29 April 2007

The coming change in American politics?

Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com has written an essay claiming the US has reached a tipping point about the Bush administration that will mark a deep change in American politics. I agree, though not in exactly in the way Greenwald does. Here is a taste of his thought:

Taken together, these two seemingly unconnected incidents reveal: (a) just how radical, extremist and dishonest are the people who have been running this country for the last six years, the whole Bush-led neoconservative Republican edifice loyally supported by most of the "conservative" movement, and (b) outside of the hard-core Bush followers and the stuck-in-2002 Beltway media establishment, there is a rapidly growing recognition of (a) in this country, which is beginning to engender a very potent sea change in political opinion and political power.

You don't have to agree with his (a) to see that (b) is a real possibility as the result of a number of things: the War, the destruction and inept reconstruction of New Orleans, the growing scandals in Washington (and no, I don't believe the Democrats somehow created these to muck up the Repubs), the increasing politicization of the Federal civil service, etc.

He cites a comment from one of his readers that sums up the situation in a way I find compelling.

I have to say that a remarkably intimate, yet expansive, community of thought seems to be forming across television, film, and the Internet. There's a rather quiet, yet intense, movement of thought and expression building. It focuses not so much on any particular ideology ("right" or "left"), but on a common, critical-mass thirst to dispel the deception, irrationality, and utter hubris that has been corroding our proud country for what seems like an eternity.

But I have no clear idea how this will work itself out. I think Greenwald and his reader think it means a repudiation of the Republican party and conservatism in general. I think so to, though it won't be as total as Greenwald and others think. And it will not leave the Demos unmarked. It is a problem of the political class, not simply one party that has somehow run amok.


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Chritopher Hitchens and Iraq

Hitchens has always been a hard left bomb thrower, wanting to try Henry Kissinger for war crimes for example. Yet he has been a staunch proponent for the invasion of Iraq and for the War on Terror. There have been various explanations for this from the puzzled Left, mostly ad hominem explanations - the insidious effects of alcoholism, premature senility, greed for the money and power that is supposed to come to Lefties who go over to the Dark Side, or general moral turpitude and sheer evil. Take your pick.

I always thought it was because he had gone into the Kurdish region in 1991 and had a chance to see the effects of Saddam's regime first hand. It left his mind ravaged and determined him to uphold the Kurds at almost all cost. Here is his account from his latest letter from Kurdistan in Vanity Fair:

In the town of Halabja, which has now earned its gruesome place in history, I met people whose hideous wounds from chemical bombardment were still suppurating. The city of Qala Diza had been thoroughly dynamited and bulldozed, and looked like an irretrievable wreck. Much of the area's lavish tree cover had been deforested: the bare plains were dotted with forbidding concrete barracks into which Kurds had been forcibly "relocated" or (a more accurate word) "concentrated." Nearly 200,000 people had been slaughtered, and millions more deported: huddling in ruins or packed into fetid camps on the Turkish and Iranian frontiers. To turn a spade was to risk uncovering a mass grave.

Then he makes a confession:

I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening. Yet Kurdistan continues to demonstrate how things could have been different, and it isn't a place from which the West can simply walk away.

I certainly empathize with the whole letter and especially agree with the last point. To see what Kurdistan has accomplished is to see what could have been, and may actually be at some point. Thus it is difficult to sign on to the "Get out now" agenda. It is almost as difficult to be satisfied with "set a timetable and then get out" plan. But another two years of more of the same, with little hope of progress, is simply not an option.

How did we get into such a box, and what can we do about it? Both questions will make for some interesting history.

Bush is not going to be able to walk away from his responsibility for this, though the full responsibility lies much wider. It is an indictment of the whole American political class and much of the media. What this all means will be a broader political change than simply ushering a few Rupubs out and welcoming a few new Demos.


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28 April 2007

Mulsims in America

They have arrived! That great old American trait of trying to make a buck by selling you anything possible is now focusing on Muslim Americans. Advertisers are now figuring out how to target Muslims consumers without offending everyone else. There is also the little problem of which type of Muslim to focus on, since our Muslim population is so diverse. The story from The New York Times is here.

Somehow, I see this as a positive sign.

"Happy Ramadan" cards, anyone?


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27 April 2007

What did they say and when did they say it - Iraq version

Don't you sometimes have a vague memory of the stipendiary punditry bloviating about the war over the last four years and consistently being wrong? But then when you catch the same guys talking now, they seems so reasonable? Willing to admit a few errors in judgement, while still insisting that their judgement now is 20/20 is the American public would just continue to show common sense by listening to them? Your memory must be playing tricks on you.

Check out Tom Tomorrow's retrospective right here.

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Our Officer Corps

Most Americans, I think, ignore the officer corps of the army. We just don't think of them when we imagine our democratic institutions. But we should, for many reasons.

Anyway, the Iraq war has had a number of unintended consequences, one of which is a growing split between the younger mid-ranks of the officer corps and the generals. Today Lt Col Paul Yingling, a combat leader who has proven his worth in Iraq, publishes a critique of the generals in Armed Forces Journal. There is an article about it in today's WaPo which you can read. Here's a taste of Yingling's conclusions:

"After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public," he writes. "For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq."


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24 April 2007

Lost in Translation

I like old kung-fu movies - you never quite know which way the subtitles will go. I especially liked these two:

"Yah-hah, evil spider woman! I have captured you by the short rabbits and can now deliver you violently to your gynecologist for a thorough extermination."


"You're a bad guy. Where's your library card?"

English subtitles for a Hong Kong kung-fu film. That one about the library card is really scary.

There are other examples of the ubiquity of slightly 'off' English translations. Here's one from a ferry in the Philippines.


CHILD: 50 cents

CADAVERS: Subject to negotiation

After you have absorbed the implications of that, puzzle through this piece of Chinese fortune cookie philosophy from the mysterious East:

Consolidate your interest while the lights are active.

Or this one from a Japanese beauty salon near the Chuo Rinkan station:

Beauty Brain's
Fantastic Fannie

My favorite, though, is this one from a Turkish cocktail lounge:

No drinking prohibited.

No wonder the Turks want into the European Union.

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21 April 2007

A Quiz, dedicated to Mora

It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I can hear the buzz of lawn mowers in the background, it is not yet time to walk the lummox, and I have another paper to research and write by 10 May. Sounds like procrastination time to me! And, courtesy of not one but two of Claw of the Conciliator's blog buddies, here is a quiz to waste my time on. All answers contain a certain amount of truthiness due to the fact that my lady Carmen reads this blog.

---10 Firsts---
First Best Friend:: Accurate answer: Mike Ball; True answer: David Carpenter (we were intellectually in tune: he grew up to be an ambulance driver, I grew up to be an historian)
First Screenname:: You mean, like 'Clemens'?
First Pet Name:: For me, or my own pet? If the former, Snicker-Doodle. If the latter, Pinkie - my pink and white kitty cat.
First Piercing:: ??? OK - lower back (to remove squashed disc)
First Crush:: Sarah Harper (I think it was her idea)
First CD:: Oh dear. At my age, let's say first LP (that's one of those vinyl discs played on a Hi Fi record player): "Ilya Mourametz" by Gliere (I bought it for the cool medieval Russian helmet on the cover. I had no idea what I was getting into).
First School:: Hamilton Elementary of Hamilton, Virginia
First House Location:: Pleasant Valley Farm, 1 1/2 miles from Hamilton
First Kiss:: Actual kiss, probably Sarah in first grade. First serious kiss, Merry with the Soft Voice in college (no, I didn't get out much).
First Car:: A used olive green 1964 Opel made in Germany (it was my parent's reward to me for surviving hepatitis)

---9 Lasts---
Last Time You Smoked:: Don't smoke, but in 1985 or so I got drunk and smoked half a pack of my best friend's cigarettes in an hour- he's never forgiven me.
Last Food You Ate:: Dannon Strawberry yogurt
Last Car Ride:: home from the reservoir park after walking the beast with four paws.
Last Movie You Watched:: "Letters from Iwo Jima."
Last Phone Call:: to Carmen to tell her I and the beast had made it home alright.
Last CD You Listened To:: "Fork in the Road" by The Infamous Stringdusters - Carmen bought it because they will be performing here for Merlefest next weekend
Last Bubble Bath You Took:: uh... never?
Last Song You Listened To:: dunno - one of the Stringbusters' things - reminded me of Allison Kraus
Last Words You Said:: something incoherently mumbled to Carmen when she left for work this morning.

---8 Have-You-Evers---
Dated A Best Friend:: not once we started dating, no.
Been Arrested:: no, but close once or twice
Been On TV:: yes, along with about 200 other audience members of Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show'
Eaten Sushi:: You betcha!!
Cheated On Your B/F:: Don't know what this is. I probably didn't cheat on it though.
Been On A Blind Date:: yes - once.
Been Out Of The Country:: Yes.
Been In Love:: A number of times, but only the last time seems to count.

7 Things You Are Wearing---
1:: wonderful fluffy white bathrobe
2:: an earnest expression
3:: thin
4:: zip
5:: nada
6:: rien
7:: nichts

---6 Things You've Done Today---
1:: got up very late
2:: put on a robe
3:: brewed coffee while reading a book
4:: won a hand of spider solitaire
5:: ran through the entire list of 'Face to Face' links on Claw of the Conciliator
6:: wrote this thingy (and plagiarized this last line from die Stille)

Yeah, I know. Pretty pathetic for a beautiful Saturday morning. I can hear Mora laughing at me from the closet.

---5 Favorite Things (not in any order)---
1:: reading
2:: interlibrary loan
3:: translating French poorly
4:: doodling
5:: the color blue (all shades, tones, and hues)

---4 People You Most Trust--- [not in any specific order!]
1:: Dad (if you can count the deceased)
2:: Mother
3:: Carmen
4:: my older brother Jesse, perhaps

---3 Things You Want To Do Before You Die---
1:: learn French
2:: help all my nieces and nephews, real and putative, get through college
3:: take part in the first successful longevity pill experiment, and not get the placebo

---2 Choices---
Vanilla or Chocolate:: Chocolate (are you kidding?)
Hugs or Kisses:: hugs

---1 Person You Want To See Right Now---
1:: Dad. I'd like to ask him how he managed to run a big, fractious personnel department for that unnamed port city to our south. Could have some pointers for me and the history department

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An Historical Fiction List

People like lists. Here's one from the Wall Street Journal of "favorite fictional tales rooted in history." Since much of what I learned about history came from fictional work I thought it was interesting. I am not sure if the link will work without a subscription, so here is the list, without the author's, Ann Perry, comments.

1. I, Claudius by Robert Graves. [should include its sequel Claudius the God]

2. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler.

3. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

4. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

5. The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton

Except for the first, I have not read any of these. I would really like to read the Chesterton one. My own list would include no. 1, and I would put in Julian by Gore Vidal, All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque, War and Peace by Tolstoy, Pharsalia by Lucan (ancient history by an ancient writer, with shades of Stephen King. Lucan hated Caesar and Talbot Mundy would borrow his characterization in his Thros of Samothrace books).

If I went by to my teen years it would be a different list, with things like The Golden Hawks of Genghis Khan, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and maybe Mundy's Thros books.

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20 April 2007

Personal interlude

You may have noticed it has been a few days since I last wrote. Lots of odd things have happened. First, after ferocious windstorms, we lost power for 24 hours. Then I had to return to the sleep lab for another night of sleep testing, complete with a lovely selection of CPACs, as they are called, to try to cure sleep apnea. Then I took my little friend Maeráed to a puppet show in a driving and frigid rain. She's fine as a doodle-bug, but I came down with a cold that left me too stuffed up to think about writing.

So how has your week been?

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The Virginia Tech Slaughter

There are times when it is a positive good not to have a television set and the last few days have been one of them. Just reading about what happened is bad enough. I don't have any useful observations about this horror, though it touched the Clemens family in more ways than one. It all comes down to theodicy, I suspect.

My older brother Jesse went to Virginia Tech, back before it was known as VT. The Corps of Cadets was still nearly the sum total of the student body. Like my brother, they all expected to go into the army as 2nd Lts, and most assumed they would serve in Vietnam. There were no more than a handful of female students. He is very upset about the whole thing over on our family blog. It is one of the few times I have seen him actually write down an opinion about anything!

When I was a grad student at Florida State, my friend Budweiser worked on a local political campaign with a very kind, decent woman who devoted countless volunteer hours to causes she thought important. Her husband was a professor at FSU who had a graduate student from Hong Kong. The student flunked his prelim exams for the doctorate three times and was booted from the program. This meant he would have to return to his family in Hong Kong as a disgraced failure.

Instead, he walked across the street to a gun shop and attempted to buy a gun. The shop owner thought the guy was acting so irrationally that he refused to sell him one. The student simply walked up the street to the next gun shop and bought one there. Then he went back to his professor's office, shot and killed him and then blew his own brains out. We didn't know quite what to make of it then, either.

Now I am a professor and occasionally have come into contact with students who have concerned me, and one who genuinely frightened me. There was, just as in this case, nothing that could really be done. I certainly cannot say what the administration at VT should have done, but I can say this, after several talks with my own university administration about disciplinary problems, and watching problems my colleagues have had: Administrators are absolutely gutless when it comes to drawing a line for student behaviour. It is axiomatic here that if you have a problem with a student, the administration will not back you up.

I have no reason to think that my university is unusual in this regard.

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Predictions and hindsight: 1900s view on the year 2000

One of the great fascinations of Science Fiction is its mandate to explore the future. This is also true of this 1900 prediction for the year 2000 published in Ladies Home Journal in 1900. When you go back that far to examine predictions the fascination runs both ways: examining the accuracy of the predictions and looking back at the expectations of our ancestors.

In 1900 my grandfather was about 16 years old and, like most people, got around by walking, animal power, or steam driven locomotive, though automobiles were just then becoming a regular sight. The horrors of World War I were still unimaginable. Electric lights were a new and exciting prospect as were electric driven trolleys. It would be a few years yet before my grandfather and his brothers would build the first house in Loudoun County Virginia with indoor plumbing.

So how did the experts in Ladies Home Journal do? Here's one that is pretty much on the money:

The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only [if only this last point were true!]

Some are a little less prescient, to our loss:

There Will Be No Street Cars in Our Large Cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above ground when brought within city limits. In most cities it will be confined to broad subways or tunnels, well lighted and well ventilated, or to high trestles with “moving-sidewalk” stairways leading to the top. These underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight with cushioned wheels. Subways or trestles will be reserved for express trains. Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.

Some are just a little odd:

There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second [notice how they don't consider the language spoken by the greatest number, Chinese, to be worth mentioning].

Some are highly accurate, though the terminology sounds strange to us:

Hot and Cold Air from Spigots. Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of the bath. Central plants will supply this cool air and heat to city houses in the same way as now our gas or electricity is furnished. Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.

Read the rest - it's great fun. Also notice one interesting thing. This was long before Women's Lib, or any of the more modern ideas of a woman's role outside the home. Yet these predictions are serious and intelligent and the editors of Ladies' Home Journal expected their readers to appreciate this piece.

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19 April 2007

D'Souza has REALLY worn out his welcome

Over on NRO's 'Corner' blog, the single most conservative blog I read, Dinesh D'Souza gets no respect anymore. Which is odd for a onetime wunderkind of the Right. However, Andrew Stuttaford doesn't waste much time smacking him down for interjecting his religious arguments into the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

This confirms that D'Souza has officially jumped the shark (a new term I just learned!). His last book, Enemies at Home, is so intellectually appalling that if his friends at NRO do not distance themselves they will look like fools, at best.

I picked up the book from the library and read the intro and conclusion and a few other pieces here and there. The negative reviews are right. The guts of his argument is this: everything about liberals that he and the Religious Right dislike is exactly what the terrorists don't like about America. This is why the liberals are responsible for 9-11. They drove the terrorists to it by being so provocative. Consequently America needs to mend its ways and change its institutions, religious attitudes, and social mores to create a society that won't offend Muslims around the world and then we would not have this little problem. You may think that I am reducing his argument to absurdity, but it really is his argument. Go read it yourself.

And when you are done, please explain why Conservatives think that it is the Democrats who are defeatists.

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16 April 2007

Leonhard Euler - or, I'll read the damndest things

Now I know next to nothing about math. Almost flunked basic math as a freshman. But I found this interesting post on Jack's Cantànima blog about the famous mathematician Leonhard Euler.
I of course had no idea who the guy was but read the post anyway. As far as I know I had never heard the name Euler in my life.

And then today on NRO's The Corner I discovered two limericks by John Derbyshire designed to help you learn how to pronounce his name (Derbyshire, btw, seems to be pronounced Darb-a-sher).

Shame to Waste a Rhyme

Leonhard Euler
Could never resist a spoiler.
If you tried to work out e^(pi*i)+1
He'd yell: "It's zero! Ja!—ruined your fun!

Further Pronunciation Advice

That math whiz Euler (Leonhard)
Had a great mind, but a peon heart.
His life was spare and frugal,
His sex life strictly conjugal.

So this is what math nuts do for fun. Maybe I should start doing some silly poems about historical events. I once had some students come into my office at Hamline University and do a rap bio of Augustus Caesar. And I like songs with historical lyrics.

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The Politicazation of the Federal Civil Service.

Looks like there may be another scandal out there about the attempts by the Bush admin to politicize the Federal gov't to ensure Repub dominance for, oh, the next 500 years or so. This one involves the GSA. The Washington Post has an editorial explaining the basics about it.

Keep your eye on this one - it is not likely to be as big a deal as the Dept of Justice mess, but shows what I have believed for a long time to be the most serious problem with the Bush admin.

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Tenet's Tell All?

George Tenet, former director of the CIA, is about to come out with his memoirs telling his side of the story of the run-up to the Iraq war. Should be fun, at least if he attempts to be honestly informative. A forecast of this appears in today's Washington Post. Here is what it is expecting:

... Tenet is not going to get too many Christmas cards from Vice President Cheney's office after they read "At the Center of the Storm." Folks from down the river at the Pentagon, including former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz-- a guy who's already going through a rough patch -- and former defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, might also get some heartburn.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell comes out fine. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was President Bush's key adviser in engineering the Iraq invasion, doesn't come out so fine. Not fine at all.

Unlike a lot of political memoirs this one might be worth reading no matter how self-serving it may be.

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Procrastination - thy name is Mora

I am so troubled by procrastination, in fact is seems so much a part of life, my life anyway, that I have personified it and called it Mora - the Latin word for 'delay'. I picture Mora as a woman. Darkly glamorous, alluring, but not young - in fact, much older than she actually looks, and she looks about 37 (it's my fantasy and I can be as specific as I want). Medieval dress, of course. In fact, sort of like the Maid Marion figure in my Robin Hood's Castle figurines I had when I was about 9 years old (please keep in mind that I think Freud was a quack who promulgated a pseudo-science).

Anyway - what does it say about someone who is on a first name basis with Procrastination Personified?

But, I got the paper finished in time, and I am now about ready to do my income tax. Actually, I was going to do it today, but .... well... I was tired ... and it was a crummy day ... and I heard the voice of Mora.

Oh shit. It happened again.

15 April 2007

The Conference and the Paper .... or how I survived.

Well, the paper was done, complete with powerpoint pictures and maps. So I went off bright and early Saturday morning and spent the whole day at the "World History and Economics" conference high on a mountain top (really). Got there at 9 am for Dr Kenneth Pomeranz' talk on "Rethinking Regions in Global Economic History: European and East Asian Paths to the Industrial Present." Despite the pedantic title it was a fascinating talk - mostly about China. Stayed there until 1:45 when it was time for my paper, "The Impact of Chariot Warfare on Eurasian History." with commentary from my friend, the mad Cossack of the Caucasus, Dr Toly.

Went great, except my paper was longer than I could present and I had to throw out stuff right and left. An African historian (the wife of a colleague) was unhappy with my use of the term 'civilized zone' but other than that I heard very little feed back. Except that the mad Cossack loved it - not a surprise since it was about the Indo-Iranians whom he thinks he is descended from. Maire the Red, however, said she heard some of the undergrads there saying they really like the guy who was talking about chariots (it's one of those topics like witches, Celts, and Vikings that always gets their attention).

Maire herself gave a paper on "The Economics of Slavery in the Viking Age." Pomeranz himself, the BIG NAME of the conference, commented on it. And our colleague Doc Holliday talked on "Caesarea Maritima: Implications for Religous Interaction in Third Century Palestine." These took place at the same time I had to read my paper in another room so I had to miss them.

Then I rushed back to my office, took a nap, and was back in fine form for dinner. It was free after all, and we had been promised lots of free wine. Then rushed down the mountain top to main street to meet our military historian to see "Letters From Iwo Jima." Then over to his house for a few beers (merely to whet our tongues so we could discuss "Iwo Jima" and the entire course of the Civil War, as well as R. E. Lee's character). By now it was midnight and I was wide awake. So I drove all the way home.

It was an intense but fun day. And I got the paper done in plenty of time!

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One more Repub jumps ship

Or is that jumps the shark (and what the heck does that mean anyway).

But, for another whiny liberal soft on terrorism Repub carping about the Bush admin and its supporters, see this from Andrew Sullivan post about a new book.

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13 April 2007

The Chariot Paper: An update

Ha! It is 11:30 on Friday night and the paper is finished. Covers the spread of chariots from Greece to China, and from Siberia to Egypt. Spent the afternoon selecting four or five pictures for a powerpoint presentation. The paper is brilliant - well, by definition a mediocre paper that is done is better than a brilliant paper that is not done. I learned that in graduate school.

So bright and early I will run up to school and listen to the keynote address by a BIG NAME from California (why do they always end up in California) and then find a place where I can nap until I deliver my paper at 1 pm.

(and, of course, thanks to Anactoria for that little update on how time was running out).

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12 April 2007

Middle East, Oil and Common Sense

Finally. Some common sense over on NRO regarding the connection between the gasoline you use, the price of crude, and the coffers of our enemies. Not surprisingly it comes from Victor Davis Hanson.

If the United States could curb its voracious purchases of foreign oil by using conservation, additional petroleum production, nuclear power, alternate fuels, coal gasification and new technologies, the world price might return to below $40 a barrel.

That decline would dry up the oil profits of those in the Middle East who now so desperately use them to ensure that their own problems must also be the world’s.

I say that it is mere common sense because for the last five years at least I have been making the same point. Usually to the complete derision of my more conservative friends for being so PC and green. No - this is Econ 101 for protecting ourselves in the 21st century.

So - just exactly what I have been doing to support my theory? I've shortened my daily commute by about a mile, have forced myself with gritted teeth to drive no faster than the speed limit, have a car that gets up to 30 mpg, and take the bus to work whenever I can.

Not much, but if enough of us did it, enough.

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Dept of Justice: Multiculturalism is at fault!

David Frum was a speechwriter for the Bush administration. Now he writes for, among others, The National Review. He has a fascinating take on the dust up over the Dept of Justice affair.
Here's the guts of it:

At this point in the attorney affair, it is difficult to avoid concluding:

1) regardless of the legalities, the White House and DoJ were engaged in activities that they believed would appear discreditable if exposed to full public view;

2) that they have told untruths in their effort to conceal the full truth of the matter;

and 3) that the Gonzales Justice Department was overstocked with inadequate people from the Attorney General himself on down.

He then goes on to claim that trying to find multicultural candidates was what drove DOJ to hire so many "inadequate people!!!"

A lot of brickbats have been tossed at the imperious and extravagant US Attorney for Minnesota, Rachel Paulose. Yes, she was in over her head - agreed. So why would anybody think it a good idea to promote an underqualified 34-year-old woman of South Asian ancestry to a highly visible job? Gee - you tell me. And this exercise can be repeated throughout the DoJ and indeed the whole Bush administration.

Not sure about you, but if I were a conservative of color, like Condi Rice, Colin Powell, or a host of others, I'd be a little insulted. Or, come to think of it, that most inadequate fellow, Alberto Gonzalez himself.

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11 April 2007

A Baghdad Dispatch

Fouad Ajami has published his latest update on the war in Iraq in today's Washington Post. Ajami is a professor at Johns Hopkins and is author of The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq. I greatly admire his work and his personal insights into the Middle East since he is a Shia from Lebanon who has long lived and worked in the US. When he talks and writes of 'us' and 'we' he invariably means 'us' Americans.

I do not know what to make of his political judgement. He is, to some extent, a prose poet of Shia triumphalism and it worries me that he is a close friend of the Chalabis. Still, his prospective on the situation is almost unique. If I understand his dispatch, the civil war for Iraq has just been fought, and the Shia have won. The US should not pull out, but allow the moderate Shia to forge some type of compromise with the more realistic Sunni who can accept no longer being in charge. Ajami's writings on Iraq always seem to me to be laced with an inexpressible sadness, but this dispatch ends on an upbeat note, perhaps too upbeat at this late date. Please see for yourself.

The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army. In recent days, in the southern city of Diwaniyya, American and Iraqi forces have together battled the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr. To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded. Sadr may damn the American occupiers, but ordinary Shia men and women know that the liberty that came their way had been a gift of the Americans.

The young men of little education--earnest displaced villagers with the ways of the countryside showing through their features and dialect and shiny suits--who guarded me through Baghdad, spoke of old errors, and of the joy and dignity of this new order. Children and nephews and younger brothers of men lost to the terror of the Baath, they are done with the old servitude. They behold the Americans keeping the peace of their troubled land with undisguised gratitude. It hasn't been always brilliant, this campaign waged in Iraq. But its mistakes can never smother its honor, and no apology for it is due the Arab autocrats who had averted their gaze from Iraq's long night of terror under the Baath.

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10 April 2007

Clemen's personal politics

I don't often try to analyze my political beliefs, usually try to keep them veiled, and take little pleasure in arguing about them. Except, of course, when I do.

I don't much think of myself as either a Democrat or a liberal, though that is what most people who know me would think. I took a little internet quiz on politics (you know, like the one that insulted people by claiming they were Dutch, or worse, French) and came up with "more liberal than Bill Clinton but less liberal than Hillary."

I usually tell people I am a "wishy-washy liberal." A card-carrying Communist once told be I was no such thing, but was deep down a "timid anarchist." Which, he added, could be mistaken for a wishy-washy liberal, but was not.

I don't see ideological ends as useful since they are usually deluded and when not, or at least less deluded, are carried out with too little thought and too much fervor, and too little competency and too much authoritarianism.

Basically I want to see efficient, bipartisan pragmatism that sticks to issues and facts rigorously and ruthlessly analyzed. The politics of personality, the bizarre hatred the Right has for the Clintons matched by the hatred the Left has for the Bushes (all of them, apparently), finds little echo in me. But alas, this no longer appeals to the voting public. Dirt sticks and smears sell.

Always remember the lawyers' jingle: If you have the facts, argue the facts; if you don't have the facts, argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, argue personalities. Substitute 'logic and reason' for 'the law' and you have a motto that will help you dismiss about 85% of what passes for political discourse these days. If a person's arguments hinge on personality, they have lost the argument by admitting they have neither facts nor reason on their side. Calling someone names is not an argument.

Nor is saying someone else did the same thing your guys are accused of doing: at best you are admitting that your side is at least as bad as the other side just for starters. Besides, if you are trying to argue with someone as wishy-washy as I am, I'll simply deny I am a liberal ... or a conservative... or whatever opposite is appropriate.

Just keep these points in mind as we enter this looonngg new presidential campaign.

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Some Hard Questions for my Profession

In The American Scholar Thomas Mallon has some tough questions about the future of the humanities. Here's one:
How can the contemplative mind survive in the multitasking, ADD-inducing world of digitization? Are we willing to face the downside of this great electronic boon? Do we really want students reading electronic texts of the classics that are festooned with more links than a Wikipedia entry? Aren’t a few moments of quiet bafflement preferable to an endless steeplechase across Web page after Web

For the other nine, click here.

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Procrastination time is coming to an end...

... so why am I spending time blogging? (Anactoria, are you out there?)

Because I have a paper to write. By 1 pm on Saturday when I have to stand up in front of a group of history professors from around the country and read it.

But I am making progress. Just today I checked the conference program on the computer to see exactly what I am writing on: "Chariot Warfare and its Effects on Europe." That's a mistake btw, it should read "Chariot Warfare and its Effects on Eurasia" - no sense limiting the topic. And I've checked out the book I am going to shamelessly plagiarize ... no, make that brilliantly reformulate ... for my paper.

And while I don't know much about chariot warfare in the late Bronze Age, I know a great deal more about it than the guys who will be there this Saturday. Unless Robert Drews shows up - then I'm dead.

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The Great Patriotic War - Again

Most Americans have absolutely no idea just how vast the war on the Eastern Front was in World War II or that it was the Russians who are most responsible for destroying Hitler and the Third Reich. I've mentioned this once or twice already, but the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine has a review article by Benjamin Schwarz on several new books that reveals just how much new info has come out about the Great Patriotic War and the debt the allies owe to Stalin. In every way imaginable it is a sobering story, especially for those of us who like to find neat little moral lessons attached to our history.

Schwarz slings some impressive numbers around to get our attention: 27 million dead Soviets, 4 million dead Germans, 2 million suspect minorities force marched into the interior, 158,000 Soviets executed for disertion, 926,000 dead Red Army soldiers at the battle of Moscow alone.

He is in agreement with Norman Davies' Europe at War in finding "insufferable" the notion that Britain and America stopped Hitler. For four years 400 Red army and Wehrmacht divisions faced off in a series of vicious and nearly constant battles along a 1,000 mile front. 85% of all German military dead were killed by the Red army. On the Western front, on the other hand, the most intense fighting saw 15 allied divisions facing 15 German divisions.

Now, about those moral lessons. Davies loves Poland and has no liking or sympathy for Stalin, especially after what he did to Poland. Yet his conclusion is clear, as Schwarz puts it: "the most odious criminal regime in Europe's history was defeated by an even more murderous regime, if numbers are the yardstick - which significantly tarnishes any notion of the "Good War."

Geoffrey Robert's is just as provocative in Stalin's Wars, an examination of Stalin's wartime leadership:
To make so many mistakes and to rise from the depths of such defeat to go on to win the greatest military victory in history was a triumph beyond compare... Stalin ... saved the world for democracy.

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The super-duper New Vista from Windows


Well, now that I've had it on my new machine for a month or two, what do I think of it?

Nice graphics - I can use a cute picture of a Kitty cat for my password box which, as it happens, helps me to remember my password - and anyone else if they know Latin really really well.

And ... uhh. Wait a minute, I'm sure there's something else good about it. Oh, yes. The games: spider solitaire and Purble Place. Great fun. Everything else is pretty much like the old windows.

Except that Vista is not compatible with a lot of things, like some of our old software, one of the drivers that Dell insists on installing on its computers that are allegedly ready for Vista, and it won't open any attachments on any of my e-mail programs.

Which, if you think of it, is a bit like buying a brand new car, say a Camry, the industry standard, and then finding that you can't drive it on certain older roads because the car engineers didn't think you really need to drive on them.

Clovis the computer mavin has offered to come over and replace Vista with the last version of Windows - just as he has had to do with several of the perfessors here.

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John McCain - fading?

John McCain interests me for a great many reasons. If the Demos nominate another hapless bozo I would consider voting for him on the grounds that he is the unBush, if nothing else. Lately, though, his prospects seem to be fading fast. E.J. Dionne has a good summation of the state of his campaign in today's Washington Post. Dionne sees his campaign as 'tragic' and seems to regret its (presumed) demise.

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08 April 2007

1066 and all that

For the Norman victory of 1066 at the battle of Hastings as shown on the new animated Bayeux tapestry, with a soundtrack ripped off from 'Gladiator,' 'Carmina Burana' and other sources, click here. Not quite as funny as Viking Kitties, but still worth watching.

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07 April 2007

Justice Dept - Minnesota Division

While we are all aware of the troubles of the Department of Justice in Washington where Alberto Gonzalez has become everyone's favorite piñata, dangling in the air waiting for the next whack, but now the troubles have spread to my old home town, the home of squeaky clean politics and Jesse 'the Bod' Ventura. You can read about it in the WaPo here.

It seems that three top federal attorneys resigned rather than work with the new US attorney.

"The discontent in Minnesota centers on U.S. Attorney Rachel K. Paulose, 34, who
previously worked for Gonzales and his deputy, McNulty. She is part of a wave of more than a dozen Bush administration insiders appointed as federal prosecutors over the past two years, according to government records. "

This is all very embarrassing for the DOJ given that it is trying to tamp down the situation and get it off the front pages. A local law professor at Hamline University, a school I know very well, explains:

"You never really hear political rumblings out of that [Minnesota] office, so it comes as some surprise to see three people step down like this all at once," Schultz said. "It raises the question of whether attorneys are starting to become uncomfortable about the politicization that seems to be going on at Justice."

One can only hope. Makes me homesick for Saint Paul .... it will be lovely in a month or so when winter ends.

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05 April 2007

Beyond Delusional

I'll link to this one without much comment, except to point out that Cheney is the one American politician more unpopular than Bush at the moment.

Here's a taste of its theory:

Lawrence Kudlow wrote a column a while back saying he hoped President Bush asked Vice President Cheney to run for president in 2008. It was a fine idea then and it still is — not because the current field is particularly weak, but because Mr. Cheney is so much more experienced and shrewd a figure, one who could help settle some of the arguments about the Bush years in favor of Mr. Bush. A White House aiming to get Mr. Cheney elected could also avoid some of the hazards that befall lame-ducks — drift, brain drain, irrelevance. Such a campaign might lift Mr. Cheney 's own standing in the polls.

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Iraq: Hope, or 'light at the end of the tunnel'

As a Viet Nam era person (I volunteered for the war before I dodged the draft - long story) I am innately suspicious of government talk along the lines of 'light at the end of the tunnel.' Sometimes it's a train.

Nevertheless, there is some moderately encouraging news coming out of Iraq and especially in Anbar province. I listened to Gen. Petreaus last night on the 'News Hour' while he tried to explain just what was going on when John McCain visited the market in Baghdad. It wasn't entirely convincing, but I believe he is right to say there has been an improvement. McCain certainly is not as delusional as some commentators are painting him at the moment.

But I think it is Anbar that is more telling. As this 'dispatch' in the WSJ shows, tribal chiefs are beginning to co-operate with Iraqi and American forces against Al Qaeda. Partly this is because that after having a taste of rule by fanatics, the central government doesn't seem so bad, partly because the government and the Americans have been careful to offer them some inducements. But mainly I think it means that the Sunni chiefs in Anbar have made a rational and informed judgement that their future lies with a unified Iraq, one that owes them a debt for what they assume will be a 'victory' of sorts.

We'll see. But I sure hope this bears fruit.


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'300' - the Spartans open in Central Asia!

Yesterday I watched the old epic "300 Spartans", the movie that inspired Frank Miller to do his comic novel '300.' For those of you with sharp eyes and a good memory you may have noticed some visual cues from the movie in Miller's artwork, e.g. the helmet worn by the Persian herald in the comic, and worn by the deformed traitor in the movie. It got me thinking that, despite some very real qualms I have about '300' - e.g. its use of dark skin and physical deformities as emblems of evil - , it is an exciting, high energy romp that gets close to what the ancient Greeks might have appreciated.

Yet not everyone is happy. The Iranian government for example, which points out that it is insulting to the greater Iranian nation. In fact, it is insulting to all Central Asians (I can't say they don't have a point) since the Iranian Empire used to rule Central Asia. So much so that they are trying to get countries like Uzbekistan (and probably Tajikistan and all the other Stans) to ban it.

So far the Uzbeks, who don't like Iranians very much any way, are holding firm to their new found freedom to watch any damn piece of Western trash they want!

Good for them.

[though the Iranians DO have a point]

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04 April 2007

Clemens' Comedy Corner

For you '300' fans and non-fans alike: you may be aware that there is a great deal of discussion out there in blogland about the homoeroticism of the movie. I think that Andrew Sullivan has discovered the ultimate answer to this important question over on YouTube. Almost makes me want to see the movie again.

Carmen* thought the clip was great so check it out!

*in the Clemens' household, the final arbiter of all things relating to taste (or maybe just all things). And you should read the comic version of '300' by the way.

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03 April 2007

English as world language

Well, this has been brewing for some time. Bless the plucky Hungarians for holding out against Indo-European dominance. Maybe the Finns and the Estonians will back them up.

And check the date of this linked post very carefully.

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The Fading Administration

I don't think many people believe this, but the worst effect of the Bush administration will be in the long run neither the Iraq War nor the corruption of Congress. It will be the politicization of the Federal bureaucracy. Carmen and I noticed it first when the leadership of Social Security started shilling for Georgie's Social Security plan. We both realized that in all the years she had worked for Social Security nothing like that had ever happened.

Then we saw a rash of incidents like the 24 year old political commissar at NASA editing scientific reports to avoid using the term "Big Bang Theory" because it might anger Evangelicals. And it turned out that not only was he not a scientist, nor experienced in anything, he had lied on his resume.

Now we have this gem* from the Dept of Justice. The first job of the next admin, Demo or Repub, will be to clean these incompetent hacks out and replace them with competent, experienced professionals.

We'll see.

*I should point out that this is the official from Justice who is taking the 5th and refusing to testify, which means, despite what her lawyer says, she is afraid it can be used to prove she committed a crime. Not an error of judgement, not an act of miscommunication or misspeaking. A crime.

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02 April 2007

Just for Mr Sobrino (and other beer lovers)

Here's the latest on the WaPo local mass market beer test.

Like you I am still trying to figure out how Consumer Report rated Old Milwaukee as the best mass market beer in America. It's things like that that explain why they hate us!

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01 April 2007

Attack of the Crocheted Daleks!

If the last word in the title of this post had no meaning for you, this will not be amusing.

And all I can say is, You poor soul you.

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