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.

For the commenters, here's a topic for discussion -- check out this report by the Council on Competitiveness. Joanna Chung summarizes the report for the Financial Times:

The US must make innovation the top national priority or risk ceding its role as the world’s foremost economic power, an organisation of top business and academic leaders warned on Wednesday.

The warning came as the Council on Competitiveness, a Washington-based group, issued a comprehensive report recommending strategies for encouraging innovation and producing workers that “succeed, not merely survive” in the global economy.

At a conference held to release the report, Samuel Palmisano, chairman and chief executive of IBM, said American innovation had reached “a critical juncture” and the country was “somehow losing its edge at just the wrong time, when the game was becoming dramatically more competitive.”

Mr Palmisano, who is also the co-chairman of the group’s National Innovation Initiative, said about half of US patents belonged to foreign companies and inventors while foreign countries, including Japan, South Korea, Israel, Sweden an Finland spent more on research and development as a percentage of their gross domestic product than the US.

The report noted other disturbing trends, including a long-term decline in federal funding in research. Corporate research and development in the US had dropped nearly $8bn in 2002, the biggest drop in any year since 1950.

To regain the competitive edge, the report called for increased public funding for research, including the reallocation of 3 per cent of all federal research and development budgets toward grants that invest in novel, high-risk and exploratory research.

It offered new education proposals aimed at harnessing a talent pool of innovators domestically but also called for reforming US immigration policies so they attract the “best and brightest” foreign science and engineering students.

“Few would disagree that foreign scientists make critical contributions to the nation’s scientific and technical talent,” the report said. “There are indications, however, that post-9/11 visa policies are reversing decades of openness to foreign scientific excellence.”

“Delays and difficulties in obtaining visas to the US are contributing to a declining in-flow of scientific talent. And other countries can and do take advantage of our increasingly cumbersome visa process.”

posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (3)

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:

Gay marriage is on the verge of joining abortion rights on the very short list of litmus tests that any Democratic candidate for national office must support. Not gay rights, but gay marriage, or at least "civil union," which is an unstable half-step that is bound to turn into the real thing. Some say this just illustrates how far Democrats and liberals have drifted outside the mainstream. But the mainstream, and even the right, is not far behind.

Gay civil union, itself a radical concept from the perspective of just a few years ago, has widespread support outside of liberal circles. The notion that gay relationships should enjoy at least some of the benefits of marriage (hospital visitation rights being the unanswerable example) is probably a majority view. And even the most homophobic religious-right demagogue feels obliged to spout - and may well actually believe - bromides about God's love of gay people.

Today's near-universal and minimally respectable attitude - the rock-bottom, nonnegotiable price of admission to polite society and the political debate - is an acceptance of gay people and of open, unapologetic homosexuality as part of American life. This would have shocked, if not offended, the great liberals of a few decades ago - men such as Hubert Humphrey.

Such a development is not just amazing. It is inspiring. American society hasn't used up its capacity to recognize that it harbors injustice, and it remains supple enough to change as a result. In fact, the process is speeding up. It took black civil rights a century, and feminism half a century, to travel the distance gay rights have moved in a decade and a half.

This is also scary, of course, because there is no reason to think that gay rights are the end of the line. And it's even scarier because these are all revolutions of perception as well as politics. That means that all of us who consider ourselves good-hearted, well-meaning, empathetic Americans - but don't claim to be great visionaries - are probably staring right now at an injustice that will soon seem obvious, and we just don't see it. Somewhere in this country a gay black woman, grateful beneficiary of past and present perceptual transformations, has said something today in all innocence that will strike her just a few years from now as unbelievably callous, cruel and wrong.

Hat tip: Mickey Kaus.

posted by Dan at 06:00 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

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:

Fighting in modern societies often involves the use of technology, notably firearms, that is unlikely to give any advantage to left-handers. So Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond decided to confine their investigation to the proportion of left-handers and the level of violence (by number of homicides) in traditional societies.

By trawling the literature, checking with police departments, and even going out into the field and asking people, the two researchers found that the proportion of left-handers in a traditional society is, indeed, correlated with its homicide rate. One of the highest proportions of left-handers, for example, was found among the Yanomamo of South America. Raiding and warfare are central to Yanomamo culture. The murder rate is 4 per 1,000 inhabitants per year (compared with, for example, 0.068 in New York). And, according to Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond, 22.6% of Yanomamo are left-handed. In contrast, Dioula-speaking people of Burkina Faso in West Africa are virtual pacifists. There are only 0.013 murders per 1,000 inhabitants among them and only 3.4% of the population is left-handed.

While there is no suggestion that left-handed people are more violent than the right-handed, it looks as though they are more successfully violent.

Here's a link to the academic paper.

posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The heat is on Rumsfeld -- but it's not too hot

More radicals are spewing their venom at Donald Rumsfeld's armor gaffe -- you know, radicals like William Kristol, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joe Scarborough, and John McCain.

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).

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (2)

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.

posted by Dan at 05:20 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

Mali's young democracy is thriving with all of the attendant institutions, including a legal system, however still imperfect, and a free news media that includes 42 privately owned newspapers and 124 private radio stations, the most popular medium in a highly illiterate country. It also is essentially free of human-rights abuses, according to a 2003 State Department report.

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:

Democracy also guarantees freedom of religion, though, and new types of Islam are challenging the traditional faith. In the past three years, ultraconservative Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia have opened 16 mosques in Timbuktu, a development termed disturbing by the city's mayor, Aly Ould Sidi.

"All these people who are Wahhabi are not citizens of Timbuktu. They come from outside," he said. "Their presence here has raised a kind of conflict with the people."

Added Abdrahmane Ben Essayouti, imam of the Djingareiber Mosque, the oldest of three great 14th Century mosques: "Wahhabis come here from Saudi Arabia. They have means. They give money and build mosques and schools and buy books.

"If you don't have means, you cannot stop them," he said. "And if we don't pay attention, they will use the students against us."

Moreover, Wahhabism often clashes with Malian practice of Islam.

"According to Wahhabism, you cannot go through someone, but should go directly to God. That's why we have a problem here--we have 333 saints," said Imam Sidi Alpha Maridje of the Sareikeina Mosque.

He's not the only one disturbed by the situation, however.

As dusk fell, some two dozen men of Araouane, many swathed in the turbans and the long, loose robes of desert nomads, solemnly crammed into a one-room, mud-walled house, settled onto woolen mats strewn across the sandy floor and looked expectantly at Vicki Huddleston.

Seated on the floor before them in a modest white shirt and mushroom-colored, ankle-length skirt, she smiled and respectfully thanked the village chief for receiving her.

Throughout Mali's history, every village, however small, has had a chief, who either inherits the job or is selected by the village. Accountable to the people, he and his council make important decisions for the village, listen to problems and adjudicate disputes. The institution thrives under democracy and, in many ways, helped prepare the way for it....

The settlement, half-buried in sand, has a rudimentary Koranic school but no electricity, running water, roads or medical facilities. It needs everything, but most of all a source of clean water that isn't contaminated by the camels and goats.

Huddleston and her staff have come to discuss a new well and solar pump the U.S. will provide. But she takes up a more urgent matter first.

"I will be very frank with you," she began, sweeping the room with her eyes. "We are very worried about the Salafists who have been seen in this zone. We know you want to preserve your traditional religion. We think democracy depends very much on a traditional Islam like yours."

The chief said he had heard about the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, an Islamist group advocating overthrow of Algeria's secular government, but never had seen any of its members. Nonetheless, he assured Huddleston that Araouane had not abandoned the traditional and tolerant Malakite Islam of Mali. "We are against those who would try to change our religion and culture," he said.

Another element seeking to change Malian culture in recent years is the fundamentalist Pakistani sect Dawa al-Tabligh, which has joined the Wahhabis in seeking converts in Mali, particularly in the northern areas.

Fundamentalist bans on smoking, wearing protective fetishes and praying to ancestral saints do not easily endear these austere versions of Islam to easygoing Malians.

Many Malians, including President Toure, are skeptical that fundamentalists or terrorists will sink deep roots here.

"Mali is a very old Islamic country where tolerance is part of our tradition," Toure said.

"I'm not worried, but it's always good to take precautions," he said, noting that Mali has expelled some visitors and denies visas to others but declining to identify them.

Nonetheless, Toure agreed that in an environment like the north, where people are poor and opportunities are few, preachers bearing hope and extremists offering pride--and often cash--have their appeal.

"Poverty is the fertile ground of terrorism. Some get involved to get to heaven tomorrow. Others believe it can change the world today," he said, but he added that he sees no evidence of an immediate threat to the country.

Huddleston sees it differently.

"Like the Malians, I tend to agree that Mali is not going to change into a Wahhabi state," she said. "But it is worrisome because the more fundamentalism [there is], the more women are disenfranchised and the development of democracy is more difficult.

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:

Particularly relevant, black African and Arab scholars say, are accounts of how the African interpretation of Islam helped regulate the affairs of men, resolve disputes and provide a model of tolerance. Buried in the crumbling manuscripts of Timbuktu and neighboring cities, scholars are finding evidence of wars averted, sieges ended and lawlessness put to rest.

The information is all the more valuable for moderate Muslim leaders because of the rise of less tolerant forms of Islam, like Saudi Arabia's Wahhabism or the Salafist movement in Algeria, that are expanding their foothold.

[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:

The United States shares [China's] concern as it ventures into remote corners of West and Central Africa in search of alternative oil supplies to the turbulent Middle East which could also act as counterweight to OPEC's monopoly power.

The world's biggest energy consumer hopes the African region will provide up to a quarter of its oil imports within a decade, up from 14 percent now, and is working to guarantee stability in one of the most volatile parts of the planet.

From coup attempts inspired by dreams of petrodollars to concerns over Islamic extremists, political anarchy, civil war and piracy, the region around the Gulf of Guinea is seething with tensions that would faze the most intrepid investor.

"We are in no position to endure a serious oil supply disruption from the Gulf of Guinea today. The global oil market is stretched to capacity," said David Goldwyn, a former assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration and head of a Washington-based strategy think tank.

"We are not ready for trouble, but trouble is on the horizon," he told a U.S. Senate committee earlier this year.

Washington is particularly concerned that militant Islamists may gain a foothold in its new oil haven, where policing is often lax, millions of youths are unemployed and the sheer size of territories makes maintaining full control almost impossible.

"It's a good place for people who want to be left alone to operate outside the reach of the law -- to go unnoticed, to take time to recruit, to regroup," General Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), told Reuters.

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.

posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

At this writing, the staffing of a new foreign-policy apparatus is not complete. But the broad strokes are plain. At CIA, there is a new emphasis on loyalty to the president over readiness to provide objective analysis; Porter Goss will ensure that the agency provides information that the White House wants to hear. At the cabinet level, the direction is clear. Colin Powell is leaving, exhausted by his losing tussles with the Pentagon, semi-humiliated by the president. His crime was that he was right about war in Iraq, right that we needed allies and more forces for the invasion, right that postwar Iraq would be chaos and quagmire. His caution about the use of force —the Pottery Barn rule—must have irked the president every time he saw him, so better to banish him. Promoted instead are those who were consistently wrong. Rumsfeld remains, though his neocon aides “stovepiped” phony intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capacity, he botched the post invasion, and was responsible for the Abu Ghraib torture. Stephen Hadley, who “forgot” to remove the false claims about Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from the president’s 2003 State of the Union speech, is the new National Security Adviser. Condi Rice, whose TV musings about “mushroom clouds” helped frighten a nation into an unnecessary war, becomes the nation’s top diplomat.

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.

posted by Dan at 04:29 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

Iran's liberals and reformers feel increasingly beleaguered, and [hardline] voices... are louder and more menacing than they were even six months ago. In that period, says one of Tehran's longer-serving foreign diplomats, “there has been a dramatic change in mood”. Bullying militias are again trying—so far without much success—to enforce the old morality. Last month a female MP from the conservative camp suggested that if ten “street-walkers” were executed, “We will have dealt with the problem [of prostitution] once and for all.”

More worrying from the liberals' point of view, the reform-minded but disappointingly dithery Mr Khatami has been the lamest of ducks since the ruling clergy and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Mr Khomeini in 1989, presided over a rigged general election in February when the candicacy of 2,000-plus reformers was blocked. As a result, the new parliament is distinctly more xenophobic and illiberal than its predecessor. Of its 290 members, more than a quarter share the sort of rabid views expressed by Mr Shariatmadari, and they seem to be mocking Mr Khatami with impunity in his last months in office....

Not that mass repression is needed to keep the media, or the Iranian people in general, in line. According to a respected human-rights campaigner, between 2,000 and 4,000 Iranians, including about 30 journalists, are behind bars for political reasons. The reason for the overall figure's vagueness is that many of those incarcerated are in “unofficial” prisons: even their relatives are not told they are there.

In the past few months detentions have swelled of “bloggers” who have set up internet sites, which the state has taken great trouble to block. A number of well-known campaigners for human rights have been prevented from going abroad or arrested on their return. Human Rights Watch, an independent lobby group, said this week that “secret squads operating under the authority of the Iranian judiciary have used torture to force internet journalists and civil-society activists to write self-incriminatory confession letters”.

The clampdown seems to be working. Many of the liberal and sophisticated professionals of northern Tehran, downcast by Mr Khatami's failure, seem to have withdrawn into a private life behind the walls of their villas. Many are emigrating, at an estimated rate of 200,000 a year, especially to the United States (where there may be 800,000 Iranians), Canada (perhaps the most popular destination), Britain, France and Australia....

The one thing everyone knows is that Iran is in a jam. Above all, plainly, there is a crisis of legitimacy. Only half of Iranians bothered to vote in February's election; not much more than a quarter of those in Tehran, which embraces at least 8m people, turned out. Western diplomats reckon that barely 15% of Iranians still support the ruling order. The low turnout reflected not just apathy and fatalism, which are indeed strong. Many sour and embittered Iranians consciously decided not to go to the polls as a gesture of protest....

According to some reports, disaffection with the regime even among the clergy is spreading. A cleric from an influential religious family, also out of favour with the supreme leader, derides the Council of Guardians for mostly taking “orders and hints from the powers that be”—a euphemism for Mr Khamenei. Most striking of all, sociologists and educators report that religious belief and observance, especially among the young, have slumped since the mullahs took power a quarter of a century ago. Instead of fortifying the people's devotion, the system seems to have switched many people off the spiritual side of life, inspiring a shallow materialism instead....

The mullahs have patently failed to revamp an economy that remains distorted by subsidies, closed to competition within Iran or from abroad, locked in the hands either of the state or of state-connected foundations known as bonyads, and increasingly reliant on the high price of oil: Iran has about a tenth of the world's known reserves. Barely a fifth of the economy is in private hands. The conservatives have made it hard for the timid Mr Khatami to sell off state firms or open up to foreigners. The merchants of the bazaar, a longstanding pillar of the mullahs' power, still protect their own cartels. Capital flight continues apace. Only four private banks exist (three of them linked to bonyads or to the state), with just 4% of the banking sector's assets. Corruption in every sphere of business stunts growth and puts off investors. People mutter about the mullahs' wealth and patronage....

In the face of such gloomy contrasts, Iran cannot make up its mind whether to co-operate with the perfidious infidel West to save its economic skin and strengthen its security, or to keep its Islamist soul unsullied. That dilemma is at the heart of the present wrangle over nuclear power....

The American administration's hope that sanctions and other pressures will eventually force a change of regime in Tehran looks, in the foreseeable future, forlorn. And an Israeli or American attack might well have the adverse effect of rallying Iranians to their rather unpopular regime.

Otherwise, only three things could jolt Iran out of its present torpor of stagnation and depression. One is the presidential election due in May. Another, further down the road, is a dramatic slump in the oil price. The third is the possibility of a Gorbachev figure emerging from within the clerical establishment to open up the deadening political and economic system. At present none of these three possibilities looks likely, at least not in the short run.

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.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

1) I love it when stereotypes don't hold up. There was a moment in the second day when Ambassador Francois Bujon De L'Estaing sneeringly mocked Lawrence Kaplan's presentation about the European Union as the embodiment of the neoconservative stereotype -- after which Kaplan jibed back about the Ambassador also fulfilling his stereotype equally well.

For me, what was refreshing was the number of people who didn't conform to my preconceived expectations. For example, the big mooseheads at the conference -- William Schneider, Charles Cook, and Thomas Mann -- did a great job on their panel. Schneider, in contrast to his CNN smiling-face persona, was perfectly willing to cross swords with the other participants. Furthermore, the three of them actually attended every panel presentation. At events like these, the headliners often decamp after they've presented their own spiel -- particularly if they're in Paris. Not these three.

Similarly, it was refreshing to hear ACLU head Nadine Strossen say that 90% of the USA Patriot Act was completely unobjectionable (actually, it was just refreshing to hear a reasonable conversation about the Patriot Act). It was good to hear Dan Mitchell from the Haritage Foundation say that larger budget deficits do put upward pressure on interest rates (though he thinks the magnitude of that effect is pretty damn small). It was amusing to hear a French businessman blast the Kyoto Protocol -- not because the U.S. hadn't signed, but because the agreement put serious constraints on France but not China.

2) In an act of stunning symbolism for French diplomacy, the Foreign Ministry was supposed to host a grand lunch reception for all the participants, with an address by the Foreign Minister himself. When we got to the Quai D'Orsay, however, the Foreign Minister turned out to be a no-show -- and the "lunch" consisted of a paltry selection of finger foods that appalled even the French interlocuters.

3) Olivier Blanchard gave an excellent, accessible talk on the implications of the current account deficit that nevertheless bucked conventional wisdom on the topic. His basic argument was that the distribution of costs from a declining dollar was going to adversely affect Europe far more than the United States. A rising Euro renders European goods uncompetitive in the global marketplace, and for a variety of reasons, European consumption is not likely to increase by all that much. In contrast, the U.S. will benefit from an improved balance of trade, while inflationary pressures remain muted.

4) If Chuck Hagel delivers on-the-record talks like the one he gave to our group, the man has zero chance of becoming President. He spent so long praising the conference coordinator for assembling such a "distinguished panel of experts" that for a minute I thought he had misplaced his speech and was just tap-dancing while an aide found it. I've heard Hagel before in an off-the-record format, and he was pretty good there, but this was awful. More amusingly, until Hagel spoke the French had cleverly kept the conference room somewhat chilly to ensure that everyone stayed awake. Hagel requested the room be warmed up. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of closed eyes for the rest of the day.

By contrast, Connie Morella -- a former U.S. Representative for Maryland and currently U.S. Ambassador to the OECD -- was more interesting (though, to be fair, she didn't have to give a talk). Four years from now, any Republican nominee should short-list her for VP consideration. She's a blue-stater, was able to get re-elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic district until she finally succumbed in 2002, and after her OECD stint will have diplomatic and economic policymaking experience.

5) One wonders just how much anti-Americanism abroad is driven by the distorted lens of American expats. Whjile I was waiting in line to enter the magnificent Musee D'Orsay, I overheard one conversation between an American expat living in Germany and the French couple in front of her. The American explained that Bush is worse than Hitler and that he really didn't win the 2004 election -- he made Democrat ballots disappear.

C'est tout.

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)