OxBlog

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

# Posted 1:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: Not long ago, I criticized the US government for its silent response to an anti-democratic coup d'etat in Togo. Thus, I am indebted to JT for pointing out that the US has now cut off all military assistance to Togo and endorsed the tough sanctions imposed by the regional organization known as ECOWAS.

After my initial criticism of the administration, one liberal realist chided me for assuming that this President literally intended to promote democracy across the globe. Other readers suggested that the US was holding back in order to avoid offending France, the great power historically most influential in West Africa.

Yet it seemed that the White House has surprised all of us. It is working hand in glove with a multilateral organization towards the objective of restoring democracy in Togo. Impressive, no?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A KINDER, GENTLER UNITED NATIONS: In response to the overwhelming emphasis in the blogosphere on scandals and corruption at the United Nations, Peter Daou has started up a blog called UN Dispatch that focuses on some of the good, humanitarian work for which the UN should be recognized.

I sympathize with Peter's perspective. The UN is an institution that is more than worth salvaging. Yet if one is concerned about the UN's image problem, priority number one should be an unmitigated cleansing of the UN itself.

Perhaps if the UN heard this sort of criticism from anti-war liberals, they would take it more seriously than when they hear it from the usual suspects on the hawkish side of the political spectrum (OxBlog included).

Ultimately, the UN must suffer from the same afflication that that troubles the United States as well. As self-proclaimed moral exemplars, both the UN and the must expect their critics to hold them to impossible standards and place all of their shortcomings under a relentless microscope.

The UN must bear an additional burden, however, since it is not subject to any sort of democratic accountability. Whereas George Bush can depend on the Democrats and on the media to report every possible criticism of his administration, the UN has no loyal opposition and no fourth estate devoted to righting its wrongs.

Thus, unless, the UN can right itself, few of us will attribute any sort of credibility to its pretensions as the guardian of international law.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JEFFERSON AND HEMMINGS -- NO "DEFINITIVE" EVIDENCE: Let me apologize for using the word "definitive" in my initial post on the Jefferson paternity suit. As this excellent post by Jim Hu points out, both scientists and historians have a bad habit of exaggerating the evidence which might indicate that Jefferson was the father of Hemings youngest child.

In addition, Jim links to this website (also mentioned by reader RT) which quotes a respected historian to the effect that there were 25 male Jeffersons living in the vicinity of Monticello, all of whom had the same Y chromosome that was passed on to Hemings child. Thus, OxBlog should certainly not have suggested that TJ was the only one who had a reasonable probability of being the father. That was simply an unfounded paraphrasing of what I learned at Monticello.

Now, does this mean there is only a 1-in-25 chance that Jefferson was the father? No, not really. Some have argued that Jefferson's brother Randolph is the probable father. But TJ himself is still very much in the running.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, February 20, 2005

# Posted 11:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ELDER HOSTEL UPDATE: I dropped my parents off at Dulles airport before dinner, thus bringing to an end the third and final day of the OxBlog elder hostel. This morning we visited James Madison's estate and plantation, known as Montpelier.

Right now, the Madison house is undergoing extensive renovations in order to prepare it for the celebration of Virginia's 400th anniversary in 2007. Although some might prefer to visit when the renovations are done, I think that visiting right now is an even better idea, since you can see history in the making.

The first stop on the Montpelier tour is a Power Point presentation about the history of the estate. I shuddered when I heard the words "Power Point". The whole point of a vacation is to get as far away from Power Point as possible. But this presentation actually turned out to be quite good. So good, that I feel compelled to share with you one amazing anecdote.

While stripping the walls of the Madison house in order to restore them to their original state, the workers take considerable care to preserve later layers of wallpaper, etc. since they also have historical and artistic value. But there are still things that go straight into the trash, such as mouse nests and other rodent paraphrenalia found inside the walls.

However, one enterprising researcher decided to take a closer look at one mouse's nest before it was thrown out and discovered that it dated back to the early 19th century, when Madison himself lived in the house. How is it possible to know somethng like that?

It turns out that the material for the mouse's nest included a number of strips of paper, including part of a letter hand-written by Madison himself and containing the first half of his signature. The nest also contained two strips of newspaper describing contemporary slave auctions.

Finally, the nest contained two bits of material stolen from Dolley Madison's sitting room. These bits alone are what allowed historians to determine what kind and color of material Dolley decorated her home with, thus allowing the restoration to be that much more authentic.

This afternoon, my parents and headed to Shenandoah National Park in order to navigate its Skyline Drive. The drive is a two-lane scenic road paved by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Even on a cloudy February day, it offered spectacular views of both the eastern and western ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Skyline Drive runs for a hundred miles or so, from I-64 in the south to I-66 in the north. To preserve its characters and give drivers a chance to take in the scenery, the speed limit is only 35 mph. The atmosphere is even more pristine in winter-time, since all of the visitor centers and other recreation facilities along the drive are closed.

But do not fear: Some of the restrooms are open. At the beginning of the drive, a park ranger will hand you a brochure listing the facilities and sites along the drive. Strangely, this brochure does not indicate the presence of bathrooms. For hardy outdoor adventurers such as myself, this is not a problem, since any tree can serve as a pissoir and any mound of earth as a night soil depository.

However, the park rangers should remember that hearty adventurers such as myself are sometimes kind enough to bring senior citizens along with us for the ride. One such citizen informed me this afternoon that his commitment to upholding the basic values of human civilization would prevent him from making use of an arboreal pissoir except in the event of an absolute emergency.

Fortunately, when we stopped at one of the closed visitor centers along the drive, the bathroom was open, in working order, and even reasonably clean. Had we not been in something of a rush, my father might have come back, gotten the Sunday Post out of the car and demanded a civilized pause during our journey through the wilderness.

By the way, in response to the first post in this series, one reader, herself a senior citizen, communicated a certain degree of displeasure with the supposedly consdescending manner in which I portrayed my progenitors. Although I was fairly confident that my parents would have a sporting take on the posts, I was curious. And if they were perturbed, would it not represent a violation of the Fourth Fifth Commandment?

However, I am glad to report that my parents are not displeased. Perhaps because they are conservative and not orthodox, my parents declared that they would not interpret the Fourth Commandment in such an inflexible manner. As mature adults, they are willing to laugh at themselves when the situation demands (or when their incorrigible children so insist).

And thus our vacation drew to an end. A good time was had by all. Now I need a stiff drink.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, February 18, 2005

# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO THE OXBLOG ELDER HOSTEL! If they weren't my parents, I would charge them for my services as a tour guide/chauffeur. Born and raised in the heart of New York City, my parents are no closer to knowing how to drive than they are to knowing how to ride a horse. So if not for their far-flung, auto-mobile children, they might never have encountered the wonders of Charlottesville.

Our first stop for the day was the Bluegrass Grill & Bakery, which makes some of the best honey wheat pancakes around. They have the soft taste of hot fresh bread just out of the oven and they are light enough to absord lots of maple syrup. (And for the best pancakes on planet earth, stop by the Eaton Sugar House near South Royalton, Vermont.)

After breakfast we headed up to Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, 5th President of the United States of America. It is a nice little house in the countryside with a few exquisite antiques, but it's really just a warm up for Jefferson's home at Monticello.

There are a few fascinating bits of trivia to be had at the Monroe house, but you don't get much of a sense of why (or whether) he was a pivotal figure in American history. For example, Monroe was the third of the first five presidents to die on July 4th.

It also turns out that in the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, the man standing just behind Washington is James Monroe, who was then a young officer in the Continental Army. In the actual battle, however, Monroe crossed the Delaware a full day before Washington in order to conduct a reconaissance mission on the far side of the river.

The entrance to Monticello is just a few miles up the road from the Monroe estate. Because February is Black History Month, we had the chance to take a special tour of the grounds that focused on the role of slaves on the Jefferson plantation.

One point which the tour made very well was that slaves were not just manual laborers, but also sophisticated craftsmen. Much of the furniture in the Jefferson home was made by a single slave carpenter. The stone pillars at the front of the house were cut by another one of Jefferson's slaves. And a third slave mastered the art of French cooking during Jefferson's stay in Paris.

Naturally, we also got to hear a good bit about Sally Hemmings. What I didn't know was that Hemmings was both three-quarters Caucasian as well as the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha. Thus, even before she began her affair with Jefferson, Hemmings was literally a part of the family.

It is also worth noting that Hemmings' children by Jefferson were seven-eighths white. And yet they were slaves, despite being fathered by the author of the Declaration of Independence. Slaves, that is, until Jefferson freed them in his will.

FYI, the tour guides at Monticello are all very open now about the relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings. However, they tend to preface their remarks by saying that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation now believes that such a relationship did exist. From what I gather, the Foundation took quite a while to admit that the genetic evidence on this subject was definitive.

(To be precise, the evidence indicates that a male member of the Jefferson family was the father of Hemmings' children. The only member who fits the bill is old TJ himself.)

After Monticello, my parents and I headed back into town for a late lunch at Atomic Burrito, purveyors of low-priced but high-quality vegetarian cuisine. Although my parents are still a few months shy of sixty-two, they had gotten a dollar off their tickets to the Monroe estate because it considers anyone over sixty to be a senior citizen. And at Atomic Burrito, the folks demonstrated why they are eligible for the discount.

If only to save time, the menu at Atomic includes instructions for how to order a burrito. First, the tortilla: White flour or whole grain? Then the rice: Regular or coconut? Then the beans: Black or pinto? And all of that is just Step One. You still have to choose a filling, a salsa, and extras such as lettuce and sour cream.

My parents began to study the instruction sheet as if it were written in hieroglyphics...and there were a mummy chasing after them. Accustomed to many decades of simply ordering an appetizer and an entree, the number of choices overwhelmed them. They were palpably afraid that if they didn't fully understand the process in advance, something might go tragically wrong with their meal.

Naturally, being under this kind of pressure only led to further confusion. Perhaps because they are professors who now administer exams instead of taking them, all of my parents' studying turned out to be for naught once the man behind the counter started asked them the hard questions: White or wheat? Black or pinto? Hot salsa or mild?

Having defused any number of mini-crises earlier in the day (Why won't my seatbelt close? Is the parking lot far away from the ticket counter? If I get a snack will I miss the next tour?), I decided to let the burrito-makers handle this one. And they did, with true graciousness and southern hospitality.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my parents 120 percent. And I owe them big time for all of the family vacations they took me on even though I rarely resisted the temptation to pick a fight with one of my kid brothers any time I got bored. But the day can get quite long when you have to exert a major effort in order to acquire a burrito.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, February 17, 2005

# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRUGMAN TELLS THE DANGEROUS TRUTH:
Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense.
Health care, maybe. National defense? I pray to God it isn't so. Then again, I'm not sure Krugman has any idea what centrism is. For example, he goes on to write that:
It was always absurd to call Mr. Dean a left-winger. Just ask the real left-wingers. During his presidential campaign, an article in the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch denounced him as a "Clintonesque Republicrat."
Go read CounterPunch for yourself. It is nothing more than Chomskyite propaganda. (The editors may not even consider that to be an insult!)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

READING LIST: I've gotten lots of great messages in response to my posts on Left Behind. In addition to personal experiences, readers have been sharing their recommendations for what books to read to learn about evangelical Christianity.

Reader AW recommends Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture of America by Randall Balmer. RH recommends a novel, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.

Finally, I'm going to recommend Amy Prykholm's Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, of which I have now read the first 60 pages. The WaPo published a very negative review of the book which says that it is hopelessly mired in post-modern jargon.

I disagree completely. Some of the jargon is there, but you can safely ignore and focus on the book's real message. Prykholm is an avowed secular feminist, but she develops an impressive degree of empathy for those who love Left Behind.

However, the WaPo does provide one delightful elbow to the ribs, directed at both Prykholm and fellow scholar H. Hendershot:
Hendershot, rather than analyzing with care the tendency of evangelical media to preach to the choir, seems content simply to lament it. Neither author seems to notice that this same tendency is rife in virtually all didactic entertainment, from Michael Moore's films to Rush Limbaugh's radio schtick. Why should evangelical media be any different?
Hehehehe.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

# Posted 1:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOB HUNTING AGAIN: Thanks to the kindness of a friend at Georgetown Law, I have a place to call my own while I'm in DC this week, wireless access included.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOE GANDELMAN WISHES HE WERE AN ATTRACTIVE WOMAN. Which is certainly preferable to being a vindictive NYT correspondent.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MODEL U.N. -- A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS? An author in the U. Chicago student paper recently reported that,
This past weekend, Model United Nations of the University of Chicago (MUNUC) hosted one of the premier high school United Nations simulations in the country for the 17th year. Some 150 Chicago students sacrificed time and sleep to teach thousands of high school delegates that, unlike the Bush administration’s policies, diplomacy and debate can work.
Maroon Blog responds:
Personally, if there's one lesson that model U.N. conferences have taught me, it's that the U.N. is almost useless. No model U.N. committee I have been a part of has ever done work that can be described as effective and decisive.
But is a "model" UN supposed to be effective and decisive? Or are students expected to behave like actual UN delegates? For that matter, does the Chicago Model UN program teach high school students how to embezzle like actual UN bureaucrats?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, February 13, 2005

# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"LEFT BEHIND IS EVIL": That is the title of a post on Fred Clark's blog. (Hat tip: DP) Clark is a committed Christian who sees the Left Behind novels -- and even moreso, their popularity -- as serious threat to all that Christianity stands for. I don't know enough to agree or disagree, but I thought I should post a dissenting opinion since my comments on the book have not been fiercely critical. Clark writes that:
The apocalyptic heresies rampant in American evangelicalism are more popular than ever.

It's easy to dismiss these loopy ideas as a lunatic fringe, but that would be a mistake. The widespread popularity of this End Times mania has very real and very dangerous consequences, for America and for the church. ("Premillennial dispensationalism" -- the technical terms for what these prophecy freaks teach -- teaches that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians living today. It also undermines the core of Christianity -- Jesus' death and resurrection, and the hope of that resurrection. These are not tangential matters for Christians.)

The cultural standard bearer for these Very Bad Ideas is the "Left Behind" series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. These books have become so popular that every pastor in America is now confronted with the task of gently, pastorally explaining to their congregation why the theology of these books is misguided and misguiding.

I'm not a pastor, so I won't be pastoral here. These books are evil, anti-Christian crap. This weekend, I'm beginning a new series of posts in which I'll go through these books, page by page.
Clark is currently up to page 71 in Left Behind. His posts are compiled here, in reverse chronological order.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ELECTIONS RESULTS IN IRAQ: Jeff Weintraub is very glad that the Sistani list didn't get two-thirds or even a majority of the vote. He argues that this will create incentives for coalition building and moderation.

Now, I wouldn't be all that concerned if the Sistani list had gotten a much larger majority, since I think it has done quite a good job of demonstrating its democratic bona fides. Even so, Jeff is 100% right that the absence of a majority will safeguard the stability of the new government by creating incentives for moderation.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APOCALYPSE, PART FINAL? I just finished the book a few minutes ago. Just like fans of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, I can't wait to read the next book in the Left Behind series, entitled Tribulation Force. After that, there are eleven more. (And since I'm a grad student, I'll be borrowing them from the library instead of paying for them at the bookstore.)

For the moment, I'm just going to provide a few more comments about the tensions within the novel's partial embrace and total rejection of secular intellecualism. In the pages leading up to the novel's climax, both Cameron Williams and Chloe Stole, the most skeptical and secular of the book's protagonists, embrace Christ and become born-again Christians.

At first glance, the conversion of Cameron and Chloe simply represents the authors' semi-fantastical hope that the standard bearers of America's secular elite will abandon their skepticism. Yet the conversion also indicates just how badly the authors want to finding highly intelligent, perhaps even intellectual spokesmen for the born-again movement.

In other words, the condescension of the secular elites has had a profound impact on at least two important spokesmen for the movement, and they feel compelled to respond. They also feel compelled to defend themselves from the common accusation that proselytizing is an inherently offensive behavior. Before Chloe's conversion, her father thinks to himself that:
The disappearance of God's people was only the beginning of the most cataclysmic period in the history of the world. And here I am, Rayford thought, worried about offending people. I'm liable to "not offend" my own daughter right into hell. (Page 343, emphasis in original.
To be sure, this sort of response won't comfort those who resent proselytization. But it shows that the believers are aware of the dilemma they face. Thus, Rayford forces himself to be patient with his daughter.

Rayford is also patient with Cameron, aka "Buck", who discovers the truth while interviewing Rayford for a story on the Rapture:
Buck sat without interrupting as this most lucid and earnest professional calmly propounded a theory that only three weeks before Buck would have found absurd. It sounded like things he had heard in church and from friends, but this guy had chapter and verse from the Bible to back it up. (Page 384)
A secular reader might wonder why citing Biblical verses is at all persuasive to a journalist like Buck, who is presumably aware of scholars' conviction that the Bible is the product of human hands. Yet for the authors, citing such verses is constitutes rational and intellectual behavior, the kind one might asociate with a "lucid and earnest professional." Once again, we see how badly the authors want to endow their Christianity with the intellectual legitimacy possessed by secular wisdom and science.

The text of the novel seems to indicate that presenting arguments about faith in a calm and rational manner is essential to the conversion of the skeptic. Thus, after talking to Rayford,
Buck did not sleep well...if this was true, all that Rayford Steele postulated -- and Buck knew instinctively that if any of it was true, all of it was true -- why had it taken Buck a lifetime to come to it?...

Yet even Captain Steele -- an organized, analytical airline pilot -- had missed it, and Steele claimed to have had a proponent, a devotee, almost a fanatic, [i.e. his wife] living under his own roof...

The Holy Land attack [when Russia attempted to destory Israel] had been a watershed event in [Buck's] life...he had known beyond a doubt for the first time in his life that unexplainable things out there could not dissected a and evaluated scientifically from a detached Ivy League perspective. (Pages 393-394)
As Buck approaches the brink of conversion, he admits to himself that
He had always considered the "born-again" label akin to "ultraright-winger" or "fundamentalist." Now, if he chose to take a step he had never dreamed of taking, if he could not somehow talk himself out of this truth he could no longer intellectually ignore, he would also take upon himself a task: educating the world on what that confusing little term really meant. (Page 396)
Here we see the authors attempting to challenge the conventional wisdom that born-again Christians are, by their very nature, extreme and irrational. Yet in order to do so, they must abandon the anti-intellectualism they embraced just two pages earlier and assert instead that Buck's intellecutalism is precisely what led to him embrace Christianity instead of ignoring it.

Is it possible to resolve this contradiction? Perhaps one might argue that intellectualism is only viable and sound when built on a foundation of religious faith. Thus secular intellectualism is condemned to fail.

Yet if faith must precede intellectualism, how can one justify faith on intellectual grounds? Within the context of Left Behind, the answer is simple: World events have provided miraculous and incontrovertible evidence of the Bible's literal truth.

In our world, a different answer must be found. What this novel seems to suggest is that if born-again Christians learn to speak in the calm, detached manner of secular intellectuals, they can overcome the negative stereotypes that that have subjected born-again Christians to so much condescension and scorn.

Although there is a certain validity to this hypothesis, one must also address the more fundamental question of whether the actual substance of the born-again faith is somehow inherently offensive to both secular intellectuals as well as those intellectuals who embrace the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths.

Naturally, one can't expect a novel to resolve the eternal conflict between reason and faith. Yet this novel directly raises such issues. Therefore, I hope that the next books in the Left Behind series do more to address such issues in a substantive manner.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APOCALYPSE, CONT'D: I just can't put down this book. Since I last posted, I've read another 150 pages of Left Behind. I can't exactly explain what makes me enjoy reading it so much.

A big part of it, I think, reflects my fascination with an American subculture with which I am totally unfamiliar. Yet at the same time, I am quite familiar with the Biblical prophecies on which the novel draws. Although in a much more subdued form, they also have their place in modern Jewish culture.

As a child, I did believe in the imminent coming of the messiah. Although my parents demonstrated no interest in such fantasies, there were both teachers and public figures who were willing to encourage them. So in a strange sort of way, reading Left Behind is a process of self-discovery.

As such, I was not glad to discover the increasingly prominent strain of anti-intellectualism in the novel. More often than not, accusations of anti-intellectualism tend to serve as a partisan battering ram. Nonetheless, anti-intellectualism does exist and the right and should identified for what it is.

In Left Behind, the anti-intellectual current focuses at first on Chloe Steele, Stanford undergraduate and daughter of protagonist Rayford Steele. Whereas Ray immediately recognizes the Rapture for what it is, Chloe resists. After Chloe tells her father that her mother (now in heaven) used to tell her about the Rapture and the end times, Ray asks here:
"But you still don't buy it?"

"I want to, Dad. I really do. But I have to be intellectually honest with myself."

It was all Rayoford could do to stay calm. Had he been this pseudosophisticated at that age? Of course he had. He had run everything through that maddening intellectual grid -- until recently, when the supernatural came crashing through his academic pretense. But like the cabbie said, you'd have to be blind not to see the light now, no matter how educated you thought you were. (Page 237)
The novel's portrayal of Chloe is not without sympathy, but it hammers home the same message again and again: Do not be deceived by your commitment to reason. Let faith take over. (Obi-wan Kenobi would be proud.)

The section of the book I've just finished also contains what seems to be the theological core of the novel's premise. Searching for answers, Ray Steele visits the church that his wife attended before she was taken by Christ. Steele discovers that the pastor and almost the entire congregration were saved as well, but the pastor wisely prepared a video tape with instructions for those Left Behind. At the conclusion of the tape, Pastor Billings tells his viewers that:
"If you accept God's message of salvation, his Holy Spirit will come in unto you and make you spiritually born anew. You don't need to understand all this theologically. You can become a child of God by praying to him right now as I lead you--" (Page 215)
Within the context of the novel, this message makes perfect sense since of the Bible's literal truth surrounds the characters. Yet if one approaches the novel as an inspirational work for those of us living in the real world, its message becomes problematic.

Both Pastor Billings and those other characters who have knowledge of the Rapture and what is to follow derive their information from sophisticated decodings of numerous passages in the Bible. For example, during his lecture on the video tape, Billings recites in their entirely the six verses from 1 Corinthians 15 that serve as the Biblical foundation of the book's premise.

During his lecture, the pastor feels compelled to explain the meaning of the verses in considerable detail. This is necessary precisely because the meaning of the verses is so obscure. If you read them without already knowing what they mean, you would probably never be able to figure out that they are referring to the Rapture or anything like it.

Which isn't to say that the pastor's interpretation of the verses is necessarily wrong. Yet his interpretation clearly entails significant intellectual labor. Moreover, the labor required is not simply his own, but also those of numerous experts and scholars to whom the book occasionally refers.

This hidden intellectualism is especially problematic when considered side-by-side with the overt anti-intellectualism prevalent throughout the novel. In practice, it constitutes a double standard. The secular intellectualism of characters such as Chloe is denigrated. The sacred intellectualism of unnamed experts is glorified.

It is also beyond reach. Converts such as Ray Steele are not allowed to challenge it. They are told to simply embrace their faith in a simple, child-like manner. In the context of the novel, this makes sense. If one could watch Biblical prophecies being fulfilled on CNN, then trusting one's pastor makes a certain amount of sense.

But I am curious to know: Will there be disagreements in the final pages of the novel about what action the Bible prescribes for those who are Left Behind? Or is the meaning presumed to be so apparent that the only relevant question is whether the characters choose will faith over skepticism?

Although novels are not supposed to be handbooks for day-to-day living, this one clearly has a message for those who want to devote more of their life to religion. And it is message I am becoming somewhat uncomfortable with.

UPDATE: Click here for the next post in this series.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG, FIDDLE & MANDOLIN: I just saw a great bluegrass concert by King Wilkie. Check'em out.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, February 12, 2005

# Posted 12:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE-BLOGGING THE APOCALYPSE: As part of my growing interest in evangelical Christianity, I've decided to read Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Is reading a novel the best way to educate myself about a serious subject like this? No, probably not. But I spend all day reading academic prose, so if I'm going to spend my spare time on something it has to be entertaining.

I've been looking for a novel to read for quite some time now, so when Time Magazine decided to list LaHaye as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America, I thought it might be fun to read some of his books. After all, if LaHaye and Jenkins have sold 42 millions books, it's pretty safe to assume they are fun to read.

And they are. I read a hundred pages last night and another fifty after breakfast this morning. LaHaye and Jenkins write in a simple, straightforward, user-friendly kind of way. There are no artistic or intellectual pretensions here. The purpose of this book is to tell a story.

The story begins 30,000 feet over the Atlantic, on flight from Chicago to London. Suddenly, dozens of passengers disappear. Literally. An old woman wakes up to discover her husband's clothes just lying on his seat. His shoes are on the floor with his socks still inside.

Quickly, it becomes apparent that this is a global crisis. Millions and millions of people have disappeared across the globe. Including every last child. The result is chaos. When drivers suddenly disappear from cars, engineers from trains and pilots from their planes, massive accidents result.

The protagonists of the book are the 747 pilot Ray Steele and ace reporter Cameron "Buck" Williams. In the manner of a 1950s comic book, it seems that everyone in the United States has un-ethnic names. Thus, the list of characters includes Hattie Durham, Marge Potter, Christopher Smith and Steve Plank.

Williams' role is that of the well-informed, well-educated, rational individual trying to come to grips with the apparent fulfillment of Biblical prophecies on a global scale. At least for the moment, Steele's role is something of a mystery. Why should we care about this pilot? What is his relevance to the unfolding events? He is also a non-believer struggling with spiritual events, but what makes him different from billions of others caught in the same situation?

The mystery of these implicit questions heightens the novel's suspense. In fact, just about everything heightens this novel's suspense. This morning, I looked up from the book and there was something about New York on television. For a moment, I was actually surprised that New York was still there.

Naturally, my interest in this novel is also political. Foremost in my mind are pervasive stereotypes of evangelical Christians as intolerant, close-minded and provincial. Already after 150 pages, I can say this book isn't strictly provincial. Although focused on a small number of individuals, it studies them against a trans-continental back drop of transformative events with global implications.

Yet within this globalism there are hints of chauvinism. For example, we learn on page 48 that
At a Christian high school soccer game at a missionary headquarters in Indonesia, most of the spectators and all but one of the players disappeared in the middle of play, leaving their shoes and uniforms on the ground. The CNN reporter announced that, in his remorse, the surviving player took his own life.
So out of 240,000,000 million Indonesians, the only ones saved are those who embraced Christianity. Of course, if the authors are committed to their interpretation of the Bible, it is hard to avoid such conclusions. Nonetheless, such details may strike non-Christian readers as remarkably intolerant and even provincial. Yes, the events in question take place in Indonesia. But the only apparent purpose of Indonesia is to provide converts for a foreign faith.

A fundamental question here is whether a book like Left Behind can reach to those who don't share the faith of its authors. For example, will the address whether Catholics can be saved, or whether they must automatically be left behind? If Catholics can be saved, why not Muslims or Hindus?

By initiating such a work of fiction, the authors confront a precipice. Either they can make a broad audience feel good by suggesting that anyone can be saved if he or she is basically a good person. Or they can inspire those who share their faith by suggesting that it is essential to salvation.

Choose the former, and the value of faith becomes questionable. After all, why believe if non-believers can also be saved? Conversely, is it possible to assuage the guilt of those believers who don't want their friendly Buddisht or agnostic neighbors to be condemned to eternal suffering in the event of an onrushing apocalypse?

UPDATE: Click here for the next post in this series.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT TOGO? Zero Sum takes me to task for assuming that this administration actually intends to promote democracy in every wayward corner of the globe, e.g. Togo. FYI, this is the criticism of a conservative realist, not of a carping liberal just waiting to pounce on the President for his supposed hypocrisy. ZS writes that
Togo has no strategic value for the US , and since most Americans haven't heard of, paid attention to, or care about Togo, there is simply no electoral advantage at this point in saying or doing anything.
Although I do believe that promoting democracy has political advantages on the domestic front, I think it is very wrong to assume that this sort of domestic calculus enters the fray when the White House thinks about places like Togo.

If the President wanted to send a strong message to the government in Lome, he could do so at very little cost. The power differential between us and Togo is so great that even our ambassador or Assistant Secretary of State for Africa could make America's voice heard.

The real issue, I think, is that Togo isn't important enough to command the President's attention. With crises brewing in Iran and North Korea, it's hard to imagine that the NSC, State Department or Pentagon will even want to bother the President with memoranda about Togo.

By the same token, the NY Times and Washington Post haven't devoted any serious attention to the issue, so there's no outside pressure to address the situation. If Bush actually thought about Togo for more than a few seconds and realized how low the cost of involvement was, I'm fairly sure that he would do the right thing.

In conclusion, the presumption that Bush makes decisions on the basis of a narrow domestic political calculus presumes that the President and his closest advisers spend enough time thinking about peripheral issues to determine how they will play on the homefront. But the real problem with places like Togo is that they don't even get subjected to that sort of analysis.

So, is there a way out of this dilemma? Actually, yes. If sustained over time, a presidential commitment to democracy promotion will slowly diffuse throughout the bureaucracy. If the embassy staff in Lome or the West Africa desk officer at Foggy Bottom begin to believe that the President really wants them to promote democracy in Togo, they may take the initiative on their own without orders from above.

(Maybe our folks in Lome are actually doing that right now. But as a general rule, I don't think there is a grassroots commitment to real democracy promotion at the embassy level. In principle, I'm sure all of our diplomats support democracy promotion. However, in any given situation, other interests tend to predominate.)

Over time, lower echelon officials may even come to believe that promoting democracy right now is better than waiting for the African Union or other multilateral organizations to develop a concerted apporach to the country in question. But that won't happen until a long time from now, and it won't happen unless the next President and his successor pick up where Bush left off.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, February 10, 2005

# Posted 5:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN THE DEMOCRATS GET TOUGH ABOUT NATIONAL SECURITY? That is the question posed by an open letter to the party posted on the website of the Progressive Policy Institute. The letter's basic message is as follows:
Once again, our foes doubt that we will fight and sacrifice for the ideals we profess to live by. Once again, we must prove them wrong. Moral clarity in this fight is essential. The American people will not trust leaders who will not vigorously defend their ideals.
Does the Democratic party dare associate itself with a phrase such as "moral clarity"? Or will the invocation of a phrase associated with the White House simply persuade the Democratic left that the idealists who drafted this letter are closet Republicans? I hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did.

One should also point out the significance of this letter's suggestion that the American people actually prefer leaders who "vigorously defend their ideals." I can't really recall any instance during the campaign when either Democratic pols or media figures said that John Kerry was hurting himself by not talking about democracy promotion. Unsurprisingly, Kerry didn't even try to insist that he was the real idealist and that Bush was just a poseur. Instead, Kerry simply let Bush take the pro-democracy high-ground.

Although both the pols and journalists knew that Kerry had to present himself as tough, they never seemed to think that American voters also cared about electing a president who is openly idealistic. Nor did the pols and journalists ever argue that being idealistic is part and parcel of being tough.

The bottom line is that there is a massive gulf of perception that separates tough, idealistic Truman-style Democrats from the party's liberal establishment. This isn't just about the war in Iraq or even the occupation. Rather, it is a fundamental division about what role idealism should play in American foreign relations and the degree to which the American people actually care about those ideals.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRISTOF WANTS IT BOTH WAYS: Hippercritical says it doesn't make sense. Last fall, Nick Kristof was among the vocal advocates of calling a spade a spade and declaring that mass murder in Darfur amounts to genocide.

In a recent report on Darfur, the UN refused to label the murders as genocide. But instead of criticizing the UN, Kristof attacks Bush for preventing the UN from referring Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Naturally, Kristof doesn't mention that the ICC may be completely toothless, so his complaint about Bush is sort of irrelevant.

Now, I sympathize with Kristof to a certain degree. He is a good liberal who therefore wants to be a good humanitarian and a good multilateralist. But Darfur has demonstrated once again that the multilateral response to massive human rights violations is often pathetic. At some point, Kristof and others may have to recognize that being a good liberal means becoming a bad multilateralist.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS SHOULD'VE BEEN AN EASY CALL: Why won't the United States speak out on behalf of democracy in Togo? After the death of dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema, the US has patiently waited for the African Union and other multilateral bodies to come up with an appropriate response, even though the military has installed the dictator's son in power.

Since Togo has no strategic value, the Bush administration should've jumped at this chance to show the world that the President meant what he said about the spread of democracy across the globe. On the other hand, the Bush administration's silence is far better than Jacques Chirac's pathetic statement that the dead strongman was "a friend of France who was for me a personal friend."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE HUMAN SIDE OF OUTSOURCING: A fascinating set of observations about life in India.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN ON SOCIAL SECURITY: What follows is a letter, dated February 9, 1983, from the President to George Burns, the well-known actor and octogenarian:

Dear George:

I just had to answer your letter knowing how concerned you are about Social Security. Now that I've reached the age of eligibility you can rest assured I've done something about it. I've made sure it will be on a solid basis for all you young fellows when your turn comes.

February 6 was my birthday -- I finally made PAR-72 the hard way.

Nancy sends her love and so do I.

Sincerely,
Ronnie

Source: Reagan: A Life in Letters, Page 162.

Reagan's letter provides an interesting contrast to the message in which FDR declared that private annuities should ultimately replace Social Security. According to OxBlog reader AS, this website and others have fundamentally misunderstood the sort of program that FDR was advocating. Drawing on this report by the official historian of the Social Security Administration, AS comments that:
FDR's proposal of "voluntary contributory annuities" was for insurance-type annuities, to be issued and guaranteed by the government. Income from this program "would go into the trust fund along with the payroll taxes collected under the mandatory program." This is essentially just a voluntary extension of what we now know as traditional Social Security...

FDR proposed a program with money held by the government, and a return guaranteed by the government. In stark contrast to what FDR proposed, the Bush proposal is for money held by Wall Street and returns are guaranteed by no one.

FDR proposed allowing workers to voluntarily increase the size of their government-guaranteed retirement account. Bush, on the other hand, proposes decreasing the size of the government-guaranteed retirement account, and instead entrust the money to Wall Street. The two proposals are diametrically opposed, yet you're still treating them as equivalent.
AS points to numerous important contrast, but also overlooks some important similarities between the two proposals. First of all, FDR did envision the reduction of guaranteed benefits, although such a reduction would take place in the indefinite future. Now, almost seven decades later, we are living in that indefinite future.

AS is correct to point out that FDR's proposal made no provision for Wall Street. Then again, in 1935, how could anyone have reasonably proposed that investing in the stock market was a safe and secure course of action?

One should also point out that under the still-to-be-defined Bush plan, one can invest in US government bonds. In fact, it seems that private account holders will be able to invest entirely in government bonds should they so choose. If they do so, the returns will be guaranteed by the United States government and not by "no one".

Finally, I believe that AS overlooks a very important similarity between the FDR and Bush proposals, namely that the investor will be in full possession of the benefits, which the government will never be able to take away. Under the current system, the government retains the right to reduce benefits, raise the retirement age or alter the system in any number of ways. Both the private annuities described by Roosevelt and the private accounts proposed by Bush would be immune from such action.

That said, I want to emphasize that these comments are not intended as a defense of the Bush administration's approach to this issue. Rather, I believe it is important to dispel certain myths and misperceptions perpetuated by the President's critics. Or for that matter, by the administration itself.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias counters via e-mail that:
The statement that under the Bush plan you'll be allowed to invest in US government bonds is true, but misleading. The personal accounts will be financed in the short term through government borrowing (since we need to keep paying benefits to people 55 and over). This will open up a new hole in federal finances over and above the existing one. The Bush plan involves first closing the existing gap in some unspecified way. The second gap will be made up by a further reduction in guaranteed benefits for people who choose to start a private account. The second reduction will be calculated by determining the size of your account contributions and tacking on a three percent annual interest rate, three percent being the interest rate on the bonds that the government will need to sell in order to let you start your account.

This has the benefit of ensuring that, over the long term, the transition costs will be managed. The downside is that in order to make money with your account, you need to invest in assets that have a higher rate of return than do bonds. The only assets that do so are riskier assets (either stocks or corporate bonds). So while you'll be permitted to invest your money in Treasury Bills, there would be no point in doing so since your reduction in guaranteed benefits would be exactly equal to the rate of return on the bonds you purchased, minus the administrative fees on your account. The choice, then, is a bit illusory.

(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

# Posted 1:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HELP WANTED: I've been in Washington yesterday and today in the hopes of averting post-graduation unemployment. Posting will resume tonight.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, February 06, 2005

# Posted 8:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HALFTIME WITH PAUL McCARTNEY: A major improvement over Justin and Janet in every way. But what's with Paul's shirt? Deep red with a black star?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, February 05, 2005

# Posted 1:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LONG MEMORIES, SHORT TEMPERS: David Holiday, who shares my esoteric interest in US-Central American relations during the Reagan era, is less than happy about Elliot Abrams' promotion over at the National Security Council. The media clearly hasn't forgiven or forgotten, either. According to the first sentence of a wire report reprinted in the WaPo,
Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair, was promoted to deputy national security adviser to President Bush. [NB: Abrams will be a deputy NSA, not the deputy NSA. --ed.]
David H. observes that Abrams
Still thinks he did nothing wrong...Sounds like a model policy maker for the Bush administration to me!
Since the legal aspects of the Iran-Contra affair are not my area of expertise, I am going to withhold judgment. I have read the transcripts of many of Abrams' jousting sessions with House and Senate oversight committees, and it is hard not to be impressed by his intellect.

Given how often liberal recollections of the 1980s are just plain wrong, I would not be surprised if their is far more merit to Abrams' case than his critics let on. (For Abrams defense of his own record, see here.) In fact, even some of Abrams most persistent liberal critics admit that he took the fall on behalf of other Reagan era officials.

What I can comment on with a certain degree of confidence is Abrams' commitment to democracy promotion. In contrast to many of those around him in the 1980s, Abrams understood fully that America must take down right-wing dictators along with their Communist counterparts. In spite of Abrams' controversial support for the Contras, he was fully able to work side-by-side with arch-liberal Sen. Tom Harkin toward the objective of bringing down the Pinochet regime in Chile.

In fact, I would argue that Abrams is a pivotal figure in the history of neo-conservatism. In the early 1980s, in the heyday of Jeane Kirkpatrick, democracy promotion was nowhere to be found on the neo-con agenda. In fact, Kirkpatrick rose to fame by arguing that the Carter administration's greatest failure was its hesitation to support pro-American dictators like Somoza and the Shah.

If you want to understand why the new generation of neo-conservatives is so committed to democracy promotion, you have to focus on the influence of Elliot Abrams.

One of Abrams' assistants at the State Department in the 1980s was Robert Kagan. Now, I can't be objective about Kagan since I worked for him and think he's a great guy, but who wouldn't admit that Kagan is the most important and persuasive spokesman today for neo-conservatism?

Neo-conservatism today is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, and Elliot Abrams is one of the most important reasons why.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ASK AND THOU SHALT RECEIVE: Yesterday, I wanted to know how the ICC could enforce an arrest warrant for war criminals in the Sudan. Today, veteran Human Rights Watcher David Holiday points me to the HRW commentary on Section I, Article 59(4) of the ICC charter (Available here as a PDF), entitled "Issuing an International Arrest Warrant":
Recommendation: The Pre-Trial Chamber should have the power to take appropriate measures when an arrest warrant, issued under Article 59, has not been executed. Specifically, such measures should include the issuance of an international warrant for the arrest of the accused, (240) delivered to all states and binding on state parties, or ordering the freezing of assets of the accused without prejudice to the rights of third parties. Where the prosecutor satisfies the Court that the failure to execute a warrant was due to the failure of a state party to cooperate with the Tribunal, the Court may so communicate to other state parties. (241)

Comment: The Court must develop a mechanism towards ensuring that accused persons cannot escape conviction by absconding or otherwise refusing to submit to the jurisdiction of the Court. The Court should be empowered to insist that all state parties share responsibility for bringing to trial those indicted by the Court. The adoption of this recommendation would mean that, in the event of an accused person being shielded from prosecution by the State on whose territory she or he is residing, the accused could be arrested on entering the territory of another state party to the treaty, or cooperative non-state party.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know jack about jurisprudence. But what HRW's commentary seems to be saying is that unless NATO provides the muscle, the ICC is powerless. So how about it Jacques? Gerhard? Want to prove to Middle America that Europe actually cares about genocide? This is your chance.

Anyhow, while Jacques & Gerhard are thinking it over, it is possible that the simple threat of an ICC indictment may prevent further atrocities. As Randy Paul explains [via e-mail]:
It was the announcement of the indictment of Charles Taylor in the Sierra Leone ad-hoc tribunal that provided the impetus to get him out of power in Liberia.
My sense is that Taylor was in a much weaker position than the Sudanese goverment is now, but hey, you never know. If I lived in Darfur, I would put NATO on my speed-dial.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AND THE WINNER IN IRAQ IS...Saddam. (Hat tip: BM)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGON: I've already had two readers (AL and VJB) send me this excerpt from FDR's message to Congress on Social Security from 1935, so its existence is clearly not a secret. But it's quite interesting, so here goes:
In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, noncontributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans. [Emphasis added]
You'd think that Bush's speechwriters would've discovered this quotation while researching his State of the Union address. But I guess they figured that FDR would be the last one to provide the President with ammunition for his struggle with the Democrats.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, February 04, 2005

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UN IS NOT THE PROBLEM IN DARFUR: In response to my recent post on Darfur, Randy Paul points to this report from Human Rights Watch which says the Bush administration's refusal to refer the case to the ICC is forcing the death toll ever higher.

I haven't followed this as closely as the situation warrants, but the HRW report doesn't explain how an ICC indictment would be enforced. Would the small African peacekeeping force now in Darfur be expected to arrest any indicted war criminals? If they tried, would the Sudanese government and its militias respond with overwhelming force?

It seems to me that HRW should learn from Bush rather than criticizing him. If you want to stop the murderers in Khartoum, there is only one way to do it: go in there and get them.

Had the United States not invaded Iraq, it would be reasonable to advocate a US-led mission to Sudan, a la Kosovo. But that is not an option. Given the state of transatlantic relations, the United States can't exactly demand that the French and Germans put their money where their mouth is and deal with the situation and Darfur.

But if Chirac and Schroeder really want to demonstrate that Europe is ready to lead rather than just criticize, this may be the best opportunity of the decade.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK: Check out this post from the Regular Staple. It mentions Prague, hot babes, Jonathan Safran Foer and democracy promotion. And did I mention it includes a gratuitous insult directed at Canada?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I (HEART) DUKAKIS & MONDALE: Finally, there is a website to devoted to the great also-rans of American history. From DeWitt Clinton to Samuel Tilden (the Al Gore of his day and age) to modern favorites such as George McGovern, they've all come together at Defeated Online.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, February 03, 2005

# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER LIBERAL MISUNDERESTIMATES BUSH: Yesterday in TNR, David Kusnets, chief speechwriter for Bill Clinton from 1992-94, wrote that
If Bush continues to sound as unabashedly idealistic as he did in his inaugural--when he appeared in a hurry to remake the nation and the world--then you'll know that's the real Bush, not simply the Bush that [Michael] Gerson presented to the world during the last five years. My bet is that's not going to happen...

While [Bush] won't backtrack from his support for democracy overseas, he'll likely lean more heavily on realist rhetoric to explain why such policies will make America more secure.
Wow. It's hard to be more spectacularly wrong than that. (Although you've got to give Kusnets credit for laying it all on the line and making explicit predicitons.)

Speaking more broadly, I find it to be extremely striking that someone with such extensive experience inside the White House speechwriting machine could so thoroughly misunderstand the nature of presidential rhetoric. After leaving the White House in 1994, did Kusnets ever presume that major, substantive aspects of Clinton's rhetoric were the work of speechwriters, rather than a reflection of the president's own interests?

I don't know, but I doubt it. The clear subtext of Kusnets' argument is that Bush didn't understand (or perhaps didn't care about) what he was saying in public during the first four years of his administration. Now that is misunderestimation.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOOD WORK, JAMIE: OxFriend Jamie Kirchick, current president of the Yale College Students for Democracy (or just YCSD), got 200 of his fellow students to dip their fingers in blue ink as a symbol of support for the elections in Iraq. (Hat tip: JVL)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRONY WATCH: Safia al-Souhail was a special guest of the First Family last night at the State of the Union Address. According to al-Souhail, the man who murdered her father on Saddam's behalf just happens to be one of the businessman who made millions off of the Oil-for-Food scam. Al-Souhail even says that the assassin received the oil vouchers as a reward for his work. (Hat tip: JS)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

# Posted 8:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE-BLOGGING THE STATE OF THE UNION: No, live-blogging is not conducive to the most thoughtful and reflective observations. But it does create a faithful record immediate reactions and, besides, what else am I supposed to do while watching a speech on TV? Listen?

9:01 PM: Brian Williams tells us that at some point, the State of the Union address became a made-for-TV spectacular. There's actually quite an interesting bit of background here. Before Woodrow Wilson became President, chief executives delivered the State of the Union address in written form. Broadly speaking, changes in the presentation of the SotU parallel important developments in the changing nature of presidential leadership.

9:10 PM: President announces unprecedented mission to Mars.

9:11 PM: Oh wait, that was last year.

9:11 PM: Bush introduces his speech as an implementation in the ideals of Second Inaugural Address.

9:13 PM: Denny Hastert should really make more of an effort to look like he's paying attention.

9:14 PM: A long list of health care reforms. But will they help resolve the Medicare crisis?

9:19 PM: You know, Bush could say "nook-LEE-uhr" if he wanted to, but he likes messing with the Democrats' minds by saying "nook-YOU-luhr".

9:20 PM: Immigration reform? Another issue that will divide the Republicans? I support it, but does Bush have any political capital to spare?

9:24 PM: Bush reminds us that in 2018, Social Security will begin to pay out more than it takes in. In other words, it will finally begin to resemble everyother government program.

9:24 PM: Social Security will simply not be "bankrupt" in 2042 and will not require dramatically higher taxes to save it. Raising the retirement age and slowing benefit growth are also very strong options.

9:26 PM: So we've got a lot of "options on the table" for Social Security reform. Which means we don't actually have a well-defined plan.

9:30 PM: Private accounts. Will Bush put a price tag on the transition costs? It doesn't seem like it.

9:32 PM: Bush says he wants a marriage amendment. The question is, will he make any real effort to overcome almost unbeatable opposition in the Senate?

9:33 PM: We can grow extra body parts from embryos? Cool!

9:42 PM: Bush promises to continue building "the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time."

9:44 PM: OK, so we're getting a brief recap of the inaugural. Now let's take about implementing those ideals.

9:46 PM: $350 million for Palestinian democracy is nice. But is it wise to raise expectations of peace between Israelis and Arabs?

9:47 PM: I was hoping for a second sentence there about democracy in Egypt. Of course Egypt "can" lead the way to a more democratic Middle East. But what will America do to make it so?

9:49 PM: I don't think that fighting terrorists in Iraq really prevents us from having to fight them here at home. But if the election is over and Bush is still sticking to this idea, then I guess he really believes it.

9:55 PM: Of course I agree that we should train Iraqi forces to defend their own nation. But what if Bush also said that we will train Iraqi forces who cannot only hold their own on the battlefield, but also respect the rights and liberties that the people of Iraq risked their lives to win at the polls?

10:00 PM: That is a powerful image -- the mother of a fallen Marine hugging one of the Iraqi women whose freedom her son died to protect.

10:02 PM: State of the Union addresses always have a sort of laundry-list quality about them. It's hard to get really excited about them, especially when all of the stirring rhetoric appeared so recently in the form of the Inaugural Address

10:04 PM: Tim Russert says that George Bush has bet his presidency on Iraq. As goes Iraq, so goes the President's second term. I would add: One year ago, that seemed like a terrible bet. Now freshmen members of the house are waving their ink-stained fingers in the air.

10:06 PM: In a few minutes, we'll get to hear the Democratic response from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. We know we're going to hear some strong words about Social Security. But will the Democrats have anything to say about Iraq?

10:09 PM: A bold prediction from Russert -- the debate about Social Security will be "hot, heated and contentious."

10:12 PM: Sen. Reid says he grew up around people of strong values. So why is Nevada the only state with legalized prostitution?

10:13 PM: Yes, that undoubtedly was a cheap shot. It's just so funny to hear someone who represents Las Vegas talk about value.

10:15 PM: Don't the Democrats have something better to offer than telling us the Indians and Chinese are going to steal our jobs?

10:17 PM: I have to admit, Harry Reid is the right guy to deliver a tough address. He just seems so nice and kind and agreeable, no matter what he's saying.

10:19 PM: That was really short on details.

10:20 PM: Pelosi looks like she's talking to a camera. It's because her eyes don't move.

10:21 PM: So much for Democrats trying to build an issue of toughness. Like John Kerry, Pelosi can only think about when our troops get to come home.

10:22 PM: "Regional diplomacy must be intensified." There's a slogan that will be remembered for the ages.

10:24 PM: Notice how Pelosi said absolutely nothing about strengthening democracy in Iraq. She described training the Iraqi army as the number one priority for US forces in Iraq. Fine. But what she had to say is that training Iraqi forces is a priority because it is the most important step toward the consolidation of Iraqi democracy.

10:26 PM: Pelosi briefly mentioned both Sunday's elections in Iraq as well as those that will take place this fall. But she said absolutely nothing about Bush's vision for a democratic Middle East. She didn't endorse it. She didn't condemn it. She just had nothing to say.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"LIBERALISM IS THE ONLY THING THAT CAN SAVE CIVILIZATION FROM CHAOS": Those are the words of Woodrow Wilson from 1919. To modern ears, Wilson's words seem like some sort of ridiculous partisan statement. In order to understand what Wilson actually meant, you have to substitute the words "liberal democracy" for Wilson's "liberalism". And instead of "conservatives", think "realists":
Conservatives do not realize what forces are loose in the world at the present time. Liberalism is the only thing that can save civilization from chaos -- from a flood of ultra-radicalism that will swamp the world. (David Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side, page 13)
Wilson's words reflected his response to the Bolshevik challenge in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. But they may as well represent George Bush's response to violent Islamic fundamentalism in the aftermath of September 11th.

Wilson's critics thought he was a fool. Warren Harding argued that that Wilson had "preached the gospel of revolution in the central Empires of Europe" and that
The menace of Bolshevism...owes a very large part...to the policies and utterances of the Chief Executive of the United States. (Schmitz, 18)
Of course, history has not been kind to Woodrow Wilson. Yet instead of his passion for democracy, it was his passion for multilateralism that supposedly did him in. Although it is tempting to argue that Bush will not share Wilson's fate because the current President cares nothing for multilateralism, I think that such an inference would be false.

The League of Nations may not have fulfilled its founders' expectations, but I think it is foolish to believe that the existence of the League made the outbreak of World War II any more likely than it otherwise would have been. Naturally, there are those who would disagree, and extended arguments should be had about this subject.

Anyhow, the point I really want to make is that Wilson has somehow acquired an undeserved reputation for being an advocate of appeasement, accommodation and masochism. Somehow, we forget that Wilson dispatched American soldiers to Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And, of course, Wilson made the tremendously controversial decision to do battle against German imperialism rather than hope that Britain and France could win the war on their own.

Thus, when comparing Wilson to Bush, one cannot suggest that the latter has perverted the ideals of the former because of his willingess to use force. Rather, Bush has reminded us that the Wilsonian tradition represents the marriage of strength and idealism.

To an idealist such as myself, the analysis above represents something of a vindication for Bush. However, I think my analysis can also serve as the foundation for a less partisan and more broadly acceptable point:

Bush's ideas do not represent the strange marraige of Democratic naievete to Republican belligerence. Bush is not a neo-Wilsonian. He is a Wilsonian.

Whether you are for or against the President, you can sharpen your own arguments by learning more about the historical context in which his ideas were born.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEADED FOR A FALL IN PYONGYANG? This report from the London Times says that the days are numbered for Kim Jong-Il. The details are tantalizingly persuasive. But how many times before have hopeful visitors insisted that the North Korean regime doesn't have long to live? (Hat tip: JG)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU MAY BE FAMOUS BUT NOT EVEN KNOW IT: And if you sue the right corportation you may also be rich. (Hat tip: JVL)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, January 31, 2005

# Posted 11:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE FROM THE MIDDLE EAST: Is it me, or is this Al Jazeera report actually critical of Europe for closing its eyes to human rights abuses in Cuba? Regardless of the answer to that question, I think everyone who reads the report will agree that Al Jazeera is very harsh on the Castro dictatorship.

Also, take a look at this report on Cuban efforts to call the kettle black by putting up massive billboards in Havana with photos from Abu Ghraib. You know, if Al Jazeera doesn't get with program and start romanticizing left-wing dictatorships, it will never match the accomplishments of the BBC.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS IS A LOT BETTER THAN THE BBC: I just started reading the English-language reports on Al Jazeera. I was definitely surprised to read this:

Mishan al-Jibury, a Sunni candidate from Mosul, said lower turnout in the Sunni areas was due to lack of security and functioning polling stations as well as calls for a boycott from Sunni groups hostile to the US military presence...

"I can honestly say that this has been in general a fair and landmark dress rehearsal for democracy," he said.

Speaking to Aljazeera from the northern city of Mosul, Mustafa Ibrahim, an independent Iraqi journalist, said the turnout in Mosul had been fair despite some problems.

"There was a fair attendance compared to the expectations of many in the city.

"In general, the election held in Mosul was a surprise to all as the number of voters was more than expected when considering the daily messages and posters threatening voters with death if they went to polling stations," Ibrahim added.

Of course, such reports are balanced by more negative ones like this:
[Iraqi journalist Ziyad]Al-Samarrai reported that political beliefs, rather than security factors, were the reasons behind Iraqis' boycott of the elections.

Most citizens interviewed by the journalist said the elections reflected nothing but the will of the United States and was for its own interests.
Not bad. Not bad at all. If this is what well-informed citizens in the Arab world are reading, they must just figure out what's actually going on.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOR ANY DROP TO DRINK: Riverbend has an interesting post about waiting for the faucets to go on in Iraq. Strange, isn't it, that in today's world someone can live in a home without running water but still be able to communicate with thousands of strangers all over the world.

Btw, I'm looking forward to River's comments on the election, which aren't up yet.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MR. DRUM GOES TO WASHINGTON: Kevin debuts in the WaPo. Congratulations!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUTILITY: According to Fareed Zakaria,
No matter how the voting turns out, the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria...

Paul Bremer did an extremely good job building institutional safeguards for the new Iraq, creating a public-integrity commission, an election commission, a human-rights commission, inspectors general in each bureaucratic government department. Some of these have survived, but most have been shelved, corrupted, or marginalized...

Much of the reason for this decline is, of course, the security situation. The United States has essentially stopped trying to build a democratic order in Iraq and is simply trying to fight the insurgency and gain some stability and legitimacy. In doing so, if that exacerbates group tensions, corruption, cronyism, and creates an overly centralized regime, so be it.
Well, that's certainly the first nice thing I've heard about Paul Bremer in a long time. And I think it's unfair to say the US is no longer trying to build democracy in Iraq. That election didn't happen by itself. The question is, how much of a personal commitment will the President make to those aspects of democratic life, e.g. the rule of law, transparency, etc., that rarely result from elections?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"WHAT NEXT FOR ZARQAWI?" asks Dan Darling. Dan also links to a very interesting and in-depth report about the insurgents just published in Newsweek.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WITH GREAT POWER COMES...The evidence for the maturaion of India as a great power consists of more than just comic books. Fareed Zakaria and Sumit Ganguly [subscription required; excerpt here] explain. (Hat tip: DD)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UN FILES REPORT ON VIOLENCE IN SUDAN: And if the government in Khartoum doesn't stop killing people, the UN will...file another report.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT COMMENTS ON HISTORIC ELECTION:
Revolution has many causes, deeply rooted in time, place, passion and economics...

But every revolution's ultimate source of power is an idea: that the authority of government derives no longer from divine will or historical antecedent or superior wealth or overwhelming force, but only from the consent of the governed. Ancient in origin and perfected in Renaissance Europe and America, that idea is now proclaimed so universally that even the most brutal tyrants feel obliged to profess adherence to it.

For centuries now, when people ask themselves why any person may rule over another, they have been able to give only one rational answer: ''. . . Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed; that, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government. . . .''
That was the Times' response -- on February 25, 1986 -- to the historic election that brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. The Times' response to yesterday's election in Iraq was somewhat more muted. There are considerable grounds for caution with regard to Iraq, yet it would be fitting for the Times to recognize that yesterday's triumph was, in fact, an expression of the exact same universal ideals whose pervasiveness and strength the Times celebrated almost twenty years ago.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A THOUGHT from Michael Ignatieff:
The election in Iraq is without precedent. Never, not even in the dying days of Weimar Germany, when Nazis and Communists brawled in the streets, has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence - with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to 'observe' from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad.
Hat tip: TMV.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THAT COUNT AS AN INFORMED COMMENT?
The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic.
Maybe if I said stuff like that I could get a job in the history department at the University of Michigan. Oh, and here's another bit of Ann Arbor scholarship, taken from the same post:
If it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi.
Well, maybe under President Rumsfeld.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL THE NEW YORKER EVER GIVE SY HERSH THE BOOT? I doubt it. But Max Boot certainly does.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLEASE HELP ME CONFIRM MY PREJUDICES: I didn't have high expectations for this essay in the WaPo entitled "In Europe, An Unhealthy Fixation on Israel." I figured it would provide some low-grade indications of European anti-Semitism that would further close my mind to the possibility that Europeans have valid opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But I wasn't ready for this:
A poll of 3,000 people published last month by Germany's University of Bielefeld showed more than 50 percent of respondents equating Israel's policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed specifically believed that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against the Palestinian people.

Germany is not alone in these shocking sentiments. They have been expressed elsewhere, and often by prominent figures. In 2002, the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer Jose Saramago declared, "What is happening in Palestine is a crime which we can put on the same plane as what happened at Auschwitz." In Israel just last month, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Irish winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, compared the country's suspected nuclear weapons to Auschwitz, calling them "gas chambers perfected."

Moreover, in a Eurobarometer poll by the European Union in November 2003, a majority of Europeans named Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. Overall, 59 percent of Europeans put Israel in the top spot, ahead of such countries as Iran and North Korea. In the Netherlands, that figure rose to 74 percent...

BBC poll of 4,000 people taken late last year, in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day last Thursday, showed that, amazingly, 45 percent of all Britons and 60 percent of those under 35 years of age had never heard of Auschwitz -- the Nazi death camp in southern Poland where about 1.5 million Jews were murdered during World War II...

The Eurobarometer survey quoted above also showed 40 percent of respondents across Europe believing that Jews had a "particular relationship to money," with more than a third expressing concern that Jews were "playing the victim because of the Holocaust."
What the hell is going on here? You hear a lot about how ignorant Americans are, how 50% of us still believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Next thing you know, 50% of Europeans will believe that the Mossad was responsible for 9/11.

UPDATE: 'Zap' has put a lot of effort into answering my question about European anti-Semitism, i.e. What the hell is going on here?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS ZARQAWI ON THE US PAYROLL? I've been asking myself this for a while. It's as if the guy says everything he possibly can to make George Bush look smart. It turns out I'm not the only one asking such questions. In today's WaPo, Fawaz Gerges has an excellent article that looks at the political significance of Zarqawi's surprising rhetoric.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES IRAN WANT A SHI'ITE IRAQ? Ross turns to Stratfor for some answers. Meanwhile, Reihan wonders why his fellow co-ethnics are having a collective bad-hair day.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, January 30, 2005

# Posted 6:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LISTEN TO ME, IGNORANT WORLD: This is not a post about today's election in Iraq. Today's election is a cause for tremendous celebration. The Iraqi people have spoken, so my comments are irrelevant.

This is a post about civlian casualties in Iraq. In a passionate cri de coeur, Daniel Davies of Crooked Timber demands to know why the world has responded in silence to the fact, reported by a study in The Lancet, that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives because of the occupation. He writes:
The debate over whether this war worked is vitally important, because we are talking about setting a precedent for an entirely new world of international relations, and the debate is not being carried on honestly. This is quite literally madness, and also quite literally suicidal.
Although I share few of Dan's opinions, I fully share his surprise at the absence of a more forceful response to the Lancet study in the mainstream media. After its initial publication on October 29th, the study became the subject of brief articles in almost all major newspapers. But that was it. The 100,000 figure didn't become conventional wisdom. (Although by establishing the upper bounds of responsible estimate, it provided tremendous credibility to the lower, but still profoundly unreliable casualty statistics distributed by Iraq Body Count.)

Furthermore, Dan observes,
The response in the world of weblogs has been exactly the same as the rest of the media; in the immediate aftermath of the report, half-assed attempts to rubbish the survey, or links to same. Then, when this didn’t work, just pretend that it’s all been dealt with and move on. Maybe say “I’ll get back to you on that”and never do.
"I'll get back to you on that" is precisely what OxBlog said. But I never did. Why? Why has a site that has devoted so much attention in the past to the subject of civilian casualties -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Kosovo -- suddenly gone silent?

It isn't hard to provide an ulterior motive for this oversight. As Dan says, those who supported the war are deserate to "protect themselves from hostile information." Of course, if that were my motive, I wouldn't know it, so I cannot confess. The question is, now that I am confronted with the issue, can I provide rational arguments in defense of my position?

But what is my position? Frankly, I don't know exactly what I think of the Lancet study. Precisely because it has not received extensive coverage from the mainstream media, I cannot rely on the expertise of others to address this highly technical issue. But I have a feeling that something is very, very wrong.

Now, some of you may remember that Fred Kaplan published a forceful refutation of the Lancet Study shortly after it emerged. Above all, Kaplan memorably observed of the 100,000 figure that, "This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board." Yet as this post demonstrates, Kaplan's remark represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what a "confidence interval" is.

Briefly, the study asserts with 95% confidence that the actual number of deaths lies somewhere in the interval between 8,000 and 194,000. Kaplan wrongly assumes that all values within this range are have an equally probability of being the actual figure. In point of fact, estimates clustered around the center of the interval are far more plausible. (NB: I refer to "deaths" rather than "casualties" because the 100,000 figure refers to both violent and non-violent deaths of both civilians and non-civilians caused by the war and occupation.)

Another objection raised with regard to the study is its dependence on a "cluster sampling" methodology. In the same post mentioned above, I think Dan explains quite well why, given the constraints inherent in conducting population surveys in a war zone, "cluster sampling" is an acceptable method. Moreover, according to multiple experts interviewed for a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the study in The Lancet relied on statistical methods that reflect the state of the art.

However, as a stranger to the art and science of statistical inferences, I am still struck by the fact that the figure of 100,000 deaths was derived from the observation of only 43 "extra" deaths. In the population clusters sampled by the survey, there were 46 deaths in the 14.6 months prior to the war and 142 in the 17.8 months thereafter. However, 63 of those deaths were observed in a single cluster in Falluja. After removing this outlier, one is left with a total of 89. 89-46=43. (All the relevant data is in Table 2 on the fourth page of the study, numbered 1860)

Now, I understand quite well that the purpose of statistics is to extrapolate significant findings from limited amounts of data. What I just can't get my head around is the degree to which limited data sets taken from chaotic war zones such as Iraq should be trusted. As the article in CHE points out, the lead author of the Lancet essay has conducted similar surveys in other warzones, such as the Congo. In those instances, his results were no less dramatic but still embraced by numerous governments including our own.

Still, I can't shake the notion that this time, something went wrong. Perhaps my suspicions have something to do with the efforts of the lead author -- Les Roberts, by name -- to demand the publication of his study before last November's presidential election. To some degree, that isn't fair, since critics should evaluate Roberts' data rather than his motives. Yet when we are dealing with such small numbers, trust begins to matter.

For example, what about the number 21? Of the 89 post-war deaths outside Falluja, 21 were the result of violence, primarily American bombing. Of the 46 deaths before the war, only 1 was the result of violence. In other words, even though human rights organizations estimate that Saddam killed something on the order of 10,000 of his own subjects per year, only one violent death was recorded in the 14.6 months before the invasion. Why?

Did the households interviewed want to protect themselves by attributing Saddam's murders to some natural cause? Or did they simply not mention the death of family members executed by the state? Or perhaps the observation of a single violent death is just a statistical anomaly. As the authors of the Lancet survey point out,
The sampling strategy somehow might not have captured the overall mortality experience in Iraq...[because] there can be a dramatic clustering of deaths in wars where many die from bombings.
For some reason, the authors seem fixated on the potential for death that results from bombing. Yet what about deaths that resulted from state-sanctioned mass murder? Perhaps these are even harder to detect in a random survey.

By the same token, one has to wonder why the only bombings that the authors seem to discuss are those initiated by American helicopters and airplanes. But what about the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of Iraqis? According to the study in The Lancet, of all the deaths it observed, only "two were attributed to anti-coalition forces."

Again, this may just be a statistical anomaly. As noted above, cluster sampling tends to underestimate the impact of focused violence. Yet the authors don't even ask whether the focused violence they underestimate was perpetrated by the Ba'athist government and its insurgent heirs.

At the moment, because of my manifest lack of expertise and respect for the academic positions that the authors occupy, I want to dissociate myself from any explicit accusation of bias, even if analysis above intimates that it may have existed. Before reaching any sort of firm conclusion, I hope to consider the responses to this post by other bloggers with a strong interest in this subject, such as the aforementioned Mr. Davies as well as the very scholarly Tim Lambert.

What I consider most likely is that a statistical anomaly, intended by no one, is responsible for all of this confusion. In war after war, the United States has inflicted numerous casualties from the air. As a result, we have abandoned the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of the Vietnam era in favor of the precision attacks launched against Belgrade, Kandahar, and Baghdad. I find it almost impossible to believe that the methods of the post-Cold War era continue to result in casualty figures that belong to the days of Vietnam.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Home