Saturday, April 03, 2004


Check out what Susanna at Cut on the Bias has unearthed
Rather than sending jobs to India or China, telemarketing firms are increasingly finding hired help in prisons.

Businesses say the inmates make good, hard-working employees in an industry plagued by high turnover. The prisoners are never late, absent or on vacation — and do the job for only about $130 a month, or less than $1 an hour. Companies also don't have to offer them benefits.
Aside from exploiting cheap and literally captive labor, this practice also allows for situations like this:
But critics of the practice warn that some prisoners have abused their access to personal information. In Washington state, for example, a jailed rapist harassed a woman with calls and cards.
All I can say is thank goodness for the Do Not Call Registry

Friday, April 02, 2004

President George W. Bush admitted today that he misled the American people on the reasons for the Iraq war. "No matter what your motives, it can never be right to be dishonest to the public," Bush told a hushed crowd at a news conference. "I am deeply sorry, and will never fail to tell the truth on any subject again."

At the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle admitted today that the Democratic Party was trying to keep 9/11 in the news in order to damage the president. "Republicans did not know that attack was coming, Democrats did not know that attack was coming, nobody knew," Daschle acknowledged. "Endless partisan recriminations only harm the nation, and must end."

At the Old Executive Office Building, Vice President Dick Cheney apologized today "for acting so closed-minded, and for questioning the integrity of John Kerry, a war hero." Cheney said, "Politics is rough, but to attack below the belt just isn't right, and I am very sorry to have done so."

Outside the Senate cloakroom, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts today apologized "for impugning the character of judicial nominees for political reasons." Looking pained, the senator said that "it's fair to oppose a judicial nominee over substance, but not fair to cast aspersions. I regret doing so and will not do so again."
You probably don't have to guess as to the date for this particular piece.

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LET THE GAMES BEGIN: ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN THE ROK OFFICIALLY KICKS OFF. And if polls are any indication, the once mighty MDP has faded to almost complete obscurity:
On the Dong-A Ilbo’s commission, Korea Research Center conducted a phone survey of 1,995 voters on April 1, the last day of candidate registration. The Uri Party won 44.4 percent popularity, while the GNP received 20.8 percent support. The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) received five percent, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) 2.5 percent, and the United Liberal Democrats 1.1 percent.

The support rating for the Uri Party dropped by 2.2 percent from the last survey on March 27 while the GNP showed a four percent rise.

Amid the serious conflict between Chairman Chough Soon-hyung and chief campaigner Choo Mi-ae and withdrawal of 39 candidates from the election race, the MDP, one of the three major competitors at the outset, saw its popularity nosedive. The supporting rate of the MDP fell further behind that of the DLP in the poll since the DLP surpassed the MDP in the survey conducted on March 24.

INTERESTING BUT ULTIMATELY PROBABLY USELESS TRIVIA FOR THE DAY: The DPRK apparently begins its school year on April Fools Day.

TV SHOWS TAKE ON BUSH (NYT, free subscription required)
Galvanized politically in ways they have not been since the early 1990's, Hollywood's more liberal producers and writers are increasingly expressing their displeasure with President Bush with not only their wallets, but also their scripts.

In recent weeks, characters in prime time have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the president directly or questioning his policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, the support of the antiterrorism law and the backing of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

On the NBC show "Whoopi," the hotelier played by Whoopi Goldberg delivered an anti-Bush screed when the president, played by a lookalike, appeared at her establishment to use the facilities. "I can't believe he's in there doing to my bathroom what he's done to the economy!" she said.
My first reaction to this was "I didn't realize that 'Whoopi" was still on TV."

Wednesday, March 31, 2004


HISTORY, FASHION, AND SINO-JAPANESE RELATIONS. This is old news but several of my students have mentioned a talk that discussed the flap over the Chinese actress/model/singer Zhao Wei wearing a dress emblazoned with the Imperial Japanese flag. I vaguely remember hearing about the incident but couldn't remember details. A nice summary of the event and its aftermath (with pictures) can be found here.
Zhao learned her lesson the tough way after a magazine photo of her modelling a mini-dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag triggered a backlash among patriotic fans and media in China, still rife with resentment over Tokyo's past aggression, Reuters reported.

A tabloid based in Nanjing, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937, spearheaded a media campaign last week to boycott news of the actress and advertisements she appeared in.

Zhao, who catapulted to fame playing a sassy princess in a wildly popular soap opera set in the 1644-1912 Qing Dynasty, had no choice but to apologise.

"I profoundly feel that I neglected the study of history and was insensitive toward that painful historical period," she wrote in a letter published in state media and on Web sites this week.
Of course few appreciated the irony of the words that accompanied the rising sun on the dress:
In the Japanese military flag, there are 16 light rays and the flag is printed with the words [Warrior¡s spirit]; [Loyalty]; [Respect] and [Imperial country]. In the dress worn by Zhao Wei, the words had been altered to [Peace]; [Happiness]; [Health] and [Hygiene]. The fashion design here conveys ironic sarcasm, but nobody ever reads the words.]
And what did the former heartthrob get for her pains?
On 28th December, Zhao Wei performed at a concert on behalf of a local television station in Changsa, Hunan, China. When the concert began, Zhao Wei wore a white long overcoat and sang together with Leo Ku and Alec Su. Then she sang a duet with Leon Ku. Then she came back to do three solo numbers, when she took off her coat to reveal a white bare-back dress.

When she was onto her third and last song, she was joined by a group of about 20 child dancers. An unknown man wearing a white cap, black jacket and black gloves holding a plastic bottle got on the stage with the children. When he got near her, he suddenly rushed at her attacked her. He pushed her onto the floor, pulled her hair and poured feces from the bottle on her.
And the Dixie Chicks thought they had it bad.

AN ADDITION TO THE LIST OF TRIVIAL THINGS THE MEDIA AND BLOGOSPHERE ARE FOCUSING ON IN THE BUSH -KERRY RACE: What's with the yellow flower on John Kerry's ski jacket? Naturally, the blogosphere is all over it. Why anyone would willingly subject themselves to this kind of 24/7 scrutiny is beyond me.

UPDATE: While I'm at it, I might as well link to Wonkette's coverage of Michael Jackson's visit to Capitol Hill.
The Gloved One returned to Capitol Hill for the second round of his character rehabilitation tour. Your Wonkette Field Producer had an eyewitness encounter as he boarded the 1st floor Rayburn elevator for his 4th floor meeting with Shelia Jackson-Lee.

Today, he's wearing black, crushed velvet pants and a red silk shirt with very ugly silver accents sewn on, and he's wearing a bit more swagger than the unsettled Gloved One of last evening. Not sure if he's feeling good about delivering his message of hope for the children or his percocet is just kicking in.
Your Wonkette Field Producer did not witness the melee that ensued when the Gloved One arrived on the 4th floor but according to broadcast and print reporters who your Field Producer knows and trusts, it was quite a donnybrook.

Yesterday's interns have been replaced and outnumberd by today's corps of Euro die hard Gloved One fans who travel the world looking "fur Michael because I love him and vant to marry heeeeem." A group of fans were quite literally were restrained by Capitol Hill's finest. One reporter was trying to talk to a group Israelis who admitted they flew to DC for the express purpose of seeing the Gloved One while he's in DC (Orville and Wilbur Wright, look at what ye wrought).

Many more cops on the floor today and a much more organized response. Lots of police brass. Reporters are grumbling about Shelia Jackson Lee's grandstanding. The corridors up there are far too narrow for a proper press conference in hall but that's exactly what she's insisting upon; right in front of the nameplate on her door. The media look horrified having to be pried into such a narrow space and they all look a little more embarassed than usual about their chosen profession.
Your tax dollars at work folks.

UPDATE II: The fun never ends. George Soros attacked with glue. How did the Bush-hating billionaire react to being covered with glue?
This is not just an incident. Someone stands behind this, Soros said.
That's so crazy it just might be true!

THE DAWNING OF PLURALISM IN SOUTH KOREA? David Scofield handicaps the fast approaching ROK legislative elections. He presents a good overview of the major players and concludes that since no single party is likely to emerge from the elections with a clear majority, this
foreshadows a plurality within South Korea's legislative assembly that will, if nothing else, ensure that no group of any political stripe will be able to hijack the national agenda for narrow political interests. Critics say a zero-sum, all-or-nothing approach has dominated and become a hallmark of political affairs, to the detriment of an authentic and inclusive political process involving negotiation and compromise.

As South Korea's democracy and democratic values take further root (the first democratic elections were held in 1987), the psychology of pluralism and inclusion must come to the fore if the nation's elected representatives are to steer the country forward, ensuring the sort of future that many of Korea's older citizens only thought possible under the authoritarianism of the past.
This outcome is certainly possible but I have two concerns. First is the fact that in many democratic polities, political fragmentation and the lack of a strong majority ruling party leads to paralysis and an inordinate amount of power flowing to small splinter groups who can make or break the power of larger coalitions (ultra-orthodox factions in Israel's Knesset for example). Second is that I think it is entirely possible that once the dust settles we will see another round of defections and the formation of still newer parties (as happened in 1990 with the DLP). There are signs that South Korean political parties are beginning to take on identifiable ideologies and platforms but some (OOP in particular) are ambiguous enough to jump either way depending on which way the wind is blowing.

One other observation: Scofield dismisses the possibility of Park Geun-hye making a presidential run:
While many of South Korea's older conservatives support her name, it is also unlikely these same senior traditional supporters would cast their lot in with a female presidential candidate in the future.
I wouldn't be so sure. Conservative constituencies in other countries have elected women who have clear family ties to famous men (Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Aung Sang Suu Kyi etc.) even when they would not generally be expected to favor a female candidate.

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Dang! I just disqualified myself!

The Tokyo board of education is set to punish more than 150 public school teachers who refused to stand and sing the national anthem, "Kimigayo," at commencement ceremonies, sources said Monday.

The unexpected move, to be decided at an extraordinary meeting of the board on Tuesday, is apparently in line with its new policy requiring that the "Hinomaru" national flag be "hung facing the front of the stage" and that "teachers and school staff stand and face the national flag and sing the national anthem" during enrollment and graduation ceremonies.
It is hard to know what to make of the whole national anthem/flag controversy in Japan. Is it the last gasp of right-wing ultra-nationalism or the resurgence of the same? Or, is it the manifestation of a Japanese desire to carve out some form of patriotic display that is no longer connected with the imperialism and militarism of the 1930s? I haven't a clue.

ADVENTURES IN SPAM. The latest to cross my in-box appear to be an ad for Russian light fixtures (or are they ice-cube trays?). Are there any readers of Russian that can help me out? I don't want to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime:
- Ñâåòèëüíèê ïðåäíàçíà÷åí äëÿ âíóòðåííåãî îñâåùåíèÿ îôèñîâ, òîðãîâûõ çàëîâ, ðàáî÷èõ êàáèíåòîâ, ôîéå. Ìîíòèðóþòñÿ íåïîñðåäñòâåííî íà îïîðíóþ ïîâåðõíîñòü èç íåñãîðàåìîãî ìàòåðèàëà è ðàññ÷èòàíû íà ðàáîòó â ñåòè ïåðåìåííîãî òîêà ñ íàïðÿæåíèåì 220Â, ÷àñòîòà 50Ãö.

- Öåëüíîìåòàëëè÷åñêèé ñâàðíîé êîðïóñ èç ëèñòîâîé ñòàëè, ïîêðûòûé áåëîé ïîðîøêîâîé êðàñêîé. Âíóòðè êîðïóñà óñòàíîâëåíà ïóñêîðåãóëèðóþùàÿ àïïàðàòóðà. Ýêðàíèðóþùàÿ ðåøåòêà èçãîòîâëåíà èç àíîäèðîâàííîãî àëþìèíèÿ. Óñòàíàâëèâàåòñÿ â êîðïóñ ñêðûòûìè ïðóæèíêàìè.

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NOTE: apparently you need to set your encoding to Cyrillic to read this (at least in Windows)

Hoop dreams? . . . From 1940 to 1972, the home state of the NCAA men's basketball champ also voted for the winning presidential candidate (the lone exception: 1960, when Ohio State won it all and Nixon didn't). Since 1988, the tournament has alternated from winner to loser, this year being the winning candidate's turn to carry the champ's state. The advantage here: Bush. Three of the teams in next weekend's "Final Four"--Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Duke--come from Republican "red" states. If you're a Democrat, the Connecticut Huskies are your team.

. . . Or field of dreams? Here's an oddity that might interest our baseball-loving president. Five times over the past century--the elections of 1912, 1932, 1960, 1976, and 1992--a Democrat has replaced a Republican in the White House. In each of those years, the winning Democrat also carried the home states of the two teams that played in the previous month's World Series. For Kerry, it's one more reason to pull for a Cubs-Red Sox series, with Massachusetts and Illinois safe Democratic bets. Then again, all bets are off if that occurs, as Hell will have frozen over.

MAKING CONNECTIONS. Susanna at Cut on the Bias has some interesting observations about how some in the media are framing stories about missing college students in Minnesota and its environs.
Why were these four cases connected? Do the police have any evidence that they are connected? Or is this a media construction?

I think you know the answer. In the late 1970s, Mark Fishman published a scholarly article - Crime Waves as Ideology about the construction of crime waves in the media. He tracked stories about attacks on elderly people, and noted how the numbers of articles ebbed and flowed over a finite period when actual crimes against the elderly remained static (and homicide actually went down). A lot of studies and writing has been done since then on media framing, and this is it in action.

When something happens, journalists immediately do two things: they assess its story potential, and they cast about for any other events that share similarities. It's always more compelling to have two or 10 of the same thing than one isolated incident, especially if it's by itself relatively unremarkable. In this case, they chose to focus on the missing college student in the Cheese States aspect of the event, with its unspoken shadow of "serial killer" in the background. That's always a huge story - as you can see by the reaction to the recent re-emergence of a serial killer in Wichita. The likelihood that any one of us will die at the hands of a serial killer is less remote than getting struck by lightning. But that's not how it seems, when the media grab hold of these stories.
Urban legends in the making.

Monday, March 29, 2004

But isn't the answer to this pretty obvious? Conservatives, almost by definition, are absorbed by the past. What's more, their message doesn't change much over time (tradition is good, stable society is good, the masses should get back to work and stop complaining) so it makes perfect sense to keep reading them. In fact, if you take the conservative reverence for tradition seriously, it almost demands that you have considerable respect for your forebears.

Liberalism is precisely the opposite. We don't wonder what Charles Beard would think of something? Of course not. The whole point of liberalism is change, so who cares what Beard would have thought? By now he's just an old fuddy duddy.

UPDATE (if anyone cares) Jonah Goldberg, the original target of Drum's musings, responds:
In one sense Drum is absolutely correct. That is obvious -- which is why I didn't mention it. But I'm not talking about run-of-the-mill liberals, I'm talking about professional liberals, liberals who take ideas seriously for a living. I think Drum is one of those people, but his cavalier disdain for his own intellectual tradition is disappointing (I'm more accustomed to his disdain for my intellectual tradition). There are liberals who do take their intellectual pedigrees very seriously: John Judis, Michael Sandel, Peter Beinart and, as much as it pains me, Michael Lind and Eric Alterman come immediately to mind (though Alterman's not a liberal, but a Leftist). More important, I know lots of liberals who take history seriously.

However, I'm frankly at a loss as to how a serious liberal can disdain his movement's history while taking general history seriously. I know it happens, of course. The level of ignorance among liberals in their own complicity in what they consider to be dark chapters of our past constantly astounds, from the "Red Scare" during WWI to the American eugenics movement (Margaret Sanger anyone?) to that pesky conflict in Vietnam -- which John Kerry incessantly describes as Richard Nixon's fault, as if to two liberal presidents and many liberal Congresses did not precede it. Besides, if liberals want to concede that they are not only enamored with every new idea that comes down the pike, but that they don't even know or care whether these ideas have been tried before, great! That will make debating them all the easier (and/or frustrating).

Secondly, it's just a lot of garbage that conservatives are dismissive of new ideas. It wasn't too long ago that the late Pat Moynihan noted that Lionel Trilling's much-repeated observations about liberalism's dominance had been reveresed. In the last two or three decades it is very difficult to think of a serious body of new liberal public policy ideas. This is not my observation, I can't tell you how many think tank panels I've watched or TV shows I've produced on this point. I mean that's why the DLC and the Center for American Progress exist, right?

Third, the far left and the racial left is far less enamored of change than the right these days. Not to say the right loves change (cozy up to the Postrellians for that), but the Left despises it. It is anti-science, anti-globalization and anti-modern. It wants to keep Third World culture frozen in amber and, along with most liberals, opposes any meaningful changes in governmental institutions in favor of individual liberty. The GOP (flawed vessal that it is) wants to reform social security, medicare and the tax code, creating a shareholder society. The Democratic Party rejects entitlement reforms if they are defined as anything other than throwing another trinket on the back of an already overburned mule. During the campaign, Al Gore's biggest idea was a "lock box" and his favorite word was "stop" -- but yeah, right, liberals love change. When Florida tried to change its education policies away from affirmative action and in favor of a system which would send more minority kids to college, the activists stormed the governor's office and sang "we shall overcome." Talk about being saddled with nostalgia.

And lastly, hasn't The Washington Monthly and Drum himself spent much of the last couple years moaning about how "radical" conservative foreign policy has become? Josh Marshall had that cover story about the Bush plan to export democratic revolution around the world and all that, remember? I mean, that's not quite yet an too "old" an idea for liberals to care about, is it?
One of the big problems in this tired old "liberals do this, conservatives believe that" is the expectation of consistency in individuals and in ideologies. Most people aren't consistent across 24 hours let alone a few decades. Therefore, branding someone as "liberal" or "conservative" often masks more than it reveals.

THE DEAD PARROT SOCIETY is impressed by an atypical protest.
The protests in mid-March that greeted President Bush on Long Island for a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser after the groundbreaking for a nearby 9/11 memorial seemed pretty typical at first. The crowd of 200 or so activists carried the usual placards denouncing war, oil and environmental policies. One Sierra Club member wore a doormat decorated with tufts of glued fuzz to resemble, she said, ''Mothra, the giant moth that defeated Godzilla.'' Across a vast artery of screaming traffic stood the Bush supporters, maybe 50 people. A small blond girl waved a big flag. Then a new group of Bush supporters tumbled out of a van on the wrong side of the street.

The men handsome in tuxedos and top hats and the women stunning in ball gowns with elbow-length gloves, they marched boldly past the protesters. They shouted, ''We want Bush!'' One placard they held up read, ''Because He's Just Like Us.'' Hisses traveled through the body of the mob, as a policeman stopped traffic so they could cross. Applause erupted from the ranks of the flag-wavers at the arrival of such beautiful people. Pro-Bush people happily backed up, ceding the most prime piece of their ''free speech zone.'' Then it happened. Halfway across the street -- in that moment of eerie suspension as the bare flick of a police officer's hand caused the dragon of traffic to pause -- you could see the epiphany. The newcomers unfurled their giant banner: ''Billionaires for Bush.'' The revelation -- is this somebody's idea of joke? -- moved across the faces of the crowd like a wave undulating through a sports arena. Amid the hand-drawn placards, the Billionaires unsheathed their professionally printed, brightly colored laminated posters.

''Leave No Billionaire Behind.''

''Corporations Are People Too.''

There's more.

IF YOU LISTENED TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA (OR IF YOU READ A BUNCH OF BLOGS FOR THAT MATTER), you might be forgiven for concluding that the most important issues in the Bush-Kerry race for the presidency include the following:
--Whether Kerry should quote scripture on the campaign trail.
--Whether Bush should crack jokes about Iraq WMDs.
--Whether Kerry can snowboard without falling (and whether he should be nicer to his secret service help).
--Whether Kerry should reveal the identities of unnamed "foreign leaders" who support his candidacy.
--Whether Kerry used botox to smooth out that furrowed brow.
--Whether either side has "gone negative" and "engaged in more mud-slinging than has been seen since the days of . . . "

Only seven more months of this to go!

CHANGE? WHAT CHANGE? Scant days after the DPRK explicitly rejected CVID, the one thing regarded by the U.S. as the fundamental precondition for a negotiated settlement, we get the expected business-as-usual, nothing-has-changed spin (NYT: free registration required)
North Korea remains committed to the six-party nuclear talks, a senior Seoul official said on Monday after the top diplomats of China and South Korea met in Beijing Monday.

As South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon held talks with his Chinese counterpart, South and North Koreans held family reunions in the first inter-Korean dealings since Pyongyang canceled meetings over the impeachment of the South's president.

``North Korea has yet to make any change to its position of resolving the nuclear issue through the six-party nuclear talks,'' the South Korean official quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing as telling Ban, according to Yonhap news agency.

"Yet to make any change?" So what does one make of all that talk about rejecting CVID? Diplomatic kabuki? Positioning? The sending of subtle signals that only sophisticated diplomats can decipher? I'll repeat a conclusion I came to some time ago:
There's something surreal about a situation in which we must steadfastly maintain that the North Koreans are lying in order to lure them to the negotiating table where we can resolve issues based on mutual trust.

POTENTIAL WINNER FOR BEST VENUE FOR AN ACADEMIC CONFERENCE AWARD. A group of our GW history grad students just got back from a conference in Mongolia. Check out the venue for one of their workshops. Too cool!

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