August 13, 2014, 9:26 pm


It’s time to shut down The Edge of the American West. It’s been a long run, and I’ve enjoyed it, but blogging has become less compelling over the last year or so. I want to stop before writing for Edge actively becomes a chore. The blog has already had a number of lives, and different configurations, but I suspect that this is the last one. I’m proud of what I did here (and proud of what others did as well). Thanks for reading it.

The Chronicle will keep the archives of the blog running for the foreseeable future, so everyone’s wisdom will still show up in Google searches now and then. I’d like to thank all those who wrote large and small things for the blog – Vance, Kathy, my army of guest bloggers – for their efforts. I’d especially like to thank Ari Kelman and Eric Rauchway for starting up the blog and making it something that (even) William Gibson appreciated.

David Silbey

July 29, 2014, 4:01 pm


Q 002213The 100th anniversary of World War I is upon us, and for the next four years, there will be a flood of remembrances, celebrations, and lamentations. There will be books, web sites, and TV shows. Yours truly (self-aggrandizement warning!) is currently appearing on the History Channel in one of those shows. What I hadn’t thought about until just now was that there will also be a fair proportion of that remembrance that is, to put it impolitely, bollocks.

This came to me while reading Adam Hochschild’s op-ed in the Times on why World War I was so bloody. His essential thesis is that the war was so terrible because the generals fighting ignored warnings from previous wars that would have given them a sense of what was about to happen. Good imperialists all, they “cherry-picked” their historical examples from colonial wars, and ignored conflicts that didn’t tell such comforting tales:

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July 24, 2014, 8:11 pm

The Southern Strategy

816l59W7NhL SL1500Jamelle Boule Bouie calls out the deceptiveness of conservatives noting that the Democrats have historically been the party of Jim Crow:

The problem with Fund’s argument is that he takes these facts, divorces them from historical context, and spins them into an unconvincing indictment of the modern Democratic Party and a disingenuous exoneration of its conservative counterpart.

It’s worth a read. But what Boule misses (or undersells) is the conscious decision by the GOP to slide into the position vacated by the Democrats. It wasn’t just that the Democrats supported Jim Crow until quite late and only abandoned it during the 1960s. It was that LBJ knowingly pushed through the Civil Rights Act against the best electoral interests of his own party, and the Republicans, with malice aforethought, went after Southerners angered by the CRA. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was a deliberate…

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July 21, 2014, 2:19 pm

Burying the Lede

The Senate is paralyzed, Paul Kane of the Washington Post points out. Why? Personalities:

Senators say that they increasingly feel like pawns caught between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deep personal and political antagonisms have almost immobilized the Senate. The two men so distrust each other, and each is so determined to deny the other even the smallest political success, that their approach to running the Senate has been reduced to a campaign of mutually assured dysfunction.

“Mutually assured dysfunction” is nicely turned, and Kane goes on for several paragraphs about Senators discussing the personal antagonism between Reid and McConnell and several interventions which have taken place to try and resolve things.

The real reason doesn’t emerge until much later:

Much of that hopelessness has to do with the aspirations…

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July 19, 2014, 10:56 pm

“A Sea of Women and Children”

(formerly Son of Putin Redux. Phrase from here)

I’d like to revise and extend my previous post, because handing over serious surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to a bunch of incompetent amateurs* is not the work of a smart man. Bringing down a civilian airliner (and adding nearly 300 more deaths to the ongoing tragedy in the Ukraine) is such a monumentally stupid thing to do that it boggles the mind. Every single country with someone on that plane now has cause to be enraged with Russia. The European countries that had shied away from imposing harsh sanctions on Russia now have to be reconsidering it, as does the United States.

In the long term, it may not end up changing the ultimate result, but it will delay Russia being forgiven and likely cost it more in economic damages. For what? There’s no earthly advantage to be gained from destroying a civilian airliner for anyone involved. …

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July 9, 2014, 6:04 pm

Putin, Redux

Old Blood and Iron Himself
Otto Von Bismarck

Wait, you mean that Putin is now backing off Ukraine?

Now that he’s sown chaos in Ukraine—but uneager to participate in someone else’s civil war—President Vladimir Putin has thrown the rebels under the bus. In June, rebel leader Igor Strelkov said that “Putin betrayed us,” and that betrayal has only deepened as Kiev launched its all-out offensive last week. Moscow, having started all this, has offered no help to the rebels.

Kevin Drum thinks this entire bit of aggression was a misstep by Putin:

That Putin. He’s quite the guy, isn’t he? It appears that he eventually figured out that Ukraine wasn’t going to fall neatly into his lap, and the cost of fomenting an all-out war there was simply too great.

Maybe. But look at the result: Russia has neatly acquired the Crimea, stirred up enough trouble in Ukraine that Western governments have largely stopped…

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July 2, 2014, 6:17 pm

Don’t Know Much About…

President Obama is — according to a recent survey — the worst American President since World War II:


He narrowly beats out his predecessor, George W. Bush, 33% – 28%.

I’m sure that each one of the 1446 respondents worked their way carefully through each postwar President, mentally cataloguing their performance. Did LBJ’s Great Society counterbalance his Vietnam debacle? Was Eisenhower’s saber-rattling an effective foreign policy? Was Truman justified in trying to nationalize the steel industry to stop a strike? How heavily to weigh Nixon’s opening of China against his criminality in Watergate? Reagan and PATCO, supply side, end of the Cold War, Iran-Contra? Clinton and don’t ask don’t tell, welfare reform, economic growth, Monica Lewinsky. Bush9/11AfganistanIraqMedicaidSurge. Obamacarebenghazililyledbetteryoudidntbuildthatlibyasyria.

Given the past evidence of American…

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June 15, 2014, 6:52 pm

The “End of History”

Francis Fukuyama still doesn’t understand either.

June 14, 2014, 5:52 pm

The Dumbest F***ing Guy on the Planet

Is back, and Politico thinks that he’s worth quoting on Iraq:

“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.
“They were pretty blasé,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”

Just to remind yourself of how hopelessly incompetent Douglas Feith was during the Iraq War, I offer this and this. You could also just go with Tommy Franks’ evaluation, used for the title of this post, and be done with it.

June 12, 2014, 12:04 am

I Don’t Know Is Not An Answer

Justin Wolfers gives David Brat a pass on a confession of ignorance:

When an MSNBC interviewer asked David Brat, the economics professor at Randolph-Macon College who toppled Eric Cantor in a primary challenge Tuesday, whether he opposed the minimum wage, he responded on Wednesday, “Um, I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one.”

The political class is billing it as a gaffe. But Mr. Brat’s fellow economists would probably be far more generous.

Assessing the evidence on the effects of the minimum wage is a tricky business, and the evidence isn’t strong enough to support the certainties that pundits seem to demand.

Well, that’s nice. I’m sure when David Brat has to take a vote on the issue, his lack of decisiveness will serve his constituents well. Policymakers don’t have the luxury of scholars; they have to decide, even in the absence of firm evidence. Should David …

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June 10, 2014, 7:28 pm

The Forgotten War (aka Spot the Errors!)

Chillicothe, Ohio unveiled a memorial to the Korean War this last Memorial Day. Unfortunately, the creators do not seem to have had the best historical sense in the world:


The mistakes kind of confirm Korea’s status as “The Forgotten War,” sadly enough.

List of the problems.

May 22, 2014, 3:09 pm

Premature antiformalism

I checked out a study score of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony from the local public library. It’s an early edition, maybe the first American one: © 1945, in the Leeds Music Corporation “Am-Rus Orchestra Scores series.” There’s an introduction by one Harold Sheldon, short but deeply bizarre.


Shostakovich, though well established as one of the principal composers of the Soviet Union, ran afoul of the censors with the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1936), unedifying in its story and violent in its musical language. His 4th Symphony was already in rehearsal when he was persuaded to withdraw it — it doesn’t have a story to criticize, but the music is vast in scope and magnificently aggressive, exhilarating today but hardly the populist affirmation the Party and its Leader were starting to be clear they were looking for. Shostakovich went back to the drawing board to write…

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May 19, 2014, 10:05 pm


Michael Beschloss, criticizing the penchant for commemorating the D-Day anniversary, and talking about Eisenhower avoiding the 1954 anniversary, because:

Self-celebration was mostly alien to the men and women of World War II’s “greatest generation,” starting with the supreme commander.

The problem is that Eisenhower had no trouble being celebrated earlier, at the end of World War II.

Thus, Dwight D. Eisenhower at a victory parade in Kansas City, MO:

45 7 eisenhower388a

This is Dwight D. Eisenhower being feted in the “Canyon of Heroes” in New York City on July 19, 1945:

12 eisenhower new york broadway homecoming parade

(Way up at the front).

I’m pretty sure the “Greatest Generation” was just about as self-celebratory as any other generation.

May 14, 2014, 12:55 am

The Day-to-Day Handshake of Empire

Imperial powers gain much of their strength from their global networks. The British – by owning the oceans in the 19th century – controlled how much of the world’s commerce moved. In that same century, much of the world’s information moved over British telegraph networks. They gave Britain power. The Zimmerman Telegram, which had much to do with bringing the United States into World War I against Germany, went through a telegraph clearing house in London, where the British intercepted it, decoded it, and passed it on to the United States, much to Germany’s dismay.

So, too, with what the United States is doing now. The National Security Agency could not gather much of the information it did if global networks of communication were not dominated by American companies. Thus, Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, could quickly get secret information on her opponents’ negotiating…

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May 2, 2014, 7:26 pm

Random Friday Notes: Jobs Report, Benghazi, and Evil Plane Seat Booking Behavior

In no particular order:

  • Job reports. In the latest form of blog posts/newspaper articles, we have the “The jobs report is good/bad on the surface, but bad/good underneath” genre. We got a bumper crop of it after today’s release. Yes, I know that today’s report was not of unalloyed good cheer, but 288,000 jobs added is a solid result for this economy, as it squelches along in an era obsessed with austerity.
  • Benghazi is back (as if it ever left!) because Hillary Clinton is (probably) running for President in 2016. Benghazi will be an issue until she has finished with her second term.
  • Evil Plane Seat Booking Behavior. From Tuesday’s New York Times “A child and his mother almost did me in once [on a plane flight]. I love children. Children are great. But recently I had the middle seat between a mother and her little boy. I thought it was strange …

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