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Sympathy for the Hack

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Henley makes a good point in re: Paul Bremer’s apologia today:

And yet! Bremer’s arguments on de-Baathification and disbanding the army have some plausibility to them. He points out that the most famous case of trying to reconstitute part of the old army – the so-called “Fallujah Brigade” – was an embarrassing failure. He claims at least, that the Shiite and Kurdish elites on whom the success or failure of Iraq’s reconstruction was always going to depend cheered de-Baathification and indeed insisted on it. What Bremer actually establishes without seeming to intend is that there were, even at that very early date, no reliably good options. De-Baathification and disbanding the army worked out badly, and we can draw causal connections from those orders to Iraq’s present-day problems. But we can see plausible alternate histories in which the opposite decisions led to a contemporary Iraq that was just as bad. Unhappy occupations are all unhappy in their own way.

Bremer’s article actually shows again the folly of having conquered Iraq by force in the first place.

This seems right to me. While the administration has been incompetent in an innumerable variety of ways, it’s never been obvious to me that disbanding the army was the wrong decision. Certainly, it seems exceptionally implausible that a Suuni-led force was going to be even remotely effective at the necessary social control, and without the officers you have…pretty much the Iraqi “army” you have now. The De-Baathification of the civil service is more problematic, but as Henley says it seems pretty clear that it was going to largely happen under the new government anyway. What happened after the disbanding of the army is much more evidence that the war was an extremely bad idea that was unlikely to succeed even had the administration been competent than evidence that the fiasco was easily avoidable had better decisions been made in the first 90 days.

…I should say that I agree with Matt that Bremer doesn’t deserve much sympathy. I just think it’s dangerous to think that the war could have been easily salvaged with a couple of early decisions, which is a very dangerous delusion. In particular, the imperatives of Shiite elites have to be considered when assessing what realistically could have been done with the army.

Mr. Mom

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

I should start by thanking Rob and the gang for allowing me to guest blog at LGM. I’m actually starting a little early, but I have a fairly busy schedule Monday…

Anyway, I’m a bit older than the regular bloggers and have a daughter about to enter high school. This article in the May 14 Christian Science Monitor provided yet another reason why that can be such a scary proposition: government representatives come into the school and try to convince kids to become soldiers.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a professional soldier. My wife and I have had first cousins in Iraq and I think military service is an honorable profession. America obviously needs soldiers.

But I don’t want my kids to move from a school to a battlefield.

Apparently, I’m not alone. The US military just reported results of a survey finding that fathers are increasingly skeptical about military service:

The percentage of fathers who said they would support military service for their son or daughter dropped from 77 percent in 2003 to 59 percent by last August, according to defense officials.

Moms have long been more skeptical, but their support dropped even more — from 65% to 52%.

The military says it is meeting its recruiting quotas, so this drop in support might not be a big deal. However, as retired Army General Barry McCaffrey says bluntly: “No kidding, we’ve got trouble.”

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. XIV

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Jim Jones, the son of a Klansman who originally hailed from Indiana, was born on this date in 1931. He sold monkeys door-to-door to finance his first ministry in downtown Indianapolis, where he founded an organization that eventually became known as the People’s Temple. Dismayed by the city’s racism and convinced that Indianapolis would be annihilated in a nuclear war, Jones moved the People’s Temple ministry to Northern California during the mid-1960s, believing his followers would be safer there. Part religious cult and part social service agency, the People’s Temple is perhaps best understood as a “charismatic bureaucracy” that appealed to some of the poorest, most desperate, and most marginalized Americans living in an era of tremendous social upheaval and dislocation. African Americans joined the People’s Temple in comparatively large numbers, drawn to Jones’ anti-racist vision and his anti-poverty programs. Proposing a creed described by Jones as “apostolic socialism,” the Temple established soup kitchens, health clinics and daycare centers, residential homes for the elderly and a ranch for the developmentally disabled; they offered financial support to a San Francisco pet shelter and established a fund to assist the families of slain police officers; and they fleeced their members, urging them to surrender their property and savings to support the good works of the Temple.

Facing legal troubles in California, Jones leased several thousand acres of jungle from the Guyanese government in 1974 and relocated his ministry to South America, where his followers were promised an earthly paradise. Instead, the colony foundered. Swelling to more than 900 members by 1977, Jonestown suffered from food shortages while its residents labored from sunrise to sunset to support the “People’s Temple Agricultural Project.” By late 1978, Jones himself was heavily addicted to phenobarbitol. Discipline inside the colony became increasingly harsh, as recalcitrant children were punished by being locked in crates or lowered into a dry well where they were told monsters lived.

When California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown with a group of former Temple members and several reporters and photographers, the visit did not go swimmingly. Ryan had come to Jonestown to investigate rumors of human rights abuses, and during his visit several Jonestown families defected and requested that Ryan take them with him when he left. Around 5:00 p.m. on 18 November 1978, members of the People’s Temple gunned Ryan and four others down as they waited in a small aircraft to leave Guyana.

That night, all but a handful of Jonestown’s 1000 residents died from massive doses of cyanide, valium, choral hydrate, and Penegram, delivered to them via grape Flavor-Aid. Although the event is usually described as a mass suicide, it should be noted that two-thirds of the Jonestown population consisted of young children and the elderly, most of whom quite probably did not drink the grape cocktail willingly.

Richard Tropp, a member of the leadership group and one of the last people at Jonestown to die, left a note that urged the world to study the history of the Jonestown colony and someday achieve the ideals of “brotherhood, justice and equality” for which Jim Jones had supposedly fought. As the bodies accumulated, Tropp described the scene:

There is quiet as we leave this world. The sky is gray. People file [in] slowly and take the somewhat bitter drink. Many more must drink. Our destiny. It is sad that we could not let our light shine in truth, unclouded by the demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error that was not our intent, beyond our intent.

A 45-minute audio tape was recorded by Jones as he guided the “destiny” of Jonestown to its conclusion. Toward the end of the tape, Jim Jones attempted to reassure the Jonestown children that their deaths would be painless — that they would merely go to sleep and be at peace. The children were evidently not persuaded by Jones’ words, as their heartbreaking cries attest.

After nearly all of his followers were gone, and with the realization that his utopian project had failed utterly, Jim Jones died from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.

Guest Bloggers!

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for Albuquerque. Coverage of the Kentucky beat will be left in the able hands of the distinguished Rodger Payne of Duck of Minerva and Rodger Payne, and Media Czech of Bluegrass Roots. My advice is not to trust either farther than you can throw them; Rodger works for the foul institution known as the University of Louisville, and Media Czech is a Cubs fan.

I will return to blogging on Sunday, May 27.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

The House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen came into existence in 1576 as the result of one of many splits within the original House Hohenzollern. Unlike their more famous Franconian cousins, the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen House remained Roman Catholic. For almost 300 years, the family ruled over the small principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, between Baden and Wurttemberg. The principality became formally independent in 1815, but was eaten by Prussia in 1849.

Like most other German royalty during the year of re-unification, the formal elimination of their state’s independence did not result in political irrelvance. The last Prince of Hohenzollern-Simaringen briefly served as Minister-President of Prussia. The decay of the Ottoman Empire, however, would give the House its greatest opportunity. In 1866 Romania, the product of the recent union of Wallachia and Moldavia, tossed out its prince and appointed Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen as its new monarch. The Principality of Rumania remained under nominal Ottoman control until 1878, when it became independent as a result of the Russo-Turkish War. Charles was crowned as Carol I, King of the Romanians, in 1881. Romania grew slightly as a result of the Second Balkan War in 1913, and after enduring German and Austria occupation for two years, acquired Transylvania following the First World War. The entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side created some tension in greater House Hohenzollern. King Ferdinand acquired the nickname “the Loyal” from his Romanian subjects, but Kaiser Wilhelm II erased his name from the Hohenzollern House register and connived to have him excommunicated by Pope Benedict XV. The annexation of Transylvania created the historically largest Romania ever, but one which included substantial non-Romanian ethnic minorities.

The death of Ferdinand I in 1927 led to a crisis in the monarchy, as Carol II was tempermentally unsuited to assuming the throne. Consequently, the six year old Michael I became King, supported by a three member regency. In 1930 Carol II got bored of wandering Europe with his mistress and returned to Romania. A group of dissatisfied politicians managed to depose Michael I and crown Carol II king. Carol II ruled for ten years, lost Bessarabia to the Soviets, and watched as the Romanian government devolved into fascism. Carol II abdicated under German pressure in 1940, moving to Portugal and returning Michael I to the throne.

In June 1941, Romania joined the Nazi crusade against Soviet Russia. Like all armies allied to the Germans, the Romanians suffered from poor equipment and limited spares. The Russians took advantage of this to devastating effect at the Battle of Stalingrad, where the collapse of two Romanian armies in the face of a fierce Soviet offensive resulted in the encirclement of the German Sixth Army. German efforts to relieve Stalingrad failed, and the Soviets won one of the most critical battles of the war. In August 1944 Michael I played a crucial role in an anti-Nazi coup, which reversed Romania position in the war and facilitated a quick Soviet occupation of the country. Michael I was awarded a Legion of Merit by President Truman and an Order of Victory by Stalin in recognition of his contribution.

Soviet occupation was not kind to King Michael. Efforts at resistance proved futile, and Michael abdicated and fled the country in January 1948. Accounts differ as to the amount of money Michael escaped with. Since his abdication (which Michael later denounced as coerced and illegitimate), Michael has lived in Britain and Switzerland. In 1992 he visited Romania for Easter, and was greeted by huge and enthusiastic crowds. Apparently seeing this enthusiasm as a threat, the Romanian government banned Michael from visiting for another five years. Michael’s citizenship was restored in 1997, and he has since been a strong public advocate for Romanian interests in Europe.

Prospects for restoration are mixed. Michael remains relatively popular in Romania, but pro-monarchist parties haven’t had much political success. Michael I has five daughters but no sons, and because Romanian law prohibits female succession, the heir to the throne will become Friederich William of Hohenzollern upon Michael’s death.

Trivia: Three successive monarchs of what dynasty managed a total of 135 years of rule?

Falling Man

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Don DeLillo’s new novel about 9/11 is out. It’s been 30 years since the publication of Players, the first of DeLillo’s works to deal with the the psychology, organization and aftermath of terrorism; among that novel’s more ominous tones, the central character, Pammie, works at the World Trade Center, where she writes brochures for a firm known as Grief Management Counseling. If you’ve read anything else by DeLillo — especially Underworld or Mao II — you’ve pretty much been waiting for six years to see what he might do with the subject of 9/11.

The initial reviews of Falling Man are predictably mixed. Michiko Kakutani calls it “tired and brittle,” while Laura Frost and Sven Birkerts offer more positive accounts.

Now, I’ll read the book no matter what, because I would read — and maybe even enjoy — Don DeLillo’s grocery list. I wasn’t overwhelmed by Cosmopolis, and I thought The Body Artist was crap, but as far as I’m concerned, when you write a book like White Noise, you get a lifetime benefit-of-the-doubt pass.

(As an aside, when my wife and I got hitched a few years ago, I was hoping the ceremony might include a reading of “The Mystery at the Middle of Ordinary Life,” DeLillo’s three-minute “playlet” about marriage; this was not the last artistic battle I’ve lost, and we oped for a pretty cool cummings poem instead. Still, the DeLillo piece would’ve been priceless….)

Another Great Move

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Above: Mariners President Chuck Armstrong and GM Bill Bavasi

I see that Jeff Weaver will be resting his 14.32 ERA on the D.L. with Lit up like Jaime Navarro in Coors Field against the 1939 Yankees Syndrome “shoulder tendinitis.” Who could have seen this meltdown coming from a pitcher as consistent and coming off as great a season as Weaver?

The most amazing thing about the Mariners is that they have a payroll of $106 million. Where the hell did it go? The only interesting starting pitcher is young, cheap and hurt; behind him there’s a decent innings munchers and a parade of lemons. The offense is unspeakably dreary, an old team without much power or speed or any on-base skills. And what’s even more irritating is that when they had an old but championship quality team at the turn of the decade, Armstrong threw around quarters like thousand-pound anvils, preventing the team from acquiring the extra premium player(s) that might have put them over the top. The end of the Mariners as a good team, I’ve thought for a while, was during the collapse in 2002 when Pinella ordered a ridiculous 3-2 suicide squeeze from Jose Offerman, resulting in a double play that sent the Mariners irrevocably on the road to oblivion. I was furious at Pinella, but someone at the time interpreted the act as Pinella telling Armstrong and Gillick “Fuck you–you can’t find me a better player for the stretch run than Jose Offerman?” And, frankly, that now makes a lot of sense to me.

Meanwhile, yesterday was my belated first trip to Shea this year. The Brewers are very impressive, reminding me of my favorite team ever (the early-Alou Expos.) They’ve got an impressive core–I had no idea Hardy was that kind of hitter–on offense, they play very good defense, they have good arms, they seem smart and well-managed. (Taking advantage of Showalter demoting Cordero after a bad month was a great move.) They will cool off, and you have to worry about Sheets’ health, but you have to like them to win the division. I mean, you have to like a team that can provide two proofs that fat players can have good genes…meanwhile, while I’m not worried about the Mets they played yesterday like they were hungover; offensively and defensively all their reactions seemed a bit off. Even the stadium personnel seemed in a fog; the apple didn’t come out of the hat after the Mets homered, the hot dogs were inexplicably allowed to become fully cooked against clear stadium policy, and they didn’t have “Sunglasses at Night” or “Never Surrender” cued up when pinch-hitter Corey Hart was the boy in the batter’s box. Unlike the Mariners, though, at least when they’re asleep you know they might wake up the next day…

More Supression of Innovative Teaching!

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

In light of this, I breathlessly await a lengthy diatribe form Mickey Kaus in which he argues for strengthening teacher’s unions so that they’re protected from having their innovation crushed by nitwit bureaucrats who don’t really know anything about teaching. [But he doesn't care about educational outcomes--he cares about union-busting!--ed.]

Mothers’ Day

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Today, we celebrate the women who grunted us into being, nourished us to maturity, soothed our wounds, comforted us in sickness, confiscated our drugs, embarrassed us in front of friends, and unintentionally promoted the array of neuroses from which only the sweet touch of death will release us.

Once a year, in recognition of their grace and beauty and martyrdom, we take time out to say, “Thanks, Mom, for squandering what could have been the most creative and productive years of your lives on us, your sniveling, unworthy children. I can’t believe we treated you so poorly when we were teenagers. Here’s a plate — the buffet table is over there. Go nuts.”

As always with holidays and birthdays, I’m late with cards and gifts and such, but I notice on my calendar that Fête des Mères is not celebrated in France and Quebec until May 27 le 3 juin, so I figure I’m OK for a couple of weeks. Thank goodness for the dilatory French and their belated toasts to motherhood.

"Just ‘Taking Care of Business!’"

[ 0 ] May 13, 2007 |

Last Tuesday’s episode of Veronica Mars was fine and all, but I’m really not convinced that we need to encourage over the hill musicians to play more stuff “from the latest album”.

Case in point, Roger Waters is a colossal asshole. At a tribute to the late Syd Barrett…

Gilmour, Mason and Wright performed Arnold Layne, the group’s first hit and one of Barrett’s best-known works. They then took part in a finale performance of Bike, from the band’s debut album, featuring all the night’s performers – except Waters.

Waters, a former schoolfriend of Barrett with whom he formed the band in 1965, played his own song Flickering Flame before the interval.

That’s right; not only wouldn’t he play a Syd Barrett song with the rest of Pink Floyd, but he took the opportunity to play a song from his latest crappy solo album. When I saw them back in ’94, Pink Floyd actually opened with Astronomy Domine… and only played, like, three songs from their latest crappy album.

On Turning a Corner…

[ 0 ] May 12, 2007 |

Between March 2003 and August 2006, there was never a period in Iraq in which Coalition casualties exceeded 2.5/day for each of three consecutive months.

Since September 2006, Coalition casualties have exceeded 2.5/day every single month. Barring a remarkable downturn in violence, May will be the ninth consecutive month at 2.5+.

Surge advocates have argued that higher casualties since February are evidence that the insurgency is coming out to fight; an increased tempo of operations leads to higher casualties, but hurts the insurgency more than the Occupation. Lost in this argument, however, is the fact that casualties were at a prolonged, historic high before the Surge even began.

Tank Destroyer Pr0n

[ 0 ] May 12, 2007 |

When I first met with the TAPPED folks in March, Adele Stan asked “How did you get into this security stuff?” That’s not quite the right question; I think that a lot of eleven year old boys are obsessed with military equipment. The better question is why I never stopped being interested in it…

God, I miss the Soviet Empire.

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