Friday, May 23, 2003
CUE "THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA" MUSIC:
AFGHANISTAN UPDATE: Last month I
AFGHANISTAN UPDATE: Last month I was very pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan.
This month, Steve Verdon argues that U.S. efforts to create a semblance of an infrastructure in Afghanistan are being overlooked by the media. He's got a point. This Baltimore Sun story, for example, has the headline, "IN KANDAHAR, SLOW PROGRESS," while containing the following graf:
If you read the story, it's clear that most of the city's problems date back decades. Efforts to create a national police force, rebuild roads, help malnourished children, and voter registration are proceeding apace. India and Afghanistan just signed a preferential trading agreement.
However, the key political problem remains the lack of central authority and persistence of low-level violence. On this front, one can point to limited progress. This week, for example, local governors pledged to transfer more tax and customs revenue to the central government of Hamid Karzai. And the Washington Post reports that Karzai has relieved Aburrashid Dostum, one of the most opportunistic warlords in Afghanistan, from his regional post.
However, several grains of salt are in order. As the Economist notes:
And the Post story notes the following on Dostum:
There are also reports that Al Qaeda is reconstituting itself in Afghanistan.
To sum up: progress slow, security still a problem.
Thursday, May 22, 2003
IDIOT OF THE WEEK: That
Now, let's go to the Journal News story -- which has much more detail and explains the absence of corroboration -- and get Crosbie's side of the story:
Sigh. It could be worse, I guess -- he could be working for the Office of Homeland Security.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
These Democrats get it
What I find particularly interesting here is the transformation of Donna Brazile. In past campaigns, Brazile was a partisan's partisan, making some extremely inflammatory comments towards Colin Powell and George Bush Sr. Now, she's on the board of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and bashing Dukakis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Drezner's Assignment to Beltway bloggers: Explain Brazile's turnaround -- is it a change of heart or a change of tactics?
Robert Tagorda thinks it's a combination of the two. He's got a ton of links on Brazile as well.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003:
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003: I'm in mourning today, as my favorite television series ever went off the air last night.
I could try to explain why I loved the show so much, but I suspect it would come off as flat. I can link like crazy, however.
CNN provides a wealth of back story for the uninitiated. Connie Ogle has an excellent essay of why Buffy was so good. Jonathan Last has a great overview of his top-ten favorite episodes. Joyce Millman has an exhaustive archive of odes to Buffy in Salon. The best ones are here and here. And don't miss Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies, including this exhaustive academic bibliography of scholarship devoted to the Buffyverse. [Isn't that all a bit pretentious?--ed. Go read this Stephanie Zacharek article on the phenomenon from a non-academic perspective. And then read this Rita Kempley piece on why Buffy is so appealing to theologians]
The Parents Television Council labeled Buffy the least family-friendly show of 2001-2 -- and I must admit, their description of the show is pretty dead-on in terms of its potentially objectionable material. However, it's telling that Christianity Today praised the show's use of such material:
When a television show earns cultural praise from Christianity Today,The American Prospect, National Review Online (though they hated the finale), FHM Magazine, Reason (according to Virginia Postrel) and the New York Times editorial page, you know you're talking about something that cannot be reduced to a whiff of transient pop culture -- you're talking about a pathbreaking work of art.
I'll close with two quotes. The first is from an Onion interview with the show's creator, Joss Whedon:
The second is from Zacharek again, capturing how I'm feeling today:
Mission accomplished, Joss.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
AL QAEDA'S CURRENT STRENGTH(?): The
AL QAEDA'S CURRENT STRENGTH(?): The attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, combined with the Bush administration's deliberations about raising the terror warning, prompts media reports that Al Qaeda is back in strength.
However, some reflection is in order. The AP reports that the Morocco attack suffered from some poor execution:
This fact, combined with evidence that the Saudi attack was hastily arranged, suggests that Al Qaeda is more dependent than ever on its local affiliates, who are of varying degrees of quality in terms of their competence. The BBC has more:
Christopher Hitchens uses punchier language:
This ties into my previous post.
It is possible that Al Qaeda is marshalling its remaining strength to attack a target in a Western country, and is therefore subcontracting its other operations to locals. I'm not saying they can be entirely written off. The point is, Al Qaeda may be adapting to new circumstances, but those new circumstances have weakened it more than the past week's media coverage suggests.
UPDATE: Brian Ulrich suggests a similar phenomenon occurring among Al Qaeda's affiliates in Central Asia. He also links to Juan Cole, who has some interesting thoughts on the spate of recent bombings.
Monday, May 19, 2003
THE ARAB MEDIA WAKES UP:
THE ARAB MEDIA WAKES UP: Salon has a fascinating interview with Khaled Al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News, about the independent Arab media's reaction to the fall of Saddam Hussein and the spate of Al Qaeda bombings in the region. The money quote:
Read the whole thing.
The Bush cycle
This administration has a peculiar pathology. It focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team's control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.
The policy drift has occurred four times in this administration -- after the passage of the 2001 tax cut, after the fall of the Taliban, after the 2002 mid-year election, and, alas, after the victory in Iraq.
What's going wrong? There's the wave of Al Qaeda attacks, which the FBI now warns could hit American soil. Click here and here for the latest problems with postwar Iraq. And here's Jacob Levy on the stupidity of a temporary tax cut on dividends. And, as in other down cycles, key staffers are announcing their departure.
A troubling hypothesis -- is it possible that the message discipline so valued by the Bushies also leads to the suppression of policy adaptability?
[WARNING: The argument presented in this post is purely inductive].
UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Jay Fitzgerald suggest an alternative hypothesis with regard to Iraq -- Bush just doesn't care about the people of Iraq. That would certainly be consistent my TNR piece about Bush using the neocons rather than vice versa. The problem is, I don't buy Kevin's assertion that "[Bush] thinks that committing lots of money and lots of troops over a long period is an electoral loser, so he's not willing to fight for it." What viable Democratic challenger is going to criticize the President on these grounds? John Edwards just blasted Bush from the other direction today.
Sunday, May 18, 2003
Blogging, anonymity, and the paper of record
The New York Times has an amusing article on personal (as opposed to policy) blogs. My favorite part:
Good thing she doesn't talk to newspapers with national circulation, or else someone using Google could locate it in about twenty seconds.
UPDATE: Today, I received an e-mail request from Ms. Allen to delete this entire post. I found this a trifle amusing -- the next sentence of the Times story quoted above runs
At the same time, I also felt some sympathy for an 18-year old who sounds a bit freaked out by the Blogosphere's focused attention on her quotidian activities. Despite the Times reporter's claim -- and her own -- it's pretty clear she doesn't want to be "found out."
So a compromise: yesterday's version of this post contained an active link to Ms. Allen's blog. Given the quotation above, I suspect the source of Ms. Allen's discomfort was that link, so I've deleted it.
Three concluding lessons from this:
1) Don't ever think it's possible to hide material on the Web. The "doctrine of security by obscurity" never works.
2) Being the center of attention carries negative as well as positive externalities.
3) This episode highlights another distinction between bloggers and journalists. A journalist wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- ever be able to make such a retraction.
Fortunately, I'm not a journalist.