Sunday, February 29, 2004

I haven't seen this noted anywhere, but February seems to mark an important turning point in the aftermath of the Iraqi War: American military deaths plummeted to 20. This is in contrast to the previous three months in which an average of over 56 American military personnel died each month. In the last 9 days, only two American soldiers have died in Iraq, and that may not have been due to hostile fire, the incident is still being investigated. There were 3 Coalition deaths this month, including an Estonian today.

This dramatic decline in American soldiers being killed is terrific news, though surprisingly, (or should I say NOT so surprisingly) it has not merited a story in the major press as far as I'm aware. However, it does have a dark cloud. One of the reasons that fewer Americans are being killed is that our opponents are more and more targetting Iraqis. As I noted earlier this month, this is in keeping with the letter we aquired from al-Zarqawi and it's recommendations for future attacks. This itself is both good and bad news. The good news is twofold:

1. We are winning! Our enemies have recognized this, so they are being forced to adjust their strategy.
2. These attacks are ultimately going to prove, IMHO, counterproductive for them. They are just going to further alienate the average Iraqi and push them even more toward us.

The bad news is more straightforward. Our Iraqi allies are suffering, and will continue to suffer for the near future. They are not nearly as well equipped or well trained as our soldiers are, and they are also much more vulnerable, with their homes and families available as potential targets (in addition to themselves). An attack which would likely be a mere nuisance to our troops will be much more effective and bloody against Iraqi policemen. I'm not religious, but my prayers are with them.
Instapundit links to a fascinating article in the NY Sun, that raises some interesting questions.

Various pundits have speculated on Kerry's refusal to release all of his own military records, but it didn't seem that there would be much "there" there. After reading this article, now I'm not so sure. A few possible damaging revelations that I can think of off the top of my head, from least to most damaging:

1. Kerry's Purple Heart medals were for TRULY insignificant wounds, not just as is now assumed to be relatively minor scrapes.

2. He was given less than glowing evaluations.

3. The reason that he was allowed to leave so quickly on the technicality of recieving three minor wounds is that he was, as reported, "out of control", and that this was the easiest way to get him out of the country, especially given that he was politically "connected".

4. They knew or suspected him of war crimes - and actually recorded such knowledge or suspicion. This is hinted at in Professor Thompson's recollection of Zumalt's remarks.

It would be highly ironic if the 1971 Kerry statement I most despise him for, where he stated:

"I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command...."

was in part proven correct, because HE committed such incidents and his superiors, rather than bringing him up on charges instead hustled him out of Viet Nam with a bogus Silver Star.

PS Instapundit also made reference to LBJ and his own Silver Star. I thought that I might link to a CNN(!) page that pretty much proves that award was DEFINITELY bogus.
Sometimes when I am reading or watching something, I get something that I can only call a "click". It's a flash of insight, where something that I'm focusing on suddenly seems connected to some other bit(s) of knowledge which on it's face seems unrelated, if I had even conciously thought of it. However, on further (concious) reflection, it's clear that they are very much related.

In reading a post at Belmont Club called Darkworld, I felt such a click. He is discussing, as usual, the conflict we find ourselves in. Not just the Iraqi War and it's aftermath, but the entire regional or global struggle. When I read the following early on in the piece, "It's most striking feature is the absence of a Great Power threat to the general peace", I felt that click.

What has happened to all the great empires of antiquity? They have eventually fallen. There seem to be 3 major causes, though they sometimes act in concert: major environmental change (as seems to have befallen Egypt's Old Kingdom, for example), conflict with another great empire (Carthage would seem to be the best example here), or they fell to barbarian hordes (there are many, many examples of this, but the (Western) Roman Empire is what popped into my mind when I had my "click".) I suppose you could also argue a fourth cause due to internal struggles: rebellion, revolution, or succession struggle.

So why did ancient Rome suddenly pop into my head at reading that sentance? Arguably the greatest empire of human history up to the Renaissance was felled by (mostly) uncivilized barbarians. We aren't facing a "Great Power", we are essentially facing the same opponent Rome was. Neither Rome nor the US was/is facing an opponent which is remotely in their/our league in any relevant statistic save perhaps population.

So how did Rome lose when the deck was so seemingly stacked in it's favor, and what can we learn from that? I used a Heinlein quote in an earlier post, and I will again now (and most likely will again, and again, and again...):

"Roman matrons used to tell their sons to come back with their shields or on them. Later that tradition declined. So did Rome."

I did that from memory, so it may be a bit off, but it's essentials are accurate. The Romans became soft, so soft that they wouldn't even put up much of a fight to keep from being slaughtered by the barbarian hordes that over-ran them. This inner decay was a slow process, of course. But ultimately, the Germanic tribes that eventually finished off the old Roman empire really weren't the cause of it's death. It had already rotted from within.

Are we ourselves in that poor of a shape? After Afganistan and Iraq, the answer would seem to be a resounding NO! And yet. And yet ... the seeds are there.

What if a Gore, or a Kerry had been President?

There is a solid number of "Peace at any costers" and "Blame America firsters". These aren't the Conscientious Objectors of earlier wars. Their numbers have doubtless been wildly exagerated by our feckless press corps, but they are there none-the-less, and they have a strong influence within one of the two major political parties.

While I believe the current dearth of politicians' and upper class children in the military is due to a number of causes, it does make you think of Lincoln's son serving on Grant's staff, of wealthy Teddy Roosevelt recruiting his own men to ultimately charge up San Juan Hill, of his sons, Quentin being shot down and killed in WWI and Theodore leading the first assault at Normandy (before dying of a heart attack a few weeks later), or of wealthy JFK and George HW Bush's own dangerous services during WWII.

I don't think that we are in any danger right now of being defeated by today's barbarians. Kerry won't get within spitting distance of Bush in this year's elections. But in 10, 20, 30 years down the road, what will our response be to the barbarians then? While the rot took centuries to topple Rome, things are much more fast paced nowadays - look at the USSR/Russia or Germany in just the space of the 20th Century.

This potential long term problem is another reason why we need to remake the Middle East now. If we take the barbarism out of all the barbarians now, while we still have the will, this possible lack of will in the future may not prove as disasterous as it has to our predecessors.

Friday, February 27, 2004

I've tried to focus this blog pretty specifically on politics, but it seems that by the time I've heard of something, thought about it, and decided I had an opinion or though on th issue interesting enough to write about, someone with essentially the same point has already been linked all over the blogosphere. When I do write about something, it tends to take me quite some time to get the wording "just right", and even then I'm usually not that happy with the result. Words are slippery little suckers.

That said, I've decided to take this in a somewhat different, more personal direction. I'm just going to write about whatever I feel like at the time, and I'll try not to be such a perfectionist about the wording. I think the first thing I'm going to choose is my voyage from essentially conventional views on education into fairly radical homeschooling and beyond. This will probably take awhile, though maybe not. If it does, I'll just break it up into smaller bites.

I do intend to continue to blog about political issues, and have a couple percolating right now on the "dismal jobs" and the "looming social security disaster" talking points. Hopefully I'll get to at least one of them in the next week.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Donald Sensing writes about a potential cure for cancer. It doesn't sound as promising to me as it seems to be to him, but it did put me in mind of a serious peeve of mine: The FDA.

Hundreds of thousands of people die of cancer every year in the US alone. According to, over a half million Americans are expected to die of cancer this year. Yet promising treatments have to go through years and years of increasingly large trials before they could EVER come to market. Let's say that this particular treatment, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one.... or some combination of them really does cure cancer. How many millions of people will die between the time that such a cancer cure drug first shows it's promise and the time 5+ years later when it finally earns FDA approval?

While the FDA has recently made strides toward shortening the time required to bring certain types of drugs to market, it is not enough.
My wife will be leaving for NYC in a week for a trip of several days. She will be meeting with some of our current suppliers and a couple of potential vendors as well. She's also been happily scheduling Broadway shows (two), a trip to the Wax Museum, etc. She has also looked at possibly taking the "Sex and the City" tour, as she is a huge fan of that show. She's not sure that she would enjoy it though. If anyone has any information on that (or anything else related to spending a quick few days in NYC enjoyably), please let me know.
Sorry for the lack of posting, but I've had a wisdom tooth taken out.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I recently read an article on John Kerry, and his service in Viet Nam, that has left me with more questions than answers. Particularly regarding the details of what he did to be awarded a Silver Star:

"PCF-94 soon encountered small-arms fire that day, and Kerry put the boat's bow on the shoreline to allow the South Vietnamese troops ashore. A little farther up the river, a rocket attack suddenly blew out the vessel's port side windows.

Kerry ordered helmsman Del Sandusky to steer PCF-94 directly toward the point of ambush on the shoreline, where the crew spotted a "spider hole," a narrow sort of foxhole where the enemy Viet Cong often stashed food and other supplies.

"Standing in this particular hole, to the horror of the Swift crew, was a VC guerrilla holding a B-40 rocket launcher aimed right at them," writes Douglas Brinkley in his new book, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. "With the grace of God he was more startled than they were."

The Viet Cong soldier fled. A bullet from an M-60 machine gun hit him, but he continued down a trail, rocket launcher in hand. Kerry grabbed an M-16 rifle, jumped off the boat and pursued him, followed by crewman Michael Medeiros.

"With my adrenaline racing, I started following him off the boat," Medeiros recalls in Brinkley's book. "So I was right behind him. . . . As the VC guerrilla got 20 or 30 meters down the path, just about in front of a lean-to, the (future) senator shot the guy. He had been standing on both feet with a loaded rocket launcher about to fire. He fell over dead."

"I don't have a second's question about that, nor does anybody who was with me," Kerry told the Boston Globe last year. "He was running away with a live B-40, and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it."

Huh? It seems like he was awarded a Silver Star for shooting a wounded Viet Cong in the back! While I'm certainly not, from the safety of my house, going to second guess the decision to shoot someone in the back when this happened in the middle of a war zone (and immediately after having been attacked), I can't imagine why this would actually merit any medal, much less a Silver Star.

Interestingly, his Divisional Commander also had misgivings, though for a completely different reason:

Referring to the February 1969 incident, Division Commander George Elliott told the Boston Globe last year that he initially wondered if Kerry should be commended or disciplined. "When (Kerry) came back from the well-publicized action where he beached his boat in the middle of an ambush and chased a VC around a hootch and ended his life, I said, John, I don't know whether you should be court- martialed or given a medal, court-martialed for leaving your ship, your post.

"But I ended up writing it up for a Silver Star, which is well deserved, and I have no regrets or second thoughts at all about that." A Silver Star commends distinctive gallantry in action.

This reminded me of something written by the great Robert Heinlein, who was not so incidentally a graduate of the US Naval Academy:

"Very well. It was one of those bush wars that hared up on the edges of
the Napoleonic wars. This young officer was the most junior in a naval
vessel -- wet navy, of course -- wind-powered, in fact. This youngster was
about the age of most of your class and was not commissioned. He carried the
title of temporary third lieutenant' -- note that this is the title you are
about to carry. He had no combat experience; there were four officers in the
chain of command above him. When the battle started his commanding officer
was wounded. The kid picked him up and carried him out of the line of fire.
That's all -- make pickup on a comrade. But he did it without being ordered
to leave his post. The other officers all bought it while he was doing this
and he was tried for `deserting his post of duty as commanding officer in
the presence of the enemy.' Convicted. Cashiered."

I gasped. "For that? Sir."

"Why not? True, we make pickup. But we do it under different
circumstances from a wet-navy battle, and by orders to the man making
pickup. But pickup is never an excuse for breaking off battle in the
presence of the enemy. This boy's family tried for a century and a half to
get his conviction reversed. No luck, of course. There was doubt about some
circumstances but no doubt that he had left his post during battle without
orders. True, he was green as grass -- but he was lucky not to be hanged."

So, should Kerry have been given a medal, or should he have been instead court-martialed? As best I can determine, his actions in this instance, if truly objectionable would fall under the Universal Code of Military Justice Article 99 (3):

?Any member of the armed forces who before or in the presence of the enemy? .... (3) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property;

This is explained in more detail further down:

(3) Endangering safety of a command, unit, place, ship, or military property.

(a) Neglect. ?Neglect? is the absence of conduct which would have been taken by a reasonably careful person in the same or similar circumstances.

(b) Intentional misconduct. ?Intentional misconduct? does not include a mere error in judgment.

So do the actions of the commander of a boat who beaches it in the middle of an ambush to personally go haring off after a singe wounded enemy, leaving most of his men behind, rise to the level of "neglect"?

Let's just say that I don't believe that a "reasonably careful person" would perform as John Kerry did.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Joanne Jacobs has a post on yet another reason to keep your kids out of public schools, one I had never even heard of - the language police. Even if I had heard of such an absurd practice, I never could have imagined how bad it could be:

New York identified as biased such male-based words as "masterpiece" and "mastery." Among the other words singled out for extinction were white collar, blue collar, pink collar, teenager, senior citizen, third world, uncivilized, underprivileged, unmarried, widow or widower, and yes man. The goal, naturally, is to remove words that identify people by their gender, age, race, social position or marital status.

Thus the great irony of bias and sensitivity reviewing. It began with the hope of encouraging diversity, ensuring that our educational materials would include people of different experiences and social backgrounds. It has evolved into a bureaucratic system that removes all evidence of diversity and reduces everyone to interchangeable beings whose differences we must not learn about -- making nonsense of literature and history along the way.

This bit just had me shaking my head in utter disbelief:

A college professor informed me that a new textbook in human development includes the following statement: "As a folksinger once sang, how many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult." The professor was stupefied that someone had made the line gender-neutral and ungrammatical by rewriting Bob Dylan's folk song "Blowin' in the Wind," which had simply asked: "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?"

I highly recommend reading the entire WSJ piece.
On my earlier post talking about Iraq and how we can measure our success or failure there, I mentioned that there could be questions about the authenticty of the al Qaida letter purported written by al-Zarqawi which was recently discovered by US forces. The strategy now being employed by our foes, in targeting Iraqi police stations and army recruiting centers would seem to support the letter's authenticity, as these attacks follow it's recommendations very closely:

C. The Iraqi troops, police, and agents these are the eyes, ears, and hand of the occupier. With god's permission, we are determined to target them with force in the near future, before their power strengthens.


Fighting the Shi'a is the way to take the nation to battle. The Shi'a have taken on the dress of the army, police, and the Iraqi security forces, and have raised the banner of protecting the nation, and the citizens.

Returning to the recent controversy at Duke, I couldn't help but notice with amusement this part of Brandon's own defense:

"So I agree with the DCU that conservative Duke students will in fact take a large number of their courses with a significant political content from professors whose politics differs from theirs. Why not see this as an opportunity to hone your political thinking rather than see it as an obstacle to the sort of education you want? "

This must explain why the arguments of conservatives usually seem to be be so sharp and make so much sense, while those of the self-described liberals always seem so ... dull and un-thought-out. They simply haven't had the chance to hone their political thinking much.

On the Volokh Conspiracy they are discussing songs about obsession, but they seem to have missed the obvious "Every Break You Take" by The Police.

BTW, I think that Tyler Cowen is confusing Buddy Holly's "Every Day" with his "That'll Be the Day".

For my money, the best song about obsession is Tom Waits' "Alice":

It's dreamy weather we're on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice

I disappear in your name
But you must wait for me
Somewhere across the sea
There's a wreck of a ship
Your hair is like meadow grass on the tide
And the raindrops on my window
And the ice in my drink
Baby all I can think of is Alice

Arithmetic arithmetock
Turn the hands back on the clock
How does the ocean rock the boat?
How did the razor find my throat?
The only strings that hold me here
Are tangled up around the pier

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I'm dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I'm lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I'm dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I'm lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice
There's only Alice

It's his best album as well, and I don't say that lightly.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Woo Hoo! Back blogging for a few days, and I've already been linked by Instapundit!
TNR is arguing that the coverage of the false "Bush was AWOL" story vs the non-coverage of the possibly false Kerry adultery story is a demonstration that the press is trying to be "scrupulously honest". How can the facts possibly begin to support this spin, you say? Well, according to the author, Ryan Lizza, the only reason that the AWOL story was run was because it was being talked about by Clark and other major Democratic figures, while the Republicans have been silent on the Kerry story.

That might almost sound plausable if you didn't know any of the facts surrounding either story.

First off, the AWOL story was discussed in major media outlets (the NY Times and Boston Globe, at the very least) in the 2000 campaign. As this was obviously several years before Moore's statements, that pretty much explodes the TNR story from that end.

From the other end, from all indications, the Kerry story seems to have originated from ... the Clark campaign; and not just over-eager staffers, but Clark himself participated. So how can you argue that the AWOL story should be covered because it was being discussed by a major Democratic candidate, but NOT cover the Kerry adultery story even though it was being shopped around by the exact same person?

Sorry, but that dog won't hunt.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Eugene Volokh attempts a (limited) defense for Professor Brandon, the self-parodying Duke professor.

The problem with his attempt is that, in defending the 'implicit' assumption in Brandon's statements, he has to make an explicit assumption that is wildly incorrect on it's face - that a full SIXTY PERCENT (!) of Americans are "stupid"! That would necessitate calling a decent number of people of ABOVE AVERAGE intelligence "stupid", plus also disparaging people of average or only slightly below average intelligence. Absurd.

Let's use Professor Volokh's numbers using a more reasonable percentage. To make things as simple as possible, let's halve his figure, and instead use 30% (though I'd say that even that is too high) while keeping all his other estimates. This gives us, per his stated formula:

(400-(.3*.6)/(1000-300))=220/700= 31%

This would give us three times as many "smart" conservatives.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Way back last year, I was thinking about ways to determine how the war was going in Iraq. This was a week or two before Rumsfeld's memo discussing the same problem was publicized. As a matter of fact, I asked people on a politically oriented board I frequent (or, rather, used to frequent, but that's another story) for help on coming up with ideas and data, but didn't get a single response to the post.

With the recent revelations about the al Qaida letter detailing the many problems that they are now having in Iraq (assuming it's genuine), the answer would seem to be that we are, in fact, doing quite well there. But is the letter genuine? If it is, then we seem to be well on the road to victory, barring a disaster.

However, this matter made me think of the original problem (how to measure our efforts in Iraq, especially given the abysmally poor job the news services were doing) in a somewhat different way. Originally I had thought to compare objective things like death rates over time, major Iraqi figures caught, money seized, etc. The real problem, I thought, was how to weigh the multitude of factors. Plus the problem of whether certain developments are positive or negative. For example, if we arrest and kill 20% more anti-US forces, is this good because we are decimating our foes' ranks, or is it bad because it indicates that their forces are swelling?

Now, it looks like we may be able to in a sense by-pass all of that, and instead do something akin to a meta-analysis.

What "studies" do we have to incorporate into this meta-analysis?

Obviously, the al Qaida letter would be a good starting point. They have made their own analysis that the peace is being won by the US. But again, is the letter genuine?

A second "study" would be the numerous statements by various American generals to the effect that we are winning, that we are capturing the heads of the various factions against us, that we are gaining better and better intelligence, that their funding is going down, etc. However, this has the obvious problem that it could be simply "feel good" propaganda, just designed to keep the people at home happy. Or at least not angry.

So we have two knowledgeable sources, both indicating that we are winning the peace, and seemingly by a comfortable margin. Unfortunately, they both have potential problems. Is there any other source of analysis free of any of these issues? Actually, there is. While this has, as far as I'm aware, been completely overlooked due to other (WMD) ramifications, Kaddafy's decision to come clean is another strong indication of how the peace is being won.

He's obviously knowledgeable regarding the Middle East. He is equally obviously not biased in favor of the US. So what was his judgement of the state of affairs? Do you thing that if he thought there was a reasonable chance that we would lose the peace that he would have taken the actions that he has? I don't. I think that he saw that not only were we winning, but that it was highly unlikely that we would not achieve our aims in Iraq.

So we have three independent and knowledgeable estimates of how things are going in Iraq. They ALL point to it going very well for American interests. It seems pretty conclusive to me.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Back once again. Nothing in particular to write, but everyone is fine and I should have time on my hands pretty soon to try my hand at blogging again.