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Color Me Unimpressed

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

I was informed that the Yankees would quickly start losing as soon as they encountered the formidable Tribe, and I certainly wanted this to be true. Admittedly, such arguments would be more convincing had they, say, identified any aspect in which the Indians were better than the Yankees (the 2007 Indians, I mean; I’ll concede that the Yankees have a worse rotation than the 1954 Indians, although I’m not really persuaded that this is a relevant criterion.) I suppose some would say defense, but you would be incorrect. In fairness, however, the Indians have established unquestioned supremacy in the field of “getting picked off first base with the bases loaded.”
On to the wildcard!

Merv Griffin!

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

Gameshow kingpin Merv Griffin is no more. An odd guy by any standard, Griffin was a right wing nut who introduced Nancy Reagan to his psychic. His very name, however, inspired one of the great moments in comic book dada, so I think he broke even in the end.

Heartbreaking Ineptitude

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

The foreign policy stylings of George W. Bush:

But that skepticism had never taken hold in Washington. Since the 2001 war, American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports.

The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq.

Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

In other words, the administration diverted resources from a country that it had the responsibility to build, and let a genuine threat to American security regroup and regain effective power in large parts of the country, in order to invade a country that posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States. Brilliant! Which leads us to another edition of What Hilzoy Said:

I remember hearing those speeches and thinking: oh, thank God. Back in late 2001 and early 2002, I was giving Bush the benefit of the doubt — I hadn’t thought much of him before, but 9/11 did seem to have concentrated his attention, and it truly seemed as though he had changed. (As indeed he had; just not in ways anyone anticipated.) I had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and I heard those words — Marshall Plan, we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will not abandon Afghanistan — and thinking: we are really going to do something wonderful.

I think that some of the most inspiring moments in international relations are when serious, long-festering problems are actually decisively solved. When South Africa’s apartheid government handed over power peacefully to the ANC, for instance: South Africa still has enormous problems, but the ghastly ever-present nightmare of apartheid had actually gone away. When the conflict in Northern Ireland is finally laid to rest, it will be the same sort of glorious moment. Some problems aren’t solved all at once; still, you can see points at which things turn slightly from despair towards hope, and then, if you’re lucky, a point at which the process of transforming some problem that has haunted the world for what seems like forever into history starts to look irreversible.

Afghanistan had been one of those problems for decades. We weren’t in a position to do much about it earlier — naively, I believed that you don’t just go around invading countries out of the blue, ha ha ha — but suddenly we actually had a really good reason to invade, and there we were, the Taliban was in flight, the people seemed overjoyed, and I thought: dear God, we are actually going to do try to right by Afghanistan, whose people have suffered so much for so long. And back in that era of lost hopes, what gave me real confidence that we would do our best to actually help Afghanistan to transform itself from a failed state into a normal, functioning society was that for once, making a serious effort to do this wasn’t just a wild aspiration. It was feasible, it was the right thing to do, but most importantly, as far as its actually happening was concerned, it was clearly, obviously, overwhelmingly in our interest.

It still breaks my heart just thinking about it. Read the whole article and weep.

It’s infuriating because it’s true.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Muhammed Ali Dynasty

[ 2 ] August 12, 2007 |

In 1806, a 36 year old Albanian man named Muhammed Ali was appointed Viceroy of Egypt. The son of a tobacco merchant, Muhammed had distinguished himself as an officer in the Ottoman Army in battles against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s invasion had done serious damage to Egypt’s ruling Mamluk caste, but Muhammed Ali still had to struggle to resist Mamluk pressures for independence from Istanbul. In 1811, Muhammed invited 700 prominent Mamluks to his home to celebrate the launching of a war against Wahhabists in Arabia. Upon their arrival, he ambushed and slaughtered all but one. Surviving Mamluks were hunted down and massacred until the last remnants fled to Sudan. Consequently, Ali conquered Sudan. Ali spent the rest of his time trying to bring Egypt into the modern Mediterranean economy through the development of infrastructure, social services, and an expansion of the textile industry. These projects helped fund the reform of Egypt’s army and navy.

In 1827, the Egyptian Navy was on loan to Muhammed’s liege, the Ottoman Sultan. At the Battle of Navarino, fought against a combined British, French, and Russian fleet, both the Egyptian and Ottoman navies were annihilated. This irritated Muhammed Ali, who demanded Syria in compensation. After thirteen years of on-again, off-again war, Muhammed Ali won for his family the right of hereditary ownership of the positiion Viceroy of Egypt. Egypt would more or less achieve independence in 1867 under Khedive Ismail, grandson of Muhammed Ali. This de facto independence didn’t last, as a British invasion in 1879 essentially put control of Egypt in British hands. Khedive Abbas II tried to bring Egypt into World War I on the side of the Central Powers in 1914, resulting in his immediate deposition by the British. Sultan Husayn I, son of Ismail, became the first ruler of formally independent Egypt. Husayn’s brother Fuad would become the first King of Egypt in 1922.

Farouk, son of Fuad, became King of Egypt in 1936, at the age of 16. Although educated in England, Farouk favored the Axis in World War II, and kept Egypt neutral in spite of the British occupation. The King led a lavish lifestyle, and became known as a kleptomaniac; in addition to stealing a sword from the Shah of Iran and a pocket watch from Winston Churchill, King Farouk regularly pilfered in the streets of Cairo. This didn’t help the perception that his regime was corrupt and wasteful. In 1952, a coup launched by an Army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser forced Farouk to abdicate in favor of his six month old son, Fuad II. Fuad’s reign ended a year later with the abolition of the monarchy. Farouk would die at an Italian dinner table in 1965, rich food and a sedentary life having taken their toll.

King Fuad II has lived most of his life in France, where he and his children have been educated. Fuad has not renounced his claim to the throne, but there seems little indication that he is making any active efforts to reclaim it. Prospects for a restoration appear grim. As the Muhammed Ali dynasty is of Albanian stock, it holds little interest for Egyptian nationalists. There also appears to be very little residual good feeling for King Farouk. Even considering the repression that marks the modern Egyptian political system, notable political support for a restoration appears absent.

Trivia: What deposed monarch enjoyed an independent reign of less than a month, ending in his flight to the home country of his former colonial masters?

Who Says The U.S. Is Losing Its Influence?

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

Hey, Robert Mugabe likes the American move towards arbitrary executive power just fine!

The Invisible Women

[ 0 ] August 11, 2007 |

See Lauren and Jane Hamsher. Obviously, it’s a tough line to walk when you try to discuss the legitimate issue of the underrepresentation of women in the blogopshere without slighting the women who are there, but it seems to me that Goodman crossed the line into slighting. In particular, I think Lauren’s suggestion that “I suggest people venture out of their blogly cul-de-sacs and read some of the political blogs out there that don’t exclusively deal with electioneering” has considerable merit. But even among the more electoral politics-focused blogs, I definitely think that Jane and Christy and Joan McCarter (and the other Kos frontpagers) get overlooked in these kinds of meta-discussions.

…Commenters are right that, although she doesn’t strictly fit in the “electioneering” category, I shouldn’t have neglected the incomparable Digby.

Tough, Determined, Relentless, Vacuous

[ 0 ] August 11, 2007 |

More evidence of Bush’s “great neo-conservative mind” in action:

On April 17 [2002], Mr. Bush traveled to the Virginia Military Institute, where Gen. George C. Marshall trained a century ago. “Marshall knew that our military victory against enemies in World War II had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings,” Mr. Bush said, calling Marshall’s work “a beacon to light the path that we, too, must follow.”

Mr. Bush had belittled “nation building” while campaigning for president 18 months earlier. But aware that Afghans had felt abandoned before, including by his father’s administration after the Soviets left in 1989, he vowed to avoid the syndrome of “initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure.”

“We’re not going to repeat that mistake,” he said. “We’re tough, we’re determined, we’re relentless. We will stay until the mission is done.”

If, of course, by “done” we mean this:

Sixteen months after the president’s 2002 speech, the United States Agency for International Development, the government’s main foreign development arm, had seven full-time staffers and 35 full-time contract staff members in Afghanistan, most of them Afghans, according to a government audit. Sixty-one agency positions were vacant.

“It was state building on the cheap, it was a duct tape approach,” recalled Said T. Jawad, Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff at the time and Afghanistan’s current ambassador to Washington. “It was fixing things that were broken, not a strategic approach.”

None of this, obviously, should be news to anyone; it was evident by early 2003 — when the Bush administration neglected to request any funds for reconstruction — that Afghanistan was no longer a priority. And by the time Rumsfeld staged his own (less elaborate) “mission accomplished” moment, that stance became more or less official. As I’ve written before, historians are going to have an excruciating time placing a coherent frame around these various conflicts, and not simply because Iraq has turned into such an enduring and monumental absurdity. Though neoconservatives are fond of the idea that the “war against terror” is comparable to the cold war, I really can’t imagine that comparison will ever hold up in any serious way. Whatever else we might have to say about the various encounters (real or imagined) between the US and the red menace, there was at least some measure of predictability to it. When successive administrations prioritized certain regions or countries as vital to the overall contest with the Soviet Union, massive resource commitments necessarily followed. True, these efforts were too often counterproductive (e.g., Iran), immoral (e.g., Central America), or universally ruinous (e.g., Southeast Asia), and they were rarely presented to the American public in any kind of transparent way. That said, it would nevertheless be difficult to claim that, say, Eisenhower or Johnson or Reagan — or the assorted Congresses that funded their programs — didn’t believe their own rhetoric.

Not so with this administration.

Memo To The Indians

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

Prove me wrong!

There seems to be some dissension about my claim that the Yankees will win the wildcard. And while “mortal lock” is obviously hyperbolic (if the Mariners can have a better record for 110 games the Indians are certainly capable of having a better record for 50) I think it’s obvious that the Yankees deserve to be heavy, heavy favorites. A few points:

  • As you can see, in terms of offense and defense the Yankees have clearly been the second best team in the league this year. Indeed, in terms of run differential they’ve been basically even with the Red Sox, although once you adjust for strength of schedule and other kinds of luck the Yankees are worse: they should be about 67-47 while the BoSox should be 72-42. The Indians, on the other hand, should be 62-53 and the Tigers 60-54. This isn’t surprising, since the Yankees clearly have the best offense in the league (and the gap between them and the Tigers is more likely to widen than narrow), and at least decent pitching. The Indians could be better than they’ve been, but this largely depends on Hafner, who isn’t even going to play this weekend.
  • Several people have pointed out that the Yankees don’t have a “solid” rotation, but by the definition people are using (which seems to involve having five above-average starters) nobody does (even, for most of the year, Boston.) Moreover, the biggest weakness in the rotation (Igawa) is unlikely to pitch a meaningful inning again this year. And certainly, the Indians don’t. I like Sabathia and Carmona more than Wang and Pettite, but it’s hardly a mismatch in terms of established ability, and you’d obviously rather have Mussina/Clemens/Hughes than Byrd/Westbrook/Lemon #5 starter. Even if you give a slight edge to Cleveland, there’s no way in hell it makes up for the much better offense in the Bronx. And then the Yankees have the best closer of all time recovering from a bad start to post 18 straight saves with a K/W of 50/5, while the Tribe have proof that almost any stiff can get 30 saves in the right context (and ditto the Tigers, although they might be getting setup help.) I don’t see any basis for claiming that Cleveland is better than the Yankees, and the fact that the Tigers are underachieving gives the Yanks two cracks at the playoffs. The odds are overwhelming that they’ll beat one of these teams.
  • The Mariners, as you can also see, have been pretty much a stone fluke; their expected record is under .500. I still think they have an outside shot at the division because the Angels also aren’t as good as their record, and the Mariners have the chance to improve somewhat if Jones can force the way into the lineup, Weaver gets his ERA to within at least a run of a major league pitcher, etc. But it’s pretty obvious that they’re not nearly as good as the Yankees.

Anyway, the Yankees are clearly the best team in the AL except the Red Sox, and one of the other three can get lucky and beat them and they can still make it. They’re going to the playoffs.

…I would also take the Mariners more seriously if they weren’t being run by abject morons.

Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

Martin and Audrey, June 2007.

And since I have an odd, unproductive interest in old books about cats, here’s an interesting piece of commentary from Helen M. Winslow’s Concerning Cats (1900):

Although cats have no place in the Bible, neither can their enemies who sing the praise of the dog, find much advantage there: for that most excellent animal is referred to in anything but a complimentary fashion — “For without are dogs and sorcerers.” The great prophet of Allah, however, knew a good cat when he saw it. “Muezza” even contributed her small share to the development of the Mahometan system: for did she not sit curled up in her master’s sleeve, and by her soft purring soothe and deepen his meditations? And did she not keep him dreaming so long that she finally became exhausted herself, and fell asleep in his flowing sleeve; whereupon did not Mahomet, rather than disturb her, and feeling that he must be about his Allah’s business, cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the much loved Muezza?

I had wondered why Friday Cat Blogging held such little apparent interest for high-traffic wingnut bloggers. Now I at least have a working hypothesis.


[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

It appears that the wreck of HMAS Sydney has been discovered.

The 66-year search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney, on which 645 Australians lost their lives, is almost certainly over.

A group of West Australians using just a grappling hook and an underwater camera last weekend found what they are sure is the Sydney, which sank after a battle with the German raider Kormoran on November 19, 1941.

Video film of the discovery shows scenes of tangled wreckage over a vast expanse of deck, much longer than any other vessel known to have sunk in the area. The search team believe a series of details clearly visible on their video — decking bolts, extensive radio aerials, steam tubes and signs of massive damage — all point to the Sydney.

The discovery of the wreck will likely lead to an operation to determine the cause of her loss. Of course, we’ll never know for sure; the wrecks of Bismarck and HMS Hood, for example, haven’t ended debate as to how those ships were lost. Nevertheless, examination of the damage can probably rule out some possibilities, such as the theory that a Japanese submarine participated in Sydney’s sinking.

Hat tip to TM.

A Success Story…But a False Hope?

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

Given that I’ve given up on the idea of prison as rehabilitative, what does it mean when someone actually is rehabilitated in prison?

That’s my takeaway after reading yesterday’s NY Times article about Donnie Andrews and Fran Boyd, he a former felon who served 17 years for killing a drug dealer and she a former heroin addict who saw her son become addicted too before she was able to beat her addiction.

There’s a happy ending to this story — Andrews started doing drug counseling while he was incarcerated, and began speaking out against drugs and gangs. One of the people he supported and helped beat an addiction was Ms. Boyd. They first met face-to-face two years after they began talking (he would call her every day at 4PM from prison). They’re set to get married tomorrow.

Undeniably, this is an incredible and uplifting story. The man who beat the odds. The kind-hearted prosecutor who ultimately came to support him. The homicide detective who played matchmaker for him. There’s a lot to feel good about here. Mr. Andrews and Ms. Boyd inspire hope.

But I worry that much of that hope is in large part false. Mr. Andrews’ story is amazing. But it is also an extremely rare success. The risk is always that glorifying one man who found redemption can condemn millions of others who don’t by lulling us into thinking that the situation in our prisons is OK. Or at the very least by giving elected officials a PR tool to convince those of us who are less educated about prison conditions that things can remain at status quo.

They can’t. Rehabilitation is for many a cruel joke that doesn’t even rise to the level of an empty promise. Programs to support re-entry are on the rise but are far from the norm. The lesson to us from this story is not “well done” but rather “do more.”

The Pollack Evasion Strategy

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

A classic example [via MY] of foreign-policy-writer-who-would-be-wholly-discredited-in-any-rational-universe Kenneth Pollack expressing optimism about Iraq by carefully evading the substantive issue:

Do you find the electric power is on more continuously?

We found there had been a real shift from trying to repair and defend the national power grid, which was extremely difficult to do. There now is a shift away from that toward helping the Iraqis essentially get their own local generators and bring local businesses and houses into those local generators.

Now, you’ll note what Pollack doesn’t do: actually address the question directly. Rather, he talks about the change in strategy rather than characterizing the substantive effects of the strategy, presumably because the power isn’t on noticeably more continuously. And call me crazy, but I suspect that industrialized nations generally have national power grids rather than local generators because the latter can’t generate sufficient electricity to run a modern economy.

At any rate, the key here is that Pollack is trying to put an optimistic spin on the fact that we have now essentially given up on protecting Iraq’s national power grid, with obvious devastating consequences for building a stable state and economy. This is not an analyst trying to give a sober, clear-eyed assessment of the situation in Iraq, but someone desperately trying to gin up a potential pony farm to salvage his reputation. For this reason, his subjective judgments cannot be trusted at all. (And the possibility that he could have influence in a Clinton administration is sufficient reason for me to oppose her in the primaries.)

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