"Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense."
- Mark Twain

"Anyone who combines politics and baseball is an idiot, because everyone knows that ping-pong is the greatest sport. Oh, and I'm really a Communist who hates NASCAR and listens to Joan Baez in the dark.
-- Glenn Reynolds

About the author
Andre Vladimir Sebastian is a figment of your imagination. Honestly, you really could have done better than him, now couldn't you? Next time, put a little effort into it.

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No Wonder Africa's So Messed Up
Col. Gadhafi reassures Africa during the African Union summit, "All you have to do is observe the rules. If you are straight, you have nothing to fear from AIDS." He then told them that tse-tse flies and mosquitos that infect people with malaria and sleeping sickness were "God's armies" protecting Africa from outsiders. He neglected to mention the more than 5 million Africans killed each year by those diseases. With leaders like this, and Charles Taylor and Robert Mugabe, it's a wonder there are any Africans left.

  posted by AVS @ 12.7.03


Dean Blogging?
Supposedly, Howard Dean will be guest blogging at Lawrence Lessing's site all next week.

  posted by AVS @ 12.7.03

John Kerry continues to make an ass of himself.

  posted by AVS @ 12.7.03

New Twist On An Old Crime
So, this guy decides to rob a beauty salon in Charlotte, N.C. Why a beauty salon and not a bank, nobody knows. After he gets the money, he orders everyone (all women and girls) to remove all of their clothing. He then forces them into a back room and leaves them there. When police finally find the women, one of them says she feels "blessed" to have gotten out alive. After that ordeal, she feels blessed? Well, turns out she had been robbed before, and her brother was robbed six months ago and shot to death by the robbers. As for the guy who pulled the beauty salon job, he also faces kidnapping charges because he "forced the five victims to move from room to room against their will," a local TV station reported. If that's kidnapping, it sure makes you look at the words "go to your room, you're grounded" in a whole new light, doesn't it?

  posted by AVS @ 11.7.03


Tenet: It's My Fault
CIA Director George Tenet explains how a reference to Iraq seeking uranium in Niger found its way into President Bush's State of the Union address. Key graph:

From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct - i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a Presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed.

  posted by AVS @ 11.7.03

Boys Will Be Boys
Researchers have found, yet again, that boys will play violent games no matter whether they are allowed to play with toy guns. The research was summarized by researcher Penny Holland at a London conference reported by The Times on Saturday.

A new book by Ms Holland, We Don’t Play with Guns Here, urges early-years centres to reconsider the ban on “war, weapon, and superhero play”, arguing that boys will be boys.

There is said to be no evidence of a decline in their desire to play violent games despite 30 years of official disapproval. Boys continued to play behind the backs of staff, even when they had been told it was wrong.

“It is very much part of them making sense of the world. It relates to timeless themes of the struggle between good and evil,” she told The Times.

“It seems to represent a developmental need to play with these things and my feeling is that it is counter-productive to work against that. You can see in some situations, where there has been rigorous enforcement of zero tolerance, that it marginalises these children because their interests are so squarely rejected. If they are constantly receiving negative responses to their play interests, with people saying ‘No, we don’t play with guns here’, they absorb the sense that they are bad boys. They seek negative attention and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Ms Holland said that the zero-tolerance approach had emerged from pacifist and feminist movements in the 1960s and 1970s that assumed that “the spiral of male violence” could be broken by preventing boys from playing aggressive games. But there was no evidence that boys were more or less likely to grow into aggressive men because of the games they played.

Her book observes that nurseries that had relaxed their ban on guns, swords, and violent games had reported that boys had more fun together, made closer friendships, and became more creative in other areas of play, such as dressing up as princes in fairy tales. Most such nurseries found that levels of real fighting between boys declined.

Staff who stood back and watched children play-fighting, instead of intervening, discovered that they were much more careful to avoid injuries than had been believed, the book says. The children often agreed rules of the game between themselves to ensure that nobody got hurt. “This has particularly been observed in episodes of sword fighting and superhero-karate style fight scenarios,” Ms Holland writes.

  posted by AVS @ 11.7.03

Not Ready To Govern
Richard Reeves has an absolutely excellent column on why Howard Dean and John Edwards (I would throw John Kerry into the same camp, but he does not) are unfit for the presidency. He weirdly says John Edwards is from South Carolina, which is technically true, Edwards was born there, but he was raised in North Carolina, where he has lived since he was a young boy and which he represents as a senator. Otherwise, I think his analysis is dead-on. If you're interested in presidential politics, you should read the whole thing. If you don't have time, here's his conclusion, which doesn't sound as strong detached from the bulk of the analysis, but you'll get the drift:

The Democrats are no longer seen as a party ready to govern. Whatever one thinks of the very decisive George W. Bush's personal capabilities, he has inherited impressive Republican governance, beginning with the kids of the Nixon administration, Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld among them. They know what they're doing, even if what they are doing may turn out to be spectacularly wrongheaded.

The moral of the story: Winning is not enough. The Democrats cannot afford another failure of governance. Is Dean or Edwards ready to govern? I don't think so. Democrats have to take a long look at folks who have been around a while. Perhaps Richard Gephardt. Perhaps John Kerry. The Democrats need someone ready to end their 30-year cycle of political start-ups.

  posted by AVS @ 10.7.03


Ground-Level Foreign Policy
The Atlantic has an interview with the always provacative Robert Kaplan in which he discusses America's role in the world. Some key graphs:

Should we be in the business of managing the affairs of other countries? Do we have a choice in the matter?

We don't have a choice. Very few empires set out to become empires. What tends to happen is that through economic and social dynamism, they become very strong economically and militarily as other places weaken, and they find themselves in a gradual position of dominance. As they increasingly see themselves threatened, they go out and do things not for the sake of conquest, but for the sake of their own security at home. Rome didn't go conquer Carthage because it sought to expand an empire in North Africa. It did it because it felt that Carthage was a threat to Sicily. And gradually Rome came to dominate North Africa through a process that originally started as a narrow security concern.

If you look at the history of the U.S., we were an empire long before we were a nation. I'm talking about the history of the American West. Up until the West became incorporated as states in the Union, it was essentially governed as an empire from Washington. And why did we expand to the west? Because we had the Spanish, the French, and the British at our west, our northwest, and our north. So we expanded into the continent originally for the sake of security and as a consequence we built an empire that we eventually incorporated into the country. We conquered the Philippines, a hundred years ago, as sort of an accidental consequence of the Spanish Civil War. Had it not been for Hitler and Tojo and the threats that Japanese and German militarism represented, America would not have become so dominant in Europe and Asia in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. So it was always a threat that led the U.S. deeper and deeper into the world. You can say the same thing about September 11. The United States is certainly stamping its foot around the world a lot more than it was before September 11. That increased involvement was, initially, at least, a consequence of a security threat.

Some might consider the line "And so for the time being the highest morality must be the preservation—and, wherever prudent, the accretion—of American power" a rather terrifying one. How would you respond to people who have such qualms?

I would say that a liberal power like the United States cannot spread its liberalism without military power as well. That the reason the Balkans are democratizing is not because everyone woke up one morning and said, "Let's be democrats." It's because the United States proved dominant militarily in the Cold War and was willing to intervene. In the 1930s many of the intellectuals and university people in the Balkans were fascists, because the fascists were militarily and economically dominant at the time. It's not enough to have the right ideas. You also have to have military and economic power behind it, or else your ideas cannot spread. And again, we're not talking about the United States invading every country and holding a gun to their heads and saying, "Hold an election or we'll undermine you." We're talking about the United States serving as an organizing principle for the gradual expansion of civil society around the world. And making moral statements simply is not enough to spur that expansion. You also need military power, and you have to periodically show that you are willing to use it.

You mention that U.S. dominance could end in a few decades. Why such a short amount of time? What sort of world do you see emerging after that?

Hopefully it will last only a few decades. If we have this much power in the world a hundred years from now, we would be far less benign and idealistic than we are now. I think it's a good thing that we should only be the preeminent power for a few decades. I can't in detail describe the world that's going to come next, simply because it hasn't happened yet. I foresee a global system in a few decades that will very roughly resemble the Han Empire that emerged in China in around the second or third century BC. The Han Empire, which governed much of today's China, was not a dictatorship ruled from a central capital. In the beginning, at least, it represented a grand harmony of diverse peoples and systems that despite all their power struggles found out that it was in their self interest to limit their own power for the sake of the greater whole. So while a single country didn't emerge, a loose web of agreements emerged that was a system, even though it wasn't a central government.

In other words, I'm not predicting a world government. What I am hoping for is a kind of world governance that's loose, informal, undeclared, and allows for a number of organizations—regional, global, and great powers—to work together toward the larger good. I don't think we're there yet. And because we're not there yet, I think it's very important that the preeminent military power in the world is also a liberal power, and that it serve as an organizing principle until this system of global governance emerges.

  posted by AVS @ 8.7.03


World-Traveling Homeless Guys
Want to know how much surplus wealth the Western world produces? We have enough excess cash to send homeless people halfway across the globe to compete in a soccer tournament called the Homeless World Cup. This is so stupid that I can't believe it is actually happening.

Now, I'm all for helping the homeless. I don't think there are enough (privately funded) substance abuse and mental health programs for the homeless. I even think an organized sports program like this could be helpful for some who are homeless essentially by choice, as opposed to addicts and the mentally ill. One homeless guy said of the soccer program: It's just helped me a lot. It gave me motivation. I realized that if I could get up and go to training, I could get up and get a job or go to school.

That's great. But spending money to send homeless people to Europe for a soccer tournament? Think of all the drug treatment programs that could fund. What a waste of resources.

The program even has a Web site: .

  posted by AVS @ 7.7.03


Civil Liberties On Celluloid
So, my wife and I were listening to the radio while driving around over the holiday weekend, and Weekend Edition had these two so-called film experts on to list their favorite films about civil liberties. What they picked was entirely predictable and a little annoying (The People Vs. Larry Flint was, of course, their top pick), so I decided to counter their lists with one of my own. It's not intended to be comprehensive; I've seen a lot of films, but I haven't seen every film ever made, nor am I a professional critic, though I've published a fair share of film reviews in my day. I simply wanted to offer a more well-rounded list of my favorite films either about civil liberties or that deal heavily with the subject of individual rights.

In no particular order, my impromptu list runs as follows:

1. Braveheart
2. Brazil
3. Burnt By The Sun
4. Raise The Red Lantern
5. To Kill A Mocking Bird
6,The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
7. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
8. Spartacus
9. Lord Of The Flies
10. The Patriot (Not a great film, but an admirable depiction of the subject.)
11. Planet Of The Apes
12. Twelve Angry Men
13. Cool Hand Luke
14. Man On A Tightrope
15. Papillon
16. Sleeper
17. The Pianist
18. Star Wars
19. Running Man
20. Gattica
21. The Front
22. Farenheit 451
23. Schindler's List
24. Love And Death
25. The Untouchables
26. Nineteen Eighty Four
27. Life Is Beautiful

A few obvious choices, such as Mississippi Burning or Minority Report, didn't make my list because I don't think they're very good films. Did I miss one of your favorite films? Let me know: curveballcomment at

  posted by AVS @ 7.7.03

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