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Alan Vanneman, not a reliable guide to Eastern Europe

OK, I’m not. In my last foray east of the Elbe, I hoped/opined that Vladimir Putin’s muscle-flexing re “break-away” Ukraine was just that. Little did I know that Vlad would pull a Bush (or an Obama) and decide that war is fun. Like them both, he’s discovered that the ultima ratio regnum1 is chockfull of unintended and unpleasant consequences.

I suspected that Putin’s “big win,” achieved by annexing the Crimean Peninsula, which had, after all, been a part of Russia for almost two hundred years (and never a part of Ukraine2), would turn out a net loser for Russia, but Putin’s grotesquely stupid decision to provide Ukrainian separatists with sophisticated weaponry has come back to bite him in the ass with stunning promptness and severity. All of “civilized Europe” is shaking its head at this renewed outbreak of Russian barbarism and brutality.

Putin probably would like to believe that he doesn’t “need” Europe—at least, not as much as Europe needs him. But he just made one jug-eared black kid’s job a whole lot easier.

Of course, there will be plenty of people who will demand that Obama “do something”—even though those spoilsports, the American people, are still pretty allergic to that boots on the ground stuff. But who can pay attention to the GOP’s *manufactured” crises—like Benghazi and the IRS “scandals”—when there’s real shit happening?

  1. Short for “war is the last argument of kings”. Louis XIV had these words cast on the muzzles of his cannon. “I have been too fond of war,” he said on his death bed, after having wasted millions of francs, and millions of French lives, in the fruitless pursuit of gloire. 

  2. Catherine the Great “obtained” it from the Ottoman Empire in the late eighteenth century. 

Brief Lives

I have a new book out, Brief Lives, available here, both as a ebook and a print on demand paperback. Brief Lives is a collection of 32 short stories, many of them quite short, only a few pages, but some of them run on for a dozen or more. An “Afterwords” includes (usually) brief descriptions of how the stories came to be written. I’ll run 10 of them today, 10 next week, and the remaining 12 the week after. Enjoy!

Go here to check out my other books—Vorak of Kolnap, Author! Author!, Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara and Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Vorak and Author! Author! are both ebook/print on demand paperbacks, while the Holmes books are dead tree only—well, pretty much. Sherlock Holmes and the Hapsburg Tiara is also available in a complete audio version, ably recorded by noted British actor Simon Vance.

In addition to all this pay to read stuff, I have a complete freebie, Three Bullets, an exercise in fan fiction, recreating Rex Stout’s renowned fat detective, Nero Wolfe, available as an ebook only. Again, enjoy!

Brief Lives—the story behind the stories

Living in the Year of Our Lord 1959 AD
This was the first short story of mine to be published, in Willow Springs. It was based, quite heavily, on a man who lived up the street from us when I was a boy. In real life, he wasn’t quite as lovable as I’ve made him out to be, which is often the case with alcoholics. Do yourself a favor, dude, and lay off the booze.

Fucking Amadeus
I had a very negative reaction to the film Amadeus. Ten years after seeing it, I was still pissed off enough to write this little story.

The Bounty of the Lord is Inexhaustible
Making fun of evangelicals is even easier than making fun of WASPs. I guess my only defense is that I don’t do it very often.

Boy on the Water
My grandfather, Allen Vanneman, worked on the construction of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River. U.S. Route 1 runs across the top of the dam. My dad was born and grew up in Port Deposit, a small town on the Susquehanna. One night I was driving across the Conowingo and I thought about my father and I wrote this story.

Waking Up Christmas
“Waking Up Christmas” came about as the result of a story someone else wrote, which we read in my writing alma mater, the Northwest Fiction Writers Group. The story involved a family that ran a Christmas store, a family that, behind the tinsel and mistletoe, suffered the usual disfunctions. Anyway, I was quite taken by several long descriptions of the store itself, and I exclaimed “I bet you could write a whole story on that,” which, I’m afraid, someone thought was ridiculous.

Thus goaded, I paid a visit to a Christmas store in Union Station, which may or may not be still in existence, checked it out, rearranged things in my mind quite a bit, and came up with “Waking Up Christmas.” There isn’t much here for the little ones, but I’m not that much of a Scrooge in person. I like Christmas, a lot, but sometimes getting into the spirit, and staying there, can be a bitch.

“Layover” began as an attempt to write commercial fiction, something I’ve never been able to do. After I finished my first Sherlock Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, I spent quite a bit of time looking for a publisher, with no success. It occurred to me that if I published a short story in one of the two monthly mystery magazines on the market, Alfred Hitchcock and *Ellery Queen, selling my novel might be easier.

I bought a couple of copies of the magazines and read them, to see what they were printing. I was surprised to discover that the stories were not at all fierce and bloody, as I had expected. It appears that the readers of both Alfred and Ellery were gentle souls who did not much like the rough, dog-eat-dog world of global capitalism in which they found themselves and liked stories that would take them away from all of that.

I wrote a story of that sort, hoping it would sell, and sent it off. I collected two rejections and sat down to write another. The night before I had had a dream based, in dream-like fashion, on a trip I had taken once to Cabo San Lucas, a resort town on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Once I started in on the story, I forgot that it was supposed to be “commercial,” and I enjoyed the experience so much of letting the publishers be damned that I wrote the story to suit myself and no one else, which is pretty much the way I’ve always written. After all, I already have a day job. Of course, writing to suit yourself is a pretty good way of ensuring that you’ll always have a day job, which is how things have worked out for me.

Anyway, I had a good time writing “Layover.” There’s a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo in the story, mumbo-jumbo that is, alas, entirely inaccurate, according to a member of the Northwest Fiction Writers Group, who happened to be a member of the faculty of the Catholic University School of Law. But—and this is what’s important—he told me that the story was so exciting that he didn’t care that all of my “facts” were erroneous.

There at the New Yorker
“There at the New Yorker is scarcely even a sketch, let alone a short story. Like so many unpublished writers, I have sort of a thing about the New Yorker, and this piece is little more than a brief release of bile.

The Truth About Henry Kissinger
“The Truth About Henry Kissinger” was prompted by the “aggressive” coverage of Henry by a number of liberal Jewish journalists back in the Vietnam era and after. I wasn’t a fan of Kissinger, but I didn’t think of him as completely evil. I came to the conclusion that these angry journalists resented Kissinger because they expected all Jews to be liberals, and Kissinger obviously wasn’t.

At the time that I wrote the story, what I really disliked about Kissinger was his constant lying about his record in order to ingratiate himself with the moralizing Reaganites who had seized control of the Republican Party. Since that time, Kissinger’s reputation has continued to darken, most recently due to the revelation that as Secretary of State he rescinded a planned warning by the State Department to General Pinochet’s authoritarian regime in Chile not to engage in assassination. A few days after Kissinger’s action, former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier was murdered with a car bomb at Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC, a few blocks from my apartment. Which leads one to believe that Henry Kissinger was/is almost as bad as Christopher Hitchens says he is, and perhaps as bad as my nameless narrator says he is as well.

The Meaning of Life
“The Meaning of Life” is hardly even a sketch, hardly more than a diatribe. But my bar is low, and “Meaning” leaped over.

In the Kingdom of the Girls
“In the Kingdom of the Girls” has the tri-partite, thesis/antithesis/synthesis pattern of the classic short story, and even has the standard “important” last sentence. It’s so classic that I almost blush to think of it. But there’s a reason why classic forms last. They work, and I hope this one does.

I was inspired to write this story by two things. At my twentieth high-school reunion, one of my classmates, who worked for the CIA, encouraged me to apply. The thought that the CIA might actually give me a job struck me as a little amazing, and I stored it away. Some years later, on my real job, not with the CIA, I paid a visit to a fairly fancy girls school outside of Baltimore. I was the tallest person on campus, which can be a refreshing experience. This story was written so long ago that Arianna Huffington was still a conservative. I had enjoyed her book on Picasso, written prior to her marriage to Mr. Huffington, a book that enraged “professional” art critics by pointing out what a shit Pablo was to women. Men are so touchy.

Pseudo New Yorker

Legal humor here. All cartoons here. or here

“Is that a gay thing?”

“As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind changing yours. Of course, I’d have to give you a good spanking first.”

“Nice quads! But the gluts could do with some work!”

“Oh, you know, the usual—excessive use of precious nicknames, a Chablis habit that I just couldn’t seem to handle, and something about use of an eyeliner manufactured from three or more endangered species. What are you in for?”

“Hey! Not many of those in a pound! Am I right?”

“I’ll bet someone’s up for a juicy-juice!”

“If you’re an eremite where’s your style?”

“Why? What happens when we get to the top?”

“Yeah, this is my life too. Kids!”

“You look like you’re cross-training for the Hunger Games.”

James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide, Part 18


This is the 18th episode of “James Thurber, A Reader’s Guide,” a rambling consideration of Thurber’s works, examining his life and work in some detail. Generally, these appear every Friday. The links to the first part and the most recent part are given below. Part 18 discusses Thurber’s career as the Thirties drew to a close.


PART 17 

Thurber was on much surer, though vaguer, grounds, with The Last Flower, a salute to the imagination for once not tainted with misogyny, for the enemy here is war, the most masculine of occupations. Drawn in 1939 during the shock of the joint Nazi/Soviet invasion of Poland, The Last Flower is an apolitical protest against a world ruled by hard-nosed men of affairs, whose “realism” always seems to lead to death and disaster for humanity. The Edenic innocence of the Man, the Woman, and the Flower don’t provide much policy guidance for overcoming the men with guns, but no one, least of all an artist, should be expected to have all the answers.1

Thurber quickly abandoned his brief career as a political controversialist, which in fact offers few opportunities for “significant” humor. He was giving freer rein to his interest in fantasy in a series of brief pieces he did for the New Yorker called “Fables for Our Time”, each featuring an Aesopian moral at its conclusion. The pieces were later collected in a book, published in 1940, along with items from another series, “Famous Poems Illustrated,” wonderful caricatures designed to accompany the hopelessly square nineteenth century poems that American school kids were then expected to memorize.

Thurber’s Fables are deliberately modeled on Aesop’s Fables. Some of them are rather lazy, “wise-guy” updates of familiar stories, as in the case of “Little Red Riding Hood,” where Red disposes of the Wolf with her trusty automatic. Others are “animals acting human” stories, like “The Bear Who Could Take it or Leave it Alone,” about a bear who is confident that he only chooses to drink. The final twist occurs when, after choosing not to drink, he proves to be just as obnoxious when sober as when drunk—a drinker’s moral if ever there was one.

Thurber naturally indulged his taste for fantasy in these tales, I have rarely cared for fantasy, in part because, if anything can happen, then it really doesn’t matter what does happen. Furthermore, fantasy has a tendency to get “dark” in a hurry. Freed from the burdens of reality, writers often take the opportunity to “settle” things that in real life usually go unavenged. To my mind, fantasy and sadism often go hand in hand, and you can find both in Thurber. Perhaps the most striking is “The Owl Who Was God,” a very mordant tale. Thurber plays with the idea of bird calls becoming speech in a remarkably arch manner as the owl is quizzed by a skeptical secretary bird.

“How many claws am I holding up?” said the secretary bird. “Two,” said the owl, and that was right. “Can you give me another expression for ‘that is to say’ or ‘namely,’” said the secretary bird. “To wit,” said the owl. “Why does a lover call on his love?” asked the secretary bird. “To woo,” said the owl.

The owl’s gnomic responses, plus his great, staring eyes, which “prove” that he can see in the day as well as the dark, cause a variety of impressionable animals to worship him. Naturally, he leads his hysterical followers out into the middle of the road, where most of them, including the owl, are slaughtered by a speeding truck.

Fortunately, Fables for Our Time is not all blood and guts. It includes one of Thurber’s most famous stories, “The Unicorn in the Garden,” about a rare Thurber man who outwits his shrewish wife, allowing him, it would seem, to spend the rest of his life in a garden with a unicorn, feeding it lilies, a vaguely phallic and presumably paradisiacal fate.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” said E.B. White of James Thurber. “I knew him before fame got him, before blindness got him.” In the early forties, both fame and blindness got to Thurber. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” his most famous short story, appeared in the New Yorker in 1939, the same year that The Male Animal triumphed on Broadway. Both works would be made into feature films, The Male Animal in 1942 and “Mitty” in 1947.

Thurber’s first successes as a writer, in college and after returning home from his service in Paris with the State Department in World War I, had been for the stage, but he seems to have had an incurable lack of confidence in his ability to write anything with a sustained plot. In the late thirties he convinced his great friend and mentor, Elliot Nugent, now enjoying a substantial Hollywood career, to join with him to write a play about a subject immensely “fraught” for Thurber, the conflict between the man of action and the man of words, a subject about which they surely had words as literary gents struggling to survive in the gridiron hothouse known as Ohio State.

  1. The Last Flower is probably “denounceable” as advocating appeasement or isolation. However, Thurber was a strong anti-Nazi, and I’ve seen no evidence that he followed the “left” position that advocated against U.S. involvement (until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, that is). Like many Americans who loved France, he was horrified by the Nazi conquest of that country. 

Department of Unintentional Irony/Hypocrisy/Stupidity Department: Kyla Wazana Tompkins, not thinking importantly

You’re Anna North and you have to write an “Op-Talk” for the New York Times called “If You Read This, You Might Never Drink a Latte Again” So how the hell are you going to fill up a column with that?

If you’re smart, you’ll talk to Kyla Wazana Tompkins, a professor of English and gender and women’s studies who opines that “it’s important to think about the explosion of all of these industrialized lattes, all these frozen lattes, all the Frappuccinos, as links to a larger problem of creating cheap, high-calorie, low-nutrition food for working-class people.”

Kyla, why is it a “problem” to create “cheap, high-calorie, low-nutrition food for working-class people”? Just walk into a Seven-Eleven. Problem solved!

I guess what Kyla “means” is that it’s a problem for “capitalism” to invent cheap, bad food with which to exploit the masses, but, again, it isn’t. What capitalists are struggling with is not getting Americans to pig out, but rather to get them to pig out with their product.

A large point of Anna’s rap is that lattes really aren’t as la-dee-da as you might think. They’re actually tacky! And, thus, so are you, you pretentious, latte-sucking snob/slob!

Why is Obama so unpopular?

It’s official: President Obama is the people’s choice for the worst president since WWII. And his popularity is dropping faster than runoff in the Dead Sea.1

The first part is easy to explain. Any Democratic president is going to be picked as the “worst” president because Republicans hate Democratic presidents so much. Some fringe Republicans actually do hate Obama because he is black. He presided over the worst economic conditions in living memory and there’s been plenty of turmoil abroad, some of it (i.e., Libya) Barack’s own doing. Yet Bill Clinton, a white guy who presided over the best of economic times at home and peace abroad, was hated and despised by the great mass of Republicans with equal fervor. The Republican base just hates those goddamn hippies the Democrats keep running for president.

But Obama has lost a chunk of the moderates as well. To understand why, it’s important to remember that government by Nobel Prize winner didn’t work out nearly as well as the president expected when he took office. His genius staff, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in particular, were blindsided by the Great Recession, which wasn’t supposed to happen. Just make the bankers happy, and they’ll make everyone happy!

Obama’s fealty to Wall Street made him a lightning rod for the Republican base at the same time that it prevented him from doing anything substantial to aid the millions drowning in their underwater mortgages. The massive slump in tax revenues, coupled with huge expenditures for unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid, and other countercyclical programs prevented the president from putting into effect the panoply of “green power” programs that floated like sugar plums in his head. (The president still doesn’t know it, but this was a blessing in disguise.)

Having surged right to do Wall Street’s bidding, the president next surged left on health care, deeply alienating the old folks when he insisted on paying for universal coverage by cutting back (modestly) on Medicare. The president was deadly serious about taming entitlements, something both the Democratic and the Republican bases detested.

Domestic policy liberals were embittered, over and over again, by the long succession of failed budget deals, during each of which the president, ever faithful to Wall Street’s bidding, labored earnestly to give away the store, only to be stonewalled by Republicans who wanted an issue far more than they wanted a deal (because when they looked at the actual terms of any real deal—involving, inevitably, significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare—they ran away from the table).

Obama also proved a vast disappointment to the labor movement. It’s difficult to recall the euphoria that prevailed in the labor movement when Obama was elected in 2008. Happy days are here again! Well, not so much. Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union, and symbol of resurgent union power, poured $60 million into Obama’s campaign, buying himself a very large seat at the table. But scarcely had Obama been elected when the SEIU was hit by devastating internal strife, and Stern resigned as president in April 2010. In the meantime, the administration had first irritated and then enraged the teachers’ unions by giving persistent and aggressive support to both charter schools and teacher evaluation, reforms detested by the teachers unions. Public support for unions, particularly public sector unions, has been declining throughout the Obama years, which makes it easier for Democrats to neglect the unions, and which increases the unions’ alienation from the party.

The president also alienated the handful of liberals who actually cared about civil liberties, while the Dick Cheneys of the world would never have supported unless he agreed to perform waterboarding himself. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president shrewdly/cynically gave the Pentagon and the CIA enough rope to hang themselves, to the point that they were willing to let him end wars they realized were no longer worth fighting.2 When he stupidly pursued a “liberal” intervention policy in Libya, it blew up in his face3 The picture is muddier in Ukraine, but again if the president hadn’t pursued a “forward” policy, striving to bring a former part of the Soviet Union into the western sphere of influence, maybe life would be more peaceful For whatever reason, the president keeps pursuing “heroic” policies abroad, the price for which is too often paid in blood by foreigners about whom Americans care very little.

Obama regained momentum with his solid win over Romney in 2012, made all the more satisfying by the fact that Mitt, and a lot of other Republicans, thought he was going to win. Obama further strengthened his hand by outlasting the Republicans in the 2015 budget battles, but the Obamacare website disaster cost him all he had won. Obama’s repeated promise that “if you like your health care plan you can keep it,” a statement he knew wasn’t true, provided the perfect icing for the Republicans’ cake.

Except for the VA—an old-fashioned case of senior bureaucrats playing games to boost their own bonuses—the various bureaucratic scandals pushed so fiercely by Darryl Issa and other Republican liars, well, I’m obviously not impressed. On immigration, I’m even less impressed. This is simply Obama hatred all over again, probably the hottest single issue in the ongoing culture war that makes the populist right-wing feel like outcasts in their own country. I sympathize with them a little, but only a little.

Could Obama have done a little better? A little tougher on Wall Street, a little more ahead of the game when the downturn hit, a little more incremental on health care, a little better on civil liberties (a lot better on civil liberties), a lot less enthusiastic on the environment (clearly, his favorite issue), and lot more cautious abroad. Yes, I think he could have done all those things, and I wish he had. But being a Democratic president whose term coincided with the Great Recession more or less guaranteed a low rating.

  1. Which is below sea level. 

  2. Of course, when the settlement in Iraq collapsed of its own weight, the brass hats and spooks were more than happy to give the president all the blame. Classy! 

  3. And in the face of the Libyans, who would be far better off if we hadn’t “rescued” them. 

Pseudo New Yorker

Legal humor here. All cartoons here.

“Let it be said that the battle against global warming began today at 9 AM in this very room.”

“Do I despise them? No. Do I think them capable of far more than they are giving? Yes.”

“Some day they will be free as we are free. But not now.”

“Okay, wearing Spring Romance is like running naked through a green, green field. Now make me feel that!”

“My testicles are free, and so is my heart.”

“‘We have nothing to hide! We have nothing to hide!’ Boy, are they going to be in for a surprise.”

“No, there are no bad ideas. And this was a great one!”

“So the IRS is gonna say, they’re probably gonna say, ‘Why are you all naked?’ And we’re gonna say, ‘your letter said full disclosure.’ Is that good? I’m not sure I like it. I mean, a gag like this doesn’t need a topper. It demands a topper.”

“For me, there was Jim, and then there was Jimi. And the doors of experience opened wide, never to close again. And that’s the way it will always be, here at Dorsett and Smythe.”

“I know it’s elaborate, but somehow it’s the only way I can quit smoking.”

Can Henry M. Paulson, Jr. predict the future?

Several weeks ago,1 former Wall Street big shot and Treasury Sec Henry Paulson held forth on the urgent need for action on climate change, predicting “a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities” if we, and the rest of the world, fail to take dramatic action now!

Like so many climate change obsessive compulsives, Paulson argues passionately that the case “for” anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming (which it pretty much is) and then leaps to the unsubstantiated conclusion that we have perform major surgery on the way we go about our lives or face, well, Nature’s wrath. In other words, global warming equals global destruction.

But what is Henry’s record for predicting the future? Not so damn good, is it? It should have been “obvious” to Henry and his big shot Wall Street buddies that the surge in housing prices provoked by falling mortgage rates would have to cool off, simply because rates couldn’t continue to fall forever, but very few people did. Housing prices had risen for four or five years straight, which “proved” that they would keep rising forever.

Few people were concerned about runaway housing prices. And even if the market did cool off, so what? Housing is only about 4 percent of the economy. The Wall Street geniuses so admired by Tim Geithner wouldn’t be so dumb as to bet trillions of their clients’ money on the assumption that housing prices would continue to rise substantially for “forever,” would they? Because markets are self-policing! Everybody knows that!

Economists failed to predict the Great Recession before it hit, and after it hit they failed dangerously to predict its severity. If anyone had predicted “fracking” ten years ago the environmentalists would have laughed them out of court. Oh, a fantastic new way to obtain natural gas that would radically lower its price and convert the U.S. into a net energy producer! Yeah, right!

To top it all off, Paulson’s “solution” is a carbon tax, which, as many people have pointed out, already exists in Europe. In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, gasoline prices are more than double the U.S. price, while consumers aren’t as wealthy, and yet Europeans drive pretty much like Americans. Furthermore, European nations have invested massively in environmentally correct energy policies, with pretty much zero result. Aren’t businessmen supposed to know what a bad investment looks like when they see one?

  1. Yes, this post is several weeks late. On the other hand, nothing has been done, so it’s still “timely.” 

“Many of Obama’s best advisers on Iraq”. And many of his bitchiest as well!

Eli Lake is a guy who has cashed checks from both Marty Peretz and the Reverend Moon. He now holds forth at the Daily Beast and if you read his column “Why the White House Ignored All Those Warnings About ISIS,” you’ll find out why President Obama is so afraid of going up against the military-intelligence complex. Because they’ll piss all over their commander in chief if he does!

The column is largely given over to a litany of “if only the president had listened to me!” drivel, all of it ignoring the fact that ISIS has won its victories because the large and heavily armed Iraqi army threw down its weapons and ran away. The advisors who claim that if only we had kept troops in Iraq (when 80 percent of the Iraqis wanted us gone) U.S. forces could have defeated ISIS ignore the fact that this would simply have converted Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki (not so popular in his own right) into an American puppet and U.S. troops into an occupation army. Do we really want to send our young men and women over to Iraq so they can stand and swelter in 120-degree heat while screaming kids throw rocks at them?

Lake is not entirely unscrupulous—only about 80 percent. Sandwiched in between the backstabbing, 20/20 hindsight are a couple of intelligent paragraphs:

Others who served in Iraq at the time however said this was far too simplistic. The United States actually tried in 2010 to find alternatives to Maliki, according to Jeffrey. But in the end, those efforts fell apart because the Kurds chose to form a coalition with Maliki’s political party and there were no other viable Shi’ite politicians who could take Maliki’s place. At one point, Vice President Biden himself tried to persuade the Kurdish president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, to give up his position to Iyad Allawi, the first man the Bush administration appointed to be prime minister of Iraq’s interim government. It didn’t work.

One senior U.S. official who works closely on Iraq policy said there were no good options right now for who the United States should support. “This stuff is far more complicated than ‘white hat / black hat’ and Maliki good, that guy bad, or Maliki bad, that guy good. They’re all shades of gray, at best.” This official said that while it’s true that Maliki has alienated the Sunni minority, he also has genuine roots in Iraq’s society and real popularity. “That does not mean he is likely to form a government in the present environment, and there is growing opposition to a third term, even within his own bloc,” this official said. “But Maliki’s strength and staying power was more a function of the realities of Iraq than policies in Washington.”

Got that? What happens in Iraq is “more a function of the realities of Iraq than policies in Washington.” What a concept! If only Eli could keep it in his head for more than two paragraphs!