Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Week 13 NFL picks

Well, I scrapped through to an 11-5 tally last week, bringing my total percentage to a season-high 65.9%. My picks this week: (home teams in CAPS, as always). Once again, I'm going against my most basic assumptions with my two squads (Bears face a tough road game in Minnesota, Colts a classic trap game in Cleveland after a series of huge wins). I also have to pick against San Diego when it hosts Atlanta, just because its pass defense can't seem to stop anybody at the moment. And I'm picking the Bucs to beat the Saints just because the Saints can't seem to have two good games in a row, and they just had a great one last week against Green Bay. The other game that kills me in this spate is Chiefs-Raiders, two teams so bad and so inconsistent (and yet so capable of randomly pummeling Denver) that it's impossible to tell who will win. I'm going with Tyler Thigpen over JaMarcus Russell, who attempted 11 -- count 'em -- 11 passes in the Denver win. I just don't trust the Raiders to win two in a row.

Lastly, in the bird battle I'm taking Philly against all better judgment, only because Arizona has made many trips east for winnable games (at the Jets when the Jets were struggling, at Washington when it was the fourth-best team in the NFC East) and blown them all. Donovan McNabb is probably playing for his job, and Andy Reid possibly coaching for his. Arizona has at least the #4 spot in the playoffs locked up, probably the #3. They have much less to play for. Eagles in an upset. Or maybe I'm just silly.

My picks:

Week 13:
titans over LIONS
COWBOYS over seahawks
EAGLES over cardinals
BILLS over 49ers
ravens over BENGALS
colts over BROWNS
PACKERS over panthers
dolphins over RAMS
BUCCANEERS over saints
giants over REDSKINS
falcons over CHARGERS
PATRIOTS over steelers
JETS over broncos
chiefs over RAIDERS
bears over VIKINGS
TEXANS over jaguars

Week 12: 11-5
Season: 116-60 65.9%

turkey sucks

Matthew Yglesias makes the case against turkey.

From my angle, the solution, obviously, is to stuff as many birds inside the turkey as possible. Turducken, perhaps? But no, that is so last decade. Even John Madden has rejected it. Think bigger. Three birds is insufficient, but seven ought to do it. Helloooo, Turgooduccochiqua. It sounds like a major Incan city, but it's actually a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a duck stuffed with a... okay, beyond this, I can't remember how it works. There's a chicken and a quail in there too. You gotta read the article.

In case you're wondering, the record for this sort of thing, according to wikipedia, was set in France in the 19th century, and involved no less than 17 birds, several of which are now endangered.

Even though the French have the record, however, I feel that this is a quintessentially American solution to a quintessentially American problem. Bored with the flavor of your industrially produced giant meat? Spice it up with more kinds of meat. As many kinds of meat as possible, in fact.

terrorist spokesmen

AP reports a government alert of a possible terrorist attack on the New York subway system over the holiday season.

This makes me think: what is the point of terrorism? The point is to achieve an end by instilling fear in the general population. So, um, WHY ARE WE REPORTING THIS? The number of people who were aware of this possible attack before the attack was very small. Now, every New Yorker who reads google news knows, and can feel unease and suspicion towards his or her fellow subway riders all the way to work and all the way home.

I don't really know who to blame here, and by even writing about this I'm not really helping the situation. But the point is, terrorists use media to promote their own agenda. The media should be more responsible and should not simply allow itself to be used this way, any more than it should have published the pictures of the Virginia Tech killer posing bad-ass style with his guns before the shooting spree. At this point, any would-be terrorist can just mention a possible attack plan on the phone with another terrorist and count on the US media to report it. The effect is almost the same as actually carrying out the attack: the population is put in perpetual dread of premature demise at the hands of criminal madmen and zealots.

I will now forget that I ever read this article. Please, if you ride the New York subways, do the same.

Unless you're law enforcement.

Thabo Mbeki, mass murderer?

A new study from Harvard finds that over 350,000 people died needlessly because of South Africa's head-in-the-sand AIDS policy, and dumps the blame squarely at the feet of Thabo Mbeki. "To this day, you have to wonder what got into him," says Richard Holbrooke. Wait, is this Richard Holbrooke and I agreeing on something? No way!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Axl Rose creates an international incident

Surprisingly, the Chinese government doesn't approve of the new Guns N Roses album.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

because it worked great for the Arabs

Pakistan gets riled by some neocon hypothetical proposal to slice up Pakistan.

Good going, neocons. That'll reassure our ally that we're a sincere partner while our drones are bombing its more mountainous regions.

Friday, November 21, 2008


After the Security Council discussed the situation in Somalia, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo made a good point:

"The very interesting thing about piracy today is that virtually everybody who took the floor acknowledged that you cannot only resolve piracy without resolving the situation on the ground in Somalia. Yes, piracy is urgent. We see it on the news. It catches our attention. But we keep on arguing that the condition of the Somali people should do the same."

Basically, it's anarchy in Somalia that allows the piracy problem to happen.

Matthew Yglesias agrees.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

yet more League of Democracies hate

I missed this when it came out, but the New Yorker had a terrific profile of Chuck Hagel right before the election. (Incidentally, I can't think of a stronger case for Hagel as Secretary of State.)

Anyway, in the article, Hagel lights into McCain's League of Democracies proposal for all the reasons I've listed here and more. Best of all, he calls it "an interesting Book-of-the-Month Club."

Hagel: "Now, in John's League of Dmemocracies, does that mean Saudi Arabia is out? Does that mean our friend King Abdullah in Jordan is out? It would be only democracies. Well, we've got a lot of allies and relationships taht are pretty important to us, and to our interests, who would be out of that club. And the way John would probably see China and Russia, they wouldn't be in it, either. So it would be an interesting Book-of-the-Month Club. But in order to solve problems you've got to have all the players at the table. How are you going to fix the problems in Pakistan, Afghanistan-- the problems we've got with poverty, proliferation, terrorism , wars -- when the largest segments of society in the world today are not at the table?"

Hagel for Secretary of State! Would that Obama read this blog.

future of foreign policy, continued

More on this thread, which I highlighted yesterday. Gotta hate on Will Marshall's second reply. Yes, it's alarming that the public still trusts Republicans more than Democrats on national security even after these last 8 years. The problem, for me, is that Democrats don't have a coherent foreign policy, and allow Republicans to frame the debate on the issue. Effectiveness of keeping America and its allies safe should be the overall judgment. Allowing the debate to be framed as an issue of "toughness" guarantees a hawkish, unilateral nationalism that will weaken us abroad, as it has for the past 8 years.

But Marshall falls into the "do something!" trap. To wit: "my post focused on the hard cases of national security: rallying support (at home and in Europe) for what looks like a long military engagement in Afghanistan. Creating more representative and robust collective security institutions to actually stop the slaughter in Darfur and the Congo."

News flash, Will: peacekeeping missions only work when there is a peace to keep. The UN's Department of Peacekeeping was skeptical of sending troops to Darfur for the same reason that they're now skeptical of sending them to Somalia: it's an active war zone. Strengthening UNAMID does nothing to stop the underlying ethnonationalistic conflict between the Darfur tribes and the central government in Khartoum, any more than it would solve the proxy war in Somalia, or the ethnic nightmare of Congo. It's setting the UN up for failure, and besmirching "international" institutions like the UN by misusing them in a do-gooder, got-to-do-something spirit that has bedeviled US politics since Bosnia. If you want to spend untold billions trying to pacify these regions in a demonstrably futile way, be my guest. (Actually not, since it's my tax money that gets blown on this sort of thing.) But it won't make the world a better place, or promote America's interest. It only involves us in ongoing conflicts and weakens our hand. A liberal policy that focused on protecting allies and forgoing futile nation-building exercises would get a lot more support at home, because it would be advancing the national interest and improving the state of the world. But the current foreign policy paradigm is controlled by the "toughness rule," and liberals aren't nationalist hawks or, if they are, they're internationalists on issues that can't be solved internationally. Let's solve climate change through international law and cooperation. Congo? Good luck.

p.s. Last point. Afghanistan's population will have tripled by 2050, a ten-fold increase over 1950. Strong and effective governance there has virtually no precedent in its history. Ditto infrastructure or public institutions. Opium is more than half of GDP. I also need to be convinced that we're not throwing money down a environ-deterministic-Malthusian rathole in Afghanistan before I can support a "long occupation." I want to know what the end looks like.

Moratorium on the death penalty, Round 2 (fight!)

So for another year, we have the General Assembly's Third Committee debating a draft resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. This battle basically pits Europe, South and Central America vs. a coalition of small island states and habitual human rights abusers. The US shamefully hides under its desk before voting against the resolution, letting Egypt, Barbados, Malaysia and Singapore do its dirty work. Barbados and Singapore have basically been filibustering this resolution for two days, throwing up scads of amendments and making lengthy statements about how this resolution impinges sovereignty, etc.

Now, I'm against the death penalty. I think it's arbitrary and too many innocent people get executed. BUT I am also against this resolution, and it was the Egyptian delegation that convinced me. The way they did this was to introduce an amendment calling for the abolition of abortion.

Point taken, Egypt. If abortion is an issue of national law for states to decide on their own, so is the death penalty. I wouldn't want the GA to call for the abolition of abortion, which it almost certainly would if it came to a straight vote free of political influence.

I'm all in favor of a moratorium on the death penalty, but the General Assembly is perhaps not the venue to seek one.

the plot thickens

So the weapons ship that Somali pirates grabbed a few weeks ago was bound for Kenya, but now it appears from Kenya it was bound for South Sudan.

So, just to clarify: The ongoing conflict in Darfur, spilling over into Chad and Central African Republic, is tied to the frozen conflict with South Sudan, which is in danger of reigniting. Both sides are arming with weapons procured from Eastern Europe and Russia. The Kenyans are backing the South Sudanese, in the hopes of establishing a good relationship with the possibly-soon-to-be-independent South government. So Kenya is getting arms from Ukraine to send to South Sudan, but Somali pirates are preying on the ships. Somalia's piracy problem is in turn exacerbated by actions by Somali political leaders, who themselves are tied up on a proxy war between Ethiopia (and ally Uganda) and Eritrea (and various allies in the Middle East). Finally, Uganda is also continuing its battle with the Lord's Resistance Army, which has ties to the Khartoum government in Sudan and also hides out in Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also overrun by Hutu genocidaires from the Rwanda genocide of '94, Rwanda-backed tutsi militias, renegade generals, and of course Congolese soldiers loyal (sort of) to Kinshasa, who were trained in Angola, which backs Kinshasa. Trying and largely failing to keep the peace are assorted UN missions in Congo, Chad/Central African Republic and South Sudan, an AU mission in Somalia, and a UN/AU hybrid mission in Darfur.

Did we miss any countries here?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pleistocene Park

Humans sequence the mammoth genome. Can Neanderthals, giant sloths and aurochs be far behind?

Week 12 NFL picks

Now, I never toot my own horn, because doing so immediately ensures a bad week. It's karma. But over the past 5 weeks I'm 53-20, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 75%. It's been a good run. It might be ending this week. You've no idea how many contortions I worked myself into trying to convince myself to go with my gut and pick the Lions over the Bucs. Classic trap game, just like the Kansas City game. In the end, I just couldn't pick a Daunte Culpepper-led team against Tampa's defense, but I have no confidence in this pick whatsoever. Ditto virtually everything else on the list, except for the Steelers-Bengals game perhaps.

I mean, what do we have to work with here? A maddeningly inconsistent Patriots team heading down to Miami to take on the Dolphins team that crushed them in Foxboro earlier this year? Who always gives them fits? Can I really pick New England to lose? (I can't.) Incredibly inconsistent teams in Jacksonville and Minnesota match up. The Eagles, fresh of a tie at Cincinnati, play at Baltimore, where they had their last tie a few years back. Houston, who can't win on the road, plays at Cleveland, who can thump the Giants and then lose at home to the defenseless Broncos. Green Bay at New Orleans. Indy at San Diego. Never in my life have I seen so many matchups between inconsistent, unpredictable teams whose records are somewhere between 4-6 and 6-4. My general gut this week was to go with the home team unless the home team was indefensibly bad (Rams, Lions, Seahawks). And then, of course, I pick the Colts to win, even with all the struggles they've had against San Diego in the past three years, even with the incredible likelihood that Antonio Cromartie will return at least two Peyton Manning picks for touchdowns... yes, I pick them anyway, 'cos they're my squad. Gotta love sports. Go Bears. Go Colts.

Week 12:
STEELERS over bengals
buccaneers over LIONS
TITANS over jets
CHIEFS over bills
bears over RAMS
patriots over DOLPHINS
JAGUARS over vikings
RAVENS over eagles
BROWNS over texans
COWBOYS over 49ers
BRONCOS over raiders
redskins over SEAHAWKS
giants over CARDINALS
FALCONS over panthers
colts over CHARGERS
SAINTS over packers

Last week: 11-5
Season: 105-55 65.6%


The latest from the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. This is getting a little ridiculous. It's like a game of Battleships out there.

a new foreign policy thread over at CFR

It's worth reading. First post is by Peter Beinart on the future of liberal foreign policy: right up my alley. I'd present a straw man and knock it down, but fortunately Will Marshall, the first respondent, already presented the straw man, and Matthew Yglesias, the second respondent, already knocked it down. Ann Marie-Slaughter then came in and cleaned up the mess. Well done.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Congo: the black hole of Africa

Foreign Policy's blog weighs in on the spiraling disaster.

voting is a "mortal sin" now apparently

So apparently this South Carolina priest didn't get the memo that the UN was having a dialogue on religious tolerance the past two days. He announces that voting for Obama is a "mortal sin" because of the abortion issue, and denies communion to anyone who has done so.

In other news, American efforts to export the principles of religious freedom, pluralism, and democracy to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Syria failed for some reason.

Putin goes gangsta

All I can say is, wow.

well, where else was he going to put it?

So, the UN archived webcast of yesterday's meeting on interreligious dialogue clearly shows Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari removing his chewing gum (or tobacco, perhaps, it's hard to tell) before starting his speech and sticking it on the General Assembly podium. I am not making this up.

More evidence for my Children on a Playground Theory of International Diplomacy, no?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

what he means is, we're not enlightened enough to understand why there's no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia

So, amusingly, the Saudi delegation hosted a dialogue on interfaith dialogue for the past 2 days at the UN. Highlights included President Bush talking about God for far longer than necessary, General Assembly President Brockmann rambling incoherently in a vaguely Marxist way, and Pakistan President Zardari raving about his deceased wife in a deranged fashion.

But the real masterstroke came during the press conference after the event, when the Saudi Foreign Minister was asked if the interfaith dialogue would lead his country to allow religious freedom at home (as is widely known, in Saudi Arabia there isn't any, and the Wahabbist brand of Islam exported from Saudi Arabia isn't exactly the most tolerant variety). The Foreign Minister said:

"This is an important question ... for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country that was the center of Islam where Islam originated. It is the country of the 2 holy mosques. It is the country where millions of Muslims pray every day. ... The leader of the country is the custodian of the 2 holy mosques, and therefore it is a country that is responsible not only to its own wishes and whims but to the wishes and will of the international Muslim community. Your question indicates to me that the intent, if I may seek intent, behind the question, is that how can you call for religious tolerance and you don't practice religious tolerance, and therefore how can you have interfaith discussions? But this is against the Madrid spirit. All the discussions that was had in New York. In Madrid we agreed to leave dogma aside, and to leave ideology aside ... so that you can bring people together. If you bring people together so that they understand that they have the same ethics, the same values, this will open the hearts and minds of people for further progress. But to say from the beginning, you have to transform yourself into something which you aren't now, or nothing else can be achieved. I've been carrying the argument too far. Let us begin our work. Let us increase the understanding between the faiths. Let us work on the common values that will help us, and knowing that we are rather than different, similar in many of the issues. ... If we allow the process to continue, this will allow us to change ourselves as much as needed to see each of us the point of view of the other and work together for harmony and peace and not confrontation between the peoples."

Got that? No, neither did I. I guess I haven't transformed myself yet from the incorrigible cynic that I am into the enlightened being I must one day become.

Week 11 NFL picks

My week 11 NFL picks:

PATRIOTS over jets
FALCONS over broncos
eagles over BENGALS
bears over PACKERS
COLTS over texans
saints over CHIEFS
DOLPHINS over raiders
GIANTS over ravens
BUCANEERS over vikings
PANTHERS over lions
49ERS over rams
cardinals over SEAHAWKS
STEELERS over chargers
titans over JAGUARS
cowboys over REDSKINS
BILLS over browns

Last week: 11-3
Overall: 94-50 65.3%

China solves global warming

... by "blotting out the sun" with smog. Will the smog that blocks sunlight from reaching the earth be enough to counteract the greenhouses gasses that block reflected sunlight from leaving the earth remains to be seen. Either way, a grim tale...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Democratic Republic of Congo and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

As Congo contributes to unravel, Angola says it's sending in troops. This would in effect reignite the Congolese civil war, as Rwanda and Angola would go head to head for control of Congolese resources once again. This is seriously alarming, but what alternatives are there from a UN perspective? Here's a couple:

1. Strengthen MONUC's mandate. Depending on whom you ask, the UN Mission in Congo either has the mandate to fire on rebels to protect civilians, or it has the mandate to do so only in conjunction with the Congolese army. Well, now that the Congolese army has fled from Kivu, MONUC is on its own. The one thing they're definitely not allowed to do is fire on the Congolese army, which has done much of the raping and looting and killing. And even if the mandate is strengthened, it's not clear that MONUC -- with 17,000 troops in a country of 60 million the size of Western Europe -- has the capacity to stop, contain, or disarm any of the major militia groups in the area. So perhaps we could...

2. Send more troops to support MONUC, and better trained ones, too, from Europe. Only a couple of problems with that. First, according to diplomats at the UN, they'd take months to deploy. Second, who will send them? The only country that seems gung ho about this is, surprise surprise, Nicholas Sarkozy's France, and given France's deteriorating relationship with Rwanda and the Tutsis in general, it would be awfully hard to put them in blue helmets and expect them to be seen as honest actors. (Not that MONUC has exactly gained a sterling reputation.) Even the UN's Dept. of Peacekeeping, sources tell me, would rather the French not get involved. So, pessimist that I am, at the moment I'll settle for a more modest option:

3. Making sure that the UN doesn't make things even worse by committing abuse or promising to do things it can't. The first rule is, of course, do no harm.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

reality on Burma

Matt Steinglass expresses dismay that we can't do jack about Burma. More to the point, however, he recognizes that we can't do jack about Burma. Long may it stay that way.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Week 10 NFL picks

BROWNS over broncos
saints over FALCONS
titans over BEARS
jaguars over LIONS
DOLPHINS over seahawks
VIKINGS over packers
PATRIOTS over bills
JETS over rams
TEXANS over ravens
panthers over RAIDERS
colts over STEELERS
CHARGERS over chiefs
giants over EAGLES
CARDINALS over 49ers

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night

Harlem — midnight. I might be too tired to get down what I’m thinking, which is a shame, because it’s a great time to be thinking. To think, I was just going to revel alone in my room watching the returns come in on for goodness sake. Fortunately, my employer — the world’s largest newspaper — had other ideas, and deployed me to the sea of chanting, expectant humanity on 125th street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. It was the sort of event that makes you realize that political rallies don’t have to just be bullshit. You’re allowed to believe what they’re saying, or at least what they stand for, for an evening or so.

Now, by nature I’m cynical and I’m not very optimistic. Obama went so far as to call out people like me in his speech tonight, and hell, I voted for him. Even after it became clear that this would probably happen, that Obama would probably be our next President, I‘d spent the whole week grumbling about election fraud and scare tactics, then convinced myself that the Redskins losing the Monday Nighter was a bad omen (or was it a good one? I can never remember the rule on this), and fitting also as I’d picked them to lose to the Steelers.

“Go talk to some people at the rally and get their reactions,” I was told by my esteemed employer, who’d anticipated an Obama triumph by shelling out over $1000 to send their top writer into the Obama tent in Grant Park, a thousand miles away. “Just get some comments from people about him being elected.” I shrugged. Isn’t it a little too soon for all of that? I mean, hell, he probably won’t even win, I thought but didn’t say.

But I went anyway, of course, walked half a mile up to the rally with a couple roommates, roommates who didn’t want to stop for pizza en route, which left me basically foodless until now. By the time Obama came on to speak, the hot dog woman had run out of hot dogs, the White Castle guys had run out of everything but the last and nastiest of the burgers which they were handing out for voluntary tips. (I had two.) And oh yeah, the Cair Parvel guys were out of dessert. They only had coffee. I didn’t even know Cair Parvel did coffee. Even the friendly neighborhood Burger King had closed its doors. Twenty hungry youngsters peered in through the glass to watch the staff cleaning up. Probably the staff just wanted to join the party, and who could blame them?

We were at about 120th and headed north when they called Ohio, and that’s the moment when I start to think that hell, maybe there’s something to this. By the time I get to the place it’s raucous. They’ve filled the entire square out in front of the statehouse building, half a block, and those are long blocks up in Harlem, each one better than an eighth of a mile. I hear distant drumming. I hate talking to strangers but I get the requisite interviews done in a few minutes — everybody wants to talk about it! — and I’m left to soak in the scene. Entrepreneurs are out selling Obama shirts already, as if they know something I don’t know. One man stands screaming deliriously to every black passerby, “Your children can be president of the United States!!!” And they all nod like, damn, they hadn’t thought of it that way before. The cops are trying to direct traffic and keep the rally from spilling into the street, but their hearts aren’t in it. They clap along with the steady, pulsing rhythm of the drumming corps and the cars honk their horns in celebration, not really giving a damn that traffic is moving at a mile an hour and it’s nearing midnight.

Twenty minutes after I arrive, they call Florida, and the place starts to go into a frenzy. A horn band shows up, plowing through the crowd and jamming, while everyone chants and claps along. A lot of Obama’s young white supporters got shit for chanting “race doesn’t matter” in Iowa, but right now, it really really doesn’t, thank goodness. We’re all just happy to be there. Various politicians and working class heroes — Roger Touissant?! — take to the stage to exhort the crowd, but we don’t need it by that point. We can smell it. Suddenly California comes in and they call the whole thing — Obama is the President-elect — and all of Harlem erupts. People who had been nervously watching inside their own apartments come streaming out into the night to join us. A hint of drizzle starts up warningly but no one gives a damn and it desists. McCain’s up there conceding, but they’ve turned the sound down so some community leader could bellow “YES WE CAN!” into the microphone. Palin’s grinning as if she didn’t even know they’d lost. Then McCain gives a final wave and Cindy gently helps her husband, who looks very tired but genuine again, decent, human, down the steps away from the podium, exit stage right. The horn players do another pass. The four lanes of 125th street are down to about one and a half as the swollen crowd spills into the street, fills up the next block over, stretches out towards Lenox Avenue, barely visible in the distance. People are sobbing. People are smiling giddily like blithering idiots like they’re drunk but they’re not. Some Lyndon LaRouche conspiracy theorists are demanding a “real revolution” but nobody pays any damn attention to them. I won’t even take their flyer.

And then out comes Obama. Surely he has some music playing, probably U2 or something, but we can’t even hear it, people are cheering too loud. When Obama finally gets to the microphone the crowd starts shushing itself, which takes some doing. Some nut with a bongo drum won’t stop hammering on it. Angry noises are made. “Quiet! Obama’s speaking!”

Obama’s performance is subdued, presidential, inspiring but not raucous. Only at the end does the place explode, on the final “Yes we can” and everyone spills off into the night, honking horns and tooting whistles. Distant fireworks go off. Like I said, I’m a cynical bastard, I’ve not much hope for the capacity of collective humankind and I assume the worst as a rule. I’m Jewish, I’ve got my reasons. But standing there in the middle of that rally, with a crowd that feels like it just had a huge, breath-crushing weight lifted from its shoulders, 8 years brushed aside, or maybe four hundred depending on your point of view, all I could think is that for one day, for one damn day, everything worked out, everything went right, we did right by ourselves. Perhaps we didn’t accomplish a damn thing tonight, except give ourselves a chance. But what a chance.