Category Archives: OH JOHN RINGO NO!

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:

Read More

June 15, 2014, 6:52 pm

The “End of History”

Francis Fukuyama still doesn’t understand either.

February 13, 2014, 10:17 pm

My Kingdom For A Copy Editor

“Tean USA”? From Sports Illustrated:


In honor of this (4 year old) post.

November 26, 2013, 5:15 am

Snatching The Victuals From The Table, Or, The Munich Of The Middle East

Piece of Paper
Piece of PaperLG

“The German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.” Winston Churchill, October 5, 1938.

Bret Stephens, at the Wall Street Journal, writes a…well…basically loses his mind:

After World War II the U.S. created a global system of security alliances to prevent the kind of foreign policy freelancing that is again becoming rampant in the Middle East. It worked until President Obama decided in his wisdom to throw it away. If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it’s because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas.

Worse than Munich, 1938; worse than Paris, 1973. Just worse. The worst.

The column is impressively unhinged. The treaty with Iran will cause all sorts of disasters in the six months it lasts. Apparently, both the Saudis and…

Read More

November 26, 2013, 3:07 am

Fun with Numbers

Shorter Jonathan Haber: If I just make numerical assumptions as favorable as possible, I can get a MOOC class completion rate up to 48%:

Using the number Coursera sent him of “Total Registered Students” (i.e., the number of people who hit the Enroll button) as a denominator does indeed give you a completion percentage of 5 percent. And if you instead use Total Active Students (the number of students who logged onto the site at least once after registering) that completion rate climbs to 10 percent (still within the range MOOC critics use when they complain about attrition).

But if you use the number of students who watched at least one video as your denominator, completion percentages climb to 15 percent. And if you make the assumption that only students who complete at least one assignment (even a short quiz at the end of lesson 1) should be considered serious enrollees, his…

Read More

November 22, 2013, 4:01 pm


My beloved ordered a new phone last night, including the chance to inscribe something on its back. The choice wasn’t completely unlimited, however:


This, of course, led to 10 minutes of trying different, NSFW things, and some giggling (or dignified chuckling on my part). Yes, we are ten years old.

October 29, 2013, 4:57 pm

Do Not Read Each Other’s Mail

Henry Stimson
Henry Lewis Stimson cph 3b21803

David Kurtz, writing for Talking Points Memo, quotes Dianne Feinstein:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declares: “Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.”

He titles the post “Unilateral Disarmament?” Much of the discussion around the American bugging of (among others) Angela Merkel, PM of Germany, has centered around the idea that since everyone might be doing it, we should be as well. Example here. It’s all impressively Realpolitik and stuff. Hard men doing hard but necessary things to get an advantage. It would be more impressive it it didn’t exactly echo (at a much lower and less critical level) the debate over to…

Read More

June 19, 2013, 4:57 pm

If Only…

PiningAs far as I can tell, the thesis of this article is that if only Barack Obama had visited all 50 states, partisan polarization would disappear:

So Mr. Obama has not given North Dakota his time. It is one of six states he has not visited as president, along with South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah. He has gone just once to Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Mr. Obama’s near-complete absence from more than 25 percent of the states, from which he is politically estranged, is no surprise, in that it reflects routine cost-benefit calculations of the modern presidency. But in a country splintered by partisanship and race, it may also have consequences.

America’s 21st-century politics, as underscored by the immigration debate now embroiling Congress, increasingly pits the preferences of a dwindling, Republican-leaning white majority…

Read More

May 7, 2013, 8:02 pm

Stop Digging

Oh dear:

The charge of homophobia is equally easy to refute. If I really were a “gay-basher”, as some headline writers so crassly suggested, why would I have asked Andrew Sullivan, of all people, to be the godfather of one of my sons, or to give one of the readings at my wedding?

Niall Ferguson goes for the “some of my best friends are gay” argument.

April 7, 2013, 10:31 pm

Note To Book Reviewers

If you argue that

the so-called Texas model…is a weak state government with few taxes and fewer regulations and services. It would be far harder to replicate the state’s civic DNA, which features traits that can be traced to its decade, beginning in 1836, as a stand-alone nation (independent, suspicious of Washington), the late-1800s cowboy era (self-reliant, fraternal) and the 20th-century introduction of oil and entrepreneurialism (pro-business, skeptical of government). Those values, Ms. Grieder says, created a populace ideal for economic growth: “pragmatic, fiscally conservative, socially moderate and slightly disengaged.”

and then use as your examples things that are substantial government interventions:

Strict lending laws allowed Texas to dodge the worst of the housing collapse, while the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement was a boon to the state’s export…

Read More

November 19, 2012, 7:01 pm

Now People Are Just Trolling Me (David Petraeus Edition)

The wolves are out for David Petraeus now that he’s shown such horrendous personal judgment and lost his untouchable position. There are two forms that I’ve noticed thus far. There’s the “I served under Petraeus and he was awful!” form. There’s the “Petraeus wasn’t a man’s general, he was an effete-namby-pamby-type general.”

The “I Served With Him” Genre

In the former category, we have this (warning! Naughty language), written by “Hawkeye Pierce”:

I’ve detested Petraeus for a long, long time. I’ve tried writing about him for a decade, but nobody seemed to listen. He was bulletproof back then—not so anymore. Now’s the time for me to tell you all about this self-serving shithead and what it was like being his bitch for years.

Pierce’s complaints? When Petraeus took over, he made his soldiers get uniform haircuts, practice holding the grips of their rifles consistently, had them…

Read More

August 15, 2012, 5:40 pm

Embarrassing Correction of the Day

Well, that was a doozy. Monday, amidst the general piling-on of Fareed Zakaria (for reasons good and proper, I should note), the Washington Post breathlessly ran a story headlined “More questions raised about Fareed Zakaria’s work”:

Zakaria’s 2008 book, “The Post-American World,” contains a quote from former Intel Corp. chief executive Andy Grove about the nation’s economic power. “America is in danger of following Europe down the tubes, and the worst part is that nobody knows it,” Grove says in Zakaria’s book. “They’re all in denial, patting themselves on the back as the Titanic heads straight for the iceberg full speed ahead.” The first edition of Zakaria’s book, which became a bestseller, makes no mention of the comment’s source, nor does a paperback version of “Post-American World” published in 2009.

Thief of quotes!

Except, well, no, as David Frum

Read More

June 8, 2012, 3:29 pm

Random Cheap Shot Of The Day

The Boston Globe is shockedshocked!–to discover that gambling public speakers sometimes give the same speech at different venues. Today’s object of their shock is Fareed Zakaria, the omnipresent media expert on foreign policy, who gave substantially identical talks at the commencements for Duke and Harvard, mere weeks apart.

Zakaria’s Harvard and Duke commencement speeches were essen­tially identical, built around the same anecdotes and points and often the same language. The addresses have set some at Harvard and Duke atwitter.

The Globe flutters through this as if it is news, breathlessly quoting a Duke employee who’s also shocked:

“I spoke to him while he was here,” said one Duke employee, “and I got the strong impression from him that his Harvard speech would be a different presentation. Oh, well, at least Duke got it first.”

So wait, this Duke employee went up to…

Read More

May 7, 2012, 3:22 pm

Random Thought Of The Moment

Always a pleasure to move into a new place just as someone is setting the upper floor on fire.