Search results for the tag, "Presentations"

November 16th, 2005

Statesmanship vs. Brinksmanship on Taiwan

As a speech (see video below), received first prize in the Young Professionals Speak debate (Center for Strategic and International Studies) on November 16, 2005. As an essay, received third prize in the Cato Institute’s intern op-ed contest in December 2005.

During his recent trip to Asia, President Bush praised Taiwan as “free and democratic and prosperous.” Why then, if the Taiwanese already have it so good, should the U.S. rock the boat?

For instance, writing in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Gary Schmitt and Dan Blumenthal recently argued that the U.S. should “encourage” Taiwanese politicians who are independence-minded. During a recent hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute protested that Taiwan spends more on defense per capita than does U.S. ally Germany. What’s more, as Justin Logan of the Cato Institute notes, these neoconservatives advocate very provocative measures, such as sending senior U.S. officers to Taiwan to coordinate with Taiwan’s military.

The problem with these proposals is that international relations is not an academic exercise. It’s not about grandiose abstractions or righteous platitudes. On the contrary, international relations is a cost-benefit analysis, behind which lie death and destruction. To wit, when China issues threats over Taiwan, as it does repeatedly, it’s not bluster. Its leaders mean it when they say that Taiwan is part of China and that reunification—as polling data invariably confirm—is the will of the Chinese people.

Why are 23 million Taiwanese so important to 1.3 billion Chinese? Beijing has invested its very identity in Taiwan. Its national destiny, its pride and its rage are inextricably bound up with this little island. On the Taiwan question, the stakes don’t get any higher for the People’s Republic, so it would be willing to incur massive economic and military losses in order to save face.

As a Chinese general told an American diplomat in 1995, “In the end you [Americans] care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei.” Indeed, ask any Chinese citizen what he thinks about Taiwan, and the overwhelming odds are that he’ll respond with deep-seated passion. By stark contrast, ask an American about Taiwan, and he’ll respond with indifference.

Moreover, in matters of national security, Americans should care more about our own freedom, fortunes and futures than those of the Taiwanese. We should be, like all countries, self-interested.

Nonetheless, suppose that we follow the advice of the Free Taiwan crowd. What then?

Militarily, Beijing has made it clear that it would launch a war if Taiwan were “separated from China in any name.” Even assuming that we would win, it is unjust to ask Americans to shed the blood and treasure that war with another nuclear power would entail.

Diplomatically, we need China’s cooperation in the United Nations, which includes not only voting with us but also abstaining. But as a permanent member of the Security Council, China can veto any resolution it wants. One example: we’re engaged in talks with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions. On this issue, China’s regional influence is indispensable. Regarding Iran, provocation would give China an excuse to abandon its restraint on selling arms to the ayatollahs.

Economically, pressuring China would destabilize Taiwan. After all, prosperity requires stability; stability gives investors the security to invest. Indeed, past conflicts between China and Taiwan have caused volatility and uncertainty. In 1996, after the U.S. issued a visa to Taiwan’s president in order for him to give a speech at Cornell University, China lobbed a series of missiles over Taiwan. One result: prices in the computer market jumped dramatically.

Finally, even if China annexed Taiwan tomorrow, reunification would not spell disaster. As various Chinese officials have said, a reunified Taiwan would enjoy even greater autonomy than Hong Kong. In theory, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. In practice, Hong Kong retains its own legal system, currency and customs. A major international center of finance and trade, it is also an economic dynamo. For these reasons, Taiwan’s reunification would occur more in name than in substance. It would amount to new letterhead on a government memo, not serfdom.

To be sure, the U.S. should not support reunification. Instead, we should continue the current course of strategic ambiguity—which, after all, has resulted in the affluent democracy President Bush hailed two weeks ago. The status quo isn’t perfect, but it’s been painstakingly, skillfully crafted over the past 60 years. Let’s not turn statesmanship into brinksmanship.

April 19th, 2004

Covering Dictatorships Means Covering the Truth

A version of this blog post was awarded the Hamilton College 2005 Cobb Essay Prize, appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch (April 19, 2004), and was noted on the Hamilton College Web site (April 21, 2004).

Most of us trust that what we read, watch or hear from well-established news organization is trustworthy. But trustworthiness depends on the source—not only the organization, but also the origin of information. For without freedom one cannot report the news freely. It is therefore fraudulent for a news agency to operate in a dictatorship without disclosure.

What constitutes a dictatorship? First, if independent media exist, the state aggressively censors them. After all, news doesn’t mean much if citizens are privy only to propaganda. Second, if candidates for political office exist, the state shackles their activities. After all, news doesn’t mean much if the opposition is nonexistent. Third, the state cows its citizens. After all, news doesn’t mean much if people are afraid to speak.

As Iraqis and U.S. marines toppled the massive statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad two years ago, Eason Jordan, chief news executive of the Cable News Network (CNN), penned an op-ed for the New York Times. The headline was its own indictment: “The News We Kept to Ourselves.” For the past 12 years, Jordan confessed, there were “awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.” This much is inarguable: the Hussein regime expertly terrorized, if not executed, any Iraqi courageous enough to slip a journalist an unapproved fact. Jordan relates one particularly horrifying story: “A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police . . . for ‘crimes,’ one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the [first] American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family’s home.”[1]

As for the journalists, had one been “lucky” enough to gain a visa to Iraq, one then received a minder. An English-speaking government shadow, the minder severely circumscribed a journalist’s travels to a regime-arranged itinerary. Franklin Foer of the New Republic describes one typical account: when a correspondent unplugged the television in his hotel room, a man knocked on his door a few minutes later asking to repair the “set.” Another correspondent described an anti–American demonstration, held in April 2002 in Baghdad, to celebrate Saddam’s 65th birthday. When her colleagues turned on their cameras, officials dictated certain shots and, with bullhorns, instructed the crowd to increase the volume of their chants. Had the regime deemed one’s reports to be too critical, like those of recently retired New York Times reporter Barbara Crossette or CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, it simply revoked one’s visa or shut down one’s bureau, or both.[2] Of course, this all depends on the definition of “critical”; referring to “Saddam,” and not “President Saddam Hussein,” got you banned for “disrespect.” At least until an Eason Jordan could toady his way back in.

And yet CNN advertises itself as the “most trusted name in news.” Truth, however, as the American judicial oath affirms, consists of the whole truth and nothing but the truth; what one omits is equally important as what one includes. Thus, to have reported from Saddam’s Iraq as if Tikrit were Tampa was to abdicate a journalist’s cardinal responsibility. Indeed, if journalists in Iraq could not have pursued, let alone publish, the truth, they should not have not been concocting the grotesque lie that they could, and were. Any Baghdad bureau under Saddam is a Journalism 101 example of double-dealing. And any news agency worthy of the title wouldn’t have had a single person inside Iraq—at least officially. Instead, journalists could have scoured Kurdistan or Kuwait, even London, where many recently arrived Iraqis can talk without fear of death. According to former C.I.A. officer Robert Baer, who was assigned to Iraq during the Gulf War, Amman, the capitol of Jordan, is a virtual pub for Iraqi expatriates.[3]

Why, then, were the media in Iraq? As columnist Mark Steyn observes, “What mattered to CNN was not the two-minute report of rewritten Saddamite press releases but the sign off: ‘Jane Arraf, CNN, Baghdad.’”[4] Today’s media today access above everything and at any cost—access to the world’s most brutal sovereign of the last 30 years and his presidential palaces built with blood money, and at the costs of daily beatings, skull-smashings and limb-severings. Dictators, of course, understand this dark hunger, and for allowing one to stay in hell, they demand one’s soul, or unconditional obsequiousness. Thus did CNN become a puppet for disinformation, broadcasting the Baath Party line to the world without so much as innuendo that “Jane Arraf, CNN, Baghdad” was not the same as “Jane Arraf, CNN, Washington.” In this way, far from providing anything newsworthy, let alone protecting Iraqis, the media’s presence there only lent legitimacy and credibility to Saddam’s dictatorship.

Alas, dictatorship neither begins nor ends with Iraq. According to Freedom House, America’s oldest human rights organization, comparable countries today include Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.[5] How should we read articles with these datelines? In judging the veracity of news originating from within a dictatorship, the proper principle is caveat legens—reader beware. As Hamilton College history professor Alfred Kelly explains in a guidebook for his students, train yourself to think like a historian. Ask questions such as: Under what circumstances did the writer report? How might those circumstances, like fear of censorship or the desire to curry favor or evade blame, have influenced the content, style or tone? What stake does the writer have in the matters reported? Are his sources anonymous? What does the text omit that you might have expected it to include?[6] You need not be a conspiracy theorist to recognize the value of skepticism.


[1] Eason Jordan, “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” New York Times, April 11, 2003.

[2] Franklin Foer, “How Saddam Manipulates the U.S. Media: Air War,” New Republic, October 2002.

[3] Franklin Foer, “How Saddam Manipulates the U.S. Media: Air War,” New Republic, October 2002.

[4] Mark Steyn, “All the News That’s Fit to Bury,” National Post (Canada), April 17, 2003.

[5] As quoted in Joseph Loconte, “Morality for Sale,” New York Times, April 1, 2004.

[6] Alfred Kelly, Writing a Good History Paper, Hamilton College Department of History, 2003.


Chinni, Dante, “About CNN: Hold Your Fire,” Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2003.
Collins, Peter, “Corruption at CNN,” Washington Times, April 15, 2003.
—, “Distortion by Omission,” Washington Times, April 16, 2003.
Da Cunha, Mark, “Saddam Hussein’s Real Ministers of Disinformation Come Out of the Closet,” Capitalism Magazine, April 14, 2003.
Fettmann, Eric, “Craven News Network,” New York Post, April 12, 2003.
Foer, Franklin, “CNN’s Access of Evil,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2003.
—, “How Saddam Manipulates the U.S. Media: Air War,” New Republic, October 2002.
Glassman, James K., “Sins of Omission,”, April 11, 2003.
Goodman, Ellen, “War without the ‘Hell,’” Boston Globe, April 17, 2003.
Kelly, Alfred, Writing a Good History Paper, Hamilton College Department of History, 2003.
Jacoby, Jeff, “Trading Truth for Access?Jewish World Review, April 21, 2003.
Jordan, Eason, “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” New York Times, April 11, 2003.
Loconte, Joseph, “Morality for Sale,” New York Times, April 1, 2004.
de Moraes, Lisa, “CNN Executive Defends Silence on Known Iraqi Atrocities,” Washington Post, April 15, 2003.
Smith, Rick, “CNN Should Scale Back Chumminess with Cuba,” Capitalism Magazine, May 8, 2003.
Steyn, Mark, “All the News That’s Fit to Bury,” National Post (Canada), April 17, 2003.
Tracinski, Robert W., “Venezuela’s Countdown to Tyranny,” Intellectual Activist, April 2003.
Walsh, Michael, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,”, April 11, 2003.


Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey recently observed that the “media marketplace . . . long ago concluded [that] having access to power is more important speaking truth to it.”

May 5th, 2000

A Second Home

Jonathan Rick

I approached this valedictory with the query, “Why swimming”? Now, it is said that one shouldn’t answer a question with a question, but I demur: why life? For me, living means vigor—awakening in the morning and flexing and fanning out the biggest muscles in my back, stepping outside and, as my great uncle Marshall has told me he does, gloriously breathing in air to my lungs. The world is bright and brimming with life itself, and I am privileged, at this juncture of opportunity in my youth, to be not only of sound mind but also of sound body.

If memory serves, I was in the eight-and-under age group when Ben Eakley, who also attended Millburn High School and in fact lives a few houses down from me, gave his Seals valedictory. As I sat spellbound by many words I did not yet know, I understood that swimming meant a great deal to this Yalie; thenceforth, I have been mentally attempting to redact what swimming means to me. What should come naturally, however, is daunting; I now stand in the company of such alumni as Bethany Karl, whose emotive words touched every Seal, and J.D. McMillan, who called Brian Greene “a father.”

Swimming has appealed to me from childhood as an ageless arcadia. Its compulsion of pure body force against resistance—without the aid of a racket or spikes—suites my physique; its coordination of grace with energy poises my movements and manner. Especially now that I’m back in training—though I did skip practice this morning—I soak up the feeling of going somewhere purposefully and rhythmically, with little to distract me en route. To watch me swim is to understand who I am.

From a spectator’s view—not the open bleachers that Mr. Lawler populates Monday through Thursday nights, but, more fondly, the defectively ventilated and lighted observation deck from which Mary and Mike Nervi, Marge Reheis, and my mother replenished us swimmers with doughnuts and orange juice—it is six lanes, each divided by two lines going and coming, in which loop concatenated bodies, some masculine, more feminine—all skimpily, snugly clad, pallid, and sinewy. From a coach’s eye—probably Marty’s—my elbow should be extended further, I am still breathing with every stroke, and why am I still on the wall? From the swimmer’s outlook, such scenes evoke the utter bliss that is vibrantly, uniquely swimming. For this is the Summit Area Y.M.C.A. natatorium in which I have grown from a diffident and clumsy freestyler, flailing his erratic laps through heavy, humid, crowded water, to an assertive two-time captain, powering through practice in a place as familiar as my home town and as comfortable as my home.

I came to Seals as a seven-year-old attired in swim trunks below my knees. My mother had heard about the program through the Y, where I played soccer in what is now the main exercise room. Having spent my summers at Jefferson Lake Day Camp, where the swimming lessons my great uncle Marshall taught me on the weekends propelled me to the highest level of water instruction, I was not unfamiliar with water but with the jargon of swimming: who knew that freestyle was the same thing as crawl?

Tryouts were held on a September weekday. My lap of choice was breaststroke, for which I simply copied the form of my nearest competitors, my only concept of the stroke being that of my mother’s summertime technique. To my mind, I paled in comparison with the other aspirants, many of whom already knew each other through previous years on the team. After I changed rapidly in the crowded locker room—in those days, I would race in any endeavor and hence often wore my wet suit home—I climbed the stairs and befriended the vending machines that would regularly supply ruin to my dinner. As my mother and I waited in the cramped lobby, Hank called the names of those accepted; finally, toward the end, he announced “Jonathan Feder,” and I was a Seal. I made my way through the crowd to receive my prized packet, and walked out of the Y that crisp night beaming. My mother hugged me; I jumped with joy—and with apprehensiveness.

Today, such joie de vivre is unqualified; like my miniature schnauzer Wyatt, practice is a panacean pleasure. On particularly stressful days, the pool is both a Nautilus and a Tylenol. Here, accolades are often redundant, since one’s stroke divulges one’s mood: is Jeff kicking so forcibly as to blur my foresight from behind; is Abby pushing off the wall before the interval? In water, be it at practice or drifting, head back, miles downstream with the ocean current, I feel free, unbounded by neither time nor space.

Swimming, also, is ideal as a social outlet, “where the troubles are all the same and everybody knows your name.” Rewarding it is to reciprocate the support of teammates and coaches—friends—in the crucible of the competitive arena. We may vie against one another, but when practice ends, we carpool home, chat online, and fall asleep energetically; the following morning, still smelling faintly of chlorine, muscles usually sore, we exude vitality. For us, this ambiance is tantamount to oxygen; and the sport and the program are simply a way of life, which they enlarge.

The weekday endurance training during Friends and Seinfeld, the weekend technique calisthenics when we should be sleeping—how does the repetitive pulling and kicking back and forth, back and forth, hour after hour, remain, after eleven years, a seven-month-season, six-day-a-week regimen? In conceptual terms, swimming is principally a function of time; we race against the clock, and measure our speed in those inestimable milliseconds only sprinters can appreciate. Thus the swimmer values orderliness. But more than disciplining, swimming alleviates loneliness; it is an isolation that is comforting. Insulated from any sight or sound other than the vague perspectives of water and the muted thunderclap of our arm strokes and breathing, we swimmers tunnel onward amid silvery bubbles. Others may swim alongside—unavoidably, magnified eyes meet via goggles or one’s toes rub up against another’s arm—but their distinctiveness tends to refract away. Often, nonswimmer friends marvel at our ease of progress through seeming crises, for we swimmers see the world through our cool, measured pace in the pool.

And so, this is swimming—a religion, the backbone of my positivity, focal point of my day, ambrosia to my soul, a passion that transcends life’s obstacles and facilitates unbridled enthusiasm, intense drive, and enduring solace. But who facilitates the opportunity for these qualities?

I first want to thank my teammates, all of whom made practice worth coming to—the power naps beforehand; the speeding to maneuver Summit’s streetlight patterns; the cherished locker-room gossip; the culminating sauna, shower and turquoise dispenser-shampoo; the sliding down the Y’s front two railings; the frigid walks to cars, without socks, with a wet head; the post-practice ravenous appetites. When, after my disappointing freshman year I was resolved to quit swimming, Hank needed only to refer to this community, for without teammates, ambitions lose import.

Indeed, the man we all know quietly as Hank is the patriarch of Seals. Having weathered changes in teammates, coaches, weight rooms, locker rooms, the record board, pools, and practice schedules, I will above all miss our abiding head coach, who himself has repeatedly weathered sickness so that he can again be with us. Kind and affable, Hank has steered me not only through athletics but also during several situations through life. His trademark humor is frequently an antidote, his gentle spirit contagious, and his devotion inspiring. When I asked him for a letter of recommendation for college swimming—although my request was but two weeks before the decisions were to be mailed—Hank knowledgeably wrote about me in terms sure to convince any coach, if not of my Olympic times, then of my Olympic personality. Perhaps my fondest memory of Hank is at the eight-and-under championship mini-meet in Pennsylvania; there I attribute my record in the fifty free to at least two things Hank: the Seal he drew on my left shoulder and his classic motto, Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is.

Likewise, I have nothing but appreciation for the many other coaches, past and present, of Seals: Marty, whose love for the sport induces motivation and whose reminiscences of the team it was a pleasure to discuss at dinner this year in Charlotte; Dave, whose blunt approach forced me to decrease, somewhat, my lap- and wall-skipping; Laura Ridel, whose comments to me on wearing a Speedo endowed confidence in a modest eight-year-old; Greg, who wouldn’t allow me to give up on myself—lest Ellen beat me—during an afternoon weekend practice this year; Mrs. G., whose smile symbolized others’ happiness; Laura Figler, whose walking the laps I was swimming spurred me forward; Bill, whose Saturday morning practices introduced me to the famous medicine balls; Brian, whose indefatigable spirit permeated each practice and whose support, in and out of the pool, turned many tough days laughable; and Mrs. Diamond, whose coaching, because she had just finished her own workout, was continually cheery.

Finally, to my family—my mother Barbara, my late grandmother Loretta, my grandfather Sidney, and my great uncle Marshall—I give the gratitude of my very being. Upon my shoulders rests a world of appreciation to you four for your confidence in me as a son. Without your munificent love and support and time, I would be nothing.

Grandpa and grandma, thank you for your untiring encouragement and optimism. Uncle Marshall, thank you deeply for the pineapple that nourished me during mini meets and your sincere interest in my times. Mom, you spent countless hours driving me to practices and meets. We share a lack of a sense of direction, but, somehow, we always reached our destination—even that time in Princeton when I missed one of my two events. I remember how proud I felt when long ago, the bus—this was when Seals employed buses for transportation to away dual meets—never returned to collect the team; having just won the meet, we were hungry and so you treated the team to lunch. And, throughout, despite my protests, you saved every article in which my name appeared, a thankless task of which I now see the poignancy.

Never did my family pressure me—an example I hope I can one day emulate—but instead they conferred up my years of athletics a prerequisite for success and the characteristic that makes any endeavor worthwhile: fun. No child, especially with an estranged father, could ask for a more loyal and loving family.

Time will not fade the memories of Summit Area Y.M.C.A. Seals swimming; most likely, time will give rise to indelible gratefulness for the fostering environment in which I was both student and teacher. To a new generation of Seals—especially to you slackers whose cramps arise during long sets—it is with sad happiness that I wish you the best and expect to read about many of your achievements in the newspapers. Carry your team’s name with pride, in the full knowledge that you are part of something special. I sincerely hope your experiences on this team have been, and will be, as thoroughly rewarding and delightful as mine have been.

Thank you.