Thursday, July 31, 2008

Britain Has A National Orgasm Day?

Yes, it does, and the only way I found out was this gem of a headline:
Women's health campaign reaches climax

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More On Obama

It is difficult to decide whether this is a great example of investigative journalism, or one giant waste of time. The NYT has managed to get the syllabi, final exams, reading lists, and answer memos (all in PDF format) for a number of classes Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School, ostensibly to learn more about him.

As some of you may well know, the Law School at U of C is one the more conservative in the U.S.; it is particularly one of the more conservative elite law schools. Having read a number of articles (like this one, among others) that deal with Obama's decade-plus as a lecturer and senior lecturer at the school (he was offered a tenured position but did not take it because he was busy with his other job, being a state senator in Illinois), it is always striking to me to hear conservative law professors talk about how willing Obama was to go beyond established ways of thinking, and engage critically with his students and the material. From my understanding, his seminars were very popular with law students, despite their odd timings (he would have class either ridiculously early Monday mornings or late in the workday on Friday because of his State Senate career).

The NYT piece linked here is a little less glowing, mainly because they seem to have used a number of Richard Epstein's quotes in the article, and the latter just seems cranky (especially about Obama not attending workshops, which was only because of his political career in Springfield). In any event, it is really interesting to go through this stuff, and perhaps it would be even more so for the law students/lawyers in our readership. It's also clear that he has a sense of humor; he asks his students in one final exam to hypothesize that they have just passed the bar in a state called Nirvana (so he gets to write sentences like "the state of Nirvana just last year passed a number of laws") or to imagine that they work in the general counsel's office for the Governor of Utopia, Arnold Whatzanager.

UPDATE: Check out this diary at DailyKos for a debunking of some of the criticisms and quasi-criticisms directed at Obama in the NYT piece.

THIS Guy Is Angelina Jolie's Dad?

How can someone who says this spawn a goodwill ambassador to the UN?
Sen. Barack Obama has grown up with the teaching of very angry, militant white and black people: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, William Ayers and Rev. Michael Pfleger. We cannot say we are not affected by teachers who are militant and angry. We know too well that we become like them, and Mr. Obama will run this country in their mindset.

The Democratic Party, in its quest for power, has managed a propaganda campaign with subliminal messages, creating a God-like figure in a man who falls short in every way. It seems to me that if Mr. Obama wins the presidential election, then Messrs. Farrakhan, Wright, Ayers and Pfleger will gain power for their need to demoralize this country and help create a socialist America.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blog Recommendation: Grand Trunk Road

If you guys like to read about the sort of stuff we talk about here on Rs. 5 (especially the Pakistan side of things), then you should check out Grand Trunk Road. It's a good blog.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Feminism Is No Longer Relevant

Not because equal pay in the workplace or a real division of labor at home is widespread throughout the world today, but because women have reached the true mark of equality: they have shown they can be as idiotically juvenile as men on a basketball court:

Anyway, speaking of great basketball videos, please watch this great 10-minute clip of Obama and his relationship with the sport. In particular, watch out for him telling us "My actual talent was my first step...I could get to the rim on anybody." Classic.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Excerpt Of The Day

This is from Barrington Moore's canonical Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. The relevant passage (pp. 350-51) deals with Indian customs that "deeply offended British consciences."
One of the latter was sati (also spelled suttee), the term for the custom of burning or otherwise killing a widow as soon as her husband died. It revolted many British. In Bengal generally a widow "was usually tied to the corpse, often already putrid; men stood by with poles to push her back in case the bonds should burn through and the victim, scorched and maimed, should struggle free." In the vast majority of cases, at least in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the woman went to the flames in fear and horror. Many people know the remark of one famous British officer in the 1840s, in reply to Brahmans who argued that sati was a national custom: "My nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them...Let us all act according to national customs."

Of course the English also used to hang women for being witches as recently as a hundred years before this exchange, but who wants to let facts get in the way of a great line like that?

Anyway, speaking of widows, did you guys know that the word "raand" (which is either the origin of, or the technical term for, "randi" [whore]) means "widow"? As I told NB the other day in an email (for some reason, we were discussing the same thing) "examine for yourself the cultural connotations of associating one whose husband has died, with one who places her body on the open market for the sexual gratification of others. A woman is simply assumed to - nay, damned to - be of little virtue and possess no moral compass whatsoever in the absence of a Man to make sure the woman is Good."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Photo and Quote of the Day

Photo Credit: Katia Dunn/NPR

This photo accompanies an NPR story about people in Ohio who are not able to buy as much food as they used to. A blessing in disguise, perhaps.

And the quote of the day comes from Barack Obama's speech in Jordan:

it's always a bad practice to say "always" or "never,"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who Counts As Middle Class In Pakistan, Whether Or Not Pakistan Is On The Verge Of Collapse, And (Yet) Another Conspiracy Theory

So I was skimming the recently released IRI survey of Pakistani public opinion, and something caught my eye. Go to page 3 of the PDF report, and you'll see the following breakdown of monthly incomes:

Up to Rs. 3,000 10%
Rs. 3,001 - 10,000 57%
Rs. 10,001 - 15,000 16%
Rs. 15,001 - 25,000 9%
More than Rs. 25,000 2%

Presumably, the sample is something approximating an accurate representation of the population as a whole (that is, after all, the point of polls). Look at that last figure: just 2% of Pakistanis earn more than Rs. 25,000. For the sake of argument, even if we assume the survey methodology is somewhat flawed, and we more than double the proportion of Pakistanis who have a monthly income of more than Rs. 25,000 to 5%, it's still a pretty jarring number, especially when you consider rising costs of fuel and food.

However jarring it is to me, it should be more jarring to TMOTEWTTPOTMCs (or "those members of the elite who think they're part of the middle class"). I often run into or end up conversing these people - usually my parents' generation or older - and am quite often amused by their assessments of their positions on the socio-economic ladder. Obviously, no one likes to admit they're part of the "elite", because such an admission brings with it all sorts of questionable implications. Plus, it's kind of Reggie-from-Archie-comics to go around trumpeting one's self worth. Furthermore, it is almost noble to be part of the "middle class", that wide swathe of citizenry that means different things to different people, yet is almost always considered normatively desirable.

Nevertheless, it is quite strange to hear people with two cars and 1000 square-yard houses call themselves part of the middle class in a country where more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Two sedans and a two-story house may constitute the middle class in Western countries - where our elite either vacations, studies, works, or dreams about moving (or all of the above) - but it certainly constitutes elite status in a country like Pakistan. One may not like being part of the elite, or even be slightly ashamed or embarrassed about it (as I sometimes get), but that doesn't mean that facts on the ground change. If just 2% of the population makes more than Rs. 25,000 every month, and you make at least three or four times that, you're part of the elite. Accept it, even if you can't deal with it.

One of the academy's foremost South Asia experts, Sumit Ganguly, has an article in Newsweek in which his thesis is that Pakistan is "dangerously close" to collapse. Ganguly argues that the inflationary pressures on the economy, combined with the military-security threat from the Taliban and the breakdown of the provision of public goods like electricity, has made Pakistan a "powderkeg of popular disaffection".

I buy into all of the data points, but I disagree with the conclusion. First of all (and this may well be his editor or headline writer's fault), Ganguly actually seems to be arguing that Pakistan is on the brink of widespread social unrest, popular mobilization, or even a revolution; not that it is on the verge of collapse. I agree wholeheartedly that it doesn't take too much of a stretch of the imagination to see more riots and other manifestations of public anger (strikes, vandalism, violence etc) in the coming weeks and months. However, for a state to collapse means, at least for me, that it either disintegrates or functionally disappears (Poland in the 18th century, for example, which was partitioned out of existence). While I am more than willing to concede that the challenges Pakistan faces are immense, I don't think that Pakistan is near collapse, per se.

I am reminded of Adam Smith's great line on this. After a surrender to American, uh, freedom fighters at Saratoga, he was told that the British nation "faced ruin" if events did not change course. Smith replied, "Be assured, my young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation." He's absolutely right. From an organizational perspective, the modern nation-state is an absolute behemoth. We really take it for granted sometimes, but take a couple of minutes and think about the sheer extent of nation-state-ness. Now think about how much it would take for a nation-state to collapse. I mean, even the German state didn't collapse in 1945, and they went through their fair share of trials, didn't they?

As some of you may know, Asif Zardari's bodyguard/"chief security officer" was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen yesterday. I told my mother the news when she came home yesterday. Her first reaction? "I bet he [Zardari] had it done himself." When her pronouncement was greeted with bemused silence by yours truly, she attempted to put some meat around the bones. "Look, people are tiring of him. They already think he's already exploited his wife's death too much. This way [i.e. by having his bodyguard killed], he will garner more sympathy and try to stay in power that way." Told that this was the most ridiculous thing I'd heard in a while, she promptly told me that I "don't understand politics". I asked her how plausible it is for the one political scientist in the family to not understand politics, but I didn't really get a response to that one.

Anyways, as I said earlier, I am going to believe every single conspiracy theory espoused in my house this summer. So from now on, it is my editorial position that Asif Zardari had both his wife and his bodyguard killed. I do have one question though: if you follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, isn't it likely that Asif Zardari is eventually going to have to kill himself for sympathy? I mean, eventually he's going to run out of people to murder from his inner circle, and once that happens, how the hell is he going to stay in power?

Monday, July 21, 2008

South Africa Vs. England, Second Test, Day Four

Hello and welcome to Rs. 5’s coverage of the fourth day of the second test between England and South Africa. Our apologies for the eighteen minute delay – it was unavoidable. As always, all times are local (Pakistan Daylight Savings time).

4:19 p.m. So England are 55-2, down by 264 with six sessions to go on a pitch that’s acting a little funny against three excellent quick bowlers finally hitting their straps. The tables, it is fair to say, have well and truly turned. Cook is in with nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson with Ntini and Morkel bowling.

4:23 p.m. Michael Holding, as the camera pans to some cuties in the crowd (by British standards anyway): “Well, Beefy, not a lot of people at the ground today.” He waits a moment. “I have no problems with the ones who turned up, though.”

4:29 p.m. Ntini tries the whole “put a man back at deep square but then bluff with a fuller pitched ball to drive outside off” and Cook edges it (along the ground) to the cordon. By the way, why is that tactic consistently referred to by commentators as a “double-bluff”? Isn’t it just a plain old simple bluff? Wouldn’t a double-bluff be to put a man back at deep-square and then actually bowl the short ball? I mean, I’m not a poker player or anything, but that seems eminently logical to me.

4:32 p.m. Kallis into the attack, replacing Morkel, and immediately has Anderson fishing outside off.

4:35 p.m. Dude. Kallis is fat.

4:39 p.m. Anderson sets off on a suicidal run to a nudge in the covers – he would have been short by a yard or two – but gets five for his troubles with the overthrow. That one ball has more than doubled his strike rate from about 10 to 25. He’s moved on to 9 off 37, and England to 70-2.

4:46 p.m. These two keep taking off for dangerous singles, and the South African ring fielders keep missing the stumps, and the backers-up keep conceding overthrows. Smith looks quietly aggrieved.

4:52 p.m. Steyn into the attack from round the wicket. England have steadily moved to 82-2; the deficit is 237.

4:55 p.m. Steyn gets one to come back viciously at Cook from round the wicket but it’s too high for the LBW and too far from the bat for even Billy Bowden to think it was a nick. Meanwhile, we have a double change, with Harris in for the first time. David Lloyd thinks the spin could “confuse” Anderson, but he starts off with a fairly safe sweep.

5:04 p.m. After drinks, it’s my two favorite Sky commentators, Nasser Hussain and David Gower. My lunch is here too, so no updates for the next twenty minutes.

5:25 p.m. And we’re back. South Africa bowled well in that little period, but England are still trudging along. A bunch of milestones either just passed or are coming up: Anderson has now reached his highest score, England have moved on to 99, and the partnership on to 49.

5:28 p.m. Steyn hits Anderson on the wrist, missing the arm guard. Steyn is a 90 mph bowler. Anderson is flexing his arm and trying to see if he can get some sensation back in the fingers. Meanwhile, Morkel, Ntini and Steyn are having a mini-conference, taking advantage of the break in action to catch up on high school stories.

5:30 p.m. Next ball, Steyn hits Anderson on the grill. Two bouncers, two visits to the pitch for physio. As an aside, there is nothing wrong with these tactics whatsoever. Anderson came out at number four, which means he has to be treated like a proper top-order batsman. Too bad for him he isn’t, but that’s not Steyn’s problem. He (Anderson that is) looks pretty woozy though. Don’t know if he’s going to carry on. The super slo-mo replay shows the grill of the helmet smashing into his face and it doesn’t look too great a sight.

5:35 p.m. New helmet out for Anderson, as he looks to continue batting. Steyn should give him another one, right at the throat, and then follow it up with a Shoaib-style slower-ball-that-looks-like-a-beamer-at-first. Again, I have to emphasize: if he’s come out at number four, he has to be treated like a number four. There can be no sympathy because he’s a genuine tailender.

5:38 p.m. Two shortish deliveries to follow up, and Anderson is in solidly behind both of them. Steyn finishes up with a full delivery that just misses both Anderson’s bat and off stump by not much at all. Eventful over, and we’re still at 99-2, with England down by 220.

5:44 p.m. Anderson is definitely backing away to square leg against Steyn. No doubt about it. He gets one to third man, and misses the fuller one outside off next up. Definitely backing away.

5:45 p.m. Done and done. Steyn pins Anderson back, and then bowls it up and straight, beats him for pace, and has him plumb in front. That’s the value of a guy like Steyn – fast, accurate, with a plan and stamina (ahem). Just a great exhibition of fast bowling. Yes, he was working over a tailender, but it was great bowling for about three overs that got that wicket. England three down, Pietersen in, and this (Steyn v. Pietersen) is the battle to watch.

5:48 p.m. First up goes for the yorker, misses by a few inches, and Pietersen comfortably glances it to fine-leg for four. Some reverse swing there.

5:48 p.m. Reverse swing, shemerse shwing. Pietersen smashes a perfectly acceptable ball down the ground for four more. He’s on 8 off 2.

5:51 p.m. Kallis overpitches outside off, and Pietersen hits his third boundary in his first four balls. I predict he will be getting out pretty soon – I am always wary watching really talented players get off to a flyer, because they are more liable to get overconfident or lose their concentration than less gifted players.

5:51 p.m. I swear upon my unborn child’s life that I really did think of that last entry before Pietersen nicked the next one to Boucher. England four down and still 196 behind, and South Africa’s morning suddenly looks a lot better. Ian Bell in.

6:00 p.m. I would like to stipulate for the record that Steyn just bowled seven overs on the trot. Ahem. Ahem. Ahem, ahem, ahem. I don’t know why, but I seem to have something struck in my throat today. You could say my throat is Akhtaring up, but then I would make fun of you for making an extremely lame pun. Anyway, it’s lunch. We’ll be back in forty, unless you want me to blog about Pommie Mbangwa.

6:42 p.m. And we’re back. During lunch, Farooq texted me a request: “Credit the following quote to me: ‘the waves of resolute defense crashed against the bedrock of SA’s bowlers accompanied by a raging torrent of boundaries by KP. But, suddenly, the tide receded. And the river of SA’s discontent changed course.’” Farooq is clearly feeling the aqua-based metaphors today.

6:49 p.m. Michael Atherton, Sky’s third man for the day, puts together a great series of clips on the noise at the wicket, with the appealing, the constant chatter, and the oohs and aahs. I love that part of the game. It’s great. Anyway, England are 137-4, still 182 behind. Cook on 51 and Bell new to the crease. Morkel and Kallis bowling.

6:56 p.m. South Africa are really one wicket away from possibly opening the floodgates here. Presumably Flintoff would be in next (I don’t think the “Ambrose at six above Flintoff” experiment is going to last longer than one innings) and while he’s extremely useful with the bat, he’s not going to stick around for a day and a half to save a test – at best, he’ll make an enterprising 30 or 35, and then throw away his wicket. Ambrose isn’t going to do anything. And while Broad has looked solid in this series, if England are 5 of 6 down with him in, and Steyn and Morkel steaming in, he’s not really going to hang around. More than anything, I say this because England look a tired team, both mentally and physically. They’ve basically been in the field for all but four or five hours over six days of cricket (the last three at Lords and the first three here). It shows.

7:04 p.m. Well, this one was out. A.B. de Villiers takes an absolute stunner at gully off a backfoot push/cut from Bell of a rising delivery from Morkel. It’s crazy how life works sometimes, isn’t it? He lets the crowd know it too, pointing a finger at them like an umpire would giving someone out.

7:06 p.m. Hahahaha. Ambrose comes out above Flintoff again. I give him fifteen minutes.

7:13 p.m. Holding breaks down Morkel’s action, and explains why, when bowling round the wicket, he would struggle both to get it on a good line and manage to get off the danger area on the pitch in his follow through. Quite illuminating. I am so not missing Rameez Raja’s “avoided the fielder” and “middle of the stick” right now.

7:27 p.m. Dude. I’m pretty sure Cooked nicked that one from Kallis. I definitely heard something. Why didn’t anyone appeal?

7:27 p.m. DUDE. The replay shows a slight deviation too. That was out, I’m telling you.

7:28 p.m. Ok, well, this one is definitely out. Cook tries to work Kallis through midwicket to one that straightened from round the wicket, gets a leading edge, Amla pouches it in the covers, and that’s the end of that. Pretty tame dismissal in the end. England six down and in comes Freddie. Gower describes the situation for England as “forlorn”. I’m absolutely not missing Rameez’s “smart operator” and “dented and damaged confidence” right now.

7:43 p.m. A bit of a lull in the action here, with nothing really happening. And it’s drinks.

7:55 p.m. England have scored 26 runs in 16 overs in this session. Surely Flintoff isn’t going to keep poking and prodding for long, is he? I know Beefy’s pretty miffed at all this. Flintoff plays another maiden off Steyn. The domestic staff from a number of houses on my street are playing outside my house right now, and I’m positive their game is more entertaining than this.

7:58 p.m. David Lloyd tells us that the stump mikes picked up one of the South Africans reminding Ambrose that two keepers scored hundreds in domestic cricket on the weekend. Give him credit, he’s stuck out there for almost an hour now.

8:03 p.m. For the record, Flintoff is 2 off 22 and Ambrose is 2 off 33.

8:04 p.m. Ooooooh. One from Steyn stays low, and Flintoff just gets his bottom edge on it. Good thing, too, because he was going to be trapped right in front. Anyway, Flintoff plays yet another maiden off Steyn. The partnership is 5 off 52 balls.

8:07 p.m. Ambrose tucks Ntini behind square for one, the first runs off the bat for five overs.

8:11 p.m. Harris comes into the attack, giving Steyn a break. I guess the new ball is probably due in about 10 or 15 overs, which is when Steyn will presumably come back.

8:12 p.m. Nasser Hussain informs us the new ball is due in ten overs at the end of this from Harris. The new ball will probably coincide closely with tea, giving the quicks some more valuable time off. Anyway, Harris starts his spell with a maiden to Ambrose.

8:14 p.m. So much for my Steyn-is-resting theory. He replaces Ntini from his end.

8:17 p.m. A veritable flurry here. Flintoff and Ambrose get singles off successive deliveries. By the way, Holding just said that while reverse swing was well-known among bowlers in his era, there were no true great exponents of it – some guys just managed to do it well occasionally. Um, what about Imran Khan? He was the first true great exponent of it, and he definitely qualifies as part of Holding’s era, doesn’t he?

8:32 p.m. This partnership has finally begun to get some rhythm to it. They’re not racing along or anything, but they have started picking up runs more regularly. A boundary here, a couple of singles there, and they’re up to 176-6, now down by 143.

8:40 p.m. Ambrose pulls a Morkel bouncer in front of square for four. What do you know, they’ve managed to survive until tea. We’ll be back in twenty.

9:00 p.m. And we’re back. South Africa could have more than three hours at England in this session if it takes them that long – they have to make up time from previous days, and their over-rate has been pretty shabby all day. Flintoff charges Harris the second ball after tea and tries to hit him for six straight over his head, miscues, but evades a retreating Smith from mid-off.

9:04 p.m. Kallis is bowling from the other end.

9:10 p.m. South Africa take the new ball as soon as it’s due, and Steyn comes into the attack. Three slips, gully, and a short leg.

9:11 p.m. A little bit of shape away straight away for Steyn. I know this is stating the obvious and all, but he really is a great bowler. As I was telling AKS the other day, if he stays fit – a big if with quick bowlers these days – he could have a better career than both Donald and Pollock.

9: 14 p.m. Ambrose drives, edges, and just gets it past a diving gully. Four to third man, and England move on to 190-6. Thirty more runs and they get the deficit below 100. Ntini to share the new ball with Steyn.

9:17 p.m. Flintoff is 12 off 67. He has no boundaries. I’d love the Statsguru guys at Cricinfo to find out how many times Flintoff has played that many deliveries without hitting a four or six. Ambrose at the other end clips one off his pads for four more. He looks pretty assured now actually, after a fairly scratchy start.

9:18 p.m. As soon as I finish typing that, Ntini gets one to bite and jump off a good length, beating Ambrose all ends up. That was close.

9:26 p.m. A push through the covers from Ambrose for two brings up the 50 partnership, off 146 balls. Flintoff has contributed 18 off 73. Next ball, Ambrose edges it through the gap in the slip cordon, and suddenly it’s not inconceivable that we might go into a fifth day here. England down by 112.

9:36 p.m. Flintoff is playing some shots now. A couple of boundaries in the last one or two overs, and this partnership, dare I say, is gathering momentum. The lead is finally below 100.

9:41 p.m. As Nasser and Botham talk about Botham (and Willis’) test in 1981 against Australia (the heroic comeback and all that), Nasser asks Botham if he thinks Graeme Smith might be getting twitchy or worried. Next ball, Ambrose nicks Steyn through to Boucher. So no, I don’t think Smith is worried. Stuart Broad in next.

9:43 p.m. Ok, Nasser needs to let it go. “The comparison continues,” he says. In 1981, he informs us, the game turned when a tall left hander (Graham Dilley) joined Botham at the crease. Now, another tall left hander (Broad) has joined another talismanic all-rounder (Flintoff). By the way, Boucher just took his ninth catch of the match. One more, and he breaks his (and Dave Richardson’s shared) South African record for dismissals in one game.

9:49 p.m. Flintoff smashes Steyn for four through the covers. That was the hardest hit, if not best, shot of the day. He tries to pull the next one but miscues for two more. His strike rate is up to the high 30s from the mid single digits earlier in his innings.

9:52 p.m. Eventful over, as Steyn has Broad hopping and fending, getting it just past the short leg.

9:52 p.m. You know how I said Flintoff’s cover drive was the hardest hit shot of the day? Well it isn’t anymore. He hits Steyn past him and it went to the boundary, as Ravi Shastri might say, like a tracer bullet. Next up Steyn bowls a slower ball yorker, and exchanges stares and words with Flintoff. Over called, and things heating up at Headingley.

9:56 p.m. Well, that’s that. Flintoff edges Morkel playing a nothing shot, and Kallis takes it easily at second slip. Remember how I said Flintoff would make an enterprising 30 or 35 and then get out? He made 38. I also correctly predicted the Pietersen dismissal. I hope all the naysayers with respect to my fortune-telling ability are looking on with interest. Monty in.

9:58 p.m. Nasser Hussain: “Well, it was fun while it lasted, the comparison to all those years ago.” Actually, Nasser, I don’t think anybody in their right mind was comparing this game to that one except for you. Ian Botham had 14 hundreds in 102 tests, Flintoff has five in 67 (in an era of bigger bats, smaller boundaries, and easier pitches). He – Flintoff, that is – simply isn’t that type of player with the bat. He’s not going to score match-saving or match-winning hundreds for you against good bowling teams.

10:06 p.m. It really is quite amazing the extent to which England have been outplayed in this match. I’m trying to think of a single session they haven’t lost in this test, and I can’t, not off the top of my head anyway.

10:08 p.m. Some Cricinfoing reveals that, if one is being charitable, then England could be said to have not lost the post-tea session on the first day (South Africa scored 110 for the loss of three wickets after England were bowled out for 203 on the stroke of tea). But that’s about it. Just a thorough overall ass whipping – they’ve dominated from beginning to end.

10:21 p.m. Steyn cleans up Monty. His third of the innings, and now the only question is: who’s going to be South Africa’s man of the match? The contenders are Steyn (7 in the match so far), Morkel (six), Prince (big hundred), and de Villiers (ditto). If Kallis had made even a decent contribution (60 odd), he would have been right in that discussion, because he’s taken some important wickets and catches, but he didn’t, so he’s not. I would give it to Steyn but I am almost positive they’re going to give it to de Villiers (redemption narrative and all that). Let’s see. Anyway, Darren Pattinson in.

10:28 p.m. Broad can absolutely bat by the way. He hits Kallis for fours square on both the leg and off sides and England move on 276. If England are so reluctant to bat Flintoff at six, they should move him up there and Ambrose down to eight. That would seem to be a more meritocratic order than the one they have right now.

10:29 p.m. Steyn is in the ninth over of his spell. Ahem. Ahem, ahem, ahem, ahem. I guess some Ferraris can be used as something other than a weekend car.

10:40 p.m. This is dragging on, isn’t it? Somehow Pattinson and Broad are hanging around. The deficit is down to 30.

10:50 p.m. Bloody hell. Why am I still here? Come on, guys. Finish this up. Broad, by the way, just reached his fifty playing some gorgeous shots. He really could be a top-class all-rounder if he puts his mind to it; him and Flintoff in the same team give England tremendous flexibility, should they choose to use it going forward.

10:59 p.m. It’s been a great session of cricket, whichever way you look at it. A run rate of nearly five, with three wickets falling too. The deficit is down to 10.

11:01 p.m. Broad short-arm jabs it off his hips for four, and Ntini looks perplexed. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Broad has easily – easily – been England’s best batsman in this innings. Hell, this innings is probably England’s best in the match.

11:02 p.m. Four more, with Broad smashing a full toss is past mid-off, and the fifty partnership is up. Pattinson has contributed 5.

11:05 p.m. Pattinson gets into the act, with an ungainly slog sweep off Harris for four, and South Africa will have to bat again. England lead by 3.

11:06 p.m. Pattinson repeats the dose. Make that 7.

11:07 p.m. You really have to respect England’s fight here. No one is under any illusions that England have a shot in this game, but they’re still playing hard. I know for a fact Pakistan would have folded about 70-90 minutes ago in a similar position, with Kaneria doing something incredibly daft in particular. Anyway, Morkel into the act, looking quite stiff and unwilling to bowl, with the field spread far and wide for Broad.

11:11 p.m. Botham: “Who knows what happens here?” Nasser replies dryly: “Six all out, chasing eight?”

11:12 p.m. And that’s that. Morkel cleans up Pattinson, and South Africa will have the monumental task of scoring nine runs to go up 1-0 in this series. Morkel and Steyn evenly share 14 of England’s 20 wickets in the game, and have shown England (and us neutrals, no doubt) that their pace attack is no joke. They keep coming at you, none of them are particularly erratic or prone to be expensive, they’re all quick, they all have good variations, and they’re all different types of bowlers (always a strength).

11:20 p.m. The hero of England’s innings (well, England’s hero anyway) is opening the bowling. Broad to Smith, with three slips and a gully.

11:23 p.m. Smith pushes one through the covers, and South Africa have knocked off a third of their target.

11:24 p.m. McKenzie pulls Broad in front of square. Botham: “Well, that’s your theory gone, Nass. ‘All out for six?’” Two more needed.

11:25 p.m. Another pull from McKenzie, this time for one. Scores level. Pattinson to share the new ball and bowl the last over of this test.

11:26 p.m. McKenzie knocks it right in front, takes off, and we’re done. South Africa go one up in the series with two to go. Just a brutally dominating performance from the Saffies – they looked almost Australian in this game (circa 2000). Where do England go from here? Well, not to sound facetious or anything, but they have to bowl better and bat better next time. The commentators keep going on about the selection of Pattinson (a head-scratcher for sure) and other off-the-field issues, but honestly, England didn’t get beaten because they selected Pattinson. He bowled about as well as anyone else in that first (and only) innings. They simply got outplayed, and didn’t have enough firepower with the ball to bother what is looking like the most impregnable, if not best, top six in the world. With McKenzie, Amla, Kallis, and Prince they have four grinders in their top five. de Villiers and Smith have shown, in this test and the first one respectively, that they can buckle down and put a price on their wicket. What that means is that this team is difficult to beat in test cricket – you really have to play well for five days straight. Now granted teams always look better than they actually are when they play as well as South Africa have played in this game, and the gap certainly is not as wide as “ten wickets with more than a day to spare”, but make no mistake: England need to pick it up.

That’s it for me. Good night.

Marriage, Golf and Smoking

Apologies for the lack of posting. This is going to become a habit over the next month, I promise. I’m getting married in August and have already been driven insane.

Anyway, since I have a little bit of time on my hands, here are a few news items that caught my interest.

Pervez Musharraf, Ashfaq Kayani and Salmaan Taseer played a round of golf at Bhurban and the reaction is as hysterical as it was during the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff. Everyone knows Taseer and Musharraf are on friendly terms, but that wasn’t why Zardari made him Governor of the Punjab. It was Taseer’s hatred of Nawaz Sharif, pure and simple. This reminds of the infamous story from a while back that rumoured Musharraf was quitting because Kayani paid him a late-night visit. Remember, all conspiracies take place deep into the night, just watch the new Batman movie if you doubt that.

Speaking of Kayani, the New York Times has a story on him that isn’t meant to be positive - they make him out to be manipulative and two-faced - but I ended liking him more. You have to respect a person who rolls his own cigarettes.

During meetings, he will often spend several minutes carefully hand-rolling a cigarette. Then, after taking one puff, he stubs it out.

The News criticises Gillani’s maiden address, which is fair enough, as the prime minister tends to be somewhat dull and matter-of-fact. Nearly as dull, in fact, as the man The News praises to the skies in comparison. For our younger readers, keep in mind that Nawaz Sharif has improved a great deal as a public speaker during his exile. Before that, he could barely utter a coherent sentence.

Nawaz Sharif used to ensure that his speech to the nation left an excellent impact. His media team would advise him on each and every point. Sufficient time was spared to write the address. They would make it a point that its delivery and message hit the audience. However, what Gilani said in his maiden address went unnoticed because there was nothing that would have attracted attention.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Is McCain Misogynistic?

After the hype-filled, substance-free controversy over The New Yorker Obama cartoon, some are now suggesting that John McCain makes sexist jokes (are there any other kind?).

I'll leave it to others to decide how appropriate this joke is, but I find it laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.

Rape jokes are another matter altogether. They are almost always misogynistic (or anti-Pathan when a Pakistani is telling a rape joke). Leaving that aside, can someone explain where the punchline is in this joke, or if it even exists?

Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?’

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quote Of The Day (Oh, Snap! Edition)

United States Secretary of Defense lets rip on, uh, some people.
One of the reasons I have rarely been invited to lecture in political science departments – including at Texas A&M – is because faculty correctly suspect that I would tell the students that what their textbooks say about government does not describe the reality I have experienced in working for seven presidents.

Whatever dude. Your face.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are Russia And China "Bad" Actors In The System Because They Prop Up Robert Mugabe In Zimbabwe?

No is the short answer.

Before I provide the longer answer, I encourage you to read the piece that inspired this post in full. It is an op-ed by the always-provocative but almost-always-never-right Tom Friedman in the NYT.

If you are too lazy (or too afraid of having to gouge your eyes out as a result of reading Tom Friedman), allow me to provide a synopsis of the argument: America's done some fucked up things, sure, but we're damn well better than Russia and China, who offer support to Mugabe's regime. In particular, these dastardly countries use their veto on the Security Council to protect him from condemnation. We're still a really nice hegemon, and while the world is hoping for America's power to be tamed by Eurasian rivals, it will be truly sorry if such an outcome actually comes about, because we're Generally Good and they're Generally Not.

Let's deal with each step in the argument one by one.

Step 1 of the argument: America is basically a benign hegemon.

Quote: "Polls tell us how China is now more popular in Asia than America and how few Europeans say they identify with the United States. I am sure there is truth to these polls. We should have done better in Iraq. An America that presides over Abu Ghraib, torture and Guantánamo Bay deserves a thumbs-down.

But America is not and never has been just about those things, which is why I also find some of these poll results self-indulgent, knee-jerk and borderline silly."

Of course America has been about those things. How can anyone say otherwise? The firebombing of Japan in World War II that resulted in the deaths of close to one million civilians; the use of napalm in the bombing of Vietnam; the sponsorship and assistance of authoritarian repression in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians being tortured, imprisoned, or killed; the deliberate and targeted starving of the Iraqi population in the 1990s - for the love of God, these are all examples from the last sixty years, and I hadn't even begun thinking yet!

The U.S. is like any other big power - it throws its weight around. "Benign hegemon" is almost a contradiction in terms. The U.S. is and has been those things.

Step 2 of the argument: That Russia and China's propping up of Mugabe is somehow "worse" than the U.S.'s conduct.

Quote: "I am neither a Russia-basher nor a China-basher. But there was something truly filthy about Russia’s and China’s vetoes of the American-led U.N. Security Council effort to impose targeted sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s ruling clique in Zimbabwe."

Why were Russia and China's vetoes "truly filthy"? Russia and China are protecting what they think constitutes their interests; that's not filthy, that's reality. Their conduct is of course morally detestable, but I fail to see how it is any more detestable than the U.S.'s repeated use of its veto on the Security Council to protect Israel when the latter - a client of America's as much as Zimbabwe is of China's - engages in its activities in the Middle East.

Again, this is not a surprising result: states protect their interests. I really don't know what else to say about this.

Step 3 of the argument: Not only is America's conduct superior to other powerful states', but our spirit is too - we have a lower tolerance for moral anguish in the world.

Quote: "Which brings me back to America. Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate."

Except for stuff like Rwanda. That's a travesty that deserves not just toleration, but a three month legal seminar on the precise meaning of the word "genocide". Also, put Dafur in there too. Don't forget the "civil" war in Congo, that involved something like ten countries and a multitude of armed militias, and cost about 5 million people their lives.

I can sense a pattern here, and the pattern rhymes with don't-give-a-crapica. Let's move on.

America is really no better or no worse than other powerful states in the international system. Once it has conceptualized an interest - and I am bracketing the formulation of its preferences for the purposes of this post - then it acts to fulfill that interest, and doesn't really consider moral issues except if the issue is of relatively low importance.

Alex Downes recently released his book on a subject related to this: the deliberate targeting of civilians in wartime. I haven't read it, but I have read the dissertation upon which the book was based (eight hundred and some pages by the way; the book is about 300). There are two basic arguments in the dissertation. First, democracies do not behave differently than authoritarian states when it comes to targeting civilians in wartime - they do so at relatively even rates. Second, what drives states - both democracies and non-democracies - to target civilians in wartime is the consideration of two related factors: cost of battle and likelihood of victory/defeat. If either the costs of war rise past an unacceptable level, or defeat suddenly looms or becomes more likely, states target civilian populations of enemy states. In other words, when push comes to shove in wartime, the gloves come off for everyone - democracies and autocracies. Good guys and bad guys. Everyone.

The argument shed lights on my more general point here - not controversial or original in the least within the IR and Security literatures - that once states have defined an interest, there is very little to separate them in terms of conduct. (The fruitful and provocative debates in the subfield is on how states define the "interest" we speak of rather than how the behave once they have defined it). In that sense, there is nothing special about the U.S., and certainly nothing "filthy" about Russia and China's actions recently.

The Friedman piece is not altogether useless though, because it does elide an interesting question: assuming Russia, China and India (and Europe and Japan, perhaps) continue their rise, will a multipolar world be more peaceful than a unipolar world? The IR literature, especially since the 1980s, has been in wide agreement that bipolarity (two major powers in the system, like the Cold War) is a relatively stable balance of power. Multipolarity is considered to be more dangerous than bipolarity, for a number of reasons that I won't go into at present. (The interested reader can go to Mearsheimer's 1990 piece or Chapter 8 in Waltz to get the gist of the argument).

While the multipolarity-bipolarity debate is well-traversed ground in the IR literature, I have yet to come across a systemic comparison of unipolarity and multipolarity deductively - the literature that deals with unipolarity tends to be very security oriented (rather than theoretically oriented). Moreover, these meta-theoretical questions are losing their import in today's IR world: people would much rather solve the multiple equilibria of another bargaining model than think about these things.

My back of the envelope thought on the question would be that unipolarity in the abstract would be more peaceful than mutlipolarity. However, if one were to interact the polarity variable with the nuclear weapons variable, then multipolarity would be more peaceful. In other words, multipolarity in a nuclear world is more peaceful than unipolarity in a nuclear world, and the reverse in a non-nuclear world.

The argument, I think, would basically conceptualize two types of threats to peace: war between major powers, and military adventures against smaller states by major powers. My thoughts are that in a nuclear world, major powers won't go to war against each other because of nukes, and they would be more careful of meddling in other spheres for fear of drawing in a fellow great power. A unipolar state (or hegemon) in a nuclear world will be able to avoid the first pitfall - war with a relatively strong state - for the same exact reason (nukes) but will not be able to avoid the second pitfall - needless adventures and the ever-expanding frontier of defense.

Meanwhile, in non-nuclear multipolarity, the risks and costs of major power war would be substantially higher than in non-nuclear unipolarity. The increased likelihood of a big war in a mutlipolar world - and its attendant costs - more than compensates for any effect in the opposing direction.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gillani Hypocrisy Watch

In a post yesterday, I pointed two seemingly contradictory statements by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani. He seems to be making a habit of it.

First he makes this statement:

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday asked all public departments to take the VIP culture as a thing of the past and asked them to emulate the National Highways and Motorway Police.

Good advice that he doesn't intend to follow:

The diversion of Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilaniís plane from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai, instead of landing at Islamabad after attending the D-8 Summit, cost the national exchequer more than 10 million rupees, sources told The News on Monday.

Gilani and his 40-member delegation, which also included one member from the opposition and five businessmen, had left the country on July 7 to attend the Summit. More than 50 security personnel and bureaucrats had gone to Kuala Lumpur in advance.

According to some members of the delegation, the team was to land back in Islamabad. However, the plane was diverted to the UAE, where Gilani and some other PPP leaders were to attend a party meeting. According to sources in the PIA, the flight diversion cost the government a total of Rs1.6 million in terms of aviation, fuel and some other charges. Besides this, said the sources, keeping in view the summer, which is a ëseasoní of travelling, the extra use of plane cost the PIA over Rs5 million.

Conspiracy Of The Day: Evil Indians, Not Appalling Stupidity, To Blame For Asif's Plight

Alright, so resident dumbass and once-savior-of-Pakistan-cricket Mohammad Asif has at least one defender. You will recall that Asif recently tested positive for a banned substance and claimed ignorance, after recently testing positive for a banned substance and claiming ignorance. Anyway, while the PCB have washed their hands off the matter ("The board will not provide any kind of help to Asif and he will have to fight his case himself"), one comment by "mvent" posted on Kamran Abbasi's blog had the following to say:
One day after PCB decided that it won't allow its players to take part in the next IPL season if it coincides with Australia's rescheduled visit to the country next year, IPL released Asif's positive results. Not to mention that he was previously found guilty in India. And, also at Dubai Airport where 95% of the working staff is Indian!

Is it just coincidence? Every time when issue like this comes, India is involved in it. What if the Indian mixed something in his food there, and he even did not know it?

We have seen the involvement of Indian secret service agents in much complicated cases to damage the cause and respect of Pakistan. It must be the simplest one for them.

It would be better for Pakistani players traveling to India in future, get tested at home first before departure, to compare the results and to make sure that indeed they are dirty or is it someone else?
Actually, the tests were carried out by an independent Swedish organization named IDTM. But I understand now: the IDTM is a mere pawn in the vast Hindu-Jewish-CIA conspiracy to rid us of our nuclear weapons and our new ball bowlers, and I am simply daft for not having seen it earlier.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Today's News

The PML-Q asks everyone to shut the hell up:

Open debate on national issues is damaging the image of the country, said Pakistan Muslim League-Q on Monday.

The AP comes up with the headline of the year:

Muslim woman deemed too submissive to be French

PM Gillani makes two statements but doesn't attempt to reconcile them. Surely, if this happens it will lead to this.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that foreigners are present in the tribal areas and incident like 9/11 could happen again.

Rejecting the idea of any foreign attack inside Pakistan territory, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday said Pakistan was an independent state and no one could dare challenge its sovereignty.

And finally, if you're missing The Office be sure to check out the first of half a dozen two-minute webisodes. It features Kevin, who manages to make every word he utters unbelievably hilarious.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Government's Idiotic Ban on Public Sector Employment

One of the first steps to be taken by the present government after assuming power was a ban on new employments to vacant positions in various Government deparments. I’m presuming this was done to prevent newly elected public representatives from handing out jobs to their chachay mamay.

Now the Government of Pakistan happens to be the biggest employer in the country and its organisational structure is such that it constantly needs to bring in new people. While I concede that in Pakistan, and perhaps everywhere in the world, government postings are used by new governments to repay political favours, I don’t think that a complete ban on a new government from employing people is a solution. In fact, a blanket ban is entirely inefficient and is proving to be counterproductive.

As an example I’ll use the ongoing saga within the Intellectual Property Office of Pakistan (IPO). The IPO, a cabinet division organisation reporting directly to the PM, was formed in 2005 . It is funded in large parts by the European Union and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), who are keen to see Pakistan improve its IP framework. IPO’s financial and professional appraisal is carried out by these international bodies, thus leaving less room for malpractice.

This year there will be a number of changes in the faces at IPO owing to the retirement of several key personnel. Most crucial has been the very recent retirement of the Registrar of Trademarks, Mr. Mohammad Mohsin and the Controller of Patents Mrs. Yasmin Abbassi. These two were regarded as generally being fair and honest public servants who were also quite capable at their jobs. Anticipating their departure, the IPO decided that it would publicly offer these jobs on a contractual basis, rather than reposting an existing government employee. (Govrenment employees were free to apply, just like everybody else.) The IPO was offering a pretty good package (over Rs.100k a month) but to candidates who were able to fulfil a stringent criteria and prove that they possessed expertise in the field. This was an ambitious and pleasantly surprising move (after all it is surprising when the Pakistani government makes a sensible decision!).

However, with the current ban on offering employment, the IPO a Federnal Body, is unable to hire anyone new to these vacant positions. Currently, the Registrar of Copyrights is handling all three offices. (As it happens the Registrar of Copyrights isn’t the brightest cog in the wheel: He was once handed a posting to Geneva by the government. He decided to take both his wives. Two days before he was due to fly someone in the government realised that he was taking two wives to a country where polygamy was illegal and his posting was cancelled.) Needless to say, the two departments have pretty much seized working.

But worse may well be in store. It now appears that no one new will be hired and we will see someone being transferred to these two departments. Considering the technical nature of the field, especially the Patent Department, it is more than likely the new Controller / Registrar will have little knowledge of what to do. And if he / she turns out to be corrupt we may well be in for a rough time (in the mid-90s a particularly corrupt man was appointed Registrar of Trademarks and almost managed to run most IP firms out of business). And I'm dreading the day the new democratically elected Government of Pakistan appoints 'public servants' to these positions. Vot a cuntree!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rewarding Your Enemies

I’ve often wondered if our politicians are really as stupid as they seem or that their plans are so cunning they merely seem ridiculous to us poor saps.

The PPP’s decision to make Nawaz-supporter, liberal-hater Shahid Masood head of PTV is one such perplexing decision. What could Zardari possibly gain by appointing a man who cares only about judges and militants in the Red Mosque?

Well, this time, it seems our politicians had a brain fart. The Nation reports:

The newly-appointed Chairman of PTV, Dr Shahid Masood, has adopted anti-PPP approach that has stunned the party leaders, sources told The Nation.
They said Dr Shahid has directed the senior PTV officials, including the directors, anchorpersons and resource persons, in a meeting that he had been appointed with clear mandate therefore not answerable to any high ups in the Information Ministry.
According to sources, the PTV Chairman has told the PTV officials that Benazir Bhutto is now part of the past and she should be treated as such.
Dr Shahid has also said in his first meeting with the PTV officials that the state-run television was not the spokesman of the PPP, said sources, adding the PTV Chairman has also suspended special ‘Taranas’ that were being aired to pay tribute to the Shaheed leader of the party.
Sources further said the chairman has ordered to stop Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed’s photo exhibition put up for display in Islamabad on her recent birth anniversary.

"This Is A Competition; This Is Not 'America's Next Top Best Friend'"

No, it certainly is not.

Also, in the category of other hilarious random stuff, please check out what Mr. Bush was up to at his last G-8 summit, the main discussing point of which was climate change.
The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Mr Bush, whose second and final term as President ends at the end of the year, then left the meeting at the Windsor Hotel in Hokkaido where the leaders of the world's richest nations had been discussing new targets to cut carbon emissions.

One official who witnessed the extraordinary scene said afterwards: "Everyone was very surprised that he was making a joke about America's record on pollution."

Mr Bush also faced criticism at the summit after Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, was described in the White House press pack given to journalists as one of the "most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice".

The White House apologised for what it called "sloppy work" and said an official had simply lifted the characterisation from the internet without reading it.

I love that Bush is staying true to his roots - a born-on-third-thinks-he-got-a-triple frat boy with no appreciable mental or cognitive faculties whatsoever - to the bitter end, punching the air and making lame jokes at diplomatic meetings that perhaps might call for a more solemn disposition. I also love that the White House staff in charge of press packs work like stoned college students starting a 25-page research paper the night before it's due ( know who you are). Actually, come to think of it, I'm almost positive that "in charge of the press pack" is the type of job that would be given to (stoned) college interns or junior staff. Unfortunately, I neither know enough about the inner workings of the White House, nor know anyone who would, to substantiate this claim with evidence.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The FISA Affair: The Only Issue (Other Than, I Guess, Public Financing) That Barack Obama Has Truly Flip-Flopped On

Alright, so both the right and lefty blogospheres, along with the usual suspects in the MSM (that's mainstream media for blogophytes), have erupted with this whole Obama-is-tracking-to-right-for-political-expediency business. I have to say, I don't really see what the fuss is about (with one gigantic exception, which I'll explain below). The issues he's been accused of flip-flopping on are:

1. Public financing:

Obama initially elected to respect public financing, which basically translates into accepting taxpayer money (thus the "public" bit) with inherent limits attached to overall spending limits for the campaign. It promises a certain amount of essentially free money to a candidate, as long as said candidate accepts overall limits to spending. Obama, at first, pledged to respect it, if his opponent did.

Only one thing happened along the way: he discovered he was the greatest fundraiser - other than King Leopold - in human history, and what's more, he used slightly more humane ways than ol' Lepo, relying primarily on unheard of enthusiasm from grassroots supporters and slick and efficient use of the internet (one of the co-founders of Facebook, all of 24 years old, was in charge of Obama's website

Look. Let's say, on the one hand, you can have a halo around your head, and $85 million to spend. On the other hand, you can be a normal dude, and have $300 million to spend. Which would you rather be? Which would you rather your President be? Leaders need to be ruthless at times.

Ignoring all that, there's still two more important reasons this doesn't matter. First of all, I don't really understand how accepting taxpayer money is somehow more noble than being financed by largely small donations (less than $250) from grassroots people. Second, it's not like candidates can't be derailed by the infamous 527 groups - those organizations, which because of their official lack of affiliation with a candidate, are not subject to the same regulations as campaigns are. You will recall the extreme effectiveness of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a 527 that ran a vicious ad campaign against John Kerry in 2004, largely filled with lies about Kerry's military record in Vietnam.

So say Obama accepted public money, McCain did too, and some right-wing nutters launch an ad campaign against Obama labelling him a Black Muslim Communist Who Is Secretly Gay But Whose Fake Wife Also Happens To Hate 'Merica. Then what? Obama loses, and holier-than-thou Democrats sit at home. Alone. Again.

2. The war (the one on the left):

So Obama said the other day that he would continue to "refine" his policy on Iraq, particularly after meeting with military commanders on the ground. Obama, as you well know, has promised to end the war in Iraq and withdraw American forces in 16-to-18 months. The punditocracy, predictably, went insane. Dude had to call a second news conference to say exactly the same thing as he did before, but spell it out for the poor sods who constitute the media in the U.S. "Now, kids, do you see what this is? I'm holding an apple. Yeeesss. An apple. A for apple. Gooood. Also, there's a goddamn difference between strategy and tactics, you dipshits. You don't even have to have read Clausewitz to know that."

By the way, just to be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean Obama won't or can't change his position on Iraq later. All it means is that there was nothing in his remarks on that day that should have led anyone to believe Obama is shifting positions on Iraq right now for reasons of political expediency. It was entirely a construct of the idle media, which needs to fill airwaves for 24 hours but now finds with the brutal Barillery primary over that is has nothing to say about anything at all.

3. Secularism:

Obama recently announced that his administration would give money to faith-based groups, reforming but not dismantling George W. Bush's initiatives in this regard. "Lord, Almighty!" people cried. "Whatever will happen to the separation of church and state?" The restrictions that Obama would impose - that churches, synagogues, and mosques allow only secular services, and be subject to complete accountability - are all too easily glossed over. Moreover, critics miss the fact that Obama is putting into work his experience as a community organizer in the rundown South Side of Chicago, where churches playing an integral part in the uplift of various neighborhoods. This is the practical, problem-solving side of Obama - he's not an ideologue, and after eight years of a problem-creating-ideologue, a problem-solving-pragmatist should sound pretty good to most Americans.

4. The FISA bill:

Alright, this is an Obamanition (ha!...God, I've been dying to use that one for about eighteen months, and I finally found the opportunity). Truly, truly disappointing. If you want to read about this in an example of some really excellent blogging, hop over to Glenn Greenwald, who's been hammering away on this issue. The bottomline is that the bill grants immunity to telecom companies who cooperated with the executive branch well after the aftermath of 9/11, and extends the government's legitimate powers to eavesdrop on citizens correspondences. Obama promised during the primaries he would vote against the bill. He voted for it. So there you go. Barack Obama helped institutionalize the government's ability to legitimately and legally peer into the private lives of its citizens, without warning or cause. There's simply no excuse for it.

This whole issues comes at a very interesting time for me personally, because I'm doing some readings on democracy, democratization, and capital-L Liberalism. What's proving so cognitively dissonant for me is the teleological assumptions that are smuggled into many of the arguments. Many believe that democracy or capital-L Liberalism - limits on executive power, checks and balances among different facets of government, freedom from authority, freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, and so on - becomes embedded through what is admittedly a historically contingent set of circumstances (to cite two popular examples: prevalence of diseases in colonies that Europeans were not immune to in the case of Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, and initial land/labor/capital factor endowments in colonies in the case of Engerman and Sokoloff). Built into much of this literature - especially the Political Economy stuff and the formal stuff - is an assumption that once established and sustained, the checks and balances will work like clockwork, and other branches of government and the broader citizenry will work to preclude the aggrandizement of power in one set of hands. I see nothing either theoretically or empirically that should cause such smugness. Actors can be co-opted, citizens can ill-informed, side-payments can be made from rent-seeking behavior, God knows what else.

The point is, the FISA affair is a pretty stark representation - along with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and torture, no doubt - of the tension between these approaches and the assumptions they sneak in to their analysis. Right now, the legislative branch - in opposition hands by the way - has bowed to an already imperial and overstretched executive with a 28 percent approval rating (twenty eight percent!), and ordinary Americans couldn't really give a damn, I don't think.

The way I tend to think about it is fairly consistent with Hayek (and yes, this is the first and last time I will quote Hayek in agreement on this blog...promise), and that is the imperative need to disassociate democracy with liberalism. This is from page 103 of The Constitution of Liberty:
But if it [the word "democracy"] is used strictly to describe a method of government - namely, majority rule - it clearly refers to a problem different from that of liberalism. Liberalism is a doctrine about what the law ought to be, democracy a doctrine about the manner of determining what will be the law.

It really is quite amazing the extent to which this seemingly simple and uncontroversial proposition is completely ignored in the literature. Majorities, after all, can easily pass totalitarian laws, and they seemed to have done so here.

Anyway, back to Obama: he shouldn't have supported the FISA bill. It was weak and pathetic. End of story.