Thursday, August 11, 2005

The quote which best describes OIF

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt - Citizenship in a Republic

From Major K's great blog

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Are you aware it's more dangerous to be a fisherman than a soldier?

The department of labor statistics listed the occupational death rate for commercial fishermen at 71 deaths per hundred thousand fisherman in 2003.

By comparison, the occupational death rate for people in the military as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is currently closer to 45 deaths per hundred thousand servicemen (the military comprising about 1.5 million people).

Of course, there are more dangerous and less dangerous jobs in the military, just as there are more dangerous and less dangerous jobs in the fishing industry. And of course the running total the news reports is higher overall, as there have been far more Americans rotating in and out of the Middle East over the past few years than fishing the seas in any given year (not to mention that the news doesn't bother to report the deaths of fishermen at all). But even when you add-in accidents and other fatalities which have nothing to do with the wars, considering just the personal risk, still, the average soldier runs about the same chance of not coming home from active duty as the average sailor risks fishing for King Crab off the coast of Alaska.

And both of them do better than Lumberjacks, who died at a rate of 117 per hundred thousand in 2003, mostly by standing under the wrong tree.

This does not trivialize our soldiers' service, of course. A soldier while in combat risks his life in a way no timber cutter or fishermen ever does. But it is something to consider when pondering the news from Iraq over a tuna melt.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Are you aware that you have more to fear from your neighbor than a detainee does from a US soldier?

The per capita assault rate in the United States is 7.7 per thousand people (1999 figures). There's been an average population of about 150,000 servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last three years. So if that group were an average American town or neighborhood populated by ordinary civilians, you'd expect to see over 3,000 criminal assaults in three years (beatings, rapes, murders, etc.). A recent New York Times story reported 367 investigations into violent crimes alleged to have been committed by servicemen over the last three years. That puts the per capita criminal assault rate for the military at around 0.8 per thousand servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, far less than our homefront's 7.7. Since many civilian violent crimes go unreported (domestic abuse in particular), even if there were significant under-reporting of military offences, the relative ratio should nevertheless be about the same, as little as 1/10 of their civilian counterparts'.

What that boils down to is: US Servicemen are, in fact, significantly less criminally violent while at war, than even average Americans are toward each other while at peace.

Of course this goes counter to a stereotype popularized by film and television seeking to dramatise the effects of war on human nature, a preconception which has been strengthened by well publicized cases of criminal abuse in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, as well as the continuing controversy over the handling of the unique class of terrorist detainee at Guantanimo Bay. And of course every criminal act committed by a serviceman is a disgrace, arguably more so than any criminal act committed by a civilian. However, it's also well known that looking at the actions of individuals to judge a group always leads to mistaken impressions. Such is the nature of stereotypes.

The fact that there are few cases of criminal violence between soldiers and even the enemy they capture, especially compared to what you'd expect from a comparably sized generally law abiding civilian population, tells a more accurate story about the nature of the military than television, or film, or press sensationalism. Add to this the context of a conflict where everyone is armed and ready for combat at any moment against an enemy who could quite literally be anyone, and it seems that despite the appearance created by specific well publicized events, the military really is working to meet it's responsibility to control it's soldiers' actions and encourage them to behave honorably in war.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Are you aware the Bill of Rights doesn’t protect you against other people?

The Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, called the Bill of Rights, defines the relationship between citizens and the government. It sets out some things the Federal Government can’t prohibit (like speech), and defines some things the Federal Government can’t do (like establish an official religion). But saying what the government can or can’t do is different than saying what people can or can’t do.

While the Bill of Rights does define the relationship between citizens and the government, it doesn’t define the relationship between citizens and other citizens. For example, while the Bill of Rights prevents the Federal Government from unduly limiting a citizen’s right to speak, it doesn’t prevent another citizen from limiting a fellow citizen’s right to speak. So, a restaurant can kick you out for discussing a topic the management doesn’t approve of, even though the police would have no power to prevent the discussion in the public space outside. The right of free speech controls what the policeman can do, not the restaurant owner.

So, what about all these civil rights laws? One may ask. They certainly effect the relationship between citizens, and definitely appear to derive from equal protection rights and other aspects the Amendments to the Constitution. Actually, those laws don’t draw their authority from the Amendments to the Constitution at all. They’re based on the 8th Article of the Constitution proper; the provision which grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

What does civil rights have to do with interstate commerce?

The libertarians have been asking that one for years…

Monday, April 25, 2005

Are you aware it’s ecologically responsible to drill oil in Alaska?

The world has many ecosystems. The Arabian desert is an ecosystem. The South Caribbean is an ecosystem. The west African jungle is an ecosystem. Each of the countries where 80% of the world’s oil comes from: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria, Libya, Venezuela, each one is made up of ecosystems, and each ecosystem is protected (or not) by those countries, though means they control. The Alaskan tundra is an ecosystem as well, protected by our own Environmental Protection Agency.

Assume for the moment that our EPA does a better job regulating industry’s impact on local ecosystems than the comparable regulatory agencies of those other countries (if they even have something like the EPA at all). Now assume that for at least the near future we are going to consume more oil than we currently produce (which is a fact). That means every barrel of oil we don’t take from our own land, under our own system of regulations and oversight, we get from somewhere else, by whatever way they choose to get it, with whatever effect that has.

When people talk about ‘taking responsibility’, they invariably talk about making the choices and overseeing the process. When they talk about ‘delegating responsibility’, they invariably talk about shifting control of the process to someone else.

So then, there's the question: If you have to get oil from somewhere, and you can either get it according to your own standards, or someone else’s, and your standards are higher, which is the more ecologically responsible choice?

It’s an old proverb, ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself’

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Are you aware Organic foods are GM foods?

'GM' stands for Genetically Modified, meaning a plant or animal which has had it's genes artificially modified from it's original. One way of modifying genes is to change DNA manually, then breed the plant or animal with the new genes. That's a new way. A much older way of doing the same thing is to wait for changes in DNA to occur by chance, then breed the plant or animal with the new genes.

Practically everything we eat, our pets, the fibers in our textiles, all are GM products using this older method. Brussel sprouts, for example, didn't exist before 1500. Orange carrots were invented by the Dutch in the 1600s (as a fashion statement, no less). Wheat and corn were originally grass, not very different than lawn grass (which are also GM creations from original wild grass). Through a long process of genetic modification, natural grasses were turned into an artificial food that's lost it's ability to re-produce in the wild. Wheat and corn husks were modified to not let go of seeds (grain) without artificial processing.

Some have noted an anachronism in the Lord of the Rings movies, that tomatoes were a New World food. But it was actually a double anachronism because Tomatoes are actually a New World berry which was the size of a pea in it's natural form, but which had been genetically modified to grow many times it's natural size to become the tomatoes we think of today.

Every breed of dog is a GM product, a modification of the original wolf. I guess you could say every chiuaua, or beagle, or pit bull is a Franken-wolf.

This older process of genetic modification also hazardous, too. Because it relies on random chance, trial and error, one can never be totally sure of the results. Dog owners know well the problems with some breeds of dogs which make them dangerous, but that's just as true of foods. Potatoes were created out of a variety of deadly nightshade, and were originally poisonous. Even today, some new varieties of potatoes developed using the old methods are rejected by the FDA, because that genetic modification technique allowed heightened levels of that original toxin production to re-emerge.

Also like today, 17th century European consumers were overly skeptical of that GM product from the new world, the potato, because they too feared the Americans of that time didn't apply enough care in their GM science. But once they got over that, potatoes became a staple food. Today it's America's most commonly eaten vegetable.

Fact is, produce bought at the organic market is just as artificial and just as genetically modified as anything else being produced today. Modifying DNA to make something better isn't science fiction, or even something new. It's very very old. Older than history itself... Maybe even as old as the fear of new things.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Are you aware human life begins at thought?

I think therefore I am, said Descartes. Plato identified the nature of man as that he thinks. Aristotle called man the Rational Animal. Even as recently as Terry Schivo, the issue wasn't whether her heart still beat, or lungs breathed, it was whether or not she thought. Brain death is death, because even if every other part of the body is still alive, without the mind, it's just flesh.

Consider the case of parasitic twins. That's when one twin is re-absorbed by the other, often resulting in the child being born with apparently an extra arm, or leg. That arm or leg was not part of her original body, but when that part is removed nobody thinks of it as it's own person, with it's own soul. It's just an arm or leg, because there's no mind, no thought. That's why conjoined twins are a totally different matter. When there's another brain involved, another mind, then there's no doubt there's another person there. It's the mind, it's thinking which defines what's a person, and what's just flesh.

We might never know exactly when the mind develops. But we know the ballpark. Modern science has been able to identify that the brain is developed enough to arguably hold a mind within three months of birth, and definitely not within the first three months after conception.

But we don't need science. We have an intuitive understanding based on something much older, and common to all faiths and beliefs. The burial sacrament. All cultures and all religions understand that when someone dies, they should be put to rest. Common sense tells you there's no need to bury the amputated limb of a parasitic twin. There was never a person there, so there's nobody to bury. It's just flesh. Likewise if an embryo was deformed and never developed a head, was just a torso and limbs and organs, there'd be no urge to mark a person's passing. No mind, no person.

Likewise, nobody even considers funerals for early miscarriages. In those first three months when more than a quarter of pregnancies end, the sorrow isn't for the loss of a person who was, it's for the loss of the person who might have been. In our hearts we know that invisible unformed body didn't have time to reach the point of having a first thought, and until that thought, that group of cells, though clearly human, never got the chance to be a person. People start feeling the need to have a funeral for an unborn child only after 5 or 6 months have passed, when people get serious about choosing a name, when it really feels that a new human being is on the way.... at about the same time science tells us the unborn mind might have started to think.

That's no coincidence. Science is just telling us what we already know: Pregnancy begins at conception, but a person begins at thought.