Monday, April 30, 2007

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Winners for the week of April 27 have been posted.

First place within the council went to the Earth Day post from this site, by a hair, over Presidential Power and Criminal Terrorists by Bookworm Room.

Votes also went to Helots at Eternity Road; On Winners and Losers -- Harry Reid and Defeatism by Joshuapundit; One Day Has Passed by The Glittering Eye; and Into Every Life, Some Reid Must Fall by Big Lizards.

Outside the council, the winner was The Big White Lie by Andrew Klavan in City Journal. This one got a lot of kudos from the right side, but I was not all that impressed with it. While I appreciate the liberation that comes with not having to praise certain bad writers who happen to be ideologically fashionable, that's not necessarily an exclusively right-wing experience (*cough, cough* Ayn Rand *cough, cough*). Nor are the "tortuous attempts to rename unpleasant facts out of existence" only found on one side of the equation.

Where Klavan writes, "The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie," he then goes on to list the classic liberal shibboleths. But there are uncomfortable easy answers on the right as well, such as the question of the deserving poor or the role of governments in marketplaces. And whereas Klavan naturally writes about the Hollywood liberal set he knows best, it is a mistake to lump all the left into that category.

He also loses me when he accuses leftism of "hiding itself within the most labyrinthine construct of social delicacy since Victoria was queen." Well, as a conservative, you ought to find something faintly appealing in the collectively agreed-to and socially applied codes of decency and politeness that defined that more refined era. At least by contrast to the Don Imus thing and whatever it is that spews out of the too-loud car stereos that drive by me in the hood all summer. And to say, as he does, "It sometimes takes, I mean, a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity to withstand the obloquy attached to stating the facts of the matter" seems to me to give these men too much credit for what it is they do.

Also getting votes were our friend Michael J. Totten, for Where Kurdistan Meets the Red Zone, another of his stellar on-the-scene pieces from Iraq; and Getting the Message, a highly recommended (by me) offering from The Mudville Gazette.

Votes also went to A Failure of Doctrine, Not of People a thought-provoking piece at Winds of Change; A Time for War, a moving rumination at Treppenwitz; and We Get the Government We Deserve at The QandO Blog, which addresses one of several elephants in the room of the current American political scene:

So, on the one hand, you have poor transmission of culture through a failing education system and on the other, a press which can and does shape public opinion even if the public doesn't, for the most part, understand the fundamentals of the system. Given that, it should come as no surprise to any of us that we have the government we have, the "beauty contest" elections we conduct nor the seemingly unstoppable growth government continues to enjoy. To me the only remaining question is have we reached the point of no return, or is there still time to try to turn it around?

Wright Stuff

[posted by Callimachus]

"If you want to know what makes you safer [in the U.S. than in Europe], it is not the contact lens solution that they take away at the airport. It is that Arabs and Muslims in the United States have higher incomes than the American average."

From a fascinating account of a speech by Lawrence Wright ("The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11") by Tigerhawk. Blogging at its best. He reports, and the subject's speech is at the center. From the sidelines, the blogger questions and critiques. It works well with these two; both the blogger and the subject tend toward fearless questioning and independent conclusions.

Among Wright's predictions: A U.S. defeat in Iraq will be hell on Europe:

"Europe has a big problem. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, you will see veterans returning to new or preexisting cells with enormous experience and training. I don't think the future in Europe looks very attractive."

Tenet Discontent

[posted by Callimachus]

Giving CIA chief George Tenet the Medal of Freedom seems to me to rank as one of the jaw-dropping-est boners of the Bush Administration. It's probably too late to ask him to give it back now, and the argument against his getting it was just as strong before his new book and recent TV interview, but that doesn't stop people from trying.

In his much-watched "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, former CIA director George Tenet spoke passionately in defense of his former colleagues at the agency, saying they had been maligned and scapegoated by the Bush administration. Tenet said he wrote his book, "At the Center of the Storm," which goes on sale this week, partly to defend their honor. "The only people that ever stand up and tell the truth are who? Intelligence officers. Because our culture is never break faith with the truth," Tenet said in the interview. But on Monday a group of former CIA officials circulated a letter questioning Tenet's honesty, and harshly criticizing him for "failed leadership" that besmirched the agency. "We believe you have a moral obligation to return the Medal of Freedom you received from President George Bush," said the authors of the letter, adding that Tenet ought to donate "a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed and wounded in Iraq."

That is, he was undeserving of the honor because of what he did and didn't do, not because of how he now spins what he did. But getting the medal out of his hands is less likely now than ever, since Tenet has publicly commited himself to a rather fantastic self-serving version of the events of his tenure.


Doesn't Fly

[posted by Callimachus]

No doubt by now you've seen this account of a respected academic, Walter F. Murphy, who ran into a wall of bureaucracy while trying to get on an airline flight earlier this year. He was told he was on "the Terrorist Watch list."

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Now, you don't have to be some maniacal minion of Shrubbie McChimplerburton to touch this third-hand story only with a 10-foot pole. The professor might be perfectly accurate in his account (I am sure he is), and he may have been told exactly those words.

But if you've ever worked with people who have to man the trenches in the wars that bureaucracies declare, you'll recognize what might have happened. People who have to face the angry and uncomprehending customers, and who have no power to answer them or to aid them, and who frankly think the policies are absurd in the first place, can most easily end the ugliness by making an emphatic statement that the people high up who make the rules are insane and there's nothing you can do about it.

I've been a meter reader, and a department store clerk, and a newspaper reporter. I've been there a few times.

Which is one possible explanation for the thing. It might not be right, but it might make more sense than the automatic presumption that an American Airlines check-in clerk knows the highest-level operating rules of the FBI's no-fly policies.

The lists are a big muddle. Everyone's heard the stories of mistaken identities. A 6-year-old child or a prominent Congressman are told they can't fly because they happen to share the names of prominent IRA terrorists.

The Wall Street Journal -- alone among media outlets, as far as I can tell -- took the trouble to ask a question or two about this. They talked to Kip Hawley, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

... According to Hawley, the only list a passenger might be on that would prevent him from boarding a plane is the "no fly" list. Since Murphy did ultimately get on the plane, he self-evidently was not on that list. Hawley says it is possible that someone with the same name was on the list; such an error befell Ted Kennedy in 2004.

More likely, though, Murphy was a "selectee"--chosen for heightened security by a process that is part random, part based on a variety of factors, most of which are not publicly disclosed, but which are known to include holding a one-way ticket and purchasing a ticket in cash.

This has happened to us on numerous occasions. If you have ever had a row of S's appear on your boarding pass, and been taken out of the main line at the security checkpoint to have your bags searched, it has happened to you as well. Selectees, Hawley explained to us, are not allowed to check in at curbside but must go to the ticket counter, as in Murphy's case.

As for the anonymous check-in clerk's version,

... There are two problems with this. First, federal terrorist watch lists are compiled not by political appointees but by career professionals at the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, who, according to Hawley, would balk at any effort to list people for political reasons. Second, airline clerks have no way of knowing why a passenger is a selectee or on the no-fly list; they know only that he is. If the clerk actually said what Murphy claims he did, he was either joking or expressing his own (ill-informed) political opinion.

None of which prevented the story from being embedded in the core of one of the ten reasons America is becoming a fascist nation, according to Naomi Wolf, writing for the pleasure an enlightenment of our European friends.

Saying It Better Than I Could

[posted by Callimachus]

Is Lieut. Col. Paul Yingling, deputy commander, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment.

Armies do not fight wars; nations fight wars. War is not a military activity conducted by soldiers, but rather a social activity that involves entire nations. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted that passion, probability and policy each play their role in war. Any understanding of war that ignores one of these elements is fundamentally flawed.

The passion of the people is necessary to endure the sacrifices inherent in war. Regardless of the system of government, the people supply the blood and treasure required to prosecute war. The statesman must stir these passions to a level commensurate with the popular sacrifices required. When the ends of policy are small, the statesman can prosecute a conflict without asking the public for great sacrifice. Global conflicts such as World War II require the full mobilization of entire societies to provide the men and materiel necessary for the successful prosecution of war. The greatest error the statesman can make is to commit his nation to a great conflict without mobilizing popular passions to a level commensurate with the stakes of the conflict.

Despite this opening, his topic and target is not contemporary U.S. political leadership or popular will, but the class of general who prepare America's military for war and who, supposedly, see the battlefield and adjust the tactics to meet it. But given the consequences of defeat by a weaker, but more willing, opponent, the notion that this is purely a military problem and we the people have nothing to do with it ought to be as obviously false as Yingling's concluding warning is dire:

Iraq is America's Valmy[* - footnote, ed.]. America's generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand. They spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past. Those few who saw clearly our vulnerability to insurgent tactics said and did little to prepare for these dangers. As at Valmy, this one debacle, however humiliating, will not in itself signal national disaster. The hour is late, but not too late to prepare for the challenges of the Long War. We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security. The power and the responsibility to identify such generals lie with the U.S. Congress. If Congress does not act, our Jena awaits us.


Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Late, as usual, and catching up. Here are the winners for the week of April 20. Nominations were full of Virginia Tech shooting posts.

The winner was Fighting Back Was Not an Option, Part 2 by Dafydd at Big Lizards. This is a careful and thoughtful post which steps deliberately into the most difficult aspect of the story: What ought the victims to have done differently, if anything, to rescue themselves from being victims of the shooter?

Dafydd's conclusion actually is the opposite of the title.

The greater issue is that, by fighting back against evil, the students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech would have fired the shot heard round the world, the meme that "fighting back is always an option." Whenever such a massacre is aborted by extraordinary courage on the part of ordinary people, we send the message that good men (and women) must do something to prevent the triumph of evil.

I have some sympathy for that position. It feels right in the heart. But I just don't agree with it as a realistic option. The comparison with the people on Flight 93 is inevitable, but the fact that the passengers on that doomed plane had sufficient time to collect their thought and to ascertain that their plane was going down, one way or another, puts their heroics in a different category.

This classroom shooting was split-second heroics, and perhaps only rigorous military training and experience can equip someone to deal with it with a cool head and make the right choices.

I feel for the young men who were in those rooms and survived. Their agony will last a lifetime. Did they do the right thing? Could they have done better? Are they ashamed simply to have survived? This tragedy will seem to them a test -- a random test that not one in a million men ever has to face, but they drew the unlucky number. They'll lie awake for decades with those thought eating at their souls.

Dafydd wonders about that, too:

Did they gather those around them and hurry with them to safety? Did they save themselves? Each of these is a minor virtue, and I don't want to knock it. Sometimes, such minor virtues are all that a person can achieve, given the time, place, and opportunity.

But surely there must have come a time when a man or woman, hiding not far away, saw that the gunman had turned his back. What that person did in that moment is the true assay of character.

Maybe someone charged at the gunman -- but foul fate intervened, and the butcher heard, turned, and added another victim to his hellish toll. Anyone so killed is as heroic as Professor Librescu.

I have even seen it argued, in other posts at other places, that had there been more ROTC training on campus -- which includes studies of what to do in an ambush -- some quicker and less lethal resolution of this attack might have been possible.

The trouble is, apparently, there was just such a person on the scene, who did just what a hero would have done. Cheat Seeking Missile, another Watchers Council member, wrote about him here:

There was more carnage in the hallway. Kevin Granata had heard the commotion in his third-floor office and ran downstairs. He was a military veteran, very protective of his students. He was gunned down trying to confront the shooter.

In our fantasies, heroes fix things through their heroism. Kevin Granata didn't do that, but he died trying and that makes him a hero of the highest order, like the soldier who falls on the grenade to save his buddies.

I think that's right. The hero isn't defined by his luck or success in turning around an impossible situation, but by the character that drives him to try it. It's human nature to wish for a truly heroic and miraculous outcome to this awful story. To somehow find a way to make it turn out so that the good triumphs. I can't scold anyone for seeking that, even in hindsight.

It reminds me of what I felt after 9/11, and at that time, I found it in Faulkner's evocation of Gettysburg in the mind of a Southern boy who knows the dream of independence was crushed in that short space of time:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

But it never happens.

Cheat Seeking Missile also got a vote this week for the post Media At Its Worst On Display At Virginia Tech.

A few non-VT-shooting posts that got votes, including The Beast Among Us by Eternity Road, and my Happy Netted Nose, both of which took the Don Imus dogpile as an entree into larger social topics; and They Should Get Out More by The Glittering Eye, which is a good kind of post. It takes exception to a bad argument (in this case a newspaper editorial) in favor of something the blogger essentially agrees with. Pointing out sloppy thinking or poor research in an argument you think is fundamentally sound is the hallmark of a true thinker, as opposed to a polemicist. If you are heard and heeded, you make your own case more solid by weeding the field of the argument.

Outside the council, the top vote-getter was The Laughter in the Dark by The Belmont Club. Wretchard just writes this sort of thing so finely, and so tersely, that I think there's hardly any point in me trying to do it, too. But no one seems to listen to him. His starting point is the latest horrific attack on a civilian target in Iraq. And his dismay is, in part, for those who can read about such things and feel the need to surrender to it, to throw up one's hands and leave, rather than the burning desire to end it:

Implicit in the enemy use of these tactics is the presumption that its political target has a moral sensibility -- that it somehow cares about the threat to kill innocents unless it bends to their evil will. Otherwise it would not be affected. Blackmail is useless against those who don't care for the victims because there can be no assault on the sensibility of the insensible. Pity and virtue are treated as weakness -- but only by evil -- by those who hate pity, and hate it from pride.

But still more evil than terrorists are those who help them in projecting a moral inversion. For terrorists are themselves fully cognizant of the difference between innocence and guilt. It is this fine sensibility that allows terrorists to design one outrage greater than the other; that teaches it to seek out the child that they might mutilate it. Lucifer would have been a poor devil had he not the memory of an angel. But their apologists have no sense of evil; and are in some way morally inferior to the terrorists themselves. They have no memory of Paradise Lost. Darkness and light are all the same to them; or rather darkness is light and night their shade of preference. For the apologists of terror, the victims themselves are "little Eichmanns" and those who try to defend the victims blamed instead of the murderers. And not only do they believe this but will try to persuade anyone who will listen of its truth. The phrase "lost soul" is not just a metaphor but a diagnosis.

How can anyone leave the field to such evil? Or think that we could, by giving it victory, escape it ourselves?

I have no idea. But such attitudes walk all around me here where I work.

Also getting votes were BREAKING: Present At the Bombing at Pajamas Media; Tax Day Self-Congratulations at The QandO Blog; Bill Clinton Grabs Some Contributions for Hillary by Pillage Idiot; and A Few Thoughts on Female Leadership by Western Survival. I want to tip my hat to this last one, which, though I don't agree with the argument structure in large parts of it, took a lot of courage to put into print.


After Iraq

[posted by Callimachus]

The phony Congress-White House showdown over military funding will turn out predictably, with political leaders claiming victory and anyone else thoroughly disgusted. But it seems clear now that we don't have the will to continue this war. Whatever the good, hard work being accomplished by our people in the country, there's nothing left here at home but the egos. Whatever the hopes and prospects once were for helping Iraq up on its feet as a strong and functioning democracy, we have broadcast to the world that we are not going to stick around long enough to do it. And no one else wants the job.

The people who ought to have supported and promoted this effort failed. That would include me. The people who worked from the beginning to defeat it won. And they seem to have convinced themselves they have no idea of the hell about to be unleashed.

There's great cred these days in having been "right" about Iraq in 2002, so that, like Woodstock, the number of people who claim to have "been there" on that issue is many times the number who actually were. So let me prepare to be in the next set of "right about Iraq." When we leave, there's going to be a massacre of innocents of medieval proportions and an infusion of life in al Qaida type jihadists that will keep us back on our heels for years.

I see the posters and stickers at the rallies. They're jarringly unreal. "Stop the war?" The real war begins after we leave. "Too many dead?" U.S. casualties over four years amount to a bad afternoon in 1944. The real threat begins after the enemy knows he's chased us out. No port, no off-base tavern, will be safe. "Deaths of innocents?" You've seen nothing yet.

They seem to think, on some unexpressed level, that the American failure they proclaim and support will simply re-set the clock to 2002.

In the limits of my experience, for most of the anti-war crowd this war always has been principally a domestic political issue. Concepts of national sovereignty, international rule of law, anti-imperialism served them as argument window dressing, but not consistently or sincerely (and in fact often in blatant contradiction to other stated goals of such people).

All that seemed to matter in the recent Democratic debates is having been quickest to bail out on the war and having given the most stylin' sack-cloth and ashes speech about it. I've not heard, "Instead of overthrowing Saddam, what would you have done about Iraq?" seriously asked or answered. Not even, "What would you have done differently in the war you voted to begin, and how would it have effected a different outcome." Not even, "What would you have said as CinC to the inevitable anti-war movement and its media-driven rage, even as you effected your winning strategy?"

Once the last U.S. National Guard private has boarded the last flight out of Iraq, as I read these anti-war folks, America will enter a period of national self-mortification, humbled and humiliated, doing penance before a wiser world. They actually seem to think this is a good thing and anticipate it with some pleasure. Remember that "We're Sorry" Web site that popped up after the 2004 election? Like that, but on a global scale, with our new leaders in place of the average sad sacks who posted up their pictures. Expect the next American U.N. ambassador to stand up and deliver a lengthy and formal apology to that august body.

And, as I think a great many people now perceive it, even after the war ends it will continue to function as a domestic issue chiefly: A cage to contain the new leaders' rivals. The memory of it will be like a family story that can be retold at any convenient moment to embarrass and check old stupid dad. "Remember that time you thought it would be a good idea to liberate Iraq? Oh, yes you do. Don't listen to anything he says; he's a fool."

A lot of the one-time rah-rah war supporters are now sullenly silent. [Those who haven't switched sides without changing anything and have become rah-rah war opponents.] They are getting used to the idea of spending the next 20 years in a political -- if not a literal -- cage.

But there's still work that needs to be done, and there's no one but us to try to do it. Prepare for the catastrophe that will come with the defeat our anti-war leaders have invited into the house. Prepare for the new, ugly global realities that these people seem not to realize we'll face, instead of the pacifist utopia they dream.

I can think of many rear-guard fights that must be fought, and future calamities that ought to be anticipated. I know which one I intend to concentrate on: Let's try not to leave our friends behind to burn in the furnace of the enemy's victory celebration. This is where I'm going to choose to devote my energies as the expedition to liberate Iraq implodes. I may write about it here; I may not. Blogging is only one tactic and it might not be the best one.

The last remaining neo-cons must rouse themselves out of the funk of failure and take responsibility for what they own, and for what no one else will do. The Iraqis who took our offer to help them build a better future -- they are our responsibility. Everyone else wants to walk away from them, forget about them, let them disappear into the night of the long knives. They are inconvenient facts about to be ground like hamburger in the anti-imperialist narrative, which will be the story indoctrinated into our children about this war, as it was for me about Vietnam.

The Iraqis who shared our vision of their nation are about to be killed, with their families, and then forgotten. We know this, if no one else does. We care, if no one else does.

Let's work to get them out alive. Even if nobody ever gets credit for it, even if it does nothing to stave off the coming American grovel and the resultant repercussions for what's left that calls itself "the West." Even if it boosts the fortunes of our domestic political rivals by allowing them to have a relatively bloodless victory. Forget them; they will make their own hell. Do what is right. Do what you're responsible for doing.

I am thinking of the Iraqi interpreters who helped us. And the political leaders of secular or minority parties. And the Iraqi women who stood up for their rights. And the communists (I never said you were going to like all these people). The writers, the intellectuals, the doctors. Employees who worked for the allied agencies or contracted companies, down to the last secretary in the pool.

Get them out, with their families. Settle them here, or in some other safe place of their choosing. Australia, perhaps, or Kurdistan. Give them the freedom and security elsewhere that we promised them, and failed to give them, in their homes.

The administration hitherto has been reluctant to open the national doors to Iraqi refugees. That's been understandable. As long as the White House was committed to succeeding in Iraq -- or at least to giving off the public impression of such commitment -- enabling the best and most useful citizens of Iraq to flee the country would have been counter-productive both politically and practically.

That time has passed. And so it's time to change the policy. And it's up to us to start pushing for it. Write to your congressman, and to people in power likely to have the skill and will to effect such changes. And keep writing. Keep calling. Keep up the pressure. Let's get some bills started. If that fails, set up private funds. Work with the people you know in the military, who will know best who over there needs a ride out. Find any allies and work with them; even if they're the loathsome types who likely will hold power here in a few years.

There is some practical virtue, after all, even in neo-isolationist realpolitik or sap-headed transnationalism, of being true to your friends.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Back In Rotation

[Posted by reader_iam]

Interesting that this moldy oldy is in rotation in video--that is to say, YouTube. Time was, just a few years ago, that it took a real effort to (successfully) acquire even the audio version of it, just for memory's yearbook sake--not to be confused with either nostalgia or sentiment.

Within the year (back in the day) that this song came out, we strenuously and sincerely practiced this in chorus for the upcoming middle school Concert For Our Parents. In keeping with the times, all subtext was dutifully provided--and, for the most part, we dutifully nodded, and sang, and enthusiastically, as practiced. (My problem, retrospectively, is with the "dutifully," to put too fine a point on it. Extrapolate, in the here and now, at your own risk.)

Back now in 2007, I note that this song by the (actual) same band is still unavailable on YouTube, at least that I can find. On the one hand, glory be! On the other--how curious.

Lord knows I wouldn't want to defend either of these songs, or the band, or even why I have them in our, admittedly, vast library of music: the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent, the WTF?, and so forth. Still: Isn't it a fun and interesting thing to ponder why, oh, why ANYONE would want to bring back Paper Lace, publicly? I mean, really: What's that about?

Eh, it's Friday night. What can I say? Time for silly stuff.

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Good Luck

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Goodness Gracious, Great Balls O' Gravel

[Posted by reader_iam]

The Winnah! (See here, especially "Third Add.")

(AP Photo, via this.)

Dennis Kucinich seems to be enjoying the hell out of himself. And why not?

[Added, after below update:] Caption this photo. I'm open to suggestions for the prize.

Update: Ok, damnit. I'm gonna quit resisting!

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Debatable [Updated]

[Posted by reader_iam]

Funny, hearing Tom Brokaw talk to Keith Olbermann about how Jack Valenti, who it has just been announced has died, was a symbol of a lost age of civility. I don't think Brokaw--himself a civil man--was aware of the irony, in context.

Although, wouldn't it be great if he was?


Q: "Is this war lost?"



Hillary: "...advocating a number of years ... " (She was talking about drawing down the troops in Iraq and establishing benchmarks for the war and the Iraqis.)

Me: What number is that, exactly???


I'm watching these debates partly out of a specific interest in hearing what Bill Richardson has to say. He seems subdued to me and even his hair seems buttoned down. I'm just a little surprised by this. Well, the "debate" is young.


Mike Gravel's voice reminds me strongly of that of a television character, which I can't quite identify yet. Blake Carrington (played by John Forsythe), maybe?


I'm not trying to ignore Barack Obama. He's just not standing out in any particular way, so far.


Oh, for Pete's sake--Edwards' hair is brought up in a question to him. Eh, don't know that I want to carry on after that. The answer, by the way, includes references to health care, the minimum wage, and just about all of Edwards' other standard statements.


Funny that it's Dennis Kucinich who comes out with the statement, "We're not choosing American Idol here." Unfortunate.


HELL HAS FROZEN OVER! Joe Biden gives a one-word answer!

("Yes," in response to being asked whether he can reassure the world that he has the self-control to be president, given his reputation as a "gaffe machine.") [Added: I'm curious if that was the single biggest-rehearsed response in his pre-debate prep. I mean, for him that had to require serious practice.]


Damn, Gravel goes after the other candidates, especially the "top-tier ones." Well, and also Joe Biden. My mind wanders off-topic, trying to picture him talking to other world leaders that way, should he become leader of the free world. Much more fun!


Biden won't have a litmus test for potential Supreme Court nominees. But he'd make sure people he nominated shares his values. And that they understand that's there's a right to privacy in the constitution. Etc.

Kucinich believes in care.


I'm getting a little alarmed: Chris Dodd is beginning to look good to me, by comparison. Maybe a little break is in order.


"Show of hands" question: How many in your adult life have had a gun in your house? Five of the eight have--Biden, Gravel, Kucinich and I missed the other two due to an interruption, but I think Richardson was one of them. Biden, in the next question, specifies "shotgun." Does the answer to this question matter to you? For my part, the [added for clarity: candidate's] answer[s] to this bothers me a whole lot less than the fact that the VA Tech shooting had been brought up in context of whether it changed any of the candidates' views on guns.


Obama: "I think the confederate flag should be put in a museum, where it belongs." Me, too.


Short-answer questions, only one-sentence answers allowed (not to exceed 20 seconds). But the first question--a compound one--itself begs for a multi-sentence answer! Short reaction: DUMB.

Gravel describes himself as the senior statesman, but he's beginning to feel like a "potted plant." Who IS this loon? [Added: That was rhetorical. I know who Gravel is.]

Bill Richardson has mastered the art of the semi-colon, the em-dash and the colon in speech. Punctuationally speaking, he nails it. Is that symbolic of something deeper?


Non-Iraq foreign policy: I'm a little unimpressed that, given the way Obama framed his answer to his question, he failed to mention also Pakistan and, most especially, India.

Biden gets points, from me anyway, for mentioning Putin and the fact that there have been some quite ominous developments in Russia which could have far-reaching effects.

Gravel says we have no enemies in the world, or something like that. A potted plant, indeed!

Richardson started out all right, but then pulled out a crap line about America not caring about Africa. Sigh. That ought to have been beneath him. It matters to me that it wasn't.


Two U.S. cities are attacked tonight, and we know for sure it's Al Qaeda. How would that affect our military stance overseas? Obama wants to review our security system, since we showed we didn't after Katrina. Edwards wants to react swiftly against the perpetrators, and to assign various blames. Hillary says she thinks presidents should act as swiftly as it is prudent to react and strike at those who attacked us (assuming we can identify them), but shouldn't go looking for other fights in other countries. That's pretty much my stance, so of course her answer works for me.


Richardson's stance on Cuba, and the fact that we should be working now on a policy post-Castro, is dead on.

Obama did a good job of describing the difficulty of the Iran situation; he thinks it'd be a grave mistake to go to war with Iran (I think he means now, specifically), but he also acknowledges the danger that the country poses, to us and the world, and that it is the largest state sponsor of terrorists/terrorist groups. He thinks we should talk to it, but be aware of the danger.

Edwards, I think, is the first candidate tonight to invoke the name of God and talk of daily prayer. Come to think of it, this has been a remarkably Godtalk-free political event, which I personally think is a very good thing, indeed.


Reactions from you all?

Added post-debate: I know I missed a bunch here; one of those nights where I couldn't put all my focus on the debate. Feel free to correct/expand.

I disagree with the take on Hillary Clinton, but otherwise I think the observations of Hit & Run's David Weigel are pretty much on target. He hits the ball out of the park with his quip on the love shown to Mike Gravel over on MyDD (though I think it's more the commenters than the post, itself). Mike Gravel is "a pissed-off FDR"? That's "different," indeed. The commenter who says Gravel should be given Imus' spot may be on to something, however. He probably WOULD be good on radio--"shock jock" is certainly a decent symbol of the way he approached this debate tonight.

Second add, post-debate: I nominate for the award of most thorough and engaging real-time debate-blogging post (though I gather it was posted after the fact, not as-you-go; perhaps I should adopt that approach****see note*****) this one by Tigerhawk, at least among the relatively few blogs I've had a chance to peruse so far. (Hat tip, Memeorandum. Your nominations are welcome.

Third add, post-debate: ***I was wrong about that, I think. That makes my nomination that much more strong. And may I point out to Instapundit that I, too, ran against the tide with regard to Gravel? Even used the same word.

As to the "Goodness Gracious, Great Balls O' Gravel!" meme**** (can I trademark that, please?), I just heard a report on CNN--didn't catch the correspondent, but Anderson Cooper is anchoring--in which Gravel was named the "hands'-down" winner of the debate.

What more is there to say?

Update: ****See visual (+) here.

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Jack Valenti

[posted by Callimachus]

I didn't know until tonight that he is in this iconic photo:

According to AP, he's on the left in the background, just above the head of Judge Sarah T. Hughes (in the polka-dots, with her back to the camera) and at the shoulder of the man in the bow tie (identified by AP as Rep. Albert Thomas, D-Tex.).

Would He Say This?

[posted by Callimachus]

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about the Sudanese government. It is brutal. Ruthless. A regime that butchers its own people to secure its own power. It has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams ....*

They're bad guys. The world, and the Sudanese people, would be better off without them.

But I also know that Sudan poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to its neighbors, that the Sudanese economy is in shambles, that the Sudanese military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community it can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, it falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war to secure Darfur will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Sudan without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

... The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not – we will not – travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.

It's the heart of Barack Obama's Iraq speech, of course, with only the names changed. Ask yourself if the circumstances are essentially different than those he opposed when confronted with the difficult choice of what to do about Iraq in 2002. Is a humanitarian justification for sending Americans into a battlefield ever valid without overriding national interests also at stake?

And while you're at it, you might wonder why so many of the same people who are eager to see America throw its weight around to protect the suffering innocents of Darfur are at the same time shaping a narrative that says the people we will leave behind to be butchered like goats in Iraq when we withdraw, according to their demands, more or less deserve to die because they were fool enough to cast their lot with the "imperialist" occupiers against their own culture and nation.

And while you're at it you might wonder how those people expect us to fight the inevitable al-Qaida offensive and insurgency that will greet us in Sudan -- or any other place American troops set foot in South Asia or North Africa -- after they've declared to themselves and the world that we cannot fight, and have no will to defeat, such tactics as they will bring against us. The current war is in a place called Iraq. That is a geographical fact, not a military one. This war is waiting for us everywhere, any time. If we don't learn it sooner, we will have to pay dearly to learn it later.

The West has made a mistake so ancient Lycurgus warned the Spartans against it: It has fought one enemy too often, with too little will to defeat him, and thus taught him how to beat us. If we don't defeat "them" there, it's no certainty "they" will follow us home. At least not at once. But you can be sure they will follow us elsewhere.

While you're at it, you might wonder what kind of foreign policy speeches Democratic White House hopefuls would be making today if Saddam still were in power, mocking and taunting and scheming, playing the U.N. like a sideshow sucker and merrily filling those mass graves.

While you're at it, you might wonder what sort of rage the Arab-language media and autocratic regimes in Islamic lands would be whipping their clients into with images of Iraqi children starving or dying for want of embargoed medical technology.

* [The first elipsis, by the way, is the phrase "developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity." I omitted it because I don't think anyone is accusing Sudan of those things, so it obscures the parallel I'm calling attention to. It is not particularly relevant to the bigger question Obama -- and I -- ask, which is what wars are worth fighting and how do you recognize them, because its weight goes to the side of the argument that Obama swiftly rejects.

His phrase is judiciously worded -- certainly better so than most of what the White House said in those months, and it's close to what I felt was accurate at the time on those matters.

But I think it's worth noting here, incidentally, since it shows the weight of the things Obama, and a great many others, considered and rejected when forced to choose on Saddam. It was a tough call, and it does no service to those who made it to pretend it was a no-brainer because everyone but neo-con fools knew in 2002 Saddam had no WMD capacity and never would.]

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Flock of Seagulls

[posted by Callimachus]

I'll never understand how John Edwards' haircuts got air time anywhere beyond Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, but there they were, without context or even a fig leaf over the snark. One thing you do learn about journalists; in groups they have a seagull mentality; they peck the weak to death.

Maureen Dowd was an egregious offender in the case. And it was mildly amusing to watch the anti-war, anti-Bush bloggers turn their well-honed snark and mockery on her. I read quite a few of their posts from start to finish. Then I did some Googling.

I wonder how many of those folks who airily and authoritatively dismissed her as a hack who never ought to be heeded first checked their own archives to see how many times they based a fusillade against Bush or the war entirely on a Maureen Dowd column?

A Meme of One's Own

[posted by Callimachus]

It was Reader who started me looking at Memeorandum, a round-up site that lists selected major news outlet stories and then links you to the blogs that link to them.

I don't know how thorough it is. That is, I don't know whether the list of blogs at the end of every news story blurb is a complete sample of the ones that have linked to it.

If it's anywhere near representative, however, it's sad confirmation of the separate realities and bubble mentality of the modern U.S. political scene -- or at least the blogs.

Once you get to know the blogs, and their general orientation on the flatline scale of "left" and "right," you see that certain stories are copiously linked from the left and ignored by the right. And vice versa.

Often this puzzles me. As with this story about a U.S. military unit's struggle in Iraq. It's both unspeakably foul and morally uplifting. The good guys are left with a feeling of loss by the time it ends. But you never doubt who the good guys are. You never stop wanting them to triumph.

When I read it, I came away more dedicated than ever to honoring these men and women we send to do this harrowing work, who do it consistent with the ancient warrior code of honor, and with respect for the culture of the land they now tread. They are not cartoon Spartans; they are real, everyday people. Which is what makes them so worth honoring.

I came away more determined than ever that the good and innocent people of Iraq who found themselves forced to choose between a future that starts in the shade of our tanks, or one that starts under the banners of murderous jihad, and who chose the path we offered, should be protected and supported. They should not be dropped like an inconvenient Newt Gingrich wife for the sake of making domestic political hay.

I came away more determined than ever that the invisible men who wrought the brutality that frames this platoon's story -- the vicious murders that begin and end it -- should never find haven in this world, or be able to laugh at America's surrender, or be emboldened by our craven leaders to think their evil has God's imprimatur for triumph in the 21st century.

Yet the story only has three links (as of now) on Memeorandum. One is Wonkette doing snarkity-snark-snark at the U.S. troops. The other two actually are the same post, here and double-dipped at Huffington.

This poster read the same story I did, but somehow manages to come out with the impression that it describes "... the exact moment when President Bush's brutish policy grabs hold of an American soldier and ruins his life," and proves "... the rotting stench of Bush's kingly intransigence ..." in "... a failed and useless war ...."

Very well, then: Let's talk about it. Let's have it out over the same words, the same published story, and see who is arguing what, based on what, to what larger purpose, with what goals and ideals in mind.


[posted by Callimachus]

Good posts, and good debates, on the Tillman/Lynch hearings at RWNH and Don Surber. By "good" I mean "roughly in line with what I think about it." So caveat, all you emptors.

FWIW, I don't see what Lynch is doing along on this Bush-hunting expedition. The Tillman case was an egregious error. Whether Congress has anything useful to add to the resolution of it is still a dubious prospect. But the Tillmans deserve a chance speak and be heard.

Jessica Lynch's case is otherwise; her story was confused from the beginning, and the "little blonde Rambo" version and the "just a POW" version were out there at the same time; it doesn't seem to involve a cover-up.

I will say her testimony -- her insistence that there were heroes in that skirmish, but that she did nothing special, and her need to call attention and praise to the others and divert it from herself -- raises my opinion of her a great deal. In spite of her words, and whether she knows it or not, she's behaving the way a real hero does.

There's another hero in that story, by the way, who ought never to be left out of it. Someone I know well told his story here.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Corn ... sugar ... what about marijuana? OK, it's not as good as Dennis the Peasant's idea to stop global warming by keeping your refrigerator door open, but it would be a boon to farmers (amber waves of weed) and wean us off Mideast and Venezuelan oil without taking anything out of the food chain. No, you can't actually run an internal-combustion engine on it, but if you smoke enough you won't care if your car is moving or not.

There. I've done my bit for today.

Red Dawn

[posted by Callimachus]

The search for an extra-solar earth is one of the great science adventures of our time (unravelling the genome being the other). Chances are, if human civilization still exists 5,000 years from now, and it has a memory, this is what it will remember us for.

It looks like we just might have one.

Too early to tell, though. I'm surprised that it orbits an M-class star -- a "red dwarf" -- because the habitable zone around one of those is pretty tight. But recent discoveries of extra-solar planets with tight, close orbits takes some of the surprise out of it. Still, it makes me wonder what's wrong with our solar system.

Most of the stars nearest the sun -- like most of the stars everywhere -- are these little dwarf-stars which can't be seen from here without a telescope. Our star actually is one of the biggest kids on the block.

This newfound potential Earth orbits a star called GL-581. The name comes from a catalogue of nearby stars compiled in the 1960s. A great many nearby stars -- whose planets are potential targets of human colonization -- only are known by GL numbers. They're too dim to have been noticed or recorded in earlier astronomy catalogues.

"GL" stands for "Gliese," from Wilhelm Gliese, the German astronomer who worked on the catalogue. He died in 1993. Even today, he rates a mere two sentences in Wikipedia. But someday all our children's children's children may know their homes by his name.


TV Nation

What's the first television show you remember watching regularly as a kid? Mine, god help me, was this.

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Muslim Survey

[posted by Callimachus]

"Muslims Believe US Seeks to Undermine Islam" was the headline on this in-depth study of public opinion in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia.* [PDF of full report is here]

Some interesting stuff to chew on in there. The cover report obviously took pains to stress certain points of moderation. For instance, the cover letter assures us:

However, respondents roundly reject attacks on civilians. Asked about politically-motivated attacks on civilians, such as bombings or assassinations, majorities in all countries—usually overwhelming majorities—take the strongest position offered by saying such violence cannot be justified at all.

Which certainly is reassuring if you live in a large American city. Or is it? Go to the PDF of the survey and look at the actual question:

In [your country], how justified are attacks on civilians (e.g. bombings, assassinations) that are carried out in order to achieve political goals – strongly justified, justified, weakly justified, or not justified at all?

"In your country." We're left to wonder what they think about such attacks in someone else's country -- say, mine. Or why the surveyors chose not to ask that one. Or to phrase their report as they did.

Other tidbits buried in the text jumped out at me.

Like this one:

On average less than one in four believes al Qaeda was responsible for September 11th attacks. Pakistanis are the most skeptical—only 3 percent think al Qaeda did it. There is no consensus about who is responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington; the most common answer is “don’t know.”

Truly, we inhabit not only separate civilizations, but separate realities.

Then there's this one:

Two-thirds would even like to “unify all Islamic counties into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”

Which I suppose also relates to the average 64% in each country who believe it is a U.S. goal to “spread Christianity in the region.” We may argue here about whether the "Clash of Civilizations" is just another noxious Western colonialist template for a complex world. Over there, it seems, the worldview is not so complex at all and the clash of civilizations is a no-brainer.

*[The surveys were conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007 using in-home interviews. In Morocco (1,000 interviews), Indonesia (1,141 interviews), and Pakistan (1,243 interviews) national probability samples were conducted covering both urban and rural areas. However, Pakistani findings reported here are based only upon urban respondents (611 interviews); rural respondents were unfamiliar with many of the issues in the survey. In Egypt, the sample (1,000 interviews) was an urban sample drawn probabilistically from seven governorates. Sample sizes of 1,000 – 1,141 have confidence intervals of +/- 3 percentage points; a sample size of 611 has a confidence interval of +/-4 percentage points.]

Healing Bias

[Posted by reader_iam]

This article was just sent to me by my best girlfriend, who works for a mental health agency in Austin, Texas (she's worked in this field for years), along with a note: "This was sent out by an administrator in our agency. What a better place the world would be if all were so conscious as this doctor...." From the Washington Post article, written by Manoj Jain, "an infectious disease physician in Memphis and a medical director of Medicare's quality improvement organizations in Tennessee and Georgia":
At our hospital in Tennessee not long ago, I saw my picture on the hallway message board alongside those of other doctors in a display thanking us for our service. My Asian-Indian complexion set me apart -- it's something that I am rarely conscious about in everyday life. It got me thinking: When I walk into the room, do my patients see me as a foreigner?

Then I wondered: When I walk into a room, how do I see my patients?

The mental processing goes something like this:

When I enter the room in which a patient is waiting for me, I do four things.

First, in the seconds before our initial greeting, I automatically and often unconsciously activate my stereotype. Thus, I assume a young Hispanic man is likely to be an uninsured construction worker.

Second, even though I believe that I do not judge people based on stereotypes, the data show it is very likely that I do. When I see an elderly black woman I am more likely to ask her about church as a support structure than I am to ask a white man the same question because I assume she is church-going.

Third, after the encounter, my stereotyping affects how I recall and process information. A white man complaining of pain receives more attention than a Hispanic woman with the same complaint because I stereotype white men as being more stoic.

(Remember that stereotyping is different from medical profiling based on disease epidemiology. A young black woman with anemia is more likely to have sickle cell disease than an elderly white man is, based on biology and racial background.)

Fourth, my stereotypes probably guide my expectations and handling of the patient, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. An elderly black man is unlikely to understand the details of a diagnosis, I assume, so I spend less time explaining his disease and its consequences. Ultimately, such a patient is less informed about his illness.

The most glaring result of black-white inequality in health care was found in a 2005 study issued by former surgeon general David Satcher. He estimated that closing the black-white mortality gap would eliminate more than 83,000 deaths per year among African Americans.
Meanwhile, there's this, in response to a psychotherapist writing about patients seeking therapist who are "like" themselves in some key way (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc).

Update: First link fixed. Also, Neo-neocon has some good commentary on both Althouse's post and the original article about understanding empathy, written by Dr. Richard Friedman.

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How I Know A Mouse Got Into My Purse

[Posted by reader_iam]

Somehow, someway, sometime:



What else was in there (minus the camera, for obvious reasons):


What's in your purse or computer bag or briefcase or even pocket right now?

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Monday, April 23, 2007


Captain America is dead. And the U.S. military bumbled and lied. And now a partisan Congress and media are on the case like a hurricane — by which I mean a violent mass of hot air rotating counter-clockwise.

Can it get any worse? Stay tuned.

Congress opens an inquiry this week into the death of Pat Tillman. First the Army said the celebrity athlete was killed repulsing a Taliban ambush. Soon, however, it emerged Tillman was cut down by the ugly and all-too-common battlefield reality of friendly fire.

The U.S. military has a habit of turning its mistakes into myths. When the five Sullivan brothers went down to death on the "Juneau" at Guadalcanal in 1942, they were hailed as heroes (certainly they deserved it) and a new ship was named in their honor. Their parents were sent out to tour the country raising war bonds and beseeching the American people to not let their sons have died in vain.

And quietly, and long after it ought to have been done, the U.S. War Department adopted a "Sole Survivor Policy" meant to prevent the blunder of letting siblings serve on the same ship. After the war, grief overwhelmed the Sullivans' father and he died a broken man.

That was then. What made Tillman's officers think a spun story could pass muster with today's contrarian media? Nowadays, we'd hear more from the opposition about Audie Murphy's wrenching experience with post-traumatic stress disorder than about his battlefield heroics. John Burns at Gettysburg would be derided as a bushwhacker and a war criminal. Just as Tillman, after his death, was derided on the domestic anti-war left as a "dumb jock" and a "baby-killer" until he became a poster-boy for Bush Administration chicanery.

The Army already has investigated this case, and punishments are due to be handed down soon against nine officers, including four generals. Whoever decided to lie to the dead soldier's family ought to be punished; that is not, and never can be, acceptable. Whether Congress can shed any further light remains to be seen. The early indications are not promising. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who requested the hearing, is shocked, shocked to learn that hero-tales were "characterized by false stories" and that the military "used the people involved in a way that put the war in a favorable light as a result of their heroics."

Heroes always are manufactured. That is, they are real heroes in the moments of their glory, but away from it they are like the rest of us. George Washington's life story, good as it was, got plenty of padding at the hands of Parson Weems. Americans embraced the Washington myth and left it to the historians and the wretched literalists to remind everyone that George Washington never chopped down a tree, never said "I cannot tell a lie," and never skipped a silver dollar across the Potomac.

Myths continue to be made, because people need them. Heroes are found, plucked from the debris of tragedy and buffed and polished till they shine. Read the hagiographies of some of the Sept. 11 dead.

Pat Tillman was a hero — like the Sullivans and Washington and Alvin York and even in his way John Kerry — not for his death, but for his life. For the patriotic duty he fulfilled in putting off one uniform and putting on another. For doing the difficult thing he might have avoided. What these hearing will reveal, or not, cannot change that fact. What they reveal about Congress, the military brass, the media and the rest of us, however, might not be pleasant to face.

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Our Friends

[posted by Callimachus]

Forgive my long excerpt from this post at American Thinker. The whole piece is much longer, but this is its heart. As a journalist, I always catch myself and step back from a story or picture when I find myself thinking, "people need to see this." In blogging, the opposite is true.

I only wish it were possible for the author to give us pictures of these Iraqis (though I understand why he can't). He limns them in words, but I would want pictures, of the smiling and squinting at the camera variety. And I would want every anti-war blogger and journalist to keep them tacked up on the corkboard beside his computer as he writes. Ideas have consequences. Words have consequences. However you feel about how we got here, we are here, and people's lives hang in the balance.

Before the troop surge began, my friend Nabil's brother-in-law, a resident of Jordan, was shot in the head while he was visiting Baghdad for a week to help with Nabil's wedding plans. He was killed by a terrorist simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

A month prior to that event, Nabil and his parents fled their long-time home when they received a note, wrapped around a 9mm bullet, commanding them to leave their neighborhood in 24 hours or be killed. (Based on what had happened to some of those in Nabil's neighborhood who had ignored similar threats, he knew that he and his family had half that time to gather up a few possessions and leave, if they wanted to live.)

If the Democratic Party is successful in effecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq, Nabil and most of his family will likely be killed because of their religious affiliations and because Nabil has been employed by Americans. (You might want to know that Nabil is one of the most decent men I have ever known.)

Another friend, Ahmed, had a suicide bomb explode so close to him that his clothes were shredded and he lost his hearing for a time. After that had happened, his parents begged him to leave home. They told him that for his own safety, he should never return there, even for a visit. A few months later, Ahmed's girlfriend was placed on a death list for having been employed by an American company.

Ahmed is smart, funny and resourceful. He is young, and his vibrant girlfriend - soon to be his wife - will likely be killed, along with him, if the Democratic Party succeeds in affecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq.

My friend Sadeq, who has worked hard for years to make his home nice for his wife and children, lost all his possessions, but fortunately not his family, when a terrorist drove an explosives-laden vehicle into the garage beneath his Baghdad apartment house and detonated it while he was at work. We took up a collection to help him, but being the ever-classy guy he is, Sadeq refused to accept the money, even when I tried stuffing it into his pocket. A year before his home was destroyed, Sadeq was wounded by a sectarian killer who brutally shot him in the back. Still, Sadeq continues working tirelessly to build a future for his family. But there likely will be no future for either him or his family if the American Left and Democratic Party succeed in affecting a premature troop withdrawal from Iraq. Because of his history of working for American companies, Sadeq will likely be hunted down and murdered by terrorists if Iraq is abandoned before law and order is established.

My dearest friend, (more of a brother to me), Amin, has been very lucky. Smart, brave, loyal and cool under pressure, at the height of Iraq's violence he stared down death many times and survived. Since the Bush security plan has significantly quieted Baghdad's streets, I fear much less for his life. But if the American Left and the Democratic Party get their way and Iraq is abandoned, I am almost certain that he will be quickly hunted down and killed.

Another friend, Mohammed, got tired of living in fear of death or mutilation and so he fled his home and went north to Erbil, where it is relatively safe. There were others like him who were fortunate enough to have had a way to safety - most Iraqis do not, since most countries, including mine, the United States, have all but closed their borders to Iraqi citizens. I am ashamed of that.

Let me tell you a true story that gives a mere taste of what is to come for the women of Iraq, should the Democratic Party accomplish what it is currently trying to do: thwart the Bush Administration's so-far successful Iraq security plan, ultimately forcing America to leave Iraq at the mercy of organized terrorist groups, criminal gangs and woman haters. My story involves a girl named Jamilah.

Every morning, Jamilah, her sister and a few other Iraqi women come to work in my office. We expatriates look forward to their arrivals since they are helpful, funny and they do their jobs well. They arrive early, and their breakfast gossip and their laughter filter down the kitchen hallway and into our offices. It is a comforting sound, especially considering the madness surrounding us. I am always relieved when they arrive at my office, since when they are there they are relatively safe from car bombers, vest bombers, sectarian killers, snipers, street criminals and all those who would murder them for working with Americans.

In spite of her impoverished family situation, Jamilah is sweet, and very funny. Pretty and in her early twenties, she has classic Arabic features. Like most girls her age, she is moody, loves pop music, wears silly clothes and loves to flirt. She would not harm a fly.

One morning, about four months ago, while at my desk I heard the girls laughing, then abrupt silence followed by the sounds of women crying. I ran down the hall and into the kitchen to find Jamilah in tears. Her sister and the other women were crying, too. Jamilah's favorite uncle, whom she loved dearly, had just been shot in the head and killed while sitting in Baghdad traffic. His wife was pregnant with their second child.

Until then, I had never seen a group of women instantly plunged into such grief and anger and despair.

Three days after her uncle was murdered, Jamilah, her sister and the other women returned to work. Gone was the lighthearted kitchen banter. Absent were their smiles and friendly greetings. Their dulled, tear-filled eyes showed but grief.

I looked into those eyes and knew then that many more innocent Iraqi women would be thrown into that same emotional abyss if we Americans failed to help drag their country back towards civility.

Later that day, Jamilah collapsed at work. Consumed by grief, she had neither eaten nor drank anything since the day her uncle had been murdered. Our medic discovered that she was severely dehydrated.

Jamilah returned to work about a week later. She was visibly distraught for a long time, as were the women who work with her. She is now close to being herself. But she is not the same.

The author has been living and working in Baghdad for almost seven months. Every American I know who is over there, either in uniform or in civilian work, has similar stories. To the armchair anti-war blogger, the Iraqi people are abstractions and statistics. To our countrymen over there, they are friends who have earned respect, awe, and love. With love comes responsibility. Yet the power to betray that responsibility is in the hands of exactly the people for whom Iraq and the Iraqis are a political tool.

The author of this piece has seen the same images you have seen on your newscasts. But he's seen them in person. And he feels them in a way you never can unless you've made these people your people.

My stomach would knot as I climbed to the roof to watch the smoke boil up from downtown. I would think of the horror beneath those death clouds. To me they were jarring evidence that Iraq was in a battle for its life and that America was here to rightly wage war against the worst elements of humanity - elements cut from the same cloth as those who had murdered nearly 3000 of her citizens on September 11, 2001.

Over there, our fight -- Bush's, Harry Reid's, yours, mine, our children's -- and their fight -- Nabil, Ahmed, Sadiq, Amin, Mohammed, Jamila -- have converged. Like it or not. Convenient for your politics or not. You may wish we had left them all in Saddam's and Qusai's and Uday's loving and protective hands. But it's too late for that now. There's your base of reality. Ignore it at your peril -- moral as well as practical.


Embracing the Suck

[posted by Callimachus]

It's been a while since I introduced you to the writings of a milblogger. But they're still out there (even as Harry Reid declares their war officially "lost"), still working to the limits of human endurance during the day, and finding the words for it all at night.

Meet Zeke:

Hours pass. Conversations between me and Maddog are random; First thing we will do when we get back home. The infinite universe. The multi-verse…time travel. Army policy on “safety.” What Kyle would look like with a wig on….etc.

Then Duece yells, “Blue bongo approaching!” We look up. Indeed, yet another vehicle is coming down the road. The road they are not supposed to be on. Silly Iraqi’s, you’d think this was “their” road. We do nothing. The bongo approaches. “700 meters!” yells Duece. We start to get out of our Humvee and wave at the guy to turn around with a big orange flag. “500 meters!” wow, what a jerk, we’re tense enough with explosions and threats of suicide bombers without this guy pushing his limits. But then again, he probably lives around here and is just trying to get home. But that’s not my problem, not today. “400 meters!” That’s it. I open my M203 grenade tube and swap out a High Explosive round for a star cluster. “This should get his attention” I say as I snap the breach closed. “Wait a second,” Maddog says. He pulls out an Anti-tank rocket, holds it up in the air and yells, “Behold my boomstick!!!” The guy can’t hear or understand Maddog from that far away, but “sign language” has done wonders for his comprehension of the English language. The vehicle comes to a quick stop. He exits the vehicle. Via interpreter, we explain what he is NOT going to do, then tell him what he IS going to do. He wants to argue. So we tell him what WE are going to do. He leaves.

Another friend you didn't know you had, doing the hard work on your behalf.

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The Man on the Tank

Yeltsin is dead.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day

[posted by Callimachus]

In the Florida Keys, a place I love, you appreciate the fragility of nature and the vulnerability of the world we know. The land there is practically flat, and if you turn left or right, you see open water. Any rise in sea level would devastate the place.

But if you understand how to read the land there, you know you're standing on the fossil of a dead coral reef. Sometimes, as above, in a road cut in Key Largo, you can see whole huge coral skeletons still standing in place. Only 120,000 [corrected] or so years ago, this was a thriving undersea oasis. Then the sea level dropped as the climate cooled and the ice advanced, and this precious ecosystem died a terrible desiccating death. Everything in the middle Keys, from the restaurant parking lot gravel to the 1935 Hurricane memorial in Islamorada, is built from the rubble of an ecological catastrophe.

The earth is delicate, but it endures. Nature is cruel, but man is part of nature. Man is not the only destructive force on the planet.

I saw a photo like the one above on the AP news wire a couple years back (sorry; I can't find the original anymore), showing a glaciologist and a botanist "examining deposits of ancient alpaca moss recently exposed by the retreat of the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes."

Rapidly melting glaciers in the Andes in Peru have uncovered moss and grasses that have been covered by ice since they first grew about 6,500 years ago, said the Ohio State researcher who has predicted global warming will erase mountain ice caps that are a valued water source for many communities around the world.

That would be a catastrophe. And that prediction continues to twist the cranks of climate-change cassandras.

But think about it (like the AP didn't). That hunk of moss was growing there 6,500 years ago. That's about 6,490 years before the first SUV. Climate then in that place was warmer than it is now (no moss grows there today).

That doesn't mean we can stop thinking about the role of man-made factors in the Earth's shifting climate. It means we can start thinking about them. Without the passion and the politics.

Yes, the world seems to be getting warmer in recent decades. What does that mean? Is human activity the only reason? What if it turns out that CO2 pollution from cars and lawnmowers is heating up the planet, but that, say, farming is heating it up ten times more?

What if deep ocean currents are shifting for no man-made reason, and actually turning the northern hemisphere back to another ice age, but human pollution is counterbalancing that? [In the 1991 science fiction novel "Fallen Angels," environmentalists have taken over earth's governments and imposed luddite laws, which end global warming, only to unleash a new ice age, which had been held in check, we learn too late, by global warming caused by human pollution. Fiction, but at least within the realm of possibility.]

Go ahead and monkey with the world's economies to reduce carbon emissions, but realize that a single major (unpredictable) volcanic eruption could crank back the global thermostat 5 degrees or more overnight. As happened in 1783 or 1816. Make it a more serious eruption -- like an acne rash of volcanoes, but within the realm of the possible -- and you literally could wipe out all life on earth.

Long before climate change became a polemical pet of Al Gore, it was a matter of historical scholarship. Since I concentrated my college studies on northern Europe in the Middle Ages, I read years ago about droughts that drove the great horde migrations out of central Asia, the summer of rain that caused the famine of 1215 in England, and the punishing storms that re-drew the coastlines of Flanders, Holland and Friesland in the 12th century. All because of climate change.

The North Sea incursions were catastrophic on a Hollywood scale: sea surges punched through the dunes (you can see the relics of the old coast in the line of islands off the coast of Holland, Germany, and Denmark), killed perhaps 100,000 people, and turned vast agricultural districts into reed seas. In 1231, the sea flooded up river channels into the inland lake of Holland and by 1300 it had become a bay. In 1277, thirty villages in the lower Ems basin were drowned and the Dollart formed. In floods in 1240 and 1362, sixty parishes in the diocese of Schleswig were drowned, amounting to half the agricultural land of the realm. The island of Heligoland was 60 kilometers across in C.E. 800; by 1325 it was only 25 kilometers in diameter at the widest, half the loss having come in a single storm in January of that year. Today it is only 1.5 kilometers at the widest. The English ports of Ravenspur and Dunwich drowned about the same time.

And all that was before the internal combustion engine, the Frigidaire, the Industrial Revolution. The Earth's climate changes over time. The change can be catastrophic. Some scientists and some historians always have been aware of this, but most people aren't, because the temperatures in the last 500 years have been relatively stable. The Europeans of the Middle Ages saw the last dramatic phase of warming and cooling, but even that was a blip compared to what can happen.

We still don't know what makes it change; probably a combination of processes including everything from volcanic eruptions to deep sea currents to, possibly, interstellar dust. What we know for sure is the Earth has been much warmer in its recent past, and much cooler. There's no guarantee on the climate you see around you.

We ought to pay more attention to this. The discussion we ought to be having about climate change would take into account both human agency and other, potentially much more serious, forces. Even if we know for sure we're having an impact on the climate, that doesn't answer the question of how that impact flows into the ongoing changes that will occur with or without us.

But instead, the debate has shrunk into a chirping contest between name-calling factions: "eco-freaks" and "tree-huggers" vs. "fossil fuelers" and "corporations."

I wish the people who expect me to join this religion would take the time to make it palatable to common sense and to admit that intelligent people of good will might not be convinced by their doomsday movies.

Explain, don't hector. And acknowledge for a change that the environment confronts us with complicated choices; we're hooked into an energy system that fuels a prosperity unrivaled in human history; that prosperity keeps poverty, disease, and starvation at bay. The seers of the 1960s predicted India and China would collapse into overpopulation chaos, and drag the world with them, but instead they have grown toward stability and even affluence, and their consumption of fossil fuel has grown dramatically at the same time. That's not a coincidence.

Yet to Peter Matthiessen, to quote one environmental zealot, the current energy system is nothing but a plot by the "hardened apostles of material progress," and a shadowy cabal of "fossil fuelers." Ross Gelbspan decries“greenhouse skeptics” as “criminals against humanity.”

Start the discussion by acknowledging that the Earth's climate fluctuates, and that's just nature's way. On the Alaskan North Slope, where Matthiessen frets about how much snow falls on the musk oxen, three-ton duck-billed dinosaurs once grazed in herds year-round on lush river-valley vegetation.

Go thumb through a paleoclimatology textbook (or find something like one online). Look at the charts and graphs.

Here's one that a climate-change alarmist will love. This is the average global temperature from 1860 to 2000. Runaway global warming for sure.

Now take 100 steps back. Over on the left you can see the temperature rising up out of the depths of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago. The "climate optimum" of about 4,000 to 8,000 years ago corresponds to the moss under the Quelccaya ice caps. The "Little Ice Age" happened in medieval times; it came on shortly after the series of storms that redrew the map of the Netherlands. The whole of the previous graph is contained in the pinhead of pixels at the far right edge of the graph.

Here's a still longer view. The second graphic is squeezed into the pink bar and what's beyond it at the far right end of this one. Here you can see the whole of the last Ice Age.

So it looks like we live in one of the warmest ages in global history, right? Now step all the way back.

This very rough graph plots the likely temperature through geological time. Time flows the other way in this one (sorry; I couldn't find a graph that was consistent with the others). The present is way over on the left here. The distant past is on the right. And it's distant indeed: about the time life first was recorded on earth. Looks like we're in one of the chilliest epochs of world history.

But it suits us. And any change in it -- toward the hot or the cold, by human agency or natural forces -- would be a disaster.

Why were there Ice Ages after millions of years without them? Why were there dramatic warm spikes in the middle of them? Nobody knows. No good scientific model of world climate change yet has been constructed.

That's a scary thought, frankly. No wonder it's so much easier to approach the topic as pure politics.

Human beings right now have a lot invested in the stability of weather patterns and coastlines, and we all ought to pay attention to what can cause catastrophic climate changes. Better to investigate and learn and adopt, rather than shut down discussion in advance because you don't like the people who want to hijack the issue and pour their personal manias into it.

Environmentalists often share with creationists the utterly unscientific view that the world was set spinning in one complete, harmonious form. They presumes a steady, stable world ecology humming along for millennia in perfect balance like a Swiss watch, until evil Anglo-American corporations come along and destroy it. They write as though it all would continue in perfect ecological balance if only man would leave it alone. Like creationists, they view the human race as something non-natural, though in their case it seems to be sub-, not supra-, naturam, and its impact is entirely baleful.

What we need now is serious scientific work, not a lot of pseudo-religion. It's a common complaint of the secular left that their opponents put dogma above science. But the underlying fallacy of much of the climate-change alarmist rhetoric is that it is the left's equivalent of creationism.



[posted by Callimachus]

How smart are ravens? We don't know. But (and this seems to be the case everywhere in the animal kingdom when we take the trouble to patiently watch) they're a lot smarter than we once thought.

One of the trickiest challenges consists in making the raven sit on a bar with a piece of meat suspended vertically below it by a long string. What can the raven do to get at the dangling meal? There is only one solution: The raven has to use its beak to carefully pull the string a short way up. It then has to shape the string into a loop and place one talon on that loop. Then it has to pull the string up a little further and repeat the process. Done properly, the procedure allows the raven to gradually move the meat upward.

Too much trouble for a bird? The smartest ravens examined in Grünau patiently considered the challenge and then pulled the meat up. They discovered the right procedure right away. It seems they mentally rehearsed the problem before getting started.

[with reverential apologies to Eisner]


Naming the Accuser

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's a painful one: Now that the Duke lacrosse case has been closed with an emphatic finding of no rape, is the accuser still to be shielded by journalistic anonymity?

New York Times ombudsman say yes, with reservations:

Some readers have called for The Times to name [the accuser] now that the three accused young men have been declared innocent. A few of the readers appear to think it would be good journalism, but others seem to be more interested in retribution or punishment for causing the falsely accused so much grief.

Times editors discussed whether “to stick to our policy of not naming accusers in sexual assault cases,” Mr. Keller told me, “and decided to do so.” My first instinct was that The Times should strongly consider adopting a policy of naming false accusers. Then I decided that the mental health of the Duke accuser and the failure of Mr. Nifong to limit the harm she caused by doing his job responsibly combined to keep this case from being a good one on which to debate such a policy change. But I hope Times editors will soon consider holding a discussion, free of deadline pressure, about what purpose the tradition of not naming sexual assault victims serves when their accusations are proved to have no merit.

I can consider this question as a man (i.e. as a potential subject of such a false accusation). Or as the son, wife, brother, and father of women. Or as a journalist. And I might get three different answers with each approach.

I'm impressed by the firm but sensible stand on this taken by Talkleft:

The moment the charges were dismissed, upon the Attorney General's finding there was no credible evidence to support her claim that any attack occurred that night, she became a false accuser. Her name should be published so that she can no longer hide behind the victim label. Mentally ill or not, she caused incalculable damage to the lives and reputations of three innocent young men, who will be traumatized by the ordeal for years to come.

She's not being charged with false reporting because her mental state may be such that she actually believes in her inconsistent versions of events that never happened. That's enough of a benefit. There should be consequences. If she's not going to be charged with a crime, then publishing her name as a deterrent to others is appropriate in my view.

Alternatively, as I've suggested many times, the media should adopt an either or both policy: If they publish the name of the accused, they should publish the name of the accuser. If they won't publish the name of the accuser, they shouldn't publish the name of the accused.

Rape is a crime of violence, similar to a stabbing. Once it is viewed as such by the public, it could lead to a lessening of an actual victim's perceived shame or reticence in reporting it.

That bit beginning with "Alternatively" comes closest of anything to satisfying the three people inside me who look at this question.

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Documenting A Documentary

[Posted by reader_iam]

M. Takhallus is reverting to his real name (which I suspect a number of regular readers here already knew) over at Sideways Mencken. He's going to be blogging and putting up video footage over at this MySpace spot while he and his partners are collecting material in the U.K. for the documentary they will be producing.

Watch that space... .

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A Plea Unheeded

[posted by Callimachus]

Mohammed's plea:

[T]urn the stop-the-war campaign against the terrorists, is that too much to ask for? Tell the criminals to stop killing us and stop attacking the people who are risking their lives fighting for liberty and equality. We're not asking the media and the stop-the-war crowd to carry arms and shoot the terrorists; we just want them to stop shooting at us.

That would be lovely, man. But let me tell you, as one who is too close for comfort to that "crowd" too many days of the week: You are not real to them. Your country is not real to them. Even our own men and women, in and out of uniform, who are working to make Iraq succeed are not real to them. Even the terrorists, whom we have seen, too, are not real to them. All that is real is their emotions, their need to cling to innocence and simplicity, and, to a lesser degree, That Man in the White House.