Thursday, June 16, 2005


Greatest NYT letter to the editor, ever

I'm fairly agnostic about the war in Iraq, generally (unnecessary to begin, but necessary now to end correctly. But this is NYT letter to the editor has one of the best zingers I've ever seen, as it mocks both the NYT's (and mass media in general) fascination with movement politics (and particular with the young conservative movement--we've in recent months read about the Liberty Institute, wherever "Jeff Gannon went, the "academic bill of rights" and conservatives at Ivy League schools) as well as the soft underbelly of war-mongers of all political stripes- they wouldn't serve (see, Cheney, Dick; Bolton, John; Lieberman, Joseph, et al.). Seriously, now that I write it down, what is it with the Times and campus conservatives? Anyway, the zinger is highlighted. And regardless of whether you think it's a zinger, it's a great letter.

Published: June 17, 2005
To the Editor:

Re "Next Generation of Conservatives (by the Dormful)" (front page, June 14):

The young conservatives mentioned in your article could find another form of employment that is more useful and more honorable than rooting out excesses in the Park Service.

Given the Army's difficulties of retaining combat veteran junior officers (of whom I was one), these young, physically fit and intelligent men and women could both learn valuable leadership lessons and help stem the damage to the Army caused by President Bush's war in Iraq.

I know from experience that a summer in Falluja or Ramadi will better prepare them for careers as drug industry lobbyists than any conservative hothouse.

I trust that it's not too much to ask that our young conservative elites actually serve in the war they support so much.

Rich Smith

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Anne Applebaum on Newsweek

Anne Applebaum (author of the fantastic account of the Soviet labor camps Gulag) has an excellent column in today's Washington Post regarding the flap over Newsweek's now retracted Koran/toilet flushing story. Short version: Newsweek f-ed up, to be sure. But the more worrisome thing, for most of us, should be that the story was so plausible to the Islamic world to begin with.

Monday, May 16, 2005



Solid coverage of the unfolding drama in Uzbekistan on
Check them out.

And now for something a little different...

...I bring you this lame op-ed from the NY Times on why American billionaire Malcolm Glazer shouldn't be allowed to buy British football ("soccer") team Manchester United.

Let's look closely at some of the arguments and claims:

[Warning: extensive quoting to follow.]

1. "A scarcely less important English contribution to humanity is team sports - above all, soccer."

As the French would say, "pardon?" First of all, England gave the world team sports? England gave the world soccer? Neither claim is empirically or historically accurate. As for the apparent claim to team sports in general, well that's too silly to even address. While the modern form of soccer probably has its roots in England, the game traces roots much, much further back. This just looks like nationalist grandstanding.

2. The author goes on to outline that Glazer, as an American, doesn't or can't understand the "honored spot" that Man U occupies in the British football fan's imagination (tell that to an Arsenal supporter!). Man U's story is "unusually weighted with sentiment," the author writes, before going over some of the more poignant points in Man U history.

That's cool and all, as cultural/sentimental arguments go. It's also beside the point. British soccer is a business now (has been for a long time). In fact, as the author acknowledges later, it's a global business. Glazer is a businessman, and his purchase of the team was business all the way. So this isn't really about sentiment is it?

3. The author claims that objections to Glazer are not about his American-ness, per se, but because he doesn't appear to be a football fan. Evidence: a) Many foreign players and coaches in British football. b) Roman Abramovich, Russian billionaire and Chelsea owner.

Exhibit A: Though many foreign players and coaches are employed in the megabusiness that is the Premier League, there are still regular and ugly incidents of racism and xenophobia, sometimes on the pitch, often in the stands. That's not a problem unique to British soccer (it's worse in Italy, for example), but to claim that UK football is totally beyond nativism is to simply ignore reality.

Exhibit B: as a big Russia watcher and armchair analyst, I had to stifle a laugh at the characterization of Roman Abramovich as simply a guy "who arrived with an immense fortune acquired in the oil business, ready to buy the club and to buy success." Now, this op-ed was probably no place to mention the shady roots of Abramovich's wealth or his current ties to the Kremlin. But the author invites a comparison of Abramovich and Glazer, characterizing the former as "OK" as a foreign owner because he attends matches and cheers on his team (i.e., is a football fan, it seems) while Glazer "hasn't set foot in Old Trafford."

So let's look at the comparison in a fuller light. We have a Russian billionaire who became rich through political machinations, corruption, and gangster capitalism in Russia (aka, "the oil business" apparently). And we have an American billionaire who started with his father's jewelry repair business and got rich in investments ranging from mobile homes to energy (including a number of notable failed bids -- including an attempted takeover of Harley-Davidson). One has a record of consistently working within the law. I'll let you guess which one (here's a hint: it's not the one who is an acceptable British football team owner).

4. Finally, we get down to business. And here's where the argument against Glazer starts to get really loopy.

First, the author notes that Man U is "hugely successful and profitable club". Exactly. So it should come as no surprise that a businessman like Glazer would try to take it over, should it?

Second, the author makes a fairly incomprehensible critique of the fact that Glazer is conducting a leveraged buy-out: "up to $500 million of the money Glazer is using for the purchase is borrowed against the assets of the debt-free club itself, giving fresh meaning to leverage." Man U is still debt-free. That Glazer is borrowing money (against shares in Man U that he already owns) to gain control of the club doesn't mean the club itself is going into debt.

Third, the author seems to fault Tony Blair for not blocking this transaction: "Prime Minister Tony Blair has kept out of the way: who owns a soccer club is for the market to decide, the government says." Of course that's what the government says. Because that's reality. The state isn't in the business of soccer, and regulating soccer ownership IS NOT for the government to decide. I suspect most British agree.

Fourth, the author faults Glazer himself, stating that the American "has not reckoned with the emotions this particular transaction has aroused, and threatened boycotts by fans could still have a sobering effect."

On the issue of emotions, we don't know whether Glazer reckoned with them or not. As a businessman, I suspect that even if he had considered the emotional aspect, he would have made the calculation that getting control of a "hugely successful and highly profitable club" was worth the price of some bruised English egos.

On the issue of boycotts, let's be serious. If Man U really does occupy such a special place in the English public imagination, do true fans really care who owns it? A lot of folks in New York hate George Steinbrenner, but they still cheer for the Yankees. What kind of true football fan would stop supporting their team just because they didn't like the new owner? Moreover, as the author himself notes, much of Man U's profitability derives from its popularity in Asia (e.g.: "games from Old Trafford are watched live in China by more people than inhabit the British Isles"). You think those folks in China care who owns Man U? You think they share whatever sentimental attachment aging Brits might ascribe to the club? I think not.

Summary: This piece was crap. In fact, it reminded me of nothing more than American fears about Japanese takeovers of things American (like the Seattle Mariners baseball team). It wasn't the end of baseball, or the Mariners (in fact, they've done quite well under Japanese ownership). Moreover, baseball has enjoyed growing popularity in Japan (though it had already been popular there for some time), especially since Japanese players have begun playing in the Major Leagues. If Glazer's purchase of Man U raises the profile of soccer in the US, it is the Premier League and soccer around the world that will benefit.

Uzbekistan Update

Here's what the BBC has to say. More here.

A few thoughts, not fully formed but here they are nonetheless:

The Ferghana Valley (in which Andijan lies) is one of the most conservative Islamic areas in former Soviet Central Asia. As such, there have been long-standing concerns, both among governments in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as among outside experts, that the valley could be a lynchpin for Islamist-led instability in the region. It's important to acknowledge that when the Uzbek government cites concerns about Islamic extremism, these fears are not wholly unfounded or invented.

That said, the events that led up to the violence in Andijan bear none of the hallmarks of radical Islamist activity. There doesn't appear to have been significant planning involved -- rather it looks rather spontaneous. In the past, Islamists have staged jailbreaks and attacked military and police checkpoints. But these have all be carefully planned. What happened in Andijan sounds, by media descriptions, more like a riot: unarmed protestors gather outside government buildings, then eventually "storm" the buildings (staging a sit-in, of sorts), then the government violently intervenes. This wasn't an Islamist attack such as those we've seen in Russia (the school and theatre hostage takings, the storming of the police post in Daghestan), where there were armed militants, a clear plan of attack (if not a clear, obtainable objective) and a clear (eventually declaration of responsbility by an Islamist group (in the foregoing Russia cases, the Chechen independence movement).

It's important to note the character of the incident in Andijan because it exposes the lie in the Uzbek government line -- that Andijan was just another honest effort by the government to quell Islamist-fomented instability. The Andijan incident was not fomented by Islamist provacateurs, but by the Karimov regime's own repressive political policies and its failed economic policies. As key partners (if not "supporters") of the Karimov regime, the United States needs to more forcefully call "bullshit" when that regime tries to make us look like fools with such transparent excuses for repression. After all, ultimately Karimov has much more to lose than us -- both in losing US aid and in possibly losing his post (and his head) should he be brought down.

American equivocations -- condemning in words (but not really actions) Uzbek government violence while also condemning the protestors -- advances US interests not a centimeter. We lose the "hearts and minds" of the Uzbek people, we lose whatever moral high ground we might want to claim and most importantly, we lose the chance to make the important point to tin-man dictator allies elsewhere (are you listening, Pervez Musharraf?) that while we may deal with you -- even generously -- we will not kowtow, and we will call you out where dictator values come into such sharp conflict with our own fundamental values.

1. Eurasianet has a good post on the Andijan uprising here. The author makes -- and better substantiates -- many of the points I raised above.
2. Disturbing quotation from the Afghan foreign minister here, essentially blaming al Qaeda for Andijan. This makes no sense, as there is no evidence and there has been no suggestion elsewhere that al Qaeda was in any way involved. But most alarming is that the statement demonstrates the extent to which diplomats around the world have internalized the notion that if you justify a policy by claiming it is part of the war on terrorism, the US will give you a free pass (i.e. without even looking into the truthfulness of that justification)...

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Domino Theory

Is Uzbekistan next? It certainly is starting to look like it. Which would be a mixed blessing for the US, which has cozied up perhaps too close for comfort now to the Karimov regime.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


John Tierney...

...Worst. NY Times. Columnist. Ever.
I mean, this guy is such a hack.

"But middle-class Americans don't simply cast ballots for Republicans. They also vote with their feet, which is why blue states and old Democratic cities are losing population to red states and Republican exurbs. People are moving there precisely because of economic reasons - more jobs, affordable houses, and the lower taxes offered by Republican politicians."

Tierney doesn't even attempt to support his claims with evidence, or any effort at reporting whatsoever. It's just a string of naked assertions. As a blogger, I can do this. I expect more from a NY Times columnist. They've really sunk to a new low, in the name of balance. Give me a real right-wing ideologue, a Bill Kristol or something -- someone with a real, authentic and authoritative voice. Not some party-banner waving hack a la John Tierney or Hugh Hewitt!

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Be Careful What You Wish For...

...David Brooks is probably right -- that the country needs an honest discussion about a woman's right to choose and abortion. But he may not be happy with the outcome. Every poll I've ever seen shows the country is solidly pro-choice and moving pro-choicer. Demographics will only favor the Republicans for so long on this issue.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Bad Weekend at the NY Times

I was going to jump all over the NY Times for this ridiculous article about the supposed sweeping social phenomenon that the Times has helpfully coined the "Man Date", but I'm happy to report that Jeremy Blachman and others have done that job for me.

Instead, I'll call attention to another problematic story I saw this morning, entitled "Two Women, Bound by Sports, War and Injuries". A more appropriate title would have been, Two Women, Bound by a Lazy Media. The article portrayed two soldiers, both former college basketball players, who both lost arms while serving in Iraq. Each story, individually, is powerful and deserves telling. But these two women, one gathers quickly from the content of the story, don't feel bound to each other. They don't really seem to even like each other. The only reason they are connected is because the press has made their stories connected. It's cool when someone in the media lifts the curtain a little and acknowledges just how much they drive the news stories we hear. More alarming is when you can feel the media driving the story (i.e. artificially linking two wholly separate stories in the public consciousness), but the reporter seems unaware that she is doing it...

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