Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An encounter with a master 
I had the opportunity on Saturday morning to attend a musical workshop with Jens Kruger - a banjo player I had never heard of before, but a bluegrass player friend of mine encouraged me to go, and I'm glad I did!

I have been to workshops and master classes, and seen some terrific players in small, intimate venues. Benjamin Britten, Joe Diorio, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglass. I have never in my life seen a musician who could bring a hush of awe over a room like this guy, just with sheer musicianship.

He spoke very little about technique - although his technical prowess is truly extraordinary.* Mostly he spoke about restraint, about dynamics, about respect for the music. And even the nonmusicians in the audience were just enraptured.

Salient points:

1.) Play music for nonmusicians. They won't care about your technique, so you won't try to impress them and lock in a bunch of bad habits.

2.) A good accompanist or rhythm section lays down a beautiful carpet. And when the carpet's that nice, you won't want to stomp all over it.

3.) If the rhythm section swings, then you swing with it, most of the time. But when the masters play a solo, they'll straighten out the rhythm much closer to a straight eighth note feel against the swung triplet backing. If you swing against a swing backing, then everything you do belongs to the rhythm section. But when you go straight-eighths against swing comping, then the line you're playing will leap right out at the listener, and you don't have to play very loud to be heard.

Technically, what happens is that every other note you play will be synchopated early against the last 8th note in the swung triplet feel in the accompaniment. This creates a nifty microrhythm that extends through the solo. Listen for it in great jazz and bluegrass recordings. It's all there.

4.) If you REALLY want to learn how to play, don't go to a teacher. Go to a performer.

5.) It's better to learn a few tunes extremely well than many tunes half-assed. When you learn a tune really really well, then everything else you play will begin to rise to that standard.

6.) Music is a collaboration between the player and the listener. If you play a well-known melody, for example, the audience will fill in the notes you don't play. You can manipulate that to your audience's advantage. Hold up on a note...give the listener an instant or a moment to fill in the note in his or her imagination -- and THEN help the listener along with a delayed note that leads the ear into the next phrase.

It was easily the best musical workshop I've ever attended - and it changed the way I look at rhythm.

Although I haven't heard any recordings that do justice to the sheer level of musical mastery that Mr. Kruger demonstrated on Saturday, you can hear snippets and purchase a CD here.

Splash, out


*One technical note of interest to acoustic musicians - if you listen carefully to the recordings, you may notice a subtle chorusing effect on the banjo. This isn't processing. It's in his hands. As Jens Kruger plays, he is constantly moving the headstock of the banjo in a circle. With an instrument of light construction like the banjo, this pulls the neck ever so slightly, and brings the strings sharp on the pullback and flat on the out. The effect is simply beautiful, live. He demonstrated exaggerating it a bit, and said "now, I don't need effects! I've got my own tone knob, my own chorus, and my own wah-wah pedal right here on the banjo!" And then he proceeded to play his banjo with the full-throated, warbling sound of a hammond organ!

It's not hard to do technically. But musically it is absolutely moving.

Jason's Rules of Reporting 
I was having a conversation over breakfast yesterday with a guy who's at the top of his field in the area of risk management. Specifically, he's involved in the structuring and marketing of derivatives to enable large institutions in California to hedge against a wide variety of risks - including risks like California getting swamped by a tsunami or an entire city getting devastated -- New Orleans Style -- by "The Big One" every Californian knows is coming.

He's frequently called by finance reporters, and I said "you know, now, I'm equipped to understand what you do. But five years ago, when I was actually doing the reporting on this stuff for a million readers, I wouldn't have had a clue! So many reporters think of risk in just two dimensions, and when they hear the word "derivatives," they think "Speculation" and "Orange County" and "Bankruptcy." and that's where their frame of analysis ends. But they STILL have to write the story on deadline, whether they even remotely understand it or not.

He agreed with me, and said there were very few reporters out there who "got it," which was frustrating to him - as it is to every professional who works in a field covered by generalist reporters.

That led to a separate conversation, in which I said so many reporters play to the wrong audience. I see it in press conference after press conference, in which a reporter asks a stupid "gotcha" question with no real interest in the answer - he's playing to impress the other reporters and editors with how aggressive he is, or with the fact that he might have read a particular study, and wants to confound the speaker with a fact out of left field. He said "I'm with you 100%."

Now, I was a cub reporter, and at some point, I suppose I was guilty of every sin in the book. I've done some things that - looking back on them today, make me wince. But now that I've left the crazy hours of being a mass market consumer finance reporter, and with the benefit of hindsight gained with an opportunity to reflect, supplemented with an understanding of finance and risk that dwarfs the level of knowledge I had then (and I am just now scratching the surface), I herein enumerate Jason's Rules of Reporting - so that no one coming up today needs to be as big an idiot as I was.

1.) It doesn't matter how good a writer you are. You can be the next Ernest Hemmingway in your manuscript and some editor's going to fuck it up anyway. REPORTING is much more important than writing. Spend your time nailing every fact. Make more phone calls than the next guy. Spend your time doublechecking everything. Let the writing take care of itself.

2.) It's better to come in shorter than the promised word length once than to live with an embarrassing and preventable correction later. If you aren't certain of something, cut it. Cut the whole paragraph, if need be. Cut the whole chapter if you have to - you can always run a follow-up.

3.) Go into every story holding the heartfelt belief that you don't know shit. Reporters get into trouble when they try to impress the source with how smart they are. I did my best work, I think, when I started out the interview with "can you explain this to me like I'm a ten-year-old"?

4.) Write out your planned questions before the interview.

5.) If a source says he'll get back to you on something, nail him down as to "when?"

6.) There was only one Carl Bernstein and only one Bob Woodward. Just like there's only one YOU!

7.) Woodward and Bernstein didn't break Watergate by showboating. They got it because a source trusted them to do the right thing - and because they were meticulous about following up, and worked their asses off.

8.) If you're a conservative, work for a screaming liberal editor. If you're a liberal, find a rock-ribbed conservative to work for. The bottom line is that every assumption you have should be challenged before your story sees print. (If you're a liberal, you'll have a hard time finding conservative editors. You might have to create your own.)

9.) Demonstrate what Keats calls "negative capability." Die to your ego. You are a humble servant of the truth. And that's all.

10.) Read your work aloud before you submit it. You can also try www.readplease.com, which provides a software program to read your work back to you. (The basic version is downloadable for free.)

11.) Whenever a new reporter joins your outfit, welcome her by saying "My rolodex is your rolodex." Don't be stingy with your time helping new people along. One day you may be her editor.

12.) If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

13.) Don't try to cover the circus if you're sleeping with a clown.

14.) Make at least ten phone calls for every story. Even little 200-word blobs.

15.) Have a cup of coffee with the reporter on your beat at the rival paper. Ask him how many people he talks to for a given story. Then double it.

16.) Never have lunch alone unless you're reading something to help you understand a story.

17.) Don't play "gotcha" journalism. It's cheap. Just report the facts and let the READERS play "gotcha."

18.) When it comes time to write the manuscript, you have no friends. Be willing to piss any of them off at any time. (But that doesn't mean it has to come as a surprise to your sources! Call them back and say "hey, so and so from the other party's got me convinced of something. What am I missing?" They might still be disappointed, but they'll respect you for giving everyone a fair shake.)

19.) Understand what motivates someone to speak to you.

20.) Your prime directive is to serve the truth. Nothing else, in the end, matters.

21.) A journalism career is a marathon, not a sprint. And so are your relationships with your sources. And your colleagues for that matter.

22.) You've heard it said a reporter's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." That's bullshit. It leads to half-witted "gotcha journalism" of the worst kind. Plus, sometimes the comfortable are correct and the afflicted are a howling mob of idiots. Your job is to nail down the facts.

23.) You've heard it said that a reporter's job is to "speak truth to power." That's only half right. Your job is to speak truth to your readers. Let your readers speak truth to power.

24.) Close every interview by checking the spelling of the name, title, age, and other relevant basic information. Then get permission to call that person directly with a final fact check. Schedule a follow-up before you go to press, if possible. The source will be impressed that you're more careful than the next guy, and be more comfortable talking with you in the future because of it. You'll also get a direct line phone number to the source for future stories.

25.) Record all interviews!

26.) If you don't know shit (and always assume that you don't) admit it to the source! Most people will want to help you out, anyway, if you've made enough calls.

27.) Dial every phone number and visit every Website in the piece yourself.

28.) The best pure reporter in the building is probably the guy in charge of obituaries. Find out his or her habits regarding fact-checking and adopt them.

Hope that helps!

Splash, out


Sunday, February 26, 2006

An unwilling subject 
The New York Times outdoes itself again.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Adrian! I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!! 
Pass my investment planning final exam. 93 percent. It was a bitch with brass plates!

On to Individual Income Tax Planning.


More evidence of the rigorous checks and balances at the NY Times 
Courtesy of Regret the Error:

An article on Nov. 20 in T: Travel magazine about night life in Buenos Aires referred incorrectly to the city's geography. It spreads west, not east, and it sits on the Rio de la Plata, not the Atlantic. The article also misidentified a popular club there. It is the Niceto; Club 69 is the name of a theme party there, and it is held on Thursdays, not Fridays.

Are we sure the guy actually showed up?

Did the fact checkers?

Splash, out


This is terrific news:

The farmshoring phenomenon, in which high-tech companies choose to open offices in rural America as opposed to India, China, or Mexico, is coming to this mid-Appalachian plateau.

Late last year, two major IT firms, CGI-AMS and Northrop-Grumman, announced they were bringing more than 700 technology jobs to Lebanon that pay around $50,000 a year. These positions are in the same class as the 112,000 IT jobs nationwide that were lost to overseas outsourcing in 2003, according to Global Insight in Boston.

In a town where the average salary is around $27,000, many residents welcome the arrival of the IT revolution. It's also a subtle promise that the region's talented young people may stay where horses and mules graze behind rickety fences on sloping hillsides.

Other technology companies are also putting high-level programming and data- crunching jobs in rural America locales with less traffic and lower rents to cut costs and remove the legal entanglements, cross-cultural differences, and time-zone hassles that come with overseas outsourcing.

"When you look at [farmshore] communities that are becoming successful, they're saying, 'Yes, we can compete with offshore, and we add value to these companies,'" says John Allen, director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University.

Too bad the reporter had to have an attack of journitis:

Critics, meanwhile, worry that these jobs, which are often temporary, could give false hope to desperate communities.

Only some fuckwit who lives and works in NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, or Boston could write that. Those are the only cities where anyone could possibly find any American who's a "critic" of farmshoring. The alternative, my subway-riding drone, is to send these jobs to India.

But this reporter (who also contributes to the left wing website AlterNet) doesn't even bother to find a critic. Instead, the article mentions that sometimes a former call center sits on a rural road. Yes, sometimes call centers go out of business. That is not in ANY way indicative of a downside to farmshoring. That's just sloppy thinking.

These ass clowns would click their tongues and call Swiss cheese "incomplete" because of the holes.

Splash, out


Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Whole Port Thing, considered ... 
It's pretty obvious to me that there was a quid pro quo cut somewhere along the line - one the Administration can't talk about.

It also seems that the ones who know ALL the details about the decision to back the deal are the ones sticking out their necks to let it go through.

Obviously, Congress can't keep a secret.

If the Bush Administration really wants this thing to go through, then I think everyone else needs to get back on their meds. Yes, even Michelle Malkin.

Dubai is the biggest US Navy base outside of the US, I'm told.

We're gonna need it, in any tangle with Iran. Kuwait is too vulnerable, either now or later, to a sudden thrust from Iran. We'll need Dubai to support operations to defend Kuwait, if the Iranians decide to attack in that direction, in an attempt to cut off the Army in Iraq from its logistical base.

You can't run everything from Diego Garcia. I think any serious wargame of a wider Persian Gulf war with Iran would back me up on this. Look at sorties and turnaround times, especially. Losing a land-based airfield in Dubai would seriously erode the optempo of any large-scale air campaign in Iran. We rely on the UAE to allow the use of its facilities in any operation against Iran.

Don't forget, Iran has some serious Exocet missile capability, and they can do some major damage to shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. If they do, we're going to need the repair facility at Dubai. You can't count on Yemen, and you may not be able to protect Kuwait against a determined Iranian move.

Iran couldn't hold Kuwait City. But they could do a helluva lot of damage if they put their minds to it.

If Al Qaeda wants to infiltrate a port operations company, they can do it no matter who's in charge. It's just a matter of a couple of guys getting a job.

It's clear that this is important to the commander in chief. Congress might have a beef, and I might have a beef, if I knew all the facts. But I don't. And neither does Congress, and neither does Michelle Malkin.

It's time to defer the decision to the people who DO know the facts--all the facts. The port deal should be allowed to go through.

Splash, out


Good one! 
I wonder if the Daughters of the American Revolution will riot in the streets of Atlanta?

Hat tip to Regret the Error

In the CD player ... 
A State of Wonder. Johann Sebastian Bach's complete Goldberg Variations, as played by the late, great Glenn Gould.

It took a towering genius to write them; it takes a true giant of a musician to play them.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Area CG Building Counterguerrilla Warriors His Own Damn Self 
It sounds like a headline from "The Onion." But The commanding general in Iraq has finally had it with the "Big A" Army's failure to create effective counterinsurgency leaders, and is doing it his own damn self.

The major criticism offered by students is that it would have been better to have the education six months earlier, when they were training their troops to deploy to Iraq, not after the units have arrived. Short had a tart response: It's not a bad idea, he said, but the Army back home wasn't stepping up to the job. "They didn't do it for three years" -- the length of the war so far, he noted. "That's why the boss said, 'Screw it, I'm doing it here.' "

I agree: FORSCOM dropped the ball.

The Army ought to be begging my Lieutenants to go to the local college to take Arabic, Farsi, and Pashtun classes at government expense. Many times, National Guard officers have time to do this - particularly 2LTs who are still in the Guard Bum phase and have their Bachelors degrees, or are close to it, but still haven't found their sea legs in their civilian careers. Every Reserve Component combat arms and MP company ought to have a lieutenant with at least rudimentary language skills.

And just look at the comments from some of the officers the Post interviews:

"On the surface, a raid that captures a known insurgent or terrorist may seem like a sure victory for the coalition," it observes in red block letters. It continues, "The potential second- and third-order effects, however, can turn it into a long-term defeat if our actions humiliate the family, needlessly destroy property, or alienate the local population from our goals."

If these concepts are novel ideas for a significant portion of our officers, then then Army has institutionally failed to educate its officer corps.

"One of the things I picked up at the COIN Academy is, we don't need to be hard on people all the time," said Capt. Bret Lindberg, commander of another 4th Infantry cavalry troop.*

This should not be news.

I've been infantry, and I've been a tanker. The infantry officers of my generation came up reading Col. Hackworth's "About Face," and studying the Viet Nam conflict. We did that in our spare time, for fun - not because the Army made us.

The Armor guys grew up reading biographies of George Patton, Heinz Guderian, and Erwin Rommel. Their outlook and instincts are, understandably very conventional - until they get to the stage in their careers where they really understand heavy-light operations. John Nagl, the author of "Eating Soup with a Knife," is one of only a few people who really worked hard to get the Army to internalize the lessons history, BEFORE THE WAR, when it came to counterinsurgency fighting.

And other than Nagl, NOBODY was studying Malaysia. I've spent entire days in a classroom studying the Ia Drang Valley campaign, but not a lick about Malaysia, which ought to have been the model for US Counterguerrilla doctrine. NOT Viet Nam.

I was different as a kid. I read a lot. When I was in High School, I had already read Mao's writings on Guerrilla Warfare. Lawrence of Arabia was my favorite movie ever. I had been reading T.E. Lawrence. I had read Ariel Sharon's autobiography. I had studied the partisan campaigns in Eastern Europe in WWII, and knew their capabilities. I keep waiting for someone to make a movie out of Mila 18. (I reread Mila 18 almost as soon as I got to Iraq).

When I got to Iraq, at least I had an intellectual framework to understand SOMETHING of the nature of the beast - although as the HHC XO, I didn't play much of a role in force-on-force operations, except as a convoy commander. (Did hundreds of those, though, but that operation calls for a conventional approach, most of the time).

My battalion, the 1-124th Infantry, was successful in dealing with the population in Ramadi, and at least keeping a lid on the violence. Why?

Well, it starts with the battalion commander. My battalion commander, LTC Hector Mirabile (Who now sports a well-deserved full-bird on his collar but he's not in my chain of command anymore so I can say that without being a suck-up) spent his career in the Miami Police Department, where last I checked, he was the comptroller. He's got a CPA background, and works in the bowels of municipal government. He understands municipal politics. Knows it like the back of his hand. He understands placating competing interest groups and constituency politics. He understood the position the sheikhs were in vis-a-vis their people, as local leaders.

Additionally, I took a look at his bookshelf many times, to see what he was reading. He read The Rommel Papers, to be sure. But he was also reading as much as he could find on Arab tribalism, on Iraqi culture and history, on Islam, on T.E. Lawrence.

COL Mirabile came onto the battlefield with an important advantage over active duty battalion commanders, thanks to his career in municipal politics and law enforcement. And he made the most of it by working hard to develop his mind - and he encouraged it in his junior officers.

The Army had little to do with it. COL Mirabile, it seems to me, became an effective counterguerrilla warrior IN SPITE OF the Army. Not because of it.

Meanwhile, we're back for another AT of a movement to contact through the woods-just like we did before the Iraq war. Each company can get maybe two days on the MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) site. The rest is in the boonies.

We're much better than we were. And the Florida Guard spent a lot of money developing a fake city at Camp Blanding. We've also invested a ton of money in virtual sim training, which is actually good stuff (though scheduling access is always tough).

We're making progress at the soldier level. But have I seen a concerted effort yet stateside to create Counterguerilla officers?

No. They're making progress getting the combat service support lieutenants off of the golf course and sending them all to Benning to become warriors for a couple of weeks - and that's long overdue. But to really Out-G the G, it's going to require a cultural paradigm shift.

Ditch the Clausewitz for a little while. Read up on Mao, Giap, Lawrence, and Nagl.

Splash, out


*(One other note - Tom Ricks gets the terminology right here. Nice. Yeah, the Army uses CPT and not Capt. But that's a stylebook issue. I think Capt. is much better, actually.)

Correction: COL Mirabile spent his law enforcement career with the Miami PD, not the Miami-Dade PD. The text has been corrected.

An outrage to all Islam 
And no, it's not over a couple of cartoons.

Real Muslims everywhere can rise up and put an end to these cockroaches. The sooner the better.

Splash, out


Monday, February 20, 2006

First Command tries a flanking maneuver 
Still smarting from the destruction of their business model and a $12 million fine from the National Association of Securities Dealers, First Command is anxious to begin rebuilding the credibility of their tattered brand.

And the irony is rich, indeed - because Paul Cozby, the Public Relations Director of this living, breathing example of how NOT to do business with the American serviceman has just gotten himself a seat on the Board of Directors on Fort Worth's Better Business Bureau.

I'm sure the BBB can be relied on to help resolve consumer complaints in the financial services industry. NOT! First Command couldn't even seriously discipline the Charleston advisor whose outrageous sales practices were specifically singled out by the NASD. The NASD suspended him for a time, but when I called the Charleston office last spring, he was back at work, dealing with the same military families whose trust the NASD found he had abused.

And Chron.com, the Website portal of the Houston Chronicle, doesn't even mention the controversy surrounding the company. Actually, they quite literally run an unedited corporate press release. Way to serve and inform your readers, Chron!

Splash, out


UPDATE: The Fort Worth Star Telegram details the changes that First Command has been making over the last year or so. If the report is accurate, I must say the changes are meaningful and I'm actually pleased.

The transition from Broker-Dealer status to Registered Investment Advisor is huge, and will require a major paradigm shift in the field, because - as the article points out, an RIA has a FIDUCIARY duty - the highest standard of care toward the client recognized by law - to act solely in the best interests of the client.

Obviously, a lot of salespeople hit the road. Good riddance to them. We don't need their ilk serving the military community. But it looks like there are some positive changes being made over at First Command. It's a bit late. And I don't think the bloodletting has gone deep enough. But what changes they do make for the better should be recognized and encouraged.

On the downside, they are still a commission-only organization. The conflict-of-interest in such a relationship is inherent, and very difficult to surmount - especially when they still have their old sales force mostly in place. They say they will be moving to a fee-only or fee-based system. I hope so. I'll believe that when I see it.

I'm predicting fellative coverage from Military Times any minute.

Splash, out


What it takes to keep a driver in the field 
Had a MUTA 5 drill weekend, which means the unit comes in friday and stays through sunday. We went to the field for the first time in way too long, and the unit's rusty. We've had a lot of new people come in, some of them are in leadership positions, and load plans and equipment knowledge just gets rusty. As in, "Hey, sergeant... where's your radio?"

"Oh, we're supposed to have a RADIO?"

I happened to be carrying a radio list with me, so I was able to say, "Yep...and here's the serial number you're supposed to have!"

Not that I'm usually THAT organized. I usually go to the field carrying a pocket version of the primary field manual we're training out of, the collective task training and evaluation outlines (T&EOs) from the ARTEP training manual, a notebook, maybe a map or aerial photograph of the training area, my training schedule and operations order for the drill, and not much else.

A few thoughts on lessons learned on this exercise:

* Drivers' licensing is a constant, gargantuan struggle. Every soldier who gets behind the wheel needs to have almost a full day of instruction on the contents of AR 55-500. That's a day he's not available to do anything else. And that's before he even gets a check ride. In theory, we load as much of this training as possible into AMBER and RED training cycles. But with 10-20 new soldiers every drill, and the natural turnover of the unit, that's just no longer possible. In order to meet the regulation standard, we have to cut bone and muscle out of Green cycle field training to get drivers and vehicles on the road. Which itself is a violation of training doctrine. We're supposed to PROTECT Green Cycle training. But one cannot train convoy operations unless one has licensed drivers.

Then we've got to get every driver through an online defensive driving course. I can't sign off on a license til the soldier goes through the class and gets the certificate.

On active duty, that's no problem. You can send an entire platoon at a time down to the training lab or computer center or library and knock it out and it's done.

But we're a Guard unit. We don't have a base computer lab or computer training facility. We can't do it on drill time. So we have to get the soldier to do it at home on their own time. As if they will. The reality is between work and school commitments and family commitments, taking a three-four hour defensive driving course on their own time, uncompensated in any way, is really the last thing on their minds.

And I knew this would happen. It used to be only drivers under 26 had to take the class. Apparently, the number of accidents went down, because the Army expanded the requirement to the whole Army. (The possibility that the number of accidents went down because the requirement restrained units and forced them to put fewer drivers on the road - mostly over 26 and exempt from the requirement - does not seem to have registered).

What's more, now that distance learning is cheap and easy to do via the Internet, my soldiers are getting slammed with a new "bright idea" online course every few weeks, now. One or two, I don't mind. But when so many people at echelons above the troop level get a bright idea for a new course, the cumulative effect will cripple the units. Unless the requirements are properly resourced, it will soon a problem for the reserve component to execute.

"Stand down the whole unit for a day for safety training."
"Stand down the whole unit and focus recruiting and retentio

Then, in order to drive at night, every driver has to sit through an ADDITIONAL 5-8 hours of classroom training, specifically on driving with night vision goggles. This is a MAJOR drag on reserve component units, because training time is tough to come by as is. (8 hours always seemed crazy to me.)

Not only that, but I can't use the instructors I want to teach the class. Noooo...they have to be CERTIFIED NVG instructors. Which means they have to attend a two day class themselves a five hour drive away. And when one or two of them leave the unit, or get deployed, I'm dead in the water for months until I can get a NEW certified instructor through the course.

The stars are aligned now: I'm stopping collective task training long enough to knock out the classroom phase of training, because who knows when I'll get another chance with a certified instructor?

The danger is that the Army will cripple itself with regulations and requirements - especially in the reserve component. I could very easily fill up every drill weekend taking care of regulations and requirements and never leave the armory. And the unit will look good on paper, and be absolutely hopeless in the field.

That's not what I plan to do. Somewhere I need to balance the requirement. But when I have a training schedule that is supposed to be locked in 90 days out, and then I get a last minute requirement that X number of soldiers must have an online course I've never heard of on operational security completed within 12 days, using facilities I don't have, when we're supposed to go to the field anyway, then we're tying our own shoelaces together before running the race.

And then we wonder why people leave the Army. The answer is that the enemy on the battlefield has nothing to do with it. Al Qaeda and the moojies deserve recruiting and retention awards, because they're doing more than anyone to keep people in. The Army is its own worst enemy.

We need to remember what's important: Shooting, moving, communicating, supporting, planning and troop safety. Nothing else should be getting in our way. And "bright ideas" for additional requirements that don't facilitate those objectives ought to be squashed.

Splash, out


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pentagon to commence 6.8 million dollar financial education program 
The effort will be paid for out of the $12 million dollar fine that First Command had to cough up to securities industry regulators.
The Pentagon, securities regulators and lawmakers from both parties have developed a $6.8 million program aimed at giving the 1.4 million people in the U.S. military and their families reliable financial advice.

Funds for the program will come from a $12 million fine paid by First Command Financial Planning Inc. The closely held brokerage, based in Fort Worth, Texas, agreed to the payment in December 2004 to settle regulators' allegations it used misleading materials to sell mutual funds to military personnel.

The Government Accountability Office in November found that about half a dozen financial services companies used deceptive sales practices to market costly insurance polices and other financial products to members of the armed forces. The GAO urged Congress to protect military personnel from the practices and unsuitable investments.

The program, to be announced today at press conference in Washington, includes an online resource center, financial training, courses on investing at or around military bases and a ``long-term'' media campaign in areas with high concentrations of military personnel.

Hey, Secretary Rumsfeld...need someone to help run it?

Splash, out


Wounded soldier charged 700 bucks for body armor 
The last time 1LT William Rebrook saw his kevlar vest, medics were cutting it from his shrapnel-ravaged body as he was being prepared for an aerial medevac.

His wounds forced him to leave the Army. But before he could be discharged, the Army forced him to cough up 700 bucks to replace the gear he lost.

This is the kind of bullshit that does more than anything else to cause me to want to leave the Army. This one is obvious. A no-brainer for anyone whose been on the bi-directional shooting range to resolve: Soldiers who are wounded routinely have their gear stripped from them at some point during the medevac process. Weapons are not generally medevaced with the soldier, but stay with the unit. All protective gear is medevaced, though - It's personal protective gear, and the soldier will need it for the trip, and to return to his unit if his wounds allow for an RTD status.

(Memo to the medical unit: You don't have to burn the whole piece of equipment. You can burn the vest. But you can remove the plates and just hose them off, geniuses. If we got a Humvee soaked in blood, would it make sense to burn it? No! We hosed it, morons! Sheesh! THERE'S the negligent party!)

Here's the deal: Soldiers who are rendered unconscious from their wounds, or are in a state of shock (which is a lot of them) are not in a position to be strictly accountable for the gear they are personally signed for. It's stupid to expect that. If a soldier is put under for surgery, he's going to be separated from his gear. The medical unit generally has an informal process in place, but it's off the books at present - it doesn't automatically go back to the unit with the wounded soldier. And I'd slap any survey officer that finds negligence on the part of the wounded soldier under those conditions.

Now, the soldier's platoon sergeant directs the evacuation (even for officers). The PSG should know what the soldier was evacuated with. The most the unit can do at that point, if the soldier does not return to the unit, is create a memo stating the gear was evacuated with the soldier. The property book officer performs the adjustment, and THE GEAR IS SUPPOSED TO COME OFF THE COMPANY'S BOOKS.

(In the case of mobilized reserve component units, though, this is a problem. Many times the brigade HQ, with the Brigade PBO office, does not mobilize with the unit. Hilarity ensues.)

Well, if the company did it's job, the company is no longer liable for the equipment, nor is the battalion commander. Nor is the medical holding unit from whence this officer was discharged. Everybody knows that soldiers don't account for their own equipment until they come out of the CASH ER, at least. So why the problem signing it off? It seems to me to be a straight report of survey field loss.

What kind of retarded bureaucracy have we created?

Commanders need to have a strong command supply discipline program (CSDP) in place. I spend a lot of time on it. Hell, I spend more time on that than on training, which is wrong, but that's the corner the Army's company grade leaders are being pushed into.

Commanders have to be on top of their soldiers, who have to be on top of their gear.

But in combat, shit happens.

And when the potential liabilities of military service exceed the potential rewards, a lot of us will be gone. Ok, maybe I'll still be commanding a Headquarters Company somewhere. The smart ones will leave, anyway.

And if we're gonna punch our soldiers in the face on the way out the door, I don't blame them.

Splash, out


Monday, February 13, 2006

Gay Jodies 
I was with Mickey Kaus until he came up with this wierdo passage:

Marines use the idea of "Jody," the mythical civilian back home who is screwing your girlfriend/wife, to get soldiers committed to battle. The trick might not work so effectively on Marines who are less hot for the women back home than the men in their own units. No doubt other tricks could be developed to motivate gay Marines.


Jody helps get Marines committed to battle? Baloney. In the real world, Jody does a lot to undermine readiness. Soldiers focus much better if they know things are ok on the home front.

Jody isn't something the Marine Corps invented. Jody existed long before there was a Marine Corps. Jody spirited Helen away from Troy and sparked the war that launched a thousand ships.

The reason he exists in song and story is because there's a Jody story in every company, and because there's no candycoating it or avoiding it - it's gonna happen. (Now it's much more interesting because soldiers wives and girlfriends can email film clips of themselves having sex with their new boyfriends. I wish I could say hilarity ensues. It doesn't.)

Jody exists in song and story because since there's no way to avoid it, you might as well write a marching song about it, and enjoy a few rueful, self-deprecating laughs. Soldiers and Marines are terrific at that.

And no, Mickey, there's no reason Jody can't be gay, too.

Splash, out


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ooops! Dick Cheney outdoes Bob Barr 
I suppose now the left is going to try to find some way to blame this on the Bush-Cheney Administration.

Er, nevermind.

"Iceberg, Goldberg, what's the difference?" 
I referenced our piece of crap Sheridan tanks in the post below. MANY emailers have written in to square me away: It should be piece of crap SHERMAN tanks.

I regret the error.

And this researcher runs the numbers and comes up with the daunting task faced by the US Army in 1944-1945:

How can we beat 600 Wehrmacht King Tiger tanks and 1500 Panther tanks with a measly, lousy 30,000 Shermans?

Answer: It wasn't easy. Things got very dicey around Bastogne for a while, Arnheim was a disaster, and things were really ugly in the Heurtgen forest.


"Why is building the Iraqi Army taking so long?" 
A reader comments on the last post:

I have a question about training the Iraqis. How come it is taking so long? A great many Iraqi army vets should have at least some basic infantry skills, so what's the deal? Why is it taking 2-3 years? In about the same amount of time, from 1942-44, the US went from essentially no army to an army capable of crushing the Wehrmacht. And right now we're not even asking the Iraqis to take on a task that is as challenging as that...

Well, I would come back with another question:

Armies fight as brigades. In modern military organization, the brigade is the smallest combat element capable of sustaining itself in the field. And they typically contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.

If you don't have proficient brigades, you don't have an army to speak of. A bunch of separate battalions will run into logistical trouble real quick, and will be unable to sustain a fight for long. Hell, without a proficient brigade command and staff function, two out of your three battalions will not be able to get into the fight in a timely manner, because battalions cannot typically self-transport. On a good day they can move a company at a time, max. And then you have to plan for the return trip and rest planning for the drivers.

No, you have to have good brigades.

So the question is, "how long does it take to build a brigade staff?"

The answer, if you start from scratch, is years. Consider:

In the US army, we take for granted that our brigade staff officers have already spent 1-3 years as successful platoon leaders in their areas of specialty. They've also already attended 4 years of college, 4 years of ROTC (or a similar time on active or reserve duty as enlisted prior to attending OCS, in most cases), 4-8 months of officer basic course training, and that's just the bare minimum to get them propped up in front of a platoon. And they're usually STILL not ready. It takes a few field exercises before most new lieutenants really find their legs. As soon as they do, they move on to XO positions and specialty platoons.

It takes a year or two as a company XO, directing the logistical efforts of the company and ensuring it's synched up with the battalion CSS plan for a young officer to figure out just the bare bones of logistics.

It takes a year or two on the battalion staff to figure out how to synchronise operations at the battalion level, and integrate them with the brigade effort.

After his time on Battalion staff, he's ready (hopefully,) to take on company command. It takes two years to figure that job out. It takes a year of screwing it up, followed by a year of (mostly) getting it right.

Only after a successful company commmand does an officer belong on the brigade staff, in most cases. Without that background, they won't have a feel for synching operations or for the real-world capabilities of the units on the ground, nor will they know what is logistically important to the troops in the field. All they'll do is sit around and dream up new reporting requirements and refine the Brigade TACSOP beyond all usefulness.

So the answer: It takes seven to nine years to build a successful brigade staff officer. It takes longer than that to develop the NCOs that are able to function at that level and at the same time coach the younger soldiers along. It takes 11-13 years to build a successful brigade chief of staff. And 15-18 years to build a successful brigade commander.

The WWII analogy is inapt. You're confusing the creation of a military command and staff structure from scratch (Iraq) with an industrial mobilization on an existing command and staff structure (WWII).

In WWII, we did have the basic cadres to create battalion and brigade staffs. Typically, the regular army would slice off a few key officers and NCOs, and then they'd direct training for the conscripts.

Even then, pound for pound, we NEVER caught up to the quality of the German Wehrmacht in terms of the strength of its officer and NCO corps. And indeed, we got our asses handed to us the minute we took on the Germans directly in a force-on-force fight, even two years after Pearl Harbor.

The German army was not defeated by the quality of the US army, man for man. It was defeated by the sheer, inexorable, overwhelming mass of war materiel.

Even at the very end, it still often took five or six Sherman tanks to match a single German tiger tank.

But we had fuel, almost unlimited ammo, and more and more guys pouring into the theater every week. We also had air supremacy at the end - indirectly thanks to materiel: The strategic bombing campaign severely restricted the German supply of aviation fuel, and they couldn't counter with a strategic bombing campaign of their own.

The US Army, again, was built on an existing corps of roughly competent division and brigade level staff officers and commanders. The Iraqi army did not have any such luxury. We FIRST had to train a cohort of conscripts, THEN identify the strongest conscripts for NCO positions. THEN we had to create NCO academies. You can short-circuit the selection of junior officers to some extent by relying on the existing tribal structure. But you cannot short circuit the selection and training of NCOs. It doesn't matter how good the officer corps is if the NCO corps cannot successfully execute the direction and orders of the officer corps. You need both.

And no, it wasn't a mistake to disband the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army had no NCO corps to speak of, and its officer corps was truly foul and corrupt, and its hands were dripping with the blood of Shia and Kurdish women and children. The majority population of Iraq would never have bought into the existing Iraqi army. The old Iraqi army could not have evolved into anything worthwhile. It was a monster and a retard, and a rabid one at that.

I'm surprised we've been able to create independent brigades as quickly as we have - and my chief concern is not that it's going too slow, but whether the process has been rushed because of political considerations back in the U.S.

My sense is we should just now be arriving at the stage where we've got good companies in the Iraqi army, and selecting the best company leaders for battalion jobs.

Hope that answers some of your questions.

Splash, out,


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Battle handover in the operational and demographic context 
The rate at which battlespace is being handed over to the Iraqis themselves is accelerating.

Here's a map depicting Iraqi areas of responsibility back in September:

And here's one depicting Iraqi areas of responsibility from last month:

Note the substantial expansion of Iraqi-controlled areas.

(Ok, you need at least three data points before you can establish an accelerating trend. But this is still good to see.)

A couple of points to contextualize the information:

Much of Iraq is an utter desert wasteland, particularly in the west. Once you pull a mile or two away from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the population density falls to almost nothing in many parts of the country.

The Iraqi areas of responsibility are largely population centers. Compare the green-shaded areas above with this 1993 map of population densities:

The security burden currently borne by the Iraqis, then, is much greater than the square mileage would suggest. Further, the US footprint as perceived by the average Iraqi is getting smaller, and the US presence less and less disruptive.

It doesn't surprise me that US casualties have been on the decline recently for these reasons.

The future:

The process of expanding the Iraqi Army, I believe, will accelerate, since the units currently on line will serve to train a corps of professional officers and NCOs who will form the backbone and character of newer units. They themselves will create leaders in their mold, and the process will accelerate exponentially.

The battlefield will look very differnent in six or eight months, and will look very different again in a year.

It makes sense for Americans to maintain responsibility for much of the rural areas for the time being, because US aviation counts for more in these areas, and it is easier for the US to bring its superior firepower to bear in the countryside. For this reason, of course, insurgents will not seriously challenge us in the countryside, if they have a choice. But will concentrate their operations in the city - and against the Iraqi army, against whom they can still operate with something closer to parity. I think it's obvious that we're already seeing this happen.

It's interesting to me that they did seem to prioritize a presence in the northeastern corner of Iraq, along the Iranian border. I don't know whether to read that as a credit to Kurdish progress, or the perception of a serious threat of infiltration from Iran, or the perception that the threat of infiltration from Iran is NOT serious - in that sector, anyway, and so a local security force is fully capable of addressing it. It could just be a function of the higher population densities there. Really, I don't know what to think.

I suppose there are elements working behind the scenes to ensure that Kurdish security forces - which already had a huge head start - do not rocket too far past the units from the rest of Iraq. If they did, the temptation for Iraqi Kurdistan to declare its independence would grow stronger. And the issues of resettlement will be a problem for a generation or more to come. Just another piece of Saddam's awful legacy.

The bottom line:

Watch how the maps turn green, and compare that with an overlay of population centers. This is the fruition of the operational approach so superbly illustrated by Bill Roggio.

(Remember about watching those cities turn from Red to Blue? As I wrote back in October:
Roggio's grasp of the difference between a sweep operation and a clear and hold operation is key - and it's an aspect of the conflict that traditional media outlets have across the board failed to understand.

Watch the graphics. Watch how the red blips - representing towns in which coalition forces could not keep a robust security force on station to combat the insurgents - turn blue. The blue blips don't represent sweetness and light. But they do represent towns where pro-Iraqi forces have taken ground, are consolidating gains, and are now developing their own human intelligence networks with which to take the fight to the enemy at the time and place of our own choosing.

This does not mean that fighting will end tomorrow. The blue blips don't mean guerrilla resurgence is impossible. The insurgents can elect to concentrate their forces anywhere they think they can get to.

But it does mean that they will have to try to do so, and to consolidate and leave a healthy footprint in areas where Iraqi forces have set up increasingly strong and credible intelligence networks of their own, and it will be increasingly difficult for insurgents to concentrate in strength, undetected. Out-of-towners, especially foreigners - stick out like sore thumbs in Iraqi neighborhoods, and every time they try to gather 100 people or so to pick a fight they run the risk of exposing themselves.

It's all coming together.

Splash, out


Thank you, sergeant 
Via Blackfive

Friday, February 10, 2006

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated 
Hey, still here. Sorry for the light blogging. Been busy between army stuff and studying.

I've been around, though. All the action has been in the comments section to this post.

More to come.


Monday, February 06, 2006

The die is cast 
...So I resigned from my current employer last week.

Yep. I was a financial industry copywriter for a marketing company. I resigned for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. But basically I was stagnating, the writing was too easy, and I wanted to do something more challenging, and leverage my financial niche as a writer more effectively.

I also felt that as a financial industry/retirement industry marketing writer with some specific industry knowledge I've gained over the years, I should be able to earn a modest premium over a general practitioner advertising/brochure copywriter. And with unemployment now around 4.75 percent, now seemed like a good time to do it.

So what's next?

In the short run, I'm going to take a bit of time and complete my long-neglected Certificate in Financial Planning. I'll be a Registered Financial Consultant then, which isn't a huge deal, but it gives me a few more options.

Next, I've got a couple of different ways I can go:

A. Stay a copywriter, but seek employment on staff with an investment house. I'd be doing the same thing, although probably with more challenging material, with more web interactivity, but earning nearly twice the money. Upside - steady pay. Downside - the job hunt will take a while, and most likely involve relocation. That's not a terrible thing - unless there's no one I can play tunes with. (Not a problem in Boston, New York, Seattle, Portland, or Chicago, though!)

B. Freelance writing. Mostly writing articles for financial trade journals. This would generate about the same as I'm making now, if things go well, after a while but with much more freedom, which I like. Downside - no benefits. As far as 401(k)s go, that's not as big a deal as it used to be, since I can set up a sole proprietor 401(k). But medical benefits are more valuable than ever, and they're not going to get any less valuable as time goes by. Upside - I can schedule the occasional concert tour/festival gig.

C. I can go ahead and launch as a financial advisor, with one of the midsize investment firms (i.e. Raymond James). Main things I'd look for - an ability to scale into a fee-based or, preferably, a fee-only practice, and no pressure to sell "in-house" proprietary products or annuities, and an ethical, client-centered climate. I'm willing to give up a lot of money to feel good about what I do, and a good advisor can do a family a world of good, as I've written here on this blog.

I do believe in holistic financial planning, and I've long had an interest in it. I also like the entrepeneurial aspects of it.

Upsides: Potentially lucrative.
I am very strongly attracted to the profession
I believe that I can do the client a lot of good, in most cases, in a fee-only capacity (basically meaning I charge by the hour, not by the transaction).

Once my Certificate in Financial Planning is out of the way, I can sit for the CFP exam. Once I pass that, I just have to work in the industry for three years providing financial services to earn the CFP mark, which is the gold standard in personal financial advisement. (Yeah, some people say it's the ChFC. But they ain't getting the press. Same with the CLU. They're awesome, but when people look for a financial planner, they look for the CFP.)

Once I get established, it's difficult to relocate. Especially if my firm doesn't practice there. Most of my family is in Hawaii and the West Coast.

The first couple of years can be very dicey. That's the same with any business startup. I have some savings, but I can't go for a year or live on a spouse's income during the lean times while I build my book of business.

Lastly, my natural market here doesn't have much money. Basically, I hang out with a bunch of near broke soldiers and musicians. So what markets I do build, I'd have to bust my ass to do it.

The main variable there, I think, isn't the house I work for. It's basically whether or not I get discouraged during a slow spell, and whether I can hook up with a good mentor in the business who is willing to show me the ropes. It's a huge business. I can do it, or I can learn it, but I can't do both by myself. I'll need some help along the way. The financial part will be the easy part. But building a business appeals to me quite a bit. I don't see myself buying a servicemaster franchise.

D. I could go back into journalism. This doesn't pay crap, and it's probably not going to buy a decent sized house anywhere I'm likely to work. But breaking stories and scooping the frog-face at the paper across town makes me happy. So there.

Does it sound like I lack focus? Well, maybe. But I have a lot of options and a lot of interests - for which I consider myself very lucky. I'm excited and looking forward to the next professional adventure.

Whatever I do, you can bet there will be a lot of music and a lot of good friends.

Meanwhile - need anything written?

Splash, out


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blackfive on the media 
I'm quoting him verbatim, because I can't say it any better: "I wasn't able to say everything that I wanted to say "On the Story". I think that I was asked two questions, and it went by quickly. I did say that while Iraqi school openings weren't exactly newsworthy, the heroism of our Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines IS NEWSWORTHY.

I asked if anyone had heard of Brad Kasal, or Rafael Peralta or Paul Smith?

I believe that I didn't get much of a response. I had a long list that I didn't have time to present - starting with Rick Rescorla, then Jason Dunham, Zach Wobler, Kenneth Conde, Hoby Bradfield...You can read more about military people that you should know here and more about our fallen heroes here.

Until the media stops celebrating it's own celebrity and starts focusing on people that are real heroes, we stand to lose. When Sean Penn's words matter more than Corporal Jeff Starr's, we stand to lose. And when the media does pay attention to the words of a Jeff Starr, they select only the words that serve their own agenda. What other conclusion is there other than much of the media wants us to lose the will to fight the war."


Splash, out


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Michael Yon wins! 
The Army reverses course on Michael Yon's dispute over his rights to his own intellectual property.

Those Army lawyers seem to have forgotten whom they work for: Commanders, soldiers, and the people of the United States.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Compare and Contrast 
T-Bone65, a frequent commenter here of late, has a few things to say about comparing the ChimpyMcBushHitler Administration to Nazis.

A powerful post.

Splash, out


Great moments in: Newspaper layout 
Leave it to a German newspaper. This paper accidentally ran an ad advertising "the Gas of Tommorrow" next to a story on the mass murder of Roma people at Auschwitz.

Very roughly translated (my German is rusty), the ad reads "Eon: Procuring today the gas of tomorrow."

Via Regret the Error


Splash, out


Where's a Hollywood blacklist when you need one? 
"You're whores.

That's what Jim Geragty's calling actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey for starring in a Turkish film entitled "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq"

In the most expensive Turkish movie ever made, American soldiers in Iraq crash a wedding and pump a little boy full of lead in front of his mother.

They kill dozens of innocent people with random machine gun fire, shoot the groom in the head, and drag those left alive to Abu Ghraib prison where a Jewish doctor cuts out their organs, which he sells to rich people in New York, London and Tel Aviv.

I think Jim Geragty should apologize.

To whores.

Splash, out


Countercolumn News Ticker 
RIOT: Hindus protest Chick-fil-A ad campaign ...

Washington Post defends cartoon ...
Hundreds of amputees stage "protest march/roll/hop" ...

Muslims protest French newspaper ...
France surrenders to Germany ...

Root cause of Palestinian/Israeli conflict unveiled:
Hamas: "Do those &*^#ing Jews have to put %@*ing cream cheese on everything???"
Israel adds Hebraic scripting to national flag: "Is there any more sour cream?" ...

Howie Mandel ejected from Hoboken synagogue after "rubber glove" yarmulke flap ...

New York Times: Bush DNA a 98% match with Hitler ...

Scientists: Poor intonation, violin bow movement may be linked ...
Dobro and steel players hail the news ...
Guitarists don't seem to notice ...

Developing ...

This is interesting ... 
Last year, the Army National Guard was awarding a full 11B MOS qualification to any soldier who had come over from the USMC and had completed the Marine Combat Training Course. 11B is the standard, garden-variety infantry soldier military occupational specialty in the Army.

Today, I got a memo saying that policy is rescinded. From now on, all prior service Marines coming to join the Guard will have to go to Fort Benning for infantry MOS Qualification.

Some have read it to indicate that USMC training is slipping, but I doubt it. I just think that a Marine who goes through boot camp, etc., and then becomes a clerk or a commo soldier for six or eight years gets rusty with his infantry skills, and needs a refresher.

There have also been some doctrinal advances and weaponry advances recently.

The Marines I've had join up have always been good troops. Wound a bit tight once in a while, but solid and energetic and technically and tactically proficient.

Splash, out


Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Jason's clearly an idiot" 
...and other thoughts in the comments to this Washington Monthly blog entry.

My fave: "Did anyone find out what branch this guy was detailed to? I was wondering if we were going to find out this guy was in a non-combat arms branch. That would be hilarious. A FL National Guard captain from the finance corps commenting on Special Forces Command operations and policies--classic."

Good to know I picked up another fan!

Splash, out


Compare and Contrast 
Baldilocks compares and contrasts two well-known women protesters. And the first has some valuable lessons for the second.

Man, where does the Army get these lawyers! 
When they're not dissuading commanders from hitting legitimate targets and materially setting back our war aims ...

When they're not prosecuting a Captain for doing the decent thing and putting an expectant Iraqi out of his misery...
When they're not mischaracterizing the law and going after a lieutenant in combat for burning two Taliban corpses after locals refused to pick them up and after they were stinking up his position ...

When they're not prosecuting a Lieutenant for making sure a dead Iraqi who just tried to kill him was well and truly dead ...

When they're not misreading the law and prohibiting U.S. snipers from using legal hollow-tip bullets...

They're claiming that a waiver of liability in case of personal injury clause entitles the Army to steal journalists' intellectual property.

Splash, out


The WaPo Cartoon 
Several people have emailed me asking for my take on the Washington Post cartoon that prompted a written protest from all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Sorry, gang, but I just can't bring myself to muster a lot of outrage here.

Sure, it was tasteless. And that tastelessness is compounded by the fact that the WaPo is the hometown newspaper for a lot of military people, and the hometown paper to Walter Reed Medical Center.

I don't think it was anywhere near as tasteless as some of Ted Rall's stuff - and while I agree with Rumsfeld concerning the overall state of the Army, I thought the subject matter was a legitimate point for satire.

More broadly, I think any political humorist should be willing to alienate or offend anybody at any time. Our wounded warriors deserve to be treated with respect - and all human beings ought to be able to feel some empathy. And yes, the Post crossed the line.

But political cartoonists ought to be edgy. I'd rather they were edgy - and even offended me once in a while - than boring.

It's ironic to note that the Malkinites and the rest of the right wing of the blogosphere are simultaneously up in arms about this cartoon and the protests over the likeness of Mohammad depicted in a cartoon in Denmark - and take precisely the opposite position on each one.

Mohammed is not a sacred cow. And neither are amputees.

I myself have had fun at the expense of amputees on this very forum. More than once. I've been deliberately provocative many times, particularly in the Countercolumn News Ticker. I expected reams of hate mail. But I never got any. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

For me to go off in a rage over Tom Toles' cartoon after I've run fake headlines about how nobody at the Quadriplegic Veterans Association of America seems to be picking up the phone, and how their board meetings "descend into acrimony, stump-pointing" would simply be hypocritical.

And I did so for cheap laughs! I can't lay claim to illustrating some larger truth about readiness - at least in those headlines.

Tom Toles went over the line, maybe.

I forgive him.

Once in a while, you gotta cut people a little slack.

And with that I'll get off my stump.

Splash, out


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Google stock plunges 
Lost 16 percent in after hours trading today.

Damn. I was just talking to someone about shorting it a week ago tuesday! Someone in my family owns it long, and asked me what I thought of it. I told him I hadn't looked at fundamentals, but it smelled screamingly overhyped to me. Like something I hadn't seen sinc the Internet bubble popped back in 2000, and that I thought it would be a prime candidate for shorting. I didn't do it though, so it doesn't count. In investing, nothing you don't do with real money counts.

I did pull about 25% out of stock funds two weeks ago, with the Dow still over 11,000, and fortunately missed the 200 point plus drop last friday.

Overall, I thought too much good news was priced into the stock market, and its future looked pretty cloudy to me. Everyone was talking about how strong the economy is. And it IS strong - but when EVERYONE thinks it's strong, they bid stocks up to stupid levels, and so I lightened up on stocks, put the proceeds into cash, and then took the opportunity to replace the trusty rusty Saturn SL-1 I had been driving. Hardly a chick magnet.

That's about the boldest market timing move I'll ever make, though - and I would have made it anyway, sooner or later. I was comfortable selling US large caps with the Dow at 11,000. I'm comfortable buying at levels around 10,000 or 10,200.

Going forward, I'm considering a couple of ideas, just for an edge:

1.) Favoring growth & income stocks over a broader index.

2.) Dividing my Vanguard S&P 500 fund into two funds - the Vanguard Large Cap Growth Index and Vanguard Large Cap Value Index. Here's why: At any given time, the two funds taken apart, with a 50-50 split, equal the Vanguard 500 as a whole. And long term, value stocks SLIGHTLY outperform growth stocks last I checked (but there's all kinds of games you can play just by picking time periods. The difference may be statistical noise.)

By splitting my holdings between the two, AND rebalancing back to a 50-50 mix once per economic cycle (as best as one can guess in the middle of it - but once per year seems to be too frequently for my own admittedly coked-up risk tolerance) I would, in theory, effectively buy extra shares of out-of-favor stocks and sell extra shares of hyped-up stocks, while decreasing my risk at the extremes of the market.

You get a similar effect, though, just by virtue of dollar cost averaging into a 500 fund. so it may be more trouble than it's worth. I got the idea from Dan Weiner, a guy who runs a good newsletter called the Vanguard Investment Advisor.

It seems interesting, though, and I thought I'd pass it along. Theoretically, a similar approach based on sector ETFs that all add up to the sector weighting of the S&P 500 could work, too. But transaction costs get in the way except on huge amounts.

3.) Lightening up on REITs. I bought my first REIT fund a year ago, gritting my teeth because REITs seemed hugely expensive even then. But I didn't have anything in that asset class at all, and Id been priced out of my own market for houses, anyway. I got it as an asset allocation ploy rather than as something I thought would do well. I just wanted a broad portfolio that included real estate, large caps, small caps, foreign stocks, and short-term bonds. Passing on commodities and precious metals for now, thanks.

Stayed out of bonds altogether for the longest time, but I did establish a small position at the short end of the yield curve last year. They stayed flat. But the higher quality stuff is beginning to become more interesting to me.

I'd stay away from the high yield stuff for now, although I like them at the beginning of economic expansions. This current expansion seems to be pretty mature to me, though, and high-yield bonds are too economically sensitive for me right now.

4.) Looking at taking some money off the table in small caps, too, for the same reasons. Large caps seem to be the best equity buy at the moment.

I do almost everything entirely in indexes, though. I'm an inveterate Boglehead.

5.) I'd be comfortable buying real estate today almost anywhere except California and South Florida. Unfortunately, I live in South Florida. Although even there I think the lower end housing will be fine. The condo owners on the beach are going to take it on the chin, though.

That's my outlook. Check with me in a year or two, and let's see how this pans out.

Splash, out


Didn't watch the State of the Union 
Had to go into the unit tonight to work on training schedules and sign documents. Then had dinner with my father and flirted with cute latina waitresses in a Coconut Grove steakhouse called "The Knife."

Te amo, Cynthia! :-)

Splash out


Another lie debunked 
There's been a story floating around that some commander told troops that they would not qualify for SGLI payments if they were killed in Iraq wearing Dragon Skin or some other unauthorized private purchase body armor.

It may be true that some commander was running his mouth off off the reservation, but the idea that unauthorized body armor would disqualify troops from SGLI was false on its face.

An SGLI contract is a private contract between a service member and an insurance company. A moment's thought makes it quite clear: No commander at any level can unilaterally alter the terms of that contract.

Unfortunately, too many reporters are undereducated and don't have a lick of common sense. I steered a couple of reporters off the story - or at least suggested they look deeply into the law of contracts before they went off half-cocked on the "Let's Embarrass Bush (LEB) Story du Jour."

At the very minimum, I suggested they source a little bit better, and talk to the insurance companies themselves before going with a story based on the hearsay of two yahoos who say they heard something from some captain.

I hope they took my advice.

Splash, out


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