Thursday, June 30, 2005

Constructive Opposition

They call the minority party in a parliamentary, two-party system such as the British government, the “loyal opposition.” The derivation comes from the essential fact that in a disciplined two-party government, the majority party will always enact their agenda. That’s called the power of the majority. Party discipline reaps results.

The minority party seeks to point out the flaws of the majority, knowing full well that they have no hope of governing until and unless they can provide a viable and preferable alternative. While they can oppose the actions of the majority, they won’t gain votes or public favor by undermining the entire nation. They know that they need to provide not only criticism but viable alternatives. They remain loyal to the nation while opposing the policy choices of the incumbent majority. Makes sense doesn’t it? If they do their job well, they gain adherents and eventually the government reins.

How then to explain the US? On the one hand we’ve got a majority which seems unable to restrain their personal ambitions and sublimate individual glory for the greater good of the nation. On the other hand, we’ve got a minority party that seems quite comfortable with undermining each and every policy of the administration while proposing nothing viable in return. I’ve often scoffed at the cynics who refer to Republicans and Democrats as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” I’ve pointed out the basic ideological differences between traditional conservative and traditional liberal approaches to questions. But, now empirical evidence speaks in favor of the Alice-in-Wonderland twins rather than the classic view. It’s depressing.

We’ve all heard the two parties’ talking points on the War in Iraq and/or the War on Terrorism. Stay the course, versus, “we were lied to” and it’s time to cut losses. But, what are the real alternatives? Will no one come forth and provide meaningful choices?

The Wall Street Journal editorial today talks about the opposition and without questioning their loyalty, wonders about their ability to be constructive. I couldn’t have said it better myself. What More Needs to Be Said?

Monday, June 27, 2005

My God, What Have They Wrought?

Now they’ve gone and done it. Just when you thought they’d reached the limit of their hubris, the Supremes have reached beyond their controversial decision of last week which effectively gave governments the chance to maximize their tax revenues without a whole lot of consideration for the inalienable right to pursue one’s happiness by amassing property. Now, they ruled that the Ten Commandments aren't quite appropriate hanging behind the judge’s bench when you go to court. But, they weren’t totally draconian about the issue. They also said that Moses’ somewhat chipped up tablets can be displayed elsewhere on government property. Commandments Yes and No

Is this a good thing or a bad? Or does it make one whit of difference? Did they get this one right or wrong and what impact will it have on our quality of life, the sanctity of marriage, and whether or not Britney will be a good mother? Have we damaged our society forever or is this one other example of outraged rhetoric and excessive ado about nada?

A long time ago, while playing like a fighter pilot in Spain, I ran into a Spanish celebrity. He was the center of Real Madrid soccer team, and I quite literally ran into him. I was returning from a day in the Guadarama Mountains at a squadron party and we were tail-chasing down the two lanes of the back country at a reasonably imprudent speed. I hit the other car left front fender to left front fender. His fender moved back to his front door, which then advanced into his rear door and his rear fender—total left side wipeout. Meanwhile, since we were on a concrete highway overpass, his car shifted right and scraped the entire right side along the abutments. My American iron, suffered a badly damaged front bumper and slight crumpling of the front of the left front fender. He was irate, he was also huge and in remarkable physical condition. I was apologetic. We called the Guardia Civil and when the paper work was done, we eventually went to court.

The court was a Spanish civil court in a small mountain town. The judge was flanked by a clerk/steno on one side and a Catholic priest on the other. Above the judge, prominently displayed were the flag of Spain, the crest of Castile, a picture of King Juan Carlos and a painting of Jesus of the Sacred Heart. Above the whole display was a six foot tall crucifix. Did I expect that religion would have an impact on the decision of the court? Would I get justice in Spain if I announced that I were a Moor (i.e. a Muslim) or a Jew? Neither group did well in Spanish history. Flashes of Torquemada and the Inquisition came to mind. Was an auto-de-fey to be required, either voluntarily or in my last tortured breath in the dungeons? Never fear, my records said I was Catholic (albeit one of the “recovering” version and studiously non-practicing.)

After a few prayers and the equivalent of the Spanish national anthem, the trial commenced and since my insurance company had already repaired the national hero’s car and no one had been injured, there was little more to resolve. I was fined the equivalent of about $40 and justice prevailed.

My point of the anecdote, however, is to emphasize how religious symbology in a civil court can bring into question the objectivity of the proceedings. Sure, we are a predominantly Christian nation even if we don’t act like it in our day-to-day living. And, certainly we must bow to our heritage in remembering the origins of the nation, the faith of the founders, and the judeo-christian basis for much of our law. But, as we increasingly become diversified and even secularized, is it appropriate to link a very distinct interpretation of the law with our judicial process? I’d suggest not.

There are certain basic concepts in the Ten Commandments that are reflected in the law. The business about murdering, stealing and lying are pretty much accepted across the board. But, that business about the Sabbath isn’t universal. Nor is the taking of the Lord’s name and the business about idols. And, coveting isn’t really incorporated into most statutes. Most disrespect of parents is pretty much ignored by the system as well. So, we find that only about half of the ten that we’re so concerned about really play into the scenario.

It seems to this observer, that the Supremes may have established their nuances just about right in this decision. No big plaque in the courtroom, but recognition of the place of morality in the total society is approved in other displays on government property.

I can’t wait for the editorials to sprout and the hyperbole to reign supreme.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Silly Season Starts

Yep, the silly season has begun. No, I don’t mean summer. I mean the season of political pandering in which the congress-critters fall all over themselves to pander to the emotions of their constituents regardless of the probability of a successful outcome or the damage to the Constitution. Once again we have the always popular proposal to amend the Constitution to prohibit desecration of the American flag. House Passes Flag-Burning Amendment

Who can argue that it is an egregious affront to all who have fought and died for this country to burn or desecrate our national symbol? Yep, we should have no problem finding two-thirds of both houses of the legislature and three-quarters of all the states to ratify this Constitutional solution to a problem which is virtually non-existent. And, then we can all go home and feel good about ourselves.

"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

C’mon, Duke, I respect your credentials as a fighter pilot and an American, but you’re pandering here. We aren’t overwhelmed by a rash of spontaneous flag-burnings in this country. And, you’ve got to admit a couple of things; foreign demonstrations against America with the requisite flag destructions won’t be halted, and the proliferation of morons in the USA who want to attract attention by flag burning will accelerate when it becomes a violation of the Constitution. So, you’ll amend the Constitution, restrict the freedom of the First Amendment, increase the problem and start the slide down the slippery slope of further restrictions on the ways in which the people of our nation can express themselves. Nice job.

There’s a reason folks go out and create a media event by burning a flag. It is because the flag is so deeply revered and respected by the huge majority of American that the act will attract attention. When an activist, minority, unheralded movement or ignored political position wants to advance their cause they must first attract an audience. What better means than to burn a flag? Yet, we don’t have flag-burnings on every corner. That’s because the negative backlash will usually outweigh the attention advantage.

The Supreme Court, in a remarkably rare display of wisdom, determined that egregious insults to the symbols of the nation must be tolerated, even when detested by every red-blooded patriot. It’s “symbolic” speech, which might be a creation of the Supremes as a concept but is nevertheless a reality in politics. Despicable displays like crucifixes in urine, Madonnas draped in elephant dung and desecrations of the flag are all expressions designed to attract attention. With the requisite press coverage, the message of the protest can then be flashed across the front pages of the region’s news media.

The First Amendment is first, precisely because the Framers thought that protection of the means of political expression was the most import freedom a successful republic would require. Being able to read opinions in a free press, assemble with like-minded folks to disagree with the government and to speak unthinkable positions without fear are all essential. The problem is that we all agree with that principle until the speech, the group assembling, or the statements of the press are totally outrageous. That’s when we seek to amend the Constitution or prohibit the expression. When the freedom is most needed is when the expression is the most disagreeable.

If we want to revere those who have fought and died to protect that flag and the country which it represents, we should recall that it wasn’t a colored rag that was being fought for, but the principles of our nation.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Clear Case of Podiacide

I’ve tried consistently not to dislike the French. Hell, I’ve continued to drink French wine when I can afford it, cognac because I like it, and even eat Brie when it is called for in a recipe. I’ll admit to having switched from Michelin to Bridgestone tires on my little performance car, but that was more a matter of specs than nationalism. But, now they may have gone too far.

I’m talking about the United States Grand Prix fiasco that occurred yesterday. Michelin's Flat at Indy First there was the demise of the National Hockey League. Does anyone really believe that professional hockey can recover? Now, we’ve got a stake in the heart of any future American support of Formula 1 auto racing driven by the French tiremaker and the intransigence of the management of F1.

There was a time when a US F1 race was an annual event and very well supported. It would have been unthinkable not to have the “World Championship” series without an American visit on the yearly schedule. Then, in the glory days, the FIA governing body wrote a convoluted rule that allowed a nation to have more than one GP, provided they were more than 2000 miles apart—only one nation capable of supporting the big show existed, the U.S. of A. So we had two F1 races per year. And, with the ever evolving rules, there even came a year when we had three races in the US.

But, the world grows and attitudes change. In the US we saw the emergence of NASCAR-mania, followed by the self-destructive rupture of Indy car, open-wheel racing into USAC and Tony George’s IRL. Meanwhile across the pond, Bernie Ecclestone of FIA grew globalist and expanded the F1 circuit into South America, Japan, Africa and parts of Europe that barely had ox-carts for the general populace. With only a limited number of dates to run a yearly tournament at that level of expense, the US Grand Prix became one and then none. We had racing, but didn’t have F1. We had NASCAR building a huge market and an entire culture in the US. We had open wheel racing fractured and struggling for survival as USAC and IRL attempted to cut each other’s throat. (Now despite all predictions to the contrary, IRL has prevailed, but other than Indianapolis there doesn’t seem to be the mania of NASCAR.)

F1 still shows the world’s most advanced automotive technology. The cars boast incredible performance and engineering creativity despite a management of the league that keeps tinkering with the rules to raise the cost of participation and hamper the opportunities for expansion. Entry fields erode in F1 from the days of thirty cars or more to now only a paltry twenty (and sometimes less.) Meanwhile, in NASCAR we view the thundering herds rounding the sweeping corners three and four abreast in half-mile long processions, nose-to-tail at 200+ miles per hour.

Now, frustrating an attempt to create a resurgence of F1’s former glory in the US, they’ve effectively killed any hope for the future. Will anyone take a chance by buying a ticket next year after this pathetic exercise in incompetence? Is this likely to entice someone who likes auto racing, but missed ever attending a F1 spectacular, to start saving for the next opportunity in America to see Ferrari and Williams, Schumacher and Barrichelo? Un-bloody-likely.

What was Michelin thinking? Did they not know what the Indianapolis course was like? Weren’t they there last year? What were the teams anticipating? Didn’t they have a voice in the preparation? How stupid was Ecclestone in stubbornly denying any modification in the rules to allow for a change in tires from qualifiers when those Michelins were determined unsuitable for the task? What was Joie Chitwood, at Indianapolis, betting when he refused to consider a simple course modification of a chicane at turn 13 to slow speeds and allow the race to go on? Wasn’t there anyone in the whole package with a clue about what it would take to make the race real?

I remember watching Andretti in Spain, Lauda at Hochenheim, Gilles Villeneuve on the day he died in Belgium, Fittipaldi at a dozen races in Europe, the six-wheel Tyrells in the ‘70s, Graham Hill before his tragic plane crash, and the delightful antics as James Hunt entered the circus with champagne and parties only to become the world champion three years later. Ahh, the good ol’ days of F1. The sort of visions never to be seen again by Americans who will forget that open wheel racing is where it really happens.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Profound Insight

Profound Insight

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon another sign of the times. Major headlines reporting that Sean Penn has become a…drum roll please…reporter! Yes folks, Sean has been credentialed by the San Francisco Chronicle to fly off to Iran to report on their presidential election. Being the News

Seriously now, what qualifies Mr. Penn for this assignment? I’ll give him credit for being a reasonable actor, just as I’ll acknowledge that Bahbwah Streisand is a reasonably good singer—I remember sipping a lot of scotch and sodas in Chicago bars back in the ‘60s listening to her wailing about people who need people. But, neither Penn nor Babs seem to have any particular qualification for reporting on political issues. No journalism degrees, no apprenticeship at the feet of Woodward and Bernstein, no graduate work at Yale or Harvard, essentially nothing to qualify them but public recognition.

But I try to be fair. I went right to the web pages of the San Francisco Chronicle to view the dispatches from Teheran that Sean was publishing. Alas, no hits on the Sean Penn byline. There are articles covering his visit to Friday evening prayers with the mullahs and ayatollahs. The usual chants of Death to the Great Satan and Death to America reverberating through the mosque probably made Sean feel really good about his contributions to world peace. But, he wasn’t reporting. He was the news.

He did get to demonstrate his grasp of international relations three days later, on the following Monday, when he cautioned that orchestrating mass exhortations to kill America was probably not conducive to improving the climate between the countries. Still, no report from Sean. This was coverage by other reporters watching Sean play reporter without reports.

Next item to hit the wires is Penn having his camera temporarily confiscated. Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? If something is confiscated you usually consider it a permanent thing. Still and again, he is the news not the news reporter. I wait with bated breath for the eventual journal from the great journalist to appear in print. Somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I wonder if any newspaper out there would like to send me on an all-expense paid trip for several months to cover Europe and the various elections disapproving the proposed constitution. There are some places in Spain, Italy, England, Germany, France, Greece, Portugal, etc. that I’d sure like to visit again. And, I’m at least as well qualified as Sean Penn.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dare to Disagree

A great opinion piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, admittedly an unlikely source for something I might agree with. Two Edged Sword Debra Saunders laments the politically correct attitude that is so prevalent in our universities regarding what can properly be said before a gathering of mushy-minded students and faculty.

We’ve been doing it for decades now, but it has become almost a requirement for “activist” students and indignant professors to shout down any and all presentations which might disagree with their enlightened interpretation of the world as it really should be. I’ve long thought that the entire purpose of education was to challenge our thinking and expand our perspectives. Listening to a well-reasoned argument that might conclude differently than what we already know to be right is a good exercise for the mind. Hell, it’s a good plan for no other reason than the classical military advice of Sun Tsu—“know your enemy.”

I love to read editorials, books and opinion columns that support my own contentions. I grind my teeth and experience acid reflux when I read sniveling, liberal garbage that says I could be wrong. But, it is important to listen and maybe even to learn what the other side of the issue might be.

Regardless, it is increasingly common for the moron class to run across the stage at commencement and throw a pie at the speaker rather than listen to the presentation. It’s more appropriate to shout slogans and drown out the disagreement, particularly if the speaker is someone with a lot more experience, education, insight, responsibility and well earned respect.

Maybe there is a level of outrageous speech that should be shouted down. It’s possible that I might have attempted to drown out the nationalist rants of Hitler or the revolutionary exhortations of Lenin in my younger days. I could maybe justify restricting the appearance of a racist fanatic like David Duke. But, it seems to me that it’s unlikely they would have been invited to my commencement. When Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, or for that matter Janeane Garofalo are invited to speak at an event I should either shut up and listen or opt out of attending.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Classless Society

We’ve all heard that America is a “classless” society. Supposedly this means that we are different and maybe even a bit superior to other nations in the world which continue to differentiate between classes. If you are born into the landed, aristocracy, you get things. If you are born into the laboring class, you don’t. But, that clearly isn’t true in America. We discriminate at least as much as other countries. Just try to matriculate at an Ivy League university and you’ll quickly begin to note some class distinctions. (At least that’s true if you don’t fill the proper politically correct quota du jour.)

No, the fact is that increasingly we are a society without class. We bemoan the decline of the culture and the rise of the hip-hop mentality, yet we flock to the most base activities without a second thought. It’s the free market at its disgusting best. From gangsta rap to professional wrestling to Internet porn sites, we complain about the stuff and then line up to give our money to the panderers. Yep, we ain’t got no class in this country.

One of the leaders in demonstrating the decline in class is Carl’s Jr., the fast food chain that offers us ads illustrating that it’s hip to be a slob. They claim that they are appealing to a young male demographic, the 18 to 34 year old. For several years they’ve had commercials stressing that their burgers are big, huge, meaty and most importantly sloppy. Ah yesssss, that’s what I’m looking for in nutrition; the characteristic of being able to drip all over my clothes and slobber down my chin. They could stress taste. They might highlight freshness. They might even go with size, price, service, availability or a huge load of calories. But, they choose to go with drippiness. I might consider it for my next important business lunch, particularly if I want to look like a manner-less, greasy, uncultured slob. Let’s shake to close the deal, as soon as I wipe this grease off my hands on my shirt front.

It started with glorification of sloppiness. Various locations with generally dirty, disheveled Carl’s Jr. fans unwrapping food in unwashed hands, then stuffing it indelicately into drooling mouths and inevitably dripping various globs all over hands, shirts, cars, ground, and whatever happens to be nearby. Ahh, yes. Children, I want you watch these ads and learn how to behave when you are out in public.

Then, we got the truly insightful series noting that “if it weren’t for us, some guys would starve.” Truly, that’s a way to get folks into your restaurants. Tell them they are too stupid to figure out what to buy in a grocery store or how to open a box of cereal and pour milk on some in a bowl. Thank you, Carl’s Jr., as a sign of my gratitude for your pointing out my ignorance I will rush to your emporium of sloppy delights.

Segue to the breakfast scene. “Marge,” the sloppy waitress drops the toast on the floor while serving then picks it up and puts it before the demographic target young male. She slops coffee all over the table and then is seen huffing on the silverware to polish it for the next customer. Does our targeted young man take umbrage? No, he shovels food into his mouth, dripping on plate and tablecloth in total unconcern. Classless?

But what about the talking, kicking, and smart-mouthed fetus? Baby is talking to mom about “wolfing down jalapenos”, but we know that the customer that ol’ Carl’s Jr. wants to impress is the absent dad. He’s the slob who got mom preggies and will chuckle at the idea of the womb resident kicking mom in the belly. Yep, that should get the old saliva flowing for a big, drippy burger. Great marketing.

Staying edgy now, Carl’s Jr. is forced to play “can you top this” with each succeeding gross out. And, we lap it up. Bring forth that paragon of American beauty, class, style, kitsch, fortune and studied ignorance, Paris Hilton. That’s aimed right at the core constituency, the hormonal and hungry young male. How about some scarcely clad writhing with a bit of wet T-shirt, a shiny black car and finally a huge chow-down on a Carl’s burger? Symbolism? Nahh, how could you be so classless? Freudian? Never happen. My dear Watson, don’t you recall that the President of the USA himself told us in no uncertain terms that oral activities don’t constitute sex? Carl's Jr Ad

Well, it works like a charm. They’ve gotten “buzz” with the campaign. They get to deny any regrets: Carl's Not Sorry. They get to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s Factor. They get millions of classless young men to equate slopping up a grease-burger with a potential sexual encounter with Paris. And, by eating Carl’s Jr. burgers, they probably believe they will someday have a Bentley in the garage.

Do you suppose there was a Carl’s Jr. in Rome in 454 AD? I’d rather starve.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Something to Keep You Busy

I've never liked lists. I especially don't like the list-makers on who seem driven to impose their particularly eclectic tastes on the rest of us by posting their personal selections of "The World's Most Important Books on Britney, Courtney and Hillary".

But, I do like books. And, I'm decidedly envious of those folks who voraciously read across a very broad spectrum. That's why I periodically go back to Billy Beck's blog and check out his list of the 100 most influential books that he's read. A List of Books

Read just one tenth of those and you'll have some incredible knowledge about the world and how it operates.

The Disunited States

Nah, not the US of A. I’m referring to the Disunited States of Europe. Seriously, how could anyone have expected a continent that gave us the concept of Balkanization to create a federal system of disparate nations under a single constitution? There might be some visionary who sees the unification of Europe as an effective counter-balance to American hegemony, but it clearly isn’t about to happen tomorrow. And it certainly won’t happen if the people themselves rather than the governments are expected to ratify the details.

The French, in their under-informed but correct plebiscite decided last week not to ratify the EU constitution. The Dutch, just a few days later did the same. Now, if you’ve got a document for solidarity that neither the stolid Dutch nor the dissolute French can accept then you’ve really got a problem on your hands. Editorialists in every newspaper have pontificated eloquently on the underlying causes of the failure, but few have put their finger on the crux with the efficiency of George Will. Maltese Turkey The mere idea that a constitution needs 485 pages and should devolve to details as mundane as housing costs in Malta should be cause for Euro-alarm.

There is a very basic principle of politics and it goes all the way back to John Locke. Governments get their power not from “divine right” but from the consent of the governed. That leads very quickly to the conclusion that power will only flow when the unwashed masses can see a clear benefit. If the people of the electorate don’t discern a personal gain from a particular policy, there’s a very good chance that the power is going to be withdrawn.

Although we don’t share a lot of common views, Trudy Rubin cuts to the chase very effectively when she notes that there is a lot of difference between one end of Europe and the other. Likening the EU constitution to a homogenization of very diverse cuisines is an apt metaphor. McEurope as a Nation

The EU is a great concept. But the concept must clearly relate to societal advantage. After World War II, with the continent in ruins, it made a lot of sense to eliminate trade barriers whenever and wherever possible. The European Coal and Steel Community was an easy starting point. Common interest prevailed and therefore it wasn’t a major problem to negotiate the details.

Over the intervening years Europe has flourished, first in the free-market west and for the last decade and a half in the formerly Communist east. Trade grows when tariffs whither. Dropping protectionist economic policies among European neighbors made sense. Eliminating the lost time at customs houses along the many borders allowed commerce to flow with profits for all the players.

As time goes on, however, the simple problems are all solved and the more thorny issues can’t be grappled with as quickly. The creation of the Euro as a common currency was not a slam dunk. Taking away the nationalistic symbols of a sovereign entity begins to get a little emotional. Money is more than a means of exchange. Look at the bills and coins in your pocket and notice the history, the patriotism and the pride which the images project. Giving up your heritage for the sake of efficiency is not necessarily an easy trade. Then, consider the relinquishing of a government’s ability to manipulate markets and manage the local economy. By turning the currency over to an international conglomerate a nation sacrifices a lot of political power. Yet, the Euro is a fact.

But, there are underlying currents that can’t be ignored. While much progress has been made by the eastern nations, they still lag behind the remainder of Europe. In reunified Germany, the burden of attempting to elevate the former DDR without simultaneously adversely impacting the quality of life in the FRG is causing considerable political friction. As both Rubin and Will point out in their editorials, the welfare state attitude of the French coupled with their historic nationalism means they don’t want their comfortable boat rocked nor do they want to be compared with Romanians or Bulgarians. The bottom line is that the necessary clear benefit of adopting the constitution doesn’t exist today.

There is appropriate suspicion that the EU constitution is going to institutionalize an oppressive bureaucracy. The ephemeral concept of a “way of life” that many nations appreciate is in jeopardy. Redistribution of wealth across the union might be a noble concept, but as an actual practice would be too painful to bear. And, of course, there is the total destruction of the sovereignty of the member states. It’s a cliché in political science that sovereignty, like pregnancy, is a unitary concept. You can’t be partially pregnant or sovereign.

And, we haven’t even begun to address the question of a unified military for the EU.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Living in the Gulag

Last week I was in Washington where a significant group of aging warriors came together to remember good times and bad. Out of nearly 1000 Air Force, Navy, Marine and Army aviators from Vietnam through Iraqi Freedom, we had more than 160 former POW’s who had been interred by the North Vietnamese for periods up to seven years. They could tell the folks at Amnesty International a bit about prisoner abuse.

The outrage seems to be about Quantanamo and the use of the emotional term “gulag” in describing how we have dealt with the terrorists captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amnesty Int. Calls it a Gulag It seems that the handling of 520 detainees at gitmo during which such incredibly painful events have occurred as dropping of a holy book to the floor has led to the AI folks creating a linkage with the millions incarcerated in the Soviet gulags of good ol’ Joe Stalin. Yes, we Americans are evil incarnate as we heap these indignities on the folks we’re holding at Quantanamo. My God, there are TEN instances in the past THREE YEARS of ALLEGED abuse. And, as a result of this abuse, the world is going to not think we are very nice.

Maybe we should have AI leader Irene Khan drop in to help the guards with situations like this one reported in the Washington Times: Living la vida loco I’m sure she would quickly develop an emotional bond with the young detainee who simply seems to have been a bit over-aggressive in trying to wipe a tear from a guard’s eye or maybe pluck a bit of lettuce from a tooth. Yeah, right.

Let’s clear up a few things. First, no sane society builds holding facilities for terrorists and psychotics in the center of the community. You put those who are unquestionably amoral and dedicated to maximizing destruction of your way of life into remote places where in the event of escape or inadvertent release they will be isolated.

Second, these detainees are NOT entitled to protection as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Conventions. For that consideration you need to meet a number of fairly clear criteria. You need to wear a uniform. You need to carry national identification cards. You need to be a recognized belligerent from a nation that is a signatory to the accords. You need to abide by the rules of war; you know, little things like not targeting civilians and non-combatants, using legal weaponry, identifying yourself, etc. These folks are not military, they are terrorists. They don’t represent a national policy, they are psychotics dedicated to killing us and destroying our way of life. Get it?

Third, they are being provided food, clothing, health care, and religious consideration. Something that was not routine in either the Soviet gulag or the experience of those brave guys I shared time with last week.

Fourth, the application of military tribunals is legal and authorized. These thugs do not have the protections of the American constitution. They receive humanitarian consideration well beyond that which they provide for their captives, kidnapping victims, political pawns and terror targets.

And, fifth, there is a distinct possibility that many of them may harbor information which could aid in dismantling the remaining terrorist networks. Maybe they don’t, but if the possibility exists it must be effectively exploited.

Does the US have a policy of torture and abuse? C’mon, let’s get real here. Getting photographed in your Jockey shorts is just a little bit short of being beheaded in a videotape.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Meeting A Hero

Sipping on a Samuel Adams at the local emporium yesterday when a friend came in—he’s a retired E-8 from Special Forces that I've known for at least ten years. We’ve exchanged a lot of stories over the years, ranging from his early days in Special Forces to his experiences in the Baltic States during more recent post-Cold War development and a lot of stuff in between.

He was accompanied by a young man in desert BDUs, a member of the 10th infantry division, currently stationed near Mosul in Iraq. Travis is the son of the Green Beret and proof that the apple of patriotism doesn’t fall very far from the tree. He had just been picked up at the Colorado Springs airport direct from Baghdad for a three week R&R. When that time is up he'll return to the war for another three months to complete a one-year tour and then return to Ft. Lewis WA. That is, of course, if his unit isn’t extended in-country to compensate for shortfalls in recruiting. He doesn’t know if he’s going to re-enlist, but it’s probable. He would like to shift to a different specialty, however.

Travis is a sniper. The real deal, a direct descendent in the MOS heritage from Carlos Hathcock. Quiet, soft-spoken, somewhat stunned to be back in the world, he doesn’t tell stories but only responds to questions and then in fairly brief statements. He enjoyed his first alcoholic beverage in four months--a Samuel Adams. Needless to say, he couldn't buy a drink in this bar that is frequented by a lot of veterans from a lot of wars. He only had two beers.

He's got the skills. I asked him about his equipment. He carries the M24, a Remington bolt-action in 7.62mm (.308 cal.) and says it's good out to 1000 yards and he's comfortable to 600 yards within a 3" circle. Sniper Rifles
I asked him about the Barrett BMG (.50 cal). Barrett Rifles He says the sniper squad Lt keeps that for his personal use. Surprised me when he said the big gun is accurate only to 3 minutes of angle--meaning the standard is within 3" of point of aim at 100 yards. So, it can reach out to 2500 yards but is only guaranteed to put the shot within a 75" circle at that range. He says it isn't much good for people, but does a nice job on vehicles with an API/HE projectile. He prefers his Remington.

The bar-tender had trouble relating to 1000 yards, so he pointed to a building down the block and asked "how far"--I said 400 yards, drawing on my hunting experience. Travis looked and said 650. I'll defer to his practiced eye. It might account for a missed deer last year.

The hardest part of his job, he says, is finding suitable observation posts. Best are roofs of buildings, but the occupied ones aren't cooperative so he spends a lot of time in bombed out structures. No vegetation or natural concealment around so ghilly suit operation is out of the question. Every household is allowed to retain one AK-47, and he said you will find it readily to hand in every family. They don’t like to disturb the locals unnecessarily and there’s no assurance that an apparently cooperative household won’t tip off the targets rendering their time on station useless. There’s no telling how many more AKs are under the floorboards or buried in the yard.

We’re making slow, but steady progress in the war. One of his brightest days was when he had the opportunity to distribute stuffed animal toys to Iraqi school children. One of the worst was during a high-speed highway run in his squad’s Strykers when he was injured as the trailing vehicle ran into the back of his Stryker during an emergency stop. No Purple Heart, no enemy action. We laughed that he might not yet be qualified to run for President in the future.

On return to the US, he had to go through a customs inspection--handled by the Navy. He said they confiscate everything, much like TSA at your local airport--lighters, nail files, etc. Ditto for Cuban cigars which are readily available in Iraq, but not importable back to the US. I’m not sure whether they suspect terrorist activity from allowing a warrior to sneak a few “puros de Habana” into the country or if it might lead to Clintonian presidential activities. It seems a bit incongruous that the conscientious customs bureaucrat would take away the nail clippers, while leaving the M-16s, full magazines, flares, Randall knives and other accoutrements of war, but rules are rules. I suggested that the customs drill might be to stem a flow of AK-47s into the US. We debated whether it might not be beneficial to remove some of them from the war zone.

Travis wouldn’t be interviewed by any reporters. His story won’t make the Associated Press wires or Wolf Blitzer’s spot on CNN. He’s just a young man, serving his country, doing a very difficult job that many people might not understand. He’s one of hundreds of thousands of young Americans who probably won’t have the benefit of being immortalized by Tom Brokaw as a “greatest generation,” but we can hope he won’t see the deterioration of American support that characterized his father’s return from service. He’s one of many who make me proud of America. I wish him good luck and Godspeed.