Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama on Palin

Obama (quoted at the end of this article) shows much better sense in dealing with the Palin nomination than some of the people on his side. Sneering at motherhood and small towns is not smart politics. Still, it is hard to miss the way he slides away from the question of whether she has as much or more executive experience than he does, instead treating it as a question about Biden's qualifications. After all, Obama's presidential hopes were launched on a good speech and a few years in the legislature. If Palin compares reasonably favorably in terms of experience to Obama now think how the comparison would have gone four years ago when Obama first was talked about as a presidential contender, or when he first launched his own candidacy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Setting the Record Straight

Great report from Michael Totten setting the record straight on Georgia. The Russians attacked first and had planned to all along. It was quick action in cutting off the Russian advance on the 7th by Georgian paratroopers that prevented the Russians from cutting the country in half and taking control of the oil pipeline.

Monday, August 25, 2008

You Mean Things are getting Better?

Bad news for environmentalists: things are getting better and have been for some time. In fact, samples from Greenland ice show that pollution is at lower levels now than at the turn of the twentieth century. It is almost at if technology and economic growth make things--what is the word--better?

The rights of the accused?

We hear a great deal about the rights of the accused when the accused are terrorists and murders, what about when they are Marines? When the charges against them are shown to be false and dropped do those who convicted them in public statements, comparing them to the culprits at Mai Lay calling for resignations all around owe the accused an apology when their charges are shown to be false?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Solzhenitsyn's Death

It is so odd. I was just in the book store thinking about buying a copy of the abridged Gulag Archipelago. We have the full three volume work at home in Chicago but of course I never got through it. I remember long ago trying to read it--I think I was still in college--and being struck by how many words I had to look up in the course of reading it. He used so many words that have only obscure English language equivalents. I remember the word "metastasis" and being so surprised that he had used a technical medical word that I thought no one would ever be expected to know. Of course once I knew it I heard it all the time. I don't know if that is because I started to be sensitive to it or because Solzhenitsyn's work itself made it more popular.

As I was reading today I was struck by how he always used metaphors to make his writing come alive. The metaphors would be drawn out for pages at a time. The archipelago metaphor is kept through the whole book and used over and over again to pull out new shades of meaning. Each phase of the purge is a new wave. Each group that gets targeted is a new river. A person caught in it is a single drop. One of the metaphors was only a paragraph. The purge was like an epidemic sweeping through a neighborhood. Like an epidemic it spread through casual contact, a hand shake or a chance meeting. If you were destined to 'confess' tomorrow and we had by chance exchanged words today, then I, too, am doomed.

Congress vs. Iraqi Government

Good suggested one liner from NR writer Kathryn Jean Lopez. The Iraqi government's rate of getting things done has compared favorably with that of the US Congress for sometime now. Think what the headlines would be if Maliki had shut out the lights on Iraqi legislators who were asking for a vote on a major national problem.

This brings up something that has long been striking to me: the contempt that many in the media and others who have opposed the war in Iraq have shown for the efforts of the Iraqis to institute a democracy. It is really quite shocking sometimes when one catches the tone of dismissive disbelief at the idea the Iraqis are capable of democracy. The partisan incentive to do so may be obvious enough, but it is still rather extraordinary to hear people that in large part seem to define their sense of political virtue by their opposition to racism and political inequality to be so openly contemptuous of a third world country's attempts at setting up democratic institutions.

It is one thing to say before the fact that setting up a democracy "at gunpoint" in a third world country is unlikely to succeed or at least may not be worth the cost, quite another to be openly contemptuous of the people that are trying to make it succeed and are risking their lives to do so. They sound like Winston Churchill snorting scorn on the idea that the Indians could conduct a democracy. In Churchill's case, though, the alternative to Indian liberal government was equally or perhaps more liberal (or at least competent, non-genocidal) government at the hands of the British. And, moreover, once the battle had been lost from his perspective and the Indians were in charge he didn't try to undermine the exercise.

What about Your supporters?

So, the blessed one has deigned to absolve McCain of the charge of racism with dumb and dumber ad. But wait. Obama never accused McCain of racism or dirty campaigning, just the people around him. That is why Obama made the painful decision to not take public financing. He had to have the extra funds in order to fend off the low attacks from McCain's friends. If we are holding our opponents responsible for the words and actions of their friends and supporters (and we seem to do little else these days) shouldn't Obama have to call off his friends? The bloggoshere if full of Obama-ites complaining about McCain's cleaver use of the race card. Isn't it incumbent on Obama to denounce them or be considered as having the same views?

Instead, he says of McCain's campaign:

"I think they're cynical," he said. "And I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues."
But surely, the Obama campaign's lack of substance is a legitimate issue?
If Obama has conceded that the ad isn't racist then doesn't he have to accept that the ad's point is what the McCain camp says it is? An attempt to argue that the Obama campaign is a series of empty platitudes and breathlessly related biographic details about the candidate himself. A man who has written not one piece of important legislation but has found time to write his auto biography twice before the age of 50 perhaps should not be surprised that people are questioning his substance. How many times did he think he could get away with starring significantly into his teleprompter and telling us that "this is the moment" for "change we can believe in" and "I have always said that.....," just before going on to explain why the position that appears diametrically opposed to the one he had been espousing just a few minutes ago is really no different from the one he is embracing now. denouncing n eomr ot the emn

Saturday, August 02, 2008

MSM: See no stumble, hear no stumble

"Rob" at Pajamas Media records a few of the rhetorical stumbles of the Obamassiah that the Mass Media have not deemed worthy of mention. The analysis of why the Iraq war is causing a shortage of translators in Afghanistan is priceless and, it must be admitted, inarguable. After all, a translator you send to France can't be sent to China, though why you want to do so is left obscure by the great explainer. Merci, oh citizen of the world.

Count Down to Adventure

Well, the big day is almost here. Gill is leaving today from Japan and I am leaving on Tuesday. I still have to buy my ticket for the Kyrgyzstan leg of the journey but I am not anticipating any problems. Well, nothing beyond the problem of it being inordinately expensive and incredibly inconvenient.

Once we are in Kabul we have a couple of meetings set up at colleges and one at the State department. We are also going to hang out at some English classes. Our hope is that we can get enough paper surveys done in country to have a decent sample.

I finally got my visa today. It was quite a story. I had thought that I would be able to get it overnight. I sent it and called and asked if they were processing the visa and the guys asked me how much money I had paid. I know, it was just a practical way of asking how fast I had paid to have it processes, still, it was not the most confidence inspiring answer.

He rummaged around and found it and said he would have it out that night. It was actually the next day that it was sent. It came to the UPS store. When I went to the store to get it the kid working the counter--who was not the regular guy who does this--had to rummage around the store for 5 minutes, during which time I was thinking, "Well, between Afghanistan and Mississippi you knew someone would lose it."

I am really excited about the project. Even though we are behind and all I think we have such an exciting idea and such an interesting situation that we can't really go wrong.

Our project is to assess the impact of higher education on Democracy in Central Asia. Central Asia is a uniquely fluid political situation. One can imagine its future as totalitarian theocracies or beacons of liberal democracy with almost equal ease. One the one hand these countries have almost no experience with democracy and precious little experience with being nation states in the modern sense. On the other hand the loose political confederations that have governed these high planes for most of the last two millennia were, like many tribal societies, governed by surprisingly democratic institutions. For instance, in setting up a democracy in Afghanistan it was not necessary to set up entirely new institutions but only to revive and expand the powers of old ones, such as the Loya Jurga.

The influences that are in play internationally in Central Asia are also uniquely diverse. From being the connecting link to two great civilizations of the East and West to being the central battle ground in 19th Century imperial powers during the pseudo cold war known as "The Great Game," the area has always seemingly been the object of the machinations of greater powers. Today it has gone from being the cross-roads of international trade to being in the cross-fire of international conflict.

Central Asia lies in the fault lines created by the intersection of most of the important powers in international politics. Seeing this requires little more than reciting the countries that border central Asia: Turkey, Iran, Russia, India and China. Add in the major military facilities that have been recently added by the US and the potential for international conflict is obvious. And the great powers have moved to advance their interests in the area.

But more than geography makes CA liable to international conflict. The structure of population in the nations of Central Asia would create the potential for conflict without the intervention of outside powers. Harsh landscapes, weak central governments and colonization have combined to make the nations of CA a mosaic of ethnic groups, languages and cultures. The two nations in which we will conduct our initial studies, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, exemplify this.

Afghanistan, as many Americans have come to know all too well, is made up of four major ethnic groups. The Pashtoons are the largest, making up some 40% of the population. Ethnically they are related to their neighbors in much larger Pakistan. Behind them are the Tajiks--closely related to the Iranians or Persians--are the second largest. They are followed by the more Asiatic Hazzars--apparently related to the Mongols who invaded in the 13th century--and the Uzbeks--a Turkic people.

Next to Kyrgyzstan the Afghanistan looks positively homogeneous. There is no significan Pashtoon presence in Krygyzstan but all the other elements are there with additions. The main group is the Kyrgyz, who are numberically dominant in the population. Thier language is a variant of Turkish (they can pick up Turkish by osmossis though it does not seem to work in the other direction) but in appearance are more like the Mongolians. But there is a very large remnant of peoples from around the former Soviet Union there also. In addition to ethnic Russians there are significant contingents of Koreans, Tartar and Germans. Part of this diversity is due to Stalin's policy of sending populations of questionable loyalty (at least in his mind) to some place far away. Kyrgyzstan is nothing if not far away. At the edge of the Russian and the Chinese Empire; farther back in time at the edge of the Mongolian and the Trukish empires, it is always somehow at the periferry of somewhere.

It is also a very tolerant place, certainly by the standards of the region. This has made it a sort of ideological and identity politics battle ground. Bishkek, the capital, is home to several institutions of higher learning that are backed by different foreign powers as a way of advancing their interests and increasing thier influence.

The American University of Central Asia is the US's entry into the academic version of the Great Game. Backed by the Soros Foundation and the US State Department for its start up funds, it is patterned on an American style liberal arts college and all classes are taught in English. There are other Universities with greater or lesser degrees of government backing and teaching in the language of thier partron country. There is a Russian, Turkish and Kurwaity backed University, as well as the Kyrgyz National University. the European Union backs a graduate school and there is intermittant talk of Kyrgyzstan joining NATO in some way. There is also a strong and growing Chinese presence and many students express a desire to learn Chinese.

The situation in Kyrgyzstan makes a number of identities plausible for the typical citizen. One might think of oneself as an Asian or as an outpost of Anglo-American style democracy. One could think of thier country as primarily Turkic (it is referred to by Turks as "the Motherland"), as part of the Russian cultural sphere or an outpost of Sinic civilization. Of course there is a serious Muslim identity option too.

Democracy and support for the values that under lie it is also often thought to be a by product of higher education. Here we build on a well-trodden path from the beginings of large-scale survey research in the post war era.

Finally, in line with contemporary thinking about liberal arts education in the US, we expect that a liberal arts education backed by a 'liberal' nation should result in greater inclination toward critical thinking. We draw on relatively recent efforts to measure critical thinking as a result of liberal arts education in the academy, especially California's critical thinking initiative.

Our goal on this trip is to try out some of our questions and to build relationships with professors in institutions of higher education in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.

We propose to investigate the effect of these nationally backed institutions on the development of the political orientations of future elites in Central Asia. Roughly speaking, we expect the effects of national backing to be found in four areas: affect, identity, democracy and critical thinking.

The affect hypothessis is straight forward. If you are going to a school that is in part supported by a foreign government you should, on the whole, feel more favorably disposed toward that foreign government. Likewise with identity.

Friday, August 01, 2008

"Tut" go the tutters as the tut-tutting continues

The prize for the most tendentious defense of Obama's racism charge goes to Joan Walsh of Sure Obama was bringing in race, but in a light-hearted, fun-loving way, and besides, after their "scuzzy" attacks on the anointed one for being a light weight what right have they to complain anyway?