The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Gee, I wonder...

David Brooks writes in the NY Times that:

Every time you delve into the situation in Iraq, you come away with the phrase 'not enough troops' ringing in your head, and I hope someday we will find out how this travesty came about.

Wow! He really doesn't know? He really has no clue as to why America doesn't have anywhere near enough soldiers to do the job in Iraq? That Donald Rumsfeld decided long before the Iraq War that it would be fought on the cheap, with minimal troops? Rumsfeld is now trying to dodge the blame for his underestimation of what was needed, but he was following a pretty clear philosophy:

Rumsfeld moved quickly following September 11 to reframe the Quadrennial Defense Review as part of the new war on terrorism, pushing hard for a new generation of "modular" combat units heavy enough to sustain combat over time, yet light enough to be packed into transport aircraft for quick movement. Although the Army had already begun work on this piece of the transformation under its chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, Rumsfeld increased the implementation pressure dramatically.
Throughout the period, Rumsfeld continued to push for increased outsourcing, especially in basic administrative services such as information technology, security, and maintenance. "Why is the Defense Department one of the last organizations that still cuts its own checks?" he asked in 2001 in a harbinger of contracting-out to come. "When an entire industry exists just to run warehouses efficiently, why do we still own and operate so many of our own? At bases around the world, why do we pick up our own garbage and mop our own floors rather than contracting those services out, as many businesses do?"

Problems with this business-like, efficiency-based philosophy surfaced quickly. Cooking meals for troops in the field was outsourced to private contractors:

A few days ago I talked to a soldier just back from Iraq. He'd been in a relatively calm area; his main complaint was about food. Four months after the fall of Baghdad, his unit was still eating the dreaded M.R.E.'s: meals ready to eat. When Italian troops moved into the area, their food was "way more realistic" — and American troops were soon trading whatever they could for some of that Italian food.

The essential problem of course, is that civilian contractors cannot reasonably be expected to serve under enemy fire. Outsourcing meal preparation to private contractors meant that front-line troops couldn't get hot meals. Privatization caused still further problems:

There's also another element in the Iraq logistical snafu:privatizedn. The U.S. military has shifted many tasks traditionally performed by soldiers into the hands of such private contractors as Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary. The Iraq war and its aftermath gave this privatized system its first major test in combat — and the system failed.

According to the Newhouse News Service, "U.S. troops in Iraq suffered through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because some civilian contractors hired by the Army for logistics support failed to show up." Not surprisingly, civilian contractors — and their insurance companies — get spooked by war zones. The Financial Times reports that the dismal performance of contractors in Iraq has raised strong concerns about what would happen in a war against a serious opponent, like North Korea.

Privatization miserably failed its field test. The US armed forces don't keep all of their functions under a unified command because they're the victims of old-fashioned thinking, they do it because private contractors are very limited in what they can do when it comes to operating under dangerous conditions. When someone signs up to be a member of the armed forces, danger is part of the contract, death and injury are real possibilities. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen get trained to handle those possibilities and to get the mission completed anyway.

Rumsfeld also felt that fast, light forces could do the job. Well, they could have, if the job had been limited simply to demolishing Saddam Hussein's army and if fighting a guerrilla war had not been necessary. As it was, even something as early as guarding the al Qa-qaa ammo dump was beyond the capacity of Rumsfeld's "fast, light" forces.

As the Chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charlie Duelfer pointed out, the US didn't have enough troops to both seize Baghdad and secure weapons sites.

The commander of the first unit into the area told CBS he did not search it for explosives or secure it from looters. "We were still in a fight," he said. "our focus was killing bad guys." He added he would have needed four times more troops to search and secure all the ammo dumps he came across.

In other words, the Bush Administration got America into a fight it wasn't prepared to win. Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz failed to see to it that the US armed forces were up to the strength necessary to complete the task assigned to them.

Rumsfeld's two ideas, "fast, light" forces and privatization failed when applied to real-world conditions. Rumsfeld is very tired of hearing about Eric Shinseki, but the fact remains, Shinseki was right and Rumsfeld was wrong. The US needed several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq once the main-force fighting was over. Of course, a draft would have been necessary to have built up a force of the size needed and Bush has never called for any real sacrifice to fight his little vanity war, meaning it was doomed from the start.

Unfortunately for David Brooks, there's no mystery as to why US forces in Iraq are understrength. It's the result of Donald Rumsfeld's ideas concerning efficiency and privatization.

FURTHER THOUGHTS: In a Quick & Dirty Guide To War (At least I think it was in this book, I know I have the author right), James F Dunnigan points out that there were two methods of replacing casualties in World War II, the American way and the German way. The Americans borrowed from their method of re-supplying grocery stores and automobile dealerships. The officer in charge of the unit would count up how many "units" (men) were lost to combat and order up the appropriate number of replacements "Send me 17 riflemen, 5 tank-crew members and an artillery officer."

The Germans, drawing upon centuries of land warfare, kept units in the field until they were worn-out and needed a break, sent them to the rear, new personnel would then report, unit-wide training would commence and the veterans trained the newbies until that unit became a solid, cohesive group. Until it had become a unit where everybody knew everybody else and they had all gained confidence in each other. When the German unit reported back to the front, casualtes among the newbies were proportionately not much greater than they were among veterans.

By contrast, when American newbies reported to the front, casualties among them were proportionately much, much higher than they were among veterans. American newbies reported without knowing anybody, without having had any experience working alongside the veterans, without having gained any confidence in their new partners. No two ways about it, the German way was far superior.

Using Rumsfeld's corporate-influenced theories of warfare, the American Army tries to send cooks into the field that aren't even soldiers, that don't have any training at all. Not surprisingly, it's like tossing people into a furnace. They're almost certain to get burned up.


Credibility and groups

Really good piece in DailyKos about a media person who says in an interview that a copy desk is a critically-necessary resource for a reporter and how she would have been lost without a editor to oversee her work and provide advice and guidance. I agree with Armando (The writer on this piece) that yes, an editor is indeed a valuable resource for a lot of people, and probably a necessity for just about everybody who's starting out, but an editor is no guarantee that a story will be done right. In fact, Armando cites whole institutions who just took the uncorroborated word of just one side's lawyer in a case and who never even bother to look up the original interview that the allegation is based on. Sloppiness is hardly something that only individuals are guilty of and that automatically disappears in groups.

Of course, it could also be that these groups have agendas like "Gee, we've been awfully tough on this guy lately, let's give him a break and 'interpret' this story in a way that makes him look good." The effect is the same. Stories get altered and told incorrectly because of hidden agendas or sheer sloppiness, in both cases shortchanging the American citizen of an honest telling of the story.

The New York Times just finished up the case of Judith Miller, a reporter who posted numerous stories to the front page about Saddam Hussein's [snark] evil, awful, scary Weapons of Mass Destruction that constituted an obvious and growing threat to the good ol' US of A [/end snark]. The Times clearly had many agendas behind their giving free reign to "Miss Run-Amok" (Her term, amazingly enough), and regaining credibility with the Republicans who were jumping up and down and banging their fists on the table in support of a war with Iraq seems to have been a pretty major motivation. We don't know this, of course, as no one has gone on record to confirm that and they probably will not for several decades.

Of course, lest anybody get the impression that I'm romanticizing individuals as always being better than organizations, there are the real amateur who just have no clue.

What a sad, sad joke

Gotta say, I really agree with Melanie of Bump in the Beltway, Bush doesn't look like a calm, cool Commander-in-Chief here. He looks like he's desparately trying to hang on before the tide sweeps him away. Definitely a man facing heavy weather.

My problem is, of course, that I just can't take the guy seriously when he talks of “we” and “us” and how “we” must stay the course. Problem is, George's grandfather was rich, his father was rich (still is) and he was always rich. He's never been down in the trenches, he's never been within 100 miles of any real personal danger, he's never had to make any kind of sacrifice for the common good. The guy is simply not believable, with or without his “let's play dress up and pretend” military-style outfits. Maybe a lot of the country is used to seeng him on TV as a tough, macho cowboy sort-of fellow and perhaps I don't buy it just because I don't watch much TV, but I've always seen Bush as a cigars and gold watches and three-piece-suit kinda guy.

Talk of “Not on my watch” rings even more hollow when 9-11 happened on his watch, New Orleans just about ceased to exist on his watch, Iraq dissolved into chaos on his watch and never recovered. Afghanistan was not cleaned up before Georgie-boy opened up a new front and still is not squared-away. Sorry, but far, far too much has happened on “his watch” for me to take him the slightest bit seriously when he uses Reagan's old phrase.

George is running around lecturing China? On anything? We've got Cheney running around trying to get the CIA exempted from laws on torture and Bush is lecturing the Chinese on human rights?!?!? Gimme a frickin' break! What a joke!

UPDATE: From LeftCoaster:
In a sign of China's widening diplomatic leverage, President Bush on Sunday ended his first visit to Beijing in more than three years with no clear commitments on issues ranging from China's trade surplus and currency valuation to intellectual property rights and democratization.


Excellent point!

It's already been pointed out that it was grossly inappropriate for Bush to appear on the deck of an aircraft carrier wearing a military uniform and that he was displaying an obvious political cowardice by choosing to appear only before audiences that would be sure to clap and cheer him. Nevertheless, this is a very good point:

I've obviously missed something. When did it become appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief to go onto a military installation before a military crowd and denounce the opposition party? I cannot remember a time in my 21-year career when anything remotely like this happened. Is it just me or are we embarked on something very dark and dangerous for our democracy?


Remember all that talk about how Americans don't torture?

In the words of Emily Litella "Never mind". National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley corrected the record:

In an important clarification of President George W. Bush's earlier statement, a top White House official refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect Americans from terrorist attack.
Republican Senator Kit Bond, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Newsweek magazine that "enhanced interrogation techniques" had worked with at least one captured high-level Al-Qaeda operative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, to thwart an unspecified plot.

Emphasis by

And I have to agree 100% with Senator McCain:

The senator said he disagreed with that approach because he was worried about the damage to the image of the United States. "I hold no brief for the terrorists," he said. "But it's not about them. It's about us. This battle we're in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be."

It's not as though anyone believed Bush in the first place when he said "We don't torture" (I noticed a few verbal loopholes right off the bat), but now Hadley has made it clear. The US doesn't torture, except of course, when it does.


This sure means something

Not really sure WHAT it means, but it sure is a meaningful passage:

A good one from the Assrocket. But not his best:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

That, I submit, remains Assrocket's masterpiece.

Yeah, hmm, let's see...a leader of a democracy where the people can't stand him. Hmm, what should we call that? My vote is for "Failed Presidency.

Incoherent gibberish

I read Glenn Reynolds' original piece on this, but The Talent Show reproduces the important passages, so why bother linking to the original and getting cooties from it? This section especially drew my notice:

Patriotic people could -- and did -- oppose the [Iraq] war. But so did a lot of scoundrels. And some who supported the war were not patriotic, if they did it out of opportunism or political calculation rather than honest belief. Those who are now trying to recast their prior positions through dishonest rewriting of history are not patriotic now, nor were they when they supported the war, if they did so then out of opportunism --which today's revisionist history suggests.

Now, what exactly does this mean? Honorable and dishonorable people both opposed the war. Uh, what exactly is the point of that statement? What does that statement prove, exactly? What exact meaning follows from that statement?
In any event, Reynolds had begun by claiming that opponents of the war were, by definition, unpatriotic. Before the quoted passage he said:

Reader Kathleen Boerger emails: "Could you do me a favor and define 'patriotism' please?"

I think it starts with not uttering falsehoods that damage the country in time of war, simply because your donor base wants to hear them

Of course, Reynolds at no point in his post gives an indication as to what exactly the anti-war folks lied about. The lies of the Bush Administration are legion, so gross and so numerous that it's hard to think of an appropriate metaphor.
I agree with Reynolds' following point:

...people who have spent the past year saying that Bush took us to war to enrich Halliburton somehow now think it's beyond the bounds of civilized discussion to question people's motives on the war.

But one might notice in reading lefty commentary that not very many of us make any real attempt to guess at Bush's motivations. I once gave an interviews to a reporter in my capacity as "Prospective protester waiting to board bus that will take him to site of protest" and I indeed guessed upon the whys and wherefores as to the war, but I remember making it very clear that I was just guessing as to the reasons for the war, and that as I had no real clue as to why, I was just taking a shot at it. Again, as we have so very many times before under this president, we're dealing with a straw man of an argument. At best, this rebuttal deals with a minority of anti-war critics.


Moral authority and torture

Bump in the Beltway reprints an article from the LA Times that discusses the torture camps in Eastern Europe. Among it's very persuasive arguments is the following:

The argument that the U.S. should not heed the Geneva Convention because its enemies do not sets the stage for a race to the barbaric bottom.

Also, the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database demonstrates that there has been a steep rise in terrorist incidents over all of the years that Bush has been our president, i.e. the statistics demonstrate that torture has done little or nothing to head off terrorist incidents or to prevent them from happening. What clearly does happen when torture is used is that America's moral authority disappears down the drain.

In Argentina, Hugo Chavez has been severely criticizing the US. In response:

Bush argued for the American model, instead of the neo-socialist approach being taken and advocated by the wildly popular Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

That latter approach, the president said, "seeks to roll back the democratic progress of the past two decades by playing to fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and blaming others for their own failures to provide for their people."

Now at the moment, it would be hard to find any failures in Venezuela, where Chavez has been using his country’s windfall revenues from oil to fund schools, to help displaced and unemployed workers take over shuttered factories and run them as co-ops, and to bring in doctors from Cuba to bring health care to the country’s poor.

Instead of being able to forthrightly respond that the US has a better government than Chavez does, Bush first used this "straw man" approach of describing his opponent in a way that nobody else in the world recognizes but that his right-wing base back home applauds. Finally however, Bush felt obliged to reply to the reports of torture camps in Eastern Europe:

`We do not torture,'' he declared.

``There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again,'' Bush said. ``So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law.''
``Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people,'' Bush said. ``Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.''

Of course, it's clear by "law" that Bush is not referring to the Geneva Conventions. Those were the laws that our current Attorney General referred to as "quaint" and "obsolete". What law is Bush referring to? The law perhaps that Vice-President Cheney is trying to get the Senate to adopt, the law that makes it okay for CIA agents to torture, but not regular soldiers?

Sorry, but the US record on torture leaves the US with absolutely ZERO moral authority to argue that Chavez is anything other than a marvelous and upright and respectable leader.

UPDATE: BuzzFlash comes up with the most sensible reason yet for the Bush Administration to engage in torture.


Cindy Sheehan's question

The famous question Cindy Sheehan asked of President Bush that Bush never saw fit to answer was “What was the 'noble cause' that my son died for?” Her son was Army Specialist Casey Sheehan and he perished in the Iraq War while fighting in Baghdad in April 2004.

Was her expectation of getting an answer a reasonable one?

Is it appropriate for citizens to expect their Commander-in-Chief to explain to them what the reasons for the war are?

Let's take a look at history. In 218 BC, Hannibal of Carthage invaded Italy in order to break Rome's grip on the Mediterranean. His exploits were chronicled by the Roman writer Livy two centuries later. Cannae & Lake Trasimene were his two most famous victories. His main opponent on the Roman side was Scipio. How did Scipio evaluate his foe? In the Penguin version, this is on p 65. /

My men, let me tell you of the sort of warfare you must expect: it will be against an enemy you defeated in the last war both on land and at sea; an enemy from whom you have exacted tribute for twenty years; an enemy from whom you took Sicily and Sardinia as prizes of war. You, therefore, will enter upon it with the high hearts of victory, they are in the despondency of beaten men. Nay more, their readiness to fight at all is due not to courage but necessity – unless you imagine that an enemy who declined combat when his army was still intact, has better hopes of success now that he has lost two thirds of his troops during the passage of the Alps. Perhaps you will answer that though they are few they are nevertheless brave and strong – that they are irresistible fighters. Nonsense! They are the ghosts and shadows of men; already half dead with hunger, cold, dirt and neglect; all their strength has been beaten out of them by the Alpine crags.

And so on and so forth. The war, by the way lasted 16 years, until 202 BC. Did Scipio actually utter these words? Back in college, my Professor of English History told us “Probably not. Ancient historians weren't that worried about what exact words leaders spoke, they were more concerned with what those leaders should have said.” Scipio's words are interesting to us here as they make very clear why the Romans are fighting. After twenty years of receiving tribute from Carthage, Rome must now defend itself from the Carthaginians, who have crossed the Alps into Northern Italy in order to do damage to Rome and its possessions.

How about Hannibal's reasons for war?

Circumstances compel you [My soldiers] to fight; but those same circumstances offer you in the event of victory nobler rewards than a man might pray for, even from the immortal gods. The prize would be great enough, were we only to recover by the strength of our hands the islands of Sicily and Sardinia which our fathers lost; but all the heaped wealth of Rome, won in her long career of conquest, will be yours

He also disses the enemy: army of raw recruits, beaten this very summer to its knees and penned in by the Gauls – an army and its commander still strangers to one another.

And provides further reasons for the war:

They demand the right to dictate to us who our friends should be and who our enemies. They circumscribe our liberties, barring us in behind barriers of rivers or mountains beyond which we may not pass – but they do not themselves observe the limits they have set.

So the answer to the question here is yes. By traditions going back at least 2000 years, it is entirely appropriate for citizens to expect their Commander-in-Chief to explain the reasons for the war that they are currently engaged in. I noticed that conservatives did not attempt to explain what the war in Iraq was all about when Ms Sheehan first posed her question. It would have been inappropriate for them to do so. Explaining the purpose of the war was President Bush's job. I notice that support for the President and for the war have both sharply declined over the past few months. I would suggest that it is precisely Bush's failure to articulate what the war is all about and what it is that America hopes to achieve that is driving the popularity of the war ever downwards.

BTW: Billmon composes a thinkpiece on the Iraq War in which motivations and objectives are highly relevant.

Peggy's valentine to the blogs

Many thanks to Peggy Noonan for the wet, sloppy kiss!
Still, I'm thankful there is a mainstream media (MSM) and I really hope they get their act together and start reporting real news instead of just running Bush Administration press releases.


How to write a persuasive article

[I wrote this for the PhillyIMC Editorial Meeting and decided it might be of general interest. BTW, the first two links don't go anywhere.]

Let's use a journey metaphor. I tend to think in terms of horse-drawn carraiges, but you can use whatever vehicle strikes your fancy. The idea in writing a persuasive article is that you want to start your journey with a very specific destination in mind. In other words, you want your reader to arrive at a specific conclusion. You want him or her to think “This writer is correct! The answer to the question is...”. The recommended way to begin then, is to write down the one to three sentences with which you'll end the article. Once your conclusion is down on the screen, you can check each major assertion in the article against that conclusion “Does this assertion help lead my reader to the conclusion that I've typed out?” is the question you want to constantly ask yourself.

The Starting Point

Where do you begin? Well, where is your reader “located”? What is their state of knowledge? An example would be the current “Plamegate” scandal. Before you begin writing, you need to have some idea as to how knowledgable your reader is. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is currently prosecuting that case. On many of the liberal blogs, he's referrred to simply as “Fitzgerald” because he's been referred to so many times and the readers now generally know who he is. If you're writing for a more general audience, you might want to use the more expansive defnition that I gave the first time. Another way to refer to “Plamegate”, for instance, would be the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame/Niger uranium scandal that Vice-President Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis Libby had to resign for. You can always compromise by using the expansive definition first and then the nickname each time afterwards. Just be sure your reader can tell that the nickname clearly refers to the item in the full definition.

The Route Along the Way

Each fact must directly support the conclusion. If there is not a clear, straight line between one and the other, you probably shouldn't use the fact. Say you want your reader to conclude that marijuana is addictive (Some followers of Lyndon LaRouche actually believe this).

Telling your readers a story about how you attended a concert and it was soooo cool because you were like, soooo stoned is probably not helpful to your case as you don't want to give the reader the impression that you enjoyed being addicted. Saying on the other hand that: “I used to smoke that awful stuff, it was hard to quit.” would probably help your case a great deal.

A list of your paraphernalia would probably help because it would illustrate how deeply you were into it. A list of the really cool lovers you hooked up with while stoned would confuse the reader because you're trying to convince the reader that being stoned was bad for you.


There are three types of references. A short quote is done simply as “I went down to the store”. The link is usually then done right beforehand. Usually, writers link to a word that would ordinarily be “bolded” anyway. “Ordinarily, people would snap the fizzle '...with a cheerful and determined snap.' ”

For long quotes, these are usually done in paragraphs where your quote is long enough to justify a separate paragraph. The reference can be right before as in the last example or within the paragraph, again it's best to use a word or phrase that would be bolded in any event. When in doubt, use the first two or three words to do the link with.

For another article that's too long to quote from because the whole thing is just so darned good, you can provide a “Read Asia Times today” sort of statement and make the link go to the specific article that you found so good. Usually when I do this, I like to provide a “teaser” or an explanation as to why the piece is so good.


Usually, an assertion or accusation is more likely to be true if there are sources to back them up. Fortunately with the Internet, a link is all you need to establish that an assertion is a fact. Here's an example of someone who does not make use of sources:

John Hinderaker of Power Line explores the legal liability question:

"A violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act seems highly unlikely. It is doubtful whether Rove or any other administration source knew of Plame's affiliation with the CIA through access to classified materials; it is further questionable whether Rove or any other source knew that she was a 'covert' employee, or that the government was making an effort to keep her affiliation with the Agency a secret. (In fact, it is unclear whether the Agency did make such an effort.) As to the third situation covered by the statute, neither Rove nor any other administration source identified Plame as part of a 'pattern of activities intended to identify or expose covert agents' for the purpose of impairing national security.

"It is hard to see how Rove could be indicted for violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and it is very unlikely that he would have been foolish enough to testify falsely before the grand jury about his conversations with journalists. None of this will matter much, though, when it is publicly acknowledged that Rove was one of the sources of the Plame 'leak.' (This isn't, by the way, the sort of communication that is ordinarily referred to as a 'leak.') We can expect a media feeding frenzy or potentially unprecedented proportions."

As I've pointed out in some other posts, this is all mind-reading. This is the statement of someone who makes absolutely zero use of sources. He gives himself away with phrases like: "It is doubtful", "it is further questionable", "it is unclear", "It is hard to see", etc. What's absolutely crystal clear here is that Hindraker is, as the saying goes, talking out of his butt. He's guessing. It's clear that he has no evidence to back up anything he's stabbing in the dark at.

Now, one can get away with not using sources if one is a bit of an expert in the subject being discussed. I'm a Navy veteran who took part in numerous Damage-Control drills back when I was stationed on a ship. Lessons I learned from this could then be applied to the government's reaction to 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina and a few other minor incidents. My conclusion that during 9-11, the President should have gotten himself to a command post, either at a base, to Air Force One or onto a ship is based on my Damage-Control experience. I made it clear to my readers that I had the relevant experience and then told them what I thought.

The final way is to put two & two together for your readers. Simply stating the facts with perhaps a sentence summarizing how the facts fit together is usually the best way to do this. One might wish to use sources to back up the facts one cites, of course.

Introduction to the piece

After one finishes writing the piece, look through it for something that might grab the reader. Look for an interesting twist or not-well-known fact that you can use. Then put that up front. If that doesn't seem to be a profitable approach, remember the Army rule of writing “Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em.” You “told them what you told them” by writing the conclusion before writing anything else. You “told them” by filling in all of the details and proof to back up the details. So for the introduction, you can “tell them what you're going to tell them.”

And that's it. You've now composed a persuasive piece!