If True, This Is Outrageous:

From Army Times, via Memeorandum:

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Army is showing itself to be colossally inept at managing it’s public perception, but – simply put – to clamp down on what can only be considered an expose is wrong, counterproductive, bound to fail, and damaging to the well-being of the troops – whose conditions will be improved and chain of command held accountable when transparency is held as the highest value.

If this is a matter of ensuring that the chain of command isn’t blindsided, it’s worse. Because of the chain of command isn’t directly aware of the conditions in the facilities they control or use, they should be retired. Immediately.

The Value Of Procrastination?

Kerry Dupont just pointed this Paul Graham essay out to me:

The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn’t always bad?

Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you’re not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.

I feel so much better…but is she trying to tell me something?

Weekend in San Diego

So we spent the weekend in San Diego with a TG, Littlest Guy, a dear friend and her two sons, and Middle Guy and his girlfriend who joined us for dinner, along with Col. Foltyn (who I now owe even huger giri to…).

Saturday was small kid day at Legoland, which confirmed my “huh?” comment when I heard that someone was building an amusement park out of Legos…but the kids had a good time, and that meant the adults had a good time. Saturday night was dinner, at one of Foltyn’s pilot hangouts.

Sunday, he gave us a tour of Miramar MCAS, and spent an hour showing three rapt ten year olds (and their equally rapt parents) the aircraft museum there, and then took us out to the flight line to watch the planes.

A World Airways MD-11 had just landed, and as we watched, a line of desert-camouflaged troops walked down the stairs onto the tarmac and briskly walked off the field to waiting buses.

We stayed a long time and watched almost all of them before the kids lost patience and started wondering why TG was teary eyed and we left.


You know I haven’t talked about Dinesh D’Souza’s idiotic book ‘The Enemy At Home’ because I assumed it was so transparently stupid that it would collapse of its own vacuity. His thesis (from the reviews – I don’t have enough time to read all the good books out there, and I’m not burning an afternoon reading this one) is that the conflict between the nutball Islamists and the West is caused by Madonna. No, I’m serious – it’s the claim he makes. From the introduction to his book, as posted on his website:

The left is responsible for 9/11 in the following ways. First, the cultural left has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies, especially those in the Islamic world, that are being overwhelmed with this culture. In addition, the left is waging an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures. This campaign has provoked a violent reaction from Muslims who believe that their most cherished beliefs and institutions are under assault. Further, the cultural left has routinely affirmed the most vicious prejudices about American foreign policy held by radical factions in the Muslim world, and then it has emboldened those factions to attack the United States with the firm conviction that “America deserves it” and that they can do so with relative impunity. Absent these conditions, Osama Bin Laden would never have contemplated the 9/11 attacks, nor would the United States today be the target of Islamic radicals throughout the world. Thus when leading figures on the left say, “We made them do this to us,” in a sense they are correct. They are not correct that “America” is to blame. But their statement is true in that their actions and their America are responsible for fostering Islamic anti-Americanism in general and 9/11 in particular.

OK, that’s just historically ignorant, insulting, and stupid. But it’s now being picked up. Some guy named Glenn Beck who is a talking head on CNN (haven’t seen him, still have no TV thankfully) echoed his claims this week, and has been getting picked up in the blogs.

BECK: You know, there’s a new poll out that Muslims, the higher educated Muslims in the Middle East are more likely to be extremists? More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.

The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We’re a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is of the charts.

Now I don’t think that we should fly airplanes into buildings or behead people because of it, but that’s the prevailing feeling of Muslims in the Middle East. And you know what? They’re right.

Let me a take a moment and explain why this is beyond lame.

“The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it.”

D’Souza would have to agree, right? He’d see that argument and believe that we needed to push back to an earlier, more virtuous America.

But that quote is about an earlier, more virtuous America. It’s about 1949 Colorado, and it’s from Salman Qutb’s book ‘The America I Have Seen’.

Ironically, Greeley in the middle of the 20th century was a very conservative town, where alcohol was illegal. It was a planned community, founded by Utopian idealists looking to make a garden out of the dry plains north of Denver using irrigation. The founding fathers of Greeley were by all reports temperate, religious and peaceful people.

But Qutb wasn’t convinced. “America in 1949 was not a natural fit for Qutb,” Siegel says. “He was a man of color, and the United States was still largely segregated. He was an Arab — American public opinion favored Israel, which had come into existence just a year before.”

In the college literary magazine, Qutb wrote of his disappointment:

“When we came here to appeal to England for our rights, the world helped England against the justice (sic). When we came here to appeal against Jews, the world helped the Jews against the justice. During the war between Arab and Jews, the world helped the Jews, too.”

Qutb wrote about Greeley in his book, The America I Have Seen. He offered a distorted chronology of American history: “He informed his Arab readers that it began with bloody wars against the Indians, which he claimed were still underway in 1949,” Siegel says. “He wrote that before independence, American colonists pushed Latinos south toward Central America — even though the American colonists themselves had not yet pushed west of the Mississippi… Then came the Revolution, which he called ‘a destructive war led by George Washington.'”

Look, I’m a real believer that we need to rediscover the good in American and Western values, and that a certain philosophical decadence leaves the doors open to bad outcomes. I’m not happy with many things I see in our culture, not so much because they are about promiscuous sex or Bloomsbury languor, but because they divert us from the very real daily work of building and making futures in favor of consuming the present.

But to suggest that the decline in morals in Hollywood in 2001 is why we were attacked is both deeply insulting and immoral because it claims the horrors of 9/11 and what has preceded and followed it as an argument for a callow Puritanism, and ridculous because it is not grounded in anything remotely like historical fact.

I’m not a believer in shutting people up, and good for D’Souza for grabbing his advance and running to the bank, I guess. But this debasement of political argument needs to be backhanded out of the public arena as quickly as possible, and someone needs to bring some disinfectant wipes in to clean up after it.

Internet Newbies!!

I manage to stay pretty far removed from celebrity culture – BTDT, raised in Beverly Hills.

But I do have Defamer in my RSS reader; it’s the kind of ridiculous LA-centric stuff that I enjoy. And once in a while something there really tickles me.

In this case, two scathing emails by the Estevez (Sheen) brothers to a LA Times reporter are reproduced.

And my thought on reading them wasn’t that they were self-absorbed, thin-skinned or ill-mannered (hint: they are).

They have aol.com email addresses. In 2007, who the heck has an aol email address as primary email? Am I just too much of a geek? Don’t then know anyone who would invite them to gmail, or couldn’t they even just use yahoo?


It’s A Conundrum Inside A Problem Inside A Puzzle

Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) has a post up that captures the nub of a problem I’ve been chewing on for a while. Note that I don’t necessarily agree with Marc – but that it’s a problem well worth thinking through.

In a nutshell, if we believe that freedom and some form of a democratic / representative government are the keys to dismantling the more violent and hard-to-live-alongside versions of Islamism – how do we deal with the problem that in free elections in much of the Muslim world today, the Islamists – the hard-to-live-alongside ones – would be likely to win?

And what do we do then? Lynch says:

This selective outrage, where Westerners care about one anti-Islamist blogger but can’t be bothered about equally arbitrary and illiberal repression of hundreds of Islamists, only reinforces general skepticism that this isn’t really about freedom, human rights, or democracy. It’s just like the American focus on the release of jailed liberal politician Ayman Nour as a litmus test for the Egyptian regime (one which it continues to fail, by the way, without seeming to suffer the slightest penalty). I can not exaggerate how many times I hear from Arabs and Muslims that America’s campaign against Hamas after it won fair elections and its blind eye to Mubarak’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood proves once and for all the fundamental hypocrisy of its democracy talk. I am not criticizing anyone for rallying to Nabeel’s or Nour’s defense. They should. But they should also see this as part of a comprehensive regime crackdown on Egyptian political opposition, with the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood the leading edge of the regime’s anti-democratic backlash. People who claim to care about Egyptian reform, democratization, and human rights should take a slightly wider view of the problem than the travails of one anti-Islamist blogger or one liberal politician.

I’ll discuss this more when I get some time tonight…but the conundrum presented here is a serious one. If we believe we can avoid conflict by doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means handing power to people who are determined to have a conflict with us…there’s a good chance we’ve got issues with the way we’re formulating the problem.


Because I’m despairing that this is turning into an all-war all-the-time blog, I thought I’d note that TG,some dear friends and I went to see ALL ABOUT WALKEN in Hollywood last night.

Eight impressionists, three of them women, did a variety of scenes all in full-Walken. And until you’ve seen Christopher Walken as a ninety-pound ingenue with a fright wig and a pitch-perfect menacing Queens accent … well, you haven’t seen much.

The opening number, a rousing rendition of “These Boots Are Made For…” kicked things off nicely, and yes, they dance. And rap. And shoot.

If you’re in LA, see if you can make it by…they’ll even give you a gold watch.

Nostalgia For What, Exactly?

It’s odd to see someone smart flatly misread something as badly as Paul Kennedy did in his oped in today’s LATimes (h/t Kevin Drum who echoes and amplifies Kennedy’s misreading).

Here’s Kennedy:

IT WAS FUNNY, in a grim sort of way. Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates responded to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s polemical attack on the United States by remembering the 50-year Cold War as a “less complex time” and saying he was “almost nostalgic” for its return.

Gates should know. He himself is the quintessential Cold Warrior, having served nearly 27 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (facing off against the likes of Putin, who was for 17 years an agent in the foreign intelligence branch of the Soviet KGB). So we should take him seriously when he suggests that the problems of 20 or 30 years ago were in some ways more manageable than our current global predicament.

Nor is he alone. There is a palpable sense of nostalgia these days for the familiar contours of that bygone conflict, which has been replaced by a much more murky, elusive and confusing age.

Palpable among whom, exactly? Certainly not Gates, who actually said this:

Speaking of issues going back many years, as an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background … a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.

However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice” or “be gone.”

The real world we inhabit is a different and a much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.

For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.

[emphasis added]

So what the hell? The “One Cold War was quite enough” quote got wide play in the news at the time. Someone explain this to me? And as someone who reads a lot of foreign policy news and no little number of articles, who, exactly in the foreign policy commentariat is nostalgic for a cold war?

Another Plame Post

This is maybe the fourth post I’ve done on the Plame thing. In the first I pointed out that being less than candid about something like this was stupid on the part of the White House.

In the second, I made basically the same point.In the third one, I expressed puzzlement at Ambassador Wilson’s claim that his report debunked the claim that Iraq had sought (rather than acquired) uranium ore in Niger, given that the Senate report on the subject reported him as having said that they did.

In this one, I’ll express befuddlement at former-spook Larry Johnson(who admittedly has said and done some darn odd things)’s claim that the Washington Post was flatly lying when it challenged Special Prosecutor Fitzpatrick’s prosecution on the basis that no crime actually was committed.

The basis for this befuddlement, to my legal-document reading, law-writing, but-not-lawyer eyes looks like this:

The subject code – Title 5026 of the US Code – says:

(4) The term “covert agent” means:
(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency;
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and
(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or
(B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information, and;
(i) who resides and acts outside the United States as an agent of, or informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency, or
(ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or
(C) an individual, other than a United States citizen, whose past or present intelligence relationship to the United States is classified information and who is a present or former agent of, or a present or former informant or source of operational assistance to, an intelligence agency.

OK, Valerie Plame clearly fits into (A), which means that for her to be a covert agent – as defined in law – she had to meet two tests – that her “identity as such an officer, employee, or member [was] classified information” AND (note the logical AND required) that she “is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States” at the time of her disclosure.

No one has disputed (i),and no one has asserted (ii) – and unless both are true, under the definition of the specific code, she’s not a ‘covert agent’ – and so no crime was committed.

Now Johnson finesses this nicely, by leaping from

She offers up two special gems:

– Valerie Plame was not covert.
– Ambassador Joseph Wilson (Valerie’s husband) misled the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status.

immediately to

Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class–which was comprised of Case Officers, Analysts, Scientists, and Admin folks–were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer.

Note the distinction between the two words – ‘covert’ (which is a defined term under the law) and ‘undercover’ (which may mean similar things, but isn’t the same thing). So either Johnson is finessing neatly, or he’s clueless (which I doubt).

So sharp-minded folks out there – what exactly am I missing?

Arguments And Assumptions

There’s a technique of argumentation I call “burying the answer in the assumptions” where you frame a problem in such a way that the conclusions are forgone. I’m very careful of that style of discussion in my day job, because lots of it involves leading groups of people toward a consensus and I want to make sure it’s a genuine one.

Kevin Drum has a post up on the delusions of the pro-war crowd, and I’ll suggest that he’s neatly buried the answer in his assumptions:

OK, I know this is partly tongue in cheek. But as near as I can tell there are real answers:

1. They don’t believe Bush has fucked up the war. They think that most of the bad news from Iraq is just an invention of the anti-military liberal media.

2. To the extent that we are doing badly, they think it’s the fault of liberals who are undermining morale by criticizing the war.

3. Following up on #2, their biggest complaint with Bush isn’t that the war is going badly, but that it isn’t broad enough and brutal enough. If only we’d take the gloves off and stop fighting like liberal pussies, we’d be doing OK.

Yes, this is delusional. But they don’t think it’s Bush who has screwed up their war, it’s liberals. There is nothing that will ever change their minds about this.

Hmmm. Let me suggest an alternate way of looking at the question.

Why don’t the pro-war folks criticize Bush more? Well, in no small part because we know that any criticism of him will be used by opponents of the war to knock him down, and there is no one standing in line behind him who’s expressed any interest in doing anything except ending the war by giving up.

I’ll also suggest that each of Kevin’s charges really would be the basis for an interesting discussion instead of a backhanded dismissal.

Well, how is the war going? It’s complicated to figure out, and many of the indicators are certainly negative – but there are also positive indicators. How about the question of how it’s going and how we’d know? Kevin et alia pretty consistently dismiss any challenge to the CW on how the war is going as ‘political spin’ and the problem is that when you do that, there’s no way to sit down and try and sort out how to measure what’s really going on.

Well, given that it’s an insurgency, and that public stances matter because in part it’s a matter of convincing a population at risk that we’re serious about protecting them, so yes there is some cost to be borne in the perception of our seriousness because powerful interests are tugging at our sleeve and trying to pull us back from the table. So no, I reject the notion that calling for withdrawal or redeployment or whatever is treasonous or a betrayal – but I also reject the notion that it has no consequences in the conduct of the war.

Finally, well…yes, most counterinsurgencies are won by a combination of brutality and kindness. Do we have the right combination? I’m honestly not sure. I know we can get a lot more brutal, and that many folks – Iraqis in Iraq – are critical of us for not being brutal enough. But to take that question completely off the table once again contains the answer in the assumptions.

And I think that’s a bad thing, and not only because the answer Kevin is pushing for is one I disagree with. The path out of the kind of insane polarization we see in this country isn’t in dismissive handwaving (or flagwaving), it’s in good, solid argument. Let’shave some.