Saturday, August 04, 2007

Some links that might interest you all:

Robert Kagan, "End of Dreams, Return of History," from Policy Review is first rate.

Thomas West and William Schambra, "The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics," is provocative.

The H-Diplo roundtable on Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin's Wars, has some great moments.

And this BBC interview with three American generals about Iraq is very interesting.

Finally, Richard Pells makes the argument that American historians are not familiar with and do not write about American high and pop culture. Two points here. First, Pells knows Charles Alexander, so it is silly that he does not mention Alexander's Here the Country Lies: Nationalism and the Arts in Twentieth Century America. Second, beyond Alexander, I'm struggling to figure out how Pells got it in his head that American historians do not know or write about culture. Give me an hour and I'll find you more than the 50 books by historians that deal with culture. For example, here is a sampling of titles from historians that deal with high and pop culture (usually relating to memory) from a quick perusal of the footnotes to a couple of things I've written (note that several of them are anthologies, meaning that multiple historians contributed to the work):

1. Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds., The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture.
2. Jim Cullen, The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past
3. David Blight, Race and Reunion
4. G. Kurt Piehler, Remembering War the American Way
5. Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life
6. Lary May's books (although he might technically be an American studies guy, he's pretty clearly a historian)
7. John Whiteclay Chambers II and David Culbert, eds., World War II, Film, and History
8. William C. Davis, The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy
9. John Bodnar, “Saving Private Ryan and Postwar Memory in America,” American Historical Review, 106 (June 2001), 805-817
10. Michael Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s

Like I say, this is just a partial list based on a quick look at some footnotes I already had. But it does indicate something: there are countless studies by historians that incorporate cultural issues into larger studies. For example, I know that Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs were two of the best-selling authors of the 1920s because of Glen Jeansonne, Transformation and Reaction, because my friend Derek used that book in writing a lecture he gave to a U.S. survey in the very first course I TA'ed for in grad school. That is not an indication of the weakness of the influence of cultural studies on the historical field, but rather that it has been fully accepted as relevant and important. Indeed, I had to cull my list down because many of the authors were technically in American studies departments or had American studies degrees, but if Pells is right, then it sure seems odd that I, a political and military historian, had the list in the first place.

Big surprise. On another note, due to circumstances that are mostly out of my control, I'm going to have to severely ramp down on the blogging for the forseeable future. I have the best intentions, but time is not on my side right now. So I will write where and when I can, but I can't promise anything solid or steady.

However. I do want to say thank you to everyone for their kind words of congratulations about the new addition to the family. That's right, on July 20, we welcomed another baby into the household, only this one is a bit different from the others. That's right folks, now I can say I make boys and girl(s)!

Say hello to Mariana Violet:

That's all for now. I'll be around from time to time. Later.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First, some links, mostly stuff I have been forwarding on to other folks or have had forwarded to me over the last few weeks :

Azar Gat on The End of the End of History.

An article on Canadian superheroes that somehow doesn't mention Wolverine. Absurd.

A review from Claremont on the latest books from Max Boot and Frederisk Kagan.

And an oldie but goodie: Donald Rumsfeld orders breakfast at Denny's.

Second, I feel I must write something about not writing something. It's funny the way production can disappear, even as you work longer and harder. For most of the last six months, I worked well beyond the 40-hour week on a project for my old job. The project is not quite done, and I do not know if it will ever see the light of day, but I do not regret the time spent or the lessons learned in the process. (The subject covered was artillery and close air support as fire support in American military history.)

What bothers me is that the process itself seemed to consume me more than anything I've ever done. Days and weeks flew by with little or nothing to show for the very real work I was doing. And since my primary objective was not getting done at the pace I expected, guilt kept me from doing just about anything else. If I couldn't get the big job done, how could I justify working on the smaller stuff? I couldn't, so I didn't. You know the feeling--it became work, hard work, to click the friggin' button on the mouse and open a new window And here we are, nearing the end of June, on my eighth or ninth entry of the year.

Here's the thing, as they say: I handled it all wrong. The truth is that lack of productivity, any kind of productivity, begets lack of productivity. Blogging, diary writing, attempts at op-eds, book reviewing, short and long article writing, book submitting, lesson writing, building things, playing with the kids, taking loved ones on dates, taking care of the house and lawn, and so on, are all productivity. For me, anyway, engaging in blogging, diary writing, attempts at op-eds, book reviewing, short and long article writing, book submitting, lesson writing, building things, playing with the kids, taking loved ones on dates, taking care of the house and lawn, and so on, does not make me less productive, but rather kicks me into high gear. One leads to the other. And every successfully completed little project that gets a little feedback, makes me want to finish another one, and another one, and another one. And at the end of it all, there is something to show for it--a body of work that is, at very least, a catalogue of a time in my life and what I thought of issues big and small, personal and professional.

I think all of us lose sight of that from time to time. Some of us lose sight of it permanently, and decide that our big project is so much more important than everything else that everything else doesn't deserve our time. I lost sight of the big picture over the last six months, and I don't like where it led me, either personally or professionally. The new job, the giant deep breath that came when I let the other project go, has helped me see where I've been, and where I want to go.

So take from this what you will. This might all just be me. Whatever the case, expect to see more from me here, and, hopefully, elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

First, a couple links. Tallyrand's a scumbag. Here's proof.

A bit far afield for me, but this book on the provenance of the Gospels sounds really interesting.

I'm torn on this article. It is a must-read, rest assured, but do I let it stand alone for all its admirable qualities? Do I pass it on and get out of the way? No, I must add something, and hope that my something does not detract.

We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.
Is this an American thing? I don't know--it would be interesting to repeat the experiment in other areas around the country. Is it a big city thing? I don't know--my short time visiting Chicago was very different from Washington. People talked to each other on trains--there seemed to be some sort of community walking around the midwestern metropolis that was not there in D.C. This ability to ignore is particularly developed in the D.C. area, where the importance and perceived importance of everyday activities consume the locals like nowhere else I have lived. The self-importance and self-involvement there, though in some ways justified, was overwhelming.

The author should have finished with the kids--the children who tried to stop and listen, the children who do not know yet, and so know better.

Robinson was not alone. There has been lots of commemorating of the 60th aniversary of Jackie Robinson's first appearance in a major league game. It has been wonderful. It also prompted an absolute must-read post at First Things about a book on Branch Rickey.

And while we're at it, don't forget about Larry Doby--this year should belong to him every bit as much as Robinson.

I hate to sound like a homer (well, actually I don't), but it seems to me that some enterprising historian of black civil rights could find something interesting to say about Cleveland and the movement. Migration from the south, Chester K. Gillespie, Doby, Marion Motley and Bill Willis, Jim Brown, Frank Robinson, Hough Riots, Carl Stokes, busing, the school voucher system, etc. There's something there, right?

This one more time, that's it. The First Things blog entry includes this aside: "...schoolchildren in the Soviet Union were taught that the Second World War was a matter of the Red Army defeating the Wehrmacht, as if the American soldiers on the Western front made no serious difference...."

And the post-Michael Kelly demise of The Atlantic Monthly continues apace. The May issue stands out in this regard. First, there is no Mark Steyn obituary, because apparently Steyn and the magazine have had a falling out. Which means I have one less reason to read the thing.

Then there is the latest problem with the work of book review editor Benjamin Schwarz. I've commented on him before on what I've seen as weaknesses in interpretation. Only this time, he makes such an egregious mistake of fact that it is awfully hard to give him or his magazine the benefit of the doubt. The title of the review is "Stalin's Gift," and the theme, retreaded from time to time by folks who insist on not getting it, is that Stalin's gift to all of us was in doing the heavy lifting in defeating Nazi Germany. Fair enough in many ways. It is hard to ignore the overwhelming casualties absorbed and inflicted by the Red Army on the Eastern Front. That is the central point of several of the books Schwarz reviews in "Stalin's Gift," particularly Norman Davies, Europe at War, 1939-1945. Schwarz summarizes Davies thusly:

Although it seems to have been hastily and hotly written and contains too many embarrassing errors, it rearranges and juxtaposes facts and events in often unexpectedly illuminating ways. Most important, it's infused with irony and paradox, qualities essential to comprehending history but largely absent from the American view of the second World War.

Davies finds insufferable a perspective on the conflict that emphasizes El Alamein, the Normandy landings, and the Bulge, and he condemns the American moral narcissism that holds that, to quote Stephen Ambrose, it was U.S. soldiers who would "win the war against Nazi Germany," and that Americans "stopped Hitler." Rather, he contends that "two core issues"-"proportionality" and "criminality"- "provide the key" to properly grasping the war in Europe.

As for the first, he recognizes that the Eastern Front was without question the pivotal theater of the war: For four years, more than 400 Red Army and German divisions clashed in an unrelenting series of military operations over a front extending more than 1,000 miles. (At its most intense, the war in the West was fought between 15 Allied and 15 Wehrmacht divisions.) Eighty-eight percent of the German military dead fell there; in July 1943, in the decisive battle of the war, the Soviets permanently broke the Wehrmacht's capacity for large-scale attack at Kursk, "the one name," Davies properly asserts, "which all historians of the second World War should remember." He goes on to argue:

The Soviet war effort was so overwhelming that impartial historians of the future are unlikely to rate the British and American contribution to the European theatre as much more than a sound supporting role.
So (and this brings us to Davies's second point) the most odious criminal regime in Europe's history was defeated by an even more murderous regime, if numbers are the yardstick-which significantly tarnishes any notion of the "Good War."
In case you may have missed the theme about Americans and their historiography, let's return to the very first line of this article: "It's time for those (mostly male) readers interested in the second World War to put down that umpteenth account of D-Day and turn to the new crop of books on the most colossal conflict the world has ever seen: the German-Soviet clash on the Eastern Front."

Let's leave aside a debate over the main contention of the review and the books. No serious student of the Second World War should dismiss or downplay the Soviet contribution to victory over Nazi Germany. Of course no serious student should ignore or downplay the British and American contributions to defeating Nazi Germany. (Let alone the wars against Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, to which the Soviets contributed next to nothing.) A serious historian of the war would weigh the relative contributions of all the Allies and go from there. The haughty sarcasm of Schwarz (and, to a lesser extent, Davies) is a poor substitute for thoughtful analysis.

Besides, it opens one up to a response in kind. Go back and read the quotation from Schwarz's review. Does anything in particular stand out? Well, something sure caught the eye of this male American who has read umpteen books on D-Day.

(At its most intense, the war in the West was fought between 15 Allied and 15 Wehrmacht divisions.)
I have read my fair share of books, magazines, journals, newspapers, online commentary, and so on, and I can say without reservation that that is the single most willfully ignorant sentence I have ever read in a serious publication.

Furthermore, such a mistake calls into question whether Schwarz actually read any of the books on the Allied effort in World War II about which he has commented and written reviews. I simply cannot believe that it is possible for anyone who had done even superficial reading on the Western front in the Second World War to write the line above.

Perhaps if Comrade Schwarz had read just one of the umpteen books on D-Day, he would know that elements of at least eleven (11) Allied (US, GB, Canada) infantry, armored, and airborne divisions landed in Normandy on June 6 alone. Perhaps he then would have then thought to himself that if the Western Allies landed eleven divisions against a defended territory and across a large body of water on a single day, maybe fifteen divisions is a rather low number for the maximum number of Allied divisions fighting in the West. Perhaps he could have taken off his shoes and got a friend and added those eleven D-Day divisions to the at least fifteen Allied (US, GB, New Zealand, Indian, Polish) divisions fighting in Italy on June 6, 1944.

Perhaps he could have picked up any general study of World War II or even a general military history survey and gotten in the neighborhood of the real numbers--like, perhaps, the U.S. Army Center of Military History's American Military History, which has this little helpful section:

As V-E Day came, Allied forces in Western Europe consisted of 4.5 million men, including 9 armies (5 of them American—1 of which, the Fifteenth, saw action only at the last), 23 corps, 91 divisions (61 of them American), 6 tactical air commands (4 American), and 2 strategic air forces (1 American). The Allies had 28,000 combat aircraft, of which 14,845 were American; and they had brought into Western Europe more than 970,000 vehicles and 18 million tons of supplies. At the same time they were achieving final victory in Italy with 18 divisions (7 of them American).
Perhaps if Schwarz had actually read Stephen Ambrose's (or any other U.S. in WWII) books, he would be familiar with the idea of the "90 Division Gamble," which might have indicated that the fifteen number was a tad off. Perhaps he would know that the Germans attacked into the Ardennes with 30 divisions in December 1944. Perhaps he would know that on more than one occasion--in the Argentan-Falaise pocket, in the Bulge, and in the Ruhr pocket--the western Allies destroyed at least fourteen German divisions in a single battle. Shall I go on?

I would be more charitable, except that Schwarz burned up all his charity with snide pontifications about 'moral narcissism', 'embarrassing errors', and 'proper assertions'. Whatever your position on the relative Allied contributions to victory in World War II, it is unforgivable to be so blinded by an agenda that you could seize on an absurdly incorrect statistic and cite it as fact.

What's more, all Schwarz did was prove his agenda wrong. If he and the crew of editors at a learned magazine like the Atlantic were so ignorant of the Allied contribution to World War II that they could let the fifteen division figure fly by untouched, then it's pretty damn clear that some Americans aren't reading enough about their country's efforts in World War II. Everyone on the staff of the Atlantic who had anything to do with that article needs get their asses to the nearest book store, pick up any of the histories of World War II, and actually read the thing.

As for Benjamin Schwarz, I'd rather he just shut the hell up about what he doesn't know.

When my latest subscription to the Atlantic runs out, so too shall my interest.

(cont.) Well... maybe not. Just when I think they can't get any worse, they totally redeem themselves, kind of. The June issue includes a first-rate article by Brian Mockenhaupt about training in the Army. (Full disclosure: I helped Brian, ever so slightly, with his research.) I still think the Atlantic has fallen off, but Mockenhaupt's piece is a reminder of how good they can be when they get it together.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stupid Americans. I'm not writing much here today, but readers might enjoy the discussion we've been having in this post at DCAT.

I express my recent activities through the majesty of film. Actually, this is more of a wildlife photo post, beginning with a couple of shots from my wife and kids visiting grandparents in Colorado.

While they were gone, I did a little project:

When they got back, we went to the Kansas City zoo, and I turned up the quality on the camera:

Have a nice weekend. (The announcement is still coming--I'm just waiting for one little piece of information to come through.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

I'll let others speak on this one. First, from a Melanie Phillips article in The Spectator (hat tip to Arma Virumque):

It’s a fair bet that you have never heard of a guy called Dave Gaubatz. It’s also a fair bet that you think the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has found absolutely nothing, nada, zilch; and that therefore there never were any WMD programmes in Saddam’s Iraq to justify the war ostensibly waged to protect the world from Saddam’s use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Dave Gaubatz, however, says that you could not be more wrong. Saddam’s WMD did exist. He should know, because he found the sites where he is certain they were stored. And the reason you don’t know about this is that the American administration failed to act on his information, ‘lost’ his classified reports and is now doing everything it can to prevent disclosure of the terrible fact that, through its own incompetence, it allowed Saddam’s WMD to end up in the hands of the very terrorist states against whom it is so controversially at war.

You may be tempted to dismiss this as yet another dodgy claim from a warmongering lackey of the world Zionist neocon conspiracy giving credence to yet another crank pushing US propaganda. If so, perhaps you might pause before throwing this article at the cat. Mr Gaubatz is not some marginal figure. He’s pretty well as near to the horse’s mouth as you can get.

Having served for 12 years as an agent in the US Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, Mr Gaubatz, a trained Arabic speaker, was hand-picked for postings in 2003, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Nasariyah in Iraq. His mission was to locate suspect WMD sites, discover threats against US forces in the area and find Saddam loyalists, and then send such intelligence to the Iraq Survey Group and other agencies.

Between March and July 2003, he says, he was taken to four sites in southern Iraq — two within Nasariyah, one 20 miles south and one near Basra — which, he was told by numerous Iraqi sources, contained biological and chemical weapons, material for a nuclear programme and UN-proscribed missiles. He was, he says, in no doubt whatever that this was true.

This was, in the first place, because of the massive size of these sites and the extreme lengths to which the Iraqis had gone to conceal them. Three of them were bunkers buried 20 to 30 feet beneath the Euphrates. They had been constructed through building dams which were removed after the huge subterranean vaults had been excavated so that these were concealed beneath the river bed. The bunker walls were made of reinforced concrete five feet thick.

‘There was no doubt, with so much effort having gone into hiding these constructions, that something very important was buried there’, says Mr Gaubatz. By speaking to a wide range of Iraqis, some of whom risked their lives by talking to him and whose accounts were provided in ignorance of each other, he built up a picture of the nuclear, chemical and biological materials they said were buried underground.

‘They explained in detail why WMDs were in these areas and asked the US to remove them,’ says Mr Gaubatz. ‘Much of this material had been buried in the concrete bunkers and in the sewage pipe system. There were also missile imprints in the area and signs of chemical activity — gas masks, decontamination kits, atropine needles. The Iraqis and my team had no doubt at all that WMDs were hidden there.’

There was yet another significant piece of circumstantial corroboration. The medical records of Mr Gaubatz and his team showed that at these sites they had been exposed to high levels of radiation.

Mr Gaubatz verbally told the Iraq Study Group (ISG) of his findings, and asked them to come with heavy equipment to breach the concrete of the bunkers and uncover their sealed contents. But to his consternation, the ISG told him they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to do it and that it would be ‘unsafe’ to try.

‘The problem was that the ISG were concentrating their efforts in looking for WMD in northern Iraq and this was in the south,’ says Mr Gaubatz. ‘They were just swept up by reports of WMD in so many different locations. But we told them that if they didn’t excavate these sites, others would.’

That, he says, is precisely what happened. He subsequently learnt from Iraqi, CIA and British intelligence that the WMD buried in the four sites were excavated by Iraqis and Syrians, with help from the Russians, and moved to Syria. The location in Syria of this material, he says, is also known to these intelligence agencies. The worst-case scenario has now come about. Saddam’s nuclear, biological and chemical material is in the hands of a rogue terrorist state — and one with close links to Iran.

When Mr Gaubatz returned to the US, he tried to bring all this to light. Two congressmen, Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Curt Weldon, were keen to follow up his account. To his horror, however, when they tried to access his classified intelligence reports, they were told that all 60 of them — which, in the routine way, he had sent in 2003 to the computer clearing-house at a US airbase in Saudi Arabia — had mysteriously gone missing. These written reports had never even been seen by the ISG.
From an interview conducted by our friend Ren with Major Jason Kerr:

LL: Can you talk about some of the sensitive site surveys you took part in?

JK: Sure. Once we got to Baghdad, we received the mission to examine three sites. I was instructed to recon the sites and report. A sensitive site exploitation (SSE) team would be tasked to recon these sites and report back to higher headquarters without including the Marines in this process. Well, my commander did not find this a sensible approach to operations. If there was something in our AO, we wanted to be the first to know, so I was tasked to conduct the initial sensitive site exploitation of three possible sites within our AO. On the map here, along this intersection, there were these large mounds of dirt, and on top of them were artillery pieces. In this artillery firing position, we located several bunkers that
went underground. I believe that this site was considered a possible site for the storing and shooting of chemical munitions. However, there were no signs of chemical activity at this site. The second site was here behind a grain yard. There were these three strange stone structures that looked like big brick ovens in the middle of what appeared to be a junk yard. Again, there were no signs of chemical activity at this site. The third site, which proved to be the most interesting one, was right here south of Baghdad. This was the nuclear power facility. Using our radiac meter, we cautiously approached the plant and the radiac meter spiked dramatically. We
went to another building around the corner that the locals had asked us to secure because their kids were playing around it. Upon further examination, there were 55-gallon barrels in this warehouse and all this yellowcake sitting on the ground outside. I asked my first sergeant, “Is that what I think it is?” The first sergeant replied, “Sir, that’s exactly what you think it is. Let’s see how close we can get to it.” So we continued with the radiac meter and quickly spiked above five micrograys. Realizing that we had a hot site here, we backed off.

At another site in the CSSG AO, my 4/101 CM platoon leader utilized his Chemical Agent Detector Paper (M8) on some old rusted rounds. He put the paper in and saw that it matched up with G nerve. As a matter of fact, he got a great picture of it. We reported our information because we had chemical munitions here. Granted, I don’t believe anyone could fire these munitions because they were rusted over and leaking. There were probably only 10 or 12 of them in a little pile, but they were dangerous because they were just sitting there leaking into the ground.

LL: How close did you get to the yellowcake?

JK: It was actually shielded. From here to that wall – about 10 feet – it was inside this building and the door had been opened. You could look in there and see tons of this material. It looked like someone had been trying to take it out and had knocked some of it over. The little splotches on the ground you could get close to because they weren’t giving off a large reading, although you still didn’t want to touch it. We could get within about 10 feet of the opening of the warehouse and verified that high readings were emanating from that room. So we knew this was right up our alley and knew immediately that we must secure this site. Thus, we began by blocking off access to the area and tried to keep the kids from running in there.

There’s a local town beside this site to the southeast. All the nuclear scientists who worked at the nuclear facility lived there. We drove up and started talking to them. They were the ones who had initially brought this area to our attention. They knew there were leaks and were concerned because many of their children were playing around the hazardous area. So we asked them to help keep the kids away so we could take care of the problem. I asked them what they did and they said they were the engineers and scientists who worked at the plant. They all spoke English very well and said they were all educated in America. So this entire village was comprised of nothing but people who worked in the nuclear facility.

Inside the power plant complex, I was able to enter the library. I took digital pictures and video and took it all back to higher. But what ended up happening was that once higher heard about the yellowcake being there, they pulled us out and sent in an engineer company from the Marines. I didn’t know why they wanted to do that. We had the equipment, the people and the expertise to take care of this. We could start exploiting the site right away and doing everything we needed to do now that we had the site secured. Division Headquarters had a different plan. We were ordered to continue stability operations in our area.


LL: Did you ever hear any more about that site survey you did when you found all the yellowcake?

JK: No. The engineers took it over from us. I knew they were not equipped to do it and that they didn’t have the expertise or the experience to do it. It was one of the things I lobbied my battalion commander about. I knew I was the guy to deal with this. I had noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who had experience in dealing with that kind of stuff and I knew we could do it. We knew enough that we could get it started and whoever would take it over from us would be set up for success. He said, “I understand that, but get over the anger. You have another job to do.” That was the end of the conversation. The engineers took it over and I have no idea what happened after that.

LL: You hear in the news some self-proclaimed experts saying that our pre-war intelligence was wrong and that Iraq hadn’t been trying to get a hold of yellowcake and that type of thing. When you hear that kind of thing in the media, what’s your reaction?

JK: My reaction is that they’re wrong. I saw chemical munitions. I saw nuclear production facilities. How many more steps do you have to go through before you weaponize it? Just the fact alone that Saddam fired SCUDs into Kuwait and utilized chemical weapons in the past proves he intended to weaponize chemicals or nuclear munitions. Surely I believe he would have done it. Our intelligence was a bit mistaken in that we thought he was more advanced than he actually was in it and it looked like a lot of the UN sanctions were working, but a lot of them were not working.
And don't forget about this guy.

Pass the word.

Have a nice weekend.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Entirely self-serving post. Here is what I have been up to:

Dancing with the stars. My dad took great pleasure in noting that my name is between Rich Brookhiser and William F. Buckley on the Claremont list of authors, but that is an alphabetic coincidence and no more. Likewise, while I am glad that I'm nestled in the covers of the Winter issue with the likes of Michael Barone and Christopher Hitchens, rest assured that your humble diarist could only dream of producing a line such as the one concluding Hitchens' review: "The remainder can stand as an instance of the weed-like spread of second-order media phenomena such as "truthiness," and as a warning to those who suppose that the profound can be deduced from an intense but myopic scrutiny of the superficial."

In any case, you can now read "No Soldier Left Behind," my review of Suzanne Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens. As an added bonus, Professor Mettler and I have a congenial exchange about the review in the editorial correspondence of the Spring issue, which you can read here.

Talking with heroes I have mentioned this publication somewhere on the web, but never talked about it in any detail. Just before the Chistmas holidays, the Combat Studies Institute press published In Contact! Case Studies from the Long War, an anthology of articles on battles and actions from Iraq and Afghanistan. I contributed to the publication with an article called the "Palm Sunday Ambush," about a short battle southeast of Baghdad in the spring of 2005.

That particular fight received a great deal of attention because of the actions of Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, who fought very well and earned the first Silver Star for a woman in a combat situation since World War II. She and the members of her squad were from the Kentucky National Guard, and I had the good fortune to interview several of them in the course of my research. Not Hester, mind you--from what I understand she gets hundreds of requests a day for interviews, and my queries probably never made it through the noise. But I did talk to another woman who was in the battle, Specialist Ashley Pullen, and Hester's squad leader, Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein. Follow the link above to read all the interviews (they are the four at the bottom of the page).

Please do not get the wrong idea: although the battle became notable for the actions of Hester, she would be the first to tell you that this was not her battle. She was part of a larger team, a team that was led by Nein. And they were far from the only American participants in the fight. At least three other units with two truck convoys hit the spot of the ambush at the same time.

My article is far from perfect, but I did manage to talk, albeit briefly, about all the folks who played a role in the fight. And of all of the things I've written and published, this is the one about which I am the most proud, because it gives an honest hearing to American troops fighting our war for us. Please read it and the other articles in the anthology.

One confession, though: there is an error in the article. I wrote that Nein received the Silver Star for his actions that day. Recent events have made that incorrect. A few weeks ago, Nein got the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military decoration behind the Medal of Honor, and only the fifth awarded since Vietnam. I've never been happier to be made wrong.

Have a nice week.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Funny, this lack of memory. I started a post back in October by inserting several pictures from a trip to Colorado the previous April. Here is what I had:

The first picture is of my wife's sister getting married in Manitou Springs. Then there is the older boy sharing a hat with a horse at the ranch across the road from my parents' place. Then there is me and the boy at the wedding. Finally, we have some snow on my parents' driveway.

The point of all that? I don't have the first clue. Perhaps it was part of my planned long post on the summer of love 2006. Never got around to that post, and now the moment is gone. Sorry. If you are desperate, I'll give you the short version: we went to lots of weddings and other events (bachelor parties, reunions)all over the country last summer. Very exciting.

So, a little entertainment commentary. If only because I've been to the theater more times in the last three weeks than in the previous two years, and because we watched this year's Best Picture on Saturday night.

The first was Smokin' Aces. We didn't plan on seeing Smokin' Aces, but Smokin' Aces it was. The wife and I had a date, an honest to God date. We got a babysitter and everything. The plan, as it was a Friday during Lent, was to go to a nice Italian restaurant for some seafoody pasta, and then go see a movie. But not just any movie, we were going to see Amazing Grace. Indeed, Amazing Grace was the whole point of the affair, we had planned it all just to see that movie on the night it opened. Well, perhaps we did not quite plan it all. Rather, we got a babysitter, and that was about all the planning we managed.

As it was a Friday night in a busy area, we deftly made no reservations for the restaurant, and the hour wait would have made us late for the movie. We went to the theater to pick up the tickets and saw that the movie started 20 minutes earlier than the webpage had said two days before, so we were even more strapped for time to eat. We bought the tickets and hustled over to Panera (yep) for dinner, then got back to the theater in time for the movie. There we discovered that they had put the film that was opening that day in one of the smallest theaters out of the 24 in the multiplex. So there were about seven seats left in the place, and 6.5 of them were in the very front row, about six feet from the base of a rather large screen.

To review: Plan: Nice Italian restaurant and Amazing Grace. Reality: Panera and Smokin' Aces.

The movie? We weren't really in the mood, to put it mildly, but it was well-acted, very violent, occasionally funny, and mostly entertaining--like Tarantino before he got weird (a phrase that makes no sense, until you think about it). Plus Ben Affleck doesn't last long, so that was nice.

He does have a Boston accent though, which was a reminder that he was a welcome omission from the ensemble cast of The Departed. A quick detour to a review I wrote but never posted of last year's Best Picture:

On Crash. I know lots of people loved the movie, so you can take or leave this quick review. The dialogue was well-written and well-delivered. Ludacris was good (much to Bill O'Reilly's dismay), like everyone I love Don Cheadle, and I'll join the chorus in declaring that Terrence Howard is well on his way to becoming one of our great actors. Matt Dillon almost made me forget that he is Johnny Drama's brother, and Brendan Fraser has jettisoned the preening self-importance of his younger years. They even found a perfect role for the increasingly shrill and severe-looking Sandra Bullock (if she gets her eyes pulled back any further they are going to touch in the back of her head).

I'm no fan of Los Angeles. I don't speak from personal experience--I haven't spent any real time there--but how nice can a place be when the people who live there make a habit (and their careers) out of explaining how terrible it is? True, entertainment dwells on the fringes, but after so many Training Day's and Boyz in the Hood's and Grand Canyon's and Born in East LA's and LA Confidential's and LA Story's one has to wonder why anyone in their right mind would live there. At least New Yorkers assuage they're own misery from living in that over-populated-and-dangerous-yet-impersonal-and-expensive box with the myth of their collective toughness (see Spiderman and 25th Hour). Heck, New Yorkers even write love stories to their hometown--You've Got Mail is one of many recent examples.

That said, Crash takes the Angelino self-flagellation to levels that even this midwestern rube can't buy. I'm not saying the hatred and stereotyping portrayed in the movie is made up. Indeed, the brilliance of the film is that it tapped into a very real phenonmenon. People do not get along in big cities, especially those cities on those coasts. Traffic is terrible and dangerous, service is unfriendly and indifferent, and everything is crowded. People shiver from the chill of everyday social relations. Everyone sucks. But saying everyone sucks is nowhere near as satisfying a release of frustration as breaking down the aggregate suckitude into smaller groups of allegedly more specific qualities of suckiness.

Race is an obvious and disturbingly satisfying way to break down those groups. In contemporary America there is a naughty but very real release to racial jokes, because now everyone knows they are wrong even if they seem right. That's the genius of Dave Chapelle. He makes us laugh at our own stereotypes and stereotyping because his jokes remind us that they are not true. White people don't hate black people because black people do black things, just like black people don't hate Asian people because they do Asian things, just like, well, you get the idea. Everybody hates (loves) everyone because they do people things. Hating (loving) everyone isn't really racism, is it?

Crash has it exactly backwards—it is a throwback to a time when everyone was outwardly racist because they didn't know it is wrong.

It wasn’t the Best Picture, it was a Chapelle Show skit that didn’t get the joke.
If I had to pick between Best Pictures, The Departed wins by a mile. It gets what it is and doesn't go past that. It is a thriller, a drama, and a bit of mystery, but let's be honest, it's not particularly exceptional as a thriller, drama, or mystery. Even the acting was pretty mediocre, with the exceptions of Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin, who were great. We all know the Oscars were lifetime achievement awards for Scorsese. That's fine, it was the perfect year for it, since 2006 was the single worst year for movies that I can remember. The best movie I saw was Casino Royale, which was also the highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes from last year.

I have not seen everything, not by a mile, but over the last two years there have been very few movies that have stood out as good or great. One was Batman Begins, which was haunting and exciting and finally captured what is gripping about that story. I love that movie, but I do not think it was the best picture of the last two years.

That honor belongs to Star Wars, Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. That's right, I said it, Revenge of the Sith was the best movie of 2005 and a better than anything released in 2006, too. George Lucas burned up so much goodwill with the kiddie themes, overreliance on computer animation, bulky dialogue, and creaky plots of first two movies that it was hard to see the episode III for what it was when it came out. Nor did the terrible acting in episode II help, especially from the hopelessly creepy Hayden Christensen and the bloodless Natalie Portman. But upon further review, and with more than a little detachment from the first two episodes, it is clear that episode III was something very near great. Some of the dialogue is still awful, and Portman is still out of her Garden State element, but those flaws are only evident if you are really watching for them, if the viewer is listening for bad dialogue and intent on finding bad performances.

Revenge of the Sith had all the hallmarks of a great tragedy, careening along to John Williams' masterful score toward the inevitiable conclusion, while all the while we are hoping it doesn't come to that. Watch that movie again as a stand alone prequel to the original trilogy--forget pod races and stupid aliens and creepy romances. Just watch. Then tell me that movie isn't better--more entertaining and more compelling--than Crash or Brokeback Mountain or Little Miss Sunshine or The Departed or anything else that has been released over the last two years. (Not incidentally, it is nearly impossible to find a movie over the last two years that in some way does not try to comment on current politics, which I think lies near the root of the terrible spate of films in that time. Even the few lines of bad dialogue in episode III are bad precisely because of this tendency.)

Which brings us to 300, another movie in my recent theater-going extravaganza. There are plenty of reviews out there, but I think this one and a couple of comments from Victor Davis Hanson are pretty much on target. I wouldn't call it a great movie, but it is very good, in large part because despite all the ridiculous efforts by critics to drag the present into the plot, 300 is clearly not about now. It is an escape, a glorious escape, from the grinding relentlessness of 24 hour opinion and news (in that order). That, it seems to me, is why the movie has proven so popular. It deserves the popularity. Hopefully, the rest of Hollywood will get the message.

(Oh yeah, I said three movies. The third was Bridge to Terebithia. The wife had a woman-gathering at the house on Tuesday, so I made an escape with the boys and Uncle Ren. I mistakenly thought Bridge to Terebitha was a fantasy movie, because that's how they advertised it. It's not. It is a movie about kids in school and bullies and all that stuff, kind of like one of the non-smutty Judy Blume books. It's also set in some kind of 1970s + Today world, which is odd. The best way to describe it is as My Girl with just the tiniest sprinkling of The Chronicles of Narnia. All that said, it's actually pretty good, if a little sad and not right at all for keeping the attention of a one year old.)

Have a nice weekend. Go watch a movie or two.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

No apologies for the long time off. I've been busy, and this is, after all, my diary, and I've been no better at keeping the online version than any of the others I have tried in the past. Plus, I've been waiting for Claremont to make my latest book review available online for an entry about my recent publications. When that happens, I will pass along the word. Plus, I'm still trying to track down that family information to tell my little story.

No apologies; lots of excuses. Sigh.

This book might cause some controversy. Note that the first chapter is available for preview. It might be good to read along with First Into Nagasaki, which sounds fascinating.

Something about which to think. Here is a new one for me: this article is too practical. John Fonte's idea about civic conservatism is a pretty radical one among American conservatives, and it needs more explaining as a theory, and should not be defined by specific, present-minded, and ultimately ephemeral policy prescriptions. But that is a common problem among conservatives today. It is astounding how modern conservatives refuse to recognize any direct intellectual heritage to Americans before 1945--except for some important nodding at the founding generation. After the founders they almost universally go straight to the Cold War, leaning, I think, on George Nash's work to explain it all.

The idea of civic conservatism, which in some way incorporates nationalism and Americanism, would be a very useful one for tracking American conservatism from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton to John Quincy Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Ulysses Grant to Theodore Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and so on. I wish someone would do that. Maybe Stephen and me should give it a shot. Stephen?

Two more links. First, for everyone who complains about cities and suburbs and the demise of this and the growth of that, James Lileks makes clear that it is all so much more complicated and so much simpler. A sample:

Are we to believe the suburbs are different? I've been listening to the spoiled children of Levittown all my life, yammering about their ticky-tacky houses their fathers busted his butt to buy so they could live in a potato field instead of a crumble-down cold-water walk-up, and I'm tired of it. Boring people live everywhere. Interesting people live everywhere. People have reasons for wanting to live in certain places, and if someone wants to live in the city, it's his business. If he wants to live in the burbs, it's his business. I could argue that people who confine themselves to the city are removing themselves from the experience of suburbia, which is actually more germaine to understanding America's future than experiencing some of the lousy blocks I drive through daily. But I won't; as I said, I'm the amateur here.
That is just a small taste--read the whole thing.

And for Derek, kind of: Greg Gutfield wrote an article for The American Spectator called "Looking Stupid," the main point of which is that more and more Americans would rather play it safe and look cool than take risks and perhaps look stupid. Here is the money graf for DCAT, because it is something that could have been lifted directly from any number of conversations we've had over the years:

After a few years of blogging, I've hit on one essential truth: there are millions of cowards willing to say things about you online that they'd never say to you in a bar. That's the baseline definition of snark: catty words spewed on a screen but never uttered to a face. Blogging has created a chorus line of cowards -- coin-throwers who would never take the stage or put themselves in the line of fire. The World Wide Web has revealed, sadly, that as a country we're losing the will to fight real wars, preferring instead to be nonproductive wusses, incapable of delivering anything more than a snide aside to the outside world, via the "send" button.
The reason the article is only kind of for Derek is that Gutfield mistakenly makes the blanket assertion about the left being more concerned with looking cool than looking stupid. There is plenty of that sentiment going around, and it need not be too politicized. In fact, I think it's generational more than political.

Gutfield's article struck me this morning because last night I saw something very similar. We were in Lawrence for dinner with a friend, and the weather was nice enough that after the meal we strolled for a while along Massachusetts Avenue, the main street in town. We had the boys with us, and the three year old was eating a piece of fudge and we were feeding the one year old a little ice cream.

I don't think I'm being to biased when I say that they were both looking exceptionally cute--the three year old clearly trying to be neat with the fudge; the one year old doing that walk/stumble and having a blast the whole time. Yet all the college age girls who walked by in groups pretended, badly, that they did not notice. I've noticed this behavior before: they walk by, start to smile, stifle the smile, and then look out of the corner of their eyes at the kids and pretend they are not looking. It is bizarre. At any other age, they are all over those kids. High school girls stop and say, for all to hear, "Awww! They are sooo cute!" Adult women wave and give them a direct smile. Older women tell us how beautiful our children are, and then give us the details about their toddler grandchildren.

College girls would rather pretend they don't care about kids than fawn over the boys. They would rather look cool than risk looking stupid. Which is, of course, stupid.

That sentiment used to make sense to me. It used to be cool to me. I grew out of it. The baby boomers never have, and probably never will. They would all rather look cool--well, "cool" as political leaders look cool--than take great chances and risk looking stupid. History will not treat them well.

We can all feel it. We are standing over the edge of something huge, a great new discovery or a great new cataclysm, and we are flailing for a purchase, for something to hold us back--grasping at pretty cultural vessels like cool that are empty and weightless and will not halt our momentum. But it is coming. History does not stop.

I hope we grow up in time.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Again, family history will have to wait--I have to dig up some things first. So...

For you Supreme Court junkies out there. Yet more evidence that Clarence Thomas is his own man, and a much more important justice than many have assumed. Read the article along with this long Atlantic Monthly interview with Chief Justice John Roberts, who proves once again that he is staggeringly intelligent and just might be on his way to being one of the great chief justices. He has certainly chosen a good model.

One other note: Clarence Thomas is still only 58 years old. That doesn't even seem possible, as long as he's been in the public eye. Amazing.

Paging Lenny Kravitz. I'm not much of a pop music guy anymore. I went to grad school and stopped following the music scene. But sometimes a band manages to be so spectacularly terrible that I can't help but stand up and take notice. Canada's own Nickelback has a relatively new single called "If Everyone Cared," the lyrics of which I feel I must reproduce in full here:

From underneath the trees, we watch the sky
Confusing stars for satellites
I never dreamed that you'd be mine
But here we are, we're here tonight

Singing Amen, I'm I'm alive (I'm alive)
Singing Amen, I'm alive

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died

And I'm singing

Amen I, Amen I, I'm alive
Amen I,Amen I, Amen I, I'm alive

And in the air the fireflies
Our only light in paradise
We'll show the world they were wrong
And teach them all to sing along

Singing Amen I, I'm alive (I'm alive)
Singing Amen I, I'm alive

[CHORUS (x2)]

And as we lie beneath the stars
We realize how small we are
If they could love like you and me
Imagine what the world could be

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died

We'd see the day, we'd see the day
When nobody died
We'd see the day, we'd see the day
When nobody died
We'd see the day when nobody died
Just the other day I was telling my three year old that every time he cries he kills six or seven people, and one of these days those people might be Mommy and Daddy. I just don't think I was getting through to him. But now that I have the majesty of song to hammer home the message, he'll be choking down those sobs like broccoli dipped in cough syrup.

Thank you Nickelback. Thank you.

At the opposite end of the spectrum. Advance word is that Amazing Grace, the new movie about William Wilberforce's campaign to outlaw the slave trade, and the glorious song that helped the cause, is magnificent. The trailer is certainly effective. And Lord knows the soundtrack has at least one winner.

Later. (Family history soon, I promise.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Family history has to wait a few days, so let's jump into some other issues:

Just say you made a mistake. The Atlantic Monthly's book review editor is Benjamin Schwarz. He is a smart, well-read guy, and generally very good at what he does, but not always. The last time I dealt with Mr. Schwarz, he was, in my estimation, stomping on Stephen Ambrose's grave.

In the October issue, Schwarz favorably reviewed the latest volume in the Oxford History of England--Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, & Dangerous People--and concluded with the following statement:

Finally, alas, this book's publication provokes an indictment of American academic historians: the same publisher's projected eleven-volume series, the Oxford History of the United States, was inaugurated more than forty years ago, but so far only five volumes have been published, and not one of the titles will have been written by the historian to whom it was originally assigned. What's worse, not only are the Americans unconscionably tardy; their entries conspicuously lack the intellectual refinement, analytical sharpness, and stylistic verve characteristic of the English series. Compared with Hilton's or Langford's workor, say, the volumes by Robert Bartlett, Gerald Harriss, Michael Prestwich, or K. Theodore Hoppen--the books in the American series are, with two exceptions (James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and, most notably, Robert Middlekauff's Glorious Cause), bloated and intellectually flabby.
In the latest issue (the link requires a subscription), an editor from Oxford responded, explaining some of the problems that have led to the delays in publication. Most importantly, she finishes with this paragraph:

Book reviews are invariably a matter of personal opinion. But the committees of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Parkman Prize, and well as a great many readers, might disagree with Schwarz's characterization of [David] Kennedy's Freedom from Fear and James Patterson's Grand Expectations, among other titles, as "bloated and intellectually flabby."
Schwarz replied, "...I stand by my verdict of intellectually mushy storytelling regarding the two titles Susan Ferber mentions (and I'd use the same words to describe Restless Giant, James Patterson's other volume in the series)."

That a way to come with the evidence. The editor from Oxford points out that, combined, Freedom from Fear and Grand Expectations win all of the major awards for history writing in America, and Schwarz provides no examples of "intellectually mushy storytelling" but stands by his verdict. Enlightening.

Let me do his job for him. I have not read Restless Giant, so I will reserve judgment except to say that I would rather they had completed some of the earlier titles before tackling the last three decades. I do think for all its merits, Grand Expectations puts the cart before the horse by starting with social and cultural history before setting any sort of broad context. That, to me, is poor storytelling, although the book is still very good.

But by any standard, the criticism of Kennedy's book is ridiculous. Besides rightfully winning all those awards, there is another feature to Freedom from Fear that is an excellent commentary on its quality: the second half of the book, the section on the war, is without a doubt the best single volume history of the United States in World War II. And it is by far the weaker half. The portion on the depression is a mastery of synthesis, writing, and judgment. As someone who has read a book or two on the past, I'm of the opinion that Freedom from Fear is one of the greatest history books ever written, every bit as good as Battle Cry of Freedom or another one of my new classics, Washington's Crossing. Schwarz is simply wrong.

That said, and if we agree that Schwarz is right about Middlekauff (most military historians think Donald Higginbotham's more narrowly focused War of American Independence is the best single volume on the war), then that means that of the five volumes published, two (McPherson and Kennedy) are magnificent, one (Middlekauff) is great, one (Grand Expectations) is at least very good, and one (Restless Giant) is probably too contemporary to please anyone. Four of the five are the definitive single volumes on their eras, and that includes Grand Expectations and Restless Giant, whatever their faults.

Not a bad track record. And I know that the series has been all about unfulfilled promise from day one, but keep in mind that the forthcoming volumes include authors like Fred Anderson, whose Crucible of War is also in my all-time top ten, and some guy named Gordon Wood, who has won a few awards for his work.

I haven't read the British series, but if they truly are of "far higher intellectual and stylistic quality" than the Oxford History of the United States, then they simply must be the greatest history books ever written. Somehow, I doubt even Schwarz would say that. But he stands by his verdict, so that's nice.

(For the status of the Oxford series, see this nice article from the Boston Globe. Hat tip to DCAT.)

You want to go up to Haahvaad? F&*% with some smaaht kids? The always controversial Charles Murray has a three part essay on OpinionJournal about intelligence, education, and citizenship. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Even though there are some issues with parts one and two (see the discussion at the Corner triggered by this post, this article from TCS Daily), read them for background. It's part three that most interests me.

Whatever we think of the idea of IQ and its importance in determining where people end up in life, it is a fact that schools do a pretty terrible job of teaching to smart kids. There was a time in American history when educators made a concerted effort to identify and train the best and brightest, so that they could contribute to the good of the country. Sure, that time was the Cold War, and the contribution to be got from smart people seemed to focus on weapon-making, but at least the bright ones were challenged. At least they had some idea that they had a duty to use their intelligence for something important. It would not be a bad thing if we got back to that sort of thinking.

On being smart. Uncultured swine that I am, I have heard of Samuel Johnson, but I do not know enough about him. This Theodore Dalrymple essay helps tremendously, and has even got me looking for a copy of Boswell's bio and some of Johnson's own writings. Take a look.

Hey, I know these guys. Jeffrey Herf won the National Jewish Book Award for studies on the Holocaust for his latest book, The Jewish Enemy. That's how a sociologist does history.

Speaking of former professors, Kevin Mattson used Jonah Goldberg as an example in a recent article, and Goldberg took exception. Hilarity ensues. Also, Norm Goda's Tales from Spandau is now available. Here is a nice review. Buy it. Read it.

And Richard Vedder has a new article up at National Review, a new think tank he started called the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and a new blog to spread the word (which also dealt with the Murray articles). Enjoy.

Fact-checkers at Page 2? Editors? The wide-ranging Gregg Easterbrook is a writer for the New Republic, he covers all sorts of issues, and he writes a weekly column during the football season for ESPN Page 2 called "Tuesday Morning Quarterback." A lot of people love TMQ, and that's fine. I've never been a huge fan--he leans too heavily on stats, which tends to be boring, and he's far too concerned about cheerleaders and uniform designs for my taste. But I read today's version for some reason, until I was slowed down by this:

The New Orleans season was a huge success, in part because of good coaching, yet TMQ left the game puzzled by numerous Saints' decisions. For kickoffs, New Orleans lined up with Bush on the kicking team's right and beer man Michael Lewis on its left; each time Chicago deliberately kicked left to Lewis, who had seven kickoff returns for a measly 18.9-yard average. Seeing that the Bears were kicking to Lewis, why didn't the Saints' coaches have Bush and Lewis switch places as the Chicago kicker approached the ball? Footing was bad despite the high-tech heated new field at Soldier Field. (The whole new stadium arrived in a flying saucer, so you know it's high-tech.) Bad footing usually favors the offense, because the offensive player knows where he's going; on bad footing, crossing patterns drive defensive backs crazy because it's so hard to get through the pick. Yet the Saints called few crossing patterns or double-receiver sets -- playing indoors seems to have made them forget outdoor tactics. The long touchdown to Bush was a crossing pattern -- he cut under a pick by Marques Colston. But otherwise crossing patterns were few for the Saints.
So given the bad footing, Bush and Lewis were supposed to cross the field as the Chicago kicker approached the ball? I've heard that 60% of the time, that works all the time. Nope, it's probably not a real good idea to have your kick returners sprinting across a slick field just to catch the ball.

But more importantly, someone needs to tell TMQ that a "crossing pattern" is when a player crosses the field, not when players cross each other. A crossing pattern is usually an extended square-in route, or a pretty rare pattern we called a "COL--come open late," when the receiver lined up wide, cut like he was running a post, and then cut again to cross the field. Crossing patterns are tough to defend on slick fields because the reciever knows where he is going, the cut is drastic, and the footwork to defend the pattern is aggressive. Pick routes (when two players cross paths) are hard to defend all the time because they are illegal and refs rarely call the penalty.

Reggie Bush ran a wheel route on the touchdown, which is a long looping pattern with barely any cuts.

Then there is the next paragraph:

Meanwhile the New Orleans offensive line, one of the best in the league this season, had an unimpressive outing. Left tackle Jammal Brown, who made the Pro Bowl on hype -- all four other New Orleans offensive linemen are better than he is -- was often out of position,or needed guard help. Game scoreless, New Orleans facing third-and-4, Brees was sacked and fumbled; the Saints recovered for a 25-yard loss. On the play, Brown lines up across from Chicago right defensive end Mark Anderson, and in pretty much all blocking schemes known to man, the left tackle takes the right defensive end. But Brown just let Anderson go -- never so much as touched him -- and Anderson sprinted straight to Brees unhindered, and caused the fumble. Watching the replay gave me a sick feeling. The New Orleans left tackle, left guard and center triple-teamed the Chicago right defensive tackle, while none of these three even glanced at the guy who went unblocked to the quarterback.
Now I was at a batchelor party in Las Vegas, and I might have had a beer or seven by that point in the game, but if by "pretty much all blocking schemes known to man, the left tackle takes the right defensive end" Easterbrook means "pretty much all blocking schemes known to man, except the blocking scheme on the play in question, and quite a few others," then he is exactly right.

On that play, the left tackle blocked down to pick up the blitz, and the left guard was supposed to peel back and pick up the end. I can't remember, but the running back was probably supposed to help or chip on the end, too. The reason I know this is because they ran the exact same scheme later in the game, and Fox even showed it from that nifty end zone camera angle. I've seen blocking schemes where the center pulls out to block the right end, and even the right guard, but you see those less in the pros because the guys are so fast (which is partially mitigated on a slick field, giving the lineman time to get there, like, oh I don't know, Sunday in Chicago). There are also schemes where tight ends block the ends, assisted by running backs, or sometimes the running backs do the duty themselves (which usually ends badly for the quarterback). Heck, there are even schemes where the defensive end is unaccounted for, because the defense is bringing so many people up the middle that everyone blocks down, since, you know, it takes longer to get to the quarteback from farther away. On those plays, it's best if the quarterback does that thing called "reading the defense," and he and the center call out the blocking scheme, and then the receiver recognizes the blitz and breaks off the pattern in a hot-route. On the play in question, the guard hesitated for a bit too long before peeling back because the Bears brought an extra player to his area. Stupid scheme, you say? Maybe, but I seem to remember the Saints having a pretty good offense this year.

And it's verifiably insane to say that Jeff Faine is better than Jammal Brown.

But Easterbrook is really just a big fan, he says lots of smart stuff, and his expertise is in other fields. So here is from the next section:

The new movie "300," extremely very loosely based on accounts of the 300 Spartans who held off a the entire Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., depicts the infantry of the invading Perisan king Xerxes as so vast and numerous the men stretch to the horizons -- at least tens of thousands of soldiers. This is nonsense. Ancient population estimates are notoriously vague, but in 480 B.C., there probably were no more than 100 million people in the entire world: No nation was able to field an army of vast numbers. Most scholars believe the first city with a population of one million did not exist until the 8th century A.D., more than a thousand years after the events depicted in "300." (The first city with a population of one million is believed to have been Baghdad.) "Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census," by Tertius Chandler, estimates that the largest city in the world at the time depicted in the movie "300" was Babylon, with 300,000 to 400,000 residents. Babylon was the Persian capital, but it is close to inconceivable a city of that size could have sent the army depicted in "300," since perhaps one resident in five could be a healthy military-age male, and if all the men in the city had gone off to invade Greece, they would have returned to find Babylon invaded by somebody else!
Ahh, history--good stuff and generally right about ancient numbers being exaggerated. Except there are those details.

In random order: Babylon became a regional capital of Persia after it was conquered, but it was not the capital of ancient Persia. Persepolis was the official and symbolic capital, and Susa was the most important economic center. So there are three cities from which Xerxes could draw his army, and we could add all the population of just about the farthest extent of the empire, which included at that time Egypt, Asia Minor, most of the Middle East, and much of Central Asia--so pretty much all of the major population centers of the time besides China and a few parts of India. All of the historical sources agree that Xerxes was drawing on people from all over the empire, including some Greek states, to fill his army for the invasion.

Even if we are extremely conservative in our figures, and say that the Persians only controlled five percent of the world population that Easterbrook has at 100 million, then that is 5 million people. He says only one in five residents could be military age males, but let's cut that down to one in ten. That is an army of 500,000. Say Xerxes left half of them home, and we are still talking about 250,000 troops. Cut that in half twice more, to subtract guys for the navy and just for the fun of it, and Xerxes still would have had over 60,000 soldiers: the "tens of thousands of soldiers" that Easterbrook calls "nonsense."

Oh well, that's enough Easterbrook to last a long time.

Update: To get a feel for how conservative my figures really are, check out the first paragraph of this Victor Davis Hanson review. I would also add that when it came to logistics, the historical record also indicates that Xerxes' army was massive. What I mean is that they had to hug the coastline for their entire campaign, so that they could be supplied by sea. That is the very reason why they had to go through the pass along the coast at Thermopylae, rather than invade Greece farther inland. All of which suggests that the army was far too big to live off the land. And just so Easterbrook knows (because he is obviously reading my blog) the general consensus among historians is that the Persian army consisted of at least 150,000 troops--see, for example, Chester Starr, A History of the Ancient World--although many put the number at at least 200,000.

Besides, I'm invested in the story. Over the Vegas weekend, I read Steven Pressfield's novelization of Thermopylae, Gates of Fire. It is legitimately one of the greatest books I have ever read. Magnificent. I don't even know what else to say except that I read it over a Vegas weekend.

That'll probably do for today. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Christmas, continued. So it snowed this Christmas in Colorado, even more at the in-laws' place in Divide near Pike's Peak. Indeed, here is a view of the north side of the famous mountain from right around the corner from their house.

Here are some deer from their front door, a very common experience--along with the occasional mountain lion and bear.

Like I said earlier, we could hardly let the snow opportunity pass for the older boy, who had seen snowmen on the television, but never a real live Frosty. We solved that problem (even if the snow was too fine to make a massive snow monster).

More importantly, his grandfather has perfected the crafting of a sledding track down the side of the driveway.

And despite some initial jitters, I've never seen the boy quite so happy about an outdoor adventure. At one point, he apparently tired of the slow pace of his pack animal (me) in dragging him up the hill on his tube, so he refused the help and went up and down himself...about 30 9,500 feet. I'd say that was an indication of the fun he was having.




(I know, I'm sucking wind like, well, a fat guy at 9,500 feet who has been dragging kids up a hill. Sorry, but it was so bright I had to look through the eye scope on the digital camera, which put my suck hole right by the mike. Weee!)

Done yet? Hardly.

The older boy's birthday is two days after Christmas, which, he will come to discover, is terrible. But at the time it was just another chance to open more frickin' presents--this time at a Mexican restaurant in Woodland Park that had the heat set so high that an old lady at the table next to us burst into flames. We had Dominic blow her out and make a wish, then he opened more gifts and cut the cake.

(Just so you know, we had yet another birthday party for him last weekend, so he could get more frickin' presents from his friends in Kansas. His mother made him a train cake.

I made him a train table.

And yes, those are train pajamas. I told you.)

Anyway, I decided to pull out the camera for the ride home, just in case anything cool happened.

Nothing exciting: Lockheed welcomed home the troops, the kids watched movies in the backseat.

And then, on the plains, by cows even:

I suppose this picture speaks for itself:

My favorite part was when she thanked him for the ticket. Gotta love her.

(He was very polite.)

The sun set, I took over the driving, and we continued on our way home.


I suppose I could say something to wrap it all up, to emphasize the spirit of the season or the ending of one year and the beginning of another. I could complain about what a pain it all was while making an allusion to how great it all is.

Instead, I'll just let you know that she's pregnant again.

Wonders never cease.

Here's that sunset, taken from a car on the plains, going the speed limit.

(Up next: one more family tale from Christmas, but not about my family or Christmas.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Those Holidays. We had a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Treetops kind of glistened. Children more or less listened. We even slid into the snow.

But not initially. No, my mother, who really should have some sort of Weather Channel delivery device implanted in her skull lest she miss a second of the action when she goes to work or nods off for the night, was tracking winter storms like some sort of enraged hound dog chasing a fox across an English moor. At 12:33, Tuesday, December 19, I received the email. She was following a winter storm warning, and it did not look good for our planned Wednesday drive across western Kansas and eastern Colorado to the parents' abode west of Colorado Springs. The phone call from her weather assistant (Dad) followed. The parents suggested we leave early, to get ahead of the storm.

I called the wife with the news. I should note that she is of German derivation, which might have something to do with the fact that though we had planned to drive out Wednesday, she had already sorted, bagged, and alphabetized all that needed packing for the trip. Informed that the Prussian General Staff had plans available for an early invasion of the west, I made the command decision to go, despite the rain/freezing rain front that preceded the promised blizzard.

I left work, and we drove into said front shortly after nightfall. I can say with all honesty that I've driven in all kinds of conditions. My first car was a 1973 VW Beetle, with an engine in the rear to help accelerate the spin on ice. To avoid legal troubles with the people who owned the lawn right at the bend of my old street, let's just say I've done my fair share of sliding. But I've never been quite as scared behind the wheel as I was that night as we crossed the Kansas - Colorado border. The entire front of my car was covered with an inch thick clear coat of ice. The rain froze to the wind shield wipers and made them bow and become useless. The entire highway became black ice, even as snow plows dumped sand and salt on the roads in preparation for the blizzard. After we slid into the gas station in Burlington, Colorado, the end of the driver's side wiper blade broke clean off as I tried to knock off the ice. I bought a replacement blade, which helped enormously, but forgot to remove the three inch broken piece from the hood of the car. For about a ten mile stretch of Interstate 70, we saw no less than ten accidents, a semi on its side, a flipped SUV, three ambulances, and a dozen police cars. I told my wife that if it didn't clear up, we were driving to my sister's place just south of Denver.

It did clear up; we did get through the front by the time we turned southwest on Highway 24 at Limon, Colorado. It was clear sailing from then on out, at least until we arrived at Ute Pass in Divide, Colorado, where the snow started to fall.

And fall it did, all that night, and all through the next day. We arrived at my parents' place at three in the morning, slept in a bit, and weathered the storm inside. It sounds strange, but the snow wasn't as bad up in the mountains as it was down on the front range. Still, we woke up Thursday with 10 or 12 inches on the ground, the sun shining, and with that piece of the windshield wiper still frozen to the hood.

From my parents' driveway:

Believe it or not, this was the first significant snow we had seen since the elder boy has been upright and mobile--we split last winter between Virginia and Kansas and got no white stuff--and we were not going to let this opportunity pass. We looked up "s" for snow gear in our luggage, bundled up the boy, and sent him outside with his Papa.

But wait, that's not it, not only was there snow, but Papa went and got himself a tractor. A John Deere tractor. With a blade like a bulldozer. To move the snow.


Unlike the then 2 year old, I was not allowed to drive the tractor. And it was too cold for the 1 year old, so I shoveled the driveway while he watched from inside. A wonderful time was had by all.

But that was not why we were there. We were there to celebrate the majesty of the birth of Christ by teaching children at least four of the seven deadly sins. My dad took his FJ Cruiser to Denver to pick up my sister and her three kids, just because her minivan couldn't get over the two feet of snow piled on her street and driveway. My brother-in-law, who had wisely flown to Dallas just before the storm, had to rent a car and drive back to have any chance of making it for the holiday.

Everyone arrived, I'm happy to say, and the gift unwrapping orgy began. I won't bore you with all the details, and nor will I post any more pictures than this one, but suffice it to say that over the course of our trip, we took nigh on 500 pictures, and the five kids unwrapped presents like tazmanian devils on crack for 45 minutes straight. It was pandemonium.

Were we done? Ha.

On Christmas Eve we drove back to Divide to the wife's parents' place, also in the mountains, even higher, and with several feet of snow all around. Along the way, we managed to glide into a ditch on my parents' road, wherein the snow only went up to the passenger side window. So there I was, in tennis shoes, attempting to dig out the front of the car with a window scraper. No cell signal. Altitude: 9,000 feet. 9:00 PM. Two year old saying "Uh oh Mommy."

Then two angels in a Ford pickup came rumbling down the road. They had a shovel, and they had a chain, and they had the know how to pull an idiot out of a ditch. They only had one request, which I pass on to you--if you ever see any cattle loose on County Road 77 or in the Lake George area, give the Gilley's a call. They are good people.

Most importantly, we got to the in-laws' place, so the kids could open a few hundred more gifts.

The older boy now has a fleet of Tonka vehicles, or he would if the last of the seven (7) packages we shipped home because they wouldn't fit the car had arrived yet.

He's rather fond of those vehicles, as you might gather.

To be continued...