Odds & Ends
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Happy New Year!!
Best wishes for peace, health and prosperity for 2009.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. The site has been admittedly content-free lately, which I'd like to claim is a new experiment in avante-garde blogging, but is actually a result of my increasing responsibilities over at World Politics Review, as well as a side project I'm working on for the World Association of Newspapers here in Paris. I apologize for that, and will do my best to jot down some notes each day, as well as to keep the News and Blog Links updated. But the truth is I'm not a natural blogger. I tend to revise emails, let alone blog posts, so the time involved might not be reflected in the actual output. (When there is output, that is.)
Anyway, all of that to say it's been a pretty incredible year, both personally and professionally, and this site has played a big role in making possible some of the things I'm most thankful for today. So I'd like to thank you all for making it a part of your regular reading.
These are trying and uncertain times. But amidst all the cause for concern, I hope that everyone has a lot to be thankful for as well.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Question: Why is it the turkey that's pardoned, and not the other way around?
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Four Reasons God's a Liberal
The act of creation is a progressive act. A conservative God would have left things the way they were.
With over 600 laws and commandments, the Bible is a litany of regulation. A conservative God would have let people decide for themselves.
From the flood to the parting of the Red Sea, God has demonstrated an interventionist streak. A conservative God would have let the market and/or natural law decide.
The ancient Israelites were essentially a nation of illegal immigrants. A conservative God would have sided with the Canaanites.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Back in the Saddle
I just got back from vacation where for two weeks I was offline and, outside of a brief scan of the newstand headlines every few days, happily oblivious to domestic and world affairs. I found out about the Veep nominations two days after the fact in both cases, for instance, and that of Governor Palin only because a French aquaintance happened to ask me what I thought of her. Which reminded me of a visit back to NY in 1998 when, walking down the street in Little Italy, I noticed a small piece of cardboard carton propped into a street level apartment window that read:
Today in Yankee Stadium, David Wells threw a perfect game.
At the time, I didn't yet get my news from the internet, but the idea that in the age of instant information, news might still travel via handwritten signs posted in apartment windows struck me as fanciful and satisfying. That and the fact that someone not only found the news of a perfect game in Yankee Stadium (the first since Larsen's in the 1956 World Series) momentous enough to broadcast, but also felt a civic duty to do so.
But I suppose that's what makes news news: the fact that it travels, whether via internet or word of mouth. All of which is to say that I'm back from vacation and will be posting throughout the week.
In the meantime, I've got a couple of pieces that just went up over at Small Wars Journal, a book review (.pdf) and interview (.pdf) with Gen. Vincent Desportes, the commander of the French Army's Force Employment Doctrine Center and author of The Likely War. They're worth a glance if you're interested in a proposed strategic context for the kinds of COIN-centric wars most military analysts are anticipating in the near future.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Like most of the world, I've heard about how France shuts down in August. But because the first six years I lived here were spent in a tiny village in Provence that was actually a summer vacation destination, I never really experienced the phenomenon until this summer. To put it simply, for the past two weeks Paris has been a ghost town. It was actually enjoyable the first few days to just stroll up to outdoor cafes where there's usually a ten-minute wait for a table and sit down immediately. But after a while, I understood why everyone had encouraged me to get out of town.
So now I'm going native, which is to say that I, too, am heading off for a two-week vacation with the Lil' Feller to catch up on some father-son time, and also to relax and replenish a bit. It's been an eventful and rewarding year, full of accomplishments but also very draining. I'll be completely offline and might even hold out against the temptation to buy the IHT print edition. So when I get back, I'll be well-rested and very possibly clueless about the state of world affairs.
See you all in two weeks.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The screens aren't fixed into the wall, they're mobile.
The controlling authority isn't a political entity, it's a normative consumerism.
Information isn't destroyed, it's buried under more information.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Grow the Army?
Call me a crank, but when everyone starts agreeing on something, I start looking for flaws in the argument. I get the feeling that Steven Metz is the same way, which is probably why I get such a kick out of reading his work. In this case it's a short op-ed (.pdf) from the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute questioning the gathering consensus that the U.S. Army needs to be expanded. Metz points out that the troops needed to ease the strain caused by Iraq and Afghanistan will take five years to generate, especially the officer corps. If we still need them at that point, it's worth questioning whether we ought to be in Iraq and Afghanistan to begin with. Beyond that, the larger force structure is mainly applicable to the kinds of boot-heavy, longterm counterinsurgency campaigns justified by what Metz argues is a flawed causal link between unstable conflict zones and the global terror threat. Worth a read, as always.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Friday, July 4, 2008
Happy Fourth of July
"Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people. Their manners speech dress friendships -- the freshness and candor of their physiognomy -- the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom -- their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean -- the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states -- the fierceness of their roused resentment -- their curiosity and welcome of novelty -- their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy -- their susceptibility to a slight -- the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors -- the fluency of their speech -- their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . . their good temper and openhandedness -- the terrible significance of their elections -- the President's taking off his hat to them not they to him -- these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it."
-- Walt Whitman, introduction to Leaves of Grass, 1855 edition.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Friday, July 4, 2008
No Place Like Home
Me and the Not-So-Lil' Feller ran around most of the afternoon getting him ready for his summer vacation. At the shopping center where we found his sandals, swimming gear and sunglasses, he managed to convince me to let him spend his allowance in the video game arcade. There, to my surprise, we found a full-fledged bowling alley and pool hall. He's played billiards before, but it was his first time bowling, and watching him roll the ball two-handed down the lane brought back memories of what seems like a rite of passage. Not quite a barbecue, but it struck me as about American an afternoon as you can spend in Paris. Happy Fourth, everyone!
Monday, June 9, 2008
Dept. of Proud Plugs
Here's the introduction to a weeklong series of articles going up over at World Politics Review titled, "France's Strategic Posture Review." It's the product of a month's worth of interviews with some of France's leading foreign and defense policy community, and will conclude with the text of an interview of former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine:
Next week, a commission appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy will unveil France's eagerly awaited White Book on Defense and National Security. The product of months of reviews and fierce debate among France's national security community, the Livre Blanc (as it is known) will largely determine France's strategic posture and military procurement priorities for the coming 15 years. The direct impact of the commission's findings will be felt principally within the French military. But in articulating France's strategic orientation and tactical capabilities, their indirect effect will ripple outward, most immediately within Europe and the NATO alliance, but also beyond.
The commission's work must also be understood in the context of a year which saw President Sarkozy announce his willingness to rejoin the NATO integrated command structure and his desire to renegotiate France's bilateral military treaties on the African continent; the opening of a permanent French military base in the United Arab Emirates; as well as a re-articulation of France's nuclear deterrent policy. Taken as a whole, the developments reinforce the image of a nation engaged in a thorough re-examination of its national security posture. So as much as the commission's final conclusions, which have not yet been officially released even if the broad lines have filtered out, the debates that went into reaching them are in themselves revealing.
I hope you enjoy it, and be sure to pass on the link to anyone you know who might find it interesting.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The Big Four Oh
They call it the new thirty, but the last thing on Earth I'd want to do is double back and do thirty again. Seriously, everyone said it would hit me when it happened. But today it happened and, so far, I ain't been hit. The only bummer is that five years ago I decided that once I turned forty, I could start smoking a pipe (flat-stem, Georges Simenon-style) without looking ridiculous. But it's been four years since I definitively quit smoking, so that's out. Any ideas for something you can start doing at forty that would be ridiculous anytime before? A friend suggested prostate exams, but there must be something better.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Online Event Alerts
Steve Clemons from The Washington Note passed on a couple items of interest via a mass mailer. He's hosting UK Foreign Minister David Milibrand for a presentation at the New America Foundation, and the live stream (10:30-11:30 am EST) can be found here.
Then from noon to 1 pm EST, Steve's live streaming a George Soros presentation to the London School of Economics here. Should be good stuff.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I suppose one of the downsides of being an amateur programmer is that you do things that get you into trouble with your root server, like inefficient php scripts and the like. I still remember when I decided to start this blog, looking around at the available templates and not finding any I liked. At the time it seemed like a great idea to design my own. A few months later, after ruining my eyes on html, css, php and mysql online tutorials, I actually had something I liked that worked. But apparently it uses too many congruent processes, so bear with me if you get an internal server error message instead of the site. I'm trying to work it out with tech support.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Dept. of Shameless Plugs
I've got a rundown of Nicolas Sarkozy's one-year anniversary as president of France up on the front page over at World Politics Review. Here's the lede:
One year to the day after his election as president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy strikes an increasingly lonely figure on the French political scene. Having referred to himself as the "buying power president" to emphasize his goal of increasing disposable income, he has instead become the object of a nationwide case of buyer's remorse. His popularity has plummeted in opinion polls, and in the absence of any true political opposition (outside of an increasingly hostile press), he faces growing disenchantment within his own UMP majority. In a country where politics is a blood sport, and where the only thing worse than success is failure, his precarious position has already led some to wonder whether his presidency is past saving...
Feel free to leave comments here.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The Not-So-Ugly American
Two very interesting posts over at the Lowy Interpreter on how Americans present themselves to and are perceived by non-Americans (in this case, Aussies). The first discusses Americans' tendency towards self-deprecation and auto-criticism (particularly, but not exclusively, in terms of foreign policy); the second suggests that this is both a cover for "an unwavering belief in [our] pre-eminence" and a poker-playing culture's technique for eliciting information based on the listener's reaction. Significantly, the first is based on American officials encountered in Australia, whereas the second is based on American private citizens encountered in America, which might explain for the different readings.
To this American who has spent time both travelling and living abroad, both posts seem to hit close to the mark. I'm pretty critical of American foreign policy, but I tend to get a bit tight-lipped if I sense that I'm feeding someone's accumulated hostility towards the United States. That meant a few years here in France of agreeing with thoughtful criticism of American policy (often accompanied by an affectionate regard towards America itself), while rattling off the list of France's post-colonial record (torture in Algeria, the Rainbow Warrior, nuclear tests in the Pacific) in response to virulent anti-Americanism. France being France, those discussions were sometimes initiated before I'd put out the initial feelers mentioned at the Interpreter, but I did sometimes use them, if not consciously, both to signal my own position and to determine who I had in front of me.
On the other hand, to see how much America really is loved, sometimes in spite of ourselves, has been one of the recurring rewards of living abroad. The mere thought of the Star Spangled Banner being played at Elysée Palace following Sept. 11 is enough to get me choked up, and I'll never forget my surprise, on interviewing a noted French foreign policy figure, to see black and white photos of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin strolling the Vegas Strip on the wall behind his desk.
We often lose sight of how much goodwill capital we have accumulated around the world. It takes an effort on our part to undo it, but I'm convinced that even when we do manage to, it's only a temporary setback. People really do want to root for America, as long as they feel like we're on their side.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Last Friday the not-so-Lil' Feller had his seventh birthday. Which meant that, as promised many months ago, today was his first weekly allowance. Five euros a week, with a savings plan that we'd already agreed on: two in his pocket for comics and candy, and three in the kit for a larger purchase in a few months time.
Trouble was, we didn't have the "kit" to put his savings in, so we headed around the corner to the "Tabac", a combination newstand-cigar shop. The two white-haired, very Parisian ladies who run the place already know us, since we stop in regularly and pass by on the way to school every day, and because I tend to strike up conversations with shopkeepers whose stores I frequent. (You can take the kid out of Brooklyn, but you can't take the Brooklyn out of the kid.) They also love my son, because he's really well-behaved, very polite, and a natural-born charmer.
When I asked them if they had a spare cigar box lying around, they looked apologetic and explained that they either sell the boxes with the cigars, or throw the empty ones away. So I asked them if they could hold on to one for us, and with a very serious tone of voice and a wink of my eye (hidden from my son), explained what we needed it for. At which the whiter-haired of the two rummaged through the shelf under the counter, and finally came up with a tallish cigar box, white with yellow trim, that made my son's eyes go as round as saucers. I can't be certain his smile made their day, but I'd lay pretty long odds it did.
It was only after we left and were headed back home that I noticed that my son's allowance, his very first exposure to the bourgeois virtues of thrift and economy, would be gathered and collected in an empty Cuban cigar box. Hasta la victoria siempre.
Friday, April 11, 2008
What went up today at World Politics Review:
That's it for tonight.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
This is partly based on a true story (the guilty party will remain nameless), but it occurred to me that a pretty awesome niche blog would be one devoted to periodically explaining why you haven't done any blogging. In an age of content inflation, the counterintuitive appeal of a site where content is sporadic would almost guarantee high traffic. Of course, there couldn't be an RSS feed, and while you're at it, blocking Google's bots from crawling the site would add to the unpredictable "experience." Come to think of it, I just thought of a brilliant domain name. I think I'm on to something.
Update: Oh well. The domain name, or at least an alternate spelling, seems to be taken.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Today's posts over at the World Politics Review blog:
Keep in mind that I'm not always able to do these blurbs (the last few days, for instance), so clicking through is a good idea.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Here's some posting from the World Politics Review blog:
I should have some time next week to get some posting up here. In the meantime, WPR Editor Hampton Stephens has been posting on the blog as well, and there's some real good content in the WPR front pages. So click through.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
What went up over at the World Politics Review blog:
Or click through.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Here's what's up over at the World Politics Review blog:
Monday, March 31, 2008
Due to time constraints, I'm pretty much doing all my posting over at World Politics Review for the time being. Here's what went up today:
There's also some reader mail and other posting, so feel free to click through, too.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Here's the posting I did over at the World Politics Review blog:
Or just click through.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Dept. of Shameless Plugs
I've got a new piece up over at World Politics Review on the EUFOR Chad mission and what it represents for European defense:
U.N. refugee camps in Chad's eastern province now provide shelter to more than 200,000 Darfur refugees and close to the same number of Chadians displaced by their country's civil war. But in the absence of any governmental control over the area, both the refugees and relief workers have been increasingly targeted by border-crossing insurgents, militias, and organized bandits that use the region as safe harbor, exacerbating an already desperate humanitarian crisis. The European Union peacekeeping force currently deploying just inside Chad's border with Darfur was mandated last September by the United Nations to fill the security vacuum that has allowed the armed groups to operate with impunity in the region.
The force, known by its acronym EUFOR Chad, has the delicate task of protecting the efforts of the NGO and U.N. relief agencies without compromising their impartiality. Its principle function, therefore, is to maintain a dissuasive presence. But outside of policing the border, which it is forbidden to do, the mission's rules of engagement place no limitations on its use of force. Given the proliferation of armed groups in the area and the complexity of the hostilities among them, the possibility of engagement is a very real one. But if the situation on the ground in Chad promises to be challenging, the biggest hurdle the mission has faced so far has been getting there. . .
Give it a look if you're interested in one possible future of EU global influence.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Got some good posting done over at the World Politics Review blog, including:
Or else just click through.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Posting has been light due to some heavy deadlines on a freelance contract, as well as a much needed long weekend with my son at the Normandy coast, blessedly removed from internet connectivity. I've posted this morning at World Politics Review blog, though, so click through and take a look. The theme of the day is Strategy vs. Tactics.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Here's a roundup of the posts I did over at the World Politics Review blog:
There's also a bunch of posts from yesterday that I didn't get a chance to link to, so click through.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Here are links to this morning's posts over at the World Politics Review blog:
Or click through for later updates.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Growing the Army on the Sly
Lorelei Kelly has a post over at Democracy Arsenal taking aim at the sacred cows of the American defense budget that's worth a read. I admit to being a missile defense skeptic myself, more for strategic reasons than for technological ones. Maybe I'm just a prisoner of a Cold War childhood, but the ABM Treaty always struck me as an island of reason in a MAD world.
In passing, Kelly also takes a shot at growing the military by 90,000 troops, which seems to have passed from proposal to foregone conclusion. She wonders what we're going to do with them. I wonder how we're going to get them, given the anemic enlistment rates the army's been posting. What doesn't seem to get much attention, though, is the way in which the transformation of the Army Reserves from a strategic to an operational reserve has already in essence grown the military. There are currently roughly 24,000 Reserve and National Guard personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Anyway, consider this an open thread on ways we can get more security from our defense spending. If you've got any defense spending pet peeves, drop them in the Comments.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Friday, March 14, 2008
When Military Commanders Attack
By an odd coincidence, yesterday when I was clearing out some bookmarks, I ran across this Army War College monograph on the ethics of military dissent that caught my eye back in February. The author, Don Snider, was writing in response to the Revolt of the Generals in 2006, when six retired generals publicly voiced their criticisms of the conduct of the Iraq War. But his argument seems applicable to Admiral William Fallon's resignation as well (on which Thomas Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile, offers some final thoughts).
Snider argues that the military's strategic leaders must balance their executive function, which demands obedience to civilian control, with their advisory function, which demands freedom of expression. At stake are the three primary trust relationships upon which their moral authority depend: ". . .those with the American people, those with civilian and military leaders at the highest levels of decisionmaking, and those with the junior corps of officers and noncommissioned officers of our armed forces."
Snider argues for erring on the side of self-restraint, but concludes that dissent is warranted if:
. . .the leader believes that an act of dissent best balances the immediate felt obligation to bring his/her professional military expertise to bear in a public forum with the longer-term obligation to lead and represent the profession as a social trustee, as a faithful servant of the American people, and as expressly subordinate to civilian control. . . On rare occasions, true professionals must retain the moral space to “profess.” (pp. 30-31)
Fallon's case seem to hang on Barnett's heroic portrayal of a Wyatt Earp-type hero taking on the bad guys in the Bush administration single-handedly. I admit to having fallen for it to a certain extent, but there's a wrinkle that doesn't quite fit the narrative. Namely that he's distanced himself from the aspects of the portrayal that would qualify him as a noble dissenter. There's also the question of timing, which Snider addresses:
Here common sense must also apply. If something is worthy of an act of dissent, then it is worthy. Thus, as soon as that is discerned and decided by the strategic leader, the act should follow immediately. Any separation of months or years between the cause and the act is grounds, again, for suspicion of lack of moral agency and for a search for ulterior motives. (pp. 27-28)
Fallon seems to have waged a bureaucratic war of attrition against policies concerning both Iraq and Iran, accompanied by periodic remarks that bordered on insubordination. And when he stepped over the line and got called on it, he fell on his sword and retracted his dissent. Not exactly what I'd call staking a principled position and holding it.
It's not realistic, perhaps, to expect him to have publicly aired his grievances once he was asked to resign. But if he were really the one man standing between an ill-advised war with Iran, as the article made him out to be, silence would have been a more effective dissent than retraction.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Here are links to the posting I did this morning over at WPR:
Or else just click through.
Monday, March 10, 2008
My arrangement with the World Politics Review blog has now been made permanent, so I'll be doing most of my foreign policy, foreign affairs, and national security posting over there. If you haven't already, now would be a good time to bookmark the WPR blog or add it to your RSS feed reader. I'll still be cross-posting, and I'll add links to exclusive WPR posts in the sidebar, but I'll no longer be doing a daily reminder.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
WPR Blogging, Nation Building Edition
We've got a pretty interesting discussion thread on nation-building over at the World Politics Review blog (see here, here and here). If you've got any thoughts, let me know and I can pop them into a post there tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I did lots of posting yesterday and this morning to the World Politics Review blog, covering China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, South America and Europe. There's also other content from the WPR team. So click on through and take a look.
Friday, February 29, 2008
I posted lots of good stuff over at the World Politics Review blog this morning, so click through and take a look.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Just a reminder that, as usual, I did some posting exclusively to the World Politics Review blog. This post on the broader impact of the Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan is worth a glance, if I do say so myself. Speaking of which, when does an incursion become an invasion?
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Just a reminder to click through to the World Politics Review blog for some stuff that I only posted over there today. Also, consider this post each day as an open link for comments to stuff I've posted over there.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Building An Army That Can Build Nations
In today's WPR top story, Richard Weitz points out that while the military's doctrinal embrace of stability and reconstruction operations in counterinsurgency warfare is a welcome development, there's no certainty that it will survive the Pentagon-Capitol Hill funding corridor. As Weitz points out, the Army that does the fighting is not the same Army that does the shopping, and Congress, for all its rhetoric about transformation, still has a penchant for funding the big ticket items that have little application to post-conflict reconstruction operations.
There's also the little problem of branch rivalry: speak the words "stability operations" to the Navy and Air Force brass and they're liable to hear "no new toys". (This Armed Forces Journal piece gives you a sense of just how little has changed in Air Force thinking in the past twenty years.) And though Weitz doesn't mention it, there's also been some internal resistance to the doctrinal shift from within the military establishment. (Ralph Peters, though retired, is a charming example.)
I think there's a case to be made for the argument that America should be very selective about which post-conflict nation-building operations we engage in. (A good place to start would be the invasions that make them necessary.) They're long, arduous, and resource-consuming enterprises. But anyone who makes the case that America should avoid them altogether must in turn explain just how we ought to handle the problem of weak and failed states, because it's not going away, and it can't be ignored.*
They also have to justify America's astronomical defense spending in a global environment where the U.S. military would more often than not be ill-suited to the crises at hand. As it is, the funding imbalance between military and civilian departments weakens our ability to project our combined hard and soft power, since stability and reconstruction operations require integrated interagency efforts. Here's Weitz:
Despite its massive capabilities and earnest desires, the Army by itself cannot establish functioning governments and prosperous economies in the countries its defeats and occupies. The assistance of these civilian agencies, as well as their foreign counterparts, is essential for converting the Army's battlefield victories into a war-winning strategy.
That's a subject that Australian Army Lt. Col. Mick Ryan treats at length in this Parameters monograph titled "The Military and Reconstruction Operations". Interestingly, he adds that humanitarian organizations and NGO's will also have to adapt to the military's new doctrinal emphasis on nation-building operations (should it stick).
By necessity, military-led reconstruction operations have spilled over into what was traditionally the domain of nongovernmental organizations. . . Some NGOs accept the security umbrella provided by the military, while others refuse to cooperate based on their organizational culture or fear of reprisal. While this reticence to working with the military is based on a range of factors, nongovernmental organizations will need to reexamine their cultures and relationships with the military if they are to be effective in rebuilding societies impacted by insurgencies. (p. 11)
It's likely that the new Army doctrine will be the beginning of a dynamic process to develop effective operational approaches, both inter-agency and inter-organizational, to the problems posed by weak and failing states. Hopefully it will get a chance to mature.
*This sentence was updated for clarity. It originally began: "But anyone who makes that case..."
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Just a reminder that I'll be posting primarily to the World Politics Review blog all week. Click through and take a look if you haven't bookmarked the site already.
Friday, February 22, 2008
So far the best rundown of the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq that I've seen today is the post I put up over at World Politics Review this morning. No one else has said anything about the standoff between Turkish special ops forces and Kurdish Peshmergas. Click through and take a look.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
World Politics Review
Just a quick reminder to click through to the World Politics Review blog. I've cross-posted a post or two, but a lot of foreign policy stuff is going over there exclusively for the time being.
Monday, February 11, 2008
It's a drop in the bucket, I'm sure, but it looks like a civil lawsuit over that enormous BAE palm-greasing operation has kept Prince Bandar from re-patriating the proceeds from some US real estate sales back to Saudi Arabia. To give you an idea of the sums involved, BAE was accused of paying Bandar $2 billion in kickbacks to secure an $86 billion arms deal with the kingdom. Nice work if you can get it.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Between two articles I'm finishing off, a new job, and the last remnants of the flu, I've got a pretty full plate at the moment. So please bear with me with regard to the light blog activity.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Monday Flu Blogging
You may have noticed that I've instituted what seems like a radical measure among bloggers and begun taking the weekend off. Independently of that, though, I'm sick as a dog, so I don't think I'll be up for the Louvre today. I will get some thoughts on Obama's South Carolina victory and the Democratic campaign in general up, though. Meanwhile, I know it's the Super Bowl bye week and all, but I'm still a bit surprised that this hasn't gotten more press attention.
Friday, January 25, 2008
I can't resist flagging this article about the first women's soccer match ever held in Saudi Arabia. The match, in which The Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University team defeated visitors Al Yamamah College on a penalty shoot out, was played in front of a capacity crowd of 35,000... women. The referee and line officials? Women. Why? you might ask. Because no men were allowed into the stadium.
Hey, at least the ladies'll be able to drive themselves home after games sometime soon.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Happy Belated Birthday
I guess I'm supposed to remember these sorts of things, but Sunday, January 20 marked the one-year anniversary of Headline Junky. In that time, I wrote 1089 posts and linked to 2578 news and blog articles in the sidebar. (That's not counting some articles that were only linked to in posts and others that I read without linking to.) The benefit to me in terms of my awareness and understanding of global developments has been clear. I hope it's been of some use to you all, too.
Thanks for supporting the site. Hopefully there will be even more of you this time next year.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Dept. Of Shameless Plugs
I've got a very brief English-language theatre review of a production of Racine's "Berenice", directed by Lambert Wilson, up on a Paris website. It should be an ongoing gig, so if you know anyone in Paris, send them over.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Ain't Going Nowhere
If you've had trouble accessing the site, it's because despite having paid to re-register the domain name two weeks ago, despite having confirmed a week ago that the payment had been recorded and there would be no disruption of service, the domain name was not correctly re-registered. Leading to a moment of cold panic that I'd lost a trademark I've spent a year developing.
But miracle of miracles, Skype actually held for the entire time it took to straighten things out. The domain has been correctly re-registered, and now it's just a matter of time before it re-propagates. Of course, that means that you'll probably be reading this a few days from now. But the worst has been avoided.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Putting aside the regulatory nightmares presented by private military contractors for a moment, there's really something disconcerting about the way they use the world's post-conflict areas as recruitment pools. The Christian Science Monitor has a piece worth reading on how Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group (an outfit that's been contracted by the DoD to work in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also by Microsoft, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Pacific Gas & Electric) has set up shop in Namibia. And over the summer I flagged an article about how Blackwater was using subcontractors to recruit in Chile.
Of course, one of the ancillary consequences of resolving civil wars or replacing repressive police states with democratically elected governments is a large body of unemployed, highly trained paramilitary and military personnel. That they also happen to come from countries where, due to economic conditions and exchange rates, the best they can hope for is pennies on the dollar compared to what outfits like Blackwater and SOC-SMG pay only makes it easier to seal the deal.
The moral contradictions involved in using these personnel pools in a "democracy building" exercise such as Iraq or Afghanistan are obvious. But there are also more practical concerns. There remain very concrete distinctions between the functions these contractors fill and that of mercenaries. But the African continent's experience with mercenary groups -- who have been involved in "coup for hire" operations, arms trafficking and organized crime -- demonstrates some of the dangers that come along with a culture of private paramilitary organizations. It's a culture we're now nurturing. And it's the kind of chicken that eventually comes home to roost.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
The Network Next Time
It's a military truism that an army often prepares to fight the last war. According to this theory, a large part of what went wrong in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan was that the American military applied the lessons it learned from Vietnam and El Salvador in an environment where they did not especially apply. Now, although the end of hostilities can't be easily foreseen in either Afghanistan or Iraq, the operational lessons the American military will take out of those conflicts are becoming codified. For better or worse, these are the counterinsurgency tactics that will be applied in the next war.
One theme that seems to be emerging is that of networks, and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams being used in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- described in this Parameters/Army War College monograph -- are illustrative. Whether it's interdisciplinary (anthropologists working as part of military units engaged in humanitarian projects) or inter-agency (State Dept and Pentagon interface), the teams embody a networked, as opposed to parallel/vertical, approach.
It seems intuitively obvious that this is in some way a reflection of the medium with which the Iraq War will almost certainly be identified. In the same way that Vietnam was inseparable from the medium of television, down to the reflective black "screen" of its memorial, so the Iraq War will almost certainly be known as the "internet war".
And unlike the Vietnam War, where the flat dividor of the screen separated what was shown from those watching it, polarizing the choice between supporting or opposing the war, the Iraq War has instead spawned more nuanced networks. Sites like Small Wars Journal bridge the gap between military professionals and engaged civilians. The countless political blogs, while perhaps polarized along the faultlines of American political culture, nonetheless consist of participants, both analysts and commenters, tracing a tangled web of hyperlinks across the internet.
Significantly there is symmetry on both sides of the conflict. Both terrorists and insurgents have become skilled in the use of this medium that not long ago they condemned or outlawed. They now use the same networks for communication links and propaganda purposes that we use for political debate and dialogue. As if to remind us that the lessons we learn today will have to be adapted in turn to the circumstances of tomorrow.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Happy New Year
I'm about to head off and celebrate New Year's Eve. Best wishes for a joyful, healthy and prosperous 2008. See you all next year!
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The end of 2007 coincides roughly with Headline Junky's first anniversary, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to give you all a little rundown on just how the site's doing. Readership, while still modest and decidedly quiet in terms of comments, has nonetheless grown steadily throughout the year. It's a real source of satisfaction to know that those of you who check in regularly appreciate the work I put into the site enough to have made it a part of your day. So first and foremost, I'd like to thank you.
Of course, much of the site's growth in readership is due to the exposure it has enjoyed on various high-traffic blogs. Since its launch last January, Headline Junky has been cited or linked to by Andrew Sullivan, Kevin Drum, Wonkette, Crooks and Liars, Noah Shachtman at Danger Room, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Jeff Sharlet at The Revealer, and Barry Ritholz, as well as by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune (where I'm considered a "conservative blogger" -- go figure). It has also been permanently blogrolled by Andrew Sullivan, Laura Rozen, Small Wars Journal, Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist, Melissa Rogers, Voices of Reason and Bastard Logic. So a big thanks to all of you, as well.
A final word about just what it is I do here, which has become clearer to me after a year of doing it. On its most basic level, it amounts to reading a wide variety of news sources and commentary from around the world, and distilling what I consider the most essential items into a combination blog/news wire. But the simple act of keeping abreast of what's going on in the world over the course of a year has in turn evolved into something else. Part of it involves identifying global crises and hotspots before they've shown up on the mainstream radar. Part of it involves spotting patterns in seemingly unrelated news events that when taken as a whole represent something more noteworthy. And part of it involves combining the two to arrive at some sort of analysis about America's role in the world. Just what I think that role should be has evolved considerably as a result of my work on the site, and that, for me, has been its most rewarding aspect.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Just a quick note to let you know that posting has been light due to a combination of no internet access, tired eyes, a 24-hour flu bug, and a desire to check out for a bit. I just took the TGV (high-speed train) back to Paris and enjoyed that almost obsolete pleasure of reading three honest-to-goodness newpapers. The ones made out of paper. Of course, I marked up the articles that caught my eye, so I'll get some of them linked to and opinionated on tonight. I'll also be doing some posting this weekend, with the goal of getting things back to normal next week.
Hope everyone had a great holiday.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Big Tent
I'll be travelling tomorrow, heading off for the holidays. So I'd like to wish everyone who celebrates it a very Merry Christmas. And to everyone who doesn't, have a Happy Holiday Season. (Note to Mike Huckabee: See how easy that was?)
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Circling The Water
I flagged these two articles last night but was a bit too bleary-eyed to comment on them. The first, from The Times of India, discusses France's interest in forging civil nuclear energy ties with India. The second, from The People's Daily Online, discusses the status of the stalled deal between Russia and India by which Russia would construct four civil nuclear reactors, in addition to the two already under way, at India's Koodankulam site.
Both arrangements, like the US-India deal, depend on India arriving at an agreement with the IAEA that would create an "India-specific" inspection regime, including an intrusive Additional Protocol. But as the IPS News wire reported, those discussions have hit a snag over India's insistence on an "uninterrupted supply" clause which would allow it to create a stockpile of nuclear fuel for use in the event of a disruption of imported supplies. The concern is that the stockpile would immunize India against sanctions in the event of, among other things, a nuclear weapons test, thereby undermining the IAEA's leverage that is about the only incentive, from the point of view of non-proliferation, for creating the India-specific status in the first place.
The entire situation reveals not only how fierce the competition over India's civilian nuclear energy market is, but also the tension that the lucrative market worldwide is placing on the increasingly fragile non-proliferation regime. For the time being, everyone has agreed to pay lip service to the IAEA's regulatory role under the NPT. But the IAEA has already reported Iran to the UN Security Council for non-compliance with its intrusive inspection obligations, which didn't keep Russia from delivering the first batch of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr reactor this week. Under such circumstances, France's rapid acceleration of its "nuclear checkbook diplomacy" is cause for concern. (It has already announced plans to supply Morocco and Libya with nuclear reactors, and its flagship nuclear power group, Areva, recently declared its goal of supplying a third of the reactors set to go online worldwide between now and 2030).
India obviously represents a major challenge to the non-proliferation regime, and as such, efforts to bring it into semi-compliance should not be rejected out of hand. With so many sharks circling the water, sometimes a less good solution is preferable to a very bad one. But semi-compliance is not the same as a legal fiction. And the worst possible outcome would be for an India-specific deal to serve as a disincentive for other countries to take the NPT seriously.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Uh-Oh Spaghetti-o (Franco-American)
Any American who has had a profound contact with French culture knows that beneath the appearance of similarity that comes from belonging to the same Western intellectual tradition lie some very fundamental cultural differences. In fact, those differences are sometimes magnified by the very assumption of similarity that we begin with. If America and England are two countries separated by a common language, America and France are two countries separated by a mutual misunderstanding.
Take for instance the question of keeping religion out of the public schools. When France outlawed Islamic veils -- along with yarmulkes and ostentatious crosses -- from its public schools, what was intended in France as a defense of the state's role to guarantee a secular education to all students was perceived Stateside as an interference by the state in an individual's expression of faith. The protection from religion on one hand versus the protection of religion on the other.
So how does France reconcile its stance on secular education with the fact that all of its public school vacations are named after the Catholic holidays that accompany them? All Saint's in November, Christmas in December, Easter in April, etc. How, too, to explain the Christmas tree I found in my 6 year-old son's first grade class today when I arrived for the end of semester parents visit? Well, as many in the States on both sides of the issue might be surprised to learn, Christmas apparently isn't a religious holiday. It's a national one. A cultural one. Much as it might disappoint Mike Huckabee to find out, the Christmas tree is not even a Christian symbol.
Some other things that jumped out at this American father in Paris? When the teacher at first proposed to distribute the chocolate cakes and sugary goodies we'd been asked to bring to the skinny kids first and then the fat ones who needed the food less, but then changed his mind and suggested the pretty kids should go first. Then there was the kid who got up in front of the class to do a little comic presentation with a classmate but instead shoved his partner twice in the head, the second time with some mustard. He was told simply to sit back down. Case closed.
The approach is different, but is it wrong? Kids will be kids, and here in France the tendency is to leave them to their own devices to determine the pecking order. Strength and beauty, as well as intelligence and talent all play a role in society and one's place in it. Rather than deny that obvious fact or try to handicap the field, in France the approach seems to be to accept it and learn how to use it to one's advantage.
As a parent, of course, I have very little to worry about either way, because the Lil' Feller happens to be a good looking kid, no slouch when it comes to the grey matter, and a natural born charmer to boot. But as a cultural observer it gave me some pause.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Just lit the candles a few hours ago with the Lil' Feller.
And in a sign that I'm clogging my brain with too many thoughts about global developments and geopolitics, yesterday as I waited in line for the cash register with the other parents and grand-parents in the already mobbed toystore, the thought occured to me that we were all pressing our way toward the counter to drop our money before the mouth of an enormous vacuum tube that spirited it away to a Chinese bank account on the other side of the world, collectively driven by a marketing-fueled bulimic hunger to exchange cold cash for disposable plastic chachkes. History will certainly look back at this voluntary wealth transfer with curiosity.
On the brighter side, the candles sure were beautiful tonight. Happy Hannukah.
Monday, December 3, 2007
The Joyful Elite
That's what a New York Magazine article in the eighties called the students of my high school alma mater, Hunter College High School. So of course some enterprising smart-ass went and had "Joyful Elite" buttons made up and sold them for two bucks a piece. They sold out in an afternoon or two.
Anyway, according to an Alumnae/i Association e-mail, Hunter (or the Brick Prison, as we called it) was just ranked the top public high school nationwide by the Wall Street Journal, and 14th overall. (The private schools that beat it out charge up to $32,000 for tuition.)
One thing I don't quite get. The way they judged the schools was by who got the most students into certain colleges, which is already a pretty one-dimensional way of judging a high school. But the colleges they chose were Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Williams, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and Pomona.
Now, I can understand Harvard being in there. After all, it is the Stanford of the East, as we used to say in Palo Alto. But why not just put Stanford on the list? As it stands, Pomona is the only representative of a quality West Coast undergraduate education, which obviously weights the results towards East coast prep schools.
Meanwhile, in trying to find that Joyful Elite article, I stumbled across (what else?) the Wikipedia page for HCHS and discovered all the distinguished alums: Audre Lord, Cynthia Ozick, Angela Bofill, Manohla Dargis, Cynthia Nixon, Eli Attie (who in addition to playing bass in my high school band also happened to write Al Gore's final concession speech in 2000). Pretty impressive. I'm kind of surprised I went six years to the place and never knew Audre Lord was an alum, though.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A Piece Of The Nuclear Pie
Add India to the list of countries angling for a share of the Middle East's growing market for civil nuclear programs. Of course, rogue nuclear programs are the flip side of the coin of the enormous contracts and fierce competition involved in the nuclear industry, and the problem's only going to get worse as the demand for nuclear energy continues to spread. The challenge facing the nuclear non-proliferation regime is not only how to contain the clandestine transfer of technology, but also how to legitimately determine which countries can be trusted with nuclear dual-use technologies, and which can't. As of now, it's a political process played out at the Security Council. The current impasse with regards to sanctions for Iran show the difficulty of achieving consensus, while the Iraq War demonstrates the dangers of acting unilaterally in the face of lack of consensus.
It's also important to remember that there's absolutely nothing that requires a country to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to engage in nuclear technology transfers. India, for instance, is not a NSG member but has voluntarily agreed to abide by the NSG's guidelines. Iran is not a member, and there's no telling what their export standards would be should anyone take them up on their standing offer of nuclear assistance. What's more, there's nothing illegal about a country exporting nuclear technology, so long as their own laws permit it. If such transfers take place clandestinely, it's because the receiving country might be a signatory to the NPT. But even there, being in non-compliance with a voluntary treaty is something of a legal fiction, especially if alternative sources of nuclear technology transfer make the NPT penalties less constrictive.
Ultimately, the normalization of nuclear technology transfers outside the NPT regime will render the regime itself irrelevant. So far the only response we've come up with to such a possibility is a rule of exception (India can operate outside the NPT with impunity; Iran can't), with the United States serving as final arbiter and guarantor. I'd prefer to see an institutional facelift providing for a central enrichment program integrated into the NPT that would alleviate the need for individual countries to develop their own. But given the enormous contracts of the nuclear industry, I won't hold my breath.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Hell: The Business Model
Posting has been light for a number of reasons, most prominent among them a nightmarish passage through the seventh ring of Hell, otherwise known as French internet service providers. Actually, anytime you've got the words "French" and "service" in the same sentence, you know you're in for major headaches, but this is the second time I've added an internet account to an existing line in this country, and it's the second time that I've come dangerously close to stalking a call center with murderous thoughts in my heart. The last time it happened, I began referring to Wanadoo, my service provider, as Botswanadoo.
This time I was led back and forth, from France Telecom/Orange's customer service to tech support and back again, at least five or six times over the course of two weeks, with a good part of each call spent on endless hold. (Keep in mind that in France, you get charged by the minute for a service call.) It's pretty much incontrovertible at this point that at least two "customer service reps" basically told me whatever it took to get me off the line without actually doing a thing to resolve the problem, and another told me he'd done what actually needed to be done but didn't actually do it. All of them told me they had no way of communicating between the two services, which turned out to be patently untrue. So now, almost three weeks after requesting the account, two weeks after my wifi line was installed and configured, and two sets of access codes later, my account still has not been activated to allow me to connect to the server.
It was supposed to have been taken care of by the end of the afternoon today, but here we are, going on 7:30 pm Paris time and I'm still working off a spotty public access wifi connection that comes and goes and bumps me every time someone else logs on, meaning that only one out of every five clicks actually goes anywhere. If this is what the internet is going to be like once bandwidth dries up, I can only say that I hope there are still working printing presses around when it happens. Because I, for one, will be going back to the old paper and ink edition.
To be continued...
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Last March, a news item about "bandwidth hogs" having their internet service cut off got me speculating about what internet usage would like once user demand outstrips available bandwidth. If a report just released by Nemertes Research is any indication, the answer is rolling brown-outs in about 3-5 years, unless ISP's invest $40-55 billion in infrastructure buildouts. That's 60-70% more than current outlay projections.
As I said then, on a lifestyle level we'll certainly look back on the days when we fired off a viral video to a friend just for laughs the way a man dying of thirst in the desert thinks back to his last water balloon fight. On a more serious note, net neutrality and the politics of bandwidth access will take on added significance, magnifying the importance of the outcome of today's policy battles.
On an even broader societal level, internet usage isn't the only activity we'll look back on with a sense of innocent wonder at the luxury we took so much for granted. Yesterday an acquaintance who works as a hedgefund analyst told me about a conference she'd attended recently. The featured speaker, Mikhael Gorbachev, spoke very matter-of-factly about oil at $300 per barrel in the near- to mid-term future. The potential impact on car and air travel is obvious; my acquaintance predicted a time not far off where only the global management elites (CEO's and heads of state) will enjoy the privilege of air travel. Globalization will increasingly refer exclusively to an exchange of capital and commodities, with little of the personal and virtual mobility we currently associate with it surviving.
I keep thinking that the sub-prime crisis is the defining metaphor for our historical moment: a last-gasp, credit-based mirage to fuel the tail end of a speculative bubble. So much of our current way of life is financed by virtual credit instruments whose solidity is based exclusively on the strength of our resolve to ignore their lack of foundation. Like Wily Coyote running past the cliff's edge, everything functions so long as no one looks down. The problem, of course, in reality as in the cartoons, arises when Roadrunner inevitably ambles over and nonchalantly chirps, "Mee-meep."
Friday, November 23, 2007
Itchy Trigger Finger
This MoJo profile of Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, made me wonder. Is it a coincidence that of all the branches of the military, Christian evangelicals have overwhelmingly chosen to infiltrate the Air Force? That is, after all, where most of the nukes are and these are, after all, people who are itching for the rapture. Good thing Weinstein's on the case. People who believe they're going to survive armageddon should definitely not be in charge of its delivery system.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
You Talkin' To Me?
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Enjoy yourselves. No holiday here, so I'll be posting. Feel free to check in from time to time.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
One of the stranger aspects of being an ex-pat New Yorker in Paris is that it's possible to wake up on Wednesday morning, November 21, and still not realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Wow. To say that it kind of snuck up on me would be an understatement.
Last year, my sister flew in, the Lil' Feller and I met her in Paris, and we all celebrated Thanksgiving with a delicious catered meal at a friend's house. This year I'll be at a parent's association meeting at his new school. The irony is that I've offered to give a presentation on American culture for the kids at some point. What's the old saw? Those that can't do, teach?
Monday, November 19, 2007
Reach Out And Touch Someone
It came as something as a shock to me when I learned a few months back that the US and China had never established a "hotline" to prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to accidental nuclear armageddons. Fortunately, the news came in the context of an article reporting that the Chinese and American militaries were making progress on putting one in place. That agreement was finally sealed two weeks ago, and here's what the People's Daily Online has to say about it:
In a nutshell, it can be said that the China-US military hotline is sure to add more mutual military trust to the security cooperation of the two nations and in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and it will play a still more positive role in enhancing the high-level military exchanges and cooperation, further increasing their mutual trust, and dispelling any of their doubts or suspicions.
China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).
Meanwhile, in case you thought that hotlines were all about nail-biting crisis management, think again. Take the Cold War-era hotline to the Kremlin, for instance, which continues to function to this day:
...It is tested hourly, with the Pentagon sending a message every even hour, and Moscow sending one back every odd hour. Both sides transmit in an agreed-upon code and avoid any political or controversial test messages.
Mostly, operators on either side of the hot line try to test each other's translation skills with selections from obscure texts. For example, the U.S. operators will send their Russian counterparts recipes for chili, or articles on the psychology of pets. The Russians might then respond with excerpts from their great novelists, or a treatise on the history of invention in the ancient world. But the battle of wits is cordial, and some hot line operators have even met face-to-face at government functions.
This is the sort of thing that's important to remember when considering the longterm evolution of all our strategic rivalries. Namely that a cordial battle of wits is as realistic an endgame scenario as a mushroom cloud.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, Crawford Edition
The post on Angela Merkel got me wondering just who among the world's luminaries had received the ultimate honor of an invitation to Crawford. Here's the VIP guest list according to Wikipedia, although there's more fun facts and photographs over at Crawford, Texas' homepage:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin, November 2001
- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, April 2002
- Saudi King Abdullah, April 2002, April 2005
- Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, August 2002
- Chinese President Jiang Zemin, October 2002
- Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, February 2003
- Australian Prime Minister John Howard, May 2003
- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, May 2003
- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, July 2003
- Mexican President Vicente Fox, March 2004, March 2005
- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, April 2004
- Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, November 2004
- Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, March 2005
- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 2005
- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, August 2005
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, November 2007
As they say, you can tell a lot about a man from the company he keeps: Crooks (Bandar and Berlusconi), liars (Aznar and Blair) and all-around bad apples (Mubarak and Uribe).
Friday, November 9, 2007
The Big Picture
Posting has been a bit lighter than normal for a number of reasons. First off, an op ed on Sarkozy's visit to Washington which I'll post to the site if I don't get it placed somewhere else. Second, I just moved. And while waiting for internet service, I'm using a spotty public access wifi connection that goes in and out. To give you an idea, about one out of every three clicks works.
Andrew Sullivan just mentioned that the nature of this medium has effected his politics and worldview. For me, I'd say the nature of how we connect to the medium is significant as well. I'd compare what I'm trying to do here on the site to reading a newspaper (or thirty, more like it) while taking part in a conversation in a crowded cafe. It really depends on being able to shift fluidly back and forth between the two. And the disruption hasn't only effected the way in which I can access the information. It's also effected how I'm processing it.
Anyway, things should be back to normal shortly, but until they are, posts might be a little less topical and more broadly focused than usual.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
More Socialized Medicine Nightmares
Last night I woke up at 3 am, with one of my eyes swollen halfway shut. Since I just recently moved to Paris, I don't yet have a general practitioner. So I called SOS Medecins, who sent a doctor to my apartment. He diagnosed an eye infection, and prescribed some drops. At the pharmacy afterwards, as I was leaving, it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten to pay. The pharmacist laughed and explained that the cost of the drops, ten euros, was covered by Social Security.
Total time between my first call to SOS Medecins and filling the prescription? One hour and fifteen minutes. Total cost? Forty euros to the doctor, with some of that reimbursable by Social Security if I manage to send the paperwork in (big if given my administrative disarray at the moment).
Socialized medicine really sucks when you're trying to get a small business off the ground and you see the enormous amount of your gross revenue that goes towards financing it. But it's pretty damn cool when you need medical care.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Dept. Of Bitter Ironies
Today the Washington Post reported that the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as her predecessor, took "...dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate..."
Also today, President Bush nominated Carl T. Johnson, most recently the head of a lobbying outfit for the compressed gas industry, to be the Dept. of Transportation's Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back?
I ran across this, from the Times of India, late last night and didn't quite have the energy to do anything with it. But it seemed significant enough to go back to:
The Pakistani Army is "bleeding", and quite profusely at that, in its ongoing bloody skirmishes with extremists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, with a "high" casualty rate as well as "unprecedented" levels of desertions, suicides and discharge applications.
This is the "assessment" of the Indian security establishment closely tracking developments in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA), especially the Waziristan region, as also the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan.
Take it with a grain of salt, given the nature of the relationship between India and Pakistan. But it corroborates other reports I've read of high desertions, and surprisingly large amounts of Pakistani prisoners being taken by tribal militants.
There's also a rumor floating around Islamabad that Musharraf will declare martial law if the Supreme Court rules his presidential election invalid. The Pakistani government denies it, but it was enough to make Benazir Bhutto cancel a planned trip abroad. The Court is expected to hand down a ruling Friday.
So much for the good news out of Pakistan.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Three No's Policy
Continuing the theme of nuclear non-proliferation, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian is the latest head of state forced to deny recent reports that his country is seeking to develop nuclear weapons:
Some legislators tend to exaggerate and tell untruths. It is deeply regrettable. So I think it is necessary again on behalf of the government of Taiwan and the people of Taiwan that I have to reassure you all and also pledge that Taiwan will definitely not develop nuclear weapons, we will definitely not bring in nuclear weapons, and we will definitely not use nuclear weapons. In other words, we have a three no’s policy when it comes to nuclear weapons. We will stand by this policy.
This reminds me of the old adage about some accusations doing their damage regardless of whether they are true or not. ("Do you still beat your wife?" was the example I grew up with, although it seems a bit out of date nowadays.) I get the feeling we're entering an era when states will be forced to take active measures to demonstrate their nuclear good behaviour, as opposed to enjoying the benefit of the doubt.
Even more in the case of Taiwan, which harbored nuclear ambitions until they were brought to light and abandoned in the 1980's. According to the article, they still hope to develop a stockpile of cruise missiles capable of striking Shanghai, although the budget for the program has been frozen until 2009 in the face of opposition from Peking and Washington.
Question. Is the idea that certain Bush administration hawks would welcome a nuclear Taiwan evidence of Bush Derangement Syndrome?
Monday, October 29, 2007
The Spyglass Ceiling
From Laura Rozen's MoJo piece on sexual discrimination and the lack of transparency at the CIA, a female operative who -- like many male spooks -- had an "unauthorized relationship" with a foreign national but who -- unlike said male spooks -- lost her job because of it:
"There is an idea that men can do this hard job, but women get too emotional," Brookner says. "As soon as a woman sleeps with a man, she tells every secret she ever knew. The mentality is that a man is in control..."
The idea that women aren't adept at getting men to reveal information they'd rather keep to themselves -- as the "old boy network" at the CIA seems to believe -- is absurd. Apparently no one at Langley has ever heard of Mata Hari. Or been married, for that matter.
Rozen also points out the broader implications of the culture of secrecy at the CIA:
Plame Wilson's, Brookner's, and Mahle's cases are all unique, but their accounts reveal a bitterness that I have often noticed with other officers, and that threads through the debate about the intelligence community's failures before 9/11 and the Iraq War. The list of complaints is long—politicization, subordination of field operations to headquarters bureaucracy, and outdated security procedures—but all have festered in a culture whose leadership faces only pro forma oversight...
There are obvious tensions between the need for secrecy and the need for oversight. But the intelligence community (including the relevant Congressional committees) seem to be doing an exceptionally lousy job of finding the right balance lately.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I finally got around to adding an in-site search field on the main page, link pages, and archive pages. Sorry it took so long. I think that just about does it, though. Since the site is 100% homemade, from the coding to the graphic design, it always helps to know if there are any glitches or interface issues, especially with Mac browsers. I can't promise I can fix them, but it helps if I know about them.
Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have made Headline Junky a regular part of your online reading fix. So much of the satisfaction of doing this is knowing that it's appreciated. And since the circle of regular readers has long since expanded beyond people who I know personally, it would be a real treat to find out a little bit about who actually stops by. So if you're not too shy, by all means drop an e-mail to introduce yourselves.
Monday, October 22, 2007
In a stunner out of China, Hu Jintao won re-election as head of the Communist Party today. All kidding aside, it's important to remember that unlike in America, where an incumbent who fails to win re-election faces a future of lucrative speaking fees and hefty honoraria, the motivation for quite a few incumbents around the globe to stay in office is that the alternative is to wind up dead. Think about it. You don't read about too many ex-presidents in Africa, and the ones you do read about are the ones who managed to reach the border (and their Swiss bank accounts) ahead of the firing squad. One way or another, you generally leave the job in a casket.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
How do you turn this ordinary home video (317 views) of a cute girl reciting a religious text that her parents have encouraged her to learn by heart:
into the most watched user-generated video (3.7 millions views) online? Well, you add a little feel-good acoustic strumming to give folks the sense they're riding down main street in a horse and buggy, back when America was a country that still remembered it's Christian values, and presto-change-o, you get this:
Whoever generated this one was no ordinary user. I wonder if Brian knows what they've done with his daughter's image.
Via Andrew Sullivan.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The Little Whisper
In case you're looking for the science behind that South Carolina e-mail campaign perpetuating the debunked rumor that Barack Obama attended a muslim madrassa, here it is. According to German researchers, gossip about someone's reputation determines other people's opinions of that person, even in the face of contradictory factual evidence. Think of it as the 21st century's response to The Big Lie.
Monday, October 15, 2007
As often happens with a throwaway post that probably interests no one around here but me, I spent much of the afternoon thinking about George Will's attack on academic social work and my response to it. Will condemns graduate social work programs for enforcing a post-modern progressive orthodoxy. As an example, he uses a case where an MSW student was required as part of her coursework to advocate for a social policy position (the right of homosexuals to adopt and provide foster care) that was at odds with her religious beliefs.
I argued that he's right about academic social work representing a progressive orthodoxy, whose ideal I described as a non-normative society, but that for the most part the normative biases identified by social work -- ie. sexism, racism, classism and a host of others -- are in fact damaging to both individual and society, and find very few defenders among reasonable people, conservative or liberal.
Then I got to thinking about the DSM, the Diagnostic Standards Manual, which is the Bible of psychiatry and a contested but omnipresent pillar of social work. In case you're not familiar with it, I don't call it the Bible for nothing: the DSM is about as normative a book as there is. It serves as the detailed reference of what constitutes a behavioral disorder, complete with checklists of "symptoms", and is the basis against which healthy behavior is differentiated from a treatable disorder. To give you an idea, homosexuality was still diagnosable as a behavioral disorder as of the DSM II, which was replaced in 1973, and remained in watered down form through the DSM III-R as recently as 1987. (The current edition is the DSM IV, with DSM V in the consultation phase.)
There's still, in fact, an undifferentiated category of sexual behavior disorder resulting from anxiety over sexual orientation. Now, of course, the primary cause of anxiety over sexual orientation is the normative gender roles that society communicates explicitly and implicitly from the earliest age. Take away the normative bias and there's no longer any stigma attached to the behavior. It's in that context that the teaching of social work has increasingly contested these norms.
Will's target may ostensibly be the mingling of politics with academics. But like the religious right, he's really using the cloak of a political stigma (social work as a liberal discipline) to reinforce the historic behavioral stigma (homosexuality as sexual perversion). I don't take issue with the former, because he's largely correct on that score. It's the latter one that bothers me.
As for the point I raised, I think it's legitimate to wonder, question or even doubt whether society can function in the absence of normative behavior models. For the model proposed by academic social work to gain traction, it's got to find convincing responses to those doubts. In the meantime, its critique of the existing stigmas, and the harm they do, at the very least allows us to know ourselves a little bit better. Which can only help us make a better choice.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The Isms Game
George Will weighs in on the liberal bias of graduate schools of social work and describes a conservative's nightmare:
Schools' mission statements, student manuals and course descriptions are clotted with the vocabulary of "progressive" cant -- "diversity," "inclusion," "classism," "ethnocentrism," "racism," "sexism," "heterosexism," "ageism," "white privilege," "ableism," "contextualizes subjects," "cultural imperialism," "social identities and positionalities," "biopsychosocial" problems, "a just share of society's resources," and on and on.
The thing is, I worked as a non-degreed social worker for a few years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later in Santa Cruz, CA. I also read quite a bit of the course materials when my ex-wife got her MSW. And Will's description is pretty accurate. As discipline's go, academic social work has got a pretty radical worldview which could almost be described as advocating for a society free from normative behavior. It's pretty satisfying from a theoretical point of view. The trouble arises, as usual, when theory meets practice.
Because while it's true that normative values often contribute to adaptive disorders, I'm just not sure how a society can really structure itself in their absence. The goal of recognizing the equality of each individual's inherent value is a noble one. But inherent value is not the same as utility value, and a society wherein everyone is free to assume any identity they choose is not likely to achieve the greatest possible advantage from its members. I'm quite certain I'd have led a much happier and fulfilled (to say nothing of wealthier) life, for instance, if the culture of professional basketball weren't so ridden with "heightism", "strengthism", "speedism" and "talentism". Fans of professional basketball, on the other hand, were probably better off for it. This dynamic explains why, not surprisingly, social work as a profession often consists of helping people find practical solutions for harmonizing their needs with the social mechanisms that frame their lives.
By contrast, the goal of eliminating discriminatory normative values (ie. biases) is not only noble, it's also very practical. To the extent that racism, sexism, and classism keep ethnic minorities, women and underprivileged individuals from developing their full potential, it's not just the victims that suffer but the society at large as well. We'll never know how many diseases might have been cured, mathematic problems solved and new technologies developed by the individuals who were denied access to those fields based on historically discriminatory codes of behavior.
Will's correct in claiming that social work as it's often taught represents an ideology as much as an academic discipline. As a wing of progressivism, it probably represents the left's mirror image of the religious right: atheist, non-normative, post-modern and full of jargon that South Park could have a field day with. But if you look closely at his list of offending terms, it's hard to see which one of the "isms" he'd want to argue for.
Update: I revised this post to make a distinction between academic and practical social work.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Dept. Of Bitter Ironies
Here's a rundown of today's headlines from a news page I monitor:
- Condoleezza Rice criticises Putin's concentration of power
- US appeals for Turkish restraint on Iraq
- US to watch Russia's military agenda: Rice
- Gates warns Russia against break with arms treaties
No word on whether they were able to keep a straight face.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Dept. Of Bitter Ironies
The blind leading the blind. At least one of them has a White Cane.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wyoming answers the call! We've now had at least one visitor from every state of the union during the past month. Biggup, Y-O!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Safe Haven Redux
I'd suspected that the Pakistani air and ground raids against Taliban bases in North Waziristan had something to do with the recently resolved negotiations between President Pervez Musharraf and exiled former-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that secured his re-election as president in return for her safe return to Pakistan for parliamentary elections later this year. But if this article in Asia Times Online is any indication, in assuming the campaign was Musharraf's way of showing up Bhutto, who recently declared that she'd be willing to let American forces take care of the Pakistani badlands, I was putting the cart before the horse.
According to the article, the deal between the two was pushed through by Washington in order to keep the volatile political situation from delaying Pakistani military action against a massive Taliban force poised to infiltrate the Afghanistan border. So in case you were wondering just what the billions of dollars of aid we're pouring into Pakistan were buying us, this is what it boils down to: Musharraf plays ball with Bhutto -- who despite numerous outstanding corruption charges against her represents Pakistani democracy -- and gets tough on the Taliban.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
We still don't know just what they were targeting when Israeli warplanes carried out a bombing mission in northeastern Syria a month ago. But in addition to whatever they managed to hit on the ground, you can add two unintended victims to the raid: the Yes satellite television station in Israel, and Headline Junky's traffic stats.
Apparently, ever since September 6, the date of the Israeli strike, Yes broadcasts have been hit with intermittent electronic snowstorms, leading viewers to complain en masse and even file a class action lawsuit. Potential culprits range from UN ships monitoring Lebanese communications to Russian electronic assaults in retaliation for having the air defense systems they provided to Syria so easily shown up.
Meanwhile, on that same day, I briefly speculated that the strike might have been a dry run for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations, including a link to a map of the Middle East to illustrate the point. Despite the fact that the map itself never appeared in the post, that link has somehow sparked a Google Image hit parade of people looking for maps of the Middle East. And there are a lot of people looking for maps of the Middle East, enough to render my traffic stats for the past month entirely useless.
The question the Israelis need to be asking themselves right about now is, Was it really worth it?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Fat Lady Singhs
It looks like the India-US nuclear deal might not make it out of Congress. The Indian Congress, that is. With his government coalition jeopardized by staunch opposition to the deal on the left, Indian PM Manmohan Singh has backed off of threats to open negotiations with IAEA over the deal's provisions until at least the end of October, when a legislative freeze on ratifying it ends. There's also speculation that Singh is ready to scrap the deal entirely.
By all reports, this deal was pretty lopsided in India's favor, and undermined America's non-proliferation stance to boot. So I guess there are some upsides to anti-American sentiment abroad after all.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
PACS On Both Houses
Confirming my belief that the government doesn't belong in the marriage business, a study on French civil unions (known as PACS) has found that the closer their legal status resembles that of marriage, the more popular they've become. Not just with same-sex couples, for whom the legal status was ostensibly invented, but also with mixed-sex couples. In fact, gay couples now represent only 7% of those seeking the PACS status. Since 2000, while marriages were declining by 10%, the number of couples getting PACS'ed tripled and now represents 25% of all heterosexual unions:
Similarly, the sociology of the PACS tends to imitate that of marriage. The average age of those entering a PACS, which went from 37.6 years old in 1999 to 31.5 years old in 2006, has approached that of marriage. Another common element between the two types of unions: The seasonality. Couples prefer to get PACS'ed in June and July. (Translated from the French.)
The idea that government recognize the same civil unions for everyone and leave marriage up to the individuals' chosen religious denominations is both fair and consistent with the principles of separation of church and state. But it also has the added advantage of being more politically palatable for people who don't necessarily have a bedrock position on the issue, but are simply uncomfortable for whatever reason with the idea of gay marriage.
Civil unions for everyone means marriage denied to no one. It also places the ceremony of marriage -- all marriage -- where it, as a religious ceremony, belongs: in the private sphere.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Incredible Site Makeover Redux
It didn't take me long to realize that while aiming for sober and vibrant with the new look, I ended up with ugly. Luckily, today while walking past the book vendors along the Seine I happened to notice some of the vintage magazine covers they had on display. It occurred to me that the layout and design from the fifties and sixties print magazines actually works pretty well for the web. So there you have it. If you're not seeing a red and black header at the top of the page, hit the refresh button. This should be the last time, at least for another year or so. I promise.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Not So Safe Haven
It looks like the safe haven enjoyed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the badlands of the Pakistani border just got a little bit less safe. Pakistani war planes "pounded militant positions" in the fourth day of heavy fighting that has left over 200 dead. Not a whole lot of information there.
There are so many groups and factions in those mountains at this point that it's hard to know what any of it means. My hunch is that the Pakistanis would be targetting the foreign jihadists (Uzbekis if I remember correctly) that the locals have already turned against. If you see anything, pop it into comments or e-mail.
Update: Here's more on those clashes between the Pakistani army and what are allegedly Taliban-supported militants (also referred to as extremists and rebels). The fighting was sparked by a rebel attack on a Pakistani military convoy.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Take a look at the dancer on the right. Do you see her spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? Now see if you can get her to spin in the other direction. Then click here to see what it all means.
If you've given it a good try and still can't get her to change directions, click through to the comments and I'll give you a hint. Also, extra credit for whoever can tell me the name of the artist who recorded the song this post is named after without googling it. Extra extra credit if you can name the artist's significant other at the time the song was recorded.
Via The New York Nerd.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Site Makeover Update
A few hours after I'd uploaded all the files for the site's new look, I had the brilliant idea to actually give it a test run in Internet Explorer. And of course, there's a script error that I'm having trouble ironing out. I'm running IE7, so maybe it's not a poblem in other versions. I'll do my best to clear it up ASAP. In the meantime, it's running fine in Firefox.
Update: All clear.
Monday, October 8, 2007
The Incredible One-Day Site Makeover
In case you didn't notice, I went ahead and gave the site a couple nicks and tucks. (In case you really didn't notice, hit the refresh button on your browser.) It's something I've been meaning to do for a while now, but kept putting off due to html/css/php code dread. I guess popping the del.icio.us and digg links into the blog posts got me over the hump.
Anyway, the esthetic goal was to obtain sober without also obtaining dead. Hence the simple layout and the vibrant color scheme. About two-thirds of the way through, I found this, which kind of reassured me:
The background color of your website, the color of your header, the color of your text, headlines and sub-headlines etc. can all have a psychological impact on your visitors.
Here is a list of some of the common colors and what type of psychological emotion they invoke in people:
...BLUE is associated with trustworthiness, success, seriousness, calmness, power, professionalism.
...GREEN is associated with money, nature, animals, health, healing, life, harmony.
...ORANGE is associated with comfort, creativity, celebration, fun, youth, affordability...
You can use the above as a guide when choosing colors for your website. It really boils down to your target audience and what psychological message you want to convey in colors.
Apparently no one's told Mr. Martinovic that CAPITAL LETTERS are associated with ANGER, POOR IMPULSE CONTROL, and ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, but hey, the man knows his colors. And in case you're wondering about the pale blue background, it's because the Andrew Sullivan & Kevin Drum have already got the royal blue locked down.
So there you have it. The new & improved Headline Junky: Trustworthy, harmonious, and cheap. Hope you like it.
Update: Funny, in re-reading Mr. Martinovic's quotation, I realized that I could have opted for "Powerful, rich and creative." Oh, well. Next time.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
After a bit of tinkering with code, I'm pretty sure I've got the RSS feed up to speed. Full text, with links. Let me know if you're encountering any difficulties.
If I have some time this weekend, I'll try to integrate some file-sharing buttons, like digg and del.ici.ous. If you're a regular reader and would like to see one of these in particular, drop a line in comments or by e-mail.
Update: As you can see, the digg and del.icio.us links have been added. So much for waiting for this weekend. Lemme know if you're experiencing any problems.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
No More Teasers
For anyone subscribed to the RSS feed, this has convinced me. I've reprogrammed the feed, so as of this post it will be full text. Unless I screwed up the code, that is.
(Via Matthew Yglesias.)
Update: That did the trick as far as text goes. Now all I've got to do is get the links in there. That's the trouble with homemade blog platforms. You get what you didn't pay for.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Glad That's Over
This + A man obsessed with his watch (if nothing else in his life) being perfectly on time = 10 minutes not spent blogging.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Anti-semitism rears its ugly head in the City by the Bay. It's a time-tested formula: When you need a scapegoat, find a Jew.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
You've probably noticed by now, but posting has been light since I arrived in Paris. I've been busy exploring the city, making contacts, and getting my bearings. I've also been pitching article ideas, so with any luck I'll have some story links to announce some time soon. All of which means I've had less time to sift through the world press in search of those off the beaten path news items that get my blog juices flowing.
I'll try to jot down some first impressions on Paris early next week. In the meantime, please bear with me. Over the past six months, the amount of people who regularly visit the site has grown steadily. I feel a responsibility to continue providing whatever it is that keeps bringing you back, and a bit guilty when I don't have the time to do that as well as I'd like to.
I'm still interested in finding people who would like to contribute to the site to fill out content when I'm not able to. So if you have an area of interest and some free time, drop me an e-mail through the 'Contact Us' link in the navbar. Everyone else, just sit tight.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Keep your eyes open tomorrow for a news item on the Army website being hacked. I've been trying to access it now for quite some time, with no success.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Dept. Of Bitter Ironies
A headline from the White House news roundup for September 14, 2007, noted without further comment:
President Bush Signs Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Really quite extraordinary.
Via The New York Nerd.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
This news item about Turkish forces capturing a ton of hashish and almost 90 kilos of heroin supposedly belonging to the PKK reminded me of a section in Steven Metz's monograph, Rethinking Insurgency, where he discusses the relationship between insurgencies and organized crime (pp.29-30):
Insurgencies can evolve into criminal organizations. "Particularly in protracted conflicts," Cornell notes, "entire groups or parts of groups come to shift their focus increasingly toward the objective of profit." The best example is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Cornell again is instructive:
"Over time, insurgent groups tend to become increasingly involved in the drug trade. Beginning with tolerating and taxing the trade, insurgents tend to gradually shift to more lucrative self-involvement. Self-involvement, in turn, generates a risk of affecting insurgent motivational structures, tending to weaken ideological motivations and strengthen economic ones."
There's something comforting in the thought that eventually the profit motive will win out, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda will become little more than rival gangs of narco-traffickers targeted in the War on Drugs. Until, of course, you stop and consider how successful we've been in the War on Drugs.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Being on the other side of the pond and pre-occupied with our move up to Paris, I totally forgot that it's Labor Day weekend. I'm assuming you all have better things to do than read about the world's trouble spots, so I'm going to concentrate on unpacking and getting the Lil' Feller ready for his first day of school tomorrow. Enjoy the barbecues, and raise a bottle of beer for a homesick American ex-pat if you'd be so kind.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
How Ya' Livin'?
Large and in charge, but not like El DeBarge.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Light Posting Alert
Sorry about the light posting lately. I've been pre-occupied with my upcoming move to Paris. (Just got a place lined up, which is quite a load off my mind.) I'll also be pretty busy this week tying up loose ends. I'll do my best, but if you don't see much, that's why.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
In a few weeks time, I'll be moving up to Paris. And the furnished apartment that I'd lined up for the first few months up there just fell through. So now I'm busy surfing through apartment listings, realizing just how crazy the cost of renting an apartment has gotten. And while Paris isn't necessarily the most expensive city in that regard, the actual prices are inflated by the fact that there are so few spacious apartments available. Which explains how some people get away with charging 800 Euros for a 150 sq. ft. studio.
Quite a shock after having spent the past six years in a village where, outside of tourist season, the only traffic jam you're likely to run into is when the sheep are being moved for the winter.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Facing The Camera
The most striking aspect of this vlog featuring Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart debating whether terrorists are soldiers or criminals has nothing to do with what either of them have to say about the issue. (The correct answer being that terrorists share characteristics of both soldiers and criminals, while being identical to neither.) No, what's most striking about it is Jonah Goldberg's vlogging technique. Simply put, the man's got skills.
The key is not just the wide angle shot, with the webcam at about a 25° angle from the screen. It's the way he positions himself facing the screen instead of the camera, so that when he does address the camera, he's slightly turning towards it. The effect, when he's speaking, is that of someone engaged in a conversation who naturally turns towards you, the viewer, to include you in it. And when he's listening, that of a normal human being -- something you rarely see in the vlogging format, where people usually look cramped and dumbstruck by the tight, claustrophobic and unnatural framing that characterizes 99% of webcam videos I've ever seen.
Vloggers take note. This is definitely the wave of the future.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
One thing I've noticed from my recent trips to New York is that airport delays seem to be less and less common, despite the higher numbers of travellers and increased security measures. Runway delays, on the other hand, seem to have dramatically increased. All four of my flights experienced serious delays after leaving the gate or upon landing, mainly due to increased takeoff lines, or the need to taxi across active runways to get back to the gate. It's still pretty incredible how painless the trip is, given the distances involved. But I could kind of feel the system stretching at the seams.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Going By The Book
I'm not sure I'd want to be Mike Moore, a Deputy Sheriff in Elko County, Nevada, when his wife, Charlotte, got back home Sunday morning. On the other hand, if I were a citizen of Elko County, I'd feel pretty safe.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
More Reflections On New York
Just a few scattershot observations from the week I've spent here so far:
First, I don't remember New York ever being so crowded. I'm not even talking about the tourist spots, like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, where the waiting times were about an hour to get in and half that to get out, but which I'd promised to the Lil' Feller based on my 1970's-era recollections of strolling in and out at will. No, I'm talking about walking down the street just about anywhere in Manhattan. Granted it's summertime and peak tourist season, but still, I get the feeling that there are way more people on the street than when I last lived here in 1996, or the times I've visited since. It reminds me of what a friend from SoCal said the first time he came to New York: "It feels like every time I take a breath, three or four people have already beaten me to it." Nowadays, it's more like thirty or forty.
Second, and something I took mental note of last time I was here, is that I can't remember the last time I felt threatened or menaced in the City. An incident on the subway yesterday brought that home. Some bike-messenger-looking dude got on the train with his slicked out bike, and he was holding it upright on its rear tire like only a wannabe bike-messenger-looking dude would ever hold his bike. At first it was kind of annoying -- if you're gonna have the slicked out bike and the attitude then at least ride the damn thing instead of bringing it onto the subway and getting in everybody's way -- but since it wasn't actually in my way, I didn't say anything. But then, just as the car empties out some and I'm about to sit down next to my son, he moves it to where it's right in my face. So I pointed that out to him. Politely. And he starts getting loud about how it's "...not too smart to pull that macho shit in front of your son, because I could be crazy and just pull a gun out on you and blow you away." But he did so while moving the bike out of my way, which just reinforced the contrast between the days (that I remember very well) when what he was saying was very true, and today, when it isn't. I consciously chose not to escalate the situation and he got off at the next stop, but at no time did I feel threatened in the very least. (After the dude had left, a gentleman sitting across from me who gave every appearance of knowing what time it was complimented me on how I had handled the matter.)
Third, if you're wondering how to get a six-year old boy to enjoy a trip to the Metropolitan Museum, it's called the Medieval Armor gallery.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Reflections On New York
New York is and always has been a turf war. Reminders of that fact litter the City, from Prospect Park's monument to the Maryland 400 ("What brave fellows I must this day lose!" -- G. Washington) to Umberto's Clam Bar ("What made them want to come and blow you away?" -- B. Dylan).
The question -- which at its most succinct boils down to, "Who does the City belong to?" -- is one that I've been contemplating since at least adolescence. Back then, in the mid-1980's, the battle lines were clearly drawn, with Yuppies, the Bridge & Tunnel crowd and tourists on one side, and "New Yorkers" on the other. And while Mayor Koch may have famously declared that anyone who'd been here for six years could consider themselves a New Yorker, my standards were considerably more restrictive.
Later, on my first visit home after leaving to attend Stanford University, I did a photojournalism assignment on the changes my neighborhood -- Park Slope -- had undergone in the previous five years. With all the clarity of an innocent eye, I identified the proliferation of real estate offices along Seventh Avenue as a key indicator of the neighborhood's changing identity. The changes were perhaps even more dramatic in SoHo and the Lower East Side, where friends of mine had grown up in barren wastelands now transformed, as if by magic, into affluent enclaves.
Later still, I came to realize that it's a question confronted by each successive generation of New Yorkers, whose identity is inextricably bound up with that of a City constantly reinvented by its new arrivals. To lay claim to the City is to place one's memories above others' aspirations. And yet, who has ever grown up in New York without in some way laying claim to it?
For my generation, though, the question resonates perhaps more than for others. After all, we grew up at a time when the City's very viability was very much in doubt. I remember mountains of garbage lining the streets during the Sanitation workers strike, and biking to school a half-hour away during the Transit workers strike. Then there were the blackouts, and the looting, which served as an apt metaphor for the opportunistic lawlessness that seemed to permeate the City at the time.
But there was also a sharper edge to the violence. The emptying of the state's psychiatric institutions turned the City's streets into a diagnostic manual of mental illness. There was my boyhood neighbor, disfigured by a jar of acid tossed into his face by a stranger at the door. There were razor blades in Halloween apples, and mean-spirited eggings that quickly evolved into lightbulbs being tossed into crowds.
For the first time, more people were leaving New York than arriving, and no one knew for sure if the City itself, as an entity and a social experiment, was going to survive. The process of Urban Blight had been documented and confirmed. That of Urban Renewal hadn't. The artists squatting SoHo's industrial lofts were considered nuts, not only because no one had ever tried to "recycle" the City's obsolete architecture before, but also because they were going to such lengths to stay in the City. It's one thing to transform a ship's boiler room into a stateroom. It's quite another to do it on the Titanic while everyone else is busy launching lifeboats.
Even if things looked less uncertain by the 1980's, it was still the decade of wildings, the Crown Heights riots, Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, to say nothing of the crack vials by the thousands that littered the gutters. So if our generation felt that you had to earn the right to call yourself a New Yorker, we had our reasons.
That time is long gone, and thankfully so. But still the question lingers. Yesterday morning I brought my son to Central Park early to try to find a place to fly his new radio-controlled plane. For whatever reason, I'd never dream of jumping the gate at Sheep's Meadow, which doesn't open til 11 am. The Meadow, as we called it, was the only section of the park that was truly maintained during my childhood. It was also the only section that ever closed. One was directly related to the other, and it was a point of honor to respect the off-hours.
The Heckscher ballfields, however, were another story. My son and I had watched a couple of softball league games there this past weekend, and I was surprised to find them fenced off yesterday, since I can't ever remember them being closed. Throw in the fact that there was no sign posted that clearly stated they were actually closed, and that the chicken wire barrier across the entrance was attached by a plastic fastener that was very easily unfastened. Needless to say, I did what any New Yorker of my generation would do: I slipped my son through the gap in the barrier and started flying the plane.
We went through most of the plane's battery charge under the watchful eye of a NYPD cruiser which eventually pulled off once it became clear that we weren't going to tear up the lawn anytime soon. Just after the plane gave out, a Parks Dept. groundskeeper approached us and politely told me that we'd have to leave. The fields were off-limits and the plane wasn't allowed.
I wasn't going to make his life difficult so we left. But the episode served as a punctuation mark to the question that's been dogging me for so long. Thirty years ago, anyone could use the fields at any time, and they were a mess. Now, only registered leagues can use them and they're immaculate. Who does the City belong to?
Not to me, that's for sure. At least, not any longer. And not to my son, who's growing up in France. The page has turned, not only on the streets, but above them, too, where tower after tower of high-rise buildings are being built at a pace that makes the mind reel. Mine was the first generation of New Yorkers to have no memory of the City skyline without the Twin Towers. Yesterday, from atop the Empire State Building (once again the City's pre-eminent skyscraper), I saw tomorrow's skyline, the massive shells that will soon house the next generation of New Yorkers.
The kids who grow up in them will make the City their own, navigating its streets until every slate of pavement is indelibly mapped onto their very identity, just like we did. Like us, they might think the City belongs to them. And they'll be right. At least for a moment, anyway.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I'll be heading to NY today with the Lil' Feller to spend a few weeks with family and friends. Posting will be sporadic, as I'll essentially be conducting a guided tour of the Big Apple's children's playgrounds for a very influential EU investigative committee. Check in for updates.
Friday, July 20, 2007
On the same day that Ann Althouse ably derides 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan appointee, declares that politically-speaking, Republicans need another terror attack so badly that "...if al Qaeda is not going to do it, it is going to be orchestrated." Which offers very little in the way of reasonable subject matter to actually discuss, but does provide a perfect excuse for a post I've been wanting to do for a while about 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Now, I'm not a 9/11 Truther. I find people who are absolutely convinced that 9/11 was orchestrated by the CIA and the Bush administration somewhat hard to bear. But by the same token, I find people who refuse under any circumstances to entertain the possibility that there was a conspiracy a bit naive.
After all, it's widely speculated that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen in order to justify a war he wanted with Japan. It's common knowledge that the British knew about various German air attacks on British cities, including Birmingham, but did nothing to stop them so as not to reveal that they'd broken the German communications code.
Beyond individual and institutional aberrations like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Love Canal, the logic of statescraft and geopolitics is inherently amoral, and involves calculations that if widely known would render international relations impossible to manage. We've learned this repeatedly from historical records that decades later revealed how little we really knew of what was going on behind the scenes in modern government.
Did the CIA kill Kennedy? Beats the heck out of me, and that's after two stints in Big D, where every third person you meet has got a "theory". But, hey, it wouldn't turn my world upside down to find out they did. Same goes for a government conspiracy to conduct or allow a domestic terrorist attack. On the merits, it strikes me as a longshot. But it wouldn't shake the foundations of my understanding of how the world operates to eventually find out that it did in fact occur.
It's also worth noting that in the early-Nineties in NYC, the dominant paranoid conspiracy narrative running like a common thread through the rap, reggae, New Age, and vegetarian underground scenes involved a domestic terrorist attack resulting in an expanded police state, perpetual war, and ultimately a dictatorship.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Strategic Wish List
The Army War College has just published its annual Key Strategic Issues List, which gives military researchers a head's up on what kind of strategic questions the Army and DoD would like to see answered. So, what's on the Pentagon's mind? Here are a few subjects that caught my eye, for no particular reason:
Reconceptualizing the “war” on terror: Is it a war, and, if so, what is its nature and how should it be prosecuted?...
Challenges and opportunities of employing non-governmental militias in counterinsurgency efforts...
Should the war on drugs be integrated into the war on terror?...
What is the impact of under-equipped active duty and reserve units responding to WMD or natural disasters, or other Civil Support missions?...
Information, misinformation, and disinformation. How can DoD manage these in an information-rich world?...
Strategic implications of outer space as a theater of war...
Responding to the collapse of strategically significant states...
Globalization’s impact on the military-industrial base...
Planning for operations in areas with primitive and austere infrastructures...
Implications for the All-Volunteer Force fighting the “long” war...
How will the fact that fewer members of Congress have served in the armed services affect future Defense policy?...
Strategic implications of democratic, but anti-U.S. governments, in the Middle East...
How should the U.S. respond to acts of genocide (e.g., Rwanda, Sudan)?...
Balancing U.S. security interests between India and Pakistan...
Implications for U.S. security of a post-Castro Cuba...
There are also more detailed subject headings towards the end. Worth a glance if you'd like to know what the Pentagon thinks are the burning strategic questions of the day.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
When I first launched this site, I'd already imagined it as a group project. (The proof is in the "Contact Us" link on the navbar.) Now that summer's here and I'll be spending more time with the Lil' Feller, it's becoming clear that I'll need some help keeping new content up.
So if you or anyone you know might be interested in contributing, drop me a line through e-mail or the comments. Let me know what your areas of interest are, and how much involvement you'd be willing to commit to.
This might be a good time to ask for some feedback, too. No reader survey, but just what you find most satisfying or annoying about the site. In particular I'm interested in knowing how much use you get out of the headline and blog links in the sidebars.
Oh, yeah. And if you like the site, spread the word. Readership is building nicely but, hey, what the heck? The more the merrier.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
The Lil' Feller just finished his last year of pre-school, so we're down on the coast chilling. Which explains why I'm not so bothered by the internet connectivity issues I'm experiencing.
Yesterday we took a long boatride to the Island of Sainte Marguerite to visit the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held. It was actually pretty cush as far as seventeen century prisons go. The most depressing thing was the not one, not two, but three rows of iron bars between the window and the view of the sea below.
Anyway, posting will be as possible until Monday.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
We Hold These Truths...
...to be self-evident, that it's on days like Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Super Bowl Sunday that expats get real homesick, that I won't be finding any Fourth of July barbecues in the South of France, and that at least one of you reading this will be tossing back a beer and spreading sauerkraut on a dog at some point during the day's festivities. So think of me when you do.
Happy Fourth, everyone.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
These Go To Eleven
I just got back from Nîmes, where I saw a friend's band play in the city's 2000-year old Roman amphitheatre. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern was intentional. But it was still kind of weird to consider that men once fought to the death in the same arena to keep the masses entertained.
Anyway, between hanging out the night before, the show itself, and the party afterwards, I didn't get much sleep the last few days. Also, it's admittedly been a while since I've been to a major concert, but it seems like the decibel level has gotten off the hook. All that by way of saying I'm wiped, so serious posting will have to wait till tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Josh Marshall and Al Franken, separated at birth? Maybe it's just the glasses. The other thing that occured to me watching the video interview is that Franken's comic persona offers him constant cover in the event that he says something kind of lame or unsophisticated. There were a couple of times where I couldn't tell if he was deadpanning or choking, and I just chalked it off to him being Al Franken. Whereas if it had been someone else, I probably would have thought he had just said something kind of lame or unsophisticated.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
All About The Cheddar
I'm not sure I understand what the problem is with Saudi Prince Bandar skimming $2 billion off the top of an arms deal between the British firm BAE and the Saudi government. Unless it's that Bandar used a government account instead of a personal one to launder the money.
And, frankly, who cares if the British government was in the know? As a Dutch ex-pat friend who spent alot of time in the Persian Gulf put it, That's the cost of doing business with the Saudis. To hear him tell it, you shouldn't even bother showing up unless you've got the briefcase full of Benjamins. And that's just to introduce yourself.
Oh, and, by the way... Try turning down $2 billion smackeroos someday. Just try it... Nah, I don't think so.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Crimes & Misdemeanors
I probably shouldn't do this, but here goes. People need to stop hating on Paris Hilton. Yeah, she's a spoiled brat. Yeah, she broke the law. Yeah, there are tons of people doing time for what she did.
But the fact that she expects special treatment is not a sign of her moral vacuousness. It's a sign of her intelligence. Because the fact is, rich people do get special treatment. According to my sister, who met me at the gate, I was once on the same flight as Paris Hilton. I wouldn't have known it, though, because she was allowed to board the flight after everyone else, and leave before everyone else.
Of course, the legal system isn't supposed to have first-class cabins. (Except when it does.) But we all know that that's a fairy tale. There are things we could do to change that, but taking pleasure in a young woman's suffering doesn't strike me as one of them. Even if that young woman is rich and famous, hated by some and envied by all. Seriously, I've never wished prison on anyone until I saw the clip of Sarah Silverman taunting Hilton at the MTV Movie Awards last weekend. What gratuitous cruelty.
As for her release, people point to all the other prisoners who remain in prison with more serious medical and emotional conditions. But that's not a reason to keep Hilton locked up. It's a reason to let the others out.
In any event, she's back in front of the judge, and chances are he's going to send her back to jail. Maybe that's justice being served. But do people need to be so happy about it?
Update: According to the LA Times, she's been remanded back to county jail.
Monday, June 4, 2007
Dept. Of Creative Solutions
Ecuador has announced that it's willing to forego developing oil fields in the Amazon rainforest containing almost a billion barrels of crude if the international community makes up 50% of the projected yearly revenues for ten years. By the government's calculations, that would mean roughly $350 million a year for the next ten years. The idea is to protect not only an area rich in biodiversity, but also the area's indigenous culture.
Meanwhile, France has announced that in addition to cracking down on illegal immigration, it will pay legal immigrants up to E. 6,000 (Euros) should they choose to return to their country of origin. The measure is being touted as a means of supporting investment in developing countries.
Friday, June 1, 2007
The Joy Of Spam
I've got to admit to having mixed feelings about the arrest of the Spam King. After all, if it weren't for junk mail, some days there'd be no mail at all.
Besides, without spam I'd have never found out I was paying way too much on my mortgage. The money I've saved through refinancing has helped pay the processing fees necessary to help an online acquaintance transfer a sizable fortune out of an African country and into my bank account. (I can't go into too much detail, but he should be wiring the money any day now.) And there was still enough left over to buy all the Viagra I've needed to maintain an erection for the past four years.
Seriously, though, between Spam Assassin on my site's webmail account and Thunderbird's adaptive controls, the only time I see spam is when I doublecheck the Junk folder to make sure there's nothing important in there. I just wonder how there's enough profit in the deal to make it worthwhile.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Apparently there's been a code glitch in the Feedburner RSS feed which has kept it from updating for the past month. It doesn't seem to have been a problem if you were subscribed directly to HJ's RSS feed. It should be working now.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
A Tale Of Two Countries
Turkey's first gay-lesbian hotel opens in July at a popular resort on the Mediterranean coast, its manager said Wednesday.
"There are several gay-friendly hotels in Turkey, but ours is the first to be 100 percent gay and lesbian. It will not accept guests outside this concept," Faruk Ok said by telephone. "Part of the personnel is also gay or lesbian," he added...
The gay movement has become increasingly outspoken in recent years, capitalizing in part on European Union pressure on Ankara to show full respect for human rights.
Some Israeli politicians have sharply criticized a campaign aimed at promoting gay and lesbian tourism in Jerusalem...
"I unequivocally reject the attempt to focus a state-sponsored campaign on a delusional minority that suffers from a normative defect," Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai said. "Jerusalem and Amsterdam are the same for these people. Therefore, those who fail to recognize Jerusalem's holiness had better stay away from it."
Yishai is the head of the ultra-orthodox, nutjob party Shas, so he obviously knows a thing or two about delusional minorities that suffer from normative defects. And yes, I'm obviously cherry-picking, but it's important to remember that religious fundamentalism unfortunately knows no national boundaries.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I remember at times feeling like an imposter on the Stanford University campus. Like in the freshman physics survey course -- for engineers, not poets -- that I had the brilliant idea to sign up for. There was a kid who sat next to me who never once opened a notebook or removed a pencil from his plastic pocket-liner the entire semester. One day I saw him frown and shake his head as I furiously scribbled down the formula the Nobel prize-winning lecturer had just chalked on the board.
"Dickweed," I muttered under my breath. Until the lecturer glanced back at the board, said, "Wait a minute, that's not right," and corrected one of the Greek letters holding down a denominator. The kid's face brightened up and he nodded furiously. And I realized that I'd better start working on my iambic pentameter.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
I'd like to invite any readers who might be in the vicinity of a round table and a full glass on this Saturday evening to raise one for my Dad, who happens to be celebrating his 79th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Dad!
Friday, May 25, 2007
lazy hammock hanging still
may l.a. pm
Monday, May 21, 2007
L. Ron Hubbard Can't Save Your Life
Thanks to Tom Cruise, most people know by now that the Church of Scientology isn't fond of psychiatrists or psychotropic medications. They're not alone of course. Various other religious sects and cults, as well as most practitioners of "alternative", "wholistic" or "complementary" medicine, feel the same way, if each for different reasons.
My exposure to the psychiatric model of mental health dates back to the mid-1990's, when I worked as a non-degreed social worker with impoverished adults on New York's Lower East Side, and later with adolescent gang-bangers in Santa Cruz, CA.* And my experiences led me to believe that there are definitely valid criticisms to be made about the psychiatric model, and more specifically the ways in which it's used by public mental health authorities.
First, the use of medication, instead of being a last resort, is a first response, often consisting of trial and error "cocktails" of various psychotropics until the targeted symptoms are controlled. With the adolescent boys I worked with, it was often a "prescribe ritalin first, ask questions later" approach. Lifestyle and nutrition (specifically, the enormous amounts of sugar and caffeine the kids consumed) was quite simply never addressed, which was surprising given the clear correlation that exists between sugar, caffeine and hyperactive behavior.
Second, I was struck by how many of the symptoms and "disorders" I saw diagnosed every day were poverty-related. That, combined with the fact that the mental health team I worked with in Santa Cruz was part of a Children's Mental Health/Juvenile Probation pilot program, suggested that the psychiatric profession was being co-opted by the state to buffer the police response to social and behavioral tensions that are in large part a result of inequalities in wealth distribution. In other words, instead of being a societal condition with political responses, poverty has increasingly become a psychiatric condition with medical responses.
But I think it's important to recognize that while the psychiatric model isn't perfect, it is in many cases very effective. Especially, as studies have shown, when used in conjunction with psychotherapy and alternative treatments. And while diet and exercise can certainly contribute to a patient's well-being and should be integrated into a comprehensive mental health treatment regime, psychotropic medications have offered hope where previously none existed for treating extreme psychiatric disorders that border on or enter into psychosis.
Finally, some people just might not want to change every aspect of their diet and lifestyle in order to manage what are nevertheless debilitating symptoms. That's their right, whether Tom Cruise likes it or not. Like cancer treatment, it's irresponsible to advocate for an either/or approach to what remains a personal decision between a patient and his or her doctor. Because for all of psychiatry's faults, a good psychiatrist is still more effective than a bad guru.
*At the time, I took a much more rigid, "anti-psychiatry" position than I do today. I was one of very few people (I hesitate to say the only person) advocating for the integration of complementary health practices into the public mental health system. I remember the snickers and condescending comments I got from colleagues when I proposed Yoga, Tai Chi and vegetarian cooking classes, as well as guest lectures on acupuncture, Chinese herbalism, and meditation at the residential program where I worked. And yet, not only were the programs well-received, they were effective in teaching techniques for emotional well-being that the residents found very useful.
Friday, May 18, 2007
The Sopranos, Iraqi Tribal Version
Here's another highlight from that GAO report on Iraq's oil and electricity sectors. In an effort to control rampant sabotage of the electrical grid, the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity at one point contracted with tribal chiefs to secure the power lines running through their territories, at the rate of $60-100 per kilometer:
However, in October 2006, IRMO officials reported that this scheme was flawed and did not result in improved infrastructure protection. According to U.S. and UN Development Program officials, some tribes that were paid to protect transmission lines also sold materials from the downed lines and extracted tariffs for access to repair the lines.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Whopper Of The Day
This, too, might become a new feature. Or it might not. (I'm sure if I checked in some marketing textbook, I'd find that rolling out two new features in one day is poor promotional practice.) Anyway, here's Tony Snow, from today's White House press briefing:
Number one, let's make it clear about the U.S. commitment to climate change, which is unparalleled in the world in terms of financial resources, in terms of support for science, in terms of advocacy, in support for new technologies. And the President has made it clear that his view on this is, global warming exists; it has human contributions. And what we need to do is to figure a way forward that is going to enable economies around the world to grow, and at the same time, to pursue the laudable and necessary goals of cleaner air and a cleaner environment.
At least he's upfront about which one comes first.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
That's A Relief
From an Executive Order issued today, forbidding lawyers and expert witnesses testifying on behalf of government agencies from being paid contingency fees based on the outcome of the litigation:
...it is the policy of the United States that organizations or individuals that provide such services to or on behalf of the United States shall be compensated in amounts that are reasonable... and established according to criteria set in advance of performance of the services...
Seems like a pretty sound policy. Too bad no one thought of it when it came to awarding contracts for Iraq reconstruction projects.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Unsafe At Any Speed
Miami's drivers might be the rudest in America, but the worst drivers by far that I've ever encountered were in Dallas. Sure, in New York City, you've got to be prepared at any moment for a Yellow Cab to hang a louie from the extreme righthand lane, or vice cersa. But nine times out of ten, they do it flawlessly, so you don't even end up taking your foot off the accelerator.
Whereas in Big D, people think nothing of driving three abreast on the freeway. All at the same speed. For miles at a time. No matter how many times you flash your brights. And honk your horn. And motion them wildly to the side.
Which explains why they also think nothing of passing on the right at insane speeds. Because when there's no passing lane, you've got to take your openings where they come up.
I've also never, ever, ever seen as many people drive drunk, or drive as drunk, as the folks in Big D. God love 'em. I sure do. But keep them off the road.
Monday, May 14, 2007
The Nuclear Black Market
A new report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, cited by David Isenberg at Asia Times Online, claims that some major players in the nuclear procurement network developed by Pakistan's AQ Khan have eluded arrest and could theoretically resume operations despite Khan being placed under house arrest three years back. The report also alleges that Khan's network might have supplied Iran and N. Korea with nuclear plans and components.
Less dramatic but as alarming is the fact that in the three years since Khan's network was supposedly put out of business, the structural incentives for the nuclear black market remain unchanged. Regulatory treaties force countries intent on attaining nuclear weapons to develop illegal procurement channels. Profit motives guarantee that they'll find Western suppliers.
Take Pakistan, for instance. Because they've yet to sign various international non-proliferation agreements, they are as dependent on illegally procured nuclear material, and hence Khan's network, as they were when Khan was still cutting deals.
But whether or not Khan's network is still in operation, it has already served as a model for other countries intent on attaining nuclear weapons to follow. More troubling still is the fact that due to market incentives, networks originally assembled for national procurement purposes can be expected to eventually turn to more profitable export operations.
I can't help but think, though, that all the attention we give to rogue regimes and clandestine procurement networks might be misplaced. We'll never stop certain regimes from wanting to aquire nuclear weapons capacity. Tightening the controls (and the penalties) for shipping illegal components out of Western Europe and South Africa seems like a more effective way of keeping them from getting it.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Fire
According to an LA County Fire Dept spokesman quoted in the LA Times, "the backbone of the fight" against the wildfires threatening Catalina Island are small firecrews from the Fire Camp program. "They're the frontline, infantry," the spokesman went on to say.
But if one of the crew members ever tries to bum a cigarette off you, be sure to say no. Not because it's a fire risk. But because the firecrews are actually made up of non-violent inmates on loan from the California Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And as the Fire Camp website says:
You cannot give anything, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, to an incarcerated crewmember.
There's also this nugget:
The CDC (sic) supplies the workforce for each camp and the Fire Department supplies the fire crew supervisor. Both agencies benefit from this arrangement; the Department and County of Los Angeles gain an eager and willing workforce to complete a myriad of necessary projects and CDC (sic) is able to provide a structured learning environment with an emphasis on teamwork and a strong work ethic for personnel under their care.
Oddly enough, the LA Times didn't see fit to inquire as to whether and how much the inmates are paid, as well as whether the CDCR gets a cut. I did, however, and I'll keep you posted as I hear back from the CDCR.
Update: I just heard back from the CDCR. The inmates are paid $1.00/hr. while on emergency assignment, and $0.20/hr. for non-emergency work between fires. Which begs the question, Are these positions that the Fire Dept has trouble filling? Or is this just an obscene cost-cutting policy? I'll follow up on that next week.
Another Update: Something I forgot to mention: One of the Fire Camps is made up of juvenile inmates, or "wards", who are paid at the same rate. And something that occured to me after I published the post: If you're a non-violent offender in California, and you've got the dough, you can buy yourself a spot in a "soft" county jail. Otherwise, you've got to put your life on the line fighting fires for eight bucks a day if you want to avoid doing time with hardened criminals. Can we get prison reform onto the list of Democratic priorities for 2008?
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Griffith Park is one of the reasons I managed to stay sane while living in LA. So it's sad to read about it burning. But I remember, also, the spring after the 1996 Laguna Beach fires, walking in the hills and marvelling at all the amazing wildflowers and growth that had been freed up by the burn. So hopefully, a year from now, Bronson Canyon will be abloom. In the meantime, I imagine the smell is close to unbearable.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Hold The Hysteria
Although there's every reason to be vigilant and indignant about the Bush administration's multiple infringements upon our civil liberties these past six years, it's also important to recognize how lucky we are to live in (or in my case, to come from) a country with such a strong tradition of free speech.
Take the US Army's website, for instance, and in particular it's News page. Sure, it's peppered with the kind of fluff pieces and propaganda excercises that you'd expect. But if you take a look at the righthand sidebar you'll see a box titled, "World Media News Today". Here are the headlines I found today when I checked in with the site:
- Retired U.S. Army Generals to Make TV Commercials Criticizing Bush's Handling of Iraq War (IHT);
- U.S. Attack Kills Iraqi School Children (Al Jazeera);
- How Bush Sabotaged Reconstruction in Iraq (Counter Currents).
This isn't the first time that I've found highly critical articles linked to on the site. In fact, it's a pretty common occurence. It's not uncommon to hear people claim that America is slowly becomong a police state. But police states don't allow that kind of criticism to see the light of day, let alone diffuse it. By comparison, for example, it's pretty well-known that criticizing the Russian government and military these days can be dangerous to a reporter's health. So while there have been some excesses in the past six years, ones that need to be corrected, it's important to keep things in perspective.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Hundred Meter Freestyle
With big-time sports racked by doping scandals, and so many of the major athletes resembling programmed machines, it's kind of refreshing to see a promising athlete completely upend her career and two national swimming federations to be with a guy she's been dating for a couple of months:
Laure Manaudou, the French swimming sensation who dominated the women's competition at the recent World Championships in Melbourne, has stunned her native country by moving to Italy to be with her boyfriend, Italian swimmer Luca Marin.
The 20-year-old Manaudou holds the world records for the 200 metres and 400 metres freestyle and is expected to be one of the biggest names in the pool at next year's Beijing Olympics with a gold medal haul at her fingertips.
However Manaudou's preparations have been thrown into disarray by her love for Marin, who is also world ranked and with whom she has been involved romantically for several months.
"My choice (to move to Italy) is based on love," Manaudou told Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Between Italy and France, I have chosen Luca, the love of my life. I want to live with him and have a baby..."
Then again, maybe all that chlorine's impaired her judgment.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
I'm having some very serious Wifi problems tonight, so I'm going to sign off. I'll do some posting on the stretch run of the French presidential election here tomorrow, as well as try to catch up on some non-election news as well.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
What Are The Odds?
From the Bureau of Unlikely Coincidences: I went down to Place de la République this afternoon to check out the May Day demonstrations, and the first group I stumbled upon -- already set up with banners, floats, and loud overdriven amplifiers two hours ahead of the scheduled start of the march -- was the PKK, the Turkish/Kurdish communist insurgency that I've spent some time covering here.
In other news, it seems like the "Legalize Pot" movement has gone international in its attempt to co-opt any and every progressive/leftist march, regardless of whether anyone invited them.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Welcome To The Hotel California
Does equal protection under the law extend to punishment after the crime? If so, what to make of California's "pay to stay" county jails, where for the price of a modest hotel room, non-violent offenders can purge their sentences isolated from the general prison population? I can understand the logic in isolating dangerous inmates based on their behavior. But isolating vulnerable inmates based on their bank account balance seems like an admission of inadequate protective services for those who can't afford it.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I'm not sure how much press coverage it got, since I was offline at the time, but last week, President Bush issued an executive order revising various aspects of the US Code of Military Justice. Among other things, it brought the CMJ in line with the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 by making it a separate, punishable crime to cause the death or injury of an unborn child while committing a violent crime against a pregnant woman. To avoid any confusion, the President was kind enough to add this handy definition:
As used in this section, the term "unborn child" means a child in utero, and the term "child in utero" or "child who is in utero" means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.
The order goes on to stipulate that punishment for the new crime shall not include the death penalty, and explicitly exempts medical practitioners, including those carrying out legal abortions, from prosecution, as well as women with respect to their own unborn children.
The same executive order, oddly enough, also made stalking a crime under military law.
Friday, March 30, 2007
How to say, "Sit on this and twist" in Diplomatese.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The Wrong Wall
Melissa Rogers has this to say about the bi-partisan Congressional group that held a press conference yesterday at the Capitol to "call America back to prayer":
Frankly, members of Congress have no business issuing an "official call" for Americans to turn "back to prayer." Members of Congress certainly may pray, and they may play active roles within their respective religious communities. They also may form unofficial groups that meet for worship, prayer, and Bible study on government property just as other unofficial groups do. But their stations as government officials do not entitle them to attempt to lead us in spiritual pursuits.
I'd only add that they were doing more than leading a spiritual pursuit. They were advocating religious practice, even if they made a point to use ecumenical language. And not only are they not entitled, in their capacity as government officials, to do that. They are expressly forbidden by the constitution.
Randy Forbes, the Congressman who organized the event, claimed that it took place during their lunch hour, so no tax money was spent on religion. But the question isn't about money. It's about keeping political institutions free of religious affiliation. Mr. Forbes has every right to build a "spiritual prayer wall" around the country if he so desires. He just can't tear down the wall of separation between church and state to do so.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I go away for the weekend, and what happens? Regular reader and commenter Gerald Scorse goes and gets an article published in the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel. Give it a read, it's good stuff.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I've often thought that at some point in the not so distant future we'll find ourselves looking back on our current internet usage with a sense of wonder at all the bandwidth at our disposal. "Remember when," I can almost hear us saying, "we didn't think twice about downloading some random YouTube video and sending it around, just because it was kind of funny?" That day might be sooner than we realize.
We're still operating under the assumptions of the bandwidth glut of the overbuilt dotcom bubble. Which is one of the reasons that the business models for sites like YouTube and Flickr, to say nothing about file sharing sites, make sense. What they'll look like once bandwidth limits are the norm, though, I'm not so sure.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Could You Take Cheney With You?
Call it a marketing-driven strategy to realign their corporate structure with their brand identity. Or call it a logistics-driven admission that even in this age of rapid communication, nothing makes up for geographical proximity to their board of directors. Or else call it a case of truth at long last revealed. Call it what you will, but Halliburton just announced that they'll be moving their corporate headquarters to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Before The Shooting Starts
The Freakanomics Statistical Analysis of the Month Award goes to Richard Gelles, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice, for his explanation of the graphic you see below.
You'll notice that back in 1976, the number of women killed by their intimate partners was 18% greater than that of men. Fast forward 30 years, and while both numbers have decreased significantly, there are now three times as many women getting killed by their intimate partners as there are men.
Counterintuitively (as the best Freakanomics analyses always are), this is actually, according to Gelles, a good sign:
The disproportion in fatalities, while seemingly adverse to women, reflects a major gain... Abusive men are killed less often now because women can get free of them more easily.
"We've eliminated a good deal of defensive homicide by giving women easier access to shelters and ERs and by measures such as mandatory arrest laws" that restrain or punish abusive spouses, Gelles said.
I follow the logic, and agree that it makes sense. But this is why I would make a lousy social scientist. Hand me that statistic and I'm wondering what the hell is going wrong.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Which General Are You?
Military.com has got a fun little personality test: Four quick questions about a hypothetical battle situation, to determine which historical general you most resemble. Fun, fast and intriguing. Post your results in the comments.
Friday, March 2, 2007
The Swiss Navy
Here's one that's good for a laugh, until you transpose it onto another part of the world. Apparently, a company of Swiss infantry accidentally "invaded" Liechtenstein when they wandered across an unmarked border in a nighttime training excercise. They got about a mile into the small principality before realizing their mistake and heading back. Liechtenstein's response was basically, No harm, no foul. As well you might expect from a country that has no standing army.
Now imagine for a second an American infantry company on maneuvers in Iraq, that accidentally wanders a mile into Iran. Think they'd get that far without being noticed? Think Iran's response would be, No harm, no foul?
I don't subscribe to the idea that dialogue with Iran is some magic bullet that will instantly resolve all the differences between us. But it could help to keep hypothetical misunderstandings from turning into real conflagrations. And that's good for something.
Friday, March 2, 2007
We Don't Need Another Hero
I understand Democrats' desire for a champion who's not only got the cojones to stand up to Republican bully tactics, but who also seems capable of giving them a fat lip, bloody nose and a black eye while they're at it. After all, Al Gore's civility in the face of the Supreme Court's electoral intervention in December 2000, as well as Democrats' solemn solidarity in the aftermath of 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War, suddenly became sources of shame when it became clear that Bush & Co. had been playing them for suckers from the very start.
So don't get me wrong. I recognize the need he fills with his tough-talking, moral indictments of the Bush administration. But still, I can't help but consider Keith Olbermann a sanctimonious windbag who's difficult to take very seriously. And all the comparisons to Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welch only reinforce that feeling. Am I missing something?
Friday, March 2, 2007
Foxy Brown Lockdown Watch
I try to stay away from the Cult of Celebrity coverage. But this one is just too good to be true. Rapper Foxy Brown just pled guilty to her second probation violation, technically for leaving NY State without prior permission from authorities. I'll let UPI take it from there:
Brown, 27, was sentenced in October to three years' probation, anger management classes and random drug tests after pleading guilty to assaulting two manicurists at a New York nail salon.
Her first strike came in January when she was let go from the anger management program for allegedly threatening an employee.
Her second strike came Feb. 15, when, after leaving town without permission, she was arrested in Florida for allegedly fighting with a beauty supply shop owner and a police officer. She was charged with battery and obstruction of justice. (Emphasis added.)
Despite prosecutors' requests for jail time, the judge apparently felt it wiser to defer to the rules of baseball rather than those of common sense. Meaning it will take a Third Strike, most likely in the form of another major league beatdown doled out to yet another beauty shop worker, before Ms. Brown gets locked up.
Which ought to be any day now, given how well the anger management classes seem to be working.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Fifteen Minutes Of Fameyness
From The Secret Life Of Cory Kennedy:
Put it this way: By the time Cory Kennedy's mother realized that her child had become, in the words of Gawker.com, an "Internet It Girl," the Web was riddled with photos of Cory posing, eating, dancing, shopping, romping at the beach, looking pensive and French-kissing one of the (adult) members of the rock band the Kings of Leon. She had European fan sites. She had thousands of people signing on to her MySpace pages. She had fashion bloggers dissecting her wardrobe ("a cross between the Little Match Girl and the quintessence of heroin chic," one wag called her taste in fashion). She had people watchers from the Netherlands to Japan speculating about her life story. (Was she a junkie? A refugee from Hyannis Port?) She had designers begging her to wear their clothes and deejays offering her money to show up at their nightclubs. She had invitations to party with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
She was living, in short, a teenager's dream and a parent's version of "Fear Factor." And the obvious questions—at least for her mother—were, "What happened? And how?"
All of which can only lead to this, of course:
We are in Cory Kennedy's bedroom. Present are Cory, Hunter, this reporter and Nate Van Dusen, a filmmaker who is featuring Cory in a new documentary. It's one of those media-age moments: a documentarian filming a photographer shooting a journalist interviewing a teenager.
I imagine the biopic is already in the works. Starring Lindsay Lohan, I'd guess. If she's not in rehab when shooting starts, that is.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
The Attitude Census
Here's a great little slide show from the Times: 18 graphs that give a snapshot of Americans' social attitudes over the last 35 years. It's gleaned from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, which has been conducted annually or bi-annually since 1972.
So let's see how well you know your fellow Americans. What percentage of those surveyed:
- Think that generally speaking, people can be trusted?
- Find life, in general, exciting?
- Believe that men are more suited to politics than women?
- Support legal abortion for any reason?
- Would say they belong to the upper class?
Give your answers in the comments before you click through, without any subsequent spoilers for those who follow. Extra credit if you can say whether the trend has risen, fallen or stayed constant over time.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Start Spreading The News
Regular reader and frequent commenter GS has a Letter To The Editor published in today's NY Times. A short but sweet ode to the greatest city on Earth. I'll give you a hint: It ain't New London.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Clinton's Speech No Impediment
Let's say someone asked you how much Bill Clinton made last year on the speech circuit? How much would you guess? Leave it in the comments, and then click through to this article and see if you're right.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Lock And Load (And Cross Your Fingers)
I remember reading in James Gibson's "The Perfect War: Technowar In Vietnam" that as far back as that conflict, the M16 was notorious for being a lightweight and accurate rifle that jammed and failed often. Apparently, the same is true for the M4 rifle which was introduced in the early Nineties.
Which is why starting in 2002, members of an elite Special Forces unit teamed up with a German light arms manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, to design and field test a combat assault rifle, the H&K 416, that has proven to be significantly more reliable than either the M4 or the M16 while remaining cost competitive. It's been production-ready since 2004, and the Delta Force members fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are already outfitted with them.
But the Army has ruled out issuing them to the general infantry, citing the cost -- $1 billion -- of replacing the entire fleet of M16's and M4's as prohibitive. And they've ordered 100,000 more M4's for 2008, even though a 2001 Special Operations Command study found that it suffered from an "obsolete operating system," and a 2006 Army reliability test found that brand new, off the shelf M4's & M16's misfired every 5,000 rounds in laboratory conditions, compared to every 15,000 rounds for the H&K 416.
So the next time the GOP talks about supporting our troops, someone might mention that a good place to start would be with rifles that actually fire when you pull the trigger.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Try Getting A First Life
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Early adapters of Second Life, the online virtual world, are starting to wish for the good old days before real-world corporations like Adidas and American Apparel opened up "in-world" virtual shops and Nissan started giving away "in-world" virtual cars.
So much so that a group of players has formed what it calls the Second Life Liberation Army. Last year they gunned down avatars that frequented the offending stores. Recently they blew up two nuclear devices, the first outside of American Apparel, the second in front of the Reeboks outlet. Their demands? Voting rights for issues effecting their "in-world" experience.
The problems don't end with corporations, though. With the steady growth of Second Life, the "in-world" has become overrun by trend-followers, losing its original utopian edge. Consider the case of Catherine Fitzpatrick, 50, who joined Second Life "...to explore her creative side and meet like-minded people...":
She built a nice home for herself with an ocean view, which she said was ruined when someone moved in next door and built a giant refrigerator that blocked her light.
Of course, we've all had the experience of a favorite underground club or local watering hole get written up in New York magazine, with the change in atmosphere that follows. But getting blocked out by a giant refrigerator? Now that's a dis.
Friday, February 16, 2007
The Islam Quiz
ABC News just put up a quick 8 question quiz, based on Jeff Stein's Congressional Quarterly article that revealed the levels of ignorance in Congress about which Muslim groups are Sunni, and which Shiite. Click through and see how you do. And leave your results on the Comments page. Once there are enough results in the comments, I'll let you know how I did. Hint: I could be in line for a committee chair.
Friday, February 16, 2007
The Exorcist, M.D.
First it was the pharmacists who wouldn't fill certain prescriptions, in particular birth control and morning after pills, that they disagreed with on religious grounds. Then there was the Washington Post article last week that described how 8% of doctors surveyed said they weren't obligated to present medical options that they disapproved of to patients, while 18% said they weren't obligated to provide referrals for care they found objectionable:
Male doctors and those who described themselves as religious were the most likely to feel that doctors could tell patients about their objections and less likely to believe doctors must present all options or offer a referral.
Now along comes a story about a doctor in Bakersfield, CA who refused to treat a young girl's ear infection because her mother has tattoos:
The writing is on the wall—literally: “This is a private office. Appearance and behavior standards apply.”
For Dr. Gary Merrill of Christian Medical Services, that means no tattoos, body piercings, and a host of other requirements—all standards Merrill has set based upon his Christian faith...
He said if they don’t like his beliefs, they can find another doctor.
According to the American Medical Association, as things stand, he didn't do anything wrong. A doctor is only required to provide life-saving care. Besides that it's his or her call.
Via The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right
Thursday, February 15, 2007
When The Writing's Done
The act of writing, distilled to its essence, is a jail break. A solitary gesture of defiance, of desperation, of hope. A shaking of the fist at the walls that surround us, or a rueful glance. And always, in the end, an attempt to breach, climb, or tunnel under them. And then sometimes the metaphor becomes real, as is the case with prison literature, and we realize, as readers, the true power of the word. To bear witness. To transcend. To liberate.
Kody Scott, the LA gangbanger known as "Monster", was the latest in a long line of jailhouse writers. Before him there was Jack Henry Abbott, and George Jackson, and Henri 'Papillon' Charrière, and Jean Genet. Men who wrote from within their prison cells, or about them, in the hopes of one day knowing freedom. Or Antonio Gramsci, who kept his meticulous prison journals knowing that he would certainly die behind bars.
Kody Scott's back on the LAPD's Ten Most Wanted list, for a carjacking, or for pissing off William Bratton, depending on who you ask. Last time he was arrested, for parole violations, he said he wouldn't mind heading back to prison, because it would give him some time to write. The tough part, for Scott, for all of us, is when the writing's done.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Sorry, I can't help myself. A website for evangelical young adults called The Rebelution recently conducted a Modesty Survey to let Christian girls know how Christian men of all ages think they should be dressing. Some sample questions (in traditional five-point agree-disagree format)?
- You have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one.
- The lines of undergarments, visible under clothing, cause guys to stumble.
- Seeing a girl take off a pullover (i.e. a shirt that must be pulled over the head) is a stumbling block, even if she is wearing a modest shirt underneath.
- It is a stumbling block to see a girl lying down, even if she's just hanging out on the floor or on a couch with her friends.
- Seeing a girl's chest bounce when she is walking or running is a stumbling block.
I could go on, and on, and on, and on, I really could, because there are over a hundred questions, and they're all classics. Like:
- An ankle-length skirt with a knee-high slit is more modest than a knee-length skirt.
Hmmm. That's actually a tough one. Anyway, here are the results. Better click through quick, though, before I lose control and...
- Bare feet are not a stumbling block.
...add another one. OK. I'll stop...
- Bending over so that cleavage is visible down the front of the shirt or dress is a stumbling block.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
When The Mrs. Is A Ms.
The first thing that popped into my head while reading this Times story about bullying male cooks and the women who love them was, Is this the way of life we're fighting two wars to defend? But then I got to this sentence:
Mr. LaVallee loves to cook, and when they were first married, Ms. LaVallee thought that sharing his hobby with him might be fun. (Emphasis mine.)
Now, I know that Ms. was introduced as a means of identifying a woman without reference to her marital status. But in common usage, it was usually adopted when the woman in question's marital status was unknown by the speaker, or when the woman's mature age made it awkward to address her as Miss.
But this is the first time I can remember seeing it used in a context where it's quite obviously a conscious choice, either on the part of the writer or the subject. And in case you're thinking it might have been a typo, the woman was again referred to as Ms. LaVallee two paragraphs down.
I'll put aside for now the politics of a post-post-feminism, where a wife cheerfully accepts being elbowed out of one of the more enjoyable domestic tasks by a domineering husband (three guesses as to who gets clean-up duties), but insists on being addressed as Ms.
Because I'm more interested in the style usage question. Have I just been missing something, or is this a developing trend? Anyone?
Friday, February 9, 2007
Deep-Freeze The Peas, Please
Let's say you were responsible for preserving the Earth's biodiversity in the event of catastrophic climate change? What sort of things would you look for before you started building your doomsday seed vault?
Well, first off, there'd have to be a natural source of refrigeration in the event of power failure. So finding a mountain with a permafrost core would top the list. You'd have to model worst-case global warming scenarios for 200 years into the future, to make sure the location would not be overtaken by the rising ocean levels. Radiation levels would be a major concern, too, so you'd have to check those out.
Luckily, scientists in Norway have already done all the work for us, though. They'll be breaking ground in March, with the vault scheduled to open in 2008. Now that's a ribbon-cutting ceremony I'd pay to attend.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
A little in-house business for those of you inclined to use the comments page. I added some code that now requires you to fill in the name and e-mail address fields. (The e-mail address still does not appear, by the way.) So if you've gotten into the habit of leaving those blank, don't be surprised by a little prompt.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A blog I read and link to just put out a call for feedback. It's called Political Wire, by Taegan Goddard, and it's basically a news ticker in blog format for all things political. The posts are short, to the point and readable. There's also news wire feeds, as well as blog aggregators categorized by political slant, which is a practical way to get a sense of who's paying attention to what.
There's not a whole lot of analysis, which is a drawback or not, depending on your point of view. I think it could use more of it to put the news in context. There's also a lot of posts, so you've got to be selective and prioritize what you click through on. But if you're a hardcore political junky who agrees with Goddard's assertion that the 2008 presidential election is already in full swing, it's definitely worth a visit.
Monday, January 29, 2007
I remember a time when the world seemed exotic and far-flung, filled with adventure and mystery. Granted I was a kid then, but something's changed, and I don't think it's just a result of having gotten older. A headline like this one helps me put my finger on it: World tourism sets record in 2006.
A Parisian I know once described how he used to go to the Louvre several times a week in the 1960's and 70's. He'd discover a room a day, taking the time to experience the artwork in front of him. And when he'd found that he'd seen every room in every wing, he returned to the beginning and started again.
Of course, that's no longer possible today. When I visited Paris for the first time five years ago, I set aside an afternoon for the Louvre, feeling some vague obligation as a moderately cultured person to see Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at least once in my lifetime. What I saw instead was the reflection of flash bulbs in the shatterproof glass that houses it, and the backs of a couple dozen Japanese tourists' heads. Three years later in Florence, given the choice between waiting on line for two hours to enter the Uffizi or enjoying a plate of bolognese and a carafe of wine in the piazza, I opted for the pasta.
One of the ironies of the increasing democratization of tourism and travel over the past twenty years is that as our destinations become more accessible, the things we go there to see become less so. The real event at the Louvre is no longer the art on the walls. It's the current of humanity that courses through it each day. And the same is true to varying degrees of most of the world's great tourist destinations.
Cynical? Maybe. Elitist? No doubt. Truth is, I don't mind. The pasta in Florence wasn't that bad.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Thinking about this question of why I have so little inclination to dip my feet into the pool of domestic policy issues got me thinking about the whole question of headlines that get a rise out me and those that I pass over. Today, for instance, I was watching a nature documentary on the North Pole with my son and I realized that I very rarely do more than scan a headline that includes the phrase "Global Warming" or "Climate Change". Do I think it's an insignificant issue? Far from it. Do I find this tendency laudable or recommended? Of course not. Am I saturated? Already convinced? Probably. But there's more to it, I think. Something about each of us having a "News Reading Profile" that either draws us into a topic or doesn't.
So I thought it would be interesting to do a couple Top 3 Lists. (I've limited it to three so as to involve an element of discrimination.) Here's mine:
Top 3 Headlines I'm Sure To Read:
- Iraq/Iran/Middle East Geopolitics.
- The Rise of China.
- Presidential Politics (French & American).
Top 3 Headlines I'm Sure To Pass Over:
- Avian Flu.
- Global Warming.
- Darfur. (Not proud of it, but there it is.)
And for a kicker, a Guilty Pleasure (surprise, surprise): Christian Evangelicals. So? What about yours?