Friday, October 31, 2008

helpful distinctions in South Africa

So after all these years, the African National Conference (ANC) is splitting. The defectors clearly want to delineate themselves from the existing party. And what does that entail? Well, for starters, creating a new and distinct name that will make it clear that you're an independent party.

Good thing, then, that they've apparently decided on the South African National Congress (SANC). Very distincting from the ANC, right? Well done. Good going, guys.

NFL Picks

Here we go again. Gotta pick my Colts, with great trepidation, just 'cos they have to win this game or their season is basically over. Bob Sanders could be back. Who knows what might happen?

Other thoughts: The Jets look peculiarly unimpressive, losing at Oakland and having to rally to beat Kansas City. Speaking of KC, the Tampa game has trap written all over it, a team that just lost a physical game going to Arrowhead to play a team that's purportedly no good but came darn near beating a playoff contender on the road last week. Still, I'm sticking with Tampa. The picks here that I have no confidence on whatsoever are Arizona at St. Louis and Minnesota over Houston. These are both toss-up games and I'm picking them basically on hunch. Also, the Redskins-Steelers game, where I have to go with Washington because Pittsburgh's offensive line has been so terrible, but we could easily see the Skins lay a turnover-filled egg like they did against the Rams a couple weeks back. I think Pitt will have to work harder to win this game than Washington will, and it's in DC, so I have to pick the Redskins. Still, though, this is a very unpredictable week after a very predictable last couple of weeks, and it makes me queasy. I'm just grateful I'm not picking against the spread. (That'll be next year, folks.)

Week 9: √
BILLS over jets
BEARS over lions
jaguars over BENGALS
BROWNS over ravens
TITANS over packers
cardinals over RAMS
VIKINGS over texans
bucs over CHIEFS
BRONCOS over dolphins
falcons over RAIDERS
GIANTS over cowboys
eagles over SEAHAWKS
COLTS over patriots
REDSKINS over Steelers

Last week: 10-4
Season: 73-43 62.9%

why the US raid on Syria is a bad idea

Fred Kaplan on why the Syria raid -- and the Pakistani ones, for the same reasons -- was incredibly stupid and shortsighted.

Like I've been saying over on the podcast I take part in, spreading an active conflict into neighboring countries is almost always a bad idea. It either destabilizes those countries, inflames nationalism in them, or both. Also, in the case of the United States, it increases anti-Americanism and undermines our regional goals.

Sovereignty! Live it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

English speakers: George Bush, you are forgiven

You would think that the Chairman of the UN General Assembly's Disarmament and International Security Committee would know not to repeatedly refer to "nukular weapons."

You would be wrong.

more evidence that North Kivu is the worst place on Earth

Renegade general Laurent Nkunda's rebels have attacked government forces in Eastern Congo. UN forces, seeking to protect civilians, have basically taken the side of the government in this war, but seem to be unable to defeat or even contain Nkunda's militia.

A few thoughts:

First, Congo is one of the very few places where UN forces have taken a side in a civil war, and it's happened twice now. In the 1961, following the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the UN force in Congo used military force to crush the Katanga secessionist bid. (Conspiracy theorists continue to claim that Dag Hammarksjold's plane was shot down because he was acting against the wishes of the Belgian-backed Katanga militia.) And now the MONUC mission has basically taken the side of Kinshasa in fighting the militias in Kivu.

Second thought: Congo is the most intractable conflict on Earth. An oil power-sharing agreement, or some kind of federalized structure, can bring some measure of stability, someday, to Iraq and Sudan. But how do you solve Congo?

Third thought: A friend of mine suggested that countries who have bad p.r. should change their names. Haiti comes to mind. Democratic Republic of Congo is proof that this does not work. If anything, it only makes people long for Zaire, and who ever thought we would long for Zaire?

Fourth thought: This current round of fighting is serious. The UN and Congolese army have been in retreat, and the rebels have been bombing roads where civilians are trying to flee to Goma. But most telling, the UN press corps is actually showing an interest in Congo, where the UN's largest active peacekeeping force is trying to keep some semblance of order.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

NFL picks

Sorry readers, I've been on jury duty and haven't been up to date. Anyway, here's my picks.

Week 8:
buccaneers over COWBOYS
redskins over LIONS
DOLPHINS over bills
PATRIOTS over rams
chargers over SAINTS
JETS over chiefs
EAGLES over falcons
RAVENS over raiders
PANTHERS over cardinals
JAGUARS over browns
TEXANS over bengals
giants over STEELERS
49ERS over seahawks
TITANS over colts

Last week: 10-4
Season: 63-39

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

undiplomatic Columbia

So yesterday I went to see Russian Amb. Vitaly I. Churkin give a talk at Columbia University. Or, rather, it should have been a talk, but actually wound up being more of a shouting match. I don't think I've ever seen a foreign dignitary get rougher treatment. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was called a "petty dictator" by the President of the University, was more welll-received. Most of the questions Churkin took were nothing of the sort, but rather long-winded and furious statements condemning Russian aggression. On the whole, Churkin handled himself quite well, despite making some dubious statements on, say, the civilian dead in South Ossetia. All in all, people need to understand that the longer your question is, the less credibility you have. People also need to understand that this is an ambassador. Harranguing him does no good and only sours relations. Either treat your guest with respect, or don't invite him.


I'm now doing podcasts. No podcasts are actually up yet, but they will be soon. Website here:

Friday, October 17, 2008

more League of Democracies hate

Check out this month's Foreign Affairs for Charles Kupchan's takedown of the League of Democracies idea. Kupchan's piece is one of the most comprehensive cases made against the League yet, demonstrating how it would have serious logistical issues, be completely unworkable, and beyond that it would actively exacerbate tensions. Oh, and no other democracies besides the US think it's a good idea or want to join. Well done, Mr. Kupchan. Couldn't have said it better myself.

I hope Barack Obama reads this piece.

Austria, er, Australia

The new nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council were elected today. The five new members include Austria, which edged Iceland for the second European slot available. (Turkey got the other.) Austria got 133 votes, Iceland 87. Australia, despite not being in Europe and not campaigning for Council membership, got 1 vote. Yes, this means that one UN member state's delegate does not know the difference between Austria and Australia.

I just hope it's not the United States.

a minor translation error


Week 7 NFL picks

Last week was bad, and this week is hectic, so I'm not going to give any rationale for these picks. I'm just going with my gut. Here they are.

BILLS over chargers
colts over PACKERS
BEARS over vikings
steelers over BENGALS
titans over CHIEFS
cowboys over RAMS
DOLPHINS over ravens
GIANTS over 49ers
PANTHERS over saints
TEXANS over lions
jets over RAIDERS
REDSKINS over browns
BUCCANEERS over seahawks
PATRIOTS over broncos

Except to say that I'm tentatively switching my pick and putting Buffalo over San Diego, on the grounds that every time San Diego has a big win, then tries to come to the East Coast, they play poorly. See the Miami game.

Last week: 5-9
Season: 53-35 60.9%

amoral realism?

Haven't blogged for a little while. Glad to be back. First of all, it's time to hammer the Washington Post for its backhanded endorsement of Obama.

Specifically, one phrase left me hopping mad, when the Post expressed hope that Obama could transcend the "amoral realism" of some of his party. A clear dig at those who opposed the Iraq War on the grounds that it was a terrible idea. You know what gets me steamed? Being called "amoral" by a newspaper that enthusiastically endorsed the march to a war that's killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Week 6 NFL picks

I returned to earth at 8-6 this week, although it should have been 9-5 if I hadn't let the pundits talk me into switching my pick from Tennessee to Baltimore. Anyway, I'm going back to my gut this week, and my picks are:

Bears over FALCONS: I can see two possible endings to this game. One, Chicago's defense shows up, creates hell for Matt Ryan that he's so far only seen in Tampa (and what is Chicago's D except for a younger version of Tampa's?) and Kyle Orton plays another solid-but-unspectacular game and Chicago aces a second straight road contest. Two, Chicago's defense does not show up -- particularly in the secondary, where they're banged up -- and Ryan throws two 60-yard bombs, while Orton has at least one awful fumble returned for a touchdown. I really could go either way here, but I'm a Bears fan, so I'm going to be optimistic. It's always trouble picking my own squad. Which reminds me:
COLTS over Ravens and Eagles over 49ERS: Each of these teams has a franchise quarterback. And the second most important guy on each squad can't stay on the freakin' field. It's maddening. Indy's Bob Sanders and Philly's Brian Westbrook are constantly injured, and when they're in the lineup, their teams are Super Bowl caliber, and when they're not, they struggle to even make the playoffs. By rights I shouldn't pick either of these teams, especially since Indy is at home and Lucas Oil Stadium is apparently cursed -- bring back the RCA Dome! -- but I can't do it. Indy's D surely has enough to contain Baltimore's offense, and I have to believe -- as a Colts fan, if nothing else -- that they'll squeeze it out. As for San Fran, I still don't believe they're for real, especially after Seattle's rotten egg-laying at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Gotta pick Philly.
VIKINGS over Lions: Minnesota's crazy win last night in N'Orleans might propel them towards the playoffs in a denuded NFC North. This breaks my heart, because teams who wear CFL uniforms should not be allowed to be in the NFL playoffs. Don't get me started about the Buffalo Bills.
SAINTS over Raiders: At halftime, I recommend that the Saints kidnap Sebastian Janikowski, the only kicker ever drafted in the first round, to solve their kicking woes. The team is 2-3. If Martin Gramatica could hit 43-yarders like any normal NFL kicker, they'd be 4-1 and looking good as Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey made ready to return. A secondary would also help.
JETS over Bengals: Hahaha who were you idiots who took the 17-point spread in the Cincy-Dallas game? I should have mentioned that in my picks. Never give 17 points, not in this league. Yeah, I know, even Dr. Z and Bill Simmons got fooled. No way. The bad teams in the NFL are too mediocre to get predictably blown out, and the good teams are too erratic to consistently lay it on somebody. The Bengals have been competitive in their last 3 losses, and indeed in most of their games this year. Now they get the Jets, on the road, same stadium where they nearly stunned the Giants not long ago. I will bet heaping sums of money that Brett Favre doesn't get six touchdowns again, although against this secondary there's every reason he could. Three, however, is definitely a possibility. Jets take it.
Meanwhile, if I'm an NFL owner whose team needs a new coach (we've already got two and counting in this young season), I'd look long and hard at Marvin Lewis. I know it's a sour ending, but just remember, he took the Bengals to the playoffs. He made 8-8 a disappointment in Cincy. Imagine what he could do with a real team.
Panthers over BUCCANEERS: Tampa Bay collects injured journeymen quarterbacks like some people collect baseball cards. Let's see, will Jon Gruden start injured veteran journeyman Jeff Garcia on Sunday against John Fox's crew? Or will he go with injured veteran journeyman Brian Griese? Too bad injured veteran Chris Simms isn't around anymore (though he could become a journeyman yet, and make his way back to Tampa. I wouldn't rule it out). Me? I'm going with the team with the healthy quarterback, whoever suits up for the Bucs.
REDSKINS over Rams: I can't deal with Jim Haslett coaching the St. Louis Rams. I'm picking them to lose every game for the rest of the year. This is like Bill Parcells jumping from the Patriots to the Jets, except way less interesting because Haslett's Saints were never that good.
Dolphins over TEXANS: It's the Sage Rosenfels war! Rosenfels, briefly the quarterback of the future for both these teams despite the fact that his name sounds like he should be a mythical herb that cures rheumatysm and witch-doctory, amazingly blew his chance to be the certified starter in Houston in two awful minutes against Indianapolis. The Texans may be 0-4, but their next five games (home against Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati, at Minnesota, and the makeup game against Baltimore) are all definitely winnable games, as is the game at Indy in Week 11, since Lucas Oil provides no home field advantage to the Colts whatsoever. Could we see a Wild Card push from the Texans? No. Could we see a respectable 6-10? Yes. Do I think they'll beat the Dolphins? Maybe. Am I making the pick? No.
BRONCOS over Jaguars: Remember when the 9-7 Jaguars went to Buffalo and Denver and won in back-to-back weeks in the '97 playoffs? No, no one remembers that, but it's what allowed a so-so New England team to sneak into the Super Bowl and lose to Green Bay. Anyway, since that happened it seems like Jacksonville has lost every doggone game to the Broncos, especially if it's at Mile High. Including two years later, where Jason Elam hit an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal. Stuff just seems to happen to Jacksonville at altitude. Denver wins it. And if San Diego doesn't find its defense soon, the Broncos might just take the AFC West going away.
SEAHAWKS over Packers: The battle between Mike Holmgren's old team and his new one has always featured great quarterback play ("we want the ball and we're going to score" aside), so to see an injured Aaron Rodgers battled it out with an ailing and receiver-less Matt Hasselback is kind of a bummer. When in doubt, I go with the home team. How sad is it that Seattle is STILL in the hunt for the division title?
Patriots over CHARGERS: Remember when these two teams played a pair of epic playoff games in back-to-back years, with the Patriots coming out on top both times? No, neither do I, but the second one was earlier this year in the AFC Championship game. Now you've got the Brady-less Patriots against the defenseless Chargers. The winner, therefore, will be Bill Belichick. Chargers fans, you can start chanting for Norv Turner's firing at about 10pm on the West Coast on Sunday night.
Also: Giants over BROWNS and Cowboys over CARDINALS

Last week: 8-6
Season: 48-26 (64.9%)

Friday, October 3, 2008


On the very short list of reactions we could have foreseen to the Indian nuclear deal, Pakistan has also demanded a nuclear deal. Thanks to the adventures of A.Q. Khan and company, they will never get one... at least not from us. China, however, might be more willing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Week 5 picks

We're at the "quarter-pole," or so Chris Berman tells me. I'm not even sure which sport this refers to, and wikipedia is of no help. It sounds like a racing term. But football these days, with 17 grueling weeks, isn't a race. It's Mortal Kombat. The team who has the fewest star players suffer debilitating injuries -- or finds the most future star players waiting among its reserves and rookies -- wins. An up-and-coming Green Bay team gets taken down at Tampa Bay (sidenote: Berman's pun of calling this game the Bay of Pigskin is among the best foreign policy/sports puns I've ever heard) and its quarterback of the future suffers a separated shoulder. Season over, right? Oh wait, it's not separated... it's just strained. Huzzah! March on, Green Bay! Pittsburgh rallies to defeat Baltimore... but loses its second and third running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Carey Davis, Mendenhall for the year. Top runner Willie Parker was already on the DL. The entire season of a team that many thought was Super Bowl-ready after its week 1 shellacking of Houston now turns to fourth-stringer and special teams whiz Mewelde Moore. How many Steelers fans had even heard of Moore before the fourth quarter on Monday night?

Which brings us to our picks. So many of the top contenders from recent years are suffering key injuries to top players -- New England, Indy, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Philadelphia, and a near miss in Green Bay -- that it's becoming increasingly difficult to pick the weekly slate, even without the spread factored in. That said, I've taken this upon myself, and I'll do my best. My picks:

GREEN BAY over Atlanta: Well, of all the things Green Bay brass could have feared in the fallout of the Brett Favre trade, Aaron Rodgers getting knocked out of the Pack's fourth game while Favre -- he of 257 straight starts -- throws a career-high six TDs for the Jets against Arizona probably tops the list. Packers fans have to wonder... we had the second-best record in the NFC last year and we trade our Hall of Fame quarterback so that... Matt Flynn can run the offense?! Fortunately, Rodgers's injury doesn't appear that it will keep him out of the starting lineup, so I'm willing to take the Pack at home against Atlanta. If I hear Flynn is starting this game, however, I reserve the right to change my mind.
San Diego over MIAMI: My buddy Erick who plays fantasy football tells me he's given up Derek Anderson as his #2 QB and is going with Chad Pennington instead. Browns fans can collectively throw up now. To think, Cleveland could have dealt Anderson to some QB-needy team (my Bears come to mind) for a high pick last spring and had Brady Quinn ready to go. Now they have a starting quarterback who gets into screaming matches with his top wide receiver while playing the Bengals, a signal-caller who fantasy guys are dumping in favor of Pennington, the New York Jets castoff who can't get the ball more than 20 yards downfield anymore and who is playing for a team that's lost 17 of its last 19 games.
The worst part is, my buddy is right to make the move, at least this week. Granted, Anderson's not playing because Cleveland has a bye, but even if he was, with Miami's ferocious running game and San Diego's amazingly uninspiring defense, Pennington could have a pretty good day, statistically speaking. Heck, I might put Ronny Brown as my backup quarterback over Anderson, if he's available. No matter: I say the Chargers are too good to lose this game, and the Fish have blown any element of surprise they may have had after plastering New England two weeks back.
DENVER over Tampa: The Broncos got humiliated on the road at Kansas City. I should have gone with my gut. Denver never wins at Arrowhead, no matter how much they ought to. Now we get another team that has reason to take revenge on Brian Griese. Chicago blew a fourth-quarter lead and couldn't do it. Now Denver has its chance. Their defense is worse than Chicago's but their offense is miles better. I just can't imagine the Bucs winning a shootout at Mile High.
ARIZONA over Buffalo: I'm going with the home team that needs it more. Two weeks ago we were ready to crown the Cardinals kings of the pathetic NFC West. Then they blow a winnable game in Washington and give up 56 to the Jets. If they're to make a playoff run, they MUST have this game. The latter half of their schedule is brutal. Buffalo, meanwhile, is flying high at 4-0 in a battered division, Trent Edwards is playing like a Pro Bowler, and they've won a couple of games they had no business winning (the Oakland game comes to mind). Long commute, desperate opponent... They're due for a letdown. Cards in an upset.
New England over SAN FRANCISCO: Let's see, a Bill Belichick team, off a bye-week with extra time to prepare, its previous game having been a humiliation at home by a winless Dolphins outfit... think the Patriots will be playing hard in this game?
DALLAS over Cincinnati: There are two ways to respond to a tough defeat. The first is to get mad and beat the tar out of the next middling also-ran who crosses your path. The second is to collapse. Which do we think is more likely for this Dallas team when it gets creampuff Cincinnati at home? The Bengals threw their hearts and souls into the Giants game at the Meadowlands and still lost. If I had to bet the farm on one game on the slate this week, this would be it.
Indianapolis over HOUSTON: A very difficult game to call, to be honest. Indy's been upset here before, and the Colts look more vulnerable than they have since the Ted Marchibroda days. Indy's descent this season really highlights the importance of offensive lineman. The Colts have lost most of their line for the bulk of the first half of the year, and it's cost them badly on offense. 52 points in three games is deeply worrying. Back in the salad days, they'd get more than that in a home game against Denver alone. And yet... I just can't pick against them against the division's weakest team, following their bye week. I'm riding Indy this week, but if they drop this game it's officially time to panic.
Other picks:
NY GIANTS over Seattle
PHILADELPHIA over Washington
BALTIMORE over Tennessee
CAROLINA over Kansas City
Chicago over DETROIT
JACKSONVILLE over Pittsburgh
NEW ORLEANS over Minnesota

Last week: 10-3
Season: 40-20 (66.7%)

more folks against the League of Democracies

Hurrah! Nina Hachiegen and Matthew Yglesias have joined the anti-movement. Hachiegen's takedown is excellent, pointing out how the League is a terrible idea for a host of reasons (no one wants to join because it will undermine the UN, it will unite non-democracies against us, the world's democracies are scarcely more united in foreign policy than the dictatorships, etc.). Yglesias adds a couple of reasons I've highlighted before, such as... who gets to join? Who WANTS to join?

And I'll add one more, one that dovetails with all of the above concerns: how does the LOD have legitimacy in the Arab World if Israel is the only member? Or in Africa when all its African members will be voting to protect their autocratic neighbors?

A final note: conservatives like John Bolton and Charles Krauthammer have been outfront that the purpose of the League would be the kill the UN. Bolton, however, has expressed doubts that the League is a plausible idea, not because he likes the UN, but because he's fully aware the most of the world's democracies (Europe, India, South Africa, Brazil, etc.) do.