Friday, April 30, 2004

# Posted 11:31 PM by Patrick Belton  


With that said, Rachel and I are off now to Magdalen to hear the May Morning Hymn Hymnus Eucharisticus sung, per tradition, dreadfully early on May morning annually as a requiem for the soul of Henry VII.
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# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VEEPSTAKES: It takes guts for a political scientist to actually predict something. That's because all that political scientists really have are their reputations, and they can't afford to put those on the line. So here's a shout out to Larry Sabato, who isn't afraid to put his money where his mouth is. Click here for a digest of Larry's latest picks, via TMV.
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# Posted 10:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEMO TO VILLAGE: OUR IDIOT(ARIAN) IS LOOSE. This is the second time in 10 days that I have felt compelled to use the 'I'-word. It is also the second time in 10 days that I have felt compelled to use this word as a result of something said at a dinner sponsored by my own research institute. Finally, it is the second time in 10 days that I have felt compelled to use this word because of someone's unjust criticism of Israel and extreme naivete with regard to Palestinian 'activists'.

So here's the story: Our guest tonight was a very high-ranking official at the United Nations. Our discussion focused primarily on Iraq. It was a fascinating discussion upon which I will elaborate in a later post. An important concern raised in the discussion was the absence of an Arab model for Iraqi democrats to emulate. On that point, a question was asked by a certain graduate fellow in international relations known for her uncritical embrace of Palestinian 'activists'. If she were just one of the Trotskyites or Lyndon LaRouche supporters hawking flyers in Harvard Square, I would ignore her. But her intention is to become a professor. Therefore, she will be in a position to access hundreds of students who may not have access to another credible source of information. That is sad.

Now here is what my colleague asked: Given that the United States continues to have strong alliances with Arab dictatorships and continues to endorse the Israeli occupation of Palestine, might it be said that the United States has prevented the emergence of an Arab model of democracy for Iraq to emulate? All right. That is a standard argument found in the pages of The Nation. In fact, the President himself has said that the United States must no longer embrace Arab dictatorships.

But here's what really left my jaw hanging open. Before turning the floor back over to our guest, my colleague added that the first Intifada was a landmark example of democratic participation in Arab politics that the United States and Israel crushed without a second thought. Oh my God. The first Intifada happens to be one of the subjects of my colleague's doctoral dissertation. She will be arguing in journals and lecture halls that this was the lost model of Arab democracy.

My only consolation is that sometimes, people like this get their comeuppance. A number of months ago, this same colleague of mine delivered a paper on the subject of non-violent resistance. Her case study was the first Intifada. In the audience there happened to be a former Israeli soldier who is also a current graduate fellow at Harvard. He said to her: I served in the occupied territories during the first Intifada. Was it a non-violent rock that Palestinian rioters used to crush the face of one of my close friends?
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# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUSTICE, NOT FORGIVENESS: There is no excuse for the crude and humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners. The United States Army must punish the soldiers involved, including all those whose passivity and neglect enabled this shameful behavior to take place.
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# Posted 1:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

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# Posted 11:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

IF YOU HAVEN'T YET READ DAN DREZNER'S TNR ESSAY today on why, counterintuitively, better prospects in Iraq seem to help Kerry, while Bush's lead has widened over the course of the Iraqi insurgency - then shoo!

(And Rachel has asked me to point out that Dan's blog is required reading for Truman National Security Project members, too.)
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# Posted 10:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

  • Most ambassadors to the UN are rather sad at the moment because....because...they're not being permitted to play the part of UN diplomats in an upcoming Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn film. Thus Inocencio Arias, Spanish ambassador to the UN, who was set to play a prime minister: "It was my dream that I was going to be in a movie with Sydney Pollack directing. My opportunity to have a nomination for the Oscar next year went away because of some stupid regulation."

    Jordan's UN ambassador Prince Zeid Al Hussein, similarly miffed, said: "It's a great shame we weren't allowed to have bit parts in this movie because we're very familiar with the setting."

  • Only in Germany....A band in Germany, which performs only with giant panda heads covering their faces, is only releasing its subsequent albums in the form of mobile phone ringtones.

  • The founder of terrorist organisation Ansar al-Islam lost his temper when a female Muslim comedian, having secured the cleric's permission to perform "a little test to see if he was a fundamentalist," walked on to the stage and picked up the cleric, while declaring to her audience "a man who can be carried by a woman can't be a fundamentalist." The cleric, Mullah Krekar, exploded in rage while the audience convulsed in laughter.

  • Rhea County, Georgia Tennessee - whose principal, belated claim to fame had merely been providing the venue for the Scopes trial - briefly banned homosexuals by a unanimous vote of its county commissioners. When the commissioners were advised at a subsequent meeting by the county attorney that they could not actually ban homosexuals, they voted to rescind the ban, and have subsequently declined comment.

  • Harvard Professor Weldong Xu, having raised $600,000 to fund a fraudulent nonexistent project of SARS research in China, then proceeded to blow the entire amount on a Nigerian email scam. (Note to self: remember to apply for professorship at Harvard - may actually be qualified!)
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# Posted 5:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

TODAY'S THE DEADLINE FOR OUR FOREIGN POLICY ESSAY CONTEST: Which means, of course, that there's still plenty of time to enter. Details are here.
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# Posted 5:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHILE MOST COMMENTATORS ARE FOCUSING ON HIS FOREIGN POLICY or personality, the Economist displays a titular interest this week in Kerry's economic policies. Its verdict? There's good and bad there - first, the good. Kerry's plan to extend government health care to the uninsured is ambitious but more sensible than the early Clinton administration's proposal to reorganise the entire health-care sector. Also, in sterling contrast to the instincts of the current administration, he touts fiscal discipline (halving the budget deficit, and rolling back tax cuts on individuals earning over $200,000 a year).

Then, the worrying: while his trade rhetoric is nowhere near the protectionist nonsense touted by, for instance, the otherwise attractive Senator Edwards, in his desire to win over the battleground rust-belt states of the mid-west, Senator Kerry's trade policy is oriented around getting tough on China and Japan for manipulating their currency, and going after other countries engaging in unfair trade practices with the "Super 301" process. While this, erm, unilateralism isn't Ross Perot, neither is it the Clinton administration's leadership of new free trade rounds, either.

Finally, the inevitable: Candidate Kerry is not above subordinating the sensible, centrist economic instincts displayed by his Senate-floor counterpart to the dictates of appealing to an electorate. For instance, he has now distanced himself from his earlier bold proposals to restructure Social Security, claiming now that Social Security can survive as is without structural adjustment, raised reitrement age or premuims, or lowered benefits. Which, of course, is pure poppycock, but perhaps inevitable.
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# Posted 4:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

A GOOD PART OF THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH'S ALLURE is that he's the only royal you could even remotely imagine having a pint with. This becomes increasingly the case as the proposition comes to involve an increasing number of pints. Case in point: a recent authorised portrait of Prince Phillip by avant-garde artist Pearson Wright, which depicted him with a fly perched on his finger and a naked torso modeled on that of an elderly homeless man. A more remote royal might simply have glared, but the response of the Prince Consort was precisely that of a middle-aged Londonner with a middling good-natured sense of humour: "Gadzooks - as long as I don't have to have it on my wall" and, asked whether he thought it looked like him, a candid "I bloody well hope not."

(As a further note, when Rachel and I were invited over to meet the family in August, he was, incidentally, by far the most friendly to us - which perhaps explains my source of personal bias. Admirable humility from someone whom the Pacific islanders on Tannu worship as a god.)
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# Posted 4:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH CPA STAFFER RECEIVES AMERICAN AWARD FOR VALOR: This via email from the CPA press office, about a UK civilian who though injured saved the life of an army colonel and three others while under enemy fire:
Dr Andrew Rathmell, Director of Planning, Policy and Analysis at the Coalition Provisional Authority, today received the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor. The medal was presented by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer at a ceremony at the CPA Headquarters in Baghdad.

On January 21st 2004, Dr Rathmell was visiting the Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baquba with civilian and military colleagues. While in Baquba, Dr Rathmell was caught in a mortar and rocket attack on the base. One mortar landed close to Dr Rathmell, and he was knocked to the ground, temporarily deafened by the blast. Despite his injury, Dr Rathmell was able to drag US Army Colonel Ralph Sabatino to safety, before running into the line of fire three more times to administer potentially life-saving first aid to others who were wounded, and tragically confirm that two soldiers were already dead.

As Ambassador Bremer presented the award to Dr Rathmell, he said "valor at risk of your own life requires strength of purpose sufficient to overcome the love of life, the fear of death. Andrew Rathmell is not a professional warrior, but he displayed the courage and coolness under fire to which all warriors aspire".
This might serve as a fairly moving reminder that even in our day, heroism is not dead.
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# Posted 12:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS SISTANI A FEMINIST? This post from NZ Bear may not answer the question, but it sure will make you laugh.
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Thursday, April 29, 2004

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEDALGATE II -- HEAVY MEDAL: Marine Rifleman (Ret.) JC writes that
Medals and ribbons are NOT considered to be interchangeable uniform accoutrements by anyone who served or is serving on active duty. In fact, in 1971, it would be possible for one to replace his ribbons with store bought official copies -- but not the medals. Medals were controlled items issued by the government. If you lost one (or several) they were hell to replace. John Kerry knew this then and knows it now.
That being the case, how do Kerry's explanations of the medal throwing incident stack up with it? JS writes:
Did you see the clip from the [1971] interview? [No, just read about it. -ed.] It was aired on Monday on The News on CNBC in a report from Kelly O'Donnell (the report was probably also shown on NBC Nightly News).

Here's a transcript of the clip:

INTERVIEWER: How many did you give back, John?

KERRY: I gave back -- I can't remember, six, seven, eight, nine medals (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

INTERVIEWER: Well, you were awarded the Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.

KERRY: Well, and above that...


KERRY: ... I gave back my others.

If you watch the clip, by "that" he was referring not to what he'd given back but to the interviewer's list of what he had been awarded; and by "I gave back my others" he meant: Yes, I was awarded those you just mentioned, but I was also awarded other decorations, and those are the ones I gave back (not the decorations you listed but the others).
That's a pretty good argument, but I'm not persuaded. When Kerry says "and above that...I gave back my others" he seems to be explaining how it was possible for him to have given back six or more medals if he'd only been awarded five. But that isn't the whole story. DC writes that
If you heard Kerry on Hardball last night or went to the site showing military ribbons with their medals attached to them, you would see that the medals are attached to the ribbons above them. Most soldiers don't usually wear the medals on their uniform, they only wear the ribbons. Purple Hearts, Bronze and Silver Stars all have corresponding medals. So when he said that in 1971 he threw his Bronze, Silver Star and Purple Hearts he was referring to the ribbons of the Silver and Bronze Star and the Purple Hearts. Ergo he didn't lie or mislead in 71 or 84 or now.

On Hardball he indicated he had gone to Washington with just his ribbons. Also the vets had initially come to Washington with no plan to toss medals. That was only decided the night before (with Kerry arguing against it and losing) because the Nixon administration had put up a fence which angered them. Military men or vets don't usually travel with their medals or wear the medals on their uniform. They wear the ribbons instead.
That seems like a good explanation, but then why does Kerry describe himself in the '71 interview as throwing back "medals"? If the distinction was so clear to all the veterans involved, why does Kerry continue to insist that "what I said was and back then, you know, ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable"?

By the way, I asked yesterday Kerry had gotten so defensive and tried to blame Medalgate on the GOP attack machine if he himself were responsible for it. As JS (same JS as above, same JS as yesterday, still doing research on OxBlog's behalf) points out, the only reason ABC got its hands on the '71 interview was that the GOP sent it to them. Still, it's sort of strange that Kerry is blaming the GOP for what he himself said (a long time ago).

Finally, we get to a letter from GH. He writes
I'm not the least convinced that Kerry was acting bravely during his three month stint in-country. Recall that he was awarded, at least, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star. Many, including me, went in harm's way almost every day for a year or more and didn't collect an array like that.
I'm not sure what to say about that. As someone who has never put his life on the line for his country, Kerry's actions seem extremely impressive to me. But if his fellow veterans don't buy his story, then Kerry will pay for it at the polls.

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# Posted 6:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW THE NYT MANUFACTURES PUBLIC OPINION: Take a look at the front page of today's NY Times. When you're done looking at the stunning photo of colorfully-attired entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, look over to the headline at the top left that reads "Support For War Is Down Sharply, Poll Concludes".

That's some pretty big news, especially given that last weeks WaPo/ABC poll resulted in the headline "Poll Shows New Gains For Bush". So what happened? According to the first three grafs of the NYT article,
Support for the war in Iraq has eroded substantially over the past several months, and Americans are increasingly critical of the way President Bush is handling the conflict, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

After initially expressing robust backing for the war, the public is now evenly divided over whether the United States military should stay for as long as it takes to stabilize Iraq or pull out as soon as possible, the poll showed.

Asked whether the United States had done the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, 47 percent of respondents said it had, down from 58 percent a month earlier and 63 percent in December, just after American forces captured Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, up from 37 percent last month and 31 percent in December.
The first thing you need to know about the NYT poll is that there was a single question (#56) which asked
Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the US have stayed out?
If you don't think that the US did the right thing, then you have to answer that it should've stayed out (or just not answer the question). I think that's somewhat of a misleading question, since there are probably a good number of Americans who believe that we did was right but, in hindsight, was a mistake. However, in order to get a fuller sense of why the NYT poll is misleading, you have to take a look at the sidebar entitled "Different Poll Results But Much in Common". The sidebar explains that
Wording differences among polls can [also] have a significant effect. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 51 percent said that the war in Iraq had been worth fighting, "all in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States." That number was down from 56 percent in January and 59 percent in December. Forty-seven percent said it was not worth fighting, up from 41 percent in January and 39 percent in December...

Every polling organization has different ways of wording questions and of conducting surveys, but those methods tend to remain consistent over time within an organization. For this reason, the trends within an organization's polling are generally viewed as more relevant than the results from polls by different organizations within a short period of time
Now, I agree in principle that trends over time are an extremely important indicator of public opinion. But depending on what window of time you're looking at, trend lines can have a very different message. For example, the NYT started asking its 'done the right thing/should've stayed out' question (#56) in mid-December 2003. Thus, the 17 point decline among those who answered 'done the right thing' reflects the artificial high in support for the war that followed Saddam's capture. Moreover, there was only a 6 point decline from December to March, then an 11 point decline from March to April. Does that kind of single observation merit its own headline?

[CORRECTION APPENDED 5/9: JH points out that the NYT asked Question #56 both immediately before (Dec. 10-13) and immediately after (Dec. 14-16) Saddam's capture. There was only a one point difference between the answers. Thus, I was wrong to say that the 63 percent benchmark represented an artificial post-capture high.

One should point out, however, that the NYT had never asked Question #56 before Dec. 10-13/Dec. 14-16 and did not ask it again for a number of months. So first of all, there is no real benchmark against which to measure the mid-December results. This is especially important, since the second mid-December survey took place while the news of Saddam's capture had begun to spread. Second of all, one cannot confirm whether or not the December results were accurate since no further samples were taken until March.

By way of comparison, Question #13 in the WaPo survey (see below), which is analogous to Quesiton #56, was asked consistently over time. It demonstrated that there was, in fact, a post-capture high in support for the war, one which gradually dissipated thereafter.]

Perhaps. Before answering that question, take a look at the answer to Question #13 in the WaPo/ABC poll, which asked
All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?
On April 18, there was a 51-47 margin in favor of 'It was worth fighting'. But what's really interesting is that the Post has been asking the exact same question at regular intervals since last April. By last July, support for the war had already fallen below 60 percent. In November if tell to 52 percent. It then rose to 59 after Saddam's capture before falling back to 51 percent today.

So if the NYT staff is so well aware of the important of trends over time, how did they manage to ignore the most important evidence against their conclusion that support for the war is dramatically down? Who knows.

Anyhow, I also think its extremely interesting that the NYT poll doesn't have a question like #11 in the WaPo poll, which asks respondents to say whether Bush or Kerry would deal better with a specific issue (taxes, healthcare, etc.). Instead, the NYT poll asks separate questions (#46 and #51) about whether Bush and Kerry will be able to handle the situation in Iraq effectively. Surprisingly, both men get around a 60-40 vote of confidence, with Kerry doing just slightly better. When it comes to fighting terrorism (Questions #47 and #51), both men get around a 75-25 vote of approval, with Bush supporters more likely to have a lot of confidence in the candidate.

Given that Bush continues to beat out Kerry by 30-point margins whenever voters are asked who will do a better job of fighting the war on terror, I think it's fair to say that asking separate questions about the candidates ability says very little about whom voters prefer. After all, the best way to explain why voters disapprove of how Bush is handling the situation in Iraq but still want to vote for him is that they think Kerry would do even worse.

In closing, I'd like to take a quick look at the second statistic that the NYT uses to demonstrate that suppor for the war has fallen sharply. According to Question #69, the public is evenly split at 46-46 about whether the US should stay in Iraq until it is a "stable democracy" or whether it should pull out "even if Iraq is not completely stable".

Again, the trend line on this question only goes back to last November, when the split was 49-43. It rose to 56-35 after Saddam's capture. Then, for some reason, the NYT didn't ask the question again until this past week. As a result, there was a sudden 10 percent drop in support for sticking it out.

The most comparable question to that in the WaPo/ABC poll is #17, whether the US should stay in Iraq until it restores order, even if that means taking more casualties. Surprisingly, the margin on that one is 66-33 in favor. But again, the question hadn't been asked since last fall, so there isn't much of a trend line to look out.

All in all, I'd say the NYT has a lot to learn about interpreting poll results and even more to learn about writing headlines.

# Posted 6:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

TEST-DRIVING GMAIL, PART DEUX: At one point last week, I reviewed Gmail here, on which I'd been allowed a test spin. (Hey, you think anybody would let me take out one of these next?) What I didn't yet have the ability to do was assess how Joe Google's latest project dealt with spam. So, I listed my gmail account, Patrick.Belton@gmail.com, on our blog. Once. Of the resulting 64 spam messages which winged their way to me in the following week, 50 went into the spam folder, 14 ended up in my inbox, and 3 more were from readers writing to offer me Nigerian diamonds. Thanks.

Note to Joe Google (actually, Sergey - and he sometimes wears a dress): you might want to work on the spam filter a bit more.

And note to everyone else: if you want to know how to amuse yourself with your Nigerian spammer, this guy's got the right idea.
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# Posted 5:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU'RE REALLY FEELING: Harvard's Institute of Politics has released its annual study of undergraduate political attitudes, led by David King. Like always, it makes an interesting read. The surprising news is that centrists predominate among college students - the breakdown produces 29 percent secular centrists and 23 percent religious centrists, compared with 32 percent traditional liberals and a 16 percent traditional conservatives. The good news for the Senator is that college students are trending strongly toward him, toward the Democratic party, and souring on the war. The good news for the President is that swing voters - the two categories of centrists - are currently leaning toward him.
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# Posted 6:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

KERRY'S IRANIAN-AMERICAN FUNDRAISER SUING THE IRANIAN STUDENTS: More here. Hassan Nemazee, a New York-based financier who favours closer ties with Iran and has raised $100,000 to date for the Kerry campaign, has taken the surprising step of taking the Iranian students' organisation to court to seek $10 million in damages. While details are a bit sketchy at the moment, Nemazee seems to be suing the students for this letter, in which they rather heatedly referred to him as an "agent."

An established Democratic fundraiser and longtime proponent of conciliation with the clerical government of Iran, Nemazee was denied an ambassadorship to Argentina in the Clinton administration when details of his past business dealings came to light. The entire latest affair seems rather silly all around, and above all regrettable as it seems to draw a further wedge between the Kerry camp and the much-needed cause of reform in Iran.
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# Posted 5:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VICTORY FOR ANTI-ANTI-SEMITES: A few weeks ago, Josh had pointed out that the first of 1.75 million entries to appear for a Google search on "Jew" was, in actuality, an anti-Semitic site. As a result, we and a number of our blogosphere friends began a Google-bomb to instead propel Wikipedia's entry for the word Jew to the top of the search records. And, if you'd like to Google yourself to see, we can now happily report that the Wikipedia entry stands now proudly at the top!

An attempt by the anti-Semitic site's owners to vandalise the Wikipedia article notwithstanding, what's most noteworthy of mention is that the preponderant portion of the bloggers taking part in removing the vitriolic site from the top of the search results weren't even Jewish at all. Which reflects awfully well, I think, both on the great-spiritedness of the greatest portion of our society and that of the blogosphere.
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# Posted 4:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER PAPER UP IN OUR THINK TANK: Yusuf Muntaz in our Asia program has just finished a stellar piece on US policy toward Sri Lanka and the conflict between its Sinhalese Buddhist-led national government and Tamil Tiger insurgency. His paper presents a nice review of US interests in the nation, connections between the Tamil insurgency and various criminal and terrorist organisations, and different strategies which Washington could adopt.

You can download it here.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

# Posted 10:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

You write:

"But if someone asked me whether or not I had thrown away my medals, I'm pretty sure that I would be brave enough to tell the truth."

I guess you haven't had a chance to keep up on this issue. Check out Thomas Oliphant's column yesterday in the Boston Globe.

Salient points: (1) Kerry didn't have his medals with him that day (or the entire week in Washington, as it happened), only his ribbons, so that's what he threw. (2) "Medals" is often used in the military to include ribbons. It didn't occur to Kerry during those early interviews to make a distinction. [Emphasis added. -ed.] (3) Later in the day he returned to throw the medals of two other vets who couldn't be at the demonstration, at their request.

See the Oliphant piece for context. He was there, right behind Kerry in the line of vets tossing their medals.

There is no evidence anywhere that Kerry ever lied about whether he had thrown away his medals. It's an utterly bogus issue, and you ought to stop perpetuating it. You might even think about explaining to your readers that it *is* a bogus issue.

To my mind, the italicized words above are the most important. Oliphant writes was that "It was clear from our [Oliphant and Kerry's] conversations back then and ever since that Kerry made no distinction among his various decorations, though others have." Yet according to ABC,
Kerry was asked [in 1971] if he gave back the Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts he was awarded for combat duty as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam. "Well, and above that, [I] gave back the others," he said.

The statement directly contradicts Kerry's most recent claims on the disputed subject to the Los Angeles Times last Friday. "I never ever implied that I did it, " Kerry told the newspaper, responding to the question of whether he threw away his medals in protest.
If ABC has its story right, then Kerry didn't make a public distinction between medals and ribbons back in 1971 because he claimed to have given back both of them. But privately, Kerry understood the distinction, which is why kept the medals and gave back the ribbons. Anyhow, ABC also reports that
In 1984, when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, Kerry revealed he still had his medals. According to a Boston Globe report on April 15, 1984, union officials had expressed uneasiness with Kerry's candidacy because he had thrown his medals away. Kerry acknowledged the medals he threw away were, in fact, another soldier's medals. He reportedly invited a union official home to personally inspect his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, awarded for his combat duty as a Navy lieutenant.

In the 1971 Viewpoints interview, he made no mention of the ribbons or the medals belonging to another veteran.

And in 1988, Kerry again clarified his statement by saying he threw out ribbons he had been awarded for three combat wounds, but not his medals. "I was proud of my personal service and remain so," he told the National Journal.

Eight years later in 1996, Kerry said while he did throw out his ribbons, he didn't throw out his own medals because he "didn't have time to go home [to New York] and get them," he told The Boston Globe.
So what's really going on here? My guess is that Kerry himself forgot about the 1971 interview and was just as surprised as anyone else to see it broadcast on ABC. Thus, I don't think that Kerry was lying to Peter Jennings when he said he never even implied that he had thrown away the medals. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Kerry was consciously lying in 1971 if he claimed to have thrown away his medals after intentionally leaving them at home. I'd even speculate that Kerry was intentionally taking out insurance on his political future, since he knew that he was going to run on his war-hero image and couldn't do that if he'd thrown his medals away.

As for Kerry's inconsistent comments about the medals during his various Senate races, those aren't really worth bothering with. What really gets me is that on Good Morning America, Kerry tried to pin all the blame for this controversy on the GOP attack machine rather than recognize that his own questionable behavior was responsible for it.
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# Posted 9:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THANKS, MOM: Mother Jones has posted the rest of George Packer's column on blogs. Kevin Drum adds his thoughts on the subject, which are slightly more critical than before. I still think that Packer is seriously underestimating the quality of what reads in the blogosphere, but I can't figure out why because we seem to read the same blogs.
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# Posted 9:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS: The Christian Science Monitor is running a profile of Moqtada Sadr that provides a lot more information than usual about Sadr's influential father. This historical perspective is extremely important, given that Sadr's influence rests entirely on the legacy of his martyred father.

In spite of this historical perspective, however, the CSM profile leaves a lot of important questions unanswered. The profile suggests that the Sadr family's resentment of Ayatollah Sistani reflects the failure of the latter to speak out against Saddam during his reign. That makes sense, but I'd like to see some more evidence. One can also infer from the CSM article that the Sadr family's commitment to Islamic theocracy, which as far as I know, Sistani opposes.

But what is Islamic theocracy or wilayat al-faqih? Is there any room for democracy in Sadr's theocratic vision? The CSM tells us that Sadr wants to rebuild Iraq in the image of Iran. But does he want to create Khatami's Iran or Khomeini's Iran? Is there a place in Sadr's vision for Sunni muslims, both Arab and Kurd?

In its closing paragraph, CSM endorses the view that Sadr's current uprising is directed more at Sistani than at the Americans. That's plausible. But it raises an interesting question: What was Sadr's position on the invasion of Iraq before it happened? Having lost both his father and two of his brothers to Saddam, it seems that Moqtada must have looked forward to the American invasion, even if he saw it as a prelude to a struggle with Sistani.

That said, how has American behavior since last April compared with Sadr's expectations? Did his theological anti-Americanism lead him to expect vicious human rights abuses by American soldiers? Does he believe even now that the United States actually wants to hold elections and withdraw from Iraq? What does he think about Sistani's relationship with the Americans?

Finally, to what degree do the Shi'ites of Iraq share Sadr's beliefs? The CSM profile insists that
The younger Sadr has built on his father's popularity and created a militant Shiite movement that has eclipsed many in the more moderate Shiite majority.
At the same time, it acknowledges that Sadr's current revolt has failed. But why did it fail if Sadr has ample public support? Do many Shi'ites share his belief that Sistani sold out to Saddam? I don't know.

Up until now, every major American paper has reported that reverence for Sistani is universal. Is it possible to support both Sistani and Moqtada? Again, I don't know. All in all, CSM deserves credit for printing information that often gets overlooked by others. At the same time, its profile has only begun to scratch the surface.
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# Posted 5:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRITISH DIPLOMATS REVOLT: Greg Djerejian analyzes a harsh letter sent to Tony Blair by scores of former diplomats, including what the Financial Times describes as "the cream of Foreign Office expertise in the 1990s".

The immediate cause of the diplomats' revolt is Blair's implicit support for the Bush-Sharon entente re: Gaza. But as Greg points out, the signatories also insist that the Anglo-American effort to promote democracy in Iraq is misguided and futile no matter how much "Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society".

That is a strange statement to say the least. Is it supposed to mean that even though the Iraqi people want democracy, they are so short-sighted and resentful that they would prefer to endure another civil war or dictatorship rather than let the British and the American take credit for promoting democracy in Iraq?

By that logic, the smartest thing for the Coalition to do is declare that it wants to restore Saddam to power. Then the proudly nationalist Iraqi people will establish a democracy just to spite us.
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# Posted 5:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"Libya, which led the liberation movement in the third world, has decided to lead the peace movement all over the world," said Colonel Qaddafi.
Well, I guess that this what we should have expected from a nation that has been so active during its time as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
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# Posted 5:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRISTOF ADMITS 'I AM A BLOGGER': Having read about two-thirds of Nicholas Kristof's column on Iraq this morning, I was a hair's breadth away from deciding to fisk it. Then, Kristof announced that he is holding a poetry competition and that "winners will be quoted on my blog."

He didn't say "web log". He didn't explain what a blog was. He just made it seem perfectly normal for a New York Times columnist to have a blog. If that is so, then there's no need to get worked up when other leading insist that the revolution will not be blogged.
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# Posted 1:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

PAGING DAN DREZNER: As a further note in the Department of Blogosphere Affairs - Halle Berry is newly single. You've just had a piece come out in Foreign Affairs. Now how's that for a convenient two-by-two matrix?

UPDATE: Oh, wait, Dan's married. In that case, erm, paging my cobloggers, then.
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# Posted 12:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

BYE, BYE, EASTERBLOGG: On behalf of all those of us who were Gregg's daily readers, I'm awfully sorry to see him go. With his blog, the always excellent TNR site managed to somehow get even better, and as he moves on to other projects and punditries, we in the blogosphere owe him a fond farewell.
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# Posted 12:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

REMEMBER HAITI? As rebels continue to roam the streets, an interim government conducts a witch-hunt on the associates of its predecessor, and the world turns a blind eye to a nation one month already out of the headlines, new allegations have come forth that the Dominican Republic aided the insurgents in February's rebellion. See Economist and the Haiti Support Group for more.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Randy Paul has more, too.
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# Posted 11:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG BEST LINE OF THE DAY: From our good friend Bob Kokta, director of studies in our think tank, on returning to Fletcher to finish his dissertation after having surgery to excise a rather useless abdominal organ: "...Now where did I put that appendix?"

Get better soon, our friend!
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# Posted 11:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

A hospital nurse accused of attempting to murder four elderly patients was motivated by a drive to free up beds, a court has heard.

Prosecuting barrister Robin Spencer QC told the jury on Wednesday that Ms Salisbury was even heard urging one patient "give in, it's time to go", as she administered an overdose.

The court heard Ms Salisbury allegedly tried to kill James Byrne by repeatedly pressing the booster button on the device delivering diamorphine.

She is accused of trying to kill Reuben Thompson by removing his oxygen supply and she allegedly tried to kill Frank Owen by lying him on his back and telling another nurse: "With any luck his lungs will fill with fluid and he will die."

Mr Spencer said: "She was driven to free up a hospital bed but in fact there will always be another patient waiting. If she thought there was no hope of recovery, she didn't want to wait too long.

"If the patient could be made well enough to be discharged, she would aim for that, if not she would hasten death.

"One way or another, she wanted these patients off her ward."
Awww, and they say it's impossible to get efficient customer service here....
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

After risking his life in Vietnam to save others, John Kerry earned the right to speak out against a war he believed was wrong.
First of all, does that mean that those who didn't risk their lives didn't have a right to speak out against the war? Second, does risking one's life also endow one with the right to lie about the ways in which one protested the war? Clark doesn't answer those questions, but he does say:
Make no mistake: it is [Kerry's] bravery these Republicans are now attacking.
I have a lot of respect for Kerry's bravery in Vietnam. In my life, I haven't done anything nearly as brave as serving in the armed forces or pulling an injured comrade out of the water in the midst of a firefight. But if someone asked me whether or not I had thrown away my medals, I'm pretty sure that I would be brave enough to tell the truth.

UPDATE: Steve Sturm adds to my post.
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# Posted 12:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS DEAD...It looks like South Park is trying to cash in on the Passion.
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# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT OTHER CONTROVERSIAL MOVIE ABOUT A DEAD JEWISH GUY: I just finished watching The Last Temptation of Christ. Leaving aside the theological issues it raises, I think it is a stunning cinematic achievement. But having been just 11 years old when it debuted in theaters, I have no recollection of precisely why it provoked such profound resentment among Christians who felt that their faith was being maligned.

Then again, it isn't hard to guess why Temptation became such a cause celebre. The film's greatest literary achievement and most perilous theological statement departure are one and the same. In the Gospel, the divinity of Christ makes him seem distant and superhuman even when he is in his human form. In the film, Jesus of Nazareth becomes a human being with tragic failures and complex motivations all his own.

As the film begins, Judas Iscariot discovers that the Carpenter has been making crosses and selling them to the Romans. After watching the crucifixion of a fellow Jew on a cross that he has made, Jesus endures the taunts of an embittered mob that accuses him of betraying his people. I suspect that the attribution of this sort of selfishness and cruelty to the Son of God approaches the blasphemous. Yet at the same time, the profound irony of portraying Christ as a maker of crosses provides the character of Jesus with a powerful and credible motivation for abandoning his home in Nazareth to become a wandering prophet.

On a similar note, I also suspect that the closing scenes of the film, in which the crucified Savior struggles against temptation, would violate many Christians' sense of propriety and decorum. In order to render Christ's temptation in an emotionally compelling and realistic manner, Scorsese once again lets Christ become more human and more flawed than Christian doctrine can accept.

Now, as a non-Christian, I cannot put myself in the shoes of a Christian watching the film. Nonetheless, I found the general tone of the film to be inspirational rather than offensive. If one can accept the artistic license taken by the director, then one can benefit from a vision of compassion that speaks to all of us and not just Christians.
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# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SISTANI VS. SADR: Swopa has some interesting thoughts on the situation in Najaf, where Moqtada Sadr seems to have lost whatever popular support he might once have had. Even so, Sadr occupation of Najaf may have endowed him with enough resources to continue the fight against both Sistani and the Americans.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

# Posted 6:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

WORTH READING TODAY: Larry Diamond is calling for a redoubled troop presence in Iraq, as well as a consistent policy of opposition to private militias and political benefits to militias who voluntarily lay down their arms to participate in democratic institutions. (Also see his Lou Dobbs appearance tonight, where he speaks on the current confrontation in Fallujah.) Fred Kagan, too, is calling for a few more good men in Iraq. And Reuel Marc Gerecht is calling for lots of things - consolidating Sistani's position in the Shi'a community and relying on him to suppress Sadr; avoiding the delusion that Iran is not trying to - a term of art - screw us in Iraq (as is, secondarily, the case with France and Germany); backing away from the Kurdish veto in the TAL, as well as if necessary from the TAL itself; and sending in the Marines to storm Fallujah.

Madeline Albright and Sen. John McCain (correctly, to my mind) call for renewed US sanctions on Burma, as well as a refusal of international recognition for the junta's cynical "road map to democracy" - which is intended only to grant a thin veneer of civilian political legitimacy to the junta's continued rule, and that in a bid to avert regional and international sanctions.

Among the many pundits left and right currently experiencing an epiphany that Senator Kerry, whatever his virtues, is a terrible, terrible, terrible presidential candidate are John Podhoretz and the Village Voice's James Ridgeway (who is calling for a reinstatement of the draft - ideally, of Edwards). And elsewhere, Narasimhan Ravi, editor of The Hindu and a current fellow at Harvard, writes about India's parliamentary elections. And of Kofigate Claudia Rosett (rightly) asks of the Secretary General of the world's foremost corrupt organization, what did Kofi know, and when did he know it? (Note to self: that would almost make for a rather merited google bomb...)
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

Beating the Bounds of the Parish is a very ancient custom. At St Michaels at the North Gate (our Saxon tower is the oldest building in Oxford, predating the arrival of William the Conqueror) we have documentary evidence of the practice back to the fourteenth century and it probably goes back to Saxon times when parishes became the basic land unit for law enforcement and taxation. It was very important for members of the parish to know precisely where one parish ended and one began. It was even more important for neighbouring parishes to be told where not to trespass. So, on Ascension Day, Thursday 20th May 2004, armed with willow wands (spears maybe?) we process round the parish, marking the stones which ring our parish.

St Michael's is a small and now entirely city parish and thoroughly built over, so our beating the Bounds consists of processing down Broad street, walking through shops and bars, climbing into bike sheds, visiting the Town Hall and ending up in Lincoln College to drink Ivy Beer (actually a bit challenging). We start at 9 am with a short service in the church - the entrance is at the Cornmarket end of Ship St, then at about 9.45 we essay forth down Cornmarket towards the Clarendon Centre, through Littlewoods, Frewin Court, New Inn Hall Street and on to St. Peters. By 10.30 we are reading from Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" on the spot in Broad Street outside Balliol where Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake in what was the town ditch. By 11 am we will be coming out of Brasenose, 11.35 Bar Oz and the Covered Market. And so on and so on.
UPDATE: I love our readers:
Hi Patrick,

"Beating the Bounds" aka "processioning" the bounds was widespread in colonial America well into the 1700s. The purpose for periodically outlining, in this instance, private property (as the American wilderness was carved out) was to limit the number of disputes - passing the boundary info on to the next generation or latest buyer of the property. Conversely, by the 1700s in Britain, I suspect this event was more ceremonial. As you know, land in Britain was highly concentrated in few owners, and most boundaries, if not all were well documented for centuries.

Here is a snippet abstract I gleaned from Princess Anne County Virginia court record books which addresses the issue (Note: you often find these "processionings" mentioned in the records of Virginia parish churches):

Sept 17 1731 An account of land processioned on ye South Side of ye Eastern Branch by me Thomas Wiles

The land of Aron Fentris processioned with a quet procession in the presence of Moses Fentris and John Fentris

The land of Moses Fentris...in the presence of Michael Fentris and James Fentris

The land of Capt George Kempe...Capt John Ivy and James Kempe

And so forth. The list of processioned land goes on for pages.

Kenneth Scislaw
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# Posted 2:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S THE LEADING FOREIGN POLICY ESSAY CONTEST IN THE U.S. (just ask Google!), and if you're a high school or college student, you can still enter it through the end of this month!

For more information, please consult our essay contest guidelines or email our contest chair, Connie Chung.
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# Posted 7:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT IF YOU CAN'T TRUST THE TIMES, WHO CAN YOU TRUST? With regard to an amazing medley of factual errors in pieces in both the LA Times and NY Times,
Just as a minor correction to an interesting piece (Thomas Corbally, 83; Figure of Mystery Was Reputed Spy, April 26, 2004 Home Edition, Section:California; Metro; Metro Desk; Part B; Pg. 11), PM Wilson was actually not a Conservative but rather a lifelong member of the Labour party, and is still regarded by many non-Blairites in Labour as representing the high point that party reached.

With regard to the Profumo affair, it also was not Wilson's government, but Harold Macmillan's which fell. And further contrary to the author, it did not fall in elections at all, but by the collective resignation of the government in Commons, to be replaced by another Conservative government under Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

with all best wishes, yours faithfully,
Patrick Belton
Trinity College, Oxford
My, with this degree of neglect for detail in just one small matter of British parliamentary history I happen to know something about, I must say I'm starting to have some doubts about these people. Or as a reader rather eloquently puts it: "Whenever I read anything in a newspaper about which I know something, I find they get it wrong. So why should I believe them on subjects about which I know very little?"
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Monday, April 26, 2004

# Posted 10:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE BLOGGED: That's the title of the George Packer column that Josh mentioned earlier today. Matt Yglesias isn't too happy with Packer's column, however, since it is "dripping with condescension." I'd say that's a pretty fair statement. After all, Packer writes that blogs are both
Pleasurable and destructive: They're so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated -- yet nervous, sugar-jangled -- stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts.

Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere -- every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) -- is a knockout punch.

A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another. They are also nearly without exception men (this form of combat seems too naked for more than a very few women). I imagine them in neat blue shirts, the glow from the screen reflected in their glasses as they sit up at 3:48 a.m. triumphantly tapping out their third rejoinder to the WaPo's press commentary on Tim Russert's on-air recap of the Wisconsin primary.
In contrast to Matt, Kevin Drum isn't too bothered by all of this. He observes that
Based solely on the thousand words that are online, I'd say Packer has blogs pegged pretty well. While it may be true that mainstream journalists are sometimes more contemptuous than they should be toward blogs, Packer is dead right when he says that we more than return the favor. In fact, practically the only place that liberal and conservative bloggers find common ground these days is their apparent belief that the New York Times ranks just below Richard Nixon's White House on the list of trustworthy American institutions.
Hmmm. I'm going to side with Matt on this one. Packer is right that blogs always seem to be keeping score and that they are far too quick to compliment themselves on landing a knockout punch. But isn't that exactly what Packer is doing in his column? Even the title of his column sounds like a blog post.

Of course, this kind of 'gotcha' attitude is widespread at all levels of the journalistic establishment. All you have to do is the open the paper in the morning to find a half-dozen examples. Here's one: The ABC website now has an article up on the mini-scandal set off this morning by John Kerry's extremely nuanced explanation of what medals he did (or possibly did not) throw over a fence during an anti-war protest in 1971. The article begins as follows:
Contradicting his statements as a candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry claimed in a 1971 television interview that he threw away as many as nine of his combat medals to protest the war in Vietnam.
So I guess the lesson here is that bloggers, myself included, have adopted some of the mainstream media's less desirable habits in spite of our constant efforts to demonstrate our moral superiority. Anyhow, I think the real problem with Packer's column (or that portion which is online -- even LexisNexis doesn't have the whole thing and I am certainly not giving my money to Mother Jones) is his assertion that blogs lack substance. While Kevin may be too moderate to say so, his own website disproves Packer's allegation that blog posts are "usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication". And while I have my issues with Josh Marshall, I think that is absolutely impossible to accuse him of not developing his arguments in considerable detail.

Moreover, Kevin (and less frequently Josh) develop their arguments through active debate with other bloggers. How often can professional journalists say the same of themselves? While I'm sure that journalists deconstruct each other's work off the record, it is absolutely taboo for the New York Times or Washington Post to take apart each other's articles in the public spotlight (except when plagiarism is involved.) While Packer is right that bloggers tend to have a sort of rah-rah patriotic attitude toward the blogosphere as a whole, he is wrong to say that they are "unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another." Right after the NYT, the #1 target of almost every blogger is his or her closest friends and closest enemies in the blogosphere.

So, how can one conclude a chest-thumping, navel-gazing post like this? By reminding everyone that George Packer is an absolutely first-rate journalist. He has published what is far away some of the best work on the occupation of Iraq. And in person, he is a very nice and down-to-earth kind of guy. But like the rest of us, he makes mistakes.
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# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SAVING LATIN DEMOCRACY: Today, the NYT is running one of its periodic editorials on why democracy in Latin America simply won't last. The format is pretty standard. The editorial begins by discussing some unsettling aspect of Latin American politics, then concludes with some trite advice about how to strengthen the democratic order. The unsettling fact for today is as follows:
The U.N. [Development Program] surveyed thousands of people in 18 democratic Latin American countries and found that a solid majority would prefer an authoritarian system if it produced economic benefits.
Commenting on this result, the NYT observes that
Clearly, this endorsement of the Pinochet model shows that most Latin Americans do not feel as if they have a stake in their democracy.
Now hold on a second. Pinochet was a brutal dictator who murdered thousands. Is he what the UN's poll respondents had in mind when they expressed their willingness to trade freedom for prosperity? Probably not.

Along with most academic experts on Latin American politics, journalists often forget how powerful the memory of a brutal dictatorship is. I don't think it is any accident that democracy is strongest today in those Latin American nations that suffered the most under military rule (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, etc.) whereas it is most threatened in those nations that had very moderate dictatorships (Ecuador and Peru) or haven't had to endure authoritarian rule for more than fifty years (Colombia and Venezuela).

On a related note, the NYT should probably mention that dictatorships actually have an extremely poor record of promoting economic growth or even economic stability. The Pinochet regime probably came the closest, although Chile suffered terribly during the pan-Latin crisis in the early 1980s. In theory, dictatorships are supposed to be able to implement those economic reforms that are too controversial for an elected government to implement. Yet in the absence of a democratic mandate, Latin American generals have often found themselves forced to buy off both the rich and the poor. So, what is to be done? The NYT recommends that
Democratization in much of Latin America, if it is to be completed rather than reversed, now requires a bold set of reforms aimed at bolstering the rule of law, such as the development of independent judiciaries.
I think it is fairly misleading to suggest that a lack of boldness is the cause of Latin America's troubles. Even the most well-meaning governments (and Latin America has had many) cannot will the rule of law into existence. If a policeman can't afford clothes for his children, do we really expect him to resist taking bribes? Perhaps if there were better child welfare programs, policemen wouldn't take bribes. But how can you set up such programs when the bureaucrats are also corrupt? And so the cycle continues.

Rather than a lack of will, what Latin America suffers from is a set of interlocking institutional crises that eviscerate the democratic order without necessarily promoting dictatorship. How can such interlocking crises be resolved? Unfortunately, nobody knows. Political scientists have been caught off guard, since they expect flawed democratic orders to be overthrown by dictatorships. In other words, this is the first time that Latin America's democracies have survived long enough for the experts to worry about institution-building rather than coups d'etat. At least that is something to be thankful for.
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Sunday, April 25, 2004

# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY NORTH KOREA NEEDS CABLE MODEMS: The crocodile tears are flowing over at Steve Sachs' blog, where Steve is lamenting the fact that Kim Jong Il's treatise on cinema is languishing at place #455,145 on the Amazon bestseller list.

Plus, don't forget to read the latest installment in Steve's series on Pornography and Prostitution, which not only explores the legal dilemmas surrounding such unsavory pursuits, but also explains what Josh Chafetz does on Thursday evenings.
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# Posted 9:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU KNOW YOU'VE HIT THE BIG TIME WHEN: You're interviewed on the NBC Nightly News. Congratulations, Dan! (And enjoy the groupies.)

Plus: Read the latest entry in the annals of how high-tech outsourcing creates jobs right here in the USA.
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# Posted 8:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

why it is that in-flight movies are so uniformly bad. There is rarely an Oscar winner shown on flights, and the movies appear to range from barely tolerable to profoundly awful.
Well, if you want high-quality films along with attentive service and reasonable food, you should fly Virgin Atlantic. I've flown from London to New York around a half-dozen times with VA and have almost always had something good to watch. Best of all are those flights on the newest VA planes, which are equipped with a sort of video jukebox that gives each passenger a choice of 50+ films to watch along with 50+ hours of TV (including The Simpsons, Ali G, etc.). Moreover, you can control the box the same way you would a DVD player: start the film whenever you want, pause it to go the bathroom, etc.

Among the films I've seen on VA are Igby Goes Down, which came highly recommended by Mr. Chafetz, and the very clever Japanese bank-heist farce, Space Travelers (not to be confused with the animated film of the same name and from it which it borrows playfully). Of course, VA gives you the right to watch bad films as well. Once, I made it through 30 minutes of watching Ben Affleck as Daredevil. Mr. Affleck should be shot.

Anyhow, the question remains as to why VA has better in-flight entertainment. In general, in-flight films are supposed to be as inoffensive and unstimulating as possible. If you look up "least common denominator" in the thesaurus, you'll probably see "in-flight films" listed first. However, Virgin prides itself on being a maverick in the airline industry. It built up its successful business by challenging the staid and government-backed British Airways (which is a perfectly good airline). This rebellious corporate culture -- embodied by CEO Richard Branson -- tends to affect all aspects of the VA experience, from the unorthodox style of animation used for the pre-flight safety video to the choice of films shown on board. Perhaps the best expression of Virgin's rebellious attitude is the fact that its in-flight magazine sometimes gives bad reviews to the films being shown on board. Now that is service.
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# Posted 7:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MODO TREATS BUSH VERY FAIRLY: You can't accuse Maureen Dowd of picking on the President. As Spinsanity shows, she's willing to compromise the standards of professional journalism in order to make other people look bad too!

And a note for all you Spinsanity fans: Ben, Brendan and Bryan's first book is coming soon to a store near you!
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Saturday, April 24, 2004

# Posted 11:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BELATED BLOGIVERSARY: The always thoughtful Robert Tagorda celebrated twelve months of blogging this past Thursday. I am proud to say that when OxBlog first stumbled upon Rob's work last June, we immediately recognized that he was a star in the making. So, congratulations!
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# Posted 11:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I KNOW A CELEBRITY! Matt Yglesias, Dan Drezner and Harry Brighouse have all posted comments about economist Caroline Hoxby's recent paper on the effects that vouchers have on the quality of public education.

While I have absolutely nothing meaningful to add to this excellent discussion of vouchers and school choice, I am proud to report that I once met Prof. Hoxby at a barbecue and that both she and her husband Blair are no less charming than they are intelligent.
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# Posted 11:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELL-DESERVED TRIBUTES: Winds of Change collects many of the kind and inspiring words that have been written on behalf of Pat Tillman.
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# Posted 11:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN LAWYER: OxBlog wishes the best of luck to Phil Carter, who is about to take his last set of final exams in law school. If Phil is as good a lawyer as he is a blogger, then he'll have a stellar career waiting for him.

In case you haven't already, take a good, long look at Phil's excellent posts on photographs of the fallen, the logistical challenges of waging a global war, and his two-part series on the relationship between security and reconstruction in post-war Iraq.
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# Posted 11:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INTRICATE ILLUSIONS: Greg Djerejian takes an in-depth look at the past, present and future of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
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Friday, April 23, 2004

# Posted 9:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I wouldn't quite say that John Kerry Is A Douchebag But I'm Voting For Him Anyway but that's not wildly off the mark.
Man, Yglesias must be in a bad mood. However, the rest of his post is worth reading if you want to read even more about national security and opinion polls.
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# Posted 9:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EYESIGHT FOR THE BLIND: Democratic pundits are laboring mightily to show that recent poll results aren't nearly as favorable to President Bush as one might think at first glance. I'd say the best argument against the polls comes from Ruy Texeira, who observes that Kerry is pulling ahead in the battleground states that will decide the election.

Much less impressive are the arguments made by Ryan Lizza and Josh Marshall, whose columns appear together on today's NYT op-ed page (alongside columns by Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman, just in case you find Lizza and Marshall to be insufficiently anti-Bush.) Marshall begins his column by pointing out an apparent paradox:
In this year's presidential campaign, no wisdom is more conventional than the assumption that George W. Bush's re-election effort will succeed or fail along with the American mission in Iraq. If Iraq collapses, the reasoning goes, the Bush presidency will soon follow. And yet here was the president gaining ground, in several polls released this week, in the face of what were certainly the worst three weeks in Iraq since the United States deposed Saddam Hussein a year ago.
As it turns out, there is actually a very simple explanation for this paradox. When asked who would do a better job handling the situation in Iraq, voters are pretty sure that the answer is Bush. His margin in the WaPo/ABC poll is 51-42, while his margin in the CNN/Gallup poll is 40-26 with 15 percent saying that both candidates would do a good job. If Marshall had noticed these numbers, he wouldn't wind up asking his audience (mis)leading questions such as
If Americans decide that Iraq is a disaster, why do they not see him as the cause of the problem? Why has support for the president bounced back (up four points in one poll) even as approval of his handling of Iraq has fallen (down three points in the same poll)?
Marshall's first question presumes that voters have identified Iraq as a disaster. But that isn't so clear cut. CNN/Gallup shows that voters are not happy with Bush's handling of Iraq by a margin of 49-48. The same respondents still believe that going to war was the right decision by a margin of 52-46. The WaPo/ABC poll shows voters unhappy with the situation in Iraq by 54-45 margin but still approving of the decision to go to war 51-47.

Looking at Iraq, the only numbers Lizza mentions are the 54% negative rating from the Wa/Po ABC poll and the same poll's observation that 65% of voters believe that the number of American casualties sustained in Iraq is unacceptable. The latter figure is misleading for two reasons. First, it has fluctuated in the same four point range (33-37%) for six months now. Thus, there is no correlation between the 65% figure and the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq. By extension, there is no reason to believe that the 65% figure has had an impact on Bush's re-elect numbers.

Second, how often will any poll respondent describe the tragic deaths of American soldiers as "acceptable"? That is why, when you ask voters whether the US military should restore order in Iraq even if it means taking more casualties, they answer 'Yes' by a stunning 66-33 margin. Moreover, that margin has been increasing over the last six months.

But what if you ask the public whether the United States "has gotten bogged down" in Iraq or is "making good progress"? Faced with that kind of black-and-white choice, the answer is "bogged down" by a margin of 59-41. Yet at the same time, the public favors sending more troops by a margin of 54-44.

That said, let's go back to Marshall's second question of why Bush' re-elect numbers are rising while approval of his work on Iraq is falling. The answer is "issue salience". If you take a look at Question 12 in the WaPo/ABC poll, you'll see that 22% of the public lists terrorism as the "single most important issue" affecting their vote while 23% say Iraq. 26% say "the economy and jobs". Six weeks ago, 36% said economy & jobs while the numbers for terrorism and Iraq were 17 and 10. In December, the numbers for terrorism and Iraq were 14 and 9.

All of these additional numbers I'm throwing at you really just make the same point: that no matter how much all the headlines about Richard Clarke and Moqtada Sadr hurt George Bush, they hurt John Kerry even more. Yes, it is ironic. Bad news makes national security more important. George Bush is responsible for a fair amount of that bad news. But what voters fear even more is giving John Kerry a chance to clean up the mess.

Do I feel the same way? I'm not sure. I'm undecided and probably will be for quite a while. But I am pretty sure that I will vote for whoever I think can do a better job of handling terrorism and Iraq.

Last but not least: Ryan Lizza points out that Reagan had a 54% approval rating in April 1984 while Clinton had a 56% rating in April 1996. In contrast, Bush is "hanging by his fingertips" with 51 or 52 percent. What Lizza overlooks is the fact both Reagan and Clinton won their elections by a landslide. No one expects Bush to do that. All that matters is who wins.
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# Posted 4:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOP'S SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS: John Kerry's service record has become a front page story. Perhaps because the story itself is so inherently pro-Kerry, the WaPo is bending over backwards to lend credibility to the Senator's critics. For example, the Post reports that Kerry's
record has become both an asset and an issue as he seeks the presidency. The senator from Massachusetts has used it to define his qualifications for the office, his experience in foreign policy, his leadership -- and, regarding the conflict in Iraq, his firsthand knowledge of war. But critics have cited it as evidence that he was opportunistic and have questioned whether he deserved one of his medals.
From what I can tell, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate allegations that Kerry was anything less than a full-fledged hero. Thus, when conservatives play up such accusations, all they do is embarrass themselves and provide Kerry with exactly the sort of credibility he so desperately needs on national security issues.

For an in-depth look at both Kerry and Bush's service records, take a look at this post from Phil Carter. The praise that Bush received as a Guardsman is actually quite impressive. Yet as Kevin Drum reminds us, Bush's talent as an officer seems to have been matched by a disturbing lack of dedication to his military duties.

Finally, Campaign Desk thinks that the media has gone soft on Bush by not following up on the documents he released after coming under fire in February. I beg to differ.

What really happened was that the media raised expectations by building up Michael Moore's unsubstantiated charge that Bush went AWOL. Then Bush kept the story alive by stonewalling. Yet once the White House released a new set of documents about Bush's record in the Guard, it became apparent that there wasn't enough evidence to back up the critics' overblown claims. Let down, the media dropped the story -- after first creating it.

What Campaign Desk misses was that the Bush/AWOL episode was more about the media's inconsistent and incoherent definition of what counts as news, rather than its supposedly forgiving attitude towards the President's sins.
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# Posted 3:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN INSPIRATION AND A TRAGIC LOSS: Today, Army Ranger Pat Tillman lost his life in Afghanistan. Before 9-11, Tillman was a defensive back with the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. After 9-11, he walked away from $3.6 million contract to join the armed forces. As the Cardinals' vice president observed,
"In sports we have a tendency to overuse terms like courage and bravery and heroes, and then someone like Pat Tillman comes along and reminds us what those terms really mean."
Hear, hear.
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# Posted 4:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

CIAO, MAMA, Ammunì a Sichilia: Rachel and I are off to Sicily for the weekend, courtesy of that Irish national institution known as Ryanair. A lunedì, amici!
Fare thee well, ye banks of Sicily,
Fare thee well, ye valley and shore.
There's nae Jock will mourn the kyles o' ye
Poor bloody soldiers are weary.

The piper is tuned up and piping away;
He wullnae come round for his vino the day
The sky o'er Messina is unco an' grey
And the song that he's playing is eerie.

It's march doon the square, and light on the bay,
Packs on your back and the boats are away.
Waiting your turn while the pipes and drums play,
And the song that they're playing is eerie.

The drummer is polished, the drummer is grand
He cannae be seen for his straps and his bands.
He's raised himself up for a photo and stand
To leave wi' his Lola, his dearie.
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# Posted 2:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH: I wanted to link to an old article from The Onion, but it turns out that the Onion archives are now available only to subscribers. That sorta sucks. Anyhow, in honor of the warm weather and the displays of feminine pulchritude that accompany it on campuses across America, I wanted to link to the classic Onion report entitled "Co-Eds Prepare Breasts for Increased Springtime Display." It is so true.

UPDATE: The resourceful JM points out that many lost webpages can be found in the "cached" version of a Google search. So if you want to read about curvaceous co-eds, click here.
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# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DINNER WITH AN IDIOTARIAN: I haven't used that word in a long time. But sometimes there is no other way to describe someone who is so offensively stupid that rational debate becomes impossible.

Now, the official guest at tonight's dinner was Amram Mitzna, the Labor MP who lost to Sharon in the last general election. It turns out that he is an extremely intelligent and thoughtful human being. Of course, I am the low man on the totem pole, so there was no chance that I was going to be sitting with Mr. Mitzna. I did, however, get to sit next to Prof. Erez Manela, one of the rising stars in the History Department at Harvard. Unfortunately, a certain idiotarian hijacked the conversation at our table, so I didn't get to benefit from sitting with Prof. Manela.

The idiotarian in question is a professor of women's studies at Boston University as well as an activist in the peace movement. Nothing wrong with that. Israel could use some peace. But when you insult your dinner partners instead of having an intelligent conversation with them, you really just discredit your own cause. Now, the target of Prof. Stupid's comments was a friend of mine who happens to be a colonel in the US armed forces. In addition to being a thoughtful individual, he is one of the most mild-mannered and respectful individuals I know.

At one point during dinner, the Colonel asserted that even if Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders, radical Palestinians will continue to launch terror strikes against Israeli civilians. Prof. Stupid responded that the Colonel's comments were somewhat unfair because he criticized her approach to the conflict without offering any other. Then she asked, "And what is your strategy? Just to kill more people?"

Exactly. That was exactly the Colonel's point. Crush the skulls of Palestinian children with cinderblocks. Anyhow, at another point in the conversation, Prof. Stupid asked the Colonel how many Palestinians he had personally met. But that was just the set up for the Prof. Stupid's touchingly sarcastic remark that "You know, the Palestinians are human beings, too." Given that the Colonel is far too polite to respond to such remarks critically, I conspicuously turned to the quiet historian at my left and remarked, "That's funny. I thought that all Palestinians were robots."

Well, now that I've got that off of my chest, I'm feeling a little bit better. All in all, tonight's dinner was quite a nice event. The definite highlight of the evening was the seared tuna served as an hors d'oeuvre. The center of the delicate slices were deliciously red and their edges were encrusted with a flavorful mixture of spices. Almost as good as the seared tuna was the brief question and answer session with Mr. Mitzna.

When I first saw Mr. Mitzna at the cocktail hour, I assumed he was a member of the faculty because of his inobstrusive manner and his salt & pepper beard. As it turned out, Mr. Mitzna has something of the bearing of the professor, at least in an intimate setting. He listens very carefully to those who ask him questions, then responds slowly and thoughtfully. He also seemed very sincere. To be fair, there are a lot of Harvard professors who are obstrusive, clean-shaven, loud and disingenuous. But Mitzna wasn't one of those.

Of course, I also liked what Mitzna had to say. Without reservation, Israeli has the right and the obligation to strike at terrorists before they commit murder. This includes the right to hunt and kill the leaders of terrorist organizations, because they are no less responsible for terrorist attacks than the foot soldiers who carry them out.

Mitzna supports Arik Sharon's plan to dismantle the settlements in Gaza. While he finds it somewhat ironic that Sharon is now implementing the same programs he ran against as a candidate, Mitzna believes that Sharon has crossed an historic threshold by becoming the first Likud prime minister to recognize that Israel cannot rule over the Palestinians forever.
Yet while supporting disengagement, Mitzna believes that Sharon has impaired his own strategy by making absolutely no effort to provide the Gaza Strip with a post-occupation order. As a result, Gaza may become a haven for terrorists at whom Israel cannot strike because of the presence of those international relief workers who will arrive in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal.

The main point on which I disagree with Mitnza is his belief that there is an effective Palestinian peace camp -- represented by Yasser Abd Rabbo -- that wants a negotiated settlement with the state of Israel. Yet as Mitzna responded to one Palestinian who asked him a question, the next critical step in the negotiating process is for more Palestinians to step up and say that they want peace. The Israel people have made no secret of their desire. But they need the Palestinian people to show that it is the leaders of the peace camp who truly represent the people. If only...

UPDATE: After re-reading this post, I think I come off as a bit strident and too willing to describe others as idiotarians. The actual words spoken by Prof. Stupid were not that extreme. But what my post failed to convey was the tone in which she spoke them.

Rather than being defensive or rhetorical, her questions were condescending. She really seemed to believe that the Colonel was some sort of thug who actually thought that killing people is a good idea and that Palestinians are sub-human. It was this incredible presumption of malevolence and ignorance -- spoken without hesitation to a stranger in a public setting -- that marked Prof. Stupid as an idiotarian.
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Thursday, April 22, 2004

# Posted 3:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

REQUIESCANT: It's truly incredible how many people have lost their lives in today's tragic train accident in North Korea. It's sadder still that Pyongyang is dealing with this unbelievable tragedy with its accustomed state secrecy and silence, both within its borders and without. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased, and to the three thousands who lost their lives. Lux perpetua luceat eis.
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# Posted 3:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

MR KERRY, CALL YOUR OFFICE: In only a few sentences yesterday, Senator Kerry managed both to insinuate that democracy should take a back seat to security in Iraq, and that US troops should be happy to cut and run with Iraq stable but undemocratic. To give him his due, here's the full bit:
Democracy "shouldn't be the measurement of when you leave," Kerry said. "You leave with stability. You hope you can continue the process of democratization -- obviously, that's our goal. But with respect to getting our troops out, the measurement is the stability of Iraq."(SF Chronicle)
While I'd like to be charitable, it's pretty clear that what Kerry's doing here is establishing a lower bar for withdrawing troops from Iraq, which is tied in turn to downgrading the importance of democracy promotion in the US engagement in Iraq. Pretty dispiriting stuff - weren't the Dems once the party which had habitually criticised administrations for privileging security over democracy?
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# Posted 2:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

BRIBE-TAKING SCANDAL AT THE UN: Reports have surfaced that three principal UN officials, including the undersecretary general, accepted millions of dollars' worth of bribes from Saddam between 1997 and 2002, in return for permitting Saddam to in turn make billions of dollars illicitly from the UN's oil-for-food programme.

This unprecedented amount of UN corruption is being referred to as "Kofigate," and is receiving coverage from across the spectrum (see Telegraph, Independent). If there's one edifying part to this entire sordid spectacle, it's that the story was initially broken by an independent Iraqi paper, Al Mada - showing that when it's allowed the safety to follow a story, the Iraqi Quatrieme Etat can hold its own with the Fourth Estates of the big boys.
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# Posted 8:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH IDIOCY WATCH FOR 22 APRIL: First, in the "no proposition is so silly that no English leftist has believed it" category, we have:

* In the 26th April cover story Appeasement: Should we strike a deal? (extra credit: guess now what the answer is going to be), New Statesman incorporates these maxims, worthy of Euclid:

" Appeasement has been present wherever terrorist violence has been controlled successfully."

"Appeasement is only another name for the willingness to negotiate."

"The truth is that force alone cannot end terrorist violence." (No, much better to trust to lots of hand-holding over shared marijuana and mellow guitar chords.)

And now for the "utter lack of moral clarity" category: From an NS piece with the catchy (and apposite) title Iraq - Invaders have ripped up the fabric of a nation that survived Saddam Hussein. This is a war of liberation and we are the enemy. By John Pilger
- we have:

first, the "nostalgia for Saddam" entry:
Four years ago, I travelled the length of Iraq, from the hills where St Matthew is buried in the Kurdish north to the heartland of Mesopotamia, and Baghdad, and the Shia south. I have seldom felt as safe in any country. Once, in the Edwardian colonnade of Baghdad's book market, a young man shouted something at me about the hardship his family had been forced to endure under the embargo imposed by America and Britain. What happened next was typical of Iraqis; a passer-by calmed the man, putting his arm around his shoulder, while another was quickly at my side. "Forgive him," he said reassuringly. "We do not connect the people of the west with the actions of their governments. You are welcome."

catchy inventive synonym, entry one: Marines public relations officers are referred to as "psychopathic spokesmen"

catchy inventive synonym, entry two: the last decade's western foreign policy toward Iraq: "both the economic siege and the Anglo-American assault on their homeland"

creative use of the term "terrorism" entry: on all US use of force in Iraq being terrorism, we have: "Thus, western state terrorism is erased, and a tenet of western journalism is to excuse or minimise "our" culpability, however atrocious. Our dead are counted; theirs are not. Our victims are worthy; theirs are not."

snarkiest Trotskyite v. Maoist put-down: On the Guardian, not cooky enough apparently for its tastes: "Britain's former premier liberal newspaper"
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# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

BY SPECIAL REQUEST from our favourite former shiksa chick from Ohio, ShaBot humour grapples this week with the manifold mysteries of bread, Orthodoxy, and getting religion.
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# Posted 6:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE HOLOCAUST OF OUR TIME? This on the Sudan, and via CNN:
"What I saw was village after village which has been burnt down," [British journalist] Phil Cox said on CNN's International Correspondents program.

"Usually there are bodies around the villages. There are mass graves outside. When I say mass graves, I mean large pits in the earth, maybe 10 to 20 bodies in them, and these pits, 20 to 30 pits around the villages."
A promising sign is that an investigative team from the UN Human Rights Commission has been granted access to Sudan's western Darfur region today, and during the time it has been barred from entering Sudanese territory, has been conducting interviews with refugees in Chad. The U.S. administration has attracted praise lately from its more accustomed critics for successfully urging the Islamist Khartoum government and southern rebels to the negotiating table (and in the process, acquiring greater support from Khartoum against Al Qa'ida, which in its territory is strong). However, the ceasefire toward the south has directed Khartoum's fury to its west, and the nations of the world have been unduly reticent to decry the genocide there for fear that in so doing they would reopen one of the globe's most long-festering civil wars.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

# Posted 9:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

THERE HAS BEEN a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia today, killing nine, for which the Saudis are blaming Al Qa'eda. This on the heels, of course, of coordinated car bombings in Basra which killed nearly 70, including as many as 22 schoolchildren incinerated in their school buses. This is a sad day, and that radical insurgents would launch an attack killing not only wholly Iraqis but such a large number of children who had once been part of Iraq's future, show profoundly their blatant disregard and depths of cynicism about the future of Iraq.
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