Sunday, December 31, 2006

A year in the life of the blog 

Ann Althouse celebrates the New Year by selecting her favorite post from each month of the year. She links back to the post that "represents what I consider to be the essence of what I'm trying to do here." Professor Althouse apparently has a far greater blog-awareness than I do, since I wouldn't have a clue what the "essence" of this blog is. However, that doesn't make it any less a good idea. Herewith, my favorite posts of the year, and begging your forgiveness in advance for picking more than one post per month. [OK, it turned out to be more like five posts per month...]

I'll put up a month or two of links at a time this evening (watching the Bears play a terrible game against the Packers) and tomorrow, so check back here for updates.


Sex in Suburbia (Cassandra)

The ethics of journalism: A proposal for reform

Sam Alito, the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, and the Class of 1957's 25th reunion

All my left thoughts

The Pakistan strike and the defeatist joy of left wing blogs


The garbage plate (Charlottesvillain)

Reconciling rights and identity politics: What do Denmark, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Northwestern University have in common?

The Gorebot: attacking America from the fountainhead of jihad

Realigning tolerance: Our options in the collision between free speech and Islam


The political and geopolitical significance of 'foreign fighters' in Iraq

India and Pakistan - The War That Did Not Happen (Cardinalpark)

Regarding Mohammed and the prospects for "respect"

The Muslims of Invention

George P. Shultz and the origins of the Bush Doctrine

The Iran Crisis: A "roundtable" discussion at Princeton University


Flag waiving, political speech, and the censorship of violence

My great-grandfather's alleged subtext

The FDA, the Tysabri conundrum, and our cultural incapacity for single payer healthcare

Comedy Central and the violence veto

Gasoline remains a great value

Madeleine Albright speaks at Princeton: Fourteen Points about democratization


Louis Rukeyser, RIP (Charlottesvillain)

Civil War? (Cardinalpark)

America (Cardinalpark)

John Edwards and the Democrats' plague of lawyers


The idiocy of virginity pledges

Azerbaijan, the Clinton administration, the non-fortunes of Exxon stockholders, and the dangerous myth that America wants to "grab the oil"

Pessimism, Quagmires and a Microphone (Cardinalpark)

Europe and Muslims: The shrinking pool of neutrals

Annotating the latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey

Selective human rights outrage and asymmetrical warfare (Cassandra)

The Giant Panda Post


Woe for Roe (Charlottesvillain)

Wither the "democratization strategy"?

War reductionism

Splitting Syria from Iran and the strategy deficit

How "proportionality" destroys the best chance for peace

Backward culpability and radical chic


Human Rights Watch and false moral equivalence

The curse of high expectations (Cardinalpark)

The NSA case: What ought to be done to discover the dots?

Our system, or Sweden's?


John Dean on Donald Rumsfeld: Trust Nixon!

Khatami vs. Ahmadinejad

Managing Global Images

Cracking down on skinny people

Infantalizing Muslim "rage"

Feigning a blind eye: Categorizing proxy wars and legitimizing the counterattack


2007 in Iraq (Cardinalpark)

George W. Bush's "admission" and the Tet analogy

Pictures from Princeton-Harvard weekend

Book Review: America Alone

Prince Turki al-Faisal on American "standing"


The annual Garcia y Vega cigar

Iran: Plus ça change

What would an American nationalized healthcare system look like?

Unexploded ordnance found in London (Charlottesvillain)

The New York Times and driving regulation

The crock that is "shareholder democracy"


"Realism" and the containment of Iran

Ethics in journalism: Taking the Columbia J-School challenge

A short note on "Big Pharma" and popular resentment

Prospects for peace around Israel and the role of the United States

Adirondack Light: Christmas Eve edition

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The secondary boycott aimed at Israel 

Long-standing readers know that I take an occasional foray into anti-American foreign blogs. One of the better ones -- defining "better" to mean that the blog is objectively well-executed -- is run by Haitham Sabbah, a Palestinian Arab living in Bahrain. I have read Sabbah much less since the Second Lebanon War, because he has gotten so angry at the United States, probably as a result of the fighting in the summer, that he is tough to read even for an open-minded fellow like me.

With that said, I thought that his recent post on the American companies that were the preferred targets of the anti-Israel boycott was quite interesting, more for what it did not say than what it did say. The allegedly "pro-Zionist" companies include the flower and the chivalry of corporate America:

It seems to me that two things might be said that Sabbah obviously did not mention. First, it seems to me that a boycott should be fought with countervailing pressure. Supporters of Israel might want to direct their business specifically to these companies. Indeed, just thinking about it that way makes me happier about our family's massive annual Starbucks budget.

Second, I own the shares of several of these companies, and I wonder what effect the Arab boycott is having on their profitability. It raises the stark and ferociously un-PC question, would the average profit-maximizing business prefer to have the support of the world's 15,000,000 or so Jews, or its more than 400,000,000 Arabs (recognizing, of course, that a business's first choice would be to work with Arab and Jew alike)? I bet there isn't a lot of grant money available to figure out the answer to that question, or professors willing to do the work even if there were.

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Economic freedom and economic growth 

Will Franklin exploits differences in business regulation and tax rates among the states to illustrate graphically how economic freedom leads to more economic growth and faster increases in tax receipts. It is a fair bet that no actual politician in the State of New Jersey will read his fine post, but here's to wishing they would.

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Iraq: What they once said 

Notwithstanding the books on the right sidebar, which through today at least have not changed for almost two months, I actually have been reading. Right now, I'm in the middle of Christian Alfonsi's* very interesting Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq. The book is first and foremost a history of the first Gulf War, with tons of detail about the deliberations and diplomacy of the Bush 41 team (presumably I'll get to the "why we went back part" in the last third of the book).

Alfonsi's book does not appear from its Amazon rank to be selling well, and it is surprisingly underblogged. That is a shame, because it adds to the current debate. Perhaps it is not popular because publisher is lame. More likely, it is because it is sufficiently balanced that it is not useful to readers who are looking to reinforce their preconceptions.

The Washington Post reviewer wrote that the book suffers from "presentism," which is to see the past through contemporary assumptions. Fair enough, but that very tendency drove Alfonsi to include all sorts of great flip-flops from history. First, Mr. Waffle himself:

Perhaps the most bewildering set of views contained in the dossier [a collection of Democratic statements about Iraq assembled by Republicans during spring of 1991] were those of the Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who was quoted making three different statements before Desert Storm:

  • A response to a letter from a constituent, saying Kerry voted "against giving the President immediate authority to go to war against Iraq to force it out of Kuwait, warning that a decision to go to war was rolling the dice with our future";
  • A response to a second constituent letter the same week, saying Kerry "strongly and unequivocably supported President Bush's response to the crisis and the policy goals he has established with our military deployment in the Gulf";
  • And third, a terse statement from Kerry blaming a computer in his office for the inconsistency.

It will be a great shame when the next presidential election rolls around, but not for all the reasons you might suspect. No, by then there will be another Democratic nominee, and then even I will tire of mocking John Kerry.

Then there was the brutal aftermath of the war, when Saddam's government brutalized the Shia and the Kurds, who rose up against him in part because they misread encouragement we were actually directing at the Ba'athists who ran Saddam's military-intelligence complex (the administration expected and perhaps desired that Saddam be overthrown by coup, rather than popular revolution). The Bush 41 administration quite famously did not rush to the aid of the Kurds and the Shia until Saddam had killed thousands of them and public opinion in the West began to demand it. Why? Because we did not want to get involved in Iraq's internal affairs. Dick Cheney was quite eloquent on the point:
On Sunday morning, April 7 [1991], Cheney appeared on the ABC News program This Week with David Brinkley. In his characteristic blunt-spoken style, Brinkley asked the secretary of defense, "Why didn't we go to Baghdad and clean it up when we had the chance?"

"Well, just as it's important, I think, for a president to know when to commit U.S. forces to combat, it's also important to know when not to commit U.S. forces to combat," Cheney replied. "I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire."

He then proceeded to ask a rapid-fire series of half a dozen questions, all of which had presumably been discussed already by the secretary and his colleagues. It was a distinctive rhetorical technique that Cheney had used throughout his political career, designed to preempt criticism by demonstrating to potential critics that they had not thought through an issue as thoroughly as Cheney and his staff had, but if they did, then any reasonable person would arrive at the same conclusion.

"Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? Wht kind of government would we have? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shia government, a Kurdish government? Would it be secular along the lines of the Ba'ath party? Would it be fundamentalist Islamic?

"I do not think the United States want to have U.S. military forces accept casualties and accept the responsibility of trying to govern Iraq," Cheney concluded. "I think it makes no sense at all."

All questions that remain, tragically, germane.

There is much more to embarrass just about everybody, which is probably why you haven't heard politicians or journalists citing to Alfonsi's book.
*Yes, "Alfonsi" -- pronounced, presumably, Al-Fonzi -- does sound suspiciously like "The Fonz" in Arabic. Fortunately, the word "whoa" does not appear in the book.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The pilgrims are outraged. But how outraged? 

Preparing, as they are, for the "symbolic stoning of the devil," Muslim pilgrims are allegedly "outraged" at the hanging of Saddam on the eve of an important holiday. No doubt. However, by recent standards the intensity of the outrage seems almost muted. In an age when a few cartoons in a Danish newspaper or a couple of lines from the Pope at an academic conference can set the Arab "street" ablaze, mere "outrage" doesn't really seem to warrant press coverage. You have to hand it to Reuters, though -- they always find some real fruitcake and hand him their global megaphone:

But many Arabs said if anyone should be put on trial it was the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government that backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which overthrew Saddam.

"They are American collaborators, those in Iraq. They should be executed, not Saddam Hussein." said Mohammad Mousa, on haj from Lebanon. "Saddam Hussein is the most honorable of all of them. He is the most honorable Arab. They will go to hell, he will go to heaven."

That's quite an idea, that Saddam Hussein is the "most honorable Arab." Since Mr. Mousa is saying this on the record for transmission around the world, he obviously does not believe either that the idea is ridiculous or that he has slandered all Arabs. Neither, apparently, does Reuters. Either that, or Reuters is mocking Mr. Mousa, or all Arabs. What could be the fourth explanation?

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Some of the things I believe, but cannot prove: regarding risk 

It is the end of a year in which I've read and seen a great deal by my lame suburban corporate-tool standard. It is my lot in life to wrestle with the facts and opinions that come my way, and a lot of my opinions have either strengthened or weakened considerably in the last couple of years. You get the credit for some of this; we have some very smart people who comment here. Whether left or right, they are a long sight more intelligent and reasonable than most people who comment on blogs.

I thought this morning that I would begin a new occasional series, "Things I believe, but cannot prove." It is mostly for my benefit in that the writing of an idea helps to clarify it, but I hope that you join in with your own observations.

Today, regarding risk:

1. The biggest questions that democratic governments in reasonably wealthy and well-functioning countries face revolve around the management of risk, particularly to individuals. What sort of risks should the government allow individuals to take, how much should government insulate people from the consequences of a risk gone bad, and how much of the benefits of a risk gone well should the government let us keep?

2. The problem, of course, is that if you indemnify people for the adverse consequences of a risk, you also have to take away the benefits. Otherwise, you create a "moral hazard," which is the condition which prevails when you let somebody keep the benefits of a risk while sloughing off its adverse consequences. Heads I win, tails the government loses. Famous examples include the insuring of bank deposits (if insured, depositors have no incentive to prefer sound banks over speculative banks, so they deposit their money with the bank that pays the most interest), government disaster relief (people who choose to live in dangerous places -- think flood zones, tropical coasts, and fault lines -- do not buy adequate insurance because they expect the government to bail them out if the big one hits), and unlimited free health benefits.

3. So what is wrong with living in a society that takes away the benefits and the burdens of risk? Four things.

3.1 First, who wants to live in such a place? Humans love risk. That's why we gamble in casinos, start businesses, quit jobs to pursue our dreams, take mood-altering substances, fall in love, have sex with people we sholdn't, play with matches, climb mountains, commit crimes, set off illegal fireworks, ride motorcycles, drive on the Garden State Parkway, and eat donuts. You might be able to persuade a few more than half the people to eliminate any particular risk because we all have different tastes, but people will be less happy in the end. That is why I believe that countries that try to legislate away risk, whether communist or socialist, invariably have less happy and optimistic citizenry than the United States.

3.2 Second, risk is the means by which we create wealth. How do I know this? Because if wealth could be created without taking risk, everybody would do it. So if you take away the opportunities for risk, you take away the opportunities for wealth. That may be fine by you -- perhaps you don't like risk or you have enough wealth for yourself already -- but there is no doubt that is what you are doing. (Certainly some regulation of risk promotes the creation of wealth. Clear rules regarding the ownership of property and the enforcement of contracts take medieval caprice out of business, and seem to be fundamental to economic opportunity. There are a few other examples.)

3.3 Third, the imperfect mechanisms we use to transfer the burdens and benefits of risk create vast amounts of diffuse unhappiness. "Sticky" European labor markets are the example with which I am most familiar. European labor laws (especially in Germany and France) make it so difficult and expensive to fire people that employers will go to great lengths not to hire them in the first place. Yes, this is bad for the overall level of employment in the economy, but there is a much worse problem: employees all over Europe are essentially stuck in jobs they hate, and they are either unwilling to leave (because they will give up the 12-24 months of salary that they will be paid if only they can contrive to get fired) or unable (because their preferred employer is also doing everything possible not to take on new employees that he cannot easily shed if makes a hiring mistake). That creates a vast quantum of unhappiness that Europeans cannot relieve, but attempt to salve with incredibly short work weeks and six weeks vacation. Americans are far happier in their job, in no small part because they know they can leave to do something else if it doesn't work out. That gives American workers a fundamental power that all of Europe's protective legislation cannot endow. Americans do not work harder than Europeans because it is in our culture. We work harder because, in general, we have vastly greater ability to choose the work that we will do.

3.4 Fourth, real challenges, real struggles, and real risks may be quite literally essential to the future of humanity. I do not believe that it is coincidental that the societies that have done the most to eliminate risk -- communist and social democratic welfare states -- have fertility rates that put them far below the level necessary to replace their population or sustain their welfare state over the long run. The populations of most European countries and Japan are literally plunging, and will quickly reach the point that the benefits which two post-war generations have taken for granted will probably not survive. Is this apparent correlation between social "security" and infertility because (i) the state has taken over some of the supportive functions previously the province of large families, (ii) we have removed so many threats from our lives that we have unwittingly tampered with the will to reproduce, (iii) life is so fun now for people in social democratic welfare states that they do not want to interrupt the good times with children, (iv) the decline in economic opportunity that escorts the heavy regulation of risk has sucked the optimism out of the most paradisical countries on the planet, or (v) some other reason? I believe that (i)-(iv) all play a role, plus the increasing professional opportunities for women in such countries.

4. Item 3.4 assumes the answer (based on belief, as I said) to the biggest "meta question" that social democratic welfare states face today: Does the welfare state contain the seeds of its own destruction by destroying the desire of its citizenry to reproduce at rates sufficient to sustain the state's financial commitments? Unfortunately, there will be no government money available to study the question, and very few professors in our universities who are both qualified to do the study and willing to live with the social and professional fallout if the answer turned out to be "yes."

5. So why do we vote to diffuse risk away from individuals? Several reasons, I believe. First, the social democratic welfare state is a relatively new device, and we are just beginning to understand its shortcomings. For more than a generation, it seemed as though we could have fast economic growth and exciting lives and security. As the flaws in the system become more apparent, latecomers are less likely to follow. The United States will probably never adopt a single-payer healthcare scheme, having made it through the 1970s without enacting one, because most countries that have them are struggling with their internal tensions. Second, legislation and regulation occurs incrementally, so it is tough to say that any particular shifting of risk will be the tipping point that sucks the energy out of a country. Without knowing that the tipping point has been reached, it is easier for people to support a law or program that seems to reduce hardship, or spread it around.

6. In addition to the reasons in Item 5, we support protective social welfare legislation because of an unfortunate bias in our measurement of social progress. We tend to look at the elimination of problems as the best indicators for the health of the society. Is the illiteracy rating declining? What about malnourishment, childhood disease, injuries in the workplace, unemployment, infant mortality, unemployment? You get the idea. Supporters of an expanded welfare and regulatory state cite these figures and compare the United States unfavorably to the allegedly more enlightened democracies of Western Europe (how many times have we heard the claim that we are the "only" rich country that does not guarantee health care to all its residents, as if that were a priori proof that we are immoral because we do not).

If we had the tools, we might do well to measure other things that could be indicators of social optimism and economic and individual energy. Is the fertility rate rising, or declining? Is the true rate of new business formation rising or falling? Were it possible to calculate a "rate of innovation," is it accelerating or decelerating? How much are individuals spending on education for themselves and their children? Do people think the future will be better, or worse? Do people say they enjoy their work? Do people say they expect to have a second career, or a third? Are employees looking for a better job, or even just a different one? Do people say that change scares them, or motivates them? When people save and invest their money, what motivates them to do so? How frequently do people move from one income "decile" to another, whether up or down? Do young people want to build things more often than they want to protest against things?

I'm sure there are many more such indicators which may well serve as better measures of social and economic vitality. The point is, in our natural tendency to track and monitor and alleviate specific problems, we are, perhaps, failing to think about the energy of our civilization, and whether the solutions to the specific problems are cumulatively destroying the challenges that we -- freeborn humans -- need to thrive.

Flip off the safeties and fire at will.

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Dr. Helen and Glenn Reynolds wrap up their vacation 

The Doc finally posts the picture that dumpy male blog readers (and, professionalism requires me to admit, bloggers) have been waiting for all week.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Fox: Al Arabiya television says Saddam is now dead 

At 10:05 p.m. EST, Fox announced that Al Arabiya television has broken the news that Saddam Hussein is dead, having been executed by the government of Iraq.

MORE: The Guardian's first three paragraphs put it rather well:

Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot who menaced neighbours and murdered his own people during a quarter century of wretched tyranny, died ignominiously on the gallows shortly before dawn this morning at the hands of his former enemies.

Saddam, who was convicted last month of crimes against humanity in one of many episodes of brutality laid at his door and ordered to hang on Boxing Day, was executed at around 6am (3 am GMT) at an undisclosed location, according to local television reports.

The execution removed one of the great hangovers of 20th century brutality, a dictator with more than just a physical resemblance to Stalin who ruled through fear, vengeance, cunning and terror.

Compare the clarity of the Guardian to the New York Times:
Saddam Hussein, the dictator who led Iraq through three decades of brutality, war and bombast before American forces chased him from his capital city and captured him in a filthy pit near his hometown, was hanged just before dawn Saturday during the morning call to prayer.

The final stages of Mr. Hussein’s life came with terrible swiftness after he lost the appeal, six days ago, of his death sentence for the killings of 148 men and boys in the northern town of Dujail in 1982. He had received the sentence less than two months before from a special court set up to judge his reign as the almost unchallenged dictator of Iraq.

His execution was announced on Iraqi state television and was confirmed by a senior American official in Baghdad and a Bush administration official in Crawford, Tex. No details were disclosed and Iraqi officials had said it would not be shown publicly.

Suppose you wanted to read a left-wing high-brow newspaper. Which has the more crackling prose?

There's a reason why the New York Times is losing readers.

STILL MORE: For the lefty-activist reaction, see the comments at AMERICABlog. If it weren't so harsh, it would be comedy gold.

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A blue moon rises over a frozen hell... 

Little Green Footballs just gave "major kudos" to, er, Barbara Boxer. No. Really. I shit you not.

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Imagining Saddam's execution 

If you can't mock Saddam's execution, whose execution can you mock?

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Joe Lieberman lives up to the Left's expectations 

This, I think, explains why the Left fought so hard to defeat Joe Lieberman.

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The Palestinian Arabs are our enemies 

Glenn Reynolds describes the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Arabs exactly, I think:

ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, I've suggested that the United States should not be trying to serve as an "honest broker" for a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the grounds that the Palestinians are our enemies, and thus we can't and shouldn't be neutral about them.

That we -- meaning the American public -- now know that Yasser Arafat was the actual "mastermind" of the murder of American diplomats is but the last bad fact in a very long list. As I have written before, the Palestinian Arabs have been our enemies, or the enemy of our allies, for almost 100 years. Never mind their war against Israel or their repeated terrorism against Western targets. The Palestinian Arabs sided with the Ottomon Turks against our allies -- the United Kingdom, France, and Australia -- during World War I. The Palestinian Arabs worked with the Nazis during World War II. They sided with the Soviets during the Cold War, Iraq during the Gulf War, and the Palestinian "street" acted for all the world as though it supported Al Qaeda after September 11. Of course, Palestinian Arabs supported Saddam in 2003, and probably still do support him on the eve of his execution.

The truth is, the Palestinian Arabs have had many opportunities to support the United States, and had they seized those opportunities they might have a moral case that the United States should be even-handed in its dealings in the region. But they didn't take the chances they had, and instead supported our enemies. Why should any American ever care about the Palestinian Arabs, except perhaps in the most cynical sense? Sure, if we have to suck up to them as part of a broader strategy to coerce and cajole Arab states to help us in the war on Al Qaeda or to contain Iran, fine, but let's not confuse ourselves that it's the moral thing to do. The State Department's persistent covering up of the depredations of the Palestinians certainly goes a long way to explain why conservatives do not trust Foggy Bottom.

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It's the TigerHawk birthday 

Yep, in 1961 I generated a very welcome tax deduction for the TigerHawk 'rents.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The "Oriana" 

Little Green Footballs is soliciting votes for the "Oriana Fallaci Award" for Anti-Idiotarian of the Year, 2006.

I couldn't help myself. From a field of extremely worthy candidates, I voted for Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

You can also vote for a "Fiskie," the Robert Fisk Idiotarian of the Year Award here. I held my nose and voted for John Murtha, although on reflection the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists is the obvious best choice.

I should say that I am quite disappointed that neither Human Rights Watch (for its arrestingly one-sided reports on Israel's actions during the Hezbollah War) nor Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the cut. Now you might say that Ahmadinejad is a bona fide enemy, and that the essence of Idiotarianism is cravenly apologizing for, "understanding," or sucking up to actual enemies, and that therefore the category by definition must exclude the real thing. Then, however, one might legitimately ask why Hugo Chavez is a nominee.

Just sayin'.

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Justice in the Duke non-rape case 

Regular blog readers know that there has been an extraordinary amount of controversy regarding the conduct of Durham (NC) District Attorney Mike Nifong in the prosecution of members of the Duke lacrosse team for rape and other heinous crimes. Well, the North Carolina bar filed ethics charges against Nifong today "accusing him of saying misleading or inflammatory things to the news media about the athletes under suspicion." Good. Prosecutors everywhere need to know there are some lines that they must not cross. John Hinderaker:

Our criminal justice system reposes a tremendous amount of discretion in prosecutors. When prosecutors are corrupt, like Nifong or Ronnie Earle of Travis County, Texas, who ruined Tom DeLay's public career, the consequences can be devastating.

There is one reform that I think would push prosecutors substantially in the direction of the responsible: We should bar all prosecutors -- state, federal, attorneys general -- from running for any non-prosecutorial public or judicial office for a period of five years after leaving the prosecutor's office.

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Ethiopia goes after the Islamists: a deep-cover proxy war? 

Stratfor reported the following in a "Sitrep" last night:

Ethiopia's envoy to Somalia said Dec. 27 that Ethiopian and Somalian government troops will lay siege to Somalia's capital of Mogadishu until Islamist forces there surrender, regardless of the potential for civilian casualties.

Ethiopia, it seems, didn't get the memo about "post-heroic war." In any case, its declared war against the "Islamic Courts" faction in Somalia is proceeding apace. The Islamists have apparently already withdrawn from the capital.

I will confess that I do not entirely understand what is happening here, and neither does the media, at least according to Hugh Hewitt. He has a link-rich round-up.

It is possible to describe Ethiopia as an American proxy under deep cover. The State Department's summary of Ethiopia notes that the United States has been training that country's army:
The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) numbers about 200,000 personnel, which makes it one of the largest militaries in Africa. During the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, the ENDF mobilized strength reached approximately 350,000. Since the end of the war, some 150,000 soldiers have been demobilized. The ENDF continues a transition from its roots as a guerrilla army to an all-volunteer professional military organization with the aid of the U.S. and other countries. Training in peacekeeping operations, professional military education, military training management, counter-terrorism operations, and military medicine are among the major programs sponsored by the United States. Ethiopia now has two peacekeeping contingents in Burundi and Liberia.

StrategyPage reports that we have, in fact, been providing help behind the scenes:
The U.S. was apparently providing the Ethiopians with satellite and aircraft photos of Islamic Courts positions. The U.S. has a large counter-terror force to the north, in Djibouti. The U.S. may be supplying Ethiopia with cash (to pay for all the gas the Ethiopians are burning in their operations). For years, the U.S. has been training Ethiopian troops for operations like this.

Meanwhile, the UNSC is actually lining up 14-1 in support of the American position, which is that a ceasefire should not require an immediate withdrawal by Ethiopia.

The one thing I do know is that Ethiopia's war in Somalia appears for all the world like a significant battle in the war on Islamist jihad. Perhaps Somalia won't turn into al Qaeda's next base of operations after all.

Your more erudite comments are more than welcome.

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The blogosphere at war 

Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club has applied his considerable analytical powers to the blogosphere itself, considering its nature, its operation, its boundaries and its impact. Richard's essay is, not surprisingly, of more original tone and timbre than any I have read on the subject, because it drives toward the question, "how to optimize the blogosphere for informational warfare?" It is long, so print off "The Blogosphere At War" and read it over lunch.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eagle picture of the day 


In other bald eagle news, there is a nesting pair building a huge nest in the tree growing out of our front porch. I'll try to snap some shots tomorrow.

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Executing Saddam: Just another ministerial act 

I'm sure Saddam won't be looking at his hanging quite this way:

Iraq was preparing for the rapid execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein, with the US-backed government eager to bring his chapter in the country's bloody history to an end.

Justice Minister Hashem al-Shibli said Wednesday the sentence for crimes against humanity -- upheld by am Iraqi appeal court on Tuesday -- would be sent to the presidency for approval while the prison service prepares to hang him.

The process will get underway rapidly, he said, but the formality of executing the ousted dictator could be delayed by the onset of the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which is due to start at the end of the week.

MORE: A sharp-eyed commenter spots anti-Israeli bias engineered into into the linked article's online marketing.

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Rise of the Silver Surfer 

Check out this very cool trailer. Silver Surfer fans, your long wait is nearly over!

I guess we'll need to wait to see whether Galactus will be making an appearance.

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John Kerry visits Iraq 

After reading this, I almost - almost - feel sorry for the guy. Ouch. OUCH!!!

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The Santa Claus rally 

The stock market has been on a huge tear the last couple of days. As of the moment of this blog post, every single one of the 32 stocks I follow on my Yahoo! screen are showing green. That doesn't happen very often.

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Heaven just got a lot funkier 

It was with some sadness that I read of the passing of musical icon James Brown yesterday. It was with gladness that I read today that his body will lie in state at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, site of Brown's coming out party and the recording of his famous Live at the Apollo album.

James Brown leaves a huge legacy as an innovator of soul music and the inventor of funk, which in turn spawned disco and hip-hop music, a huge amount of which is recorded directly over James Brown samples. There is so much being written on JB right now that I don't have a lot more to add (having already blogged on the JB legacy in the 2005 blog post Papa don't take no mess). As usual, Scott over at Powerline has a nice tribute, which includes a great video of the Godfather in action.

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Gerald R. Ford, 1913-2006 

President Gerald R. Ford, born on July 14, 1913 as Leslie King, has died. He lived one month longer than Ronald Reagan did, and became the longest-lived former President of the United States.

Ford was the first president whose innauguration I remember as a current event. Indeed, my political awareness (at age 12) really began with Nixon's resignation, which I watched from a barber's chair in Tupper Lake, New York, less than five miles from where I write this today. After that, I began reading the newspaper, watching the evening news, and arguing about politics with my friends. A blogger was born with Gerald Ford's move to the Oval Office, we just didn't know it at the time.

Ford was a remarkable man, as the wire service obituary reminds us. Even as the country mocked him for his clumsiness -- the press conveniently forgetting that he was perhaps the most accomplished athlete ever to occupy the White House -- and derided him for his pardon of Richard Nixon, he led with a decency and competence that I think most Americans of the left and right wish we could conjure up today. He did this at a time when the country was extraordinarily difficult to govern, and he almost paid for it with his life. In September 1975, two separate Californians tried to assassinate him only 17 days apart.

The country threw Ford overboard for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and historians will long debate whether the electorate did the right thing. Right now, Jimmy Carter is in favor among professional historians, but that is because most of them were voters in 1976 and remember the choice they made. If, as I have argued elsewhere, it takes 50 years for the interpretation of an American presidency to settle into consensus, we should not expect the first good history of the Ford and Carter years to be written until the 2020s. At a minimum, Jimmy Carter will also have to die.

There is much to compare in the two men, who as ex-Presidents had a cordial and even productive relationship. For instance, they both tried to rescue Americans held hostage. Measured by the disgraceful cost-benefit calculations recently favored by the press, the Mayaguez rescue was a failure -- 40 American servicemen died rescuing 39 sailors. Geopolitically and morally, though, Mayaguez was a manifest victory at a great cost, and it sustained America's commitment to defend its own when that guarantee was looking extremely tattered. If only subsequent presidents had handled hostage crises so well. History should not forget that Jimmy Carter attacked Ford for the Mayaguez rescue during his 1980 campaign, presumably to distract voters from the disaster at Desert One, in which eight Americans died rescuing exactly nobody in a defeat for the United States that still reverberates today.

With only the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford was and remains the most honorable man to serve as President since Eisenhower. The appointment of Ford was one of Richard Nixon's wisest acts, even if it was borne of political desperation. The Democrats were also wise, because they confirmed his nomination knowing that he was by the standards of the day quite conservative. They did not hold out for Nixon to appoint a Democrat, or even a liberal Republican. The Democratic leadership confirmed Ford because they knew he was a good man. Looking back more than thirty years, both Richard Nixon and the Democrats acted more wisely than we would expect their counterparts to behave today. Who knows, though? Perhaps in a time of genuine national crisis -- as opposed to the manufactured and, frankly, trivial divisions that concern us today -- George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi would rise to the occasion.

It was, however, a different time. We were more concerned with propriety than we are today, and Jerry Ford reflected that. I was struck by this bit from the A.P.'s obituary:

In office, Ford's living tastes were modest. When he became vice president, he chose to remain in the same Alexandria, Va., home — unpretentious except for a swimming pool — that he shared with his family as a congressman.

After leaving the White House, however, he took up residence in the desert resort of Rancho Mirage, picked up $1 million for his memoir and another $1 million in a five-year NBC television contract, and served on a number of corporate boards. By 1987, he was on eight such boards, at fees up to $30,000 a year, and was consulting for others, at fees up to $100,000. After criticism, he cut back on such activity.

Even adjusting for inflation, Ford's post-office income was a tiny fraction of Bill Clinton's, yet there has been almost no criticism of Clinton and he certainly has not "cut back" in response to such criticism that there has been.

It is almost enough to make one nostalgic for the 1970s.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The NSA wiretap cases: Asymmetrical journalism? 

Captain Ed notes that the government's supposedly "illegal" NSA surveillance program -- the one exposed by the New York Times -- has been litigated in front of 18 federal judges. Seventeen of those judges have upheld the program or otherwise found against the plaintiffs. One, Anna Diggs Taylor, struck down the program. Ed is fascinated by the disparity in news coverage:

I find it fascinating that Taylor's decision drew so much attention, but that the 17 decisions that went the other way have barely cracked the national press. One might suppose that these cases are also under appeal, but we have heard nothing about their existence nor their progress.

I wish I could be "fascinated." I would have been "fascinated" if it had been otherwise.

The truth is, a ruling that humiliates the mainstream media is not interesting. One that vindicates them warrants extended press coverage. Now matter how asinine the opinion.

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Sanctions on Iran 

Andy McCarthy, one of the handful of Americans ever to convict an Islamist terrorist, has examined the United Nations "sanctions" against Iran -- I use the scare quotes advisedly -- and he does not like what he sees. Rarely have fewer words been minced. In fact, I'm thinking that it must have been quite a Christmas over at the McCarthy household ("Yes, dear, we know that the sanctions are a complete joke and that the State Department has quite predictably gone soft again, but you'll feel better if you have some more pie...").

BONUS: Newshounds know that we captured "senior Iranian military officials" in Iraq conspiring to wage war against that country and the United States. By historical standards, the United States would have casus belli (as if we did not already). Michael Ledeen imagines that Hadley and Rice will wimp out. Again.

The question is, what should we do?

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Why does the United States support Israel? 

Does the United States support Israel because of a vast conspiracy, or because of the financial power of "Jewish interests," or because evangelical Christians have hijacked our government, or because of its vast oil resources it is the only remotely competent society in the entire region? Or is it because American leaders from William Bradford to John Adams to Abraham Lincoln believed in the dream of Zion long before the world heard of Theodore Herzl? According to Michael Oren (the learned author of the engrossing history of the '67 war, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, the best military history I've read in the last two years), the roots of America's interest in Israel's good fortune extend deeply into our national psyche, no matter how much James Baker or Jimmy Carter or John Mearsheimer wish otherwise.

Oren does not make the point in his essay, but I think that the Islamist terrorists understand this at a visceral level, even if not as students of American history. That is, perhaps, another reason why radical Islamists of both the Sunni and Shiite persuasion single out the United States (along with Israel) as their principal enemy, and another reason why it would be insane for our government to sell Israel down the river in exchange for pie crust promises from regimes that, deep down, understand that American ideas are a mortal threat.

Oren, by the way, is about to publish a new book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. If it is as interesting and as gracefully written as Six Days of War, it is well worth buying (as I have done, having an itchy trigger finger when it comes to the buying of books).

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Grim milestone watch 

I certainly appreciate that the press finally understands that there is a geopolitical relationship between the war in Iraq and the war on al Qaeda, but that does not make this headline any less asinine. Or offensive.

And to think that some people still wonder why the mainstream media has so little credibility.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas in Spitsbergen 

There are all sorts of strange places in the world. Surely one of them is Spitsbergen in the Arctic Svalbard Islands, where Russians and Norwegians have lived cheek-by-jowl for more than 80 years.

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The Sand Santa and its geopolitical significance 

The photograph and official wire service caption below are additional evidence that India is the "natural" ally of the United States in the war against radical Islam. Also, it's really cool:

Students join sand sculpture artists to create a 30-meter-long (100-foot-long) Santa Claus sculpture on the Puri golden beach, in the Indian state of Orissa on the eve of Christmas, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2006. Though Hindus and Muslims comprise the majority of the population in India, Christmas is celebrated with much fanfare.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Adirondack light: Christmas Eve edition 

Greetings of the season.

We are celebrating Christmas eve with a family viewing of the greatest -- and gayest -- Christmas movie ever made, The Lion In Winter. With that extended bit of couch time, I've laboriously uploaded a huge pile of pictures from the day's activities, which included, inter alia, a stroll down the road to cut a "sincere" tree from the wild and the climbing of nearby Mt. Arab with my cousin Sally and three very friendly dogs. As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge them.

And please do have a merry Christmas.

On the way to cut the tree!

On the trail up Mr. Arab with Cleophilus of the North

TigerHawk and cousin Sally

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It snowed a bit this morning, and I stuck my camera out the roof of my car as I drove back from town with the donuts. I thought the effect of the flash on the snowflakes was quite something (as always, click to enlarge):

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Al Qaeda lectures the Democrats 

I've been traveling so much I missed this bit of comedy gold:

Al Qaeda has sent a message to leaders of the Democratic party that credit for the defeat of congressional Republicans belongs to the terrorists.

In a portion of the tape from al Qaeda No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahri, made available only today, Zawahri says he has two messages for American Democrats.

“The first is that you aren’t the ones who won the midterm elections, nor are the Republicans the ones who lost. Rather, the Mujahideen — the Muslim Ummah’s vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq — are the ones who won, and the American forces and their Crusader allies are the ones who lost,” Zawahri said, according to a full transcript obtained by ABC News.

Zawahri calls on the Democrats to negotiate with him and Osama bin Laden, not others in the Islamic world who Zawahri says cannot help.

I hunted around on Google this morning -- 36 hours after ABC reported this story -- looking for mainstream media pickup, and could not find a single example. Either ABC News is wrong, or nobody else out there wants you to know that al Qaeda sides with the Democrats.

Now, before all our "reality-based" friends go bezerk, I am not arguing that Democrats support al Qaeda, or are treasonous, or anything like that. I do, however, speculate that if al Qaeda had expressed deep bitterness at the result of the November election rather than transporting joy, the New York Times might have covered it on the front page. Or at least on the editorial page.

In any case, I'm not an advocate of guilt-by-association political argument. Just as I think it is asinine when Democratic activists and lefty blogs (or random liberal Princetonians) cite the latest idiocy from Pat Robertson as a reason not to vote for Republicans, it would be equally silly -- perhaps more so -- to imply that the endorsement of al Qaeda is a reason, in and of itself, not to vote for Democrats (even when they mimic Democratic talking points). It is, however, legitimate to notice that the leftier Democrats are arguing for a policy that al Qaeda considers to be in its best interests. Now, you might say that al Qaeda is lying, or wrong, or that the alignment between the lefty Democratic prescription and al Qaeda's objectives is purely coincidental, and all of those possibilities should of course be taken into account when considering the benefits of withdrawal from Iraq. Ultimately, though, you have to wonder: Is it wise to ignore the clear statements of our enemies?

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

My whereabouts 

We have come up to our family place in the Adirondacks (Christmas 2004 picture at right, back before global warming took hold), where we will remain until next Thursday. Having spent most of the day either packing the car or driving up here or drinking wine with my cousin, blogging has been so light as to be diaphanous. However, I just plugged in my new Verizon broadband air card, and it is really fast by the usual standards of Tupper Lake, especially compared to the slow and intermittant Cingular service that I was using last summer. For you, that should mean a very bloggy Christmas.

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Friday, December 22, 2006


The official wire service caption to this picture reads, in pertinent part, "A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport's terminal four in London August 12, 2006."

I'm sure that any person who is this fat is tragically burdened by it. It does create problems for innocent unrelated people, not least of all on crowded aircraft. If the person in the picture attempts to occupy only one seat, he or she will displace a great deal of space that has actually been rented by the unhappy traveler in the adjacent seat. If the large person is to occupy two seats, should he or she buy the extra seat, or should the airline provide it without charge? Put differently, as between the airline, the fat person, and the innocent adjacent traveler, who should bear the cost of the fat passenger's requirement for more than the usual amount of room?

Undoubtedly, the answer depends where you sit.

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A friend sent me the following list of neologisms, which are alleged to have been the winning entries in a contest sponsored by The Washington Post. I'm sure I'm just about the last person in the world to see them (this seems to have been floating around for a couple of years), but perhaps they are also new to you.

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), the state of being appalled over how much weight you have gained

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp

8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), the belief that when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and just sits there in plain sight

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

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Will there always be an England? 

Not if it doesn't reconsider its immigration policies.

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Sex for peace 

A friendly reminder that if you support peace on Earth, be sure to have sex today. Indeed, if you don't already have a partner and need a good pick-up line, "we need to have sex to end war" might do the job. Or not. It has been a long time since I needed a good pick-up line, and I'm sure I wouldn't know one if it punched me in the nose.

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My whereabouts and a couple of nano-reviews 

Sorry about the light blogging yesterday -- couldn't be helped. I got up at 3:45 for a 6:20 am flight to Florida, spent the day in some very interesting meetings, and then returned last night. When I got back it was all I could do to watch an episode of Heroes on iTunes with my son.

Heroes, by the way, is excellent, but you have to watch it from the beginning. I had not done that, even though a friend of mine pointed out that you can download all the episodes from iTunes for a couple dollars each and watch them on your computer. I didn't do that, either. However, earlier this week I noticed that the download speeds in our house had decreased considerably. Investigation revealed that my son had spent a couple of days downloading every episode of Heroes. His penalty is that I am making him watch the entire series from the beginning with me, hunched over his computer. It's a lot of fun.

However, you won't miss much if you miss the movie Eragon. It is poorly directed -- the actors are very wooden -- and the story is a bit dumb. The dragon and related effects are very well done, but not worth the two hours out of your life. Yes, I am open to the charge that I did not like it only because I am the only member of the household not to have read the book, but the readers were outraged because the movie was insufficiently true to the novel. So if you've read the book you will be disappointed, and if you haven't the movie will hardly motivate you correct that personal defect. My recommendation: ignore Eragon entirely.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finally, the truth can be told 

This could be big news.

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents will be instantly declassified, including many F.B.I. cold war files on investigations of people suspected of being Communist sympathizers. After years of extensions sought by federal agencies behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006 means the government’s first automatic declassification of records.

Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.

Of course you have to love the gratuitous dig at Bush (apparently an essential component of any Times article, as specified in the NYT style guide):

Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted.
Uh, what scholars? Ward Churchill maybe?

Anyway, according to the article, many of the thousands of documents pertain to cold war related issues, and it certainly will be interesting to see what comes forth, but all that could be small potatoes if we finally learn the truth about Roswell!

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Sandy Berger in the dark of the night 

Every few months, former Clinton administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is back in the news, and every few months we are reminded of the same mystery: why did he swipe classified documents from the National Archives, why did he destroy them, and why did the Bush administration's Justice Department let him off the hook with a slap on the wrist? Now we have reason to believe that he obstructed justice, too:

Former national security adviser Sandy Berger removed classified documents from the National Archives in 2003 and hid them under a construction trailer, the Archives inspector general reported Wednesday.

The report was issued more than a year after Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removal of the documents.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he said it was possible he threw them in his office trash.

It is also possible that all the oxygen molecules in a room will randomly travel to one side, but that doesn't make it believable even to the stupidest reporter in the Washington press corps.

Ordinarily, such disrespect for law enforcement would merit a charge of obstruction of justice. Berger, however, seems to have gotten off with essentially no punishment. Recall that for all of this Berger was fined $50,000 -- which is probably his standard honorarium for one speech -- sentenced to 100 hours of community service, and barred from access to classified material for three years, during all of which the Republicans were in the White House anyway. He will be free to handle classified material in the next Democratic administration, whenever that may be.

The question is, why is the government treating Sandy Berger -- who stole classified documents that the 9/11 Commission needed to see, hid them under a trailer, retrieved them, destroyed them, and was at least careless with the truth -- with such kid gloves? The answer can only be that he knows something that (i) reflects very poorly on the Bush administration or (ii) would damage national security if revealed, and he threatened to reveal it unless he got an unbelievably good deal. Given all that has already been revealed about both the Bush administration and our counterterrorism operations, Berger must be sitting on some pretty amazing secret to have cowed a Republican Justice Department into such a light sentence.

As I've written before, if you are an ambitious investigative reporter in the Washington press corps, it really does smell as though there is a huge story here that remains to be told. One thing is obvious, though: If, say, Henry Kissinger had done a similar thing during the Carter years or James Baker had stolen classified documents during the Clinton administration, there is exactly no possibility that the national media wouldn't be all over the story like bugs on a bumper.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More university propaganda -- submit your alma mater's flash movie here! 

Yesterday I wrote about the University of Michigan Law School's holiday flash movie for alumni, which I consider to be the "lamest university propaganda in the history of the universe." This morning, Princeton sent me the link to its holiday alumni movie (broadband only), which celebrates the tragically rare "bonfire" celebrating the Tigers' gridiron victories over Harvard and Yale. Recognizing that the point is to get alumni to contribute, Princeton is obviously far more adept at it than the University of Michigan (which, bizarrely, squandered an opportunity to blast "Hail to the Victors" through thousands of law firm computers throughout the land, not to mention Hugh Hewitt's laptop). There is no comparison.

Let's have some fun with this. Please submit the flash movie from your own alma mater in the comments. Assuming that your school knows where you live, I guarantee that if you root around in your "inbox" you will find the link.

MORE: I did some hunting around and came up with some more videos. They are actually easier to find on YouTube than on university web sites, which says something, I suppose, about the power of YouTube.

The University of Iowa Alumni Association appreciation video (it is incredibly "Iowa," which you will only appreciate if you have lived there). I don't think this is an official propaganda film, though.

This, on the other hand, is a great reason to go to Iowa. This is pretty good, too, at least if you're a Hawkeye jazz lover...

The University of Virginia puts up regular "week in photos" and an annual "year in photos" slideshow. It is a great way to remember that campus, which is surely one of the most beautiful universities in the world.

Notre Dame University (nice, probably amateur production on YouTube).

The University of Dallas promo video is pretty good.

Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Any claim that it is "easy Rider" is totally unfair.

Appalachian State University's "hot hot hot" video is jaunty, but entirely implausible.

John Paul the Great Catholic University (in San Diego) has a very slick promotional video.

Are you a Purdue Boilermaker?

Oklahoma Wesleyan ("a university where Jesus is Lord").

The Arizona State University basketball promo is pretty good.

Eureka College, including some footage of its most famous alumnus.

And something of a spoof of college promo videos, featuring Clemson. Heh.

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Revising Vietnam 

My father, who was in the history trade, said that it took forty or fifty years for the interpretation of any American presidency or epoch to stabilize. People have to die, documents have to be declassified, and -- most importantly -- we need historians who were not politically aware at the time the events in question happened. By my father's reasoning, the first decent history of the Bush 43 years will be written in roughly 2050 by a great historian who today is in the fourth grade.

Historians are revising the history of the Vietnam war right on schedule. Power Line has an interview of Mark Moyar, a graduate of Harvard and Cambridge and presently a professor at Marine Corps University. Professor Moyar is the author of Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, published by Cambridge University Press. John Hinderaker wrote that to say that the book "is revisionist would be putting it mildly." Naturally, I ordered a copy.

Mark Moyar was born in 1971, so my father would have considered him to be just about the perfect age to revise the history of the Vietnam War.

One need not be quite that young to have a view of Vietnam that departs from the version that dominates the histories written and retold by journalists and historians who were old enough to remember the climate of the 1960s and 1970s. Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, has an essay (sub. req.) in the current issue of Foreign Affairs on American foreign policy that is well-worth reading for many reasons, and which includes this judgment about Vietnam:

The reason I am so focused on the Middle East is that my first close interaction with the United States grew out of the country's involvement in a previous painful struggle, that in Vietnam. Between 1966 and 1971, American leaders used to stop by Singapore after visiting South Vietnam to discuss the regional situation with me. Washington had sent in some 500,000 troops without sufficient knowledge of the history of the Vietnamese people and paid a huge price in blood, treasure, prestige, and confidence as a result.

Conventional wisdom in the 1970s saw the war in Vietnam as an unmitigated disaster. But that has been proved wrong. The war had collateral benefits, buying the time and creating the conditions that enabled noncommunist East Asia to follow Japan's path and develop into the four dragons (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) and, later, the four tigers (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand). Time brought about the split between Moscow and Beijing and then a split between Beijing and Hanoi. The influence of the four dragons and the four tigers, in turn, changed both communist China and communist Vietnam into open, free-market economies and made their societies freer.

It may yet emerge, as the Vietnam generation settles into its sunset years, that the veterans of that war in fact accomplished as much in the defense of liberty than any American soldiers of the 20th century. Unfortunately, we will need a new generation of professors before that version is taught in our great universities.

For those of you who do not have access to Foreign Affairs, I'll try to write more later on Lee Kuan Yew's essay, most of which bears on Iraq.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The unrelenting war on fun 

With the recent trend of wholesome snack foods reaching "truly ridiculous proportions," Frito-Lay announced Monday that it would, against its better judgment, roll out a new line of healthy fruit-and-vegetable-based chips next February.

"Here," said Frito-Lay CEO Al Carey as he disgustedly tossed a bag of the company's new Flat Earth-brand snack crisps onto the lectern during a meeting with shareholders and members of the press. "Here's some shit that's made from beets. I hope you're all happy now that you have your precious beet chips with the recommended daily serving of fruit, or vegetables, or whatever the hell a 'beet' is."

"Mmm, dehydrated bulb things," Carey added. "Sounds delicious."


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This just in... 

France beats a retreat
PARIS -- France is to withdraw its 200-strong special forces from Afghanistan, all of its ground troops engaged in the U.S anti-terror operation there, authorities announced Sunday.

The decision to pull the elite troops, based in the southeastern city of Jalalabad, comes as the Taliban militia are gaining strength despite the strong engagement -- some 32,800 troops -- of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. France has balked at sending its 1,100-strong NATO contingent outside the relatively safe Afghan capital, Kabul.
Not exactly a "man bites dog" headline, is it?

This story naturally brings to mind the famous spoof "Soldier of Surrender" that circulated some years back.

There are plenty of reasons to like the French, among them their fine cuisine and wine. Their status as curators of so many of the world's cultural treasures is a wonderful service to Western civilization (which I hope continues to endure for a long long time). I've been to France each of the last three years and look forward to my next visit there next June. I don't even find Parisians particularly rude.

But as military allies they are worse than worthless. The fact that France only had 200 troops in harms way in Afganistan is the travesty here. Stay tuned for similar news out of Lebanon, where there presence is likely to ensure continued strife and conflict.

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The lamest university propaganda in the history of the universe 

As an alumnus or other affiliate of various institutions of higher learning, I am blessed to receive no end of holiday collegiate propaganda. Some of it can be very evocative -- Princeton produces an annual video that can loosen even the tightest of alumni wallets. However, this video from the University of Michigan Law School is, I'm sorry to say, the single lamest piece of university propaganda in the history of the universe.

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Prospects for peace around Israel and the role of the United States 

Something's happening in and around Israel, but I'm not smart enough to figure out what it is.

This morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Jordan, purportedly to confer with King Abdullah II "on ways to revive Mideast peacemaking." Since the king emerged from the meeting nattering away about a two-state solution and offering to broker a deal among the Palestinians who are presently fighting a non-civil war, we trust that somebody has a new sense of urgency.

Meanwhile, Stratfor (sub. req.) reported last night that Syria had reached out to Israel, via Germany:

Syrian President Bashar al Assad sent a message to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via Germany pledging to crack down on Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for a return to peace talks, Israel Radio reported Dec. 19, citing Al Arabiya satellite news. Olmert's office has denied the report.

All of this is happening as it is becoming increasingly clear that there is nobody on the Palestinian side who can deliver security to Israel (much less the West Bank) regardless of the Jewish state's concessions.

There is nothing obviously unusual in any of this news, but it feels as though something significant might be happening.

If our imagination is correct -- that something is happening -- it is happening without any obviously public pressure from the United States, notwithstanding the bleating of the Iraq Study Group and the New York Times (both of which have joined the international received wisdom that "peace" between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians will somehow help the situation in Iraq, and that only the United States can bring about that peace). The question is whether the new diplomatic movement is the product of threatened action by the United States, continued inaction by the United States, or substantially independent of anything that the United States has done. As discussed below, I speculate that if there is progress made between Israel and its near enemies, it will be because of American inaction, rather than in spite of it.

Lest there be any doubt, I'm as in favor of legal peace between Israel and its various neighbors as anybody. Less killing and more economic vitality in Palestine would be a great thing, no doubt about it. I just don't think that it would accomplish much in the wider region, including particularly inside Iraq or in our confrontation with Iran. Indeed, Israel and the Jews would remain a favorite whipping boy of the corrupt kings and brutal fascists who dominate the Arab world regardless of formal diplomatic recognition. Either that, or those regimes -- which need a "far enemy" to justify their sorry existence -- will just find another sore to pick (probably the United States). The most persuasive exposition of this idea is by former Princeton professor Michael Scott Doran, who now sits on the National Security Council. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bush administration has not spent its little remaining capital trying to force a result that eluded every American president since the 1970s. Ironically, that superficial indifference may be forcing Israel and its neighbors into a "dialogue" of sorts.

Why? Well, the argument is similar to the claim of some Democrats and other critics of the Bush administration that Iraqis are more likely to make peace if the United States stops trying to impose it on them. Reliance on and deference to the United States creates a sort of moral hazard -- people can take extreme positions if they know or anticipate that the United States will bail them out and thereby indemnify them for the consequences of their own stupidity.

In the case of Israel and its hostile neighbors, the prospect of American intervention creates several moral hazards. First, there is the obvious problem that if everybody believes that peace requires action from the United States, nothing will happen until the United States takes action. More significantly, if Israel's "near enemies" believe that the United States believes that peace in Palestine is essential to the mission in Iraq or the containment in Iran or some other much more significant geopolitical objective, they will overestimate the leverage that they have in their negotiations with Israel. The United States therefore weakens the hand of Israel's near enemies (and thereby increases the chances that they will make useful concessions) if it persuades the world that it does not believe that peace in Palestine will contribute significantly to America's wider geopolitical advantage.

Of course, there are obvious advantages to American intervention, including that we may gain some "soft power" credits from Arabs and Europeans for having pressured Israel visibly and that Israel's "near enemies" may be more inclined to enter into negotiations in the first place if they think that the United States will extract concessions for them. The question is not whether these obvious advantages exist, but whether they are worth the attendant moral hazard.

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