Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Four wolves and a lamb... on what to have for lunch.

That's one description of a pure democracy.

Walter Williams examines how a pure democracy all too easily winds up being tyrrany.

Would you want the kind of car that you own to be decided through a democratic process, or would you prefer purchasing any car you please? Ask that same question about decisions such as where you live, what clothes you purchase, what food you eat, what entertainment you enjoy and what wines you drink. I'm sure that if anyone suggested that these choices be subject to a democratic process, you'd deem it tyranny.

Democracies have other problems as well.

I'm not alone in seeing democracy as a variant of tyranny. James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said that in a pure democracy, "there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual." At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Edmund Randolph said, " ... that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy." John Adams said, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

In addition to the wolves and lamb quote, is a famous one. I don't know who first said it, but it states that democracies self-destruct when the people learn they can vote themselves money from the public fund.

So we don't have a democracy.

Our founders intended for us to have a limited republican form of government where rights precede government and there is rule of law. Citizens, as well as government officials, are accountable to the same laws. Government intervenes in civil society only to protect its citizens against force and fraud, but does not intervene in the cases of peaceable, voluntary exchange. By contrast, in a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. The law is whatever the government deems it to be. Rights may be granted or taken away.

Clearly, we need government, and that means there must be collective decision-making. Alert to the dangers of majority rule, the Constitution's framers inserted several anti-majority rules. To amend the Constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses, or two-thirds of state legislatures, to propose an amendment, and requires three-fourths of state legislatures for ratification. Election of the president is not done by a majority popular vote but by the Electoral College.

Part of the reason for having two houses of Congress is that it places an obstacle to majority rule. Fifty-one senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The Constitution gives the president a veto to thwart the power of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override the president's veto.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A conservative at the BBC

Former Today reporter Robin Aitken tells of a career spent battling the BBC’s pervasive left-wing mindset

As you stand there outside the Tube at White City, BBC people course past you. They swing into work with their interesting bags and clothes, no two alike. In this respect, at least, the BBC does fulfil its royal charter obligation to balance: no style goes unrepresented. But their colourful plumage camouflages a more insidious conformity. For with membership of the tribe comes adherence to a set of well defined political beliefs, distinctly inclined to the left.

These convictions are not made explicit to the outsider; the line for public consumption is that the BBC has no line. But this is moonshine; it takes very strong editorial positions which are consistent and clear. There is no central diktat, for instance, insisting that all employees believe that George Bush is an idiot and that the American religious right threatens world peace. But you would find few BBC people who would dissent from such views.

Why should this be so? First, the majority of BBC employees share similar backgrounds: they are middle-class arts graduates of liberal outlook. Second, the internal political culture within the corporation’s newsrooms is well defined and subtly coercive.

Try making a reasoned argument against abortion, single parenthood or comprehensive education — or in favour of the Iraq war — at the BBC and see how much progress you make.

Of course none of this would matter if it was merely about the discomfiture of a handful of misfit conservatives in the BBC’s ranks. But it is much more serious than that. The fact is that the BBC’s internal political culture profoundly colours its news output. The corporation’s public stance has always been that it is fair, evenhanded and nonpartisan. Sadly the reality is different.

Of course the convictions of individual journalists have a bearing on what is broadcast. How could that not be so? For it to be otherwise BBC journalists would need to display a judiciousness that would be remarkable in the judiciary itself. All journalism is about selection: which story to cover, which to ignore, who to interview and which bits of it to use in the finished piece. At every stage journalistic judgment comes into play.

Monday, February 26, 2007

An IPCC reviewer in Newsweek

Ross McKitrick, one of the 2500 "expert reviewers" who helped vet the science for the IPCC, has a piece in Newsweek: "What the U.N. Won't Tell You".

The IPCC Web site claims an impressive number of participants: 450 lead authors, 800 contributors and 2,500 expert reviewers (of which I was one). But it would be a mistake to assume all these experts endorse everything in summary, including its bottom-line assessment: "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." Many disagree with the conclusion itself or the claimed level of certainty, but the fact is, we were never asked. Most participants worked only on small portions of the report, handed in final materials last summer and never ventured an opinion on claims made in the summary.

Nor can readers check how well the summary reflects the underlying science. The report itself will not be distributed until May. Although it was officially "released" on Feb. 2, the IPCC is going over the wording to make sure it is consistent with the summary. This is a curious and disconcerting aspect of IPCC procedures: it needs a couple of months to revise a detailed report prepared by hundreds of scientists, to ensure it agrees with a brief summary drafted by a few dozen scientists and edited by hundreds of bureaucrats and politicians.

To be sure, the IPCC does an impressive job of mobilizing experts to produce a report it hopes will be of service to the world. No one should trivialize this achievement. But let's not make the error of allowing a glossy summary to trivialize the complexities and uncertainties in climate change. After all, if the issues were so simple, you wouldn't need 3,700 experts to write the report. It is a paradox that some of the strongest claims of unanimity in science are made on a subject involving some of the deepest intellectual disagreements and uncertainties.

Learning from the Europeans

People on the left have long advocated taking pages from the European model. Even the Supreme Court has noted that foreign law, while not binding on the US, can be "instructive".

For example:

Consider the powers granted to Mr. Bruguiere and his colleagues. Warrantless wiretaps? Not a problem under French law, as long as the Interior Ministry approves. Court-issued search warrants based on probable cause? Not needed to conduct a search. Hearsay evidence? Admissible in court. Habeas corpus? Suspects can be held and questioned by authorities for up to 96 hours without judicial supervision or the notification of third parties. Profiling? French officials commonly boast of having a "spy in every mosque." A wall of separation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies? France's domestic and foreign intelligence bureaus work hand-in-glove. Bail? Authorities can detain suspects in "investigative" detentions for up to a year. Mr. Bruguiere once held 138 suspects on terrorism-related charges. The courts eventually cleared 51 of the suspects--some of whom had spent four years in preventive detention--at their 1998 trial.

In the U.S., Mr. Bruguiere's activities would amount to one long and tangled violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. And that's not counting the immense legal superstructures that successive Supreme Courts have built over and around the Bill of Rights. In France, however, Mr. Bruguiere, though not without his critics, is a folk hero, equally at home with governments of the left and right. The main point in his favor is that whatever it is he's doing, it works.


That's something that U.S. civil libertarians, who frequently argue that the Bush administration should follow the "European model" of treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue instead of a military one, might usefully keep in mind. As lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey argue in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest, "the [Napoleonic] Civil Law system offers considerable advantages to the state in combating terrorism--especially in terms of investigative tools and a level of secrecy--that are simply unavailable in the ordinary Common Law criminal prosecution and trial, at least as governed by the United States Constitution."

Mark Twain would have a fit.

Lieberman on "the Surge"

If we stopped the legislative maneuvering and looked to Baghdad, we would see what the new security strategy actually entails and how dramatically it differs from previous efforts. For the first time in the Iraqi capital, the focus of the U.S. military is not just training indigenous forces or chasing down insurgents, but ensuring basic security--meaning an end, at last, to the large-scale sectarian slaughter and ethnic cleansing that has paralyzed Iraq for the past year.

Tamping down this violence is more than a moral imperative. Al Qaeda's stated strategy in Iraq has been to provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war, precisely because they recognize that it is their best chance to radicalize the country's politics, derail any hope of democracy in the Middle East, and drive the U.S. to despair and retreat. It also takes advantage of what has been the single greatest American weakness in Iraq: the absence of sufficient troops to protect ordinary Iraqis from violence and terrorism.

Scooter Libby Trial

The trial continues, in the deliberations phase.

Mary Katharine Ham notes:

One juror has been dismissed for receiving outside information about the trial, but deliberations continue with 11.


I had to comment:

What? No alternate jurors?


From the linked article, I see an alternate juror is available, but the judge elected not to force deliberations to start over from the beginning.


I'll be interested to hear why deliberating with fewer than 12 juroris is not itself grounds for a mistrial.

Iraq war justified?

An oldie but goodie: Professor Ed Feser on dictators with moustaches.

Yet the case for the war in Iraq -- the focus (for the time being, anyway) of anti-Bush hysteria -- was, and remains, extremely straightforward and reasonable: 1. Saddam Hussein was required, as part of the treaty which ended the first Gulf War, to disarm himself of certain weapons, especially WMD, to remain so disarmed, and to agree to regular inspections intended to verify his compliance; 2. He repeatedly violated the terms of this treaty; so 3. The recommencement of hostilities was prima facie justified. (The question of the legitimacy of "pre-emptive" war is thus utterly irrelevant; the action against Iraq was no more "pre-emptive" than is the arrest of a convicted felon for violating the terms of his parole.)

Furthermore, whereas there may sometimes be good reasons for refraining from war even when it is justified, 4. The risk of Iraqi WMD someday being slipped to terrorists for use against the United States was, post-9/11, plausibly seen as significant enough that continued Iraqi non-compliance could no longer be tolerated. (The question of whether the threat was "imminent" is thus also irrelevant; and the threat was, of course, never claimed by the President to be imminent in the first place.) Also counterbalancing any possible reasons for refraining from war were: 5. The fact that modern methods of war make possible to an unprecedented degree the avoidance of civilian deaths (though of course these can never be avoided entirely); 6. The liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal dictatorship would, in the short and long runs, save more lives than would be lost in a military campaign and produce other obvious benefits for the Iraqi people as well; 7. The elimination of the Baathist regime would put the fear of God into the hearts of other dictatorships who might think to produce or use WMD (as it in fact has in the case of Libya -- though this has not stopped some anti-war types from denying the obvious); 8. It would eliminate an important source of funding and/or training for Palestinian and other terrorist groups; and 9. It would allow the United States finally to pull its forces out of Saudi Arabia, their presence being, however justifiable, a source of resentment within the Arab world and a rationalization for terrorism on the part of the likes of Osama bin Laden.

In short, there was by virtue of Hussein's non-compliance alone a defensible justification for war; and the other considerations served to override any reservations one could raise about whether the price for going to war, even if justified, might be too high. Nor does the endless nonsense about Bush having "lied" about WMD carry any conviction. For one thing, we don't yet fully know what in fact Hussein had or thought he had. More to the point, no one, including the intelligence services of governments opposed to the war, doubted before the war that he had WMD; and only a fool would have interpreted his years-long non-compliance with the inspections regime as implying anything other than that he had something to hide. Finally, it takes a Flat Earth Society-level of credulity to believe that not only Bush, but also Blair and dozens if not hundreds of their employees, would have risked political suicide and/or criminal prosecution to cover up their alleged knowledge that Iraq had in reality absolutely no WMD to speak of.

The horror of Abu Ghraib

It wasn't the torture. By Arab standards, what happened at Abu Ghraib didn't come close to being real torture.

Now we are in a better position to understand the Muslim reaction to Abu Ghraib. Most Muslims did not view it as a torture story at all. Muslims were not outraged at the interrogation techniques used by the American military, which are quite mild by Arab standards. Moreover, many Muslims realized that the most of the torture scenes in the photographs—the hooded man with his arms outstretched, the prisoner with wires attached to his limbs—were staged. This was simulated torture, not real torture.

The main focus of Islamic disgust was what Muslims perceived as extreme sexual perversion. For many traditional Muslims, Abu Ghraib demonstrated the casualness with which married Americans have affairs, walk out on their spouses, and produce children without bothering to take responsibility for the care of their offspring. In the Muslim view, this perversion is characteristic of American society.

Moreover, many Muslims viewed the degradation of Abu Ghraib as a metaphor for how little Americans care for other people’s sacred values, and for the kind of humiliation that America seeks to impose on the Muslim world. Some Muslims argued that such degradation was worse than execution because death only strips a man of his life, not of his honor.

In one crucial respect, however, the Muslim critics were wrong. Contrary to their assertions, Abu Ghraib did not reflect the shared values of America, it reflected the sexual immodesty of liberal America. Lynndie England and Charles Graner were two wretched individuals from Red America who were trying to act out the fantasies of Blue America. Casting aside all traditional notions of decency, propriety and morality, they simply lived by the code of self-fulfillment. If it feels good, it must be right. This was bohemianism, West Virginia-style.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Big Oil

This, by Ben Stein

I usually devote this space to columns on how to invest your time and money. But occasionally, I like to write about big economic issues that don't exactly fall within the realm of personal finance.

Please bear that in mind as you read the following thoughts. And remember that I'm a tiny stockholder of two oil companies. Tiny -- if my oil stocks quadrupled tomorrow, I couldn't buy a decent pre-owned Nissan with the proceeds.

I'm also not paid by the oil companies to write this, although I'll happily repeat it if someone gives money to the families of American men and women killed in the defense of this country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An Unbidden Address

I read in the newspapers that the new Democratic Congress is going to hold hearings, call in oil company executives, and yell at them.

I've testified before congressional committees (the hardest part is waiting for a bathroom break), and I used to write a lot of speeches. And I'm totally in love with the oil companies because they power my great cars and cool my house in the desert and get me where I want to be.

So, completely unbidden, here's what I would say if I were the head of a giant oil company called to testify:

"Hello, honorable ladies and gentlemen. I am the chairman of Brigid Oil, a large, publicly held oil and gas producer, refiner, and distributor. I am here to talk a bit about our business.

"Perhaps the easiest way to get into this subject is by noting that a beautiful environmentalist woman, who shall remain nameless, recently compared other oil executives and me to the heads of the tobacco companies back in the days when those folks denied tobacco was addictive or a threat to health."

A Bare Necessity

"Nothing could be a more farfetched comparison, with all due respect to a conscientious woman like my critic. If the world suddenly lost all tobacco products tomorrow, we would have some very irritable people for a few weeks. After that, the world would work much better with less lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease.

"If we lost all oil and gas products tomorrow, however, the world would simply collapse. There would be an immense depression beyond anything we saw in the 1930s -- the economy would go back to a primitive state. There would simply not be a functioning society. It would be as if there had been nuclear war, minus the casualties from blast and radiation.

"In a word, we cannot as a modern society or even a modestly industrial society live without oil and gas. That is, we do not supply a luxury or a narcotic. We supply a basic necessity of life, as basic as almost any commodity there is."

It's All for You

"Not only is oil a vital commodity, but it's supplied with extreme efficiency and without the slightest serious hint of price-fixing. We buy the raw material at a world market price, refine it, and sell it at a market price. This is not the days of the Rockefellers. No one is sitting in a smoke-filled room fixing the price at monopoly levels far above the cost of production.

"When market forces move our way, we make money. When market forces move against us, or when political forces move against us, we lose money or make less money.

"We at Brigid Oil and as an industry go to very considerable trouble and risk to bring oil to this country and to the world. We do our exploration and production in areas that are often dangerous in regards to climate and environment and politics and crime. Real people, real Americans who may be related to you and certainly live in your districts, put their lives on the line to bring you the oil you burn in your cars and your furnaces and your factories.

"We go to considerable economic risk to bring you oil. We need to -- and do -- invest vast amounts to explore for oil underwater and in hostile areas climatically and politically. When it works, we are paid for it, and when it doesn't -- when hostile political forces stymie us -- we lose money."

Free Speech for Everyone

"There is little doubt that burning as much carbon-based product as is burned has some effect on the environment. We do not object to people saying it. But we believe that there are perfectly intelligent, open-minded people who question how much effect this burning has, whether it is all bad, and what the smartest way to deal with the problem is.

"We note that while there is something like a scientific consensus on carbon burning causing global climate change, there was once a lot of opinion that we were heading toward a new ice age -- and this was only within the past 40 years or so. We would like to be allowed to express our views about the whole subject, just as the environmentalist is allowed to express her views.

"If curbs on carbon are to be the law of the land, and if they are discussed and debated and enacted after full thoughtful consideration, of course we will obey them. We are citizens and bound to obey the law. We would just like free speech for us, as there is free speech for our critics."

Join the Oil Business

"Two final points. Years ago, under the Clinton administration, we were given incentives to drill for oil and gas in very deep water in federally owned areas. Today, some say we were erroneously given more incentives than was originally intended. Specifically, such critics say that these incentives should have stopped if oil reached a certain price on world markets.

"We do not know if this was a mistake or not. We do know that it's the law, and we're following it as it was laid down to us. If some are now proposing that we be punished for obeying the law as the government dictated it, that is a Bill of Attainder pure and simple, and barred by the Constitution. We do not feel we have to give back money beyond what the law requires. Few taxpayers pay extra taxes, and we do not feel we have the right to do that with our stockholders' money.

"Finally, the oil business is a big business. For some of us, lately it has been a good business after many lean years. But we are not princes of heredity and blood. Anyone who wants to can go to work at an oil company. We have serious labor shortages and we welcome you.

"More important, anyone who wants can buy stock in us can be an oil company owner. This business is open to anyone. If you think we make obscene profits, buy our stock. You'll soon find that our profits are not only not obscene, but far from certain or predictable."

Saving Humanity One Barrel at a Time

"In conclusion, we sell a vital product within the law, at prices determined in the open market. We insist upon our rights of free speech and due process, and we welcome any of our critics to become our owners. And we ask you to consider what just one day without the stuff we sell would be like before you damn us for all eternity.

"We also ask that you ask yourselves whether it is us or our critics -- the oil companies or the Sierra Club (of which I am a member) -- that gets you where you need to go each day, powers your furnace when it's cold, and cools your apartment when it's hot.

"We all want a future that works, and together we can have it. Or we can just yell at each other and accomplish nothing. Thank you."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A World Without America

More than just extra soldiers

Austin Bay discusses the Surge, and how it's working.

"More troops" isn't the most significant aspect of the military "surge" in Iraq.


The relentless, focused targeting of Shia and Sunni extremist organizations is a far more important feature of what Iraqis are calling "the new security plan" than more U.S. troops.

And you know what? Congressional pot-shots aside, it seems to be working.

Attacks on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army have been the most public examples of "focused targeting." Though Sadr's allies deny it, Iraqi and U.S. government spokesmen still claim that Sadr has left Iraq for Iran. Sadr bolted because the new offensive is indeed striking his militia.


Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the new security plan is the increased aggressiveness of the Iraqi Army as it conducts counterinsurgent operations. The Iraqi military defeat of the cultist "Soldiers of Heaven" planned attack on Najaf in late January provides a dramatic example. With coalition backup, Iraqi forces launched a spoiling attack and killed or captured several hundred militants.

There remains a lot to be done, but this is movement in the right direction.

Economic cluelessness

Walter Williams addresses cluelessness regarding "exploitation" of third-world labor, foreign trade, and "lifesaving" regulations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Several readers have asked me to take up cudgels against Bill Buckley’s piece on NRO last Friday, in which WFB spoke up for the Intelligent Design people and their arguments.

I am not exactly going to do that: not because I think the writer’s age and accomplishments place him above cudgeling — I don’t think that, and if WFB thought I did think it, he’d never speak to me again — but because the actual pros and cons of creationism vs. science can be found argued, in far greater detail than a 2,000-word column could contain, all over the web. I generally refer argumentative e-mailers to the TalkOrigins website, which is a handy clearinghouse for this sort of thing, with links to many other sites. (Including 347 creationist ones! If your favorite creationist website isn’t included in the list, the TalkOrigins people make it easy for you to add it. This, by the way, offers an instructive contrast to creationist websites, which rarely link to anti-creationist ones. TalkOrigins links to the Center for Science and Culture, but CSC does not return the favor.)

What I am going to do is to take a glance at the psychology here: Not “What is true and what isn’t?” — a point on which our minds are all rigidly made up anyway — so much as “Who believes what, and why?”

The Left on Iraq

From John Ray's blog:

Australian writer, Rebecca Weisser says a British Leftist author has faced some unpalatable facts about the Left:

Author and journalist Nick Cohen should be a darling of the Left. He regularly contributes to the New Statesman and The Observer in Britain and made a name for himself as a longstanding critic from the Left attacking Tony Blair's triumph of style over substance. But something happened to Cohen between the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, which he vehemently opposed, and the anti-war rallies of 2003. Cohen's leftist coterie had airbrushed from their memories everything they knew about the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime and the principles of solidarity with the oppressed.

Cohen thought that once Saddam had been toppled, the liberal-Left would back Iraqis building a democracy and denounce the slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians by "insurgents" hell-bent on building either a Baathist state or a "godly global empire to repress the rights of democrats, the independent-minded, women and homosexuals". But around the world among the liberal-Left the consensus was that there was only one target with blood on his hands - the "world's No.1 war criminal, George W. Bush". "Eventually," Cohen writes, "I grew tired of waiting for a change that was never going to come and resolved to find out what had happened to a Left whose benevolence I had taken for granted."

Cohen, like Christopher Hitchens, Melanie Phillips and David Aaronovitch, stands in the proud English tradition of writers such as George Orwell who came from the Left and dared risk its wrath criticising it. He is a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, a document created last year by those on the Left disillusioned by its drift to support the far Right. It set out the principles which the Left should stand for - democracy, freedom, equality and internationalism, and those which it should condemn - tyranny, terrorism, anti-Americanism, racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Article source here.

Iraq, Iran, and Intelligence

The New York Times laments that America is "bullying" Iran.


So why the suspicion? The answer seems to be that because intelligence erred in its judgment that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction it could be erring here, too: All intelligence that could be used to justify military action is inherently dubious.

But the conclusion of our intelligence community -- and that of every other nation with serious intelligence capacity -- that Saddam had WMD was eminently justifiable. Saddam had possessed and used WMD in the past; he had resisted and evaded WMD inspections; and, as we have learned from Charles Duelfer, he retained the capacity to produce WMD in the future.

We found in 1991 that his nuclear program was further along than our intelligence agencies thought. No responsible American leader could have given Saddam the presumption of innocence and assumed he had no WMD until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. George W. Bush didn't. Neither did Bill Clinton.

The Bush critics' position is that we must believe without reservation or criticism any intelligence that can be used to argue against military action and that we should never believe any intelligence, however plausible, that can be used to argue for it. That's not very intelligent.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Did America over-react to 9/11?

Professor Bell argues that the 9/11 attack did not genuinely endanger our national survival, and that the terrorists lack the capacity to "threaten the existence of the United States." Now if by this Bell means that they cannot kill us all, or even more than a few thousand at a time, then history seems to have proven him right—at least, so far. But what Bell overlooks is that in the struggle between human groups, it does not require a threat to the survival of the whole group to activate the Fight response. Far from it—groups begin fighting for reasons that strike outsiders as trifling or absurd. Is this irrational? To professors ensconced in the comfort of a university no doubt, but not to those who have to exist in a dog-eat-dog world.

The inmates of any jailhouse know that even mildest acts of aggression must be instantly and firmly challenged. If you are a newcomer and another inmate demands that you give him your candy bar, the worst thing you could possibly do would be to try to put the incident into perspective. You cannot say, "Well, it's only a candy bar, after all. No big deal," because, in this context, your candy bar is a big deal. It means everything. If you hand it over on demand, then you have also handled over your dignity. You have thereby informed not only the inmate making the demand, but all the other inmates watching you give into his demand that they too can all walk on you at any time. They too can take from you anything you have. They too can make you their flunkey or slave.

Of course, in defending your candy-bar, you may have to risk your life. But it is absurd to say that you are risking your life "only" for a candy bar when you are in fact risking it to maintain your autonomy and independence. The danger in such a situation is not overreaction, but, paradoxically, the failure to overreact.

The same principle applies to groups, tribes, and nations. If any group wishes to preserve its dignity and autonomy, there will be times when it is forced to act like the inmate defending his candy bar. In terms of a cost analysis, this kind of "overreaction" will seem utterly irrational. Is the candy bar really worth risking your life over? But to you, the refusal to take this risk involves a loss that cannot be measured by statistics—namely, the loss of your status as an independent moral agent that others will be careful not to push around or walk over.


The key question: In the late '90s and early years of this decade, did the CIA do a good job in predicting 9/11 or assessing Saddam's WMD? Those two numbers and three letters provide the context for the sham "controversy" surrounding former Undersecretary Douglas Feith. Did the CIA see 9/11 coming? Did the agency produce any reports asserting boldly that Saddam did not have the WMD that everyone thought he did?

Was the CIA, in 2002, an agency to be trusted to get the big ones right?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Iran to get nukes

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community's failure to hold back Iran's nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. "Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded," it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the "reflection paper" – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Whither Iraq?

The story goes, America expected her soldiers to be greeted as liberators, and it didn't happen.

What is happening?

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that between 2004 and 2006 the number of Iraqis who support the idea of an Islamic state declined from 30 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, those who favor separating religion and politics rose from 27 percent to 41 percent. In Baghdad, where sectarian violence has been most frequent, the number of people who see themselves as Iraqis first and Muslims second has doubled to 60 percent. And the percentage of Iraqis who say it “very important” for their nation to be a democracy has risen from 59 percent to 65 percent.

This suggests that neither Sunni nor Shia extremists are winning hearts and minds. Then again, they may not need to so long as they can put knives to throats and electric drills to skulls.

John Burns of The New York Times, the best reporter covering Iraq, recently told NBC’s Tim Russert that while “American troops were greeted as liberators” immediately after the overthrow of Saddam, enthusiasm for the intervention diminished quickly once it became clear that U.S. forces could not -- or would not -- protect Iraqis from the terrorists in their midst.

Yes, it would have been wonderful had Iraqis spontaneously organized their own defense. But is it so astonishing that they did not? Burns said that longtime observers of Iraq “completely miscalculated the impact of 30 years of violent, brutal repression on the Iraqi people and their willingness, in President Bush's phrase, ‘to stand up’ for themselves, to take authority, to take risks … Iraq was, by a long way, saving only North Korea, the nastiest place I've ever been. It was a truly terrible place …”

Now, a last-ditch effort is being made to eliminate the terrorists from Baghdad, to give the majority of Iraqis a safe space to come together in opposition to a fanatical and ruthless minority that believes it can pave a path to power with carnage and chaos.

There is ample precedent for that belief. Mithal al-Alusi and others like him can only pray that Americans will find the will and a way to help decent Iraqis – a majority, I think -- carve out an exception.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Republican filibuster?

We are starting to hear wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Republican efforts to "cut off debate" on the Senate resolution regarding the troop surge in Iraq.

Here's another take on it.

Reid was done in when Senate Republicans insisted that they be permitted to offer an alternative to the Levin/Warner nonbinding resolution against the surge. When Reid refused to allow a vote on a resolution by Sen. Judd Gregg opposing any cut-off of funds for troops in the field, Republicans mounted a filibuster that Reid’s forces were unable to overcome. With only two defections, by Sens. Norm Coleman and Susan Collins, Republicans united behind their call for a full and fair debate on alternative options for the war.

Democrats wanted to oppose the politically unpopular troop surge with a nonbinding resolution that divided Republicans without facing a politically perilous vote on cutting off war funds that divided Democrats, so Reid refused to yield. Thus, Reid “blocked the debate” on the Iraq resolution as much as Republicans, although the headlines said otherwise. At least the New York Times editorial board — again — got it right when it said the Democrats’ goal of formally rebuking President Bush was made more difficult by “allowing the Republicans to maneuver them into the embarrassing position of blocking a vote on a counterproposal that [Democrats] feared too many Democrats might vote for.”

Monkey Girl – a review

Pamela Winnick reviews the book Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, and the Kitzmiller v. Dover case which it sets out to cover.

Mr. Humes's account is thorough but disappointingly self-righteous. "The evolution war," he writes, "had become part of a larger political campaign; the Republican leadership's controversial 'Culture of Life' . . . in which religion, politics and government at times seemed all but indistinguishable." There are certainly those who think so, but Mr. Humes might have been more persuasive had he shown some minimal respect for the religious side of this debate instead of treating all ID-proponents as benighted fanatics with a crude political agenda. (He even spends four pages bashing Ann Coulter, as if she is an important thinker in need of refutation.)

Global warming won't be fixed.

George Samuelson writes in the Washington Post of his reasons why global warming will not be addressed anytime soon.

The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which -- in all modern societies -- buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.

So, even stipulating that human activity is the main, or even a major cause of global warming, we're not going to change.

If people were serious about curbing CO2 emissions, there are lots of things that would be happening now, such as the construction of nuclear power plants. That's not happening.

Furthermore, how much of a crisis will this be, even assuming it happens precisely as the IPCC computer models predict?

Since 1850, global temperatures have increased almost 1 degree Celsius. Sea level has risen about seven inches, though the connection is unclear. So far, global warming has been a change, not a calamity. The IPCC projects wide ranges for the next century: temperature increases from 1.1 degrees Celsius (2°F) to 6.4 degrees (11½°F); sea level rises from seven inches to almost two feet. People might easily adapt; or there might be costly disruptions (say, frequent flooding of coastal cities resulting from melting polar ice caps).

Gee. Two feet increase over a century. That's a quarter of an inch per year. Sure, we might have to make some adjustments, but I think there'd be plenty of time to make them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Iraq, yellowcake, Wilson, and Plame

The accepted version of events is that Vice President Dick Cheney got things started when he asked for information about possible Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Africa. After that request, CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson suggested sending her husband to look into the question, and after that, the CIA flew Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate. But the new documents suggest that Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband for the trip before the vice president made his request. In other words, Joseph Wilson’s visit to Niger, which everyone believes was undertaken at the behest of the vice president, was actually in the works before Dick Cheney asked his now-famous question. And if that is true, our current understanding of the chronology of events is wrong.

Politicized science

Tech Central Station piece on the political climate surrounding climate science.

The newspaper levels a serious charge - in effect that scientists were offered bribes by AEI. Any time a news organization levels an accusation this grave, it is incumbent upon it that the claims are fair and accurate. But the inaccuracies in this article appear right off that bat.

For starters, the article claims that AEI is a "lobby group." But it is no such thing. It is a research organization that is expressly prohibited by law from lobbying.

The author of the article, Ian Sample takes several quotes out of context. He claims the scientists were "offered... payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." I know many of the folks at AEI and write a column for a magazine they publish and was surprised to hear this charge. So I asked around and received a copy of the letter containing the offer. As it turns out, this claim is wildly off base.

The call for papers by AEI explicitly states that "The purpose of this project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on potential policy responses to climate change." Nowhere does Sample mention AEI asks participants to speak of the IPCC's strengths.

Sample also writes that AEI sought "essays that 'thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs.'" That makes it sound like they are offering money to undermine the IPCC's reliance on climate models. But in a letter to one of the scientists interviewed by the Guardian, the call for papers said "In particular, we are looking for an author who can write a well-supported but accessible discussion of which elements of climate modeling have demonstrated predictive value that might make them policy-relevant and which elements of climate modeling have less levels of predictive utility, and hence, less utility in developing climate policy." Sample does not mention the requests also sought to highlight the predictive value of the models. The letters are available online here and readers can assess them for themselves.

Amateur advertising

A comment piece in Forbes Magazine offers an advertising expert's take on the amateur ads in the Superbowl.

Then I saw something that convinced me that indeed the inmates had taken over the asylum. It seems that amateurs (Us) are set to tackle some Super Bowl ads this year. That's right: Some marketers, including the National Football League and Doritos, are running Internet contests enabling consumer-generated advertising to appear in what is costing $2.6 million a spot in this year's Super Bowl.


This brings us to the role of the advertising agency that is preparing that 30-second message for which you've paid $2.6 million to buy 30 seconds of airtime to expose. To me, they should be about dramatizing that differentiating idea. Whether it's finding a gecko to pitch your online insurance pitch (Geico) or whatever, it all has to start with your positioning strategy.

That said--what does "Us" know about all that? We'll just come up with some form of clever commercial that probably will not include a reason to buy the product over the competitor's product. It will be the kind of commercial that will elicit the response of "what are they selling?"

I wonder what he says, after seeing the ads.

Knowing words

Neat article, in what looks like a neat book.

Civil war in iraq?

We point fingers at each other; soldiers under fire point to their achievements: Largely because they fight jihadists over there, there has not been another 9/11 here. Because Saddam is gone, reform is not just confined to Iraq, but taking hold in Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf. We hear the military is nearly ruined after conducting two wars and staying on to birth two democracies; its soldiers feel that they are more experienced and lethal, and on the verge of pulling off the nearly impossible: offering a people terrorized from nightmarish oppression something other than the false choice of dictatorship or theocracy — and making the U.S. safer for the effort.

A teacher pushing anti-Americanism?

Colorado high-school sophomore Sean Allen couldn't convince his father that his geography teacher was as over-the-top as he contended. So Allen taped one of his teacher's rants on his MP3 player. Too bad for Jay Bennish: His 20-minute lecture ended up on talk radio.

As aired on Mike Rosen's show, Bennish said Bush talks like Hitler: "I'm not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same," but that the two share "eerie similarities." Peruvians and Iranians arguably have "a right to bomb North Carolina" because the state grows tobacco. On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida operatives were "attacking legitimate targets, people who have blood on their hands, as far as they're concerned." Oh, and capitalism violates "human rights."

Michelle Malkin has a collection of links.

"Stay the Course"?

Paradoxically, the stay the course rhetoric of Bush turns out to be the wisest approach both for the best-case scenario in Iraq as well as for the worst-case scenario. But then, the same thing might have been said of Churchill's rhetoric as well. As Dunkirk proved, in wartime mere rhetoric can become a powerful weapon, both for achieving victory and, what is often even more important, for minimizing the costs of defeat.

Our hard-wiring imposes limits

The late philosopher Robert Nozick pointed out that when people compare themselves to one another, they are disposed to feel one of two emotions -- guilt or envy. Guilt when someone has a lower station than you; envy when someone has a higher station than you. I would add a third to this mix: indignation. That's when you compare someone of a higher station to someone of a lower station, and feel that something is wrong. I refer to this complex of emotional responses to unequal life-stations as the "Stone Age Trinity."

I (and some others) think it has to do with the wiring of the brain -- a neural circuitry configured over millennia in our evolutionary past. In other words, I agree with the likes of some of the original evolutionary anthropologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby who, in their Primer on Evolutionary Psychology, write:

"The environment that humans -- and, therefore, human minds -- evolved in was very different from our modern environment. Our ancestors spent well over 99 percent of our species' evolutionary history living in hunter-gatherer societies. That means that our forebears lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals who got all of their food each day by gathering plants or by hunting animals. Each of our ancestors was, in effect, on a camping trip that lasted an entire lifetime, and this way of life endured for most of the last 10 million years."

Now, folks who've encountered Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point may recall the "Magic Number 150." This number seems to be a kind of cut-off point for the simpler forms of human organization. Gladwell reminds us that communal societies -- like those our ancestors lived in, or in any human group for that matter -- tend to break down at about 150. Such is perhaps due to our limited brain capacity to know any more people that intimately, but it's also due to the breakdown of reciprocal relationships like those discussed above -- after a certain number (again, around 150).


Had anyone known about this circa 1848, someone might have told Karl Marx that his theory could work, but only up to the Magic Number. Turns out, we had to go through 150 years of misery, totalitarianism and broken humanity to learn the limits of communism. And even though we've grasped many of these intellectual and practical lessons, Folk Marxism persists -- and so also does the Stone Age Trinity. And these likely reinforce each other.

A Rumsfeld press conference

Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to clear up exactly what you're saying here. Are you saying that this poll and that what you call the rush toward declaring civil war in Iraq, is that the result of intentional misreporting of the situation there?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I can't go into people's minds. All I'm doing is reporting on what we've seen. General Casey pointed out to this group here that he believes -- his data shows that the numbers of mosque attacks and the nature of the attacks and the severity of the attacks have been considerably exaggerated and that the number of civilian Iraqis that have been killed or wounded has been exaggerated.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Oil company profits

Last year, when Exxon-Mobil was blasted for having raked in record profits, I asked my girlfriend what a reasonable profit (in pennies on the dollar) would be. She said ten percent would be reasonable.

Interestingly enough, that quarter, that $10 billion in profits was made on a gross income of about $100 billion. For the graduates of public schools, $10 billion is ten percent of $100 billion.

Capitalist Lion has run the numbers for Exxon this year.

Yeah, great, oil companies are posting record profits. Specifically, let's go look at Exxon. They earned $39.5 billion last year, up from $36.1 billion in '05. Okay, fine. So what percentage of gross revenue are those profits? Well, in '05 Exxon's gross was $370 billion. This year, their gross was just over $400 billion or so.

A quick google on "exxon mobil profit loss" turned up some stuff, including this article – "Oil Industry Seeks to Cast Huge Profits as No Big Deal": 2004 Exxon Mobil earned more money -- $25.33 billion -- than any other company on the Fortune 500 list of largest corporations. But by another measure of profitability, gross profit margin, it ranked No. 127.


A $9.9 billion quarterly profit is mostly a function of Exxon Mobil's size. It had sales of $100 billion this quarter, more than any other U.S. company.

Also, the financial statements for Exxon-Mobil show gross profits and income figures.

Total Revenue377,635.00370,680.00298,035.00246,738.00204,506.00212,785.00
Net Income39,50036,13025,33021,51011,46015,320
% profit10.59.758.

IPCC 2001 reports

Here's a page with links to the third climate assessment, in 2001.

The fourth assessment will be out in May.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Great Unwashed strike again!

Hugh Hewitt calls attention to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, reviewing the Superbowl ads – in particular, the ads produced by amateurs.

In the latest example of how the user-generated content trend has swept Madison Avenue, Doritos revealed the winner publicly only when the ad aired. The high quality of the spot, featuring a guy getting into a car accident, had some on Madison Avenue a bit nervous. "It's kind of scary that a consumer can come up with stuff that good," says Simeon Roane, executive creative director at the New York office of Publicis USA, a unit of Publicis Groupe.

Doritos seemed to agree. Yesterday, the company announced that the top five finalists in the contest would run on national television through March. The company also decided at the last moment to air the runner-up in the contest -- a funny ad showing a supermarket checkout girl -- during the Super Bowl broadcast.

Advertising, like journalism, is a craft, not a profession, and advertising execs, like journalists, has to figure out that distributed across the population are some extraordinary talents who could easily do what they do and sometimes choose to do so for free.

The costs to entry are much higher for advertising than journalism, though, and thus advertising execs are not nearly as imperiled as journalists by the rise of distributed networks of independents. Still, every producer of consumer goods has to be asking themselves this morning why they have been paying all that money for ads that haven't connected.

And with the march of technology, the entry cost will only drop.

Friday, February 02, 2007

COP 11

Tech Central Station coverage of the 11th annual Convention on Climate Change

Dec 6, 2005: This Market Is Sending a Signal

Ultimately, Europe's experience with a CO2 market is sending the world a signal about just how hard and costly it will be to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Dec 7, 2005: More Than One Best Way

At a press conference, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change discussed its report, Climate Dialogue at Pocantico, calling for a more flexible international framework allowing countries to take on different types of climate commitments. The report recognizes that most developing countries see increased energy use as essential for their economic growth and will not join the current cap-and-trade system for carbon control embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. In order to get developing countries involved in addressing global warming, Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center, called for the launching of a high level dialogue outside the current climate negotiations. As envisioned by the Pew Center's report, this new dialogue would involve the 25 countries that account for 83 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 71 percent of the world's population and 86 percent of the world's GDP. The Pew Center's Eliot Diringer proposed that like-minded countries could form agreements along different tracks that would address potential climate change.

It turns out that the AP6 is already a jumpstart on the sort of parallel process being proposed by Pew. The AP6 partners constitute 45 percent of the world's population, account for 49 percent of the world's economy, consume 48 percent of the world's energy, and produce 48 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And once the AP6 partners adopt a charter and finalize a work program at the ministerial meeting next month, Dr. Shin noted that the founding countries will consider ways to include other interested countries.

Dec 7, 2005: An Unethical Environment?

I've been thinking a lot lately about people who – despite living in industrialized countries – find affluence and the associated consumption of natural resources troubling. By their lights, wealthy countries like the US are the world's principle consumers – unfairly rich, winners of life's lottery, polluters of the environment and so on. They claim that rich countries wish to "impose" their way of life on the rest of the world.


It is imperative that people understand what is necessary for the well being of humanity as a whole: political, personal, and economic freedom to do as one chooses. Just as technology has solved past problems as they have arisen, so economic growth will lead to new energy technologies that reduce the risk of global warming. But these solutions will only come about when people are left free to generate the wealth that will be required to invest in the development of these new technologies.

Dec 8, 2005: Culture shock in Montreal

As one of the very few scientists at the UN's eleventh Conference of the Parties climate meeting (COP-11), I feel like an outsider. That's because I am. The army of thousands in attendance (international delegates, NGOs, and all manner of stakeholders in the climate change issue), have little interest in knowing how certain or uncertain the science of global warming is. All these people know - or need to know - is that the "glaciers are melting," it's getting "hotter every year", and "climate change is killing people now" (all of these are direct quotes from presenters).

Patience in Iraq

Paul Johnson has some words of counsel for those who are dealing with Iraq. Indeed, he has one word in particular: Patience.

Nowhere is patience more needed than in the Middle East. Many tend to look at that area as a hopeless and confused muddle, producing nothing but bloodshed, and they blame President Bush for igniting the conflagration. Yet, in fact, long-term patterns of change are discernible there, but patience is needed to allow them to develop.

The Western occupation of Iraq has had two consequences--one intentional, the other less so. It transferred the location of Muslim extremist violence from Western cities such as New York and London to the Muslim heartland of the Arab world. But the violence in Iraq has had the unforeseen consequence of resurrecting, in acute form, the smoldering violence between the two chief branches of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia.

I've speculated, on occasion, that Islam may be going through a phase, rather the way Christianity did only a few centuries ago.

It is worth remembering that the Thirty Years' War between Catholics and Protestants that devastated central Europe in the mid-17th century was followed by a similar revulsion and the beginning of what later became known as the Age of Reason. Christian religious sects largely abandoned mutual violence, and a new tolerance and rationality took over. This in turn made possible the scientific and industrial revolutions and the spread of Western affluence.

Moderate Muslims have long bewailed the fact that Islam has largely missed the opportunities to grow rich and powerful that were so eagerly seized upon by the West. The chance for the long-delayed Muslim revolution of reason and tolerance, which will finally bring the billion followers of Muhammed into the modern world, is at hand. The situation in the Middle East may at present look confused and threatening, but forces are at work that promise hope and long-term stability. What we need now is patience.

Pimped-up humans?

There's a tendency to dismiss performane enhancing drugs and other aids as "just a crutch". We may be entering an age where crutches are the norm, because the natural state of even the healthiest and most able person is crippled.

Neural implants may be one path. Computers are getting smaller, and scientists are getting better at making direct connections between the human brain and inanimate devices. Cochlear implants are often cited as an example of the latter.

Today, if I want to look up information, I have to get to a computer, connect it to a web site, and type in a search phrase. In the future, perhaps I will have an implant in my ear that can handle communication between my brain and the Internet, so I will not need the computer or its keyboard. Alternatively, my implant will communicate with a sort of mega-iPod, small in size but large in storage capacity, that can access and process all sorts of data.

Genetic modification may be another path. Perhaps scientists can find a way to modify genes in enough of my brain cells to improve my memory or other cognitive skills. If not, then they are likely to develop the ability to enable parents to determine genetic characteristics of children. If nothing else, they will be able to give parents of babies fertilized in vitro the ability to select based on genetic characteristics. Already, the combination of fetal diagnostic technology and abortion poses, as a recent Washington Post op-ed pointed out, ethical issues concerning the decision of parents to terminate pregnancies on the basis of prospective birth defects.

Successes in Iraq

(Fossilized post)

Jason Van Steenwyck looks at some successes in the war in Iraq.

If all those guys really are Al Qaeda, the Iraqi Army has essentially rendered an entire company combat ineffective, or annihilated two platoons. Al Qaeda does not have an unlimited number of fighters at its disposal - losing 60 fighters is a lot more damaging to their combat capability, as a percentage of total capacity, than it would be to the Iraqi Army, which has a large numerical advantage and grows stronger every day.

You can bet if two platoons worth of Iraqi Army soldiers were annihilated, the editors of the New York Times would be singing the news from the mountain tops as evidence that Iraq is in ruins.

Alternative fuels and the environment

A new analysis by a team of Oregon State University economists concludes that biofuels offer only marginal progress toward energy independence and reduction of greenhouse gases and do so at a much higher cost than other alternatives.

The study found that the "net energy" from biofuels - the amount of energy in the end product after subtracting the amount of energy used to produce and distribute it - is as low as 20 percent for corn-based ethanol. That compares with 75 percent for standard gasoline.

This is not to say alternative fuels aren't worth pursuing. But if you're counting on them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the money spend developing them might have more of an effect elsewhere.

Also, although each of the three types of biofuels studied would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction would be as much as 200 times more expensive than other options, such as improving gas mileage or establishing a carbon tax.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shut up, you stupid grunts!

At least that would be an honest headline for William M. Arkin's piece at the Washington Post "Early Warning" blog.

I've been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States.


I'm all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn't for them to disapprove of the American people.

I wonder if the troops who have been quoted complaining about the lack of armor and equipment have also been "disapproving of the American people". Nevertheless, apparently soldiers need to learn their place, especially after all we do for them.

These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

"Respect"? You mean as in "study, work hard, or you might get stuck in Iraq"? Too much of the "support" in some quarters is along the lines of "Of course we support you, since you're too dim-witted to support yourself. We'll get you out of Iraq, since you're unable to get yourselves out."

How about this for "respect"?

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

And then there's the "we respect you but" clauses:

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

"Accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples..." Oh, yes. Accepting, as if you have to stop and think about it, and talk yourself out of thinking it's somehow endemic to the military. It's not like they're patriots or anything.

...the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

OK. "Mercenaries", whom we've indulged "through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder" with "obscene amenities" need to learn their place, stop lording it over real people, sit down and shut up.

If this is what "support" looks like, I'm glad William M. Arkin doesn't "oppose" the troops.

Also, check out these pieces at...

Black Five,

Winds of Change, and

Fuzzy Bear.