29 December 2006

Condemned Iraqis Seek Constitutional Protection

Just when you think that the name United States Constitution would limit the application of that document to those either within the geographical confines of or citizens of the United States, there are some strange requests for applying it far and wide…and to people who just don’t deserve it in any way at all.

At the moment, lawyers for Saddam have filed for a stay of execution in US District Court in Washington, based on the fact that Saddam is listed as a defendant in a civil suit in the US. As stated in the article, if he’s executed, he will lose his “rights as a civil defendant,” according to his lawyers. So, how is it that a foreign national (and an infamous one, at that) can expect protection from US courts as he awaits his execution, which was handed down by another country? That doesn’t even make non-sense.

To boot, the article goes on to describe another “please help me” cry from a condemned Iraqi:

A similar request by the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, was denied Thursday and is under appeal. Al-Bandar also faces execution. The Justice Department argued in that case that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with the judicial process of another country.
Al-Bandar argued that his trial violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution but Justice countered that foreigners being tried in foreign courts are not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule on the issue.

So, just as some members of the American judicial system make reference to international and extra-national law trumping (or supplementing) the Constitution, foreigners have come to demand protection under what for them is foreign law. It’s a dance of convenience, seeking refuge in what ever set of rules furthers your goals. If the Iraqi laws are too harsh (i.e. sentenced you to death), try to get covered by another set of laws. If the US Constitution doesn’t have the verbiage you need to support your own point of view, just take a look at other (more “enlightened”) societies for precedent.

I just love the irony of these two men seeking shelter under the very legal system which was used to choose the leaders which deposed them. However, it is also highly troubling that our enemies, even at the moment of their ultimate end, find ways to use our own institutions to their advantage. While Saddam and al-Bandar probably will not succeed (or won’t be alive to find out the US courts’ decisions), bad people everywhere use our institutions to create and exacerbate cracks in our society every day.

It's in the Genes - An Insight into Irresponsibility

Yesterday, I read something in the print edition of The Economist (link here) that really disturbed me. The article refers to a case of a man who suddenly turned into a pedophile, was later diagnosed as having a brain tumor which, when removed, relieved his pedophilia. However, when the tumor came back, so did the tendency. The article closed with the observation that the “shrinking the space in which free will can operate could have some uncomfortable repercussions.”

Indeed.

While the case cited above is remarkable, I fear that there may be an attempt to leap from measurable diseases and afflictions to underlying tendencies in genetics. What I mean here is that a disease, like the tumor case, can be measured and sensed; we are far less certain about the effects of genetics on behavior, or that genetics alone causes behavior.

Additionally, it seems rather odd to me that the author of the article is concerned more about state surveillance of people with genetic tendencies (wouldn’t that be everyone?) than the effect of relegating personal responsibility to binding genetic predispositions.

Who is to blame for a person committing a crime to which he is “genetically predisposed”? Is it mommy and daddy’s fault for creating a flawed being? Who would decide what “genetically predisposed” means, what threshold must be reached before becoming incapable of personal responsibility?

Lastly, how would we teach our children to be responsible for their own actions, their own behaviors, if we decided that genetic predispositions lead to some kind of, even limited, behavioral predestination?

“It’s ok, Johnny. I know that you can’t control your temper as a five-year-old because the genetics passed along to you make you behave this way. There’s no way you can get around it. Don’t grow up, don’t take responsibility for yourself…you really don’t have any choice, anyway.”

Disturbing, to say the least.

26 December 2006

Out to Sydney

Heading off to Sydney for the next couple of days.

Not that it matters here...this blog (like 99% of them?) will not be read, anyway.

Enjoy!

A Bigger Military?

Skimming my favorite news sites this morning, I found an editorial from the Chicago Tribune which discusses the need for a bigger Army. I couldn’t really find an answer in the piece, though. Some interesting questions are asked, though.

- Given the nature of the fight in Iraq, does it make sense to fund the Air Force and Navy at current levels?
- When would new soldiers and Marines be ready for action? (The article says five years for an extra 33k troops…which to me seems like an awfully long time.)
- What is more important, equipment or people?
- What is the next fight going to look like (since new troops, according to this piece, wouldn’t be ready in time to help in Iraq)?

That last question is the most important, and also the most difficult to answer. Many people felt, after the first Gulf war and the air-dance over Serbia, that air power was the answer to future combat: bomb them from where they can’t touch you until they capitulate. And that’s all fine and good until you have to take and hold ground. Air power isn’t good at holding the line (as airplanes are easily destroyed on the ground). But more to the point, it’s a pretty safe guess that the US military will not be called on to bomb rouge governments into submission and/or divert them from a course of action, while leaving the country intact any time in the near future (ala Serbia or Operations Northern and Southern Watch).

What’s a more likely is that air power will be used to support troops on the ground as they confront an elusive enemy, probably a non-governmental one, in close combat in urban settings. Couple that with hitting targets (read: important enemy leaders) using near real-time information, and the problem becomes one of targeting and timeliness, not mass. Air-to-air combat, while still a very important discipline to master, will be secondary to ground support. If this is the case, what is probably more important than piling up F-22’s is development of munitions and tactics to effect change on the battlefield so that the ground-pounders have the very best chance environment to work in (though it will still be very, very dangerous…but that’s the way of war).

For the guys on the ground, I think it’s a very safe bet that the next war will require more of them than fewer of them. The editorial mentioned above states:

Once we are done in Iraq, Americans may be leery of large-scale unconventional wars like this one, which are unusually manpower-intensive. In that case, a bigger Army may be a needless extravagance. (emphasis added)
It is more realistic to say that recent conflicts, from Serbia onward, have been far less manpower-intensive than other wars and conflicts, historically. Currently, we are fighting an unconventional enemy on multiple fronts, and we have to fight them in many ways, militarily being just one facet. Given the fact that we are fighting against this loosely organized, highly dispersed enemy which wears no uniform and follows no rules, a bigger Army (and Marine Corps) will be a necessity for the foreseeable future, not a “needless extravagance”.

Having more troops also means having more options on how to use them. This is important not only to us, but also with respect to how our enemies think we can or will act. There is no doubt that Iran and Korea (not to mention non-state actors) act as they do because they feel the US military is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and therefore unable to take on another front. Would Iran have this attitude if the US had another 100,000 troops in the rear, ready to take action?

Building a larger military, not through equipment only but through recruiting and retention, is a moral imperative. Defending one’s self is fundamental, and any country which does not take this duty seriously doesn’t deserve to hold sovereignty (and in the long run, won’t). At this point in history, a larger, much larger, ground component of our military is not a “needless extravagance”. Given the nature of the current war and of the enemy we face, it is an undeniable requirement for the defense of our country.

The AP's Jab at Combat Deaths

Speaking of reading news so that there is time to reflect upon it, here’s the take from what will be a morning headline on the 26th of December in the States. (I’m so lucky to have access to it already…I feel so on top of the situation.) The headline that defeatists have been waiting for is here, courtesy of the AP (article author Larry McShane):
Military Deaths in Iraq Exceed 9/11 Toll
Gee, thanks for that! But the story goes far beyond just “reporting” that simple arithmetic, even beyond giving a short explanation of who gets counted in each number (which the article does do).

The author chooses to give very short biographical blurbs of three men killed in combat actions (two by road-side bombs, one by a sniper) reflected against their connection to the 9/11 attacks. Each instance ends with the death of the military person.

Now, I don’t know if it was the author’s intent, but it sure made me feel as if there were nothing in between 9/11, these men enlisting and their deaths. There is what I perceive as a time compression, on purpose, to suggest that what began on a Tuesday (9/11) ended in their deaths on Thursday. There are, seemingly, no developments in the actual interim. There is only attack, counter-attack, and the death of our fighting men, nothing being accomplished through their sacrifice.

If this is what passes for reporting, it is no wonder that the US faces defeat due to the loss of its will to fight, its will to defend itself against all enemies. I hope that I can find, in the next few days, some matching article which sheds more light on what these men and women who have sacrificed their lives have accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think I’ll be able to find this short of thing in an AP article, however.

25 December 2006

News, Fear and Thought

I am a news junkie. Or rather, I’m a recovering news junkie. I’m an American, and I’ve been living in Australia for just about a year now. I don’t have FoxTel or “cable” of any fashion. I’ve got the five broadcast channels, and I’ve had only these for as long as I’ve lived here (outside of business trips and such). Before moving here, I was tied in one way or another to a television, at least within earshot, so that I could stay up to date on exactly what was going on. I simply had to know, or at least I thought I did.

On a recent trip to the States, it took me about 15 minutes of consuming various news channels, I realized that the “news” was more like a Howard Stern radio show than information dissemination. Granted, I wasn’t watching the most “enlightened” of news shows. Katie Couric on NBC just about did me in single-handedly with the lingering full-screen “(insert number here) US Servicemen died in Iraq today”. Nothing like giving the public blunt facts, but piled on top (and after) a litany of bad news stories, it seemed like the footnote attribution for all of the bad news of the day, the book of resource from which all negative events have their source.

But it was my old standby channel, Fox News, that pushed me over the edge. Granted, I was watching the morning show (can’t recall the name…“Fox and Friends”), which never was a favorite of mine. In fact, I would generally avoid that show. On this trip, I finally understood why. After about five minutes of watching the “friends”, my wife asked me, “Why are they shouting?” I realized that they were shouting at us, endlessly. Everything they said, apparently, demanded a raised voice. I don’t even know what they were talking about, but it must have been important enough that they felt compelled to yell it at us. The television was then turned off, only to regain its consciousness for important events (read: hockey games).

This morning, I read an article on The American Thinker website about fear. It’s a fantastic read…give it a shot. Anyway, it made me think about those little encounters with US “news” television and what is going on in the world around us. The simple fact is that there is a lot going on, but I can’t count on 24-hour news channels to get any of it, at least not in any meaningful way. The reason is that they want to grab our attention and hold it out of fear. The more afraid we are, the longer we’ll watch, and the more often we’ll turn back to see if there are “further developments”.

But really, the world doesn’t evolve that quickly. Sure, things happen, emergencies occur, that demand immediate attention. But for the most part, things go slowly. How long have news channels been blaring dire warnings about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons? Important problem? Yes. Demands attention? Yes. Requires 24-hour updates, screen-crawl boldface and talking heads ceaselessly dissecting the horrible possibilities? Nope.

And that’s just one instance of gaining viewership-through-fear. And honestly, I just couldn’t stand it. A year of living slowly in Australia has given me a little different perspective (and maybe broken the news addiction). I read most of my news now. I take time to digest it, think about it, talk about it. The news is not shouted at me, and I don’t live in dire fear of the e-coli riddled suicide bombers that may be working in my local garage.

Because when I need to really think about something, when there is a real problem (and there are plenty out there), I need to be as fear-free as possible to read into situations and make correct decisions.

So, my recommendation is to not watch the news. Read it. Take your time, sit back, and think about it. If something really bad happens, something that demands your full attention immediately, your favorite non-news show will be interrupted to let you know.

23 December 2006

Note on Faith

A little note on faith today, especially appropriate as it is Christmas Eve. No matter how commercialized tomorrow may be or may become, it still is a religious holiday.

So, I was doing some morning reading, and I came across an article from the Times (UK), via Real Clear Politics, in what I assume is the editorial section. One paragraph stood out in my opinion:

True faith should not be a source of conflict. Faith should instead be a force for cohesion — social, spiritual and ethical. Religion that is perverted to become akin to a totalitarian philosophy is no true religion, but a politicisation and distortion of faith. That is what is wrong with extremism and intolerance, whether it be al-Qaeda killers who murder in the name of Islam or the Ku Klux Klan that trumpets its “Christian” values.
Extremism and totalitarianism are all around today, and not where the Lefties and Multi-Culties think (or hope). The big, pink elephant of ultra-politicized, death-loving Islam is continually cast as the “victim” of the Western world, and the list of “grievances” is long (and laughable).

Extremism of any kind is just plain wrong, no matter what clothes it wears…even those of the anti-religious secular house of faith.

But all that big-picture stuff aside, faith really is about the self and communication with God, not about what the human interlocutor says I have to do to get to the flavor of heaven he’s pushing. So to my self, and if anyone is reading, to you, I say to lead by example, and to hold others to their example. If they practice extremism, it’s pretty obvious what their agenda is. (Hint: it has nothing to do with religion.)

Merry Christmas.

Another Public Service Announcement (from al-Baghdadi)

I just couldn’t help writing one more post today. Another public service announcement from the enemy, this time in Iraq. According to CNN.com:

In an audiotape posted on Islamic Web sites Friday, a speaker identified as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Mujahideen Shura Council, said that if U.S. forces begin withdrawing from Iraq immediately and leave their heavy weaponry behind, "we will allow your withdrawal to complete without anyone targeting you with any explosive or anything else."
Perfect! We get safe passage out of Iraq, and all we have to do is leave our heavy weapons behind? What a bargain. I wonder just how many people had to hold the likes of Murtha and Co. away from the cameras when this offer came out.

Of course, this is related to the mid-term elections and the Zawahri message. The Dems won, the terrorists expect us to run, and they’ll pave the road for us. Oh, wait, they can’t pave a road. For that matter, they couldn’t operate our heavy weapons without our training (much like their pilots came to the US to learn to fly…).

So, way is it again that so many folks seem to think that either we are losing the war or that we can never win this war?

They can’t beat us. This I know.

We can lose all by ourselves. This I fear.

22 December 2006

A Public Service Announcement (from al Zawahri)

Just in case there was any question on who al Qaeda would rather fight against, al Zawahri made it clear (again). From a blog on ABCNews.com:
"The first is that you aren't the ones who won the midterm elections, nor are the Republicans the ones who lost. Rather, the Mujahideen -- the Muslim Ummah's vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq -- are the ones who won, and the American forces and their Crusader allies are the ones who lost," Zawahri said, according to a full transcript obtained by ABC News.
No big surprise there, except for that ABCNews put that out. The article goes on to quote Zawarhi:
"And if you don't refrain from the foolish American policy of backing Israel, occupying the lands of Islam and stealing the treasures of the Muslims, then await the same fate."
So, America must leave Israel on its own, leave the Middle East, and stop “stealing” oil (at $60+ a barrel). And what would we get for that, again? What “fate” would we avoid?

The fate we should attempt to avoid is the one where al Qaeda and friends re-establishes the caliphate from Spain to Indonesia. That, by the way, is their stated goal. Sometimes it makes sense to listen to what the enemy says…and to believe them, especially when they say it again and again.

Opening Shot

New Year (almost), new blog. Why not?

I think I’ll not tell anyone I know that I’m writing this one, though. The last blog I concocted was a bit disappointing, as no one other than family read it. For that matter, I’m not even sure that they read it.

I don’t blame them at all. It was far too serious, maybe even a little too high-minded. Sometimes I can’t help it…I like being serious, thinking about important things, fundamental things. However, there should always be a little levity.

And what’s more, the blog o’ sphere is not exactly the most cerebral forum in existence. Perhaps it should be. Maybe it should be a little less (or a lot less) trashy. Then again, we’re not talking about a multitude of Nobel-laureate thinkers out there writing their fingers into stumps. Someone once said that, "If you have enough monkeys banging randomly on typewriters, they will eventually type the works of William Shakespeare.”

Perhaps I can be one of those monkeys.