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The Most Entertaining Day of the Year

[ 11 ] February 5, 2008 |

As my preference for Obama isn’t nearly as strong as Scott’s, I have no problem conceptualizing this evening as almost pure entertainment. It’s so much better than the actual election, in that even if my candidate loses I’m unlikely to be subjected to days of crushing depression, ameliorated only by heavy drinking and repeated viewings of the Godfather Part II.

Like Publius, I love a good primary:

But what’s less obvious is how interesting they are from a purely aesthetic perspective. The horse race we’re witnessing is drama of the highest order – pure political theater. And while emotions will surely run high in the weeks to come, political junkies in particular should take a step back and enjoy the beauty of it. Not beauty in the sense of flowers and butterflies, but in a higher, more human, aesthetic sense…..

Aesthetically, it reminded me of boxing at its best. The classic boxing fights (e.g., Ali’s classics) pit two freakishly talented athletes against each other to fight it out in mankind’s oldest sport. Some think it’s barbaric, and they may be right. But from an amoral aesthetic perspective, it’s a thing of beauty. And the better the athletes, and the higher the stakes, the more true this becomes. And that’s how I felt about the debate. I watched two freakishly gifted candidates with professional, efficient, hardened campaign organizations fighting it out one-on-one for the most powerful prize in the world (and maybe in world history).

At this point, I suspect some of you are annoyed that I’m focusing more on surface than substance. What we should be doing is focusing on policy, and ignoring these silly horse race/schoolyard fight dimensions. At the very least, we shouldn’t be romanticizing them the way I’ve done – i.e., reducing important political fights into narcissistic entertainment.

My response, though, is that I’m not ignoring substance when I admire the aesthetics. I completely agree that the stakes are high and that substantive policy disputes are at issue. But to me, the substance feeds the aesthetic. On some level, this is a fight. Try as we may, we can’t avoid conceptualizing it (at least partially) in those terms. But if it’s a fight, it’s a fight with enormous, world-historical consequences. And it’s the underlying significance of the fight that makes the aesthetic so powerful.


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The Day The Credibility Died

[ 0 ] February 5, 2008 |

Attaturk provides a useful reminder for why I have less than no use for Colin Powell’s attempt to exculpate himself from the Iraq disaster. [via] Admittedly, not everyone thinks that Powell disgracing himself by going before the U.N. with reams of bullshit to sell a catastrophic war has diminished his credibility; apparently Machiavellian street fighter Hillary Clinton thinks it would be helpful to use him as means of increasing American prestige in the world. Maybe she should find an adviser who actually opposed the war to explain why this is unlikely to work very well…

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Horse Race

[ 7 ] February 5, 2008 |

On the Democratic side, it’s probably not too useful to try to predict winners; it’s too inconclusive. My guess would be a narrow Clinton win in delegates, but who knows. It will be fun for political junkies; I just wish I was one of the many people without a strong preference.

Meanwhile, in the “daydream believing” category BTD argues that “[m]aybe reports of [Romney's] political death are greatly exaggerated” based on some polls showing a close race in CA and the fact that we won the non-binding caucuses in Maine. I’d like this to be true, but please. The Maine win is marginally more relevant that Clinton’s “victory” in the uncontested Florida non-primary, but not much. As for California, 1)the rules make it unlikely that Romney will win a majority of delegates with a small majority of the popular vote, and 2)even if he does somehow win a bare majority of delegates in California, so what? All indications are that McCain is going to overwhelmingly win delegates, votes and states overall, and if you think most of the media is going to spin a blowout victory against St. Maverick McStraightTalk because Romney gets a narrow win in California I have a crate of 19-0: The Historic Championship Season of New England’s Unbeatable Patriots books to sell you. The Republican race is over; I don’t like it either but it’s time to admit it.

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More Super Tuesday Appetizers

[ 0 ] February 5, 2008 |

This is precious. From John Mueller, believe it or not.

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Voting Access on Super Tuesday

[ 33 ] February 5, 2008 |

Gearing up to head to the polls on way over to school, I’m struck (as I usually am on election day) by how ridiculous it is that we vote on a weekday that is not a national holiday. Talk about disenfranchising specific subsets of voters.

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[ 0 ] February 5, 2008 |

Noted without comment:

When asked if there are any movies she’s seen and thought she could have done, Paris [Hilton] pauses for a long while and says, “I love the movie Juno.” Wow. Can you even imagine?

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If We’re Going All Retro, Wouldn’t an F-106 Have Been More Appropriate?

[ 0 ] February 5, 2008 |

The Russians seem desperate for attention. Alex:

Russian air force out again, in some strength; and exercising a whole range of types, including the White Swan…sorry…Tu-160 BLACKJACK, BEAR, BACKFIRE, and MiG31 and Su27 fighters into the bargain, to say nothing of jet tankers. For people who aren’t making a political point, they certainly look like it.

And this, via Defense Tech, is an awesome picture:

That’s an F-22 escorting a Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bomber. Ward:

That’s the kind of progress $200-plus million unit flyaway cost buys you. That’s how DoD rolls, baby!

And that Stealth technology sure comes in handy during an escort, don’t it? Here’s hoping the Russians don’t look out the window.

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The Only Caucus that Ever Mattered

[ 35 ] February 4, 2008 |

In response to the least-asked question of the primary season — “So what the hell is happening in Alaska?” — the answer is clear.

People in Alaska are still rug-chomping crazy.

With Super Tuesday looming, many presidential candidates are battling over delegate-rich states like California and New York. Ron Paul is making it big in Alaska.

“I think Ron Paul is awesome,” says Schaeffer Cox, a 23-year-old who leads an unofficial group supporting the Republican presidential candidate here. “He’s not the most dynamic, rock-star kind of guy — but he’s got ideas.”

. . . . While there have been no official polls in Alaska, local pollsters and officials say Mr. Paul could garner at least 10% — and possibly upward of 20% — of the vote. That compares with 4% to 6% of the national vote, according to polls of Republicans.

“Alaska is a very, very limited-government state — they aren’t even embarrassed to use the word ‘libertarian’ up there,” Mr. Paul, 72 years old, said in an interview.

That much is true. But people in Alaska are not prone to be embarrassed by much. We have three former state legislators — Tom Anderson, Pete Kott and Vic Kohring — who are either already behind bars or are preparing to serve lengthy sentences for accepting bribes in office; we’ve got several other former legislators who are also likely to spend significant time breaking rocks; and if all goes as expected, Sen. Ted Stevens and his son Ben will be getting shivved in the prison laundry room before too long. Meantime, Rep. Don Young has apparently spent a lot of money on lawyers over the past several months, which is fantastic — if still a bit vague — news.

So no, people here aren’t easily shamed. Least of all, they aren’t embarrassed to call themselves “libertarians” in a state that owes everything it has to federal assistance. I’ve been unable to find the latest data on this [but Milo in comments found it here], but as of several years ago, nearly $2 of federal money flowed into this state for every dollar in taxes that flowed out. If memory serves, this made us only the second-greatest moochers in the nation (I think Nevada, with all its military sites, ranked first.) We’re third, behind Mississippi and New Mexico. When news of this broke, I was predictably flooded with e-mails from friends and family who wanted their money back.

I’ll tell LGM readers what I told everyone else: You’re not getting your damn money back. We robbed you fair and square.

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Overheard at a Greenwich Village Coffee Shop

[ 0 ] February 4, 2008 |

True story.

The scene: a small non-chain coffee shop. Two older gentleman (say, in their 70s) sit at a small metal table. One has a driving cap on and speaks with a thick Eastern European accent (we’ll call him Man #1).

And, action!

Man #1: Now it’s down to Clinton and Obama and they are friends one minute and enemies the next.

Man #2: Hm.

Man #1: What I want to know is if she’s gonna get him back?

Man #2: Hm?

Man #1: I think when (sic.) she gets elected, they’re [ed. note: I think he meant Obama & H. Clinton] gonna have an affair as payback for what her husband did.


So my question is this: is this really what passes for political dialogue these days!?

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Clinton and Iraq

[ 47 ] February 4, 2008 |

On the Clinton war counterfactual, I think it’s worth distinguishing between a weaker and a stronger version:

  • Did Clinton see desposing a secular dictatorship that posed no significant threat to the United States and (in by far the most likely outcome) replacing it with an Islamist quasi-state at a ruinious cost in lives and resources as part of a reasonable range of options for reacting to 9/11? The overwhelming bulk of the evidence suggests that she did, and given this there has to be at least some risk that she would have made a similar blunder. More importantly, seeing the war as even defensible represents a disastrous failure in judgment.
  • If Clinton were president, is it likely that she would have chosen that particular course as opposed to other options she thought reasonable? This is unknowable, but my guess is no. At the very least, I don’t think it can be inferred with any certainty from her support from the war after Bush had decided to wage it.

As Matt says, the third option is that she recognized the stupidity of the war and voted for it for cynical political reasons. Given the extent to which the case for Clinton over Obama rests on her alleged Machiavellian political skills, however, this isn’t much of a defense. Surely any Machiavellian worth her salt would have seen that while it might be politically necessary for a red-state Democrat facing a tough re-election fight in 2002 or even 2004 to back a bad war, it would not be an asset in the 2008 Democratic primary. And this is why I don’t believe that Clinton was actually against the war; the political case only makes any sense if you think the war was a reasonably good risk. And supporting the war doesn’t only hurt her in the primary, but makes her not-very-well-positioned to attack the war party in the general.

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And the Honking and Fireworks Outside My Apartment Begin

[ 46 ] February 4, 2008 |

I’ve always maintained that Eli Manning was going to be a great quarterback and trading up for him was pure genius…

Seriously, that was a remarkable run, and while Manning will get (and deserves) a great deal of credit for the winning drive, the Giants’ defense was spectacular, especially the front 7. (Evidently, some of the Pats linemen were far from 100%, but they were just powned.) Given the amount of abuse he took during training camp it should be noted in particular that Strahan looked a lot younger.

I think I first thought they could lose after they didn’t cash in that 12-men-on-the-field reversal; you never expect the Pats not to take advantage of that. Speaking of the ‘86 Oilers what a lot of people forget about the Steve Smith own-goal Game 7 (call by the late Don Wittman) is that near the end of the game the Flames pulled a Don Cherry and took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in the dying minutes. And Kurri had a wide-open shot but decided instead to throw a low-percentage pass to Gretzky, and so they hung on for the historic upset. When a great team doesn’t cash in the breaks they always seem to cash in, you have to wonder…

I would also reiterate that I fully expect Clinton to wipe the floor with Obama on Tuesday.

make sure to get your copy!

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Romanov

[ 30 ] February 4, 2008 |

The Romanovs seem to have emerged, along with a number of other important Russian families, from a minor 14th century noble named Andrei Kobyla. The Romanov branch of this large family came to prominence in the mid-16th century, when Anastasia Zakharyina married Ivan the Terrible. The marriage produced two sons, Ivan and Fyodor, who by tradition were considered part of the ruling Rurik dynasty. In 1581, twenty-one years after his wife’s death, Ivan the Terrible beat his daughter-in-law into a miscarriage, angering her husband Ivan. Ivan the Terrible then proceeded to (accidentally) beat his son to death as well. This left only Fyodor, the Fredo of the late Rurik dynasty, to ascend to the throne upon his father’s death. Fyodor’s relatively short and indifferent reign produced no heirs, but did see brutal competition between the Romanov and Gudonov families over succession to the throne. The Gudonovs, a family of Tatar origin, won the first round, and Boris became Tsar upon the death of Fyodor in 1598. The Romanovs were either murdered or dispatched to Siberia.

Seven years later Boris I died, leaving the throne to his sixteen year old son Fyodor II. Fyodor II was promptly murdered and replaced by Dmitri, who claimed to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. After several years, plenty of blood, and much confusion, the young Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar by a national assembly of nobles. Only seventeen at the time, Mikhail was a weak leader, but he managed two things that helped set the course of Russian history; he survived on the throne for 32 years, and produced a viable heir. Mikhail’s grandson, Peter I, came to be known as Peter the Great for his expansion of Russia’s borders and his modernization of the Russian state.

Unfortunately, the dynastic situation remained complicated. None of Peter’s sons survived to succeed him (in shades of Ivan the Terrible, he had one of his sons murdered by torture), so he installed his wife, Catherine, on the throne before his death. Catherine, a Latvian peasant, was herself succeeded by Peter I’s grandson, Peter II. The Romanovs would have done well to learn the lesson of the French Capetians (who were remarkable in assuring the production and survival of male heirs), as Peter II died of smallpox two years into his reign. A couple more Romanovs down the line, Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine and Peter the Great, ascended to the throne. Elizabeth steered Russia through the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War before dying in 1762. She was followed by Peter III, another grandson of Peter I. Peter III married a woman who was far smarter, more ruthless, and more capable than himself. This arrangement works out well sometimes, but not for Peter; his wife (probably) had him assassinated several months after he ascended to the throne.

Catherine II was a princess in a minor German noble family. Originally a Lutheran, she joined the Russian Orthodox Church shortly before marrying Peter III. Catherine’s 34 year reign would later be recognized as a golden age for Russia; in addition to further expanding Russia’s borders and consolidating the Russia state, Catherine proved a great patron of the arts. She claimed that her son, Paul, was the produce not of her marriage with Peter but rather of one of her many extra-marital liasons. This claim remains in doubt, as consequently does the relationship between the later Romanovs and Peter the Great. Paul succeeded his mother in 1796, and was assassinated in 1801. Under the leadership of Paul’s son, Alexander I, Russia survived the 1812 French invasion, and its armies later marched across Europe to put a bullet in the head of the zombie that the French Revolution had become. Although a liberal early in his reign, Alexander moved right as he grew older, and was replaced by his even more conservative brother Nicholas I. Nicholas I helped, in his own way, to undo the efforts of Peter and Catherine to remake Russia on a European mold. He was succeeded by the liberal Alexander II, who was succeeded upon the latter’s assassination by the conservative Alexander III.

It’s important to keep in mind that, throughout all of this, Russia probably had the least well-developed political institutions in Europe (and that didn’t compare particularly favorably with those of the Ottoman, Chinese, or Japanese empires). Unlike in most other countries, there was only a very limited cushion between the preferences of the Tsar and government policy. This is not to say that the Tsar’s could do anything they wanted; not even the absolute monarchs are absolute, as the state always has to compete with other societal groups. This is especially important to note in Russia, which due to size and institutional weakness has always been difficult to govern. But in terms of institutionalized means of insulating government from the preferences of the leader, Russia lagged.

In any case, on November 1, 1894, the 26 year old Nicholas Romanov succeeded to the title of Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russians, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Finland. He reign would not be pleasant. Under his watch Russia was defeated and most of its fleet destroyed in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which helped bring about the Revolution of 1905. Nicholas II survived the Revolution but was forced to create the Duma, a basic representative institution, and to issue several proclamations guaranteeing certain rights for subjects. In 1914 Russia became involved in the Great War, winning substantial early victories in Galicia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but suffering a catastrophic defeat against the Germans at Tannenberg. The war overtaxed the capabilities of the Russian state, and helped both create and empower a group of revolutionaries who were, if anything, more bloodthirsty than the autocrats they sought to replace. Nicholas II’s wife also became enamoured of a monk named Grigori Rasputin, who appeared to display remarkable abilities for treating Alexei, the hemophiliac heir to the throne.

In early 1917 the rubber hit the road, and the Tsarist state collapsed into revolution. On March 15 (Gregorian calendar) Nicholas abdicated in favor of his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail. Mikhail did not take the throne, however, and seven days later Nicholas and his family were arrested. In October the Bolsheviks seized power, and the situation of Nicholas and his family began to deteriorate. In March the family was dispatched to Yekaterinburg. On July 17 a forty year old Bolshevik named Yakov Yurovsky led a Cheka squad to the house in which the Romanovs were imprisoned. Yurovsky personally executed Nicholas, his son Alexis, and his daughter Tatiana, while the rest of the squad finished off the remainder of the royal family. Some people say Nicholas II got a bad break, but I consider him the luckiest deposed monarch on the face of the earth. Were I the last tyrant of a brutally oppressive, yet majestically opulent dynasty, I would rather be massacred with my entire family by revolutionary sociopaths than waste away in decades of exile. We remember Nicholas II and Louis XVI for a reason; who remembers how or when Kaiser Wilhelm II died?

Grand Duke Mikhail had been murdered a month earlier, leaving the succession in doubt. Over time, surviving elements of the family gathered around Cyril Vladimirovich, a cousin of Nicholas’ who had fled to France after the October Revolution. In 1938 the claim passed to Vladimir Cyrilovich, who held it until 1992. In 1969 Vladimir designated his daughter Maria as official heir. However, for various complicated reasons this succession is contested by another branch of the Romanov family, one that recognizes Nicholas Romanov as the legitimate heir. The issues differentiating the two are too complicated to discuss in this space; in a bygone age one would simply have had the other imprisoned or killed. Prospects for a return to the throne appear grim. Although the collapse of the Bolshevik regime opened space for the mobilization of public opinion for the restoration of the monarchy, this mobilization never manifested. The Romanovs remain relatively unpopular in Russia in spite of the measured support of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unless Vladimir Putin somehow manages to have himself declared a Romanov, it is unlikely that the family will return to the throne anytime soon.

Trivia: What dynasty went from being the target of one Crusade to being a participant in another in two generations?

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