the value of X

fin de siecle redux

I am reading The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914, by the unmatched Barbara Tuchman. It’s a great read: chapters are about 50 pages or so, requiring me to take large bites each time. The chapters so far are expositions of a time and place, rather than part of of a narrative, so I need to read the whole thing and digest it in its entirety.

Looking at the world she describes — the landed aristocrats in Europe and their struggles with the increasingly frustrated and violent working class and the metamorphosis of America from a benign, inward-looking power to an aggressive and increasingly imperial one — it doesn’t take much to see similarities with today’s headlines. It seems all of a piece with some fin de síecle undercurrents: the turn of a century incites people to do bold or foolish things, and a new millenium perhaps more so.

Especially interesting is the struggle within the Republican party of the time — still very much the party of Lincoln — to embrace or reject the course that would make America a superpower. There were passages that could be ripped out of analytical pieces in today’s papers, as foreign adventures are debated, the need for a far-reaching military presence is argued for and against: it makes me wonder how much of what we see is really new.


opportunity cost

The Atlantic Online | October 2004 | Bush’s Lost Year | James Fallows:

Bush’s Lost Year

By deciding to invade Iraq, the Bush Administration decided not to do many other things: not to reconstruct Afghanistan, not to deal with the threats posed by North Korea and Iran, and not to wage an effective war on terror. An inventory of opportunities lost

A lengthy excerpt is here, if you’re not a subscriber.

Some snippets:

* Because of outlays for Iraq, the United States cannot spend $150 billion for other defensive purposes….

* “Are we better off in basic security than before we invaded Iraq?” asks Jeffrey Record, a professor of strategy at the Air War College and the author of the recent Dark Victory, a book about the Iraq War. “The answer is no. An unnecessary war has consumed American Army and other ground resources, to the point where we have nothing left in the cupboard for another contingency—for instance, should the North Koreans decide that with the Americans completely absorbed in Iraq, now is the time to do something.”…

* “We’re really in dire straits with resourcing,” [an army officer] said. “There’s not enough armor for Humvees. There’s not enough fifty-caliber machine guns for the Hundred and First Airborne or the Tenth Mountain Division. A country that can’t field heavy machine guns for its army—there’s something wrong with the way we’re doing business.”…

* To govern is to choose, and the choices made in 2002 were fateful. The United States began that year… with tremendous strategic advantages…. World opinion was strongly sympathetic. Longtime allies were eager to help; longtime antagonists were silent. The federal budget was nearly in balance, making ambitious projects feasible. The U.S. military was superbly equipped, trained, and prepared. An immediate foe was evident—and vulnerable—in Afghanistan. For the longer-term effort against Islamic extremism the Administration could draw on a mature school of thought from academics, regional specialists, and its own intelligence agencies. All that was required was to think broadly about the threats to the country, and creatively about the responses. . . . . . The Bush Administration chose another path. Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq. It hampered the campaign in Afghanistan before fighting began and wound it down prematurely, along the way losing the chance to capture Osama bin Laden. It turned a blind eye to misdeeds in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and to WMD threats from North Korea and Iran far more serious than any posed by Saddam Hussein, all in the name of moving toward a showdown with Iraq. It overused and wore out its army in invading Iraq—without committing enough troops for a successful occupation. It saddled the United States with ongoing costs that dwarf its spending for domestic security. And by every available measure it only worsened the risk of future terrorism. In every sense 2002 was a lost year.

blows against the empire

Udell on MSFT

Information routing

It’s hard to cry a river for a company like Microsoft, but sometimes they’re damned if they don’t (“Microsoft never innovates”) and damned if they do (“Microsoft never ships”).

[Jon’s Radio]

How about “Microsoft only ships when it doesn’t innovate?” Think of a dominant MSFT product: is it innovative or imitative?

2004 US Election

what would NYC residents think of this?

Harper’s Index for August 2004 (

Chance that a member of New York’s Army National Guard was in Iraq in June : 1 in 4 [New York Army National Guard (N.Y.C.) ]

Chance that a member of Texas’s Army National Guard was : 1 in 31 [Texas Army National Guard (Austin) ]