15 September 2012

Presupposing The Peace of Wesphalia

Since the unfortunate movie "The Innocence of Muslims" came to light the Muslim world has once again become enraged by the insult to their religion, their prophet and their history.  Since then I've seen them labeled as barbarians and irrational.  Their religion and culture have been classified as basically violent, and degraded, worthy of hatred and disdain. I've heard suggestions to cut all ties with the states where there are riots. People have suggested bombings and invasion.  It all strikes me as silly and ignorant of our own Western history.

The key points in western history to be considered are the Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia. This conflict and the resulting peace are probably the defining events in what has turned into the European and American relationship between religion and the state as well as setting the basis for the modern nation state.

The war ravaged Europe for three decades over the ability of rulers to choose for their kingdom to be Catholic, Lutheran or Calvinist.  The war involved every major and minor state in Europe as well as interventions by the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans.  In those thirty years the population of German states were decreased by 25-30%, with some provinces loosing almost as much as 75% of their population. 

All of that fighting, and bloodshed, disease and suffering ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia which ultimately reaffirmed the 1555 treaty of Augsburg, which allowed sovereigns to choose the religion of their state and allow religious minorities to practice their faith without oppression.  The peace is a peace of exhaustion.  An admittance that no amount of bloodshed will make a person believe as you do, that perhaps it was just best to let people be and let God sort it out.

Most people will never think of the war or the peace when speaking of religious freedom and freedom of speech.  But the American First Amendment has the underlying intent of the treaty baked in to it.  Freedom to choose your religion and freedom to speak your mind.  Most importantly the First Amendment extended that freedom to the individual level.  That no man may call another man heretic with the force of law in his voice, is one of the most beautiful things about the American experience.

But that is the American experience which is an extension of another European idea and experience. The idea is so inherent to western society, that we forget that it is not a universal value.  The Islamic world was not a party to the treaty.  The treaty and its ideas are not part of their heritage. 

Perhaps collectively they will get there, many parts of the Islamic world already are.  Unfortunately at the same time Islamic fundamentalism is growing in some places as people strive to return to a "pure" Islam that created a caliphate st reaching from Spain to Pakistan.  The conflicts between Sunni and Shia burn and fester as they have for a very long time.

All of which is bound and rolled in an Arab Spring which seeks to bring freedom from oppression and freedom of speech and association, but also allows them to express their objectionable views, and associate in ways that allow for violence to blossom where previously only repression grew. 

None of this excuses violence and murder.  None of this should preclude rational assessment that the actions of individuals do not represent the values of a country and culture as diverse as the United States.  None of this excuses the perversion and sublimation of religious ideas to derail and influence a political process.

Democracy is hard, democracy is messy, countries are more likely to suffer from internal strife and external conflict during a transition to democracy then any other time. 

But we won't make it any better by presupposing ideas from our history on to other cultures and expecting them to become a part of the fabric of a society based on our declaration alone.

Hopefully we can come to agreement on all of this sooner rather than later.

12 April 2010

Vibram Five Fingers in Army Uniforms

Update: This changed a while ago but I never updated this post to reflect it. ALARACT 239/2011 changed AR 670-1 to state that only shoes with a single toe pocket are allowed for wear in IPFUs. This is a decision based on the look of the shoe not the fact that they are minimalist shoes. If you are looking for alternatives there are thankfully a host of them out there. Altra Zero Drop Footwear, New Balance Minimus, Merrill Trail Glove, et all. To be honest, just about every major shoe company is now on board and has or is working on deploying a minimalist shoe.

-----Original Post------
As a member of the U.S. Army I love my Vibram Five Fingers but am frequently challenged about their legality in Uniform. Below is a list of resources to help defend your position when wearing your Vibram Five Fingers in your Improved Physical Fitness Uniform (IPFU).

AR 670-1

AR 670-1 Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia is the Army's only regulation regarding wear and appearance of military uniform. The regulation states:

14–3. Accessories

a. Commanders may authorize the wear of commercial running shoes, calf-length or ankle-length, plain white socks with no logos, gloves, reflective belts or vests, long underwear, and other items appropriate to the weather conditions and type of activity.

Therefore it is ultimately up to your commander (at any level company and up) if you can or cannot wear Vibrams in Uniform. You should speak with your chain of command to ensure they will authorize your footwear choice. Be sure to talk to talk about the scientific research that promotes the health benefits of barefoot running. Be prepared to show them that they are in fact marketed as running shoes not aqua socks, house shoes, climbing shoes (although these are all things you can also do in your VFFs). Your biggest sticking point will probably be the toes, and the lack of foam under your heel.

I would highly recommend taking time to transition into to running in VFFs before you show up to organizational PT wearing them so that you can complete PT without having to slow down because your not used to running barefoot yet.

USF-I Uniform Policy

For those of you currently serving in Iraq USF-I has specific uniform policy that applies to all armed forces in Iraq. Thankfully the policy says nothing about running shoes at all.


I've never served in Afghanistan so anyone who can point out or send me a copy of their uniform policy, I'll add it to this list. Update: This changed a while ago but I never updated this post to reflect it. ALARACT 239/2011 changed AR 670-1 to state that only shoes with a single toe pocket are allowed for wear in IPFUs. This is a decision based on the look of the shoe not the fact that they are minimalist shoes. If you are looking for alternatives there are thankfully a host of them out there. Altra Zero Drop Footwear, New Balance Minimus, Merrill Trail Glove, et all. To be honest, just about every major shoe company is now on board and has or is working on deploying a minimalist shoe.

23 October 2009

Letter to Senator Snowe regarding health reform

Dear Senator Snowe,

My name is Andrew Nortrup and I am one of your constituents. First let me say that I am incredibly pleased to have you as my Senator. I have heard your name in the news quite often in the recent weeks and I find that you continue to demonstrate the levelheaded moderation down to earth common sense that is the hallmark of our State. Please continue to do this and you will have my steadfast support when it comes time for you to run for re-election again.

I would like to spend a few minutes to discuss the health care debate. I know that you have worked intimately with it as a member of the finance committee. I also know that you have reserved final judgment on the bill to see what comes out of the joint Senate. I would like to make you aware of the things that I consider most pressing in health care reform for our country.

I agree with the President that the health care system in this country is in great need of reform. However, I disagree with the method of fixing the problem. The current proposals appear to be intent on extending insurance coverage to all Americans. It is a noble effort but I think that to fix it is to fix a symptom and not the cause of problem. The real culprit to our nations health care problems are the skyrocketing costs of health insurance, health care and medication are alarming.

I think that finding responsible methods of cost control should be our first objective. The single simplest manner to do this is through creating a uniform pricing standard for all payers in the health insurance system. The state of Maryland has had such a system in place for many years with great success, and I think that we should look to that as a model for the rest of the country.

A system where the country or each individual state sets a uniform cost for procedures and medications in their state would have many benefits. It would provide transparency to customers, allowing them to make like comparisons to their health insurance options. It allows doctors and hospitals to worry about providing medicine rather then fighting with the insurance company about the price of their procedures. Lastly it would allow insurance companies to reduce the overhead that the currently spend negotiating for prices, and instead reduce the prices they charge their customers.
In contrast the current system where each insurance company and each health care provider negotiate individually on a case-by-case basis is wasteful and unjust. The amount of overhead that is spent by all actors in this system is wasteful, as each insurer must negotiate with every hospital every year for the price of every procedure. It also requires doctors, hospitals, and insurers to have large and complex billing departments to manage the collection of fees on different schedules for each insures or hospital that they work with.

Not only is the current system wasteful, it fails to provide beneficial or cost effective health care outcomes for the people it is intended to serve. There is no way that a system where two people receiving the same procedure in the same hospital from the same doctor pay two different prices is just. Worse yet the system skews high costs the uninsured and persons serviced by small health insurers who lack the bargaining power of the large health insurers in the region. (Redefining Health Care (2006), Michael E. Porter and Elizabeth Olmsted Teisberg p. 66). It creates a system that is anti-competitive by nature. The larger the insurers receive better prices causing the health care provider to raise the prices on small insurers to meet the bottom line.

Creating a national or state-by-state system where all health insurers and patients pay the same rate for all health care in their state is the best way to ensure that there is real competition in the marketplace. It will force insurers and providers to compete on the quality of their service and ability to provide economical pricing options to their clients.

Unfortunately I fear that that public option that was highly debated in the finance committee and is a part of the other four health reform bills currently being debated on the floors of congress will not actually create more competition and may restrict competition further. Because of the negotiated costs system that is currently in place in the health care industry, adding a new insurer with a set of fixed costs would drive insurers out of their small markets as the hospital's need to shift their costs somewhere to account for the lost revenue from a national plan with fixed rates.

Lastly, in the longer term we must also find ways to decouple health insurance from employers. This will enable the American worker in a way that they have not been enabled since WWII. They will be able to move freely from job to job without fear of not being hired because of their health. Secondly we must reform the payment system away from the fee-for-service model to a model that is based on treating illnesses as a whole. Such a system will encourage doctors and patients to get the treatments that are needed to cure them and not to get the tests that generate the most income.

In conclusion, please continue your steadfast work on behalf of the state of Maine, in order to ensure that the State and the country are on a healthy footing in our health care system. Do this by working to have a universal pricing system adopted as part of the health care reform process. I also look forward to the work that must be done in order to decouple health insurance from employment and to change the way that we charge for health to be based on your illness not on the procedures performed.

11 December 2008

Pirrrrates...no really, not as cool as we all thought

So the piracy problem off the coast of Somalia hit the news big several weeks ago (before Thanksgiving). I've been meaning to write this but haven't had time. I've read some crazy theories about what to do (cue Kristol who would have us invade a third country (Somalia) with the intent of eliminating bad people (Islamist Rebels and Pirates).

I'm no scholar of Naval strategy, but it seems to me that the Convoy strategy has worked before in defeating Pirates. The British did used it effectively in the Colonial South Pacific, the Americans did it during World War I and World War II against the Germans and the Japanese (WWII only).

With the U.S., British, Russian, Ukranian and Canadian Navies all patrolling those waters looking for Pirates it would seem convenient to simply escort the ships through the endangered waters. We can coordinate through the UN to handle scheduling. No one invades anyone. I'm sure that shipping insurance would even pay to underwrite some of the service in order to support money to help fund development in Somalia so that Piracy isn't your only economic choice.

Additionally we can do some trust building with the Russians, something we could use a whole lot of after the great Georgian debacle.

Just a thought.

02 November 2008

The Election Bubble

I know we are all tired of the election. However I ask you to consider, can the American economy to survive the end of the stimulus provided by this most expensive of campaigns ever. The damage to the advertising, t-shirt, and button industries could be crippling.

I say perpetual campaign for the economies sake.

Then again, I don't have a TV and don't have to live through the commercials.

12 October 2008

John McCain's Capital Gains Taxe give away.

John McCain in a second attempt to look like he is doing something proactive to help the economy has proposed to lower the capital gains taxes. He claims that his is a move targeted to help the middle class. Stating in an interview a McCain adviser stated:

“The market’s the focus,” a McCain adviser said. “You want to stop the fleeing.”

Now it seems to me that if you want to keep peoples money in the market removing capital gains taxes is a bad idea. Currently captial gains taxes provide a disinsentive to selling your stock assets. If you remove the disinsentive people now take less of a hit when the sell their stockes and transfer the money to something like precious metals, oil, a saving account or the shoe box under their matress.

Furthermore reducing capital gains taxes, for the most part, is not going to help the middle class. A reductiong in captial gains tax gives a disproportionate benefit to the wealthy. Persons in the top 3% of tax payers account 83% of the capital gains income. The Tax Policy Center says it best.

Fewer than one in seven individual income taxpayers reported taxable
capital gains in 2006. Over half of taxpayers with gains had incomes below
$75,000, but most capital gains were reported by very high income taxpayers. The
3 percent of returns with AGI over $200,000 reported 31 percent of AGI and 83
percent of capital gains; the 0.3 percent with AGI over $1,000,000 reported 15
percent of AGI and 61 percent of capital gains. Many more Americans accrue
capital gains on corporate shares they hold within tax-deferred
employer-sponsored retirement plans, but they do not pay capital gains tax on
these gains.

Bottom line this policy might help some middle class people. But once agin, John McCain's tax policy disproportionately benefits the rich. Bellow is a graph, again from the Tax Policy Center (h/t: Obsidian Wings) comparing the estimated effect of the Tax Plans proposed by both canidates:

The entire episode goes on to prove once again somthing John McCain admited he does not understand the economy very well. Watch and see:

(side note I still miss Tim)

11 October 2008

John McCain changes (again)

I must say that this video makes me breathe a sigh of relief.

It reminds me of the John McCain I remember from 2000 and the Gang of 14. A man of honor. If I had seen this John McCain througout the campaign I would have had a much harder decision this November.

I also think it is the first step in Senator McCain understanding that things do not look good in November and his best hope for a legacy that is not one of dirty personal attacks is to return to the Senate and do good bi-partisan work with a President Obama.

Even if he wins, good relations with Senator Obama are going to be crucial. He is the de-facto leader of the Democratic party. If he were to return to the Senate he will be the hands down favorite for the nomination in 2012 and a mandate spend the intervening years demonstrating good judgement and a bi-partisan ethic.

More than anything I'm glad that cooler heads may be prevailing before all of the bridges are burnt.