Sunday, October 29, 2006

Calling in sick...

I've developed a bad cold, as has someone I know. It seems to be going around Washington. Result: can't think straight. So, taking Richard Nixon's advice never to make any important decisions when sick, I'm taking some time off from the blog...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vladimir Putin Speaks... Russian citizens, in his 3-hour annual call-in show on October 25th. Among his interesting comments were these:
SERGEI BRILYOV: Yulia, please, more questions from the phone centre.

YULIA PANKRATOVA: We have a caller from Moscow. Hello, hello!

TATIANA INGAIAN: Hello, good afternoon! I am Tatiana Ingaian.

Mr President! Harassment or sexual harassment and violence against women exists in many countries and is also a serious problem in Russia. Sometimes certain facts about sexual violence and harassment become known, such as in the case of the Israeli President. You recently spoke about this but, unfortunately, I did not quite understand your position on this problem. In your opinion, is it necessary to fight this ugly phenomenon, violence against women? What do you think about this? Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Violence should always be punished, any kind of violence – concerning women, concerning men and especially concerning children. It is always criminal law that regulates these serious crimes.

With regards to women, their rights require special protection. Incidentally, in connection with resolving the demographic problem we emphasised that we must elevate women’s social status – I already said that today. Of course it is absolutely inadmissible to use a position of dependency to force a woman into sexual relations, excuse me, or other things (and we do not need to be uncomfortable here, we must talk about things directly as they are).

With regards to what happened in Israel, then this is a special case. Ten women have declared that the President raped them and just recently corruption charges were brought against the Prime Minister. With what is that connected? In my opinion, it is connected with the fact – and many experts will agree with me – that a significant part of Israeli society is unhappy with the way their leaders handled the conflict with Lebanon. Many people consider that what happened amounts to a defeat and they immediately started to attack President, the Prime Minister, and the head of the General Staff. In my opinion, using instruments such as protecting women’s rights to resolve political issues that are unconnected with this problem is absolutely inadmissible. And this is because it actually discredits the struggle for women’s rights, an important task in and of itself.

And with regards to the event that you just mentioned, it is true that I did address this issue when the Israeli Prime Minister was here as my guest. However, journalists had already left the room and heard in passing something that was said there. Then they started to discuss it. To prevent any further discussions I have just now openly stated my position to you. With respect to the media representatives I can say that when I worked for a completely different organisation at the time we joked that: they are sent to spy but they eavesdrop. Not so nice a behavior.
You can read the full transcript here..

Judith Miller on Kurdistan

Speaking of Iraq, in today's Wall Street Journal, Judith Miller reports from Kurdistan, where she interviewed president Barzani:
Mr. Barzani is not shy about offering advice to Washington. The U.S. needs to revise its policies because "the existing strategy is not effective," he says. American forces could be reduced--perhaps by half--he said, but only when Iraqi forces are ready to restore order. But that will not happen, he warns, until the U.S. permits the Iraqi government to rid itself of the "terrorists, chauvinists and extremists" in its ranks who condone and "openly incite the violence on TV" that is destroying what remains of the capital and the country. He refuses to name names. But other Kurds point to such figures as Salah Mutlaq, an extremist Sunni leader, and aides to Moqtada al-Sadr, who heads a radical Shia militia.

"You have a different culture; you're a different people," Mr. Barzani said. "With America's mentality and approach and regulations, we cannot win like this. There must be decisive action so the government can enforce the law and restore its prestige." This Barzani, confident and candid, is different from the reticent figure I first interviewed 15 years ago in his mountain fastness of Barzan. Although plainspoken, "Kak Massoud"--a respectful but affectionate "Mister" in Kurdish--was reluctant then to offer an American journalist a frank assessment of his frustrations and aspirations. Not so the man who has evolved into "President Barzani" of Kurdistan, who, based on an informal power-sharing agreement with his rival, President Talibani of Iraq, is determined to seize this historic opportunity to advance his people's interests.

Just as "Kak" has become "president," the Kurds have gone from resistance to nation-building, with all the challenges such a transformation implies. Mr. Barzani has complained that while he and his Pesh Merga knew how to fight, it was "easier to destroy two dams than to build one power plant." Kurdistan is changing, in substance as well as style. The capital is no longer called Erbil (the Arabic), but "Howler," its Kurdish name. While Mr. Barzani, age 60, still wears the pantaloon, cummerbund, tight jacket and twirled turban favored by traditional Kurds, Western-style business suits--expensive labels, at that--are favored by Nechervan Barzani, his nephew and the energetic 40-year-old prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Gone are the refugee tents--except for the thousands of Sunni Arab refugees from Baghdad, who, along with some 7,000 Christian families, have migrated here for safety. Temporary structures are being replaced by new brick and cement houses and apartment buildings--among them many lavish "castles," as the Kurds call these houses nestled in the hills surrounding Erbil. Expensive glass office buildings are springing up throughout the region. Apartments are priced at between $100,000 and $200,000--prohibitively expensive; and yet several of these are sold out.

"Kurds have money," Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani told me. "But until recently, they lacked the confidence to invest." If the junior Mr. Barzani is correct, Kurdistan is literally exploding with confidence and new projects befitting its ambitions: Almost $2 billion in Turkish trade and investment--the result, partly, of his outreach to Ankara--is financing the construction the Middle East's largest new conference center, a new international airport, hotels, parks, bridges, tunnels, overpasses, a refinery and an electrical plant. The Kurdistan Development Council is even advertising Kurdistan as a tourist destination. There are over 70 direct flights a week to the region's two airports from the Middle East and Europe. But Kurdistan's infrastructure is still woefully antiquated, a legacy of Saddam's privation and the ruinous civil war between the clans of Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani from 1994 to 1998. Most cities still provide only two to three hours of electricity a day. The rest comes from private generators, which the poor can ill afford.

Friday, October 27, 2006

No Exit from Iraq

Last night, I was invited to a party at the Turkish Embassy in celebration of Turkish Republic Day, declared October 29th some 83 years ago by Kemal Ataturk. It seemed like a scene out of a movie, Secret Service cars with flashing lights, the embassy just down the street from the minaret of Washington's Islamic Center (not guarded by any police or barriers, interestingly). I walked in as two limousines arrived--just in front of me, the Indian Ambassador; just behind me the Uzbek ambassador. The very international crowd reminded me of accounts of the non-aligned movement (although Turkey was a member of NATO). A Greek-American attorney told me he had no personal animosity towards the Turks, that Greeks and Turks get along just fine today--then added that his mother-in-law had waded to a small boat through the surf with her belongings on her back when he house was burned down during riots in Izmir. But he had no problem with Turks today."My grandmother cooked Greek food," he told me. "It's the same as Turkish."

I found myself chatting with the Cambodian ambassador, who knew two people I had known in New York when I worked with a group trying to save Boat People--Sichan Siv, now a businessman in Texas after serving in the first Bush administration; and Sydney Schanberg, once a NY Times reporter, then a columnist, then a Newsday columnist and now I don't know what he does. He told me that Cambodia has a successful garment industry, now worth some $1.8 billion annually, manufacturing clothes for Nike and Wal-Mart. Given the suffering that country has seen, this type of manufacturing is surely a good side to globalization. He said Cambodia wanted good relations with all countries--including the USA and China. A small country like Cambodia, he explained, cannot afford to have bad relations with a big neighbor like China.

The most somber discussion was with a brilliant young Turkish diplomat, who had served at the UN and in Washington, who explained to me that there were no easy answers for the US in Iraq. Turkey had ruled the region for hundreds of years--with colonels, not four-star generals--and knew that there were no simple solutions to the ethnic, nationalist, and religious conflicts. The region could be ruled, managed, pacified, administered, it seemed--but not "solved."

For example, a much-discussed proposal by Peter Galbraith (among others) to break Iraq into three nations--a divide-and-conquer plan of sorts--is just not acceptable to Turkey. Turkey could not allow Kurdistan to foment rebellion in Turkish territory via the PKK. I got the sense that Turkey would not allow it. Well, without Kurdistan, there certainly won't be an independent Shia-stan or Sunni-stan. It is, as businessfolk say, a "deal-killer." Further, all the neighbors of Iraq are opposed to the division of Iraq. This makes sense, because in a geopolitical sense Iraq is a true "buffer state" that keeps Shia iran from rubbing against Sunni Arab states--and Turkey from doing the same.

Likewise, the rapid departure of American forces from Iraq is not acceptable, for the same reason: Americans now provide a buffer. Remove the buffer, and conflict will escalate--perhaps into regional war. Turkey remembers the Iran-Iraq war with horror, because not only did the country accept refugees (including Kurds, acccording to my conversation partner), but it also damaged the Turkish economy, which had previously depended on trade with both Iran and Iraq. The Turkish economy has recovered, and Turkey does not want another regional war.

So, said my Turkish interlocutor, there are no solutions for America--Iraq is like Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist drama: No Exit. The Turks were there for hundreds of years, after all, during the Ottoman empire.

if he is right, and he certainly made convincing case, then perhaps a first step for Democrats and Republicans might be to take this message seriously, and stop looking for "exit strategies." Instead, America might want to talk about "coping strategies," in order to treat Iraq more like a chronic inflammation and less like an acute disease...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

NATO Kills Afghan Civilians

During post-Ramadan raids, according to The Guardian:
Major Luke Knitig, a spokesman for the international security assistance force, said 60 dead bodies had been discovered, but it was "very unclear" whether they were civilians or insurgents.

The possible civilian deaths, which a UN statement said were in the village of Nangawat, happened during Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan.

Bismallah Afghanmal, a Kandahar provincial council member, told the Associated Press that between 80 and 85 people had been killed. A villager, Karim Jan, said between 60 and 70 had died.

"It was late at night - that might be the reason they didn't know where to bomb," Agha Lalai, another member of the provincial council, told Reuters. "They have bombed residential houses."

Witnesses told Reuters that 25 homes were demolished during four to five hours of bombing.

Maj Knitig said Nato troops had been engaged in heavy fighting against insurgents in three separate incidents in Panjwayi on Tuesday. The battle included air strikes.

He said that while there was a confirmed insurgent death toll of 48, that number could eventually be as high as 70, adding that insurgents had been attacking bases providing security for aid projects in the area.

In a statement, the UN mission in Afghanistan said it was concerned by reports that a "great number of civilians may have died during the conduct of military operations".

Openly Cheating in the World Series

After seeing the pine tar on Detroit Tiger pitcher Kenny Rogers' hand, someone I know stopped watching this year's World Series. Baltimore Sun sportswriter Peter Schmuck explains:
Was Kenny Rogers flouting the rules of baseball if he had pine tar or some other dark, sticky substance on the palm of his left hand in the early innings of a strong Game 2 performance at Comerica Park?

The rule book would answer clearly in the affirmative, and the prescribed punishment would have been a suspension if St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had asked the umpires to check Rogers' hand and they had, indeed, found something other than infield dirt.

La Russa chose instead to send a message to the Tigers' postseason hero through the umpiring crew:

Whatever you're doing, stop doing it.

The decision not to make a federal case out of it put La Russa on the hot seat in St. Louis, because he might have passed up an opportunity to get Rogers out of a game he absolutely dominated for eight innings. But the fact that La Russa had no appetite for gamesmanship in that situation might have been because he knows something you don't want to know.

There is an acceptable level of rule-bending in major league baseball that is largely overlooked because it is almost universal.

Tigers closer Todd Jones came right out and admitted yesterday that he has - in the past - used a little pine tar to improve his grip on the baseball under certain conditions. I guess if you're going to admit to substance abuse at the World Series, this probably is the best way to do it, but Jones chose his words just carefully enough to shed some light on the situation without incriminating anyone.

"I had a guy I played with go to another team," Jones said. "He came back and said, 'If you guys check me [for pine tar], I'm going to drill every one of you because you didn't mind it when I was here.'"

La Russa said during yesterday's news conference at Busch Stadium that "pitchers use some kind of sticky stuff to get a better grip from the first day in spring training to the last side session of the World Series." And even though he claimed the Cardinals' coaching staff had seen video evidence that Rogers might have had sticky fingers in a couple of earlier outings, La Russa said he didn't consider it "over the line."

In short, there is cheating and then there is cheating, a distinction that seems harmless enough when a pitcher is just trying to get a better grip on a cold night, but represents the kind of moral relativism that can justify just about anything.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ian Buruma on Van Gogh's Murder in Amsterdam

Monday night, appearing on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer (RealPlayer link).

John LeBoutillier: Bush is Incompetent

From Boot's Blasts:
9) The Bush Administration has handled foreign policy with the same level of competence they handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The incompetence from the top down has been shocking. And it is our soldiers and their families who are paying a steep price for this;

10) The President says we are staying until “we achieve victory.” OK...that sounds great. What exactly is this ‘victory’? Who do we want to win? The Sunnis of Saddam? Or the Shi’a of Iran?

11) All of this is why only a quarter of our fellow Americans remain steadfast that things will go well in Iraq. And make no mistake about it: the crumbling of the GOP lately is not due to Mark Foley’s perversions; it is due to Iraq and the realization that this war is a disaster for our country.

12) The Democrats were willing partners with GW Bush and the GOP in getting us into a war we need not have started. Containment would have worked; after 9/11, all the world was with us. We could have done to Saddam what we did to the Soviets for 40 years: starved him out until his rotten regime crumbled from within. We could then have spent our resources in getting Osama and wiping out the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Daniel Pipes: Change Course in Iraq

The Bush administration slogans have shifted from "Mission Accomplished," to "Stay the Course," to "Finish the Job." Now, Daniel Pipes suggests moving American troops from cities to desert bases under another motto: "Stay the course – but change the course."
The situation in Iraq has become a source of deep domestic antagonism in the coalition countries, especially the United States and Great Britain, but it can be finessed by noting that the stakes there are actually quite minor, then adjusting means and goals on this basis. Do you, dear non-Iraqi reader, have strong feelings about the future of Iraq? I strongly suspect not.

Iraqis want possession of their country; and peoples in countries providing troops serving in Iraq have wearied of the hopeless effort to transform it into something better than it is. Both aspirations can be satisfied by redeploying coalition troops to the desert, where they can focus on the essential tasks of maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity, keeping the fossil fuels flowing, and preventing humanitarian disasters.

Malkin: "CNN Wants US to Lose..."

Flying on JetBlue, I watched Bill O'Reilly debate CNN's Iraq war coverage with Michelle Malkin. He defended CNN against her charges that the network favors the Iraqi terrorists and insurgents, and chooses to show propaganda in order to demoralize and defeat the US. I couldn't find the video on YouTube but did find the official O'Reilly summary:
"CNN wants us to lose this war," Malkin declared. "It's not just the airing of this sniper video, which undermines troop morale, but there's a whole history at CNN of choosing the wrong side. If you're going to run this kind of video, you have to be very mindful of being used as a tool."
O'Reilly pooh-poohed Malkin (I don't see his quote in the official summary, something like, "I can't believe Larry King wants us to lose"). But I'd say it is not impossible to believe that Anderson Cooper--an alumnus of the University of Hanoi in North Vietnam--might not want to see an American victory.

In any case, there is no need to treat this question as a guessing game. One way to settle this question might be for O'Reilly to invite CNN's anchors and executives onto his program and ask them directly: "Who do you want to win in Iraq?"

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

While visiting Los Angeles last weekend, I went to see Cherry Jones starring as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre. Doug Hughes' production was pretty good--a thousand times better than the horror show we walked out of at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. Sort of George Bernard Shaw meets Playhouse 90 (can the HBO/PBS version be far behind?) The play seemed extremely timely--given Mark Foley's congressional page scandal. And the audience seemed to include a number of alumni of the Catholic school system, who laughed knowingly at references that were opaque to this non-parochial school grad.

Curiously, although reviews had given an impression that the play left matters of guilt up in the air, it seemed to me that Sister Aloysius did in fact catch a child molester--and that her doubts at the end were related to a Church heirarchy that appeared to protect and promote pedophiles. In the play, the accused priest, named Father Flynn (Chris McGarry), goes on to become pastor at another school--much as Mark Foley's priest appears to have been protected.

The conflict appeared to be more between Nuns (good) and Priests (bad). It reminded me of the Washington saying about John F. Kennedy--that the Republicans and Richard Nixon had support from bishops, while the sisters were all for Jack Kennedy. Another meaning for "sisterhood is powerful" I guess. It might be relevant, because the action of the play occurs shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, America's first (and only) Catholic president.

There is another theme, of integration, which is handled in a complex manner. The victim approached by the priest is one of the first students to integrate the formerly all-white school for working class Irish and Italian kids. When Sister Aloysius invites his mother (Adriane Lenox) to discuss the situation, she begs the nun to keep the matter quiet. Interestingly, something similar seems to have actually happened in the Foley case. After that confrontation, Sister Aloysius becomes more determined than ever to "get" the priest.

She does--while keeping it quiet to protect the victim--and then, for the first time in the play, admits she has doubts. For Doubt is about doubt--including doubt about doubt itself...

Monday, October 23, 2006

This 'n That on Hud

This 'n That recommends you add Paul Newman's Hud to your Netflix queue:
Alma, (Patricia Neal) the Bannon's cook and housekeeper, is desired by both Hud and Lonnie. She is devoted to the Bannon's in a way that she keeps to herself. And she conceals her admiration of Hud's masculinity, though repulsive at times. Perhaps she understands the anger brought on by the anguish that Hud works so hard to keep to himself. Where seventeen year old Lonnie expresses his sexuality in a sweetly innocent manner, Hud is overtly aggressive: "The only question I ever ask any woman is" 'What time is your husband coming home?' In the end, it is Hud's attitude toward Alma that completes the dismantling of the Bannon household after the death of Homer.

To coin a cliche, they don't make 'em like this anymore. "Hud" is a near perfect film about an extremely flawed man or men. What major actor today would take the risk that Paul Newman took - to portray a character that no one gives a hoot for? And he is not too far off the attitude of some of our most esteemed leaders in the world of big business and politics today when he says: "Well, I've always thought the law was meant to be interpreted in a lenient manner. Sometimes I lean one way and sometimes I lean the other."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Benjamin Kerstein: The Anti-Chomsky

Here's a link to his website. A sample:
Apparently, while I was on my two week trip to the States, Noam Chomsky died and was resurrected, prompting a grateful puff piece from the New York Times, which appears to have forgiven Chomsky his innumerable slanders against it over the course of his career. When ideological purity is question, personal insults can always be forgiven. The Times, of course, refers to Chomsky as a "scholar", which, in the realm of politics at least, he most certainly isn't, and then prints a flattering portrait of him surrounded by the books which, judging by the man's own writings, he clearly doesn't read.

At a news conference after his spirited address to the United Nations on Wednesday, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela expressed one regret: not having met that icon of the American left, the linguist Noam Chomsky, before his death...[Chavez] urged Americans to read one of Mr. Chomsky’s books instead of watching Superman and Batman movies, which he said “make people stupid.”

One could, of course, say that making people stupid is not nearly as evil as making people stupid while convincing them they are, in fact, extremely intelligent and well informed, which is generally the most common effect of reading Chomsky's books. But I digress, since I find it interesting that the Times would refer to a clearly psychotic statement as "spirited". One doubts they grant the same indulgences to the rantings of say, Pat Buchanan or David Duke. Hitler must have been "spirited" too when he made all those marvelous Nuremburg addresses. No amount of insidious propaganda and leftist conspiracy mongering is, apparently, enough to shock the Times.

Robert Dreyfuss on the Baker-Hamilton Commission

From The Washington Monthly Iht Wikipedia):
But according to all accounts, the Iraq Study Group is Baker's show, with the assembled cast of characters there to give Baker the bipartisan, protective coloration he needs. "Jim Baker is the gatekeeper," one task-force participant told me, insisting on anonymity. "He's by far the most dynamic, and everyone else is intimidated by him." And Baker is keeping his cards very close to his chest. "He's very secretive, he keeps his distance, and he compartmentalizes everything, which is not a bad way to organize a political conspiracy," says another member of one of the working groups.

Several of those involved in the task force point out that Baker is perfect for the job. "First of all, he's close to Bush 41," one of them told me. "Second, Bush 43 owes his presidency to Jim Baker because of the skullduggery in Florida in 2000. And Baker is the consummate consigliere. He's utterly ruthless and very effective at what he does. When they [the Bushes] get into an emergency, they call Baker."

The emergency, in this case, is the collapse of public support for the war in Iraq, the president's catastrophic fall in the polls, the growing calls on the left for a pullout of U.S. forces, and the concern at the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the Pentagon's inability to sustain the presence of 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. "The American people will not allow the United States to stay much longer," a participant in one of the working groups told me. "They're going to demand a phased withdrawal."

Partly because of his penchant for secrecy, no one knows Baker's views on the war, and since 2003 Baker has said little. It is widely believed, however, that Baker is part of the realist-minded, internationalist wing of the Republican Party, whose semi-official spokesman is Scowcroft, Bush 41's national-security adviser. At the time that the task force began its work, in April, The New York Times reported that the idea had the support of President Bush's father. "Baker has had some serious doubts about the war and about the nature of our commitment," Edward S. Walker Jr., the former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who is president of the Middle East Institute, told me. "He seems to be reflective of the part of the Republican Party tied to Scowcroft. And it's natural to think that the whole group around George H.W. Bush is involved in this with Baker."

Anti-Wiki Washingtonians?

A few years ago, R. Emmett Tyrell, then-editor of the American Spectator, published a book called The Conservative Crackup. Basically, it was an indictment of the Republican party for having lost touch with first principles. The other night I found myself invited to a bull session over pizza, mainly concerned with the internet. It struck me that if Bob Tyrell is still out there, he may want to write a sequel. There were all sorts of conservative Washington DC types,ranging from a former senators to a TV celebrity pundit to Congressional staffers to think-tank types to political advocacy specialists and lobbyists. Striking impression one: Not a lot of happiness about the way the President has handled Iraq.

But it also struck me that there was some disconnect between the present Washington insider zeitgeist and the people out there--not only beyond the Beltway, but especially on the internet. When insideres lose touch with outsiders, they get replaced. I think that may be one dimension of this election cycle. Call it the Wiki effect...

While everyone admitted using Google, it was notable that out of maybe a dozen folks, only a couple had anything good to say about Wikipedia. And one of those two was yours truly. The one other Wiki-person also said he used the Google Personal Homepage and added RSS feeds of his favorite blogs and news sites, using Google gadgets. But that's a very small percentage for leadership cadre. The people in the room may have owned Blackberries, but without using Wikipedia and other new media, weren't really connected.

The recent fight between Rush Limbaugh and Instapundit, over ,Glenn Reynold's "Pre-Mortem" explaining the reasons for Republican failures is reflective of the reality that talk-radio has become another form "old media." Dragimol explained Instapundit's case against Repulicans, one that outraged Rush:
Recently Glenn Reynolds, webmaster of, the world's most popular blog site and a conservative made the argument that if Republicans lose, it's because they deserved it.

Rush Limbaugh today struck back with the charge of "Do we deserve to have our taxes raised? Do we deserve a cut and run policy in Iraq? Do we deserve to have endless congressional investigations?"

The argument is strong but I think overlooks one thing -- we do have a Republican President right? Our taxes aren't going to be raised before 2008.

My view is the same as Glenn Reynolds. The Republicans blew it. They became complacent and ignored their constituents. If they lose, I do think they lost because they deserved to lose.

Does that mean I agree with those who think we should have higher taxes or that we should abandon Iraq? No. But the Republicans losing the house (and even the senate) doesn't mean that's going to happen. It gives Republicans two years to clean up their act and make their case in 2008
This is just one symptom of the disconnect between high-feedback system-users and Establishment Washington Republicans. It's a basically reflective of a producer-centered vision (authoritarian) vs. a user-centered vision (libertarian). Interestingly, Rush is not totally on the inside, and while attacking Glenn Reynolds on the air, has simultaneously backtracked on his own blog posts, defending bloggers vis-a-vis newspaper columnists (actually an older debate), in an entry called I'm not at war with conservative bloggers (ht lgf):
RUSH: I knew I was going to do it. I left out some blogger names that I routinely read. One of them is Michelle Malkin, and she's just fabulous and extremely valuable. The American Thinker, which I cite and quote on this program constantly, and Debbie Schlussel-- and I'm sure there are more. Not all of them are on my RSS reader. Some of them I have to go look for. (interruption) What are you shaking your head in there for, Snerdley? "What's the difference between bloggers and columnists?" Today, nothing! It used to be a big deal to be a newspaper columnist, because there weren't many. It used to be a big deal to be a TV anchor, because there were only three. It used to be a big deal to be a commentator on a Sunday show because there weren't many. But now, everybody is one, whether you're published on the Internet or in print. More people are reading the Internet than their newspapers now. I saw that the other day.

Everybody and their uncle is a columnist. Everybody is a columnist somewhere. The very nature is that the whole pie has gotten bigger. It used to be really tough to get a column. I talked to George Will about how he got his at the Washington Post. Meg Greenfield, I think, read a couple of his pieces and suggested that he explore the possibility. It took awhile to get it done in the Washington Post writers group which was the syndicate that he wrote for at the time. But back then, when you were Scotty Reston of the New York Times or Anthony Lewis or Flora Lewis, I mean, you were big when you were in the New York Times because it's the Times and the Washington Post, not local. Some of these guys were syndicated, and they all had huge readership. I think Cal Thomas is the biggest now.

I think Cal Thomas is in more newspapers than any other columnist, but you wouldn't know it because he's ignored by the Drive-By Media and so forth. There's so many of them now that it's not nearly as prestigious as it was. So what defines them today is quality, and that's why I've always said: "In whatever you do, it's content, content, content is what will determine who and what acquires an audience." Content. Not where you are, but what you do. Content, content, content. Because where you are will take care of itself if your content is what it is, because those who are, quote, unquote, the biggest are going to want the best content, which is why quality and content -- be it any kind of programming -- is what determines who ends up with the widest appeal, widest audience, and the greatest opportunity to reach the largest number of people.

Now, is that not the answer you were looking for? You look stunned in there. What were you getting at with the difference between a blogger and a columnist? (interruption) Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. No. In fact, Michelle Malkin, she has a column and she's got two blogs. She's got a blog called Hot Air and she's got a personal blog. They're both excellent.

IMHO, Wikis, Google Personal Homepages, and the like are symbolic of a user-centered user-created "open source" mentality that drives all sorts of independent-minded people dissatisfied with the Establishment these days--and a lot of people in the Establishment, too. If the Washington insiders are anti-Wiki, well, to me it seemed practically a losing strategy, to boot. I think America is tired of party-line, faith-based approaches. They want empirical, practical, and fact-based politics; just as they want empirical, practical, and fact-based Wikipedia. After all, Wikipedia's selling point is that anyone can correct the mistakes.

Yet, to show the Establishmentarian bias of the insiders, one young person said he thought the NY Times was more reliable than Wikipedia--a statement I found simply laughable, given the number of scandals at the paper--from Jayson Blair to recent National Intelligence Estimate kerfuffles. The Washington insiders appeared to be really out of touch. Which, I guess, is why the Founding Fathers came up with the idea of frequent elections for Congress in the first place.

Maybe the thought of political defeat in 2 weeks may help to concentrate the minds of Republicans. Divided government never looked so good...It's sort of like a Wiki--self-correcting.

After that evening, I realized a Wiki on how to win the war in Iraq might come up with better ideas than recycling advice from "wise men of Washington" like James Baker. As I remember quite vividly, bringing in James Baker as campaign manager didn't save Bush 41 from defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992. So, why think he would do any better against the likes of Al Qaeda, the Ba'athists, or Moqtada Al Sadr?

President Bush on Iraq

Flying to LA on JetBlue, I had a real festival of cable TV-watching and NYC television channels --I didn't realize that Ernie Anastos and Chuck Scarborough were still anchoring local news. Not just HGTV and the Food Network, but also BBC America on which Gordon Ramsay's new cooking show--The F-Word (Food)--looks good. And CNBC for stocks, Larry Kudlow (he wants Rumsfeld fired), and Chris Matthews Hardball. Most interesting of all was Bill O'Reilly's long interview with President Bush. It gives you some idea of how the President is thinking. He has difficulty explaining himself, and he may lose Congress, but O'Reilly did a pretty good job getting the guy to open up a little. You can watch it here, on the Fox News website.

89-Year-Old Man Convicted of Killing 10

With his car, in 2003. George Russell Weller, then 86, killed 10 people when he plowed through a farmer's market in Santa Monica in 2003. This was the news on my arrival here in Lost Angeles. Sounds like he may be suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and I don't know why his defense attorneys didn't raise the possibility--especially since the disease sometimes makes people aggressive and violent, as well as confused and disoriented. 73 people were injured by Weller, who now faces up to 18 years in prison (if he lives so long). Here's a link to the LA Times story.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Charlie Cook: Republicans Will Lose Control of Congress

From the Cook Political Report of October 13th:
Category 5 Hurricane Heads for House GOP

Let's get the disclaimer out of the way: there are 25 days between now and the November 7 election and things could well change, making what follows obsolete.

That said, this is without question the worst political situation for the GOP since the Watergate disaster in 1974. I think a 30-seat gain today for Democrats is more likely to occur than a 15-seat gain, the minimum that would tip the majority. The chances of that number going higher are also strong, unless something occurs that fundamentally changes the dynamic of this election. This is what Republican strategists' nightmares look like.

Whether one looks at national or district-level polling data, or a survey like the new Democracy Corps survey that covered the 49 most vulnerable GOP districts, the conclusion remains the same: it is very ugly for Republicans.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Michelle Malkin v Angelina Jolie

Michele Malkin thinks Angelina Jolie doesn't know enough about corruption at the UN to do a credible job as "goodwill ambassador":
You want to talk about scandal? For years, U.N. staff members in Nairobi shook down African refugees seeking resettlement in North America, Europe and Australia while the U.N. looked the other way. The extortion racket charged up to $5,000 a head for resettlement rights. Belated investigations found that the scandal wasn't the result of a few rogue workers-but of negligent management that created a ripe atmosphere for abuse.

You want to talk about callousness? Tell it to female and child refugees across the Congo who have been victimzed by sexual predators protected among the ranks of U.N. peacekeers and civilian staff. Last year, some 50 U.N. peacekeepers and U.N. civilian officers faced an estimated 150 allegations of sexual exploitation and rape in the Congo alone. The abuse is widespread among U.N. personnel-from the Central African Republic to Bosnia and Eastern Europe. Again, these refugees were exploited while U.N. management fiddled.

You want to talk about failing to take notice? As Claudia Rosett has reported, the U.N. refugee agency sits on its hands while some 300,000 North Korean refugees have endured decades of abuse and hopelessness underground in China-where the $4.4 million-funded UNHCR office is fortified against refugee intrusions.

You want to talk about wasted resources? That $10 billion Saddam Hussein siphoned off in the U.N. Oil-for-Food debacle could have fed a lot of hungry people...

Georgetown's Patisserie Poupon

Someone I know and I had lunch today at Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown. Not only was it delicious, they told me that their pastries are baked in Baltimore...

How About That Cardinals-Mets Game Last Night?

The playoffs are certainly exciting--Glavine didn't live up to the hype. Even the NY Daily News is writing about St. Louis Pitcher Chris Carpenter...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oliver North: Who Lost Nicaragua?

Oliver North says President Bush may put Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas back in power in Managua, come November:
Hopefully, the most recent polls – and the earful Secretary Rumsfeld received this week about the insidious role being played by Chavez, Castro and their cronies – will wake up Washington before it’s too late. U.S. diplomats in Latin America in general – and Nicaragua in particular – act and speak as though everyone in the region thinks we’re “ugly Americans.” It’s simply not true.

There are millions of our southern neighbors – small “d” democrats, entrepreneurs and labor leaders – who are counting on the United States to stand up for our own interests – and the cause of liberty in their countries. Many of them – like Presidents Alvaro Uribe in Colombia and Tony Saca in El Salvador have put their lives on the line to achieve and preserve democracy. They have watched with alarm as the will of the people was perverted by Chavez in Venezuela and distorted by Morales in Bolivia – and they know the consequences for foreign investment, development and economic opportunity.

This sad outcome doesn’t have to happen in Nicaragua – but it will require an abrupt reality check at the State Department. The U.S. doesn’t need to launch an “Uncle Sam says: Vote for Rizo” campaign – but we must act now to level the playing field and help unite the anti-Sandinista opposition.

Our Ambassador, Paul Trivelli has to stop pressuring private sector leaders with potential reprisals for supporting the PLC. And when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returns from her Mid-East trip – she should head to Managua and meet with all the presidential candidates – including the now shunned Mr. Rizo. Doing these things now might well prevent people asking next year: “Who lost Nicaragua?”

Hitchens on Orhan Pamuk

In a review of the literary output of this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Christopher Hitchens maintains that Orhan Pamuk may not be the writer he appears to be... From The Atlantic:
...I should caution the potential reader that a great deal of the dialogue is as lengthy and stilted as that, even if in this instance the self-imposed predicaments of the pious, along with their awful self-pitying solipsism, are captured fairly well. So is the superiority/inferiority complex of many provincial Turks—almost masochistic when it comes to detailing their own woes, yet intensely resentful of any "outside" sympathy. Most faithfully rendered, however, is the pervading sense that secularism has been, or is being, rapidly nullified by diminishing returns. The acting troupe is run by a vain old Kemalist mountebank named Sunay Zaim, who once fancied himself an Atatürk look-alike, and his equally decrepit and posturing lady friend. The army and the police use torture as a matter of course to hang on to power. Their few civilian supporters are represented as diseased old ex-Stalinists whose leader—one Z. Demirkol, not further named—could have leapt from the pages of Soviet agitprop. These forces take advantage of the snowstorm to mount a coup in Kars and impose their own arbitrary will, though it is never explained why they do this or how they can hope to get away with it.

In contrast, the Muslim fanatics are generally presented in a favorable or lenient light. A shadowy "insurgent" leader, incongruously named "Blue," is a man of bravery and charm, who may or may not have played a heroic role in the fighting in Chechnya and Bosnia. (Among these and many other contemporary references, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are never mentioned.) The girls who immolate themselves for the right to wear head-covering are shown as if they had been pushed by the pitiless state, or by their gruesome menfolk, to the limits of endurance. They are, in other words, veiled quasi-feminists. The militant boys of their age are tormented souls seeking the good life in the spiritual sense. The Islamist ranks have their share of fools and knaves, but these tend to be ex-leftists who have switched sides in an ingratiating manner. Ka himself is boiling with guilt, about the "European" character that he has acquired in exile in Frankfurt, and about the realization that the Istanbul bourgeoisie, from which he originates, generally welcomes military coups without asking too many questions. The posturing Sunay at least phrases this well.

No one who's even slightly westernized can breathe free in this country unless they have a secular army protecting them, and no one needs this protection more than intellectuals who think they're better than everyone else and look down on other people. If it weren't for the army, the fanatics would be turning their rusty knives on the lot of them and their painted women and chopping them all into little pieces. But what do these upstarts do in return? They cling to their little European ways and turn up their affected little noses at the very soldiers who guarantee their freedom.
A continuous theme of the novel, indeed, is the rancor felt by the local inhabitants against anyone who has bettered himself—let alone herself—by emigrating to an undifferentiated "Europe" or by aping European manners and attitudes. A secondary version of this bitterness, familiar to those who study small-town versus big-city attitudes the world over, is the suspicion of those left behind that they are somehow not good enough. But this mutates into the more consoling belief that they are despised by the urbane. Only one character—unnamed—has the nerve to point out that if free visas were distributed, every hypocrite in town would leave right away and Kars would be deserted.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Queen

Thank goodness for the Internet Movie Database entry on Helen Mirren. It told me that she is of Russian ancestry--her given name is Elena Lydia Mironoff, her grandfather was a Tsarist diplomat who stayed in Britain after the Russian Revolution of 1917, her great-great-great-great grandfather was Field Marshal Kamensky, a hero of the war of 1812. So, it turns out that Stephen Frears has provided a very Russian--which is to say long-suffering and deeply soulful--portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in his new film, The Queen.

What I didn't know...was that the film is about a love triangle--between Tony Blair, Princess Di, and the Queen. In the end, Her Majesty sways young Tony's affections, and he seems to forget the "People's Princess" in favor of the old-fashioned stiff-upper-lip Queen Ellizabeth. Michael Sheen's portrayal of the dynamic British prime minister is uncanny. He doesn't look like him--but he acts like him. "That Cheshire cat grin," says the Queen. And Sheen has it.

The whole cast is so good, it is almost like watching Anglophile pornography. Helen McCrory is a dead ringer for Cherie Blair. James Cromwell is the bossy and tyrannical Prince Philip. Every scene is carefully composed and artistically staged. The Queen'ss corgis are there. The Queen's butler informs us that one calls her "Ma'am like Ham, not Ma'am like Farm." There is a precedent for everything royal, in a family that have been around for a thousand years. Even the stag who meets the Queen at Balmoral is out of Sir Edwin Henry Landseer's "Monarch of the Glen."

If you liked Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, you'll love Helen Mirren as "The Queen."

Carrie (1952)

How could I have missed seeing William Wyler's 1952 adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie? Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Miriam Hopkins and Eddie Albert star in this overlooked classic film--a painfully powerful melodrama in which a small-town girl makes good (eventually), while her desperate older paramour sinks into the gutter (after she leaves him). The story and characters are so vivid and tabloid--yet realistic--that they seem torn from today's headlines. Maybe you'll think of Anna Nicole Smith, or the battling Astor Family in New York. I can see why Russians love Dreiser. It's not really that his stories are about capitalism, rather that they are about the foolish mistakes people make, and the suffering which follows. Drink, depression, and death dance around Laurence Olivier's tragic portrayal of Mr. Hurstwood. He's romantic and rotten at the same time. Eddie Albert's Mr. Drouet, while immoral, seems like a nice guy in comparison. Jennifer Jones is irresistible, and her story arc believable. And Miriam Hopkins as the wronged wife almost steals the show. Wyler directed Wuthering Heights and The Heiress, as well as films such as The Best Years of Our lives. He's a master of melodrama and tragic sentiment, and this is an almost perfect film. The flophouse sequence is just chilling.

Five stars. You can add it to your Netflix queue...

Sunday, October 15, 2006


After pointing out that, "After all, Grameen Bank has been going for 30 years now and Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries on earth," Daniel Davies argues that schemes such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus' may not be the answer to the problems of poverty, in The Guardian online:
It's quite arguable that the real benefit that comes from microcredit is simply the fact that it doesn't give grants. I am in general quite in favour of small user fees for most development aid, based on the principles set out by JK Galbraith in one of his least-known but best books, The Nature Of Mass Poverty. In it, Galbraith argues that poverty is an economic equilibrium and that most very poor populations are "adapted" to it and that most aid will therefore have a temporary effect at best.

He suggests that development aid (as opposed to emergency aid) should instead be concentrated on the "non-adapted minority" of people who aim to leave the poverty equilibrium rather than staying in it. In other words, although I don't think that this specific formulation is in Galbraith's book, the rationing effect of user fees is actually salutary, because it means that the aid will go to people who plan to do something with it. This is in many ways an unfair way to distribute aid, but to be honest we have tried fairness for the last fifty years and the results have been terrible. I suspect that Grameen Bank's successes, where they have occurred, have been a result of selection of this non-adapted minority.

The main effect of the microfinance revolution has been the rebranding of agricultural development banks as "Microlenders". This has happened because although a loan to buy a tractor or provide working capital for a harvest season isn't microcredit, calling it microcredit will bring in a lot more grant money. That's probably good news, because agricultural development banks usually do good work.

So good luck to Muhammad Yunus and I hope he enjoys his prize. But if you work in government or a major aid agency, perhaps take his acceptance speech with a pinch of salt.
You can buy Galbraith's book from, here:

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Battle Hymn (1956)

Concerned about civilian casualties in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, or Chechnya? Then I'd recommend watching Rock Hudson's star turn as a minister turned Korean war pilot in Battle Hymn.. He does a great job in the role of a United States Army Air Force pilot who bombed an orphanage during WWII. He killed 37 German orphans, then left the service racked by guilt over killing innocent children, to became a Christian minister. Douglas Sirk directed this classic.

During the Korean War, feeling that he's not got a calling for the pulpit, he goes back to war to train Korean Air Force pilots--this seems relevant today with all the talk about Kim Il Jung's nuclear bomb--and sees action once more. He finds some Korean orphans, and a Korean lady friend, takes them under his wing--and so finds God.

It's good--I finally understood why Rock Hudson became a star in the 1950s after watching this film. I gave it five stars. You can get it from Netflix.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Chicago Lyric

Last weekend, I went to Chicago with someone I know. We had a very cultural time. First night, we saw Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakepeare and Fletcher at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. It was pretty good, despite cuts, faithful to the spirit of the authors. Not too much schtick or grossness. It had an Arthurian quality from the Chaucer tale, a Greek quality from the storyline, and a Shakespearean something, although apparently Fletcher did the heavy lifting. (It was Shakespeare's last writing effort). The playbill revealed director Darko Tresnjak shares an alma mater--Swarthmore College. He did a really good job conjuring up Greek gods in the temple sequences. Overall, a good show, especially considering how dreadful Swarthmore's theatre department used to be. If you are in Chicago, don't miss it. The Navy Pier is very nice, too, with a magnificent view of the illuminated Ferris Wheel, the Chicago skyline at night, and the full moon over Lake Michigan. It would have been romantic, if not for the Halloween Ghouls performing ghost routines for tourists, sponsored by a local business.

Speaking of Halloween, next day, it was off to Steppenwolf Theatre to see The Pillowman. This play is by Britisher Martin McDonagh. When someone I know saw the program note linking the author to London's Royal Court Theatre, she said "uh oh..." Boy, was she right. Icky, sadistic, creepy, sociopathic, and cruel. If you enjoy watching maladjusted teenage boys pull wings off flies, you'll like this play. I guess it was scheduled for the Halloween season--scary to think who would pick such a show. The audience suffered through it. We left at intermission.

We also dropped by the Chicago Film Festival to see a Spanish television documentary called Imitation of the Fakir. This was a trip down memory lane for us--24 years ago we were picked up by a limousine when our documentary screened. The film was sort of interesting, about orphans who lived in an institution near Barcelona. During the Spanish Civil War, priests and Franco supporters hid out there from the Anarchists, who were shooting any Marquis they could find. The Marquesa was absolutely charming. And the insight was that the Fascists were just as afraid of the anarchists as vice-versa. For some reason, the filmmakers include a segment with a young socialist, who was anti-Franco. He's a relative of the Marquesa, but lived after the Civil War. It fuzzed up the storyline a bit, since obviously the Church-run orphanage was a home for high-class fascists. Susan Sontag's "fascinating fascism." The amateur film starring the children of yesteryear was a McGuffin. Most interestingly, many of the interview subjects spoke in Catalan. The landscape was beautiful. The characters very Catalonian. Made one think of George Orwell.

Finally, we saw Iphegenie en Tauride by Gluck at the Chicago Lyric Opera. The staging was a horrendous Euro-Canadian graffitti festival (sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts--why am I not surprised?) But if one closed one's eyes, or looked at the magnificent proscenium arch, or the supertitles, it was a great show. The singing by Susan Graham and Paul Groves, as well as the rest of the cast, was perfection on a stick, the orchestra just lovely. And the Chicago Lyric Opera House well worth seeing as a great world stage. More democratic than most, as a friend pointed out--no box seats.

We had dinner after the Opera at Russian Tea Time--owned by a couple from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who were friends of the vice-rector of the University where I taught as a Fulbright. Unfortunately, I couldn't say "Privet" because they were on holiday. It was great--authentic Russian cuisine, not to mention the Latkes, Herring, and other haimisch dishes...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya's Final Story

Published in translation by The Independent (UK):
Dozens of files cross my desk every day. They are copies of criminal cases against people jailed for "terrorism" or refer to people who are still being investigated. Why have I put the word "terrorism" in quotation marks here?

Because the overwhelming majority of these people have been "fitted up" as terrorists by the authorities. In 2006 the practice of "fitting up" people as terrorists has supplanted any genuine anti-terrorist struggle. And it has allowed people who are revenge-minded to have their revenge - on so-called potential terrorists.

Prosecutors and judges are not acting on behalf of the law and they are not interested in punishing the guilty. Instead, they work to political order to make the Kremlin's nice anti-terrorist score sheet look good and cases are cooked up like blinys.

This official conveyor belt that turns out "heartfelt confessions" is great at providing the right statistics about the "battle against terrorism" in the north Caucasus (where Chechnya is).

This is what a group of mothers of convicted young Chechens wrote to me: "In essence, these correctional facilities (where terrorist suspects are held) have been turned into concentration camps for Chechen convicts. They are subjected to discrimination on an ethnic basis. The majority, or almost all of them, have been convicted on trumped-up evidence.

"Held in harsh conditions, and humiliated as human beings, they develop a hatred towards everything. An entire army (of ex-convicts) will return to us with their lives in ruins and their understanding of the world around them in ruins too..."

In all honesty, I am afraid of this hatred. I am afraid because, sooner or later, it will burst into the open. And for the young men who hate the world so much, everyone will seem like an outsider.

The practice of "fitting up" terrorists raises questions about two different ideological approaches. Are we using the law to fight lawlessness? Or are we trying to match "their" lawlessness with our own?

Orhan Pamuk Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Story in Haaretz.

Ian Parker on Christopher Hitchens

In the new issue of The New Yorker,Ian Parker profiles the former British Trotskyist-turned-Neoconservative. Unfortunately, the article is not available online. It certainly was interesting reading. In addition to never sleeping, Hitchens apparently knows everyone in the world--from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis to Paul Wolfowitz and David Horowitz. He hates religion and loves whiskey, and seems not to be averse to accepting a life peerage in Britain's House of Lords. Now, will Tony Blair put Hitchens on the Honors List?

Here's a link to Hitchens recent essay on North Korea's A-Bomb test.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Michelle Malkin on the Google-YouTube Merger

Michelle Malkin, whom even a NY Times reporter believes has been censored by YouTube, is not so happy about merger news...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bill Roggio on North Korea's Nuclear Test

It's bad news for US foreign policy, says Bill Roggio:
The implications for North Asia and beyond are dire. Not only will the armed forces of Japan and South Korea be placed on high alert, but these nations will be forced to seriously consider building their own nuclear deterrent. Defensive measure such as AEGIS cruisers may not be enough. The United States will be forced to devote additional diplomatic and military assets to deal with the threat, siphoning resources away form the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the looming crisis with Iran.

Anna Politkovskaya's Legacy

Kommersant says Anna Politkovskaya may not have died in vain--her murder might bring justice to Chechnya:
Anna Politkovskaya Gets Her Way, Chechen authorities will be checked

The murder of Novaya gazeta newspaper reporter Anna Politkovskaya may shift the balance of political power in Chechnya. Politkovskaya concentrated on Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whom Politkovskaya thought should be on trial rather than running in elections, and his associates. Now, whether they are implicated in the investigation of her death or not, federal authorities are likely to give their approval for a massive check of the political and law enforcement figures of that republic. One theory has it that that was the motive for her murder...

...It can be suggested, however, that the killing was not a typical contract murder. There may be no organizer of the murder at all. “An excess of initiative may have been shown from below,” an investigator commented. “One of the people fanatically devoted to one of the figures in her publication could have killed Politkovskaya. Some phrase uttered in anger by the official or commander could have pushed him to commit the murder.”

Whoever it was, he accomplished his goal. Kadyrov and the heads of Chechen law enforcement are under suspicion. So far only by the press, but that situation could change if the prosecutor general receives permission from the authorities to develop the theory of a political killing. In that case, the careers of many Chechen officials and commanders will be threatened, even if they were not involved in the murder of the journalist. The investigation of one murder, as a rule, uncovers dozens of other crimes.
Novaya Gazeta coverage (in Russian), here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More Andrew Sullivan on Hastert & Foley

If Hastert Stays ....

... the GOP could lose 50 seats, according to an internal poll. And if he quits? Maybe they didn't ask that question. One aspect of this is worth further noting. The base of the GOP has been fed homophobia and gay-baiting for years now. It was partly how Rove won Ohio and the presidency. Gay-hating is integral to their machine. Now, the very homophobia these people stoked and used is suddenly turning back on them. Part of me is distressed that the GOP could lose not because of spending recklessness, corruption, torture, big government, pork, and a hideously botched war ... but because of a sex scandal which doesn't even have (so far as we know) any actual sex. But part of me also sees the karmic payback here. They rode this tiger; now it's turning on them. And it's dinner time.

The Korea Liberator on North Korea's A-Bomb

It's a make-my-day argument:
These facts suggest that the world's brightest diplomats may be wrong. For one thing, Kim probably wants nuclear weapons more than he desires aid. Domestic concerns likely play a role -- to disguise aid-seeking as extortion, satisfy the military, and keep his subjects isolated. As an ex-CIA psychiatrist, Jerrold Post, wrote, Kim may be a malignant narcissist, prone to impulsive behavior.

Many in the United States, South Korea, China, and elsewhere have had difficulty abandoning the model of Kim Jong-il as a rational, fun-loving, aid-seeking tyrant who would disarm if only we offered him large enough inducements. A nuclear test in the densely populated East Asia would explode more than soil or regional stability. It would shatter illusions, and should awaken the world, at last, to Kim's threats to peace.

Carey v Greenberg Debate on Foley Scandal

From PBS Newshour:
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you about this ad we just saw that Patty Wetterling, the Democratic candidate, is running. Is that something that no one is paying attention to? Is that something you think just won't work?

RON CAREY: Well, obviously, you know, I mean, you turn on the TV, you see that ad running. You know, I think it comes down to leadership. If the Republicans try to punt on this issue of Mark Foley, then I think it could really stick.

But the thing is the Republicans -- at least the Republicans I'm talking to -- are very aggressively saying, "This is disturbing. This is wrong. Let's lead the attack in making sure Mr. Foley is prosecuted." And I think, you know, it's how you deal with the challenges that shows whether you're a good leader or not. And Republicans hopefully are going to rise to the challenge.

Like I say, unlike the Democrats, because Gerry Studds 20-some years ago, he was involved in a similar scandal, and the Democrats -- how they rewarded him was gave him a chairmanship. He wasn't removed from Congress. Mel Reynolds, former congressman from Illinois, was convicted of having sex with an underage girl, and President Clinton pardoned him for that act.

GWEN IFILL: So you're saying that Democrats do it, too, so it doesn't matter?

RON CAREY: No, I think that it's a matter of how deal with those situations. The Democrats have handled their own crises much differently than the Republicans. And I think the way the Republicans are handling it, by taking Mr. Foley on and saying, "Let's prosecute him aggressively," that's a different way of looking at situations like this versus how the Democrats have handled similar problems within their own party.

And I think people need to realize that, that, you know, leadership means -- I mean, you look at how parties handle these problems. It will happen to both parties. And I think we're in line with America.

GWEN IFILL: Stan Greenberg, your response?

STANLEY GREENBERG: Well, I don't think voters are going to look back historically; they're going to look at, you know, what's happening now and what's happening -- this isn't about spin. This is about reality. This is about how they handled this issue.

I mean, but Iraq is a war that's ongoing. It's a period right now, very high casualties on the part of Americans. Bob Woodward's book is, you know, has come out at a time where there's a growing sense that we're losing ground in Iraq.

We asked in our own survey, overwhelmingly people believe things are getting worse in Iraq, less secure, and that's changed during the course of the last couple weeks. We asked them, you know, what news story, the National Intelligence Estimate, President Bush talking about cut-and-run Democrats, but the Woodward book was the number-one recall of reasons for why they were thinking things were going worse on the war in terrorism and Iraq.

We also asked people just open-endedly, and what they're focused on is the casualties. I mean, that's the reality, that the casualties are very much in people's minds.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nathan Hamm's Easy Guide to Blogging

You can download it here.

Dmitri Simes on Russia, Georgia & Iran

A confrontation with Russia over Georgia is hardly a part of the Bush Administration’s strategic design—U.S. priorities include major issues like Iran and Russia’s WTO accession. But when the White House initiated a phone call between Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin on those issues, Mr. Putin insisted on devoting a considerable part of the conversation to the Russian-Georgian dispute. And it was clear that the Russian leader felt quite strongly about perceived U.S. encouragement of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to pursue a hard line toward Moscow. Moreover, while Putin did not suggest any explicit linkage between the U.S. support of Georgia and Russia’s response to Iran, there is clearly an implicit linkage. The bottom line is that just as Moscow’s position on Iran’s nuclear program is becoming a defining issue in U.S. policy toward Russia, so is U.S. involvement with Georgia becoming a defining consideration in Moscow’s willingness to satisfy American concerns.

Bull Moose on Hastert & Foley

Bull Moose agrees with David Frum (for different reasons):
The Moose urges the Speaker to stand his ground.

The Moose is aghast by the betrayal of the Speaker by some conservatives. Sure, the Speaker failed to act responsibly after he learned about the disgusting actions of Congressman Foley toward teenage pages. Of course, the Speaker neglected to act in a bi-partisan manner by not notifying the Democrats of Foley's misdeeds. Certainly, the Speaker has refused to take responsibility for the failures of the leadership to crack down on Foley.

Leave no pervert behind.

But, why should the Speaker be held accountable? After all, Republicans are acting just like Republicans do these days in Washington. From DeLay to Rummy, it is a pattern of rejecting accountability. Blame the media. Blame the other party. Go on the conservative talk show circuit and point an accusatory finger at the donkey.

Just don't take responsibility, ever.

And these are the tough-minded conservatives who long for an accountability culture?

It is the view of the Moose that the Speaker should stay exactly where he is because he perfectly represents his party. He is the symbol of Republican rule. And, in November, there will be an accountability moment.

These guys can't run a page program, much less a government.

Don't misunderstand the Moose. He is no partisan mammal. But, one party's monopoly on power is just not working.

It is a deeply sad moment. Our leaders can't even take responsibility for protecting children in their care. Now, more than ever, we need leadership from the Coalition of the Adults.

Viguerie v Frum on Hastert & Foley

Last night there was an interesting debate on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer about House Speaker Dennis Hastert's handling of the Mark Foley case. Conservative direct-mail mastermind Richard Viguerie said he should go, while former White House speechwriter David Frum argued that Hastert ought to stay:
MARGARET WARNER:Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Mr. Viguerie, should Speaker Hastert resign the speakership at this point?

RICHARD VIGUERIE, Chairman, I think so. And I think any other of the leaders who were aware of these e-mails and then took no action on it.

In my book, "Conservatives Betrayed," that you referred to, I call for the resignation of all of the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, of course unrelated to this Foley affair. I think they've been here too long, and the conservatives are never going to get to the political promised land until we have new leaders.

This is the like the straw that broke the camel's back, the last nail in the coffin. I don't see how they can survive this. The Republican Party certainly can't survive this.

MARGARET WARNER: David Frum, your view?

DAVID FRUM, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute: Speaker Hastert should not resign, and he cannot resign. I mean, it's just not -- it's not even feasible for the Republicans at this point to choose new leadership.

There may come a time in the future when they have to choose leadership. It would helpful at that moment to know whether you're choosing a majority leader with the skills required for such a job or a minority leader with different skills.

More to the point, nothing has been shown against Speaker Hastert other than that he failed to investigate and find what nobody had been able to investigate and find, either. And we all have a lot of problems with the House Republican leadership. I join Richard Viguerie in that. But it seems to me, in this case, that there's a danger of joining an echo chamber rather than actually thinking clearly and speaking clearly.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Colbert on Mark Foley

Georgian Kicks Russian's Backside in Moscow Embassy Brawl

As Russian-Georgian tensions rise, fighting breaks out in Moscow. From RIA Novosti:
The demonstration was held outside the embassy's Moscow headquarters on September 29 to protest Georgia's detention two days earlier of four Russian army officers on suspicion of spying. A pig's head was reportedly launched into the diplomatic mission, breaking a window.

Kakha Adali, a security guard, rushed out and kicked one of the protesters, already being apprehended by police officers, in the buttocks. Footage of the incident was shown on NTV and other major Russian television channels.

"The security guard's reaction was provoked by the aggressive and insulting behavior of the attackers," the Georgian Embassy said in a statement. It acknowledged, however, that the employee should have exercised "maximum restraint" and said he had left Russia.

Russian prosecutors have launched an official investigation into the incident.

Andrew Sullivan on Mark Foley

I'd say it's looking grim for Hastert. There is a very sick irony in the possibility that of all the issues that this Congress deserves rebuking on, they may end up being most damaged by coddling and protecting a sexually predatory creep.

Washington Times: Republican House Speaker Must Go

The editors, whom I assume include Newt Gingrich's former press secretary Tony Blankley, suggest Henry Hyde replace Hastert, in order to show that Republicans can deal with the Mark Foley page-boy scandal:
The facts of the disgrace of Mark Foley, who was a Republican member of the House from a Florida district until he resigned last week, constitute a disgrace for every Republican member of Congress. Red flags emerged in late 2005, perhaps even earlier, in suggestive and wholly inappropriate e-mail messages to underage congressional pages. His aberrant, predatory -- and possibly criminal -- behavior was an open secret among the pages who were his prey. The evidence was strong enough long enough ago that the speaker should have relieved Mr. Foley of his committee responsibilities contingent on a full investigation to learn what had taken place, whether any laws had been violated and what action, up to and including prosecution, were warranted by the facts. This never happened.

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the Republican chairman of the House Page Board, said he learned about the Foley e-mail messages "in late 2005." Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the leader of the Republican majority, said he was informed of the e-mail messages earlier this year. On Friday, Mr. Hastert dissembled, to put it charitably, before conceding that he, too, learned about the e-mail messages sometime earlier this year. Late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hastert insisted that he learned of the most flagrant instant-message exchange from 2003 only last Friday, when it was reported by ABC News. This is irrelevant. The original e-mail messages were warning enough that a predator -- and, incredibly, the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children -- could be prowling the halls of Congress. The matter wasn't pursued aggressively. It was barely pursued at all. Moreover, all available evidence suggests that the Republican leadership did not share anything related to this matter with any Democrat.

Now the scandal must unfold on the front pages of the newspapers and on the television screens, as transcripts of lewd messages emerge and doubts are rightly raised about the forthrightness of the Republican stewards of the 109th Congress. Some Democrats are attempting to make this "a Republican scandal," and they shouldn't; Democrats have contributed more than their share of characters in the tawdry history of congressional sexual scandals. Sexual predators come in all shapes, sizes and partisan hues, in institutions within and without government. When predators are found they must be dealt with, forcefully and swiftly. This time the offender is a Republican, and Republicans can't simply "get ahead" of the scandal by competing to make the most noise in calls for a full investigation. The time for that is long past.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

A special, one-day congressional session should elect a successor. We nominate Rep. Henry Hyde, also of Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee whose approaching retirement ensures that he has no dog in this fight. He has a long and principled career, and is respected on both sides of the aisle. Mr. Hyde would preside over the remaining three months of the 109th Congress in a manner best suited for a full and exhaustive investigation until a new speaker for the 110th Congress is elected in January, who can assume responsibility for the investigation.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Wikipedia on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (Hebrew:יום כיפור yom kippūr) is the Jewish holiday of the Day of Atonement. It falls on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. The Bible calls the day Yom Hakippurim (Hebrew, "Day of the Atonements"). It is one of the Yamim Noraim (Hebrew, "Days of Awe"). The day is commemorated with a 25-hour fast and intensive prayer. It is the most holy day of the Jewish year.

Detroit Fresco

Someone I know and I just returned from giving a talk at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and have to wonder if Detroit may be on its way back from the brink. First, arriving in McNamara terminal at the Detroit Airport is a pleasant surprise. The last time I came was about a decade ago, and the airport wasn't a lot of fun. Today, it certainly is. Completed in 2002, McNamara is a beautiful building--almost one mile long, reminiscent of an assembly line in a way--but with moving walkways, fountains, lots of glass, and an interior railway system that whooshes back and forth constantly. Of course there's double-barrelled Starbucks. And signs in Japanese and Chinese. Planes to Europe and the Orient. There's a Westin hotel in case you need to spend the night. The photo doesn't do it justice. You really have to walk through to see how very nice, and to use Kwame Anthony Appiah's term, cosmopolitan it is. Someone I know and I've been to the famous Dubai Airport. Detroit's is better. It was designed by SmithGroup, Detroit's 150-year old architecture and engineering firm that once employed Minoru Yamasaki, architect of New York's World Trade Center. before that, the firm worked with Eero Saarinen on projects for General Motors.

Then it was off to visit the Detroit Intstitute of the Arts, located in the near-downtown "cultural district." Quite a number of museums cluster by Wayne State University, the renowned Scarab Club, Science Center, African-American museum, the Historical Society, and the Public Library. Sort of an Acropolis. In this collection, the art institute is clearly the Parthenon. Detroit Museum director Graham Beal was very much in evidence. His plummy English-accented voice narrated the audio tour for Annie Liebowitz's photography show; he was in the galleries telling visiting guests decorative candelabra seized by Stalin and sold in the 30s; and he could be found in the marble lined undeground cafeteria at the only table covered with white linen and full table settings, entertaining what looked like a bunch of donors. The museum is undergoing what looks like a massive renovation and expansion, so the "best of" the art has been gathered together on the first floor of the old building while construction work is underway. It was well-displayed, with all sorts of goodies from all over the world side-by-side: Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Henry Ossaway Tanner, Greek, Chinese, Persian, Indian, you name it, they had it. And they weren't the same pictures that you see all the time, either. For example, "Ellen's Isle" Robert S. Duncanson, "The Blue Gown" by Frederick Carl Freseke, "Bank of the Oise at Anvers" by Vincent Van Gogh, and "The Jewish Cemetery" by Jacob van Ruysdael. So one could enjoy Robert Hughes' "shock of the new" for older pictures, too.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the museum is the "Rivera Court," a gigantic room completely filled with the Detroit Industry Frescoes by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Unlike its notorious counterpart at Rockefeller Center, this one still stands--pehaps because it includes a likeness of Henry Ford in the way European paintings have an image of the donor. It's really a very interesting work, full of symbolism. It's all based on the Ford River Rouge auto plant--and shows the connection between nature and industry. Soviet doctrine idealized "Fordsism" during the period Rivera painted these murals, so there was no ideological problem for a Marxist to glorify the Ford Motor company's main auto factory. It's of historical, cultural, spiritual, and political interest. You are meant to worship the industrial age in this chapel of the museum. And, in a way, you can't help but do so. My only quibble with the Detroit Institute of the Arts remodelling scheme is that the new white marble facing on the wings doesn't match the limestone on the old buildings. Plus, the marble has the same sort of thick dark grain and very shiny finish that I saw in Moscow and Tashkent--perhaps a little too Sovietsky style...of course, so are Rivera's murals.

Across the street from the art museum is the Detroit Historical Society museum. And womeone I know and myself just happened to be there on the day of a "grand re-opening" celebration. There were balloons, a cocktail party (we had to leave before that got rolling), and all sorts of happy events. Admission was free, and the place was packed. I had no idea that Detroit had so much history. Of course, the town was initially French, as the name suggests, a big trading post even in the 17th Century, for the fur trade. Cadillac was a Frenchman, and they have a big painting of Cadillac at the court of the French king making a presentation. Detroit rapidly industrialized--before it became the automobile capital of the USA, it was a leader in manufcture of carriages and railway cars. The ice cream soda was invented in Detroit, too. Motown, of course. And even the 3-color traffic light. Naturally, they have the first horseless carriage manufactured in Detroit on display--as well as the "Body Drop" section of the Cadillac assembly line. It was a little bit like the 1964 world's fair. There was even a section where visitors could sit in the seats of sports cars like the Porsch Boxter. Lots of car trivia, brands of yesteryear--Packard, DeSoto, Nash, the Scarab--UAW history.Someone I know liked the exhibition of historical dresses on display on the 2nd floor...behind the assembly line. Plus a section devoted to the architecture of Albert Kahn, apparently the man who built Detroit. You hear a lot about Chicago architecture, but Detroit seems to have something to boast about, too. Definitely worth a visit.

Next door was the grand and inspiring Detroit Public Library, one of the Carnegie Libraries, and a nice complement to the other edifices on the street. It's too bad we didn't have time to see the other museums, something to come back for.

In Ann Arbor, everything seemed to be booming, and built on a gigantic scale. The University Hospital spread over an entire hilltop. Pfizer had a huge research facility, modern buildings covering 177 acres. Pfizer bought Warner-Lambert which bought Parke-Davis--a company featured in the Detroit Historical Society--a pioneer local industry.

The University of Michigan was huge, too. The buildings seemed a little stark. But the people were friendly. The Michigan League building where our conference took place was really ship-shape. The waxed floors gleamed, the wood looked polished. Everything worked. And the college town was neat. We had a fantastic Indian meal at the Shalimar restaurant.Then we walked to the original Borders Bookshop which started the national chain (located across the street from the present store). Inside was a novelist Edward P. Jones signing copies of The Known World and All Aunt Hagar's Children. He told one fan, who had seen him on Oprah, who had asked him how long it took him to write a book, that it took him five years to think about it, and a year-and-a-half to write it. You couldn't get more literary.

You can buy Jones' books from here:
The University of Michigan is alma mater to Google founder Larry Page. Word around town seemed to be that Google is about to build a new research facilty, to employ 1500 computer scientists working on new projects. Will that turn Ann Arbor into Silicon Valley East?