Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Battle Hymn

For Memorial Day, John Hinderaker over at PowerLine posted a nice recording of his children's school choirs singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I imagine it would be pretty moving except that whenever I hear that tune, thanks to the Airborne brainwashing they play over the loudspeakers every morning in Braggistan, all I hear are the words to "Blood on the Risers":
There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the chute,
Intestines were a'dangling from his Paratrooper suit,
He was a mess, they picked him up, and poured him from his boots,
And he ain't gonna jump no more
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
The Airborne has ruined me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Post

Happy Belated Memorial Day.

Forgive me, but I'm 8 hours (at least) ahead of most of y'all and I work nights now to boot. I'm not going to go too in-depth on my thoughts on Memorial Day; I think I wrung most of that out a bit prematurely. But on this (second-?)most patriotic national holiday, I'm struck by how many Americans are confused or conflicted on what constitutes the proper expression of patriotism. A captain I trained with and greatly respect used to rail against the sort of flag-waving patriotism he saw as cheap and hollow. And I think he had a point, to a degree, that patriotism and even "support" for the military can be cheap, when it's nothing but words and flags and bumper stickers. On the other hand, I consider all the soldiers' charities out there that provide real support for wounded veterans our government is failing. I sleep under a camo quilt handmade for me by some very hard-working ladies from my hometown. And my PT score is gravely threatened by all the goodies we receive. Some of these things are weightier than others, obviously, but none is trivial.

Melody of Boots on the Ground has a good reflection on a civilian's patriotic duty:
It's my responsibility... that I value my freedoms enough to fight for them here at home while she fights for them overseas. [My emphasis].
Ain't that the truth.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lieberman On Obama

The Wall Street Journal has published an editorial by independent Democrat (and one still worthy of the name) Joseph Lieberman, adapted from a speech he presented May 18 to Commentary magazine. In it he addresses the (historically aberrant) McGovernite trend in Democratic foreign policy and its unfortunate resurgence in the post-9/11 Democratic party and particularly in the person of Barack Obama. He deconstructs Obama's fallacious historical justifications for the gaffe-become-doctrine of unconditional meetings with foreign tyrants. It's good stuff.

Not-So-Big Oil

Following up my previous comments on the subject, and Melody's question about when people are going to start really getting upset about the price of oil, PowerLine today had a pair of items that really point the finger at those ultimately responsible for the price Americans pay for oil: state oil companies in foreign countries who control 94% of the world's proven reserves, and those politicians in America who have blocked even exploration of domestic oil and near-oil resources, lest Americans come to know exactly how badly they're being screwed. America's oil companies are tiny compared to the foreign state-owned monopolies from whom they are forced to purchase crude. ExxonMobil, America's oil "giant", controls one measly percent of global oil reserves, making it the world's 14-largest by that measure. Only 7% of the worlds total reserves is up for unrestricted bidding by private companies, while almost 75% is completely off-limits, controlled by state oil companies. So who's the big bad wolf?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Orwellian Influence at the BBC

Don't get me wrong. I'm no Holocaust Denier. I am, however, just old-fashioned enough to think that skepticism is the root of science rather than a threat to it, and according to some that puts me in the same camp. I don't even deny the central premise, that global temperatures have risen and that human activity has some connection to that. What needs further study is 1) the strength of that connection and 2) real analysis of the costs and benefits of a warmer world. And I'm with Bjørn Lomborg; we need to think rationally about whether our money and efforts are better used trying to forestall a global phenomenon or simply adapting to it. Meanwhile the tactics of those who ominously insist "the time for debate is over" just get spookier. Jennifer Marohasy's Politics and Environment blog posts an e-mail exchange between a BBC Environment reporter Roger Harrabin and "climate-change" activist Jo Abbess. (HT: Pajamas Media). It seems the reporter's original story on decreasing global temperature, while factually correct according to the World Meteorological Organization, would supply dangerous material to "skeptics" and thus should be edited to fit the activist-established reality. Or, as Abbess puts it, "emerging truth". When Abbess writes demanding he change his reporting, Harrabin initially takes a very reasonable line:
If the [secretary-general] of the WMO tells me that global temperatures will decrease, that's what we will report.
Abbess, however, persists in chilling terms:
Personally, I think it is highly irresponsible to play into the hands of the sceptics/skeptics [for someone otherwise so sure of herself, what's with the indecision?] who continually promote the idea that "global warming finished in 1998", when that is so patently not true.

It is hard to tell exactly what will happen based on historical science. However, the broad sweep is : added GHG means added warming. Please do not do a disservice to your readership by leaving the door open to doubt about that.
The next correspondence only gets more Orwellian:

Your word "debate". This is not an issue of "debate". This is an issue of emerging truth. I don't think you should worry about whether people feel they are countering some kind of conspiracy, or suspicious that the full extent of the truth is being withheld from them. Every day more information is added to the stack showing the desperate plight of the planet.

It would be better if you did not quote the sceptics. Their voice is heard everywhere, on every channel. They are deliberately obstructing the emergence of the truth.

And it wouldn't be a clear-cut case of intellectually thuggery without a credible threat:

Otherwise, I would have to conclude that you are insufficiently educated to be able to know when you have been psychologically manipulated. And that would make you an unreliable reporter.

I am about to send your comments to others for their contribution, unless you request I do not. They are likely to want to post your comments on forums/fora, so please indicate if you do not want this to happen. You may appear in an unfavourable light because it could be said that you have had your head turned by the sceptics.

In other news, I'm currently reading a book that traces the historical relationship between real, historical fascism (as opposed to the more-common definition" "an idea so bad I don't have to engage it intellectually") and progressive politics. Go figure.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Peter, a fellow Ole working in youth ministry in Petrozavodsk, Russia, has a great post on the Russian celebration of Victory Day, roughly equivalent to our Memorial Day. His piece led me to reflect on what led me on the path to becoming a Soldier, a path very far removed from everything I had expected or imagined for myself. I suppose now's as good a moment as any to share the story.

There are all sorts of reasons I enlisted, of course. Such a major life choice doesn't spring from a single motivating factor. When the standard script of military smalltalk gets to "so what brought you into the Army?", I usually mention how the linguistic training I could get in the Army more specifically matched my aspirations than anything available in graduate school. But of course, having almost zero contact with the military sphere, I wouldn't have even learned about what training was available if I hadn't been looking into it. So why, during my senior year of college, with a defiantly impractical Classics degree within my reach, was I considering military service? The moment that first opened the door for me to consider military service was, in fact, lost to me for some time. I had completely forgotten about it. I spent my first year in the Army not exactly remembering what had led me to consider enlistment in the first place.

Then, sometime last year, I remembered. It was the fall of my senior year, while I was circumnavigating this beautiful and tragic world of ours, that I found myself at the battlefield of Al-Alamein on Egypt's Mediterranean coast. I'd been to war memorials before, and never really managed to internalize much of what I saw. This time, it was different. The North African campaign wasn't even a particularly brutal sideshow of WWII. It's celebrated as much as it is precisely because it featured the (comparatively) easy morality of soldiers fighting soldiers in a desert landscape devoid of "collateral damage". That said, when we visited the German mausoleum and the Commonwealth cemeteries, I was overwhelmed. The German monument includes a dedication to the truly unknown soldiers, those whose remains left no clue to their nationality. It is a tribute to the universality of patriotism, and of sacrifice. But it was in the Commonwealth cemetery, with its rows upon rows of simple headstones, where I was convicted. Each stone there bears a name, a rank, a date, and a relationship. I was saddened -- though not shocked -- to see the numerous stones marked "brother" and "son", over men who died at 18, 19, 20. What took my breath away, left me weeping quietly in the desert, were the stones marked "father". Too many young men with young families of their own lay dead on that desert plain. Too many young women, young mothers, received that terrible news. Too many children grew up with a medal and a photograph on the mantle in the place of a father. Yet England knew well that the price her young men paid -- not to mention their widows and children -- was the fair price of freedom in this dark world. It was on that desert plain, wandering between the gravestones, that I was convicted by the sacrifice of all those young fathers. They had so much more to lose than I, so many more depending on them, and they gave it all. Somewhere deep inside I asked myself if I could risk the same.

I left Alamein and promptly forgot all about duty and honor and sacrifice, for a time. I was still in college, after all. The example of the soldiers buried there had opened a door, however, one that never entirely closed again. And here I am.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Something New Every Day

Today, while reading an entertaining piece by St. Olaf professor Gordon Marino on the author David Mamet's fondness for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I was surprised to find the word transmogrify slipped into a piece of otherwise stolid prose. I, of course, immediately connected this word to Calvin and Hobbes and pegged it for a sly tribute. Not so, according the the Online Etymological Dictionary, for transmogrify dates back to 1656. Go figure.

Reflections on Vengeance

For all those who extol the virtues of traditional, peaceful, aboriginal cultures, unsullied by the violence and greed of technological civilization, Jared Diamond has some reflections on vengeance in the Papuan highlands.

It's been said that the root of conservatism is the heartfelt belief that civilization is both precious and fragile. The Burkean war of all against all is not, after all, so very far removed from our daily lives. It lurks just below the surface, in each dark animal impulse we resist out of respect for morality and law. But those ideals make for a dangerously thin wall, and there are those who continue to dig at its foundations.

Further Reading: Theodore Dalrymple has said much more, and much better, on this topic.

Guess They're All Just Hajji to Him

I'm used to gently correcting fellow soldiers on this point, but it seems even Barack Obama hasn't gotten the news that Iraq and Afghanistan are very different places. Via ABC News (HT: PowerLine and Hot Air), Obama said in a recent speech in Missouri:

Obama posited — incorrectly — that Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan — forgetting, momentarily, that Afghans don’t speak Arabic.

“We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan.”
His campaign put out a nice response to ABC, of the usual "if you consider that I was actually referring to this and not that, you'll see I was right all along" line. Sorry, not buying it. I'm willing to grant that he probably did know -- if he stopped to think about it -- that they don't speak Arabic in Afghanistan, but simply misspoke. That doesn't absolve the issue for me, as mentally conflating two very. different. places. shows a significant lack of depth of understanding either one.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Want One

Microsoft's former chief of technology has commissioned the construction (for a cool million dollars) of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2, what would have been, had it been built in its time, the world's first computer, capable of computing polynomial calculations of over 30 digits. In analog. 8,000 moving parts, which when cranked by hand spool out calculations on paper tape. It's a work of art, it really is, and if any of my readers make it out to Silicon Valley in the next year it's on display, I think it'd be worth seeing.


In follow-up to my piece on Hillary's gripe with OPEC and in reference to Necessary Roughness, I was going to throw in my own two cents on the subject of peak oil. But after reading numerous websites declaring that civilization will collapse as a result of, well, commodity speculation, I just lost interest. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've long held that while I don't expect to see civilization collapse in my lifetime, I wouldn't be all that surprised. So I'm sympathetic to the homesteader's mindset of living self-sufficiently, just in case. But there's a big difference in mindset between living a simple country lifestyle and filling your basement with astronaut food. And of all the things I can imagine bringing down civilization, a shock in the petroleum market isn't one of them. So there, Peak Oilers, I think you're wrong, but I just don't care enough to bother explaining why in any detail. More vacuum-packed survival rations for you, I guess.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bad News from the Sudan

Granted, that's one of the world's more unnecessary headlines. But, no matter how evil and oppressive the Khartoum regime in the Sudan is, rebels on the outskirts of the capital is not good news. As bad as the current government is, I don't want to see Sudan go the way of the Congo.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Windfall Profits Tax

In reference to my previous post on Hillary's gripe with OPEC, I've also got a few excerpts from Jonah Goldberg over at National Review Online, on the proposal to tax the "windfall profits" of oil companies:
Imagine this. You've built the better mousetrap... You take your invention and, with your last few pennies, manage to bring it to market. It’s a smash hit. It starts flying off shelves. You earn back the investment in raw materials and maybe something close to compensation for your time. Now you’re ready for the big payoff. There’s just one thing left to do: make an appointment with the regional Reasonable Profits Board to find out how much of your windfall is reasonable for you to keep... members of the Reasonable Profits Board will determine how much of your already-taxed profits cross the “rational threshold.”

“Windfall,” of course, is just another word for “undeserved,” which is why windfall profits are defined as the profits earned by someone other than you.

If you tell oil companies that they won’t be able to keep their profits past a certain point, you know what they’ll do? They’ll make money right up until that point and then they’ll stop. Unlike the guy building the better mousetrap, oil companies aren’t in it for the glory, they’re in it for the money.

Meanwhile, less investment in exploration and efficiency will cause pump prices to rise (less supply = higher prices) and, as in the 1980s, cause us to rely on more foreign oil. But, by all means, let’s do it, because Big Oil is bad and someone — or everyone — has to pay for it.

Hillary vs. OPEC

So Hillary Clinton has decided to direct America's oil-price frustrations at OPEC. It's a reasonable political move, I suppose, since the cartel does perform a great deal of supply-side manipulation of the oil market. It's also a natural progression when you've burnt out on blaming oil companies and their "obscene profits" (which are only obscene in gross; as a percentage of oil companies' massive revenues, they are in fact quite small). I just wonder, what exactly does she intend to do about it? Scold them? Get us into a devastating trade war? She proposes to bring them to court under US anti-trust law, as well as filing a WTO complaint. So yeah, somewhere between options A and B. And, when you get right down to it, I don't blame OPEC. It's their oil, and they can do what they please with it, as far as I'm concerned. When we've pumped our last drop of American oil, and our children are huddled in the cold because we can't afford to heat our homes and OPEC is still refusing to increase production, well, then we'll start to have a moral case against them. Until then, while we still sit on millions of barrels of oil we'd prefer not to pump for aesthetic reasons, the grandstanding rings a bit hollow. They won the geologic lottery, and good for them. They're not even a particularly effective cartel, anyway, as members are constantly producing above OPEC limits, and they only control one portion of a globally-traded commodity.

All in all, I'm getting tired of all the hand-wringing about energy prices. The high price of oil is reflecting how much we need it, and how many other people (read: China, India) want it. Got it. The fact that it is likely to stay this high means that huge amounts of money are now being invested freely in all sorts of alternative energy technologies. Coal-to-oil conversion is competitive with petroleum at around $35 a barrel; last I checked, we're looking at nearly four times that price today. Meanwhile, as the shock of $125 oil filters through the energy industry, all sorts of energy sources will become profitable. Lets all just have a little bit of faith in American ingenuity, and everything's going to be okay.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Paleofuturist Education

Paleo-Future has a great piece for all my home/un-schooling readers, quoting the San Antonio Light of July 8, 1937:
A Columbia university educator, addressing students at the University of California at Los Angeles, predicted that "by the year 2000, we won't send children to school until they are 10 years old." He said that "while they are young, we will keep them busy building healthy bodies in the fresh air". Evidently, he doesn't know the mammas. They want to get their children into school as early as possible. One of the reasons for the development of the kindergarten is to hasten the time when even devoted mothers can get a little freedom from the demands of their children. But the year 2000 is a long way in the future.
The "mammas" have prevailed in public education, even beyond the year 2000, with government daycare school starting earlier and earlier with 4-year-old kindergarten and Head Start and the like. Telling how well the writer predicted that, actually. Wish the piece gave the name of the Columbia educator, because the whole "building healthy bodies in the fresh air" sounds like a great educational philosophy to me.

Rocket Scientists Lean Republican

Michael G. Franc has a great piece on National Review Online using analysis of primary-season campaign contributions data to shatter the still widely-held notion that the GOP is the party of big business while the Democrats represent working-class America:
Through May 1, the Democratic presidential field has suctioned up a cool $5.7 million from the more than 4,000 donors who list their occupation as “CEO.” The Republicans’ take was only $2.3 million. Chief financial officers, general counsels, directors, and chief information officers also break the Democrats’ way by more than two-to-one margins. The Democrats’ advantage among “presidents” is a less dramatic but still significant $7.2 million to $6.1 million. And this isn’t new: In 2004 all but one of these categories of top corporate officers broke just as dramatically for the Democrats.

Not surprisingly, universities offer Democrats a hotbed of support. Professors favor Democrats over Republicans by a nine-to-one margin ($3.7 million to $430,000). The “objective” media — reporters, journalists, publishers and editors — also breaks heavily for the Democrats. But no listed occupation gives the Democrats a greater edge than the unemployed. These presumably idle folks have dropped over $14.6 million into the laps of the Democrats. Their idle Republican neighbors, in contrast, have unburdened themselves of a mere $9,775. Go figure.

Republican presidential aspirants hold a nearly three-to-one edge among janitors, custodians, cleaners, sanitation workers, factory workers, truckers, bus drivers, barbers, security guards, and secretaries. While Democrats command the financial loyalty of architects, Republicans successfully woo contributions from the skilled craftsmen who turn their blueprints into reality — specifically, contractors, hardhats, plumbers, stonemasons, electricians, carpenters mechanics, and roofers. This trend extends to the saloons, where the Democrats carry the bartenders and the Republicans the waitresses.
So the Democrats have become the party of liberal guilt and the unemployed? It's worth noting this is not polling data or election results, both of which quite frankly reflect large numbers of the uninformed and easily-influenced. Rather, this analysis is based on the self-selected sample of the those politically-engaged enough to be donating to campaigns early in the primaries, and the trends are surprising. Also, Republicans win among rocket scientists. If you can think of a more trustworthy political advocate than rocket scientists... well, it doesn't matter, because you can't.

My Grandfather's Church

I've refrained from commenting until now on this topic, when so many better-informed commenters are writing on it, but I couldn't keep from adding my own thoughts. Those of my readers who aren't confessional Lutherans are probably (blissfully) unaware of the current sturm und drang within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the church I was raised in and have embraced as an adult. The current round of controversy was set off by the summary cancellation by the Synod -- during Holy Week -- of a popular and theologically-conservative radio show which had at times been critical of the sort of "seeker-sensitive", "purpose-driven", and quite frankly Oprah-fied programs and congregations that are so beloved of the Synod's aggressively modernizing current leadership. The Synodical leadership's responses to the grassroots outcry have only solidified the impression among many that there is a concerted effort among the top leadership to change the face of the LC-MS forever. Indeed, the current president is quite fond of saying, "this is not your grandfather's church."

Why are you so intent on taking my grandfather's church from me, President Kieschnick? I like my grandfather's church, for a host of reasons, but one of which is that it is my grandfather's church. If I didn't like it, after all, there are a great many churches out there that aren't my grandfather's church; namely, every other church in the country. Where will I go, when my grandfather's church has been "improved" into something he wouldn't even recognize?

Friday, May 2, 2008


While I was typing just now, a tiny spider just rappelled from the ceiling down to my keyboard, crawled under the keys and disappeared into the depths of my laptop. I hope he finds it inhospitable and leaves before he manages to short-circuit anything.


In response to this Wondermark comic, the Elephant's Child commented:
I'm actually surprised nobody (in which I mean Al Gore et al) has mentioned the astonishingly low carbon footprint of the underdeveloped world.
Oh, they do mention it, indirectly, when they celebrate the "simple, traditional cultures, living in harmony with nature" that are threatened by globalization, westernization, and every other -ization. They have to romanticize Third-world squalor, because eventually people will realize their pet policies will require them to trap about a billion people in that squalor. It's sickening. On the flip-side, I've seen some heartening Third-world backlash against Western environmentalist nannying. Schadenfreude's probably a sin, but I can't help getting a thrill of pleasure when I think of what an environmental activist feels seeing increasingly confident Third-worlders reject their ideas as "eco-imperialism".

Quiet Revolution

In browsing Lutheran Lucciola's links on simpler living, I came across the Quietrevolution vertical-axis wind turbine. VAWTs have been around for a while, but the Quietrevolution helical design solves several nagging design issues with the concept, while making a great aesthetic improvement over previous VAWT concepts, in my opinion. This turbine is nearly a piece of sculpture, don't you agree? I've seen some designs for home-built VAWTs, but none quite as elegant as this.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Working with the Locals

The other day I got a break from my usual job for a few hours by doing "escort" duty while some local nationals (i.e. Iraqis) did some construction work on our building. It's entertaining working with the LNs. The smalltalk always takes the form of an interview following the same pattern:
  • "How many kids do you have?"
  • None
  • [intrigue] "You're married, though?"
  • No, not yet.
  • [surprise] "How old are you?"
  • Twenty-four.
  • [shocked indignation] "Twenty-four and no wife, no kids?" [astonished Arabic muttering]. "But you have a girlfriend, right?"
  • ...[sigh]
I guess it goes to show you the value these people place on family. That doesn't even express it right, because it's not just that they value family ties more than modern Westerners generally, but that they truly value themselves less as individuals. A person's whole identity is defined by their family, and a man's worth in particular by the number and stature of his children. European family names began as patronymics (witness the proliferation of Andersons, Christiansens, Nelsons, Olsons, and Thorvaldsons with whom I attended college), but Iraqis proudly go through their adult lives being addressed by reference to their children: Abu (father of) Haydar, Abu Miriam, Umm (mother of) Marwan, Umm Zaynab etc. etc. etc. Apparently there's even an unfortunate nickname for an unrepentant bachelor: Abu Gha'ib, father of the absent. And I thought my family's hinting was bad.

But I digress. Apart from being heckled for my childlessness and bachelorhood, hanging out with the LNs is always rewarding. I experienced the legendary Iraqi hospitality when -- despite being right across from the chow hall -- the four workers insisted on sharing their meager lunch with me: a tiffin of boiled chicken, heated up with a cutting torch; another of lumpy sour something's milk; and of course, the flat local bread. Not particularly good, but not bad, and worth it for the cultural sensitivity points.