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Monday, February 21, 2005

More Fallout from Hariri Bombing 

Jonathan Edelstein has an update on the consequences of the bombing that killed former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri last week:
As public and international pressure mounts in the wake of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has reportedly informed the Arab League's secretary-general that Syria is ready to quit Lebanon...

If Assad in fact said this, he is reacting to a rapidly unfolding succession of events. Today, the tens of thousands of demonstrators gathering daily in central Beirut were joined by a rare public protest from 35 Syrian human rights activists. In the meantime, responding to opposition threats of a parliamentary boycott, the Lebanese government has invited the opposition to talks without preconditions and has acquiesced to an international probe of Hariri's killing. Yet another development, and possibly the most significant of all, is the changing stance of the traditionally pro-Syrian Hizbullah, whose leader addressed popular demonstrators and urged a national dialogue to "discuss, calmly and rationally, the implementation of Resolution 1559 and the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon."

The combination of these events, driven by Lebanese public anger over the assassination, creates very nearly a perfect storm for Syria. If the removal of Syrian troops has become such a central nationalist issue that even Hizbullah must pay lip service to it, then Damascus' options - particularly those that involve working through Lebanese allies - are more limited.
These are fascinating events. Keep your eye on this story.

UPDATE: University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis is blogging from Syria. Interesting (and optimistic) stuff.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Friday Primate Blogging 

Monkey menace worsens? "Monkey Thinks Robotic Arm into Action"

Koko kinky? "Gorilla Foundation Rocked By Breast Display Lawsuit"

Finally, as long as we're on the theme of man vs. nature, consider this key paragraph from Slate's review of the new Jose Canseco tell-all:
Canseco was grief-stricken. He walked to his bedroom closet and pulled out a Street Sweeper machine gun. Canseco says he used the gun to shoot sharks when he went deep-sea fishing—an image so comic that we'll put it aside for now. Anyway, Canseco had the Street Sweeper and was ready to do himself in when a tiny noise called him forth from despair. "Something had decided that it wasn't my time yet," he writes. Maybe it was his infant daughter. Maybe God. Or maybe—and this is just a hunch—it was the steroids, calling to save their champion.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Nothing to See Here 

Move along, folks, nothing to see here. Some suggestions:

* Alex at Detached Observer has an amusing post on the airplane-sighting theory of disaster prediction and its implications for the debate over "Intelligent Design."

* Bonassus reader jds has directed my attention to the inconsistent but worth-watching Squidblog.

* Kevin Drum has some new thoughts on wedge issues for Democrats. Noam Scheiber also comments admiringly on Sen. Clinton's "let's reduce the number of abortions" attempt at culture war jujitsu. I'll post more on this if I have some time, but let me just point out that this tactic is not only not new, but has been a key part of talking about the issue for as long as I've been observing politics carefully (about 15 years now).

* Jonathan "Head Heeb" Edelstein has a round-up on the Hariri bombing which is definitely worth your time. Daniel Drezner has a good but not great post on the bombing's implications for Syria.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

When Wu-Tang Meets WTO 

Here's one unexpected result of China's accession to the WTO [via the New York Times]:
For the monks who run Shaolin, the explosive popularity of Shaolin kung fu has not been without problems. For one, anyone vaguely familiar with Chinese martial arts and with a little bit of business sense, here or abroad, can hang up a shingle claiming to run a Shaolin kung fu school.

The temple's leaders say they have had enough of this debasement, and have persuaded the Chinese government to declare the name a recognized brand, protecting it under the rules of the World Trade Organization.
I'm uncertain whether this is the same sort of geographical branding I discussed here, but it would appear that, no matter what the Wu-Tang Clan might have us believe, fraudsters unafraid to face a phalanx of fighting monks may be cowed by the rulings of trade tribunals. Maybe those protestors were right, after all...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Gmail Out of Beta? 

So, I suddenly have 50 (fifty) invites to Gmail, up from my usual quota of 4-8. I'm guessing this means they're going to open Gmail up to everybody soon. I've generally had a positive experience with the service, and I definitely think it's the best free web-based e-mail product I've used.

That being said, the advertisement selection algorithm Gmail uses could stand some improvement in the tact department. An e-mail I got this evening about a family member's house catching on fire due to carelessness by a plumber came with ads for drywall and "calorie burners" and a link to a news story about a UCLA student who has experienced problems with bugs, flooding and dust at his apartment.

UPDATE: Sorry to have alarmed people. The house in question is damaged, but nobody was injured.

Environmentalism as a Moral Value? 

As I mentioned in this previous post, Steve Soto feels that the time may be ripe for an evangelical/environmentalist alliance, and sees evidence that framing green issues in moral values terms (rather than focusing on the underlying science) could prove a winning strategy.

One of the sources for Soto's musings was this document, which apparently electrified the environmentalist community. I finally got around to reading it, and I have to say I'm terribly unimpressed. As far as I can tell, the main thrust of the piece is that "environmentalism" as a single issue leads to political failure, and that the only way to save the world from global climate disaster is to forge a brave new progressive coalition uniting US business, labor and greenies behind a massive R&D project. Call it the "Fellowship of the Ring" strategy, I guess.

Some of the ideas expressed, such as the notion of looking for grand bargains, are quite good (if hardly as earth-shattering as the New York Times's coverage might lead one to believe). Other portions of the paper, particularly those about the current state of Japanese industry and the history of industrial policy, are wildly factually inaccurate. And some of the more messianic language reminds me of nothing so much as the "Project for a New American Century" so widely (and convincingly) criticized by so many on the left. Ultimately, though, I'm not sure there's anything surprising or new here. Too bad.

The other article Soto cites is far more compelling. I have to admit that I skipped over the article when I first saw the headline in the Washington Post: "The Greening of Evangelicals." I expected yet another non-existent-trend-spotting story about some well-spoken yet little-noted member of the Christian right adopting a counterintuitive cause. But there's more here than I first thought:
"The environment is a values issue," said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals. "There are significant and compelling theological reasons why it should be a banner issue for the Christian right." In October, the association's leaders adopted an "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" that, for the first time, emphasized every Christian's duty to care for the planet and the role of government in safeguarding a sustainable environment.

"We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part," said the statement, which has been distributed to 50,000 member churches. "Because clean air, pure water, and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation."

Signatories included highly visible, opinion-swaying evangelical leaders such as Haggard, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Some of the signatories are to meet in March in Washington to develop a position on global warming, which could place them at odds with the policies of the Bush administration, according to Richard Cizik, the association's vice president for governmental affairs.
While I'm still skeptical about the depth of these leaders' commitment, and even moreso about the rank and file's interest in the issue, it's a hopeful sign, and a fascinating one. The article also touches on some of the concerns about crafting and nurturing wedge issues that I've discussed before:
Green said the evangelicals' deep suspicion about environmentalists has theological roots.

"While evangelicals are open to being good stewards of God's creation, they believe people should only worship God, not creation," Green said. "This may sound like splitting hairs. But evangelicals don't see it that way. Their stereotype of environmentalists would be Druids who worship trees."

Another reason that evangelicals are suspicious of environmental groups is cultural and has its origins in how conservative Christians view themselves in American society, according to the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. The group made its name with the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign against gas-guzzling cars but recently shifted its focus to reducing global warming.

"Evangelicals feel besieged by the culture at large," Ball said. "They don't know many environmentalists, but they have the idea they are pretty weird -- with strange liberal, pantheist views."

Ball said that the way to bring large numbers of evangelicals on board as political players in environmental issues is to make persuasive arguments that, for instance, tie problems of global warming and mercury pollution to family health and the health of unborn children. He adds that evangelicals themselves -- not such groups as the Sierra Club or Friends of the Earth, with their liberal Democratic baggage -- are the only ones who can do the persuading.

"Environmental groups are always going to be viewed in a wary fashion," Ball said. "They just don't have a good enough feel for the evangelical community. There are landmines from the past, and they will hit them without knowing it."
This strikes me as exactly right. So what can environmentalists do to nurture this potential alliance? I'd suggest that they listen to Ball, come up with facts, figures, and a legislative agenda which mesh with the language he has discussed, and then work with him to find a Congressional champion for a single bill. I'll have some more concrete details when I revisit this story tomorrow.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Pot, Kettle 

My brother e-mails me in perfect blog-post form:
I haven't bothered to read their full paper, but I tend to think these guys are on the right track.

What's really stunning about the NYT article, though, is this quote from the executive director of Greenpeace USA:

"These guys laid out some fascinating data," Mr. Passacantando said, "but they put it in this over-the-top language and did it in this in-your-face way."
Nice catch, eh?

You can read the paper (which presents a case for completely rethinking the environmentalist movement's political approach) here. I plan to read it tomorrow, and I'll let you know what I think. I'm eager to hear Bonassus readers' comments, so if you have something to say and feel too shy to post a comment, at least send me an e-mail.

UPDATE: Steve Soto connects this article to a Washington Post article suggesting the birth of an evangelical Christian environmental movement, and sees an opportunity for Democrats. I'll have something to say on this idea tonight.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

More Nerdy Fun 

My wife Roxana stumbled upon the Oxford English Dictionary version of a Googlewhack today. Unlike a proper Googlewhack, where a search for two words yields one and only one search result from Google, an OEDwhack (as I'll call it) exists when two words are both illustrated with the same primary quote in the OED.

The example my wife found was "stultiloquent yarb-monger." Can you beat that?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Monkey Menace Worsens 

The people want it, so here it is: more on the Monkey Menace [you may also wish to think of it as "more cutting-and-pasting from the BBC website"].

The latest news: the monkeys have started targeting major Indian government officials and endangered lions:
Delhi suffers from a serious monkey menace, with scores of animals seen across the city, particularly near top government offices.

The monkeys who have moved into residential areas and official enclaves due to Delhi's shrinking forests, are said to have become a 'security threat'. Last year, the ministry of defence found some of its top secret documents scattered all over the place one morning. It was blamed on the many rhesus monkeys which flock around the colonial-era building.

The prime minister's office, which is situated in the same block, is also within reach. A cabinet minister couldn't enter his official bungalow for months because the monkeys wouldn't let anybody enter the house. The presidential palace too has been targeted and staff their have been forced to employ a dark-faced langur monkey to scare away the rhesus monkeys.
Aha! It's a protection racket! And what has happened to those sinister simians who have been captured and relocated?
Madhya Pradesh had released these monkeys in the forest of Palpur Kuno situated near Gwalior. This forest is being prepared as a habitat for Asiatic lions which the state wants to borrow from Gujarat. The Gir forest of Gujarat is the only area in India where the highly endangered Asiatic lions are found.

Officials in Madhya Pradesh's fear that the monkeys may spread disease in the specially developed forest.
Perhaps we should just throw in the towel now and cut our losses. Monkey menacers, present us with your demands!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Local Boy Makes Good 

I was pleased to read the positive review of the latest Aqueduct album in this week's Onion. Aqueduct is basically David Terry, whose family lived next door to mine when we were both kids, and who served as the scapegoat of choice whenever anything got broken or lost in our house. Rolling Stone (ack) is also on the David Terry bandwagon, but don't let that dissuade you from buying his new opus:
Lo-fi indie outfit Aqueduct had a great 2004. Discovered by Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard in the wilds of Oklahoma, the band picked up and moved to Seattle, signed to indie du jour Barsuk Records and found itself opening for acts such as the Flaming Lips and the Shins. The band's full-length debut, I Sold Gold, hits stores this week...When Gibbard's side project the Postal Service was touring the Midwest, Gibbard picked up a copy of the record. "It sort of came back to me through the grapevine how much he loved it," Terry says.

Around the same time, after years on the not-so-happening Oklahoma music scene, Terry decided it was time to relocate. "I'd been in Tulsa for way too long, and I really liked the bands coming out of the Northwest," he explains. "When we got here, Ben welcomed us with open arms. He's a good guy to know in Seattle." Aqueduct was soon signed to Barsuk, home to Death Cab, Rilo Kiley and Travis Morrison."
If that string of dropped names doesn't get your butt to the record store (or your iTunes Music Store window opened), maybe this will: Aqueduct's I Sold Gold gets the Bonassus seal of approval.

Protection in the Pacific 

Jonathan Edelstein has a fascinating post on the latest post-colonial developments in former French possessions in the Pacific. It's well worth your time to read.

One quote from the post caught my eye for reasons quite different from Edelstein's. In discussing the prospects of a Pacific Island free trade area, New Caledonian trade minister Didier Leroux offers this opinion:
I think that in a globalisation of the trade in the world, Pacific island countries have to adopt a common policy and a common attitude towards bigger countries, because it's obvious that small islands in the Pacific cannot compete with big countries such as Australia or United States or Europe.

We have to define a common way of protecting our own small industries, because they are in several ways the only way we have to create jobs and maintain employment in our islands.
There are lots of good reasons for small countries to coordinate on trade negotiations with larger nations. Regional trade agreements are probably a good way to solve a lot of the underlying coordination problems, and can produce a lot of other benefits as well. But the second part of Leroux's statement suggests that he's not clear on how all this is supposed to work. At first glance, at least, Leroux's talk of common protection reads like Jagdish Bhagwati's nightmare of regional trade agreements serving as stumbling blocks, not stepping stones, on the path to global trade liberalization. It's also worth pointing out that since Leroux is focusing on small industries in small countries, it's tough to justify his idea of integration with any economic theory at all, let alone the mutual-gains-from-trade logic which usually underpins schemes like the proposed PICTA. Presumably the other PICTA trade ministers (and/or his former economics professors) have been frantically trying to reach Leroux to remind him.

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