Sunday, May 09, 2010

Three from the Times

Several articles caught my attention in today's New York Times.

First, there is this on my favorite television program, Morning Joe, the only show I try to watch with regularity.

And this is why I tune in:

Some guests, used to the formulaic structure of other programs, have been confused by the program’s improvisational format. “We had one guest that kept coming on the set, saying ‘What are we talking about today, I didn’t get my talking points?’ ” Joe recalled. “And finally Mika turned to her and said, ‘It’s in the damn newspaper, and if you read it, you’ll know what we’ll be talking about.’ ”

Then there is The Ghosts of Gandamak, on the first Anglo-Afghan War. The writer is William Dalrymple, author of From the Holy Mountain. He is a great favorite of mine and, I suspect, of many other visitors here as well. He is researching for an upcoming work on the history of the First Anglo-Afghan War. An excerpt that speaks for itself:

The course of that distant Victorian war followed a trajectory that is beginning to seem distinctly familiar. In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan on the basis of dubious intelligence about a nonexistent threat: information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul, the Afghan capital, was manipulated by a group of ambitious hawks to create a scare about a phantom Russian invasion, thus bringing about an unnecessary, expensive and wholly avoidable conflict.

Initially, the British conquest proved remarkably easy and bloodless; Kabul was captured within a few months and a pliable monarch, Shah Shuja, placed on the throne. Then an insurgency began which unraveled that first heady success, first among the Pashtuns of Kandahar and Helmand, then slowly moving northward until it reached the capital.

What happened next is a warning of how bad things could yet become: a full-scale rebellion against the British broke out in Kabul, and the two most senior British envoys were murdered, making the British occupation impossible to sustain. On the disastrous retreat that followed, as many as 18,000 East India Company troops and maybe half again as many Indian camp followers (estimates vary), were slaughtered by Afghan marksmen waiting in ambush amid the snow drifts and high passes, shot down as they trudged through the icy depths of the Afghan winter.

The last 50 or so survivors made their final stand at Gandamak. As late as the 1970s, fragments of Victorian weaponry could be found lying in the screes above the village; even today, the hill is covered with bleached British bones. Only one man, Thomas Souter, lived to tell the tale. It is a measure of the increasingly pertinent parallels between the events of 1842 and today’s that one of the main NATO bases in Afghanistan is named Camp Souter.

And finally, there is the article on Julian Castro, the squeaky-clean, 35-year old, Harvard educated mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Some tout him as our future First Hispanic President (sorry, George P.) He is the son of longtime La Raza Unida activist Rosie Castro. His advisers see the path to national prominence as going through the Texas Governor's Mansion (its been done before.) While our demographics are changing, Texas is still very much a GOP stronghold, at least for the next 6 to 8 years. To break through, the Democratic candidate will need every vote in the Rio Grande Valley. To assist in this, Castro's advisers have quietly arranged for him to be tutored in...ahem...Spanish. That's right, the Latino son of a La Raza Unida leader is taking Spanish lessons from a Ms. Bronstein so he could pursue his national aspirations. Only in America, folks!


David B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B said...

"...the Latino son of a La Raza Unida leader is taking Spanish lessons from a Ms. Bronstein..."

[former Spanish teacher falls out of his chair from laughing so hard]

Kirk said...

OMG, what a great article about Morning Joe!! Thank you, thank you, John.

joven said...

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Sophocles said...

Hi John,

I enjoyed the excerpt from The Ghosts of Gandamak. It reminded of a book I not too long ago read by Steven Pressfield, The Afghan Campaign, Alexander the Great and his campaign the book's story.

Just curious if you've ever read him or this book?

Sophocles said...

Oh, and I almost forgot, this post on my blog,

Anonymous said...

Castro is largely a Jewish surname. Southern American Countries are filled with Castros running businesses, including one running a country

John said...


No, I have not read Pressfield. I'll add him to my list. And thanks for the link.

Sophocles said...

My pleasure.

If you do read Pressfield, and you're not particularly drawn to Afghanistan, I would recommend as a first read from him, Gates of Fire. Thermopylae under his pen is thrilling. He and all things ancient Greek go well together.

Do please let me know if you do pick him up.