Friday, September 30, 2005


The Lord’s Fingers

Stepping out into the dawn, a strange and pungent smell greeted me, and it took a minute of reflection to realize just what it was. Rain. It had rained the night before, and as I scanned the area out by the road, I noticed the puddles still in evidence around the building. The winter rains made an early visit, and I started to remember those first days here in January.

For six or seven long months, we didn’t see any evidence of rain, as everything got hotter, and drier, and more brown. I have described the sand or dust storms (really silt storms), it’s clear that months and months of no rain, coupled with a very old and decayed sedimentary type rock, makes everything pulverize to a fine dust, which the wind then whips into sand blasting blizzards.

Rain in Iraq is a furtive phenomenon. Most often, any rain holds off until all observable life had finally surrendered to slumber, when, unobserved, surprising quantities of the stuff falls in great sheets. By midday, the heat has dried off any remnant, until no trace of its fleeting visit remains.

Taking a walk around the FOB this morning, it was almost possible to imagine a greener, more temperate world. A damp, almost clamminess hung long into the morning, even cold, and not until I had gone a half mile or so did my own temperature chase away the chill.

What a brilliant and stirring morning though! This is the second morning in a row, that what we call back home, The Lord’s fingers stretched out in radiance from a sun hidden behind clouds. Clouds! What a remarkable natural display. Never would I have guessed that the very sign of a cloud would bring such a rush of excitement.

It comes at just the right time. We have just finished packing up the core of our equipment. We have packed for shipment that which will return with us, that which will be left for any gaining unit, and that which can and must be left for the Iraqi government. It may not be widely known or appreciated, but the US Army has come in possession of a great deal of physical, material property that is, rightfully, the property of the Iraqi people. All these palaces of Saddam, even the ones to be used by the 3rd deputy assistant security officer (some distant cousin one would guess), needed furniture and accoutrements, of course. Most often, these are big garish hunks of chair or divan, with ornate flourishes that would be at home in some B Grade Swashbuckler.

All this stuff must be collected, gathered and secured for eventual disposition to the Iraqis, collectivity, rather than hauled off by Amir and the boys to be divied up for resale or refurnishing some sheik’s second wife’s home. That’s not at all as easy as one might think, but that’s for another post, not one that started so brightly in cool and sunshine.

One more digression, while I’m still on the tangent, about connexes. We pack them, they are big giant sea-going transport containers, the big boxed ones that you may see on the back of a flatbed, stacked two high on a freight train, or piled 4 or 5 or who knows how high on a colossal container vessel out to sea.

And nothing leaves country for the States without a custom’s inspection, conducted by very serious minded and specially trained Military Police (MPs). They had no trouble at all with us, we’re a pretty tame lot, without much temptation to secret war trophies or booty or forbidden contraband of any kind. One of our early shipments, we had a couple of Soldiers try to bring back a piece of marble and some kind of carved stone, but these are considered of potential cultural significance, and must be pulled out and left behind.

Oddly, the search coming back is much more stringent than coming over. Clearly, the intentional or accidental import of organic material, insects or vermin is of biggest, agricultural concern. But the MPs are also on the lookout for any ammunition, weapons, cultural artifacts, and even pornography, which is kind of strange, because such things are forbidden here but quite readily available in the US.

As the go through the very mundane task of looking through every box, container, and bag (all set out by our soldiers for display ahead of time), the MPs regale us with humorous tales of some of what they’ve found. The funniest we heard, was of a unit stationed out in a very remote, mountainous area, in one of whose boxes was pulled out a garbage bag with a ram’s head inside. A big, mountain ram’s head, properly prepared for taxidermy. It seems these guys had bagged a ram out there in that remote region, and somebody wanted that trophy home bad. Of course, when the MPs found it, they were treated to, “Hey, how’d that get in there? That’s not mine, who put that in there?”

And now, we’re all packed. Oh, we still have a minimal configuration for day to day until we leave, and our Intel and HQ folks have all of the essentials, equipment wise, that will be either boxed up last or transferred to a follow-on unit upon departure. So we really are down to the last, this is the beginning of the end.

With the continued Grace and protection of the merciful God, we will complete our days and return as one, in one piece, to our homes and families.

With cooler mornings, with a sun that still shines, and heat that still spreads a drier warmth by the time one starts thinking about lunch, things are looking up and onward.

I step back into my room this evening with hope and expectation of another morning, knowing that there are only so many we are given in this life, on this earth, in Iraq or elsewhere, and there is only just so much time. May I wake to see the fingers of the Lord again tomorrow.

Links: Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Outside the Beltway, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville

Thursday, September 29, 2005


The Enemy is Not Iraqi

Dan Darling at Winds of Change has an excellent piece of analysis, tracking the threat of Zarqawi in Iraq. Darling has been doing a great job tracking the (rather complex) composition of the folks we're fighting here.

The occasion of Darling’s remarks was the Washington Post article, describing how Zarqawi 'Hijacked' Insurgency. The lede:
The top U.S. military intelligence officer in Iraq said Abu Musab Zarqawi and his foreign and Iraqi associates have essentially commandeered the insurgency, becoming the dominant opposition force and the greatest immediate threat to U.S. objectives in the country.
"I think what you really have here is an insurgency that's been hijacked by a terrorist campaign," Army Maj. Gen. Richard Zahner said in an interview. "In part, by Zarqawi becoming the face of this thing, he has certainly gotten the funding, the media and, frankly, has allowed other folks to work along in his draft."
Austin Bay also noted the Post article, and links to an earlier post of his which explains US anti-terror strategy:
What’s the context? The US has its fight against jihadists in the heart of the Arab Muslim world– the “fatal attraction” component of US anti-terror strategy (see this column from January, 2003). The Iraqi government also fights a nationalist struggle (Iraqis versus “foreign fighters”). Zarqawi’s jidhadists are clearly at war with the Iraqi people.
Austin Bay and Dan Darling capture exactly the nature of this struggle as essentially a fight driven by foreign forces and influences. Whatever Saddam and any hidden partners may have initially planned – and there is good reason to suspect he had co-conspirators and accomplices in Damascus and Tehran – Zarqawi and his ambitions have clearly overwhelmed whatever other military players still operate in Iraq. For all intents and purposes, the Baathist hold-outs have faded nearly out of existence.

Darling lays out a convincing case for Zarqawi’s two-pronged strategy. First and foremost, Al Qaeda in Iraq must continue whatever minimal level of attrition of U.S. military personnel that they can maintain at the least possible cost in munitions, manpower, and money. Hence, improvised explosive devices (IED). They are cheap, they make use of readily obtainable military munitions, and the expertise to create and deploy them is relatively easy to learn or transfer.

Ah, but the benefit is meaningful in Al Qaeda’s effort to diminish public support in the US and otherwise weaken Western resolve. The body count retain its usefulness in this regard, unless it continues to grow, however incrementally. Initially, Zarqawi hoped that this alone could generate sufficient helpful media attention in the Information Operations (IO) battle. But almost inexplicably, the US public has grown somewhat used to a low level of losses, and Zarqawi knows all too well that, if he masses his forces to generate higher levels of US losses, his forces get pounded into oblivion.

Which prompts the second prong in the Al Qaeda skewer, and one that makes a lie of any rational depiction of this struggle in Iraq as an Insurgency. Zarqawi desperately needs Western press attention and coverage. He needs to give his (mostly unwitting, and witless) allies in the Western press something to use as fodder for attacks against US Iraqi policy, so they kill Iraqi civilians, in large quantities. This part is easy, and as Zarqawi and others of his noxious ilk quite readily perceive Iraqis as just as sub-human as the rest of us Infidels, this epitome of ruthless fanaticism sees no meaningful “collateral damage” in the mass deaths of Iraqi innocents.

Zarqawi needs to maintain both prongs of this strategy, but an unpleasant side effect is that he has turned any otherwise sympathetic Iraqi resistance against him and his foreign fighters.

It's supremely unfortunate that major media no longer consider in-depth and long term military analysis of value (or at least not worth the expense). But sometimes, I think the expense might simply be the cost of giving up preconceptions and report facts on the ground, rather than continue to spin each new round of casualty figures in keeping with the "template."

No matter. As long as fine analysts such as Dan Darling and the folks at Winds of Change, Bill Roggio, and Chester (of Adventures of), stay focused on them, there will be at least some voices that speak truth into what would otherwise be silence, and ignorance.

Links: Blogotional


Christian Carnival is Up!

This week's Christian Carnival is up at In the Spirit of Grace. The theme for this week is a little deeper than it appears at first glance...looking at mind, body, and spirit in a variety of contexts.

The Carnival this week includes my earlier post, A Eulogy for the Fallen, which includes reflections from Sandberg, King David, and Shakespeare. We march, each of us, through the endless pendulum swings of eternity, here to mark the time for such a brief moment.

Lots of other reflections on mind, body, and spirit over at In the Spirit of Grace.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Someone You Should Know

Blackfive introduces us to someone we should know -- I'm very grateful to meet him via Blackfive's post -- Captain Scott Southworth, the new Juneau County district attorney in Wisconsin.

It involves a remarkable Iraqi boy. A remarkable American. Read the whole story ...


Wanted: A Civil Debater

My long time readers may know of the joint blog I started with a liberal, anti-war blogger over at Debate Space. All-in-all, it was a fine experiment that essentiually maintained a civility rarely seen in the blogosphere. It's an idea I still believe possible.

Yet, my former debate partner has not been available for debate for some time, and I hereby seek a new debate partner or partners.

If you have political views (or any views, really) towards the left of the political spectrum, and willing to abide by some basic standards of civility despite at times rigorous debate, I'm looking for a debating partner.

Drop a comment if you're interested, or pass the idea along to a friend.


Little Manly's First Campaign

I have to share a Little Manly milestone. His first political campaign, and a successful one to boot!

Little Manly may one day wish his proud Father was a little less public about it.

But, as Mrs. Dadmanly and I say from time to time to our children, “I’ll go with you when you go for therapy. Lord knows we’ll have plenty to make amends for.”

Little Manly’s 4th Grade class needed to elect a Representative. Those who were nominated had to prepare an Acceptance Speech. Little Manly was favored with a nomination, and he prepared the following:

NOTE: Honestly, we don’t talk parties in front of him if we can help it, but he’s asked many times what the differences are and for what ideas the Parties stand.

Written as a title, upper right corner: “Republican Speech,” followed by the text:
I can’t and won’t say I am the best candidate. Also, I can’t promise you any new playgrounds or anything. I can though promise to always listen to what you want to say when you need or want to say it. I personally think that the school public is just as important as President because your ideas are just as good as the student council’s. Plus I really support the idea of a cancer fund, children’s hospital fund, and an M.S. fund. Even though I can’t promise you anything but the first thing I’ll mention is to make a fourth grade playground and to make the school cooler. I mean it, I will try to do everything you say and will mention it to the council. Also to finish off to say that this is a great sign of democracy.

Thank you for your support.
I think he’s found the right party. (Even if he still slipped in a little pandering on the playground bit.)


Dear Little Manly,

Congratulations, Buddy! That's great, that you were elected a Representative!

Remember, as I know you will, that it is an honor to serve others as an elected Representativem even if it's only school. It's an important responsibility, because your classmates decided to put their trust in you. And you must try hard to earn and respect that trust by doing what's right. Usually, that's what your friends and classmates want you to do, but sometimes it means taking a stand for what's right, even if they don't like it. (They can always elect someone else next time.)

I am very proud of you. You are such a great kid, and you're doing so well in school, at soccer, at home with Mom, even in the way you are respectful and polite to adults, and such a kind a caring friend at school and at church and with our neighbors.

Little Manly, you are a Hero to your Mom and I and your grandparents and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and cousins ... Because this year and a half that I have been away has been a big sacrifice for YOU to make, to have your Dad go away and serve our country.

But I know that you know it's important, that our country is the greatest on earth, and that we stand for liberty and freedom and all that is right and noble and pure in man, as helped in that right and nobleness best, with God's help.

I can't wait to get home and give you a great big hug.

Love always,

Your Dad


I am Pro-Victory

And you should be too!

This is a terrific idea, suggested by Jay Tea at Wizbang, and "graphically enhanced" by North American Patriot. (Note the new and fetching “I Am Pro-Victory” graphic in the sidebar, designed by Wonder Woman at North American Patriot.)

In today’s politically correct culture, any form of competitiveness is viewed with great skepticism. In a world wallowing in moral relativity, the idea of beating or “winning” over one’s enemies is considered backward and primitive. The anti-war crowd treats the question, “What is it we think we want to win?” like a rhetorical question in need of an answer only for simpletons, or Conservatives (viewed as synonymous).

Victory is not a bad word, when the thing you vanquish is unadulterated evil. Victory is a social good. If the “War on Poverty” really was a war fightable by society, rather than by individuals necessarily fighting each on their own, we would want to win it. (And as individuals, we are pleased when we have won it, despite those who would have us limp along as victim non-combatants.)

Victory is a good word, for a good thing. We should be more comfortable than we have been in making use of it.

Victory means that many evil people, who believe the ends justify their irrational ends, meet their ends by our means.

Victory means that the citizens of a free Iraq cease to tolerate killers and thugs and foreign interlopers within their midst.

Victory will mean that a day will come when the level of violence in Iraq sinks below a level manageably by standard civil law enforcement.

Victory would mean that Iraqis could live under democracy and thrive once more as a people of rich historical legacy.

Victory would give tremendous encouragement to democracy movements all over the world.

Victory would mean U.S. Soldiers could go home having fully accomplished their mission.

Victory. It’s what we want. Jay Tea explains why, with a warning, too:
It's a good word. It says exactly what our goal is: to win, to defeat the enemy, to stop those out to destroy us and our way of life and impose their tyrannical vision on people.

And it has positive historic connotations, too. In World War II, we built "Victory" ships, bought "Victory" bonds, sent heroes on "Victory" tours. It's clear, it's concise, and it doesn't over promise or over commit or flail about in rhetorical helplessness.

And it casts a lot of the "anti-war" movement into exactly their role (yeah, ANSWER, I'm talking to you): they're not against the war, they're simply rooting for the other side.
Victory. Let's get some.

Links: My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Mudville Gazette, Soldiers' Angel Holly Aho, bRight & Early, Fuzzilicious Thinking, Mudville Gazette, Big Dog

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Profile: Supply Sergeants

The first Supply Sergeant I ever met was in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood. He set the pattern that only recently I’ve seen confounded in my current supply people.

He was on his third or fourth trip through the enlisted pay grades. Not to slam a fine American Corporation or Jack Welch’s legacy, but Army Supply is kind of like what you experience when you talk to most any long-time veteran of the various General Electric manufacturing operations. “You’ve been with GE thirty years? How many times have YOU been laid off?” For some in Army Supply, it’s “How many times have YOU been busted?”

Before you quartermaster or supply types jump me for this, I want to say right up front: there’s no more demanding job in the entire military. The reason so many Supply NCOs have had to make more than one trip through the pay grades, is that Commanders will ultimately hold them responsible for any missing equipment. Equipment drawn and used by sections and command elements, not properly tracked or maintained or secured, that turns up Lord knows where. All bucks stop at Command, and unfortunately, some Commanders’ attitude is, “That’s my Supply Guy. It’s his a**, not mine.”

My troops rag on my Supply Sergeants about hand receipts. “They make us sign for everything,” they complain. Yet when the mission’s urgent, or the Soldier is out some essential piece of equipment, Supply somehow manages to get the right resource to the right person at the right time, paperwork to follow.

Some Supply specialists make the mistake of placing “customer service” and helping the Joe’s ahead of watching the CO’s back on Property Book. (The Property Book is the method by which the Army tracks and maintains accountability of the trillions of dollars of military equipment in the system.) In my small Battalion alone, my Supply tracks a $8 million dollar property book, and I don’t think that even includes my Intel specific equipment that got transferred in and will be transferred along to the next unit. When a Supply Sergeant loses control of Property Book, someone may very well get caught holding the bill for a lot of expensive equipment.

Up until this final effort to locate, pack and ship as we near the end of our tour, my Supply guys ran only two Reports of Survey, with a total value of less than $500. (A Report of Survey is what gets generated when an item cannot be physically inventoried or located.) Sometimes that just means it’s been turned in for repair or servicing, or left in storage, and other times it means something’s lost, gone, or “stolen.” (Some old timers have a hard time acknowledging certain kinds of intra-unit pillaging as “theft,” believing quite fervently that if it ain’t locked up or secured it’s “found on installation” by definition. (Found on Installation refers to equipment that gets added to a Property Book by conscientious Supply Sergeants who properly account for ANY military equipment they come across, even if it not originally their own.) A Report of Survey will help Commanders determine whether any specific member sof command have been in any way negligent, and need to be “held to account,” financially or otherwise.

(Mrs. Dadmanly would have made an excellent and thoroughly trustworthy Supply Sergeant. Not only is she devoutly protective of our personal property, she is so scrupulously honest that we make frequent trips back to stores to report being undercharged for items sold.)

Back home prior to Deployment, my Supply Sergeant (NCOIC) is a local Cop, a Police Sergeant. He’s got over 18 years in the military, was formerly in our Military Police (MP) Company before they converted us to Military Intelligence back in 1996. (Only one word to change, right?) He threatens us all the time with getting out; but then again this is the same guy who always maintains that, on any given day, it’s the Fourth Best Day of His Life.

I asked him about that. He says that the day he married his wife was the best day, and the birth of his two kids were interchangeably the second and third, depending on who’s in the doghouse at any given time. He quickly adds that the day he met his wife is up there too, but he counts that as a tie, because he couldn’t have married her if he didn’t meet her.

That makes every other day tied for the Fourth Best Day. Even on his worst days, when we try real hard to get him to post his 5th Best Day, he pretty much sticks with a tie for Fourth.

I don’t know if it’s because he’s a cop, or if he was just born or grew up that way, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him really mad, and if there’s anybody who helps keep all of our heads tied down, it’s him. And I know he’s got the CO’s back on Property, which is why we are always signing hand receipts.

Our Armorer came to us from a unit stationed in Bedford Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Many of my upstate New York Soldiers, and most of my fills from elsewhere, wonder why the General is so ruthless when it comes to hand receipts and signing equipment out. My city Soldiers, and those in the know, hear “Bedford Stuy” and that’s all they need to know. Of course he’s going to have sign posted at the Supply window, “In God We Trust. All Others Will Sign.”

He’s originally from Trinidad, and combines a Caribbean zest for life with an honest faith and a love of music and football (soccer). He’s also not afraid of anything, or anyone.

Much like my Motor Sergeant, our Armorer came on strong first thing, set a very high standard for weapons and equipment accountability, and has never looked back or lowered his standards. Armorers must get together and trade secrets on how to drive their troops crazy. Ours had his own dental hygiene kit – not like floss, but the actual stainless steel tools used by Dental Hygienists – with which he could scrape infinitesimal amounts of carbon out of any weapon. I’m convinced he could do so with a weapon straight off the assembly line at Colt.

Then again, my first visit with the Armorer after our first range required four follow-ups before I was allowed to check my weapon back into the arms room. Listen, I keep a very clean rifle, but no kind of kit you get issued will work as well as the woman in the dentist’s office. (That’s actually a bit like what it felt like, too.)

But that’s how he approaches his job. It doesn’t matter if you’re the First Sergeant (trust me), or the Battalion Commander or S3. Numerous times during Mobilization training, we had to intervene before some Officer or Senior NCO would get unhinged by the Armorer’s refusal to accept a weapon that wasn’t clean to his standard.

We conducted dozens of qualification ranges on our personal and crew served weapons, and I think in all that time, we had one M2 .50 caliber machine gun and one M16 that ended up unrepairable. Some 200 odd weapons, always meticulously maintained because the General wouldn’t have it any other way. Both of our Supply Sergeants are just that way.

Not because, as some thought, that they are on some power trip as a Staff Sergeant and buck Sergeant, or to punish people they don’t like. But because their company commander made it clear that they were to maintain the highest standards in accordance with regulation, and ensure the unit never lost anything due to neglect or inattention to detail. If they did, if they enforced a tough standard, if there was any push back, the CO would back them 100%. And he always did.

They make quite a pair, these two. The passionate and sometimes Fiery Islander, matched with the laconic Upstate Cop. They compliment each other perfectly, and for the rest of my life they will both stand in my mind as the epitome of loyalty in the way they support and follow their commander. “They work for me,” he has said, “and I’m the one that tells them how I want things done. Someone has a problem with that, they have a problem with me.”

They may sometimes be reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, or get dressed completely (unless there’s a convoy), but they are usually the last two working in HHC when the rest of us have kicked off and turned things over to the Charge of Quarters (CQ).

The troops may not always get to see it, but these two have great big hearts, too. They always make sure they have packages of candy made up for the kids that often gather at the gates to the FOBs. My Trinidadian SGT also helped the other Soldiers who were eligible get their U.S. citizenship through Naturalization. There are several Soldiers duty detailed to Supply, and no matter what caused them to fall into that situation (sometimes disciplinary), from the moment they took their place in Supply, they belonged.

All during training at the Mobilization Site, we needed to maintain a 24 hour Weapons Guard of our Arms Room. All the lower ranking Soldiers took their turn in accordance with the DA6 (the form name for Department of the Army Form 6, by which Platoon and First Sergeants maintain a duty detail roster so that all Soldiers are tasked fairly). My Supply Sergeants started a snack and soda bar for these Soldiers, and allowed them to set up small DVD players that would help them stay awake through the night as they maintained positive control of unit arms. I think my NCOIC might have spent several hundred dollars keeping that Soldier care item going.

Not that they ever seek out any public display of our appreciation. They’d just as soon stay in the background. And when we get back home, and the Property is all properly signed over or stored back in the Armory, the Commander will be able to take a nice deep breath. He won’t have any big albatross of liability hanging over his neck, like some. Rather, he’ll know that he brought back everyone and everything with which we went to Iraq.

He may thank God that He brought all his Soldiers home. He’ll have Supply to thank for all that equipment.

UPDATE: Apparently my Profile of our Supply Sergeants had special meaning for John Schroeder of Blogotional, whose father was a Supply Sergeant. Learning more about supply discipline helped John understand something more about his Dad. Go read his post.

Other Profiles in the Series:

Cooks and Contractors
The LT
The Motor Sergeant
The CO

Links: Outside the Beltway, bRight & Early, Blogotional, Basil's Blog

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Stuck on Stupid

Don't be the last of your friends Stuck on Stupid.

Some of our Senior Leaders had the opportunity of seeing Lieutenant General (LTG) Russel Honore up close in his previous tour as the Commander of 1st Army. That he is one of the finest, no-nonsense, cut the BS leaders in the Army is widely aaccepted by all who have seen him in action.

"Don't get stuck on stupid." Good advice for those who want to keep arguing yesterday's talking points in the face of today's realities.

Don't you like John Schroeder's proposed logo for "Stuck on Stupid?" If so, follow the link and go vote for his blog!


More Media Falsehood

The Washington Post ran a story with some fraudulent "novice" protesters, that happened to be picked up by Stars and Stripes in the Saturday 24 September edition. This is highly reminiscent of the NY Times "man on the street" interviews when the same, randomly selected "man on the street" turns out to have a sideline career in giving interviews to NY Times reporters.

I guess when they want a certain type of quote for a certain type of response that fits the template, they know where to go.

Same here with the Washington Post, it seems. Matt Rustler at Stop the Bleating! explains how the Post set this piece up:
To hear the WaPo tell it, Patrice is a mild-mannered, middle-aged former schoolteacher from Olathe, Kansas, and will be a "novice protestor" in the upcoming rallies. The Post article seems to suggest that Cuddy represents a growing contingent of small town, mainstream, Red State Americans who're beginning to join in anti-war protests.
And of course, as Rustler points out, that is the very point of the Post story to begin with, that this "emerging" resistance is red state groundswell from "flyover country."

Rustler took the advice of Glenn Reynolds and googled the featured "novice protester," Patrice Cuddy, with results perhaps not so surprising:
But it turns out that Patrice Cuddy is also known as "J. Patrice Cuddy-Lamoree (see here and here), and has been helping organize antiwar protests from the beginning.
Rustler found more than half a dozen links going back two years, amply demonstrating the utter falsehood of presenting Cuddy as a "novice."

The part that really aggravates me, that I intend to follow up on, is that this Post puff piece on a phony "groundswell" of novice protesters was picked up by Stars and Stripes. Those of us who rely on S&S as our only print media deserve better.

The Washington Post should know better. Stars and Stripes should know better. This is already an old media trick (a trick that's old, that Old Media keeps trying pull).

Links: Basil's Blog, Everyman, Blogs for Bush, The American Mind, Sortapundit, Dean's World, Mere Patriots, Mudville Gazette, Wizbang

Friday, September 23, 2005


A Eulogy for the Fallen

Carl Sandberg reflected on the timeless quality of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in his masterwork, Abraham Lincoln, and in so doing rendered a fitting eulogy to those many Soldiers and Airmen and Sailors and Marines, who over the years have fallen that their fellow citizens might remain free:
In many a country cottage over the land, a tall old clock in a quiet corner told time in a tick-tock deliberation. Whether the or4chard branches hung with pink spray blossoms or icicles of sleet, whether the outside news was seedtime or harvest, rain or drouth, births or deaths, the swing of the pendulum was right and left and right and left in a tick-tock deliberation.

The face and the dial of the clock had known the eyes of a boy who listened to its tick-tock and learned to read its minute and hour hands. And the boy had seen years measured off by the swinging pendulum, had grown to man size, had gone away. And the people in the cottage knew that the clock would stand there and the boy would never again come into the room and look at the clock with the query, “What is the time?”

In a row of graves of the Unidentified the boy would sleep long in the dedicated final resting place at Gettysburg. Why he had gone away and why he would never come back had roots in some mystery of flags and drums, of national fate in which individuals sink as in a deep sea, of men swallowed and vanished in a man-made storm of smoke and steel.

The mystery deepened and moved with ancient music and inviolable consolation because a solemn Man of Authority had stood at the graves of the Unidentified and spoken the words “We can not consecrate – we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract…from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

To the backward and forward pendulum swing of a tall old clock in a quiet corner they might read those cadenced words while outside the windows the first flurry of snow blew across the orchard and down over the meadow, the beginnings of winter in a gun-metal gloaming to be later arched with a star-flung sky.
Time stands still for no man. We march, each of us, through the endless pendulum swings of eternity, here to mark the time for such a brief moment.

What do we live for? What will we die for, if given the chance? It may be that those we leave behind may linger in bitterness and sorrow. It may even be that some would plead with their Creator, and bargain at the end, if offered, and trade their fate with some other poor soul.

In despair, King David cried out to God,
46 How long, LORD?
Will You hide Yourself forever?
Will Your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is;
For what futility have You created all the children of men?
48 What man can live and not see death?
Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah
(Psalm 89:46-48)
Well it might have seemed to those who mourned the over 600,000 dead in the Civil War, that their God had forsaken their nation. Brother fought against brother, neighbor against neighbor, Americans all, locked in a death grip for 4 long years.

We mourn just over 1,900 in Iraq, and there are those who would walk away from the sacrifices already made, dismiss the liberation of 50 million souls as collateral benefit of a nevertheless unnecessary war. They’d be wrong, but it’s deeply understandable that those of suffer most, lose all, or lose their best, might lose heart, and faith.

No generation has a monopoly on Wisdom, nor perfect foresight, nor absolute moral anything like clarity, let alone authority. It may be that Saddam might never have gotten his long sought Nuke, might never have again used his chemical munitions, might never again have attacked his neighbors, might suddenly have been rebuffed in his many attempts to influence terrorist organizations to “partner up” for shared objectives. He might also have stopped funding Palestinian bombers of Israeli civilians, too. Eventually, the Iraqis might have suddenly stumbled upon democracy, maybe without too many more thousands dead or tortured or raped or imprisoned.

I wouldn't have bet much on any of that, as much as it might be nice to think such things possible. President Buish chose not to bet on any of these things, either. But we are all in this together, now. Even opponents of the war muster strength to hold to standing fast and finishing the job. There is something very great at stake. Still.

We all sink or swim in this “deep sea” of humanity. We all watch the clock.

While King David might have at low points despaired, he knew that only God had mercy large and limitless enough to make right that which went wrong:
1 I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever;
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 89:1)
When the all too rare Men and Women of Authority harken us to our ancient creed and first principles, can we set aside our petty differences of partisan advantage, and see a shared purpose?

For there is an enemy abroad, a wolf, he circles the globe seeking the defenseless and those already defeated in their cravenness, or fear, or selfish disinterest as evil walks the world. We can pretend it isn’t there. We can wish a champion – someone else not us – against it. We can just try to get along with it, we can even seek out terms of surrender or accommodation. But someday, we will be caught abed. And wake, if we do, to the wolf not just at the door, but devouring our gentle ones.

James at Right Face! first reminded me of Henry V, in which Shakespeare gave serenade to those who would give all for King and country:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

-- St. Crispen's Day Speech, Shakespeare's HENRY V, C. 1599
Links: Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville, Blogotional


Immoral Systems

Thinking Christian posted highlight of a remarkable debate his post, The End of Right and Wrong in this week’s Christian Carnival.

“What does it mean to have a coherent set of ethics?” Thinking Christian relates he has been “kicking that around in comments” following an earlier post of his. He asked two of his commenters to explain their positions, which led to a very lengthy and at times disturbing debate.

In the course of this conversation, Commenter Paul stated:
"there is no way to prove to Al Qaeda that 9/11 was wrong if Al Qaeda has a different moral system. I can only fight them, not prove them wrong."
Thinking Christian responded:
I'm equally as pessimistic as Paul is about proving to al-Qaeda that they are wrong. It's a practical matter of how persuadable people are. That's not what we're chasing down here, though. The question is not whether we can prove al-Qaeda was wrong, but whether we can even say among ourselves that what they did was wrong. What I'm getting here is that we can only say it relatively, and we must always recognize that in their eyes it was right.
This was my first reaction to Thinking Christian:
I would suggest that there IS a way to prove to Al Qaeda (or at least, its individual members) that God is not on their side, and that what they do is wrong.

Unfortunately, that proof comes at the point of their death, and they realize that God has not and will nor save them and vanquish their "infidel" enemies.

Which is one fortunate side effect of an administration that sees a high degree of utility of a military response to international Terrorism and terrorist sponsoring states.

For some, eradication is the only method of "reforming" their moral system (or lack thereof).
After some reflection, I came to the following conclusion. (Lower the weapon. Eject the magazine. Clear the round from the chamber. I wish I could say I was more of a “Thinking Christian,” at times.)

Radical Islamic Terrorists and their acts are morally evil even within their own moral systems. They rationalize their acts based on factual untruths. As such, they refute whatever moral authority they might otherwise claim (however misguided).

Likewise, Hitler's moral system may very well have condemned his actions. Since he was a totalitarian Dictator, there's no sense of speaking of a moral system, what he says, goes.

To the extent that the National Socialists espoused a moral system, they justified their violence against Jews as self-defense, based on an entire fabric of untruths believed and propagandized by its adherants.

But if the underlying justifications and factual basis of action is demonstrably FALSE -- as in the blood libels of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other blatant hate fantasies, then even under Hitler's own "moral system," his Final Solution was evil, and wrong.

Apply this to much of the evil in the world, and it will still apply. People and the governments they support or run commit acts of evil IN SPITE of the moral systems they hold.

It isn't a reflection of their moral systems, however deficient they may be. It's that they turn away from any morality at all, or use falsehoods or ignorance to manipulate the responses of their followers in hateful ways. Many are quite cognizant of their departure from established moral norms. That's the point of their rebellion.


In his post Separation of Church and State Is Biblical, Terry Pruitt of Pruitt Communications argues that healthy church and state relations results in a creative tension between the two instead of the usual goal of “peace” which allows church and state to be lulled to sleep.

Jeremy Pierce, a.k.a. Parableman examines the theology of Natural Disasters and Divine Judgment, positing that the biblical statements that have a bearing on whether a natural disaster can be a judgment from God are far more complicated than people on both sides of this issue want to acknowledge.

This is an excellent examination of this topic. His conclusive point:
The point is that there's some sense in which bad things that happen can be a judgment, and they should sometimes be a wake-up call. Someone who truly believes that God is sovereign and that God does reward the relatively righteous and punish those who are more wicked in this life should see events like this as a warning sign or a wake-up call. Any devout Christian will have serious complaints about wickedness rife within the United States, and I suspect devout Jews will agree. People have a natural tendency to think first of sins that they didn't commit, but that's their problem. It's not a problem with the general thesis that Christians and Jews have maintained for a long, long time. The reality is that most of us partake in the materialistic worship of the God of wealth, the sensualistic lusts of various aspects of everyday American life, and the selfishness of American individualism. There's much to like about the American dream, but there's much to criticize about how it's appropriated and implemented. Every empire in the history of the world has fallen, and each one had its ways of taking advantage of people and arrogantly seeing itself as the best thing to come around, an attitude that removes God from the throne and places an idol there. The American empire is much less a political entity than an economic and cultural one, and the average American contributes to it far more than in past empires.
Lance Salyers of Ragged Edge offers his first a two-part response to a series of questions about his faith posed by an atheist, in My Creed (Part I).

Very thoughtful commentary at the Carnival this week. Take the time to visit, dwell, and be blessed.


Happy Birthday, Ray!

John Hinderaker at Powerline has a tribute to Ray Charles in honor of his birthday.

I am only lately an admirer of Ray, having had only a cursory familiarity of his music, and less of his life. That all changed with Jamie Foxx's brilliant portrayal of Ray in this recent biopic.

John speaks movingly of Ray's timeless rendition of America the Beautiful.
It's a beautiful song, and as John observes, Ray leads with the little known third verse to cause us to attend to a song we thought we knew. I like to think it was Ray's way of thanking God for this America that he loved, warts and all. Here's the verse, as transcribed at Powerline:
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success
Be nobleness
And every gain divine!
This is a powerful tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed all for their country, and Ray pays them the finest of tributes, with the full expression of his great gifts.

I myself have to admit my favorites are tied to the movie, which according to the cover art of the DVD, Joel Siegel describes as "One of the Best Films I Ever Saw." I echo that view, it's a remarkable film and Foxx is extraordinary.

The opening credits, with Ray pounding out the striding chords for "What'd I Say," perfectly captures an intensity and raw emotional power with which Ray delivers his performances. Later, when the film intermingles Ray's troubled relationships with musical numbers. The film deftly captures the passion and emotive power that underlay many of the performances. I am transfixed watching Aunjanue Ellis (Mary Ann) sing "What Kind of Man Are You" or Regina King (Margie) scream out the choruses to "Hit the Road Jack." Call it great filmmaking, call it a skillful pairing of music and drama, it is Ray Charles in all his complexity, and the essence of his art.

Links: Basil's Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Christian Carnival #88 is Up!

Christian Carnival #88 is up over at Digitus, Finger & Co. Lots of good carnival entries this week, including my recent The War Within post.

Check out the Carnival, and be blessed!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Patterns of Analysis

I had a very lively discussion tonight with the estimable Buzz Patterson. (If you don't know him you should become acquainted.) We touched on this subject of media reporting, and it got me to thinking about perception, and the "patterns of analysis" that I think causes different perceptions of the same set of circumstances.

In discussions, some of our Soldiers are pessimistic about how things are going. You might think, "Hey, they see the real story." Maybe. More likely, since some of our Soldiers are "all trees and no forest" analysts, what they see and track becomes all they know. I think they are subject to the same "if it bleeds it leads" mentality (as reporters), and they only see the situation in terms of spikes in IEDs and other "reportable" activity, with little or no attention paid to positive civilian or government activities. That’s not their mission.

I have had numerous conversations with some of our Soldiers who work closely with the “2” element, and occasionally they warn us of big (negative) downturns or adverse events, only to have "the threat" never materialize. Further, some came into theater with a pessimism that in their eyes the data pinpoints reinforce and support. Not tied in with the day-to-day intel fight, and seeing the wide Open source intelligence (OSI) picture for myself, I am often completely puzzled by some of these perspectives.

I am beginning to think the kind of work reporters do (intelligence or media) inevitably leads them to paint the picture with the negative data points, since that's what they see most, and most urgently.

I even half-joking suggested to one of my Intel soldiers, that Al Qaeda was specifically targeting him with their Information Operations (IO). They know that he and a great many others like him, mostly college educated, some ambivalent about the war or US objectives, called up to Active Duty from Reserves or Guard, and they stage attacks and keep a high volume of little inconsequential attacks in large part to discourage those preparing Intelligence assessments and advising Coalition military commanders and political leaders.

Do I think they're that sophisticated? Some of them, yes. Is it more likely the Intel folks are just in sync with the media analysts and reporters who are also the target of Al Qaeda IO? Of course. But it does make me wonder. So I gave some thought to the problem, and here’s what I came up with.

Any time you try to analyze a trend, or develop an overall macro definition of a large number of small, discrete events, you run into a problem of methodology, even perspective. And there's no easy resolution.

Imagine you are looking at overall violence in Iraq. You could look at a range of violent acts by Anti-Iraqi Forces (AIF), from small arms fire to assassinations to improvised explosive devices (IED) or various kinds to coordinated attacks and ambushes.

Zero in on IEDs, they pretty much do in command channels here. Next, imagine that you might create some kind of plotting over time or geography, look for hot spots, chart patterns, trends, increases, decreases, etc.

Now try to describe what you're seeing, and be careful of the assumptions that are part of your descriptions.

1. First assumption to acknowledge, you picked one type of violence over another. The fact that you pay attention to that one factor will influence how and whether your enemy changes tactics to change how you see the data. (That is, if they’re good. Viet Cong? Soviet Union? Capable of that. Serbia? North Korea? Fat chance. Al Qaeda? If not in the beginning, probably by now.)

2. Also, what's the context? Was that a type of violence that exists elsewhere, you can compare levels to? Or Pre-War? Are these isolated, spectacular media driven events (or can they be), how frequent, how many people or what proportion of people (soldiers or civilians) does this event affect?

3. How does this level or type of violence compare with othert situations, regions, trouble-spots, historical precedents? Is Iraq safer than Columbia? Less violence prone?

4. Where you focus. Obviously, in a "data scatter" type diagram or model that will be used by the Press, you will look at the "black" data points and only see those. But you could also note or evaluate all the "white" spaces in between (the absence of the event). Or, do you create some kind of average, in effect blending black data points and white empty space, and create a degree of gray that you then evaluate?

I am beginning to think this paradigm hold true for reporting in Iraq. Liberal news media that had an agenda to begin with (we were right about the war and the incompetence of this administration), seek out only individual discrete events that support their template. And in purely statistical terms, there's a value to that way of looking at data. (Projections and forecasts, for one thing.)

You could evaluate the same data but concentrate on the empty spaces, the cessation or absence of violence. There's utility in that, too. Is the threshold of violence-to-safety beyond some point that populations change their behavior significantly in response to it?

Blending the data could give you the closest to what some news organizations attempt in highly subjective "mood" or environment pieces (the "raise questions" and "the mood was tense" type reporting), but usually committed without any hard data to support whatever the subjective "impression" of the reporter doing the hit piece.

My own gut suggests that there is truth in all three degrees or areas of focus. But there is no doubt at all, that to focus on just the little black dots is to not just miss the forest, but to run headlong into some tree as well, from searching out each root.

UPDATE: John Schroeder of Blogotional, as he often does with great insight, suggests another way to look at the whole issue of media (or analytic) focus on the negative. Well worth the read.

Links: Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville Gazette


Sheehan's Hope-o-Matic

Tim Blair takes a very wicked cut at the New York Times for some really stupid "reporting," in which their reporter makes the statement:
Many New Yorkers said yesterday that Ms. Sheehan gave them back hope that was lost when war was declared on Iraq.
And Tim has a field day running through the possible forms these "many New Yorkers" phrased these obviously candid utterances for the Grey Lady.

My favorite:
“When war was declared on Iraq, I felt the hope drain from me. Since I hooked up to Ms. Sheehan’s Hope-O-Matic, however, I’m totally loaded with A-grade, super quality HOPE!”
Why the esteemed editors at the Times can even imagine this is "reporting" is beyond me. (Yes, "scare" quotes intentional.)

(Via Instapundit)

Links: Basil's Blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


The War Within

Nick Schulz at Tech Central Station and Dennis Prager at Townhall write separately on two sides of the same coin, to borrow the expression from Schulz. Prager scrutinizes the acts of individuals, while Schulz explores the culpability of the collective, in the form of Government.

The coin Schulz speaks of is of Government Issue, with his specific thesis that “poverty is a direct result of poor governance.” Schulz refers to economist William Easterly and his new working paper, Center for Global Development, and highlights some startling statistics:
Easterly found that, "Over 1970-94, there is good data on public investment for 22 African countries. These countries' governments spent $342 billion on public investment. The donors gave these same countries' governments $187 billion in aid over this period. Unfortunately, the corresponding …increase in productivity… was zero."
It’s perhaps inevitable that Government spending, and particularly money directed at poverty, is measured in quantity and not quality of effective results. Nevertheless, as Schulz points out a question that may be obvious, but rarely uttered in the corridors of public policy:
If half a trillion dollars of investment and aid can't raise economic output, then what can?
The policies themselves appear to be the problem. Schulz derives the following conclusion from Easterly’s paper:
"The paper instead finds support for democratic institutions and economic freedom as determinants of growth that explain the occasions under which poor countries grow more slowly than rich countries."
It may seem obvious to remark that bad governments govern aid programs badly (as well as everything save self-enrichment), but the utter transparency of such a causal relationship seems beyond the capacity of public Diplomacy to address, much less resolve. “Why do we keep throwing good money after bad?” “Because it’s all about throwing the money, not where it goes or how it’s used.”

It’s the Government’s fault, man. (Just not how you think.)

Looking inward, Prager writes compellingly of his son’s learning about his “yetzer hara,” described as the Hebrew term for the innate “desire to do what is wrong.” In Jewish theology, Prager goes on to explain, human beings all share two inward, inborn drives, one towards what is good and the other towards what is bad. In Christianity, we most frequently identify this dynamic by means of referring to “man’s sinful nature,” and as Prager correctly observes, “both traditions believe that the greatest battle for a better world is usually with oneself.”

Prager’s thesis, his very philosophy of public criticism, derives from the Judeo Christian idea that “the road to a just society is paved by individual character development,” self improvement, and the eradication of bad or anti-social behaviors. Prager contrasts this “inner reconstruction” with some social activists, for whom "’social justice’ means social equality and social fairness. It is not fair that some people have more than others,” and who thus seek outer correction and reparation.

Schulz notes that in the Foreign Aid circles in which Easterly spent his career:
It has been widely believed that impoverished nations suffer from a self-perpetuating “poverty trap.” This poverty trap is almost impossible to escape without a big push from wealthy countries -- hence the logic of foreign aid.
Does foreign aid ever fix anything? Does it create financial incentives, or disincentives? Does it discourage or encourage free markets and economic activity (other than the feeding swarm over the aid money itself? How well is that money being spent?

Put another way, will public policy treat symptoms, or resolve root causes? And as the example of spending $500 million to no effect whatever, the reason people stay poor (and collections of people in a society stay poor) isn’t because they lack money or resources. They may very well remain poor because they either do not personally participate in an economy that will improve their standing, or there is no real economy in which to participate. If all they find are handouts, that’s all the incentive they’ll need to remain in dependence. (As long as the handouts are always there.)

All this, aside from the 800 Pound Gorilla that often lurks in the halls of Diplomatic and International Aid institutions, that most of the governments in the impoverished world suffer first and foremost from a poverty of personal ethics and integrity, Educated perhaps, but overindulged and too attracted to the creature comforts that come from the management of Foreign Aid. The same is just as true for the poverty societies within otherwise wealthy nations. Welfare is welfare, and gratuities in lieu of self improvement and self support doom the recipients to continued dependency.

Societies are vast collections of individual actions. Yes, many occur in great waves of behavior, lemming like, in which entire populations respond as one, making individual decisions towards incentives or away from disincentives. But it should not at all surprise if a system with great incentives and disincentives towards various behaviors actually results in behaviors following the best return. In fact, the very idea that a government program exists in a subtle way suggests that there is a need for it to exist, that it is a social good that it exists, and therefore an individual good to avail oneself of its benefit.

Social science, if it has any basis in the facts of reality and daily existence at all, affirms what Easterly hypothesizes and Schulz affirms: that “democratic institutions and economic freedom” are the best single determinates of whether a society will reduce poverty and improve the economic well-being of its people, many of them, if not most of them.

Prager concludes with a manifesto for outward activism that starts with personal change within:
Judeo-Christian values have always [been] understood [to mean] that the world is made better by making people better. On occasion, of course, a great moral cause must be joined. For example, it was religious Christians who led the fight to abolish slavery in Europe and America. But in general, the way to a better society is through the laborious and completely non-glamorous project of making each person more honest, more courageous, more decent, more likely to commit to another person in marriage, more likely to devote more time to raising children, and so on.
And societies that can advocate self-reliance and self-improvement, while creating incentives that reward individuals who would improve their lot, may quickly find that they harness a power beyond the merely financial. In contrast, societies that foster dependence, and tolerate or excuse destructive or hurtful behavior, tend to get more of the same in return. Expectations are low, and stay that way.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves,” is actually in neither the Old nor New Testaments, and neither is “when you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, and when you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” There’s no chance for a better world if we can’t raise better citizens.

We may at times seek comfort, or even a temporary salvation from our neighbors, or our Government. But in the end, that which we do once for ourselves we readily can do again. And that done rightly, instead of at the expense of those around us, helps in some small way encourage our neighbors to work that much harder themselves.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
That is from the Bible, and if there's any with doubts about where to find some good guidance on how best to fight that war within, you'll find the answers in the pages of that Book. The Book.

UPDATE: For a somewhat different take on Poverty, and how we mistakenly think of it, check out John Schroeder's thoughts at Blogotional.

Links: Basil's Blog, Outside the Beltway, bRight & Early, Dawn Patrol at Mudville Gazette, Media Lies, Soldier's Angel Holly Aho


Blogging Porkbusters

In another dramatic prototype for the Blogosphere, Glenn Reynolds and N.Z. Bear of The Truth Laid Bare have teamed up on an excellent project attacking Big Government spending.

Porkbusters may very well change forever how Big Government operates, and represent yet another way that the Blogswarm can help restore "small d" democracy to governance.

Glenn describes the idea:
How are we going to mobilize the blogosphere in support of cuts in wasteful spending to support Katrina relief? Here's the plan.

Identify some wasteful spending in your state or (even better) Congressional District. Put up a blog post on it. Go to N.Z. Bear's new PorkBusters page and list the pork, and add a link to your post.

Then call your Senators and Representative and ask them if they're willing to support having that program cut or -- failing that -- what else they're willing to cut in order to fund Katrina relief. (Be polite, identify yourself as a local blogger and let them know you're going to post the response on your blog). Post the results. Then go back to NZ Bear's page and post a link to your follow-up blog post.
This is without doubt a brilliant idea. If we can get our elected officials to pay a high enough price with their constituents -- the people who actually vote for them, not the people and organizations who build their financial warchests -- we can begin to restore some accountability for wasteful government spending.

I may be here in Iraq now. But I return to one of the more blue states in the Union, and state and congressional districts among the most prone to pork barrel projects. (Known variously as line item expenditures, set-asides, earmarks and member items.) I think this is an idea that will have lasting value. I see no legitimate reason why public expenditures can't be posted online as part of a public review process, though I'm not holding my breath. Come the day our Government can out-reveal Porkbusters in Transparency, Porkbusters will no longer be required.

Until then, keep breathing and keep digging through those barrels.

Technorati tag: Porkbusters

Links: Stones Cry Out, Dawn Patrol at Mudville Gazette, RightWingNation, Tapscott's Copy Desk

Monday, September 19, 2005


Profiles: Cooks and Contractors

Much has been made of the “outsourcing” of many military functions, and nowhere is that so pervasive as the current situation with Dining Facilities (DFAC) in Iraq. For Army cooks do not cook in Iraq and many other forward areas, they “supervise” those who do. That means, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) contractors. Well, more precisely, foreign national (but not host country) subcontractors for KBR.

Longtime readers will no doubt remember a post on the DFAC and the experience “wond’rous & strange” of eating in a military DFAC. Most of us experienced the closest we’ve come to combat at the DFAC, as described in this post.

Listen, when you are deployed to a FOB in Iraq, and just about every peacetime pleasure available to you Stateside has been either made illegal or impossible to accommodate here, the DFAC takes on an almost sacred importance. (Except for a subculture of pantry hoarders, more on that later.)

We were very fortunate in having a fully established mess section within our Battalion before we mobilized. Colocated with our Division HQ, we had to share kitchen and “dining hall” space with Division cooks at our Armory. Our cooks always took special care, went above and beyond for the Soldiers, and the Mess NCOIC was always very adept at manipulating the food services, purchasing, and acquisition process, where he made the Army system produce, both in quality and quantity. And his cooks knew how to cook. He had a soup maker, a couple of great grill men, a pastry chef, an old timer who did all the parties at the Last Drop Club (more on that later, too), and he himself has his own catering business on the side.

I think we need to have him do a Pig Roast for us when we get back Stateside.

For a while, the BN and the Division cooks would take turns each month’s drills, who would cook the noontime meal. You always knew whose turn it was. Likewise, you always knew which mess section would be asked to “head up” the holiday meal at the December Drill. (I don’t mean to slight the Division cooks, we had ‘em outnumbered, and they’re cooks wanted to work for us, too!)

One of our big concerns in mobilization was what would be our actual missions while deployed. We’d heard about KBR, how they do all the cooking, our cooks wouldn’t be needed, etc. We even heard they might be asked to work Detainee Operations, or force protection on the FOB (before we found out we ALL do force protection on the FOB). So the Mess Sergeant and his crew were not a small bit anxious and uncertain.

They weren’t given much time to think about things during Mobilization Training. Once we had all completed the certification training, and settled down into something pretty close to full time Active Duty Army, they ended up running a DFAC at the mobilization site, running 4 meals, and actually cooking. They loved it, the Soldiers appreciated our own cooks cooking, not having to travel to New Post to get a meal…They ran that DFAC for about 8 weeks, and spent another 4 or so staffing rotations at the DFACs on New Post as well. They worked their butts off, all the while keeping up with our training as well, for convoys, defensive operations, briefings, and so forth.

Now deployed, his cooks manage the “headcount” of how many Military and Civilian diners come in each meal, supervise food preparation (to an extent), and otherwise make sure the Contractors are doing okay. They are aided in this by a Civilian Manager of the DFAC, usually an Aussie or a Brit, who is the senior KBR employee for the DFAC, and works with our NCOIC to keep both the military and civilian sides at peace.

The contractors are all third country nationals (TCN), referring to the fact that Iraqis aren’t allowed to take those jobs on the FOBs. The cooks are Indians, more Pakistanis, and from various Asian and African countries. One of the fringe benefits of this employment arrangement is that the folks from Southern Asia keep treating us to various Curries and Indian style buffets, which helps (if you like that sort of food, as I do) break up the monotony of the Army’s 14 Day Meal Plan, even with all the extras they try to load us down with.

As my Mess NCOIC laments, these guys have no idea about portion control. It’s ironic, guys as skinny as a pencil or otherwise pretty slight compared to these big American GIs, and they load up the plates like you’re eating for two. After a while, the my NCOIC and their manager got after them, to at least pause after the first big scoop or shovel of the main course, and only ladle more if the Soldier “asks for it.”

Surprisingly, a lot of our Soldiers don’t go to the DFAC often. Many are down to one meal a day. Some avoid the crowds, and think that eventually, one lucky Jihadi mortar team will strike it big. Most are trying not to gain 50 pounds while we’re here. Many complain that you leave the DFAC smelling like grease. Many of the younger guys crave anything like a fast food meal, which means they’ll join a convoy to hit Burger King or Pizza Hut, and make do with Subway on the FOB if it means no DFAC.

Not a few are Pantry Hoarders. One of our Soldiers, in his late forties, doesn’t much care for any of the food that’s made; he subsists on a wall to wall food pantry he built in his room, stocked with canned and packaged foods from care packages and the PX. He has had more food than most people have possessions, and I don’t remember ever seeing him in the DFAC. I don’t know how he got it all pulled together, for all I know he had a bomb shelter’s worth of food smuggled in the connex on the way here.

You might wonder how the cooks keep from going crazy. Well, we keep the NCOIC pretty busy these days, he’s been my stand-in as First Sergeant as I’ve been stand-in for the CSM, first while he was on leave and later, with a project to downsize on our FOB and reduce the number of buildings we inhabit. He makes a great 1SG. I’m more of a softy, try to reason with the Soldiers; he pretty much is a no-nonsense leader. He says a lot, “If he worked for me in my business, I’d fire him!” He’s actually taught me a lot about when to take a hard line and say enough with the excuses. He and the LT gang up on me a lot; my Captain is nice enough to remark, “different leadership styles.” (He doesn’t say but I think, “Intel weenie versus hard-nosed business owner.”)

One cook in his spare time referees basketball games. This suits his temperament, as he is invariably right about most everything, and as referee no one gets to argue for too long without getting ejected. Two of our cooks, one profiled in this story, have got our unit involved in Operation I Can, which I mentioned briefly here. (Remember about the shoes, it’s all about he shoes, Manolo. What’s with shoe blogging, anyway?)

The one Vietnam Veteran in the bunch, quite adrift from not having a “Last Drop Club” to run like at the Armory, has taken to monitoring for waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of KBR, and never tires of regaling us of one malfeasance or malpractice or another, although this usually strays into National politics before too long, when I try to absent myself before this dyed in the wool Union Democrat goes off on some new line of attack. I think he has accepted the fact that, at least in the more obvious ways, Iraq is not like Vietnam, but we had him going there for a while, with our training, and occasional mortars…

And all of them become just about the most popular Soldiers on the FOB. I don’t just mean the really social one with whom everybody seems to be infatuated, it seems to happen to all of them. They know all the Soldiers, they pay particular attention to the gun crews that come in straight from convoys, they make a big deal over everybody, they do small favors, they try to make what they can special. They take care of us.

Our guys tease them. They stand at the front door, using a counting device to keep track of how many Military come in. (They log the civilians as there are less of them.) So all of our Soldiers, they only activity they see, the cook is standing there, “click” and “click” and “click,” and sometimes a “click click,” for two diners coming in together.

We were in hysterics one day, when the NCOIC told us he had to fly to Baghdad and go through training for Headcount. “What, you need to learn some new technique? Using your index finger instead of your thumb? Here, I can save you the trip: click…click…click click.!” (I am sure he gets tired of hearing the clicking jokes.)

Now while I am a certified project manager (PMP) by profession stateside when not mobilized, I don’t claim to any particular knowledge or point of view regarding KBR, their contracts, or the manner in which they are awarded, implemented, or monitored. No one’s asked me to do an audit, nor do I have access to the pertinent project financials to render an informed opinion.

But I do know one thing. You can’t pay for what comes from the heart. No offense to the KBR employees, or their subcontractors. I know many of them are dedicated professionals as well. But I know my cooks. Based on their commitment, concern for the Soldier, and their ability to cook, I’d have KBR packed and out on the first Charter flight out of theater, and let these Army cooks do what they do best. Take care of the Soldier.

Other Profiles in the Series:

The LT
The Motor Sergeant
The CO

Links: Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Dawn Patrol at Mudville

Friday, September 16, 2005


Two Presidential Addresses

Who would have guessed, as the crisis with Katrina and New Orleans unfolded, that the Fourth Act of the Drama would culminate in a serious debate about the limits, philosophic basis, and hidden dangers of Big Government intervention in human affairs?

And even if you had guessed it would come to that, would you ever have guessed that President George W. Bush would make an impassioned argument for the Big Government position, and a popular satirist would be sounding the warning clang of the serious danger such intervention can pose?

Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction. (Stranger, even, than Hollywood conspiracy flicks.)


As an Address to the Nation, President Bush’s discussion of Hurricane Relief on Thursday night, September 15th was a fine piece of oratory, and perhaps one of his more polished and politically well-tuned speeches. Which, given its content, gives rise to serious concerns from the President’s most loyal conservative supporters.

The President immediately harkened to the worst after-effects of the disaster, and spoke of the grave threats that faced survivors. And just as immediately after, the President echoed themes of sacrifice and personal courage he has previously sounded in the days following 9/11, but perhaps not so effectively:
These days of sorrow and outrage have also been marked by acts of courage and kindness that make all Americans proud. Coast Guard and other personnel rescued tens of thousands of people from flooded neighborhoods. Religious congregations and families have welcomed strangers as brothers and sisters and neighbors. In the community of Chalmette, when two men tried to break into a home, the owner invited them to stay -- and took in 15 other people who had no place to go. At Tulane Hospital for Children, doctors and nurses did not eat for days so patients could have food, and eventually carried the patients on their backs up eight flights of stairs to helicopters.

Many first responders were victims themselves, wounded healers, with a sense of duty greater than their own suffering.
This is heady stuff. One commentator remarked that we could have used more of this kind of stirring rhetoric from the President more often since 9/11 and the start of our work in Iraq. (I’d credit the remark if I could remember who it was.) This is also the President’s greatest attribute, he’s a keen observer and obvious believer in the inner strength and courage of Americans. Which only increased the dismay of more conservative supporters, as the President followed these stirring tributes with a pantheon of benefits and expenditures, to sooth every ache and make good every loss.

President Bush elaborated three commitments the Federal Government would affirm for the Nation. The First Commitment was to meet immediate needs, to the tune of $60 Billion, in the aftermath of destruction. The Second Commitment was to “overcome the disaster,” and spearhead the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Delta areas affected by Katrina and subsequent flooding. This would include housing and public infrastructure: roads, bridges, schools, and water systems. The President vowed that Federal funds would cover the “great majority” of these costs, unofficially estimated at more than a Trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000).

The President out-progressed his most Progressive detractors with his Third Commitment:
Our third commitment is this: When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.

Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.
The core problem with this fine sentiment, of course, is that of all the resources that might actually achieve this noble purpose, very few are the sole or even primary domain of the Federal Government. Remarkably, the possible starting points of solutions that get us to this “better life,” are the same starting points that have always been there, and available: the individual human spirit, faith and will in equal measure, and communities of common purpose. The primary thing that prevented New Orleans from finding these resources before Katrina, was the same force that threatens to prevent it after: Dependence on Federal, State and Local welfare payments and services that obviates any need for personal responsibility.

Does the President mean what he says? He’s never been one to speak idly. He concludes his Paean to Big Government with fine flourish:
These trials have also reminded us that we are often stronger than we know -- with the help of grace and one another. They remind us of a hope beyond all pain and death, a God who welcomes the lost to a house not made with hands. And they remind us that we're tied together in this life, in this nation -- and that the despair of any touches us all.

I know that when you sit on the steps of a porch where a home once stood, or sleep on a cot in a crowded shelter, it is hard to imagine a bright future. But that future will come. The streets of Biloxi and Gulfport will again be filled with lovely homes and the sound of children playing. The churches of Alabama will have their broken steeples mended and their congregations whole. And here in New Orleans, the street cars will once again rumble down St. Charles, and the passionate soul of a great city will return.

In this place, there's a custom for the funerals of jazz musicians. The funeral procession parades slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band breaks into a joyful "second line" -- symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death. Tonight the Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge -- yet we will live to see the second line.
A fine speech, of noble purposes. A Category 5 Hurricane of Commitments too immeasurable to achieve.

(Or, Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way)

In perfect rebuttal to the President, Scott Ott posted as remarkable a treatise on the fatal flaws of the Welfare State as any written.

That it appears at a blog specializing in satire would be ironic, were it not so pathetic that we can't hear this kind of commentary in the mainstream media. Perhaps it has ever been thus; we look for the greatest insights from those who make us laugh first, then think.

Ott’s genius was to portray his brilliant essay as the speech President Bush intended to deliver Thursday, and probably should have. Ott lays the groundwork immediately, with a first premise that rings true to social conservatives:
But as reconstruction begins, rest assured that we're not merely going to re-establish the conditions that led to such deep pockets of poverty in the midst of affluence. We're not going to continue the enslavement of the poor at the hands of seemingly-benevolent politicians who fail to understand the power of faith, freedom and personal responsibility to build vibrant communities on a foundation of strong families.
Ott’s fictional Presidential Address quotes Martin Luther King’s famous declaration, that America’s founders signed, “A promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.” Where King saw the Civil Rights Movement as an effort to redeem the promissory note, but were repaid with bad faith:
But today, Dr. King's dream remains unfulfilled for many in the richest land the world has ever seen, because government has substituted one bad check for another. We have replaced the promissory note of freedom and justice, with the public assistance check. The problem is that this new check actually does provide something...a little money. But that government money is counterfeit. It's a cheap replica of a paycheck. It fills the belly, but empties the soul. It buys things, but only in exchange for life, liberty and happiness.
This is too great a price. Help and assistance is one thing, dependency quite another. Our Welfare State exists in perpetuity, as if Katrina was an ongoing, rather than singular event. And yet the structures of social services are as permanent as the grand constructs of the Army Corps of Engineers. (On second thought, perhaps more permanent.)

The President Bush of Ott’s imagination (and no doubt, preference) declares a bold, yet simple three step plan, in contrast to Bush’s actually avowed “Three Commitments”:

We will lead survivors of the hurricane to embrace the vision and tenacity of the people who conquered the wilderness and built this great nation.
Secondly, the federal government will not bypass or try to supplant the role of community groups, churches, private organizations, local and state governments. Rather we will follow them and pick up the responsibilities that nothing short of federal intervention can handle.
Or Get out of the Way!
Finally, and most importantly, the federal government will get out of the way. We will knock down bureaucratic barriers to progress, eliminate oppressive regulations and lift the burden of confiscatory taxes in the region affected by the hurricane.
And, as for stirring rhetoric, Ott announces a triumphant vision of a return to an Ideal that America always strove for, but somehow failed to achieve:
Sometimes I wonder how much greater America would be if we had not been dragged down for the first four score and seven years by our addiction to slavery. I wonder how much more magnificent our nation might have been if the poisonous effects of racial injustice hadn't lingered so long after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

What if we had started this country with freedom and justice for all?
Is it too late? Is it too much to hope for that America can truly live up to the grand purpose of its founding documents? We may never know, unless a leader is bold enough to challenge the orthodoxies of political correctness.

Star Parker, writing at TownHall, explains the institutional racism that lies at the heart of the Welfare State, but it may not be driven how you think:
What we are witnessing is a well-honed black political public-relations operation geared to obfuscation, stoking hatred and fear, and nurturing helplessness and dependence among black citizens. Such efforts keep black politicians powerful, diversity businesses prosperous and blacks poor.
Social Conservatives have long waited for voices to rise up and reach public attention, decrying the terrible price that welfare exacts from its recipients.

Parker concludes with a warning:
If we allow political opportunists to again allege racism to deflect our attention from solving the real problems of fixing our families and educating our children, surely more tragedy awaits us.
One can only hope that true Progressives, who might otherwise be counted on to have ideals for the family of man, yet mindful of the realities and weaknesses of the humans involved, can be brought to their senses. The modern American welfare system is itself a vestige of now widely discredited and abysmally failed in practice Socialist theory. The costs of this extravagant experiment in social engineering have risen geometrically since the New Deal, and the results have gotten worse and worse.

Yet there is still hope, and it may lie in what is uniquely American in all of us. In response to my recent post on interactions with Iraqis, John Schroeder of Blogotional observed:
One of the things that makes America unique is the quality of the people that live here. We are unique. We are the best the world has to offer because, simply, if you are a person seeking the best for you and your family, if you want to work hard to accomplish something - you get up from the place in the world where you live with less opportunity and you come to America, the land of greatest opportunity.
Emma Lazarus wrote these famous words in, "The New Colossus," which were then inscribed on a plaque near the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
This is truly the promise of America.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1943, explained the single and exceptional strand that binds all Americans, new and old, established or newly arrived:
Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy. (1)

(Quoted from the Great Experiment: Faith and Freedom in America, by Os Guinness.)
This truth remains unaltered, in the 60 some odd years since FDR uttered these words. It is deeply unfortunate that so many, who speak intent to improve their nation, limit its citizens to such low expectations, rather than urge them to aspire to the height of our Ideals.

(Hat Tip to Powerline)

UPDATE: Caught a link from Will on the Clicked feature over at MSNBC. Just for the record, I wasn't so much criticizing the President's (actual) speech, but rather remarking that Scott Ott's was so much more ... needed.

Links: Stones Cry Out, Indepundit, Wizbang, Sister Toldjah, Captain's Quarters, Mudville Gazette, Basil's Blog, Outside the Beltway, bRight & Early


Rotten With Doubt

At the beginning of the week, James Lileks posted a Bleat that included some very important thoughts about the September 11th anniversary:
I have less to say on the fourth anniversary, because I’m not sure what needs to be said. You get it or you don’t, and if the passage of time has made the lessons indistinct, a picture of that September morning will look as remote as a screen grab from “Tora Tora Tora.” As Mark Steyn put it, we are winning the war on terrorism, but perhaps we are losing the war about the war. I’ve seen this happen for a year and a half – hell, since the first reports of Quagmire and the Brutal Afghan Winter. Between the incessant pessimism, the lack of focus, the interminable litany of sins from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo, the tepid wind-chimey spirit of the memorial culture that would rather put a vague sorrowful half-circle in a Pennsylvania field than a monument to courage and half-crazy bravery – well, the floorboards where our betters live are rotten with doubt, and they hear fatal creaks every time they dare take a step. So there’s not much point in wondering where this will go, because it’s already there – and the next time IT happens, we will not wait a month or two before the doubts and attacks begin. A London or Madrid-style attack will expose our divisions more than our solidarities, at least in the media. Anything worse will make such chatterings irrelevant, and as attractive as that sounds, you really don't want that. (Emphasis mine)
Lileks is right.

Whether it's Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the broader Global War on Terror, those who so vehemently oppose current American Foreign Policy share a terrible embarrassment and shame over the use of American Military Power. We don't deserve our pre-eminence in the world, according to such as these. We've caused more harm in the world, spread destruction and mayhem, and left injustice in our wake. The stench of self- and class superiority in such views is overpowering.
The floorboards where our betters live are rotten with doubt, and they hear fatal creaks every time they dare take a step.
That aptly describes both the arrogance of the war’s detractors – those of us who know we’re actually in one are warmongers, chicken hawks, or profiteers – and their own inherent timidity when faced with intractable evil. They respond to Radical Islamic Terrorism in the same way they responded to Communist oppression. They would begrudge the West the very defense of our liberties.

Lileks quote from Mark Steyn refers to his latest essay in the Chicago Sun-Times, in which Steyn precisely identifies the difficulty with sustaining public support and commitment to a War, quite unlike those that have defined the American experience:
On this fourth anniversary we are in a bizarre situation: The war is being won -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, the broader Middle East and many other places where America has changed the conditions on the ground in its favor. But at home the war about the war is being lost. When the media look at those Bush approval ratings -- currently hovering around 40 percent -- they carelessly assume the 60 percent is some unified Kerry-Hillary-Cindy bloc. It's not. It undoubtedly includes people who are enthusiastic for whacking America's enemies, but who don't quite get the point of this somewhat desultory listless phase. If the "war" is now a push for democratization and liberalization in Middle East dictatorships, that's a worthy cause but not one sufficiently primal to keep the attention of the American people. You'd have had the same problem in the Second World War if four years after Pearl Harbor we were postponing D-Day in order to nation-build in the Solomon Islands.
Yet our enemy is in many ways more dangerous, and less likely to surrender than our Fascist and Communist enemies of the twentieth century. If we continue down this road, and we let public attention slip much further, we will have surrendered valuable territory in the war of ideas to the Jihadist conspirators.

And it is that war of ideas – or the war about the war as Steyn puts it and Lileks laments – that is the war we really need to win. Because there is no military victory alone that spells success for us, nor is it likely possible. In that sense, those leaked comments about how we cannot win the war militarily – however ill-timed and grossly distorted by a defeatist press – is probably correct. Steyn explains:
And, as the years go by, it becomes clearer that the war aspects -- the attacks in New York, Washington, Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, London -- are really spasmodic flashes of a much more elusive enemy. Although Islamism is the first truly global terrorist insurgency, it shares more similarities with conventional terror movements -- the IRA or the Basque separatists -- than many of us thought four years ago. Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets: the IRA, for example, calculated correctly that the British had the capability to smash them totally but not the will. So they knew that while they could never win militarily, they also could never be defeated. That's what the Islamists have bet.
And that’s the strategy we need to confront full on and wage war with a full arsenal. That doesn’t mean carpet bombing or nukes, as much as it would give a significant number of Americans a disturbing satisfaction. No, it means relentlessly attacking the false premises of appeasement. It means calling out the phony arguments and branding the acolytes of a politically correct defeatism as the political opportunists they are. It means restoring the civic virtues of patriotism and reinforcing the legacy of freedom and liberty that our country foremost of all has not only given to the world, but so often shed copious amounts of American blood to defend, largely without thanks or appreciation.

Steyn dismays over our current situation:
So four years on we're winning in the Middle East and Central Asia, floundering in Europe and North America. War is hell, but a war that half the country refuses to recognize as such staggers on as a very contemporary kind of purgatory.
Lileks rightly observes that, “A London or Madrid-style attack will expose our divisions more than our solidarities, at least in the media,” but he also remarks that if we should receive anything worse (then the London or Madrid attacks), then we won’t need to worry about the immediate tendency and desire for opponents of this war to criticize and confound.

It won’t matter, because that something worse that Lileks alludes to will make everyone a hawk and eager for a merciless and immediate response. And Lileks is right, we will like neither the cause of our wrath, nor the wreckage that our wrath will exact upon our very real but currently tolerated enemies. We really don't want that, for our democracy may well not outlast our anger.

Links: Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog, Mudville Gazette, bRight & Early

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