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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Over the last week a number of readers have, quite reasonably, asked when they can expect to see the second half of TPM's interview with Kenneth Pollack. Finally, there's an answer. It'll be up on TPM Friday morning.

Regular readers know that relevance to contemporary politics is not a prerequisite for a book's inclusion on the TPM book list. And today's addition is certainly an example of that.

When I'm not working I like to read books about distant moments or places in the past to explore new worlds and soothe my nerves. Some books like this are grand and monumental like Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume II. Others are short, enlightening and readily digestible. Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson falls in that latter category.

Books like this succeed rather than fail because they take a topic which might be dry and uninteresting and manage to make it entertaining and diverting. More than that they take a subject which, on first blush, seems self-explanatory and reveal a host of questions about it. They show how the complexities of the subject touch upon unexamined aspects of everyday life.

Casson's book begins with libraries in the really ancient world - when a 'book' was basically a slab of clay, back a few thousand years ago. He then takes us through classical antiquity when scrolls made out of papyrus or parchment were all the rage. Finally we get into the second or third century A.D. and then into the Late Antique period when the 'codex' - basically what we'd call a 'book' - starts to catch on.

For some reason which wasn't exactly clear to me it took some time for folks to realize that having individual sheets strung together was just a lot more convenient than having the whole book on one long page that you rolled up on two little wooden dowels.

Anyway, there are a host of interesting things you learn on the way. Like for instance, those clay tablets may have been a bitch to read but they rock for archaeologists since they're pretty much indestructible. Fires just make them stronger. And who knew that Ashurbanipal, a King of Assyria - one of the last of real consequence, Casson informs us - was the first guy who we know much about who built his own library? Who knew?

How did ancient libraries deal with book theft? Besides using hexes, that is?

Or wait, here's another question: If you were in an ancient Roman library and you sent some little library schmoe back to the stacks to get you something that took up a bunch of scrolls, how would he bring them out to you? It turns out, he'd bring them in a leather bucket.

Or, on a more substantive level, how did intellectual property work when all books were copied by the individual bookseller or user? I'll let you get a copy of the book to find out the answer.

I didn't want this book to end (something which, at a mere 145 pages, it did all too quickly). And I guess that's about the highest compliment you can give a book. Or a codex or a scroll or even a clay tablet, for that matter.

Which is more embarrassing?

1) The fact that Brent Scowcroft, the president's father's foreign policy guru, keeps on having to resort to the opinion pages to warn the president away from some new foreign policy disaster? (These public missives, of course, are widely and I think correctly seen as veiled messages from former President Bush.)

Or

2) The fact that the Democrats apparently have to rely on Scowcroft because they have no public figure of sufficient credibility and expertise who can publicly sound the alarm when the president marches off into another bout of foreign policy ridiculousness?

Here's a hint. It ain't #1.

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, Scowcroft and Daniel Poneman tell the White House what everyone who is a) paying attention and b) not afflicted by a rich foreign policy fantasy life should know by now: that time is not on our side with North Korea and that we must act now.

Tempting as it may be for them, the folks at the White House simply can't let this situation drift into another disaster which they can then pass off on their political and press sycophants as the fault of Bill Clinton.

Very tempting, I know. Just terrible for the country.

Here's an interesting follow-up to the earlier post about the Deutsche Welle report. This Germany-based blogger -- Amiland -- says that the original interviews Deutsche Welle was discussing don't really say what Deutsche Welle implies they said. But Amiland references another article in Der Spiegel which conveys a similar sentiment. This isn't a blog I'm familiar with so I'm not in a position to vouch for its veracity. But with that caveat, do go take a look.

Posts will be few and brief until tomorrow morning. But do take a look at this article at the Deutsche Welle website about a brewing scandal in Germany. A news report alleged that the German government had held back its own intelligence about possible stockpiles of smallpox in Iraq. The idea being that they would hold it back during last summer's election to sustain the government's opposition to US policy on regime change. Look at the response from two German government ministers, however, as reported by Deutsche Welle ...

In the interviews, two German government ministers let readers know that there is little danger now that that [sic] American-hating terrorists could unleash the small-pox virus on the German population.
For a number of reasons, I think it's very unlikely that the Iraqis have weaponized smallpox or any smallpox for that matter. I certainly hope not. And I'm curious to hear more about just what these ministers said, the precise quotations and context and so forth. But, as it reads, that quote really does tend to confirm the least generous interpretation of German motivations in the current situation: why stick our necks out when it's the Americans who are going to take the hit anyway?

They are really not kidding about the snow.

There's got to be a good two feet at least in Dupont Circle here in DC, though it's admittedly hard to tell with the snow drifting around and such. The weirdest thing is that there seems as yet not to have been any attempt to clear the roads. Nada. So everything is really at a standstill even though right now there's no new snow falling.

We were warned. And late last night the axe finally fell. Dozens of autonomous, but centrally-directed, al Qaida operatives covered every inch of exposed surface area in Washington, DC with one to two feet of crystallized H2O, mixed with trace amounts of industrial pollutants and toxic chemicals. As of 2 PM on Sunday, the attack continues.

The city is paralyzed.

Why do they hate us?

Little to report today besides TPM's 34th birthday -- frightfully old. I haven't had much time to catch up on the news today. But clearly these worldwide anti-war protests are a big deal. I'm not sure what they'll accomplish, however, beyond telling us what we already know: that the idea of an American invasion of Iraq is very unpopular around the world, and growing more so. We can debate whether this matters, whether 'they' are right, whose fault it might be in the US, how 'we' should react, and so forth. We can debate all that. But the underlying point seems undeniable. The protests aren't the evidence, just a symbol. Look at the polls in other countries.

Remember that place Afghanistan? You know, we had some guys over there. And they wear funny hats and, like, Osama bin Laden had a vacation home there or something ...

This would seem rather to sum up how much the folks at the Bush White House remember about the place. Apparently when the budgeteers on the Hill started working their way through the president's new budget they discovered there was no money, not even a line item, for humanitarian or reconstruction funds for Afghanistan. Remember, that was the place we weren't going to leave behind and so forth.

Now at first I thought maybe this was a case where the money is in there but just not labeled as being for Afghanistan or something like that. But that really doesn't seem to be the case. Congress has had to go back and stick in $300 million. According to this report from the BBC ...

The chairman of the committee that distributes foreign aid, Jim Kolbe, says that when he asked administration officials why they had not requested any funds, he was given no satisfactory explanation, but did get a pledge that it would not happen again.
Jim Kolbe is a Republican, or course. So it's really not clear to me what interest he would have in making the folks at the White House sound like such goofs. I think you have to figure that it's as big a screw-up as it looks like.

The BBC report also says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is going to be in town this month looking for aid. We'll see how he manages. What's really telling isn't the lack of money so much as the fact that Karzai and his people didn't even get a mention. They didn't even merit the standard smoke and mirrors treatment! The ultimate indignity ...

Here's a good editorial in the LA Times that gets the issue of NATO and alliance-wrecking just right.

The need for credible allies is no less urgent as the United States prepares for possible war with Iraq. The Bush administration should take care not to fray relations beyond repair in responding to the sometimes shrill objections of France and Germany. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is out of line when he dismissively says those nations are the "old Europe" and wisecracks that the only countries not willing to help attack Iraq are Germany, Libya and Cuba. The strongest man in the house needs to speak softest. [itals added]
Exactly right. A dose of maturity would be in order -- echoes of the lunch-money fracas. More disturbing of course, as a friend noted last evening, is the fact that a major, likely the dominant, faction in this administration would like to wreck NATO.

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