWANZAA today to all of our African American readers and friends! Each of the seven days is given over to one of seven principles, each known by their name in Kiswahili. Today, for instance, is Umoja, dedicated to unity and togetherness; tomorrow is Kujichagulia, for self-determination and making decisions in the best interest of celebrants' families and communities; later days mark Ujima (for collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (for mutual economic support), Nia (purpose and setting goals), Kuumba (creativity, which resounds as an architectonic concept in the writings of Rev. Dr. King), and Imani (faith).

It's a beautiful holiday, and in its use of the menoraic Kinara and its extension over many days it bears striking similarities with Hanukkah - evoking the historically strong emotional and symbolic relationship between Jews and blacks in the United States, dating from the prophetic influence in spirituals and black homiletics to the experience of shoulder-to-shoulder struggle beside each other during the Freedom rides and the struggle for voting rights in the American south. So we wish you Kwanzaa yenu iwe heri!: Happy Kwanzaa!
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Thursday, December 25, 2003

# Posted 1:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

NORAD TRACKS SANTA: According to CNN, in 1955, a local newspaper mistakenly published the number for NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command, in place of a department store's "Santa Hotline." The senior watch officer on duty took the mistake in stride, and told kids who rang the military headquarters that he was helping Santa make his way around the world. In 1957, the Air Defense Command's Santa-tracking mission became official, and in 1997, went online.

North American Aerospace Defense Command therefore provides warning of missile and air attack against the United States and Canada, safeguards North American air sovereignty, provides air defense forces for defense against an air attack...and tracks Santa Claus. In the spirit of full disclosure, NORAD officials said the command has declassified photos of Santa from the past 40 years, which are now available on the website.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

# Posted 8:22 PM by Patrick Belton  

DISPATCHES FROM THE LAND OF CHRISTMAS, PART ONE: Warm and happy holidays to all of our readers from the Arctic Circle, where my wife and I are spending a cozy and idyllic log-cabin Christmas with my in-laws, author Judy Kleinfeld and judge Andrew Kleinfeld, along with their huge number of furry quadrapeds! Nearby us is the North Pole (no, the real North Pole), and I can report that today, during the brief stint of polychromatic snowy daylight, it actually warmed up to a balmy 20 degrees below. I'll be doing a fair bit of holiday blogging this week from here in the land of Christmas, with despatches on dog mushing (a process in which, I should quickly note, no dogs actually become mushed), late-night aurora borealis, Eskimos, and the distinctive local characters to be found up here inhabiting log cabins in Seward's folly.

First, though, a few wintry-themed quotations for Christmas Eve, ranging from the jocular to the profound. Happy Christmas Eve, and enjoy!
Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!

- Ezra Pound, Ancient Music (l. 1–4). The Selected Poems of Ezra Pound. (1957) (a waggish take, if you didn't get it, on the Middle English ballad, "Summer Is Icummen In, Llude Sing Cuckoo.)

In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.... We enjoy now, not an Oriental, but a Boreal leisure, around warm stoves and fireplaces, and watch the shadow of motes in the sunbeams.

- Henry David Thoreau, “A Winter Walk” (1843), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 5, pp. 182-183.

The English winter—ending in July,
To recommence in August.

- Lord Byron, Don Juan, cto. 13, st. 42 (1819-1824).
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Monday, December 22, 2003

# Posted 9:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

REFLECTIONS AFTER A WEEK IN NEW YORK: It's striking, after a period of time away from the United States, how many of the experiences and pleasures I most miss about America really turn out to be things I miss about New York. The experiences of diners, the Museum Mile, a chocolate egg cream at Katz's (which, as Voltaire would likely point out, conspicuously contain neither chocolate, nor egg, nor indeed cream); the peculiar streetscapes and atmospheres of the West Village, the Upper and Lower East Sides, the palimpsested ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn which are so reminscent of visigothic and frankish Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Even the combination of the legibility of the grid (or grids, adding alphabet city, Stuyvensant Town, and the West Village's - all grids which at one point or another began in the Village but didn't quite get running northwards), with the arbitrariness of the distribution across space of the mighty train lines and Soho, Chelsea, Tribeca and so forth - these together provide ample grist for the local knowledge so prized, and displayed, by everyone who has inhabited the city for more than one month. While Londoners will avoid speaking with anyone on the street unless scrupulously apologized to, and afterward convinced in quick time that their interlocutor is of precisely their social class and level of education, a New Yorker will speak with absolutely everyone whosoever on the street once convinced their interlocutor supervents the comparatively low test of not being clinically insane. Both of the two previous genetic predilections of the New Yorker in his or her native, which is to say adopted, habitat come together whenever an unsuspecting bystander happens to be caught, for want of any better reading material, in a semireligious gaze at the subway system map, which coolly places the five boroughs in their prodigiously anatomical dissection. The confluence of a native helpfulness - especially toward proslyetes - with the recent convert's desire to show off a successfully internally catechized wisdom, will result in a stream of aspirants toward you, offering each to interpret for you the mysteries of the subway system, without so much as a potato knish in payment.

I'm now en route to Alaska, via first Newark, then Minneapolis (which affords a panoply of rich opportunities to the traveller, to include coffee, shaving, and bathroom facilities), and afterwards onward to Anchorage and then Fairbanks. Will I be taking a blogging break from the Arctic Circle, you ask? Fuhggedaboudit. I'll be seeing you all from there.
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Friday, December 19, 2003

# Posted 2:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK: It was a pretty good day. I finished up my research at the Reagan Library. I had a Jamba Juice in hand and was ready to hit the freeway. Yet unbeknownst to me, one cannot make a left turn on one's way out of the Jamba parking lot. Thus, I waited for some time at the exit from the lot hoping for a break in the traffic.

A certain gentelman on his way into said parking lot stopped his car alongside mine and informed me of the prohibition against turning left. His exact words (made audible at a very high decibel level) were: "No left turn, you f***ing idiot."

There is no moral to this story. Just that mean people suck.

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

# Posted 6:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE DLC SENDS A SHOT ACROSS THE BOW of the train (ship? dern metaphors...) wreck that is Dean's unfolding foreign policy debacle. Example: "The real message of the speech was that Howard Dean's strategy for protecting America's interests and values is simply to replace George W. Bush."
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# Posted 6:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

BLOGGER (n., etym. unknown, "sucks") is down today, so while I can post this, it won't actually appear on our website. Whenever you can read this, of course, this will no longer be the case. In the meantime, I'll just be over here feeling solipsistic....

UPDATE: Looks like we're back up. Rene's no doubt relieved....
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# Posted 9:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG: Your one-stop source for "circumcise Arnold Schwarzenegger"!
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# Posted 9:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

MAYBE WITH LUCK MICHAEL JACKSON WILL EVEN FOLLOW SUIT: Tariq Aziz has now stopped calling his son "Saddam." Must've been the photos.
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# Posted 8:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

HA'ARETZ has a lengthy interesting piece on trends in the Israeli Arab community, which seems to be becoming increasingly apolitical.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

# Posted 5:53 PM by Patrick Belton  

THAT'S loyalty, mate.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

# Posted 4:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I AM VIOLATING FEDERAL LAW: According to the instruction sheet posted next to this PC, one may not use computers at the Reagan Library for any purpose other than research. Doing so would violate Federal law 18 USC Section 1030. If it ever goes to court, I'll insist that blogging counts as research. Think I could get Gene Volokh to head up my defense team?

But for the moment, like the hip-hop superstar I am, I thought I should show that I have street cred because I play by my own rules. More bling-bling to come...
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# Posted 5:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

LEAVIN', ON A JET PLANE: Fortified by a Christmas goose last night with Josh and a few other OxFriends (hey, why should David have all the fun?), I'm off this afternoon, to blog from New York, New Haven, Alaska, and Washington. See you guys from there!
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Monday, December 15, 2003

# Posted 9:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

SECRETARY POWELL TO UNDERGO surgery for prostate cancer. All of us here at OxBlog wish him a very speedy recovery.
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# Posted 7:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ECONOMIST has a piece on the potential of UAVs:
According to a UAV road map from America's Department of Defence, by 2012 UAVs the size of F-16 fighter aircraft are likely to exist.....By 2020, the Pentagon estimates that one-third of America's combat planes will be robotic....The world's smallest UAV is currently the 15cm-long, electrically powered, Black Widow. It can fly for 30 minutes and download live colour video to the ground via its onboard camera. Many such craft are being developed for “over the hill” work, when soldiers need scouts in dangerous areas....The biggest breakthrough in civil aviation, though, would be the invention of the aerial equivalent of the motor car.
Kudos to Bagehot's newspaper for a systematic exploration of the military, urban studies, and environmental implications of what portends to be a revolutionary new technology. And it is difficult not to end this post by quoting the piece's most memorable line: "There is a joke in the airline industry that the future crew of an airliner will consist of a pilot and a dog: The pilot's job is to watch all the computers, and the dog's job is to bite the pilot if he tries to touch anything." Can I assume from this that the days of British Airways stewardesses are therefore blissfully limited?
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# Posted 2:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CALIFORNIA BLOGGIN': I have left behind the high-stress dog-eat-dog rat-racing money-making East Coast. I am out here where we eat organic foods, listen to new age music, lie on the beach and ride the waves.

Actually, I'm out here to do some research at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and take part in a mini-reunion with five of my close friends from college.

But tonight, to kick off the festivities, I attended a lavish dinner at Chez CalPundit. It was a sumptous Italian banquet for which I owe Kevin and Mary Ann many thanks. I also had the chance to converse with the creme de la creme of the blogosphere, including Pejman, Robert Tagorda (as well as his lovely wife Noemie) and Mark Kleiman.

The conversation was hard to match. It isn't everyday that I get to converse with so many well-read, intelligent and articulate people -- all around one table.

The only less-than-perfect thing about California is the 56k connection I'm blogging from. If I find something faster, I'll let you know. Until then, expect no more than a few judicious words from this third of OxBlog.
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Sunday, December 14, 2003

# Posted 7:01 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN LIGHT OF THE DAY'S EVENTS, can we start wondering whether this google bomb will go away? (This one can stay, though.)
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# Posted 2:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

It took about 30 seconds for THE rumor to spread through our compound. THE rumor, if true, would be the biggest story in Iraq: we had Saddam.

It took about 60 seconds for the first celebratory gunfire to begin. It hasn't stopped. It is now so constant that all of our workers--who had already stopped working and forced their way into our normally off-limits kitchen (where our TV is)--came in to watch the news. Its probably better that way...the sky is raining bullets. I gladly stepped aside for them to watch--this is their day.

It took about 5 minutes for every car in Nasiriyah to grind to a halt, horns honking, people getting out and dancing in the streets. I kept thinking to myself "I hope this one turns out to be true..."

It took about 20 minutes for an official here to get through to Baghdad and confirm that the news was true."

This is the last bind to their terrible, recent history, and that bind has now been cut. The people here are ecstatic. People are dancing in the streets, honking their horns, firing weapons non-stop, smiling, hugging, and lord knows what else.

There's still a lot of work to be done here, but for the first time since I've been here I think I'm going to take a lengthy break in the middle of the day, and just kinda enjoy myself with the Iraqis that work here. I feel so very fortunate to be here, among them, as they celebrate.
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# Posted 1:26 PM by Patrick Belton  

HERE are the president's remarks on the capture of Saddam Hussein. This is the statement from Downing Street, and here is the statement from Chancellor Schröder. Administrator Bremer's remarks are here.
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# Posted 7:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

MY GOVERNMENT SOURCES IN WASHINGTON are confirming personally to me, as well....
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Saturday, December 13, 2003

# Posted 7:20 PM by Patrick Belton  

RULE BRITANNIA: Under a UK-advanced compromise proposal just adopted by the EU, the EU will get a defence planning cell separate from Nato - which, thanks to the UK, will be based out of none other than Nato headquarters.
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# Posted 12:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

MEDIA WATCH: Enjoying the weekend? Sipping on some early eggnog and looking for some good reading? Great! Here are some of our best picks from the magazine world this week...

In the pages of the Atlantic, Harvard's Samantha Power describes life in Mugabe-ville, Tobias Wolff examines his new novel on East Coast boarding-school life, and P.J. O'Rourke drinks his way through the War to Free Iraq. Over at TNR, James Wood looks at religious comedy in Erasmus and Alberti, Anne Hollander reviews Virginia Postrel's book on aesthetics in America, and on the TNR website our friend Dan Drezner writes on the unfolding future strategy of the developing world in global politics. And at the Standard, Bill Kristol, Bob Kagan, and Gary Schmitt talk China and Taiwan policy, while Dave Skinner does his bit in sticking up for Texans.

At Slate, Steve Chapman says America's elderly have gotten spoiled, Joel Simon takes aim at the Rwanda genocide tribunal, and Jeremy Khan writes from the Ivory Coast. In Policy Review, Marc Plattner points out that the EU constitutional debate is thus far fairly silent on democracy, Kevin O'Connell and Robert Tomes write on reforming intelligence for the war on terror, and Reginald Dale says we're missing the point in Europe.

In the pages of Foreign Affairs, Evan Medeiros and Taylor Fravel marvel at China's newfound diplomatic acumen, Josh Micah Marshall reviews Daalder and Lindsay's book on President Bush's foreign affairs revolution, and the editors run a contemporary piece by Allen Dulles on the Allied reconstruction of Germany.

Moving over to Britain, Sylvia Plath continues her stellar media year with an appearance in the TLS. In the Prospect, Lord Owen analyses Cabinet government and Michael Lind sticks up for Texans. Over at the Spectator, Rachel Polonsky calls on the West to stop flattering Putin, Stephen Glover criticises the dumbing down of the BBC, and Peter Jones says Epicurus would want you to be virtuous this Christmas. LRB shines as usual with pieces on terrorism and sea transport, underworlds during WWII, and a criticism of US North Korea policy. And finally, in the New York Times book review, Magdalen fellow Oliver Taplin remembers the Greek gods, and Alfred Kazin remember's America's, perceiving American literature as having embarked on a centuries-long search for an ever-receding God.

Happy reading! Caveat lector!
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# Posted 9:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

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# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

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# Posted 12:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VIP BLOGGING: Pejman can't tell you what Noam Chomsky told him, but he can tell you about it. But whatever you think of goings on at MIT, student democracy is alive and well in the West Bank.
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE POND: Greg Djerejian thinks the Guardian is going to have some trouble substantiating its claims that the Israeli are training US assassination squads for missions in Iraq.
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# Posted 12:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YIPPEE! ANOTHER RECALL! In Venezuela. Is Gray Davis running?
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# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POTTY MOUTH: I never thought a real newspaper would use that phrase without putting it in quotes. The rest of the article about FCC obscenity debates is pretty funny, as well. You should just send some these censors into the average junior high school, so they can learn that we are protecting television from children and not vice versa.
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# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PARTIAL METAL JACKET: In a moment of truth-is-stranger than fiction, the WaPo reports that the new Iraqi army is having discipline problems because the instructors aren't rude or authoritarian enough. I guess when you're used to being bossed around by Saddam's thugs, that's what happens.

The article also talks about how low pay, shoddy equipment and ethnic tensions have led to serious problems, and that makes a lot more intuitive sense.
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Friday, December 12, 2003

# Posted 11:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 11:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST CLICK AND SCROLL: Glenn Reynolds has tons of posts on the media's strange aversion to reporting anti-terror protests in Iraq. CalPundit thinks that charges of media bias are absurd, since most conservative media outlets failed to cover the protests as well. But, he says, Fox and CNN picked it up because protests result in good footage. Come on Kevin, you can't have it both ways...
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# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT IS JUST SOOOO FRENCH: In Paris, sophisticates scoff at the United States' delusional faith that armed invasions rather than cross-cultural dialogue can win over the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. In Paris, a blue ribbon panel appointed by President Chirac has just recommended that the French state ban Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. Also prohibited would be other "conspicuous" example of religious attire, such as Jewish yarmulkes and Christian cross-emblems.

There is something touchingly innocent about the French aspiration to promote tolerance by imposing conformity. Perhaps Tocqueville should have cast a glance homewards as he warned his American hosts about the dangers associated with the tyranny of the majority.

While the average American man-in-the-street could have told M. Chirac that religious repression only promotes resentful backlash, there is a more subtle point that American might not appreciate because they take religious toleration for granted. When I spent a summer in Germany a number of years ago, the papers there were filled with a similar debate about Muslim headscarves and the effort of some school or other to ban them. (Characteristically for German federalism, the headscarf debate arose out of a local ordnance, rather than a central government plan a la francaise.)

As I read more about the debate, one of the most interesting points that came out was how the woman in question who had been asked to remove her headscarf was actually a very progressive Muslim who favored both greater equality for women and greater integration of Islam and secular society. Such beliefs were not at all accidential. After all, who but a progressive Muslim woman would prefer to work in a German institution rather than a Muslim one?

I suspect that in France, a similar trend exists. The girls in public schools who wear headscarves are probably the ones most likely to learn to love and respect French civilization. If taught that French civilization is willing to respect them as well, such women would have tremendous potential to share French ideals with those members of their families and communities who are not so enlightened.

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that France has a resentful, violent and poorly integrated Muslim immigrant community whereas Muslim immigrants in the United States seem to be thriving no less than Jews, Hindus, or Chinese -- and giving back to their host country.

In other cultural news, the Academie Francaise, the body charged with protecting the French language from Anglo-American pollution, has finally reached the letter 'R' after six decades devoted to producing the definitive French-language dictionary.

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# Posted 9:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEAN GETS A BOOST out of Gore endorsement.

On other fronts - Josh, count me in! (especially if I can still get charter member privileges.....I can think of one or two yummy kosher and halal joints where I'd love to have a discount card....)
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# Posted 7:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

THINKING AHEAD: The National Intelligence Council's triennial Global Trends projects collectively represent some of the most wide-ranging, strategic, and neat thinking being done within the U.S. government. Robert Hutchings, the Council's chair, is fond of saying that with so much of the nation's intelligence community focused on the next car bomb, it's crucially necessary to have at least someone looking at the decennial trends that will shape the world in which the U.S. will be acting, to permit policy to take into account ways to prepare to anticipate and adapt to trends, and to look for lever-points at which it can attempt to shape them.

As an analytical exercise, future-forecasting requires looking both at trends (i.e., it is 2020, and America, Europe, and Japan are struggling to maintain a decent quality of life for masses of elderly people, China is facing a choice between belligerence and joining Western nations as an economic superpower, and India, Brazil, and Indonesia are becoming emerging powers) and at wild cards (a nuclear exchange, for example, or the emergence of new technologies, or worldwide pandemics), as well as points at which U.S. policy could attempt to influence these trends. Global Trends 2015 and Global Trends 2010 have already been released, and make for provocative (and recommended) reading.
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# Posted 6:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST WONDERING.... If the United States is supposedly being run by Jews and (now) Muslims, then how in the name of Hashem/Allah did we end up with a budget so full of pork?
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EYES ON THE PRIZE: What are Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan thinking? Playing politics with reconstruction contracts is a terrible idea.

But all of those who are against the Bush administration's wrongheaded decision also seem to be missing something. The first question that should come to mind when thinking about the contracts is not "Is this good for the United States?" but "Is this good for the people of Iraq?" If a French or German company can generate more electricity or pump more oil, then that is what the Iraqi people deserve. (Somehow I doubt that Russian corporations can contribute all that much to Iraqi well-being.)

The people of Iraq have suffered enough for the crimes of Saddam Hussein and shouldn't have to suffer at all for the pettiness of Chirac, Schroeder or Bush. The people of Iraq suffered through more than a decade of devastating sanctions for the sake of Western security. Now we owe them.

Frankly, I am appalled at the President's statement that
"Our people risked their lives. Friendly coalition folks risked their lives, and therefore the contracting is going to reflect that, and that's what the U.S. taxpayers expect."
Those are the words of a corporate mercenary. Those are the words of a man without vision. America earns it wealth from the creativity of its entrepreneurs, not the blood of its soldiers. Many European nations supported the invasion of Iraq because they share our vision of global security, not because they wanted a handout.

Moreover, why should an American corporation benefit from the sacrifices of an American soldier? The 82nd Airborne was fighting for freedom and security, not for Halliburton. Thus, the President owes it to the 82nd and to all of America's fighting men and women to what is in the interest of freedom and security.
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Thursday, December 11, 2003

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIGHTING CRIME, BLOOMBERG STYLE: It's all about the Benjamins.
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# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HONEY, WHY DIDNT YOU CALL? Richard Cohen thinks Al Gore could've found a more sensitive way to break up with Joe Lieberman. David Broder thinks Lieberman is better off alone.
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# Posted 11:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EXACTLY RIGHT: The WaPo endorses the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reform.
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# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY: Tsk, tsk. Engaging in peaceful protests? Demanding elections? Uniting different interest groups? Who do these Iraqis think they are? If they had any sort of respect for the Western punditocracy, they would at least say something about how food and shelter are more important than freedom or how order has come before justice.

So now it's time for the occupation authority to wake up and recognize that local elections are the way to go, with a national poll following later. It isn't a new idea, folks.
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# Posted 10:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND I WROTE IT ALL MYSELF: A copy of a paper on the role of Congress in Sino-American relations in the post-Cold War period, which I presented here at Oxford last Friday, is online here. (Also, a paper I gave last week on the intellectual history of the concept of progress, this one at the Oxford intellectual history seminar, is here.)
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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PUTTING THE "LIBERAL" BACK IN "LIBERAL HAWK": It's a reversal of the classic Nixon-in-China strategy. Hillary Clinton is using her impeccable liberal credentials to attack Bush from the right on Iraq without offending her Democratic base. I hope Hillary gets the attention of Howard Dean and the rest of her wayward co-partisans, not to mention that of the White House. Everything she says about Iraq is 100% right.
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# Posted 11:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ROMANCE OF IRAQIFICATION: Lawrence Kaplan exposes the strange faith behind certain conservatives insistence that we should turn over more responsibilities to Iraqi security forces as quickly as possibly. Also worth a look is the debate between Kaplan and Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, who tries to defend the administrations' policies. Phillips gets a couple of shots in, but Kaplan is the winner, hands down.
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# Posted 10:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN OXBLOG RARITY: How often does OxBlog criticize others for their naive insistence that democracy promotion is the answer to every political dilemma? Almost never, since we're generally pretty busy defending ourselves from those who throw similar charges at us.

Today, however, the tables are turned. In a masthead editorial, the WaPo is blasting President Bush for siding with China in opposing Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian's proposed referendum on independence. As the WaPo would have it,
Yesterday President Bush essentially placed the United States on the side of the dictators who promise war, rather than the democrats whose threat is a ballot box.
Admittedly, having to side with the Chinese is never pleasant. However, the proposed referendum would achieve nothing more than sticking a finger in China's eye without doing anything to enhance democracy in Taiwan.

Frankly, the referendum seems like a cynical attempt by President Chen to make China talk tough so that he can win a second term by posing as the Taiwanese David standing up to the Chinese Goliath. That's just reckless, so there's no reason the US should support the idea. It would be better for both Taiwan and the United States if Bush acts as a peacemaker so that if China starts trouble, the United States can both side with Taiwan and take the moral high ground.
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# Posted 10:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHI'ITE BOOMTOWN: The WaPo has an in-depth look at the situation in Najaf, where religious freedom is driving a major economic expansion by attracting thousands and thousands of pilgrims. Interestingly enough, the expansion is racing forward despite limited supplies of electricity and water.

Unfortunately, the article perpetuates the WaPo/NYT habit of providing vague but menacing indications of Shi'ite attitudes towards democracy. Still, one has to wonder whether the economic revitalization of the Shi'ite spiritual capital is one of the reasons that Shi'ite have shown no interest in joining the Ba'athist struggle against the American occupation. Insteads of hearts and minds, this may be a case of hearts and pocketbooks.

Also in Iraq: The Americans have decided to let the Iraqis prosecute their own war criminals and the Europeans aren't happy about it. While the Europeans' preference for an international tribunal has merit to it, it is somewhat ironic that they constantly warn the United States about imposing its will on Iraq but then turn around and want to do the same.
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# Posted 12:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PENNY WISE, POUND FOOLISH: After finally laying to rest some of the more ridiculous accusations about its handling of reconstruction contracts for Iraq, the Bush administration is now doing its best to confirm widespread suspicion of its motives.

First, I just can't figure out why DoD would do something as transparently vindictive as barring French, Russian and German firms from bidding on reconstruction contracts. Whatever financial benefit comes from this will be more than outweighed by the storm of domestic criticism it will bring down on the administration (not to mention foreign reaction.)

Besides, those who get the contracts are allowed to subcontract out to French, Russian and German firms. Thus, the financial impact of the ban will be minimal despite its massive political costs.

Moreover, awarding contracts to American firms doesn't seem so smart when there are continuing reports that Halliburton is swindling the administration by overcharging for imported fuel.

Coming from an administration that is usually so good about looking for its own self-interest, it is hard to know why no one seems to be watching out for Iraq as the election approaches and voters show more and more concern about the lack of visible progress on the ground.

The best I can figure is that the administration is so preoccupied with the military situation that it can't bother questioning the integrity of its good friends at Halliburton.

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# Posted 7:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

THINK TANK WATCH: Bruce Hoffman and Kim Cragin coauthor an interesting RAND study on the counterterror and other implications of small arms trafficking in Colombia, in a piece commissioned by the DIA. They conclude American military assistance to Colombia under the auspices of Plan Colombia had the unintended consequence of increasing small arms trafficking, and bringing about an escalation in violence as non-state actors competed for control of trafficking routes, as well as spill-over effects in other black-market economies in the region (Foz do Iguacu, Leticia, Colon).

Also at RAND, James Dobbins testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. has been too slow in incorporating lessons learned into its doctrine, training, and planning, and in making use of the expertise of professionals with past experience in post-conflict situations. Dobbins also notes favourably proposals for revamping the way the US deals with post-conflict situations - tasks that are at present eschewed by both DOD and State - by the possible creation of a new government institution for the task, and the passage of an act on Goldwater/Nichols lines which would accomplish for post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization missions the clarification of responsibilities within an enduring arrangement that the Goldwater/Nichols act accomplished for the creation of unified warfighting commands.

Over at CFR, Dennis Kux and Mahnaz Ispahani write a piece on revamping South Asia policy, calling for the US to move toward a security partnership with India, and conditioning US aid to Pakistan on progress in fulfilling its nonproliferation responsibilities, denying its territory to militants, and pursuing a democratic-reformist agenda, while orientating the cast of that aid slightly away from security assistance and more toward education, projects in ethnic-Pakhto areas, and building of democratic and judicial institutions. They also call for a broader U.S. role in shepherding the de-escalation of the Kashmir conflict through expanded trade relations and confidence building measures on each side. Also in the Upper East Side, Pete Peterson chaired a task force on addressing America's image problem, recommending the administration do this through greater presidential support of public diplomacy efforts (through a PDD and creation of an interagency coordinating structure), doing more overseas polling, and taking overseas public opinion into account at an earlier stage in the policy process.

Elsewhere in think-tankery, both Brookings and CFR hosted meetings on the Geneva Accords, featuring Yossi Beilin, Yasser Abed Rabbo, and their own luminaries (and making the transcripts available online). Brookings also has a paper on revamping intelligence for homeland security tasks, and Michael O'Hanlon is spearheading an Iraq indices project, keeping track of trends in battlefield casualties, public opinion in Iraq and the U.S., reconstruction, and other facets of the reconstruction effort. AEI has hosted thoughtful events (with transcripts available online) on aiding democrating reform in Iran, Leo Strauss's perspectives on modern politics, and the future of Franco-American relations. And Carnegie has pieces on Arab democracy, NAFTA ten years after, and how Chechnya has affected Russian foreign, domestic, and military policy.
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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

# Posted 10:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE-STOP SHOPPING: Dan Drezner has some good comments about the reliability of recently unveiled stats on unemployment and worker productivity in the US. He also has some very insightful comments about Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean, as well as a comprehensive round up of other bloggers reactions to it.
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# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ART OF JUXTAPOSITION: Forgive me for being a week late with this one, but I think it's worth pointing out. Last Tuesday, the WaPo ran this Fareed Zakaria column, which does a good job of making the usual case against Bush's unilateral instincts. The anchor for Fareed's column is his observation that Chinese President Hu Jintao has been getting standing ovations throughout Asia while George Bush gets the cold shoulder.

Below Fareed's column, the Post ran this op-ed by Robert Bernstein, a founder of Human Rights Watch. In it, Bernstein discusses the media's tragic lack of attention to massive slave labor camps and widespread police brutality in China. Running alongside Zakaria's column, it makes a devastating point about the moral confusion of those who applaud Hu Jintao while lashing out George Bush. (Greg Djerejian made the same point quite effectively a short while back.)

While criticism of George Bush is certainly deserved, the intensity of the anger directed at the American President demonstrates that his critics abroad have internalized a dangerous double standard that judges aggression against dictators to be a far greater crime than the vicious abuse of millions of one's fellow citizens.
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# Posted 9:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEAN IS INEVITABLE: Matt Yglesias says so both here and here. Matt is also backing Al Gore for Vice-President, since he has so much experience on the job and performed it so well.

Also worth reading are Bill Kristol and Glenn Reynolds' thoughts on why Dean will be anything but the next McGovern.
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# Posted 9:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOREIGN POLICY (THE MAGAZINE): When in DC, I always make a point of stopping in at the offices of Foreign Policy, the bimonthly journal of "global politics, economics, and ideas" sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The staff there is friendly, hard-working and creative. Thus, it should come as no surprise that "FP" took home this year's National Magazine Award for General Excellence in the under-100k circulation category. (Although it's probably worth noting that The Nation somehow picked up a "Maggie" for its commentary and opinion columns.)

A sample of FP's high-quality work includes: the best article I've read on European anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, an in-depth look at the whether the Indian economic model is more sustainable than its Chinese counterpart, and a trenchant defense of free-trade from the myth of anti-globalization activists.

Admittedly, FP produces some duds, much like any publication. For example, its forum on post-war Iraq could've been lifted from the op-ed pages of a half-dozen newspapers. (Robert Kagan's contribution is definitely worth a look, however.)

In general, I'd say that FP does its best work when it explores in-depth those issues that newspapers can only treat anecdotally. Take the India vs. China article for example. Foreign correspondents are constantly producing spot reports that one country or the other. But they rarely compare the two. Moreover, the authors of the FP essay are well-versed in the expert literature on the subject, which journalists tend to ignore, thus reinforcing their selective perception and cultural predispositions.

In contrast, shorter essays in FP tend to provide a somewhat one-sided look at a given issue. Whereas newspaper op-eds do the same, you can generally rely on a given newspaper to run opposing opinion columns. Yet when FP runs opposing columns, it has to plan them months in advance so they aren't timely as those on the op-ed page.

On the other hand, FP needs to run short articles so that readers don't get turned off by the challenge of reading a 3,000 word article or nothing at all. Still, there are other kinds of short articles than can get readers hooked, such as FP's "Prime Numbers" and "Think Again" columns.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that FP takes a pretty firm multilateralist line on US foreign policy. This is both a product of its left-wing heritage as well as its more recent emphasis on globalization and the importance of transnational cooperation in a global era. While there's nothing wrong with taking that sort of position, it often results in FP running some less-than-insightful articles that reiterate the multilateralist conventional wisdom. (For balance, FP relies on Bob Kagan to function as the in-house neo-conservative, a responsibility he can't avoid because he's on the Carnegie payroll.)

So there you have it. FP is a damn good magazine. It isn't perfect, but it is definitely worth taking a look at everytime it hits the newsstand.
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# Posted 9:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

17 BLOGGING DAYS 'TIL CHRISTMAS: I need a vacation. My trip to DC really wore me down. But it was a very educational experience. The interviews I conducted fell into two basic categories. The first category consisted of interviews with Carter administration officials whose professional records I am already familiar with. As a result of this familiarity, I was able to ask them extremely specific questions that helped me push beyond the contents of published documents in order to get a better sense of the inner workings of American diplomacy.

Admittedly, I didn't push all that far beyond the contents of the printed material that is already out there. Often, the interviews were most useful in terms of confirming some of the working hypotheses I had already developed. From what I can tell, the limits of human memory make it very hard for interviews to supplement the extensive public record that comes into existence thanks to the relatively transparent nature of American diplomacy. Moreover, the popularity of US-Nicaraguan relations as a subject of inquiry in the 1980s ensured that all of those I spoke with have already gone on the record multiple times with their version of events.

Interviews with those on the other side of the Cold War divide are often quite illuminating, however. The example that immediately comes to mind is Robert Kagan's interview with Sandinista military commander Humberto Ortega. Conducted shortly after the Sandinistas' fall from grace in February 1990, Kagan's interview brings out a story that was simply never told because of the limits of Nicaraguan politics and American journalism. (NB: There is no published transcript of the interview, but many of the most illuminating quotes can be found throughout Kagan's excellent work on US-Sandinista relations, entitled A Twilight Struggle.)

The second set of interviews I conducted were with Reagan administration officials and lobbyists and congressional staffers. I relied on these interviews to provide me with an introduction to some of the policies that I have not studied in as much depth as I have those of the Carter administration. I also used these interviews to broaden my range of contacts so that I can conduct a more comprehensive set of interviews when I return to Washington.

Finally, I'd like to thank two individuals who were extremely helpful and generous with their time. The first is Bruce Cameron, who really want out of his way to help me get in touch with as many individuals as possible who were part of the policymaking process in the 1980s. The second is Cindy Buhl, who sat down with me for an hour and half and provided me with a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at congressional politicking despite the fact that she has a million things to do because she is still an congressional staffer.

By and large, almost everyone I talked to did their best to help me with my research. (Except for one arrogant prick who shall remain nameless because I sense that he is vindictive enough to try and screw me over if he found out I had insulted him on my website.) While Washington DC doesn't exactly have a reputation as a the most friendly place to work, I think there a lot more good-hearted people out there than the city gets credit for.
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# Posted 5:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS IS REALLY STUPID: Namely, eliminating funding for Radio Free Europe, as this year's Omnibus Appropriations measure has done. RFE/RL boadcasting to Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia will end Dec. 31. The WaPo points out just how short-sighted a move this is:
THEY PROVIDE what one Lithuanian politician calls "neutral, solid, Western programming" reflecting Western values. They give an American point of view but are not generally regarded as propaganda. They have millions of listeners across the new democracies of Eastern Europe as well as a long tradition. They cost, by U.S. budgetary standards, very little: The overall funding, for 11 countries, is $11 million a year. Yet if congressional appropriators have their way, one of the cheapest, most effective and most popular tools of U.S. public diplomacy -- the foreign language services of Radio Free Europe -- will soon cease to exist. Seven languages are to be cut altogether, including the services to Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Baltic states. Several more, including services to Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Serbia, will be cut by 25 percent.

The logic behind the cuts -- which have been heavily pushed by the administration and opposed by many in Congress -- is allegedly financial: More money is now going to radio services in the Middle East, and budgets are limited. But the omnibus appropriations bill awaiting congressional approval is hardly austere. As we've said before, it is proving to be yet another example of lax congressional spending, funding everything from a rain forest museum in Iowa to Alaskan fishing communities.

Like the relatively low funding for the newer but equally effective services of Radio Free Asia, the cuts to Radio Free Europe do not, therefore, really reflect a new administration push to control spending. Instead, they are yet another example of the administration's poor choice of foreign policy priorities. With a short attention span and little understanding that allies, too, require attention and diplomacy, the administration seems to have let whole chunks of the world fall off its diplomatic radar screen altogether. No iron law says that new democracies will remain democracies or even remain American allies. In this unstable part of the world, the sober presentation of an American point of view is still necessary.
Instead of spending $11 million to present an American point of view in Eastern Europe, what are our tax dollars going to? Funny you asked:

* $1.35 million for the Clearwater Economic Development Association for implementation of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial plan to assist small communities in North Idaho in preparing for the anticipated influx of tourism during the Bicentennial years.

* $450,000 for Trout Genome Mapping. $600,000 to a project called "Web Wise Kids." $200,000 for Renovation of the First National Bank Building, Greenfield, Massachusetts. $250,000 to Martha's Village and Kitchen, Indio, California. $6,000,000 to construct a Treasure Island Bridge. $725,000 to the Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. $225,000 for "Construction of Blue-Gray Civil War Theme Park, Kentucky"

* And the Congressional Pig Book 2003 has a more complete list, identifying $22.5 billion of pork in the appropriations bills - so much, they've been heard squealing on their way across the Capitol from the House to the Senate.

Now, I'm sure all of these are worthy projects. But I'm not yet nearly convinced that building, say, a "Blue-Gray Civil War Theme Pack" in Kentucky is more deserving of the tax dollars of the nation than making the case for American policies to foreign audiences. In fact, I think it's fairly silly and short-sighted.
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# Posted 5:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

LEBANON - IT'S GOT ISSUES: The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin has a special issue out on Lebanon, with pieces on PM Hairi's impending showdown with Damascus, on student politics as an augur of what a future Lebanese politics might look like, and on the overratedness of Lebanese powerbroker Issam Fares. Good fare, as always.
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# Posted 12:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

BOB TAGORDA'S GOT NEW DIGS: They're at http://www.tagorda.com/ - go pay him a visit!

UPDATE (March 24th, and do you know how much digging I had to do in Blogger to fix this?): I meant Rob, of course - sorry, fingers slipped up!
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# Posted 12:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

DAN DREZNER gives an even-handed roundup of a blogosphere debate on the relationship between Islam and economic growth.
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# Posted 12:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

SILLY, AND STUPID: David over at Volokh links to this Ha'aretz piece from today, about two Arabic speakers in U.S. army intelligence who were dishonourably discharged at Fort Huachuca after they absented themselves from the classroom to attend Yom Kippur services. A Marine colonel commented, "The military can bar a religious observance only in case of military necessity," and indicated that attending a stateside class was typically held to be far beneath that bar: "Even in Vietnam, I was commanding an artillery battery along the [demilitarized zone] and was able to return to Danang for high holiday services."

UPDATE: Phil Carter has another take on the fracas.
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# Posted 12:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

UN RECOMMENDS HUMAN RIGHTS reforms in Mexico, the result of an invitation President Fox issued the United Nations human rights body on his first full day in office. I haven't read the report yet, but know several of the Mexican academics who were involved in the drafting personally, and they are trustworthy people.
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Monday, December 08, 2003

# Posted 1:50 PM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTAN, PAKISTAN.... OxBlog's Karachi correspondent calls this NYT article to our attention, writing "very negative...but then it is probably naive at the moment to write a positive or lukewarm piece on Pakistan." Incidentally, one surprise for me in reading this piece is that I know the family of Malik Zafar Azam, the minister of law in the mullah-driven parliamentary coalition Muttahida Majils-e-Amal - who holds a U.S. green card and owns several Italian restaurants in Arlington. Such is the humour of life in the Washington suburbs.
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# Posted 11:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUSTICE. Richard Welch, rest in peace.
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Sunday, December 07, 2003

# Posted 6:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCURSED WINTER WEATHER: US Airways has now cancelled three consecutive flights on which I had a reservation. The first two were cancelled because of snow in Washington. Now the problem is snow in Boston. With any luck, I'll be on a flight back home tomorrow at 11:30am. My internet access is still extremely limited, so further posting will have to wait.
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# Posted 7:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M SO PROUD of my universities!
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