Joshua PollackOnce Upon A Time

Some people have been wondering what happened to Well. Glad you asked.

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a great island called Atlantis, west of the Pillars of Herakles. (Left at Gibraltar, then a couple blocks down — boom, you couldn’t miss it.) The Atlanteans were zealous in the service of the gods, and labored mightily, offering up many worthwhile reports. Even today, their reports are used as references.

But the gods were capricious, and smote Atlantis. One day there, the next day, bupkis. The many lamentations still ring in our ears.

The memory of that awful day persists, and it makes the neighboring islands kinda jumpy. So much so that the extracurricular activities of their analysts — when identified as such — may be frowned upon.

Thus, TW has been discontinued for the foreseeable future. [See note below.] As for me, I’m still here, and intent on continuing, one way or another.

Thanks, Paul. It’s been fun!

Update: Some people have told me that the meaning of this tale is unclear. So here’s a more explicit version. In 1995, as a demonstration of commitment to a balanced budget, Congress eliminated funding for its own Office of Technology Assessment. As explained here, this episode struck terror into the hearts of managers elsewhere, who accordingly act with an abundance of caution, lest their own organization suffer a similar fate.

I should also add that “the foreseeable future” may not be very long after all. TW is down, but as Paul points out in the comments, no final decision has been made. You’ll know more when I know it.


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    In case you don’t quite follow Josh’s brilliant allegory relating to the demise of the Total Wonkerr, here is my explanation from another comment:

    Paul got into a dust-up with AEI’s Michael Rubin, who apparently decided it was a lot easier to win an argument if you get your opponent’s site pulled down.

    Back to Paul Kerr, this should set the record straight. I am surprised that Congressional Research Service analysts not only blog, but also engage in hackery which appears motivated by either partisanship or a desire to advocate policy rather than analyze. From now on, I certainly would take with a grain of salt CRS reports on non-proliferation if they are authored by Kerr and would question why CRS hires bloggers. Granted, the blog is not on a CRS website (although Kerr’s interjections into other blogs suggests he spends much CRS time involved with blogs) but the many partisan links provide a window into the confluence of Kerr’s analysis and politics and should concern any staff member who expects the Congressional Research Service to uphold its reputation for straightforward analysis. CRS should not stand to legitimize analysis formed more by blogger groupthink than by careful reading and fact.

    Brave little man, Michael Rubin.

  2. Anthony (History)

    I knew it! As soon as I read Michale Rubin’s piece i tried to go to Paul’s site and bam, it was down! I knew the hawkish rubin had something to do with this.

    I hope Paul comes back. We need the voices of sanity in such dark times.

  3. GumpB (History)

    I wouldn’t want my analysis affected by blogger groupthink. I shall take a vacation from Arms Control Wonk.

  4. James (History)

    I don’t think anyone who reads ArmsControlWonk or TotalWonkerr on a regular basis would suspect there was anything resembling “groupthink” going on at either site. CRS did not “hire a blogger” but a researcher that blogged on his own, which is very different. Government employment does not require that a person drop out of civic discourse; the only specific requirement is that a government employee not lobby on behalf of his agency. Since Paul never discussed anything but weapons and arms control I cannot imagine he violated any ethics rules. Perhaps his YouTube links to 80’s pop music videos were the real offense.

    Faced with a well-reasoned refutation of his blather, Rubin could have responded with further argument but chose instead to live down to AEI’s dismal academic standards by indulging in a cheap, personal attack. Getting an entirely respectable website canned for the sin of making him look foolish is not going to enhance Rubin’s reputation in the marketplace of ideas and it will be long time before he lives this down.

  5. Josh (History)

    The chief liability of the political blog-o-sphere is that it has two hemispheres that react against each other and reinforce themselves. Groupthink is a fine description, actually, and hats off to any participant who can accurately claim to have resisted that tendency.

    I do not see ACW — or TW, for that matter — as parts of either of these hemispheres. These are intended as “expert” blogs. (I use the term advisedly.) Neither is overtly political. In keeping with the little parable above, let’s call them islands, wandering somewhere around the equator.

    It’s not that the participants want for opinions, political and otherwise. We’re certainly interested in public policy; that’s the name of the game. (If policy is about which decisions to make, then politics is about who gets to make the decisions.) Rather — and I think this tendency has grown over the life of ACW, which was somewhat snarky and sharp-elbowed at times in the early going — the unwritten motto hereabouts is “more light than heat.” That involves some conscious effort at refraining from the point-scoring, name-calling, overt partisanship, and mind-guarding that is the normal stuff of many a blog. Just consider the restraint that went into this item, for example!

    These tacit standards may not always be upheld completely, but at least in my opinion, when that happens, that’s a mistake.

    So vent in the comments by all means. But after that, let’s move on.

    Oh yeah, one more thing. Thank you for your attention to this Sanctimonious Public Service Announcement.

  6. Paul Kerr (History)

    The kind words are appreciated, seriously. Thanks.

  7. Rudolf the red nose analyst

    Is the disappearance of Totalwonkerr a great loss for American society? You bet it is. Is Michael Rubin a [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted]? Definitely, mothers will point at him and tell their children thats what they mean by [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted]. But was it proper for Paul to both blog and work for CRS? That, I’m afraid is considerably harder to answer.

    [Note from Josh: As you can imagine, I’m not especially thrilled with Mr. Rubin at the moment, but since I was just huffing and puffing about civility and all that, expletives are deleted. Use your imagination.]

    If Paul had worked for CBO instead of CRS, there wouldnt be any doubt: he simply could not continue to blog. CBO does not let its analysts talk to the press in order to maintain its nonpartisan status. CRS, on the other hand, does let its analysts talk to, and get quoted by, the media. However, that must be, I imagine, so long as they don’t cast doubt on the organization’s credibility. So it was probably ok for Paul—who I greatly admire—to start his blog but he was opening himself up to just this sort of blackmail. When Rubin played the credibility card, Paul’s luck ran out.

    Paul—you had a great blog and totally maintained your independence and credibility. But you did the right thing by hanging it up. It must have been a tough decision and we admire you all the more for it. We are just going to have to read your CRS reports to get your analysis.

  8. Paul Kerr (History)

    To Rudolf:

    I hear what you’re saying. And I know where CRS is coming from. I will add that CRS hasn’t told me a final decision on the blog. Agreed I took a risk, but it’s frustrating because I didn’t do anything wrong; rather, Rubin hurled false accusations and now it’s come to this.

  9. Crispy_Duck (History)

    Au revoir Total Wonkerr – bonjour Complete Pollacks?

  10. Josh (History)

    “Complete Pollacks.” Oh, that’s good. Not gonna happen, though.

    As Paul notes, the foreseeable future is not that long a stretch of time. So let’s wait and see what happens.

    In the meantime, in furtherance of Rudolf’s suggestion, I’m taking it upon myself to post a handful of pointers, in no particular order:

    Paul Kerr, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status

    Paul Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer

    Christopher Blanchard and Paul Kerr, The United Arab Emirates Nuclear Program and Proposed U.S. Nuclear


  11. abcd (History)

    I find it incredibly hard to believe that someone who worked in Rumsfeld’s OSD in the lead-up to the Iraq war and now hangs his hat at AEI has any serious issues with “group think” per se. How childish of him.

  12. Josh (History)

    Some people have told me that the meaning of the above tale is unclear. So here’s a more explicit version. In 1995, as a demonstration of commitment to a balanced budget, Congress eliminated funding for its own Office of Technology Assessment. As explained here, this episode struck terror into the hearts of managers elsewhere, who accordingly act with an abundance of caution, lest their own organization suffer a similar fate.

  13. JustAnObserver (History)

    Not a judgment, just an observation: One component of today’s paradigm of online communication is the blurring of public and private personalities. An early consequence was suffered from mistakenly sending a private email to the wrong recipient or, worse yet, a large mailing list. This was followed by people suffering consequences for postings on blogs, facebook, twitter, etc. People have been fired for “private” comments made about their boss or company but released on a public blog, etc. Beauty queens have had their crowns rescinded for risque photos from their past on facebook.

    Government employees labor under additional constraints. The Hatch Act precluded government workers from engaging in political activities open to other citizens. Former employees of some government agencies (e.g. the intelligence community) are bound by lifetime commitments to have their published articles pre-cleared by government reviewers even decades after leaving the government. Some might argue (correctly?) that such restrictions violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech but they are conditions of government employment.

    It appears this situation may be a case of a government agency that is predicated on being non-partisan and non-policy prescriptive being uncomfortable with an employee’s public comments that appear to be critical of certain government policies, are policy prescriptive, or partisan.

    I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the postings and comments from technical experts at both ACW and TW, even when I didn’t agree with them.

  14. Nick Black (History)

    oh no! where we will find out about SBX and SLA and all the goodness? hope all works out well, paul! :(

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