Friday, March 01, 2002

HORRORS! I know I'm beating this Saudi "peace plan" into the ground, but here's another angle. From a review of the reactions to the plan from Middle East papers, Jefferson Morley unearths this gem from "Al-Quds al-Arabi, the Saudi-owned, London-based Arab nationalist paper that is critical of the Saudi royal family and the United States." (Unfortunately, I cannot find an English version of the site.) The editor:

worried that the peace overture might lead, among other things, to Jewish tourists in Saudi Arabia. Did it cross Abdullah's mind, Atwan asks,
"that normalization of tourist ties could mean that swarms of Israeli tourists would want to visit Medina to look for traces of their forefathers, and to hold religious festivals on their holidays to commemorate anniversaries of the Bani Quraydhah and Bani Qinqa (Pre-Islam Jewish tribes that dwelt in southwest the Arabian Peninsula), exactly as they visit Jarbah in Tunisia and the Abu-Hasirah grave in Egypt."
I can reassure the editor that not many Israelis will be holding the specific "religious festivals" he refers to. But imagine the horrors of Israelis visiting Medina!
THERE'S A SHOCK: About 18 hours after closing on their purchase of the Boston Red Sox, the new ownership group fired general manager Dan Duquette.
If Duquette had stepped down before the 2000 season, he would have been recognized as one of the best GMs in baseball. At that point, he had led the Sox to a division title in 1995 and consecutive wild-card berths in 1998 and 1999 and built the foundation for a great team with Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. The farm system looked at least OK, and he had shown that he knew the value of the waiver wire, acquiring good complementary players like Brian Daubach, Troy O'Leary and Tim Wakefield for nothing. And he had just traded for what looked like an outstanding complementary bat in Carl Everett. People did not laugh when Sports Illustrated picked them to win the 2000 World Series.
What happened? With the Red Sox on the brink of a championship, he did what other teams have done (such as the Yankees in the 1980s): he made moves designed to put them over the top which only pushed them further away. He forgot what he had learned about the waiver wire: you can find complementary players for nothing, so it makes no sense to: a) trade good prospects for expensive veterans when you can find cheaper players who will do the same thing at little cost, and b) give long-term contracts to your waiver-wire finds, because you can find cheap replacements where the originals came from. He did both those things; trading Dennis Tankersley for Ed Sprague, Chris Retisima for Dante Bichette, giving a long-term deal to Troy O'Leary, getting suckered into taking the contract of Mike Lansing.... Trades like those depleted the farm system, which is now one of the worst in baseball.
The Boston Globe has chronicled Duquette's personality flaws at great length, and I won't reiterate them here. But if Duquette had stuck to what had worked well through 1999, those flaws would not have been enough to cause him to lose his job.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: From Andrew Sullivan, another great item from Mark Steyn regarding the murder of Daniel Pearl. Referring to a recent column by Robert Fisk, the British columnist famous for his pathological anti-America and anti-Israeli views, Steyn notes:
In Saturday's Independent, Fisk reflected on the death of the man described as his friend: "But why was he killed? Because he was a Westerner, a 'Kaffir'? Because he was an American? Or because he was a journalist?" Anyone spot the missing category? It's the one Omar Sheikh used, and the one acknowledged by Daniel Pearl in his last words: "Yes, I am a Jew ..."
Also, Steyn takes accurate aim at those who persist in the misconception that conflicts are inevitably caused by "misconceptions":
George Jonas wrote a brilliant column the other day on the delusions of those who think they can "establish a 'dialogue' with fanatics" or, as some of Pearl's friends put it, "bridge the misconceptions." The "misconception", presumably, is that these men are ruthless, violent, depraved. As surely we know by now, the only misconception is that that's a misconception.
AT LEAST ONE THING IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD: Exhibition games have started. Just over a month until Opening Day.
IT HAS ARRIVED: Baseball Prospectus 2002 has arrived. I'm devouring it and will post on it over the weekend.
DOES THE STATE DEPARTMENT KNOW ABOUT THIS? Not everything in the New York Times is bad. Today's edition had an interview with Secretary Powell regarding the Middle East - i.e., the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - where the Secretary comitted a "gaffe," famously defined by Michael Kinsley as when "a politician tells the truth."
"What that usually means is, `Go and force the Israelis to do something.' That's what many people think when they say, `Get more engaged,' or: `You're standing on the sidelines. You haven't made Israel blink in the face of this violence.' "

Thursday, February 28, 2002

DON'T YOU KNOW THIS ISN'T ALLOWED TO HAPPEN? From Best of the Web, more evidence that the Saudis may not be playing the role assigned them by the NYT. More damningly, the NYT somehow deemed news of this speech not fit to print.
RUBBER GLOVES AND SHARP STICKS: I highly recommend a blog from the Muslim Pundit, a Brit who delights in skewering the logical pretensions and the bigotry of certain of his co-religionists. The most recent entry on his site recounts in detail a campus clash between Jewish and Muslim organizations. Here's an excerpt, where he quotes and comments upon an e-mail from the university's Islamic Society:

"Today was cold and wet and windy, and yet the brothers and sisters stood strong and did not move... even if the heavens opened up form above we would stand strong Insha Allah."
Next time, I would suggest to God that he should try harder in giving these Muslims a hint. But then, of course, I still can't be certain that hint, however forceful, would ever register to these idiots down here.

It only gets better.
Of course, the insults have a certain poignancy, as they stem from love for what he sees as a more accurate rendition of his religion and pain at seeing it perverted.
In any case, I have enjoyed the blog for a while and will place a link on the "Links" sidebar as soon as I an get around to updating it.
YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANY TIME YOU LIKE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE: Despite describing himself as a "lapsed historian," Joshua Marshall returns to his roots in a brief review of the book Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher. Marshall notes that:

This isn't the sort of thought one is supposed to allow oneself in a book review - even a casual one. But what I find so captivating about this topic is how striking it is that this part of Europe - deeply Christian, speaking a Romance language, part of the western fringe of the Roman Empire - was Muslim for more than half a millenium. Mosques ruled over churches. The Christian population slowly converted to Islam. Arabic became the lingua franca - at least for the more refined and cultured portion of the population, and at least in the great cities. It's all very alien and weird - an alternative possibility for how Europe might have developed - and thus fascinating.

I don't see what's wrong with that thought - why isn't it appropriate to see the "alternative possibilities?"
UPDATE: Mr. Marshall has clarified that the thought one isn't "supposed to allow oneself in a book review" was the personal reaction of finding something "captivating," not the substance of the thought itself. Either way, I don't see a problem (and apparently he doesn't either.)
YOU SCRATCH MY BACK, I'LL... Thanks to Megan McArdle for being the first well-known "blogger" to mention this site. Pay her site a visit (you can use the "Live from the WTC" link on the right sidebar) and wish her luck in her job search.
THE GENIUS WITHOUT QUALITIES: I've touted Robert Musil before, and he currently has a viciously original piece on the resume of Al Gore.
THE VIEW ACROSS THE POND: From Instapundit, a wonderful satire of Eurosnobbery from James Lileks. It defies description, but is the subject of this prescription from Professor Reynolds:
[F]ace the Twin Cities, bow down, and repeat: "We are not worthy. We are not worthy." Say this especially if you are a journalist, and double-especially if you are an American correspondent from a British or Continental newspaper phoning in tripe like the piece that Lileks dissects.
ON A SNARKY ROLL: Michael Kelly's latest strikes gold again, with nasty comments that have the added virtue of being true. A twofer! Among the gems are:

In the opinion of the man who presided over 400-plus days of "America Held Hostage," George W. Bush's description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" was "overly simplistic and counterproductive." Added the man who was once attacked by a rabbit, "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement."
It is tempting to accept Carter's verdict as all the proof needed that Bush is solidly on the right track. But the argument needs to be addressed, not because it is not foolish but because it is the fashion among fools. And, as the great political novelist Ross Thomas once pointed out, when you've got all the fools in town on your side, you've practically won.
The reviews are in, and they are bad," recently declared Mark Lilla, who is a professor of something called social thought (presumably, there are professors of antisocial thought too, but no one knows who they are since they won't answer the phone). "President Bush's characterization of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an 'axis of evil' has been met by our allies' puzzled annoyance and by massive rallies in Iran that only strengthened hard-line elements there."
This is a fair summation of the fools' position, and it is almost entirely wrong.
And as a final jab:
Finally, there is the notion, voiced by both the former president and the professor of social thought, that Bush's rhetoric somehow served to give succor to "the hard-liners" and to set back the cause of peace. It may be generally noted that this has served as Trope Number One for the appeasement-minded since young Jimmy was studying at Uncle Neville's knee, and it has always been proved wrong, usually after the death of a very large number of people. Specifically, it may be added that anyone who takes "massive rallies" in the ayatollahs' Iran as a face-value manifestation of spontaneous popular sentiment is a hopeless naif. Or possibly a professor of social thought. Or possibly a former president.
DID THE NEW YORK TIMES GIVE PERMISSION FOR THIS TO HAPPEN? Despite the NY Times' best efforts, not everyone is cooperating in the rush to embrace the Saudi "peace plan" - specifically, the Saudis themselves, according to this article in Ha'aretz (the third item).
Also, in The American Prospect, Richard Just points out some problems with the proposal:
Israel's pre-1967 borders are militarily indefensible. It is possible not to care about this particular fact (Israel's detractors in the Arab world seem not to) but it is not possible to deny it. No country that has been invaded three times in 50 years should -- or will -- accept indefensible borders. At the same time, most Israelis understand that their country must -- for reasons moral as well as practical -- allow the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Most Israelis know that, broadly speaking, this means an approximate return to pre-1967 borders.
The key word, though, is approximate. It has long been understood that the pre-1967 borders will provide the rough outlines of a final settlement. The key to resolving the entire conflict rests in how to tweak the pre-1967 borders to make them defensible. (Measures such as the creation of an Israeli security strip along the Jordan River, the setting up of Israeli listening posts in the West Bank, and Israeli control over Palestinian airspace could accomplish this -- without undue infringements on Palestinian sovereignty.) The moderate Israeli belief -- epitomized by the views of Yitzhak Rabin -- that Israel could be both reasonably secure and allow the creation of a Palestinian state for years sustained the faith of the crucial Israeli center in the peace process. And that is exactly what seven years of negotiations were supposed to deliver: a compromise that recognized the Palestinians' right to a state on the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza while also accommodating Israel's legitimate need for security. By throwing down what sounds like an all-or-nothing proposal, Saudi Arabia demonstrates that it still doesn't understand why negotiations have always been necessary -- and still are.
Also, Just makes the following welcome distinction:
The Saudi Arabian proposal also appears to dangerously conflate Israel's need for a Palestinian endgame with its need for a settlement with Syria. The two issues could not be more different: Settling with the Palestinians is both a moral and strategic imperative for Israel; settling with a Syrian dictator who has given every indication of being a dangerous anti-Semite is not. Unlike the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the occupation of the Golan Heights has never been a morally dubious enterprise, and it continues to be necessary. Here again, Prince Abdullah's proposal oversimplifies: He assumes that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also resolve the Israeli-Syrian conflict. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just's specific points are valid, but his stressing the need for negotiations only hints at the real issue: Even if a peace agreement is reached, the result will not necessarily be peace. The second intifada has destroyed, for most Israelis, the belief that a peace agreement will put an end to conflict with the Palestinians. By turning down the offer at Camp David and starting the intifada as a counteroffer, the Palestinians showed that even the most unrealizable grievance - i.e., the "right of return" - could be a pretext for resorting to armed conflict, in violation of every agreement made in connection with the Oslo process. No realistic peace agreement could be expected to satisfy all Palestinian grievances, and the present intifada has shown that the Palestinians prefer violence to an imperfect peace.
Accordingly, those who look at the Camp David and Taba meetings and think that true peace was almost at hand - such as Yossi Beilin and the New York Times - are missing the point; they are confusing the appearance of peace with the thing itself.
As one last aside, Smarter Times skewers the NYT's proprietary hyping ot the Saudi plan, with the following point which Thomas Friedman knows but his editors have forgotten:
[M]ost of the Arab tyrants are not interested in normalizing relations with Israel. They are interesting in "talking" about it, because it reaps them the public relations benefit of changing the subject away from their own repressive human rights practices and their support for terrorist attacks against Americans.
A TRUE GENTLEMAN NEVER ASKS: Rob Neyer has an informative piece on the history of baseball players shaving years off their ages. Neyer shows that almost 25% of players in the major leagues in 1952 had what used to be called "baseball ages."
In his review of the 1952 players, Neyer has the following observation regarding Latin American and black players of the time, who were the groups most likely to reduce their ages by more than one year :

Historically, most players who've invented birthdays simply shaved one year. But most of the Spanish speakers and the American blacks figured if they were going to fib, they might as well get their money's worth.

And of course, the Yankees' "El Duque" Hernandez continues that tradition, shaving four years of his age in a fiction that receives lip service from the Yankees' front office and from no one else.
With the phenomenon being this widespread, we may have to adjust our expectations of players' career paths. Analysts have long pinpointed age 27 as being the peak time period for hitters (isolating an expected peak is much more difficult and inexact for pitchers, for reasons which I won't get into here). Is it possible that much of the data we've relied upon in reaching that conclusion has been false?
One other aside. According to Robert Creamer's biography Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, Babe Ruth did the reverse: he added a year onto his age in his youth due to some confusion (I don't have the book with me and don't remember the details), and according to creamer, never bothered to correct it even after the mistake was demonstrated to him during his career. Babe Ruth was always an original.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

GROW UP: Via Instapundit, this piece from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discusse neutrality in Europe and the intersection of pragmatism and idealism. Some excerpts:
None of the four states, who have long since stopped speaking of neutrality and have chosen instead the clever euphemism "freedom from alliances" to describe their partiality, ever left any doubt in past decades about where they really belonged. Finland alone was forced to accept the shadow of the Soviet Union as a constant reality. Geography was kinder to Austria. For although "permanent neutrality" was, for similar reasons, a condition of its sovereignty, it used the freedom this offered -- as did Ireland and Sweden -- to cultivate a noble image as the world's conscience, thus diverting attention from the fact that others were taking care of its security.
The end of this supposed superiority, which turned a pragmatically motivated decision in favor of a life between the fronts into a moral right to hover above the fronts, is today proving to be painful. Up above, the neutral states had an easy time, laying claim worldwide to issues like development aid, environmental protection, confidence-building and pacifism. Down below, meanwhile, alliances armed to the teeth thrashed about trying to achieve equilibrium in a bipolar world. Although no one seriously believed that the neutral states would be able to retreat completely from this world, least of all the states themselves, no one was allowed to say so out loud: for neutrality exists only in the eye of the beholder.
Yet these days, Europe is more of a dithering, neutral bloc than ever before in its history. In the war against terror, too, the Europeans are once again trying to avoid getting their hands dirty -- even in the course of defending their own interests. This in turn points to a deep-seated yearning for the kind of moral impeccability that the neutral states for so long indulged. Let no one claim there is no longer any place for them in Europe.

Isn't the moralism of the European elites like that of a college student who is takes for granted that Mommy & Daddy will pay the tuition and credit card bills?

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

TRUTH AND POWER: Matt Welch has an excellent article analyzing the true effect of sanctions on Iraq over the last decade.
THE TIDE TURNS: Via Andrew Sullivan, a pungent column by Michael Lewis on why Enron workers mostly are not the blameless innocents the media makes them out to be. I didn't realize that the lock-down in Enron shares encompassed such a small part of the collapse of the stock.
On a related topic, some of the best commentary on the Enron debacle has come from Robert Musil, a.k.a. the Man Without Qualities.
YOU TALKIN' TO ME? Fantastic piece by the fantastic Victor Davis Hanson regarding U.S. - Europe relations. I do think that the talk about the end of the U.S. - Europe alliance is overblown, but the Europeans do need to understand that the post 9/11 world is truly different; the P.R. indulgences of the past now reside there.
HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES: Rany Jazayerli has resumed his regular look at the Kansas City Royals. This entry shows how the current GM may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when he took over.
Along with Andrew Sullivan's site, one the foremost influences for this site was the work of Rany and Rob Neyer on the Royals. Their efforts, and Rany's subsequent project, have provided a model of an analytical approach fused with a weblog-style beat report on your favorite team. Check out Rany's reports at Baseball Prospectus.

ASIDE ALERT: My copy of Baseball Prospectus should finally arrive any day. As soon as it does, regular reports will appear here. You have been warned.
"I KNOW I'M RIGHT," HE EXPLAINED: Enjoy the last paragraph of Paul Krugman's latest.
BLINDING FLASH OF THE OBVIOUS: Richard Cohen reminds us that the vile anti-Semitism spouted throughout the Arab world, with the encouragement and support of the relevant governments, has consequences.
THE MAESTRO SPEAKS: Andrew Sullivan describes the evolution and ramifications of "blogging," as comprehensively as anyone can. Sullivan's site has become a real sensation in journalism in the last year or so. Having been a fan since virtually the moment he set it up, it's been fun watching and drawing inspiration from it.

Monday, February 25, 2002

HAPPY PURIM: The Gulf War cease-fire was declared right around the holiday of Purim in 1991 (whether it was the exact day, I don't recall). On that note, I'm off to synagogue, hoping for similar events (but with a more solid achievement to justify the joy). Happy Purim to everyone.
THE BEST ARGUMENT FOR A MASSIVE INCREASE IN THE DEFENSE BUDGET: According to this article in the Washington Post, the military is short of much necessary materiel needed for further attacks on places such as Iraq.
I remember when Bill Clinton became President, a potent political argument for his tax increases was that we had enjoyed the propserity of the 80s without paying for it, and the bill was now coming due.
It now appears that we enjoyed the peace and prosperity of the 90s without paying for a large part of them, and the bill is now coming due.
IRAN TO IRAQ: An excellent piece by Kenneth Pollack in the latest Foreign Affairs on why we should overthrow Saddam ASAP, and why it will require a U.S. invasion.
The best argument against doing so is, as set out by people such as Steve Chapman, is that:
a) Saddam has been deterred up to this point from using unconventional weapons by our (and Israel's, in the context of the Gulf War) broad hints at nuclear retaliation if he were to use such weapons, and
b) that deterrence would likely not work if Saddam knew we were coming to finish him off; he'd have no incentive not to fire everything he has (i.e., tons of chemical weapons, whatever rudiments of a nuclear weapon he has, etc.)
The problem with this argument is that it underestimates the likelihood (which, absent an act of God, is close to a certainty given Saddam's track record) that we will have to run the risk of nuclear confrontation with Saddam anyway, and it will be on his timetable if the U.S. does not act. Think a re-run of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, only this time with a promise by Saddam that he will use nuclear weapons against us if we try to replay the Gulf War.
As people should have learned from the 1990s, sanctions do not work for the same reasons that cartels do not work; it depends on cooperation of many actors, every one of which has a tremendous incentive to cheat. Only "regime change" will be able to prevent Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons, and, as seen by the rationalizations of those such as Leon Fuerth and Jacob Weisberg, there will be no shortage of statesman-sounding reasons not to attack Saddam until we are forced with the risk of letting Saddam run free in the world or facing nuclear attack.
AND AS LONG AS WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT: William Safire has a much more realistic and pungent view of the recent Saudi "offer:" "warmed-over whining in new bottles."
WAKE UP: Jim Hoagland has a deeply cynical view of Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf, strikingly at odds with much of the positive press he has received since 9/11. There is no doubt that Musharraf has done many good things since that date - his moves against the terror-supporting elements of his country go much further than anything Yasser Arafat has dreamed of doing - but it if Hoagland is correct, it is important to face up to the flaws that remain.
Contra the NYT's constant bleating, the disintegration in the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" is not because the Bush administration disengaged from the region. Far more responsible was the Israeli and American years-long refusal to face the ramifications of the skin-deep commitment of the Palestinians to a peaceful compromise - the refusal to admit that the massive arming of the innumerable Palestinian "security" forces or the constant hatred taught by the Palestinian schools and media meant anything. If Musharraf's efforts are similarly flawed (even through no fault of his own), the worst thing the U.S. can do is to wish those flaws away as it did with the Palestinians.