Wandering Eye: The Bushes and 'Chang,' James Madison's spin, and more

A catch phrase can embody a lot of subtext, as this blog post by Brad DeLong explains. Jeb Bush has sometimes described a "mystical warrior" named Chang, who embodies all of the conservative virtues. His father, George H.W. Bush, used to threaten to "unleash Chiang" on his tennis opponents. But the real historical reference here is to Chiang Kaishek, titular leader of Taiwan after losing China's civil war to Mao Zedong. After that, the U.S. 7th Fleet took up residence around the Formosa Strait for a time, lest The People's Liberation Army attempt to finish the job. This made American wing nuts crazy; they insisted that the fleet was really protecting Mao's forces. And so there was the elder Bush, back during his CIA days. "When George H. W. Bush, playing tennis (and losing) in the 1970s and 1980s, would threaten to 'unleash Chiang,' he was mocking the right-wing nuts of his generation," DeLong writes. But Jeb never got the joke, see? He "didn't know enough about world history or even the history of the Republican Party to know who Chiang Kaishek was, or what 'Unleash Chiang!' meant." And we're worried about Trump and Carson? (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

As Paris reels from the Nov. 13 attacks, Republican governors (including our newly cancer-free Boss Hög) panic about refugees, and presidential candidates fly rhetorical loop-de-loops trying to out-tough one another, here's a primer about how damn complicated it is to determine just who or what is behind any particular political assassination, truck bomb, or dance-club explosion. John Schindler, a former NSA guy turned blogger and talking head, wrote a year ago about some of the Byzantine ties between various "bad guy" states (Iran, Syria) and "terror groups," making the points (too often ignored) that terrorists are first and foremost criminals, subject to market forces; and just because a particular terror group attacks, it doesn't mean that it called the shot. And you don't have to buy Schindler's argument or expertise wholesale to understand the patterns in play. Those with long memories might recall that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's killers demanded the U.S. hand over fighter jets it promised to Pakistan's military, for example. It's well understood among the savvy that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence maintains close ties to (if not operational control of) multiple terrorist groups. Longer memories might recall the alleged involvement of Spanish separatists in the bombing of Nicaraguan Contra Eden Pastora in 1984 (which was bullshit, the Sandinistas actually did that one, but hey), or even Mafia cooperation in the CIA's 1960s efforts to snuff Fidel Castro. Bottom line: With terrorism, what you see is almost never what you get. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

In 2015, it's almost assumed that much of the political news that comes out will be colored by some sort of political slant. Baltimore Sun commenters like to call it media bias. For years, a post-American Revolution document which has been cited in court proceedings and research papers, James Madison's papers on the Constitutional Convetion of 1787, have been seen as an unassailable record of how our country's Constitution was crafted. However, a CSI-like study conducted by Boston College Law School legal historian Mary Sarah Bilder shows that even Madison's writing was affected by spin. The Washignton Post explains: "Bilder, using forensic techniques to date the changes he made and historical research to describe what was happening politically when he made them, has made sense of the revisions, which began right after the convention and continued up until his death." Scholars have known all along Madison revised his notes before the book was ever published—which wasn't until after his death in 1836, when no one else who attended the convention was still alive—but Bilder contends the changes made are so significant that "as a reliable source, Madison’s Notes are a problem." (Brandon Weigel)

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