Monthly Archives: November 2006

Road sign

I did not mean to fall off the end of the world (again), but I was on the road (to chilly Baguio, again). When I came back, I found that my Internet connection had decided to go off on a road trip too. It’s (almost) enough to make me unlearn my acquired distaste for laptops. (A two-stage process of acquisition: someone stole my first laptop, in Bali, in 1995; and my second, about a year or so later, just went to sleep on me, never to wake again.) That P20,000 Toshiba workhorse-sent-to-pasture being advertised in the papers, with its quaint Celeron chip, right now looks mighty inviting to me.



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From Russia with love

Say it with polonium-210.

LONDON — A former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic who died in a London hospital was poisoned with a radioactive substance, the British government said Friday, calling the attack, reminiscent of a Cold War thriller, an "unprecedented event."

In a statement dictated on his deathbed, Alexander Litvinenko blamed a "barbaric and ruthless" Russian President Vladimir Putin for his fatal poisoning. Putin said he deplored the former spy’s death but condemned his statement as a political provocation.

The Health Protection Agency said polonium-210, a radioactive element, had been found in Litvinenko’s urine.

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Go, Goa

This letter to the editor nags at one’s conscience; it’s a gentle, graceful reminder (written several days ago) that even poorly equipped schools from "the provinces" can top national competitions, given smart students and caring faculty.

The Philippine Science High School – Bicol Region Campus has been in the Philippine Robotics Olympiad twice; last year, we were among the finalists. This year, our team — consisting of members Jan Karlo de la Cruz, Ian Carlo Zuñiga and John Christopher Azcarraga; and coach Sevedeo J. Malate — topped the Robot Adventure Category. In fact, the team, together with the students featured in your paper, is currently in China for the world finals.

I visited this very campus only last month; I found straitened circumstances, but a lively life of the mind.


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If language alone were an accurate gauge

… then it seems the President’s political adviser, Gabby Claudio, has thrown in the towel.

I was struck by the way Speaker Joe de Venecia, who answered reporters’ questions several times yesterday, including during a press briefing he held, studiously avoided using the pejorative "Con-Ass" to pertain to the mode of changing the Constitution through the convening of a constituent assembly.

At most, as in this Star banner story, the word was inserted as editorial shorthand.

"I think now the internal report (is) that we already have 202 (signatories) including some members of the Senate and opposition (to convene the con-ass)," the House leader said.

In stark contrast, Claudio, who has handled the President’s legislative liaison requirements  since she assumed office in 2001, casually used the unflattering label at least three times in one interview.

Claudio told the Inquirer that the caucus — “which President Arroyo agreed to host” –was called “to fine-tune and coordinate plans for Con-ass and to ascertain her stand and support [for it].”

Claudio also said the President’s statements at the caucus would clear up “whatever doubts or intrigues might be circulating on her support for Con-ass.”

Claudio said the document should be “a good and reasonable strategy to get maximum support for Con-ass” and be “most acceptable to the 195 signatories and senators and the electorate.”

The preferred term, of course, is the more dignified Consa. Or don’t use shorthand altogether, as JDV demonstrated yesterday. Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone provided another example of the right way for true believers to talk about an article of faith.

“We will stick to the question of whether Filipinos still want the current bicameral [Congress] or if they want a unicameral Congress. I think we will in fact surpass the number of signatures we gathered for the first petition, because this time the issue is very clear given the constant gridlock between the Senate, the House and Malacañang,” he said.

Look, Ma, no Con-ass.

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Talking Turkey

If it’s in Time, it must be the talk of the town. (If it’s in the Economist, it’s ahead of the curve, and few may be ready to talk about it.)

The latest issue of Time puts the spotlight on Pope Benedict XVI’s risk-ridden visit to Turkey next week. The cover story defines the stakes:

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Racing for the Senate

Pulse Asia has just come out with its second survey on senatorial preferences. Loren Legarda topped it again, with in fact even more respondents saying they were going to vote for her. Her awareness rating went back to its usual level, too: from 87 percent to 99 percent. I take that to mean that the political season has truly started.

Among the young guns of the opposition, Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano continues to outdo his boss in the congressional minority, House Minority Leader Francis Escudero. Cayetano seems to have a clear path to the brass ring, while Escudero is stuck in the thicket. His chances improved slightly, but his awareness level dropped from 93 percent in July to 81 percent in November. The quick end of the second impeachment complaint may have hurt his visibility; while Mike Arroyo’s continuing confrontation with Cayetano seems to have kept the voluble congressman in the spotlight.

Another interesting change: good friend Koko Pimentel’s electoral fortunes have improved, as far as awareness is concerned. In July, he placed in the first 9; in November, he finds himself in the bottom half of the first 12. That, I would think, is par for the course, now that the political season has started. But his awareness rating jumped from 76, which could be interpreted to mean that the public was confused about him (if it were his father, the rating I am almost sure would be in the high 90s), to 93. I would argue that that means more people are now aware of him, in his own right.

Compare the Pulse Asia tables.

Pulse_senate_july_2006_2 Pulse_senate_november_2006

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Pacquiao 2:57

No, that’s not a reference to chapter 2, verse 57 of the gospel according to Manny Pacquiao. That, as  many who follow the new evangelist will tell us, is the time the third Pacquiao-Morales fight ended, in the third round. My apologies for pointing out the obvious, but I finally managed to watch the fight only a few minutes ago, courtesy of this site. (To be sure, I was able to watch the third round in its entirety yesterday, through the help of the ever-useful Filipino Librarian.)

Last week, I posted three pieces I did or prepared for the first Pacquiao-Morales fight in March 2005 — on the Wild Card gym, on "Buboy Roach," and on Freddie Roach’s philosophy of boxing. My friend Howie Severino was kind enough to take notice.

I missed something in my three color pieces, though: the soundtrack of Manny’s training camp. It was while preparing to fight Morales for the first time that Manny and his inner circle of friends and supporters decided to use Shakira, in particular the songs from "Laundry Service," as the music he would train to the sound of. "Underneath Your Clothes," in particular, sticks in my head; when I hear it, I am reminded, instantly, of those heady six days watching Manny spar and shadowbox in LA. I thought Manny had given up on Shakira after losing to Morales the first time around. But as this comment thread proves, the Shakira soundtrack, since updated, remains very much in use.


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Don’t mind me, just loose (book) talk

A colleague told me the Booksale branch in SM Baguio was "probably" the best in the entire network. That was enough of a reason for me to finally pay a visit to the controversial mall, on Monday.  I think we frequent Booksale and other used-books bookstores for three reasons, or at least I do: We look for a cheaper version of a current title (perhaps caught, inadvertently, in the used-books network). We depend on the serendipity of rummaging, and buy titles we hadn’t even heard of, or know very little about. Not least, we hope to find a copy of a classic we’ve been meaning to read, or own a copy of , but are not willing to waste the tiniest amount of our book budget on. The SM Baguio branch (very cool, because of redundant air-conditioning) delivered on the last two excuses, and big-time. I’ve been looking for a copy of Stendhal’s The Life of Henry Brulard for, what, maybe 20 years now. Well, I found a Penguin in excellent condition; price: P121. I also found a book I barely knew but wanted — immediately — to buy: Gloria Emerson’s prizewinning coverage of the Vietnam War, Winners and Losers. The price, at P70, was a clear winner.

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Have not

Just got back from Baguio.  Have not showered. Have not slept. Have not seen Manny Pacquiao’s fight yet. Have not a single thing to write about, or the strength to write. I spent the last four hours listening to non-stop country music, my service vehicle driver’s choice of poison. He was, I think, a little drowsy, so he turned the volume all the way up. (Speakers-cracking up.) Was it the longest four-hour trip I ever had? Hmmm. Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?


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Our Portnoy, but who’s complaining?

Meet Christine, este, Kristen (accent, please, on the second syllable). Hopping from blog to blog early this morning, I lit on Happy Slip, which contains brutally hilarious takes on Fil-Am life. Yes, it’s the (very good-looking) Second Generation, and it’s striking back. Addicting viewing.


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Fight night

Again, on the eve of another Manny Pacquiao fight, the website of choice is Pacland. Unlike the first fight with Erik Morales, this third bout (or "stanza," in the sportswriter’s easily parodied lingo) seems to enjoy a consensus among analysts and fans alike. This page gives one a good idea of the conventional wisdom. (Don’t skip the lively comments thread.)

It seems more than one sportswriter thinks the only way for El Terrible to win is to go for a knockout in the first five rounds. I’m not too sure about that; if I remember right, Erik has always been a slow starter. But as the efficient, incisive Quinito Henson has noted, Morales has the edge in strategy. He just might make a slam-bang opening round happen.

Tiger Boxing has a lengthy, well-considered appreciation of the Pacquiao-Morales trilogy.


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Gringo’s June-November affair

I refer, not to the mystery woman angle, but to what we can call the mysteriously delayed arrest. It turns out that the "big break" the military needed to track renegade ex-senator Gringo Honasan down fell on its lap last June. Why did it take agents of the Intelligence Service of the AFP five months to invite the police to finally serve Honasan’s warrant of arrest?

Today’s Star quotes an unnamed source (in general, media coverage of the arrest and its aftermath has been based on an embarrassment of unnamed sources, yes?):

Sources said the breakthrough leading to Honasan’s capture actually came in June, four months after the former senator went into hiding after he was again implicated in the foiled coup attempt that was supposed to be launched during the EDSA People Power anniversary celebration last Feb. 24 …

The source said acting on the information provided by Honasan’s former associates, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) immediately assigned two units from the Military Intelligence Group, MIG-21 and MIG-24 to track down the former senator.

After it was established that Honasan was regularly visiting a townhouse in Greenmeadows, an intricate trap was laid out to corner the fugitive.

How intricate? It took them five months to spring it.

First-day coverage also produced an admission (from an unnamed source, if I remember correctly) that military agents had spotted Honasan in his mother’s house in Industrial Valley, in Marikina, but declined to launch a raid out of deference for Honasan’s family. A self-incriminating slip, if you think about it. The source had probably wanted to impress upon the reporter (my apologies, but I cannot find the story or its link) that the Gringo-on-the-lam situation was well under control; instead, we have yet more proof that the military, as much as it can, takes care of its own.

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Confronting Gringo

Ces Drilon has a revealing story available exclusively on the ABS-CBN website. Aside from reminding the reader that the first time Gringo Honasan was arrested was just before the country hosted the Asean summit of 1987 (thus allowing us to draw the parallel: this year’s summit will be hosted in Cebu), she also includes some information that may — and I wish to stress the tentative nature of the whole thing — shed light on the alleged "marital spat" between the ex-senator and his wife Jane.

While other newspapers raised the possibility of a mistress’s involvement obliquely, preferring to ask who the mystery woman was who owned the townhouse Honasan tried to escape from, the Standard Today headlined it: "Fugitive captured in ‘lover’s’ townhouse." Its version carried the following bit of information:

Honasan, 58, injured his feet trying to flee from lawmen and was taken to hospital, where his wife Jane visited him.

Police sources said they witnessed a confrontation in which Mrs. Honasan shouted profanities at her husband, accusing him of being unable to control his libido.

She vowed never to visit him again, the sources said.

The Star sang the same theme, though it left out any mention of the ex-colonel’s libido.

Despite Calderon’s refusal to comment on the relationship between Honasan and Ramos, sources said Honasan’s arrest at her residence triggered a marital spat between Honasan and his wife, Jane.

The source said Honasan’s wife confronted the former senator at the PNP General Hospital. Mrs. Honasan reportedly shouted at her husband when she learned he was caught at Ramos’ house. Honasan’s wife reportedly vowed not to visit him again.

Ces’s account, however, relates a different story.

It was past three in the morning when Honasan’s wife, Jane, and sister, Alya, arrived. Mrs. Honasan was stoic as she locked the conference room to keep us out. A few minutes later, former senator Sotto and Honasan’s lawyer, Danny Gutierrez, arrived. The two former senators sat in the far end of the room for a private talk.

So: Was there in fact a confrontation scene? My instinct was to discount the information as "planted," on the same order as the bottle of Johnson’s baby oil (or was it cologne?) Honasan was supposed to have been found with, the day he was captured in 1987, hiding under the maid’s bed. But I must admit that even Ces’s (restrained?) account does not completely eliminate the possibility of a confrontation.

Psy-ops, anyone?

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After Gringo

I was not surprised when I heard, from a houseboy eager to share the news, that Gringo Honasan had been captured earlier today. I had always thought it was only a matter of time; in part because the ex-colonel and once and future senator is no longer in his physical prime, and in part because those who helped him hide the first time around had spoken of their part readily, even giddily. (I once heard one of them explain, in detail, how he helped the man they fondly call Greg.)

Of course, even when he was in his prime, he still got caught (giving the Army spinmeisters the notorious opportunity to impugn his character, by claiming they found a bottle of Johnson’s baby oil [or was it cologne?] in his backpack).

There is also the AFP’s track record in, well, tracking down its own men, including the Magdalo fugitives. It takes some time, but the AFP gets the job done.

All of which makes me wonder: Why are Khaddafy Janjalani and his fellow Abu Sayyaf leaders still at large? Aside from the obvious, such as that they are hiding in territory (and among people) they call their own, what other reasons are there, to help explain why they are the country’s most successful fugitives? Could it be we are throwing too many soldiers at them?


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Change in the horizon?

If I’m not mistaken, good friend Caloy Conde was the first to post the joint statement of the foreign chambers condemning the spree of unsolved killings. (His post includes an earlier statement from a group of American companies doing business in the Philippines.)

His posting reminded me of something I had written half a year ago, and his on-point reply.

On June 1st, I wrote:

Yesterday’s economic good news, however, makes me think the real way to put pressure on the Arroyo administration to stop the killings and jail the killers is to argue from economics. Quantify, say, the economic costs of lost investor confidence, because hundreds of political activists and journalists have been killed in the last five years, and perhaps we may finally get somewhere.

That same day, Caloy responded:

John’s idea is good, except that it may be based on a debatable premise — that investors have shied away from the Philippines because of the killings. The murders, as far as I can tell, do not have a direct impact on how investors do business here ….

So unless the various chambers, including the foreign ones, come out with a strong position condemning these killings and urging Arroyo to really do something, or else they’ll pull out their investments, I don’t see change in the horizon.

Quantifying the costs was one possible option; as Caloy correctly pointed out, a strong joint statement from the foreign chambers of commerce is another. The point, simply, is that the Arroyo administration now wittingly or unwittingly traces part of its legitimacy, its mandate, to economic growth. If that legitimacy is threatened, even by the mere rumor of rumblings in the chamber circuit, then perhaps something will get done.

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Toe-to-toe with Freddie Roach

On March 18 last year, at about three in the afternoon [that is to say, in the middle of a traditional Inquirer anniversary], I was asked by our go-to guy in advertising if I could write something for a special section on the first Pacquiao-Morales fight; he knew I had interviewed Manny in Los Angeles a month before, and had seen the InqTV special aired that week. The only difficulty was the deadline; I forget now what it was, exactly, but it was something like 12 midnight. That same night. I said yes in large part because the spiral notebook I used in LA was still with me. I ended up writing three pieces by 4 am, plus an edited transcript of a longish interview I had with Manny’s trainer, Freddie Roach. The third piece was a simple round-up of analysts’ predictions; I won’t run it here. But, just in case you were interested in the quality of Roach’s mind, as we near the epic third Pacquiao-Morales fight, I’m publishing the interview.

Toe-to-toe with Freddie Roach

In the middle of Manny Pacquiao’s longest-ever training camp, his boxing Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach sat down with the Inquirer and InqTV to talk about their preparations for the Morales fight.

We needed two months to get ready

[Manny’s] in great shape right now and this is a little bit unusual, because this is the longest training camp we’ve ever had together. We will have eight weeks total by fight time … because the thing is we came in ready to fight [Juan Manuel] Marquez then Marquez pulled out. This fight came up a little bit earlier but we needed two months to get ready for this guy …

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‘Buboy Roach’: Pacquiao’s secret weapon is his closest friend

I wrote three pieces for a special section on Manny Pacquiao in the March 20, 2005 issue of the Inquirer, on the occasion of the first Pacquiao-Morales fight. Here’s the second.

‘Buboy Roach’: Pacquiao’s secret weapon is his closest friend

By John Nery

Once, the Inquirer caught a slam-bang sparring session in Wild Card Gym between Gerry Balagbagan, Manny Pacquiao’s running partner, and a young Armenian boxer, Vanes Martirosyan.

Freddie Roach, the gym owner and Pacquiao’s trainer, stood outside Martirosyan’s corner. Standing opposite, in Balagbagan’s corner, was Restituto “Buboy” Fernandez, Pacquiao’s assistant trainer.

As Balagbagan and Martirosyan mixed it up, Fernandez shouted advice non-stop. “Pag-jab niya, pumasok ka na! (When he jabs, come in right away).” “Pasok! Pasok!” He was talking a mile a minute. Across the ring, Roach stood absolutely silent.

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Pacquiao’s Wild Card advantage

I will miss Manny Pacquiao’s third fight with Erik Morales a week from now (Sunday morning, Manila time), because I will be on the road at the very same time, to keep a 2pm appointment in Baguio with a thousand students. I will have to settle for the replay. To mirror my growing excitement over the coming epic, however, I thought I’d post three pieces  I wrote for the March 20, 2005 issue of the Inquirer, for a supplement devoted to the first Pacquiao-Morales fight. Here’s the first.

Pacquiao’s Wild Card advantage
Freddie Roach’s championship gym adds technique and discipline to boxer’s power and speed

By John Nery

You could say the whole point is to live up to the gym’s name.

A wild card, of course, is American slang for something unpredictable, an unforeseeable factor. That makes Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym, in Hollywood, the perfect place to train Manny Pacquiao. You could say the million-dollar boxer’s "longest training camp" was designed to make him less predictable.

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"The American Art of Persuasion" is the headline the editors of the New York Sun give Martha Bayles’ review of Carnes Lord’s new book on "strategic communications." Her first sentence reads: "Some years ago, Carnes Lord wrote an essay about Aristotle’s view of rhetoric as a hybrid activity involving both deception and truth telling."

Aristotle and US public diplomacy. What’s not to like?

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A Burma plan

I didn’t know this. Not only is Aung San Suu Kyi barred from meeting foreigners, except upon express permission of the Myanmar military dictatorship; she isn’t allowed to meet her fellow Burmese either, with a couple of exceptions. The rare second visit of a UN official must have been a source of joy and consolation for the icon of freedom, but it also deepened the shadows into which her life had been plunged.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Yangon for most of the past 17 years.

Apart from her live-in maid, the NLD leader is allowed no contact with the outside world, except for once-a-month visits from her doctor, Tin Myo Win.

What say we give Than Shwe or his representative a hard time, when they come visiting in Cebu next month for the Asean summit?

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Where in the world is Woodrow?

I saw Ricky Carandang’s Big Picture episode on the US elections, and couldn’t help noticing that Dean Bocobo of Philippine Commentary had grown a white beard — a not inconsiderable addition, if, like Dean, one is a leading (online) pundit. Damn if he didn’t look wiser than usual.

I saw the show twice, but (life being what it invariably is) failed to follow the discussion from start to finish. Something Dean said struck me. Yes, the 1910 mid-term elections in the United States seem like a useful precedent. But after Dean spoke, glowingly, of the results of the 1912 elections, which swept Princeton professor Woodrow Wilson of the Democratic party to the White House and eventually led to a liberalization of US colonial policy regarding the Philippines, I was left wondering. Is Dean suggesting the following: that democracy (the neoconservatives’ central if rather belated rationalization for Rummy’s war) will only take root in benighted Iraq if the Democrats are in charge?

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No such thing

… as the right not to be offended.

Apropos of some concerns raised by other writers before, about a marked incivility in public discourse (consider, for example, the amount of vitriol expended in the Justice Isagani Cruz controversy, or the frequent dust-ups in bloggers’ comment threads), I thought this story on "First Amendment fundamentalist" Wendy Kaminer may prove illuminating.

She laments the transformation of universities and colleges from bastions of academic freedom, where free speech and the arts of argument are considered essential to education, to fortresses of political correctness, where the distinction between words and actions is fudged, and censorship trumps freedom of speech. One result: a new phenomenon called "young authoritarians."

How have students become these self-righteous ‘young authoritarians’? For Kaminer, ‘it is partly because they have been brought up in today’s victimised, intolerant culture’. She argues that restrictions on free speech are made not only by the right seeking to quell dissent among their left-leaning or liberal critics, but also by liberals themselves, who have bought into ideas of ‘hate speech’ and ‘harmful speech’.

‘One of the saddest trends among people who consider themselves liberal or progressive over the past 10 or 15 years has been this increased intolerance of free speech, and this notion that there is some right, some civil right, not to be offended, which trumps somebody else’s right to speak in a way that you find offensive. It is like a disease, an infection, that has taken hold on the left. It is an incredibly regressive notion.’

As the title of her latest book suggests, Kaminer believes  that, even though some uses of language can be offensive, we shouldn’t place any limits at all on free speech, that it should in fact be [a] "free for all."


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After math

Gibbs Cadiz is ready to pop the champagne; he does not even attempt to hide his glee over Dubya’s political troubles. (And which language does "mwahaha" belong to, anyway? Swahili?) But if former New York Times drama critic Frank Rich can wax trenchantly political, why not our own drama critic?

I’ve tried to keep track of election results throughout the day, even while finishing a slide presentation in the morning, taking part in a spirited discussion over lunch, or closing five pages of Compact in the late afternoon and early evening. (I had a fun time in the newsroom, by the way, because I closed the Sports section for the first time; I thought it was time I tried my hand at it. My main story: "Django rides off into the sunset.")

I am impressed with CNN’s depth of coverage and the general gee-whizzery of it all; this post from Lost Remote (the essential blog for those who keep track of TV and technology) only deepened my appreciation. (This post, too.)

I also read the New York Times online as much as I could (I guess like Deannie Bocobo, although we may have had, ah, a different appreciation of the election results). Quick reads: I thought Hillary Clinton had the most impressive victory among all Democratic Senators, but I forgot Ted Kennedy was running for his umpteenth reelection too. (Go ahead, click on the last link; it leads to the Times’ interactive map.)

On the most basic level, I think the 2006 mid-term elections proved democracy’s basic appeal: Elections are the way to "throw the rascals out." That is to say, all politicians are accountable, and must be held accountable, primarily through electoral exercises. Bush junior, it seems, had forgotten that simple truth.

But what I am most interested in is another possible meaning of the election results: Politicians must always be weighed on the electoral scale, every now and then. But political philosophy? Ideologies? Are elections the right measure for validating, confirming the value of, say, this whole approach to governance called neoconservatism? Is political theory principally tested at the polls, or in the give and take of Holmes’ marketplace of ideas?

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All the world’s a stage

And Gibbs Cadiz, a friend and colleague, is its best critic.

I have been meaning, for the last several weeks, to direct the attention of the few readers who pass this intersection to Gibbs’ new blog, but for some reason always failed to. My fault. It’s an excellent, always elegant read.

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State of the race

I first read Ruy Teixeira in the run-up to the 2004 elections. He is, of course, partisan — a Democrat through and through. But I have always found him sensible and factual (you might say a card-carrying member of the reality-based community). The polls have been open in the United States for a few hours, but I think it’s still worth looking at Teixeira’s final update on the "state of the race."

For those who want George W. Bush held accountable at the polls for his acts of omission and commission (because that, in large part, is what democracy is about), Teixeira’s opening paragraph makes for encouraging reading.

The blizzard of polls released over the weekend and today suggest some tightening of the race, but do not appear to fundamentally alter the assessment I offered five days ago in my last update. Tuesday should still be a very good day for the Democrats.

We shall see, soon enough.

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