Friday, January 30, 2009

DBTL 8D: The Guide

Rome, Italy
13 May 1942

All in all, thought Enrico Fermi, house arrest was not such a bad thing, especially when you considered the fate of poor Emilio, rotting away in Regina Coeli. They had allowed him to keep his books and his radio, and he was allowed to keep up with the various physics journals he subscribed to. Although he himself was not allowed to leave their apartment, Laura was permitted to travel with a police escort to the market to buy food and other things, and the children were able to go to school.

He had gotten to know the various policemen who were charged with guarding himself and his family. Thus, it came as a considerable surprise to him when the apartment door opened one evening to reveal an unfamiliar face in the familiar police uniform. It was also a deviation from the familiar pattern of the day's events, and thus potentially dangerous.

"Good evening, Dr. Fermi," the new policeman said. He had a pronounced Sicilian accent.

"Good evening, officer," Fermi responded cautiously. "What can I do for you?"

"As a matter of fact," the policeman said, "I am here to find out if there is something I can do for you."

Was he hitting Fermi up for a bribe? If so, would he get in trouble for offering one or for refusing to offer one? "What do you mean?" said Fermi fearfully.

"I mean I'm here to offer you and your family the chance to escape." said the policeman. "I'm an agent for Polish Military Intelligence."

Fermi quickly discarded the possibility that the self-proclaimed Polish spy might actually by an OVRA agent trying to trick him into an act of treason. After all, he was already under arrest for treason, and if the Fascists wanted to throw him into the Regina Coeli, or execute him, they had no need to use trickery to do so.

"You wish for me to go with you to Poland," Fermi stated.

"Not with me," said the policeman-who-was-a-spy, "but with colleagues of mine, and yes, Poland would be your destination."

"So that I could help the Poles build their own atomic bomb."

"You would not be under any obligation to do so, but I'm sure the Polish government would appreciate any assistance you chose to render."

Fermi sighed. "I once told my colleague Dr. Lizardo that the only thing worse than a warring nation with an atomic bomb would be two warring nations with atomic bombs. You tell me now that I would be under no obligation to help the Poles build a bomb. Will the story change once I am in Poland?"

The Polish spy with the Sicilian accent said, "There is a professorship waiting for you at the Sklodowska Institute. If you like, you can spend your time creating artificial elements, and we will be pleased to let you do so, for the Commonwealth needs brilliant scientists at least as much as it needs weapons designers. However, if you should ever decide that Poland ought to have an atomic bomb as well, we would not refuse your help."

"Would my family and I be in danger if we chose to attempt escape?"

"I will not lie to you, Dr. Fermi," said the spy. "There will be some danger involved. If you are caught, you know that you cannot expect to return to house arrest. You may even be executed by the Italian authorities."

Fermi nodded. "I appreciate candor. How long do we have?"

"Naturally, the sooner we leave, the better, but you have at least an hour to decide."

"I must discuss this with my wife," said Fermi.

The spy nodded. "Do so," he said.

Fermi went into the bedroom where his wife lay in bed reading. When he explained the situation to her, she said, "Of course we must leave. I do not want Nella and Giulio growing up in a prison, even if that prison is our apartment. You tell this man -- what is his name?"

"I didn't ask."

Laura Fermi rolled her eyes. "Tell this nameless spy that we will be ready to leave in ten minutes." So saying, she rose from the bed and began to dress.

Fermi returned to the apartment's living room, where the spy stood waiting calmly. "We will be ready to leave in ten minutes."

"Thank you, Dr. Fermi."

"Incidentally," Fermi said, "what is your name?"

The spy smiled now for the first time. He said, "You may call me 'Virgil'."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama's package scares off GOP

Congressional Republicans have been saying all along about how scared they are about the size of Obama's package. Apparently they thought Obama's package was too big, because not one of them dared to open themselves up to it. Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney unveiled his own package, one that is much smaller than Obama's. Romney hopes that Americans will find his own package to be more comfortable than Obama's. And while all that is going on, Rush Limbaugh has been criticized for saying that he hopes Obama's package doesn't work.

I have to say that I find all this attention being focused on Obama's package to be a little unseemly. Sure, I'm curious about Obama's package. I think any American who says he isn't is lying. But there's no denying that, as important as Obama's package is, it's not important enough to warrant all this attention. I for one hope that in the days to come we can all forget our obsession with Obama's package and focus our attention on more immediate matters.

Like Obama's dog.

DBTL 8C: Marriage of Inconvenience

Rome, Italy
21 October 1941

Dr. Emilio Lizardo, Deputy Director of the Prometheus Project, was astonished to find three policemen waiting in the living room of his apartment. He was even more astonished when he saw his wife Claretta in uniform as well. His first fleeting thought was that this was one of Claretta's peculiar erotic games, but this was far more extreme than anything they had ever done before.

"My flower," he said in wonderment, "what is going on?"

Claretta remained silent. One of the uniformed men stepped forward and said, "Dr. Emilio Lizardo, I am Renzo Chierchi, Chief of Police. I am here to arrest you for treason against the Italian Kingdom."

"Treason? What? Why?"

"You are charged with planning to sabotage the Prometheus Project," said Renzo.

Lizardo turned to his wife. "My love, tell him he is mistaken!"

Renzo said, "It was your wife who alerted us to your planned sabotage."

Lizardo looked pleadingly at his wife. "Claretta, how could you?"

At last Claretta Petacci Lizardo spoke. "I was simply doing my job, Doctor Lizardo," she said expressionlessly. " I am an agent of the Organization for the Surveillance and Repression of Antifascism. I was assigned to monitor the leadership of the Prometheus Project."

Renzo continued. "Agent Petacci reported your conversations with Director Fermi about preventing Il Duce from using your atomic reactor to build explosive devices. Now that work on the reactor is nearing completion, you and Fermi are being removed from control of the Project."
"What will become of us?" Lizardo mumbled.

"Professor Fermi and his family will be subject to house arrest," said Renzo. "You, Dr. Lizardo, will serve a life sentence in Regina Coeli Prison."

Once more Emilio Lizardo cried out, "Claretta, how could you?"

Now, for the first time, emotion entered her voice. "I did it for Il Duce," she said with chilling intensity. "I would do anything he asked of me. Anything."

Broken, Lizardo meekly followed the uniformed men out of his apartment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Indiana wants me

The big surprise in the last election was the state of Indiana. No Democrat has won Indiana since LBJ in 1964. Before that, no Democrat had won Indiana since FDR in 1932 and 1936. Before that, no Democrat had won Indiana since Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (and that was only with Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft splitting the Republican vote). In other words, Indiana was a reliable Republican state, only going Democratic during overwhelming Demiocratic landslides. Bill Clinton won more electoral votes than Obama in 1992 and 1996, but he didn't win Indiana.

The 2006 midterm elections saw no less than three House seats in Indiana flip from Republican to Democratic, giving the Dems a majority of the state's House delegation for the first time since 1994. All five Democratic incumbents were re-elected in 2008.

There can't be any question about it. Indiana, once a Republican fortress, has become a battleground state. Add in Virginia, which also hasn't gone Democratic since 1964, and North Carolina, which hasn't gone Democratic since 1976, and you've got big trouble for the Republicans. These are all now battleground states, and they didn't get that way by becoming more conservative -- they got that way by becoming more liberal.

A Republican Party that has to fight for Indiana is a Republican Party that is going to spend a long time in the political wilderness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DBTL 8B: Laugh While You Can

Rome, Italy
27 July 1940

As work progressed on the Prometheus Project, Enrico Fermi found himself growing more and more concerned. It went without saying that he could not express his concerns openly, for who knew which remarks might be overheard? So Fermi kept his concerns private for months, until chance allowed him the opportunity to unburden himself.

When Fermi had first begun organizing the Prometheus Project in February, he had particularly sought out the assistance of the man he personally regarded as the most brilliant scientist in Italy. Although he had won no awards, and (being a temperamental man of eccentric habits) had never even held an academic position, there was no doubt in Fermi's mind that Dr. Emilio Lizardo would ultimately make the difference between success and failure for the Prometheus Project.

Approaching Lizardo had been a delicate task, for the man had suffered considerable scorn from the more conservative members of the scientific establishment. Nevertheless, Fermi had known (well, hoped at any rate) that the challenge of creating the world's first atomic reactor would overcome Lizardo's antipathy towards bureaucratic encumbrances (to say nothing of his dislike for the Mussolini regime). In the end, Fermi's hope had been borne out, and Lizardo had agreed to take part in the Project.

Keeping the great scientist was almost as much work as getting him had been, but Fermi knew that the benefits justified the effort. Already Lizardo had constructed a centrifugal device which had enabled them to refine uranium at an astonishing rate. At their present rate of progress, Fermi calculated that they ought to have enough material to build a self-sustaining reactor by the end of 1941. Possibly even sooner.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lizardo had surprised all who knew him (Fermi most of all) by falling in love. He had met a girl named Clara Petacci, and they had chosen today to get married. As Fermi and Lizardo fulfilled the traditional roles of best man and groom by standing together in a small side room in some church or other, uncomfortable in tuxedos, Fermi had at last unburdened himself to his friend.

Not knowing any other way to broach the subject, Fermi had simply blurted out, "What if he decides to build a bomb?"

"Do you mean Mussolini?"

"I don't mean Louis B. Mayer."

"Are you sure the thought will occur to him?" said Lizardo. "He is a busy man, after all. He has all of Italy to boss around."

"He is not a stupid man," said Fermi, "and he takes a great interest in this project. He even named it. He did not understand much about nuclear physics when we started, but he can and will learn. And it is not as if the idea is an unlikely one. After all, one of our greatest problems in building the reactor will be to insure that it does not blow up. Sooner or later, he will realize that a reactor can be built to explode on purpose. Assuming of course that he has not already done so. No, my good friend, the day will inevitably come when Mussolini will come to us and say, 'How soon can you build me an atomic bomb?' What answer do we give him then?"

Lizardo, who had been fulfilling the traditional role of groom by pacing back and forth, slowed to a halt as he considered the problem.

"We could," he suggested, "bury our beloved leader in doubletalk, to the effect that a bomb would require decades of technical progress to create."

Fermi shook his head. "And if he should go to another physicist who does not share our misgivings? Our lies would be exposed at once, and we would be lined up against a wall for our troubles."

"True," Lizardo admitted sadly. "And we might well face the same fate if we admit that a bomb could be built and then refuse to do so."

"At the very least," said Fermi, "we would be expelled from the Project and replaced with less consciencious men."

"Or else," said Lizardo, "we could agree to build the bomb, and then sabotage it."

Fermi shook his head. "Sabotage would only be a temporary expedient. We would eventually be found out, and certainly executed."

"Perhaps," said Lizardo, "we could flee to France or Britain. I have heard one or two rumors to the effect that both countries are investigating atomic fission. Then, at least, we could be certain that Mussolini would not have a monopoly on atomic bombs."

Fermi shuddered. "My friend, the only thing I can think of that would be worse than a warring nation with an atomic bomb would be two warring nations with atomic bombs."

Lizardo finally sighed and said, "Enrico, at this point all we can do is hope that the problem does not arise. If and when it does, then perhaps we will see a way clear to resolving it. Until then, I must quote the great Francesco Petrarca: laugh while you can, monkey boy."

Then the door to the little side room opened, and it was time for Dr. Emilio Lizardo to face a future of wedded bliss.

Pick the new NYT wingnut contest!

Those rumors you've heard are true. Legacy wingnut William "Always Wrong" Kristol is gone from the pages of the New York Times. This presents the publishers of the NYT with a big problem: who can they get to replace him? After all, the appointment of Kristol to replace John Tierney seemed to indicate a positive policy at the Times to replace each conservative with one who was less sane. Given that policy, who can the Times find to continue the downward spiral?

That's where you come in. Nominations are now open for the "Find a Crazier Wingnut Than Kristol" constest. The winner of the contest will receive the coveted "Golden Pez Award". So, who will it be? Michelle "Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage" Malkin? Pamela "Shrieking Harpy" Geller? Erick "The Dim" Erickson? Or will the Times dare to poach Jonah "Doughy Pantload" Goldberg from the Los Angeles Times?

Let your voice be heard!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

DBTL 10: In Between

Klaipėda, Lithuania
20 June 1940

Prime Minister Antanas Merkys heaved a long, heartfelt sigh of relief as a motorized launch carried Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov across the placid gray waters of the Baltic to the waiting Red Navy cruiser.

"I swear," said Merkys, "that man would take your heart as collateral on a ten kopek loan."

His companion, President Antanas Smetona, said, "A disturbing individual, no doubt of that."

"Terrifying would be more like it," said Merkys, as the two men retreated to their chauffeured limousine. "I understand the reasoning behind his visit, but that doesn't mean I have to like it." Although Molotov liked to present an unreadable face to the world, Merkys had seen his eyes sizing up their little country the way a butcher sized up a side of beef.

As their vehicle began twisting its way through the port city's streets, Smetona said, "You can't deny that Molotov's visit has already begun to generate results."

"That much I cannot deny," said Merkys. Even while Molotov had been touring the countryside around Kaunas, the Polish Sejm had voted to make the area around Vilnius, which the Poles called Central Lithuania, into one of their autonomous "devos".

"Now begins the tug-of-war," said Smetona. "The Poles will try to draw us into a union with Central Lithuania under their 'commonwealth', while we try to draw Vilnius into a union with ourselves and out of Poland altogether."

"And all the while," said Merkys, "the Russians sit and watch like a hungry..."

"Bear?" said Smetona.

"I was hoping to provide a less clichéd simile," said Merkys.

"There are some clichés which cannot be avoided," said Smetona. "As long as there are Russians, there will be the cliché of the Russian bear, because there is too much truth in the cliché to set it aside."

"But there are indeed no more Russians," Merkys pointed out. "They are Soviets now."

"The Soviet Union is only a mask," Smetona responded. "The greatest Communist front organization of them all. Take away the mask, and you will find the same old clichéd Russian bear, waiting to consume the world."

"And yet we are making deals with this clichéd omnivorous bear," said Merkys.

"Merely discussing the possibility," said Smetona. "We say what we want, and Molotov says what he wants."

"And what Molotov wants," said Merkys, "is a Soviet naval base in Klaipėda, and Red Army troops garrisoned in Lithuania. Quite frankly, given a choice, I would rather see Lithuania become part of Poland."

"Our task," said Smetona, "is to see to it that Lithuania does not face that choice." He sighed. "We walk a narrow tightrope here," he said. "If we tilt too far in either direction, we will lose our balance and fall, and Lithuania will become the possession of one side or the other. Our only hope for independence is to maintain our current attitude, despite the shifting winds of international events. I do not know if we can walk that tightrope, but I intend to try."

Friday, January 23, 2009

The breaking storm

Back in July, in the wake of a gun attack in a Unitarian church in Tennessee, I wrote the following words:

Conservatives have been fed on a steady diet of hate by Limbaugh and his countless, countless imitators for the last sixteen years. The election of a black president is going to drive a lot of these people over the line into rage-fueled killing sprees and terrorist attacks.

As Weird Al Yankovic famously said, "Oh man, I hate it when I'm right." For no sooner is there a black president in the White House, then word comes from Brockton, Massachusetts about a 22-year-old guy named Keith Luke who decided to defend the white race by going on a shooting spree (hat tip to David Neiwert of Orcinus).

Luke allegedly forced his way inside the sisters' apartment with a 9mm handgun and a backpack containing two pairs of handcuffs, a blindfold, and a gag he had bought with his mother's credit card. He used the handcuffs to bind the elder sister's hands and then repeatedly raped her. When her sister came to the door and banged on it, Luke shot her multiple times, police said.

After shooting the woman at the door, Luke looked to her sister in a bedroom covering herself with a white teddy bear. He shot her through the stuffed animal, according to the police report.

Luke also shot at a couple of men who were trying to help the younger sister, then took off in his van. Spotting a 72-year-old Cape Verdean immigrant he knew named Arlindo Goncalves, Luke stopped his van, got out, shot him dead, got back in his van, and drove off. A witness to the shooting called the police. They pursued Luke, dodging gunfire, until he crashed the van. Luke told the police that he had been planning to end his killing spree by going into a local synagogue during a game of bingo and shooting as many Jews as possible before finally killing himself. Luke was ordered held without bail. The mayor of Brockton said investigators are inspecting a computer found in Keith Luke's home.

I wish I believed this was just going to be an isolated incident, but I don't. I think this was just the first act of a drama that's going to play out for the rest of Obama's presidency, and probably for decades to come.

DBTL 9: Are We Not Poles? We Are Devo

Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
31 May 1940

Gregor Strasser was President of the Brandenburg Bundestag. By the terms of the Polish Law of Devolution, this also made Strasser the Secretary of State for Brandenburg in the Polish Cabinet.

Strasser often reflected on the odd path that had led him to his current duel role. Eight years before, he had been one of the leaders of Germany's National Party. Then the machinations of General von Schleicher during the runup to the Presidential election of March 1932 had led to his expulsion from the National Party. With his political career in eclipse, Strasser had retired from public life.

Following the Röhm Coup in October, Strasser had fled Germany to avoid the fate of his brother Otto, arrested and executed by the Brownshirts during the post-coup purge. Five years of exile in Warsaw had ended with the conquest of Germany by the Poles and their British and French allies. Strasser had returned to his homeland, and had won election to the Polish Sejm following eastern Germany's incorporation into Poland.

A year ago, Strasser had been part of a parliamentary coalition which had passed the Law of Devolution, allowing for the creation of autonomous regions within the Polish Commonwealth. Brandenburg had been the first of the autonomous regions (or devos as they were popularly known) to be created under the law. Brandenburg's delegation to the Sejm now met as a body in Berlin as well, as Brandenburg's legislature, and Strasser found himself in the uncomfortable position of trying to wear two hats on one head.

Every Friday morning, an hour before the Polish Cabinet met, there was an informal meeting between President Sławek, Prime Minister Beck, War Minister Skwarczyński, and the Secretaries of State for Brandenburg, Prussia and Galicia. Strasser knew that there was an even earlier meeting between Slawek, Beck and Skwarczyński during which all the real business of the subsequent meetings was conducted. He was realist enough to know that the current state of affairs was the best that he, and Brandenburg, could currently hope for.

President Sławek opened the meeting by saying, "Gentlemen, we believe the time has come to augment your number. We wish to introduce legislation into the Sejm to grant autonomy to Central Lithuania."

"Why Central Lithuania?" said Strasser in Polish, a language he had perforce learned during the years of his exile. "I was under the impression that Silesia would be next in line to be granted autonomy."

"I'm afraid this was my idea," said Skwarczyński. "Matters in the eastern part of the Commonwealth are coming to a head, and I feel that we need to act now in order to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from developing."

"I knew that there was a certain amount of agitation in the east," said Strasser, "but I had no idea it had become, as you say, potentially dangerous."

"After I returned from my visit to Japan," said Beck, "every Communist party in Europe suddenly began denouncing Poland as a reactionary imperialist aggressor state. The Popular Front alliances in France and Spain have ruptured, and the Blum and Prieto governments are in danger of falling. The Communist parties in Estonia and Latvia are demanding that their governments end their alliances with us. The Lithuanian Communists have just as suddenly become staunch supporters of the Smetona regime, and half an hour ago we received news that Molotov is planning to make a state visit to Kaunas."

Strasser was well aware of the history of Poland's postwar relations with Lithuania. The Lithuanians had claimed Vilnius and the surrounding territory, but after the Polish-Soviet War the Poles had seized the area and set up a puppet state that they called Central Lithuania. In 1922 the Poles had annexed Central Lithuania outright. Piłsudski, who was himself from Vilnius, had opposed the annexation, but being out of power at the time was unable to prevent it. Ever since, the Lithuanians had refused to maintain diplomatic relations with the Poles.

"I see," said Strasser. "You fear an alliance between the Bolsheviks and the Lithuanians, and by making Central Lithuania into a devo, you hope the lure the Lithuanians into your own alliance."

"We hope to do more than that," said Skwarczyński. "We hope to persuade the Lithuanians to unite with Central Lithuania under the Polish Commonwealth."

"If that is your hope," said Strasser, "then I wish you luck, because you're going to need it. Smetona would sooner lose his right arm than allow Lithuania to come under Polish rule."

"At the very least," said Skwarczyński, "union with an autonomous Wilno will be a more attractive prospect than outright Polish dominion. Some in Lithuania will regard the gain as worthwhile, or so I hope." He sighed. "We walk a narrow tightrope here. If we are too bold, we will provoke a war with the Soviets for which we are unprepared. If we are too timid, Stalin will think us weak and move against us, and again we will have war. I do not know if we can walk that tightrope, but I intend to try."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hey, Barack, how about these guys?

From the Rumproast blog comes a tale of two tails: two goldendoodle puppies named Stella and Susie who have been rescued from a puppy mill and are now in foster care in Colorado Springs, according to a press release by the National Mill Dog Rescue. The Obama family is famously looking for a hypoallergenic dog for their daughters Malia and Sasha, and since there are two children, why not get two dogs? In addition, as the NMDR's press release notes:

The adoption of Stella and/or Susie would go a long way toward sending a strong message to current and future pet owners: Adoption, coupled with effective spay-neuter programs, enables abused, abandoned dogs to obtain a new lease on life and helps control pet overpopulation.

As it happens, the new White House website has a contact page, so I'll be emailing them to let them know about Stella and Susie. If you'd like to see these sweet girls become the new First Dogs, go ahead and do the same.

DBTL 8A: The Fire Next Time

Rome, Italy
6 February 1940

A uniformed attendant had just spoken the six most frightening words in the Italian language: "Il Duce will see you now." Enrico Fermi, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome, summoned up whatever reserves of courage he possessed and followed the attendant through a pair of monstrously ornate doors into the august presence of the most powerful man in Italy.

Later on, Fermi would recall that the room itself was so lavishly decorated that it made the doors seem sedate by comparison. At the time, he had no attention to spare for the decor, for all of it was focused upon the figure of Benito Mussolini. Il Duce was standing facing a pair of floor-length glass windows which opened out onto a balcony. As soon as Fermi entered the room, Mussolini turned to look at him.

The eyes Fermi found himself facing were those of one accustomed to command, of one having authority, and not fearing to use it. The mouth was thin, hard, ruthless. When the face brightened into an affable smile, Fermi found himself letting go of a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

"Professor Fermi," said Il Duce, "it was good of you to make the time to see me."

"Not at all, sir," Fermi managed to gasp out, "it is an honor."

"True enough," said Mussolini. "I'll tell you why I asked you here. As you are no doubt aware, my recent attempt to expand our country's influence overseas has met with a serious setback. It seems that, having won themselves vast colonial empires, the British and French have no wish to see anyone else emulate their example."

Fermi, who regarded the invasion of Ethiopia as a collossal blunder and welcomed efforts by the British and French to put a stop to it, prudently remained silent.

"However unfair their actions might be," Mussolini continued, "we Italians must perforce accede to them. There can be no military triumphs won, no empire built. Italy must find some other way to make her mark upon the world. And that is where you come in, Professor."

"Me?" One word was all Fermi could manage at this point.

"You, Enrico Fermi! Italy must find a new field in which to gain dominance, and I have decided that that field shall be science! You, Professor, are the most prestigious scientist in Italy, a Nobel laureate! You must be the leading force in the new Italian Renaissance!"

"I?" Fermi replied monosyllabically once more. "What can I do?"

"You must find me some project, Professor," said Mussolini. "Some grand undertaking that will establish at once Italy's preeminence in matters scientific. Surely you must know of something! Some theory which must be established, some device which must be assembled. Something!"

Afterwards, Fermi was unsure just what it was that sparked the idea he came up with. Possibly the way Il Duce had phrased his request/demand. At the time, all Fermi knew was that, without quite thinking the matter through, he said, "Well, there was a paper which was recently published by Heisenberg of the Sklodowska Institute in Berlin."

Mussolini was immediately interested. "And what was the import of this paper?"

"It has to do with an experiment I conducted six years ago, bombarding uranium atoms with neutrons in an attempt to create an artificial transuranic element. The results were rather confusing, even inexplicable, or at any rate inexplicable by me. However, Heisenberg and his colleagues at the Sklodowska Institute have come up with an elegant hypothesis which would explain the results perfectly. You see, I was attempting to add neutrons to the nucleus of the uranium atom in an effort to create a larger element. Heisenberg hypothesizes that what actually occurred was that the neutron bombardment caused the uranium nucleus to fission, to break apart into smaller nuclei. He further hypothesizes that the breakup of the uranium atom would be accompanied by the release of more neutrons, which could in their turn react with other uranium nuclei, causing them to fission as well. If the hypothesis is correct, then it would allow us to create a self-sustaining cycle of fissioning uranium nuclei."

Fermi returned from his flight through the realms of physics to find Il Duce looking at him in puzzlement. Fermi knew that Mussolini was an intelligent, educated man, but it was clear that he had been unable to follow the Professor's explanation.

"To summarize, sir," Fermi finished, "it may be possible for humanity to tap the power of the atom."

The glazed look vanished from Mussolini's eyes, to be replaced by excitement. "Atomic power, Professor?"

"Yes, sir."

"And could you yourself do this, Professor?"

"Well," Fermi prevaricated, "it would require prodigious resources. The technical--"

Mussolini waved that aside. "Resources are not a problem. The British and French have just demonstrated with insulting ease how worthless our military preparations have been. If Italy can make no military conquests, we have little need of strong military forces. Would half of our military budget provide you with the resources you need?"

"I, er, I believe so, sir."

"Then it is done," said Mussolini with finality. "You will be appointed director of a government project to create an atomic power plant. Go and prepare a list of what people and materials you will need and report back to me in a week's time. A secret project, mind you! I don't want to go to all this trouble just to find out that the British or the French have beaten us to the punch! Go, Professor, and begin planning for the --" Il Duce paused for a moment, then a smile split his face. "Begin planning for the Prometheus Project! Go!"

Enrico Fermi went.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Spanglish jokes, please!

Chip "Salty Chips" Saltsman, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, turned a lot of heads last month when he sent his fellow Republicans a gift CD containing a song called "Barack the Magic Negro". However, I think Salty Chips' brave stand against the political correctness stormtroopers remains unappreciated. After all, it's easy enough for Republicans to mock black people -- it's been forty years now since the GOP gave up on winning them over and concentrated on pandering to white racial fears instead, so mocking blacks is practically a rite of passage for Republicans these days.

No, the real display of courage by Salty Chips was demonstrated by another song on the CD called "The Star Spanglish Banner". After all, Republicans have spent a lot of time and effort over the last couple of decades trying to win over Latino voters, and it was actually paying off. Latinos gave Bush his margin of victory over John Kerry in 2004, and brought him within stealing distance of victory in 2000. Latinos are the crucial voting bloc these days.

That being the case, it took a lot of guts for Salty Chips to deliberately mock Latinos. That sort of courage is a rare and precious thing. After all, you didn't hear Sarah Palin sneering at Latinos on the campaign trail -- she reserved her mockery for community organizers. Nor did John McCain venture any Spanglish jokes -- he was satisfied to demonize ACORN.

Salty Chips knows better. He knows that Republicans need to pander to the xenophobes who make up the GOP's base, and that they can't be afraid to alienate an important group of voters in order to do so. So, to my friends over on the other side of the aisle, I give you this important piece of advice: vote for Salty Chips for RNC chair. He's the man you need to lead the GOP back to its rightful God-given status as America's majority party.

DBTL 8: Where Do We Go From Here?

It is 5 February 1940. Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini sits in a finely crafted chair within the Palazzo Venezia and broods. He has just suffered the most serious setback of his life.

On the morning of 1 February, his armies invaded Ethiopia. On the afternoon of 2 February, he received a joint communique from Prime Minister Attlee of Great Britain and Premier Blum of France informing him that if he did not agree by noon today to withdraw his armies from Ethiopia, Italy would be placed under a total economic embargo, the Suez Canal would be closed to Italian commerce, and the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland would be blockaded by the Royal Navy.

Half an hour ago, Mussolini agreed to withdraw from Ethiopia.

Just like that, Mussolini's dreams of a new Roman Empire dominating the Mediterranean have vanished like a soap bubble. Italy had suddenly been demoted back to the status of a secondary power. Mussolini himself was becoming worried, just a little, that his own grip on power might have just loosened, never to recover. It is unthinkable for him actually to be deposed, so he does not think that, but he does worry about the loss of some of his political power.

He wishes that events in Germany had not forced him to postpone the invasion for four and a half years. He wishes that the British and French had not become so unyielding since their victory over the Germans three years before. He even finds himself wishing for a few brief moments that he had never decided to invade Ethiopia in the first place.

However, Mussolini is not a man to let failure, even failure on such a grand scale, stand in the way of his ambition. Very well, so Italy will not achieve greatness through military conquest. If that road is closed to him, then he must find another.

Sitting within the Palazzo Venezia, Benito Mussolini begins to ponder his next move.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fast work

It didn't take long for the Obama team to make its mark on the White House website, There's even a White House blog with (currently) five posts, all timestamped 12:01 PM. The first post is by Director of New Media Macon Phillips, in which he gives a brief tour of the new, improved White House website. There's no comment function on the blog, which is probably just as well; either they'd be forever culling trollery and spam, or else the comments would be clogged with trollery and spam. Markos at the Daily Kos worries that the blog will end up becoming "a press release graveyard".

In any case, now has an honored place on my blogroll.

DBTL 7: Going Home

Los Angeles, California
19 January 1940

Hermann Göring sat staring at nothing, alone in his office except for a bottle of whiskey. The weather had quite obligingly chosen to mirror his mood, and a steady downpour washed against the windows. He ignored the knock at his office door, ignored another set of knocks a minute later, then ignored a third set a minute after that. However, his lucky streak ended after that; instead of giving up and going away, his visitor chose to enter the office unbidden.

Göring was not quite indifferent enough to ignore his unwelcome visitor completely. He looked up from the empty surface of his desk to see who it was. It was Lothar von Richthofen.

"Hey, Fatty," said von Richthofen, "going to offer me some of that?"

"Lothar," Göring eventually said, "what in God's name are you doing here?"

"Would you believe that I just happened to be passing by and decided to drop in?"


"Clever boy," said von Richthofen. "The truth is that I've come all the way here from Berlin specifically in order to see you, and you still haven't offered me a drink."

"I've only got one glass," said Göring distractedly.

"That's all right, who needs a glass when you've got a bottle?"

Göring thought about it for a moment, then pushed the bottle a few centimeters across the desk in von Richthofen's direction. The latter briefly bowed in thanks, then reached over and grabbed it. A quick drink brought a smile to his face.

"Not bad," von Richthofen said. "When did you start drinking whiskey?"

"It's a habit I acquired here in America."

There was a long pause which ended when von Richtofen said, "This is the part of the conversation where you ask me why I'm here."

"In fact, old comrade," said Göring, "I don't give a rat's ass why you're here."

"I'm glad you asked me that," said von Richtofen serenely. "The reason I've come all the way here from Berlin to see you is to offer you a job."

"Word travels fast," Göring observed. "It's only been three days since Herr Hughes shitcanned me."

"Frankly, I'm surprised it took him as long as it did," said von Richthofen. "The rumor has it that you've been a worthless lump of blubber ever since --"

"Don't say it," Göring growled.

"-- the divorce became final," the other man finished diplomatically.

"If you're here to give me a recruitment pitch," said Göring, "you're making a damned poor job of it."

"The recruitment pitch comes later," said von Richthofen. "This is still the friendly greeting."

The next word Göring used is one that has no exact English counterpart, but countless idiomatic equivalents.

"Tsk, tsk," said von Richthofen, "such language."

Göring sighed. "Very well, Lothar, make your pitch and scram."

"That's better," said von Richthofen. "All right, then. I'm here on behalf of a gentleman who wishes you to continue the work you were doing with Herr Hughes."

Göring squinted at his friend. "How the hell do you know what I was working on with Hughes?"

"The gentleman I mentioned has certain sources of information that are unavailable to most people."

Göring felt himself becoming mildly interested for the first time in months. "Can you tell me the name of this gentleman who wishes me to design jet aircraft for him?"

Von Richthofen gave an overdramatic glance around the room before saying, "His name is Stanisław Skwarczyński."

Göring was astonished. "Are you crazy, Lothar? You want me to go to work for the Goddamned Polacks? After what they did to us?"

Now the smile left von Richthofen's face for the first time. "Us, Hermann? Us? I didn't see your fat ass being shot at. You were sitting pretty here in America with your high-powered job and your great big mansion and your pretty little movie star wife. You didn't have to sit by helplessly and watch a dim-witted pervert start a war he didn't know how to win. And I've got news for you -- the 'Goddamned Polacks' are treating us a whole hell of a lot better than we would have treated them if we'd won. We got off lucky, and some of us still have enough of the wits God gave us to know it."

There was still anger in von Richthofen's eyes when he added, "So what's it going to be, Hermann? Are you going to screw this opportunity up, just like you've screwed up every other opportunity your life's been blessed with? Skwarczyński wants someone to build him aircraft, and God help us, he thinks you're the man to do it. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that he's out of his mind, but that doesn't matter. The offer still stands. Do you want to come back with me and try to make something of your life, or would you rather stay here and drink yourself to death?"

Göring noted absently that he was still clutching his glass. He looked down at the centimeter or two of amber liquid swirling around the bottom. Then he stood up from his desk, and stiff-armed the glass into the office's ornate (and non-functional) fireplace.

Hermann Göring was finally going home.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The shocking truth

Take a look at that picture up there. Study it carefully. Take your time; it's okay, I'll wait.

Right, then. I'm sure that you noticed that the man in the picture is black. If you're an American, it's probably the first thing you notice. And I know you're thinking to yourself: okay, so the man's black. So what?

Well, do you know who that man in the picture is? I'll tell you who he is: Barack Obama.

Yeah, that's right, that Barack Obama. The one who won the presidential election in November. The one who's due to be sworn in as President of the United States of America tomorrow.

How come nobody out there told me he was black?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I still would have voted for him; he is a Democrat, after all. But, jeez louise, what a thing to spring on a guy! You'd think somebody out there on the internet would have let something like that slip. You'd think somebody could have actually mentioned it at some point!

How come nobody ever tells me anything?

DBTL 6: Eagle and Chrysanthemum

Tokyo, Japan
25 May 1940

Konoe Fumimaro was curious to meet Jósef Beck, his Polish counterpart. There were dark rumors associated with Beck. It was said that his appointment as military attaché in Paris in the 1920s had been cut short due to some scandal, though whether the scandal involved stolen documents, insulted military officers, or sexual misdeeds varied depending on the source of the story. On the other hand, the reason for his rapid rise to power within the Polish government was well understood; it was due to his close ties with Marshal Piłsudski. Piłsudski himself had appointed Beck to the post of Prime Minister shortly before the German War broke out, and Piłsudski's successor, Marshal Skwarczyński, had kept him on in the post.

In a way, Konoe regretted Poland's victory over Germany. It was bad enough having to deal with men named Ribbentrop, Heydrich and Kaltenbrunner. Now he somehow had to fit his lips around names like Skwarczyński, Raczkiewicz, Rydz-Śmigły and, heaven help him, Wieniawa-Długoszowski. He supposed he ought to be thankful that it was Beck rather than the latter gentleman who was Prime Minister.

Another reason to regret Poland's victory was Konoe's inability to speak Polish, in spite of three years of determined effort to learn the language of Europe's newest Great Power. Konoe spoke Japanese and English, while Beck spoke Polish, French and German. Hence, the need for translators to be present.

After the necessary social preliminaries between the two men, Beck expressed his admiration for the Zeros he had seen fly overhead during the welcoming festivities. This, Konoe knew, was Beck's way of nudging the conversation towards business. It was (judging as best he could from the translation of Beck's comment), a moderately subtle effort, which was certainly to be expected from a former diplomat like Beck.

Konoe responded with thanks and an appropriately humble suggestion that the fruits of Japanese military engineering were only a trifle compared to the skilled product of Europe's impressively modern production system. It was an interesting mental exercise to listen to his flowery comments as they were translated into Polish by Pan Beck's aide, Colonel Kowalewski. When the meeting ended he would have to ask his own translator how well Kowalewski had succeeded in conveying the sarcastic overtones of his paean to Western technological superiority.
After a brief pause, Beck responded by asking that Konoe forgive him for having the temerity to contradict his host, for in his opinion the Zero was easily the equal of anything Europe had to offer, and his own country would find its own air force immeasurably improved by the addition of several squadrons of Zeros.

After a few more translated volleys between the two men in which Konoe insisted that the Poles could do far better, and Beck insisted that nevertheless the Poles would be interested in acquiring some Zeros, Konoe finally agreed that regardless of the aircraft's intrinsic merits, Japan's economy would be well served by the export of a hundred or so to Poland. The final terms of the sale could be worked out at a later date by the relevant members of the two nations' trade delegations.

Beck expressed his pleasure at this sign of the fruitfulness of Japanese-Polish cooperation, and wondered whether there might not be other areas where the two nations could assist each other. This, Konoe knew, was Beck's way of broaching the chief item in his agenda. Beck was about to reveal to Konoe the primary reason for his visit to Japan. Konoe responded with cautious approval of the idea, and inquired whether his guest had any specific proposals in mind.

Pan Beck did indeed have a specific proposal in mind; it had been inspired, he said, by the recent incidents between the Red Army and the Kwantung Army in the Manchukuo Protectorate.

As Konoe had suspected, Beck's proposal was related to the recent border clashes between Japan's forces and those of the USSR. The Japanese Army was currently attempting to restore order to China. Its efforts, unfortunately, were being hampered by the actions of a number of Chinese factionalists, most notably Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung. It had become clear to the leaders of Japan's mission in China that at least one and possibly both of these factionalists were receiving covert assistance from the Soviet Union. Diplomatic overtures to the Soviets having proven ineffective, the mission leaders had attempted to halt the Soviets' interference by more direct means. Unfortunately, the effort had not been entirely successful. Konoe encouraged Beck to elaborate upon his proposal.

It stood to reason, said Beck, that in the course of those incidents the Japanese would have gained considerable practical intelligence concerning Soviet military forces; intelligence which no other nation possessed. Any other nations which might in the foreseeable future have to engage the Soviets militarily would find such intelligence invaluable.

Konoe agreed with Beck that such intelligence concerning Soviet military capabilities would indeed prove valuable to those nations which, like Japan, shared a common border with the USSR. However...

Here Konoe allowed himself a considerable pause, as though to marshall his thoughts. Beck displayed no signs of impatience during this interval. His expression indicated polite attention. Konoe approved. Beck was indeed proving to be a seasoned diplomat.

It should be understood, Konoe continued at last, that Japan's chief concern was and always had been China. China was Japan's natural hinterland. The whole of Japan's foreign policy ultimately revolved around China. Any state that interfered with Japan's developing relations with China would be viewed with disfavor. This was currently the case with the Soviet Union. However, if the Soviet Union were to cease such interference, Japan would cease to view the Soviet Union with disfavor. For that reason, it would not be in Japan's best interest to commit itself to any permanent anti-Soviet alliance. Any associations it did take part in with respect to the Soviet Union would have to be conditional on the Soviet Union's own actions with respect to Japan's mission in China.

By the same token, responded Beck, would it be fair to say that any state that assisted Japan's developing relations with China would be viewed with favor?

Konoe agreed that it would indeed be fair to say so.

In that case, said Beck, I do indeed have a specific proposal to assist Japan. The Polish Army includes a cryptanalysis section which is, if I may say so, second to none. The only limitation they face is our ability to intercept foreign transmissions. I propose that we be allowed to set up listening posts along the whole of the Soviet-Manchukuo border. This will double the amount of traffic we are able to intercept from the Soviet Union. In return, all of the intelligence we acquire will be passed along to your own military forces. I need not point out how useful such intelligence would be in your efforts to eliminate Soviet "interference" in China.

Konoe considered Beck's proposal. The Poles were indeed highly regarded for their code-breaking expertise. If the Kwantung Army could intercept Soviet contraband and keep it out of Chinese hands, pacification efforts in China would be significantly improved.

And the clock was ticking. The United States had, for whatever inexplicible reason, demonstrated its opposition to Japan's Chinese mission, and there was growing sentiment in the Army and Navy on the need to launch an offensive operation against the Americans. Although the warmonger Roosevelt would be leaving office soon, there was no guarantee that his successor would be any less belligerent.

Konoe knew that Japan would inevitably lose a war with the Americans, no matter what the Generals and Admirals said. Japan's only hope for survival lay in bringing the Chinese operation to a successful conclusion before the military convinced itself that it had to strike against America.

At last Konoe spoke. I believe that your proposal merits serious consideration. I will of course have to consult with my cabinet colleagues before I can give you a definite answer, but I foresee no insurmountable problems.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wishes do come true!

My wish has been granted:

1st Session

H. J. RES. 5

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.

January 6, 2009
Mr. SERRANO introduced the following joint resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification:


`The twenty-second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.'.

The Mr. Serrano who introduced House Joint Resolution 5 is Representative José E. Serrano, a Democrat who represents New York's 16th representative district (basically the southwestern part of the Bronx). If you like the idea of repealing the 22nd amendment (and I've become a big fan of the idea recently), go ahead and contact Mr. Serrano and let him know what a good idea you think it is. Contact your own representative and tell him you'd like him to co-sponsor H. J. RES. 5. You might even give Steny Hoyer a buzz and let him know that since he thought this was a good idea four years ago, he'll certainly want to give it his full support now.

The Donut Conspiracy

Back in May, America was still in the midst of the epic nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, so you might have missed this item. Basically, Dunkin Donuts ran an online ad with Rachael Ray wearing a black-and-white patterned scarf, and wingnut blogger Michelle Malkin, aka Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage, decided that the scarf was actually a Yassir Arafat-style keffiyah, and that Ray and DD were expressing solidarity with Islamic terrorism. Needless to say, DD quickly yanked the ad and apologized for running it.

Now comes word that anti-abortion crazies at the American Life League are up in arms about Krispy Kreme's decision to offer one free donut per customer to celebrate Barack Obama's inauguration. Clearly, the ALL believes, Krispy Kreme's use of the phrase "freedom of choice" is nothing less than a coded message of solidarity with the Godless baby-killers of the pro-choice movement. "A misconstrued concept of 'choice' has killed over 50 million preborn children since Jan. 22, 1973," says ALL president Judie Brown. "Does Krispy Kreme really want their free doughnuts to celebrate this 'freedom.' We challenge Krispy Kreme doughnuts to reaffirm their commitment to true freedom – to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – and to separate themselves and their doughnuts from our great American shame"

Now, one example of donut-centered anti-Americanism might be shrugged off, but two? Is it possible that what we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg? Is there a plot afoot to introduce some sort of mind control potion into America's donut supply? Could America's enemies intend to use tainted donuts to brainwash our nation's law enforcement officers? Is this just the first step in a diabolical plan to take over America and leave us under the iron heel of a deadly Islamo-abortionist dictatorship?

Some may say that this is mere idle speculation, but as Peggy Noonan reminds us, it would be irresponsible not to speculate.

DBTL 5: St. Elsewhere

By the terms of Poland's first postwar Constitution, ratified on 17 March 1921, the President was chosen by the two houses of the Polish legislature, meeting jointly as a National Assembly. The decision to choose the President this way, rather than through direct popular election, was the result of two circumstances: first, the universal expectation in Poland that Jósef Piłsudski would be chosen as President; and second, the fact that the 1921 Constitution was written by Piłsudski's political enemies. These two circumstances also explain why the post of President was made largely ceremonial and most of the power in the government was vested in the lower legislative house, the Sejm.

As it turned out, Piłsudski was not interested in serving as Poland's President, describing the office as a "gilded cage". When the National Assembly met for the first time on 9 December 1922 to elect a president, there were five candidates, the top two being Count Maurycy Zamojski, a wealthy member of the National Democrats (and thus an enemy of Piłsudski), and Gabriel Narutowicz, a close friend of Piłsudski.

Zamojski led in the first round of balloting, but failed to gain the necessary majority. The contest remained deadlocked through three more rounds of balloting. Finally, on the fifth ballot, the "minorities" parties, those representing Poland's Lithuanian, German, Ukrainian and Jewish minorities, sided with Narutowicz, giving him a 289 to 227 victory over Zamojski.

The National Democrats and their right-wing allies were furious that Narutowicz had been elected with the support of the non-Polish nationalities parties. They began denouncing him as "Narutowicz, President of the Jews", and most of the deputies and senators from the Right refused to attend Narutowicz's inauguration on the 11th. Five days later, when Narutowicz was attending the official opening of the annual winter exhibition of paintings at Warsaw's Palace of Fine Arts, he was assassinated by a right-wing painter, art professor and critic named Eligiusz Niewiadomski.

During Niewiadomski's murder trial and execution, he was acclaimed by the Right as a national hero. Niewiadomski's funeral was made into a political event, complete with speeches and flags, and his grave became a nationalist shrine. Over the course of the next few months, over 300 babies baptised in Warsaw were given the uncommon name Eligiusz.

In 1937, following the liberation of the German concentration camps where Ernst Röhm's New National movement had murdered seventy thousand people, including fifty thousand Jews, the Polish Right suffered a schism. Efforts by the leadership of the National Democrats to condemn anti-Semitism led to the exodus of some forty percent of the party's membership. These breakaway National Democrats joined with the Falanga, the Polish fascists, to form a new anti-Semitic party called the National Socialists.

The year 1941 saw the sudden appearance in Poland's various universities of a group of freshmen students named Eligiusz. These students almost invariably held extreme nationalist political views, generally with a strong anti-Semitic component, and it wasn't too long before all the major universities in Poland had informal "Eligiusz Clubs". When Bolesław Piasecki, "Duce" of the National Socialists, learned of these informal campus groups, he proceded to organize them into a national collegiate "Society of St. Eligius" which served as a recruitment arm for the radical Right.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Protecting society by strip-searching schoolgirls

The War Against Some Drugs was dealt a serious blow recently when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the parents of Savana Redding were entitled to sue school officials in Safford, Arizona. Adam Liptak of the New York Times has the details.

Back in 2003, an eight-grade student was found with a couple of ibuprofin, which violated the school's zero-tolerance-for-any-drugs-whatsoever policy. This student said she got the pills from Redding, which prompted school officials to search her belongings, then order her to strip down to bra and panties. Redding was clean -- apparently!

Redding's mother, being an unpatriotic no-good troublemaker, sued the school officials who strip-searched her. The trial judge sensibly ruled that school officials were immune from lawsuits. When Redding's mother appealed the decision to a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, they upheld the judge's ruling, but an appeal to the full Court of Appeals resulted in a reversal of the judge's decision by a bare (so to speak) 6-5 majority, so that the assistant principal who ordered the strip search could indeed be sued.

Needless to say, the school district appealed that ruling, insisting that requiring “probable cause for some searches in the school setting that may be deemed more intrusive” created “a roadblock to the type of swift and effective response that is too often needed to protect the very safety of students, particularly from the threats posed by drugs and weapons.” In other words, if we're not allowed to strip-search thirteen-year-old girls to look for ibuprofin, our schools will become war zones overrun with gun-toting drug dealers. On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting from the Court of Appeals ruling, stated that “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.” He added, “I would find this search constitutional,” he wrote, “and would certainly forgive the Safford officials’ mistake as reasonable.”

Let's hear it for Judge Hawkins! Subjecting a thirteen-year-old girl to the humiliation and degradation of a strip-search is a small price to pay to protect our schools from the deadly scourge of over-the-counter medication. I think I can state with some confidence that those towering legal minds that make up the Republican majority in the US Supreme Court will see things the same way.

Yeah, xenophobia

Over the course of the last election cycle, Republicans were making a great big to-do over illegal immigration. "They're criminals," the Republicans cried! "They're diseased! They're freeloaders!" They insisted that it wasn't all immigrants they were directing their ire against, only illegal ones. But if you listened for any length of time, they seemed to forget about the "illegal" part and just rant on and on about immigrants. Nevertheless, they always insisted that they were motivated by concern for the law, or public health, or whatever, and not just by plain old-fashioned xenophobia.

Then you hear about something like this. Liberal blogger Oliver Willis listens to Rush Limbaugh interviewing Ann Coulter so we don't have to, and picks up this tidbit from Ann the Man:

COULTER: …What I think is interesting about Soros; and Marcos, whatever his name is, of Daily Kos; and Arianna Huffington are, you know, basically the three unofficial spokesmen of the Democratic Party and they all speak in foreign accents of their foreign upbringings. Can’t you wait a few generations? Let your grandkids do the America bashing, you know, not right away. You can barely understand them.

And there you have it, folks: good, old-fashioned nativist xenophobia from one of the leading intellectual lights (if you'll forgive the oxymoron) of the conservative movement. It really is all about fear of the Other with these people. Mind you, the Republican Party has always had a strong nativist streak going on, dating back to the 1850s when they absorbed the xenophobic Know Nothings. In a sense, then, the GOP is returning to its roots, such as they are. At the same time, though, the original GOP included a large contingent of abolitionists, and started out championing the rights of African Americans. They gave that up once and for all when Nixon instituted his Southern Strategy of pandering to white racists, and the recent revival of nativism marks the effective end of Karl Rove's initially successful efforts to attract Latinos. All the GOP has left now are a dwindling pool of white bigots and a (somewhat overlapping) pool of white Christian fundamentalists, both based in the former Confederacy.

Interestingly, Ann the Man made a dumbass mistake (surprise, surprise) in the midst of her rant. It's true that Soros and Huffington did indeed immigrate from their native countries as adults, and do indeed speak English with foreign accents. Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga, on the other hand, was born in Chicago and sounds just as American as Ann the Man, if not more so. It's true that Kos' father and mother are both immigrants (from Greece and El Salvador, respectively), and that he spent several years of his childhood in El Salvador before the family moved back to the United States when he was nine. Ann the Man probably chose to group him together with Soros and Huffington because his name sounds foreign and she heard somewhere about him growing up in another country. So even though she didn't know whether he had a foreign accent, she assumed he did, and wound up sounding ignorant as well as vile.

Friday, January 16, 2009

DBTL 4: The Armored Dream

Warsaw, Poland
1 September 1939

The President of Poland and his cabinet generally met once a week, at 10 AM Friday morning. The event was preceded by a less formal meeting two hours earlier by the President, Prime Minister and War Minister, during which all of the actual business was conducted.

On Friday, 1 September 1939, War Minister Stanisław Skwarczyński began the earlier meeting by telling his two colleagues about a dream he had had that morning. "I was standing near the old frontier with Germany, a few miles west of Poznan. Nothing very remarkable, just an open field with some trees scattered across it. Until the tanks came into view." He used the German panzers rather than the Polish pancers.

"Panzers?" said President Walery Sławek. "As in German tanks?"

Skwarczyński nodded. "These were very definitely German tanks. And not just one or two. There were at least a dozen in view, rolling across the field, followed by squads of infantry."

Prime Minister Jósef Beck said, "I don't think the Germans had a dozen tanks altogether when they attacked us three years ago."

"These were nothing like Röhm's tanks," said Skwarczyński. "These were state-of-the-art, easily as good as anything the French have."

The other two men were suitably impressed. It was generally acknowledged that the French had the most highly mechanized army in the world.

"In the dream," Skwarczyński continued, "I was able to see past the field for many miles, all along the old German border, and everywhere I looked, I saw the German panzers. I could see aircraft overhead as well, also German, also state-of-the-art. Whenever the panzers met our men, the men either broke and ran, or stayed and died or were captured. The panzers were unstoppable. The aircraft were able to bomb our cities practically unopposed."

There was silence for a moment after Skwarczyński finished, then Sławek said, "This is certainly an interesting dream, but I for one don't see how it could come about."

"I've been giving the matter some thought since I woke up," said Skwarczyński. "If Röhm had embarked on a rearmament program as soon as he came to power, and had not invaded three years ago, then the forces at his command now would be similar to those I saw in my dream."

"Of course," said Beck, "Röhm couldn't embark on any rearmament program then, as he hadn't gained control over the German army at that point. Building up the strength of the regular army would have been building up the strength of a rival power."

"Not to mention," said Sławek, "the economic turmoil that his policies provoked. Röhm was lucky to have enough mess kits for his army, never mind tanks and planes."

"I was able to comfort myself with similar logic," said Skwarczyński, "until a thought occurred to me. What if those panzers have red stars decorating them rather than black crosses?"

Beck sniffed. "We whipped those red puppies twenty years ago, and we can do it again today."

"Can we?" wondered Skwarczyński. "Twenty years ago, Russia was suffering from the effects of six years of invasion, revolution and civil war. The Russia we face has had two decades to recover from those experiences. Also, the Red Army was still in its infancy. All they could send against us was infantry and cavalry. They had no artillery to speak of, few aircraft, and no tanks at all. But now..."

"Yes?" said Sławek.

Skwarczyński shrugged. "We just don't know. Stalin is fanatical about maintaining security. He kills hundreds of people every year on suspicion of espionage. Naturally, this makes it almost impossible for us to infiltrate any real spies into Russia. For all we know, the Red Army could be in no better shape than it was twenty years ago. Or it could be as highly mechanized as the French army, and three times the size. We won't really know until he uses it against somebody. In the meantime, it would be prudent for us to assume the latter possibility, and plan accordingly."

"The Marshal," said Sławek, by which of course he meant Marshal Piłsudski, "often expressed his concern over the need to modernize the army and the air force. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough money. We already spend a third of the government's revenue on military appropriations just to maintain what we've got."

"That was before the war," Skwarczyński pointed out. "Now we've got the resources of our German conquests to draw upon. I propose that we do so. I also believe that we should investigate the possibility of developing new weapons for ourselves. The British have been experimenting with jet aircraft, and I think we should start our own experimental program. And what was the name of that German fellow who was here in Warsaw last month, the one with the rockets?"

"Von Braun," said Beck.

"That's him," said Skwarczyński. "We may want to consider funding his proposals as well. The Marshal always believed that Russia was and always would be our greatest enemy. The Russians have never reconciled themselves to our independence. It is not a question of whether they will attack us, only of when. When they do, I want Poland to be ready to meet them."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No peak wingnut

Back on 13 October, John Cole of the blog Balloon Juice proposed the theory of Peak Wingnut:

Sure, there is still lots going on- the Obama smears have been fast and furious, and there are lots of current attempts to mainstream nonsense (a solid example would be Jonah’s market analysis), but it all seems so yesterday. These days, there seem to be more than enough outlets to rebut the bullshit, the media is tired of being treated like morons, and the Democrats seem for once ready and itching for a fight. But most of all, the attempts just seem so feeble.

It didn't last long. Cole made his original post at 9:05 PM. At 9:12 a commenter cited a post by Erick "the Dim" Erickson at RedState claiming that a ten-year-old Obama had "had an affair" with a pedophile, and Cole quickly retracted his theory:

Ignore all my questions from above- wingnut is a renewable resource. Peak Wingnut was the shortest lived “theory” ever.

Cole's mistake was a simple one: he was using the wrong metaphor to describe wingnuttery. Right-wing craziness is not a mountain that is being climbed. Right-wing craziness is a black hole into which conservatism is descending. Just as there is no "bottom" to a black hole, so there is no lower limit beyond which conservatism cannot sink. The craziness will become more and more densely compacted until finally there will only be a single right-winger (possibly Jonah Goldberg) gibbering in a padded room as his mind enters an exponentially expanding continuum of liberal-bashing lunacy.

DBTL 3: 1939 - Where are they now?

It's the morning of 1 September 1939 in the Drowned Baby Timeline.

ADOLF HITLER has been dead for fifty years, having died shortly after his birth.

JOSEF KIEMENS PILSUDSKI has been dead for a year and a half. His defeat of the invading Brownshirt army from Germany was his last service for the nation he helped recreate.

STANISLAW SKWARCZYNSKI has been First Marshal of the Polish Army, Minister of War, and Inspector General of the Armed Forces for almost two years. As the foremost hero of the German War and Piłsudski's hand-picked successor as "uncrowned King of Poland", Skwarczyński has greater control over the Polish government than either President WALERY SLAWEK or Prime Minister JOSEF BECK.

ERNST ROHM, ex-Führer of Germany, has been dead for two years, having committed suicide just before the fall of Berlin to the Polish Army on 28 June 1937.

REINHARD HEYDRICH has been dead for two years. Head of Röhm's Ministry of Security, he committed suicide after being captured by the Polish Army on 29 June 1937.

HORST WESSEL has been dead for two years. Commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, he was executed by Piłsudski on 8 July 1937.

HEINRICH HIMMLER has been dead for five years. Appointed Minister of Agriculture by Röhm, Himmler became involved in a bureaucratic turf war with Security Minister Heydrich, and was arrested and executed for treason in 1934.

JOSEPH GOEBBELS has been dead for just under seven years, a victim of Ernst Röhm's initial purge after gaining power in October 1932.

STANLEY BALDWIN is Prime Minister of Great Britain. His successful prosecution of the Danzig War against Germany has made him the most popular PM of the century. However, he has tired of public life, and plans to step down before the year is out. His most likely successor is his Chancellor of the Exchequer, NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN.

BENITO MUSSOLINI is Duce of Italy. Events in Germany following the Röhm Coup forced him to postpone his planned invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Despite his declaration of war on Germany in April 1937, Mussolini has been unable to increase Italy's influence in Europe. His current timetable calls for the invasion of Ethiopia to begin on 1 February 1940.

FRANCISCO FRANCO is living in exile in Buenos Aires, having fled Spain following his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Republican government in 1936.

JOSEF STALIN is General Secretary of the CPSU. He deeply regrets that Röhm's invasion of Poland occurred before he had finished purging the Red Army of unreliable elements. Poland's alliances with Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Romania have complicated his plans to restore the territorial integrity of the former Russian Empire.

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT is President of the United States. He has started to make plans for his retirement in January 1941.

EDWARD ALBERT CHRISTIAN GEORGE ANDREW PATRICK DAVID WINDSOR was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (and Emperor of India) for a year and a half. Wartime press censorship enabled him to keep his relationship with WALLIS SIMPSON secret until her divorce became final in June 1937, when he announced his engagement to her. Encountering stiff resistance from his cabinet ministers but determined to marry her, Edward finally abdicated from his throne on 10 December 1937, and was succeeded by his brother ALBERT FREDERICK ARTHUR GEORGE WINDSOR, who now reigns as George VI. Edward, now Duke of Windsor, moved to France, where he married Wallis on 3 March 1938.

LEON BLUM has been Premier of France since 2 May 1936. His successful prosecution of the Danzig War against Germany has enabled him to continue his pursuit of social reform.

PIERRE LAVAL is Military Governor of the French Zone of Occupation. His task for the next five years will be to prepare southern Germany for statehood as the Republic of Bavaria. He has already begun intriguing to have himself named President of Bavaria.

WINSTON CHURCHILL is Military Governor of the British Zone of Occupation. His task for the next five years will be to prepare northwestern Germany for statehood as the Republic of Hanover. He is rather surprised by the number of the Zone's inhabitants who wish to form a monarchy under King George's brother, the Duke of Windsor.

Ex-Kaisar FRIEDRICH WILHELM VIKTOR ALBERT VON PREUSSEN of the House of Hohenzollern still in exile in the Netherlands. He too is surprised by the popularity of his young cousin Edward in the British Zone, and dismayed as well. He hadn't suspected the Hohenzollerns were that unpopular.

WERNER KARL HEISENBERG is the director of the recently renamed Maria Sklodowska Institute in Berlin. Together with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, he is preparing a paper on the mechanics of uranium fission.

LISE MEITNER has been dead for four years, a victim of the Dachau concentration camp. Her arrest in 1933 caused a permanent diplomatic rift between Germany and Austria.

ENGELBERT DOLLFUSS has been Chancellor of Austria since 1932. An attempt on his life in 1933 by German agents led to a military alliance between Austria and Italy. Although he declared war on Germany at the same time as Mussolini, they were unable to mobilize their military forces in time to participate in the war.

ENRICO FERMI is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Rome. He occasionally correponds with his colleagues LEO SZILARD in Budapest and ALBERT EINSTEIN in Princeton, New Jersey.

HERMANN GOERING, ex-fighter pilot and widower of the Baroness CARIN VON ROSEN, lives in Los Angeles with his second wife, INGRID BERGMAN.

KONRAD ADENAUER survived a three year stay in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and has regained his old position as Mayor of Cologne.

KAROL JOSEF WOJTILA, inspired by his country's victory over the Germans, has chosen to follow in his father's footsteps and enlist in the Polish Army.

ALBERT SPEER is an architect in Berlin.

GELI RAUBAL is a housewife in Vienna.

ANNELIES MARIE FRANK has been living in Amsterdam since her father moved the family there from Frankfurt am Main in 1933.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Legislative courage

I know I'm a few days late in talking about this, but I have to say how much I admire the Illinois House of Representatives for voting to impeach Governor Rod Bladojevich. I know I'd be reluctant to face the wrath of whatever rabid beast that is nesting on Blago's head. It can't be easy for the legislators to know that at any time Blago could sic that creature on them. Unless, of course, they take the precaution of having armed bodyguards on hand toting guns loaded with silver bullets.

DBTL 2: Passing the Torch

Warsaw, Poland
22 September 1937

General Stanisław Skwarczyński hadn't expected the invitation (which actually amounted to an order, of course) to appear at the Belvedere Palace for an interview with First Marshal Jósef Piłsudski. It was rumored within the Polish Army that Marshal Piłsudski was declining in health, but Skwarczyński hadn't paid much attention to the rumors. After all, how could Marshal Piłsudski be dying? The Marshal was eternal.

Skwarczyński had been to the Marshal's private office on a number of previous occasions, and he found it the same as always, stark and severe. A large plain desk covered with a disorganized mess of papers and a half-finished game of solitaire, a few chairs, some filing cabinets, and the red-and-white Polish flag standing in the corner.

Piłsudski himself, however, was shockingly different. Still in his plain Army uniform, but now hunched over the desk, his hands shaking, his face pale and drawn. It took a moment for Skwarczyński to recover from his surprise, come to attention and salute.

Piłsudski motioned for Skwarczyński to sit down. "No need to stand on formality, my child. I have important things to tell you, and you'll probably wish to be seated when you hear them."

Relief warred with unease within Skwarczyński's breast as he sat. When the Marshal addressed you as "my child" it was a sign that he was in a good mood. And his voice was as strong as ever. But Piłsudski's words struck Skwarczyński as ominous. Unwillingly, he remembered again the rumors about the Marshal's health.

Piłsudski's next words confirmed Skwarczyński's worst fears. "My child, I am dying."

Without conscious thought, Skwarczyński rose to his feet. "Marshal, no!"

Piłsudski motioned Skwarczyński back to his seat. "I'm afraid so. Doctor Sławoj tells me it is a cancer, and incurable. He gives me no more than six months to live."

Skwarczyński, who had led men into battle as recently as a year ago, found himself weeping uncontrollably. "Forgive me, Marshal," he muttered.

"No, no, my friend, go ahead," said Piłsudski. "It is a fitting tribute. And best to shed your tears now, for you will have to face the future with clear eyes. When I am gone, you must lead Poland in my place."

"I, Marshal?" said Skwarczyński, stunned.

"You, my child. There can be no other. The whole nation honors you for your bravery and heroism against the Brownshirts."

Skwarczyński had never quite understood the public fuss that had been made over his role in the war. True, he had led the cavalry charge that had turned back the Brownshirt attack during the Battle of Warsaw. But he had simply been following the Marshal's orders. It was equally true that he had broken through the German siege lines at Berlin, and had stormed the Reichstag building, but again he had simply been doing his duty as a soldier in the Polish Army. And finally, it was true that he had personally planted the Polish flag atop the Brandenburg Gate, a bit of grandstanding which, in retrospect, he found rather embarrassing. But that had been nothing; less than nothing. He still couldn't bear to look at the photograph that had been taken of the event.

"And more important," Piłsudski continued, "you've seen the camps."

Skwarczyński didn't need to ask which camps the Marshal was talking about. He meant the concentration camps that the Brownshirts had set up in Germany. Skwarczyński himself had liberated the Sachsenhausen camp and taken its Commandant, Horst Wessel, prisoner. With his own eyes, he had seen the hideous conditions the inmates had been subjected to, the walking skeletons they had been reduced to, the piles of corpses that they were fated to join. And he had seen the yellow Stars of David sewn onto the prisoners' tattered uniforms. A lifetime of anti-Semitism had died that day. Sachsenhausen had changed him.

"I've always said," the Marshal stated, "that anti-Semitism has no place in a great nation. I've spent the last nineteen years fighting to keep Dmowski and his National Democrat minions from turning Poland into another Imperial Russia. When I am gone, you must take up that fight."

"How can I?" said Skwarczyński. "I'm only a soldier."

"No, my child, you are more than that. You have become the nation's idol. Tomorrow, I will announce that I am resigning as War Minister and Inspector General of the Army, and I shall recommend you for my replacement."

After a time, Skwarczyński said, "Even so, the National Democrats are strong, and determined."

The Marshal chuckled. "Not as strong and determined as they were six months ago. You are not the only man who has been changed by the camps. Many within the National Democrats have found the pictures from the camps disturbing. There is a growing movement within their ranks to disavow anti-Semitism. The National Democratic Party is splitting in two. When it happens, you must be ready to pick up the pieces. The Peasant Party will follow anyone who promises them land, and we now have all the land we need in Germany." Piłsudski chuckled again. "Röhm did all the hard work of breaking up the Junkers' estates, and we get to enjoy the spoils. An unexpected gift from our enemy."

A coughing fit now consumed the Marshal for several seconds, and Skwarczyński sat paralyzed, uncertain what to do. Could Poland's savior being dying even now? But the fit passed, and Piłsudski was able to resume his talk.

"You will have one more set of allies in your task," he said. "The German people themselves."

"What do you mean?"

There was a gleam in the Marshal's eye as he explained. "The National Democrats have been unswerving in their demands. They want the outright annexation of the lands we have conquered in Germany, and I intend to give it to them. Of course," he added, "they haven't yet realized that with the land will come the people living on it. Fifteen million Germans will suddenly become part of the Polish nation. A full third of the population. The National Democrats don't know it, but they've just made the Poles a minority in their own country."

The Marshal's eyes were no longer on Skwarczyński. "All along, I've said that Poland should be a federation. A commonwealth, as it was in the great old days. Now, there is no choice. We cannot subjugate the Germans, and we cannot expel them. We have no choice but to live with them on equal terms. And where the Germans go, the other minorities, the Ukranians and Lithuanians and Jews, will follow. And you must show them the way." With a sudden return to focus, Skwarczyński found himself pinned by the Marshal's gaze. "You, Marshal Skwarczyński! You must finish the task that I have begun! It is my final command to you. Will you obey?"

"Marshal, I will!" Skwarczyński exclaimed.

"Very good, my child, very good. Now go. I must prepare for my speech tomorrow." With one last chuckle, the Marshal added, "And so must you."

Stupid is home for the winter

Wintertime is upon us once again, which means the return of traditional winter activities like sledding, ice skating, and hypothermia. And global warming denial.

Wintertime is the special time of the year when right-wing dumbasses look around them at the falling snow and say, "Well, lookee here! It's cold! I guess that means there ain't no global warmin' goin' on after all! Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!"

And right on time, here's right-wing dumbass John "Assrocket" Hinderaker to tell us, "Well, lookee here! It's cold! I guess that means there ain't no global warmin' goin' on after all! Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!"

(Hat tip to Sadly, No!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Drowned Baby Timeline, Part 1

[The following is an alternate timeline that I first posted to the soc.history.what-if newsgroup on January 22, 2001. The subject matter was suggested by my wife. I re-post it here to preserve it for posterity.]

Braunau-am-Inn, Austria-Hungary
20 April 1889

Klara Pölzl Hitler is shocked and dismayed to learn that her newborn child Adolf has accidentally drowned while being washed by the midwife. Klara has now lost a total of four children in infancy. She suffers a mental breakdown, becomes terminally depressed, and dies a month after baby Adolf.

Munich, Germany
12 September 1919

Anton Drexler, founder of the German Workers Party, is sitting at a party meeting, listening to one speaker after another drone on and on. What the party needs, he figures, is someone with the gift of gab, someone they can use to mobilize mass support. Drexler looks around the room at the two dozen or so party members he has been able to attract, and sighs. While he's wishing, he might as well wish for the moon. He's just as likely to get it.

Berlin, Germany
2 February 1932

Heinrich Bruening, leader of Germany's third-largest political party, the Catholic Center, meets with an ambitious army officer named Kurt von Schleicher. Schleicher has a proposal for Bruening. Everyone, Schleicher explains, expects Chancellor Alfred Hugenberg, leader of the German National Party, to be elected President in the upcoming election on 13 March. However, Schleicher has learned from a high-ranking member of the German National Party named Ernst Röhm that there is growing dissatisfaction with Hugenberg within the radical wing of the party. Gregor Strasser, the leading figure among the radicals, would like to depose Hugenberg as party leader, but knows he doesn't have enough support. Schleicher would like to arrange a meeting between Strasser and Bruening to discuss the possibility of Strasser leading the radicals out of the German National Party and into the Catholic Center Party. With their support, Bruening will be able to win the Presidency, and Strasser can become Chancellor of a new Catholic Center government.

It sounds feasible, Bruening says. Go ahead and arrange the meeting.

Schleicher leaves Bruening with a spring in his step. He has no intention of letting Gregor Strasser become Chancellor of Germany, but there's no need to let either Strasser or Bruening know that at this point. Schleicher has already arranged for separate meetings with Röhm and with Strasser's deputy Joseph Goebbels. There are many webs yet to be spun today.

Berlin, Germany
8 May 1932

Alfred Hugenberg, newly-elected President of the German Republic, is uneasy about his upcoming meeting with Kurt von Schleicher. He has heard any number of rumors about Schleicher's role in the bizarre series of betrayals and double-crosses that attended his election. The plans he had for the composition of his government are in disarray. Strasser is in disgrace, Ernst Röhm now heads a breakaway faction of the German National Party, and Joseph Goebbels keeps urging him to arrange a coalition government with Heinrich Bruening's Catholic Center Party.

When Schleicher arrives, he is accompanied by another man. Herr President, says Schleicher, I would like to introduce you to your next Chancellor. His name is Franz von Papen....

Berlin, Germany
13 August 1932

President Alfred Hugenberg stares out of the window of his office. From where he is standing, he can see at least half a dozen plumes of smoke rising from burning buildings. Behind him he hears the voice of his Chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher.

Herr President, says Schleicher, we must act now. Germany is in chaos, Röhm's bully boys have turned Berlin into a battleground, and the Communists are on the verge of open revolution. You have no choice. You must invoke Article 48 of the Constitution and grant the government dictatorial powers. It is the only way to take control of the situation.

President Hugenberg continues to face the window. Although the idea fills him with foreboding, he fears that Schleicher is right. He has no choice.

Berlin, Germany
8 October 1932

Ernst Röhm, Führer of the New National Party, nods in satisfaction as his men drag the bodies of Alfred Hugenberg and Kurt von Schleicher out of the President's office. From outside the shattered window, he can hear his men chanting, Haut'se doch zusammen, haut'se doch zusammen! Diese gotverdammte Juden Republik! Let's smash it up, let's smash it up! That goddammed Jew republic!

Now, thought Röhm, we can cleanse the Fatherland of the Jews that stain it.

Berlin, Germany
30 June 1937

Marshal Jósef Piłsudski walks through the burned-out shell of the Reichstag building. He is not looking forward to the upcoming meeting with his French and British counterparts at Potsdam. They would be urging lenience in dealing with the defeated Germans, and he is in no mood to listen. His troops, many of them Jewish, have brought back photographs from the concentration camps. Despite all he has seen in the course of an eventful life, Piłsudski has been sickened. Perhaps he could arrange tours of the camps for the British and French delegations. That might make them see reason.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Evil Minions

Here's a question that hasn't received sufficient consideration: where do Diabolical Masterminds get their Evil Minions from? In the Kim Possible series it was suggested that they come from a company called Henchco, a temp agency that hires out Evil Minions. But, really, that's just moving the problem back a step, because then the obvious question becomes: where does Henchco find them?

The answer is obvious once you consider the similar question of where professional football teams get their players. The answer, of course, is that they recruit them from college football teams.

What happens, though, to college football players who aren't drafted into the NFL? After all, in four years of college, all they've really learned is how to play football. Their employment prospects are extremely limited. That makes them the perfect source for Evil Minions. After all, being a football player means you have to be big, strong, tough, and willing to obey orders. And after spending four years laboring under your typical college football coach, how much worse can working for a Diabolical Mastermind be?

This also explains why you never hear about Diabolical Masterminds hatching plots involving professional football. If the Evil Minions find themselves running into their former teammates, there's bound to be some risk of a conflict of interest, and what Diabolical Mastermind wants that kind of trouble?

So, a word of encouragement to student athletes across America: if you don't get picked during draft season, don't worry. You can always go to work for Hank Scorpio.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Those were the days, my friends

Read in the news that the unemployement rate hit 7.2% last month, which is the highest it's been since January 1993.

January 1993. What is it about that month that gives me a deva vu feeling?

Oh, yeah, that's the last time we had a Republican president.

A subtle pattern begins to emerge . . .

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fixing the Saxbe Fix

Say, as long as we're amending the Constitution, how about doing something about the Saxbe Fix?

Back in 1787, when the Constitutional Convention was monkeying up our current form of government, Robert Yates had a bright idea: why not make it unconstitutional for legislators to hold government offices? One of the main sources of corruption within Britain's parliamentary form of government at the time was that the Crown would create salaried government positions (or "places" as they were known), and award them to MPs as a way to bribe them into voting the Crown's way. To prevent the United States Congress from being similarly corrupted with "placemen", Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution stated:

no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

Yates also proposed that members of Congress also be barred from holding appointed offices for a year after leaving Congress, but Alexander Hamilton opposed this. James Madison finally came up with a compromise: members of Congress could not be appointed to offices that were created or augmented while they were serving in Congress until one year after they left Congress. During the debate that followed, "augmented" was defined as an increase in the position's emoluments (salary, fees, etc.) and the one year time limit was dropped, so the full clause read:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time: and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

The effect of these changes was to make it unconstitutional for a member of Congress to be appointed to any office that underwent a salary increase while he was serving in Congress. Furthermore, even if the member resigned from Congress, he was still barred from appointment to that office for as long as his term would have lasted.

Thus, for instance, when Barack Obama wanted to appoint Senator Hillary Clinton to the office of Secretary of State, he couldn't, because the salary for the Secretary of State was increased while Clinton was a senator, so she was barred from holding the office until after her term as senator ran out in January 2013.

President William Howard Taft had run into this same problem in February 1909 after he nominated Senator Philander C. Knox for Secretary of State. Knox had been elected in 1904, so his term would run until March 3, 1911. Meanwhile, in 1908 Congress had passed legislation increasing the salary of the cabinet from $8,000 to $12,000. When the constitutional problem was noted, the Senate Judiciary Committee ruled that Knox could be appointed as long as the Secretary of State's salary was returned to $8,000.

Sixty-four years later, when President Richard Nixon nominated Senator William B. Saxbe to be Attorney General, the same problem arose, since Saxbe had been in the Senate when Congress increased cabinet salaries from $35,000 to $60,000. Again, Congress avoided the problem by reducing the salary of the Attorney General to $35,000, and the constitutional work-around became known as the Saxbe Fix.

The Saxbe Fix was used again in 1980 to allow President Jimmy Carter to appoint Senator Edmund Muskie as Secretary of State, and again in 1993 to allow President Bill Clinton to appoint Senator Lloyd Bentsen as Secretary of the Treasury. Finally, on December 10, 2008, Congress passed another Saxbe Fix to allow Clinton to become Secretary of State. Since then, President-elect Obama has nominated Senator Ken Salazar and Representative Hilda Solis for cabinet positions (as Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Labor, respectively), and they too will require Saxbe Fixes.

Since the constitutionality of the Saxbe Fix is still disputed, the best solution would be a permanent solution: amending the Constitution to remove the emolument clause from Article I, Section 6.

How about it?