Friday, January 30, 2009

"the pope will fix all this"



The following document (front and back side are both presented here) was snagged by Ambassador At Large as he trolled through the UN conference rooms this afternoon. The document is a background paper on a lecture given about the Sephardic Jews in Greece, 94% of whom were killed during the Holocaust. The delegate listening to this speech had a few comments that he wrote in the margins. They appear to have two distinct handwritings, so I assume it was a note-passing conversation. In case you can't read them, this is what the notes say:

First delegate: "How come no one ask Kim Il Jong why he is starving his own population? Is not that a Holocost?" (sic)
First delegate: "Is not what is happening in Palestine not a Holocost?" (sic)
Second delegate: "My concern is not the loss of Holocaust memories but of the non-literate societies: Biafra, Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo ---"
First delegate: "The pope will fix all this."

Perhaps you wonder which delegation's desk this priceless document was found on? It was Saudi Arabia's.

crazy eights, part 2

The debate over how many babies is too many babies intensifies as more facts are learned in the case of the California eight.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

so can they find out what makes caterpillars rampage?

Researchers discover what makes locusts swarm.. It's serotonin!

Obama supports the Steelers

While appreciating the Cinderella story of the Cardinals, the President today said the Steelers were the closest team to his heart after the Bears.

Another reason Pittsburgh will win.

the Security Council continues to steadfastly ignore the growing caterpillar threat

The b-grade horror movie that is currently playing out across much of Liberia appears to be worsening. Today the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced that it's identified the caterpillars as "armyworms." The voracious beasts, numbering in the millions, have been eating everything in Liberia and have spread to over a hundred villages, spilling over into neighboring Guinea.

First of all, does this mean that the situation is now a threat to international peace and security, meaning that these caterpillars fall under the purview of the Security Council? Does this mean that the Security Council can use Chapter 7 to thwart the armyworm menace?

Second of all, are you listening Hollywood? Army Worms! Tell me this is not a low-budget disaster flick waiting to happen. It can even be based on a true story. I haven't seen Jeff Goldblum in any movies lately. I'm sure you can dig him up to play the bespeckled Cassandra who warned everyone that global warming would make this happen. Which reminds me...

Hammond could offer no reason for the Armyworms' abnormal behaviour, which will be verified by experts in the field in about 3-4 days. As to why the insects have reached such large numbers, he speculated it could be climate-related.


So when Tom Friedman says it's "global weirding" rather than "global warming," I think this is Example A. Apparently, warmer temperatures = more rampaging caterpillars. Better get used to it.

Moreover, warns FAO, it's about to get worse. Many of the armyworms have burrowed into the ground, unreachable by pesticides, and are cocooning before turning into moths. Each moth can fly a thousand miles and lay a thousand eggs. In short order, Army Worms shall spawn its own readymade sequels. Get ready for Army Worms II: Flight of the Moths! And, once the moths lay their eggs... Army Worms III: The Spawning!

Come on, Hollywood, where are you?

so where's the Ad Hoc United Nations Committee For the Realization of the Inalienable Rights of the Tamil People to Self-Determination?

The UN leads an evacuation of wounded civilians from the worsening bloodshed as the Sri Lankan government attempts to wipe out Tamil Tiger resistance once and for all. If they succeed, they'd become perhaps the first country to eliminate an ethnic secessionist bid through overwhelming violence since... well... I'm not coming up with any off-hand. Carthage, maybe? Point is, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this fails. (Update: the BBC has an interesting article about how the Tamils' sophisticated weaponry has been rendered useless by the military offensive. But, as they point out, suicide bombers don't require sophisticated weaponry.)

It is interesting, though, that the UN and the international community supports the 2-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but doesn't support the creation of an independent Tamil state in northeastern Sri Lanka. Why, you ask? I think geopolitics is the only answer.

Sidenote: when I was a boy, I thought the Tamil Tigers and Black Panthers were sports teams. Ooops.

when the world economy is in shambles... blame other countries

Tim Geithner gets flack from the IMF for going after China's manipulated currency.

Wen Jiabao has a different explanation: capitalists. Really.

The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, left little doubt that Beijing blamed the United States for the economic breakdown. "Inappropriate macroeconomic policies," an "unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption," the "blind pursuit of profit" and "the failure of financial supervision" all contributed, he said.


This is one problem with the global economy. Any one country can vote its leaders out, but as for who is actually responsible, but the buck stops nowhere.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the EU apparently reads my blog...

... because they just did pretty much what I suggested earlier today. Namely, they softened conditions for Hamas to enter a unity government. Pragmatists, go!!!

Manliness of Jerseys = Super Bowl Triumph!

An ingenius online prognosticator named Answer Man says that we can tell that Pittsburgh will beat Arizona just by looking at them. He's been amazingly accurate up 'til now, though he doesn't provide a spread in this column. It's time for my prediction for the game:

SUPER BOWL JOE'S... FIRST EVER... SUPER BOWL PICK!

First Half: Pittsburgh runs the hell out of the ball, and we all remember that the Arizona defense isn't actually that good. Even the Arizona defense remember this. "Holy crap, we're not actually that good!" they'll be thinking. You'll be able to see it in their body language every time Willie Parker breaks off another 8-yard run. Meanwhile, the Steeler secondary blankets Larry Fitzgerald with double-teams and bumps off the line. Kurt Warner picked off at least once. Ben Roethlisburger also picked off at least once, setting up the short field that gives Zona its only TD of the half. Steelers up 21-10 at the break.

Halftime: Bruce Springsteen is awesome. Remember those teen-pop medleys that they used to have? Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, anyone? Britney Spears and Aerosmith? No, I don't remember that either, thank God.

Commercials: Some previously unheard-of internet service company will do a completely offensive ad that vaults them to stardom. Pepsi's new beach ball logo will be so ubiquitous that I'll start seeing it in my dreams. Bud Light will do one ad that's not funny (possibly involving Carlos Mencia, though Dane Cook is a distinct possibility), one sappy Clydesdale's ad commemorating the firefighters of Sept. 11 or something, and one hilarious ad that I'll be like, "and then there was this Bud Light ad, and it was funny!" at parties while people look at me cock-eyed... and this will be, like, five years from now that I'll be doing this. There's always one Bud Light ad that's killer. Put it in the bank.

Second Half: Right off the bat, Parker takes a 50-yard gallop to the house. It's 28-10. The highlight crew starts doing Super Bowl flashbacks to the greatest blowouts of all time. 49ers over Broncos, anyone? Bears over Patriots? Cowboys over Bills? Then, with Arizona's miracle season on the ropes, and the Steelers driving, Big Ben throws an absolute melon of an interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who returns it at least 95 yards for a touchdown. Pittsburgh punts. Fitzgerald makes a ridiculous Super Bowl highlight-reel touchdown grab of 30-yards plus that they'll play on NFL Films for the rest of time. 28-24! Everyone starts thinking it's the Cardinals' year after all! Then Pittsburgh puts together one of those "hey, remember us? we're the Steelers" 18-play, 8 minute drives that features at least five third down conversions and at least one big-play wide receiver option passes that Arizona probably should have seen coming because Ken Whisenhunt used to run that same play when he was Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. The drive ends in a 20-yard field goal, as all 18-play drives do. Now it's 31-24 with 3 minutes to go and Zona needs a TD. Warner gamely races the Cardinals down the field as time winds down. They get to about the 30. At this point the TV coverage will flash back to some boneheaded Cardinal screw-up that could've gotten/saved them points that would allow them to kick a tying field goal right now. But they can't! And on fourth down, Warner gets picked. STEELERS WIN, 31-24! Big Ben gets MVP despite throwing for less than 200 yards and more INTs than touchdowns. Years later, he'll be included in the "which Super MVP was least deserving" discussion, though he'll never be able to top Larry Brown. The Steelers, delighted by their Super triumph, mail in an 8-8 2009 campaign and finish third in the division to Cleveland, while the Cards stumble to 6-10 next year (0-10 outside of the NFC West), change their uniforms to become even more bizarre -- probably, the "bib" look that's sweeping college football will be involved -- and are never heard from again.

That's what Super Bowl Joe says will happen. Let the game begin.

the difference between China and the United States

In the US, when a company is demonstrated to have knowingly shipped out salmonella-contaminated products for people to eat, officials hedge as to whether criminal charges will be filed.

In China, the perpetrators are executed.

why the Israelis should have talked to Hamas in 2006, and why they should talk to them now

Ahmed Yousef, advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, says that Hamas wants to talk.

The United States and its allies in the so-called quartet — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — have demanded of Hamas that it agree to three conditions: respect agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Mr. Yousef said the first two could well be fulfilled through an extended cease-fire that Hamas hoped to negotiate with Israel via Egypt. He said Hamas was not prepared to recognize Israel but hoped that with two of the three demands met, attitudes toward Hamas might shift.


The demands that the Quartet have placed on Hamas are all things that you would get in the course of negotiations. To demand them up front is to kill any prospect of negotiated peace. And Hamas isn't going away. Fatah is weaker than ever. No peace plan without Hamas can succeed. So to demand that Hamas agree to the above-mentioned preconditions is to say that you don't want peace at all. Especially since the senior-most Hamas official not in hiding has just said that they're willing to put acquiescence to all those demands on the table.

sigh...

crazy eights

Natalism goes head to head with demography and resource consumption with the birth of healthy octuplets. With the west rapidly running out of water, I'm not sure we should be encouraging this sort of thing. On the other hand, babies sure are cute.

from the guys who brought you the 2 state solution comes... the 5 state solution!

Tom Friedman tells it like it is.

don't mess with Chi-town

Barack Obama points out that the school systems on the east coast are run by a bunch of wusses. A little snow and ice? Pah. Snow is never grounds for closing school. Once the temperature falls below zero, sometimes they cancel recess. In my entire life of education in Chicago, I missed two days (back to back in fourth grade) out of 13 years, K through 12. Even the day where huge icicles were falling off the school building, forcing children to run inside in groups of ten under heavy orchestration from the faculty so as not to be impaled, we stayed open.

from the guys that brought you the 1 state solution comes... the 3 state solution!

Egypt vents about Qatar, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran also comes under heavy criticism. So, um, how the heck are the Palestinians supposed to reconcile when all of their various backers can't even agree on which city to hold an emergency summit in?

Monday, January 26, 2009

baby Adolf Hitler removed from home

DYFS has intervened in the Campbell case. The family named their kids "Adolf Hitler" and "Aryan Nation," among others. First the local bakery wouldn't make them a cake. Now this. What's a family to do?

The Despair Doctrine

Thanks to the Gaza War, it's kind of clicked for me what our foreign policy should be based off of. That's why I'm promoting the Despair Doctrine. The way it works is, if you want to achieve peace, you must despair completely about human nature. You must view people as ethnonationalistic, self-centered, vicious and only concerned with protecting themselves from foreign threats. Only once you view every collective human action through this prism can you come up with good policy to thwart humanity's baser impulses.

At the moment, the best advocate of my Despair Doctrine on Middle East politics is -- rather unexpectedly -- Tom Friedman, who in Sunday's New York Times points out how, for purely nationalistic reasons, it's in everyone's interest to get a two-state solution now while we still can. Meanwhile, the normally sensible EU envoys are still saying no to negotiations with Hamas, which is basically like guaranteeing that there will never be peace, ever.

See, with the Despair Doctrine, the Middle East becomes pretty easy to solve. The Israelis are acting in national self-defense against an enemy sworn to their destruction. Doesn't matter how many Palestinians have to die. Totally natural position. Neither justifiable nor unjustifiable... just natural. Likewise, Hamas is acting as an ethnic resistance movement against an enemy that's occupied them for longer than most Palestinians have been alive. Again, totally expected position. It's horrifying, but no more so than life itself (which, needless to say, always ends fatally). Shouldn't be surprising. This is how human beings behave. THUS, a smart person would bring Hamas to the table regardless of their rhetoric, because ethnic militias don't just go away. They have to be integrated eventually, and the ultimate renunication of violence and recognition of Israel is something you achieve at the end of negotiations, not the beginning.

Israel shouldn't be pursuing the 2-state solution, and negotiating with Hamas, out of warm-heartedness. It should do so because, as Friedman points out, if it doesn't it'll end up with 3 failed states on its borders, all of whom hate it. The 2-state solution is within the ethnonationalistic self-interest of all concerned. If only people could frame it that way, instead of with any sort of righteous rhetoric about what is humane or lawful, this problem would have been settled long ago.

Just remember: when you're swimming with the nationalists, you're winning. If you're cutting against the nationalist grain, you're probably getting some people killed for no good reason.

why the Arizona Cardinals must lose

Because the regular season will be meaningless if they win, says Tim Kawakami of Mercury News.

Or, at the very least, if Arizona does win, then next year's #1 seeds have to show up in the playoffs.

hello Ambassador Rice

Well, President Obama's new Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, arrived today at the UN and had her first press encounter after presenting her credentials to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

No major surprises from this stakeout. My initial thoughts:

1. The rhetorical contrast to the Bush Administration is clear. Rice immediately got it started by saying:

President Obama's view is clear: that our security and well-being can best be advanced in cooperation and in partnership with other nations, and there is no more important forum for that effective cooperation than the United Nations.


Unlike John Bolton, who attempted to have all references to the UN's Millennium Development Goals expunged from the General Assembly's Outcome Document when he arrived in 2005, Rice said that the MDGS "will now be America's goals as well."

2. The United States recognizes that the UN has multiple organs. The Bush Administration worked through the Security Council at the UN. It completely ignored the General Assembly and didn't have much to do with the Secretariat either. Compare this with Rice's four major policy goals that she outlined in her testimony to Congress:
- strengthening peacekeeping
- climate change
- nonproliferation
- poverty reduction

Of these, only the first and third fall within the Security Council's purview at all. On peacekeeping, Rice seemed more interested in reforming and preparing the Department of Peacekeeping to deal with complex security challenges in new peacekeeping missions than authorizing new ones. Nonproliferation, of course, is the purview of the IAEA except in special cases like Iran and North Korea. Poverty reduction is mostly dealt with through the UN agencies like UNDP (an organization detested by Republicans). And the UN's process on climate change was actively thwarted by the Bush Administration, which childishly held its own climate conference specifically to undercut the authority of the UN process. Obama, by contrast, is overhauling US environment policy as you read this.

3. On Iran, we can expect "direct diplomacy." Rice:
[W]e remain deeply concerned about the threat that Iran's nuclear threat poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community. We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran that includes continued collaboration and partnership with [Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany], and we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure towards that goal of ending Iran's nuclear programme. The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council, and its continued refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.


4. Obama will remain silent on Gaza no more.
Rice: With respect to Gaza, let me say that you have heard the President speak very forthrightly about his grave concern about the current humanitarian crisis. this is an issue that we will have an opportunity to discuss with the Council tomorrow, and it is our desire to contribute in a very active and concerted way along with other members of the international community to respond effectively to those humanitarian needs, but what is required is a durable ceasefire, and we will work diplomatically and through other means to try to support efforts to ensure that that ceasefire is lasting and in that context for border crossings to open and be available for humanitarian as well as day to day economic development imperatives. And the President will be meeting with his new special envoy, Senator Mitchell, and as Senator Mitchell goes out to the region later this week, has underscored the United States commitment to be engaged in an active and sustained way, from the earliest days of this Administration, in the longer term effort to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on two states living side by side in peace and security.


5. Genocide prevention will continue to be talked about in strong terms and acted upon in weaker ones. Rice, noted for being strong on genocide, said that "[t]he President has spoken of his commitment to act with determination in the face of genocide" as well as poverty and disease. She also, controversially in my view, referred to the genocide in Darfur as "ongoing." Yet, even after being goaded by a question from CNN that led with the fact that Democrats were in power when Rwanda happened, check out her response:

Q. ... What specifics will you bring here, the administration, or will it be more of the same? ...
Rice. Well, obviously we remain very deeply concerned about the ongoing genocide in Darfur. The priority at this point has to be effective protection for civilians, and in that regard our effort and intention will be [as we discussed with the SG] effective efforts to support the full and complete deployment of UNAMID so that there is the capacity on the ground to effect that civilian protection. Obviously we will continue to look at what is necessary to deal with any obstruction, continued violence, or reprisals that may occur anyway or may emanate as a result of a potential indictment, and we want to be supportive of the special envoys efforts to negotiate a lasting peace and resolve the underlying political differences.


So, uh, deploy UNAMID, pressure Sudan into cooperating, protect civilians, support the political process. That kinda sounds, oh, exactly like what we've been doing for 3 years. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of that, and I think "stronger" action would backfire or be ineffective, and the UNAMID/political process tack the UN and the Bush Administration have taken since 2006 is probably the wisest course. But let's not pretend that this is anything different.

All in all, Rice performed well in her first press encounter, drawing clear distinctions from previous US policy while giving intelligent, cogent answers on how to advance US policy through the UN. The talking part was a success. Now comes the doing, and at Turtle Bay that's always the hard part.

Friday, January 23, 2009

remind me how The Dark Knight wasn't nominated again?

People who actually saw The Reader join me in hating on it:

Everyone knew Kate would get a best-actress nod, and as a five-time loser, she still seems likely to win the category. But it somehow besmirches her honor to be recognized for the execrable Reader (aka Boohoo, I Bonked an Illiterate Nazi). And the fact that BIBAIN also snapped up noms for best adapted screenplay, best director, and best picture (it made a lot of critics' lists for worst movie of the year, and with good reason) only rubs salt into the wound. I guess Ricky Gervais, whose presentation at the Globes last week was the ceremony's high point, was right: Do a Holocaust film, and the awards will come.


Amen.

been down that roadmap

Jackson Diehl pooh-poohs the new Mitchell effort on the Middle East in today's WashPost, saying we've "been down this roadmap before." I'm not sure what the point of Diehl's piece is. He seems to say that this won't work... and that nothing else will either. If that's what he's saying, well, I'm on board.

Britain leads the way in hilarious street and town names

A New York Times piece explores the excellence of British place names.

These, says the article,
evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.


I'll try.

reports of Kim Jong Il's death are greatly exaggerated

Kim Jong Il meets with Chinese officials and treats the world to a typically bizarre Pyongyang photo op. Kim appears well enough to sit in a chair, at least.

Meanwhile, National Geographic has a fascinating new piece on North Koreans escaping to China and trying to reach South Korea.

Nkunda apprehended

A shocking development in eastern Congo. Laurent Nkunda apprehended! By Rwandan forces, no less. The deal between Kigali and Kinshasa becomes more clear. The Rwandans, who had backed Nkunda, who is a Tutsi like the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, will remove Nkunda from eastern Congo, and in exchange they are given carte blanche to attack the Hutu militias that are the root cause of the eastern Congo violence. As a bonus, Nkunda's plans to overthrow the government in Kinshasa can no longer be carried out, thus preventing the country from returning to civil war which would again draw in all of its neighbors.

This is the most hopeful things have looked in eastern Congo in many years.

Obama reverses gag rule

Federal funding will now go to family planning agencies around the world, whether they perform abortions or not.

With the population exploding in all the wrong places, this is one of the most important things Obama will do in his presidency. I'm glad he did it early.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Qaddafi says one state for all: Isratine!

Today's NYTimes features a surprisingly level-headed call by Muammar Qaddafi of Libya for a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine. "Isratine" he calls it, cutely.

Myself, I'm skeptical, because I don't think that two ethnonationalistic polities can coexist, and further I think that only security and dominion over their own sovereign territories can bring about improved relations between them (a la the Balkans). Moreover, a 1-state solution would make Jews the minority in the "Jewish state." When's the last time political power transferred peacefully from one ethnic group to another ethnic group? ... Okay, now forget South Africa for a moment, and answer that question again. It's been a long time.

Now, there's no guarantee the 2-state solution would bring about peace either. Qaddafi ably points out how security would remain an issue for both countries, particularly for Israel, which is a major reason why I remain pessimistic about the future.

The other thing is that Qaddafi takes a moderate position on the creation of Israel in 1948:

It is a fact that Palestinians inhabited the land and owned farms and homes there until recently, fleeing in fear of violence at the hands of Jews after 1948 — violence that did not occur, but rumors of which led to a mass exodus. It is important to note that the Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians. They were never “un-welcomed.” Yet only the full territories of Isratine can accommodate all the refugees and bring about the justice that is key to peace.


For an Arab leader to take this position seems almost unprecedented to me. What happened to Qaddafi that has made him a moderate in his old age? This is the guy who was terrorist #1 in the '80s and wrote bizarre poetry when not downing passenger jets. Maybe this proves that no one is irredeemable in the end.

Ultimately, I think the 1-state solution is unrealistic. But it's a nice thought... what if we could all just... get along?

better to be feared than loved...

The Jerusalem Post says that "[t]his time, Israel got the public diplomacy right."

Um, fellas... not at the UN, you didn't. Or in, you know, Europe. The UN Secretary-General and the UK Prime Minister both said they were outraged by Israel's bombing and white phosphorusing of a UN school with hundreds of refugees. From my talks with colleagues, I think a substantial portion of the global left has completely abandoned the Israeli position.

Might want to work on that public diplomacy...

even the Republicans are catching on

This isn't getting a lot of play in the national media at the moment, but Alaska just published a report saying the state plans to get half its electricity from renewables by 2025.

Quoth Governor Sarah Palin:
"While lower crude oil prices are reducing the costs of energy today, we must remain committed to achieving energy security for our future economic well-being."


The Anchorage Daily News applauds the "ambitious goal," and gives some details as to how it might work. Some wind, some hydro-power. Thanks to some fairly large dams and a small population, Alaska actually already gets 1/4 of its energy from renewables. It seems they're serious, and bravo.

somewhere Don Rumsfeld is cackling gleefully

Actual Fox News headline:

Clinically Depressed Poodle Mauls Former French President Chirac

Former French President Jacques Chirac was rushed to a hospital
after being mauled by his pet dog who is being treated for
depression, in a dramatic incident that rattled the
ex-president's wife.

The couple's white Maltese poodle, called Sumo, has a history
of frenzied fits and became increasingly prone to making
"vicious, unprovoked attacks" despite receiving treatment with
anti-depressants, Chirac's wife Bernadette said.


At this moment I'm reminded, somehow, of The Drowsy Chaperone. Meanwhile, I love the name Sumo for a poodle. Was Godzilla taken?

woolly bully

Meanwhile, right after I posted my top honors for weird plants and animals to appear at a UN press conference, I get handed this unbelievable press release from the Food and Agricultre Organization (FAO) celebrating... wait for it... The Internatioanl Year of Natural Fibres! It reads (and I kid you not):

A WILD AND WOOLLY 2009
International Year of Natural Fibres begins
The UN Organization today officially launched International Year of Natural Fibres (IYNF) 2009 to celebrate the virtues of cotton, flax, sisal and hemp, but also of wool, alpaca, camel hair and angora. And, why not, cashmere too.


At this moment, I'm wearing cotton pants and a cotton shirt, and my sweater is made of Mongolian yak hair. (Seriously. That stuff is warm.) But my socks are synthetic, I think, so the FAO couldn't give a crap about them. Maybe next year will be International Year Of Polyester.

Meanwhile... a wild and woolly 2009?

what?!

Waltz With Bashir not being nominated under animated films is a travesty. Kung Fu Panda? Come on. I know Waltz With Bashir was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but... it's animated. It should be up for both.

pain does not equal art

David Denby, in his review of Revolutionary Road, observed:

It has become clearer than ever that the movie year is divided into two parts. There’s the first nine months, which are filled, it seems, with big-audience digital spectacles about men who fly, animated movies about indignant handheld devices and chatty rodents, and all-male comedies about virgins lost in a condom factory. And then there’s the Oscar-focussed final three months of the year, which are devoted to movies about failure, abjection, death, and the Holocaust, most of them starring Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett. “Revolutionary Road,” from the celebrated Richard Yates novel of 1961, is one of the latter. It is honorably and brutally unnerving. Yet it may suffer, as only an awards-season movie can, from the illusion that pain and art are the same thing.


Well, Hollywood bought it hook line and sinker, with movies like Benjamin Button, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road raking in the nominations. I would like, for one year (preferably this one) for the Academy to eliminate all movies released in December or January from contention, but to not tell anybody until right before the Oscars. This way, all movies that are flagrantly intentionally attempting to pick up awards are eliminated, and the rest of the movies can be judged purely on merit.

In other words, can't we just accept that The Dark Knight and Wall-E were decisively the best movies to come out in 2008? One was animated. The other a superhero movie. And they were released in July. But they were the best. That's it. Thank you. If The Reader wins, I am never watching the Oscars again.


p.s. Frost/Nixon, the only Best Picture nominee I've seen this year, was a great movie and I'm glad it was nominated, but Dark Knight and Wall-E were better. I wish Hollywood would take the first 9 months of the year seriously.

didn't this happen in the Bible? and if not, why not?

The UN's spokesperson Michelle Montas warned today that, according to the FAO, a "plague of caterpillars" are eating Liberia and could spread across West Africa, ravenously devouring crops and ruining livelihoods. That's right. Caterpillars.

At this time, I'm honored to present the award for Most Unlikely Animal Or Plant To Be Mentioned in a UN Briefing during my three and a half years of covering the United Nations:

Fourth prize: The plague of locusts that wiped out much of the crop in Niger in 2005.
Third prize: The plague of caterpillars in Liberia this year.
Second prize: 2008 being named "International Year of the Potato" by the General Assembly. Needless to say, the GA began preparing for the momentous IYOTP more than two years in advance.
First prize: The "recalcitrant donkeys" that plagued the AU force in Darfur in 2006 with their mulish unwillingness to transport supplies. ("So can this be described as a pain in the ass?" asked one clever AP reporter. "Um, we don't use that kind of language here," responded then-spokesman Stephane Dujarric, maintaining a straight face with difficulty.)

GRAND PRIZE: India's "war camels" that were contributed to the UNAMID force in Darfur. The camels, trained to live and serve in combat zones, were... yes, they were actually called war camels. In related news, UNAMID's request for attack and transport helicopters from the international community remains unfulfilled, but thanks to India's unique contribution they can still move things the old-fashioned way.

there's no sense in dying over spilt milk

China gets serious about product safety. Two death sentences and one life in prison for the people who brought you melamine milk. The victims' families wanted more:

Many families have focused their anger on Sanlu's former general manager, Tian Wenhua, and felt betrayed that she would not face execution. Tian pleaded guilty late last year to charges that do not carry the death sentence.

"She should have been shot," said Zheng Shuzhen, a 48-year-old who said her granddaughter died in June of kidney failure after drinking Sanlu milk formula. She said the girl was not on official lists of victims as she died before the scandal came to light."


The death penalty, to my understanding, tends not to be a major deterrent for murderers. But will it for immense white collar crime such as this? We'll see.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

new U2 single leaked

Streaming from the band's website. A little discombobulated but certainly catchy and energetic. Excellent use of distorted bass.

Hamas military planners, meet Israeli nationalism

Netanyahu widens his lead in the polls. The Israeli public seems to think that the operation in Gaza didn't go far enough. Anyone who was planning to use the billions in aid that are expected to be given to Gaza for reconstruction might want to wait until the Israelis are finished destroying it.

Cheney cements his legacy

Shredding truck sighted en route to the Vice President's compound. Greeeat....

and Obama is President

I never actually thought it would happen.

Biden is veep

Joe Biden was just sworn in as Vice President. Dick Cheney's last chance to orchestrate a military coup just came and went.

Myself, I said right when Obama was starting to run in January 2007 that an Obama-Biden ticket would be great. What a great capper to a grueling couple of years since then.

watching the inauguration

I don't even remember George W. Bush's inaugurations. I vaguely remember there being protestors, and I remember him driving in in an intimidating motorcade.

Here at the UN, the entire building is frozen, watching it happen.

This time, a couple million people with pom poms went berzerk as Obama strode out to meet them. It's amazing... people are actually... you know... happy... to see the President take office.

watch what you say

A human rights lawyer and a journalist are killed in Moscow.

why use one finger when you can use five?

Watching the inauguration. Famously profane Rahm Emanuel -- whom Obama once said was "rendered practically mute" after having part of his middle finger sliced off in a fast food accident -- used his 5 seconds of TV time to "cock a snook," as the saying goes, at someone he knew in the audience. Classy.

and you thought the Rwandan genocide was over

2000 Rwandan troops pour into eastern Congo chasing after the rebel remnants of the Hutu force that launched the genocide in 1994. This time they're doing it with government backing.

Somehow, I doubt this will lead to peace in the Congo, but since the Rwandans won't be satisfied until the FDLR is rooted out, maybe this is one of those wars that someone has to win.

Monday, January 19, 2009

the Bush years

as told by the Onion. Amazing....

Israeli military planners, meet Palestinian nationalism

Missed this article from Friday, but it's an excellent piece of New York Times news analysis on how the Gaza war has severely weakened Fatah, relative to Hamas. This was precisely the opposite of what Israel had intended, but we shouldn't be surprised by the outcome and neither should they. The exact same thing happened in Lebanon, after all, in 2006, with an Israeli attack on Hezbollah designed to destroy Hezbollah and strengthen Fouad Siniora's government doing the reverse instead. Amazingly, when an ethnonationalistic group is under attack, it becomes more militant. I'm not sure why anyone didn't think of this before, but perhaps they should start.

that smell

Apparently, Obama follows in the increasingly illustrious tradition of pissing off Hugo Chavez:

In an interview airing on Venezuelan television and reported by The Washington Post Monday, Chavez said Obama has "the same stench" as Bush. The comment harkens back to September 2006, when Chavez followed Bush at an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly opening and said he could still smell the "sulfur" left behind by the U.S. president's presence at the podium.


But, in a possible sign of warming relations, Chavez did not cross himself to ward off the smell as he said it.

Chavez and his ilk are going to have more trouble with a President who isn't hated. Lao Tsu says that it's best to be a leader who is loved, next to be feared, and worst to be despised. Chavez was anti-Bush when Bush was feared, and outrageously anti-Bush when Bush was despised. Now comes a leader who is, actually, rather loved. It's going to be a mismatch for a guy like Chavez, especially when he's faced with falling oil prices and is forced to open bids to the West for oil in the Orinoco. Obama's election may be the best thing to happen to Latin America's moderate left.

We don't like your ceasefire, so we're declaring our own. So there!

Israel and Hamas are at such odds, they couldn't even agree on a ceasefire, so now we have dueling unilateral ceasefires. Wonder how long that will last? No wonder the media is so pessimistic.

A juvenile, tit-for-tat end to a juvenile, tit-for-tat war.

the river Card

SI's Don Banks says that Arizona is the most unlikely Super Bowl team ever:

Given their desultory franchise history, their years of wandering in the proverbial NFL desert, their so-so 9-7 regular-season mark, and the wholly un-competitive way they played down the stretch in the regular season, I can't think of another Super club that came out of nowhere quite like them.

My short list would include the 2001 Patriots, who were then largely viewed as a collection of blue-collar players and spare parts, led by a sixth-round quarterback; the 2007 Giants, a No. 5 seed whose title run somehow didn't even start until a Week 17 loss; and the 1979 Rams, who were a 9-7 but veteran-laden club that had been a playoff perennial throughout that decade.


I'd tend to agree. Never in NFL playoff history have the top seeds completely collapsed like they did this season. I can't remember a playoff in which both top seeds fell on one side, as happened in the NFC this year, never mind a year where 3 of 4 did. I'd throw in the Carolina Panthers' rush to Super Bowl XXXVIII a few years ago, when everyone was talking about Philly, St. Louis and Green Bay. But Banks is right, if you combine Arizona's hideous history with its inconsistent play this year, it's impossible to fathom. It's also very hard to imagine them beating a consistent team like the Steelers, particularly given Pittsburgh's excellent secondary, which should be able to at least slow Larry Fitzgerald. It's been a few years since had an old-school Super Bowl blowout. That might happen this year.

Trying to explain to my non-football-watching girlfriend, whose sportingness begins and ends with indefatigable support for the Red Sox and Mets, I put the Arizona Cardinals this way:

"It's like the Rays going to the World Series this year. Except, imagine if the Rays were the Rays, only they'd been like that for 88 years, moved cities twice, and in fact hadn't been very good this year either, just sneaking into the playoffs by winning a bad division like the St. Louis [baseball] Cardinals did a couple years ago when they won the World Series."

Meanwhile, Philly is now the early 1970s Oakland Raiders... a consistently good team, always in the mix, loses in the Conference title game. Seriously, this is the 4th one in the Reid/McNabb era. I guess Philadelphia has the Phillies. You can't have everything in sports life. Unless you're Boston.

NPT 123?

The New York Times op-ed page congratulates the UAE and the US on their farsighted nuclear deal:

The United Arab Emirates has bested other oil-rich Persian Gulf countries by becoming the first to conclude a legally binding nuclear cooperation agreement with the Bush administration. It deserves even greater congratulations for forswearing uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. Those are the key processes for making fuel for nuclear reactors — or nuclear weapons.


With the NPT on life-support and the Bush Administration having spent the last 8 years trying to enforce it by playing whack-a-mole with rogue states (Iraq), buying them off (Libya) or hectoring them while they continue to race towards nuclear proliferation (North Korea, Iran), it's nice to see a better future out there, one in which all countries can have access to nuclear power but without the proliferation risk. Ultimately though, the NPT will only work when the nuclear powers start taking their responsibilities seriously: lowering their own stockpiles and removing the nuclear threat against nonnuclear states.

India to David Miliband: how dare you be realistic!

David Miliband points out that solving the sovereignty dispute over Kashmir would go a long way towards settling the tensions between India and Pakistan and the terrorism that comes with it. India's press rips him for it.

India's press seems to be in about the same place the American media was in 2002, when any attempt to explain the motivations of al Qaeda was deplored as "appeasement" and "justification." Because heaven forbid we understand the enemy's logic, goals, and intentions. That might help us defeat the enemy, and we wouldn't want that, now would we.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The New Republic thinks we should repeat the last 8 years, but smarter

The New Republic says Obama should embrace idealism over pragmatism:

Around the globe, the temptation for Obama to run away from ideals, and fall back on interests, will be great. Bush, after all, has badly tainted foreign-policy idealism. But, instead of abandoning idealism, Obama should strive to save it. That means fulfilling our obligations to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan--providing them with as much stability and freedom from tyranny as we have within our means to ensure. It means using American power to stop genocide, and dealing unflinchingly with regimes--from Iran to Burma to China--that suppress their own people or threaten others. And it means revivifying our role as the vanguard in crafting global efforts to check the spread of nuclear weapons and carbon emissions.


Words fail me. TNR... HOW? HOW do we do these things? What does "dealing unflinchingly" with Burma even mean? Sanctioning them? We did that, and it did nothing. Calling them Burma instead of Myanmar, as they prefer, at the UN? Um, we do that too. No effect. Invade? If you want that, then say so. Does "using American power to stop genocide" mean liberating Darfur? Does it mean thousands of troops in Congo to keep Hutu genocidaires at arm's length from Laurent Nkunda? Does it mean invading Somalia? And how exactly does putting pressure on an increasingly nationalistic China help that country become more politically liberal? When, in human history, has prodding nationalism with a stick EVER led to more freedom?

The New Republic... solutions for a world populated by some sentient species other than human beings.

bizarro existentialist paradise comes to the General Assembly

Syria just referred to "the Israeli beast" and called the Israelis the "sultans of darkness." The Egyptian Ambassador and the President of the General Assembly are yelling, literally yelling, at each other over procedure. The General Assembly, after two full days of debates on Gaza, has now descended into base insults. I am waiting for diplomats to start hurling cow pies at each other, because this would be just as unproductive, but would be a lot funnier. I don't think this is quite what Harry Truman had in mind.

goodbye Ambassador Khalilzad

It's Zalmay Khalilzad's last day in the Security Council, and French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert just gave him an effusive-to-the-point-of-being-awkward farewell speech in the Council chamber. He said the Council would miss Khalilzad's warmth, talent, friendship and "sonorous laughter."

I don't think they did this on John Bolton's last day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the pot calls the kettle a mass murderer

In other news, hilariously, at the General Assembly emergency meeting on Gaza, the Sudanese Ambassador just accused Israel of genocide. You can't make this stuff up.

life during wartime

John Ging, of the UN's refugee agency in Palestine, has been providing daily videolink updates to the UN press corps from Gaza about the deteriorating situation there. Last night and this morning, UNRWA's main compound was repeatedly hit by artillery and white phosphorus, although thankfully no one was killed.

Ging's report of this harrowing event makes for remarkable and important reading, so I'm posting my transcription of it here:

It started last night at about 10 o'clock, with a strike on one of our vehicles as he was transporting one of our staff home ... in the immediate vicinity of the compound itself, less than a kilometer from the compound, and he was on his way back, having discharged his passengers ... when the car was reportedly struck by a missile in the engine block and the driver, because it was one of these hard vehicles with some armored protection, was thankfully alive although injured and taken directly to [a] hospital with shrapnel wounds in his leg. He's in reasonably good shape today so we're expecting him to make a slow, because shrapnel is a serious injury, but we're confident he'll make a a full recovery. The reason I say "reportedly" about the details of the incident is that we haven't been able to since then get access to the vehicle because the area in which it was struck was under heavy shelling from then on. ... This area, where the compound is located in the residential part of the Gaza City has been under relentless bombardment form artillery and tank fire through tonight and through today. This morning it became particularly intense. Our compound suffered from a lot of shrapnel flying through from targets that were hit adjacent and in vicinity of the compound. At about 9 o'clock this morning we had about 700 people [who] fled their apartments in the area and sought refuge in our vocational training center which was part of the complex here. I might also mention at this point that we have been in continuous liaison with the Israeli liaison office, reps of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, about last night's incident and also about the firing close to the compound and also the firing on the buildings, the residential apartment blocks in this area. When people were fleeing towards us we were again in ongoing communication with the liaison people, telling people how significant the impact was of these shellings. ... Within one hour of the 700 arriving into our vocational training center, the center was struck was either a tank round or an artillery shell -- I'm not so expert to know [which] -- but it was an explosion which caused 3 injuries. Shrapnel injuries. Thankfully, not serious, although the explosion itself was very significant and the pictures will bear that out, so we feel very fortunate in fact that we didn't have a large casualty toll. Of course we redoubled our liaison with the IDF. ... We were highlighting that again, there were great dangers here, particularly noteworthy that we had 5 trucks full of fuel ready of course since early morning to be dispatched to resupply various centers and also water pumping stations and sewage stations ... but they were stuck here in the compound and we alerted the Israeli Defense Forces of their exact location. Then within about an hour my staff were told that-- we heard a large explosion and we then were told by our staff that there was a fire in the workshops area, that it had been struck, so that is exactly the area where these trucks were parked, and very quickly the staff deployed to move the trucks out of the way from the fire. As they were doing so, a number of other rounds were also fired into that area. We counted 6 in total, and I had 2 international staff present as part of the group that were there, and they described to me that these rounds exploded with a burst of what a burst of what appeared to be phosphorus. It looked like phosphorus. It smelled like phosphorus. It burned like phosphorus. That's why I'm calling it phosphorus. I don't know how we were so lucky that none of them were injured or killed, but they of course ran for their lives and the place went up in flames. Our workshop was the part that was hit most severely. It went on fire, as did part of the warehouse. Of course we had to take cover until we got further reassurances that there wouldn't be further firing, and that took some considerable time, about 45 minutes. So then when we then ventured out again the first priority was to get the trucks out of there. Again fortunately none of them were struck and none of them were besides the area that was on fire, so the first priority was to get them out of the vicinity, and then to try to deal with the fire. The fire service couldn't get access to the area because of the shelling, which continued ... and the compound was cut off. We couldn't do much except to evacuate the cars and equipment we could retrieve safely. but of course as you can imagine it was a dangerous area. There were exploding petrol tanks, and cars caught fire in the garage itself. It became very dangerous very very quickly. Thankfully, after about another 2 hours the fire service did get here, but unfortunately it was too late to save the warehouse where we had hundreds of tonnes of food and medicine that was to be dispatched today, distributed to the food centers, the health centers, and of course the shelters. We have over 40,000. During the day today that number has grown again by a significant 3000 more. We had to open 5 more shelters. [feed from Gaza cuts off briefly] ... We did not get the fire under control so the warehouse was completely destroyed. It took 6 hours to prevent the fire from going further. So there was a massive effort all day to prevent the compound from burning down. At one point the intensity of the heat and flames and burning was such that we feared it would move from one building to another, as it had done from the workshop to the warehouse. But the heroic effort of the fire service and our staff here prevented that from happening. So the fire is finally under control. It's burning away, smoldering away at the moment. What does it mean for our operations? It presents us with a new challenge. This is the hub of our operations, the nerve center of our operations, the central warehouse here. But of course, we have to adapt to the new challenge and we are opening up other warehouses outside of the compound so that we can keep the operation going. We continue to bring in through the crossing points, the trucking into Gaza in the northern area was cut off by the military operations, so we brought in supplies into our southern warehouses today and we hope to be able to redeploy those to this half of the Gaza strip tomorrow. but there was no opportunity to do so today. ... We have to keep going, notwithstanding the dangers and the risks and the new challenges we face. I will put it to you this way: we had firsthand experience today in this compound with what the poor people of Gaza have been living with for the past 20 days and nights.


Ging was then asked about statements from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other reports that Israel's strike was in response to fire coming from or near the compound. He bluntly responded:

We have public statements and we have reality. Over the last period of this conflict we have seen the public statements have to catch up with the reality. This is another example. There were no militants in the compound. There was no firing from the compound, and in all of the official correspondence we've had with our interlocutors on the Israeli military side and also on the diplomatic side, there's been no representation to us that there were militants in the compound or firing from the compound.


OCHA chief John Holmes, after saying it was "hard to find the right words" to describe the event, said in his typically dry way that "if Israel is indeed trying to avoid UN buildings, as I'm sure they are and they've told us before they are, the least you can say is that they're not succeeding."

nothing changes... nothing

An interesting piece by King Hussein from 1947 on the possible creation of Israel. Note that all the talking points are the same as the ones today. Lifetimes are nothing in this conflict.

Congrats to all who got the Orbital reference in the title of this post.

THE HELL WITH MORALS, THIS IS INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Why the shelling of Gaza is inevitable

All right, I have officially had it with people who are blaming either Israel or Hamas for everything. I have had it with anyone who uses the words "good" or "evil" and "right" or "wrong" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all. You are the people who keep this conflict going. If you want peace, what you should be talking about is "effective" and "ineffective" policy. Nothing else. Values are killing peoples' judgment here, and killing people too.

The ongoing war in Gaza is an inevitable and unavoidable result of both sides' refusal to see the other side as a negotiating partner. Their most recent chance was 2006, when Hamas won the elections in Palestine. The Israelis, backed by the Quartet, put preconditions on Hamas that they knew Hamas would and could never accept, but which could probably have been garnered in the course of negotiations. Hamas, for its part, by refusing to acknowledge that a state of Israel could ever exist, has guaranteed its own pariah status. Once Hamas seized Gaza, war was inevitable between two sides who view the other's existence as unacceptable.

Another term I never want to hear again is "proportionality." Israel-haters, this is completely and dangerously missing the point. It's a WAR. The side with more guns is going to kill more people, and the side who uses human shields, on whose territory the war is fought, is going to suffer more casualties. Hamas has killed few Israelis but it's not for lack of effort. Furthermore, Hamas's use of terror, human shields and guerrilla warfare is an inevitable result of their being the weaker side and subject to blockade and occupation. They are an army of men, not demons. Their actions are entirely predictable, and those actions are what pretty much anyone in their position would do. Likewise, the actions of the Israelis are exactly what any ethnonationalistic entity in Israel's shoes would do. There's nothing unique about this situation at all except for how much the rest of the world cares about it. Basically the exact same conflict is going on in Sri Lanka at this very second, but no one outside of Sri Lanka gives a flying damn. Again, inevitable. And there is nothing good or evil about inevitability. Saying one side is good or evil, right or wrong, is like saying that mathematics is good or evil. The cold hard numbers may be disappointing, but they should never be surprising and they should never elicit a moral value judgment in response.

If you want to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, figure out how to give tangible victories to the moderates on both sides. How to do that? For the Israelis, at least, here's a hint: the next time your adversary wins a free and fair election, not on a promise of destroying you, but rather on a promise of governing its people effectively... TALK TO THEM.

live blogging from the General Assembly emergency session on Gaza, continued

And we're done! Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's speech has finally concluded. He had previously described the Gaza war as "genocide" to al Jazeera, but avoided that word here. Nor did he call Gaza a "concentration camp," as some other observers have (including, bizarrely, the Vatican).

how to not bring about Middle East peace

Iran says it is "not feasible" for Israel to continue to exist.

live blogging from the General Assembly emergency session on Gaza

General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann opens by saying the GA
"meets under desparate circumstances. ... We have remained too passive for too long. ... During this assault, more than 1000 Palestinians have been killed, 1/3 of them children. ... The living would be killed trying to reach the dead. If this onslaught in GAza is a war, it is a war against the helpless, defenseless, imprisoned Gaza population. ... They cannot leave. They have nowhere to hide from airstrikes. ... It's particularly important to us in the United Nations ... to defend the international law. Israel remains the occupying Power in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the Gaza strip, and it has specific obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect the occupied population. Instead of providing protection as mandated by international law, the occupying Power is denying its population -- 80% of whom are refugees and half of whom are children -- the option to seek refuge and find shelter from the war. Gaza civilians find themselves locked inside a lethal war zone behind the walls of their densely populated area. ... When an occupying Power fails in that obligation, it becomes the responsibility of the international community as a whole ,represented here in the United Nations, to provide that protection. The Palestinians, as an unlawfully occupied people, enjoy the right of resistance [within the bounds of the law.]"


He goes on to say that the rocket attacks from Hamas are "illegal."

He then goes on to quote Israeli human rights organizations that have called the Israeli military's actions "crimes against humanity," and reads their statement in full.

He goes on to blame the UN for not being strong enough on the issue:

"Last week an Israeli airstrike against one of our schools, a UN school, killed at least 43 people. Many of them were children and all of them were beleaguered and frightened fmailies seeking shelter from bombs and airstrikes. They sought shelter from the UN when their homes were bombed. ... They had nowhere else to go. They faced the most desperate decision any families will ever face. Those families turned to us at the UN and we failed in our obligation to keep them safe. But there's still another violation, one in which we in the UN are directly complicit. The blockade of Gaza, which has now been going on for 19 months, has been directly responsible for the widespread humanitarian crisis in Gaza even before this war began. ... The blockade has been endorsed, at least tacitly, by powerful parties grouped in the Quartet, placing this organization in a dubious role, in violation of our obligations under the charter and international law."

how not to bring peace to the Middle East

Israel shells UNRWA's headquarters, but the agency decides to continue providing humanitarian relief anyway. The Israelis subsequently apologized.

The General Assembly is now holding an emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza. Israel's first statement in the special session was to challenge the legality of the special session. GA President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, whom no one has accused of being overly partial to Israel, responded that the Israelis were "trying to silence the General Assembly," and the meeting continues.

Continued Brockmann, to the Israeli Deputy Ambassador: "You seem to be very meticulous with trying to boycott this meeting. I wish Israel were meticulous with United Nations resolutions."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

you should read this

Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga pens a column to be published in the event of his death. After his death, it was duly published. An amazing piece.

the billionaires

Zimbabwe introduces the $50 billion note. Apparently it'll buy a couple loaves of bread.

Amazing what 231 million % inflation will do to your currency.

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect, Part __? (I've lost count, here)

Amazingly, the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia radicalized the country and accomplished nothing. Now with Ethiopia leaving, might the moderates in the Union of Islamic Courts regain the upper hand against militants like al Shabab? Perhaps.

Don't count on it, though. The US is insistent on authorizing a UN peacekeeping force to Somalia even though there's no peace to keep. A draft resolution was circulated earlier this week, and a vote on the resolution could happen as early as Friday. Never mind that there are no countries willing to contribute to the force and that the UN Department of Peacekeeping is skeptical of the whole idea. What Somalia really needs, the US is apparently reckoning, is more foreign forces to restore order. We'll see.

Putin's marketing team is the greatest in history

Just yesterday on the Don't Worry About The Government podcast, Ethan, Roni and I were commenting about how amazing Vladimir Putin's p.r. team is, making the man look badass and awesome no matter what he does. Now comes word of his sensitive side. Apparently, he paints for charity.

No, really.

ah, idealism

Amnesty International wants an arms embargo in Israel and Palestine. From their press release:

A full arms embargo on all parties involved in the Gaza conflict is urgently needed to prevent further unlawful attacks and other violations of international law, as the civilian death toll continues to mount in Gaza. At least 900 Palestinians have so far been killed, more than a third of them civilians, including some 200 Palestinian children – as more US munitions are en route to the region.

“The last thing that is needed now is more weapons and munitions in the region, which is awash with arms that are being used in a manner which contravenes international law and is having a devastating effect on the civilian population in Gaza,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Amnesty International says the UN Security Council must act now and impose an immediate, comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Gaza to prevent any further flow of arms to the warring parties.


As far as feasibility, this one is slightly less likely to happen than Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," though it's at least slightly more on point than the ongoing boycott attempt of Caterpillar because of Israeli use of its bulldozers to build settlements. (Sidenote: this may be the most misbegotten boycott attempt ever. Will they go after the tool companies who make the hammers and nails used to build the settlements next?) But Amnesty's embargo call does beg the question: what exactly is the difference between Israel/Palestine and other conflict zones where arms embargoes were implemented by the Security Council and were fairly successful... say, Liberia and Sierra Leone? What's that? Politics, you say? What are those?

All I know is, as a freshman in college, I joined an environmental group called Free The Planet! and duly protested corporations like Citigroup (little aware that what was once the world's largest bank would one day be completely undone by the financial crisis). I remember when I had this kind of idealism. Vaguely. Not sure what I was thinking. The world is not an idealistic place.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

the beat goes on for New York baseball

Uni Watch discovers that the Mets will be wearing a hideous sleeve patch on their jerseys all next year.

Uni Watch's Paul Lukas has also apparently determined that CC Sabathia will wear the most pinstripes of any Yankee ever.

Here's the latest update on Uni Watch's continuing efforts to determine whether CC Sabathia will be wearing the most pinstripes in Yankees history. As you might recall, last time around, there was some question as to whether 295-pound Jumbo Brown might have approached Sabathia's total of roughly 64 pins, but Uni Watch had been unable to find a photo of Brown in a Yankees uni. Thanks to reader Neal Greenberg, however, that problem has been solved.

It definitely took a fair amount of flannel to create Brown's uniform. But he was saddled with the handicap of playing in an era when the Yanks' pinstripes were more widely spaced than they are today, which cut down on his stripe count. Based on this photo, his pinstripe tally probably was in the mid- to high 50s, which means Sabathia has defeated yet another challenger.

farewell Tony Dungy

When I was growing up, I liked the Colts because they were nearby, their uniforms were cool, and they always lost. (I always liked underdogs.) Well, Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, and Tony Dungy sure changed the losing part.

All Dungy did after arriving was give Indy six straight 12-win seasons, culminating in the team's first Super Bowl title since 1971, when they were the Baltimore Colts. Did Indy bow out earlier than they should have a couple of times ('05 and '07, for example)? Probably. Did they overachieve by making the playoffs all those years despite often having no running game (2008, 2006) or no run defense (every year until 2005)? Absolutely. They're also the only team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl with the NFL's worst rush offense. Remember former Indy coach Jim Mora's "Playoffs?!" rant? It's hard to make the postseason every year in the NFL. Really, really hard.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, Dungy was the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. More importantly, Dungy's career helped make that feat not a big deal. When Dungy first got the head job in Tampa, there weren't a lot of black coaches in the league, and the Rooney Rule was new. By the time his Colts won it all, a coach's skin color didn't matter any more than an outside linebacker's. (Would that the NCAA would follow suit here.) If the Colts had lost, Lovie Smith of the Bears on the other sideline would have been the first black coach to win a Super Bowl. Nobody talked about how Romeo Crennel and Marvin Lewis were black when they were hired, but rather about how good they were as coordinators. And when Crennel was fired, nobody blamed his skin color for that either. Remember a few years back when Jesse Jackson was hopping mad after Ray Rhodes was axed in Green Bay after one 8-8 season? No, I don't really remember that either, not anymore.

Tony Dungy announced yesterday that he was retiring. A classy guy, a great coach, and he'll be missed.

the bizarre logic of war

So the Israelis have spent allowing a 3-hour window every day for humanitarian convoys to come into the Gaza Strip. According to John Ging at UNRWA, some 90 trucks are entering the Strip as I write this. But if you think about it, this is kind of like saying: "OK, for the next 3 hours we'll let you stock up on water and fuel and supplies, lick your wounds... and then we'll keep trying to kill you."

At this point, the Israeli military offensive seems to have passed peak success, and further action will yield less military success, higher civilian casualties, and quagmire. According to various sources I've been reading this morning, over 90,000 Gazans have fled their homes. (At least 40,000 are hiding out in UN schools, says Ging.) Estimates put the death toll at close to a thousand, at least a third of whom are children. I think that when more children are dying than soldiers or fighters, the war has become pointless. (This is what ultimately happened with Israel's Lebanon offensive.)

In an ethnonationalist war of this sort, it is especially essential to define a specific, achievable military objective. Saying "we will bomb them until we win" is amazingly backward, as it just inflames nationalist passions on both sides and guarantees an escalation and eternal continuation of the conflict. This goes for Israel, which doesn't seem to understand how much popular support Hamas and Hezbollah gain during these wars, but it goes doubly for Hamas, whose completely futile rocket fire has instilled fear, completely crippled the possibility of Israeli withdrawal from its West Bank settlements, and allowed hardliners like Benjamin Netanyahu to become ascendant, hardliners who will have no qualms about crushing Palestinian resistance, collateral damage be damned.

the neocons are dead! long live the neocons!

Jonathan Clarke at the Carnegie Council posits the end of neoconservativism, but spells out the possibilities that they might return to prominence:

Two things may change this. First, the flipside of neoconservatism is what might be called neo-humanitarianism. This is the idea that US military power should be used to intervene on the ground in crises like the Rwandan genocide or in Darfur.

Some Obama officials, for example Susan Rice at the UN, will be making this case. All indications are that the Obama administration will be cautious but, if not, US unilateral military deployment may be back on the global agenda.

Secondly, the Obama administration faces unsettled business on Iran.

The neocons are arguing that Iran is the defining issue for US foreign policy and that, short of an abandonment by Tehran of its apparent nuclear weapons program, the US must use force.


Like I say, beware the humanitarian hawks. Just because you want to be "strong" on an issue doesn't mean you'll actually fix that issue. The use of unilateral military force usually doesn't solve humanitarian catastrophes, but it's been known to create them. (Iraq comes to mind.) If we're going to go to war, it should be in spite of humanitarian concerns, not because of them.

As for Iran, the real crime of US foreign policy on this issue is that for the past 5 years we've spurned all possibilities to negotiate with Iran to try to find a diplomatic way out of the nuclear issue. Hopefully the President-elect will be able to make up for lost time, but if he can't, a nuclear-armed Iran or an unnecessary war with Iran will be a further legacy of neoconservative foreign policy.

the US punts on Gaza

So as I was boarding my plane to Belize, I heard to my shock that the US had abstained on the draft resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, allowing it to go forward. Instantly, I guessed at what had happened: Condi Rice didn't want her final moment as Secretary of State to be vetoing a resolution and pissing off the rest of the world. The Israelis and the neocons wanted a veto. Bush punted. Abstention.

John Bolton just had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal about how stupid and pointless this was (minus the unnecessary dig at the incoming administration, who had nothing to do with this and will, I hope, be far less convoluted in its diplomatic efforts). Quoth Bolton:

Ms. Rice's abstention last Thursday, for example, neither mitigated the council's pressure on Israel, nor increased the likelihood of a cease-fire. As a display of weakness, it simply invites a diplomatic feeding frenzy. That will almost certainly happen now in regards to Gaza, where Resolution 1860 is having no effect.


What's needed here is leadership and consistency. If the US believed a ceasefire was needed, it should have gone to the Israelis and worked one out while allowing the resolution to pass. If the US believed Israel's actions are self-defense, fully justified and worth continuing, it should have vetoed the resolution. By doing neither, the US has basically allowed a resolution to pass knowing the Israelis will violate it. In doing so, it has brought the Security Council into the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which the Israelis never wanted, and now the Palestinian Permanent Observer at the UN is saying it's the Council's responsibility to undertake Chapter 7 intervention against Israel for failing to comply with a Council resolution.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

it was a dark and stormy marriage

A man named Richard Batista demands to have the kidney he donated to his ex-wife back as divorce proceedings turn unbelievably ugly.

could the Security Council actually do something about Gaza?

Rumors are now spreading that a revised Security Council resolution on Gaza may pass after all. Ambassador At Large, of course, has predicted that this is completely impossible, but at this point it appears that all of this will not be concluded by 6pm, when Ambassador At Large begins his 4-day weekend vactaion to Belize. So whatever the result is, you won't hear it, or anything else, from this page. I'll be back to work, and blogging, on Tuesday. Have a nice day.

the fireworks will begin at 5 p.m.

It was just announced the Security Council will have a meeting on the Middle East at 5pm, presumably to take action on the situation in Gaza. No way have they come to an agreed text by now, so this meeting can only have one purpose: the Arab League intends to present a draft resolution and force the US to veto it.

Fight fight fight!



Update! Quoth the Foreign Minister of Qatar:

We had a meeting, just meeting with the troika of the Security Council [US, UK, and France]. We had a discussion about our proposal which is in the Security Council, and there is another proposal [by the UK]. We tried to reach a conclusion. Our position as an Arab voice is very clear, that the immediate ceasefire with the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces, and the lifting of the embargo, opening of the crossings. These are imporant elements for any fair resolution. I mentioned that the time is so important. People are suffering there. It's important for the decision to be taken today. Our decision is we are going to the Security Council today, either to reach a conclusion of the resolution or will vote on the Arab resolution which Libya presented.

North Korea admits it is "general offensive"

Yesterday, a "Joint New Year Editorial" was released by the North Korean delegation at the UN. A whopping 13 pages long, it lists all of Kim Jong Il's great accomplishments in 2008 and suggests what might be in store in 2009.

Highlights (and I swear I'm not making these up):

The Workers' Party of Korea put forward a far-reaching target to open the gate to a thriving nation in 2012 that marks the centenary of birth of Kim Il Sung by representing the requirements of the developing revolution and the aspirations of the people and aroused the whole Party, the entire army and all the people to a new general offensive.


Last year, too, he [Kim Jong Il] stood in the van of our army and people, wisely leading their efforts to build a powerful nation, by giving full scope to his inexhaustible energy.
(And you thought he was busy watching movies and having a stroke.)

Of all of President Kim's remarkable achievements in 2008, however none can top this one:

Pyongyang, the capital of the revolution, was spruced up and the socialist fairyland was unfolded everywhere to change the looks of the country tremendously.


Um... socialist fairyland?

The piece goes on to offer a New Year's resolution for the North. It helpfully suggests that
We should redouble our efforts to add glory to the socialist system that is permeated with the desire of the anti-Japanese revolutionary forerunners and the blood and sweat of heroes of the Chollima era. All the people should join the strong current of the times in high spirits and become the pacesetters in the revolutionary upsurge and patriotic fighters in the Songun era.
We should fully apply the mode of struggle and creation of our style.
Collectivism and self-reliance are our peculiar mode of revolution and nothing is better than this.


Oddly enough, this was a rejected early lyric for the Talking Heads' song Girlfriend Is Better. Eventually, Byrne thankfully went with "I've got a girlfriend with bows in her hair and nothing is better than that. Is it?" And rock history was made.

when in doubt, call your enemies Nazis

There's an old saying in debate classes nationwide that the first side to mention Hitler loses.

Today, that honor goes to... the Catholic Church!!! Today it's reported that Israel offered up predictably vitriolic condemnation after a high-ranking Vatican official compared Gaza to "a concentration camp."

You'd think the Vatican, fresh off its spat with Hollywood over Angels and Demons, would be a little less itching for controversy about now. But actually, they're not the first to make the comparison. The Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations called Gaza a concentration camp in a Security Council consultation on the Middle East a few months back, causing all the European and American deligations to walk out of the meeting.

Needless to say, none of this bodes well for the prospects of the Council passing a resolution on the situation in Gaza today.

it's on like donkey kong

Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, just emerged from a grueling boxing match, er, meeting in the UN basement between the Arab League foreign ministers and Condi Rice, David Milliband and Bernard Kouchner. They've been trying to craft a Security Council statement, resolution, anything, on the situation in Gaza for three days now.

Moussa:
Our position is that we cannot waste any more time. The Security Council will be requested to vote on a draft resolution this afternoon.


Cue NFL Films kettledrums...

the thaw

Let the record show that yesterday, at 3:18 p.m., the United States and Iranian ambassadors passed each other in the hallway and nodded in greeting.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yglesias puts Gaza in context

Worth reading. Pretty close to my line, namely that Israel's actions in Gaza are inevitable, more or less justifable, and will accomplish nothing.

enter those masters of Mideast diplomacy, the Uzbeks!

So today, while the foreign ministers of important countries were making speeches in the Security Council about the situation in Gaza, Uzbekistan decided to not be idle. Its mission released a press statement by Jahon, its information agency. The helpful statement reminds us:

The fierce battles in the Gaza Strip have already led to numerous human casualties and humanitarian crisis. The resolution of the conflict with the use of force may not have any prospects.


On the other hand, it might. Or perhaps what they meant to say was that it CAN not have any prospects.

The Security Council and the Death of Responsibility To Protect (part 2)

Another interesting issue raised by Julia Gronnevet is what kind of Obama administration we'll be looking at, whether they'll be interventionist or pragmatic or what. So it's curious to see that Obama has stocked his State Department with interventionists like Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, but the military guys like Robert Gates and James Jones are all very cautious about taking action in places like Darfur. Remember in the 1990s when various State Department folks, led by Madeleine Albright, wanted more action on Bosnia and Rwanda and the it was the military who, post-Somalia, didn't want to do it? Remember Albright imfamously telling Colin Powell "what's the point of having this great military if we never use it?" Makes me wonder if we won't have something like that again.

Needless to say, if that's how it goes down, I'll be rooting for Gates and Jones to win out. And at least in the short term, given how stretched our armed forces are, I rather think they will.

going down in flames

I missed this Washington Post article from December 8, but apparently the Sudanese are upset about the prospect of an Obama administration because they think he might actually do something about Darfur. And granted, if you take the rhetoric of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Susan "I'd rather go down in flames" Rice, you'd think you should be worried if you were Khartoum.

But here's the problem: WHAT will we do in Darfur? There's two problems with "being tough" here: first, tough measures against the government would be highly unpopular among developing countries and would risk major confrontation with China (and, without widespread backing, would almost certainly fail), and second, tough measures against the government would strengthen the rebels' hand and prolong the conflict. As former US special envoy on the Darfur issue Andrew Natsios has pointed out, the "genocide" in Darfur is over. If we were going to act, the time would have been 2003. Now it's anarchy, with rebels, militias, bandits, government forces and janjaweed making war on each other and civilian populations indiscriminantly. The major rebel groups still haven't signed the peace agreement. If you weaken the government's hand, the rebels will keep fighting. On top of that, the South will almost certainly secede, and the country will disintegrate. And where will that get you?

People who apply Bosnia or Kosovo to Darfur have it all wrong. When we intervened in Bosnia, it was to save a state from another state (Bosnia from Serbia and its client state Republika Srbska). When we intervened in Kosovo, the reason our intervention was successful was that we picked a side in an ethnic war and chose to liberate Kosovo from Serbia and create a brand new country. But how do you do that in Darfur? Even the rebels don't want independence. If we're not going to pick a side and win the war, intervening won't accomplish anything except embroiling us in an winner-take-all ethnic war over oil revenue. If that reminds you of Iraq in 2006, it should.

Advocating tough measures is useless and indeed immoral if they make the situation worse, not better. Whether or not the Bashir regime deserves carrots or sticks in a perfect and just world, the fact is that the sticks aren't working. The threat of ICC prosecution is the only stick that has had any impact on the government's behavior. Nearly all other tactics have backfired, or will if attempted. "Tough on genocide" rhetoric may make somebody's State Department career, but it won't save a single person in Darfur and it won't make Sudan a better place to live for anybody, so it should be treated like the dangerous, deluded hot air it is.

Meanwhile, for all the tough talk from Rice et al, here's what the Post has to say about Obama's own position:

So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. "help." He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.

Obama intends to keep Bush's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO's role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.


I think that's what we can probably expect from our new and pragmatic president, at most. And you know what? That's probably for the best.

the Security Council and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

My colleague Julia Gronnevet has written an op-ed piece in the Guardian about the ongoing battle at the UN between R2P and sovereignty.

Of course, this being not just UNHQ but also Acronym HQ, the whole discussion has been boiled down to R2P - "responsibility to protect", the formal name of the doctrine that says borders are nothing and human rights are everything.


John Boonstra responds:

This fanciful caricature unnecessarily divides R2P's audience into two divisive parts: the righteous and the rights-abusing. ... If we are to use these two terms to describe R2P, the best way to do so would be to interpret the doctrine as an attempt to reconcile the existing state-based international system (yes, complete with its borders and all the difficulties they bring) with the paramount global need to protect human rights.


The dispute here is what Responsibility To Protect actually means. Boonstra is writing about R2P as UN officials see it, as it was supposed to be: namely, a compact to help states protect their own citizens through political mediation and external aid (see Kofi Annan's successful Kenya diplomacy or John Holmes's tireless negotiating with the Burmese junta to allow UN aid to enter the country after Cyclone Nargis), with uninvited military intervention as a distant, seldom-used last resort that should scarcely be contemplated. Gronnevet, who works at the UN, is writing about R2P as the US, UK and France see it, which is, basically, a license to kill in the name of goodness, a license to throw out the Mugabes of the world and bring food aid to Cyclone-afflicted Burmese at gunpoint.

Because of this, Bernard Kouchner -- whom the French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert insists "invented responsibility to protect" -- also arguably killed it when he tried to apply it to Burma. The fact is, R2P used as a moral bludgeon to authorize military action against anyone we don't like will backfire, and arguably already has in the post-Iraq world, creating the deadlock on the Security Council that we see today. The best way for President-elect Obama to break this deadlock is to become more pragmatic about what R2P means and how to use it, to view it as Boonstra does, and as the UN Secretariat does, rather than as his own UN Ambassador apparently does.

the end of the US?

A Russian professor predicts the US will desintegrate in 2010. Although it's music to Vladimir Putin's ears, I rather think it's, um, unlikely. Hilariously, though, the professor predicts that Alaska will be restored to Russia, which means that Sarah Palin really could see Russia from the governor's mansion.

Okay, sorry, no more Palin jokes. Ever again. That was the last one. I swear, I'm trying to pretend she doesn't exist...

how not to bring about Mideast peace, part 2

Widespread reports are saying that Israel shelled a UN-run school in Gaza that was being used as a refugee shelter. An UNRWA official is briefing the UN media via videolink from Gaza about the incident at this moment, saying that UNRWA had provided coordinates to the school to the Israeli military in advance, precisely so that it wouldn't be hit.

The war in Lebanon's end was arguably hastened when Israel shelled a UNIFIL outpost and killed four unarmed UN observers. Maybe this will do the same.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Zalmay tells it like it is!

After a grueling two hour meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to the UN press corps on the situation in Gaza and the prospects of getting a Security Council resolution passed to resolve the conflict.

I have provided a transcript of Zalmay's comments below. Note the Ambassador's refusal to couch his statements in diplomatic lingo, his blunt style, and his determination not to hedge, prevaricate, or repeat vague assurances.

Zalmay, in his own words:

We had a good meeting with the Arab Ministers. We heard from them the message of the urgency of the situation, the need for an immediate ceasefire. We said that we share their concern about the urgency situation, that we see the suffering, the fighting, the loss of life on both Israeli and Palestinian sides. We want this conflict to end as quickly as possible. But in order to get an enduring solution, because we all want that, an enduring solution, an enduring ceasefire, that practical arrangements have to put in place in which everyone has confidence that it will be maintained, it will be respected, it will be observed, and that people will have confidence in the arrangement or arrangements that have to be put in place, that while we share the goal of moving rapidly, as quickly as rapidly as possible, that has to be balanced by the consideration to have an arrangement that is workable, that is durable, that there is confidence in, and that our people, the Secretary of State, of course the President, and others are working very hard with some of the people sitting across the table, or others in the region and around the world to bring that about, and that we are very much committed to bringing that about as quickly as possible, but I didn't want them to have any false expectations about how those practical arrangements in which one could have confidence, that could bring about a durable solution, could be arrived that in the next few hours in terms of immediate time frame of the next day or so. So that's, we got their message and we provided our response, but we are very much committed to working with them, as we are committed to working with others, with Israel, to get to an acceptable arrangement as quickly as possible.


Now that, my friends, is what we call "telling it like it is." Naturally, the UN press corps was interested in one or two of the finer points. To wit:

Q: What does that mean in practical, tangible terms? What are you asking for?
Khalilzad: There are issues, first with regard to the ceasefire, so there has to be a ceasefire that both deals with the rockets and with military operations, and there are issues with regard to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the crossing, that allows for only legal humanitarian and legal trade, and therefore there has to be an issue of not allowing for dealing with the issue of smuggling and the kind of issue we face in Lebanon in the aftermath of that process where the rearming, rebuilding took place, and how a practical arrangement can be made to deal with that issue, and lastly is the issue of course of confidence, how those arrangements could be made in a way that people can have confidence in, and of course we want the situation to help to move towards an enduring peace process, which is the ultimate solution to these problems.

Q: You warned against false expectations and warned of not having a solution in hours or the next day. Does that mean that it'll take days, within this week? And secondly you spoke of an enduring solution. Explain that?
Khalilzad: On the second issue, what we're looking for is an arrangement that works in an enduring way over the longer term, not something, an arrangement that can easily fall apart. The prospect of it lasting is not very high. So that would be the definition of wanting and enduring, an arrangement that can endure, that can work for the longer term. As far as the timeline is concerned, I'm not in the business of signaling anything in terms of that, but we would like to, obviously, get all of this done as quickly as possible.. No one should go away from here assuming the US, or Israel for that matter, or others, would want this problem to go on and on. No. We want this, we see the television screens, we see the suffering of the people in Israel and in Gaza. We want this thing to end as quickly and rapidly as possible, but as responsible leaders you want to get an arrangement that can improve the situation so that the prospects of it collapsing quickly, or a return to these kinds of problems, is minimized if not altogether eliminated. So therefore we are saying that we're working very hard, as quickly as possible, to get to those arrangements.


Got that? It means that the US will leave no stone unturned in its eternal quest for Mideast peace. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

seriously?

Yglesias reports that Aaron David Miller has said that no Secretary of State in 25 years has seriously broached the issue of the settlements in the West Bank with the Israeli leadership. Wow...