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My absence

Posted by Unf
on 12.27.03

Curious why I haven't been posting for a while? Probably not. But in case you were, here's the explanation. Googled the word Unf and came up with this. Haven't been the same since.


 

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Is Bribery Still Illegal?

Posted by Ogged
on 12.27.03
Rule of law, anyone?



 

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Bam

Posted by Ogged
on 12.27.03
I don't know what to say about the earthquake in Iran. My cousin's daughter was in Bam when it happened, though she's fine. What we're told is what we can see on the television: the devastation is incredible. I still have a few relatives who live fairly rural lives and look and dress much like the people you see grieving. They're not so foreign, and I imagine you'd like them, and get along.

 

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Feeling Spartar Every Day

Posted by Ogged
on 12.27.03

I've made enough horrible predictions here that I can't claim anything like prescience, but it seems this one (note the block of text, written back when I thought anyone cared what the hell I actually thought) looks like it turned out to be pretty damn good.

UPDATE:Brad DeLong notes the substance of the Insta-post and finds it horribly wrong.


 

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Brooks, Edumacated

Posted by Ogged
on 12.27.03
Soon I'll stop even mentioning David Brooks, but today's column is again horribly bad. Josh Marshall can't help but note the inevitable political hackery, and I just laughed over this sentence.
In his 1947 essay, "Rationalism and Politics," [Michael Oakeshott] distinguished between technical and practical knowledge.
Thank goodness for that. Aristotle really made some hay from this distinction, in, well, I guess it must have been around 1949 or so. MORE: Atrios asks a good question. AND: I missed the Philosoraptor's moment of reflection.
I used to think that Brooks might be one of the good guys. Why did I think that? Apparently because I am an idiot.

 

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Must Be The Nog

Posted by Ogged
on 12.26.03

In the spirit of the holidays, let me note that Brian Leiter has written the best defense of leftist opposition to the war in Iraq that I've read in the blogosphere.

Of course, I would dispute the contention that "no one in their right mind in the summer of 2001 would have described Iraq as a security threat to the U.S.," but that's not the focus here; Lieter puts paid to the common contention that the "Left," by opposing the war, demonstrated its moral bankruptcy.


 

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Barbara Smith, Be My Friend

Posted by Ogged
on 12.25.03

Many of you have had Christmas dinner, and made conversation with all manner of folk; some smart and friendly, some not. But after you read this magnificent reflection by the witty and urbane (and gorgeous) Barbara Smith on fifty years at the Economist, you'll wish that you had had her over to dinner. The editors, in their wisdom, haven't hidden this behind their subscription wall, so you can click and read the whole thing for free.


 

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Some People Don't Like Surprises

Posted by Ogged
on 12.25.03
With such loving, emotive parents, it's a wonder the boy wound up like he did. Or not. Or not, again.
Charles Wyckoff and his wife had returned home after a funeral for their son when the phone rang.
"Hey, Dad," Kevin Wyckoff said.
"Huh. Well, damn boy. We just had your funeral today," his father said Monday, according to a transcript of the call provided Wednesday by the Oklahoma Corrections Department.
"Yeah, I know. I heard," Kevin Wyckoff said.
"Well, what the hell is going on?" his father asked.
Mom's a joy too.
"Kevin, I can not believe this," said his mother....
"We buried you today, boy," she said.
"I understand that. It's not my fault, though," he responded.
"OK. Somebody's in deep trouble," his mother said.
And a very merry Christmas to the Wyckoffs!

 

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Happy Holidays

Posted by Ogged
on 12.25.03

Merry Christmas to all (for what it's worth coming from a Shi'ite, anyway).

Last night we had dinner at my favorite Arab restaurant and tonight we're off to some Christmas gathering of Iranians and Americans at my cousin's friend's place. Quite the amalgam of traditions, that. Rather wonderfully American.


 

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Now This Scares Me

Posted by Ogged
on 12.25.03
There was yet another attempt on Musharraf's life in Pakistan today, and the closest yet. 15 other people were killed and Musharraf narrowly escaped. Is there a plan in case one of these attempts succeeds? If you were India, wouldn't you be very seriously considering a quick takeover of the Pakistani government about 5 minutes after confirmation of Musharraf's death? And how much of the "chatter" the US government has been hearing might have been connected to this latest attempt on Musharraf?

 

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Just Do It

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

I have no idea where this post will end up, since the site's on a new server and the DNS hasn't propagated yet. I any case, I'm off to Chicago tonight, and I'll probably post intermittently from there. More important, I plan to see Unf and my pre-new- year's resolution is to force him to post something.


 

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Muddling Through

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

Well, that's better. There's a very interesting post by Tim Burke over at Cliopatria about the Nixon tapes.

But what I strongly suspect is quite typical about the transcripts is the decidedly non-Olympian, non-omniscient perspective they display. The later, non-Watergate tapes tend to show that while Nixon and his aides knew more than the average citizen or the average pundit or the average Congressman about national and international affairs, and had far more ability to move events and institutions in a direction that he desired--that's what power is, in the end--his knowledge and influence were also finite, sometimes strikingly so. I have argued this before, but it seems to me that the total body of tapes offers a fairly striking rebuke to ideas about historical causality that require power to always do that which it ought to do, and to always have a transparent command of the social and cultural landscape it inhabits. The tapes reveal that there were numerous conspiracies within the Nixon White House--but they also tend to undercut a conspiratorial conception of history.


 

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Clark, (Once) Again

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

Apparently, not everyone is convinced that Wesley Clark doesn't want to cede American sovereignty to some amorphous "Europe." Let's quit poking each other's eyes out in the dark and look at his stated position on this issue.

First, here's the controversial statement from Hardball.

MATTHEWS: First question, up top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Clark, you've criticized Bush for his unilateral actions in dealing with Iraq.
CLARK: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: However, if you were in Bush's shoes right now, what would you be doing differently to rebuild those international bridges you believe have been compromised?
CLARK: Well, if I were president right now, I would be doing things that George Bush can't do right now, because he's already compromised those international bridges. I would go to Europe and I would build a new Atlantic charter. I would say to the Europeans, you know, we've had our differences over the years, but we need you. The real foundation for peace and stability in the world is the transatlantic alliance. And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we'll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We'll bring you in.
And in return, we want the same right on your security concerns. And that would reinvigorate NATO. We then put the foundation in place to have a real transatlantic agreement. And working with our allies in Europe, we could move the world. We're 600, 700 million people, we're three permanent seats on the Security Council, we're half the world's GDP. We can do it. Whether it's dealing with North Korea, the value of Chinese currency, or the problems of nuclear developments in Iran. And so that's the essential first step.

Now, here's his official policy, as spelled out in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations.

This [new Atlantic] Charter will begin by America declaring its commitment to work with its democratic allies as a first, not last, resort in addressing the security issues we face. European nations would make the same commitment to give primacy to NATO. Such a pledge will renew the sense of solidarity without which the NATO alliance cannot exist. President Bush said yesterday that his policy is to go multinational as his first choice - but his record shows NATO is an afterthought.

...

The West won the Cold War with a strategy based upon the doctrine of collective security and deterrence. The Bush Administration is right to suggest this doctrine needs updating, but wrong to insist that the alternative must be unilateral preemption. Instead, we must embody in the Atlantic Charter agreement on collective responses - diplomatic, economic and legal -- to this threat, just as we did to the threat of Soviet aggression. And then only as a matter of last resort in the case of imminent danger NATO should prepare for collective preemption. Of course the United States always has the right to unilateral action when other options are unavailable.

It's all there. The argument that "Bush consulted, therefore Clark must mean he'd do something else to distinguish himself" is a non-starter, because obviously Clark doesn't believe Bush was sincere in his consultation. Don't bother arguing about Bush's sincerity, because for the purposes of deciding what Wes Clark meant, only Wes Clark's beliefs are relevant.

You can also see what he means by "first:" he will exhaust all intra-Charter options before moving to act unilaterally or with a temporary "coalition of the willing." Does this mean that "Europe" will have veto power? "Of course the United States always has the right to unilateral action when other options are unavailable."

The only possible substantive objection to Clark's comment is that "right of first refusal" has no established meaning in foreign relations and was therefore inapposite. I can see this point, but it's a quibble and a debatable one at that: if "right of first refusal" did have a foreign relations analog, I think it would look very much like Clark's policy.

Enough already. I thought this was "Howard Dean is Satan" week.


 

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Mmm Vicious

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

Looks like the site is usable once again, which makes this a fine time to note that not only is David Brooks still a hack, he's getting to be a very unpleasant one. He starts today like so.

In 2000, John McCain led an insurgent campaign against the Republican establishment. Say what you will about G.O.P. elites, they do not lack self-confidence. When McCain hit them, they hit back, viciously. In South Carolina, they insulted McCain's honor, caused him to lose his equilibrium and left him battered and defeated.

I know that that "viciously" is supposed to cover the sins of the Republicans in South Carolina, but judge for yourself.

Bush loyalists, maybe working for the campaign, maybe just representing its interests, claimed in parking-lot handouts and telephone "push polls" and whisper campaigns that McCain's wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, that McCain might be mentally unstable from his captivity in Vietnam, and that the senator had fathered a black child with a prostitute. Callers push-polled members of a South Carolina right-to-life organization and other groups, asking if the black baby might influence their vote. Now here's the twist, the part that drives McCain admirers insane to this very day: That last rumor took seed because the McCains had done an especially admirable thing. Years back they'd adopted a baby from a Mother Teresa orphanage in Bangladesh. Bridget, now eleven years old, waved along with the rest of the McCain brood from stages across the state, a dark-skinned child inadvertently providing a photo op for slander. The attacks were of a level and vitriol that even McCain, who was regularly beaten in captivity, could not ignore. He began to answer the slights, strayed off message about how he would lead the nation if he got the chance, and lost the war for South Carolina.

And...

When George W. Bush launched a radio ad accusing John McCain of being indifferent to funding for breast cancer research, he ended up deeply offending his opponent, whose own sister is a breast cancer survivor currently in remission.

...

While McCain refused to discuss his sister's struggle, he did make a particular point to voice, during one campaign stop in East Los Angeles, his hope for "Gov. Bush to get out of the gutter."

Meanwhile, at an event Thursday at Clear View Charter School in Chula Vista, Calif., Bush said that "Sen. McCain is running an angry campaign," without elaborating why that might be.

Is this "insulting his honor?" Brooks uses this episode as a counter-example to the Democrat's tepid response to Howard Dean, as if the Democrats, if they really believed in their centrism, would be behaving like the Bushies. In David Brooks' world, decency is weakness.


 

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Down, Moving, Not Out

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

Oy vey. Our hosting provider, after suffering several crashes on the server that housed this site, has decided to move their operations to another datacenter. Good for them. But they've also asked that we not update our site for 36 hours. "Just put down the crack-pipe, Ogged," is what I think I heard. That goes for you too, Unf: no posting! You can leave comments as usual; they'll disappear for a while, but they're easy to restore. Of course, I won't be surprised if the site just disappears entirely for a while, but I hope not for too long. See ya!


 

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Tick tock

Posted by Bob
on 12.23.03

I'm in my final months of being 34 years old. According to the NYT, it's my last chance to live with my parents and still be normal enough to be part of a named demographic group:

The shape of life for those between 18 and 34 has changed so profoundly that many social scientists now think of those years as a new life stage, "transitional adulthood" just as, a century ago, they recognized adolescence as a life stage separating childhood from adulthood.

From the article, you'd think that the way to mark your aging would be by when you have a decent job:

The Research Network on Adult Transitions ... has for years been gathering data on 18- to 34-year-olds: when they reach the traditional markers (later, throughout the Western world), what they think constitutes adulthood (self-sufficiency, a full-time job and an independent household, but not necessarily marriage or children), when they feel most adult (at work), how much support they get from their parents (on average, $38,000, or $2,200 a year from 18 to 34).

I've been able to support myself for a while, but really I've usually marked my aging by the aging of television characters. At the beginning of Friends, I was about as old as Joey, Rachel, and Monica. (Ross and Chandler are older, and I don't know where Phoebe fits in.) I think they've fallen behind a year or two, but the passing of Friends into cultural irrelevance feels like my own slippage. I'm a year or two behind the Sex and the City women who aren't Samantha, but that show has been becoming steadilymore melancholic and looking to settle down. I'm just thankful that Seinfeld has made the world safe for fortysomethings.


 

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Definitions

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

You'd think that even a blogger would double-check something before using it to criticise a presidential candidate. (Yes, that's a joke.) Andrew Sullivan opines on Wesley Clark.

An interesting position from Wesley Clark:

And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we'll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We'll bring you in.
The right of first refusal. I'm with Clark on consultation and on building the U.S. alliance in Europe. But first refusal? That's tantamount to Howard Dean's view that we should seek the "permission" of the United Nations before military action. Permission?

But, as any obsessive follower of free-agency in sports knows, the "right of first refusal" has nothing to do with permission. If you have the right of first refusal on my car, and I want to sell my car, I have to give you the first chance to buy it. If you say you're not interested, then I'm free to sell it to anyone else. See? You have the right to refuse first. But if you refuse, I have no further obligations to you. The only difference between "consulting" with the Europeans and giving them the "right of first refusal" (which, obviously, applies only analogically here anyway) is courtesy; a recognition of their status as important allies.

MORE: Can a guy finish writing a post without being scooped around here? Mark Kleiman also explains "right of first refusal." And I see that Dan Drezner (surprisingly) and others also don't know what "right of first refusal" means.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner has posted an update. He clearly does know what "right of first refusal" means and is willing to retract his criticism of Clark if Clark meant what Mark and I are claiming he meant.


 

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I'm Listening!

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

I don't know if you all regularly read Atrios, but he he's posted a couple of hilarious transcipts featuring Peggy Noonan and Lou Dobbs.


 

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Welcome Liar Buddy

Posted by Ogged
on 12.23.03

Matthew Yglesias just plain spanks Tom DeLay and Tim Russert.


 

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Others

Posted by Ogged
on 12.22.03

Gary Farber is doing some excellent blogging of late.


 

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Chatter

Posted by Ogged
on 12.22.03
We're controlled by dishonest people who use fear as their instrument, etc., but this still scary.

 

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Finding Bin Laden

Posted by Ogged
on 12.22.03

Drudge tagged this piece with "US Teams Have Come Close to Finding Bin Laden on Several Occasions." Why do I think that if a Democrat were president, the tag would have been "US Allies Pray With Mullah Omar!"?

It's an interesting read, either way.


 

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Revision

Posted by Ogged
on 12.22.03

Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard's designated "connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda" man, has written his latest less-than-meets-the-eye piece.

Hayes claims that the Sudanese factory bombed by President Clinton in 1998 was one nexus of Iraq / Al Qaeda convergence.

ARE AL QAEDA'S links to Saddam Hussein's Iraq just a fantasy of the Bush administration? Hardly. The Clinton administration also warned the American public about those ties and defended its response to al Qaeda terror by citing an Iraqi connection.

...

The senior intelligence officials who briefed reporters [after the bombing in 1998] laid out the collaboration. "We knew there were fuzzy ties between [bin Laden] and the plant but strong ties between him and Sudan and strong ties between the plant and Sudan and strong ties between the plant and Iraq." Although this official was careful not to oversell bin Laden's ties to the plant, other Clinton officials told reporters that the plant's general manager lived in a villa owned by bin Laden.

Which all sounds very damning, except that there is quite a bit of controversy--and that's being generous to Hayes--about whether the plant was doing anything wrong at all. No less a conservative personage than the NY Times own William Safire wrote in a 1999 column,

Remember that cruise missile President Clinton launched to take out a suspected terrorist target in Khartoum in Sudan? The pharmaceutical plant, Al Shifa, was destroyed with great precision.
But it turns out somebody goofed. The plant really was making medicines and we are now quietly paying the Sudanese compensation. We can presume no evil intent -- not even a Presidential attempt to change the subject -- only a disastrous misjudgment.

Oops indeed. Shortly after the bombing, a NY Times article systematically undermined the stated case for the bombing.

But now some State Department and C.I.A. officials argue that the Government cannot justify its actions.
"As an American citizen, I am not convinced of the evidence," said one Administration official who says the United States may have made a mistake.
Hours after they launched cruise missiles at the factory on Aug. 20, senior national security advisers described Al Shifa as a secret chemical weapons factory financed by Mr. bin Laden. But a month after the attack, those same officials concede that they had no evidence directly linking Mr. bin Laden to the factory at the time the President ordered the strike.
Nor are they certain whether their soil sample proves that Empta, the suspected precursor chemical for VX, was made at Al Shifa or was just stored or shipped through there.

Hayes at least recounts some of this.

According to Bush officials, two factors contributed to their reluctance to discuss the Iraq-al Qaeda connection suggested by al Shifa. First, the level of proof never rose above the threshold of "highly suggestive circumstantial evidence"--indicating that on this question, Bush administration policymakers were somewhat more cautious about the public use of intelligence on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection than were their counterparts in the Clinton administration. Second, according to one Bush administration source, "there is a massive sensitivity at the Agency to bringing up this issue again because of the controversy in 1998."

(I like the bit about the cautious Bushies.) To be fair, I did support the war, and possible cooperation between Al Qaeda and Iraq was one reason why. So I don't think that Hayes' article is absurd on its face. But we're falling into a trap if we let partisan bias color our perception of the propriety of attacks based on spotty intelligence. Yes, some members of the Clinton administration also believed in an Iraq / Al Qaeda connection, but the basis of their belief--the activities of the Al Shifa plant in Sudan--is extremely shaky and we should require new information that rehabilitates the case for bombing Al Shifa before we start believing that the Bushies had good reason to suspect a connection.


 

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Here's Your Room

Posted by Ogged
on 12.21.03
I've tried to say it before a dozen ways, but it's really not very complicated: all that has to happen for a society to start on its way to totalitarianism is for most of the people to decide that they value their lives more than their freedom. Put that way, it's not even difficult to imagine it happening.
A man detained in Britain without charge or trial for two years on the basis of secret evidence he can neither know about nor challenge has told of his despair at his treatment under anti-terrorist legislation.
Exactly two years after he was arrested at his family home in the early hours and taken to Belmarsh high-security prison, Mahmoud Abu Rideh is the first of 14 detainees held on suspicion of terrorism to speak out publicly, through a letter sent to the Guardian.
Part of the letter:
"The British security services arrested me at 5.30 in the morning. They broke the door while I am sleeping and scared my children - I have five children between the ages of three years and nine years." He was taken straight to Belmarsh prison in south-east London, with no access to a lawyer.
"At 7 o'clock in the morning they told me that you are going to stay all your life in Belmarsh. There is a unit inside it, it is like a prison in the prison. They put me alone in a small room where you face bad treatment and racism and humiliation and biting and swearing.
"They prevented us from going to Friday prayers and every 24 hours there is only one hour walk in front of the cells and half an hour walking inside a cage. You do not see sun. You cannot tell whether it is night or day. Every thing is dark."
It's dark alright. The total failure by George Bush and Tony Blair to even attempt to make a case for not restricting liberty--which action would have been actual leadership--has been thoroughly craven and myopic. I think both men believe that, as executives charged with safeguarding their lands and peoples, they're taking minimally restrictive but necessary steps. But in a society of laws, in which precedent is honored (and those amount to the same thing), there is no "just for now." Given how much of the US administration's legal strategy has hung on ex parte Quirin (based on a very strange case of German saboteurs in 1942), it should be clear and bright that "pendulum" explanations of diminishing rights in "wartime" are tranquilizing fictions: keep pushing the pendulum and at some point, it won't swing back. The bizarre sanguinity of so many people on this point seems explainable only as a matter of faith: this is America, we won't lose our rights. To this I can only say, think for a minute about how you would act if the outcome didn't seem so certain and ask just why you're so sure that it is certain.

 

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Care to Blog?

Posted by Ogged
on 12.21.03

Not all letters to the editor are this good.

In the blurb for Ryan Lizza's piece on Howard Dean's labor support, Lizza refers to "latte-sipping lefties" ("At His Service," November 10). This is a canard. Real lefties drink cappuccino. Latte, a milder drink, is the beverage of centrist budget-balancers striving for a veneer of leftism. Indeed, I have my suspicions that Dean himself is a latte-sipper. As for his fans on the left, the question is not what they are drinking but what they are smoking.
Ellen Willis
New York, New York

 

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