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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Woman Soldier Receives Silver Star for Valor in Iraq

We wrote previously about the Nebraska National Guard unit ambushed in Iraq. Now a soldier from the Kentucky MP Company that came to the rescue of the Nebraskans has become the first woman to win a Silver Star since WWII.
DefenseLINK News: Woman Soldier Receives Silver Star for Valor in Iraq: "By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, June 16, 2005 -- For the first time since World War II, a woman soldier was awarded the Silver Star Medal today in Iraq.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Ky., received the Silver Star, along with two other members of her unit, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike, for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy. Other members of the unit also received awards. Hester's squad was shadowing a supply convoy March 20 when anti-Iraqi fighters ambushed the convoy. The squad moved to the side of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route. Hester led her team through the 'kill zone' and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds. She and Nein, her squad leader, then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle. When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured."
Thank you Sgt. Hester, Sgt. Nein, Spc. Mike, and the entire 617th for your heroism on that day and every day. An extra thank you, too, for the Nebraska connection.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

The End of Civilized Discourse

Here's a letter to the editor that was published recently. The topic under "debate" is Wal-Mart's bid to open a new store in the area. We have removed the name of the writer and of the person she was responding to. The original is otherwise unaltered.
"Perhaps [name removed]'s nine years at Wal-Mart (letter, June 7) have clouded her judgment. She justifies underhanded trade and labor policies by saying 'Coffee comes from places where poverty and suffering are a fact of life. Wrong, yes. But Wal-Mart didn't create that.' How compassionate!

No, Wal-Mart didn't create poverty and suffering, but it does propagate it. Sweatshops abroad destroy communities and lives. Wal-Mart looks the other way and claims to have washed its hands of Third World blood.

Sorry, but even if you didn't create poverty and suffering, you're still guilty if you take advantage of it. Just ask the good folks behind Iran-Contra and Nazi Germany, among other atrocities."
We happen to have a passing acquaintance with the author of this letter. She's a recent high school graduate with an excellent academic record. She's headed to a good college. Evidently, from her last paragraph, she has no sense of proportion.

While one might have an intelligent debate about some aspects of Wal-Mart's business practices, comparing Wal-Mart officials to Nazis is grotesque. It's grotesque, yet surprisingly common, as the worst aspects of the internet continue to spill over into the offline world.

Mike Godwin formulated Godwin's Law taking note of this in 1990:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. In addition, it is considered poor form to invoke the law explicitly. Godwin's law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. "
Our own observations suggest that the average time/number of posts to reach Godwin's endpoint has declined dramatically since 1990. What used to take weeks or months now often occurs in hours.

This sort of comparison is a trivialization of Hitler's crimes. Do the murders of six million innocents mean so little? Is Hitler just like any CEO?

So, "poor form" be damned, we officially invoke the Usenet rule and declare that Ms. X, by bringing the Nazis into the discussion, has lost her debate with Ms. Y.

Of course, the Iran-Contra reference was also totally gratuitous. We would have been suitably outraged by this foolishness, had it not been immediately topped by the Nazi reference. Our own view of the Iran-Contra affair is that it was an attempt by the Democrats to criminalize a political dispute. Certainly, Ronald Reagan's view of the Sandinista regime was justified at the time and completely vindicated by history. As soon as the people of Nicaragua got a chance to vote in free and fair elections, the Sandinistas were out on their ears.

As for the original argument, consider two cases: 1) the status quo, with Wal-Mart or its contractors producing goods under "harsh" working conditions in poor country A; and 2) Those production activities taking place somewhere else. Which of these harms the workers in Country A? Which helps? Do the workers in those "sweatshops" in Country A want the jobs? If not, why are they working there? If Ms. X gets her wish and Wal-Mart goes out of business, how will these workers feed their families?

Fidel Castro routinely blames the US for Cuba's dismal economic performance, because the US does not permit trade with Cuba. How can the US be damaging Cuba by not trading with it and at the same time damaging other countries by trading with them? If we want to alleviate poverty in poor countries, should we trade with them or embargo them?

Genghis (Jenghiz) Khan got a "bad rap"

In a recent post Abe noted a politically correct correct treatment of Genghis Khan in modern American textbooks. While I have no tolerance for diluted (and wrongheaded) textbooks, I must step in and defend the name of Genghis Khan, who has suffered from terrible P.R. for centuries. John Woods, a University of Chicago professor of Central Asian history and the academic director of the current expedition to locate the tomb of Genghis Khan, paints a more complete picture than is typically presented. A sound-byte synopsis of Dr. Woods' work is that "Genghis Khan was as much of a hero and as much of a villan as Alexander the Great."

More details may be found in an audio interview at the following location. It is well worth a listen (at least for the first few minutes).

This recording is from Milt Rosenberg's Extension 720 program on WGN radio in Chicago. It is generally a wonderful program and it is very frequently audible at 720 on the AM band in Lincoln (despite the 500 mile distance.)

The textbook referred to in the original post is most likely guilty of mushy thinking, but I just had to give old Genghis his due...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Geneva Convention and Terrorists

James Taranto, who writes the always excellent Best of the Web Today has outdone himself today. Earlier this week Sen. Dick Durbin compared American soldiers to Nazis, Pol Pot's minions, and Stalin's killers. Durbin, showing that he was not suffering from temporary insanity, is refusing to appologize.

Taranto lets him have it with both barrels (rhetorically speaking):
"In truth, it isn't the Bush administration that is abandoning the Geneva Conventions. It is the critics, such as Amnesty International, who insist that terrorists should be protected under the conventions as if they were legitimate soldiers or civilians. The purpose of the Geneva Conventions is not to protect combatants' 'human rights' but to spell out the rules of war, rules that impose reciprocal obligations on both sides of a conflict.

A central reason for those rules is to protect civilians by declaring that they are not legitimate targets of military action. Combatants who pose as civilians (i.e., do not wear uniforms) or who target civilians are spies and terrorists respectively and are not entitled to protection as prisoners of war. Indeed, Durbin acknowledged in his Senate speech that 'the Geneva Conventions do not give POW status to terrorists.'

[...] As the Amnesty International report linked above notes, the source of the commentary Durbin quoted is the International Committee on the Red Cross, and it refers to Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians captured during wartime. Yet the actual text of Article 4 says something quite different:
Nationals of a neutral State who find themselves in the territory of a belligerent State, and nationals of a co-belligerent State, shall not be regarded as protected persons while the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State in whose hands they are.
This would exclude someone like Mohammed al-Qahtani, the Saudi national whose 'torture' at the lungs of Christina Aguilera made the cover of Time this week. As a matter of international law, his fate has nothing to do with the Geneva Conventions but is a matter between Washington and Riyadh.

In any case, if Dick Durbin thinks terrorists are the moral or legal equivalent of civilians, let him say so directly. And even if this is a legitimate point of view, it doesn't excuse his smearing American soldiers as Nazi-like."
That's just part of one topic today. There's lots more good stuff about leftwing loonies (redundant, we know) frothing at the mouth, and most of them are not Howard Dean.

Read the rest; you won't regret it.

Frédérick Bourdin, The Chameleon II

The 31-yr old French guy who impersonates children even has a blog, where he can tell us of his exploits. It's entitled, "Frédérick Bourdin: The Chameleon, the lives of Frédérick Bourdin." As catchy titles go, it isn't.

It's in French, of course. Here's a link for a Google translation, but it doesn't work very well. For one thing he doesn't leave spaces after lots of punctuations so the computer translation gets confused as to where words end.

Why this? Why now?
"Ce blog est destiné à faire connaitre Frédéric Bourdin,acteur de la vie et apotre d'une nouvelle philosophie de l'identité humaine."
Our translation: "The purpose of this blog is to let you get to know Frédéric Bourdin, actor of life, and apostle of a new philosophy of human identity."

Yeah, right. He's just misunderstood.

Tessa's Tete-a-Tete blog has a picture of Bourdin, which will really make you wonder how he could fool people for months into thinking he was 15.

Our previous post on Bourdin.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Power of the Dark Side

From satellites the lights of the Korean peninsula are overwhelmingly concentrated in the south. The Workers' Paradise is pitch black. This thread at The Cellar has some great pictures, links and discussions.

Be sure to check out the explanations of one poster on how Kim Jung Il is really a reformer, just trapped by "hardliners" into aggresive behavior in response to US misdeeds. If we would just give them some free electricity for the people all would be well. Since Jimmy Carter got a Nobel Prize for this line of "logic," it must be true.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No Surpise Here

Try this simple, yet obviously highly accurate test of your IQ. (HT:The Examined Life)

Your IQ Is 135
Your Logical Intelligence is Genius
Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius
Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius
Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

Frédéric Bourdin, The Chameleon

It's like a French version of the movie, "Catch Me If You Can." A middle school in Pau recently discovered one of its 15-yr-old, eighth grade pupils was actually a 31-yr-old imposter. The culprit was Frédéric Bourdin, alias "The Chameleon." Here is an article about the case in the French newspaper, Sud Ouest, in French, of course. As you might guess from the fact that he is already called "The Chameleon," this is not Mr. Bourdin's first impersonation. Reportedly, he has done this at least 39 times before.

In this case, Bourdin was posing as a Spanish ophan, under the name Francisco Hernandez-Fernandez. He claimed his parents had been killed in a car accident. He had actually just been thrown out of Spain for another impersonation, where he claimed to be a child orphanned by the Madrid bombings.

He got away with it at the Pau school for a month, and was only caught as the prefect happened to be watching a French TV show about compulsive liars. The show mentioned the "career" of "The Chameleon," and she recognized him.

The London Daily Telegraph reports:
"A balding 31-year-old Frenchman nicknamed the Chameleon fooled social workers and fellow pupils into believing he was a teenage orphan and spent weeks at a school before being unmasked, it emerged yesterday.

Frédéric Bourdin passed himself off as an imaginary 15-year-old Spaniard, Francisco Hernandez-Fernandez. He is said to have previously assumed 39 other false identities. This time he dyed his greying hair blond, meticulously shaved his beard, applied facial hair remover and covered his bald patch with a baseball cap to achieve the desired effect."
Impersonating lost children, particularly those of rich parents, is a specialty of Bourdin's. He was arrested and sent to prison in Texas in 1997 for passing himself off as a son who had disappeared three years earlier. Amazingly, despite his French accent, looking nothing like the missing child, and having brown eyes instead of blue, he convinced the mother and sister. He got away with that for 3 months before the FBI got him a special, six year "visa extension" in the pen.

He achieved notoriety in France in 2004 by impersonating Léo Bailey, a boy who had vanished 8 years earlier at age 7. The police believed his story until DNA tests showed he was an imposter. He then spent several months in preventative detention in that case.

In the Pau case he was released on his own recognizance with a requirement to return to court in September. Oh, yeah. He'll definitely be there for that.

UPDATE: New Bourdin post here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Access to Energy" Newsletter

Dr. Arthur Robinson has been publishing his monthly newsletter, Access to Energy, since 1973. He describes it as:
"... a pro-science, pro-technology, pro-free enterprise monthly newsletter packed with information and comment on science, technology and energy and on those who would restrict your access to it. It gives you answers based on facts with which to dispel myths."
We once had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Robinson and his son, as they were on their way through Nebraska. He is a brilliant scientist who also understands economics. He developed a homeschooling curiculum for his children's education, which is available to others as well.

Although energy, science and economics are the main focus of the newsletter, other interesting subjects appear as well. Here is a portion of a small article entitled "Stark Raving Mad" from the May, 2005, issue of Access to Energy:
"Occaisionally I ask Matthew about the contents of his Advance Placement exams, rather than just the usual expression of interest in his overall performance. Asking about the contents of modern American educational materials is a hazardous affair.

Matthew's recent AP World History exam asked questions about the Mongol emperor Jenghiz Khan. As chronicled in the 3,000-word entry in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Jenghiz Khan was one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen -- and one of the most ruthless. Even compared with 13th century barbarism, Jenghiz Khan's armies were remarkable both for their military prowess and their brutal behvior toward defeated enemies. In one instance, they massacred the entire 1,600,000 inhabitants of a single city. [...]

Matthew tells me, however, that the entire treatment of Jenghiz Kahn in the AP training materials and examinations explores the "diversity" of culture that Jenghiz Kahn is alleged to have introduced into the civilizations that he "visited." No description is given of his military exploits. Diversity generally being regarded as a good and politically correct thing, Jenghiz Kahn is to be seen in the role of a purveyor of culture to the nations through which he traveled.

While we would no doubt have different standards if we had lived in the Asia of the 13th century and the conduct of its armies are not necessarily for us to judge, it is also not useful to revise the history of those times, so that our youth will not know the truth."

Former Senator Jim Exon

Former Nebraska governor and US Senator, James Exon died on Friday. He was certainly a skillful politician. Consider that as a Democrat in a very red state he won:
  • Two terms as governor
  • Three terms in the US Senate
  • For a total of five consecutive victories in statewide elections
That's an impressive run no matter how you slice it. During this time he rebuilt the Nebraska Democratic Party into a formidable organization.
Lincoln Journal Star: "A political giant remembered --BY DON WALTON
Jim Exon, a towering figure in Nebraska's political history, died Friday night at the age of 83.

Exon served as governor or U.S. senator for 26 years, won five statewide elections from 1970 to 1990 and built Nebraska's modern Democratic Party into a dominant force during his years in power.A spokesperson for Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital said Exon's family approved a statement that said the former senator died of natural causes. Exon died at 8:20 p.m. at Madonna, Lori Paulsen said.

During the Exon era, Democrats won most of the political prizes in Nebraska, piling up victory after victory in gubernatorial and Senate elections."
Reactions and remembrances.