Day By Day

Monday, October 31, 2005

Another Cultural Indicator -- Alito Nominated to Supreme Court

For all you ethno-cultural types out there:

Half a century ago it was a cliche to note that the United States was a Protestant country, dominated by a WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] elite. A great deal of the energy in the whole field of ethn0-cultural studies consisted of an assault on that elite.

If Alito is confirmed, and there is every reason to expect that he will, he will be the fifth Catholic sitting on the Supreme Court. Add in the two Jewish justices and that leaves only two seats occupied by WASPS.

One of the key weapons -- perhaps the key weapon -- used by ethnic minorities to assault the WASP citadel was the concept of "meritocracy", status within which was determined by academic and professional certifying institutions. Status and appointments reached through other means was labled "cronyism" or "favoritism."

Charges raised in both the 2000 and 2004 about Bush's personal history, the controversy over Condi Rice and Colin Powell's "blackness", and the turmoil precipitated by Harriet Miers' nomination all testify to the power exerted by the once-discredited concept of "the best and the brightest" and the controversies still surrounding it.

Perhaps it is time for historians to turn their attention to this concept -- its origins, it's success, and its consequences. Academic histories, produced by denizens of credentialing institutions, have been uncritically positive in discussing the subject, but Black and Hispanic critics in the political realm have been far less welcoming of a concept that produces results in which they are under-represented.

I would note that this concept was not new in the mid-twentieth century. It was a prominent part of Progressive ideology and can even be traced back to the idea, dealt with so well by Gordon Wood in Radicalism of the American Revolution, that the public should defer to "men of talent and ability."

Perhaps now would be a good time to step back and reconsider this concept that has done so much to shape contemporary American politics and society.

The Cliopatria Awards

For those of an historical bent, or for bent historians, Cliopatria, a group blog for historians, is running the first annual competition for excellence in history bloggery [did I type "history" enough?]

Cliopatria is welcoming nominations in six categories: Best Group Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writing.

Nominations for the Awards will be open throughout November. You can make nominations here. There you'll find simple guidelines for each award. You may want to use the History Blogroll and/or the History Carnivals to prompt your memory. Judging will take place in December. The winners of the Awards for 2005 will be announced at the Philadelphia convention of the American Historical Association at 9:00 a.m., Saturday 7 January, 2006, and will be posted here at Cliopatria shortly thereafter.

For more information go here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Islamic Radicals Behead Christians in Indonesia

The Malaysian Star reports:
Three teenage Christian women were beheaded on Saturday by two assailants wearing helmets in eastern Indonesia as they walked to school near the Muslim town of Poso, officials said.

Two men on a motorcycle and armed with machetes attacked the 16-year-old students on the eastern island of Sulawese, a police official in Poso told Reuters.

"The men slashed and chopped off their heads. One of the students managed to escape and jumped into the bushes in a ravine and the assailants stopped chasing her," said the official who declined to be identified.

Poso, 1,500 km northeast of Jakarta, is in an area where three years of Muslim-Christian clashes have killed 2,000 people until a peace deal was agreed in late 2001.

So much for peace deals. The lid is off again.

If you have a strong stomach, photos of the victims are posted here. WARNING! These are headless corpses.

The Next Big Thing -- Iran

While the American media have been navel gazing and obsessing on trivia -- Scooter and Judy and Harriet etc., a major challenge has emerged in the Middle East.

By now everyone paying attention knows that Iranian President Ahmadinejad threatened to obliterate Israel, a threat that has to be taken seriously because Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Well, there's more to the story than has been generally reported, and certainly a lot more than you might have seen in the MSM.

Regime Change Iran reports on the full context of Ahmadinejad's remarks. Both the imagery and Ahmadinejad's rhetoric make it clear that the United States, as much as Israel, is in Iran's crosshairs. In the picture above, which was displayed while Ahmadinejad spoke, Israel is plummeting to its doom, but ahead of it, lying in pieces is the already demolished United States. It is also clear that Israel is seen by Ahmadinejad and his supporters as an extension of Western culture into the Islamic world, one that must be erased. The great enemy in his eyes is not Israel per se, but the Western world it represents.

As he put it:
We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance [i.e. the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years. ...
Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? But you had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved...
Read the rest of his remarks and those of his supporters here.

Faking It -- Science at MIT

The corruption of the scientific enterprise continues.

New Scientist reports:
A high-flying researcher has been fired from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston for fabricating data. A New Scientist investigation can, however, reveal that serious doubts are also being expressed over the accuracy of data published by the same researcher much earlier in his career.

Luk Van Parijs, 35, was an associate professor of biology at MIT. On Wednesday, he was sacked by the institute after admitting to fabricating and falsifying research data in a published scientific paper and several manuscripts and grant applications.

MIT will not confirm which paper contains the faked data, but over the past 8 years, Van Parijs has co-authored 40 research papers, and was considered a rising star in the fields of immunology and RNA interference, a technology with promise for finding new genes and treating genetic disease.

Read it here.

Note he is an associate professor which means that he came up for tenure review and passed, and that he has published 40 papers that were subject to peer review.

The credibility of the entire scientific enterprise depends on the trustworthiness of its practitioners. Rampant careerism and ideological/political bias have resulted in widespread corruption and rendered the judgment of scientific authorities suspect. The problem permeates all levels of the enterprise, and as the public becomes aware of it, scientific authority itself will suffer.

Previous posts on this subject here, here, here, here, and especially here.

And also note this.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Democracy in Iraq -- Update

Mohammed at Iraq the Model notes the official start of campaigning for next month's Parliamentary elections.

He writes:
As a matter of fact, it has to be acknowledged that the political experiment in Iraq has matured by far during these two and a half years and the political language slowly began to take more realistic dimensions and we can sense a growing faith in the ways of democracy giving some sort of special divinity to the ballot box which shall remain the only base for building a new Iraq.
The more Iraqis believe in elections and in voting as a way to express themselves, the weaker violence becomes and the more isolated the terrorists will be.

Iraqis will prove that they do believe in democracy and they do want liberty and justice and the will show the region an example of how partners can work out their differences in spite of all the hardships.
Read it here.

Twit Alert! -- Prince Charles on Islam

The Telegraph reports:

The Prince of Wales will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam this week because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11.

The Prince, who leaves on Tuesday for an eight-day tour of the US, has voiced private concerns over America's "confrontational" approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam's strengths.

The Prince raised his concerns when he met senior Muslims in London in November 2001. The gathering took place just two months after the attacks on New York and Washington. "I find the language and rhetoric coming from America too confrontational," the Prince said, according to one leader at the meeting.

Read it here.

A few points here. 1) For years Bush has been so sensitive with regard to Islam that his avoidance of the term had become a national joke. It is only in the past few months that he has been willing to identify our enemy as radicals who have perverted the concepts of Islam. If the Prince finds that too harsh he is little more than a stooge for the radicals who falsely claim to represent all of Islam.

2) In what alternative universe does the President control what the American press does or does not print? The strongest indictments of Islam come from a free press that publishes what it wants, and are part of an ongoing dialogue over the war and its origins. Would the Prince have President Bush simply stifle that dialogue? If so, how?

3) It is Britain, not the United States, that has instituted harsh anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim measures. Despite protestations to the contrary by radicals the United States has consistently taken a moderate and accepting position regarding its Muslim minority and clearly differentiates between radicals and other Muslims. This is true not just of the government but also of the general public. When it comes to tolerance, the US should be a model for Britain and Europe, not the other way around.


It seems that "sophisticated" France is having a bit of trouble relating to its Muslim minority. Funny we haven't seen anything like this in the US.

Gateway Pundit is all over the story here.


The Guardian reports:
Prince Charles will kick start a week long tour of the US tomorrow
night with the rather gloomy hope that people will appreciate him better when he
is dead.

He might have been referring to his reputation with parts of the
British public, but the sentiment equally applies to America.

Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because he's planning to lecture us on things about which he is absolutely clueless?
In an interview to be broadcast nationwide on CBS tomorrow evening, the
prince admits he struggles to be taken seriously in his attempts to be relevant,
and that his efforts to "make a difference" are insufficiently recognised.

I know it's not popular to say this sort of thing these days, but it's not the effort but the result that counts. If you keep on saying stupid, clueless things in public, people will think you're stupid
and clueless, and arrogant to boot.

Read Charles' complaints here.

Unfortunately, Chuck's fate is to be remembered as the perpetual king in waiting who ditched his hot psycho wife for a rottweiler.

Sustainability -- More Green Nonsense

The Times looks at the Green concept of "sustainability" and finds nothing there.

In the absence of any precise meaning, the concept of sustainability is pointless. It could mean virtually anything, and therefore means absolutely nothing. It has become merely a marketing slogan. If you buy a “sustainable” hardwood floor does it mean that the factory could theoretically carry on sawing up trees ad infinitum, or that the floor will sustain your weight? I couldn’t argue with a consumer who was more interested in the latter assurance: at least it can be proven.

Well said!

Read the whole thing here.

Maryland Politics -- For the Democrats It's a Family Affair

The Washington Times reports that Paul Sarbanes' son has declared his candidacy for the House seat being vacated by Ben Cardin, who is currently running to replace the retiring elder Sarbanes in the Senate.And so it goes....

Read it here.

Flores "Hobbit" Update -- Man or Monkey?

The discovery of what seemed to be dwarf hominid ["Hobbit"] fossils on the Island of Flores in Indonesia has sparked a long-running international dispute as to just what they represent.

The first, and most sensational interpretation, hilighted by National Geographic, was that the fossils represented a previously unknown hominid species -- a dwarf form of Homo Erectus -- that had persisted down to about 12,000 years ago and shared the island with Homo Sapiens. An alternative explanation was that they represented an isolated population of microcephalic homo sapiens. Then anatomical studies suggested that they represented a new australopithecine species. Complicating the picture was the presence on the island of small-statured Homo Sapiens and there was a question as to whether tools associated with the fossils had been produced by them or by modern humans.

See here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now comes the suggestion that the "Hobbits" weren't even bipedal. A Dutch anthropologist, Gert Van den Bergh, argues that they were quadrupedal and unrelated to any known human species.

Van den Bergh makes his case based on the long, strangely shaped arm bones of Homo floresiensis, which were recently described in the journal Nature. “The humerus of Homo sapiens (modern man) and Homo erectus (our ancestor) has a significant twist in the connection to the shoulder," van den Bergh said in a statement issued from the magazine. "In the Hobbit, however, the humerus is connected to the shoulder without twist. You don’t see this in the even more ancient Australopithecus, nor in erectus or sapiens, nor in apes, but you do see it in gibbons and macaques! As a consequence, the Hobbit’s shoulder is less mobile. Probably she could freely move her arms forward and backward, but had difficulty moving them sideways, like we can.”

Van den Bergh speculates the Homo floresiensis might have adapted to climbing steep mountain slopes as well as trees, like macaques do. “This could be an adaptation to the inhospitable and rugged island of Flores, where the largest coastal plain is just fifteen kilometers wide. The larger part of the island consists of very steep mountain sides.”

Carl Zimmer discusses the article and includes dismissive comments on it from other anthropologists here.

John Hawks Critiques Human Migration Hypotheses

Last week I noted the publication of a new study on human migration patterns. It uses analysis of DNA to reconstruct the appearance of sequential "founder populations," first in Africa, then in the Middle East, then Europe, then Asia, and the Americas. Read it here. In the same post I noted an alternative model that had Asia colonized before Europe.

Now John Hawks weighs in on the migration study. He has read the paper itself and finds it far less impressive than media accounts would have it. He notes practical and theoretical problems with the methodology used and discusses alternative interpretations and hypotheses. It's an instructive critique and well worth the time to read it.

Check it out here.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Maryland Politics -- The Left Get Really Dirty

Left-wing blogger Steve Gillard has launched a despicable attack against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele who is running as a Republican candidate for Paul Sarbanes' Senate seat. He posted a picture of the candidate crudely altered to make him look like a character in a minstrel show, with the insulting caption, "I's Simple Sambo, and I's running for the Big House."

Democrats and Republicans alike have denounced this atrocity.

Speaking for the Steele campaign, Leonardo Alcivar responded:
"The Democratic Party has finally reached a new low with the worst kind of racist gutter politics, and it's the kind of racism that people in Maryland reject, regardless of their political party."
The Democrats quickly disavowed the contemptible blog.
The Steele depiction was "extremely offensive and distasteful and has no place in politics or in any other aspect of public discourse," said Derek Walker of the Maryland Democratic Party.
He also stated:
"This rogue attack on Lt. Gov. Steele is distasteful, despicable and degrading," Walker said. "Democrats are ready to engage Michael Steele in a spirited discussion about the issues that matter to Maryland and to our nation. ... Hatred and bigotry are enemies of the Democratic principles of fairness and opportunity for all people."
Virginia Gubenatorial candidate, Tim Kaine [D], immediately withdrew a campaign ad that had been running on the site.

Another left-wing blogger, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, however, defended Guillard.

He said:

that advertisers should expect edgy content and that Kaine's actions could threaten their editorial independence.

"I don't want bloggers to be afraid to say things because they don't want to offend an advertisers," Moulitsas said.

Guillard responded with a post in which he attacked Kaine as a coward for pulling the ad. He also ran a picture of Kaine with the caption "Black people should shut their mouths" implying that Kaine is a racist. In an e-mail interview with the Sun, he stated that he considered Steele to be "a traitor to his race."

Read it here [WaPo] and here [Sun].

Dave Wissing's commentary on this atrocity is here.

Michelle Malkin's post is here.

Blogometer summarizes the discussion in the blogosphere here.

Andrew Sullivan rightly labels Gillard's blog part of the "racist left." [here]

Oh my! This is so despicably degrading on so many counts! Where to begin?

First, as many commentators have noted, the charges are simple, blatant, racism. It does not matter that Gillard is black. The depiction of Lt. Gov. Steele itself, from whatever source, is racist -- as is the assumption, apparently made by Gillard, that racism issuing from a black source doesn't count. It does, and it should be denounced as strongly as if it came from the mouth of a Klansman.

Secondly, attacks like this have no place in political discourse. This is just bomb-throwing and it does more damage to the thrower than to his target. Giillard's post simply serves to discredit not only himself, but anyone who associates with him. Kaine was absolutely right to pull his advertising.

Moulitsas's comments are just stupid. It is frequently argued by people on the left that any failure to financially support their idiocy constitutes censorship. Pulling ads on irresponsible and offensive blogs is not censorship, and it does not constitute any infringement on freedom of speech.

There is a real sickness abroad in the blogosphere and people like Gillard epitomize it. This is bully-boy stuff and it serves to discredit the entire enterprise of bloggery. Stuff like this is not confined to the Left, although it often seems to be. We saw plenty of dreck pour out of the right in the Harriet Miers mess.


Gillard unleashes his venom on Robert George, a black blogger who criticized his attack on Steele. [here]

Good News In the Middle East

Things seem to be looking up in the mean streets of Iraq's "hood."

First there is news that three major Sunni parties have formed a coalition to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This is a major step toward integrating the disaffected Sunni minority into the new political system. The article notes that not only Sunnis are forging coalitions.

[O]ther political parties and personalities continued negotiations aimed at forging other alliances ahead of the Dec. 15 parliamentary election.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, was expected to announce his own coalition of Shiites and Sunnis by the end of this week.

Read about it here.

Note that these coalitions are taking form not just within religious blocs, but between them. A democratic polity is in the process of formation and that's an exciting thing to see.

Yassin Musharbash, writing in Der Spiegel, notes signs of progress.
As of Tuesday, Iraq is a democracy. It's not, of course, a stable one yet -- nor is it anchored in the popular imagination. And the constitution's problematic text hides more problems than it solves. But Iraq's democracy also hasn't failed, which separates it from the myriad 'democratization' projects in other Arab countries.
Iraq has taken a first, tiny step -- but a decisive and indispensable one. It's possible that the Iraqi constitution will be seen one day in the same positive light as the US or German constitutions. One should remember Tuesday's date, because the experiment might just succeed. And if it does, possibilities for the rest of the Middle East could be endless.

Yes. The costs of our operations in Iraq has been heavy -- more than 2,000 dead -- but the payoff could be world-changing. That possibility too is exciting.

Read him here.

Salaam at The Mespotamian is certainly excited. He writes:
[T]he progress towards democracy is unstoppable and inexorable and total victory is in sight.
He then explains how the recent terror attack on the Palestine Hotel is a reflection of insurgent weakness.
The enemy is now counting on one and only one forlorn hope, and that is to wear down the resolve of the American and western people, with the help of the MSM, which explains the latest explosions near the Meridien/Palestine hotel, a show staged entirely for the benefit of the MSM cameras that obliged and did their part admirably. The terrorist game is at least 90% TV and Internet phenomenon, deprive them of these and you will deal them a blow far more fatal than any kind of military action. The terrorists know very well that the Iraqi people are not going to give up or submit; therefore their hopes are pinned on influencing the peoples of the free world, encouraged by reports in the MSM. In any case it is becoming clear that their senseless crimes are not going to help them achieve anything, and it seems that they don’t even have any clear ideas or objectives to speak of apart from destruction and hate.
He's right. Attacks on foreign journalists are a tacit admission that other strategies are increasingly non-productive and that the "insurgents" only hope is to demoralize the American public.

Read him here.

And there's this report from the Guardian:
'We don't need al-Qaida'

Abu Theeb is the leader of a band of Sunni insurgents that preys on US targets north of Baghdad. Last week he openly defied al-Qaida in Iraq by actively supporting the referendum. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad spent five days with him - and uncovered evidence of a growing split in the insurgency
Read it here.

This is significant not only because it confirms reports that the jihadist radicals are being marginalized within Iraq, but because it appeared in the Guardian, a staunchly anti-Bush, anti-war organ. Slowly but surely the western media are beginning to awake to the fact that something good and potentially earth-shaking is going on in Iraq.

Meanwhile in the rest of the "hood." The Lebanese government has begun to assert itself to control its borders. AP reports:
Lebanese authorities dispatched commandos and tanks Wednesday to a pro-Syrian Palestinian militant base and sent hundreds more soldiers to a second camp in an apparent crackdown on groups accused of smuggling weapons from Syria.
Read it here.

This, as the article notes, poses a danger of retaliation from the Palestinian militants in southern Lebanon, but it is an essential step toward the assertion of national sovereignth. It is good to see that the Lebanese government has sufficient confidence to take that step.

And then there's this remarkable report:

DAMASCUS, 28 October 2005 — Syria issued an appeal yesterday for dialogue with the United States as the UN Security Council mulled a strong response to its implication by a UN inquiry into former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri’s murder.

“It’s time for dialogue, which must take precedence over the use of force,” said an editorial in the official daily Al-Thawra.

“The language of pressure and threats used by US President George Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are closing off the avenues for dialogue even though there are many points on which agreement is possible,” said the commentary, signed by editor Faisal Al-Sayegh, who is considered close to the corridors of power. “This is not the time for the use of force, which has proved a failure in other parts of the world but the time for dialogue... because Syrians and Americans have a lot in common and the American people are a friendly people.”

Read it here.

Syria is blinking fast and furiously. This is the sort of thing that Musharbash was referring to when he stated that the ramifications of what is happening in Iraq represented endless opportunities for progress throughout the Middle East. Real change is taking place in Lebanon and now in Syria. A new Middle East is being born in Baghdad and Beirut and Damascus, and the attending physician and midwife are named "Dubya" and "Condi."

Kurtz on Pundit Power

Howard Kurtz writes in the WaPo:

Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham and their conservative colleagues didn't sink the Harriet Miers nomination on their own. But in the blink of a news cycle, they turned against their president, framed the debate and provided the passion that undermined her case.

It was Krauthammer who offered the White House last Friday what he called "the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum" by using a refusal to turn over Miers's internal memos as a fig leaf for withdrawing her Supreme Court bid -- which is precisely what she did.

"I guess she reads my column," the Washington Post and Fox News commentator said yesterday. "All that was missing was the footnote."

Read it here.

Aaarrgh! The smugness, the smugness! Conservative pundits spinning this as a great opportunity to join together with Bush to advance their agenda. Liberals are spinning this as the effective end of the Bush presidency. Neither comes close to being right, Bush will continue his moderate path and whatever temporary advantage one group or another has gained will soon be forgotten. Pundit power is largely illusory.

Latest from the Star Trek Continuum -- Takei is Gay (And Insufferably PC About It)

AP Reports:
George Takei, who as helmsman Sulu steered the Starship Enterprise through three television seasons and six movies, has come out as a homosexual in the current issue of Frontiers, a biweekly Los Angeles magazine covering the gay and lesbian community.


The 68-year-old actor said he and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling ashamed of his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation.

"It's against basic decency and what American values stand for," he said.

Takei joined the "Star Trek" cast in 1966 as Hikaru Sulu, a character he played for three seasons on television and in six subsequent films. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1986.

A community activist, Takei ran for the Los Angeles City Council in 1973. He serves on the advisory committee of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and is chairman of East West Players...

Read the whole thing here.

OK, he's gay..., big deal! But does he have to be so damn PC about it? That bit about dredging up the internment camp and likening homosexuals to blacks is a bit over the top and is just a cheap way of trying to plug into guilt over past racism.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Revolt of the Professionals

Glenn Kessler has a very perceptive article in yesterday’s WaPo. In it he argues that the Plame investigation and its legal consequences are, like many of the attacks on and critiques of the Bush administration, rooted not in partisan warfare but in an all-out institutional struggle between elements of the “permanent government” and Bush’s political appointees.

Read it here.

This comes as news to many in the mainstream media, but in itself the conflict is really nothing new. The federal bureaucracy clashes with nearly every new administration.

One of my Washington correspondents, a former high-ranking official in that bureaucracy, described the normal course of things. “Each new administration comes in thinking that they know all the answers,” he said, “and at policy meetings all the political figures sit around the table while the professionals sit behind them in a supporting role.” “That goes on for a while,” he explained, “but eventually the political people realize that they don’t know everything and the professionals begin to migrate up to the table. And by the end of the Administration’s first term nearly all the seats at the table are occupied by professionals.”

Such is the senior bureaucrat’s view of the way things ought to be. The permanent government sees administrations come and go and has learned to deal with them with a minimum of fuss so that they can get on with the job of running things without much political interference.

At least that’s how it used to be. I asked my correspondent what was different about this administration and he replied “with these guys the professionals don’t even get into the room.”

Disdain for political appointees permeates the permanent government, but for the past few years it has been particularly virulent in the military, the CIA, at State, and at FEMA as current and former officials leak and smear to a willing media or increasingly take their complaints before the cameras.

We saw precursors of this in the Clinton administration when budget cuts decimated the army and a host of retired general officers began to give stories about our military “unpreparedness” to any reporter who would listen. And, when Clinton replaced a number of Republican appointees at the Justice Department, he created a large and resentful cadre of “former” federal prosecutors who eagerly took to the airwaves to expound on his legal problems.

Under Bush the warfare has reached unprecedented levels. Rumsfeld’s reforms [actually an extension of ones already underway] have alienated many recently “retired” senior officers who regularly appear on your TV screens to insist that we need more “boots on the ground.” CIA officials, resentful for having been blamed for faulty intelligence estimates in the runup to Iraq (not to speak of their failure to foresee the collapse of the Soviet empire and Saddam’s WMD projects prior to the first Gulf War) and in the throes of a major reorganization that has cost many of them their jobs, are leaking and smearing with wild abandon. FEMA professionals have been fuming ever since the creation of Homeland Security (mandated, you will remember, by Congress) cost them their cabinet level status and freedom of action. They gleefully took advantage of the Katrina mess to opine freely on the deficiencies, real and imagined, that ensued upon the departure of the Sainted James Lee Witt.

And then there’s State. The problem with career foreign service officers is that they, over time, come to identify more with their professional community, including their opposites representing other governments and NGO’s, than with their elected bosses. To the careerist at State they and other professionals could manage the world much more effectively without interference from the political leaders they serve. They actively resent the failure of political figures to heed their recommendations, and their conviction that diplomacy can always serve as a substitute for military action fanned that resentment to white hot intensity regarding Iraq.

The common threads here are the insistence of government professionals that their training and expertise uniquely qualifies them to make decisions and craft policies that vitally affect the lives and fortunes of the American people and their active resentment of elected officials and their appointees who decline to defer to that expertise. This in itself is nothing new, but what has changed is the proliferation of channels through which disgruntled professionals can air their grievances, often anonymously, and a willingness of the press and members of the political opposition to seize on these charges in an attempt to embarrass the incumbent administration. Most disturbing is the tendency in both parties to make policy disputes matters for legal action. Taken together these constitute a profoundly anti-democratic trend, one that must be resisted. Government is far too important to be entrusted to professionals. Those who wield the authority of government must always be subject to democratic checks.

Overweening professionalism also reared its ugly head in the matter of Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court. Today she withdrew in the face of withering attacks. I’m not sure just how I feel about that. In one sense, I’m glad that the incessant attacks on her have ended and the commentators have switched into insincere praise mode. On the other hand, the last few weeks have been brutal and I have been appalled by the ferocity and sheer viciousness of what was written and said about this good woman.

In practical terms the nomination was withdrawn because the Senate votes just weren’t there. Forget all that stuff about Senators finding her lacking in interviews. For the most part they wouldn’t know legal competence if it waddled up and smacked them on their foreheads. They simply were looking for a safe position to take and an unwillingness to commit was the safest port they could find. Only a handful of Senators’ views counted and they, for various reasons, came out against, or ostentatiously failed to support Miers’ nomination.

Miers’ most outspoken antagonists were movement conservatives. Here I’m not speaking of the religious (or if you prefer, “social”) conservatives, but of the Buckleyite intellectuals who lurk in the depths of Washington think-tanks, or write for organs such as the National Review or the Weekly Standard. It is their conceit that they, through the main force of their arguments, elected Republicans from Reagan to Bush (hence their claim to speak for the President’s “base”). Now they have added Harriet’s scalp to their belt and are issuing demands that Bush hew tightly to their agenda

The basic charge against Miers was that she wasn’t “qualified” to sit on the Supreme Court. In other words, her professional credentials were insufficiently impressive. In actuality there are no qualifications for sitting on the court. You don’t even have to be a lawyer. And many people whose professional credentials were far from impressive have served on the court with distinction.

But Harriet Miers was “unqualified” to sit on the court because she went to the wrong school (SMU), had not published in distinguished journals in the area of constitutional law, and had held no judicial posts. In other words, she did not have the proper credentials.

The idea that one needs a sterling resume in order to sit on the Supreme Court is yet another example of rampant professionalism in Washington. Credentials are bureaucratic substitutes for knowing an individual’s worth. They may be a reasonable aid to assessing candidates for a position within an impersonal bureaucratic structure, but they are no substitute for personal knowledge. The conservative “intellectuals” who led the charge against Miers were all highly credentialed individuals. Most had degrees from elite schools. They all had extensive publications. Many had impressive job titles [although, as one of my DC correspondents points out, nearly everyone in Washington has an impressive job title]. They are products of a credentialing system from which they derive a great deal of their sense of self-worth, and through which they present themselves to the world. They are, in their own minds, meritocrats who have attained success through demonstrated excellence. They see no reason why a similar standard should not be applied to high level government appointments.

But Dubya operates on a different standard. From his early days at Yale he has been contemptuous of the formal credentialing process, preferring instead to judge people on the basis of personal knowledge. He’s more concerned with knowing a person’s character than in reading lines on a resume. His standard could be considered inappropriate to a large, complex, bureaucratic situation in which people have to judge others based on a minimum of personal knowledge, but that is not how things work at the highest levels of government. There a small number of people who have known and worked with each other for years cooperate informally to achieve mutually determined goals. That is true not just in the West Wing of the White House, but in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, and on the Supreme Court. That is a personalized, informal, non-professionalized world in which formal credentials are of little matter. Dubya chose a person he knew and trusted, and recommended her to the clubby Senate to serve on a panel of nine justices supported by a few dozen clerks. He was saying, “I know this person well, I trust her judgment and character, and feel she can function effectively at a high level of competence in a small, elite working group.” That, in normal circumstances, would be entirely appropriate and sufficient for her confirmation. But in today’s highly politicized atmosphere, where everything is turned into an ideological confrontation, where a sensationalistic media distorts everything, and where an insane devotion to professional standards, no matter how bogus, rules, Harriet Miers’ could not be confirmed.


Maryland Politics -- Opening Salvos

Michael Steele has just announced his candidacy for Paul Sarbanes’ Senate seat, but the Democrat assault on him has been escalating for months.

The outlines of their attack are clear. 1) they will attack Steele for being “arrogant” and “out of touch” with the Black community, and 2) they will try to tie him and Gov. Ehrlich as closely as possible to George Bush and other leaders of the national Republican party such as Tom DeLay and Karl Rove. These make sense in a state where forty percent of the electorate is black and Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.

For his part Steele has enthusiastically embraced the rhetoric of George Bush’s “opportunity society”. In his speech announcing his candidacy he said:

[G]overnment leaders from both sides of the aisle must work harder to "come together and work for the same freedom, the same growth and the same opportunity" while also helping create "real legacy wealth for our children.

"Too many in Washington today are not working toward that common goal of growth and freedom and an equal opportunity for every individual," Steele noted. "Instead, too many on the left have their feet set in the concrete of old fears, old divisions and the old ways of government.

"And no people can prosper when its leaders believe the route to empowerment lies not in the advancement of the individual, but in the promotion of an opportunistic government," he added. "We can do better."

Moderation, bi-partisanship, and expanding opportunities – those are the touchstones of Steele’s campaign. Will they sell? He’s currently running behind in the polls against likely Democrat candidate Ben Cardin, but it’s still early and much can, and certainly will happen in the coming year.

Stay tuned….

Read about Steele’s announcement and the Democrat response here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Xena in Baghdad -- Girls With Guns

Washington Times reports:
BAGHDAD -- While most Iraqi women live in fear of terrorists and criminals, one small band of women has taken up arms and is prepared to fight back.

Employed by a private security company, the women ride in the front passenger seat posing as ordinary housewives when the company's drivers transport customers around the city in nondescript vehicles.

But their firearms are always close at hand, and they are trained to respond with force if they come under attack.
But even as the violence shuts down many avenues to a normal life, for Rana, 35, Xena 31, Muna, 26 and Assal, 24, it has created the possibility of a good paying job and living on equal terms with Iraqi men.

"Before I got into this, I was like a normal female; when I heard bullets, I would hide," said Muna, a stocky young woman in a black T-shirt and black pants.

"Now, I feel like a man. When I hear a bullet, I want to know where it came from," she said, sitting comfortably with an AK-47 assault rifle across her legs, red toenails poking out from a pair of stacked sandals. "Now I feel equal to my husband."

After several months of training, the women say they feel more self-confident and stronger. Although none ever dreamed she would be handling guns or jumping out of cars, now all want more training, especially firing range practice with the Baghdad guns of choice -- AK-47s and 9 mm pistols.

"I used to watch action movies when I was a kid, I loved them," laughed Xena, a conservative Muslim who chose her pseudonym from the film character, Xena the Warrior Princess. "My favorite actor is [Jean-Claude] Van Damme."
All I can say is "You Go Girl!"

Read it here.

I wonder, does "Xena" carry a Chakram?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Maryland Politics -- It's Official, Steele's Running

WaPo reports:
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele today formally announced he will run for the U.S. Senate, recasting the successful political partnership that enabled him to become the first African American elected to statewide office. ... An independent poll released yesterday showed him trailing the Democratic front-runner, Rep. Ben Cardin of Baltimore. But it also showed him ahead in a match-up against another well-known Democratic contender, former congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume.
Read it here.

The poll results are:

In the Senate race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin had a nine-point lead, 47 percent to 38 percent, over Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who was expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination Tuesday. Steele, Maryland's first black lieutenant governor, held his own in a matchup with the only black Democrat in the race, former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume. Steele was supported by 42 percent of people polled and Mfume by 40 percent, and the lieutenant governor was leading four other Democrats.

Read it here.

The poll also shows the Gubenatorial race between Macho Man Martin O'Malley and Big Bob Ehrlich to be a dead heat.

This is going to be fun. Cardin is formidable, but Steele could be a rising superstar -- a Republican Barak Obama. Ehrlich and O'Malley are both hard-core campaigners. This promises to be knock down dirty fight -- the kind Maryland specializes in.

Paul at Power Line agrees. He writes: "At long last, an interesting Maryland Senate race."

Read him here.

John Miller's 2004 article on Steele is here.

Congratulations Iraq

AP reports:
Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq's landmark constitution was adopted fairly by a majority of voters during the country's Oct. 15 referendum, as Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it, election officials said Tuesday. A prominent Sunni politician called the vote "a farce."

Results released by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq after a 10-day-audit showed that Sunni Arabs, who had sharply opposed the draft document, failed to produce the two-thirds "no" vote they would have needed in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces to defeat it.

Farid Ayar, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq who announced the results, said the commission's audit of the vote had turned up no significant fraud.

Carina Perelli, the U.N. elections chief, also praised a "very good job" with the audit and said "Iraq should be proud of the commission."

But Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab member of the committee that drafted the constitution, called the referendum "a farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the percentage of "no" votes in several mostly Sunni-Arab provinces.

The key point here is that the UN has accepted the results of the election, giving the new Iraqi government a legitimacy with the "world community" that will be of immense value, even essential, in coming years. There was absolutely no hope that the result would not be denounced by at least some Sunni leaders, so their objections are not to be taken seriously. Of course, anti-war and defeatist elements in the MSM will highlight continuing Sunni disapproval, but to reiterate, acceptance of the vote by international bodies is a major step toward resolving the situation in Iraq and for that reason is something to celebrate.

Regarding negative reporting, check out the BBC account:

The majority vote approving Iraq's constitution looks impressive - 78.59% to 21.41% - but the results hide a strong vote against by the Sunni population which was not far from derailing it.
At least this time, many of the Sunnis voted compared to their refusal to do so in the elections to the current Transitional Assembly in January. To that extent they can be said to have been drawn into the political process, though their negative attitude to the constitution on which their future rests does not bode well.
However, the result does not mean the start of normal politics in Iraq. It is a milestone along the way, not the destination itself.
Read it here.

Oh my, so many "buts" and "howevers." Can't we just be glad at the progress being made?

I guess not... that would mean confronting the real world and ideological disputation is so much more fun.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Can Assad Survive? The German Press Thinks Not

In the wake of the UN report linking high members of his administration to the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri Bashar Assad is coming under enormous pressure both domestically and internationally. Der Spiegel surveys the German press and finds overwhelming support for regime change in Syria and a general consensus that Assad is unlikely to survive the current crisis.

Read it here.

Terrorist Asshole

Now this really is priceless. From Tim, one of my Chicago correspondents, comes this lovely sequence of pictures. [homepage here]. Click on the image to enlarge. In case you still can't read the caption, it reads:

American Flag: $25
Gasoline: $2
Cigarette Lighter: $2.50
Catching yourself on fire because you are a terrorist asshole: PRICELESS

Followup to Babes of Oktoberfest -- Dirndl Barbie

This post updates two earlier ones. The Babes of Oktoberfest [here] and Bling Bling Barbie [here]. It seems this year in Munich there appeared an Oktoberfest Barbie, complete with dirndl and, in defiance of the EU nannycrats, complete with her own jugs.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Latest Reconstruction of Human Migration Patterns from DNA Evidence

Discovery News reports:

Oct. 21, 2005— Modern humans left Africa in waves and colonized the Mideast first and then Europe, according to a new study that traced early human migration patterns through variations in DNA.

The study, which supports the "Out of Africa" theory that humans first emerged in Africa before migrating to other parts of the world, determined that South America was the last settled region.

"In (the) dataset (we studied), genetic diversity is highest in Africa and then decreases in the following order with diversity being the lowest in the Americas: Mideast, Europe, Asia, Oceania (the Pacific Islands), America. This indicates what the order of the human expansion might have been," said Sohini Ramachandran, lead author of the study, which is published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on this evidence the sequence of human settlement proceeded from Africa to the Middle East, then to Europe, then Asia, then Oceania, finally the Americas with North American being settled before South America.

The basic measurement is the degree of genetic variation within a population.

"Basically the idea is that we begin with a mother colony and then a small group of individuals leaves the mother colony and migrates away to form a new population," Ramachandran said. "This population grows in size and then a small group of migrants leaves this new population and forms another population some distance away."

Since each subset involved fewer representatives from the initial mother colony, DNA diversity decreased over time, with South Americans showing the lowest level of genetic diversity.

There were some interesting exceptions:

The only exceptions were the Maya, whose interbreeding with Europeans over the years actually has changed their genetic makeup, and three other populations: the Kalash, the Mbuti Pygmies, and the San.

The Kalash live in the mountains of Pakistan and believe they are descended from Alexander the Great. While the current study cannot confirm this claim, it does suggest the Kalash are genetically different from other Pakistanis.

The Mbuti Pygmies and the San both are hunter-gatherer populations in Africa. Ramachandran suggested that these populations could represent "our closest link to ancient modern humans genetically."

No real surprises here. The pattern suggested by this study agrees generally with the emerging consensus in the field and is accepted by most scholars. The only really questionable result was the suggestion that Europe was settled earlier than Asia, and that is certainly plausible.

Read the whole thing here.

For a slideshow presentation of an alternative interpretation of DNA evidence, one that has Asia being settled before Europe, see here. [pretty cool]

LED Breakthrough -- Better Living Through Excited Electron Bundles

LiveScience reports:

The main light source of the future will almost surely not be a bulb. It might be a table, a wall, or even a fork.

An accidental discovery announced this week has taken LED lighting to a new level, suggesting it could soon offer a cheaper, longer-lasting alternative to the traditional light bulb....

Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, was just trying to make really small quantum dots, which are crystals generally only a few nanometers big. That's less than 1/1000th the width of a human hair.

Quantum dots contain anywhere from 100 to 1,000 electrons. They're easily excited bundles of energy, and the smaller they are, the more excited they get. Each dot in Bower's particular batch was exceptionally small, containing only 33 or 34 pairs of atoms.

When you shine a light on quantum dots or apply electricity to them, they react by producing their own light, normally a bright, vibrant color. But when Bowers shined a laser on his batch of dots, something unexpected happened.

"I was surprised when a white glow covered the table," Bowers said. "The quantum dots were supposed to emit blue light, but instead they were giving off a beautiful white glow."

Then Bowers and another student got the idea to stir the dots into polyurethane and coat a blue LED light bulb with the mix. The lumpy bulb wasn't pretty, but it produced white light similar to a regular light bulb....

The new device gives off a warm, yellowish-white light that shines twice as bright and lasts 50 times longer than the standard 60 watt light bulb....

LEDs produce twice as much light as a regular 60 watt bulb and burn for over 50,000 hours. The Department of Energy estimates LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025. LEDs don't emit heat, so they're also more energy efficient. And they're much harder to break.

Read the whole thing here.

Nicholas Kristof Confronts Evil

Poor Nicholas Kristof. He was assigned the task of reviewing Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. It is a searing indictment of Mao's career that makes a persuasive case for ranking him among the most destructive figures in the history of mankind. But Kristof, like many lefties, has a soft spot in his heart for the old monster, and squirms mightily in an attempt to at least partially justify Mao's many crimes against humanity.

To give Kristof some credit, he does not try to deny or minimize the horrors perpetrated by Mao, although he does suspect that the authors might be exaggerating some of them. The evidence is too overwhelming. But he does take a cue from Lenin's infamous observation that to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. In the case of Mao there may have been as many as seventy million eggs crushed, but Kristof can still write:

I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao's legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.

Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system - but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao - but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.

Ah yes, Qin Shi Huang, the "First Emperor of China" who, when a delegation of hundreds of scholars petitioned him to protest the brutality of his troops in a recently conquered province, ordered them thrown into a pit and buried alive. Horrific, no? Yes, but child's play compared to the much greater slaughters Mao ordered. Yet Kristof can pass them off as necessary to bring China into the modern world, thus revealing himself (like his colleague John Leonard, who argued that those who supported Stalin did so for the best and purest of motives) to be a complete moral imbecile.

I wonder if Kristof would be so charitable to the capitalist "robber barons" of the late nineteenth century upon whose efforts and machinations the West's prosperity was built.I doubt it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Yet More Babes of Beiruit

Hat tip, Michael Totten -- lucky guy!

Michael Yon Reports

Michael Yon is back in Iraq. He reports for the Weekly Standard on what it was like on election day in Baghdad -- quiet!

Read him here.

More Babes of Beiruit

The Babes of Beiruit are Back

Release of the Mehlis report on the assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri has brought the babes out again. More Babes of Beiruit here and here. Welcome Instapundit readers. While you're here, look around a bit. You might find something you like.

Lebanon Update -- The Mehlis report, can Assad and Lahoud survive?

Well, the Mehlis report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon, is in. There is some reason to believe that the UN soft-pedaled, even suppressed, some of the most damning evidence at the personal request of Kofi Annan, [here] but what has been published is explosive. Read the whole text of the report here.

The report implicates high officials of the Syrian government, including relatives of President Bashar Assad, in Hariri's murder [here]. This in itself is not news, everyone has long assumed this was so, but affirmation by the UN investigators has had a remarkable effect upon the region.

WaPo reports:
The publication of the report on the deaths of Hariri and 22 other people in a car bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14 unleashed a reaction seldom seen in the Middle East. The 54-page document was read in its entirety on al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network; other stations broadcast hours of coverage Friday on the report and its fallout. To many people here, its publication marked a turning point in Middle East politics, signaling a looming confrontation with an uncertain outcome.
In Damascus, some Syrian government supporters were unusually open in expressing fear about the repercussions of the inquiry....

The government is rather cornered. Essentially, what the government can do is very limited," said Georges Jabbour, a Syrian legislator and former presidential adviser. "I am not quite optimistic."
But the hammer has fallen not just on Assad's regime in Syria.

The most immediate fallout was growing pressure in Lebanon for the resignation of the country's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud. The president rebuffed demands that he step down in August after four Lebanese generals were arrested on suspicion of participating in the assassination.

The U.N. investigation, led by the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, found that Lahoud received a phone call minutes before the blast from the brother of a prominent member of a pro-Syrian group, who in turn called one of the country's generals. Lahoud's office said it categorically denied receiving such a call.

In a signal Lahoud has no intention of resigning, the statement by his office said the charge was part of a months-long campaign against him "and the national responsibilities he shoulders and will continue to do so at this delicate stage in Lebanon's history."

Of course you know that that means -- the streets of Beirut are again filled with protesters demanding justice from Syria and Lahoud's resignation.

[A]t the tomb of Hariri... hundreds of Lebanese gathered to mark the report's release.

Some prayed by the grave. Others, carrying Lebanese flags, called loudly for Lahoud to resign.

The Mehlis report had become a virtual national obsession in Lebanon, after rumors swirled for weeks over its possible conclusions. The day it was released, a disc jockey at Radio Liban played "What a Wonderful World.".

Read the whole thing here.

International pressure on Syria is building rapidly.

Dubya has called for a special UN session to discuss Syria's role in the assassination. [here]

Condi has demanded that Syrian officials be held accountable for Hariri's death. [here]

The UN is likely to respond in an unusually strong fashion -- sanctions and even the possibility of military action are in the offing. Why? Because France and the US have common interests in bringing an end to the Assad dictatorship and freeing Lebanon from Syrian control, and no other member of the Security Council has an interest in blocking them.

What does this mean? Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit says it all: "Syria Screwed" [here]

Check out Anton Efendi's comments at Across the Bay [here]

And of course, the Babes of Beiruit are back. [here and here]

Friday, October 21, 2005

Zimbabwe Update -- All In the Family

SWradioafrica reports:

Robert Mugabe’s nephew Leo Mugabe was arrested Tuesday on allegations of smuggling scarce flour to neighbouring Mozambique. The Makonde North legislator exported 600 bags of flour worth a staggering Z$500 billion (US$7m). With the country having to endure chronic bread shortages, questions are being asked on how he managed to get 30 tonnes of a controlled product across the border.

The charge sheet makes reference to ‘illegal exportation’ and leaves room for an alternative charge of ‘dealing in controlled products’. According to former Grain Marketing Board general manager, Renson Gasela, the possibility exists Mugabe sold flour from a wheat farm he took in Mhangura. That however also remains illegal under Zimbabwean law. Mugabe is well known in the country as an incompetent football administrator and allegedly defrauded the football association which he led. This resulted in his expulsion but unsurprisingly he was never arrested.

The scandals do not end there. The construction of the Harare International Airport was mired in controversy after a company linked to Mugabe won the tender to construct, in 2001. An unholy trio comprising Leo, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s youngest son Kojo and Hani Yamani the son of a powerful Sheikh got into business together.

He sounds like a real chip off the old block.

Read it here.

As for the old man – here’s a compendium of assessments from people who are in a position to know.

There was a time when Mugabe's credentials as a fighter against white-minority rule earned him respect. That time is long gone. He is a millstone around the neck of one of Africa's best endowed lands. Who says so? The South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said Mugabe is a "caricature of an African dictator"; Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, who has called on Mugabe to stop "fighting colonialist ghosts"; the Nobel-Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka, who has labeled Mugabe's regime "a disgrace to the continent."

Read it here.

Bush's Diplomacy -- Sophisticated and Successful

I have argued many times that Dubya, MSM opinion to the contrary, has had a spectacular streak of successes in foreign relations. Don Rumsfeld, today, highlighted one of the most impressive.

AP reports:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his South Korean counterpart on Friday hailed a promise by North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, but they also cited "causes of significant concern" in the North's continued development of long-range missiles.
Read it here.

The negotiations are complicated, and dare I say, "sophisticated." The NYT, trying desperately to shift credit for the breakthrough to a Democrat, focuses on the explanation provided by N. Mex. Gov., and former Clintonista, Bill Richardson.

TOKYO, Friday, Oct. 21 - North Korea is "fully committed" to return to nuclear disarmament talks in November and is showing "flexibility" on conditions for obtaining a light-water reactor, an American envoy to the North said here Friday. "They showed me flexibility on the light-water reactor issue," the envoy, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, said in an interview.

Energy-poor North Korea has been seeking the reactor as the price for giving up its nuclear program. The North seems to want the reactor partly to save face for returning to international nuclear controls, Mr. Richardson said, adding, "In my opinion, it is an important issue, but not a deal breaker."

To make nuclear power in North Korea palatable to Washington, Mr. Richardson said, "they would be willing to have the U.S. participate in the fuel cycle at the front and back end."

"What that basically means is that the U.S. could control it, as well as the six parties." The talks also include China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

Read it here.

"So what?" you say, "How is this any different from the agreement negotiated a decade ago by Slick Willie and Madame and soon after repudiated by N. Korea?" Here's how.

Bush wisely resisted overwhelming pressure from Democrats during the last campaign to undertake bilateral talks with N. Korea, as Clinton had done. Instead Bush insisted that all the nations in the region be involved. Finally, that insistence paid off as China, the only nation that can plausibly put real pressure on N. Korea, stepped in to broker the emerging agreement.

N. Korea will abandon its nuclear program and in exchange will get a light-water reactor, but [and this is important] the US will control both the fuel and the byproducts of that reactor.

To seal the deal, China announced that President Hu will personally travel to N. Korea. Reuters reports:

BEIJING, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit North Korea this month ahead of a scheduled fifth round of multinational talks on North Korea's nuclear crisis, Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

Hu's visit will be his first as China's president and is likely to focus on the six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. The visit follows a flurry of diplomatic activity between Beijing and Pyongyang. On Oct. 8, the Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi met North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il, and she passed on a personal message from Hu, according to the Korean Central News Agency, the North's official mouthpiece. And a Chinese diplomat responsible for Korean affairs, Li Bin, concluded a three-day visit to Pyongyang on Thursday.
Read it here.

Things are moving fast in Korea. The emerging agreement with the North allows the US to dramatically reduce its troop strength in the South. Rummy yesterday announced an agreement not only to pull out troops but to turn operational control of the region's defense to S. Korean authorities [something that the South has long wanted].

Because the agreements involve every major power with an interest in the region, and because China's involvement means that it can be enforced, this might well be the permanent peace that the US has been seeking for half a century. And who is bringing it about? Dubya, that's who.

And, in case you weren't paying attention [who was?], Palestinian President Abbas, after meeting with Bush, declared:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were guests and not above that country's law.

"We are determined not to interfere in domestic Lebanese affairs," Abbas told reporters at the White House following his meeting with President George W. Bush.

Read it here.

This is a small step, and much remains to be negotiated, but it is welcome movement in a touchy situation. The article also notes that France, the US, and Abbas are discussing ways of disarming the Palestinian militias in Lebanon.

So, just as in Korea, the US is cooperating with other powers with an interest in the problem, to achieve progress toward the resolution of a dangerous situation.

Couple this with his diplomatic triumph over France and Germany, his success with Russia over NATO expansion, his defusing of the India/Pakistan nuclear standoff, his success with Lybia, and a number of lesser triumphs and the "cowboy" has achieved a record of diplomatic accomplishment unmatched by any other presedent in recent memory.

Now, if he could only get some credit for it.