Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Family pride. I can't believe I haven't mentioned this yet: my cousin Nikki is a freshman soccer player at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, and on November 20 the Cougars won the National Christian College National Championship. Here is the story (Nikki is the one in the shorts on the left). I hear she played well in the tournament, especially in the semifinals.

This one time in college, I remember, we won a football game, so I know just how she feels. Or maybe not.

Way to go little cousin. That is frickin' cool.

I can't help it. Every night, when we put the oldest boy to bed, I read to him out of a chapter book of some sort. So far we have read him Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book; Jean Fritz, Why Not Lafayette?; the entire Chronicles of Narnia; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; and some of the original Grimm's Tales. We cut off the last because there was a little too much head chopping off, hanging, and cannibalism for two-year-olds--although I'm told that a fully accredited Ph.D. historian from a school you've heard of says scary stories help repress childrens' burgeoning sexuality. Which is awesome.

Anyway, we've been reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and all the little British children are always running around eating treacle tarts and treacle fudges, and treacle this and treacle that. Not knowing what treacle was, but noticing that Derek keeps talking about things having "treacle" or being "treacly"--do a "search this blog" on DCAT, it's excellent--I figured I ought to look it up.

Turns out "treacle" means "cloying sentiment," and is what Brits call molasses. So that solves that little mystery. But in the course of my research, I ran across a little matter of local history from New England. Apparantly, I'm not making this up, in January 1919, there occured the Boston Molasses Disaster, known also as the Great Molasses Flood, when a large molasses tank burst and flooded a section of town, killing 21 and injuring 150. There is even a book about it, called Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

I can't help it--I find all that really, really funny.

Have a nice weekend, if you can stand the terror.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving went well. My folks came out from Colorado, as did my sister, brother-in-law, and their three kids. They arrived for dinner on Wednesday, and we treated them to some fine Kansas City German potato sausages from a German meat market called Werner's Specialty Foods. We also made potato pancakes--the key is to puree them in a food processor--and baked apples.

Standard stuff on the big day: turkey, ham, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, plus bourbon creamed corn, white cheddar scalloped squash, and cheddar rolls. The wife found a great recipe for turkey and ham Cuban sandwiches on ciabatta bread for Friday night, and on Saturday we made pita bread pizzas so the kids could participate.

Through it all the children watched movies and ran around screaming in anger and joy, adults drank bloody marys, wine, and Irish whiskey while playing dominoes, and everyone had a grand time. None of it was stressful--indeed Terrie and I finished just about every little project we had planned before everyone arrived, including refinishing some old kitchen chairs so they matched the table and touching up the paint around the house. We also completed a 2000 piece old-style gold world map puzzle and I made a frame for it out of molding. It is now hanging it what will be the library.

The library. Sigh. The library, now some 2,300 volumes worth, is still mostly in boxes, even as we approach a year in our new home. The reason is that we are building the shelves, and building the shelves means that we have to go to a friend's house in Topeka to have the right tools, and going to a friend's house in Topeka requires having planning and motivation, and having planning and motivation will eternally be a shortcoming of this particular diarist. That said, the process has begun: wood has been bought for the first three shelves, said wood has been cut, and now the pieces must together be put--hopefully in the next week. On it goes.

What I'm reading. Based in large part on my friend JD's recommendation, I just finished reading Gerhard Weinberg's excellent Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leaders. I won't get into the details of the book, but I found one part of the section on Franklin Roosevelt especially interesting. Weinberg is first a historian of Germany, and so he brings a slightly different perspective to the vision and policies of FDR for the war. This paragraph, from pages 203-204, stood out:

There were, however, critical differences in Roosevelt's view of Japan and his view of Germany. He registered the dissimilarity between and German public that had turned to National Socialism and had become increasingly enthusiastic about it, on the one hand, and the series of coups, assassinations, and provoked incidents be which the militarists had shot their way to power in Japan, on the other. While Japan, therefore, was to lose all imperial acquisitions gained since its war with China in 1894-95, there is not the slightest indication that Roosevelt ever contemplated for Japan the sort of territorial amputations imposed on Germany--at least to a considerable extent with his approval. Similarly, Roosevelt at no time considered dividing Japan into several separate states, a strategy very much part of his thinking about the future of Germany. The literature that attributes all manner of racist sentiments to American leadership in World War II has conveniently and consistently ignored the fundamentally positive view of Japan held by Roosevelt and his advisors as compared with their perspective on Germany.
Roosevelt probably underestimated the extent to which the Japanese people bought into the militarists' program--see, for one small example, Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen at War--but that's the point, isn't it? He gave the Japanese people the benefit of the doubt, and gave the supposedly superior Germans nothing.

Of course the folks who see racism as the driving force will say that FDR looked at the Japanese people as mindless sheep who could more easily be driven than the intelligent Germans who chose to embrace Nazism. Because everything had a racist motive. Because they'll never be satisfied that racism was but one factor in fighting the Pacific war, and on the American side nowhere near the most important one.

What else I'm reading. Looking for some first-rate fiction, and inspired by the folks in Topeka with all the tools, I'm now reading C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower saga. Hornblower, as most know because of the television series, was Master and Commander long before Russell Crowe put on Jack Aubrey's stockings.

The Hornblower books--which I'm reading in order of the sailor's career, not the order of publication (maybe a mistake, like watching episodes 1-3 before 4-6 or reading The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe)--are fascinating and exciting and well-worth the effort. I've just finished the three books that make up Captain Horatio Hornblower, and at the end of the third book, Flying Colours, Hornblower has become a national hero for his exploits against Napoleonic France, and he is not too happy about it.

Forester writes:

Prospect, and not possession, was what gave pleasure, and his cross-grainedness would deprive him, now that he had made that discovery, even of the pleasure of prospect.
A common lesson, but put well.

Now back to work--completed books and bookshelves beckon. Happy prospects, those.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Our lovely press. Yesterday we had a bit of a dust-up here at my work, as a result of a Thomas Ricks article in the Washington Post on the American advisory effort in Iraq. It seems Mr. Ricks, or at least a researcher named Julie Tate, discovered the long-available interviews run by the Operational Leadership Experiences team at the U.S. Army's Combat Studies Institute in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Good for them. The interviews are an invaluable source on the current conflict, and a wonderful record of the experiences of hundreds of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I heartily recommend that you do some exploring on their webpage, which is here.

Unfortunately, Ricks and Tate chose to use the interviews to cherry-pick quotations that supported a seriously flawed, opinionated, and out of date news story. So, with no humility whatsoever, I helped Mr. Ricks with a rewrite that more accurately reflects the content of the interviews and the latest information on the training effort in Iraq. The original column is in blue, my rewrites are in black.

Flaws Cited in Effort To Train Iraqi Forces
U.S. Officers Roundly Criticize Program

Effort To Train Iraqi Forces Constantly Evolving
U.S. Officers Recount Difficulties, Successes

The U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents.

The U.S. military’s effort to train Iraqi forces has overcome innumerable obstacles, including early shortcomings in training and shortages in interpreters, according to Army documents.

The shortcomings have plagued a program that is central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and is growing in importance. A Pentagon effort to rethink policies in Iraq is likely to suggest placing less emphasis on combat and more on training and advising, sources say.

The adjustments and flexibility of the advising program have been central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and continue to be important. Ever since the end of major combat operations in the spring of 2003, the Pentagon has shifted its focus from combat to training and advising, sources say.

In dozens of official interviews compiled by the Army for its oral history archives, officers who had been involved in training and advising Iraqis bluntly criticized almost every aspect of the effort. Some officers thought that team members were often selected poorly. Others fretted that the soldiers who prepared them had never served in Iraq and lacked understanding of the tasks of training and advising. Many said they felt insufficiently supported by the Army while in Iraq, with intermittent shipments of supplies and interpreters who often did not seem to understand English.

In hundreds of official interviews compiled by the Army for its public history program, officers who had been involved in the early training and advising of Iraqis frankly discussed the difficulties of the effort. Not surprisingly, some team members were not suited to the task. In addition, the soldiers who prepared the advisors had to work from scratch, since Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a closed society and they could not foresee all of the problems with training and advising an entirely new Iraqi military. Many advisors also added that they could have used more and better interpreters.

The Iraqi officers interviewed by an Army team also had complaints; the top one was that they were being advised by officers far junior to them who had never seen combat. Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. "If I had to do it again, I know I'd do it completely different," reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."

The Iraqi officers interviewed by an Army team also complained that they were being advised by officers junior to them who had never seen combat. The Americans also recognized the problems of working with Saddam’s former soldiers. “A lot of the officers had previous Iraqi Army experience and nothing I saw of the old Iraqi Army was a good thing,” said Maj. Mike Sullivan. “While we think we’re there to better the welfare of the troops and train the troops, the Iraqi officers I dealt with felt that the troops were there to better their welfare.”

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, told Congress last week that he plans to shift increasing numbers of troops from combat roles to training and advisory duties. Insiders familiar with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group say that next month the panel will probably recommend further boosts to the training effort. Pentagon officials are considering whether the number of Iraqi security forces needs to be far larger than the current target of about 325,000, which would require thousands more U.S. trainers.

Gen. John P. Abazaid, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, told Congress last week that he plans to continue shifting troops from combat roles to training and advisory duties. Insiders familiar with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group say that next month the panel will probably back this ongoing effort. Pentagon officials are considering whether the number of Iraqi security forces needs to be larger than the current target of about 325,000, which would reinforce the importance of the training program.

Most recently, a closely guarded military review being done for the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out three options for Iraq. It appears to be favoring a version of one option called "Go Long" that would temporarily boost the U.S. troop level -- currently about 140,000 -- but over time would cut combat presence in favor of training and advising. The training effort could take five to 10 years.

Most recently, a military review being done for the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out three options for Iraq. It appears to be favoring a version of one option called “Go Long” that would increase the number of troops dedicated to training and advising, while slowly reducing the combat presence. This training effort could take five to 10 years.

Despite its central role in Iraq, the training and advisory program is not well understood outside narrow military circles. Congress has hardly examined it, and training efforts lie outside the purview of the special inspector general on Iraq reconstruction. The Army has done some studies but has not released them. Even basic information, such as how many of the 5,000 U.S. military personnel involved are from the National Guard and Reserves, is unusually difficult to obtain.

Despite its central role in Iraq, outside observers have done a poor job in trying to understand the training and advisory program. Congress and the media have hardly looked into the effort, including ignoring publicly available Army interviews and studies.

But the previously unreported transcripts of interviews conducted by the Army's Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., offer a view into the program, covering a time from shortly after the 2003 invasion until earlier this year.

But the readily accessible transcripts of interviews conducted by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., offer a view into the early program, covering a time from shortly after the 2003 invasion until earlier this year.

One of the most common complaints of the Army officers interviewed was that the military did a poor job of preparing them. "You're supposed to be able to shoot, move and communicate," said Lt. Col. Paul Ciesinski, who was an adviser in northern Iraq last year and this year. "Well, when we got to Iraq we could hardly shoot, we could hardly move and we could hardly communicate, because we hadn't been trained on how to do these things." The training was outdated and lackadaisical, he said, adding sarcastically: "They packed 30 days' training into 84 days."

One of the most common issues of the Army officers interviewed was that they had to adjust their limited training experience to the unique conditions in Iraq. Bolstered by the success of advisory efforts in Kosovo, and unaware of the extent that Saddam’s tyranny had degraded Iraqi institutions, the military at first underestimated the language and cultural barriers to the advising effort. According to Lt. Col. Paul Ciesinski, who was an advisor in northern Iraq beginning in early 2005, the initial training was outdated and incomplete. He added sarcastically, “They packed 30 days’ training into 84 days.”

Sullivan, who advised three infantry companies in the Iraqi army, called the U.S. Army's instruction for the mission "very disappointing."

Sullivan, who advised three infantry companies in the Iraqi army, called the U.S. Army’s initial instruction for the mission “very disappointing.”

Nor were the officers impressed by some of their peers. Maj. Jeffrey Allen, an active-duty soldier, noted that all other members of his team were from the National Guard, and that his team was supposed to have 10 members but was given only five. He described his team as "weak . . . in particular the brigade team chief."

A separate internal review this year by the military's Center for Army Lessons Learned, based on 152 interviews with soldiers involved in the training and advisory program, found that there was "no standardized guideline" for preparing advisers and that such instruction was needed because "a majority of advisors have little to no previous experience or training."

An internal review by the Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned, based on 152 interviews with soldiers involved in the early training and advisory program, found that "a majority of advisors have little to no previous experience or training."

Lt. Col. Michael Negard, a spokesman for the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, the headquarters for training, said he has not seen the Lessons Learned report and so does not know whether the training has been improved or standardized since that report was issued.

After arriving in Iraq, advisers said, they often were shocked to find that the interpreters assigned to them were of little use. Ciesinski reported that at his base in western Nineveh province, "They couldn't speak English and we would have to fire them."

Nor were there enough interpreters to go around, said Sullivan. "It was a real juggling act" with interpreters, he said, noting that he would run from the headquarters to a company "to borrow an interpreter, run him over to say something, and then send him back."

But he was better off than Maj. Robert Dixon, who reported that during his tour in 2004, "We had no interpreters at the time."

The Center for Army Lessons Learned study, whose contents were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, found one unit that learned after 10 frustrating months that its interpreters were "substandard" and had been translating the advisers' instructions so poorly that their Iraqi pupils had difficulty understanding the concepts being taught.

Trainers and advisers also reported major problems with the Army supply chain. "As an adviser, I got the impression that there was an 'us' and 'them' " divide between the advisers and regular U.S. forces, said Maj. Pete Fedak, an adviser near Fallujah in 2004. "In other words, there was an American camp and then, outside, there was a bermed area for the Iraqis, of which we were part."

Advisers also recalled difficulties with interpreters. Ciesinski reported that at his base some interpreters, “couldn't speak English and we would have to fire them.”

Nor were there enough interpreters to go around, said Sullivan. "It was a real juggling act" with interpreters, he said, noting that he would run from the headquarters to a company "to borrow an interpreter, run him over to say something, and then send him back."

Maj. Robert Dixon, reported that at the beginning of his tour in 2004, "We had no interpreters," so they had to use a lot of volunteers in the Iraqi army, “who could speak English pretty well.”

The Center for Army Lessons Learned study found one unit that learned that its interpreters were "substandard" and had been translating the advisers' instructions so poorly that their Iraqi pupils had difficulty understanding the concepts being taught.

Despite these initial problems, most advisers had positive recollections of their interpreters. They “were our lifeblood,” Sullivan said. “When we finally got these guys, we developed real good relationships with them.” Col. Joseph Buche, who commanded a battalion from the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq in 2003, agreed. “One of our great strengths is that we had more than one interpreter per platoon in our [area of operations] up north.”

Replacing basic office materials was one of the toughest problems advisers reported. "Guys would come under fire so they could get computer supplies, paper and things like that," Sullivan said. "It was a surreal experience."

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, a staff officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who worked with Iraqi units, came away thinking that the Army fundamentally is not geared to the task of helping the advisory effort.

"The thing the Army institutionally is still struggling to learn is that the most important thing we do in counterinsurgency is building host-nation institutions," he told the interviewers, "yet all our organizations are designed around the least important line of operations: combat operations."

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, a staff officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who worked with Iraqi units, thought part of the problem came from institutional lag within the Army. “The thing the Army institutionally is still struggling to learn is that the most important thing we do in counterinsurgency is building host-nation institutions," he told the interviewers, "yet all our organizations are designed around the least important line of [counterinsurgency] operations: combat operations." But, he added, “Eventually the institutional Army will catch up.”

There are indications that the catching up has already begun. Dixon says of the new training teams headed to Iraq, “They went through a month’s train up of very standardized training, so what we came up with and what they’re going through now is a lot different.” Advisers need to “know how to do training, training management, understand training, those types of things,” said Maj. Jeffrey Allen. “That being said, most of that is done now.”

Advisers found that the capabilities of Iraqi forces "ran the gamut from atrocious to excellent," as it was put by Lt. Col. Kevin Farrell, who commanded an armored unit in east Baghdad last year and this year.

Many worried that the Iraqi units being advised contained insurgents. An Iraqi National Guard battalion "was infiltrated by the enemy," said Maj. Michael Monti, a Marine who was an adviser in the Upper Euphrates Valley in 2004 and 2005.

Some advisers reported being personally targeted by infiltrators. "We had insurgents that we detected and arrested in the battalion that were planning an operation against me and my team," Allen said.

But Iraqi officers may have had even more to fear, because their families were also vulnerable. "I went through seven battalion commanders in eight weeks," Allen noted. Dixon reported that in Samarra both his battalion commander and intelligence officer deserted just before a major operation.

Iraqis also had some complaints about their U.S. advisers, most notably that junior U.S. officers who had never seen combat were counseling senior Iraqi officers who had fought in several wars. "Numerous teams have lieutenants . . . to fill the role of advisor to an Iraqi colonel counterpart," the Lessons Learned report stated.

Farrell, the officer in east Baghdad, said some advisers were literally "phoning in" their work. Some would not leave the forward operating base "more than one or two days out of the week -- instead they would just call the Iraqis on cellphones," he said.

Dixon was grim about the experience. "Would I want to go back and do it again?" he asked. His unambiguous answer: "No."

Yingling came to a broader conclusion. He recommended an entirely different orientation in Iraq, both for trainers and for regular U.S. units. "Don't train on finding the enemy," he said. "Train on finding your friends, and they will help you find your enemy. . . . Once you find your friends, finding the enemy is easy."

In 2004 and 2005, however, the advisers on the ground had to lead the way, despite the difficulties. Ciesinski said, “The biggest thing I can take out of my year there was overcoming the bad start we had and the lack of training we received.”

According to the latest reports, over 320,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped – 134,000 in the military and 188,000 in the police forces. True, many of the trained units have done poorly; Lt. Col. Kevin Farrell, who commanded an armored unit in east Baghdad last year and this year, said they “ran the gamut from atrocious to excellent.”

But the raw numbers have had an effect as the Iraqis have become increasingly responsible for their own security over the last two years. And even the early advisers were uniformly proud of the successes of their units, despite the rough start.

“I think we did the best we could under the circumstances,” recalled Dixon. “Our battalion did relatively well.”

When asked if his training team was successful, Allen gave an unambiguous answer, “Oh, absolutely.” He added, “I was glad that I was down in the weeds, living, eating and fighting with the Iraqi soldiers. That was the most rewarding experience that I can possibly think of, being in Iraq.”


Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I'll see you next week.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where I've been. Well, there's only one thing a man can do when he's suffering from a spiritual and existential funk, and it's not going to the zoo to flip off the monkeys. Although that is fun. And rewarding. Stupid monkeys.

No, the only thing a man can do is blog. Blog like the wind. Blog until his whole heart and soul is on the world wide web for everyone to see.

I'm not really in a funk--I've just been busy and preoccupied. I've been following the post-election fallout with a heavy heart--not because the Republicans lost, but because these elections don't mean anything anymore. Trying times are supposed to bring out the greatness in people, especially, I hope, Americans. But I haven't seen any greatness, except at the mid to lower levels of our military.

So a little William Wallace seems appropriate as advice to our leaders:

Men don't follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I.
True, true, true.

But enough of that, we know down which path these thoughts take us. I don't want to buy any more suits.

This world provides distractions. For example, in regards to our friend Mel Gibson, a thought occurs to me about his drunken anti-Semitism "sugar-tits" rant of earlier this year. A lot of people weighed in on both sides about what the precious, delicious alcohol does to an individual when consumed in large quantities. Some say it makes an individual rant incoherent about stuff they don't actually think or believe. Others say the booze releases inhibitions, and allows people to say what they actually think.

There's merit and truth on both sides. I've noticed that some people who have imbibed a few grow more, let's say, friendly than usual. I've noticed that on one or two occasions I've drank one or two gin and tonics and decided that I'm Dean Martin, only to be told later that Barney from the Simpsons was closer to the mark. Everyone knows that liquor changes the equation at bars and clubs, or else some genius would not have invented the phrase "beer-goggles."

Then again, one time when I had a couple gin and tonics and the missus was quite pregnant with our first boy, I informed her, in all seriousness, that our child would be the first black president. So there's that.

I don't have the first clue what Mel was thinking that night.

Another example of distractions. Ohio State vs. Michigan, about which I have nothing to say except that I hope the Buckeyes win, I wish they would win big so it won't be so damned stressful, but I know the game will be close to torture me and everyone else as much as possible. Which is exactly how it should be.

The Game, as it should be known, will follow a party. Not coincide, mind you, but follow. Because the party's not about the game, but rather a little matter of the first birthday of the little brother to the first black president.

How is that for time flying? As of today, my youngest son is now one year old.

What that also means. We are approaching the one year anniversary of moving to Kansas. One year ago, my son Anthony was born in Northern Virginia. Within a week, my parents were in town. Mom and my wife were watching the newborn, and I drove my dad and my oldest into the capital to go to the Air and Space Museum. As we crossed the 14th Street Bridge, I got the phone call offering the job--if I could start within the next few weeks.

I said I didn't think we could do it, what with the new baby and all. When we got home, I told my wife, and she had me call them back. A few weeks later I started the new job. We moved right after Christmas.

And here we are, one year later, days and nights tumbling one after another. Life continuing. Another election, another big game, a first birthday. Days and nights. Nights and days.

At least the view ain't bad.

Go Buckeyes.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I, for one, welcome our new Islamicist overlords. I've always thought sharia law was the way to go. No doubting what's important in that system. Keeps one grounded, it does.

Kidding, of course. I am very heartened to see that the center held, to see so many good ole' conservative Blue Dog Democrats are making the trip back to Washington. Good for the Jim Webb's, Heath Shuler's, and Nancy Boyda's. Good for the country. Too bad about Harold Ford, though. A good man running with the wrong name in the wrong state for the wrong party. Switch to Republican Mr. Ford, you'll win in a heartbeat, even as a Ford in Tennessee.

I am also very heartened to see that this election has already shaken Republicans out of their lazy complacency. The removal of Donald Rumsfeld had to happen--he had become too much of a lightning rod for every minor setback in the war in Iraq, including from the prowar and military side, which was most important. He did it to himself by insisting on maintaining prewar levels of funding and prewar conceptions of transforming the military, even when September 11 and the situation on the ground in the war had made it perfectly clear that some of these ideas had to change and that we needed to funnel more money into the military. As a result, everytime anything, no matter how small in historical terms, went wrong in Iraq, Rumsfeld was to blame.

I continue to maintain that the war in Iraq has been a success in all historical terms--we've removed Saddam, set up a fledgling democracy, killed lots of fundamentalists, taken remarkably few casualties--and I wonder if the erstwhile critics of the war will notice, or at least have the criticisms blunted, without Rumsfeld to kick around. Hey, it's not that farfetched: how often have we heard about the Patriot Act since Ashcroft stepped down?

Anyway, it will be most interesting to see how Democrats handle the war now that they have some control. They've said they have better ideas and better tactics, more nuance and more tact--now we'll find out. Something tells me that they will be as useless with the reins of Congressional power as the Republicans have been, and they'll blame the president and his obstruction and the Republicans will blame them back and we'll have another election that will swing back and so on and so forth, as it ever has been in times of peace.

Because it's clear that as a nation we do not believe we are at war.

As for me, I'm unconvinced that the "Stick our Fingers in Our Ears and Yell LALALALALALA Doctrine" will work in this fight.

But I do hear that the new season of "Lost" is fantastic and that Britney and K-Fed are hanging it up, so everything should be fine. Really.

Update: I just found a handy little graphic:

Read the chart. Let it sink in. Wonder, like me, how it is even possible that not a single prominent politician in this country has used these figures to question our commitment to fighting this war. Not one.

If there has ever been a more stark example of how the baby boomers have failed in the face of their generation's greatest test, I haven't seen it.

I'm told we're now to refer to K-Fed as "Fed-Ex." Ha Ha.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some things you should note. A new issue of The New Criterion is available online. Read whatever you can, but take special note of Victor Davis Hanson's review of Mark Steyn's new book and Paul Johnson's article, "The human race: success or failure?"

The November issue of Commentary is available online. Read the whole thing--they are getting serious about Iran. (Unfortunately, we seem to live in a profoundly unserious country anymore, at least when it comes to defending ourselves from a clear and present danger.)

A new issue of the City Journal is partially online. Be sure to read Victor Davis Hanson's "My Bizarre Libyan Holiday."

More articles from the fall issue of the Claremont Review of Books are now available online. Peter Schramm's wonderful, "Born American, but in the Wrong Place," was included for all to read.

Finally, the latest issue of Doublethink is now available online. I immodestly recommend Tom Bruscino's "George W. Bush, the T.R. of Today." The blabbering author goes on and on, but if any of you have the fortitude to make it through, I would love to hear any comments.

It's not Athens, but it's certainly something. My friend J.D.--the spinach dip guy--found a Sports Illustrated profile of Halloween in Athens, Ohio that pretty much captures the experience. Although I seem to remember a little more nudity and quite a few more profane costumes than SI mentions.

Alas, my Halloweening in Athens days are long gone--I can't believe it's already been two years--so now I'm one of those dad-types who takes his wee ones around to gather candy from neighbors and strangers. My wife, aka "The Talented One," has always been a superstar when it comes to designing and making costumes for Halloween. In the past we've been William Wallace and Murron, a rodeo clown and a red devil, Maximus and Lucilla, Bam Bam and Peebles, a caterpillar and butterfly, and a shotgun wedding (when she was pregnant with the Dominator).

With Dominic outside of his womby prison, the focus turned to the kiddos. We weren't very original at first, even if the boy was cute. Year one saw Dominic as a mini-Braveheart to my full-sized (over-sized) (okay...fat) one. Year two saw Dominic as a mini-caterpillar to my full-sized (okay...fat) one.

But now the boy has developed some personality, even some preferences, and since he's bigger and slightly more vocal than little brother Anthony--who, I might add, we call Mad Dog because he foams at the mouth and has absolutely no sense of self-preservation--the Dominator gets to dictate which way the costumes are going. Since he is enamored of, nay, obsessed with, trains in all forms, what better to be than a train engineer? And take the little brother along for the ride?

Of course, any engineer worth his salt is going to need a train, and given my well-established record as a fat William Wallace and fat caterpillar, the lovely wife thought I would make a good engine. She was right, of course.

It was pretty nippy that night, so the boys were well-bundled.

We shuffled around in full costume to ten or twelve houses, until Mad Dog passed out in the passenger car. We took him home so he could help his mother and a then-homeless former Marine pass out candy, I deboarded the engine (which downgraded my costume to "Fat Burglar"), and Dominic and me joined some other kids and dads to hit up a few more houses for free goodies.

The other dads were all students at the Command and General Staff School, and, as always, friendly, thoughtful, and well-spoken. They are all a few years older than me, but as we were making Beavis and Butthead jokes, it occured to me that I have about a ten-year window here in Leavenworth when the students will be from my quarter-generation, when we will be able to talk in late 1980s to early 2000s lingo without missing a beat. I am glad for that--it's always good to be able to tell someone that you used to grab bearclaws two at a time and get them lodged, and have the listener understand.

Anyway, the Dominator played up the whole I'm-just-two-year-old-and-I-need-help thing to the fullest, and, as he was getting free candy, also got an older lady to hold his hand along the way. He's a genius.

It's not Athens, but it's something. Something better.

And I can't wait till next year, when my wife crams my tubby butt into a scale model of the Titanic.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

For the record. I think Senator Kerry was attempting to tell a joke about the president. That he, of all people, should try to resuscitate the "Bush is a dummy" meme is ridiculous. But there it is: I think Kerry was telling a poorly worded and not funny joke about the president.

Here's the interesting part: it doesn't matter, that line has already become an infamous slur on the military. Three reasons for that--two you already know, one will be my little contribution to the story. The first is that the Republicans are selling the hell out of it as an insult to the troops. The second is that Kerry, despite his service, just doesn't have any credibility when it comes to supporting the troops. As you all well know, he burned up the good will earned with his service when he went before Congress and called American soldiers rapists and murderers. Then he followed that up with his comments about our troops terrorizing women and children in Iraq. He's got a long antimilitary record, so it is awfully hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The third point is most interesting and most important. Kerry's silly joke as a slur on the military was, to use the silly phrase, fake but accurate. He may not have been making a crack about the intelligence and education of our servicemen, but it is pretty clear that he and his ilk believe that the enlisted men and women in the U.S. military joined because they are poor, uneducated, underprivileged, and out of options.

It's been the same story throughout American history--the military as a profession has been looked down upon by large sections of American society, even as Americans have respected and rewarded military valor. Congress cut funding for the professional military every chance it has gotten. In the 1840s, Ulysses S. Grant had a street urchin make fun of him in his uniform after he graduated from West Point. By the late nineteenth century, new immigrants were overrepresented in the military because native Americans eschewed soldier work. World War I was supposedly a rich man's war but poor man's fight, and World War II was simply a job to do until the war ended and everyone could get out of the service. Vietnam became in popular imagination yet another poor (and black) man's fight, even though it wasn't.

For a short time, the post-Vietnam, post-draft military had all kinds of problems with recruiting and testing and criminals and all that. The idea had become embedded in some circles that people only joined the military because they are victims with no other choice, and no amount of evidence to the contrary seems to change minds (see below).

Kerry's gaffe will have legs not because of the Republicans or his own shady record with dealing with the military, but because some vocal Democrats are already saying that even if the senator didn't say what we think he said, if he had said it, he would be right. Got that?

For the record II. (In regard to the educational attainment of American soldiers.) I put these links, comments, and numbers in the discussion at Big Tent, but I'm afraid they might be buried, so they are reproduced here for easy reference.

According to a report by the Heritage Foundation:

"The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005."

"By assigning each recruit the median 1999 household income for his hometown ZIP code as deter­mined from Census 2000, the mean income for 2004 recruits was $43,122 (in 1999 dollars). For 2005 recruits, it was $43,238 (in 1999 dol­lars). These are increases over the mean incomes for the 1999 cohort ($41,141) and 2003 cohort ($42,822). The national median published in Cen­sus 2000 was $41,994. This indicates that, on aver­age, the 2004 and 2005 recruit populations come from even wealthier areas than their peers who enlisted in 1999 and 2003.

When comparing these wartime recruits (2003-2005) to the resident population ages 18-24 (as recorded in Census 2000), areas with median household income levels between $35,000 and $79,999 were overrepresented, along with income categories between $85,000 and $94,999."

"Additionally, in the most recent edition of Population Representation in the Military Services, the Department of Defense reported that the mean reading level of 2004 recruits is a full grade level higher than that of the comparable youth population."
College graduates are not underrepresented among enlistees who become enlisted men and women, because the overwhelming majority of those people are 18-21. Almost no one in that age range is a college graduate, so they are exactly proportionate to the general population. But in that age range, roughly 75% of the general population are high school grads, while 98-99% of those in the military have high school diplomas--meaning they are on average smarter and better educated than the general population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005, 25.3% of veterans 25 years and older have at least a bachelor's degree, as opposed to 27.2% of the general population.

Over 33% of veterans over 25 have some college or associate degrees, while 26.6% of the general population does. And the number of veterans enrolled in programs towards college degrees is increasing.

Even accounting for no other factors like career choice, the proportion of veterans with at least bachelor's degrees is almost exactly the same as the proportion of the general population. So in no way are college graduates underrepresented in our military--many of them have just put off their education until later.

Oh, and individual veterans make a median income of $33,973 a year, a full $10,000 more than the average nonveteran.

Someone page John Kerry, Michael Moore, Daily Kos, and all the other people I linked above who want to paint our servicemen and women as poor unwitting victims of a distant elite.

They've got it all wrong. Our servicemen and women are the elite.