abstract musings

abstract (adj.): Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.
musings (n.): A product of contemplation; a thought.


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Friday, December 31, 2004

No Ordinary Champion

Greg Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker champion, also known as "Fossilman" knows how to take care of himself.

Greg Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker champion, apparently knows how to wield more than a stack of chips when everything is riding on it.

The soft-spoken patent attorney from Stonington, Conn., fought off a pair of attackers Dec. 20 at the Bellagio hotel-casino after he had finished playing a cash game of poker, according to a Las Vegas police report.

You can listen to the NPR story on the attempted robbery.

Yanukovych Resigns

Viktor Yanukovych has resigned his post as Ukraine's Prime Minister. He is still refusing to acknowledge Victor Yushchenko's victory in the presidential election.

Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovich said on Friday he was resigning as prime minister, though he refused to concede defeat in a presidential election, while the liberal winner of the poll prepared a momentous New Year celebration.

Yanukovich has denounced rival Viktor Yushchenko's victory in the re-run of last month's rigged election and has vowed to press on with legal challenges to overturn the outcome.

But in a televised New Year's address, he acknowledged the appeals to election authorities and the Supreme Court stood little chance of success.

"In view of this, there is no point in staying on as prime minister. The political role of the Yanukovich government as a factor of stability in the past year is all but exhausted," he said. "I have taken the formal decision to resign."

Yanukovych's Election Challenges Thrown Out

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych's challenge of the Ukrainian presidential election result has been rejected by the Ukrainian Supreme Court. Although, he seems committed to further legal action.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's bid to overturn his liberal rival's victory in a presidential election lay in tatters on Thursday after Ukraine's Supreme Court threw out his complaints.

With West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko already discussing his post-election program, Yanukovich suffered a further blow when the Central Election Commission threw out his objections about voting irregularities.

Yet he has refused to bow to opponents' demands to quit. Although Yushchenko holds a lead of about eight percentage points in the preliminary count, a Yanukovich aide said new legal challenges were planned once the poll's result is officially published.

As the article states, the Central Election Commission has also rejected a complaint by Yanukovych over voting irregularities.

Tsunami News

The death toll from the tsunami has passed 120,000 people. As it continues to climb, aid continues to increase as well. Amazon has raised over $8 million for the American Red Cross, the World Bank has offered $250 million in tsunami aid to the UN, and members of Congress are preparing an aid package, in addition to the $35 million already pledged by the President.

Sadly, fears of another tsunami from a false warning created panic in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Tsunami relief scams have already started to appear. Captain Ed points to a New York Sun article which reports that bogus websites claiming to collect aid for the victims of Sunday's disaster and other scams on the internet have begun to spring up.

On eBay, sellers are hawking Pez dispensers, a gold necklace, a stuffed mouse, and a "hand-carved" Buddha statue with the promise that proceeds from the auctions will go directly to charities assisting the victims of the tsunami in Asia.

Visitors to tsunamireliefaid.com are directed to a crudely constructed Web site with photographs of those who appear to be tsunami victims and instructions urging users to send relief packages and $10 checks to a P.O. box in Germantown, Md.

Donald Sensing also posts that a scam email is making the rounds asking for donations from an anonymous relief organization.

If you wish to donate, be sure that you are donating to a reputable organization. As I have mentioned before, Amazon.com is collecting donations for the American Red Cross. Hugh Hewitt and several others are recommending World Vision, and Rev. Sensing also points to the United Methodist Committee on Relief which has set up a specific fund to direct monies to the relief efforts. USAID, the U.S. government agency responsible for economic and humanitarian assistance around the world, has compiled a list of the agencies USAID works with that are accepting donations for the earthquake/tsunami victims

Don't be afraid to give; just make sure the organization you give to is going to get the aid to the victims. And when you give, please be generous.

MORE: The Command Post has a roundup of links to aid agencies accepting donations to support disaster relief efforts. Lots of helpful information in the comments to that post, as well.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Preventing Natural Disasters

It can't be done. There is no way to prevent an upheaval of the earth like the one which caused Sunday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Some people would like to make the argument that the blame for this tragedy lies with global warming. The case these editorials in the New York Times and the London Telegraph present is that the best we can do is detection and warning to minimize the loss of life and the impact that is felt by nature's destructive forces. The Telegraph editorial even goes so far as to point out other areas in which we could through application of preventative measures mitigate other potential calamities.

The appliance of science has seen a huge surge in the Earth's population, lifespan and in the extent of civilised society. The tsunami has taught us humility, once again underlining how nature, and not mankind, is still the real master. The plates that slide, shift and grind under our feet, the viruses that multiply in our bodies and objects in orbit are indifferent to our plight. The chances of a natural Armageddon might be remote, but the destruction of human life and impact on modern lifestyles would be so extreme that we should use science to defend ourselves better.

None of the potential disasters the Telegraph warns us of would be stopped by an increased focus on global warming.

Costas Synolakis provides a brief history of tsunamis, particularly those which led to the development of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, and provides one account that illuminates why education about the danger of tsunamis can alter the potential human loss due to a devastating tsunami.

The images from Sri Lanka, India and Thailand that have filled our screens--and the descriptions from survivors--are sadly all too familiar, at least to those of us who have conducted tsunami field surveys. At times, some of us thought that we were revisiting images from Flores in 1992, or East Java in 1994, Irian Jaya in 1996, Papua New Guinea in 1998 and Vanuatu in 1999--to just mention catastrophes in countries with similar landscape and coastal construction.

The response of local residents and tourists, however, was unfamiliar, at least to tsunami field scientists for post-1990s tsunamis. In one report, swimmers felt the current associated with the leading depression wave approaching the beach, yet hesitated about getting out of the water because of the "noise" and the fear that there was an earthquake and they would be safer away from buildings. They had to be told by tourists from Japan--a land where an understanding of tsunamis is now almost hard-wired in the genes--to run to high ground. In another report, vacationers spending the day on Phi Phi were taken back to Phuket one hour after the event started. In many cases tsunami waves persist for several hours, and the transport was nothing less than grossly irresponsible.

Contrast these reactions with what happened in Vanuatu, in 1999. On Pentecost Island, a rather pristine enclave with no electricity or running water, the locals watch television once a week, when a pickup truck with a satellite dish, a VCR and a TV stops by each village. When the International Tsunami Survey Team visited days after the tsunami, they heard that the residents had watched a Unesco video prepared the year before, in the aftermath of the 1998 Papua New Guinea tsunami disaster. When they felt the ground shake during the 1999 earthquake, they ran to a hill nearby. The tsunami swept through, razing the village to the ground. Out of 500 people, only three died, and all three had been unable to run like the others. The tsunami had hit at night.

Another OpinionJournal editorial (From Dean's World) shows that those with a political agenda will persist in making their case:

One might think that a disaster of this scale would transcend normal national or political considerations. But in the world of environmental zealotry, even an event such as this is seen as an opportunity to press the agenda. Thus, the source of the South Asian tsunami is being located in global warming.

In an interview with the Independent newspaper in Britain, Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree." Speaking to the same newspaper, Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper pressed the argument home: "Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions."

But as the same editorial makes clear the argument for prevention is solid:

It is preposterous to blame the inexorable forces of nature on the development of industry and infrastructures of modern society. The more sensible response to natural disasters is to improve forecasting, put in place efficient communications and evacuation procedures and, should the worst arrive, conduct relief efforts and rebuild what nature has destroyed. Those cautionary measures, as is now clear, cost money. The national income necessary to afford them is made possible only by economic growth of the sort too many of environmentalists retard with their policy extremism.

Rich countries suffer fewer fatalities from natural disasters because their prosperity has allowed them to create better protective measures. Consider the 41,000 death toll in last December's earthquake in Iran compared with the 63 who died when a slightly stronger earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

The answer doesn't lie in less industry, but in more; so that, developing nations can afford the infrastructure to prevent such horrible loss of life as we have seen this week. And also in creating a robust infrastructure to rebuild and replace what nature destroys.

Peggy Noonan reminds us that 2004's biggest story is full of small stories that encourage us that all is not as bleak as the escalating death toll would indicate.

"Did you hear about the baby they found floating on a mattress?" "Did you hear about the 2-year-old Swedish kid they found wandering down a street?" "Did you hear about the guys who floated on a refrigerator?" Did you hear about the model, the surfer, the snorkelers?

People are fascinated by these stories, and so am I. It's a little like the first days after 9/11 in New York: "Did you hear about the guy in the wheelchair on the 91st floor?" Soon we will be hearing about massive relief efforts and individual acts of heroism and sacrifice, and those stories will be a relief, and maybe even in some cases an inspiration.

Not everyone distinguished himself. What to say of those who've latched on to the tragedy to promote their political agendas, from the U.N. official who raced to call the U.S. "stingy," to the global-warming crowd, to administration critics who jumped at the chance to call the president insensitive because he was vacationing in Texas and didn't voice his sympathy quickly enough? Such people are slyly asserting their own, higher sensitivity and getting credit for it, which is odd because what they're actually doing is using dead people to make cheap points.

It is saddening to hear those critics make such noises at a time like this. Just as anti-war protestors seek to use the deaths of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to score quick, cheap political points against a war and a president they despise, so too these pundits and experts seek to promote themselves and their agendas in the midst of such sorrow and grief over this terrible tragedy and the deaths it has wrought. It is despicable; they are people without shame.

Citizen Smash also has a post on his own experiences with nature, past and present, and shares this gem of an observation:

NATURE HAPPENS — She doesn't care whether you are an environmentalist or an industrialist, rich or poor, good or evil, black or white, Right or Left. She is neither vengeful nor forgiving. Elections, wars, and treaties do not constrain her.

I have survived earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, hailstorms, and blizzards. I've lived on an active fault line, and in the shadow of a volcano. I've circled the globe, twice. I have witnessed blinding sandstorms in the Middle East, hurricanes in the Atlantic, and typhoons in the Pacific. I've backpacked across the Sierra Nevada, had my food stolen by a bear, and come face to face with a mountain lion.

The one thing I've learned from these experiences is that Nature is neither benevolent nor malevolent. Nature simply is.

Lastly, I have been reminded of my own experience with Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I can recall the sound of the wind, like shrieking cats, as it roared past my parent's home. Or the explosive sound of our roof as it was ripped off by 200+ mile per hour winds. The rattling of the fan in our bathroom as my parents, brother and I huddled in the small room waiting for the dreadful storm to pass. I remember walking around my neighborhood later that day, and becoming lost because nothing was were it belonged. All of the homes in our neighborhood were damaged, ours less so than most. The scene was like something out of a war movie.

That afternoon we packed up our valuables and drove to my grandfather's house a couple of miles away. A trip which the day before had taken minutes, now took almost a hour as we were forced to take detour after detour due to the debris blocking most of the roads. At one point, we drove on the sidewalk next to the road to avoid downed power lines. The next few days were full of daily trips for drinking water, as we queued up waiting upon the generosity of others. It was the simple gifts, things like a propane stove and bottled water which our co-workers and friends, who were more fortunate than we, were kind enough to spare, which got us through those first few terrible days.

Weeks of cold showers and no electricity followed. I remember my first hot shower a week after the hurricane struck. A friend invited my parents and I over for dinner and a shower. It was a much too brief return to normal life. For five weeks our neighborhood was pitch black night after night. In the distance we could see the glow of city lights -- the lucky souls who had electricity -- creeping ever closer, promising someday to come to us.

But, it all seems so small to me now, in retrospect. It was nothing in comparison with the present disaster. I knew my loved ones were safe. My younger brother was serving with the Marine Corps overseas and struggled to contact us. Even as my parents were trying to get word to him that we were alive and well.

But, soon enough life returned to normal. And that will happen with this tragedy, too. Life will go on, the dead will be buried, and buildings will be rebuilt. Once the initial disaster recovery is completed, the focus should be on preventing another tragedy, not placing the blame for this one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Looking Ahead

Victor Davis Hanson takes a look ahead at the challenges which lie in our future.

Iran and Syria may sound defiant in the Islamic media; yet, the world around them in Israel, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq is either democratic or moving in that direction. Their support of terror and desire to acquire dangerous strategic weapons, in the President's view, means that the larger war cannot be won unless both cease and desist or see their regimes changed— preferably through either diplomatic coercion and multilateral pressure or in extremis American force.

While the democratic stew brews in Afghanistan and Iraq, expect a number of Bush initiatives that will turn up the heat. The UN, reeling from the Oil for Food scandals, the Secretary-General’s nepotism, and the organization’s tolerance for mass murder in the Sudan, is under enormous pressure to democratize its membership, expand the Security Council, open its books— or face a de facto American disengagement. That is no longer a right-wing pipe dream, not when a majority of Americans now voices no confidence in either the efficacy or morality of such avatars of world governance.

The Palestinians likewise are facing an impending dilemma. Either with American support and aid they embrace real democracy and give up tribal Arafatism to negotiate as a legitimate interlocutor with the Israelis, or they will face a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the completion of a security fence, continued destruction of extremists and the recognition that they will lose their window on the West through Jerusalem, and instead stew in their own juice with their like brethren in Syria and Egypt.

Nor will the Bush administration cease its reexamination of its superpower responsibilities. The American people believes that there is no longer any strategic or political logic in stationing thousands of soldiers in Europe, but plenty of reasons—economic, political, and psychological—to remove the vast majority of them at a time of troops shortages closer to the front. NATO has become as impotent as it is widely praised, especially when it fails to honor commitments in Afghanistan and abhors involvement with Iraq. This obstructionism is in sharp contrast to the prior European desire of American-led military intervention— without UN or Congressional sanction —to remove Slobodan Milosevic. Having learned belatedly the wisdom of talking more quietly while carrying an even bigger stick, America may continue to offer praise for the status quo trans-Atlantic relationship, while unobtrusively promoting wider bilateral relationships —like those with Australia —based on shared commitments to freedom and the need for collective security against statism and totalitarianism in all its many guises.

Orange Revolution Continues

It seems that the Orange Revolution may not be over yet. President-elect Yushchenko's supporters blockaded the government headquarters to prevent Yanukovych, who was fired as prime minister by Ukraine's parliament, from entering the building to attend a cabinet meeting. The demonstration was successful, although the Cabinet of Ministers did convene in another building without Yanukovych.

Yanukovych, however, remains defiant and has filed several legal appeals over the election's result.

Ukraine's defeated presidential candidate on Wednesday made a last-ditch but seemingly hopeless attempt to challenge the victory of his liberal opponent, Viktor Yushchenko.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, already forced by the opposition to pull out of his own cabinet meeting, has lodged complaints with the Supreme Court and the election commission over last Sunday's presidential poll.

"These legal challenges are an attempt to draw the Commission out of its impartial stand and into politics. And that is impossible," Central Election Commission head Yaroslav Davydovich said.

Yanukovich -- clinging to his prime minister's post by a technicality -- has refused to concede defeat in the re-run of the Nov. 21 poll, when his victory was overturned by the Supreme Court because of massive fraud.

And in a news conference, a defiant Yanukovich also said he would not quit as premier even though it had become difficult to do his job and said his opponents were "quaking in their shoes." We will soon say what we have to say."

Asked by a reporter why he had not attended Wednesday's cabinet meeting, he replied: "I am not obliged to account to you where I was or was not at any given moment." he said.

Yanukovych sounds a bit defensive. My advice to him would be to get used to it. Having reporters nosing around in your business is a hallmark of democracy.

Ben Kepple, meanwhile, has compiled a list of arguments for Yanukovych to use before the Ukrainian Supreme Court. (From Dean's World)

Death Toll Continues to Rise

The death toll in Asia from the earthquake and tsunami has risen to almost 77,000 lives. The sheer mass of dead bodies is making identification difficult.

For search and rescue teams in Khao Lak -- where a four-year-old fisherman's son survived for more than two days after being swept into a tree top -- the problem is not finding bodies. The smell of rotting corpses is too strong to miss.

But identifying them may take a long time and one top government forensic scientist said some may never be named.

Pornthip Rojanasunant told Reuters at a Khao Lak Buddhist temple acting as a temporary morgue for 300 bodies -- about a fifth of them foreigners -- that she was collecting DNA samples of all the corpses by swabbing mouths or taking hair.

The samples could be matched to relatives later, she said.

President Bush responds to his critics after America's contribution to the disaster relief was labeled, "stingy."

"The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims. We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities," he said, adding that he had spoken by phone to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.

"I assure those leaders that this is just only the beginning of our help," he said.

At a briefing with reporters at an airport hangar near the ranch, Bush displayed pique at a comment by a U.N. official that rich countries had generally been "stingy" in aid to poor countries.

"I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed," he said.

"In the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief. ... That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year," he said.

America year after year proves to be one of the most charitable nations in both government and private aid. So far Amazon is reporting over $2 million in donations and that number continues to rise. Granted, there's no way to know where all the donations are coming from, and I suspect a fair number of them are from outside our borders, but still it is staggering that as private citizens, we can raise over $2 million dollars. This just proves that when private citizens are free to choose where to put their money, they will choose to do the right thing with it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Blame Game Begins

Power Line has links (and commentary) on some efforts to pin the blame for the tsunami catastrophe. Shame on Rueters and Agence France-Presse for using this horrific human tragedy to promote a political agenda.

UPDATE: Sortapundit rebuts the inane AFP article.

UPDATE II: I have some more thoughts on this.

Huygens Probe Begins Its Journey

The Huygens probe was successfully launched from the Cassini spacecraft on Christmas Day.

Cassini used springs to gently push the 705-pound probe away late Friday at a rate of one foot per second, sending it on a three-week free-fall toward Titan. Cassini will make a course change next week to avoid following the probe into the moon's atmosphere.

The probe's successful launch from Cassini put smiles on the faces of scientists in the control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"This was a big one partly because we had to do this right or no mission at all," said David Southwood, the European Space Agency's science program director.

A detailed analysis of the release was under way, but there were no indications of any problems, said Earl Maize, the Cassini deputy program manager at JPL. "We are quite confident we had a very clean release," he said.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a significant atmosphere. Rich with nitrogen and containing about 6 percent methane, the atmosphere is 1 1/2 times thicker than Earth's.

The Huygens probe will arrive at Titan on January 14, 2005, where it will begin a 2 1/2 hour descent through Titan's murky atmosphere before landing on the surface of Saturn's mysterious moon. I posted about the Cassini mission to Saturn earlier this month, including some amazing images captured by the spacecraft's cameras. The following photo was taken on Christmas Day.

Cassini's Holiday Greetings, Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Cassini's Holiday Greetings
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Here is an image of the Huygens probe (closeup view) that was taken about 12 hours after the launch. (From UnSpace)

Earthquake/Tsunami Update

The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog has links to aid agencies and information on the recovery work occurring in the region.

The death toll has surged past 50,000 lives. The tragedy could grow worse as there is a lack of uncontaminated drinking water, and the risk of disease from so many decomposing bodies.

Many of the bodies were already decomposing in the heat, underlining the growing health risk.

"Rescuers are holding their breath and using their bare hands, axes, or shovels to dig through piles of wrecked buildings and debris at Khao Lak," said a senior provincial official, Chailert Piyorattanachote.

"We don't have enough coffins and those that we have are too small for the bloated bodies of foreigners."


For the most immediate needs, hundreds of relief planes packed with emergency goods were due to arrive in the region from about two dozen countries within the next 48 hours.

But authorities waited in trepidation for the outbreak of diseases caused by polluted drinking water and the sheer scale of thousands of putrefying bodies, lying in mud or being washed onto beaches.

The U.N.'s Egeland said there could be epidemics of intestinal and lung infections unless health systems in the stricken countries got help.

A top World Health Organization expert, David Nabarro said there was "certainly a chance that we could have as many dying from communicable diseases as from the tsunami."

In Aceh, Lieutenant-Colonel Budi Santoso said: "Many bodies are still lying on the streets. There just aren't enough body bags."

"I've never buried so many in a single day in my life," said Shekhar, an Indian gravedigger.

Eleven Americans are listed among the dead with hundreds more listed as missing.

On a brighter note, a Swedish child was reunited with his uncle after the uncle saw a picture of the boy posted on a web site.

A blond two-year-old Swedish boy, Hannes Bergstroem, found sitting alone on a road in Thailand was reunited with his uncle, who saw the boy's picture on a Web site.

"This is a miracle, the biggest thing that could happen," said the uncle, who identified himself as Jim, after flying from his home country to Thailand to reach Hannes at the hospital were the boy was being treated. The boy's mother and grandmother were missing, while his father and grandfather were reportedly at another hospital.

The power of the Internet at work!

UPDATE: From the SEA-EAT blog: satellite images are showing the changes the tsunami caused to the Indian coastline and outlying islands. More on the regional changes in geography and on tsumanis in general. (From The Moderate Voice)

UPDATE II: The New York Times has an article on the role blogs have had both in reporting about this catastrophe and in promoting disaster relief efforts. (From Instapundit)

UPDATE III: The death toll has climbed to over 59,000.

Monday, December 27, 2004

New bin Laden Tape

Al-Jazeera has broadcast a new audio tape attributed to Osama bin Laden. On the tape the speaker called for Iraqis to boycott the election next month, and called the interim government an "apostate government."

The speaker said al-Zarqawi and those with him are fighting "for God's sake."

"We have been pleased that they responded to God's and his prophet's order for unity, and we in al-Qaida welcome their unity with us," the speaker said.

The speaker also said he was "pleased" with al-Zarqawi's "gallant operations" against the Americans and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's "apostate government."

Iraqis are scheduled to elect a 275-member National Assembly on Jan. 30, and those lawmakers will draft a new constitution. There have been calls to postpone the election because of the ongoing insurgency, but President Bush has insisted the vote be held as scheduled.

The speaker condemned those elections.

"In the balance of Islam, this constitution is infidel and therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels," he said. "Beware of henchmen who speak in the name of Islamic parties and groups who urge people to participate in this blatant apostasy."

He apparently was referring to Shiite clerics, particularly Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who have issued edicts saying participating in the election was a "religious duty."

UPDATE: Apparently, the voice on the tape does belong to bin Laden.

Tragedy in Southeast Asia

Yesterday, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra generating several tsunamis. So far the death toll is an estimated 23,700 lives and is expected to rise. Deaths have been reported in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Somalia.

This will probably prove to be the costliest natural disaster in history, both in the human toll and in monetary terms. However, much of the human tragedy might have been preventable.

More information on the earthquake which generated the tsunamis is available from the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS's earthquake website provides information on earthquakes throughout the world.

UPDATE: The Command Post has a compilation of first person accounts of the tragedy, as well as updated death tolls by country. The Moderate Voice also has links to other first person accounts and a link to video of the tsunami washing ashore. (From Diggers Realm)

UPDATE II: Updates on the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami.

Yushchenko Is Victorious

Yushchenko's victory seems to be official.

Reformer Viktor Yushchenko, whose victory in Ukraine's presidential election was all but assured Monday despite his opponent's threat to appeal the outcome, is expected to move quickly to bolster ties with the West while trying to ease tensions with Russia.

However, his opponent, taking a page from the Democratic Party playbook, has refused to concede and has indicated that he will contest the result in court.

Yanukovych refused to concede defeat, telling reporters he would go to the Supreme Court to challenge the results once the election commission released its final tally.

Later, however, he said he had lost respect for the court over its ruling that annulled the results of the earlier election, which Yushchenko's camp, international observers and even members of the Central Electoral Commission assailed as fraudulent.

"It breached the constitution and the law," Yanukovych said of the court. "Today, I can't have faith in such a chamber."

Even if, as seems likely, the result withstands a court challenge, or Yanukovych comes to his senses and concedes, Yushchenko has a difficult road ahead to westernize his nation, while at the same time not alienating Russia. Also, troublesome will be uniting the Ukrainian and Russian speaking halves of Ukraine, in addition to dealing with the corruption which marked the outgoing government.

Foreign leaders have also been quick to congratulate Yushchenko.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, whose own accession to power on a wave of peaceful protest in November 2003 inspired Ukraine's opposition, congratulated Yushchenko in a Ukrainian-language message delivered over Ukrainian television.

Saakashvili, who attended law school in then-Soviet Ukraine, apparently was the first foreign leader to publicly recognize Yushchenko's victory.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski congratulated Yushchenko on Monday, describing his victory as a "good and important choice" for Ukraine's relations with Europe, Kwasniewski's office said.

Poland's former president, Lech Walesa, told the Polish news agency PAP that Yushchenko's victory meant "Ukraine on its road to freedom and democracy made a small move toward Europe."

Captain Ed also observes that this election, while the result is favorable to the West, may have other unpleasant consequences for the West. While the result may encourage other former Soviet Republics to break free of the Kremlin's influence, it may also make Putin desperate to maintain that influence.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Yushchenko Claims Victory

Viktor Yushchenko has claimed victory in Ukraine's highly contested presidential election. The election seems to have been conducted with little of the rampant fraud and voter intimidation which marked the previous two elections.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko declared victory Monday in Ukraine's fiercely contested presidential election, telling thousands of supporters they had taken their country to a new political era after a bitterly fought campaign that required an unprecedented three ballots and Supreme Court intervention against fraud.

"We have been independent for 14 years but we were not free," Yushchenko told the festive crowd in Kiev's central Independence Square, the center of weeks of protests after the fraudulent and now-annulled Nov. 21 ballot in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych had been declared the winner.

"Now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine."

Yushchenko spoke after three exit polls and partial results projected him winning easily in Sunday's Supreme Court-ordered rematch.

"Now, today, the Ukrainian people have won. I congratulate you," he said.

As Yushchenko declared victory, about 5,000 supporters gathered on the square applauded and set off fireworks. They waved flags of bright orange - his campaign's emblematic color - clasped hands and danced.

More on the election from Rueters. And the insider's view of the election and Ukraine is available from Le Sabot Post-Moderne.

NFL News

Good news and bad news in the NFL today.

The good news (unless you are Dan Marino): Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes in a come from behind overtime victory against San Diego, to break Dan Marino's record of 48 touchdown passes in a single season.

Peyton Manning wanted the win more than the record. He got both. Manning rallied his Indianapolis Colts from a 15-point deficit in the final quarter, throwing his record-breaking 49th touchdown of the season to help tie the game in the last minute of regulation, and then led the winning drive in overtime as the Colts defeated San Diego 34-31 Sunday.

And the bad news: Reggie White, former University of Tennessee and NFL defensive lineman, died today at age 43.

A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and ordained minister who was known as the "Minister of Defense," White played a total of 15 years with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. He retired after the 2000 season as the NFL's all-time leader in sacks with 198. The mark has since been passed by Bruce Smith.

"Reggie White was a gentle warrior who will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "Equally as impressive as his achievements on the field was the positive impact he made off the field and the way he served as a positive influence on so many young people."

A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, White was elected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 straight times from 1986-98. He was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.

"A 43-year-old is not supposed to die in his sleep," Johnson said. "It was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete surprise. Reggie wasn't a sick man ... he was vibrant. He had lots and lots of energy, lots of passion."

Keeping Christ in Christmas

James Q. Wilson points out a very good reason to leave well enough alone.

This fact worries many people in the Blue States just as it pleases many in the Red ones. Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. In insisting that we describe our late December holiday as having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, in fighting to keep every nativity scene away from any government property, by arguing that our freedoms will be compromised by any reference to Christianity, they have succeeded only in intensifying religious beliefs among the great majority of our people who are angered by these assaults.

They would be well advised to let matters alone. We have been a free country even though "In God We Trust" is printed on our dollar bills, even though sessions of Congress begin with a prayer, and even though chaplains paid for by our tax dollars are part of our military forces. Our freedom does not depend on eliminating these acknowledgments of the power of religion; it relies instead on the fact that for many generations we have embraced a secular government operating in a religious culture.

That embrace will be weakened, not strengthened, by silly attacks on religiosity, stimulating the spiritual to question the seriousness of people who profess a concern for civil liberties.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Reason for Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5,10-14

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

Isaiah 9:6&7

Friday, December 24, 2004

It's Christmas Eve

Before you put out the milk and cookies for Santa this evening, you may want to download a copy of the Christmas Cookie Liability and Indemnification Agreement first. (From Michelle Malkin)

Also, I think Cox & Forkum have a lead on Michael Moore's next project.

Blogging will be light tomorrow. I'll be at my in-laws most of the day without any connection to the internet.

Have a Merry Christmas.

(Linked to the Outside the Beltway: Holiday Traffic Jam)

FedEx Is Awesome

FedEx has decided to cover the cost of shipping to Iraq and Afghanistan for Operation Give. Way to go FedEx!

(From Dean's World)

Victor Davis Hanson Supports Rumsfeld

Victor Davis Hanson takes on Rumsfeld's critics.

The answer, of course, is the usual media-inspired flight from reason that overwhelms this country at various times hype playing on our fears and groupthink to create a sudden story when there really is none. And now with the renewed attack on Donald Rumsfeld we are back to more of the flu-shot hysteria that has been so common in this war. Remember the pseudo-crises of the past four years— the quagmire in week three in Afghanistan or the sandstorm bog-down in Iraq?

Let us not forget either all the Orwellian logic: Clinton's past deleterious military slashes that nevertheless explained the present win in Afghanistan, or his former appeasement of bin Laden that now accounts for the successful doctrine of fighting terror. Or recall the harebrained schemes we should have adopted— the uninvited automatic airlifting of an entire division into the high peaks of Islamic, nuclear Pakistan to cut off the tribal fugitives from Tora Bora? Or have we put out of our memories the brilliant trial balloons of a Taliban coalition government and the all Islamic post-Taliban occupation forces?

So it is with the latest feeding-frenzy over Donald Rumsfeld. His recent spur-of-the-moment — but historically plausible— remarks to the effect that one goes to war with the army one has rather than the army one wishes for angered even conservatives. The demands for his head are to be laughed off from an unserious Maureen Dowd — ranting on spec about the shadowy neocon triad of Wolfowitz, Feith, and Perle — but taken seriously from a livid Bill Kristol or Trent Lott. Rumsfeld is, of course, a blunt and proud man, and thus can say things off the cuff that in studied retrospect seem strikingly callous rather than forthright. No doubt he has chewed out officers who deserved better. And perhaps his quip to the scripted, not-so-impromptu question was not his best moment.

But his resignation would be a grave mistake for this country at war, for a variety of reasons.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Rumsfeld Under Attack

This Cox & Forkum cartoon captures the situation perfectly.

UPDATE: Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise Christmas Eve visit to U.S. troops in Mosul.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited wounded soldiers and brought holiday greetings on Christmas Eve amid tight security at an air base in northern Iraq where an insurgent's attack killed 14 U.S. troops and eight other people earlier this week.

UPDATE II: Here's more on Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Mosul. (From Power Line)

God and Governments

Are American soldiers doing the Lord's work in Iraq? Brendan Miniter thinks so.

More Firefox Hoopla

Uh-oh! Looks like there's more hype about Firefox. The New York Times has an article with a very favorable assessment of Firefox's chances to re-ignite the "browser wars."

Gary Schare, Microsoft's director of product management for Windows, has been assigned the unenviable task of explaining how Microsoft plans to respond to the Firefox challenge with a product whose features were last updated three years ago. He has said that current users of Internet Explorer will stick with it once they take into account "all the factors that led them to choose I.E. in the first place." Beg your pardon. Choose? Doesn't I.E. come bundled with Windows?

Mr. Schare has said that Mozilla's Firefox must prove it can smoothly move from version 1.0 to 2.0, and has thus far enjoyed "a bit of a free ride." If I were the spokesman for the software company that included the company's browser free on every Windows PC, I'd be more careful about using the phrase "free ride."

eWeek.com also has an article encouraging Windows users to switch to Firefox for security reasons.

People who don't get security often say that if Firefox or any other open-source software were only as popular as IE, their security would be just as bad. Nope. Wrong.

First, open-source software is constantly being looked at by numerous developers. When problems are found, and they are all the time, they're quickly fixed. With Microsoft code, you have to trust that its programmers are on the ball and that they'll fix problems quickly. You look at their track record and you decide if that's true. I know what I think.

Second, on Windows, open-source applications are just that: applications. Microsoft programs, by their very nature, are tied directly into the operating system kernel. This means, IE—and other Microsoft Windows applications such as Outlook—enables any security hole to potentially rip open the entire operating system.

Earlier, I linked to an interview with Mr. Schare where he named backwards compatibility as a major reason that Microsoft is not offering updates to Internet Explorer.

We could change the CSS support and many other standards elements within the browser rendering platform. But in doing so, we would also potentially break a lot of things. We have to strike the balance of what's okay to break and what shouldn't we break, and how do we roll this out in a way that does a clean break, if you will.

However, some people think Internet Explorer has already broken the web. And I think there is a lot, a whole lot, of merit in these arguments.

Now, Scott Ott has the full details on Microsoft's latest plans to update IE.

UPDATE: Here's a contrasting opinion.

Ukrainian Election News

First, on Monday the two Ukrainian presidential rivals faced-off in a televised debate.

The two rivals stood at lecterns facing each other in a blue television studio, with an electronic clock behind a moderator. A small table was between them, with a desktop flag of Ukraine sitting on it.

Yushchenko, wearing a tie and a handkerchief in his campaign color of orange, spoke first. He said the reason for the Dec. 26 election rerun "was that the results of the Nov. 21 votes were stolen ... by my opponent and his team."

Yanukovych, wearing a tie in his trademark blue, spoke in Russian instead of Ukrainian in his introductory remarks.

"Your accusations toward me and toward my voters don't give us the chance to look into the future optimistically," he said, wagging his finger at Yushchenko.

Yanukovych suggested that a Yushchenko victory would further divide the nation.

I find it intriguing that Yanukovych would suggest that a victory by Yushchenko in this weekend's election would divide the nation since it isn't Yanukovych's offices that are the targets of violence.

Late Sunday, assailants hurled a firebomb at Yushchenko's campaign office in the city of Mariupil in the Donetsk region, a statement posted on his party Web site said. There were no injuries, but the office was seriously damaged in an ensuing fire.

But I suppose this is similar to the "staged" violence Republicans perpetrated against Bush-Cheney offices here in the U.S. this past election season. Just trying to gain some sympathy. Well, it worked on me!

Next up, Vladimir Putin seems to have seen the writing on the wall. He now believes he can work with a Yushchenko administration in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who openly backed Viktor Yushchenko's rival for president of the Ukraine, said Tuesday he could work with an administration headed by the pro-Western candidate.

"We have worked with him already and the cooperation was not bad," Putin said during a visit to Germany. "If he wins, I don't see any problems."

Apparently, this news has not given Yushchenko any warm and fuzzy feelings. Wednesday evening he warned his supporters to expect violence in connection with the election on Sunday.

He told the thousands gathered in the square to mark the one-month anniversary since protests against election fraud began that they had changed Ukraine without bloodshed.

But he warned: "There are some forces preparing disruption and they are preparing brigades, groups which are ready to come to Kiev."

UPDATE: More on election violence concerns:

In Kiev, rumors are swirling that Cossacks and miners from mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine are readying to disrupt Sunday's vote or head to Kiev in case of a Yushchenko victory.

Campaign officials for Yanukovych, who draws most of his support from eastern Ukraine, have repeatedly denied the allegations. Law enforcement officials have said they would maintain law and order during the rerun.

Suicide Bomber Responsible for Base Attack

The attack on FOB Marez was most likely caused by a suicide bomber.

Tuesday's attack was the deadliest breach of security at a U.S. military base since the Iraq war began. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said there will be a reassessment of U.S. security procedures as a result. (Related: Photos from the scene)

U.S. officials initially reported that rocket or mortar fire had struck the plastic-skinned tent Tuesday at Forward Operating Base Marez. But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing, "We have had a suicide bomber apparently strap something to his body ... and go into a dining hall."

I expect the blame game will start with the usual suspects (MSM, Dems, anti-war crowd, etc.) blaming Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass for being unprepared for such a style of attack and demanding an investigation. And an investigation should be launched; it just shouldn't be politicized. The purpose of any investigation into how a terrorist got into the tent with an IED shouldn't be to place blame, but to determine what can be done to prevent a future tragedy. Look for old media, though, to put the pressure on to find out who's to blame, not at looking for ways to prevent a future attack like this one from occurring.

In related news, Donald Rumsfeld expressed grief over the criticism that he has been receiving the past two weeks.

Looking more subdued than during most of his public appearances at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded to a barrage of criticism Wednesday by saying he cares deeply about the lives of U.S. troops who go in harm's way.

One day after 14 U.S. soldiers and four contractors died in a suicide bombing at an Army mess hall near Mosul, Rumsfeld did something he has rarely done in four years on the job: He talked about his feelings.

"I am truly saddened by the thought that anyone could have the impression that I or others here are doing anything other than working urgently to see that the lives of the fighting men and women are protected and cared for in every way humanly possible," Rumsfeld said. He said he shares "deeply" the loss family members feel when a soldier dies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Iraq as Seen by the Iraqi People

Jeff Jacoby highlights "Voices of Iraq" a documentary that shows Iraq as the citizens of Iraq see it.

"Voices of Iraq" is by turns heartbreaking, exhilarating, and inspiring. The war and its destruction is never far from the surface. One of the opening scenes is of a car bombing in Sadr City, and when a little girl is asked, "What do you want to tell the world about Iraq?" her answer is poignant: "These explosions are hurting everyone." A mother is seen weeping for her son, killed in the crossfire during a fight between US soldiers and looters. There is even footage -- supplied, Drury told NPR, by a sheik from Fallujah -- of insurgents preparing a bomb.

But bad as the war is, the horror it ended -- Saddam's 24-year reign -- was worse.

In the film, a young Kurdish mother tells her daughter, who is wielding the camcorder, how she would burn herself with cigarettes to prepare for the torture she knew was coming. A policeman recalls what it was like to arrest a member of the Ba'ath Party. "You'd be scared," he says. "You'd shake with fear." One man explains that Saddam's son Uday "used to come often to Ravad Street -- every Thursday for the market -- to choose a girl to rape."

A few brief clips are shown from a captured Fedayeen Saddam videotape: A blindfolded victim thrown to his death from a rooftop, a man's hand getting severed, someone's tongue being cut out.

It isn't hard to understand the emotions of the man who answers, when asked how he reacted to the news of Saddam's capture, "I danced like this! I kept dancing. Then I cried."

Yet for all they have been through, Iraqis come across as incredibly optimistic, hopeful, and enthusiastic. And above all, normal. In "Voices of Iraq" they film themselves flying on rides in an amusement park, dancing the night away at a graduation party, taking their kids to a playground, shopping for cellphones. A police officer mugs for the camera. Shoppers throng the streets of Suleimaniyah. A scrawny kid pumps iron with a makeshift barbell -- and gives a shout out to Arnold Schwarzenegger. ("I like your movies. You're a good actor. Can you please send me some real weights?")

The film's producers distributed 150 digital video cameras to Iraq, and asked ordinary Iraqis to film scenes of daily life in Iraq and then to pass the camera along. It seems that once Western media is out of the way, things in Iraq, while not perfect and certainly still dangerous, don't seem quite so bleak.

Recognizing the Small Bloggers

La Shawn Barber provides some background on the smaller blogs which helped to break and spread the Rathergate story.

La Shawn on her blog also shares her motivation for writing the story.

These are the kinds of contributions I had in mind when I wrote the other day that "Bloggers" might have been a better choice for Time Magazine's Person of the Year. (Not that the President isn't a darn good one.)

The Slow Death of the Left

Michael Ledeen explains how the left lost its way.

The slow death of the Left was not limited to its failure to comprehend how profoundly the world had changed, but included elements that had been there all along, outside the purview of leftist thought. Marx was famously unable to comprehend the importance of religion, which he dismissively characterized as the "opiate of the masses," and the Left had long fought against organized religion. But America had remained a religious society, which both baffled and enraged the leftists. On the eve of the 2004 elections, some 40 percent of the electorate consisted of born-again Christians, and the world at large was in the grips of a massive religious revival, yet the increasingly isolated politicians and intellectuals of the Left had little contact and even less understanding of people of faith.

Unable to either understand or transform the world, the Left predictably lost its bearings. It was entirely predictable that they would seek to explain their repeated defeats by claiming fraud, or dissing their own candidates, or blaming the stupidity of the electorate. Their cries of pain and rage echo those of past elites who looked forward and saw the abyss. There is no more dramatic proof of the death of the Left than the passage of its central vision — global democratic revolution — into the hands of those who call themselves conservatives.

History has certainly not ended, but it has added a new layer to its rich compost heap.

Rumsfeld Responds to Critics

Yesterday's USA Today featured an op-ed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

A post-9/11 world has required the U.S. military to make many changes — changes that weren't contemplated in the heady years of the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War. For example, today the department is buying more Predator aircraft and more precision munitions than anyone thought would be needed before 9/11.

Working with Congress, the department canceled at least two multibillion-dollar Cold War-era Army weapons systems: the Crusader artillery system and the Comanche helicopter. Undoubtedly, others will be considered. Any changes will most likely be opposed by special interests wedded to their systems, but nonetheless, we must continue to shift resources so we will be more adept at meeting today's challenges.

Also, during successive decades of national security policymaking, the government decided that it made sense to place large percentages of our war-fighting capability into the reserve component of the armed forces. What may have made sense during the Cold War makes less sense today, when it is clear that we need more of those skills — such as military police, logisticians, civil affairs specialists — as part of the active force. The fact is, with some 2.4 million Americans serving in some uniformed capacity (active, Guard and Reserve), it is not that we have too little military personnel, but rather that the skill sets are not well apportioned among active, Guard and Reserve forces for today's needs.

UPDATE: Power Line has two posts adressing the autopen controversy. And another post where the father of a Marine addresses this issue.

More on Yesterday's Rocket Attack

Chaplain Lewis has written a first person account of the aftermath of yesterday's attack on a mess tent at FOB Marez.

After a few tense moments people began to move around again and the business of patching bodies and healing minds continued in earnest. As I stood talking with some other chaplain, an officer approached and not seeing us, yelled, "Is there a chaplain around here?" I turned and asked what I could do. He spoke to us and said that another patient had just been moved to the "expectant" list and would one of us come pray for him. I walked in and found him lying on the bed with a tube in his throat, and no signs of consciousness. There were two nurses tending to him in his final moments. One had a clipboard so I assumed she'd have the information I wanted. I turned to her and asked if she knew his name. Without hesitation the other nurse, with no papers, blurted out his first, middle, and last name. She had obviously taken this one personally. I'll call him "Wayne". I placed my hand on his head and lightly stroked his dark hair. Immediately my mind went to my Grandpa's funeral when I touched his soft grey hair for the last time. And for the second time in as many hours I prayed wondering if it would do any good, but knowing that God is faithful and can do more than I even imagine. When I finished I looked up at the nurse who had known his name. She looked composed but struggling to stay so. I asked, "Are you OK?" and she broke down. I put my arm around her to comfort and encourage her. She said, "I was fine until you asked!" Then she explained that this was the third patient to die on her that day.

(From LGF)

Also, Jeremy Redmon, a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch attached to the 276th Engineer Battalion in Iraq, was an eyewitness to the carnage, and has written a story for his paper about the tragedy.

UPDATE: Other stories about the aftermath: FOX News, AP and Reuters.

UPDATE II: While no words can ease the sorrow caused by the loss of life yesterday, Power Line reminds us about the big picture. Also included in the post is a link to an article about the attack, which indicates that it may have been perpetrated by a suicide bomber, and not by a rocket or mortar.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Don't Pick on the Amish

N.Z. Bear is picking on the Amish. Okay not really, but he is taking exception to the state of Ohio for granting an legal exception for jury duty to the Amish. It seems that the Amish as a tenet of their faith don't want to judge others, citing Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." As a result potential Amish jurors are excused by the court. So far, so good. If someone was a reasonable reason, like a religious objection or a medical condition, for not wanting (or being able) to participate in our justice system as a juror then we shouldn't (and in reality, we can't) force them to participate.

The reason for the law is an attempt to increase voting participation among the Amish.

Ohio courts pick prospective jurors from lists of registered voters or licensed drivers.

The Amish, who don't drive and aren't on the license lists, often forgo voting. Studies put Amish voter participation at less than 10 percent.

"They're being disenfranchised from their voting rights because of concerns about jury duty," said Grendell, whose district includes a sizable Amish settlement around Middlefield east of Cleveland.

N.Z. Bear believes this exchange to be an acceptable one.

This actually seems a reasonably satisfactory outcome, to me. In an ideal world, the Amish would be deprived of the right to trial-by-jury, to balance their refusal to participate in providing that same right to their fellow citizens. But sacrificing the right to vote will do, I suppose.

But the problem with this is that it allows a "backdoor" disenfranchisement of the Amish. They shouldn't be forced to lose their right to vote, because they can't (or won't) participate in as a juror in our trial system due to religious reasons.

A better solution, rather than setting a legal precedent that enshrines the Amish as some sort of protected class, would be to change the method of choosing prospective jurors. If the concern is that the Amish won't participate due to concerns over jury duty, then don't use voter rolls to choose jurors. Use property tax lists, or something similar to that. That would alleviate any concerns that tie jury duty to voter rolls and maintain the status quo. The Amish, then able to participate in voting freely, would not be disenfranchised, and the precedent for exempting people from jury duty or other unpopular civic duties would not be set.

Ultimately, I think that this law will have little effect in increasing voter participation among the Amish. They strike me as wanting as little to do with the outside world as possible, and I suspect that includes politics as well.

Rocket Attack on Military Base in Iraq

I heard about this on the radio while I was out earlier today doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Islamic militants struck a mess hall on a military base in northern Iraq near Mosul.

Rockets struck a mess tent at a military base in Mosul where hundreds of U.S. soldiers had just sat down to lunch Tuesday, and military officials said at least 20 people were killed and more than 60 were wounded. A radical Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility.

The dead included U.S. military personnel, U.S. contractors, foreign national contractors and Iraqi army, said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia in Mosul.

The number of casualties is unclear, but within moments of the attack soldiers where tending to the wounded.

The force of the explosions knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats as a fireball enveloped the top of the tent and shrapnel sprayed into the area, Redmon said.

Amid the screaming and thick smoke in the tent, soldiers turned their tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot, [Jeremy] Redmon [Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch reporter] said.

Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters, while others wandered around in a daze and collapsed, he said.

Other sources: FOX News, Reuters, and MSNBC.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Targeting Rumsfeld

Old media, having failed to take down President Bush, now seems to have its sights set on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. First, came the up-armor non-story. Here's what one National Guardsman serving with the 278th in Northern Iraq thinks about the up-armor controversy.

Now comes the revelation that, Rumsfeld didn't sign the letters of condolence sent to the families of U.S. service members killed in action.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided to personally sign condolence letters to the family members of U.S. troops killed in action rather than letting a machine affix his signature.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress criticized the embattled Pentagon chief on Sunday for not signing the letters himself all along.

Let me make sure I understand this. Rumsfeld is not fit to be Secretary of Defense because he didn't put pen to paper when signing these condolence letters. In what way does this impact his ability to lead the nation's armed forces?

What it amounts to is a political jihad to get Rumsfeld's scalp by some politicians sniffing the wind and noticing that Rumsfeld's approval rating is falling. If the issue is with the composition of the armed forces, or the number of troops in Iraq, or the failure to anticipate a guerilla war in Iraq, or some other factor Rumsfeld had (or should have had) control over, fine. Maybe he deserves to be run out of Washington for any (or all) of these reasons. But to focus on a completely manufactured and bogus issue, or one as trivial as whether the signature on a letter was ink from a pen or ink from a stamp seems ridiculous to me.

Well, at least President Bush is sticking by his Secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld over the weekend was accused of being insensitive after admitting he did not personally sign letters of condolence to families of more than 1,000 soldiers killed in Iraq but instead had them signed by auto-pen.

Rumsfeld later said he would now sign them by hand.

"Sometimes, perhaps his demeanor is rough and gruff. But below that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes," Bush said.

Other reactions:

Linked to Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam

The Joys of Dog Ownership

Ben Stein relates what brings him the most joy in life:

I have worked for two Presidents in the White House, been in dozens of movies, played in one of the best sitcoms of all time, The Wonder Years, won Emmies for my quiz show. I have been married to a glorious wife for almost 40 years and we have a handsome, rugged son. This is all good stuff, even great stuff....But....

None of this gives me the serenity that being next to a sweet, loving big furry dog gives. There is a magical connection between dog and human that offers a glimpse of heaven.

And, it seems that Dave Barry's well reasoned arguments in favor of a dog haven't been able to convince his wife of the benefit having a dog brings.

My wife, who would not touch the Special Toy with a barge pole, is less impressed. She fails to see the appeal of an animal that appears to be less intelligent than its own parasites. Oh, I've tried to explain the advantages of having a dog. For example:

A DOG IS ALWAYS READY. It doesn't matter for what: Dogs are just ready. If you leave your car window open, the dog will leap into the car and sit there for hours. It will sit there for DAYS, if you let it. Because the dog knows that sometimes the car just starts moving, and you have to be ready! Usually the dog will sit in the driver's seat, in case (You never know!) the dog is called upon to steer.

A DOG IS VIGILANT. One time, on a movie set, I watched a small dog walk past a line of six metal light stands. When the dog came to the sixth light stand -- which was EXACTLY the same as the other five light stands -- the dog stopped and began barking furiously at it. The dog would NOT stop. The owner finally had to drag the dog away, with the dog yanking wildly at its leash, still enraged by the light stand. Clearly the dog had detected some hostile intent in this particular light stand, something that we humans, with our inferior senses, were not aware of. We humans were thinking: "What's WRONG with that dog?" Whereas the light stand was thinking: "Whew! That was close!"

Now, I must admit that I have never owned a dog. (I grew up with cats, lots of cats.) But my wife is an unabashed dog lover, and she has repeatedly shared with me the special joy a dog brings its owner. Her last dog died of old age while we were dating. She (the dog, not my wife -- although my wife is pretty special too!) had such a wonderful personality that she transformed my aversion to dogs into an affinity for them. Unfortunately, we currently live in an apartment and aren't allowed to have pets, but we do plan on being a home for a special dog when we own a house with a yard.

Immigration Reform

If you are concerned about immigration reform or the lack thereof, Diggers Realm has a roundup of posts about this issue.

In a separate post he also details the shell game Congress is playing regarding securing our borders. It is irresponsible of lawmakers in Congress to call for a doubling of the size of the Border Patrol without allocating the funds to make such an increase reality. Once again, Washington politicians want to look strong on an issue, while doing nothing to really address the problem.

Good News from Iraq Continues

Arthur Chrenkoff has posted another roundup of good news from Iraq.

I had wondered aloud whether or not those nations that did not support the war in Iraq would participate in preparing Iraq for the January election and in securing the success of the election. One of the most positive signs for the upcoming election is the participation of nations who opposed U.S. military intervention in Iraq:

Other foreign assistance for the election continues to flow in. Canada has offered to train election officials in Iraq and to help monitor the vote. Japan will be training 10 Iraqi electoral officials from Baghdad and Muthana province. Germany, meanwhile, is assisting with electoral education: "A new radio program is about to hit the airwaves in Iraq focusing on the upcoming elections scheduled for the end of January. It's radio for Iraqis, by Iraqis, with a little help from [the German broadcaster] Deutsche Welle." The report continues:

"Even getting to this hotel conference room in Amman, Jordan was at times a life-threatening trek for some of the young Iraqi journalists. Those who came from southern or central Iraq had to make long detours around hotspots like Fallujah or Ramadi. Those from the north had to travel through Turkey and Syria to Jordan.

"But they were willing to embark on the sometimes dangerous journey because they are all committed to one thing: making radio for their fellow Iraqis.

"In this case, they'll be making Election Radio, a project funded by Germany's foreign ministry and coordinated by Deutsche Welle. Starting in mid December, the Iraqi journalists gathered in this hotel will be sending in reports from the ground daily to create a 30-minute program of current information over the upcoming vote in Iraq.

"The 19 journalists taking part in the project come from all 18 of Iraq's provinces. When they return, they will start producing radio packages and interviews that have been discussed with coordinators at Deutsche Welle.

"The reporters will then send their finished pieces in MP3 digital format to Berlin, where they are turned into the half-hour moderated program in Deutsche Welle's studio. The completed program is then sent back to Iraq, again by MP3, to local partner stations where it is broadcast."

While Canada and Japan are training electoral officials, Denmark is providing training for some of the candidates:

"About 100 candidates for Iraq's first popular election in decades traveled to Kuwait on Saturday for a seminar about the democratic process.

"The men and women were bused from the southern Iraqi city of Basra for the two-day event organized by Denmark's government. Two of the candidates are running for the national assembly, while the rest are candidates for local offices.

"The candidates will attend lectures by experts from the United Nations and Denmark about Iraq's election law, the role of political parties, campaigning and how the vote will be conducted."

It is heartening to see Canada, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland providing support to the democratic hopes of the people of Iraq. The story has many more examples of international aid helping the Iraqis to rebuild their country. One effort worthy of particular note is a seminar held in the Czech Republic to aid Iraqi judges to rebuild Iraq's justice system. But that's just a taste -- you really should read it all.

Remembering Bastogne

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Europe, although I have the desire to travel there sometime in my life. Among the places I would like to visit are the beaches at Normandy and Bastogne.

These are sacred places and I would very much like to honor the memories of the men who died in these places for their sacrifice in defeating a great evil in their time.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Interview with Chevy Chase

Last week, Chevy Chase got himself in hot water over a colorful rant.

After actors Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon delivered speeches accepting their Defender of Democracy awards, Chase took the stage a final time and unleashed a rant against President Bush that stunned the crowd. He deployed the four-letter word that got Vice President Cheney in hot water, using it as a noun. Chase called the prez a "dumb [expletive]." He also used it as an adjective, assuring the audience, "I'm no [expletive] clown either. . . . This guy started a jihad."

Chase also said: "This guy in office is an uneducated, real lying schmuck . . . and we still couldn't beat him with a bore like Kerry."

Now, we've got the appropriate response.

(From INDC Journal)

President Bush Named Person of the Year

President George Bush has been selected by Time Magazine as its 2004 Person of the Year.

President Bush's bold, uncompromising leadership and his clear-cut election victory made him Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2004, its managing editor said on Sunday.

Time chose Bush "for sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his 10-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters this time around that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years," Jim Kelly wrote in the magazine.

Congratulations also to Power Line, which was chosen as the first ever Blog of the Year.

Power Line is certainly an excellent choice, although both LGF and INDC Journal played significant roles in the breaking of Rathergate. Also, blogs were instrumental to getting the story of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth coverage from the MSM and keeping the MSM honest in its reporting of that story and many others. Perhaps, a better choice for Person of the Year would have been "Bloggers". An strong argument can be made that a great deal of credit for the success of President Bush and the Republican party in this year's election was due to the right half of the blogosphere.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

There's No Story Here

Power Line points to the transcript of a press conference where the issue of up-armoring the vehicles in the unit of the National Guardsman who asked the question of Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armor on various military vehicles was addressed. As the transcript makes clear, the Army was already deploying armor kits to the vehicles in Iraq, as part of a program over the past 18 months.

Now, we're going to focus today on up-armoring tactical wheeled vehicles, but what I want to do is remind you also that what we're doing today when we talk about tactical wheeled vehicles is only a part of a very broad strategy that's been in effect for many months now, as all of us work under the Secretary of Defense's direction to ensure that we properly protect Soldiers. So up-armoring is only a part of a comprehensive strategy. And although we won't address these topics today, what we also need to bear in mind is that we have very important efforts that are going on and have been long-standing programs over the course of the last 18 months to ensure that we counter IEDs with an IED task force; that we properly ensure that we give Soldiers more fire power, more armaments so that they can shoot more effectively and with more effect, and then also to protect them, both not only their vehicles but also the personal equipment that they wear on their body.


Level two force protection says that you have an existing fleet of many thousands of vehicles out there, and what you have to do is put additional protection on vehicles that are already in use out across the Army's inventory. And so that has been the other principal focus that we have. We can't automatically or magically swap out all of the equipment that we have out in the theater, but what we can do is develop programs where we take kits and put them onto existing pieces of equipment.

Now this is not a trivial process. We'll talk to you about the testing that goes into these level two kits, so that we put the right things on pieces of equipment. We'll talk about making sure that the actual system can continue to operate with many thousand more pounds on it, in some cases.

For example, for a humvee, the typical add-on armor kit is just over a thousand pounds. And so you could imagine, if I took and put a thousand pounds more weight on your -- the vehicle you drive back and forth to work, it would have secondary impacts in terms of your suspension and your powertrain. We have to test those things out to make sure that we're giving a soldier something that can endure in combat; it won't just break the minute he starts to operate it. So the level-two kit is a sophisticated requirement and one that we've been very successful in adapting, not just for humvees but, as we'll show you, for a variety of systems. And then level three is locally fabricated armor.


But over time now we've grown to a very, very high standard, and when you go, for example, and visit the fabrication facilities that we have in Kuwait today, what you'll see is, first of all, the Defense Logistics Agency-approved steel being used. You'll see actual templates that have been designed in part by the drivers who operate the equipment. And you'll see very, very experienced machinists and welders who are putting this stuff on. And we'll show you some pictures of what high-quality work this is. This is an interim solution, but it's a darn good solution that's been very, very effective as we take a look at what we've done to protect the force.

This process isn't limited solely to Iraq either.

So for example, right now, if you go to Fort Carson, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment is executing up-armoring this week, and they will have that effort complete here in the course of the next several weeks. The goal then being that when they deploy, the majority of the pieces of equipment that they're going to deploy will already have up- armoring added to them. They will then complete that operation with fewer pieces of equipment when they actually get into combat zones. So we will have taken care of the bulk of their requirement at home station.

We have a similar effort under way in U.S. Army Europe. As you're aware, we have forces there that are going to deploy to Afghanistan, and when they deploy to Afghanistan, what we want to try to do once again is get up-armoring solutions to them now instead of waiting till they get to the combat zone.

And here is the current status of the up-armored vehicles in Iraq:

Now, where are we today? We've had a discussion here about the level one, level two and level three. This is the status of forces today with respect to what has been armored in theater, okay? As General Speakes mentioned, we're doing everything we can with respect to getting level one and level two there. At this point in time, because of the production requirements, we have actually begun to install level three. And between the two of them combined, today we have about 61 percent of the vehicles taken care of.

I would point out here, though, that with respect to the light tactical vehicles, and that's the vehicles that have been suffering the majority of casualties and the majority of incidents, we're now at 80 percent, and the plan is by March to actually have not only these vehicles taken care of but also the heavy truck fleet, so we'll have those installed in theater.

And in regards to the unit of the National Guardsman who asked the up-armor question of Donald Rumsfeld:

Q Thank you. I was wondering if we should be thinking about the difference between soldiers who are going to be headed into Iraq and Soldiers who are already there. A lot of the concerns about who did and didn't have were from soldiers who were going in, and I didn't -- I personally didn't get a sense of what the people who are already there are using and what their needs and gaps are.

GEN. SPEAKES: Very, very good question. The first point is that you'll recollect that one of the questions was the status of the 278 ACR; in other words, the date that we had the visit by the secretary of Defense, we had a question about their up-armoring status. When the question was asked, 20 vehicles remained to be up-armored at that point. We completed those 20 vehicles in the next day. And so over 800 vehicles from the 278 ACR were up-armored, and they are a part now of their total force that is operating up in Iraq.

Q When you say they're 100 percent up-armored, does that mean 100 percent of their requirement or 100 percent of their vehicles?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes, what we did is there was a total of 804 vehicles that were identified as part of our up-armoring strategy. That's the wheeled vehicles that they brought north with them or drew when they got up in country. And so at this point the vehicles that they're operating, that they're driving, are all up-armored. There were a few vehicles that were put on heavy equipment transporters and moved up. The example would be, for example, the shop van, which is a large, essentially static vehicle. And it was taken up by a truck and dropped in position, but it was not operated on the way up there. So at this point, if you're in Kuwait and you're headed north up into Iraq, General Schoomaker's guidance is real clear: you're not going north of the berm, which means north of the border, in a non-up-armored vehicle, and that's our requirement. And so what you now have is an accountability process during the reception, staging and onward movement where every vehicle's accounted for and it gets up-armored or it doesn't go north.

So no soldiers will leave Kuwait without the up-armoring of their vehicles being completed. And the specific unit of the Guardsman who questioned Donald Rumsfeld was up-armored within twenty four hours of the question being asked.

There is no up-armoring issue, nor in my opinion was there one to begin with. The issue was created by a planted question by a newspaper "reporter" who wanted to make Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. military look bad.

The remarkable point of all this "controversy" has been the fact that the Secretary of Defense would take unscreened questions from the men under his command. When was the last time you heard bin Laden fielding questions from the Al-Qaida grunts in Iraq? Have any of them asked him why the United States hasn't cut and run from Iraq or Afghanistan? The answer is the difference between America and her enemies. In America the military is answerable to the people; bin Laden answers to no one but himself.