Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Who is your favorite Angel?

Angel Martin, ably portrayed by Stuart Margolin, Jim Rockford’s ex-con sidekick? Or Angel, (David Boreanaz), undead love interest of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?

I go with Angel Martin. I don’t think he would be a match for Angel in a straight up fight, but then, I don’t think there is much to be gained from imagining a Los Angeles conman from the 70’s fighting a vampire from the 90’s. It is not like there is a unified theory of TV shows that would ever allow such fisticuffs to take place. Although a unified theory itself might be worth pursuing.

However, to careen back into the lane I started in, Angel Martin was always a lot more entertaining in his crap-weasleness, than Angel was in his night-dwelling angst. Vote for Martin!

Contractors Full Employment Act

I had to sit in a couple of interminable meetings where government contractors tried to sell me on the idea that they had a better way of transferring ideas from Marines who are fighting the war to the schools where young Marines are being trained. These contractors know full well that a perfectly fine method of doing just this already exists and IS BEING USED. The problem, from the contrator's point of view, is that they are not getting paid for it. So, these retired Colonels have repackaged the process, slapped a new name on it "T-LIDS" and now have their hands out, waiting for their former subordinates to put some money in them. I wrote this in response:

1. Situation. Currently, there is no effective way for Marines in the operational forces to communicate their observations of new behaviors Marines in the Fleet are or should be performing. While Marine Corps Lessons Learned Database (MCLLD) is the logical repository for such information, MCLLD has serious limitations. On the other hand, TECOM is rolling out the TECOM Integrated Management System (TIMS), a browser-based program that has numerous capabilities and limitless potential, including the ability to allow the operating forces to rapidly communicate with the occupational field (OCCFLD) sponsor, the OCCFLD Task Analyst, the Centers of Excellence, and the MOS-producing schools.

2. Discussion. There is currently no readily accessible way for the occupational field interested in the observations contained in the database to “mine” the data. The tool ostensibly proffered by MCLLD for the purpose in immediate data retrieval, a bulletin board with email notification to self-selected interested parties, is undisciplined and diffuse. Many of the postings on the MCLLD are rambling accounts describing in general terms what worked in a particular situation and what did not. Other postings appear to be written by contractors with an agenda to support one system and denigrate another.

Further, the volume and lack of organization in the data contained in MCLLD makes the database susceptible to mischief. Anyone with a point of view can mine the data and assert that there is support for their proposal or system. Since there are no controls on who can write to the database that can then be mined by anyone, there is real temptation for individuals or organizations to both write to the database then use the data as validation for their own position.

Most troublingly, the MCLLD allows interested parties to supplant, or, at best, to work in parallel with, the TECOM SAT process by denying the need for Front End Analyses (FEA). The argument by those with this view is that all the data a Subject Matter Expert (SME) would need to draft new standards or to improve training can be found in the MCLLD. However, FEAs are scientific surveys conducted by trained and impartial specialists. The FEA is the TECOM approved means of polling the operating forces to determine what new behaviors are being performed or are necessary to mission accomplishment. Using the MCLLD in tandem or in parallel with the FEA represents wasteful duplication and would tend to confuse and mislead the operating forces as to the most expeditious way to influence training.

TECOM already has means to give the operating forces an even more nimble and responsive way to effect changes in standards and behaviors. With TIMS, anyone in the operating forces, from anywhere in the world, with access to a web browser and a TIMS login can view existing standards and write new standards. In the current round of T&R Manual review, Marines from all over the world are collaborating online. While this collaboration represents a promising start, much more can be accomplished.

3. Recommendations. Online review and collaboration of T&R events should be made more robust in the following ways:

a. Allow TIMS events to be viewable by anyone accessing the internet from .mil domain.

b. Include a bulletin board organized by T&R event number so that during the review period anyone may comment on individual events.

c. Give the Task Analyst honchoing the T&R manual permissions to end discussion on threads within the bulletin board when the debate has reached a consensus.

d.Stand up a “Version #+1” for each approved T&R manual in TIMS and allow anyone from a .mil domain to write to that version using the TIMS T&R event template.

e. Notify key individuals (OCCFLD Sponsor, OCCFLD Task Analyst, OCCFLD Centers of Excellence, the MOS Producing School and TIMS Coordinator) via email any time an event is updated to facilitate immediate review, approval and new curriculum development.

f. Give GTB Head “By Direction” authority to approve new T&R events, the training of which will not result in the expenditure of additional resources or manpower.

Can anyone explain gravity to me?

I was listening to the radio and heard Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard, talk about gravity. She has a new book, “Warped Passages,” in which she explores the mystery of gravity. This mystery really fascinates me. Many of you reading this must be thinking: what mystery? Gravity seems so banal, stuff falls from “up” to “down.” We see this effect every day. Only a dolt would be mystified by this concept. True enough, but only if one remained unconvinced of the effects of gravity. In other words, in contravention of everything you had ever seen or experienced in your life, you sincerely imagined that you could throw a ball right up into the stars. Or that you could leap from building to building. Pondering the effects of gravity is banal. But the interesting thing about gravity is that even though we live the effect of gravity, we cannot see or detect gravity itself.

Other forces in nature can be detected. Light can be deflected or interrupted and observed down to the wavelength. The same is true with electromagnetism. But gravity? Gravity cannot be deflected, cannot be interrupted, cannot be detected at all. The effects of gravity are instantaneous, in effect, it is always on, and does not require a chemical or electrical reaction. However, gravity’s effect become more pronounced the closer one gets to the center of a large body. So a huge body hurtling towards you would start to exert an undeniable pull on you, the closer it approaches. On the other hand, light travels at the same speed regardless of the body giving off the light.

“So what Ken,” you say, “I can see gravity in action everyday, so gravity exists, even if I can’t see it.” Undeniably, gravity exists, but if the examination of gravity stops at examining the effects of gravity, that is akin to examining baseball by observing the movement of the ball. Imagine for a moment, being able to watch a baseball moving in three dimensions, without seeing how the ball is being propelled. We know it is moving within an observable range, but why the ball is moving would remain a mystery. Would we not speculate or offer conjecture? Of course we would. However, with gravity, no one, except theoretical physicists like Lisa Randall, stops to think of where gravity comes from.

Randall thinks that gravity exists outside our human ability to perceive or understand. For her, proof lies in the fact that at the sub-atomic level, light, electromagnetism and strong molecular force, weak molecular force and gravity cannot be reconciled. If we listen to Einstein, all these forces should be vectors proportionate to their force in the universe, but, observation tells us that they are not. However, the only odd bird among these forces is gravity. To Randall, the odd and unobservable force of gravity that seemingly does not behave as other observed forces in the universe suggests that gravity exists or at least originates in a dimension of its own. She leaves her examination right there but promises to keep thinking about it and looking for it. She goes even so far as to suggest that someday, we may be able to use gravity to communicate with this other dimension.

Allow me to offer her a suggestion. It is not only theoretical physicists who suspect there are other dimensions we cannot perceive with our own senses that nonetheless effect this world. Christians believe exactly the same thing. Gravity is a mystery that effects us every day, tangibly, in myriad ways. For believers, the same can be said of the holy spirit. And we already have a way to communicate with that other-dimensional power, it is called prayer.

If theoretical physicists are ready to accept that there are processes outside our perception and experience, why do Darwinists have such a hard time accepting the idea of Intelligent Design? I will examine that one another time.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pentagon bureaucrats lining their pockets at my expense

Here is the letter I sent to the per diem committee, the organization in the Pentagon that determines what servicemen are paid:

The 2006 BAH for an 03E assigned to the Pentagon is $2340 while the BAH for an O3E assigned to Quantico is $1897, a difference of $443 a month. The explanation for this difference (commuting time; rental costs) is insufficient.


1) Using rental data to compute BAH is statistically inappropriate and keeps BAH artificially low. According to the latest census data, more than 68% of Americans own their own home. Given that fact, why then would you approve a statistical analysis that samples data that is irrelevant to the majority of those who rely on BAH to pay their mortgages? Since your website is silent on that, I have to assume the reason is because using rental data accomplishes your unstated goal, which is to artificially depress the amount of the allowance.

2) Applying an arbitrary commuting time AND commuting distance to and from the duty station zip code, and at the same time arbitrarily excluding some areas within the commute time perimeter when calculating the BAH, suspiciously skews the data. Giving the analyst this much leeway to introduce so many variables into the calculation essentially lets that analyst "pick" a number for BAH which is no more or less valid than the old VHA.


Under the current system, the Pentagon zip code, where you all work, is calculated with the highest BAH in the region regardless of where your all live. Marines ordered to Quantico, paid BAH which is a fraction of yours, nonetheless compete for housing with you and your self-inflated BAH. You are far outside your notional 20 mile/one hour commuting range, yet here you are, pricing me out of housing in MY OWN BAH COMMUTING RADIUS.


A fairer calculation would be to poll each paygrade, using statistically sound methods to determine either where the servicemembers in the duty zip code actually live and calculate BAH based on those results OR to poll servicemembers on what they actually pay and provide them that amount. I am hesitant to call your calculations dishonest, but it is puzzling why so many in my paygrade who work in the Pentagon yet live in my neighborhood are paid so much more than me.

You may choose to ignore this email, but I am forwarding it to my Congressional representative (Mr Johnson of Texas) and my Senators (Mrs Hutchinson and Mr Cornyn) to see if they think the per diem committee is treating servicemembers fairly.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

World's Tallest Structure and My Adventure Thereupon

One time, I was driving across country, and I found myself in eastern North Dakota. I saw on my trust Rand McNally Map of North Dakota that nearby was the world’s tallest man-made structure. I made as much of a beeline towards the area, and noticed as I was getting closer that there are two tall towers, about 20 miles apart. Well, it was getting late, and as faithful readers of this blog know, I don’t like driving in the dark, so I chose the one which looked a little taller. I careened through county roads, and farm roads and finally onto a gravel road that lead to the tower. I got right to the base of the tower where, cattycorner to it is a clapboard church surrounded by a field of alfalfa and squash. Outside of the church was an old man fiddling with some squash so I jumped out of my car and ran up to him.

“Hey mister, is this the tallest tower in the world?”

The grizzled North Dakota church caretaker stood, looked up at the tower and said “Nope. That one over there is about 3 feet taller.”

I thought to myself, “Screw it, 3 feet is close enough” and I had the old man take my picture. He did not manage to get any of the tower in the picture, so all the picture is, is Ken standing in the North Dakota squash field. Not a very compelling visual.

An interesting historical note, the tower I was standing under was once brought down 16 February 1968 when a Marine helicopter piloted by Major Karl Vernon Albert, USMC, flew into and severed the guide wires. All four Marines aboard were killed. The helicopter, a CH-53A assigned to Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland, was on a routine training flight performing cold weather tests. Major Albert is buried at Arlington and I intend to go see him one of these days.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hard Hearts and Hardened Positions

At 2:45pm, 26 December 1996, Boulder Colorado Detective Division Commander John Eller returned to the “Situation Room” at the Boulder Police Department. JonBenet Ramsey’s body had just been found, turning what had been a kidnapping investigation into a murder investigation. A couple of Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents who had been called in to assist in the kidnapping investigation, waited there. The agents had been called into to assist the Boulder Police since by act of congress, kidnapping is a Federal crime. However, since this kidnapping was actually a murder, the Agents prepared to leave, but wanted a word before they departed. “’This is now a homicide,’ said one. ‘It [JonBenet Ramsey’s murder]’s local, so it’s not our case.’ Agent Ron Walker added, ‘Look at the parents. No bullshit, that is where you need to be.’” (Thomas, p36)

“Look at the parents.” These words seem incomprehensible in their monstrosity. The FBI agent asserted that the lead suspects in the case of a sexually assaulted and murdered little girl were her own parents. For the average person who otherwise has never encounter such a brutal crime, and in that group of average people are included the Boulder City Detectives, the idea of a parent doing something so horrendous is hard to contemplate. Yet the FBI agent spoke from studied experience. “Only about 6 percent of all child murders are committed by complete strangers, while an overwhelming 54 percent are committed by family members.” (Thomas, p35)

Ron Walker’s instincts have been proven correct in other cases. In another Colorado case, this time in Grand Junction, local detectives puzzled over the disappearance and murder of a young girl, Abby Blagg, and her mother, Jennifer Blagg. The then-retired Special Agent Walker consulted with Grand Junction detectives, and quickly put them on the trail of the father. Walker’s analysis of the crime calls to mind elements of the Ramsey murder:

Walker said he believed the removal of Jennifer's body indicated an intimate relationship between her and the killer, and that Jennifer was the target of the crime and Abby was most likely an additional victim. He said the execution, the crime scene clean-up and removal of the bodies took time, and that the killer had a high level of comfort in the home.

The Ramsey murder case seemed very clear to the detective working it. Agent Walker’s instincts put the Boulder Police on the trail of the Ramsey’s and the Ramsey’s own behavior and what physical evidence there was seemingly reinforced Walker’s initial suspicions. For the next seven years, the police doggedly attempted to validate their suspicions with the evidence. However, this attempt fell to ruins as a Federal Judge threw out a related case against the Ramsey’s for lack of evidence. New, advanced science examining the DNA evidence left on JonBenet Ramsey’s body exonerated every suspect, except an as yet unidentified assailant.

How is it possible that earnest investigators working long hours, literally for years, spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars, could all be so wrong? John Ramsey, the father of JonBenet, and one of the prime suspects in the murder of his daughter, himself blames an enraged public which pressured police to quickly find the killer. Ramsey cites a combination of massive bungling in the police work involved in the investigation, and “massive media attention and interference” in the case which obscured the identity of the killer. In Ramsey’s mind this media and public pressure made politicians feel as though they were forced to act and to name suspects lest the politicians lose favor and be voted out of office. “However, the media’s lynch-mob urgency to hang us seemed to be building on Romer (Governor of Colorado) and the very public and angry resignation of Steve Thomas from the Boulder Police force (one of the most confident proponents of the theory that Patsy is the killer) probably brought matters to a head.” (Ramsey, pg 399) The “matters” Ramsey is talking about is the decision to convene a grand jury which ultimately “no-billed” the Ramseys.

Since the evidence collected failed to prove the guilt of the Ramseys, why did the investigators persist in accusing the Ramseys? Clues to this question can be found in Richards J. Heuer’s chapter on “Why Can't We See What Is There To Be Seen?” in his book Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Heuer enumerates what he calls “a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.” Heuer articulated the components of this process as follows:

1) We tend to perceive what we expect to perceive.
2) Mind-sets tend to be quick to form but resistant to change.
3) New information is assimilated to existing images.
4) Initial exposure to blurred or ambiguous stimuli interferes with accurate perception even after more and better information becomes available. (Heuer, chapter 2)

These categories serve as useful signposts to highlight the mistaken assumptions and tangents taken by the investigators and for that matter, other commentators and interested parties who looked into the JonBenet Ramsey murder. Each of these categories will be amplified later in the paper.

Before this paper examines the mistakes made by police, it is necessary to bolster the assertion that the Ramseys did not in fact kill their daughter, JonBenet. While we might all wish for metaphysical certitude in determining the killer of JonBenet, sometimes the best we can hope for is for a finder of fact to render a decision one way or another, or for some physical evidence to point one way or the other. In the case of the Ramseys, we have both. On page 329, of the hardcover edition of their book quoted above, (a passage removed from the subsequent paperback), John Ramsey wrote about Chris Wolf, a Boulder reporter:

By March 1, 1999, we had reported more information on Chris
Wolf to the authorities. One person had seen Wolf go into
an angry tirade aimed at me after he read an article about
our company printed in the Boulder Daily Camera in
early1996. Apparently Wolf accused the company I worked
for, Lockheed Martin, of selling arms to South American
countries. (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 23)

Paragraph 24 quotes another passage in Death of Innocence from page 205 in the hardcover and 215 in paperback: “Whatever the police's intentions, Wolf went on our suspect list. He represented too many unanswered questions.” (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 24)

Chris Wolf saw these statements as defamatory, and sued in Federal Court in Atlanta for libel and defamation in pursuit of $20 million in damages. Wolf’s argument was that John Ramsey knowingly defamed him because John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey were in fact the guilty parties in the murder.

The defendant John Ramsey, in an attempt to help his wife Patsy Ramsey cover up her brutal murder and her sexual assault of his daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, willfully, intentionally and maliciously, and with a reckless disregard for the truth, made and continues to make statements to the Boulder, Colorado police, district attorney, and to the public at large, through the reports of private investigators, news conferences, press releases, magazine and television interviews, and a book which he co-authored titled The Death of Innocence, intended to create a deliberate, cumulative and false impression that the plaintiff Chris Wolf brutally murdered his six-year-old daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, after the plaintiff sexually assaulted her. (Wolf v Ramsey Complaint, para 31)

Federal District Judge Julie Carnes reviewed the evidence that Wolf had to prove his contention that Patsy murdered JonBenet and John Ramsey covered up the crime and concluded that the entire case hinged on whether the “ransom note” was indeed written by Patsy Ramsey. While there was other evidence in the case none was conclusive or definitive. Judge Carnes ruled that the evidence that Patsy wrote the note was equivocal and therefore: “In sum, plaintiff has failed to prove that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note and has thereby necessarily failed to prove that she murdered her daughter. Moreover, the weight of the evidence is more consistent with a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet than it is with a theory that Mrs. Ramsey did so.” (Wolf v Ramsey Order, pg 90)

There is a finding of fact in a court of law that the Ramseys did not kill JonBenet, and there is also recent scientific evidence that supports the theory that an unknown intruder killed the little girl. An investigator in the Denver police laboratory says that new DNA techniques have allowed the laboratory to create a complete DNA profile of the killer, one that rules out anyone in the Ramsey family. “The crime lab has two spots of JonBenet's blood found on the underwear she was wearing the night of the murder. Mixed in with that blood is the DNA of an unknown person. It has taken years to isolate, but forensic scientists in Colorado now have a complete DNA profile of the killer. They know the killer is a male. What they don't know is his name.” (CBS) It turns out that the parents were telling the truth all along when they maintained that they did not kill their little girl. So why is it that investigators missed or ignored exculpatory clues to continue the pursuit of the Ramseys?

Return to Heuer’s observations. Number one is “we tend to perceive what we expect to perceive.” In the case of the kidnapping of a small child, inexperienced observers, of whom the Boulder police are included, would expect grieving parents to flood police with all the information they could, and would be waiting frantically by the phone for word, any word. When observers do not see what they expect, they begin to suspect the worst and ironically, begin to look for details that confirm their new suspicions. This very dynamic was at work in the immediate response by police to the Ramsey’s desperate calls for help.

During the initial 911 call that Patsy made to the police at 5:52am on 26 December 1996, Patsy hysterically screamed that her daughter had been kidnapped. Rick French, the patrolman who initially responded to the 911 call, looked around and noted that there did not seem to be signs of forced entry or a struggle. He also noted that the parents, particularly Patsy Ramsey, were acting strangely. French called his observations to another patrolman still outside the house and asked that patrolmen to pass the word to the detectives when they arrived. When the two detectives, Linda Arndt and Fred Patterson, arrived, the patrolman outside the house passed to them French’s belief that “something doesn’t seem right.” (Gentile, pg 14)

Soon after she entered the house, Detective Arndt began to notice many things about the Ramsey’s and the crime scene that she considered odd and which bolstered French’s report that had been forwarded to her. John Ramsey did not comfort his wife Patsy, leaving her instead in the care of friends and victim’s rights advocates who soon arrive. Neither John nor Patsy Ramsey seemed to recognize nor care that one of the deadlines set by the kidnappers, 10am, passes without a call. John Ramsey often got up and wandered around the house, out of eyesight for minutes at a time. The ransom note was so overly detailed to seem quite out of the ordinary and suspicious. (Schiller, pg 12-14)

Another Boulder detective assigned to the case, Steve Thomas, saw parent’s actions as those of individuals guilty of murder. In fact, Thomas describes their accounts and their actions as “erratic, suspicious and inconsistent.” (Thomas, back cover) Thomas, as early as the night of the 25th of December, based only on radio accounts of the murder, believed “something did not sound right. Why would a kidnapper who wanted ransom money leave the body at the crime scene? Even dead, the body was valuable collateral because the family, unaware of the death, might still pay the money.” (Thomas, pg 44) Detective Thomas, predisposed to believe the kidnapping was a ruse, directed his suspicions at the parents. In Detective Thomas’ mind, the Ramsey’s looked even more as if they were trying to hide something by hiring attorneys. The Ramsey’s had contacted lawyers and by the time Thomas joined the case, were now forwarding their communications through the lawyers, to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office and to the Police Department. In Thomas’ words “That could only mean trouble for the police” (Thomas, pg 52)

Since Detective Thomas saw the entire crime as puzzling and the development of hiring lawyers as suspicious, he resolved to watch every move of the Ramsey’s and to listen closely to every utterance. Thomas wrote, “It had been my experience in thirteen years as a police officer that victims tend to act like victims, so I expected to find a grief-stricken family demanding investigative results. Instead, [at the “non-testimonial evidence collection”] they were flanked by a squadron of attorneys and private investigators, and saying absolutely nothing to police.” Detective Thomas intended to perceive what he expected to perceive. That is simple human nature. Since what he saw was in variance to his anticipated perception, he was deeply suspicious. So when the traumatized mother Patsy Ramsey, seeing how suspicious the assembled detective were, she blurted out: “I didn’t kill my baby.” Detective Thomas wrote disingenuously: “No one suggested that she had.” However, his own words and the perception of the mother point out, even if Thomas won’t admit it, perhaps even to himself, that he had hardened his perception of Patsy Ramsey.

The Ramsey’s offered a more benign interpretation of their suspicious actions. Patsy Ramsey made the 911 call because John was still in his underwear, and went to get dressed for when the police were to arrive. Patsy was hysterical as any mother would be, but John Ramsey, who had lost another daughter in a traffic accident and remembered his helplessness then, was determined this time to stay resolute, and do everything in his power to bring back JonBenet. Officer French picked up on these two divergent responses to the kidnapping and since he did not know the back story, thought it strange. John Ramsey’s resolve to be proactive in searching for his daughter compelled him to leave his wife in the care of others in the house, and look out windows for strange cars and to search the house for his daughter, both of which actions so disconcerted Detective Arndt.

Further, John Ramsey offers the opinion that since the Boulder Police Department themselves ignored the instruction on the note not to call the police, and traipsed about in uniforms and marked cars, then he trusted their judgment and experience. John Ramsey further opines that there was nothing particularly guilty about his and his wife’s actions, rather, their actions only appear suspicious to an inexperienced and incompetent police department who had compromised the investigation and were casting about for a scapegoat.

“Somewhere in there, Detectives Linda Arndt and Fred Patterson came in. By this time, I think the officers have looked around the house a little. I don’t realize it at the time, but the first action the police should take in a missing child situation is to thoroughly search the entire house in case the child has fallen asleep - or is playing or hiding - in some unusual place. Unfortunately, the police do not conduct an extensive search of our home.” Later, John Ramsey writes; “We don’t want the kidnapper to think we have called the police, since he said [in the note] he was watching the house. Yet the police officers do not seem to be using much discretion: the cars are marked, the police are wearing uniforms.” (Ramsey, pg 14-15)

The reversal of perception by the police of the “Ramseys as victims” to the “Ramseys as killers” was quick to form and resistant to change. Detective Thomas makes it clear that from the initial stages of the investigation, the Boulder Police pursued the “Ramseys as killers” based on their impression of the Ramseys and the Ramseys seemingly odd behavior. Yet there was another dynamic at work, which helped solidify this impression, The police rank and file’s held antagonism towards the Boulder County District Attorney’s office. Thomas catalogued the animosity. The DA refused to try cases, citing “lack of evidence” and/or the juries’ reluctance to convict. The DA’s office was pre-disposed to plea bargain. Thomas asserted; “I believed they were so weakened in trial experience after decades of plea bargaining that they were afraid to take their chances in court.” (Thomas, pg 116) In a later passage, Thomas wrote that the DA’s office featured a “culture of cowardice and tradition of timidity that were [its] hallmarks.” In Thomas’ view, this yellow streak allowed the DA to get rolled by the Ramsey’s “Dream Team” of lawyers. The DA had come down on the side of the “unknown intruder” theory to explain the murder of JonBenet which put the DA at odds with the detectives, further hardening positions on both sides.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, and soften the positions of the two law enforcement agencies looking into the case, the legal advisor for the Boulder Police convened a meeting of the police detectives and members of the DA’s office. For six hours, the Boulder Police laid out their suspicions about the Ramseys and their belief that there was no evidence to support the “unknown intruder” theory. The DA argued that there was nothing in the presentation that would prove there was guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he would not convene a grand jury to compel more testimony from the Ramseys. One of the District Attorneys characterized the police presentation in this way: ”So you’ve got a guy who acts a little weird and won’t talk to you. So what? Doesn’t mean he is a killer.” This meeting, which was intended to bring the disparate points of view, ended up driving the sides even farther apart.

New evidence continued to come into the teams working the case, yet virtually every piece was seen by the police as confirmation of their theory that the Ramseys killed their daughter, yet at the same time, seen by the Ramseys’ legal team as exculpatory. The new evidence was being assimilated to existing images. Three specific pieces of evidence illustrate this point. One was whether Burke, the nine year old brother was awake or asleep at the time of the 911 call, another was whether or not Patsy stepped on the ransom note which had been left on the stairs; and whether JonBenet ate pineapple before her death. In each of these cases, the detectives had evidence that was in variance to the statements made by one or both of the Ramsey adults. Detective Thomas saw these inconsistencies as damning proof of guilt. However, when these seeming contradictions are viewed dispassionately, a more benign interpretation can be given them.

First, examine the 911 call. Listening to the tape, and reading the transcript, the call seems like exactly what you would expect from a confused and hysterical mother, who, early in the morning has just discovered a kidnapper’s note and finds her daughter missing. During the call, Patsy Ramsey begs for help, makes disjointed comments, loses her train of thought, and wails in grief. These are all behaviors that you would expect from a mother frightened for her six year old little girl.

From the transcript:
Patsy Ramsey: We have a kidnapping, hurry please!
Patsy Ramsey: There we have a…There’s a note left and my daughter’s gone.
Dispatcher: Does it say who took her?
Patsy Ramsey: No…I don’t know it’s there…there’s a ransom note here.
Patsy Ramsey: No I don’t. Please, we just got up and she’s not here. Oh my go please. (Thomas, pg 13-14)

This transcript reads and the audio reproduction of the call sound exactly as one would expect a frightened mother to sound in the morning of a kidnapping. But after Patsy seemingly hung up the phone at the conclusion of the call, the line stayed open. Police theorize that the handset did not fully seat in the cradle and captured 15 additional seconds of audio. Listening to the tape, the unaided ear cannot make out anything but static and some tones in this part of the tape. (Boulder County Police Department) Boulder police submitted the tape to defense contractors who had high-speed software which allowed them to isolate the sounds on the tail-end of the recording. Police assert that there are three voices and a short conversation at the end. According to police the final words on the 911 call are as follows:

Patsy Ramsey: Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus.
John Ramsey: We’re not talking to you.
Burke Ramsey: What did you find? (Thomas, pg 15)

The Boulder Police did not reveal the contents of this final part of the call, and quizzed the Ramseys closely about Burke’s movements the morning of the murder. Tom Trujillo, Boulder Police Department Detective (TT) questioned Patsy Ramsey (PR) during their first interview.

(TT) When did you check on Burke during all this? You talked about John going to check on Burke.
(PR) Yeah, I think I ran in to check on him when I was up there, up um, you know, it just all happened so fast. I said, “Oh my God, what about Burke?” And I think he ran in and checked him while I was running back downstairs or something. But I remember he, you know, I think he ran and checked on him and, he told me he was okay or whatever.
(TT) Okay. John talked about that will all the commotion and you guys yelling and stuff, did that wake up Burke at all?
(PR) No, it didn’t.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) He didn’t get up for a while.
(TT) Cause we talked, John went up later on, and, and woke up Burke.
(PR) Yeah, brought him down.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) Got him dressed. (Gentile, pg 69-70)

The Boulder Detectives saw this as crucial testimony establishing the Ramseys as liars. “The Ramseys would repeatedly tell us that their son did not wake up throughout the night of the crime. We knew differently.” (Thomas, pg 15) The police theorized alternately that Patsy killed JonBenet in a rage over some slight, or our of jealously or that Burke accidentally killed JonBenet while playing a game. While these are certainly theories that might fit the facts, and the lies about Burke might bolster the theories, as mentioned above, Judge Carnes looked at the evidence and ruled it inconclusive at best.

There is another explanation for the confusion about Burke’s whereabouts at that moment, and that is faulty memory for details. Patsy Ramsey made her statements to detective Trujillo months after the events of the day. Although one would assume that minor details about so traumatic a morning would be burned into Patsy’s memory, our own experiences show how fallacious this assumption is. Think back to times when you have related a story that is solid in your memory, only to have someone add a detail that you had forgotten, but which changes key elements of the story. Patsy was running around frantically looking for her daughter, screaming into the phone early in the morning. John was running up and down stairs. Is it possible Burke came out to see what was going on? Is it possible that Patsy and John forgot this fact because they attached so little import to it? For most observers, the answer is yes. For the detectives of Boulder saw this new evidence fitting conclusively into their framework of the Ramseys as killers and liars.

Another piece of evidence that the investigators deemed crucial was the idea that Patsy could not have possible stepped over the ransom note that was left on the spiral staircase without losing her balance and falling over. In her interrogation by Detective Trujillo, Patsy Ramsey addressed the matter.

(TT) Un, ok. At that point in time, do you have to step on the note, or step over it when you come down.
(PR) I probably stepped over it.
(TT) Okay.
(PR) Cause we sometimes lay papers and stuff there to go up, and if you step on it you might slip, I don’t, don’t think I stepped on it. (Gentile, pg 47)

Detective Thomas attempted to recreate coming down the stairs and could not step over the stair where Patsy claimed she saw the note without losing his balance. Thomas asserted that it is much more likely she would have stepped on the note or that the note was never there at all. Thomas’ theory supported by Dr. Hodges conjecture, is that Patsy drafted the note herself to cover her murder. The “Patsy Two Step” seemed to be clear evidence to the detectives that Patty was lying and that the note was never where she said it was.

Again, common sense argues that there may be a simple reason why Patsy could step over the note while Detective Thomas could not. Patsy was 5’6” and probably barefoot and in her own home when she performed the maneuver she described, one she had performed many times before. She was also a graceful and lithe. Detective Thomas was 6’1”, in shoes, and in unfamiliar surroundings. His re-enactment would not necessarily prove anything except that he himself could not do the maneuver as Patsy described it. However, this new evidence fed into the assumption already made that Patsy was lying about her actions on the stairs and probably about everything else as well.

Finally, it is time to examine the ransom note itself. Judge Carnes says this is the most conclusive evidence in the case, outside the DNA profile. The entire case hinges on who actually wrote this note. The killer is the only one with a motive for writing the note, to afford him or herself a chance to flee, or at least establish some sort of alibi while the police and family members inadvertently trash the crime scene. Such a tactic would be either diabolically clever, or incredibly lucky, but either way, it worked. With little intact, uncompromised physical evidence, the best chance investigators had was to tie the ransom note to some one.

The note itself would seemingly offer a wealth of clues. The note is three lined pages in length, handwritten, full of misspellings, obscure references, threats, nonsense, and an acronym. There is so much there, that detectives and journalists have pored over the contents of the note and come to at least three different conclusions, that Patsy wrote it (Thomas, Hodges), that John wrote it (Singular), and that some unknown outside assailant wrote it (Ramsey). The note was puzzling to the first person known to have read it, Patsy, and subsequently has been “blurred stimuli” for everyone else who has picked it up.

An analysis done for the National Enquirer shows that once someone is looking for something, there is plenty of evidence to bolster their theory inside the note. Examine the example below of the ransom note on the left, and a sample of Patsy Ramsey’s left handed writing on the right:

(Picture missing)

The circled words are intended for the reader to link the two documents together, and to blame Patsy Ramsey. The four words chosen certainly look similar, but to the dispassionate observer, what does it prove? To Judge Carnes, it proved nothing, to Dr Hodges and to the National Enquirer, it was enough to call Patsy a murderer.

As was mentioned above, a cunning and diabolical killer could not have constructed better note with more red herrings and obscurities. Running down the leads in the note consumed years of police time and resulted in many accusations of people not at all involved. Two particular parts of the note stand out. From page one, the author of the note wrote: “You will withdraw $118,000 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank.” The note concludes with this puzzling sequence: “Use that good, southern common sense of yours. It's up to you now, John! Victory! S.B.T.C” (Schiller, pg 8-9)

The reference to “$118,000” has been described at the exact size of the bonus John Ramsey received from his company. Dr Hodges describes it this way: “For the first time Patsy boldly reveals some personal information: $118,000 was precisely the amount of John’s bonus. John may have made the suggestion to give this number since he probably would be much more familiar with the exact amount of his bonus, but Patsy, for her own reasons, probably liked and used his suggestion.” (Hodges, pg 18) Others saw the number referring to Psalm 118. The key passage of that Psalm is verse 28, “God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” In the words of a profiler:
“My assessment of this verse and it's possible relevance to this case is as follows: The person using this verse would be from a conservative Christian background, i.e. Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. They would see themselves as having committed a grievous sin that requires more than a prayer of forgiveness. Their disgust for their sin would lead to anger towards themselves and towards the person that they felt they had wronged in this case the girl. By killing the child they believed that they where taking the child from a dark world or a dark existence and sending the child to a better place. This blood sacrifice would in their mind bring them redemption for their sin and rid them of their guilt as it related to the child.” (Yeager)

This assessment seems quite well reasoned, except that the killer asked for “$118,000” and did not actually mention the psalms or the bible. It is coincidental that JonBenet was found bound with cords as if in sacrifice but then it would be further coincidence that her father got a bonus of that amount in dollars. Which coincidence is relevant, and which not? That answer is lost amongst the other blurred stimuli of the note.

One of the other puzzles of the note are the initials “S.B.T.C.” at the end. Chris Wolf’s girlfriend thought that he had a shirt with those initials on it and they stood for Santa Barbara Tennis Club. The profilers brought in by the Boulder PD thought that it stands for “Saved by the Cross.” Still others thought it referred to John Ramsey’s time at the Subic Bay Training Center in the Philippines. Which is correct, which not? More blurred stimuli.

Several forces came together in the JonBenet Ramsey case to thwart the police trying to investigate the crime. Some of these forces were completely outside their control. The killer or killers were depraved and diabolical. If we are to take the words of the ransom note at face value, the killers demanded the relatively paltry sum of $118,000 to spare the life of a beloved six year old girl, then killed her, and ran off without ever trying to contact the Ramsey’s for ransom. If we believe the profilers, the murders had some kind of mental defect that compelled them to sexually assault and then murder a little girl, but yet possessed the cunning to draft a red herring of a ransom note to cover their get-away. Or, one parent or both murdered the child and then callously hid behind lawyers and threw money at the justice system until the parents exhausted an overmatched district attorney and an inexperienced police force. Whatever happened, the evidence and theories collected to date are insufficient. Resolution of this case awaits better techniques to evaluate the evidence collected.

There is reason to hope that such techniques will eventually arrive. There is a DNA profile that has been established of the killer based on evidence collect from the JonBenet’s body yet sadly, that profile does not match that of anyone who’s DNA has been collected. However, it is foreseen that new techniques that would allow for partial matches of DNA in the database will direct investigators to relatives of the killer, then eventually back to the killer himself, even if he or she is diseased. Justice can only sit by patiently and wait for the killers of this little girl to be captured by the few milliliters of evidence they left behind.

Altman, Evan M. ROBERT CHRISTIAN WOLF, Plaintiff, v. JOHN
Boulder Colorado Police Department. Patsy Ramsey’s 911 Call of
26 December 1996. (
Carnes, Julie E. ROBERT CHRISTIAN WOLF, Plaintiff, v. JOHN
Gentile, Don & Wright, David. JonBenet: The Police Files. Boca
Raton, FL: American Media Inc.) 2003.
Hodges, Dr Andrew G. A Mother Gone Bad. (Birmingham, Alabama:
Village House Publishers) 1998.
McDonald, R. Robin. “Federal Judge: 'No Evidence' That Ramseys
Killed JonBenet.” Fulton County Daily Report archived in ( 7 April 2003.
Ramsey, John & Patsy. The Death of Innocence: JonBenet’s
Parents Tell Their Story. (New York: Onyx) 2001.
Schiller, Lawrence. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. New York:
Harper Paperbacks) 1999.
Singular, Steven. Presumed Guilty. Beverly Hills, CA: New
Millennium Press) 1999.
Thomas, Steve and Davis, Don. JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey
Murder Investigation. (New York: St. Martin’s Press) 2000.
Wiggins, Mike. “Document may show dark side of suspect.” link 18 Jun 02.
Yeager, Dale; Knoke, Denise. Analysis of $118,000 ransom demand
in Ramsey case. ( 28 May 1998.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I had not wanted to see it...

Because it seems vulgar and probably not that funny. But it looks like I will have to rent or buy the Dukes of Hazzard movie. Why Ken, why? I will tell you. They have Junior Brown playing the Balladeer, the roll Waylon Jennings played during the TV series.

Junior has another link to Waylon. He covered "Nashville Rebel" on the great Waylon Jennings tribute album Lonesome, On'ry and Mean. Junior's voice and obvious affection for Jennings' music probably explains why the producers of the movie would have picked him for the Jennings' role and why I am now compelled to see a movie I otherwise would not have. Curses!

Psychologic Component of Warmaking

During the Battle for Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862, a Federal division attacked across a sunken farm toward an Confederate Army entrenched hillside which had been reinforced with artillery. The Rebels blunted the attack at horrific cost to the attackers. The forces from the South then quickly counter-attacked. The counter-attack also stalled, this time at terrific cost to the rebels. The battle lasted approximately an hour and a half and resulted in a return to the
status quo. 5000 dead and wounded from both sides lay on the now renamed “Slaughter Pen” farm. A staff officer for Jeb Stuart wrote that the dead lay “in heaps.” From a vantage point on the heights the southwest of the farm, Robert E. Lee, who had viewed the attack and counter-attack, and now looked over the carnage is said to have remarked to James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too
fond of it.” (O’Reilly p 237).

The Battle at Slaughter Pen Farm and Lee’s reaction succinctly summarize the simultaneous appeal and revulsion towards war that is inherent in man. The Chinese have a concept called 阴阳(yin yang) or “opposites coexisting.” Inside all people are opposite urges that are in constant tension. Lee aptly exemplified this concept at Fredericksburg. Lee’s yin yang involved the seductive horror of war. Was Lee’s psychology an aberration unique to himself? Or was his psychological makeup typical of mankind? The larger question to ask is the following: Is war part of human nature?

This paper will attempt to determine whether there is an innate psychological compulsion pushing humans into conflict absent a rational explanation, or if war occurs more or less as a rational response to stimulus such as that of resource scarcity. The final question to be asked is whether stimulus to conflict is a natural, unavoidable consequence of living in an environment with changing seasons and the uneven distribution of resources across terrain.

“War,” as a concept is easy to condemn. The violence directed towards combatants and innocents, the destruction of infrastructure, the devastation to the environment where the battles occur and to the families of the warriors effected, all when observed without context appear wasteful and pointless. Poets mourn the destructiveness of battle; perhaps Seigfried Sassoon had the most perceptive eye. He expressed his revulsion at the horrors of trench warfare in France in his poem, “The Glory of Women” published during World War One:

You can't believe that British troops "retire"
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud. (Sassoon)

But even Sassoon recognized that soldiers have some innate appeal. From earlier in the same poem Sassoon wrote:

“You love us when we're heroes, home on leave”

Emmanuel Kant earlier wrote of the veneration that all feel towards the vigorous and violent soldier:

For what is that which is, even to the savage, an object of
the greatest admiration? It is a man who shrinks from nothing, who fears nothing, and therefore does not yield to danger, but rather goes to face it vigorously with the fullest deliberation. Even in the most highly civilised state this peculiar veneration for the soldier remains, though only under the condition that he exhibit all the virtues of peace, gentleness, compassion, and even a becoming care for his own person; because even by these it is recognized that his mind is unsubdued by danger. (Kant, chapter B 28).

Kant notes that all men, regardless of their civilized status, are drawn to the soldierly ideal. Kant even hints at the yin yang in man when he mentions that civilization strives to wring the baser instincts out of men, while at the same time, for the violent soldier who can “pass” as civilized, much adoration from a grateful public awaits.

Seeking adoration is one of the real reasons men go to war as are other, similarly prosaic pursuits. Socrates himself noted that neither fear of punishment nor pursuit of booty was able to get him to stand shoulder to shoulder in a phalanx, facing the sharp blades of another Greek city-state, rather it was that “he must stay there and face the danger without any regard for death or anything else rather than disgrace.” (Plato, p33) Cashman includes these types of motivations for in the “Psychological Explanations for War” chapter of his book What Causes War? Cashman argues that motivations like seeking adoration and fear of disgrace are components of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of the Psychological Needs,” which men (and women) when motivated, will fight to attain. (Cashman, p 97)

Cashman sees the psychological explanation for war as lacking. While man-to-man conflict might be explained as by individuals’ competing psychological needs or by an individual’s perception of temporary overwhelming advantage, propelling a modern nation state to war on these bases is problematic. Modern democratic states have a numerous legal, institutional brakes installed to prevent one individual from willing a nation to war. On the other hand, Cashman gives credence to the idea that a strong, albeit democratically elected leader can single-handedly make war. “In that case [of a democratically elected chief executive] the bargaining, coalition building, and logrolling among the leadership group [surrounding the chief executive] may have a relatively insignificant effect on policy selection.” However, Cashman’s argument is weakened by the fact that he has few modern examples of a democratically elected leader taking his/her country to war in the absence of widespread public support for such a policy. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Viet Nam War, the Falklands War, the Israeli Wars and the first Gulf War were all initially popular with the electorate or in the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, not really a war. When a polity desires the nation’s armed forces to go to war, only a foolish politician stands in their way.

Authoritarian states do not have the same requirements to ensure their policies are popular with the people, but after a time they do they grow bureaucracies that begin to throw up roadblocks which have the same braking effect as low public ratings or lack on legislative support has on precipitous action in democracies. Young, energetic despots who make a revolution to take power, are the most likely to want to continue the conflict with neighboring states. These type leaders find that their tactics of violence in pursuit of political ends was successful, and look to continue that success in neighboring countries. Recent history is rife with these types of what I call “first generation despots” (FGD) who, once they have consolidated power, quickly move to export their violent success. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chih Minh, Castro; Saddam, all quickly went to war with neighboring states once they secured their internal power.

The life cycle of these FGDs are as predictable as the aging process in any human. They start out with youthful energy but as they age, they lose the will and vigor to personally continue their earlier revolutionary and expansionistic burst. As they lose interest or energy to continue prosecuting their foreign wars, they are forced to spend time administrating their countries. This need for an administrative apparatus to administer a state established by a violent, charismatic, unpredictable personality inevitably leads to a dysfunctional, ineffective organization. The organization protects those in it by promoting individuals who skills consist of loyalty to the FGD and the ability not to make independent decisions. Competence and quick wittedness become less valued. Those who can survive in the bureaucracy learn to defer decisions until a consensus emerges, and put self-preservation over any other consideration. The result is inevitably bloated, slow moving decision making apparatus which are by nature adverse to bold initiative. Ironically, these skills and proclivities, which proliferate as the states age are exactly the opposite of those which brought the regime to power in its youth.

The psychological basis of war is also found in today’s transnational Global War on Terror. While most theorists focus on scarcity as the primary motivation for warfare, the men who piloted planes into buildings on 11 September 2001 were motivated by something else. Mohammed Atta and the band he lead were relatively affluent. Atta himself was “relatively affluent.” The other terrorists in the attack were bank clerks, students on scholarship, basically middle class. Their transformation into nihilistic terrorists had no basis in scarcity or national allegiance, but was instead a conscious decision to embrace a nihilistic philosophy.
Charles Krauthammer, psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winning commentator, writing in the immediate aftermath of the horrific attacks of September 11th, noted a phenomenon driving these men to attack their perceived enemy, the United States. Calling these terrorists “a new enemy” in his article entitled “The Enemy is not Islam,” Krauthammer wrote:

“It turns out that the enemy does have recognizable analogues in the Western experience. He is, as President Bush averred in his address to the nation, heir to the malignant ideologies of the 20th century. In its nihilism, its will to power, its celebration of blood and death, its craving for the cleansing purity that comes only from eradicating life and culture, radical Islam is heir, above all, to Nazism.” (Krauthammer p2)

These nihilistic terrorists have certain differences from Nazis. Nazis gained control of a country, and launched a cross border war of conquest. Further, the Nazis had discrete, rational goals and were amenable to negotiation. Ultimately, the Nazi leadership recognized their untenable position, and surrendered. Those who ascribe to militant Islam have decided that there is nothing for them in this world except to defeat the enemy, the Great Satan, and to die in that cause. Bin Laden himself laid out the terrorist nihilistic philosophy: “the love of this world is wrong. You should love the other world...die in the right cause and go to the other world.” Mohammed Atta and his cohorts on September 11th as well as millions of others around the world have heard this call, and decided to follow.

The predictable life cycle of despotism and the conscious decisions of the 9/11 terrorists provide credence to the idea that psychology is the predominant reason for war. LeBlanc makes a persuasive case that across regions and climates and time, groups have fought. LeBlanc ultimately concludes that warfare “has been based on rational behavior for much of human history” in a battle over scarce resources. His prescription is to solve the problem of scarce resources. He may well be right in this prescription but it seems ultimately unpersuasive when confronting a nihilistic philosophy. When faced with such virulence, we need men like Lee, who are prepared to entertain that part of themselves which craves the battle and who are willing to close with such an enemy and destroy them.

Gallagher, Gary W. (ed) The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on
the Rappahannock. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press) 1995.
Hanson, Victor Davis. Western Way of War. (Berkley, CA:
University of California Press) 1989.
Kant, Emmanuel, translated by J. H. Bernard. Critique of
Judgement. (London: Macmillan and Co Ltd.) 1914.
Krauthammer, Charles. “The Enemy Is Not Islam. It Is Nihilism” 10/22/2001
LeBlanc, Steven A. Constant Battles. (New York: St Martin’s
Press) 2003
O’Reilly, Augustin. The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on
the Rappahannock. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press) 2003.
Plato. Five Dialogues. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing) 1986.
Sassoon, Seigfried. “Glory of Women.” 1918.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Christianity in China

It appears that I am not the only one who has picked up on the idea that the only real “weapon” to use in countering China is Christianity. Someone forwarded me an email from a website called "To the point news" written by Jack Wheeler. Don’t be distracted by his ridiculous autobiography but focus on the essential truth of his observations about China. Wheeler makes the point that China is suffering from the three no’s: “No water, no wives, no banks.” That little ditty sums up China and makes the point I have amplified in other places.

Wheeler writes in his article on Christianity in China that in 10 to 20 years, China will be the largest Christian nation, and they will be an evangelical Christian nation, seeking to proselytize not only to the Muslim world through the “Back to Jerusalem” project, but also proselytizing Europe to reinvigorate the flaccid Christians there.

It is heartening that President Bush seems to have internalized this idea of Christianizing China. Although virtually unreported, the President went to services at a Christian Church in Beijing and made the following statement:

Pastor, Laura and I thank you very much for your hospitality. Our friend, Luis Palau, from America, is here, as well. You gave a great sermon. The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church. We thank you for carrying a message of love, like you did.

You know, it wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society. My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty. So we welcome -- we really thank you for letting us come by, and we ask for God's blessing.

Thank you all.

The President picked up the ball, and advanced it for the sake of Christianity in China. The spirit of the Lord is strong, and will get stronger since we have a courageous President and 100+ Chinese Christians praying that freedom, and not the geriatic kleptocrats will reign. A Christian China is good for the Chinese people, good for America and good for the world. We are fortunate to have a President who recognizes this.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mirthess Murtha

What can you say about the addled representative from Pennsylvania, John Murtha? How pathetic to see this former warrior trotted out in the presence of two of the dimmest bulbs in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and call for what would be a disastrous policy, a precipitous withdrawal of forces from Iraq. You have to respect his 37 years in the Corps but even the sharpest sword will go dull if all it is used for is to stir the swill.

He is just wrong on the facts when he says: “"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency," The vast majority of deaths caused by these terrorists are among the Iraqis themselves. How can our troops be the primary target when the “insurgents” have taken to driving car bombs into mosques. How many US troops are in the Iraq mosques during prayers? The answer for the benefit of the Honorable Mr Murtha, is zero. The terrorists know this, if the learned Murtha does not. The terrorists are desperately trying to attack the will of the Iraqis in the hopes the Iraqis themselves will sue for peace and expel the Americans. Should such a event occur, it would not be long before the terrorists set up a regime that would make the Taliban look like picture of tolerance.

God bless my representative, a true hero who still has all his faculties: Sam Johnson of Texas. He is a former POW and Air Force flier (and yes, I have forgiven him for this single lapse in judgement). This is what he said when he heard of Murtha’s blather:

Pulling our troops out of Iraq now is unconscionable and irresponsible.

“We’ve got to support our troops to the hilt and see this mission through.

“I bet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is high-fiving his buddies and praising Allah after hearing these news reports. Immediate withdrawal- and the conflict sparked by this debate - is just what al-Zarqawi wants.

“I was just in Iraq and our troops told me that they are motivated to spread democracy. They’re fighting for freedom and they mean business.

“We need to get the job done in support of freedom and to eliminate Al-Qaeda terrorists around the world.

“In case people have forgotten, this is the same thing that happened in Vietnam. Peaceniks and people in Congress – and America - started saying bad things about what was going on over there. Let me tell you what it did for troop morale. It’s a real downer.

“I just pray our troops and their families can block this noise out and know that I will fight like mad to make sure our troops have everything they need - for as long as they need - to win the global war on terrorism.”

Murtha should shut up, retire, then go lay down.

Friday, November 18, 2005

NASCAR needs a new system

So NASCAR has a new playoff system, the “Chase for the Cup.” The top 10 racers after 26 races qualify for the “Chase,” which is a series of 10 races to finish the season. The racer with the most points at the end of the playoffs is the champion. Sounds great, except that the field is not truly level at the start of the “Chase” so we are faced with the dire situation of having a Nextel Cup champion, the punk Tony Stewart, who could not manage to win a race during the “playoffs.” Meanwhile, a truly inspirational racer, he of the broad smile and backflip, Carl Edwards, has won two races and can’t manage to rise higher than 4th in the standings. This is an abomination! Champions should win races, not stagger across the finish line like a drunk Marine trying to get back to the ship after liberty.

NASCAR should institute a playoff whereby the top 10 start with zero points and truly race to the finish. Further, NASCAR should make it so that whoever among the final 10 wins the most races during the “Chase” is the champion. Points would serve only as a tie breaker.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Run Tom Run!

Have you noticed that Tom Cruise, in every one of his movies, has a scene in which he is running someplace? In “All the Right Moves,” the running scene fits with his character because, well, his character is playing high school football. In the Mission Impossible movies, I guess it makes sense for a secret agent to literally run around, but what is up with the gratuitous running in “Collateral?” One second, Tom is cautiously stalking the cab driver, the next, he is running full speed, in his slick suit, across a pedestrian bridge. Running makes sense if you are in the military (Few Good Men, Top Gun, Last Samurai) but what is up with the footrace with Robert Duvall at the end of “Days of Thunder?” And what is he doing running across rooftops during “Vanilla Sky?” What is up with the running during “Jerry Maquire?” He is the agent, not the athlete. I do suppose one must run from murderous aliens like in “War of the Worlds,” or when you are being chased by cops gone bad in the future like “Minority Report.” Where was he going in “Magnolia?” Or “Eyes Wide Shut?”

Not that this should be construed as criticism, because I think Tom Cruise is cool. Ever since he ran around in “Losing It” costarring Shelly Long, and in “Risky Business.” And since we know he is not firing blanks, I am all the more impressed!

Nonetheless, this topic requires closer study.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Game Theory

In the last few years, a pair of pop-culture phenomena have brought game theory to the fore. During the “Reunion Show” for “Survivor: Thailand,” the host of the Survivor Series, Jeff Probst recommended that future contestants in the series would be advised to study John Nash’s “Non-cooperative Game Theory.” Probst suggested that any potential Survivor contestants should study this theory as the key to winning. The host might have been onto something. The television show “Survivor” seems like an elaborate experiment designed to discern the Nash Equilibrium for multiple actors in a compressed period of time. At the same time that “Survivor” and its basis in game theory has been ascendant, high stakes poker has become wildly popular as a participatory and as a viewing sport. While the participants may not know it, they are acting out the calculations of the minimax equilibrium in virtually every hand they play. Before these postulation can be examined, it is necessary to review some of the basic tenets of game theory, game theory’s relevance to politics and conflict and the various states of equilibrium that have been observed in games. Finally, the paper will examine the prisoner’s dilemma and how that illustrates the fundamentals of the game theory of conflict.

“Game theory aims to help us understand situations in which decision-makers interact.” (Osborne, pg 1) Game theory can potentially be deployed to explain why someone does what they do during a game of Monopoly, or, as Jeff Probst suggests, in a game of Survivor, game theory is actually concerned with larger issues which concern decision makers. These issues include the deliberations of juries, the actions of legislators in the course of their duties, and most importantly whether and when state will go to war. Stephen Ansolabehere argues that game theory developed around the stresses of the cold war. (Dunnan, pg 97) In fact, the man generally regarded as the father of game theory, John von Neumann, was himself a physicist/mathematician who worked on the Manhattan Project. Some have credited von Neumann’s time with the Manhattan Project with broadening and rounding out his views with regard to game theory. (Wolfram)

Game theory gained currency when proponents came up with what has come to be called mutually assured destruction (MAD). The proponent who became first associated with the idea of MAD was John MacNamara, Secretary of Defense for John Kennedy. Secretary MacNamara attempted to calculate the amount of destruction that would be necessary to inflict with nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union before the Soviets would no longer consider a “first-strike” on the United States. This was termed “assured destruction.” Contemporaneously, the Soviets were making a similar calculation vis-à-vis the United States. The fact that both sides were making a similar assessments and plans let to the observation that the Soviets and the Americans had achieved a stalemate of mutually assured destruction, a stalemate known by the acronym MAD. As we will see later, this stalemate looks very much like a “Nash equilibrium.”

The example of MAD makes it clear that game theory is useful in describing geo-political phenomenon, but a theory has much more utility if it can actually predict outcomes or suggest courses of action in a given situation. Some analysts object to the claims that “game theory” has any particular predictive powers. Some theories, like those predicting the actions of monopolists or individuals engaged in perfect competition are remarkable prescient in predicting outcomes. “Game theory” is not so elegant. “[T]he theory does not allow us to make firm predictions about market outcomes…[which makes game theory] not particularly helpful body of techniques.” (Caldwell, pg 393) In recent years, academics have somewhat altered their views of the utility of game theory as predictive, especially in systems that are more chaotic. Examples of these chaotic systems which are more amenable to “game theory’s” better predictive ability include auctions and multi-party negotiations. (Caldwell, pg 394)

Game theory exhibits the most utility in predicting the point at which a system will reach equilibrium. We have already seen the MAD stalemate, which is a form of Nash Equilibrium. Game theorists have identified three distinct states of equilibrium: maximum equilibrium, Nash equilibrium, and cooperative equilibrium. Maximum equilibrium is that condition in which an actor cannot change his variable in any way or it will result in a worse outcome for the actor. In other words, “We say a strategy profile s is a maximum equilibrium if each unilateral deviation from s by some player i will result in an equally or less desirable outcome for i.” (Harrenstein, pg 2) Maximum equilibrium is possible to attain only from a position of dominance.

The Nash equilibrium is different from the maximum equilibrium. The maximum equilibrium is objectively determined. The actor continues to make moves so long as his outcome improves. The Nash equilibrium requires the actor to make a guess about the best course of action based on how he predicts others will react to him. The actor chooses the deviation that will result in the optimum return based on his prediction of his opponents’ actions. There is a further assumption that actors must choose their course of action based on incomplete information. The Nash equilibrium helps explain why competitors sometimes accept a position which might be less than of maximum advantage. It is the best response to what another competitor may potentially do.

The cooperative equilibrium is the point at which competitors accept equal outcomes that are less than maximum but which guarantee a return above zero. This is essentially the “risk-adverse” position. Instead of asserting dominance that might be illusory or trying to guess at the actions of competitors, cooperative equilibrium is based on sharing of knowledge so that there is transparency in the actions of all in the competition.

The various forms of equilibriums find an excellent example in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Prisoner’s Dilemma comes out of a lecture by Albert Tucker in 1950. In the lecture, Professor Tucker offered an example to highlight the difficulty in analyzing some games. His example has spawned a cottage industry of works in many different fields. In the game, two prisoners are faced with a choice that has three possible outcomes. The prisoner can either confess to the crime and implicate his accomplice or keep silent. Each action has consequences based on what his partner does.

If one prisoner confesses but his accomplice does not, the first prisoner goes free and the accomplice is jailed for 20 years. If both prisoners confess, both prisoners serve a 10 year sentence. If both prisoners remain silent, then they receive a one year sentence on a lesser charge. In other words, absent any information about how his accomplice will act, the prisoner will likely act in a way that has the potential of maximizing his benefit, while minimizing his risk. For the rational actor, this would mean confessing, and going for the 10 years with the possibility of walking free. Assuming the accomplice is also a rational actor, the 10 year sentence for each would be the Nash equilibrium.

If one of the accomplices were a mob boss, and the other a lackey, the boss might assume that the lackey would take the fall, especially if the lackey knew what is good for him. The boss is in the position of dominance. His choice would be to blame the accomplice and walk out, confident that the accomplice would never talk. The boss is in the position of maximum equilibrium.
If the accomplices were twin brothers, they would act in what they perceive to be each other’s best interest. Therefore, neither would talk, confident in their reunion a year from now. The brothers are absolutely transparent with each other, so there is no doubt about the best course of action. This is a cooperative equilibrium.

High stakes poker players and competitors in the Survivor series are all trying to make decisions and maximize their advantages while minimizing their risk. Since at the outset of the game, no player is in a dominant position, and no one knows what the others will do, players strive for the Nash equilibrium. Once players gain more knowledge about the tendencies of the others or gain a monetary advantage, they can begin to strive for a maximum equilibrium which puts their competitors at maximum disadvantage. There is little call for the cooperative equilibrium since both games are winner take all, so any cooperation would be temporary, at best. Competitors will push the maximum advantage until they have all the chips or are the Sole Survivor.


Caldwell, Bruce J. Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography
of F. A. Hayek. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago) 2004.

Dunnan, Dana. Burning at the Grassroots. (Page Free
Publishing, Otsego, MI) 2004.

Goodkey, Kennedy. “Is the Key to Survivor in “Non-cooperative
Games?”, 24 December 2002.

Griffiths, Martin and O’Callaghan, Terry. International
Relationships: Key Concepts. (Routledge, London) 2002.

Harrenstein, Paul. A Game-Theoretical Notion of Consequence.
(Utrech University, Utrech, Netherlands) 2002.

Myerson, Roger B. Game Theory. (Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, MA) 1991.

Osborne, Martin. An Introduction to Game Theory. (Oxford
University Press, New York) 2004.

Summers, Garrett. Outwit, Outplay, Outlast: A Game Theoretic
Analysis of Survivor. (Stanford University, Stanford, CA) May 14, 2002.

Wolfram, Stephen. “John von Neumann's 100th Birthday.”, December 28, 2003.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I figure I should say something about Harriet Miers

Laura Ingraham has been going on and on about Harriet Miers not being the type of justice that she would have selected. LI wants some towering judicial intellect who will reshape the court in the manner of Scalia and Thomas. She complains that people have worked for 40 years to return the court to the moorings of the Constitution and that the Miers pick is a betrayal. National Review is saying similar things.

I don’t know Harriet Miers, and I had not heard of her before the President picked her as his nominee. But I do know some things.

1) The president said he would pick Justices in the mold of Thomas and Scalia.

2) The President has known this woman for 20 years and is convinced of her bona fides.

3) If she does something egregious in the first year, the backlash against Republicans would be so great, they would lose control of the House and Senate. The President and Ms Miers know this.

4) The President and Ms Miers will continue to be friends, even after she is on the Court. Those informal dinners they will share, even after he is out of office, will have the effect of keeping her on the reservation so that she does not turn into another Souter in sheep’s clothing.

5) The President’s litmus test is different from his supporters. The President cares about abortion, but his overriding concern is fighting this war. He has worked side by side with Miers for 5 years attempting to prevent terrorist attacks and trying to keep terrorist confined. He KNOWS how she will vote on things like keeping Padilla in custody or on the legitimacy of Guantanamo. THOSE are the things the President cares about, and he knows she will be a reliable ally.

6) And most importantly: The president knows she will be a reliable vote in the direction he cares about without necessarily attempting to write separate concurrences of which O’Conner was so proud. Those concurrences were little better that mischief-making because they allowed plaintiffs to use O’Conner’s “balances” or “tests” to challenge and weaken what would otherwise be victories. I (and I think the President) envision Miers as a lineman on a football team, someone vital to victory yet who will not be a star. She will be steady, reliable, and will provide the margin of victory while Scalia, Thomas and Roberts carry the ball.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Structural Theory of Conflict

The structural basis of conflict is a theory that attempts to explain conflict as product of the tension that arises when groups must compete for scarce recourses. On first glance, this theory would seem self-evident. We use group affiliations as evocative short hand when we describe some of the most intractable conflicts in history. Bourgeoisie vs proletariat, North vs South, Hatfields and McCoys, and blacks and whites. Lately, many commentators have explained that the suffering of those left behind during the flooding of New Orleans that accompanied hurricane Katrina were feeling the effects of “structural racism.” (Kid Oakland) Yet while this theory may seem self evident, it does not explain conflict universally, but actually only finds expression when certain environmental conditions are met. The structural theory of conflict fails to explain why some societies have rigid group identities and animosities, but no inter-group conflict; why other societies have seemingly homogenous groups who intermarry and share economic opportunities but seem to partition randomly and clash violently; and why other societies have groups which clash, but whose members flow between them over time. The structural theory of conflict is a snapshot that describes the condition of a society, but does not explain why conflict occurs within that society.

The theorists of structural conflict built their theories on their observations of societies. The theorists saw conflict, observed that conflict occurred among groups, and that groups have structures which define the groups. Karl Marx sees rigidly structured economies that had to be overthrow forcefully for the sake of fairer, yet differently structured societies. Weber believes that structures had to evolve peacefully to retain their legitimacy, or conflict would result. Darhrendorf sees structures causing conflict, but discerned substructures within society that could exert influence, or be influenced in ways that might vary from the reactions of society as a whole. Plato and the Founding Fathers of the United States also assert that societal structures caused conflicts and could resolve conflicts based on the traits of the structures. The common theme for these theorists is that the structure of society results in conflict.

Structural theory does have it usefulness. The theory provides a stark, clear explanation for conflict between groups which is always welcome when trying to make sense of chaotic events. It also provides a plausible explanation for a large agglomeration of social, economic and political vectors that influence groups that eventually collide in conflict. Simply put structural theory explains that group selection under primitive conditions may have led to the evolution of instincts favoring in-group cooperation and out-group hostility among humans (Field, p 5) and how that instinct has stayed intact even as man has layered “culture” on top of those primitive urges. Both these traits make structural conflict a good place to start more finely detailed studies of conflict.

The theory of structural conflict differs from the other theories of conflict causation in a couple of significant respects. Structural conflict denies the possibility that individual personalities in opposition cause conflicts. According to one commentator, Marx focused on relationships and not the individuals who have the relations: “The problems of individuals as such is not present in Marx, but they do appear as personifications, bearers of economic categories.” (Lee, p 87) Marx’s focus on relationships and as people only for their economic actions is in direct contradiction of the theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud argues that the individual, with his attendant psychology and psychoses, wants and desires, is the basis for all conflict in and between societies. Conflict is the result of individual behaviors. Some Freudians go even farther to argue that all conflict finds root inside the individual: “Psychoanalysis turns its back on social conflict; or more accurately, it brackets off social conflict, conflict between individuals, to highlight conflict within individuals.” (Forrester, p 72.)

The social process theory is something of a synthesis of the structural theory and the individual theory of conflict. Many criminologists seem particularly drawn to this theory. “[Some criminologists] believe criminality is a function of individual socialization and the interaction people have with the various organizations, institutions and processes of society…this view of crime is referred to the social process theory.” (Siegel, p 156.) The social process theory argues that good socialization and good behavior equates to low likelihood of conflict, bad behavior brings individuals into conflict with organizations within and without society.

The clarity and general applicability of the theory cannot obscure a fissure in structural conflict theory. The theory that “structure causes conflicts” begs the question; why do some groups with similar structures not have conflict with their neighbors?

A current example, and a historic example provide some insight into this question. Currently in Iraq, we see great animosity between two Islamic sects, the Shi’ite and the Sunni. The conflict between these two groups’ proximate cause is a “differing Sunni and Shiite conception of religious leadership.” (Zaloga, p. 178.) The differences between Sunni and Shiite in the current day are too legion to catalog. The violence resulting from these differences fills television news programs throughout the world; bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, murder. One group spawns killers to revenge those actions of the other group.

Yet as intractable and long standing as this conflict seems, there have been long periods of calm, albeit tense calm, between these groups. The calm cannot be attributed to leaders of the separate groups reaching some kind of détente, rather, this calm was forced upon the parties by a stronger, outside force, Saddam Hussein. With Saddam ruthlessly enforcing his rule, any conflicts of which he did not personally approve, were not tolerated. He imprisoned, tortured and killed those who violated his mandates. Saddam’s ruthlessness had the effect of damping inter-group conflict.

There is nothing particularly unusual about a stronger force outside of two or more groups in conflict having the effect of ending the conflict Saddam is but the highest profile and most recent example of this trend. One need not look far to find other examples: Coalition forces ended sectional war in the former Yugoslavia. Southern whites violently opposed black children integrating Little Rock schools until President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to quash the conflict. In perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon, the states in the thrall of the Roman Empire around the time of Christ enjoyed the Pax Romana, a time when Rome forcefully put down not only uprisings against the power of the Empire, but also any squabbles between nations within the Empire. Given these examples, structural conflict can only occur when the competing groups have license in the absence of a dominant power.

But ignoring the role of a dominant power is not the only flaw in the structural theory. Identical groups with seemingly mutually intractable interests in one epoch can be observed peacefully coexisting in another. “Peace is the inertial or natural state to which societies revert when essential material needs can be cheaply supplied by non-violent means.” (Keeley, p. 15) What goes unsaid in that line is the point that Keeley makes later in the book, that material needs encompass a wide range of concerns, so as to mean effectively, anything that the group wants. Stephen LeBlanc, in his book, Constant Battles, observes that regardless of the climate, or what was being contested, “Australian Aborigines of the desert and the Eskimo of the Arctic had lots of war. Or the lush climate of Hawaii, warfare was endemic soon after it was settled.” (LeBlanc, p. 8.) But these wars were not necessarily wars between disparate groups, in fact, there is often little way to tell the competing groups apart. The Hawaiian people have the genes of people from cultures all over the world since the islands have been used for millennia as a stopping place during explorations. Haiwaiians are a melting pot for the whole world. Nonetheless, groups of Hawaiians have battle fiercely throughout history to satisfy the group’s own definition of “material interest.”

Structural theory also ignores the influence that powerful individuals have over the actions of the group. Freud enunciated the concept of the id and how the ego attempts to satisfy the needs of the id by directing aggression outward. Some individuals combine powerful drives with charismatic personality to which others are drawn. These individuals became what LeBlanc calls “the chiefs.” Chiefs competed personally to increase prestige, to capture more women, to have more material goods, and to defend their holdings from other ambitious, charismatic would-be chiefs. History is filled with examples of peacefully coexisting groups who suddenly erupt into conflict because of the ambitions of the “chief.” The Norman Invasion of 1066, Pizarro’s conquests, and the County Seat Wars cannot readily be explained by the structural theory, but fit neatly inside Freud’s analysis of the individual and LeBlanc’s observation of the influence of chiefs on the actions of the group.

Structural theory lacks a way to readily test its precepts. Structural theory argues that the individual identifies so strongly with the group, that his personality is sublimated to fulfill the desires of the collective. It would be a challenge to construct an ethical scientific test that includes a pair of groups with authentic structures that are testable and observable and which exist in opposition to one another. Structural theory, as enunciated by Marx, makes testing even more problematic. The theory, if expressed, would result in violence between the groups as one attempted to subjugate the other.

The structural theory of conflict makes sense, but only when conflicts are viewed from the broadest possible perspective, and only if the observer insists on ignoring alternate causes to the conflict. Once the observer catalogues real conflicts of real groups, compelling additional reasons for the conflict rapidly come to light. The unobservant, or the someone who only sees what he is predisposed to see, like Kid Oakland who could only blame the structures of racism for the plight of those left behind in New Orleans’ in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, ignoring alternate causes like poor planning and performance by government officials, unexpected levee failure and just bad luck. Kid Oakland and those who share is point of view might argue that animus arising from groups structured on racial lines caused the mayhem in New Orleans, but the truth seems to be more prosaic.

Field, Alexander J. Why Multilevel Selection Matters. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for Research into Economic Systems, 2004.
Forrester, John. The Seductions of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge
University Press, 1991.
Keeley, Lawrence H. War Before Civilization. Oxford, England: Oxford University
Press, 1996.
Kid Oakland, “Race and Racism.” Daily Kos. Saturday Sep 3rd, 2005 at 09:51:18 PDT.
LeBlanc, Stephen. Constant Battles. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2003.
Lee, Richard E. Life and Times of Cultural Studies: The Politics and Transformation of the Structures of Knowledge. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2003.
Siegel, Larry J. Criminology. Belmont, California: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005.
Zaloga, Steve Wayne. Histories of the Modern Middle East: New Directions. Boulder,
Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers Incorporated.

UPDATE: The professor graded this paper. He gave me a 33/33 and said the paper is first rate work.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Relative Merit of a Dog's Life

My son told me that he wanted to be a dog, like his grandparent’s dog, because the dog's life seems so good. I told him “the dog will never see what your eye has seen, nor hear what you ear has heard, although she did sniff your butt once.”

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Stupid Idea That Won't Die

Marines in Space Give me a freaking break.

Mike Passyn RIP

I am writing to express my condolences for the loss of Mike. I apologize that is letter comes so many months late, but I just today learned the terrible news of his untimely death. I was looking on the internet for information about Mike, with the hope of restoring contact with him, but instead found the notice on the Yorktowne website celebrating his life.

Mike was the reason I made it through Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. There were many times when I was ready to give up because of injuries I sustained during training, but Mike, with his insistent, blunt manner, refused to hear my complaints and prodded me to keep going. We spent many weekends together during OCS, tending our aches and pains, eating steaks and laughing about the absurdities of OCS and the Marine Corps. His opinions about everything were strong and memorably expressed. To this day, whenever I see Mike Seidel on the Weather Channel, I think of Mike’s characterization of him as that “dumbass from Salisbury.”

Mike was a great Marine, and a great, steadfast friend. Because I missed his friendship, I was trying to find him. Sadly now, I will miss him forever.

The Centurion said: “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

Semper fidelis

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Taipei Times Editorial Page, at it again

Today’s Taipei Times published an editorial that is very good and an editorial masquerading as a news story that is so bad as to be dangerous, but to be honest, “bad to dangerous” is par for the course for the Taipei Times editorial page.

First, the good. James Holmes uses Thucydides’ account of a couple of battles from Greek antiquity to show that an island nation must be strong to hold off a large aggressive power bent on destroying the island’s civilization. Further, there is no hope for discussion between the island and its tormentor unless there is some rough military parity. The key sentence is quite telling: "Questions of justice," Thucydides warned, "arise only between equals."

Now, the bad. Rick Chang quotes extensively from a pacifist former minister for the Pan-green party who opines that the fact that the Pan-blue party has thwarted efforts to pay for the weapons systems recommended by the US, then the US will forsake Taiwan and that Taiwan should ready itself for takeover by the Communists. Now, the KMT is being ridiculous and petty in blocking Chen’s defense authorization bill but ultimately, Taiwan will pay, maybe not $15 billion, but somewhere close to that. That is the way negotiations work. The President proposes something, the other party counters it and somewhere in the middle, things work out. But it is dangerous and irresponsible for a former minister to blather on about surrender. Standing up to bullies like China requires courage, mealy mouthed cowardly defeatists like Cheng do his country and the world a disservice by giving the Chinese Communists the idea that they might be successful in attacking Taiwan.

Time for a new empire

I just filled my SUV with gas and it cost me north of $60. I have to admit to being pretty angry about that especially since it costs Saudi Arabia about $5 to pull at barrel of oil out of the ground. I look around and realize that there are a lot of folks who are just as angry as I am and are expressing their displeasure to congress. What is the response from Congress? So far, pretty tepid. Hand wringing about gas-guzzlers, blustering about drilling in ANWR but not a lot else.

Here is what I propose. Go to Saudi Arabia and mention that their sultanate exists by the good graces of the United States and point out that it is time for the price of crude to come down. If they want to palaver on about market forces and transportation costs, insurance policies and terrorism premiums, then we should listen politely. When they are done, we can once again mention the part about us having the world’s strongest military and needing a fair price for oil, and seeing if that moves the King and his court. If not, then, we can move to declare the oil fields in the Persian Gulf (heck, we can call it the Arabian Gulf even, if it would salve the wound) imminent domain, and seize them and the equipment working them in the name of the world economy. The US Navy SEALS train specifically to take down oil platforms and terminal stations, and the Marines would follow on to secure them. Once oil starts to flow at massively reduced cost, and the price at the pump plunges, I think you would see people pretty excited about Bush leadership and actually quite enthusiastic about a war for oil.

The only good argument against this policy is that it would probably kill the UK economy which is buoyed by the price we pay for oil they drill out of the North Sea. If the UK economy tanks, then Blair will lose his job and whoever replaces him will immediately pull their troops out of Iraq, which would seriously damage our mission there.

If you don’t have a taste for the dramatic, then perhaps you would be more enthusiastic about drilling in ANWR or more drilling off the Gulf Coast of Florida or drilling off the coast of California, places where there are huge, proven reserves but which are off limits because of “environmental” concerns. Boo hoo, a manatee might bump its head or a whale might have to go further out to sea on its migration, better we pay $3 a gallon. Seize the oil fields in the middle east, and start drilling all over, I am ready for cheap gasoline!