The Paraguayan War

This summer, I’m working with professors at Columbia on a couple of research projects; thus far, the one I have been most engaged with is a political science study on the effects of interventions. Basically, an intervention is any time one country invades another in order to place itself between the second state’s government and its people (a clear-cut case: Iraq War, 2003). My role involves going back through the last two centuries of wars and classifying their outcomes (e.g. did the intervened-in country become more autocratic or democratic?).

However, this does mean that I’m learning a little bit about almost every military conflict since 1800 — and because history is endlessly fascinating and complicated and frankly a little absurd, some of these conflicts are both obscure and worth learning about.

So I want to talk for a second about the Paraguayan War (also known as “the War of the Triple Alliance”). Fought between 1864 and 1870, Clodfelter’s Encyclopedia of Warfare and Armed Conflicts notes in its typically dry fashion that “in terms of bloodshed and suffering meted out and endured, [this war was] the greatest conflict between the nations of the western hemisphere.”

Here’s my highly paraphrased and abridged summary of the war. Essentially, Paraguay had a dictator — Francisco Solano Lopez — with major delusions of grandeur. So he stuck some troops in the middle of a civil war in Uruguay, drawing the ire of Brazil (who backed the other side), Argentina, and (later, once the Brazilian faction was victorious in civil war) Uruguay, which soon expanded into a wider conflict. To put the relative populations of these nations in contemporary terms, this is roughly like Wilmington, Delaware and its suburbs going to war with the whole of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Lopez believed that Paraguay was destined for greatness. So, even though hopelessly outmanned, Lopez chose an aggressive war of conquest, spending six years invading the surrounding nations — except for one minor victory, every battle for six years ending in a vicious defeat. In one battle in 1866, 5000 Paraguayans were killed and another 8000 were injured. The slow destruction of his army was compounded by the periodic, paranoid purges of his top generals — Lopez was Stalin before Stalin was even born. The war only ended once Lopez himself was killed on March 1, 1870 — the dictator and his last 400 followers were cornered by 8000 men of the triple alliance, and Lopez was stabbed to death with a lance.

In six years, a country of 450,000 people had its population reduced by more than 50%. Paraguay’s three opponents lost only 50 to 100,000 dead, while Paraguay lost over 220,000.

What blows me away about the Paraguayan War was that this was not a defensive war, where stronger powers devastated Paraguay because there was something they wanted. Thucyidides wrote, of relations between states, that “the strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” But, in this case, the weak seemed to believe that they were the strong despite years and years of evidence to the contrary.

We often assume in “political science” that humans (and, by extension, states) are perfectly rational actors. But history never fails to remind us that humans are often far from rational, driven by greed or power or sex or undiagnosed mental illness or the afterlife or a lack of air conditioning. And often the results are inexplicable.

Sometimes, it’s too much to comprehend — but we suffer what we must.

You crazy bastard


It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself. Not that there was anyone to hear me if I had said it out loud; I was two hours into the two hour and fifteen minute trip from New York City to Wilmington. I had started in the city around 6 in the evening, relieved to finally get my car out of a place that was actively hostile to its presence.

The drive is basically a straight shot, heading south, the sun very definitively on my right as I zoomed through the rather pointless state of New Jersey. I say pointless not to dismiss its many contributions to American history — whatever they may be — but rather because it’s the only landmass between my home and my school, and usually I want to be at one or the other.

But, so, the fireball. Near the end of New Jersey you get off the Garden State Parkway and head onto a different road, US-322, which heads towards the Commodore Barry Bridge. The bridge, in turn, takes you from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, spitting you out right on I-95 about ten minutes from my house. And in order to do this, US-322 points west, right towards where a setting sun would be.

It had been a clear, hot day along the East Coast, the only clouds wisps of haze that seemed to be many miles above the land. As I began to cross the bridge, I looked out at the horizon, where the sunset was beginning.

The sun was a pure and radiating orange, transforming the sky around it with shades of pink and blue and purple, the sort of color you could replicate in photoshop but it wouldn’t feel real, somehow, you just have to see it and know what sort of a day it had been and how this glorious, beautiful moment could have come to pass. Maybe now you just created some mental image of the moment I’ve just described; rest assured that you are still far from the spectacular truth.

And that’s when my internal monologue, which had been keeping me entertained throughout this solo adventure, decided to try to describe it. People have been staring at sunsets for as long as there have been people. Generations upon generations of writers have been trying to describe the great sunsets of their time; how could I, in one simile, even hope to convey what I saw over the Commodore Barry Bridge?

It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself, and it wasn’t until I stared at the sunset for a few more seconds until I realized what a banal and pointless simile I had constructed. For one, the sun is literally a giant fireball, so I’m not sure what another person could gain from describing it as what it is. But, perhaps more importantly, calling the sun “a giant fireball” is a woefully inadequate way to describe the beauty and complexity of the moment. Some sights need more than a few words, or a few dozen, or a few thousand. Some moments you cling tightly to because they’re yours, and no language in the world can fully describe them.

Some thoughts on Man of Steel

A movie about Achilles: Man of Heel

A movie about Bambi: Man of Veal

A movie about Justin Timberlake: Man of Biel

A movie about FDR: Man of Deal (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Tebow: Man of Kneel (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Madoff: Man of Steal (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Dan Marino: Man of Teal

A movie about a traveling preacher: Man of Zeal

A movie about Hitchcock: Man of Reel

A movie about Tropicana: Man of Peel

A movie about a ship captain: Man of Keel

A movie about Emeril Lagasse: Man of Meal

A movie about a carnival barker: Man of Spiel

A movie about Stevie Wonder: Man of Feel

Okay, I think I’ve just about beaten that to death.

(p.s. I really enjoyed Man of Steel, though I enjoyed even more the new seats installed at the 84th Street AMC theater — they recline completely. )

Beach reading

Some thoughts on a couple of books that I read while relaxing at Rehoboth Beach last week. I also read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time, which was just as great as advertised — but I don’t want to tread old ground too much.

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, Sasha Issenberg

Issenberg, a political writer at Slate, has written an engaging history of new techniques used to win campaigns. Generally speaking, these techniques are driven by the ability to collect large amounts of data on the electorate and a new willingness to conduct experiments with all this data — culminating in the 2008 and 2012 Obama re-election campaigns. While I’m skeptical of a lot of trends in political science (an overreliance on jargon, an tendency to simplify complex political decisions to fit neat proclamations), it seems that voting behavior is much more fertile terrain. Particularly when, as Issenberg points out, many of the assumptions of campaign operatives and consultants is based on little more than “gut feeling” or how it’s been done in the past. Some of the discussion on data management was of special interest to me, having been on the other side of it working with the database on Beau Biden’s reelection campaign in 2010.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Jonathan Wilson

I bought this book in England around the middle of April. (It’s football in the European sense, not the American one — though that’s a book I’d also like to read.) The fact that I’m just finishing it now is a testament to (a) how hectic my life has been over the past month and a half and (b) how difficult it is to make the history of football tactics engrossing. The book is deeply researched, integrating contemporary accounts from newspapers (aka my favorite thing about history) and personal stories to demonstrate how observers and participants reacted to the slow yet vibrant history of tactical innovations in football. Wilson is at his most entertaining when he assaults proponents of “direct football” — punting the ball long downfield at every possible opportunity — for elementary errors of math in their analysis. And even when the tactical talk gets a bit dry the book remains a very effective introduction into the footballing histories of about ten nations. Between this and Soccernomics, which I read in March, a good few months for investigating the sport.

New name

Hi yall! I’ve changed the name of the blog to to more accurately reflect the fact that I’m no longer in London. You’ll need to type in this new URL to access the site. Rest assured that none of the old content has gone away!

What’s wrong with the Philadelphia Union?

This evening, I went to my first Philadelphia Union game of the year with my family. (As expert readers of the blog know, I went to quite a few football games while in Britain, but this is my first in America.) The Union pulled out a 2-1 win in the U.S. Open Cup — the American version of the FA Cup — over a fourth-division semi-pro team from Ocean City, N.J.*, that was playing only their fourth competitive match together. The Union looked sluggish and wasteful in the final third, never quite able to crush a group of amateur college players. Here’s an excessively long analysis of what’s wrong with the team right now.

A mysterious lack of depth

The Union have 25 players on their active roster, but there’s basically no squad rotation going on. This week is the second consecutive stretch where the team will play three matches in eight days. This would be a time for the Union to find out what depth they have on the bench. Instead, the Union traded one of their top three central defenders (Bakary Soumare) and a versatile LB/LM (Gabriel Farfan) away. Manager John Hackworth is completely unwilling to give the full range of his squad an opportunity, instead rotating the same fourteen players every week. (And no, throwing Leo Fernandes out there tonight does not count.)

There might be three negative consequences of this rigidity. First, Hackworth’s squad is going to suffer unnecessary wear and tear. He says these players are his Best XI — but if we believe this, then the worry has to be whether these players can survive a full season. Jeff Parke, coming off a hamstring strain, took a number of whacks in the game tonight that he could have avoided (particularly at age 31). Second, squad complacency might set in. What incentive do these guys have to work for their place in practice if there’s no evidence Hackworth will play his backups? The team also falls into the trap of being predictable — opponents can gameplan to take Danny Cruz’s speed out of the equation, completely neutralizing his value.

What would I be doing differently? For starters, we shouldn’t have traded Farfan and Soumare without picking up a quality MLS player in return, because our options are severely limited. But I’d be giving more playing time to Roger Torres and consider recalling some of our players on loan at Harrisburg, particularly Cristhian Hernandez, Greg Jordan, and Don Anding. Here’s how I would have set the lineup for the Open Cup tonight.


Williams — Okugo — G. Jordan — Anding

Fernandes — Torres — Carroll — Kassel

Casey  — Hoppenot

One caveat: I don’t know what the USOC rules are on cup-tying, so I’m assuming any Union players on loan to Harrisburg City who played in the second round are ineligible.

Who killed Roger Torres?

Hey, do you remember Roger Torres? Little guy, from Colombia? Notched an assist on the first Union goal of all time in 2010, tallied three goals and eight assists across 2010 and 2011 (including his first in MLS, which downed the Red Bulls in April 2011), easily the most exciting and creative midfielder on the team?

John Hackworth has, almost literally, chained him to the bench. Last year, Torres’s minutes dropped from 930 per year to a measly 180 — admittedly, Torres was recovering from injury at the time. In the offseason, Hackworth challenged Torres to show up to camp fitter and more prepared to deal with the physicality of MLS. By all accounts (including Hackworth himself), he did that, dazzling in his preseason minutes in Disney and (in my eyes) performing as the best player on the pitch.

And then… poof! He’s gone! Roger hasn’t even made the 18-man roster for the last two games, hasn’t played since garbage time of the opening day drubbing by Kansas City. Hack has, at times, made various excuses for this: it wasn’t the right moment in the game, he’s got to learn to play in the system. Tonight, it was simply that Roger has to “play better” in practice. If I were Torres, I’d be banging my head against the wall, trying to understand the incomprehensible American manager who seems to believe that Danny Cruz brings more to the team with his leaden touch and low soccer intelligence because “he always runs hard.”

It might be time for the Union to part ways with Torres. But I’ll be really sorry when it happens. And John Hackworth deserves the blame for ruining the career of this promising talent.

The Colombian Question

Torres isn’t the only Colombian whose disappearance from the Union has had negative consequences on the squad. Carlos Valdes, the team’s captain, best player, and MLS All-Star last year returned to Colombia on loan, which was presented as a necessary move to secure World Cup qualification and a place on the team in 2014. Obviously, this is a lifelong dream and I’m happy the Union were able to help him chase it — and it didn’t seem to be an issue with the U’s defensive depth in Jeff Parke, Amobi Okugo, and Soumare. Of course, Soumare isn’t on the team anymore, Parke has been good but not great, and Okugo has regressed slightly from last year. The Union are weaker up the middle without Valdes and his aggressive defense harassing opponents all around the box.

The bigger departure to me, though, is Faryd Mondragon. Mondragon is a legendary, if ancient, keeper from Colombia who played in Turkey and Germany. He is perhaps best known for standing on his head and almost saving Colombia in the 1998 World Cup. Mondragon spent 2011 as the Union’s starting GK, immediately being named captain and leading the team to the playoffs. What he lacked in reflexes he made up for in vocal leadership, commanding a backline that became known for its stinginess. To be honest, I absolutely loved the guy. He was a little crazy, but I loved that he wore his heart on his sleeve and seemed completely dedicated to the Union and its fans.

Mondragon returned to Colombia before the 2012 season, where he joined his childhood team Deportivo Cali. Faryd has also worked his way back into the national team as a backup and talisman for the young Colombians. In his place, Zac MacMath has been the Union’s unchallenged number one. MacMath is a good shot-stopper, but he shows none of the leadership qualities that Mondragon brought to the table and struggles immensely with crosses of all types. The decision to not have an experienced veteran backing him up and pushing him for playing time hasn’t helped his development.

Over the last two years, the Union defense has collapsed from one of the best in the league to a group that regularly gives up four (vs. LA) or five (vs. Montreal) goals per game.

The way forward

John Hackworth makes me angry. But, although he’s been the team’s manager for one year, he’s only had one offseason to mold the team into a contender. Though I hate large chunks of the team he’s put together (don’t get me started about Cruz, Keon Daniel, or our LB situation), he deserves time to make the team work. To me, there’s only one situation in which Hack doesn’t get another year with these guys — if the Union finish a distant seventh or eighth in the Eastern Conference this year. The MLS is a league with lots of parity, and the Union have the talent and fan base to not accept mediocrity. Make no mistake — I believe John Hackworth is a mediocre manager, and if the results this year bear out my belief than he should be on the first train to manager purgatory, waiting for a phone call from D.C. United.

*Correction: The Nor’Easters play in New Jersey, not Maryland. Why are there so many places named Ocean City on the East Coast? Probably because there’s an ocean right there. Nevertheless, my bad; thanks to @ventur514 on twitter for pointing it out.

Back in America

Well, I’m back! I returned to the United States of America on Sunday via U.S. Airways (motto: “We hate you, passengers!”) and have already been to New York City and back, been to Rita’s and WaWa, and generally enjoyed the company of my family and friends.

The last event of my time abroad, which I’m not going to cover in much detail, was a three-day trip to Barcelona to visit my friend Nate. It was great! The city is very relaxed and nothing costs very much money; I got to visit the Sagrada Familia and practice my Spanish. Also Nate made me eat octopus which I did not like quite so much.

The interior of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. The greatest work of religious architecture in the world.

The interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia: the greatest work of religious architecture in the world.

I want to thank all of you who’ve been reading and commenting on the blog all semester. You might be interested in some statistics about “Lion in London” — you also might not be, in which case I suggest you skip the next four bullet points.

  • 1,760 page views
  • Top commenter was Aunt Laura with 16, followed by Aunt Diane with 5
  • 28 posts

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of my time abroad and what I’ve learned. And the simplest answer is also the most complicated: I don’t know, entirely. But what I do know is that I will never again underrate the effect that family and friends have on a person’s happiness. Studying abroad, as much as I might have made it seem, wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I’m really appreciative of all of you who took some interest in my travels, and I hope I’ve repaid you in turn with some moderately entertaining blogs. (For the record: I think this Browbeat piece makes a fairly stupid argument.)

What’s going to happen to this space going forward? I don’t really know. But I do have a lot of thoughts about things, and it’s possible I’ll be writing about them here. It is my belief that far too many people, twenty-somethings included, feel that they have interesting thoughts which are in reality self-absorbed drivel. The only way to avoid that trap, though, is to practice a bit. So let’s see where this goes.

That’s all for now. Good night, and good luck.

God save the Queen and her Navy

A busy week with my parents here in London! Here’s a highlight, from Thursday’s Victory Day celebrations. (The concert was commemorating the end of the Second World War, as well as the sailors of the Royal Navy who served in the Arctic convoys to Russia — including my grandfather, Peter G. Andrews!)

The Belfast's guns have a range of twelve miles. So watch out, suburbs.

The Belfast’s guns have a range of twelve miles. So watch out, suburbs.

We’ve also seen three plays, which I will review for posterity below.

  • One Man, Two Guvnors: The most British play I’ve ever seen, a slapdash comedy set in 1963. Hilarious, even if a certain percent of the jokes went way over our heads. There’s some extended improv sections that bring the house down. A
  • Singin in the Rain: A stage adaptation of the greatest movie musical of all time. This version suffers in comparison, as the leads can’t quite match the charisma of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. But nonetheless it’s entertaining, and the audacity to actually dump gallons and gallons of water on stage for the titular number is a bold move that pays off. B+
  • Jersey Boys: Not my cup of tea, so much. The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, your enjoyment of the play will basically depend on your patience for their music. I didn’t find their story particularly compelling — and listening to British actors wander around with JOI-ZEE accents for two hours can be torturous — but everyone else seemed to be having a good time. (Median age: 65.) C

also we have been eating lots of tasty stuff before the theater like this lamb shank

also we have been eating lots of tasty stuff before the theater like this lamb shank

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, we saw the Queen! Wednesday was the State Opening of Parliament, which is like the State of the Union but with everyone on horses and substantially more gold. The Queen delivers a speech — written by the PM and the Government — outlining the legislative plan for the year. (Unlike the SOTU, this Speech takes about four minutes.) But first there’s lots of pomp and ceremony, including the Queen and the Crown Jewels being transported from Buckingham Palace to Westminster. So we went and camped out near the Palace, giving us a chance to watch the Horse Guards set up their posts and the various Jewels to trot past in carriages. Finally, the Queen zoomed by, and it was cool.

pretty nice car you got there, the Queen

pretty nice car you got there, the Queen

this band is very happening

this band is very happening

One week left here! Also great as always to see my Aunt Joan twice, and finally visit the house in Chiswick where she and my grandfather were born in the early 1920s. It’s been a great week and a very good way to close out my time here.

Three weeks left

Hey howdy hey! Hard to believe that I’m heading back to the United States in less than three weeks. It’s been a while since the last post — these last couple weeks have been a little low-key but there are now a few updates worth posting on this here blag. (Remember, you can click on pictures to embiggen them!)

A good day to cricket

A good day to cricket

  • It’s hard to believe but I do sometimes have to do actual schoolwork here at school. Last weekend, I wrote a pair of papers on Parliament, and I have one more left before I can go home — political patronage in the early Middle Ages. (You might know this time period as “the Dark Ages” but it turns out that historians do not like this name very much.)

It is tough to write papers when the days look like this

It is tough to write papers when the days look like this

  • I had a great plan all set up for last Thursday: I was going to take the train to Norwich, a part of England where my long-deceased ancestors used to live, and hang out there for the day. Unfortunately, Transport for London let me down for the first time — delays and congestion in the Underground turned a 25 minute journey to Liverpool Street Station into a 55 minute one, and I missed my train. However, I am not one for letting plans collapse (particularly at 9:30 am, when it is my policy to usually be fast asleep), so I walked over to the Tower of London. It was a warm and cloudless day, and I listened to some entertaining (if probably inaccurate) tales from a Beefeater, took a look at some Crown Jewels, etc etc.

This seems like a rather sanitized version of the gruesome head-chopping-off process

This seems like a rather sanitized version of the gruesome head-chopping-off process

The White Tower

The White Tower

  • The next destination on this improvisational, jazz-esque afternoon was the Borough Market, another short walk over Tower Bridge and past the Belfast. Tasty porkbelly, crackle, and applesauce sandwich… nom. From there, I bicycled back to my dorm, about three miles, and was nearly hit by a car only twice!!

London old & new

London old & new

I am sure this is what William the Conquerer envisioned in 1066

I am sure this is what William the Conquerer envisioned in 1066

  • Joking aside, I’ve been experimenting with biking around and the results have been improving — in the sense that I no longer feel like my death is imminent every time I hop on. I’m not a bad biker, but I don’t have a ton of experience in urban settings and on top of that the British have all sorts of weird squiggly lines on the roads and by the way THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG FREAKING SIDE WHICH IS CONFUSING. I did bike from school back to home yesterday without any complications which was certainly a victory.

Sometimes you know the weather is going to get bad very quickly

Sometimes you know the weather is going to get bad very quickly

  • The final excitement recently is that I walked over to Hyde Park for the first time, which is about fifteen minutes from Goldsmid House. It turns out that it is quite a nice place, particularly on an afternoon where the weather is nice. The weather here has been improving steadily — 60s and 70s, sunny, and sunset around 8:30 pm — which has in turn increased my capacity to walk, run, and bike around the city.

I was looking for FDR the whole time but didn't find him

I was looking for FDR the whole time but didn’t find him

So, what’s next? On Sunday, my mother is making the trans-atlantic hop and visiting London for the week, which will be a good chance to show off the few things I’ve learned about Britain during my time here. After she leaves on Monday (the 13th), I’ll be on my way to Barcelona on the 14th for three days to visit Nate, enjoy some warm Mediterranean sunshine, and embarrass myself with my limited ability to speak Spanish. Then it’s one day to wrap up my life here and head back to Delaware on the 19th.