Saturday, April 05, 2003

Will it Play in Peoria?

Apparently. Bill runs three blogs. One about Peoria, Illinois (which, I'll admit, is not a great passion of mine). A second one about Robert Heinlein (which is). He runs a third one, aptly called Page Three which I advise not looking at on the boss's nickel.

He also linked to me which is certainly very kind of him.

Spinning Saddam in his Grave

The twenty-three members of Tupac Amaru were probably not all killed in a fair fight.

One hundred percent fatality rates are the provence of airplane crashs and suicide bombers, not gun battles. So when Peruvian special forces tunnelled into and then stormed the Japanese Embassy in April 1997, ending a four-month hostage crisis and a political embarrasment for President Alberto Fujimori, it’s certainly conceivable that Fujimori, no friend of the rule of law, made it clear that he preferred not to be bothered with survivors.

It was not, as we say, a nice thing to do. But a week or so later, I got into a chat with one of my more liberal classmates in law school. He pointed out and, ultimately, I had to agree that it was likely that any members of Tupac Amaru still alive after the operation were lined up in the basement and executed. I was impressed with the mission – I think only two hostages died – one of wounds, one from a heart attack – and said as much. But if the guerillas were all killed in the firefight – or even executed after the fact – that was too bad, and not a great moment for the Peruvian judicial system, but I couldn’t work up a great deal of sympathy.

It seemed to me that one assumes a certain risk when you kidnap, among others, the President’s brother along with the Ambassador of your country's largest donor of foreign aid, that you might not get a trial. He was adamant that some cosmic injustice had been done to these folks and I just couldn't see it.

“They could have shot their hostages but they didn’t.”


“The guerillas didn’t shoot their hostages even when they had the chance – but the government saw fit to shoot them without a trial.”

If he wanted me merely to agree with him on the principle of the matter, I might have. But his underlying point that Tupac Amaru was "kind' and "humanitarian" for not shooting their hostages alluded me. My point, I suppose, was that these fellows assumed the risk of a less-than-perfect system of justice and that, to a reasonable observer, it might be predictable that the Peruvian government would shoot them without, I dunno, Benefit of Clergy. I’m not sure this fellow liked me, and he clearly thought he was smarter than me, but it struck me as terribly odd that a fellow of such intellectual gifts could think that it was “kind” that the hostage takers didn’t shoot anyone. This might have some traction on the giant kharmic treadmill – and even on a simple one-bounce-of-this-mortal-coil morality, he may have had a point.

But such a calculus does require discounting the rather glaring fact that the hostage-takers held hundreds of people hostage for months and certainly threatened them with death (even though, of course, Tupac Amaru denies it: “The goal of the MRTA [Tupac Amaru] commando was not to murder the embassy prisoners. They were determined to have their demands fulfilled while providing the maximum protection for the lives of their prisoners.”) (This explains all of the AK-47s and hand grenades). This is not a discount I’m willing to provide and, to this day, I’m just not very teary eyed about how these folks met their doom.

It’s possible a flash of kindness stayed their hand at the last moment. It’s possible. But Tupac Amaru were cowards, not men. Certainly not soldiers.

There are plenty of stories of Luftwaffe pilots escorting battered P-47s back to the English Channel so they could fight – no doubt to the death – another day. There’s the Christmas truce of World War I. As far as I’m concerned, soldiers have the right to stay their hand – and to expect some chance that their enemies may treat them with mercy, too. A chance meeting at a prefered pissing tree in the Ukraine or the jungles of Vietnam, soldiers have the right to let the moment pass – to let their enemy live. Those random mercies between soldiers, however rare, earn all soldiers, at all times, the chance of one for themselves, and the men and women who wear a uniform are nobler for it.

But the “men” of Tupac Amaru didn’t display any nobility by not killing their civilian hostages – they did kill two of the Peruvian hostage rescue team – they did only what is required of all men, at all times, in all wars – to fight the enemy soldier, and to avoid killing civilians, but they were not soldiers themselves. Their ultimate death may have been, shall we say, extra-judicial. But they had done nothing to earn the mercies my classmate wished them.


It may be a few weeks before Saddam Hussein makes a run for it, and while I’m hoping him to go like Moussolini, I’m guessing he goes down swinging in Tikrit. But when Baghdad falls and Saddam Hussein swings from a lamp post – and if no chemical agent worse than tear gas is used – the rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein will begin.

I don’t know who’ll do it first, but one of these folks on the anti-American, anti-war Left (N.B.: You can be patriotic and anti-war, I’m not suggesting otherwise), the Robert Fisks and Margo Kingstons, is going to start praising Saddam Hussein for not using chemical weapons, even when “his” country was being attacked. They’ll sing high and proud about how Saddam Hussein didn’t use his cutting edge weapons – World War I-era mustard gas – while we used weapons designed in the last two years, and George W. Bush has the blood of hundreds of civilians on his hands, Saddam Hussein didn’t kill tens of thousands, and is therefore - at least a bit - cleansed of his sins. We used the best weapons. Saddam didn’t use the worst.

See? They’ll ask, Saddam stayed his hand and didn’t kill all those civilians. He was bad, sure, but not the monster George W. Bush and Don Rumsfeld made him out to be. Sure, Saddam was bad. But America and Britain and its “EBay” allies killed hundreds, but look what Saddam Hussein did not do. Look what Saddam could have done. That will be their moral calculus. And you don’t have to guess how George W. Bush will measure up. To the Robert Fisks of the world, even then, and even years from now, George W. Bush will come up short even to Saddam Hussein.

And they’re going to start wondering why everyone has stopped listening.

In eight months or a year or three, Robert Fisk is going to go back to Iraq. And he’ll find a sympathetic looking crowd and he’ll proclaim to anyone who listens that George W. Bush is worse. America is worse. Look what America did to you. And look at what Saddam Hussein didn’t do when he had nothing left to lose.

And Robert Fisk is going to get his ass kicked, again, by the Arab street. And he’s going to blame himself for their anger.

And for the first time in his sad little America-hating life, he’ll be right.


As I woke up this morning, I saw armour* pouring into Baghdad and it is clear that the end of Saddam Hussein is near. If you’re in command of an Iraqi artillery battery in Saddam City and that’s dust churned up by the United States Marine Corps – not smoke from your own oil trenches or the smoldering metal of your armoured divisions – that mutiny you are thinking about – to refuse that order to fire the mustard gas or the VX, is the small payment on your chance. That mutiny you are contemplating may just buy you the mercy that is all the right of all soldiers. But you, at least, are a soldier. And I hope you remember the nobility that can be yours, and that mercy can be yours, even as you fight for an unlawful regime. Our men and women will give it to you, because for all of our many faults, we’re still the good guys.


Death may soon come to Uncle Saddam from a 7.62mm rifle cartridge or a 2000 pound JDAM. But somehow I hope Saddam’s death comes late at night, years from now, in exile in Egypt, when the Mossad awaken him from his first good night's sleep in months. Mossad will announce themselves, just long enough so he knows he’d been bested by Israel. He'll curse the Jews and he'll die in a sputtering, pneumatic hail of silenced .22s. He wears the uniform of a Field Marshall, but he’s no soldier. He’s earned no mercy. Not even the chance of it.

That Saddam Hussein will die without a ruling from a court of law may not be the perfect world -- but he created a Rule of Man and shunned the Rule of Law. And now he is most likely to die and the hand of man, untempered by even the chance of mercy. He made no payment on his chance. He's got nothing coming to him. And I won't pause over it even for a moment.

He’s done nothing but storm the gates and keep a country hostage for twenty-five years.


* Commonwealth spellings here at Pathetic Earthlings, until the end of hostilities, in honour of our British and Australian allies.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Life Imitates Art

The minor league team in Albuquerque, formerly the Dukes, has renamed itself the Isotopes. Go 'Topes!

UPDATE: Technically, the Dukes left New Mexico to become the Portland Beavers and the Calgary Cannons left Alberta to come to New Mexico and become the Isotopes. Yes, your honor, as they say, but my point remains.

Ghandi Action Figures

I made a few bucks buying Mattel when it was below ten bucks a share, but I'm concerned that they're not seeking out the niche toy market aggressively as some of their Japanese competitors. I like action figures as much as the next guy, but I haven't been keeping an eye on the breadth of the market.

Who knew, for instance, that there still was a market for Action Figures tied-in with Blair Witch Project, Edward Scissorhands, Tron and the always age-appropriate Reservoir Dogs.
Everyone's Making Jokes About Baghdad's New Airport Code

But for the record, it's BWN.

You can get some information on Iraqi Airways right here. Curiously, it's an all Boeing fleet. I don't think ol' Iraqi Airways is going to be buying a lot of Airbus in the next few years. Just a hunch.

I tried the main telephone number (+964-1-8863999) for Iraqi Airways, but didn't get through - it would have been cool if I'd found a US Marine or something on the other end.

Pfc Lynch at the Congressional Medal of Honor

The excellent Rachel Lucas has some her excellent comments about the excellent Pfc Jessica Lynch. There's some talk afoot about awarding her the Congressional Medal of Honor (you don't "win" it), but it seems to me unlikely that Pfc Lynch will receive it. Not that she might not be worthy of it -- she is a tough hombre who apparently fought to the end -- she might. But unless we find her comrades alive, it's unlikely anyone is around to tell her story. And she's unlikely to say much more than "I just did my job."

Do yourself a favor and go to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website and read through some of these citations. Senator Daniel Inoyue was awarded the Medal of Honor for a honest-to-god machine gun nest storming. Or Clarence Sasser, a medic, who, under heavy fire and his legs shattered by injury, crawled through 100 meters of mud to treat a fellow soldier.

These are stories of inhuman bravery and should be read and reflected upon.
Michael Kelly killed in Iraq

Michael Kelly, one of my all-time favorite pundits, was killed in a Humvee roll-over while embedded with the 3d Infantry Division.

But he died doing what he loved, and that's not all bad.
Go... astronauts..... cosmonauts...errr...taikonauts... uhmmm... Indian Space Explorers!

India is starting to make some more noise about their own space program, with hints at a manned program. This proposed 2015 time table for a manned lunar landing is way too ambitious when they've not shown even the beginnings of a manned program, but I'd be surprised if they aren't doing manned flights by the end of the decade (China launches their first taikonaut in October). They need to build up their own manned program -- which will take years -- before they go plant the flag on the moon, but there's no doubt they've got the technical expertise to do it.

You can visit the Indian Space Research Organization here.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Comments are Finally Up

Finally got around to putting up a comments section. I'll make rules as I see fit down the road.

-The Management
If You But Doubt Your Courage, Come No Further, For Death Awaits You All With Big, Sharp, Pointy Teeth

Robert Fisk gives us yet another eccentric peformance.

Anyone who doubts that the Iraqi Army is prepared to defend its capital should take the highway south of Baghdad Fisk says, by way of explaining why the war is already lost for the United States.

Take the highway south of Baghdad? Gee, I think the 3rd Infantry Division did just that.

Noted via Rand Simberg.
Whiskey....and Sexy!

"What, the man was asked, did he hope to see now that the Baath Party had been driven from power in his town? What would the Americans bring? "Democracy," the man said, his voice rising to lift each word to greater prominence. "Whiskey. And sexy!""

Noted via Andrew Sullivan.

Iraq, I hasten to add, has a domestic beer industry -- they're no prohibitionists -- Ferida Brewing Company has been out of operation only once, during the First Gulf War (and presumably currently):

Here's a Reuters story on it, which I cannot find online -- this link is busted:

Sanctions and Religion Threaten Iraqi Brewery
by Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Reuters, October 8, 2001

BAGHDAD: The combination of water from the river Tigris, Bavarian hops and French malt has earned Iraq's Ferida brewery a reputation that stretches well beyond the country's borders.

``If you go to Baghdad, drink Ferida lager and eat grilled fish. They were among the best I ever had," says a senior Lebanese businessman who used to visit Iraq decades ago, when it was unburdened by embargo and external wars.

But the aging Ferida brewery in the Zaafaranieh district southeast of Baghdad is fighting an uphill battle to maintain quality and sales in an economy damaged by years of U.N. sanctions and a society where the hold of religion has increased.

Ferida, the country's oldest brewery which was established by Muslim and Christian industrialists in 1956, resumed production last month after stopping for months for what management described as ``technical reasons."

It was only the second stoppage in Ferida's history. Production ceased for some time during the1991 Gulf War when the U.S.-led bombardment of oil refineries cut deliveries of the diesel that powers the brewery's back-up generators.

Ferida swiftly returned to capture more than half the domestic market.

``Ferida's name still rings. It is regarded as a premium brand," says a leading distributor, conceding that imported beers would have challenged the dominance of Ferida and two other local brands if they were more affordable.

Iraqis appear to like the strong, if somewhat flat taste of Ferida, which is produced in refillable brown bottles. Ferida Red Label, a less strong and more expensive brew produced under license by Amman-based Middle East International Investment, is favored by foreigners.

``We were so proud when the Jordanian company approached us to buy the licensing rights. Imagine being able to export an Iraqi name under the conditions our industry is enduring," says Ferida General Manager Salem Rassam.

``Officials were swift in approving the paperwork. Like us, they were ecstatic," Rassam says.

Red Label is produced under stringent specifications - and it appears to show.

``Ferida Red is actually pretty good beer," says a foreign reporter who could not tolerate the taste of bottled Ferida.

An Iraqi drinker disagrees. ``We Iraqis want beer that has an immediate effect," he says. ``I remember drinking a pack of Red Label when I was at a discotheque in Amman. It did nothing for me."

Culturally diverse Iraq has traditionally been one of the biggest beer markets in the Middle East. But hyper-inflation and economic collapse following the Gulf War helped bring down Iraqi beer consumption to an estimated 250,000 hectoliters annually compared to a peak of over one million in the mid-1980s.

``We used to buy Ferida in boxes but we cannot afford to drink any more," said a government employee. ``The country also grew more religious," he added, citing a ban on serving alcohol that drove bars and night clubs out of business.

Some of the older Baghdad restaurants still serve beer and whiskey discreetly to preferred customers but by law alcohol can only be sold at licensed stores.

Ferida's refillable one-pint bottle sells for 650 dinars or about 32 cents, a sizable sum for most Iraqis. Sanabel and Shahrazad, the two other local brands in which Ferida has a stake, cost 500 dinars.

A large array of imported beer is also available but costs more than double local beer. It includes Ferida's Red Label cans, Amstel of the Netherlands and Laziza of Lebanon, which was among the first beers to be brewed in the Middle East in the early 1930s.

Ferida's Rassam says his company is comfortable with the competition.

``There are certain nuances of making beer that our competitors tend to ignore. We concentrate on keeping our lager golden, fresh and affordable," says the German-educated chemist.

But he admits that U.N. sanctions, which were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, have prevented Ferida from importing equipment to switch to nonrefillable bottles and increasing efficiency.

``I would like to modernize the whole factory and make it less labor intensive," says Rassam, who has managed to maintain supply lines through Turkey and Jordan despite the sanctions.

``Iraqis have been always broad-minded. I am positive that the market will rebound once sanctions are lifted," he says.

For now Rassam says that Ferida, one of the top performing companies on the thin Baghdad Paper Securities Market, remains profitable. Each of its 2,000 shareholders can expect to collect the usual gift with their dividend -- 12 bottles of Ferida.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Al-Jazerra is Being Kicked Out of Iraq

Or, at least, being told by the Ministry of Information that they can no longer report from Iraq, so CNN has just reported.

Things must be bad indeed for the Ba'athists.
Post War Iraq

Check out this set of links to Iraqi archeological sites. Mrs Earthling and I have always wanted to go to Petra, in Jordan -- and now that Iraq will shortly be free, I hope we can swing some of this stuff as well.
Honey, Can We Sell The House and Buy This? Please?

I enjoy Star Trek, although I'm not sure I own any Star Trek stuff beyond a handful of DVDs, but this... this is cool:

For $80,000 (reserve), you can own the Helm/Navigation station from the original Enterprise. Get over to EBay and start bidding.

UPDATE: Mrs Earthling says no.
"[The Marines] don't really advertise that they kill people."

Stephen Funk joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves. And God Bless him for it. But now he wants out.

He had had a lapse in judgment when he signed up as a 19-year-old, swayed by his recruiter's pitch of new skills, camaraderie and a naive belief that it would be "like the Boy Scouts."

Now he wants conscientious objector status -- and I suppose that's fine, too (he could have mentioned this when he joined up). He's the captain of his own soul and I shall not question his veracity. But can anyone smart enough to be a United States Marine be so stupid as to believe the business of the United States Marine Corps might not, from time to time, involving killing people?

UPDATE: My South Bay Military Advisor muses: "Perhaps Mr Funk thought he'd be defending the Sea of Fire against the Lava Beast with only a Cutlass."
What to the French and the Iraqi People Have In Common?

One in three want Saddam to win.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

A Japanese Children's Show Talks Strategic & Tactics

My South Bay Military Advisor notes this tremendous link. I particularly like the large-headed Saddam Hussein.

Check it all out.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Lefty Conspiracy-of-the-Day

Poking around the San Francisco-based Craigslist political fora, I noted that a few anti-war lefties were bent out of shape by this article, that noted a religious pamphlet was "given to thousands of Marines" in which they would commit to praying for the President. The pamphlet, put out by In Touch Ministries headed by the Rev. Charles Stanley, notes that under 1 Timothy 2: 1-4, a Christian is obliged to pray for his leaders (presumably in War or Peace). I don't know Rev. Stanley or his particular reading or emphasis in the Bible, but the pamphlet in question is about as innocuous as it gets while still being explicitly Christian.

Of course, the article itself is a little contemptous of the whole enterprise, that somehow a Marine might actually want to pray for the President and that praying for the President will take away from prayers for the troops: They may be the ones facing danger on the battlefield, but US soldiers in Iraq are being asked to pray for President George W Bush.

We Fight for Freedom, Not for Hyper-abordable Religious Figurines!

Mrs Earthling notes the existence of this:

Whiskey of the Week : Glenkinchie

I am going to take this “strategic pause” (Read: We continue to bomb the crap out of the Republican Guard while our Marines get some rest and clean socks, so this is a strategic failure on par with collapse of the French Ninth Army at Sedan) to return to our regularly scheduled whiskey blogging:

I’m 6th Generation Californian; Mrs Earthling is 4th. And I’m guessing that if the revolution ever comes, we’ll support the restoration of the House of Norton. But while I, at least, make no claim to ethnicity save “Californian,” the Earthling household has certain real and affected ethnic affiliations which draw us toward Scandavian furniture (she), Welsh names for children (me) (But see, e.g., “When Your Love, The Whole World’s Welsh”), and Scotland in general (we). And while we can trace my lineage rather directly to a g’g’grandfather from Glasgow, ultimately I’m about as Scottish as Condelezza Rice.

So like many non-Scottish-Americans fond of things Scottish, I enjoy the sort of hyperstylized Scotland of kilts and caber-tossing. I voted for Steve Forbes in 1996 for the Flat Tax; I liked Steve Forbes because he plays bagpipes. If Scottish culture is getting amped-up by comparing kilts while in line for Ye Old ATM at the Antioch Ren Faire and grousing that ESPN calls them the Boston Celtics, ignoring the proper hard-C (“kel’tik”), you can also miss the rest of Scotland, both the post-industrial socialist hangover, and the emerging financial weight of Edinburgh, and, when it comes to whiskey, the most underrated region of single-malts - the Lowlands.

When I first started drinking single-malt, I fell into this style-trap and figured that the best stuff had to be from the Highlands, since that’s where all the cool stuff is – Scottish resistance, Mel Gibson and the Macallan – and I only slowly opened myself up to other regions. I had had a dram or two of lowland malt - Auchentoshen, St Magdalene – here and there.

Last year, when Mrs Earthling and I went to the UK, we took the train up to Edinburgh and then wandered our way back south. Our first stop south of Edinburgh was at the Glenkinchie in Pencaitland.

The tour was enjoyable, though not particularly remarkable. Although with only four of us on the tour (the other two, not surprisingly, were Dutch motorcyclists), we were able to ask questions not only of our guide, but of a few of the men working the stills as well. What was more impressive, however, was the unwaivering generosity of our tour guide when it came for the completmentary after-tour dram.

Glenkinchie is owned by United Distillers who, if I recall correctly, owns about 40% of Scotland’s malt whiskey production capacity and, as one of its flagship visitor’s centers, Glenkinchie was not shy about showing off their whole range. And our tour guide offered it let us try it all. Aultmore and Glenlossie and other obscure malts were all ours for the taking – but, alas, I was driving, so I settled with a taste of two varieties of Glenkinchie, the 10 year old standard and the 12 year old amantillado-finished “Distiller’s Edition.”

Now I enjoyed the Glenkinchie but didn’t buy a bottle there (it is readily available almost anywhere in the United States as one of the “Classic Malt” range (along with Oban, Craggenmore, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie and Talisker – at bigger bars you sometimes see that wooden rack with all six bottles together)) and just recently picked up a bottle on sale for $31. So I was pleased that it was just as I remember it, light on the palate and busy on the nose. Its quite crisp - almost tart. I think it requires no added water at bottle strength, but a few drops does seem to smooth out that dry finish. I have a hard time drinking single malt during the day, but I think a little taste of Glenkinchie does very well for sitting out in the garden and enjoying an afternoon with a good book.

I would note however that this is a single malt which will be overwhelmed by a cigar, so I’d avoid the otherwise delightful combination.