Saturday, November 25, 2006

Taking a break...

I've got some deadlines in the next few weeks, so before the end of the year blogging will be light. Hope to get back up to speed by January, 2008...

Until then, Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Computer Troubles...and Thanksgiving Wishes

I've been having some problems with my laptop lately, and may have to reboot and reformat the whole thing. So, the blog may be offline for a few days. Meanwhile, to all readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

China Takes Africa

From today's NY Times Magazine article by James Traub:
Angola is a very, very poor country, but it is also an extremely rich one, for immense deposits of oil lie under the South Atlantic Ocean within its territorial waters. Thanks to the growing appetites of several developing nations, China in particular, that need oil to sustain the furious expansion of their economies, last year Angola, which otherwise has almost no economy, had more than $10 billion to play with. And it has used that money to pay more advanced countries to rebuild its infrastructure. This vision — call it “Development by China” — looks like a catastrophic mistake to the Western experts and institutions that have scrutinized, invested in and at times despaired of Angola.

And yet Development by China looks more like Africa’s future than its past. Angola is not alone in having choices, for the high price of oil has begun to transform the prospects of African countries once viewed simply as basket cases. Earlier this month, Nigeria, the continent’s oil giant, signed an $8.3 billion agreement with China to build an 1,800-mile railway. Oil production in Africa is expected to double over the next 20 years while it stays flat or declines in much of the rest of the world. And China has already begun, in myriad ways, to serve the interests of these emerging clients, while the United States, preoccupied with terrorism, has seen its dominant status slip. Angola, once a cold-war pawn, can now serve as a kind of test case in the latest struggle to shape Africa’s destiny. Call it Chinese-style globalization.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thomas Sowell on Milton Friedman

As one of those privileged to have studied under Friedman, I felt a special loss at his death but also a sense of good fortune to have learned from him, not only when I was at the University of Chicago but also in the years and decades since then. He was a tough, no-nonsense teacher in the classroom but a kind and generous human being outside.

Students were not allowed to walk into his classroom after his lecture had begun, distracting others. Once, I arrived at the door just minutes after Friedman began speaking and had to turn around and go back to the dormitory, wondering all the while whether what he taught that day would be on the next exam. After that, I was always in my seat when Friedman entered the classroom. He was also a tough grader. On one exam, there were only two B’s in the whole class--and no A’s.

The other side of Friedman was his generosity with his time to help students, and even former students. In later years, long after I had left the University of Chicago, he helped me with his criticisms and advice on my work--only when asked. When I was offered an appointment to the Federal Trade Commission in 1976, he was asked by the White House to urge me to accept but he declined to do so. It was the best non-advice I ever got. I would have been miserable at the FTC.
Although in recent years we were both members of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, we each lived miles away and neither of us was physically present there with any great frequency, so the chance that we would both be there on the same day was virtually nil. The last time I saw Friedman in person was in 2004, when we were jointly interviewed on television. Afterwards, he gave me a ride in his little sports car over to the Stanford faculty club, where we joined a group for lunch. Then he drove back to his home in San Francisco, 30 miles away, though he was at the time in his 90s.

More recently, I happened to chat briefly with Friedman on the phone a few days before his death, and found his mind to be as clear and sharp as ever. That will always be a special memory of a very special man, one of the giants of our time--intellectually, morally, and as a human being.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, 94

Today, upon news of the death of Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Milton Friedman, Gordon St. Angelo, president and CEO of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, offered the following statement:

America has lost a true visionary and advocate for human freedom. And I have lost a great friend.

Milton’s passion for freedom and liberty has influenced more lives than he ever could possibly know. His writings and ideas have transformed the minds of U.S. Presidents, world leaders, entrepreneurs and freshmen economic majors alike. The loss of his passion, incisive mind and dedication to freedom are all national treasures that we mourn for today.

Milton never chose to slow down; even at 94 he kept fighting to bring educational equality to all of America’s children. And it’s this vision, this drive for educational liberty that the Friedman Foundation will continue to bring to families throughout America.

His impact on my life over the last 33 years was significant. His impact on the world was momentous. Without a doubt, few people have done more to advance civil and economic liberties throughout the world during their lifetime than Dr. Milton Friedman.
Here's an excerpt from a July, 2006 Wall Street Journal interview which included Mrs. Friedman:
Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously--such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out--but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"
BTW, Milton Friedman had kind and generous soul. He helped with my book PBS: Behind the Screen-- the final chapter tells the story of how Friedman got Free to Choose on the air, over the opposition of PBS executives. It was based in part on a long on-the-record telephone interview with Friedman, who spoke frankly and at length to a total stranger. He later paid the ultimate compliment a writer can give, when he quoted from my work in his autobiography (co-written with Mrs. Friedman) Two Lucky People:
As Laurence Jarvik writes, "While Galbraith was seen as a moderate by PBS, Friedman, who called himself a liberal and who advocated laissez-faire free-market policies, was viewed as an extremist." He quotes Allen Wallis as saying "The public broadcasting people regarded Friedman as a fascist, an extreme right-winger. They didn't want to have anything to do with him." (p.474)

IMHO, Friedman was a real mensch, who left the world a better place than he found it...

Here's a link to the Free to Choose website. A new PBS show about Friedman is scheduled to air in January, produced by Bob Chitester of the original series. It is called The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman.

Christopher Hitchens on Borat

From Slate:
Is it too literal-minded to point out what any viewer of the movie can see for himself—that the crowd at the rodeo stops cheering quite fast when it realizes that something is amiss; that the car salesman is extremely patient about everything from demands for pussy magnets to confessions of bankruptcy; and that the man in the gun shop won't sell the Kazakh a weapon? This is "compliance"? I have to say, I didn't like the look of the elderly couple running the Confederate-memorabilia store, but considering that Borat smashes hundreds of dollars worth of their stock, they bear up pretty well—icily correct even when declining to be paid with locks of pubic hair. The only people who are flat-out rude and patronizing to our curious foreigner are the stone-faced liberal Amazons of the Veteran Feminists of America—surely natural readers of the New Statesman. Perhaps that magazine's reviewer believes that Borat is genuinely shocked when he finds—by video viewing—that Pamela Anderson has not been faithful to him and he will thus not be the first to "make romance-explosion on her stomitch." (And either the love goddess agreed to stage the moment when Mr. Sagdiyev tries to stuff her into a "wedding bag," or she and her security team displayed a rare indulgence to the mustachioed interloper.)

The joke, in other words, may well be on the prankster. I thought the same about Da Ali G Show. As far as one can tell, most youth culture is as inarticulate and illiterate and mannerless as Sacha Baron Cohen made it out to be: The elderly dupes who did their best to respond (Gen. Brent Scowcroft on the anthrax/Tampax distinction being the most notable) were evidently resigned in advance to quite a low standard of questioning. You can see the same fixed expressions on the faces of politicians when they attend a "real" event, like Rock the Vote, where wry, likable smiles are obligatory, and the only dread is that of appearing uncool.

Having gone this far in a curmudgeonly direction, I may as well add that any act that depends too much on the scatological is in some kind of trouble. Borat—and Borat—rely on excremental humor from the very first frames. This isn't unfunny just because it's infantile and repetitive and doesn't know when to stop; it's unfunny because the revulsion produced by feces is universal and automatic and thus much too easy to exploit. This is especially true when, in a cheap knockoff of Luis Buñuel, our hero decides to introduce the unmentionable topic at the dinner table. (To be honest, I am still reeling at the relative composure of that Birmingham society lady. If I wasn't trying to change the subject, I would say that I admired her phlegm.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Daniel Pipes on What Went Wrong in Iraq

From his article in The National Interest:
Alongside the easy and fast victory over Saddam Hussein, the Bush Administration made a critical conceptual mistake—raising short-term expectations too high. Nomenclature alone required Operation Iraqi Freedom to quickly produce a vibrant, healthy, open, calm Iraq, with anything less constituting failure. Talk of a "free and prosperous" Iraq serving as a regional model foisted ambitions on Iraqis that they—just emerging from a thirty-year totalitarian nightmare, saddled with extremist ideologies, deep ethnic divisions and predatory neighbors—could not fulfill.

As Iraqis failed to play their appointed role, frustration grew in Washington. Deepening the trap of its own making, the administration forwarded these ambitions by bogging itself down in such domestic Iraqi minutiae as resolving inter-tribal conflict, getting electricity and water grids to work and involving itself in constitution writing.

Had the U.S.-led coalition pitched its ambitions lower, aspiring only to a decent government and economy while working much more slowly toward democracy, Iraq's progress over the past four years would be more apparent. The occupying forces should have sponsored a democratically-minded strongman to secure the country and eventually move it toward an open political process; and this approach would have the benefit of keeping Islamists out of power at a moment of their maximal popular and electoral appeal.

Kazakh President to Western Countries: "Don't Tell Us What To Do..."

In case you didn't understand what prime minister Feliks Kulov said in Kyrgyzstan, the president of Kazakhstan also expressed his frustration with foreign meddling, according to Pakistan's Daily Times:
ASTANA: Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Friday his country had had enough of foreign advice and should not “blindly copy” Western models of democracy.

It was not clear what prompted his speech, although it comes in the week that neighbouring Kyrgyzstan changed its constitution to slash its president’s powers and ahead of a likely “no” to Kazakhstan’s chairing the OSCE, a democracy and rights body.

“We already have enough advisers from here and there, from the West and from across the ocean, telling us how to live and work,” Nazarbayev told a congress of the Civic Party, which supports him and is merging with his Otan (Fatherland) party. “Enough already,” he said. “Kazakhstan is not a state that can be ordered about and told what to do. We know what we need to do and do what we need.”

...The only hint that Kyrgyzstan may have been on Nazarbayev’s mind was a reference in his speech to trouble around the world, both “for distant and nearby neighbours”. As recently as September, Nazarbayev publicly repeated that he was still intent on chairing the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009, a role he sees as bringing international prestige. The 56-member organisation is due to announce a decision next month. Western states had offered support for his chairmanship in return for democratic progress. But, following Nazarbayev’s Soviet-style 91 percent margin of victory in last December’s election, that support has ebbed.

In his speech, Nazarbayev said: “We should not pull up our trousers and run after every foreign recommendation ... We should not blindly copy foreign schemes.” He said political reforms in Kazakhstan should instead be “balanced” and take into account the people’s will.

Nazarbayev last launched an attack against Western values in June 2005, saying his country could not subscribe to Western-style democracy as it had a different culture and needed to guard against instability in a volatile region.

Christopher Hitchens on the Fall of Donald Rumsfeld

From his Mirror (UK) article, The Man Who Would Not Listen:
Is it only five years since the society columns in Washington were describing Donald Rumsfeld as “hot”, and printing stories about how ladies of a certain age wanted his phone number?

The aplomb he displayed during the campaign in Afghanistan, and the way he seemed to enjoy his press conferences, were just the tonic that the country appeared to need after the humiliation and panic of 11 September.

It didn’t hurt that the Secretary of Defence had been seen in his shirt-sleeves, helping direct rescue operations after a plane ploughed into the Pentagon.

As the Taliban fled and Afghans greeted American soldiers as liberators, the escape of Osama bin-Laden was a detail that could be taken care of later, and “Rummy” seemed able to do no wrong.

By this month, it seemed not only that he could do nothing right, but that everything that had gone wrong was his fault.

President Bush's Veteran's Day Proclamation

From the Veteran's Administration Veteran's Day website:
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Through the generations, America's men and women in uniform have defeated tyrants, liberated continents, and set a standard of courage and idealism for the entire world. On Veterans Day, our Nation pays tribute to those who have proudly served in our Armed Forces.

To protect the Nation they love, our veterans stepped forward when America needed them most. In conflicts around the world, their sacrifice and resolve helped destroy the enemies of freedom and saved millions from oppression. In answering history's call with honor, decency, and resolve, our veterans have shown the power of liberty and earned the respect and admiration of a grateful Nation.

All of America's veterans have placed our Nation's security before their own lives, creating a debt that we can never fully repay. Our veterans represent the best of America, and they deserve the best America can give them.

As we recall the service of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, we are reminded that the defense of freedom comes with great loss and sacrifice. This Veterans Day, we give thanks to those who have served freedom's cause; we salute the members of our Armed Forces who are confronting our adversaries abroad; and we honor the men and women who left America's shores but did not live to be thanked as veterans. They will always be remembered by our country.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service men and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2006, as Veterans Day and urge all Americans to observe November 5 through November 11, 2006, as National Veterans Awareness Week. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through ceremonies and prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to support and participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I invite civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, businesses, unions, and the media to support this national observance with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Ann Coulter on the Democratic Victory

From Ann
So the left won the House and also Nicaragua. They've had a good week. At least they don't have their finger on the atom bomb yet.

Democrats support surrender in Iraq, higher taxes and the impeachment of President Bush. They just won an election by pretending to be against all three.

Jon Tester, Bob Casey Jr., Heath Shuler, possibly Jim Webb — I've never seen so much raw testosterone in my life. The smell of sweaty jockstraps from the "new Democrats" is overwhelming.

Kyrgyzstan's Failed November Revolution

While the US elections were coming to a head, an attempted coup has been averted in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Face-saving compromise language for the constitution provided a fig-leaf for protest organizers, who failed to force the resignation of Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev--their original demand, and impetus for a week of protests. Despite red tents and red flags, these November events did not become another red revolution.

Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly played a key role in urging Bakiyev to hang on. Kommersant's Mikhail Zygar interviewed one of the leaders of mass protests in Bishkek held on the anniversary of the Russia's October Revolution (actually November 7-8 in the Western calendar). He admitted the coup attempt had failed:
I spoke with senior parliamentarian Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, known in Soviet times as a film director and dissident, in private in a yurt.

“I think we have lost. Yes. The opposition lost,” he said. “The young liberal leaders of our opposition made the same mistake Sartacus did. He didn't want to attack when he had 300,000 people, so he had to attack with 30,000. I tried to convince them that we had to do that as quickly as possible.”

“You were for a coup? For storming the presidential palace?”

“Of course! We had to neutralize Bakiev and Kulov in the first day and not miss the moment. We had to storm the presidential palace and turn them over to a court. Bakiev played for time and our young leaders did not make a decision. But that won't save Bakiev. He won't last to the end of is term.”

The Revolution and Counterrevolution Are One

The parliament waited all day for instructions from the president.

“At first we wanted new parliamentary and presidential elections three months and six months after the new constitution was passed,” parliament member Melis Eshimkanov recounted as he smoked nervously. “But they all wanted to serve out their terms – to 2010. The president and the administration. So we conceded to them. Let them serve their damn terms! Now we are waiting for the president to sign the order.”

A few hours later, the president declared new conditions. Besides the demands the opposition had already accepted, he wanted to be the coauthor of the new constitution, to have the right to approve ministers and appoint judges without consulting with the parliament. The parliament agreed to it. And still the president didn't sign the order.

“He spoke with Putin on the phone Tuesday evening and that gave him new strength,” they said around the parliament.
Olga Mikushina's report on the Central Asian website, features an interview with Kyrgyz political scientists Nur Omarov and Alexander Knyazev. Alexander Knyazev also called the events a coup attempt:
Establishment of the Constituent Assembly was illegitimate indeed. I accept it. It was nothing short of a coup d'etat... particularly without the parliamentary quorum.
The two experts go on to argue that the failure of the coup strengthened the current governing "tandem" of Bakiyev and prime minister Felix Kulov, and weakened the parliamentary opposition.
Nur Omarov: Crisis in the camp of the opposition leaders is undeniable nowadays. It should have been expected. Whenever a group is acting against something or someone, its members inevitably end up at each other's throats sooner or later. I'd like to add as well that all of that is happening as though in some other life, leaving society and the population absolutely unaffected. Social protest is what is absent. Neither side in the square included any socially active people. Some turned up because they had been paid to do it, others because they had been forced to (like budget sphere employees) but nobody was a genuine social protester.

Alexander Knyazev: Society is worn down. The population of Bishkek will only rise in response to something like that what happened last March - pogroms and all that. City dwellers will be better organized if it comes to that than residents of rural areas. After all, the former do have something to lose. It's like nomads and farmers. Whenever the former will leave to avoid trouble, the latter will remain and put up a fight to defend what is his.

Question: What turn will the events take now?

Alexander Knyazev: Bakiyev and Kulov need interaction and cooperation. Reinforcement of the executive branch of the government and security structures is what they need.

Nur Omarov: That's right. It is the executive branch of the government that handles the problems the population is facing. Properly or inadequately, regardless of whether it wants it or not. As I see it, an attempt to split the tandem is the worst mistake Bakiyev may make now. Left to their own devices, they are not even nearly as strong as when they operate together. Bakiyev won the November round. It's time Kulov solidified his position. The regime has emerged from the confrontation with the least damage to itself.
Why should Americans care about this?

Because many in Kyrgyzstan appear to believe that the opposition is supported by the European Union and the US government. As in Venezuela, where a failed coup attempt supported by the US strengthened the Chavez regime and increased anti-American sentiment throughout Latin America (Bush just lost Nicagaragua to Daniel Ortega, for example); perception of American and EU meddling in Kyrgyz politics (especially failed meddling) threatens to inflame anti-Americanism throughout Central Asia. Since the US air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan supports the war in Afghanistan, and might be useful for any operation against Iran, it might be prudent to reconsider continuing any American (or EU) support for the Kyrgyz opposition. Especially given the comments of prime minister Felix Kulov in today's Washington Post:
"The adoption of a constitution within minutes deserves to be in the Guinness Records Book," Kulov said, referring to two quick votes late Wednesday after which parliament adopted the amendments. "We have to be wise to avoid groundless aggravation of the situation and prevalence of unsatisfied ambitions over reason."
Translation for Americans and EU readers: "Leave Kyrgyzstan alone..."

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Dinner With Chris...


Here's the background:

Last night, the sister of someone I know came to town for a visit. We had a nice time at the Kennedy Center's "Performance Plus" event--a talk by George Washington University professor Jessica Krash devoted to songs about love and death, featuring excerpts from works by Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Corigliani and others. She really did a great job, though some of us wondered why she left out Wagner's Liebestod...In any case, the ticket price included a free wine-tasting (3 Italian vintages, perhaps in honor of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?), some free nuts, as well as 1/2-off parking ($7.50 instead of $15). So it was a good deal, as well as educational, and fun.

Afterwards, we decided to try a new restaurant that just opened on the same block as our neighborhood Politics and Prose Bookstore. It still had no sign out front, maybe because it is supposed to be so happening that you peek through a peephole in the front window to see if it is open. It was.

We entered the dark interior, stripped bare to plaster walls and wooden beams. Inside we discovered the joint is named Comet Ping Pong. It is a pizzeria with a wood-fired oven. The "hip" touches include eating off of (pseudo) ping-pong tables, and a real ping-pong area in the back.

The place was very dark, but we did make out--a few tables away--a famous celebrity pink-shirted CNBC talk-show host, Chris Matthews. He was sitting with WJLA-TVs local news anchor (his wife) Kathleen Matthews, alongside what looked like family members. We don't know what they ordered, probably some sort of pizza, because that's all they seemed to serve, but they seemed to be having a good time.

Our team ordered two vegetarian pizzas: one with anchovies and onions, the other with tomato sauce and mozzarella. They were served on a single tray--no plates!--and although the waiter had said they would be 9-inches in diameter, it would be more honest to say they were 9-inches long and about 3-inches wide.

And one of them was burnt.

The salad tasted like it came out of a supermarket pre-washed plastic bag.

The glass for the chardonnay served to the sister of someone I know was smaller than the glasses orange juice used to come in NYC diners when I lived there a quarter of a century ago (very small).

And our waiter seemed to be about 16 years old.

There was no menu, and no prices. There was a board listing pizzas, but no prices on that, either. After some questioning our server told us what things cost, approximately. The $9.00 pizza price quote turned out to be sort of a Washington budget estimate. One pizza cost $10, the other $12....

Still, it was a lot of fun to hobnob with local celebrities, on the day after the historic Democratic wave swept the House and Senate--especially since Matthews used to work for the legendary Tip O'Neill. Now, if we only had been able to hear what he had been saying...

Kazakh Fashions Come to Washington

From Teresa Wiltz's fashion column in today's Washington Post:
Designer Azhikhan, her blond hair providing striking contrast to her Central Asian features, seemed eager to present an alternative view of the Kazakh woman.

Did she see the [Borat] movie?

"Yes," she said, shaking her head and smiling. "I saw."

And did she laugh?

"Yes. Very funny. But some situations . . . I felt a little bit sad.

"Everything, it's not true. . . . The faces are not exactly Asian faces. . . . We're beautiful women in Kazakhstan. We like expensive clothes. We have high buildings! We have Bentleys! I have a home that cost $3 million."

Judging by Azhikhan's designs, Kazakhstan is a land where the women are rich, modest -- this is, after all, a largely Muslim nation -- and shivering from the cold. Think Doctor Zhivago transplanted into the cellphone excesses of the 21st century: rich jewel shades, earthy prints and pelts. Fur -- chinchilla, mink and faux -- cropped up in everything, trimming funnel necks on great, charcoal velvet coats, slung around the hips of a paisley-esque maxi-skirt, punctuating jackets shot though with shimmers of Swarovski crystals. (About the fur: It's a tossup as to who would be more unwelcome here: Sacha Baron Cohen or the red-paint slingers of PETA.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why Fire Rumsfeld Now?

President Bush's announcement yesterday shows that elections do make a difference. The Democrats wanted Rumsfeld's head--and they got it. (One Republican commentator told local news radio that if Bush had done this a month before the election, the Democrats might not have taken the House.)

As far at the Robert Gates nomination goes, if I were the Democrats, I might want to give Gates a very hard time in confirmation hearings--and maybe reject him altogether, just to show who's boss...

Kazakh Woman Takes On Borat

In yesterday's Washington Post, Gauhar Abdygaliyeva published her op-ed responding to Borat's insult humor with intelligence and class:
Kazakhstan is the world's ninth-largest country in land area. It is in Central Asia along the famous Silk Road, which once stretched from Venice to Beijing. We "walk on oil," but that's not the only thing we were blessed with. Our social and economic achievements in the past decade have been remarkable.

But I would rather speak of my people. I am in my mid-20s and am myself a good example of what today's Kazakhstan is about. I was the first of three children born to an average Soviet family in the year of the Moscow Olympic Games and the Oscar-winning movie "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears." My dad worked at the Space Research Institute of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, while my mom taught computer science at the National Technical University. The tradition of education in my family, which led me to degrees in international law and business administration and now has brought me to this country, is strong in Kazakhstan. That is why its people are among the most educated in the world and have a 98 percent literacy rate.

Borat says women can now ride "inside of bus" in Kazakhstan. Actually, men and women enjoy equal opportunity, and our women are more likely to be driving the bus. Before arriving in the United States, I worked for the best local law firm and then a U.N. field mission, and I had a car and an apartment in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

People in Kazakhstan take pride in their ancestors, the nomadic Turkic tribes that managed to unite and retain a territory the size of Western Europe for centuries, despite their vulnerable location between the Chinese and Russian empires. For many years the mostly Sunni Muslim Kazakhs, first as part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, welcomed Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Koreans, Jews, Chechens and Uighurs to their land regardless of their religious beliefs. Those people either chose to come or were deported to Kazakhstan by the communists for various reasons. At different periods my country has been affected by wars, famine and repression.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economic turmoil brought hardship. Many of my Russian, German, Korean and Jewish friends left for their historical homelands, but many others chose to stay and build a modern, thriving Kazakhstan together. Today those troubles are a thing of the past, and our people look to the future with great optimism.

The Kazakh flag Borat uses in the movie, with an eagle soaring in the blue sky under the sun, is our symbol of independence and pride. If your eyes have ever welled up when you saw the Stars and Stripes, you will understand how we feel about it.

The "moviefilm" by Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," is playing well in American theaters. One can only applaud the humorist's talent, but the movie is entertaining only because the world is so unfamiliar with reality.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Making Sense of the Election

What does it mean? Democrats now control the House, the Senate hangs in the balance. it is the end of Bush's dominance, reaffirming his lame-duck status. He may try some dramatic ploys--even bombing Iran is not beyond the realm of possibility--but momentum has shifted to the Democrats. If they stick to bread-and-butter issues, and can get credit for ending the Iraq war without blowing up the world or the Middle East--they may position the party to win the White House in 2008.

How does Bush govern in this situation? He'll probably have to do what the Democrats want...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

CSPAN's Intereactive Election Map

You can follow the state=by-state and district-by-district results of today's US elections, here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Is John Kerry a Republican Double Agent?

The Pew Center reports that the Democratic lead has been shrinking since the former Democratic Presidential candidate--a "D" student himself--mocked the intelligence of American servicemen and women fighting in Iraq: Pew Research Center survey finds voting intentions shifting in the direction of Republican congressional candidates in the final days of the 2006 midterm campaign. The new survey finds a growing percentage of likely voters saying they will vote for GOP candidates. However, the Democrats still hold a 48% to 40% lead among registered voters, and a modest lead of 47%-43% among likely voters.

The narrowing of the Democratic lead raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives. The relationship between a party's share of the popular vote and the number of seats it wins is less certain than it once was, in large part because of the increasing prevalence of safe seat redistricting. As a result, forecasting seat gains from national surveys has become more difficult.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam Hussein Sentenced to Death by Hanging

Story on Sky News. (ht Drudge)

According to the AP, the former Iraqi leader plans an appeal:
Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi condemned the trial as a "farce," claiming the verdict was planned. He said defense attorneys would appeal within 30 days.

The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel, which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days.

A court official told The Associated Press that the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jihad Chic at the University of Pennsylvania

Michelle Malkin explains why University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann is smiling in this Penn Halloween party photo.

BTW, here's something even more scary from Gutmann's official Penn website:
As Penn's President, Dr. Gutmann has assumed a national and international leadership role. She has become a prominent advocate at the Association of American Universities for equity in higher education. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Board of Governors of the Partnership for Public Service. In 2005, Gutmann was appointed to the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, a committee that advises the FBI on national security issues relating to academia. She also is among the leaders of a select group of presidents of research universities from around the world who advise the U.N. Secretary General on a range of global issues, including academic freedom, mass migration, international development, and the social responsibilities of universities.
Jerusalem Post story here (ht Drudge).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why is the ADL Koshering Defamation of Jews?

In her newly published memoir, Them: A Memoir of Parents, author Francine Du Plessix Gray quotes her mother--the Vicomtesse Tatiana Iacovleff Du Plessix Liberman--telling her husband, after he offended an orthodox rabbi in a railway carriage, that the worst kind of anti-Semite is a Jewish anti-Semite. Apparently the so-called Anti-Defamation League doesn't understand this point, judging from Abe Foxman's organization's public apology for Sacha Baron Cohen's new Jew-baiting "comedy." Just compare the apologetic tone of this press release to Foxman's strong campaign against Mel Gibson's Passion:
The premiere of Sacha Baron Cohen's new film featuring his farcical character "Borat" has raised anew concerns among some in the Jewish community about the character's notoriously boastful expressions of anti-Semitism and stereotyping of others.

When approaching this film, one has to understand that there is absolutely no intent on the part of the filmmakers to offend, and no malevolence on the part of Sacha Baron Cohen, who is himself proudly Jewish. We hope that everyone who chooses to see the film understands Mr. Cohen's comedic technique, which is to use humor to unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.

We are concerned, however, that one serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.

While Mr. Cohen's brand of humor may be tasteless and even offensive to some, we understand that the intent is to dash stereotypes, not to perpetuate them. It is our hope that everyone in the audience will come away with an understanding that some types of comedy that work well on screen do not necessarily translate well in the real world -- especially when attempted on others through retelling or mimicry.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Cohen chose to make jokes at the expense of Kazakhstan. It would have been better to have used a mythological country, rather than focus on a specific nation.
I watched the trailer here. You don't need a Ph.D. in Film and Television Studies or and M.F.A. in Film and Television Production to see there is absolutely intent on the part of the filmmakers to offend, and there is obvious malevolence on the part of Sacha Baron Cohen. He uses crude anti-Semitism --as well as anti-Kazakh jokes, which for some reason the ADL recognizes might offend--to get cheap laughs.

A deep shonda--for Borat and Foxman and the ADL.

Jim Lehrer's Newshour on the Future of Iraq

Recently, I've been watching a fascinating series of interviews on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer about the future of Iraq. Someone I know told me that they are all available on the web--here's the link:
As part of a series of conversations about mapping out a new U.S. strategy in Iraq, James Dobbins, a former Bush administration official now with the RAND Corporation, discusses the need to involve Iraq's neighbors in the effort to stabilize and rebuild the war-torn nation.

Past conversations:
Frederick Kagan on adding troops to end the violence
Eric Davis on encouraging economic projects
Michael Vickers on training Iraqi security forces
Peter Galbraith on decentralizing Iraq
Phyllis Bennis on withdrawing U.S. troops

Willy Lam on the Future of China

Just heard an interesting presentation on the future of China under President Hu on C-Span radio while in the car. WIlly Lam--author of Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges-- sounds like he knows what he's talking about. You can listen to to his analysis of the Middle Kingdom via this link to the Heritage Foundation website.

You can buy his book from here:

Counsellor At Law

A friend in Chicago insisted that someone I know and I order Counsellor At Law from Netflix immediately and tell him what we thought of it. So, we put it at the top of our queue. Last night, it arrived (for some reason the mail now gets to our place after 6pm). And we watched this 1933 William Wyler film version of Elmer Rice's Broadway play, starring John Barrymore and a very young Melvin Douglas, among others.

Turns out that TV shows like Boston Legal and LA Law have nothing on early Hollywood depictions of the lives of officers of the court. John Barrymore does a memorable star turn as super-lawyer George Simon, whose fancy offices in the Empire State Building are a Grand Central Station of murder, infidelity, corruption, financial impropriety, communism, and blackmail--as well as love, loyalty, and success.

Elmer Rice was trained as a lawyer, and the realism of the script is obvious. The 80-minutes are so fast paced, it's a roller-coaster ride of laughs, suspense, and relief. Plus, the plot conflict pits John Barrymore's scrappy ethnic America --Jews, Italians & Irish--against snobby and prejudiced blue-bloods played by Doris Kenyon and Melvin Douglas.

They really don't make them like this anymore... 5 stars. (Amazing coincidence, it is distributed by the same company as my film: Kino International.)

William Shawcross: No Exit from Iraq

From William Shawcross's article in The Spectator (subscription required):
Iraq’s deputy prime minister Barham Salih made an excellent impression in London this week — but he was surprised if not horrified by the level of hysteria and ‘defeatism’ that he found in the media.

The bias in much of the coverage of Iraq, both here and in the United States, helps only those violent extremists who are trying to destroy the country. It dreadfully discourages all the millions of Iraqis who still need our support to build a decent society.

President Bush was not wrong when he said recently that the spike in terrorist attacks in Iraq is similar to the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. Both aimed at domestic opinion. Al-Qa’eda and the Shia terrorists hope to inflict Republican defeats in November’s elections which will weaken American commitment to the future of Iraq — and thus strengthen Islamism throughout the world. As Barham Salih said, for our own sake as well as that of Iraq, we need to be ‘realistic, not defeatist’.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Leon Aron on Evgeny Yasin and the Future of Russia

Leon Aron discusses the views of the author of Will Democracy Take in Russia? in AEI Russian Outlook:
So, will democracy take in Russia? Yasin, a professional economist, answers that question only in terms of probabilities and conditions.

The long national tradition is clearly authoritarian. But Russia is no longer the backward peasant society it was for most of its history. With 74 percent of Russians living in cities and towns, and with the democratic revolution destroying what Yasin calls “the foundations of the hierarchical social structures,” the only remnant of authoritarianism today resides in what is known as the “vertical of power” created by the Kremlin.

Poverty and inequality are the other major impediments, but the economic growth between 1999-2002 reduced poverty by half, to about a quarter of the population. Another halving, to 12-15 percent, is now a realistic prospect, and, in Yasin’s view, it renders Russia’s social structure potentially compatible with a stable democracy.

Of course, the pressures of the age-long Russian political culture are strong, and the habits of fear, servility, and civic passivity die very hard. Together, they may yet keep Russia “in the same old rut of low competitiveness and backwardness” it occupied for centuries.

Yet there is no reason why the tripartite formula of success--democratization, free economic system, and humanism--which Yasin holds responsible for propelling other post-authoritarian nations toward impressive achievements, cannot work in Russia. Sooner or later, people will appear who, as in the 1990s, will attempt to put this formula in practice--and finish remaking Russia into a viable, free, and modern country."

“Democracy is only beginning in Russia,” Yasin concludes. “But if there be democracy, there will be Russia as well.”

Save Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Melanie Phillips calls for action to save the life of a Bangladesh editor facing trial for supporting Israel:
So much for principle and consistency. The so-called liberal newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic are silent about the fate of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. So too, as far as I know, have been the so-called human rights NGOs. There is, in short, widespread indifference to the persecution of a decent, truly moderate Muslim by the Islamist fascists who threaten all of us. When push comes to shove, therefore, all the pious talk about supporting Muslim reformers in their heroic stand against Islamic extremists is the purest cant and humbug. For western governments, Choudhury is too marginal, too inconvenient. For so-called western ‘multicultural’ liberals, he can’t be a cause to champion because he does not fit the stereotype — he actually supports Israel and Zionism, for heaven’s sake, and thus puts such ‘anti-racists’ to shame by exposing their own indefensible prejudice against Jewish self-determination.

Above all, how can they condemn Bangladesh and hold it to account? Only western countries can be guilty of terrible deeds, after all; the third world is by definition the blameless victim of western imperialism (sic). So there will be no marches on Bangladesh High Commissions, no boycott calls from humbugging academics, no impassioned leading articles or op-eds in the posh papers in solidarity with one of their own profession who is being persecuted for telling the truth.

Shameful — and short-sighted. For the fate of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is our own.
More on the case here.

Christopher Hitchens: No Exit from Iraq

From Slate:
I am glad that all previous demands for withdrawal or disengagement from Iraq were unheeded, because otherwise we would not be able to celebrate the arrest and trial of Saddam Hussein; the removal from the planet of his two sadistic kids and putative successors; the certified disarmament of a former WMD- and gangster-sponsoring rogue state; the recuperation of the marshes and their ecology and society; the introduction of a convertible currency; the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan (currently advertising for investors and tourists on American television); the killing of al-Qaida's most dangerous and wicked leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and many of his associates; the opening of dozens of newspapers and radio and TV stations; the holding of elections for an assembly and to approve a constitution; and the introduction of the idea of federal democracy as the only solution for Iraq short of outright partition and/or civil war. If this cause is now to be considered defeated, by the sheer staggering persistence in murder and sabotage of the clerico-fascist forces and the sectarian militias, then it will always count as a noble one.

But the many disappointments and crimes and blunders (the saddest of which is the utter failure to influence Iran, and the corresponding advantage taken by Tehran-backed militias) do not relieve us of a responsibility that is either insufficiently stressed or else passed over entirely: What is to become, in the event of a withdrawal, of the many Arab and Kurdish Iraqis who do want to live in a secular and democratic and federal country? We have acquired this responsibility not since 2003, or in the sideshow debate over prewar propaganda, but over decades of intervention in Iraq's affairs, starting with the 1968 Baathist coup endorsed by the CIA, stretching through Jimmy Carter's unforgivable permission for Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, continuing through the decades of genocide in Kurdistan and the uneasy compromise that ended the Kuwait war, and extending through 12 years of sanctions and half-measures, including the "no-fly" zones and the Iraq Liberation Act, which passed the Senate without a dissenting vote. It is not a responsibility from which we can walk away when, or if, it seems to suit us.

Some time ago, I wrote rather offhandedly that the coalition forces in Iraq act as the defensive militia for those who have no militia. I get e-mails from civilians and soldiers in that country, as well as from its growing number of exiles, and this little remark generated more traffic than I have had in a while. Just look at the report in the Oct. 30 New York Times about the kidnapping of an Iraqi-American Army interpreter in the (still) relatively civilized Baghdad neighborhood of Karada. A few days earlier, according to the residents who tried with bare hands to stop the abduction, the same gang had been whipping teenage boys with cables for the crime of wearing shorts. (It is always useful to know what is on the minds of the pious.) A Sunday Washington Post headline referred to the "tipping point" in the erosion of congressional support for the Iraq intervention. Well, the "tipping point" between the grim status quo in Karada and its full-scale Talibanization is rather more acute. And does anyone want to argue that a Talibanized Iraq would not require our attention down the road if we left it behind us?

There are many different plans to reconfigure forces within Iraq and to accommodate, in one way or another, its increasingly tribal and sectarian politics. (Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith's suggestion, arising from his admirable book The End of Iraq, involves a redeployment to the successful and peaceful north, with the ability to answer requests for assistance from the central government and the right to confront al-Qaida forces without notice.) But all demands for an evacuation are based on the fantasy that there is a distinction between "over there" and "over here." In a world-scale confrontation with jihadism, this distinction is idle and false. It also involves callously forgetting the people who would be the first victims but who would not by any means be the last ones.

Dan Gordon: No Exit from Iraq

From The American Thinker:
Whether we like it or not, we are in a war with Islamist terrorists. It is not a “supposed war,” or a war with quotation marks around it. Al-Qaeda declared its war against America years before 9/11. 9/11 was simply their Pearl Harbor. To suggest, as some have, that America and its actions in Iraq are the only thing that stands between us and peace with the Islamo terrorists would be like saying that after Pearl Harbor the reason we were at war with Japan was because we engaged the Japanese at Wake Island. The truth is much more uncomfortable. We are at war with Islamist terrorists because they want to kill us. That is not hyperbole, nor is it metaphor. They have announced it as clearly and as plainly as humanly possible. Al-Qaeda has declared we have the following choice: convert to Islam or die.

Well, the intelligentsia amongst us would have us believe that is just a Karl Rove ploy meant to frighten voters into voting for Republicans. There also lurks behind the knowing condescension the assumption that no matter what Al-Qaeda or the Ayatollahs might want in their demented fantasies, they can never really accomplish it. Maybe a few thousand die here or there, but the rest of us will still sip our lattes and shine it on. They can’t, after all, cripple America.

Actually, that’s not the case.

Just as the Spanish Civil War was a preview of what European Fascism had in store for the world, so too was the recent Israel/Hezb’allah war a preview of what Islamo Fascism has in store.

Consider this, right now as you read this, northern Mexico is by and large ruled not by its own government nor its police, nor even its military. It is ruled by drug cartels who cut off the heads of policemen and stick them up in American tourists resorts like Rosarita Beach. Like those drug cartels, Hezb’allah makes a good deal of its money which it uses to finance its terrorists activities, in the drug trade, primarily out of the Beka Valley.

Hezb’allah today has hundreds if not thousands of its terrorist operatives already in place in South America. It would be a small matter indeed for Hezb’allah units to collude with the drug cartels now ruling northern Mexico. Then with little more than the rockets already in Iran’s arsenal, with even a modest nuclear warhead (the kind which most estimates believe will be within Iran’s capabilities to produce in no more than a few years) those same Hezb’allah cells could take out the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While a similar unit, operating from southern Canada could just as easily take out the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Those two acts by themselves would plunge the United States into a depression which would last decades. Such a scenario is not only possible, it is highly probable; especially if the US is defeated in Iraq and the Islamist terrorists believe they are on a roll. And make no mistake about who it is they want to kill. If you are a Christian they want to kill you. If you are a Jew they want to kill you. If you are a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Taoist, or a Jain, or a Muslim of a slightly different creed, they want to kill you. If you a secularist and believe in gay marriage, gay adoption, gay rights, or gay pride, they want to kill you. If you watch movies and like rock n’ roll, if you read Playboy, or Cosmo, if you wear mini-skirts, or “allow” your daughter, wife or girlfriend to do so, they want to kill you. When they say convert to Islam or die, they mean convert to Islam or they will kill you.

I know you don’t like that. I know you don’t want to believe that. I know you would like to believe only a cross eyed, red necked, right wing, apocalyptic, bozo hick like George Bush would believe such a thing, but that won’t let you off the hook. However much you don’t want to believe it, however much you would like it to go away, however loudly you whistle in the dark and comfort yourself with the sweet thought of Nancy Pelosi hanging her drapes over Denny Hastert’s fat, dead, humiliated body, it is still true.

If we quit Iraq they will follow us home. If they are defeated in Iraq, it does not mean the end of them. It does mean, however, that the wind will be knocked out of them. It means they will have suffered a set back that will take them almost as long to overcome as it took us to get over Vietnam.

But you say that we’ve already lost in Iraq. If you don’t believe it just watch CNN.

Well here is the odd truth, which for some reason, absolutely no one seems to realize. Precisely because Iraq is such a mess, the terrorists now believe it is all but inevitable that they will win. They can smell victory. They can taste it. They are ramping up the equivalent of their air craft carrier landings under the banner “Jihad Accomplished.”

But for the first time, since World War II, for some insane reason, the previous paradigm is reversed. In every other conflict of this type one always hears the sentence “All the Viet Cong have to do, or Hezb’allah has to do, or all the Resistance has to do in order to win is simply survive.” Thus by having outlasted the lumbering oaf, the West will be defeated. Well, guess what, in Iraq of 2006 precisely because they so smell victory, for the first time since World War II, all America has to do in order to win, is not lose.

Let me say it again, in Iraq, all America has to do in order to win is not lose.

All America has to do in order to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Iranian backed terrorists is not lose to them.

And all we have to do in order to not lose to them is not to leave before the Iraqis can bring the violence to a manageable level.

They don’t have to end the violence.

They just have to be able to bring it to a manageable level, a level in which they can maintain an elected government and manage their affairs with a minimum of help or indeed presence of US forces.

All we have to do to win is not leave until then.

Why do I believe that this is so? Because it is precisely what the terrorists are telling us. This is their Tet offensive. This is their attempt to influence our elections. If they can help elect a Congress that will cut off funds for the war, then just as was the case in Vietnam, that is precisely what will happen. And when it happens we will leave. In defeat.

All we have to do to win is not lose.

All we have to do to not lose, is not leave until the Iraqis can manage the violence.

Not defeat it.

Not eliminate it.

Just manage it.

If we stay till then it is the Islamo terrorists who will be gasping for breath.

It will be Midway instead of Pearl Harbor.