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Note to Self

[ 9 ] January 27, 2008 |

Next year, just get the goddamned flu shot. Leave the very young and very old to their own fate, and don’t invent stories in your head about “shortages” that don’t actually exist.


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Diplomatic Recognition

[ 16 ] January 26, 2008 |

Charli at Duck has an interesting notion:

One of the articles I read as I prepped for this trip suggested that either the Holy See should lose this status or, to be fair, other religions should be represented as well.

Interesting idea, eh? Suppose Saudi Arabia, for example, were to enter into a treaty with the city of Mecca similar to Italy’s treaty with what is now the Vatican City State, and Sunni Islam were to re-establish a caliphate centered in Mecca but territorially distinct from any Muslim majority state, with transnational moral authority over all Sunni Muslims, and then it sent diplomats throughout international society on the model of the Catholic church. Shia Islam could create a parallel Imamte perhaps centered on Tehran.

Would a dynamic like this make for a moderating political Islam, capable of integrating into international society and institutions as the Catholic Church has done, separate from the politics of Islamic governments, though sometimes allied with them; and able to represent Islamic perspectives on issues like the laws of war, family policy, human rights, etc, from outside the politics of the nation-state system? Would it constitute a space from within which the silent moderate Islamic majority could exercise a greater influence on political Islam? Or, would such an institution be vulnerable to capture by extremists and bode ill for a pluralistic international society?

I’ll confess to having no helpful input into these questions, other than to outsource them to Matt Duss and other individuals more knowledgeable of Islam than I.

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[ 48 ] January 26, 2008 |

Andy over at Siberian Lights has a nice little history of the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol. Khalkhin-Gol was the outcome of several years of competition between the Soviet Union and Japan over the border between their respective client states, Mongolia and Manchukuo. Long story short, the Japanese pushed and the Soviets gave them a nasty bloody nose, with the consequence that conquest of Siberia looked far less appealing to the Japanese than a move south.

Andy has a good summary, so I’ll confine myself to a couple of points about the battle that I became aware of during the my dissertation research. By the time that the Japanese started pushing in earnest, Stalin was right in the middle of his bloody purge of the Red Army. The purge centered around Field Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the Soviet commander who is as responsible as anyone for the (misunderstood) operational doctrine known as Blitzkrieg. Tukhachevsky was central to the collaboration between the Reichswehr and the Red Army from 1927-1933, during which the basic tenets of modern deep battle doctrine were worked out. By 1937, Tukhachevsky had become a threat to Stalin. The Field Marshal, his immediate circle, and an ever-widening wave of Red Army officers were executed for treason, with the proximate charge usually being collaboration with the Germans. By 1938, Georgy Zhukov was one of the last of Tukhachevsky’s circle to remain alive. I read in a biography that Zhukov fully believed that he was going to his death when he was summoned by the High Command in 1938; instead, he was dispatched to Siberia to handle the Japanese. It’s certainly possible that if the Japanese hadn’t been pushing, Zhukov would have joined the rest of the braintrust of the Red Army on the wrong end of a firing squad. Zhukov ended up crushing the Japanese, and later became a participant of some note in the Great Patriotic War.

Zhukov was able to crush the Japanese in part because the purge had fallen lightest on the Red Army in Siberia. A lower percentage of officers were shot there than anywhere else in the USSR. Because the Red Army retained much of its expertise in Siberia, and because Zhukov brought many of the best surviving staff officers with him, the Russians badly outmatched the Japanese in tactical and operational effectiveness. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, this nucleus was not sufficient to restore the full combat effectiveness of the Red Army by June 1941, although a related group of Siberian returnees (officers who had been dispatched to the Gulag rather than executed during the purge) helped transform the Red Army into the most effective military organization in the world by 1944.

In August 1945, fresh from victory over the Germans, the Red Army once again fought the Japanese. With the benefit of experience and of a massive imbalance in the quality of equipment (although it should be noted that the Red Army was pretty well equipped in 1939), the Red Army destroyed the Japanese position in Manchukuo in a matter of days.

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Scary Sound Bite of the Day

[ 0 ] January 25, 2008 |

This one from the Times’ choice, John McCain (via the Daily Women’s Health Policy Report):

On the issue of appointments to the Supreme Court, McCain mentioned that Sam Brownback would play an advisory role in helping decide who he should nominate for the Supreme Court. As models of who he would select, John McCain pointed to Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.

This is scary for so many reasons. First, because the next president will likely get to make at least one Supreme Court appointment. Second, Sam Brownback!? Does McCain have even a shred of good judgment left in his body after so many years as Bush’s butt boy? Yes, yes, I know the Brownback line is an appeal to religious conservatives, but still…

In all seriousness, if McCain ends up the nominee (as I believe he will), I think it’s going to be a tough general. I can only hope that the better people know him, the less they’ll like him.

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Reinstating the Delegates

[ 94 ] January 25, 2008 |

This is pretty appalling:

This is the sort of decision that has the potential to tear the party apart. In an attempt to retain some control over the process and keep the various states from accelerating their primaries into last summer, the Democratic National Committee warned Michigan and Florida that if they insisted on advancing their primary debates, their delegates wouldn’t be seated and the campaigns would be asked not to participate in their primaries. This was agreed to by all parties (save, of course, the states themselves).

With no one campaigning, Clinton, of course, won Michigan — she was the only Democrat to only both to get on the ballot, as I understand it — and will likely win Florida. And because the race for delegates is likely to be close, she wants those wins to count. So she’s fighting the DNC’s decision, and asking her delegates — those she’s akready won — to overturn it at the convention. And since this is a complicated, internal-party matter that sounds weird to those not versed in it (of course Michigan and Florida should count!), she’s adding a public challenge that, if the other Democrats deny, will make them seem anti-Michigan and Florida.

It’s dirty business on the part of the Clinton campaign, no question. And cloaking the nasty little power grab with the language of democratic inclusion irritates me even more. I can’t say that I’m completely surprised, but I would have preferred if Hillary had demonstrated more appreciation for party unity than this; it amounts to an effort to steal delegates.

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That Explains It

[ 15 ] January 25, 2008 |

I think we have an explanation about why people get so agitated about defending Larry Summers’s pseudo-sceintific just-so stories about women.

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Friday Cat Power Blogging

[ 33 ] January 25, 2008 |

With the new album out and all…

…To address the complaint that we’re not providing full value for their money because apparently this video has been used by us before, I don’t think we’ve used this one:

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Presidents Believe the Darnedest Things

[ 23 ] January 25, 2008 |

While prepping for my US Since 1945 course this week, I stumbled across a number of references to Harry Truman’s apparent conviction that “Peter the Great’s Will” — one of the great forgeries in modern European history — was genuine. “The Testament,” as it has often been known, allegedly contained Peter’s dying wishes for the future of Russia. Because the document was likely forged by any one of several parties hostile to Russian interests around the late 1790s or early 1800s (about 75 years after Peter committed himself to full-time daisy-pushing), the document is plump with expansionist rhetoric. For example:

5. We must take away as much territory as possible from Sweden, and sedulously contrive that they attack us first, so as to give us a pretext for their subjugation. With this object in view, we must keep Sweden in opposition to Denmark and Denmark to Sweden, and sedulously foster their mutual jealousies . . . .

8. We must keep steadily extending our frontiers northward along the Baltic and southwards along the shores of the Black Sea.

9. We must progress as much as possible in the direction of Constantinople and India. He who can once get the possession of these points is the real ruler of the world. With this in view we must provoke constant quarrels at the one time with Turkey, at another with Persia. We must . . . degrees make ourselves master of that sea, as well as the Baltic, which is a doubly important element in the success of our plan. We must hasten the downfall of Persia, push on to the Persian Gulf, if possible re-establish the ancient commercialities with the Levant through Syria, and force our way into the Indies, which are the storehouses of the world. Once there, we can dispense with English gold . . . .

13. When Sweden is ours, Persia vanquished, Poland subjugated, Turkey conquered, when our armies are united and the Euxine and the Baltic in the possession of ships, then we must make separate and secret overtures, first to the court of Versailles and then to that of Vienna, to share with them the domination of the world. If either of them accepts our propositions, which is certain to happen if their ambitions and self-interest are properly worked upon, we must make use of one to annihilate the other; this done, we have only to destroy the remaining one by finding a pretext for a quarrel, the issue of which cannot be doubtful, as Russia will then be in the absolute possession of the East and the best part of Europe.

It’s not hard to imagine why this document would find new life in the early years of the Cold War. What’s harder to comprehend is how Truman could run around — as he apparently did — telling people that they needed to read the will of Peter the Great to understand the source of the “fixed ideas” held by the Soviets. The document had been recognized by scholars as a blatant forgery at least a century earlier, but Clark Clifford apparently slipped Truman a copy of the text sometime in mid- to late-1946 without consulting any of the Soviet experts in the administration — any of whom could have set the record straight after choking back their laughter.

As far as I can tell, Truman never referred to the document in public, and he might ultimately have been set straight in 1948 after writing a letter — again, recommending Peter’s alleged will — to Granville Clark, the guy who had authored the Selective Service Act in 1940. Clark apparently checked around, discovered that the Testament was a crock, and promptly wrote a letter to Sen. Robert Taft, Truman’s Republican nemesis at the time. In that letter, Clark seems to have expressed some concern that Truman was an idiot.

In a roundabout way, all of this made me wonder what the clowns in George Bush’s orbit have been telling him about Iraq, Iran, and god knows who else for the past seven years.

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Cheaper than Kristol, and Marginally Less Creepy

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

I just want everyone to know that I will happily produce poorly written neoconservative boilerplate for the low, low price of $3 a word.

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The 2008 National Book Award Competition is Officially Over

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

A truly historic day in the history of American letters…

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It’s Good to Have Dreams

[ 0 ] January 24, 2008 |

Here’s the thing; I can’t even imagine having a job in which I personally had the capacity to lose seven billion dollars:

Societe Generale SA said bets on stock index futures by a rogue trader caused a 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) trading loss, the largest in banking history.

Jerome Kerviel, 31, was the trader responsible, the Paris- based bank said today. Societe Generale plans to raise 5.5 billion euros from shareholders after the loss and subprime- related writedowns depleted capital. The Bank of France, the country’s banking regulator, is investigating the alleged fraud.

The trading loss exceeds the $6.6 billion Amaranth Advisors LLC lost in 2006, and is more than four times the $1.4 billion of losses by Nick Leeson that brought down Barings Plc in 1995. An offer by Chairman Daniel Bouton to resign after the trades were discovered this past weekend was refused by Societe Generale’s board, the bank said…

The trading loss wipes out almost two years of pretax profit at Societe Generale’s investment-banking unit, run by Jean-Pierre Mustier. The company said it’s suing the trader, who had a salary and bonus of less than 100,000 euros a year and worked at the bank since 2000.

Four to five people will be fired as a result of the loss, Mustier told reporters at a press conference in Paris.

But let’s remember; private industry is more efficient, transparent, responsive, etc. etc. etc. than government.

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Esteban Colberto y Lou Dobbs

[ 8 ] January 24, 2008 |

Hilarious. It’s a “recreation” of an interview Colbert conducted with Dobbs last year (virtually word for word), but I gotta hand it to Colbert: he’s making the best of his writer-free show.

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