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• Jan. 9, 2004| 10:20 AM ET


First, a disclaimer:  Despite all the complaints and criticism that the New York Times gets in the blogosphere, it's a major national treasure.  And what's more, writing a regular op-ed column for the New York Times is damned hard.  Paul Krugman writes twice a week.  I don't think I could do that. I write a lot more words than Krugman, but it's mostly blogging -- and the difference between writing blog entries and writing a full-up newspaper column is the difference between improvising jazz and composing a symphony.  The composing may or may not be better, on some cosmic scheme of things, but it's definitely a lot harder.  Add in the extra pressure of writing for the Times, and it's very, very hard.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't write two columns a week at an acceptable level of quality, and still hold down an academic job, even if I didn't do any other writing.

Having said that, what is up with Maureen Dowd? This column starts out being about George Bush's dieting, veers through politics and war, and winds up with lesbian-chic. What was it about? Beats me.  Stephen Green takes his best shot at figuring it out, but although the final line of his analysis almost justifies Dowd's column, he's confused, too. 

Dowd doesn't have an academic day job, like Krugman, but that may actually make things worse. Her universe seems rather narrow, and she doesn't even have a steady stream of students to expose her to new ideas. And if you read the Times oped page regularly, as fewer and fewer people seem to do these days, you'll notice a distinct staleness about many of the columnists. The Times oped page needs turnover -- either permanent, or temporary, with columnists sent off to do actual reporting, or something, for six months or a year while they regain their edge. But who would fill the gaps?

What I'd really like is for the Times to broaden its ideological range and hire writers like Megan McArdle, Mark Steyn, Tim Blair, or James Lileks.  But I know better than to expect the Times to hire any of these four. They're smart, funny, and their columns all come to a discernible point, but they're not really ideologically acceptable for the Times crowd.

Oxford blogger Josh Chafetz has been studying Dowd's work for quite some time, and even The Washingtonian has noticed. So maybe we should pay attention now that his fellow Oxford blogger David Adesnik has a Dowd-related suggestion for the NYT:

REPLACE DOWD WITH A GAY MAN: The NYT seems to have one columnist slot reserved for a sassy, good-looking writer with great fashion sense and a wicked sense of humor. So why not Dan Savage ?
He's not just
funny , he's a serious political writer willing to do investigative reporting .
Plus, Savage wouldn't throw off the political balance on the op-ed page because he's actually quite liberal. (Although he is willing to take the NYT to task for
journalistic bias .)

Heck, Savage is already writing for the Times as a guest columnist.  Maybe Adesnik is onto something ...  are the Times editors trying him out?

Probably not.  But it wouldn't be a bad idea.

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Jan. 7, 2004 | 10:47 AM ET

The more you know, the more you support what we're doing in Iraq
At least, that's true of members of Congress.  As this story in the Christian Science Monitor notes, members of Congress who visit Iraq tend to come home supporting the United States effort there, and saying that things there are going better than the media accounts make it sound:

In a development that has received little public attention, about a third the US Congress has been to Iraq since May - and the trips are shifting the political dynamic on Capitol Hill about the war.
Unlike during Vietnam, when congressional visits often fueled lawmakers' opposition to the war, these tours of Iraq are tending, if anything, to blunt antiwar sentiment. In many cases, they are solidifying support in Congress for the military effort.

That's been going on for a while, as this story, which I linked back in September, illustrates, and as I've mentioned here before, almost every independent observer says things are going better in Iraq than media accounts suggest.  It's nice to see that members of Congress are going straight to the source. 

Goose Creek update
A while back I wrote about the national embarrassment of Stratford High School in Goose Creek, South Carolina, where students were forced to lie on the floor while police pointed guns at their heads during a drug raid that found no drugs.  Now Stratford High School's Principal George McCrackin has resigned.

It's good that McCrackin has resigned, but the law enforcement authorities who conducted the raid shouldn't escape responsibility for their misconduct as a result.  Raiding schools with drawn guns is the sort of thing that should be limited to terrorist emergencies and hostage situations.  It's not the proper way to look for a few bags of pot.

The question is whether other principals -- and law enforcement officials -- will take the lesson.  I'm not sure they will, which is why I'd like to see the lawsuits go forward, and see the law enforcement officials who conducted the raid lose their jobs, too.  Responsibility demands consequences.

Jan. 6, 2004 | 10:42 AM ET


A funny thing happened on the way to world war.  Despite claims that President Bush's war on terror would set the Middle East -- and the rest of the world -- aflame, things haven't worked out that way.  In fact, they're looking pretty good.  Afghanistan's Loya Jirga has voted a new constitution that even Kofi Annan has called a "historic achievement."  As the Christian Science Monitor editorializes:  "The three-week work of the Afghan national convention, or loya jirga, was a major test of this Bush doctrine, and its success gives hope that postwar Iraq might also find a way to balance its ethnic and religious divisions under the big tent of tolerance that a democratic constitution can provide"  Let's hope.

Pakistan and India, meanwhile, are holding a peace summit, and the thorny Kashmir question, along with Pakistan's nuclear program, is up for discussion.  And in Africa, things are better still.  As StrategyPage observed recently:

The War on Terror has had an unintended, and welcome, side effect; world peace. Since September 11, 2001, and the aggressive American operations against terrorist organizations, several long time wars have ended, or moved sharply in that direction. Many of these wars get little attention in American media, but have killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last decade.

U.S. pressure on terror groups' financing, and financiers, and its general pressure to clean up "failed states" has led to the reduction of many nasty conflicts.  It's also evidence of the Bush Administration's surprisingly multilateral approach to the war on terror, one missed by many of Bush's critics.  And the plan seems to be for more in 2004.  As Colin Powell writes:

This struggle will not be confined to the Middle East. We are working for the advent of a free Cuba, and toward democratic reform in other countries whose people are denied liberty. And we are resolved to support the young democracies that have risen in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The consolidation of freedom in many new but often fragile democracies will shape the aspirations of people everywhere, assuring that the 21st century will be a century of liberty worldwide.

So far, so good.

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