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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, January 25, 2003 ::

That was ugly
Thanks largely to Alabama setting offensive basketball back by several decades, Kentucky emerged with a big 63-46 win on the road. Despite shooting pretty badly in the first half themselves (under 40%), the Cats won going away as the Tide shot a pathetic 24% from the floor. UK's strong defense played a role, but Alabama's collapse on offense was inexcusable for a team with so much talent, ranked #1 in the country just 4 or 5 weeks ago. I'm naturally happy with the win but I feel bad for 'Bama's fans--big home game, national TV, and their team lays an egg.
10:59 PM
:: Friday, January 24, 2003 ::
Here we go, Wildcats, here we go!
Thanks to Mac for the heads up on this story:
A woman is accusing her doctor of branding her uterus with his alma mater's initials before removing the organ during a hysterectomy.

Stephanie Means and her husband sued Dr. James Guiler on Wednesday, seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress.

The lawsuit said a videotape of the surgery clearly shows the University of Kentucky booster using a cauterizing tool to write "UK" in letters 2 inches high.

"They want to see that it isn't done to other women," said the couple's attorney, Michael Dean. He added: "This is bizarre. I've never seen anything like this."

Guiler did not immediately return calls Friday.

The doctor performed the surgery Aug. 14 at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington.

Guiler received his medical degree from the university and last year was a sponsor of Wildcat Madness, a fund-raiser for the school's basketball museum.
I'm ready for some trash talk when UK plays 'Bama tomorrow evening, Mac, but I draw the line at performing surgical alterations to reflect the score of the game.
3:51 PM
It's time to talk to the world
While some of the world's sniping at America's Iraq policy has insidious or purely selfish motives behind it, a lot of it has a pretty simple explanation as well, according to Fareed Zakaria:
American power has brought peace and liberty to countless places around the globe—especially to Western Europe. American power helped created a more civilized world in the Balkans. Despite Washington’s tentative approach toward nation-building, the war in Afghanistan has vastly improved the lives of the Afghan people. And a war in Iraq—if followed by truly ambitious postwar reconstruction—could transform Iraq and prod reform in the Middle East. And yet it is easy to understand that for most countries, even if all this is true, it only heightens their sense of powerlessness in this new world.

“It’s not that we don’t like you,” says Simon Atkinson, a British pollster. Meaning Americans. “We don’t like him.” Meaning George W. Bush. The Bush administration has done much to alienate the world, in actions but also in its tone. “When you just see the way these guys talk, their mannerisms, their body language, it’s like they’re in tryouts for a Marlboro Man commercial,” says Rami Khouri, a syndicated columnist in Jordan.

But in fact this is not a problem produced by George W. Bush. It is one produced by American power. The French foreign minister coined the term “hyperpower,” after all, to describe Bill Clinton’s America. But if Bush has not created this problem, he can easily help alleviate it.

It is not simply a matter of trying to be popular. Rising anti-Americanism makes it more and more difficult for politicians to back American actions, even when they agree with them. This is why the Turkish government has had to scale back its support. Now Washington may have to go to war without a major attack from the north. It is becoming politically suicidal for any foreign leader to be forthrightly pro-American. In such circumstances it will be difficult for the United States to further its broadest goals—or even achieve its narrow security.

American power becomes far more acceptable to others if it is wrapped in the blanket of the international community. That means Washington must try hard to get a second United Nations resolution authorizing military action. As with the first, a real effort might well succeed. It also means it should make the case for war not just to the American public but to the world. It must send the signal that it cares what the rest of the world thinks. George Bush has to convincingly explain to the world, “It’s not that we don’t like you. It’s that we don’t like him.” Meaning Saddam Hussein.
Excessive fealty to diplomatic processes and international consensus is certainly a recipe for paralysis, but excessive fealty to "moral clarity" produces similar results. Some people in the moral clarity brigade never tire of pointing out that in addition to being the most powerful nation in world history, the US is also the most benign of all superpowers, hurtling across the globe to defeat evil, but then helping the locals to reconstruct their own free societies in the aftermath before withdrawing. That's basically true, but there's also never been a superpower that had such ready-made systems (the UN, and NATO to a lesser extent) available for generating worldwide consensus. Ignoring those institutions might make you feel good if you're obsessed with the idea that all international opposition to American power is a replay of the appeasement of Hitler, but it's a bad idea if you're interested in having successful policies.
12:07 PM
:: Thursday, January 23, 2003 ::
All in the name of diversity
In a surprisingly clueless move that can only cause them political damage, the Bush administration is about to name a raving homophobe to an advisory panel on HIV and AIDS:
The Bush administration has chosen Jerry Thacker, a Pennsylvania marketing consultant who has characterized AIDS as the "gay plague," to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.

Next week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is scheduled to swear in several new commission members. They include Thacker, a former Bob Jones University employee, who says he contracted the AIDS virus after his wife was infected through a blood transfusion.

The 35-member commission, which makes recommendations to the White House on AIDS prevention, is the latest incarnation of a panel that has existed since the Reagan administration. Earlier commissions issued reports strongly critical of the national response to AIDS, and helped to nudge the government and the pharmaceutical industry toward greater action.

In his speeches and writings on his Web site and elsewhere, Thacker has described homosexuality as a "deathstyle" rather than a lifestyle and asserted that "Christ can rescue the homosexual." After word of his selection spread among gays in recent days, some material disappeared from the Web site. Earlier versions located by The Washington Post that referred to the "gay plague," for instance, were changed as of yesterday to "plague."

Administration health officials speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Thacker's appointment. They said he was part of a diverse group that includes a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group; an AIDS adviser to the World Bank; and a state public health officer.

Thacker, this official said, "has a very powerful and tragic personal story and an ability to reach out to an audience we couldn't reach in the process."
What audience is this wacko going to reach out to? The gay-haters who contracted HIV from transfusions? I don't how many people meet that description, but I'm sure it's not enough to constitute an "audience."
1:07 AM
:: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 ::
A mystifying argument
I just saw some conservative war hawks on Fox News confidently asserting that the Bush administration's current frustration with the latest anti-war grandstanding in the Security Council is proof that they never should have agreed to go through another UN process. I'm completely baffled by that position. In order to argue that the inspections have been harmful to a potential war effort--not just that we haven't gained anything, but that we've lost something--you have to believe that if the US decides to go to war now without explicit UN approval, it would be in a worse position than if it had gone to war without going to the UN at all. That makes no sense whatsoever. Whichever allies the US would have had for an invasion before the UN process began are clearly not going to drop out just because the UN--which they were willing to ignore in the first place--doesn't authorize the war. While I can't demonstrably prove that the US will have gained allies from the inspections process if it invades without a second UN resolution, I certainly believe it will, and I can point out the obvious fact that we won't have lost any.

Some argue that the inspections process is a trap that might drag things out until the summer heat makes it harder or even infeasible to invade. This is a clear justification for a different conclusion--not that the inspections are damaging to the war effort, but that Bush should have gone to the UN earlier than he did in anticipation of this exact issue. Maybe the "give the inspections more time" crowd would be singing the same tune even if the inspections had been going on for four or five months instead of two--but then we'd be in almost exactly the same situation we're in now, perhaps in a slightly better position, but clearly no worse off. So what's with this "we never should have agreed to inspections" business from the superhawks? There's no basis for that argument at all.
7:44 PM
You can't quite have it both ways
I missed this JPost article from last week by Yossi Klein Halevi. He criticizes Mitzna and praises Sharon, but a bit inconsistently:
Though Mitzna hasn't presented a systematic program, a careful discernment of his pronouncements reveals a four-stage plan. Stage 1 is immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Gaza. Stage 2 is negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with Mitzna offering approximate return to the 1967 borders in exchange for Palestinian withdrawal from the demand of refugee return to Israel.

Mitzna would impose a one-year deadline on negotiations. If no deal emerges, Israel would then proceed to stage 3: unilateral withdrawal to borders we ourselves determine. But if Palestinian leaders eventually reconsider and waive the demand of refugee return, Israel would proceed to stage 4 and complete its withdrawal.

The plan is more complex than Mitzna's detractors admit, but is also hopelessly inconsistent. Its innovation lies in stages 2 and 3. Mitzna believes he may succeed in stage 2 because of the threat of stage 3: unilateral withdrawal to borders that would give Israel about 35 percent of the West Bank, including greater Jerusalem, settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.

Mitzna's gamble is that the mere threat of those borders, which would leave the Palestinians with a shredded map, would force them to concede the demand for refugee return and make a deal.

The Palestinians would indeed dread the imposition of those untenable borders. But for the threat of that map to work, Palestinians would have to believe they risked missing their last chance for viable statehood - that is, no stage 4. By holding out the prospect of further negotiations over the remaining 35% of the territories, Mitzna fatally undermines the credibility of his threat.
There's a reasonable argument there: if the Palestinians know that Israel will withdraw anyway from a certain amount of territory even if negotiations fail, they have no real reason to help the negotiations succeed. But Halevi also seems to think that they need to be threatened with the risk of "missing their last chance for viable statehood." That doesn't really mix with what he says about Sharon:
Sharon has revealed greater conceptual expansiveness [than Mitzna]. By conceding the inevitability of a Palestinian state, he has forfeited the dream of restoring the biblical heartland that animated his political career.
Aside from the highly questionable veracity of the last claim, there's the issue of what a Palestinian state will look like. Halevi feels that such a state is inevitable and praises Sharon for reaching that conclusion as well. But if that's true, then how could any Israeli leader credibly threaten the Palestinians with "missing their last chance for viable statehood"? How can it be that a Palestinian state is inevitable--but not necessarily a viable one? If you think that a Palestinian leadership might eventually emerge that accepts a "state" whose sovereignty is shredded by Israeli-controlled settlements planted all throughout its territory, you must not be thinking too clearly about the Palestinians and what they may or may not do in the future. If they do renounce terror and accept a negotiated end to the conflict, they won't accept any less than the maximum they feel they can get by pressuring Israel through the international community. There is no realistic scenario in which that differs very much from what was on the table at Camp David and in the Clinton plan.
1:22 PM
:: Sunday, January 19, 2003 ::
Another good win
Kentucky played great on Saturday in a dominant 88-73 win at home over top 10-ranked Notre Dame. Sophomore forward Chuck Hayes was fantastic, with 17 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocked shots. Notre Dame's defense was shambolic, and the Cats made them pay with layup after layup, shooting 52% from the floor. UK is really playing well these days, I certainly hope they can keep it up.
1:41 AM
Merit? "Affirmative access"? Anyone have a dictionary?
A court case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policies has brought the issue back in the national spotlight again. Michigan's policies might be a bit weird and in need of an overhaul, but there a lot of disingenuous arguments being made against them these days. I dislike quotas--admitting X number of people from a certain group no matter what--as much as anyone else, but it's dishonest to argue, as many people do, that any sort of race-based consideration in admissions is itself racism, and that ignoring race as a factor is the one path to a truly color-blind admissions system based totally on merit. First of all, what constitutes "merit"? Plenty of schools, especially the most elite private ones, place a lot of emphasis on "character." That is, a student with excellent grades and test scores, but no unusual level of extra-curricular activity, often loses out on admission to a student with lesser grades and test scores who also volunteers at a soup kitchen, coaches Little League baseball, sings in the church choir, etc. That has nothing to do with race, but does it really constitute admitting someone based on "merit" alone? Then there's also the "legacy" factor, where someone whose parents and grandparents went to a particular school will have an easier time getting in than someone without any alumni in their family. Legacy tends to skew the field against minorities, since a lot of major schools only started de-segregating in the last couple of generations. My point is that racial considerations aren't the only factor affecting the fairness of university admissions policies--there's a lot more to it than that.

President Bush's preferred policy, the rather ludicrously named "affirmative access," is a largely disingenuous attempt at playing on both sides of the issue, as Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt argues:
"Racial prejudice is a reality in America," Bush says (though apparently, he must have concluded, not in college admissions). He accepts, in other words, the basic rationale that most college presidents now offer for affirmative action: that racial diversity enhances everyone's education.

So there is something dishonest about the president's solution: "race-neutral admissions policies" that have the effect of increasing minority presence on campus. Race matters, he says; we should strive to admit more blacks and Hispanics; but we should pretend that we're not doing so.

The let's-pretend-it's-not-affirmative-action program that Bush knows best is in Texas, where, after federal judges ruled out racial preference in public university admissions, the state legislature devised the "10 percent rule." By law, all high school seniors who graduate in the top tenth of their class may attend any University of Texas campus, including the flagship school in Austin.

The beauty of the plan, at least in theory, is that it gives a leg up to students in every economically disadvantaged school, regardless of race, which should ease the stigma that some black and Hispanic students say affirmative action confers. Early experience also suggests that high performers, even from bad high schools, possess some quality that serves them well in college; the top-10-percent students outperform other students with higher SAT scores.

But by Bush's standard, the program isn't working all that well. Only 3.4 percent of Austin's freshman class last fall was African American. And the university did that well only because it established a comprehensive outreach program to 70 predominantly black and Hispanic high schools, offering tuition help, counseling and other inducements. It did that well, in other words, only because it returned to affirmative action by another name.

What's more, the top-10 plan works only because, and as long as, schools and communities remain racially segregated. And it is obviously impractical for smaller schools and private universities.

So what do you gain from the pretense? Bush wants credit for accepting racial diversity as a goal. But he would deny most schools any honest means to achieve that goal.
I don't know what specific approach I favor on this issue--different factors vary a lot among different universities, and changing social dynamics make it important for schools to re-assess their admissions policies on a regular basis if they're going to keep them as fair as possible. But I don't think it's fair to say that race can't be a factor at all.
1:13 AM

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