Friday, July 14, 2006

The fluid situation in Lebanon

You know a crisis is still in a fluid state when major U.S. newspapers take opposing positions on in their new analysis of the situation.

For example -- how have the Israeli attacks affected Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon?

The New York Times' Michael Slackman thinks Hezbollah is the big winner:

A few short months ago, representatives of every Lebanese faction gathered in central Beirut and discussed many of the issues that divide them - including how and when to disarm the Hezbollah militia.

While Hezbollah and its supporters vowed never to give up their weapons, the recent events have served only to support their position: anyone calling for disarming Hezbollah now risks being called a traitor.

"It is strange that one man representing a faction of the Shia, Hassan Nasrallah, is holding the whole Lebanese population hostage," said Elie Fawaz, a Lebanese political analyst....

In Lebanon, [Hezbollah leader Hasan] Nasrallah tried to make clear during his own press conference on Wednesday that Hezbollah was only acting to free Lebanese prisoners and to liberate a disputed piece of land called Shabba Farms. Hezbollah has always maintained that its mandate is to fight for Lebanon - not to pursue anyone else's agenda, not even the Palestinians. No one doubts that the recent events served Hezbollah's interests, at least in the short term.
In the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid takes a different position:
The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.

"To a certain Arab audience and Arab elite, Nasrallah is a champion, but the price is high," said Walid Jumblatt, a member of parliament and leader of Lebanon's Druze community. "We are paying a high price."....

Since the fighting with Israel started Wednesday, calls for Hezbollah to relinquish its weapons have gathered urgency. The violence began when Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border incursion, followed by an Israeli attack on roads, bridges, power stations and airports.

Lebanese critics as well as allies of Hezbollah insist that the Israeli response was disproportionate. But at the same time, in meetings Thursday, Lebanese officials began to lay the groundwork for an extension of government control to southern Lebanon. Hezbollah largely controls southern Lebanon, where it has built up a network of schools, hospitals and charities.

"To declare war and to make military action must be a decision made by the state and not by a party," said Nabil de Freige, a parliament member. He belongs to the bloc headed by Saad Hariri, whose father, Rafiq, a former prime minister and wealthy businessman, was assassinated in 2005, setting off a sequence of events that forced the Syrian withdrawal. "It's a very simple equation: You have to be a state."

After a cabinet meeting Thursday, the government said it had a right and duty to extend its control over all Lebanese territory. Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said the statement marked a step toward the government reasserting itself.

Other government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, went further, calling it a first move in possibly sending the Lebanese army to the border, a U.N.-endorsed proposal that Hezbollah has rejected. The officials described the meeting as stormy and contentious but said both sides -- Hezbollah and its government critics -- were especially wary of public divisions at a time of crisis.

"It is becoming very clear that the state alone must bear responsibility for the country's foreign policy," said Samir Franjieh, a parliament member who is close to the Hariri bloc. "But our problem now is that Israel is taking things so far that if there is no help from the international community, the situation could get out of hand."


posted by Dan at 05:00 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The trouble with bubble diplomacy

While in Berlin, a friend told me what may or may not be an apocryphal story about during George W. Bush's last visit to Berlin. There was apparently a photo op planned for the president's car to pull up to the Chancellery building in Berlin, where the German prime minister lives and works. Apparently, Bush armored limousine was so heavy, it would have chewed up the cobblestone driveway. The U.S. solution to this problem? Have the Germans repave the road.

I bring this up because of this Deutshe Welle report on Bush's visit to Stralsund -- a German resort on the Baltic coast:

The two-day stop in Merkel's constituency on the Baltic Sea coast is meant to give the two leaders time to get to know each other better, as well as show Bush the "real Germany."

During Bush's last visit to Germany to the southwestern city of Mainz in February 2005, Germans displayed their talent for thoroughness by effectively removing any signs of life from the city's streets. Bush reportedly said himself that he thought the security precautions were exaggerated. He is keen for his experience in Stralsund to be different.

But those in charge of security just can't help themselves, it seems. For days now, helicopters have been circling over the Stralsund while security personnel have been busy repeating precautions taken in Mainz -- welding shut manholes, sealing off letter boxes, and cordoning off the historic town center.

Many locals and tourists in Stralsund are less than amused at the way their lives have been turned upside down in order to ensure the safety of Merkel's prominent guest.

"Look at the shops here in the town center," one tourist said. "They'll all be closed during the president's stay. We're here on holiday and want to have a good time shopping, but they just won't let us."

"According to the politicians in Berlin, the whole town should be happy to welcome the president," a resident said. "But then most of the people here are locked away from the president so as not to present a threat to him. That doesn't make any sense to me."

Though Bush got the desired contact with the locals during Thursday's market square welcome, he met a crowd of handpicked Stralsunders who had undergone extensive background checks. A quarter of the crowd was made up of students from the nearby naval academy. Critics say it was hardly an authentic encounter with the people of Stralsund, most of whom -- like Merkel -- experienced life under the communist East German regime and the transition to democracy following reunification. Many say it's precisely that experience of recent history that makes Merkel and her constituency so fascinating to the president.

Click on this UPI story for more about the security arrangements.

In fairness to Bush's advance team, I suspect that some of this article could have been written about any president with a modern security detail. Still, there's got to be a way for a president to shrink the security bubble.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Israel/Hezbollah/Hamas thread

Against my better judgment, here's a thread for commenting on recent developments in Israel, Lebanon, and the occupied territories.

In The New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi send shivers down my spine with this opening paragraph:

The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.
Greg Djerejian approximates my level of worry:
The temperature is getting very hot indeed among Israel and her neighbors. A humanitarian crisis looms in Gaza, and there is talk of turning the clock back 20 years on Lebanon's infrastructure by some in Israel's military. Olmert has talked very tough too ("act of war"), somewhat understandably, as he must be seen to be able to step up into Sharon's big shoes as credible guarantor of Israel's national security....

The irony in all of this too, of course, is that Israel's likely overly strong resort to punitive actions meant to serve as deterrent will actually likely backfire--as they will serve neither to deter (just the opposite probably) while also leading to less support for Israel internationally, if she is deemed to overeact. The better solution is for the US President or his Secretary of State to intervene to cool the temperature, and also give Ehud Olmert an out on pursuing a too robust escalation (Olmert for instance, could tell his public that the US Administration would not accept punitive strikes on any non-Hezbollah assets in Lebanon, to take just one example, to include all infrastructure assets such as power generators--thus relieving the pressure on him domestically) .

We have to keep things in perspective here: three soldiers taken hostage should not lead to talk of outright war between Israel and some of her neighbors, however emotionally difficult it is for Israel, not to mention deeply frustrating, to have to grapple so frequently with this repulsive tactic of kidnapping serving soldiers to see them then used crudely as bargaining chips. The US government needs to be front and center making the point that restraint is needed at this juncture, as a regional security crisis impacting Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza is about the last thing needed now in the Middle East--a region already, shall we say, fraught with problems far and wide. At the same time, the US and EU should be taking more of a lead trying to gain the release of these soldiers, the better so Israelis don't feel it is them against the world and act overly irrationally. In short, this is a detiorating situation crying out for leadership from the White House--adult supervision at the highest levels of the US government. Let's see what gets mustered up by this Administration in the next 24-48 far, I've heard little more than a statement from Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Welch, and much more is needed, I'd think.

UPDATE: Two more thoughts. First, I suspect the Economist wishes it could go into the "way back" machine and erase this part of a story on Israel and Hamas from last week:
Mr Olmert has reportedly been rejecting the army's most ambitious plans. In the longer run, Mr [former head of the army's strategic planning Shlomo] Brom thinks, Israel's “new rules” may mean an attempt to create a balance similar to the one on its border with Lebanon. There, tough Israeli responses to every attack by Hizbullah's militants are credited with bringing about an uneasy but largely successful detente.
Second, I suspect the Kadima plan for a unilateral withdrawal of the West Bank is now a DOA policy. At the current moment, ordinary Israelis will not buy the idea that unilteral withdrawal increases Israeli security.

posted by Dan at 02:10 AM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So you want to publish an op-ed....

In the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, Douglas Borer has an essay entitled, "Rejected by the New York Times? Why Academics Struggle to Get Published in National Newspapers." Here's how it opens:

At one time or another the bug to write an editorial strikes many in our profession. Our motivation is driven by disgust in what we see in the media, where many of the pundits are, for lack of a more nuanced description, idiots.
Fortunately, Borer then focuses most of his ire at academic folkways:
The first hurdle to overcome is schizophrenia when it comes to following rules. While academics suffer no hesitation when placing limits on students' term papers, professors generally do not like to follow similar restrictions. Because our first foray into editorial writing is usually for a local newspaper, bad habits form quickly. A decade ago, my colleagues at Virginia Tech informed me that the Roanoke Times would publish essays of almost any length that a Tech professor submitted. If I had something to say, and needed 1,500 words to say it, I simply sent my over-stuffed story, and presto! I was playing the smug role of public intellectual. Move over Tom Friedman, this was easy!

As the years went on, my ambitions grew. Yet truth be told, each sample of brilliant analysis and clever prose that eventually appeared in the local mullet wrapper had first been rejected by one of the major national newspapers (the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal). U.S.A. Today does not accept unsolicited op-ed submissions; however, in 2002 they asked me to write a piece explaining why Afghanistan was going to be another Vietnam. When I expressed my judgment that the U.S. incursion into Afghanistan had fewer potential similarities than differences with Vietnam, the editors lost interest in my "expertise." A day or two later, the story they wanted told duly appeared courtesy of another professor. The U.S.A. Today experience was instructive—editors "editorialize" by thematically selecting the content their publishers wish to convey....

If changing one's spots is difficult for a leopard, teaching an old academician new tricks may be even more tricky. Successful op-ed writing requires academics to move tepidly into the realm of rhetoric and imagery. Why? As noted above, space is limited to approximately 700 words, therefore the use of rhetorical and metaphorical words that mentally catalyze the reader to generate even more words in his/her mind's eye is indispensable. For the most part, we academics are trained to play a very different game—we really do not want our readers to think freely for themselves. Certainly we do not want to use words that might foment an emotional response in our peers. Therefore, we avoid words that are open to interpretation, and we go to lengths ad nauseum to define terms. We require the members of our tribe to assemble narratives consisting of analytically rigorous but alliteratively sterile words. We know that use of that ever-loaded term "democracy" in a journal article entails a commitment of four or more pages of literature review in order to dodge the finely honed machetes of peer reviewers. In an op-ed you can explain democracy in a sentence, and readers will get the gist of your definition. Indeed, getting to the gist of things is all you need in editorials.

That last line applies to blogs as well.

posted by Dan at 05:55 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Your interesting argument for the day

Ryan Sager argues in Real Clear Politics (and in the Atlantic Monthly) that the new battleground states will not rust belt states like Ohio, but the Mountain West and Southwest:

In fact, it's looking more and more likely that the eight states of the Southwest and the broader interior West -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- are on their way to becoming the next great swing region in American politics. As the Republican Party tilts on its South-West axis, increasingly favoring southern values (religion, morality, tradition) over western ones (freedom, independence, privacy), the Democrats have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. If the Republican Party doesn't want to lose its hold over all of the West, as it lost hold of once-reliable California more than a decade ago, its leaders are going to have to rethink their embrace of big-government, big-religion conservatism.

Why? The interior West is not the South -- not by demography and not by ideology.

Read the whole thing, and see if you're convinced. I'm only about 50% convinced -- but it's interesting.

Hat tip to Virginia Postrel for the link.

posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The State Department is really hard up

The Bush administration's foreign policy has absorbed a number of whacksfrom the commentariat as of late.

Here's more fodder: I'll be in Germany for the rest of this week as part of a State Department speaker program that brings U.S. experts overseas to speak to German expert audiences on such topics as economics, trade and global affairs.

Blogging will likely be intermittent for the rest of the week.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Discussion topic amongst yourselves: what will Iraq look like a year from now?

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Is it a good idea to podcast lectures?

That's the question being debated in this Christina Silva story in the Boston Globe:

Hoping to appeal to tech-savvy students with a shrinking attention span, more Boston-area colleges are pushing professors to go digital and record their lectures as downloadable files that student can listen to wherever, whenever....

Supporters of the idea say that podcasts help students study better, allowing baffled freshmen to fast-forward to the part of an introductory lecture they didn't understand and hit repeat. The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, for example, will try with 10 high-tech classrooms this fall.

But others question whether podcasting lectures will actually contribute to learning. Students, some professors say, might be tempted to skip class and the discussion that can flow after a lecture.

"If the purpose of what you are doing is to give them some information quickly, then podcasts are great," said Donna Qualters, director of The Center for Effective University Teaching at Northeastern University, an education resource program. ``My fear is that podcasts are going to replace the lecture. And then, of course, kids are not going to go to class, and they will miss the benefits of that."

My take: some students would use podcasts as a substitute for attending lectures, others will use it as intended. The ones who use it as a substitute probably know it's not as good as attending the lecture itself, but are willing to pay the price in terms of lower grades.

I'm curious what other professors and students think.

posted by Dan at 08:17 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 10, 2006

I think Barbara Ehrenreich needs a time out

Via Laura McKenna, I found this Barbara Ehrenreich blog post defending Katha Pollit's book from Ana Marie Cox.

Without wading into the deeper waters of feminist thought -- a swim for which I might lack the proper training -- I did find my jaw dropping as I read this passage:

Cox is not the first post-feminist to denounce paleo-feminists as sexless prudes. Ever since Andrea Dworkin -- a truly puritanical feminist -- waged war on pornography, there've been plenty of feisty women ready to defend Victoria's Secret as a beachhead of liberation. Something similar happened in the 1920s, when newly enfranchised young women blew off those frumpy old suffragists and declared their right to smoke cigarettes, wear short skirts, and dance the Charleston all night.

Maybe there's a cycle at work here: militant feminism followed by lipstick and cocktails, followed, in a generation or two, by another gust of militancy. But this time around the circumstances are vastly different. In the 1920s, women were seeing their collective fortunes advance. The Western nations were granting them suffrage; contraceptives were moving beyond the status of contraband. Contrast those happy developments to today's steadily advancing war against women's reproductive choice: the banning of abortion in South Dakota, fundamentalist pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control.

Worldwide, the situation is far grimmer, as fundamentalist Islam swallows one nation after another. Iraq, once a secular and fairly woman-friendly place by Middle Eastern standards (although Saddam had no use for actual feminists), is degenerating into a contest between misogynist factions of various sectarian stripes. Somalia, which had been reasonably secular, just fell to the Islamists, who have taken to attacking insufficiently covered women in the streets. Then there's Indonesia, where, in some regions, women lacking head scarves or sporting cosmetics now face arrests for "prostitution," and women found in public with unrelated men can be publicly whipped.

I've always liked to think that feminism is the West's secret weapon against Islamism. How can an ideology that aims to push half the human race into purdah hope to claim the moral high ground? Islamic feminists would fight Islamism, and we Western feminists would offer our sisterhood in the struggle. But while Muslim women are being stuffed into burkas, American post-feminists are trying to stuff their feet into stilettos. Who are you going to call when the morals police attack you for wearing eye shadow in Kabul or flashing some ankle in Teheran -- a wonkette?

I find it hard to believe that there is any dimension in which the situation for women -- in the U.S. and across the globe -- is gloomier today than it was in the 1920's. There might be isolated exceptions in some countries, but by any aggregate measure -- women's suffrage, employment opportunities, educational opportunities -- I cannot see how Ehrenreich's implication holds.

I dare my readers to prove my assertion wrong.

posted by Dan at 01:42 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

This seems like good news

There's not a lot of good news out there today, so let's engage in a little counter-programming before we get to it.

From the Guardian's science correspondent Ian Sample:

A British drug company is seeking permission to conduct the first human trials of an experimental vaccine against the avian flu virus.

The vaccine will target the lethal H5N1 strain of avian flu, which has spread rapidly throughout bird populations in Asia and has been brought to Europe by flocks of migrating waterfowl. The World Health Organisation has reported 97 human cases of avian flu since December 2003, with at least 53 deaths....

A vaccine against avian flu could significantly bolster efforts to limit the infection's spread if a pandemic strain emerges, by adding to government stockpiles of the anti-viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

Unlike conventional vaccines, which use weakened strains or fragments of the harmful virus, the test vaccine uses strands of DNA that can be made quickly and cheaply.

In the trial, volunteers will be vaccinated using an alternative to a needle. Instead, a handheld device will blast harmless, microscopic gold particles coated in the vaccine into the upper arm at supersonic speeds.

Tests of a DNA vaccine designed to give protection against seasonal flu were published earlier this year and showed that it offered 100% protection, based on the immune response of volunteers.

So far, the DNA vaccine against avian flu has only been tested in animals, where it has also proved successful.

"Our tests have shown that it stops the infection entirely, to the point that we can't even measure the virus in the animals afterwards," said John Beadle, chief medical officer of the Oxford-based company PowderMed.

The company's research suggests humans would need two doses of the vaccine, a prime and a boost. Calculations suggest that less than half a kilogram of DNA would be enough to offer two doses of the vaccine to everyone in Britain.

posted by Dan at 09:30 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)