Monday, May 31, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE THE JOURNALISTS LISTENING? When bloggers ask whether blogs matter, what they really mean is whether professional journalists respond to our questions and demands. We don't expect politicians to listen to us. We don't expect corporate executives to listen to us. But we see ourselves as journalists' next-of-kin and therefore deserve their attention.

While bloggers may argue about whether journalists listen, Rachel Smolkin actually went out there and asked a whole lot of actual journalists whether they make time for blogs. Most of the answers are pretty non-committal. The most interesting comes from NYT correspondent Jodi Wilgoren, who showed some interest in Wilgoren Watch. However, her critics
"typically did not reflect much knowledge about or understanding of mainstream journalism," Wilgoren says, and often came from passionate Dean supporters. "I got many, many letters accusing me of being a tool of the Republican administration or trying to destroy Howard Dean."
I think Wilgoren is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Certainly, some of her critics are mindless leftists. But even OxBlog thought that her coverage of Dean was harsh and unfair.

Now, the irony here is that Wilgoren is quite liberal herself, as one can tell from her efforts to whitewash the crimes of David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin. While Wilgoren deserves credit for at least looking at blogs, I think that her reaction may become typical for mainstream journalists, i.e. find a few online critics you can label as ignorant and use their prejudice to justify ignoring the blogosphere as a whole. According to NYT ombudsman Daniel Okrent,
"In some instances, some [blogs] are so partisan -- even though they're right in many instances -- they're immediately discredited within the newsroom because of their partisanship," [Okrent said]. "If the comment comes from someone who isn't identified as a partisan, they take it much more seriously."
This Okrent quote comes from an excellent column by Marc Glaser which addresses many of the same issues that Smolkin's essay does. Whereas Smolkin looks at the issue more broadly, Glaser focuses on a specific incident in which National Debate editor Robert Cox forced NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins to make an official policy change that imposed tougher standards on her columnists.

Now, it's hard to say whether Cox got a response from the Times because he was a blogger or because he was right. After all, non-blogging readers sometimes get responses as well if they're right. However, the fact that Cox got the Times' attention by posting a parody of their website -- thus provoking the threat of the lawsuit -- suggests that his medium played an important.

The Cox case provides an interesting contrast with the Trent Lott affair, which Rachel Smolkin covers quite nicely. As I see it, the difference between the two is that Cox was directly challenging the competence and authority of professional jouralists, while Josh Marshall and others helped bring down Trent Lott by converting journalists to the anti-Lott cause.

I think both sorts of influence are quite significant, although the Cox variety is somewhat more interesting because it demonstrates that when bloggers go head to head with the pros, they can still come out on top.

Now, last but not least, we come to Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell's effort to conduct a systematic survey of which blogs journalists actually read. I think that their approach is important since Smolkin's essay is rather anecdotal and Glaser's focuses only bloggers' success.

The results of Dan and Henry's survey aren't exactly a surprise. Journalists read the same blogs that bloggers read: Sullivan, Reynolds, Marshall, etc. But that is still a very significant finding because it demonstrates that journalists have developed a surprisingly similar sense of who is worth reading in the blogosphere. (Sadly, OxBlog didn't make the Top 10. Oh well.)

If there is one thing I'd add to all of these worthwhile contributions, it's that we still need to develop a better idea, in our own minds at least, of what role(s) blogs are supposed to play. Smolkin tends to suggest that blogs set themselves up as an alternative to mainstream, reportorial journalism. But I like Jay Rosen's take better:
Almost all of the op-ed writing in America used to be on op-ed pages. That is no longer true. Weblogs have taken over part of that territory. And while the best of them may have 'opinion clout,' the simple fact that they have some territory alongside Big Media is significant.
Bloggers are never going to replace correspondents. But we may be able to knock off Maureen Dowd.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CALL IT A HUNCH: The WaPo has an interesting analysis of the time stamps on the Abu Ghraib prison photo. One fact that really struck me was that soldiers in the 372nd began to abuse prisoners within two days of arriving at Abu Ghraib.

That being the case, it's very hard to imagine how the abuse could have taken place without some sort of green light from either military intelligence or superior officers. Yes, it is possible that these few soldiers were so sadistic that they leapt at the opportunity to commit human rights violations. But the alternative is too compelling to be ruled out.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

DISPATCHES FROM KABUL: OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent is back afield, and sends in part one in a series of despatches to us:
Part I: Arrival

As a kindness to the daily herd of travelers waiting to see if their flights show up, the departure lounge of Kabul airport has been decorated with inadvertently funny signs. "No accompanists allowed beyond waiting area" -- once you pass through security, you're singing a capella. And there's the official list of items which are forbidden in one's handbag:

1. The handbag.
2. Explosives and military matters.
3. Gases and passions.

We showed up, handbags, passions, and all, in the early afternoon to a mostly empty airport -- the major commercial flights are all scheduled to depart in the morning. We were headed from Kabul to northern Afghanistan for a three-day tour of the almond groves with a couple California nut experts. (They pronounced almond to rhyme with "salmon," something I never quite got used to). The airport staff handed us flattering little Frequent Flyer -- Kunduz bag tags and hurried us through security to our two-prop AirServ charter plane. We scrunched into our seats; the pilots elbowed their way down the two-foot-wide aisle, buckled up, then craned their heads back for a conversational safety lecture.

I'd braced myself for a bumpy ride, but the skies were friendly -- and the view from the air so breathtaking I probably wouldn't have noticed if we'd dropped an engine. The mountains of Panjshir rose up like a white wall to our right, and to the left was the great central massif of Afghanistan, with ridge after snow-capped ridge rippling out to the horizon. Mohibi, our Afghan companion, pointed out the winding ravines running up to Bamiyan at the heart of the country. I was glued to the window for the whole flight. The mountains became hills, the hills gently rolling grassland, and we dropped smoothly into Kunduz.

The trip quickly became less smooth. We had sent up a couple of drivers the day before -- and, per our company's new security policy, we had called up the ex-military guy who runs the main protection racket in Kabul and asked him to send two cars full of hired "shooters" for our defense. However, when we arrived at Kunduz airport (which is a couple miles out of town), we found ourselves alone save for a handful of curious airport guards. After a couple of heated phone calls, our drivers showed up, speeding like the devil. Turned out they'd been ready to leave for the airport on time, but the shooters had taken a little while to muster up. As we spoke, our security escort arrived: two SUVs full of skinny, scruffy, shabbily clad Panjshiri irregulars, chain-smoking and casually brandishing their Kalashnikovs as they piled out of their cars. They didn't look very impressive. I imagine the Soviets thought the same thing.

We took off for town. The roads around Kunduz are unpaved, and throw up tremendous clouds of fine white dust as you drive along them. Somehow, our shooters managed to lose us in the cloud. I asked where they'd gone. Mohibi doubtfully said, "I think I saw them turn back to the airport." I asked why on earth they would have gone back to the airport. Mohibi shrugged and said, "Because the sky is so high" -- a wonderful Afghan phrase, which I heard him use a lot over the next few days. The shooters later caught up with us, and chewed out our drivers at length for "losing" them again. They then informed us that today, they were only contracted to escort us around Kunduz city, and that if we were going to drive out of the city for site visits we would need to pay them extra for petrol. This so irked our Afghan companion that he told them to get lost and meet us tomorrow morning. We drove around for the rest of the afternoon cheerfully unprotected.

Kunduz is a small provincial capital, with half-paved streets full of colorful horse-drawn carts. It's the city where the Taliban lost the war for the North back in 2001 (also losing one John Walker Lindh as a captive to the conquering Northern Alliance), and it was the first (and so far the only) city outside Kabul to get its own ISAF peacekeeping force. Course, there was already a pretty robust peace to keep -- unlike, say, the cities of Herat or Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz had no mighty warlord or clashing commanders to make life difficult for occupying troops, and it's well away from the Taliban resurgence. The surrounding countryside reportedly has a bit of a bandit problem, but the roads north to Tajikistan are open again. Power wires that were yanked down and sold as copper to Pakistan during the war are going back up, with electricity two or three hours a day.

The farm country around Kunduz is simply beautiful: broad fields of golden wheat and brilliant green rice, densely planted stands of poplar, old almond trees shading the fields. And when you head south out of the city, you quickly find yourself driving through my stereotype of a Central Asian landscape: a broad tableland of pasture and wheat fields, with a wall of nearly treeless pale green hills springing up at the horizon, and the snowy mountains of Badakhshan drifting sky-blue in the distance.

As we drove, I jokingly asked Mohibi why the Afghans referred to the mountains as the Hindu Kush -- seemed odd, given that they're in a resoundingly Muslim-majority region. "Well, you see, once there was an Afghan and a Hindu traveling together from Hindustan to Afghanistan," Mohibi informed me, beaming. "The Hindu had a very warm wolf skin coat, and the Afghan had only a shirt, but he had enough money, and he was very clever. So he said to the Hindu, give me your coat and I will give you all my money. The Hindu was greedy, he said okay. So the Afghan took the coat. When they came to the mountain, the Hindu realized it was so cold, so he said, I will pay you double, just give me back the coat. The Afghan said no. Soon the Hindu drop dead. The Afghan take all his money and keep the coat. That is why they call it 'Hindu' -- meaning Hindu -- and 'Kush' -- meaning kill." I learn something new every day.

We visited a bunch of farmer associations, orchards, and nurseries that afternoon. Our visiting California consultants had brought along sacks of cheap plastic animals, the kind you can buy by the hundred in most dollar stores in the States, and handed them out one at a time to the local kids wherever we went. It was a nice idea -- you never saw a little molded plastic pelican inspire such mirth and delight. They said that whenever they went to Mexico, they brought toy soldiers, but had thought better of it in this case.

The "Modesto boys" also dispensed little snippets of agronomical wisdom, but the whole three-day trip was mostly an excuse for our Deputy Head of Project for Agriculture to drive around the north and get a feel for the place. The Afghan farmers spread out blankets, carpets, and pillows in the shade of the almond trees, gave us juice boxes imported from Pakistan, and tried to draw our attention away from the opium poppies three fields over. When it finally began to get dark, we drove back to the German guesthouse in Kunduz.

Our dinner topics that night included rhetting, scutching, and hackling. You might think this was just the common South Asian expat game of describing the grotesque symptoms of whatever stomach virus we contracted from last night's salad. But no -- one of our companions was astonished to find that the local Afghans only used flax as an oilseed, and had never heard of linen. He immediately launched into a Heineken-fueled explanation of every step in the process of extracting flax fibers and turning them into tablecloths. As you might expect for a process older than the English language, it's got its own highly specific medieval-sounding vocabulary. Afghan and American alike, the rest of us listened with baffled interest.

Then our Deputy Head began to argue that our project should focus on getting Afghans to invest in "tree bonds" -- selling the ten-year income stream from a poplar grove. Apparently it worked in Bolivia. When someone questioned whether Afghan poplars were really a secure investment, the Deputy Head shook a finger in our collective faces. "I've worked in international development for forty long years, and it's been one failure after another. You try an idea, you hope it'll work, and it never does. But this, this works. This is my home run." The prospect of working in this field for four decades and coming out of it with a single success -- and tree bonds, at that -- was a bit discouraging.

We eventually crashed in our mildewed, over-warm rooms. I woke up around six and washed my hair in the sink (no functional shower) before hitting the road again.

more to follow....

(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUR HONOURED DEAD: General Logan's General Order #11, officially established Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) in 1868. The day is celebrated officially in the United States by the placing of a small flag onto each grave at the Arlington National Cemetery, and the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the President.

PBS has a tribute. The White House Commission on Remembrance encourages the observance of one minute of silence at three o'clock in recognition of the nation's war dead.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-Laurence Binyon, Trinity College, Oxford, 1914
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

ON A PERSONAL NOTE....Congratulations to OxBlog's good friends Hae Won and Wilson! Those of us who've already bought shares in the institution of marriage have a strong interest in keeping the share price high and protecting our investment, so thanks, you guys! :)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GANDALF & SEX AND THE CITY: Did you know that Kim Cattrall debuted on Broadway opposite Ian McKellen in Chekhov's Wild Honey?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, May 30, 2004

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WES CLARK, SUPERPUNDIT: Suddenly, he's everywhere. A cover story in the Washington Monthly. A share of the cover from TNR's special issue on Iraq. What is it that Wes Clark wants to say?

With regard to Iraq, Clark has two big ideas -- one new and one old. The old idea is that if we're nice to Europe, it will send its soldiers over to Iraq to die for our cause. Given that the French have already said that their soldiers will never, ever serve in Iraq, that approach probably won't work. Clark's new idea is that the United States must
involve regional governments in Iraq's reconstruction, giving them a seat at the table in that country's development so they understand that they are not the next targets of regime change.
By regional governments, Clark actually does mean Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Of course, has to wonder how we can help Iraq become more democratic by involving some of the world's most repressive dictatorships in its reconstruction. The closest Clark comes to answering this question is when he writes that
Of course, the United States will likely differ sharply with the positions some of these states take, but it is better to hash out such issues at the negotiating table than in vitriolic exchanges via the media.
Actually, I prefer vitriolic exchanges via the media. Compromising with Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia about the future of Iraq means selling out the Iraqis we supposedly liberated.

Now what about Clark's cover essay in the Washington Monthly? It's supposed to be the big think-piece in which he demonstrates that he can apply the lessons of history to solve those problems that ignorant neo-cons just don't understand. (Translation: "Please, please Mr. Kerry, make me your Secretary of State!") Of course, to apply the lessons of history, you actually have to know some history first. Let's start with the last two sentences of Clark's essay:
If the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of our gun. And Ronald Reagan would have known better than to try.
Actually, promoting democracy at gunpoint was exactly what Reagan was all about. Remember Nicaragua? You know, the country where the United States sent guns to brutal right-wing guerrillas in the hope that they would promote democracy?

Bizarrely enough, that strategy worked despite its appalling cost in terms of Nicaraguan blood. A similar strategy, perhaps even bloodier, did the trick in El Salvador. Unfortunately, things in Afghanistan didn't turn out as well. Now, Clark has gone on the record saying that he voted for Reagan. As far as I can tell, he must've confused Reagan with Mondale.

Getting back to the point, the big lesson that Clark draws from our experience in the Cold War is that cultural engagement is the secret to victory. He writes that
During the 1950s and 1960s, containment...[entailed] holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb...

[In the 1980s], Western organizations provided training for a generation of human-rights workers. Western broadcast media pumped in culture and political thought, raising popular expectations and undercutting Communist state propaganda. And Western businesses and financial institutions entered the scene, too, ensnaring command economies in Western market pricing and credit practices.
Unless Clark is talking about China, I really can't think of any Communist state whose command economy even came close to being "ensnared" by Western corporations. As for Western media, the West Germans were pretty much the only ones who reached a Communist audience, but not in the Soviet Union. And as for the 1950s and 1960s, there were really no "cultural engagement" programs of any significance. In short, Clark's history of the Cold War is basically imaginary.

So there. I've now spent far too much time criticizing someone whom Democratic voters (except in Oklahoma) decided wasn't good enough to be their candidate for President. But when you're a graduate student, you feel compelled to expose the ignorance of anyone who tramples on your area of expertise. How demented.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHALABI CENTRAL: Laura Rozen is a professional journalist whose blog has become the uber-source for liberals following the Chalabi scandal. Rozen seems to be extremely well-informed although her resentment of the neo-cons is palpable and vehement. (Yes, I know. Most liberals believe that being extremely well-informed and extremely resentful of the neo-cons go hand in hand. But I think you get what I'm saying.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? Kevin Drum is bashing Fred Barnes. While you can judge the merits their arguments for yourself, what really interests me is how the biggest ideological divide between myself and moderate liberal bloggers such as Kevin and Matt Yglesias is the issue of media bias. Neither of them will give an inch on this issue and constantly denounce conservative criticism of the media as disingenuous or even dishonest.

For most of America, the conservative-liberal divide focuses on Iraq, both the invasion and its aftermath. Yet in spite of my relative optimism about both, I share Kevin and Matt's sense that all of the big decisions have been close calls and that a strong case exists for both sides. So why has the issue of media bias become so divisive? My best guess is that because bloggers depend so much on mainstream journalists, even the slightest differences in our perception of their work become greatly magnified. But again, that's just a guess.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON ALLAWI: Just to follow up on David's post below, the Arabic page of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party spells his name أياد علاوي - that is, with no shadda over the لا ('la'), and the shadda is generally not meant to be omitted.

On the other hand, the INA's English pages consistently spell his name 'Allawi', suggesting that it's probably the more appropriate English spelling.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CASE AGAINST ALLAWI: Courtesy of Spencer Ackerman. Ackerman overdoes it, but makes some good points. Unfortunately, he doesn't look at the all-important relationship between Allawi and Sistani, which is supposedly good.

On a related note, there seems to be persistent disagreement about whether to spell the Prime Minister's name "Alawi" or "Allawi". I haven't seen the PM's name spelled out in Arabic, but I'm guessing that the relevant issue is whether or not there is a pronunciation marker known as a "shadda" over the 'L' in Allawi's name. The role of the shadda is to double the sound of a consonant, so it would turn 'L' into 'LL'.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Guy Kemp, 85, a former Navy Seabee who served in the Pacific, found himself jitterbugging to "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" with a woman he didn't know.
Hey, I hope I'm that energetic at 85. Here at OxBlog, we've only got respect for the millions who served in the War. We just think they need a little ribbing, too.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY NOT REALLY IRONIC, RESEARCHERS FIND: OxBlog favourite Belle Waring, just one of the many excellent bloggers to be found over on Crooked Timber, points out that the preponderance of situations in the Alanis Morrisette Song 'Ironic' were not, in fact, ironic:
A recent post on our blog about whether any of the situations in the Alanis Morrisette Song “Ironic” were, in fact, ironic, has garnered unexpected interest. I looked at the lyrics more carefully, and I think perhaps half could be said to qualify in an extended sense, that is, they seem like dramatic irony. So: “rain on your wedding day” is unquestionably not ironic, it’s just somewhat unfortunate. But I’ll give her “death-row pardon two minutes late”, I guess, if we accept a certain notion of irony I outline below.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND DÉJÀ VU ALL-OVER-AGAIN HEADLINE OF THE DAY: 'Hamas leader killed in Israeli helicopter strike.' From CNN.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

AMBITION ODDLY PHRASED QUOTE OF THE DAY: From WaPo: Although some Kerry staff aides cringe at their nickname, Holbrooke jested upon hearing that he is called a Pooh-bah, "It's the highest rank I've ever held, and I hope by the end of the campaign to be promoted to pasha."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M GLAD THERE'S AN ACADEMY, BECAUSE: how else then would we have articles such as On Toothpicking in Early Hominids, by W.A. Agger, T.L. McAndrews, and J.A. Hlaudy, Current Anthropology (45:3), June 2004, Page 403ff.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE GORE: Robert Tagorda points out a rather uncomfortable contradiction in the Vice President's recent speech.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY ON IRAQ: The Bush-Cheney website has posted a rather clever interactive page that allows you to click on a given date and see what John Kerry was saying about Iraq at the time. There is no smoking gun which allows you to say "Ha! I knew he was a hypocrite!", but it is amazing how many different positions Kerry can appear to take without actually contradicting himself. On the other hand, Kerry seems to recognize that his criticism of the President can only go so far. It's not an easy position to be in.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, May 29, 2004

# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TALE OF TWO KERRYS: Both the WaPo and NYT have put up detailed summaries of Kerry's recent remarks about foreign policy. The headlines are all that you need to tell the difference between the two papers perspectives. Since noon, the top story on the WaPo website has been "Kerry: Security Trumps Promoting Democracy". On the NYT homepage, the third bullet point beneath a story about Iraq has a link entitled "Kerry Faults Bush on Security Issues". (NB: These are the headlines on the front page of the WaPo and NYT, respectively. The URLs for the articles have slightly different ones.)

So, what did Kerry actually say? The first sentence in the WaPo account reads:
Sen. John F. Kerry indicated that as president he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in dealing with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and Russia, instead focusing on other objectives that he said are more central to the United States' security.
Not what I'd like to hear, but not an unreasonable position either. After all, how much has Bush done for democracy in any of those countries? One might even say that the President's lofty rhetoric and minimal follow-through have reinforced certain dictators' suspicions that the US only cares about Al Qaeda.

Of course, just because Kerry's position is reasonable doesn't mean the NYT should've ignored it. The NYT piece is almost entirely about Kerry's comments on North Korea and his belief that the Bush administration is excessively preoccupied with Iraq.

Now, it's probably worth mentioning that a WaPo correspondent conducted the interview with Kerry. Thus, that paper has an incentive to turn it into big news while the NYT has an incentive to play it down. Still, I would've appreciated at least one sentence describing Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary United States objective.

While it's sort of inevitable that different papers provide different accounts of the same event, the difference here seems to have ideological connotations. After all, it was just three days ago that a NYT news analysis column declared that Kerry and Bush had almost identical positions on Iraq -- totally disregarding Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary objective there.

Of course, one could turn this whole analysis around and say that the WaPo is promoting its own agenda which just happens to resemble the one that we favor here on OxBlog. But given that one of the unspoken principles of campaign coverage is that journalists have an obligation to point out significant differences between the candidates, it's hard to understand how the Times could ignore remarks made by Kerry that are so completely at odd with the positions taken by Bush.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:32 PM by Patrick Belton  


(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A DAMN USEFUL SITE: I really like Memeorandum. Basically, it's a site that complies a list of the Big Media stories most linked to by bloggers on all sides of the political spectrum. Without any pretensions of being scientific, it does a surprisingly good job of filtering out the noise and delivering the news that people actually care about.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TERRORISTS UNLEASH PLAGUE OF CICADAS: MSNBC reports that John Ashcroft will believe anything. I can't vouch for the MSNBC reports, but it definitely fits with my prejudices about Ashcroft.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEVIL'S ADVOCATES: The NYT reports that Richard Perle & Co. stormed into Condi Rice's office to demand that Jerry Bremer stop beating up on Ahmad Chalabi. How embarrassing. Leo Strauss must be rolling in his grave.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

CAPTION OF THE DAY award goes to BBC, for its caption accompanying a photograph which accompanied a report on violent protests taking place at the end of an EU-Latin America summit in Guadalajara: 'The rioters did not appear to be promoting a particular cause'.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRANIAN PLANS TO 'TAKE OVER' BRITAIN: This from segments of Iran's Revolutionary Guards opposed to President Khatami's policy of 'dialogue of civilisations', and via Al-Sharq al-Awsat, and MEMRI. More convincingly, they're making an effort at recruiting suicide volunteers to be sent to Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FASCINATING NONSENSE: I have absolutely no idea what to make of the polls coming out of Iraq. The most comprehensive poll, conducted by USA Today/CNN/Gallup, starts out sounding like a White House press release. More Iraqis say they are better off rather than worse off since the invasion. More than 60% think Iraq will be better off in five years than it was before the invasion.

Then the news gets even better: 40% of Iraqis identify democracy as the best form of government for Iraq, with only 12% preferring an Iranian model. 50% think that five years from now Iraq will be a democracy, with no other form of government getting more than 12 percent. (Imagine asking Americans the same question!) Finally, and almost unbelievably, an overwhelming majority of Iraqis favor constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion (73%), freedom of assembly (77%), and freedom of speech (94%).

Now here's the bad news: The CPA approval rating is just 23%, with 46% against it. The split for the US as a whole is 23-55. The UN split is 33-23 with 37 undecided. 50% say the US isn't serious about establishing a democratic system, while 37% say it is. 55% say the US won't leave unless it is forced out. When it comes to occupation forces, 45% want them gone after June 30th while another 45% don't.

By the way, don't forget to adjust all of these numbers about 15% in the unhappy direction, since the Kurds are cheerleaders for the Bush-Cheney re-election effort. For example, 96% of them see the US favorably and 98% believe it wants to promote democracy in Iraq.

So, what can one say about numbers like this? First of all, despite the apparent contradictions, I think the numbers are probably sound since an ABC News poll in February got very similar results. According to ABC, Iraqis are happy with how things are, think they're getting better, but want the US out. 49% want democracy and only 21% want an Islamic state (but 28% want a strong leader "for life". Also, another finding that I could only believe after reading it in both polls was that a strong majority of Iraqis have favorable opinions of the new police and armed forces.

Albeit hesitantly, I'm going to describe these polls as good news. It would be almost unthinkable for Iraqis to still have a positive opinion of an occupying power this long after the initial invasion. But the Iraqis' optimism about the future and faith in democracy suggest that the country may really have a chance.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOUR YEARS TOO LATE: "[Gore's] speech was extraordinary — blunt, colorful and delivered with the kind of passion you seldom see in politics anymore." Then again, most swing voters don't exactly share the opinions of Bob Herbert.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO FUNNY I FORGOT TO LAUGH: Someone's research assistant should be editing his boss' material.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Sudanese peasants will be naming their sons "George Bush" because he scored a humanitarian victory this week that could be a momentous event around the globe — although almost nobody noticed. It was Bush administration diplomacy that led to an accord to end a 20-year civil war between Sudan's north and south after two million deaths.

If the peace holds, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved, millions of refugees will return home, and a region of Africa may be revived.
Not exactly what you expect from Nick Kristof, is it? As Kristof points out, there still a long way to go in Sudan:
While Mr. Bush has done far too little, he has at least issued a written statement, sent aides to speak forcefully at the U.N. and raised the matter with Sudan's leaders. That's more than the Europeans or the U.N. has done. Where are Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? Where are African leaders, like Nelson Mandela? Why isn't John Kerry speaking out forcefully? And why are ordinary Americans silent?
I just don't understand the guy. Three days ago, he was telling us that "Our embrace of Mr. Sharon hobbles us in Iraq even more than those photos from Abu Ghraib." Well, this much I can say: radical mood swings are a Kristof hallmark. Plus, Nick has really cute kids.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, May 28, 2004

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER: Why has the Commander-in-Chief remained silent about the murder of at least ten prisoners of war and the refusal of the Pentagon to investigate their deaths seriously?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIA FAVORITE BECOMES IRAQI PM: On the one hand, Iyad Allawi won the unananimous support of the Governing Council. On the other hand, won't it be a little hard for someone so closely associated with the CIA to win the trust of the average Iraqi? Then again, he apparently has Sistani's support.

One implication of Allawi's selection is that the US won't have to deal with a hypothetical request to pull its soldiers out of Iraq. Given Sistani's tolerant approach to the American presence and Allawi's own relationship with the US, it's hard to see why he would play the nationalist card unless he were completely desperate for support.

But with Sistani's backing, there is little chance that he will ever be that deseprate. (Unless he did something really stupid like spying for the Iranian government...)

UPDATE: The NYT tells quite a different story. They're calling Alawi "a choice for prime minister certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations or the Iraqis themselves."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN EXTRAORDINARY FILM: Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of watching The Mission. First shown in 1986, it recounts the heart-rending struggle of Jesuit missionaries to protect indigenous South Americans from enslavement and murder.

The film is an artistic triumph in every respect. Its narrative is compelling. Both Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons give evocative performances. But above all, it is the cinematography that will take your breath away. Even though any amateur with a video camera can make the lush canyons of South America look stunning, The Mission not only provides awesome footage of the landscape that no amateur could shoot, but also integrates the landscape into the narrative, thus adding tremendous emotional depth to both the characters and their natural environment.

Another remarkable aspect of the film is its decision to cast the Waunana tribe of Colombia as the Guarani people embraced by the Jesuits. For those with access to the most recent DVD version of the film, I highly recommend the documentary that comes along with it. In it, director Roland Joffe, best known for The Killing Fields, explains how it was possible to win the trust and hire hundreds of actors belonging to an impoverished Colombian tribe. Although barely familiar with modern technology and often exploited by pale-skinned outsiders, the Waunana traveled over 1000 miles on buses and planes in order to live for more than two months in a special village constructed to resemble their home in the Cauca region of Colombia. With this in mind, their impressive performance in the film becomes all the more spectacular.

Finally, I think it is important to comment on the spiritual dimension of the film. In the popular mind, there are few heroes associated with the European arrival in the Western hemisphere. Often, one thinks of Catholicism as a justification for the brutal repression of the hemisphere's natives. Yet the history of the Jesuits reminds us that there was an entire order devoted to the highest ideals of a humane Christianity. For those of us who are not Christians, I think that this aspect of The Mission does far more to explain the power of the Christian than does the unremitting violence of a film like The Passion.

UPDATE: SM reminds me to mention that The Mission also has an incredible score. And she's absolutely right.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

IDEA OF THE WEEK: SUCCEED IN IRAQ - The centrist Democratic Leadership Council (home of, for instance, hawkish moderate Democratic Senators Lieberman and Clinton, among others) offers a new idea to the Democratic party: succeed in Iraq.

In their weekly newsletter, after applauding Kerry's Seattle speech for resisting pressure in his party to cut and run, the DLC suggests several further steps for Kerry to take on Iraq. In the Seattle speech, saying that "the day is late and the situation in Iraq is grim," Kerry had called on Bush to use the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul to convince Europeans to accept Iraq as an alliance mission; to work at the G-8 summit in Georgia next month, to expand international support for training Iraq's security forces; and to propose the creation of an International High Commissioner, Bosnia-style, to work with Iraqis in organising elections, drafting a constitution, and coordinating reconstruction. While the use of Bosnia's international governance structure as a model might raise a few eyebrows from people with experience in Bosnian reconstruction, that Kerry is even speaking along these lines shows the merciful ascendence of Democratic hawks such as Rand Beers within the broad tent that is the Kerry campaign.

The DLC goes on to suggest sending additional troops as necessary, doing everything consistent with security to transfer governing authority to the sovereign caretaker government on June 30, and accelerate an investigation into the Abu Ghirab prisoner abuses. Most controversially, they also call for a perfunctory expression of American penitence that 'mistakes were made' in the run-up to the Iraq war, as a sop to court closer allied cooperation in the post-war period. This might give heartburn to some...but their other stuff sounds so good, you almost want to give it to them.

For more on the moderate DLC's role in a presidential campaign when politics is increasingly coming to be played out between ideological extremes, see this piece:
When the once-mighty Democratic Leadership Council holds its annual "national conversation" Friday and Saturday in Phoenix, the highlight is unlikely to be the seminars about new ways of running government or the showcasing of centrist candidates.

Instead, topic A will be how to rally around John Kerry - the kind of Massachusetts liberal this group was created to counter - and how to make moderates matter in an election where they're being increasingly marginalized.

"Democrats are frustrated," [political analyst Stuart Rothenberg] said, "and they're not in the mood for the kind of nuance this group offers." DLC loyalists and officials strongly disagree, saying Kerry is making all the right moves so far.
Other past startling DLC ideas of the week include improving charter schools, making state procurement more efficient, simplifying the tax code, introducing smaller, more rigorous high schools into the inner city, and finishing the job on welfare reform.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REALITY FAR MORE RIDICULOUS THAN ONION: Get some Americans together in Oxford, and it will take all of four minutes for one of us to complain about how condescending the British are. In that vein, The Onion has published an article entitled "US Gives Up Trying to Impress England". (Why "England" and not "Britain"? Is the United States still committed to impressing Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? Or do the Scots, Irish and Welsh empathize with Americans because they have suffered so much from English condescension as well?)

While the Onion's missive gives an occasional nod to the reality of British condescension, its real message is that Americans are vulgar and that it is the United States which is actually guilty of treating other nations in an arrogant and childish manner. As for vulgarity, one might consider the following observation about British undergarments, one which fits quite nicely with my own observations as an erstwhile UK resident. And with regard to diplomacy, one might consider the following bit of correspondence from an advice column in the Spectator (via BG):
Q. Some mega-rich American bankers bought the house opposite and have outraged the neighbourhood with two solid years of construction work — endless daily noise from a circular mechanical digger gouging out a second basement, thick dust, meaning endless trips to an expensive carwash, endless window-cleaning, blocked street, lost car parking, and rude and aggressive builders — without a hint of an apology at any time. The traditional form here is to send a charming note apologising in advance or wine (relating to height of inconvenience) in retrospect.

How can I show these dreadful vulgar people that they are universally loathed and completely unwelcome while staying within the law? Have you any suggestions for killer insults which would not be actionable (these people are New Yorkers)?

Name withheld, London W11

A. As you live in the Notting Hill area you doubtless have a wide circle of friendly neighbours who work in the media, most pertinently people who produce reality television. Simply arrange for the offending neighbours to receive a letter from a production company announcing that they are to be the focus of a forthcoming Neighbours from Hell shockumentary (which is in the very early stages of production) and requesting an interview in which they will have the opportunity to hit back at their critics in the surrounding streets. ‘Please telephone to arrange a suitable time when we can film you outside the property when the diggers are in action.’ Even if you do not see an end to the noise, you will have the satisfaction of having unnerved the offenders and possibly put them to the expense and inconvenience of issuing an injunction. You may even find someone who genuinely wants to make such a documentary. The haves would enjoy feeling outraged as they watched and the have-nots would enjoy for quite different reasons.
Gotta love that special relationship.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

POLLY TOYNBEE PEDDLES THE SAME OLD TIRED IMAGES OF AMERICANS AS FAT, UNEQUAL, AND EVIL. Fortunately, the blogosphere has Scott Burgess to correct her by actually doing research rather than just recycling racist stereotypes:

Polly Toynbee's Faux Fat 'Facts'

Not only have The Guardian editors and Lord Tebbit weighed in on the causes of the "obesity epidemic," today the inimitable Polly Toynbee enters the fray. It turns out that neither evil corporations nor a government eager to promote buggery (see yesterday's post) is responsible for the problem, and it's certainly not caused by people eating too much and exercising too little.

So what is the real cause? Well:

"It is inequality and disrespect that makes people fat"
Polly offers precious few facts to support this extraordinary conclusion - although she does say that:
"obesity took off 25 years ago, up 400% in the years when inequality has exploded."
Unsurprisingly, she offers no evidence for this assertion, nor any that would support a causal link.

She continues:

"The inequality/obesity link is mirrored internationally. America has by far the most unequal society and by far the fattest. Britain and Australia come next. Europe is better and the Scandinavian countries best of all ... the narrower the status and income gap between high and low, the narrower the waistbands."
Absolute statements invite scrutiny, especially when they're backed by - well - nothing at all. So I did some scrutinising, with the following results:

"America has by far the most unequal society..."

No it doesn't. Latin American and African countries have the most unequal societies - by far. A quick look at the Ginni Index figure (a measure of income inequality) for countries worldwide shows that of the 30 most "unequal societies," only three (Phillipines, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia) aren't in Africa or South/Central America. The United States comes in at number 41, with a Ginni index of 40.8, very close to the worldwide average of 39.48.

"... and by far the fattest."

No it doesn't - Pacific Islanders have by far the fattest. Among non-Pacific Islanders, residents of Greece, Jordan, Palestine, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also fatter than Americans.

"Britain and Australia come next."

No they don't. The following countries rank ahead of England (which has the highest rate in Britain):

Albania (urban), Argentina, Bahrain, Barbados, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Malta, Mexico and Paraguay.

"... the Scandinavian countries best of all."

No they're not. Finland is in a statistical dead heat with England (22.5% each). If we define "Scandinavian countries" as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, and average the obesity rates in those countries, we see that the following countries are slimmer (I have excluded countries where famine and starvation are endemic):

Austria, Brazil, China, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Looks like oriental countries are actually "best of all" - and, interestingly enough, Denmark ranks third worldwide in "Mortality: Obesity (per capita)," with a rate nearly double that of the US, according to the WHO.

"But the narrower the status and income gap between high and low, the narrower the waistbands."

Again, false. Comparing Ginni figures and obesity rates, we find that:

  • Brazil is third in the world in income inequality, but has an obesity rate below that of any Scandinavian country.
  • Hungary, ranked second in income equality, has an obesity rate just 1.7 percentage points less than that of England.
  • Finland - 7th best in equality - has the same rate as England, as noted above.
  • The Czech Republic, despite being 6th best in terms of income equality, has a higher obesity rate than England.
  • Malaysia, which ranks second in inequality outside of Africa and Latin America, has a minuscule rate of about 6%.
Unfortunately, no statistics are available as to the obesity rate in Belarus, which leads the world in income equality, and therefore represents Polly Toynbee's vision of heaven on earth.

Polly is correct about one thing, though. As she puts it:

"This obesity debate is full of humbug and denial."
I couldn't have said it any better.

Me neither.

Ginni figures are from the CIA world factbook, and are presented here.
Obesity rates are from the International Association for the Study of Obesity, and are presented here.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG BEST LINE OF THE DAY: To Miss (sorry, lately Dr) Orli Bahcall, new editor of Nature Genetics, and expert in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at Imperial College, London, when asked at parties what she does: 'I model in London'.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQ NEWS UPDATE: All members of a four-person NBC television crew taken hostage in Fallujah have been released after two days in captivity, according to a CPA news release. The Fallujah Brigade was reportedly instrumental in securing their release.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, May 27, 2004

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PHIL CARTER HAS MOVED: To www.intel-dump.com. As usual, he is putting up first-rate posts on military affairs, especially the events at Abu Ghraib and the meaning of heroism.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM MILOSEVIC TO ABU GHRAIB: Greg Djerejian spent two years working for the International Rescue Committee in the former Yugoslavia. Greg writes that
My main responsibility was to interview refugees and act as their advocates to secure them refugee status in the United States.

During this time, I interviewed hundreds of people who had suffered immensely. Young women raped by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo, a Bosnian Muslim man who had escaped Srebrenica, another man from the Prijedor area who had lost his mother, father and all of his seven siblings to a massacre.
With that experience in mind, Greg meditates on the significance of Abu Ghraib.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HANDS OFF THE BUSH DAUGHTERS! Ted Barlow calls on his fellow liberal bloggers to avoid making any derisive remarks about the Bush daughters. When conservatives made fun of Chelsea, they only generated sympathy for her and her father.

By extension, I think it's fair to say that I, as an undecided/not-liberal/not-conservative blogger have an unrestricted right to give the Bush daughters a hard time. At the moment, I have nothing bad to say about Jenna & Barbara. However, I think that their father could break all existing records for political fundraising if the Bush twins took on the Olsen twins in a mud-wrestling match broadcast live on the web.

PS OxBlog regrets any sexist connotations that such an event might have.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSIA'S YOUNG DICTATORS: The WaPo has a long and interesting article about the struggle of one Russian teacher to persuade her students of the perils of Communist dictatorship. While the students' perspectives are often disturbing, especially their apologias for Stalin, what I found far more interesting was the struggle of the teacher, Irina Suvolokina, to lead her students to discover the merits of freedom on their own. Trained in the Soviet era, Irina seems unsure of how to open the minds of those who do not see things her way.

While the tone of the WaPo's coverage is fairly pessimistic, I think it may underestimate the degree to which high school students have to try on ideas for size before discovering which ones fit with their lived experience. While Tanya Levina may describe fascism and communism as "systems of genius", how will she feel when she confront a teacher or other authority figure who tries to shove their values down her throat? Then, perhaps, she will remember the democrat, Ms. Suvolokina, who even let Stalin's advocates have their say.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

WANNA PARTNER? If you're from a city anywhere in the UK, and think your local authority might be interested in forming a sister-city relationship with Almaty, Kazakhstan; Borjomi, Georgia; or Dushanbe, Tajikistan, then please do drop this fellow a note!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO READS BLOGS? Both Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall have taken demographic surveys of their readership.

The most stunning finding of both surveys is that almost half of TPM (46%) and Sullivan (50%) readers have a graduate degree. Another 35%, or 85% of the total, have undergraduate degrees. The national figures for graduate and bachelor's degrees are 9% and 24% respectively.

On a related note, 70% of TPM and Sullivan readers have an income of over $50,000 per year, with half of those 70% earning over $100,000 per year. (National income figures are here, but refer to households rather than individuals.)

I'm not sure what to make of all this. Are blog readers the best and brightest of their generation? Or is their lack of diversity apalling? (By the way, both sites have an 80% male readership.)

While one might hope for an ideal world in which factory workers and secretaries demonstrate just as much interest in the news as do those they work for, I take some comfort in the fact that Josh and Andrew cater to identical demographics with radically opposing viewpoints. At minimum, we can expect a high-level debate.

UPDATE: DS writes
"I just want you to know that I, a lowly secretary, do read blogs… many times both both Andrew Sullivan and TPM to get a broader viewpoint – not to mention “Oxblog” … I find the tone of your little missive condescending and elitist… but, hey, why am I not surprised…"
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:42 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GORE ON THE WARPATH: Here's some of what Al Gore said today at New York University:
The abuse of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib flowed directly from the abuse of the truth that characterized the Administration's march to war and the abuse of the trust that had been placed in President Bush by the American people in the aftermath of September 11th...

We are less safe because of his policies. He has created more anger and righteous indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation -- because of his attitude of contempt for any person, institution or nation who disagrees with him...

Remember how shocked each of us, individually, was when we first saw those hideous images...these abuses [did not] spring from a few twisted minds at the lowest ranks of our military enlisted personnel. No, it came from twisted values and atrocious policies at the highest levels of our government. This was done in our name, by our leaders.

These horrors were the predictable consequence of policy choices that flowed directly from this administration's contempt for the rule of law.
I'm going to let all of that go without comment. What really struck me was Gore's observation that
David Kay concluded his search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with the famous verdict: "we were all wrong." And for many Americans, Kay's statement seemed to symbolize the awful collision between reality and all of the false and fading impressions President Bush had fostered in building support for his policy of going to war.
It's as if Gore had completely forgotten how the administration he served as Vice President has insisted time and again that Saddam Hussein had a substantial arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. While Gore seems to include himself in the "we" who were all wrong, he suggests that only the current President misled the nation. Anyhow, Maureen Dowd liked the speech.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOW TURNOUT IN AMERICAN IDOL VOTE: Just hours ago, viewers cast 65 million votes in the final round of the American Idol competition. In contrast, American citizens cast over 105 million votes in the November 2000 presidential election.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHALABI-GATE: This is one of the issues I missed out on while in California, so all I can really do is direct you to some of Kevin Drum's comprehensive posts on the subject. For background on Chalabi, see Kevin's detailed timeline. The big question, of course, is what exactly Chalabi did to provoke a US raid on his compound.

While Josh Marshall thinks it's just a matter of Beltway politics, Kevin thinks that Big Media got the story right that Chalabi was caught red-handed selling us out to the Iranians. Incidentally, TPM's hypothesis matches up with that of Chalabi booster Michael Ledeen, who still suspects that Chalabi was a victim of politics, not of his own crimes. Kevin, however, thinks Michael is grasping at straws.

One interesting side effect of Chalabi-gate is that it has forced the NY Times to issue a lengthy and detailed public apology for its breathless reporting about Iraqi WMD programs. As Jack Shafer points out, almost everything the Times got wrong was the fault of correspondent Judith Miller. It is certainly quite remarkable that such a bulwark of anti-war sentiment would be taken in by shoddy anti-Saddam propaganda.

One might say that this is red-flag evidence of conservative media bias. My sense, however, is that the NYT fell prey to the consensus across the spectrum that Saddam really did have major stockpiles of WMD. With no one out there saying otherwise, why should the Times question the work of its own correspondent? And if the anti-war editors at the Times were unable to think critically about WMD, is it really surprising that Cheney and Rumsfeld had similar problems?

Anyhow, getting back to Chalabi, all OxBlog has to say is good riddance to bad rubbish. As time passes there is more and more evidence that Chalabi sold the US a bill of goods -- intentionally. WMD aside, it still reflects very poorly on Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz placed so much faith in someone with so many black marks on his resume. As we said almost eight months ago, "there is good reason to only expect the worst from Chalabi."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NY TIMES UNFAMILIAR WITH CONCEPT OF "DEMOCRACY": The Times says that "it is getting harder every day" to tell the difference between Bush and Kerry's positions on Iraq. It reports that
In a speech last month, Mr. Kerry said the goal of the United States should be to bring about "a stable, free Iraq with a representative government, secure in its borders." That position is broadly indistinguishable from that of Mr. Bush.
Amazingly, the Times make no reference whatsoever to Kerry's statement (last month, of course) that
I have always said from day one that the goal here...is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that's a full democracy [...] I can't tell you what it's going to be, but a stable Iraq. And that stability can take several different forms.

You leave with stability, [and] you hope that you can continue the process of democratization. Obviously, that's the goal [...] With respect to getting our troops out, the measure is the stability of Iraq.
Perhaps because it benefits from the 3-hour time difference between New York and California, the LA Times headline on the morning after Kerry's remarks read: "Kerry Places Stability in Iraq Above a Democracy". But, hey, that was last month. Give Kerry a few weeks and he'll come up with something new.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRISTOF OFF THE DEEP END: I often disagree with Nick Kristof but generally think of him as someone whose arguments are worth hearing. Then he comes up with something like this:
Our embrace of Mr. Sharon hobbles us in Iraq even more than those photos from Abu Ghraib.
Kristof is probably right that "Iraqis (in contrast with, say, Kuwaitis) genuinely sympathize with the Palestinians." But does American support for yet another Israeli prime minister in anyway compare to the rampant abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, most of whom were never charged with crimes?

Kristof's fundamental problem is that he demonizes Sharon and Bush while whitewashing their predecessors. According to Kristof, the Israeli's wall around the West Bank is no different from the East Germans wall around West Berlin. Yet if memory serves, very few West Germans strapped dynamite to themselves before riding East German buses. With regard to Bush, Kristof writes that
American presidents have always tried to be honest brokers in the Middle East. Truman, Johnson and Reagan were a bit more pro-Israeli, while Eisenhower, Carter and George H. W. Bush were a bit cooler, but all aimed for balance.
Wow. That sounds like revisionist history from the National Review. Reagan and Bush I as "balanced"? If the people of Iraq agreed with that assessment, they might, just might consider Abu Ghraib to be the lesser of Bush's evils.

Anyhow, I haven't gotten to the actual point of Kristof's column, which is that John Kerry's position on Israel is no less extreme than that of George W. Bush. On that point I agree with Mr. Kristof, and am glad that the Senator from Massachusetts has displayed a modicum of common sense.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

I THINK THIS might help explain all of the hits we've been getting from playboy.com over the last few days (via lovable lefty OxFriend Jeff Hauser).
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE SILENT MAJORITY: Mexican-American Jew Daniel Lubetzky and Palestinian Mohammad Darawshe from Nazareth have conducted a massive survey of 23,000 Palestinians and 17,000 Israelis, and have found that that seventy-six percent of both populations favour a two-state settlement, liberal democracy and minority rights, and mutual recognition.

The down side was that strong Palestinian majorities opposed settlements while strong Israeli majorities opposed the right of return. But in any event, the efforts of Lubetzky and Darawshe and their organisation OneVoice have demonstrated that there exists substantial broad agreement among the ordinary people of Israel and Palestine about what the contours of a final status agreement should look like - and hearteningly, that 'strong rejectionists' on both sides, even in the current dark days, number definitively as a comparatively small minority.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UPDATE YOUR LINKS: Blogger-ventriloquist Joe Gandelman has moved his site to Type Pad, so don't look for him on Blogspot anymore. Right now, Joe thinks things are looking pretty bad for the President:
Each day it seems like another group in the coalition that helped election him in the nail-biting election against Al Gore is dropping away.

What we seem to be seeing now is a slow but steady trend away from Bush, rather than to Kerry, who remains as exciting and palatable as a bowl of frozen chopped liver.
I hope Joe intended that chopped liver remark as a compliment, since a bowl of frozen chopped liver has the potential to become a delicious bowl of warm chopped liver. And if you've ever been to New York's 2nd Ave. Deli, you know how good chopped liver can be.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

# Posted 10:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BIG MEDIA ROUND-UP: The WaPo's Dan Froomkin has an extremely comprehensive round-up of big media reactions to last night's speech. Somehow, the folks USA Today managed to write that "President Bush set out sweeping and impressive plans to bring stability and democracy to Iraq." On a similar note, the Chicago Tribune observes that
Bush laid out the path to that new Iraq. His speech capped a remarkable day that gave Americans the full measure of their president's determination to empower Iraqis.
But the real award for optimism goes to Ron Brownstein at the LA Times, who thinks that
President Bush offered Monday the most detailed explanation of his plan for moving Iraq from chaos to independence, increasing the pressure on his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry, to fill in an alternative vision for stabilizing the troubled country.
But if almost 60% of Americans believe that Bush has no plan for Iraq and that he is doing a bad job of handling the situation, why should Kerry feel any pressure? A more realistic take on the situation comes from John Podhoretz, who writes that
Bush is a high-stakes player, a political gambler. And last night he took a fantastically bold gamble: In the teeth of bad polls, an atmosphere of panic in his own party and the barely concealed glee of his rivals . . . he has decided to stand pat.
That assessment dovetails with both the opinion of David Brooks and yours truly. When Bush was running for President the first time around, he promised that he would govern on the basis of firm principles, not the latest numbers from the polls. That argument may not work this time around because now we know its true.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGOSPHERE ROUND-UP: Andrew Sullivan and Kevin Drum agree that the most newsworthy aspect of the President's speech was his promise to grant Iraq full sovereignty on June 30. Andrew accepts the President's words at face value. Kevin, echoing OxBlog, thinks that the idea of full sovereignty on June 30 is a farce. Waxing cynical, Kevin writes that
Iraqis won't be fooled by [the promise of sovereignty], but for that reason they aren't going to be disappointed either. Americans, however, are going to be fooled by it, and that's all Bush cares about. A hundred million people are going to hear that we're handing over "full sovereignty," and maybe 1% of them will read or hear an explanation of why that's not true. So it's a win for Bush.
On a similar note, Matt Yglesias writes that "To the grossly ignorant American public, this sort of tripe can be extremely convincing." Matt thinks, however, that if Bush follows through on his plan to give a speech about Iraq every week, even our ignorant fellow Americans will see through it.

The problem with this kind of cynicism is that it flies directly in the face of numerous opinion polls, the most recent of which reports that 58% of Americans think that Bush has no clear plan for Iraq. The same 58% disapprove of how Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. Moreover, both numbers have risen over the past months.

As the WaPo points out, Bush's lower approval ratings, both for Iraq and for overall job performance, reflect the fact that even Republicans are losing faith in the President. So perhaps most Americans won't be able to explain the difference between full and limited sovereignty for Iraq. But Kevin and Matt should be celebrating the fact that even the President's partisans are beginning to take a Democratic view of Iraq's future. The only question in my mind is whether the Democratic view is actually democratic.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE NUMBERS ALL GO TO ELEVEN: Is Spinal Tap running the New York Stock Exchange?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COKE ADDICTS: Committed to bringing you the hottest celebrity news, OxBlog is proud to announce that Coca-Cola will launch its newest beverage, dubbed "C2", in a series of commercials broadcast during the final episodes of American Idol.

In case you haven't heard, C2 has half the carbs and half the calories of Coke Classic. Bascially, it's a soft drink for the Atkins diet. Will anyone buy it? I guess that really depends on how it tastes. I drink a lot of Diet Coke but would drink regular Coke any day if I weren't concerned about the calories. If C2 really tastes like the real thing, I'll give it a try.

But I'm not optimistic. All three of the recent Coke innovations: Vanilla Coke, Lemon Coke, and Lime Coke, were a waste of time. I tried them each for a few weeks and came to a pretty simple conclusion: If you want citrus-flavored cola, buy a frikkin' lemon at the grocery and put it in the soda yourself.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MADONNA CANCELS ISRAEL TOUR STOP: Death threats from unidentified Palestinian terrorists have forced the cancellation of three concerts planned for September in Tel Aviv. You can't really blame the Material Girl for backing out, since the terrorists specifically threatened her children.

In spite of the cancellation, I think it's extremely surprising that a top-flight international superstar would identify herself so publicly with the Jewish state. Moreover, Madonna had intended to mark the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks with a special televised concert in Tel Aviv.

So why hasn't Madonna bought into the anti-war, pro-Palestinian Hollywood consensus? I don't really know, but one has to wonder whether her intense attachment to the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kabbala has something to do with it. On the other hand, some (so-called) experts are suggesting that rabbinicial condemnations of Kabbala were responsible for the cancelled tour stop:
“Kabbalah, as it’s practiced by Madonna, is held in great scorn by rabbinical leaders in Israel,” says cult expert Rick Ross. “People in Israel are not reticent about expressing their religious beliefs. If you’re the number one missionary in the world for that form of Kabbalah — which Madonna is — a concert there could be, shall we say, messy."
That actually sounds pretty far-fetched to me. Tel Aviv is the personification of Israeli secularism, and a visit from Madonna hardly merits a commotion on the religious right. Now, if the Material Girl gave a concert in the Old City of Jerusalem, that might provoke a confrontation. But I just don't see busloads of blackhatted haredim descending on Tel Aviv in order to protest.

On a related note, I'm not sure what it means to "practice" Kabbala. I haven't studied it much, but at least in the mainstream, there is no such thing as Kabbalistic Judaism. For those of you familiar with the legend of the Golem, you may remember that the Maharal of Prague, the Golem's creator, was a practitioner of Kabbala. If Madonna has figured out how to animate lumbering giants made out of clay, then more power to her. In the meantime, I'm happy to let Madonna introduce Britney Spears, Posh Spice and David Beckham to the wonders of medieval Judaism.

UPDATE: Sasha Castel has a very informative post on the centuries-old Christian tradition of embracing Kabbala.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRST VERDICTS: In its straight news account of the President's speech, the WaPo reports that
Bush disclosed few new details of the scheduled June 30 handover of limited sovereignty to Iraqis, declining to name the Iraqis who will take power or to clearly define the future U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The article then reinforces that point by reporting that
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the president's Democratic challenger, said in a statement that Bush "laid out general principles tonight, most of which we've heard before." He added: "What's most important now is to turn these words into action by offering presidential leadership to the nation and to the world."
Finally, for those who needs thing spelled out for them, the WaPo has a news analysis column entitled "A Speech Meant to Rally Public Support Doesn't Answer Key Questions".

Pretty much, Bush is getting what he deserves. The repackaging of the administration's strategy for Iraq as a five-point plan is hardly persuasive. Already, the NYT is putting scare quotes around the words "five-point plan", as if to warn that it may contain only four points or even just three. But from where I stand, the real problem is that the speech created false expectations about what the June 30th handover will accomplish. In the final analysis, that is much more dangerous than being vague.

On the other hand, the implicit suggestion that Bush should have unveiled a revolutionary and detailed plan for bringing stability to Iraq is somewhat absurd. It is the kind of suggestion that exists only in order to create impossible standards that cannot be met. The overall strategy for Iraq has been the same for quite some time now: hold things together until the Iraqis can elect their own government.

It might just work. Or, as the NYT readily suggests, it might just fail. Either way, it is a strategy, and a strategy that distinguishes the President from those such as John Kerry who have begun to suggest that the people of Iraq cannot expect the United States to give them freedom, but instead only stability.

As suggested below, the real news value of the President's speech is the way in which it solidified his commitment to stay the course in Iraq, come hell (falling approval ratings) or high water (more American casualties).

Although indirectly, this point sometimes comes across in the newspapers. For example, the WaPo's first graf describes Bush's commitment to promote democracy in Iraq as a "vow". Still, there is very little sense that Bush is holding fast to a risk-laden but idealistic strategy even as the November election approaches. Stubborn perhaps. Even foolish. But very idealistic.

UPDATE: David Brooks makes exactly the same point.

Also, the NYT editorial on the speech is now up. Can you guess what it wanted Bush to say about Iraq? The same as always, of course: drop the problem on someone else.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, May 24, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH: It was an impressive performance. Or perhaps I should say an impressive text, since I only read it. But let's get to the criticism first. The praise can wait.

The purpose of this speech was to chart a course for the future of America in Iraq. As expected, Bush placed considerable emphasis on the June 30th handover date. Too much emphasis:
On June 30th, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist and will not be replaced. The occupation will end and Iraqis will govern their own affairs.

America's ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, will present his credentials to the new president of Iraq. Our embassy in Baghdad will have the same purpose as any other American embassy: to assure good relations with a sovereign nation.
The suggestion that a nation will govern itself with 150,000 foreign soldiers on its soil and without an elected government is simply not credible. While most critics emphasize the first of those two points, I think the latter is just as important. The fact is, interim governments don't truly govern. Their purpose is to dissolve themselves and pave the way for an elected, constitutional authority.

By raising expectation of what the June 30th handover will accomplish, Bush is only hurting himself. From what I can tell, few Iraqis expect much to change on that date. What I expect is an updating of the artificial consensus that produced the current Governing Council. Once again, the US -- this time along with the UN -- is trying to provide Iraq with a government that won't offend anyone.

But governments that don't offend anyone are governments that don't govern. Without the mandate provided by an election, no Iraqi government can make the controversial decisions that will have to be made during the process of reconstruction. And if Iraqis can't make those decisions, then Americans and UN officials will. That is why it is thoroughly disingenuous for Bush to describe Negroponte's post as just another embassy.

Now on to the good parts of the speech. First and foremost, I was overwhelmed by the President's unabashed Wilsonianism. Even Reagan's most idealistic speeches never went this far, either in terms of emphasis or specificity. On far too many occasions, Reagan embedded his democratic aspirations in vague formulas that had few practical implications.

In contrast, Bush has now lain out a very clear schedule for the transition to electoral democracy in Iraq. His remarks announced specific deadlines for elections to the constitutional assembly, for a referendum on the draft constitution and for general elections. He has invested his America's prestige -- and perhaps the survival of his administration -- in this process.

He is also investing American soldiers. With Bush's approval ratings in the midst of an extended plunge, critics have suggested that the President was getting ready to cut and run. But now he has explicity promised to hold the size of the occupation force steady at 138,000 or even increase it if necessary. While Bush held "the commanders" responsible for estimating that only 115,000 troops would be necessary at this point, he did admit that the American effort to create self-sufficient Iraqi security force has resuled in failures.

Finally, Abu Ghraib. It will be razed. To be sure, Bush refused to admit that the abuses there went beyond the actions of a "few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values". Yet, in this instance, actions may ultimately speak louder than words.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DISTURBING: Human rights violations at Abu Ghraib have brought the perils of the American prison system back into the public spotlight. To some degree, this (re-)revelation of the horrors we tolerate at home detracts attention from the seriousness of what happened abroad.

However, I would argue that focusing more on the failures of the domestic prison and mental health systems provides a proper context for understanding how American soldiers committed such brutal and hypocritical acts at Abu Ghraib. Our domestic failures reproduce themselves abroad.

This fact in no way mitigates the guilt or responsibility of those who violated the human rights of Iraqi prisoners. It simply points to the fact that we may not be able to set the standards we want abroad until we commit ourselves to setting them at home as well.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN: I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. Bachelor party in Vegas. Drive to LA. Rehearsal dinner. Wedding mass. Wedding party. Flight back to Boston. Arabic final the next morning.

Although deprived of sleep, I am quite well-rested intellectually. I am actually excited to start working on my dissertation again. But I am a little apprehensive about blogging. Dissertation research behaves itself while you're away. When you come back, it is exactly where you left it.

But the blogosphere goes wild. How can I possibly catch up on hundreds of news articles and thousands of blog posts? How can I say anything without exposing myself to withering criticism from those who are now better informed than myself?

Yet strangely, I didn't feel at all disconnected from the world when I wasn't blogging. I threw an occasional glance at the headlines, but nothing seemed all that important. My life went on exactly as it had been going. No one I talked to seemed all that concerned about the news. What really mattered was that one of my closest friends ever, someone I lived with for four life-changing years, was entering into a life-long relationship with the woman he loves.

For someone who spends hours a day reading about, thinking about the news, this break served as an important reminder that very few of us inhabit the insulated reality known as the blogosphere. By the same token, it served as an important reminder that neither journalists nor politicians, no matter how important, play a prominent in the lives of most Americans.

One might argue that Americans should be more publicly-minded and better informed. But how much information is enough? At what point would the experts agree that American citizens know enough?

Of course, I am hardly the first one to consider the implications of such questions. Two hundred twenty-five years ago, the Founders sought to strike the right balance between creating a democracy and creating a republic. To what degree must elected representatives obey the will of the voters and to what degree must they act in what they believe to be the voters' best interests?

I have no new answers to these questions. I am simply glad that taking some time away from OxBlog enabled me to confront the real-life conditions that give rise to these eternal dilemmas.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, May 22, 2004

# Posted 11:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

SURPRISE! So it looks as though Rachel's planned me a surprise birthday trip to my ancestral city of Dublin - I'm writing this from a kiosk at Gatwick, where she's whisked me away from Oxford's Gloucestr Green. I'll see all of you on Tuesday, and a year older - till then, slan agus dia dhuit!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S AFGHANISTAN CORRESPONDENT goes on a diet with 1974 vintage weight watcher cards. (Joel, can't you at least come up with a version featuring the delights of Afghan cuisine?)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

WELL, I HAVEN'T GOT ONE OF THOSE ANYWAY: Porsche owners are more likely to cheat on their spouses than the owner of any other genus of car, with 49 percent taking a spin in the wrong lane according to a survey. Want to boost your chances of marital fidelity? Try a trusty Vauxhall.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

INDIA WATCH: Outlook India speculates on what Indian national security policy will look like under Congress. Also, the Economic Times argues that Congress's election had more to do with astute alliance management than in increasing its vote share (which actually declined slightly from the 1999 elections).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, May 21, 2004

# Posted 10:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

SRI LANKA WATCH: OxBlog friend and Nathan Hale member Vikram Raghavan has just returned from Sri Lanka, where he formed part of a World Bank team to explore how best to go about the reconstruction of a country ravaged by two decades of civil war. He writes about his travels and thoughts there on his new blog.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

THINK TANK WATCH: Over at Rand, Bruce Hoffman considers the effect of killing Osama on the corporation succession plan of Al Qa'eda. Cheryl Bernard considers how the west might best assist reformers in the Islamic world without actually hindering their cause. OxBlog favourite John Lewis Gaddis speaks at CFR on surprise, security, and the American experience. DCIs Turner, Woolsey, and Webster talk about in which directions their alma mater agency should change in the future. Yale Law hosts a senior USAID official and two UN ambassadors to discuss whether nation-building is in fact possible. Brookings looks at labour standards in trade agreements and whether the market is moral, while CSIS looks at Afghanistan security, US options toward Pakistan, and security and migration across the US-Mexican border.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOVERNMENT TO BRITAIN: NIPPLES ARE FOR TABLOIDS, NOT FOR BREASTFEEDING - Brief shots which included the nipple of a breastfeeding mother were cut from an advert to encourage voting in upcoming elections for members of the European Parliament which will be shown in 2,200 British cinemas, on the orders of the Cinema Advertising Association.

Britain is the only country to require the deletion of the offending breastfeeding scene, which contravene long-standing British social standards that breasts are to be used to sell newspapers rather than feed young Britons. French censors are uncomfortable about a brief shot of a stern-looking female judge receiving a jury verdict. Ireland has reportedly decided not to screen the advert at all.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

PIGEON WARFARE: As most people know, Britain and the Forces Françaises Libres relied upon the services of trained homing pigeons to transmit messages across enemy lines. As is less known, British counterintelligence came to realise that the Axis nations also had their own pigeons relaying mesages to the continent from Blighty. So as BBC reports this morning, Britain established a falcon brigade to intercept enemy pidgeons. Other intelligence agencies considered, against the advice of MI5, the training of pigeons for suicide missions; much better to be a chicken, where your duties would merely consist (in another rejected British war plan) of sitting on a nuclear bomb.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ALEXANDRA KERRY: Apparently Alexandra was having a lovely evening before she ran into Michael Moore in the same dress.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

# Posted 9:22 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRACY BRIEFER: I've written a quick democracy briefer over on Winds of Change, focusing on recently announced Palestinian local elections, the paring-down of the Greater Middle East Initiative, and elections in a number of countries making democratic transitions or consolidating after them. I won't say it's a must-read, because it's by .... me; but if you're the sort of person who'd be interested in this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that might interest you.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

ROBERT TAGORDA'S blogging at his best - you should definitely go pay him a visit.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:01 PM by Patrick Belton  

ONE DAY LATE, BUT, happy birthday, Matt! The three of us are always happy to have you out there as a very respected interlocutor, and we wish you many very happy returns of the day.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S ESTEEMED INDIA CORRESPONDENT ANTARA DATTA helps us continue our conversation about India's tumultuous elections:
Dear Patrick,
Two quick points about the post on india:

1. I'd be wary about the statistics indicating a drop in poverty. Poverty rates declined because the Indian government switched over to World Bank prescriptions to measuring poverty. In particular, this involved questioning people about their 'weekly consumption' rather than their 'monthly consumption'. Since the sampling method changed, rates too changed. I'd be more curious about the total number of people below the poverty line.

Also the definition of the poverty line in India is a hugely political question. Various definitions abound and were suggested by various committees set up by different governments in power, all determined to prove that poverty had declined during their tenure. So as I said, I'd be very wary of using data based on poverty lines in India- it's a political tinderbox!

This is not to say that poverty hasn't declined. And that things haven't gotten better under BJP rule. But we've also seen the highest suicide rate among farmers under them as well. So makes me wary again of making generalizations about how far their policies have benefitted the poor. As far as the upper middle classes are concerned, there is no doubt that we are certainly better off...but for the rest, perhaps this election was an indication that all is not well. Also, a lot of the reforms began under the Narasimha Rao led Congress government, and if we accept that it takes almost a decade for most reforms to bear fruit, it is a bit rich for the BJP to take credit, and then claim that the Congress would reverse these reforms!!

There is also a tendency in Western media coverage of Indian elections to think of the average voter as poor and illiterate. That they might be, but my experience of rural life in India, however limited, has shown that they are also incredibly politicized and know exactly what the crucial issues at stake are, so I would really respect the decision of the Andhra electorate as a good indication of what was happening within the country, especially in the agricultural sector.

The BJP called the elections six months early because they hoped that a good monsoon would benefit them. What they forgot was the unprecedented drought in north India last year, which they hadn't handled very well (despite the fact that we have fairly large quantities of foodgrains rotting in our warehouses). And after all, you can't really take credit for a good monsoon, can you?! I also find baffling the reactions of the stock market. If Sonia was going to be PM, Manmohan Singh was definitely going to be Finance Minister and would set the agenda on reforms. So how does his becoming PM alter the agenda so much, that the stocks make such a rapid recovery? I'm not sure what the stock brokers were really thinking. Also, it would be foolish to take the Left's statements very seriously. In my home state of Bengal, they've been vigorously trying to attract foreign investors, and besides, they are staying out of government anyway. So they can't really influence government policy all that much. I honestly suspect that on the important question of economic reform, not much will change at all. I also suspect that P. Chidambaram, a Harvard educated lawyer will be the next FM, and he's extremely pro-reform. So that should set some doubts at rest.

2. On Sonia:

It's a brilliant move from her. She's removed the last real 'issue' that the BJP could have used against her. She's made them look very silly (especially the Chief Minister who resigned yesterday morning to launch a campaign against her, only to find that she'd withdrawn). Now they really look like poor losers, and many of their supporters are quite dismayed by what they see as blatant political blackmail. In fact, from what I've been reading in the media for most of today, there is a reasonable groundswell of opinion lauding her act, and many former detractors are quite stunned at what is seen as an act of 'political sacrifice' quite unprecedented in Indian politics.

Part of the reason why the BJP were so taken aback is because most of them couldn't even imagine someone being offered PMship on a platter, and refusing it. So they expected Sonia to become PM, and this to be their main agenda for at least a while.

The other aspect is this: when the BJP says it's launching a 'nationwide agitation', it has ominous overtones. It means that they would have fomented trouble in the villages by targetting minorities. (also remember that Sonia is a Catholic, and the more extreme wing of the RSS has been saying for a while that if Sonia came to power, she would take her orders from the Vatican and so on...) If anything, the fear of what that would do, might have forced Sonia to make up her mind. Note she refers to maintaining the 'secular fabric' of the nation in her speech, which would otherwise seem odd, unless you read it in this context.

In the light of what I said in my last email, yes, I am indeed disappointed that in a way, the BJP's agenda has won the day. But I think, there is a silver lining to all this. And frankly if you vehemently oppose the BJP, like I do, I think this is the best possible thing that could have happened. And it's a really shrewd move from her. Makes me think that she's not as politically inept as most people think!

Anyway, I really ought to get back to revision!!

take care,
Thanks, Antara!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion