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Lend A Hand

[ 0 ] May 28, 2007 |

Christy on Memorial Day, with many suggestions of what you can do to help.

Today In Aesthetic Stalinism

[ 1 ] May 28, 2007 |

Reihan Salam explains the wrongthink of…Fletch. Disappointingly, he doesn’t also discuss how Spies Like Us failed because of its traitorous attacks on American military values, and how Cops and Robbersons wasn’t funny because it was a subtle pre-preemption of Rudy Guliani’s candidacy, but hopefully that will be in the next column.

"I Lost My Son . . ."

[ 0 ] May 28, 2007 |

The death of Andrew Bacevich’s son on May 13 in Iraq was heartbreaking news for anyone who’s read his work, heard him speak, or (I’m sure) known him. That he would be capable of writing a check for a phone bill two weeks later, much less an essay for the Post, is remarkable. The piece is an elegy for his kid, but it also reiterates important arguments he’s raised in less difficult moments.

Bacevich’s two major works, American Empire and The New American Militarism are provocative and compelling; among other things, he draws on earlier generations of diplomatic and political historians — particularly Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams — to argue that “open door” imperialism has guided US foreign policy since the start of the 20th century. For those who haven’t encountered the term before, the “open door” refers to the traditional ideological consensus among diplomats and policymakers who view free markets as central to US national interests and, moreover, as the ideal venues for the expansion of democratic forms of sovereignty. The widening of the “open door,” as Bacevich sees it, takes place concurrently with the extension of US military and political power. This is a critical argument, because it flies in the face of the Bush administration’s nonsensical claim that “everything changed” on September 11. As Bacevich sees it, the Bush administration has been giving its own perverse stamp to various tendencies in US foreign policy that are at least a century old. (His argument, for what it’s worth, isn’t nearly as reductive as my description suggests.)

In any case, this aspect of Bacevich’s work is relevant because it feeds today’s editorial. In his scholarship, he contends that the open door consensus provides a messianic vision of US history that enables one disaster after another. Today, he argues, it

confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation’s call to “global leadership.” It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It’s the way our system works.

Friedmanesque

[ 0 ] May 27, 2007 |

Huh. I never had this problem:

When I was a younger lad man, there was no one around to tell me that Tom Friedman was an utter buffoon.

I was in Seattle in 1999, and I remember reading Friedman on the demonstrations. He was careful to interpret every event in a manner most sympathetic to conservatives and least sympathetic to demostrators. Every critic, he suggested, was either stupid and misguided or beholden to parochial interest; no pragmatic or principled objection was entertained.

Strangely enough, America’s Stupidest Pundit repeated this performance in the run-up to the Iraq War. Unfortunately, common wisdom was somewhat divided, so Tommy had to play both sides. A week before the attack he was for; then he was against. In the illusory aftermath of victory he was for, again. Then, he started spouting Friedman units.

If I could have identified a “least useful” pundit in the run-up to the Iraq War, I would have said Tom Friedman. Those expectations have not been disappointed,, except in the definition of the Friedman Unit, which I suppose he should receieve some extraordinarily mild credit for. Nevertheless, to the extent that one is to be guided bu the foreign policy punditry of Tom Friedman, one is best instructed by the following three axioms;

1. Don’t read Tom Friedman.

2. If you accidentally read Tom Friedman, the opposite of what he suggests is, most likely, the clearest road to success.

3. That is all

Sunday Destroyer Blogging: HMS Sheffield

[ 0 ] May 27, 2007 |

HMS Sheffield was the first of the Royal Navy’s Type 42 Destroyer, a class designed to supply fleet air defense. Theoretically, the Type 42 destroyers were supposed to protect a new Royal Navy aircraft carrier, but the cancellation of this carrier altered the mission. Displacing 4350 tons, HMS Sheffield could make 30 knots and carried a twin Sea Dart SAM launcher. Like virtually all post-WWII warships, Sheffield was almost completely unarmored. Two Type 42 destroyers, Hercules and Santisima Trinidad, had been sold to Argentina during the 1970s and served opposite Sheffield in the Argentine Navy during the war.

Sheffield was part of Task Force 317, the fleet assigned to retake the Falklands. On May 4, 1982 HMS Sheffield was performing an air defence patrol when two Argentine Super Entendards, flying at low altitude, managed to approach within 6 miles before releasing an Exocet missile. Both the Super Entendards and the Exocet missiles had been sold to Argentina by France. Although the French refrained from directly intervening in the war, they did allow the Royal Navy to study and operate Super Entendards in anticipation of air/naval combat. The missile was not detected by radar, and visual identification gave Sheffield very short warning. Sheffield was not the first warship struck by a guided missile. The Germans first deployed guided anti-ship munitions in 1943, successfully sinking the Italian battleship Roma with a Fritz X glider bomb. Roma, en route to surrender at Malta, took two hits, exploded and sank. HMS Warspite took hits from three Fritz X missiles a few weeks later and barely survived. Those weapons weighed about 1400 kg and carried a 320 kg warhead. In 1967, two Egyptian missile boats hit the Israeli destroyer Eilat with Soviet supplied Styx anti-ship missiles, which weighed 2300kg and carried a 450kg warhead. The Eilat is thought to have been destroyed simply by the kinetic energy of the strikes, rather than through the detonation of the warheads. An Exocet weighs about 600kg and carries a 160kg warhead, but is slightly faster than a Styx and much faster than a Fritz X. For a last bit of comparison, an 18″ shell from HIJMS Yamato weighed about 1450kg, although the shell would fly much faster than the missiles and would not lose weight from fuel consumption along the way.

The missile that hit Sheffield struck amidships and tore a large hole in the hull, but probably didn’t explode. Nevertheless, the kinetic force of the impact, combined with the dispersion of rocket fuel, severely damaged the destroyer and started a serious fire. Electrical and water systems were disrupted, hampering damage control efforts. With fires raging out of control, the ship was abandoned. While awaiting rescue, the crew sang Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. In spite of the severe damage, Sheffield did not immediately sink. An early effort was made to salvage the ship, and she was taken under tow. However, it was determined that repairing the ship would be prohibitively expensive, and Sheffield was scuttled six days after the initial attack.
The destruction of HMS Sheffield cost 20 British lives, but neither deterred the British war effort nor significantly decreased Royal Navy capabilities. One other Type 42 destroyer, HMS Coventry, was sunk during the war, although by free fall bombs rather than with an Exocet missile. The Argentine Air Force would also successfully destroy the frigates Antelope and Ardent, both with free fall bombs. Five years later two Exocet missiles launched by an Iraqi Mirage fighter struck the frigate USS Stark, killing 37 but failing to sink the ship. Eight Type 42 destroyers remain in service with the Royal Navy, and one with the Argentine Navy.

Chronicles of Onania

[ 0 ] May 27, 2007 |

Shorter Brother-of-Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee:

“Though not quite as heterosexual as Ace O. Spades, I’m also heterosexual. To prove it, I will now make several jokes about pork.”

I hate to concede this, but it’s entirely possible that Bob is the smart one in the family.

Back From Santa Fe

[ 0 ] May 27, 2007 |

New Mexico sure looks different than Kentucky:

It rained or threatened to rain for ten consecutive days, which I’m told is unusual. In any case, I’m happy to be back, although the traffic bump that accompanied my vacation has enhanced my sense of personal irrelevance. Thanks to Rodger for his fine, well-thought out posts, and thanks to Media Czech for demonstrating a capacity for uniting Left Blogistan that I had thought only George W. Bush possessed. Rodger can be found at both Duck of Minerva and Rodger Payne, and Media Czech can be found at Bluegrass Roots.

We Will Not Accept Defeat In the War on Prose

[ 0 ] May 27, 2007 |

I understand that anything less than fulsome praise for the artistic stylings of untalented multi-millionaires will crush the Fragile Spirits of today’s Sensitive Teenagers (and, alas, I do think that this comment was serious.) Despite this, I see no way to avoid quoting from this review of Newt Gingrich’s new literary classic, which has the soaring ambition to be the worst art ever produced about Pearl Harbor (far from an easy task, given that America’s Worst Director has already set the standard.) How bad does a book have to be to get a hatchet job from Janet Maslin? Behold:

When the attack began, it was Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor but Dec. 8 in Japan. The book is subtly subtitled “A Novel of December 8th” to signal its attention to the Japanese point of view. On the basis of that detail, you might expect a high level of fastidiousness from “Pearl Harbor.”

And you would be spectacularly wrong. Because you would find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.

This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes. “One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought,” the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, “not to realize they were sallying forth to war.” Evidence notwithstanding, the authors do not mean to insult the fighter pilot’s intelligence — or, presumably, the reader’s.

Some of these glitches are brief, while some are windier. The long ones are particularly dangerous. Here is what happens when James Watson, an academic and a decoding expert who is one of the book’s cardboard Americans (as opposed to its cardboard British and Japanese figures), has lunch:

“James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.”

James lives in Hawaii with his half-Japanese wife, Margaret. Margaret is the book’s only female character, and she barely appears. This is evidence that Mr. Gingrich has learned that politicians writing fiction are well advised to avoid eroticism. The book’s only trace of the lascivious is a reference to rising wartime hemlines in Britain because of an effort to conserve cloth.

Elsewhere in Hawaii, among the fighting forces, things are typically editor-proof. In a case for James’s decoding skills, the book says: “The boys had money in their pockets to burn and fresh in from the West Coast the obligatory photos with hula girls, sentimental silk pillows for moms and girlfriends, and ridiculous-printed shirts had sold like crazy.”

Even leaving aside the writing that could make Jewel look like Yeats, the apparent lack of not only eroticism but female characters pre-empts some of the so-bad-it’s-entertaining moments that distinguish the fiction of Bill “He was speaking hushed tones, telling her how much he enjoyed her body, using words that in polite conversation would have been vulgar, but in this context were extremely erotic” O’Reilly and Orson “Thank God after a long day of dealing with liberal academics who, after solemn reflection, I’ve convinced are entirely evil I can return home to the killer bod of my wife, Scoop Jackson” Scott Card. Whoops, there I go again, discouraging teenagers who might otherwise be writing novels about killing everyone who ever gave them a negative job evaluation or stapling a bunch of position papers rejected as “too simplistic and knee-jerk reactionary” by a local Young Republican newsletter together and calling it a “novel.” My apologies, but keep in mind that if they keep pressing on they can get a featured podcast interview from Glenn Reynolds, so it will all be good…

In other news . .

[ 0 ] May 26, 2007 |

. . . it’s been rumored that Douglas Feith is teh fucking stupid.

You think?

“[Feith] was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me.

“He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’

“He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’

“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’

“That’s too bad,” Feith said.

I often tell my students that the only thing that gets me out of bed some days is the knowledge that I’ll be able to talk about this horrible era of American history for the rest of my professional life. In the back of my mind, though, I usually wonder if I’ll actually be capable of dealing with any of this without sounding like Lewis Black on a bad day.

Shrum and the Consultant Class

[ 0 ] May 26, 2007 |

Finally, Yglesias’s review of the new apologia from Bob “Losing Pitcher” Shrum is out. Its subtitle (“Memoirs of the man who thrice saved us from a Democratic presidency”) suggests a kinship with Jon Chait’s classic Nader demolition “The Man Who Gave Us Bush,” and if there’s not quite that acidic it’s still very much worth reading. Particularly good is linking Shrum to the Democratic consultant racket:

This is where the story gets both weird and all too typical. After working for years on Kennedy’s staff, Shrum decided he wanted to become a political consultant.

The consultant’s racket, especially on the Democratic side, is a good one to break into. Clients who lose wind up leaving office, losing power and stature. The D.C. power structure, meanwhile, is composed of winners, some of whose campaigns you probably worked for in the past. Even better, it’s fairly rare for an incumbent to lose, so once you have some significant politicians in your Rolodex you don’t need to be especially good at your job to rack up wins. Challengers who hire you and win are in your debt. Challengers who hire you and lose are yesterday’s news. And challengers who want credibility with the big-dollar fundraisers and other party kingmakers need to demonstrate that credibility by hiring someone from the circle of established consultants.

It’s nice work, if you can get it. And having a powerful senator like Kennedy in your corner is a good way to get it. Never mind that there’s no reason to think a person well suited to the job of writing speeches for Kennedy’s booming voice, outsize personal story and legacy, and passionate brand of politics would actually be good at a generic political strategist’s job. The point, however, is not that Shrum was especially unqualified for his consultant’s gig, but that his story stands in for that of his entire profession. Campaign operatives who succeed in any subfield reach for the prize of consultanthood, whether or not there’s reason to think they’ll be good at it. More to the point, once they reach that prize, it’s extremely difficult to dislodge them from it.

In limited defense of Shrum, I do think Matt somewhat underestimates the Catch-22 facing Gore. The media narrative (Matt, regrettably, doesn’t mention the War on Gore) of him as a phony is endlessly plastic, and had he given a speech about global warming in Michigan could have (and, I’m quite certain, would have) been portrayed as false passion (“like the Tipper kiss!”), pandering to the Chardonnay and Volvo environmentalist set over good honest Michigan heartlanders, etc. Given an a priori assumption that you’re inauthentic, anything can be adduced as evidence for your inauthenticity. Still, it’s hard to argue that Shrum (especially before the convention) ran a good campaign, and I think that Gore’s choosing Shrum as pique against Clinton merits some criticism as well.

Friday Cat Blogging

[ 0 ] May 25, 2007 |

Tom.

Tom was the feline mascot and (we presume) rat hunter aboard the USS Maine, which exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on 15 February 1898. Along with more than 270 sailors, Tom also perished that day.

LOC image link)

Richardson

[ 0 ] May 25, 2007 |


Photo credit: state.gov.

What do you know about Bill Richardson, who announced earlier this week that he’s running for President?

According to google, I’ve never written the name “Richardson” on my blog, which began in early September 2003. Shame on me, I guess — though I did mention his energy expertise once over at the Duck of Minerva.

Bloggers I read regularly have never made note of his political career. For example, I find no google hits for Richardson by Helmut and friends over at Phronesisaical nor any Richardson tags by Matthew at Fruits & Votes.

Here at LGM, they’ve done only a tad better. Scott has dropped Bill Richardson’s name twice in the past 60 days. April 26, he noted that when asked, the former Secretary of Energy picked somewhat strange favorite Supreme Court justices. On March 24, the New Mexico governor was mentioned in passing as a presidential candidate more electable than Hillary Clinton, and just as good on substance. The post was about HRC, however.

Finally, going back nearly three years to June 22, 2004, Rob speculated that the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations might make a “good” Secretary of State (paired with a “pleasant” Secretary of Defense, like General Wesley Clark).

Notice how I’ve sprinkled in some highlights of Richardson’s resume even as I have noted the lack of attention to his political career?

There’s more too. Richardson taught Government at Sante Fe Community College (he’s an academic too!) and then spent 14 years in Congress. Diplomatically, Richardson has negotiated successfully for the release of hostages, soldiers and prisoners from North Korea, Iraq (under Saddam), Sudan and Cuba. That’s a good starter-list of the nations America viewed as rogue states for most of the post-cold war era.

What else?

As Governor, Richardson has committed New Mexico to the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, which is a sub-national effort to move the western part of the U.S. towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, New Mexico is on track to meet Kyoto-level cuts over the next few years.

Moreover, Richardson claims to have expanded health care coverage, increased the minimum wage, slashed taxes, balanced the budget for five years, increased teacher standards and school quality, and promoted a number of labor union initiatives relating to collective bargaining and prevailing wages.

Oh, and some people think his campaign commercials are top-notch.

What are the cons?

Richardson did not play minor league baseball — though he apparently claimed that he was drafted. Note that Richardson did play baseball in college and was apparently scouted by major league teams.

His spouse wasn’t President.

He is not a “rock star” candidate.

And he was not already on a presidential ticket.

I am pretty sure those are not the only negatives, but Richardson does have one advantage. Since nobody paid much attention to him over the past few years, he does not have to worry about addressing a bunch of well-known “unfavorables.”

This is by no means an endorsement, but it does suggest a need to learn more.

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