All the best to my fellow Chicagoboyz contributors and readers! I hope that the coming year leaves you healthy and happy or at least prosperous and contented. Feliz año nuevo, as they say in Japan.

Daimler Dingo

It is funny how things work out sometimes.

I am a big fan of reading about armored cars and other types of scouting vehicles from the WW2 era. There have been millions of pages written about the famous tank battles like Kursk. On top of that, there are many, many picture books that feature WW2 tanks. A few subjects that don’t get quite as much attention are armored cars, scout vehicles, and transports. Heck, Patton once said that his greatest weapon was the good old two ton truck.

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Truth & MLA

A muted quote (notice which part is not in “” and which part is not a cliche) from the University of Boston:

“I support speaking truth to power,” said Rzepka, but that requires truth, he added.

MLA debates resolutions this week. “Defenders of the original version faulted Nelson’s version for being even-handed.”  Rhetorician and president of the AAUP, Nelson knows trends; if he’s becoming “even-handed” perhaps MLA is moving toward an accommodation with what we might describe as reality. Anyone who saw Nelson’s debate with Horowitz and has noted his scholarly interests has seen a man quite political, not particularly thoughtful but extroverted & cheerful. If Horowitz is the street corner Bolshevist polemicist that got religion, Nelson is the establishment bore, radical in an appropriately establishment manner. That someone so immersed in cliches calls for equal treatment of Zionists and Anti-zionists may mean the wind has turned. Or his cliches are out of date. I’m hoping for the former.

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2007 In Review for Chicago and Illinois

2007 ended up with the happiest note for Illinois politics in years. On November 7, 2007 disgraced former “Republican” governor George Ryan reported to Federal prison to begin serving his 6 1/2 year sentence. I put the word “Republican” in quotes because the most prominent events in his tenure include waiving the death penalty in Illinois and continued deterioration of our states’ precarious finances.

When the last governor’s race occurred in Illinois between the Democrat Blagojevich and equally uninspiring Judy Barr Topinka I actually hoped for a Democratic victory (normally anathema on this blog) because I figured that the oozing “snail trail” of corruption could be followed to its logical destination if Blogo remained in power. And, sure enough, on December 21, 2007 the Federal prosecutors formally linked Blogo to the Rezco corruption case with more to come.

As always, the FBI are the only people who fight corruption in Illinois, despite our myriad local police and judicial armies dutifully punching the clock, as I noted in this post (it is from 2006, but some things never change, and likely you could utilize it in 2076). The Chicago Police kicked out their superintendent after a series of shocking events, caught on videotape, including the beating of a tiny female bartender by off-duty cops and the inevitable attempts to cover it up. His name is Weis and he is from the FBI; while I admire his guts for taking on this job (where the locals are already disgruntled that the new top cop comes from outside) I think that his odds of success are about the same as the lone survivor in that new “Justice” movie where he attempts to battle 1 billion zombies.

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Verdun, Passchendaele, Berlin, Cassino

One of the great things about being a military historian is that you get to ask yourself and others a lot of “what if” questions. They don’t really solve any mysteries but are fun to run through, and help your understanding of certain situations.

Just recently I was doing a purge of my library at home as I need to do every five years or so. I took stacks and stacks of books to Half Price Books and got a little scratch from the sale of those. Others I sent to my friend Carl to get them out of my house as a Christmas present.

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Late discussions have noted Amy Chua’s work; she will be on Book-tv multiple times this weekend.  And for those who don’t intend to party all week-end, here is the schedule.

Beware British Airways

We live in the boonies – no straight flights here. Lost luggage is not uncommon. One day two pieces arrived at our door from two different airlines – our son-in-law and my husband had lost pieces on separate flights from separate countries that week. Another time, my husband wasn’t allowed on a better connecting flight because he wouldn’t be traveling “with” his luggage which had not yet arrived – understandable in terms of home land security, perhaps, but the piece did not arrive with him but days later.

This Christmas my son-in-law’s parents, eager to see their grandchild, missed a series of connections and ended up quite late. Not surprising. And then, inevitably, all four pieces of luggage were missing. After hurried runs to stores for toiletries & wearing their son’s shirts for a day or two, three appeared at the local airport. My son-in-law spent the next ten days phoning & e-mailing British Air Ways (whose system apparently consists of looking around when hassled and promptly forgetting the problem after hanging up.)

As luck would have it, this piece had gifts for their grandson, knitted caps & scarves for their daughter-in-law, heirlooms to be presented and gifts from German friends – all gone. Most irreplaceable was the baptismal gown that matched Heidi’s skills as a seamstress with her love as a grandmother. If it appears – increasingly unlikely – it will be too late for the ceremony this weekend in St. Louis.

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Hillary & Human Nature

The predictions are that the Democrats will win the presidency in the coming year.   The money seems to be on Hillary Clinton, though that may change.  The second prediction may be more iffy than the first.  Some of her words, however, are likely to haunt us – and therefore, her chances.

Jim C quotes Hillary Clinton in a comment at Roger’s Rules; googled: Anna Quindlen’s columm appears.  Since October 1993, surely our definition of “courageous” has had a reality check.  Then, Quindlen reported from Texas about Clinton’s “courageous speech about America’s greatest crisis,”  the “sleeping sickness of the soul.”  Clinton’s thesis was “Let us be willing to remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being.”   Feeling comfortable in our own skins is harder than it sounds – and little is on view in her Christmas ad.  Christmas makes me aware of my inappropriate comfort in my sloth.  But liking ourselves, liking others, liking what it means to be human (accompanied as it is by our fallibility) doesn’t seem to come easy to certain political agenda.  And so, they are less likely to prize autonomy and integrity and a sense of humor.  These, however, wear well – and give several other candidates charm.


The Holidaze are my time for eating, and this Christmas Eve feast I ate like a king. Actually, now that I think about it, I probably ate much better than most kings of long ago. Here is a shot of the buffet we laid out for our guests. We did a smorgasbord this year – much easier and more mellow than the formality of a sit down dinner. You will have to click to enlarge the photo if you want to follow along with the menu.

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Christmas 5:

Each kid got a tamagotchi. This is a toy which would have been inconceivable ten years ago, let alone when I was a kid. These were far and away the favorites.

My sister in law called and astutely asked, “how is the dog? Is anyone paying attention to the real pet, instead of just the virtual pets?”

Weird stuff like this assures me more and more that we are heading into very different times as technology advances. I do not believe in the Singularity, which has been called “the Rapture for geeks”. But it is clear that there is a whole bunch of major change coming faster and faster. Hold on to your hats.

But, Christmas will still be Christmas.

God bless all our bloggers, commenters, readers, friends and enemies.

Christmas 4: War Toys

One of life’s many disappointments is that my son has no interest in war toys. So, I did not get to relive my childhood vicariously, with green tanks assaulting lincoln-log forts and swarms of plastic green army men pushing the grey plastic Germans back all the way to their doomed last stand in front of the fireplace. Nope.

Hence I had no one to buy these incredibly cool toy gurkhas for.

Oscar Wilde said youth is wasted on the young. Toys are similarly, to a great extent, wasted on children.

(I recently read this awesome book about the real gurkhas, which I heartily recommend.)

America the Hyperpower

Kevin of The Smallest Minority fame has posted an interview with Amy Chua, the author of Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall. Fascinating stuff if you are interested in that sort of thing.

I was having a discussion a year or so back with a career academic (an astronomer, if it matters) who was bemoaning how the Global War on Terror has caused anti-American feeling to grow in many Western countries. His position was that it was bad for the US militarily since many democratic governments could not openly aid us if the voters back home were opposed.

I thought this was a totally unrealistic view since just about every Western democracy except the Australians and British have gutted their defense budgets to the point that they no longer have the ability to project military might, and the Brits and Aussies were aiding us anyway. Why should anyone care if the people who can’t help don’t approve? What are they bringing to the table to offer us if we should pay attention?

Prof. Chua is the very first person since 2001 who offers a realistic justification as to why we should care about anti-Americanism. She says that the main reason that we enjoy being so far ahead of the rest of the world in just about every category is due to the fact that the best and the brightest from other countries wanted to come here. The flow of talent from every corner of the globe towards the US is the only reason we were able to pull ahead.

Go ahead and watch the interview. I think I’ll have to pick up a copy of Prof. Chua’s tome and give it a read.

(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)

James McCormick’s review of Chua’s World on Fire.

Diminishing Marginal Utility and Joe Satriani

When I was in graduate school I taught accounting to undergraduates. Accounting is arcane and so I struggled to find analogies that my students could understand.

For instance, the classic accounting equation is assets = liabilities plus equity. This being the 80’s, I could assume that consumers had some equity in their houses or cars… so I would use a newly purchased car as an example. If you buy a car for $12,000 and put $1000 down and owed $11,000 you could then use the $12,000 = $11,000 + $1,000 model. Now I realize that the more savvy purchasers out there will realize that a car driven off the lot loses a substantial portion of its value almost instantly, so maybe the value is really $10,000 and then the model has a negative equity of ($1,000), but I wouldn’t start the classes out here.

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Christmas 2: Kim Shattuck’s Holiday Podcast

I have said it before, the greatest rock group of our era is The Muffs. Their lead singer, guitarist and songwriter is the wonderful Kim Shattuck. She has had a series of ultra-groovy holiday podcasts.

Dig this totally groovy 2007 Christmas podcast. Good music to wrap presents by.

Her 2006 podcast, part 1 is here, and part 2 is here. The 2005 podcast is here.

Retro-Authoritarianism in Russia

I’m reposting this here due to the interest in Russian and Soviet affairs among my CB co-bloggers:

TIME magazine, as most are no doubt aware, named Russian President Vladimir Putin as its 2007 “Man of the Year. The editors explained their choice in a way that also attempted to articulate Putin’s stabilitarian “siloviki ideology”:

“But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin’s hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain-of freedom for security-appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes’ promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin’s popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. “He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great,” says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

Putin’s global ambitions seem straightforward. He certainly wants a seat at the table on the big international issues. But more important, he wants free rein inside Russia, without foreign interference, to run the political system as he sees fit, to use whatever force he needs to quiet seething outlying republics, to exert influence over Russia’s former Soviet neighbors. What he’s given up is Yeltsin’s calculation that Russia’s future requires broad acceptance on the West’s terms. That means that on big global issues, says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former point man on Russia policy for the Clinton Administration, “sometimes Russia will be helpful to Western interests, and sometimes it will be the spoiler.”

Putin’s rule can (and typically has been) analyzed from the perspective of Sovietology and Russian history. Articles feature the usual, superficial, observations that Russians like a strong vozhd (supreme leader) in the tradition of Stalin, Alexander III, Nicholas I, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible; that Putin’s regime is a Cheka-KGB front (actually, KGB veterans are among the most competent and least ideological technocrats of the Soviet era officials – who would YOU hire? The guys who ran Soviet agriculture?); that Russians yearn for a return to the Cold War and so on. While there is some truth to these statements regarding the Russian national character and unhappy history, to use them as a fundamental explanation of Russia’s current political system is mostly rubbish. The truth is that Russia’s liberal and democratic parties self-destructed and discredited themselves among Russian voters in the waning years of Yeltsin’s tenure and that Putin enacted a moderately nationalist and anti-oligarchical agenda that catered to the tastes of the vast majority of his countrymen. When Putin centralized power in his hands as a quasi-dictator, he did so in a political vacuum.

This pattern is hardly uniquely Russian. We have seen populist, plebiscitary yet police-state regimes long before Vladimir Putin’s New Russia. Napoleon Bonaparte was the modern innovator, abolishing the decrepit Directorate and constructing a regime that offered a little something for everybody who wanted a glorious France; his cabinet included Jacobin Terrorists, Monarchists, Girondins, aristocracy, bourgeoisie and the chameleon-like Talleyrand. Napleon made use of “new men” and flattered the old nobility even as he created a broad class of “notables” and answered the desire of the French for both greatness and order. Propaganda was used liberally but so too were the police-spies of Fouche to cadge Napoleon’s impressive plebescitary majorities out of the electorate. How different, functionally speaking, is Vladimir Putin? Or for that matter, Hugo Chavez?

We could go back still further to the Caesars – Julius and his canny heir Augustus. Both men understood well that truly revolutionary changes in a political system were most placidly accepted when cloaked in the guise of adhering to old forms and restoring order and normality (it must be said though, that Octavian understood this better than his martial Uncle). After periods of disorder, want or uncertainty there have always been many people who are all too willing to trade liberty for economic security.

Whenever authoritarianism has the added attraction of marshaling competence and cultural values behind its standard, democrats should beware.


Thomas P.M. Barnett – “Putin Positions himself as Russia’s Lee Kwan Yew

The Guardian – “Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40 bn fortune

The Russia Blog – “Why Russia Loves Putin

Michael Barone – “Putin: Odd Choice for Person of the Year

Cross-posted at Zenpundit