Monday, 31 March 2003

Your Jacques Chirac thought of the day

Steven Den Beste today notes the rather curious relationship between Jacques Chirac and Franco-Belgian oil giant TotalFinaElf.

A brief history lesson for those who don’t follow French politics: in 2002, when M. Chirac faced reelection at the end of his seven-year term (since reduced to a five-year term), he was believed to be at the center of a giant campaign finance scandal dating back to the 1980s, and was only immune from further investigation—and prosecution—because of his position as French president. If the far-right National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen hadn’t unexpectedly edged ahead of the socialist Lionel Jospin, leading to a rally around Chirac’s campaign in the run-off round (thus illustrating a fundamental problem with majority run-off elections, including instant run-off voting), Chirac would now likely be facing charges stemming from his alleged involvement in the illegal financial shenanigans.

In other words, nobody should be surprised at Chirac’s behavior regarding Iraq: he’s been bought and paid for. Perhaps the only surprise is how many pockets he’s been paid from.

There’s more at Glenn’s place.

Saturday, 29 March 2003

Pim Fortuyn

Pieter at Peaktalk has posted a brief overview of the political career of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch conservative-libertarian politician who was gunned down by an animal rights extremist in 2002. No excerpts; go Read The Whole Thing™.

Light bloggage this weekend

Posting will be light through Sunday evening, for the following reasons:

  1. I need to finish my Midwest paper.

  2. The Red-Blue Game is this afternoon.

  3. I still need to finish up the promised LSblog work behind-the-scenes (mainly on the admin interface). If you read the RSS feed, you may have already noted the Open Directory categories that are now associated with each entry; that’s one of the new under-the-hood features (particularly interesting if you're interested in aggregating this content—I'll post some thoughts on that soon).

More blogagge soon…

Friday, 28 March 2003

It's a definite maybe

Colby Cosh helpfully clarifies the Canadian government’s position on the Iraq conflict. It turns out that Paul Cellucci was simultaneously right and wrong to criticize Canada for their lack of support…

Did the Beeb sign Salam Pax's death warrant?

Alan E. Brain at the Command Post reports that the BBC World Service presented a “comprehensive dossier” on Baghdad blogger Salam Pax this morning. (Also see this post by Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.) If the information was in as much detail as Alan suggests, our favorite citizen of Baghdad could be in serious trouble.

I guess Andrew Sullivan doesn’t call them the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation for nothing…

Thursday, 27 March 2003

Nope, no al-Qaeda links here…

Gethain Chamberlain of The Scotsman reports that Iraqi POWs captured in Basra indicate an al-Qaeda cell is operating in the city:

Near Basra, Iraq: British military interrogators claim captured Iraqi soldiers have told them that al-Qaeda terrorists are fighting on the side of Saddam Hussein’s forces against allied troops near Basra.

At least a dozen members of Osama bin Laden’s network are in the town of Az Zubayr where they are coordinating grenade and gun attacks on coalition positions, according to the Iraqi prisoners of war. ...

A senior British military source inside Iraq said: “The information we have received from PoWs today is that an al-Qaeda cell may be operating in Az Zubayr. There are possibly around a dozen of them and that is obviously a matter of concern to us.”

Nothing to see here; move along…

Via the Command Post and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Cellucci in Canada

Some remarks made by Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, during a visit to Toronto on Tuesday are causing quite a stir on both sides of the border. His speech to the Economic Club of Toronto raised hackles in Ottawa due to his criticism of the Chrétien government’s stance on the War in Iraq, while his responses to the media after the speech have caused a stir south of the border in the lefty and centrist wing of the blogosphere. According to The Globe and Mail, Cellucci said:

Mr. Cellucci said the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but “there may be short-term strains here.”

Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, “You’ll have to wait and see.” But he cryptically added it is his government’s position that “security will trump trade,” implying possible implications for cross-border traffic.

Dan Drezner’s critique is reasonable, although I think he (along with Jacob T. Levy, Henry Farrell, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum of CalPundit) may be reading too much into an off-hand comment; a presidential administration has limited control over what annoyed members of Congress might attach to an appropriations bill, nor can it really control the effects of a grassroots economic boycott. And, like it or not, administration policy is that “security will trump trade”; it certainly trumps all sorts of other things, as both the War on Drugs and PATRIOT Act have proven.

On the other hand, others have different perspectives: Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk believes that Cellucci was delivering a much-needed wakeup call to Canada’s political and business elite, Mike Watkins thinks it’s a good thing that Cellucci brought the issues of anti-Americanism and anti-Canadianism to the forefront (and notes a generational divide within his half-American, half-Canadian family), Tim G. in Toronto thinks Cellucci wasn’t nearly blunt enough, and Laurent seems to think (my French is a tad rusty) that it’s a big dustup over nothing: « le commerce prévaut sur la politique étrangère » (trade prevails over foreign politics).

As I’ve mentioned before, the Chrétien government has missed the boat on the “secure perimeter”; although Canada would have had to reform its asylum and immigration procedures somewhat to secure American agreement, the economic benefits of a Schengen-style union with an open border would greatly outweigh the loss of sovereignty associated with the arrangement (as in the case of NAFTA). As Cellucci discusses in the speech, there is increased coordination between Immigration Canada and the U.S. INS, but it’s a lot more hassle than would be necessary if both the U.S. and Canada could come to a common agreement on visa and asylum policy. Chrétien made this bed, and now he has to lie in it.

More perspectives via Feedster; Alec Saunders has a good roundup of Canadian reaction.

Jacob has just posted an update, including an email from a Canadian civil servant. There's one telling quote:

As a side note, I wonder if part of the problem in relations is that Bush's administration pays more attention to what other leaders say for domestic consumption than past administrations. There's some evidence that he's more aware of other leaders playing up anti-Americanism in their home countries than any other President before him; at the minimum, he is more bothered by it.

I think this is largely reflective of how Bush 43 deals with the world; since other countries’ leaders think nothing of using remarks he makes for domestic consumption (including everyone’s favorite bug-bears like the International Criminal Court and Kyoto, where his substantive policy is the same as Bill Clinton’s) against him, he feels entitled to do the same to them.

Dan Simon (found via Jacob) comments at length as well; the most important paragraph:

The real issue—the one about which Cellucci issued his veiled threat—is that of “homeland security”. For various reasons, the Canadian government has at times dragged its feet in dealing with terrorist groups, with the result that Canada has come to be viewed as something of a haven, and even a staging ground, for anti-US terorist cells. (Recall that Ahmed Ressam was caught importing bombing materials across the border from Canada in 1999.) As long as the border between the US and Canada remains wide open, American border security is in practice no tighter than Canadian border security, and Canada's generous immigration laws and occasionally lax attitude towards certain violent groups is thus of direct concern to US officials. Hence Cellucci's remark that “[f]or Canada the priority is trade, for us the priority is security….Security trumps trade.”

I think Dan’s hit the nail on the head.

Wednesday, 26 March 2003

We're Fucked

Well, I know I was completely gung ho for the war, but Scott Ritter has convinced me that this is going to be the worst military defeat since the Little Big Horn. All hail Saddam, our new leader!

For new visitors, this is extreme sarcasm.

Incumbent protection

Radley Balko today discusses campaign finance “reform”, pointing out that it’s more about incumbent protection than restoring faith in the political process. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Gitmo Endgame?

Michele at A Small Victory quite rightly takes to task those that make an analogy between our treatment of the Gitmo detainees from Afghanistan to Hussein’s treatment of allied POWs. However, it does raise the question: what’s the long-term plan for the Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay? Some have apparently been released recently, but many others still remain in custody, apparently indefinitely.

Obviously the idea is that eventually they’ll be put in front of some sort of tribunal, but there have been no public indications of when these tribunals will come about, nor are there any suggestions of handing them over to the new Afghan authorities for trial on charges there. It seems to me that the administration has, at the very least, dropped the ball on communicating what it plans to do to resolve the situation of the detainees.

Tuesday, 25 March 2003

Scud Stud II?

Michele is hosting a debate on the burning issue of the day. No, not whether there’s an uprising in Basra… rather, who’s hotter: NBC’s David Bloom or Fox’s Rick Leventhal? If you’re a Bloomie, he’s losing bad, so you may want to contribute your opinion.

As a practicing heterosexual, I should probably mention my thing for MSNBC’s Chris Jansing. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t…

Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez

One major reason I don’t have a lot of time for the conservative movement—“paleo” or “neo”—is the rabidly anti-immigrant character of much of it (yes, John Derbyshire, I’m talking about you). The story of Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who was among the first casulaties of the war, ought to give them pause. Gutierrez, like most immigrants, came here to build a better life for himself, but, also like most immigrants, ended up building a better life for all of us. That a man who wasn’t even a citizen would put his life on the line for America not only reflects highly on him, it demonstrates the greatness of our country.

Found via Matt Welch and OxBlog.

BBC Redux

More pessimism from the Beeb’s warblog in the past 24 hours. At 2252 GMT on Monday, David Willis helpfully comments on the status of the campaign:

It seems the army and militia men may well have set out from southern Baghdad with the intention of ambushing the convoys as they approach Baghdad and engage them in urban-style guerrilla warfare—the last thing the British and American forces wanted so early in the campaign.

The last thing? The BBC’s obsession with the alleged nightmare scenario is becoming preposterous, particularly since the worst-case is always what’s happening now. If on Thursday the Iraqis had strung up Saddam, Qusay and Uday with piano wire, the Beeb probably would have called that a nightmare scenario too.

Meanwhile, in today’s news, Jonathan Marcus (1045 GMT) tells us what’s going on in Basra—except, he’s in Qatar:

I think British forces are very reluctant to move into Basra, after all this is a largely Shia city they believed they would be welcomed in.

I’m not even certain that sentence parses. In the absence of any statement why the “British forces are very reluctant to move” in, it’s a complete non-sequitor that only makes sense if you live with Jonathan Marcus’s worldview. My response: “I think Jonathan Marcus is eminently qualified to tell us what’s going on in Basra, after all he’s sitting in Doha with the rest of the international press corps asking stupid questions at press conferences.”

Adrian Mynott (0845 GMT), who actually is where he’s talking about, thinks he has spotted why Umm Qasr is no longer giving the coalition fits:

The Americans tended to be much more confrontational. If they saw problems they tended to retreat and open fire if necessary. Whereas the British approach certainly has been to move in with a small squad, surround the area, and detain a few people. It seems to be working on the face of it.

Moving in, surrounding the area, and detaining a few people sounds pretty confrontational to me. But then again, I’m just a simplisme American.

Rageh Omarr (1310 GMT) fancies himself an expert on military hardware:

From my hotel room which is on the banks of the Tigris River, I can’t see across to the other side of the river bank. It’s an absolutely blinding sandstorm, and I would have thought it would be almost impossible for helicopters to be flying in this weather.

However it hasn’t stopped the bombardments of positions on the outskirts of the city. I’ve been hearing deep explosions and rumbles coming from the south, which must be very very heavy bombs because you can hear them in the here [sic] centre of the city from 20 km away.

That’s right, he apparently thinks we’re dropping precision-guided bombs on Baghdad and its outskirts with helicopters.

On the lighter side, Andrew Gilligan (0635 GMT) is putting his MI5 training to work:

We’ve seen no fewer than six ministers in the last three days. They’re travelling around incognito.

They lock you in the press conference so you can’t see where they’re going, but I sneaked out through the kitchens and saw them making off in a taxi. So they are actually still in Baghdad and still very defiant.

The name’s Gilligan. Andrew Gilligan.

Monday, 24 March 2003

Focus on the Nitwits

Arthur Silber notes that someone else has gotten in on the war action—our friends at Focus on the Family:

“As soon as the dust settles after the conflict, (USAID will) be sending in the condom pushers and the sex educators,” Mosher said. “There is the view at USAID that we need to remake these societies in the image of Hollywood or in the image of Manhattan. (That) we need to attack the patriarchal family.”

USAID told Family News in Focus that their priority will be to provide basic health services to the Iraqi people, and those services will not include condom distribution. However, the fact that USAID has pushed its pro-condom and pro-abortion views in other countries has many conservative pro-family organizations thinking Iraq will be the next victim.

That’s right: of all the things they possibly could care about, they’re worried that the Iraqis might (gasp) get rubbers from American aid. I’m speechless.

Via Radley Balko.

Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation?

Andrew Sullivan frequently carries items on the leftist slant of the BBC, Britain’s state-funded (out of a per-household tax on television possession) media outlet. He notes that the Beeb’s bias is finally being discovered on this side of the pond:

I’m somewhat thrilled my little obsession of the past couple months has begun to find new converts. Not exactly my persuasive powers. More due to the fact that suddenly the BBC is being broadcast live to Americans. That funny, subtle sound you hear is of a few thousand jaws dropping. The Mickster suddenly sees what I’ve been going on about. Here’s Rand Simberg too.

People not familiar with the Beeb, or not familiar with how Britons normally speak, may miss some of the subtleties. One that may be of particular interest to my fellow Americans: listen closely, and you’ll find that there are not one, but two BBC pronunciations of “American”: one form is the descriptive, and one form is the “sneer.” The version with the i pronounced as a long “e” is the sneer; the version with the i prounounced as a ə (schwa), as most Americans would pronounce it, is the descriptive.

However, this is a largely subjective approach. Another way to discover BBC bias is to read their reporters’ largely unfiltered weblog entries. For example, Andrew North writes (emphasis mine):

The commanders of this US marine unit here have admitted that they were surprised by just how hard and how determined the Iraqis fought yesterday.

Now, admitted is a pretty loaded word. Rene J. Cappon, in The Word (now retitled as The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting), explicitly warns against using it:

Admit, as in admitting a crime, implies yielding reluctantly under pressure. The company chairman admitted that interest rates had not been factored into production estimates suggests that he came clean after an astute reporter put the thumbscrews to him. In fact, he volunteered the information. Use said or acknowledged.

Peter Hunt, however, won’t be outdone by Andy:

It is the very worst possible news for the British military. They have suffered a series of setbacks and now this—two servicemen missing in southern Iraq.

The very worst possible news? No, I think the very worst possible news would be that Saddam had flattened a Kuwaiti airstrip with a tactical nuke, killing thousands of British and allied servicemen. While the loss of two servicemen is sad, Peter really needs to get some perspective.

Let’s examine some of yesterday’s coverage while we’re at it. Ian Pannell writes:

One expects within 24hrs the pictures of the captured servicemen will be shown on American TV networks.

I don’t think it will change people’s minds about the war because they are rallying behind the troops. But after the war it may raise problems for the president.

Perhaps Ian could enlighten the rest of us as to what problems he expects might come of this, because I’m completely at a loss. Meanwhile, Andrew Gilligan blogs from Baghdad, noting the Iraqis’ “search and rescue” techniques, which Lt. Gen. John Abizad rightly derided in todays’ press conference as leaving “a lot to be desired”:

They combed the banks of the Tigris just opposite the hotel and for a second time today they were burning the shrubbery to flush out any downed enemy pilot.

Odd that Andy would forget to mention the Iraqis that decided to fire their Kalashnikovs into the Tigris, which I suspect was the most vivid memory anyone took from the video footage of the “search.” Fellow BBC reporter Adrian Mynott, somewhere near Umm Qasr, has some issues of his own:

The suggestion that was being made in the planning of this operation—that this may take a day or a few hours to sort our [sic] have proved to be very wrong—this is proving to be a major thorn in the coalition’s side and indeed something of an embarrassment.

Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing to the Allies when they landed in Normandy and they hadn’t captured Paris by the end of the day, too. What is this guy smoking? Adrian’s confusing an optimistic estimate with the benchmark the operation’s supposed to be held to.

Finally, Steve Kingstone takes the biscuit for the most idiotic statement:

As the Pentagon and any US official you speak to sees it, there is confusion in the control and command structure of the Iraqi regime.

We have no way of knowing if that is true but it seems they think the more they say it, it will filter through.

Great mind-reading, Steve. Alternate thesis: perhaps they keep saying it because they believe it to be true.

Now, I won’t go out on a limb and say the Beeb is “pro-Saddam,” or even leftist. I don’t know how many leftists there are in Broadcasting House. At the very least, I think the BBC takes its “mission statement” too seriously, in the sense that they are excessively critical of British government policy, and confusing opposition with objectivity; an instructive comparison is to the U.S.-funded Voice of America, which manages to critically examine the U.S. and allied governments without the exaggeration that characterizes the BBC. However, that does not explain, in and of itself, the BBC’s criticism of America, which suggests a far more sinister explanation: that the BBC sees its mission as transformational rather than informational. If so, a lot of British taxpayers should quite rightly object.

Andrew has some more reader mail today on the topic.

Incidentally, I distinctly remember another, heavily biased entry that alleged that the bombings in Baghdad were deliberately targeted in a line so the international media would see them. It apparently has been deleted since.

Sunday, 23 March 2003

“Operation Parking Lot”

That’s what Robyn is now advocating (in comments at Michele’s place) in response to the treatment of U.S. POWs by Iraq. Ian Pannell in the BBC’s warblog is both right and wrong:

One expects within 24hrs the pictures of the captured servicemen will be shown on American TV networks.

I don’t think it will change people’s minds about the war because they are rallying behind the troops. But after the war it may raise problems for the president.

There has been a great deal of anger.

There has been a great deal of anger. But it will only “raise problems for the president” if those responsible, including the Iraqi information minister, aren’t either killed in action or put on trial after the war. The evidence of executions of prisoners of war, if borne out by further investigation, will result in rage against Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. The words of Gen. Wesley Clark in Monday’s Times of London are particularly prescient:

The scenes of those American soldiers held captive and, possibly, executed, will inflame US public opinion; opinion that is already 75 per cent in favor of this operation. Those who are demonstrating against the operation will have to contend with even stronger public sympathies for the troops. This may well strengthen support for the policies that took us to war. As for the leaders of the coalition, President Bush and Tony Blair, there is no turning back. They, of all people, understand clearly that they must press ahead with even more determination.

The Iraqi regime, or what is left of it, has grossly miscalculated if they believe we will have a Mogadishu Moment in response. And when they’re sitting in front of a war crimes trial in Baghdad or Basra in a few months, perhaps those of Saddam’s minions responsible will ponder why they traded their chance at a new life in post-Saddam Iraq for a firing squad.

Stylesheet switching

I’ve added a new feature: you can now change stylesheets using the new options on the right sidebar, and it will persist between visits using cookies. Note that the “run-in” style doesn’t seem to work except in browsers that are highly compliant with CSS level 2, which at the moment means recent Camino™, Mozilla, and Phoenix releases (and possibly Netscape 7). Newer builds of Safari may also produce the desired effects. However, the “serif” and “sans-serif” styles should be fine in any recent browser.

As expected, the run-in look (which I'm now using on my system as a default) works nicely in Safari (and, by extension, KHTML). However, Opera and IE have trouble with the :first-child selector, which stops them from working right. (IE also has trouble with :after.) I've also added a few new things to the stylesheet that produce neat effects in newer browsers.

Also behind the scenes, I've combined the CGI and Publisher versions of the page-handling code. The next step is to improve the administrative interface (which, frankly, sucks at the moment) and convert it to be XHTML-compatible (the front-end already is; it's not served or declared as XHTML for various reasons). After that, I think I'll be ready to put up a public release.

Saturday, 22 March 2003

Missing a good opportunity to shut up

Now, Jacques, this would qualify. As the old phrase goes, the Palestinians never seem to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. First 1991 (which got all of the Palestinians thrown out of Kuwait), then the intifada, then rejecting Oslo, then the 9/11 celebrations (which cost the Palis whatever goodwill they had in America), and now Iraq. You think they'd learn eventually.

Link via Glenn Reynolds.

Don't mention the war

My NCAA tournament bracket is doing fairly well so far. Thanks to Kate and the gang at The Kitchen Cabinet for hosting the contest!

I don’t have a lot to say about the war today; however, I think it’s a safe bet that the 3rd Infantry Division is much further than the “100 miles inside Iraq” that CNN has been reporting for the last day or so, especially considering that they are still moving.

Thursday, 20 March 2003

Iraqi Freedom: Day One Roundup

Well, the so-called “shock and awe” hasn’t been particularly shocking or awesome (although see Michele’s parody thereof), but there’s still some fascinating stuff going on.

  • The live footage via satellite phone on the networks is simply stunning, even if it looks like RealVideo circa 1998. Other TV coverage has been hit-or-miss; the BBC (via BBC America) in particular seems to be spending a lot of time in the studio, as is the CBC (via Newsworld International), while the US-based networks seem to have a lot more field reporting.

  • Some of the live blogging is great; Sean-Paul Kelley has been running continuous updates, while the Command Post has lots of contributors keeping things up-to-date as well. Particularly interesting is the BBC’s weblog (URL changes daily), which has frequent updates from reporters from the field, while Salam Pax has semi-regular updates from Baghdad (at least until the power goes out).

  • Chuck Watson continues to have great satellite images of southern Iraq; he reports that he’s averaging 1000 pageviews/hour.

  • The U.S. peace protests have evaporated and the anarchists and vandals have taken over, from everything I can tell. I can’t say I’m particularly surprised.

  • The Iraqi regime seems to be falling apart as we speak. Good riddance.

It appears that the battle for Basra is imminent, assuming that the Marines are still tasked for that region. We may yet see some shock and awe before the night is through.

Blowing the oil wells?

Chuck Watson of Shoutin’ Across the Pacific has been assembling NOAA weather satellite imagery of the Iraq region for the past few months. Today, he notes the sudden appearance of new smoke plumes near Basra in southeastern Iraq, near the Kuwaiti border.

Also of interest may be the continuous updates on Sean-Paul Kelley’s website (which I inadvertently omitted from my previous post).

CNN is reporting at 10:00 CST that the Pentagon has verified that there are two oil wells on fire in southern Iraq. Advantage: Chuck!

How to blog the war

Dima (now safely ensconsed in his new, Movable Type-powered digs) is having trouble deciding how best to cover the war in his blog. I think, for the most part, blogging won’t be all that important in the early stages, unless there are any “embedded bloggers” out there (ground-pounders like LT Smash are in a good position to report, but they have more important jobs to do), although a bit of live blogging of key events may be useful. It seems to me that analysis is probably the best approach, for two reasons:

  1. Traffic: Most blogs don’t draw enough traffic for “quickie” updates to be all that useful to readers. While you might be able to build traffic by focusing on updates, I’m not sure there’s that big an unsatiated demand out there for it. If there is such demand, I think VodkaPundit and Glenn Reynolds already have it covered.

  2. Perspective: Especially during the early days of the war, Fox News, CNN, the BBC, the major networks, and even the newspapers are likely to be giving very superficial, “what’s happening this instant” coverage. Bloggers may be able to take a step back and give some more thoughtful commentary, or tie some disparate threads together.

But, of course, I could be completely wrong. (Just now, for example, I’m resisting the urge to liveblog Captain Combover’s remarks.)

Chretien has failed the test

The new blog PeakTalk is the weblog of an expat living in western Canada. He's got a great post on the failure of Jean Chrétien and the Liberals to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their biggest trading partner and military protector. As he says:

If you still believe, in spite of the all strong arguments noted above, that after 12 years of arguments and sanctions it is not right to attack Iraq, you may very well make that point, but you lose all credibility if you fail to support your closest friends that are willing to stand up to the source of evil that is confronting the world. With American, British and Australian soldiers likely to die in the next few days, the least you could do as a friend and ally is to express some level of support to your friends and especially to your closest neighbor who also happens to be your major customer, in this case buying 85% of everything that you export abroad. And not only that, that southern neighbor also provides for your security as you have miserably neglected to do anything about your own defense and you have indicated a considerable degree of unwillingness to integrate security arrangements for a North American perimeter that might have benefited the security of your and your neighbor's citizens. The legacy of Prime Minister Chrétien is that he has relegated the status of a once powerful nation like Canada to that of a completely irrelevant bystander that even in times of acute danger can not bring itself to support those that are willing to contain the danger and are taking on the dirty work.

There's lots more. In particular, the failure of the Chrétien government to cooperate in creating a so-called “secure perimeter” has been a remarkably short-sighted development that has set back the development of NAFTA and stalled the integration of the North American economy, hurting economic growth in both the United States and Canada.

In terms of Canadian domestic politics, I am not as confident as PeakTalk that this will undermine the Liberal government. Due to the highly fractured nature of Canadian politics, it is hard to imagine any credible alternative to the Liberals emerging in the short term, at least until the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives (Tories) come to some sort of arrangement and are able to campaign effectively in Ontario. On the other hand, far stranger things have happened in Canadian politics—the wipe-out of the Tories in 1993, for example—and after a decade in office, Chrétien is overdue for being turfed out onto the street.

Fisking a DM columnist

Patrick Carver has kindly laid down a Fisking of this rather idiotic column in Tuesday’s Daily Mississippian.

Phoenix + Xft + Gtk2 + Xprint build

I‘ve produced a new Phoenix build for Linux. This build adds support for the Xprint extension, which substantially improves printing under Linux. Download it here in bzip2 format. Like the earlier builds, it also supports the Xft font renderer (which allows subpixel rendering, similar to Microsoft's “ClearType”, for LCD screens) and is built against Gtk 2.0.

Wednesday, 19 March 2003

The die is cast

Ari Fleischer has just announced that W is addressing the nation at 9:15 CST, approximately 10 minutes from now. It’s on.

Textile for Python

Mark Pilgrim has helpfully ported the Textile quick markup system to Python; for more information, see this post at Dive Into Mark.

Behind the scenes, I‘ve added support for it to the LSblog backend (just another new feature in the slouch toward a public release).

Tuesday, 18 March 2003

The transatlantic disconnect

Bjørn Stærk today traces overwhelming opposition to war in Norway back to the lack of genuine debate:

[M]uch of the underlying American reasoning behind this war has not actually been presented to the Norwegian people, and when it is, only by those who oppose it. Many remain ignorant about the nature of the fundamental change of perspective that September 11 inflicted on American opinion, believing that the Americans are simply angry and vengeful, that they are gut-level patriots in need of an enemy image. That there might actually be some amount of intellectual activity going on behind the scenes of the Bush administration, activity that is motivated by any higher principles than winning the next election and gaining control of Iraq's oil, would be an utter surprise to many Norwegians - for the simple reason that we haven't been told that any such intellectual activity exists.

Every possible reason for being against this war has, on the other hand, been explored thoroughly and with eagerness. The result has been a debate without meaning, between an articulate anti-war movement and flagwaving strawmen. The peace movement has lost on this, intellectually, as has the war movement. It's an axiom of political debate that there are always intelligent, well-informed people who disagree with you. It's another axiom that the intellectual level of a debate sinks to the level of its dumbest participant, and there are few things dumber than opponents made out of straw.

I suspect that much is the same in most other non-English-speaking countries.

Monday, 17 March 2003


Laurence Simon of Amish Tech Support has helpfully translated the Palestinian Authority’s new civil defense website. Warning for the easily offended: there’s some bulldozer humor.

The Mox has belatedly posted her homeland security parody, too. It’s a hoot.

And so it begins

The VodkaMan will have live coverage of Bush's address. I'm a few minutes behind live TV on TiVo; I honestly don't expect anything new from this speech, though, and I don't expect the green light to be given tonight. But we shall see...

What happened to Chris Patten?

Conrad and Peaktalk ask the same question that I'd been wondering about: what happened to Chris Patten? The only conclusion I can reach is that spending too much time in Brussels has turned him into a Eurocrat drone. As Peaktalk reminds us, Patten once was relatively clueful:

There was a time when I deeply admired Chris Patten. That was when he was still Governor of Hong Kong. I met him a few times when I lived in Hong Kong, the last time when I picked up a few signed copies of his marvelous book “East and West”. You see, Patten was one of the people who promoted free markets and democracy as he so firmly believed in the theory that markets can flourish only in free societies where the rule of law guarantees freedom. That is why he set out to make some drastic changes in Hong Kong’s electoral process while that was still possible before the territory was handed back to China in 1997. He antagonized almost everyone at the time, the Hong Kong and international business community (who were afraid of missing out on deals with China), Hong Kong politicians (afraid of their new masters) and a variety of others who felt the need to be gentle with Beijing. Patten was at the time a lonely crusader supported by only a few. It was brave, it made sense and it was the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, Iain Murray thinks Patten is now eminently qualified to lead Oxford University. If so, let's hope they deprogram him when he crosses the Channel.

Sunday, 16 March 2003

Faking It

One of the few benefits of insomnia is that occasionally you find a TV show on cable that you'd never have found otherwise. Such is the case with TLC's new show “Faking It”, in which a person is recruited to pretend they have experience at something they don't have the faintest clue about; they train for a few weeks and then are presented to a panel of experts who is challenged to find the “faker.” It's sort of like the old game show “To Tell The Truth”, and probably gets its inspiration from the story of Frank Abagnale, the man who gained notoreity as a con artist by pretending to be qualified for jobs he had no training for (recounted in his book Catch Me If You Can and the movie of the same name).

The particular episode I saw was “Ivy League to Big League,” about a 24-year-old self-confessed geek and Harvard graduate (Lesley) who is transformed over three weeks into an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the story isn't so much whether she succeeds or fails, but rather her struggle with an inferiority complex: despite her natural beauty, she still feels unattractive around the “real” cheerleaders. One of the most fascinating (in the Spock-ish, eyebrow-raising sense) things about women is that even most of the ones who don't act like they're obsessed with their appearance are, at least at some level, in a way most guys probably just can't comprehend — in that most guys care about their appearance, but I don't think I've ever met one who wants to look like Brad Pitt, or even compares his appearance to Brad Pitt's. There's probably a life-lesson buried in this fact, somewhere.

Thursday, 13 March 2003


For those who aren't familiar with Florida, the state is not all that monolithic. Ocala, where I'm spending the week and finished up high school, is nestled in the hills of Central Florida and just west of the eponympous Ocala National Forest, and is one of the state's oldest cities (before the 1920s, the state was basically unsettled south of Tampa). The past few decades, it's become a retirement community and increasingly Republican.

But, like the rest of the state, it also has a growing Hispanic population, and nearby Orlando has a Univision affiliate with a very slick evening newscast (and, judging from my limited Spanish, a better newscast than the English-language stations). Still, it was somewhat jarring to be at Wal-Mart (waiting for my car's oil to be changed) and hear the following announcement: “Will a Spanish-speaking associate please pick up line two?” You don't hear that much in Mississippi.

That being said, Ocala is a community that has little to offer relatively young people. I suspect that of all those who will be at my 10th high school reunion, none of the ones who went to college will still be living in Ocala. I'm not sure there's much to do about it — notably, nearby Gainesville offers the bohemian life of a relatively large college town, although the cost of living is somewhat higher. Still, it's home (or at least, as much home as anywhere else has ever been for me), for better or for worse, and I'm sure I'll be back — but I probably won't stay until after my hair starts falling out.

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

Organization (or the lack thereof)

You can tell you're completely disorganized when you think a conference is three weeks later than it actually is. Grr. Something tells me this conference paper isn't going to be a work of art...

Tuesday, 11 March 2003

Spontaneous pro-war protests?

Dad and I drove down to Mount Dora and the Lakeridge Winery today. On the way back, we passed three people by the side of the road (in southeast Marion County along CR 42 east of Weirsdale, for all zero people who read this blog from Ocala) waving American flags and with a spraypainted sign that read “Iraq then France.” I guess the meme is spreading...

Monday, 10 March 2003

Warblogging break; on political sophistication

I've decided to take the week off from blogging about the war and politics (mainly because I'm on vacation anyway).

The good news is that I will still be posting some content to the blog. I'm going to brainstorm a chapter of my dissertation online in an effort to nail down a definition of “political sophistication,” and to think about the best way to measure it.

Political sophistication is one of the concepts that lurks out there in the study of public opinion; it basically originates from the desire of rational choice scholars to come up with a summary measure of a person's political savvy, without getting inside the nasty psychological “black box.” We generally hypothesize that people with higher levels of political sophistication think about politics in different ways than the less sophisticated; they use information differently than the less sophisticated when making political decisions (for example, when evaluating candidates and voting).

There is some debate over how different political sophistication and political knowledge are; most contemporary studies treat political knowledge as a proxy for sophistication, if not an exact equivalent. There are some other debates too, which I'll probably touch on later in the week.

Mullets Rock!

No, I'm not taking a position on the popular 80s hairstyle; I'm talking about a new compilation album I just saw advertised on television. I'm speechless.

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Friedman on Russert

Tom Friedman was on the CNBC Tim Russert show, not to be confused with Meet The Press, this evening. I was only paying half-attention (I was fighting with the modem on my laptop, which seems to not like this hotel's phone line), but it was quite an interesting interview. At points, Friedman sounded like Steven Den Beste, for example when he described the existing regimes in the region as “failures.”

However, Friedman was critical of the administration for failing to make the case for war, and described the upcoming conflict as “the most elite-driven war in American history.” On that point, I'm not sure any war in American history hasn't been driven by elites, with the possible exception of the Indian wars of the 19th century. Absent a direct threat to America's borders, I'm not sure a war driven by mass opinion is likely.

Having said that, I do think the Iraq war is probably about the hardest war to explain to the American public; the underlying theory — using Iraq as a waypoint to establishing a stable order in the Middle East — doesn't collapse to a nice soundbite, and the surface justifications (the tenuous links from Saddam Hussein to terror, the human rights situation within Iraq, the need for WMD disarmament, Iraq's pattern of evasion with the U.N.) don't make a clear-cut case for going to war. On the other hand, Kosovo exhibited many of the same characteristics, but it too was very elite-driven.

Stylesheet fiddling — a meta post

I skimmed a web design book at Barnes & Noble today that said you should underline your links. Rather than slavishly follow that advice, I've simply underlined the links in blog entries and left the rest alone. (The entry links are the most important ones to pick out, since they're buried in text. Underlining every link would be ugly.)

I also am experimenting with an alternate stylesheet that produces a “run-in” look like that used on a lot of Blogger blogs. If you have Mozilla or the Phoenix alternate stylesheet switcher plugin (it may also work in Camino™), you can play with it. You can also choose the so-called “serif look,” which uses a Serif font (like this) for entries. Unfortunately, these styles don't persist between page visits in Moz or Phoenix, so the usefulness is pretty limited for now.

Finally, behind the scenes, the front page is now moved over to a pure mod_python implementation using the Publisher handler. The main advantage (beyond a further speedup in the page rendering and cleaner code — no more fiddling with the FieldStorage class) is that it can properly deal with If-Modified-Since headers again; real CGIs did it automatically, but mod_python's CGI emulation doesn't handle them right for some odd reason. Still slouching toward a code release; the next step is to convert all the other backend scripts.

Turkish managed democracy

Colby Cosh considers the same question I considered here: is a transition to full-blown liberal democracy likely to produce a stable regime. He concludes:

If it takes an army to protect my most basic liberties, I'm comfortable with that, irrespective of what the rabble thinks. Would majoritarian democracy, free of army constraints, be the best thing for Turkey? Don't ask me: I'm not a Turk. I don't think there's much question about whether it would be good for Europe (no) or for international order generally (nope).

In a more general vein, Daniel Drezner discusses “illiberal democracy” worldwide, talking about The Economist's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

I can't add much to either account, although I will say that generally upholding the rule of law is much more important to preserving liberty than the mechanisms of democracy. One of the sure signs of erosion of liberty in Hong Kong has been the gradual increase in arbitrary meddling from Beijing, while the undemocratic nature of the SAR government has had relatively little to do with it (for even in a democratic Hong Kong, there would still be plenty of levers for Communist Party meddling from outside the SAR).

Friday, 7 March 2003

Major Sundquist scandal brewing

Bill Hobbs has a post over at the Political State Report on an investigation into the contract between Tennessee and the Internet service provider that provides high-speed Internet access to 97% of Tennessee public schools, apparently part of a broader probe of the Sundquist administration's no-bid contracts with politically-connected companies. The Memphis Commercial Appeal has has a similar report.

Muller gets response from Coble

Eric Muller apparently received a phone call from Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) this morning to discuss Rep. Coble's rather questionable remarks on Japanese internment.

While Muller comes away fairly impressed with Coble as a person, he still has some concerns:

It was also clear to me, though, that Mr. Coble does not yet appreciate that he was mistaken when he said that Japanese Americans were placed in camps for their own protection. He explained during our discussion that he'd heard from people, including Japanese Americans alive at the time of Pearl Harbor, who reported to him that Japanese Americans felt unsafe on the streets. From this information he's received, he concludes (and I jotted these words down) that "in some instances, Japanese Americans were beneficiaries of the internment." "There were some," he reiterated, "who became beneficiaries by being in the camps."

In some ways, this strikes me much as the Trent Lott Syndrome; it's not so much that Coble said something offensive, it's that he doesn't understand why what he said was offensive.

Even accepting Coble's premises — if the government's policy been justified as “protective custody” and a large percentage of Japanese Americans approved of it as protective custody — throwing the rest of them in camps hardly seems reasonable, fair, or just. And bearing in mind the historical record — that Japanese Americans had their property stolen, that internment had nothing to do with protecting them, and that they were arbitrarily imprisoned — his views seem remarkably callous and misinformed.

Then again, I'm not sure Coble's behavior is on the order of Lott's. But it does call for some repudiation; perhaps the House can do a bulk censure of him, Jim McDermott, and Marcy Kaptur to clear up the past few months' books, at least.

Link via Eugene Volokh.

Franco-Prussian Freeloaders

David Adesnik is pissed off at the New York Times. And, frankly, I'd be too, if my nation was just described as part of a “motley ad hoc coalition.” If I were Howell Raines, I'd steer clear of Poland for the next, um, rest of my life. Then again, if I were Howell Raines I'd have a lot more problems than the Poles to deal with.

The ongoing lack of Clue™ of the “let inspections work” crowd, and their enablers at the Times, is simply mindboggling. Here's the Franco-Prussian solution to the Iraq crisis, in a nutshell:

  1. Continue inspections.

  2. Continue sanctions.

That's it. Never mind that the Franco-Prussian alliance has been trying for the past five years to evade and dismantle the sanctions regime. Never mind that for inspections to continue to “work,” in the limp sense that they do so, someone has to have 250,000 troops poised to invade Iraq indefinitely — and I don't see the freaking French or Germans volunteering to do that. So, the sum of Franco-Prussian foreign policy is to impose their idea of how to deal with Iraq by using the money and soldiers of Great Britain and the United States, which might be a good deal for Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, but is a thorougly rotten one for Tony Blair and George Bush, not to mention U.S. and U.K. taxpayers.

The entire point of collective security is for countries to work together to contain threats to the international system — not for some countries to freeload off the efforts of others while having the gall to tell the countries actually doing the work how they should do it.

Meanwhile, Eugene Volokh has some words for those who think Iraq and North Korea are interchangeable.

Matthew Yglesias comments on a proposal by Michael Walzer, which would have been a good idea a few months ago — and which would largely have obviated the need for the above rant. However, given France's withdrawal from enforcement of the “no-fly zones” in the late 1990s and their diplomatic efforts to undercut the sanctions regime, I'm not sure how Bush and Blair would have sold Chirac on the plan. If Chirac had gone along with a similar plan, though, France's credibility on Iraq would be much less questionable.

Stupid human (shield) tricks

You can tell you're a complete idiot when even the freaking Iraqi government won't put up with your dumb ass anymore:

[Senior Iraqi official Abdul-Razzaq al-Hashimi] said the five who had been told to leave had set themselves up as representatives of the group and had been "holding unnecessary meetings, wasting time, knocking on doors at midnight...(and) asking stupid questions".

Meanwhile, Salam Pax isn't any happier with them than he was before:

"Basically, they said we are not going to feed you any longer," said John Ross, an American who has been active in radical causes since he tore up his draft card in 1964.

Excuse while I wipe the tears from my eyes. Outoutout. He could have at least say something more in line with his “radical cause”. This is a bit insulting actually for some reason I feel offended. FEED YOU? Why does the Iraqi government have to friggin’ feed you, you have volunteered to “help” in country which can’t feed its own population properly (well it could if it spent a bit less on itself and on people like you).

Meanwhile, the numb-nuts who transported many of the idiots to Baghdad has run into some trouble of his own, in that lovely vacation spot known as Beirut:

Two red double decker buses and a white London taxi that ferried anti-war activists to Baghdad to serve as "human shields" are stranded in Beirut with their owner short of the $5,500 it costs to ship them home.

The buses and taxi, dusty after a six-week overland journey that began at London's Tower Bridge, were plastered with signs saying "No to a war on Iraq" and "No to war, Yes to peace".

Apparently it hasn't occurred to this maroon that he could sell the buses and taxi in the Middle East, and buy replacements when he gets back to Britain. With “friends” like this, Saddam and the gang don't need enemies.

Supremes uphold California's three strikes law

One of the pleasures of the Blogosphere is Howard Bashman's “How Appealing,” a weblog that discusses issues relating to appelate courts. His summary of today's four U.S. Supreme Court decisions is a classic; here's a sample:

Gary Ewing had been convicted of ten previous criminal offenses before he committed the crime that gave rise to yesterday's decision in Ewing v. California, No. 01-6978 (U.S. Mar. 5, 2003). Had each of those offenses counted as a strike, in baseball he would have had more than three outs and his side would have been retired. But four of those offenses did count as "serious" or "violent" felonies, subjecting Ewing to a twenty-five years to life sentence for his next felony conviction.

Perhaps aware of that fact, and undoubtedly growing tired of the life of crime, Ewing apparently decided to try his luck as a professional golfer. Successful golfers earn lots of money and don't have to resort to petty thievery just to stay afloat. Ewing's plan, however, had a minor hitch that revealed itself when he was apprehended while attempting to limp away from a golf pro shop with three golf clubs stuffed down his pant leg. As they say in the biz, "Strike Three."

And where else would you find out about both the use of kitty litter in the railroad industry and the mysterious properties of crystal formation in the same day?

Bush on the radio

Glenn Reynolds has a roundup of reaction to the press conference; I listened to it on the radio (well, technically the XM Radio simulcast of Fox News Channel, so it was TV without the pictures), and I think it came off about as well as a Bush speech ever seems to, which is to say that the ideas were solid and the tone was right (as in the State of the Union), but W will never go down in history as a great public speaker.

Then again, I'm not sure that many politicians these days are. Clinton was a decent public speaker (at least by comparison to the Bushes, Ross Perot, and Bob Dole), and Reagan of course was a master; on the other side of the pond, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher have it, but John Major decidedly didn't. And, for all the talk of congressional oratory, most of the representatives and senators I hear these days can't talk their ways out of paper bags, although I recently had a chance to hear John Spratt (D-S.C.) in person, and he did a fairly good job. Clearly being a good speaker is not a requirement for political success — although sometimes it can help.

I do wonder at some level who the speech was really aimed at. Several of the comments at Glenn's suggest that it was primarily for foreign consumption, while some of the commentary I heard on FNC suggested it was more pointedly aimed at the U.N. My gut feeling is that the place it will have the most effect is in Britain: the nuance won't get lost in translation, so there's a limited opportunity for spin, particularly if it doesn't get sound-bited to death.

I'm not sure that in the end it much matters, though; Blix will give a report that everyone can take something away from, some sort of resolution will be presented in the form of an ultimatum which will probably pass, and there will either be an internal putsch or a war. In six weeks, Chirac and Putin will be scrambling to make sure they are on good terms with a new Iraqi government, while Schröder will be preoccupied with domestic concerns, namely trying desperately to keep the Greens in government.

Thursday, 6 March 2003

French anti-Americanism

Lexington Green of the Chicago Boyz has dug up an interesting Walter Mead piece on French anti-Americanism and its historical roots; it may help U.S. readers understand what's going on in the minds of the French intellectual elite. Meanwhile, I think Dan Drezner's update to his earlier “Dark Day” post is on-target:

I strongly suspect that France has grossly miscalculated the administration's willingness to act regardless of what transpires at the Security Council this week.

Chirac and de Villepin think U.S. foreign policy is not that different from that of the French. In that, they have indeed “grossly miscalculated.”

By the way, $20 says that the increasingly batty Helen Thomas hasn't been credentialed for tonight's primetime press conference.

Wednesday, 5 March 2003

Mike has the CA figured out; Bill rhetorically doesn't

Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered has been tracking the evolution in the Grizzlies boycott story in the pages of the Commercial Appeal over the past few days. Having waged my own quixotic battles against the Memphis media in the past (both the divine ra-ra sisterhood of the CA — the URL isn't the boosterish “” for nothing — and the holier-than-thou Memphis Flyer), I certainly recognize the pattern.

Meanwhile, Bill Hobbs rhetorically asks why the Oak Ridge TABOR story isn't getting any traction. I think we all know the possible answers to that, at least from the CA's perspective (circle the ones you think apply):

  • The CA doesn't want uppity Memphians — or heaven forbid, the dreaded suburban voters — getting any ideas about asking for a charter commission.

  • The CA doesn't think any part of Tennessee exists east of Lebanon.

  • The CA didn't receive a press release on it.

  • The CA isn't as good a newspaper as their fellow Scripps-Howard rag, the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

  • The CA can't figure out how to write one of its classic “we take absolutely no position on this issue, but feel like blathering on for several hundred words” editorials about it.

By the way, you can choose more than one option...

Mike circles all of the above, and adds some possible answers of his own for good measure, while Bill helpfully informs that the CA does at least know about the story, although it wasn't in the form of a press release so technically (c) is still on the table as a viable answer.

More of “The Chris Agrees With Dan Show”

Daniel Drezner describes today as a depressing day for U.S. foreign policy, an assessment I largely agree with, even if it may be a necessary day for our foreign policy — in the sense I'm not all that sure that there's much that could have been done differently*, short of calling the whole thing off. As Dan says:

The U.S. has to deal with the resentment that comes with being the global hegemon, China, Germany, France and Russia acting like spoiled teenage brats, and a lot of trouble spots in the globe. The Bush administration has not been dealt the best of diplomatic hands. That said, today is one of those days when I think the administration could be husbanding its valuable cards a little better.

In a better world, we could do right by the Mexicans, but 9/11 changed the domestic calculus there (erroneously, in my opinion — Mexican immigrants are no more a threat to America's way of life than Canadians are). In a better world, China and South Korea would be stepping up to the plate to deal with North Korea, the latter's bluster aside. On the other hand, American global hegemony is the only viable global order for the forseeable future — and the actions of France and Germany in this crisis, much to their eventual dismay, will perpetuate that hegemony (a hegemony that most Americans would just as soon have no part in leading, by the way) by further demonstrating to the world that the European Union's alleged leaders do not take their responsibilities toward global security seriously.

* We're firmly in the could have been done stage; what we're witnessing now is very much the calm before the gathering storm.

Asimov's Psychohistory: Political science in another guise?

(Prompted by Hit & Run's linkage to the Science Fiction Book Club's list of “The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years”, with the Foundation trilogy making it in at #2.)

Since I spent much of the weekend laid up with the seemingly annual recurrence of my sprained ankle, I finally got around to doing some light reading. My reading choice was the three books of Asimov's original Foundation trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. Much of the plot of the series revolves around the invention and seeming perfection of “psychohistory” by Hari Seldon, and the consequences thereof. From the Wikipedia:

Psychohistory was also the name of a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy universe, which combined history, psychology and mathematical statistics to create a (nearly) exact science of the behavior of very large populations of people, such as the Galactic Empire. Asimov used the analogy of a gas, where whilst the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, the mass behavior of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy. This concept he then applied to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in the quadrillions. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates: that the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large and that they should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

In some ways (although Asimov came up with the concept before the behavioral revolution in political science, beginning with Voting and The American Voter), “psychohistory” sounds a lot like the work of the quantitative parts of the discipline, particularly in the fields of mass political behavior and international relations, albeit much evolved and with a predictive rather than an explanatory emphasis (we can reasonably predict short-term political phenomena, within limits, but there's nothing in the contemporary political science toolbox that would be able to predict how long the United States will persist, for example).

So it's fun to think about some of the parallels, although I'm not convinced it would be a good thing for the universe to have Jacob T. Levy, Daniel Drezner and myself operating in secret to keep our galactic plan on track. (Plus it would be a bit too close to the whole “Trilateral Commission” nonsense promulgated by the fringe.)

Of course, there's always the case to be made that psychohistory was just a Grade-A McGuffin... even within Asimov's universe!

The Pentagon's New Map

Bill Hobbs links to this fascinating piece by Naval War College professor Thomas Barnett. Rather than selectively blockquote, I'll just recommend that you Read The Whole Thing™.

Civility (or the lack thereof)

Greg Wythe links to this Washington Times piece by R. Emmett Tyrell making a very pertinent point:

The steady drift of Democratic activists away from war with Iraq, despite the president's every effort to accommodate their concerns, is another demonstration of a phenomenon of American politics that I only became aware of in the Clinton years. The phenomenon is this: A sizable proportion of the politically committed in America today are not propelled by principle or by fact but by the deep emotional satisfaction, indeed the peace of mind, that they derive from beating hell out of an opponent. To be sure, it is commonly heard that the politicians, at least those of the finest flower, long to put partisanship aside; but the truth is that without partisanship politics would lose much of its attraction for many politically active souls. Frankly, many of them are itching for a fight and grateful for every perceived enemy.

I think this trend is as present in the Blogosphere as anywhere else — there are clearly some very unreasonable voices that nonetheless gain a wide audience, at all extremes of the political spectrum.

Pæaning for the open road

Jordan Lancaster implores readers of today's Daily Mississippian to pack up and hit the open road. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, although I regret to inform that my spring break adventure will just be driving to visit Dad.

Not to be outdone...

Josh Chafetz at OxBlog has taken up the gauntlet thrown down by Dan Drezner. I think everyone's trying to drive up their Ecosystem ratings.

Anyway, you won't see shameless pandering like that here. Which is probably why doesn't rank very highly...

The more you know...

The more I read about John Ashcroft, the less I like the guy (not that he started on a very high plateau in the first place in my book...). Gary Farber and Kevin Drum have the latest.

And then there's Ashcroft's bong obsession (via InstaPundit).

Monday, 3 March 2003

Anna Kournikova

Dan Drezner makes his pitch why his corner of the Blogosphere should be “Your #1 International Relations Blog” — at least if those international relations involve a then-underaged Russian media darling's since-terminated marriage to a former Red Army hockey player.

Shrewd work as always by Prof. Drezner. This blog's best search hits by far are on the phrase “Jennifer Garner lingerie,” so the, er, jiggle factor definitely seems to drive traffic. Nevertheless, there are some serious questions to be asked:

  1. I wonder why I never heard that Ms. Kournikova was in Memphis? Surely it wasn't to play tennis...

  2. Ashley Judd is probably a better conversationalist than Ms. Kournikova. Then again, my pet rock probably is too.

  3. Even if Den Beste did have this news, wouldn't it take you more than an hour to read through his post on it? Perhaps, but I'm sure Lake Placid and containment would have been discussed at length, and Martina Hingis and Mary Pierce would have been properly chastised for their political failings, so at the very least (a) the post wouldn't really be about Sergei and Anna's hanky-panky, but rather most instructive in the current workings of the International System from a neorealist perspective, and (b) there would have been some creative new insults flung at the Franco-German axis. (Of course, then there would be the inevitable series of posts from hawkish lefty bloggers insisting that while they approved of the Federov-Kournikova relationship, he really should have waited until her 18th birthday, which quickly would have degenerated into name-calling and discussions of which cities should be attacked by WMDs. So perhaps it's better this way...)

In any event, my predilictions lean more in the Jennifer Capriati direction: you could still take her to meet your parents, but it's a safe bet she'd go to second base on a first date. Win-win all around.

Of course, this last paragraph is a joke.

Managed democracy versus the swinging pendulum

At the end of Special Report with Brit Hume this afternoon, Brit had the usual roundtable of talking heads (or at least two-thirds thereof): Morton Kondracke, Fred Barnes, and a woman from NPR whom I'd never laid eyes on before and whose name completely escapes me (apparently filling in for the third white guy who normally sits there). The contrast in the level of cooperation the U.S. has received from Turkey and Pakistan was on prominent display, and the panel largely attributed this difference to the fact that Turkey is a democracy while Pakistan isn't.

At some level, this is a gross simplification, at least in the Turkish case. While Turkey does have a popularly-elected government, the self-appointed guarantors of republicanism and secularism in the National Security Council and Constitutional Court keep Turkish democracy on something of a tight leash, not unlike the control of the Iranian majlis by its Assembly of Experts, albeit to much different ends. Yet clearly Turkey is moving in the direction of consolidating democracy, while Pakistan's situation is much more murky, having lurched back and forth between democracy and dictatorship since partition from India (and through the secession of Bangladesh). While modern Turkey has seen its authoritarian excesses, they pale in comparison to Pakistan's. On the other hand, the secularist impulses of the Turkish guardians often are excessive: notably, their obsession with headscarves, their requirement of Islamist parties to disavow Islam, and the seemingly arbitrary bans on popular political leaders.

So, one might ask: is managed democracy a viable system? More to the point, is it democratic? Even the “best” democracies have relatively unaccountable bodies that sometimes interfere with the will of popular representatives; the United States Supreme Court, Germany's Constitutional Court, and Britain's Law Lords to name just a few. How different is Turkey's National Security Council? Is it better to have Turkish-style stability or Pakistani intermittent democracy?

I'm not sure there are right answers to these questions, but they ought to weigh heavily on us in deciding how post-war Iraq will be governed. Do we go for the full Madison or Bagehot, and risk collapse in the medium to long term? Or do we settle for Ataturkism, and hope it eventually evolves into something better?

Divided by the magnitude of tragedy

Something's been bothering me for a while, but it took two posts in Steven Den Beste's blog (U.S.S. Clueless) and Bill Whittle's latest (“Confidence”) to crystalize it all.

The first post of Steven's was his response to a correspondent named Dev. Dev wrote:

England, Ireland, France, Russia, Spain, Italy, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, the Lebanon, most of Africa, much of Asia, Australia, and many other countries in the world have suffered at the hands of fundamentalist terrorism for most of the last century. It is quite hideous to see the response of America to one attack. To be quite honest it frightens the hell out of me. I have lived in England for 2/3 of my life and in that time have experienced terrorism first hand on three occasions. I am only 29. I realise that I am lucky compared to those in countries where it is a way of life. Yet I do not think that the whole barrel of apples should be thrown overboard for the sake of a few rotten apples.

Steven's second post was his commentary on D-Squared Digest's attack on him for having the gall to feel victimized by 9/11. Notably, both correspondents are British.

As Dev says, Britain has suffered its fair share of terrorism, most notably in Northern Ireland (but also notably in the Lockerbie tragedy, the work of Libyan agents), as have other European countries. But comparatively speaking, most European terror has been either political or communal in nature; the participants in the Irish “Troubles” (both the IRA and its offshoots, and the Unionist paramilitaries of the pro-British community) targeted political and communal targets about equally, while the Basque ETA and most of the Communist-inspired domestic insurgents in other countries largely went after political targets. The closest parallels to the terror visited on the U.S. in September 2001 is to the Palestinian attacks on Israeli noncombatants or the IRA's targeting of members of the royal family and civilians on the British mainland in the 1970s — a strategy that ultimately was abandoned.

Yet the British example is instructive. Between July 1969 and December 2001, just over 3500 people were killed as a result of the conflict over Northern Ireland, according to Malcolm Sutton (also see this table that breaks the deaths down by year and status). Much is made of the relative size of the death toll in Northern Ireland, but the fact remains that about as many people died in three hours on 11 September 2001 as died in three decades of conflict over the Emerald Isle.

The political result of terror in Britain is also instructive. The ongoing Troubles led to Britain's passage of anti-civil libertarian laws, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and its successors (including the Terrorism Act 2000), that make the PATRIOT Act look positively enlightened by comparison. London is blanketed by surveillance cameras; some estimate that the city has over 150,000 of them. Britons no longer bat an eye at truly Orwellian imagery in the streets. All largely in response to — or justified by — terrorism.

D-Squared and Des don't understand America's response because the only responses they've ever seen to terror are restriction of liberty at home (the British response) or sheer capitulation (the Franco-German response; ask your favorite Frenchman about Algeria some time). They didn't understand why America retaliated against the Berlin nightclub bombing in 1986, or why the Israelis retaliate against bombings by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, because their societies are cowed by terror — to use the banal phrase, beaten to death post 9/11 here, in Europe the “terrorists have won.” Every governmental response, from getting rid of the trash cans at train stations to blanketing the streets with surveillance cameras to having jackbooted paramilitary police with submachine guns on patrol at airports, was as much a victory for the terrorists as the Achille Lauro, Enniskillen, Lockerbie, or Munich.

What Europeans don't understand about America is that we refuse to accept that solution. America's attitude may be best summed up in an unlikely source, James Madison's Federalist 10:

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

To paraphrase Madison, like faction, terror too is nourished by liberty. Give up enough of our liberty and perhaps terror can be extinguished. But how much is “enough”? Terrorism persists in some of the most illiberal societies in the world, such as China. More to the point, without our liberty, what is the point of preventing terror? If we can't live our lives in freedom, what value is there to life itself?

The left calls on America to recognize the so-called “root causes” of terror. Perhaps there are root causes, but if so they are hardly the shiboleths of the left; Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed doesn't care if the United States ratifies Kyoto or the International Criminal Court treaty, and neither topic has ever come up in the ravings of Osama bin Laden. Rather, the root causes are a diseased credo dressed up as religion that incites its followers to murder innocents and the failure of contemporary Arab states to provide their populations with any real hope for the future. If we are to defeat terror, we shall have to address both of these “root causes,” and the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a truly functional Arab state in the Middle East will have far more effect on them than either the diplomatic flummery of the Franco-German axis or cowering behind yet another layer of surveillance and neo-Securitate.

Saturday, 1 March 2003

That Quis^H^H^H^HKeisling guy; Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

I'm with Dan Drezner on this one; his resignation letter read more like a string of quotes from Sen. Diane Feinstein's talking points than it did as a coherent philosophical statement.

In the morning: why the Europeans don't understand America's reaction to terror, and why it really doesn't matter. Before I write it, though, I have to get some sleep.

Speaking of sleep, I won't be losing any over what's probably happening to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his al-Qaeda buddies (via Michele, who's collecting suggestions on what to do with him). This is the same bozo who admitted in an al-Jazeera interview in 2002 that he masterminded 9/11, so I think it's pretty safe to say he's not going to ever meet a U.S. executioner — if he ever sees a U.S. trial, he won't last a week past sentencing. I say we just put him in the exercise yard at Rikers Island and tell the guards to take a long lunch break.

Transportation agencies: please put EISes online

One of my biggest pet peeves as a roadgeek is the seeming impossibility of getting any information on a highway project if you can't make it to a public meeting. While DOTs are getting better about posting their public meetings online (Tennessee's dedicated calendar is probably the best in the Mid-South, while Arkansas at least puts theirs online in the news releases; Mississippi posts the notices rarely in their news release section; and Alabama not at all), you've still got to get to the meeting. Because if you miss the meeting, you'll never find a copy of the environmental impact statement (EIS) or other documentation without spending the rest of your life looking for it, it seems.

There are some notable exceptions to this situation: Indiana DOT has put all of its documentation online at the project website for Interstate 69 in southwestern Indiana, as has the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Hoover Dam Bypass project (among others). But most of the time, the EISes just disappear into a virtual black hole, seemingly uncataloged (or at least, not cataloged under any name that seems logical) and gathering dust in a local library. Since all of these documents are produced electronically today, products like Adobe Acrobat's “Distiller” could easily be used to prepare portable online versions of the EIS, and agencies could distribute the EIS more readily over the web and on recordable CDs. It would make the process more transparent to the public and be a low-cost way to include more people in transportation planning and similar processes. So why are so few states doing it?

The only conclusion I can reach is that the federal agencies that ask for this documentation don't require states to put these documents online. While I'm not generally a big fan of federal mandates, this seems to be one case where the mandate might in fact be justified — the costs are low and the potential benefits quite high. It's a requirement Congress should seriously consider adding to the TEA-21 reauthorization bill due this fall.

Looking at the governor's race

The Political State Report has added a new poster who's covering Mississippi politics, “JaxGenerals.” He's got an interesting post up today, part of a series on the upcoming statewide races, on how Haley Barbour has apparently cornered the primary field (note, however, that the field isn't closed until the end of Saturday; someone else could still slip in the primary). According to the Mississippi GOP, his only opponent in the primary is Mitchell H. “Mitch” Tyner.

Meanwhile, the current lists of Democratic and Republican primary candidates are up on the state parties' websites. It looks like the incumbent whose seat I'm running for has attracted some primary opposition, while I'm free and clear at the moment. As always, the Magnolia Political Report website should have the latest news.

A practical way to support our troops

Check out Michele's new TroopTrax project for a good way to support the U.S. servicemen and women who are putting their lives on the line for us and the Iraqi people. It'll do more good than hecking anti-war protestors, and it's good for the soul too. (The downside is that those asshats* at the RIAA will end up getting some of the money. Ah well, the universe ain't perfect.)

* Yes, that's not a nice word on my first official day as a candidate for public office, but if I can't call the RIAA asshats, what is the universe coming to?

More meta crud

David Janes has added a new feature called ThreadTrack to Janes' Blogosphere; it's an excellent way to see what other weblogs are talking about the same topics, in a bit less linear a way than things like Technorati, BlogDex, and DayPop. Be sure to visit his site for details on how you can enable ThreadTrack in your blog; it's enabled here with the » (n) links you can see at the bottom of each entry.

Also, I've added some cool new stuff in the backend that won't be noticeable by most anyone except me; most notably, each entry is now being processed by Tidy to convert it to valid XHTML, which improves the new full-content feed via the RSS backend, to help aggregators.