Friday, October 31, 2008

Weapons in Space? They're Already There

Barack Obama has promised (among a few other things) that he will not weaponize space. The problem with this promise is one of definitions. Right now, when people worry about military activity in space, they seem to be concerned mostly with area-denial tactics, i.e. we will disable your critical satellite networks. As STRATCOM commander General Kevin Chilton points out, however, by that standard the US space shuttle fleet qualifies as a space weapon. For that matter, remember the stumbling satellite the US Navy blew up a while back in order to prevent it from potentially crashing in a populated area? Things falling from space have a lot of energy. Every point on Earth's surface is located at the business end of a very powerful gun, courtesy of gravity. From that high up, all you've got to do is throw rocks, which Earth learned the hard way in Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Few people other than sci-fi writers seem to acknowledge, however, how incredibly strategic space is, so a president Obama would probably be able to keep his promise. The thing is, how many other countries will respect the same ideal? The Chinese, among others, have known for a little while the importance of holding the high ground.

Why Drones Still Don't Trump Terrorism

The widespread use of drones has dramatically changed the game in Iraq and Afghanistan, greatly reducing the force-protection burden of surgical strikes against high-value terrorists. Unfortunately, terrorists are still terrorists, and their fundamental advantage — their lack of concern for human life — still holds true, as William Saletan points out in Slate.
In other words, the terrorists may have found a trump card over the drones. The terrorists can't kill the pilots who operate the drones from the United States. But the terrorists can kill local civilians, thereby generating political pressure on the local government to pressure the United States to call off the drones. And because the drones are operated by humans who answer to other humans who are susceptible to pressure over the loss of life, the terrorists win.
The only way to end the moral sway the terrorists hold over us, Saletan notes, is to move from drones to fully autonomous robots. A lot of people seem to think this sort of thing is a joke, but it's not. Within a decade at the very latest, the Department of Defense will be facing pressure to allow autonomous military robots — which have already been demonstrated to be significantly better than human soldiers at differentiating civilians from enemy combatants — to pull the trigger themselves.

A Clarification

Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic takes Joe Klein to task for a particular semantic shell-game that is an old pet peeve of mine: the argument that Arabs cannot be anti-Semitic, because they are themselves Semites. Then again, this is probably the first time I've heard this argument made by anyone who wasn't a rabid Jew-hater. It does tell you something about the strange epistemology involved, that many will sincerely argue that this semantic distinction proving they are not Anti-Semitic justifies their aspiration to push all the Jews into the sea:
As I said, the only people who insult Jews by denying the meaning of the term are, in my experience, anti-Semitic. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, told me in an interview once that his organization could not be anti-Semitic, because Arabs were the true Semites, while Jews were simply European impostors. This interview occurred at a time when Yassin's suicide bombers were systematically seeking out large groups of Jews in order to murder them for the crime of being Jewish. By Joe's dangerous new standard, the World War II-era Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was a Nazi fellow traveler and a frank advocate of total Jewish extermination, could not be called an anti-Semite because he was Arab. So, really, who's being fatuous?
At the same time, Klein does have a point, which Goldberg supports, that a given person's support for the cause of Palestine is not proof of anti-Semitism. Even calling for the destruction of the state of Israel does not per se have anything to do with one's feelings about Jewry in general. It's just that, in the real world, there are certain correlations.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If The Whole World Could Vote...

...Barack Obama would win by a landslide. So I suppose I'm glad that, for now anyway, American policy is still generally decided by Americans. What fascinates me about this map, however, are the handful of exceptions to Obama's global landslide: McCain is carrying Iraq with 61%, which I think pretty much blows away the typical constructed narrative about what the Iraqi street wants with regard to American policy there (here are some man-on-the-street blurbs in the same vein). Beyond Iraq the situation gets even more interesting, I think. We've got Burma, the Sudan, Big Congo, and Algeria all leaning McCain, though all of their neighbors are overwhelmingly behind Obama. If you're thinking this is where I come out with some brilliant insight into why this would be the case, well, I appreciate the confidence. I don't really have one, other than that, to me, the endorsement of some of the most oppressed peoples in the world carries a whole lot of weight.

Also, it's intriguing to me, in light of the racial undercurrent of this election, that two of the countries leaning McCain are in blackest Africa*. Again, don't have any great insight, just intrigued.

*No really, al-Sudan is Arabic for "the Blackness". The Arabic language hasn't yet been purged for political correctness.

Why I Love Wikipedia

As a young child, a favorite pastime was paging through our family's sets of encyclopedias, reading about whatever article caught my interest. I am confident this early exposure to the broadest possible spectrum of random knowledge is what made me such a voracious addict of, well, random knowledge. So naturally I love Wikipedia, because it's so easy to stumble across something you've never heard of. Ten minutes ago, I never knew there existed such a vegetable as the mangelwurzel. Say it with me, "mangelwurzel". Isn't it glorious?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joy on YouTube

It's been a frustrating day week month, and I'll admit I've been guilty of consciously stewing in my frustration. But the ultimate cure for serious frustration is to be reminded not of how much worse things could be (why do people always have to say that?!!), but of the immutability of God's loving-kindness and of the exultant joy He offers us. And on the subject of joy, this song brought the first smile to my face today, and it lasted for four minutes. Then I watched the video, and, well, if you can watch this without smiling, then, ah... you're a robot.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Welcome to the Iraq

  • an Iraqi coming toward me with a drawn knife -- is looking to borrow my ceramic sharpener.
  • one of my hootchmates chows down on kimchi and peppers drenched in hot sauce and then complains that the bottled water here gives him gas.
  • an obscene period of time elapses between the *last* rockets smacking in and the “Take Cover” warble, but mere seconds elapse between a distant clap of thunder and the “Alarm Red” announcement.
  • the same lizard that scrambles out of my way on the floor of the sim building won’t even hesitate to scoot up my pants leg the second I sit down at the console.
  • right after I spent half an hour outside along the T-walls looking for a camel spider to show the new guy, I found one in the office -- under his desk.
  • right after I spent twenty minutes explaining the importance of doing a polarity check on the 220-volt outlets in the office, the new guy fried his laptop because he stuck the adapter into the wall socket without checking the polarity.
  • when something cat-sized runs between your legs after dark, it’s a fox -- if it’s fox-sized, it’s a cat.
  • there’s a better chance I’ll be electrocuted in the shower than killed by an incoming rocket, mortar, or RPG.
  • a twenty-two-year old Iraqi asked me why we’re hunting IED-planters over here when Bill Ayers is still walking loose in Chicago.

Another Story That Won't Break Until It's Too Late

I can't let this go. I know I have to have some readers for whom this blog is their only intersection with the right-wing blogosphere, so there's a chance they haven't heard anything about the Obama campaign website donation situation. I mean, if they follow any of the mainstream media, I'm sure they've heard plenty about how Obama reneged on his promise to take public financing and is reaping a windfall of unverifiable small online donations has raised record amounts from individual small donors. What they almost certainly have not heard is that the Obama campaign's website team must have conscientiously overridden the default security settings that come with every credit-card processing system, allowing donations from foreign countries (illegal), donations from names which don't match the name on the card (potentially illegal), and donations with no verifiable address (facilitating the above). A blog at the New York Times website actually picked up this story, mirabile dictu, adding:
To be fair to the Obama campaign, officials there have said much of their checking for fraud occurs after the transactions have already occurred. When they find something wrong, they then refund the amount.
Okay, good for them, except why on earth would they want to make the effort to investigate fraudulent or illegal donations when they could prevent them in the first place by using the default settings of their credit card processor? Not to mention that most credit card processors charge higher fees to clients who choose to disable these features. We're to believe Obama's campaign is perfectly on the up-and-up in choosing to pay more to allow for less secure donation, which they then have to spend more to investigate after the fact? Nothing smells fishy about that, no sir.

I Want One: Fluorescent Cat

It's difficult to test if a particular genetic change has achieved its intended result if you're not sure whether the gene is even expressing in the first place, so genetic medicine researchers need a clearly verifiable way to determine when introduced genetic material is actually expressing properly. They seem to have found it in a jellyfish gene that codes for the production of a fluorescent protein, which has been successfully introduced into a perfectly healthy (and seriously spooky-awesome) cat named Mr. Green Genes.

If they can make a cat glow in the dark, how long until they can engineer one to be hypo-allergenic?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Robot Awakening Watch: Pentagon Seeks Pack-Hunting Robot Contract

This via WIRED's Danger Room, the Pentagon has put out a call for bids to develop "a multi-robot team, together with a human operator, to search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject". And to think, just last night we were discussing a capacitor bullet for anti-robot warfare. Gotta get on that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Big Facebook Family

In just the last few days, several... more senior members of my family have taken the plunge and joined Facebook. It made me realize that I've also noticed that a lot of my friends' parents have gotten on in the last few weeks. It was like, all of the sudden, Facebook's not just for twenty-somethings anymore, but I figured it was just sort of a coincidental thing that just seemed sudden to me. Apparently not, as Mike Elgan writes today:
Facebook, which has emerged as the most important social networking site, was originally designed for college students. But people kept using the service after graduation, and it evolved into a social network for young people in general. About six months ago, the walls came down altogether, and people of ages ranging from 12 to 90 started flooding in. There goes the neighborhood.
This change is highlights something strange going on in this Web 2.0 world: Facebook is destroying the nuclear family. And this isn't a bad thing, because the nuclear family is being replaced by the truly traditional family, what we now call the "extended" family:
Nuclear family members are posting pictures, talking about school activities and telling what's going on in their everyday lives, and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and others are tuning in -- and getting increasingly familiar with the rest of the extended family over vast distances. People are sending comments, and chiming in on family conversations. Facebook is bringing extended families together in real and meaningful ways.
Who'd have thought the Internet would be helping people to reestablish, after a fashion, a family structure that broke down half a century ago?

I Want One: Titanium Goggles

And when I say I want them, what I really want is the skill, creativity, resources, and free time to be able to create such a piece of workmanship as these:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maybe You Shouldn't Introduce Yourself as "Zombie"

I wrote about guerrilla photojournalist Zombie's musings about the unreliability of poll data here. Yesterday, he decided to see for himself by volunteering at an Obama campaign phone bank. His reflections are interesting:
I feel, as I surmised in my essay, that the any polling samples generated this way are potentially way off, and exclude most voters who simply refuse to be polled. The real question is: How do those people intend to vote? Because the “unpollable registered voters” demographic is likely to be the largest demographic of all. And we have no idea how they intend to vote, nor why they refuse to be polled, and if there is some correlation between refusing to talk to an Obama campaign volunteer and refusing to vote for Obama. Could the same principle hold true for calls made by professional polling organizations?
I suspect it probably does, and that the majority of the discrepancy between polls and election-day reality comes down to the fact that Zombie notes here, that the unpollable are probably the most important demographic in the world of opinion polling, which nobody really seems to acknowledge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No, Really, Please Actually Don't Vote

I don't know how many times I've seen this ad linked by friends on Facebook and what have you. Don't worry, the first 18 seconds or so give you the flavor of it, so you don't actually have to watch nearly five minutes of self-important celebrities.

Typical get-out-the-vote stuff, the type we see every election cycle trying to convince ignorant, apathetic media consumers that their voice is desperately needed in our nation's governance. You know what I say? If it took a bunch of celebrities to convince you that you had something at stake in this election, I DON'T WANT YOUR INPUT. I'm with John Stossel (HT Fear and Trembling):

Our nation is not in desperate need of the opinions of those who otherwise couldn't be bothered to get off the couch. Everyone out there wants to make it easier to vote, and many caterwaul that something as simple as requiring photo ID is an undue burden. God forbid we make participation in government as crushingly difficult as buying booze! I know I'm just feeling crotchety tonight, but if I had my way, we'd all be running through the Eliminator on the way to the voting booth.

Damned If You Do

Randall Munroe paints the bitter truth in XKCD:

"Your Poverty Makes Me Uncomfortable"

Alarming News quotes a disturbing question posed to the "Ethicist" column of the New York Times (registration required). I have to quote this in full:
A woman I hired to do simple gardening comes weekly and, when school is out, brings her kids. While her twin preschoolers play in the shade, her approximately 9-year-old daughter works alongside her. I am uncomfortable watching my 8- and 11-year-old boys kicking a soccer ball as the girl walks past pushing a wheelbarrow. Should I ask the mother to keep her daughter from working? Should I not employ this woman? — JANE E., ALBUQUERQUE

You are rightly dismayed by this situation, but you’ve phrased the question curiously, emphasizing your discomfort rather than a child’s well-being. If you are concerned about the daughter, as you admirably seem to be, you ought not make her life harder, which firing her mother would certainly do. And rather than insist that the mother make the daughter drop that wheelbarrow, you might encourage your sons to invite the daughter to play soccer with them. Her mother will likely be relieved: having a 9-year-old “help out” all but guarantees the task will take longer.
It would be commendable if you could proffer some practical advice. Presumably this woman brings along her children because she has no alternative. Does your town offer inexpensive day-care programs? Are there other social services that might benefit her three kids? A bit of time on the phone or online might lead you to something that helps this family and eases your own mind.
UPDATE: The gardener failed to show up a few times, and Jane “used that as an excuse” to find someone else for the job.
I think this interchange probably provides a pretty strong test case between two very different fundamental orientations on child-rearing, education, and the relation of those things to work. I suspect a great many people will find the so-called ethicist's position reasonable and wise. For others whose orientation is more like my own, it will turn their stomachs. "You are rightly dismayed by the situation."? Really? The assumption that a pair of preschoolers would be better off in government-subsidized daycare rather than playing outdoors under the supervision of their mother and big sister is revolting. The implication that a 9-year-old can be nothing more than a burden to be parked in a kiddie-kennel likewise bothers me. Even assuming the healthiest of day-care options, a private baby-sitter, which better prepares that 9-year-old to be a healthy and productive member of society: watching TV while a bored college student does her homework at the kitchen table, or working alongside her mother to help support her younger siblings?

"Enraged Republican Man Assaults Peaceful Middle-Aged Female Obama Supporter" ...

... would be a major news story. But for some reason, this isn't.

The Death of Federalism

How much does it say about the death of federalism in America that it should seem perfectly normal that we know far more about national races in far-off Washington than about the candidates for positions in our own hometowns. This card from PostSecret says it all:

We don't care about local elections because they just don't matter very much to most of us. Can the anti-federalist ratchet ever be turned back? Is it even possible to devolve power back to the state and local level? It's not very hopeful. Look at No Child Left Behind: everyone agrees it hasn't entirely worked, but nobody's suggested returning its power to the states. You can bet that either a McCain or an Obama administration's "reform" of NCLB would aggregate more power to Washington to regulate education, not less.

The Emperor and the Plumber

Scott Johnson of PowerLine has the best summary of the media's frantic digging on Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher:
Hans Christian Andersen seems to have missed the heart of the story in "The Emperor's New Clothes." Andersen reported that as the emperor strutted before the multitude in his nakedness, the boy cried out: "But he has nothing on!" Andersen somehow omitted to note that the boy was a naughty thumbsucker.

Security Theater

Airport security procedures run by the TSA are a complete joke, and we all know it. It's "security theater", designed to create a perception of security, while being hopelessly indifferent to the real thing. Jeffrey Goldberg proves it (HT Cheryl), traveling around the country intending to raise alarm by carrying tools, weapons, and overtly terrorist literature. All that was ever consficated was a Leatherman and some bottled water. At one stop, during an individual baggage search, Goldberg was found with a full-size Hezbollah flag, purchased from a Hezbollah gift shop in Lebanon.
The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said, “That’s a Hezbollah flag.” She said, “Uh-huh.” Not “Uh-huh, I’ve been trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror groups, but after careful inspection of your physical person, your behavior, and your last name, I’ve come to the conclusion that you are not a Bekaa Valley–trained threat to the United States commercial aviation system,” but “Uh-huh, I’m going on break, why are you talking to me?”
In a post-9/11 age, it's unlikely terrorists will attempt the same trick. Cockpit doors have been reinforced, and since passengers know the script of airplane hijackings has changed, they will resist, just as passengers on United 93 did. In fact, unless they all had first-class tickets (which would hopefully raise someone's suspicions), I suspect a gang of would-be kamikaze-bombers would have a difficult time even making it to the cockpit door, which they would find to be reinforced and locked.

Of course, terrorists could still try simply to blow planes up midair, as they have long done, but the precautions against this need be no more onerous than the security in place long before 9/11. Bombing a plane is showy, but bombing a train or a rock concert is far easier, and potentially more devastating. Terrorists are, after all, concerned like anyone else with the return on their investment. TSA costs us $7 billion a year which could be going to (still under-staffed and under-trained) offensive counterrorism efforts, rather than passively "securing" our airports. It's well time we started to consider the return on our investment.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That Didn't Take Long

Say it with me, friends: I AM Joe the Plumber.

Classic Moments In Soldiering: Your Buddy's Promotion

A friend in Iraq shares the awkwardness of promotion among peers:

"R just got promoted to sergeant. That's awesome, but kinda weird. Now I have to make sure none of the other NCOs are watching before I hit him."

Nukes, Baby, Nukes!

Bruce over at Pagans and Lutherans beat me to the punch, but I definitely wanted to blog this piece from William Tucker on nuclear power. He provides a great background as to the differences between the fuel used for power generation versus that used for nuclear weapons, the safety and efficiency of nuclear power, and the canard of nuclear "waste". Unless you're already a nuclear scientist, chances are you'll learn some things you didn't know before. Here are a few new-to-me facts:
  • Nuclear "waste" reprocessing is already well-understood in other countries, even if Carter banned it here: "All of France’s nuclear waste from 25 years of producing 75 percent of its electricity is stored beneath the floor of one room at Le Hague. The lifetime output for each French citizen would fit in a soda can."
  • 10% of American electricity is produced by nuclear fission of uranium reprocessed from Soviet warheads.
Yucca Mountain, along with the whole "waste" issue, is a red herring thrown out by those who don't want to admit that they'll never actually support building actual nuclear reactors. Nuclear plants don't produce waste; most everything that comes out of a traditional reactor can still be burned in other types of reactors or reprocessed into new fuel, and many of the elements that can't are valuable in radiology and nuclear medicine. The tiny amount of nuclear fission byproduct that we truly don't have any use for needs only be stored for the generation or so it will take until we find one.

What exactly are we waiting for?

In Defense of the Grinch

A friend kindly sent me a link to this article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, regarding a bit of a kerfuffle my alma mater's been involved in. See, four years ago St. Olaf College sold WCAL, an independent classical music station owned by and located on the campus of the college. For a tidy sum, mind you, and to Minnesota Public Radio, which speedily replaced the classical music programming with The Current, an indie/eclectic station. Some students were iffy about the sale at the time, but when we realized the college had gained both several million dollars and a radio station students actually listen to, most considered it a win-win situation. I say "most" very pointedly, however, as several alumni (some of whom were student at the time of the sale) have refused to let the issue die. SaveWCAL, which made lots of noise around the time of the initial sale, is apparently still alive and kicking, and (of course) suing to get the whole thing reversed. Now, there's a stereotype of Olaf alums (and this is probably common at small private schools) that the alumni all want Olaf to stay exactly how it was when they were students. I have to admit, I've felt the twinge myself upon seeing significant changes to the school and the campus. But this is the first case that I know of where alumni have attempted to use the courts to force the college to change things back the way they were.

As to President Anderson being a "Grinch" for refusing to give free (and scarce!) ChristmasFest tickets to ungrateful alumni who've now cost the school hundreds of thousands in legal fees? Good for him! The nerve of some people.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Old Men and the Horse*

What in the world does a performing horse from early 20th-century Germany have to do with the 2008 presidential election? As it turns out: everything.

Opening with an enigmatic statement? Curious as to where this is leading? Read zombie's analysis of the meta-campaign. It's... brilliant? Totally unfounded? I've had too much hibachi steak and rum tonight to be sure. It's fascinating, either way.

*"Old men" being a calque on "Senators" rather than a reference to either candidate's age. It's wayyyyy too obscure to qualify as wit, but I don't care.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jay Nordlinger in Iraq

If I have a blogging hero, that man is Jay Nordlinger, senior editor of National Review, who has been writing his stream-of-consciousness "Impromptus" since before anyone would have thought to label it a "blog". Well, for all of you who might be interested in an extremely well-spoken civilian's view of what is happening in Iraq these days, Jay has spent the last week there and has been kind enough to write about it. His Iraq Notes (in five episodes) are here, here, here, here, and here. Read the whole thing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"I knew I was in a free country and everything would be okay."

The management of Cuba's soccer team must really dread playing in the US, since players tend to run away whenever they get the chance:
[I] realized it was my only opportunity. I ran and ran and then told the taxi driver to 'Drive me far away.' I was so nervous. I didn't know where we were going, but I knew I was in a free country and everything would be okay.
Congratulations today to Reinier Alcantara and Pedro Faife, and welcome to America.

America the Exceptional

The ever-brilliant and forgivably Canadian Mark Steyn makes a rather startling observation today: America's romance with the most left-wing candidate since McGovern (at least) — comes at a time when the rest of the Western world is tilting further to the right than they have in a generation:
If Obama is elected in November, at G7 meetings, for the first time since they began, America will have a more left-wing leader than any other member of the group - Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Britain (and that's before Gordon Brown loses to David Cameron). Right-of-center government throughout the western world — except Washington.
Strange days.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Good fences may make good neighbors, but there's still something that feels good about seeing walls come down.

Economists Weigh In

Much has been made of the overwhelming support for Obama's economic policies among 142 academic economists in this survey conducted by The Economist (full disclosure: I'm a raving Economist fanboi).

So it's interesting to note that 100 economists — among them 5 Nobel laureates — have seen fit to publicly denounce Obama's economic policies in a press release published today by the McCain administration campaign [guess my subconscious is just refusing to concede this one quite yet]. Of course there are the usual suspects: Cato and AEI fellows, Chicago School economists. But there are also plenty from such well-known redoubts of conservatism as Harvard, UCLA, and Obama's own Columbia. I'd say they need to get these guys out on the campaign trail or at least in some hard-hitting ads, but the truth is that in times like these, Americans don't want to listen to technocrats. They just want someone who'll tell them that everything'll be okay.

Fraud and Suppression

In follow-up to my previous post, Jake Tapper has a nice recap on the strange interplay between voter fraud and vote suppression:
There's a case to be made to voters that any news organization, candidate, or political party that acts as if one of these two issues is a problem, but ignores the other, is only concerned about their side winning, as opposed to caring about a clean and orderly and fair election. Most Americans, I would guess, do not see it that way. Americans are a fair-minded people who believe the election should be clean, and every eligible voter should be allowed to cast his or her ballot, without either fraud or suppression.
This is undoubtedly true, but it runs up against a major problem: anyone with an opinion on this topic is likely to be thoroughly convinced that his party has suffered more from the other side's infractions and that allegations of his compatriots' misdeeds are seriously overblown. And any reform will be seen to benefit one side or the other. Attempts to verify voter identity are always met with howls of disenfranchisement, while legislation to ensure voters' rights are seen as political cover for fraud. So far as I can tell the situation is politically intractable, and I think we can all see that we're slouching toward a massive crisis of voter confidence.

Of course, my personal position is not nearly so equitable. As I see it, if you are so marginal a participant in our society that you can't be bothered to have any sort of verifiable identification, well, I can't see how our nation is in desperate need of your input. And since the Supreme Court has decided that requiring ID is not an "undue burden" (including the liberal Justice Stevens), I hope to see Real Voter ID continue to spread. Reducing the possibility of fraud improves confidence and reduces justifications for suppression. In such an instance, community organizers could do socially valuable work helping potential voters get IDs (which would have follow-on benefits well beyond voting) rather than just sitting down with a phone book to fill out thousands of voter registration cards.

Getting Sick Just Thinking About It

A few weeks until Election Day, and Palm Beach Country, Florida has proven itself yet again to be incapable of running an election. Between issues like these (which are certainly not limited to Florida alone) and widespread evidence of organized nation-wide voter fraud, this could prove to be an uglier election than 2000.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Night Out

Tonight (being a pseudo-Friday night, being a four-day weekend for Columbus day), between dinner and the bowling alley, we (being six single guys, important for what is to follow) had to stop at our platoon leader's house so one of our buddies could pick up her key to take care of her cats while she's gone for the weekend. This conversation ensues:

LT: Oh, so you guys are all going out tonight?
Us: Yepp.
LT: Yeah, all the females in the platoon are having a girls' night out. So is this like guys' night out for you?
Us: Uh, Ma'am... this is pretty much every night out for us.

{Awkward silence.}

On Pronunciation: A Prelude

Some day I am going to write a thesis on a certain sort of Americans' strange fixation with over-pronouncing foreign words. Today, someone took offense to Ramesh Ponnuru's Pakistan-pronunciation drinking game from the debate:
The only thing worse than being a moron is celebrating your moron-ness. I can't believe you would actually attack Obama for pronouncing words correctly.
I love the layers of assumptions packed into this statement: that the hifalutin' international media pronunciation is correct; that of course Obama would be the one pronouncing it correctly; and finally that this guy would know better than someone named Ramesh Ponnuru how to pronounce words of South Asian origin. Also: "moron-ness"? Huh?

I can say this with the authority of someone who's spent several years now studying Near Eastern languages: you're not going to get it right, so stop trying. Of course, the stress patterns of Arabic being rather counter-intuitive to a native English speaker, the hifalutin' international media pronunciation is as often as not further from the original language than the way us ign'int yokels say them. Not that they really care, since it's more about differentiating themselves from the ign'int yokels than it is about fidelity to the original language.

In the meantime, I'm going to demand that European newspeople pronounce the name of my country correctly: the word is 'Murreka. Just like Toby Keith says it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Want One: Library of My Dreams

The Ninth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor's house.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

Ya know, sometimes you just need a reminder. Like when you see this:

Of course, I don't want his library. I want its equivalent that I collect myself. So it's not quite coveting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Live-Blogging Debate #2

T+13 minutes: Nothing but meaningless economic populism from both sides.

McCain just made a hit against Obama on his Fannie/Freddie connections. We've been waiting for this one. Of course, this just opens up the old back-and-forth on whether deregulation or CRA is at the roots of this crisis. Bla bla bla I just don't care anymore.

Interestingly, Obama admits that small businesses and corporations need the bailout so that the middle class don't lose their jobs. But of course, subsidizing bread and circuses on the backs of those businesses won't affect those middle-class jobs.

I like Brokaw's questions. Oh sorry, it's a town hall, I'm supposed to pretend they're from "the people".

Yay nuclear power! Wind, tide, solar! Clean coal! Wait, tide? I mean, I know it's got enormous potential. It's had enormous potential for like 40 years now, you know, right up there with fusion.

Why was Obama hesitant to mention Iran as an unfriendly country benefiting from high oil prices? "In some cases, Iran"? Which cases, other than all of them.

Hahahaha, Obama's going to go line-by-line through the federal code and eliminate non-working programs. That sounds great, except, how does he expect to get that through his Congress? Because there are a lot of useless programs have a lot of friends.

What would be the response if McCain had been the one to bring up 9/11? I mean, other than that he's racist.

Did Obama just say that what's good for GM is good for America? Because that's what I heard.

Tom Brokaw's really doing a good job reigning these guys in.

Obama on reforming entitlements: "I'd like to do it in my first term as President". In your first term?

Only a few percent of small businesses would get a tax increase under the Obama plan. Which probably amounts to "only" hundreds of thousands of businesses employing "only" millions of people.

McCain's response on entitlements? Excellent. "We know how to fix Social Security". Well, that's true, but just because the fix is simple doesn't mean it'll be easy.

Ugh, climate change glurge. Probably my biggest complaint with McCain. At least he's got the right answer: nuclear power generation and electric transportation.

Obama: "We can't simply drill our way out of the problem." Senator, to coin a phrase, "Yes we can!"

Did McCain seriously make a dig at Biden's hair plugs? Surreal. And right in the middle of an otherwise very decent apologia of his health care plan, too.

"Government mandates, I'm always a little nervous about." Amen.

Is health care a privelege, a right, or a responsibility? A good sort of question, and the responses are predictable. Of course I'm revealing my radicalism when I admit I actually come down on the privelege side.

McCain: "The fact is, America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world." Sing it, Senator!

Hahahahaha, Obama just called out McCain for "all these wonderful things he's been saying we should do, but hasn't said how we're going to pay for". I am seriously in Wonderland.

Man, Brokaw is on. This, friends, is what a debate moderator looks like.

On humanitarian, non-national-security interventions: we must consider intervening where possible. He implies we couldn't have intervened in Rwanda. Really? Because America's military was so tied up in 1994? (UPDATE: Michael Graham echoes my point here, and Jonah Goldberg takes it one further.)

Wow, good question for McCain. "You have to temper your ambitions with your ability to beneficially affect the situation".

Oooh, "should we respect Pakistani sovereignty"? Very good question. Which Obama is completely dodging. Meaningless aside: Obama pronounces Pakistan like Christiane Amanpour: paaaahkistaahn. And the Taaahlibaahn. Sorry, there is absolutely no chance that any Pakistani pronounces the name of his country that way. Apparently a Corner reader agrees.

Ugh, McCain is half-way in the same camp, saying Talibaaahn. At least he says Pakistan normally.

Obama: "I didn't call for the invasion of Pakistan. I just said we have to go into Pakistan". Amazing. McCain's gotten under Obama's skin; now it's getting interesting.

I don't like this whole "Afghanistan was the right war all along". There are a lot of reasons to believe that Iraq has a far greater chance of becoming a decent country than Afghanistan has ever had. I feel like Obama is setting himself up for failure by investing so much expectation in a place that has never been a coherent state, ever. Were it not for the millions of people who would suffer, the spiteful jerk in me would love to see him preside over a complete collapse of the entire region. Since I try to keep the spiteful jerk under control, I really hope Obama sees something there that I don't.

McCain just explained that a nuclear Iran would lead to the nuclearization of the entire region. Has this point been made clearly in the public sphere? Have I just been missing it? Because I've long been frustrated that nobody has been making this clear. He should have drilled it down even harder: "Let me make this clear: an Iranian bomb will lead undoubtedly to an Emirati bomb and a Saudi bomb, probably an Omani bomb and a Qatari bomb, and possible even an Egyptian bomb. This is why an Iranian bomb is unacceptable." Whether or not the Iranians are crazy enough to give the bomb to terrorists or use it themselves, the Gulf would likely be a far touchier nuclear standoff even than the Line of Control.

NOOO!! CNN's internet feed is crapping out on the last question! Hopefully it's fluff.

Oh sad, I just realized I could have been watching the version with the live audience reaction ticker. That would have been fun in the horserace sense, anyway.

So, the final reaction? I don't even know if I'm going to bother. Maybe I'll just do a reaction to the reaction tomorrow.

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru's drinking-game suggestion would have had me under the table.

The Taliban Splits

There's no way to know what's actually going on here, but Taliban leaders distancing themselves from al-Qaeda can't be a bad thing. I know I'm putting the rose-colored-glasses on again, but if Kabul could manage to work out a deal with these guys, the game in the 'Ghan could be changed very quickly.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's Not As Bad As All That

With Election Day approaching, I've started to take my own "second look". Not so much reconsidering my own candidate, mind you, but just letting myself mull over what an Obama presidency would mean, should he be America's choice this November. And there are some good reasons not to be too worried: firstly and fundamentally, because Barack Obama is a decent and intelligent man. I disagree with him on most of the issues and I find his campaign persona pretty cynical, but that doesn't mean he's got a secret plan to outlaw baseball and apple pie. Secondly, there are long-term reasons that a disastrous liberal presidency might be good for American conservatism. Remember all the reasons we came up with to console ourselves when we were looking at our paltry crop of primary candidates and assuming we'd be looking at a coronation rather than a race? All those still apply. I like McCain-Palin, but it's certainly not my dream ticket, and with the specter of McCain's term spent serving ineffectually opposite an embittered House and filibuster-proof Senate, crystallizing public disdain for the Republican label for a generation, it's worth musing about alternate futures. Finally, Mark Hemingway points out a very good reason why a President Obama, if he wants to accomplish anything, will probably have to hew fairly close to the center-center-left track he's mostly followed in the general campaign: the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate only exist because the DNC has been running comparatively conservative candidates to gain ground in red states. Their majority-at-any-cost has proven pretty difficult to corral, so if Obama doesn't want to join the very short list of presidents so ineffectual they couldn't even get past their own party, he'll stick to fairly moderate policies. The record's pretty clear that Senator Obama is a radical, but he's smart enough not to govern as one.

So, there's the chance a McCain administration could turn out poorly, and the probability that an Obama campaign will do a decent job without turning our country upside down. Of course, it could also be an absolute disaster, and you know I'm not one to turn away from schadenfreude.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I had to submit this one to FAILblog. It's one of my favorite photos from the Iraq.

Heh heh heh.

John McCain and America are Racist

John Hinderaker of PowerLine responds to this AP "story", saying:
I think we've exhausted just about all the possibilities. The only non-racist thing McCain can do, apparently, is concede the election.
It's funny because it's true.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Killer Zombie Drones

Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that I'm a sucker for anything involving zombies. Take that to mean "zombie" attack aircraft, and I'm on it like white on snow. For years the US Air Force has been "resurrecting" mothballed F-4 Phantom carcasses as unmanned drones to use for target practice. Wired Magazine's Danger Room blog reports that recently they've used these zombie drones to test-fire experimental missiles. The article suggests the possibility of using these thrifty zombie drones to complement the pricier Predator and Reaper drones that have been changing the face of modern warfare. It's an interesting thought; armed hunter-killer drones have vastly reduced both the material and force-protection cost of aerial reconnaissance and airstrikes. Flooding the market, as it were, with drones that are barely pricier than the armaments they carry could be a force multiplier beyond anything we've yet seen.

Customer Disservice

I just missed my appointment to take the GRE exam because the information provided to me by Educational Testing Services was insufficient to get me to the testing facility. The address they gave me turns out to have been for the entire university campus, not for a specific building, and nobody answered the phone at the number they gave me. The voice mail recording at that number was kind enough to tell me their testing hours, but not so kind as to tell me their location. Needless to say, I set out to send them a very tersely-worded email, but their complaints department only has a snail-mail address and a fax number. Riiiighht. So I used the only email form I could find, in the hopes they'll forward it along. I'd better be getting my $140 back, or at the very least a reschedule without a fee. I don't generally stay in Fayettenam on weekends, and since they can't give me my weekend back, they'd dern well give me my money back.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Stepping Back from the Fray

In this season of partisan fervor, Stefan McDaniel at First Things reminds us (by reference to Somalia) to be thankful that we live in a "nation where political reprisals take the form of unkind advertisements, and where the pirates illegally download Rocky III." Amen.

VP Debate Reactions

It's been great to read the reactions to last night's vice-presidential candidates' debate. The predictable people have been gushing about Palin's performance; the usual suspects have been panning her. But first, I've got to join in slamming Joe Biden for his audacity of mendacity. The man just makes stuff up. Jonah Goldberg puts it perfectly this morning (my emphasis):
What struck me the most about the debate – and it probably helped having quintessential Obamaphiles in the room – was how Biden’s “gravitas” is derived almost entirely from the fact that he can lie with absolute passion and conviction. [...] It’s amazing how the impulse to see Biden as the more qualified and serious guy stems almost entirely from his ability to be a convincing b.s. artist. I’m not saying Palin was always honest or unrehearsed, but when she offers up a catchphrase or a talking point, you can tell. When Biden spews up a warm fog of deceitful gassbaggery the response seems to be “what a great grasp of the issues he has!”
Canada's Western Standard calls out his outrageous (and repeated) claim that we spend more in three weeks in Iraq than we have in 6 1/2 years in Afghanistan:
According to the Congressional Research Service, spending on the war in Afghanistan since 2001 has been $172 Billion. Spending in Iraq is, as the Democrats repeatedly mention, a little under $10 Billion a month. In other words, Biden's number is off by, oh, something like 2,000%.
There are far more capable researchers than I tearing apart these statements one by one but that's just my favorite, particularly considering all the flak Palin's been taking for exaggerating (by a few percentage points, not orders of magnitude) Alaska's portion of US energy production.

Okay, I'm done slamming Biden because beyond his disregard for the truth, he did a great job. He's a talented debater and quite personable. I think both candidates were pretty much at the top of their respective games. Biden didn't get angry or make any fabrications likely to be obvious to most swing voters. Palin never got caught out looking completely ignorant. Beyond that, there was some pretty lively back-and-forth between them. All in all, I really appreciated the tone, which was warm, even when they were vociferously disagreeing. It is a credit to Senator Biden that he did not show Palin the kingmakers' contempt she's dealt with from the media types. We would be living in a much better world than we do if the campaigns could manage to duplicate the mutual respect shown by the candidates themselves last night.

On to the meat of the issue, which is conservatives' responses to Palin. Because, as I admitted last night, I wasn't sure about McCain's choice. And I'm still not convinced she was the best choice out there; I didn't like Palin's economic populism last night and was disappointed in her inability to really pin Biden on his foreign policy misunderstandings (Gaza ≠ West Bank, NATO in Lebanon = huh?). Biden essentially outlined a policy of "no democracy for people who aren't likely to vote the way we want them to", and my ideal VP candidate should have been able to tear him apart for that. That aside, however, Palin's who we've got, and last night she showed herself to be credible, which was her biggest obstacle.

John J. Miller lands pretty close to my own opinion: "I'm heartened that others are giving her a big thumbs up. I'm certainly not giving her a thumbs down. It might be said that she was good enough. But I want her to do better, for her sake and ours." If last night was just the start, then I think we've got something. If that's all there is, I'm not confident it'll be enough.

Michael Graham outlines how this will affect the campaign:
Sarah Palin wasn't brilliant. She wasn't able to adlib like Sen. Biden could to score additional points. She let quite a bit of Biden nonsense go unchallenged. But six weeks into the race, she went toe-to-toe with a guy who's run for president twice, and she held her own and even pushed him around a few times. For the average voter, content was a wash which means this ended up as a personality contest. Which means she wins. And that means John McCain goes into the next debate on a level playing field.
So, it's looking to be a contest yet again. After the first presidential debate, there was a case to be made that after McCain's decent performance, Americans just aren't buying what he's selling this year. The size (or existence) of any bump in the polls in the next few days will be the proof on this one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live-Blogging the Veep Debate

Okay, so I'll admit, I have mixed feelings about Sarah Palin. I like her a lot, but I'm starting to agree with those conservatives out there who suspect she may not have been the wisest choice. I suppose tonight will be a big part of her chance to prove them wrong. With no further ado:

Biden is blaming the financial crisis on Bush's policies and a lack of oversight. Who sits on the oversight committee? Certainly no Democrats, right? Oh, wait, several? Including high-profile Democrats, who have themselves complained about the lack of oversight, despite being personally responsible for that oversight? Kettle, this is Pot. Kettle, this is Pot. You're black, over.

Palin hit back on that one, but not as strongly she could have.

I like Palin's call for individual financial responsibility. This is a message that ought to be front and center.

I love the way Palin says "Darn Right".

I can't get over the fact that Biden, or anyone, can credibly claim that "deregulation" of banking is at the source of the current problems.

Where Joe Biden comes from, soaking the rich is called "fairness". Glad I'm not from there.

Palin: "Unless you're pleased with the way the federal government has been handling anything recently, I can't imagine you'd be pleased with the way the government will run your health care." Nice.

Since when is education an engine for economic growth? I know this is something we all talk about as if it's fundamental physics, but in every nation I can think of, countries get rich before they build first-world quality education systems.

Biden is pulling out the Big Oil/"obscene profits" bogeyman. Sadly, this one works for people.

Could you hold off on the whole "corruption and greed" there, Gov'nor? There were plenty of honest businesses in trouble, and you're just pandering to the same class-warfare the Democratic ticket is selling.

Palin on Climate Change: a knockout. Excellent.

Palin pulled out Biden's own denouncement of Obama's vote against troop funding. Perfect. Everyone was expecting it, but she pulled it off very subtly.

Despite all the worries, I've been happy with Ifill's questions. Nobody else will be, of course.

See: Which is more dangerous, Pakistan or Iran? Good question. Biden makes a decent argument for Pakistan. And a difficult and dangerous one, I think, since I think Pakistan is the (even) more intractable problem.

Palin's really proud that she can say Ahmedinejad.

Way to name-drop Henry Kissinger, bless him.

"That is beyond bad judgement; that is dangerous." Nice. Followed by a great definition of diplomacy.

Joe Biden is talking about Joe Biden in third person. I love it.

Anyone playing the drinking game where you take a drink for each mention of George Bush just lost.

Palin just demonstrated a solid understanding of the difference between "the Surge" in Iraq in particular and counterinsurgency strategy in general. A better understanding than Biden's, apparently, as he keeps quoting the general who warned that the "surge" strategy won't work in Afghanistan when he doesn't realize this supports Palin's argument that the counterinsurgency lessons of Iraq can be applied there. She corrected him, saying that certainly didn't rule out the effectiveness of a counterinsurgency "clear, hold, build" strategy focused on security and infrastructure development. Biden didn't follow that, apparently, because he says that is exactly what this general said. For some reason I doubt that.

I like how Obama and Biden are willing to talk extremely hawkish on places like Darfur, where there is absolutely no chance of us actually doing anything.

I'm getting a bit tired of Palin's catchphrases. And if I'm getting tired, you know she's going to get skewered for them tomorrow.

Joe Biden: Barack Obama will declare war on the rich. Not in so few words, of course, but there's not many other ways to read it.

So, who won? I'm not really one to say. Palin definitely had more to prove, and I think she did pretty well. With few exceptions, she avoided the sense that she was spouting memorized talking points. She was knowledgeable about the Israel-Palestine situation, as well as about the basics of counterinsurgency strategy. Biden was Biden, but without any of the serious slip-ups that we were all either fearing or hoping for. I'm really curious to see the reactions, now.

The Ambassador and the Senator

The Telegraph has published a leaked internal letter from the British Ambassador to the US, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in which he briefs the PM on the background, temperament, and character of Senator Barack Obama. Sir Nigel's opinion is particularly relevant in that he is precisely the sort of person we have been assured Senator Obama will be able to dazzle. Now, much has already been made of the Ambassador's characterization of Obama as relatively inexperienced and "aloof". But those are some valid criticisms picked from a document that is also full of honest praise. We're all by now so invested in this partisan contest, it feels a bit strange to read such a dispassionate assessment of a candidate, and this is precisely why I think everyone ought to read it, just to cool some heads. Is Sir Nigel a wild-eyed Obamaniac? Certainly not. But neither does he seem to dread the thought of an Obama presidency. A recurring theme is that -- as far as the British government is concerned -- while an Obama presidency is a bit of a wildcard due to his political pragmatism and lack of defining experience, he is without a doubt an intelligent man surrounding himself with very intelligent people. Over all, I think most Obama voters will find that Sir Nigel points out many of the things they like about him, while many McCain voters will find that those are the very same things they dislike. Now I wish they'd leak the matching brief on McCain. I'd be really curious to read it.

Best Headline Yet

The Jawa Report wins the prize for Best Headline of the current financial hullabaloo:

Market Plunges on News of Senate Action to Stave off Market Plunge.