Thursday, December 16, 2004
A short blogging sabbatical
In recent days I've been feeling disoriented. It's not just that an increasing number of Republicans are calling for Rumsfeld's head, or Ariel Sharon talking about "historic breakthoughs" with the Palestinians. There's even a chance Turkey might join the European Union (though I won't be holding my breath on those negotiations).
There's also the fact that David Wells now plays for the Red Sox, while Pedro Martinez is now a Met. Time magazine has short-listed "the blogger" as its Person of the Year. And, finally, Eszter Hargittai is contemplating spraying herself with chocolate perfume.
It's too much -- I need a break.
Given that I started this year by both guest-blogging and meta-blogging, it seems appropriate to end the year with a small sabbatical.
Barring some mind-blowing event, blogging will resume January 1, 2005.
Michael Kinsley on the limits of conservatism
Post-election there was a lot of screeching that social conservatives wanted to roll back the "social progress" pushed largely by Northern Democrats over the past fifty years. Michael Kinsley's essay today in the Los Angeles Times points out the obvious -- at best, conservatives want to slow the accelerating change in social mores:
Hat tip: Mickey Kaus.
Apparently my forefathers could kick some ass
The Economist has a story about why anyone (such as myself) is still left-handed. From an evolutionary perspective this is a puzzle, since "on average, left-handers are smaller and lighter than right-handers. That should put them at an evolutionary disadvantage." However, left-handers ostensibly have a distinct advantage in fighting: "most right-handed people have little experience of fighting left-handers, but not vice versa."
These stylized facts led Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond, of the University of Montpellier II (it's in France), to propose the following conjecture: "the advantage of being left-handed should be greater in a more violent context, which should result in a higher frequency of left-handers."
The Economist summarizes their findings:
Here's a link to the academic paper.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
The heat is on Rumsfeld -- but it's not too hot
In all likelihood, this media kerfuffle will die down. Bush has no incentive to get rid of his Defense Secretary now, and I'm sure he doesn't want to waste any of that political capital on a confirmation hearing for the next SecDef -- which, incidentally, is why there is probably going to be very little DoD turnover, period.
I'm sure President Bush wishes there was some way he could make things better for Rumsfeld. Too bad he's already received the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- cause the value of any award shoots WAY up after it's awarded it to Paul Bremer. (In fairness, here's David Frum's explanation for that decision -- though it's actually not fair, because I do believe most people recognize the difference between not "seeking a scapegoat" and awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom).
Blegging for PDA advice
Five years ago I bought a Palm Pilot and discovered that I didn't have enough appointments to make it worthwhile -- so I wound up not using it all that much.
Five years later, I'm finding that my schedule is filling up more rapidly and further in advance. In other words, now I need a PDA.
What's the best one in the marketplace right now?
This is most definitely a job for my readers.
West Africa and Islamic fundamentalism
As part of the Chicago Tribune's continuing series on the internal struggle among Islamic societies between the forces of moderation and the forces of radicalism, Lisa Anderson has a fascinating front-pager on the country of Mali.
Mali appears at first glance to be one of the most improbable democracies in existence -- life expectancy is at 45 years, infant mortality is higher than 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, it's literacy rate is 46%, and according to the CIA World Factbook, "is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income."
However, as Anderson chronicles:
The bulk of her story is on efforts by Islamic radicals from Algeria and Pakistan to attract supporters in the arid northern part of the country, and American efforts to combat this push. Some highlights:
Read the whole thing. Anderson's implicit thesis -- and it's not a bad one, is that Mali's history of tolerant Islam is resilient enough to resist outside efforts at fundamentalism. Philip Smucker had a story in November's International Herald Tribune chronicling the efforts of African scholars -- with an assist from Harvard's Henry Louis Gates -- to exploit Mali's written history to reinforce this moderate brand of Islam:
[Oh, c'mon, this is French West Africa -- does this stuff really matter to Americans?--ed. Check out Nick Tattersall's report for Reuters on the significance of West African oil to the U.S. economy. This part stands out in particular:
Click here for an African perspective on why the continent matters to the Bush administration. And, finally, check out John Donnelly's report in the Boston Globe on the military side of U.S. efforts to prevent Islamic terrorist groups from making further gains in the West African region.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Scott McConnell could use some evidence
Scott McConnell has an article in The American Conservative rebutting the Lawrence Kaplan thesis of a few months back that the realists have triumphed over the neocons within the Bush administration's foreign policy apparatus. Well, it's an attempt at a rebuttal. Well, actually, it's little more than an assertion. Here's McConnell's key evidentiary paragraph:
Objectively, the problem is that this paragraph says pretty much nothing about the realist/neocon debate. Rice -- a realist -- is replacing Powell -- who was the administration's only liberal internationalist. I've never heard Porter Goss described as a neocon. Rumsfeld is a neocon only in the sense that he believes in the revolution in military affairs. Hadley is generally described as a neocon, so that's a point in McConnell's favor.
Now, I had my problems with Kaplan's original thesis, but McConnell's rebuttal doesn't convince me that the neocons have remerged like a Phoenix to control foreign policy. Actually, that paragraph convinces me of only one thing -- Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay were right. Their primary thesis in America Unbound is that, despite what people say about neocons or realists, the person who's clearly in charge of American foreign policy is George W. Bush. The common denominator in all of Bush's foreign policy moves has been to expand the power of White House loyalists at the expense of everyone else -- regardles of ideology.
So what's going on in Iran?
Patrick Belton links to this Economist story on the state of Iran's domestic polity. The highlights of their analysis:
As I've said before, I'm very gloomy about the prospects of the theocratic regime toppling from "people power." [On the other hand, I was similarly skeptical about Ukraine, and events have progressed there in a far more peaceful and positive direction that I anticipated. Point is, I could easily be wrong.]
One question is whether expanding Iran's trade with the rest of the world would nudge them in a more positive direction. Based on this report, the Bush administration doesn't think so -- or, to be fair, they think it wouldn't lead to regime change prior to the mullahs developing nuclear weapons.
Commenters are heartily encouraged to devise a policy that would ensure peaceful regime change in Iran. I don't think it can be done -- but that could just be because I'm still jet-lagged.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Notes from Paris
So, what dirt was able to be gleamed from my trip to Paris? Here's the tidbits about the people, the place, and the ideas that are worth divilging: