New England, St. John’s College and the War of 1812

What do you know about the War of 1812?  If you live in Boston, you know about the U.S.S. Constitution capturing the HMS Guerriere  early in the war.  If you live near the Great Lakes you know about Captain Oliver Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie.  Everyone knows about the Fort McHenry and the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as well as Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans.  And who can forget Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington,  But do you know why the war was fought in the first place?

In the Sunday Boston Globe, Ted Widmer had a long piece in the Ideas section titled “The silent bicentennial:  In 1814, the US experienced everything you’d want to forget about a war.  Which is exactly why we should be thinking about it now.”  Although written from a New England perspective, Widmer has a number of interesting observations surprisingly relevant to national politics today.

After the fact, it was hard to remember exactly why war had broken out at all. The American Revolution had established the United States as an independent nation, but relations with England remained vexed—many Americans resented the motherland for its condescension, but also valued the memory of a shared heritage. In the years leading up to 1812, American tempers began to flare over the many ways the British conveyed their lack of respect for the upstart country, forcing American sailors to work on their ships and encouraging Indians to attack settlers in the interior.

Though serious at times, these irritants did not add up to grounds for war. England was America’s principal commercial partner, and wielded the greatest navy on earth. To anyone who participated in the maritime economy—as most of New England did—it was the height of folly to risk everything over a few insults.

Yet rhetoric, so easy to dish out, can be hard to take back. Driven by exuberant talk from Western and Southern politicians, Congress proposed a war measure in June 1812. New England and New York voted overwhelmingly against it, but it passed the Senate 19 to 13, and on that wobbly basis, the United States lurched into war. Its rationale was vague; its goals (which included some hope of gaining territory in Canada and Florida) were not entirely selfless; and it never resembled the kind of homegrown cause that had united the Colonists in 1775. On village greens around New England, church bells tolled in mourning.

Wars that are declared badly are often fought badly, and it soon became apparent that the United States was ill-prepared to wage a war against the world’s preeminent military power, whose troops had been toughened by years of fighting against Napoleon. The Republicans clamoring for war had balked at paying taxes, and voted down efforts to build up the Navy. Debt tripled. The War Department could never raise an army to even half the strength it sought, and had to resort to only 10,000 soldiers, who enlisted for a single year.

The young “War Hawks” in Congress were better at speeches than fighting. Henry Clay promised that he could conquer Canada with Kentucky militia; in the end, Kentucky only furnished 400 men. Among the many delusions was a belief that Canadians would surrender as soon as Americans appeared. They did not—in fact, many Canadians were former New Englanders who fought just as courageously as their cousins did, and to this day, memories of defeating the American invaders are as important to Canadians as Lexington and Concord are to Americans.

Sound kinda familiar?

It seems that despite voting against declaring war, New England ended up providing much of the money and manpower including Captain Perry and the Constitution.

Washington was burned and the “Star-Spangled Banner” written in late summer and early fall of 1814.  But New England was tired and was looking for ways out.

Thoughout the fall, gloom settled around New England. In Boston, many leading citizens became furious at a stupid war going badly and began to threaten action. The Boston Gazette wrote, “If James Madison is not out of office, a new form of government will be in operation in the eastern section of the Union.” Madison was hanged in effigy in Augusta, Maine. Huge rallies filled Faneuil Hall. The Massachusetts House voted 406 to 240 to denounce the war as “awful” and “revolting.” The governor of Massachusetts, Caleb Strong, sent out secret feelers to his counterpart in Halifax. A new kind of flag was occasionally seen around New England, with five stars and five stripes—the five states of New England (Maine was then a district of Massachusetts). Throughout the interior, town meetings expressed deep feelings against the war—in much the same way that earlier generations had protested British tyranny. From these currents came a call for the New England states to convene a meeting at Hartford to consider options. The Hartford Convention began in December 1814, and to its credit, stopped short of any activity that might have led to New England breaking away from the United States. But it was a close call.

Another New Englander, John Quincy Adams, negotiated the Treaty of Ghent signed in December 1814 ending the war.  Andrew Jackson didn’t hear about the Treaty until after the Battle of New Orleans.  Just think, with modern communications, Jackson might not have become a hero and might not have become a two-term president.  The war also had other unforeseen consequences.

The war had other unexpected legacies as well. Abraham Lincoln would later cite the heroism of African-American soldiers at New Orleans as an important precedent for allowing them to fight for the Union cause. Native Americans, on the other hand, were the clear losers of a conflict that did not produce much victory for anyone. Without the British to protect them, they were helpless before the relentless advance of settlers across the continent. That is not the most triumphant note for an anniversary reflection to end on. But how else do we commemorate a near-defeat, a conflict with an ally, and New England’s flirtation with secession? Perhaps by acknowledging the fragility of history itself, the fickleness of the forces that separate “victory” from “defeat,” and the many possible results in between.

Cover of sheet music for "The Star-Spangled Banner", transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862

Cover of sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner”, transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862

 

My class at St. John’s College in Annapolis will be holding its 45th reunion in September.  Francis Scott Key was an alumni and we will be marking his anniversary by singing his anthem and setting of some fireworks.  But I’ll also be thinking of the War of 1812 and unintended consequences.

 

 

Solving the pay equity problem: Not that easy

white-house-wage-gapIs the gender gap in wages a myth or is it as the President said yesterday just math?  If a company pays, as does the White House and most other government agencies, equally for the same job, why is there still a gap in total pay?  Is that as Christina Hoff Summers would argue, not a wage gap since the cause is that women are in different job?  Christopher Ingraham wrote in the Washington Post

The American Enterprise Institute caught the White House flat-footed yesterday with its finding that female White House workers earned roughly 88 cents to the dollar compared to male employees. This came the day before two high-profile executive orders aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap among federal contractors.

When asked about the discrepancy by reporters, spokesman Jay Carney said that those figures are based on the total of all staff jobs, and that women tend to fill more lower-paying positions than men. When you break it out by position, “men and women in equivalent roles here earn equivalent salaries,” Carney said. Incidentally, this is the pretty much the same argument that AEI scholar Christina Hoff Summers makes to argue that the gender wage gap is a myth.

Human Resource people (of which I was once one) would say it is all about classifying jobs.  There is an endless debate about what jobs require more skills, more effort, more responsibility.  Is the woman who comes to help your sick mother as a home health aide worth less than the man who manages the local convenience store? (Neither gets paid very well.)  Is a pre-school teacher worth less than the CEO of Facebook?  Ok.  I can hear people saying that I’m comparing apples and oranges, but these are the kind of things we need to consider as we look at not only the gender issues but also at low wage jobs generally.  If you look at the Washington Post chart, you can see that the national wage gap is pretty constant, but the general trend of the White House gap is down.

There are really several problems at work here.  First is the failure to pay women an equivalent wage for the same work done by a man.  This may be deliberate or the women may simply be given a different job title and classification.  The second is what the Institute for Women’s Policy Research calls occupational segregation.

Pay equity may also be impacted by other more subtle factors than workplace discrimination. IWPR’s research shows that, irrespective of the level of qualification, jobs predominantly done by women pay less on average than jobs predominantly done by men. Women have made tremendous strides during the last few decades by moving into jobs and occupations previously done almost exclusively by men, yet during the last decade there has been very little further progress in the gender integration of work. This persistent occupational segregation is a significant contributor to the lack of significant progress in closing the wage gap.

The third problem is one that speaks mainly to women in the private sector at high levels:  Women appear to be less willing to ask for more in salary negotiations.  While this is unimportant and insignificant, more women are hurt by the first two problems.

In the late 1970s I was working as a research analyst for the Virginia State Equal Opportunity Office.  We got a complaint from a woman professor at a state college who suspected that she was being paid less than a male colleague who started around the same time as she did.  They were, I think, both coming up for tenure.  This was the age before editable spreadsheets were common, but I managed to make a chart showing hire dates, educational levels, teaching load and teaching evaluations among other factors I can’t remember now for that department.  When laid out, it became very clear that the women, including the complainant were being paid less.  This set off a request for an analysis of the entire school as well as requests from several other state colleges and universities.  I ended up teaching people from the schools how to do this themselves since there was no way I could tackle such a large project on my own.  Problems were corrected, but I don’t recall that we ever compared  salary levels at the Department of Physics (probably mostly men) to the School of Nursing (mostly women).

I tell this story for two reasons.  One, the problem and issue has been around a long, long, time.  And second, I think we need to look harder at occupational segregation and, if we can’t totally solve that, we need to look at how we, as a society, value what we call “women’s work.”  In the end, that is the only way to cure the pay equity problem.

 

 

 

 

Does context matter?

When the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens next month at the World Trade Center, visitors will find a stark wall separating them from a repository containing about 8,000 unidentified human remains from the 2001 terrorist attack.

On the wall is a 60-foot-long inscription, in 15-inch letters made from the steel of the twin towers: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time. Virgil.”

The quote is from the Aeneid but the inscription doesn’t say so.  In earlier versions, as in this rendering, both Virgil and the Aeneid are cited.

An early rendering of the inscription at the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

An early rendering of the inscription at the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

At issue is the context of the quote.  In 2011, Caroline Alexander, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which she argued the inappropriateness of the quotation.

The memorial inscription, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is an eloquent translation of the original Latin of “The Aeneid” — “Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo.”

The impulse to turn to time-hallowed texts, like the classics or the Bible, is itself time-hallowed. In the face of powerful emotions, our own words may seem hollow and inadequate, while the confirmation that people in the past felt as we now feel holds solace. And the language of poets and great thinkers can be in itself ennobling.

But not in this case. Anyone troubling to take even a cursory glance at the quotation’s context will find the choice offers neither instruction nor solace.

The immediate context of the quotation is a night ambush of the Rutulian enemy camp by two Trojan warriors, Nisus and Euryalus, whose mutual love is described in terms of classical homoerotic convention and whose deaths represent one of the epic’s famously sentimental set pieces. Falling on the sleeping enemy, the two hack away with their swords, until the ground reeks with “warm black gore.” Stripping the murdered soldiers of their armor, the two are in turn ambushed by a returning Rutulian cavalry troop. As each Trojan tries to save his companion, both are killed, brutally and graphically. At this point the poet steps in to address them directly:

“Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt, nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo.”

“Happy pair! If aught my verse avail, no day shall ever blot you from the memory of time.” (The translation here is from the famously literal Loeb edition.) At dawn’s light, the severed heads of the two Trojans are paraded by the enemy on spears.

The central sentiment that the young men were fortunate to die together could, perhaps, at one time have been defended as a suitable commemoration of military dead who fell with their companions. To apply the same sentiment to civilians killed indiscriminately in an act of terrorism, however, is grotesque.

That’s one argument for context matters.  But

Alice M. Greenwald, the museum director, said last week that the quotation appropriately characterized the “museum’s overall commemorative context.”

“The quote speaks to the indelibility of our memories,” she said. “In selecting this quote, our focus was not on the specific narrative of the classic story nor its characters. What resonated with us, and with everyone who reviewed its use in the context of the museum, was the reference to a single day not being able to erase the memory of those we love.”

The museum has opted to use the quote without the reference to the Aeneid.  I, for one, dislike quotations without a citation. And without the reference to the Aeneid, I fear that the context will become lost.

James Zetzel, a professor of the Latin language and ancient literature at Columbia, said he was troubled by a line describing such specific characters — and “not the best role models” — used as a kind of epitaph for those whose identities are not known.

“On the other hand,” Mr. Zetzel said, “the story is an example of willing self-sacrifice for somebody you love.”

As Virgil tells it, Nisus realized as he was fleeing from the enemy that he had been separated from Euryalus. Rather than spare himself, Nisus returned to a scene of mortal peril in the hope of saving another’s life. Both young men died as a result.

Now that sounds like a 9/11 story.

The answer for me is to use the inscription with reference to both Virgil and the Aeneid – just as in the rendering.

Rendering by:  Thinc/National September 11 Memorial & Museum

As the dust settles

on the first enrollment period of the new Affordable Care Act, we are learning that a lot more people than a lot of people predicted have signed up for insurance.  President Obama is claiming 7.1 million people signed up on the health insurance exchanges – along with unknown numbers of others who signed up directly with insurance companies.  There was a claim yesterday that 90% of the enrollees had actually paid a first premium, a crucial step to being able to actually use the insurance.  We all know that there will be hassles when people go to their medical provider, when insurance cards don’t arrive in the mail, when someone with expanded Medicaid goes to a doctor who doesn’t accept that plan, but then, there have always been hassles with health insurance.  This will be nothing new.  What will be new is the massive number of new people suddenly looking for a provider.  Adjustments will have to be made all around.

But the biggest losers as of this morning would seem to be the opponents of the ACA or Obamacare as they call it.  Here is Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from this morning’s Boston Globe.

obamacare wasserman

 

And then there is this story from Politico.

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do

But the Republicans do seem to be suffering from a compulsion disorder.  Here is Representative Paul Ryan quoted in the Politico story

And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who on the same day released a budget plan that would repeal the law, wasn’t fazed by the enrollment news.

“I think Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, at the same time that Obama was giving his victory speech in the Rose Garden.

But it was so much easier when they could just say the federal government can’t tie its own shoelaces. Now, they have to acknowledge that the government fixed the problem — and enrollment came roaring back.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is set to release his health care plan – I guess he is running for President.  According to the Washington Post

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce Wednesday a plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s health-care law, an effort by the Republican to insert himself into the increasingly competitive early maneuvering for his party’s presidential nomination.

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

These themes appear to include giving those on Medicare a subsidy to buy private insurance and giving Medicaid money to the states to provide whatever care they decide on.  I have a feeling that this every-state-for-itself  idea will be proven to be a real problem as people in states that didn’t accept the expanded Medicare under the ACA are faced with citizens who won’t understand why Uncle Charlie can get health insurance subsidies and they can’t.  I don’t think this is a plan people will go for – especially after they get a feel for what is covered under ACA – but at least Jindal has something.

President Obama’s poll numbers are creeping up.  Democrats running for re-election would do well to be cautious about running away from the ACA, and optimistic me says that Nate Silver might just be wrong this time with is prediction that the Republicans have the edge in the mid-terms.  It won’t be easy for the Democrats:  They have to turn out their base in larger numbers than is usual for a mid-term, but it can be done.  Nate did favor Duke which lost in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

President Harrison’s new medical diagnosis

William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, served one month.  I learned in school that he gave a very long inaugural address, caught pneumonia, and died.  I think this is what most people know about him.  Oh, there is that slogan “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too”.  Harrison , while governor of the Indiana Territory, commanded troops that repulsed a raid by Chief Tecumseh.  According to his biography on the White House website

…In 1801 he became Governor of the Indiana Territory, serving 12 years.

His prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements.

The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian confederation to prevent further encroachment. In 1811 Harrison received permission to attack the confederacy.

While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about a thousand men toward the Prophet’s town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.

The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison’s fame was to rest, disrupted Tecumseh’s confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were again terrorizing the frontier.

In the War of 1812 Harrison won more military laurels when he was given the command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813, he defeated the combined British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh. The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.

Then in 1840 he won the Presidency in a close election, gave his address, took sick and died.  But of what did he actually die?  Two New York Times science reporters think they have found the answer.

But a new look at the evidence through the lens of modern epidemiology makes it far more likely that the real killer lurked elsewhere — in a fetid marsh not far from the White House.

The first clue that the pneumonia diagnosis was wrong lies in Miller’s [Thomas Miller, Harrison's doctor] own apparent uneasiness with it. “The disease,” he wrote, “was not viewed as a case of pure pneumonia; but as this was the most palpable affection, the term pneumonia afforded a succinct and intelligible answer to the innumerable questions as to the nature of the attack.”

An 1846 map of Washington, top, shows the home (A) of William Henry Harrison, above, its water supply (B), and a field of “night soil” (C) that could have harbored deadly bacteria.

An 1846 map of Washington, top, shows the home (A) of William Henry Harrison, above, its water supply (B), and a field of “night soil” (C) that could have harbored deadly bacteria.

The conclusion:  Typhoid Fever.

In those days the nation’s capital had no sewer system. Until 1850, some sewage simply flowed onto public grounds a short distance from the White House, where it stagnated and formed a marsh; the White House water supply was just seven blocks downstream of a depository for “night soil,” hauled there each day at government expense.

That field of human excrement would have been a breeding ground for two deadly bacteria, Salmonella typhi and S. paratyphi, the causes of typhoid and paratyphoid fever — also known as enteric fever, for their devastating effect on the gastrointestinal system.

Two other antebellum presidents, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, developed severe gastroenteritis while living in the White House. Taylor died, while Polk recovered, only to be killed by what is thought to have been cholera a mere three months after leaving office.

Thus, the lack of a sewer system may have lead to the death of two presidents and the illness of a third.

Death of an angry, unhappy man

I know that many were happy with the news of Fred Phelps’ death but when I first heard, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt.  On one hand, a man who protested at the funerals of men and women who died in combat would no longer be able to do so.  On the other, one could feel sorry for a man who could never get over his anger.  He was once a noted civil rights lawyer in Kansas  and won an award from the local NAACP, but even back then there were signs he was troubled.  The obituary in the New York Times notes

He earned a law degree in 1964 from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, but his legal career was troubled from the start. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes Westboro Baptist as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” Mr. Phelps struggled to find people to attest to his good character when he wanted to be admitted to the bar, was temporarily suspended for professional misconduct, and was even sued for failing to pay for candy his children sold door to door.

He succeeded in winning settlements in discrimination cases he filed as a civil rights lawyer.

“Most blacks — that’s who they went to,” the Rev. Ben Scott, president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Topeka branch, said in an interview with CNN in 2010. “I don’t know if he was cheaper or if he had that stick-to-it-ness, but Fred didn’t lose many back then.”

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Phelps was disbarred in 1979.  While he has said that his anti gay crusade began because a grandson was propositioned he showed a predilection for child abuse.  Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker piece titled “The Two Freds” about Fred Rogers and Fred Phelps

One unpleasant thing about Fred Phelps was the way in which he and his church members brought children to their protests and had them hold placards like the ones that Roberts quoted, and repeat slogans slurring gay people and praising divine killings. They tended to be Phelps’s own children or grandchildren—how else would you find an eight-year-old to damn Mr. Rogers?—and the bulk of his parishioners were his relatives. The obituaries refer to complicated loyalties and estrangements, but then, those of some very good people do, too. But one can see, in the hanging of hateful signs on children, the very opposite of Fred Rogers’s life’s project, which was to treat young people both morally and as serious moral actors. Mr. Rogers spoke of the intense drama of one’s earliest years, Supreme Court cases or no, and the way that friendship, above all, was orienting. Of the two Freds, he’s the one who endures. Phelps, and all his vitriol, will spin away.

Phelps and his congregation at Westboro Baptist Church (composed primarily, if not entirely of family) demonstrated everywhere.  They spread Phelps angry message at thousands of funerals of the well known and of ordinary people as well as at many events.  Phelps represented an angry God.  The New York Time obituary again

In 1998, he explained his view of a wrathful God in an interview with The Houston Chronicle.

“You can’t believe the Bible without believing that God hates people,” he said. “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”

So in the end, I feel sorry for a man filled with so much hate and anger.  I hope he can find peace in another life.

Photograph:  Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun, via Associated Press

Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell