31 August 2009

Civil War for the day

Private Emory Eugene Kingin, 4th Michigan Infantry, USA

30 August 2009

It's a fucking Tarantino movie, that's why

Rico says anyone thinking they're going to see the movie represented by the above poster, rather than the Quentin Tarantino movie represented by the one below, is delusional.

Bad packaging, good solution

Rico says he wishes he'd known about this before he destroyed a hard-shell package, and part of his hand, the other day...

Not separated at birth

Rico says that, while they do bear a strong resemblance, the handsome young man is Brandon, the son of Rico's stepson Scott and his wife Leslie, who live in New Jersey, while the beautiful young woman is Jessica, the daughter of his friend Bill and his wife Kimberley, who live in Texas.

Civil War for the day

General P.G.T. Beauregard, CSA

29 August 2009

Civil War for the day

General George Armstrong Custer, USA

28 August 2009

Civil War for the day

General Ambrose Burnside, USA, whence cometh 'sideburns'

27 August 2009

Civil War for the day

Private Edmund Ruffin, CSA,
the soldier who fired the first shot against Fort Sumter.

26 August 2009

Quote for the day

“If you ever think you’re gonna need a gun,” Mack said. “Bring two. It’s faster than reloading.”

Another one gone

Rico says that, love him or hate him, after a long fight with brain cancer, Ted Kennedy is dead:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77.
The death of Mr. Kennedy, who had been battling brain cancer, was announced Wednesday morning in a statement by the Kennedy family, which was already mourning the death of the senator’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver two weeks earlier. “Edward M. Kennedy— the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply— died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”
President Obama issued a statement acknowledging Mr. Kennedy’s accomplishments. “An important chapter in our history has come to an end,” the statement said. “Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time.”
Mr. Kennedy had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May of 2008. His doctors determined the cause was a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis. As he underwent cancer treatment, Mr. Kennedy was little seen in Washington, appearing most recently at the White House in April as Mr. Obama signed a national service bill that bears the Kennedy name. Last week Mr. Kennedy urged Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law and let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a temporary replacement upon his death, to assure that the state’s representation in Congress would not be interrupted by a special election.
While Mr. Kennedy was physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence was deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America’s health care system in decades, an effort Mr. Kennedy called “the cause of my life.” On 15 July the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which Mr. Kennedy headed, passed health care legislation, and the battle over the proposed overhaul is now consuming Capitol Hill.
Mr. Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique— some call it the Kennedy myth— has held the imagination of the world for decades, and it came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy. Mr. Kennedy, who served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate, longer than all but two other senators, was the only one of those brothers to reach old age. President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets in their 40s. The eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War Two bombing mission.
Mr. Kennedy spent much of last year in treatment and recuperation, broken by occasional public appearances and a dramatic return to the Capitol last summer to cast a decisive vote on a Medicare bill. He electrified the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August with an unscheduled appearance and a speech that had delegates on their feet. Many were in tears. His gait was halting, but his voice was strong. “My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here, and nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.”
Senator Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. One of the nephews, John F. Kennedy Jr., who the family hoped would one day seek political office and keep the Kennedy tradition alive, died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38.
Mr. Kennedy himself was almost killed in 1964, in a plane crash that left him with permanent back and neck problems. He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, one of the institution’s most devoted students, said of his longtime colleague, “Ted Kennedy would have been a leader, an outstanding senator, at any period in the nation’s history.” Mr. Byrd is one of only two senators to have served longer in the chamber than Mr. Kennedy; the other was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. In May 2008, on learning of Mr. Kennedy’s diagnosis of a lethal brain tumor, Mr. Byrd wept openly on the floor of the Senate.
Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.

Civil War for the day

Frederick Douglass (born too early to be president)

25 August 2009

Too much of a good thing

Romanian tennis star Simona Halep wants to get her 34DD breasts surgically reduced to improve her tennis game:
Rico says he can certainly see her point (both of them), but it will be a sad day for tennis watchers when she does...

No better, really

Rico says some Japanese guy keeps leaving comments on his Civil War for the Day posts and, now that he's found an on-line translator, we know what he's saying (sort of):
Is H in a help of the オ ○ knee life, relief department; want to show it, and let's get eroticism Sha-mail, a movie from a woman! A neighboring girl really fits, and is it possible to be H? Opening will play with the girl that it is in the summer?
Rico says you may safely ignore him, as Rico does; it's undoubtedly spam.

Rico wants one

PCMag.com has an article by Carol Mangis about the latest out of Sony:
Sony on Tuesday unveiled the newest version of its eBook Reader, the Daily Edition, which will have built-in free wireless capability via AT&T's 3G mobile broadband network.
The new Reader, introduced during an event at the main branch of the New York Public Library, will hit SonyStyle stores and sonystyle.com in December and will retail for $399. The Daily Edition will feature a seven-inch touchscreen, and a high contrast ratio with 16 levels of grayscale; you can read in either portrait or landscape orientation. It will have enough onboard memory to hold over 1,000 standard ebooks and is also expandable via Memory Stick/Duo and SD card slots.
Sony also had a number of its newly available Pocket and Touch Readers available to try out. Those readers, priced at $199 and $299, respectively, are available now for purchase. Each of the Sony Readers employs the E Ink Vizplex electronic paper display.
Steven Haber, president of Sony's digital reader business division, emphasized the importance of access, content, and affordability for ebook readers. He mentioned that Sony is moving from a proprietary ebook format to ePub's format, which will streamline the publishing process immensely.
Sony also announced its Library Finder app, developed in partnership with Overdrive.com. Users of Sony's eBook Store will be able to easily locate their local libraries online and download free ebook content using their library cards. When the lending period is up, the content simply expires. One of those libraries will be the New York Public Library, which currently offers about 40,000 downloadable titles, with the goal of goal of digitizing over one million titles. That effort has been facilitated through the library's partnership with Google's book-scanning initiative. "We believe it must be delivered free," said Dr. Paul LeClerc, president and CEO of the NYPL.

Civil War for the day

The ironclad USS Nantucket

24 August 2009

Barack beer commercial

Play ball!

Rico says he had an enjoyable Sunday at the park (minor league, in Camden) with his stepson, Scott, his wife Leslie (the photographer), and his grandson, Zachary. (The other grandson, Brandon, couldn't come, alas).

Civil War for the day

Standhope Oowatie, aka Stand Watie, head of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia and a brigadier general in the CSA from October of 1861 to 23 June 1865, becoming the last Confederate general to stand down.

23 August 2009

Ah, the days of legal smack and coke

Rico says it's a wonder those old folks got anything done, with all this available:

Best comment yet

Rico says he has no idea, unfortunately, what they said, but it's nice that they said it at all:
Rico says his friend Kelley, who's spent enough time in China to be dangerous, came up with this (purported) partial translation:
The syntax is very odd but parts read
"...round-eyed dipshit... regardless of views... to soon end... what 'real' civil war is... last word on (subject?)
But my friend John Robinson, writing as the Peripatetic Engineer, said:
It's Japanese. The commenter's name is "something Yama"

Thirty five thousand

Rico says he was one closer to the round number when he opened his blog this morning, but by the time he got Grab running to capture it, he'd picked up another reader. His thanks to all of them, over the years; they're not why he does this, but it helps...

Civil War for the day

The execution of the Lincoln conspirators in 1865.

22 August 2009

Black times for Blackwater

The New York Times has an article by Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti about the murky waters surrounding Blackwater and its dealings with the US government:
Despite publicly breaking with an American private security company in Iraq, the State Department continues to award the company, formerly known as Blackwater, more than $400 million in contracts to fly its diplomats around Iraq, guard them in Afghanistan, and train security forces in antiterrorism tactics at its remote camp in North Carolina. The contracts, one of which runs until 2011, illustrate the extent to which the United States government remains reliant on private contractors like Blackwater, now known as Xe (pronounced zee) Services, to conduct some of its most sensitive operations and protect some of its most vital assets.
Disclosures that the Central Intelligence Agency had used the company, which most people still call Blackwater, to help with a covert program to assassinate leaders of al-Qaeda have touched off a storm in Washington, with lawmakers demanding to know why this kind of work is being outsourced. New details about Xe’s involvement in the covert program emerged Friday.
The CIA and the State Department are both trying to reduce their dependence on outside contractors, but the administration is also struggling to deal with an overstretched military and spy service. In the case of the CIA, outsiders still help carry out some of its most important jobs, including collecting intelligence in foreign countries, dealing with foreign agents, and taking part in covert programs. The State Department continues to use Blackwater guards in Afghanistan, despite the company’s involvement in civilian shootings in Baghdad in 2007, and despite Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s pledge to “reduce our dependence on private security contractors". The department declined to discuss its ties with Blackwater publicly, but a senior department official said it would be costly for the government to terminate, without cause, the other contracts that are in place. A spokeswoman for Xe Services did not respond to messages requesting comment.
Following the shootings in Baghdad, which killed seventeen Iraqi civilians, the State Department required Blackwater contractors to undergo training in “Afghan cultural awareness”, said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. When the department announced it would not renew the company’s security contract in Iraq, it cited the refusal of the Iraqi government to issue a license for the company to operate in the country. But Xe has continued to supply aviation services to diplomats in Iraq under a two-year contract worth $217 million. That contract expires 3 September, and a spokesman for the State Department, Ian Kelly, said the work would be given to another security and logistics company, DynCorp International.
Xe’s contract to supply personal security to American diplomats in Afghanistan, which began in 2006 and runs through 2011, is worth $210 million. Xe earns $6 million under a three-year contract to train foreign security guards in antiterrorism tactics. This web of ties is drawing the attention and anger of lawmakers, including Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
On Friday, Mr. Kerry wrote to the founder and chairman of Xe, Erik D. Prince, asking for details of his company’s dealings with the CIA. In the letter, a copy of which was supplied to The New York Times, Mr. Kerry expressed concern that contractors could have used their State Department assignments as a “cover to gather information for the targeted killing program.” Leon Panetta, the CIA’s director, canceled the program this year, in part because he learned the CIA had used an outside company for the program. This week, government officials and current and former Blackwater employees said the company had also taken on a role in the United States’ most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill al-Qaeda leaders.
Mr. Kerry also plans to write to Mrs. Clinton to raise his concerns, said one of his aides. In a meeting with department employees in February, Mrs. Clinton said, “I certainly am of the mind that we should, insofar as possible, reduce our dependence.” But she added, “Whether we can go all the way to banning, under current circumstances, seems unlikely.”
The decision to use Blackwater contractors in the assassination program starting in 2004 was born partly out of desperation, said former CIA officials: the spy agency had tried to operate the program in-house, and had failed. The agency was still reeling from the botched assessments about Iraq’s weapons programs, said the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and was desperate for information about al-Qaeda’s top leaders. “You want to have everything when you know nothing,” said one former official familiar with details of the canceled program.
Top CIA officials— including Jose Rodriquez Jr., the head of the agency’s clandestine service— found outside help. Mr. Rodriguez had close connections to Enrique Prado, a career CIA operations officer who had recently left the agency to become a senior executive at Blackwater. Both Mr. Prado and Mr. Prince signed agreements with the CIA to participate in the program, officials said. Over time, the officials said, Mr. Rodriguez and other senior members of the clandestine service gave up on the Blackwater arrangement to hunt al-Qaeda leaders. By then, the spy agency was starting to have regular success killing top militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan with drones, and the assassination program had yielded no successes. Robert Bennett, a lawyer for Mr. Rodriguez, declined to comment.
Government officials said that about ten million dollars was spent over the seven years of the assassination program. Experts who study government outsourcing point out that even a few million dollars is a significant sum when spent for training in a program that ultimately achieved nothing. "That’s a very expensive laser tag exercise or paint-ball war in the yard,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight. Government officials have estimated that about 25 percent of the intelligence workforce consists of contractors, and as much as 70 percent of the entire intelligence budget goes to outside contracts. Yet these are rough estimates, and members of Congressional oversight committees lament that they cannot get reliable figures about the extent of intelligence outsourcing. “Without even that basic information, you can’t render judgment about the risks associated with their growing role” in spy agencies, said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, an expert on intelligence contracting.

We elect criminals, too, just not that kind

Rico says our criminals tend to be voter-fraud and tax-avoidance criminals, not mass murderers, but The New York Times has an article by Michael Slackman about one the Iranians just elected:
The man nominated to serve as Iran’s defense minister is wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, confronting Iran with yet another challenge to its international reputation after an electoral dispute undermined its legitimacy at home and abroad.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated Ahmad Vahidi on Wednesday to serve as defense minister when he submitted his list of 21 nominees to Parliament. Mr. Vahidi was the head of the secret Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that carries out operations overseas.
He was one of five Iranian officials sought by Interpol on Argentine charges of “conceiving, planning, financing and executing” the 1994 attack, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds, according to a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League condemning the nomination. The hand of Tehran was suspected early in the investigation. However, some criminal justice experts have raised questions recently about Iran’s having had a direct role in the attack, saying it was more likely the work of an Iranian proxy group, Hezbollah, and others in South America.
It was unclear Friday night how Iranian officials might react to the complaints from abroad about Mr. Vahidi, but the issue of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s cabinet choices was already a problem for the president. Leaders in the conservative-dominated Parliament, which must approve all cabinet appointments, have said they expect to reject as many as five nominees as unqualified— another sign of the conflict set off by the disputed presidential election in June.
Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies have failed to silence the critics or even to present a veneer of political unity since the election, and each week seems to bring a new chapter in the worst political crisis to confront Iran since its revolution in 1979. On Friday, the head of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council called for the arrest of the leaders of the protests that swept the nation after the election.
In a fiery and combative speech at a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati argued that justice demanded the arrest of the leaders, not only the rank and file. He never explicitly named Mir Hussein Moussavi or Mehdi Karroubi, the two presidential candidates who have led the protests. But it was clear whom he meant. “Implementing justice is not easy when you have to grab the throats of the bigwigs, and they should be confronted first,” Ayatollah Jannati said from the stage in a stadium-size prayer hall at Tehran University. “Otherwise, it is easy to confront petty thieves and nobodies.”
It was not the first time that a high-ranking official had called for the arrest of the two men, who have refused to back down from the charges that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies stole the election through fraud and vote rigging. But, by not naming names, it was unclear if Ayatollah Jannati was trying to prepare public opinion for the eventual arrests, or if he was holding back to avoid pushing the country deeper into crisis.
“What is true is the unprecedented degree of internal divisions,” said a Western diplomat who worked in Iran for years but asked not to be identified, in accordance with diplomatic protocol. “Yet, because the regime itself has taken stock of the danger, all the different players are refraining from pushing things toward a real crisis.”
In his speech, Ayatollah Jannati, a close ally of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asked judicial officials why so many people had been arrested but not those who led them. Since the election, thousands of protesters and opposition figures have been taken into custody. While most have been released, the state has begun three mass trials in which former high-ranking officials, journalists and intellectuals have been paraded into courtrooms in pajamas and accused of helping to promote the overthrow of the government through a velvet revolution. “The recent riots and disturbances were an injustice against Islam and the revolution and the nation and people’s regime was targeted,” Ayatollah Jannati said. “Some were arrested in these events, but those who were behind this calamity and had led it were not arrested.”
In the days since the contested election and the ensuing government crackdown, Mr. Moussavi has kept a relatively low profile, communicating mostly through his website and surrogates. Mr. Karroubi, a cleric who was an early supporter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, has emerged as the most aggressive critic of the system. He made public charges that men and women arrested during the protests were being raped in prisons— charges the state has noy yet fully addressed or silenced.
At the same time, the leadership, including the political and clerical elite, finds itself increasingly divided into competing camps. Parliament is scheduled to consider the cabinet nominations on Sunday. But that matter may prove to be more easily handled than the charges of prison rape. Addressing the Islamic Society of Engineers this week, Ali Larijani, the speaker of Parliament, eased off his initial insistence that the rape charges were unfounded. “I announced that they submit evidence if any relevant documents are available,” Mr. Larijani told the engineers society. “If Mr. Karroubi is willing, we will listen to him.”

Makes you go huh?

Rico says he was lying abed, listening to NPR when the ladyfriend turned it on this morning, and heard one of those references that make you shake your head, not sure you'd heard correctly.
Turns out, however, that he had: Frozen Chosen. No, not Frozen Chosin, with which some of us were already familiar; that was Korea:

Turns out, in addition, that these are not extremist Christians, as his early-morning befuddled listening rendered it; these are Jews in the extremely northern United States.
Same temperature, both places; different issues.

Hey, it's a choice

Rico says that Tom Selleck (well, actually, his people) were approached to have him play Jack Hayes (for whom he'd be perfect) in a movie of Rico's book The Hero Business. For reasons known only to them, they declined on his behalf. Therefore, Tom's now doing orange juice commercials. Not quite the same, is it?

History for the day

On 22 August 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt became the first United States chief executive to take a public automobile ride.

Civil War for the day

The Bridge at Bull Run, circa 1885. A hand-colored image is available here.

21 August 2009


Courtesy of my friend Tex, this odd little animal vignette out of Florida:
Rico says that, with one careful shot, you could get yourself your limit on croc and hawg. Tex agrees, and notes that it'd also get you two pairs of nice boots, as well...

Makes you go hmmm

Courtesy of my friend Bill Austin, this video, played at the Sony executive conference last year. Shows they're thinking about it...

Civil War for the day

20 August 2009

Rico still wants one

Rico says he's ridden in a Ural, but the new (Russian) OD color is perfect, and at a mere $12,400, how could he resist... (Easy; he doesn't have thirteen grand to spend on any vehicle, let alone this one.)

Surely not Bogart...

Rico says he saw the impossible tonight: a bad cowboy movie and a bad Humphrey Bogart movie, and it was the same movie: Virginia City, made in 1940, right before High Sierra (a good Western), The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. How, you say, could they make a movie starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins, Randolph Scott, Humphrey Bogart, and a host of others, and make such an awful movie?
Rico says he has no idea, but they had to work at it...

And let that be a lesson

Slate has two back-to-back descriptions of articles that pretty much sum up why they should not have canceled the program:
The New York Times leads with word that the CIA hired contractors from Blackwater USA to take part in an assassination program that targeted top al-Qaeda operatives. Blackwater is a private security contractor, now known as Xe Services LLC, that has come under scrutiny for using excessive force against Iraqi civilians. The Washington Post also leads the news in its late edition, and while it gives credit to the NYT for first reporting the story, it takes it a step further by saying that the whole of the assassination program was outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 and the private contractor was given "operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders." For its part, the NYT isn't clear as to whether the contractors were going to be used to kill or capture al-Qaida suspects or just for training and surveillance in the larger program. Regardless, the program was canceled before any missions were actually carried out.

The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, and everyone else fronts, the deadly day in Baghdad, where a series of coordinated attacks killed 95 people and injured more than 500. Most of the dead were casualties of two massive truck bombs that hit the foreign and finance ministries in heavily guarded areas of downtown Baghdad. It was by far the deadliest attack since 30 June, when U.S. troops withdrew from urban areas, and the WSJ says it might have been the deadliest day in Iraq in more than a year. The Iraqi government quickly blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq and followers of former President Saddam Hussein for the attack.

Worth repeating

You wouldn't necessarily think of Ted as a spokesperson, but it works:

Pissing off the Secret Service no end

The Associated Press reports that about a dozen people openly carried guns outside an event where President Barack Obama was giving a speech in Phoenix on Monday. Phoenix, Arizona police say the people with guns, including a man carrying an AR-15, didn’t need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested. The man carrying the rifle declined to be identified, but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the weapon because he could, adding that he still has some freedoms. Last week, during Obama’s town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a man stood outside with a gun strapped to his leg. Arizona is an 'open-carry' state, which means anyone legally allowed to have a firearm can carry it in public as long as it's visible. Only someone carrying a concealed weapon is required to have a permit. Paul Helmke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said people should not be allowed to bring guns to events where Obama is. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said armed demonstrators in open-carry states such as Arizona and New Hampshire have little impact on security plans for the President.

Rico says pushing your Second Amendment rights is all very well and good, but doing it anywhere near the President is just asking for it... (But the Brady people gotta be gnashing their teeth over this.)

Quote for the day

"Go to the bathroom mirror, look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘You’re dying,’ It’s not easy."
Dr. Nicholas Cristakis, on how difficult it can be for doctors to tell patients they are dying.

Rico says we're all dying, the only question is when... (And anyone who thinks they're not is fooling themselves.)

Civil War for the day

Palisades and chevaux-de-frise in front of the Potter House in Atlanta, Georgia in 1864. Photographed by George Barnard.

19 August 2009

Clueless, as usual

Not sure what happened to all my posts for the 19th...

Civil War for the day

Colonel John Singleton Mosby

18 August 2009

Reality is fiction, and vice versa

Paul Abelsky and Diana ben-Aaron have an article on Bloomberg.com about real pirates:
The hijackers of the Arctic Sea, the freighter found this week by Russia’s navy, demanded a ransom of $1.5 million from the ship’s insurer and threatened to shoot the crew and sink the vessel, the insurer said. Renaissance Insurance received a call on 3 August from a person speaking English and claiming to be an intermediary for the hijackers, Vladimir Dushin, vice president for security at the Moscow-based insurer, said in a phone interview yesterday. “They informed us the ship had been seized and threatened to sink it in five days if the amount wasn’t paid,” he said. The information was conveyed to Russian security officials. The Maltese-flagged ship was insured for $4 million, he said. The insurer helped communicate with the hijackers in the following days, he said.
Russia detained eight suspected hijackers of the freighter after a 25-day odyssey that ended in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said yesterday. The eight hijackers are citizens of Estonia, Latvia, and Russia, Serdyukov told President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday in comments on the Kremlin’s website. The armed group boarded the Arctic Sea on 24 July, then forced the crew to change course toward Africa and turn off the ship's navigational equipment, he said. The freighter had been en route from Finland to Algeria.
Russia learned of the Arctic Sea’s location “several days ago” and kept the information secret to give its warship, the Ladny, time to navigate the Cape Verde archipelago and surprise the hijackers, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the government’s newspaper of record. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization provided logistical support, the newspaper said.
The disappearance of the Arctic Sea, owned by Helsinki- based Oy Solchart Management AB, sparked international speculation about its fate, including a reported sighting at the Spanish port of San Sebastian, a possible second attack off Portugal, and a Finnish police report of a ransom demand.
Serdyukov said two days ago that Russian forces had found the Arctic Sea and were debriefing its fifteen Russian crewmembers. Media, including the Financial Times Deutschland, reported sightings of the ship off Cape Verde on 14 August.
The freed members of the Russian crew haven’t contacted their families because the investigation is still under way, Russian state television station Vesti reported, citing Sergei Portenko, head of a Russian naval trade union. All fifteen sailors were hired in Arkhangelsk near the White Sea, Vesti said.
Estonia has received no information about the arrest of Estonian citizens in the incident, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told reporters in Tallinn yesterday. Latvia also had no information about its citizens being detained, said Gints Serafinovics, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta said the 98-meter (322-foot) Arctic Sea was hijacked in the Baltic Sea and steered to the Cape Verde area because the waters there are difficult for submarines to navigate. Russia initially planned to involve its submarine fleet, the newspaper said. Radio contact was lost when the freighter was off the coast of Portugal.
NATO monitored the search and supplied information using its maritime tracking capabilities after receiving Russia’s request for assistance, a NATO official said by phone from Brussels. He declined to be identified, citing the alliance’s policy.
The freighter was en route from Finland to Algeria with timber valued at 1.3 million euros ($1.8 million). The seller was Rets Timber, a joint venture between Europe’s largest papermaker, Stora Enso Oyj, and UPM-Kymmene Oyj, according to Kari Naumanen, chief executive officer at Helsinki-based Rets. Most of the lumber came from other companies, he said.
Rets knows “nothing more than what’s public,” and wasn’t contacted by the hijackers, Naumanen said. Finnish police didn’t contact Rets before going public with their investigation and haven’t shared internal information, he said. “They have not put one single question to us.”
The vessel will continue to Algeria to deliver its shipment, which is the property of three importers in Algeria, Naumanen said, declining to identify them. Rets has used Solchart for shipments to Algeria and Egypt for about thirteen years, he said.
Swedish police said on 30 July that the ship’s Finnish owner reported the vessel was boarded on 24 July in Swedish waters by a group that claimed to be police officers, and allegedly tied up the crew, then fled in an inflatable speedboat, the Associated Press reported. Finnish investigators have been cooperating in the probe. along with Malta and Sweden, said Superintendent Rabbe von Hertzen of the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation. “At the moment, the Russians have a part of the key to the investigation in their hands,” von Hertzen said by phone from Vantaa, Finland. “The jurisdiction in which this case will be pursued is still not known.”
President Medvedev last week ordered Serdyukov to investigate the incident and to inform “all interested parties,” including the media, of the results. Russia used satellites and naval vessels, led by the Ladny, to search for the freighter.
Rico says who knew the Kremlin even had a website? But you can also buy Rico's book on piracy, Skeleton Cay, which is guaranteed to be a lot more exciting...

Another one gone

The Associated Press has a story by Barry Schweid and Will Lester about Robert Novak:
Political columnist Robert Novak, a conservative, pugilistic debater, and proud owner of the Prince of Darkness moniker, died Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer that was diagnosed in July of 2008. He was 78.
His wife of 47 years, Geraldine Novak, told The Associated Press that he died at his home in Washington early in the morning. A household face as co-host of CNN's Crossfire, Novak had been a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for decades.
"He was a Washington institution who could turn an idea into the most discussed story around kitchen tables, congressional offices, the White House, and everywhere in between," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement. Said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio: "Bob made remarkable contributions in the field of journalism and to the American political landscape."
In recent years, Novak ended up actually being a part of a big Washington story, in ways he likely never intended, becoming a central figure in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Novak was the first to publish the name of the CIA employee, and he came under withering criticism and abuse from many for that column, which Novak said began "a long and difficult episode" in his career.
"I had a terrific time fulfilling all my youthful dreams and at the same time making life miserable for hypocritical, posturing politicians and, I hope, performing a service for my country," Novak wrote in his memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington.
Actually Novak had been dubbed the "prince of darkness" by a journalist friend early in his career, and he embraced it. He wrote in that 2007 memoir that he became proud of the label derived from his "unsmiling pessimism about the prospects for America and Western civilization."
"He loved being a journalist, he loved journalism, he loved his country and his family," Geraldine Novak told The AP.
Novak, editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, is perhaps best known as a co-host of several of CNN's political talk shows, where he often jousted with liberal guests from 1980 to 2005. One of the best-known was "Crossfire."
While he became known as a conservative for his role on "Crossfire" and other CNN political shows like "The Capital Gang," he differed with conservatives on many issues, expressing doubts about invading Afghanistan and frequently criticizing the war in Iraq.
Novak wrote in his book about often giving politicians the choice of being a source or a target, a strategy that often produced scoops for his column. With a lengthy list of highly placed sources, a high public profile and a relentless approach to reporting his column, Novak produced many scoops. Among those scoops: a 2003 column in which he outed Plame as a CIA agent. The article was published eight days after Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat of nuclear weapons. Citing two Bush administration officials, Novak revealed Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction. That blew her cover as a CIA operative and led to the investigation of who leaked that information, and eventually to the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters about Plame. Libby's prison sentence was later commuted by President Bush.
Born and raised in Joliet, Illinois, Novak began his career in journalism in high school as a sports stringer for the Joliet Herald-News, then worked at the Champaign-Urbana Courier while attending the University of Illinois.
Following college, he served stateside in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant during the Korean War from 1952-54. He went on to work for The Associated Press in Omaha, Nebraska and in Indianapolis, eventually working for the AP's Washington bureau, where he covered congressional delegations for several Midwestern states.
In 1958, Novak joined the staff of the Wall Street Journal and soon became their chief congressional correspondent. In 1963 he teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to pen a political column, Inside Washington, that lasted thirty years. They were journalism's odd couple— Evans was polished and charming while Novak was often rumpled and grouchy.
Evans died in March 2001, and Novak continued to write the column until his brain tumor diagnosis in July, which came less than a week after Noval struck a homeless pedestrian with his Corvette in downtown Washington, dislocating the man's shoulder, and drove away.
His last regular CNN appearance in August 2005 was a memorable one: After swearing on the air, he walked off the set during a political debate with Democratic strategist James Carville. Novak quickly apologized, but he was to appear on the network rarely after that, in December of 2005 while still an employee and on 27 July 2007, to discuss his book.
Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, said in a statement: "Bob shared generously with CNN and with CNN viewers his authority, credibility, humor and towering presence. We are grateful to have worked alongside him." Following his departure from CNN, Novak was an occasional contributor to Fox News.
"Whether it was for the AP, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Sun-Times, or on Crossfire, Robert Novak was a strong voice for journalism and the American people. Inside Washington... consistently brought the reality of Washington, from one end to the other, to life," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia, in a statement.
American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene called Novak "a true giant... a courageous journalist, a man of ideas who spent a lifetime fighting for what he believed to be right. The combative Bob Novak, beloved by so many who knew him only through his television persona, was only a part of the personality of one of the most patriotic, compassionate, and loyal men I have ever known." In addition to his memoir, Novak wrote books about the Republican Party and former President Lyndon Johnson.
Days before his tumor was discovered in mid-July 2008, Novak was given a $50 citation after he struck a homeless man with his black Corvette in downtown Washington. He kept driving until he was stopped by a bicyclist, who said the man was splayed on Novak's windshield. Days later, Novak fell ill on Massachusetts' Cape Cod while visiting his daughter, Zelda, and was rushed to the hospital, where the diagnosis was made. Novak underwent surgery in 2003 to remove a cancerous growth on his kidney and was under medical observation for a possible recurrence. A son of Jewish parents, he converted to Catholicism at age 67 after attending Catholic services for several years. Novak is also survived by his daughter and a son, Alex.
Rico says a brain tumor goes a long way toward explaining his outbursts and his 'forgetting' that he hit that guy with his car...

And let that be a lesson to you, you fuck

Courtesy of my friend Tex, this little life lesson, published in the Herald of Houston, Texas on 5 March 2009:
Last Thursday night around midnight, a woman from Houston, Texas, was arrested, jailed, and charged with manslaughter for shooting a man six times in the back as he was running away with her purse. The following Monday morning, the woman was arraigned and asked to explain her actions.
The woman said "I am a waitress at a local café. I was standing at the corner bus stop for about fifteen minutes, waiting for the bus to take me home after work. I was there alone, so I had my right hand on my pistol in my purse that was hanging over my left shoulder.
"All of a sudden I was being spun around to my left. As I caught my balance, I saw a man running away from me with my purse. I looked down at my right hand and saw that my fingers were wrapped tightly around my pistol. The next thing I remember is saying out loud "No way, punk! You're not stealing my paycheck and tips.
"I raised my right hand, pointed my pistol at the man running away from me with my purse, and squeezed the trigger of my pistol six times."
When asked by the arraignment judge why she'd shot the man six times, the woman replied "Because when I pulled the trigger of my pistol the seventh time, it only went click."
Acquitted of all charges, the woman was back at work at the café the next day...

Civil War for the day

General John Bell Hood, who figures prominently in George Byram's The Chronicle of the 656th.

17 August 2009

Wishful thinking

To: John Hinckley
From: Mrs. Nancy Reagan

My family and I wanted to drop you a short note to tell you how pleased we are with the great strides you are making in your recovery. In our fine country's spirit of understanding and forgiveness, we want you to know there is a nonpartisan consensus of compassion and forgiveness.
The Reagan family and I want you to know that no grudge is borne against you for shooting President Reagan. We, above all, are aware of how the mental stress and pain could have driven you to such an act of desperation. We are confident that you will soon make a complete recovery and return to your family to join the world again as a healthy and productive young man.
Best wishes,
Nancy Reagan & family

PS: While you were incarcerated, Barack Obama has been banging Jodie Foster like a screen door in a tornado. You might want to look into that.

Civil War for the day

The Seventh New York Cavalry in camp in 1862.

16 August 2009

No Second Amendment there...

The New York Times has an article by Ellen Barry about the problems (and solutions) in South Ossetia:
For years, there was not much difference between a civilian and a soldier in South Ossetia, which was embroiled in a long struggle to separate from Georgia.
David Sanakoyev, for example, wore a tie during the day. As South Ossetia’s ombudsman for human rights, he handled complaints about prison conditions or unlawful firings. Three times a week, after work, he changed into camouflage and took up a position at the territory’s border, rotating in and out of combat duty until morning. Then he put his suit back on, and returned to his desk— a pattern interrupted only once, he recalled, when he was shot through the thigh in a Georgian ambush.
This has been the strange way of life inside South Ossetia, on and off, since the end of the Soviet Union. The tiny population of this valley— factory workers, university students, farmers, and smugglers— has been turned into a loosely organized fighting force, deployed along the boundary that separates South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory.
Now, with Russia guaranteeing its security, South Ossetia is asking residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily. The police have opened fifty criminal prosecutions for illegal weapons and plan to offer $300 to $400 for each Kalashnikov rifle, a top official said. The program is a test of confidence, a year after the war between Russia and Georgia.
Mr. Sanakoyev said he had never owned a gun but felt it was still too early to disarm. “Life has changed,” he said. “But inside, you don’t yet feel that life has changed.”
Twenty years ago, few people in this valley were armed. The first clash between Ossetians and Georgians was fought with wooden bats and hunting rifles in 1989, after an estimated 12,000 Georgian demonstrators surrounded Tskhinvali to protest its first separatist bid. In the two days of violence that followed, six people died, according to Human Rights Watch. That began a great surge of arming. Timur Tskhovrebov, then working as a tomato farmer, became “a specialist in stealing from Soviet warehouses,” he recalled, with a broad, reminiscent smile. The commander of a ten-man local militia, he would bribe a sentry, throw a mattress over the barbed-wire fence, and clamber in and out, arms loaded with weapons, for two hours until the next sentry arrived. “This is only one way,” said Mr. Tskhovrebov, 51. “It’s the most honest way. You just steal them.”
As they withdrew into Russian territory, Soviet troops were ready to make deals, in any case. A Kalashnikov could be traded for a Zhiguli or Lada car or, in the case of villagers, a cow. Whole arsenals, put up for sale in Chechnya, supplied South Ossetia.
Irina Kozayeva, a 74-year-old woman with a cloud of hennaed hair, recalled the awe she felt at her first major purchase: a 12.7-caliber machine gun, a World War Two-era weapon often mounted on Soviet tanks and capable of shooting down aircraft. “When I saw it, I closed the door and laid it down on the rug,” she said. “I almost fainted. The sight of such a weapon can make you crazy.”
Ossetians’ attachment to their weapons grew fierce during those years, said Dmitri Medoyev, South Ossetia’s ambassador to Russia. Before the first clashes, authorities in Georgia had stripped many Ossetian hunters of their rifles, and then the Soviet Army twice betrayed Ossetia by withdrawing its forces, Mr. Medoyev said, so “we, the population, cannot trust anyone.” In addition to a small army, Tskhinvali contrived a defense based on the Swiss armed forces, in which every adult man was required to show up, prepared to fight, during periods of tension.
For an Ossetian, Mr. Medoyev said, “a weapon is an essential part of daily life, his worldview, his accessory, if you will.” Asked how many guns were owned privately, he said, “As many as there are people in the population, that’s how many weapons there are. Of course,” he added, “I’m not counting small children.”
But conditions have changed since last August, said Vitaly Gassiyev, South Ossetia’s first deputy interior minister. At a brand-new Russian base in Tskhinvali, dozens of tanks and self-propelled artillery are lined up a few minutes’ drive from Georgian positions, making it unlikely that Ossetian volunteers will be called to the front anytime soon.
By disarming, Mr. Gassiyev said, South Ossetia was using the lessons Russia had learned in the north Caucasus, where wars left a residue of crime, with “guns in hands and lots of uncontrolled elements.” Two weeks ago, the call went out for people to turn in their arms voluntarily. So far, the police have collected or confiscated one hunded machine guns— among them fifteen American-made M-4 carbines, presumably lost by Georgian soldiers— and 110 pounds of explosives. In the near future, the police are planning to offer citizens from $370 to $470 in exchange for turning in guns and other weapons. “I think the project will work without question,” Mr. Gassiyev said. “There is a guarantee of security now.”
When the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to sell this idea to Ossetia’s populace several years ago, it was met with ridicule, recalled Magdalena Frichova, who monitored the conflict in South Ossetia for 10 years for the International Crisis Group. But last year’s war has transformed the dynamics in Ossetia, she added, and Russia may feel a need to ensure control in a region where small militias have thrived. “This is the fear for the Russians, that it’s going to become like the north Caucasus,” Ms. Frichova said. “You have all these armed groups that aren’t under a command.”
Nerves were still strung tight last week at a border post south of Tskhinvali. The Russian border patrol was nowhere in sight, and two Ossetian men, one in camouflage, were watching cows grazing in no man’s land, waiting for something to happen, just as they have for 18 years. A Georgian police post in Ergneti was visible through the summer foliage. Five days before, the two men said, a rocket-propelled grenade was shot from the Georgian side and exploded in the air.
“If you call someone your brother, but he shoots at you, is he still your brother?” said the man in camouflage, his face weathered by the sun. “For 18 years, they have devoured us. They are jackals, jackals.” He refused to give his name. His friend, Timur, 39, had left military service after the war, and was watching in slacks and a turtleneck. This year has been quiet, he allowed, but not calm, not yet. Asked about the government’s program to collect weapons, he grinned mischievously. “Officially, I have given up my gun,” he said.

Quote for the day

I did everything there. I gunned. I drove. I ran as a truck commander. And underneath it all, I was a medic.
Veronica Alfaro, on her service in Iraq.

Lizette Alvarez has an article in The New York Times on the subject:
As the convoy rumbled up the road in Iraq, Specialist Veronica Alfaro was struck by the beauty of fireflies dancing in the night. Then, hearing the unmistakable pinging of tracer rounds, in a Baghdad moment she realized the insects were tracers.
er gun truck, grabbed her medical bag and sprinted 50 yards to a stalled civilian truck. On the way, bullets kicked up dust near her feet. She pulled the badly wounded driver to the ground and got to work. Despite her best efforts, the driver died, but her heroism that January night last year earned Specialist Alfaro a Bronze Star for valor. She had already received a combat action badge for fending off insurgents as a machine gunner. “I did everything there,” Ms. Alfaro, 25, said of her time in Iraq. “I gunned. I drove. I ran as a truck commander. And underneath it all, I was a medic.”
Before 2001, America’s military women had rarely seen ground combat. Their jobs kept them mostly away from enemy lines, as military policy dictates. But the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, often fought in marketplaces and alleyways, have changed that. In both countries, women have repeatedly proved their mettle in combat. The number of high-ranking women and women who command all-male units has climbed considerably along with their status in the military. “Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served as executive officer to General David Petraeus while he was the top American commander in Iraq. “They have earned the confidence and respect of male colleagues.”
Their success, widely known in the military, remains largely hidden from public view. In part, this is because their most challenging work is often the result of a quiet circumvention of military policy. Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces, and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle.
Yet, over and over, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence. On paper, for instance, women have been “attached” to a combat unit rather than “assigned". This quiet change has not come seamlessly— and it has altered military culture on the battlefield in ways large and small. Women need separate bunks and bathrooms. They face sexual discrimination and rape, and counselors and rape kits are now common in war zones. Commanders also confront a new reality: that soldiers have sex, and some will be evacuated because they are pregnant. Nonetheless, as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads. They have proved indispensable in their ability to interact with and search Iraqi and Afghan women for weapons, a job men cannot do for cultural reasons. The Marine Corps has created revolving units— “lionesses”— dedicated to just this task. A small number of women have even conducted raids, engaging the enemy directly in total disregard of existing policies.
Many experts, including David Barno, a retired lieutenant general who commanded forces in Afghanistan; Dr. Mansoor, who now teaches military history at Ohio State University; and John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who helped write the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual, say it is only a matter of time before regulations that have restricted women’s participation in war will be adjusted to meet the reality forged over the last eight years.
The Marine Corps, which is overwhelmingly male and designed for combat, recently opened two more categories of intelligence jobs to women, recognizing the value of their work in Iraq and Afghanistan. In gradually admitting women to combat, the United States will be catching up to the rest of the world. More than a dozen countries allow women in some or all ground combat occupations. Among those pushing boundaries most aggressively is Canada, which has recruited women for the infantry and sent them to Afghanistan.
But the United States military may well be steps ahead of Congress, where opening ground combat jobs to women has met deep resistance in the past. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group that opposes fully integrating women into the Army, said women were doing these jobs with no debate and no Congressional approval. “I fault the Pentagon for not being straight with uniformed women,” said Ms. Donnelly, who supported unsuccessful efforts by some in Congress in 2005 to restrict women’s roles in these wars. “It’s an ‘anything goes’ situation.”
Poll numbers, however, show that a majority of the public supports allowing women to do more on the battlefield. Fifty-three percent of the respondents in a New York Times/CBS News poll in July, said they would favor permitting women to “join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting.” The successful experiences of military women in Iraq and Afghanistan are being used to bolster the efforts of groups who favor letting gay soldiers serve openly. Those opposed to such change say that permitting service members to state their sexual orientation would disrupt the tight cohesion of a unit and lead to harassment and sexual liaisons— arguments also used against allowing women to serve alongside men. But women in Iraq and Afghanistan have debunked many of those fears.
“They made it work with women, which is more complicated in some ways, with sex-segregated facilities and new physical training standards,” said David Stacy, a lobbyist with the Human Rights Campaign, which works for gay equality. “If the military could make that work with good discipline and order, certainly integrating open service of gay and lesbians is within their capability. ” No one envisioned that Afghanistan and Iraq would elevate the status of women in the armed forces.
But the Iraq insurgency obliterated conventional battle lines. The fight was on every base and street corner, and as the conflict grew longer and more complicated, the all-volunteer military required more soldiers and a different approach to fighting. Commanders were forced to stretch gender boundaries, or in a few cases, erase them altogether. “We literally could not have fought this war without women,” said Dr. Nagl, who is now president of the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington. Of the two million Americans who have fought in these wars since 2001, more than 220,000 of them, or 11 percent, have been women. Like men, some women have come home bearing the mental and physical scars of bombs and bullets, loss and killing. Women who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars appear to suffer rates of post-traumatic stress disorder comparable to those of men, a recent study showed. Men still make up the vast majority of the 5,000 war deaths since 2001; nearly 4,000 have been killed by enemy action But 121 women have also died, 66 killed in combat. The rest died in nonhostile action, which includes accidents, illness, suicide, and friendly fire. And 620 women have been wounded.
Despite longstanding fears about how the public would react to women coming home in coffins, Americans have responded to their deaths and injuries no differently than to those of male casualties, analysts say. That is a reflection of changing social mores but also a result of the growing number of women— more than 356,000 today— who serve in the armed forces, including the Reserves and the National Guard, sixteen percent of the total.
Over all, women say the gains they made in Iraq and Afghanistan have overshadowed the challenges they faced in a combat zone. “As horrible as this war has been, I fully believe it has given women so many opportunities in the military,” said Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who was one of the first women to serve as a communication specialist with a brigade combat team in Iraq. “Before, they didn’t have the option.”
Although women make up only six percent of the top military ranks, these war years have ushered in a series of notable promotions. In 2008, 57 women were serving as generals and admirals in the active-duty military, more than double the number a decade earlier. Last year, Ann Dunwoody was the first woman to become a four-star Army general, the highest rank in today’s military and a significant milestone for women. And many more women now lead all-male combat troops into battle.
The Army does not keep complete statistics on the sex of soldiers who receive medals and tracks only active-duty soldiers. But two women have been awarded Silver Stars, one of the military’s highest honors. Many more women have been awarded medals for valor, the statistics show.
To be sure, not all women in the military embrace the idea of going into combat. Like men, a few do what they can to try to get out of deployments. Military women and commanders say some women have timed their pregnancies to avoid deploying or have gotten pregnant in Iraq so they would be sent home. The Army declined to release numbers on how many women have been evacuated from a war zone for pregnancy.
In addition to the dangers, military life is grueling in other ways, especially for mothers juggling parenting and the demands of the military, which require long absences from home. And while the military is doing more to address the threat of sexual harassment and rape, it remains a persistent problem.
The rules governing what jobs military women can hold often seem contradictory or muddled. Women, for instance, can serve as machine gunners on Humvees but cannot operate Bradleys, the Army’s armored fighting vehicle. They can work with some long-range artillery but not short-range ones. Women can walk Iraq’s dangerous streets as members of the military police but not as members of the infantry. And they can lead combat engineers in war zones as officers, but cannot serve among them. This was the case for Major Kellie McCoy, 34, a wisp of an officer who is just over five feet tall. As a captain in 2003 and 2004, she served as the first female engineer company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division and led a platoon of combat engineers in Iraq. On 14 September 2003, her four-vehicle convoy drove into an ambush. It was attacked by multiple roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. Three soldiers were wounded in the ambush. As one of the wounded stood in the middle of the road, bloody and in shock, Major McCoy ran through enemy fire to get him, discharging her M4 as she led him back to her vehicle. Then, she and the others returned to the “kill zone” to rescue the remaining soldiers. Insurgents shot at them from fifteen feet away. But eventually, all twelve soldiers piled into one four-seat Humvee and sped away. Major McCoy received a Bronze Star for valor and, most important for her, the admiration of her troops. “I think my actions cemented their respect for me,” she wrote in an e-mail message from Iraq. “I worked hard to earn their respect.” As an officer, Major McCoy’s assignment followed both the letter and the spirit of the regulations. But, in other cases, the rules were bent to get women into combat positions.
In 2004 and 2005, Michael Baumann, now a retired lieutenant colonel, commanded thirty enlisted women and six female officers as part of a unit patrolling in the Rashid district of Baghdad, an extremely dangerous area at the time. On paper, he followed military policy. The women were technically assigned to a separate chemical company of the division. In reality, they were core members of his field artillery battalion. Mr. Baumann said the women trained and fought alongside his male soldiers. Everyone from Mr. Baumann’s commanders to the commanding general knew their true function, he said. “We had to take everybody,” said Mr. Baumann, 46, who wrote a book about his time in Iraq called Adjust Fire: Transforming to Win in Iraq. “Nobody could be spared to do something like support.” Brought up as an old-school Army warrior, Mr. Baumann said he had seriously doubted that women could physically handle infantry duties, citing the weight of the armor and the gear, the heat of Baghdad and the harshness of combat. “I found out differently,” said Mr. Baumann, now chief financial officer for St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. “Not only could they handle it, but in the same way as males. I would go out on patrols every single day with my battalion. I was with them. I was next to them. I saw with my own eyes. I had full trust and confidence in their abilities.” Mr. Baumann’s experience rings true to many men who have commanded women in Iraq. More than anything, it is seeing women perform under fire that has changed attitudes. But some experts say the hostility toward women in the military was fading on its own. Many young men today have grown up around female athletes, tough sisters and successful women.
As the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan sinks in, some experts and military officers believe that women should be allowed to join all-male combat units in phases (so long as job-specific physical exams are created to test the abilities of men and women). War is different today, they say. Technology has changed the way some of these jobs are done, making them more mechanized and less strength-dependent. Warfare in Iraq involves a lot more driving than walking.
What is more, not all combat jobs are the same. Handling field artillery or working in Bradleys, for example, are jobs more suited to some women than light infantry duties, which can require carrying heavy packs for miles. Still, most women in the military express little, if any, desire to join the grueling, testosterone-laden light infantry. But some say they are interested in artillery and armor.
Any change to the policy would require Congressional approval, which lawmakers say is unlikely in the middle of two wars. But women in the military and their allies want their performance in combat to count for something. “We have to acknowledge it because the military is like any other corporation,” said Representative Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California and the senior woman on the House Armed Services Committee. “If you are not on the front lines doing what is the main purpose of your existence, then you won’t be viewed as someone who can command.”
Military women said they were encouraged by the words of Representative John M. McHugh, the nominee for Army secretary, who just four years ago supported a failed push in Congress to restrict the role of women in combat zones. At his Senate hearing in July, Mr. McHugh, Republican of New York, sought to allay concern. “Women in uniform today are not just invaluable,” he said, “they’re irreplaceable.” He added that he would look to expand the number of jobs available to them.
In Mr. Baumann’s view, the reality on the ground long ago outpaced the debate. “We have crossed that line in Iraq,” he said. “Debate it all you want folks, but the military is going to do what the military needs to do. And they are needing to put women in combat.”

Civil War for the day

Fort Clinch in northeastern Florida.

15 August 2009


Michelle Higgins has an article in The New York Times about the TSA and vigilance:
Airline passengers have been asked to remove their shoes, shrink their toiletries, and submit to full-body scans. Now one more thing must be inspected: their middle initials.
In an effort to beef up security, the job of matching passengers’ names against terrorist watch lists is being transferred from commercial airlines to the Transportation Security Administration. The government initiative, known as Secure Flight, seeks to reduce the number of times passengers are misidentified as possible terrorists, in part by standardizing how names are matched, but also by now including age and gender in a passenger’s profile.
In the first phase, which was instituted earlier this year, the security agency asked airlines to begin collecting passenger names as they appear exactly, letter for letter, on government-issued IDs like passports and driver’s licenses. The second phase, effective 15 August, requests airlines to ask passengers for their gender and date of birth. In theory, the new rules are designed to help the Transportation Security Administration distinguish between a John X. Doe who is a 9-year-old boy, and a John Z. Doe who is a 34-year-old man on a terrorist list. But the new rules are also creating a lot of confusion, and a lot of misinformation is spreading among travelers. In particular, the new name requirement is causing some passengers to worry that they will be barred from flying. For example, if a plane ticket reads “Pat Jones” instead of “Patricia X. Jones”— as it appears on her passport— will she be barred? Or what if someone goes by a middle name? Or what if the middle initial was mistyped? In an effort to clear things up, here are answers to some common concerns:
Will I be turned away at the airport if my passport reads “Jonathan M. Smith,” but my reservation is under “Jon Smith”?
Transportation Security Administration officials say no. Under Secure Flight, the security agency checks a person’s name against the terrorist watch list shortly after a reservation is made, and usually well before someone gets to the airport and a boarding pass is printed, said Paul Leyh, the program director of Secure Flight. Once a person is cleared, Mr. Leyh added, Secure Flight gives the airline permission to issue that passenger a boarding pass. In other words, anyone with a boarding pass has already cleared Secure Flight.
What if someone prefers to go by his or her middle name, or some other variation from the name printed on their government-issued ID? Do they have to change their ID now?
The security agency is not asking passengers to change their IDs. What passengers are being asked to do is to travel under the name that is on the government ID. Slight differences should not be an issue, but the Transportation Security Administration says that providing all the information accurately (name just as it appears on the ID, date of birth, and gender) will reduce delays and misidentifications by more than 99 percent. To keep things consistent, you might consider changing the name on your driver’s license to match your passport, unless you always carry a passport as your government-issued ID for all of your travel, domestic and international.
But I heard you can be turned away by security if your name doesn’t match your ID. Is that true?
Yes, but that is already the case and it has nothing to do with Secure Flight. The agents at the security gate already check that the name on your boarding pass matches your identification. If there are significant differences (for example, if your passport says “Michelle Rose Higgins,” but you hate your first name, so your boarding pass reads “Rose Higgins”), you may be delayed for additional screening. But Transportation Security Administration says that isn’t because of Secure Flight. As before, whether you are allowed through will ultimately be left to the security agent’s discretion, so being courteous might not be a bad idea. To help cut down on the confusion, the agency is offering a video explaining Secure Flight on its home page and its own list of frequently asked questions.
What about children who don’t have an ID card or a passport?
Though children need a passport to travel internationally, the Transportation Security Administration does not require minors (seventeen and under) to present a photo ID to pass through security. Agents may ask the minor or accompanying adult to state the individual’s full name and date of birth instead. While an ID may help the minor avoid secondary screening, it is not mandatory.
Will Secure Flight affect my frequent flier programs?
It may. As Mike Weingart, president of Travel Leaders, a travel agency based in Houston, explained, “If I am Michael Nat Weingart on my passport, Michael N. Weingart on my driver’s license, and Mike Weingart on my frequent flier program, it won’t work.” To receive mileage credits, he said, the names must match, so he is advising clients to make sure all their travel profiles and IDs agree. As a pre-emptive step, passengers with different names on their frequent flier accounts should change them to match their IDs. Airlines often require a fax or a letter to make that request. Meanwhile, keep your boarding passes in case you need to submit a request for miles retroactively.
What if I’m mistakenly identified as someone on the terrorist watch list?
You can apply for a redress number through the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program of the Department of Homeland Security; you will be required to provide additional verification to clear your identity. Under Secure Flight, passengers can enter their redress numbers at the time of booking to distinguish themselves from people on the list.
Why isn’t my airline asking for my full name, gender, or birth date yet?
The Transportation Security Administration set 15 August as a target date for the airlines to begin compliance, but many airlines and travel agencies are still updating their reservation systems to accept the new information. So instead of a hard deadline, Secure Flight is being rolled out, airline by airline, over the next year or so.
All domestic airlines are expected to be in compliance by the first quarter of 2010 and international carriers by the end of 2010. Of the larger airlines, Delta is expected to be ready this weekend, Southwest by 1 October, and American sometime this fall. Some smaller carriers, like Allegiant Air based in Las Vegas, are already collecting full passenger names, gender, and birth dates.
So, for now, what will be the biggest change?
For most passengers, nothing, except having to provide your birth date and gender when booking a flight.

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