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May 31, 2010

Dear Jorge, I still remember.

This post was written 2 years ago at Spousebuzz and republished here last year. Today, I discovered that SSgt. Molina Bautista's son, Jorge, had left a comment last November. I think it's so important to let our Gold Star families know that their loved ones' sacrifice isn't forgotten. I remember, Jorge.

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(I wrote this at Spousebuzz last Memorial Day. I wanted to post it again here because if family or friends of any of these Marines should google their names, they will know that we remembered.)

I don't think it's escaped anyone's notice that tomorrow is Memorial Day.
It is a solemn day. One where we honor the ultimate sacrifices made on our behalf by brave men and women. It is right that we do this. We should do no less.
As I was searching the Internet this weekend for articles, I came across one titled "Silent Eulogies" from the Rocky Mountain News. The article talks about Fort Logan Cemetery in Colorado. One of the tombstones there is inscribed "Remember Me And Not My Fate".

That is what this post is about: remembering the lives of some who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The first fifteen Marines are all fallen Highlanders from 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. The next is the son of an old friend of ours. After that is the son of someone I got to know through fishing events for folks at Walter Reed. She and her husband have made a point to attend every event. Major Crocker served with my husband in Iraq as did LCPL. Gadsden.
For each name, if possible, there is a link to something written about how they LIVED their lives.
LCpl Jesus A. Suarezdelsolar 27 Mar, 2003 Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq
Cpl Nicholas J Dieruf 8 Apr, 2004 Al Bu Hardin, Iraq
Cpl Rudy Salas 20 May, 2004 Route TIN, Iraq
SSgt Jorge A. Molina-Bautista 23 May, 2004 Al Fallujah, Iraq
LCpl Jeremy L. Bohlman 7 Jun, 2004 Ar Ramadi, Iraq
Sgt Jason C. Cook 21 Aug, 2004 Al Jaramil, Iraq
Pvt Nachez L. Washalanta 21 Aug, 2004 Al Jaramil, Iraq
SSgt Theodore S. Holder II 11 Nov, 2004 Al Fallujah, Iraq
LCpl Kyle W. Burns 11 Nov, 2004 Al Fallujah, Iraq
LCpl Blake A. Magaoay 29 Nov, 2004 Al Fallujah, Iraq
LCpl Jason E. Smith 31 Dec, 2004 Al Fallujah, Iraq
LCpl Daniel S Bubb 17 Oct, 2005 Ar Rutbah, Iraq
LCpl Chad R. Hildebrandt 17 Oct, 2005 Ar Rutbah, Iraq
LCpl Jeremy P. Tamburello 8 Nov, 2005 Ar Rutbah, Iraq
LCPL Jonathon Gadsden Wounded 21 August, 2004 in al Anbar Province, Iraq and succumbed to those injuries 22 October 2004 He was attached to 1st LAR at the time of his injuries but was with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1 Marine Division..
Cpl. Brett Lee Lundstrom Jan. 7, 2006 Al Fallujah, Iraq 2nd Battalion/6th Marines
Capt. Brian Scott Letendre May 3, 2006 Al Anbar province, Iraq I and I staff, 1/25th
Major Ricardo Crocker May 27, 2005 Al Anbar province, Iraq 3rd CAG
In all honesty, the only one of these Marines that I ever met was Cpl. Brett Lundstrom. When I found out that he had been killed, I pictured the sweet, shy, dark eyed boy I had known years ago. For the others, I "know" them because I have gotten to know the families they left behind.
For example, I know that Jason Cook liked "expensive coffee" and always put his uniform together the night before work because he never wanted to let his Marine Corps down. His beautiful wife, Yovana, told Lancelot and I these things with such a proud smile on her face.
I know that Daniel Bubb asked his aunt Jules to physically purchase a pair of boots and mail them to a friend who didn't get any mail so that he would get something at mail call in one of his last phone calls home. He was an incredibly caring young man.
I know that Nick Dieruf liked to take things apart to see if he could put them back together...and sometimes, he couldn't.
I know that PFC. Washalanta worked in a circus before joining the Marine Corps. The judge who put him in foster care, who recommended that he consider joining the military and who gave the eulogy at his funeral remarked that Wash had completely turned his life around and was so proud of being a Marine.
I know that SSgt. Molina-Bautista was such a good father that his oldest son, Jorge, is going to bootcamp soon.
Thanks to Crash Fistfight, I know this about Kyle Burns
"Kyle was my gunner - We lived inside a turret no bigger than the front two seats in a Hyundai...let's just say we got to know each other. I would describe him as a Carhartt wearing, Copenhagen swilling, country music loving cowboy who could cuss with the best of them, from Laramie Wyoming. Kyle was a veteran of OIF I and this was his second trip to the sandbox. I hand picked him to be my gunner because as a platoon commander you need the best with you because your time is so precious that you have to have someone that can control a 14 ton vehicle while you are busy controlling the fight and your platoon over a radio."
And also thanks to Crash Fistfight, I know that Sam Holder was "a mountain of a man from Littleton Colorado. When you think of a Marine - you are thinking of Sam Holder. He was my right hand - my hammer."
I know that Major Ricardo Crocker was held in such high regard by the Marine Corps and the Santa Monica Police Department that his funeral was standing room only and the ceremonies of both the USMC and the Santa Monica PD were both complete and in synchronicity with each other. I was there. I couldn't believe the love and the care by both organizations to honor his memory and put him to rest.
I am the lesser for not having known these fine Marines and the world is a poorer place without them. I still thank God that they lived.
They are gone but not forgotten. They live on in our memories.
Semper Fidelis

Posted by at 05:00 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Memorial Day, 2005

Captain Brian Letendre was killed in Ramadi in 2006.

Some continue to find - and give - meaning to Memorial Day. Some, not so much:

Sadder than Americans blissfully, casually, carelessly enjoying a three-day weekend is that people like Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran, former Army colonel and a Boston University professor of international relations, think the kind of evil our soldiers are fighting and dying to thwart can be safely ignored. The millions who were murdered or were imprisoned as a result of our abandonment of Vietnam don’t get a Memorial Day. Had the counterinsurgency effort been allowed to develop there, would that terrible chain of events that led up to 9/11 transpired? Would the Soviets have been emboldened to invade Afghanistan, would a U.S. president have been so cowed as to allow that and allow Islamic extremists to humiliate the United States? It’s hard to say. All those events had dire, long-term consequences, not least because American credibility had been compromised.

Were these wars avoidable? Hard to say, even with Iraq, for all the second guessing. Sometimes it seems like evil’s a bus. There’s always another one coming, and both Saddam and al-Qaeda were runaway trains. Thank God, in any case, that no one followed Bacevich’s advice on Iraq or Afghanistan. We’d be marking a Memorial Day rendered more empty and meaningless than any beach barbecue.

I don't begrudge Andrew Bacevich his grief, or even his bitterness.

I do hope that one day he will see at least part of what these men and women purchased for us at such great cost.

Remember them.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Inconvenience": A Memorial Day Story

Via Carrie, a Memorial Day story I will never forget:

I've thought a lot about what happened that day in the airport, and I choose to believe my fellow passengers were not unfeeling in the face of a soldier's death and a family's tragedy. They were just caught off guard - they were totally unprepared to confront the fierce consequences of the war in Afghanistan on their way to Palm Beach on a sunny afternoon.And I believe it was for this reason that people did not rush to the podium to volunteer their seats. It was not that they did not want to, and it was not that they did not think it was the right thing to do. Rather, it was because they were busy trying to assimilate this unexpected confrontation with the irrevocable cost of war and to figure out how to fit doing the right thing into their plans - to fit it into their lives not previously touched by this war. In the end, enough of us figured out how to do the right thing, and it turned out as well as such a painful situation could.

But still I wonder: Barring some momentous personal event that necessitated a seat on that flight, how could any of us even have hesitated? How could we have stopped to weigh any inconvenience to our plans against the sacrifice Lance Cpl. Wilson and his family had made for our country? In such circumstances, it is not a question of recognizing the right thing to do; we should know it is the only thing to do.

From what I have learned of him, in his short life, Lance Cpl. Wilson created a legacy of courage and patriotism that will not be forgotten by those who knew him. I hope there's a greater legacy as well. I hope through this account of his family's struggle to see him home, if ever again the war intrudes unbidden on my life or yours, we will know what we must do, and in their honor, and for all those who serve and sacrifice, we will do it.

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:53 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

They Still Serve

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.

- Rudyard Kipling

Antietam illumination-thumb-400x285-thumb-500x356-thumb-500x356.jpgJust down the road from me is the battlefield of Antietam. It is hard to believe, looking over the now silent fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland that nearly one hundred and fifty years ago that hallowed ground was literally soaked in blood.

Men lay stacked like cordwood in the Bloody Lane. The Irish Brigade of New York lost six men in ten. But those numbers, staggering though they may seem to modern ears, pale beside the grim roll call of death that was to take place before sunset: 23,000 casualties in a single battle on a single day in September of 1862.

There is no one now alive who remembers the men who fought at Antietam. No one alive who falls suddenly silent at the sound of a love song, remembering a first kiss or a whispered promise. No one who can't forget the empty chair at Christmas dinner, who feels the loss as keenly now as they did when first they heard the awful news.

And yet there are many who stare back across the chasm of history at that day. Who pause, on a bitterly cold day in December, to mark the passing of souls as numberless as the stars in a winter sky. And though they knew not a single one of those men personally, though their lives were never touched by the loss of a father, a son, a brother, a friend; they remember still.

On this Memorial Day, I would like to ask each of you to pause - wherever you are and whatever you are doing - at 3 o'clock to remember the thousands who have fallen in the service of this great nation. It is hard to come to terms with the magnitude of this loss; to imagine the hundreds of thousands of American families who have lost a loved one over the past two hundred years. It seems too solemn, too sad an occasion for mere words. And yet it is not all sadness:

Many of our fellow citizens have no understanding of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, other than it means a long weekend. Many people, especially those with no connection to the military, often confuse the two, citing Memorial Day as a day to thank those serving the nation in uniform. Recently, a friend of mine commented that “Memorial Day is meant to pay homage to those who gave their lives for this country and our way of life. It is a day to honor the dead. There is NO such thing as “Happy Memorial Day.”

Respectfully, I disagree, in part, anyway.

Memorial Day is a happy yet solemn, joyful yet tearful, partly sunny yet mostly cloudy kind of day.

We are living the days these men and women never will. Live them well, be happy, and enjoy the blessings of liberty their service and sacrifice have bought. Although we take pause today to remember their absence, we must also take this day to celebrate the very liberty they have secured.

Memorial Day should be a "happy" day, the same as Easter. We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, yet we rejoice in the promise of chocolate rabbits, only six more weeks till spring (if Christ came out of the tomb and saw his shadow) and painted eggs, god-awfully early church services, plastic grass, and kids on a blood-sugar bender. We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, of the loss of friends and family on this day. I remember Josh wearing a cape and boxer shorts and little else, standing in the Kuwaiti desert and saluting passing vehicles. I remember sharing stories and fixing the world’s problems over barbeque and beer with Dan. I remember Gary creatively counseling another lieutenant who just refused to “get it.” I remember these men fondly, and am thankful to wear the same uniform, to serve the same nation, and to carry forward where they cannot.

Dan, Josh, and Gary can't spend this day, or any other day with their families, or among us, and we are a poorer nation because of that. I miss them, but today I pay special attention to their absence, and jealously guard my time with my family. We will have a happy day, because my friends, my mentors, my brothers have already paid for it, in advance, with interest.

It is not all sadness because these men and women did not die for nothing. Their sacrifices, by some indefinable alchemy, continue to breath new life into the otherwise abstract ideals upon which this nation was founded: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. But more than that, by their example they changed the world they left behind.

There is Matt, who found in grief a call to action.

And Emily, a young Marine widow whose sorrow only made her more determined to help others.

There are Andy and Linda Ferraro who honor their loved one by continuing to serve what he died to defend.

A healer who followed in his son's footsteps.

And there is Abbey, who drew determination from bitter loss.

When you remember the fallen, remember also those who, from a heartbreak few of us can imagine, have found the courage and strength to do things few of us are capable of. This is their gift to us, on this Memorial Day. They still serve. Their spirits live on in the hearts of those who loved them as well as those who, like the hundreds of men and women who gather on a frozen battlefield each December to honor men long dead, never knew loss firsthand.

They still serve, so long as we the living do not forget; so long as we allow their example to inspire us. This is why we must tell - and re-tell - the stories of those who fell defending American ideals. They have so much to teach us, if only we are willing to pause for a moment. To listen ... and remember:

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

They serve us, still.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:54 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 29, 2010

The Tyranny of Permissiveness

The so-called new philosophy, ‘permissiveness’ if you like, seen from the right perspective, is only a new puritanism, whereby you’re accused of being repressed or unenlightened if you happen to object to infidelity, promiscuity, and so on. You’re not allowed to mind anything any more, and so you end up denying your instincts again—moderate possessiveness, say, or moral scrupulousness—just as the puritans would have you deny the opposite instincts.

- Martin Amis

Posted by Cassandra at 09:02 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 28, 2010

Empathy

Another interesting study:

College students today are less likely to "get" the emotions of others than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago, a new review study suggests.

Specifically, today's students scored 40 percent lower on a measure of empathy than their elders did.

The findings are based on a review of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students overall conducted between 1979 and 2009.

Caveat: I'm not sure that reviewing 72 studies conducted over a 30 year period is the same as conducting the same survey multiple times over a 30 year period but let's set that aside for a moment. This is a bit disturbing, if true:

Compared with college students of the late 1970s, current students are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective," and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

At the same time, my BS flag went up at this part:

"Many people see the current group of college students — sometimes called 'Generation Me ' — as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

Tell me what your study says, and I'll listen. I'm not really interested in your characterization of what "many people" think of today's kids (unless of course you're studying what older people think of young people).

At any rate, I like this study because it confirms what I already think - kids these days are poorly socialized and moreover they're less well socialized than kids in my day were. I love studies that tell me how uber smart I am.

Take the empathy quiz and tell me your score in the comments section. In return, I'll tell you whether I think you were properly socialized as a child or not :p And don't worry too much if you get a low score - that sort of thing is totally curable nowadays.

*rolling eyes*

Yes, I'm making fun of myself in case you wondered. The Blog Princess is more empathetic than 70% of the people who took the test. She can't help wondering, however, how much of a connection there is between raw empathy and the degree of empathy you exhibit in your every day decisions?

If I'd answered on feelings alone I suspect I would have scored even higher. I think your values come into play somewhere. Over the years as I learned that sympathy isn't always what's needed, I have definitely learned to take a step back from my instinctive reactions to people to some extent.

If I didn't, I'd spend the entire day emoting. So while I think I'm quite adept at "getting" the emotions of others, any empathy I feel ends up being tempered by past experience and my values. Anyway it's Friday, people.

I "feel" it's time for a cold beer. Bet you do, too.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:16 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

May 27, 2010

McChrystal and Marjah: If It Bleeds, It Leads!

I was disturbed the other day to hear that Gen. McChrystal had supposedly said that Marjah was a "bleeding ulcer". I wondered at the time whether he had been quoted accurately as the remark seemed impolitic, to say the least.

Interestingly, according to ISAF the "ulcer" quote was taken out of context:

The NATO International Security Assistance Force has criticized the headline on McClatchy's report Monday from Marjah, Afghanistan, "McChrystal calls Marjah a 'bleeding ulcer’ in Afghan campaign," as mischaracterizing the remarks of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

Here's the full text of its e-mail Tuesday, addressed to Mark Seibel, McClatchy managing editor, online, and the response by Roy Gutman, McClatchy foreign editor:

Dear Mr. Seibel,

I am writing to you today so that we might come to some agreement about what this command views as a mischaracterization in Dion Nissenbaum's article entitled "McChrystal calls Marjah a 'bleeding ulcer' in Afghan campaign" and other variations on that theme.

The key part of that dialogue that Dion witnessed was "You don't feel it here, but I'll tell you, it's a bleeding ulcer outside." That would have been further clarified by the quote Dion asked to use (which did not appear in the final edited copy) about Gen. McChrystal being asked in Europe and the U.S. whether we are failing. The essence of the comment is not that Marjah itself is going badly: as he said to Dion in a follow on interview on the plane ride back to Kabul — it's largely on track. It's that it's misperceived to be going badly. It's a distinction, but one I'm sure you grasp and one that could have been better conveyed, even accounting for the motive of wanting to generate interest in the story using the sensational quote: "McChrystal calls for action against perceptions of 'bleeding ulcer' in Marjah," etc.

While the "bleeding ulcer" quote was in the discussion that Dion said he'd summarize (and ended up quoting extensively), it's intellectually dishonest for The McClatchy Company to use that quote as a headline that summarizes his position. We need strongly request that the headline be changed in the on-line versions.

Based on the exchange between Dion and Gen. McChrystal's personal PAO, Lt Col Tadd Sholtis, we had every reason to expect a story about mixed progress throughout Central Helmand and an effort to keep operations moving at as rapid a pace as possible against the various challenges. Instead, post-editing, one must read some 14 paragraphs into the story in order to get anything that suggests the picture is mixed, and you need to go 40 paragraphs into the story in order to get anything that explains Gen. McChrystal's actual intent in the dialogues quoted. The elements of a balanced story are there, but with the way it's organized we didn't get one.

Finally, Dion's version of this story that appears on his blog is a much more balanced representation of what actually took place that day.

Respectfully,

Gregory J. Smith, Rear Admiral, USN
DCOS Communication
NATO International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan

All of which only confirms the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"!

Posted by Cassandra at 11:00 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Rand Paul, Race, and the Constitution

A while back Grim asked a fascinating question in the comments section here at VC. He returns to this question in a must read post:

Racism, as a special evil with a unique history, has required intense Federal intervention to mitigate. No other evil in our national fabric is of the same type; the tools we built to break these chains are too strong to use against lesser evils.

Mr. Paul is in a difficult position, and I feel for him. He has two deeply held principles that are in conflict. So do I, though they are different principles: Cassandra and I were talking the other day about whether a society with respect for women requires a powerful and intrusive state. A state that cannot rip your family to shreds cannot protect women from abusive husbands. A state that can rip your family to shreds is prone to evil, because power corrupts, and that kind of power will be misused. Our own case shows that it is misused regularly.

This is a potentially irreconcilable conflict in principles of equal weight. Perhaps it is possible to find a way to protect the rights of women without an intrusive state -- perhaps we can find a way to do it through individual action. In the absence of such a method, though, I'm in a difficult position. I believe the modern state is far too strong, and we desperately need to pull its fangs. I also believe that women's interests are our duty to protect, and defend, and that men who do not love and defend women are no men at all.

Let's unpack Grim's argument. He argues that racism is such a pernicious problem that it requires the use of methods that are too strong to use in any other context. He also states that it is the only evil of its type. So I suppose my first question would be, "How does sexism differ from racism?" Why is racial discrimination so much worse than sexual discrimination?

Before we attempt to answer that question, we should define our terms. Many different definitions of racism and sexism exist. For the purposes of this discussion we will use Merriam Webster's definition of racism:

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race 2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

...and sexism:

1 : prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women 2 : behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

By Merriam-Webster's definitions, I am not a racist but am definitely a sexist. I am convicted by my non-binding and admittedly heteronormative belief that gender roles have some value (and are more a function of real differences between men and women than of jackbooted patriarchal misogyny).

That said, what is the nature of the harms caused by racism and sexism? Are these harms identical? How do they compare in scope and severity?

Well, first of all there are no laws forcing whites and blacks to marry, live in the same household or neighborhood, or socialize with each other. So I would argue that the harms caused by racism are mostly limited to the public sphere; to jobs, schools, and interactions with people outside our immediate families. We can, if we choose, get away from people of other races simply by excluding them from our intimate social circle.

Sexism, on the other hand, has both a public and private aspect. Women would have a very hard time totally excluding men from their intimate circles: we have fathers, boyfriends, husbands, brothers.

Ergo, while racial discrimination occurs primarily in the public sphere, sexual discrimination has the potential to occur both at home and at the office. But there is another difference. The physical and psychological differences between men and women are greater than the differences between blacks, whites, and orientals. There is at least some logic to disparate treatment based upon sex.

It would seem that sexism is harmful over a broader range of human interactions because it can occur both in the private (home/family) sphere and in our public (job/school/commercial) dealings with other humans. Women have little or no ability to "get away" from it but there's an important caveat. Though we can't choose our parents, women are no longer forced into marriage against their will. This is important, because a woman who is harmed by sexism in the private sphere has very likely chosen to associate with her sexist 'oppressor' (unless, of course, we're talking about a parent/child relationship). An interesting case of unavoidable private sphere sexism is the treatment of American Muslim girls whose parents treat them in ways that would be unlawful "but for" the parent/child relationship. I am not sure what Grim would have the government do here. Should the government, for instance, be able to prevent Muslim parents from genitally mutilating their daughters?

We have two conflicting values to balance here: freedom of association and freedom from government interference in our private lives. If I understand him, Grim believes racism is so bad that it justifies an otherwise objectionable level of government interference but does not think sexism rises to that level. Here, I'd like to interject a few comments from Ann Althouse. Here's the first:

[Rand] likens private property rights to free speech rights. If you care about free speech rights, you defend even the people who say horrible things — Nazis, the KKK, etc. That's standard constitutional law doctrine. In Rand's view — and in the view of many libertarians — property rights work the same way. So you could have this horrible racist restauranteur who excluded black people, and the government would have to leave him alone, just as the government couldn't do anything about it if a white person had a dinner party at his house and only invited his white friends.

It seems to me that several things are being conflated here, so I'd like to step back for a moment and look at the purpose of the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't really protect us from each other and (until the 14th Amendment) it wasn't really meant to protect us from state and local governments. Originally, it granted limited powers to the federal government. Congress is a part of the federal government and it was Congress which passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Freedom of Association is not explicitly protected by the Constitution, but (and here I'm relying on Wikipedia) nonetheless SCOTUS, with its laser like vision, eventually espied the right of free association lurking behind a penumbra:

Although it is not explicitly protected in the First Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled, in NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), freedom of association to be a fundamental right protected by it. In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984), the Supreme Court held that associations may not exclude people for reasons unrelated to the group's expression. However, in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 (1995), the Court ruled that a group may exclude people from membership if their presence would affect the group's ability to advocate a particular point of view. Likewise, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000), the Supreme Court ruled that a New Jersey law, which forced the Boy Scouts of America to admit an openly gay member, to be an unconstitutional abridgment of the Boy Scouts' right to free association.

Clearly, the Court thinks neither state, local, or federal governments have the right to force us to associate with others against our will. Nor can we be prevented from such associations. What a relief.

So my first question to Ms. Althouse would be, "What's the difference between a restauranteur and the host of a private dinner party?" Do either receive public funds? Why is it acceptable to force a private businessman who receives no public funds to serve dinner to someone who is black but not to force a host to serve dinner to someone who is black? Walter Williams has a few thoughts on the subject:

Suppose you want to deal with me but I don't want to deal with you. Should I be forced to? You might ask, "What are you talking about?"

Here's a short list. Suppose you want to marry me, but I don't want to marry you. Or, suppose you want to play tennis with me, but I don't want to play with you. Or, suppose you want to be in my club, but neither my fellow club members nor I want you. The question is, how much do we Americans value freedom of association? Keep in mind that freedom of association is a two-way street -- it also implies freedom not to associate.

Suppose a beautiful woman wants to date me, but I don't want to date her. It might be for a good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. Should I be free not to deal with her? Similarly, you might want to come to my party or enroll your children in my private school, but I don't want to deal with you. My refusal might be for any arbitrary reason, including your race, sex or religion, or because I don't like your looks. Should the government force us to associate with those we wish not to associate? Alternatively, should government forbid us from associating with those with whom we wanted to associate?

He concludes:

Isn't there a general principle here? Namely, that if one cherishes freedom of association, is there a logically consistent argument for permitting it in some areas of our lives and not in others? Should employers be forced to hire those they prefer not, or landlords forced to rent to persons they prefer not, or Boy Scouts to admit homosexuals when they prefer not?

One might be tempted to answer by asserting that arbitrary discriminatory association choices in marriage don't have the important socioeconomic effects that other discriminatory choices have. That's dead wrong. Race and income are highly correlated. Whites have higher income than blacks. Only about 5 percent of all marriages are interracial. That means whites marrying other whites makes the income and education distribution more skewed than it would be if there were more interracial marriages. I imagine that most of us would be horrified by the suggestion of mandated marriage diversity.

If an activity is publicly financed, then arbitrary discriminatory association should be prohibited. That would apply to, among other things, public libraries, schools and universities. Private libraries, schools and universities should have complete freedom of association, whether it's discrimination for or against a particular race, sex, religion or any other trait upon which it chooses to associate. Interestingly, Americans who support racial preferences should be the strongest supporters of privatization, but they're not.

It's here that the second part of Althouse's comment kicks in:

A few years ago, I was at a conference with libertarians, and I was confronted with exactly this point of view. I expressed my concern that they were putting an extreme and abstract idea above things that really matter in the world. I challenged them — in what I thought was a friendly conversation — to explain to me how I could know that their commitment to the extreme abstraction did not, in fact, have an origin in racism. Which came first, the proud defense of private property or the shameful prejudices that polite people don't admit to anymore?

Is the purpose of the Constitution to protect "things that really matter in the world"? Or is the purpose of the Constitution to grant us certain rights which cannot be abridged by federal, state, or local governments and furthermore, to spell out the powers granted to various tiers of government?

How does Ms. Althouse know that Walter Williams' defense of freedom of association does not, in fact, have an origin in racism? If you say, "because he's black and you're white", isn't that (going back to Webster-Merriam) a textbook example of racial prejudice or discrimination? Why should anyone's personal opinion of my subjective motivations make any difference when we're discussing a Constitutional right? Or do Constitutional rights depend on race?

In a way, federalism (deader than a doornail though it may be) has a lot in common with free market principles. It's interesting that we live in an age where it is easier than ever before to move to a different state. Barriers to travel are lower than they have ever been, and yet we seem oddly determined to homogenize the 50 states. I would think that as it gets easier to move between states, our tolerance for different lifestyles and levels of government control would increase but the reverse seems to have happened.

Imagine for a moment that we could turn back time and erase the creeping federalization of almost everything. States would differ widely in the degree to which they respected or restricted civil rights and matters like abortion. What would happen to states that chose to protect complete freedom of association? To states that refused to grant favored status to protected classes? Would they gain or lose population as a result? Would we wish to live in such a country?

In answer to Grim's question, I believe that due to the biological differences between men and women and the special role women play in bearing and raising children, some government protection of society's "weaker" members is necessary. I also think we've gone a bit too far in that direction.

I think women must have the ability to redress violations of basic rights via some other mechanism than violence or aggression, but that's hardly surprising because I think societies function better when disputes are resolved by the rule of law than when they are resolved by brute force. A fairly uniform legal code (along with the means to enforce it) is the hallmark of a civilized society.

I also think the law should be as race- and gender-blind as humanly possible. Simply writing race and gender neutral laws, however, can't force fallible human beings from considering race and gender in the enforcement of those laws. That's a problem that will always be with us. I think the best we can do is to identify some common and minimal set of rights that apply to every person and then write the best laws we can to protect them. Even the most perfect process can't eliminate the influence of human foibles.

Discuss amongst your ownselves :p

Posted by Cassandra at 08:19 AM | Comments (81) | TrackBack

May 26, 2010

The Michael Yon Rumor Mill *Correction Appended"

Last month I commented on what many have dubbed "The Yon Flap". Unlike most Milbloggers, I've never been a huge Yon fan so I don't really have a dog in this fight. I have no opinion on his mental state. I chose to comment because the flap was beginning to degenerate into "my guy said/your guy said" and some very important principles were getting lost in the kerfuffle.

Today Yon hints that he's about to unleash Armegeddon on "the blog lynch mob":

Blackfive is on thin ice, and it's integrity is in question. Blackfive is kindly asked to provide hard evidence that it was told that I violated embed rules.

This is a moment of truth. Show your cards Blackfive.

Uncle Jimbo (and it was Jimbo and not Blackfive, as Yon sloppily reports, who made the statements in question) responds here. Let's begin where I left off last month with the question of standards. Mr. Yon appears to object to the use of anonymous sources. He demands to see the evidence. This is extremely interesting since Mr. Yon has no problem passing on unsubstantiated tips from anonymous sources when it suits him:

An American soldier emailed from Afghanistan saying that his unit has been ordered to patrol with no round in the chamber.

I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the "information" provided. Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that's essentially all it was) had any meaning then perhaps he ought to do a little fact checking. He received this response:

Headquarters ISAF, the ISAF Joint Command and the Regional Commands have not issued guidance to units instructing them to conduct patrols without rounds chambered. Force protection levels are dictated by the local threats and determined by commanders at the lowest possible tactical level, so without knowing the specific unit from which this report came I can’t verify with absolute certainty that verbal or written guidance has not been issued locally. But the intent to subordinate commanders should be clear. At no time do we remove our troops’ inherent rights of self-defense, and we are confident that their training and discipline allows them to use force discriminately within the rules of engagement. We’d welcome information from anyone who has a problem with the way guidance is being implemented that they haven’t been able to address with their immediate chain of command.”

Another Milblogger, the same one who questioned Yon's unsubstantiated accusations regarding the senior commander in Afghanistan in April, performed the same due diligence and posted the response. And Blackfive does the same today.

I ask you: what is more credible? A single, unsourced, unsubstantiated sentence on Facebook? Or the posts of three bloggers who took the time to ask questions and to provide context and information? It's an important question because as I outlined in my last post Mr. Yon has a long history of throwing out unsourced and unsubstantiated accusations:

Michael Yon is purportedly a professional journalist. As such, shouldn't he be held to some elementary standards of professionalism? But more importantly, how much sense does it make to extend the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Yon for what amounts to unsourced and unsupported allegations of criminal misconduct against a career soldier?

Is this where the bar should be set for professional journalists? Do they have no responsibility to back up such a serious charge with evidence?

It is not (as some have alleged) that General McChrystal cannot be challenged or criticized. It's that it's profoundly irresponsible for someone of Yon's stature to casually toss out accusations like that with no proof. As the accuser, he bears the burden of proof. And he has provided none.

McChrystal was hardly the first to be accused on no evidence by Mr. Yon. As I outlined in my prior post, BG Daniel Menard was similarly accused of criminal negligence by Mr. Yon. Now Big Journalism appears to have adopted the Yon Standard: no evidence required. No fact checking. Just uncritical acceptance of unsubstantiated rumors and accusations:

And yet nobody in the media seems to have much of a problem with Michael Yon being removed from the front lines by Obama/General McChrystal. Yon has openly stated the problems in Afghanistan right now and how we could lose this war, unless changes are made. He has been critical of the current rules of engagement that have put our troops in danger and could actually make this war like the Vietnam that the leftist media claimed it was early and often when Bush was president (it’s strange you don’t hear those comparisons from them anymore).

Yon’s reward? He’s lost his embed status, banished to Bangkok. Yon could return but his access might be limited and you can’t just pop in and out of that theater like it’s the neighborhood movie palace. Mess with Yon enough and his resources wear thin, but his patience will not. You will not stop this soldier. He is the ultimate warrior for those who fight and die for this country. His reports are honest, chilling, gripping and are as reflective of the battles they represent as anything I have ever read. But this administration is making it as difficult for him to do his job. You can’t believe this is by accident. The most critical battle in Afghanistan is about to take place, the battle for Kandahar, and the voice of the American soldier is not allowed in.

"Banished to Bangkok?" Really? Who banished him? This is nonsense on stilts. What evidence is provided to support the notion that the President of the United States is involved, much less McChrystal? Or do we only fact check/require actual evidence when we're dealing with the NY Times but suspend that standard when a story confirms our preconceived biases? In a refreshingly well researched piece for Wired mag, Noah Shactman supplies a distinctly different view of the circumstances surrounding the termination of Yon's embed:

This time, Yon tells Danger Room, there were no early warnings. “There was no back story. None. Zero indication from the brigade company or unit level,” he says over an intermittent cellphone connection from Jalalabad, Afghanistan. “I’m mystified.”

Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, says there’s a simple explanation: Yon’s extended embed was holding up other reporters who wanted similar access.

“The problem is that there are more than 100 other reporters on a waiting list to get into embeds with the 5-2 and other units — especially in and around Kandahar — which is why embeds are established for defined periods of time. Since demand far exceeds supply, we try to balance the needs of individual reporters with our responsibility to provide information through embeds to a large and diverse a field of reporters,” Sholtis tells Danger Room in an e-mail.

.... Yon couldn’t accept that rationale. “McChrystal’s crew has declared an information war on me,” he posted to Facebook. “If McChrystal knew what he was doing, he would not be drawing attention to his staff.”

He called McChrystal’s aides “crazy monkeys,” and said that he had “compelling evidence of General McChrystal’s smear campaign” against him. “Official statements by his people — in writing — have been defamatory and libelous.”

Noah's reporting is corroborated by this account in Politico. As far as I know, there isn't any corroboration of Yon's version of events.

And notably, Yon's "compelling evidence" of defamatory and libelous statements from McChrystal's staff turned out to be anything but. In fact, by Yon's own standard his own statements about BG Menard, Stanley McChrystal, and his "crazy monkeys" are clearly both defamatory and libelous.

Oh, wait - I forgot! Michael Yon refuses to be bound by the standards he applies to others. Anonymous sources are fine when he uses them to accuse career officers of criminal negligence, incompetence, and corruption but as applied to his own conduct, not so much.

When he accuses career military officers, evidence is deemed unnecessary. But when his own unsourced accusations are questioned, suddenly evidence is required?

What standard should we apply to Mr. Yon's reporting? He has repeatedly stated that he's not a blogger. OK, I'll buy off on that. According to Colonel Steve Boylan, who had the temerity to object when Yon published information on American KIA before their families had been notified [5/30 UPDATE: PLEASE SEE THE CORRECTION AT THE END OF THIS POST] (a practice that normally brings the wrath of the entire Milblogging community down on a journalist's head) and who left a comment on my last Yon post, Yon says he's not a journalist, either. Just one who makes his living reporting:

On the issue of Michael being called a professional journalist, he himself does not claim that to be so and has in fact declared that he is not a professional journalist to anyone who will ask.

As for bloggers and citizen journalists, we in the military are still working on how to deal with the various issues of this still new medium. With the traditional media, we get to have a reasonable path to figure out and correct errors in fact, violations of ground rules, etc. The traditional media have a system in place that we can use to discuss issues with the editors and so forth until a resolution is found. This is not the case with most bloggers/citizen journalists.

Many are one-person shops and if they don't like the answers, the rules, etc then they ignore them. There is no recourse for the military to try to correct an issue if they choose not do listen. Usually our only recourse is to deny access due to lack of faith and confidence that they will provide an accurate representation of the facts.

Overall we do support the various bloggers/citizen journalists, but we cannot accomodate all requests due to the support requirements needed.

They do provide an important and useful avenue for the readers, but to determine the opinions from the facts can be very difficult and I have found that most blogs are more opinion than fact which can be very misleading to the public.

If Yon isn't a blogger and isn't a journalist, what is he? By what standard do we evaluate his work? Or do we just throw away the rule book because after all, he's Michael Yon? That doesn't seem right to me.

Credibility is never more important than when a journalist or blogger reports information that we have no way to independently verify. I don't agree with those who have said they're willing to give Mr. Yon the benefit of the doubt even if he's wrong and even if he provides no evidence to back up repeated accusations of criminal behavior.

The burden of proof is always on the accuser. There are good reasons for this: when the cost of accusing public figures is too low, accusations become a means of settling scores and harassment. It seems to me that bloggers and journalists should be asking a few questions instead of uncritically accepting the unsupported Facebook postings of a man who seems to think the rules don't apply to him (though clearly they apply to those who question him).

There is a difference between responsible, well researched scrutiny of military policy and leadership and anonymous sniping without a single shred of evidence. The first is entirely fair game and milblogs do it all the time. The second is unprofessional, irresponsible, and frankly adds nothing to our knowledge of how this war is being fought.

If there is one quality that defines the difference between the military and everyone else, it's the concept of accountability. We are all accountable for what we say and do, or at least we should be if we expect others to believe what we say. The truth matters. Facts matter. Context matters. Credibility matters. What I want to know is, is Michael Yon willing to live by the standards he demands of others?

Are you willing to uncritically accept unsubstantiated accusations of criminal negligence, incompetence or corruption from someone who refuses to be held accountable? And if you are not, how do you explain the double standard?

UPDATE: At 11:30 pm on 5/29, Col. Boylan left the following correction in the comments section:

For the record, in 2005, when I was the director of the Combined Press Information Center, we had been notified that Michael had posted information on a WIA (Wounded in Action) before family had been notified. That was why we had denied his request. However, this was cleared up since the officer who had been wounded in fact informed us that he had already told his family about the event and therefore there was no breaking of the ground rules and as the articles have stated, Michael was granted embeds after we had the correct information.

As promised, I have noted the correction in three places: in the title of the post, inline, and at the end of the post. Many thanks to Col. Boylan for correcting the record.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:14 PM | Comments (133) | TrackBack

Chillin'

drink.jpg

CWCID

Posted by Cassandra at 07:35 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

May 25, 2010

Looks, Men, Women: Blah, Blah, Blah

Amazing article:

Since the Stone Age, he explains, men and women have had different attitudes towards sex. Men can pass on their genes with very little risk – all they need is a fertile woman.

But it's different for women, because pregnancy is incredibly risky. What women need is a man who looks like a good provider – better still, who looks like a proven provider.

So let's think about our Stone Age man and woman. If he's going to settle down, and stop playing the field, he wants one thing above all – a woman who looks fertile. More than that, he wants a woman who looks as if she'll be fertile for many years to come. In other words, he might consider being a provider and protector, as long as his mate looks young, fertile and unblemished.

And now consider his mate. What does she want? Not just a man who is a good hunter and a good fighter, but a man who has a track record as a hunter and fighter. In other words, an older man. And this is not only true of Stone Age couples. In a survey conducted by David Buss, 10,000 people, in 37 cultures, were polled. 'In all 37 cultures included in the international study on choosing a mate,' writes Buss, 'women prefer men who are older than they are.'

Now I'm getting close to understanding why women are so critical of their bodies. Since prehistoric times they have had a hard-wired link to how they look. For tens of thousands of years it was crucial; it could be the difference between having a protector and not having one – between life and death, even.

For men it's not the same at all. The odd wrinkle or grey hair doesn't matter. Hell, it might even be an advantage. As long as you're good at throwing spears and building shelters, you'll be fine.

Twenty thousand years on, what has changed? Well, as David Buss points out, it's unlikely that a Stone Age man would have seen 'hundreds or even dozens of attractive women in that environment'. But now, when he looks at a Playboy centrefold, he is seeing a woman who has competed with thousands of other women for the part – not only that, he's seeing the best picture out of thousands.

And it's not just centrefolds, is it? Just look at newsreaders – mostly, it's a pretty girl and a grey-haired man. Message to men: relax. Message to women: panic! And then there are the girl groups, and the short-skirted girl on Countdown, and even the characters in the Harry Potter films, where the boys are allowed to look like geeks but the girl must look like a model.

As the art critic John Berger wrote: 'Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relations of men to women, but the relation of women to themselves.' It's a tough one, isn't it?

Surely guys can understand that, at least. If it happened to us, we'd have a meltdown, too.

The comments are interesting. Two that jumped out at me:

'For men the holy grail is within reach – you just need to get fit...'

That does not explain the steady rise in retail sales of male cosmetic products and, more recently, the rising interest in cosmetic surgery for men.

Gee. Let's think about that one for a moment.

Traditionally we're told that men are hard wired to look at other women and to desire sex with them even when they're in an exclusive relationship. Now some might see a lurking incentive or two in there, especially for women who are hard wired to value monogamous relationships. We are also told that women only care about their appearance because the female of the species is by nature insecure, vain and shallow.

Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Of course as another commenter points out, there are a few problems with the "Vanity, thy name is woman!" theory:

Women know that men are only interested in women who are thin and attractive. That's why they put so much pressure on themselves to live up to the ideal of female physical perfection presented in beauty magazines. Even if they have a man, they fear losing him if they are no longer attractive.

Men, on the other hand, generally attract women because of their wealth, status and power. Looks have very little to do with it, especially over the age of 25. Thus, straight men do not feel the pressure to conform to a prescribed ideal of male beauty. Ergo, most straight men over the age of 25 are overweight and out of shape - but have no trouble finding women to sleep with / date.

I am a gay man, so my observations come from an entirely disinterested perspective.

Gay men put a lot of pressure on themselves to look good because they know other gay men will not be interested unless they are gym-toned and well-dressed.

So are women who work hard to look good insecure, or do they just understand market forces? The older I get, the more value I see in examining the adaptive value of male and female behaviors that cause conflict and misunderstanding. While I'm not a big fan of rigid stereotypes, is it really reasonable to assume that people do things we don't understand/agree with for no reason (the old, "He/she only acts that way b/c men/women are insane/irrational/overemotional/not reasonable like I am").

What's interesting to me is the area of overlap. Today women are completing school in record numbers. We have careers, in most cases, before we marry and have children. This makes pregnancy a lot less risky because for the first time we can support ourselves and any children we might bear, if need be. That reduces the value of a man's earning potential and forces him, if he wants to win the best quality female (however he defines that), to bring additional qualities to the table.

I'm often bemused when I hear men go on about how women only care about the size of a man's wallet. When I fell in love with my husband, it was tremendously important to me that he have integrity and be dependable because when a woman is pregnant or has small children, she makes herself enormously vulnerable in a way I don't think a lot of men understand. His earning power was not something I even thought of. My assumption was that if he was dependable, he'd keep a roof over our heads if I needed to stay home and care for our children. But I also thought of wage earning as a shared and negotiated responsibility neither of us could unilaterally delegate away.

I still view it that way.

Wouldn't it be funny if we were heading towards a world where men and women will have to compete on the same full range of human qualities (looks, brains, character, sex appeal) rather than two divergent and gender specific sets of standards? Do happily married couples already select their mates this way, or is it more a case of happily married couples having compatible (or at least not conflicting) criteria?

There are some indications that mating preferences are not rigidly hard wired - that men and women evaluate trade offs differently as the range of possible outcomes changes.

How much of what we think we know is biological hard wiring and how much is intelligent adaptation? Is technology encouraging us to make more informed choices or pandering to our worst instincts? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (88) | TrackBack

May 24, 2010

Obama Thanks Troops for Winning "Rash, Dumb, Pointless War" He Never Supported

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics....I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

- Barack Obama

The half vast editorial staff have been feeling a bit morose of late. To tell the truth, we miss the delicately nuanced Euro-stylings of the Former Junior Senator from Massachusetts, John "Foregainst" Kerry:

The Blog Princess awoke from her slumbers this morning with a most distressing thought rattling around the inside of her brain housing group. Is Obama the next incarnation of the French-speaking junior Senator from Massachusetts who, in 2004, came within a hair's breadth of razing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a fashion reminiscent of Ton-Loc?

The similarities are striking: like M. Kerry, Barack Obama is unshakeably "foregainst" the war on terror whenever the subject comes up... which, of late, is not often:

As the November elections approach, candidates across the spectrum will ostentatiously wear their support for "our warriors" like body armor, which I suppose is better than the alternative. But as the troops become props, the real men and women who are sweating and taking fire and sleeping on hard ground 7,000 miles away are oddly missing from the conversation.

Fortunately, our Commander in Chief momentarily broke his inexplicable silence to thank graduating cadets at West Point for persevering in Iraq:

Mr. Obama all but declared victory in Iraq, crediting the military but not Mr. Bush, who sent more troops in 2007. "A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken," Mr. Obama said. "But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer."

The President's constantly evolving stance on the global struggle to Counter Violent Extremism is all the more noteworthy for the brilliant manner in which it showcases his deep commitment to forgetting rejecting the false choices, stale divisive rhetoric and failed policehs of the past 8 years:

Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, the Daily News has learned.

The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a "problem" that had barely reduced violence.

"The surge is not working," Obama's old plan stated, citing a lack of Iraqi political cooperation but crediting Sunni sheiks - not U.S. military muscle - for quelling violence in Anbar Province.

And in truth, America should be grateful to whoever the heck is responsible for winning this dumb war. Admittedly, Iraq was an unnecessary and resource-draining conflict that hurt rather than helped American interests, but nevertheless we should all take pride in the successful prosecution of the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.

Yessir! I sure am glad America won succeeded at this whole rash, dumb war based on passion and politics rather than reason and principle thingy. Because nothing screams "smart power" like recycling misguided policies from a war that didn't need to be fought.

On the other hand, the sudden usefulness of the failed tactics of the last administration means we can finally stop blaming George W. Bush.... right?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:50 AM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

"No Better Friend"

Now that's what I call "soft power":

soft_power.jpg

Sergeant Clifton Shackleford, a security team leader with Bravo Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) ‘elevates’ the spirits of several local children whom reside in the village outside Combat Outpost Cafferetta here May 10.

Read more about what our Marines are doing.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:40 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 21, 2010

Caption Contest Result, Plus Friday Foolishness

The results of last week's caption contest are in!

Screaming into 1st place is VC's resident curmudgeon and president emeritus of the He-Man Woman Hater's club, spd rdr:

Duke had planned to bury his wife's body in the woods, but then the game went into extra innings.

2nd place honors to to La Femme Crickita for helping this week's subject to get in touch with his feminine side:

One beer was not going to get Bobby through being maid of honor.

And rounding 3rd on his way to the dog house is Edward Lunny:

Hey, honey !!...HONEY !!! Hey could you get me another beer ? Hey, honey, before the commercial's over please.

This week's photo is too much fun to pass up:

rodent.jpg

Video here. Have fun!

Posted by Cassandra at 11:26 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

May 20, 2010

Incroyable

Sometimes the comedy just writes itself:

An advertising campaign placed by the Ministry of Defence in the official Army magazine, Soldier, urges female soldiers and civilian staff to use a condom, warning: “On deployment, there'll be 50 blokes to each woman.”

Military personnel are officially prohibited from sexual relationships in war zones but the rule is rarely enforced provided there is not impact on discipline or operations.

I wonder: does having to ship a pregnant soldier home from a war zone qualify as "impact on discipline or operations"?

On the bright side, I suppose we can always remind ourselves that this sort of PC nonsense would never fly on our side of the pond.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:14 PM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

Awesome.

Duuuuuuuuuuuuude....

Posted by Cassandra at 12:05 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

I Am Not Sure What Is More Disturbing...

... the number of dancing squirrel vids on YouTube, or the unsettling resemblance to what is going on in my garden at this very moment:

Have not seen the ribbon snake this Spring. He is probably as horrified as I am at all this nut gathering exuberance.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:35 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

U.S. No Longer Judged "Most Likely to Succeed" in Global Economy?

According to this item, America has lost the leading edge on global competitiveness:

... Based on a detailed analysis of economic output, government and business efficiency, skills, and infrastructure, the researchers ranked 58 of the world's economies to determine which are best-placed to succeed in the 21st century economic race. For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. lost the top spot, falling behind Singapore and Hong Kong, respectively. Australia, Taiwan, and Malaysia are additional Asia-Pacific countries that scored in the top 10.

The biggest loser in this year's rankings is Europe. Despite a combined gross domestic product of almost $15 trillion and a total population of nearly 500 million, only three Old World countries — Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway — broke into IMD's top 10 this year. Perennial stars Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands dropped out of the top 10, replaced by Taiwan and Malaysia (as well as by Norway, which is outside the EU and euro zone). The continent's largest economies, Germany (No. 16), United Kingdom (No. 22), and France (No. 24), remained well outside the top 10; France alone among the three gained ground, rising four rungs. IMD attributes the Old World's relatively poor showing to high levels of government debt, a weakening infrastructure, and continued inefficiencies in European labor markets.

Of course emerging economies are thriving - they're not weighed down with all the baggage supposedly "enlightened" nations place on employers who compete in a global marketplace.

Every time I hear progressives complain that America should be "more like Europe", I think to myself "If these folks want to be more like Europe, they should be clamoring for us to adopt more European corporate tax rates:

When compared to other OECD countries:

* 24 U.S. states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than top-ranked Japan.
* 32 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than third-ranked Germany.
* 46 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than fourth-ranked Canada.
* All 50 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than fifth-ranked France.

....even corporations that operate in the three states that do not impose a major state-level corporate tax—Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming—still shoulder a higher corporate tax rate than fifth-ranked France and 24 other OECD countries because of the 35 percent federal corporate rate.

Funny how progressives are all about making America more like "the other industrialized nations"... except when such arguments actually undermine their "Capitalism is Evil" agenda.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters: Sexist Search Engine Edition

I am sorry, but this is funny:

Google has landed itself in trouble by censoring advertisements for a so-called 'cougar' dating websites for women despite taking no action against ads of similar sites for men.

The company labelled the ad for the website, called CougarLife, which promotes relationships between older women and younger men, as "non family safe".

However it allows ads that publicise such liaisons between older men and younger women - from a website called ArrangementSeekers.com.

Both CougarLife and ArrangementSeeks are owned by the same company, Avid Life Media.

Google officials then refused to allow the advertisements for the Canadian-owned dating service, which introduced "women in their prime with younger men", to be sent to third party websites.

I sleep better at night knowing the folks at Google are constantly on guard against predators of the perimenopausal persuasion.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:03 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 19, 2010

Templates

This is going to be one of those posts that strings together several apparently unrelated ideas. What can I say? I'm female. Our minds are incestuous in nature - everything is related. The concept of "templates" has cropped up in several different contexts in the Blog Princess's reading of late. I was reminded of it this morning whilst perusing an article in the WSJ that wondered (in classic hand wringing fashion) "Why, O why? aren't female owned businesses as big as male owned businesses????" And you big, strong manly men thought size didn't matter! O Gullible Ones!

The phenomenal growth of women-owned businesses has made headlines for three decades—women consistently have been launching new enterprises at twice the rate of men, and their growth rates of employment and revenue have outpaced the economy.

So, it is dismaying to see that, despite all this progress, on average, women-owned business are still small compared with businesses owned by men. And while the gap has narrowed, as of 2008—the latest year for which numbers are available—the average revenues of majority women-owned businesses were still only 27% of the average of majority men-owned businesses.

There are those who will say that these numbers substantiate what they always knew: Women just don't have what it takes to start and run a substantial, growing business. But I don't buy that: More than a quarter of a million women in the U.S. own and lead businesses with annual revenue topping $1 million—and many of these businesses are multimillion-dollar enterprises. Clearly, many women have the vision, capacity and perseverance to build thriving companies.

So what's holding back so many women business owners?

Allow a clearly inferior female-type brain to challenge the whopping big assumptions in this brief passage. Who says ANYTHING is "holding women back"? Who says a business that brings in a million dollars or more annually is "too small"? Whose yardstick are we using to decide whether a business is "profitable enough"? Or whether it is growing fast enough? Enough by whose standards?

It seems to me that the only standards which ought to matter here are those of the business owner in question. A while back Grim linked to a fascinating essay in Arts and Letters Daily:

Pinker does more than dryly discuss the biology; she provides example after example of women who have succeeded in this “man’s world” and found it wanting. As Pinker explains, let’s move on past the idea that a woman can’t do the same work as a man, and discuss why she may not want to. Any woman who has wondered if her preferences run counter to the feminist cause should pay close attention here; believing that a woman should have every right to pursue the same goals as men is different from believing that every woman should want to.

Why do we assume women do things for the same reasons men do? Why assume any two people ought to have the same goals, employ the same strategies, or measure success with the same yardstick? Is it not possible for women to do things for reasons that seem perfectly valid to us even if men don't happen to find them sufficient? Perhaps it's not so much a question of whether the playing field is level or not as it is whether men and women must play on the same field, use the same rules, or keep score by the same method?

Buried in the middle of this female author's essay was the answer to a problem that arises primarily because she acknowledges only one path to "success"; only one yardstick: one that ignores what women value and assumes that only men's priorities are valid:

... research also shows that the differences between women and men entrepreneurs begin with their own reasons for starting a business. Men tend to start businesses to be the "boss," and their aim is for their businesses to grow as big as possible. Women start businesses to be personally challenged and to integrate work and family, and they want to stay at a size where they personally can oversee all aspects of the business.

Question for the ages: if I start a business because I crave challenge but also prize time with my family; if I want my business to be profitable but not to overwhelm the other important things in my life, how much of a "success" am I if my business grows so large that it leaves no time for the people and things I love?

In what universe does an end state in which I lose what I think is important become "success"? Is success essentially derivative in nature? Does it depend upon the opinions of others, or on the achievement of our own goals? Is it defined by getting what we want or by getting what other people think we ought to want?

The notion of templates is an interesting metaphor for the value systems and lenses we use to evaluate ourselves and those around us. Templates can be as simple as a set of expectations - often other people's expectations - that prevent us from being satisfied when we get what we want (but what we want doesn't conform to someone else's idea of what we should want). This is the problem with viewing unequal results as prima facie evidence of social injustice: such a stance assumes that we all deserve the same outcome. More importantly, it assumes - incorrectly, as it turns out - that we all desire the same outcome:

“…forty years of discounting biology have led us to a strange and discomfiting place, one where women are afraid to own up to their desires and men—despite their foibles—are seen as standard issue” (p. 254). This belief of men as standard issue, and the assumption that women want this, only makes the situation harder for women. This may not be what they want, even if they are highly intelligent, capable, and encouraged.

This is something I've argued for years. But other people's expectations are not the only templates that prevent us from getting what we want from life. As it turns out, many of us live in prisons of our own devising:

Everybody has had the experience of seeing an old friend after many years, and thinking "Gee, we picked up just where we left off ten years ago." Or, even more commonly, "I feel a bit like a 14 year-old or a 16 year-old when I spend time with my parents."

It's neither a good nor a bad thing; it's just a fact that we have a limited number of relationship templates on hand to apply to our different sorts of relationships, and we tend to keep using the same ones.

Often, in Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, this is termed "transference." I just call it recycling of old templates. Mental efficiency, however imperfect.

I think this happens a lot in marriages: we feel bored or trapped or resentful, not so much because our partners have failed us but because we've lost the ability to respond spontaneously to them. We no longer see them as people whose thoughts and desires can and do change over time, but as a scratchy record that repeats the same notes over and over: a never ending play that always follows the same, tired script. It's not them we're bored with - it's our own limited responses. But no one else controls our responses and it's unfair to blame them for decisions we make freely. Why do we allow a past we don't like all that much to become prologue?

One night after dinner Joe's wife, Mary's brought him a list of some domestic things that had piled up and required some decisions and logistical arrangements. She wanted to resolve all of the items - right then and right there. That's her style.

In fact, Mary tends to become anxious about things that feel "out of control." On his part, Joe tends to react defensively and passive-aggressively when Mary reminds him about things he had agreed to do but keeps putting off. This becomes their dance, in which Joe sees Mary as always nagging; and Mary fumes at Joe's unreliability.

For example, Joe might make promises, but fail to "remember" to take care of them. Mary then becomes angry and distrusting. She shows it, very clearly. In response, Joe withdraws and sees more evidence that she's a constant nag. Each of their individual issues reinforces the other's through this little minuet.

I wonder sometimes whether this doesn't partly explain why men value sex so highly in a relationship?

For sex therapist Bettina Arndt, the question of whether or not we should be moving physical intimacy closer to the top of that to-do list is increasingly pertinent in a society of spiralling divorce rates. Last year, the highly respected psychotherapist asked 98 couples – from 20-year-old students to those who’d been married for more than 40 years – to keep intimate sex diaries in which they recorded every detail of their behaviour in the bedroom.

The diary results were both poignant and compelling. While women wrote of their dismay and resentment at being ‘pestered’ for sex, most men, she discovered, forlornly documented the fact that they were continually refused sex by their wives, feeling trapped in a sexless marriage where physical intimacy was doled out, as Arndt puts it, ‘like meaty bites to a dog’.

‘Sex isn’t just about sex but about creating a physical bond, a closeness that is crucial in our hectic world’

Moreover, far from being the subject of bawdy bar-stool banter with their friends, the situation caused most of the men great anguish and bewilderment that they had, until then, found hard to articulate. ‘Every day I received page after page of eloquent, often immensely sad diary material, as men grasped the opportunity to talk about what emerged as being a mighty emotional issue for them,’

The world of men is disturbing and often frightening to many women. We see you all compete and brag and bluster; pretend not to care about anything or anyone; pretend you don't have feelings. Pretend we don't have the ability to hurt you the way you can so easily hurt us.

But even the strongest man needs to let down his guard from time to time; to be gentle and loving and even a tiny bit foolish with no fear of being taken advantage of; of being judged weak or unmanly. And in truth, this is possible precisely because men and women don't apply the same standards men use to judge each other. We have our own standards - our own reasons for loving you. These are the moments we women prize the most because when they occur, we know you're comfortable with us. You trust us enough to allow us past that whiskery hide for a moment - allow us to touch your hearts.

So no, dear reader. I don't think we place too much emphasis on sex (though sex is hardly the only way two people can grow - and stay - close). It's just the easiest and most basic. A shorthand, if you will, that allows unlike beings to communicate wordlessly what matters most: that despite our many and perplexing differences, we need each other. We fill a great need in each other precisely because we are so different.

But hey, that's just me and no doubt someone will be along shortly to tell me I'm an idiot who doesn't understand anything. That seems to be the template, on the Internet.

That's OK. You use your own template. I'll use mine.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:44 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

What Your Pets Do All Day....

... when you're at work.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:34 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

May 18, 2010

Brave New World

Last Friday I shut down the comments on two posts here at VC. Closing the comments section, like deleting individual comments, is something I have tried very hard to avoid over the years.

Shutting down debate on an entire post, in particular, smacks of punishing everyone for the misbehavior of a few. That's the wrong answer, and it's not the way I want to run this site. That's why, going forward, I am going to be far more aggressive about deleting comments that, in my opinion, lower the tone of debate.

I'm not going to publish a long list of guidelines for acceptable commentary. We are all adults here, or we're supposed to be.

The nature of the Internet is that it offers the ability to do and say all sorts of things we would never dream of doing or saying in real life. In many ways, the 'Net is the ideal vector for moral hazard. Online, the causal connection between act and consequence, between cause and effect becomes blurred. Both logic and moral reasoning suggest that the lure of nearly unlimited freedom requires more rather than less self restraint. But online it becomes far too easy to distance ourselves from the self imposed boundaries that govern our behavior in real life.

There are two items I'd like you to think about. The first is something I read back in the Fall of 2007 during an extended hiatus from blogging:

There is a personal value — the presumption of decency — that counteracts the tendency to let hatred befuddle our reason. If we hold tightly to the view that people around us are as decent as ourselves, trying, like we are, to muddle honorably through life, it is harder to turn them into villains and to turn ourselves into creatures of irrational judgment. Besides, I'm certainly no more decent than most of mankind.

The presumption of decency is not naiveté. Instead, it requires a certain amount of realism. If you expect perfection, you will spend your days being furious at irresponsible teenage babysitters and equally irresponsible politicians. A better approach is to recognize human frailty and to be generous in our judgments.

The second is a pretty good summary of the way I've been feeling lately:

Much as I love thoughtful comments (even by those who disagree with me), one of the problems that plagues me is when commenters jump on me by playing GOTCHA games, misreading what I said, putting words in my mouth, or even attributing to me positions I never took or beliefs I do not hold. This happened over the past couple of days, and I was so disgusted that I just didn't feel like blogging.

Too much work.

Writing is that way. If you start worrying that anything and everything you say might be misinterpreted, jumped on, or used as an invitation to start an argument (which is not why I write), it becomes a distraction, and makes writing feel more like a nuisance instead of the creative, introspective process I want it to be. I write to find out what I think and as a release, and I am often engaged in a dialogue with myself. If someone comes along with a goal of starting an argument, then it makes me feel that the post I wrote was not a release, but only created more work for myself in the form of an argument.

I started VC because I love the world of ideas and I enjoy discussing them. But there is a difference between discussion and argument. In one sense, no one "wins" a discussion. But in another sense everyone wins if - in the process of exchanging views - the participants gain some understanding of how other people think or see an aspect of some issue they had never fully considered before.

That is why I write, and why I have tried to encourage vigorous and free ranging debate, even on contentious topics. It doesn't always work.

I've often been told that VC has the best comments section on the web. I'd like to think that if there is any truth to that observation, it is because I've tried to encourage all sorts of readers to participate in our discussions: not just conservatives, not just men, not just those who agree with what I've written. In other words, not an echo chamber or a vehicle for people who only want to have their pre-existing biases confirmed by like minded individuals.

Discussion (as opposed to argument) requires a certain degree of detachment and restraint. I don't expect perfection from people who - like me - are human and highly fallible. We all have bad days - days when we're primed to take offense (often where none was intended). We all, from time to time, have had some random observation that more often than not has nothing to do with us strike a nerve. Perhaps it reminds us of a painful experience, or we infer disparagement when in fact the speaker may not even have been thinking of us at all. These things are to be expected, and have generally been handled well by all of you.

What I am not willing to tolerate is comments that violate the presumption of decency. If your only "explanation" for the fact that someone disagrees with you on a matter of public policy is that they're stupid, a sexist, a bigot, or a bad person, keep that insight to yourself or go elsewhere. I've experienced that sort of "argument" at other sites and it isn't helpful. I'm also not willing to tolerate what I'm going to call harassing comments. A good example of this is when commenter A clearly states, "I don't think X is true", to which commenter B replies (often repeatedly), "You think X is true."

If you are commenter B, either you have not bothered to read carefully or you are implying that commenter A is a liar. Both are unacceptable here.

Because I don't wish to waste valuable time arguing over the comments policy, I am simply going to delete any comments I find objectionable (IOW, I will leave the commenter's name and substitute a brief statement for the objectionable part of the comment). Those of you who remember our years at ScrappleFace will perhaps remember that Pile and I had repeated encounters with the big Cheeto eraser in the sky for comments that violated the family friendly policy of the site owner. We never took it personally - it wasn't always clear to us where the line was drawn but it was unquestionably his prerogative to run his site as he pleased.

I hope you all will view this regrettable change in that light and understand why I believe it is necessary.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:05 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

May 14, 2010

"HUH????" Caption Contest

Via BOQ, a moment of levity:

Bridal Keepsake.jpg

Posted by Cassandra at 09:42 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Reverence

I can't recall where I saw this, but I thought you all might enjoy a moment of quiet beauty at the end of a hectic week.

I've been pretty down lately. I need to remember that no matter how things may seem on a day to day basis, people are still capable of producing wonders if they can just manage to forget about themselves for a moment.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:06 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Next Time You Have a Thought, Senator...

...let it go:

Posted by Cassandra at 08:28 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Stranger Danger!!!!

Remember when we were kids? Not only did we have to keep an eye out for our parents when we were doing something stupid - we had to watch out for teachers, our parents' friends, and even total strangers who took an interest in our well being. Today? Not so much:

Erie police say a man initially suspected of trying to lure children into his truck was actually a roofer who had stopped to scold the children for standing in the street as he drove to work.

Erie police aren’t identifying the man who reportedly approached the children in his truck Wednesday. Police say four children, ages 7, 9, 10 and 14, told a parent that two men in the truck tried to abduct them as they walked to school.

Because a man who worries about the safety of children is obviously up to no good.

*sigh*

Posted by Cassandra at 08:21 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

May 13, 2010

"Milbloggers" Not United on DADT Repeal

Yesterday, fifteen Milbloggers signed an open letter acknowledging that Sec. Gates and Admiral Mullen have directed an inquiry into how the services will comply with the anticipated repeal of DADT. The letter urged Congress to listen to what the services recommend as a result of this inquiry. Somehow, this nuanced message morphed into a simple (and misleading) meme: Milbloggers Call for Repeal of DADT.

Some of the signatories to the letter do indeed favor lifting the ban. But as Simon Owens and John Donovan both point out, not all of them did:

In February I interviewed several LGBT bloggers who had banded together to create a “blog swam” that pressured human rights groups into taking a more firm position on repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The idea, I gathered, was that by speaking as a unified voice the group could exert more influence than any individual blogger. From initial press reports, the joint letter released yesterday by 15 military bloggers (or “milbloggers,” as they’re affectionately called) seemed to aim for this same organizational heft. “Milbloggers call for end to ‘Don’t Ask’” Ben Smith at POLITICO wrote. Similarly, Huffington Post characterized it as, “Milbloggers Urge Repeal Of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’” But after reading the joint letter, a short four paragraphs, I wasn’t so sure this was the case. An email from Andrew Lubin, one of the co-signers of the letter, confirmed these suspicions. “Simon: please read our statement more carefully,” he wrote. “We’re not calling for the repeal of DADT, but rather are calling its repeal inevitable – we’re calling for Congress to wait until the military study is completed and support its recommendations – and not to act precipitously. This is an important difference than your statement that we’re calling for its repeal.”

Today, CJ Grisham published the opposing viewpoint:

We don’t believe the US Military is ready to adapt to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell without compromising its mission. We disagree with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen about lifting the ban but will welcome any and all lawful orders that may be given as a result of any repeal. The US Military is a professional force, but would take years to adjust to these extreme changes.

There are literally hundreds of Milblogs out there. Yesterday we heard from 15 of them, most of whom are not on active duty. Lest there be any doubt here I am not on active duty either (nor have I ever served). For what it's worth, I don't think one has to be on active duty to form a valid opinion on the wisdom or consequences of lifting the ban on open service by gays.

I do think it essential to understand the many ways in which military differs from the civilian world. I also think it's essential to understand what the law currently says on the matter as well as the reasoning behind the current policy:

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States commits exclusively to the Congress the powers to raise and support armies, provide and maintain a Navy, and make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.

(2) There is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces.

(3) Pursuant to the powers conferred by section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States, it lies within the discretion of the Congress to establish qualifications for and conditions of service in the armed forces.

...(8) Military life is fundamentally different from civilian life in that—

(A) the extraordinary responsibilities of the armed forces, the unique conditions of military service, and the critical role of unit cohesion, require that the military community, while subject to civilian control, exist as a specialized society; and

(B) the military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs, and traditions, including numerous restrictions on personal behavior, that would not be acceptable in civilian society.

(9) The standards of conduct for members of the armed forces regulate a member’s life for 24 hours each day beginning at the moment the member enters military status and not ending until that person is discharged or otherwise separated from the armed forces.

(10) Those standards of conduct, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice, apply to a member of the armed forces at all times that the member has a military status, whether the member is on base or off base, and whether the member is on duty or off duty.

(11) The pervasive application of the standards of conduct is necessary because members of the armed forces must be ready at all times for worldwide deployment to a combat environment.

(12) The worldwide deployment of United States military forces, the international responsibilities of the United States, and the potential for involvement of the armed forces in actual combat routinely make it necessary for members of the armed forces involuntarily to accept living conditions and working conditions that are often spartan, primitive, and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy.

In today's WSJ, Daniel Henninger has a must read essay on the consequences of this administration's drive to make America more like Europe. In it, he does what few of us are willing to do. He looks at what happens to societies when equalizing outcomes becomes Job One:

Barack Obama would never say it is his intention to make the U.S. go stagnant by suppressing wealth creation in return for a Faustian deal on social equity. But his health system required an astonishing array of new taxes on growth industries. He is raising taxes on incomes, dividends, capital gains and interest. His energy reform requires massive taxes. His government revels in "keeping a boot on the neck" of a struggling private firm. Wall Street's business is being criminalized.

Economic stagnation arrives like a slow poison. Look at the floundering United Kingdom, whose failed prime minister, Gordon Brown, said on leaving, "I tried to make the country fairer." Maybe there's a more important goal.

It seems ironic that in the case of both health care reform and repealing DADT, one of the most often used arguments has been: "Europe does it. It works for them - why not us?" As it turns out, Europe cannot afford to provide free health care to all comers. It has been borrowing - in some cases for decades - and at long last the true costs of the European Way are only now becoming apparent:

Government debt has been flagged by the IMF as a chief risk to economic recovery, particularly in the developed world and in such high-debt emerging economies as Hungary.

"We can't finance our social model anymore -- with 1 percent structural growth we can't play a role in the world," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said Monday in remarks at the World Economic Forum in Brussels, just hours after European Union finance ministers approved the new program. European growth rates are lagging behind those in the United States and the rest of the world as the recovery takes shape, with Spain and Greece still in recession.

Critics who dared to point out that America cannot afford another huge entitlement program were told, "Europe does it. All 'civilized' nations do it. So can we." Now we are watching these civilized nations go broke as the true costs of their supposedly enlightened and superior programs become apparent. Now we are faced with yet another massive policy shift - this time, one that affects our armed forces. And skeptics are once again being told, "Europe does it. All civilized nations do it. So can we."

And we can do it.
We absolutely can. Our military can become more like Europe's:

Soldiers from Germany and France are well-trained, but they operate under a series of restrictions or "caveats" instituted by their parliaments. Some caveats limit the areas where troops can operate, permitting enemies to retreat to safety when engaged. The most controversial caveat is a prohibition on the offensive use of lethal force. (That is, they can defend themselves, but they can't attack.) Germany, which requires its soldiers to carry a card in their pockets explaining when they are permitted to fire, has received the most criticism on this particular rule. In 2008, German special forces had a Taliban commander in their sights. They weren't allowed to fire unless their detachment was under active attack by a Taliban force—so instead of killing the target they retreated meekly. (The German restrictions are loosening, but the piecemeal changes have led to confusion.) All in all, NATO countries have imposed nearly 80 caveats on their soldiers.

We absolutely can adopt European military values and European military methods:

U.S. troops in Afghanistan could soon be awarded a medal for not doing something, a precedent-setting award that would be given for “courageous restraint” for holding fire to save civilian lives.

The proposal is now circulating in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, a command spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

... Giving a medal for restraint was proposed by British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, ISAF’s Regional Command South commander, during a recent visit to Kandahar by Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Hall, the top U.S. enlisted member in Afghanistan, Sholtis said.

The question is not whether we can. The question is, "Is this what we want?", and "What will it cost us?". And these are valid questions. One doesn't have to be a bigot or even to disapprove of homosexuality to ask them.

Unlike some opponents of repealing DADT, I have absolutely no moral objections whatsoever to homosexuality. None. Never have. I completely understand objections to the policy on fairness grounds. The problem is that many things in the military aren't fair. Fairness has never been the primary determinant of military policy. Many classes of people aren't allowed to serve for a variety of reasons which violate fairness. As a woman, I could not serve in the combat arms. That is not "fair". But it is military policy and unlike some I happen to think that fairness should not necessarily be the overriding concern of our armed forces. Even when it impacts me and those like me.

We are talking about fundamentally changing the primary determinant of military policy from mission readiness and effectiveness to fairness. And we as a society can certainly do this: it is up to us to determine what kind of military we want.

I think the United States military will succeed at whatever it decides is the priority. If we make military effectiveness the priority we will continue to be the world's best and most effective military force. And if we decide that diversity and fairness are our most important values (as several military leaders have recently announced is the case) then we will become the world's most fair and diverse military.

The integration of women and blacks into the armed forces is frequently cited as evidence that "we can do this". We can, and we have. But neither of these policy changes has been cost free. The fact of the matter is that the military cannot even enforce its own rules where women are concerned:

There is a basic truth here: laws that ignore human nature don't change human nature. Given that pregnancy is a preventable condition, there is no reason for female military personnel to become pregnant in theater. An aggravating factor is that most pregnancies that occur on a deployment are the result of fornication or adultery, two offenses already punishable under the UCMJ.

But this will not matter to those who demand equal rights without equal responsibility or accountability. They will continue to demand protected class status for women while illogically maintaining that women are interchangeable with male soldiers. If the data suggests - powerfully - that this is anything but the truth, the data will be disregarded or discredited.

Or in the case of female pregnancies it will simply not be counted, lest it reveal a truth we're not prepared to deal with.

Are we prepared to face the costs of fairness and diversity issues honestly? Past experience suggests that we are not. And yet that past experience - along with the experience of Europe - is frequently cited as "proof" that change is cost free.

Like the 15 milbloggers who signed Jimbo's letter and the 6 who have (so far) signed CJ's, I believe the repeal of DADT is inevitable. I wish I believed it would be conditioned upon a full and fair accounting of the costs to military readiness.

Because I see no evidence that it will, I reluctantly add my name to the list of signatories to CJ's letter. My decision reflects no one's opinion but my own and should not be imputed to either my husband or the Marine Corps.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:03 PM | Comments (84) | TrackBack

May 12, 2010

Semper Gumby

Jimbo's comment is a damned sight more accurate than "Milbloggers Call for End to DADT":

The impetus for this letter was the simple fact that this is going to happen. As I mentioned in the post, Gates has said that the DoD study is to plan for implementation not to see if it should be done. Both he and Mullen are on record saying they support repeal. What we want to happen is a bi-partisan group to write the new legislation in Congress not just the left/Democrats. they should have some folks who may not agree with this in the room and making sure that they listen to the service chiefs and do this in the least-damaging way. We are hoping to provide a little cover for some Republicans to get in the game and watch the sausage being made so we don't end up w/ rules that allow someone to march in a gay pride parade in a beret, combat boots and a jock strap. There are plenty of difficult issues to deal with and the more folks who understand the military and support it involved, the better.

Spin, spin, spin. Anyway, I thought this needed clarifying but I was working Lilyea beat me to it! Now isn't that *just* like a man? Speaking of military men... if loving this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

For what it's worth, I thought of signing the letter but I already said everything I wanted to on the subject:

The vast majority of Americans have never served in the military. Even fewer have served in combat. Basing enormous policy changes upon overly optimistic (not to mention fundamentally dishonest) assumptions is a recipe for disaster. Instead, such sweeping changes should be conditioned upon a full and fair assessment of both the benefits and costs of change. That can't happen in an atmosphere where certain viewpoints are privileged and others stifled and marginalized.

I am not sure any of us knows with certainty what the repercussions of repealing DADT would be. What I do know is that if this is such a no brainer, we should not fear opposing viewpoints.

There are real questions that remain unanswered by proponents of repealing DADT. We should make sure those questions get a fair hearing. And we should also strive to conduct ourselves in a manner that neither demonizes nor beatifies the participants: that avoids hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric.

We need to get this right, and shutting down debate is no way to usher in "change we can believe in"... much less live with.

I decided not to sign because any process where the outcome has been determined in advance of the investigation cannot possibly be considered an honest one, nor one conducted in good faith. I can live with either outcome (as will the vast majority of men and women in uniform).

But I am under no obligation to approve of the way this is being done. It smacks of the decision to allow the press to photograph coffins at Dover. It didn't take long for the folly of trusting the press to become apparent, did it?

Posted by Cassandra at 03:09 PM | Comments (75) | TrackBack

Who's to Blame When Boys Don't Go to College?

Glenn Reynolds comments on "Our Sexist Education System"

Obviously, we need to extend Title IX beyond athletics. . . .

You think I’m kidding but I’m not sure I am. Since we’ve given up on merit and instead focus on group representation nowadays, what’s the argument against such an approach?

The argument against such an approach is that the remedy is worse than the disease: such tactics don't teach children to compete effectively in an unfair and changing world and they create perverse incentives that can backfire in ways that are hard to foresee. I also think both the Left and Right have consistency issues when it comes to affirmative action.

The Left's argument that unequal outcomes (i.e., higher grades, admission rates, or graduation rates for boys) constitute de facto evidence of gender discrimination is problematic in light of the actual data on degrees earned by men and women over time:

As with my earlier post on no fault divorce, it's clear that the proportion of degrees earned by women was already increasing rapidly long before affirmative action became a widespread practice. Clearly, sexism wasn't quite the barrier to entry it was cracked up to be by the Left.

But it seems equally clear that the Right can't attribute disappointing male educational outcomes solely to affirmative action. Wasn't it we who claimed that affirmative action was not only unfair, but ineffective? Didn't we argue that lowering admission standards would result in the admission of unqualified students who wouldn't be able to compete (much less graduate)?

Increasing female graduation rates are problematic for conservatives who attribute the gains made by women to the death of merit: preferential treatment might have gotten many women into school but it can't remedy inadequate preparation or aptitude, make them study, nor guarantee they'll persevere until they graduate. Declining academic standards may make college easier, but they do so for boys as well as girls.

While it may be emotionally satisfying for the Right to blame feminists and the Left to blame sexism for everything under the sun, the actual data suggests a more complex explanation for disparate academic achievement. And there are other problems with the position of the Right:

.... the arguments [many conservatives] put forth - men are fragile hothouse flowers; they are discouraged by misandry, the feminization of culture, female centric schools, a perceived "hostile climate" that makes it impossible for men to succeed - are precisely the same arguments conservatives rightly rejected when feminists advanced them Lo! these many years ago. Women were told, in effect, "So what if it's a man's world? If you want to get ahead, suck it up and compete like a man."

Which prompts the question: whatever happened to all this talk about sucking it up and competing like a man now that the shoe appears to be on the other foot? Certainly, the numbers are daunting. But they are no worse for men now than they were for women decades ago. It's just that now that the situations are reversed, what was once sauce for the goose is most definitely NOT sauce for the gander. Some conservatives are even trying to tell us that it doesn't matter whether boys finish school. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of boys not finishing school (though that's bad enough).

Many conservatives have also assured us recently that we should not be alarmed that men are opting out of a college education. But given that educational achievement is the variable that best predicts whether a man will vote, I'm not so sure their confidence is justified:

As I commented in my earlier post on this subject:

That's not a gender gap. It's a gender schism. Some conservatives and men's rights activists will tell you that the widespread defection of men from the meritocracy is "understandable" because life in an age where men must compete with women is "unfair".

It's too "hard". These are generally the same folks who will tell you that men are stronger than women. And smarter. And harder working. Having raised two sons and lived with a Marine for over three decades, I can tell you that men are not motivated by having excuses made for them, nor by the emasculating bigotry of low expectations.

They are motivated by challenge. And risk. And by older men who will not brook shiftless behavior.

And by women who won't tolerate it either: mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters. We don't need to berate or belittle our sons, but we do need to encourage them to act like men. What we don't need is conservatives who extol traditional masculine virtues but undermine any attempt to encourage responsibility and accountability.

Quite possibly the worst thing about feminism has been the notion that whatever young women do is right and good - that they need act no better than the basest of their instincts directs them to. Why are we repeating a formula we know doesn't work with our sons? Why are we creating victims instead of survivors? As emotionally satisfying as it is to cry "No Fair!", that's not the answer to what ails young men these days. We all - male or female - have a stake in the survival of our way of life. We don't get to take our balls and go home because losing hurts our feelings. The answer - just as it is in marriage - is not a refusal to participate. We need to help young men stay engaged, encourage them to go after what they want, challenge them to become better than they are today.

This really worries me. Society needs men to participate fully in the political process. Children need fathers and stable families:

The percentage of babies born to unmarried women in the United States is starting to look more like that in many European countries, the data shows. For example, the proportion of babies born to unmarried women is about 66 percent in Iceland, 55 percent in Sweden, 50 percent in France and 44 percent in the United Kingdom.

In many of those countries, couples are living together instead of getting married, which is also the case in the United States. Previous research indicates that about 40 percent of births to unmarried women occur in households where couples are cohabitating.

We need to look beyond summary statistics to what's really going on here.

Even in 1970, the number of women in college compared to the number of women in the labor force was proportionally higher than the number men in college compared to the number of men in the labor force (6.71% to 5.58%), a male/female ratio of 0.83. By 2008, that proportion had fallen to 0.63, however, this doesn’t say anything of itself as women have become more career oriented in the last 40 years and thus the widening gap makes sense. (5)

numbers2.bmp

What this does show, is that the primary variable in the college gap appears to be labor force participation.

I've never been a big believer that everyone needs to go to college, but it's not just college graduation rates that are the problem. Young men are opting out of college, delaying or forgoing marriage entirely, and voting less (or not at all). The ground is shifting beneath our feet and I suspect that blaming feminism or a sexist patriarchy just won't answer the mail.

I also suspect that the problem is more one of moral hazard driven by a general decline in societal standards and expectations than a case of life suddenly growing "too hard" for men and boys to compete. Sometimes we need something to live up to. In the absence of such a standard, many of us are perfectly willing to drift. Sometimes all the wrangling between the Right and Left over gender reminds me of bitter, divorced parents fighting over how to raise their children: winning the argument has become more important than doing what is right for the kids. The Left treats women and girls as victims. Increasingly, the Right is doing the same with men and boys.

I don't see encouraging either men or women to nurse grievances or think of themselves as victims to be a helpful tactic. The world has never been a fair place - never in the history of mankind. But we have to live in it anyway. I can't help thinking we'd all get farther if we taught our children to overcome obstacles instead of feeling sorry for themselves.

Update: Interesting perspective on college application and admission rates:

We know that girls constitute 57 percent of the students in higher education, and that females earn 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Many more girls apply to college than boys, yet colleges like to maintain gender balance, meaning that a larger percentage of male applicants are taken than female.

For example, according to data that is online in the Common Data Set, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., receives almost twice as many applications from girls each year as it does from boys. While the statistics for the 2009 entering class are not yet available, stats for the freshman classes for the three previous years before show that the percentage of male applicants admitted to the college is much higher than for girls.

I couldn't help noticing that admission for Harvard and UVA were nearly equal. I wonder whether the so-called education gap doesn't apply more at the middle and bottom tier schools (IOW, boys are still applying to - and getting into - the most competitive schools). That could support my notion that the "problem" is more one of lowered expectations? I seem to recall writing about boys' lagging achievement in grade school being more related to shifting demographics in the student population? As I recall, stats for white boys from upper middle class, two parent families were as good as they've ever been. This would support Dave's comment about the importance of families. Or... not! Anyway, interesting stuff.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

May 10, 2010

Obama Rhetoric Watch

I loved this quote from Project 21 member R. Dozier Gray:

"As painful as it is for me to accept his choice, President Obama does have the constitutional right to nominate whomever he wants to the Supreme Court. And, with this Senate, he has a reasonable expectation that Elena Kagan will be confirmed. But he should not consider it a certainty. Obama and Harry Reid should not try to game the process as we've seen tried so often in this Congress. Obama voted against Samuel Alito when he was in the Senate, so he should naturally be willing to afford each senator that same privilege of advice and consent he once enjoyed."

I'm not holding my breath. More from Mr. Gray here:


All too often these days, government goes too far in covering up for bad decisions. Take, for example, how the government - and, by extension, the rest of the taxpaying public - is now covering for people who callously spent beyond their means on items such as luxury houses and cars.

When government tries to make up for someone's faulty use of their freedom, the freedom of all is put at risk. No good can come from essentially rewarding bad behavior with a bailout.

We can talk about "safety nets" all day long. I don't dispute the validity of the concept. It strikes a pleasant chord with my own sense of morality. I fear, however, that too much emphasis is placed on getting people into the net rather than their getting out of the net once they are in it.

If a man is unable to stand, I will help him stand. If he is able, but not willing... well, the ground can be a cold, hard place.

Amen.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:05 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

May 06, 2010

It's Called "Due Process", Dana

Whatever Dana Milbank has been snorting lately, I want some. It appears to be powerful stuff.

Just a few days ago, Milbank had his Hanes Ultrasheers in a wad over conservatives who have the temerity to believe that the Constitution (aka the supreme law of the land) expressly limits the scope of federal power:

Conservatives have never said that all government is bad. They believe government exists to fill a limited set of needs neither the states nor ordinary citizens have the ability to provide on their own: national security, maintaining a common currency, mitigating natural and man made disasters, regulating interstate commerce.

Wishing Congress and the President to respect those limits is far from being the same as wishing there were no federal government at all. Once again, Mr. Milbank seems to be wondering why Congress can't just do away with Constitutional rights he (and they) personally disapprove of:

"I'm not so sure this is the right solution," Graham said, concerned that those on the terrorist watch list might be denied their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

"If society decides that these people are too dangerous to get on an airplane with other people, then it's probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun," countered Bloomberg.

"But we're talking about a constitutional right here," Graham went on. He then changed the subject, pretending the discussion was about a general ban on handguns. "The NRA -- " he began, then rephrased. "Some people believe banning handguns is the right answer to the gun violence problem. I'm not in that camp."

Someone needs to explain due process to Mr. Milbank. The nature of fundamental Constitutional rights is that the federal government isn't supposed to arbitrarily deprive us of them without due process of law. And simply being placed on a watch list isn't due process of law, no matter how much that may disturb Mr. Milbank.

People can be placed on watch lists without notice and without any form of evidentiary or judicial review. Their names can be added erroneously and once there, can be difficult to remove. Since we're playing ideological gotcha here, isn't it progressives who keep reminding us of the dangers of abuse of authority by the law enforcement community? What other Constitutional rights is Mr. Milbank willing to be deprived of by law enforcement?

Moreover, the nature of a right is that it isn't granted subject to the value judgments of pundits. Getting on an airplane isn't a Constitutional right. The right to bear arms, on the other hand, is explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights.

I don't actually want terror suspects to be able to buy guns either, but it would seem that our security could be protected by a less knee jerk reaction. Surely a waiting period or mandatory notification of law enforcement when a flagged individual attempts to buy a gun would address Mr. Milbank's concerns without abridging a fundamental right granted by the Constitution?

If that's not good enough, Mr. Milbank is free to lobby the several states to amend the Constitution and make gun ownership illegal for everyone. After all, by his own logic if progressives want to ban gun purchases by people on terrorism watch lists, they must want to ban all Americans from owning guns.

There is obviously no middle ground here.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:22 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

Unintended Costs of "Making Health Care Affordable"

CNN discovers that Form 1099 issue I wrote about a few days ago:

An all-but-overlooked provision of the health reform law is threatening to swamp U.S. businesses with a flood of new tax paperwork.

Section 9006 of the health care bill -- just a few lines buried in the 2,409-page document -- mandates that beginning in 2012 all companies will have to issue 1099 tax forms not just to contract workers but to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a tax year.

The stealth change radically alters the nature of 1099s and means businesses will have to issue millions of new tax documents each year.

Right now, the IRS Form 1099 is used to document income for individual workers other than wages and salaries. Freelancers receive them each year from their clients, and businesses issue them to the independent contractors they hire.

But under the new rules, if a freelance designer buys a new iMac from the Apple Store, they'll have to send Apple a 1099. A laundromat that buys soap each week from a local distributor will have to send the supplier a 1099 at the end of the year tallying up their purchases.

Question of the day: when will they discover the ticking time bomb in the financial reform bill?

Note to our Congressional Overlords: this isn't helping. If the idea is to protect American consumers and businesses, you're doing it wrong.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:42 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Flaming Hair Alert

Hi guys. Sorry for going AWOL - too much to do this week and not enough time to do it in.

Will try to get something up this afternoon or evening.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:31 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 05, 2010

Seasons of Love

For my dearest friend, Cassandra ,today.
Because I can.

Posted by at 04:05 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 04, 2010

Obama "Coldly Reprimanded" Military Brass For Daring to ... What?

During the Bush administration, wasn't it Democrats and progressives who screamed bloody murder about how Rumsfeld brutally crushed dissenting voices in the military brass? And wasn't it Democrats and progressives who loudly demanded that George Bush "listen to the Generals"?

What a difference an election makes:

The book says Obama laid into Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen in an Oval Office meeting in October.

Obama was irked by the leak of a confidential report by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, calling for an expanded military presence there, and by McChrystal saying he could not support a strategy relying on special forces and unmanned drone attacks.

Obama was conducting a lengthy review of operations in Afghanistan at the time.

Let me get this straight: our Commander in Chief, who has so little experience with the military that he doesn't even know how to pronounce "Corpsman", specifically asks his new General to report to him on our options in Afghanistan.

McChrystal does so.

Some asshat leaks the report to the media (a move, by the way, that did nothing but bring down a heap of condemnation on the military complete with shrieks of "Insubordination!" and "Military Revolt!" along with wild eyed accusations that the senior commander in Afghanistan was defying the civilian leadership). Of course once these folks had gotten their petticoats smoothed down again, it turned out that it was all a tempest in a teapot, but why let a good opportunity to accuse a dedicated career officer of serious crimes on no evidence go to waste? Let's face it - these folks haven't had so much fun since General BetrayUs came to Washington.

And never mind that during the Bush administration, military officers who openly opposed the Bush administration's policies were lauded as brave, truth telling heroes. Back then, they were all that stood between The Republic and the jackbooted jackboots of fascism.

But that was then. This is now.

It turns out that the fierce urgency of "now" makes it hunky dory for the Commander in Chief to ask for feedback and then, when it is leaked by some brave, truth telling patriot who mustn't be prosecuted for breaking the law, lest we feel the jackbooted jackboots of Executive Branch repression upon our collective necks responds by "coldly reprimanding the military brass for insubordination"!

What insubordination? Did Obama seriously believe Gates or Mullen were behind the leak? Really? And whatever happened to the "whistleblowers are a vital safeguard of democracy" mantra so popular with the anti war left when the BushReich and Barney the White House Terrier were publicly shredding the Constitution?

I guess the urgent need for accountability and transparency only applies during Republican administrations. And all that blather about leakers brave truth to powerers and the vital role they play in government oversight?

Never mind.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:43 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Debate Question of the Day: Obama's Predator Drone Joke

Funny? In incredibly bad taste? Or not particularly funny but not a big deal either? VC asks - you decide:

Everyone agrees that President Obama was funnier than Jay Leno at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night. But this joke is inspiring some backlash:

"Jonas Brothers are here, they're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I'm joking?"

"You have to wonder why in the world the president's speech writers would think it was a good idea to throw a joke about predator drones into the president's speech during the White House Correspondent's Dinner, given that an estimated one-third of drone casualties, or between 289 and 378, have been civilians," wrote Adam Serwer at the American Prospect.

"Let's be honest, fellow progressives, we'd be all over Bush if he made the same 'predator drone' joke Obama told last night," Philadelphia Daily News' Will Bunch tweeted.

I think there are several separate points here:

1. Is it OK for the President of the United States to make light - even obliquely - of civilian casualties?

The joke didn't upset me all that much but I wouldn't have told it because it seems insensitive to say the least. A President doesn't have the same freedom as a private citizen. He speaks not only for himself, but as the representative of the nation he leads and his words are consequently given far more weight than that of the average father's.

On one level it isn't much different than the "Dad pacing the floor with a shotgun" jokes. My Dad used to say (jokingly) that he was going to keep the boys away from me with a baseball bat. I don't think anyone seriously thought he'd beat any boy who showed up on the front doorstep any more than it's reasonable to think Obama would really launch Predator drones at the Jonas Brothers.

The joke rests on the recognition that the threat is clearly greatly exaggerated. On the other hand, there's a bit of a difference here because while no one seriously thinks most Dads will shoot potential suitors (or anyone else for that matter), the President absolutely has launched Predator drones against our enemies with lethal effect. Again, this is different from launching Predator drones against Sasha or Malia's first date - no one seriously believes that will happen. But I do think (though again, I wasn't offended) that there's a fundamental difference between the two jokes because my Dad's baseball bat metaphor or the ubiquitous shotgun joke don't refer to real deaths, so the potential for real victims of father-on-suitor attacks to think Dad is making light of their misfortune is pretty remote.

2. Is Obama being held to the same standard as George Bush?

We'll have to see. It is heartening to see some progressives attempting to maintain the same standard, whether or not I agree with it.

And I think we should recognize that. Feel free to unload in the comments section.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:28 AM | Comments (89) | TrackBack

Dana Milbank Swings and Misses the Point

Some things have to be read to be believed:

There is something exquisite about the moment when a conservative decides he needs more government in his life.

About 10:30 Monday morning, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), an ardent foe of big government, posted a blog item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I strongly believe BP is spread too thin," he wrote.

The poor dears. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if "federal and state officials" would do the dirty work of "protecting and cleaning up the coast" instead of BP.

About an hour later came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- all three governed by men who once considered themselves limited-government conservatives -- want the federal government to mobilize (at taxpayer expense, of course) more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup.

That followed an earlier request by the small-government governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal (R), who issued a statement saying he had called the Obama administration "to outline the state's needs" and to ask "for additional resources." Said Jindal: "These resources are critical."

Conservatives have never said that all government is bad. They believe government exists to fill a limited set of needs neither the states nor ordinary citizens have the ability to provide on their own: national security, maintaining a common currency, mitigating natural and man made disasters, regulating interstate commerce.

I can't imagine a world where what has been called potentially the largest oil spill ever to affect the US isn't a disaster of monumental proportions. It will affect not only innumerable human lives but our rapidly vanishing wildlife as well. It will affect commerce. It strikes at the very lifeblood of Gulf states: their ability to earn a living. No individual state has the resources to respond to such a disaster on its own. That is precisely why we have a federal government.

It's notable here, too, that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the timeliest, most effective and most efficient response came from the Pentagon. Inconveniently for Mr. Milbank, the Pentagon's budget is the one form of big government progressives loathe with every fiber in their being. Progressives prefer a massive central government that doles out taxpayer funded butter (which ordinary citizens can procure for ourselves without government help) with both hands but lacks the resources to provide for the common defense.

The irony here is not that conservatives want the federal government to step in and use resources conservatives have always maintained were utterly necessary and proper.

The irony is that a big government progressive like Milbank would cynically use a disaster of epic proportions to attack public servants for doing exactly what they were hired by the people to do: protect the interests of their constituents. The irony is that if people like Milbank had their way, the Pentagon and National Guard would be holding bake sales and our tax dollars would be handed out to people who can't even take care of themselves, much less protect others.

A social compact that protects some citizens at the expense of others but lacks the ability to ensure the survival and prosperity of this nation is not worth protecting. How sad that Mr. Milbank looks at a tragedy and sees not human suffering and devastation but a chance to play "gotcha".

Nice straw man, Dana. Keep practicing and one day you may be as good as the President.

Update: William Jacobson makes a related point:

... conservatives understand that maritime affairs traditionally are within the purview of federal jurisdiction, see Article I, Section 10 and Article III, Section 2 of the document known as the United States Constitution.

Ooooooh, snap!

Posted by Cassandra at 08:11 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

The Ties That Bind

When my boys were small, the spousal unit and I were stationed very far from home: Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, California. Both our parents remained in the DC area.

Back then, long distance was very expensive and we couldn't afford to call home often, but we fit it into the budget whenever we could and in the meantime, I showed my sons pictures of them with their grandparents so they wouldn't forget them in between visits. Now that they're grown, I'm pleased to report that both my sons have remained close to their grandparents. They are good about staying in touch and what's even better is that their wives have made the effort too. Because it is a bit of an effort to keep in touch in these days of two career couples and 24/7 electronic entertainment. If you don't fit family time into your schedule, it doesn't happen.

Among all the family pictures we've accumulated over the years by far my favorites are the ones of various family members reading to my little boys. Normally that's something that would only happen during a live visit, but here's a way you can use modern technology to keep in touch with absent loved ones:

I read to my kids a lot. Even now, when the oldest child at home is 12, we do a lot of out loud reading. It's a habit that has stuck with us since the eldest (18 years ago! *GASP*) was born.

So a new company I was recently introduced to, Redeo, really struck a chord with me. As a military family, we've had our share (and the share of three civilians) of time where Dad is apart from the family. We've utilized all the regular things - email, chat, skype, google-talk... But Readeo allows something very unique - a chance for a Mom, Dad, or Grandparent physically separated from a child to read to their child online. Readeo's BookChat seems made for military families - the book is on the both computer screens and the parent or grandparent can interact with the child just as if they were in the same room. Distance does not stop the bed-time routine!

I can't think of a better way to encourage both a love for reading and a strong sense of family. Do check it out.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:08 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 03, 2010

Marine Week at La Casa de Crittenden

I knew there was a reason I like Jules so much...

Check it out!

Posted by Cassandra at 12:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why Did Obama Feel the Need to Upstage Jay Leno?

Bored this morning? If you've nothing better to do, check out the morphing titles on this WaPo article about the President's performance at the WHCA dinner.

When I opened my morning paper, the article was entitled:


Obama, leaving the "self" out of self-deprecation.

By the time I got to page C-3, it was:

Obama's edgy humor aims barbs at everyone but himself
.

That must have been too close to the truth for comfort. Now it's:

For Obama, a changed tone in Presidential Humor
Changed tone, indeed. As the first two headlines imply, past Presidents have respected the longstanding tradition of largely avoiding nasty, partisan humor; preferring to poke a little good natured fun at themselves. But then Barack Obama did promise to bring change to Washington:

Barack Obama, the Insult Comic President, was up to his old shtick Saturday night.

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine. Palin, he said, calls Twitter and Facebook "the socialized media." He dubbed Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican Party, "the Notorious G.O.P." The newly enacted health-care law, the president joked, has "hundreds" of secret provisions, such as one covering people in Massachusetts who've suffered "short-term memory loss" about the state's own efforts to reform health care. "So good news, Mitt!" Obama said of Republican critic and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. "Your condition is covered!"

The president elicited a few shocked "oooohs" from the audience of 2,600 when he told this joke about Charlie Crist, the Florida governor who is defecting from the Republican Party to run for the Senate: "Odds are that the Salahis are here," he said, referring to the gate-crashing Virginia couple. "There haven't been people who were more unwelcome at a party since Charlie Crist."

But the really interesting part of the article is here:

The outer-directed tone of the material, which was credited to Axelrod, White House speechwriter Jon Favreau and ex-Hillary Clinton speechwriter Jon Lovett, was in keeping with Obama's inaugural voyage as presidential joker last year. Making the rounds of the traditional spring dinners, the president cracked wise on just about everyone but himself.

It turns out that Obama's staff were NOT responsible for penning Obama's laugh lines after all:

Well this explains it. Turns out President Obama went outside the usual circle of speechwriters for his comedic address at this weekend’s WHCD. Instead he enlisted some Daily Show writers to assist in the penning of the one zingers that stole the show Saturday night (right out from under Jay Leno’s feet).

By comparison with past presidents, the current leader of the free world seems remarkably thin skinned and insecure. It's not just that he prefers "edgy" partisan jabs to the traditional self deprecatory fare - it's that he feels the need to upstage a professional comedian.

The last occupant of the Oval Office wasn't afraid to laugh at himself - or to invite others to join in the fun:

Nor was he afraid to share the stage:

God, I miss that man.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:29 AM | Comments (87) | TrackBack

May 02, 2010

First, Do No Harm

Does anyone really believe Congress is doing a good job of fixing what's wrong with America? If only Congress would confine themselves to passing massive bills none of them have read (that turn out not to solve any of the problems they were supposed to solve). Arguably, we can live with underfunded and ineffective bills.

It's the actively harmful ones that worry me (via Tigerhawk):

Most people know about the individual mandate in the new health care bill, but the bill contained another mandate that could be far more costly.

A few wording changes to the tax code’s section 6041 regarding 1099 reporting were slipped into the 2000-page health legislation. The changes will force millions of businesses to issue hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of additional IRS Form 1099s every year. It appears to be a costly, anti-business nightmare.

...businesses will have to issue 1099s whenever they do more than $600 of business with another entity in a year. For the $14 trillion U.S. economy, that’s a hell of a lot of 1099s. When a business buys a $1,000 used car, it will have to gather information on the seller and mail 1099s to the seller and the IRS. When a small shop owner pays her rent, she will have to send a 1099 to the landlord and IRS. Recipients of the vast flood of these forms will have to match them with existing accounting records. There will be huge numbers of errors and mismatches, which will probably generate many costly battles with the IRS.

As if that weren't bad enough, Darleen (who appears to be willing to do the work Congress won't do) has been reading Sen. Dodd's bizarrely named "Restoring America's Financial Stability Act" and she's found another stunningly idiotic provision. Darleen comments:

One of the many tools that small businesses have in their arsenal to compete with big businesses is the willingness to offer their own terms of credit and payments. The music store that allows parents to buy their kid’s clarinet with monthly payments over a couple of years or the family-owned jewelry store that will negotiate a six-payment deal for an engagement ring — they carry the paper and the risk and base their offerings on the fact they do business in their immediate neighborhoods.

Small businesses like this had nothing to do with the recent Wall Street financial crisis, but why let a good crisis go to waste? Under the Dodd bill, the federal government wants to "fix" not just Wall Street, but Main Street:

The bill, sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and backed by the Obama administration, would "place new burdens on Main Street businesses that had nothing to do with the financial crisis," Donahue wrote. The authority given to a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection is far too broad, the Chamber chief said.

"The proposed new consumer protection regulator would be able to regulate a merchant, retailer, doctor, public utility, or any other business that permits payment in more than four installments or assesses late fees," Donahue wrote. "No wonder the first year's budget for this new regulator is $410 million."

A wide range of businesses and their lobbyists are busy this week trying to convince Congress and administration officials that regulatory authority written into the bill is so wide it will hamstring business activities far removed from the kind of financial trading done by Goldman Sachs, AIG, and other large Wall Street firms that Congress has targeted for increased regulation. Today's New York Times reports that auto dealers from 35 states are lobbying senators this week for exemptions from federal regulations in the bill that would otherwise cover them as lending institutions. Officials at Harley-Davidson are likewise worried that dealer-financed loans to buyers of the company's motorcycles will be covered by new federal regulations.

"I don't think the level of concern could be any higher," David Hyatt, vice president for the National Automobile Dealers Association, told the Times. "There's a sense of urgency. And we've got to raise awareness about why this doesn't make sense and why it's anticonsumer."

The current climate in Washington growing increasingly surreal. While our President lectures businesses about their "duty to grow the economy", he and his party appear to be doing everything in their power to drown American businesses in a sea of government red tape.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:15 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack