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Archive for August, 2009

Gracias, Watcher’s Council!

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

The Watcher’s Council voted my On Afghanistan and Strategy post the winner of the Non-council member division of their latest ongoing blog competition, for which I say “thank you very much”! I have been nominated a few times in the past but this was the first time I brought home the gold. Thank you also to Dave Schuler for throwing my hat into the ring.

The following distinguished blogs are members of The Watcher’s Council ( membership is selective and fixed, new blogs are added when vacancies arise) and I encourage you to check them out:

Watcher of Weasals

The Glittering Eye
Rhymes With Right
Soccer Dad
The Colossus of Rhodey
Bookworm Room
Wolf Howling
The Razor
Mere Rhetoric
The Provocateur
Right Truth

Shorter Recommended Reading

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Top Billing! Dave SchulerThe Healthcare Reform We Need

I avoid blogging on most domestic issues. By contrast, Dave at The Glittering Eye has been doing a superlative job examining why “Health Care Reform” is a poorly conceived boondoggle ( in my view, as an issue, “Health Care Reform” is also a surefire political loser the moment your party is in power and is expected to actually do something beyond criticizing). Dave has other posts on the subject but I liked this one best.

Dan DreznerTheory of International Politics and Zombies

I loved this post. It’s probably the most creative thing Drezner has ever written. Even better, it spawned the next post:

Greg Sanders – [Military] Doctrine and the Zombie Wars

In spirit, this post reminded me of the classic blogospheric parody of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn analyzing The Lord of the Rings.

That’s it! ( Told you it was “Shorter”)

Family Time

Thursday, August 20th, 2009


I was rooting around for my passport today and in the course of opening a strongbox I came across one of my grandfather’s old pocket watches, the kind men once wore with three piece suits on a chain with a fob. My father had given them to me around twenty years ago during one of his moves ( pocket watches were not in style then and have not been since) saying they had belonged to my grandfather but were probably broken. I put the everyday watch (on the left with the chain) in a box of knicknacks. The gold watch (on the right) came with a display stand and it sat gathering dust during my twenties and thirties.

Curious, I began fiddling with a watch and found that it still worked, so I wound it and found that the gold watch was also functional. My grandfather, who died of pancreatic cancer when I was still a child, had been a very successful corporate tax attorney who had graduated from DePaul Law School in 1932. He was extremely conservative and had worked for the FBI for a time before settling into tax law and he did not travel or indulge in many extravagances. However, he did like to live well – my grandparents frequently entertained ( they had a full bar downstairs) and my grandfather liked good cigars, good food and dressing stylishly – the pocket watches were part of “the look” that a man at a certain level of success had in those days.

The everyday watch was made by Gruen, which went out of business in 1958. It is a Verithin model where the numerals show an edge of art deco while the hands have an older, gothic, style and it requires winding about twice a day. The gold watch, which was monogrammed and has decorative inlay on the case was made by Elgin National Watch Company, which once produced half of all the watches used in the United States and closed its’ original factory in 1964 and sold the rights to the name, which is now owned by a Chinese concern. The long abandoned  factory in Elgin, Illinois was converted into trendy “loft” condos sometime in the last decade. I opened the back panel and the inside is still as polished as a mirror. The parts are paper thin metal and show a precision of mechanical design that no longer is associated with the United States – at least in consumer items of this kind.


I like to think my grandfather took some pleasure in owning these watches. He certainly took care of them; the Gruen watch may date back to the thirties and they both have a heavy, masculine quality. The watches feel “solid” in the palm of your hand and give a sense of a different, calmer, era. At some point, I will pass them on to my own children when they are mature enough to value such things, and with some luck, they will continue the tradition.

“Time is what we want most, but… what we use worst”  – William Penn

The Other Prince of Darkness

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Robert D. Novak, 1931 -2009

During the Reagan era, two conservatives shared the title “the Prince of Darkness” as an epithet from liberal Democrats and Washington insiders. The first was nominal Democrat turned Reagan administration assistant secretary of Defense Richard Perle, a neoconservative activist who was castigated for his ultra-hardline anti-Soviet views and skepticism about the value of arms control. The second was veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter and columnist Robert “Bob” Novak, who passed away today at age 78.

While Novak shared many of Perle’s foreign policy views regarding the malevolence of the Soviet Union and Henry Kissinger and was (with Jude Wanniski) a firey media advocate for the emerging school of  Supply-Side economics, what made him and the Evans & Novak column a political force to be reckoned with was that Bob Novak was a dogged, old-fashioned, working reporter who regularly unearthed new information from his vast collection of sources. Most people under thirty only know of Bob Novak from the Valerie Plame affair, which began in Novak’s column,but Robert Novak had been creating havoc for politicians, and not just liberal ones, for decades:

The fact is that Novak, as he would disclose in his autobiography, actually admired very few politicians. He wrote that he found the first politicians he covered less impressive than the athletic coaches he had covered as a young reporter — “an impression of the political class that did not change appreciably in a half-century of sustained contact.”But then, many big-time politicians didn’t like Novak. Pat Buchanan relates a priceless story of being with Richard Nixon in the mid-’60s in a high-school gym in Indiana. Nixon peeked through the stage curtain, finding Novak in the first row of the press section. “Look at him,” Nixon commanded. “That’s Bob Novak. That’s the enemy.”

Not only did I read Novak growing up ( later I realized that Novak would shoehorn his pet theories on to the facts he uncovered regardless of whether it made any sense, the facts though, were always useful) but I watched him pioneer the Left vs. Right shoutfest template on CNN’s “Crossfire”, first sparring with Tom Braden then, more famously, with Michael Kinsley. When Novak did it, the concept was refreshing because the whole idea of a show that actually had political balance by including conservatives on equal terms with liberal talking heads was revolutionary at the time. Unfortunately, when Crossfire went from a clever niche on a feisty cable news station to a transmogrified, dumbed-down, infotainment as an industry standard, a lot of damage was done to public discourse and reportedly, Novak shared that view to an extent ( though he also cashed the checks – CNN helped make Robert Novak exceptionally wealthy).

Robert Novak represented the last of a generation of hard-nosed reporters who learned journalism as a craft rather than as a product of graduate school theories, who could come from any ( but usually modest) background rather than having a distinctly “bicoastal” cultural worldview and a ranking system based on what “good school” you attended. The news business, I note, has not prospered from becoming more insular.

The media could use more Robert Novaks.


I see Lexington Green beat me to the punch with his obit post.

Equal Time: Bleuer on Jones

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Michael Innes of CTlab dropped by to strongly recommend this post by Afghan expert Christian Bleuer of Ghosts of Alexander, where Bleuer takes issue with the Seth Jones op-ed in the WSJ. So, in the interest of equal time, here you go:

The Mystery of the Wall Street Journal and the Absentee Afghanists

….There is a lot in the article to choke on, especially his comments on tribes, arbakai and jirgas. But this comment is what got me:

…outside of some anthropologists, few people have bothered to examine Afghanistan’s stable periods.

That’s right. These scholars are missing in action. Perhaps off studying other areas? If only we had more material on “Afghanistan’s stable periods”….

Let’s start with anthropologists: “some”? I’ll stick to those anthropologists who did pre-1979 work. I came up with these, in a rather hasty manner, in no particular order:

  1. Louis Dupree
  2. Robert L. Canfield
  3. M. Nazif Shahrani
  4. Alef Shah Zadran
  5. Audrey Shalinsky
  6. Elizabeth Bacon
  7. Pierre Cenlivres
  8. Micheline Centlivres-Demont
  9. Richard Tapper
  10. Nancy Tapper (Lindisfarne)
  11. David J. Katz
  12. Yusuf Nuristani
  13. Erwyn Orywal
  14. Thomas Barfield
  15. Willi Steul
  16. Jon Anderson
  17. Inger Boeson
  18. A. Christensen
  19. Ashraf Ghani
  20. Takeshi Matsui
  21. Jeffrey Evans-von Krbek
  22. Ingeborg Baldauf (also a linguistic)
  23. Richard Strand (also a linguist)
  24. Khadiya Khashimbekov
  25. Erhard Franz
  26. Shuyler Jones
  27. Jan Ovesen
  28. Lincoln Keiser
  29. Michelle Poulton
  30. Robin Poulton
  31. J.P.S. Uberoi
  32. K. Wutt
  33. H.F. Shurman
  34. Aparna Rao
  35. R.T. Rashidov
  36. Carl-Johan Charpentier
  37. Etc….

This is getting tiring….

Read the rest here.

Also noteworthy, is Bleuer’s Afghanistan recommended reading list, in which I know many readers here would be interested.

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