Life & Death

Life & Death:

I returned to Shenandoah National Park today. Bruce Dearborn Walker wanted to know if last week's missing hiker was found. He was: they located him shortly after I broke contact with Search & Rescue, but it took four more hours to get him out of the forest and to a hospital. The rangers tell me he's recovering.

While in the park, I took the Limberlost trail. "The Limberlost" is the name that was given to a stand of giant hemlocks that were saved from loggers when the park was created in the 1920s and 1930s. These giant hemlocks, some three hundred years old, are mentioned in the signs that describe the trail to prospective hikers. Three hundred years! And we are a nation of but two hundred and thirty.

So said the signs. The website is more up to date:

The trail passes through forest and a stand of mountain laurel - stunningly beautiful when it blooms in June. The forest is ever-changing! Once tall hemlocks and oaks shaded this trail, but most have been killed by insect invaders: the wooly adelgid and the gypsy moth. Recent storms have felled many of the dead trees. Today, notice what lives, including birches, maples, white pines.
Whistling past the graveyard, that business: "The forest is ever-changing! Notice what lives!"

The most prominent feature of the trail is still the hemlocks. They have not left. There lays a massacre, corpses sawn apart and heaped together to clear a trail. Living trees cling to the distant edges of the mounds, a shocked and silent crowd. Green things grow among the fallen giants, but only children: weeds, shoots, and little more.

Other things shelter in the fallen trees, insects and hungry birds. I watched a dark-winged one rustling among the dead branches, having worked his way to earth to feed, and now battering his way through the dried and brittle bars that kept him from the wide sky. He was hungry, and did not mind how he found his dinner.

The hemlocks were a treasure of the park, and of the nation. We saved them because we loved them. We defended them with the might of our laws, and the wealth of our treasury. Nothing that the United States of America could do for them was ever left undone.

In the end, all we could do was saw up their fallen trunks, push them aside, and hope for their children. The forest reclaims its own, and we know it grows anew. We shall have another such grove: in three hundred years.
What a Marine.

What a hero.

As Countercolumn notes, no media but the local paper has picked up on the Sergeant Major's story.

And that's a damn shame.
Somebody hasn't been fact checking again, I think.

This morning, this item on the BBC caught my eye:

Builders who drank a barrel of rum at a house in southern Hungary had a nasty surprise when they got to the bottom and found a pickled corpse.

--Uh, guys, this is an old urban legend, variations on which, you can see here at

I remember reading about this one in college in Jan Brunvand's book, "The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends."

My in-laws send me stories like this all the time. Cheap enough entertainment, I suppose.


The Amnesty Report:

Amnesty International is one of those organizations I really want to like, but find I can't take seriously. I want to, because I think they are trying to point to serious issues that we need to address more effectively than we have done. Their recent report claiming widespread US torture is an excellent example of the problems that afflict them.

I'm not an advocate of torture, or inhumane treatment. Far from it: I think the perpetrators of the Abu Ghraib crimes should have been executed by firing squad, a position I've held since the story broke. The Geneva Conventions, I believe, are a shield that protects us as much as our enemies -- they shield our souls.

They also permit the summary execution of several classes of persons, including unlawful fighters such as terrorists. They are entitled to have their status lawfully determined first, but after that, they may be shot. So may spies (i.e., fighters who abandon uniforms or other heraldry, to hide themselves among the population they wish to harm -- men like, say, Moussaoui).

Amnesty isn't interested in applying the Conventions as they stand, but in pursuing an agenda that I would describe as, "Opposition to all forms of cruelty at all." That's really sweet and noble, honestly, and I find it a genuinely touching idea. It is not, however, an ideal that can be achieved or that should be pursued in the practical reality in which we live.

It's not just that they can only find 34 suspected cases of criminal deaths, out of tens of thousands of people America has had to detain in the process of fighting two insurgencies on two continents over nearly five years. Amnesty begins its report, "Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq and other locations." Right off the bat, we're in trouble: "Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" means that what is widespread isn't "torture," but "torture, or several other things we're going to conflate with torture even though they really aren't torture at all." Things like isolation of prisoners.

Power & Wishful Thinking

By all means, let's have a debate about whether or not we want the US government to engage in waterboarding, or sleep deprivation, or psychological operations against prisoners. Let's have an honest debate about it: Do we want our government doing these things? Of course not. I don't think anyone reading this actually desires to fund a government that practices such techniques.

Do we want to leave our soldiers vulnerable to plots these people may know about, however, simply because we'd rather not have the government deprive them of sleep, or use dogs to frighten (but not hurt) them? Do we want to leave our families vulnerable? Do we want to be able to crack militant rings that could, left intact, lead to the destabilization of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the waste of our dead soldiers' sacrifice, a return to tyranny over the lives of the innocent in those regions? Well, no, we very much don't want that either.

That debate is still very much worth having, and I think we should pursue it in a fuller way than we have managed so far. Unfortunately, we've ended up with the debate disengaging just as it was begun, and most participants retreating into one of three Wishful Thinking camps:

Wishful Thinking Camp #1: I choose to believe that the United States only approves techniques that are morally appropriate to be used whenever they are used.

Wishful Thinking Camp #2: I choose to believe that these various techniques aren't effective or reliable, and so that we suffer no penalty for outright forbidding their use.

Wishful Thinking Camp #3: I choose to believe that our moral purity, should we set aside these distasteful practices, would be persuasive to enough to non-Americans that we would win the GWOT by default.

None of these are useful.

Camp #1: We ought to be genuinely bothered by creating and paying for a government that uses even psychological force to break the will of men. America is about freedom of conscience if it's about anything. You ought to be free to be whom you want: "Drunk or sober, just as he has a mind," as John Wayne put it in The Alamo. It's one thing to kill a man who has elected to be your enemy: you're letting him live out his life just the way he chose.

It's another thing to break his will. If you're not bothered by the idea of masked US government operatives breaking a man's spirit to compel his cooperation, you should be. We may have to do it sometimes, but we ought to be thoughtful and careful about when and how.

Camp #2: The actual evidence runs strongly against the idea that torture is not effective. Froggy described an actual waterboarding operation at his blog; separately, he asserts that it is 100% effective as an interrogation technique. Soldiers of the French government won in Algeirs through a policy described by a French military officer as "systematic torture."

It would be easier if the truth was that torture didn't work. Sadly, it does.

Camp #3: There is no evidence that our enemy can be persuaded by our moral purity, because it does not have the same standards for judging ethics. Aristotle pointed to the problem of comparitive ethics when he spoke of the absolute necessity of a proper upbringing to even understand the terms of the debate. Put more broadly, if you were raised in a distinctly different culture, you won't see the same things as moral or immoral that we do. When I was in China, I was outraged to see how women -- especially pregnant women -- were shoved out of the way by thoughtless, swaggering men. The men were deeply insulted when I would insist on my way of doing things -- they felt it was an insult to all Chinese manhood that I would give my seat on a crowded bus to a pregnant lady, when there were men who could sit down.

By the same token, what some of us interpret as high-mindedness will be interpreted as weakness by our enemies. It will be interpreted as weakness and damnable weakness by those we should care about trying to persuade: the populations being terrorized by the Taliban and al Qaeda in Iraq. They will not be pleased to know that we have been letting terrorists go, the day after another VBIED goes off in a street filled with their children. They will want to know why we didn't torture and kill, if that was what was necessary to protect their families.

On Solutions

In order to flesh out its report, which would be rather short if it stuck to the military cases, Amnesty moves to America's civil prison system. Doubtless this is a genuine problem afflicting America; I have been bothered by it for years. I was a little shocked, however, to see the following item listed as 'practices amounting to torture':

10. Long term isolation in super-maximum security confinement.

Thousands of prisoners, many of them mentally ill, continue to be held in long-term isolation in "super-maximum security" facilities, sometimes referred to as Security Housing Units (SHU Units) or Extended Control Units (ECU).(121) At least 30 states and the federal government operate more than 50 such facilities which include entire prisons or units within prisons.
We are thinking right now about the Moussaoui case. Amnesty, naturally, is opposed to the death penalty. It turns out they are just as opposed to supermax prisons. What shall we do with people like Moussaoui? We are told that we cannot morally kill them, and we cannot morally isolate them.

What, then? Peggy Noonan's fears were right:
I hope he doesn't get to use his hour a day in general population getting buff and converting prisoners to jihad. I hope he isn't allowed visitors with whom he can do impolite things like plot against our country. I hope he isn't allowed anniversary interviews. I hope his jolly colleagues don't take captives whom they threaten to kill unless Moussaoui is released.
I'm sympathetic to a lot of the problems Amnesty identifies -- the shackling of pregnant women, the moral issues of isolation. What is needed, though, is not an identification of ethically troubling issues. It is some solutions to those issues.

If we cannot kill these men, they will continue to work against us in large ways and in small. If we cannot isolate them, the ways open to them will be larger. If it is immoral to do either, what must we do? Set them free? That creates even larger opportunities for them to harm us, our families, and our nation; and the families and nations we are trying to help stabilize, so that they will not become breeding grounds for future terrorists.

It is enough to say that a man should do nothing wrong, and that he should seek atonement when (because of human nature) he does anyway. It is not enough to say that a nation should do nothing wrong. In national matters we must seek the greatest good among many unavoidable evils, and particularly in war -- a war we did not choose, but which has been prosecuted against us for a generation by Islamist fighters from Iran to Beruit to 9/11, to future battlefields not yet named.

No, I don't like torture either. Nor waterboarding, nor isolation of prisoners, nor the existence of prisons. I'm opposed to all those things, also.

But we do not get to choose whether or not there will be evil in the world. The world hates us; evil is native to it, and to that part of us that belongs to it. All we get to decide is how to try to minimize the evil afflicting us.

You can engage that discussion, or waste your breath.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole & Farsi:

I'm sure most of you have been following the Hitchens / Cole fight. An interesting question arising from it is this: Juan Cole presents himself as a "real expert" on Farsi. Is he one?

Winds of Change has a lengthy comment from an Iranian blogger questioning Cole's competence.

Another interesting question: Cole speaks for himself and his friends when he says that, "We are not going to let you have a war against Iran." How, precisely, does he mean to stop one? It won't be with an argument like the one he posts at his site -- one that combines accusations that America is murderous and violent with photographs selected to portray American soldiers as torturers or victims of bombs. Take that argument before the American electorate, and you'll be lucky if you're not tarred and feathered. You certainly won't be capturing Congress with it.

His advice to his opponents is, "Sit down and shut up." That would be a little on the arrogant side even for a professor addressing a problem student from the lectern. This while supposed excellence in the professorship, we must remember, is Cole's claim as to why his arguments should be weighted as more important than others'.

If such an argument would barely do in a classroom, it certainly won't do in a democracy. "My opponents should shut up" isn't very persuasive, even when it's true. Combined with "America is a weak and evil country and we should be ashamed of her," I expect that Cole-as-spokesman would be a disaster for the anti-war movement.

So -- how exactly is he going to stop anything?

Froggy @ B5

Froggy Five:

Good news -- BlackFive's place has been improved by the addition of a new co-blogger. Matthew Heidt has come aboard. Mr. Heidt is a former Navy SEAL and better known as Froggy of Froggy Ruminations. FR, long a favorite blog of mine, has been inactive for some time. It's good to see the Frog back up and running.

MilBlogger Cancer

A MilBlogger In Need:

The Mudville Gazette asks for prayers for a fellow MilBlogger, Greg of Greg Note's. The guy has just returned from duty in Iraq, only to discover that he's come down with a form of cancer. Details are available through the first link.

CNN stinks

Blood Pressure Medicine:

There is a scene, early in the classic Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, in which Lady brings back the newspaper with the front page torn up. "Have you noticed, Darling," her master says to his wife, "that ever since we have Lady we see less and less of those disturbing headlines?"

Since I've abandoned cable TV -- any TV, actually -- these last two years, I find my sense of anger about things has greatly subsided. I was reminded of why tonight, while dining out at a place showing CNN.

When I arrived, there was a piece on the Moussaoui verdict. Several experts were discussing the verdict, and explaining that the jury had decided against the death penalty because nine of them believed he had been abused as a child.

It's a little more complicated than that, but no time for such things! We have to move on to the next story:

War on the Middle Class!

What? Oh, well, it turns out to be a story about high gasoline prices. Which aren't an economic story because economics is, like, really boring and stuff. So it needs to be a war story. That's a good angle. OK, no more time, quick, on to the next story...

Broken Borders!

What's this story about? I quote the tagline from memory: 'States are being forced to fight the immigration battle alone.'

It's a war! On immigration! No, wait, immigration IS the war! On us! Or, wait, no, because we need to work in a sympathetic portrait of a migrant, so that symbol won't work, but maybe...

No time! We have to move on to the next story! On government corruption!

Good Lord. No wonder people are totally upset with the country.

So, let me see here: the gas price story is not an economic story but the story of a war against the middle class (being waged by whom, exactly?); the illegal immigration story is not a law enforcement story, but the story of a war being fought by the states (and who is the enemy?); but the story of Zacarais Moussaoui, who entered the country as part of a terrorist organization and plotted to kill thousands of innocent people, that's not a war story, no...'s just a law story. One that shows the kind heart of the American people, standing up for a poor abused boy from France, and righteously rejecting the cruel and unusual "death penalty."

I will never watch TV News again.

CENTCOM & Bloggers

CENTCOM & Bloggers:

John Donovan has this post in which he proposes to test CENTCOM's PAO/blogger system. He'd like you to read up and submit questions, which I encourage you to do.

2 from Mudville

Two from Mudville:

Thanks to the always-excellent Dawn Patrol, two links with comments.

First, former Marine officer Chester agrees on hiring Blackwater to deal with Darfur. He has some interesting options on how to pay for it, including what he calls "the PayPal option."

I have to say that I like the idea. "Click here to stop genocide," the button would say -- and it would actually mean it. Not rhetoric, action, pushed down to the level where the individual can kick in ten or a hundred bucks and still make a difference.

Second, Bolton smacks Sy Hersh. And Kucinich:

BOLTON: I said I had not heard of the report and I didn’t intend to read the article in “The New Yorker.”

KUCINICH: If I gave you this article right now, walked it over, would you look at it?

BOLTON: I don’t think so, honestly, Congressman, because I don’t have time to read much fiction.
Bolton is being himself, but I wonder if he knows he is echoing the Pentagon?

Economic Illiteracy


Tim Russert asks the hard questions:

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, if, if demand is up but supply is down, why are the profits so high?

MR. BODMAN: For that reason.
Supply and demand graphing must not have been on the curriculum at journalism school. Or, er, high school macroeconomics.

(H/t: The Commissar.)


The Post on Chaplains:

I read this story in the Washington Post, entitled "In the Hands of God." It's a good piece, in every sense of the word.

Well done. More like this, please.

Down Mexico Way

"Down Mexico Way"

MilBlogger poet laureate Russ Vaughn sends one of his older, but still quite appropriate, works.

Down Mexico Way

Try crossing our southern border; try going the other way,
To enter Mexico illegally for an extended, unlawful stay.
Ignore immigration quotas, all their visas and their fees,
And quietly slip their border, anytime you damn well please.
Just sneak in past the policía, ignoring Mexican laws;
You’ve a desperate need to improve your lot; you have a righteous cause.
With Evil Bush in power now, destroying your liberal order,
You’ve a right to seek asylum, to trespass their northern border.

Once there, speak English only and demand it in their schools;
Forget assimilation; make Mexicanos change their rules.
What right do these Latinos have to make you learn their lingo?
Tell those churlish campesinos¹ you’ve the right to remain a gringo.
Move right on in, live your own way, ignore their cultural norms,
And demand the use of English on all their official forms.
Free healthcare is, of course, your right; let poor peones² pay,
For bilingual health providers throughout your border-bending stay.

Be sure to have a baby just as quickly as you can;
A citizen in the family helps legitimize your clan.
Then have another three or four, or maybe six or eight;
Don’t worry how you’ll feed them, just demand help from the state.
Paisanos³ paying taxes may resent your reckless breeding,
And protest loudly to their states about your gringo kids they’re feeding;
“But it’s just our way,” is your excuse, “Brought from our Yanquí land.”
How dare they question gringo ways they’ll never understand?

So defend your Anglo ethos; yield not your Yanquí essence;
And demand a driver’s license to legitimize your presence.
Just so you know what you’ve done wrong in case of policía stops,
Insist the Federales must teach English to all cops.
Make Mexicans accept your ways, make them your pliant fools;
Demand a Yanquí culture course be taught in all their schools.
So what you paid no taxes; when you’re an old gringo who will care?
File for your Seguridad Social, after all, you’re due your share.

If all this sounds preposterous, an irrational expectation,
Dems are demanding it for Illegals now in our multicultural nation.

Russ Vaughn

¹Rube, hick, unsophisticated person
²Laborer, worker
I have to say I think this is one of Russ' best efforts.



There's an article in today's Washington Post that shows us the way to the First Great Chinese Quagmire.

Militants in Nigeria's volatile oil-producing region detonated a car bomb late Saturday and issued a warning that investors and officials from China would be "treated as thieves" and targeted in future attacks.

The threat came as Chinese President Hu Jintao returned home from a week-long tour of Africa in which he reached a series of deals securing access to oil and other resources to meet the needs of China's booming economy.... A spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in an e-mail sent to news organizations that the car-bomb attack was "the final warning" before the militants turned their attention to oil workers, storage facilities, bridges, offices and other "soft oil industry targets."
A few weeks ago, Kim du Toit had a post about China and Africa. He wrote:
Looks as though the Chinese are getting into Africa—several reports show them in Sudan, for instance—and now we’re getting noises that they’re going into Zimbabwe to “help out”, which triggered an article saying that the Zims should learn Chinese.

Some people may be alarmed by this trend. Not me.

What the Chinese are going to learn—and they don’t have a lot of money to throw at this—is the meaning of the phrase “Africa Wins Again”.
He's right on both points: China, which is still dependent on foreign investment for it's own economics, doesn't have a lot of money to sink in any foreign investments of its own. It needs to get a substantial return, on average, for its investments to be worthwhile. (Their investment in American ports, for example, is probably wise.)

Further, much of Africa is mired in a culture that is the exact negative of what you need for successful investments. Kim offers an example of the pernicious effect of the African environment on business in the form of an expensive, Chinese-built hospital -- useless, because no one will come to it. Reason magazine had a lengthy but excellent article on the same topic. It pointed out that much of Africa is built around the idea that success comes from putting up roadblocks, so you can extort a toll on anyone trying to accomplish something:
The rot starts with government, but it afflicts the entire society. There’s no point investing in a business because the government will not protect you against thieves. (So you might as well become a thief yourself.) There’s no point in paying your phone bill because no court can make you pay. (So there’s no point being a phone company.) There’s no point setting up an import business because the customs officers will be the ones to benefit. (So the customs office is underfunded and looks even harder for bribes.) There’s no point getting an education because jobs are not handed out on merit. (And in any case, you can’t borrow money for school fees because the bank can’t collect on the loan.)

It is not news that corruption and perverse incentives matter. But perhaps it is news that the problem of twisted rules and institutions explains not just a little bit of the gap between Cameroon and rich countries but almost all of the gap. Countries like Cameroon fall far below their potential even considering their poor infrastructure, low investment, and minimal education. Worse, the web of corruption foils every effort to improve the infrastructure, attract investment, and raise educational standards.
The so-called "Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta" aren't any more concerned about liberation than Mugabe was when he used the same terms. It's about piracy: they see some money and -- rather than getting a stake in the prosperity by helping out -- they take up arms and build bombs to try and extort some of the wealth. In return, the government will demand more Chinese money to protect Chinese workers. The money will never quite be enough, however, because the government in Africa benefits from the low-level violence too: the existence of the MEND means China has to help pay for the expanded local military.

"Africa wins again."

May Day

May Day:

May Day used to be a day for celebrating the fullness of spring; the entrance into "the Cathedral of May," which in England in much of the Middle Ages was the most beautiful month of the year.

At some point it became a holiday for malcontents and Communists. Today we're apparently expecting some sort of pro-illegal immigrant protests in America, but that's not what I want to write about. I'd like to point to a more traditional form of May Day protests -- the labor protests in Indonesia.

Workers across Asia rallied Monday to press for better factory conditions and higher wages, often encountering a heavy police presence and, in some places, outright resistance.

Demonstrations were planned in major cities across Indonesia, with up to 50,000 people expected in the capital alone to protest government plans to revise a labor law. The new law would cut severance packages and introduce more flexible contracts that would chip away at worker security.

"Don't change the law," thousands of laborers chanted at Jakarta's main downtown roundabout, as others arrived in buses and trucks, waving green, yellow and red flags and banners expressing their demands.

Fearing violence, about 13,000 police were deployed on the streets, some carrying riot shields and manning water cannons, said police chief Maj. Gen. Firman Ganisaid.
Measure of Effectiveness time: how does this compare with the latest anti-American protests? The anti-American movement in Indonesia had the advantage of a big-time vistor to rally their numbers: the US Secretary of State, Dr. Rice. She was there in person, one of the architects of US policy on Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the chief warmongers. How was she greeted?
On March 14, 2006 approximately 200 people staged a demonstration in front of U.S. Embassy Jakarta in protest of the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The demonstration, organized by two hard-line Muslim organizations, Hizbut Tahrir (HTI) and Pembela Islam (FPI), featured a procession of speakers who denounced the United States and Secretary Rice as "anti-Muslim" and "terrorists."
The protest lasted three hours, and ended without violence.

Shirley Temple

A Shirley Temple:

TC Override and FbL have posted the "Shirley Temple" photo featuring Uncle Jimbo. Jimbo's a good sport.

Coal. for Darfur

The Coalition for Darfur:

Stephen "Feddie" Dillard, founder of Southern Appeal, has a coalition blog with liberal blogger Eugene Oregon that is organized around trying to track the massacres in Darfur. The Coalition for Darfur is thus a doubly noble effort, both in that it is directed at the relief of human misery, and that it is one of the last remaining efforts in which liberal and conservative Americans are still working together towards a common good.

Feddie would like you to be aware of it, in case you are looking for news from there.

Don't Tease Rangers

Please, Don't Tease The Rangers:

I went hiking today in the Shenandoah National Park. I took the wife and little boy, and we went out from Elkwallow down the Jeremy's Run trail, out towards Neighbor mountain. We did a small part of the Appalachian trail as well.

We'd originally planned a hike farther south, but when we got to the park, they'd posted signs noting that a hiker had gone missing. We redirected our hike in part to aid the search and rescue operation underway. The fellow was an older gentleman with Alzheimer's disease, who had (sensibly enough under the circumstances, I thought) gone off into the deep wilderness by himself for a while. "LOST" is an honorable way to go; a straw death at the hospital, unable to recognize or speak to your family? No, a wilderness hike seems just the thing.

In any event, we went about four miles, and didn't find any sign of the fellow. We did find fully six Search and Rescue Teams (SRTs) climbing around the mountains. The thing about SRTs is that they are pulled in from all over the area when there is a lost hiker. As a result, none of them had been on these trails before. Every single team but one stopped us to ask for directions.

I dutifully directed them to where they needed to be to link up with the rest of their operation, but I have to admit that I started to find it funny. These guys in emergency gear and impressive badges, several of them with search dogs, would stop and pull out maps, and beg for some idea where they might be.

The sixth team I directed, we were already most of the way back up to Elkwallow and they were just starting down. I gave them the directions faithfully, but I couldn't resist adding this: "And if you get lost, don't worry. There's a whole bunch of search and rescue teams down there."

The guy looked totally offended. "We don't -get- lost," he huffed, and he and his team pushed down the mountain.

It's unkind to laugh at people out doing good work. I tried not to, without much success.