OxBlog

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

# Posted 10:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

SAY IT AIN'T SO, SAMMY!: Sammy Sosa breaks all of our hearts, for those of us who believe in and have affection for our national sport. Sosa, the only player in the history of baseball with three 60-homer seasons, shattered his bat in the first inning of the Cubs' game against Tampa Bay at Wrigley - to reveal a bat that had been corked. We may never know how much of his career's successes had been due to cheating.

Sosa was ejected from the game.

UPDATES: Lots, lots more email about this than about Sophocles. AJ points out that this will situate Sosa within the immortal pantheon of legendary baseball cheaters. Patrick W. writes in with his thought that the margin of most of Sosa's homers was probably ironically greater than the 20 to 30 additional feet conferred by a corked bat.

(On the other hand, my father-in-law liked my Sophocles post when he read about it...on Volokh, that is!)









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# Posted 5:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE RECENT REARREST OF SUU KYI is but the latest instance in a sad pattern, in which the degree of freedom extended or denied Ms Suu Kyi by the junta has been a careful calibration between its internal imperative to forestall demcracy, and its own departure from rule, and the external imperative to court the trade benefits which East Asian nations (notably Japan) are happy to confer, in reward for any slight "advance" toward democratic rule, however cynically imposed.

The three of us each have somewhat close ties to this remarkable woman, as her late husband, Michael Aris, was an Oxford academic at St Antony's College. Suu Kyi, herself a graduate of Oxford, returned from the life of a homemaker and donnish spouse to assume her father's mantle when she returned to Burma in August 1988, in the aftermath of a brutally repressed pro-democratic uprising months earlier. Her father, General Aung San, had been a democratizing leader pivotal to securing the end of colonial rule in Burma. With her fortunate combination of parentage, comparative youth, and the preexistence of a strong if frustrated democratic movement, she shot quickly to the worldwide stature shared only by such figures as Nelson Mandela; her political party, the National League for Deomcracy, received 82 percent in national elections in 1990; she had by that point already been under house arrest for a year.

She is, as she should be, very much in all of our thoughts at her erstwhile university.
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Monday, June 02, 2003

# Posted 2:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

SOPHOCLES AND POLITICS: Over the weekend, Rachel and I stayed in on Saturday night and read to each other the penultimate Sophoclean tragedy, Philoctetes. (Yes, this is how married nerds spend their weekends; Sophocles's final work, incidentally, was his more widely read Oedipus at Colonus, to which Philoctetes bears resemblance). I had been thinking at length lately on how best to begin approaching issues of ethics and statecraft, and on reading this neglected play of Athens's greatest tragedian, I was struck by how appropos it was to modern issues of state morality. Indeed, Philoctetes (and here is one translation) is at its core a play of statecraft, revolving around strikingly topical questions such as the morality of deception and covert action in service of a nation's security (even a spy appears, briefly), the moral validity of raisons d'etat, and the legitimate claims owed to chains of command by an officer of the state. It bears, I think, further reflection.

The titular Philoctetes, once the greatest of Greek archers and second to none in nobility of character, has for ten years been abandoned by his countrymen Achaians after his accidental trespass and subsequent snakebiting in a religious sanctuary on the island of Chryse. In consequence of this mishap he is banished and becomes an instantly recognizable as a sort - in Seamus Heaney's gloss, "the wounded one whose identity has become dependent upon the wound." We meet him rag-dressed after a decade's exile, inaugurated when Odysseus abandoned him sleeping on the shores of the desolate island Lemnos. After the snakebiting, his wounds had brought Philoctetes such pain that due to his "savage and ill-omened" cries, his companions could not pour libations or conduct sacrifices in peace. And so he is abandoned through trickery; and so, with the Chorus, we come upon him ten years after his abandonment,
of illustrious race,
Yet here he lies, from every human aid
Far off removed, in dreadful solitude,
And mingles with the wild and savage herd;
With them in famine and in misery
Consumes his days, and weeps their common fate,
Unheeded, save when babbling echo mourns
In bitterest notes responsive to his woe.
The play's main tension begins nearby, where the wily general Odysseus (registering an early anti-Odyssean tradition in which the Homeric hero's deceptiveness receives much less sympathetic treatment than that to which we are accustomed) is conferring with young Neoptolemus, the late Achilles's noble, battle-untried son. We meet them as Odysseus is justifying to his charge why the young man must convince Philoctetes, through lies and ruse, to return with the Greeks to the battlefields of Troy. This deed is necessary because the seer Helenus, son of Priam, had prophesised Troy would be secure until Philoctetes arrived on the scene; hearing this, the joint commanders of the Greek armies, Agamemnon and Menelaus, dispatched Odysseus and his soldiers to retrieve Philoctetes and his bow - and thereby setting our plot in motion.

Odysseus realized that the archer whom for the common good he betrayed would murder him on sight given the chance, and so dispatches young Neoptolemus to by ruse disarm the afflicted archer so the Greeks could compel him to accompany them to Troy. In justifying his actions to his junior officer, Odysseus presents several arguments to Neoptolemus. His first is premised on state morality (duty) and the chain of command (compliance) - "Reflect that 'tis thy duty to comply." His second is the broader compulsion of the state, justified by the security imperatives it faces:
Say what thou wilt, I shall forgive,
And Greece will not forgive thee if thou dost not;
For against Troy thy efforts are all vain
Without his arrows.
His final appeal, though, is not ultimately to patriotic duty, but to vanity and pride:
I know thy noble nature
Abhors the thought of treachery or fraud.
But what a glorious prize is victory!
Concluding, Odysseus stresses the aberrant, temporary nature of the deceitfulness that the state is compelling upon Neoptolemus:

Therefore be bold; we will be just hereafter.
Give to deceit and me a little portion
Of one short day, and for thy future life
Be called the holiest, worthiest, best of men.
However, the noble nature of Achilles, living in his son, rebels against deceipt, and cries out for an honest contest among equals -
What open arms can do
Behold me prompt to act, but ne'er to fraud
Will I descend. Sure we can more than match
In strength a foe thus lame and impotent.
I came to be a helpmate to thee, not
A base betrayer; and, O king! believe me,
Rather, much rather would I fall by virtue
Than rise by guilt to certain victory
The pivotal interchange in the dispute which ensues is Neoptolemus's question, "And thinkst thou 'tis not base / To tell a lie then?"; to which Odysseus's response is, as it must be, "Not if on that lie / Depends our safety."
 
Before proceding to the unplaying of the covert action itself, we might pause to consider what has taken place. First, we see the state giving, in order to preserve itself, to one of its citizens the right to violate its laws and its decent standards of conduct. The wilyness and deceptiveness of Odysseus, now forced by command and conjolance upon his charge, is from the perspective of Athens a black art forgiveable when the survival of the state is in question, but out of place at home in the peacetime councils and life of the democracy. Second, this dispensation here has become a command - conveyed and made attractive with appeals to patriotism, personal glory, and compulsion (familiar components in the recruitrment of agents even in today's clandestine tradecraft) - but at the same time, a military command given from a senior officer to a junior, who with his soldierly status has accepted the impositions on his individual capacities for moral choice of the military chain of command. Third, when the individual threatens the communal good, that of the state, the Greek polity selects its own self-preservation- whether by deceitfully banishing the unlucky hero far from Greek civilization ("Alas, poor soul," says the Chorus, "that never in ten years' length / enjoyed a drink of wine"), or then by deceitfully compelling his disarmament and forcible return. Sophoclean morality condemns, after all, hubris above all - thus the unseemly pride of Creon in Antigone, or perhaps that of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex - because through it, the individual threatens the good of all Athens.

This much, at least, from Odysseus's perspective. Yet thankfully Sophocles also permits us to see things from the perspective of Neoptolemus: here we come across a talented junior officer for whom the concept of deceiving others - that is, acting under a cover, hiding the true state of affairs (hence our covert, the old French past participle of cuvrir, to cover) - reaches beyond the unaesthetic to the unethical. Neoptolemus's unease with deceipt in the service of a state's survival is not impossible to understand - his code, after all, is heroic, not conniving; it privileges means, not ends; it is ultimately Kantian, not utilitarian. But while gentlemen who, with Secretary Stimson, do not relish the thought of opening the mail of other gentlemen may perhaps nonetheless be forgiven for opening that of tyrants and murderers, the noble character of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, does not even allow us that much: for noble Achilles's son would seek to struggle honestly and win nobly, or nobly be defeated. The tension between the general of covert artistry and the noble lowly officer is left pending rather than resolved by Neoptolemus's brief acquiescence, and Odysseus departs from the scene, calling both on Hermes, god of trickery, and on Athena, goddess of Athens.

Thus, shortly after, Neoptolemus presents himself under cover to Philoctetes and genuinely pities and befriends the lonely accursed archer, and begins to shake loose his cover when he directs the Spy (a largely gratuitous character who briefly appears) to speak openly to them both, commanding him: "Hide nothing then." And after only a short period further - feeling pity for the abandoned cripple as well as the pull between the heroic code and the shadowy efficacy of Odysseus - he chooses to honor the code of Athenian heroism and tells all, hoping to continue following the chain of command and compel Philoctetes's forcible transportation to the fields of Troy, but now to do so openly and without deception in his application of coercion:
I can no longer hide
The dreadful secret from thee; thou art going
To Troy, e'en to the Greeks, to the Atreidae.
PHILOCTETES
Then am I lost,
Undone, betrayed. Canst thou, my friend, do this?
Give me my arms again.
NEOPTOLEMUS
It cannot be.
I must obey the powers who sent me hither; justice enjoins- the common cause demands it


Unfortunately, Neoptolemus's moment of moral clarity then disintegrates somewhat into the muddled inclarity of a therapy-session. We anticipate, even, catharsis by group hug:
Alas!
What shall I do? Would I were still at Scyros!
For I am most unhappy.
At which point, the session is disrupted by the arrival of Odysseus - who now justifies his actions of compulsion, now no longer covert, by reference to gods' compulsion rather than merely that of the state and men:
Know, great Zeus himself
Doth here preside. He hath decreed thy fate;
I but perform his will.
PHILOCTETES
Detested wretch,
Mak'st thou the gods a cover for thy crime?
Do they teach falsehood?
ODYSSEUS
No, they taught me truth,
And therefore, hence- that way thy journey lies. Pointing to the sea
The gods thus demand it - but, this far, only in Odysseus's mouth, although we have no reason to believe that he and his own commanders are acting in bad faith in keeping with their information at hand and their special responsibility for the Greeks' security. But now Neoptolemus makes his existential choice worthy of the Sartrean French wartime student, and disobeying his general, returns to the crippled archer the bow which was, on his deserted island, his livelihood:

NEOPTOLEMUS
I come
To purge me of my crimes.
ODYSSEUS
Indeed! What crimes?
NEOPTOLEMUS
My blind obedience to the Grecian host
And to thy counsels.
Yet he keeps Philoctetes from slaying Odysseus and permits the latter to escape, for the moment striking out as an independent actor, capable of rendering himself on one side or the other as compelled by the dictates of moral choice. Whereupon Neoptolemus then seeks, though vainly, through speech to make common cause with both the archer and his commanders, and compel Philoctetes to Troy by force of arguments rather than violence; in other words, he becomes a diplomat:
PHILOCTETES An idle tale
Thou tellst me. surely; dost thou not?
NEOPTOLEMUS I speak
What best may serve us both.
PHILOCTETES But, speaking thus,
Dost thou not fear the' offended gods?
NEOPTOLEMUS Why fear them?
Can I offend the gods by doing good?
Having foresworn force or the arts of deception to impose the Greeks' will on Philoctetes, however, Neoptolemus finds that relying on argument he is powerless to compel the crippled archer to Troy. And so, noble Neoptolemus is ultimately rendered in a position of incontrovertible tension between moral commitments.

The resolution of the tension is ultimately by deus ex machina - quite literally, as Heracles then appears, and directs Philoctetes and Neoptolemus to Troy where the two will slay Paris and where Philoctetes will be healed - and this because Sophocles could not in the end answer the question which he himself had posed: how one might reconcile irreconcilably conflicting duties to the state, to the gods, and to human pity and benevolence. The appeal to divine intervention brought Aristotles's scorn upon this play, and subsequent critics have tended to follow his impulse here. Well enough, we might ask, that the gods appear to the agonizing noble pair, resolving their tormenting pulls between human benevolence and the needs of the state - but where are those of us left to whom Heracles does not deign to appear?

The gods themselves must intervene to solve this dilemma. But perhaps - perhaps - Sophocles's play contains a meaning missed by Aristotle and academics following in his path; perhaps this can be read differently, to say that only divine intervention can justify the commission of intrinsically unethical acts to serve a public good. This may not be my answer - I believe, for instance, with John Lewis Gaddis that espionage serves an important good of stability, assuring antagonists of one another's peaceable intentions when, as during the Cold War, their talk in each others' ears is cheap. But I do believe, however, that this is ultimately the answer which is Sophocles's. And as to my knowledge no more compelling treatment in literature, whether classical or modern, of the ethical dilemmas inherent in covert acts of state than this play from the Athenian golden age, we who might argue for more expansive notions of raison d'etat, if only toward murderers and terrorists rather than gentlemen, would do well to measure and tune our arguments against Sophocles's tragedy.
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# Posted 1:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING IN IRAQ? If all you read were the headlines in NYT or WaPo, it wouldn't hard to persuade yourself that American efforts to rebuild Iraq are an unmitigated disaster. On the other hand, right-of-center critics -- e.g. Glenn Reynolds and Mark Steyn-- have begun to argue with considerable force that the mainstream media have focused on inevitable problems while ignoring that the occupation is going far better than one might reasonably expect.

From where I stand, the fundamental problem with mainstream coverage of the occupation is that its tone depends not on the situation on the ground in Iraq, but rather on the rhetoric that is coming out of Washington. In short, even though the occupation is going better than expected, Donald Rumsfeld's passive aggression toward nation-building has led the media to give as much attention as possible to any evidence that Rumsfeld's lackluster attitude has brought the reconstruction effort to the brink of failure.

It's important to recognize, of course, that this pattern of behavior on the media's part is nothing new. One point that almost all academic studies of the media agree on is that journalists attempt to protect their (self-endowed?) reputation for objectivity by avoiding all independent judgment of what is happening on the ground.

In practice, this preference leads journalists to measure reality against the standards set out by leading officials in Washington. Because Rumsfeld & Co. have demonstrated a disturbing lack of concern about progress in Baghdad, everything that goes wrong in Iraq becomes front-page news.

This pattern of interaction rapidly becomes a vicious cycle. Since journalists themselves place tremendous faith in the media, the constant repeititon of similar headlines persuades correspondents on the ground that the headlines reflect some sort of objective reality. Right now, a raft of negative reports from Baghdad have been mistaken for a decisive assessment of the occupation as an unmitigated failure.

Fortunately, some critics of the administration recognize that this sort of judgment is premature. Yet as the ever-critical Kevin Drum warns, center-right critics of media pessimism can't afford to mistake the media's premature criticism of the Administration for an indication that the President, Vice-President and Secretary of Defence actually understand how hard it is to rebuild a nation.

The occupation certainly isn't going so well that we can start to praise the Administration for its well-laid plans. As Fareed Zakaria points out, the Administration's respective attitudes toward Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate precious little cognizance of the most important lesson we have learned from the failed and semi-successful nation-building efforts of the past decade: go in with overwhelming force and accept nothing short of success.

Does that lesson sound familiar? Of course it does. As Tom Friedman reminds us, it's known as the Powell Doctrine. Except now the US needs to apply it to waging peace instead of waging war.
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# Posted 12:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSOLIDATING THE MEDIA: I admit it. I can't figure out what my position is on this issue. Today the FCC voted to ease current restrictions that prevent corporations from owning an excessive number of television stations in a single market. The restrictions also prevent individual corporations from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same market.

The WaPo seems to be just as confused as I am. While its masthead editoral asks some good questions about the current debate, it provides no answers whatsoever.

On the con side, Ted Turner is arguing that he never could've started CNN if not for the current rules, which ensure that risk-taking entrepreneurs have a supply of television stations available for purchase. But that was 20 years ago. My guess is that today's innovators would use the internet or other media to launch their new enterprises.

All in all, I think I'm inclined to discount apocalyptic prophecies of media conformism and agree with Calpundit, who argues that there is a pretty resilient marketplace for ideas and that the revisions voted on today aren't nearly significant enough to have much effect at all.
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Sunday, June 01, 2003

# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MOBILITY AND INEQUALITY: Dan Drezner has a great post on the subject. For a lot of us, I think it will be the final word on the inequality debate, at least for the moment.
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# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APOLOGY, TAKE TWO: It seems that my first apology to the advocates of medieval Europe was thought of as excessively tongue-in-cheek. So, just to reassure everyone, let me say the following: I do not believe that the medieval Europe was backward or be(k)nighted. It is a fascinating period that I wish I had more of a chance to study.

On the bright side, the shortcomings of my first apology led RR to send in this fascinating account of the development of computing technology in the late 20th century. RR's comments come in response to my statment that
"It's not as if Bill Gates was responsible for taking computers that once filled entire rooms and transforming them into desktops."
After re-reading what I wrote, I can see why it came off as a sarcastic dismissal of Gates' critics. But actually, I wanted to show that I am aware of the fact that the history of computers is not the history of Microsoft. Fortunately, RR has made with in greater depth than I ever could. He writes that:
Bill Gates contributed _nothing_ to the development of desktop computers. The microprocessor was developed by Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments, et al. So was semiconductor memory. Computers were already shrinking:a PDP-11, the standard 'minicomputer' of the '70s, was the size of a small refrigerator, and then a small suitcase.

The first desktop computers were designed by hobbyists and a few daring entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak designed the Apple.

Then larger companies joined in. Radio Shack's TRS-80 computer was as dominant circa 1980 as Windows is now. Next IBM blitzed the market with the "PC".

During this whole period, Microsoft was a minor player. Its big deal was BASIC interpreters for several of the early microcomputers (including the Apple). Microsoft did not even create DOS - they acquired it for a few thousand dollars from Seattle Computing.

Then Gates had an immense stroke of luck. IBM chose DOS for the PC, spurning then-dominant CP/M for obscure reasons. IBM poured colossal resources into the PC marketing blitz, establishing the PC _and_ DOS as de facto standards. But while a horde of low-cost Asian manufacturers sliced away IBM's hardware domination, Gates expanded DOS' software domination with clever licensing agreements that practically required manufacturers to be Windows-only.

Gates then leveraged his revenue and OS control into control of the spreadsheet and wordprocessor market, squeezing out established products like Lotus 123 and WordPerfect. Xerox invented the graphical user interface that Apple marketed. Gates copied it. The Unix/academic world created the Internet, developing TCP/IP, FTP, SMTP, and HTTP with no help from Microsoft. Netscape pioneered the Web browser; Microsoft followed with Internet Explorer. Databases, gaming, home finance, multimedia, development tools, graphics - Microsoft has never been the leader, never been the innovator.
That's capitalism for you, eh?
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# Posted 7:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY, WHISKEY, SEXY: Shi'ite fundamentalists are giving liquor merchants a hard time in Basra.
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# Posted 6:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

METAPHOR OF THE YEAR: The WaPo opens its profile of John Kerry with the Senator's advice on how to hunt, kill, skin and cook doves. Is it a metaphor for Kerry's toughness? Or a premonition of what the President will do to his probable opponent in the 2004 election?

Regardless, it is terribly, terribly clever. The rest of the article is not. It provides biographical data but no real information about who Kerry is or what he stands for. Then again, the Post's evasiveness may be both terribly intentional and terribly clever.

In the coming days, the WaPo will publish profiles of the other eight Democratic candidates for president. If those profiles are more substantive, we'll know that the Post was having its way with the Senator from Massachusetts.
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Saturday, May 31, 2003

# Posted 12:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

HONEY, CAN WE SET ASIDE SOME TIME TO TALK ABOUT REINVIGORATING OUR RELATIONSHIP?: This, at least, is the question being posed to the Kremlin by Ambassador Sestanovich and Carnegie's Michael McFaul. And it's timely: for all of the Bush administration's just criticisms of the highly personalized nature of the Clinton-Yeltsin relationship, President Bush's with Putin displays remarkable areas of similarity: despite a bilateral agenda spectacularly lacking in creativity or capacity for inspiration (chicken and steel imports and visa regimes figure at the moment in the first rank of bilateral issues), Vloidim Putin nonetheless currently tops the list of the "axis of the unwilling" leaders with whom Bush is mending fences - and this because, unlike Herr Shroeder or Monsieur Chirac, Bush made great political hay from his personal friendship with Vloidim, which he must repair before Democratic presidential contenders use it to attack the administration for needlessly alienating allies in the run-up to the War against Saddam. Highly personalized relationships can have their usefulness - one thinks of Reagan's famed walks in the woods with Gorbachev - but only if they do not distract from broader strategic visions and creativity. Some ideas are currently on the table, and are worth pursuing: for instance, forming a consultative body between the two presidents' national security advisors (which, if nothing else, will serve as an instrument of influence, exposing the Kremlin more frequently to U.S. position and thinking at a high level). But more are needed: the Kremlin's influence in North Korea, Iran, and the Middle East could be a useful instrument for selling US-brokered ways forward in each of those regions, but absent American prodding, Moscow's instinct may well be to tell the U.S. to go and patch things up, and let them know when they should sign on the dotted line - possibly in Moscow's interests by allowing it to conserve political capital in those relationships, but robbing us of a potentially useful tool in the meantime.
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# Posted 11:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

GAINS BY INDIRECTION?: Mexico enters the final months before an important mid-term election for its Camera de Diputados and several state governorships. Most analysts think things won't be changed terribly much: Fox, bruised by lack of progress on the bilateral agenda with the U.S. and vigorous opposition from the countryside about the entry into force of new NAFTA categories, will suffer slightly, but the field of play will remain basically what it is now - a politically reformist, economically liberalizing, pro-U.S. president facing off against a parliamentary opposition seeking to maintain government ownership of struggling public services and secure federal aid to the countryside along with protecting partisan patronage. While this isn't ideal - there still isn't a clear panista or tecno successor to run under Fox's reformist mantle after the close of his sexenio, and a more strongly entrenched opposition may hobble his prospects for success in the remainder of his term - one externality is that constitutional democracy in Mexico is being strengthened, as the opposition PRI and PRD search for and breathe life into separation-of-powers provisions implicit in the Mexican constitution. Gracias al Señor por las benediciones pequeñítas.
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# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

WAIT, IF THIS WAS AN ANNULAR ECLIPSE, then why don't I remember one like this last year?
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Friday, May 30, 2003

# Posted 7:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO NEEDS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION? Certainly not women. Across the board, men are trailing behind in the dust while women build an ever more impressive record of academic achievement. Good for them. They deserve it.

Btw, the above article on women's achievement also contains a statistic which says quite a lot about the nature of income inequality in our post-industrial economy:
Better-educated men are also, on average, a much happier lot. They are more likely to marry, stick by their children, and pay more in taxes. From the ages of 18 to 65, the average male college grad earns $2.5 million over his lifetime, 90% more than his high school counterpart. That's up from 40% more in 1979, the peak year for U.S. manufacturing. The average college diploma holder also contributes four times more in net taxes over his career than a high school grad, according to Northeastern's [Andrew] Sum. Meanwhile, the typical high school dropout will usually get $40,000 more from the government than he pays in, a net drain on society.
Hmmm. If that income statistic is correct, then I still have $2.44 million to look forward to... (Thanks to A at Rational Explications for the link.)

Also, RS recommends that anyone with a serious interest in inequality take a look at Jeremy Waldron's Liberal Rights, specifically Waldron's essay on charity and the welfare state. If all y'all get a chance to read it, send in your thoughts.
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# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOPE FOR 2004? Trent Telenko says the Dems have none. While Trent may be right, I think his analysis flows much more from his profound resentment of the Democratic left than from a real consideration of the current candidates prospects. Moreover, Trent tends to confuse the hardcore left with the whole of the Democratic party. As he would have it,
Today's "Democratic liberals" are big central government statists who are functional isolationists. As such, a political party run by them can provide neither national security nor long term economic prosperity...
Sounds like Trent thinks Jimmy Carter was president in the 1990s. Thankfully he wasn't. The fact is that almost all American presidents migrate, over time, to the center. Clinton started out far more to the left than he ended up. His shift reflected both self-interest and the will of the electorate. So don't underestimate the Dems.

This criticism aside, Trent's post is quite thoughtful, definitely worth reading, and full of great links to articles about the Dems and national security. Viva Winds of Change!
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# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LIBERAL DEFENDS BUSH: Dan from over at Reason of Voice agrees with Wayne Hsieh that Bush's China policy has been far more successful than I'm willing to admit.

In an e-mail, Dan writes that
I'm no Bush lover, believe me, but I think you do him a disservice in your analysis of China.

Besides having coopted, as best possible, the Chinese on Iraq and Afghanistan, he's clearly made great strides on including the Chinese in a dialogue with North Korea when Pyongyang was adamantly opposed to
inclusion of anyone besides the Americans. The 'closed door' discussions you wonder about, I have little doubts are proceeding, and proceeding well.

Give credit where it is due.........which for me and the Bush administration is a wholly rare event.
I'll grant that the jury is still out. But I sense that China's participation in the North Korea talks has much more to do with China's self-interest than Bush's diplomacy. As for the talks themselves, I don't think I'll be willing to admit they've accomplished anything until there are some concrete results.

But I really do hope that Bush can put together a deal that puts a permanent end to the crisis on the peninsua. First of all, it would be good for both the US and North Korea. And more importantly, it would set Josh Marshall up for a big "I told you so!" ;)
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# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRIDGING THE ATLANTIC: Belgravia Dispatch has some very good thoughts on the state of US-European relations.
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# Posted 6:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLAIR=BRAGG=DOWD? With the NYT reeling after the departures of Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg, Maureen Dowd has chosen to duck for cover rather than admit that her own standards had begun to slip. In her most recent column, Dowd implicity acknowledges her gross distortion of the President's words on May 14th. Instead of a selective quotation of the President's comments on Al Qaeda, she now reprints all of what Bush said. But that is not enough.

For those of us who watch Dowd like hawks, an implicit confession admission is gratifying enough. But the overwhelming majority of NYT readers won't notice a thing. They have better things to do with their time than monitor Dowd's honesty. Thus, I'm glad that NY Daily News columnist Zev Chafets has chosen to expose Dowd in his most recent column. The question is, when will Howell Raines give Chafets Dowd's job?

(Thanks to N for the Chafets link.)

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# Posted 4:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANTI-SEMITISM AT YALE: Judith Weiss reports that a Yale prof active in pro-Palestinian causes has begun to rant about a Straussian conspiracy and has even launched personal attacks on Jewish students in New Haven. This is apalling.
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# Posted 12:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

THANK GOODNESS FOR SCIENTISTS: Without them, for instance, we wouldn't have this: (from the Economist, print edition, May 24th, p. 69)
Beauty matters most, though, for reproductive success. A study by David Buss, an American scientist, logged the mating preferences of more than 10,000 people across 37 cultures. It found that a woman's physical attractiveness came top or near top of every man's list.
Here's hoping this study was at least some grad student's excuse to get funding to look at lots of women.
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Thursday, May 29, 2003

# Posted 4:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CALIFORNIA REPENTS: An internal memo drafted by the editor of the LA Times takes its correspondents to task for liberal bias.
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# Posted 4:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVERYDAY AMERICAN VALUES: Daniel Drezner has just put up a must-read post about how US field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken the initiative in promoting democracy and compensating civilians who became accidental targets of American bombs.

Dan is absolutely right when he says that
a signal virtue of U.S. diplomacy is the ingrained habit of trusting subordinates to innovate and adapt to local circumstances, and then copying those innovations when they work.
All I can add to Dan's point is a bit of historical context. According to Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis, the United States' successful effort to transform Germany and Japan rested heavily on local commanders' efforts to adapt American values and institutions to local circumstances.

In most cases, such commanders received no direction from above. According to Gaddis, they simply acted on the belief that the Germans and Japanese deserved exactly the same rights as US citizens had on the homefront.

There was, however, some recognition on the part of higher-ups in Washington that the best way to transform Germany and Japan was to ensure that American soldiers held foreigners to the same standards that they did their fellow Americans. According to John Dower, the foremost American historian of modern Japan, the training films shown to US soldiers departing for Japan emphasized that American values were the key to reform in Japanese society.

If shown today, such films' uncritical glorification of the United States and its values would provoke immediate accusations of cultural imperialism. While I wouldn't recommend the replication of such propaganda today, the fact remains that promoting democracy in Iraq will depend more on the occupation forces' ability to instill democratic values than on their ability to appreciate the local populations' cultural heritage.

Even so, this is not necessarily cultural imperialism. First of all, the values in question are not American or even Western. They are the values shared by democratic nations in Latin America, East Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent and even parts of Africa.

Perhaps more importantly, the occupation forces will transmit such values more by setting the right example than by spreading propaganda. Then again, the simple fact of holding elections privileges democratic values over all others.

The critical point to recognize here is that elections provide the Iraqi people a means of expressing themselves. If this sort of fostering self-determination counts as cultural imperialism, then the accusation has become meaningless. As I see it, true democracy cannot be imperial.

All in all, one of the most important reasons that I have much greater faith in the Pentagon's ability to promote democracy in Iraq (as opposed to the State Department's), is that rank-and-file American soldiers have a long tradition of sharing democatic values with all those they encounter. Even our generals and admirals tend to adopt this same straightforward approach.

While American diplomats have often risked their lives and reputations for the sake of human rights, their measured, cosmopolitan approach is not best-suited to countries in need of a total transformation. From where is stand, the best hope for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan to just let our soldiers do what their grandfathers did in Germany and Japan: be themselves.
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# Posted 4:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

SPRING CLEANING: In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner is beginning his tenure in the Casa Rosada by replacing the chiefs of the air, sea, and land forces, along with half of the nation's remaining officers of flag rank (see the NYT and Clarin(Spanish)). This is a bold move, and given the resumes of the men Kirchner is replacing, inspires confidence.

Most of these newly-retired flag officers - like top officials in the supreme court, federal police, and SIDE (Argentine intelligence) - were appointees of President Menem, and generally a thuggish lot. It is somewhat poetic that the SIDE's new chief, thanks to Kirchner, is to be Sergio Acevedo - a man has spent the last several years on a congressional committee staff, bravely challenging Menem and his appointees' cover-up of the role of Iranian intelligence in the 1992 Hezbollah bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. According to the court testimony of an Iranian defector currently in German protection, Menem personally received $10 million from the Iranian government in return for diverting the course of the investigation into the bombings. The story of the investigation, perhaps not surprisingly, has been one of disappearing evidence, unfollowed leads, and the occasional videotape surfacing starring an investigating judge discussing payoffs.

Kirchner's bold act is good news. Argentina, and we as a hemisphere, are much better off without the likes of these in office.
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# Posted 12:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

TERRORISM BOOK REC: For those of you who are at all interested in terrorist organizations and operations, I can't recommend highly enough Rohan Gunaratna's Inside Al Qaeda. Among Gunaratna's principal themes is the fantastic success of Osama as a diplomat, who succeeded in weaving together previously feuding operatives from Hezbollah, Iranian intelligence, and Sunni ethnoreligious groups around common goals, rather than religious or ideological doctrines. In terms of his dedication to detail and evidence, quiet analytical tone, and breadth and quality of contacts among those who labor quietly in the shadows, Rohan's text is insuperable.

Gunaratna moves peripatetically among several of the leading centers of counterterror analysis, including his principal affiliation at St Andrew's Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, Israel's International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, and the US-based RAND Corporation. If you can't find the book, you're lying - it's in a library within two miles of you - but here are two of his interviews in Singapore and PBS's Newshour.
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# Posted 2:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

ON THE OTHER HAND, IT DOES MAKE KNOWING WHAT TO WRITE EASIER: The Times is reporting that Al-Jazeera's director general has been dismissed amidst allegations he worked with Iraq's Mukhabarat intelligence service (via Instapundit). The Times story notes that Al-Jazeera enjoyed a unique status in pre-war Iraq of being allowed to work independently of the information ministry and its controls over foreign media. Other coverage is making the claim that Jazeera both provided information to Mukhabarat and placed stories, although it's not clear with what frequency, on Uday's request. Correspondent Rahim Mizyad is explicitly named as an agent. The Weekly Standard's take is that it reported this before. Mine is that this is a sad indicator of the regrettable state of the press in the Arab world, which still must await its Arthur Schulzburger.
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# Posted 1:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

WAS THE FIRST TIME JUST A DRESS REHEARSAL?: The often-brilliant Marc Perelman of the Forward muses here on Iran-Iraq lead-up parallels: the presence of an emigree policy entrepreneur (for Ahmed Chalabi, substitute Reza Pahlavi), the involvement of the Pentagon's fascinating Office of Special Plans (now supplemented by knowledgeable Iran hawk Michael Rubin) - and of course, those dern neo-cons (William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Jim Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, AEI).

For another perspective, see the WaPo, which says the pro-western Tehran street is becoming so pro-western that now it's even apathetic about politics too.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY: Wayne Hsieh defends both the Bush administration's China policy and Katrina Leung from OxBlog's recent attack. I agree wholeheartedly with the point about Leung.
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# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT DARK AGES? PH proudly defends the Catholic tradition from my derogatory comparison of it a Macintosh. He writes that
As to the "Protestant" DOS being the foundation for capitalism, again, leaving Weber aside, it *is* true that the Microsoft Way has generated entire short-lived cottage industries which have grown up to plug the busted dams and fill the holes and generally fix the glaring weaknesses in their products. Microsoft generates industry
in the same way that an Enron does: swarms of lawyers, regulators, muckrakers and inevitable t-shirt makers are picking over the bones, but that's all.

Finally, the error that put me over the edge. "...Macintosh Catholicism, one dare not forget that it alone could not have brought us out of the dark ages." Oi, where to start? Passing over the dichotomy at hand, either no one taught you, or you have forgotten, basic aspects of medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, and early modern
history.
I admit it. I am a terrible, terrible bigot. What fair-minded invidual would dare suggest that Catholic Europe of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was a backwards place?

By the same token, who but an unthinking partisan of DOS could deny the tremendous progress made on computer technology in the 1940s, '50s and 60s? It's not as if Bill Gates was responsible for taking computers that once filled entire rooms and transforming them into desktops.

As such, I must repent. Yet as it says in the Book of [Steven] Job[s], it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Windows user to enter the gates of Heaven.
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# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TAKING APART THE POST: I said there would be a fisking tonight. Here it is:
Argentine Leader Takes Office, Pledging to Combat Poverty

By Jon Jeter
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 26, 2003; Page A18

BUENOS AIRES, May 25 -- Pledging to combat deepening poverty and rebuild a struggling economy, Nestor Kirchner was sworn in today as the first elected president of Argentina since a succession of violent demonstrations 18 months ago forced the ouster of four presidents in two weeks.
The constant repetition of the "four presidents in two weeks" motif makes Argentina seem like a banana republic. But in fact, the "four presidents" comment is profoundly misleading.

Fernando De La Rua, elected in 1999, resigned in response to violent protests in December 2001. Because there was no vice-president at the time, the leader of the Senate automatically became president. He refused the office, however, and the Senate later chose provincial governor Adolfo Rodriguez Saa to govern as interim president for 90 days so that new elections could be held. Yet thanks to the Senate leader's 48 hours in office, he is counted as a president.

Rodriguez Saa immediately provoked widespread anger by appointing corrupt ministers and indicating that he would use his position as interim president to position himself as front-runner in the new elections. In response to protests that were actually quite peaceful, Saa left office.

This time, the presidency fell to the leader of the lower house, who also rejected the office. Yet once again, thanks to the 48 hour interval between the resignation of Saa and the selection of his successor, Argentina technically observed the inauguration and resignation of a fourth president in two weeks.

Complex as the December 2001 transition was, the WaPo could've avoided its raft of errors by replacing the last five words of its lede with "Fernando De La Rua, elected in 1999."
Addressing Congress and 12 leaders from Latin America, including Cuba's Fidel Castro, Kirchner promised to reinvigorate Argentina's once-solid middle class, which has been hit hardest by the worst economic crisis in the country's history. But he also appealed for an end to the cronyism and corruption that
many Argentines associate with Kirchner's ruling Peronist Party.
Mentioning Castro is gratuitous and damning. It's how American reporters imply that the Latin American left is resurgent without providing any evidence to that effect. But the fact is that Castro attends lots of inaugurations, so his presence means nothing.

Next comes the misleading description of "Kirchner's ruling Peronist Party". The Peronist Party is a badly divided party which doesn't stand for much of anything at all. Such internal divisions were so extreme that the party couldn't agree on rules for a presidential primary. As a result, four separate Peronist candidates ran for president, each representing one faction within the party.

Even though Kirchner is no saint, he ran as a reformist outsider bent on challenging the corruption of former President Carlos Menem, who withdrew rather than facing a run off he was sure to lose by a landslide.

However, Kirchner did have the support of current President Eduardo Duhalde, who is known for running a massive political machine whose corruption is second only to that of Menem's. But Duhalde only supported Kirchner after Duhalde's hand-picked successor performed so badly in early polls that he had to withdraw from the election. Once again, the WaPo could've significantly improved its coverage by changing only a few words.
"We want to be the generation of Argentines that restores upward social mobility, but also promotes cultural and moral change and respect for the law,"
Kirchner said in his inaugural speech.

...Kirchner succeeded Eduardo Duhalde, a caretaker president who was named by Congress after violent protests forced four of his predecessors from office in the last two weeks of December 2001.
The repetition of the "four presidents" error suggests that the WaPo doesn't even understand how misleading his dispatch is. While lede senteneces have to be short, there is no excuse for this sort of glaring inaccuracy later in the article.
Despite the lack of a clear mandate from voters, poll results released last week showed that Kirchner has the support of nearly 70 percent of voters. Today he continued to strike the defiant, populist tone that characterized his campaign.

He said Argentina planned to honor its outstanding $136 billion in foreign debt but only if new terms of repayment could be negotiated with international lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And he promised to place the needs of poor Argentines ahead of debt repayments.

"We know our debt is a central problem," Kirchner said. "It is not a question of paying," but creditors "will only get their money if Argentina does well."
Kirchner is getting off pretty easy here. Imagine quoting an American president's inauguration speech without getting any sort of response from the opposition. What might the opposition say? That Kirchner talks tough but will give in to the IMF like all of his predecessors.
Kirchner has proposed a New Deal-like $2.8 billion public works program to create jobs and jump-start an economy that contracted nearly 11 percent last year. Nearly 60 percent of the country's 37 million people live on less than $2 a day, and Argentina's official jobless rate is roughly 18 percent...
The Post really needs an opposition quote here. I guarantee that my old boss, Sen. Terragno, would've been happy to provide one. He might've said that there is no way Argentina can afford massive public works and that even if the Congress passes them, the funds will be siphoned off by all sorts of corrupt officials.
Although Kirchner has questioned Argentina's relationship with the United States, he has promised greater cooperation with other Latin American countries, particularly Brazil. Lingering resentment of U.S.-backed free-market reforms helped elect a former metalworker, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, to the Brazilian presidency, and he publicly supported Kirchner during the campaign in Argentina.
Resentment of U.S.-backed reforms had almost nothing to do with Lula's election. The Brazilian himself cut a deal with the IMF during the campaign, even though the IMF's demands still consisted of "U.S.-backed reforms". Fact is, American reporters thrive on a strange mix of paranoia about the Latin American left and liberal guilt about the United States' responsibility for its alleged rise to power. Until they get over both obsessions, we're going to get third-rate coverage of the region.

PS Argentina is not a Third World country! But there is no better way to get Argentines' attention than to accuse Argentina of being backward...
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# Posted 6:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WORST NAME EVER: The Command Post reports that Islamist rebels in the Philippines have called for a ceasefire. The name of the rebels' organization is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. Go ahead and see what happens if you put that into Google. I dare you.

(If you want actual commentary on the MILF rather than prurient entertainment, see this post by Boomshock.)
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# Posted 6:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARD NUMBERS: Boomshock has an absolutely first-rate post on the causes and extent of income inequality in the United States. Read the whole thing. Now!
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# Posted 6:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIRD-RATE THIRD-WORLD COVERAGE: One of the lessons I learned this past summer in Argentina is the NYT and the WaPo often provide terrible coverage of those countries whose internal affairs are not at the top of the American agenda. With regard to Argentina, the Times and Post provided alarmist coverage of the violence and instability that followed Buenos Aires' political and economic trvails in autumn 2001.

In contrast to the American papers, the Financial Times and The Economist provided top-notch coverage both before, during and after the crisis. I make this claim with a fair amount of confidence because one of the projects I conducted as a Senado intern in Buenos Aires was a review of all articles about Argentina published between July 2000 and June 2001 in the four periodicals mentioned above.

In my final report on the project, I argued that the financial papers' superior coverage of Argentine affairs was not a random event, but rather the direct result of two very different approaches to covering the news.

The Times and thePostrely on one or two full-time correspondents to provide coverage of the whole of Latin America. In contrast, The Economist, the FT and financial news services such as Bloomberg have correspondents in almost every country in the region. Often, these correspondents have enough experience covering economic affairs to provide much more thoughtful coverage than their non-expert competitors.

The reason that the financial papers devote more resources to this sort of thing is that their readers demand accurate news about all those countries in which their capital is invested. If a financial doesn't provide such coverage, it will lose it readers.

In contrast, no one will cancel their subscription to the NYT or the WaPo because of their coverage of Latin America is less than stellar. (Of course, it is entirely possible that the NYT and WaPo provide better coverage of those countries in which foreign investors have little interest.)

The broader lesson of all this is that one has to be especially careful when reading what the papers have to say about any country that isn't the focus of sustained international attention. While the editorial position of any given paper may influence its coverage of Israel or Iraq, one can have a certain degree of confidence in the nuts and bolts of its coverage.

Elsewhere, that isn't the case. To make my point, I am now going to go ahead and fisk the WaPo whose inaccuracies provoked me enough to write this whole post in the first place. However, I am about to go out to dinner, so I will fisk said article in my next post on the subject.

UPDATE: Randy Paul recommends the Miami Herald's coverage of Latin America, which is arguably the best around.
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# Posted 5:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBER CHINA? About a half-dozen news cycles ago, Josh Marshall was all over the Katrina Leung scandal. Remember her? The GOP fundraiser who slept with FBI agents and turned over stolen intelligence to the Chinese goverment?

I am now embarrassed that OxBlog didn't take the story more seriously at the time. Patrick wondered why two long-serving FBI agents would betray their wives and their country to sleep with a woman who is so profoundly unattractive. I responded that that Lewinsky affair had perilously lowered the standards of American males. In short, OxBlog spun the Leung affair for laughs.

What brought it all back to my attention was this excellent column by the WaPo's Fred Hiatt, who persuasively argues that true significance of the Leung affair is not its exposure of either the vulnerability of the US intelligence community or the hypocrisy of all those Republicans who bashed the Clinton administrion for its China spy scandal.

Rather the Leung scandal is a powerful indicator of just how adrift and directionless the Bush administration's China policy is. On the campaign trail, the President attacked Clinton for the failure of his policy of "constructive engagement" and promised to get tough on China both for its espionage and its human rights abuses.

Bush has done neither. To be fair, it may not be productive to antagonize China given its relatively constructive approach to both Iraq and North Korea. But the Republicans silence in response to the Leung affair shows that the adminsitration isn't even thinking about China.

For example, if it were committed to working with China on the North Korea front, the administration should thoroughly investigate the Leung affair and use it (behind doors) to remind the Chinese that they have to demonstrate their good faith through action, not promises.

Is it possible that the administration has been doing just that, albeit without public knowledge? Possibly, but given the inevitability of leaks within this administration, I find it very hard to believe that this is the case.

I think it's far more likely that the administration is desperate to direct attention away from yet another fiasco that emphasizes the failures of the US intelligence community. And fortunately for the President, Iraq and the Roadmap have largely kept China off the front pages.

Without excusing OxBlog's negligent avoidance of the Leung affair, I still think it is fair to criticize Josh Marshall for presenting the scandal in entirely partisan. From his first post onward, Marshall presented the Leung affair as a partsian issue that exposed Republican hypocrisy.

While that perspective is significant in its own right, I've tended to become somewhat inured to Marshall's constant focus on the scandal of the moment. To be fair, Marshall isn't the only who covered the Leung affair in partisan terms. I think one could direct that charge at most of the mainstream media.

Even conservative columnist Michelle Malkin -- who deserves considerable credit for commenting on her own party's hypocrisy -- approached the Leung affair in partisan in terms.

So why single out Josh Marshall for abuse? Because I know he is capable of so much better. While I usually find myself opposing TPM, its posts often provide the most persuasive argument for Josh's side of a given issue.

At the moment, I hope Josh is working on something other than the Texas Legislature scandal, which has been TPM's cause celebre over the past week or so. While Josh does have a professional interest in writing up unique stories that can advance his career as a journalist, I still think he might do even better by focusing his considerable talents on issues that will have a greater impact on American national security.

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# Posted 12:29 PM by Daniel  

DELAY-ING THE ROAD MAP. One-trick-pony Dan chimes in on an article about America and Israel....I don't think that the Christian Zionists' pressure tactics will be a problem for Bush. He has declared it in America's national interest to pursue the road map. No lobby group can hold him back from his goal, and his position on the Arab-Israeli dispute resonates with a majority of the country. The Christian Zionists will still vote for him in 2004 regardless of what he does in Israel (who are they going to vote for, the Democrats?). The big question is what will happen with the Jewish vote in 2004. As I have said before, I think Jews will stay home in the Democratic Party, which is so much more tolerant on a host of social issues--gay rights, a woman's right to choose, keeping religion away from politics. These are important issues on which Jews vote besides Israel.
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# Posted 1:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIONS, TIGERS AND REPUBLICANS: Little Miss Attila is tickled pink by the NYT's in-depth coverage of the campus conservative movement in this week's issue of the Magazine.

I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet (because it is very, very looooong), but I'm really hoping to turn up some evidence of a Straussian conspiracy.
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# Posted 1:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MICROBES ON PARADE: NZ Bear has set up a showcase for new weblogs that aren't as well-known as the ecosystem elite.

If your blog is just starting up, definitely think about submitting an entry to the contest. If you run an established blog, than vote for your favorite new entrant.

My votes for the week go to and to Rational Explications for its post on income inequality and to Page Three for its post on Star Wars. Again, I strongly encourage all of you with blogs to vote, since just a few more can make all the difference. Happy blogging!
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# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I AM OVERPAID: Kevin Drum draws on personal experience to argue that corporate executives are overpaid. He says that executive pay has risen at the same time that executives have become less and less accountable for their performance. The result? Inequality.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

# Posted 7:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY IN PALESTINE? Judith Weiss takes a careful look at the prospects.
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# Posted 6:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INEQUALITY VS. POVERTY: Responding to my initial post about inequality, DP writes that
The real question is: How poor is America willing to let its least fortunate be?...Those that advocate assistance to the poor are in essence trying to raise the standard of living for the poor to some minimum standard...

If the poor already had [this minimum], would we be worrying about the poor at all? Would we care how wealthy the rich are? It seems to me that complaints like Kevin's are not precisely about the wealthy are making so much more money than everyone else, but that they are doing so while the poor have an inadequate standard of living.
I agree that our objective should be to establish a minimum standard of living rather than a minimum share of income growth. At the same time, we have to recognize that what we consider a minimally acceptable standard of living rises over time. Fifty years ago, it was acceptable to live without a washing machine, a television, or a computer. Now it isn't.

That aside there are some reasons to think that the inequality situation isn't as bad as Kevin makes it out to be. CS points out that according to the Census data Kevin cites
"The official income estimates in this report are based solely on money income before taxes and do not include the value of employment-based fringe beneifts nor of gevernement-provided noncash benefits, such as food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and public or subsidized housing."
In other words, Kevin's data provide no indication of the degree to which major government programs have actually mitigated extant inequality. While it's fair to say we should be doing more for the poor, especially in terms of education (remember the President's campaign promise?), one has start by establishing exactly how much the government does for them already.

JV adds that if the top 5% of American households earned $687 billion more than they "should have", much of that $687 will be sent to Washington as taxes, since -- contrary to popular myth -- the rich pay much more in taxes than the poor. (JV kindly provides a link to this page on the Cato Insitute website which has the hard data she is working with.)

On the other hand, if that growth were proportionately distributed in the first place, we wouldn't need the government to collect taxes and redistribute them!

Moving on, JAT writes in to emphasize just how much the changing nature of the family has contributed to inequality. As he says,
Remember, households aren't people. There are two major, major changes
that have occurred in household structure, especially in the last twenty years:

1) Increase in women's participation in the workforce, especially at the upper income ranges, and

2) Increase in divorces, single motherhood (and fatherhood), and a later age of first marriage.

You discussed the first, let's also consider the second. For background, here's the census data on household structure.

Consider the following [initial] situation:

Household A - married couple, making a total of $100,000
Household B - married couple, both making $50,000 [Total: $100,000]

No household income inequality. The top 50% of households make 50% of the
income.

After a divorce in Household B:

Household A - married couple, making $100,000
Household B - single man, making $50,000
Household C - single woman, making $50,000

Now only the top 33% of households make 50% of the income. Much more income inequality!

See the problem? Of course, this is a simplification. But economists and demographers can tell you that, given various societal trends, income inequality as measured by households was bound to increase in the last twenty years.
All these seem like good points to me. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, I don't even know what I don't know about economics. I sense that the arguments made above are just the tip of the iceberg.

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# Posted 2:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ECON AVALANCHE: I want to start this post with a big shout out to all of you who have shared your thoughts on some of the very basic economic questions I am just starting to grapple with. I am much obliged.

The first response I want to talk about is the one from your favorite sociologist and mine, Kieran Healy. Kieran heads straight for the jugular and questions my fundamental premise that "rapidly increasing inequality is an inevitable feature of capitalism," given that entreprenuers always reap the lion's share of the return on their investments.

As I understand it, Kieran's main argument is that top executives have rigged the American economy to ensure that "middle-managers and workers [are] being forced to bear a much larger part of the risk inherent in the capitalist enterprise" even though top executives still take home the lion's share of the profits.

Sounds improbable to me, but I'm going to take Kieran's argument seriously, since his position reflects the good professor's extensive reading on the subject, a bibliography of which is included in his post.

[Btw, don't forget to check out Kieran's clever comment about my post on Marx.]

Next we come to Kevin Drum's own response to my post (which he sent along via e-mail rather than posting it on the web). Kevin says
Good post. At least you addressed the main point of my post, instead of dodging it, as so many have done...

I completely agree that in a pure free market economy the rich get richer faster than anyone else -- and our transition to a service economy has made this even worse. That's the basic problem of monopoly in a market economy, and it's roughly what we had in American a hundred years ago. I much prefer regulated capitalism, which harnesses the genius of the marketplace but also reins in the worst of its excesses.
"Regulated capitalism" is an interesting phrase, since regulation entails everything from the existence of a central bank to the establishment of a Scandinavian welfare state.

Whereas progressives tend to think of regulation as their rallying cry -- while conservatives denigrate it as a wrench in the capitalist works -- the fact is that even the most committed free marketers have accepted the existence of extremely powerful regulatory bodies such as the Federal Reserve Board.

In fact, I think there's an argument to be made that the simple existence of a legal system with the power to enforce contracts is a pervasive form of regulation. Whereas some might argue that the existence of contract law is the foundation on which the market rests rather than an imposition on it, the existence of market economies in places such as China shows that markets can operative with remarkable vigor regardless of whether contracts can be reliably enforced.

In short, the point I'm trying to make is that regulation is always a question of "how much", not "whether or not".

Anyhow, I'm going to cut off this post right here since I have to run out to meet a friend. This evening I'll start putting up all the great responses that are now waiting in my inbox. Hasta luego!

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# Posted 1:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PEOPLE OF THE (POWER)BOOK: Writing from his portable G4, Steve Sachs informs me that Dr. BL may have been too hasty to identify Mac users as the Jews of the computing world, when in fact they are the Catholics.

Steve points to this column by celebrated Italian novelist Umberto Eco, which observes that
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the "ratio studiorum" of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal
decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions.....

And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old
Testament, and is Talmudic and cabalistic.
Never much of a theologian, what concerns me are the socio-economic implications of Eco's argument. The MS-DOS emphasis on personal responsibility recalls Max Weber's insistence that Protestant thought is the foundation of capitalism.

Given the worldly success of Microsoft, it seems that Weber's analysis may be just as relevant to the information age as it was to the industrial era that came before it. While there is every reason to celebrate the beauty of Macintosh Catholicism, one dare not forget that it alone could not have brought us out of the dark ages.
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# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

I'VE GOT (COMPUTER) ISSUES, so posting from me (and from our Washington bureau office) may be a bit light while I straighten them out.....
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# Posted 3:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNKNOWN ECONOMIST: Having almost no knowledge of economics, I rarely comment on the fiscal state of the nation. But if I'm going to pretend to know about current events, I better start figuring out what I think about economics. And besides, this post from Kevin Drum made such an exploration impossible to resist.

As usual, I've decided to give Kevin a hard time because he runs my favorite left-of-center site in the blogosphere. Whenever I put up a post that criticizes the Democratic party, liberal policy or anything similar, I try to anticipate Kevin's counterarguments. Of course, Kevin still manages to surprise me and come up with solid arguments that expose flaws in my own logic. And I'm happy to do the same for him.

Now onto the post in question. In it, Kevin rails against the unjust distribution of the economic gains made by the United States over the past 20 years. In general, I am open to that sort of criticism. I do think that the US government needs to a lot more for America's poor. But designing such programs must begin with a solid analysis of why poverty continues to exist in the midst of rapid growth.

As Kevin points out, the top 5% of American households have seen their incomes rise by $687 billion more than one would expect if one made such projection on the basis of population size. In other words,
That means that the bottom 95% — in other words, households making less than $150,000 per year — have gotten $687 billion less than they would have if we had all shared equitably in the economic prosperity of the past two decades...Translation: if increasing prosperity had been equitably distributed, those households — 100 million of them — would have incomes today nearly $7,000 higher than they do.
With that extra income, those 40 million Americans without health insurance might be able to afford to protection. Or they could spend more on their children's education. In fact, they could probably do both and still have some cash left over to spend on the simple pleasures of life, such as a fine steak and some good beer.

So, to Kevin's credit, one has to admit that the stakes on this issue are large. But I can't bring myself to agree with Kevin's observation that
It's one thing to say that the rich have most of the money — after all, that's the whole point of being rich. But it's quite another to say that as our country grows ever more prosperous, the rich should actually grow richer at a faster rate than anyone else.

But that's the way the Republicans have convinced us the system should work, and they have systematically set about to implement policies that would make this happen.
Without pretending that the Republicans have done anything to ensure the equal distribution of income growth, one can make a strong case that an unequal distribution is (a) the natural outcome of market interactions and (b) especially likely given the United States' recent transition from an industrial to a service-based economy.

While I don't understand much about economics, I tend to accept that growth in market economies reflects the willingness of those with capital to invest it in projects that carry with them a certain degree of risk. If the projects fail, so be it. If they succeed, those who put up the capital reap a far greater share of the profits than those employees who enjoyed the security of wage-based income.

Writ large, this process ensures that when the economy grows, the rich will always get richer far faster than everyone else. Should the government redistribute such gains? Perhaps. But there is no reason to expect, as Kevin seems to, that the distribution of income growth will be at all proportionate.

Now consider the specific state of the American economy over the course of the past couple of decades. Thanks to the decline of heavy industry, millions of high-paying union jobs -- held by those without a college education -- have ceased to exist. While there seems to be little question that the flexibility of American labor markets has given the United States a decisive advantage over Japan and Europe, one cannot doubt that such flexibility incurs tremendous social costs.

Ideally, the government would sponsor programs that facilitate a workers' transition from an outmoded industrial job to a more viable service-based one. How might such a program work? I don't know. How much might it cost? I don't know.

I don't even know if anyone knows the answers to those to questions (although I am willing to guess that no one on the Republican side of the aisle has spent much time trying to figure it out.)

In light of our transition to a service-based economy, education has become ever more valuable. And while I don't know much about American education, it seems that the American system does quite a competent job of educating those bound for college, while those without much interest in higher education don't get the preparation they need to compete in today's economy.

As such, is there any reason to expect that income growth in a service-based economy will benefit the lower income brackets as much as the top 5%?

One last trend I want to comment on is the changing role of women in the marketplace. Women are now a majority of students at America's colleges. If they haven't already, they will soon become a majority at the graduate level as well.

Unsurprisingly, such women tend to marry men who have achieved a similar or higher level of education. Again unsurprisingly, such well-educated couples tend to benefit disproporitionately from the growth of the United States' service-based economy. So in this instance, feminism seems to be responsible for a definite proporition of the inequality that often gets placed on the shoulders of Promise Keeping GOP legislators.

As should be evident from the arguments above, I have no idea what proportion of income inequality reflects natural trends in the American economy as opposed to Republican policy objectives. What I do know is that Kevin and others like him ought to seriously consider such arguments before asking
And when is 95% of American going to wake up, realize they have been mightily ripped off over the past 20 years, and fight back?
That sort of question only leads to elitism and despair on the left, since almost half of those 95% will keep on voting Republican regardless of what the Democrats have to say about the economy. Instead, I think it would be better for all of us -- right, left and center -- if the Democrats sought to gain a few percentage points at the polls by supporting program that promote equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.

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# Posted 2:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FACES OF THE FALLEN: In a well-deserved tribute to the men and women of the US armed forces, the WaPo devoted an entire page of its Memorial Day edition to photographs of those soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq since April 8.

Underneath each photograph is a brief description of how each soldier died. The descriptions provided considerable support for point made by my friend, Lt. MT, who said that driving is no less dangerous than helicopter transportation, even though the dramatic nature of helicopter crashes inevitably results in extensive media coverage of airborne casualties.

Opposite the page with the photographs, the Post ran a misguided story with a Vietnam-era headline: "In Iraq, U.S. Troops Are Still Dying--One Almost Every Day." As the story thunderously notes, 23 soldiers died after President Bush declared on May 1 that "major combate operations in Iraq have ended."

In a minimal nod to fairness, the Post observes that according to Pentagon officials, the casualty rate in Iraq is little different from the casualty rate in peacetime training. Six paragraphs later, the Post informs us of a far more important fact: that only two soldiers have lost their lives to hostile fire during the month of May. The other 21 fatalities this month were due to accidents, often in traffic.

While our success in Iraq is scarce consolation for those who lost the ones they loved, we ought not forget that their losses were for a cause that many great men and women have died for.

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# Posted 2:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARD NEWS: Once in a while, all y'all may want to hear about OxBlog's shopping habits and long-awaited reunions. But our bread and butter is politics. We made our name by telling you what we think about the news, and we intend to build on that foundation.

So let's talk about the WaPo. Thanks to the 3 1/2 hour train ride from DC to New York, I had my first chance in almost two years to sit down with an actual print edition of the WaPo. It felt good, but don't even think for a second that I'm going to go soft on Don Graham's crew. When you're #1, you have to prove it day in and day out.

While the lead story for the day was Sharon's victory in persuading Likud to accept the roadmap, the Post devoted far more column inches to the situation in Iraq. Not a bad choice.

The front page led off with features on both Iraqi entrepreneurs in the Kurdish north and tough living conditions for occupation forces. But far more interesting was the Post's decision to head up its "World News" section with an extremely flattering profile of Paul Bremer.

While its nice to see that the mainstream media aren't wedded to their inveterate critcism of the occupation, I have to wonder if this positive coverage of Bremer's efforts reflects his savvy courting of the media as opposed to his actual record on the ground. According to the Post,
Bremer has been in Iraq less than two weeks, but he has already changed the tone and character of the U.S. effort here.
That conclusion seems premature. Consider this: the focus of the WaPo profile is Bremer's trip to Umm Qasr to celebrate the unloading of 28,000 tons of rice donated by the United States to the people of Iraq. Given that importing massive amounts of food aid has been an American objective since the beginning of the war, Bremer's visit to Umm Qasr actually highlights the continuity of US efforts rather than Bremer's innovative approach.

In fact, OxBlog has made a consistent point of emphasizing the magnitude of American nutritional aid to occupied Afghanistan, which was the basis of our confidence that the US would do everything in its power to defy critcis' predictions of massive starvation in postwar Iraq. During the war, we devoted constant attention to the status of Umm Qasr and its readiness to receive aid shipments. While Bremer deserves credit for making sure things have worked out over the past couple of weeks, he has hardly changed the "character" of the occupation.

The WaPo is on more solid ground when it talks about Bremer's change of tone. Whereas "the term 'occupation' was taboo" while Jay Garner was in charge, Bremer has come straight out and said that
Occupation is an ugly word, not one Americans feel comfortable with, but it is a fact.
Absolutely. America now has its reputation on the line. The Security Council has backed off and decided to let us take responsibility for Iraq.

But to give Bremer sole credit for this change of tone is somewhat misleading. As if to mock his superiors' intense unilateralism, Jay Garner spent his tenure as governor of Iraq fretting that the people of Iraq and Europe would perceive the United States as imperalistic. You have to wonder if Garner really is a Republican.

In light of Garner's preemptive liberal guilt, it isn't all that surprising that American occupation policy became far too laissez faire. Predictably, this led to reporters to criticise the occupation effort while columnists (fairly) called for a more profound commitment to rebuilding Iraq. Moreover, I suspect that widespread emphasis on the chaos in Baghdad persuaded the Security Council to abandon its initial efforts to demand a more substantive role in the occupation. Better to let the US take responsibility for it, after all.

To those conspiracy buffs obsessed with the Straussian domination of American foreign policy, it must seem that the Bush administration wanted there to be just enough chaos in Iraq to ensure that everyone would demand a stronger American hand in Baghdad rather than an immediate withdrawal.

While no one in their right mind should believe that, it is important to recognize that the initial confusion in Iraq entirely defused potential criticism of the occupation as just another manifestation of this administration's supposedly mindless unilateralism. If Donald Rumsfeld actually considered promoting democracy in Iraq a priority, he would now be in a perfect position to pursue that objective with the full support of both the reading public and the journalists who inform it.

But regardless of what Rumsfeld thinks, Paul Bremer may now have the perfect chance to establish his reputation as a kinder, gentler, postmodern incarnation of Douglas MacArthur.

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Sunday, May 25, 2003

# Posted 12:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

BIRTHDAY THOUGHTS: So it's really hard to think of a more perfect birthday than being able to spend it with my new bride and two of my closest friends in the world. So thank you, Rachel, David, Mel, very much.

Birthdays are egalitarian holidays, thus very low-stress. To celebrate, by contrast, a graduation or wedding, one needs to do something - even celebrating Christmas requires, perhaps somewhat technically, at least getting religion - but birthdays come to one and all, and in a wonderfully individuated manner, too. We're told they date, in shamanistic cultures, to fears that evil spirits presented greater dangers to people experiencing changes in their daily life, such as ageing by a year; by surrounding the person with laughter and joy, a person's family and friends would thus protect them from this evil. In less shamanistic and more medieval Western cultures, it was a perquisite of the aristocracy; hence birthday "crowns," in our more democratic age. Irish children (and others) receive "birthday bumps" on the floor while suspended upside down (Israelis get to do it seated, and right side up), Russians receive birthday pies, Argentines get their earlobes pulled (again, once for each year). Birthday cards are a Victorian invention, while the "happy birthday to you" song dates to two American sisters in 1893. The Scandinavians have a number of tender traditions, such as a Norwegian student's dancing in front of a class with a friend on his or her birthday, or a Dane being greeted by presents surrounding his or her bed; Swedes, by contrast, are more likely to get breakfast in bed; all three are wont to fly their national flag on birthdays.

None of this is to give my friends any ideas. I'm just happy to be able to share today with them.
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Saturday, May 24, 2003

# Posted 8:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HATE MAIL: I have written about controversial subjects such as homosexuality, Donald Rumsfeld, and professional wrestling. I have denounced my enemies and lavished praise on my friends. And yet, until now, I have not received hate mail. But then I chose to mock the virtues of the Macintosh. And so the vitriol began to pour forth.

Rather than respond to the charges levelled against me by Dr. BL, I shall simply reprint the accusations verbatim and let you, gentle reader, decide on their merits. The good doctor writes:
Mr. Adesnik,

I am outraged by your characterization of Macintosh computers as suitable merely for a "short term relationship." A mac given to me as a bar mitzvah present lasted seven years, well into my junior year of college. This longevity is scarcely seen among the shabby Windows-based machines.

Moreover, your statement that "it's the inside that matters most" implies that there's something empty about the processing power and interface of the mac. Instead of countering these puny charges, let me just say that
these allegations of inferior innards recall those of the phrenologists and racial purists in one of the darkest eras of modern history.

This brings me to an important point: mac usership has historically been relegated to small segments of society (at times as small as 3%), but this usership tends to occupy the highest positions in the worlds of education,
media, and the arts. Yes, macs are the Jews of the computer hardware world. Broadsides against macs may be considered to be anti-Semitic "in effect, if not intent."

Of all of the questionable actions committed on your blog-- including the callous derision of Col. Richard Head and taking bets on the start of the Iraqi war-- this is most offensive posting to date.
Please note that the author of this letter is a Zionist communist homosexual.

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# Posted 8:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONFUSION: The Economist [subscription required] doesn't pulls it punches. It harshly condemns the USA for doing nothing to end the chaos in Iraq.

Even worse, The Economist thinks Paul Bremer's zeal for de-Ba'athification is distracting him from issues that really matter. In the meantime, Shi'ite clerics are doing a surprisingly effective job of restoring basic services, thus undermining American credibility and positioning themselves as kingmakers.

As is often the case, it's hard to know what to make of The Economist's coverage, since its news coverage is often argumentative in style. As I've pointed out before, the coverage of postwar Iraq in other publications is often contradictory.

On the one hand, I tend to have considerable faith in The Economist. On the other hand, its stories on the occupation don't even seem to acknowledge that American officials have done anything other than while away their time in Saddam's abandoned palaces. For example, its article on the overplayed the extent of both the thefts and of US responsibility.

Well, I guess I won't really have any answers for you until I make my way over to Iraq. Oh well.


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# Posted 6:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STORE BLOGGING: Thanks to Rachel & Patrick, I started my day with one of the best breakfasts I've had in years. It then took us another five-and-a half hours to digest and make our way off of the couch and out of the house.

So here I am in the Apple Computer store, blogging on a lovely 17" screen. Whatever your stance on the great Mac-Windows debate, you have to admit that Mac's designs are aesthetically brilliant. Even the store itself is designed in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

But I guess you have to approach computers the way you approach signicant others: However nice they are on the outside, it's the inside that matters most. On the other hand, if you're only interested in a short-term relationship, go for the Mac.
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# Posted 7:58 AM by Daniel  

BILL ON BILL. If you have the time, be sure to check out this video of President Clinton's appearance at a University of Arkansas, Little Rock class about the Clinton Presidency. He speaks pretty cadidly about his life in public office dating back to the Gubernatorial days, telling some great stories along the way. It is either thoroughly enjoyable or extremely infuriating to watch him defend himself and his record, depending on your opinion of the man. Enjoy!
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