Monday, September 29, 2008

Putin, friend of the animals

Wow. Whoever runs Putin's marketing campaign should rule the world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Week 4 Picks

Looks like Detroit has finally decided to fire Matt Millen, which is good because I vaguely remember he was a good announcer before he somehow managed to make the Lions worse than they were before. Rejoice, ye Lions fans! You're also guaranteed not to have to suffer another defeat on Sunday. The Lions have a bye.

As for those who don't, my Week 4 picks are below.

TENNESSEE over Minnesota: Remember those "In Gus We Trust" t-shirts that Washington Redskins fans were wearing last century? Yeah, well...
Buffalo over ST. LOUIS: Marc Bulger has been benched in favor of Trent Green. The last time we saw Trent Green, he was suffering one of the most painful-looking concussions in NFL history while trying to throw a low-block on a Texans defensive lineman, and his career was supposed to be over. Throwing a concussion-prone, late-30s quarterback behind St. Louis's abysmal offensive line is like going to watch Saw IV. You know that horrible, gruesome things are going to happen, it's just a question of when and how. So why would you watch? Are you so sick as to derive pleasure from this sort of thing? This story reminds us just what happens when a player sustains too many concussions.
Denver over KANSAS CITY: Historically, it seems the home team always wins this game, but Kansas City has been so bad through three games that I just can't make the pick, not this time. Denver's offense is lighting it up and the Chiefs just got smoked by the Falcons, a week after spotting the lowly Raiders a 23-point lead in a game where JaMarcus Russell didn't even have to tap double-digits for completions. Just imagine what Jay Cutler will do to the Chiefs secondary.
NY JETS over Arizona: Gang Green needs this game more than Arizona does. As previously documented, the Cardinals could win their division with a sub-.500 record, but a loss here and the Jets are 1-3. Given the depth of talented teams in the AFC, that might knock them out of playoff contention. Meanwhile, Green Bay is still in the driver's seat in the NFC North. Can you imagine if Green Bay makes the playoffs and Brett Favre doesn't? Oh, speaking of Green Bay:
TAMPA BAY over Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, meet Monte Kiffin. Brian Griese... I hate you. Why didn't you play like that in Chicago?! 407 yards passing?! the Bears have gone FULL SEASONS WITHOUT 407 YARDS PASSING. Grrr...
DALLAS over Washington: Well, Redskins fans, you were chanting "We Want Dallas" at the end of your 24-17 victory over Arizona. Now you've got them. And if I may say so, a 7-point home win over a Cardinals club with one playoff win since the Truman Administration is, well... I'll let this fan explain it. 'Boys, decisively.
Philadelphia over CHICAGO: My friend Josh asked me which team has the better defense. My answer is that Chicago does for the first three quarters, but someone should tell them that this isn't hockey, and the game is divided into four stanzas. The meltdown at home against the Bucs was way more unforgivable than the meltdown at Carolina. Chicago should be 3-0 right now. Instead, they're about to be 1-3. Because even though Chicago has the better defense, Philly's offense will give them the lead early on, and ugly is a Kyle Orton offense trying to rally from behind. I can imagine Bears fans booing lustily as another Forte run up the gut is called on 3rd and 11, following a sack. Playing Orton at quarterback is like driving a really, really old car. It'll work, yes, but don't ask it to do anything too difficult or it just might conk out on you.
PITTSBURGH over Baltimore: Ravens-Steelers games are always tough to call. Teams win that shouldn't. I could see the Ravens' fearsome defense feasting on Ben Roethlisberger, he of the possibly-separated shoulder, after the 8 sacks the Eagles ravaged on him last week. I can also see Pittsburgh's defense feasting on Joe Flacco. Can I see a Steelers team that looked this good in its first two games dropping this game at home? I can't.
Further picks: CAROLINA over Atlanta, JACKSONVILLE over Houston, Cleveland over CINCINNATI, NEW ORLEANS over San Francisco, and San Diego over OAKLAND.

Last week: 12-4
Season: 30-17 63.8%

this could be the renewal of a wonderful friendship

What a difference five years makes. Tom Friedman has been transformed from a raging neoliberal neocon into a pragmatic, quasi-isolationist America-firster. Welcome back, Tom. We missed you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

can you beat the drums of war by accident?

So Richard "I Was For The Iraq War Before It Was Cool" Holbrooke, in associtation with R. James Wololsey, Dennis B. Ross and Mark D. Wallace have offered up this Wall Street Journal piece entitled "Everyone Needs to Worry About Iran."

wow... where to begin?

I'll start with the title, which is like being slapped in the face. "Everyone needs to worry about Iran." The insinuation that some people aren't is insulting. Everyone IS worried about Iran. The question is, what to do about it? Starting off by belittling the non-existent Iran-is-not-a-problem crowd is really an attempt to undercut any kind of moderate or sensible approach to the problem. It plays right into the hands of the hawks.

Now to the article itself, which probably should not have been published since it offers nothing that hasn't been said five hundred times before. The claims include:
- Iran is defying the world and building a nuclear weapons program (probable)
- Such a program threatens world peace (very true, though no more than, say, Pakistan's)
- Such a program would launch an arms race across the Middle East (true, and this is by far the most terrifying thing about an Iranian bomb)
- Iran abuses human rights (true, but irrelevant to the argument here, except to strengthen my argument that we need to abandon country-specific human rights targeting because it has become nothing more than a prelude to wars that are in no one's interest)
- Iran wants the bomb to destroy Israel (unbelievably false. Iran wants the bomb for the same reason that everyone else wanted the bomb since the day it was first dropped: deterrence. WMD-less Iraq was invaded, nuclear North Korea is feted and given direct negotiation with the United States and all kinds of aid. Of course the Iranians are taking notice of how their fellow Axis of Evil mates are faring)
- Iran could choke the Straits of Hormuz if it wanted (true, at least for a very very short time until it was overwhelmed by American military force, but since oil forms nearly the entire basis of its economy, it would be incredibly stupid to do so)

The most unforgivable thing about this piece is that the final analysis is that if we unite the American public against Iran, this will help us stop their nuclear program. Here's what's missing: HOW? Americans are already pretty much united against the idea of an Iranian bomb. We've sanctioned Iran almost as much as we can, and we've used the Security Council to sanction Iran about as much as China and Russia will let us. Short of airstrikes, we could not take a tougher line than we are doing now. In the next few years, as the authors state, Iran will have the nuclear fuel cycle mastered and can develop a nuclear weapon whenever they want. There are only 2 ways to deal with this if we don't want an Iranian bomb:

1. Negotiate with them and give them a reason to abandon their nuclear program, or at least to put it under international supervision so it can't be perverted to weapons.
2. Invade.

If the authors are so concerned about Iran, THEY HAVE TO TAKE A STAND. By not specifically calling for the beginning of negotiations with Iran, the authors are implicitly going with Option 2. Or perhaps they're just wringing their hands.

I'll conclude by taking another potshot at the well-deserving Holbrooke, who was just starting to make sense again these last few months. This piece pretty much nails the coffin as far as I'm concerned that Holbrooke needs a new career, as do most of the so-called "Bosnia Generation" humanitarian hawks of his day. Holbrooke already buttressed the neocon cassus belli for Iraq. Now he and his fellow authors are doing the exact same thing against a far larger and more costly target of military intervention. "We do not aim to beat the drums of war," Holbrooke et al write, but without an explicit endorsement of negotiation without what Barack Obama rightly refers to as "self-defeating preconditions," and without an endorsement of the sovereignty principle for Iran, war is precisely what this essay will lead to. There are only two options. It's time to choose.

impressions from the General Assembly, Day 0

So the GA open debate doesn't really start 'til tomorrow, but today is an all-day High Level Meeting on Africa. Lots of Presidents are here. Early returns:

- First Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sighting! After the rally against him transpired across the street in Dag Hammarksjold Square (Sarah Palin did not attend: she was disinvited because organizers didn't want to "politicize" it), the Iranian President nonetheless braved the "Ahmadinejad Is a Terrorist" signs on 47th Street and blocked off reporters and diplomats trying to reenter the UN for a solid 20 minutes while his motorcade screamed up First Avenue. He then entered the High Level Meeting on Africa and gave a long, rambling speech that went three times over the time limit.

- Ougadougou reference! One of the Ambassadors references the Ougadougou Conference of whatever year in regards to African Development. Ougadougou, as I have previously mentioned on this blog, is the most awesomely-named capital in the world. Props to Burkina Faso.

More elements as they develop.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Meanwhile, remember how Iraq was going to be a new democratic ally of Israel? Well, so much for that idea.

GA week, here I come!

It's the General Assembly's week to shine! World leaders will be coming to make speeches and hold contentious press conferences! As a world leader, here's how to be noticed!

1. Be a ruthless tyrant! Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Robert Mugabe will get major coverage, and some protests in Dag Hammarksjkold Square, across the street. Oppress your own people and you too can have that kind of fame. But by itself, tyrrany won't get you noticed. Hence the lukewarm, anonymous receptions that undoubtedly await the leaders of Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, and Eritrea. So you also have to:
2. Be outlandish! Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales style! Chavez recommending Chomsky to the General Assembly while calling Bush "El Diablo" and crossing himself to ward off the stench of the host country's leader, Morales brandishing coca leaves before the membership... It's a pity Fidel Castro is too ill to travel. THAT would be a scene.
3. Advocate policies that aren't those favored by the United States and Europe! Thabo Mbeki has resigned, so he doubtless won't be coming, but had he done so, he would have faced a grilling for backing up Mugabe and Bashir, just as he did last year. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's every word will be parsed. If he says the words "Cold War" we'll have a media frenzy so great that the Presidential debates will go unnoticed, which given the state of Presidential debates in America might actually be a good thing.
4. Have nuclear weapons! People pay attention to the speeches of leaders from the eight declared nuclear powers, and for good reason.

But here's the best way to be noticed:

5. All of the above! North Korea, this means you. It's a pity Kim Jong Il is in no position to travel, nor intends to do so. If HE came to the UN, even Sarah Palin couldn't steal that show. As it is, the North Korean foreign minister will speak on Saturday, the penultimate day of the proceedings, when all the other bigwigs have gone home. What a buzzkill.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

how the West was lost

Yesterday from The Guardian came this excellent piece about the West effectively losing control of the UN.

There are a couple of failures at play here.
1. The loss of capacity by the West to use the Security Council to take action on specific country cases, like Burma and Zimbabwe.
2. The failure to entrench "Western values" -- liberties and human rights, etc. -- in UN institutions.

Regarding the first failure, one problem is that, particularly in the Bush years, efforts have been undertaken to expand the UN Security Council's role beyond what the UN Charter calls for, and the Russians and Chinese, with developing country help, have had the power to rebuff these efforts. On issues like Zimbabwe and Burma, internal matters that are not threats to international peace and security, Council action is not appropriate nor helpful. It politicizes the Council and sets dangerous precedent.
The other problem is that we're pining for good old days that didn't exist. The mid-1990s, when the US had enormous power following the collapse of the Soviet Union, were an anomaly. The Council has been deadlocked on many if not most important world issues pretty much since its inception, at least when great powers' interests are involved, which is most of the time. We should not be surprised the Council couldn't do anything on Georgia: two great powers had mutually irreconcilable interests in the region. The Council hasn't been able to issue so much as a statement to the press on the situation in Israel/Palestine in years.

The second failure the article mentions -- the loss of norm-determining power in UN bodies -- is more insidious, but not surprising. The US voted against the creation of the new Human Rights Council for a reason: it knew it would be outnumbered. Part of the problem is the rift between the US and EU, particularly on human rights (the US not exercising its clout at the Human Rights Council is a major reason for Western ineffectiveness there), but at the Security Council the West still votes pretty much as a bloc. The issue instead is a developing country backlash against the politicization of human rights to target countries for political purposes, which Russia and China exploit (and, I rather suspect, morally agree with as well). If we're going to go after internal matters like Zimbabwe, but leave autocratic states that invade their neighbors like Ethiopia alone because they're our allies, we can pretty much expect a backlash, and that's what we've gotten. Moreover, the attempt to "shame" countries on human rights is becoming increasingly unpopular, which is not surprising either because it ends up pitting human rights against the nationalism of the countries in question, and nationalism will always win. At the end of the day, country-specific human rights resolutions -- the benchmark by which the West measures success in the field of international human rights -- are more trouble than they're worth. They damage the cause of human rights more than they damage the human rights abusers of the world. If you don't think so, then wait 'til the UN Human Rights Commissioner starts ripping into Western newspapers for publishing comments critical of Islam. Does it rankle you? Yes. Does it make you mad and distrustful of international human rights machinery? Yes. Congratulations, now you know how two thirds of the world feels.

I've told you a billion times never to exaggerate!

At the UN, you can usually tell the degree to which a country is a basket case and its leaders despotic. The way you can tell this is from the letters it sends to the Security Council or the Secretary-General, all of which are posted on the document racks on the third floor of the UN Secretariat Building, right down the escalator from where I work.

So here's the deal. Remember how your teacher told you not to cuss because it undermines your credibility? Well, the same is true of bellicose language in UN official letters and documents. The more shrill-sounding a letter, the more despotic the regime that sent it. For example, North Korean letters routinely say things like "this gangster-like resolution by Imperialist EU NGOs attempting to feed our people and overthrow our socialist way of life." They also frequently contain typographical errors. On a scale of 1 to 10 of despotism, North Korea would get a 10 just based on such a letter, and real life bears it out.

Now comes Eritrea, the steady decline of which I have had the displeasure of witnessing second-hand through their correspondence with the UN Secretariat. Their letters from three or four years ago, while stridently anti-Ethiopian, were at least vaguely rational. But now comes today's letter from Eritrean Ambassador Araya Desta, in response to the UN fact-finding report on the Djibouti-Eritrean crisis. It begins:

"The vexing schemes of the United States Administration to embroil our region in aan endless crisis only in order to control the region by "managing these crises" has become too well known these days to merit elaborate explanation. Nonetheless, Washington continues to doggedly pursue this policy and instigate various conflicts in our region under varying labels and pretexts."

[Sidenote: Observe the striking resemblance of this rhetoric to that of supporters of Lyndon LaRouche. Continuing...]

"The manual -- albeit misguided -- is rather simplistic in form. "First you incite a conflict. This is publicized and exaggerated beyond proportion in order to warrant or justify the intervention of international and regional organizations. The crisis is subsequently compounded and prolonged by dispatching 'envoys', 'mediators' and 'investigators'. The endless diplomatic wrangling will of course exact a price in the suffering of the local populations. But the United States would nonetheless reap the profits of this 'management by crisis'. ... Victimized as it has been by such repetitive plots, Eritrea was not deceived when the Djibouti "card" was initially floated to serve the very purposes outlined above. And through patience and restraint, Eritrea was able to forestall and contain the transparent ploy. When, as predicted, we were later informed that a United NAtions "fact-finding mission" was activated, we clearly stated our position. Indeed, we could not be expected to be party to a futile exercise where the outcome was determined a priori."

Damn those UN fact-finding missions and their "facts"!!!! Despotism Level: 9. If ever there was a case for term limits for world leaders, it would be Eritrea.

Khalilzad inadvertently endorses the Sovereignty Principle

Speaking on the role of the President of the General Assembly, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad today said that it was the PGA's job to bring the "192 tribes here" together.

Tribalism, of course, is the fundamental doctrine at the heart of the Sovereignty Principle. No tribe shall suffer itself to be lorded over by another for long. Thus, it is only through sovereignty and defined borders that any international order, peace and stability be achieved.

Thanks, Ambassador Khalilzad!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

not your daddy's General Assembly

Every year, the President of the General Assembly rotates to a different individual who is selected by the countries of his region. Last year's President, Sergim Kerim of Macedonia, was the consummate diplomat. This year's president, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and Priest who is famous for his anti-American rhetoric and whose nomination was pushed through by the Latin American group, particularly the hard left Chavez-led contingent, will probably be less so.

To wit, he's started his first day in office -- today -- with a lengthy sermon and a sharp rebuke of, among other things:
- the IMF and Bretton Woods Institutions
- the "mad selfishness" invoked by Tolstoy (really), which he decries as "suicidal" to the human race and the planet
- the American embargo of Cuba
- democracy promotion
- the Iraq war
- people who don't follow the "supreme law of love" (really, wouldn't that be a great name for a Motown tribute band?)
- the "addiction to war ... perpetrated by some members of the Security Council" (can't imagine who those might be)
- "state terrorism" (read: Israel)
- the Security Council
- nuclear weapons
- babies
- apple pie
- the Dallas Cowboys

Okay, I made the last three up, but the point is, it's going to be a long year for Americans in the GA.

Cro Magnon Man - the original ethnic cleansers

Good article this week about Neanderthals in National Geographic. Among the other things they point out that were not known when I took human evolution class in college in 2002:
- some Neanderthals were redheads, possibly with freckles
- Neanderthals has a gene associated with language and speech that was nearly identical to our own, meaning they could have had complex language just as we did
- Neanderthals, due to their body size and the region in which they lived, are estimated to have required between 4000 and 5000 calories a day, double the modern human intake. Also, they were nearly exclusively carnivorous, and cannibalism was common.
- Neanderthal range extended as far as Siberia. They truly did rule Eurasia for over 200,000 years.

The questions about Neanderthals have always centered on their relation to us. Were they a different species? Why did they die out? Did humans kill them, outcompete them, or were they victims of climate?

Evidence changes all the time -- as late as 1990 I recall learning that humans were directly descended from Neanderthals -- but after researching the issue for a report I did in school, I've fallen firmly into the they-were-different-species camp. No conclusive evidence of hybridization has ever been found, except for one headless child who may have just been, um, a big-boned human. (The morphology of the skull was always the most defining difference between Neanderthals and humans, so without the head it can never be conclusive.) The DNA evidence is increasingly pointing towards Neanderthals having been different species, and most of the traits they shared with modern northern European populations -- large brows, pale skin, red hair -- are almost certainly cases of parrallel evolution in response to the same conditions, not genetic relation. There could have been interbreeding -- Lions and Tigers interbreed -- but the offspring would likely have been infertile.

The real question was, did humans and Neanderthals coexist peacefully or was it a violent takeover? On that, the jury is still out, and certainly the climate at the end of the last ice age would have put stress on Neanderthal populations. But I personally find it more than a coincidence that, after surviving in often dreadful conditions and repeated ice ages for nearly 700,000 years across a range from Siberia to Spain, the Neanderthals disappeared everywhere during the precise period where modern humans occupied their land, endowed with fewer caloric needs, larger social groups, more sophisticated projectile tools that made hunting easier, and a more diverse diet that included far more grains and vegetables that were easier to procure. Moreover, given the violent nature of hunter-gatherers today, where murder is among the highest causes of death, and the violent nature of humans in general -- specifically our capacity to commit ethnic cleansing and genocide even on our own species -- my money is not on a peaceful transition. You've heard of the soft bigotry of low expectations? Well, at a minimum I would call this the soft genocide of resource expropriation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Week 3 picks

Ambassador At Large went 9-6 last week, with the Ravens-Texans game being postponed due to Hurricane Ike. Overall, that leaves me with a respectable but not terrific 58% winning percentage. It's time to get back to basics and that means... picking the home team to win. Home field advantage is big in the NFL. Len Pasquarelli points out that only 6 NFL teams have winning road records in the past 10 years. So when in doubt, I go back to this most basic rule. You might see a trend in this week's selections, my friends...

My picks for Week 3 (home team in CAPS, as always)

ATLANTA over Kansas City: At one point, Oakland was up 23-0 on the Chiefs. In Arrowhead. Remember when the Chiefs were invincible at Arrowhead? Boy did Herm Edwards take command of this team at the wrong time. If Darren McFadden could get over 150 against them, I rather think Michael Turner will get his yards too.
BUFFALO over Oakland: It pains me to say the Bills are for real, but for the moment they are. The Jacksonville win looks impressive, though we have to see what sort of a team the Jaguars turn out the be this year. Certainly they have the goods to take Oakland, but it'll be painful to watch, because Buffalo has — I harp on this all the time — the most hideous uniforms in sports, and the Raiders have some of the best. But will the Raiders even have a coach in time for this game? No one knows.
CHICAGO over Tampa Bay: Bears could have won at Carolina, but I knew they'd blow it and they did. Tampa Bay's a different story though. We Chicago fans know how unreliable Brian Griese is, and I expect my team will take full advantage.
Carolina over MINNESOTA: I still think the Vikes are overrated. They were saddled with three brutal games to start off the year against teams I'm thoroughly convinced are better than they are. So what that two of them are at home? Jake Delhomme and co. won at San Diego, so surely they can handle the shell-shocked Vikings and their Stay-Puft Stadium. Losing a game like the Vikings did to the Colts can do a number on your psyche. Watch the Vikings in close games this year, waiting to find a way to lose. Better yet, watch their fans.
NEW ENGLAND over Miami: I am never, ever picking the Patriots to lose in the regular season again. I knew they were going to win and I let the pundits talk me into the Jets. A Jets team that had to struggle in fits to top Miami, which subsequently got plastered at Arizona. A wasted pick. Never again. Anyway, this game sets up all sorts of "Belichick meets his master" intrigue since Bill Parcells now runs the Dolphins establishment. That's about the only intrigue this game will have, unless someone dives into Matt Cassel's knee also, and even then, I'd pick the Patriots if they started having Randy Moss throw it to himself. Like I said, if they win their next 14, I'll be right every time. Watch.
NEW YORK GIANTS over Cincinnati: Whatever happened to strength of schedule? The Giants open the year at home against their weakest division rival who just made a coaching change. Then they get St. Louis on the road. Then they get... the Bengals? At home? New York could be 3-0 without having proven a doggone thing. And they probably will be. Cincinnati's defense has somehow regressed from last year, and I'm buying more into the whole Carson-Palmer-Hasn't-Been-The-Same-Since-The-Knee-Injury theory with each passing week. Poor guy.
TENNESSEE over Houston: Clearly, the Titans don't need Vince Young in the short term, at least not when playing the Bengals. Interestingly, given the emotional issues Young is going through, Kerry Collins has his own checkered past in this regard, most relevant the time he told Dom Capers that his heart wasn't in it to lead the Carolina Panthers, the team he'd quarterback to within a game of the Super Bowl in just its second season. I don't want to be glib and make fun of these guys. I'm glad Collins got himself straightened out and I rather think Young will too. It's just an uncanny coincidence that a young basket case gets backed up by an ex-young basket case. More to the point, do we see Matt Schaub making headway against the Titan defense? Didn't think so. Moving on.
WASHINGTON over Arizona: If that Jason Campbell 67-yard bomb to Santana Moss didn't remind you of Terry Bradshaw's 73-yard game-winner to John Stallworth in Super Bowl XIV... well... you haven't been watching as much NFL Films footage as I did as a kid.
DENVER over New Orleans: So this Eddie Royal fellow appears to be pretty good. Not that the Raiders have a great secondary, but the Chargers have a pretty good one, and Jay Cutler had how many yards passing? And now we get the Saints secondary. In Denver. Where, as the immortal Mark Grace once said, "there's no gravity." I will be seriously bummed if there is less than 700 yards passing in this game. I also demand another spectacular Reggie Bush touchdown followed by a taunting penalty on Bush, while his team goes on to lose the game by two touchdowns.
SAN FRANCISCO over Detroit: Mike Martz avenges himself against the team that even he couldn't make good when he was a coordinator there. The Lions defense, trying to stop Frank Gore, will sure miss Shaun Rogers, who spent a lot of time in a losing effort making Steelers fans cringe every time he bowled into Ben Roethlisberger's separated shoulder. It's seldom that you see a large man tackle another large man and realize how much it must HURT to get landed on that way. But I was sucking in my breath every down for poor Big Ben, who doesn't look so big next to the 6'4", 350 pound Browns defensive lineman. Think about that, 6'4", 350. He's 7 inches taller than me, and two and a half times as heavy. That is a large man.
SEATTLE over St. Louis: This is getting ridiculous. Seattle has now lost its top six receivers. Having lost their first four, they sent out Seneca Wallace and Logan Payne to start against the 49ers. Well, that's what they would have done, but Wallace pulled his hammy in warmups, and then Payne went down early and is lost for the year. Are you kidding me? Did the entire Seattle Seahawks receiving corps pose on the cover of Madden '09? No, they didn't. Brett Favre, in a Green Bay uniform no less, was on the cover. So what the heck is going on? All I know is, after losing their first two by a 79-16 tally, I sure as heck can't pick the Rams on the road.
BALTIMORE over Cleveland: Last week I said Joe Flacco wouldn't win his road debut. Well, Ike knocked five of the Texans' eight roof panels off the stadium and the game got canceled. I was right, wasn't I? Too bad you don't get road experience when that happens. Now he gets the Browns. The Browns were not good enough to beat the Steelers or Cowboys but they're too good to be 0-3, right? They'll be desperate. But one thing I can't ignore is that in their first two games, the Browns have all of 16 points. Can I expect them to improve on that against the Ravens? I just can't make the pick. Baltimore wins a low-scoring punt-off. Which undoubtedly makes you wonder which team has the better punter, right? Well, I looked it up for you. Dave Zastudil is averaging 46.8 yards a kick for Cleveland, but Baltimore's Sam Koch had a cool 48.2 average. So there! Ravens by a field goal.
Meanwhile, this reminds me... the state of Ohio is 0-4 right now, and if Cleveland can't win this game, 0-6 is a distinct possibility. How might this influence the election? Will Ohioan displeasure with their pro football teams (never mind Ohio State's bad couple of weeks, losing Beanie Wells, nearly getting knocked off at home by Ohio before being humbled by USC) translate into change we can believe in on Election Day?
INDIANAPOLIS over Jacksonville: I'm only doing this out of habit. Neither team has looked its usual self. Jacksonville has been handled physically in its first two, which never happens. Indy's had to work to get 13 and 18 points in its first two games. Something's got to give. Is it too late for the Colts to go back to playing in the RCA Dome? If they were in there, I wouldn't have to even think about this game. But then, they wouldn't have lost so badly to the Bears either in the Dome.
PHILADELPHIA over Pittsburgh: When I was a kid I watched highlights of Jim Plunkett torching Dick Vermeil's Eagles and Ron Jaworski getting picked three times by Rod Martin in Super Bowl XV. From there, I decided the Eagles never played AFC teams well. I consistently pick them to lose games they should win against the AFC. And I've been right an awful lot of times, gotta say. Not this time though. They could have had that Dallas game, they're at home, and Pittsburgh has much less to play for. Especially since an Eagles loss would put them two back of the Cowboys, who are going to win in Green Bay. Which reminds me:
Dallas over GREEN BAY: Remember how the schedulers would send Brett Favre down to Texas Stadium every year and he would lose EVERY YEAR? Well, the Packers finally got the Cowboys in Lambeau and beat the snot out of them, which was sort of the beginning of the end for those mighty Cowboys teams of the mid-90s. No Brett Favre this time, though, and this is a Dallas team on the rise. Green Bay has so far had fun beating two overrated divisional rivals. America's Team is a whole different kettle of fish.
(monday) SAN DIEGO over New York Jets: I can see it now, end of the game, Chargers by 5, Jets driving with the ball... will we see another last-second San Diego meltdown? NO, Antonio Cromartie intercepts a horrible pass from Brett Favre!!! In the battle of you-can-bet-on-its, Favre's ill-timed picks are more dependable than San Diego's horrible end-game meltdowns. An angry bunch of Bolts win going away.

Last week: 9-6
Season: 18-13

HURRAH! a BOLD leap forward on Security Council reform!

For 16 years, the member states of the United Nations have labored to reform the Security Council, enlarging it to be more representative of today's geopolitical realities. After 16 long years, they finally decided...

... to start negotiations.

... next February.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Well, it was a rather crazy Week 2 in the NFL. And with one game to be played, I'm sitting at a so-so 8-6, with one game to be played. (The Texans-Ravens game was postponed because of Hurricane Ike.) Quick thoughts:

- Cleveland has now gone 7 quarters without a touchdown. Derek Anderson generally looked good out there, too, against the Steelers, but even with those dreadful wind gusts, 6 points won't get it done.
- I am never picking the Patriots to lose in the regular season again. I picked 'em 15 out of 16 regular season games last year (picked 'em to lose at Indy, and they darn near did, too) and I knew — KNEW — that they'd beat the Jets, but let myself be talked out of it. In Belichick I trust, henceforth.
- The Chargers' 2008 campaign must be hexed. I picked 'em in Weeks 1 and 2 and what happens? Freak TD on the last play of the game from Jake Delhomme in the Carolina game... and then, the Denver game. What can be said? It was a fumble for goodness sake? Anyway, even though I lost the pick, I'm not too fussed because as an Indy fan I sure don't mind seeing San Diego sitting at 0-2.
- Seattle blowing an early 14-3 cushion against a J.T. O'Sullivan-led 49ers team is rather shocking, as is the fact that their top six — SIX — wideouts are now injured. I've got serious questions of whether I can pick them to beat St. Louis next week. Arizona — destined to finish 7-9, which you can understand if you look at how brutal their late-season schedule is — suddenly looks like they can become the first sub-.500 team to make the playoffs in NFL history.
- New England just won probably the second or third hardest game on its schedule and really controlled the Jets in New York (actually, New Jersey, if you want to get technical). Favre threw a costly pick, no surprise. I've got to revise upwards. Patriots could easily win 12 or 13.

I'll be more spot on next week, I promise. Gotta get this thing back to the 60% range, where it's been the last 3 years.

Friday, September 12, 2008

the election should be over now

Sarah Palin just said that we should go to war with Russia if it attacks Georgia again. Undiplomatic lays out the case for how staggeringly dangerous and naive that is.

funnier if you read Foreign Affairs ... but pretty freakin' hilarious regardless

Undiplomatic posits, what would happen if Time Warner took over Foreign Affairs? The answer says an awful lot about the state of American media nowadays...

Zimbabwe is saved!

It looks like Thabo Mbeki finally got a power-sharing deal between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Odds of the US letting the perfect be the enemy of the good? Uh, 100%.

This raises an interesting point -- I'll call it the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf conundrum. Poor Mr. Tsvangirai, after all his work, finally gets at least some say in running the country ... except he inherits a country with sextuple-digit inflation, a collapsed infrastructure and no food. Which begs the question... would why would you want to run Zimbabwe?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


A maddening article by John C. Danforth and Philip Bobbitt asking questions of McCain's and Obama's respective foreign policies. Among the lowlights.

"1. ... Would you launch large-scale armed attacks against terrorist in Pakistan if the new government there is unwilling -- or unable -- to suppress these groups and refuses to give United States forces permission to act?"
For starters, Obama already answered this question (yes) and so apparently has Bush. But ultimately, this is obviously a case-by-case call. Clearly, all the candidates involved are willing to throw Pakistan's sovereignty into the well for a little while to nab the worst of the worst. The main difference is whether they have enough common sense to know that such tactics have a serious risk of backfiring and should only be used as a last resort, and to catch the most dangerous individuals?

"2. [Regarding Darfur], are you prepared to announce the rules for American intervention for humanitairan purposes and, if so, what would those rules be?"
A maddening question, because no president can say, in this climate, that no we won't do a doggone thing about genocide. But no one of any credibility (exception, Joe Biden) thinks that military force, particularly American or NATO military force, can do squat in Darfur. Ends are one thing, but without means they're meaningless. The means to stop the Darfur conflict by force really aren't there. The entire idea of "humanitarian intervention" is bunk.

3. How long should troops remain in Iraq?
Jeez, guys, have you be reading the news? Both candidates have been pretty freaking specific about their intentions here.

"4. Would you authorize the use of force ... top prevent Iran from developing nuclear ewapons if it appears that diplomatic efforts are failing to bring about substantial progress in this regard?"
Both of these guys, whatever jobs they are currently holding, should be fired at this point. This is THE WRONG FREAKING QUESTION, GUYS. The two questions you should ask are: 1. Will you attempt diplomatic efforts in the first place? (Obama will, McCain won't.) 2. If those efforts fail, will you authorize a full-scale American invasion involving hundreds of thousands of American troops to stop Iran's nuclear program? Because airstrikes, as has been said again and again, are not an effective nuclear deterrent now that Iran has effectively mastered the nuclear fuel cycle. It will delay their program by months or a year or two at most, at the cost of all outside knowledge or IAEA supervision of their nuclear program. This "will we use force or not" argument is dangerously misleading. "Force" to stop Iran involves a full-scale invasion larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. If that's what we want, let's talk about that, and not prevaricate with fictitious dreams of quick fixes via airstrikes. McCain who said "the only thing worse than war with Iran is a nuclear-armed Iran" has given his answer. He'd send in American troops. Obama has given his answer. He'd talk to the Iranians first to stop it from coming to that point. THAT is the defining difference in this election. Moving on.

6. "In light of the United States Security Council inaction in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, critics ahve said that the United Nations is not an effective instrument for confronting rogue states, terror and genocide. Do you favor expanding NATO [or other alternatives]?"
Holy crap, where do I begin? The Council didn't act on Bosnia or Rwanda in large part because of Clinton prevaricating over the use of force. In Cambodia, the US took the side of the Khmer Rouge in the United Nations. Zimbabwe is an internal issue of a stolen election by a terrible, despotic or ethnically domineering regime. Uh, guess what? There's a lot of those in Africa. Kenya and Nigeria didn't come to the Council, and Zimbabwe should not have either. IT'S NOT A COUNCIL ISSUE. People who try to write New York Times articles about the United Nations should be required to read the UN Charter in advance. I don't care if they were former Ambassadors (hello, John C. Danforth).

8. Finally, a good question. Would you try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
For the love of God, I hope not.

Anyway, the rest of the article is straightforward, but it was frontloaded with so much incompetence that I had to weigh in. Have a nice day.

(update) a far better, and shorter, list of questions for the nominees can be found here. Thank you, Foreign Affairs. (These questions are, specifically, for Sarah Palin, given her complete lack of any foreign policy experience/statements/publicly known views at this time, but for the most part they're good for everybody.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NFL Picks Week 2

The combination of misinformation over the Russia-Georgia war and the depths to which the Presidential campaign here at home have now stooped have forced me to direct my energies elsewhere for the morning... like football! After a sub-part 9-7 opening week, I present my picks for week 2:

Titans over BENGALS: So Vince Young is "hurting on the inside," according to his mother. I assumed upon reading the headline that this meant he had a bruised kidney or a lacerated spleen or one of these alarming-sounding injuries that quarterbacks sometimes get. But actually these wounds are psychological. This reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon -- can't find it on google at the moment -- where the football player is being heckled on the bench and he wonders to himself, "What if I really do suck?" Tennessee did just fine without him after he got hurt in Week 1, though, so I'm going with them again, although mostly because I'm so pissed off at myself for picking the Bengals in Week 1 when I knew they would not win that I'm never picking them again. This pick is self-flagellation. Vince, I know how you feel, man. Actually, no I don't. You're a star football player making millions of dollars and I write a political blog that no one reads. Moving on.
Packers over LIONS: I watched highlights of the Lions-Falcons game, and that's enough for me to take Aaron Rodgers on the road. What is up with the Lions? One playoff win in over 50 years. To think, they beat my Bears twice last year.
CHIEFS over Raiders: Because one of them has to win.
Giants over RAMS: Because the Rams laid the nastiest egg in Philly on Sunday and their season is over. Furthermore, they need to go back to the old yellow-and-blue uniforms and cut this gold crap. They're not Notre Dame. (Though given that the Irish had to rally to beat San Diego State at home, maybe they are.) In truth, they look more like Colorado State. And those white pants? I don't care if it was a hot day in Philly, those things can never be worn again.
Colts over VIKINGS: I'm tempted to go with Minnesota here after watching Indy struggle, but I think Manning will be better and I think Minnesota is overrated. Colts, but it won't be easy.
Saints over REDSKINS: Because of karma.
PANTHERS over Bears: If this was in Chicago, I'd go with the Bears, but Carolina's win in San Diego -- which a healthy Bears team was unable to do to open the 2007 campaign -- impressed me a lot, especially without Steve Smith, who single-handedly killed the Bears when these teams met in the playoffs a few years back. I still have these nightmare images of him ripping Jake Delhomme bombs away from Charles Tillman in the Chicago end zone. I don't care if he's not playing Sunday. Some things can scar a fan for life. Panthers take this, and the winner of this game gets the honorary title of Best NFC Team Not In the East That No One Was Talking About Eight Days Ago Before They Stunned An AFC Contender On The Road. Is there such an award? There should be.
JAGUARS over Bills: If I'd known it would rain I'd have picked the Bills immediately to beat Seattle, which they did. The rule is: if the weather in Buffalo is bad, the Bills are invincible. But if the Bills are on the road, or playing at home in good weather (not that this ever happens), they lose. I figured, first week of September, temperature in New York is in the high 70s, life is good, Seahawks win. Mother Nature felt otherwise. Maybe it's good for the Bills that they are tightening their ties across the border in Canada, given how dependent they are on its weather, although the Toronto Bills would sound pretty stupid. Anyway, this game's in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars are too good to start 0-2, so I'm going with the home team here. But the real reason is that Buffalo's uniforms are the most hideous in sports, possibly of all time, and I cannot take them seriously as a contender until they change them. Minnesota and Arizona have the same problem. Apart from Denver in the late Elway years, how many teams with weird uniforms have won or even been to the Super Bowl? None. Look it up.
SEAHAWKS over 49ers: I don't care if the Seahawks have zero wide receivers, and I don't care if the quarterback has a bad back, they could run it up the gut all game and still win. All I care about is that San Francisco just got flattened at home by the Cardinals. They are done.
BUCCANEERS over Falcons: Rookie quarterback vs. Tampa Bay defense. Since no one on the Lions got to give Matt Ryan the "welcome to the NFL" bit after flattening him, I think it'll happen in Tampa this week. Michael Turner will get his yards, though. I dunno... this is a tough call. My gut says Tampa though and my gut is usually right. It's like the Bush Administration's foreign policy in reverse. The more I think before I act, the more wrong I get.
TEXANS over Ravens: Can't take Joe Flacco on the road, not yet. Give Mario Williams a sack and a half and the Texans get in the W column.
JETS over Patriots : There seems to be some sort of karmic rule that Brady can never play Favre again. They were all set to dance in the Super Bowl, and then Favre threw that hideous pick to set up the winning Giants field goal in overtime in Green Bay. Then, in the off-season, Favre gets traded to the Jets, two big-time matches between the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks loom, and what happens? Brady goes down right off the bat in the KC game and is gone for the year. I really think New England can win this game, but I'm going with the Jets just because I have to see Matt Cassel win his first start since high school to believe it. Between Cassel's inexperience and Favre's recklessness, I foresee a ton of turnovers in this game. At least five interceptions in this game. Maybe ten. Jets in a squeaker.
CARDINALS over Dolphins: Could the Cardinals be for real? I mean, they have basically five automatic wins by getting Miami at home, plus two with San Fran and St. Louis each. The rest of the schedule's not too bad either, with winnable games at Washington, home against Buffalo and Minnesota, etc. And look at the state of the Seattle Seahawks, whose top four wide receivers are injured. Who else is going to take this division? Someone has to. Why not the Cards? ... Oh, who am I kidding? Seattle will rally to go 9-7 and take the division, Zona will blow one of the St. Louis games and finish 8-8 again, and in the late-season Seattle game Kurt Warner will fumble on the goal line, shattering his confidence for good and paving the way for the Matt Leinart era, during which time the team will never finish above .500 and Bill Bidwell will try to move the franchise again. They're the Cardinals. This stuff is too easy for a prognosticator to predict for it to be even fair. It's like predicting there will be turmoil in the Middle East. Really? I couldn't have imagined that would happen.
Chargers over BRONCOS: San Diego, like Jacksonville, is too good to start 0-2, even without Shawn Merriman, who thankfully saw reason and decided to have the surgery rather than ruining his career trying to play this season. But as always, the true reasons for the outcome are more subtle than the players or the coaches, and the reason I go with San Diego here is this: remember when the Broncos used to be invincible at Mile High? Well, since "Invesco Field" came into being, they are eminently beatable up there. Sidenote: I'm delighted that Barack Obama referred to it as Mile High Stadium. Well done. Stick it to the man, Barack. Anyway, note that the same thing happened at Lucas Oil Stadium. Replace an old, homely, outdated and ferociously loud and invincible home arena with a large corporate thing that generates no crowd noise and watch your world-beating franchise devolve into middling 7-9 irrelevancy.
Steelers over BROWNS: I'm delighted to say I was in the camp that thought Cleveland was completely overrated, although after the Dallas game that camp seems to include all of the football-watching world. I was here first! Let the quarterback controversy begin after Derek Anderson completely, what, 11 passes?
COWBOYS over Eagles: I have no confidence in this pick at all. Either team could win. They looked great last week. This game is going to be a doozy. It's such a shame that my girlfriend hates football, but she's the one with the TV. sigh...

Week 1 record: 9-7
Overall record: 9-7

* I reserve the right to change picks in the event of unexpected news/injuries prior to Sunday opening kickoff.

today's geography lesson

All of the following, I learn from today's NY Times, are actual provinces in the Caucasus:


And of course our old friends Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Chechnya.

If only they could all be independent, then the UN could top 200 members and truly become... even more inefficient than it is today.

Monday, September 8, 2008

my NFL picks

Ambassador At Large will be picking every NFL game this year. Unfortunately, I forgot to put my picks for this week on the blog, and put them instead on my college-only blog. You'll be wanting to watch this page 'cos I've netted upwards of 60% right in 2 of the last 3 years (no spread, though).

I'm not going to bother to posts my picks for this week now, too late for that. But I went 8-6 so far (two more games tonight). It would have been 9-5 if not for that ridiculous touchdown pass by Jake Delhomme on the last play of the Panthers-Chargers game.

Tonight's picks (home team in caps):
Vikings over PACKERS, because with all due respect to Aaron Rodgers, I never pick first-time starters at quarterback to win. Which is one reason I'm only 8-6 this week, because otherwise I would never have picked Cincinnati or Detroit to be able to win on the road. Bleah.
Plus, if Green Bay loses, then the media can go into a frenzy of blaming the Packers for dumping Brett Favre, who won on Sunday. You can hear them salivating over at ESPN Headquarters.

Broncos over RAIDERS: Because as long as Mike Shanahan is the coach in Denver, I will never, ever pick the Raiders to beat the Broncos. The man is 20-6 against them in his career. Talk about revenge.

why the UN can't win

When it comes to terrorism, the UN cannot win. It tries to be an impartial actor, but it's still targeted by terrorist groups and militias in Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and elsewhere. It tries to help out with either peacekeeping or political missions in the worst-hit countries but is blamed when terrorist attacks or assassination attempts happen anyway (East Timor and Somalia come to mind). It tries to come up with a definition of terrorism but the member states can't agree, mostly because the Arab states want a definition that includes Israeli attacks on Palestinians but excludes Palestinian attacks on Israelis, and the West wants exactly the opposite.

And now the UN is trying to hold a symposium on the victims of terrorism. It's invited 18 victims (or their family members, if the victims were killed) for the event, just in time for Sept. 11.

Can you guess what the problem with this might be?

Lebanese reporter: "Why don't you have any Lebanese victims of state terror by Israel?"
UN: "There's no definition on state terrorism, so we just stuck with victims of attacks by terrorist groups."
Palestinian reporter: "Why don't you have any Palestinian victims of state terror by Israel when you have an Israeli victim of a Palestinian attack?"
UN: "Look, we--"
Random reporter: "How come there are no victims of American state terror against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan?"
UN: * stunned silence *
Pakistani reporter: "Why no victims from Pakistan?"
UN: "Look, we asked a lot of people and not everyone is comfortable with speaking publicly in a symposium. These are very personal emotional issues for them and--"
Algerian reporter: "Why are there no victims of terrorism from Algeria?"
UN: "Actually, two of the 18 invitees are from Algeria."
Algerian reporter: * pouts * "Uh... why aren't there more?!"

Suffice to say, no matter how much the UN tries to balance this list geopolitically, no one will be satisfied. Which explains, in a nutshell, why, nearly seven years to the day after Sept. 11, we still don't have an international definition of terrorism that everyone can agree on. Here is the only one that I think that all 192 members can accept:

Terrorism: what they do to us.

The balance of power it is a-changin'

Another good article about Georgia, explaining the changing balance of power and the Russian strategy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Kosovo and Georgia

An excellent article in the Guardian on why Russia and the West aren't speaking the same language when it comes to Georgia, S.Ossetia and Abkhazia. The reason is Kosovo, the precedent that the West refuses to acknowledge.

My prescription is as usual: give up on the breakaway provinces (not that we have to recognize them or anything), and focus on saving the sovereignty of Georgia proper.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Myth of the Nation-State?

On the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations forum, Devin Stewart has written a piece call The Myth of the Nation-State.

Specifically he argues that while the "state" is important and useful, the "nation-state" is a falsehood because today's problems transcend international boundaries.

Sovereignty buff red flags are going off all over the place here. While the argument itself sounds nice -- that we are global individual citizens, not members of an ethnic, tribal, or nationalist group -- it's wildly belied by experience. The author uses the multiple identities of Europeans (linguistic, cultural, regional, continental, national, etc.), but the EU merely reinforces both the sovereignty principle and how to get things done in a world of nation-states that aren't going away. Every identity group longs for self-rule and chafes under anything else. But the EU manages to give everyone home rule while involving them in an economic community and political bloc that gives them the leverage of a great power. The other option is ethnic groups lording over other ethnic groups by force, which is what has happened in much of Africa and the Middle East, among many other places.

If there is no true "nation-state" it becomes much easier to, say, justify humanitarian intervention or removal of a bad regime in a nation and then be surprised when the country falls apart into ethnonationalist sectarian chaos, which has happened, you know, once or twice in recent history. The international declaration of human rights is important, but if sovereign states aren't the ones to enforce it, it's worthless. Countries, even ones with good human rights records such as mine, are much more cavalier about slaughtering other peoples' citizens than their own. Notice how there's no official US government record of the Iraqi death toll.

If we want to solve the world's problems, it's essential that we make it in all countries' interest to solve them. On climate change, this is really the case. It IS in America's interest, and China's, and India's, and everyone's, to solve the climate change problem. Working with nations and their "parochial interests," we can craft a climate change regime that brings benefit to everyone with shared burdens and cooperation that's in everyone's interest. Attempting to bypass nationalist considerations, however, will go nowhere. There's a reason that the Kyodo Protocol was dead on arrival when it got to the United States. The case for why it would benefit America hadn't been made. Now it's being made. And now we have a chance for some action.

Cold War 2: the Revenge

So the Russians have now claimed a "sphere of influence" in the old Soviet Republics. this of course has American op-ed pages hopping mad... but not one of them takes to task our presidential candidates for referring to America's "vital national interests" abroad. Like, in oil rich Middle Eastern countries, for example. So, basically, spheres of influence are only okay when we do it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bears at Colts

So once again my loyalties are split when the Bears face the Colts in the NFL season-opener, their first meeting since Super Bowl XLI. I didn't know who to root for last time -- I decided on the Colts because I figured the Bears were in better shape to return to the Super Bowl in the long term... ooops -- and I don't know who I'm going to root for this time. I just hope it's a good game and no one gets hurt.

The real question is, will the Colts kick to Hester?

Khalilzad explains himself

So while US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was on vacation, a firestorm of stories broke out accusing him of, among other things, forming a political fundraising group to run for president of Afghanistan (sort of an awkward jump for a man currently serving as America's top diplomat to the United Nations), and improper fraternizing with Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People's Party.

Today Khalilzad returned to the United Nations and denied everything, his main defence being that, well, heck, he's a popular guy.
"I have many contacts and friends around the world," Khalilzad informed the press. "I've been in the business for a long time, and these contacts and friendships, many of them precede my assignment on the role in the US government. ... I'm experienced enough to know the difference between being a channel with these friends on behalf of the United States, and having social contacts. In particular with regard to the Bhutto family I have known Benazir Bhutto for a long time and of course got to know her husband as well. ... I feel these contacts are perfectly natural [and no political advice was exchanged]. I've been surprised by the characterization of those contacts."

On rumors that he's running for President of Afghanistan, he was more specific than he had been previously, when he had been rather tense-specific about his lack of interest in the job. "I am not a candidate," he had previously said repeatedly, using only the present tense as if to leave open any change of plans in the future. Not this time, however. "I have no plans. I am not a candidate," Khalilzad said this morning. "I have no plans of becoming a candidate. When I leave here, I will work in the private sector. I am not aware at all if there has been a group ... involved in fundraising."

So there you have it. Ambassador Khalilzad is not, repeat, not be campaigning to be President of Afghanistan, but if people in Afghanistan wish to raise money for him to do so, they can. He will continue to have an active social life, including globe-hopping dinners and phone calls with many world leaders and important newsmaking people.

Of course, if Zardari becomes Pakistan's President and Khalilzad becomes Afghanistan's president, at least we'll have leaderships in those two countries who don't hate each other, which can only be good for the region.


So is the Russia-Georgia war the first one in which both sides used cluster bombs? If anyone can think of another, I'd like to hear it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Is there any point? Isn't it a waste of money, a waste of resources, a waste of time and energy to have a group that goes on and on?"

Another failed round of Security Council reform at the United Nations today, as the "Open Ended Working Group" (bad sign right in the title of the group, no?) met for the umpteenth time. Today's debate was over a proposal by the General Assembly President that the member states move from "consultations" — which they've been doing for 15 years, to no end — to "intergovernmental negotiations". Asleep yet? Even the Japanese press, who as you can imagine care deeply about Security Council reform so that they can get on the Council, have stopped following this. Sort of.

Most of the highlights came from India's Ambassador Nirupam Sen, whom in his speech to the members referenced both Alice and Wonderland and Marx — a mean feat of oratory. He later dismissed the President of the General Assembly's draft, saying: "We disagree with the report, totally, completely with ever word of it."

Naturally Pakistan also blasted the President's proposal for completely different reasons, because Pakistan is against intergovernmental negotiations entirely on the grounds that . (It's a rule that Pakistan and India must disagree, period. The only thing they seem to agree on is that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is a neocolonialist plot). Even the ever-prudent and soft-spoken Japanese delegation was studiously unimpressed by the President's proposal.

The meeting will continue tomorrow, since not everyone who wanted to bash the President's proposal had time during today's five hour session, but the punchline is, for those of you who were desperately hoping for Security Council reform... um... it'll be a while.

Vladimir Putin, Superhero

So with the Republicans playing up Sarah Palin's outdoorswomanship, the Russians appear to have one-upped them, big time, with news breaking today that Vladimir Putin just shot a wild tiger with a tranquilizer gun and saved a group of scientists and reporters from being mauled. No, really, he shot a wild tiger.