Bet nobody involved had a clean pair of pants after this. (Watch it all the way through).

Anti-tank Missile Accident


Friday Links:

More on the surfer who solved the world. There's a useful analogy to an earlier point in physics. As the article notes, the coolest thing is that the theory is testable. That's science.

Did "thousands of people [die] because of Kissinger's activities"? Some discussion. The things for which he really seems to be condemned are things he didn't try to stop: Cambodia, Laos, West Pakistan. To what degree is it fairly the fault of the United States of America if people kill each other in Cambodia? We had the power to stop it, perhaps, had we backed South Vietnam past 1972. (An alternative argument: being a democracy, we did not have the power to stop it, as the people were flat out tired of war in southeast Asia; in which case, the government may not have had the strength to stop the war in any case.) Even granting, for the sake of argument, that we had the power, does the failure to use that power make it Kissinger's fault that Man X murdered Man Y?

If so, that's an idea with consequences. If I see my neighbor about to shoot his wife and don't stop him, I'm a murderer. I guess we'd better start building new prisons.

What seems more likely to me is that Kissinger's power is greatly overestimated by historians and journalists alike; and that they are not able to see the opportunity costs attending every choice he made, whether to do or to not do. Those costs aren't always apparent from the outside even at the time. They're likely to become less and less obvious as the decades roll away.

That's not to absolve him of guilt, but neither is it to blame him. A historian has enough work just trying to sort out what really happened.

Grim's Thanks


I wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving.

I am most thankful for a warm and friendly home, where my mother is baking pumpkin gingerbread. My father, the best of men, will be there watching football and his grandson. My wife is there, and my beloved boy. The kitchen table will be covered with food, turkey and stuffing and brown gravy, casserole and mashed potatoes.

I'm not there, but I'm glad to know it exists. Everyone have a fine day, today.

Feel Free to ... err...Pile On®

Pile On® offers some appropriate post-prandial exercise for Turkey Day over at The Institute:

This is a football.

Please note the lack of handles.

Small wonder that each weekend countless receivers "can't find the handle on that one".

Feel free to share the comments of sports commentators you find annoying and over used in the comments.


Molto bene!

Molto bene!

Your Inner European is Italian!
Passionate and colorful.
You show the world what culture really is.

Wed links

Wednesday Links:

Cap'n Smith is talking about N. Iraq. I don't get out that way, so if you're interested, see what he has to say.

If you're interested in Western Iraq, Michael Totten is out there. Greyhawk and I put him on a bird just a few days ago. Nothing yet, but keep an eye on his site.

Slate magazine: helping you conceal murder since 2007.

Knox and Sollecito were on the right track: Bleach contains sodium hypochlorite, an extremely corrosive chemical that can break the hydrogen bonds between DNA base pairs and thus degrade or "denature" a DNA sample. In fact, bleach is so effective that crime labs use a 10 percent solution (one part commercial bleach to nine parts water) to clean workspaces so that old samples don't contaminate fresh evidence. Likewise, when examining ancient skeletal remains, researchers first douse the remains in diluted bleach to eliminate modern DNA from the surface of bones or teeth.

So, why did Knox and Sollecito's bleaching gambit fail? It's difficult to swab a knife thoroughly. Dried blood can stick to the nooks and crannies in a wood handle, to the serrated edge of a blade, or become lodged in the slit between the blade and the hilt. With help from a Q-tip, it's possible to eliminate most stains, but what's not visible to the naked eye might still be visible to a microscope, and sophisticated crime labs need only about 10 cells to build a DNA profile.

Bleach is perhaps the most effective DNA-remover (though evidently no methodology is failsafe), but it's not the only option. Deoxyribonuclease enzymes, available at biological supply houses, and certain harsh chemicals, like hydrochloric acid, also degrade DNA strands. It's even possible to wipe a knife clean of DNA-laden hair follicles, saliva, and white blood cells with generic soap and warm water. The drawback to this last method is that the tell-tale cells don't just disappear once off the knife. They linger on sponges, in drains, and even in sink traps, where wily investigators search for trace evidence.
I'll frame this with the China query of a few days ago. Free inquiry has its benefits and its hazards; you can be sure China wouldn't let a website post a get-out-of-jail-free kit like this one.

Today's debate topic: We are better off allowing the free distribution of information, including topics of this sort. Defend or refute, as you prefer. I'm a defender, by sentiment; but a proper debate club requires you to do both, regardless of sentiment.
Love is:

...forever strange. A remarkable article from the New York Times tells us about 'love in the time of dementia.'

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has a romance with another woman, and the former justice is thrilled — even visits with the new couple while they hold hands on the porch swing — because it is a relief to see her husband of 55 years so content.
This actually makes perfect sense to me.
Next It'll Be Text Diplomacy:

State Dept. Tries Blog Diplomacy, reports the Washington Post:

By Walter Pincus

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, "digital outreach team" posting entries in Arabic on "influential" Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

The department's bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesperson," Duncan MacInnes, of State's Bureau of International Information Programs, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism and unconventional threats on Thursday.

"Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog." So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up. "We do not make policy," MacInnes added.

The State Department team's approach is to join a blog's conversation, often when it turns to the motivation for U.S. policy toward Iraq, and when others are claiming that the U.S. occupation is meant to help Israel or to secure oil. "Our job is to address that motivation issue and show them that that's not the motivation," MacInnes said.

"You can't just say, 'Well, here's our policy,' and drop it into the blog. You have to have what I call a bridge," MacInnes said. He then described using a sporting or current event or even poetry that would "allow one to get to be in a conversational mode with people."

Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, "we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, 'flamed' when we come on" -- meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.

They were not, and there were such posts as, "We don't like your policies but we're sure glad you're here talking to us about it," MacInnes said. As a result, State is expanding the team to six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.

To prove that it, too, can plug into the modern media world, the Pentagon's Central Command has a blogging operation at its headquarters. Its Joint Forces Command also has the capability and has even written a brochure on how to do it. "It's an area we're moving into," Navy Capt. Hal Pittman, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for joint communications, told the House panel. He added that Central Command may not be using its own Arabic or Farsi speakers, but rather contract personnel. "We're sharing with State and trying to, you know, better our knowledge on how to do it."

The State-Defense communications approach is also turning to a more sophisticated message, one that moves away from trying to change perceptions of the United States, focusing instead on the self-perceptions of its target audiences. "Our core message must outline an alternative future that is more attractive than the bleak future offered by the terrorists," said Michael Doran, deputy assistant secretary of defense for support of public diplomacy.

Another step they described to the House panel, in what they called "counterterrorism communications," is having a greater awareness of the impact of what U.S. speakers are saying. "When we say 'Islamo-fascism,' whether the term has a meaning or not, what they hear is 'war on Islam,' okay -- 'attacking my religion,' " MacInnes said.

He described the phrase as "a verbal equivalent of poking a stick in somebody's eye . . . and [Osama] bin Laden has been very good at taking our words and turning them around to his advantage by saying, 'See, they're actually at war with Islam.' "

President Bush has not used the phrase recently.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should.
Soon, every cell phone in Baghdad will start receiving: US <3 U!


Military Matters:

EagleSpeak has a great post:

The last warship from World War II came home Tuesday to the United States.
Of more contemporary interest, a piece on security engagement with potential partner nations.
When it comes to security cooperation, however, there will always be a tension between balancing military readiness with security cooperation. Most argue that readiness is the most important priority. But, if adequately funded and properly executed, security cooperation activities may build partners and prevent conflicts. Investing early in shaping activities may avoid exponentially larger expenditures later.
Sub-regional partnerships are a wise idea, in my reading: we can get a lot out of them. They came in for a brief mention in a fairly harsh critique of our government's functioning that I penned.



From The American business magazine, on 'the China model,' this week:

The CPC is replacing old-style communist values with nationalism and a form of Confucianism, in a manner that echoes the "Asian values" espoused by the leaders who brought Southeast Asian countries through their rapid modernization process in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and elsewhere. But at the same time, in its public rhetoric, the party is stressing continuity and is assiduously ensuring that its own version of history remains correct. Historian Xia Chun-tao, 43, vice director of the Deng Xiaoping Thought Research Center, one of China’s core ideological think tanks, says, "It’s very natural for historians to have different views on events. But there is only one correct and accurate interpretation, and only one explanation that is closest to the truth." The key issues, he says, are “quite clearly defined” and not susceptible to debate. "There is a pool of clear water and there’s no need to stir up this water. Doing so can only cause disturbance in people’s minds."
From John Derbyshire's tour of Hangzhou, 2001:
Some political scientist — I forget who — has coined the phrase "pre-critical society" for those cultures that have not attained the ability to look objectively at themselves and their history. Fifty years of Party-line government and "thought control" have left China stuck firmly in the pre-critical stage of intellectual development.

This unhappy little fact was brought home to me at the mausoleum of Yue Fei in Hangzhou. Yue Fei is a national hero. He lived in the early twelfth century, a time of great crisis for the Chinese nation. The Song dynasty (960-1279: it was, by the way, arguably the most progressive and creative of China's 24 imperial dynasties) was under assault by the savage Jin barbarians of the far north. Yue Fei was commander of the Chinese armies fighting against the Jin. He won many brilliant victories against them, and was hugely popular with his troops and with the common people. At the court of the Song emperor, however, there was a faction that wanted to make peace with the Jin, and cede to them the large area of North China they had conquered. This faction was led by a senior official named Qin Hui. Yue Fei, of course, wanted to fight on, to regain the lost territories. Qin Hui, however, had the emperor's ear. He arranged a frame-up of Yue Fei, who was recalled to the capital and executed. North China was ceded to the Jin (and the dynasty is thereafter known as the Southern Song, with its capital at Hangzhou).

This incident is regarded as an outrage by all patriotic Chinese, and seems even to have aroused strong feelings at the time. The following emperor had Yue Fei posthumously rehabilitated. The great warrior was re-buried in a grand mausoleum, which is now a popular tourist spot. Statues of Qin Hui, of his wife (who was involved in some way I have forgotten), and two of Yue Fei's subordinates who had co-operated in the frame-up were set in front of the tomb, all in a kneeling position — kneeling humbly before the patriot they had wronged. It used to be the custom for visitors to the mausolem to spit on the statue of Qin Hui. This has now been forbidden, however, and when I saw it, the statue was spittle-free. (The only surface area of its size anywhere in China of which this could be said.)

Strolling around the pleasant grounds of the mausoleum, I wondered aloud to Rosie — who can be taken here as a sort of lay figure, a representative well-educated thirty-something mainland Chinese — whether any bold historian had tried to make a name for himself by arguing a revisionist view of the Yue Fei incident, showing that Qin Hui was right and Yue Fei really a dangerous plotter.

Rosie was scandalized by this notion. "If anyone wrote such a thing, his statue would be put next to Qin Hui's for people to spit on." I persisted, with all the usual arguments about the difficulty of getting to the bottom of historical matters. President Kennedy was shot less than forty years ago. We have film footage of the event, and independent judicial inquiries have been carried out at vast expense, yet people are still arguing about what happened. Are we quite sure we have all the facts about a palace intrigue of nine hundred years ago?

Rosie wouldn't hear of it. Yue Fei was a great national hero, she sniffed. Qin Hui was a contemptible traitor, who sold himself and his country for cash. "Everybody knows." No use to point out (though I did anyway, from sheer force of habit) that until quite recently, "everybody knew" that the sun revolved around the earth, but that careful inquiry had showed this not to be the case. No use: I had hit the Wall.

This failure to develop a properly critical attitude to one's culture and history is a natural consequence of despotic government, with all its grisly apparatus of propaganda and intimidation. At any give time there is only one correct "line" in a despotism. To present any alternative version of things is at least anti-social, and may be seen as treasonous.

Yet Qin Hui must have been a man of great intelligence and ability. He had risen to the highest rank in government via stiff competitive examinations, and no doubt had survived many savage and complex court intrigues. Are we really to suppose that he would have no arguments to bring to his defense? After all, in any conflict there is a peace faction and a war faction, and the peace faction is sometimes right. King Alfred made peace with the Danes and ceded half of England to them: he is revered as the savior of his nation. And powerful, popular generals sometimes do have designs on the throne — most disastrously, in Chinese history, An Lu-shan, whose rebellion in the middle of the eighth century wrecked the Tang dynasty.
My wife and I lived in Hangzhou for a while. I can confirm the truth of the story about the statues.

Today's question: does this make for a stronger or a weaker society? We have a few national heroes left: Martin Luther King, Jr., being a clear example. We haven't got any national traitors that we are all willing to agree to scorn. Is that a strength or a weakness for our culture, compared to China's? Why do you say so?