Monday, October 31, 2005

Gone Fishin'...

Actually, gone for a few days with my mother-in-law, blogging will be light for a while...

Is Paris Burning? (2005)

On CNN , from Reuters (ht to LittleGreenFootballs).

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ann Althouse on Scooter Libby

She thinks one has to keep the meaning of the Pentagon Papers in mind. Interestingly, I went to school with Robert Ellsberg, who helped his father Daniel Ellsberg photocopy the Pentagon Papers. I didn't know anything about it. He was one of my best friends, and was in my living room watching TV with me when Walter Cronkite reported on the case. I had no idea.He didn't leak, that's for sure. Robert went on to become a professor of religion at Harvard University...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Putin's Secret

Konstantin's Russian Blog says that Putin doesn't really want to be President--which is why he is so popular...

Iran Stands By President's Vow

Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the link to this story in Gulf News. Is this surprising? No. What is disappointing is that some in the West still make apologies for Iran and Islamism.

Scooter Libby Indicted

You can read the indictement here, on Patrick Fitzgerald's website.

200,000 Russians Move to London

According to today's Washington Post, London is now a major Russian city, home to the elite of Moscow and St. Petersburg...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Israeli Bomb Victim Came From Uzbekistan

According to Haaretz, Michael Koifman was a recent Uzbek immigrant:
Michael Koifman, 68, from Hadera immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan in 1993. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, their two children and four grandchildren.

Koifman's son, Alex, said on Wednesday that Michael "went to a routine medical examination at the clinic, which isn't far from the market. His appointment was moved up, tragically, and he left the clinic and went to buy grapes."

"He apparently was buying grapes at a stand near Falafel Barzilai, when he was injured and killed. If his appointment hadn't been early, he would probably still be alive," he added.

Family members recalled that in Uzbekistan, Koifman was a senior manager in an auto production company. He had difficulty finding work in Israel that matched his skills.

"We will remember his as a warm and loving father," Alex said. Koifman is to be buried at 2 P.M. Thursday in the new cemetery in Hadera.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Israel Responds to Hadera Suicide Bombing

With airstrikes in Gaza, according to Haaretz.

Judy Miller's Wikipedia Page

Well, now Judy Miller is eternal...

NY Times Throwing Judy Miller Overboard?

That's the drift of this Wall Street Journal story.

If they fire her, I hope she sues. The legal case for wrongful dismissal itself would make a nice chapter for her upcoming book.

BTW, if there never were any WMD in Iraq, and everyone knew it before the war, what were those UN inspectors looking for, exactly? And why did opponents of the war want to give the inspections more time?

What is America Doing to Afghanistan?

The Scranton Times-Tribune speaks truth to power in its editorial on resurgent Taliban-style Islamism in Afghanistan:
The power of the Islamic state was brought to bear upon Mr. Nasab for his magazine’s publication of two articles that, according to the prosecutor, put the editor in the position of having abandoned the Islamic faith. One article argued that Muslims who convert to other faiths should not be stoned to death; the other argued that people who commit adultery should not be subjected to 100 lashes.

Democracy advocates were left to ponder that U.S. allies within the government noted that Mr. Nasab was given just two years in prison, whereas the prosecutor had argued for the death sentence. And, of course, the magazine itself was removed from newsstands.

This cannot be what Americans are fighting, dying and paying for in Afghanistan.

I wonder who made the American decision to let the Taliban back into Afghan government--instead of completely crushing them--and why?

Thank You, Patricia Cardoso...

Sometimes, strange things turn up in an IMDB search. For example, I learned that director Patricia Cardoso was kind enough to give me credit (though the spelling isn't quite right) for working on her short film as assistant production manager a long time ago--Cartas al Nino Dios (1991). We went to UCLA film school together, and she went on to become a big-time director. According to IMDB, her films include The Jane Plan (2006) (announced);Nappily Ever After (2005) (announced);Real Women Have Curves (2002); Reino de los cielos, El (1994);... aka The Kingdom of Heaven ;The Water Carrier of Cucunuba (1994);Cartas al niño Dios (1991);The Air Globes (1990); and Aisle of Dreams (1989).

It's nice when people who don't need to remember you, show that they do.

Is Today the Day?

Jim Vandehei and Carol D. Leonnig are reporting in The Washington Post that indictments might come as early as today in the Valerie Plame case that's spooking the Bush administration:
WASHINGTON -- The prosecutor in the CIA leak case was preparing to outline possible charges before a federal grand jury as early as today, even as the FBI conducted last-minute interviews in the high-profile investigation, according to people familiar with the case.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald was seen Tuesday in Washington with lawyers in the case, and some White House officials braced for at least one indictment when the grand jury meets today. Several people in the case say I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, is a main focus but not the only one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One Woman Who Made a Difference

Roger L. Simon tipped us off to the passing of Rosa Parks, aged 92 years. You can read about how she changed America, here.

Daniel Pipes on Islamaphobia

Daniel Pipes says the term is being used by some extremist groups in a way that does harm to traditional Islam. Money quote:
Muslims should dispense with this discredited term and instead engage in some earnest introspection. Rather than blame the potential victim for fearing his would-be executioner, they would do better to ponder how Islamists have transformed their faith into an ideology celebrating murder (Al-Qaeda : "You love life, we love death") and develop strategies to redeem their religion by combating this morbid totalitarianism.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sons of the Conquerors

Nathan has posted my book review of Hugh Pope's wonderful survey of the Pan-Turanian world on Registan.

NY Sun Defends Judith Miller

Who has been the better journalist - Judith Miller or those attacking her in her own paper's pages? Ms. Miller was sounding the alarm about the Iraqi threat and working her sources and fighting not to get beat. Ms. Dowd was parroting unsubstantiated smears, and Mr. Wilson was falsely downplaying Iraq's effort to obtain weapons of mass destruction, without disclosing to Times readers his wife's institutional interests. And huge numbers of Times reporters have been complaining about her to competing news companies. To which we can only say that if Ms. Miller is to be run out of the Times in favor of Ms. Dowd and Mr. Wilson and those who believe, falsely, that the Iraq war was all just an elaborate con job by Mr. Chalabi and his neoconservative allies - well, then the Times is in even worse straits than we thought.

But if she is let go by the Times, will the NY Sun editors offer Miller a job? (It might help the Sun become a better paper).

There is Nothing Inevitable About the Triumph of Islamism

In a rebuttal to those who would have America work Islamists, Martin Kramer points out Islamism can be defeated by its own fundamental intolerance:
So smart people, many of them with experience "handling" Islamists, have been wrong about them time and again. They have told us they know how to talk to Islamists, how to channel them away from violence, how to find common ground. And leaders, governments, and everyday people have paid the price for their errors. It has been the worst precisely in places where Islamists were given the most space to organize, preach, plan, and operate. So when old intelligence hands tell us that they have a bright idea on how to engage Islamists, we should first ask them to give us an accounting for errors past, and tell us the lessons, if any, they've learned.

One of the lessons we have learned these last 25 years is that there is nothing inevitable about the triumph of Islamism. Way back when I wrote Political Islam, many people feared that a tsunami of Islamist revolution might sweep the region. But the progress of Islamism has been erratic. It has been most potent in places that have been subject to war and occupation, and where the state is weak: Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq. Where states are stronger, regimes have kept Islamists in check or at bay. Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria–all of them have faced Islamist challenges, which they have turned back. Islamism has faltered in these settings for two reasons: first, Arab rulers were more resolute and ruthless than the Shah; and second, the Islamists were less adept at forging alliances than Khomeini.

They have been less adept at forging alliances because they have been unwilling to compromise on their core values or their insistence that they dominate any system in which they participate. To put it in a word, they are intolerant, and so they stir deep misgivings among other opposition groups and potential sympathizers in the West.

Judy Miller v Byron Calame & Jill Abramson

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan's link, I read the email from Judy Miller on Byron Calame's NY Times blog. She says that she told the truth, and Andrew Sullivan says that means she is calling Jill Abramson a liar (though all she really says is that they remember events differently).

I think she's calling Calame an unfair reporter.Here's an excerpt from Miller's letter:
I fail to see why I am responsible for my editors’ alleged failure to do some “digging” into my confidential sources and the notebooks. From the start, the legal team that the Times provided me knew who my source was and had access to my notes. I never refused to answer questions or provide any information they requested. No one indicated they had doubts about the stand I took to go to jail.

Your essay clearly implies that the Times and I did something wrong in waging a battle that we did not choose. I strongly disagree. What did I do wrong? Your essay does not say. You may disapprove of my earlier reporting on Weapons of Mass Destruction. But what did the delayed publication of the editor’s note on that reporting have to do with the
decision I made over a year later, which the paper fully supported, to protect our confidential sources? I remain proud of my decision to go to jail rather than reveal the identity of a source to whom I had pledged confidentiality, even if he happened to work for the Bush White House.

The Times asked me to assume a low profile in this controversy. I told everyone that I had no intention of airing internal editorial policy disputes and disagreements at the paper, as a matter of principle and loyalty to those who stood by me during this ordeal. Others have chosen a different path, ironically becoming “confidential sources” themselves.

You never bothered to mention in your essay my decision to spend 85 days in jail to honor the pledge I made. I’m saddened that you, like so many others, have blurred the core issue of that stand and I am stunned that you refused to post my answers to issues we had discussed on your web site at the critical moment that Times readers were forming their opinions.

Judith Miller
I think Miller appears to be right. Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I don't think she's digging a deeper hole for herself, even if she gets fired by her editors. All the evidence points to Times editors digging holes for themselves, due to political pressure...

Editor and Publisher: Off With Judy Miller's Head!

E & P columnist Gregg Mitchell calls on the New York Times to fire Judy Miller. For protecting her source? Or because her source was a prominent Republican?

Mitchell is showing his devotion to partisanship over principle.


BearingPoint CEO Explains Company's Math Problem

Sometimes the news really forces you to smile, recalling Puck's line in A Midsummer's Night's Dream...

One example, according to this story in today's Washington Post business section, KMPG spinoff BearingPoint apparently can't do its own math--sort of embarassing for an accounting consultancy firm.
Because the company did not know how many errors might have been made in the months it was using its new system, it had no choice but to recheck every accounting entry.

The process has been laborious, involving not only the hundreds of accountants, but forcing many of the company's 17,000 employees to retrace the hours they worked on each project and verify their billing information. It was a factor in what has been a troubling talent drain, You said. In the first nine months of the year, about one-fourth of BearingPoint's workers left the company.

New employees have been hired, but You has had to put a premium on retention. He implemented a new merit-based compensation system for the top 800 employees and made it fully open so that each knows the salaries of all the others. He also began holding company-wide conference calls every other week so employees can ask about everything from vacation policy to You's vision for the company.

Not all who follow the company have accepted You's description of BearingPoint's problems or think he has done enough to fix them.

William R. Loomis, an analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., said You's explanation about the source of the accounting problems makes sense. But he added that if the financial system the company created "wasn't user intuitive and you have to spend a lot of money to train people, then the system probably wasn't installed right."

In recent months, the company announced it was closing operations in Peru and Thailand, strengthening its presence in India, and focusing on landing larger, more profitable projects. You told analysts two weeks ago he expects BearingPoint to turn a profit next year.

Reviews from Wall Street have been mixed. After a meeting with analysts two weeks ago, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. issued a report saying it was "optimistic the turnaround is gaining steam." Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., however, said its analysts believe the "risk/reward on [BearingPoint] shares remains unattractive."

According to the article, some 40 percent of BearingPoint's business comes from government contracts. According to this September 29, 2005 article in Consultant News:
BearingPoint has been awarded a three-year contract to support treasury operations and implement efficient business processes within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's Ministry of Finance.

BearingPoint will help the Ministry build its accounting and financial management capacity as well as manage incoming funding from international donors.

Valued at $6.85 million, the new engagement calls specifically for BearingPoint to strengthen the Ministry's cash management capabilities and to develop strategies for treasury processes and human resources management.

BearingPoint was first engaged by the Republic in 2002 to provide a benchmark for a fully functional financial management system.

The scope of the current work includes managing the existing Afghan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS, which was implemented by BearingPoint), and continuing the deployment of AFMIS functions.

BearingPoint has handled similar projects in post-conflict environments including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and South Sudan.
(The Washington Post story on this deal can be found here.)

Just think, the company America sends to advise other countries on how to improve financial management--and which just got a contract for improving security at the Port of New York and New Jersey--is unable to keep its own books straight.

Which raises the question: After this sort of revelation, who would hire BearingPoint, and why?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Buy Your Copy of Scooter Libby's Book Here

From Powell's Books catalog description of The Apprentice:
A gripping novel of suspense, "The Apprentice" takes place in a remote mountain inn in northernmost Japan, where a raging blizzard has brought together wayfarers who share only growing suspicion of one another. It is the winter of 1903 and the apprentice, charged with running the inn during the owner's absence, finds himself plunged headlong into murder, passion, and heart-stopping chases through the snow.

Wolfowitz Recites...

I heard BBC World News anchor Katty Kay on Chris Matthews today refer to this religious episode, and had to watch it -- the video in which World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz recites from the Koran during a visit with the Dongchuan village Imam in a Chinese mosque. (Wolfowitz smiled like a bar mitzvah boy reciting his Haftorah portion.)

Here's the link to the Realplayer video clip, so you can see and hear the scene for yourself.

Tom Honig: Judy Miller Defended Press Freedom

The Santa Cruz Sentinel publishes a defense of Judy Miller:
Miller obviously retained a tremendous amount of responsibility for herself. Among other decisions, she decided to discuss the CIA case with administration officials. She also decided — correctly — not to write a story.

She obviously is a controversial figure — not only with the public, but apparently within The New York Times newsroom.

But this much is clear: despite everything else, she did the right thing when she went to great lengths to protect her source. She went to prison until she was absolutely sure that her source would allow her to testify.

In today's super-heated political environment, a reporter must protect a source. Sometimes doing so is popular, as it was in the Watergate era. Sometimes it's less so, as it is with Miller now.

But press freedom is endangered when sources can't trust a reporter.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Name That Must Not Be Spoken

Mark Steyn says it's not "Yaweh" or some Masonic Lodge secret:
When the NPR report started, I was driving on the vast open plains of I-91 in Vermont and reckoned, just to make things interesting, I'll add another five miles to the speed for every minute that goes by without mentioning Islam. But I couldn't get the needle to go above 130, and the vibrations caused the passenger-side wing-mirror to drop off. And then, right at the end, having conducted a perfect interview that managed to go into great depth about everything except who these guys were and what they were fighting over, the Russian academic dude had to go and spoil it all by saying somethin' stupid like "republics which are mostly . . . Muslim." He mumbled the last word, but nevertheless the NPR gal leapt in to thank him and move smoothly on to some poll showing that the Dems are going to sweep the 2006 midterms because Bush has the worst numbers since numbers were invented.

I underestimated multiculturalism. After 9/11, I assumed the internal contradictions of the rainbow coalition would be made plain: that a cult of "tolerance" would in the end founder against a demographic so cheerfully upfront in their intolerance. Instead, Islamic "militants" have become the highest repository of multicultural pieties. So you're nice about gays and Native Americans? Big deal. Anyone can be tolerant of the tolerant, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti- masochists. And so Islamists who murder non-Muslims in pursuit of explicitly Islamic goals are airbrushed into vague, generic "rebel forces." You can't tell the players without a scorecard, and that's just the way the Western media intend to keep it. If you wake up one morning and switch on the TV to see the Empire State Building crumbling to dust, don't be surprised if the announcer goes, "Insurging rebel militant forces today attacked key targets in New York. In other news, the president's annual Ramadan banquet saw celebrities dancing into the small hours to Mullah Omar And His All-Girl Orchestra . . ."

What happened in Russia on Thursday was serious business, not just in the death toll but in the number of key government installations that the alleged insurging rebel militants of non-specific ideology managed to seize with relative ease. The militantly rebellious insurgers of no known religious affiliation have long said they want a pan-Caucasian Islamic state from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and the carnage they wreaked in the hitherto semi-safe-ish republic of Kabardino-Balkaria suggests that they're more likely to spread the conflict to other parts of the Russian Federation than Moscow is to contain it."

Why I'm Waiting for Judy Miller's Book...

It's because of news items like this one, from today's Washington Post. We don't know the whole story, yet. But it looks more and more that the NY Times is willing to sacrifice principle under pressure, to wit, this comment from editor Bill Keller's email:
But if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises...

Translation: We'd have burned Miller's source and then thrown her overboard.

The New Foreign Affairs

The new issue of Foreign Affairs has arrived and it has a number of interesting articles, none more so than Zayno Baran's piece on the threat posed by Islamist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
HT is not itself a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists. It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations. By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology, HT has made itself into a very real and potent threat that is extremely difficult for liberal societies to counter.

HT's ideology and theology, which are derived from those of other radical Islamist groups, are simplified to make them more accessible to the masses. Whereas many other Islamist groups insist that their particular religious interpretation is the only valid one or are obsessed with a single issue, such as Israel or Kashmir, HT keeps its focus on the broader goal of uniting all Muslims under the Islamist banner and thus emphasizes issues of more general concern, such as the clash of civilizations or the injustices suffered by Muslims worldwide. Other radical Islamists therefore tend to see the group not as a competitor but as an ally and often use HT's concepts and literature (readily available on the Internet) to rally their own supporters.

HT's greatest achievement to date is that it has shifted the terms of debate within the Muslim world. Until a few years ago, most Islamist groups considered the notion of establishing a new caliphate a utopian goal. Now, an increasing number of people consider it a serious objective. And after decades of stressing the existence and unity of a global Islamic community (umma), HT can take pride in the growing feeling among Muslims that their primary identity stems from, and their primary loyalty is owed to, their religion rather than their race, ethnicity, or nationality.
There's other interesting stuff, too, on Iraq and Vietnam by Melvin Laird (did he lose Vietnam, or was it Rumsfeld? or Cheney?); and on Uzbekistan's Karshi-Khanabad airbase by John Cooley (he believes dictators are unreliable partners for the US Air Force and democractically elected rulers are more Franco and Schroeder, maybe?). Another article that's worth reading is a book review by John M. Owen of a new study showing that emerging democracies are very likely to go to war, subhead: Who Says Democracies Don't Fight?.

Something for everyone in this issue of Foreign Affairs...and the best part of all is the REALLY BIG PRINT for ageing eyes.

Masterpiece and Mystery!

I haven't watched in years, didn't even know when they were on because PBS kept moving them around the schedule, but now Bryan Curtis reports in Slate that Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery are back on the PBS schedule -- with dramatizations of works by Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.

RSF 2005 Press Freedom Rankings Flawed

Reporters Sans Frontieres has published a ranking of countries acording to their survey of press freedom that puts Denmark in the number one slot and the USA in 22nd position (below Bosnia and Herzegovina). Among the factors taken into consideration was the jailing of NY Times reporter Judith Miller, apparently, though this is all the website had to say:
Violations of the privacy of sources, persistent problems in granting press visas and the arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations kept the United States (22nd) away from the top of the list.

"Arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations" sounded weird. This kind of RSF survey result raised some doubts in my mind as to the honesty of the report.

So, I did a google search and found a copy of Denmark's Press Ethical Rules: National Code of Conduct. It seems that what the RSF survey group considers press freedom might be a little different from what Americans think freedom of speech means. In effect, the RSF survey is at best a popularity contest or reputational survey, not a scientific survey of the actual state of freedom of the press.

For example: Denmark has no First Amendment (indeed, unlike the USA, Denmark has an established chuch supported by taxes) and also has a Press Council which may require newspapers to publish articles resulting from complaints to the Press Council--sometimes on the front page...

Furthermore, unlike the United States, Denmark has legalized prior censorship of newspaper articles. In addition, Denmark's laws wouldn't seem to offer any protection to Judith Miller, since as in the USA, there is no absolute right to protect sources in a Danish criminal case:
Protection of sources
Just as the journalists´and other people´s access to information from public administrations is limited by several exceptions, journalists´ source protection is not absolute. Though, it has been improved lately.
The journalist´s professional secrecy is defined in the Administration of Justice Act where it is recognised that journalists sometimes have to protect the identity of a source during a trial. The principal rule in article 172 in the act is that mass media editorial staff cannot be obliged to pass information about sources who do not appear with their names in the medium.
However, some exceptions exist to this principal rule. In article 172, subsection 5 it is said:
"However, where the subject-matter is a serious offence and which according to the law can result in imprisonment up to four years or more, the court may direct the persons give evidence, provided that due to the seriousness of the crime or to other special public or private interests the regard for the unravelling of the crime clearly outweighs the regard for the protection of the source as related to the social importance of the article or programme."
This decision was inserted in the act in 1992 after the new Media Liability Act was introduced, and after the Danish Union of Journalists, without any result, having tried to argument in favour of an absolute source protection without any exceptions.
The measures against a journalist violating article 172, subsection 5 by refusing to pass wanted information during a trial, consist of fines or imprisonment.

By every reasonable measure I can determine, the USA in fact has a freer press than Denmark.

Friday, October 21, 2005

This 'n That on Spike Lee's New Film

This 'n That doesn't like the sound of Spike Lee's HBO project...
There he goes again. Spike Lee is all about self promotion. This time he is using African American victims of Hurricane Katrina in a documentary for HBO that accuses the American government of a conspiracy to rid New Orleans of its African American citizenry. How ridiculous? No more or less than the one that came out of the African American community a few years back, alleging that Snapple had been laced with some sort of poisonous ingredient that would kill any African American who dared consume it. This 'n' That challenges Spike Lee to put his money where his mouth is. Why hasn't he offered to open his home on Martha's Vineyard, or other property he owns, to African American homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina, instead of making mindless accusations in a selfish attempt boost his fledgling career? Recently, a white couple in California donated five or six of their homes and a year's worth of rent to 40 members of an African American family from New Orleans.

Turn off the camera, shut your mouth and open your wallet, Spike.

Why Do They Hate Us ? (cont'd)

From Sayed Salahuddin's Reuters dispatch:
KABUL, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai voiced his condemnation on Friday after the release of television images appearing to show U.S. soldiers buring the corpses of two Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and called for a quick inquiry.

The U.S. military -- already under fire for the handling of Afghan detainees and desecration of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay, which provoked angry protests in Afghanistan -- has ordered an inquiry into the footage shown on Australian television.

"We in Afghanistan, in accordance with our religion and traditions and adherence to international law, are very unhappy and condemn the burning of two Taliban dead bodies," Karzai said.

"We do not like such incidents and I hope such incidents will not occur again," he told reporters at the presidential palace.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BBC: How Hurricane Wilma Affected Me

First person accounts of the latest hurricane heading to the USA can be found here.

The Cat's Medicine

We were in San Diego over the weekend, and had a chance to visit the San Diego Museum of Art. The collection was small but interesting, with some pleasant surprises among the Old Masters, in addition to a very nice selection of American paintings hidden in a back room on the first floor. The Putnam sisters seemed to have the best taste, their legacy included a picture attributed to Jan Steen that speaks to any cat owner who ever tried to dose a pet: "The Cat's Medicine" (1670). If you are in San Diego, it is definitely worth a visit, including the 1960s International Style Timken Museum, immediately adjacent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Who is Thomas Graham?

Last Friday, I caught the morning session of the American Enterprise Institute's day-long symposium on the future of Russia, organized by Dr. Leon Aron. The first panel was made up of Russians talking about Russia, moderated by Dr. Aron. It was very nice, like a trip back to Moscow. They knew what they were talking about, even though one might disagree with some of their statements. It had a genuine Russian flavor in the philosophical and sometimes pessimistic presentations by Yuri Levada, Lelia Shestova, and Nikolai Zlobin. I liked Zlobin best, because he told the most jokes. He also says he has a "raspiska" signed by Putin himself, promising to resign in 2008. Shestova joked Zlobin can sue Putin if he changes his mind. It was a lot of fun.

The second panel featured two Bush administration policy-wonks responsible for Russia at the National Security Council, Thomas Graham and Angela Stent. They sat on either side of Andrei Kortunov, a Russian expert on America, which led him to joke that he felt "encircled"--although presumably moderator Nicholas Gvosdev was not part of this strategy, as the National Interest (which he edits) appears sympathetic to Russia's problems.

In any case, both Stent and Graham stated the Bush administration position that only democracy can bring stability in the fight against terrorism. They did not engage with Russian fears of destabilization caused by Islamist extremism. Graham was more mechanical than Stent, who spoke spontaneously. Graham read from notes, while Stent seemed to have given some thought to her statements. Both agreed the US would pursue a "compartmentalized" approach to Russia. Incredibly, Stent gave a summary of the Cold War without crediting Ronald Reagan's strategy of support for authoritarians vs. totalitarians. And neither answered questions about America's relationship with Saudi-backed Islamist guerrillas in places like Chechnya and Central Asia, despite repeated queries from members of the audience.

The AEI event took place the day after Shamil Basayev's guerrillas attacked Nalchik, ending in tragedy. Russia had earlier complained of US support for the Chechen guerillas, including a Radio Free Europe reporter's interview broadcast on ABC television.

Given the mechanical performance by Graham, the top-ranking Bush appointee present, it seemed that the Bush administration is not listening to Russian concerns.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Yom Kippur FAQ

Tonight's sundown marks the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement at the end of the Days of Awe. Here's an FAQ from Judaism 101:
Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26 et seq.

The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement," and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, I mentioned the "books" in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

As I noted in Days of Awe, Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.

As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. See Rosh Hashanah for more about the shofar and its characteristic blasts.

It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

So, no blogging tomorrow...

Rosh Hashana in Seattle

And another cousin's blog describes celebrating the Jewish New Year in Seattle...

Remembering Vladimir Nabokov

Just found out, by reading my cousin Savtadotty's blog, that she had been a student of Vladimir Nabokov:
Vladimir Nabokov was my Russian Literature and Comparative Literature teacher at college. During the summer of my sophomore year "Lolita" was published. It was banned in the USA, but friends who were fortunate enough to go to Paris that summer returned with suitcases full of English paperback copies. I regret that I was too much of a goody goody cheapskate to invest in buying one of them, but not so much of a goody goody that I didn't read it. Instead, I bought a copy of his less-controversial "Pnin," which he was gracious enough to autograph for me.
I guess some family secrets are never told...

Strategic Implications of the Kashmir Earthquake

Belgravia Dispatch analyses the geopolitical importance of Kashmir, and discusses the effects earthquake relief efforts might have on extremist groups, such as Lakshar-et-Taiba, in the region:
So basically I think that the LeT has more than the financial endurance necessary to weather whatever hard assets they lost during the storm and provide support and relief services to God knows how many Pakistanis lost their home during this latest event. That is going to take some time for them to mobilize, however, which is one of the reasons why I'm more than confident that the US can beat them off at the pass on this one if we act quickly and decisively. This also fits into Dr. Gunaratna's recommendation of creating a parallel NGO and aid network in Muslim countries to serve as a challenge to Wahhabi charities like the LeT's parent MDI organization.

There are also broader issues of national interest here that need to be taken into consideration here. Riding on the wave of popular anti-Americanism that swept across much of the Muslim world during the run-up and aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, the LeT claims that it recruited as many as 3,350 new members from January to June 2003. Even if these totals are inflated (and it certainly wouldn't be the first time), I think it's entirely fair to say that allowing several thousand people to become dependent on LeT social services for the immediate future does not serve US national interest. Moreover, Pakistanis assisted by the US will in all probability be far more likely to assist us at tracking down al-Qaeda and their allies.

Finally, if the heavy casualties suffered by the LeT and other Pakistani jihadi groups live up to hype, this would be an exceedingly good time for the US to press Pakistan on the dual issues of a permanent settlement over Kashmir or at least dissuading them from allowing the wounded groups to rebuild their destroying training infrastructure.

In this context, Dr. Rice's offer of $50 million doesn't seem like enough, since Kuwait alone has offered $100 million. Americans might offer substantially more aid money than any other country, in order both to be seen as the most credible highest bidder in this war for the "hearts and minds" of Pakistan -- and to pay Musharraf enough to shut down the Islamist extremists and terrorists operating in Kashmir, once and for all.

UPDATE: There's more on this subject here.

The Chirac Doctrine

Middle East Quarterly has a fascinating analysis of French foreign policy vis-a-vis the Islamist threat. While I don't agree with everything Olivier Guitta says (banning headscarves is hardly reaching out to Islamists), the overall analysis of the Chirac doctrine is thought-provoking. It is a good thing to take France seriously.
With just one-fifth the population of the United States, France boasts the world's second largest contingent of diplomats, and its consulates and embassies number just eight fewer than the State Department's 260.[1] The French investment in its foreign ministry is likewise heavy and demonstrates the importance the French government places on French prestige and grandeur. Under President Jacques Chirac, French foreign policy has become increasingly assertive. Francois Heisbourg, director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (Foundation for Strategic Research), summed up French foreign policy as "oppose just to exist."[2] Such descriptions are not entirely fair, though. While Chirac inherited a French foreign policy already tilted toward the Arab world, his pursuit of close personal ties to Arab leaders and his outreach to Islamists, rejectionist Arab states, and groups considered terrorists by the U.S. government is part of a broader strategy

Franco-British rivalry in the Middle East is a major theme of A Peace to End All Peace (scroll down). Of course, Chirac's recent stroke may affect Guitta's theory as much as the death of Syria's Hafez al-Assad.

Will Secularism Survive?

Daniel Pipes wonders if the world understands that secularism (not athiesm) is an answer to today's threat from Islamist extremism, because it permits believers to "agree to disagree" about their faith.

UPDATE: Here's the website for the British National Secular Society. And here's the Wikipedia entry.

Do the Right Thing

Secretary of State Rice has gone to Pakistan to announce more US aid for earthquake victims, according to CNN. This is the type of thing--like Bush 1 and Clinton's Tsunami Tour--that makes friends for the US and influences people in a positive way. So far, she's only been seen with leaders like presidents Karzai and Musharraf. It might be even more helpful if Dr. Rice travels to Kashmir to see the devastation and relief efforts in person, as well as to be seen on TV offering succor to the victims--up close and personal.

After the Tashkent earthquake in the 1960s, Soviet propaganda made much out of Moscow's generosity in rebuilding the city. It created lasting goodwill for Russia among the population. The recent Kashmir tragedy provides America a chance to show that we care, too...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More on Eurasianism

From Ben Paarman, who adds some valuable historical and political context to Aleksandr Dugin's recent DC appearance (scroll down).

19th Century Russian Prince Predicted Blogs

Thanks to Nathan at Registan for this curious news story from the Moscow News:
Prince Vladimir Odoevsky, 1803-1869, was a gifted man. Apart from writing philosophical books, stories for children and composing pieces of music, he also wrote science fiction, trying to imagine what his country would look like in 2,500 years, in 4338.

The fact that among other utopian inventions Odoevsky described something very close to the Internet and blogging was brought to public attention by — surprise, surprise — a blogger. Ivan Dezhurny, a Russian poet and singer, is generally fond of futuristic literature. Reading Odoevsky’s novel “Year 4338”, written in 1837, Dezhurny republished selected bits of the book on his personal blog to the delight of his readers.

Odoevsky suggested in future there would be a kind of connection between houses that would allow people to communicate quickly and easily, the way they do now via the Internet.

“Houses are connected by means of magnetic telegraphs that allow people who live far from each other to communicate,” Odoevsky wrote.

Even more interestingly, Odoevsky suggested every household would publish a kind of daily journal or newsletter and distribute it among selected acquaintances, a habit which Russian bloggers immediately recognized as blogging.

“We received a household journal from the local prime minister, which among other things invited us to his place for a reception,” one of Odoevsky’s characters tells a friend.

“The thing is that many households here publish such journals that replace common correspondence. Such journals usually provide information about the hosts’ good or bad health, family news, different thoughts and comments, small inventions, invitations to receptions.”

However, Odoevsky, a prince and a wealthy man, could not imagine people taking so much bother to keep their acquaintances updated on their daily affairs. He suggested the job would be carried out by the butler.

“The job of publishing such a journal daily or weekly is carried out by the butler. It is done very simply: receiving an order from the masters, he makes a notice of what they tell him, then make copies by camera obscura and sends them to the acquaintances.”

Odoevsky’s book contains other curious predictions, such as the threat of the Earth colliding with a comet and Russians planning to fire rockets at it to prevent the collision.

Literature theorists say the unusual remoteness of Odoevsky’s predictions — 2,500 years — could be explained by the slow pace of life that Russian society led in the 19th century.

The Ugly American

That's how Condoleeza Rice appears to the Russians. Her trip to Central Asia seems like some sort of attempt to exclude Russia from the region, according to this article in Kommersant. Will her lecturing and hectoring about democracy and human rights work?

I don't know. In any case, the Secretary of State might take a look at James Yee's account of conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison, as published in the Sunday Times of London (ht Andrew Sullivan). With President Bush threatening to veto a military appropriations bill to preserve his right to torture prisoners, it doesn't seem the USA has much moral standing to criticize other countries, at least for now...

US to Resume Israeli Dialog

Bet you didn't know that the US has been cold-shouldering Sharon for 3 years over military sales to China. The Gaza withdrawal has apparently led to a thaw. Now, talks are scheduled to resume between Washington and Jerusalem, according to Haaretz.

Denmark Returns Empress Maria Fedorovna to Russia

The remains of Empress Maria Fedorovna, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, will join her husband's, Russian Emperor Alexander III in St. Petersburg, according to Kommersant. In 2006, the Danish navy will transport her coffin for interment at the St. Peter and Paul Fortress, final resting place of the Russian imperial families.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Russia in Global Affairs

Thanks to Lisa Lau, academic publishing coordinator of the Council on Foreign Relations, whom I met at the American Political Science Association, I discovered the website for Russia in Global Affairs. They have some interesting articles on international relations, from a different perspective.

MK Bhadrakumar on Ukraine's Orange Revolution

The former Indian diplomat posted to Islamabad, Kabul, Tashkent and Moscow writes that events are tilting Moscow's way:

Ukrainian developments once again show that the Western integration processes in the post-Soviet republics are very much linked to and are conditional on Russia's own Western integration orientation.

Indeed, what happens in Ukraine in the coming weeks and months will be an important indicator of the shape of things to come for the post-Soviet space.

Significantly, in a major speech at Stanford University (alma mater of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) on September 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against the real danger of blundering into another Cold War.

Will Russia and the West cooperate in Ukraine instead of pulling in opposite directions? Will Ukraine be allowed to settle into acting as a bridge between the West and Russia? The trend is likely to be Ukraine itself not wanting to be integrated in a form that separates it from Russia. If so, will it prompt a remedial course on the part of the West to draw Russia itself closer to it? The post-Soviet space will be keenly awaiting the answers to these questions.

An Able-Danger China Connection?

Thanks to a link from WarandPiece, just saw this Michael Maloof op-ed in the Washington Times:
Following the initial DoD turndown, Ellen Preisser and this writer then data-mined unclassified information to report to Mr. Weldon on possible Chinese front companies in the United States seeking technology for the People's Liberation Army.
    It showed how Chinese front companies in the United States listed as U.S. corporations were acquiring U.S. weapons technology from U.S. defense contractors, and improving China's military capability. Such access to U.S. technology then would allow the Chinese over time to duplicate U.S. military systems down to the widget.
    Indeed, a June 27, 2005 article in The Washington Times reported U.S. investigators were concerned with China and its middlemen increasingly and illegally obtaining "sensitive or classified U.S. weapons technology" from U.S. companies.
    Reaction to the study on Chinese front companies in the United States from the Army and the General Counsel's office in the Office of the Defense Secretary was immediate. In November 1999, they ordered the study destroyed, but not before Mr. Weldon complained to then Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki.
    Mr. Weldon also wrote a letter to then-FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation. Mr. Freeh never responded to the Weldon request.
And there's more interesting stuff that Maloof doesn't mention, concerning Stanford and Condoleeza Rice:
What Maloof doesn't say here but has been reported elsewhere is that his project got shut down by armed federal agents after it fingered now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former deputy Defense secretary Bill Perry among others as Chinese tech proliferators, because of their connections to Stanford. Check out this NY Post story:

...Cyber-sleuths working for a Pentagon intelligence unit that reportedly identified some of the 9/11 hijackers before the attack were fired by military officials, after they mistakenly pinpointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other prominent Americans as potential security risks, The Post has learned.

The private contractors working for the counter-terrorism unit Able Danger lost their jobs in May 2000. The firings following a series of analyses that Pentagon lawyers feared were dangerously close to violating laws banning the military from spying on Americans, sources said.

The Pentagon canceled its contract with the private firm shortly after the analysts — who were working on identifying al Qaeda operatives — produced a particularly controversial chart on proliferation of sensitive technology to China, the sources said...

Britain Bans 15 Terrorist Groups

According to the BBC.

Why Condoleeza Rice Snubs Uzbekistan

I think this colloquy from Friday's State Department briefing with Daniel Fried indicates that her decisions were motivated at least in part by fear of bad press:
MR. ERELI: (Inaudible) Barbara?

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Dan, I wanted to ask about the decision not to go to Uzbekistan for the Secretary. Is that wise to try to increase this area's isolation? Wouldn't it be better for her to go and try to see if she might persuade them to get an independent inquiry going into Andijan, perhaps change course?

And also is it true that the Uzbeks signaled to the United States that they wanted to renegotiate the base agreement sometime before Andijan but it was not taken up for some reason?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, I obviously do think it's a wise decision that the Secretary has made not to go and I wonder what your question might have been had she decided to go? Something like, I imagine, "Why are you going to that bloody dictatorship? Aren't you undercutting all your rhetoric about the freedom agenda and acting as rank hypocrites?" Right? (Laughter.) But since --

QUESTION: It was only because of fear of my question that she's not going? (Laughter.)

Although Fried denied the accusation, the laughter in the room is more reliable than a diplomatic denial (I heard the briefing live on C-Span radio).

Happy Columbus Day

Instapundit has a link to Samuel Eliot Morison's biography of the legendary sea captain whose birthday we celebrate today.

Kanan Makiya and Rend Rahim on Iraq

Today's Washington Post had an interesting article by Jackson Diehl on a recent AEI conference featuring leading Iraqi liberal. He reported their pessimistic assessments of the current situation:
That's why it was so sobering to encounter Makiya and Rahim again last week -- and to hear them speak with brutal honesty about their "dashed hopes and broken dreams," as Makiya put it. The occasion was a conference on Iraq sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which did so much to lay the intellectual groundwork for the war. A similar AEI conference three years ago this month resounded with upbeat predictions about the democratic, federal and liberal Iraq that could follow Saddam Hussein. This one, led off by Makiya and Rahim, sounded a lot like its funeral.

Makiya began with a stark conclusion: "Instead of the fledgling democracy that back then we said was possible, instead of that dream, we have the reality of a virulent insurgency whose efficiency is only rivaled by the barbarous tactics it uses." The violence, he said, "is destroying the very idea or the very possibility of Iraq."

The Iraqi liberals can fairly blame the Bush administration for not listening to them: for failing to deploy enough troops, for refusing to quickly install the provisional government they advocated, for rejecting the Iraqi fighters they offered to help impose order immediately after the invasion. But Makiya, a former adviser to the Iraqi government in exile who now heads the Iraq Memory Foundation, instead scrupulously dissected "our Iraqi failures." Chief among these, he said, was an underestimation of the rootedness of Hussein's Baath Party inside Iraq's Sunni community and its latent ability to mobilize the insurgency that has bedeviled reconstruction while dividing the country along ethnic and religious lines.

The relentless violence had, he said, made political accord impossible and instead was driving Iraq toward a three-way division, accompanied by a civil war that could endure for decades. This course had been crystallized in the Iraqi constitution, which -- hurried toward a ratification vote this Saturday at the insistence of the Bush administration -- is "a fundamentally destabilizing document," he said. "The deal we have is a patently unworkable deal. To the extent that it is made to work it will work toward fratricide."

Rahim, a former ambassador of the interim government in Washington, picked up where Makiya left off, first endorsing his conclusions and then settling in to explain precisely why the constitution threatens Iraq with catastrophe. The draft, she said, was "written as a reaction to Iraq's history" of dictatorship and oppression of minorities; it creates a central government so weak that "when you look at it, there is no 'there' there."

By contrast, the Kurdish and Shiite "regions" -- really more like mini-states -- provided under the constitution will have so much power, including their own armed forces, that they will be able to ignore the national constitution's provisions for human rights, respect for minorities and limitation of Islamic clerical power. "There's a high probability that these alignments in the constitution will eventually spin the state out of control," Rahim concluded.

I was impressed by Rahim when I heard her speak at AEI a while back on a panel with Ahmed Chalabi. I hope that America takes their warnings seriously.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The NY Times Discovers Jihad in Central Asia

In today's paper, C.J. Chivers seems perplexed after a person-to-person visit with a Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist in Kyrgyzstan. It seems they really are serious about their Islamist extremism:
The group has thrived and shows signs of expansion. In the last year there have been more reports of its leaflets appearing in northern Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and in several Russian republics, including Tatarstan, where Mr. Dzhalilov boasted that he recently had clandestine meetings with Russian members.

"It is a fact that they have become more active," said Sumar Nasiza, a spokesman for the prosecutor general of Kyrgyzstan.

In all, the party claims to have operations in more than 100 nations, and it has found fertile ground - and recruits - in the combination of endemic poverty and resurgent interest in Islam in Central Asia since the last years of the Soviet Union. The size of its membership is uncertain, with estimates ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands in Central Asia alone. "I do not think even the S.N.B. knows," said Mr. Nasiza, referring to Kyrgyzstan's successor to the K.G.B.

Those who have followed the group cite several concerns about its activities, and they are divided over the best course for limiting its influence.

Just how hard it has been to monitor and manage is evident here in Kyrgyzstan, where the group is nominally banned but has a large enough following that it has come partly into the open. Its members are not hard to find.

Four members interviewed by The New York Times said a ban in Britain would only help the party's work, by drawing attention to it and giving it greater credibility among Muslims disappointed with their station in life.

"Blair's ban is our victory," Mr. Dzhalilov said.

Good Night and Good Luck

Just saw George Clooney's Edward R. Murrow biopic, and have to say that I enjoyed it. It's slow going, it's in black-and-white, there's no sex and little romance. No car chases, no exploding fireballs, no shootouts or fistfights. Not too much humor. Just a lot of middle-aged guys reading newspaper articles and talking about Joe McCarthy in TV studios and bars. But it was full of nostalgia for the NYC of my youth. Everything looked more or less as I remember it did as a very young kid. And of course, Clooney plays Fred Friendly, (what did he do to himself?) who lived in Riverdale, where we lived, and whose son went to my private high school. Friendly became president of CBS News after the McCarthy program, promoted by Paley. He quit in the 1960s over the Vietnam war, went on to set up PBS from his perch at the Ford foundation. He hired Jim Lehrer, who is still on the air--the heir to Edward R. Murrow anchor chair for the most trusted newsman in America. So every night at 7, one sees a little of that Murrow style continues.

BTW, Murrow was a friend of my Uncle Saul (actually a cousin), a newspaper reporter and editor who ended up heading the CBS affiliate in Seattle. Murrow would visit him when he came home to see his mother.

UPDATE: Not everyone like Clooney's version. My wife sent me this unfavorable review by Slate's Jack Schafer (whom I also got to know, though not person-to-person, during the PBS controversy). As I said, I'm biased...

Banned in Tashkent

Just received an email from a reader telling me that this website has been blocked in Uzbekistan. I take it as a compliment, of course...

UPDATE: Nathan of Registan tells me that all Blogger sites are blocked. So it is a compliment to all bloggers, not me...

James R. Kurth on International Relations

Full disclosure, James R. Kurth was my professor at Swarthmore College. He produced my documentary film, and edited my articles for Orbis. So I'm not objective. Still, I think this interview from the Swarthmore magazine might be interesting even to those who don't know him. For example:
In 1980, I was in California, and I held a typical liberal/Swarthmore view of Reagan. I thought he was a political amateur, an intellectual lightweight, and a narrow-minded ideologue who was only running because he had been puffed up by others in the California elite. By 1984, I came to believe he had been intelligent enough to surround himself with good advisers. His foreign and economic policy were on a good path. By 1989, after observing how he dealt with Gorbachev with remarkable skill and wisdom and helped to end the Cold War, I had a very high opinion of him. In my mind, he had moved from a "charming incompetent" to a "wise and skillful statesman."

Why Russians Do Not Smile

From Konstantin's Russian Blog:
When you live in Siberia in a small rural commune you should be very distrustful of every stranger. Moreover – strangers should feel immediately that you are hostile towards them. Only when a stranger proves beyond doubt that (1) he wants to belong to the commune, (2) he accepts all laws and traditions of this particular commune, (3) he can be trusted; only then he is accepted. And an accepted member of the commune enjoys so much trust, friendliness, openheartedness and sincerity that is very surprising to Europeans and who think that Russian openness is over the top.

Who is Richard Parsons?

From This 'n That:
Richard Parsons, chairman and CEO of Time-Warner, one of the largest corporations in the world. Richard Parsons, attorney, admired and mentored by Nelson Rockefeller. Richard Parsons, with virtually no banking experience, turned a savings bank from failure to success. Richard Parsons, an intellectually talented man of high character, aspirations and achievement, happens to be African American.

Yet, This 'n' That would bet its last dollar that not a single young, African American, male or female, knows of his existence. Let alone what he does for a living. The media and its skewed focus on African American sports figures, must accept much of the blame for not holding just as bright a light on Richard Parsons as it does on Shaquille O'Neal. Still, some of the responsibility must fall on our educators. It is of the utmost importance to begin to affect African American children as soon as they become aware, somewhat, of what is happening in the world. It is the time when they are most impressionable. Kindergarten would be a good place to begin to inform them of people like Richard Parsons as a person to admire and emulate.

More Axis-Islamist Historical Links

This time in an ICG report on Indonesian extremists, cited by Belgravia Dispatch.
One issue that is only touched on peripherally here but is discussed in far greater detail in other ICG reports, is that Dar ul-Islam grew out of the Indonesian Hezbollah, an Islamist militia formed during World War 2 by the Japanese to assist them in their conquest of Indonesia alongside the "anti-colonialist" Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI) puppet government under Sukarno. While the links between World War 2-era Islamists (notably the Mufti of Jerusalem) and the Nazis are reasonably well-known, I'm surprised the ties between the Japanese and the Indonesian Islamists hasn't come under more scrutiny given that while Islamist SS units like the 13th Hanjar division and Ostmusselmanische SS regiment were destroyed at the conclusion of the war, JI is a direct organizational descendant of the Indonesia Hezbollah.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Eurasianism Explained

What is Eurasianism? Dr. Aleksandr Gelyevitch Dugin, founder of the International Eurasian Movement, attempted to explain the ideological prospects and tendencies for this Russian geopolitical movement -- "not a party," he insisted -- last Wednesday night, at Johns Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Since I had lived in Moscow and Central Asia, and had heard about it, I was very interested to have a chance to meet the primary theoretician of a school of thought that some say is close to that of the Kremlin. The event was hosted by Johns Hopkins professors Fred Starr and Bruce Parrott, and drew a full house of Russianists and Eurasianists. There were representatives from some former Soviet states, as well. I happened to sit next to a charming Georgian-American businessman and International Relations professor, who donated some truly delicious wine for the evening's reception. A packed house wanted to hear what Dugin had to say.
Dugin explained the historical roots of Eurasianism in the particularities of Russian identity. That is, Russians are not fully European, nor Asian. They are Eurasian people, rebutting Kipling's doggerel verse, because Russians live where East in fact meets West. Dugin covered the history of Russia from the adoption of Orthodoxy to the chaos of the Yeltsin years, and explained that Russia needed a new identity, and Eurasianism could provide it. However, Eurasianism was not in fact new, rather the traditional belief of the Russian masses, who had a special place. It was something that he, as an Old Believer, knew would promote religious tolerance. It was based on Sir Halford MacKinder's concept of "Land Power" rather than sea power. It was rooted in the sense that Russia must counter-balance the West, a desire for a multi-polar and particularist world, rather than a universal world. In this, it traced its pedigree to those who resisted universal Catholicism in favor of particularist Orthodoxy after the fall of Constantinople.In today's world, Eurasianism--a descendant of pan-Slavism and Greater Russianism--preserves a special mission for Russia. This sense of mission is necessary for a great nation, and Russia has always had one, whether Christian or Communist. Dugin believes that America also has a great mission, the spread of universal democratic and free market values, but that there are other missions possible. There is more to life than materialism and freedom, according to Dugin. There are spiritual and communal needs that the West cannot provide, so Eurasianism has a chance to offer what Americanism and globalism cannot. Many people don't want democracy imposed by force, they fear chaos, and don't want to lose their communal identities. A multi-polar world will permit more of that sort of freedom than a unipolar one, he believes.
Dugin explained that under a Eurasianist scheme, each civilization would have its own sphere of influence. Russia would have the Eurasian continent, protected by its own version of the "Monroe Doctrine." China and Japan would enjoy condominium over the Pacific. The EU would have Western and Central Europe. The United States would provide an umbrella for North and South America. Thus, a Neoconservative project of unipolarity could be resisted by Eurasianist-led multipolarity. Dugin's analysis of Kremlin politics was insightful, pointing out that "Orange" liberal democracy is associated with chaos. He said that the future is unimaginable without Putin, that the person of Putin is the Status Quo in Russia. Eurasianism, he argued, provides an "ideocracy" that allows Russia to move beyond a cult of personality.
Dugin's ideas appear to be based on a traditional geopolitical world-view, rooted in the control of land. His economic backgound seemed a bit vague. At one point, Dugan claimed oil revenues were not real wealth, because the money just came out of a hole in the ground. I'm sure the Rockefeller family, as well as the Saudi kings, would be surprised to learn that their money wasn't worth anything. Perhaps it is because Dugin, a former leader of the National Bolsheviks, still holds on to Marx's Labor Theory of Value (he talked about the need for nationalization, as well). Eurasianism has explanatory power, it is how many Russians view the world. But it doesn't explain how the world really works. Only how Russians would like it to work.
As Texans say, I wouldn't bet the ranch on Eurasianism. Russia needs to come up with something a little more sophisticated and realistic. For, as my Georgian seatmate turned and said to me at the end of Dugin's explanation of Eurasianism: "It means Russian domination."

Friday, October 07, 2005

British Council Not Playing Cricket?

Following up on the news story from Kommersant about Vladimir Putin investigaing the British Council in Moscow, I received an email from David Blackie, who publishes information about English language courses in competition with the Council. He seems to think there might be some unfair competition going on...

A Peace to End All Peace

History explains a lot. David Fromkin's book on the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the division of the spoils by the Great Powers following World War I is just fascinating. Each past controversy had a contemporary parallel--Israel, the Palestine Question, Egypt Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Cacauses, Turkestan, Russia, France, Germany, and even the Sudan. Not to mention the complicating role of the United States' desire to make the world safe for democracy. Everything we read about in the headlines nowadays seems to have happened before, between 1918 and 1924. The characters are memorable, T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, Chaim Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ibn Saud, Kemal Ataturk, Clemenceau, and Sir Mark Sykes, among others. It reads like a novel, is filled with scholarly footnotes that are fascinating in themselves and explains why Satayana said "those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it..."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Miami Opening for Agustin Blazquez's New Documentary

Agustin reminded us that he's going to Miami to show the film that PBS and CBS won't broadcast, on October 22nd.

Here's his announcement:
"Filmmaker Agustin Blazquez has powerfully drawn the connection between corporate crime and the destruction of freedom."

James Lieber, Author and Lawyer

Corporate corruption in America at the highest levels exposed!
What went on behind the scenes of the Elian Gonzalez affair.
What CBS's 60 Minutes won't tell.


(with Spanish subtitles)
produced & directed by Agustin Blazquez

Saturday, October 22, 2005 at 8 p.m.

Presented by Miami Dade College

1508 S.W. 8th Street
Miami, Florida
305 644-3307

COVERING CUBA 4: The Rats Below available through also available COVERING CUBA 3: Elian the real story of injustice and deception by the U.S. government and the American media.

Giuliani for President!

Roger L. Simon tipped us off that Hizzoner is thinking out loud about running.
But the first question from audience members was about Giuliani's possible return to public office.

Asked if he had any "political visions," Giuliani laughed and rubbed his forehead.

"I have some political visions. I don't know what they are yet, they're a little foggy," he said.
I hope he runs as an independent...

LeBoutillier: Bush Blowing Off Conservatives

And John LeBoutillier is mad...
Along the way, the Bush White House has grown arrogant and cocky about the ‘professional conservatives’ - those who make a living off Right Wing causes through fundraising, lobbying, speech-making, writing and TV appearances as ‘Talking Heads.’ Many of these people are on the GOP payroll in one form or another - either as consultants or contract professionals - or indirectly through their perceived proximity to the White House.

These ‘professional conservatives’ have been on the Bush bandwagon since 1999; they have stuck with him all the way. So no wonder the White House figured they could count on them - no matter what?

But - alas - some of these ‘professionals’ are going public with their disappointment or disgust over the Miers pick. And it is this public ‘separation’ from the White House that is the most revealing aspect of the Miers selection:

It tells us that the Bush Presidency is deteriorating right in front of our eyes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

American Space Millionaire Goes on TV

According to, Greg Olsen, the American tourist on a Russian Soyuz space tour (3 spacewalks, 10 days room and board inclusive, at the International Space Station) said: "Welcome to space,We’re lucky to have any communications at all..."

Bull Moose: Bush Blinked on Miers Nomination

Bull Moose, who is wise to the ways of Washington, interprets Bush's new Supreme Court pick as a sign of weakness:
Alas, the Democrats have the luxury of avoiding coming to grips with their judicial dilemma because President Bush blinked with the Miers nomination. He also potentially deflated his base for the '06 election. While evangelical Christians are kvelling over Miers, most conservatives are kvetching.

George Will, a prominent reality based conservative even suggested that the President is an unreflective rube,

"He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about
competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections."

The Moose thinks that Mr. Will is no longer on the White House Christmas card list!
Righties are right - this is an issue that largely works for them. Democrats should thank the President for betraying his most loyal supporters.

Cooking Paella at the "Taste of Bethesda"

Continuing the Latin theme, here's a picture of some chefs stirring the Paella pot at last weekend's Taste of Bethesda food fair. It struck me that a giant Spanish paella dish looks a lot like a giant Uzbek plov dish, and that a culinary history links the East to the West, thanks to the Moorish kings and Tamerlane, no doubt. But where did rice pilaf originate? I'll have to look that up.

BTW, Paella is a lot less greasy than plov, IMHO.

Miguel Osuna's "Maelstrom"

I saw this picture at the Mirrors Exhibition at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC. The exhibit featured Mexican artists living in the USA. I enjoyed the way the Miguel Osuna used the Los Angeles freeways to make an almost abstract expressionist design. It was moving, and the title was nice. The exhibit was interesting, and the building just beautiful, with a four-story mural in the main stairway. If you are ever in DC, it is definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

5765:That Was The Year That Was

From Haaretz's Rosh Hashana Magazine. L'Shanah Tovah!

Tashkent Biennale Opens

It's even more exotic than Venice. The Tashkent Biennale has opened in Uzbekistan, showcasing modern art , a number featuring Central Asian themes.. The opening has not come without criticism. Here's a critical quote from's story:
A lot of pieces displayed at Biennale 2005 were known to general public since Art-Conversion Exhibition Constellation this spring, arranged with the help from the Swiss Bureau of Cooperation in an abandoned workshop in Tashkent. Solemnly opened by Tursunali Kuziyev, Chairman of the Academy of Arts, was suddenly closed on the authorities' order two days later. There were the rumors then that the exhibition was closed because of Vyacheslav Akhunov's "political" installations. Neither was Akhunov permitted to participate in Biennale'2005.

"I was outlawed for criticism of the Academy upper echelons in independent media outlets, and for my views on the March revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the May 13 events in Andizhan," Akhunov told Ferghana.Ru news agency.

According to Akhunov, the Academy chose artists and pieces for Biennale'2005 from the point of view of political reliability of artists and "neutrality" of their work (this latter is not supposed to dwell on problems of Uzbekistan or Central Asia). Even though a lot of gifted young artists participate in Biennale'2005, Akhunov said that it reminded him of a "toothless shark".

Asked what pieces he himself would have presented, the artist mentioned his cycle Return Of The Forgotten Corps - motives of Vasily Vereschagin's Let Them Come, Apotheosis Of War, etc. dated 1871-1874.


Dr. Andrea Berg on the NGO Crisis in Central Asia

Dr. Andrea Berg, a senior researcher at the Institute of Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg was in Washington today, to talk about "The Tensions between Authoritarian Rulers and International Organizations in Central Asia" at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Dr. Berg knows what she is talking about. Here is the conclusion from her paper on Uzbekistan's NGO problem, called "Encountering Transition in Uzbekistan":
The incentives and desired possibilities of financial aid have resulted in a growing number of NGOs and NGO activities in Uzbekistan. Due to artificial conditions, most NGOs are not grass-rooted or embedded in their environment. Instead of focusing on local support, they only intensify their relations with foreign donors. In my opinion, this is a dangerous starting point for the future when foreign assistance declines and the aid caravan moves on to the next region of interest. The situation in East Central Europe has already reached this point. McMahon observed that in Poland “in the last few years declining international support for the region has contributed to substantial problems among women’s groups.” While focusing on donor priorities, NGOs in Uzbekistan run the risk of losing the chance to develop ideas based on their own experience and background.

Although some NGO representatives criticize donor activities, they are dependent on grants and assistance. Few of them consider their target group’s needs and desires. Donor agencies stimulate this tendency. For now, they lack diligence, because, to a great extent, they work with the most visible and well-known NGOs. On the one hand, the “success” of these NGOs results from good networking and is connected with the assumption that “development” or “civil society” is somehow countable. Representatives of those NGOs reinforce the importance of quantity by proudly talking about the number of training seminars they conducted or the number of people who took part in them or who called their hotline. On the other hand, donor agencies prefer to trust those they consider to be “leaders” and “brokers”, and resources are routinely placed in a single individual’s hands.

Although non-governmental organizations are important, they are not the only actors in the fairly active Uzbekistan society. Networks of kin, neighbors, and colleagues are manifestations of shared socio-economic needs and common strategies to cope with these needs. Instead of only focusing on cooperation with non-governmental organizations, foreign agencies should include local groups, communities, and networks in their activities. While non-governmental organizations are a relatively new phenomenon in Uzbekistan and often do not reach beyond the urban context, local networks and other groups represent an indigenous kind of interest group, whether economic, social, or religious. Only if foreign organizations as well as NGOs learn to rely on already existing local ideas and strategies will aid become rooted and productive. By cooperating with all actors and combining their potential, foreign aid could do a great deal to gain and establish vital projects tailored for the respective local context.

In her Wilson Center talk today, Dr. Berg gave a thorough rundown of problems between NGOs and governments in the aftermath of the Rose and Orange revolutions. She had some interesting perspectives:

* KRYGYSTAN: The so-called "Tulip Revolution" was not a regime change, but a power change. It did not fundamentally alter the patrimonial networks in Kyrgyzstan, but did destabilize the central authority's ability to allocate resources. Result: destabilization. The country may be worse off than it was before--and no more democratic. There is now, according to Berg "a fragile security situation" due to the erosion of the national state. Any future problems for Uzbekistan in the Ferghana Valley might adversely affect Kyrgyztan. "The future looks dark."

*UKRAINE: Central Eurasian Studies Society conference-goers in Boston, American scholars of Central Asia, appeared to be unaware that Viktor Yushchenko's wife was an American citizen (now she is a Ukrainian citizen) who was a former US State Department employee--a fact widely reported in Germany, that affected CIS perceptions of the event.

*KAZAKHSTAN: The lower house of parliament has passed the draft of two new laws limiting the activities of NGOs, including re-registation and government approval requirements. President Nazarbayev submitted both laws for review to Kazakhstan's constitutional council on 13 July 2005.

*UZBEKISTAN: While she did not speak about the Andijan events, Berg did note that it has become increasingly difficult for Western NGOs to operate in Uzbekistan. She said that although the restrictions are widespread, analysts argue they were aimed at the Open Society Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House. All money must go through two banks, either the National Bank of Uzbekistan or Asaka Bank, so it may be traced. She quoted a headline from a newspaper article symptomatic of the whole discussion, that the "Georgia revolt carried the mark of Soros."

*RUSSIA: Preparing laws similar to those of Central Asian to restrict NGO activity.

*TURKMENISTAN: One additional problem is a change in the education law that now ends schooling after the 9th grade, which hurts efforts by the Aga Khan University, American University of Central Asia, and so on, to recruit Turkmen students.

*TAJIKISTAN: Here it is quiet as far as NGO legislation is concerned. However, there are big problems and politically it is anything but quiet, Berg said.

*OSCE: Nine former Soviet republics signed a declaration on July 3rd, 2004 complaining of OSCE double standards, violations of national sovereignty, and various objections to field centers. After a decade of cooperation, the statement marked the beginning of a period of confrontation.

*EU: Berg felt the EU decision to impose an arms embargo on Uzbekistan and put visa restrictions on government officials may further intensify problems in relations with Western NGOs.

Berg made a very good impression, quoting an anonymous Kyrgyz about nostalgia for the USSR: "In those days, we did not disturb the state, and the state did not disturb us." Berg said that as a former citized of the German Democratic Republic, she understood the sentiment.

If only other representatives of NGOs had Berg's understanding, I'd feel a little better about the future of Western relations with Central Asia.

She is also responsive to questions, unlike the International Crisis Group, which has never answered my inquiries.

For example: When I asked Berg whether any Americans had in fact been involved in the Andijan uprising, as the Uzbek government charges, or if the Uzbek government is making it up, she said she did not know but would check it out and get back to me. She told me that Human Rights Watch currently has an observer at the trial in Tashkent, and that she will ask her what the story is.

So, stay tuned...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Mark Steyn on What Islamists Want

From The Australian:
Bali three years ago and Bali three days ago light up the sky: they make unavoidable the truth that Islamism is a classic "armed doctrine"; it exists to destroy. The reality of Bali's contribution to Indonesia's economic health is irrelevant. The jihadists would rather that the country be poorer and purer than prosperous and pluralist. For one thing, it's richer soil for them. If the Islamofascists gain formal control of Indonesia, it won't be a parochial, self-absorbed dictatorship such as Suharto's but a launching pad for an Islamic superstate across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Can they pull it off? The reality is that there are more Muslim states than a half-century ago, many more Muslims within non-Muslim states, and many more of those Muslims are radicalised and fundamentalist. It's not hard to understand. All you have to do is take them at their word. As Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

That's why they blew up Bali in 2002, and last weekend, and why they'll keep blowing it up. It's not about Bush or Blair or Iraq or Palestine. It's about a world where everything other than Islamism lies inruins.
(ht lgf)

Putin Prosecutes British Council

According to Kommersant, Russian prosecutors are bringing tax evasion charges against the Moscow branch of the British Council, alleging that it is running a language-school business that pretends to be a charity. When we lived in Moscow, it certainly was a widely spread tale that the British Council made money with language courses--and expatriate Americans said they did a tidy business by underselling the UK government. The British Council had a high profile, unlike the American Center. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It may be a show trial, as the article suggests, to goad the UK into stopping support for Chechen rebels. On the other hand, there may be some Russian-owned language schools that don't like the competition. It seems big money is at stake here.

And to think that I taught in Moscow for $100/a month's worth of Russian lessons...

Ask Harriet Miers

Here's a 2004 Q & A with President Bush's new nominee to the Supreme Court, from the White House website.

Pajamas Media Profiles Nathan Hamm

I write for Nathan's Central Asia blog,, so am biased. That said, this is an interesting interview. We've never met, and I learned a lot about my webmaster by reading this interview with Pajamas Media. I think Registan is probably the best website covering Central Asian news for Western audiences right now. Nathan deserves all the good p.r. he's getting...

NYT: Russia Now "In"...

The NY Times Sunday Styles section declares that Russia is the new Brazil. Slavs are the new Latins. And quotes Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg's to show that everything Russian is suddenly fashionable:
Ms. Karan was not just being unusually kind to a Russian newcomer. She was picking up on a fall trend. From fashion to film, from art to sports, New York is having a Slavic moment. Fifty years ago such a notion might have elicited images of drab clothes and empty stores. But the Russia in the air today is of a more opulent post-Soviet world, peopled by entrepreneurial businessmen, ambitious socialites, emerging artists and exotic beauties.

The moment started in early September, when tennis fans at the U.S. Open became taken with a seeming horde of young female Russian players, nicknaming them the "ovas" for their similar sounding last names. Then came New York Fashion Week, with the catwalks dominated by models from Russia and Ukraine. Next the Guggenheim Museum opened "Russia!," billed as the largest collection of Slavic art to be shown outside Russia since the end of the cold war.

Meanwhile the fall clothes from Anna Sui, J. Mendel, Oscar de la Renta and other designers are heavy with Slavic accents like embroidered peasant blouses, Cossack boots and military greatcoats out of "War and Peace."

"A few years ago New York was all about Brazilian models, Brazilian music, Brazilian thong bikinis, and everyone was drinking caipirinhas," said Natalia Zimmer, a senior men's wear designer at Marc Jacobs who moved here from Ukraine in 1997. "But everybody's always looking for the next new thing, and maybe the next new thing is Russia."

THERE'S an explanation for this, at least among fashion-forward Manhattanites.
"New Yorkers love Russians because they're just like us," said Diane von Furstenberg, whose father was born in Czarist Russia. "They have so much energy and thirst and the desire to make things happen."

Russian immigrants have steeped themselves in New York's melting pot ever since the first major wave of them came to the city in the late 19th century. But never before have they seemed so visible, successful and media-savvy.

It has taken almost 15 years since the collapse of Communism for this new breed to light up New York's radar. A few are jet-set visitors who made their fortunes in Russia during the early 1990's, when the government privatized industries, making assets like oil refineries and steel mills available to a select few at fire sale prices. With their places now secure at home, they have turned to New York to buy apartments, do business, collect art and finance cultural institutions.

The visitors are cross-pollinating with the rising stars of a new generation of post-Soviet immigrants who grew up in New York, coming of age with "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons."

But whether they are American citizens or frequent fliers here, this new wave is a far cry from the cartoon figures many New Yorkers imagine when they hear the word "Russian." They are neither insular denizens of Brighton Beach swaddled in head scarves, bull-necked mobsters in track suits, nor overdressed New Russian nouveaux riches on wild spending sprees up and down Madison Avenue.

Maybe this sudden fashion shift has something to do with the price of oil reaching $70 a barrel? In any case, perhaps I'll visit New York City soon, to dine out on my Moscow teaching experience...