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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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Super Bowl [Insert Pompous Roman Numeral Here] Thread

[ 0 ] February 3, 2008 |

I’m hoping for a good game, but let’s be frank. In terms of matchup this one most closely resembles the Bears/Patriots blowout — historically great team against unusually weak Super Bowl team. There’s probably a greater chance of an upset because you can move the ball against this Partiots team, but still it seems pretty likely that this game won’t be close. Admittedly, Manning has not only played better but played differently in the playoffs, with no turnovers — but I still don’t think three good games fully transcends 2 and a half seasons of mediocrity. And it’s hard to see an upset of this magnitude coming against Belichick with two weeks to prepare. I’ll call it Patriots 45, Giants 17.

For those rooting for the upset, I enjoyed this compilation of great teams that didn’t win. #2 still stings, while #11 is the flipside of my favorite. team. ever. (And while Berube probably doesn’t want to be reminded, #1′s series against the Keenan/Gretzky/MacInnis/Hull Blues was great.)

…as anyone well-trained in the Straussian art of reading would understand, of course, what I meant was “this will be an extremely low-scoring game in which the underrated Giants take a fourth-quarter lead.”

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Think of the Readable Books That Could Have Filled That Space

[ 0 ] February 3, 2008 |

Granting that it’s somewhat better than the first one, can someone explain to me how Lee Siegel’s sure to be widely unread pensees about how it’s worse than the gulag when people make fun of you on the internets just because you create sockpuppets to call yourself a genius, call people fascists for disagreeing with your intermittently lucid Abe Simpson rants, and accuse people of pedophilia with no evidence can justify two reviews in the New York Times? At least when Joe Lelyveld’s memoirs — sorry, I’ve nodded off just thinking about it — inexplicably got the two review backscratch he had been with the paper for decades. Now being an occasional contributor to the book review is enough to get you two reviews of a book nobody cares about?

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Bourgeois Scum Update

[ 22 ] February 3, 2008 |


As of Friday, I am Living the American Dream of home and/or boat ownership, as I closed on a co-op in the building that (appropriately enough) used to house the Department of Education in downtown Brooklyn. I’m looking forward to it enough to get over the fact that I really hate moving.

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Not Totally False, but Not True Either

[ 19 ] February 3, 2008 |

Another day, another bad headline, this one from the UK Guardian (and repeated in many other papers). On the unspeakably horrible bombing in Baghdad today:

“Female Suicide Bombers kill 72 people at Baghdad Markets”

So, yes. The people in the market with bombs strapped to them were female. And they too were killed in the explosion. But as Sebastian points out, there’s a lot more to this story:

Remote-controlled explosives were strapped to two women with Down’s syndrome and detonated in coordinated attacks on two Friday morning markets in central Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 72 people and wounding nearly 150.

The chief Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi, claimed the female bombers had Down’s syndrome and that the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not have been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped-up security measures.

While it has not yet been confirmed that the women had Downs Syndrome, it seems at least odd to me that the world’s major newspapers are leading with the fact that the bombers were female and oh, by the way, on a suicide mission, rather than explaining that the bombs were detonated remotely and that there’s a good chance that the women were severely mentally disabled.

Just another case of choosing headlines by circulation and not by fact.

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Ayn Rand Predicts the Super Bowl

[ 14 ] February 2, 2008 |

The High Priestess of Tedium, among other literary greats, as channeled by McSweeney’s:

Belichick squared his broad shoulders as he stared Coughlin in the eye. The smaller man cowed and threw his hands to his face in a pathetic flail. “Tom,” said Belichick, “I bet nobody has been honest with you in your entire life, so let me be the first. I was taught in the ways of strength. Yes, my men will win today. But it’s because we’ve had the courage to act on our judgment, and the fortitude to trust our decisions. Long ago, we were faced with a choice—the same choice you faced. We chose conviction. You chose impotence. And now, today, you ask me not only to cut my wrists and bleed on your behalf … oh no. You would also have me fund, design, and build the knife. You accuse me of social treason, and yet you beg me to betray myself.” The beautiful man laughed a throaty, attractive laugh. “You are a coward, Tom, and a coward in this world deserves nothing.”

With a great cheer, the reporters stood in unison and applauded.

Prediction: Patriots 326, Giants –27

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Hearty LGM Congratulations

[ 21 ] February 2, 2008 |

We at LGM issue heartfelt congratulations to President Sarkozy and Ms. Bruni!

The French are so very different from us.

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It’s Over

[ 28 ] February 2, 2008 |

Not that this is news, but the McCain is a mortal lock. Evidently, I got this completely wrong. What I missed was that the logic I used to defend Romney (he would have little chance running against a serious plain vanilla Southern conservative but wasn’t facing one) was also true for McCain. And, of course, McCain got lucky, in that Huckabee has some actual political skills (which, most crucially, deprived Romney of Iowa) while Giuliani was a historical fiasco beyond the point which even people who correctly understood that he never had much of a chance could have anticipated. Even Fred Thompson got out of his La-Z-Boy long enough to hand McCain South Carolina. In a field in which nobody should logically have been able to win the victor needed things to break right, and the breaks went to McCain.

This isn’t a good outcome for Democrats, but he’s certainly beatable. I still think that he would be a lot more vulnerable against a candidate who actually opposed the Iraq fiasco that McCain has supported so vociferously, but it seems likely that a majority of Democratic primary voters won’t agree with me. (Of course, given my track record this year the fact that I think Clinton remains a prohibitive favorite has to scare her campaign considerably…)

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"You, Sir, Have The Boorish Manners Of A Yalie."

[ 10 ] February 2, 2008 |

Speaking of bean’s alma mater, some Yale students engage in a silent protest against advocate of torture and arbitrary executive power and Bush administration idea of a good federal judge (but I repeat myself) Jay Bybee. Good.

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