Saturday, October 31, 2009

Signs of the Fans

The fight between Redskins fans and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is escalating, and it's crossed over from the blogosphere to the mainstream media.

Immediately after I started writing this evening, my Tivo unpaused causing me to catch the last few minutes of 11 o'clock news on WUSA Channel 9. They reported on signs confiscated from Redskins fans and announced a new feature to display "all the signs and messages the team won't let you bring into the stadium." The station also favorably mentioned the owner of the Cleveland Browns (1-6), who has expressed support for a fan protest against the team, saying "We deserve the protest." Such realism and humility (or at least the PR smarts to fake them) is refreshing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dreadful Redskins

And now for something completely different.

The biggest dispute in Washington, DC, is not about health care reform, but about football. The Washington Redskins play a unique roll in the nation's capital. They give the residents, who come from every state in the country, something apolitical to talk and argue about—filling a desperate need in this overpoliticized city. There's a palpable change in mood of the city on the day after a Redskin's win.

This year Washingtonians have abundant reasons to complain about the Redskins, who are now 2-5 after a lackluster showing on Monday Night Football. As for myself, I'm a fair-weather Redskins fan, so as a marginally interested bystander I'm feeling no pain, but I sympathize with many friends and acquaintances who are suffering, especially since there's no end in sight.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Executing the Geese That Lay Golden Eggs

I was planning to write on something nonpolitical for a change, but life beyond the blog and the Obama administration intervened.

On Wednesday, the media reported that the Obama administration will issue a diktat sharply cutting executive pay at Citigroup, Bank of America, American International Group, General Motors, and Chrysler. Beyond the constitutional issues (Where exactly does the Constitution authorize the President or Congress to do this?) and legal issues (breach of contract etc.), this makes no economic or business sense. This leads me to the conclusion that either the Administration is more incompetent and ignorant than I already suspect—which is high hurdle for this administration—or that politics is driving this decision.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Presidency About Nothing?

Friday morning, I was stunned as were most Americans including the President himself to hear that the Norwegian Nobel Committee had awarded the Noble Peace Prize to President Obama. One reporter neatly summarized my feelings: "He won! For what?"

The President's response so far has been appropriately low-key and humble. His best move would be to thank the committee for the honor, but decline to accept the award because he has not yet begun to lead. At the very least, he should decline to accept the award until he leaves office, following the precedent set by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Saturday Night Live skit last week may have been a bit harsh in its critique of the President's record of accomplishments so far: "Nothing. Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it." But SNL's timing couldn't have been better, coming after the President's failed Copenhagen campaign to bring the 2012 Olympics to Chicago and setting the stage for him to receive an increasingly meaningless award. Tonight, I may actually have to watch SNL live for the first time in decades. They may be onto something.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Overview: ConUNdrum

Brett Schaefer, ed., ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 371 pages.

First, a disclaimer: I copyedited this book, so I'm slightly invested in its success and probably a little biased.

I have read a lot of papers and books on the United Nations, written from many perspectives. This book is the most balanced, persuasive, and innovative of them all. While it was written primarily to inform policymakers, it should be accessible to the interested reader. A week ago it ranked #1 on in three categories: United Nations, treaties, and international law.

The UN is not "indispensable," but it can be useful and even helpful at times. In the book's ten chapters—each deals with a different policy area—the authors identify what the UN has done right (there actually are some examples), what it could do better, and what it should stop trying to do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Visual Reminders of the GULAG Archipelago

The Heritage Foundation (my employer) has turned its seventh floor auditorium and foyer into a crowded art gallery for a unique collection of paintings by Nikolai Getman, and two days ago I was able to take a break from work and look at each of them.

The 50 paintings depict chilling scenes of the Soviet Union's extensive system of forced labor camps. Perhaps the paintings are best described as the visual equivalent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, in which Solzhenitsyn documented the brutality and systematic evil of the camps and the totalitarian government that created and perpetuated them. The collection of paintings also reminds me of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, with the distinction that they deal with the millions of living unpersons that populated and often died in the Soviet labor camps.

In 1946, Getman was sentenced to forced labor for being present when another artist drew a caricature of Stalin. He survived eight years in Kolyma, one of the most infamous Soviet labor camps. After his release, he painted a series of 50 paintings about life and often death in the GULAG. His paintings were publicly displayed in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Jamestown Foundation brought the collection to the United States and recently gave it to the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is displaying them as part of a series of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (See press release.)

If you have a chance, I highly recommend that you come to the Heritage Foundation to see these paintings that document some of the crimes committed by Soviet Union in the name of Communism. If that is not possible, you can see a few of the pictures in the exhibit brochure and at this online arts gallery.

On a related note, if you're ever in Moscow, take a moment to see the Solovetsky Stone, a monument "To prisoners of the GULAG," next to Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB. (It's now occupied by the Border Guard Service and one directorate of the FSB, the KGB's successor organization.) In 1994 when I was living in Moscow, I was quite pleased—and saddened by the lost lives it memorialized—when I stumble across this understated, powerful monument located across the street from one of the gateways to the GULAG archipelago.

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