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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will Canadian diplomats be the next "guests" of the ayatollah? 


Ruh-roh:

The federal government has taken steps to ensure the safety of the Canadian embassy in Tehran after Iranian legislators called it a den of spies and demanded it be shutdown.

You always have to be worried when Iranians start complaining about your "den of spies." The Canadians therefore have good reason to be afraid, although one is forced to wonder what they have done to "ensure the safety of the Canadian embassy." The first step is to get past the Friday afternoon sermons.

Actually, I think the odds are fairly low that Ahmadinejad's government would nail the Canadians -- they have been on what passes for a charm offensive in recent months, so why mess it up with a nasty hostage crisis? Still, the radicals must hold a grudge from 1980, when the Canadians smuggled some Americans out of Tehran right under the beards of the mullahs. If they imagine that a new crisis with the West would serve their purposes, it would be an easy decision to attack Canada.

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Sudden exposure to the vacuum of space 


Ever since I saw the Sean Connery science fiction epic Outland about 25 years ago, I have assumed that the exposure of an unprotected human to the vacuum of space would result in an immediate and grotesquely explosive death. Not true, apparently:

Though an unprotected human would not long survive in the clutches of outer space, it is remarkable that survival times can be measured in minutes rather than seconds, and that one could endure such an inhospitable environment for almost two minutes without suffering any irreversible damage. The human body is indeed a resilient machine.

Indeed, it is a resilient machine that is apparently engineered to survive temporary accidental exposure to outer space. Does that tell us something about humanity's destiny, or at least its opportunity? I'm just spiritual enough to think that it might.

CWCID: Jonah G.

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On the road: A couple of Iraq links to tide you over 


I'm jammed today until at least the cocktail hour, but there are a couple of Iraq links to tide you over. First, Ralph Peters:

The good news - and, unfortunately, the bad news - is that Iraq is not in a state of civil war in the textbook sense. If it were, our military and political mission would be easier.

In a civil war, you have clearly defined sides struggling for political power, with organized military formations and parallel governments. You know who to kill and who is empowered to negotiate with you. You can pick a side and stick to it.

Unleashed, our military could smash any enemy in an open civil war. Even our diplomats would have trouble preventing an American victory.

But the violence in Iraq comes from overlapping groups of terrorists, militias, insurgents, death squads, gangsters, foreign agents and factionalized government security forces engaging in layers of savage religious, ethnic, political and economic struggles - with an all-too-human lust for revenge spicing the mix.

There is a genuine problem here: The ever-accelerating pace of change since the end of the Cold War has left us with an inadequate vocabulary. Words literally fail us. We don't know what to call things. No military lexicon offers a useful term to describe the situation in Iraq.

And don't miss this one-liner in the Peters tradition of overwhelming harshness:
And let's not lose sight of the incontestable fact that, while being liked in the Middle East would be nice, being feared by our enemies is essential.

Also, read Josh Manchester's "Go Native," and begin a discussion here or join the conversation over at The Belmont Club.

I'll be back.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Mark Steyn - Ralph Peters cage match: so behind the curve 


I've been busy, so I have not written about the cage match going on between Mark "Europe is lost to Islam" Steyn and Ralph "Europeans are ultimately brutal" Peters. Three days ago, Power Line captured much of the give-and-take between these two very eloquent heralds of doom, and there were numerous follow-up links around the blogosphere. Follow the links if you are even later to the party than I am.

Actually, I'm not late to the party. I thought up the party. Back on October 27, in my review of Steyn's excellent book America Alone, I quoted Peters and raised precisely the point that has so engaged the righty 'sphere this week:

How will Europe reverse this decline? There are two possibilities, neither of which Steyn broached in the book, but both of which came up on today's conference call. First, Europeans might react to cultural pressure by breeding more. Perhaps today's small number of European children will give birth to many more children. Perhaps. Second, Europeans might turn violent. Ralph Peters suggested precisely that in his equally creative book, New Glory, recommended on this blog last year.
Yet Europe is likely to be good for a number of surprises - surprising not least to Europeans themselves. With our short historical memory (one American quality Germans welcome), we thoughtlessly accept that, since much of Europe appears to be pacifist now, so it shall remain. But no continent has exported as much misery and slaughter as Europe has done, and the chances are better than fair that Europe is only catching its breath after the calamities it inflicted upon itself in the last century.

We last saw widespread pacifism in Europe just before 1914 and again during the half-time break in that great European civil war that lasted until 1945 (or 1991 east of the Elbe).

Europe's current round of playing pacifist dress up was enabled by America's protection during the Cold War. We allowed our European wards to get away with a minimum number of chores. The United States did (and still does) the dirty work, seconded by our direct ancestor, Britain. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization merely obscured how little was asked of Europe. For almost a century the work of freedom and global security has been handled by the great Anglolateral alliance born of a struggle against the tyranny of continental European philosophies hatched on the Rhine and Danube. Our struggle continues today, against fanaticism and terror.

It is unlikely that Europe's present pacifism will last... Europe will rediscover its genius, reforming itself if necessary. There will be plenty of bitterness and recriminations along the way, but Europe will accept the need to change because change will be forced upon it. The trouble with European genius, of course, is that it has a dark side. If its racist populations feel sufficiently threatened by the Muslim millions within their divided societies and by terror exported from the Islamic heartlands, Europe may respond with a cruelty unimaginable to us today. After all, Europe is the continent that mastered ethnic cleansing and genocide after a thousand years of pactice. We Americans may find ourselves in the unexpected
position of confronting the Europe of tomorrow as we try to restrain its barbarities toward Muslims.

Read TigerHawk today to anticipate the intramural blogospheric struggles of tomorrow.

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A Sarbanes-Oxley nano-rant 


Unless you're a corporate tool or a corporate lawyer or a public accountant, you probably don't give a fig about the Sarbanes-Oxley law. Too bad, because aspects of it are gumming up the American economy and hurting the competitiveness of our capital markets.

Not only does compliance with the new law impose large costs in dollars and management time, but it is promoting an atmosphere of caution, conservativism and even decisional paralysis in what has long been the Western world's most dynamic economy. SarbOx promotes "analysis paralysis" by various means, including by forcing corporate executives to think in a way that is, frankly, alien to American business culture and legal practice. It does this by criminalizing the filing of financial statements that are subsequently found not to adhere to "generally accepted accounting standards." SarbOx, in effect, turns GAAP into a criminal statute, and every one of the thousands of management judgments that have to be made to prepare financial statements in accordance with GAAP are now at risk to be challenged by regulators and prosecutors after the fact.

Now, the criminalization of GAAP is not a genuinely new development. All the various Enron-era prosecutions were sustained under pre-SarbOx statutes (which invites the question, why did we need SarbOx?, but that's not the point of the post). The new risk arises from the deliberate insertion of ambiguity into the liability standard. It is not sufficient merely to read the words of GAAP and the various guidance documents and apply them. One must divine the intention of those words, which as any lawyer knows is far easier said than done.

The practical difficulty of this has bothered me for a long time, but it hit me over the head this morning while I was reviewing the web-based compliance training that we require of our employees in "control positions". Here's a single bolded line from the compliance program, which is part of a canned module that is given to thousands of employees in hundreds of public companies around the United States: "No longer can companies follow only the letter of accounting rules -- they must also follow the spirit of the rules or face strict penalties."

Got that? Executives of American public companies now face strict penalties unless they follow the spirit of GAAP.

Naturally, I have a question.

If it is sufficiently possible to divine the spirit of complex regulations spanning more than 1000 pages of tiny text that it is fair to punish people who fail in that divination, why do we need judges and courts? Let's just have lawyers and their clients comply with the spirit of the law and the rules of evidence and procedure. Once litigants have agreed on the spiritual purpose of the legal point over which they differ, surely they will agree on everything else.


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Zimbabwe, Iraq, and the WWW 

Wretchard has written a short but sobering post over at The Belmont Club which juxtaposes the death toll from Operation Iraqi Freedom with the numbers dying as a result of corrupt and brutal governance in Zimbabwe (and other crisis points in Africa). He cites staggering death rates from Catholic News Service article, which maintains that 3,500 die each week.
Zimbabwe represents the kind of death by benign neglect which descended on Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo. A kind of silent catastrophe that was largely left to the AID agencies, the UN and the NGOs to solve. Iraq represents something different; the challenge of asymmetrical warfare to West. Bishop Ncube thinks the "international community" has already withdrawn as far as it possible to go from Zimbabwe. So far we don't even think about it any more. That's how far we've gone. But he rightly points out that simply because we don't hear the tree fall in the forest doesn't mean it doesn't fall. And the question is why it should be any different with a problem like Iraq. The challenge of terrorism forming within the chaos of the Third World will remain with us until we learn to meet it. We haven't learned how to yet. And it's not clear that solving this problem is optional.

The point here is well taken. Much as some would like to believe it, simply packing up and withdrawing from Iraq will likely solve very few problems. What it will do is get Iraq off our TV screens, which for some seems to be the primary objective. The problems themselves will not be solved in our absence, and more likely will proliferate once the troops (and the media) have gone home. Just because relentless talk about the crisis no longer serves a political agenda (on any political spectrum) does not mean the crisis has ended. Take the case of Zimbabwe. Numbers like 3,500 dead a week don't mean a lot in the abstract. Out of sight, out of mind.

But the world has changed these last few years. Communication channels now exist that were inconceivable a decade ago, and for those who care to delve deeper into problems like Zimbabwe, or Iraq, you now just need to find the right channel. Case in point, Cathy Buckle's "The Truth About Zimbabwe," which chronicles the decline of the nation in real, daily life terms that are not abstract in the slightest. From her most recent dispatch:

The prolonged effects of trying to survive the highest inflation in the world are grinding us down. When you ask people how they are, I mean how they really are, they say they are tired, they can't sleep, the worries just go round and round and there is no relief in sight.

Almost every day the propaganda machine here cranks out the usual rant and rave about how private companies and businesses are putting their prices up. The state media say that these people are "sabotaging the economy" and "fuelling inflation" and they keenly name names of who has been arrested or fined that day. No sensible or even rational explanations are given as to how a businessman can stay afloat when he is ordered by the state to sell goods for a lower price than he paid for them. Blind adherence to government stipulated prices is dictated and common sense does not seem to enter into it. The state media says nothing, however, about the price rises and complete lack of ethics and fair trading in government organizations and companies. It seems they are exempt from obeying their own rules

You don't ever post a letter here now without first checking how much postage rates are. They change - every month! Last month it cost 60 dollars to post a local letter, this month that same stamp costs 100 dollars and no one arrests the Postmaster! (And please remember that you have to add three zeroes onto every price in order to get the real costs - before the convenient removal of digits a couple of months ago ) Postage rates now go up so often that it is very rare to buy a local stamp which actually has a price printed on it. Local stamps these days just bear the words: 'Standard Postage.' It is not clear what standard is at hand, so we just take it to mean 'inflation standard.'
The bloggers are out there, and the news will continue to come whether our soldiers are in the thick of it or not. A lot of it may end up being worse than what we hear today. But it remains to be seen whether anyone will care to turn to those channels once our own newsmen have packed up their things and left.

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Should we negotiate with Iran (and Syria)? 


On the question of negotiations with Iran and Syria -- the latter suspended above in parentheses quite intentionally -- we are left to wonder what prosecutor-of-terrorists Andy McCarthy thinks.

Not.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

O'Quiz!! 


For several weeks in a row I have failed to link the O'Quiz early enough in the week to matter. My bad.

Eight.


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The trouble with Michael Ledeen 


Michael Ledeen is an enormously inconvenient person. He simply will not allow us to wish this war away:

Victor says we should first stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's skipping a step. It is impossible so long as the mullahs rule in Tehran and Assad commands in Damascus. It is a regional war. If we continue to misunderstand it, if we remain locked in this fundamental error of strategic vision, we will endlessly respond to our enemies' initiatives, playing defense in one place after another. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, tomorrow in Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopea and Eritrea (that is the mullahs' game plan), then in Israel and Europe, and finally here at home. We do not need intelligence agencies to know this, all we need to do is listen to our enemies, who announce it at the top of their lungs.

There is no escape from this war, and we haven't even begun to wage it. Once we do, we will find that we've got many political and economic weapons, most of them inside our enemies' lands. I entirely agree with Victor that Iran and Syria are fragile, brittle, and anxious. They know their people hate them, and they know that revolution could erupt if we supported it.

Of course, as Victor says, our leaders may be so demoralized that we could just surrender in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the realists and the antisemites desire. But that would only delay the reckoning, and ensure that the war will be far bloodier. Sigh.

I would love to believe that Michael is wrong about this, but it is an inconvenient truth that Islamic extremists -- including particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran (which has waged war against us) and the Sunni jihadists (who have overtly declared war against us) -- have been quite clear about their desire to convert us or destroy us. We know what they want to do. The only question is whether they will acquire the means to do it. It is easy to doubt that they will, because it has been a long time since Muslims were effective at projecting military power (as opposed to defending their own turf), but what if technology makes it possible again? Will we regret not having a grand strategy to contain Iran and promote the, er, revision of the regime? How can any intellectually honest person reject the possibility that a national failure of vision and nerve will in the future cost us and the world dearly?

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Political judo 


The Democrats pit the best interests of Republicans against the best interests of the country. And do the right thing, to boot.

Sorry about the light blogging, and thanks to the 'Villain for helping out. I've been very busy the last couple of days. As it is, I'm blogging from the passenger seat of a car hurtling down Interstate 91 south of Hartford. My colleague has already declared me "not that fun to road trip with."

MORE: Proof of the foregoing here.


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The politics of the weather 

The global warming "debate," (which I have at various times mocked on this blog) has achieved the rather remarkable feat of actually politicizing the weather. There are many examples of this, perhaps the most famous being Robert Kennedy's blaming the Republicans for Hurricane Katrina. Not the response to Katrina hitting New Orleans mind you, but the existence of the hurricane itself.

Bad weather is now the fault of Republicans, which by implication would suggest that good weather is a Democratic phenomenon.

So, in this context, Gay Patriot asks:

Here is my key question: If the over-active 2005 Hurricane Season, featuring Katrina, was Bush's Fault.... does he get credit for the lack of storms in 2006? Or is that Nancy Pelosi's success?

Any of you odds makers out there want to handicap this one?

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More single-wing football in Central Virginia 

One of my first posts after joining the blog two years ago was on the topic of single-wing football. I wrote the post after hearing that a local team, Western Albemarle, was running a single-wing offense with much success, and according to TH, it remains one of the most frequently accessed posts on the blog.

In today's Daily Progress, an article entitled Louisa leaving opponents befuddled discusses another regional team that has adopted the singe-wing. The story of how Louisa coach Mark Fischer decided to run this offense is right out of the movies.

ESPNClassic was showing the 1940 biopic “Knute Rockne: All-American” starring Ronald Reagan, and it didn’t take Fischer long to notice something different about the offensive formations in the film.

“I happened to see glimpses of something that looked pretty appealing,” said Fischer, who left the Richmond school in 2003 to take over at Louisa County. “So I got on the Internet and started doing searches and I found out that was the single-wing.”

After watching Reagan portray Rockne that night in 2001, Fischer started getting in touch with other high school coaches that ran the system and bought John Aldirch’s book on the offense and began to experiment with the new system.

“I literally put the offense in looking at the book in practice,” Fischer said. “I was holding the book, looking at it and saying, ‘OK, you run up here, you do this.’ I went straight from the book.”

It apparently worked out, as Fischer's team is 12-0. Of course the single-win runs best with a stud tailback, and Lousia apparently has that in Todd Shelton, who has rushed for more than 2,300 yards and 32 touchdowns in 12 games. But what makes the singe-wing so successful is that virtually no one plays it, so few know how to defend it. With three or four backs positioned to potentially receive the snap on every play, the single-wing is nothing like anything most kids have seen before.

“We’re hopefully putting 14- or 15-year-old linebackers in the position to have to make the split-second decision of who got that ball,” Fischer said.

“It’s tough for them to simulate that in practice,” said Fischer, whose team will play host to Powhatan on Saturday in the Division 4 state semifinals. “It’s tough for them to get the steps and the snaps and those sorts of things. We take away from your practice time, and that helps us a little bit.”

Fluvanna coach Joel Gray said the most difficult thing to prepare for in Fischer’s offense is the different blocking packages he throws at the opponent.

“When we try to prepare for it, we don’t even put any backs in the backfield,” Gray said. “We have the center snap the ball to me and we just give our kids blocking schemes and key in on nothing but the blocks. Because if you miss in the backfield against that, it’s over.”

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The crock that is "shareholder democracy" 


If one were looking for a way to destroy the flexibility and dynamism of the American economy, among proposals that stand a chance of enactment it is hard to find a worse one than "shareholder democracy." The idea that a corporation's public shareholders should exercise genuine managerial control over the corporation is appealing because of the superficial analogy to civic democracy, but in fact shareholder democracy will lead to the diversion of the corporation's focus from its basic objective, which is to earn profits which, on average, will be reflected in the price of the shares. The reason for this is that "shareholder democracy" will become the means by which special political interests try to bend business corporations to their own ends.

This morning's Wall Street Journal contains the most succinct version($) of the many arguments against shareholder "democracy" that I have stumbled across recently:

Companies aren't mini-nations. A corporation has no governing powers over its shareholders. Management and boards do not exist as antagonistic "checks" on each other but are supposed to operate together to achieve business and financial success. Shareholders who feel a company is underperforming already have the ultimate "vote," which is to sell their stock.

The direct access rule, in contrast, would give a small group of activists unreasonable influence. The Donaldson-era access rule would have allowed "major" shareholders the right to nominate their own candidates on the company ballot if 35% of proxy votes are withheld from the company's nominees. So in this "democracy," only big shareholders get privileges.

Those large shareholders tend to be union-dominated pension funds, with ambitions for turning board rooms into new political battlegrounds. For an inkling of their agenda, consider the war the California public employees' pension fund (Calpers) waged in 2004 against Safeway, when it withheld its support for the CEO in retaliation for his tough bargaining with unions. More recently, some pension funds threatened to move investments out of financial firms that supported Social Security reform. This was an attempt to muzzle corporate speech masquerading as "shareholder rights."

Or consider the 350 shareholder proposals that members of the Business Roundtable fielded last year, most forwarded by the very groups that now want a seat at the board table. DuPont was asked to link executive pay to social criteria. General Electric was asked to report on the feasibility of ending its nuclear energy business. Merck was supposed to adopt a drug-price restraint policy, and Pepsi to report its political contributions in newspapers. Most of these proposals are rejected by shareholders who understand they have little to do with achieving higher returns on their investment. Yet companies are still required to spend shareholder money to address each proposal.

Imagine the costs if the SEC gives pension funds special rights to elect board members beholden to these agendas. One probable result would be the balkanization of boards, especially because the funds that exercise sway do not owe any fiduciary duties to other shareholders. Director dysfunction -- rival camps, leaks, obstruction -- was precisely what happened at Hewlett-Packard, distracting management and harming the company's public image.

The SEC might also look at Europe, where "codetermination" -- in which unions are guaranteed seats on corporate boards -- has allowed unions to redirect capital to labor (rather than business) priorities. Such a rule would also give managers one more reason to take their companies private (see the article on the opposite page), or to float their shares in Hong Kong or Shanghai, or somewhere other than in the United States.

The ugly truth is that the most outside shareholders are not genuinely owners of the company, but renters. Unlike genuine owners -- those whose entire livelihoods are bound up in the enterprise, or who own "restricted stock" or very large amounts that cannot be sold within a short period of time -- most shareholders do not bear the real risks of the enterprise. If they don't like a particular decision of the board or the management, they can quickly sell their shares and move on. Unlike citizens of a country -- who are exposed to the decisions of political leaders -- a corporation's public shareholders are not beholden to decisions of the management. They can "move to Canada" any time they want.

Because public shareholders can exit inexpensively, they can cast their vote frivolously in accordance with their political views or social conscience, whether or not that vote is in the best interests of the shareholders who are in for the long term. In effect, shareholder democracy is a means to bypass the actual legislative process to achieve certain social or political ends, and in the meantime create havoc within the business without having to bear the economic consequences.

There is a solution for this, and its unpopularity would prove that the advocates of shareholder democracy are not genuinely interested in shareholders. We could simply require that any shareholder who votes at an annual or special meeting hold their shares for a period of time -- six months or a year -- after casting the vote. We would quickly see that most shareholders of most public companies would much prefer to leave management in the hands of people with a long-term stake in the corporation's success, and retain the option of bailing out if they don't like what they see. America's stockholders would much prefer to rent than own.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Back when college was fun... 


The Princeton Packet, one of our two local papers, makes it a practice in every issue (Tuesdays and Fridays) to reproduce an amusing item from the paper's long archives. This short story, from the issue of November 22, 1956, made me wistful for the days when we weren't so concerned about getting in trouble, our permanent record, or the grumpy, whining bourgeoisie who complain to the cops if the town isn't as peaceful as the seat of a Swiss canton:


Police stymie night raid

Night raiders from New Haven staged a pre-dawn attack on the Princeton University campus last Friday. They were turned back by vigilent police and university proctors after one skirmish on Prospect Avenue. Three of the over-zealous Elis were arrested after a hair-raising chase down Stockton Street, and four others landed in jail for failure to give a good account of themselves. [We certainly need to bring back the night in the cooler for "failing to give a good account". - ed.] Proctors [Princeton University's campus security. - ed.] spotted three of the attackers painting large blue "Y's" on gates of Prospect Avenue eating clubs at 3 a.m. When the Yalies realized their handiwork had not gone unnoticed, they fled in a car. The trio was overtaken at 80 mph in front of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Am I the only person around here who wishes that we weren't so damned conservative?

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A question for my co-religionists 


I am Episcopalian, and outside of places like Princeton Episcopalians are becoming scarcer than hen's teeth. There are only a few more than two million Episcopalians in all the United States, which is truly pathetic in a country with so many churchgoers.

Now I learn that it's because we're too educated:

[Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to run a national division of the Anglican Communion] gave an interview to the New York Times revealing what passes for orthodoxy in this most flexible of faiths. She was asked a simple enough question: "How many members of the Episcopal Church are there?"

"About 2.2 million," replied the presiding bishop. "It used to be larger percentage-wise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than other denominations."

This was a bit of a jaw-dropper even for a New York Times hackette, so, with vague memories of God saying something about going forth and multiplying floating around the back of her head, a bewildered Deborah Solomon said: "Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?"

"No," agreed Bishop Kate. "It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion."

I'm sorry to say, but my Church has chosen an idiot as its presiding bishop. What are we, Shakers? The point of virtually every Christian denomination worth its salt is not merely to replenish its ranks, but spread its particular beliefs. Indeed, if a church's message is not worth spreading, why bother believing in it at all? Would an Episcopalian out there please answer me that? (I'd do it myself, but I skipped church today.)

Mark Steyn, of course, raises a more troubling question, relating Bishop Kate's attitude to that of Fatma An-Najar, the Palestinian who on Thursday became the first grandmother in history to blow herself up trying to slaughter Jews. Mother Najar had eight children and no less than 41 grandchildren. Steyn asks, "If Fatma An-Najar has 41 grandchildren and a responsible 'better educated' Episcopalian has one or two, into whose hands are we delivering 'the stewardship of the earth'? If your crowd isn't around in any numbers, how much influence can they have in shaping the future?"

Any Episcopalians out there who want to try their hand at answering that?

Since the odds of an Episcopalian (other than relatives of mine) actually reading this are rather low, we'll go all-inclusive and invite responses from any member of the Anglican Communion.

Via Glenn.

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Our "traditional allies" stab us in the back 


The New York Times' John Burns reported today about a study that estimates that the financial resources of the various insurgent groups in Iraq are far greater than previously understood, and are adequate to sustain the war for years to come. It is by any measure a sobering article, but no information in it is more dispiriting than this:

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid for hundreds of kidnap victims, the report says. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments — previously identified by American officials as including France and Italy — paid $30 million in ransom last year.

France, a "traditional" ally, and Italy, an actual ally, have apparently joined Germany, a putative ally, in financing the enemies of the United States. Apart from the practical stupidity of paying ransoms -- it is in effect a subsidy for kidnapping -- the European blood money is underwriting the purchase of weapons and explosives that will be used to kill and injure American soldiers, not to mention innocent Iraqi civilians. American soldiers and innocent Iraqis have almost certainly already died because the French, Germans and -- I'm sorry to say -- the Italians bought the freedom of their own nationals.

Indeed, the paying of cash ransoms to the Iraqi insurgency is even more damaging to the United States and Iraqi civil society than transferring weapons directly. Cash is more useful than any one type of weapon because it is more flexible. It can be concealed more easily, and can be readily converted into anything that the insurgency needs. Got enough AK-47s from Saddam's armory but not enough plastic explosive? Cash is more easy to convert into bombs than automatic rifles. Need radios, cell phones, medical supplies, food, shelter, money to pay bribes? If we would be outraged to catch the French shipping crates of weapons to Iraqi insurgents, we should be transported into blind freakin' rage that they are shipping crates of money. We are not, because for reasons that are unclear to me the internationalists in the mainstream media don't regard this as the scandal it is.

It is outrageous that this story, which has been kicking around in various forms for years, has not gotten any meaningful attention from the mainstream media. One is forced to wonder whether the internationalists in the media are worried that the story would push the American public further into unilateralism, or even isolationism, something that the Europeans presumably want to avoid, even as they arm our enemies.

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The damn hardest thing in the world to do 


The Washington Post's Larry Kahaner published an excellent article this morning about the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Automatic Kalashnikov Model 1947, including the history of its invention, its revelation as more effective than any comparable Western small arms in the jungles of Indochina, and its transformation into a symbol of "anti-imperialism." Here's the short bit about its application in Iraq:

Although coalition bombing in 1991 destroyed much of Iraq's air force, Scud missiles and tanks, Saddam Hussein's regime retained its small weapons, including AKs. By March 2003, when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, Iraqi arsenals included seven to eight million small arms. These weapons -- which U.S. planners did not consider a major threat when the invasion began -- would prove deadly for American troops once major hostilities ended. During the chaos that followed the swift victory, millions of small weapons (mainly AKs) were looted from Hussein's armories. They landed in the hands of nervous law-abiding citizens, but also in the hands of Baathist loyalists and other opponents of the U.S. occupation who used them to start a protracted urban war.

In Iraq, the AK had taken on symbolic power, too. Hussein had been so enamored with the weapon that he had built a Baghdad mosque sporting minarets in the unique shape of AK barrels. His son Uday commissioned gold-plated AKs. And when Hussein was captured, two AKs were found in his underground hideout.

Even the newly forming Iraqi army -- trained by the U.S. military and civilian contractors -- refused American-made M-16s and M-4s. When the Coalition Provisional Authority was planning to outfit Iraqi forces, they were surprised to find that the Iraqis insisted on AKs.

"For better or worse, the AK-47 is the weapon of choice in that part of the world," said Walter Slocombe, senior adviser to the CPA. "It turns out that every Iraqi male above the age of 12 can take them apart and put them together blindfolded and is a pretty good shot."

The AK-47 is so cheap, so durable, and so potent that it has sustained insurgencies throughout the world for more than forty years (since the Soviets released it for wider production). It has empowered untrained soldiers to resist the full might of American and, indeed, Soviet firepower:
In Iraq, Sierra Leone, Sudan and elsewhere, today's wars are hot conflicts in urban areas, with guerrillas holding their own against better trained troops. Sophisticated, expensive arms seem no match for AK-wielding rebels who need little training and know the local terrain better. Some call this the new reality of small conflicts.

This sentiment was expressed by Maj. Gen. William J. Livsey Jr. the commandant of Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1980s, when the military was first integrating computer chips into smart weapons. "Despite all the sophisticated weapons we or the Soviets come up with," he warned, "you still have to get that one lone infantryman, with his rifle, off his piece of land. It's the damn hardest thing in the world to do."

Read the whole thing.

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Steps forward and back? 


Two stories from the Long War, both via Glenn Reynolds.

First, the leading clerical lights of Sunni Islam, who have declaimed over the years on an unbelievably wide range of subjects, have finally gotten around to declaring the genital mutilation of girls out-of-bounds:

The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, the oldest and most highly respected institution in Sunni Islam; and the Grand Mufti of Egypt have released an official fatwa declaring the practice of female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation or female genital cutting) un-Islamic. The decision was made at a conference hosted in Egypt and attended by Muslim clergy from around the world.

Glenn writes, "Sadly, this counts as progress. But, you know, it does count as progress." I'm not willing to go quite that far. Yes, if a fatwa can reduce cases of clitoridectomy among the abominable bastards who perform it (and Christians and animists also do it in particularly primitive corners of the world), we should rejoice in that. I'm just not certain that this indicates a trend. The legal and actual circumstances of women in the Islamic world seem to have degraded significantly in the last 30-40 years, at least by reference to press accounts and as measured by Western standards. One random fatwa which denounces a tradition that is in any case a long way from the center of Islam is not necessarily evidence of progressive energy within the religion. Maybe I'm wrong, but this fatwa strikes me as "good," rather than progress, much like a winless football team finally winning a game over another easy team late in the season. The fans will at that point cheer any victory, but does it really mean the team will be better next year?

Meanwhile, in Paris, Pajamas Media's Nidra Poller examines the latest case of anti-Semitic violence, in which a mob attacks a Jewish soccer fan because the Israelis beat a French team, a black plainclothes police officer intervenes to defend the Jew, the mob attacks him, he draws his weapon, warns the crowd back, still they attack, and finally he shoots two of them. Violence, which is often claimed never to solve anything, undoubtedly saved the life of the cop and the Jew at the expense of brutal thugs who would beat them or kill them because their team lost a game.

Guess who languishes in jail? The French have an ever more curious sense of justice, and one that every American politician should consider before citing French approval or disapproval as a reason for doing or not doing something.

One final thought on the problem of soccer hooligans beating up on Jews and police officers: Doesn't it seems like a problem easily solved with the quick enactment of right-to-carry and stand-your-ground laws?

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Notes on polarization: Fighting al Qaeda in Anbar 


Whenever you read a report that claims that the Iraq war has helped al Qaeda recruit, it is equally important to ask whether it has also helped al Qaeda's enemies to recruit. Yes, the jihad is getting larger, as all armies do during the course of a war. The question is, are the enemies of the jihad increasing in number even faster than the jihad? We have long argued that it is essential in the long war to polarize the Arab and Muslim world by backing the jihadis into forced and unforced errors that create enemies of our enemy. The Mudville Gazette writes about the latest evidence that whatever happens to Iraq, it is unlikely to become a "haven" from which attacks will be launched against the West. Quite the contrary. Many jihadis are dying there at Arab hands, which is exactly what we need to have happen on a large scale throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Taking hygiene too far 


If you visit Texas, don't forget to wash your hands.


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The New York Times and driving regulation 


The New York Times is endorsing the latest privacy-invading idea from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, breathalizer "interlocks" that require drivers to blow into a tube before they can start their car. For the moment, MADD is proposing that these devices only be required in cars to be driven by people with a DUI conviction, but it is an obvious ploy to require them in every car. Rental car companies will need to install them so that DUI convicts can rent cars and families with a DUI convict will find it very inconvenient not to have them in every car they buy. Pretty soon, we'll all be blowing into tubes before we can start our engines.

The slippery-slope to ultra safety is not a paranoid fantasy. It is obvious that driver breathalizer interlocks are only the first step for the safety-Nazis and their friends on the Times editorial board:

For the future, safety advocates hope to develop passive devices that unobtrusively test all drivers for alcohol, without requiring every soccer mom to blow into a tube every time she gets into a car. Even better would be devices that flash warnings and slow cars at any sign of erratic driving, whether the cause be drink, distraction, fatigue, recklessness or sheer incompetence.

There are all sorts of problems with requiring interlocks in all cars, starting with this: It is a very intrusive intervention to solve a problem that is of diminishing significance to the public health. Current regulation and enforcement (which we owe to MADD), has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities from roughly 26,000 per year to less than 17,000 and from 60% to 39% of all traffic fatalities, and that during a time when all driving has become tremendous safer. While 17,000 deaths sounds like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket for a country that has more than 130,000,000 automobiles and which drives well over 1.5 billion vehicle miles per year. The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities is now roughly comparable to deaths from liver cancer, a middling cancer which causes only 3% of all cancer deaths. Thanks to MADD, we have reached the point of diminishing returns in the regulation of drunk driving.

It is not even clear that we should require interlocks even if it were free to do so. It is not hard to imagine situations in which it would be a reasonable risk to drive a car even if one's blood alcohol limit is over the legal limit. Three men go camping in the woods, and they all have a few beers because they assume that they will not be driving again until the next morning. One of them suffers a heart attack, so they drive him out of the woods to a hospital and save his life. In a MADD world, the man would die. A purist would argue, of course, that one of them should have avoided alcohol so as to hedge against just that eventuality, but what if the designated driver had the heart attack? I can envision enough situations like that to be against breathalizer interlocks.

The Times claims that it would be "even better" to have devices that "slow cars at any sign of erratic driving, whether the cause be drink, distraction, fatigue, recklessness or sheer incompetence." Huh? With all the incompetent driving in my home state, in the Grey Nanny's preferred alternative universe the Garden State Parkway would slow to a crawl on a Sunday morning. And what about the scary risk in a car that suddenly slows down because it arbitrarily decides I'm "erratic" when I'm passing some blue-hair on a two-lane rural highway? This, gentle reader, is the asinine future envisioned by the semi-official mouthpiece of blue state liberalism.

Yes, drunk driving is an emotionally challenging public health problem and I suppose I might feel differently about it if I had ever been close to somebody killed while driving drunk or because somebody else was. However, the law enforcement we have now works. According to MADD's own statistics, drunk driving fatalities have plummeted in both absolute terms and as a percentage of all traffic fatalities during the last quarter century. Yes, I am sure they can be reduced further, but at what cost to our wallets and our liberty? We should keep doing what we are doing, but we should not disable all automobiles just to reduce further the miniscule number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. And if the problem is "erratic" or incompetent driving, how about handing out some tickets to the inconsiderate people who drive below the pace of traffic in the left goddamned lane?

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Clark Brothers and the full enjoyment of our Second Amendment rights 



Every summer for most of my life our family would make its way down the eastern seaboard visiting relatives, and eventually we would drive down Virginia's Route 15 to our family's old house -- "Indian Gap," pictured at right, now owned by the 'Villain -- somewhere in Buckingham County, Virginia. The drive would take us past Warrenton, just south of which lies a great man-store called Clark Brothers. Throughout my childhood and well into my college years Clark Brothers had a single large sign that read, simply, "Clark Bros. Guns Fireworks Canoes." For whatever reason we never stopped there, but I always thought that "Guns, Fireworks, Canoes" sounded like loads of fun.



As it happened, about ten years ago my father-in-law and his wife moved to Warrenton, so we now have a regular reason to decamp there, rather than down in Buckingham. A few years after that my father-in-law became something of a gun guy, so now we make a visit to Clark Bros' backyard range part of the regular Thanksgiving program. The sign is not quite as colorful, but it is a blast all the same.

Below, "Grandpa Tom" instructs the Daughter (who, we have previously reported, is an excellent shot with a pistol), the Son, Mrs. TigerHawk and finally Your Blogger. As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.







We all shot brilliantly.

Back when I was in law school I knew Dave Kopel, who was extremely learned on the topic of gun rights even then. I don't follow the subject much any more, but commend to you Glenn and Helen's interview of Kopel, which will quickly bring you up to date on gun rights and related topics (such as the "stand your ground" laws being adopted by our more progressive -- and I used that term quite precisely -- states).


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America in retreat? 


Daniel Henninger has a must-read op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

In the mid-1990s, I was talking to a politically sophisticated European lady about Europe's lack of military response to Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of the non-Serbs in Yugoslavia. She said, persuasively I thought, "You must understand how much bloody death has happened across our continent the past century. We have simply been worn out by it." In the event, the U.S. went in to stop another 20th-century genocide on the soil of that civil part of the world.

Her remark has come back to me in recent weeks, watching the paroxysm of antipathy toward the Iraq war and its progenitors. It would be one thing to say it is simply opposition to and dissent from an unpopular war and an unpopular president. But this has gone beyond that. The rhetoric is emotional and vituperative. I have seen audiences greet speakers denouncing Iraq as a "disaster" and "failure" with bursts of applause.

It is getting harder to distinguish between animosity toward George Bush and animosity toward the entire American enterprise beyond the nation's borders. As Norman Podhoretz delineated in the September issue of Commentary, columns and articles in journals of foreign policy are equating the tsunami of negativity rolling over Iraq with repudiation of the Bush Doctrine in toto.

One might have expected most of the disagreement to center on the doctrine's assertion of a right to pre-emptive attack. Instead, Iraq's troubles have been conflated with a general repudiation of the U.S.'s ability to abet democratic aspiration elsewhere in the world.

It is certainly possible that the Iraq effort will, in some obvious sense, "fail." Henry Kissinger now says "victory," defined as an Iraqi government gaining political control over the entire country, is not possible. But we might want to think some before we toss out the infant Bush Doctrine with the Iraqi bathwater.

Read the whole thing.

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Buzzard blogging 


We spent Thanksgiving day at Charlottesvillain's place, which is south of the James in central Virginia. A turkey buzzard must have sensed turkey carrion in the area, because he parked in a tree just above the house for most of the afternoon. I took the first picture below through my Canon Digital Elph (I have the lowly SD300, which I carry almost everywhere, but the full line is available here" for a quick Black Friday purchase!), and the second and third pictures by shooting the same camera through the right eyepiece of the 'Villain's binoculars. As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.





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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving! (and a poll) 



Happy Thanksgiving to everybody, and especially to our regular commenters who add so much to this blog with their contributions. I'm convinced we have the best commenters this side of The Belmont Club. I very much regret that I am often too busy to join in the discussion while it is going on.

We are down in Virginia, starting the day in Warrenton, where my father-in-law lives. My "air card" does not get a signal at his house, which is in the hills above town off Route 17. Since I finally gave up my AOL account back in the spring, in the absence of a decent cellular signal I have to drive in to the local Starbucks or other hot spot to blog off my laptop. Later this morning we will all drive two hours south to the vicinity of Dillwyn to have the Thanksgiving meal with the Charlottesvillain family, and the probability of a decent air card signal there is vanishlingly small. All in all, posting will be light today, which is just as well.

The picture above is a photograph of The First Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. It hangs in the Library of Congress.

For the non-Americans among you, the Thanksgiving holiday is perhaps the greatest American national holiday. The Wikipedia entry describes the history of the holiday, which began organically in the very first years of the colonial era and was proclaimed nationally by our greatest president at the height of our most perilous national crisis. The event is of such significance to many American families that many believe it is more important to be together on Thanksgiving than on Christmas. If you are American or act like one, is this true in your family?



Which holiday are you most likely to spend with extended family: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or "other"?
Thanksgiving
Christmas
Other
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com



The day after Thanksgiving, though, is hideous. It is known as "Black Friday," and all sorts of crazed people get up at 5 in the morning so that they can begin shopping for Christmas as if it were a competitive event. You'd rather be in Lagos during a bread riot than visit most American malls on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The question is, who do we have to blame for "Black Friday"? According to the Wikipedia entry: The Democrats!

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the next-to-last Thursday of November rather than the last. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression. At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas until after Thanksgiving.

Yes, FDR changed the date of Thanksgiving to commercialize Christmas even more than it already was. Black Friday, like so many other things, is yet another enduring legacy of the 20th century's most influential president.

MORE: Pajamas Media remembers FDR's "four freedoms" speech, which was given not on Thanksgiving but in early 1941, almost a year before Pearl Harbor. It is a speech to be thankful for, and we would do well to remember it today. Read the whole thing.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Allowing for a regulated market in transplantable organs 


Nineteen years ago, more or less, I wrote a paper for a law school seminar with the title "What you don't know won't hurt you: Toward a free market in transplantable organs." I don't think a copy survives and can't remember how I managed to occupy thirty pages or so, but I am fairly confident that the issues I raised in that paper remain unresolved today. We have a shortage of organs, meaning that people are dying or living miserably because we do not have enough organs to transplant. The shortage means that we have maddening rules for rationing the organs that we do have, rules that are probably "gamed" by various of the participants (as any fan of Gray's Anatomy at least suspects). One is forced to wonder whether all the justice and compassion have been squeezed out by our strange concern that neither living people nor their estates should be paid for donated organs.

I bring all of this up because Virginia Postrel, who quite famously donated a kidney to a person who was merely a friend, has written a couple of new posts about the idiocy of the system and the frail arguments against injecting well-regulated market incentives. Both are worth reading, including the links. And do not miss this editorial from The Economist, which notices that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a substantially more intelligent policy on the matter of kidney donations inter vivo than most Western countries.

It has long seemed to me that sheer neglect must have enormous influence over the supply of organs available for donation. Lots of people die without having given clear direction as to their wishes. Perhaps they live in a state that does not promote organ donation at the Department of Motor Vehicles (I note in passing that New Jersey seems to have become more active in the last decade or so), or perhaps they have not renewed their driver's license in a long time. Whatever the reason, why wouldn't we change the system from "opt in" (you have to choose to donate your organs) to "opt out" (you have to choose in advance to withhold donation or they will automatically be harvested when you die). Americans have proven through the profound success of the national "do not call" list that they can cope with an "opt out" system if they care enough to avail themselves of it. Why not create an opt out system for organ donation, allowing for registration on a touch-tone phone, via the web, or even by election on your income taxes?

The Economist does make mention of Spain's system, which it says is "opt out" and yet does not sufficiently alter the supply. Perhaps that is true, or perhaps there are limits in Spain's system that reduce its effectiveness. Either way, it seems to me that if we were to adopt an "opt out" system people would be brought into a discussion over organ donation that would be very healthy for the system, and which might break the hold of the altruism authoritarians who seem to dominate it today.

Via Glenn.


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David Blaine's gyroscope stunt 


Stuntmeister David Blaine is starving himself in a gyroscope over Manhattan, all to benefit the Salvation Army.

Blaine will dangle near Times Square for almost three days before attempting to escape from some shackles.

"This is more difficult than anything I've ever done," Blaine said before he was loaded into the contraption, which was then hoisted up 50ft (15m).

The three spinning steel rings can flip Blaine in various directions up to eight times per minute.

The shackles will be added to Blaine on Thursday, giving him 16 hours to free himself.

The illusionist said his biggest concerns, besides not eating or drinking, were the freezing weather and dizziness.

After the stunt, Blaine will lead 100 underprivileged children chosen by The Salvation Army charity on a shopping spree. Blaine said the stunt was important to him since The Salvation Army had provided him with clothing when he was a child.

Regular readers know that I normally don't write about this sort of thing, but I happened to be walking down West 46th Street last night and stumbled across Blaine and his gyroscope. At the time I thought it was a commercial event and had no idea that the man was Blaine doing a three day marathon stunt. I did, however, manage to snap an exclusive TigerHawk photo of Blaine for the pre-holiday enjoyment of you, our readers:



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The 100 "most influential" Americans 


Here's something to print out and argue about over Thanksgiving dinner when the conversation would otherwise turn to some subject that threatens to fracture the fragile peace: The Atlantic has published its nominees for the "100 most influential Americans." I haven't pondered it at length, but my first reaction is that it is a very good list. My early reactions are all quibbles with the reasons given rather than the names listed. For example, Ralph Nader is (correctly) on the list because "He made the cars we drive safer; thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president." If that's a reason, why isn't George W. Bush on the list? No, neither of these achievements should be enough to win Ralph Nader a spot on the list. Rather, he is the founder of the consumer movement and the reason why the United States regulates the safety of all products -- not just cars -- through tort litigation.

The list is also a bit short on early colonials who were born British but became American. Two -- who also happen to be ancestors of mine -- come to mind. Any such list should include William Bradford, the leader of Plymouth Colony, architect of the Mayflower Compact (considered an early and influential expression of American democracy), and the first to proclaim what became the holiday of Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday. I would also suggest John Rolfe, the Englishman who is known today as the husband of Disney hottie Pocahontas, but whose greatest influence came through his own industry: he was the first person to cultivate tobacco for commercial sale. Surely we can find a couple of people to kick off the list to make room for Bradford and Rolfe.

If the office is a bit slow today, offer your own suggestions for deletions and additions in the comments below.

CWCID: Power Line.


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The realist case for supporting Israel 


Martin Kramer lays out the true "realist's" case for supporting Israel, and drops a hammer on various famous faux realists in the process. If you believe that the United States supports Israel because an "Israeli lobby" manipulates our foreign policy, you particularly owe it to yourself to read the whole thing.

My own argument on the subject is here. May I humbly suggest that Martin Kramer and I come to the same answer from slightly different directions: that Israel's value as an American proxy is greater today than it was even during the Cold War.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tiger picture of the day 


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Old man's war? 


Stratfor's George Friedman has sent around a letter to subscribers with a serious, thought-provoking, politically impossible proposal for broadening the burden of war. I am going to climb out on a fair use limb and post the whole thing for your consideration and comment, and hope that my oft-repeated suggestion that you subscribe to Stratfor will suffice for compensation:

New York Democrat Charles Rangel, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called for the reinstatement of the draft. This is not new for him; he has argued for it for several years. Nor does Rangel -- or anyone else -- expect a proposal for conscription to pass. However, whether this is political posturing or a sincere attempt to start a conversation about America's military, Rangel is making an important point that should be considered. This is doubly true at a time when future strategies are being considered in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the available force is being strained to its limits.

The United States has practiced conscription in all major wars since the Civil War. During the Cold War, the United States practiced conscription continually, using it to fight both the Korean and Vietnam wars, but also to maintain the peacetime army. Conscription ended in 1973 as the U.S. role in Vietnam declined and as political opposition to the draft surged. From that point on, the United States shifted to a volunteer force.

Rangel's core criticism of the volunteer force is social. He argues that the burden of manning the military and fighting the war has fallen, both during Vietnam War conscription and in the volunteer army, for different reasons, on the lower and middle-lower classes. Apart from other arguments -- such as the view that if the rich were being drafted, the Vietnam and Iraq wars would have ended sooner -- Rangel's essential point is that the way the United States has manned the military since World War II is inherently unjust. It puts the lower classes at risk in fighting wars, leaving the upper classes free to pursue their lives and careers.

The problem with this argument is not the moral point, which is that the burden of national defense should be borne by all classes, but rather the argument that a draft would be more equitable. Rangel's view of the military and the draft was shaped by Vietnam -- and during Vietnam, there was conscription. But it was an inherently inequitable conscription, in the sense that during most of the war, deferments were given for students. That deferment, earlier in the war, extended to graduate school. As a result, by definition, the less-educated were more vulnerable to conscription than the more-educated. There were a host of deferments, including medical deferments, and the sophisticated could game the system easily. A draft, by itself, does not in any way guarantee equity.

During the final years of the Vietnam-era draft, the deferment system was replaced by a lottery. This was intended to (and, to some extent, did) reduce the inequities of the system, although sophisticated college students with low numbers continued to find ways to avoid conscription using the complex rules of the Selective Service system -- ways that the less-educated still couldn't use. The lottery system was an improvement, but in the end, it still meant that some would go into harm's way while others would stay home and carry on their lives. Basing the draft on a lottery might have mitigated social injustice, but basing life-and-death matters such as going to war on the luck of the draw still strikes us as inappropriate.

The switch from deferments to the lottery points out one of the key problems of conscription. The United States does not need, and cannot afford, a military that would consist of all of the men (and now, we assume, women) aged 19-21. That would create a force far too large and far too inexperienced. The lottery was designed to deal with a reality in which the United States needed conscription, but could not cope with universal conscription. Some method had to be found to determine who would and would not serve -- and any such method would be either unfair or arbitrary.

Americans remember World War II as, in many ways, the morally perfect war: the right enemy, the right spirit and the right military. But World War II was unique in that the United States had to field an enormous military. While some had to man truly essential industries, and some were medically disqualified, World War II was a case in which universal conscription was absolutely needed because the size of the force had to be equal to the size of the total pool of available and qualified manpower, minus essential workers. Unless it suited the needs of the military, no one was deferred. Married men with children, brilliant graduate students, the children of the rich and famous -- all went. There were still inequities in the kinds of assignments people got and the pull that was sometimes used. But what made the World War II conscription system work well was that everyone was needed and everyone was called.

Not everyone is needed in today's military. You might make the case for universal service -- people helping teachers and cleaning playgrounds. But there is a fundamental difference between these jobs and, at least in principle, the military. In the military, you might be called on to risk your life and die. For the most part, that isn't expected from teacher's aides. Thus, even if there were universal service, you would still be left with the dilemma of who gets to teach arts and crafts and who goes on patrol in Baghdad. Universal conscription does not solve the problem inherent in military conscription.

And there is an even more fundamental issue. During World War II, conscription, for just about everyone, meant service until the end of the war. During the Cold War, there was no clear end in sight. Since not everyone was conscripted, having conscripts serve until the end of the war could mean a lifetime of service. The decision was made that draftees would serve for two years and remain part of the reserve for a period of time thereafter.

Training during World War II took weeks for most combat specialties, with further training undertaken with soldiers' units or through combat. In World War II, the United States had a mass-produced army with plenty of time to mature after training. During Vietnam, conscripts went through basic training and advanced training, leaving a year for deployment in Vietnam and some months left over after the tour of duty. Jobs that required more complex training, from Special Forces to pilots to computer programmers, were handled by volunteers who served at least three years and, in many cases, longer. The draftee was used to provide the mass. The complexities of the war were still handled by a volunteer force.

The Battle of the Bulge took place 62 years ago. The Tet Offensive was nearly 39 years ago. The 90-day-wonder officers served well in World War II, and the draftee riflemen were valiant in Vietnam, but military requirements have changed dramatically. Now the military depends on highly trained specialists and groups of specialists, whose specialties -- from rifleman to warehouse worker -- have become more and more complex and sophisticated. On the whole, the contemporary Army, which historically has absorbed most draftees, needs more than two years in order to train draftees in their specialties, integrate them with their units and deploy them to combat.

Today, a two-year draft would be impractical because, on the whole, it would result in spending huge amounts of money on training, with very little time in actual service to show for it. Conscription could, of course, be extended to a three- or even four-year term, but with only selective service -- meaning that only a fraction of those eligible would be called -- that extension would only intensify the unfairness. Some would spend three or four years in the military, while others would be moving ahead with schools and careers. In effect, it would be a huge tax on the draftees for years of earnings lost.

A new U.S. draft might force the children of the wealthy into the military, but only at the price of creating other inequities and a highly inefficient Army. The training cycle and retention rate of a two-year draft would swamp the Army. In Iraq, the Army needs Special Forces, Civil Affairs specialists, linguists, intelligence analysts, unmanned aerial vehicle operators and so on. You can draft for that, we suppose, but it is hard to imagine building a force that way.

A volunteer force is a much more efficient way to field an Army. There is more time for training, there is a higher probability of retention and there are far fewer morale problems. Rangel is wrong in comparing the social base of this Army with that of Vietnam. But the basic point he is trying to make is true: The makeup of the U.S. Army is skewed toward the middle and lower-middle class. But then, so are many professions. Few children of the wealthy get jobs in the Social Security Administration or become professional boxers. The fact that the Army does not reflect the full social spectrum of the country doesn't mean very much. Hardly anything reflects that well.

Still, Rangel is making an important point, even if his argument for the draft does not work. War is a special activity of society. It is one of the few in which the citizen is expected -- at least in principle -- to fight and, if necessary, die for his country. It is more than a career. It is an existential commitment, a willingness to place oneself at risk for one's country. The fact that children of the upper classes, on the whole, do not make that existential commitment represents a tremendous weakness in American society. When those who benefit most from a society feel no obligation to defend it, there is a deep and significant malaise in that society.

However, we have been speaking consistently here about the children of the rich, and not of the rich themselves. Combat used to be for the young. It required stamina and strength. That is still needed. However, there are two points to be made. First, many -- perhaps most -- jobs in today's military that do not require the stamina of youth, as proven by all the contractors doing essentially military work in Iraq. Second, 18- to 22-year-olds are far from the most physically robust age group. Given modern diet and health regimens, there are people who are substantially older who have the stamina and strength for combat duty. If you can play tennis as well as you claim to for as long as you say, you can patrol a village in the Sunni Triangle.

We do not expect to be taken seriously on this proposal, but we will make it anyway: There is no inherent reason why enlistment -- or conscription -- should be targeted toward those in late adolescence. And there is no reason why the rich themselves, rather than the children of the rich, should not go to war. Or, for that matter, why older people with established skills should not be drawn into the military. That happened in World War II, and it could happen now. The military's stove-pipe approach to military careers, and the fact that it allows almost no lateral movement into service for 40- to 60-year-olds, is irrational. Even if we exclude combat arms, other specialties could be well-served by such a method -- which also would reduce the need for viciously expensive contractors.

Traditionally, the draft has fallen on those who were barely adults, who had not yet had a chance to live, who were the least equipped to fight a complex war. Other age groups were safe. Rangel is talking about drafting the children of the rich. It would be much more interesting, if the United States were to introduce the draft, to impose it in a different way, on entirely different age groups. Let the young get on with starting their lives. Let those who have really benefited from society, who have already lived, ante up.

Modern war does not require the service of 19-year-olds. In the field, you need the strong, agile and smart, but we know several graying types who still could hack that. And in the offices that proliferate in the military, experienced businesspeople would do even better at modernizing the system. If they were drafted, and went into harm's way, they would know exactly what they were fighting for and why -- something we hardly think most 19-year-olds really know yet.

Obviously, no one is going to adopt this crackpot proposal, even though we are quite serious about it. But we ask that you take seriously two points. Rangel is correct in saying that the upper classes in American society are not pulling their weight. But if the parents haven't served, we cannot reasonably expect the children to do so. If Americans are serious about dealing with the crisis of lack of service among the wealthiest, then they should look to the wealthiest first, rather than their children.

I am in a meeting in New York and posting this from my Blackberry, so you're on your own. I do have several reactions and modifying suggestions which I may post later, but will leave it to our very sharp commenters to shape the discussion over the next few hours.

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The worm turns at Internet speed, Part Deux 


The editors of The New York Times have moved into oppo mode even faster than Power Line. After having beaten up on Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha last week, this morning the Grey Lady woodshedded Charles Rangel for proposing to bring back conscription. Next thing you know they'll be back in favor of the NSA monitoring calls to al Qaeda Central.


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Bad intelligence 


Most of you know that Nancy Pelosi is pushing Alcee Hastings to serve as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Most of you also know that Hastings was once a federal judge, and impeached by a Democratic House in the 1981 for taking bribes. Nancy Pelosi was among the many Democrats who honorably voted to convict Judge Hastings, only the sixth federal judge to be impeached in the history of the republic.

What you may not know is that Alcee Hastings was never convicted in a criminal case because the most important witness against him simply refused to testify. Subsequently, Bill Clinton pardoned the witness.

We all know that some Congressmen are corrupt and more are corruptible. Rarely do we know in advance that a Congressmen is so corruptible and so contemptuous of the Federal judiciary that he was willing to give up a powerful, life-tenure job for a lousy $150,000. This is the Congressman that Nancy Pelosi has chosen to trust with our nation's most important secrets?

America is the land of second acts -- and second chances -- so it may be that Alcee Hastings has learned his lesson and is now honest as the day is long. There is no way to know that for sure, though, so entrusting Hastings with anything more important than the minimal authority of an elected Representative strikes me as akin to giving Joseph Hazelwood command of an aircraft carrier. Perhaps he can be trusted, but why would anyone sane take the chance? The Democrats are manifestly running a huge risk with the nation's security by letting Hastings anywhere near the House Intelligence Committee which, I think, reflects their actual respect for the Congressional oversight function. Nancy Pelosi obviously views "oversight" as a means for political advantage -- both inside the Democratic caucus and versus the Republicans -- rather than a serious substantive responsibility. In that regard, she may be no different than the outgoing Republican leadership, but she is also no improvement on it. Which is saying a lot.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Cool random video of the day: "Pipe Dreams" 


The following video -- which is, in fact, animation -- circulated (to me, anyway) attached to a fraudulent Internet urban legend:

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between The Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines Components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft Iowa, yes farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, Calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.

While I would be the first to believe that the John Deere company and various farm equipment manufacturers could make such a device -- which reveals, I think, my "blue state" knowledge of farm equipment -- the video is awesome even if it is fantasy.



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Monday, November 20, 2006

Canada needs a bigger army 


I'm humble and grateful enough to praise Canadian valor in Afghanistan, but if this story is true Canada needs a bigger army, at least if it wants to claim that it is doing its share for the Anglosphere:

Canada might not be able to extend the life of its 2,500-strong mission to Afghanistan beyond February 2009 because many troops will be needed to ensure security at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, according to a document released on Monday.

There is an additional obvious question the linked story does not pose: If the security concerns for the Winter Olympics in a location as remote as the Canadian Pacific coast are such that even a country with the military tradition of Canada cannot provide security without "stretching" -- there's that word again -- its army, is it safe for the International Olympic Committee to award the Games to any small country?

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Venom! 


Redoubtable lefty blogger Uptown Ruler has got his paws on a bootleg trailer for Spiderman III. Run on over to the Scrutiny Hooligans before it goes away.


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Caption this! 


I was extremely busy today, and only coaxed the Grey Lady out of her blue plastic dress a few minutes ago, which meant that I also only just realized that the front page photograph was perfect for a caption contest:



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News Corp bails on Simpson 


News Corp has cancelled the publication of O.J. Simpson's book and the publicity therefor on Fox, and apologized to boot. The Wall Street Journal:

News Corp. canceled publication of O.J. Simpson's book "If I Did It" and the Fox television network broadcast special, with Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch apologizing for the project.

In a statement from the New York media company, Mr. Murdoch said, "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,'' said Mr. Murdoch. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

Good. I still think that the outrage over this is a bit silly in light of the willingness of all the networks to promote the propaganda of our enemies, but that hypocrisy does not diminish the justice in Rupert Murdoch's decision to bail on O.J. Simpson. Even if the mainstream media profits from human misery, that does not mean they should profit from all human misery.

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Unexploded ordnance found in London 

These stories surface every few years in London. A maintainance worker in some basement or sewer uncovers an unexploded bombshell left over from the blitz, and it is still live. Given that the German bombing of London took place more than 60 years ago now, it has always amazed me that these shells are still occasionally found but I guess its not that surprising that a handful of the thousands and thousands of shells that fell could get buried and remain undetected in a city the size of London.

Last week the Guardian reported the latest in this periodic series of discoveries, an unexploded shell found in the doorway of a shop on Walthamstow High Street, and apparently the discovery was the cause of some hysteria for the shop owner.

Mr Khan said that if it had been struck hard enough or exposed to heat it could have gone off.

"This sort of thing should not be lying around. It was live, primed and active," he said.

"How can you feel safe when you are finding things like this on the street?”

Of course one can imagine this type of reaction, and the news coverage, had the shell in question actually been one of those unexploded bombs from the Blitz, but it was in fact a single round of .22 calibre ammunition that was considered such a hazard that the police were immediately mobilized.


Police are treating the unattended ammunition as a crime. Mr Khan alerted them at 10.16am, and they arrived at his shop to pick up the bullet at 11.32am.

The bullet has been examined at a Metropolitan Police laboratory and details about it kept for future reference. A police spokesman said: "Recovering firearms and ammunition is a priority for the police. We take the same view of ammunition as we do of a gun.

Churchill would certainly not recognize today’s England.

I guess that for the current generation of Londoners, the memory of the Blitz has faded entirely. How else can you explain the level of excitement caused by a single round of .22 ammo in a city that endured 58 consecutive nights of bombing? The story also highlights a fundamental difference in culture with us here in the US, where this story is laugh-out-loud funny. From where I am sitting now I can drive 6 miles and find at least four stores where I can buy a box of 500 of these bullets for less than US$15, no questions asked. I shot my first .22 at about age 10, and according to family lore my grandfather received a .22 rifle for his 6th birthday.

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"Rumsfeldian" credibility: "CEO and CFO resign, company shares soar" 


Being a corporate tool, I naturally think that most senior executives add huge value and should be paid accordingly. The market, however, occasionally spots an executive team that subtracts value. Under the headline "CEO and CFO resign, company shares soar":

Cyberonics Inc., the maker of a controversial device to treat epilepsy and depression, said on Monday that two top executives have resigned following an investigation that revealed errors in its accounting practices.

Chief Executive Robert "Skip" Cummins resigned effective immediately, as did Pamela Westbrook, the company's chief financial officer, sending the company's shares up over 22 percent at one point.

Ouch. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this is one news story that won't go in to Skip Cummins' scrapbook.

And then there's this:
"Investors are relieved that a CEO whose credibility had reached Rumsfeldian depths has finally gone," said Dr. Harry Tracy, publisher of the monthly journal NeuroInvestment.

Whatever one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld, we should all hope that the adjective "Rumsfeldian" does not achieve widespread currency.

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What will you be doing on December 22nd? 


Being a hawk, I'll have to remember not to have an orgasm that day.

The Global Orgasm for Peace was conceived by Donna Sheehan, 76, and Paul Reffell, 55, whose immodest goal is for everyone in the world to have an orgasm Dec. 22 while focusing on world peace.

"The orgasm gives out an incredible feeling of peace during it and after it," Reffell said Sunday. "Your mind is like a blank...."

I daresay.

The organization's web site says that mass simultaneous orgasms can alter the Earth's "energy field."
The mission of the Global Orgasm is to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy. Now that there are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti- submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, the time to change Earth’s energy is NOW!

The intent is that the participants concentrate any thoughts during and after orgasm on peace. The combination of high- energy orgasmic energy combined with mindful intention may have a much greater effect than previous mass meditations and prayers.

The goal is to add so much concentrated and high-energy positive input into the energy field of the Earth that it will reduce the current dangerous levels of aggression and violence throughout the world.

Presumably faking orgasm does nothing -- the Earth knows.

The interesting question is whether massive simultaneous orgasm by a bunch of Northern California chardonnay-sippers and their like-minded allies can reduce the aggression of al Qaeda and the Iranian Pasdaran. Or does the system need for the orgasms to be dispersed geographically? If so, then it seems to me that we run a great risk if we have orgasms and the enemy does not. Wouldn't that be, like, unilateral disarmament?

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