Saturday, October 30, 2010

Closer to that Nixon Book I Want

Finally I own a book of updated Nixon transcripts.

Unfortunately, Kutler is obsessed with Watergate, and more generally with Nixon as "crazy and evil"; I'm more interested in Nixon as "crazy and funny."

Still, there are some highlights in Kutler.

Nixon is convinced that the public won't care about the Watergate break-in: June 21, 1972, p. 54:

"My view is, and I still hold with this view, that in terms of the reaction of people, the reaction is going to be primarily Washington and not the country, because I think the country doesn't give much of a shit about it other than the ones we've already bugged." [Translation: OK, I grant you, there's a few people who are going to be pretty pissed off]

It became more and more clear to staff around Nixon that the "plumbers" had been hired to do dirty tricks on Nixon's behalf, and that enormous pressure had been put on them to think of new dirty tricks without necessarily informing the White House. There is endless discussion as to whether anyone in the White House actually knew in advance about the break-in, or took part in planning it. Of course the big mystery is the extent to which Nixon personally ordered specific dirty tricks. There are lots of conversations in which he fantasizes freely about committing crimes against his political enemies--apparently many of these conversations came to nothing.

June 23, p. 68: Nixon is explaining why the CIA should be asked to meet with the FBI and call off any investigation of the break-in. Nixon doesn't want to say there is White House involvement to be covered up, and he thinks it will be better to allude to some kind of secret CIA operation involving Howard Hunt.

"Of course, this ... Hunt, ... that will uncover a lot of, a lot of--you open that scab there's a hell of a lot of things in it that we just feel that this would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves. What the hell, did Mitchell know about this thing to any much of a degree?"

Haldeman: "I think so. I don't think he knew the details, but I think he knew."

Nixon: "He didn't know how it was going to be handled though, with Dahlberg and the Texans and so forth? Well, who was the asshole that did? Is it Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be a little nuts."

Haldeman: "He is."

June 30, p. 84: Mitchell has taken the fall, emphasizing that he wants to spend more time with his wife and family; Nixon has ensured that more details are leaked about Martha Mitchell's illness, to reinforce the official story. Mitchell's replacement, Clark MacGregor, gets his first initiation in the Oval Office into what may or may not be going on. It's fun to imagine being in MacGregor's shoes.

Nixon: "Well, you're going to have this sort of thing [i.e. investigations] more, I guess. People do stupid things. I mean, that long agonizing thing of ITT. We survived. It was very stupid."

Haldeman: "We did some stupid things ...." [This is once when you can say "yes, sir" the boss, or "absolutely, Lord Copper," and it comes out kind of funny]

MacGregor: "Well, there are things--there are a thousand supid things like that that don't get uncovered, that we do and that they do. It's when they get uncovered that they look so stupid."

On behalf of everyone who works in a large organization, Clark, I think you for your candour. Also: what a fun conversation that must of been for your first day on the job.

More on the New Governor General

So Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, sets up a private institute called the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). He then makes a donation of $33 million to this Centre, and to two neighbouring universities, Laurier and Waterloo, to set up a new Balsillie School of International Affairs. Dr. Ramesh Thakur is hired as founding Director of the School, to much acclaim and fanfare. Balsillie included language in the agreement over the $33 million to the effect that he could withdraw support from specific projects during a ten-year launch period, and could withdraw support altogether after ten years.

As if to make sure they were keeping him happy, the two universities wanted to include CIGI in fairly routine decisions such as course content, and perhaps hiring decisions--usually the domain of the academics, not the funding agencies. Thakur said no, he was fired, and a new report says he was shafted. Of course there is some counter-spin to the effect that he didn't work out, etc.

It would be sad to be forced to conclude that our new Governor General, David Johnston, former President of Waterloo, is not only a political hack who helped Harper bury some turds from the Mulroney years, but a corrupt weasel and whore.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A nice Billie Holiday number

I heard this on Jazz FM and really liked it: the lyrics have bite, a nice tune, and Billie makes it swing. "A Fine Romance".

So then I went looking for the authors: Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. This website dedicated to Fields doesn't even mention the Holiday version of the song.

There are different versions of the lyrics: this set has more than Billie sings in the version linked above, but I believe it has all that she sings, including the Isle de France.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Governor General? Really?

Young people in Canada used to be taught that the Governor General was a mere figurehead who did nothing. Recently we learned that Michelle Jean might have denied Stephen Harper the prorogation of Parliament that he was seeking, and thus given a "losing" party leader a chance at being Prime Minister. Now the (new) GG is directly involved in stripping a convicted serial killer of his military commission.

People might start to think the GG has the potential to be an absolute monarch of Canada or something.

Retirement age in France

A few years ago, in a currency crisis, the French government restricted the ability of its citizens to spend their currency on vacations abroad. Rioters took to the streets. I'm not bilingual, but I believe you could paraphrase their thinking as "liberté, egalité, vacances."

Now they are rioting to maintain the retirement age at 60--Sarkozy wants to raise it to 62.

"Liberté, egalité, La retraite à 60 ans "

UPDATE: Retiremen at 62 is now the law in France, subject to court challenges.

Living in Alberta

Ian Tyson, one-time Toronto-based folk singer, long time cowboy, has written his memoirs and at the age of 77, is getting some media again. He has tried to maintain a ranch in the foothills of Alberta for many years, in the face of economic struggles, a big divorce settlement, kids who either don't want to live with him or don't want to take over the ranch, etc.

In the Star today: "It's the endless goddamn winter that gets me down. That's a young man's deal."

World War II again

Every so often I go back into the war in my reading. The war always ends the same way, but I seem to learn something. For earlier reports see here and here.

I borrowed one volume of General Brooke's diaries. My late father owned this work. Brooke became the most senior British general during the war--equivalent to Marshall for the U.S. As with Marshall, he didn't enjoy the public profile of battlefield generals once fighting was underway, and he was probably unfairly neglected, especially in comparison to Montgomery, after the war.

Brooke met for hours every day with Churchill as well as his fellow generals. Churchill drove everyone crazy with endless talk, meetings, and work. Even after a major agreement of all parties on strategy, he would bring up 100 different ideas a day: what about Malaysia? What about Malta? Vienna? Singapore? Often these would make little or no strategic sense, but he would force the generals to go through pro's and con's. Arguably this was a good way to keep on testing "the consensus"--to make sure everyone had good reasons for doing what they were doing. But the flow of different and contradictory ideas raised questions about Churchill's judgment, age, and health both physical and mental. Unlike Hitler or Stalin, he never over-rode his generals; he simply forced them, through long meetings and exchanges of notes, to defend their positions. The American generals had no taste for this at all, and they thought a lot of Churchill's weird excursions were attempts to restore the old British empire. This may well have been in Churchill's mind, but he may also have been quicker than Roosevelt to realize that there was a case for stopping the Soviet Union from spreading too far too fast.

Before even finishing Brooke, I've switched to Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe. Wilmot does a nice job of relating different fronts in the war to each other. Hitler was obviously hoping Britain would capitulate after Dunkirk. He was surprised, and he remained surprised, that this didn't happen. The British public turned, almost overnight, from supporting Chamberlain's Munich deal and achieving "peace," to wanting to fight with Churchill to the end. Churchill's cabinet agreed, probably with some reluctance, that the public simply wouldn't let them surrender, almost no matter what. So the Battle of Britain, even if it was somewhat inconclusive, was enough to convince Hitler that Britain wouldn't surrender immediately. The blitz led to basically the same result. To go further, the Germans would have had to invade across the Channel, which they had given no real thought to, and they utterly lacked the equipment, air and naval support to do. That is the main reason Hitler, who had said repeatedly he did not want to fight on two fronts, invaded the Soviet Union. He was convinced he had the army to achieve success in the East, and then he would be free to invade Britain. Later, when everyone knew D-Day was coming soon, Hitler supposedly thought now at last he would be able to destroy Britain and weaken the U.S., and then he would be free to finish the job in the East where he had begun to lose ground. North Africa and Italy, of course, became a third front, which did significant damage to the Germans partly because Hitler refused to withdraw, even tactically, anywhere. The British generals predicted Hitler would send a lot of troops into Italy; the Americans doubted it; the Brits turned out to be correct about this.

It's kind of chilling to read about 1940. The U.S. is not in the war, and Germany has not yet invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler is trying to maintain American neutrality by ordering German U-boats not to attack American shipping. He tries to persuade Japan to attack British colonies in preference to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union in preference to the U.S. He is negotiating with the Vichy government of France, and with Franco of Spain, to secure the Med for himself as much as possible. He tries to persuade Stalin that he can conquer to the south, into British possessions, rather than west into territory that Germany wants.

One big problem is that Hitler would love to be able to say "Britain has been defeated"; but he can't. November 13th: Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov meeting with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop in Berlin: "If England is in fact defeated and powerless, why have we been conducting this discussion in your air-raid shelter?"

Hitler's rashness and impetuosity--his conviction that will power would prevail--helped to bring about Germany's spectacular early victories. Among other things, these victories subdued rebellious generals, and offered enormous gratification to the German people. But the other side of Hitler's "winning" qualities were his refusal ever to admit defeat, and his tendency to under-estimate his opponents. He made serious mistakes, and they contributed directly to the German defeat.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


You're an organization called 10:10 in the UK. The idea is that we should reduce our carbon emissions by 10%, beginning in 2010. October 10 (of 2010, even more serendipitous) is a particularly significant date: you are asking people to make a real effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Less than a month before the big day, you release some ads called "No Pressure." The idea is that anyone who disagrees with the organization, even to the extent of questioning whether it is a good idea to reduce carbon emissions, will be killed. Some killings are portrayed in vivid detail--heads exploding, blood flying, etc., many of the victims children. I guess they were thinking this was so obviously extreme, so over the top, it would be seen as funny--like Swift's "Modest Proposal" or something. They got a pretty famous film director, Richard Curtis, to make the ads for them.

There has been a nasty backlash to the ads, and the ads have been pulled as much as possible from the Internet. Of course, some nasty people make sure the videos are posted faster than they can be pulled--four new sites for every one taken down, kind of thing. And there are parodies: a teacher advises a class to try out a few Moslem practices. If they're not willing: boom. A Hitler downfall parody: Hitler saying: how could anyone not find this funny? So staff at 10:10 are trying to get parodies taken off the web as well--again, hopeless.

Thursday night, October 7, the 10:10 website listed almost 95,000 "people on board." Friday morning it was down to 73,000. That's right: in the final countdown to the big day, their own website shows them losing about 25% of their popular support. This morning I notice they are over 100,000 "in 152 countries."

Of course, one reason they are losing "people on board" is that they have had to purge names that are not really helpful: dead people, and people who are well-known skeptics of global warming. Apparently they made the mistake of having so little security on their "people on board" feature, that anyone could appear: Karl Marx, Socrates, Gautama Buddha, you name it.

The staff seem on the young side, but it looks like they have no real feel for the internet, or how things can go viral, or public opinion, at all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lord Strathcona

Just finished a first-rate biography by Donna McDonald: Lord Strathcona: A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith. A number of places and things in Canada are named after this guy (1820-1914): he is in the middle of a famous photo called "The Last Spike," commemorating the completion of the CPR in November 1885, shortly after the end of the second Riel rebellion (he was a major investor in the CPR); he was a personal emissary from the government of Canada who negotiated with Louis Riel during the first rebellion in 1869-70; as he made the transition from Hudson's Bay Company employee to general investor and businessman, he contributed to the encouragement of the settlement of the Canadian west (and made much of his money from American railroads). He was a member of the Manitoba legislature for a number of years, even though his interests often caused him to be substantially east of there; a member of Parliament in Ottawa; Canadian High Commissioner in London toward the end of his life.

I still can't tell whether he was very deep or very shallow. A hard worker, he was known for his kindness when poor and for his philanthropy once he was rich. He remained faithful to the the Presbyterian religion he grew up with, but insisted that people of different faiths were all approaching the same God. His wife was Métis, and he was always trusted by the Métis of Western Canada, and by Father Lacombe who ministered to them; he and Lacombe could well remember the days when the original "first nations" were fading from the scene, and the Métis enjoyed a golden age as buffalo hunters.

Some funny moments. He and Sir John A. Macdonald, along with Macdonald's loyal ally, George Cartier, hit it off initially, but then eventually had a falling out over the Pacific Scandal. John A. was accused of offering American railroad interests (led by yet another Scot, Sir Hugh Allan) the opportunity to build the CPR provided they first supplied him with money for his campaign. Some actual documents emerged that seemed to confirm this accusation. John A. had some success in defending himself, but at crucial moments he retreated from the scene, and probably spent a lot of time drunk. One problem was that he couldn't actually remember signing all the letters that had been produced--he had been drunk when he signed--and he was convinced that there were probably more damning letters somewhere that he had totally forgotten. At one point McDonald's government could win a confidence vote if Strathcona, still Donald Smith at the time, cast the deciding vote in favour. In a private meeting, John A. piled on the charm, but then apparently turned abusive. Smith was already inclined to vote against the government because a leader should not only be upright, but appear so. He voted non-confidence.
... The problem, as he saw it, was not that Macdonald had accepted Allan's contribution to his party's electoral expenses. It was that Allan had believed the money was not a donation but a bribe; he believed he was purchasing the railway contract and Macdonald disregarded this fact, either because it was convenient for him to do so or because he was too drunk to recognize how others would interpret the transaction. This, in Donald's view, was a grave error. It was not enough for a prime minister, especially of such a new nation, to be honourable: he had to be seen to be honourable. (p. 220)

There was a severe falling out between them for years, but eventually they became staunch allies again. Much later, one of Strathcona's charitable causes was the support of John A.'s widow.

Another highlight: Strathcona was constantly urging Europeans to settle in the Canadian west. In some countries this activity was actually illegal. 1898:
"The arrogance of the Canadian, Lord Strathcona," fulminated the Hamburger Nachrichten, "and the utter disrespect shown by him for the laws of the Empire in publicly conducting his emigration propaganda on German soil and in the very teeth of the authorities, demand that vigorous representations should be made at once to the British Government which is, we presume, still responsible for this Colony. While apart from the weakening of the Fatherland which the success of such propaganda entails, the attempt to lure our fellow-countrymen to this desolate, sub-arctic region is, upon human grounds alone, to be denounced as criminal. (421)

In 1900, Strathcona personally raised and funded some troops for the Boer War. They were unofficially known as "rough riders," and I was hoping that this was the real source for the names of a couple of Canadian football teams from my childhood. It turns out they were probably both named after Teddy Roosevelt's Roughriders, formed in 1898.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Conservatives--Sane and Not So Sane

Heather MacDonald attacks Dinesh D'Souza and the conservatives who have taken up his argument that some of Obama's views and policies are the “dreams of a Luo tribesman”--Obama's father, with whom he has almost never had any contact, and whose speeches and writings, as far as anyone knows, have never influenced Obama. What has influenced Obama, of course, is contemporary liberalism, as developed in the Ivy League, Washington, DC, among some of the elite in Chicago, etc. In the context of that liberalism, there is no hint of anything radical, alien, mysterious, monstrous or uniquely threatening in any of Obama's writings or speeches. Many of Obama's most controversial moves, as MacDonald waggishly points out, are a continuation of those of that exotic un-American lunatic, George W. Bush. Obamacare is about as un-American as Harry Truman, who tried to implement something similar in the 1940s.

So what is wrong with a lot of conservatives? They obviously think they can succeed in elections almost entirely by smearing their opponents as vaguely but dangerously "on the wrong side"--defenders of immorality, un-American, deriving their views from such an irrational or unpredictable source that they are best treated as aliens or monsters. As MacDonald says, conservatives seem to be admitting that they have no actual case against Democratic policies, or none that will win elections--just as was the case in the Clinton years, the personal attack is really all they've got; maybe it will work, maybe it won't.

The new plan of Congressional Republicans--the "Pledge to America"--commits to no reduction in spending on Medicare or Social Security--along, of course, with defence. If both Medicare and Social Security are sacred trusts, then how can Obamacare or stimulus spending be un-American, a march to a Scandinavian welfare state, a socialist attack on private enterprise and the family, or outright evil?

h/t for all of this to Matt Yglesias.