Saturday, April 30, 2011

Of Great Men and Great Events

My previous musing on nations acting naturally came while reading about the post-WWII leaders who initiated the cold war and its attendant arms race. And the much of the spark for what became the National Security State comes down to Stalin’s paranoia and fear. The western allies had their own share of irrationality and fear but Stalin's fears drove them all. After the war’s immense devastation, Stalin was determined that Russia would never again be at risk of German or western attack. Stalin was also a paranoid who suspected everyone and whose own ruthlessness convinced him that those suspected adversaries were equally so, which gave him all the justification he needed for his actions. Stalin was a fearful, paranoid Russian nationalist with immense power and authority. His actions gave the US and its allies reasons to be wary of and hostile to their wartime ally. Allied fear and suspicion of Soviet motives and intent drove the allies to ignore and dismiss any but the most suspicious and militaristic motives behind the Soviet Union's actions even when those actions were a logical consequence of military and political realities of the post-WWII world and the Soviet horrific losses during that war.

The book, The Lost Peace, has received mixed reviews (here and here). I found it well written and interesting. I’m familiar with the major events of the post-war years but The Lost Peace provides much good detail. The book is especially rich in quotations from George Kennan's extensive writing about the Soviet Union during those years. Kennan's sober and realistic understanding of the Soviet Union has always appealed to me; The Lost Peace gave me new insight and appreciation for Kennan's work.

About the only off note was author Robert Dallek ’s musings on how things could have been different. When I encountered them my reaction was something like “yeah and if I had money, I’d be rich.” But one of the less favorable reviews gave those musings some context. The reviewer asked what peace was lost when Europe had been at war pretty much constantly for about four centuries. Dallek’s point is that following WWII, many around the world not only hoped for a lasting peace but felt it necessary to prevent the kind of devastation that the world had just witnessed. That was a time of possibility when leaders could have chosen a different path. The lost peace is the one that might have been possible. If only…

Stalin comes off as the most determined and single-minded of the national leaders which is why I give him credit/blame as the spark for what has become a horribly militarized world. (Maybe I should say he was the steel for the West's flint.) Josef Stalin certainly lends credence to the Great Man Theory of history, remembering that greatness is morally neutral in this context. Stalin not only influenced his own time but also world events six decades after his death. The National Security State that came into being because of America’s fear of Stalin and Communist Russia lives on.

And in whatever hell he’s in, even if only history’s approbation, I am sure Stalin would be satisfied and pleased to be remembered.

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This Way Out

Today's Washington Post has an article on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. "[T]he last uncontroversial and universally well-received decision Gorbachev made in the Soviet Union’s twilight years," according to the author.

America should be so lucky.

The article comes with a photo of Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan. Some look somber but at least one is very happy. Others are less exuberant but still pleased.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Right Always Screams Loudest

Another quote from The Lost Peace:
Truman’s initial decision to respond to [North Korean] aggression made eminent good sense. To stand aside would have carried unacceptable political consequences at home and abroad. But crossing the [38th] parallel proved to be reckless, serving neither the United States in general nor the White House in particular: it cost thousands of additional American lives, provoked antagonisms with China for another twenty years, and largely destroyed Truman’s capacity to lead. The only initial gain for his administration was in quieting political attacks from the American right, which would have pilloried the president and [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson for missing a chance to liberate North Korea from communism. The the invasion of the North brought Truman only six months of bipartisan support. Once he rejected [General Douglas] MacArthur’s ill-advised strategy for a wider war with China and, if necessary, Soviet Russia, he became the object of a renewed right-wing vilification.

Going on 60 years now. Always on the warpath.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Spring Velo News

Saturday and Friday were two of the finest weather days in Olympia since...oh, say...last fall. Friday was as mostly sunny, partly cloudy 58 degree day. Saturday was all sunshine and 68 degrees. I rode both days, a perfect convergence of weather and timing. On Friday, with stiff northeast headwind, I found a new route in that direction that gave me a tailwind for the return trip. Now I have two northeastern routes for those rare days when the wind is from that direction. Saturday I went south on the Chehalis Western Trail. The wind was still from the northeast but without not Friday's 18 mph gust. More like 5 or 6 mph, enough to notice but not especially bothersome. Lots of folkswere on the trail on this most pleasant day.

During Saturday's ride my odometer passed 5,000 miles. I've had this bike computer since 1998 when my original crapped out with about 2,500 to 3,000 miles on it. So that means I've ridden about 7,500 miles on this bicycle in 22 years. Just under half of those miles have been since I moved to Olympia three and a half years ago. Olympia is by far the best cycling environment I've ridden in. Phoenix was pretty good--the canal banks and secondary streets made for some good routes--but throughout much of the year the best riding is limited to early morning which is somewhat of a blessing because it avoids much of the very intense traffic. In Olympia, I can ride throughout the day and traffic is never intense. Olympia does not have either the eternally stiff headwinds or occasional dog packs that made riding on the Navajo reservation so challenging.

Saturday's ride was also my first for documenting my route photographically. Here we go...

Heading east on the Olympia-Woodland Trail:

One of three garter snakes seen on Saturday:

Heading south on the Chehalis-Western Trail:

Turnaround at the Deschutes River Bridge on Waldrick Road:

Break spot along the trail beside the Deschutes:

Returning north on the CWT:

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Common Sense Economics

Steven Pearlstein writes straightforward and understandable economics columns for the Washington Post. I can't recall reading any that did not increase my economic knowledge or explain economic trends and ideas. His conclusion today is worth remembering:
In Washington, there’s a widespread belief that what is at stake in the coming negotiations over the budget and the debt limit is nothing less than the outcome of the next election. What Washington needs to understand is that there’s a lot more at stake than that.

Another good economic source is BadTux, the Snarky Penguin. He's not a national pundit but in the past week alone he's gotten it right on health careand stuff. And with BadTux readers can actually see the Free Market Fairy.

Pearlstein and a penguin. Or vice-versa? Either way makes sense.