~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I O 93 93/93 I O ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Location: LaGrange, Kentucky, United States

The opinions and interests of a husband, analyst and Iraq war veteran.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday heh

(Via: ace)

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Competing world views

In an excellent essay at Reason, Indur M. Goklany makes the case for preserving the institutions that ensure our prosperity, and in turn, give us the means to export that prosperity to developing nations.

Environmentalists and globalization foes are united in their fear that greater population and consumption of energy, materials, and chemicals accompanying economic growth, technological change and free trade—the mainstays of globalization—degrade human and environmental well-being.

Indeed, the 20th century saw the United States’ population multiply by four, income by seven, carbon dioxide emissions by nine, use of materials by 27, and use of chemicals by more than 100.

Yet life expectancy increased from 47 years to 77 years. Onset of major disease such as cancer, heart, and respiratory disease has been postponed between eight and eleven years in the past century. Heart disease and cancer rates have been in rapid decline over the last two decades, and total cancer deaths have actually declined the last two years, despite increases in population. Among the very young, infant mortality has declined from 100 deaths per 1,000 births in 1913 to just seven per 1,000 today.


The proximate cause of improvements in well-being is a “cycle of progress” composed of the mutually reinforcing forces of economic development and technological progress. But that cycle itself is propelled by a web of essential institutions, particularly property rights, free markets, and rule of law. Other important institutions would include science- and technology-based problem-solving founded on skepticism and experimentation; receptiveness to new technologies and ideas; and freer trade in goods, services—most importantly in knowledge and ideas.

In short, free and open societies prosper. Isolation, intolerance, and hostility to the free exchange of knowledge, technology, people, and goods breed stagnation or regression.

[Emphases mine]

As Milton Friedman said, "A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom."


Or, you could always live as a pauper in self righteous solidarity with Gaia and, you know, actual poor people.

A sour odor hovered oh-so-slightly in the air, the faint tang, not wholly unpleasant, that is the mark of the home composter. Isabella Beavan, age 2, staggered around the neo-Modern furniture — the Eames chairs, the brown velvet couch, the Lucite lamps and the steel cafe table upon which dinner was set — her silhouette greatly amplified by her organic cotton diapers in their enormous boiled-wool, snap-front cover.

A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella's parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

An equally interesting article, though for entirely different reasons. Beavan and Conlin seem decent enough, but I have my doubts as to the virtue of conspicuous non-consumption. The ascetic impulse (joining a monestary or building a hermit's cabin in the woods) that I understand. What I don't understand is the desire to abstain so publicly. Then again, I don't grok the allure of going on Jerry Springer, either.

I first bristled against this kind of "philosophy of personal sacrifice" a year ago when Rod Dreher put out his Crunchy Con Manifesto. It's obviously well intentioned, but I just can't get behind this thinking. "Less is more" can't feed hungry children in Africa or comfort abused women in the Mid-East. However, prosperity and surplus, the boon of freedom, can.

(Rod now blogs at BeliefNet.com and frequently turns out sublime essays on a diverse array of topics. Though we disagree, his talents as a writer were never in question.)

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Code Monkey very simple man...

... with big, warm, fuzzy, secret heart.

With love to my cubicle buddies.

(Via: LGF, more Jonathan Coulton songs at his blog here, video by Spiffworld)

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

"This American Life" goes visual today

Ira Glass's new project on Showtime attempts to translate the distinctive, stoytelling format of "This American Life," popular on NPR, into small screen format. Will it be successful?

Reviews have been favorable so far, and even Ira is surprised at the finished product:

For a dozen years, Ira Glass has worked to exploit the unique qualities of radio as a storytelling medium in "This American Life." So now that he's branching out to television, the first impression one has is that nothing could be more misguided or less true to the show's original purpose.

And you know what? Glass himself shared that initial impression. "When we began this program, I was naive. I honestly didn't believe pictures could add anything to a story," he says in a promotional DVD distributed by Showtime and the show's original home at WBEZ 91.5-FM's Chicago Public Radio.

Clips from the TV show are available at Showtime's website above. (More at thislife.org.) They look promising and I've been a big fan of the radio show for a decade. Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and upgrade to premium cable!


Some of my favorites from the NPR archives:

Superpowers - John Hodgman, et al.

The fix is in - FBI informant Mark Whitacre.

What are You Looking at? - Sarah Vowell, et al. (Live event)

Running After Antelope - Scott Carrier, et al.

Click to read show descriptions and listen to entire shows for free! Or subscribe to TAL podcast.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

300: Unapologetic study in blood drenched badassitude

I have seen the film, and it is good. While 300 puts most of its energies into faithfully capturing the style and essence of Frank Miller's graphic novel, that's just fine by me. I'm a big fan of Miller's work, and this film adaptation is every bit as successful as Sin City. History buffs and other sticklers for accuracy will be disappointed.



Official Site

Clips and behind the scenes featurettes

John Podhoretz reviews 300 in the Weekly Standard - John predicts this movie marks a fundamental shift in the way studios will approach action flicks.

James S. Robbins writing for National Review - James laments the celebration of Spartan values as being synonymous with our own. (I commented on his piece here)

Dana Stevens writing for Slate - Upset that 300 isn't an "anti-war war movie." Clearly unable to enjoy anything that conflicts with her own world view.

Victor Davis Hanson on the historical significance of the battle of Thermopylae.

Wiki entry on the cry, "Molon Labe!" (Come take them!) Thanks to Gonzo for that.

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(Via: Tom)

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Magic trick

My opinion of A.E Housman has over the years slowly evolved. First into a kind of grudging respect, and finally into full-blown admiration. Ten years ago I had nothing but absolute scorn for his Dr. Seuss-like rhymes. But in much the same way my parents knew everything when I was ten, lost all that knowledge at twenty, and magically gained it all back again on my thirtieth birthday, so have I come to love A.E. Housman. Especially the war poems:

From "Last Poems"

As I gird on for fighting
My sword upon my thigh,
I think on old ill fortunes
Of better men than I.

Think I, the round world over,
What golden lads are low
With hurts not mine to mourn for
And shames I shall not know.

What evil luck soever
For me remains in store,
'Tis sure much finer fellows
Have fared much worse before.

So here are things to think on
That ought to make me brave,
As I strap on for fighting
My sword that will not save.

More here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Yon Report Index - Updated daily

I'm taking it upon myself to index "The Michael Yon Project" for posterity and as a service to other fans of Mike's work. What is the "Michael Yon Project?" Dean Barnett explains:


Michael provides dispatches [from Iraq] on his own amazing website as often as possible. Unfortunately, because of his circumstances, he’s for obvious reasons not able to do as much writing as he would like or as we would like.

But he does have a satellite phone. And that’s where I come in. Every day, or as often as possible, Michael and I plan to speak and then I will write up a report of what Michael is seeing, hearing and doing. We both hope, and both expect, that what will come out of these conversations is coverage of the situation in Iraq that’s different from and superior to anything the mainstream media has provided in the four years of the conflict.


The Yon Report - 4/12/2007

The Yon Report - 4/11/2007 (+ pics)

The Yon Report - 3/29/2007

The Yon Report - 3/28/2007 (+ pics)

The Yon Report - 3/16/2007 (+ pics)

The Yon Report - 3/15/2007

The Yon Report - 3/14/2007

Dean's Announcement - 3/14/2007

You can support Mike's mission by clicking here.

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On the peculiar voyeurism of free peoples

James S. Robbins pens an interesting piece on the movie 300 in today's National Review.

The runaway blockbuster 300 has prompted renewed interest in the classics. The movie has it all — heroism, sex, violence, good vs. evil — who knew dead white men could be so interesting? The historical inaccuracies in the movie are legion, as in many historical films (let alone those based on a graphic novel). But if the movie motivates people to learn about the true story then I’m all in favor.


One is attracted to the human drama of the story. A small band of fighters willingly sacrifice themselves against vastly superior forces to buy time so armies could assemble to defeat the enemy later. It is no mystery why the defense of the Alamo was soon dubbed “America’s Thermopylae.” In fact the first Alamo monument bore the inscription, “Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat - the Alamo had none.” Leave it to the Texans to one-up the ancients. [Hah! - ed.]

But the analogy is inexact, because of what the respective groups were defending. The heroes of 1836 were fighting for freedom. The Spartans fought to maintain their autocratic state. A better analogy is not the Alamo but Iwo Jima, from the Japanese point of view (also recently dramatized in Letters from Iwo Jima). Both groups of defenders, Spartan and Imperial Japanese, were prepared to die fighting the enemy — but not for things we value.

Yes, we can admire them on the human level, for the bravery it took to fight against hopeless odds for the cause in which they believed. Courage, self-sacrifice, and indomitable spirit are qualities we like to see in our heroes. But is that enough? Shouldn’t we take the cause into account too? Seriously, in the battle of Spartans vs. Persians, for whom do you root? Both were unsavory.

[Emphasis mine]

"But is [admiration for their bravery] enough? Shouldn’t we take the cause into account too?" Yes, there is another factor here. It's the vicarious thrill we get from such alien worlds. As a free people, we're steeped in love for self-government and liberal democracy. We jelously defend it by day, but at night (or in a darkened theater) we dream of anarchy and monarchy! But at a voyeuristic remove, of course.

We watch mafia movies to imagine what it's like to live an existence governed by tribal law rather than rule-of-law. We watch vigilante movies to get a sense of what "justice" would look like in a lawless world. And we watch 300 to experience the nightmarish grandeur of a totalitarian state, safe in the knowledge that when the lights come up, the dream will end.

Where does our morbid fascination come from? I don't know. But I like to think that it re-inforces our commitment to freedom. I know it re-inforces mine.

More from Robbins:

If you can’t quite get behind rooting for the Spartans, there were other heroes on the scene at Thermopylae, people the movie ignores. Herodotus tells us that when it became clear that the Greek defensive position had been flanked, Leonidas ordered the men from the other Greek states to leave, to prepare for the confrontation yet to come. But the 700 men of Thespiae, led by Demophilus, refused. They chose to stand with the three hundred Spartans, to fight beside them. "So they abode with the Spartans," Herodotus wrote, "and died with them."

Who were the Thespians? No, not actors — hard to imagine seven hundred or even seventeen taking up arms these days. They came from Boeotia, near Mt. Helicon, a little more than midway between Thermopylae and Athens. Their polis was traditionally a democracy. The Thespian Hoplites were much more akin to the volunteer citizen soldiers long seen as the backbone of the American fighting forces. Unlike the Spartans, the Thespians did not spend their lives drilling and training for war while living off the sweat and toil of those the enslaved Helots. The Thespians were free men who lived freely, and defended their city because their conscience demanded it.

What little we know of Thespiae leads us to believe that life there was pleasant, and cultured.


The Thespians made a greater sacrifice than the Spartans, but they did not have the power and influence of Sparta, nor apparently the ability to inspire the same sort of myth-making... Today in Thermopylae there are two main monuments to the defenders. The Spartan monument features a wall flanked by sculptures of figures reclining, fronted by a bas relief of the battle, and with a statue of a Spartan hoplite, spear raised, dominating the center, above the inscription "Come and take them." At the traditional spot of the last stand, a plaque proclaims, "Stranger, bear this message to the Spartans, that we lie here obedient to their laws."

Nearby stands a strangely muted memorial to the soldiers of Thespiae, a dark, headless, armless, legless trunk, a shattered remnant of a man, and beside the pedestal a marble tablet dedicating the shrine to the unknown defenders of the pass who chose to sacrifice themselves for democracy and their homeland.

To my way of thinking, Thespiae may not have much of a physical monument, but its legacy of freedom and democracy is monument enough. My thanks to Mr. Robbins for the interesting essay.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"...there is hope here and it lives in the thousands of stories about this place that are never told..."

From the latest Michael Yon dispatch, "Ernie is Dead," in which he defends the honor of the Mainstream Media's war coverage (and not without some success):

Today there are over fifty journalists here. We have an excellent new Commanding General, David Petraeus. A big plan is unfolding that will affect the lives of nearly every person reading this, and many more. Soon the weather will change as a long, hot, grinding, and sticky year begins, but most journalists will spend little time here. When the weather turns hot, most will go home.


Under that strange high moon rising to meet its eclipse, I thought of Ernie. Ernie Pyle. His was a name I hardly knew just two years ago, except in some vague way I knew he had been a writer, at war. That changed when people compared my work to his, and sent a couple of Ernie’s books to me. After reading them, I thought the comparison extremely flattering but not deserved. There are some obvious and even stylistic similarities. I say “folks” a lot; so did Ernie. Ernie had a particular heart for the infantry; I spend most of my time with infantry. But while Ernie talked bluntly about the ugly parts of war, I simply lack the skills to make anything ugly look pretty.

Where Pyle and I share closest ties is in our knowledge of the value our work has for troop morale, for strategic gains, and for ensuring the support of Americans back home.

Family Lore has it that I'm distantly related to Ernie (my grandmother was nee Pyle) so my ears pick up whenenver his name is invoked. And however tenuous the family connection to that famous journalist, as a veteran of OIF, I'm exstatic to have a journalist of Mike's caliber covering the front in Iraq.

Do read the rest. Mike delves into the questions of winnability, accuracy, big media resources as opposed to the meager means of "independents" like himself, and points to evidence that MSM and new media are increasingly "shift[ing] from competition to collaboration" which promising to be the new model in war reportage.

A welcome, welcome development. It would make Ernie proud.

March 14 UPDATE: Dean Barnett - Introducing the Michael Yon Project:

Today begins an exciting project at HughHewitt.com... Michael provides dispatches on his own amazing website as often as possible. Unfortunately, because of his circumstances, he’s for obvious reasons not able to do as much writing as he would like or as we would like. But he does have a satellite phone. And that’s where I come in. Every day, or as often as possible, Michael and I plan to speak and then I will write up a report of what Michael is seeing, hearing and doing. We both hope, and both expect, that what will come out of these conversations is coverage of the situation in Iraq that’s different from and superior to anything the mainstream media has provided in the four years of the conflict.

First report should be up later today.

UPDATE: First Barnett/Yon Report - 3/14/2007

When I got Michael back on the phone, he was his usual spirited self. He was also pretty blunt in his assessment regarding some members of the Public Affairs Office. “There are some guys who are winning this war,” he said. “There are others who are losing it.”

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Literary odds and ends

Emphasis on the "odd." Sorry I've been away. Here's a few links as compensation:

- Voting opens on oddest book title of the year

- More strange titles

- The Wergle Flomp Free Humor Poetry Contest

- The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed

- Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Author on NPR here)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Of Bulbs and Men

Less lectures, more practicality will get people to see the light, er, LED.

A nice follow up piece for my "self-interest is environmentalism" post on Tuesday. Self interested stewardship as a practical argument carries lots of weight with me. Messianic Goracle worship? Not so much.

(Via: Glenn)

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thank you, Scott

An hour ago I wasn't even aware of a man named William Shawcross. Now I see myself spending the entire day reading his essays.

[Jeff Jacoby:] "Whatever else he may believe or advocate, Shawcross seems clearly to be a man of intellectual integrity. That makes his thoughts on the current crisis all the more valuable."

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Woodruff, stand-up guy

From what little I know about ABC's Bob Woodruff, he seems to be a straight shooter. After 36 days in a coma following a roadside bomb attack in Iraq, Bob, and his family, have shown exceptional courage this past year.

Combat is dangerous. So is covering it. It can be... difficult to capture the random, casual nature of wartime death. No such problem for Woodruff. He's been


to the point of death yet still came back. Broken but not beaten. Best of luck to him and his family. I also want to thank Larry King for taking a break from the Anna Nicole extravaganza to cover Bob's amazing story. Others have covered Woodruff's recovery, but none have done it quite so well, IMO. For all the grief I give mainstream media, I have to say King hosted an outstanding show tonight. It focused less on insider media, and spotlighted Bob's story in a surprisingly sensitive manner. Good on ya, Larry.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Safety vs. Freedom" canard rears it's ugly head again

This time on The View. (God, I can't believe I'm linking to The View. I'll link to Christina Aguilera, but not The View? Anyway...)

Rosie O'Donnell squares off against Dennis Miller here.

As I've written a couple of times in the past, I don't believe there's a inverse relationship between "freedom" and "security." When one goes up the other doesn't neccesarily have to go down.

A paradigm shift is desperately needed here.

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