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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Training Iraqi Forces

What is the state of training of the Iraqi military forces? This is obviously a key question, the key military question, in the de-Americanization of the battle against al-Qaeda in Iraq, restive Sunni Arabs, and residual Baathists. So how is it going? Robert Pollock has an interview with Gen. David Patraeus, who is in charge of the training, in OpinionJournal. The article is not readily summarized, so you'll just get a taste of it here (emphasis in original):
"But in Iraq--where he first governed Mosul as commander of the 101st Airborne and then took over training of all Iraqi security forces in June 2004--he is something of a giant and one of the foremost authorities on many of the major questions about the war: Did we have enough troops? Which Iraqi leaders are most effective? Was it a mistake to disband Saddam's army? What is the current state of Iraqi security forces?

That his answers are likely to please neither side in these debates--he simultaneously thinks Ahmed Chalabi is too uncompromising when it comes to former members of Saddam's Baath Party, but also that Mr. Chalabi is committed to reaching out to Iraqi Sunnis and 'in the best position to do that of anybody in the government'--is all the more reason to listen to them. For in addition to an impressive resume, he also has an independent mind."

Friday, October 14, 2005

What Were the Odds?

We read an opinion column today by two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, one of whom is Jimmy Carter. It's hard to believe, but the opinions expressed in the piece are not loony (subscription only link): - Food for Thought: "By NORMAN BORLAUG and JIMMY CARTER
The past 50 years have been the most productive period in global agricultural history, leading to the greatest reduction in hunger the world has ever seen. The Green Revolution, as this period came to be known in the developing world, has kept more than one billion people from hunger, starvation, and even death.

Many factors contributed to the Green Revolution. The doubling of the global area under irrigation was certainly important. But at the core was the development and application of new high-yielding, disease- and insect-resistant seeds, new products to restore soil fertility and control pests, and a succession of agricultural machines to ease drudgery and speed everything from planting to harvesting."
Indeed the science and technology unleased by capitalism have decisively refuted the Malthusian view that expanding population would swamp food production and lead to massive starvation. Of course, some people are not happy about this:
"However, agricultural science is increasingly under attack by groups and individuals who, for political rather than scientific reasons, are campaigning to limit advances, especially in new fields such as genetic modification (GM) through biotechnology. Despite this opposition, it is likely that 250 million acres will be planted to GM crops in 2005. Most of this acreage is in the industrialized world, although the area in middle-income developing countries is expanding rapidly. However, the debate over biotechnology in the industrialized countries continues to impede its acceptance in most poor, food-insecure countries."
This is all spot on and directly counter to the hysteria that dominates much of Europe and even has its adherents here in the US. Obviously, this Norman Borlaug must be quite a guy, if he can bring Jimmy Carter to a soft landing on earth. According to his biography, Borlaug was a "central figure in the 'green revolution,'" and his background appears to be completely free of Marxist or socialist ideology, anti-semitism, and anti-Americanism.

It's hard to believe someone like this could slip past the Nobel committee and actually win the Peace Prize. The only explanation we can think of is that the committee must have seen the words in the term "Green Revolution" and mistaken it for "Green Party" activism and violent imposition of communist dictatorships. Pretty sloppy work on the committee's part. Our only other question is: What has Borlaug done with the real Jimmy Carter?

Reproductive Freedom

Mo (aka Granny Tiger) has a very interesting take on the recent story of the couple that just had their 16th child. Actually, it's more of a take on the reaction of people, particulary liberal champions of "reproductive rights" to the story:
16 Kids: Now That's Reproductive Freedom: "One of the many euphemistic phrases they like to toss around when it comes to abortion is reproductive freedom (and its close cousin, reproductive rights). It should be a matter of personal Choice with a capital C, we're told. It's a privacy thing.

Okay. Then please explain to me why a couple's reproductive choice to have double-digit progeny is a) weird, b) gross, c) irresponsible, d) backward and e) outrageous? Not to mention f) anyone's business but theirs?"
There's a lot more, and it's well worth reading, so go and do that. We must confess that our own reaction to the original story was superficial and slightly negative. We have not bought into the "zero population growth" propaganda conciously, but apparently it still has its impact.

Thanks, Mo, for the eye-opener.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Oklahoma Suicide Bomber

The story of Joel Hinrichs blowing himself up with a backpack bomb has finally attracted some attention from the national media. The explosion occurred right by the football stadium during the Oklahoma vs. Kansas State game. The Wall Street Journal (H/T Tapscott's Copy Desk) has published a report on the incident, and bloggers' reaction to it: - Student's Suicide Sets Off Explosion Of Theories by Blogs: "Several facts about the case fed the speculation: Suicides committed with bombs are rare, as are those committed in public near a crowded event. Mr. Hinrichs (pronounced HIN-ricks) had a Pakistani roommate. They shared an apartment one block away from the only mosque in Norman -- the same mosque attended in 2001 by Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to helping plan the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In some photographs, Mr. Hinrichs can be seen with a scraggly beard.

Adding to community concern was the revelation that two days before he blew himself up, Mr. Hinrichs visited a feed store and inquired about buying ammonium nitrate -- the same chemical Timothy McVeigh put in the bomb he used in 1995 to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, 20 miles to the north. An off-duty Norman police officer, overhearing Mr. Hinrichs's conversation in the store, ran a check on his license plate and found no cause for alarm.

To that unsettling set of facts, blogs and local Oklahoma TV stations added several apparent inaccuracies, including: that Mr. Hinrichs was a Muslim and visited the mosque frequently; that he tried to enter the stadium twice but was rebuffed; that he had a one-way airplane ticket to Algeria; that there were nails in the bomb and that Islamic extremist literature was found in his apartment.

None of these claims are true: Mr. Hinrichs's family, university officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say Mr. Hinrichs suffered from depression, and the explosion was an isolated event."
This link, which doesn't appear to require a subscription, will probably not last long (Tapscott says a week), so check it out right away. The authors are skeptical about the terrorism connection, but at least they are looking at the story.

It still seems highly likely to us that this was an act of terrorism. Perhaps he aborted it at the last moment. Perhaps Hinrichs was acting alone. Perhaps he was only emulating Islamic terrorism without an actual Islamic connection. Perhaps his earlier attempt to buy ammonium nitrate for a bomb was just a "cry for help." Perhaps he researched the recipe for the triacetone peroxide explosive himself. These things aren't impossible, but it's still an awful lot of trouble to go to if your only objective is suicide.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Terrorist Mail

This letter makes for some very interesting reading:
Office of the Director of National Intelligence: "Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a letter between two senior al Qa'ida leaders, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that was obtained during counterterrorism operations in Iraq. This lengthy document provides a comprehensive view of al Qa'ida's strategy in Iraq and globally. The letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi is dated July 9, 2005. The contents were released only after assurances that no ongoing intelligence or military operations would be affected by making this document public."
From that page you can download a pdf file of the letter. Some conclusions we draw from reading it:
  1. The jihad is not going well. Zawahiri mentions many problems and asks for money.
  2. Iraq is a critical battleground in the war with al-Qaeda and their ilk.
  3. The only chance the jihadis have is a "cut and run" policy from the US, and the MSM and the "anti-war movement" are the jihadis' best offense.
  4. Zawahiri speaks to Zarqawi not as a commander, but suggesting and trying to persuade. Apparently, Zarqawi's "obedience" to bin Laden et al. is more formal than strict.
  5. Zarqawi's attacks on civilian Muslims are dividing Muslims and Zawahiri doesn't like it.
  6. Zarqawi's attacks on Shias are problematic with Iran as well, and Iran has more than 100 al-Qaeda in captivity.
  7. Videotaped beheadings are alienating sympathetic Muslims and are counterproductive. Zawahiri suggests just shooting the hostages instead.
  8. Zarqawi's group has little popular support in Iraq. Problems are mentioned due to the lack of Iraqis in the leadership. He's urged to attend to politics as well as killing.
  9. US withdrawl would not end the war. The destruction of Israel and conquest of neighboring, secular states are other objectives toward the establishment of an Islamic "caliphate" over the entire Muslim world.
  10. Zawahiri has little information about the details of Zarqawi's situation, not surprisingly, and desperately wants some.
  11. Zawahiri saw first hand how little real support the Taliban had in Afghanistan, and he hopes to avoid repeating the same mistakes. (Gee. How could a ruthless, murderous theocracy become unpopular?)
  12. An elected, constitutional government will be deadly for Zarqawi and friends.
Update 10/13: OpinionJournal has a nearly identical view of the implications of the letter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Where Are the Snowdens of Yesteryear*

Roger Snowden is another Nebraskan with a very interesting blog, he calls Non-Box Thinking. Go on over and check it out. He recently poked a hole in Bill O'Reilly in Blowing Harder Than Rita and Katrina:
"Now, the target of his [O'Reilly's] demagoguery is Big Oil. The current witch-hunt is to find the imaginary individual who secretly controls gasoline prices. He wants to know who decides what price gas stations charge each day for product. At the same time, he attacks the five major oil companies for making enormous profits.I guess profits are bad, for some reason. Personally, I prefer to do business with companies that are profitable, especially when continuing supply is important. If you are losing money, or are otherwise financially weak, you may not be around long. But Bill thinks oil companies ought to 'give back' some large percentage of their profits, for seemingly altruistic reasons."
We confess we do listen to O'Reilly on the drive home from work and that we usually find his show interesting. However, this oil-company-bashing kick he got on was quite irritating for exactly the reasons Roger lists in greater detail in the full post. While O'Reilly claimed he was not urging or justifying government actions against the oil producers, that's where the path he was demagoging ultimately leads.

*Just can't resist a Catch-22 reference.

Burn Before Reading

That's the title, and an amusing one, of a book about the CIA by Stansfield Turner (former Director under Jimmy Carter). From the review on OpinionJournal it looks like an interesting study. The review is subtitled, "How to fix the CIA? 'Get rid of the clowns,'" which is based on a quote about the CIA from Nixon. Turner covers the ineptness of the agency from its founding to the Tenet Tenure.
"To his credit, Adm. Turner does not spare his own tenure from criticism. Serving as intelligence chief under Jimmy Carter would have been a challenge even if the CIA had been up to snuff. Carter was a president who knew an immense amount about the world but understood equally little. But in the Iran crisis, with the fall of the shah and the seizure of U.S. diplomats as hostages, the agency under Adm. Turner limped along from blunder to blunder. The CIA, Carter's intelligence chief candidly admits, did not know 'that the Shah was terminally ill; did not understand who Khomeini was ...; did not have a clue as to who the hostage takers were or what their objective was.' How did these errors occur? 'We were just plain asleep.'"
Seems not much has changed since those days, or at least there hasn't been any improvement. But this is the agency that was insisting the Russians were years away from an atomic bomb even after they had detonated one.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Notre Dame

A friend at work told me about this story. As a Husker fan, I've enjoyed rooting against Notre Dame for years. That became a little harder after the home and home series between the teams a few years ago. Now this will make it almost impossible to continue on the former path:
Irish coach Weis grants little boy's dying wish: "SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis doesn't usually let anyone else call plays on offense. He made an exception for 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz. The Notre Dame coach met last week with Montana, who had been told by doctors weeks earlier that there was nothing more they could do to stop the spread of his inoperable brain tumor. 'He was a big Notre Dame fan in general, but football especially,' said his mother, Cathy Mazurkiewicz."
You do need to read the whole story to get the point, but if you love to hate Notre Dame, you'd better skip it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Poland Shows the Way

Leszek Balcerowicz, the head of the central bank of Poland, had an insightful article in the Wall Street Journal this week (unfortunately subscription only). After decades of first hand experience with the failure of centrally planned economies, Poland knew what to do, and what not to do, after independence. - The Wealth of Nations: "WARSAW -- The failure of various forms of statism in the Third World, the bankruptcy of communism in the former Soviet bloc and China, and the high long-term unemployment and relative stagnation in Western European countries with overregulated economies has forced a revision of the development paradigm in favor of the market and private property -- in short, a more limited state. But the battle over ideas and policies is far from over. As a matter of fact, it will never end, as the forces of statism regroup rather than capitulate. This is why it is so important to analyze which policies work and which ones fail, to generate lasting convergence -- and to bring poor countries out of poverty."
By "convergence" he means the economy of a poor nation catching up to the wealthier nations. The correct path has been demonstred by the excellent performance of Eastern European nations, like Poland and the Czech Republic, that have liberalized, privatized, deregulated and cut taxes.
"In 2004, GDP had increased, relative to 1989, by 42% in Poland, 26% in Slovenia, and 20% in Slovakia and Hungary. In contrast, it declined by 57% in Moldova and 45% in Ukraine. If the shadow economy were included in the calculations, the differences in output would be smaller, but they would still be large."
Sound economic policies have reduced inflation and helped attract foreign investment. They also help in other ways:
"Countries with better economic outcomes tend to achieve better non-economic results as well. For example, between 1989-2001, energy efficiency (GDP per kilogram of oil equivalent) -- an important indicator of environmental impact -- had increased from 2.5 to 3.9 in Poland. In Russia, it rose from 1.5 (1992) to only 1.6 and, in Ukraine, it decreased from 1.6 in 1992 to 1.4 in 2001. Life expectancy has increased in Central and Eastern European countries, while it has declined in most ex-U.S.S.R. countries. For example, life expectancy rose from 71 to 74 years in Poland between 1990-2002, while it declined from 70 to 68 years in Ukraine."
"Countries that catch up with reforms tend to catch up with growth as well. Take Armenia, which has radically enlarged the scope of economic freedom and brought its tax/GDP ratio to low levels, while strengthening fiscal discipline. Its GDP has grown 70% since 1996. This may be another indication that the low-tax model is more conducive to rapid economic growth than are systems with the extensive budgetary redistribution typical of larger Eastern European countries.

Better economic outcomes tend to be associated with better non-economic ones because some reforms are crucial to both. For example, market-oriented reforms sharply increased the overall efficiency of the economy and that both boosted economic growth and reduced environmental pollution. The introduction of the rule of law was important both for long-term development and for the enforcement of environmental legislation. Economic liberalization not only stimulated growth, but also made healthier food more available and relatively cheaper."
We dare to hope that the demonstrated success of free market, low tax policies in the Eastern European countries will turn the rest of the EU toward the path of economic growth rather than redistribution and stagnation.
"The common features of the "miracle countries" include low tax-to-GDP ratios due to a lack of extensive welfare states. This tends to increase labor supply and promote private savings. Growth leaders in the post-communist world which have achieved low tax-to-GDP ratios, in other words, should be encouraged to keep those ratios. An extensive welfare state crowds out the voluntary forms of human solidarity, and -- especially in poorer economies -- can obstruct economic growth. This is a warning to those poorer economies which have now much higher public-spending-to-GDP ratios than Sweden, Germany or France did when they had similar income per capita."
Balcerowicz has to be diplomatic in discussing the anti-growth policies of "Old Europe," but we we don't. Sweden, France and Germany will continue to suffer low-to-no growth and high unemployment as long as they rely on the failed, welfare state model and the high taxes it always requires. We think the Germans, in particular, will eventually realize this and undertake the needed reforms, but until then the EU will have to rely on the leadership of Poland and the rest of "New Europe."

Good News

Google to Taiwan: Drop Dead

Google's motto is supposed to be "Do no evil," but the Wall Street Journal notes it's more like "See No Evil" when dealing with despotic regimes (subscription required):
"Pity poor Taiwan -- which has just been involuntarily reunified with China by the source of information almost everyone now turns to on the Internet. The island's government, and a handful of its most ardent pro-independence legislators, are up in arms that Google has decided to designate Taiwan as a 'province of China' in its map section.

Google says it's just following the lead of the United Nations, which is famous for its contempt for the island and has just dismissed Taiwan's latest application for membership after a discussion lasting 24 minutes."
Don't want to tick off the Communist mainland when there's business to be done there.

Google, here's a clue: If your aim is to "do no evil," don't follow the lead of the UN.

The UNternet

Look out; there's another UN powergrab afoot. There are ominous rumblings of a multinational "hostile takeover" of the Internet, wresting control from the US government. See this article on OpinionJournal:
"Kofi Annan, Coming to a Computer Near You! The Internet's long run as a global cyberzone of freedom--where governments take a 'hands off' approach--is in jeopardy. Preparing for next month's U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (or WSIS) in Tunisia, the European Union and others are moving aggressively to set the stage for an as-yet unspecified U.N. body to assert control over Internet operations and policies now largely under the purview of the U.S. In recent meetings, for an example, an EU spokesman asserted that no single country should have final authority over this 'global resource.'

To his credit, the U.S. State Department's David Gross bristled back: 'We will not agree to the U.N. taking over management of the Internet.' That stands to reason. The Internet was developed in the U.S. (as are upgrades like Internet 2) and is not a collective 'global resource.' It is an evolving technology, largely privately owned and operated, and it should stay that way."
"Global resource" my foot. That's just code for "You invented it. You built it. We want it." The UN, an "organization" that can't even define terrorism, let alone develop an effective response, should be in charge? That is just the kind of bureaucratic, hidebound creature we need to manage a constantly-changing, highly-complex, decentralized, critical piece of communication technology. We can have China and Iran in charge of determining the "appropriate" limits of speech. (See the members of the UN Human Rights committee, if you doubt this).

This shows some of the hidden dangers of trying to rehabilitate the UN as President Bush is doing through Ambassador John Bolton. There's very little chance of success. The UN is not a force for good; it is not even harmless. The interests of America, i.e. the interests of freedom and capitalism, are directly at odds with the interests and desires of the UN bureaucracy. That's not likely to change. Ever.

Update: You have to love the irony of a "World Summit on Information Technology" being held in Tunisia. No doubt Iran was booked.

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Baby Names

This is a neat site that shows the popularity of names by year in the US:

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager (Java required)

As you type in the letters of the name, the graphical display of usage vs. year updates with all matching names. Put the pointer above a name to see its ranking. See "Abe" die out as a baby name in the '60s, while "Abraham" enjoys a resurgence. Look at the evolution of "Monica," "Ryne," "Karen," "Brent," "Tim," "PTG" and "Steve" through the decades.

Wallace and Gromit

Tonight Viper and I went to see the new Wallace and Gromit movie, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. We give it two "thumbs up." It's always fun to see Wallace's new, zany inventions and learn the names of new varieties of cheese.

We did see it at The Grand, downtown, which was my first visit to that theater. It was large, but I wouldn't call it "grand."