Friday, October 29, 2004

Osama on the Air 

So Osama bin Laden is back on the air, finally admitting to being behind 9/11 and addressing US voters. The full translated text isn't yet available, so I may have to update this post, but that's the gist of what's being reported right now.

From early reports it appears that he has a sort of nuanced message: as far as I can tell he's trying to scare US voters without appearing to endorse either candidate.

My guess is that Kerry's camp will use this as an opportunity to point out that the Bush administration has failed to catch the guy, while the Bush campaign will claim that Osama has endorsed Kerry. Either way, I don't see this videotape having a major effect on voters. While we've had an abundance of "October Surprise" candidates, this, by my guess, is another dud.

I, for one, am no more or less scared of Al Qaeda attacks than I was before I saw the tape. You?

UPDATE: Blogger reaction, for what it's worth, is starting to pour in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main focus is on electoral politics and/or partisan finger-pointing. Far be it from me to criticize an obsession with the upcoming election; on the other hand, I wonder how much to read into the fact that no commenters seem to be frightened for their personal safety. I for one, as a new father and Lower Manhattan resident (and thus as someone with some pretty significant reasons to pay attention), am no more scared than I was before the tape was played. Anyway, on to the roundup:

Ezra from Pandagon sees the electoral effect of the OBL tape as being determined wholly by media conventional wisdom.

Daily Kos journal-keeper DHinMI thinks this is a non-event, electoral politics-wise, despite some panic among that site's commenters.

The Poor Man notes that his working hypothesis, that Bin Laden has been dead for months, appears to have been invalidated.

The Talent Show compares OBL to Cobra Commander (the second blogospheric reference to G.I. Joe that I've come across today).

Chris of Explananda wonders just how old the tape is.

INDC Journal, a conservative blog which has gone from surprisingly reasonable to surprisingly rabid in just a few short months, first sees the OBL announcement as drawn from the Kerry campaign playbook and then finds a way to link Kerry to Bin Laden via boogyman Michael Moore (look, man, we all think he's an ass: it unites America).

One of the many Volokh Conspirators hopes that Bin Laden's claim of responsibility for 9/11 will finally convince Palestinians (and, one supposes, Amiri Baraka) that it was Al Qaeda, and not the Mossad, who was to blame for the attacks.

Billmon breaks his silence to speculate that this is a very effective "October Surprise," that Bush will reap the benefits, and that OBL wants it that way. Jonathan "Head Heeb" Edelstein makes a similar comment here on the Bonassus. Follow his lead: let me know what you think.

UPDATE 2: Juan Cole has some excellent analysis, and points out just how bizarre it is that Bin Laden is adopting the quasi-Wilsonian rhetoric of the Bush administration.

I find myself slightly more convinced than I initially was that this will end up helping Bush. But my own less-than-overwhelmed reaction to the story makes me think that news junkies may be blowing the new tape's electoral effect out of proportion. I also note that for such an alleged media master, it's a bit odd that Bin Laden would choose Friday afternoon as the best time to maximize his message.

UPDATE 3: More commenters.

TalkLeft has another comment round-up and has started collecting conspiracy theories. [Note: I see no reason to believe the tape is faked.]

Joe Gandelman has a typically thorough analysis on his blog, and is assembling a link round-up. Go! Go!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Too busy to post much. This Steve Silver post has many lowbrow pleasures to offer, if that is what you seek.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Update on Shofar Man 

Unsurprisingly, the shofar-blowing Yankees fan who I addressed in this open letter failed to make an appearance last night.

On the other hand, the revelers at the Riviera Cafe, a bar down the street from my apartment which is unaccountably dominated by loud Red Sox fans, provided many other (and far more welcome) sound bites long into the early hours of this morning.

While "Let's Go Red Sox", "Who's Your Papi" and "$#@! You, A-Rod" are all wonderful songs sharing the same tune, last night's winner for lyrics to that chant were as follows:

I'm gonna barf now.
All over my shoes

Do it!

UPDATE: Bonassus reader RSPa sends a link to a Boston Herald story explaining why the Riviera is a Red Sox bar, and making me glad I didn't venture down there last night.


This just in:

Yankees suck!

Monday, October 18, 2004


Too busy to post much today, but here are some good reads:

Daniel Drezner gives some well-considered thought to arguments for and against Bush and Kerry.

Charles Kuffner explains why the Supreme Court's rejection of the DeLay Texas redistricting isn't as great as it might initially appear.

Paul from Explananda neatly sums up some arguments against Bush's economic policies.

Phil Carter finds some disturbing evidence of US military overstretch.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


I'm bustin' here.

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, one of my wife's oldest and closest friends and an all-around wonderful human being, is one of five finalists for this year's fiction National Book Award. Go out and buy a copy of Madeleine is Sleeping right now!

Who Will Win the Debate? When Will We Know? 

Alex at Detached Observer observes:
[I]t seems fairly obvious that conservative bloggers as a group have become little more than spinsters for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Right after writing the post, I did in fact go to instapundit and saw a deluge of links to bloggers all arguing that Bush had won.

Now when we all debate who won, we are arguing about a falsifiable claim. We are not discussing who had better arguments. We are discussing whose performance will help his campaign more. And we can observe the boost/drop in the polls to see who was right.

Now if you make 3 predictions in a row (Bush won, Cheney won, Bush won) and each one gets falsified by subsequent polls, don't you think it makes sense for you to reconsider the way you made those predictions?

Apparently not. The unanimous opinion among the conservative bloggers is that this was a solid win for Bush. Which explains why I find reading them no more appealing than reading the Bush Cheney official blog.
He's got a point here, no?

There's a little more to the story, though, in my opinion. Alex is, of course, basically correct in his debate-judging criterion. We ought to make a few refinements, though: The candidate who "won" the debate is ultimately he who increased his share of the vote on November 2 by the greatest amount. While it's impossible at this point (and perhaps ever) to crunch the relevant numbers to come up with good estimates of whose vote share changed and how, we do have these snap polls, particularly of undecided voters, to help us guess at who ultimately won each debate. Alex is correct: all have shown Kerry/Edwards victories (hurrah!). In fact, as you can see here and here, the electorate's initial response to last night's debate seems to have been strongly pro-Kerry.

But the lockstep Bush-praising that Instapundit and his ilk are engaged in is less an attempt at impartial judging and more an attempt at revising the conventional wisdom on the debaters' performance. It's the same motivation underlying Kos and Atrios's urging their readers to vote in huge numbers in those silly online polls just after the debates. Get a loud enough chorus of partisans saying their man won, and waverers on the sidelines can be convinced in the face of all other evidence, including their own initial opinions. It sounds stupid, but it seems to work.

I wish I understood the phenomenon better, and I'm no political psychologist, but it does happen: I've seen countless references to the fact that Al Gore was initially thought to have won his debates with GWB four years ago, yet is now remembered as having lost the election on those nights. Instapundit (and Kos) may look ridiculous now, but if their clownish antics result in helping their candidate win the election, they won't seem such asses on November 3.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Local Note 

Dear Yankees Fan on my Block Who Blows Some Kind of Shofar-Sounding Horn When the Yankees Take a Series:

Thank you for confirming all my prejudices against Yankees fans. Should the Yankees again defeat the Red Sox in the ALCS this year, I plan to rush to my roof to try to spot you so that I may direct baleful glances and muttered curses in your direction at every opportunity for the remainder of my natural life, and possibly from beyond the grave. Should the Red Sox win, my family and I extend our fondest wishes that you will go out onto the street to weep, where we hope to find you and laugh at you.

Until then, I remain

Your Unfriendly Neighbor

Experts From All Sides Agree: Bush Foreign Policy a Disaster 

Oof. "Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy," an ad hoc assemblage of over 650 international relations professors, has released an open letter slamming the Bush administration's "foreign policy":
We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. One result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy—an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation, and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest.
There are some important points to be made about this letter. First, this ain't no namby-pamby pabulum-pukin' bunch of liberals (although there are a few signatories meeting this description, perhaps). Many of the most hawkish members of the IR community are signatories, as are some of the field's most prominent names. Kenneth Waltz, founder of "neorealism" and the single most important figure in IR in the past 30 years, has signed. So has John Mearsheimer, known for aggressive, hawkish positions, including advocating a severe reduction in US trade with (and democracy-promotion efforts in) China in order to strangle that country's budding military power. So has Robert Pape, the leading expert on suicide terrorism. So has Jessica Stern, who literally wrote the book on Al Qaeda. The list goes on.

Second, let me offer some (fairly weak) caveats about claiming the letter indicates monolithic IR-scholar opposition to the Bush administration. There are some conspicuously-absent names. Many of the most prominent signatories also signed this earlier open letter (including the legendary Thomas Schelling, who appears not to have signed the SSSFP document), so perhaps the new letter isn't all that surprising. And the footnote-per-paragraph style of the letter probably won't help convince readers that this letter comes from hard-headed analysts rather than tweedy absent-minded ivory tower dwellers.

But after attending seminars and panel discussions with IR scholars from across the political spectrum, after hearing from analysts ranging from reflexive anti-military types to those who see themselves as hard-headed hawks, I can say that there are only a very few security experts who think the Bush administration's foreign policy has been anything but a botched, poorly-thought-out, truly pathetic misadventure. Hopefully the media will report this without pretending that academic opinion, even from hawkish, conservative, Republican-voting security scholars (of whom there are more than a few) is more-or-less balanced: trust me folks, it ain't.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate II 

OK, due to a fit of irrational exuberance after watching David Ortiz's walk-off home run, I decided to watch some of the debate. As I've said before, I don't believe that scoring the debate on the merits or on my (admittedly partisan) opinion of the candidates' style is a realistic way of judging the winner of the debate, or of estimating how voters will be swayed by their relative performance.

That being said, here are some quick impressions:

* The President invoked the Dred Scott decision? I guess it was the only one he could think of. Truly bizarre.

* Some of the President's verbal tics remind me of no one so much as David Brent from The Office, particularly when he smiles, nods, and says a questionably-relevant one-buzzword sentence like "morality" or "strength."

* Everybody's going to be talking about Kerry's poorly-explained reference to GWB's "timber company", and Bush's equally weird response. Bizarre.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Proud to Be from Oklahoma, But Sometimes... 

My home state of Oklahoma made the news twice today. First, the state government agency charged with promoting Oklahoma has proven itself inept:
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (Reuters) -- Oklahoma tourism officials have recalled about 200,000 brochures with images of activities that may have seemed uninviting to some travelers, such as cow manure tossing and re-enacting Confederate battles, officials said Wednesday.

The pamphlet, called 2005 Annual Events Guide, featured events and activities throughout Oklahoma. It was also riddled with spelling, grammatical and factual mistakes.

"We discovered the material in the event guide was culturally insensitive and contained errors," said state tourism director Rob Gray.
Look, I grew up there, and while we certainly spent most of our time throwing around excrement and saying "uh...do whaaahhtt?" once in a big while we'd do something more appealing to tourists, like watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky or something. Surely the state tourism bureau could have found some pictures of that.

Now from the ridiculous to the absolutely appalling: while the state government was busy living up to stereotypes of public sector incompetence and Oklahoman yokeldom, the national Republican Party was finding ways to pander to the racists they bank on for electoral support. The NRSC has produced a new ad attacking Oklahoma's Democratic candidate for Senator, Rep. Brad Carson, for his stance on immigration policy. The ad bears more than a passing resemblance to the infamous "White Hands" Jesse Helms ad from 1990, and the national Democratic party is trying to draw attention to this nasty little tactic. If you're as disgusted by the commercial as I am, head on over to Brad Carson's website and supply some countervailing resources.

As bad as all this might make the state look, at least it's not Texas, further proof of which will be found this Saturday when the University of Oklahoma soundly defeats the University of Texas. Patrick at Ducks and Drakes is sounding the drumbeat...

UPDATE: Take three elements from the above post {aspects of Oklahoma culture that outsiders may find unattractive, Brad Carson's Senatorial campaign, and OU football}, and mix gently. The result: Former OU football coach Barry Switzer, a folk hero in the Sooner State despite an occasional ethical misstep, is now appearing in TV ads praising Carson as a bona fide conservative and "the only candidate in this race who we can trust to fight for Oklahoma." This is a massive coup for the Carson campaign: short of a televised message from Jesus himself, I can't imagine a more powerful endorser than Switzer. Seriously.

Incidentally, Switzer is often cited as the coiner of the jape about "being born on third base and thinking he hit a triple." He wasn't referring to a member of the Bush family, but I believe he's the original source of the phrase. Also, perhaps surprisingly, Switzer has done a lot of campaigning for Democrats during this election cycle, publicly endorsing John Edwards during the primary season. I'm not overly happy about the fact that sports figures are accorded such respect by Oklahoma voters (it got Steve Largent elected to Congress, after all), but given that it's a fact, I'm happy to see Switzer moving the ball for the Democrats.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Race for the Pole 

As regular readers of this site are well aware, conflict is brewing up north. I've ridiculed Canada-Denmark tensions over uninhabited Hans Island on numerous occasions, but there are two deadly serious stories underlying this saga.

First, as reported today by the BBC, Denmark has announced that it is making a concerted effort to strengthen its claims to the North Pole for the explicit purpose of developing oil and natural gas fields.
Danish scientists hope to prove through hi-tech measurements that Greenland's continental socket is attached to a huge ridge beneath the floating Arctic ice, the Associated Press reports.

The country has allocated 150 million kroner ($25m) for the project on the Lomonosov Ridge and four other potential claim areas around Greenland, reports say.

Science Minister Helge Sander said last week that success would give Denmark access to "new resources such as oil and natural gas".

The Danish bid also rests on a UN convention that allows coastal nations to claim rights to offshore seabed resources.

Countries that ratify it have 10 years to prove they have a fair claim to the offshore territory and its resources.

"First, we have to make the scientific claim. After that, there will be a political process with the other countries," science ministry official Thorkild Meedom said.

But experts have warned that it could take years to sort out the overlapping potential claims in the Arctic.

Canada and Russia are making similar investigations around the North Pole, the Associated Press reports.
I'll have more on the Danish initiative within the next week.

The second story, which I've alluded to a few times before, is Canada's difficulty in making an effective claim to its northern reaches. Today's submarine accident involving a Canadian vessel, which I hope is resolved without loss of life, is another sign of Canada's military weakness. As long as Denmark is relying on treaties to back up its territorial claims, this isn't an issue. But Denmark's maneuvers around Hans Island do appear to be an indicator that it is willing to mobilize other resources to back up its territorial rights.

Canada's sparse population and poor power-projection capability have left it in a very odd position vis-a-vis its northern hinterlands. The inhospitable climate and low-enough energy prices have so far kept oil-seeking marauders away (unless one counts the occasional US icebreaker or great power submarine), but this situation may no longer hold. I'm unaware of recent analagous situations where a wealthy, highly-developed country faces pressure to defend its boundaries against treaty partners. I'm also unaware of studies focusing on one of the relevant pieces of the story: Canada's sparse northern population. The only book I know of making use of poor central control over hinterlands as an explanatory variable is Jeffrey Herbst's superbStates and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (2000). Do Bonassusites have any ideas for books I should be reading?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Debate I 

I've gotten a number of e-mails asking me my thoughts about the first presidential debate. I actually didn't watch it. But that won't stop me from commenting on it. 'Cause the debate itself is meaningless. It's the conventional wisdom about who won the debate that actually matters, electorally. And of course, the debate has absolutely no importance when it comes to actual policymaking, now or in the future.

The conventional wisdom, at this early date (three days after the debate), appears to be that John Kerry won handily. But the debate is still occurring, or rather its importance is still being determined. As far as I can tell, the dominant impression that the debate engendered was that Bush looked unprepared, foolish, and tired. I'm not sure this is the best of all possible worlds for the Kerry campaign, but it'll have to do.

In order to do my part to help spread the "Bush is incompetent" meme (which, oddly, still needs doing), I hereby present this link to a video of Bush's debate performance, which shows him repeatedly failing to make a coherent point and looking anything but presidential. I urge all my rabidly-partisan readers to e-mail it around as widely as they can.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mt. St. Helens 

Now Mt. St. Helens is erupting. This is the 5th natural disaster to befall a swing state in the past few weeks (the first four were hurricanes hitting Florida, for those of you who were asleep). Is this evidence that Halliburton is bidding to take over the Red Cross, or that John Kerry will flip-flop on FEMA funding? Discuss.

(Who the hell was St. Helens, you ask?

Mount St. Helens was named by explorer George Vancouver to honor his friend, Alleyne Fitzherbert. Apparently "Mount Fitzherbert" sounded stupid to Vancouver, so he chose to go with his friend's title, Baron St. Helens, instead. As far as I can tell, the title comes from the English borough of St. Helens, itself being named for a church found there which is dedicated to Saint Helen. Either the apostrophe was lost at some point(probably by the Baron or some other dumbass aristocrat) or the church's founders wanted to honor the many St. Helens described on this page in equal measure.

I hope this teaches you to ask questions.

Also, this information is based on no more than 4.5 minutes of Googling, and is therefore likely incorrect in at least two ways).

Register to Vote: Deadlines Start Tomorrow 

I didn't watch the damn debate. So I have nothing to say on the matter.

I do have this to say, though: if you're eligible to vote in the US and you haven't yet registered, you're running out of time. In many states the registration window closes this weekend.

Don't know whether you're legally eligible? Don't know what your state's deadline is? Don't know where to go to register? Registered but not sure where to vote? Check this site for all the info you need.

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