OxBlog

Sunday, March 21, 2004

# Posted 6:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY, they rested.

(In the meantime - and until the eighth day rolls around - you might check out our foreign policy think tank's policy paper on North Korea.....)
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Saturday, March 20, 2004

# Posted 8:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT BLASTS MUSHARRAF: And he damn well deserves it.
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# Posted 8:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IOWA IS THE NEW JERSEY OF THE MIDWEST. That's what my friend from Chicago says. I'm not sure who should be more insulted.
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# Posted 8:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAKS FOR ITSELF:
A year ago, it would have been inconceivable for a citizen of Syria, run by the Baath Party of President Bashar al-Assad, to make a documentary film with the working title, "Fifteen Reasons Why I Hate the Baath."

Yet watching the overthrow of Saddam Hussein across the border in Iraq prompted Omar Amiralay to do just that. "It gave me the courage to do it," he said.

"When you see one of the two Baath parties broken, collapsing, you can only hope that it will be the turn of the Syrian Baath next," he added, having just completed the film, eventually called "A Flood in Baath Country," for a European arts channel. "The myth of having to live under despots for eternity collapsed."
My compliments to the NYT for putting this story on the front page. The Times also ran an excellent front page story yesterday looking back at the past year in Iraq through the eyes of a single family. I thought this passage was particularly interesting:
Three weeks after the bombardent, the [Imaris] returned to Baghdad. American soldiers were cruising the streets.

"They looked young, they looked strong," Abu Abbas said. "We wanted to give them food and flowers, but we were embarrassed by what we had to offer."
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# Posted 7:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HYPOCRISY TEST: Kevin Drum expects that the paladins of the right-wing punditocracy will ignore the Jack Kelley/USA Today scandal because it won't afford them the chance to attack the liberal NYT. Kevin writes:
I know that everyone — and I mean everyone — is probably tired of this comparison even before it's made, but, um, Kelley's fabrications are actually a lot worse than Jayson Blair's, right? And they went on for a much longer time, right? And there are a lot more of them, right?

But, er, um, Kelley is white, isn't he?

I really don't think it's unfair to ask Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan when they're planning to start their 24/7 coverage of this affair. Surely, at the very least, they should start baying for editor Karen Jurgensen's resignation, shouldn't they?
I don't really expect the Kelley affair to get that kind of attention either. But ask yourself the following questions: How often do you read USA Today? Does anyone consider USA Today to be the United States' paper of record and its standard-bearer of journalistic integrity?

(You don't have to answer those questions. They were rhetorical. Oh, and one bonus question for all you bloggers out there: How many times have you linked to a USA Today story in the past six months?)
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# Posted 7:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS IT NEWS? Ex-NSC counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke says that the Administration was already thinking about Iraq in the immediate aftermath of September 11th. As Pejman correctly points out, we knew that almost two years ago thanks to Bob Woodward.

What Clarke adds to that story is the allegation that Rumsfeld wanted to go after Iraq instead of Afghanistan. According to Woodward, "everyone agreed that destroying al Qaeda was the first priority". If a second, credible source confirms Clarke's allegation, it might begin to get some serious play. Otherwise, Clarke will become just another Paul O'Neill.
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# Posted 3:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

SUSHI REDUX: A few days ago, I posted that Kim Jong Il's Sushi chef, now in retirement, had written that his boss particularly enjoyed eating fish which were still alive, and moving around on the plate, which he consumed "with gusto." Now by including this tidbit, I'd meant to imply that Kim was first of all, weird, and second of all, most likely kind of a nasty fellow. Then, I was disabused from my dogmatic slumber when I got this from one of our friends and readers in a cold college town in Massachusetts:
This is pretty standard in Asia - when I was working there last summer we had to eat fish that were fried in the middle but not at the head or tail, and were still alive when brought out to the table. This is a huge nouveau riche type specialty in Asia, and everyone pretty much "ate it with gusto"...so I don't know what that quote was about, really. If the intent of the quote was to prove somehow that Kim is a monster, then it's really a bit short-sighted. But who knows - maybe you were commenting on his status as multimillionaire, who are generally the only people who can afford to eat live fish in good restaurants in Asia.
Thanks, Zoë! (Though I've got to admit, it still sounds a little weird to me....)
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# Posted 7:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

INTERESTING: A pan-African Parliament was launched this week by the Organization of African Unity, modelled on the European Parliament. There are aspirations that it will play a role in continental integration and in the harmonisation of laws of member states. The principal problem at the moment is funding; member states, most of which are strapped for cash, are being assessed to pay for the costs of maintaining the assembly.
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# Posted 6:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST NOTICING: I was just looking for a US-UK plug adapter to replace one which had broken. Not to criticise, but isn't it odd that the International Gays travel accessories online store only features photographs of heterosexual couples?
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# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SPANISH IMBROGLIO: This issue got big while I was out West and out of touch, so I've been playing catch up the last few days. From what I can tell, the heart of the debate revolves around whether it was the Madrid bombings themselves or the Aznar government's incompetent effort to lie about evidence of Al Qaeda's involvement that led to the Socialists' victory in last Sunday's elections.

The question of whether or not Aznar's government lied about the evidence seems to have been answered in the affirmative. Still, it is more than possible that the Socialists' would have won the election regardless. That is the point made in an excellent essay by Timothy Garton Ash (link via TPM):
Rightwing American commentators charge Spanish voters with "appeasement". This is crass. More than three-quarters of the Spanish electorate turned out for a massive defence of democracy in the face of terror. Every single Spanish voter was a soldier in the "war on terror". They voted different ways for all sorts of reasons. Historically, high turn-outs have favoured the left. Some of the former communist electorate voted tactically for the socialists. Many swing voters punished the conservative government of Jos? Mar?a Aznar for initially attributing the attacks to the Basque terrorist organisation Eta. And, yes, some emotionally blamed him for having made Spain a more likely terrorist target by supporting Bush's war on Iraq. But to say that this vote adds up to "appeasement" is a stupid slur.

So far as the Spanish voters' intentions are concerned, the election result was not subjectively a victory for al-Qaida. But it is, as Marxists used to say, an objective victory for al-Qaida. The Madrid bombings look likely to do exactly what a message posted on a radical Islamist website months ago said they should do: exploit the election moment to knock Spain out of the "Crusader-Zionist" coalition in Iraq. Conclusion: terror works.
So now what? According to Robert Kagan,
The Bush administration needs to recognize it has a crisis on its hands and start making up for lost time in mending transatlantic ties, and not just with chosen favorites. The comforting idea of a "New Europe" always rested on the shifting sands of a public opinion, in Spain and elsewhere, that was never as favorable to American policy as to the governments. The American task now is to address both governments and publics, in Old and New Europe, to move past disagreements over the Iraq war, and to seek transatlantic solidarity against al Qaeda.
That kind of advice is very, very surprising coming from Neo-Conservative #1 -- and all the more important because of it. On the other hand, Kagan seems to have written his column before becoming aware of the backlash against Aznar's deception. Would he still describe the Spanish elections as "al Qaeda's most significant geopolitical success since Sept. 11, 2001" if the elections results were a reflection on the Spanish Prime Minister's dishonesty rather than the Spanish public's supposed receptiveness to blackmail?

Then again, as Garton Ash points out, the precise cause of the Spanish conservatives' defeat may simply be irrelevant. We need to demonstrate that terrorism simply does not work. The best way to do that is to capture Osama bin Laden. In the meantime, we do have to improve relations with Europe and work harder than ever to promote democracy in Iraq.
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Friday, March 19, 2004

# Posted 11:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TPM CALLS KETTLE BLACK: Greg Djerejian seems to have caught Josh Marshall throwing some hypocritical accusations in the direction of Richard Perle. I'm no fan of Perle, but I think Greg is right about this one. And I'm not surprised that Josh Marshall has lost his step. His overwhelming resentment of the neo-cons has begun to damage his otherwise sharp sense of when to follow a story.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall defends himself, albeit indirectly.
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# Posted 11:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PSEUDO-ECONOMY FOR A PSEUDO-DEMOCRACY: TM writes in to provide some context for my earlier comments about Russian economic growth:
I worked as a banker in Russia from 1997-2000 and can give some missing perspective. Russia's current "boom" is due entirely to $38-per-barrel oil. Each $1 rise in the oil price adds $1B to the Russian state's foreign reserves. Though structural demand and supply conditions may well keep oil prices high long-term, it's useful to think of the Russian economy as another version of Nigeria: an oil-addicted primitive economy in which basic market institutions are either stunted or non-existent. 
 
Today's Russia is not capitalist. Capitalism requires a vast infrastructure of laws, mechanisms, practices designed to channel savings into productive investments, and Russia's banking system is so corrupt and primitive that the majority of Russian savings are either spirited abroad (as in the case of most of the "oligarchs"' ill-gotten profits) or stuffed under mattresses.
 
When I worked at Citibank, our emerging markets development matrix put Russia in the same category of market development as Nigeria and Indonesia: the banking system is a shambles, with very little credit available to firms and households; foreign direct investment outside of the oil sector is minuscule (Poland has attracted many times the amount of FDI that Russia has--even when one INCLUDES the oil sector); and the amount of daily trading on the local capital marketslocal  market capitalization barely exceeds the size of a single top-tier US high net worth brokerage account.
 
Secondly, to the point about inequality, I haven't seen the data or the methodology behind the "inequality coefficient" Shleifer references, but there's one data point that suggests a different picture. On the most recent Forbes List of Billionaires you will find 31 New Yorkers and 23 Muscovites. Note that there are fewer than 20 billionaires in France and the UK combined, and only a handful of billionaires in countries such as Brazil and Mexico that have similar population size as Russia and that also have spectacular concentrations of wealth...
 
Finally, about the productivity improvements that Khodorkovsky et al. have supposedly made with their oil companies: Given the extreme incompetence of soviet management, and the dearth of capital investment during the last 30 years, it would be impossible for anyone but a moron not to raise the return on invested capital in Russian firms.
 
The real challenge for Russia is to create a rudimentary banking system. Khodorkovsky like most oligarchs has his own "bank", called Menatep, and his record here is one of fraud, incompetence and outright theft of depositors' assets. The banking and currency crisis that he, other corrupt "bankers" and the Yeltsin regime perpetrated in August 1998 destroyed the lifetime savings of millions of Russians. For this felony alone the man should go to prison.
 
The oligarchs have looted Russia and destroyed any hope of that country entering the ranks of the leading economies of the world for at least two generations. For anyone but a Geneva jeweler or a London or Costa del Sol estate agent, there is no silver lining to this cloud.
I'm no economist, but I wouldn't be surprised if Russia's economy was no more substantive than its constiutional order. As Mike McFaul has noted, that sort of relationship between growth and democracy is the norm in Eastern Europe.
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# Posted 4:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LAYING THE SMACKDOWN ON RUMSFELD: Yes, I got this video clip from MoveOn.org (via Matt Yglesias). But the SecDef does make a complete fool of himself.

On an unrelated note, Matt has graciously admitted that New Haven has the best pizza in the United States. While Matt believes that good pizza can generally be found throughout the nation, he notes that he has not yet found it in Washington, DC.

As a former resident of the nation's capital, I must sadly inform Matt that he is not going to find it there. The best DC has to offer is Bertucci's, which is actually pretty good but nothing to write home about.

UPDATE: Eve Tushnet writes
Bertucci's? Oy Gott! No.

Doubtless you have already gotten fifty of these emails, but I must add my voice to the chorus:
Pizzeria Paradiso. It's in Dupont Circle (20th and P-ish), it's teeny tiny thus there are long waits, and
it serves pizza that is (I will say this) BETTER THAN SALLY'S. (I never made it to Pepe's, so take my words with however much salt that warrants.) BETTER THAN SALLY'S!

Also, if you like Chicago-style (I do), Armand's is fantastic. There's one on GA Ave in Silver Spring, one at Friendship Heights, one in the general Farragut North area, and one at Union Station. I have no idea how it compares to pizzas in actual-factual Chicago, but it is really, really good.
You know, I did eat at Paradiso once. It was quite good, but I wouldn't have put it in the same league as Sally's. Maybe I was just there on an off night. As for Armand's, I think it's pretty run of the mill. Or perhaps it's gotten better since I left town. Frankly, I'm surprised that I don't see eye to eye with someone like Eve who is known for having good taste. Oh well.

Now for those of you in Alexandria, Mark the Pundit recommends Generous George's. And finally, getting back to DC, TB writes that
Two places sell world class pizza in the DC area. The Italian Store in the Lyon Park Shopping Center off of Spout Run has great Pizza and great sandwiches too. Don't try walking in to get a slice on the weekend. The place is mobbed. And then there is Faccia Luna; they make it all over the place now.
Spread the word.
I haven't heard of either place, but I'm an open-minded pizza lover, so I'll be sure to give both a try when I get the chance!
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# Posted 3:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN SAN FRANCISCO, AND LONELY TONIGHT? Our foreign policy society's Bay area chapter is having its first meeting (6 pm, Berkeley Faculty Club) - stop by!
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

KOSOVO HAS ERUPTED IN VIOLENCE, with ethnic Albanians attacking Serb homes and churches in each city in the province. Clashes have occurred in every city in Kosovo, and 500 have been wounded, with 31 dead. Almost 1,000 Serbs have fled their homes, and a U.S. admiral on the ground has called the events tantamount to ethnic cleansing, in the region that gave the world that term. A second trustworthy commentator (National Interest's managing editor) has quoted a UN source as calling the last days' events "Kristallnacht". "It was all planned in advance," said a UN spokesman in Kosovo, noting that rumours (falsely) blaming Serbs for the deaths of several Albanian children circulated only shortly before busloads of armed Albanians arrived in Kosovska Mitrovica to begin razing the city's Serbian quarter. The UN, in response to the nationwide planned violence, with typical courage withdrew its missions from at least three cities in Kosovo. Nato allies are preparing to send additional peacekeepers.

Our thoughts are with the innocent members of both Kosovar communities who are suffering now the reprisals and aftermath of this act of genocide by Albanian leaders.
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# Posted 8:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE PUBLIC RECORDS OFFICE has placed Shakespeare's will online. (There are others, too, but you have to pay for those.)

Can't read it? Here's another version, this not in the Bard's own hand.
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# Posted 4:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

TAIWANESE PRESIDENT, VP SHOT IN LEAD-UP TO ELECTIONS: Both President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu survived the assassination attempt, and elections are proceeding as scheduled. (CNN, Bloomberg) There is yet no word as to whether China was involved in the attempt; the Chinese government has been quite belligerant in the past months to indicate its preference for Mr Shui-bian's opponent, who is less forceful a proponent for Taiwanese independence. The Chinese government is refusing to comment on the assassination attempt.
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Thursday, March 18, 2004

# Posted 5:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRIORITIES & FRIVOLITIES: While reading Rob Tagorda's excellent blog is one of my priorities, tonight there will be an emphasis on frivolity. In about an hour, I will be meeting up with Rob and his lovely wife Noemi to celebrate Rob's upcoming move to Cambridge, Mass. Rob isn't excited about the weather in Cambridge, but I'm sure he'll learn to live it. Brrr!
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# Posted 5:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONTEMPT: The WaPo slams the Bush Administration for holding back evidence about the costs of its Medicare bill and threatening to fire the actuary who just wanted to tell the truth.
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# Posted 5:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUDE: Spain's Prime Minister-elect has bluntly stated that he wants John Kerry to win in November. I'm sort of suprised, since just yesterday I told Steve Sturm that the Bush administration will not voice its dissatisfaction with the results of Spain's recent election since doing so would be a gross violation of diplomatic protocol.

Moreover, such offensive statements tend to have the exact opposite of the intended effect, since voters don't want to be told by foreign politicians -- especially American presidents -- whom they should vote for. Of course, most Americans will never hear what the new Spanish PM said, since Spanish PMs don't get paid much attention on this side of the Atlantic (unless Democratic presidential candidates foolishly remind voters that Europeans never support Republicans).

UPDATE: Steve Sturm adds some thoughtful comments to my response.
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# Posted 5:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSIA'S RESURGENCE & PUTIN'S APOLOGISTS: As expected, Vladimir Putin prevailed in a landslide this past Sunday to win a second term as President of Russia. To its credit, the Western media has consistently challenged both the fairness of Sunday's elections as well as the substance of Russia's supposedly democratic order. However, there is a growing backlash against this negative coverage among professional analysts of Russian politics. In the lead essay of the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and UCLA political scientist Daniel Treisman lash out at what they see as one-sided coverage of Putin's accomplishments. Their article begins as follows:
During the last 15 years, Russia has undergone an extraordinary transformation. It has changed from a communist dictatorship to a multiparty democracy in which officials are chosen in regular elections. Its centrally planned economy has been reshaped into a capitalist order based on markets and private property. Its army has withdrawn peacefully from both eastern Europe and the other former Soviet republics, allowing the latter to become independent countries. In place of a belligerent adversary with thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at it, the West finds a partner ready to cooperate on disarmament, fighting terrorism, and containing civil wars.
In contrast, consider what's Stanford Russianist Michael McFaul has to say about the subject:
In his first term in office, Putin continued a brutal and ineffective war in Chechnya, acquired de facto control of all major national television networks, turned both the Federation Council and State Duma into rubber stamps, and tamed regional barons who once served as a powerful balance to Yeltsin's presidential rule. He has arbitrarily used law enforcement structures to jail or send into exile political foes. He has removed candidates from ballots and rigged regional elections; harassed and arrested human rights activists, outspoken journalists, and environmental leaders; and weakened Russia's independent political parties and civil society.
The most striking difference between these two descriptions of Putin's record is the way in which Shleifer and Treisman provide vague descriptions of Putin's supposed accomplishments while McFaul relies on specific and detailed evidence to demonstrate what has gone wrong in post-Soviet Russia. What Shleifer and Treisman do get right, however, is that Russia's economy is in the midst of an unheralded boom. Of course, this is no secret. McFaul praises Putin's economic record as well. The WaPo reports that Putin "oversaw a dramatic economic expansion". But who would notice those five words in the midst of a lengthy article devoted to the semi-democratic nature of Sunday's election?

Shleifer and Treisman marshall an impressive array of evidence to demonstrate how far Russia's economy has come under Putin. In spite of having a stagnant GDP for most of the 1990s,
Retail trade actually rose 4 percent between 1990 and 2001. And average living space per person rose from 16 square meters in 1990 to 19 square meters in 2000. The shares of households with radios, televisions, tape recorders, refrigerators, washing machines, and electric vacuum cleaners all increased between 1991 and 2000. And private ownership of cars doubled, rising from 14 cars per 100 households in 1991 to 27 cars per 100 households in 2000. The number of Russians going abroad as tourists rose from 1.6 million in 1993 to 4.3 million in 2000.

Russia has, without doubt, experienced an increase in inequality, in both income and consumption. But indicators suggest that there has been improvement even at the bottom of the social pyramid. Since 1993 (the first year for which comprehensive figures exist), the percentage of Russia's housing with running water has increased from 66 percent to 73 percent; the share with hot water from 51 to 59 percent; and the percentage with central heating from 64 percent to 73 percent. Since 1990, the proportion of Russian apartments with telephones has increased from 30 percent to 49 percent.
In other words, a vote for Putin isn't a vote against democracy or even a vote for stability. It is a vote for real improvements in national wealth and standards of living. The next point Shleifer and Tresiman make is that widespread condemnation of Russia's post-Soviet economic reforms has been perilously misguided. First of all, critics of the post-Soviet era tend to dramatically exaggerate the efficiency of the Soviet economy. While GDP may have fallen in absolute terms after 1990, the substance of such economic indicators has changed dramatically. Whereas Soviet figures rested on high production of second-rate military equipment and unwanted consumer goods, newer statistics reflect the actual production of useful goods.

Now, when Shleifer and Treisman get into their more detailed discussions of the Russian economy, it is hard for a non-expert such as myself to evaluate their evidence. Nonetheless, their arguments seem plausible and well supported. For example, they point out that there is only a tenuous link between capitalism and inequality in Russia, since inequality hits its peak in 1994, well before capitalist reforms had reconfigured the economy. Shleifer and Treisman also argue that the economic power of the oligarchs has neither damaged the economy nor resulted in unsustainable growth, since the oligarchs' firms have performed extremely well while investing unprecedented amounts in capital stock.

Of course, nothing Putin has achieved on the economic front justifies his agressive efforts to promote what his own officials refer to as "managed democracy". It is also damaging for experts such as Shleifer and Treisman to downplay Putin's anti-democratic measures by arguing that "Even in rich countries such as Italy and the United States, journalists shape their broadcasts to fall into line with the views of media tycoons such as Berlusconi and Rupert Murdoch." That sort of comparision is simply absurd. Unless the Bush Administration decides to put all of Fox's competitors out of business and throw George Soros in jail, there can be no comparison between the state of journalism in the United States and Russia.

Lest one argue that Putin's anti-democratic measures have paved the way for economic growth, one should take note of Michael McFaul's observation that there is no connection between rigging elections, shutting down opposition media and the efficiency of the private sector. Moreover, "The experience in the postcommunist world is clear: The fastest democratizers are also the fastest economic reformers and the most successful economies."

As such, the Bush administration should not hesitate to demand that Putin's stop undermining the foundations of Russian democracy. Colin Powell should not be saying that "I have some concerns, but I don't think democracy is in trouble in Russia." It is. And when the US ignores that fact, it damages our own credibility as a global advocate of democratic reform. Moreover, Putin is hurting our efforts to win the War on Terror by waging a brutal and senseless war in Chechnya. While we can't force Putin to change his ways, we can keep the global spotlight on his authoritarian and aggressive behavior. Ever the self-interested pragmatist, that kind of negative attention may just keep Putin in line.
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# Posted 5:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

WAPO EDITORIALIZING ON SAUDI SUPPRESSION OF REFORMERS: This, it seems, is precisely why we need to be backing Arab reformists against their governments, rather than backing off whenever we stand the risk of hurting the feelings of a petty dictator:
What prompted the arrests, Saudi sources say, was a plan by the reformers to establish an independent human rights organization. The professors first asked permission to set up the group, only to be told that the government planned to establish its own human rights organization. Predictably, the official group rolled out last week excluded the dissidents as well as other notable government critics. So the reformers revived their plan for an independent organization -- only to be dragged from their classrooms by Interior Ministry officials, purportedly for "questioning."
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# Posted 10:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

LETTING MY FRIENDS DO MY WORK FOR ME: Today is the day after Saint Patrick's Day. That means, I'm not blogging much today. Instead, go read Kevin's new blog over at Washington Monthly, Winds of Change on (among other things), China and terrorism, and Robert on Saudi suppression of dissidents (and the fact that Harvard weather sucks). At TNR Online, Easterblog is a must read on graduation rates in NCAA basketball, and Jesus mini-series spin-offs. Thomas Friedman is at his best on the Axis of Appeasement. (What's that? It's what happens when the Axis of Evil intersects with the Axis of Incompetence.) Also,
Unless President Bush dispenses with his discredited argument for the war — W.M.D. — no one will hear or listen to what I believe was always the only right argument for the war and is now the only rationale left: to depose the genocidal Saddam regime in order to partner with the Iraqi people to build a decent government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — because it is the pathologies and humiliations produced by Arab misgovernance that are the root causes of terrorism and Muslim extremism.
Also, sticking with the theme of the post indicated in the header - our foreign policy society releases today a policy paper on North Korea, as well as launching the website for our high school and college foreign policy essay contest. Let us know what you think!
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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

# Posted 10:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNKNOWN BLOGOSPHERE: The 2004 "Bloggie" awards were announced on Monday. While I recognized most of the nominees in the politics category, that was about it. A nice reminder that there are whole worlds out there that we don't even know exist.
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# Posted 10:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACADEMIC POLITICS MATTER! Ralph Luker has been following the disturbing story of two tenured professors at the University of Southern Mississippi whose jobs were terminated for reasons that the university president refuses to elaborate.

Ralph isn't happy with OxBlog because I recently dismissed these sorts of academic crises as "tempests-in-a-teapot". Perhaps that description was a bit harsh. I fully support all those who actively defend the right of free speech. It's just my sense that such incidents happen so often on campuses across the nation that one shouldn't approach them as landmark battles in a national culture war. (NB: I was unaware of the USM affair before today. The "tempest" comment was about academic politics in general.)

As Kikuchiyo observes, the ivory tower has a strong propensity to overestimate the significance of its own affairs. As Henry Kissinger once said, "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." That isn't the whole story, but it is a big part of it.

Kikuchiyo is also right to speculate that OxBlog takes a similar approach to academic slugfests regardless of whether they take place in the Ivy League or the Mississippi Delta. While Ralph detected a note of condescension in my original comments, the fact is that my lack of interest in academic politics reflects my experiences at Yale and Oxford, rather than any sense that political controversies only matter if they happen at Yale or Oxford.

Finally, I don't think Ralph was being fair to Salma Hayek.
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# Posted 9:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDER, AGAIN: In Baghdad. Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.

UPDATE: I wouldn't exactly call it good news, but the death toll for yesterday's blast has been revised sharply downwards.
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# Posted 12:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

I HAD BEEN EXPECTING somewhat in vain a Saint Patrick's extravaganza on Google this morning, but I am proud however to note that www.google.ie delivers quite satisfactorily. Many thanks, Google; and Tá an t-ádh orm inniu - I'm indeed feeling quite lucky today.

Speaking of Saint Patrick's extravaganzas, The Irish Times provides admirable coverage of Dublin's St Patrick's Day festival, which this year invited entries inspired by the concept "glorious." In Galway, a city I nurse warm feelings toward, today's parade will be a re-enactment of the Battle of Knockdoe, fought 500 years ago this year. And the Taoiseach joined Manchester's Irish community this afternoon to open the parade in that city. (The Irish community of Oxfordshire, I should note, will incidentally be congregating tonight in the OxBlog branch office at 109 Rawlinson Road.)
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# Posted 5:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

BEANNACHTAI NA FEILE PADRAIG ORAIBH!!!! A very happy feast of Saint Patrick to all of our readers. With luck, I'll have a bit more to say about the topic before the day's over, but in any event I wish all of our friends a lovely Saint Patrick's Day.
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# Posted 5:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

EURASIANET INTERVIEWS NATO'S senior civilian official in Afghanistan about the security situation there, and steps forward.
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# Posted 3:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND OVER IN THE DEPARTMENT OF "ROOT CAUSES," the forces of reaction also do not rest - the Saudi government arrested several prominent reformists. According to Reuters, the detainees included former university professors Abdullah al-Hamid and Tawfiq Qussayer, politics professor Matrouk al-Faleh, publisher Mohammed Said Tayyib, and poet Ali al-Dumaini. Tayyib had been one of the driving forces behind a petition, which attracted 800 signatures, calling for an elected parliament and an equal role for women.
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# Posted 3:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

THERE'S A GREAT DEAL OF ACTIVITY ON THE EU ANTI-TERROR FRONT in the wake of the Madrid bombings:
The EU will also hold an emergency meeting of EU interior and justice ministers on Friday before a summit of European leaders on March 25-26. The issue of terrorism is sure to overshadow scheduled talks on economic reforms.

Among EU proposals being floated after Thursday's Madrid train bombings is the possibility of appointing a special EU anti-terrorism czar, Reuters reported. (CNN)
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

# Posted 6:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEMONSTRATIONS IN IRAN AND SYRIA: Eye on the World has a roundup of coverage.
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# Posted 12:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND MORE MID-EAST READING MATERIAL: Carnegie's Amy Hawthorne has released this month's Arab Reform Bulletin. Of particularly noteworthy mention are excellent pieces on the interim Iraqi constitution, gestures toward reform in Saudi Arabia, trends in Saudi Islamism, and retrograde motion in Yemen.
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# Posted 10:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

MIDDLE EAST TRENDS: The always excellent Middle East Intelligence Bulletin has released its new issue, with insightful pieces on Hezbollah and its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Syria and upcoming Lebanese elections, Bashar's consolidated control in Syria, and Iran after the elections.
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# Posted 7:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

BELGRAVIA DISPATCH responds to Juan Cole's (dubious, in my view) reading of Spain's electoral decision as a defeat both for Al Qa'eda and (purportedly) fascist, Straussian neo-conservatism.

That disagreement aside, Cole is sponsoring a very admirable translation project aimed at producing Arabic translations of books about American democracy, the American Jewish community, and Western scholarly histories of the Mid East, as well as other works from the Western liberal tradition which are not readily available in Arabic translation.
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# Posted 5:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

"ONE OF THE LONGEST JOURNEYS IN THE WORLD is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan": William McGurn reviews Norman Podhoretz in the New Criterion:
Podhoretz asks how [Sir Isaiah Berlin] squared his Zionism with his continued appearance in a publication (The New York Review of Books) that regularly published enemies of Israel such as Noam Chomsky and I. F. Stone. Berlin responded with a witticism. “I see,” he responded. “You are accusing me of being a fellow-traveler of a fellow-traveler.”
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# Posted 4:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE: A poll commissioned by BBC and carried out by Oxford Research International (full disclosure: we didn't do it!) found that 70 percent of Iraqis feel things are going well or quite well in their lives; 56 percent believe things are better now than they were before the war; more Iraqis believe the US-led invasion was right (49%) than feel it humiliated Iraq (41%), and only 20 percent of respondents wanted Iraq to become an Islamic state.

BBC concludes, "it suggests that the reporting of the daily attacks on the occupying forces in Iraq could be obscuring another picture. This opinion poll gives a glimpse into the real life of Iraqis, who appear to be overwhelmingly pre-occupied with bread and butter issues - whether the lights go on or not, and the restoration of the economy."

(Question for the NYT's Dan Okrent: is this what you meant when you told us about rowback?)
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# Posted 4:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

LUST: IT'S NOT JUST FOR CLERGY ANY MORE: Lucky in cards (or Russian roulette, for you in the Volokh side of the blogosphere), but unlucky in love? Finding that your love life has gone straight from Valentine's Day to Lenten abstinence? Then you might read Nicholas Blincoe's review of Simon Blackburn's expertly treatise on lust, part of an OUP and New York Public Library series on the seven mortal sins. ("One wonders what the other six contributions to the series are like ...'Gluttony: without it, I would be only half the man I am,' 'Anger: better out than in,' or 'Sloth: wake me up when it's over.'"). A few furtive glances:
[In the Symposium, as the hours drag on] we learn that the real object of desire is not young men but rather elderly ones, and our ultimate aim is not pleasure but wisdom. One sees why everyone at the symposium was drunk: they had to be legless to swallow Plato's argument, as the great philosopher clumsily substituted one object for another, until he ... made the squat septuagenarian Socrates the pin-up boy of ancient Athens.

At this point, I would like to call expert witness Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, who sang "Son, I'm 30. I only went with your mother 'cause she's dirty." Blackburn finds even more eloquent voices, like that of Edna St Vincent Millay, a poet of the 1920s who provided a role model for Dorothy Parker. Millay's sonnet number 61 admits a lover's proximity had led her to "feel a certain zest/ To bear your body's weight upon my breast", but adds, "let me make it plain:/ I find this frenzy insufficient reason/ For conversation when we meet again."
Read on, and you can discover Blackburn's concept, in reading Hobbes, of "fungibility", "which frankly sounds more like something caught from sex than a concept to help explain it."
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# Posted 4:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Kim Jong Il's sushi chef, on his employer (from WaPo):
"He particularly enjoyed sashimi so fresh that he could start eating the fish as its mouth is still gasping and the tail is still thrashing," Fujimoto said. "I sliced the fish so as not to puncture any of its vital organs, so of course it was still moving. Kim Jong Il was delighted. He would eat it with gusto."
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Monday, March 15, 2004

# Posted 9:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY IDES OF MARCH! The Roman calendar - as well as the Julian calendar, and the idea also persisted to greater or lesser extents through the Renaissance - revolved around three days in each month- the Kalends (1st day of the month), the Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months), and, of course, the infamous Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months). The remaining days of the month were designated by backwards counting from the closest Kalends, Nones, or Ides - so yesterday was Pridie (or II) Ides, Saturday was III Ides, Friday was IV Ides, and so forth until Nones, March 7th. So happy Ides - and now you have all sorts of other Roman calendrical days you can celebrate throughout the year, too.

More importantly though, for present purposes, this sets up a bad joke.
It's a little known fact that Julius Caesar did not die from stab wounds by Brutus, but, rather, was poisoned. During a sumptuous banquet which they both attended on that fateful Ides of March, Brutus slipped some poisonous hemlock leaves onto Julius' salad. (Thus making the world's first Caesar's salad - no, that's not the joke, wait for it....)

When Julius slumped over into his salad, Brutus feigned concern and asked, "My dear friend Julius, how many hemlock leaves have you eaten?" To which Julius gasped in reply: "Ate two, Brute."
There are more here, but they aren't as funny.
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# Posted 2:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND BABY MAKES TEN: Could we have a tenth planet? It's seeming increasingly likely: the recently launched Spitzer Space Telescope, in spite of the obvious impediment of sounding in nomenclature somewhat like a Luftwaffe invention, has discovered an orbiting world as large as, or slightly larger than, Pluto.

Named Sedna after the traditional Inuit goddess of the ocean, it orbits 10bn kilometres from Earth in a region of space known as the Kuiper Belt (or KB, for those in the know or who care to use the lingo). That there seem to be a large family of Kuiper Belt Objects, as they're called - leftover parts, in essence, from the creation of the solar system - has been known for some time: these include a number of minor planets, but before Sedna none yet had been discovered to rival Pluto's 2,000 kilometer diameter. Though it's unclear as yet whether ten planets will result from Sedna's discovery, what seems likely to happen is that there won't any longer be nine - either Sedna gets counted, or Pluto suffers demotion to the ranks of a large number of Kuiper Belt Objects lounging about in the most exotic tourist location in the solar system.

UPDATE: Noting the Latinate names of the current registry of the club of planets (Mercury, Venus, and the rest), reader James asks "Ye Gods! Why Sedna?"

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: BBC has a picture. Also, our New Haven friends might be interested to know that one of the discoverers, David Rabinowitz, does his stargazing from Science Hill.
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Sunday, March 14, 2004

# Posted 4:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE SOCIALIST PARTY HAS CLAIMED VICTORY in Spain's elections. See CNN, El País.

As Joe Gandleman has pointed out (see also here), the Socialists have promised to withdraw Spain from the Iraq coalition in the event of their election. Which is to say, of course, that the terrorists got what they wanted - assuming that Al Qa'eda was indeed behind the attack - to deter a European country from further participation in Iraq, after punishing it for its involvement to this point. But to be fair, on the other hand the Spanish government has gone out of its way to play down the Al Qa'eda implications (which would make it vulnerable) in favor of ETA (which would strengthen it). An attribution of the attack to Al Qa'eda would have made Aznar's party vulnerable, having brought the country into Iraq and provoked the terrorists' ire; an attribution to ETA would have strengthened the party, having amassed a strong record in combatting the separatist group. Aznar's government is seen as having played politics with the investigation, which if true would have been unworthy both of the commitment to principle which brought his government into Iraq and of the continued trust of his nation. And at any rate any nation which had suffered the unprovoked tragedy which Spain did in the March 11th attacks may be given considerable leeway in forgiving actions it takes while grieving.

The webpage of the party, whose full name is the Partido Socialista Obero Español, is here.
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# Posted 7:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE: Much has been made, in Tech Central Station as well as elsewhere, of the claim that the March 11th attacks in Madrid occured precisely 911 days after the 9-11 attacks in New York. Close, but not actually correct. By my count, March 11, 2004, was actually the 912th day after September 11th, 2001.
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# Posted 6:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE PURPORTED AL QA'EDA STATEMENTS OF RESPONSIBILITY: Yigal at MEMRI posts a translation and commentary on the alleged Al Qa'eda statement released in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on March 12. Reuters releases a second ostensible claim of responsibility from Al Qa'eda, released Saturday night. The purported spokesman, who spoke in Arabic with a Moroccan accent, claimed to speak on behalf of the military spokesman of Al Qa'eda in Europe, an Abu Dujan al Afgani. The statement was released on a videotape dead-dropped into a waste paper bin on Madrid's outskirts, after a television station received a call informing them that the tape would be there.
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# Posted 1:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOMBS AWAY: I'm off to the west coast to board an aircraft carrier in San Diego and then observe Air Force exercises outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I'll be travelling with the rest of the fellows from the Olin Institute. Our priority is to hit the casinos. Back on Wednesday.
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Saturday, March 13, 2004

# Posted 9:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

COME TALK TRADE: Our readers in Washington are all warmly welcome to join our foreign policy society's Washington chapter on Sunday evening for a discussion comparing multilateral and bilateral approaches to freer trade. The event will be at 7:30 at the Bertuccis in Clarendon, and our guest speaker will be Andreas Sennekamp (Georgetown Law).

Also, our San Francisco chapter will be getting off the ground this coming Friday, March 19, with an event on globalization at 6 pm at the Berkeley Faculty Club. Nayan Chanda of the Yale Center for Globalization (and editor of its magazine, YaleGlobal) will be the guest speaker. There is unfortunately a door charge of $15, but it buys a great deal of food.

Penultimately, we're running high school and college foreign policy essay contests in each of the ten cities in which we have a chapter; please let us know if you'd like to volunteer and pitch in!

Finally, we've got new pages up for a few of our programs, in democracy promotion, Trade, Security, and Development, and Asia. Please do drop us a note if you've got any ideas for resources you think we should link to from any of these pages (or if you can at least think of a particularly funny way to make fun of what we've got so far...).
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# Posted 4:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CRUSHING OF DISSENT: I have to admit, I don't follow any of Glenn's "Crushing of Dissent" links when they expose political correctness at America's universities. I guess I just don't believe that all those tempests-in-a-teapot really have much significance. But this time, Glenn has linked to a parody of the NYT by Robert Cox that had to be pulled off of Cox's site when the Times threatened legal action.

That's just pathetic. If the NYT cared so much about its integrity, perhaps it should've kept an eye on Jayson Blair. On the other hand, this sort of vindictive behavior is an implicit admission of just how vulnerable professional journalists are to the criticism of intelligent amateurs. Viva el blogosphere!

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman observes that Robert Cox "couldn't BUY this kind of advertising." That's absolutely right. Cox has already gotten a hundred times more exposure than he would have if the Times said nothing. His work is being distributed by dozens of websites. I guess all we can hope for is that the NYT will sue OxBlog someday.

UPDATE: I was sort of curious whether anyone left-of-center would pick up on this and what their take would be. Kevin Drum answers both questions in an impressive manner:
This goes beyond mere bullying and descends into paranoid — and hypocritical — lunacy. The Times certainly has the right to protect its copyright, but at the same time you'd think the publisher of the Pentagon Papers would show a little more respect for free speech and a little more tolerance for criticism.

They should be ashamed of themselves.
Amen. Kevin also has a very solid post up on Social Security.
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# Posted 4:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STANDING AS ONE: Inspirational photographs from Spain. (Via Instapundit)
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# Posted 3:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG CULT CLASSICS: It is the destiny of certain films to fade gloriously into the star-studded past, admired by masses and critics alike. It is the destiny of other films to become the secret possession of an enlightened few who share their obsessions with their closest friends but are never able to justify it to America's mainstream. A masterful film in that latter category is Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. It is the ultimate embodiment of assassin cool. Forest Whitaker plays the title character, an inner-city ascetic who lives according to the Way of the Samurai. He is a professional killer who handles a gun with the elegance that the Samurai once handled their swords. Whereas Hollywood has glorified the non-chalance of the shotgun-wielding action hero, Jarmusch's Ghost Dog is an intense and meditative individual who recognizes that an instrument of death must must be treated with sacred precision.

The great challenge facing so many martial arts films is how to translate the lexicon of the contact weapon -- sword or fist -- into the language of the bullet-riddled present day. In Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee granted himself the miraculous ability to disarm polyester gunmen with wooden darts. Other films, such as the Once Upon a Time in China series, have made the wiser decision to cast themselves as period epics in which the world still had a place for pure martial artists. Jarmush transcends this divide by having his protagonist endow a firearm with the philosophical elegance once reserved for the sword and the fist. The result is unforgettable.
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

US PREZ HAS ILLEGITIMATE SON: I'm referring to Grover Cleveland of course. In the Week in Review, Elisabeth Bumiller provides a welcome reminder that the campaigns of today aren't even close to as vicious as those of yesteryear. Historians have been making this point for some time, but the press doesn't often pick it up.

Anyhow, there was one paragrpah from Bumiller that struck me as somewhat disingenuous:
Generally, the campaigns of the 19th century were meaner than the ones today, in large part because the newspapers of the era took sides and were often subsidized by the political parties. "There was almost no restraint on what could be said in the partisan press," said Bruce J. Schulman, a professor of history and American studies at Boston University. "Party organizations were much stronger, and the partisan attachment of voters was much more loyal. Politics then was not about trying to convert voters based on issues. There were more or less no swing voters. It was all about getting your army of voters to the polls."
Although no expert on the subject, I think Prof. Schulman is right about the changing nature of partisanship. Nonetheless, Bumiller is really pushing the envelope when she credits the relative civility of modern campaigns to the rise of objective journalism. As Harvard prof Thomas Patterson documents in his excellent book Out of Order -- not to be confused with the Rod Stewart album of the same name -- the modern media has taken upon itself the mission of exposing every presidential candidate as a liar, an exaggerator and a hypocrite.

To be fair, the candidates often do much of the journalists' work for them. Even so, journalists have chosen to focus their coverage on the candidates' inconsistency and spin rather than the substance of their policy proposals. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps voters should have a healthy cynicism about the candidates they elect. In fact, the modern press may do a far more effective job of character assassination than the partisan press ever did because today's journalists are detached enough to focus on actual lies and inconsistencies rather than generating the outrageous rumors of yesteryear (or of post-Soviet Russia). Whereas 19th century voters could easily discount the output of the other side's spin machine, today's journalists are neutral enough to ensure that whatever they report has to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that thanks to the media, the negativism of modern campaigns is more substantive and disciplined than ever before.
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# Posted 2:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS: Ahhh. A perfect Saturday morning. Slowly getting out of bed at noon. Fresh pancakes and hot coffee for breakfast. All that was missing was waking up next to Salma Hayek. Anyhow, I did come across this interesting report in the Yale Alumni Magazine over breakfast:
"Scientists have found the oldest known fossilized animal that is definitely male. The pinhead-sized yet proportionately well-endowed ocean-dwelling creature was retrieved from 425-million-year-old rocks in the United Kingdom. Dubbed Colymbosathon ecplecticos, Greek for "amazing swimmer with a large penis," the animal is remarkably similar to a group of modern crustaceans known as ostracodes."
In other news about impressive endowments, Jesse Jackson is demanding that Yale place at least 5% percent of its assets in the hands of minority asset managers. I think Yale's response to Jackson was about right: When it comes to the endowment, we're color-blind. We only see green.
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# Posted 1:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

RITA KATZ has posted this week's terrorism headlines. Last week's were here.
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# Posted 12:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

THOUGH IT INSISTS ON explaining Putin's successes with recourse to a pat theory about "Russia's love affair with strong leaders," BBC manages to include today a black joke of the later Soviet period, and we always like those. Here goes:
A black joke of the later Soviet period supposedly quotes a history book of the 21st century: "Who was Adolf Hitler?"
Answer: "A petty dictator who lived in the time of Joseph Stalin."
Interesting, but like usual, you can do better than the BBC just by pilloring random sites from the internet:
A delegation from his native Georgia leaves Stalin's office after an hourly meeting. Stalin realizes that he cannot find his pipe and calls Dhzierhzynsky to find out if anyone from the delegation took his pipe. After 30 minutes Stalin finds the pipe under the table and calls Dhzierhzynsky to let the delegation go. Dhzierhzynsky answers Stalin's call: "I am sorry Comrade, but one half of the delegation already admitted that they took your pipe, and the other half died during questioning."

A person comes to a post office and complains: "These new stamps with Lenin do not stick..." The clerk answers: "Comrade, you probably spit on the wrong side."

A grandson complains to his grandfather after a trip to the Soviet Union: "You told me that there is a lot of gold, silver, food, and beautiful women, but all I found was poverty..." The grandfather asks:" And whom did you go with?" The grandson answers:"I went with a traveling company." "That's why..." The grandfather says after a while: "I went with Marshal Pilsudski, in 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War."

On his trip to the Soviet Union, President Kennedy saw many drunks. He asked Breznyev about it. Surprised Breznyev replied "...and there are no drunks in the US, in NYC?" "No" answered Kennedy. "When you come to NYC, you may shoot first three drunks you see." After 6 months, Breznyev came to NYC, and walked out of the Soviet embassy. He shot first three drunks he saw, and came back, and went to sleep. When he waked up next day, he read in the New York Times "A bald, short gangster shot three employees of the Soviet embassy."

In a Soviet pre-school, the teacher describes the Soviet Union to the children: "In the Soviet Union all kids are happy. In the Soviet Union all kids have lots of beautiful toys and live in great apartments..." Suddenly one child starts to cry and scream: "I want to go to the Soviet Union!"
UPDATE:
One of my favorite Soviet Era jokes is this one.  In 2072, a boy asks his father, "Dad, who was Leonid Brezhnev?"  His father answers, "He was a politician who lived at the time of Solzhenitsyn."
Michael
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Friday, March 12, 2004

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRAT WITH A SMALL 'D': Few statesmen have done more to promote democracy abroad than Oscar Arias. As President of Costa Rica in the late 1980's, he played a critical role in Central America's transition to democracy, a task once thought impossible. In today's WaPo, Arias defends Jean-Bertrand Aristide's 1995 decision to abolish the Haitian military. And I agree with him.

While some might conclude that the absence of such a force paved the way for February's chaos, I would argue that the minimal human cost and peaceful outcome of the crisis were a direct result of the fact that Haiti had been demilitarized. I regret that a hundred or more Haitians may have died, but am glad that there was no return to the pre-Aristide era, when death tolls rose into the thousands and tens of thousands. Moreover, the absence of a reactionary military establishment all but ensured that French and American peacekeepers could take up their posts without a challenge. Instead of mourning the dead, Haitians can now focus on rebuilding their nation.
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# Posted 9:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBERING THE WOUNDED: Bob Herbert has posted a thoughtful tribute to a wounded veteran of the Iraq War.
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# Posted 9:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SISKEL & EBERT & OXBLOG: I don't know why, but when OxBlog goes Hollywood, we get some extraordinarily thoughtful responses from our readers. Even though it's been seven days since I posted my initial thoughts about M*A*S*H, the mail is still coming. Writing in from Chicago, Prof. JL notes that there is surprising resemblance between the Hawkeye-Burns relationship in M*A*S*H and the Bunny-Fudd relationship in some classic Looney Toons:
The phenomenon you note -- viciousness being a response to provocation -- is played out nicely in 1940s and 1950s cartoons. Chuck Jones usually required that Bugs Bunny be (playfully) mean in response to a provocation. Jones's typical introduction of the shift from mild
victim to strong attacker was Bugs saying, "Of course, you know, this means war!" An exception is Chuck Jones's Duck Amuck, where Bugs as animator torments
Daffy Duck without provocation. Other Bugs directors, such as Bob Clampett in the early 1940s, allowed Bugs to attack without provocation. Although both worked, the Clampett approach was more artistically daring.

The Warners cartoonists of the 1940s were all aware of this issue and Tex Avery, after he left Warners for MGM, did a great commentary on this process in an MGM cartoon, Bad Luck Blackie (1949). It is too long to describe in detail, but Joe Adamson in Tex Avery: King of Cartoons (pp. 89-93) has a long description. It starts with a mean dog, swallowing and disgorging a little kitten, cruelly laughing. Once our sympathies are aroused against the dog, the kitten allies with a black cat. Together,
they torment the dog through the rest of the cartoon, which ends with the kitten cruelly laughing as the dog did at the beginning. The bulk of the cartoon is pretty funny, but the opening and closing are quite disturbing because you are indeed sucked in to root for the brutal treatment the dog gets--and seemingly deserves. At the last moment, Avery lifts the veil to let you know how he has manipulated your sympathies.
I think JL is right, although my memories of Bugs & Duffy are a little bit hazy. It's also interesting how in almost every episode of M*A*S*H, Burns has to antagonize the audience before Hawkeye is allowed to have a go at him. This sitcom/cartoon logic: the characters have no apparent history and must reenact their morality each time the camera starts to roll. Next up, SC tries to provide a little more context for my perceptions of M*A*S*H:
Just to clear up some misconceptions...

Heller wrote in the intro for a limited edition run on Catch 22 that he was using the war/military as a satirical tool to make fun of how crazy civilian corporate life was in the 1950's. It's not a criticism of "military life" so much as it is of "civilian life". He seemed to go out of his way to clarify this point precisely because there'd been so much confusion about his intent. It'd probably be more accurate to say he was making fun of the militarization of US corporate culture that to say he was mocking the corporate nature of US military culture.

Regarding MASH. It'd probably be worth your time to rent the full feature DVD version and listen to what Altman himself says about the project, intent, and public reaction. He had innumerable problems clearing both the studio and the ratings board due to his insistence of keeping some of the more graphic operating room scenes, which for the time were extremely controversial. Altman suggests that he was able to get away with as much as he did mainly because there were a couple gigantic war films in production at the same time (Patton was one), and he was able to get most of what he wanted because of the small scale and obscurity of his production. So although you're certainly entitled to your personal, subjective interpretation of the film, it's worth noting that MASH (like Catch 22) was meant by its creator as a
broad social commentary and not a specific critique of military culture alone.
You know, I may just go back and rent the DVD again so that I can listen to the commentary track. Getting a director's insight into his own work is one of the great benefits of upgrading from VHS to DVD. However, when you rent DVDs, you don't often want to watch the movie twice in the space of four or five days. But when I own the DVDs, I tend to go through as much of the extra material as possible.
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# Posted 12:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

SPANISH EMBASSIES: Glenn posted a link to Spanish diplomatic representations in the United States, and encouraged readers to send flowers or other expressions of sympathy. I think this is a very poignant idea, and wanted to add this list of Spanish embassies and consulates in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, for our readers who are in the rest of the world. To our Spanish friends: we are grief-stricken alongside you.
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# Posted 9:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE WEEK IN DEMOCRACY: OxDem and our foreign policy society's democracy program contribute a weekly democracy briefing to our friends over at Winds of Change. This week's is up now, with updates on the Mid-East initiative, the Iraqi constitution, Syrian protests, Russian elections, and the Palestinian legislature.
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# Posted 8:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON THE INDIA-PAKISTAN CRICKET LINEUP: OxBlog's friend Alex Massie writes in with more background for the India-Pakistan international tomorrow:
www.cricinfo.org is likely to have access to at least a radio broadcast and quite possibly video too. The BBC's site may also be of use.

It's true that this is the first full series in 14 years but the two sides did play three matches in 98-99 in India and have played numerous one day matches against one another on neutral territory such as Sharjah and even, somewhat bizarrely, Toronto. A test between the two at Eden Gardens, Calcutta (capacity 100,000+) would be one hell of an experience.

Incidentally, one way of understanding or appreciating the changing nature of India is through its cricket team. India has always produced some wonderfully talented players, but they have tended to be a fragile side that often crumpled under pressure. (Their record outside of India is, frankly, atrocious). It was as though they didn't truly believe they could dine at top table.

These days however they play with a grand swagger, fearing no-one and are confident (rightly so) that they can give anyone a run for their money. They played a thrilling series in Australia over Christmas that showed they could compete with the best in the world. (one of the good things about being back in Scotland from the US for the holidays was being able to get the cricket on TV).

Also - there's probably no sportsman in the world in any sport who plays under as much pressure as India's batting genius Sachin Tendulkar (a joy to watch incidentally - you could say he combines Barry Bonds' ability with the grace of Joe Dimaggio). His face is everywhere in India - on TV, plastered on billboards - and when he bats he does so with the expectations and hopes of a billion people on his back. Somehow he manages it, retaining a serenity that is quite remarkable.

One other point - cricket in India is one of the essential components that glues this remarkable country together. Rich and poor, Hidu, Muslim and Sikh alike are united in their passionate love of the game. (It was a pretty significant moment when Mohammed Azharuddin, another swashbuckling batsman, became the country's first Muslim captain in 1989).

Pakistan, meanwhile, though a team that also has more than its share of talented players have for the last fifteen years often played in a style that suggests they feel an unfair world is constantly conspiring against them.

Hopefully this series can be the beginning of a fresh rapprochement between the two countries.

yours etc

Alex Massie


UPDATE: AND MORE INDIA-PAKISTAN CRICKET - It turns out that coverage of the match is live online at the BBC website. Also, a friend whose sympathies lie more with the Pakistani side responds to our email above:
Hey there,

In reply to your friend Mr. Massie's comments on India and Pakistan's cricket teams. As an erstwhile avid fan of the Pakistani team,I sort of (as ridiculous as this sounds) took a little bit of offense to that last paragraph on Pakistan's team. I mean, I would agree with him if he said "Pakistan's team has spent the last 15 years royally sucking" but to say "Pakistan, meanwhile, though a team that also has more than its share of talented players have for the last fifteen years often played in a style that suggests they feel an unfair world is constantly conspiring against them." is really rather odd. What does he mean by that?

Having lived in Pakistan and seen the ludicrously bureaucratic mess that is the administration of the Pakistani cricket team, not to mention the absolute lack of any semblance of competition below the national level (we have teams that represent a popular brand of soap playing against a team that represents a provincial police force playing on a dirt pitch about once a year) AND the fact that most of the best players are recruited from absolute nowhere with very little quality coaching at the high school or college level (most of the team at any given time is functionally illiterate) I think it's amazing that the country has produced the level of talent that it has and has performed so well against the bizarrest odds time and again to win the cricket world cup in 1992 and to play in the final in 1999.

What Mr. Massie said about the pressure that Sachin Tendulkar faces could easily be applied to Waqar Younis, Waseem Akram, Inzamam ul Haq and Imran Khan in their prime. Also, I think a lot of the coverage he receives is pretty welcome to him - until last year I saw him sponsering rather trivial products like ballpoint pens on prime time television - so I'm sure he's not exactly recoiling from all the attention he receives.

I mean, most of the things he said about the Indian cricket team (and how cricket unites all indians etc etc) is absolutely true about the Pakistani team too. Maybe we just don't sell ourselves as well as the Indian team does!

well, what a rambling email. I'm not much of a writer!

sincerely,

R,
AND EVEN MORE!
...In the above paragraph, it should be noted that the Nawab of Pataudi and Ghulam Ahmed, also Indian Muslims,  have captained the Indian side back in the 50s and 60s.

Deshis like me are happy to see references to Holi festival and cricket in your blogs.

Are you guys exploring Indian cuisine at Ox beyond chicken tikka and samosas ? Try a south indian dosa-idli-vadai for breakfast or weekend brunch or a Gujerati thali meal at one of the joints near Euston Sq station / St Pancras area in London.
 
Thank you,
 
Cheers
 
Swami
Thanks very much, Swami! And our congratulations, as India's now won the match by five runs.
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# Posted 8:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

STUDENTS DISCOVER MRS KENT THE MUSIC TEACHER WAS REALLY THE DUCHESS OF KENT. The Duchess, who thought it would be great fun to teach children music, had been teaching primary students in Hull music for the past eight years, incognito. Her students did always seem to have rather nice field trips, including visits with the Halle Orchestra and to London's Westminster Abbey, where the school choir sang with opera singer (and Yorkshirewoman) Lesley Garrett.
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# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

ROH IMPEACHED: South Korean Prime Minister Koh Gun will assume the powers of the presidency until South Korea's Constitutional Court decides whether President Roh should be removed from office -- a trial which could take up to half of a year. In a scene recalling some of the choicer moments of Parliamentary and Congressional history, "some [legislators] threw their shoes at the speaker while others wept, yelled, crouched on the floor or sang the national anthem." (CNN)
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# Posted 7:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

WASHINGTON POST ON 3/11: Hear, hear:
THE BUSH administration's clumsy diplomacy and its critics' hyperbolic charges of "unilateralism" sometimes obscure the fact that the United States has had true and valuable allies in the war on terrorism. Yesterday one of the best of those, Spain, suffered a blow as shocking and as terrible as any the enemy has landed since Sept. 11, 2001. Authorities said that more than 190 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured when 10 backpacks crammed with compressed dynamite exploded on four trains in Madrid at the height of the morning rush hour. It remained unclear last night who was responsible; police initially blamed the Basque ETA organization but later discovered evidence pointing to al Qaeda. Either way, as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar put it, "March 11, 2004, has taken its place in the history of infamy."
See also the New York Times, which poignantly notes "We are all Madrileños now.".
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# Posted 6:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTAN-INDIA INTERNATIONAL IN KARACHI: In a historic match fraught with symbolism of warming ties between India and Pakistan, the two nations' cricket sides will face each other in Karachi tomorrow morning. In a friendly held yesterday, Pakistan's A - which did not include some of the best Pakistani players - stood down the India side by six wickets. India and Pakistan have not held a cricket series in fourteen years; the Kerala News have a history of the rivalry.

I'd be very interested to hear whether any of our South African or cricket fancying friends might know whether the international is to be webcast, and if so, where (and when)? I'll be very happy to share the information with our readers.
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# Posted 3:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

FERN HOLLAND, SELFLESS HEROINE OF OUR GENERATION: I've never read an obituary before of someone whom I didn't know but who as instantly seemed intelligible, and the same sort of person as most of my dear friends. May those who knew and loved her have at least the consolation of knowing she died with heroism, and in the pursuit of what was right.
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# Posted 2:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

OVERNIGHT DEVELOPMENTS UPDATE ON MADRID BOMBING: Moderate Voice has a linkfest. Also, Ha'aretz presents an insightful analysis by columnist Ze'ev Schiff. (Thanks to our reader John Hobbins for pointing out the latter.)
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# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NAZIS VOTE REPUBLICAN: David Broder makes a solid point. Whatever you think of George Bush's 9/11 ads, they're nothing compared to FDR and the WWII-era Democrats abuse of patriotism at the polls. On the other hand, it looks like Bush has stolen a page from his father's playbook by trying to scare voters with menacing images of dark-skinned criminals.
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Thursday, March 11, 2004

# Posted 11:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PERMANENT CAMPAIGN: Two weeks into the race for the White House and some people have already had enough. Kevin Drum is one. Josh Marshall may be another. And Dan Drezner is on the fence.

I'm not sure that I care one way or the other. The process of governing has already become a permanent campaign. From the moment a President takes office, he works on building public support for his agenda while keeping a watchful on his approval ratings. Well, duh, isn't that what Presidents are supposed to do?

Not exactly. For the past forty years or so, governing has resembled a permanent campaign. But before that there really was a divide between electioneering and policymaking. Now, I'm not saying that political considerations didn't have an overwhelming impact on policy. But in the days of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, politics between elections had more to do with closed-door bargains than public appeals for support. Depending on your perspective, the old system may have been more or less democratic and more or less efficient.

Anyhow, that doesn't mean I want to see a Kerry-Bush catfight dominate the news for the next eight months. I think it's fair to say that the more we hear about the candidates the less we will hear about what's going on outside of this country. Then again, no one is stopping from reading foreign newspapers, so if I get caught up in the catfight I've only got myself to blame.
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# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL: I was going to write about Bush's flip-flops and Kerry's foreign policy. But the WaPo beat me to it. It's better that way, since I had a couple of drinks at dinner. If I had to write an editorial in this condition, it would probably wind up being about something stupid, like whether or not John Kerry uses Botox.
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# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: If you ever get bored with our Congress, check out South Korea.
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# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KISS MY BRASS: It's not every day you run into a four-star general. But tonight I attened a dinner with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee. By the way, he looks a lot younger and less intimidating in real life than in his photo on the Marine Corps website.

The purpose of the dinner was for Hagee to share his thoughts on the future of warfare. The talk was off the record, but my buddy Captain K said it was the same canned routine you always get. As far as I can tell, Hagee's message was about the same as the one on the Marine Corps website: our strength is our people. We are flexible, adaptable and fast. Nonetheless, it was an interesting talk, with some good war stories and insight into the challenges of rapid deployment.

I sort of suspect that Hagee only described his talk as off the record in order to give the impression of greater intimacy. Without breaching confidence (which I can get away with now that John Ashcroft is on the disabled list), I think I can tell you all that the only impolitic thing Hagee did was take some very mild cheapshots at NATO. Moreover, he had a very sympathetic audience, consisting mostly of security studies faculty who like to feel that they're inside the machine.

The best story of the night came from Captain K and was not told within earshot of the Commandant. Apparently, one of K's sailors went down to Davy Jones' locker as a result of auto-erotic asphxiation. That shouldn't be funny, but the Navy medical team found him dead "in mid-stroke". Not knowing exactly what happened to their son, the sailor's parents demanded access to all of the evidence gathered as part of the official investigation of his death. Thus, it fell to Captain K to write a letter suggesting to them that the evidence -- including detailed photos of the "crime scene" -- were more graphic and disturbing than they could handle.

It's actually not the first time K had to handle this kind of bizarre situation. Another one of his soldiers discovered after shipping out of Bangkok that his new wife was a man. However, he told K that he loved "her" very much and that they were saving up for an operation to make "her" a real woman. And to think Kevin Drum was worried that true love no longer exists.
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# Posted 4:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

LONDON NEWSPAPER SAYS AL QA'EDA-AFFILIATED GROUP CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR SPAIN ATTACK - which of course, they might have an incentive to do even if they hadn't carried off the event, but if true could very likely make 3/11 Europe's 9/11.

The announcement ran in Al Quds al Arabi:
The newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said it received a five-page e-mail from the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri claiming its "death squad" had penetrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain."

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," the unverified claim said.
WaPo has added:
The statement to the al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper said, "We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance," and called the attacks "Operation Death Trains."

The statement, which was faxed to Reuters, was signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. That group also has claimed responsibility for the November bombing of two synagogues in Turkey and the August bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
Reuters, for its part, has:
We bring the good news to Muslims of the world that the expected 'Winds of Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage...90 percent (ready) and God willing near," the letter said.... A copy of the letter was faxed to Reuters in Dubai.
Also, Spanish investigators have found detonators and a Qur'anic tape in Arabic in a stolen van near Madrid.

Several thoughts at the moment: the coordinated aspect of the attacks in different locations, as well as the scale of casualties, would both tend to be points in favor of an Al Qa'eda attribution; further, Al Qa'eda had threatened Spain as an ally of the United States's in the Iraq war; Eta as a matter of practice has always telephoned a warning prior to an attack in public; and finally, Eta has not produced a massive attack in years, with the number of its operatives pared after a series of high-profile arrests. On the other side of the balance sheet, a new generation of leaders will be coming into their own in Eta precisely on account of those arrests; and the timing, 72 hours before elections predicted to return a right-of-center party, would seem to suggest a domestic group. Of course, there always remains the analytic possibility that Eta and Al Qaeda may have joined forces - in the way that Hamas and the IRA share weapons and operatives (and in their case, post-colonial ideology), and may both be found in FARC-controlled areas of Colombia - they may simply have decided that both groups could agree on having Spain as an enemy. Like everyone, I'll be following the news very closely for the next few days, to see how the attribution dilemma unfolds.
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# Posted 1:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

PERHAPS OF INTEREST ONLY to some of our readers, but this is by far the best language website I've yet come across. In addition to well-writen pages on such topics as polite usages in French letters, there's also an admirable page on French gestures. I think this one is my favorite.
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# Posted 10:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXFORD TO GET RID OF BRITISH UNDERGRADUATES (BBC). "Aaah, that's just wishful thinking," says American postgraduate student.
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# Posted 4:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

MONEYMAN RETIRES: The Pentagon's Comptroller, Under Secretary Dov Zakheim, has announced he will be leaving the Defense Department. Dr Zakheim, incidentally, got his doctorate in this neck of the woods, and has written on subjects close to my own current research area on Congress and U.S. great power relations. As Janine Zacharia reports, he will be going to work with Rachel at the international affairs consulting firm Booz Allen.
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# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MARRIAGE AT THE POLLS: Andrew Sullivan points out that Bush's approval rating on the gay marriage issue is 44 in favor, 52 against. While the polls on this issue are volatile and their meaning not 100% clear, a 52% negative rating still suggests that Bush is losing ground because of the issue.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLIP-FLOP PING-PONG: Rob Tagorda and Matt Yglesias are swatting back and forth the question of whether John Kerry is an unprincipled opportunist or a contemplative man of nuance. I think this issue is an extremely important one because now seems to be the time when the media is defining for itself who the candidates are. If the flip-flop story grows legs, every profile of Kerry from now until the election will have to spend time evaluating the evidence for and against the charge. Regardless of whether such profiles convict or pardon the Senator from Massachusetts, the simple fact that the issue is constantly in play will become a serious liability.

Getting back to Matt and Rob, the debate started with Matt's column in TAP, which argues that the flip-flop charge is a artificial one created by the Bush administration and picked up by journalists with a compulsive interest in embarrassing the candidates. Rob's first response to Matt implies that Matt is attacking a strawman, since he debunks conservatives attacks on Kerry's record while ignore what the WaPo and TNR have to say.

Matt then got the jump on Rob by pointing out that he had already responded to the WaPo and TNR pieces in question. Undaunted, Rob responded with some original research by using Nexis-Lexis to pore over back issues of Kerry's hometown paper, The Boston Globe. Unconvinced, Matt shot back that the Globe has it in for Kerry and that its evidence is less than compelling.

So where do I stand on all of this? I don't know yet. I spent an hour and half tonight reading just some of the many articles devoted to the flip-flop question. What struck me as most surprising was Matt's statement that if you "look at Kerry's words and deeds with the pre-existing assumption that he's a man of principle and integrity" you will that find his positions to be consistent and nuanced. Yet "if you go into it assuming that Kerry is an opportunist, you can read the events to support that conclusion." While Matt's comments refer specifically to Kerry's vote to authorize the use of force against Saddam in October, they seem to reflect his general take on the issue.

What surprises me so much about Matt's approach is its implication that there is no right answer to the question of whether or not Kerry has flip-flopped on the major issues of the day. It all comes down to a question of trust. While Matt may be right, "Trust me" is a very hard message for a candidate to run on. To be sure, Bush's less-than-forthright approach to the deficit, the 9/11 commission, the WMD question and his National Guard service record make it just as hard for him to ask for the voters' trust. But as the challenger, Kerry has to show that he is better than Bush, not that he isn't worse.

Asking for the voters' trust is also an invitation for journalists to challenge a candidate's reputation. When Jimmy Carter promised that he would never tell a lie, journalists did all they could to catch him telling one. And Gary Hart...well don't ask about Gary Hart. The point is that Kerry can't lay the flip-flop issue to rest by telling either voters or journalists to trust him. In fact, doing so would only ensure that the issue stays on the table. And even now, there may be enough evidence out there to cast doubt on Matt's "pre-existing assumption that [Kerry]'s a man of principle and integrity". Consider the opening grafts of the NYT profile devoted to the flip-flop question:
When Senator John Kerry was speaking to Jewish leaders a few days ago, he said Israel's construction of a barrier between it and Palestinian territories was a legitimate act of self-defense. But in October, he told an Arab-American group that it was "provocative and counterproductive" and a "barrier to peace."

On Feb. 5, Mr. Kerry reacted to Massachusetts' highest court's decision legalizing same-sex marriages by saying, "I personally believe the court is dead wrong." But when asked on Feb. 24 why he believed the decision was not correct, he shot back, "I didn't say it wasn't."
Later on in the Times' profile, Kerry explains that
He had criticized the Israeli wall before the Arab-American group in October because its path was then expected to deviate widely from Israel's border into West Bank villages ? though he conceded he had not made the distinction clear at the time.
Perhaps Kerry is telling the truth. But why does it always seem that Kerry has to pull this kind of rabbit out of his hat in order to reconcile apparently inconsistent views? By the same token, Kerry has recently revised his 1996 conclusion that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. This subtle distinction has enabled Kerry to argue against Bush's proposed amendent banning gay-marriage but in favor of state-level amendents that have the same effect. If one assumes that Kerry is "a man of principle and integrity", then all is well. But isn't it just a little too convenient how Kerry has revised his passionate and long-held views on gay marriage just in time to present a more moderate face during his presidential campaign? Again, there's no evidence to show that Kerry is being opportunistic. But my gut instinct says that this guy has to be watched.

Tomorrow: Bush's flip-flops and Kerry's stance on the war.
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