Friday, April 30, 2004

Saddam's Secret Police Lists Bin Ladin as "Asset" in 1992 Document 
Christopher Hitchens serves up a tantalizing morsel with his customary bitter herbs.

Now comes a document from the files of the Iraqi secret police, or Mukhabarat, dated March 28, 1992, and headed routinely, "In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate." It is a straightforward listing of contacts and "assets," quite unsensational until it comes to the "Saudi front," where we find the name "Osama bin Ladin/he is well-known Saudi businessman, founder of Saudi opposition in Afghanistan, had connection with Syrian division." Of course, this is not a smoking gun.

It's a shame there's no link. The reader cannot assess the provenance of this information. Hitch doesn't say how he knows about it.

It's a failure of transparency.

Stand by for about a dozen right wing bloggers (like me?) to start fulminating about how the liberal media's not covering the story.

Well, I can start with Hitch. Where's the beef, bro?

Splash, out


New York Times Appoints Winnie-the Pooh Character Eeyore to Chief Copy Editor Position 
How else can you explain the decision to take this AP text:

Consumers, an important force shaping the economic recovery, spent modestly in March, helping the economy log solid growth in the last quarter.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumers boosted their spending by 0.4 percent last month. That followed another 0.4 percent increase in February, according to revised figures. February's increase was double the 0.2 percent advance reported a month ago.

Americans' incomes, meanwhile, also rose solidly in March, increasing by 0.4 percent. That came on top of a 0.5 percent gain in February. The increase was encouraging because income growth is a main factor in people's willingness to spend in the future, economists said.

``With the March rise in personal income, there is a solid base of ready cash to fuel spending increases,'' said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.

...and label it with this headline?

Consumer Spending Rises by 0.4%, but Misses Expectations.


I can see the NY Times sports headlines for the next year already.

American Women Gymnasts Dominate World Championships, Still Too Skinny.

Marlins Pitcher Josh Beckett Throws No-Hit Shutout, but Walks Four.

Anna Kournikovna Wins Wimbledon. Socks Don't Match

American Swimmer Wins Hundred Meter Freestyle, But Gets Soaking Wet

Lance Armstrong Wins Another Tour DeFrance; Appears Out of Breath, Fatigued


Splash, out


Media Narcissism and the Naming of Names 
An officer now serving in Iraq weighs in on the flap over Ted Koppel's decision to devote much of a Nightline broadcast to reading the names of American dead in Iraq:

Koppel was on Al Franken's show on Air America (Libby/lefty talk radio) THIS MORNING condemning the administration's efforts in Iraq. You tell me if there are other personal and political motives involved.....

If McCain were truly interested in a fully informed American public as he indicates in his statement, then he'd be pounding on Koppel's door to get him to show the good things those soldiers were doing in Iraq when they died.

My own unpolled sense is that most soldiers would be pretty uncomfortable with--if not downright offended--by Ted Koppel's decision to decontextualize their sacrifices by simply reading off the names one by one on the air.

I could say it's another example of how network media is out of touch with the sensibilities of military families, but that would oversimplify things. It's entirely possible that had ABC News realized exactly how this plays with the Joes and their families, they would take the same decision utterly

It would certainly make for pretty boring television.

It doesn't matter if the motivation is to undermine popular support for the war by listing the names in numbing monotony, or if it's somehow a clumsy catharsis on the part of ABC News staffers. In either case, the drive is to serve the interests of the staffers of ABC News. Not the soldiers and Marines themselves, and not the viewing public.

It's media narcissism.

I think there are instances where it is appropriate to list our honored dead by name. It's certainly not an unprecedented practice.

But in this case, it's an obnoxious one.

Splash, out


Abu Gharaib Update: 
According to Drudge, it was in fact an American serviceman who blew the whistle.

Fallujah Tactical Analysis 
The Belmont Club is setting the standard.

Abu Gharaib Photos 
London's Daily Mirror has photos of the abuses of detainees at Abu Gharaib prison here.

It's still not clear to me how widespread the abuse was. Is this limited to one platoon, or one shift, or one cell block? Or was this endemic to the entire Abu Gharaib garrison?

What's amazing to me is that it took a civilian who recieved the images back home to turn them into authorities. That no soldier blew the whistle sooner.

Splash, out


A Mutual Funds Employee Strikes Back! 
Here's an email I received from a mutual fund company employee, taking issue with my characterization of market timeing.

The "market timing" phrase used in the current mutual fund
industry scandal is actually a misnomer. A more fitting name might be time
zone arbitrage or fund pricing arbitrage. Market timing as it has been
defined in the past (though not recently) is perfectly legal and is the
primary method stock and bond speculators use to beat the market. For
example one might move their money out of bonds into stocks or cash or
something else if they felt their was going to be a change in market
dynamics. So those ads for market timing really are for something different
that the illegal and/or immoral actions taken by some mutual fund companies.
As a employee of a mutual fund company, I know that the time zone arbitrage
that was taking place was generally the work of a few bad apples. though I'm
not sure how upper management allowed it to happen.

My response: Hey, if someone buys into a Rydex or ProFunds fund, he ought to expect to be subsidizing market timing activity. But in cases where the prospectus states the fund doesn't allow market timing, and the fund management lies to shareholders and allows it anyway for certain favored clients on the sly, then that's fraud.

And market timing costs shareholders an estimated $5 billion a year, according to Stanford economist Eric Zitzewitz.

In yesterday's I was specifically referring to market timing, and NOT to late trading techniques, or specifically to date line/time zone arbitrage, except that market timers often use those techniques to determine specific entry points into certain funds.

So it's tough to separate the two practices.

I will agree with the letter writer that a garden variety commercial market timing system which calls for just a couple of trades a year is not terribly destructive to most funds returns, as long as only a few people practice the technique.

Heck, I'm a market timer in a sense, too. I shouldn't talk. I bought Vanguard Emerging Markets aggressively last summer, as soon as I got Internet access in Iraq. But China feels bubbly, and can't sustain its prodigious rate of growth. Brazil's had a great run, but overall the fund had begun to sputter out even on good news, and so I raped the other shareholders in the fund by it off completely at the beginning of April. (It saved me a 6% loss over the last month!)

I may buy some back if emerging markets lose30% off their peak or so.

But then, I will admit to being evil.

It's just interesting to see the dichotomy between Dr. Paul Farrell's buy-and-hold advice on the one hand, and the companies which advertise on the site

It's easy to see why management allowed the criminal abuses to occur, though: Greed. They were simply bribed by the prospect of fees from 'sticky money.'

And when it comes to the main street investor, the financial services industry is too often an ethics-free zone.

Splash, out


Score One for Militia 
A reader points out that there has been at least one case where a militia unit defeated a well-drilled, professional army: at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Looking it over, though, the Texans were well led. And the Mexicans did not behave like a professional army. They did not post sentries or otherwise providing for their security, and allowed themselves to be surprised by the Texan assault, when they should not have been.

Nevertheless, yes, a force comprising mostly Texas militia did defeat General Santa Anna at San Jacinto in 1836.


A Failure of Command 
That's the only way I can describe what was clearly going on at Abu Gharaib prison under the command of Brigadier General Janice Karpinski all year long.

Between May and September 2003, my company was responsible for a 24-48 hour EPW holding area (a jail), which sometimes held up to 35 detainees at a time. Over the summer, I personally transported hundreds of them, along with their personal effects, to a larger EPW holding area and intelligence screening facility run by the 3rd ACR at Al Asad Air Base.

I can say that on these dozens of times I visited the facility there, I witnessed no instances of abuse comparable to what was described by 60 Minutes II and the BBC. I know the Chief Warrant Officer and lieutenant in charge of the EPW holding facility were well respected by their troops, and would not have tolerated such abuses. And the sergeant I worked most closely with in signing over the detainees personal effects was extremely vigilant in ensuring that everything was properly transferred.

Even so, I did witness a few problems. One detainee was transferred to me with a blunt trauma head injury I could not account for in the paperwork done when he was first arrested. It apparently happened after he was arrested, under coalition care.

When a combat soldier is assigned to guard an EPW, he is usually angry at seeing his buddies get shot up, and has unbridled power over the detainee. If he's immature or has a cruel or sadistic streak in him, you have the makings of abuse.

What I observed, though, was that when soldiers interact with EPWs, the person they are most concerned with communicating with is often not the detainee, but his or her peers. The danger is that they will try to outdo each other with displays of braggadocio, machismo, callousness, and inappropriate humor. And Abu Gharaib is a good example of what happens when that tendency among immature soldiers is not monitored and corrected by their noncommissioned officers and company grade officers.

And that requires constant effort, and constant vigilance on the part of all leaders in the unit.

All officers are trained in the basics of the Geneva and Hague conventions as part of their precommissioning programs in ROTC, the acadamies, or at OCS. And they're briefed again while they're in their basic courses, before they join their units.

According to both the BBC and 60 Minutes II, the Army investigation reports that this unit of military police had not conducted training on the proper care and handling of EPWs in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and US policy.

If true, this represents a breathtaking dereliction of duty on the part of the chain of command.

But that only goes so far.

It should not take a formal class for soldiers to know that the deliberate humiliation of detainees is unprofessional and wrong.

And SGT Chip Frederick's lame excuse that he and his men 'had no training whatsoever' holds no water. SGT Frederick is an NCO and a full time corrections officer in his civilian job. If his men were not trained in the law of war, it was his job to train them. In the absence of specific guidelines from his chain of command on the Geneva convention, as a professional corrections officer, he had the skills to train them.

So while BG Karpinski bears overall command responsibility, she was also apparently let down by the SGT Fredericks of the unit, along with whoever Frederick's lieutenant, captain, and company commander.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven, and is a stain upon the Army's honor.

It cannot be tolerated.

Splash, out


Thursday, April 29, 2004

In Vendito Veritas 
Got my CBS Marketwatch Mutual Funds newsletter in my email box today.

The lead story is about how mutual fund companies like Janus who got caught with their grubby fingers in the market-timing* cookie jar are trying to put behind them the fact that NY Attorney General Elliott Spitzer caught them red-handed conspiring to screw their shareholders.

The thing is, when I look down at the sponsored links advertising on their email newsletter, two of the five advertisements are for market timing systems. At least one of them specifically issues buy and sell signals for market timers on mutual funds, including the Rydex Funds and the Fidelity Select Gold fund, as well as for small cap funds, where the lower liquidity means higher trading costs and bid/ask spreads, which means timing activities are even more destructive to the average buy-and-hold shareholder.

So CBS Marketwatch will pay lip service to the buy and hold investor. But they'll take ad revenues from companies who work to make suckers out of them through market timing.

More, it's obvious that these parasites are still finding willing hosts in the mutual fund industry, although mostly with a few funds.

So if you're a buy and hold mutual funds investor, check your prospectuses carefully. Avoid funds that cater to or tolerate systemic market timing by these firms and their clients. Specifically, avoid Fidelity's sector funds, the Rydex funds, ProFunds, and any open-ended sector funds which attract timers' money.

Further, to really get to know an industry, watch the ads, as well as the editorial content. After all, in vendito veritas

In sales, there is truth.

Splash, out


*For those of you who aren't mutual fund junkies, market timing, along with late-trading, is sort of the investors' equivalent of defacating on the seat. Sure, it can get the job done. But it's screws everyone else in the fund who buys and holds, because they have to pay for the fund timers' trading costs, and keep extra cash in the fund to hedge against redemptions. Which means they lose out a few points on every market gain.

But it's good for fund companies who want to attract assets, since they get a percentage of everything they manage. And it's good for fund timers, who need a host organism to feed off of. It just hurts everyone else. Like you and me.

Pentagon, Halliburton: Let's Take Away Iraq Contractor's Guns! 
Well, just when you thought the government could not possibly be stupider, along comes this gem, courtesy of the five-sided freak show we call the Pentagon:

Pentagon Rule Would Bar Contractors From Carrying Guns in Iraq.

(Knight-Ridder) ORLANDO, Fla. - As the insurgency and violence in Iraq intensify, the Department of Defense has proposed a new rule for most of the estimated 70,000 civilian contractors working in the war-torn region: They can't carry guns.

Deidre Lee, the Pentagon's director of procurement and acquisition policy, whose office proposed the rule, said it was designed to settle one of the biggest questions facing contractors: "to arm or not to arm."

It is a life-or-death issue because "we don't have the military providing security for our contractors," Lee said.

At the same time, a top department official acknowledged that the war effort was suffering a "brain drain" of civilian workers who were fleeing Iraq because they did not feel safe.

The measure is supported by Kellogg, Brown and Root officials, who argue that they'll lose insurance coverage on employees when they pick up weapons.

Now, the measure would permit military commanders to allow contractors to carry firearms. And it's hard to imagine a commander saying 'no.' It's just one more memorandum that has to be written and somehow delivered across a battlefield to whatever ignorant loser rear-echelon bureaucrat is asking for it.

KBRs argument that armed contractors are more likely to be shot at or kidnapped is, frankly, delusional. Daniel Pearl wasn't armed. And neither were the three Japanese kidnapping victims from earlier this month. The World Trade Center wasn't exactly targeted because of the Phalanx miniguns on each roof.

And when the contractors were ambushed and killed and strung up like sheep carcasses in Fallujah, I can guarantee you they would not have been let go simply because they were unarmed.

The insurance for the workers is a nonissue. They can be adopted into the same risk pool as American servicemen, and pay SGLI premiums--probably elevated premiums, to reflect the brief time of their service in Iraq (military personnel pay premiums during peacetime and wartime as well, spreading the risk out over many years), but that can be figured out by actuaries, and the cost passed on to the US government.

The liability factor for Halliburton is a slightly more difficult issue. If they allow their contractors to carry firearms, over the objections of retarded bean counters in air conditioned offices who have no conception what the risk tradeoffs are in Iraq, then they potentially expose themselves directly to bank-breaking lawsuits on the part of aggrieved families.

Hey--ever hear of purchasing a rider?

Ever heard of reinsurance?

And if the insurance industry gives them a hard time, Insurance regulators could weigh in and force the issue.

It wouldn't be that hard, since supporters of the bill are proposing that we create an additional layer of expense to hire private security firms to protect KBR convoys. And presumeably someone insures them.

So there's a model actuarial table to start with.

It seems to me that A.) Halliburton and the other contractors are pushing the military to provide better security to their convoys in a kind of game of 'chicken,' B.) Since Brown and Root is compensated on a cost + percentage of cost basis for most services, they are trying to inject an extra layer of expense in order to increase their total earnings, or C.) Someone in the procurement office is weighing a post retirement offer to join a private security firm and would like the military-industrial complex to owe him a favor.

Whatever it is, ol' Joseph Heller himself couldn't come up with a more absurd plot line than this one.

Splash, out


(Via Grim's Hall)

A Marine Comes Home 
Beautiful essay on BlackFive's blog here.

I won't dilute it or cheapen it with commentary.

Read it.


Pat Tillman Got What Was Coming To Him 
...or so says Rene Gonzalez in The Daily Collegian.

Gonzalez is a University of Massachussetts graduate student. Oh, and a nominee for Andrew Sullivan's Sontag award for moral equivocation and left wing idiotic lunacy.

I don't think IraqNow is going to give out an award for this guy.

I'd much rather deal with dissent the Tommy Franks way.

Splash out


UPDATE: Here's a response from the U. of Mass. President. Even the State Senate issued a condemnation! (This kid's gonna write a book and make millions.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Nonlinear Battlefields, Nonlinear Thinking. 
This is what happens when an officer spends too much time in rich units.

"They were not intended to be on the front lines," [1st Armored Division Major General Martin] Dempsey said of the unarmored vehicles. "In a linear battlefield, Humvees always operated behind the front lines - in most cases even out of artillery range. Iraq isn't a linear battlefield. As we find ourselves in a low- to mid-intensity conflict, and we have all these vehicles designed for a linear battlefield, they come up short."

Well, that's just not true.

First of all, every airborne or air assault infantry battalion in the Army has a Delta company, which at full strength comprises five antitank platoons of four TOW vehicles and two command Humvees each. The other light infantry battalions may just have a section. But in any case, they are NOT equipped with the uparmored models, the M1045 or similar variants.

Further, these anti-tank units are routinely assigned to "conduct a screen," or perform a security, early warning, and counterreconnaisance mission forward of friendly units in the defense, and forward or to the flanks in the offense. This is what they expect to do on a linear battlefield with relatively secure rear areas (is there such a thing? Has there EVER been such a thing in the history of modern mechanized warfare?)

(Yeah, some Fort Benning/Leavenworth types can quibble with my terminology and MTOE terms. But I'm trying to keep the jargon to a minimum for a nonmilitary audience. So Nmnyah!)

When rear areas are not secure, though, the emphasis for these companies and platoons will often switch to an emphasis on convoy security. Indeed, in training environments, one or more of these platoons are detailed to escorting battalion logistics convoys, or in some circumstances, escorting the Battalion command element.

Further, the uparmored Humvee is far from ubiquitous even in Armored units. For example, prior to my coming to Florida in 2000, I had the pleasure of serving as a tank platoon leader and executive officer in the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Armor. (And it was a pleasure, guys! You guys were great!).

Now, every tank battalion also has a reconnaisance platoon. And our reconnaisance platoon was equipped with--you got it--the M966s. Not the uparmored variety.

Now, General Dempsey isn't going to be able to convince me that a reconnaisance/scout platoon is supposed to operate in a secure, rear area. Because I've been an anti-armor platoon leader and a scout platoon leader once upon a time. And an HHC commander with a scout platoon under me. And I happen to have read the ARTEP and field manuals for both kinds of units cover to cover.

(Not that I'm God's gift to the Army or anything. I'm not. But it seemed like the thing to do at the time.)

Nevertheless, General Dempsey seems to be arguing that on a linear battlefield, scouts function like MPs--providing security to rear areas. And anti-armor platoons don't mass fires forward or screen, but are really just a kind of heavily armed tugboat for Battalion logistical convoys.

The argument runs counter to decades of doctrinal development at Knox, Benning, Leavenworth, NTC, and JRTC. And I've got the manuals to prove it.

But it gets even stranger.

By claiming that the arrangement of Humvees within maneuver units was really designed for a linear battlefield, he raises the obvious question: didn't anybody plan for a nonlinear battlefield? I mean, isn't it part and parcel of maneuver warfar theory to mass your maneuver elements to achieve a decisive breakthrough, bypass strongpoints, and concentrate overwhelming firepower on critical vulnerabilities in the enemy's rear?

And when you supply units which have bypassed other enemy and gone for the Hail Mary, aren't those logistical elements themselves operating in a nonlinear battlefield?

In short, isn't it the goal of the maneuver theory junkies and AirLand battle fetishists to permanently and decisively un-linearize the battlefield?

I mean, we did project eventually taking Baghdad, right? At which time the mission could have reasonably been expected to center on garrison duty, civil affairs, and security missions within the cities themselves, with the garrisons connected to the logistics system through the existing network of highways, themselves running through other cities. Right? I mean, what other form could the occupation have taken?

And we didn't expect insurgents to target our supply lines? We thought Al Qaeda and the other whackos would just roll over? Was the whole 'flypaper strategy' a hoax?

If true, this is a rosy scenario that makes the Reagan Administration's first budget look like it was written by a bipolar Eeyore in a depressive phase.

Anyway you slice it, we screwed up. Either we did not expect the Iraq conflict to be nonlinear (which is hard to believe), or we did not adjust our tables of organization and equipment to reflect the nature of low to mid-intensity urban guerrilla warfare.

This strikes me as far and away the most likely view. At my very lowly, catfish, bottom-dwelling scumsucking level, that was exactly the case.

As an HHC commander or executive officer, I could not request equipment I didn't even know existed.

And I didn't know the high-tech protective vests existed until I saw some Air Force forward observers show up with them (hey, where'd you get those from?), and I didn't know the uparmored Hummers existed in any quantities until I got to Iraq. And I didn't know the Blue Force Tracker satellite system existed until I asked the 3rd ACR for a commo plan for my convoys and they said "oh, we just use the BlueFor. We can see your location on this computer!

Ummm...we're Guard. We don't have, you know, budgets. We don't have BlueFor. What's BlueFor?

If I had known they existed in January-March 2003, I would have requested all of them before the fight even started.

Battalion, Brigade, Division, and Corps staffs are simply not all-seeing. They're made up of hardworking but imperfect people living in families of varying functionality all over the military who are working their nuts off and doing the best they know how.

A healthy environment for brainstorming and a respect for the experiences of all kinds of soldiers of all ranks can go a long way towards helping commands anticipate equipment and logistics problems.

But sometimes things only become apparent in hindsight. And sometimes you've got to see a piece of equipment in action before it can occur to you you can request it.

But no matter how you slice it, General Dempsey's linear battlefield explaination just doesn't hold water.

Splash, out


Operation Take One for the Country 
Another reason why OIF II has it better than the first rotation ever had.

(Via wonkette)

$400 Per Month 
That's how much less a temporarily mobilized reservist receives in housing compensation, compared to his active duty counterpart, according to a March 15 Pentagon report.

Policy wonks can read the whole report here. (Scroll down to page 22.)

Normal people can read the Army Times' synopsis of the issue here.

So much for the "One Army" concept.

Splash, out


UN Fetishists, Take Note... 
Here's an Iraqi voice on the prospect of UN headship in Iraq:

Now wait a minute! Is that the same useless, half corrupted organization that supported Saddam, and still support his likes in the name of preserving the international wall? Is that the same organization that left Iraq and the Iraqi people after the 1st terrorist attack? I hope they are speaking of something other than that.

I hope they want to give the UN some role and not a real role in shaping the future of Iraq, because seriously, I doubt if the UN officials ever care about what Iraq really needs.


Splash, out


Dereliction of Duty: The Armored Humvee (Or Lack Thereof) 
Good old Hack is at it again. And this time firing with a tighter shot group than usual.

Why is the armored Humvee in such short supply when after-action reports have been shouting its praises since 1993?

For sure, there's been no shortage of cash. Since the need for these obviously essential lifesavers became apparent, the Pentagon has ordered more than $5 trillion of toys - from irrelevant big-ticket items like Star Wars II, to fleets of VIP jets to fly generals and politicians to and fro, to Gen. Tommy Franks spending almost half a million dollars on a VIP show-and-tell stage he had sent from the USA to Qatar so he could spin the Iraq War in a slick "Today" show-like setting.

Meanwhile, in this high-tech day and age, the troops are actually back to the same old sandbags and jury-rigged plates of steel welded to their vehicles that my recon platoon used at the end of World War II when we were fighting Tito's insurgents in northern Italy.


You go, Hack!

Splash, out


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Blogger Does NPR 
Phil Carter, proprietor of the Intel Dump and contributor to Slate.com, is featured in an NPR interview segment here.

(Of course, they don't mention Intel Dump. Just Slate. Grrrrr. But I guess it saves Phil from paying for extra bandwidth.)

Splash, out


The Village Voice Gives Up on Kerry 
Man, if you're the only Democratic candidate in the field, and you lose the Village Voice, things are pretty bad.

Via Glenn

Derivative of a Death Wish: Militia on the Modern Battlefield 
Without any U.S. reported KIA in the action.

This is what happens when a raggled "militia" confronts a modern, trained, professional force. This is what always happens.

There's a certain romance that surrounds the term "militia." But that aura is misplaced. Even deceptive. Militia units have never been able to stand up for long against a determined attack conducted by an organized professional combined arms team.

Even the colonial militia got its ass kicked all the way across the New World. Washington couldn't make headway until he got his own regulars in the Continental Army, and buttressed them with professional Hessians and other European troops. The Viet Cong was destroyed as soon as it sought a general engagement. Partisan resistance forces could only attain the most local and limited success against the Nazis, and were regularly chewed up and spat out when confronted by competent Wehrmacht and SS units. The fiery but erratic Celts could not stand up against the relentless engineering and war machinery of Julius Caesar.

When my unit was in Ramadi fighting a mix of Saddam loyalist insurgents and 'out-of-towners,' or jihadist foreign fighters from May 03 through February, time and again the insurgents would get to fire the first shots. And time and again they would miss. And time and again they were pinned down by our own machine gun fire, outflanked, and killed.

Yes, drooling simians like Michael Moore, caught up in the dreamy romanticism of ignorance, have likened the Iraqi militiamen to the minutemen of the revolution.

Here's a little secret, though.

The minutemen used to get their asses handed to them on a platter.

Yes, the Iraqi insurgent has demonstrated a MacGyver-like genius for improvised munitions--fashioning detonators out of car alarms and garage door openers and TV remote controls. He has proven adept at intimidating ordinary Iraqis through fear. And he's pretty good at waylaying cars full of laundry women and murdering them. And he's boldly cut the throats of five-year-old children of suspected collaborators.

But a marksman he is not. He tends not to use the sights on his AK-47s at all. About half of them don't even have a stock. They look cool, though. And their rugged looks appeal to the average macho idiot these guys tend to recruit.

But their arms are next to useless except at point blank range. Everything else they do is just 'spray and pray.'

But the spray and pray method always fails against a disciplined force of marksmen.

Unless a cease fire agreement holds, we will see the same tactics played out time and again, with similar results for the insurgents.

If the US forces are clumsy, the insurgent may get some political play. And that is certainly his hope.

But on the tactical level, directly confronting US forces over a city is a derivative of a death wish.

Splash, out


It's the Freedom of Information Act, Mr. President. 
What part of "Freedom" don't you understand?

Journal Entry, 15 May 03: A Change of Mission 
Journal Entry

15 May 2003

Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

A runner from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Support Battalion ("Muleskinner") came by the Battalion field trains today with a message for the Battalion XO or S-3 to call the 3rd ACR headquarters down in Ar Ramadi as soon as possible. The Bn XO is still in Jordan, though, and the Bn S-3 is out at the Hadithah Dam with the Battalion command group, out of radio range. We don't have phone lines set up, and are having trouble with the satellite phone. The only communication out there is by messenger. As the acting S-4, or logistics and supply officer, I'm the only member of the battalion staff at Al Asad. So I walked down to Muleskinner's HQ to make the phone call on the DNVT.

I got the 3rd ACR's S-3 on the line, and he gave us a change of mission:


We are to relinquish control of AO Patton, including Hadithah, to the 1st Squadron, 3rd ACR, and begin moving our elements to Ar Ramadi. Our new mission is to secure the city of Ar Ramadi, effective on or about 23 May, with a few days built in for our guys to conduct right seat rides with the 3rd Squadron, which is already down there.

We'll be setting up in the Southern Palace compound. I'll have to make sure the line haul of vehicles coming in from Jordan meets us in Ar Ramadi, and coordinate to recieve the expected CLIX [spare parts] resupply dump on order down there instead of here at Al Asad.

I expressed my concern about vehicle readiness to the 3rd ACR and they seemed to understand that, even if we do get the spare parts dump we ordered (about 700 of them!), it will take days to get them installed and begin to get our vehicles up and running.

As of this writing, the Battalion Commander has no idea about the change of mission. I've got no coms with him. I'm waiting for the trucks which just dropped him, the mortar platoon, and the Forward Aid Station off at Hadithah Dam to return. At that point I'll grab the trucks and round up a security element of infantry, and turn them around and go right back out to Hadithah so I can deliver the message.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Media Life In a Vacuum Tube 
That's the only way I can explain this NPR story on the recent Doonesbury strips, in which longtime character B.D. gets his leg blown off in Iraq.

The commentator--a Cambridge, MA-based freelance radio producer named Dan Walker, says that "I know that B.D. is not a real person. I know that he's a cartoon character. But like I said, he's the only person I know in Iraq."

We've had over 300,000 people rotate through Iraq and Afghanistan, and this informed member of the media doesn't know a single one?

Dude, you have got to get out more.

You think media people might hang around one another too much?

After all, reserve and Guard units have been called up from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachussetts, and New Hampshire already.

If he had an ROTC unit at his college, chances are excellent that he would indeed have gone to school with someone who served in Iraq. Well, that's a pretty big "if" in that part of the country.

But when a media figure in a media center has to turn to a cartoon to find his only personal connection to the war in Iraq, then one has to pause to consider the yawning gap between the warrior class and the media professionals whose job it is to cover them.

But it's not just Dan Walker.

Check out New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who has something even more breathtaking to share:

"Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago argues that America is now experiencing a fourth Great Awakening, like the religious revivals that have periodically swept America in the last 300 years. Yet offhand, I can't think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization."

Well, actually, there are a few closeted evangelicals out there. Even in journalism, and even in New York. They just keep their mouths shut in the company of other journalists. It's bad for their careers. They know all about blue-state "tolerance."**)

But at least these two commentators understand that they're out of touch with significant segments of the population.

They understand their unknowns. These are their known unknowns.

But if they don't know a single deployed soldier, or a single evangelical, then imagine their unknown unknowns. The things they don't know they don't know.

Splash, out


**On Ash Wednesday, 2001, Ted Turner insulted CNN staffers observing Ash Wednesday at a retirement party for anchorman Bernard Shaw, saying "What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You should be working for FOX."

Poor, Uneducated, and Easy to Command (Reprise) 
This Washington Post article correctly frames the Red State v. Blue State argument, even as it subtly displays its own unwitting condescension towards middle-American voters.

It doesn't bode well for our beloved republic.

More and more Americans in a highly mobile society are choosing to live among like-minded people. University of Maryland political demographer James Gimpel has documented the rise of a "patchwork nation," in which political like attracts like, and ideologically diverse communities are giving way to same-thinking islands. A recent analysis sponsored by the Austin American-Statesman, comparing the photo-finish elections of 1976 and 2000, made this clear. While the nationwide results were extremely close, nearly twice as many voters now live in counties where one candidate or the other won by a landslide. Person by person, family by family, America is engaging in voluntary political segregation.

If present trends continue, the red/blue divide is going to become even more pronounced as time goes on, as the tendency of people to move to live among their own kind accelerates in a kind of self-reinforcing spiral of political Balkanization.

(Just look at this map of political fundraising hotspots within Los Angeles!

If you know LA, then you know that the entire valley is fairly densely and evenly populated. But the huge majority of the donations comes from a few square miles around Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.)

And so given the fact that we have so many national news organizations with their operational headquarters within a few blocks of each other in Manhattan, the political demographics of our country is becoming more and more important to understanding coverage.

Nevertheless, the article falls prey to a regionalism and subtle intellectual bias of its own.

On Red states philosophy: The idea that faith should inform our public space, and that absolutes, rooted in the Bible, should guide us in our public life.

When Bush extols "entrepreneurs," insists on tax cutting and deregulation, and promotes drilling and logging; when he professes a born-again faith and appeals to traditional norms on issues such as marriage and cloning; when he disdains intellectual subtleties in favor of plain-spoken verities, he is carrying the flag for Red America.

Hey, WaPo...why the scare quotes around the word entrepeneur? You guys got a problem with Warren Buffett or something?

Kerry hoists the Blue flag whenever he embraces environmentalism, labor unionism and regulation; when he emphasizes the complexities of issues and urges an internationalist foreign policy; when he gives precedence to tolerance over tradition and dissent over conformity.

Ok, so red-staters are given to 'absolutes,' while blue-staters emphasize the 'complexities of issues.'

Read another way, blue-staters are enlightened beings inhabiting an ethical and moral plane so high they have to stick their schnozzes in the air to control the epidemic nosebleeds among their heady society, whereas red-staters tend to be knuckle-dragging. mouth-breathing troglodytes incapable of processing information except when meted out to them from the pulpit in prepackaged, just-add-venom homily.

In other words, as the Post has so embarrasingly written before, they're poor, uneducated, and easy to command.


Splash, out


(Thanks to Cori Dauber for pointing out the article.)

The Grass Is Always Greener When It Isn't Real. 
Next time you open your local paper and see an op-ed piece by an expert academic, read it with a healthy dose of scepticism. Because as one Washington Post reporter was dismayed to learn:

the "by" in a scholar's byline may well be a ruse, a duplicitous means of inducing a lobby-authored, lobby-funded piece into print and onto the public agenda.

Well, gee. Imagine that.

It turns out, though, that there's a small industry devoted to the recruitment of professors and other high-credibility names willing to sign their name to a PR firm's essay for publication in order to sway public opinion. The technique is really part and parcel of a staple of the PR trade: Astroturfing.

The article singles out a nuclear industry PR firm, but Astroturfing happens every day at in other fields. It would be interesting to see a similar "literary DNA" analysis of other expert op-ed pieces on other topics.

Here's a dirty little secret: it even happens behind the scenes among military bloggers. Yes, Virginia, there is a vast, clandestine milblogging conspiracy. We'll sometimes email each other about a particularly interesting or entertaining subject, or about a good cause that deserves publicity, or another milblogger who's down and can use some support.

I don't think Astroturfing is always necessarily a bad thing, provided a system of disclosure is in place and the reader knows what he's getting. But advocates and activists need to organize, too. And helping people express a message they already substantially agree with is just part of living in a marketplace of ideas.

I mean, if astroturfing disappeared tomorrow, then the only thing PR firms would have left to do is come up with more stupid stunts.

And do we really need that?

But now that the Washington Post has exposed the practice (not that it was that big a scoop to begin with), I don't think it's unreasonable to expect opinion page editors to do a little due diligence, and input a key sentence or two into Lexis/Nexis or Factiva to make sure material hasn't been rehashed from another piece under another byline, and thus their paper is not being used as an unwitting tool to decieve their readers.

The technology to do that exists now. Indeed, companies specializing in anti-plagiarism software are undergoing a post-Jayson Blair boom, as editors vow to prevent what happened at the Times from happening at their newspaper.


Write your local paper and tell them no more excuses.


Splash, out


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Amateurs Study Tactics; Professionals Study Logistics 
Phil Carter, author of the excellent Intel Dump, has a good logistical primer for the layman in today's Slate.

Light Blogging This Weekend 
Taking a short break from blogging until Sunday. Stay tuned!


A Columbia Student Responds! 
From an Israeli Army soldier currently attending Columbia:

The ban on ROTC and JAG does not mean an absence of
military personnel on campus. At the business school, there is a
student group for military personnel entering the business world.
About 4-6% of students, based on anecdotal evidence, have a
military background. Other schools may have similar groups (I
think the law school used to have one, but it became defunct due to
lack of interest). Also, undergraduate student groups occasionally
bring military personnel as speakers; undergraduates, as
individuals, can - and do - join ROTC programs at Fordham and other

I am not convinced by your suggestion that the ROTC ban is the
cause, or a major cause, of Columbia's turning out journalists who
are ill-equipped to report on military matters. A Columbia
journalism student with whom I spoke today told me that the general
tenor among his classmates was anti-military, anti-police, typical
left-wing liberal. I question whether such students would engage
with issues and events organized by ROTC cadets on campus; frankly,
I don't believe an active ROTC program at Columbia would do much to
change J-school students' opinions. From what I gather, it is not
Columbia that is inculcating anti-military attitudes in the
journalism students - that attitude is baggage that they bring with
them to campus. Having reservists in the class might help, but of
course the ROTC ban has nothing to do with the admission of
reservists to the J-school.

In response, I don't believe that Columbia's relationship to antimilitary sentiment is correlative, not causative.

I don't have figures yet, but a 4-6% veterans representation on a college campus strikes me as a bit low. Especially for a higher ed institution with some strong graduate programs for older students, such as Columbia's J-school has.

Given the fact that the New York metropolitan area contains seven of the lowest ten recruiting counties in the country, they should be aware that they are already fairly isolated from that subculture within the U.S.

If the military were any other underrepresented group, they'd be working hard to recruit people from that pool.

I suppose it's too much to remind them that campus diversity is usually considered a good thing.

I'll do some digging, though, and find out what the average % of veterans is per college campus, and we can compare that to Columbia.


NY Times Needs to go Back to School 
Looks like the New York Times still can't tell soldiers from Marines.

Note to editors: If the units in question are mixed, go with the word "troops" or "forces."

If your field reporters can't tell soldiers from Marines by now, after we've been at war for 2 1/2 years, get new ones.

(Hey, at least they didn't illustrate the story with a photo of a klansman)


Splash, out


Friday, April 23, 2004

A Soldier's Griping 
A Reserve MP speaks out:

Am I wrong for assuming that Reservists and National Guardsmen are part-timers? How is it that the active duty troops like 1AD were only doing six-month rotations while we are doing one year? If so then, why did all of the active-duty units we saw coming in behind us leave already?

Good question.

There's already an MP shortage. Treat your reserve units like that and as soon as they get home it will only get worse.

The 82nd Division also arrived in August and is pulling its troops out now, after a 6 month rotation, although in fairness they bounce back and forth from Iraq to Afghanistan.

They don't have MPs?

The 4th Division, which just came home, doesn't have active duty MPs?

Here's a particularly nutty example:
The 3rd Bn, 124th Infantry Regiment, out of the Florida National Guard, crossed the border with the 3rd Infantry Division and was attached to it during the march up to Baghdad. Everybody thought the 3rd ID did a great job, and when their families started piping up and the griping started to become an embarrassment to Rumsfeld and the Administration, they were quickly ushered home.

But not the 3-124th Infantry. Those guys who had fought all the way to Baghdad as part of the 3rd Infantry Division were stripped from their parent unit and got to watch the Active Duty guys go home, just as the part-timers got the word like everybody else that they'd be extended for a year boots-on-the ground.

Sure, we needed the light infantry more than we needed the mech monkeys of the 3rd ID at that point. And yes, we need the MPs something awful, too.

It is kinda tough to explain to the troops, though.

Splash, out


Laugh Line of the Week 
Check out Ollie North's love in with the Marines in my old stomping grounds at Ar Ramadi.

Now check out this paragraph:

But the Marines do it - far from home, in the dark of night, after working all day, and while everybody else is tucked safely in bed. These 18, 19, and 20 year olds, who are part diplomat, part warrior, are taking the terrorists off the streets one by one. They have already seen more death and destruction and have had more responsibility than their civilian peers will ever have. And they do it all with grace, modesty and courage.

Do Marines do things with grace? Mmmm, maybe. Courage? Absolutely! The Marine Corps tradition of personal courage and sacrifice is unparalled among any fighting force of its size.

But modesty?????


Splash, out


Uncle Sam Wants YOU 
C.C. Kraemer loathes the idea of a draft, and lets us know why here.

He overstates his case by a long shot.

Webster was not alone in recognizing that to take a young man forcibly from his life and compel him to give up his right to himself says one thing: The government supercedes the sovereignty of the individual.

By that line of thinking, Kraemer ought to declare himself a conscienscious objector to the Federal Income Tax. We'll see how far that gets him.

Also, by his logic, the Franklin Roosevelt Administration represented an orgiastic triumph of Fascism.

I don't think a draft is practical, nor would it be cost effective. I simply do not believe that the Federal Government could find productive employment for millions of young Americans. The problem, of course, is that the bureaucrats who would run such a program would try anyway.

So except in times of national emergency, or in times like the Great Depression, when it was neccessary for the Government to provide a massive Keynesian stimulus to the economy, I am not a draft supporter.

But I'm not ideologically opposed to the idea.

Rather, a draft, in theory, would level the burden of arms by including a portion of the affluent students from the families who have benefitted the most from the economic and political freedoms secured by America's armed forces.

It is particularly galling, in this context, that some of our elite universities--with tuitions well out of reach of Montgomery GI Bill benefits--continue to prohibit ROTC programs on their campuses.

Put simply, if we do have a draft, we should start with the students of Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, and Yale.

Splash, out


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Fear and Loathing on Hokkaido 
I swear to God this looks like something out of The Onion:

TOKYO, April 22 — The young Japanese civilians taken hostage in Iraq returned home this week, not to the warmth of a yellow-ribbon embrace but to a disapproving nation's cold stare.

"You got what you deserve!" read one hand-written sign at the airport where they landed. "You are Japan's shame," another wrote on the Web site of one of the former hostages. They had "caused trouble" for everybody. The government, not to be outdone, announced it would bill the former hostages $6,000 for air fare.

Alas, this is not satire. This is straight out of the New York Times.

And now it's time for an IraqNow Stupid Factoid:

Asian-American women have the highest suicide rates of all women in the US between the ages of 15 and 24.

Be quick to forgive.

Splash, out


Good One, Idiots 
Al Jazeera has photos of US troops flexcuffing women and 8 year old girls.


The patches on the soldiers helmets identify them as members of the 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Stewart GA (with a detachment at Fort Benning).

I'm not sure if any 3rd Infantry troops are there right now. Most of them--if not all of them--came home last fall. If some of them rotated back I wasn't aware of it. Which tells me that chances are good that these are old photographs from before September. Honestly I'd be surprised if they were recent.

I can say that it just wasn't done in our neck of the woods. On the very rare instances when my battalion did detain a woman--the only time I remember that happening was when we picked up the sister of a known resistance figure who sources told us was an insurgent coordinator herself--we just called to the local sheikh and he had someone come out and pick her up. And she remained under effective house arrest at the sheikh's house for a day or two--on the sheikh's personal guarantee--while we sorted out the information we had, went through available documents, etc.

After a day or two, she was released.

More often, though, our troops would go on raids, and the women would offer them tea.

These chicks obviously look like hard-line Saddam loyalist trained killers. Especially the little one. Definitely a dead-ender.

Splash, out


Poking a Hole in the Media Balloon 
Check out this funny series of photos of a Washington DC protest over the Gitmo detainees from INDCJournal

Look at the media cage. There's almost as many media as protesters!

And all the cameramen are out there eager to make the protests look as big as possible, of course. Because nobody wants to go out with a crew and have to come back to face the news director and say "well, we were wrong. Nothing happened."

News types are ambitious, and they want to get on TV. If they spend all morning out there with nothing to show for it on the evening news, then they've failed. Do too much of it, too expensively, and they're out of a job.

So they're going to try to package things to make the protest actually appear as something other than a joke--to lend substance and conflict to their story. So they'll do their damnedest to overdramatize the image.

Of course, if they did serious commentary and analysis of the case while using the court as a backdrop, that's one thing. But if they at any point mentioned the protesters with a straight face, and tried to fill the frame with them at any point, then they misled you.

INDCJournal boils it down to this:

Does it bother anyone that this nearly infinitesimal group of protestors has such a disproportionate impact on the public debate via the misleading dramatization provided by a national news correspondent?

Thanks to INDCMedia for pulling the curtain back on the Wizards of Air.

Splash, out


Hat tip: Glenn

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Best. Lead. Ever. 

Daddy, Where Do Journalists Come From? (A Question) 
How can Columbia University--home to our nation's most prestigious school of journalism--possibly turn out reporters and editors able to understand and cover the armed forces, when the University makes a policy of insulating the military from campus? Indeed, how is that possible when the intellectual climate at Columbia is such that ROTC programs have been banned for more than thirty years?

Splash, out


...In Which Jason Formally Hangs Out His Shingle 
That's right, Splashers. My terminal leave ends soon, at which time I am discharged from active duty, and the days of the Army paying me to stay home and blog come to an end.

Which means I revert to my former life as a journalist.

Which also means it's time for me to start networking like mad looking for work.

So I'll start with my very best friends in the world--a couple of thousand hard-core splash-heads who come to read this blog.

I'll start with the premise that you keep coming here because it's entertaining, provocative, informative, or challenging.

If you are an editor, or publisher, or marketing/advertising directory and you need lively, timely, accurate copy, well-sourced and on time, and written for your specific audience, then I can help.

You already know some of my military writing. And if you've been following along for a while, you've seen my soldier's finance tips and other financial writing.

Here are a few more examples of my published work in investing, personal finance, and taxes.

If you think I can be a good fit for your organization or publication, let's talk.

Email me and I'll send you a resume and some representative clips in national publications, and together we'll solve problems and serve your readers.

Splash, out


So Where Does 'Splash, Out' Come From, Anyway? 
I Get a lot of emails asking me 'what does 'splash, out mean?'

Well, in the United Kingdom, it means 'to spend a bunch of money.' Roughly analogous to the American expression, 'to shell out.'

That's not where I got it from, though.

The term actually comes from the procedures for calling for and adjusting indirect fires, such as artillery and mortar fire.

So maybe it does mean, "shell out," after all.

Splash, out :-)


Al Jazeera Omits Al Qaeda Allegation 
An alert reader, serving in Iraq points out that Al Jazeera conveniently omits the fact that the Mayor of Basra blames Al Qaeda for the attack.

Nice catch.

Al Jazeera Sets a Snarky Standard 
For what it's worth, I thought this was a really cool sentence:

Occupation forces managed to limit the extent of the fighting by calling in air support.

A nice, solid, basic article from Al Jazeera, with just the right touch of detached irony.

Too bad we can't count on similar balance from London's Evening Standard and the UK Telegraph, huh?

Splash out


Editorship At the Edge of The Comfort Zone 
Keep an on how the news magazines and other outlets cover this morning's awful series of bombings in Basra.

Many of the news outlets consciously decided to air the graphic, borderline pornographic photos of US security workers getting mutilated and strung up on a bridge like sheep carcasses. (Here's the one the New York Times picked for their front page.) Yes, news editors knew that they would be incredibly disturbing and hurtful to to the families of the victims to see their loved ones so desecrated. But those outlets who released them made a calculated judgement that the news value in the photos outweighed the sensibilities of a handful of families.

Fine. I'm comfortable with that.

In addition, news editors had to capture the singularity of the event We had already seen mobs of irate Iraqis and hundreds of burning cars. This event was different than what had happened hundreds of times before. (Well, something similar already happened in Mosul last year, but there were no compelling images available, so as far as the news was concerned, it didn't really happen. The Fallujah mob apparently had a PR guy with them who knew how to reach the media.)

Indeed, courtesy of the Poynter Institute, here's how the New York Times reached their decision on which photo to run.

The photos served to illustrate the viciousness of the opponent and the virulence of his hatred for Americans, and focused renewed debate on why we are there, and given that there is still a sizeable element in the Iraqi population willing to kill Americans and mutilate their corpses, whether we can ever truly win.


I'm comfortable with that, too.

But this morning, terrorists incinerated two school buses full of Iraqi children. Yet the only imagery I've seen is of the sterile exterior of the bus, if the bus is visible in the frame at all.

Now, in this case, we don't have the downside of American families seeing their own loved ones charbroiled five million times over in the pages of Newsweek. The chances that the families of the young Iraqi victims are small, indeed.

Yet the media is keeping a more respectful distance.

Ok, I'm comfortable with that, too, in and of itself. But why the difference in policy?

Here's one reason:

The Fallujah photos focused the debate on whether we've accomplished squat in the year since Baghdad fell.

Photos of the Basra schoolchildren would focus the debate on how we can get at the bastards who did it, and tear their guts out by the roots.

That's the only way to fight and win wars. And the media is just not comfortable with that.

Splash, out


Poll Slanting 101 
This is one of the most egregious examples of 'slanting' I've ever seen:

Headline: 42% Want Our Troops to Quit Iraq

"Nearly half of voters want British troops to pull out of Iraq, a new poll showed today as yet another country announced it was withdrawing from the international coalition in the country."

Of course, another way to say this is "A strong majority do not want British troops to pull out of Iraq."

It came as Honduras became the latest nation to pledge a pull-out of its 370 soldiers

The term 'latest' implies a trend. But Honduras is really only the second nation to do so, although they were just joined by the Dominican Republic this morning. Of course, there's no mention of the fact that Italy, Poland, Japan, Bulgaria, and other nations have all affirmed their commitment to see their rotations through.

No. That wouldn't serve this newspaper's obvious intent in spinning the news.

amid rising violence

Ok. Well, except that violence is actually decreasing this week, but ok.

and public opposition to America's bypassing of the UN.

Whoosh!!!!!! Where did that come from??? Is that even still an issue? Especially since the Bush Administration is including UN officials in the planning of the return of sovreignty to the Iraqi people, and has signaled its willingness to sign on to much of the UN proposal.

Of course, no mention of that, either.

You know, this article doesn't even read like news. It reads more like an essay in The Nation.

George Bush made clear his anger at Spain's decision to withdraw its 1,300 troops from Iraq in a terse five-minute phone call to the country's Prime Minister.

Wrong. Actually, the Prime Minister called Bush. Get your facts right, Standard.

Some 27 per cent said soldiers should be withdrawn immediately

Wow. That's pretty, umm, unimpressive.

Backing for the war slumped from 53 per cent in January to just 41 per cent today, while Mr Blair's personal ratings remained at minus 20 points.

Now this is the only decent paragraph of the whole story. Of course, it doesn't come until the very end.

Of course, the Standard still ought to be good for wrapping up your fish and chips.

Splash, out


It's Getting Drafty In Here 
A Republican Senator suggests we may need a draft.

From Agents France-Presse.

Again, I don't think that's neccessarily an awful thing.

Well, maybe it would seem that way for some people who think they're better than people who serve in the Armed Forces.

Which is another good reason for the draft.

Splash, out


UN Oil-For-Food Chief Embezzled Millions 
The Oil for Food scandal isn't just the purview of a few conservative cranks at the Wall Street Journal and their cheerleaders in the blogosphere anymore.

ABC goes with the story, and airs out the 'smoking gun,' a 1998 memo from Saddam's oil mullah detailing a transfer $ 3.5 million worth of oil contracts to Benon Sevan, a former UN Undersecretary General, who actually ran the Oil for Food program for six years.

As noted here, earlier documents also implicate a former Interior Minister of France and a British Member of Parliament.

Sure, the Wall Street Journal got it here, first, weeks ago. And according to the Journal's sources, the scale of the fraud committed is actually twice as large as that put forth by ABC.

But ABC is harder for UN apologists to ignore.

The New York Times glosses over the Benon connection here...and buries Benon's name 10 paragraphs deep into the story.

This is a UN Undersecretary we're talking about here, people. He headed the largest humanitarian relief program ever. He headed it. And He stole millions.

His boss, Kofi Annan--who tried to diffuse the scrutiny early on, has a son who may also be implicated, through his role in a Swiss company who also had dealings with the oil-for-food program.

You think Annan is going to be motivated to provide energetic oversight?

Splash, out


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Jason on Plumbing 
"The spigot is willing; but the flush is weak."

The Telegraph Runs a One-Source Story 
...And an anonymous source at that!

Several people have written in asking me to comment on this piece in the UK's Daily Telegraph

My take: this article is a piece of garbage that wouldn't even pass muster in a high school journalism class. Here's why:

1.) The entire article is based on an interview with one source.

2.) The source is anonymous.

3.) The source claims to be speaking for the "British chain of command."

4.) The reporter doesn't even make a game attempt at verifying or corroborating the story told by his anonymous source by interviewing other British officers. You'd think a British reporter would be able to find someone willing to talk to him!

5.) He makes no attempt to contextualize the story with the fact that British troops have been concentrated in the anti-Saddam Shia south all along. American troops, on the other hand, have been concentrated in the Sunni triangle--including Ramadi, Fallujah, and Tikrit--and had always been facing a very different war.

6. The headline uses 'officers' in the plural form, even though only one officer is anonymously attributed as saying anything like that. So the paper's editors are buying into this crap.

If the reporter had done a little more, well, reporting, then one of three things would have happened.

1.) He would have found no one to corroborate the first officer's claim.

2.) He would have found other officers who would flatly contradict the first officer's claim.

3.) He would have found more officers who would corroborate the claim--hopefully on the record.

In the first instance, there's no story.

In the second instance, the story is actually positive.

In the third instance, he would have had a story, but it would look nothing like this piece of trash. It would have been well sourced with reactions from several British officers, and possibly a reaction from the Americans as well.

But in no case would a properly reported article look like this one.

It's a fine example of how not to write a news story!

Where are the Telegraph's guidelines on anonymous sourcing? Don't they tell their reporters that if a source wants to stay off the record, then you'd damn well better be able to verify his story somewhere else?

The Telegraph should have sent this right back to the reporter and told him not to hand in any more copy until he did his $&#*ing job.

I mean, Jayson Blair did better job of reporting when he was plagiarizing from home!

Splash, out


Letters, Good God, I Get Letters... 
One reader takes James Dunnigan to task over the ICBM story:

About the ICBM motors, the fuel in solid rocket motors degrads after time the Soviets have had a bad time with this. This is the main reason the Air Force is replacing them, just in case the fuel is aging. Bad time to find out they don't work when you need them. And while they might work now, the replacement will take a while. Now they might be spending extra for EPA safe motors, I don't know. I don't think it really emissions when they are launched, but rather the eventual disposal of them, when they become old. The stray page is a great site, but sometimes they tell half the story to sensitize the story.

Another reader rakes me over the coals over my treatment of Jim Catalupo's death:

I can't help but think this was kind of a cheap shot...of the sort you'd pounce on if you saw it elsewhere. First, how do you expect the company spokesperson would announce the news of a death? With a laugh and an elbow-jab?

Second, do you *know* his death had anything to do with eating poorly, and of McDonalds food in particular? The fact is, when people get old, they can and do have heart attacks even if they eat well and exercise regularly. Unless you know otherwise, you're doing what you pick apart sloppy reporters for doing.

Yeah, I'll admit, the post was insensitive and in poor taste. You won't find me gloating in perverse glee over the death of Rachel Corrie, though.

Another reader:

They mentioned their difficulties shooting at the Fedayeen thugs et. al., as those courageous scum bags dashed across open streets behind children on bicycles. As they are using our values against us, can we not return the favor? I read about General Pershing in the Philippines, ( I believe it was Pershing), who, having captured some Moros, summarily shot all but one. The dead were buried in pigskins, and the one released to tell the story to his pals. You can imagine the impact on the rest of the Moros. (I believe Muslims believe they will be denied entrance to heaven when so buried.) Why the hell can't we do the same? Or tell the bastards our bullets are dipped in pig grease, or something?

St. Paul, MN

My take: Pershing did not have to worry about a wider audience. In the absence of CNN and Al Jazeera, the only people likely to receive Pershing's message were the Moros in the Philippines.

In this case, though, it is critical to separate the radical Islamists from moderate Muslims. If we can do this successfully, and follow up with well executed tactical operations to kill the radicals, we win. If our policies are perceived as insensitive toward Islam, or if the war is perceived in the muslim world as a war against Islam itself, rather than radical killers and thugs on the fringes, we lose.

Tactics like Pershing's would not serve our strategic goal of separating the radicals from the populace.

Our Swiss friend writes in:

I am appalled by your hardliner stance on Israel-Palestine (remember, creating enemies).
this drives Jordanians into anti US camp.

Look. I'll make it so simple even a Euro-lefty can understand it. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They blow up shops and school busses full of teenagers and children. They blow up restaurants and cafes full of families. They've done it again and again and again. Sheik Yassin was its founder. Rantisi was its head.

The Israeli offensive against Hamas's leadership has resulted in a reduction in the rate bombings and has therefore saved innocent lives.

I know Jewish lives don't count for much in Europe, but for some reason, Jews themselves are rather attached to them.

How selfish of them.

Splash, out


Honduras Withdraws! 
...Latin-American Vagicil Sales Skyrocket

Honduras is yanking its 370 man contingent from Iraq, according to this report from the Reuters "news agency."

But note the way they frame the story in the lead paragraph:

In a blow to President Bush and his coalition partners in Iraq, Honduras followed Spain on Monday in announcing it will pull its troops out of the country.

Why the needless appendage "In a blow to President Bush?"

Does it really qualify as a 'blow?' After all, Spain was a lot more important. And there's no sign the other centroamericano countries are wavering in their commitment to finish out their present tours. So it's not like we really fear Honduras setting off a domino effect, here.

Why not whip out some negative capability here, take the intrusive reporter's analysis out of the news (the analysis was lousy, anyway), and get the flip out of the way of the story?

Here's another way:

Honduras is pulling its 370 troops out of Iraq, Honduran officials said Monday, citing rising levels of violence and political pressure following Spain's similar announcement over the weekend. Spain is currently providing the parent unit for the Honduran contingent, as well as several other Spanish speaking countries, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

Just the facts.

The 'blow to the Bush administration' sticks out like a thumb in the reader's eye.

So why the comment?

Oh, I forgot.

This is Reuters.

Splash, out


Keep an Eye on Doonesbury 
B.D.'s been hit!!!!

Garry Trudeau's taking on some very potent subject matter.

Good for him.

Stay tuned.

Tom, We Hardly Knew Ye 
Tom Brokaw has announced that December 1st will mark his final broadcast as anchor of NBC News.

Will he ever be able to pronounce the word "President?"

Splash, out


Monday, April 19, 2004

Most. Moronic. Decision. Ever. 
In order to comply with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, and at a cost of about $5.2 million per ICBM, the rocket motors on 500 Minuteman III missiles will be replaced with new ones. These rockets will emit less toxic chemicals when used...

Thus, if the Minuteman III ICBMs have to be used in some future nuclear war, their rocket motors will not pollute the atmosphere.

From veteran military writer James Dunnigan at Strategy Page.

That's where all that body armor and up-armored Humvee money went. That's why the USMC has to hold a f#$&ing bake sale to get Iraqi TV and radio stations up and running. That's why we're running a deficit and financing it by floating 15, 20, and 30 year bonds to be repaid by kids now in the fifth grade while baby boomers insist on social security payments at their expense.

Splash, out


(Hat tip: Peter at Eyelinematch.)

An Offer He Can't Refuse Department 
From today's New York Times:

"We are trying to use peaceful negotiations to try to bring the situation in Falluja to an end," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, chief spokesman for the military command here. But he said there was "a very clear understanding" that if the agreement did not "bear fruit, that the Marine forces out there are more than prepared to continue offensive operations."

Now there's a man who understands diplomacy!

Plan of Attack and the Politics of Book Reviews 
The New York Times carries such clout in the literary world that a thumbs down from one of their reviewers can make the difference between a book making the bestseller list at Borders or the Bargain Bin at Wal-Mart.

And so it follows that the assigning editor of the book review section of the New York Times can make or break a book--and kick the rudder of the cultural ship to the left or right--simply by choosing whether to send the book to a likely ideological friend or foe.

Reader tip: Never read a Times book review--or anyone else's--without first Googling the name of the reviewer.

The new Bob Woodward book, Plan of Attack, is out on shelves, now, to fellative Hosanna by the Times' Pulitzer prize-winning Michiko Kakutani entitled "A Heady Mix of Pride and Prejudice Led to War."

Kakutani, it turns out, is no friend of neoconservatism. Indeed, here she is just last January on David Frum and Richard Perle's new book An End to Evil: Winning the War on Terror.

The title of this new book by David Frum and Richard Perle, ''An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,'' says it all. It captures the authors' absolutist, Manichaean language and worldview; their cocky know-it-all tone; their swaggering insinuation that they know ''how to win the war on terror'' and that readers, the Bush administration and the rest of the world had better listen to them.

Neither the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that might have posed an imminent threat to America, nor the failure to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 seems to have given the authors pause. They argue that ''even in the absence of stockpiles of weapons Saddam was known to have created, the threat from his programs was undeniable.''


For any book critical of Administration hawks, the Times Book assignment editor could not have picked a friendlier book reviewer than Kakutani. The deck was stacked. Kakutani is a known ideological foe of Cheney, Bush, Rice, and neoconservatism. And the Times chose her.

This is how they keep the finger on the scale.

Now, in fairness, Kakutani cannot exactly be relied upon to slather praise upon the heroes of the left. Regarding Hillary Clinton's book, Living History, she writes:

Overall the book has the overprocessed taste of a stump speech, the calculated polish of a string of anecdotes to be delivered on a television chat show.


So she can certainly swing a bat from both sides of the plate. But with Hillary, her problem was with the execution, not with the author herself. But when it comes to the neocons within the Bush Administration, it's clear that she holds a set of assumptions so diametrically opposed from them that they cannot be said to receive a fair shake.

But Woodward couldn't pay for a better reviewer.

At least in the Frum and Perle review, her world view is evident in the article. It's clear as Alaska air where she's coming from, and she writes the review one would expect of someone hostile to the neoconservative point of view. She is viscerally hostile to the Bush Administration.

But you can't tell that from her review of Plan of Attack. It reads like a normal review from a reasonably impartial critic who thought that Woodward wrote a very good book.

Here's an idea:

With every new book review the New York Times or anyone else publishes, include a link to the last ten reviews from that reviewer on books in a similar category. Or force reviewers to adhere to a star-rating scheme and provide 5-10 words describing each book they've reviewed over the last three years or so and include them with the dead-tree additions, right there with the article.

We cannot and should not expect book reviewers to be without biases. A truly objective reviewer would probably write a lousy column.

But we can expect transparency and disclosure from our newspapers.

Splash, out


Irony Supplement 
James R. Cantalupo, the 60 year-old head of the McDonald's Corporation, died of a heart attack, said a company spokesperson with a straight face.

This Is My Blog on Drugs 
Here's the Associated Press's Stephen Manning, writing on a problem we've known about in Iraq since day one: Leishmaniasis--a disease transmitted by sand flies, and common throughout the middle east and South America.

The lesions will eventually go away on their own and would not affect a soldier's ability to serve.

Hey, Stephen--you cannot trust the Army to discuss its own medical issues! The Army's always been very concerned with limiting its liability.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and you find that there are actually two kinds of leishmaniasis, both transmitted by sand flies. The first is cutaneous, and the second is visceral.

For example, here's the Center for Disease Control:

The manifestations of visceral leishmaniasis, such as fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anemia, typically develop months, but sometimes years, after a person becomes infected. If untreated, symptomatic visceral leishmaniasis typically is fatal.

Now that's a different kettle of fish!

Here's the hole in the story: are there any documented cases of visceral leishmaniasis among soldiers?

Not to be to trigger happy about this subject. 90% of all documented cases of visceral leishmaniasis occur in Brazil, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sudan.

So my gut tells me that it's unlikely that there are any cases of visceral leishmaniasis yet among soldiers.

Nevertheless, it's useful to make the distinction between the two varieties of the disease, and to keep a sharp eye out for any instances of the visceral strain.

The reporter might have mentioned that its malaria season again, too. And soldiers are once again taking their anti-malarial pills: usually Doxycycline--or, if they can't tolerate the Doxy, then Mefloquine. But Mefloquine has been associated with bouts of violence, psychotic episodes, and depression.

So military doctors have a decision to make: Force doxy-intolerant soldiers to take the Mefloquine until we can rule out the side effects, or take their chances with malaria.

Tune in.
Turn on.
Splash, out


Sunday, April 18, 2004

NOW Who's Flip-Flopping? 
Match the following statements with their authors.

"The Administration's campaign has been a disaster. It turned a guerrilla war into a real war, and the real losers are the civilians."

"I had doubts about the bombing from the beginning. I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic arena."

The President "Has no plan for the end. He ought to exercize some leadership and admit [the mistake], and come to some sort of negotiated end."

"It's not useful for the President's spin machine to be out there saying [the enemy] is weakening...Nothing has changed."

Our forces face "a quagmire. A long, protracted, bloody war."

"I strongly believe we need a simultaneous withdrawal [of the enemy forces], have a stopping of the bombing, and the simultaneous insertion of international peacekeeping forces."

"When Ronald Reagan saw that he had made a mistake in putting our soldiers in Lebanon, he admitted the mistake. And he withdrew from Lebanon."

So who said these things? Ted Kennedy, Tom Daschle, Al Gore, and Barbara Boxer?


John Kerry, Cynthia McKinnon, Howard Dean, and Hillary Clinton?

Wrong again.

Those statements were uttered by Republicans Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, and Don Nickles. In 1999. And noted by Slate's William Saletan.

Here's his prophetic closer:

Some Democrats call Republicans who make these arguments unpatriotic. Republicans reply that they're serving their country by debunking and thwarting a bad policy administered by a bad president. You can be sure of only two things: Each party is arguing exactly the opposite of what it argued the last time a Republican president led the nation into war, and exactly the opposite of what it will argue next time.

Heh. Losers.

Nice work, Bill.

By the way Milosevic's doing prison time.

Splash, out


The Strategic Offensive and the Calculus of War 
Looks like the hard-line approach taken by the "hard-line" prime minister Ariel Sharon is getting results--and saving Israeli lives.

From today's New York Times

Israel's killing of Dr. Rantisi in a Saturday night missile strike, and a similar attack on March 22 that took the life of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, are the two most dramatic examples of the sustained Israeli offensive against the group. While the Israeli military actions have generated retaliatory bombings in the past, the overall number of Palestinian attacks has dropped substantially since they peaked in the spring of 2002...

After more than 50 suicide bombings in 2002, the figure declined to 20 last year. With a half-dozen bombings so far this year, the trend is similar to last year.

Israel has significantly weakened Hamas over the past two years, and it is not clear whether the most dangerous Palestinian faction can deliver on its pledge to launch a renewed wave of suicide bombings, as it has done frequently in the past.



Israel didn't get to pop Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi because some doddering bearded clown in a sheet got heatstroke on a mountain top and stumbled down with their itineraries etched out in a devine scrawl on tablets of granite.

Yassin and Rantisi were betrayed.

The Israelis knew where they were going, what time they would be there, and who would be traveling with them. They even had descriptions of the cars.

That's what good human intelligence will do for you.

And as long as Hamas is busy devouring itself looking for the traitor in their own midst, it's not going to be able to coordinate any major offensives.

This is the beauty of the strategic offensive.

The killing of a leader has value and repercussions far beyond the leader's own death. As long as the Israelis keep aggressively going after them, Hamas has to devote minds and man-hours to defensive measures. They'll have to travel in smaller groups. Their cells will have to operate in more isolation from one another. They will have to rein in communications. They will have to spend scarce resources on expensive MANPADS--which means less money is available for offensive operations.

They will have to employ decoys. They will have to vary their routines. Which makes it hard to do little things like remind everyone "hey, don't forget, we have the truck-bomb committee making meeting on Tuesday!"

Remember too, that Hamas has lost a major state sponsor in Saddam Hussein. So cash flow ain't what it used to be.

Men avenge small offenses. They cannot avenge large ones.
--Niccolo Machiavelli

Hamas vows of revenge are now becoming irrelevant.

They haven't avenged Sheik Yassin's death yet. So now are they going to come up with two revenge cycles now instead of just one? It's not even clear they can properly avenge the first death.

Israel lost nothing by killing Rantsini. Hamas was doing their best to kill Israelis already. They aren't going to do their ultra-double-best now, just because Ransini's dead.

Israel will lose nothing by killing the next Hamas leader. And the next one after that. Bonus points if they can kill them within a month of one another. Now that the Israelis are killing Hamas leaders wholesale, then killing additional Hamas leaders--one after the other--is almost a risk-free course of action.

Meanwhile, if taking the helm at Hamas amounts to a death sentence, Hamas will soon find it hard to recruit quality senior level management for the posts. Their top talent will mysteriously find something better to do.

And now it's Hamas who has to live in fear.

Keep the 'skeer' on 'em!
--Nathan Bedford Forest

An attack in one place can have effects far removed from the immediate objective. And when the attack is pressed, effects can compound themselves exponentially.

Success begets success. When Saddam Hussein was captured, sources in the Sunni triangle started singing like birds.

When the Russians pierced the Axis line as they initiated their counteroffensive at Stalingrad, Romanian units miles away broke and fled.

Small, local successess, skillfully and ruthlessly exploited, can be leveraged into huge gains.

Such is the terrible beauty of the calculus of war.

Splash, out


15 May 03 Journal Entry: So Ya Wanna Pick A Fight? 
Journal Entry

15 May 03
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq

We've started occupying the Iraqi city of Hadithah, Hadithah Dam, and the villages south of the dam in earnest. Our Battalion tactical operations center, with the Battalion commander, executive officer, operations officer, and ops sergeant major, is setting up inside Hadithah Dam now.

Hadithah Dam is actually an important piece of real estate. It provides much of the electricity for the entire Euphrates river valley all the way down to Baghdad, I gather. US Special operations forces seized it early in April, and have been hit several times by Iraqi counter-spec-ops teams, including artillery, possibly operating out of the city of Hadithah.

If they do have artillery, it would be almost impossible for them to be operating out of anywhere else.

We are very concerned about attempts to sabotage Hadithah Dam, in order to deny electricity to the river valley and discredit US forces and foment unrest. It might also be possible for them to abruptly flood the whole valley with a massive release of water. Saddam's just the kind of malicious bastard who might do that.

We've begun pulling reconnaissance on a former Iraqi army colonel who's been intimidating and threatening the local populace in Hadithah. He has not threatened US forces yet, but some of the villagers have come to US forces asking for help and protection from this guy.

Yesterday an element from Bravo company drove by the entrance to the military housing compound where the guy lives, and we confirmed that the entrance is guarded by men with AK-47s. We have the gate and guard on video. He was trying to conceal the weapon from US troops. The B company element drove away without engaging. Wise move. No need to tip our hand.

Bravo company followed up by dispatching four squads in an all-night reconnaisance of the perimeter of the housing complex. Don't know what they found out yet.

The Battalion is considering conducting a raid-and-snatch for the colonel, then use one company to conduct a search of all 600 houses.

I'm not too keen on picking a fight yet, before we have the battalion's vehicles up and running. We still don't have hardly any tactical vehicles or vehicle mounted radios, and no communications between Hadithah dam, Hadithah village, and our trains here at Al Asad.

No coms, no medevac flights from the battle. That much can be arranged with proper planning and coordination, though. We could request some Bradleys or tanks and helicopter support from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Aviation radios are good. We probably won't get an air cap for the entire 600-house search, though, which will take a day or three.

No sign yet of the line haul from Jordan. It could be another two weeks to a month. It's hard to find Jordanian truck drivers willing to drive this far into Iraq. The Jordanian government is also a little skittish about US military vehicles driving into Iraq from their territory.

Flying in is ok. And they're even cool with the line haul of US military equipment on civilian trucks. But when US soldiers are driving their own vehicles down Jordanian highways, headed to Iraq, that puts them in an uncomfortable situation politically.

The result downrange is an infantry unit out in Indian country that doesn't have the equipment it needs to accomplish its mission.

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