Wednesday, November 30, 2005

France is a shitty little country

I hate to generalize. But after reading this interview, er exercise in humiliation, what else can one deduce?

en francais

English translation (hat tip: Lawrence Auster and friend)

More goodness on other blogs

Consequently, I can’t say for certain how Terry would have tried to weasel out of the rather obvious inconsistency—though if I had to take a guess, I suspect he’d fall back on the Senate’s “bipartisan no-confidence vote in George Bush,” which essentially demanded that the President follow his own plan, and to update the Senate to tell them that he is indeed continuing to do so.
(Jeff Goldstein.)

In the mean time, Jon Henke points out that the "new strategy for Iraq" exactly corresponds to the strategy published in April and May 2004.

(Hey, it works for Glenn Reynolds.)

Peace Moonbeam

After some chicken strips, nachos, popcorn, Gummi Bears, and ice cream bars, Cindy (Sheehan) suggested perhaps a calm and inspirational ride that promotes peace was in order so we all headed for “Its a Small World”. This ride started out well enough, what with all the little children of different nations singing an upbeat song of togetherness and love. I was moved to tears as I wondered why our government couldn’t behave more like these beautiful children of peace.

Unfortunately, things went from good to bad in a hurry as we progressed to room after room inhabited with what seemed to be a million of those little robotic humanoids singing “It’s A Small World” over and over and over. That song got into my head so bad that by the time they got me out of there I was catatonic and suffering mild heart palpitations.

Two days later I still can’t sleep without seeing those armies of tiny ethnic dolls, all moving in unison, singing that stupid, insipid song while their little beady glass eyes stare into my very soul. Whew, I still get chills just thinking about it!

Take it from me: Disneyland + Tai sticks = trouble.

From Peace Moonbeam's Blog

The Officers' Club: Quote for Today

"We're fighting a political war folks, and reality is our artillery. "

The Black Box of Torture

Once again I'm copying too much because I don't want to change the argument:
The anti-torture absolutists take it as self-evident that torture (variously defined) is self-evidently evil. Context doesn't matter. Context cannot justify it. Further, they argue that torture is what defines our enemies in an existential way. We cannot become "like our enemies." And no matter what the circumstances, employing torture would make us like them.

But nobody to my knowledge has demonstrated why torture holds this unique status.

For their argument to be true, torture must be worse than killing, indeed it must be worse than the killing of innocent people. Ask any educated person if war will result in killing innocent people and they will say yes. That’s the nature of war. If taking innocent lives was always and everywhere an unconscionable evil that could not ever be tolerated in American law, then war would have to be illegal. And yet, it is not illegal. We even speak openly about “collateral damage” and the need to “minimize” it, not eliminate it.

It seems to me that one could quite easily argue that killing many innocent people is worse than torturing one evil person, particularly if doing so will save many innocent lives. This may not be the case, but if so nobody has explained why it is so to my satisfaction.

Instead, torture has been made into a moral black box, a stand-in for “something existentially and self-evidently evil.” Thus, in effect, the torture issue has succeeded where all other efforts at moral equivalence have failed. During the Cold War, the left (and some segments of the Right) claimed moral equivalence between the United States and the Soviet Union because we had many of the same tools. The Soviets had nukes, so did we. We put people in asylums, they put people in asylums. We went to war to defend our way of life, the Reds went to war to defend their way of life. And so on.

Morally serious people saw through this. We put crazy people in asylums and murderers in prison. They locked-up Solzenytsins and Sharanskys. We went to war to fight oppression and defend liberty, they fought to oppress liberty and defend oppression. These are, to put it mildly, significant differences. An ambulance driver and a hit-and-run killer both have driver's licenses, but a serious person doesn’t claim the two are therefore morally equivalent.

But torture seems to be the one thing that changes all that. Suddenly, no matter what the context, no matter what the reason, torture is a stand-alone context-killer. Whereas even many liberals accepted that in some cases dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations could be morally acceptable given the right circumstances, torture never, ever, can be. Again, I'm willing to be persuaded that this makes sense. But as of right now, I can't get my head around the idea that it might be morally acceptable to nuke untold thousands or millions, leaving many to endure vastly greater agony than involved in 2 to 3 minutes of waterboarding but it is absolutely morally unacceptable to humiliate and hurt a terrorist in order to gain information that might help us stop just such an attack on our own citizens.
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner.

Update: Further, via Jonah, from an email:
The real problem with the current debate is the defining of torture downwards. I don't know that there are many out there in prisoner handling positions that object to the continuing existence of prohibitions on actual torture. I do know, for a fact, that the defining of keeping people awake for 16 hours as torture, or the turning on of the air conditioner, is being received as a horrifying witch hunting exercise which cramps legitimate coercive interrogation techniques. This cramps the debate - on one side, Amnesty and others interpret Geneva literally, and wonder why we aren't giving scientific equipment and sporting goods (like baseball bats and hunting knives, perhaps?) to AQ detainees, and calling it torture; at the same time, they are floating an anti-torture bill which will ban what... the denial of baseball bats, hunting knives, and biological lab equipment to AQ detainees? The terms of the debate aren't even properly defined, such is the din. (An aside: The Geneva Conventions prohibit torture, and any form of "coercion." Customary and traditional interpretations of international law are binding, insofar as any vaguely written treaty with noble intentions can provide a useful legal standard. The customary and traditional interpretation of the "no coercion" clause is that it refers to actual torture, that you can say really really mean things to people and make them a bit physically uncomfortable, if that's what it takes to get useful tactical information from them. Our NATO allies all follow this doctrine; the Warsaw Pact followed a much looser version of it).

An interesting mix of intelligence issues

Via a column at "Accuracy in Media", I find this column from the Washington Post, by Jim Hoagland (11 november 2005.) Here's an interesting excerpt, emphasis mine:

The hidden management of the criminal justice process and the news media practiced by the CIA to protect itself in Wilson-Rove-Libbygate is nothing short of brilliant. So you were right to fear the agency.

I did read the column, but until I was directed to Kincaid's own column, I didn't make the connection he did:

Think about that statement to the President — "you were right to fear the agency."

Here we have a columnist for a major paper saying that the CIA has been acting independently of the elected President of the U.S., and that Bush had reason to fear it. He said the CIA had engaged in "hidden management of the criminal justice system and the news media." In effect, he is saying that the CIA is pulling the strings behind the scenes, and that reporters following the Wilson/Plame storyline are CIA puppets. He went on to say that the CIA also "triggered the investigation" into the CIA leak about Valerie Wilson by itself leaking. That is, the CIA leaked to the press the fact that it had requested an investigation.

This seems to fit right in with something we were discussing on YARGB some time ago. Now, the puzzle is, who is Fitzgerald investigating?

I continue to predict that further indictments are coming, and that they won't be in the White House.

But let's continue. it turns out that Sen. Harry Reid, (D-NV), let it slip that "he had heard" Usama bin Laden had been killed in the recent earthquake in Pakistan:

"I heard that Osama bin Laden died in the earthquake, and if that's the case, I certainly wouldn't wish anyone harm, but if that's the case, that's good for the world."
(Quoted from John Fund's Political Diary, via

A quick quiz in tradecraft: how many ways can you think of that this is harmful? How many good side-effects can you see? (Although, I'll say, my grandmother always said it was impolite to actively wish someone harm; I guess Reid is an old-fashioned guy in some ways.)

The Captain and the Sarge - Carpetbaggers

I'm a big fan of happenstance. Look up from the ground at one's feet or listen to a person nearby once in a while and interesting stuff will come to one's attention. A good example of this happened for me over the weekend just past.

In Malmö, Sweden, there is a cemetery; the Eastern Cemetery. It, or at least most of it, was designed by one Sigurd Lewerentz. Lewerentz was an architect and landscape architect of some minor reknown who designed, among other things, at least two remarkably beautiful cemeteries.

Unfortunately I am not in the habit of carrying a camera, nor pen and paper for that matter. It is not important to have any mental picture of this wonderful cemetery other than to know that there is a "central ridge" upon which one can walk and look out over the whole of the cemetery (or nearly so - it is large and has expanded out of sight even from the ridge). If one uses only the internet one would be led to believe that Malmö's Eastern Cemetery's only claim to fame is to chronically make the list of anti-semitic activities. The Jewish portion has been subject to vandalism.

Scandinavians have a thing for cemeteries. They keep them in a fashion that can only be described as "lovingly". The Swedish word for "cemetery" is "kyrkogård" which, translated literally, is "Church garden". Jokes about "dying to get in" aside, they are lovely and inviting places - parks begging one to walk about them. Which is exactly what I was doing last weekend with my daughter and a borrowed dog.

We'd walked about an hour or so and had climbed the central ridge and were on our way toward an exit when my daughter said, "A pilot must be buried there."

About 100 meters or so in the distance was a large propeller. We decided to wind our way over and see what this propeller in a cemetery was all about. It turned out to be a very large propeller. In fact it was a propeller, I learned later, from a B-24 Liberator.

The gravesite was actually a memorial with two graves, one on each side of the propeller. To the left was the grave of Captain Thomas C. Campbell and to the right the grave of Sergeant Oakley J. Ragland of the USAAF. The date of their deaths was Oct. 20, 1944. The memorial stone holding the propeller was between the headstones. The site was immaculately kept like all the others and the central stone had an inscription with words to the effect that it was a memorial to the brave men of the USAAF who fought for their country and gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

I'd been aware that bomber crews had sometimes nursed their damaged aircraft to Sweden and some had crashed and died there. But I'd never given it much thought (I later learned that some forty USAAF airmen died in crashes in Sweden). Each blade of the propeller bore the scars of flak and projectile damage and I assumed Captain Campbell and Sergeant Ragland were part of a bomber crew and died trying to land their plane. But my curiosity had been piqued and I spent a bit of time on the good ol' internet searching for the story of the Captain and the Sarge. I found a story I hadn't anticipated.

I cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of the Carpetbagger portion of the story I've pieced together. The B-24 of which Capt. Campbell and Sgt. Ragland were part of the crew was apparently a heavily modified one. Something about halfway between the bomber and it's C-87 "Liberator Express" cargo/transport version. It was not on a bombing mission. It was on a "secret mission". In fact it was flying a Carpetbagger mission. It was not shot down at all but was lost to weather. It was the only USAAF plane lost over Sweden in Operation Carpetbagger.

Operation Carpetbagger flew insertion and extraction missions all over Europe in WWII. The large planes such as the modified B-24s were used for supply drops and in some cases cargo pickups. They were modified for agents to parachute out of into enemy territory. They retrieved downed pilots and escaped prisoners and various resistance fighters.

One of their "routes" was from Leuchars in Scotland to Bromma near Stockholm. This was done under the pretense (which nobody believed) of BOAC civil air operations. Niels Bohr was surely the most famous passenger carried on the Bromma-Leuchars run (Oct. 1943).

Captain Campbell and Sergeant Ragland were not the only ones who died in the crash of that modified B-24 Liberator on Oct. 20, 1944. They were two of six. The complete list is: Captain Truett K. Bullock, Captain Thomas C. Campbell, Lieutenant James Buchanan, Sergeant Donald J. Johnston, Sergeant Oakley J. Ragland, and Corporal Earl K. Nore. The others were either returned to the US or buried in US military cemeteries in Europe. The families of the Captain and the Sarge requested they remain at rest in Sweden. How they came to be in Malmö remains a mystery to me. Neither their destination nor their crash site were anywhere near the city of Malmö.

They were trying to make Bromma airport, near Stockholm, but were turned away due to bad weather conditions and sent to land at Torslanda, near Gothenburg. They didn't make it and crashed in a field near Alingsås. A memorial for the entire crew can be found there.

Here Died, 20 Oct 1944, six fliers from the United States of America. They fought for their country, for freedom, and for righteousness in the Second World War.

Update: If I left any impression that Operation Carpetbagger was entirely a US effort it was an unintentional error. The RAF was, to the best of my limited understanding, the driving force behind Carpetbagger and - again to the best of my limited understanding - flew at least as many missions if not far more. The Niels Bohr extraction, as just one example, was executed using a Mosquito and, presumably, a British crew. The Brits paid dearly for the wonders of Carpetbagger and lost numerous craft and crew.

Update #2: I hope to someday dig deeper into this flight. The internet is a useful but far from thorough research tool. The only references I can find about this flight on the net leave me with the definite impression that it was part of Operation Carpetbagger. Yet Operation Carpetbagger seems to have gone dormant in September of 1944 and flew no operations for several months until the last months of the war. That would put the October 20, 1944 mission somewhere outside of Carpetbagger. This one will require some digging in a library or two.

Update #3: Apparently operations out of Leuchars, Scotland, and flying to Bromma (Stockholm, Sweden) were not part of Carpetbagger. Operation Sonnie and Operation Ball flew out of Leuchars. Their missions were similar to those of Carpetbagger but came under a different operational group. A brief snapshot of these operations can be found here (scroll down to near the bottom). Interestingly, Operation Sonnie was run by a rather famous aviator: Bernt Balchen. An amusing little story (scroll down to Helpful Enemies) about how Balchen got the Germans to provide a spare part he needed while operating out of Bromma.

Mission Impossible?

By stealing the title of an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, reflecting on Bush's speech at the Naval Academy today, I am hoping to initiate a discussion about how to interpret the news we get out of Iraq. To me, it seems that those closest to the situation (our military, the Iraqis themselves) are the most optimistic observers, while those safest at home (the mainstream media, Washington politicians, virtually everybody I know in my own North San Francisco Bay area) are by and large pessimistic, if not outright defeatist.

Mark Gongloff, the writer of the WSJ piece, quotes Army War College researchers Andrew Terrill and Conrad Crane:

[V]ictory [in Iraq] may not be in sight next year, according to a new study coming from Army War College researchers... The War College, which trains Army officers but does not reflect the views of the Pentagon, has long been pessimistic about the war. In a 2004 study, the War College called it "an unnecessary preventative war" and a "detour" from the war on terrorism. In February 2003, Messrs. Terrill and Crane warned that the invasion of Iraq would produce a growing insurgency, and that disbanding Iraq's army would only fuel the insurgency, both of which proved prescient. In their new report, they said it was "increasingly unlikely" that the insurgency will be crushed before U.S. troops leave, that it was "no longer clear" that Iraqis would be able to fully secure the entire country on their own and that the best-case scenario was an undemocratic, but stable, Iraq, ruled by factional militias. But they also joined Mr. Bush in opposing a timetable for withdrawal. "The long-term dilemma of the U.S. position in Iraq," wrote Messrs. Terrill and Crane, "can perhaps best be summarized as: 'We can't stay, we can't leave, we can't fail.'"

So, We can't stay, we can't leave, we can't fail?

I am inclined to think the third of these, we can't fail, considered both as a statement of fact, and as an imperative, is the most compelling and important.

But, being merely a very interested observer, and a strong supporter of our troops, I have no special qualifications to analyze our problems in Iraq. Your analysis and reflections are enthusiastically solicited!

What’s the wealthiest state, or what does Mark Steyn know that you don’t?

The competition over which state is the richest has Connecticut edging New Jersey $56409 to $56356 (based on median household income).

But that’s just income. I wanted to know who is richest after adjusting for cost of living and state/local taxes. After all, the extra income doesn’t help much if you don’t get to spend it, or have to spend a lot more of it to get the same stuff.

So I’ve taken cost-of-living adjustments from this report (equally weighting the four studies), and state/local tax rates from here , and crunched some numbers. Connecticut and New Jersey still do reasonably well (6th and 7th, respectively), but the big winner is New Hampshire, followed by Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, and Colorado.


Did you notice Bush slap down the New York Times?

I didn't run to the computer fast enough to be the first to note it, but you might recall the New York Times quoting Cpl Jeffry Starr:
Sifting through Corporal Starr's laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine's girlfriend. ''I kind of predicted this,'' Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. ''A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances.''

and the later discovery that the Times had quoted Starr out of context:
Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

Interestingly enough, Bush quoted the second part of the letter toward the end of his speech.
I wonder if the Times will pubish the full speech?

The easiest job in the world

What makes a good pundit? Actually knowing something about the subject doesn't make the list.

"...the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their
guesses about the future are likely to be. "

Daniel Drezner reports on Philip Tetlock's new book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Short History of a Long War

Mudville Gazette is running a series on the Iraq War, from its beginnings in 1990.

Extremely useful; highly recommended.

A short list...

Omar Sharif, Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, University of California at Berkeley bookstores, Hitoshi Igarashi, William Nygaard, Aziz Nesin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rachid Ben Ali, Khalid Durán, Christians on PalTalk, Isioma Daniel, and Taslima Nasreen to name just a few. From America, Asia, Africa and Europe. All victims of, or threatened with, moslem violence because they excercised free speech deemed critical of Islam.

All taken from just one article, The Freedoms We Fight For.

UNFORTUNATELY, WE IN THE WEST haven't always been vigilant about standing behind speech rights. Too often, when Islamists threaten free expression, some Westerners clamor to make excuses for them. In 1997, for example, Salman Rushdie and novelist John le Carré had a high-profile feud in the letters section of the Guardian. In the course of the feud, le Carré said that Rushdie bore the responsibility for the bounty on his head because "there is no law in life or nature that says that great religions may be insulted with impunity."


Standing up for free speech in the face of religious fanaticism should be automatic for anybody who understands the classical liberal principles upon which Western society was built. Unfortunately, it seems that many Westerners either fail to understand these principles, or else fail to grasp the reality of the threat. Ultimately, it is Salman Rushdie's response to John le Carré that encapsulates the consequences of not recognizing the current Islamist attack on free speech: "John le Carré is right to say that free speech isn't an absolute. We have the freedoms we fight for, and we lose those we don't defend."

As I've posted before in Freedom of speech in Denmark, this is an intolerable, and extremely insidious, assault on one of the West's core values. We cannot stand by silent and allow Moslems to dictate the terms of public debate in the West through threats. Stories such as these need to be told, and told again and again. We must demand Moslems among us to publically demonstrate their self-proclaimed tolerance by condemning, in no uncertain terms, calls for violence against critics, or even mockers, of their religion.

Statement of Policy

InstaPundit strongly supports the use of violent force to save lives of its workers ..., readers, advertisers, or unrelated onlookers should they be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation. The use of grossly excessive or gratuitous violence, while not exactly encouraged, isn't exactly deplored, either.

Reaction to Islamic Terrorism in ... Bangladesh?


In an immediate protest, hundreds of lawyers took to the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong and other cities, calling for government action to prevent further attacks.

They boycotted courts all over the country on Tuesday.

The Gods alone know why I haven't blogrolled Cori Dauber yet, but I'm remedying that now.

And now for something completely different.

5th Circle of Cubic Hell: Decaf - Ugh!

Joe Lieberman Gets It and Sy Hersh Doesn't

Joe Lieberman
I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.

Progress is visible and practical. In the Kurdish North, there is continuing security and growing prosperity. The primarily Shiite South remains largely free of terrorism, receives much more electric power and other public services than it did under Saddam, and is experiencing greater economic activity. The Sunni triangle, geographically defined by Baghdad to the east, Tikrit to the north and Ramadi to the west, is where most of the terrorist enemy attacks occur. And yet here, too, there is progress.

There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is growing. And Sunni candidates are actively campaigning for seats in the National Assembly. People are working their way toward a functioning society and economy in the midst of a very brutal, inhumane, sustained terrorist war against the civilian population and the Iraqi and American military there to protect it.

It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.

On the other hand, Sy Hersh:

I just think -- I think it's really bad out there. I think it's, you know, if you look at the -- it's just real simple. You don't have to be much of a genius to figure it out, we're almost -- it's Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving of '04, it was much worse than at Thanksgiving of '03.

It's now Thanksgiving of '05, and it's much worse there than it was last year. How is it going to get better next year? What magic is there?

One thing I notice is that there's no mention of Hersh's making a recent visit to Iraq.

The Coming Clash of Generations

In an article in today's Telegraph, Alice Thomson describes the struggle of British twenty-somethings to survive being burdened by taxes and debt. British demographics suggest that, while every one hundred British workers today support 27 pensioners over 65, by 2060 that same one hundred workers will support 48.

Compared with the older generation swanning around on their cruises, [those in their twenties] seemed anxious, exhausted and alienated. A few months [ago], the think tank Reform took up the term the iPod generation, labelling them insecure, pressurised, overtaxed and debt-ridden. Now the pensions crisis has made it even more clear. To be young in Britain is not a carefree experience. The real divide in this country is no longer between toffs and council estate lads, the public sector versus the private sector, or middle-class culture compared with the benefits culture. The big gap now is between the old and the young.

In a situation like this, it seems one always has to add insult to injury, and accuse those in their twenties of being "selfish."

But the generation now in their twenties are going to suffer even more [than those in their thirties]. They are called the selfish generation, but in fact research shows that they give more to charity and are more concerned about the environment than any other age group. They must look at their elders and wonder who really are the selfish ones.

Last week, I went to a party for a friend who is 28 to celebrate the fact that she had finally paid off her student loan. She is now saving for a fifth of a share in a house in Hackney. She can't even consider a pension. At a talk I gave at Cambridge University last week, the majority of students wanted to go into the City or become solicitors or accountants "to make money". If they don't start immediately, they will never scramble on to the housing ladder.

This generation is so debt-ridden that they have to live at home after university. It is not because they have been mollycoddled and want their washing done, it is because they can't afford anything else.

Of course, the British situation is different from ours here in the U.S. One of the upsides of our immigration problem may be that it provides an influx of relatively young people, who seem inclined to reproduce. (Don't misunderstand me; I know that presents its own set of issues.)

It seems safe to predict, in any case, that over the next decade we are going to be forced to confront our own version of the "Clash of Generations," and the first front in that battle is likely to be the looming crisis in Medicare.


[Disclaimer: As the father of four boys in their twenties, all engineers or engineers-in-training, one still in graduate school and one still in college, I have an obvious interest in this issue. If my health permits, I plan never to retire, and would like to die with my boots on. I work all year, and I take no vacations. I put myself through post-graduate training, and was fortunate enough to start out in life not in debt.]

The Government We Deserve

I have heard a lot of complaining on the blogosphere recently concerning the state of our government.

Obviously Rep. Cunningham resigning because he took bribes is disgraceful, but these kinds of lapses have always plagued government, ours less than most.

Democrats so far are ahead in the politician as crook competition, but the Republicans may catch them yet. The Clintons are a hard act to follow in terms of corruption and funny business. Talk about a culture of corruption...but that is a whole nother post in and of itself.

I am referring to the incessant complaining of pundits in cyber space and elsewhere that we are not getting the government we deserve.

If only they would cut taxes, increase taxes, increase educational spending, get rid of the Education Department, increase spending for scientific research and development, not use public money to fund research that should be left to the private sector, build a wall on the southern border, maintain our tradition of encouraging immigration and assimilation, not use a litmus a test to pick judges, make sure the next justice overturns Roe V Wade, kill the terrorists, run away from the terrorists, and above all fight back with ferocity when attacked.

I am sick of the people who are sick of government. It seems to me that are extremely self-serving and add little to pubic discourse but rancor.

For as long as I can remember there has been a packing of yipping dogs at the heels of the President, whoever he may be, and while they love to hold the President accountable, they seem to be blithely unaware of the fact that the only power they have is the power to complain loudly and make everyone else tune out.

I am not talking about the opposition party, I am talking about the tiresome opinion makers who have an opinion about everything from immigration to Iraq and who, only occasionaly, have the slightest idea what they are talking about [and yes, that goes for me too]. They just kvetch and leave the heavy lifting to someone else.

So now it is the time to jump on the Republicans. Fine. I voted for Bush, but I am an Independent. So far the overall analysis seems to be: if you are on the left, the Republicans are too far right and if you are on the right, the Republicans are too far left. Either way the majority party is either a big disappointment or the End Times.

I have never yet seen a conservative send back their Social Security check or refuse Medicare and I have never as of yet seen a leftie that would give up a cushy job to someone less fortunate than themselves.

So maybe we are the problem. Maybe we ask the impossible. We wanted campaign finance reform and ended up with McCain-Feingold. Maybe we should realize that the ones we really need to look out for are the dreaded Reformers.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"Vietnamization" of Iraq

Jed Babbin makes some good points:
The whole Democrat menagerie has embarked on a campaign to Vietnamize Iraq: to make it a demonstrable defeat and by so doing regain the White House regardless of the consequences. If they succeed, Iraq will become a far greater failure than Vietnam was because the stakes are much higher abroad and at home. The next presidential election will, like the last one, be a referendum on Iraq. And if Iraq is a failure, the Democrats will be a success.


If you believe, as I do, that Google is going to be a significant part of our future, it might behoove you to keep an eye on this new blog. Written well by two former employees--and there may be more ex-Googlers joining--it yields valuable insights into our new corporate masters which it would be impossible to obtain elsewhere. And while you're on the subject, you might want to read this article's explanation of why businessmen are second-class citizens at Google and how Google has ruffled the feathers of some Venture Capitalists, or this article on why Google's shares are overvalued.

Would you care for a glass of TANG?

Scott Johnson of Power Line has had his fill of it. Apparently he feels that Mary Mapes apologia pro mendaci sui is somewhat less than totally convincing. Oddly, not only does he not accept Ms. Mapes at her word, he even feels that the Washington Post was overkind in its review of her opus minimus.

Mr. Johnson evidences disturbing lack of trust in our treasured national media. It's almost as if he believes that there may be some sort of unseen agenda being promulgated by the press.

Purple Fingers in December

Bill Bennett is not one of my favorite commentators, in general, but in this Corner posting he's got a very good idea:
The continued drumbeat against the war in our culture, high and low, can only serve to hurt the morale of our soldiers and our allies--including the Iraqis themselves. They, despite all we see and hear, are going to the polls next month--for their third election in a year, each election being a remarkably courageous demonstration. So how do we show them our support? How do we let them--and our soldiers--know we stand with and behind them? Americans should start putting purple ink on their right index fingers the week before their Dec. 15 election. And let Iraqis, let American soldiers, let our allied forces see that demonstration here. NBC, CNN, the New York Times want a picture to tell a thousand words? They want a picture of how the majority of Americans feel? Let 'em print our purple fingers--and let the Iraqis on Dec. 15 show even more.
I suggest we run some pictures ....

Cream Rising

I spend some time reading well researched and founded studies that break down verifiable data using methodology that is reasonably comprehensible. Occasionally I run across a subject that will have 'dueling' studies involving roughly the same data sets. Such studies provide the research basis for articles such as this WaPo piece which is supported by this this NPP study. NPP is the National Priorities Project which can be found in alliance with the Soros Foundation and the Tides Foundation on most subjects.

Dr. Tim Kane is a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation who authored this study which provided this rebuttal of the NPP conclusions and wound up on the editorial page of USA Today.

One data set (roughly), two conclusions, which if not diametrically opposed are at minimum unsupportive of each other. Which conclusion is more supportable based upon the evidence presented?

UPDATE: The link now goes to the correct Washington Post article.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Officer's Club

A fine source on military topics, I've just added The Officer's Club to our blogroll.

Update: Per Chuck's suggestion, I've also added ThreatsWatch.

The Party's Over

It seems that Cindy Sheehan is just about done. Maybe it was the laughing and dancing her grief away that got to people, but she is back in Crawford and it seems she is feeling kinda lonely.

HT: powerline

How Predictable is the New York Times?


The New York Times Strategy:

Assert that Iraq is a disaster.
Assert that there is civil war in Iraq.
Assert that Iraq is hopeless.
Assert there are parallels with Vietnam.
Assert that we are losing in Iraq.
Assert that we must pull out now.

Then write snarky articles about hard it is to pull out and save face at the same time.


"Even in the absence of a sudden and dramatic shift on the battlefield toward a definitive victory, there may still be a slight opening, as narrow as the eye of a needle, for the United States to slip through and leave Iraq in the near future in a way that will not be remembered as a national embarrassment."
At the same time Maureen Dowd intones:

"Democracy depends on us. It depends on our ability to be patriots, to fulfill the founding fathers vision of keeping a check on power."
(See Tom Maguire's discussion re the latest Maureen Dowd example of arrogance, hubris, and Bush hate.)

Never blog when you're angry--and I'm angry--but I'd still like to know how we can fulfull the founding fathers vision by keeping check on the power of the New York Times.

They decide on the narrative.
They decide what is important and what is fit to print.
They decide what the outcome should be.
They shape public opinion.
They call on the administration to listen to public opinion.
They force the outcome.

Then they report the outcome as news and an embarrassment to the country.


Thank God for our First Amendment Rights

I have nothing but contempt for David Irving. He is the one who sued Deborah Lipstadt for allegedly slandering him. Thankfully, she won her case in a British court of law. Irving was irritated that Lipstadt accused him of holocaust denial even though the evidence overwhelming supported her position. Such a matter could not even be heard in the United States. Our First Amendment rights, thankfully, make it extremely difficult to sue. Not so, in Europe and the United Kingdom. At this very moment, the Austrian government has arrested Irving for denying the holocaust:

“In a statement posted on his website, Mr Irving's supporters said he was arrested while on a one-day visit to Vienna, where they said he had been invited "by courageous students to address an ancient university association".

Despite precautions taken by Mr Irving, he was arrested by police who allegedly learned of his visit "by wiretaps or intercepting emails", the statement alleged.”

You can read the Guardian article here.

A few years ago, the great scholar Bernard Lewis was also prosecuted by French authorities for questioning the genocide of the Armenians. When will this nonsense stop? Governments should not be prosecuting people for uttering stupid statements. All of us are placed in harm’s way when this occurs. The free exchange of ideas can readily handle the likes of a David Irving. This is especially true in our modern era because of the Internet. Furthermore, I am convinced that this is perhaps the number one reason why much of Europe and the British Isles may be doomed. Their citizens are fearful of offending the politically correct bureaucrats who truly run their nations. This has resulted in the growing threat of Islamic nihilism. Let us make sure the same thing doesn’t happen in the United States.

Bruce Willis is my hero.

According to Betsy Bruce Willis and Michael Yon are going to be making a movie about the Deuce Four.

The Americans will be the good guys. Whatever will Hollywood think of that?

Because You Deserve Something Special Wrist Clock!

I know honestly, how much you want so much one of these wonderful swiss replicas.

You'll need to get one of the boxes for it too.

I remember too that they offer the tracking service for your shipment.

Choose anyone of the rep lica-watches at this worldwide on-line site. It
is your surprise.

Don't collect up all the reasons why you shouldn't have a quality replica.
Just find it because you want it.

You are such a caring person, it is time you got back something for

[URL deleted]

My deepest love,


P.S. Nothing can sea be robot heavy, you noise know, except by trying to fall,
and being —

Second better should Scene,
Angry knee, with the Project brave (and any other
party you may receive this fetching...)


This to my inbox this morning was. Unbidden it lay, storing up for me a big surprise (or replica of same, Swiss no less), as though the shade of James Joyce had roused from slumber of the grave himself to me a missive.

All this and the deepest love of Betya! (Or a Beta of Betya, not as she yet perfected was?)

You too are a caring being, and kind.

Should I offer this forward your way, or hoard to myself all the something special wrist clocks?

Please write and say.

2005 Iraqi Election Campaign Said Less Violent Than 1930's Chicago

Mohammed at Iraq the Model reports on violent incidents marring the campaign for the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections:

As election day approaches close, electoral campaigning intensifies as well, these campaigns are taking several forms and unfortunately this includes violence which we were hoping we wouldn’t have to see emerge among the competing parties.

Probably the worst case of violence was the one when militia men attacked an office of the communist party (running as part of Allawi’s list) in Sdar city during an electoral event and resulted in killing two of the party members.

Iraqis may be in some ways rather like Americans: Mohammed tells us that the voters would prefer that candidates talk about policy, rather than accusing each other of wrongdoing:

However, people in the street think that candidates should focus more on their political platforms rather than on exchanging accusations and allegations.

As in campaigns with which we Americans are familiar, behavior often descends to the absurd:

The other battlefield of electoral campaigns can be seen in the posters war. Tearing posters of other parties has become so common that there are specialized contractors who get paid to do this! And they either tear the posters or paste their client’s poster over them.

One man who works in this field said to me “there are no more walls left in Baghdad and we had to buy a new set of tall ladders in order to reach the highest spots possible…” while a taxi driver felt sorry for the “money being wasted on these posters” and added “if they used this money to offer free clothes to the poor in this winter I’d give them my vote”.

The war of words sometimes touches on the positively risible:

Aside from what parties put on their posters or say in the speeches they make, the people themselves are also using a portion of the walls to write whatever they like with or against this or that list; one funny line I saw yesterday said something that translates like this:

Vote for Allawi and your wife will buy malawi (heavy bracelets of gold) and vote for the I’tilaf (the united alliance) and you’ll go back to the tlath-talaf (3,000 in reference to the old poor salaries that Saddam paid us).

(I am told that this story is especially funny to native speakers of Arabic.)


Much more seriously, one has to be inspired by the courage of Iraqis, who are about to vote into office the first ever democratially elected parliament in the Arab world, despite the violent opposition of a minority in their own country, and the — less violent, but still disheartening — opposition of what may well be a larger minority of people here in the United States:

Civil society organizations have their role too; the most significant initiative came from a new network of 90 NGOs who call themselves “Iraq Without Violence”. This network recruited 1,000 volunteers to watch and report for any violent incidents during electoral campaigns. The network in a statement given to al-Sabah explained that they’ll work to “prevent and expose electoral corruption, fraud and violence and that includes terrorizing voters in any way or interference with voters’ choices even when the case is domestic like when a husband forces his wife to vote for any particular candidate or prevents her from voting at all”.

As far as I know, we here in the US do not yet have any safeguards that might impede a husband's efforts to prevent his wife from voting. (I am quite certain that this sort of thing happens, even if it is relatively rare.) But we Americans are a rather primitive people; some have expressed doubts that we are entirely ready for democracy and, judging by the turnouts at our elections, some might wonder whether we still really care about it.

Two Top Notch Editorials

James Q. Wilson and Michael Barone turn out two of the strongest editorials for the Wall Street Journal that I have seen in some time. The topics are dissimiliar yet at root is the conflict between stasis and dynamism.

Why do the 'progressives' have such a love affair with stasis? Death is a step toward perfect stasis (if such a thing were possible). What is 'progressive' about elevating security above liberty? Why does every 'progressive' ideal involve the exchange of freedom for an illusory security that time and nature will destroy as surely as the sun will rise?

Is fear of change the core of progressivism? Fear based upon lack of confidence in ones ability to face and overcome uncertainty? I've thought that the root of progressivism was the desire to achieve control without earning it by merit. Perhaps I need to reflect on that concept for a bit. Fear generates more activity than the desire for unearned position ever has. Taking the shield of faux altruism is practically cost and risk free. Is 'progressivism' just a cheap shield?

Saturday, November 26, 2005


These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crises shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776.

I have just finished the wonderful new book by David McCullough, 1776. I liked this book as much as I liked John Adams. Mr. McCullough has the wonderful ability to bring history to life and to make the men and women of that long ago era relevant.

As I read the book one thing that struck me time and again was the sense of providence which seemed to hang over that fateful year. In spite of mistakes such as the failure to secure the Jamaica Pass and the loss of New York George Washington managed through sheer tenacity to bring about a much needed victory at Trenton just in time to save the Revolution.

No doubt today George Washington would have been ruined in the early days of the war, and he almost was in his own time, this book makes it plain that winning the war of Independence required great sacrifice. A rabble army with no military experience took on the greatest power in the world and won.

It was nothing short of a miracle.

Read the book.

When I read about the monumental tasks of turning shoemakers and farmers into soldiers I thought of the Iraqis trying to build their country. There was a time when the survival of the United States of America seemed like an even greater long shot.

[Peter UK, no hard feelings]

The Evil Empire revisited

Yesterday the International Herald Tribune ran Russian sacrifice: Poland. The Polish government has released documents from the Warsaw Pact military archives. Some of the documents concern Soviet plans for defending Europe in the advent of NATO attack.

At a press conference Friday, Sikorski unveiled a map showing hypothetical plans in the event of a NATO attack on Warsaw Pact nations which called for a Soviet counterattack that would have included the nuclear bombing of Munich, Brussels, Dutch ports and other targets. This in turn, according to Soviet military thinking, would precipitate NATO nuclear attacks on forces concentrated on the Vistula River, attacks that the Polish government now estimates would have killed two million Poles.

The map showed the widespread destruction of Western Europe, including mushroom clouds over key areas of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. Cities such as Brussels would have been destroyed as Soviet troops advanced to the Western shores of the Continent, although Britain and France would have been left unscathed.
It looks like the Soviets calculated that if they were to launch a nuclear strike, but not hit the two regional nuclear powers France or England, NATO would calibrate its nuclear retaliation by sparing the Russian homelands. A chilling read in the arithmetic of blood.

It is of particular interest when balanced against today's Axis of Evil. The Soviet plans, while cataclysmic, had an element of self-survial built in. In public comments at least, portions of Iran's government have indicated they would expose their homeland to a nuclear retaliation by attacking Israel. I think there is a large element of bluster to those threats, and at any rate the response from Israel would be clear cut and devestating.

That aside, following the bomb non-nuclear countries model of the Soviets, a single nuclear weapon detonating in Holland or Rome becomes more problematical. The Warsaw Pact plans cited above are pretty clearly defensive plans. However, an attack on a Western City, with some measure of deniabilty attached, would be an offensive use of nuclear weapons while hoping for a calibrated response that would spare the Irani homeland.

The reason the Soviets reasonably thought they could limit an exchange need to be considered. In their scenario, both sides limiting their responses to spare each others homelands reflected the fact that both sides could cause massive damage to each others homelands. For Iran to expect similar restraint on the part of the West would require Iran to pose a credible existential threat to the US mainland. That situation simple doesn't exist. As such, Iran is either blustering about having the "moral strength" to survive a massive retaliatory attack, or they are seriously misreading the calculus of raw power.

I've said before that I fear a miscalculation more than anything. There are lines on both sides that if crossed would trigger a staggering escalation. The great problem is in where exactly do these lines lay? I believe on the Western side the use of a WMD is one such line. That the images of such an attack would so infuriate the Western public that the conflict would surely escalate.

What bothers me most about "the peace at any price', the "litigate war into being illegal", and the "atone for the sins of 18th century colonialism" crowd is that I fear it obscures the West's lines not to be crossed. I fear that the Mullahs are drawing mistaken conclusions in just how hard they can push before events slip out of the grasp of all of us.

News from the heart of New Orleans

I got a brief email today from my grad school friend, who lives in the heart of New Orleans in the Garden District.

It's important to realize that her part of the city was, after the French Quarter, the least affected by the floods. What New Orleans has is a systemic illness.

Things are okay for me and my family but the city of New Orleans is in bad shape. It is in danger of dying. The population is down to one fourth its usual number, I heard. There still are missing stop signs on busy intersections. Many businesses are still closed, even in well-off uptown. I miss Starbucks and Whole Foods. Many businesses are dying, I heard, because they have no workers. Business looks like it is good for those which are open.

I talked to another friend, from Miami, who had spent a week helping family to rebuild their house in a small town north of Lake Pontchartrain. This town was hit hard by the hurricane; the flood line on the house was near the top of the front door, just as it was in the hardest-hit parts of New Orleans. He said that as soon as the flood waters receded, the family was out there tearing out sodden drywall and carpet, and rebuilding their homes.

He'd driven through New Orleans on his way out of town, and was astonished to find that no rebuilding was going on; the houses were mostly abandoned, and being left to decay.

I love New Orleans, but I wouldn't be surprised if the hurricane were merely the event that revealed the systemic illness that lay beneath the surface there.


Commenter Doug (a long time regular at the Belmont Club) is the author of this piece.

Murtha, a Marine intelligence officer in Vietnam, angrily shot back at Cheney:
" I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

So how does this respond to what VP Cheney said?
In what way was the VP saying the administration doesn't want to hear suggestions about what needs to be done? In what way is this answering in any way the charge that the anti-war side is dishonestly rewriting history about the Iraq War debate?

Oh, and when I say "former supporter" of the war you have to go back a way notwithstanding the impression of this article and other press accounts that Murtha is only now turning on the war.
In May 2004, Murtha called the Iraq War unwinnable (Via NRO). So when you read that a "hawkish Democrat" now opposes the war, please realize this is nothing recent. Although to be fair, somebody who has been a defeatist only since May 2004 may actually count as "hawkish" in his circles.Murtha was wounded twice in Vietnam, and then saw his war lost because Congress would not spend the money to bolster Saigon after we left to validate the blood and treasure we expended to defend South Vietnam.And now Murtha is planning on doing the same to another generation of his fellow Marines as they carry out their duty in western al Anbar province to root out and kill the enemy.Semper Fi? Not even close.

Brian J. Dunn at The Dignified Rant wrote Semper-Phooey in response.
Murtha: Iraq ‘Unwinnable’ Roll Call Staff
May 6, 2004 -
Signaling a new, more aggressive line against the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), the House Democrats’ most visible defense hawk, will join Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today to make public his previously private statements that the conflict is “unwinnable.”
He also schemed w/Ms Pelosi prior to his latest dishonest acting performance.
(Along w/ his other LIES, he later contended he was acting on his own, and this was not a partisan affair.
He simply cared so much for the troops.
[That he sold them out. ...Again.])

Have You Hugged A Terrorist Today?

Charles Krauthammer does an excellent analysis of the empty posturing of the illustrious Senators who supported the abysmally short sighted 'no torture' amendment to a defense appropriations bill.

In a world where there was a Senate composed of people prepared to defend the inanities they commit on a daily basis, one could hope for a response from each of the pompous blowhards who put posturing above security interests. In this world it is doubtful that we will hear a word. Cheap posturing wins over reasoned and honest analysis among the current members of "the world's greatest deliberative body" on a regular basis.

Dr. Krauthammer lays out a reasonable and practical approach to classification of those who are so far outside the bounds of human conduct that they have forfeited the right to to feel secure about their treatment when captured. I agree with him and furthermore I explicitly trust the judgement of our military in making such determinations.


Neurocon notes in a commenta pertinent quote from Krauthammer's pieces that should actually be a focus point point for discussion:

People seem to think that the postwar Geneva Conventions were written only to protect detainees. In fact, their deeper purpose was to provide a deterrent to the kind of barbaric treatment of civilians that had become so horribly apparent during the first half of the 20th century, and in particular, during the Second World War. The idea was to deter the abuse of civilians by promising combatants who treated noncombatants well that they themselves would be treated according to a code of dignity if captured--and, crucially, that they would be denied the protections of that code if they broke the laws of war and abused civilians themselves.

Breaking the laws of war and abusing civilians are what, to understate the matter vastly, terrorists do for a living. They are entitled, therefore, to nothing.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Leviathan and SysAdmin, and the Spirit of America

Not being by nature much of a strategic thinker, it was with great pleasure that I learned of, and starting reading, Thomas P.M. Barnett. His two books are essential (in my necessarily naive view ) for understanding where we need to go in reacting — in a constructive way — to this world for which we are both, perhaps, the major player and, to a greater extent than we might prefer, responsible. On his weblog Barnett quotes an email from a retired officer that rather well articulates how our armed forces, superbly trained to fight, are being called on more and more to reconstruct ravaged societies (I quote only a part of this long letter):

As [America is] the only heavyweight doctrinal fighter in the world, nobody [has been] willing to step into the ring with our military. America's enemies learned that they would have to come up with new and creative ways to jab at us while avoiding our right hook. They exploited weaknesses that we did not even know we had. Terrorism made the revolutionary leap from criminal nuisance to strategic threat.

I recently left the Army and I am now working for a defense contractor. I have a personal interest in seeing big budgets for net-centric warfare, leap-ahead technology, and futuristic weapons. I strongly believe that those things are in America's best interest too. It is the Defense Department's obligation to prepare now for any possible future contingency. It is true that many of the weapons being developed today will have little application in the Global War On Terror (GWOT) but we must maintain our Leviathan status through leadership in the quality, quantity, and technology of our weapons and intelligence. That is the shield that makes prosperity possible and the big stick to make it Global. We can never afford to risk losing that advantage. The world is full of irrational leaders, and we will always need our Big Stick to keep them from derailing progress.

What is missing is the “Sys Admin” force. Right now, we expect one Army to fill both roles with one set of equipment. We can see how well that is working in Iraq. I have discussed this very issue with my peers since I was a cadet at West Point. Soldiers are less than ideally suited for Operations Other Than War (OOTW) but right now there is nobody else better suited to do it. American soldiers are intelligent and flexible and will do their best at anything we ask of them, but it is costly and wasteful to expect soldiers to be proficient at two very distinct jobs. My soldiers, trained as a tank crewman to identify and kill enemy armor at a distance, had go through significant re-training before being qualified to walk through villages and build relationships with tribal leaders. Once that mission was completed, their skills as armored crewman were so diminished that they had to go through significant re-training before being certified again to perform their primary duties.

The Sys Admin force is desperately needed. As an armor officer I was primarily trained to defeat enemy armor. Yet, in Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo, my soldiers and I had responsibility or oversight for such varied areas as: commercial farming and irrigation, water purification, road and bridge repair, infrastructure assessments, opinion polls, public opinion shaping, educational assessments, electrical power distribution, organizing elections, advising local governments, refugee relocation, riot control, traffic control, training police, providing medical care, restoring essential services. . . the list goes on, but the point I want to make is that in order to succeed, we had to do all of those things while simultaneously fighting an insurgency. “Simultaneity” is a major buzz-word for commanders in Iraq and the first time I heard it the meaning was clear - something is missing - the Sys Admin force. Some have argued that the Army has always gone back and forth between Big Stick and Sys Admin (civil war reconstruction, frontier outposts, WWII constabulary, etc). That doesn't make it right.

One of the biggest things saving us right now in Iraq is the institutional level of “Sys Admin” skills developed accidentally as a result of mission creep in the Balkans. Frustrated and saddled with open ended peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans that were distracting us from the “real” business of training for the next major war, Army leaders took on additional responsibilities to move things along faster. Once the fighting ended, there was nobody really pushing for economic progress, democratic institutions, reconstruction, and the list of other things which must take place in order to set the conditions for military withdrawal. Sure, there was the UN and OSCE and other NGOs but they just were not organized enough to be able to find their way to work every morning. To the benefit of all, the Army took a broader view of our mission and applied our surplus organizational skills and manpower to ensuring the success of many of the NGOs. We were not trained for such tasks but Americans see a need and pitch in. That experience is paying off in Iraq, where there are no NGO's and the Army is going it alone.

The Sys Admin half needs to be run by the State Department or some future successor to it. It needs some MP-type foot soldiers and a lot of military advisors and trainers, but most of all it needs expertise in the systems and functions of government to train and develop indigenous populations. It needs cultural and language experts; electrical, civil, and agricultural engineers; natural resource developers; communications experts … basically, everything we lack right now in Iraq. Much of this can not be contracted as we learned in Iraq.

The lieutenant's letter continues, and is worth reading in full.

Barnett's vision is compelling. Breaking the world down into the "Functioning Core" of developed, politically stable states and the "Non-Integrating Gap," (those states which are either partially or completely "failed"), in the second of his two books, especially, Barnett lays out a comprehensive strategy for bringing more and more of the failures in the direction of success. One of the things that struck me about Barnett's thinking is how our tendency to conceive peace and war as diametrical opposites sets up a false dichotomy, especially in this era of Fourth Generation Warfare. Thinking from the left end of our political spectrum especially suffers from this limitation. From Barnett's point of view, our military has to be thought of only in part as an overwhelmingly powerful quick-strike force (the "Leviathan"), focused on suppressing hostile governments and nongovernment entities. To a much greater extent it will function in an administrative capacity, assuming responsibility for facilitating the transition of "gap" systems into the "core." Read Barnett to learn how we might retool our military to more effectively carry out the kind of reconstruction which has proved so problematic in Iraq.


And think, too, in this holiday season, of giving to Spirit of America, where each of us in our own small way can become part of the "SysAdmin" force and, for example, help to set up a teaching hospital in Najaf; contribute to bringing women's centers to Iraq in general; or assist Marine Civil Affairs Groups in setting up an agricultural co-op in Al Anbar...

Updating the 16th Century

I'm reading an Andrew Greeley mystery, starring Bishop Blackie. I'm not a Catholic and Greeley is a flaming leftist with right-wing and evangelical stereotypes peppered all through this book. But, for some reason, I've enjoyed his books anyway.

But something struck me last night as I read my two nightly pre-falling asleep pages. It was revealed about three quarters through the book, that certain accusations made by the supposedly murdered XO of an aircraft carrier had all been made against blacks. Oops. Against African-Americans on the ship. But nobody had told the Bishop, who was investigating the murder, because nobody dared mention it. Because it might lead people to think there was a racial element in the problems besetting the ship.

Because there was no open discussion, the African-Americans on the ship were sure that whites believed there was an African-American rapist running loose and the Black women so resented what they believed the whites believed that they went inside themselves and wouldn't speak to anyone. And the whites were so afraid of offending anyone that they wouldn't discuss it either and resented the fact that they felt resentment from the African-Americans.

You see where this is leading, right? No open discussion therefore simmering resentments. Political Correctness is unhealthy. And what frightened me was how easily our society has accepted PC. Will we ever escape?

Then, today, one of the first articles I noticed was from the Times of London:

Marlowe's Koran-burning hero is censored to avoid Muslim anger

Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”.
The play needed to be seen in a 21stcentury context, he believed.

I don't mean we should go out and intentionally offend Islam, but rewriting a play is another matter entirely. Let's supress all offense and discourage discussion. That way we can feed resentments on all sides. Way to go, fellas.

When I hear about incidents such as these a normal reaction might be that muslims are too easily offended and, on the other hand, muslims would feel resentment because they know that non-muslims believe they are too easily offended. And so it goes. Resentments piled on resentments about the Other. And we're left with all non-muslims vs all muslims and bad feelings all around.

It's just not healthy.

Canadian Parliament Asked To Hold Hearings On Relations With Alien "Et" [sic] Civilizations

Former Canadian Minister Of Defence Asks Canadian Parliament Asked To Hold Hearings On Relations With Alien "Et" Civilizations - Yahoo! News

Via Don Sensing, who points out that it's all really for the Moon's oil.

Rantingprofs: Taking Candy From Strangers

"More targeting of children. Via Powerline, an arrest of men with a carload of dolls of a type of distributed by American soldiers (can't imagine that's an accident) that had been boobytrapped with grenades. Think about the kind of an enemy willing to kill children, their own people's children, to score propaganda points."

Rantingprofs: Taking Candy From Strangers

Arab world, Iraq and al-Qaeda | Unfamiliar questions in the Arab air |

Arab world, Iraq and al-Qaeda | Unfamiliar questions in the Arab air |

My kind of place

This report from the FT on travails at McDonalds took me back some thirty years when, as a schoolboy in London, I spent a summer vacation working at one of the first McDonalds restaurants to open in the UK.

Before Mickey D arrived, the typical solution to the average British shopper’s hunger pangs was a curly cheese sandwich, a bag of soggy chips or a largely indigestible meat-flavored bun called a ‘Wimpy burger.’ McDonalds’ popularity was instant and overwhelming.

With my job came a uniform and an introduction to a revolutionary work ethic. Where service at the local Wimpy Bar came with a sneer, at McDonald’s “the customer was King.” When burgers didn’t need flipping we were required to proactively seek out ways to ‘help’ our ‘customers.’ And any time when we were absolutely sure there were no customers needing help, we made sure that every table in the restaurant was clean for them, every ‘trash can’ empty for them and every square inch of the kitchen spotless and sanitary for them.

Most of my school vacation jobs have since served only as fodder for dinner conversations along the lines of ‘what was the worst job you ever had?’ My job at McDonalds by contrast provided me with some enduring lessons about what makes a market economy tick. It also began my lifelong love affair with America.

Mickey D’s critics may be right that attitudes have changed and so the restaurant should change with them. But I remain deeply suspicious of their claims that its jobs are “excessively pressurized.” To me, that sounds like they have in mind something that ends not with a burger but with a Wimpy.

Fact or Fiction?

I woke up at an ungodly hour and decided to look around the blogoshphere and I came across a link at Roger Simon's that made my blood boil. Could this be true?

It makes you wonder if Saddam would really use such a defence.

On one hand it seems to be a hoax, on another it makes a kind of perverse sense and demonstrates to us once again that politics should end at the water's edge.

Contrast that screed with the real live actual authorization to use force that the House voted on before the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. The search facility at the site allows you to access the actual bill voted on and not the spin about the bill we hear today. Please note the emphasis on Saddam's flagrant breaking of the law.

It makes it plain that cease fire violations, the brutal repression of the Iraqi people, support for international terrorism as well as the Iraqi Liberation Act had more to do with the removal of Saddam Hussein from power than weapons stockpiles.

One is fantasy while the other is reality, as if Saddam or the Demcoratic leadership could tell the difference.

Some Children Must be Left Behind

Education is a nearly trillion dollar industry in the US, accounting for 7.7% of GDP in 2001 (about $925 billion in 2005 - that’s all education spending, from pre-kindergarten through graduate/professional school). Only Denmark (8.4%) spends a greater percentage of GDP on education, and no country spends more per person.

That’s a lot of money. Ideally, it would go where it will do the most good. Which is why, if I were giving awards for rhetoric that makes my skin crawl, the simple title “No Child Left Behind” would win, hands down. It screams equality of outcomes, and since you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I assume this means we’ll be making dog treats out of everyone.

All right, granted, there are some students who simply lack the hardware to succeed, that’s not the problem I have with the NCLB concept. The framers of NCLB can be forgiven for not naming it “No Child Left Behind (Except those with mental retardation, who will necessarily be left behind but helped to lead normal lives as much as possible)”. The key to education for most students is motivation to learn on the part of the student. I firmly believe that a bright, motivated student will easily outperform a bright, unmotivated student, even if the unmotivated student has all the advantages money can bring to the classroom, while the motivated one reads from a mildewed text in a lonely (but quiet) cardboard box.

The problem is this. As a practical matter, “leaving no child behind” means that we spend a disproportionately large amount of resources attempting to improve the achievement of the least motivated students, and a disproportionately small amount attempting to improve the achievement of the most motivated students.

This strikes me as a counterintuitive approach, because generally the greatest return comes from investment where there is the capacity for rapid growth, and the obvious place to look for potential growth is where the conditions for growth already exist.

But then, maybe tremendous potential lies dormant in the least motivated – if only we could find a way to unlock it. How much growth can we get in that case? Lots. Sure, tons. But clearly, as long as they remain unmotivated, we will get none. You can plop a tub of Ty Nant in front of your horse, but if the dang thing isn’t thirsty, it isn’t going to drink. Likewise, you can provide the best teacher, the best text, and the newest classroom with the fanciest technology, but if the student doesn’t want to learn, you can’t make him learn. Forcing him to sit in the classroom does no more good than forcing the horse’s head into the water – he still won’t drink, but he might try to kick you senseless.

So the next question is – how much can we expect to increase unmotivated students’ motivation to learn? (Without resorting to standard Behaviorist techniques like electric shock, food deprivation with small reinforcing doses of food and other plainly objectionable means, of course.) There are at least two issues we need to deal with.

First, we need to overcome the active motivation not to engage in learning – and that motivation can be powerful. Some students see the entire educational system as an adversary – and learning as capitulation. Others face peer pressure (like the stereotypical, but (at least at one time) common, admonition that studiousness is “acting white”).

Second, we need to create positive motivation to learn, because we need to overcome the disincentive that results from the simple fact that learning requires effort, and our students, being earthly life forms, will normally avoid exerting effort. Standard cognitive theory says this requires us to create an expectation that performance will result in something good happening, a belief in future reinforcement. This is a tricky thing to accomplish, because it demands at least three things – ensuring that students see their current work as essential to the future positive outcome (but is Social Studies germane to becoming an engineer?), ensuring that students actually think the future outcome to which current performance is tied is a positive one (do I really want to be an engineer?), and ensuring that students see the outcome as likely given that they actually perform right now (if I do this, will I ever get hired anyway?). And now. And now.

As far as I know, we have no idea how to accomplish these things in any practical way – and that’s as far as the analysis goes, or needs to go for the present. Returning to the question “How much can we expect to increase unmotivated students’ motivation to learn?” the answer is – currently, not much at all. And until we figure out how to create motivated students, the only way to get any return for our investment is to invest in those who are, for whatever reason, already motivated.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving in Northern California

For hills
for trees and shadows
for all streams

For fish, for insect life

And for the sea
clouds scattering light

For air

For paths
that fade, to lose us
for the stars, for night

For children, for old people

For the wind,
for salt marsh grasses—
for the sand the wind
and water move

For all that lives, and
for the sun and moon

To God, we give

our thanks

XI: 2005

Tempting Fate

On a day where folks all around the US are stuffed full of turkey comes a story about a bird that has figured out how to defang the mighty hunter. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Goofy grouse entertains 85-year-old hunter

Happy Thanksgiving and Prognostication

Happy Thanksgiving for all you folks going through the blogs on turkey day (are we that interesting or are you getting away from the family?---you don’t have to answer that). I’m thankful for the sacrifice, determination and professionalism of our troops who truly do us proud.

As we have just gone through another round of apoplexy concerning troop deployment in Iraq (Google “Murtha” for a taste of a different kind of turkey), I thought about the old phrase, “What did you do during the war?” The modern version might well turn out to be “What did you think of the war?” I suspect that after Iraq gets its democratic sea legs, sees an improving economy and is examined in comparison to its neighbors, the conventional wisdom will likely treat the outcome as always a foregone conclusion. The doom and gloom will be “forgotten” or minimized, although the Internet has a long memory (unless we turn it over to the UN; then all bets are off). I believe that the big picture will largely determine how the current events are viewed. Eventual success will have many fathers.

Who Can Accept Our Surrender?

This is certainly good news on Thanksgiving. I believe that I've read something concerning insurgent groups wanting to lay down their arms before but this piece is a bit more definitve. The tribes in al-Anbar are the ones who have caused the most trouble in Iraq. The article does not distinguish which tribes are in fact involved but I found the comment that they were dealing with Chalabi rather than with Talabani interesting.

Are they anticipating a Chalabi victory on December 15th? Is the "talk" a means to promote Chalabi's party?

This interview with Talabani done in 2002 gives a bit of recent historical perspective to current Iraqi politics. Talabani doesn't seem to hold the CIA (or State) in very high esteem.

He's not alone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Escaping the blogosphere

There is an excellent discussion by Clay Shirky
on the dynamics driving the “inequality” of blogs. Although it was written almost two years ago the principles mentioned would seem to have been validated by time.

The question posed is “Why do a handful of blogs account for a disproportionate amount of blog traffic?” In other words, why are site visits not more equally distributed across all blogs?

The answer, according to Shirky, is that “In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.”

There are accompanying graphs of what Shirky refers to as “power law distribution”, and a prediction of how the world of blogs will evolve over time.

At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean "media we've gotten used to.") The transformation here is simple - as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.

Many of the “A list” bloggers have reached this point and no longer have comment sections, which is the “conversational” aspect of blogging. They might be said to have reached the blogospheres escape velocity.

Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average traffic, audience size can't be the only metric for success. LiveJournal had this figured out years ago, by assuming that people would be writing for their friends, rather than some impersonal audience.

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

There are some implications here for Open Source Media and similar efforts. One is that the blogging model does not scale up very well. Once a blog passes a certain traffic threshold it becomes impractical for the blogger to spend time reading and responding to comments. Instead the “mega-bloggers” read and respond to other bloggers, as well as regular news reports.

The other is that the large blogs will become over time something closer to the “MSM” than to the blogs from which they sprung. Their large volume of traffic gives them influence. This attracts the attention of influential people looking for outlets for ideas, who give “access” in the journalistic sense to anyone with an audience. The circle will be complete when the former bloggers begin to be seduced by the notion of themselves as insiders; in other words, they will become increasingly like the Old Media which they initially and rightly excoriated.

"The Only Exit Strategy is Victory"

"It appears that with the deadline for exile come and gone, Saddam Hussein has chosen to make military force the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism. If so, the only exit strategy is victory, this is our common mission and the world’s cause. We're in this together. We want to complete the mission while safeguarding our troops, avoiding innocent civilian casualties, disarming Saddam Hussein and engaging the community of nations to rebuild Iraq." — 20 March 2003, follow the link to find out who said it.

Gee, Officer Krupke, You're Really a Square! West Side Story in Paris

In West Side Story, one of the two rival gangs, the Jets, sings a hilarious parody of social-work-think, as it applies to their possible motivations for having — in their own self-characterization — turned into "punks." (Oddly, I can't remember anyone having been offended, at the time the musical was a hit, by the use this insensitive term.) At one point in the number a gang member, Diesel, impersonating a judge in juvenile court, sings:

Officer Krupke, you're really a square;
This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care!

Further on in the number another gang member, Riff, addressing the "psychiatrist," has a few thoughts as to why these "youths" have become gang members:

My father beats my mommy,
My mommy clobbers me.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea,
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress,
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

(In the paleolithic era, "tea" was slang for marijuana.)

But then the gang adopts the position that juvenile delinquency is "a social disease." The cure in that case? Take the patient to a social worker!

Dear kindly social worker.
They say go earn a buck,
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schmuck.
It's not I'm anti-social,
I'm only anti-work,
Glory Osky, that's why I'm a jerk!

This last "root cause" may be the one that is closest to the mark in trying to understand what happened, and continues to happen, in France, at least if the analysis of Anthony Daniels in NRO (November 22, 2005, subscription required), The Suburbs Are Burning, is correct. Mr. Daniels begins with a brilliant, funny paragraph about a very serious situation:

For the last two weeks, the French have been watching the numbers of cars burnt the night before in the suburbs the way New Yorkers watch the Dow Jones index. Does 463 mean that the riots are now in recession, or is the reduction compared with the previous night merely what stockbrokers call a technical correction? Could the senior policeman be right who said that the downward trend was "the beginning of a classic mobilization at the weekend"? In other words, could les jeunes be conserving their energy for a further assault on French complacency?

The writer quickly proceeds to get to the heart of the issue:

The French banlieues are in effect prisons, but prisons that are ruled by the prisoners who live in them — generally the worst and most brutalizing kind of prisons there are. These prisons have metaphysical walls rather than real ones, though they are geographically isolated from the towns and cities to which they are attached. The metaphysical walls are patrolled by a combination of rigid French labor laws, which make it so difficult for the young to find employment in France, and the subculture of les jeunes themselves, which is conducive to nothing except idleness punctuated by insensate rage.

Daniels does not believe that Islam or Islamism had a great deal to do with the rioting:

The part played by Islam in the riots is bound in an age of Islamist terrorism to preoccupy us, but in my opinion it played at most a peripheral or enabling role. Young men of Islamic background are perhaps more sensitive to humiliation, and more likely to react violently, than others, since they are habituated to thinking of themselves as superior beings to women, the elect of creation. They are also determined to preserve their domination of women. This is the principal interest that Islam has for the young Muslim men of both Britain and France, and probably Holland as well, who are in all other respects almost as highly secularized as their non-Muslim counterparts. Islam also helps to keep their resentment warm, to give it shape; and resentment is, of all human emotions, by far the most dependable — but also the most counterproductive. But les jeunes are not religious fanatics: They are not religious at all. When French Islamic clerics issued a fatwa condemning the riots, it had absolutely no effect. Only a fatwa calling for riots might have had some effect, but only because there existed an inclination to riot in the first place.

But he recognizes that Islamists are, in all likelihood, waiting in the wings:

It would be surprising indeed if fundamentalists did not try to take advantage of the discontents to further their designs — if an impossible and primitive utopian daydream can be called a design.

So perhaps we should conclude that the behavior we saw (and will see again) in Paris was, to use the Jets' terminology, "a social disease." Having made the diagnosis, we are still far from having any clue about a possible cure. Daniels is pessimistic, and sees the French people, and the French state, as unlikely to change the social structure and laws that shore up the walls of the "metaphysical prison:" is] the state that ... enclose[s] les jeunes in an existential prison. Unfortunately, most of the French population benefits — or believes that it benefits — from the regulations that maintain that prison. Riots in les banlieues or marches down the Boulevard Saint-Germain: That is the choice facing the French government, and my guess is that they will prefer the former to the latter, even if in the end it means sending in the CRS [the feared Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité], no holds barred.