Watcher’s Council post-Memorial Day edition

I’m reading and voting.  You don’t get to vote, but you do get to read all the good stuff from this week’s Watcher’s Council:

Council Submissions

Honorable Mentions

Non-Council Submissions

The President who manages to embarrass a nation

You all saw that Mr. “I know Judaism better than the Jews” is now refusing to apologize for having referred to Polish, as opposed to Nazi, death camps.  What a maroon.

I always tell my kids (usually after they’ve said “Moooom, you’re embarrassing me”) that a person can only embarrass himself.  President Obama is the exception to this rule:  he is an embarrassment to himself, to Jews (most of whom, sadly, vote for him and let him get away with his self-aggrandizing garbage), and to Americans generally.

And while I’m ranting libertarian, if you live in California, vote NO on Prop. 29

One of the hardest fought propositions on the California ballot this June is Proposition 29 which is described on the ballot as a new law that “imposes additional tax on cigarettes for cancer research.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Those who smoke have to fund cancer research.  It’s an indirect version of “smoker heal thyself.”  Even better, because it makes cigarettes more expensive, maybe people will stop smoking.

The only problem is that things aren’t always as they seem.  First, the tax is $1 a pack, which is insufficient to deter any but the most poverty-stricken smoker.  Most smokers will just suck it up (figuratively and literally, I guess).  What the proposed tax would do is impose more costs on smokers . . . and, get this, it imposes the greatest cost on poor people.  In California, as elsewhere, smoking is a class thing.  The middle and upper classes don’t smoke.  Working classes and lower classes are being taxed for engaging in a sin that their economic betters frown upon.

One could still argue that, since the poor smoke, and are most affected by smoking’s harm, it’s appropriate that they pay for their sin by funding cancer research.  Except you can bet your bottom dollar the money is just going to get sucked into California’s financial black hole.  As those who oppose Prop. 29 explain, the loopholes in the initiative (and it’s a really, really long piece of proposed legislation, which nobody but fierce partisans will read) mean that most of the money, assuming it stays in state, goes to more bureaucratic infrastructure.

Here’s what the initiative’s opponent’s point out:

Prop. 29 is a $739 million annual new tax and spending mandate that creates an unaccountable, government bureaucracy filled with political appointees.

Doesn’t require new tax revenue be spent in California to create jobs.  Money can be spent out of state or even out of country.

Provides no new funds to treat cancer patients.

Spends $125 million annually on overhead, bureaucracy, buildings and real estate — money that could be used for cancer treatment.

Permits “conflicts of interest” by allowing organizations represented by Commissioners to receive taxpayer funding.

Allows for-profit corporations to receive $500+ million in taxpayer dollars annually.

Duplicates existing programs that already spend $6 billion annually on cancer research.

Establishes another flawed auto-pilot spending mandate like the High Speed Rail Commission — more waste, no taxpayer accountability.

Prohibits the Governor and Legislature from making changes to the initiative for 15 years, even in the case of fraud or waste.

(California Presidential Primary Election, Official Voter Information Guide)

Just how bad is Prop. 29?  It’s so bad that even the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times came out against it.  After going on for a while offering general praise to taxes that penalize behavior by making the behavior too costly, and after lauding anything that stops smoking, the Times editors fess up:

Nevertheless, we oppose this ballot measure. The problem with Proposition 29, which would raise $735 million a year at the outset (gradually dropping off as more smokers quit), isn’t the tax but how the money it raises would be spent. Most of it, more than $500 million a year, would be directed to a new, independent quasi-public agency that would award grants for research on cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases. (The research itself would not need to be tobacco-related; a grantee could study, say, the effects of obesity on heart disease, or malignant melanoma caused by overexposure to the sun.)

Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn’t make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs. California can’t afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort. Funding priorities shouldn’t be set at the ballot box.

It’s worth reading the rest of the editorial, because it does a good job spelling out what a foolish, redundant idea Prop. 29 is — and all of it on the back of California’s poorest citizens (and, this being California, non-citizens too).

What’s fascinating, too, is the way in which these liberal columnists freely acknowledge that financial rewards and punishments guide behavior — but they won’t acknowledge that these same rewards and punishments work best in the private sector.  To them, the only hand that should be doling out or withholding money is Uncle Sam’s (followed closely by Aunt California’s).

I hate smoking.  I think it stinks.  I know it’s unhealthy.  It accounts for a lot of litter.  If I had a magic wand, I’d make tobacco and the desire for tobacco vanish from this earth.  But I don’t have a magic wand.  If people want to be stupid, let them.  I do support laws that require smokers to stay away from me.  To the extent that smoke causes a positive harm — sending stinky, unhealthy particles my way — it seems to me I have more right to say to them “Don’t smoke around me,” than they have to say to me “I want to smoke and you have to put up with it.”  But as long as I’m protected in my right not to suffer from vicarious smoke, let ‘em smoke.

 

I’m feeling more libertarian by the minute

I’ve never thought of myself as a libertarian.  Instead, I would characterize myself as a conservative with libertarian tendencies.  Why the distinction?  Because viscerally I viewed libertarians as fringe nutcases and because intellectually I did not, and do not, like libertarian foreign policy, especially when it comes to Israel.

Watching Progressives/Liberals/Democrats at work, though, is pushing me into more and more libertarian positions.  Take for example the latest Progressive lunacy out of New York:  no Super-Sizes there if Nanny Bloomberg has his way.  (I know that Bloomberg been both a Republican and a Democrat, and is now an Independent.  He can call himself whatever he wants, but his politics show that he’s a Progressive Nanny Stater.)

Yes, under Nanny Bloomberg, if you want a big, cheap soda, you can’t have one.  Instead, you’ll have to buy two smaller, more expensive sodas.  This is because New Yorkers are becoming fat — or so says Nanny Bloomberg.

First, a little quibble with the “becoming fat” bit.  I have real problems with blanket statements such as this.  As we’ve discussed at this blog before, science keeps changing the definition of what constitutes fat, and it’s a definition that has nothing to do with health and everything to do with playing a numbers game — usually one that provides a financial benefit to this proposing the numbers.

In today’s America, the BMI index is the body weight equivalent of affirmative action.  Think about it:  Affirmative action initially made some sense, although anyone with any smarts could see that it was a foolish idea and one that could be abused.  The theory was that people who had actually suffered disadvantages because of their race — especially disadvantages in education — could go to the head of the line.  It was a bit of a handicap or a shortcut.  The only way this approach to affirmative action could have worked, of course, was to limit it to a single generation of students.  It should have timed out after ten years at most.

Instead, though, affirmative action got institutionalized and became a numbers game.  The policy stopped being about whether people who had suffered genuine and wrongful disadvantages on account of race were being a given a fair shot, and instead became about which institution could boast that it had more minorities on board.  So we end up with the uber-middle class Elizabeth “Snow White” Warren getting hired far above her pay grade because she’s Native American, and we have the California higher education system threatening to poll people about their sex lives.  I can see it now, as UC Berkeley president sneers at the UC Davis president:  “We have more gays than you do.  Nyah, Nyah!

The BMI thing is the same.  Yes, we can eyeball certain people and say, “Gee, that person is really fat.”  But think about the fact that Marilyn Monroe would be considered obese nowadays.  And then think about the fact that what killed her wasn’t obesity but substance abuse.  There’s a message in there somewhere.  I’m not precisely sure what the message is, but I’m pretty dang sure that the message isn’t “Hey, Marilyn, you need to go on a diet.”  Indeed, looking at poor Judy Garland, who was consistently drugged into some semblance of skinniness, Marilyn is lucky that,with all her other tsurises, the Hollywood powers at least had the smarts not to put her on a diet.  She looked plenty good zaftig:

As for me, I’ve known healthy plump people and unhealthy skinny people. Being grossly fat brings big problems with it, but they’re only societal problems if we insist on socializing medicine. It’s called moral hazard. If we make it so that people don’t have to bear the costs of their own dangerous habits, they won’t change those habits. And perhaps they like those habits. A smoker might love smoking so much that he’s willing to risk shortening his life by one or two decades. Who am I to say that 60 short years are worth more than 80 deprived years? Please don’t smoke near me — I hate the smell — but go outside and smoke yourself to death, if that’s what you want to do.

Speaking of smoking, let’s legalize pot — or let’s make alcohol illegal.  It’s ridiculous to have one legal and the other not.  I’d certainly limit access to young people (not that doing so works well), because I believe that both pot and alcohol can interfere dangerously with a growing mind and body.  I’d continue to keep DUI as an offense, because I believe the government can regulate fairly heavily what level of capacity people have to have to drive.  And if for some bizarre reason a stoner attacked someone and ate off his face (which is really impossible to imagine a stoner doing), he’d go to jail.  Otherwise, the government should let people be stupid if they want to be stupid.

The whole Obama drug use thing high lights the rank hypocrisy that results from having the government get involved in things such as pot use.  Obama was a heavy, hard-core, regular pot user, who also used cocaine and thought about trying out heroin.  In 2008, the media lied to protect him.  The better thing would have been to castigate his behavior if the media was genuinely opposed, or to castigate America’s drug laws.  Instead, as I said, the media just lied — and, funnily enough, the lie was that Obama lied.  That I believe.  Obama lies about everything.

I’ve gotta run, so this rant is over, although there’s a lot more I could say.  The bottom line is that it’s not the government’s job to make people smart. You cannot force people into a higher echelon of functioning. You can encourage people to better themselves. You can set economic, lifestyle and even moral goals. You can take barriers out of people’s paths.  But what you cannot do is make dumb people smart or turn klutzes into ballerinas. As Kurt Vonnegut knew before he went off the liberal deep end, all that government can do to force total equality and human perfect is bring higher level people down, until everyone is crawling in the gutter, watched over by a few party apparatchiks who know best.

That must be a truly unique buzz cut the President is getting

I know a bit about really short buzz cuts.  On the kids’ swim team, when swim season starts, all the boys get buzzed.  They do it to each other, and they do a pretty darn good job:  take clippers, run them over person’s head, sweep up the mess.  It’s not complicated.

Our President has a very short buzz cut.  I’d guess that it’s the number 1 on the clipper.  Take clippers, run them over the President’s head, sweep up the mess.  Anyone could do it — and, in a military city such as Washington, D.C., I bet that there are a lot of barbers with good experience at tight clips.

This makes it hard to believe a report that has recently surfaced to the effect that the President, using money from his own pocket and carbon emissions from everyone’s environment, flies his Chicago barber out to D.C. every two weeks:

Reports have surfaced that President Barack Obama is very loyal to his barber. The President is a man of the common people, the report tells its listeners. He hangs out with regular folks, like his barber for example.  The President has been using the same Chicago based barber, who goes by the name Zariff, for the past 17 years.   According to German Public Radio, the President flies Zariff from Chicago to DC for a trim every two weeks.  The president allegedly personally funds these trips. President Obama obviously also does not care much about the massive carbon footprint his haircuts are leaving on our planet which, we are told, is tipping precariously.

Maybe this is just Zariff trying to buff up his image. After all, back when Obama was elected, Zariff was already agitating for a continued barber-client relationship.

I’m no Obama fan, but this story really strains credulity. If it’s true, though, then it’s a great addition to the “Obama is a very strange man and a profligate user of resources that he would deny to others” category.

Is this what a Chicago buzz cut looks like?

Unexpectedly honest Politico article acknowledges media bias against Republicans

I’m impressed, both that these Politico writers wrote about the bias and that Politico published their article:

Republicans cry “bias” so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh – or Haley Barbour.

And the imbalance can do slow, low-grade but unmistakable damage to Romney: Swing voters are just getting to know him. And coverage suggesting he is mean or extravagant can soak in, even though voters who took the time to weigh the details might dismiss the storyline.

It’s certainly hard to argue that the Romneys’ horse-riding habits today are worse than the Maraniss revelations, which have gotten little mainstream coverage.

And the horse-riding story came a few weeks after a second story that made Republicans see red – another front-pager, this time in the Washington Post, that hit Mitt Romney for bullying a kid who might have been gay, in high school nearly a half-century ago. The clear implication to readers: Romney was a mean, insensitive jerk.

Maraniss works for the Post and his pot-smoking scoop, which included details of Obama’s college-era dope-smoking club and waste-no-weed rules for inhaling it, never made the front of his own paper.

Kudos to Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen for making a decent effort to understand that there are two sides to the story, and that the story is definitely being told differently depending on which side the MSM dislikes.

Tired Open Thread

Apologies for not writing more today, but I’m just a little tired.  I seem to have used up my energy on running the household, and don’t seem to have anything left for blogging.  I see no reason, though, why I won’t regroup tomorrow.  I am assuming now that I’ll be in fine fettle then.

Maryland judge confused about Free Speech and the marketplace of ideas

I bet all of you all remember “Everyone Blog About Bret Kimberlin Day.”  After all, it took place less than a week ago.  For those unfamiliar with it, this is the way it worked:

Conservatives bloggers learned that Brett Kimberlin, using both the legal system and a bit of self-help, was harassing those bloggers who brought attention to a past that included planting bombs (one of which so terribly maimed a man that the man later committed suicide), drug dealing, and imprisonment.  They also brought to light a series of current unsavory associations with far-Left and some not-so-far Left organizations.

In order to expand the scope of available targets for Kimberlin, thereby substantially reducing his ability to harass any one blogger, conservative bloggers engaged in a blog burst.  Most of them did precisely what the original bloggers involved had done:  they relayed, in straightforward fashion, accurate facts about Kimberlin’s life and associations.  Although I have no specific information on the subject, it appears that some of these bloggers may have gotten carried away and made threats.  Credible threats constitute an illegal activity.

In the normal world, the law goes after the person making the threats.  In Maryland, though, with Kimberlin leading the charge, and Judge Cornelius Vaughey (Ret.) wielding the pen, the person who asked others to tell the truth is imprisoned.  I know this sounds unbelievable in a country ostensibly bounded by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech but, until any contrary information is released, this seems to be exactly what happened to blogger Aaron Worthing, who was one of the first to spread the facts about Kimberlin.  Patterico explains:

Aaron Walker (aka Worthing) was arrested today in a Maryland courtroom. Several days ago, convicted bomber and perjurer Brett Kimberlin had obtained a “peace order” against Walker, and today Walker was arrested for violating the order. My information is that the judge claimed that Walker violated the provision against electronic communication with Kimberlin, because Aaron blogged about Kimberlin — thus “inciting” others to contact Kimberlin.

In other words, as best as I can tell, Aaron Walker was arrested today in the United States of America for blogging about a public figure.

Go to the Patterico link, please, to get the whole picture.

What happened to Aaron Walker/Worthing isn’t just one bad thing happening to one person.  It is a test case.  Patterico again:

One wonders if this is his [Kimberlin's] new strategy: he sues you for your blogging, and simultaneously obtains a peace order saying you harassed him. If you blog about him again, he gets a judge to rubber stamp a criminal complaint for violating the peace order.

Now, if you don’t show up for the lawsuit, he gets a default judgment. If you do, you get arrested for blogging.

Catch 22. And a nice scam if you can get judges gullible enough to go along with it.

This is, I had thought, the United States of America. I thought we had freedom of speech here.

It will take a few days to nail down with precision what happened. But if the account I have given here turns out to be correct — if the basis of the arrest today was that Aaron incited others by blogging about a public figure — I want all lovers of the First Amendment to stand tall and ride to Aaron’s defense.

Because they’re not done. They claim they’re just getting started:

Incidentally, I suspect that Vaughey was just a patsy.  He’s a retired judge, whose tenure on the Court really predated the internet era.  It’s probably that he really did not understand the dynamics here.

Watcher’s Council winners for May 25, 2012

Before I get to the winners from last week’s Watcher’s Council vote, I’d like to suggest that you toodle over to the Watcher’s of Weasels site yourself, to check out this week’s forum question:  “Prediction — What Will Happen in the Trayvon Martin Case?“  I had nothing to add, since everyone said things better than I could have, but you’ll find a nice selection of predictions, some of which you may like.

And with that, let’s get to last week’s winners:

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

I figured out what Chris Hayes’ problem with the troops is — they don’t sing enough

Chris Hayes got himself a great spanking because of his inability to acknowledge military heroism:

CHRIS HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow.  Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke [sic, actually Beck], who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible].  Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”?  I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

Chastened, he issued a non-apology apology, in which he basically said “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” while clearly muttering to himself, “but I’m still right about war-mongering”:

“On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself,” Chris Hayes, host of “Up With Chris Hayes,” said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry for that.”

I figured out today what would help Hayes issue a real, heartfelt apology, one that shows he truly understands the heroism our troops show every day, when they’re training, when they on ships, when they’re on the battlefield — indeed, the moment they take the oath to defend this country and this Constitution.  Our Armed Forces need to sing.

“Sing?!” you ask.  Yes, sing (or maybe write a little).  I have it on the best authority, from quite possibly the smartest man in America.  Singers (and writers) are “heroes”:

President Barack Obama gave the United States’ top civilian honor on Tuesday to musician Bob Dylan, novelist Toni Morrison and 11 other people he described as his heroes because of their powerful words, songs and actions.

“What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people – not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime,” Obama said, presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards in a packed ceremony at the White House.

“They have enriched our lives and they have changed our lives for the better,” he said.

[snip]

The president chooses the honorees.

“So many of these people are my heroes individually,” Obama said during the ceremony, recalling how he read Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon” as a young man when he was “not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think.”

“And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital,” he said. “Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways.”

If our troops could just march into battle singing songs that inspire Barack Obama, they too could be heroes in the eyes of some little MSNBC wanker.  Or maybe not — because I bet that, if they go in battle singing, they’re singing something like this:

Tuesday morning open thread

As is usually the case for me after a long weekend, my brain is a gray mush, and my paper inbox is piled high.  Between the one and the other, it takes me a little bit to regroup for blogging.  Until then — It’s Open Thread Time!  Yay!

Book review: Marcus Luttrell’s “Service: A Navy SEAL at War”

I promise that this post will be a review of Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  First, though, I have to start with the ridiculous, before I can give proper context, not to the sublime (because war isn’t sublime), but to the important and meaningful.

The ridiculous is, of course, MSNBC’s own Chris Hayes, who earned himself a great deal of much-deserved ridicule for his inability to acknowledge military heroism:

CHRIS HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow.  Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke [sic, actually Beck], who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible].  Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”?  I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

One doesn’t need a psychiatric degree to know that Mr. Hayes probably suffers from, or should suffer from, paruresis — the inability to urinate in front of others.  Regardless of the exact nature of his physical attributes, this is a guy who, deep down, is pretty damn sure that he’s under-endowed and can’t measure up.  Only a deep and abiding inferiority complex could see a young man, ostensibly in the prime of his physical life, unable to recognize and appreciate that others are willing to make sacrifices he’s incapable of even contemplating.

Perhaps because I’m a woman, it’s easy for me to acknowledge my own physical cowardice.  Maybe a man has to rationalize himself away from a fight in which he could have served.  For example, I know a man who could have served, but didn’t, in Vietnam.  He was once an anti-War protester.  Now, though, he goes around boasting about how he’s more man than anyone who served — “I could have done that, and I, with my super-duper manly-man skills would have out-gunned everyone there.  I just chose not to serve [and, sotto voce, I'm eternally grateful my draft number didn't come up].”   Hayes represents the other end of the self-justification spectrum:  “Service is stupid.  I would never have gone into a fight because I’m not stupid.”

This is the mindset that results in movies such as the Danish film In a Better World, an Oscar-winning foreign film.  Aside from some indescribably boring film-making techniques, the movie got off to a promising start, with a premise that seemed startlingly un-European:  Fight back against bullies.

In the movie, Sofus, a bully, is going after another schoolboy, Elias.  A new kid, Christian, who has traveled with his father and experienced many new schools, comes to this particular school and, when he is too friendly with Elias, Sofus turns on Christian too.  The next time the bully starts on Elias, Christian beats the crap out of Sofus.  When Christian’s father picks him up from school and asks “Why?”, Christian has a simple answer:  If had hadn’t done this, I would have been bullied again.  Now, all the kids know to leave me alone.

I was impressed.  Who knew that a European film could be so wise?  After all, we know that, unless you stand up to bullies, they’ll keep bullying.  Stand up to them, however, even if you take some knocks, and they back off.  It’s basic school yard logic.

It turns out that I was impressed too quickly.  Christian, the boy who stood up to bullies was actually a psychopath who started dragging poor victimized (but peaceful) Elias down the path to total warfare.  This scenario, the movie implies, although it never says so, was how Columbine got started.  Never defend yourself, because if you do, you will become a crazy wacko who tries to commit mass murder.  Always let wiser, peace-making heads intervene, causing you to back off, leaving more room within which the bully can operate.

And so, at long last, we get to Marcus Luttrell’s Service.  Incidentally, when I speak here of Luttrell, that’s a bit of a shorthand, since he worked with James D. Hornfischer, who wrote the excellent Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors.  My best guess is that Luttrell provided the stories and that Hornfischer shaped them into a very readable book.

Boiled down to its essentials, Service is the un-Chris Hayes and the un-Northern European pacifism.  Instead, it’s about those men who understand that the only way to deal with bullies is to take them on and defeat them.

Does this mean that those who stand against bullies are bullies themselves?  No.  Unlike bullies who happily and viciously trample anyone in their path, a hero carefully targets his fight, taking it to the bully, and then stands down when that fight is finished.  It’s that ethos that permeates Service.

I found Service very difficult to read, not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s a good book.  Luttrell’s first book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, was painful to read, but it had what was, for me, a recognizable story arc:  our hero trains; our hero faces a terrible battle in which his comrades, after fighting with awe-inspiring bravery, die; and our hero struggles through adversity to survive.  I knew what was coming in advance because that operation was so famous, and because I recognized the narrative arc (although it was still upsetting for this armchair warrior and bona fide coward to read).

Service, however, lacks the familiar narrative of an epic tragedy.  Instead, Luttrell walks the reader through the fight in Ramadi from 2006 to 2008.  Patrol after patrol, fire fight after fire fight, frustrating bureaucratic interlude after frustrating bureaucratic interlude — as you read the book, you feel as if you’re there and for me, that’s a tough feeling. I knew about the bureaucracy (especially the increasingly restrictive rules of engagement), and I had a sort of vague, MSM-ish understanding of the reality of battle, but Luttrell’s book is much more intense.  Here’s part of his description of the end result of a battle that went south for the SEALS:

When the QRF [quick reaction force] arrived outside [the building being attacked] with a couple of Bradleys, the squad moved quickly downstairs and lined up to break out of the house.  They tossed two smoke grenades outside to cover their exfil, then burst through the door.  Two Iraqis were in the lead, followed by Elliott [Miller, who had shrapnel wounds and was bleeding heavily], hobbling along with help from Johnny Brands.  The jundis [Iraqis fighting with the Americans] had just hit the street when the world went dark.  The IED might have been dropped down on them from the roof in a backpack.  Or it might have been planted in the ground or hung on the gate while they were inside.  All we know for sure is that it was a trap set by enemies who were obviously wise to everything we were doing and how we were doing it.  They knew that straight-on firefights were losing propositions.  So they snuck around and planted their bombs where they thought we’d be.  They sure got it right that time.  An enormous explosion engulfed our guys as they exited the house.

The explosion killed the two Iraqis leading the way; the first man simply disappeared, evaporated by the blast, his scan remnants driving away in the air, a pink mist, while the second, partly sheltered by the leader, was nearly sliced in half at the waist.  The blast still had enough force to devastate Elliott.  It tore into his body wherever it wasn’t protected by body armor.  His legs were shredded from midthigh down.  He had a hole in his right shoulder and the parts of him that weren’t covered by plates were being eaten into by a terrible chemical residue.

[snip]

Johnny was better off, but that wasn’t saying much.  Both his feet were attached to his ankles only by the Achilles tendons.

[snip]

Looking down at Elliott, Dozer saw that his friend’s legs seemed loose and detached in the bloody mess of his pants.  The steel rifle magazine stored in his front vest pouches had been dished in by the blast.  Elliott’s watch was charred and black but, amazingly, still kept time.  Only his body armor saved him from being killed instantly.  Dozer ran his hands under Elliott’s plates, checking his torso for wounds.  As he removed Elliott’s gear, Dozer realized he didn’t have the first idea where to begin treating such a seriously wounded man.  That was when he heard another explosion, a smaller one, go off in the courtyard.  A grenade.  The insurgents were still out there, probing them, probably planning another attack.  (Service, pp. 145-147.)

And so it goes, as the men work desperately to extricate themselves and their wounded teammates from a rain of fire.  The SEAL team did eventually make it to safety, and Elliott and Johnny Brands survived, but it was a close thing, and their injuries were devastating.

I chose the above excerpt because of the immediacy of the story.  With Luttrell’s narrative abilities and Hornfischer’s writing chops, you, the reader, feel as if you’re there, in the middle of a battle in the streets of Ramadi.  That’s why it took me a while to read the book, despite the fact that it’s interesting, entertaining, and moving.  After going (in my head) through a battle with the guys, I need to rest and regroup.

There are a few overarching themes in the book:  Luttrell believes deeply in God, country, and America’s armed forces.  His love for his twin brother (also a SEAL) and for his SEAL teammates generally is transcendent, and keeps bringing him back to the fight. In addition to being an action-adventure story and an homage to the SEALS specifically and the fighting forces in Ramadi generally, this book is also a eulogy and a memorial to those SEALS who made the ultimate sacrifice there and in Afghanistan:  Mark Lee, Michael Monsoor, Carson Vaughn, Jon Tumilson, and so many other good men (including all those who died on August 6, 2011), each one a man who directed his formidable strength, intelligence, and energy, not to mindless X-sports, but to protecting his country and fighting for his comrades.

This middle class, female, armchair warrior walked away from Luttrell’s book pretty convinced that Navy SEALS are crazy — but I mean that in a good way.  Only crazy people (in a good way) would put themselves through the training they do and live for the fight the way they do.

Thank God for these crazy people, who can bend their energies to a focused fight against bullies, and who have the moral decency to live by America’s rules of engagement, even as nothing constrains the other side.  Even though Luttrell vividly describes the way the SEALS chafe and suffer at times when the ROEs prevent them from hitting a known and obvious target, they are proud of the fact that they reserve their fire for combatants, and that they neither target nor shield themselves behind the innocents.  This ethos, one that one can call civilized warfare,” makes the fighting much harder in the rabbit warren of Ramadi, but it is one of the things that separates the heroes from the sadistic bullies.

If you would like to immerse yourself in a book that details ferocious urban warfare against a wily and amoral enemy, Service is your book.  The stories are compelling, the writing styling is clear and gripping, and the people you meet in the book are people you’d like to meet in the real world too.

Sugar versus artificial sweeteners

I have a question for you, my very knowledgeable friends.  I don’t like the taste of artificial sweeteners, nor do I even like the taste of corn syrup.  I like good old-fashioned cane sugar.  I’m old enough to live with that decision.

Am I making a mistake, though, when I sweeten my children’s tea or home-made smoothies with cane sugar?  We have sucralose in the house, but I just can’t make myself use it.  Am I consigning my children to a lifetime of obesity?  Am I preventing them from a lifetime of cancer?

What’s the story here?  Incidentally, I’m asking you guys, because there is way too much information out on the internet.  I can find massive amounts of material supporting both points of view, which leaves me no better off than I was when I started.

Government perverts the marketplace, destroying true value analysis.

I have been following with interest the running comment thread on my post asking about whether electric cars are actually cleaner, or if they just shift pollution outside of the consumer’s view.  Very quickly, and probably inevitably, the post shifted to a cost-benefit analysis, which aimed to compare fossil fuel to alternative fuels.  Just as quickly, each side started accusing the other of hiding the real price of these energy sources behind government funding, whether in direct funds (alternative energy) or tax benefits (fossil fuels and alternative energy).

After reading everything, my question about the clean-air benefits of electric cars remains unanswered.  I don’t think anyone delivered a killing blow about electric cars’ virtues or failures.  What is patently clear, though, is that government interference perverts the marketplace, preventing a true analysis of each energy source’s true costs and, by extension, its true benefit in decreasing pollution.  It’s impossible to tell whether there wouldn’t be more utility in putting energy into clean methods for extracting, refining, and using fossil fuels, as opposed to having the government prop up the creation and use of alternative energy.  Only the marketplace can provide this true value analysis, and the government is completely corrupted the marketplace.

If I was king of the world, I would do away entirely with all direct or indirect subsidies.  Only in that way can we measure what really works.

Kudos to Madonna

I’m not a Madonna fan.  Aside from the fact that her music doesn’t work for me, I think her decision to use sex as her primary sales pitch contributed to a decline in our young people’s culture (or lack thereof) over the past couple of decades.

Nevertheless, I do believe in giving credit where credit is due.  Madonna has refused to bow to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) crowd that has Israel in its cross hairs, she’s taken a very brave stand in the entertainment world.  Maybe she’s not just a material girl.  Maybe she’s a principled girl as well.

Be a part of a Memorial Day parade — without ever leaving your home

I got an email Virtual Boots on the Ground, which I’m reprinting below.  I can’t decide if this is a gimmick or a wonderful idea.  On the principle that there’s no harm if it’s a gimmick and a lot of good if it’s a wonderful idea, I signed up.

Virtual Boots on the Ground
Dear Fellow American,

Memorial Day is quickly approaching, and to most Americans, this means the beginning of summer. In reality, it’s the one day of the year we dedicate to remembering those who gave all to protect the freedoms we cherish. As you plan your first barbecue of the season and prepare for the warm weather, I urge you to keep in mind the real reason we celebrate Memorial Day: to pay tribute to America’s veterans and fallen soldiers.

I remember the way our Vietnam Veterans were treated upon returning home. It was a difficult time in our country’s history and we must do all we can to make sure that when our men and women are sent to war they are never again forced into the shadows and treated badly, as our returning Vietnam Veterans were. That’s one of the reasons I am so active in the veterans’ community and today serve as Honorary Grand Marshal of The American Veterans Center’s National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC. I’m writing today because this year’s parade is our first public opportunity to honor our newest generation of veterans, the young men and women who bravely served in Iraq, sacrificing family relationships, jobs, and economic stability to go off and fight for our country.

Will you join me in paying tribute to our Iraq War veterans and all of America’s veterans and active duty service members by marching in the National Memorial Day Parade on May 28? You can’t come all the way to Washington, DC, you say? You don’t have to travel to take part in this special tribute, because we’re holding a virtual parade online! Follow this link to register, select your avatar and join thousands of patriots across our nation to honor America’s veterans from the Revolutionary War up to the Iraq War.

Freedom isn’t free, but for nearly 70 years, Washington, DC, was without a parade on our Armed Services’ most sacred day. In 2005, the American Veterans Center revived the tradition of a Memorial Day parade in our nation’s capital, and today it serves two vital civic purposes: to give the general public the opportunity to honor our service members and pay tribute to our veterans, while allowing active duty troops, veterans, and re-enactors showcase the sacrifice of all our veterans in an exciting procession of American history the whole family can enjoy.

Whether you live in the Washington Metro Area and plan to attend this year’s parade or you live as far away as Hawaii or Alaska, I encourage you to join us on May 28, 2012, to honor America’s veterans, including the 4,487 American service members who gave their lives in the Iraq War.

Please follow this link to register for the virtual Memorial Day parade and join thousands of veterans, active duty troops and civilians across America to pay tribute to our veterans.

With your support and participation in the virtual parade, we’ll promote our veterans’ legacy, remember those who gave all, and preserve their sacrifices. Thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

Gary Sinise
Honorary Grand Marshal, National Memorial Day Parade

P.S. Celebrate Memorial Day 2012 and honor America’s veterans and active duty troops by marching in the National Memorial Day Parade online. Follow this link to register, select your avatar, and join millions of your fellow patriots on May 28, 2012.

Oooh! So cool! I’m mentioned in a Jack Kelly column. (Oh, and Obama’s not so bright.)

Jack Kelly, the well-known columnist who writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, has taken on the claim that Barack Obama is the smartest president ever.  Those of us at the Bookworm Room have always derided this contention, which is built on fairy dust and unicorn horns.

I was reading through Kelly’s column, nodding my head in approval at every point he scored:

Barack Obama is the smartest man with the highest IQ ever to be elected to the presidency, historian Michael Beschloss told radio talk show host Don Imus in November of 2008.

“So what is his IQ?” Mr. Imus asked. Mr. Beschloss didn’t know. He was just assuming.

 Many shared that assumption. Adjectives frequently applied to Mr. Obama are “smart” (278 million hits on Google), “intelligent” (62 million) and “brilliant” (24 million).

There is little evidence to support it. Mr. Obama went to Harvard, but so did George W. Bush, who some liberals consider dumber than dirt. The president won’t release his transcripts, so we can’t judge by his grades. Mr. Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review, but when he was selected, popularity mattered more than scholarship.

Mr. Obama joined an undistinguished law firm, where he tried no cases. So no help there.

Many cite the president’s oratorical skills, but he often rambles when he speaks without a teleprompter. That’s because his brain “is moving so fast that the mouth can’t keep up,” wrote Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times.

Kelly also cites to Obama’s ill-informed statements and his terrible public equity decisions.

I agree with everything Kelly says about Obama’s not-so-formidable intellect.  But here’s the fun part (for me) — the part about Obama’s book:

“The book’s language, oddly specific references, literary devices and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’ own writing,” Mr. Andersen wrote.

Biographer David Maraniss published this month his interview with Genevieve Cook, who dated Mr. Obama in New York, but bears little resemblance to the “New York girlfriend” described in “Dreams.” That’s because she is a composite, Mr. Obama said.

Yet Mr. Obama’s description closely resembles radical Diana Oughton, who was Mr. Ayers girlfriend and who blew herself to smithereens in 1970 while building a bomb intended to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, according to the blogger “Bookworm.” [Emphasis mine, of course.]

To which I say, “Woo hoo!!!”

Presidential pot trajectory

1988:  A serial liar, bomber, drug dealer, and criminal claims, without any corroborating evidence, that he sold pot to Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle.  Despite these allegations (which were almost certainly false), the Bush-Quayle ticket wins.

1992:  Governor William Jefferson Clinton contends that, while he put a joint to his lips and allow smoke into his mouth, he didn’t inhale.  Despite this risible claim (although I do believe that he doesn’t like pot, because not everyone does), Gov. Clinton wins the presidential election.

2008:  Senator Barack Hussein Obama is presented to the American people as the second coming of Christ, only with fewer flaws than Christ himself had.  Unsurprisingly, he wins the presidential election.

2012:  President Barack Hussein Obama is revealed to have been such a serious pot smoker in his youth that, in his high school yearbook, he thanks his pot friends and his dealer:

Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

[snip]

Barry also had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted “Intercepted!,” and took an extra hit. No one seemed to mind.

[snip]

He was a long-haired haole hippie who worked at the Mama Mia Pizza Parlor not far from Punahou and lived in a dilapidated bus in an abandoned warehouse. … According to Topolinski, Ray the dealer was “freakin’ scary.” Many years later they learned that he had been killed with a ball-peen hammer by a scorned gay lover. But at the time he was useful because of his ability to “score quality weed.”

In another section of the [senior] yearbook, students were given a block of space to express thanks and define their high school experience. … Nestled below [Obama's] photographs was one odd line of gratitude: “Thanks Tut, Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times.” … A hippie drug-dealer made his acknowledgments; his own mother did not.

These well-sourced claims about Obama are more serious than unsubstantiated allegations against Quayle or risible excuses by Clinton. The question, of course, is whether they will matter as little as the other candidates’ brushes with claims about drug use mattered, or if yet another insight into Obama’s shady, thoughtless, law-breaking, shadowy past will affect how voters view our President.

Hurrah! It’s Everybody Blog About #BrettKimberlin Day *UPDATED & BUMPED*

[UPDATE: This is why what we're doing is so desperately important. Not only are some police turning a blind eye to Kimberlin's activities (as described below), some of them are being innocently coopted into becoming armed weapons in Kimberlin's campaign.]

[UPDATE:  Bumped this so new visitors to the site can see what's going on today.  There are newer posts below.]

Brett Kimberlin is not a nice person.  Indeed, he’s a singularly un-nice person and one who, sadly, has a huge war chest.  I’ll let Robert Stacy McCain explain:

Kimberlin was convicted of multiple federal felonies in 1981 and sentenced to 50 years in prison after he terrorized a small Indiana town in a brutal crime weeklong bombing spree. Law enforcement officials told the Indianapolis Star they believed the bombings were committed in an attempt to distract authorities investigating the 1978 murder of a 65-year-old grandmother, a crime in which Kimberlin was a suspect.

In recent months, Kimberlin has used a strategy of legal intimidation and workplace harassment in an apparent attempt to silence his critics, including blogger Seth Allen, Virginia attorney Aaron Walker and Los Angeles deputy district attorney Patrick Frey.

[snip]

Convicted of drug smuggling and forging documents as well as numerous violent felonies, Kimberlin claims to have ceased his lifelong criminal career after being released from federal prison in 2000. Yet his habitual dishonesty – Kimberlin was first convicted of perjury at age 18 – appears unchanged. As recently as 2007, Time magazine reported that Kimberlin was gaining notoriety on progressive blog sites by “repeatedly asserting as fact things that are not true.” According to Walker, Kimberlin falsely accused him of assault after a courthouse encounter in which Kimberlin attempted to photograph Walker in violation of court policy. Walker says Maryland officials have refused to investigate his complaints of criminal actions by Kimberlin, and has asked his blog readers to contact those officials to demand action:

Attorney for Montgomery County
50 Maryland Avenue, 5th Floor
Rockville, Maryland 20850 states.attorney@montgomerycountymd.gov. 240-777-7300

In far-Leftist land, though, being an unrepentant criminal convicted of violent crimes just isn’t that big a deal.  As McCain explains, Kimberlin is “employed as the director of a 501(c)3 non-profit that has collected $1.8 million in contributions since 2005.”  Indeed, Kimberlin has a lot of interesting contacts:

Kimberlin is a known associate of Neal Rauhauser, a Democrat campaign consultant who has described himself as a computer “hacker.” Kimberlin, director of the tax-exempt Justice Through Music Project, is also involved in another tax-exempt group, Velvet Revolution, which has gained national attention by demanding criminal prosecution of high-profile figures including Republican strategist Karl Rove, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue, and the late Internet news entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart.

For many people, that would be a lifetime and a half of criminal behavior and sleazy associations.  For Kimberlin, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  He’s lately embarked upon a full-time career of harassing, both legally and illegally, those conservatives writers who have had the temerity to repeat the verified facts about his unsavory life.  Michelle Malkin explains:

Over the past year, Aaron Walker (who blogged as “Aaron Worthing”), Patterico, Liberty Chick, and now Stacy McCain have been targeted by convicted Speedway bomber Brett Kimberlin because they dared to mention his criminal past or assisted others who did. The late Andrew Breitbart warned about Kimberlin and company.

[snip]

This is a convoluted, ongoing nightmare that combines abuse of the court system, workplace intimidation, serial invasions of privacy, perjury, and harassment of family members. McCain was forced to move with his family out of his house this week, and has just gotten a small taste of what Aaron and Patterico have been enduring over the past year. Aaron and his wife were fired from their jobs after their employer feared the office would be targeted next. Convicted bomber Kimberlin has filed bogus “peace orders” against Aaron, when it is the Walkers who are the victims, not the perpetrators.

And Patterico’s plight will send chills up your spine when he is ready to tell it.

Institutional inertia, incompetence, and apathy among law enforcement officials on both coasts have exacerbated the victims’ suffering. It has moved far beyond a partisan or political story to a bottomless, Kafka-esque morass. And, via investigative journalist Matthew Vadum, it certainly doesn’t help that “progressive,” left-wing foundations that have funded Kimberlin continue to look the other way.

When faced with this situation — a criminally vindictive vexatious litigant with a violent history, a full purse, and a legal system that refuses to act — there’s only one thing to do:  make it practically and financially impossible for the bad guy to continue his damaging ways.  If Kimberlin wants to go after bloggers, we’ll give him bloggers . . . hundreds of bloggers.  Good luck to him trying to turn his efforts and energies, as well as his friends’ deep pockets, to the task of silencing every one of the individuals willing to re-print his record of lawlessness, imprisonment, harassment, and abuse of the civil justice system.

Welcome to the Blogburst of all Blogbursts!  If you haven’t joined in the May 25, 2012 “Everybody Blog About Brett Kimberlin” party, what are you waiting for?  This is the place where the elite meet and where the witty play.  It is the ultimate venue for those committed to free speech, justice, honor, and the strength that comes from many individuals joining together.  Here’s a list of those bloggers I know who have sent in their RSVPs and are now having fun.  If you would like to be included on this list, please send me a link:

[Read more...]

A rockin’ Star Spangled Banner that even a purist can love

I’m a fuddy duddy when it comes to the Star Spangled Banner.  I hate howling ululations and piercing shrieks.  It turns out, though, that if you give me a rockin’ good anthem, sung by guys who believe in every word, I will get those familiar chills down my spine that tell me I’m listening to some serious good music.  Madison Rising’s Star Spangled Banner may well be one for the ages. Listen and pass it on:

A soldier sends a gift from the other side, which makes me think about the daily gifts our troops give us

Private Chris Kershaw, 19, a British soldier, didn’t really send a gift from the other side.  What he did, though, was think about the ones who would be left behind in the event he died in battle, and he left them a letter:

The youngest of six British soldiers blown up by a Taliban bomb joked about his death in a final letter to his family which was read out at his funeral today.

More than 500 mourners turned out to say a tearful farewell to Private Chris Kershaw, 19, as he was laid to rest at his parish church in the village of Idle, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Family and friends packed the church of Holy Trinity while many more stood outside as the service was relayed over a loud speaker.

[snip]

Pte Kershaw wrote to his family: ‘This is to inform you of the unfortunate death of, well, me. I would like to explain that even though I don’t know how I died I am sure it was from some heroic act.

‘In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.’

I am currently reading Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  As I read, I keep thinking to myself (as everyone must when reading about the military generally and the SEALS specifically) “Wow, what amazing guys these are.  Highly intelligent, superbly fit, emotionally stable, deeply patriotic, supernaturally brave and stoic, adaptable, blessed with inhumanly quick reflexes, fun-loving, and with an almost saintly altruism when it comes to protecting their team, or the small, weak, and helpless.”

A few other things come through in Luttrell’s book.  As Private Kershaw wrote, these guys enjoy what they do.  While I like a vigorous and relatively safe work-out followed by a hot shower, a cuddle with my dog, some quiet time at the computer, lunch with a friend, a bit of desk work, time with my kids, etc., these guys enjoy practicing how to shoot at each other from speeding cars, and find it invigorating to patrol Iraqi streets riddled with IEDs and showered by bullets.  They are a breed apart.

Not only do many of our volunteer fighters enjoy what they do, many of them die doing, or sustain terrible, irreparable injuries while on the job.  Every time Luttrell describes one of those deaths (e.g, Michael Mansoor, Marc Lee, Jon Tumilson, or the Operation Red Wings Team), I get so upset I have to stop reading and regroup before I can get back to the book.  Luttrell doesn’t wallow in the deaths, although he honors these men by remembering them and their sacrifice.  I’m the one wallowing.

Aside from each individual tragedy, I also feel that, every time one of these men dies, our society loses someone a little more special than the average Joe (or Jane).  These are the leaders, the do-ers, the moral guides — and they’re the ones who are first in line when the bullets fly.  We need them most, yet they’re the most likely to leave us behind.  That’s just so wrong at a global level.  And yet of course, it’s quite right at an individual level.  These guys wouldn’t be the leaders, do-ers and moral guides that they are if they lived my safe, confined, dull little life.  Being true to themselves means taking risks, and that’s just the way it is.

For those of us looking on from the sidelines, though, there is some comfort in Private Kershaw’s words:  “In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.”