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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Democrats and Foreign Policy 

David Adesnik remarks that he can't find a unifying ideal in the foreign policy message emanating from the Democratic convention:
If you look at the speeches given by the Democrats' three most experienced foreign policymakers -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter -- you won't find any common message about how America's interests and ideals should shape its foreign policy.

Yes, America should establish better relationships with its allies. But to what end? What is it that America stands for?
I'm not sure I see Adesnik's point: why should we care? There seems to be very broad unanimity across the parties and across the electorate on "what America stands for": democracy, human rights, the other usual suspects. Same thing for interests (security, prosperity). I think most people take these questions as read.

If Adesnik is wishing for a way to distinguish the two parties, I'd say (quite unoriginally) that the primary difference between them is on means (multilateralism vs. unilateralism, "trade only"-agreements vs. labor/environment annexes, maybe even pre-emption vs. containment). These are pretty dramatic differences, actually, and I think that on the first and last of them there's pretty strong unity within the Democratic party. If Adesnik insists that there be a strong unified message on ends, there are some secondary ends/ideals associated with the question of means which I think the convention speakers have at least alluded to (maximizing fear of the US vs. maximizing respect for the US, reaching negotiated solutions on transnational issues vs. holding out for the perfect deal).

Matthew Yglesias has a different response to Adesnik's observation: "yeah, what else would you expect?"
Outside of a very small community of foreign policy specialists, neither Americans nor American politicians have any real views on these issues except for an ability to identify the views of politicians they admire. It's no coincidence that Andrew Sullivan soured on Bush's conduct in Iraq after Bush endorsed the FMA -- suddenly he didn't seem like a leader worth following, "toughness" stopped being so important, and it became time for a break from the frenetic activity of the Bush years.

Unless you're in the grips of an extraordinarily rigid ideology (like this hyper-dogmatic view Mark Kleiman attributes to all libertarians) then there's not going to be any especially clear connection between your domestic policy views and your foreign policy views. America's parties, meanwhile, are interest group coalitions and the interests in question are overwhelmingly interested in domestic questions. So people sign up for the coalition they're most comfortable with and find themselves agreeing not at all about foreign policy questions except for the fact that you should (a) support the troops, and (b) call whatever it is you happen to be doing an effort to spread freedom/democracy/goodness through the world.
Yglesias doesn't bother to back up his assertion with any data. The only book I've read on the subject (Ole Holsti's 1996 "Public Opinion & American Foreign Policy") actually demonstrates a very strong historical correlation, particularly since the Vietnam War, between party identification/ideology and opinions on foreign policy topics like military funding, use of force, foreign aid, or image of adversaries, at least among the general public. Holsti also found that the splits could be expressed well in terms of general policy approaches, the sorts of "means" I refer to above. The big exception to the rule is trade: attitudes toward domestic politics go some way to explaining peoples' opinions on this issue, but party identification isn't a particularly good guide to predicting people's opinions.

A devoted Yglesias acolyte might argue that this is unsurprising: when pressed, voters will agree with the foreign policies of the guys in power if they belong to the same party, and will disagree with them if they belong to the opposing party. Maybe this account is correct: on the other hand, Holsti's book (if I recall correctly) shows that the foreign policy approaches favored by each party's voters tended to be pretty persistant over time.

Perhaps this discussion has missed the point: Adesnik, and (I think) Yglesias are probably more interested in the preferences of policy leaders, rather than the general public. There have obviously been massive policy differences in recent years between foreign policy entrepreneurs within both parties (Rumsfeld vs. Powell, Holbrooke vs. Albright). Holsti documented similar infighting in previous eras as well, but suggested that internal differences between the foreign policy leadership of each party were smaller than those across party lines.

My point? Don't expect unanimity on foreign policy, but let's not pretend that there isn't some readily identifiable daylight between the two parties on foreign policy.

Except on trade. More on that soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Wisdom from Taxi Drivers 

Kevin Drum has a round-up of "last refuge of a scoundrel" journalism (otherwise known as asking the cabdriver for his opinion) on the DNC.

I myself got into a taxi today, and had this conversation:
ME: Hi. I'm going to (LOCATION REDACTED).

DRIVER: You like Kerry, huh?

ME: Wha? Are you talking to me?

DRIVER: No. I know. I know.

ME: Did you ask me if I like Kerry?

DRIVER: Hold on... Sir, I'm talking on my cell phone.
There you have it, folks. The death knell of this form of shoddy journalism: the cell phone.

[NOTE: Preceding anecdote may not have occurred.]

Conspiracy Theorists as Conspirators? 

I am second to no one (NO ONE!) in the "sneering at protests and protestors" category. But even I find this report (from the NY Daily News) ludicrous:
Fearing a plot by rabble-rousers to overwhelm city emergency rooms, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is planning an unprecedented deployment of NYPD-employed physicians for triage duties outside Madison Square Garden, the Daily News has learned.

The doctors will assist Fire Department medics in performing battlefield evaluations of prisoners who are claiming illness or injury to determine whether they need medical attention or are fakers, sources said.
I've met some really, really stupid protestors in my day. I've seen all the reports on the guys who use WTO ministerial meetings as a way to smash windows and vandalize fast-food restaurants. And I'm quite willing to believe that there will be some organized attempts to slow down or stop city services during the GOP convention.

But I can't picture a bunch of Greenpeace types (or even the "God hates fags" contingent) twirling their moustaches (or beards) and gleefully plotting to shut down hospitals.

Also, there's this tidbit further down in the article:
The medical corps will comprise about 30 full-time police surgeons who treat injured and sick cops, and more than 100 doctors designated "honorary" police surgeons by the NYPD.

"Anything the chief surgeon asks us to do, we will do it," Dr. Ira Rothfeld, president of the Society of Honorary Police Surgeons of the City of New York, said yesterday.
There's a Society of Honorary Police Surgeons? I wonder if there's a Phi Beta Kappa for holders of honorary doctorates, or if there are "Key-to-the-City" key-club parties.

Atrocities in Darfur 

Last month I posted notes on a talk Nicholas Kristof gave on the situation in Sudan/Darfur. Here's Kristof on the media's inattention to the ongoing crisis:
Kristof asserted that since most of the deaths are expected to come from famine and disease, Darfur just isn't as immediately compelling as, say, Bosnia or Rwanda. His words were something like "when people are being killed with machetes, that gets attention more than when it's hunger or diarrhea." Once again, it's hardly an excuse, but this factor probably does have something to do with the media's lack of attention to the crisis.
Maybe the media will start paying more attention now:
Sudanese militias have burned civilians alive in the Darfur region, say African Union military observers.

Men rode into a village on horseback, looted the market and chained people up before setting them on fire, they say.

They are "believed to be Janjaweed" - the pro-government militias accused of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs.

[Source: BBC]
It's worth noting that the reports are coming from African Union military observers, whose political bosses have to date been very reluctant to criticize the Sudanese government or its Janjaweed allies.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Recolonization of the Pacific? 

The Head Heeb notes a rather amazing development in Nauru:
Nauru's new Finance Secretary is an Australian. Peter Depta, an Australian treasury official, took office today, just days after the Nauru parliament passed legisiation (sic) allowing foreigners to hold cabinet-level offices. He will head a team of Australian technocrats who will effectively take over Nauru's finances under an agreement between Nauruan President Ludwig Scotty and the Australian foreign ministry.

Depta's appointment arguably represents a new step in the recolonization of the Pacific. Pacific Island nations have frequently recruited foreign judges and civil-service technocrats, but cabinet-level positions have been almost entirely reserved for citizens... There have been exceptions; in Micronesia, the Secretary of Justice has historically been American (and has even been advertised for in an American legal job bank), and Palau's Justice Minister Michael Rosenthal is likewise an American citizen.

Even these, however, don't compare to Nauru. Both Palau and Micronesia follow the American rather than the Westminster model of government; cabinet officials aren't constitutionally required to be legislators and are essentially viewed as high-level civil servants. Nauru is a Westminster state - and, until last week, its constitution required ministers to be members of Parliament. Even more to the point, Palau and Micronesia appointed foreign nationals through free choice, while Depta's appointment to the Nauru government was imposed.

The takeover of Nauru's finance is also consistent with right-wing Australian think-tanks' increasing promotion of a greater role for Australia in Pacific governments in order to prevent them from squandering aid money. Nauru's current financial crisis, which has brought the once-rich nation to the verge of bankruptcy, has served as a wedge for Australia to take unprecedented financial control. Depending on the results of Depta's tenure as Finance Secretary, Australia may follow up by trying to take control of the purse strings in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and other countries in its historic sphere of influence.
It's just as tough to understand why the Australians would ask to have one of their own citizens installed as a minister as it is to understand why Nauru would accept Australia's demand. Why not just insist on the appointment of your guy as the senior public servant? If you're worried that your guy's advice will be dismissed by the Finance Minister, why not give him personal authority over aid flows? Either way, Australia ensures that its favored policies are enacted and that its technocrats have the kind of insider access they need to choose and implement their policy strategies.

It's particularly confusing given that, as Jonathan noted, the new Minister will not be a Member of Parliament, and thus cannot take part in government and caucus meetings, or participate in a vote of no confidence. Presumably the Prime Minister retains the option of dismissing members of his cabinet; furthermore, if the government falls to a no-confidence vote or in an election, the Australians' golden boy presumably goes with it. This is a real possibility in Nauru's highly-volatile political atmosphere, as you can read about here.

At first glance, then, if this is recolonization it's striking how far the Australians have gone to ensure that the process is subject to democratic accountability with the Nauruans. Unless I'm missing something, and I almost certainly am, there are policy-imposition means much less susceptible to political risk than the one the Australians have opted for here.

Baby Namin' 

Charles Kuffner, Texas blogger extraordinaire and father of a 6-week-old daughter, is feeling namer's remorse:
We picked the name Olivia partly because we liked how it sounded, partly because we didn't know any other Olivias, and partly because it wasn't an excessively popular name. It turns out we were wrong about that last reason - "Olivia" was #10 on the list of popular baby names for girls in 2002, and has climbed steadily in popularity since 1990. It's even more popular now. When we read the SSA press release which announced that "Olivia" was the #5 most popular girl's name for 2003, we cringed but consoled ourselves that at least we didn't know any other Olivias.

Tonight we attended an orientation for the day care center where Olivia will stay when Tiffany goes back to work in September. All the other parents there had infants, and two of them had Olivias. That was the only repeat name among the incoming children. sigh

Oh, well. At least we still like the way it sounds.
I'm the father of an almost-5-month-old daughter named Lucy (whose webpage needs a serious update). When we were trying to decide on a name, we looked at all those SSA lists and matched our name candidates to see how they ranked. We were hoping to find a name that wasn't really really common but wasn't weird, either. Olivia, which was definitely on our list as well, got knocked out of contention by that process.

But now that I think about it a little more, with the exception of "Jennifer," which was far and away the most common name for kids in my age group (I'm 31 now), there was absolutely nothing wrong, and many things right, about growing up with a name shared with a classmate. I myself was one of three Daniels at my elementary school, which doesn't sound so impressive until you realize that there were only about 20 kids in the only Jewish day school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Those other Daniels were instant friends and allies.

Olivia is a great name. One of my favorite couples in the world just named their newborn daughter Olivia, and whether or not Olivia is the new "Jennifer" (I'm guessing it's more like the new "Sarah", with one or two per classroom rather than 4 or 5) I think they made a good choice.

Monday, July 26, 2004

When Table Legs are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have...Chairs? 

Crime in New York City is definitely getting milder when this makes the headlines:
Priest Hit With Table Leg In The Bronx
Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining. I'd rather worry about table-leg-wielding assailants than worry about getting shot.

Worst... Post...Ever... 

According to everybody in the universe, including the BBC, a large number (70,000 - 300,000) of right-wing Israelis joined hands across the Gaza Strip yesterday to protest the Sharon government's plan to unilaterally withdraw from that contested territory.

Will it work? Did "Hands Across America" work? Do the "Hands Across Gaza" people have a theme song like the one for "Hands Across America?"

I'd love to tell you, but Google seems to be broken. And on the day they announce their IPO, too. Hmmm.....

Unfutz on Protests 

Ed Fitzgerald and his friend Roger have a long, interesting post up on the efficacy of protests as a strategy and the (self-defeating) tactics of the protest culture. Worth your time.

UPDATE: The link is broken while Ed does some editing.

UPDATE: The link is fixed. I haven't read the edited version, but I assume it's even better than before.

Does Safire Get Fact-Checked? 

From today's William Safire NY Times column:
Unaccountably, the only Democratic group left out in the cold by the Shrumbums (the affectionate sobriquet that Toots Shor would have applied to acolytes of Kerry's eloquence grise, Robert Shrum) is the tree-hugging set. Can you imagine a Democratic platform document without a single mention of global warming?

I'm told that there was quite a struggle over that litmus-test phrase, but the smokestack set won out. That hands Ralph Nader an opening to exploit here in Boston. He will surely find the pragma-greens angry at him for being the skunk at the garden party and will use global warming to embarrass them, which is precisely what he needs to stir up a modicum of news-making controversy in this frozen sea of tranquillity.
From the 2004 Democratic platform:
[E]ven though overwhelming scientific evidence shows that global climate
change is a scientific fact, this administration has rewritten government reports to hide that fact...climate change is a major international challenge that requires global leadership from the United States, not abdication.
Okay, so the word "warming" isn't used. Has word usage-maven Safire not noticed the trend toward referring to the problem as "global climate change?" Is there anyone fact-checking Safire, or can he just make stuff up?

Kerry at Fenway 

Oof. Not so good. Hopefully John Kerry's interview on ESPN during last night's Red Sox-Yankees game was a warm-up, not an indicator of things to come. He looked like he was afraid, and wasn't able to express a strong opinion on whether or not Roger Clemens should go to the Hall of Fame as a Red Sox player or not. Even if he's trying hard not to antagonize anyone, where on earth is the Clemens-loving Red Sox Nation demographic? Unless Roger Rocket ends up back on the Sox this year (EXTREMELY unlikely), he'll likely remain a hated traitor in the minds of most Sox fans. And nobody else (except Roger) cares.

At least the opposition doesn't seem up to speed yet, either. Note this very lame (and nonsensical) sound bite in today's NY Times:
Mr. Kerry was showered with both cheers and boos as he strode to the mound, where he tossed the first pitch toward Will Pumyea, 23, a Massachusetts National Guard veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who wore fatigues. The ball bounced in front of the catcher.

"It's like his foreign policy," said Larry Restiano, who was at the game. "It hit the ground before it even reached home." Mr. Restiano and his wife, Debbie, were among those booing Mr. Kerry loudly.
Yes, that's just like his foreign policy. Similarly, his face is very long, just like his stance on issuing executive orders. Furthermore, he often sounds self-consciously stentorian, just like his track record on Medicare reform.

C'mon, guys: let's kick it up a notch, huh?

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Leon None Litwin and the NO PLATE Guy 

Supposedly, when my great uncle Leon joined the military, he was stumped by some of the paperwork. He had no middle name, so where the forms asked for his middle name, he wrote "none." You can imagine what happened.

I don't know if the "Leon None Litwin" story is true. But it ought to be.

Here, courtesy of the absolutely essential snopes.com (and Metafilter) is a story that is definitely true:
In 1979 a Los Angeles man named Robert Barbour ... sent an application to the California Department of Motor Vehicles requesting personalized license plates for his car. The DMV form asked applicants to list three choices in case one or two of their desired selections had already been assigned. Barbour, a sailing enthusiast, wrote down "SAILING" and "BOATING" as his first two choices; when he couldn't think of a third option, he wrote "NO PLATE," meaning that if neither of his two choices was available, he did not want personalized plates. Plates reading "BOATING" and "SAILING" had indeed already been assigned, so the DMV, following Barbour's instructions literally, sent him license plates reading "NO PLATE." Barbour was not thrilled that the DMV had misunderstood his intent, but he opted to keep the plates because of their uniqueness.

Four weeks later he received his first notice for an overdue parking fine, from faraway San Francisco, and within days he began receiving dozens of overdue notices from all over the state on a daily basis. Why? Because when law enforcement officers ticketed illegally parked cars that bore no license plates, they had been writing "NO PLATE" in the license plate field...Barbour received about 2,500 notices over the next several months...

A couple of years later, the DMV finally caught on and sent a notice to law enforcement agencies requesting that they use the word NONE rather than NO PLATE to indicate a cited vehicle was missing its plates. This change slowed the flow of overdue notices Barbour received to a trickle, about five or six a month, but it also had an unintended side effect: Officers sometimes wrote MISSING instead of NONE to indicate cars with missing license plates, and suddenly a man named Andrew Burg in Marina del Rey started receiving parking tickets from places he hadn't visited either. Burg, of course, was the owner of a car with personalized plates reading "MISSING."
Nonetheless, some motorists still choose personalized plates destined to land them in similar trouble. Jim Cara of Elsmere, Delaware, found that out the hard way when he selected the phrase "NOTAG" for the license of his Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle in 2004.


UPDATE: I now have confirmation that my Great Uncle's legal name is, in fact, Leon None Litwin. Excellent.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Is Genocide the Right Word? 

Given all the hemming and hawing over whether or not the ongoing situation in Darfur/Sudan is "genocide," it's particularly shocking to see the term applied to a case where 11 people died [NY Times]:
A special prosecutor has requested the arrest of former President Luis Echeverria and other senior officials accused of genocide for allegedly ordering the killing of student demonstrators in 1971, Echeverria's attorney said Friday...

In the June 10, 1971, attack, a government-organized group attacked student protesters, and 11 people died.
Look: I'm sure that a number of Mexican leaders did some pretty terrible things during the "dirty wars" and at other times. Perhaps these crimes even amounted to genocide. So I'm glad that someone is finally holding former PRI leaders accountable. And I don't know the first thing about the Mexican legal system or its terminology.

But calling a single police/protestor incident "genocide," even if this incident was horrible and caused 11 deaths, is worse than ridiculous. It introduces an air of hysteria into the prosecutor's case, devaluing the point he hopes to make. And of course it devalues the term "genocide" itself.

There's another bizarre angle to this story:
Velazquez also noted that under Mexican law in effect at the time, the crime of genocide had a 30-year statute of limitations that he said expired on June 10, 2001.
A statute of limitations on genocide???!! What possible function could that serve? Maybe those PRI lawmakers were just covering their asses, thinking it necessary to pass an anti-genocide law but also feeling it might be important to limit future prosecutions where they could be held accountable. Seems a bit too prescient, though.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Travel Day 

When I was 18, I thought I would never write the following sentence:

Tomorrow my wife and I will pack up the (ack!) rented minivan, put the baby in her carseat and somehow herd the cat into the back.

It's going to be a long day on the road, and I will not post until at least Thursday afternoon.

In the meantime, those of you looking for something to waste your time with may wish to look at this website and decide whether or not the author is kidding.

Tim Boucher, Occult Investigator



Not This Again 

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag burning, as this Washington Post article reports, meaning that full Senate consideration is coming up in the near future.

I had thought that most of the steam had gone out of the anti-flag-burning movement, but apparently I was wrong:
Proponents are hopeful a new wave of patriotism in response to the war in Iraq will help squeeze out needed votes, but foes say they are guardedly hopeful they can again block it.

In the past 15 years, a flag amendment has repeatedly sailed through the 435-member House only to fall a short in the 100-member Senate, including by four votes in 2000.

"It's desperately close," said Terri Ann Schroeder of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the proposal. "But I'm fairly confident we're going to prevail. We'll win."

The proposed measure would specifically amend the Constitution to permit Congress to pass a law to protect the flag from desecration.

For a proposed constitutional amendment to become law it must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives and then ratified by 38 of the 50 states.
Who even burns flags anymore? It wouldn't exactly be shocking these days, precisely because it's not a new image. On the other hand, I'd bet big money that adoption of the amendment would cause flag-burning to become a bigger trend than the Rubik's Cube and Furby put together.

While I think that cluttering the constitution with an anti-free-speech amendment like the one being considered would be stupid, embarrassing, and ultimately foolish, I'm less convinced than I once was that such a move would be the first step in the repeal of the Bill of Rights. My guess is that the assault on the first amendment would just kind of sputter once the flag could no longer serve as fuel.

Mostly, though, I'm just depressed that the leaders of the Senate (including, apparently, Diane Feinstein) think that there aren't more pressing issues to deal with.

Biblical Prophecy and the Third Party Dilemma 

It's a problem every minor party entering US politics faces: convincing Joe Voter that supporting a non-mainstream presidential candidate isn't simply throwing away a perfectly good vote. When potential supporters start making noises about how, say, voting for Nader is equivalent to voting for George Bush, making a convincing argument gets even harder.

One argument that Greens used in the 2000 election (generally described as "Leninist") was that it was okay to throw the election to the Republicans, because things would get so much worse under a Bush administration that a mythical leftist majority would finally appear, organize under the Green banner, and throw off the yoke of Republican/Democrat centrist hegemony.

The Greens aren't the only party to adopt this logic. The hyper-right-wing Constitution Party has posted a document explaining why a vote for their candidate, Michael Paroutka, is better than a vote for that UN-loving, gay-friendly George W. Bush. It's an interesting piece of literature, not least because the arguments so closely echo those of Greenies, while espousing policies that would send Green voters away screaming. The Constitution Party takes a more millenarian (and thus more accurate described as "Leninist") approach to the "wasted vote" question, though:
The Bible says one-world government is coming anyway. You can’t stop it. So why bother?

Well, let’s just throw up our hands and give up, then. Don’t go to the polls. Don’t get involved. Don’t bother living for God, either. That way, we can hasten the inevitable and be all the sooner on our way out of here.

Really, that’s a very poor attitude. Is that what our Founders fought to give us? The Founders had the same Bible with the same prophecies in it, yet, they found cause enough to stand for their liberties and fight for them, some of them even dying for them. Where has the spirit of the American revolution gone?

If the excuse not to help the CP and not to vote for Peroutka is that one-world government is unstoppable, then don’t vote for Bush, either. Vote for Kerry so it will come all the faster.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Easter Island's Got Nothin' On Us 

The Washington Post reports today on the opening of President's Park at Water Country USA, a new attraction in Virginia featuring 7,000 pound, 20-foot high busts of the 42 men who have served as US President. Apparently the sculptor (creator of the 76-foot high statue of Sam Houston in Huntville, TX) has foolishly chosen to not cast two separate Grover Cleveland heads. Readers are invited to e-mail the park to protest this nonsensical decision. In the park's defense, the heads seem to be visible from the "Hubba Hubba Highway" attraction, which strikes me as important.

In keeping with this important news, I'd like to remind Bonassus readers to cross their fingers and hope that Lincoln, Illinois decides to go through with plans to build the 30-story statue of Abraham Lincoln which I described here. The Washington Post updated the story in May, but I think we need to keep up the drumbeat and am pursuing a lead. I'll keep you informed of my progress. [I will report later with updates on my hometown Tulsa's plans to erect a colossal, hideous statue as well.]

All of this makes me wonder: Do other democratic countries have giant statues of elected leaders, too? There are apparently plans to build a 180-ft statue of Nelson Mandela in South Africa (much to Mandela's chagrin). Canada has a giant viking, and I suppose if you squint hard enough he resembles Pierre Trudeau, but as far as I know (which is a very short distance, indeed) there are no 100-foot high statues of de Gaulle, Nehru, Ben Gurion, or other similarly exalted figures in their home countries, let alone colossal busts of other democracies' equivalents to Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur and Gerald Ford.

Readers: Let me know if I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Here are some pictures of the Heads before they were shipped from Texas to Virginia, courtesy of Off the Kuff.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Which Commandment Is It? 

After taking Slate's insipid Red State/Blue State test, Charles Kuffner notes:
Now, as a good Catholic boy, I know darn well that the Eighth Commandment prohibits bearing false witness against one's neighbor. As that wasn't a choice - which it should have been, with a +10 Blue value - I guessed to pick stealing, which is the Seventh Commandment where I come from. That was a big fat +10 Red, which perhaps skewed my overall result a tad. C'est la vie, as they say around here.
Why the confusion? Surprisingly, Jews, Protestants and Catholics, while agreeing that there are indeed 10 Commandments, and on the block of text which contains these commandments, disagree on how to divide the text to come up with ten.

For the details, check out this useful site.

NZ/Israel Dust-Up 

[Cross-Posted at The Head Heeb]

Is the Pax Americana wearing thin? First we had the Canada-Denmark
"Hans Island Foofaraw."

Now (in a peculiar synergy of the Head Heeb's interests) New Zealand and Israel are going at it. From the Guardian:
The prime minister of New Zealand angrily denounced Israel and imposed diplomatic sanctions on it after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for trying on false grounds to obtain a New Zealand passport.

The plot, which involved obtaining a passport in the name of a tetraplegic man who had not spoken in years, provoked a furious reaction yesterday.

"The breach of New Zealand laws and sovereignty by agents of the Israeli government has seriously strained our relationship with Israel," said the prime minister, Helen Clark.

"This type of behaviour is unacceptable internationally by any country. It is a sorry indictment of Israel that it has again taken such actions against a country with which it has friendly relations."

High-level visits between the two countries will be cancelled, visa restrictions imposed for Israeli officials, and an expected visit to New Zealand by Moshe Katsov, the Israeli president, later this year has been cancelled.

Ms Clark said Israel had ignored requests made three months ago for an explanation and an apology.

The action marks the most serious rupture in New Zealand's international relations since Wellington suspended diplomatic relations with France in 1985 after French agents bombed Greenpeace's anti-nuclear ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.

PM Clark has a theory as to the underlying motive of the alleged Mossad agents:
"I can't comment on what they might have done but I can point to the precedent when the Canadian passport system was penetrated and agents involved in an assassination attempt in another country were using those false passports," says Clark.

She says it is "entirely a possibility" that the same scenario could be applied to the New Zealand case.

Clark is generally more circumspect than these intemperate comments might lead you to believe; she got in trouble a year or so ago for some poorly-thought-out criticisms of George Bush, but she's generally pretty perceptive and fair-minded. I'm not certain why she (and her government) have gotten quite so worked up about this particular incident. I'm sure commenters will help me figure it out.

The BBC reports that local troublemakers have taken this opportunity to bash Jewish graves:
Jewish graves at a cemetery in Wellington have been vandalised. Swastikas and Nazi slogans were gouged into and around 16 Jewish graves.

The head of the country's small Jewish community, David Zwartz, said he thought the attack was directly linked to the government's criticism of Israel.

"I think there is a direct connection between the very strong expressions against Israel and people here feeling they can take it out on Jews," Mr Zwartz said.
"It seems to me Israel-bashing one day, Jew-bashing the next day."

The Jerusalem Post has more reaction from New Zealand's Jewish community. The New Zealand Herald has the government's response.

I'm fairly certain that all of this will eventually blow over. My intuition is that what seems like fairly widespread pro-Palestinian sentiment among Kiwis is incredibly unlikely to lead to acceptance of anti-Jewish thuggery.

Wellington's Jewish community is tiny and very low profile in comparison to those of American cities of a similar size. And during the 6 months I spent in Wellington last year, I was often astonished at the unusually bitter and virulent anti-American and anti-Zionist sentiment I sometimes encountered, especially given Kiwis' reputations as mild and fair-minded.

That being said, Wellington is hardly a hotbed of anti-semitism, nor is the country's leadership anti-semitic (indeed, as covered by Jonathan Edelstein, New Zealand has recently sought out Jewish immigration). Helen Clark is no Zionist, to be sure, but neither is she likely to ignore any systematic outbreak of violence against Jewish New Zealanders.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Are Lobsters Fish? A Question of National Security 

The Department of Homeland security is hard at work protecting Americans from the threat of mid-sized Canadian boats. From the Bangor Daily News:
Colby Drisko's boats haul bait to Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Isle au Haut and Matinicus and return with loads of lobster, some 1.3 million pounds last year.

Not this year.

Instead, the wholesaler is fighting a legal war of words over whether he has been "transporting cargo" or working "fisheries."

U.S. officials received a tip that the Lincolnville man uses Canadian-built boats, allegedly a violation of a landmark federal law known as the Jones Act provided the boats are transporting cargo.

So Drisko and his 15 employees are out of work because the Coast Guard has been told to impound Drisko's watercraft if they are found shipping lobster to the markets he serves in Boston and New York.

As a federal official involved in the case says: "The Jones Act says that a foreign-hulled vessel cannot engage in coastwise trade. Is hauling lobster that somebody else caught 'fisheries,' or is it 'cargo'? That's the question."
The Jones Act is a 1920 piece of protectionist legislation, technically known as a cabotage law, which serves to protect US shipbuilders, shipping crews and ship owners from foreign competition. As you might expect, it also serves to drive up costs elsewhere in the economy. Now, apparently, it's also serving to focus the attentions of the Department of Homeland Security on the truly important questions.

Surprisingly, in this age of trade liberalization, cabotage laws are common across the advanced democracies. Attempts to reform cabotage laws have been made at the OECD and WTO, but the US has not signed on. Nor has anyone in the US Congress decided to work for Jones Act repeal, despite the support of cruise ship lines and the US ports in which they might call if the act were repealed.

So it looks like the Jones Act is here to stay, at least in the immediate future. In the meantime, I look forward to finding out whether, in fact, a lobster is a fish.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Japan's Great White Whale 

[Cross-posted on The Head Heeb]

Now and again, international organizations anger some of their member states. They don't authorize invasions, for example. Or they make it harder to get out of paying fines for breaking the rules. Usually the crisis passes, everyone makes nice, and some kind of compromise is reached which allows the institution to continue its existence.

Sometimes, however, a rebuffed state decides to quit playing along. It doesn't happen very often (the only time I can think of this happening is when the US withdrew from UNESCO in 1984), but sometimes enough is apparently enough.

The BBC reports today that Japan is considering dropping out of the International Whaling Commission and setting up its own rival international governing body:
Japan has drawn up plans to replace the International Whaling Commission, whose annual meeting will start on 19 July. The IWC remains deadlocked between the countries opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those, led by Japan, which say it should go ahead.

Members of Japan's ruling party now say they are prepared to go it alone and establish a new pro-whaling alliance. They say in any case they may withhold part of their subscription to the IWC, in protest at its conservation work...

Conservationists have claimed for years that Japan was buying up small nations by offering them aid if they would vote its way at the IWC. The paper confirms Japan believes it is succeeding in winning the whaling argument...

The pro-whaling bloc could win a symbolically important vote to end the whaling moratorium, but a simple majority would make no practical difference: a 75% vote is needed for that.
Why is a breakdown of the IWC suddenly more plausible? And why would Japan want to bother setting up a rival institution? My guess is that this is a power play: Japan craves the legitimacy that the IWC's blessing could confer on changes to its whaling policy, so it won't just start slaughtering whales willy-nilly.

So far, Japan has attempted to get the IWC to agree to its demands in two way: buying votes and threatening to quit. But the requisite supermajority of IWC members won't go along with Japan's goals, despite attempts to buy them off. Furthermore, Japan has been making noises about leaving the IWC for some time, but other states have repeatedly called Japan's bluff. In order to break the logjam, Japan has to find some way of making the other states believe it is truly serious about leaving the IWC.

Forming a new institution, which is costly, difficult, and time-consuming, could possibly serve as a way of making Japan's exit threat much more believable. This theory could explain why the LDP's policy paper (cited by the BBC article) has been made public: it's an attempt to convince IWC states that Japan is really, really serious this time. If the policy works, we might expect the IWC to find some kind of compromise that reflects Japan's stronger bargaining position.

In any case, state exit from international institutions is not a question that has gotten a lot of attention in political science. As far as I know (which isn't all that far) this paper, which explains the US decision to leave UNESCO in terms of a broader US strategy for dealing with the UN, is the only paper on the topic. Too bad: it's an interesting question.

UPDATE: An astute reader has pointed out to me some other examples of state withdrawal from international organizations: the US dropped out of UNCTAD and UNIDO, and the UK briefly dropped of UNESCO as well. If we count alliances, there are a number of examples as well, such as New Zealand's withdrawal from ANZUS (which clearly had little to do with the dynamic I've described above).

"Pig Companies" 

I promised a Nader posting moratorium, so let me say this in my defense: this post is about Salon.com, not Nader. Sort of.

Here's what I'm wondering: In Salon Editor David Talbot's interview with Ralph Nader (published today), did Nader really refer repeatedly to "pig" companies? Or is this a mistranscription of "big?"
Nader: How about the second piece ["Strange Alliance: Why Is Rupert Murdoch's Media Empire Publishing Ralph Nader's Latest Tome?"] -- this complete smear? I mean, this one doesn't even pass the laugh test. Where's your banking done? Do you know any major publisher that isn't owned by a pig conglomerate?

...

But to follow your principle would be for me to say, "I don't want anything to do with NBC. It's owned by a pig company called GE. And I certainly don't want anything to do with MSNBC because it's owned by both GE and Microsoft." They are worse than Rupert Murdoch, and I will tell you why -- Rupert Murdoch does not produce death-dealing weapons and sell them to dictatorships."
Nader does spend most of the interview hyperventilating and making broad statements, but who actually says "pig companies?"

Dear Salon: Nader's actual words sound stupid enough. Don't give him any more ammunition for his claims of press unfairness with sloppy editing.


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

A Third Party for the US? 

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber and Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information are having an argument about the prospects for third parties in the US.

[Short Farrell I]: Ralph Nader is a jerk, and GWB is a disaster. So this year, voting for John Kerry makes sense. But the two-party system in the US stinks, producing nasty policies. So in the future, when less is on the line, it makes no sense to support candidates who won't try to reform the system. Also, Barbara Ehrenreich made the point that a credible threat by lefties to withhold support from centrist candidates is an effective tool for dragging Democrats leftward, which I note but don't comment on.

[Short McArdle]: The US has a "first-past-the-post" system. And we have a presidential system (instead of a parliamentary one). Ergo we will have a two-party system for the foreseeable future. Thus supporting a third party to the left of the Democrats (right of the GOP) is just helping ensure that the GOP (Democrats) win. The big parties have already correctly identified the median voter: pretending that there's some hidden lefty (or righty) majority out there is just fantasy.

[Short Farrell II]: Sure, Duverger's Law suggests that a first-past-the-post system tends to favor two-party structures. But McArdle is plain wrong to suggest that presidential systems also favor party duopolies. And third parties in a system like the one the US has can have a big short-term effect on politics. Furthermore, while there may or may not be a hidden lefty majority in the US, there are probably lots of individual policy questions where the median voter's preferences aren't being supported by either major party, including universal health care. Finally, if you're a lefty, the potential gains from working reliably within the Democratic Party are less than those you'd get if lefties weren't a constituency that the Democrats could take for granted, so lefties should be looking for a way to make credible the threat of their defection to a third party.

Let me wade into the argument. First, I'd like to agree strongly with both bloggers on Ralph Nader's failings as a politician and a champion for third parties.

Second, let me point out that both bloggers use New Zealand as an example while failing to note that that country switched from a first-past-the-post to a proportional representation system in 1996.

Third, while I don't have Gary Cox's Making Votes Count in front of me, as I recall, he makes a strong case that Duverger's Law should generally hold, especially as a long term equilibrium. Third parties that come and go aren't really very strong disconfirmatory evidence. And while Henry is right that transitory third parties can have a strong effect on short-term politics, I'm less convinced that they have a strong effect on policy. During its first-past-the-post era, New Zealand saw the Social Credit Party repeatedly make strong bids for parliamentary representation. I'm pretty certain, however, that one would have a tough time arguing that the Social Crediters had any discernible effect on national policy. By the same token, it's hard at first blush to see the policy footprint of the Greens or the Prohibition Party in the US. Part of the problem is that to the extent these parties are transitory, politicians in one (or both) of the big parties can simply promise to support their platforms during the campaign, then freely renege on these promises expecting no significant organization for the minor parties in the next election.

If you truly believe that third parties are a good thing, I think that confronting Duverger's Law and working for electoral reform is clearly your best use of resources. But as I've discussed in prior posts, it's incredibly unlikely that the US will adopt a more third-party-friendly proportional representation system (this post also addresses a lot of the other arguments often seen in discussions like the current one).

Fourth, I agree with Henry that it's highly likely that special interest politics rather than the will of the people is to blame for our lack of good things like universal health care. But it's hard to see how merely adding a third party to the mix will change the influence of special interests, unless that third party successfully achieves a massive change in policies on campaign finance. Kathleen Bawn & Michael Thies and Ron Rogowski & Mark Kayser have recently published papers explaining why proportional representation actually leads to greater incentives for politicians to listen to special interests. I'll admit that neither of these papers has much bearing on the case of a successful third party in the US system, but then again I'm not aware of any particular reason to think that a three-party US would have cleaner politics than a two-party US.

Finally, there are the questions of whether the existence of a strong Green Party would tend to drag Democrats leftward and whether the US's checks and balances would render a three party system particularly prone to gridlock. My self-imposed blogging time limit is about to expire, so I'll have to address this question in my next post. Stay tuned...

UPDATE: More from Scott Lemieux

UPDATE: As Henry Farrell has pointed out to me, he doesn't actually refer to New Zealand in his post (except in quoting McArdle). Sorry, Henry.

Monday, July 12, 2004

More on the Yezidis 

[Cross-Posted on The Head Heeb]

Never let it be said that the blogosphere is ignoring the smaller religions. A new post on The Argus provides some great background on the Yezidis, a minority Kurdish religion:
Unlike other Kurds, the Yezidi worship Malak Ta’us, the pre-Islamic peacock fellow on the right. Theirs is a mix of any number of religions including Islam, Manicheism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and even ancient buzzard worship. As this description of Yezidism suggests, it's best to say no one is exactly certain of the origins of the religion.
I've posted on the Yezidis before, addressing the (now-out-of-favor) theory linking their proscription of lettuce-eating to Sumerian pubic hair imagery.

That earlier post led to a dialog with a very knowledgable reader about non-internet information sources on the Yezidis, including recommendations of two books: "Survival among the Kurds" by John Guest, and "The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq" by Nelida Fuccaro. If you're considering picking up the latter book, you might first wish to read Peter Wien's review.


[Thanks to Chris Young of the excellent blog Explananda for the first link].

UPDATE: Secretplans has more.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Real People? That's Incredible! 

According to the Washington Post, Kerry-Edwards Vow to Support 'Real People' (washingtonpost.com).

Once again, the Democrats are showing excellent judgment, as everybody knows that "Real People" was vastly superior to "That's Incredible." I'll take Fred Willard and Sarah Purcell any day over Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.

Note to bemused/irritated readers: I'm busy. More serious blogging will resume shortly.

Moratorium on Nader Posts 

After reading this article about the growing futility of Ralph Nader's attempts to help re-elect President Bush, I've decided to stop posting about Nader until further notice.

Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Paging Falik Schtroks 

Would you rather have this job outsourced to an overseas laborer or taken over by a robot?

[Link via Metafilter]
[Falik Schtroks reference explained here]

UPDATE: Fiddish has more (horrifying) details.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Worst Ethnic Stereotype Ever 

Ethnic stereotypes are generally pretty bad. Speaking as a member of a group often portrayed as greedy, clannish, too-smart-by-half and malevolent, I know whereof I speak. But this one takes the cake:
More than 600,000 pygmies are believed to live in the DR Congo's huge forests, where they survive by hunting wild animals and gathering fruits.

However, many Congolese regard them as "subhuman" with some believing their flesh can confer magical powers.
This belief has consequences, too. Apparently, in addition to the usual behaviors we associate with genocidal activity (mass murder, rape, village burning), ongoing attacks on Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo also prominently feature cannibalism, at least if human rights group "Minority Rights Group International" is to be believed.

The BBC has more.

Karl Rove Has Met His Match 

Look out, Karl Rove! The New Republic's Jonathan Chait (better known as Dan Chait's brother) has devised a can't-lose strategy for the Kerry-Edwards ticket:
[U]nlike Kerry, [Edwards] can communicate. This suggests a logical, if somewhat new, division of labor: Edwards could be the one who pulls the party message into a coherent theme, thickens it out with policy proposals (along with his staff), articulates it before the public, and lacerates the opponent. Kerry would continue to star in the television commercials as the Vietnam veteran/prosecutor/gun nut/fiscal hawk. Between his schedule of filming such commercials, he'd raise money and rest up for the debates. Too much campaigning would only alienate the public and make him even more gaunt.

In fact, here's my ideal plan for the Kerry campaign. At an upcoming rally, an anti-Kerry protestor starts to burn an American flag. Kerry leaps down from the podium and starts strangling the protestor with his bare hands, then hurls him to the ground and rescues the flag. In the course of putting out the fire, he suffers minor burns that, the campaign announces, will force him to be hospitalized and inaccessible to the media and the public until mid-October. In the meantime, Edwards is dispatched to present the Democratic message for the next three and half months.
It's a start. Personally, I think the plan would be much improved if it involved Kerry rescuing a baby rather than strangling a protester. Also, perhaps this would be a good opportunity for Teresa Heinz Kerry to reveal that, much like Bruce Wayne, she has used her immense inherited wealth to build a formidable arsenal of gimmicky crime-fighting technology. Perhaps she could dispatch the flag-burner with some kind of ketchup gun, while her husband rescues the aforementioned infant from certain death -by-burning-flag.

I'm going to make some popcorn so I'll be ready when the fun starts.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Spratly Island Getaway 

[Cross-posted on The Head Heeb]

As Jonathan Edelstein and I have pointed out before (1,2,3,4), the multi-state dispute over ownership of the Spratly Islands and their potential oil and gas riches is both deadly serious and entertainingly bizarre. According to the Manila Standard, a high-level meeting of (most of) the claimant nations last month resulted in an agreement to chat again at the ASEAN + 3 meetings just held in Jakarta. The result? An agreement in principle to set up a working group under ASEAN auspices featuring all claimants except Taiwan. We'll see if this proposal goes anywhere.

In the meantime, here's a good rundown of the latest news:
Recent events confirm that maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain an issue for East Asian governments. Ownership of the Spratly Islands is claimed, in whole or in part, by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In the first quarter of 2004 alone, the claimants took turns building up anxiety, raising concerns about the sustainability of the status quo and whether the 2002 Delaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea could ensure the claimants' self-restraint.

First came the Philippines' announcement of the Balikatan exercises with the United States in the South China Sea in February. The Philippine action appeared to be driven by Manila's growing uneasiness over an increasing number of visits by Chinese research vessels and warships in the Spratly Islands, as well as the sudden appearance of new Chinese markers on the unoccupied reefs late last year. The mounting tension did not dissipate until Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assured the region that the military exercises did not have anything to do with the maritime territorial disputes.

Then came Taiwan's turn. On March 23, a Taiwanese speedboat carrying eight individuals landed and carried out the swift construction of a makeshift "bird-watching stand" on the Ban Than Reef. Vietnam strongly condemned Taiwan's move and demanded an end to the construction activities. Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung branded Taiwan's handiwork "an act of land-grabbing expansion that seriously violated Vietnam's territorial sovereignty" and warned of possible consequences from Taiwan's "adventurism."

Taiwan's action didn't go unanswered. Two days after the Ban Than Reef incident, Vietnam reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Truong Sa (Spratly) and the Hoang Sa (Paracel) atolls by announcing that it would hold the inaugural tourist boat trip to the contested islands. China decided to conduct a Navy drill in the South China Sea on April 12, sending signals to the other claimants to back off.

The Chinese display of naval capability in the South China Sea didn't stop Vietnam. Unfazed, Hanoi gave its white navy ship HQ988 the go signal to sail for the atolls with about 60 tourists and 40 officials on April 19. Many saw the controversial eight-day round trip as the beginning of more Vietnamese tourism activities in the area -- a development that follows the Malaysian lead of a few years ago.
The author of the piece excerpted above thinks that the problems won't be resolved without some kind of outside intermediary. Perhaps this is an area the US or Japan should be pressing to address formally at the next APEC meeting.

In the meantime, here's more on the silly posturing associated with the Spratlys:

As reported above, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines has sought to reassure the other claimant states about her country's intentions for the Spratlys. This has not been a universally popular move among her constituency, and one group has actually launched a lawsuit claiming that her statement amounted to treason.

Vietnam is now offering free internet access at its military outpost on the islands [no free link available].

Finally, a travel website from the Philippines has documented a private trip to the Spratlys, in case you're thinking of going. Unfortunately, the reporting is, well, not terribly focused on the geopolitical. Here's an example of what to expect:
We were surrounded by the open sea and it was a very strange feeling knowing that we were all alone in the middle of South China Sea indicated on the map classified as dangerous grounds. Guests began going up the sun deck to enjoy the sea wind and the view as the sun was going down. Somebody started making margaritas and I opened a can of San Miguel beer. The crowd began to gather and people were introduced to each other by friends. Most of the guests were divers and some were into fishing. Bottles of wine were opened and toasts were made. Dinner was served with a lechon (roasted pig) as the main dish. A couple of broiled barracudas were also served with green salad on the side. Two more cans of beer and I was ready to go to bed. It was then that I found out that there is a big difference in drinking on a ship and on land. You get drunk faster on a ship because of the continuous rocking motion under you. Everyone walks the same way on the ship with alcohol or no alcohol.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

French Aliyah Uptick: Trend or Blip? 

[Cross-posted at The Head Heeb]

The New York Times reports today that:
More French Jews have been immigrating to Israel or buying properties here as potential havens, and the Israelis and the French are debating whether the trend is a result of a surge in anti-Semitic attacks in France or just a cyclical oddity.

The Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental body responsible for settling immigrants, reported a doubling in the number of French Jews who arrived last year and in 2002, to more than 2,000 each year, compared with about 1,000 a year in the previous three years. By contrast, worldwide immigration to Israel has sharply declined during the Arab-Israeli violence.

Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, said that as a result of attacks against Jews in France in the past three years, many Jews, particularly those whose religion is evident from their clothes, were feeling increasingly uneasy. Much of the tension has centered in working-class suburbs of Paris where Jews and Muslims mingle.

"If they're made to feel uncomfortable, this is the place they've always dreamed of coming to," he said.

Some Jewish leaders in France contend that the Jewish Agency has sent squads of "emissaries" to recruit Jews for aliyah, or the return to Israel. The agency denied the charge, saying that it has the same staff of eight recruiters and that they merely try to persuade Jews thinking of emigrating to the United States or Canada to consider Israel instead.
The article goes on to quote the French ambassador to Israel drawing distinctions between "French anti-semitism" a la the Dreyfuss Affair and anti-Jewish violence perpetrated by North African Muslims (a factually accurate distinction, if not one fitting comfortably with every notion of "France") and pointing out that previous France-Israel immigration peaks were hit during the Oslo accords years.

What's at stake here? It's not immediately obvious that an acceleration of an existing trend is really newsworthy material: short of a complete halt in immigration (or a sudden mass exodus), what do immigration rates tell us, and why might they be considered important? And why would it matter whether there were official Israeli attempts to influcnce the rate and direction of Jewish emigration from France?

I'd suggest that it's all about perception: if Israeli officials (or the WJC) can find the slightest hint of evidence to add to their case that the French state is not doing a good job of protecting Jews, or of tamping down anti-semitic sentiment, they will seize on it. If French officials hoping to defuse allegations of official or civilian anti-semitism can find a way to back up claims that Israel is manipulating the situation to gain negotiating strength, they will do so. I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is for all these claims and counterclaims: world Jewry? High-minded rationalists on all sides of the issue? The French populace?

Are any of these claims worthwhile? My guess is that even given all the data he could ask for (100 years of immigration statistics, polling data, etc), an honest statistician would look at the small numbers and brief time period in question and say flat out that no conclusion about a change in the rate can be made with reasonable confidence. But as is so often the case, in sports reporting, in analyses of election polling and elsewhere, perception is at least as important as solid analysis.

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