China's Doom:

All that rapid progress, growth and expansion you've been reading about for several years? It's over -- they've started to sue. Soon you won't be able to set up a fence without a lawyer, two permits and a hearing.

Seriously, the Chinese drinking thing is beautiful to behold. I never once saw a drunkard staggering on the streets; but you could buy beer out of the soda machine at the police station. While you're waiting on them to process your request, just pop a Pabst Blue Ribbon (big in China) or the local brew. It makes the time pass far more pleasantly.


Miss Ladybug:

ML kindly sends me updates to her stuff on a regular basis; I always intend to link to her, and always forget to do so. Please see what she has, lately, been writing for you.


You Get All Dressed Up, You Get Taken Somewhere Fun:

Doc would like you to meet Vera. If you were here, Doc, you could take her to church with you.

The name comes from Jayne Cobb.

Well, heeeelllllooooo Ashleigh.

Iowa Soldiers Deploy


Troll Misidentification:

The other day we talked about the problem of misidentifying defenders as vandals, in The Ecology of Trolls. Today, the Geek w/a .45 has a moment of clarity, in which he realizes that he has been doing that:

The American Left (to the extent that Leftism is consistent with an authentically American outlook) is a totalitarian movement dedicated to the bringing forth of unlimited Good, through governmental mechanisms.

These aren't people who seek evil. They are people who seek Good, albeit through dubious means. They are people who blind themselves to the truth that the power for unlimited good is cannot be distinguished, even in principle, from the power for unlimited evil. As such, they do not understand that we oppose them for their means, not their ends, and many believe that we oppose the Good they seek to bring forth, and cannot understand why anyone (other than a reactionary degenerate seeking to preserve a position of oppression based privilege) would oppose such Goodness.
He's still opposed; and he and I basically agree on right policy. However, he no longer sees the opponent as a vandal who seeks to break the Republic -- but rather, as someone who intends to defend some hope for the nation that is different from his own.

I think I started to formulate my ideas about this in a concrete way in the wake of the 2004 election. There are a lot of good people out there on what we often think of as "the other side." It's worth taking the time to be patient, weather some of their verbal assaults, break bread and drink tea.

Not that you should leave off your knife; no good man ever should. Still, remember that it isn't the only tool.

Cooper & COIN

Cooper, Dr. Helen, and COIN:

Dr. Helen rereads a classic, and worries about whether the values of Colonel Cooper are drowning under "The New Feminized Majority." (An aside -- surely no one wanting a "feminized majority" would have actually titled their book that; no title could have been better calculated to drive off half the populace. One meets cheerful self-described "tomboys" on a regular basis, but one never meets a self-described "feminized male," at least, not in the places I'm accustomed to travel.)

Dr. Helen worries:

Some useful bits of information that Cooper provides is that one must train himself into a state of mind in which the sudden awareness of peril does not surprise him. "His response should be not "Oh my God, I'm in a fight!" but rather, "I thought this might happen and I know what to do about it."

I often think how few people in our society would really know what to do if they were confronted with a mortal confrontation. Sadly, our mindset is now more like The New Feminized Majority in which soft power and discussions are slowly taking the place of the Combat Mind-set.
The key to successful counterinsurgency is being able to move quickly back and forth between these modes. Listen to Megan Ortagus, a young lady from (I gather) Beverly Hills, talking COIN operations with a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant. She says she'd never been to Iraq before and "watched all the good war movies," so she could feel prepared. She likens the Dora Market in Baghdad to Rodeo Drive. She understands what is going on well enough to think about it and discuss it, however. She is able to fulfil her function as a citizen in voting for representatives, and in advising those representatives as to right courses of action.

Jim has been doing COIN since the 1980s. While she talks about "kinetics," he talks about how you have to sit down and "break bread and drink chai," and how you come to see the local population as "friends," and build "relationships" that are the real way you win this kind of war. That is "soft power and discussions" exactly. Yet you do this with a rifle or a pistol or a knife always to hand, always ready to swap gears into the mode Colonel Cooper talks about.

The rest of life is also this way: COIN only shows the division in its best light. A citizen has a duty to resist felony, or to assist other citizens under attack by felons; the power to attempt to effect a citizens arrest, or -- if you lack the capacity -- to gather information to aid the police. A citizenry capable in this way is defense-in-depth against all the evils that man inflicts upon man. Not only crime but terrorism, not only lawbreaking but simple social rudeness can be dealt with by having the mindset Colonel Cooper advocates. This mindset is necessary in all times and places, as its presence in the minds of the citizenry is the surest insurance against the breakdown of the space in which our liberty and peace endure.

But, as the Colonel would have told you himself, there are other things that matter in life: poetry, song, friendship, family. Protecting those things is what the whole mindset is for. And they are the things on which that peace and liberty is built: the Cooper mind wins the space in which you build peace and liberty, but this is how you build it.

Young ladies from Beverly Hills can get that; so can crusty old Master Sergeants. We're richer for every such citizen we add, for every one we train to think in these terms.



Spread the news. Feddie has decided to start Southern Appeal back up. Stop by his blog and give him an encouraging word.


A Socratic Moment:

Fafhrd once traveled to Tyre, in Adept's Gambit, where he found himself in conversation with a student of philosophy.

"You belong to the Socratic school?" Fafhrd questioned gently.

The Greek nodded.

"Socrates was the philosopher who was able to drink unlimited quantities of wine without blinking?"

Again the quick nod.

"That was because his rational soul dominated his animal soul?"

"You are learned," replied the Greek, with a more respectful but equally quick nod.

"I am not through. Do you consider yourself in all ways a follower of your master?"

This time the Greek's quickness undid him. He nodded, and two days later he was carried out of the wine shop by friends, who had found him cradled in a broken wine barrel, as if newborn in no common manner. For days he remained drunk, time enough for a small sect to spring up who believed him a reincarnation of Dionysus and as such worshipped him. The sect was dissolved when he became half-sober and delivered his first oracular address, which had as its subject the evils of drunkeness.

Res ipsa loquitur, and most people sort out the joys and perils of drink in their own way. But now comes The New York Times to tell us that Socrates was on to something, after all:
The researchers served alcoholic drinks, most often icy vodka tonics, to some of the students and nonalcoholic ones, usually icy tonic water, to others. The drinks looked and tasted the same, and the students typically drank five in an hour or two.

The studies found that people who thought they were drinking alcohol behaved exactly as aggressively, or as affectionately, or as merrily as they expected to when drunk. “No significant difference between those who got alcohol and those who didn’t,” Alan Marlatt, the senior author, said. “Their behavior was totally determined by their expectations of how they would behave.”
Someone tell Matty-boy. He's in charge of drinking my share, this St. Patty's day, and his own accustomed ration to boot.

Remember the rational soul, son! It's your only chance!

RIP Gygax

Requiescat In Pace Gary Gygax:

Readers are either asking themselves, "Who was Gary Gygax?"; or, they're making puns.

No harm there: he was a merry fellow, who spent his life in games, and even those who have left games behind -- or for a while -- may remember him kindly.

Wiki needs trolls

The Ecology of Trolls:

In a charming article on Wikipedia, Nicholson Baker talks about the rise of vandals:

The Pop-Tarts page is often aflutter. Pop-Tarts, it says as of today (February 8, 2008), were discontinued in Australia in 2005. Maybe that's true. Before that it said that Pop-Tarts were discontinued in Korea. Before that Australia. Several days ago it said: "Pop-Tarts is german for Little Iced Pastry O' Germany." Other things I learned from earlier versions: More than two trillion Pop-Tarts are sold each year. George Washington invented them. They were developed in the early 1960s in China. Popular flavors are "frosted strawberry, frosted brown sugar cinnamon, and semen." Pop-Tarts are a "flat Cookie." No: "Pop-Tarts are a flat Pastry, KEVIN MCCORMICK is a FRIGGIN LOSER notto mention a queer inch." No: "A Pop-Tart is a flat condom." Once last fall the whole page was replaced with "NIPPLES AND BROCCOLI!!!!!"

This sounds chaotic, but even the Pop-Tarts page is under control most of the time. The "unhelpful" or "inappropriate"—sometimes stoned, racist, violent, metalheaded—changes are quickly fixed by human stompers and algorithmicized helper bots. It's a game. Wikipedians see vandalism as a problem, and it certainly can be, but a Diogenes-minded observer would submit that Wikipedia would never have been the prodigious success it has been without its demons.
Wait... why do the vandals cause an improvement?
Say you're working away on the Wikipedia article on aging. You've got some nice scientific language in there and it's really starting to shape up:
After a period of near perfect renewal (in Humans, between 20 and 50 years of age), organismal senescence is characterized by the declining ability to respond to stress, increasing homeostatic imbalance and increased risk of disease. This irreversible series of changes inevitably ends in Death.

Not bad!

And then somebody—a user with an address of, a "vandal"—replaces the entire article with a single sentence: "Aging is what you get when you get freakin old old old." That happened on December 20, 2007. A minute later, you "revert" that anonymous editor's edit, with a few clicks; you go back in history to the article as it stood before. You've just kept the aging article safe, for the moment. But you have to stay vigilant, because somebody might swoop in again at any time, and you'll have to undo their harm with your power reverter ray. Now you're addicted. You've become a force for good just by standing guard and looking out for juvenile delinquents.
Any addiction arises because the pleasure centers in the brain light up -- they cause the body to release happy drugs that, in turn, create addictions. "Addiction" is a perjorative, in fact: this is learning behavior. We consider it a problem because sometimes nonproductive or even harmful activity can light up those centers, causing you to spend all your time snorting white powders or whatever it is that is causing you that high. In the wild, though, this is meant to be positive reinforcement.

So you get a spike from defending the Wikipedia against vandals; and that causes you to commit to spending time on the Wiki. You wander about, looking for vandalism to correct, touching things up here and there, and since you're here anyway, maybe you plug in a few details from a book you were reading recently (with proper citations, of course). The vandals addicted you, along with certain other qualities:
All big Internet successes—e-mail, AOL chat, Facebook, Gawker, Second Life, YouTube, Daily Kos, World of Warcraft—have a more or less addictive component—they hook you because they are solitary ways to be social: you keep checking in, peeking in, as you would to some noisy party going on downstairs in a house while you're trying to sleep.
This is a pretty good metaphor for how you build, and maintain, the politically involved polity necessary to the success of a Republic. You need an engaged citizenry -- and who are the most engaged citizens? The ones who have friends that are involved, who want to participate because politics for them is social as much as it is practical...

...but more than that, those who perceive politics as a struggle against vandals attacking society. The really involved people are the pro-Life marchers, or the pro-Choice marchers -- the people who believe that society is being destroyed by someone else. It's that same energy that comes from standing off vandals that drives both the left and the right's key actors, the engaged few.

Now, the difference is: whereas vandals are obviously bad, in the case of the Republic you have people who have come to interpret other defenders as vandals. In the case of Wikipedia, the existence of vandals actually improves the final product.

In the Republic, much of that energy is turned on other people who are defending a different vision of the right way for the Republic to be. They are interpreting what you are doing out of your truly felt morals as vandalism -- and you may be interpreting their acts in the same way. This appears to me to be a flaw in the brain: a false identification of someone as a vandal, when in fact a real vandal actually intends to harm or destroy the project.

That leaves me with two questions:

1) Is there a method, other a greatly increased Federalism, by which you can resolve that tension?

2) If you're spending all your energy on "vandals" from the other side -- what about the real vandals? The ones who want to destroy the project?

The first question is about finding a way to work with other people who believe themselves to be moral actors, without ending up in a civil war. The second question has to do with the other sort of war. I would suggest that these two questions may point to the key problems facing the nation today.

It strikes me that the Obama campaign is attempting to address the first one, whereas the other two are not: while Obama shows no sign of pushing for actual compromises, he is at least attempting to recognize the 'other side' as moral actors, and to tone down the "vandal" rhetoric. This may be a way of at least approaching a discussion of how to fix the first problem: we can start talking across the aisle about how we might order things (Federalism being, as you know, my preferred solution) so that the defenders of both sides are more satisfied than currently.

Unfortunately, the Obama campaign seems not to believe that the second problem is a serious one, to judge from his recent statement on defense policy. If he thinks the greatest challenges facing our nation's military involve not building new weapons systems and cutting spending on things recommended by the Quadrenniel Defense Review, he's saying something I've heard before: in 1984, and 1988. The problem then, as now, was that there was an actual threat.

Making misjudgments about how many officers and men you will need -- and how many capital goods, like airplanes -- is tremendously expensive even if things go well. It costs a fortune to retool a factory, once you have shut down the line: so if you didn't bet right, you either can't get new airplanes, or you have to spend so much more to build any that you need to build hundreds to make back the cost of setting up the factory.

By the same token, the huge number of contractors engaged in the Iraq war exists for two reasons:

1) In 1993, when it had to start training majors and senior NCOs for service this year in 2008, Congress vastly underestimated the forces we would need.

2) No expeditionary civilian service exists to supplement the military, so nationbuilding operations and COIN operations are being largely carried by the military. Even the State-led PRTs and ePRTs, of which I've written much and in high praise, are often filled with military officers or reservists. In addition, an expeditionary civilian service needs to carry at least defensive arms, or the military has to be tasked to guard them anyway (or else you're back with contractors).

Congress also abolished the draft (and it is hard to draft people of field-grade-officer quality, or senior NCO quality, anyway -- how do you find them?). So, since they need men and women who can serve as majors (and there is a real shortage of majors in the Army right now), the only choice is to pay market rates to hire people with the right experience and willingness to come. That's "market rates" for people able to operate at that level, and enough to make them willing to interrupt their careers and lives -- for unlike an actual military officer or State Department official, who is furthering his career by deploying, other sorts of civilians are usually trading away the business they could have been building at home, or the job with a pension and healthcare they could have had, for a three-to-eighteen-month opportunity.

(And how much is that, exactly? Depends on the person, just like with any other market rate. My contract specifies that I am paid GS-12 pay, and as the Marines will tell you, that's the civilan service equivalent to a Major -- so, Congress doesn't lose out by hiring me at market rates, plus they didn't have to pay me for the previous fifteen years to get me here now. Others, however, demand better deals to come over.)

So, the Obama approach concerns me. It is reckless, and treats the DoD as more suspect than the actual enemies. In that way, it is an even worse misidentification of defenders for vandals than the one he seeks to address.

How do McCain and Clinton stack up? They seem uninterested in question one; but are substantially better on question two.

No Good Stories

No Good Stories:

I don't really have any good stories tonight. I've been blogging more mostly because Camp Victory now has wireless internet access in places, so I have non-work access this last little while for the hour or so I can scrounge out of the day. This has given me a little more leeway to talk with you, at the expense of my previous leisure activity of reading heavily. Too, the weather has been extremely pleasant here in Baghdad, when you can get outside -- 75 degrees and sunny, with a cool breeze this afternoon that was pleasant until it finally stirred up too much dust and everything had to be sealed up. The warm weather means the hot weather is just around the corner; but while the pleasure of the breeze is better for me, it is not nearly so interesting for you to read about.

Since I don't have anything interesting to tell you, I'll give you Walter Scott, instead. This is from The Talisman, one of his novels of the Crusaders. We often talk about how bad our armor is, but we are somewhat better off than when armor-of-proof was wrought from steel:

The dress of the rider and the accoutrements of his horse were peculiarly unfit for the traveller in such a country. A coat of linked mail, with long sleeves, plated gauntlets, and a steel breastplate, had not been esteemed a sufficient weight of armour; there were also his triangular shield suspended round his neck, and his barred helmet of steel, over which he had a hood and collar of mail, which was drawn around the warrior's shoulders and throat, and filled up the vacancy between the hauberk and the headpiece. His lower limbs were sheathed, like his body, in flexible mail, securing the legs and thighs, while the feet rested in plated shoes, which corresponded with the gauntlets. A long, broad, straight-shaped, double-edged falchion, with a handle formed like a cross, corresponded with a stout poniard on the other side. The knight also bore, secured to his saddle, with one end resting on his stirrup, the long steel-headed lance, his own proper weapon, which, as he rode, projected backwards, and displayed its little pennoncelle, to dally with the faint breeze, or drop in the dead calm. To this cumbrous equipment must be added a surcoat of embroidered cloth, much frayed and worn, which was thus far useful that it excluded the burning rays of the sun from the armour, which they would otherwise have rendered intolerable to the wearer. The surcoat bore, in several places, the arms of the owner, although much defaced. These seemed to be a couchant leopard, with the motto, "I sleep; wake me not." An outline of the same device might be traced on his shield, though many a blow had almost effaced the painting. The flat top of his cumbrous cylindrical helmet was unadorned with any crest. In retaining their own unwieldy defensive armour, the Northern Crusaders seemed to set at defiance the nature of the climate and country to which they had come to war.

The accoutrements of the horse were scarcely less massive and unwieldy than those of the rider. The animal had a heavy saddle plated with steel, uniting in front with a species of breastplate, and behind with defensive armour made to cover the loins. Then there was a steel axe, or hammer, called a mace-of- arms, and which hung to the saddle-bow.
The knight is described as a "knight of the Red Cross," which actually could mean one of several parties, including the Templars, who are actually the villians in this book (moreso, in fact, than the Muslims -- Saladin is a co-hero, as Scott was impressed with his character, recognizing good men in any faith, as I also think is proper). In this case, the Red Cross means the St. George's Cross, and the party of Richard the Lionheart. This is in the same way that a Knight of the White Cross could be a Hospitaller, or a Dane, or one of several others.

It's a good story, although not Ivanhoe. If you want a story set in the desert, though, it's better than any I have to tell you today.

Cosmic Favors

Cosmic Favors:

It is a kindness from the fabric of the universe itself that Cassandra's husband returned before the Washington Post published this. If it had come out a week ago, her head would have exploded.

Now, though, I would say she is safe. Oh, and drop by and congratulate her on surviving his deployment; and thank him for his service, as one of the Marines just returning from another trip to Iraq.

It may be a few days before she sees it, but I'm sure she'll appreciate it then. :)

They don't call it the suck for nothing.

LT G got dumped. I saw that in peacetime, and it sucked then. At least he's taking better than his CPT did.