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Archive for January, 2008

Presidents Believe the Darnedest Things

[ 23 ] January 25, 2008 |

While prepping for my US Since 1945 course this week, I stumbled across a number of references to Harry Truman’s apparent conviction that “Peter the Great’s Will” — one of the great forgeries in modern European history — was genuine. “The Testament,” as it has often been known, allegedly contained Peter’s dying wishes for the future of Russia. Because the document was likely forged by any one of several parties hostile to Russian interests around the late 1790s or early 1800s (about 75 years after Peter committed himself to full-time daisy-pushing), the document is plump with expansionist rhetoric. For example:

5. We must take away as much territory as possible from Sweden, and sedulously contrive that they attack us first, so as to give us a pretext for their subjugation. With this object in view, we must keep Sweden in opposition to Denmark and Denmark to Sweden, and sedulously foster their mutual jealousies . . . .

8. We must keep steadily extending our frontiers northward along the Baltic and southwards along the shores of the Black Sea.

9. We must progress as much as possible in the direction of Constantinople and India. He who can once get the possession of these points is the real ruler of the world. With this in view we must provoke constant quarrels at the one time with Turkey, at another with Persia. We must . . . degrees make ourselves master of that sea, as well as the Baltic, which is a doubly important element in the success of our plan. We must hasten the downfall of Persia, push on to the Persian Gulf, if possible re-establish the ancient commercialities with the Levant through Syria, and force our way into the Indies, which are the storehouses of the world. Once there, we can dispense with English gold . . . .

13. When Sweden is ours, Persia vanquished, Poland subjugated, Turkey conquered, when our armies are united and the Euxine and the Baltic in the possession of ships, then we must make separate and secret overtures, first to the court of Versailles and then to that of Vienna, to share with them the domination of the world. If either of them accepts our propositions, which is certain to happen if their ambitions and self-interest are properly worked upon, we must make use of one to annihilate the other; this done, we have only to destroy the remaining one by finding a pretext for a quarrel, the issue of which cannot be doubtful, as Russia will then be in the absolute possession of the East and the best part of Europe.

It’s not hard to imagine why this document would find new life in the early years of the Cold War. What’s harder to comprehend is how Truman could run around — as he apparently did — telling people that they needed to read the will of Peter the Great to understand the source of the “fixed ideas” held by the Soviets. The document had been recognized by scholars as a blatant forgery at least a century earlier, but Clark Clifford apparently slipped Truman a copy of the text sometime in mid- to late-1946 without consulting any of the Soviet experts in the administration — any of whom could have set the record straight after choking back their laughter.

As far as I can tell, Truman never referred to the document in public, and he might ultimately have been set straight in 1948 after writing a letter — again, recommending Peter’s alleged will — to Granville Clark, the guy who had authored the Selective Service Act in 1940. Clark apparently checked around, discovered that the Testament was a crock, and promptly wrote a letter to Sen. Robert Taft, Truman’s Republican nemesis at the time. In that letter, Clark seems to have expressed some concern that Truman was an idiot.

In a roundabout way, all of this made me wonder what the clowns in George Bush’s orbit have been telling him about Iraq, Iran, and god knows who else for the past seven years.


Cheaper than Kristol, and Marginally Less Creepy

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

I just want everyone to know that I will happily produce poorly written neoconservative boilerplate for the low, low price of $3 a word.

The 2008 National Book Award Competition is Officially Over

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A truly historic day in the history of American letters…

It’s Good to Have Dreams

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

Here’s the thing; I can’t even imagine having a job in which I personally had the capacity to lose seven billion dollars:

Societe Generale SA said bets on stock index futures by a rogue trader caused a 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) trading loss, the largest in banking history.

Jerome Kerviel, 31, was the trader responsible, the Paris- based bank said today. Societe Generale plans to raise 5.5 billion euros from shareholders after the loss and subprime- related writedowns depleted capital. The Bank of France, the country’s banking regulator, is investigating the alleged fraud.

The trading loss exceeds the $6.6 billion Amaranth Advisors LLC lost in 2006, and is more than four times the $1.4 billion of losses by Nick Leeson that brought down Barings Plc in 1995. An offer by Chairman Daniel Bouton to resign after the trades were discovered this past weekend was refused by Societe Generale’s board, the bank said…

The trading loss wipes out almost two years of pretax profit at Societe Generale’s investment-banking unit, run by Jean-Pierre Mustier. The company said it’s suing the trader, who had a salary and bonus of less than 100,000 euros a year and worked at the bank since 2000.

Four to five people will be fired as a result of the loss, Mustier told reporters at a press conference in Paris.

But let’s remember; private industry is more efficient, transparent, responsive, etc. etc. etc. than government.

Esteban Colberto y Lou Dobbs

Hilarious. It’s a “recreation” of an interview Colbert conducted with Dobbs last year (virtually word for word), but I gotta hand it to Colbert: he’s making the best of his writer-free show.


[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A prominent pro-choice activist switches from Clinton to Obama based on the former’s smears of the latter’s record.


[ 23 ] January 24, 2008 |

Any thoughts on what I should do with my possible $6-12 per week of stimulus? I see that if I use about two weeks’ worth, I could purchase this book.

Or I could just blow it all on a shiny new pony.


[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

I’m generally pretty lenient in evaluating Congressional leadership, especially in the Senate. Sometimes, Reid will get heat for not making votes he doesn’t have materialize out of thin air. But as has been widely noted, trying to steamroller filibusters of bad legislation by members of your own party when you’re unwilling to do the same with respect to filibusters of good legislation by members of the other party is appalling. And any politician who can’t find a politically successful way of opposing a free pass for telecom companies whose illegal acts violate the privacy of their customers needs to fine a new line of work.

It should also be noted that John Edwards deserves credit and Jay Rockefeller is a disgrace.

There Is A Santa Claus!

[ 7 ] January 24, 2008 |

I know it’s hard to let go of your dreams, but there seems something uniquely pathetic about combining brokered convention wankery with “Fred Thompson’s still in it although he never was in it!” wishful thinking. I hate to tell people, but the GOP nomination is a two-person race, and a two-person race won’t produce a brokered convention.

Tiger Makes Other Golfers Worse

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |


If money motivates, then the prospect of winning the top prize should bring out extreme effort in golf. But when Tiger is playing and you’re not Tiger, you face a depressed prize schedule. If you assume Tiger is going to win, then the top prize available to you is $864,000 rather than $1.44 million. That beats the heck out of steak knives, but it’s significantly less than the winner’s take. Second place—among players who are not Tiger—gets $544,000 rather than $864,000, and so on. While Tiger certainly doesn’t win every tournament he enters, he does frequently shift the reward schedule for most of the field. Of the 219 tournaments he’s played in during his first professional decade, Tiger collected 54 PGA wins, finished in the top three in 92, and in the top 10 in 132….

Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well—about an extra stroke per tournament—when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, “exempt” players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger’s presence doesn’t mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th—there’s not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger’s hot streaks, when his competitors’ prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors’ scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger’s well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors’ scores were unaffected by Tiger’s presence.

This doesn’t seem right to me, but the empirical case is certainly interesting. What are the alternative explanations? It’s obviously a bit twitchy to claim that Tiger’s hot streaks and slumps cause other golfers to play better or worse; the causation could run in the other direction as well, although the sample size would seem to suggest that isn’t happening…

Score one for Bazelon & Lithwick

The Slate Legal Ladies make quick work of wingnut M. Edward Whelan’s bully-style critiques of NY Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, and of the Times’s seeming inability to fully stand up for her. Sure, ombudsman Clark Hoyt gives lip service to her lack of bias and calls Whelan a bully, but he then validates Whelan’s critique by going on to criticize Greenhouse for not disclosing in her columns that her husband is a lawyer who has filed amicus briefs with the court, sometimes in the cases she covered…even though she doesn’t talk about her husband’s briefs in her stories. Hoyt suggests that the Times should make stricter its disclosure policy–say, require Greenhouse to provide more information to the public than that her husband is a lawyer, even when it’s not relevant to the substance of her writing.

Lithwick and Bazelon make clear the ridiculousness of the chest-puffing stance:

(Disclosure: We have both worked with Greenhouse and admire her enormously. Fidell has never said anything about the Bush administration to us. We made that quote up. Also, our husbands like Thai food and the color blue, in case that precludes us from reporting on anything in the future. Also also, Whelan has slimed both of us, too—apparently there’s lots of us unfit reporters out there.)

NB, Whelan and other slate-watchers: they write about thai food or the color blue — you complain.

But seriously, Lithwick & Bazelon are right to lay bare the ridiculousness of Hoyt’s acceptance of Whelan’s pseudo criticisms. Especially because Hoyt bases his suggestions for a new Times disclosure policy on Whelan’s complaints. I’ve got a question for Hoyt: does so disingenuously defending your own reporter undermine your stance as the moral authority at the Times?

Like New

I spent much of yesterday afternoon/evening installing a new internal hard drive into my computer. When I got my MacBook about a year ago, I scoffed at the idea that 80GB would not be enough. Well, it wasn’t.

My certified Apple Genius friend took charge (with her handy dandy mini screwdriver), and voila. A few hours later, I had a new hard drive. Frankly, it feels like I have a zippy new computer.

A word to the wise: if you ever migrate information from your old computer to a new computer, do it manually. After ten years and three computers, turns out I had over 10GB of junk “old system” files on my computer…and that, having deleted that stuff, maybe I didn’t really need a new hard drive after all. Doh.

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