Honoring Fallen Comrades

June 23, 2011

I would like to begin this email by taking a moment of silence for my fallen comrade, the Besta 無敵-95 Electronic Chinese-English Dictionary. We’ve been through a lot together, these last nine years; we’ve fought many battles, accomplished many things. It has survived many a heavy blow in the past – some near fatal – but always managed to come back, seemingly stronger than ever. Sadly, it did not manage to survive its latest injury, caused by a tragic tumble at the MOFA archives, and it now goes on to that great powerstrip in the sky, where all fallen electronics can live on as machines they’d always dreamed they’d be.

In completely unrelated news, have you seen the features on some of the newest electronic dictionaries? SD card slots! Multiple languages! HSK flashcards! Full color graphics! *ahem*

Okay, so my natural clumsiness finally did in my dictionary. It almost did in my knees, too, as I took a fairly spectacular spill out on my run a few weeks ago and managed to both twist an ankle and scrape a knee. I cut a pretty pathetic figure over the weekend, limping out to the grocery store to find things to make in my rice cooker and with which to ice my ankle. (As for the rice cooker: I’ve learned to use it to make rice (duh), steam fish, steam veggies, make congee, and – most impressively, I think – make scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions. I also make a mean kimchi fried rice in it.) I’m all recovered, however, and bopping around Beijing at my usual pace.

Amazingly, three weeks in I’m still managing to get out and run at 5:00 a.m. I would not have thought it possible, but of all the factors that go into that decision – that I can’t miss runs while training for a half marathon this August, that the pollution is simply too terrible to endure later in the day, or that the Beijing summer heat gets fairly stifling by 8:00 – I’d say the number one issue is really the traffic.

It’s almost a cliché to sit around and complain about Beijing traffic, but it truly is extraordinary. Beijing used to be known as the city of ten million bicycles – those were the images on the nightly news in the 1970s and 1980s after we reestablished relations, and they have tended to stick in the American consciousness. These days, the best way I can describe Beijing traffic is to say that it is what happens when you take ten million bicycles, replace half of them with cars, and then watch the drivers attempt to maneuver under the same set of rules.

There’s an intersection near my apartment where an eight-lane road (four going each way) crosses a six-lane road. (Anywhere else this would be a huge intersection, but I actually go through three of these to walk the mile and a half to the archives. Is the 5 am running starting to make sense?) This intersection is governed by its own rules which have very little to do with traffics laws or international customs. Let’s say you’re in the right turn lane but you want to go left. There are two lanes of traffic to your immediate left trying, ostensibly, to go straight. What do you do? Well, if you were on a bicycle, it wouldn’t matter what “lane” you started out in, you’d just inch into the middle of the intersection to that spot untouched by passing and turning traffic, in front of the line of left-turning cars, and wait for the turn signal. No problem, right? Well, what if you’re driving a mid-size sedan? I watched one day as a car pulled up in the right turn lane with absolutely no intention of turning right and just edged his way forward and left across the intersection until he was angled in front of the left turn lane, but not blocking the cross traffic. Then I watched as three cars behind him did the same thing, either to get in place to turn left or to go straight. The fifth car in the right turn lane was the first one that actually wanted to turn right. By the time the light changed, there was this collection of vehicles all facing odd directions cluttering up the space before the cars that had actually stopped back at the light that had to right themselves before the rest of the traffic could get moving. Suddenly it makes sense why it takes a half an hour to ride six blocks in a cab.

Now add to this the local norms for pedestrians. This is a rare intersection that is big but lacks either an overpass or an underpass. Instead, there are walk signals that offer more than enough time to start on one curb and end on the other while they are continuously green. As an added bonus, they do not give green lights to turning cars at the same time as the pedestrians (as most intersections do in Nanjing), creating a battle of wills between those on foot and behind the wheel for the right of way. So how do most people cross this road? By a Frogger-like one-lane-at-a-time progression. First, you look to see if there are any cars turning right, and when there’s a break between the cars, you cross that lane. Then you keep an eye out for traffic going straight – since half these cars are actually stopped at funky angles trying to turn left, you can weave between them up to the left turn lane. This is where you’ll get stuck if the light is green, because everyone in the left turn lane is always pretty much committed to being there. It’s not unusual to see a mass of people on either side of the left turn lane in the middle of the road creating a narrow tunnel – not unlike a very closely plotted parade route – for cars to drive through on their way through the intersection. As a driver, your greatest mistake is not hovering on the bumper of the car ahead of you while running this gauntlet, because if you let even a few inches of space appear, people will start crossing the street between the cars, green light be damned.

The single thing that gives me away as a foreigner – aside from my very high nose and double eyelids – is the fact that I watch all this drama play out from the relative safety of the curb. At some point this month, someone is going to crowd the lane closely enough to get their toes run over by a passing car, and it is not going to be me.

Now, as chaotic as this all sounds, I’d like to remind you that cars are not the only vehicles on the road. There are still some bicycles (just fewer than before, and since cars regularly drive up the bike lines and, truth be told, up on the sidewalks, it’s not as safe or pleasant to bike as it used to be), plus motorcycles, motorscooters, bicycle rickshaws, three wheeled motorized scooters (usually with a little cabinet in the back where a passenger can ride), workmen pulling wheelbarrows, “Beijing Breakfast” stands on the move, and at one point last week, five people on horseback from a local riding club all maneuvering through the same intersection at the same time.

That’s because it’s a big intersection, of course, but my local two-lane road could provide hours of human drama on its own. I’m sometimes tempted to grab a chair and a beer and just watch it all play out. That’s because the road is just barely three lanes wide, but only two lanes are for cars; there’s a third for bicycles that appears and disappears at regular intervals and is nearly always clogged up by a car trying to drive through it. Then there are no parking regulations, so it’s not unusual to see cars parked on both sides of the street (and some sidewalks), leaving only one free lane for the two lanes of traffic to move through. Plus it runs along the main entrance to a hospital, and because there are few liability or malpractice laws, the patients wander about whenever they’d like a bit of fresh air. There’s usually about a dozen or so people in checked hospital pajamas walking or limping around at any given time, some in wheelchairs, some dragging an IV. Add to this the fact that the street is under construction, and apparently that does not necessitate closing the road. I know what you’re thinking – who closes the whole road for construction? But here they don’t even close the lane they’re working on – you’ve got a guy in the middle of the road with a pickax swinging at the asphalt, then stepping aside every two minutes to let a car drive over the newly-loosed street. It does not seem more efficient, though they must be trying hard to move the project along – knowing how long a workday commute takes in Beijing, they’ve set up tents for the workers to sleep alongside the road and get up at dawn to go straight to work. Think about that the next time you complain about your job.

In my mind, the best way to deal with Beijing traffic is to stay out of it as much as possible, so I’ve spent the last two Saturday afternoons at the movies. Last week I went to see the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, which did a marvelous job demonstrating what an adventure flick looks like when little things like plot are deemed utterly superfluous to the amusingly choreographed fights. Anxious to see something with more purpose and direction, yesterday I became part of the opening weekend crowd for the blockbuster movie of the summer, “The Beginning of the Great Revival,” which is the story of the creation of the Chinese Communist Party between 1911 and 1921. In other words, it’s a government-sponsored propaganda film released in anticipation of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CCP on July 1.

So, if it just opened, how do I know it’s a “blockbuster”? Well, the local authorities have rather stacked the deck. For one thing, it’s on at least half the screens available nationwide, and no new releases are allowed to compete with it until mid-to-late July, giving it a decided advantage at the box office (though it does have to compete with movies already open, the most dangerous of which is decidedly “Kung Fu Panda 2”). Second of all, every major government office has blocked off whole theaters to send their entire workforce to see it, which ensures a certain base level of sales. Third, just like “The Founding of a Republic” – the blockbuster propaganda movie about the Communist triumph over the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War that came out two two years ago – they’ve managed to get about 100 big names to play the various parts from Mao Zedong down to second May Fourth Movement protester on the left. Neither film was terribly gripping, but audiences went anyway for the fun of trying to spot the mainland, Hong Kong, and even Taiwan stars appearing in the roles. Seeing big names pop up in unlikely places provides an undercurrent of unintentional humor throughout the film, so the local audience giggles at what should be serious moments. (This time, Chow Yun-fat made a very convincing Yuan Shikai, but Leehom suffered the insult of having all his lines dubbed over by someone who speaks with a Beijing accent. Hah, that’s what you get, buddy: you’re an American, what on earth are you doing in a Chinese communist propaganda film?)

You might wonder what I was doing contributing to the box office receipts of a propaganda film, but as an American taxpayer, I felt like I had a stake in its success. The film was produced in part through a sponsorship agreement with Cadillac Shanghai, which is owned by GM, which in turn was bailed out by the U.S. Government, which is funded in very small part by me.* I sort of thought that between my financial contributions and my China connections I might get a producer credit – or maybe a discounted ticket – but no such luck.

All that said, it was not as sweeping in scope as “The Founding of the Republic,” but I actually enjoyed it more (I also saw that one in the theater, as I happened to be in China for its release on the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic. But I’ve also got it on DVD with English subtitles, so if you want to see it…). Beyond the dull recounting of the heroic exploits of the communists that is a common thread through both films, this latter effort added a love story in the form of Mao’s relationship with his second wife, whom he probably really did love for a time (the first was an arranged marriage he didn’t recognize; the third he married before the second was killed for her revolutionary activities; that one endured the Long March, but was still replaced by the fourth, the infamous Jiang Qing of Cultural Revolution fame). There’s also some totally intentional comedy in the form of the bumbling Kuomintang spies, who do silly things like accidentally drop their concealed gun in an elevator while trying to go incognito and fall off of bicycles while clumsily chasing the Russian revolutionary consultants in rickshaws.

With all this in its favor, I’m sorry to say the ending sort of killed the movie for me – I don’t mean the successful founding of the party, but the ending of the film, where they pan out to a modern day shot of cars passing in front of Tiananmen at the Forbidden City and talk in clear propaganda tones about how – I’m paraphrasing here – “without the Communist Party there would be no New China.”** It kind of took you out of the “it’s not propaganda, it’s a historical epic about love and political passion” tone they’d been going for the rest of the time. I may have unintentionally laughed and drawn some unwanted attention as the only foreigner in the (half-empty) theater.

Still, if you happen to see the movie – it’s playing at several arts theaters in the U.S. – and are so moved that you want to visit the site of the First Party Congress in Shanghai where the men so daringly risked exposure and death to create the formal party apparatus, it has been turned into a lovely and informative museum. To get there, go into the high-end shopping district in the former French Concession and turn right at the Ferrari dealership. You can’t miss it.

For next time: I have a men’s shirts addendum to the previously stated “Asian Men’s Pants Rule,” a few adventures as a Beijing tourist, and a trip to Taiwan looming.

* On the bright side, most of the money for the GM bailout was loaned to us by China in the first place, so really, they’re paying for their own propaganda and just funneling it through the United States. Don’t you feel better?
** …which is coincidentally the name of a hit propaganda song from the 1940s. Last night I was flipping through t.v. channels and found TWO separate programs featuring legions of small children singing this song. Half the stations are taken over with “Patriotic Music Pageants,” “Revolutionary Dramas,” and “Old Red Movies” in anticipation of the July 1 anniversary of the CCP, which goes a long way towards explaining why you can buy cheap pirated editions of pretty much every American television show ever on most street corners.

Guest Post: Merry on “China being China (or, “Hello from Beijing!”)

June 3, 2011

Merry is behind the Chinese firewall, so I am posting her latest missive here for her:
I’ve got a little mini-revival of my old-school mass mailings here; I can’t blog it, as I can’t access my blog from China, so I apologize for cluttering up your email inbox and feel free delete (or request removal from the “list,” such as it is – though I apologize, I can’t remember who I used to send it to). But for anyone who hears a lot about the modernization and westernization of modern China or the so-called “rapidly emerging Chinese threat,” I think some of my mundane little stories about the reality of day to day life in China could calm their fears.

Though it is a mere eleven months away from when I left last time, I had somehow forgotten about the Chinaness of it all. I don’t mean the Chineseness – to me, that word represents language, culture, and history that stretches across time and geographical space. Chinaness, on the other hand, refers to the ability of seemingly mundane tasks to become absurdly complicated in part because they are being undertaken in Mainland China. When you’ve spent enough time here, it just doesn’t faze you anymore; you encounter something ridiculous, think “ah China,” and move on. All of which is to say that I should have been more prepared for my Sunday/Monday/Tuesday adventure than I actually was.

The back story is that I used an online booking service to reserve a studio apartment in the Chaoyang district of Beijing for the month of June. It’s a short (1.3 mile) walk from there to the archives, next to a subway, and just generally much nicer and more convenient (not to mention cheaper) than being stuck in a hotel for four straight weeks. Before I left the US, I asked them about what I needed to get to the building when I arrived, and reminded them that because my flight was landing at 11:30 p.m., I wouldn’t get to the building until around 1:00 a.m. No problem, the friendly booking agent told me, just give the address and directions provided to the cab driver, and they’ll be waiting up for you.

Hah. First the cab driver found the directions nonsensical, then when he tried to call the “24 hour” rental office in the apartment, nobody answered. I alternated calling that number and the two for the booking service, and finally got a live body to explain to the cab driver what to do. He let me off at a dark intersection with a vague instruction to go around the building until I find a door, then drove off. When I entered the lobby, there were two reception desks: one housing a sleeping night guard, the other saying “short term apartment rentals.” I tried them both, but neither had ever heard of my booking company. When I called the office again, they told me to go directly to the third floor, because their reception desk is there… but did not tell me anything about how to deal with a controlled access elevator and a night guard unwilling to take me up. I finally coaxed him into it – I may have flirted just a little – and miracle of miracles, found an office. After pounding on the door repeatedly, another sleepy soul – this time a woman around my age in head-to-toe pink bunny rabbit pajamas – opened the door and informed me that she thought I wasn’t coming (despite my Paypal deposit), so she gave my room to someone else.

That sounded worse than it was, actually, since they have a number of other rooms, so she just put in me one of them temporarily with the instruction to come back to the office at noon the next day to switch rooms. At noon the next day I met the entire office staff, who then matter-of-factly told me that the interloper was still in my room – he’d been staying there a while, and he wanted to stay just one more day. I pointed out that this was a different story than they’d given me the night before, and the truth came out: the guest could not speak Chinese, and as it turns out, none of them can speak English. So he’d been with them for a while, but they’d had no way of telling him that the room had been booked by someone else. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the marvel of international commerce that is Beijing. They dragged the flighty European into the office, at which point I explained things to him and he promised to leave the next morning. So night two in temporary housing, but an end in sight.

At this point, I should explain that temporary as it may have been, the room I’d been in was lovely – bright, airy, and with an almost Scandinavian feel (someone was making good use of the Ikea in Beijing, though I drank coffee out of a small ceramic planter this morning which someone must have thought was a cup). It had all new fixtures in the bathroom, a nice new LG washing machine, and plenty of space to spread out. Clean swept wood floors with a broom at the ready. It was a little rough around the edges – there’s no molding around the door (seems like a work in progress), and there were some tape marks on the bathroom tile that may or may not be permanently attached, but the apartment was pretty much as advertised.

I mention this so that you can understand how it was that when I went down to the office to move on Tuesday, I could have made a classic, rookie mistake. That is, I completely and totally forgot to lower my expectations. I know, I know. How much time have I spent here? But I was lulled into a false sense of security, and failed to take a moment to eliminate all assumptions. (For the uninitiated, the lowering of one’s expectations is a useful exercise undertaken before the start of any new experience while traveling – and not just in China. Stand comfortably with your feet shoulder-width apart, and then raise your hands up over your head. With your palms parallel to the floor, imagine the space between your feet and your hands filled with high hopes, then take your hands and slowly push those ideals further and further down, until your hands are even with your thighs. If a situation has the potential to be particularly dodgy, you may continue pushing all the way down to the floor, ending in a crouching position. With your expectations suitably lowered, you are now free to embark upon your adventure prepared to be delighted by whatever oddity pops up in place of what you’d have pictured.)

The nice office ladies brought me into my new room, and I was, um, taken aback. It’s hard to know how to do it justice here. Picture the castle early in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, then translate it to a tiny room in a Beijing apartment complex. Huge wrought iron chandelier with half the bulbs missing that takes up half the ceiling? Check. Dark, velvet-like wall coverings? Check. Entirely too many pieces of black furniture crammed together leaving but a narrow walkway, all covered with a layer of dust? Check. Carpet covered with a bizarre pattern of former stains that are probably coffee but which to an overactive imagination that has been watching too many episodes of Bones looks like blood spatter? Check.

It was bizarre looking, but on closer inspection, it was stranger still: the room was, of all things, a former jewelry showroom hastily converted into a little apartment. How did I know this? Well, for one thing, they left the framed posters of diamond cuts and styles on the walls of the entryway. And then there was the fact that the rest of the walls were lined with empty, built-in glass display cases, half with broken locks, of course. It looked like some sort of sad, run-down jewelry store that after being robbed, had been left to go to seed. I walked into the tiny bathroom – a step and a half in any direction and you hit a wall – and quickly registered the shower fixture built into one wall, opposite the pre-liberation washing contraption and (sigh) squat toilet. Would I have loved the place if my expectations were completely lowered? Probably not. But the disappointment would probably have been more bearable.

I went out for a while and tried to talk myself into it: who’s never wanted to live in a jewelry store? (Well me, but never mind that now.) I can keep all my odds and ends in handy glass cases for easy access and decorative display! I returned to look at it again, opening one such glass case and watching a velvet panel below it pop out and drop to the floor. As I bent to retrieve it, I noticed something that I hadn’t the first time: the carpet was really dirty. Not just stained – that can’t be helped – but gritty, covered with fuzzies and with random hairs. Ugh. I went out to my friends at the front desk and asked them if they could clean the carpet – I thought they’d be willing since they knew I didn’t like the place, but they were trying their best to make me comfortable with it. (They had already tried to sell me on the hygienic benefits of the squat toilet – “It’s cleaner!” “Not if you didn’t grow up learning how to aim,” I retorted.)

First we paused so I could offer my interpretation services for their interactions with a very nice but increasingly frustrated Saudi businessman (seriously, they should be paying me – they did put my new Beijing cell phone number on speed dial). Then, in response to my carpet-cleaning request, they answered “No problem!” They all joined in, reassuring me that of course they could clean the carpets; in their haste to get the room ready, they had probably just forgotten. At that point, the woman at the desk offered to come with me right then to clean them. As she stood up, she opened a drawer and removed… a lint roller. One of those hand-size things you use to pull lint off a silk sweater. I gave a slightly alarmed laugh, and suggested that the carpet was in need of more intervention than that. But, she explained, they don’t own a vacuum cleaner. They run an apartment complex that includes at least one room with carpeted floors – all the halls are carpeted as well – and don’t own a vacuum. They do, however, have a nice long handle that attaches to lint roller, so you can stand in place and roll away. Can you imagine what all has accumulated in that carpet over years of sporadic lint rolling?

Finally – finally! – I put my foot down. I have severe allergies, I explained. I’m deathly allergic to dust and mold and pretty much the entirety of the former jewelry-store/studio apartment. I have an aversion to home-use squat toilets. Out and about that’s fine, but in the middle of the night when you’re sleepy and unbalanced? That’s just begging for disaster.

They tried to present me with the impossibility of moving – they’re all booked up for Dragon Boat Festival this weekend (“Do they even celebrate it much this far north?” I asked innocently). Finally she laid it on the line: I could have the room I stayed in when I first arrived, but I’d have to pay an extra 1000 RMB for it. She really stressed the 1000 RMB, clearly expecting that I’d balk and turn, dejected, to settle into my little jewelry store. Instead, I gave her an immediate, “Ok! When do you need the money? Today? Is tomorrow okay?” Seriously, it’s worth US$150 not to have to live like an abandoned teapot from Beauty and the Beast. I realize there are some great musical numbers in it when guests come by, but I’m willing to forgo that for the duration.

So in the end, I moved back to my temporary digs and this time had the wholly novel pleasure of unpacking. I think I appreciate it even more now that I’ve seen the alternative; in fact, I think it would be a great business tactic if they simply never rented out that room, but used it to scare guests into paying the extra 1000 RMB. Frankly, I think they low-balled it – they could have gone higher, and I’d have cheerfully coughed it up.

So now I’m finally getting settled into a workable routine, getting up at 5:00 to run four days a week (it’s the only time when the pollution and traffic is almost bearable), spending the day at the archives (hardly arduous, since they’re open from 8:30 to 11:30, close for an hour and a half for lunch, then reopen from 1:00 to 4:00. They’re also off this afternoon and again on Monday for the Dragon Boat races that are largely taking place in other cities), and then wandering around to find something for dinner. As it turns out, my “fully equipped kitchen” only contains a microwave, hot water kettle and a rice cooker, so I will inevitably be getting a little creative over the coming weeks. But that is as it should be.

Question of the day: Was the kid (20-something) walking down the street today in a t-shirt that read, in English, “1984: Big Brother is Watching you!” an example of :
A.) Subtle protest
B.) Ironic hipster fashion
C.) A general cluelessness toward English language and literature

The Army’s Inferiority Complex

January 14, 2011

(This post was written in 2004, and was originally on UNC Prof. Cori Dauber’s Ranting Prof blog.  Since those archives are now gone, I posted it here so it wouldn’t be lost forever. )

I spent a couple of decades in the aerospace world, both as an Army employee and as a marketing manager for a company that still is a primary ammunition and missile supplier to the DoD.  I went to Washington a lot, and actually lived there for a few years, representing my company to the Pentagon, TRADOC centers (e.g., Ft. Belvoir, Ft. Monroe, etc.), USMC HQ, Capitol Hill, and the Army Material Command in Alexandria.  I held a Secret Clearance for 19 years, and a Pentagon pass that permitted me to walk in unescorted, and escort other visitors, into the Pentagon.  I was in the wing that was destroyed by al Qaeda at least three times a week.

Obviously, in the course of those years I dealt with all Services pretty extensively.

Now, these comments are strictly about the acquisition executive management and Pentagon processes; they speak not at all about the incredible soldiers in the field- those in all three services with boots on the ground (or air, or water) and putting their lives on the line.  Those fighting soldiers are the finest in the world, as the luminously brilliant military historian Professor Victor Davis Hanson (victorhanson.com) so aptly describes in his work.

On Thursday, March 11, 2004 National Review Online had a posting by old jarhead Tom Smith on the Marine mystique, the difference between the USMC and the other Armed Services: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/smith200403110912.asp

He is right- in my own observation there is absolutely a difference. But in the world of Pentagon politics- which most importantly means, of course, allocation of money, each Service had its own distinctives that were noticeable even to an habitually oblivious rockhead (note- not a jarhead) like me.  I met and dealt with a lot of the finest and most dedicated, high quality people I have ever known in my life- for example, Army COL Richard Knox and COL David Hugus- men who demonstrated a significant difference from the unmitigated BS about the alleged types of people who pursued careers in the military that I had been fed in college during the anti-war days so beloved by Senator Kerry.  I also met several people who were obviously extremely fine warriors, and who I therefore wouldn’t want to let loose in the same state with my daughters.

But you really learn the measure of a person by how they deal with that most horrific of challenges.  I speak, of course, of the formation of the DoD R&D and procurement budget.  Lesser men weep when waylaid in the middle of the night at a General Officer Briefing of the Program Objectives Memorandum after months of preparation.  One mousy little guy from the Program Analysis and Evaluation office armed with 50 transparencies shoots your carefully vetted line item justification full of holes and you go throw yourself off the footbridge leading into the POAC (Pentagon Officers Athletic Club), where we would go to run at noon (LtCol Jim O’Looney and I were always the slowest, lagging a block or two behind the other guys as we circled the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol and jogged back toward the bridge and the Pentagon).

The Air Force staffers had a “too cool” swagger.  They exuded a sense that only fighter pilots really counted, the rest of the Services were there to clean up after them.  They also left an impression of entitlement regarding splits in the budget authority, and were very smooth in the political infighting- put an Air Force person in front of a Congressional staffer next to an Army person and the USAF always won by explaining that the $500 million in new missiles was really great, thanks for the much needed appropriation, but they somehow forgot to build the airstrip and needed a little re-programming money out of someone else’s share…….  after all, if you didn’t have Air Superiority, the war was already over.

The other marked point was that the USAF had exactly zero interest in providing support to the grunts on the ground; every year the brass tried to kill the A-10 Warthog close air support (CAS) plane because it was too slow, too ugly, and it was a waste of time and, worst of all, RISKY to make the silk scarf guys fly low just to shoot at tanks and stuff to protect the infantry instead of doing hot rod dogfights like Top Gun.  Let ‘em do it themselves with helicopters or something.  Or maybe catapults.  One would never have known that only 50 years earlier it had been called The Army Air Corps; ungrateful offspring!

The Navy had a numbers obsession: “600 ships”.   It also had a split personality- water or air?  Air or water?  Surface or submerged? They had their constituency and supporters- there was some battling between the carrier flyers and the Air Force over whose plane design would prevail, but there was something about those white suits that inhibited the debate a little bit.

In the Pentagon, the Army was your nerdy brother-in-law.  It had as many brilliant, brave, and capable people as any other Service, but somehow always ended up in the back of the bus.  This was largely a function of a serious, terminal, intractable case of the dread disease of large organizations: Terminal Budget Envy.  The Army’s mission was down crawling in the muck, not Flying Through The Air With The Greatest Of Ease, or Sailing The Ocean Blue.  The problem is that in most large organizations, not only the military, the size of a man’s worth is directly proportional not to his male anatomy, but to the size of his budget allocation from Up Top (SecDef Management).  Because, personnel costs aside (we are talking here about Crusader, remember) it is a lot cheaper to build guns and combat vehicles than to construct airplanes and ships, it is always cheaper to equip an acceptable version of an Army than to equip a flight crew with something that could fly at Mach 1 doing circles and loops while dodging infrared seekers.  Because, in the Army (as with the USMC) more than with the Navy and the Air Force, where they battled from stand-off, People Matter.  You win the real war with boots on the ground by occupying territory.  And one Bradley Infantry Vehicle carries a bunch of troops, while your average fighter plane has one or two people in it.

The Army brass in the Pentagon was, therefore, convinced that the core of the mission was Getting The Army’s Fair Share of budget authority.  This was almost more important than taking care of piddling little details like making sure that there were enough bullets available for the assault

They reasoned that the way to do this was to be like the Air Force and the Navy and always have at least one, preferably two, new major platform programs- a new tank, a new howitzer, a new helicopter, etc., to be able to stake an equivalent budget claim that would compete with the Navy’s ships and the AF planes.  And, in a constrained environment, which is ALWAYS the case in DoD, because no matter how fat the Defense Budget looks to the envious eyes of every other far less important branch of federal government (every other need can be handled, and is to some extent, at the state and/or local level), there will always be more vital missions for the military than it is equipped to handle.  There will always be a need for more people, more weapons to permit winning with fewer casualties, better logistics support, better training, and so on literally forever (all of these missions are simultaneously being handled in Iraq).  Two paragraphs down I will illustrate this with a real-life example, but first, the other Service.

The US Marines are part of the Navy, yes, but not really.  As the bastard stepchildren of leaders who would rather sail than fight, they started out sucking the hind teat in their own department, and thus had to make a decision early on: “Do we sit in the corner and pout because Mom has always liked older brother Billy better, or do we suck it up and take pride in making it without Mom?”  The Marines decided to take their lousy budget and make it a point of pride that they could and can do more with less than anybody else.  So they are out there with old stuff continuously maintained and often held together in the field with duct tape and super glue, but as White said in his NRO piece, that is part of the mystique- people win wars, not materiel- even though the vastly superior materiel we have today is critical to our lower casualty, reduced collateral damage warfare of the 21st century.

Incidentally, that funding competition dynamic is a central issue, in my context from which to observe the feud between Secretary Rumsfeld and the Army brass, especially now-retired Gen. Shinseki, surrounding the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled howitzer.  You can go ask someone on the inside of the Army acquisition structure about Crusader, and he (almost always “he”) could probably tell you a long story about the age and inadequacies of the M109A5 and M109A6 Paladin series, and how it has taken forever to replace that relic, the need for accurate and very long range heavy artillery, shoot-and-scoot, how scatter-shot the MLRS is (one or two mils circular error probability for howitzers vs. about 20 for unguided MLRS, which is a big deal the longer the range at which you shoot), etc.

But a review of the funding history of the Crusader- and I was there for the entire multi-year birthing process and was involved in a lot of the subsystems- essentially shows that the operational need justification (the ROC, for you ‘80’s insiders) has evolved over a couple of decades.  Different selling points have surfaced at different times, depending on the budget and mission environment, with one common thread: Crusader became the official Army Budget Equity platform: i.e., if the USAF and the Navy get Joint Strike Fighters, Stealth bombers, and Cruise Missiles, by gum, it is only fair that the Army gets its own big platform program too, regardless of the relative priority need in the total joint strike warfare model.  So, the requirement was a bit shaky as a critical need that could be satisfied in no other way, but it was also the only horse they could ride at this point, since no opponent was fielding any new tank superior to the M1A2, no armored infantry fighting vehicle more capable than the Bradley, or “jeep” better than the Hummer.  The only thing that hadn’t been improved from the platform up for quite a while was the self-propelled howitzer.  Tactical missiles were nice, but not big enough in the total budget scheme.

So, Crusader was designated the “fund it or drop-dead” candidate, meaning that other candidates were simply chopped down in priority so all the budget eggs could ride the back of Crusader without the constant internal competition that is ubiquitous in the inter-Branch rivalries of the DA Pentagon world.  Even though the various revolutionary capabilities of Crusader could be designed to be just as useful as add-ons (“PIPs”- product improvement programs) to the Paladin M109, not requiring all new designs.

The Congressional district workloading plan for Crusader had been meticulously managed- Pennsylvania would get fire control production, Texas>  new ammunition load and assemble, Oklahoma (JC Watts’ district, considered to be fireproofed, because of Rep. Watts’ high-profile visibility) would get final assembly, Minnesota fire control design, and so on, based on who was the Congressional water carrier in the House Armed Services Committee, in the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and so on.

Now, in that context admittedly filtered through only one flawed person’s eyes, re-look at the SecDef-Army Staff war again.  For Rumsfeld to simply cancel the program, just because it is a Cold War relic that is too heavy, not cost effective, and doesn’t offer much useful force multiplier capability in the new world of not-European-land-war (how much artillery do we use in Iraq?  Name every news story that talks about artillery instead of helicopters and airplanes), leaving the Army without a major platform program is simply, well, a breach of faith.  Unfair.  It’s the last straw, crap-tossing at the Army, already the last guys at the far end of the table.  Mom STILL likes you best and I’m madder than heck about it.

The Crusader history inherently provided all of the justification needed to kill it as a completely new platform.  Every new capability it boasted had been proposed several times over previous years as product improvements to Paladin.  And the Crusader mission need justification had been horribly managed, on a pure short-term tactical basis. Some years it was sold as providing the critical new chassis- fast, maneuverable for modern firing on the move.  The analysts would then note that the big need to secure the essential loss-exchange ratio was really longer range, so the next year the budget justification would highlight the proposed new longer barrel gun.  The analysts would ask if the added range was accurate enough to shoot on the move, and the next year the analysis would focus on inertial reference digital mapping in the fire control, with or without GPS. The analysts would then note that you could get more range more cost-effectively by simply upgrading and “smartening” the ammunition, the last thing anyone wanted to hear, since upgraded ammunition is relatively cheap and has its own ceiling-capped budget and doesn’t necessarily require any costly changes to the self-propelled howitzer, sort of defeating the purpose.  So, the budget support would switch to speed and maneuverability, “shoot-and-scoot”, meaning a need for a new engine PLUS the ring laser gyro inertial reference azimuth positioner and ballistic computer.

The problem was that for virtually every feature, if you looked at the battlefield mission from 100 feet up instead through the eyes of an artillery commander, you could see a better way to complete the mission by either thinking outside of the box (missiles fired from UAVs, for example) or product-improving the M109 series, which was not a major platform program such that it could drive the Army budget to the needed level to compete with the damned flyboys or the dogbutt waterjockeys.  And there was always a tantalizing new force-multiplier waiting around the corner as the REAL Great Leap Forward- like the electromagnetic-propulsion gun, a huge improvement if only you could somehow carry along a few megawatts of electric power supply capability on a truck or trailer in a package smaller than the Sears Tower.

So, the cancellation of Crusader was not a simple disagreement over tactical capabilities, it was The Last Straw, the failure of the Secretary to give Army its one new big budget line item platform program to keep some level of fair share budget compared with the other two big Services.  Rummy did not hew to the time-honored tradition of relatively equal budgeting so each of the children got a fair share.  Instead, he has taken combat priorities on a DoD-wide basis rather than allocating top level authority by Service to keep some semblance of even-handedness in the process.

It has been rather like a father giving his third child half as much allowance as the other two; it simply wasn’t done.  And Shinseki had to explain to his colleagues how it had happened on his watch, and the traditionalists in the Army who have risen through the Cold War ranks cannot forgive it.  This is exacerbated by Rumsfeld’s admitted arrogance, among the strongest in Washington, quite a statement.

But this Service re-engineering and mission need re-prioritization needed to be done- and still needs to be completed.  Only someone like Rumsfeld, old enough so he doesn’t care about popularity or worry about bleeding when the arrows fly in from the rear.  I can understand how a very smart former Army artillery officer would disagree with his approach and resent his style; losers in the bureaucracy wars always do.

But I don’t have any skin in the game, and to me it looks like we are going to owe a huge debt to Rummy when he finishes the job he’s doing.

World War IV does not need new advanced howitzers, it needs ground combat, great intel, and civil affairs to clean up the mess after the battle.  Those things don’t look as good as a budget line item.

Racist (TEA Party) Thugs? 1965 all over again

March 25, 2010

The current program being executed by the White House and The Usual Suspects mimicking David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel is the classic “We are civilized and Trying To Help/Save You, but the Republican/TEA Party troglodytes are trying to kill us all.”

That triggered a memory, so I went back to the first political book I ever read, the underrated (because it was actually fun to read) William F. Buckley Jr. campaign memoir “The Unmaking of a Mayor”. This covered the 1965 New York City election that foisted John Lindsay on that city; Buckley entered on the Conservative Party ticket in a vain attempt to stop Silk Stocking John from getting a toehold on national politics while destroying the city. The Lindsay of that day rivaled a certain currently prominent national politician for the award as the personage most worthy to be referred to as TVG (The Vacuous Garment).

Having little to offer at that time other than a pretty face and sycophantic local press eager to help him spread his program to all of the suffering minions: “I care! So I will spend more!”, Lindsay’s campaign planted the familiar “Our opponents are thugs” meme with every newspaper.   From page 259 of the paperback edition of the book, the chapter entitled “The Candidate and ‘His Supporters’”:

“It was over and over again alleged during the campaign that “Buckley supporters” were rowdies, hoodlums, vandals, etc. The charge was first elaborated on September 9, in a front-page story in the World-Telegram with headline stretching across the entire width of the front page: ”RIGHTISTS HARASS LINDSAY.” And the story:

“Rep. John Lindsay and his…campaign workers through the city are being victimized by “vicious right-wing hate tactics,” a source close to the Republican-Liberal candidate disclosed today. Windows in volunteer storefronts have been smashed, telephone lines have been slashed, mail has been opened and destroyed, and several aides have received threatening letters, the source said. In addition, volunteers distributing pamphlets on the street have been “roughed up,” telephone lines have been “jammed” with thousands of calls, and “impostors” are infiltrating the Lindsay ranks.
“The harassment campaign actually began in June when Lindsay himself received threatening telephone calls. The source said one caller warned: ‘John Lindsay must be killed. We have to kill him.’…”

To which Buckley replied in a press release; imagine a politician today disposing of such nonsense with such panache; half of the TV reporters wouldn’t know the meaning of half of the words:

“Mr. John Lindsay, through his agents, has in effect accused the Conservative Party of superintending a program of malicious harassment of him and his campaigners. He alleges that windows in his volunteer storefronts have been smashed, that his mail has been opened and destroyed, that impostors (by which I assume he means Republicans) are infiltrating the Lindsay ranks, that large quantities of mail have been misdirected by espionage, that planted typists have made intentional mistakes which have fouled up distribution lists, and that anonymous gentry have telephoned threats on his life.

“I decline to go through the motions of disavowing these activities, because to do so under the circumstances would be to suggest that they are in some way mine to avow or disavow. Mr. Lindsay, according to his complaint, was accosted by one placard that accused him of being a Communist. It is no more necessary for the Conservative Party to repudiate vandalism, blackmail, and intimidation, than it is for Mr. Lindsay to disavow the charge that he is a Communist. The Conservative Party of New York would never impute pro-Communism to Mr. Lindsay, and only regrets that he has permitted his agents to impute vandalism to us.

“There are crackpots in New York, as there are crackpots everywhere. They do not pick exclusively on Mr. Lindsay. As regards threats against Mr. Lindsay’s life, I will match him threat for threat. . . . As regards eavesdropping, I register herewith my compliments to the doll who listened from the adjacent table to everything I said to and beard from my staff at dinner the other night at a restaurant, and then, as we rose to go, sweetly announced herself as John Lindsay’s personal aide.

“John Lindsay has nothing at all to fear from crackpots. He has a great deal to fear from rational and intelligent men. Mr. Lindsay complains that Conservative Party workers have been assigned to “follow Lindsay volunteers” and “destroy pamphlets Lindsay workers have distributed.” I herewith call on all Conservative Party workers to distribute Lindsay literature alongside my own, confident that anyone who contrasts the two will vote the Conservative Party ticket in November.”

Hat tips to these fine sites that first described the latest stuff regarding Those Dangerous TEA Party folk:


Why a good conservative must support Barack Obama!

November 2, 2008

The reasons given by Brooks, Powell, Adelman, Hart, Kmiec, Buckley et al for their political apostasy and announced intentions to vote for a radically left-wing, one-year senator (he has spent the other three years since 2004 running for president) from the heart of the Chicago Daley machine, not to mention a highly problematic circle of friends and no actual accomplishments on his record, seem to center a lot on their distaste for McCain’s vice presidential running mate.  It seems that Governor Palin hasn’t been quick enough on the draw for them with a nice smooth lie, in the way glib con artists like Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack himself are when asked a “gotcha” question. 

This rationale doesn’t stand up terribly well when examined outside the newsrooms of the New York Times and MSNBC, and most of the explanations for the planned votes are embarrassingly bad.  I think that I can offer a better rationale for All The Best Strange New Respect “Conservative” People (e.g., rich, East Coast, Ivy League, non-religious, you get the idea) to vote Barack:

1) He is against expanding foreign aid– Barack’s half brother in Kenya, George, lives in a dump  on twelve dollars a year and The Vacuous Garment has never sent any kind of aid  over there to him.  If Barack can ignore his half brother, surely he can tell Egypt to take a hike.  

2) He is very strong on the real estate business– With the current housing market crunch, you know how important that competence and understanding of real property markets is to our economy.  He found a way to buy his mansion in Hyde Park and get an extra large yard for a bargain price by hard bargaining with Tony Rezko, who happened to buy the lot next door at the same time in one of those amazing Chicago coincidences, and he knew how to get a bunch of Chicago slums rebuilt at little or no cost to the developers.  Someone who knows how to get a good deal is just who we need taking care of the $700 billion market financial re-capitalization project.  Perhaps Vivian Jarrett or Tony Rezko could replace Henry Paulson? 

3) He is experienced and judicious handling other peoples’ money– For example, out of his meager campaign funds of $600 million, the big party at Invesco Field was only $5.3 million– that’s less than 1%.  That kind of frugality and stewardship is vital to our budget future as new federal spending is considered.  I’m sure that he would limit the costs of his inauguration to only 1% of next year’s couple trillion buck federal budget.

4) He is also experienced and judicious in not giving handouts to the poor– such as, for example, his beloved Aunt Zeituni about whom he wrote in his first memoir; she lives in a slum in Boston.  We need that kind of tough-minded discipline to get away from all this “I feel your pain” stuff and stop the giveaway programs.  Lack of charity begins at home! 

5) He rejects government controls and excessive regulation– why, even after an initial kowtow to the politically correct gods of speech suppression, he courageously changed is mind in favor of freedom, and broke away from the repressive yoke of FEC campaign finance limits.  It takes guts to recognize your opportunity to buy the election by getting a lot of fraudulent credit card donations on-line plus foreign money from Palestine previous misguided error in saying you would abide by the campaign finance law, and instead stand up for free speech!  Power to the (rich) (or, bundled trial lawyer-donating) people!

6) He is loyal to his friends– Loyalty and friendship are very important to traditionalist conservatives.  The Vacuous Garment may not be big on family, but he could easily have thrown unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers under the bus, where the distinguished “Professor of English” (actually, Prof of Education) would have been crowded and squeezed, sharing the space down there with Obama’s grandma and Pastor Wright.  Instead, Barack showed true intestinal fortitude and support for his old friend Prof. Ayers by simply denying that they had ever had any kind of relationship. 

7) He is careful and doesn’t rush into things.  The thoughtfulness that David Brooks noticed, when discussing the essentially naturalistic (the generic “higher power”), economically socialist, quasi-pacifism that Reinhold Niebuhr sold as a form of theology and Christianity, is shown by all those courageous “Present” votes in Illinois and in the US Senate.  Sen. McCain seems to be deluded into thinking that courage is adhering to an unpopular position if you believe it is right and it costs you to stand firm.  But, rather than permitting himself to be rushed into taking a position that some voting group might not approve, Obama stands tall and takes the heat from both sides of most issues- neither the “tastes great” nor “less filling” group is completely happy with him.  Feeling very strongly both ways is lonely- and Obama is willing to cope with that loneliness to avoid pushing the wrong positions.  What character!

8] He would spare no effort to fight our enemies– We know that he is absolutely willing to do battle against enemies because His campaign has never backed down from a fight against evil.  For example, as represented by Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or someone from Fox News unfairly describing what he has said and written in the past.  Fight the smears!

9) He is strongly in favor of national securities– In this age of challenges to the global financial system, we are seeing that governments have found it necessary to inject new capital into the system.  For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were treated as quasi-government companies (“government sponsored entities” nor GSE), then there was the effective takeover of insurance giant AIG, the purchase of p[referred stock in the nine largest US banks, and so on.  When the national government owns these stock shares, or “securities”, we use the term  “national securities” to describe the financial stake the federal government has in these companies.  It requires one with a strong affinity for federal government power to really appreciate the possibilities associated with national securities.  For example, the government could order these banks now to only make loans to poor people who can’t p[ay them back, thus fulfilling important social goals…..  (‘What? You mean ‘national security’?  Like bombs and offing terrorists or murderous dictators ?   Um, uh, to quote the late Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, ‘Nevermind.’”- if you don’t get it, check this out)  Disregard the above.  If we are attacked by bad guys, the UN will take care of us.

10) He opposes government interference in business, especially health care mandates– Barack won’t stand for government getting into private business affaires and mandating certain business practices or medical treatments.  In fact, he is a stickler for preventing civil or criminal liability for medical malpractice if an obstetrician chooses to treat or not treat a patient (well, a “mistaken” 5 minute old baby is sort of a patient…. isn’t it?).  Government should stay out of business!

My Screedish Manifesto, Inspired by Buckley, Frum, Noonan, etc.

October 26, 2008

Now that we have endured a thoroughly unbecoming series of hissy-fits by the Elitist Right, I have a statement to make.  With full reverence to Chairman Bill, whom I sort of quote:
I would rather be governed by one hundred random people in the Wasilla phone book than by the news departments of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBC, the NYT, the WashPo, the LA Times, and the editorial staffs of the New Republic and the National Review (well, if Jay Nordlinger was around, I’d take him, but keep him far away from China policy, and Mark Steyn doesn’t count).


I am a mere foolish, unworthy wage slave in the flyover zone.  I rejected the overture from Yale when I was in high school, in favor of attending the local (large, national research) university because my parents were not well-to-do, and I knew that I would have to work my way through school.  I was too sensible to take out loans for college.


Unlike David Frum, I am not a beneficiary of a millionaire family who married into a prominent journalism family, and went to Yale and then Harvard law.  Unlike Jeffrey Hart, I am not hostile to religion, and on those grounds a total apostate to every philosophical tenet I ever held throughout my working life.  Unlike Kathleen Parker and Peggy Noonan, I am not envious of another far more accomplished woman, and don’t confuse extemporaneous glibness and the ability to lie with impunity on the spot (Joe Biden) in an unusual situation for intellect and ability.  Unlike Colin Powell, I don’t let my personal grudges over being deservedly fired by the president overwhelm my ability to think and reason coherently and thus dictate my political views.  Unlike Christopher Buckley, I did not get my writing career kicked off by being introduced by a famous parent to the glitterati of New York publishing and then use the relationship thus established to write sophomoric parodies that are outshined every day of the week by Scrappleface’s Scott Ott, nor did I then sleep with my publicist, have an out-of-wedlock child, later abandoning my wife and daughters to essentially live with a young woman half my age.  And unlike Kenneth Adelman, I am capable of expressing, in terms not laughable on their face, why I support the candidates whom I favor in this election. 


In fact, I have a guilty secret.  I still like and admire George Bush, and would vote for him again in a heartbeat, in preference to any of the alleged Republicans listed above.


I think that it is time to take the Republican Party away from the New York-Washington-Ivy League cabal and put it back in the hands of people who live more then three hundred miles inland, who work in some field besides journalism and punditry, who watch football and thus understand why the rest of us like it, and even go to church regularly, not being persuaded that the god who counts is looking at us fromt he mirror.  One fairly well-known Republican once said “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow-Republican”; well, since I have heard nothing but “ill” about Palin for the last two months, I am returning the favor.


By the way, our small family includes one successful accountant, a trained lawyer with two other post-graduate degrees, and two college professors at world famous universities.  We all went to public schools, and then to unfashionable state universities.  Somehow, we managed to muddle through in spite of such handicaps. 


And we are completely disgusted with the petty elitism that has been revealed (it was there all along, but apparently well-disguised before the emergence of the Threat Of Palin) during this last three months. 



Steve Edelman Caused the Financial Crisis

October 24, 2008

Uh, so who’s Steve Edelman, you ask?  What mortgage broker, risk pool derivatives firm, Wall Street bank, politician does he represent?


None of them, of course.  This is far more insidious a conspiracy than that! 


Back in the late 1950’s, the pop sociologists were all bloviating about a book by Vance Packard called The Hidden Persuaders.  Its premise was, essentially, “the devil made me do it”.  We are all helpless, manipulated by psychological forces we don’t perceive because they flash past so fast that they subliminally impress our minds with messages we absorb, but are simply not aware we are taking in.  Of course, this was a screed against Madison Avenue and the advertising business, this being the same era as the other rebellions against post-war conformity- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, screeds against “built-in obsolescence”, etc.


Even though this was overblown conspiracy stuff, the basic principle still applies and always will.  Many years ago, a very wise entity, intimately understanding of human nature, said (paraphrased from Exodus 20:17): “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”


What?  That’s the entire basis of modern economies!  Better Homes and Gardens, In Style, Southern Living, This old House, Extreme Makeover, Martha Stewart, Bob Vila, you name it.  Virtually everything out there, whether advertising or entertainment, is predicated on making us jealous of somebody’s house.  Maybe not my next-door neighbor’s tarpaper shack, but certainly the place over in that other neighborhood.


So Moses described the issue a few years back as “covetousness”.  In the 20th century, we called it “Keeping up with the Joneses”.  Today, we call it “getting our fair share of the American Dream”, usually via a maxed-out MasterCard, and, for the last few years, a second, third, and fourth mortgage layered onto our tarpaper shack down in the wrong end of town.


And that brings us to Steve Edelman.  I first realized how insidious and dangerous he was when I read a comment by the perfesser on Instapundit to the effect that his beloved Instawife, upon returning home from a medical procedure, relaxed by watching HGTV to learn how to “accessorize a room”. 


Here we had the World’s Richest Blogger, and his highly educated spouse, living high in Knoxville with Mazda sports cars and audio-video equipment to rival a cable TV network, and they have HGTV up on the new flat screen digital television.  All because of Steve Edelman, the former local daytime TV host-turned-producer, who creates and films the lion’s share of HGTV programming from his San Francisco headquarters.  


To quote from a news story “His company’s shows currently airing on HGTV include Color Splash, Curb Appeal, Designed to Sell, Decorating Cents, Design Remix, Double Take, FreeStyle, House Detective, Landscape Smart and Sensible Chic, plus three new ones that recently premiered, Sleep on It, Get It Sold and Find Your Style. Edelman’s series on the DIY network include Bathroom Renovations, Fresh Coat, Home Transformations, Weekend Handyman, Wood Works and Kitchen Renovations.”


Nineteen shows on 24 hour a day cable TV, all planned to make you want to take out an excess mortgage and overpay your income to get a house that matches a gated community.


Isn’t this one of those situations where the FCC should step in?  At least, to forbid my wife from watching any more HGTV?  (Please?)

How Palin Should Answer Questions About Evolution

September 8, 2008

Having failed to derail Sarah Palin as an unfit mother, surrogate mother, one who fires personal opponents for their principled refusals to fire innocent state troopers, adultress, library book-burner, etc., the general focus of the enlightened glitterati, is settling in on “Creationist Nut”.  In this situation, the leftist hyperpolitical class (led by Andrew Sullivan, urged on by e-mails from the TVG campaign*) is joined by the agnostic libertarians, including otherwise good guys such as Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs and Prof. James Lindgren of Volokh, who are usually pretty rational and fair-minded guys, but seem to go crazy around this topic.  The source of that “problem” (it surfaced in a debate- see the volokh post above) is twofold:


1) Ms. Palin believes in God, as an apparently practicing evangelical Christian.  If you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, it sort of follows that you believe that there is a God somewhere to be the Son of.  The other inconvenience is that if any of the Biblical stuff is not utter nonsense, one must presume that this God isn’t helpless or standoffish toward Earth.  If He is capable of Doing Things, the most obvious initial hypothesis is that He might have had something to do with the appearance of life on Earth, since we are having some trouble sorting that out.


2) In her campaign a couple of years ago, Governor Palin stated that school kids might benefit from hearing different theories and discussing them (the debate referred to above).


After assuming office, of course, Palin did not throw out the biology and evolution curriculum nor force Adam and Eve down the throats of wide-eyed schoolchildren.  However, the meme has been established, and lacking any decent ammunition, the media interviews henceforth are bound to include “gotcha” questions encouraging her to either lie about her views or commit political suicide with the legacy media by adopting Bishop Usher’s (preposterous) time line.  


There is another way for Ms. Palin to handle such a question, and it has the advantage of being correct.  When the supercilious inside-the-beltway or New York reporter asks “Governor Palin, do you believe in evolution?” she should answer as follows.


“Well, BrianKatieCharlieMattDiane, let me put it this way.  Like 80% of America, I do believe there is a God.  But that is just my belief.  It isn’t provable and it is not falsifiable.  But if I am crazy and superstitious by believing in God, so are most of my fellow-citizens.


“The question is, what about where we all came from?  Well, some people believe that God made everything with a wave of His hand, others believe that God basically set evolution in motion and let it happen.  Others believe that everything occurred by purely natural processes.  I certainly can’t tell you how, because the naturalistic processes scientists themselves don’t agree- that is the real controversy that is never mentioned, and all sides of that controversy ought to be taught, not the so-called “God versus nature” issue.


“Some people, such as Richard Dawkins, are pure Darwinists, and believe that change among species came very gradually.  Others, such as Stephen J. Gould, said that that was impossible, so they offered a theory that there were sudden jumps in progress.  Still others, such as Dr. Kauffman, believe that both Dawkins and Gould are wrong, and everything can be explained by ‘self-organization’, like the way crystals or snowflakes develop.  Each of these groups explains in detail why the other groups’ theories are impossible based on the fossil record, length of time needed, and probability.


“So, I’m just going to wait to comment until they can all agree on a story.”

*The Vacuous Garment, refers to a certain candidate for President

Name that Withdrawal Date!

July 26, 2007

Tony Blankley wrote a column reacting to the Democrat “You Tube Debate”.  Among his impressions was this summary of the Iraq Surrender Auction, where each candidate was offering a different deadline for withdrawing US troops and turning Iraq and Afghanistan over to al Qaeda and the Taliban: “How quickly would you retreat from Iraq? And here, the candidates had clearly been doing earnest research before the debate. Gov. Bill Richardson said he could get all the troops out in five months. Sen. Christopher Dodd claimed he could do it in seven months, while Sen. Joe Biden was insistent that it would take a full nine months to a year to move American troops and civilians down the two-lane road through Basra to the sea”.

Does this evoke a memory for anyone other than me?

 “Joanne, I can name that tune in six notes!”

 “Harvey, I can name that tune in FOUR notes!”

“Joanne, I can name that tune in THREE notes!”

“Harvey, name that tune!”

Of course, the Dem version is: “I’m Joe Biden, and I’ve worked out a way to move out American troops and civilians in nine months!”

“I’m Chris Dodd, white-haired because I’ve been working tirelessly in the Senate, and I can surrender in just seven months!”

“Well, I’m Fast Billy Richardson, and I can give up Iraq to decapitating thugs in just FIVE months!”

Bill, wave that white flag!

The Seldom-Mentioned Obsolescence of the Fairness Doctrine

July 13, 2007

Over at CaptainsQuartersBlog, the indefatigable Ed Morrissey posts a colloquy from the Senate debate over the congressional Democrats’ legally-doomed attempt to kill the First Amendment by taking over the broadcast radio industry.  The discussion, and indeed, Sen. Coleman’s impassioned speech, discuss the internet and alternative media. 

 What I didn’t see, though, and is almost never mentioned, is the original rationale for the prior regulatory regimes of the broadcast industry.  When the FCC regulated TV and radio under the original “fairness doctrine”, the justification was the limited bandwidth of the RF spectrum- you had, for AM radio, a range between 560 kilocycles and 1,710 kilocycles that could be sliced into piece only so thin before the signals were interfering with one another.  If you allowed stations to broadcast from bands that were too close together, you couldn’t hear either one- in  the Captain’s own market, there are AM stations at 1500, 1530, and 1570; using an old dial (variable capacitor) tuner, it was almost impossible to zero in on one.  This meant that over the total AM range, you couldn’t squeeze in much more than about 20 stations within one 75 , mile radius of the transmitter tower- and even then weather conditions and nightfall would further cause overlaps.  For TV, you had channels 2 throught 13, later expanded by the UHF band, with radio, the FM band added more stations.  But today, if you are in a big city and want to play your IPod through the car radio, it is difficult find a free frequency. 

Thus, the FCC could with a straight face assert that the limited bandwidth required that licenses granted to broadcasters carried an added responsibility to devote a certain portion of broadcast time to public service, and to represent all points of view.  The public could challenge the license renewals if the station was perceived as not meeting that standard.  And, as many have said, the issue was not that people couldn’t meet the standard, it was that it was far easier to avoid the headaches and simply not air anything that was controversial.  Hence, we got a steady diet of public service announcements disapproving of drugs, smoking, pollution, and all that.

That rationale is not only weak, the reason that the courts began to slice away at it, and Reagan eventually issued the order recognizing reality, it is now technologically irrelevant, because bandwidth is unlimited already by means of alternative media, and will soon be completely unlimited.  That is because of the conversion from analog to digital.

  Few people are aware that all of the cable channels, even the analog channels, are provided in a range of roughly two channels of standard broadcast television through sophisiticated frequency management methods.  That alone substantially increased the number of offerings available.  Analog satellite, those big ugly six or eight foot dishes that swung through the sky from horizon to horizon, showed the way- you could, with proper expensive and complicated equipment, squeeze a lot of stations into more limited space by having more than twenty TV stations on one satellite.  With a lot of satellites up there, now we could access even more signals. 

 But, now when you take digital data streams, the examples being XM and Sirius radio, and Dish and DirecTV (DirecTV founded by Cap’n Ed’s former employer in California) you only need one main satellite and one backup to broadcast hundreds and thousands of signals through each “pipe”.  This works the same way as your cell phone (wireless) or the Internet (hard line or wireless) does- the TV or radio signal is digitized, the signals are compressed, and multiple signals are stacked onto one carrier wave, then decoded by the receiver.  You can do that now if you have a good Internet broadband connection- but soon all of the broadcast TV signals will convert to digital, and you will be able to receive thousands of high definition digital channels packed into the space that formerly could only accommodate old TV Channel 4.  

Where TV goes, radio will follow- at some point, standard AM or FM radio will conver to digital signals, and you will get hundreds of stations all non-interfering, between AM 700 and AM 900, freeing up the rest of the bands for things like universal Internet wireless and the like.  Any fiction like the FCC’s former rationale for regulating the airwaves for “fairness” is revealed as the lie it is.  

And Sen Durbin knows it.  He’s just trying to throw some speed bumps in front of Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Miller, and their colleagues who keep bringing up impertinent things like facts, history, what they said last year, etc.