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Archive for November, 2007

Powerline Hits McCain’s Casting Couch

[ 1 ] November 12, 2007 |

A couple of days ago, Paul Mirengoff announced that he was going to be doing some “good, old-fashioned hard reporting” from New Hampshire. Whenever conservative bloggers start yodeling about the incompetence of “the MSM” while cheering on the blogosphere for cutting through the bullshit, I’m just going to remind them of Mirengoff’s first offering, which is an apparent non-parody of campaign journalism.

The Straight Talk Express is divided into two segments. The first consists of eight comfortable chairs. This is where the campaign staff works. The second, separated from the first by a curtain, consists of a round semi-circular sofa. It’s there, with journalists squeezed onto the sofa with him, that McCain holds court, taking question after question and not ducking any of them.

The “campaign” is essentially absent at “court.” Occasionally a staffer will stand by the curtain and listen in, but they don’t impinge on the proceedings. I recall McCain interacting with the campaign on the bus only three times yesterday. Once he asked a staffer to remind him to call the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. Once a staffer brought a blackberry and showed McCain a message. He said he’d deal with it later. Once, as we were boarding the bus after a stop, the Senator and his top confidante Mark Salter went to the back for a meeting. It lasted maybe a minute. The rest of the time it was just McCain and us.

After a leg or two, we run out of questions, so “court” becomes a conversation about politics and public policy. By the final leg, the conversation has drifted into away from politics and public policy, and into history and sports. McCain sprinkles the conversation with anecdotes – some about his travels; some about famous people he’s known. He also asks a trivia question or two.

Sweet bleeding Jesus. Really, it’s enough to make the reporting of Elisabeth Bumiller seem like a black-site interrogation. I’m almost embarrassed for these guys. I mean, did Mirengoff save the juice box McCain offered him? Did he get the trivia questions right? Who was the most famousest person McCain’s ever met? Is he ever going to be able to wash his right hand again?

Mirengoff concludes the piece with an incoherent meditation on why McCain’s chummy relationship with bloggers and reporters somehow makes him more capably presidential. Nowhere does he surrender any specifics about the questions that McCain bravely refuses to duck, none of which I suspect pertained to the dead kid whose mother he was supposed to console. But hey, the furniture was comfy and the trivia was flowing like grape Hi-C, so why spoil a pleasant bus ride?


Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Brooke Dynasty

[ 0 ] November 12, 2007 |

In 1841, a previously unsuccessful British adventurer named James Brooke arrived in Brunei. Having served in the army twenty years before, Brooke had decided to purchase a schooner with his inheritance and make his career as a trader. At this he was less than fully successful, but his arrival in Brunei would open the door to a new career. The Sultan of Brunei was in the midst of difficulties with interior tribesmen, and Brooke found himself in a position to assist. The grateful Sultan, after some intimidation, named Brooke the Rajah of Sarawak, the territory of which made up most of the north and west of the Sultan’s domain. Brooke would steadily annex more territory from Brunei, eventually rendering his kingdom much larger than its mother country.

When Brooke died in 1868, he was succeeded by his nephew Charles Anthony Brooke. The Brookes made some administrative reforms and assisted in the fight to quell piracy, but their authority lay lightly over native institutions. In 1888, Charles Anthony Brooks accepted a British protectorate over Sarawak, formally incorporating the state in Britain’s Far East security scheme. Some infrastructure investment made possible the discovery and exploitation of oil, and the establishment of a parliament.

Charles Vyner Brooke succeeded his father in 1917, and continued to rule as his predecessors. The expansion of rubber production in Sarawak further benefited the local economy, but the presence of both oil and rubber would make Sarawak a tempting target. In December 1941 Japan invaded, and Brooke fled to Australia with his family. Small numbers of Sarawakan and Indian troops were quickly overrun, and the Japanese administered Sarawak until 1945. The merchant marine of Sarawak was incorporated into the British war effort, however, including the royal yacht, SS Vyner Brooke. SS Vyner Brooke picked up a contingent of injured soldiers and Australian nurses from Singapore just before the city fell. Unfortunately, Japanese artillery shelled and sank the ship, killing many of the nurses and soldiers. A large group of survivors escaped the wreck and arrived on Banka Island, which was also controlled by the Japanese. While a contingent from the ship left to try to surrender to the authorities, a squad of Japanese soldiers encountered the main encampment. They proceeded to shoot or bayonet all of the wounded soldiers, then machine gunned the 23 remaining nurses. One nurse survived, was eventually captured, and gave war crimes testimony against the Japanese in 1947.

After the war, Charles Vyner Brooke returned to Sarawak and briefly reassumed the throne. The war had wrought serious political changes in Southeast Asia, however, and in 1946 Brooke decided to cede his claim on Sarawak to the British government. In return, he and his three daughters received a substantial pension. Prospects for a restoration to the throne are virtually nil. Anthony Brooke, the current heir, has renounced all claims on the throne. Also, Sarawak has ceased to exist as an independent state, having been incorporated into Malaysia. While some dissent against British (eventually Malaysian) rule existed in the past, a return to independence is unlikely, and independence under the Brooke family almost unthinkable.

Trivia: The two primary pretenders to which throne are respectively the manager of a corporate home shopping branch, and a history professor?

Armistice Day

[ 27 ] November 11, 2007 |

The Great War ended 89 years ago today; I continue to prefer concrete remembrance of that war to the abstraction that is Veterans Day. Depending on how you count, there are currently between 22 and 31 surviving veterans of the First World War, up to nine of whom live in the United States. Five are British, including Henry Allingham, the only living survivor of the Battle of Jutland.

Death and Taxes

[ 0 ] November 11, 2007 |

By this guy’s logic, I should not have paid federal taxes for the last 7 years, since I don’t support just about anything the federal government has done since 2001.

More Relevant Than Ever

[ 0 ] November 11, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The Warm Personality of Bill Belichick, The Mad Skillz of Norv Turner

In light of the failure of even scheduling two service academies to put a mild veneer of respectability on this marvelous Notre Dame season, I would strongly recommend picking up this highly prescient book, which I saw advertised on ESPN and I’m sure is just as persuasive as when it was published. I’m disappointed that Amazon isn’t packaging it with Bush Country, however…


[ 0 ] November 11, 2007 |

I was looking forward to taunting Ohio State fans in Cincinnati as the Ducks pulled 30 points ahead in the national championship game, then getting savagely beaten by said fans. Now, I may just have to head down to New Orleans and watch the game live…

Though Arguably the "Soul Patch" is Worse

[ 11 ] November 10, 2007 |

Rich Cohen grows a Toothbrush, otherwise known as the Hitler Mustache:

I went out. In the street, some people looked at me, but most looked away. A few people said things after I passed. One man gave me a kind of Heil, but it was lackadaisical, and I am fairly certain he was being ironic. (People can be so mean!) Even friends said nothing until I asked, or else acted embarrassed for me. A woman said, “I think you were more handsome without the mustache.” I had been worried someone might try to hurt me. I imagined toughs from the Jewish Defense League attacking with throwing stars—Jewish throwing stars! But it turns out, when you shave like Hitler, you follow the same rule you follow with bees: They’re more scared of you than you are of them. Because either you really are Hitler, or you’re a nut. So people do with little Hitlers what people always do with lunatics in New York, the harmless or dangerous—they ignore, they avert, they move away. If you want to fly coach without being hassled, grow a Toothbrush mustache.

The whole piece — which is mostly a social and political history of the Toothbrush ‘stache — is really interesting. Evidently, Americans first introduced it to Germany in the late 19th century, when the ferocious and ornate kaiserbart dominated the nation’s upper lip. As Cohen points out, the blowback from that innovation was quite profound.

Kerik’s Contribution

[ 3 ] November 10, 2007 |

Via Drum, John McCain:

“I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with (Ambassador Paul) Bremer and (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left,” McCain told reporters traveling on his campaign bus.

“That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything and then went out to the airport and left.”

But of course, as we ought to remember from our Imperial Life in th Emerald City, bailing out on the Iraqi police was probably the single greatest contribution that Bernie Kerik could have made to peace and security in Iraq. Rajiv Chadrasekaran neatly details how Kerik’s tenure with the Iraqi police force was disastrous even by CPA standards:

As they entered the Interior Ministry office in the palace, Gifford offered to brief Kerik. “It was during that period I realized he wasn’t with me,” Gifford recalled. “He didn’t listen to anything. He hadn’t read anything except his e-mails. I don’t think he read a single one of our proposals.”

Kerik wasn’t a details guy. He was content to let Gifford figure out how to train Iraqi officers to work in a democratic society. Kerik would take care of briefing the viceroy and the media. And he’d be going out for a few missions himself.

Kerik’s first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad “is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.” He went on NBC’s “Today” show to pronounce the situation “better than I expected.” To Time magazine, he said that “people are starting to feel more confident. They’re coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened.”

When it came to his own safety, Kerik took no chances. He hired a team of South African bodyguards, and he packed a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.

The first months after liberation were a critical period for Iraq’s police. Officers needed to be called back to work and screened for Baath Party connections. They’d have to learn about due process, how to interrogate without torture, how to walk the beat. They required new weapons. New chiefs had to be selected. Tens of thousands more officers would have to be hired to put the genie of anarchy back in the bottle.

Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter, according to Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission. Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers. With no help on the way, the task of organizing and training Iraqi officers fell to U.S. military police soldiers, many of whom had no experience in civilian law enforcement.

“He was the wrong guy at the wrong time,” Burke said later. “Bernie didn’t have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person. . . . Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality.”

Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer’s senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night’s adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn’t around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.

Several members of the CPA’s Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.”

So don’t curse Bernie for “bailing out” on the Iraqis; if he had hung around longer, he probably would have done more damage.

"All over the ship, all through the convoy, there was a knowledge that in a few hours some of them were going to be dead."

[ 12 ] November 10, 2007 |

Norman Mailer, R.I.P.

Between his misogyny and authenticity-obsessed nutty politics — whatever one thinks of the aesthetic quality of the work, I would avoid a first date with a guy who wants to meet you by leaving a note in An American Dream — Mailer was an anachronism. But he was also an anachronism whose best work — especially Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song — I’ve been drawn back to recently and holds up surprisingly well. I’m sure this will compel me to pull The Time of Our Times off the shelf and see how often I can be pleasantly surprised as well as infuriated or baffled.

The Lodi Lieberman

[ 50 ] November 10, 2007 |

Dianne Fienstein (Senator Desperately In Need Of A Primary Challenge-CA) supports immunizing companies who acted illegally by violating the privacy of their customers. It would be holding companies “hostage” to punish them for illegal activity, since state actors were also involved! Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo! For reasons I can’t understand, the fact that litigation would be “costly” — and hence deter future illegal behavior and violations of customer privacy — is supposed to be a bug, not a feature. The classic coservertarian bait-and-switch.

With Lieberman out, it’s becoming overwhelmingly clear that with the appropriate regional adjustments Fienstein is the worst Democrat in the Senate. Can we at least get her booted off the Judiciary Committee?


[ 2 ] November 10, 2007 |


Mailer has been a relative blind spot among American novelists for me; I’ve only read The Naked and the Dead (on the subject I prefer James Jones) and Armies of the Night. Mailer, of course, is more (or less) than his books; he’s also been a gadfly/punchline for the last thirty years of American political and cultural life. He didn’t really write things that made sense, but at least they failed to make sense in interesting ways, as long as you didn’t have to read them. My favorite Mailer moments come during When We Were Kings, as he and Plimpton discuss the Foreman-Ali fight and its greater significance. Mailer strikes a blow against the classic “white guy goes to Africa and goes crazy” narrative; he was clearly crazy before he arrived in Zaire.

Rest in peace.

Media Mail

[ 13 ] November 10, 2007 |

So for some reason I have a subscription to the Sports Illustrated. I’m not sure how this happened, but when (apparently) free magazines begin showing up in my mailbox I’m not one to ask questions. I could also, I suppose, take five minutes and check my credit card statement to see if I’m actually being charged for this, but since the adjectives “freeloader” and “lazy” usually appear as a couplet pair [thanks to that boar joys literature-talking guy Thers for correcting me], I figure there’s no point swimming upstream.

Alaska being Alaska — which is to say, “far the hell away from everything” — media mail usually takes a while to arrive. And so today’s visit from the post office guy brought with it the October 22 edition of SI. I’m really grateful that I haven’t paid any attention to the intertubes over the past three weeks, because some really interesting developments are afoot in the world of sport, and I would hate to know how things turn out before my weekly magazines arrive from the distant past.

For instance:

  • It appears the Rockies and Indians are on the verge of winning their respective pennants. I’m disappointed that the Sox appear to be finished for the season, but I like Cleveland quite a bit and wouldn’t mind seeing them win a series for once. Plus, Mr. Trend is from Ohio, and I like to see my internet friends happy.
  • I don’t pay much attention to college football these days, but the season continues to be one of the wackiest in recent memory. South Florida has somehow lifted itself to #2 in the rankings after Kentucky’s remarkable win over LSU. Without making too many predictions, I suspect all the craziness will subside pretty soon. Don’t expect too much movement in the BCS rankings, particularly if you happen to be a Ducks fan.
  • The Patriots just beat the holy shit out of Dallas, but I don’t think they stand much of a chance against the Colts when they meet in two weeks six days ago. If you’re in a gambling sort of mood, I’d definitely bet your kid’s college savings on Indianapolis. I sure will be!
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