Saturday, December 15, 2007

Judas Is Still Judas

April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University in Houston, has an interesting take on a controversial religious text:

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn't betray Jesus.

Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas' reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society's transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic's translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Several of the translation choices made by the society's scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a "daimon," which the society's experts have translated as "spirit." Actually, the universally accepted word for "spirit" is "pneuma" - in Gnostic literature "daimon" is always taken to mean "demon."

As a Catholic, I think it only natural to be interested a controversial piece of non-canonical Scripture. Needless to say, society's conceptions of Christianity have evolved somewhat as we have entered the modern day, and further examinations of such revelatory historical evidence as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas will continue to provide us with a more detailed and nuanced image of the history and theology of early Christianity.

However, DeConick's last translation surprises me. In Plato and Xenophon's four works on Socrates, much attention is paid to the latter's daimonion, whose voice guides Socrates in his convictions and actions. Contrary to Professor DeConick's assertion in the article, daimonion was typically translated as "spirit" in the edition I read; this seems to be a widely-held translation among scholars of philosophy. Indeed, I find it difficult to believe Professor DeConick would characterize Socrates' "inner voice" as that of a demon or as possessing demonic influence. The vagueness of the final sentence prevents the reader from definitively discerning whether pneuma is "universally accepted" across ancient literature with common ties to Coptic-language texts, or if this universal acceptance applies only with regards to Gnostic texts.

At any rate, it is all but certain that theologians and Christians alike will never accept the accounts of the vilified betrayer Judas as canon. Nevertheless, further examination of these early texts can only be beneficial to understanding some of the earliest schools of thought within what is now the world's largest religion, and while DeConick's final assertion may seem spurious, such oversight as hers is necessary, as this case clearly demonstrates.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Art of Repartee

The "money moment" of tonight's Democratic debate, according to Andrew Sullivan. I'm inclined to agree when he says,

[This is] one of those split-second responses in which political authority is passed from one person to another.



It's rather refreshing to hear that horrible cackle getting shut down, especially with such a seemingly nonchalant, off-the-cuff remark. (She does it again after his response, but you know it's got to be the laugh of someone who's trying not to show how much it stung -- notice how the audience's applause ramps up after his retort, too.) It's doubly refreshing to hear him say he'll take talent wherever it comes from. It's that kind of pragmatism we desperately need going forward.

(Full disclosure: For those of you who didn't catch my similar disclaimer in my post on Obama and Bloomberg, I am an Obama supporter.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"This Is Madness!"

On an entirely nonpolitical note (I've resolved to try to do more of these), I was curious earlier today to discover the answer to what would seem to be a pressing question of the Internet 2.0 era: namely, what is the most-watched video on YouTube, that paragon of procrastination?

Now you can know.



With 67,125,891 views as of this post, "Evolution of Dance" ekes out a narrow lead of just 4 million views over its nearest competitor. (That competitor, incidentally, is the music video for the horrendously vapid Avril Lavigne dirge "Girlfriend." How it garnered more than 63 views, let alone 63 million, utterly baffles me.)

What does this say about the culture and mindsets of those who come to YouTube? Perhaps it's that its visitors really aren't as strange, self-absorbed, or idiotic as the "YouTuber" stereotypes variously suggest, but rather ordinary people with an eye for humor and nostalgia for simpler days. (Alas, the 1990s, I knew ye well...)

Perhaps the more important question is this: how did a six-minute video of a comedian performing various dances from three decades' worth of music, of all things, garner so many views? I'll leave the theorizing up to you, dear readers -- I haven't the faintest idea.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Two of a Kind: Obama/Bloomberg '08?

The news of a brief stopover in New York City by Senator Barack Obama to visit billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg has the blogosphere all fired up -- yours truly included. (Full disclosure: I support Senator Obama's bid for the presidency.) Ross Douthat over at The Atlantic has the analysis, along with a link to the original post positing the idea over at The American Prospect.

I would have to reject the notion put forward by some commenters in both locations that Bloomberg would be a weak VP. According to OnTheIssues, Bloomberg ranks as a "Moderate Libertarian Liberal" (their chart of his political position makes more sense than that description), not the "nanny-state liberal" that said commenters have charged. Beyond the vast sums of money that could potentially be a significant amount of help to the Obama campaign -- though it is doubtful he truly needs more -- Bloomberg has a solid record as mayor. Bloomberg's record as a fiscal conservative, free-trader, and someone with a sensible stance on Iraq (OnTheIssues summarizes it as: "Nobody wants [the] war to continue, but what happens next [if we withdraw]?") puts the lie to the supposition that Bloomberg is a through-and-through liberal. His relatively centrist brand of politics meshes well with Obama's message of post-partisan politics, and could also help to counterbalance perceptions among more conservative voters that the senator is too liberal. Additionally, his prior executive experience would round out Obama's skill set quite well; it's entirely possible that Bloomberg's expertise would lead to him playing a major role in shaping domestic initiatives as VP, allowing Obama to focus on major foreign policy issues -- as he should.

Besides, if Rudy can get away with claiming his experience as mayor of New York City makes him qualified for the Presidency, why can't Bloomberg do the same for the Vice Presidency?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MTV: Coming to a Conservative Muslim Nation Near You!

In a turn of events that is sure to evoke disbelief, MTV has just launched MTV Arabia, a television channel operating out of Dubai that will feature hip-hop music videos and reality television tailored to the socially conservative nations of the Middle East. According to CNN:

MTV Arabia, which launched over the weekend, will feature 60 percent international music and 40 percent Arabic music, along with local adaptations of the channel's popular non-music shows.

But MTV, which is known for airing provocative videos featuring scantily clad women, says the Arab version of the pop-culture channel will show less bare skin and profanity.

"When we come to people's homes, we want to earn their respect," said Abdullatif al-Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, which along with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks International owns MTV Arabia. He explained that there will be "culturally sensitive editors going through content of the programming."

The station launched at midnight Saturday, airing a pre-taped show featuring Grammy award-winning rapper and actor Ludacris, Senegalese-born soul superstar Akon, Lebanese rapper Karl Wolf and the Emirates underground hip-hop band Desert Heat.

By emphasizing local music talent and programs addressing the concerns of Arab youth, MTV Arabia hopes to set itself apart from the other satellite music channels that saturate the Mideast market.

"We are not only a music channel, we are an entertainment channel where young Arabs will get a voice," program director Patrick Samaha told The Associated Press.

Unlike its past forays into Europe and India, MTV is not entering a virgin music video territory. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of satellite channels in the region that feature soulful male crooners from the Gulf and female singers from Lebanon and Syria.

MTV officials say this is why their channel is focusing on hip-hop and R&B, two music genres that are underserved despite being popular throughout the region.

But to please a more conservative audience, MTV Arabia will tailor some of its programming and keep provocative hip-hop videos featuring barely dressed women and alcohol to a minimum.

It's a bold move, to say the least -- the hip-hop music videos aired in America and other Western nations are far more explicit than I could possibly imagine most Islamic clerics being comfortable with. I have to think that even the edited content is likely to cause some controversy, especially since youth in most Middle Eastern countries with Internet access can get to YouTube -- despite heavy Internet censorship across the region -- thus making it possible for them to find uncensored clips of MTV content adapted for MTV Arabia. However, according to Internet World Stats, Internet access in the Middle East is still relatively low at 17.3% of the regional population of approximately 193.5 million, so perhaps I have overstated the "threat" posed by Middle Eastern youth with too much time on their hands.

Is it possible that MTV Arabia could be a vessel by which we can engage Middle Eastern youth through the common cultural ties of music? Or will even the edited content being shown on the channel further persuade them that we really are as morally bankrupt and decadent as the Islamic extremists would have them believe?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We Need More Anderson Coopers

I'd like to begin this entry by thanking the vibrant and dedicated Anderson Cooper fan community for their kind words about my live-blogging entry and my blog as a whole -- they are most appreciated, and have persuaded me to consider doing more live-blogging entries for future speakers, as well as blogging about a wider variety of topics. Special thanks go to Sheryn over at All Things Anderson, Peter at Anderson Cooper Effects, and Newsblooz at AC360 Buzz for happening upon my post and bringing it to the attention of far more readers than I have ever had in the few months I've been at this.


As for my recap of the event, I would have to I was highly impressed by Mr. Cooper's presentation. I'd previously heard a great deal about Mr. Cooper's program, all of it positive, but I had never found the time to catch AC360 live. When I found he was coming to CMC, I knew I had to attend, and I was not disappointed. He is truly deserving of the accolades awarded to him. He is an inspiring figure in the media at a time when our politics and news have become so partisan as to be unbearable.

As the title of my blog suggests, I am a strong advocate for centrism, rational debate in our politics, and common-sense solutions to the problems we face, all of which are greatly lacking at present. Mr. Cooper's strong conviction about presenting the facts -- and nothing more than the facts -- is easily one of the most encouraging things I have heard in quite some time. It is certainly invigorating to see someone in a position of high visibility and relative power in the media who truly believes in -- and what's more, actually practices -- the views he espouses, instead of the typical talk about the need for bipartisanship that never actually results in anything.

We need more Anderson Coopers.

Bonus: The below comments are those posted by Newsblooz in addition to my remarks from the speech. She covered some things I missed and added her own insights. It comes to you highly recommended.
When Anderson was discussing his recent 60 Minutes work, he spoke at length about the Congo - or "hell on earth". He reminded the students that the conflict in that area has resulted in a bigger death toll than World War II. He reflected on the fact that since what happens in the Congo doesn't seem to directly affect US citizens, their interest level is low. He made the point that one of the main reasons for the violence there is the fight over valuable natural resources, such as coltan, which is used to make the cell phones that each student had. And he is concerned that it's "easy to lose sight of what's important".

He briefly pondered the question of whether we are still willing to hear different viewpoints - this dovetails with David's entry about a Democratic vs. Republican "version" of truth. He advised the students to not close themselves off from different ideas.

When talking about his experiences in Baghdad, he said that as a journalist, you can't allow fear to affect what you see. He also made a reference to the bullet-proof glass in the military vehicles, and that it changes what see - literally and figuratively.

Regarding the recent YouTube debate, Anderson actually said that Mike Gravel "screamed obscenities" at him during the breaks, and that he couldn't repeat them even to college students. I agree with David - "classy" (not) ...

Part of Anderson's closing remarks included "our frailty (as humans) bonds us together" and "we are all that we have". This was (I think) an additional reference to what Anderson said regarding the government's response during Katrina.

Questions followed:

Answer to Q1: In addition, Anderson stated that if you're going to put yourself in environments where there is war, conflict, violence, natural disasters, etc. - and not allow yourself to be affected at all, you shouldn't be in journalism. But he said it's crucial to not pretend - the reporting has to be honest. He said that journalists need to decide whether they can operate in spite of their feelings.

New Question: How do you rally "young America", many who have been raised in the "luxury of complacency", to have an interest in stories that doesn't affect their daily lives (or involve a celebrity)? What's the role of media?

Anderson said that it's a choice about how one lives their life, and about what each person chooses to pay attention to in their lives. The media should bring "less-than-popular" stories to light, and ensure that the stories are made relatable to people so they'll have more interest and pay attention to what's happening in the world around them.

New Question: How do you respond to "fake news" such as what's found on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report? (And no, this question wasn't from me - remember that I was 'banished' to another building!!!) ;-)

Anderson answered that he can't really disagree with what they're doing, because they're right! He also said that they have a role to play - they can get at truths (note the word) that the MSM can't or won't say. Interesting ... ;-)

David's question (about the rise of blogs and how it affects news): Anderson also stated that the various newer platforms help to hold the MSM accountable for what's reported, and he thinks they have a crucial role to play in the larger "national debate".

New Question: Did you have a formative experience that's shaped you as a journalist?

Anderson cited Katrina (no surprise) and how shocked he was at seeing bodies lying in the street - for days on end - in an American city. He found it remarkable that politicians were trying to convince the public that the situation on the Gulf Coast wasn't as dire as it really was - when it was so easy to prove them 100% wrong - instantaneously.

He also talked about the violence and death he saw in Rwanda, early in his career, and described it as a "watershed event". He again talked about bodies lying in the streets, and that he ended up having to take a couple of months off after being there because he was so affected by what he saw.

The question that David wrote about regarding international news - Anderson was referencing "Your World Today" on CNN, which is still on the air. But he did talk about how, in spite of the e-mails he gets from people not wanting to hear any more about OJ or Anna Nicole, the ratings go to the programs that feature these types of stories. Anderson did give a positive spin, though, because he did say that CNN wants him to focus on quality journalism and tell stories he can be proud of. So for those wondering if he's 'happy' at CNN or if he's 'staying' at CNN, it seems that way - even though the specific question wasn't asked.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TMWF Live: Anderson Cooper at CMC

Award-winning CNN journalist Anderson Cooper was gracious enough to take the time to visit CMC today to talk about "Today's Headlines with Anderson Cooper." (Who would've guessed?) What follows is a live-blogging chronicle of what happened.

10:53 A.M.: Secured a seat with some friends in the second row on the left. We're probably about 25 feet from the podium.

10:55 A.M.: The auditorium is filling up at a rapid pace. No Anderson Cooper yet.

11:00 A.M.: Any minute now...still no Anderson Cooper.

11:01 A.M.: ...never mind.

11:02 A.M.: Obligatory Ath Fellow Introduction begins. Talking about the evolution of television from "three massive networks" to 24-hour cable news and "our inattentive generation."

11:03 A.M.: Begin Cooper's credentials. Quite an impressive list, of course.

11:04 A.M.: ...and he takes the stage.

11:05 A.M.: Cooper is suspicious of people who want to be TV anchors: "You should be a real person before you become a fake one."

11:06 A.M.: His mother once told him as he was going into the TV business: "Wear vertical stripes; they're slimming." Classy.

11:07 A.M.: He had a liberal arts degree coming out of college, "which means [he] had no skills." Oohs resonate from the crowd.

11:08 A.M.: Cooper recalls a friend made him a fake press pass on a Mac (that should be an Apple ad) so he could travel to warzones in Burma, Rwanda, Somalia. There's a start for you.

11:09 A.M.: Cooper can paint quite the picture with words; he's vividly describing his recent experience in Niger for 60 Minutes. He says 1 of 5 children die before the age of 4 in Niger; he saw 3 children, severely malnourished, die in the space of 24 hours. It's simply horrifying, he says. I have to agree.

11:12 A.M.: He's talking about the division of the country into red and blue states, soccer/security moms, NASCAR dads. "I don't think there should be a Democratic truth or a Republican truth...I think there's far too much shouting on cable news already." He thinks we need facts. Now I'm hearing what I want to hear.

11:14 A.M.: "The list of things you can't do [in Baghdad] is longer than the list of things you can."

11:15 A.M.: In Iraq, CNN uses its own security, "former SAS guys...with necks as big as [Cooper's] thighs." Reassuring. Then he mentions a time where his security team told him jihadis were coming to the hotel he was staying in to search door-to-door for non-Muslims and kill them. The security folks gave him two 2x4s and told him to barricade himself in his room. Not so reassuring.

11:16 A.M.: Iraqi government is "a government in name only." Perfect.

11:17 A.M.: The Democratic presidential candidates had their own ways to get Cooper's attention to call on them at the YouTube Debate: "Hillary Clinton stares at you like a teacher who knows you forgot your homework," Edwards has a subtle finger wag, Kucinich yells, and Gravel apparently cussed Cooper out during every commercial break. Classy.

11:20 A.M.: An Italian reporter once mistook Cooper for Gen. Wesley Clark. Er...

11:21 A.M.: "The silence [in New Orleans after Katrina] was shocking...You could hear the wind rustling through the remnants of people's lives."

11:23 A.M.: There's a shortage of psychiatrists, hospital beds, and primary-care centers in New Orleans. "Whole tracts of the Lower Ninth Ward" remain devastated. A dig at the federal government for holding up relief money, inadvertently or not, and "absurdly slow" rebuilding efforts.

11:24 A.M.: Did I mention this man can paint a picture with words?

11:25 A.M.: His advice to us is the same his mother gave him a long time ago: "Follow your bliss."

11:26 A.M.: He says he's done "droning on." Begin questions.

11:27 A.M.: First question on how journalists find the balance between getting too close and being desensitized to their material. He says, "I was born a WASP, so I'm good at suppressing my emotions." He continues, more seriously, "...don't pretend you don't have feelings...it's important to realize what you can and can't do."

11:28 A.M.: Second question on difference between AC360 and 60 Minutes. He says 60 Minutes is more traditional in their style, but "they have the best producers in the business."

11:30 A.M.: Begin me waiting in line to ask a question about the effect of blogs and other new media on the business and what the future of these technologies is.

11:40 A.M.: After a couple of questions about "Lions for Lambs" and "The Mole," among other things, I finally get my shot. He says that blogs are good because viewers should be critical -- they did bring down Dan Rather, after all -- and news organizations that are consistently pushing out subpar items that are being criticized "have no business being in the business." On the other hand, he says, they are far less verifiable than a program like his or any other mainstream source, which has multiple layers of vetting. The mainstream media's response to the proliferation of new user-driven media technologies, he says, has been to get out on handheld platforms as much as possible, but he ultimately says no one really knows what effect these technologies are going to have.

11:45 A.M.: Last question: will there be a news network that focuses more international news instead of talking heads, pundits, and "the politics of division"? Cooper says there aren't enough viewers interested in just international news to make such a network viable; he recounts a time where CNN had a 12 o'clock program dedicated solely to international news, but shortly after its inception, its ratings plummeted in relation to what had previously occupied that slot. He says that the networks put on what the people want to see -- which includes OJ and "Missing Blonde of the Month."

11:49 A.M.: "If you tell good stories, people will watch." Well said.

11:50 A.M.: I think his being rapidly rushed out of the auditorium means it's over. All in all, a great speech.

So, there you have it -- CNN's Anderson Cooper at CMC. I plan on following up with a brief post-speech analysis, so look for that to come soon. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bono at CMC, or, In Defense of Celebrity Philanthropy

In what was undoubtedly one of the biggest speaking engagements of the year at CMC, U2 frontman and Africa activist Bono came to Bridges Auditorium to give students, faculty, and staff from the 5Cs as well as local citizens "A Lesson in Giving Back."

Bono's speech certainly played more to his rock-star side than his technocrat side. His accounts of his trips to Africa and meeting with countless heads of state and captains of industry to rally support to his cause both awed and inspired. To be sure, his accounts of suffering in Africa were sobering -- I'm sure not a few in the audience were moved to some sort of action to help the cause -- but overall, his message was one of hope and inspiration, exhorting our generation to action. (The unabashed admiration of America and her values didn't hurt, either.) To give a better idea of the inner workings of Bono's mind, I've compiled a list of memorable quotes from his speech and the Q&A session that followed:

"Please don't tell my band I'm here."

"Rockstars have two instincts: they want to have fun, and they want to change the world."

"The world is more malleable than you think."

"This rockstar knows that the power of rock 'n' roll should not be undersold."

"The question for your generation -- and mine, by the way -- is whether or not we know what is going on -- because we do -- but what are we going to do about it?"

"Human rights and civil rights going global -- that's what the ONE campaign is really about."

"I've become the least attractive thing in the world: a rockstar with a cause."

"I like to call it 'the swarm of bees strategy.' That's right, the buzzing you hear isn't your iPhone, it isn't your hangover -- it's the swarm."

"...The America that says, 'Is that the Moon? Let's take a [rhymes with "truckin'"] walk on it!'...of thee I sing."

Former head of the IMF Horst Köhler to Bono on fame: "'So you make ze money and zen you develop ze conscience?'"

"...The U.K. is a great country -- ugh, I can't believe I just said that."

"Sorry to be so anecdotal tonight, I had a gin and tonic."
To be sure, Bono is not without his critics (fellow classmate and blogger Charles Johnson among them). But while the arguments against Bono-style aid efforts have their virtues, it seems to me that those arguments are nonetheless flawed. Celebrity philanthropists like Bono strike a key balance between celebrity and technocrat -- not so far removed from those who would otherwise not be interested in Africa as to alienate them, but clearly knowledgeable enough in the subject to avoid accusations of simply being a publicity-seeker. Such "celebthropists" are capable of tapping into the vast base of average American citizens who hear about the plights of the African continent but are unaware of how they can make a difference; one need only look at the Product Red line of consumer goods, which has raised $45 million for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to see the effect that ordinary Americans can have if they practice what Bono referred to as "conscientious consumerism" -- that is, purchasing products that not only accomplish what the consumer desires from it, but are also under a system where the proceeds go towards such initiatives as The Global Fund.

Critics of the "conscientious consumerism" approach argue that there is a lack of transparency inherent to such corporation-supported enterprises, and that direct philanthropy is far more efficient. Yet the movement's detractors perhaps fail to recognize one of the key benefits of the approach: that the participants receive something tangible -- along with the satisfaction of having contributed to a charitable cause -- for their money, and this ultimately broadens the possible base of donors. Over 110 million iPods have been sold in the United States, and even if only a small fraction of them have been Product Red purchases, that is still a vast amount of cash flow waiting to be tapped. If a consumer is planning on purchasing an iPod, he or she can walk into any Apple Store and receive an iPod that is no way functionally different from other models, but additionally contributes to the Global Fund (and comes in a snazzy red color, to boot). In the simple act of buying a product he or she already wanted, the consumer can contribute in some meaningful way towards one of the great humanitarian efforts of our time. This is nothing less than the harnessing of the great power of the free market for the purpose of improving the lives of millions of people, and that is something that cannot be argued against.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Saudi MIT" to Dabble in Academic Freedom

According to the International Herald Tribune, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has just unveiled plans for a sprawling new research university some 50 miles outside of the Red Sea port city of Jidda:

Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country's notorious religious police will be barred and all religious and ethnic groups will be welcome in a push for academic freedom and international collaboration sure to test the kingdom's cultural and religious limits.

This undertaking is directly at odds with the kingdom's religious establishment, which severely limits women's rights and rejects coeducation and robust liberal inquiry as unthinkable.

For the new institution, the king has cut his own education ministry out the loop, hiring the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco to build the campus, create its curriculum and attract foreigners.

Supporters of what is to be called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or Kaust, wonder whether the king is simply building another gated island to be dominated by foreigners, like the compounds for oil industry workers that have existed here for decades, or creating an institution that will have a real impact on Saudi society and the rest of the Arab world.

"There are two Saudi Arabias," said Jamal Khashoggi, the editor of Al Watan, a newspaper. "The question is which Saudi Arabia will take over."

The king has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement and that his country depends too much on oil and not enough on creating wealth through innovation.

"There is a deep knowledge gap separating the Arab and Islamic nations from the process and progress of contemporary global civilization," said Abdallah Jumah, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco. "We are no longer keeping pace with the advances of our era."

Traditional Saudi practice is on display at the biggest public universities, where the Islamic authorities vet the curriculum, medical researchers tread carefully around controversial subjects like evolution, and female and male students enter classrooms through separate doors and follow lectures while separated by partitions.

Such an institution, if successful, would prove to be a tremendous step forward for a country that is badly in need of economic and societal progress alike. As was mentioned in the article, the new institution will require foreign capital of the monetary and intellectual variety alike. Enthusiastically but respectfully offering both of these to this venture could provide the West with an unparalleled opportunity to do some good in Saudi Arabia by influencing events there in a manner other than contentious oil-related ventures. Indeed, it would allow the West to help academic and social freedoms take root in Saudi Arabia by respectable means, avoiding any accusations of covert plots of attempting to foment revolt. Such innovation is badly needed in cloistered Saudi Arabia. It will be most interesting to see what, if anything, emerges from this revolutionary new institution, and if it really helps push the rest of the Saudi education system towards greater academic freedom.

Professor Kesler on Modern Liberalism and the Nature of Change

(Author's Note: While my fellow classmate and blogger Charles Johnson beat me to the punch on publishing a piece on this topic, I felt the need to add my own opinion. It's a typical blogger's trait.)

CMC government professor and senior fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute Charles Kesler makes the case against modern liberalism's misguided approach towards change in "Forcing the Spring," his Editor's Note of the Claremont Review of Books and featured at RealClearPolitics.

In the piece, Kesler argues that liberals are trying to "to hurry us into the future, so that we won't have time to think if the future on offer is actually possible or not, desirable or not." He adds that they, by definition, "are selling the future, a product that by definition is never in stock but soon to be shipped," and are therefore, unlike companies selling new products to fill contrived new needs and wants, not accountable to the "market" they serve -- namely, the American people. He illustrates this point by examining "HillaryCare" and the more recent healthcare proposals by the Democratic presidential candidates:

Take, for example, the Democratic proposals for what is euphemistically called health care reform. In fact, their proposals have very little to do with improving the quality of medical care actually delivered in America's hospitals and doctors' offices, and very much to do with changing the control over medical spending and regulatory authority. The point is not to heal the halt and the lame but to tax those who already have health insurance to pay for those who don't. The point is not to make the blind see but to blind everyone to the increase in governmental power that will result from these prescriptions. This was clearer back in 1993, when the bulbs were sprouting early and Hillary Clinton was in charge of her husband's health care reform task force. As czarina of all health care, she planned in detail how the federal government would solve the "crisis." But the plan--and the crisis--fizzled when the details proved too much even for a Democratic Congress to swallow. She learned from her mistakes. Instead of using the plan to show the nature of the change needed, Hillary now trusts change to show the nature of the plan needed. The details will come later, after the country has agreed on the need for change.
Kesler makes an excellent point here that any reasonably-minded person can agree with: change is not inherently good -- it should be desired by a consensus of some sort before it is acted upon. While I would not characterize the tendency to back change without proper forethought as a solely liberal affliction, it is indeed a criticism that should be raised. Particularly in the current atmosphere of polarization and divisiveness, the last thing that is needed is further aggravation of this status quo through lack of proper consideration on important policy choices. Change is good, but just make sure you ask the salesman what you're getting for your money.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stamp-of-Idiocy #2 & #3: Obama ≠ Osama; O'Reilly Can't Be Outraged Enough

The Stamp-of-Idiocy is back, and we've got a double-feature this week to make up for the recent hiatus.

When I first saw the words "Romney's Osama-Obama mix-up" on RealClearPolitics' video section, I couldn't help but cringe. I've seen all sorts of nonsense from conservatives making a mountain out of the molehill that is Obama's full name -- Barack (gasp!) Hussein Obama -- and I thought perhaps Romney had made some similar slip of the tongue. Instead, I was absolutely floored to find a ten-second clip of Romney accusing Obama of releasing an audiotape exhorting extremists and jihadists to action in Iraq. See for yourself below:



Given the dubious nature of many of Romney's policy stances, what with his various "conversions" and all, I find it difficult to take his campaign at its word when it said this astounding error was "a simple mistake." Whether this was a case of incredible ignorance on Romney's part or a clumsy attempt at a smear against Obama, it's fairly inexcusable. Hey, Mitt, let's go back and do some more work on names, and then we can move on to colors.

Also on the right(-wing) side of life, everyone's favorite conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly recently took to his seat of power, the "No-Spin Zone," to -- what else? -- spin. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I take serious issue not necessarily with Bill-O's views per se, but rather with virtually everything about the way he runs his show -- the shameless right-wing spin, frequent misrepresentation of facts, shouting down guests, etc.) He seized on the fact that the "committed-left" media gave less time to the story of the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael P. Murphey than Fox, virtually apoplectic as he accused them of hating Bush's policies and therefore the hating the soldiers as well. If you're prepared to attempt to follow Bill-O's vast leaps of logic (and risk falling in the giant chasms between), then feel free to follow the link:



Yes, Bill, clearly the other news channels hate the soldiers, because MSNBC and CNN didn't cover the story five and seven distinct times respectively, and didn't actually cover the award ceremony live. Oh, wait.

I await the day when the gravitational force of all of Bill-O's spin inside the "No-Spin Zone" becomes too strong to withstand and causes a devastating rupture of the fabric of space-time inside the studio.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

I apologize to my few faithful readers for the dearth of activity here as of late. The typical problem of "too much work to do, and not enough time to do it," as well as a brief hiatus for my fall break, had claimed me.

Recently, however, I have been catching up on my news, and was pleased to find this gem of an article from Philip Gordon on the necessity of fundamentally altering the way we approach the war on terror. Some key excerpts (emphases mine):

Almost entirely missing from [the] debate [on how to prosecute the war on terror] is a concept of what "victory" in the war on terror would actually look like. The traditional notion of winning a war is fairly clear: defeating an enemy on the battlefield and forcing it to accept political terms. But what does victory -- or defeat -- mean in a war on terror? Will this kind of war ever end? How long will it take? Would we see victory coming? Would we recognize it when it came?

It is essential to start thinking seriously about these questions, because it is impossible to win a war without knowing what its goal is. Considering possible outcomes of the war on terror makes clear that it can indeed be won, but only with the recognition that this is a new and different kind of war. Victory will come not when foreign leaders accept certain terms but when political changes erode and ultimately undermine support for the ideology and strategy of those determined to destroy the United States. It will come not when Washington and its allies kill or capture all terrorists or potential terrorists but when the ideology the terrorists espouse is discredited, when their tactics are seen to have failed, and when they come to find more promising paths to the dignity, respect, and opportunities they crave. It will mean not the complete elimination of any possible terrorist threat -- pursuing that goal will almost certainly lead to more terrorism, not less -- but rather the reduction of the risk of terrorism to such a level that it does not significantly affect average citizens' daily lives, preoccupy their thoughts, or provoke overreaction. At that point, even the terrorists will realize their violence is futile. Keeping this vision of victory in mind will not only avert considerable pain, expense, and trouble; it will also guide leaders toward the policies that will bring such a victory about.
Mr. Gordon goes on to make the comparison between the War on Terror and the Cold War, noting that while they are different in certain fundamental ways, they are also alike in that they involve a duel of opposing ideologies -- a duel that can only be won when one ideology has the full extent of its shortcomings and failures laid bare and is finally ground down into dust. So long as the United States retains its "moral authority and ideological appeal," he says, Islamic fundamentalism can be defeated. However, he also resists the urge to engage in rosy simplifications, reminding us that terrorism will never be eliminated, only marginalized:

This is a critical point, because the goal of ending terrorism entirely is not only unrealistic but also counterproductive -- just as is the pursuit of other utopian goals. Murder could be vastly reduced or eliminated from the streets of Washington, D.C., if several hundred thousand police officers were deployed and preventive detentions authorized. Traffic deaths could be almost eliminated in the United States by reducing the national speed limit to ten miles per hour. Illegal immigration from Mexico could be stopped by a vast electric fence along the entire border and a mandatory death penalty for undocumented workers. But no sensible person would propose any of these measures, because the consequences of the solutions would be less acceptable than the risks themselves.

Similarly, the risk of terrorism in the United States could be reduced if officials reallocated hundreds of billions of dollars per year in domestic spending to homeland security measures, significantly curtailed civil liberties to ensure that no potential terrorists were on the streets, and invaded and occupied countries that might one day support or sponsor terrorism. Pursuing that goal in this way, however, would have costs that would vastly outweigh the benefits of reaching the goal, even if reaching it were possible. In their book An End to Evil, David Frum and Richard Perle insist that there is "no middle ground" and that "Americans are not fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it." The choice, they say, comes down to "victory or holocaust." Thinking in these terms is likely to lead the United States into a series of wars, abuses, and overreactions more likely to perpetuate the war on terror than to bring it to a successful end.

The United States and its allies will win the war only if they fight it in the right way -- with the same sort of patience, strength, and resolve that helped win the Cold War and with policies designed to provide alternative hopes and dreams to potential enemies. The war on terror will end with the collapse of the violent ideology that caused it -- when bin Laden's cause comes to be seen by its potential adherents as a failure, when they turn against it and adopt other goals and other means. Communism, too, once seemed vibrant and attractive to millions around the world, but over time it came to be seen as a failure. Just as Lenin's and Stalin's successors in the Kremlin in the mid-1980s finally came to the realization that they would never accomplish their goals if they did not radically change course, it is not too fanciful to imagine the successors of bin Laden and Zawahiri reflecting on their movement's failures and coming to the same conclusion. The ideology will not have been destroyed by U.S. military power, but its adherents will have decided that the path they chose could never lead them where they wanted to go. Like communism today, extremist Islamism in the future will have a few adherents here and there. But as an organized ideology capable of taking over states or inspiring large numbers of people, it will have been effectively dismantled, discredited, and discarded. And like Lenin's, bin Laden's violent ideology will end up on the ash heap of history.

Unfortunately, I have little to add on to Mr. Gordon's analysis, if only because it is so expansive and well-articulated. He goes on to lay out the evidence suggesting that the possibility of a widespread backlash against Islamic fundamentalism by ordinary Muslims is strong -- as in the cases of Jordanians turning strongly against al Qaeda after their bombing at a wedding in November 2005 and the "tribal revolt" in Anbar Province in Iraq -- and that the ideology of a new Islamic caliphate as envisioned by Osama bin Laden lacks wide support. As a strong believer in leveraging the incredible power of Internet technologies to shine a light on closed societies, I was also satisfied to hear Mr. Gordon report on signs of increasing Internet openness in Saudi Arabia, where he says 2,000 bloggers have taken to their keyboards.

To paraphrase another Brookings article: there's one big problem with Mr. Gordon's path to victory in the war on terror -- he's six years too late. But unlike the scenario in the aforementioned article, it is not too late to rectify the errors of the past several years. It simply remains to be seen if our next Commander-in-Chief and the Congress have the foresight and political will to put such a plan into effect.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Death of Pragmatism in Government

Dick Polman over at the Philadelphia Inquirer spared no one in a recent and scathing denunciation of Congress' recent obsession with symbolic, non-binding resolutions and general inability to actually do anything:

Are we perhaps nearing closure in the latest Washington war of words? Is the left finally ready to chill out, and just let Limbaugh be Limbaugh? Is the right finally ready to move on from MoveOn.org? Has everybody finally applied salve to their purportedly tender sensibilities?

The faux fisticuffs have been flying for weeks. The antiwar group MoveOn twisted Gen. David Petraeus' name into a nasty pun ("General Betray Us"), whereupon conservatives fell into a well-orchestrated swoon and professed to be insulted. Then Rush Limbaugh briefly referred to antiwar Iraq veterans as "phony soldiers," whereupon liberals got the vapors and insisted that Limbaugh's insult was qualitatively worse than MoveOn's insult . . . whereupon some elected Democrats demanded that Congress formally condemn Limbaugh, since it had already formally condemned MoveOn.

I now wish to yield the floor to a citizen named Brian Del Vecchio. He recently posted a comment on the CNN Web site that summed up the current zeitgeist pretty well. Referring to the aforementioned duel of insults, he wrote on Sept. 28: "I am so tired of the umbrage displayed by both sides, as if they're going to faint from disgust. Pansies. Politicians and citizens alike need to grow up and move on and get back to work."

I, for one, would like to join Mr. Polman in commending Mr. Del Vecchio for speaking the words that have been on everyone's minds. I consider myself a fairly diligent student of 20th-century American history, and I know that divided governments have generally been veritable breeding grounds for bipartisanship and compromise. Clearly this has not been the case with the last few Congresses. However, as Mr. Polman has it, it would seem we are not due for any relief soon:

But here's the problem, Brian: These politicians, and their activist enablers, seem to be incapable of doing real work, of actually getting anything done. So instead they stage these contentious shadow plays in which combatants joust over mere words and perpetuate their manufactured outrage via the 24/7 news cycle. It's a good thing we no longer insist on pistols at dawn as a way to resolve an insult; by now, the Mall in Washington would be littered with the bodies of the affronted.

Both sides are happy to play this game. The Democrats don't have the votes, or the guts, or the smarts, to enact any substantive legislation that might actually stop the Iraq war - so they take refuge in symbolic skirmishes (Stop the presses! Rush Limbaugh said something mean!).

As for the Republicans, the last thing they want to do is discuss substance, which might require acknowledging their supine complicity in a disastrous war - so they look for ways to change the subject, most notably by claiming to be shocked, shocked, that their opponents insulted a military man (which is a bit rich, considering how they once insulted Democratic Sen. Max Cleland - a war hero who lost two legs and an arm due to injuries suffered in Vietnam - for allegedly being soft on Osama bin Laden).

Is it any wonder that more than 70 percent of Americans currently dislike the way Congress is doing business?

Or that the same percentage of Americans think this country is headed in the wrong direction?

We, the American people, are calling out for good governance and an end to useless partisanship. Unfortunately, the end to our woes doesn't yet seem to be anywhere in sight. The light at the end of the tunnel remains far-off and obscured as it has for the past several years. These obfuscating phenomena will only continue to drag us down as we attempt to confront the greatest threat to our national security since the fall of the Soviet Union; it is solely in our hands to sweep them away in the name of progress.

It can only be hoped that we and our leaders alike rise to the occasion.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cracking the Door Open In Cuba

You've heard about blogging for peace in the Middle East, Egyptian bloggers who act as daring critics of the regime they live under, and the citizens of Myanmar opening a rare window into their closed nation with videos of the protests there.

But perhaps one nation you wouldn't expect to hear about being a hotbed of subversive blogging is one right in our backyard: Cuba. The International Herald Tribune reports on this phenomenon in "Blogging from Havana, secretly":

When Yoani Sanchez, 32, wants to update her blog about daily life in Cuba, she dresses like a tourist and strides confidently into a Havana hotel, greeting the staff in German.

That is because Cubans like Sanchez are not authorized to use hotel Internet connections, which are reserved for foreigners.

In a recent "Generación Y" posting (www.desdecuba.com/generaciony), Sanchez wrote about the abundance of police patrolling the streets of Havana, checking documents and searching bags for black-market merchandise.

She and a handful of other independent bloggers are opening up a crack in the government's tight control over media and information to give the rest of the world a glimpse of life in a one-party, Communist state.

"We are taking advantage of an unregulated area. They can't control cyberspace out there," she said.

But they face many difficulties.

Once inside the hotel, Sanchez has to write fast. Not because she fears getting caught, but because online access is prohibitively expensive. An hour online costs about $6, the equivalent of a fortnight's pay for the average Cuban.

Independent bloggers like Sanchez have to build their sites on servers outside Cuba, and they have more readers outside Cuba than inside.

That is not surprising, since only 200,000 Cubans of the 11 million on the island have access to the World Wide Web, the lowest rate in Latin America, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Only government employees, academics and researchers are allowed to have their own Internet accounts, which are provided by the government.

Regular Cubans are allowed only to open e-mail accounts that they can access through terminals at post offices, where they can also see Cuban Web sites, but access to the rest of the World Wide Web is blocked.

"My access to Internet is very irregular," said the anonymous author of a blog called "My island at midday," (http://isla12pm.blogspot.com).

The Cuban government blames the limited Internet access on the U.S. sanctions that bar Cuba from hooking up to underwater fiber-optic cables that run just 12 miles offshore, a highway of broadband communication. Instead, Cuba must use expensive satellite uplinks to connect to the Internet via countries like Canada, Chile and Brazil.

Critics say that is just a pretext to maintain control over the Internet, a powerful tool that some believe could play an important role in spreading information in Cuba.

Not surprisingly, many of those 200,000 who do have Internet access are leery of losing their privileges through any imprudent posting that could place them at odds with the Castros:

Dozens of government supporters, mainly state-employed journalists with Internet accounts, have blogs. But most of them avoid commenting on the travails of daily life in Cuba and stick to the official line.

Many reproduce columns that Fidel Castro has written from his sickbed, along with criticism of the United States taken from the state-run press.

One exception is Luis Sexto, a columnist for the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde, who recently posted a blistering attack on state bureaucracy at http://luisexto.blogia.com.

"Without public criticism, mistakes will continue to hurt our country," Sexto wrote last month.

Others avoid politics and discuss cinema and literature, or nostalgia for the Soviet cartoons Cubans were brought up on (http://munequitosrusos.blogspot.com).

But most prefer to remain anonymous or use pseudonyms in order to protect themselves.

A blogger who goes by the name of "Tension Lia" posts mostly photographs of the ruinous state of Havana's architectural treasures on a blog called Havanascity (http://havanascity.blogspot.com).

The creator of "My island at midday" told Reuters by e-mail message that the anonymity of the blog has allowed him to say some things that nobody has dared write about.

"Dissent has always been frowned upon," the author wrote. "Intolerance is still the rule in Cuba, even though Cuban society is starting to adapt to diversity of opinions."

I've committed myself to investigate each of these blogs and attempt, in my mediocre Spanish, to comment on whatever I find interesting. (The blogs are, of course, in Spanish.) I think it would be fascinating to start a dialogue with ordinary people in a country whom I would not ordinarily have contact. The Internet, if made widely available, could truly be a powerful tool to allow the Cuban people to gain access to far more information than can be gleaned from the state-run media, and hence a much broader view of the outside world. Of course, it is for precisely this reason that Internet access is restricted to a mere 1.8% of the entire population. As with the State Department's Digital Outreach Team efforts in the world of Middle Eastern blogging and media, starting a dialogue with those who oppose you or don't understand you helps to combat misinformation and is the first step towards righting wrongs and attaining mutual respect.

Clearly, the Internet has revolutionized the world, and will continue to do so for years and years to come. By posting this very feature, I, like millions of other people across the globe, am contributing to the common repository of knowledge and conversation that is the Internet. It is truly unfortunate that the Internet has clearly not affected all parts of the world in a similar fashion. Internet censorship still persists in China, Iran, and a variety of other nations under repressive regimes.

But for now, such censorship can only be defeated by the daring actions of these brave souls. The future of a global exchange of ideas and democratization depends on ordinary people, just like them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stamp-of-Idiocy #1: Chris Matthews > Machiavelli?

I'm taking advantage of my minor resurgence into blogging as the opportunity to introduce a new (probably-weekly) feature: the Stamp-of-Idiocy. Essentially, it applies to particularly absurd events I encounter while searching the Web for more blog-worthy subjects. Said events are then brought to attention here, briefly explained, and more or less excoriated.

Everyone's favorite Hardball anchor recently appeared with everyone's favorite fake-news anchor to promote his new book, Life's a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success. The rather obvious premise of the book is that we can better our lives through the same tactics employed by politicians engaged in that most virtuous of political activities: campaigning.

Jon Stewart didn't buy it. (Say what you want about Jon Stewart's politics, but he's dead-on with this one.) Achieving success when people don't believe a word you say? Listening to people but not caring about what they have to say? Better than Machiavelli?

Mr. Matthews, I read Machiavelli; I wrote about Machiavelli, Machiavelli was a good thesis topic of mine. Mr. Matthews, you're no Machiavelli. Forget the book being about sadness -- Chris Matthews' life is about sadness.

Congratulations, Chris -- you've received this week's Stamp-of-Idiocy. (Thanks to RealClearPolitics for the video.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Give the Man a Medal

I'd be willing to wager that David Kilcullen is not a name that is familiar to the vast majority of Americans who follow the events in Iraq with any seriousness or frequency (a feat that is admittedly becoming increasingly difficult). The following video demonstrates why that's a shame.

Kilcullen's interview with former 60 Minutes II correspondent Charlie Rose lasts for approximately one hour, but if you're willing to stick through it, or even just a good chunk of it, I have to think that you'll see why this entry is aptly named. Put simply: this former lieutenant colonel from the Australian Army should have been advising -- if not running -- our counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq from the very beginning. (For those of you who are more textually-inclined, the International Herald Tribune has the transcript of the interview here.)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Reflections on One Month of College Life

As I near the end of my first month at CMC, I've really been thinking (a shocking development, I know) about a few things that have occurred to me during that time. In no particular order:

  • I like having an outlet for my thoughts on politics, life, what-have-you, especially when I can use lofty language or be a little quirky. I'm not really trying to be pretentious -- it's just how my mind works. Varied language and offbeat humor are natural to me.
  • Time management is difficult. There are so many things I'd love to do, and probably could, if I could just get my act together. I need to make the time for more pleasure reading -- I have at least three policy books on my shelf that are practically begging to be read. I'd love to read the Bible and the Koran from cover to cover. I'm not sure I understand enough about the fine details of my own religion, let alone the one our enemies claim to be fighting for, to make truly informed and substantive judgments about either of them.
  • Connected to the prior point, I've not been blogging nearly as often as I thought I would, or as I would like. Perhaps it's because I have yet to let go of the idea that most or all of my posts need to be lengthy commentaries on current affairs or politics. I also need to learn more about the various new services associated with blogging (e.g., Digg, TrackBack, del.icio.us, etc.). I've realized that while I'm more or less as tech-savvy as many of my peers, I've not done a good job of keeping up with all the hottest new Web 2.0 services out there. Maybe I am suffering from an acute case of information fatigue.
  • I've come to realize that perhaps I have far higher aspirations for this blog than can be realistically achieved. Particularly when it comes to politics, I would love to be seen as a credible commentator -- who wouldn't? But it's more than just, "oh, look, someone else has an opinion on the news -- how bold..." I've been disappointed with the quality (or lack thereof) of much of what passes for public discourse these days, and I would love to be seen as a credible voice for the center -- even if it's only among a few of my peers. That would be a start.
  • I can't wait for the first moment where I am totally blown away by the knowledge I take away from a book I read for class, the remarks of a professor, a class discussion. I sense that I've come close -- my discussion-oriented classes have been incredibly interesting and stimulating thus far -- but that I've not reached it. I hope continued patience will bear this out.
  • This list of random musings has been perhaps excessively influenced by Ben Casnocha. (Not that that's a bad thing.)
Month Two should be interesting, then.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Voice of America 2.0

The International Herald Tribune broke a story yesterday that may have been missed among the attention-grabbing headlines from Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, but has broad implications for the region. In a sign that the U.S. government is finally realizing the importance of countering all the anti-American propaganda circulating in the Middle East, the State Department is preparing to expand a group of bloggers who seek to engage the Arab world online:

Walid Jawad was tired of all the chatter on Middle Eastern blogs and Internet forums in praise of gory attacks carried out by the "noble resistance" in Iraq.

So Jawad, one of two Arabic-language bloggers for the State Department, posted his own question: Why was it that many in the Arab World quickly condemned civilian Palestinian deaths but were mute about the endless killing of women and children by suicide bombers in Iraq?

Among those who responded was a man named Radad, evidently a Sunni Muslim, who wrote that many of the dead in Iraq were just Shiites and describing them in derogatory terms. But others who answered Jawad said that they, too, wondered why only Palestinian dead were "martyrs."

The discussion tacked back and forth for four days, one of many such conversations prompted by scores of postings the State Department has made on about 70 Web sites since it put its two Arab-American bloggers to work last November.

The blogging, officially known as the Digital Outreach Team, is an effort to take a more casual, varied approach to improving the U.S. image in the Muslim world.

Brent Blaschke, the project director, said the idea is to reach "swing voters," whom he described as the silent majority of Muslims who might sympathize with Al Qaeda yet be open to information about U.S. government policy and U.S. values.
More critically, the article goes on to say, the State Department bloggers have taken pains to avoid leaving themselves open to being "pigeonholed" by their own credentials or stereotypical American positions:
"They are not carrying the slogans of liberalization or democratization across the region," said Adel al-Toraifi, a Saudi political analyst. "They are talking about peace and dialogue, and I think that makes it difficult for those debating them to justify criticizing them."

Toraifi said the bloggers had generated some debate in the Arab World and had been the subject of a column in an Algerian newspaper lauding the State Department for discussing policy with ordinary people, something the writer said the Algerian government would never do. Indeed, several analysts said having State Department employees on the Web helps to counter one source of radicalization - the sense that Washington is too arrogant to listen to the grievances of ordinary Arabs, so violence is the sole means to attract attention.
This is one critical development in the war on terrorism that -- unlike the coverage of the highly-predictable Petraeus report and all the other bad news coming from Iraq -- will most likely never see any more attention from the mainstream media. This simple fact is a great shame. Instead of focusing on substantive issues that reach to the roots of the anti-Americanism that fuels terrorism against us, the media will continue to cover the same inanities we have been subjected to for the past several years.

It has taken the United States entirely too long to realize how much damage its reputation has sustained from the disinformation being spread by terrorist groups, and to come up with effective countermeasures. Moreover, the U.S. has thus far failed to realize the importance of attempting to connect with ordinary Muslims in the Middle East (and, some would say, in America, as well). In other words, we have met the enemy -- and he is partly us. By engaging the disenfranchised and opening up a dialogue with them, it becomes possible to disprove the stereotypes they hold about American policies and demonstrate that Washington is not the arrogant behemoth they perceive it to be.

Information is the new weapon of war, and we have been slow to adapt. The war on terrorism will be fought with fiber-optic cables as much as with bullets and bombs, and this blogging can only help burnish the image of America abroad. Call it Voice of America 2.0 -- a new outreach program for the digital age. After all, shaping the debate is half the battle. Unfortunately, it looks like an uphill battle from here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Introduction to Politics 101

Because I intend to write about political issues on a semi-frequent basis, I think it only fair that I be forthright about my political biases, such as they are, so my words can be framed in the proper context.

I attempt, to the best of my ability, to be objective when relaying information, and to avoid inflammatory rhetoric when expressing my opinions. I describe myself as a moderate, though perhaps not in the truest sense of the word. Instead, I “average out” to centrism due to my differing views on social issues (where I am typically more liberal) and economic and defense issues (where I am typically more conservative). (Or, in the words of Angus King, former Governor of Maine, “I'm too fiscally conservative for the Democrats and too socially liberal for the Republicans, like 75% of the American people.”) I abhor extremists on both ends of the political spectrum, as well as the type of political hackery and “political theater” that pervade today’s media.

It is not my intention to display a consistent bias for or against liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, atheists or religious believers, or any other political or social subsets. The only group that I will likely be biased against is that of extremists of any stripe. Given the nature of political extremism in the United States -- that is to say, its relative infrequency -- I believe that this is a rather reasonable stance (except, of course, to the extremists themselves).

While I recognize that this may not be the most thrilling debut, I also believe that it is only appropriate to lay this information out clearly from the onset, so as to avoid accusations of attempting to cover up my “true” biases at a later point in time.

With that said, I hope my writings (on subjects both political and personal) can be appreciated by an audience larger than myself.