Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greatest U.S. Military Victory?

National Review had a poll up yesterday asking readers to vote for the greatest U.S. military victory. I found that interesting, but I have problems with some of the selections and the results. I can't link the poll directly, but this was the list with percentage of votes:
  • Trenton 8%
  • Yorktown 12%
  • Mexico City 1%
  • Vicksburg 1%
  • Gettysburg 9%
  • Manila Bay 0%
  • Belleau Wood 1%
  • Midway 23%
  • D-Day 34%
  • The Bulge 5%
  • Iwo Jima 5%
  • Desert Storm 1%
Given those options, I voted for Yorktown. In my opinion it's difficult to argue with the victory that forced an end to Britain's reconquest attempt, and signaled that the U.S. would be established as an independent country. But looking at the two choices from the Revolutionary War reveals a glaring omission. Where's Saratoga? It was far more significant than Trenton and led to direct French involvement as an American ally, a development that was critical to U.S. success and crucial in the culminating victory at Yorktown.

Then there is the Civil War. I wouldn't nominate any battle of Americans fighting Americans as one of our greatest victories. That being said, 1% for Vicksburg vs. 9% for Gettysburg is ridiculous. In my opinion that just demonstrates that most people don't know much about military history. Gettysburg was a big important battle that turned back a heavy Confederate raid into Union territory. Arguably it crushed any chance for foreign intervention. But Vicksburg was not only a military masterpiece, it effectively severed the Confederacy into two pieces. At the very least it should be given equal weight.

I have no comment on the Spanish-American War or the WW1 selection, but then we come to WW2 and the biggest vote-getters. D-day? With the exception of Desert Storm -- which shouldn't have been included at all, given that it was a victory over a third-rate power that was completely outclassed -- all the other poll options are battles. Do they mean the entire Normandy Campaign, or just the landings? It is also worth pointing out that the Normandy campaign involved a massive British effort, and support from other allies including the Canadians, Free French, Poles and others. I wouldn't claim it as the greatest U.S. victory.

How about the Pacific? At sea, where is Leyte Gulf, the greatest naval battle of all time? If you have Iwo, why not Okinawa or Saipan? And where is Guadalcanal? Unlike Iwo, which for all the savage fighting was a foregone U.S. victory, Guadalcanal was in doubt for a long time and was fought on much more equal terms, on land, sea and air. In my opinion it was our greatest island victory in the Pacific. At sea I would vote for Midway, for similar reasons. The U.S. was actually at a force disparity yet inflicted a crushing defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Injustice in Oklahoma

Pharmacist Jerome Ersland was given a life sentence for killing an armed robber inside his pharmacy. Details and surveillance video are at the link above, but here's the concise version.

Dramatic surveillance video of the attempted burglary shows Parker and an accomplice running into the pharmacy in the crime-ridden neighborhood and pointing a gun directly at Ersland.

The video then shows Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel, firing a pistol at the two men, hitting Parker with one shot that knocked him to the ground.

After chasing Parker's accomplice out of the store, Ersland retrieved a second gun and returned to shoot Parker five more times, 46 seconds after firing the first shot.

Ersland's lawyer told ABC News that the pharmacist saw Parker moving and thought he was still alive, and still a threat."
For that action Ersland was charge with murder and received a life sentence.

In my opinion both the charge and the sentence are complete travesties. According to the article, the entire incident took place in less than a minute. Ersland's reasoning for returning to shoot the wounded criminal is perfectly plausible when you consider the amount of time that had passed. How was he to know that the wounded man wasn't going for his weapon? Was he supposed to just stand there, watch him, and wait to see what he might do?

It would be nice if prosecutors gave the benefit of the doubt to people defending their lives and businesses. Did Ersland overreact in the heat of the moment by finishing off Parker? Maybe. But charging him with murder was uncalled for. At worst he should have been charged with manslaughter, as there were clear mitigating circumstances. A life sentence based on his actions is completely insane. Apparently that sentence was recommended by the jury, but the judge still has to rule.

The judge could suspend part or all of the life term. If he chooses to uphold the jury's full suggestion, Ersland will not be eligible for parole for another 38 years and three months.
Hopefully the judge will be less pro-criminal than the jury and right this injustice.

Memorial Day Medal of Honor Citation

The past two Memorial Days I've highlighted a Medal of Honor citation, here and here. All MOH citations are available online. They make fascinating reading and point out the amazing courage, will and endurance exhibited by recipients This year's citation comes from World War I, a war that seems largely forgotten except by historians.

Private First Class George Dilboy won his medal posthumously for single-handedly charging and destroying a machine gun position, despite being shot multiple times in the torso, and having his leg nearly severed above the knee by machine gun fire. Here's the full citation.

Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H, 103d Infantry, 26th Division. Place and date: Near Belleau, France, 18 July 1918. Entered service at: Keene, N.H. Birth: Greece. G.O. No.: 13, W.D., 1919. Citation: After his platoon had gained its objective along a railroad embankment, Pfc. Dilboy, accompanying his platoon leader to reconnoiter the ground beyond, was suddenly fired upon by an enemy machinegun from 100 yards. From a standing position on the railroad track, fully exposed to view, he opened fire at once, but failing to silence the gun, rushed forward with his bayonet fixed, through a wheat field toward the gun emplacement, falling within 25 yards of the gun with his right leg nearly severed above the knee and with several bullet holes in his body. With undaunted courage he continued to fire into the emplacement from a prone position, killing 2 of the enemy and dispersing the rest of the crew.
George Dilboy is just one of many MOH recipients whose medal had to be awarded after he sacrificed himself to do something beyond the capacity of most people.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pew Research Center Misidentifies Me as a Libertarian

Although I have some libertarian positions, any actual libertarian reading this site for even a short time knows that I'm not a libertarian. But the Pew Research Center's "Political Typology" Quiz gets it wrong. Looking over the results, I think these were the key factors that caused me to be mislabeled:
  • Accepting of homosexuality
  • Less religious than the average American
  • Moderate views about immigrants compared to other GOP-oriented groups
In fairness to Pew, I'm hard to pin down exactly, and they do have this caveat.
Most people, but not all, are good fits for their group. Some patterns of responses to the value questions and party affiliation just do not match up well with any of the groups. The procedure will assign everyone to the group that fits them best, even if they are not a very good fit with any of the groups. And some people may actually be good fits for more than one group, since some of the groups are quite similar in many of their views.
Check out the quiz and see if it identifies your political outlook correctly.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Clergy Letters on Evolution

Back in 2004, Michael Zimmerman, a biology professor at Butler University started the Clergy Letter Project.
For too long, the misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict has created unnecessary division and confusion, especially concerning the teaching of evolution. I wanted to let the public know that numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith.
He has letters supporting the teaching of evolution for different religions, which are then signed by clergy. For example, the Christian letter has 12,722 signatures. He's just started one for Muslim clergy. Here's an excerpt.
We, the undersigned Imams of the mosques, assert that the Qur’an is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us, though not for everyone, in our country. We believe that the timeless truths of the Qur’an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
It will be interesting to see how many imams sign up.

h/t ContraRarian

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We Need Proven Sources of Energy

There's a good article at The Western Experience called, "The Reality Is, We Need Oil." While the title is true, I'd expand it to say that we need more energy production in general, from proven sources that actually work on a large scale. Along with more domestic oil, we need more nuclear power, more natural gas, and more refineries turning oil into gasoline. However, we aren't going to get any of those things with Democrats in charge.
Democrats continuously marginalize America’s potential for domestic energy production. Their law makers, with the help of Obama’s pen and rhetoric, have declared war on energy. They chose to tax “Big Oil”, limit oil production and exploration, revoke leases for inland production and rendering it financially backbreaking for businesses to drill on federally owned land. Democrats decry record profits made by the oil industries as evil and mislead the country to believe they are only leveling the playing field between consumer and producer. In actuality, the Earth-Democrats are engineering a sinister plan for blowback. A person who possesses even an elementary understanding of macroeconomics would know these added costs will simply be passed on to the consumer.
Unfortunately the Democratic Party has aligned itself with environmentalists who oppose most energy production. What we get from Democrats are pie in the sky schemes and wasted money on unproven alternative energy sources. When it comes to the sources that actually produce our energy, we get crippling regulation, taxation, and bureaucratic hindrances that drive up the costs and restrict new construction and exploration. Energy policy is just one of the many reasons to vote Republican.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spiritual Atheists

As a follow-up to my post, Programmed for Faith, I would recommend reading Josh Rosenau's post, "Scientists and Spirituality." I found these parts especially interesting.
combining theistic belief and spiritual belief, there's a remarkable consistency, with spirituality seeming to compensate for declining theistic belief in many European nations. In famously nontheistic Denmark, spiritual belief is more common than atheism, agnosticism, or theism. ... This tends to support the idea that spirituality should be understood as an experimental sort of religiosity, rather than a stepping stone away from religion. This is further supported by the fact that even in nations like Denmark with high rates of atheism, many atheists describe themselves as religious.
Even if you disagree that the need to believe in God is hard-wired into most humans, it appears that there is substantial evidence that we have a need to believe in something beyond what is material. The fact that even many self-described atheists express a belief in something as nebulous as "spirituality," seems to indicate that the hardwired thesis is at least partially correct.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Positive Bias Test

Take this interesting psychological test.

h/t The Lessons of Evolution


A must-read from Daniel Greenfield. Some excerpts:
There are states that support terrorists, and give safe harbor to them, but that's not good enough. We don't want another Pakistan or Iran. We're not half-assing it this time. What we want is the genuine article. Terrorists from the top down. Terrorists everywhere. A state where every branch of government and the entire country is nothing but terrorists.
Why do we need Terroristine? Peace. There can be no peace without a terrorist state. Not a chance of it. The only way we'll ever have peace is to give the terrorists a country of their own. A country dedicated to terrorism. Only then will the Terroristinians finally give up on all the killing, and dedicate themselves to medical research, quantum physics and the arts. It hasn't happened yet to. But it's bound to.
We know the Terroristinians want their own state. Every time they walk out of negotiations or end them with a round of terrorist attacks, it shows their deep and abiding passion for a state. They want it so badly they aren't willing to make a single concession for it. So committed are they to Terroristine. And who can blame them?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Programmed for Faith

I came across an article called, "The Science of Faith," by atheist Dick "Godless" Gross. Rather than describe it, I'm going to excerpt some of the main points.
humanity has a predisposition, perhaps a need, to believe. This craving is not universal but it is global and infects the vast majority of the species. ... While this view has been around for a while, it has been brought to the fore by the publication of the first papers from the multinational ‘‘Explaining Religion’’ project, centred in Oxford. Early papers from the research indicate that religion has evolved to help humanity in the collaboration and selflessness that underpin social cohesion.
He goes on to point out the other key findings of this latest research, particularly that education alone is not going to remove the impulse to believe.
why would anyone believe in the weird and the wonderful faiths around the world? The cognitive scientists tell us the answer – because our minds are designed to believe and they get a good dose of training.

It is a mixture of hard wiring and programming – the hardware (the mind) and the software (the education). ...

If it is true that the need to believe is hardwired, then the impact of external factors such as education and indoctrination one way or another are not going to remove it. I tend to agree with Gross that atheism will probably always be a minority position, especially materialistic atheism. There does seem to be a need to believe in most people.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maybe the Chinese Will Do Something About Somali Piracy

Here's China's Chief of the General Staff, General Chen Bingde on Somali piracy.
"For counter-piracy campaigns to be effective, we should probably move beyond the ocean and crash their bases on the land," ... "It is important that we target not only the operators, those on the small ships or crafts conducting the hijacking activities, but also the figureheads,"
The way to stop piracy has been known for thousands of years: you kill the pirates and destroy their bases. With most anti-piracy efforts crippled by blind legalism, will the Chinese actually step up and take effective action?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lab-Created Meat

I know some on the right dislike NPR because of its liberal slant, but it has many excellent and interesting programs. While I was driving tonight, I happened to hear a fascinating segment on lab-created meat -- not artificial meat, but real meat grown from stem cells.
tissue scientists are taking stem cells from pigs and putting them in nutrient broth-filled petri dishes, where they rapidly grow. The biggest slab of meat grown so far is about the size of a contact lens and contains millions of cells. The next step, Specter says, is trying to take these cells and turn them into muscle tissue, using biodegradable scaffolding platforms.
There are all sorts of implications and possibilities for this research, which will no doubt occur to anyone else who reads a lot of science fiction. You can listen to the story at the link above.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Mideast Speech

I found nothing particularly surprising in the president's speech. It was the sort of thing I would expect from someone whose foreign policy ideas are based largely on an exaggerated notion of the power of talking and on wishful thinking. Like some freedom agenda promoters on the right, Obama seems oblivious to the fact that democracy in other states is not necessarily in the U.S. interest. He dismisses such concerns as temporary, and exhibits a sort of childlike faith in democracy. As usual he shows no understanding of the difference between the collapse of regimes favorable to the U.S., and of those who are hostile.

Obama's remark about using the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has stirred up a hornets' nest. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic points out that this idea is nothing new to U.S. policy.
This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years. This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba. This is what George W. Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what's the huge deal here? Is there any non-delusional Israeli who doesn't think that the 1967 border won't serve as the rough outline of the new Palestinian state?
As I wrote in the previous post, I think a Palestinian state is a very bad idea and should not be U.S. policy. But I agree with Goldberg that there has been an overreaction to this particular comment by Obama. The whole so-called "peace process" has been a bad joke for a long time.

Much more disturbing than the comment about the 1967 borders, is Obama's call to spend even more U.S. money in the region -- as if we aren't spending enough already. In Obama's world, there is nothing that can't be improved by more government spending, and this applies externally as well as internally.
We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo – to build networks of entrepreneurs, and expand exchanges in education; to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society
He goes on to give a laundry list of things we are going to be wasting money on, no doubt in many cases to the benefit of people who despise us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Money Down a Hole

The U.S. continues to pour money into Pakistan with very little to show for it. The Christian Science Monitor has an article up called, "US aid in Pakistan: Where's the money going?" The answer to that question is: we don't know. According to the article, since 2002 the U.S. has given Pakistan $20.7 billion in aid, more than 2/3 of it to the military.
The US reimburses Pakistan for costs associated with the numerous military operations launched following US goading.

But the Defense Department has failed to obtain enough information to judge whether $2 billion in claims were valid, according to the government accountability office. Their 2008 report found evidence of double billing or repayment for unrelated or nonexistent efforts, including $200 million for radar upgrades – even though militants have no air force that would require such radar.

And you can bet that documentation on the rest of the aid is only slightly less shaky. As in Afghanistan, we are simply pouring money down a hole. And for all this money, we get Osama bin Laden living more or less openly a short distance from major Pakistani military facilities. We also get attempts to shoot down NATO helicopters, safe havens for the Taliban, significant Pakistani military & intelligence ties to terrorist groups, and the use of money that is supposed to fight terrorists going instead to beefing up defenses against our friend India. On top of all that we get constant whining about our actions, outrageous demands, and complete refusal to allow us to direct where our own money is going. Lately Pakistan has even attempted to blackmail us, implying that it will cozy up to China if we dare re-evaluate the massive aid that they feel entitled to.

Pakistan is not our friend and is an ally in little more than name only. In our dealings with it, as with many other countries, we have relied far too much on the carrot and not enough on the stick. No further aid to Pakistan should be extended without tight, binding restrictions. Pakistan's demands and blustering should be treated as the bluffs of a weak country and called. There are plenty of threats of our own that could be made to Pakistan, starting with suggestions that the U.S. might draw much closer to India, including supporting Indian territorial claims. The Osama bin Laden situation has given us the opportunity to cut Pakistan down to size. We should take it.

Least Deserving of Statehood

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wrote an article in the New York Times called, "The Long Overdue Palestinian State." It's about what you'd expect. There's an excellent rewrite at Elder of Ziyon that makes it into something more truthful. One of the stupidest U.S. foreign policy positions is our support for the so-called "two state solution." It is difficult to think of any people that deserve a state less than the Palestinians. What have Palestinians ever done that makes supporting their statehood a good idea? Is a legacy of international terrorism, virulent anti-Semitism, celebration of murders and murderers, endemic violence, corruption, repression, irrational demands and complete intransigence when it comes to peace negotiations a good recipe for statehood? How about rule by murderous factions that are distinguished only by one being more openly murderous and anti-Semitic than the other?

A Palestinian state is not and has never been in the interests of the United States. We have no interest in creating another hostile state. No matter how much we help the Palestinians, we will never get any credit for it, because we support their great enemy Israel -- which makes us ultimately their enemy too. Oh they'll gladly take our money as long as we are stupid enough to give it to them, but it won't make them like us. I have little doubt that many Palestinians probably laugh privately at our foolishness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Terrible Supreme Court Decision

If you hadn't noticed, the Supreme Court just gave police wide-latitude to break into homes without search warrants. Why? In the service of the drug war, of course. And this wasn't just a conservative reflexive pro-police decision, it was an 8-1 majority.
Ruling in a Kentucky case Monday, the justices said that officers who smell marijuana and loudly knock on the door may break in if they hear sounds that suggest the residents are scurrying to hide the drugs.
Yeah, there's no possibility for abuse there is there? Smell and hearing are extremely subjective. If the police want to go in badly enough, what's to stop them from saying they thought they smelled drugs, or they believed they heard someone doing something to destroy evidence? The Supreme Court has given them a ready excuse for violating the Fourth Amendment. Only one justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg of all people, seems to understand that.
she feared the ruling gave police an easy way to ignore 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. She said the amendment's "core requirement" is that officers have probable cause and a search warrant before they break into a house.

"How 'secure' do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and …forcibly enter?" Ginsburg asked.

Regardless of the merits of the original case in question, this decision sets a really bad precedent.

Out of Liberalism

Over at the Weekly Standard there is a very interesting piece on playwright, screenwriter, essayist and director David Mamet, called "Converting Mamet." It traces Mamet's journey from garden variety liberal to something much rarer, an outspoken conservative in the entertainment industry.
“I never questioned my tribal assumption that Capitalism was bad,” he writes now, “although I, simultaneously, never acted upon these feelings.” He was always happy to cash a royalty check and made sure to insist on a licensing fee. “I supported myself, as do all those not on the government dole, through the operation of the Free Market.” ... Mamet confessed that many of his previous political beliefs now struck him as reflexive and unthinking: The country that existed in his once-fevered liberal imagination—a dystopia crippled by crises that required the immediate deployment of the federal government—bore little resemblance to the country in which he actually lived, where people interacted smoothly in the marketplace to their mutual benefit. He had come to realize that corporations were good for providing the necessities of life. The “Big Bad Military” of his youthful fancy was, he discovered, an organization built on courage and honor.
The whole thing is well-worth reading.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fairy Tale of Heaven

Stephen Hawking was interviewed recently by the Guardian. He said that he views the concept of heaven, or an afterlife in general, as a fairy tale.
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he added.
He has other interesting comments as well, but this particular one appears to be getting the most attention. I agree with Hawking that heaven and the afterlife are fairy tales, but I disagree with the way he put it in that interview. First off, I don't like definitive statements about things which are unknown. No one, including Hawking, knows for sure what happens after death. Although I agree with his opinion, I'd like to see some sort of qualifier to his assertion. Then there is his remark about "people afraid of the dark."

Fear of the unknown -- and death is a great unknown -- seems to be part of the make-up of most human beings. Hawking has a different perspective because of his physical condition. As he says,
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death,
Just because he has overcome his own natural fears, doesn't justify dismissing others who haven't as some sort of children scared of the dark. There are also other reasons why people believe in an afterlife which are, in my opinion, stronger than mere fear of death. In particular there is the desire to be reunited with loved ones who have died before you. I have long thought that this hope, based on love not fear, is the single greatest reason why most people are not atheist materialists.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Legality of Targeted Killings

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Illya Somin writes about his response to the current questions regarding the legality of killing Osama bin Laden. Somin notes that most people don't have a problem with such actions when directed at uniformed military officers in wartime.
To my knowledge, hardly any serious commentators claim that the targeted killing of enemy military commanders such as Yamamoto and Heydrich is either illegal or immoral. ... everyone understands that individual military officers are legitimate targets. A capable high-ranking officer is a military asset
Since Somin is using World War Two examples he might also have noted that the British targeted (but failed to kill) General Erwin Rommel, and that allied fighter bombers routinely attacked staff cars in order to kill enemy officers. He then draws the obvious conclusion,
What is true of uniformed officers surely also applies to leaders of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. The latter, too, represent enemy military assets that we can legitimately target in wartime. If anything, targeting terrorist leaders is more defensible than targeting individual uniformed officers. Unlike uniformed soldiers, terrorist leaders openly target civilians and don’t even pretend to obey the laws of war.
Somin treats the questions about the legality of killing bin Laden as if they deserve a serious response. In my opinion, those who question whether or not the U.S. could legally kill someone like bin Laden are utter fools whose whining deserves nothing more than derisive laughter.

Bizarre Blogger Errors

When I tried to sign in this morning I got an error saying blogger was not available. It also appears to have deleted all traces of my last post. I'm not sure what's going on, but it seems to be working now.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

John McCain on Torture

The vast majority of screeds against torture are based on poor reasoning, ignorance and false assumptions, and usually put forth with a heavy dose of self-righteous indignation that anyone might possibly disagree. But occasionally there is a more thoughtful and reasoned argument, such as John McCain's op-ed in the Washington Post. McCain starts out by acknowledging that torture is difficult to define, and makes it clear that his opinions are based on his own definition -- an intellectually honest approach you don't see very often.
Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.
He also points out that those that ordered and carried out controversial interrogation methods did so in the service of the country.
I don’t believe anyone should be prosecuted for having used these techniques, and I agree that the administration should state definitively that they won’t be.
He's right. People who carried out methods that were deemed legal at the time, should not be hauled up on charges later in an ideological witchhunt that serves no purpose. McCain goes on to weigh-in on the debate about whether or not intelligence gained from waterboarding had a part in finding bin Laden. He says no. But his source is Leon Panetta. Sorry, Senator. A political appointee of the Obama administration heading the CIA is hardly the final word. But he also writes,
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.
Here is someone with first-hand knowledge of torture pointing out that it does sometimes produce accurate intelligence. Why is this important? Because despite this fact, numerous people arguing against torture claim definitively that it doesn't work -- in complete denial of reality.

Instead of denying reality, John McCain's argument rests primarily on moral grounds. He thinks the U.S. has to be better than other nations, and he personally feels that the use of torture is incompatible with his views of U.S. values.
I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.
John McCain, especially given his personal experience, makes a pretty compelling case. The main problem that I have with this sort of moral argument is that ultimately it becomes absolutist. As a general proposition it is reasonable that the U.S. shouldn't resort to torture. But general rules have exceptions, and we have recognized such exceptions in the past. Just because something is a bad idea most of the time does not mean it is a bad idea all of the time, or that doing something normally ugly and reprehensible might not be justified under certain circumstances.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Maureen Dowd on the Death of bin Laden

With all the whining about the death of bin Laden in various quarters, from complaints about celebrations to the usual blind, legalistic nonsense questioning the legality of the operation, Maureen Dowd's New York Times' column yesterday was a breath of fresh air. It starts with the outstanding title: "Killing Evil Doesn’t Make Us Evil." Although Dowd is a liberal partisan and can't resist some opening shots at the GOP and George Bush, she goes on to make excellent points.
In another inane debate last week, many voices suggested that decapitating the head of a deadly terrorist network was some sort of injustice. ... I leave it to subtler minds to parse the distinction between what is just and what is justified.
With regard to the illogical clowns who put forth the false analogy linking celebrations of 9/11 and celebrations of bin Laden's death, Dowd writes,
Those who celebrated on Sept. 11 were applauding the slaughter of American innocents. When college kids spontaneously streamed out Sunday night to the White House, ground zero and elsewhere, they were the opposite of bloodthirsty: they were happy that one of the most certifiably evil figures of our time was no more.
You might think this would be obvious. But unfortunately it must be pointed out. She goes on,
The really insane assumption behind some of the second-guessing is that killing Osama somehow makes us like Osama, as if all killing is the same.
Exactly. The person who is killed, the reasons why, and the circumstances all matter greatly. This is something I've pointed out numerous times with regard to torture. I wonder if Dowd would apply her same logic to the torture debate? But since I'm praising this particular column I won't go there any further. Dowd concludes,
Morally and operationally, this was counterterrorism at its finest. ... We have nothing to apologize for.
We had something to celebrate, and we did.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greatest Atheist/Agnostic Songs?

Someone at Pitzer College in California has a list up of what he considers the 65 Greatest Songs for Atheists and Agnostics.
The songs complied here offer a variety of irreligious, agnostic, secular, naturalistic, or atheist opinions and perspectives, representing a wide continuum: from the harshly damning to the sublimely happy, from literal debunking to mild innuendo. Some of the songs attack Biblical theology head-on, others merely express a natural love of life. Some express a hearty secular sexuality, others comedic blasphemy. Some express defiance, others transcendental acceptance. Some provide existential wonder at the mystery of being, others a sober frankness concerning the brutal facts of life and death. In some songs, critiquing religion is the heart of each verse and chorus, while in others it is merely the soul of a single line or phrase. In some cases, the title of the song alone warranted inclusion. For some songwriters, merely negating religious dogma is the theme, but for others, expressing a respect for human dignity or a deep love of daily life predominates.
There are some good songs in his list, although it's probably a reach to label some of them as atheist/agnostic.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why People Dislike Islam - Egyptian Edition

I've posted before regarding the contrived term of Islamophobia, which is used in an attempt to smear critics of Islam. Dislike of Islam is quite rational. There are a never-ending series of examples why. Most of them involve the actions of Muslims, who give the entire religion and its adherents a bad name. The latest comes from Egypt, where radical Muslim mobs have been attacking Christians, and enforcing their version of proper Islamic behavior on fellow Muslims.
Ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis, have taken to streets and mosques with fiery rhetoric. Stores selling alcohol have been attacked and a man accused of befriending prostitutes had an ear cut off by radicals. Muslim crowds stopped trains and protested in April against the appointment of a Christian governor in the southern region of Qena. ... Gunfire erupted. Coptic homes and shops were attacked and gasoline bombs hurled. A group of Muslim men reportedly broke off later and headed toward the Virgin Mary Church. They burned it and clashed with parishioners for hours.
This sort of vicious intolerance makes Islam look bad -- and such actions are hardly restricted to Egypt. You can find plenty of examples of other religious groups acting badly, but if you add them all together, the incidents won't come close to the sheer number from Muslims. This, not an imaginary "Islamophobia," is the primary reason why Islam has a bad reputation and some look upon Muslims with suspicion or outright dislike.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sam Harris Echoes My Argument On Bin Laden's Burial

I don't always agree with Sam Harris, but we are on the same page regarding the ridiculous pandering to Islam surrounding the burial of Osama bin Laden. Here's Harris.
catering to the doubts of conspiracy theorists wouldn’t have been as craven as the pains we took to bury bin Laden in compliance with shariah law. Apologists for Islam insist that bin Laden was a terrible Muslim who represented no genuine strand of the faith. One wonders, therefore, who would have been offended if we had just kicked his corpse into the sea without a word. Indeed, one might wonder why our government wasn’t afraid to grant this ghoulish man full Muslim honors. Shouldn’t this have offended the true adherents of so peaceful and tolerant a religion?

In any case, it is time we ignored the fathomless depths of Muslim “sensitivity” on such matters. Anyone provoked by our denying bin Laden his last rites would have thereby declared himself an enemy of civilization.
Harris even takes it further than I did, in saying that if bin Laden isn't a "true" Muslim, Muslims should be offended that he was granted a Muslim burial. Good point.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cats of War

Slate.com has a great side-show about our secret feline operatives. Check it out.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Torture, Intelligence & Osama bin Laden

In the aftermath of bin Laden's death, there have been all sorts of articles by terrorist rights supporters who continue to pretend that we couldn't possibly have gotten any important intelligence from waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques -- which they generically label torture in an expansive definition that renders the term virtually meaningless. The latest nonsense can be found in an editorial today by the New York Times called, "The Torture Apologists."
The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Their are plenty of people, including myself, who do not agree that their behavior was immoral. Whether or not it was legal is highly debatable. What is cynical and disturbing is the continued effort by the New York Times and others to demonize those who worked to protect the country and extract intelligence from captured enemies.
There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most”
I love the constant, meaningless assertions of illegality. But more importantly, the opinions of a couple of people are hardly definitive. It is also difficult to quantify the value of individual pieces of intelligence, since they are not taken alone but in conjunction with everything else discovered or known. One small bit of information taken alone might not seem that important, but could be a critical link in building the final picture. A common logical error found among most anti-torture extremists, is a failure to understand that torture, or any form of coercive interrogation technique need not stand alone. Information is information no matter how it is extracted. It can be good, bad or indifferent. It can be confirmed, falsified, expanded upon, or linked with information generated by different methods other than the way it was initially obtained.
if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.
Again, whether or not Bush violated the law is highly debatable. And in my opinion his actions were fully justified, whether any useful information was obtained or not. The idea that they violated "any acceptable moral standard" is simply laughable. People who believe torture can never be justified under any circumstances are a minority, yet these moral absolutists repeatedly put forth their own extreme views as if they were self-evident facts. It's pretty funny that this minority feels entitled to regularly speak in self-righteous terms as if they were the only true arbiters of morality.
There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive.
Again, we have an assertion backed by nothing but minority opinion. Even if it were a majority opinion, it would still be mere opinion. Most people believe that torture is immoral in a majority of cases, but justifiable under certain circumstances. Just because you believe it is immoral in all cases, does not make it so. Saying it is illegal is irrelevant. Something can be illegal yet still useful or justifiable as an exception to the law, and torture could be legal too if the law allowed for it. Under the expansive definition of torture used by many anti-torture extremists, some of the things done legally in U.S. prisons constitute torture. For example, supporters of traitor Bradley Manning argue that his treatment -- despite being legal -- amounts to torture. And finally, torture can be counterproductive, but it can also produce accurate information. Whether it is counterproductive overall depends on the particular case and is a subject for debate, not something that can be asserted as unchallenged fact.
The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions
It's been battered by terrorist rights supporters, and those, like the New York Times, who have engaged in a sustained attempt to demonize the people who worked to gain the intelligence needed to protect this country and hunt down its enemies. The success of the operation is in spite of organizations such as the New York Times. The Times attitude is typical on the left. Only people with the correct ideas should be permitted to speak. Those without should shut-up. How dare those evil torturers try to defend themselves and point out that their efforts bore some fruit? Don't they know that that all the right people think their actions were immoral and illegal?

The Non-release of Bin Laden Photos

In my opinion the U.S. might as well release the photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse. I have yet to hear a good reason for not doing so. The administration has already revealed all sorts of information about the raid -- before getting its facts straight -- that it should have just kept quiet about. The less details known about such operations the better. We need those units out there killing more enemies, and a high level of secrecy helps. But at the same time I consider the photos a minor issue, not worthy of the frenzy of commentating it has stirred up. People that refuse to believe bin Laden is dead will not be convinced by photos, because they aren't the type of people who are susceptible to facts and evidence. They'll just assume the pictures are fakes.

I have no interest in seeing pictures of Osama dead. But for those who do, since the U.S. is bad at keeping secrets, they'll probably eventually be leaked anyway.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Recent Happenings in Iraq

The Iraq War receded into the background as the War in Afghanistan expanded. Unless you are looking for it, you don't hear that much out of Iraq lately. But Strategy Page has an interesting article up called, "The Age Of The Assassin," which looks at recent events in that country. For example,
U.S. and Iraqi forces captured al Qaeda leader Mahmoud al Obiedi, and two of his key aides. This is believed one of the aftereffects of the raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound on the 1st. In addition to the death of bin Laden, much data was seized, which was immediately gone over for leads to other prominent al Qaeda personnel. Al Qaeda threatened retaliation for the death of bin Laden, but nothing unusual has happened yet. Most Iraqis cheered the death of bin Laden, including many Sunni Arabs.

Can We Stop Giving Money to Our Enemies?

The revelation that Osama bin Laden had been living in luxury in Pakistan, in a resort town full of military families about a mile away from the nation's military academy, has already spurred some calls to cut, or at least reevaluate the massive aid we give to that country. But Pakistan is far from the only dubious recipient of U.S. money. For years it has been U.S. policy to support the Palestinian Authority, an entity made up of people largely hostile to America, whose greatest enemy is Israel, a major U.S. client state. Now our Palestinian "friends" have signed a unity agreement with the terrorist rulers of Gaza, Hamas. According to the BBC, the agreement "paves the way for a joint interim government ahead of national elections next year." As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points out,
"When... the head of the Palestinian Authority embraces Hamas, an organisation that two days ago condemned the American action against Bin Laden, praises Bin Laden to the gills as some great martyr for emulation, when he embraces this organisation that is committed to Israel's destruction, fires rockets on our cities... this is a tremendous setback for peace, and a great advance for terror."
If we continue funding the Palestinians, at some point we will not only be providing money for Israeli missile defenses, but for the rockets those defenses are designed to stop -- if we aren't already.

Vulgar Keynesianism

There's an excellent article at Mises.org called, "Six Fundamental Errors of the Current Orthodoxy." The author, Robert Higgs dissects what he calls the "vulgar Keynesianism" that dominates current economic analysis. Here's a couple of excerpts.
Most of the people who purport to possess expertise about the economy rely on a common set of presuppositions and modes of thinking. I call this pseudointellectual mishmash "vulgar Keynesianism." It's the same claptrap that has passed for economic wisdom in this country for more than 50 years and seems to have originated in the first edition of Paul Samuelson's Economics (1948), the best-selling economics textbook of all time and the one from which a plurality of several generations of college students acquired whatever they knew about economic analysis. Long ago, this view seeped into educated discourse, the news media, and politics, and established itself as an orthodoxy.
people who think along such lines are currently working to continue a policy that contributed greatly to producing the unsustainable boom of 2002–2006, namely, subsidized lending to would-be homeowners who cannot meet normal commercial qualifications for receiving such loans. It does not occur to the vulgar Keynesians that too many resources have been directed into house and condo construction and that lending to homeowners who cannot afford to purchase homes unless they are subsidized to do so signals an uneconomic use of resources at the expense of the taxpayers who directly or indirectly finance these subsidies.
The whole thing is well-worth reading.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whining About Osama bin Laden's Death

I wondered how long it would take some on the left to start crying about Osama bin Laden being killed. Answer: not long.
it’s still not right. We are supposed to bring people to justice through the courts, not through vigilante justice. If bin Laden had resisted in a way that endangered his captors, that would have justified killing him. But if he didn’t, this is simply officially sanctioned murder.
Osama bin Laden was not a criminal. He was a terrorist enemy of the U.S. I know this is obvious to people whose minds aren't poisoned by left-wing ideology, but the reason his killing was justified is because he was engaged in warfare against the U.S. His killing would have been justified if he were sleeping peacefully and a member of the SEAL team snuck up and slit his throat. War is in fact "officially sanctioned murder." In war you don't give enemies a fair fight, and you don't arrest them -- unless you need to capture a prisoner for interrogation purposes. You use every advantage to kill the enemy. If an enemy allows himself to be caught unarmed, or at some other disadvantage, that's just too bad for him.
Under our system, criminals—even horrible ones like bin Laden—are supposed to get a trial. I know it doesn’t always work out that way when war is involved, but it should.
No, it shouldn't. Bin Laden wasn't a common criminal, and is not "under our system" in any way. He was a foreign enemy whose killing was completely justified. No trial was necessary or desirable.

Quote of the Day on bin Laden's Burial

From All That Is Necessary,
Maybe we should have treated Bin Laden's body the same way the muslims in the hellhole Middle East treat the bodies of those they kill. We would have brought the body back to the USA, dragged it through the streets, burned it, hung it from the Brooklyn Bridge and then jumped around like a bunch of monkeys on crack while they beat the body with sticks. Instead we give the architect of the murder of 3,000 people and the destruction of the World Trade Center a dignified burial at sea. If it's good enough for our sailors, it is good enough for that piece of crap, Bin Laden.
That pretty muchs sums it up.

Osama bin Laden's Burial at Sea

I have no problem with the administration's decision to bury Osama bin Laden at sea. There were pluses and minuses to whatever method they chose. But the usual pandering to Islam is ridiculous. Here's Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan.
Because Islamic law mandates burial within 24 hours of death, there was no time for the US to ask other countries, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said, according to the New York Times.

At a press conference Monday, Mr. Brennan assured reporters that his burial had been conducted "in accordance with the Islamic requirements."

In the previous post I pointed out that Obama has continued many of the positive policies of the Bush administration with regard to fighting Al Qaeda. But he's also continued some bad ones. One of the worst is the idea that we need to bend over backward to appease Muslims -- and not just any Muslims, but those essentially hostile to America. The last thing the U.S. should be worried about in deciding what to do with the body of an enemy like bin Laden is whether or not his burial conforms to "Islamic requirements." President Bush, and now Obama, have taken great pains to separate Al Qaeda from Islam. They've repeatedly made the case that he doesn't represent Muslims at all, and that our war against his organization is not a war on Islam. But as soon as he's dead, now he's back to being a Muslim and we have to give him a proper Muslim burial.

Trying to appease hostile Muslim opinion is useless and counterproductive. All it does is demonstrate weakness. Any Muslim who cares seriously about the disposal of a piece of garbage like Osama bin Laden is highly unlikely to be well-disposed toward the U.S. anyway. As I've argued on many occasions, it is good that such people are offended by our policies. If they aren't, we are doing something wrong. No matter how much we bow and scrape in an effort to appease them, it won't do any good. They'll still hate us. We should stop worrying about offending them. They are offended by our very existence.

Credit Where It Is Due

I've been a harsh critic of President Obama. Anyone reading this blog for any length of time knows that I think he's a weak leader, clueless on foreign policy, and a big government liberal Democrat here at home. But one area where I haven't had much criticism of the president is in his handling of the war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. In fact, I've noted before that attacks on Obama as soft on terrorism are ridiculous and don't match the evidence.

Although the president has given lip service to the ideas of terrorist rights supporters, and has made some cosmetic changes to our policies, for the most part he has continued the post-9/11 war on terror measures of the Bush administration. Unlike other foreign policy actions, such as Libya, where he foolishly tied the U.S. to a UN resolution, he has not crippled U.S. war efforts against Al Qaeda. He has ignored bleating about international law when it conflicted with American interests regarding targeting terrorists. He even expanded the drone assassination program, despite opposition from his own political base. The killing of Osama bin Laden is a prime example of how the president has taken a hard-edged approach to dealing with foreign terrorists -- as long as they are at large.

Obama ordered a U.S. kill team into Pakistan, violating Pakistani sovereignty. There was no order to capture bin Laden, and bring him back for trial as if he were a criminal. Instead the president ordered his execution without any legal niceties, treating him as the enemy he was. This action was exactly the type of response to terrorist enemies that is in America's interest. It sends a clear message to other terrorist leaders, and those who harbor them. We aren't going to try to arrest you. And the borders of the place you are hiding aren't going to protect you. We are going to kill you, even if it takes ten years to find you. Regardless of what you think of President Obama, he deserves credit for taking decisive action to eliminate one of the greatest enemies of the U.S.

I might also note that this operation was carried out in secret. There were no leaks to compromise it. The administration deserves significant credit for that alone. There has been far too little secrecy lately, and secrecy is critical to effective covert action.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Ending the HOT5 Daily

I've been thinking about it, and I've decided to stop doing the HOT5 Daily. When I started this blog, my main intent with the HOT5 was to give myself something to post every day. By reading through numerous blog posts, and selecting a HOT5, it also usually inspired me to post something original myself. This worked well for a long time.

But now I have less time to post than I used to. Doing the HOT5 requires a considerable amount of time. Instead of inspiring me to post, lately it has taken the place of posting. There are too many days when I just post a HOT5 and nothing else, if I even manage to do that much. Since my posting time is limited, I want to focus on doing original posts, rather than spending my time selecting good links. I will still feature some blog posts that I think are worth noting, but do them as individual posts, instead of the HOT5 feature.

No HOT5 Today

It will return tomorrow.

Bin Laden Finally Eliminated

I was watching the Phillies - Mets game, still in progress as I write this, when the announcement came. Bin Laden, aside from being a murderous enemy, was a tough survivor. The Soviet Union couldn't manage to kill him, and we've been after him for at least ten years. As many suspected he was hiding out in Pakistan. It's great to see the U.S. pull off an effective covert operation, kill our most wanted terrorist enemy, and sustain no casualties in the process.

Covert teams assigned to kill enemy leaders should be one of our main weapons in this asymmetric war against radical Islamic non-state terrorists. It's unclear exactly who comprised this particular team, but based on first reports it appears to have been a CIA/military collaboration.
The death of Bin Laden should send a message to other enemies that if we can find and kill him, we can kill them too.