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Friday, May 21, 2004

Write what you know 

(Or, how not to look foolish)

Robert Freeman of Common Dreams (yeah, I know... I always go after the low-hanging fruit), tries to pick apart the case for national missile defense.

Now, I won't pretend to know the technical issues facing the successful development and deployment of a missile defense system. I'm no engineer. In fact, I ran, running and screaming, from aerospace engineering after one semester.

But I'm certainly able to spot someone else who knows even less than I do, and Mr. Freeman is one of them.

I found his column after a Google News search for the latest Iranian happenings. And I immediately stopped reading after I read this bit of foolishness:

First: Is it necessary? Missile defense's purported rationale is to defend against so-called "rogue states" launching a nuclear attack on the U.S. This has been almost laughable from the beginning. It is hard to imagine people can even talk about it with a straight face.

The purportedly suspect countries (North Korea, Libya, Iran, and Iraq) do not possess ballistic missiles.
Like I said, I'm no engineer, and I don't know the technical details all that well. But I am very familiar with the arsenals of this country's potential adversaries, and three of the countries Freeman mentioned absolutely, without a doubt, DO possess ballistic missiles.

From that bastion of neocon thought that is PBS, here's a picture of where North Korea launches theirs. The missile is known as the No-Dong. It is a ballistic missile.

Freeman mentions Libya next. Again, I'll go back to a known neocon source: The Arms Control Association list of "Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories" as of May 2002. Scroll down until you find "Libya." Heck, look for the other three countries while you're at it. Libya has SCUD-B and, prior to its sudden change of heart in March, was trying to acquire longer-range missiles such as the DPRK's No-Dong.

Okay, so then Freeman lists Iran. I don't need an outside source to verify Iran's possession of ballistic missiles. The Iranian regime parades them around. More info on Iran's Shahab-3 missile here.

And lastly, Freeman lists Iraq. Iraq, of course, is a threat to no one at the moment. Something about Saddam being driven from power and captured. I forget where I heard that. But Saddam Hussein's regime certainly did possess ballistic missiles--missiles exceeding the UN Security Council-mandated maximum range were being discovered right up until the war started.

It's obvious that Robert Freeman was wrong when he claimed that these countries "do not possess ballistic missiles," and frankly, I didn't read on to find out what else he was blatantly wrong about. So, Mr. Freeman, I've got some free advice. Don't start typing unless you have half a clue about the subject matter.

If you can't tell from reading my past posts, one of my pet peeves is factual error. I can disagree with an opinion and let it slide, but I can't stand it when someone tries to make a point using incorrect information. It just bugs me. If Robert Freeman had written an article against missile defense using facts, I wouldn't have cared. Heck, I'm probably closer to the "don't need it" side than the other. But gosh, is it so hard to just get simple facts straight before writing a piece that could possibly sway someone's opinion on an issue?
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Holy cow 

Pemba Dorje Sherpa has set a new speed record on Mount Everest, climbing to the summit in just eight hours and ten minutes. From base camp.

I've read a few accounts of Everest climbs, including Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, based on his shorter Outside magazine article of the same title. Most climbers on the Nepal side set out from Camp IV at the South Col, about 3,000 vertical feet from the summit. They start their 3,000 foot climb before midnight, in order to get back to camp before dark the next evening. As an example, Krakauer's team left the South Col at midnight, with 14 hours to go before their turnaround time. Some more experienced climbers reach the summit from the South Col in as few as 6 hours or so, although 10 hours is a more common time.

Knowing that makes Pemba Dorje's accomplishment that much more astounding. He climbed from about 17,000 feet to 29,035 feet in just over eight hours.

Wow.
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

I don't advocate violence 

But this (inspired by Rachel Lucas) is a great alternative.

I would grab a few of those targets in a hearbeat, if not for the fact that it is spring in Maine, and that means one thing only: The unofficial state bird, the black fly, is out there by the bazillions, especially in those remote areas where we like to shoot. It is literally unbearable to remain outside in the woods for more than a minute or two at a time. Last weekend they chased a few of us back into the car at a run. (Elapsed time from exiting the car to diving into the back seat headfirst: ~90 seconds.) And then a cloud of them followed the car for a good mile down the road before giving up. Okay, that part isn't true, although the little bastards did swarm around the car until we drove away, as if daring us to step back out into their domain.

So, the first person to complain to me about cicadas gets his or her face on a target just like Michael Moore.

Oh yeah, Michael Moore. This post started with the Michael Moore targets. Go over to Rachel and Libbo's places and bug them about getting some of those targets produced and distributed. You know you want one! Or ten.
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Tradition 

The Naval Academy is changing the words of "Navy Blue and Gold," which is not the "fight song" as CNN claims (that would be "Anchors Aweigh"), but rather the alma mater. The Academy is striking the word "men" from the song, "saying the lyrics excluded women from the school's heritage." "Navy Blue and Gold" is probably a more important and well-known song to Midshipmen and alumni than the fight song is. It is sung at the end of every day during Plebe Summer, and is almost the first thing memorized by Plebes. The song is also sung at the end of a lot of Academy functions, including each football game. It is most poignantly sung after the annual Army-Navy game, when it and West Point's alma mater are sung, with the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets standing respectfully for the other school's song.

In short, it's a huge part of the Naval Academy tradition. And now, it's going to be just a little bit different.

I suspect that the old version will last long after the words are changed. Supposedly, this year's graduation and commissioning will feature the new words, but if I know Mids, I wouldn't count on them playing along.

And of course, all of us from the days before the change will never sing the song in any other way than how we learned it.

So many little changes happen over the course of time, but they can add up. Telephones in dorm rooms here, Plebes allowed to date there, a change to a traditional song... Am I going to be one of those old duffers who says "Back when I was a mid...?"

Have I become one already, before I've even hit 30?

Well, here's one tradition that isn't going away. (I think):

BEAT ARMY!

UPDATE: Fellow Boat Schooler LT Smash weighs in.
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Congress interest in Darfur 

Welcome, visitor from (I think) Rep. Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) office. Thanks for stopping by, and please push for some action on the ethnic cleansing in Sudan. Judging by the search that brought you here, I think that's what you're after. Do that and I might just overlook Mr. Hoyer's recent vote against condemning the Iraq prison abuse... Maybe.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Evil Empire 

Michele Catalano, a Yankees fan, has decided to boycott Yankee Stadium. The reason might surprise you.

I don't think it's nearly an important enough reason to boycott the Stadium, but if it keeps one Yankees fan away from the games, it's cool.

Don't keep this to yourself, Michele. Start a movement!
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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Media sensationalism 

Reuters headline: NOAA Expects Above Normal 2004 Hurricane Season

Got that? "Expects." Now, the first paragraph of the article:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - There is a 50 percent probability that the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season will have above-normal activity, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) said in its outlook. (Emphasis mine)
So doesn't that mean there's an equal chance that the season will not have above-normal hurricane activity? Just asking.

But if something about the weather gets deceptively framed, what other, more important news gets the same treatment?
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What we're dealing with 

AP:

ABU GHRAIB, Iraq (AP) On the eve of the first court-martial in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, relatives of those still held at Abu Ghraib prison said Tuesday the only suitable punishment would be death illustrating the potential gap in expectations in the case.

''If they actually committed such offenses, they should be executed,'' said Odai Ibrahim, 55, as he waited in a line with hundreds of other Iraqis to visit relatives at the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam Hussein's regime.
This is the kind of mentality we have to deal with. They think that if soldiers make someone get naked they must DIE! And you know what? This completely effing insane mindset isn't going away.

Death is a strange concept in the Arab world. Every death, it seems, is cause for either celebration or outrage. The death culture needs to be dialed way down, and hopefully a successful rebuilding of Iraqi society will accomplish that goal. But in the meantime... wow, what a bunch of nuts we're dealing with...
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The feminization of the European male 

It is complete.

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German inventor who developed a gadget that berates men if they try to use the toilet standing up has sold more than 1.6 million devices, his business manager says.
Want to hear something even nuttier? The U.S. Navy briefly considered removing all urinals from its ships a few years ago. The very unpopular idea did not live long.
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"Holy city" 

Iraq's Shi'ite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, has asked the U.S. military and Shi'ite fighters to leave the "holy cities" of Najaf and Karbala.

"It's permissible...to demand the withdrawal of all military vestiges from the two cities and allow the police and tribal forces to perform their role in preserving security and order," Sistani said in a rare statement released by his office in Najaf on Tuesday.
If the local police can preserve security and order, then Sistani's demand is worth thinking about. I doubt, however, that Muqtada al Sadr is willing to entertain the idea of withdrawing from the two cities.

But the main point that I want to address is the entire notion of a "holy city." I've been thinking about this lately, and sure enough, when I Googled the term to find a jumping-off point for this post, I found several news articles from today.

I don't know where the idea of a "holy city" came from, although I understand the reasons for Najaf and Karbala being considered as such. It seems to me a purely Islamic construct--the holy city of Najaf, the holy city of Karbala, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, etc. It also strikes me as rather dishonest.

The reason I say it's dishonest is because several of the so-called holy cities have been the scenes of Muslim-vs-Muslim battles at varying points in history. If they're so holy, then fighting in them should be out of the question. Unfortunately, it hasn't been, as history--even recent history--shows. One of the holiest of Shi'ite cities is Qom, in Iran. But in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi military, a majority-Shi'ite force, had no problem launching Scud missiles at the "holy city" of Qom. Not at military targets or government facilities, but just in the general direction of the city. Most of the casualties were civilians, and any one of the scores of Scud missiles striking Qom could have hit the holy shrine of Hazrate Masomeh. None did, but it still shows how the idea of a "holy city" is only applied when it's convenient.

And that's not to mention the Saudi holy cities, which are totally off-limits to non-Muslims. Can you imagine Christians decrying the "occupation" of the "holy cities" of Bethlehem and Nazareth by Muslims? How about Jerusalem, the city in which Christ--a far more important figure to Christians than Imam Hussein is to Shi'ites--died? No, you can't imagine that, because it's a ridiculous idea.

And it's just as ridiculous when Muslims claim an entire area as "holy," especially when they make that claim only when it suits their purposes.
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