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Saturday, August 29, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

I try my hand at a reviewing some wines (several Spanish vintages) over as James Joyner’s new start-up men’s lifestyle online magazine, MANzine:Cheap Spanish Wine.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Eric Zorn, in the Chicago Tribune’s Change of Subject blog, makes an interesting observation about the way in which political news coverage has change in the last forty years: How wall-to-wall Chappaquiddick would have changed history — for the worse:

“The Bridge Too Far,” “Tragedy on the Vineyard,” “Teddy in Trouble,” “Camelot Submerged” and so on.

If we’d had insatiable 24/7 cable news networks in July 1969, the accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a passenger in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy drowned would likely have dominated the national consciousness for months.

Special programs every night devoted to nothing but pundits bickering over the depths of the 37-year-old Kennedy’s responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, 28.

Certainly there is a more than valid point here–the saturation effect that comes with major scandal did not exist back in 1969, nor did we have the partisan-driven infotainment sector in the media that we currently have. Indeed, history would have been different had cable news been around for FDR’s polio or JFK’s Addison’s disease (not to mention the Marilyn Monroe, et al., speculations).

However, I do disagree with this:

Man’s first step on the moon two days after Chappaquiddick might have caused a break in the coverage — picture-in-picture anyone? But not for long.

Anything titillating about the relationship between astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Anything to speculate about at Tranquility Base? Anything divisive about the space program to get people yelling at one another and furiously registering their votes in non-scientific polls? No?

Well, then, quickly back to Cape Cod for more team coverage of the “Kennedys in Crisis.”

Somehow I think that landing on the Moon would still trump a political scandal.

Zorn also offers the following, for the reader to consider:

This thought experiment invites a question to which there is no nonpartisan answer: Was it just as well that we didn’t — couldn’t — have a media feeding frenzy over Chappaquiddick in 1969? Would the nation have been better off if Kennedy had been shamed into private life?

Or, as I believe, is the nation — particularly our disabled and disadvantaged residents — better off for the 40 years of service he was able to render after that terrible night?

I don’t feel much interest is feeding this particular counter-factual too much. I will say that the notion that somehow Ted Kennedy was the Indispensable Senator to be a bit much. Indeed, while there is little doubt that individuals go make important, and sometimes unique, contributions to history and politics, it seems as though we often put too much stock in the notion that a particular person was the only one who could have accomplished X, Y or Z. Further, if we are going to play the counter-factual game, we could also ask what person was denied the chance to represent Massachusetts because Kennedy stayed in office for as long as he did. There is also the question of whether Kennedy’s experience was a just one vis-à-vis that infamous night.

Regardless, the only thing that I think we can say for certain is that a political climate filled with 24/7 cable news, talk radio and blogs is a very different one from one with only 3 major broadcast networks and only half an hour of nightly national news from each.

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Friday, August 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

The Pro Shop

365.238. A fitting Friday photo, as I usually play 9 holes of golf every Friday afternoon at the course on campus. Sadly, the decision to build a new multi-purpose arena in the middle of the 1st and 9th holes means that soon the course will be naught but a memory and this Pro Shop will either cease to be or be repurposed.

By Steven L. Taylor

After School

365.237

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By Steven L. Taylor

Deconstruction

365.236

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By Steven L. Taylor

Open House

365.235

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By Steven L. Taylor

Orange Cooler

365.234

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Cowboys don’t have to hike video boards.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Not that it is a new observation, but the US government is of the opinion that it can export lessons from fighting narcotrafficking funded insurgents from Colombia to Afghanistan. The latest piece on this theory comes to us from the CMS: US applies Colombia antidrug lessons to Afghanistan.

Long term readers will not be shocked to learn that I am highly skeptical of such potential applications of lessons from Plan Colombia to Afghanistan, if anything because I think that the empirical evidence demonstrates that the anti-drug effort in the Andes has largely been a multi-billion dollar, decades long failure.

Indeed, the article does pay at least some heed to that notion:

After nearly 10 years and $6 billion in US aid, Plan Colombia’s focus on massive forced eradication of coca crops has only recently made a dent in the South American country’s cocaine production.

This is something of an understatement, and at a minimum begs the question of whether a 10-year effort that only makes a “dent” in cocaine productions is worth a $6 billion price tag. One especially wonders this when one considers that the “dent” in question doesn’t really equate to a significant diminution of supply on the street or even a significant increase in price (not to mention the increase in cultivation in Peru).

The lesson that are supposedly to be export to Afghanistan is the notion that crop eradication alone is not sufficient to stop illicit drugs and that some sort of rural development program is needed. Now, anyone with knowledge of Plan Colombia may find this somewhat ironic, as allegedly the Plan was supposed to focus heavily on crop substitution and rural development from the beginning, but instead a focus on crop eradication and security issues ended up dominating the policy (and took far and away the lion’s share of the funds). If anything, this is not a new idea, per se, nor some newly minted lesson generated from years of trial and error.

Also, part of the problem here is the perception that things have radically improved in Colombia to the point that the country in on some clear trajectory to having solved, or at least substantially contained, it major problems of violence and criminality. The actual facts are that while things are better in Colombia they are better in relationship to one of the country’s worse spates of violence in the early part of this decade, not better is the sense of the problems coming to a close. At the moment the situation is simply closer to the norms of the last several decades of Colombian history, which is hardly peace and tranquility. There is still a massive internal displacement problem, an ongoing guerrilla war with two active guerrilla groups, substantial narcotrafficking, continued paramilitary violence and so forth. In other words, “better” does not mean “all the troubles have been fixed.” And yet, to read a lot of US press coverage, one would get the impression that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is sadly, not the case. There are still numerous endemic problems in Colombia that are far from being solved.1

Also, in regards to Colombia and Afghanistan parallels, while there are some factors that are quite similar, they are hardly identical cases. To wit:

Bruce Bagley, a drug expert at the University of Miami, says that exporting elements of Plan Colombia to Afghanistan is premature. “In Afghan­istan, nation- and state-building has not been achieved yet, so lessons from Colombia are basically irrelevant,” he says. Colombia had a well-established government, army, and economy when Plan Colombia was launched in 2000.

No small thing, that. Even with the troubles of the Colombian (which has been described as “weak” if not “partially collapsed”) and it is far, far more developed that Afghanistan’s state. At the moment, the Afghan state has to figure out basic governance beyond Kabul. As such, it seems rather unlikely that it will be asserting itself effectively into the poppy-cultivating hinterlands.

  1. I am not the only one to take this view. I attended a presentation at the US Institute for Peace this summer made up of numerous Colombianists, and they all had a similar prognosis. []
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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CNN: Sanford rejects call for resignation from lieutenant governor

“I am not going to be railroaded out of this office by political opponents or folks that were never fans of mine in the first place,” Sanford told reporters.

Last time I checked, Governor Sanford’s problem wasn’t his political enemies, but his own bad self. As I recall he, among other things, left the country to engage in hanky-panky with his mistress whilst leaving the state to run itself and making it sound like he was on a long hike in the woods. He has subsequently engaged in odd public ramblings about his private life, including the admission, in the context of allegedly wanting to fix his marriage, that he had fallen in love with a woman not his wife. I won’t even touch the whole King David business.

No, Governor, this is not a case of being railroaded, unless you are the conductor.

That having been said, I bet he won’t quit, as what else does he have at this point save his office? His wife and kids have moved out, he has publicly stated that he is ending his relationship his Argentine lover, and his political career is over. We are approaching the “would like you fried with that” kind of option list.

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