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.

30 August 2008

John McCain = Politics First

Alaska has no income tax.
Alaska has no sales tax.
Citizens of Alaska get paid yearlly from test state oil revenues.
Alaska recieves the most pork per capita of any state in the union.

Gov. Palin supported the bridge to nowhere before the Federal Government pulled fuding for the project.

That's the judgement we need in the White House.

26 August 2008

Introducing iSeeIt


Research done in 2006 has confirmed the long-standing theory that there are 6.6 degrees of separation between you and any other person in the world. This means that there are only 6.6 steps between you and someone who has a communication disorder. iSeeIt is the innovative new way of expression for individuals struggling with Autism, loss of memory due to Alzheimer's, speech problems due to physical issues, or difficulties in the organizing of tasks or memory functions.

iSeeIt is a new idea in software – an image-based program for use on a Microsoft based PDA. iSeeIt is the simple and effective way to organize thoughts and enable communication through the user’s own personal images captured by digital camera and voice added through an easy record sequence. iSeeIt users include individuals of all ages and ability levels who struggle with sequencing and communication problems that inhibit their ability to reach out to the world around them. iSeeIt provides a custom tailored, team oriented approach that is completely unique to each specific user, enabling communication where none had been possible before.

One example of aniSeeIt success is a teenager with autism who had never been able to express her thoughts. Communication had always been merely repeating words that were spoken to her. iSeeIt elicited an amazing change – when viewing images of restaurants, this teenager spoke out “Chili’s, Call Daddy”. Her teachers were stunned – this was the first spontaneous phrase this teenager had ever said. How long had she known what to say, but had been unable to express it?

We invite you to visit our website (www.iSeeItSolutions.com) where you will be able to view an explanation and demonstration of this radically new approach to communication. Further, we would be grateful if you could help us spread the word by sending our website link to everyone within your email contact list or telling your friends.

Our family has developed and tested iSeeIt over the past six years to empower individuals, families and friends to overcome challenges and add their voices to the world. You may not know anyone with a communication disorder – but someone within your 6.6 degrees of separation could benefit greatly from this new idea.

Thank you,
The Nortrup family
Creators of iSeeIt

13 July 2008

In defense of John McCain "getting online"

There has been some confused comment on the statements by John McCain that he is just now learning to get online. The NYT reports:

He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.

“They go on for me,” he said. “I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”
Hilzoy comments:

That was the snarky part. Here's a non-snarky question: what is hard about "getting online"? I assume he's not talking about having trouble setting up his cable modem, or something. I also assume he's talking about he web, and not about, say, having his computer update its clock automatically. What, exactly, do you have to do to get online? Well, you have to know which application is the one you click to surf the web, I guess. And it would help to have someone set up a few favorite sites for you, so that you could jump off from them, or at least read them when you felt like it. But, having done this myself for a few people who came of age long before PCs were invented, it's really not that hard. Did none of his kids, or his friends, or the people who work for him, offer? Does he perhaps not own a computer?

I understand the confusion on how an everyday person can get by in life without using a computer. But we'll be honest, Presidents and presidential candidates, and really leaders of any large organization are not everyday people. Not to say that they put their pants on differently but most of them are focused not on getting information (what most people do on the internet) but on processing information.

If you grew up with computers or had computers grow up with you it would be fairly easy to pick them up and use them yourself. However, if you were the powerful senior senator from the state of Arizona, with a busy schedule and an established routine, I can understand not making the time to learn how to ues them. He would already had a staff that used the internet to get him the information that he needs to continue doing his job of making decisions.

Now is it a problem that a possible President of the United States doesn't understand how the modern economy works? Yes.

Is understanding the effect of the blogsphere on traditional media and vice versa going to be an essential skill of politicians in the next 10 years? You can bet your presidential hopes on it.

Does it mean that he is missing serious opertunities in organizing and fundraising? Yes.

Those are all problems that concern me. The fact the Senator McCain doesn't carry a blackberry or read a blog, doesn't bother me.

03 July 2008

On decentralized political campaigns

Going through my blog feed stack today there was an interesting contrast on political campaign organization revolving around decentralization.

On the Republican side there is significant discussion about the shakeup in the McCain campaign who replaced their campaign manager Rick Davis with Steve Schmidt. Schmidt developed a decentralized strategy revolving around strong regional campaigns rather than a strong centralized campaign. To put it bluntly the strategy has failed. The McCain campaign lacks message consistency and focus, and has not been raising as much money as the Obama campaign (discounting the RNC funds). Additionally there are significant fractures in the campaign.

You can get the full background on Davis’s grand plans in Jason Zengerle’s wonderful “McCain-land” piece. The nickel version is that McCain-land has had at least two major factions – one loyal to Rick Davis, and one loyal to fellow long-time McCain devotee John Weaver (who was campaign manager before the shakeup in 2007). One point of contention is that Davis wanted to institute a decentralized campaign composed of various regional chairs. (In other words, the polar opposite of Bush-Cheney’s highly-unsuccessful and amateur 2004 operation, which was rigidly top-down. Yes, that’s sarcastic.) Long story short – Davis got the nod last year after Weaver departed and then proceeded to implement his decentralization plans.

The flip side of the coin is exposed by the Rolling Stone piece that highlights the internal workings of the core of the Obama campaign (h/t Hilzoy). The piece profiles the personalities of the top operatives you never hear about in the Obama campaign that make it run day in and day out. It is this core group that allows the campaign to run a vast, decentralized grass roots campaign. They are the source of information upon which the grass roots can feed and energize. Most notably however they are unified, tight liped and mostly anonymous. As Rolling Stone puts it:

It's also remarkably disciplined: Obama's top advisers outmaneuvered Hillary Clinton's organization with no leaks, no nasty infighting and virtually no public credit for their efforts. By all rights, Plouffe and the other chief architects of Obama's machine should be household names on par with James Carville and Karl Rove. And yet, with the exception of chief strategist David Axelrod, who has emerged as an affably low-key spokesman for the campaign, Obama's brain trust works in near anonymity from the campaign's headquarters on the 11th floor of a smoked-glass skyscraper two blocks south of the Chicago River.

That obscurity is by design. Members of Obama's inner circle are largely unknown to the public because the second rule of the campaign is: All credit accrues to Obama. The first rule? Don't talk about Team Obama. As senior adviser Valerie Jarrett puts it, "We aim for you to not know about the inner workings of the campaign because there's not much to know other than: It works."

These are the people who do 90% of the work to keep the campaign running but people perceive that the campaign is run by thousands of volunteers. This is not uncommon, Wikipedia and Digg have similar phenomenon highlighted by Slate's Chris Wilson.

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.

So why did Obama succeed at decentralizing his campaign and creating the first 50 state general election strategy seen in recent history, while the McCain campaign is struggling to find a message that doesn't cause people to yawn?

Both campaigns tried to do the same thing, create grassroots movement in order capture the individual energy of your supporters without having to spend money on it. Being told how wonderful a canidate is by the people you know and love is far more convincing then all of the campaign advertising in the world as demonstrated by the Obama campaign's attempts to defeat the viral smear campaign about him that was profiled by the Washington Post on Monday.

I think the biggest reason that the Obama campaign was able to do this and Republicans have been largely troubled by it is that that Obama started with a message built a group to shape the message then decentralized. The Republicans decentralized then tried to develop different messages to meet the needs of each region. When they did so they failed to provide the kindling that lights the fire of a movement.

Additionally the Obama message is broad enough to tap into many different desires in people and also provides them latitude to create their own sub messages. "Hope" is a huge message, it is an ideological decedent of Regan's "Morning in America" but still accommodates this:

In contrast it is much harder to get people to excited about messages like these.

  • Lower corperate taxes
  • Lets stay in Iraq forever
  • The terrorists want to kill us all
  • I've pissed off just about every Democrat and Republican in the past eight years and this is a sign of my bi-partisanship
Which are in fact not messages they are policy proposals. Policy proposals are important and in a ideal world you would win political campaigns on the merits of your policy. But it is not an ideal world people are more likely to vote for you as much because they trust you to do the right thing in the situation that you can't plan for.

The average person does not have the time to dig in to the statistics and economics that go into determining the optimal marginal tax rate. Wonk is defined in Wikitonary as "An overly studious or hard-working person; A persnickety person, overly focuses on details; A nerd or an expert" most people make fun of that guy, they are not him.

Obama still has policy proposals on health care and tax policy. He also has a wonkish legislative history including creating a search enabled database for earmarks and government contracts, securing loose nukes in former Soviet Republics, tape recording interrogations in capital crimes (Illinois), but you don't see him leading with these proposals. Instead you hook on the message "Change". Once you have people convinced that you both want to change, talking about how to change is much easier.

In conclusion decentralization is not something that happens easily or you can do on the cheap. It requires three things:
  1. A broad message to shape the movement and inspire people to volunteer to support it
  2. A dedicated group of people to shape and direct the movement at the macro level
  3. The willingness to let people go and do their own thing
The Obama campaign seems to have done all three and it has paid off. The McCain campaign tried the third alone, and it didn't happen. Now in July before a November election they must try to recreate their organization. Sometimes life sucks.

01 July 2008

Parsing GEN Clark

General Wesley Clark stepped on a land mine Sunday when he got on TV and questioned if McCain's experience in Vietnam really quallified him to be President. The statement quickly devolved from a reasonable question about what constitutes the requisate experience to be Commander and Chief to a process story about someone questioning McCain's patriotism and military record.

For the record I have the greatest respect for Senator McCain's long and valiant service to this country. There is no question in my mind of his valor and dedication to his country. There were ample chances for him to forgoe pain and suffering to come home from Vietnam. The fact that he did not is a testament to his patriotism.

However I think that GEN Clark has a point. To the best of my knowledge McCain was not a leader (in the formal command sense) while acting as a fighter pilot. While in prison he would have had some degree of leadership because of his rank, but it certainly was not command.

More than anything his military service while in the prison camp was a study in perseverance. The question that matters is, does that experience support his claims of supperior knowledge and leadership in war time. It is a question that each individual will have to answer for themself before the election. I'm personally not sold on it, and my problems with his policy positions doesn't help.

I think the second thing to remember on this set of remarks is that there is a process story. GEN Clark's name has been floated more than once as a good choice for V.P. He had one of the stronger runs for the Democratic nomination in 2004, even managed to win a few states before John Kerry locked up the nomination. Clark was also a Clinton supporter. To put the icing on the cake he was the Commander of NATO during the invation of Bosnia.

If he was trying to audition for the job this is certainly one way to do it. He has sufficent military command experience to question John McCain's executive experieince, and it shows him as the effective attack surrogate that the VP must now be after eight years of Mr. Cheney.

At the end of the day it the entire incident is was a good question fouled up by a mixed set of process interactions.

26 June 2008

Contested Word Cloud

My friend Joe put up a blurb on a site called wordle that creates word clouds from text. Word clouds are a collection of the common words in a set of words, with size and intensity derived from their frequency in the set.

I thought it would be cool to see what the contents of this blog look like so I played with some code (see below) and came up with this:

To do this I used C#, the Google Data API for Blogger and the following code to rip out the contents of the blog, strip the HTML tags (very necessary). I output the contents to a form field and then copied it into wordle.

FeedQuery fq = new FeedQuery();
fq.Uri = new Uri("http://www.blogger.com/feeds/[blog id here]/posts/default");
Service service = new Service();
AtomFeed f = service.Query(fq);

string output="";

foreach (AtomEntry blogEntry in f.Entries)
output += blogEntry.Content.Content;
string strResult = Regex.Replace(output, @"<(.|\n)*?>", string.Empty);

A fun little project over all.

21 June 2008

The boss on service

I'm catching up on my reading on this fine Satruday afternoon. There was a post that has a YouTube clip of Bruce Springsteen's tribute to Tim Russert at his funeral. Before he started playing he said something that I think touches on one of the reasons I love my job.
"He belived in the joyful duty of the honesty of service"
Two points for the Boss, coming through on an artists dream of capturing something profound.

09 June 2008

Moving forward on fair trade in a free trade world.

I had a discussion with a friend a couple weeks ago about globalization and how the world and the United States moves forward to a state where labor is equally valued around the world in order to create more fair trade.

I've thought about it quite a bit and I think that the recent catastrophic earthquake in China is a good example of how the system moves forward. To be clear I think that the disaster and all of its immediate results are terrible. However, I think that in the long term there may be beneficial side effects for China and for the world in general.

One of the tragedies that received the most press coverage during the disaster was the collapse of several schools. The schools were aparently not designed or constructed strong enough to resist the earth quake. As a result many young lives were lost and there was much public anger. The Chinese government has attempted to control and quiet this anger as much as possible. However in the long run they are going to have to be sure that the same problem does not occur again.

In order to do this they must train and employ more skilled and honest architects, contractors, building inspectors, seismologists and number of other professions. Because we do live in a global market place, especially in the skilled labor market, the Chinese government will have to increase what they pay these craftsman.

Ultimately this will increase the level of skill and level of pay across the Chinese market place because if you don't want you children to attend an unstable school would you want to work in an unstable factory? I think not.

In the long run the change will be good for China, who will have more skilled craftsman and professionals. It will also benefit the United States and the World because the cost of doing business will begin to level out between China and the United States, creating a more fair labor market place.

In that arena countries must compete on the merits of their skills and comparative advantages. Innovation again becomes an important element to being the best producer. I'll put my money on the United States just about any day in that competition.

15 May 2008

Lebanon a case study in the Iranian method

The recent events in Lebanon are a perfect example of the Iranian method of revolution. They follow a pretty consistent set of steps.

  1. Select or create one or many proxy organization whom they share a common enemy or ideology.
  2. Train and resource the proxy.
  3. Have the proxy start a fight, large enough to be significant, but short of an all out revolution.
  4. Continue the fight until there is a moderate breakdown of order.
  5. Appear magnanimous by ending the conflict in the name of saving the country or people. As part of the settlement demand a larger share of the power.
  6. Once the fight is over fill the void in civil services left by the breakdown of order with their own services. This includes setting up hospitals, schools, housing assistance, collecting taxes, utilities.
  7. Use these services as a platform for building popular support for military activities or democratic support.
  8. Repeat steps 1 though 6 as often as needed to gain regional control and influence.
This is the same play book they followed in Lebanon when they picked a fight with Israel, and what they are doing right now, it also worked to gain control of Gaza.

The problem is not just limited to Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. They have been backing all of the prominent Iraqi political parties for years. Members of the current Iraqi government continue to draw a pension from Iran from their time serving as proxies against Saddam, while they complain about Iranian funding for al'Sadr.

You have to give them credit. It is a very effective strategy so long as they don't get themselves into to large of a fight. Even large fights are easy to disengage with when everyone just puts down their gun and takes off a ski mask.

22 April 2008

weiging in at 0 foreign policy inteligence....Hillary Clinton

From the campaign trail we get the following gem:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned Tehran on Tuesday that if she were president, the United States could "totally obliterate" Iran in retaliation for a nuclear strike against Israel.

On the day of a crucial vote in her nomination battle against fellow Democrat Barack Obama, the New York senator said she wanted to make clear to Tehran what she was prepared to do as president in hopes that this warning would deter any Iranian nuclear attack against the Jewish state.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran (if it attacks Israel)," Clinton said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them," she said.

"That's a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic," Clinton said.

I've previoustly posted about the foolishness of attacking Iran, here. And why I don't think that it would be reasonable or necessary, here. So this one hits me like a brick in the face from the person who claimed she has the experience and knowlege to handle the "3 AM Phone call" (I'll not link to this because I don't want to promte the original and the array of satire is to large).

Regardless, certain presidential canidates don't appear to be reading my humble postings, so I'll instead burden all of you with a couple of quick facts that might show, once again, why the military is not likely the solution to the Iranian problem.

Population65,397,52127,499,63837,897,883 more people in Iran
Square KM1,648,000437,072Iran is 1,210,928 Square KM larger

There are more statistics but I think my point is fairly evident. If you think Iraq has been bad, imagine Iran with twice the people and about three times the land area.

Additionally we can feel fairly confident in the statements of former chairman of the joint chiefs Colin Powell when he says that we cannot sustain troop levels in Iraq.

The last argument to make is that Mrs. Clinton is not proposing to invade Iran, only to bomb it or use nuclear weapons. I'll leave the nuclear threat alone. I think there are a myrad or reasons not to. On the conventional side, bombing of Serbia was less than effective (Chapter 16 of "The Use of Force" by Art, Robert J and Waltz, Kenneth N.). Plus the Iranians have learned from Iraq's experience with building nuclear weapons. They have spread their facilities out and placed them deep underground. In all likelyhood the United States would stand a limited chance of dislodging the Iraq.

So in summary:
bombing Iran = unlikely to work
invading Iran = even less likely to work
5 years of threatening iran = no results yet
evidence that "obliterating Iran" won't work = pretty conclusive

12 April 2008

Iran again?

I felt a great disturbence in the force when I read this article at Balkanization today. I really hope I'm not the only person who is disturbed by the fact that all of a sudden we are again hinting about invading Iran. I was worried this would happen when it was announced that Adm. Fallon was leaving CENTCOM. Even then I told myself, "Surely the NIEA report will stay their hand." Nope, "Special Groups" have emmerged from obscurity to be the primary problem in Iraq.

It leaves me with one question that I would like you to ask yourself, your Senetors, your House Representatives, friends, neighbors, colleages, random strangers on the street and childern.

If special groups are a problem in Iraq. What sort of problem would they be if they were fully employed in Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Lebenon?

I've posted previously that Iran has on numerous occasions responded to international pressure to change their actions. This is because the leaders of the Iranian state are generally interested in remaining in power. They understand that as part of the international system there are things that they are lines they cannot cross and expect to stay in power.

However, if we invade or intervean in Iran I think it is exreamly likely the controlers of the special groups will want to show the West exactly how much trouble they can cause if they show less restraint.

Since the end of the Iran/Iraq war in 1989 Iran has chosen to fight most of its battles by proxy. Hezbolah, the Mhedi Army, Syria's control of Lebenon and countless others are the mechanism that the Iranians use to advance their ideology around the world. They have been developing the network for almost two decades. If the United States or any state removes their motivations for caution we are going to find out how exactly how far the network reaches and what resources they have at their disposal.

Likely scenarios:
  • Unrestrainted rocket and suicide attacks on Israel.
  • An end to al-Sadr's ceasefire.
  • Moderate leaders of the lebanease government being killed wholesale.
So ask yourself in an optamistic manner, if its bad now, how much worse could it get?

06 April 2008

On Iraqi indipendence

I'm very disturbed by this set of comments by Gen. Machael Hayden, the director of the CIA, on Meet the Press last Sunday.

MR. RUSSERT: This is an article, Friday's paper: "[Iraqi] Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ... decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that, `we can't quite decipher' what is going on. It's a question, he said, of `who's got the best conspiracy' theory about why Maliki decided to act now." The United States was not informed by the Iraqis that we--he was going to do this?

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I don't know what on--what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation. I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister and personally by the prime minister, and that he's relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you aware of it?

GEN. HAYDEN: I was--in terms of being prebriefed or, or having, you know, the, the normal planning process in which you build up to this days or weeks ahead of time, no. No, I was not.

MR. RUSSERT: You didn't know it was going to happen?

GEN. HAYDEN: No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did.

I've written previously on the need to support the Iraqi governments efforts to become the sovereign in their country by gaining a monopoly on violence in their country. I still support that and I think that so long as we have military assets there we should employ them to that end.

However I think we need to draw a clear that the sudden and unannounced efforts like what has occurred in Basra for the past two weeks are not acceptable. It is unacceptable because it was a fight that the Iraqi government should have known that they could not win without the assistance of American forces, including close air support and ground troops. Iraqi troops are yet to go into a fight that they haven't needed American support to function effectively.

We need to make it clear to the Iraqis that we are there to help but they cannot begin operations that are going to put American lives at risk without consulting us first. To do so is an abuse of our friendship and good will.

I'm not sure if the operation as a whole will have net benefit or a loss yet. There are several troubling signs such as a possible improved position for Iran as the peacemaker and the desertion of over 1000 Iraqi soldiers and police during the conflict. On the flip side The Weekly Standard points out several encouraging signs.

Regardless of all of this, American support is not a blank check. If Iraq wants our help they need to keep us in the loop.

One last important note. Everything I write here are my own opinions gathered from what I read in publicly available news articles. In no way are the opinions expressed official government positions.

16 March 2008

Improving the primary system

I think that if this years presidential election has shown us one thing it is that the primary system could use some improvements. As it stands currently the system favors early states, this is the first time I think in anyone's memory that the fight has gotten all the way to Pennsylvania and will likely reach Guam and Puerto Rico. While I'm not an election guru I have been thinking of ways that the system could be better. Here are couple of my ideas.

  1. Rotation: The order of the state elections needs to change with every cycle. It needs to change fast engough that it doesn't take the last person in line 100 years to reach the front.
  2. Regularity: There should be regular intervals between contests. This will ensure that candidates spend about the same amount of time engaging the voters in each state. I would think that 2 weeks is a good interval. It allows the candidate to spend some good time stumping but does not force them to skew their general message to the extremes of local issues as I think we saw in Ohio, Texas, and Iowa.
  3. Grouping: States should be grouped together into contests in some logical manner. I think there are several viable options. The grouping method would allow the parties and the states to allow for thematic sections of the campaign.
    • The sum of the populations of the states in each contest should be roughly equivalent throughout the campaign. This has the downside of pairing states like Maine or New Hampshire with states like NY. In this case Maine may be early in the rotation but won't get a lot of attention.
    • Group states regionally. (Has the added advantage of reducing the cost of campaigns by eliminating cross country trips)
    • Group by demographics such as average age, incomes, number of urban/rural residents, issue based (effect of globalization, mortgage foreclosures, growth rates, etc.). I think that race is the only demographic that should be explicitly forbidden from consideration for obvious reasons. That said I'm sure that when you look at things like average income it is going to be instances where that does settle on racial lines but the world is imperfect and I think if that can be brought up as a legitimate campaign issue there is value in it.
  4. Non-political organization: The order should be drawn up by a group of people who are outside of the normal ebb and flow of politics. I think that once candidates start thinking about running for president the first thing that they would seek to do is to gain influence with the committee who will selects the order of elections. Perhaps choosing the selectors well in advance would help.
I'm sure there are better ways to deal with the situation but I think if these ideas were implemented we would get a much better organized system. Additionally we would have a system that was dynamic from cycle to cycle as candidates are forced to adjust to new themes. Mind you any system in a contest like this can be gamed but that is politics. I think that anything is better than the chaos we have seen this year and the seven weeks of fixation on Pennsylvania that is just starting to occur.

22 February 2008

"The Riches"

I just started watching the first season of the FX show "The Riches" and I have to say that I like it very much. The basic premise is a family of American gypsies (who get by as con-men) are forced out of their community and through a series of events end up taking over the lives of a couple who die in a car accident on their way to their new home.

They pick up a theme of "stealing the American Dream" and while that may seem corny the way it develops (at least in the three episodes that I've watched) is one member of the family buying into the American Dream at a time out of spite from people saying they can't have things. And when you think about it, that is what the American dream is built on. People fighting for the things they are told they can't have.

Also it stars Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver, Shannon Marie Woodward, Noel Fisher, and Aidan Mitchel three good child actors. Izzard brings his usual talent to the screen (although dressed as a man in this production).

Izzard is at his best when he is the con man with no hook on his audience, making up random things as he goes and slowly sucking people into it. Check it out.

18 February 2008

Supporting Kosovo

The United States and European Union need to support the newly independent republic of Kosovo. The situation is politically tricky but there are good practical reasons for doing so.

The essential question is not can Kosovo become independent? Instead the question must be, what other options are there. The conflict and war crimes that occurred in Kosovo killed any sense of kinship Kosovar Albanians had with Serbia. Additionally eight years of forced separation by the 15,000 international troops that make up NATO's Kosovo Force make reintegration to Serbia unlikely.

In order for Kosovo to return to Serbian control the Serbian governement would have to reenter the region and assert sovereignty. Sovereignty is the monopolization of legitimate force within a geographical region. I can see no conditions where the Serbian assertion of force to legitimize political control is going to be well or peacefully accepted. Allowing it to happen would be inviting further violence in a region that has a history of ethnic and religious tension dating back centuries.

When you consider these facts I feel that it is clear that independence in Kosovo is in the best interests of both parties. However the resistance to Kosovar independence is not just about Kosovo. The countries in Europe withholding their support of independence are Russia, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and obviously Serbia.

Russia, Cyprus, Romania and Spain are hesitant or outright refusing to recognize independence in Kosovo because they have ongoing problems with nationalist secessionist movements in their own country (Chechnya, Cypriot Turks, Hungarian and Basque respectively). Greece is tightly bound into the problems in Cyprus.

Bulgaria is withholding support because they just signed a deal with Russia to build an oil pipeline and do not wish to anger a country with a history of turning off the flow of energy to Russia.

Slovakia is in the awkward position of being a main supply route for NATO equipment into Kosovo. Additionally Slovakia has national elections scheduled for 21 April in which their support of NATO is already an issue that threatens to unseat the current government.

With all of these facts considered there are several steps that can be taken to ensure that the situation comes to a positive outcome for all parties. Primarily western governments need to provide justification based on human rights and the unique historical conditions. Secondly they need to continue to ensure the security situation which includes protection for Serbia as well as protection of Serbians living in Kosovo.

The primary justification for the recognition of Kosovo needs to be the promotion of human rights and the prevention of the human rights abuses that are bound to occur on both sides of the conflict if Serbia reasserts their sovereignty in Kosovo. This is something well within the capacity of the NATO force already in place.

Additionally the EU and U.S. should work with the UN, Serbia and Kosovo to provides money and assistance with the voluntary resettlement of people to either side of the border. This is a show of good faith and would be a trust building exercise for both countries. Additionally it is a gesture that extends the principles of self determination and personal freedom to the lowest levels.

Most importantly the U.S. and EU must emphasize that support of Kosovo is not a precedent for other nationalist separatist movements around the world. This needs to be stated vocally and likely included in any Security Council resolution in order to gain the support of Russia.

Kosovo is a special case for several reasons. First there are unique historical conditions of conflict and separation in the past eight years. Second Kosovo has formed an orderly, civil government that has seats reserved in their assembly for ethnic Serbians and another block of seats for other ethnic minorities. Third they have trained a police force under international supervision to keep the peace while ensuring that they remain professional in respecting minority rights. Additionally the two years of talks that have ended in frustration should be shown as clear signs that a reunified state is unlikely.

To my knowledge no other separatist group can claim this set of conditions. With that considered hopefully support can be gained by enough key players that the situation is peacefully and prosperously resolved.

06 February 2008

Very tennative projected delegate counts:

I'm putting this up real fast based on results from RealClearPolitics.com. Only two states on the list that I see as changing would be California, Utah, New Mexico, possibly Arizona. There was no data for West Virginia and Montana. Still even if these numbers hold close to this its going to be a good day in the Obama camp. 185 delegates is a big gain.

State Delegates Clinton Obama Reporting Clinton Delegate Estimate Obama Delegate Estimate
California 370 55% 33% 17% 203 122
New York 232 57% 40% 99% 132 92
Illinois 153 34% 64% 91% 52 97
Georgia 103 34% 64% 94% 35 65
New Jersey 107 54% 44% 98% 57 47
Missouri 72 48% 49% 98% 34 35
Tennessee 68 54% 41% 98% 36 27
Massachusetts 93 56% 41% 94% 52 38
Arizona 56 51% 41% 66% 28 22
Alabama 52 42% 56% 97% 21 29
Connecticut 48 47% 51% 95% 22 24
Oklahoma 38 55% 31% 100% 20 11
Minnesota 72 32% 67% 74% 23 48
Arkansas 35 73% 24% 75% 25 8
Delaware 15 43% 53% 100% 6 7
Utah 23 42% 51% 29% 9 11
North Dakota 21 37% 61% 100% 7 12
Colorado 71 32% 66% 98% 22 46
Kansas 21 27% 73% 96% 5 15
Idaho 12 17% 81% 87% 2 9
New Mexico 26 42% 38% 1% 10 9
Alaska 18 27% 73% 60% 4 13

602 787

05 February 2008

Synopsis and Analysis of the essay "Loyalty and Enmity: an Inherited Doctrine and a Lost Reality" by Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Part 1 - Introduction

This document is intended to be a summary and analysis of the essay "Loyalty and Enmity: an Inherited Doctrine and a Lost Reality" by Ayman Al-Zawahiri as translated by Raymond Ibrahim in The Al-Qaeda Reader. The first portion of the essay is an introduction.

The introduction begins by explaining that all of Islamic history can be viewed as a conflict between those who believe in Islam and those seeking the destruction of Islam. The American "War on Terror" is simply the latest version of the attacks on Islam. The remainder of the introduction explains why it is important to maintain, reinforce and understand the understanding of the doctrine of "Loyalty and Enmity". In short the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity is the belief that a true Muslim will maintain friendship with all other Muslims while at the same time maintaining hatred to all nonbelievers.

Al-Zawahiri states that the strategy of the United States is to:

"...patch up the tattered fabric that represents the reigning regimes in our lands- in all their corruption and power to corrupt, and their submission to the international, tyrannical powers of the Crusaders and the Jews. The campaign means to wipe out the dividing line between truth and falsehood, till even friend and foe are intermingled."

This statement is not so much an attack against the United States as it is against pluralism religions and ideological pluralism. Pluralism was first written into the European historical framework at the end of the Thirty Years War in the Peace of Westphalia. The war fought over who had the capacity to determine what religion a state and its people would follow and who could declare who and apostate. There were also other political considerations that caused the war.

The Peace of Westphalia extends the previous Treaty of Augsburg and states that the ruler of a state has the capacity to establish what the religion of his state would be so long as they allow for believers of other creeds to worship as they wish. At the time they were referring only to the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist faiths but the idea has been expanded greatly in the growth of liberalism and finds most powerful expression in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Once again the right to determine apostasy is in question. Al-Zawahiri comes out clearly for the belief that the legalistic nature of the Koran and the Sharia allow for the clerical establishment to determine correct belief and practice of the Muslim faith, which is the only acceptable faith.

The author continues by
listing several examples to demonstrate how the injection of pluralism is occurring in the present. Examples given in this writing include:

  • The Saudi subservience to America while still claiming to be the guardians of the faith through their control of Mecca and Medina.
  • The creation of secular rules and constitutions in Islamic lands.
  • Normalization of relations with Israel
  • Competitions to memorize the Koran in schools that forbid females to wear the veil. I believe that this is a reference Turkey
  • The Northern Alliance fighting against the mujahidin in Afghanistan then "sanctify themselves with the clothes of the martyred mujahidin and the soil about their graves!!"
  • "And we have seen the most sever scourgers and tormentors of Muslims performing the greater and lesser pilgrimages." It is unclear to me who this is referring too.

In addition to these contemporary references there are also four historical references that are used in order to demonstrate that attacks of this manner are not new events in the history of Islam. Two of the references refer to the time in the early growth and height of the Muslim empire after the death of Muhammad. The last two references come directly from the Koran.

The first historical reference the author makes is to draw comparison between the current regimes in the Islamic world and the Murji'ites of old. The Murji'ites were a sect of Islam in the early days of Islam. The translator leaves a note briefly explaining their history.

The Murji'ites, or "Postponers," were an early Muslim sect, subsequently deemed heretical, who believed that all judgment should be postponed and that believers were answerable only to Allah and thus need not hold to the principles or be subjected to the penalties of the sharia. Moreover, faith alone was enough to safeguard against the fires of hell even if believers lead sinful lives.

The second historical reference that the Author makes is to the Tatars. The author quotes Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya who wrote:

"The people have even seen them [Tatars] praise an area and then seize all possessions therein. They have then seen them heap praise upon a man and seek his blessings - only to snatch the clothes off his back, violate his women, and then subject him to a form of torments the likes of which are only exercised by the most unjust and depraved of peoples. The interpreter of religion punishes only those whom he considers disobedient to the faith. And yet they [Tatars] glory in the religion of the one they punish, saying that he is more obedient [to Allah] then they: so what justification is left to them?"

More information on Taymiyya is available here. The quote is made in reference to the Northern Alliance displacement of the Taliban in Afghanistan and as far as I can tell the quote is meant to lend credence to the opinion that if one Muslim attacks another then the attacker must not be a Muslim at all. It is important to note that Taymiyya held a particular dislike for the Tatars because his family had been driven from their homeland by the Tatars. This makes the situation of Taymiyya very similar to al-Zawahiri's experience with the Northern Alliance.

Al-Zawahiri then concludes with two stories from the Koran itself. He sites 9:46-47 and 33:12-13. I am not by any means a Koranic scholar but this is what I can gather from reading the passages and what surrounds them. Please correct me if I have erred I truly seek enlightenment on this.

Sura 9 is titled "The Immunity" and consists of 3 discourses. The cited verses come from the second discourse in which "...the Believers were urged to take active part in Jihad, and the shirkers were severely rebuked for holding back their wealth and for hesitation to sacrifice their lives in the way of Allah because of their hypocrisy, weak faith or negligence." (Cite)

Here is the extended quotation from the Sura that appears to be relevant:

"9.38": O you who believe! What (excuse) have you that when it is said to you: Go forth in Allah's way, you should incline heavily to earth; are you contented with this world's life instead of the hereafter? But the provision of this world's life compared with the hereafter is but little.

"9.39": If you do not go forth, He will chastise you with a painful chastisement and bring in your place a people other than you, and you will do Him no harm; and Allah has power over all things.

"9.40": If you will not aid him, Allah certainly aided him when those who disbelieved expelled him, he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion: Grieve not, surely Allah is with us. So Allah sent down His tranquility upon him and strengthened him with hosts which you did not see, and made lowest the word of those who disbelieved; and the word of Allah, that is the highest; and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

"9.41": Go forth light and heavy, and strive hard in Allah's way with your property and your persons; this is better for you, if you know.

"9.42": Had it been a near advantage and a short journey, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by Allah: If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you; they cause their own souls to perish, and Allah knows that they are most surely

"9.43": Allah pardons you! Why did you give them leave until those who spoke the truth had become manifest to you and you had known the liars?

"9.44": They do not ask leave of you who believe in Allah and the latter day (to stay away) from striving hard with their property and their persons, and Allah knows those who guard (against evil).

"9.45": They only ask leave of you who do not believe in Allah and the latter day and their hearts are in doubt, so in their doubt do they waver.

"9.46": And if they had intended to go forth, they would certainly have provided equipment for it, but Allah did not like their going forth, so He withheld them, and it was said (to them): Hold back with those who hold back.

"9.47": Had they gone forth with you, they would not have added to you aught save corruption, and they would certainly have hurried about among you seeking (to sow) dissension among you, and among you there are those who hearken for their sake; and Allah knows the unjust.

"9.48": Certainly they sought (to sow) dissension before, and they meditated plots against you until the truth came, and Allah's commandment prevailed although they were averse (from it).

"9.49": And among them there is he who says: Allow me and do not try me. Surely into trial have they already tumbled down, and most surely hell encompasses the unbelievers.

"9.50": If good befalls you, it grieves them, and if hardship afflicts you, they say: Indeed we had taken care of our affair before; and they turn back and are glad.

"9.51": Say: Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us; He is our Patron; and on Allah let the believers rely.

The narrow quote by the author leaves out what seem to be important sections on the fact that Allah will pass judgment on them when they die. Later in the sura it is directed no longer to accept the alms from these people, placing them outside of society. However there does not appear to be a directive to kill them. However if you apply the logic of "Loyalty and Enmity" circularly then anyone outside of the Islamic community would be the infidels (unless they become dihimi and pay the poor tax, which is not to be accepted). Being unable to be Muslim or dihimi then the only state that remains is infidel. And infidels are killed, stolen from and harassed at every available opportunity.

The second sura quoted is number 33 "The Clans" verses 12 and 13.

[33.12] And when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts was a disease began to say: Allah and His Apostle did not promise us (victory) but only to deceive.
[33.13] And when a party of them said: O people of Yasrib! there IS no place to stand for you (here), therefore go back; and a party of them asked permission of the prophet, saying. Surely our houses are exposed; and they were not exposed; they only desired to fly away.

This citation is intended to make it clear that the behavior "hypocrites and those in whose hearts was a disease" will make excuses and will be weak in the face of the sacrifices that are needed to secure victory.

The section of sura 33 that this quote is drawn from is referring to the Battle of the Trench in 627 C.E. Reza Aslan in his book "No god but God" states that the Jewish Qurayza clan was the only remaining clan inside the protective trench around Medina. During the siege they sided and supported the attacking army. After the battle was over Muhammad had Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, who was the leader of a mostly neutral group pass judgment on what should be done with the Qurayza. His decision was "'I pass judgment on them,' Sa'd declared, 'that their fighters shall be killed and their children [and wives] made captives and that their property shall be divided.'" (p. 92) This is not stated in Al-Zawhiri's text but would likely be a well known historical fact to educated Muslims.

After this the introduction closes by stating that there will be rest of the paper will be in three sections.
"Part One: The basis of Loyalty and Enmity in Islam
Part Two: Various deviations from the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity
Conclusion: Main points we wish to emphasize."

These sections will be summarized individually in posts to follow.

25 January 2008

If Edwards wants to be a grown up he should....

The answer is....treat us like adults and don't think that we don't remember that he was the attack dog not less than a month ago. I don't appreciate the fact that he is no parading as the one adult in the campaign not throwing mud. I point to the following items:

Via ABC News after Clinton cried in New Hampshire:

"I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business," Edwards told reporters Laconia, New Hampshire.
Or after a debate in Ohio where Clinton had a bad day he sponsored this video.

Or his stated intent to attack before that debate. Here

I didn't eve have to search hard for these.

18 January 2008

Another Bifurcated Terrorist

The account of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah's recruitment and time as a al-Qaeda member (CBC) very cleanly re-demonstrates a point made very well by Paul Berman in Terror and Liberalism. The point is that the most dangerous men in al-Qaeda are well educated, intelligent people who are pulled into terrorist organizations while attempting to reconcile a split personality.

They are split between their Western and Islamic identities. The al-Qaeda ideology gives them a pure ideal to belong to. They can convert their discomfort and disconnection in a hectic and harrowing modern world into hate for the people who make them uncomfortable.

Men like this are the most dangerous men in the entire al-Qaeda operation because they are smart enough to be good tools and planners, yet young and confused enough to be manipulated. While it is true that many attacks are perpetrated by the hopeless men and women from dire economic circumstances people like that are a dime a dozen.

Planning is another affair entirely. You need to recruit and brainwash the victim, have someone make the bomb, find them the materials, pick the target, conduct surveillance of it, then make the pieces move at the right time. It's not easy. And those are the small events, the amount of planning that goes into attacks like 9-11, the Madrid train bombings and the U.S. Embassy bombings is probably staggering. These are not stupid people. The true masterminds probably border on levels of brilliance.

The come from diverse backgrounds that allow them to be very familiar with the world in which we live in. Here is just a short list of the big fish who have made the news:

  • Osama bin Laden was born into an extremely wealthy family with extensive ties to the west in Saudi Arabia, he studied engineering at an elite secular university.
  • Kahlid Sheikh Mohamed, the mastermind of the 9-11 attack, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. (Global Security)
  • Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second in command of Al-Qaeda, is a physician.
  • Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of Islamist thought went to western schools in Egypt then studied at Colorado State University. He spent time as a high level member of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior.
  • Richard Reid the shoe bomber comes from a London suburb which the BBC describes as "...hardly a natural breeding ground for dissidents - the borough's schools are among the UK's best, and street crime is half that in smarter areas such as Kensington and Chelsea." (BBC)
  • Mohamed Atta, the lead 9-11 hijacker, attended a variety universities in Germany where he began his path to radicalization.
Dealing with men like this will not be easily accomplished unless we are willing to get into a serious discussion with the Islamic world about the meaning of plurality in modern society and in Christianity and Islam.

I will close with an quotation from an article titled The World of Epictetus by Admiral James Stockdale originally written for The Atlantic Magazine. In this section of the article he is discussing three types of psychological profiles of prisoners in captivity.

"One of the things North talked about was brainwashing. A psychologist who studied the Korean prisoner situation, which somewhat paralleled ours, concluded that three categories of prisoners were involved there. The first was the redneck Marine sergeant from Tennessee who had an eighth grade education. He would get in that interrogation room and they would say that the Spanish-American War was started by the bomb within the Maine, which might be true, and he would answer, “B.S.” They would show him something about racial unrest in Detroit. “B.S.” There was no way they could get to him; his mind was made up. He was a straight guy, red, white,
and blue, and everything else was B.S.! He didn’t give it a second thought. Not much of a historian, perhaps, but a good security risk.

In the next category were the sophisticates. They were the fellows who could be told these same things about the horrors of American history and our social problems, but had heard it all before, knew both sides of every story, and thought we were on the right track. They weren’t ashamed that we had robber barons at a certain time in our history; they were aware of the skeletons in most civilizations’ closets. They could not be emotionally involved and so they were good security risks.

The ones who were in trouble were the high school graduates who had enough sense to pick up the innuendo, and yet not enough education to accommodate it properly. Not many of them fell, but most of the men that got entangled started from that background. The psychologist’s point is possibly oversimplistic, but I think his message has some validity. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

The people we need to worry about most are in the third group. They can come down on either side of the argument, and are powerful because they have capacity for great works of both good and evil.

Why I hope Giuliani's late start approach works

I was thinking about the election today and I came to the realization that I really hope that Giuliani's plan to start late into the primary season focusing on traditionally more blue states in the Republican race works well but still fails miserably.

I want the strategy to do well enough to encourage other candidates to try it in later presidential elections. I would find it ideal if people got back to the feeling that it was OK to run for the nomination in all states rather than trying to build momentum on Iowa and Vermont. Two very nice but electorally unimportant and non representative states.

If people ran on the whole country I think we would get a more balanced campaign and candidates would have to focus on projecting their issues to the whole country rather than focusing on a few states while the rest of us sit in the cheap seats and watch the theater.

On the other hand I hope his strategy fails because I don't feel that Giuliani is qualified to be president. I wouldn't honestly follow him to the bathroom. I think he has no idea what "limited executive power" is, and I don't think that closer inspection of his real dealings Americans aren't going to find anything they like (Bernie Kerik).

And not to make light of tragedy of 9-11, but that situation will make anyone in executive power look good. The President is the prime example of this, his approval rates have had nothing but a downward trend since the immediate aftermath of that event, which probably means he was never a great president but people give you leeway when they think your saving their world.

04 January 2008

MAJ Andrew Olmsted RIP

This post froze the blood in my veins. It is the last public testament of a blogger who was also a Major in the U.S. Army.

He died yesterday while serving his country in Iraq.

I've been reading and enjoying his work for some time. He spoke eloquently about what was going on in Iraq from his point of view on the ground. His opinion was always frank and honest.

Please take time to read his entire post, but these are the parts that I felt the most as a fellow service member:
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.


Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

I hope I never write a letter like this, but if I do I wish to be half this eloquent.

RIP MAJ Andrew Olmsted.