Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Geek's Guide to Infantry Companies 
In the spirit of demystifying military jargon for the nonmilitary audience, I've elected to make it mystifying for the nontechnical audience by publishing the following Geek's guide to the infantry company.

Company Commander—The CPU. Receives instructions from the user (Battalion HQ.) Processes instructions and assigns tasks to subcomponents. Usually operates in multitasking mode. Must be kept cool, due to his tendency to overheat.

Company Executive Officer—The Math Coprocessor of the unit. Receives his instructions from the company commander. Focuses on company logistics and maintenance efforts and allows the CPU to focus on training and operations. Tracks maintenance status of vehicles and equipment. Forecasts supply needs and does much of the company number crunching. Generally operates parallel to the CPU. Often multitasks. Takes over CPU functions when CPU is removed from system by user. Advises the junior officer platoon leaders and keeps them from getting into too much trouble with the CPU and causing him to overheat.

First Sergeant—The system clock. Keeps the company humming on time and allows the CPU and Math Coprocessor time to process. Tracks status and location of company personnel. Mentors all enlisted personnel in the battalion. Protects the CPU from overheating, or from generating so much heat that the CPU damages its subcomponents.

Radiotelephone operaters (RTOs)—Function as the input/output ports for all units to which they are assigned. Receive and transmit information from the user to the CPU and from the CPU back to the user interface devices operated by the user. The I/O Ports also operate as system fans, protecting the CPU from overheating.

Battalion Headquarters—The user. Issues instructions to CPU either by direct uplink (also called “see me in my office”) or via the I/O ports (RTOs). Frequently drives the system to the point of collapse, then exchanges the CPU for a fresh one either immediately before burnout (good) or immediately after CPU burnout (bad).

Chain of command—The System Bus. The means by which information is exchanged throughout the system. Information packets flowing from the CPU to the various system subcomponents are called “orders,” or “crap.” Information packets flowing from the system subcomponents toward the CPU are called SITREPS, or “gripes.” Frequently referred to as “bitching.”

Commo Chief—The Network Interface Card, or NIC. Takes charge of all equipment run by I/O ports. Frequently confused with an I/O port, which he is not. When confused with I/O ports, the NIC will generate “bitching” packets and send them to the math coprocessor and the system clock. The math coprocessor and system clock will process the bitching packets carefully before discarding them. The packets will not reach the CPU, as this would cause the CPU to overheat.

CQ—A lower enlisted soldier or junior NCO. Functions as unit RAM, or Random Access Memory. Frequently operates as an I/O port, and then randomly distributes messages received during his shift. Messages not distributed at the end of his shift are permanently lost to the system

10: The number types of soldiers in the unit: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Coin of the Realm 
The First Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, Florida Army National Guard--The Hurricane Battalion--furled its regimental colors today. The first time we’ve done that since the end of WWII, when the 124th Infantry Regiment served in the New Guinea and Philippine campaigns.

Brigadier General Swannack, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, appeared before a battalion mass formation, and gave a few remarks to some very cold troopers, and then handed things over to Colonel “Buck” Connors, the commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division—our higher headquarters unit since they arrived here in Ar Ramadi in September of this year.

Colonel Connor also gave a few short remarks, and pinned some purple hearts and bronze stars on some selected soldiers, but he also did something extra.

The First Brigade, First Infantry Division (“The Big, Red One,” for you Mark Hamill and Lee Marvin fans) had commemorative coins minted, and awarded one to each and every soldier in the Hurricane Battalion.

Now, in the Army, commemorative coins aren’t like Elvis plates on late night TV commercials. Traditionally, a General officer or a sergeant major at Division level or above will spend hundreds of dollars, out of his own pocket, and have some coins minted with his unit logo and some other heraldry on it. And if he comes across an exceptional soldier doing a great job, he’ll award him a coin on the spot.

These coins mean a lot to the Joes.

Further, units themselves will mint a coin for special occasions, or elite groups within the Army will create a coin. And for the rest of your life, if you’re in a bar, and another old soldier “challenges” you by putting his coin on the bar in front of you, and you don’t have your coin, then the next round is on you.

(It’s on him if you have your coin after all).

Certificates are easy, and you’ll either lose it, or you’ll hang it on the wall or put it in a scrapbook someplace, and forget about it.

The Brigade coin is something these guys will carry for the rest of their lives.

I thought it was a classy gesture from a very classy unit.

Here’s to ya, Red Devils. Thanks.

And good luck.

Splash, out


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Don't Be Alarmed... 
... if posting gets a bit spotty, soon. My life as an HHC executive officer during a major movement will soon become a living Hell.

But all in a good way, if it means I get to bring people home.

Keep checking in.

Splash, out


More on Armor 
Why is the White House Underfunding Armored Humvees?

A very en pointe piece by Slate.

Sure, there are limits to our ability to ramp up our vaunted military industrial complex. Remember, we were operating at very close to industrial capacity across the board during most of the 1990s, and even as recessions go, production as a percentage of capacity didn't fall all that much, compared to historical recessions.

Nevertheless, these uparmored hummers aren't exactly cutting-edge technology.

In answer to the question "how many soldiers are on patrol with light skinned humvees?"

The straight answer to the question in my light infantry battalion is this:

Almost all of them.

Active duty units, particularly mechanized units, deployed with more of them. And we were able to snag a few of them for most of this deployment. But my battalion has none of our own, except what we beg from other units.

And boy, we did a lot of begging!

Splash, out


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

For What It's Worth... 
...anyone who looks closely at my own service records would find two different gaps in service of a year or more.

In the first case, I remained a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, from about April to December of 1995, I think it was. I did not attend drills, however, because I was living and working in Tennessee and Kentucky during that time.

Well, actually, I attended two drills, but stopped, because I was out of state, wasn't getting paid for the drills, and would have had no insurance coverage if I got hurt. Apparently, Kentucky didn't want to get involved with "split training" arrangements from out of state guardsmen, because they weren't sure their insurance policies covered me.

In the second case, I technically remained a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard from May of 2000 to March of 2001. During which time, again, I did not attend drills, because I was living and working in Florida.



Splash, out


More From Switzerland... 
I fell sorry for any loss or injury (Coalition or Iraqi), but you have also to accept that the majority of the world sees any US casualty a step closer to get rid of Bush (polls showed him as major danger to world peace).


Glad to be of use.

Any other non-U.S. readers really feel this callous toward U.S. casualties?

Or is the common existence of such views really just a paranoid fantasy among U.S. conservatives?

Your stories?

Splash, out


(Correction: the letter writer is a Swiss national, not an American ex-pat.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

More Letters... 
The article on First Command generated quite a bit of email.

Here's one from a CPA:

you might want to mention the effect of a 50% commission and large 12b-1 fees on the ability to compound the original amount. At 7% it would take you ten years to get back to even.

With no commission
1-10 3,000 to 6000
11-20 12,000
21-30 24,000
31-40 48,000

with a 50% commission
1-10 1,500 to 3,000
11-20 6,000
21-30 12,000
31-40 24,000

simplistic but an untimate cost of $24,000 is a lot of money for bad advice.


I guess "First Command" is the new name for "USPA/IRA", which was the 50% hammer financial folks when I served from 89-93. I could not believe people signed up with them. I would see O5s walking around proudly with their USPA/IRA coffee mugs and it would immediately change my opinion of them ever so slightly, because I knew they were at least financially gullible. In the early 90s, I read one issue of Changing Times n/k/a Kiplingers, and made nice cash in biotech stocks (for a couple years).
I never understood the logic of people paying so much to one company.


Haven't heard from First Command yet. But you can read fundalarm.com's take on First Command here.

(scroll down a bit to the paragraph that begins "Here are some facts." Brutal. :) )

Splash, out


Letters, Lord, Do I Get Letters... 
One American reader now living in Switzerland responds to yesterday’s post by writing,

“I thought President Bush was responsible for you going to Iraq, and you didn’t have a choice in the matter…I had pegged you as too intelligent to volunteer for this mess.”

Yes, President Bush is responsible for sending my unit to Iraq. But in September of 2002 I rescinded a letter of resignation I had put in that summer, precisely because I knew we were going to be mobilized, and see service in Afghanistan or Iraq. The politics were clear by September 2002: President Bush had staked his presidency on the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, and I told my NCO leadership that at the time, in those very words.

I could have let my resignation go through, and bowed out gracefully. But infantry officers move to the sound of the guns, and my commissioning oath required me to pledge that I “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation, or purpose of evasion.”

The letter reflects a common cynical, or even nihilist assumption which I do not share: that intelligent people do not seek to serve in a volunteer military, or that if they do, they fail to seek challenging and dangerous assignments.

The underlying assumption is that intelligent military leaders must fail to lead.

Intelligence is not the same thing as self-preservation.

Rather, I would suggest that when confronted with a totalitarian regime that practices systematic torture, rape, genocide, and murder, and which actively supports terrorist organizations which make a practice of setting off bombs on school busses abroad—and when offered a chance to help contribute to its demise—a truly intelligent man would discern a certain moral obligation.

And that equation is entirely separate from the question of self interest.

So yes, in effect, I did volunteer for ‘this mess.’ And if I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing utterly.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Riverbend confronts us all with the staggering human costs of war.

I'll not cheapen it here with the obvious debate over how much responsibility Saddam himself bears for the deaths of those people in the shelter.

A thousand hours of argument would not resurrect the dead, nor comfort the mother of eight of the dead who haunts their tomb to this day.

I would suggest to Riverbend that if Iraqis didn't matter to me I wouldn't have bothered coming out here in the first place.

And I'd further ask this of Americans: why is it that this intelligent and perceptive young woman ever got the impression that their deaths--or the Law of Land Warfare, depending on how you read her--wouldn't matter to us?

Splash, out


Honoring the Fallen, Quietly 
Every so often, I come across an piece of military writing so deftly written, with such masterful and restrained prose, that I kick myself in the behind, since I don't know if I'd ever be able to write that well in a zillion years.

This article, a guest column from a U.S. Army warrant officer currently serving with the Old Guard in Washington D.C., is one such article.

Unfortunately, you'll have to pay $2.95 to read it.

It's worth it.

Splash out,

Update: An alert reader sent me a link to a free (read: plagiarized) version of the article someone posted on a bulletin board.

I'm still trying to sort out the ethics of linking to plagiarized content.

I try hard to stay within fair use guidelines and copyright law. I know I've gotten ticked when I've seen my own stuff on other people's sites without attribution or link.

But does linking to a site mean I'm a party to theft of intellectual property?

Not sure, but I won't post the link here yet, just the same. It's only $2.95, or you can get the hardcopy version of the February 2nd edition of US News and World Report

The author's name is Jonathan Evans.

You wanna read a plagiarized version, you're on your own.

Splash, out


Finance Tip: Fire your First Command Advisor 
That’s right: fire him. Send him packing.

Here’s why:

First Command, a financial advisory firm based in Fort Worth, Texas, has built its business around soliciting personal financial planning services to military families, on a commission basis to its advisors, or sales representatives.

So far, so good. But First Command’s retirement products come with an unusual fee structure. Most advisor-sold mutual funds come with a 5.75% sales charge on everything you put into the fund, much of which goes to compensate the sales rep, or broker, who sold the fund.

First Command, on the other hand, hits customers up for an outrageous front-end fee of up to 50% of the first year’s mutual fund contributions. The deal is that if you pay this fee up front, you can continue to invest in the same funds for 25 years with no further sales charges.

It’s called a ‘contractual plan,’ and the logic behind them is this: consumers who cough up a huge up-front fee are committed, and have more of an incentive to stick with their dollar-cost averaging investment plan.

It works in much the same way as a barbed tip on a spear creates an incentive to push the spear all the way through your body, rather than pull it out the way it came in.

Well, there’s a certain brutal behavioral logic to it, but there’s got to be a better way.

Consider: A military couple consults a First Command advisor, who sits down with them and works out a financial plan. The advisor recommends they each start Roth IRAs, and contribute the maximum allowable $3,000 each, or $6,000, in the first year, and all subsequent years they remain eligible.

The couple just paid $3,000 for a personalized financial plan they could have gotten from just about any fee-based certified financial planner for roughly a tenth of that cost.

And the CFP would probably get them into better funds and fund companies. Three of the five companies listed on the First Command website—AIM, Franklin Templeton, and Pioneer, have been implicated in the market-timing/late trading scandals currently being pursued by the Securities Exchange Commission and NY Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. Basically, these fund companies have been caught ripping off customers.

I contacted First Command and asked them about their fund selection, refund policies, or whether it receives any continuing stream of income from 12(b)1 fees. Company spokesperson Mark Leach declined to answer any specific questions about First Command’s investment products.

"Any balanced story on First Command will not focus on investment, insurance, [or]
banking product(s), but rather on the much greater problem faced by American
wage earners and families, military included,” writes Leach. “The problem is not that they have the second best product, but rather that they do not save and invest
regularly in any meaningful way.”

He’s right about that. The greatest threat to most people’s retirement security is behavioral, not structural.

That said, that’s no reason military members need to settle for a product so markedly inferior even to the mediocre industry norms.

Here’s what your First Command advisor won’t tell you:

1. Most of their fund companies are in trouble with regulators for unethical or illegal behavior.

2. There are plenty of excellent fund companies out there—Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, TIAA-CREF, who don’t charge investors a sales load at all.

3. You can dollar-cost average for free just by setting up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account and forgetting about it.

4. Index funds can provide near instant diversification at a fraction of the cost of most of our funds. And most of the time, they provide better returns.

So what’s a novice military investor to do?

Consider an appointment with a fee-based advisor who can offer independent, unbiased, personalized recommendations. Check out the fund companies listed above. USAA is another good company with a lot of experience serving military families. If you’re a novice, stick with index funds for now, until you can get an advisor’s help.

And sock away as much as you can in the Federal Thrift Savings Program. It’s a great deal, and there’s no sales charge at all.

But above all—and First Command and I are in absolute agreement on this much—get started investing now, and invest regularly, in a meaningful and disciplined way.

Splash, out


Sunday, February 15, 2004

Featuring My Super Mess Sergeant 
Staff Sergeant Kevin Bean!

If I had a restaurant or hotel, I'd hire this guy in a heartbeat.

(From the St. Augustine Record's Peter Guinta, currently imbedded with the 1-124th.)

Splash, out


What Hath God Wrought? 
Sorry it's been a few days. Lost some Internet connectivity temporarily, but I've got it back again now. For some reason the Army server blocks certain kinds of bulletin board pages, including the page I need to access in order to update the site.

Not that I've had much time to write, anyway.

My life now is a whirlwind of transportation requirements, ammunition requirement forecasts, connexes, milvans, cleaning supplies, inventories, and shortage annexes.

Somehow the Army functioned for generations without the help of Excel spreadsheets. Just four years ago I did a National Training Center rotation as a Battalion S-1. Somehow the S-4 (logistics officer) and I ran the whole supporting arms show using a couple of maps, overlays, pencils, some sheets of paper we wrote a little support matrix on for operations orders (simply listing things like grid coordinates for resupply points and casualty collection points and a time schedule), and two little green US Army issue notebooks. One for me and one for him.

Now, everyone with a bright idea is demanding an excel spreadsheet. ("Can you get it to me on digits?")

So half my time is fighting the spreadsheet battle.

Don't get me wrong--Excel's a super tool. But it's amazing to see how a battalion, brigade, and division staff's information requirements expand with the new information technologies.

One thing that hasn't expanded is the number of hours in a day to type them all up, though.

One of the resident instructors at the NTC--a major--said something extraordinarily prophetic. "We have Powerpoint now, and it's going to ruin the Army."

He meant it as a joke. It was a throwaway comment designed to get a chuckle from the officers present, and we moved on to the after action review, er, Powerpoint presentation.

This was 1999.

The man was a visionary.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Front Line Haiku II 
his ten year old son
shot through his lung fought for air
for hours we died

have i killed a man
gentlemen don’t discuss that
but i banged your sis

how can i forget
the bubbling froth of blood
on the tiled floor

Logistics: A Lesson Learned  
ROTC Cadets, Academy students, and 2nd Lieutenant Platoon Leaders who have yet to work at company and battalion level, be warned! I am the ghost of your combat future!

Here's my headache du jour.

We've got nearly a couple of dozen vehicles here that we didn't bring out with us; we drew them in theater. Which means they stay in theater when we leave. Which in turn means we've got to turn them back over to the division loggies in the rear.

Which actually poses quite a headache. See, every vehicle is SUPPOSED to come with a whole assortment of tools, a jack, a handle, a lug wrench, one or more fire extinguishers, a couple of 5 gallon fuel cans, logbooks, a manual, a first aid kit, traffic warning markers, and various and sundry other stuff. All this kit is called the vehicle's "Basic Issue Items," or BII.

I've been in infantry units, and I've been in armor units. Tankers and Mech infantry are pretty good at keeping track of their BII. Which is easy to do for them, because it's basically locked in a footlocker which is permanently attached to the turret. Tank BII can be expensive to lose, so tankers are religious about inventorying the BII every time the tank changes hands.

Light infantry soldiers tend to suck at it.

Now, that's not a huge problem if a unit is operating alone. You just have the drivers sign for the BII and if it comes up missing, guess who pays for it.

But units don't operate alone. And for much of the year we've had three companies and dozens and dozens of vehicles from section to section, and from company to company, on no notice.

"We've got a mission and we need the vehicle now!"
"Well, let me go find the driver and you can sign for the BII from him"
"No, no...there's no time! We gotta roll!"

...Or, alternatively, I'll find out about the transfer after the fact. "Hey, Lt. Van, Alpha company needed a vehicle last night. I just told them to grab a truck. So they've got HQ 52 now."

No inventory, no nothing.

Well, now it's time to pay the piper for all that confusion. Every truck we turn back over has to come with a list of BII that's missing on it. That's easy, because we know what they're supposed to have.

But if the Army wants to try to hold someone accountable for the equipment, it's going to be tough.

It's not the drivers' fault their vehicle was taken from them, or if someone higher gave the order to hand over the vehicle without a full inventory.

And you can't blame the company commanders, if the higher headquarters is swapping trucks from one unit to the other without even notifying the chain of command.

And you can't blame the higher headquarters for issuing the neccessary orders to make the mission happen.

That said, if I could go back in time a year or three, I would have been much more of a Nazi bastard over BII accountability, and worked harder to create a culture where such willy-nilly transfers were almost unthinkable.

Splash, out


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

ABC: The Press is Biased! 
Politics junkies, take note of The Note, which is a running blog put together by the members of ABC News' somewhat unsettlingly named "political unit."

Today's News Summary makes some bold observations considering the political orthodoxy in the pundit class.

Key graphs:

Like every other institution, the Washington and political press corps operate with a good number of biases and predilections.

They include, but are not limited to, a near-universal shared sense that liberal political positions on social issues like gun control, homosexuality, abortion, and religion are the default, while more conservative positions are "conservative positions."

They include a belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation's problems; that more taxes on corporations and the wealthy are good ways to cut the deficit and raise money for social spending and don't have a negative affect on economic growth; and that emotional examples of suffering (provided by unions or consumer groups) are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories.

The press, by and large, does not accept President Bush's justifications for the Iraq war -- in any of its WMD, imminent threat, or evil-doer formulations. It does not understand how educated, sensible people could possibly be wary of multilateral institutions or friendly, sophisticated European allies.

There's more on the link. You'll have to scroll down a bit. (Via Romenesko)

There've been lots of books written on an alleged left-wing bias in the press. Anne Coulter's probably the most notorious author at the moment, and there have always been some rogue elements like Andrew Sullivan and Bernie Goldberg making the case from the wings. A lot of media types pooh-poohed Goldberg's Bias when it came out (and justly so, in my opinion.)

But it's unusual to see several political correspondents from the same network essentially make a joint statement like that under a network logo.

Actually, it's rather startling. I've never seen its like outside of the Fox Network and some deliberately conservative outlets like Newsmax.

Anne Coulter's satirical jabs are easy for mainstream media figures to write off as the rantings of a conservative attack dog.

But when ABC's entire politics team is essentially coming to the same conclusion as Coulter does, that makes things a bit harder to ignore.

Splash, out


Monday, February 09, 2004

"By God, This Is Suffocation!" 
Iraq Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on prospects for an Al Qaeda jihad in Iraq.

Good get from the New York Times.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil 
So the Pentagon has ordered critical news articles be excized from its own clipping service.

From Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz:

Senior Pentagon managers have repeatedly ordered the department's widely read clipping service to exclude articles critical of the military and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to officials familiar with the practice.


(Via Intel Dump)

It's important to understand how the Early Bird is used out here.

There was a time here when troops didn't have email access. In fact, some large installations in Iraq, such as Al Asad Air Base, still don't have regular email access for the troops.

For a long time, the only way I had to keep up with current events was by looking at the day's Early Bird printout. It was really important to me (news junkie that I am).

Now, I have access to the Internet (for now), and can get my own news (not that I have time to read them, but I can grab headlines).

Further, not every unit uses the Early Bird in the same way. Each unit will clip and print only the articles that pertain to them. Units in the field do not need the same print out that Secretary Rumsfeld gets handed to him in his limosine.

We generally just print out articles pertain to events in the Al Anbar Province, the Sunni Triangle, and the Guard/Reserve section articles. We don't bother with articles on defense procurement, or the latest on NCO selection in the US Navy.

And we couldn't give a rat's ass about a Pentagon dinner party. It wouldn't even be read--much less printed out.

So the argument that they're just trying to keep the printout under 40 pages for the SecDef just doesn't wash.

What it amounts to--if true--is an attempt to insulate the professional officer corps from the public watchdog and from the benefits of discourse and healthy criticism.

Nothing good can come of that, in the long run. Actually, I find the whole idea rather insulting. It insults the people who put the Early Bird together, and it insults the officer corps.

Did they think we wouldn't draw critical conclusions on our own?

And do they think that the officer corps is so weak-willed that we'd be so easily discouraged by some negative press that it would disrupt the war effort and compromise our mission?

If not, then why the censorship?

That said, my sense is that it's not as bad as Kurtz makes it out, either.

The sampling of articles on the Early Bird isn't exactly pinko, but I have seen a variety of points of view on it--and even one or two pieces from The Nation, even after the October Surprise memo supposedly came out.

The bottom line: soldiers need to benefit from a free and open press, just like anyone else.

What's the use in having a watchdog if you don't allow it to speak to the very institution it's watching?

Splash, out


Sunday, February 08, 2004

Confessions of a Public Affairs Officer 
Ranting Profs runs some anonymous observations on press coverage on the Iraq war from an unofficial Public Affairs Officer with the 1rst Armored Division in Baghdad.

(No, it isn't me.)

Splash, out


Front Line Haiku I 
private snuffy filled
his canteen with m&m's.
have you checked him?

forgive me: i signed it
in blue ink and not in black.
can i still atone?

Ah! Supplies are here.
Brand new jackets, scarves and gloves.
Springtime has arrived.

O Debt, Where Is Thy Sting? 
This isn't exactly war-related, but I couldn't let it go by.

The New York Times has a story on the increasing federal budget deficit, essentially expressing astonishment at the fact that despite the increasing flow of red ink, the bond market doesn't seem to have flinched.
Here's the nut of the story:

So what is the reaction from the bond market vigilantes, those disciplinarians who bid up interest rates whenever past deficits started looming? Yawn.

Since Mr. Bush released his budget proposal on Monday, forecasting a $521 billion shortfall for the current fiscal year, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes has actually fallen slightly, closing on Friday at 4.08 percent. Since August, when the deficit estimate was $475 billion, the rate has dropped from about 4.4 percent.

The bond market, it seems, has stopped worrying and learned to love the deficit. The question, of course, is whether everybody else can relax, too.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that high deficits leads to high interest rates. It's a matter of supply and demand. When federal deficits rise, the government must issue more bonds to cover the deficit. When the supply of treasuries increases, their price falls, and yields must therefore rise.

The conventional wisdom is at once simple, elegant, and wrong. The bond market vigilantes the reporter mentions are a figment of his imagination. A boogie-man. At least when it comes to federal deficits.

The Times reporter makes the common error of assuming that the 10 year treasury note should act as a proxy for the entirety of the debt market. But not all maturities behave the same way, or move in the same direction. Prices on short- and long-term treasuries can often move in opposite directions, for the simple reason that the biggest bugaboo for long term bondholders isn't the federal deficit at all, but inflation. Which to the long term bondholder, can be a killer.

Don't believe me? Ask anyone who held long-term debt through the 1970s, when real returns (read, inflation-adjusted returns) on supposedly safe treasuries and mortgage-backed securities actually turned negative for extended periods of time, thanks to skyrocketing inflation.

Once inflation got out of control, the only way bondholders could unload them was by slashing their prices: The only way it made sense to own bonds--or lend money at all--was to jack up interest rates to a level which ensured profitability even after 12%, 15%, 18% inflation.

It wasn't even inflation that did it. It was the expectation of even more inflation which drove up interest rates. And the longer the bond, the bigger the inflation allowance that had to be built into the interest rate.

Somehow, the New York Times managed to write a three page piece on the relationship between deficits and bond prices, and even try to explain away the muted reaction of the Treasury market, without even once mentioning the lack of inflationary expectations.

In fact, just a few months back, some analysts were actually worrying about a deflationary cycle, in the midst of the recession.

Look at the Reagan era. Between 1981 and 1989, interest rates for most maturities fell sharply, despite sharply mounting deficits which nearly doubled the national debt.

The difference? Under the Paul Volker chairmanship, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors built up some major credibility among bond vigilantes with its ruthless willingness to hike short-term rates, even in the midst of a crippling recession.

In the name of combating inflation, the Fed sold Treasury bonds to decrease the money supply, and hiked short-term rates until labor markets writhed in agony. And then they hiked them again. Inflation was tamed; workers were devastated.

Bondholders cheered.

Bondholders cheered, and waived much of the premium they were charging on new mortgages and other longer term loans as a hedge against inflation. Interest rates fell, bond prices rose, the value of intangible assets rose almost across the board, and investors grew rich.

Bondholders have long memories. And Greenspan's Fed is still enjoying the fruits of the credibility bought dearly, and at a terrible price, by Paul Volker's board.

Bondholders remain confident that the Federal Reserve is vigilant against the danger of inflation, and so interest rates on longer treasuries can remain steady, or even decrease, despite increasing deficits.

When it comes to 10 year + bonds and the deficit, the bond vigilante is a fairy tale. The historical correlation between interest rates and the budget deficit is actually negative.

When it comes to inflation, though, the bond vigilante is Charles Bronson on steroids.

But somehow, in a two-page article on this precise subject, the Times missed any mention of inflationary expectations whatsoever.

But if low inflation is something we now take for granted, that may be evidence of how far we've come.

Splash, out


Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Ju-Jitsu of Jingoism 
For tips on rhetorical self-defense for Americans living abroad, consider joining AA, or "Americans Anonymous."

The article is actually stronger towards the end, so take the time to read the whole thing.

Splash, out


Blogroll Update... 
Had some downtime today, so I updated my blogroll to include some other relevant websites I frequently visit. It's not a complete list yet. Consider it a work in progress. I'll revisit it soon.

I included a couple of military bloggers: Black Five and Citizen Smash, and an excellent commentary/analysis site by a former MP and current UCLA Law School student called Intel Dump.

There's also a link to Al Jazeera's English-language page. It's always interesting to see their take on things.

There's one new blog called Eyelinematch I like very much. Full disclosure: it's written by a high school buddy and former band mate in a Honolulu-based reggae-ensemble.

Check 'em out.

Splash, out


Friday, February 06, 2004

Book Ends 
Here are two very interesting graphics using Amazon book sales to illustrate America's cultural divide.

From this year.

From last year.

Take a quick look before reading on.

(Thanks to Uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan for catching them.)

I haven't read any of this year's books, I'm afraid. I've been busy. My own score from last year is two "Reds," (Slander and Bias) one "Blue." (Chomsky's 9-11)

My suspicion is that the cultural divide isn't quite as stark as the study portrays. The reason has to do with the way books are marketed online.

Click on Anne Coulter's book on Amazon and they'll try to get you to buy a bunch of other books from a list. And Noam Chomsky's book 9-11 just ain't gonna be on it.

So this list doesn't reveal so much about the book-buying habits of the American Public as it does about Amazon's 'upselling' marketing strategy.

A better sample might come from a national bricks and mortar bookstore, where customer's simply pull books from the Social Sciences section, alphabetized by author, and without additional prompting.

I would also throw out titles less than six months old, as these are more apt to be heavily marketed, and so skew the sample. Likewise, I'd throw out books that hit the 'discount bin.'

It would then be a simple matter to compare titles and graphs by zip codes. The web would be a lot more complex, but you could still replicate it by drawing an array and arranging title pairs by the correlation between them.

Regression analysis is a beautiful thing.

I'm not saying the cultural divide doesn't exist. It surely does! One look at the most famous infographic in American history--the 2000 electoral map--will tell you that.

But I'll tell you, I can almost instantly tell the bloggers with extremely lopsided Red-Blue reading scores, and they bore me to tears.

Splash, out


War is 95% Boredom, 5% Terror and Rage. Here's Most of the Story. 
Not that you asked. Well, some of you wrote in and asked for more of the mundane, day to day stuff, so here you are.

Today I completed a report of survey on a vehicle accident. (A report of survey, essentially, is an investigation into an accident or lost or stolen piece of equipment, in order to determine who should be liable for the accident or lost item. Was there negligence involved? At what level? Should we just write off the piece of equipment and let the taxpayer foot the bill for its replacement? Or should the soldier be charged for it? Or should we hang it on the unit commander and have him pay for it? Or some combination of the three? The report of survey answers all those questions.)

I have another report of survey to do tonight, on a pair of binoculars which were allegedly stolen by Iraqi police trainees.

I am working with my supply sergeant to initiate lots more reports of surveys on our own. The faster we can inventory our gear and complete the reports of surveys, the easier it will be to justify writing them off as a 'combat loss.' Which is what I want to do, unless there's specific evidence of negligence or willful misconduct on the part of the soldier, or sheer inattention to the basics of equipment accountability on the part of the unit.

If there is negligence or willful misuse involved, though, that's another matter. But this has been a pretty good group so far.

We've also been moving troops around to make room for more troops. Troops HATE moving all their stuff. These guys aren't exactly just living out of their rucksacks anymore. So there was a lot of grumbling, but it had to be done anyway. Today we also moved the supply room from one place to another.

The battalion executive officer also asked me to conduct an audit of our post store, or post exchange (PX). Apparently, the senior NCO managing the store had accidentally commingled the store funds with moneys we were using to pay local caterers hired to feed Iraqi Civil Defense Corps trainees, when we were training entire companies of them at a time.

Unfortunately, there was a $2,000 discrepency to account for, somewhere in the mix, and I was asked to conduct an independent audit and figure it out.

Here's where it pays to "know your troops."

There is nothing in my background whatsoever that would qualify me to conduct an audit of anything except my own 1040EZ, and even that's pushing it. I have no background in bookkeeping or accounting, and I would have been up all night just trying to reinvent GAAP all over again so I could do a proper job.

Fortunately, I remembered I was driving a van around Ft. Stewart, GA about a year ago--I think I was driving troops to the base chapel on a sunday morning--when one of my NCOs made the mistake of mentioning his degree in accounting.

I got him on the task, and he set on it like a bulldog on a bone, and was done in 90 minutes, and briefed me up in three minutes.


Fortunately, we had receipts for everything. We just spent $2,000 too much on Iraqi food, but we were able to rule out theft, which was the first thing on my mind.

(Note to self: don't have the same guy managing cash for two different projects if you don't have to.(

I'm also collecting sworn statements on a machine gun that fell from a patrol boat into the Euphrates river. A soldier fell into the river, too, but we were able to recover him.

An M240 B machine gun isn't something you can just write off, though. So I'll be interviewing soldiers, making a finding of fact, and making a recommendation to the Battalion commander about what judicial or administrative disciplinary actions are warranted, if any at all.

The struggle for information about the redeployment is ongoing, but we were finally issued a very tentative timeline. There are still a lot of holes in it for the battalion staff to work on, but at least now I have something to work with.

As a unit leader dependent upon those above me to gather information and issue guidance on complicated operations, I would always rather have an 80% NOW instead of the 100% perfect plan next week.

Attended two meetings today, and checked in several times with the unit First Sergeant, who--while the officers are off planning, nagging, typing, counting, or negotiating for resources, actually gets to run the unit's day-to-day operations.

The unofficial breakdown of responsibility is as follows. The Company commander fights the battles with the Battalion commander and S-3, or operations officer. As the executive officer, I handle the supply and logistics battles, including all the coordination that has to be done with the battalion maintenance chief warrant officer. I'm also the movement officer and "synch Nazi," meaning I hold onto the timeline and crack the whip to make sure the unit makes it. And the First Sergeant handles the S-1, or personnel officer side of the house, and does any coordination needed on personnel matters. He also handles the battalion command sergeant major, and as the senior enlisted soldier in the unit, mentors, trains, coaches, and cajoles everyone in the enlisted ranks.

Put another way--and speaking VERRRRRY broadly, because there's tons of overlap: The Company commander is in charge of the mission, the executive officer in charge of the equipment, and the First Sergeant is in charge of the men. There's all kinds of ways you can slice it, and different units do it different ways, but that's what's worked for us.

If I can brag about someone for a sec: The First Sergeant is the hardest working man in show business, and is really the heart and soul of the unit. I don't think anyone who hasn't seen a unit up close, day to day, can grasp how much of a difference he makes.

Here's to ya, Top.

Splash, out


Dukes of Moral Hazard, Revisited 
Here's an excellent link on Iraq's odious debt.

(Via a new blog, Julie's Cafe, who comes to my attention via Healing Iraq.)

Excellent reading if you're interested in the Big Finance angle to the Iraq story.

It's always a good idea to "follow the money," as Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward.

Or at least as I think he said. I never did see that movie all the way through.

I rented it once, but it turned out to be about something else.

Splash, Out


Thursday, February 05, 2004

IraqNow Goes Global! 
Translated into over one language.

More here.

Its Not FUNNY, DAMMIT!: More Reader Letters 
Here's one from a reader in Australia:

Seatbelts are one of the few things that actually save lives
on the road, and the road is one of the biggest killers. It is
not funny if you are not wearing seatbelts.

I repeat, it is NOT FUNNY.

This is decade-old technology, proven to save lives. If
there is some reason why the seatbelts don't work, then
please specify why not, and what the options are. [If the seatbelt only fits around a soldier in a kevlar and loincloth, It may
be less risky to ...sit only in kevlar and loincloth. This calculation would
be done with probability and statistics. Maybe there are
other options available too, e.g. wearing the seatbelt under
the jacket.

Thanks for the helpful suggestion. I'll be sure to pass it on.

Another reader--after chastising me on the whole 'i before e except after c' thing (whose idea was that, anyway?), has a great point:

On the post re the oil vouchers, everyone's been too burned with documents
out of Iraq to publish them without very good confirmation. George Galloway
has collected quite a sum from the Christian Science Monitor because they
didn't confirm what seemed very plausible documents. The uranium story about
Niger has everyone thinking as well. Too many Iraqis chased cash from Saddam
with forged paperwork in the past.

I think a healthy scepticism is in order, of course. But just the fact that these papers have been unearthed--and the process of verifying and substantiating their contents, is a story in itself.

The New York Times had no problems going after the Whitewater scandal, and tying it to Bill Clinton, on much less. Millions of dollars later there turned out to be nothing there.

So all of a sudden they have scruples?

Suppose the oil voucher list was actually dated 1984, and included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

You think the New York Times wouldn't have picked it up?

Another reader, by way of noting the absence of Germans on the oil bribe list, writes in with another good question:

I still don't understand Germany/Shroeder's motivation for aligning with France/Russia & China before the war. Ideas?

I've got a couple of ideas: Germany had a lot of their warlike nature pummeled out of them after WWII, and it's going to take another generation or two for them to return to their usual baseline of endearing belligerency.

So there's still quite a bit of political hay to be made for German politicians to cater to a pacifist crowd. Their motivations can be honest, or they can be cynical, it doesn't matter. But if you recall, Schroeder was running for reelection last spring, and certainly wanted to motivate the voters on the left side of his base, which remain suspicious of the same western powers which so callously saved millions of West German women and girls from systematic rape at the hands of horny, vengeful Bolsheviks in 1945, while at the same time having the imperious temerity to rebuild their economy and infrastructure.

Further, Germany no doubt shares an interest with France in becoming a counterweight to American power, although the French are still the ones with the UN Security council vote. Nevertheless, Germany and France can both benefit from a strong and assertive European presence in the chaotic world arena. And so we may see a continued assertion of European power for its own sake.

The weak dollar doesn't make them very happy, either.

Splash, Out


Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Rumsfeld: Iraq WMDs May Still Be Found 
CNN has the story here.

Mark Furman, please pick up the white courtesy phone. Detective Mark Furman, please pick up the white. Courtesy. Phone.

The Danger of "Gotcha" Journalism 
Here's an example of a reporter jumping on a chance to be 'snarky' but without quite understanding his beat.

The Associated Press notes that US soldiers are still getting killed with alarming regularity in Iraq, despite the recent capture of Saddam.

He then inserts two 'gotcha' quotes from two division commanders:

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, told reporters on Jan. 6 that ``we've turned the corner'' in the counterinsurgency effort in his area of responsibility, the western part of Iraq, which includes a part of the so-called Sunni Triangle west of Baghdad.

The number of attacks on his forces had declined by almost 60 percent in the past month, he said then.

Two weeks later, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said, ``The former regime elements we've been combating have been brought to their knees.'' His troops operate in an area north of Baghdad that includes Tikrit, a focus of anti-U.S. violence.

But in fact, many of the fatal attacks against U.S. forces in January were in Swannack's and Odierno's areas.

What the reporter is missing is that both Generals can still be quite correct, and yet attacks on Americans can still continue to increase.

The answer lies in understanding that there is not just one insurgency, but several.

MG Odierno is right--the pro-Baathist, former regime loyalist guerrilla apparatus has been defeated. It's been crushed. When Saddam was captured, all those losers started singing like nightingales, and much of what was left of the former regime elements were rolled up within a month.

Those are not the guys giving us the trouble any more.

The real danger to U.S. troops now is from the 'foreign fighters,' the mujahedeen, the Ansar Al Islam types, and the Al Qaeda franchisees.

Running parallel to this, there is a third layer of insurgency--which is not a huge danger to U.S. troops, but a huge danger to the Iraqi people: the internecine warfare between Sunnis and Shias, and between Kurds and Turkomen.

And beneath this, there is a fourth insurgency: the vendettas among the rival clans, even within the larger ethnic groups.

MG Swannack was right. We have turned a corner. We are focusing on an entirely different kind of insurgent, now. The foreign fighter-dominated jihadist terrorist cell is a very different animal from the former regime loyalist. Their tactics may be similar at times, but the channels through which they receive support --hence their set of critical vulnerabilities--are totally different. They are financed differently, they are armed differently, they are motivated differently, they are recruited differently. They pray differently, they communicate differently, and have an entirely different set motivations.

They even talk differently. A native Iraqi can hear a Saudi or Jordanian or Syrian accent the same way Americans can tell a southerner from a New Yorker.

Which means our sources of information must become different. Our public relations focus becomes different. Our intelligence gathering means and methods must change, in order to focus on the emerging threat.

Odierno was right. Swannack was right.

The AP reporter was so focused on setting up the 'gotcha quotes,' and that he missed another, far deeper and more engaging story, right under his nose.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The Third Commandment 
...And so it came to pass that another vehicle accident occurred somewhere in Western Iraq, and there was great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And Division issued an edict, which did cause great consternation upon the land, and the label on this edict was called "Powerpoint." And the commander looked upon this Powerpoint, and he saw that it was good.

And Division said unto their subordinate commanders, "Go forth, and issue this briefing unto all your soldiers. Yea, even unto the lowest private, that your asses may be covered."

And the subordinate commanders went forth and issued the edict, which did contain the following commandments:

I. Thou shalt wear thy helmet when operating the Division's chariots.

II. Thou shalt gird thyselves with flak jackets when maneuvering about the land, even through the whole of Babylon.

III. Thou shalt also fasten thy seatbelt about thy waist when operating the Division's chariots.

And so the colonels did brief their captains, and the captains briefed their lieutenants, and the lieutenants briefed their sergeants. And the sergeants did pass the briefing on even unto the drivers. And their asses were considered covered in the eyes of Division, for if misfortune befell a driver, the commanders and lieutenants and sergeants could answer Division, saying "See, I have issued the briefing unto him, yet he has continued to transgress."

But the asses of the drivers were not covered.

And so the drivers recieved the briefing. And they did follow the first two commandments without complaint. For they saw the first two commandments on Powerpoint, and they knew that it was right. And flak vests and helmets were worn throughout the whole of Babylon.

But the third commandment was not followed. The seatbelts fit around a soldier girded only in his kevlar and loincloth. But when a soldier mounted his chariot girded in his flak jacket, as the Division had commanded, the seat belt was still too short. But there was no astonishment among the ranks. The seat belt was too short at home station, it was too short before the briefing, and the seatbelt would remain too short after the briefing.

And the commanders did smile because their asses were covered. And the soldiers also smiled, for though they knew their asses were not covered, they knew the futility of the third commandment.

And so the third commandment was not fulfilled, but the soldiers did say "Fuck it," and drove on.

Monday, February 02, 2004

France and Russia Watch: Score One for the NeoMarxists 
The intransigence of France and Russia re: Iraq just might have something to do with this:

Russia: The Russian state itself received 1,366,000,000 barrels. The list also included the following:

Companies belonging to the Liberal Democratic Party received 79.8 million barrels - t he list notes the name of party president Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The Russian Communist Party received 1 million barrels. The Lukoil company received 63 million barrels. The Russneft company received 35.5 million barrels. Vladimir Putin's Peace and Unity Party received 34 million barrels - the list notes the name of party chairwoman Saji Umalatova. The Gazprom company received 26 million barrels. The Soyuzneftgaz company received 25.5 million barrels - t he list notes the name Shafrannik. The Moscow Oil Company received 25.1 million barrels. The Onako company received 22.2 million barrels. The Sidanco company received 21.2 million barrels. The Russian Association for Solidarity with Iraq received 12.5 million barrels. The Ural Invest company received 8.5 million barrels. Russneft Gazexport received 12.5 million barrels. The Transneft company received 9 million barrels. The Sibneft company received 8.1 million barrels. The Stroyneftgaz company received 6 million barrels. The Russian Committee for Solidarity with the People of Iraq received 6.5 million barrels - the list notes the name of committee chairman Rudasev. The Russian Orthodox Church received 5 million barrels. The Moscow Science Academy received 3.5 million barrels. The Chechnya Administration received 2 million barrels. T he National Democratic Party received 2 million barrels. The Nordwest group received 2 million barrels. The Yukos company received 2 million barrels. One Russian company which phonetically reads as Zarabsneft received 174.5 million barrels. Vouchers were also granted to the Russian foreign ministry, one under the name of Al-Fayko for 1 million barrels, and one to Yetumin for 30.1 million barrels. T he Mashinoimport Company received 1 million barrels. The Slavneft Company received 1 million barrels. The Caspian Invest Company (Kalika) received 1 million barrels. The Tatneft Tatarstan company received 1 million barrels. The Surgutneft company received 1 million barrels. Siberia's oil and gas company received 1 million barrels...

France: The French-Arab Friendship Association received 15.1 million barrels. Former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua received 12 million barrels. [4] Patrick Maugein of the Trafigura company received 25 million barrels. Michel Grimard, founder of the French-Iraqi Export Club, received 17.1 million barrels.

Of course, if there's the merest hint of a U.S. company actually profiting from an intervention on behalf of the free flow of oil at market prices--no matter how stretched the argument, you'll hear all over the place how American policy has been corrupted by Big Oil.

But now that we have evidence that France and Russia were whoring out their foreign policy for a dallop of oil in the commodities market, the silence from the orthodox left is deafening.

Nothing on The Nation. Nothing on Salon. Nothing on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. Nothing on the New York Times. (The link is to a list of all recent Iraq-related headlines. Nothing on the Oil Bribes.)

(ABC picked it up, though.)

Actually, ABC devoted four web pages to it. Two days ago.

Where is the Times?

Where's David Corn?

Where are the neoMarxists? I mean, here's a golden opportunity to illustrate economic determinism in action. Big Oil selling out the interests of the Arab people, and manipulating the foreign policies of entire nations, all for a little bit of keshbesh.

It's textbook.

But even the World Socialist Website is AWOL on the topic so far (though they did write this one up last summer, and oh, gosh, look who shows up again: None other than the former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua--the same Charles Pasqua who's implicated on the Oil Voucher bribe list above.)

Where's the follow-up, guys?

How come you're not as hungry for this as you are about the nonstory about the intelligence commission appointment?

Splash, out


Making a Dent... 
in America's public discourse.

Here's the latest from the Chicago Sun Times' Mark Steyn:

''Fraudulent''? Kerry makes much of his rapport with veterans, but I'd love to see him tell the brave British, Australian and Polish troops who helped liberate the Iraqi people that their participation was ''fraudulent,'' just as I'd love to see Maureen Dowd, who dismisses the coalition as ''a gaggle of poodles and lackeys,'' tell Britain's Desert Rats or the big beefy Fijians escorting Iraqi currency exchange convoys that they're ''poodles.''

You can read the whole column here. It's actually a pretty fun little dig at Kerry.

With between 1,500 and 2,000 hits a day, America doesn't read IraqNow. But with any luck, America will soon begin to read people who read IraqNow. Or at least read people who read people who read IraqNow.

IraqNow: A Festering and Spreading Lesion on the Body Politic.

Agenda For Today 
Turn in my projection of who's going to be driving what vehicle, and who else will be riding where as we leave for Kuwait, into the Battalion Executive Officer. We're trying to make sure that we have enough soldiers with the right weapons mixes to secure a series of small convoys to the town of around .

But in order to do that, I'm still looking for some hard answers from the battalion staff about who will be leaving early on an advance party.

Actually, all the companies are looking for some hard answers from the battalion staff, who are themselves looking for hard answers from the brigade staff, who in turn look for hard answers from the Division staff, and so on up the chain.

The problem is this: The 82nd division redeployment order is already written, but we're not on it. We're redeploying separately, since we've been here much longer (The Brigade didn't arrive until August, and we've been overseas since March).

Which means we're competing for staff 'bandwidth,' if you will, against operations and everything else which is going on, and getting information to our battalion just isn't a priority. The Brigade gains nothing by our movement. They just lose a battalion.

And so from where I sit, at the company level, the detailed instructions for a major redeployment are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in enigma, stuffed with pimentos, and served on a platter of smoke rings.

There are some things we can do though, and we've done some of them. Officer Evaluation Reports are done, at the company level. NCOERs will be done by the end of today, and signed. I have some investigations into lost or missing equipment to handle for the Bn S-4, or logistics officer.

We've inventoried our ammunition, but I'm still not clear on exactly what we can turn in and when. I've got a lot of mortar ammo taking up space, but we can't turn it in while we still may need to fire missions.

The ammunition turn in will be a fairly major project, actually.

Redeployment packet folders are done--just some admin stuff that gets us ahead of the game. We've already done a dog tag and ID card inspection, and we look pretty good there.

My biggest headache right now is equipment accountability. Equipment was traded, swapped, and swiped all over the place between sections all year, and in the rush of things, or because of laziness, the transfer wasn't always accompanied by a hand reciept.

We handed each section leader a copy of what they were originally signed for, and I'm giving them a few days to find their stuff.

We've also ordered hundreds of small items such as wrenches, chock blocks, fire extinguisher brackets, screw drivers, traffic hazard markers, lug nuts, simple green cleaner, and a zillion other knick-knacks in preparation for the cleaning, recovery, and movement.

Problem: I've got more trailers than I have trucks running to move them. I just did a count yesterday. And even if I get a couple of trucks back on the road, I can't have them *all* pulling trailers, because I've got to have some in reserve to pull vehicles that may (Read: WILL) break down on one of our long road movements.

So I've got to pull ahead in the maintenance game (a function of getting the right mix of spare parts through the system), or I've got to arrange to transfer some trailers to other units. Our Chief Maintenance Warrant Officer will take care of most of that, though.

That's a very partial list of things that are on my plate. I'll keep you posted.

Splash, out


North Korean Gas Chambers 
This time nobody can claim 'we didn't know.'

Sunday, February 01, 2004

We Make the Papers 
More from The St. Augustine Record's Peter Guinta, currently embedding with us, here.

There was actually some discussion over whether the Army would allow Guinta to publish the photo of the EPW.

Everyone's very conscious of the Geneva/Hague Convention prohibition against the photographing of EPWs, except as needed for routine processing.

The idea is that EPWs should be protected from humiliation or public ridicule.

In this case, I'm glad Peter pursuaded the Army to let him keep the photo. It's clear to me there's no Geneva Convention violation here. You can't even see the guy's face, and there's no evidence of any effort to humiliate the guy, nor is there evidence that there was more force used than neccessary to keep everybody safe.

Indeed, the presence of a reporter is really good insurance that there would NOT be any Law of Land Warfare violations regarding the treatment of EPWs.

So how come a small paper like the St. Augustine Record can scrape up the resources to someone out here to embed for an extended stay, but my Miami-based battalion has yet to see anybody from the Herald?

Splash, out


Oh, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

I've been liberated from the soul-deadening job of "nighttime battle captain." Basically, I spent 12 hours a day running the tactical operations center, urinating on small fires throughout the battalion area of operations (and frequently beyond it.)

Essentially, I was tied to a desk and a bank of radios and a bunch of maps on a wall--all the while fretting about this big redeployment movement that I wasn't working on while I was in the TOC.

Well, the regular battle captain--a police officer in civilian life--finally returned from his detail teaching classes to Iraqi Police officer recruits in Fallujah and Al Qaim last week.

(Hey, don't we have MP sergeants SOMEWHERE in Iraq who are perfectly capable of teaching these classes without having to detail a lieutenant and a major to lead the most overmanaged squad of instructors in the history of man?).

Anyway, that detail is over, which means I am once again a free man, and can concentrate on getting HHC ready for a move.

Which means I'm also free to roam around and do what I love to do--talk to soldiers. Conduct spot inspections. Slip out to the guys manning the gate at 2 in the morning and see if they have their kevlars on. Look at the undersides of vehicles checking for leaks. Quiz guys on PMCS. Ask pointy questions. Catch people doing good things. Catch people screwing up and fix it. Counsel. Plan. Teach. Solve problems. Do anything that keeps me away from the flagpole and my troops invisible.

I'm also free to set my own hours, which I like.

Managed to start running again. I hadn't done it since I was detailed to the TOC. It was just hard to get motivated.

I'm not running convoys up and down the Euphrates River Valley much anymore. But with a mission coming up and pretty much free reign to work on it, I feel very much alive again as a soldier.

Splash, out


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