Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Queen's Christmas Message, 2007

Since I'm rather of the monarchist persuasion myself, El Jefe has decided that his blog would not be complete without H.M. Queen Elizabeth II's very worthwhile Christmas message, on You Tube, no less.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

And Of Course, It's Bush's Fault . . .

Now wasn't this predictable ? Mark Thompson and Brian Bennett, report in Time online:

But there are some who think the Bush Administration is not without blame. Hussain Haqqani, a former top aide to Bhutto and now a professor at Boston University, thinks the U.S., which has counted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a key ally against terrorism since 9/11, bears some of the responsibility. "Washington will have to answer a lot of questions, especially the Administration," he says. "People like me have been making specific requests to American officials to intervene and ask for particular security arrangements be made for her, and they have been constantly just trusting the Musharraf Administration."

Oh of course. It's all Bush's fault.
Now just how in the world was the United States going to protect Mrs. Bhutto from her own people ? In any case, I'm sure US security for a Pakistani politician would have done wonders for her domestic popularity. The consequences of trouble in that situation don't bear thinking about, there are few worse things imaginable than the current situation, but one of them would be something happening to Mrs. Bhutto while she was under the protection of US security.
While the Bush Administration was thus making friends and influencing people by throwing its weight around saving Mrs. Bhutto from every Tom, Dick and Abdul in her own country who wanted his 70 virgins, perhaps it could have altered the climate, made the crops grow, and caused water to flow uphill. Oh, and given peace a chance, too. It is superfluous to point out that if Mrs. Bhutto had not been born with more guts than sense, she could have been right there at Boston University playing professor and attending faculty teas with her friend Mr. Haqqani rather than attending open-air rallies in Pakistan.
Quite aside from the impossibility of protecting Mrs. Bhutto from her (charitably put) questionable judgment in returning to Pakistan, there is no doubt whatever if the Bush administration had intervened as Mr. Haqqani wanted, the Usual Suspects would be lining up even now to cite the interference as yet more evidence that Pakistan, President Musharraf and Mrs. Bhutto were all stooges of Uncle Sam.
But they'll say that anyway, and probably at Boston University.

Bhutto Assassinated

Benazir Bhutto, former and possible future Prime-Minister of Pakistan, was gunned-down this morning as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, dying shortly thereafter. The assassin then blew himself up. At least 20 other persons were killed.
Mrs. Bhutto's enemies were legion, and her assassination cannot be said to be unexpected. The Taliban and Al Qaeda vowed to kill her, and tried to do so the very night she returned to Pakistan in October. Mrs. Bhutto dodged that attempt, but 140 other bystanders didn't. Under the circumstances, it appears that the Pakistani authorities would have done better to deport Mrs. Bhutto immediately upon her arrival in Pakistan.
The media and the politicians are going to - are already -- telling us that Mrs. Bhutto's murder is a grave blow to Pakistani democracy. This is arrant nonsense, although what we might expect of people who live in functioning democracies where it is usually possible to go to the polling place without shots or violence. There's no such thing as Pakistani democracy: Mrs. Bhutto's untimely death simply makes it impossible for the Pakistanis to go through the motions of sham democracy without the risk of mass violence and the complete breakdown of public order. Wretchard at Belmont Club says it best:

The effect of political assassination is to restrict effective political discourse to argument by high explosive or supersonic lead projectiles. Political murder kills not only the candidates, but the process to which they belong. Pakistani politics might not miss Benazir Bhutto as an individual, but it will surely want for the elections in general.

Elections have rarely been able in and of themselves to bring about stable democratic rule. Normally things are the other way round. It is the existence of the elements of democracy that have brought elections into existence. Whether those elements now exist in Pakistan is the question. Rogers believed that until Pakistan had an educated citizenry, credible legal culture, a semblance of upright government and a degree of religious tolerance that any electoral process would be founded upon an insubstantial base.

It is mad to talk of republics without institutions, without order. Absent law and order, without the ability to hold a political rally without bomb-throwers and shots, promises of "elections" and happy-talk about "democracy" are not signs of liberty, but precursors to violence.
When the taxes are collected in an orderly manner; when the bureaucrats are more or less honest and obey their superiors; when the courts actually adjudicate disputes more or less regularly; when the army and police are competent and obedient instruments in the hands of the government; and, when the political class sees that the transfer of political power does not lead to political oblivion or physical death -- then it's possible to talk of democracy, or, more accurately, republican institutions. But absent these conditions, it's possible to have all the "elections" any do-gooder could want, and wind up with nothing more than democratically elected politicians serving as place-holders between one dictatorship and the next.
"Democracy" cannot be built on sand, or on an empty record. George Washington and the American founding fathers did not work in a vacuum: they had almost 150 years of colonial government to build on; a functioning political and economic oligarchy with a shared interest in order; plus hundreds of years of accumulated experience with British law.
Since independence, Pakistan has been a case study in efforts to build democracy without doing the homework. The present electoral cycle (parliamentary elections are scheduled for 8 January), looks like more of the same. Someday, it might actually work, but first, politicians must be able to attend political rallies without being accompanied by their household troops. Until Pakistan can work out for itself how to do this, Pakistanis can wish for all the reform and democracy all they like, but reality is likely to be more of Pervez Musharraf, or whichever general the troops obey this week.
ADDENDUM: Andrew C. McCarthy's piece "Benazir Bhutto: Killed by the Real Pakistan" over at National Review Online tells some unpleasant but real home-truths about Pakistan, and is worth your attention. I particularly like this part:
There is the Pakistan of our fantasy. The burgeoning democracy in whose vanguard are judges and lawyers and human rights activists using the “rule of law” as a cudgel to bring down a military junta. In the fantasy, Bhutto, an attractive, American-educated socialist whose prominent family made common cause with Soviets and whose tenures were rife with corruption, was somehow the second coming of James Madison.
I so wish I had written that. (Hat tip: In from the Cold).

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Weekend

Praise be, the weekend is here, at least it is after lunch. El Jefe is loading up the whole royal court -- the elite gumba guards, the secret police, the diplomatic corps, the wife, the mistress, the prelates of the State Church; plus the the card-sharps, media people, and bingo operators (yes, all the Great and Good), and their little cats too -- plus El Jefe's books, papers and lists of naughty, nice and subversive. Yes, El Jefe is leaving his capital, and cruising to the country palace in the provinces, for a quick little pre-Christmas trip, just as fast as he can manage it.
Looks like the Republican presidential contest can no longer be ignored. I think I'm going to have to make my choice, and select my favored candidate, soon. I'll vote for whoever they put up, of course, but I need to focus on a preference. Hopefully, will manage that this weekend.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bill Clinton's Stage Prop

CNN reports that former President George H.W. Bush has "shot down" his successor Bill Clinton's suggestion, at a South Carolina campaign rally, that President Hillary Clinton would send Slick and former-President Bush on a world tour after becoming President, ". . .to assure other nations that 'America is open for business and cooperation again.'”
No he didn't.
The CNN story says that former President Bush's Chief of Staff gave CNN a statement saying that "he 'wholeheartedly supports the President of the United States, including his foreign policy. He has never discussed an ‘around-the-world-mission’ with either former President Bill Clinton or Sen. Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted since he is proud of the role America continues to play around the world. . .'"
Now what else can the former President say, after Bill Clinton so crassly volunteered his predecessor's name as a stage prop in his and his wife's quest for power ?
The man didn't say no -- even though a very polite "piss-off" would be quite warranted after Slick's gratuitous insult-by-implication to the sitting President, the son of the former President, not to mention the casual denigration by a former President of the foreign policy of the United States. We know very well that President Bush would never, ever say no: that President Bush, when and if there is a "President Hillary" will go whenever the President of the United States asks him to go, wherever the needs of the Nation take him. We can take it for granted that former President Bush will always be at the service of his country: as he was 60 years ago in the Pacific; as he was in Congress; at the CIA, and at the White House. Can we say as much of his successor, or of his wife ?

Interesting Birthdays

Philip V, King of Spain, Naples and Sicily
A glance at Wikipedia shows today had some interesting historical birthdays.
Today in 1746, Philip V, first Bourbon King of Spain, (second son of Louis, le grand dauphin), was born at Versailles. Grandson of Louis XIV, King of France, Philip was Duke of Anjou at birth, and never expected to be a King. However, the last Habsburg King of Spain, Charles II, was childless, and a little French persuasion got Philip named as heir to the throne in the Spanish King's will, which had all kinds of implications for the European balance of power. There were other candidates with more-or-less comparable genealogical claims, so naturally, there was some objection, and it took the terrible War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) -- the first real world war --to secure Philip his throne. The present King, Juan Carlos I, is Philip V's (and Louis XIV's) direct descendant.
Another interesting Bourbon, Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Duchess of Angoulême, was born today in 1778. Despite her high birth, the Princess had a difficult life: child of the unfortunate Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, she moved from the palace of Versailles to prison with her family during the French Revolution. Her father, mother and brother were killed by the Revolution.
Left alone in prison, she was not told what had happened to her family. Exiled after the Reign of Terror ended, she spent the next twenty-odd years in exile. To keep all the claims to the throne in the family, she was married off to her cousin Louis-Antoine by decree of her uncle, Louis XVIII. The Princess and her husband returned from exile in 1814 -- only to be chased out again when Napoléon I made his brief re-appearance in 1815. Back to Paris again in 1815, and then chased out for good in 1830, after being Queen of France for about twenty minutes. The Princess died in 1851 in exile, and is today buried in Slovenia. The French called her "Madame Rancune" or "Lady Resentment." I suspect she had her reasons.
Oh yes, Leonid Brezhnev was born today in 1906. I find him uninteresting, or at least unpleasant, so you can read about that fellow yourself. Better he had stayed obscure.

The Democratic Race

At a horseback guess, it's a very bad sign for Mrs. Clinton that her Presidential hubby has suddenly taken such a prominent role in her campaign. I can't imagine the Hillary-handlers would trot-out Slick unless matters were truly desperate. It may well have come to this pass: things do not look well when the new media buzz on a campaign is about "humanizing" the candidate, especially when the robot's not even running.
If Mrs. Clinton's truly in trouble, as she appears to be, the other candidates better put on their tin hats - because the detectives and campaign operatives are going to be really digging for dirt.
Mind you, none of these people are getting my vote, and I view this totally from the outside (sort of like the Iran-Iraq war), but I find Mrs. Clinton far and away the most rational of the Democratic candidates.
Cui bono from Hillary's troubles ? I suppose the easy answer is St. Barak of Obama, but I still don't think he has the horses to go the distance, especially if Hillary gives him a good pounding. Watch the man with the Iowa organization; the man who is (momentarily) the "unserviced target" so to speak, although that's sure gonna change. John Edwards, call your office. . .

Telling Us What We Agree On

Americans are in remarkable agreement lately on an awful lot. They agree the Iraq War was a mistake, and that the United States should start getting out. They think the economy is lousy and the country is on the wrong track. They want the government to find a way to guarantee health insurance to everyone and they overwhelmingly believe the bipartisan congressional effort to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is a good idea.

The people are united, Ms. Cocco thinks. It's the politicians who are divided and polarized. "Paralysis does not afflict Washington because the public is split about what it wants. It's because the politicians just won't deliver."
I dunno. I'm an American, and if there's a statement in that paragraph I agree with, I haven't found it yet. How are we defining "remarkable agreement" here ? On the issue of Iraq, AP-Ipsos said recently that 38 percent still agree with me that the war was the right call (my own disagreements with Iraq are more related to execution than the original idea). 60 percent is a big number, but I'm not sure if it's enough to get to "remarkable agreement."
Turning to the "remarkable agreement" on getting out, that's bosh -- a CNN/Opinion Research Poll from early this month had between 30 and 39 percent of respondents favoring some kind of withdrawal. In what way is that "remarkable agreement ?" The same poll reports 41 percent of respondents saying that the US did the "right thing" going into Iraq. Count me glad not to agree on this issue, either.
As to the government finding a "way to guarantee health insurance to everyone," despite the best efforts of the prestige media to stampede us into a Canadian style-single payer system, I'm not buying it. I'm not seeing a groundswell of demands by the voters for nationalized Hillary-care style health insurance, or the taxpayers paying everybody's medical bill. Costs, however, seem to be a bigger problem than access.
I'm sure that you'd probably find healthy majorities for each of the points in Ms. Cocco's paragraph quoted above, which would get bigger or smaller depending on precisely how you framed the questions. That's the business the media's in -- framing the questions. And just like you, gentle reader, and yours truly, the media types have opinions of their own, and that goes into their writing and talking, and impacts how the issues are framed.
You can probably find a majority on any subject, if you frame the question correctly. But the really important question revolves around the intensity of people's opinions. How badly do voters want the "government to find a way to guarantee health insurance to everyone" ? Badly enough to support major tax increases? How badly do people really want a withdrawal from Iraq ? Badly enough to support it despite the probable collapse of the Iraqi government; thousands more civilian casualties there when we do what MoveOn wants and bug-out; and, our national humiliation ? The public may not be "split" at all on thinking that all uninsured kids having health insurance is a generally good idea, (in a don't wanna be against that sort of way), but when it comes to dollars, they may well balk at having their taxes raised to pay for it.
Of course, the politicians "don't deliver," because there is a real downside to every popular policy preference. Besides, you have between 30 and 40 percent of us on any given issue who aren't in "remarkable agreement" and who have no problems whatever in letting the politicos know that. Remember, it's a big country, with a political process that is biased against the production of legislation, and that can only produce legislative solutions when there's real consensus, as opposed to vague happy-feeling policy preferences.
If you really want "remarkable agreement" to have its way more often, abolish the Senate, and elect the entire Congress and the President at large (a parliamentary system), or establish government by opinion polls. When this happens, the country will get somewhat smaller, as those of us who live in flyover country -- who aren't remarkable agreers, and don't wish to be governed by the policy preferences of the bi-coastal, urban media elite -- will immediately de-camp and let the Northeast and Pacific coasts set up their own Euro-style utopia. Meanwhile. I, for one, am only too proud not to be in agreement.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Turn On the Lights

Almost 100,000 people are still without electricity and other services after severe ice storms in Oklahoma last week. Hopefully this all gets sorted-out soon, but remember the good folks there in your prayers.

Hinge of Fate

. . .In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get pretty strange
. . .Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody's going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hand on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door. . .
The Eagles, New York Minute (From album End of the Innocence, 1989, Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar, Jai Winding).
Donald Sensing has a "Jesus, it's your airplane" moment, and maybe understands, better than any of us, the Meaning of Life. May you ever avoid finding understanding in this way. (Hat tip: Belmont Club).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Where is the "Last-Elected" President ?

Sweetness and Light notes that a pro-Hillary Clinton website is making references to photographs in Iowa showing "the great last elected president with Iowa students and other Hillary Clinton supporters." (Hat-Tip, American Thinker)
The pro-Hillary blog needs to check its facts more carefully, because this is very difficult to believe. However worthy Mrs. Clinton might be, it seems exceedingly unlikely that President Bush would be in Iowa posing with Hillary Clinton supporters.

Light Blogging Lately

Sorry that the posting has been light lately, but El Jefe has been preoccupied with Christmas, working, and (SWMBO no doubt thinks), escaping too much on weekends to the country.
Regular posting will no doubt resume soon: because there's lots to talk about, Hillary's meltdown; the rise of Huckabee; whether we should get out of Afghanistan (maybe); whether we've won in Iraq (no); India's plans to deploy an ABM system; the frantic efforts of opinion-makers to reassure themselves that the rise of China is just a big happy-happy; the Great and Good's conclusion that Iran is now happy-happy; and, just like everything else, all problems with Iran are Bushhitler's fault.
Oh yeah, I need to blog about Jenny McCarthy or about Mindy Farrar (most gorgeous Penthouse Pet ever). No, don't get offended SWMBO, it's just that when I use those names, search-engine activity really spikes.
Say, did you hear that some baseball players have used steroids ?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

11 December 1941

No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy . . . but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. . . So we had won after all! Yes, after Dunkirk; after the fall of France; after the horrible episode of Oran; after the threat of invasion, when, apart from the Air and the Navy, we were an almost unarmed people; after the deadly struggle of the U-boat war -- the first Battle of the Atlantic, gained by a hand's-breadth; after seventeen months of lonely fighting and nineteen months of my responsibility in dire stress, we had won the war. . . How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end, no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. . . We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. We might not even have to die as individuals. Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force.

Winston S. Churchill's reaction to the news of Pearl Harbor, in his Memoirs of the Second World War: The Grand Alliance.

Several days ago, the United States remembered the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which, among other things, brought the United States into the Second World War. With the Japanese attack on the United States, the line-up of major powers at war was almost complete – but only almost. The US declaration of war passed-out of Congress on the 8th (with but one dissenting vote) – named only Japan. The United States had not yet heard from Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy – co-signatories to the September 1940 Tripartite or “Axis” Pact. On 11 December 1941, this changed when Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. A good argument can be made that with this step, Nazi Germany committed suicide.
In the strategic sense, Hitler’s decision to make war on the United States – for it was his alone – was absolute lunacy. In December of 1941, Germany had all it could handle in Russia: Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s plan to conquer the Soviet Union in a single campaign in the summer and fall of 1941 – had already failed, and the German Army was stuck in the snow in front of Moscow: its supply lines a shambles or non-existent, casualties already numbering over a million (front line infantry regiments barely fielding the strength of companies). On the 6th, the Russians – who seemed to the Germans to have bottomless resources – launched a massive counteroffensive.
Germany’s other enemy, Great Britain, was running its own war in North Africa, and at sea, relying on massive dollops of American financial and military aid to stay in the war. But without more, and as long as Germany could keep the situation in Russia more or less under control, Britain’s efforts, strategically, were an irritant, and not a threat. But with the Russian campaign teetering in the balance, Germany verged on strategic bankruptcy.
So why then, did Hitler compound his problems? Why did Adolf Hitler, with his eyes open, enter into war with the greatest industrial power on Earth? Pre-war German military planners concluded that Germany had lost the First World War because the Kaiser’s Navy had dragged America into it. But on 11 December 1941, Hitler proved to the world he was an amateur strategist, and repeated the mistake.
An argument can be made that the US and Germany were already at war – US ships were protecting convoys of US military aid to Britain in the North Atlantic; and without Lend-Lease aid from the United States, Britain could not have carried on the struggle. But convoying and massive aid was still not full-scale war, which the Germans, up till late 1941 – seemed to understand very well: the German Navy in the Atlantic being under orders to “avoid incidents with the USA.”
It seems that Hitler, just as he had underestimated the Soviet Union, underestimated the industrial and military power of America. He possibly reasoned that Japan would keep the Americans busy enough for him to win his war in Europe without much American interference.
Time would prove what a sucker’s bet Hitler made. Fortunately, American resources were vast enough to fight a full scale land, air and sea war with Japan; raise and supply a major army to fight land campaigns against the Germans in Europe; arm and feed the British; help the Soviets; build the ships to move the army and supplies around in; build an air force from scratch to level Germany’s cities; build roads and ports on five continents; work on costly experiments like the atomic bomb – and manage to pay for all this. America could afford it. By comparison, Hitler's Germany, and every other power in the conflict -- fought a poor man's, shoestring war.
Perhaps more importantly, Hitler made the fatal error of taking the struggle personally. He wanted a confrontation with the rich plutocratic Americans -- in any way that he could get one. The Führer really, really hated America, and in particular the US President, Franklin Roosevelt – as a reading of his diatribe in the Reichstag, announcing war with the United States -- makes amply clear:
And now permit me to define my attitude to that other world, which has its representative in that man, who, while our soldiers are fighting in snow and ice, very tactfully likes to make his chats from the fireside, the man who is the main culprit of this war. . .
More even than his faulty strategic assumptions, Hitler's hatred and envy of America and its President drove him to abandon rational calculations of interest and advantage, and into the fatal misstep that would destroy him.
What if Hitler had declared neutrality in the Pacific War? Not that treaties were ever an issue for the Nazis, but technically, Article 3 of the Axis Pact did not require Germany to go to war with the United States. Probably, neutrality would not have helped Hitler much, but it would have gravely complicated the allied position politically.
President Roosevelt could no doubt have obtained a declaration of war on Germany anyway, (Congress was working on that already), but it is questionable whether the United States would have enjoyed the historic unity that allowed it fight the war to the finish had Hitler not moved first. Hitler, by stealing Roosevelt’s thunder, did the world a favor by solidifying the conviction of the American people that there could be no deals with the Nazis or the Japanese, and that the war had to be prosecuted until total victory. Isolationism was mortally wounded by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and finished-off by Hitler’s speech in the Reichstag, as the ensuing American declaration of war (after Hitler's) proved. Churchill's reaction to Pearl Harbor, recorded above, more accurately reflected the situation after 11 December 1941.
Suppose, however, that Hitler had not only declared neutrality in the Japanese war, but torn-up the Axis pact and actually declared war on Japan? Unlike democracies, dictatorships can change policies on a dime -- as Hitler had shown in 1939 with his deal with Stalin, that he tore-up in 1941. What if Hitler had gotten up in the Reichstag, denounced the Japanese sneak-attack on America, and offered the US "help" ? Not that Germany would have ever really fought such a war, but it seems improbable that the United States could have gone to war with Germany under those conditions.
With America out of the European war, and what was left of the isolationist lobby demanding full focus on the war with Japan (no aid for Britain and Russia, and no second front, ever). Hitler might well have forced the British to a separate peace and beaten the Russians. At the least, Hitler could quite possibly have achieved a stalemate with Stalin, thus managing to keep much of Germany's ill-gotten gains, and having his hands free to maintain his criminal Nazi regime indefinitely.
Fortunately, Hitler’s half-baked views of strategy -- and his paranoid fantasy that Roosevelt and the Americans were part of his mythical world-wide Jewish conspiracy – drove Hitler and Nazi Germany to suicide. On 11 December 1941 – Hitler abandoned strategy and just did what he wanted to, cast off ambiguity, and made the quasi-war with the United States real.
Now that pretense was over, the very next day, as the historian Christian Gerlach has shown, Hitler took steps to move the Holocaust (already begun in Russia) into high gear, announcing to his intimates his decision to annihilate European Jewry. But history had other plans. Matters would end quite differently than the architect and maker of all this misery supposed, because Hitler’s decision on 11 December 1941 led not to a German-dominated Europe but to his squalid suicide in his miserable little Berlin bunker, and the burning of his carcass on some rubbish-heap.

Monday, December 10, 2007

North Korean Symphony

The New York Philharmonic is going to perform in the Hermit Kingdom. Yes, the orchestra is off for North Korea, for what the AP calls a "cultural breakthrough." Plans are apparently far advanced: the orchestra president spent six days in country looking for venues. Mr. Mehta could have saved himself the trouble -- because wherever the orchestra plays it's still gonna be the same place -- some hall named after Kim Jong Il.
Can't wait to see the Internet version of the Pyongyang Daily Bugle's review of this performance: "The Running-Dog Imperialist Orchestra (of course much inferior to the People's Democratic Republic of Korea Philharmonic), gave a tepid rendition of The Nuclear Sun Rises and Never Sets on You, Dear Leader, and a spiritless performance of the Heroic Dear Leader Symphony." Since the object here is a "cultural breakthrough," surely, in the name of sensitivity, there will be no performance of this little number from Team America, World Police.
Post-show, the orchestra's members, and their secret police minders, will no doubt enjoy themselves out on the town, at one of Pyongyang's celebrated restaurants, such as "Dear Leader's Commissary No. 4," before calling it a night at "Dear Leader's Foreigners Only Night Club No. 2." Come to think of it, the orchestra members would probably be wise to bring their own food and drink, the North Koreans seem to be better at making nukes than at growing crops.
Finally, don't worry folks, whatever happens in Pyongyang, stays in Pyongyang, unless the recording gear in your hotel rooms, in the bathroom, on the street, or wherever, picks it up.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Facebook Spies !

The Syrian government has blocked access to the internet social networking site Facebook because they're afraid of Israeli "infiltration" of Syrian social networks.
Honestly, I don't make this stuff up.
No doubt someplace, in some heavily fortified bunker in Damascus, a bunch of Syrian superspies are sitting around worrying about profiles by girls named Ruth in Beer Sheva or Tel Aviv. All the Ruths no doubt look like Jenny McCarthy and their profiles surely say that they like "Handsome Syrian generals who bathe at least once a week, who will give me plans to Damascus Air Defense System on first hook-up." Dislikes would no doubt include suicide bombers and Scud missiles.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Misty Watercooler Memories

If you have been following the Scott Beauchamp controversy over at The New Republic, check out blogger Iowahawk's send-up of The New Republic, and its editor Franklin Foer's recent, er, explanation, here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Battle of Leuthen, 1757

King Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia (Anton Graff, about 1781, oil on canvas)
Battle of Leuthen, map showing the Prussian flank march

Good morning ! We haven’t had a historical post lately, and there’s no time like the present.
Today is the 250th anniversary of King Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia’s great victory over a twice-as-large Austrian army at Leuthen, near the city of Breslau, in Prussian Silesia, (since 1945, in southwestern Poland) in the Seven Years War.
The Austrian commander, Prince Charles of Lorraine, made the mistake of fighting the Prussian Army on one of its own peacetime maneuver grounds, and paid accordingly: his approximately 65,000 man army losing 3,000 dead, 7,000 wounded and over 10,000 prisoners, along with 51 standards and over half his 200 guns. The Prince, trying to avoid a Prussian flank attack, and forgetting that he who defends everything defends nothing, threw away his superiority in numbers by spreading his army out over (for the linear-war era), an impossibly long five-and-a-half mile front. As it happened, the Prussians, using the rolling terrain to conceal their movements, found the vulnerable left flank anyway.
Prince Charles, loser of three previous battles with King Frederick, (Choutsitz in 1742, Hohenfriedburg in 1745, and Prague earlier in 1757), proved too cowed by his great adversary's reputation, and their respective past records. Rather than figuring out how to use his superior numbers and firepower to crush the Prussians, the Prince sat still and allowed the Prussians to maneuver and crush him.
The Prussian army’s march across the Austrian front, and onto the unguarded Austrian left flank, and the subsequent Prussian attack that rolled the Austrians right up -- eerily resembles the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s great flank march and attack at Chancellorsville, in the American Civil War, 106 years later.
Leuthen was Frederick's greatest victory, and it followed, by exactly one month, his great victory over Austria's French allies at Rossbach in Saxony (central Germany).
All this was long ago, and Prussia, the Habsburg Empire, and all they contended for are long since dust. The world no longer has time for kings or princes; and Frederick the Great’s deeds, and those of his and his enemies’ troops, are mostly forgotten: their long-ago struggles remembered occasionally by historians and antiquarians. But it was real to those who lived it, 250 years ago.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Detour for the Dictator

Dear Hugo,
I had not blogged at all on your little constitutional referendum in Venezuela because, silly me, I doubted there was anything to it. I was absolutely certain that, as a candidate member of Dictators for Life, that you had matters securely in the bag. Rule One in the Good Dictators Handbook is to always promise elections, but never to actually have them unless you know the results in advance.
All is not lost, Venezuela is stuck with you (more or less legally), until 2012. There is plenty of time to give the voters as many more chances as needed to attach their own chains, until they get it right. “No” is just temporary, but a “yes” is forever and ever; or until you get shot, poisoned, deposed, or (many years hence) your squabbling aides resolve the succession question and turn off the life support, or apply a handy pillow.
This little reverse can even work to your long-term advantage – it’s yet another bit of evidence to be invoked by your useful idiot friends worldwide that you’re a real democrat. Besides, you lose nothing by gassing a little now about democracy, and you have to do that anyway, since the other, more accurate, interpretation of what just happened is that you’ve behaved as an overconfident buffoon.
Until you’re ready for a new and improved referendum you need to review some Dictatorship 101 basic concepts. Friend Fidel over in Havana, professor emeritus and a giant in this course of study, is available for any questions you may have, but for now, lets sum-up where you went wrong:
Counters Count. As old Joseph Vissarionovich might have said, it’s not that people that vote who count, it is the people who count the votes. Clearly, your electoral apparatus needs some “Bolivarian reform.” In future, have no election where the poll-workers aren’t sufficiently inspired, motivated and empowered to ensure correct results.
Educate the Students. It’s hard to set up a regime of justice and enlightenment if the students haven’t been taught manners. It’s not enough to have fans in the English and Political Science departments of a bunch of American and European universities – these idiots are useful of course for confusing and retarding pesky foreign interference, (and for keeping tabs on what their lawyer and media encrusted governments might be up to). However, there is no substitute for properly intimidated students. With all the demonstrations late last week, it’s painfully apparent you haven’t got the students housebroken. Access to education and employment has to be made dependent on political correctness, and those who still talk too much need to be reeducated or otherwise disappeared. You need to read up on East Germany. Fidel can probably help here too.
Police ! It’s simply inexcusable that after almost ten years in power, your police allow you to be embarrassed in such a manner. The coup of 2002 should have been a wake-up call for you. Yes, I know you’ve worked on this a bit since then, but it’s painfully clear that your Chekists are not up to the job. Fidel’s Ministry of the Interior (Security Section) is probably the most appropriate model, but you should look at the East German Stasi too. By this time you should have had the opposition completely penetrated by informants; your police should have files on everybody of significance, and all the troublemakers locked up someplace. If you want to be the Savior of the Nation for Life and build justice for the downtrodden – you really need to get busy here.
Bread and Circuses. Your plebiscite failed, among other things, because of low turnout among your supporters. Probably the voters you were counting on were too busy trying to use their next to worthless currency to find the meat, bread, milk, pasta and vegetables that are no longer available in your stores. Yes, yes, shortages of staples are a common consequence of socialism; and poverty and inflation byproducts of your Great Plans For Justice for All. Still, on election day, you should have used some of that oil money to pay for hand-outs by your party workers of free food and other goodies. Of course, if your police were up to snuff, you’d even know who to give the food to, and who to throw in the paddy wagons, but we’ve been over that point.
Shut Up and Lets be Friends. As your regime of Social Justice marches on, you’re going to find places like Miami filling up with all sorts of troublemakers. These people are, in varying degrees, dangerous – they’re the people smart enough, and liquid enough, to get out. While you’re working on the police, you need to be working on foreign intelligence too, so that the people in Miami can be reminded occasionally that you have a long arm. Also, you need to make better use of your idiot friends in academia and the media in the US and Europe – they will be helpful at running interference for whatever trouble the dissidents and conservatives manage to stir up. Meanwhile, they can help muddy the waters by parroting what will no-doubt be your party line that you only lost this referendum due to "CIA intervention." Again, Fidel can really help out with these things.
Cash. The basis of your power, in the short run, is the oil money, so you’ve got to be careful with the cash-cow. Take better care of PDVSA ! You need to see that it gets just enough reinvestment so that it keeps producing cash to pay your police, and for the bread and circuses, and for all the Heroic Socialist Projects that will keep you the Man of Destiny for Life. This is more than a little tricky – your extra heavy, soupy oil takes real engineering skill to refine and use properly, and American engineers are going to be harder and harder to come by.
You need a foreign patron with plenty of skilled engineers. The Russians and Chinese can’t be much help here, they bid for the same foreign technicians you do, and they have their own problems. My own suggestion would be to explore connections with the French: they have some skilled people, and they aren’t over-burdened with scruples, as long as the money is good. As for other sources of income, your prison system should be taking in plenty of skilled troublemakers who can be put to work producing foreign exchange. (See Gulag).
Well, big guy, this should be enough for you to start with. Who knows, you might even have the chance to do it, if you don’t wind up dead in a ditch someplace, as you should have after the coup of 2002. But, hey, that possibility’s a chance you take, when you’re wanting to be the Savior of the Nation. Here’s hoping you screw that pooch too.