Monday, February 23, 2009

Heroically heroic

Updated Just FYI in case anyone is interested, mentioned here more as a way of taking note than anything else:

There is a Facebook group called "Soldiers are not heroes." It describes itself as a parody of another Facebook group called "Support your soldiers in uniform!!!" (yes, with three exclamation points). It included an excerpt from (with a link to) a post of mine from last June (and re-posted on Veterans' Day) called "Heroics." Specifically, it quoted the last paragraphs:
Soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform and agreeing to put your conscience in a lockbox for the next so many years does not make your life more important than others, it does not make your opinions and insights more worthy of respect than others, it does not exempt you from moral judgment. It does not make you a hero.

And we should not fall prey to hero-worship.
I got a few hits off it but not being on Facebook I didn't think much more about it. But for who knows what reason, it seems to have sparked some attention of late. I've been getting (for me) a rather large number of hits from there over the past few days. When I went to check, I discovered the group now claims nearly 1900 members and there have been nearly 51,000 wall posts. (Plus, it appears, a petition to get it thrown off Facebook.)

Of course, it wasn't my post that generated all those responses, it was the provocative nature of the group. Still, it did get me a bit of traffic and I even got two lengthy comments on my post from one LCPL (which I assume means Lance Corporal) Donner. I responded to him at equal length. (Yes, "him." I looked at his website so I know.)

I went back and forth several times about putting my reply here as a post. On the one hand, I thought it would be unfair as you likely thus would see the reply before you saw the original comment. On the other, posting a reply to what someone has written elsewhere is hardly uncommon in blogs. On the other other hand, in those cases the reply usually contains enough of the original to follow the argument whereas my reply made only very brief references to the original, just enough to see to what point I was responding.

Okay, so what I've done here is to post my reply but with expanded quotes from the original. If rather than relying on my edited version you want to see LCPL Donner's full comments, they are here (scroll down).


LCPL Donner -

Thank you for the civil response, "unlike a great number of folk who share your views." I do not want to inflict an essay-length response on you, so instead I'm going to try to be briefer by running through some things you said in the order in which you said them. This will still prove to be rather long. To save a little space I've edited the comments I'm responding to; I figure you know what you said.

The popular held notion that "all soldiers are heroes" is, indeed, a dangerous one. It lends itself towards self-righteousness and the justification for acts that would otherwise be deplorable.

Which was exactly the point. The whole focus of the post was on objecting to the left's increasing embrace of the "soldiers are heroes" concept, driven by "hav[ing] absorbed the idea that we have to prove ourselves on 'security' issues by proving that we're 'tough'" and sufficiently pro-military. That of necessity required arguing that soldiers are not heroes, else how could I object to saying they are? But you should realize in case you didn't is that I did not say soldiers, that is, the people in the uniforms, are evil. I said they are not heroes. This is not an either/or.

Any time you have a gathering of humans, you have a gathering of heroes and villains. ... The fact of the matter is, some people just down right suck. How critical should you be of an organization because of the acts of an individual?

That would be valid if we were talking about one individual or isolated acts. But we're talking about institutional values and a large number of events and incidents, not one. Indeed, one of the frequent defenses of acts by individual soldiers is that they were just doing what they'd been trained to do, responding in the way they'd been told they should. To the very extent that's true, the acts of those individuals do reflect on the organization as a whole.

Liberals, too often in my experience, are quick to criticize but not so quick to offer solutions.

This is actually OT; still, I have to be blunt and call bullshit on that one. We are surrounded liberal solutions, we experience and benefit from them every single day. Social support programs, safety (including environmental) standards, public projects, the list is quite long. A lot of them do not go far enough and certainly some of them didn't work out the way it was intended but to say liberals are slow to offer solutions to the problems they cite is just nonsense.

Part of the problem with the military is its overwhelming homogeneity - it is overwhelmingly conservative, and both conservatives and liberals actively work to keep it that way. This is good for no one. ... What the military really needs are some brave liberals who are willing to put up with the military life in order to become high level decision makers that can change things for the better.

I'm not really going to argue this because it's just another version of the "inside-outside" argument, about whether working inside or outside an institution can be more effective in changing it. Both sides of that argument have their merits, both have their advocates. But I do wonder how one rises to be a "high level decision maker" in the military (or, in fact, any other hierarchical organization) without embracing the attitudes and concepts of that organization - and even if you do somehow manage that, how long will you be able to stay in that position?

[O]nly a small percentage of veterans actually use their benefits.... (According to a financial brief I recently received from an expert DoD civilian whose job it is to offer financial advice to service-members, only something like 30% of service-members elect to take advantage of their benefits.)

I can see four possible reasons for that, each contributing to the total, and while this may surprise you, I find three of those reasons regrettable and the fourth admirable. The first reason is that they don't know about them. The second is that they are improperly denied them. The third is that they refuse to accept needed help out of guilt, shame, or misguided pride. The fourth is that they don't need the benefit and say "leave it for others."

To be as clear as I think I can, I have no objection to veterans (including that fourth group) getting and using their benefits. They are there to be used. My objection to veterans' benefits is not that veterans get benefits, it's that they get benefits which others do not and get them as a reward for being veterans, which, again, declares veterans as more worthy than their fellow citizens. They aren't.

Regarding your assertion that American lives are not worth more than Iraqi lives, that is a noble and seemingly omniscient ideal. ... The unfortunate reality of that ideal is that in order for it to work, every single person on the planet has to believe in it. And just because one soldier decides to drop his rifle and declare "your life is equal to mine!" doesn't mean every other soldier is going to follow suit.

The purpose of the post was not to argue for nonviolence or nonviolent national defense and there is a lot of space between them and "American lives are not superior to Iraqi ones," the latter of which certainly would require a foreign policy based more on diplomacy and economics and less on the threat of military force than now but equally certainly would not require any elimination of military defense. (Note the emphasis.)

But to respond more directly (but very briefly), there are only three ways to regard your almost-ubiquitous argument. One is that you are looking to divine intervention, that by some literal miracle everyone thinks the same thing at exactly the same time. The second is that you're not prepared to embrace the idea unless everyone else does it first - put another way, you want everyone else to take the risk that you're not prepared to take, to have the courage you don't. The third, real, way is that it's intended to dismiss the possibility out of hand by laying down impossible conditions and "all or nothing" guidelines.

So let's turn this around. You apparently reject the idea of denying that American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives. Does that work for everyone or are we special? Is it okay for Iraqi insurgents to kill US soldiers, are roadside bombs and IEDs just dandy, because they could say "Iraqi lives are worth more than American lives?" Was 9/11 okay because al-Qaeda could say "your lives are worth less than ours?" Is it fine for the Hutus and Tutsis to continue to kill each other, each saying "we deserve to live, they deserve to die?" Who gets to decide who is more worthy, whose life is more valuable than another's? Or is it just a matter of "might makes right," a concept "civilized" peoples have supposedly long since rejected?

And in your seemingly ideal nation (where everyone believes in nonviolence and there is no military), who is to stop the moral absolutist from coming in and garroting everyone? I'm not bringing this up to defend our current actions, but rather criticize your proposed alternative. An optimal (not perfect, because nothing in reality can ever be perfect) solution lies somewhere in between.

Again, a classic argument, one that falsely equates nonviolence with non-resistance and pacifism with passivity. No one here said anything, not even by implication and more particularly not in this post, about sitting idly by while you and those around you are murdered in your beds by the boogeyman du jour. That's just silly. As silly, in fact, as the associated implication that the only alternative to doing nothing is to kill the "moral absolutist" along with their family, their friends, their friends' families, their co-workers, their co-workers' families, their co-workers friends, their co-workers' friends' families, and laying to waste the towns in which any of them lived. War and suicidal passivity are not the only options. Despite your reference to "somewhere in between," you are arguing that rejection of the former requires embrace of the latter. It does not.

It is always somewhat humorous for me for others to be critical of the rank and file soldier when it is the elected politicians (who are supposed to represent YOU, and are directly accountable to YOU, the average American citizen) who decide when and where we go, and when it is their commanding officers that issue the orders of tactical specificity (up to and including just how many bullets can be fired exactly where and when).

When did anyone say otherwise?

The common response is that by volunteering, we are actively supporting the system and enabling it to continue, but this is a rather weak critique. Do you honestly believe that if people stopped volunteering for service, the military would suddenly go away?

No. What I believe is that having volunteered is not a moral and ethical "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Are you aware that what you've just said amounts to "I was only following orders?"

The problem lies with senior leadership, and therefore that should be the focus of criticism and improvement.

Again, when did anyone say otherwise? But saying they should be the primary concern is not the same as saying they should be the only concern and that those lower down should get a pass.

[W]hile it is popular (and easy) to criticize violence, violence is the reason you're even able to be here today to be critical of anything. If the British had won the Revolutionary War, the American Revolution would have simply been remembered as a terrible treachery and nothing more. If the Civil War had gone another way, there wouldn't even be a United States remotely recognizable as today's nation.

You chose some really bad examples for that argument. At the top, are you seriously suggesting that British subjects are not allowed to criticize anything? What's more, there is a significant body of historical opinion (not the majority, certainly, but too big to be dismissed) that argues that the American Revolution actually set back the cause of independence by alienating colonists who supported independence but not insurrection and undermining the support for "letting the colonies go" that existed in the British parliament, whose members were subjected to "Are you going to support those who are killing our soldiers?" arguments. (Sound familiar?)

And how the outcome of the Civil War either way would have affected my present ability to be critical mystifies me.

As to your assessment that a soldier laying down his arms being the most heroic thing he could do, I disagree whole-heartedly. ... [T]he character and composition of American Armed Forces is currently 100% volunteer, meaning you know what you're getting into when you sign up. ... So people who, in our current military, throw down their arms in the middle of a war zone are cowards and hypocrites - not heroes. They endanger the lives of everyone else in the mission and have committed apostasy of the highest degree - having been made fully aware of their rights and the implications of their decision, they decide they don't want to do it right when everyone else is counting on them. ... These people are selfish and only looking to improve their own station - not carry out the duties they swore that they would.

I don't know how to begin to answer that. How, to quote my earlier comment to which you're referring, laying down your arms "in a war zone surrounded by a population of which a significant portion hates you and regards you as an invader and occupier - not to mention the possibility of being prosecuted by military authorities for anything from refusing orders to desertion -" makes you a coward is beyond me and frankly beyond logic. The fact that the experience of war may change people's beliefs about it is hardly a new or radical notion. It's one of the reasons why there is such a thing as being discharged as a conscientious objector. Then there are those who are not COs in the classic sense but who joined the armed forces with the idea of defending the country or, more generally, "freedom" only to discover from their experiences in Iraq that there they are defending neither. At that point, who is the hypocrite, the one who says "I can't do this" or the one who says "I don't want to cause (or get into) trouble?"

Part of military service is knowing that sometimes, you may have to go into a situation or area that you personally disagree with.

Indeed, that is part of the deal. But "disagree with" and "conscientiously object to" are not the same by orders of magnitude. Thinking something is not a good idea and thinking it is morally wrong are not the same thing. Neither are being a soldier and participating in war crimes, a matter on which I thought we agreed.

If the military were a complete democracy, where every member of the military had the right to open debate and an open vote on every order, it simply wouldn't work efficiently. By signing on the dotted line, each service member is acknowledging that they agree to place faith in the chain of command....

The only way I can understand that argument is as meaning "because we can't vote on everything, we can vote on nothing. And because you didn't vote on what you do, you have no responsibility for what you do." That is logically invalid and incorrect both morally and legally.

I agree that currently, our military is not operating in a constructive and noble way; however, I disagree that this is the fault of the rank and file soldier and instead argue that the blame lies on senior leadership and ultimately the civilian oversight that legally wields ultimate military authority.

I'm sorry, but that is another straw figure. No one of who I'm aware has said or even hinted that the rank and file soldier directs the operations of the military. What I have said is that at least since Nuremberg it has been a legal principle which we as a nation (officially if supposedly) accept that orders do not excuse crimes and that everyone bears some responsibility for what they do. I fully agree with you that responsibility (and therefore guilt) rises the further up the hierarchy you go - but that cannot be taken as meaning that at the bottom the responsibility is zero.

The "these things happen in war" critique is an extremely complicated situation.

Not in the cases I cited, it's not. Some were casual cruelties, some were crimes. None were "complicated" or ambiguous.

Abuses happen all the way up and down the chain of command, but far too often the wrong people get off scott-free and the wrong people are penalized.

I'm glad to be able to end on a note of at least general agreement. As should be abundantly clear by now, I certainly do not object to low-level people being held responsible for their actions - but it is reprehensible when, as is usually the case, they are prosecuted instead of (rather than in addition to) the higher-ups. That "far too often the wrong people get off scott-free" is a truth that you and I can shake hands on.

Footnote: Please excuse that annoying vote thing in the middle of the post. Apparently linking to the comments brought it in and there seems no way to get rid of it without deleting the link.

Updated to note that Lance Corporal Donner and I went another couple of rounds, with a good degree of civility maintained on both sides. (Yeah, I know - sometimes I surprise myself.) The whole exchange is at the link above, along with some comments from others.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't you know there's a war on?

Updated You can be forgiven if you forgot, because you probably wouldn't know it if you were watching the news or even reading the lefty blogs (except for those specifically focused on the subject). It seems to have faded not only from the headlines but even from our consciousnesses. It almost - very nearly, in fact - seems that we have bought into the notion that "the surge worked" and what with that new "security arrangement" and the election of Barack Obama, well, we can move on to other things.

Wrong and wrong.

First, the easy part, so easy it's hardly worth arguing any more, but necessary for context: The surge didn't work. Yes, it had some limited and vastly-overstated role in reducing violence in the immediate area of Baghdad (see below) but not only did it fail to achieve the political opening that was its supposed goal, it had nothing to do with any cut in violence beyond the city.

More to the point, the reduced violence is actually due to a fact that is usually forgotten (deliberately by war supporters and obsequiously by the media): The civil war we were supposedly trying so hard to prevent has already happened and is already over (for now), with the Shiites (with US support) the victors, sitting in control of what passes for a central government and so poised to get the lion's share of the benefits of any new economic arrangements.

That civil war involved what Prof. Juan Cole accurately called a "brutally effective" campaign of ethnic cleansing, a campaign that by a year ago had turned Baghdad into a city of walls, a campaign so brutal that its effects could be seen in satellite images.
"By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left," geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.

"Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.
Which means that the so-called surge, or if you prefer, the "enhanced intervention technique," didn't do a goddam thing to reduce ethnic violence. The real reason violence has declined is simply that Shiites and Sunnis rarely have any contact any more. Instead of true peace or the lower standard of "reconciliation" or the even lower standard of "progress," we have a long-term cold war of hostility, suspicion, and bigotry. Iraq is still a broken country, the surge never worked, and a more likely interpretation of the current situation is that two well-armed and mutually-antagonistic societies are simply biding their time.

And indeed, that war is not always cold, even now:
A female suicide bomber struck a tent filled with women and children resting during a pilgrimage south of Baghdad on Friday[, February 13], killing 40 people and wounding about 80 in the deadliest of three straight days of attacks against Shiite worshippers. ...

Casualty figures in Iraq often fluctuate but if the tally stands, it would be the deadliest attack in the country since Dec. 11, when a suicide bomber killed 55 people at a restaurant near Kirkuk where Kurdish officials were meeting with Arab tribal leaders.

The latest attack occurred one day after a suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded more than 50 in Karbala.

And on Wednesday, at least 12 people were killed and more than 40 wounded in a series of bombings in Baghdad targeting pilgrims traveling to Karbala.

At least 36 people were killed Jan. 6 during a suicide attack against Shiite worshippers in Baghdad.
The attacks on the pilgrims continued as they returned home after the weekend, Reuters reports:
Roadside bombs killed eight Iraqis in Baghdad on Monday....

The first bomb killed four and wounded 13 on a minibus in the sprawling slum of Sadr City.... The second also killed four and wounded 13 in a minibus, this time in Kamaliya, another Shi'ite area.
And as is true for Iraqis that the flow of blood has slowed but surely not stopped, so it is for Americans, as AfterDowningStreet reports:
US military occupation forces in Iraq under Commander in Chief Obama suffered 22 combat casualties in the eight days ending Feb 18, 2009, as the official total rose to at least 71,142. The total includes 34,465 dead and wounded from what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes and more than 36,677 dead and medically evacuated (as of Jan 31, 2009) from "non-hostile" causes.

The actual total is over 100,000 because the Pentagon chooses not to count as "Iraq casualties" the more than 30,000 veterans whose injuries - mainly brain trauma from explosions (TBI) [- were] diagnosed only after they had left Iraq.
But President O'Change will save us and stop the war! So what's the problem?

There are a few, actually. One is that, to state the obvious before moving to the less so, as long as the war continues so do the bloodshed, the occupation, the deaths on all sides. I will admit in all fairness that a shift in the debate from "Do we get out?" to "How fast do we get out?" is a positive one, but we can't ever forget that the rate at which people are killed and maimed matters little to those that are.

Another is that, as has been pointed out who knows how many times, Obama's plan is not for a troop withdrawal over 16 months, it's for a troop reduction over 16 months, one that specifically allows for maintaining tens of thousands of troops in Iraq well beyond that time for "counter-terrorism," training, and support. And he's already showing signs of going wet noodle on the timetable. Last month, even before the inauguration, then-Vice President-elect Joe Biden was telling Iraqi leaders that the Obama administration wants a "responsible" troop withdrawal that doesn't "endanger the security gains." The New York Times noted at the end of January that Obama "has recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency."

However, and this is another and potentially much more serious problem, the apparent debate may reflect a conscious campaign by elements in the military who dislike both Obama's timetable and the security agreement that requires a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011 and who look to a much longer commitment, to undermine Obama's authority by engaging in a public relations campaign of hints and targeted leaks to pressure him into supporting their preferences. A sort of slow-motion coup to maintain and secure military dominance of foreign policy.

According to Gareth Porter, at a meeting in the Oval Office on January 21, the day after the inauguration,
Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months....

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting. ...

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."
If true, props to the Prez. Still, having failed to convince Obama to support a plan "aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement" by simply re-naming combat troops as "support troops," Porter says,
[t]here are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.
One sign of that, Porter says, is that very New York Times article I just quoted,
ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives".

The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly".
In fact, that very NYT article opened this way:
As President Obama moves to redefine the nation’s mission in Iraq, he faces a difficult choice: Is he willing to abandon a campaign promise or risk a rupture with the military? Or can he finesse the difference?
Watch the progress of a PR campaign. It started the very day of the Oval Office meeting, as that evening
retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.

Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable". ...

Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003 [and the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible], has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.
The very next day, Gates, who remember was one of the people who wanted Obama to drop his 16-month pledge, said at a press briefing that Obama's plan
is one of the options currently being studied at the Pentagon. ...

"From really ever since the election, we have been looking at several options, and obviously 16 months is one of them. We are very aware of what the president has said and we have an obligation and a responsibility to provide him with a range of options that include the one that he has spoken about," he said. [Emphasis added.]
A week later came the NYT article focused on an interview with Odierno and a week after that came two anonymous "officials" to tell AP that
[t]he White House is considering at least two troop withdrawal options as it weighs a new Iraq strategy - one that would preserve President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to get all combat brigades out within 16 months and a second that would stretch it to 23 months....

Under either timeline, the U.S. would hope to leave behind a number of brigades that would be redesigned and reconfigured as multipurpose units to provide training and advising for Iraqi security forces, one official said. These brigades would be considered noncombat outfits and their presence would have to be agreed in advance by the Iraqi government, which under a deal signed late last year insisted that all U.S. forces - not just combat brigades - be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
That is, this would be exactly the plan to evade the 2011 deadline presented to and supposedly rejected by Obama at the January 21 meeting. The same story, in addition to reprising the standard "something wicked this way comes" innuendos about the implications of a US withdrawal, suggests that the change in timeline is close to a lock:
The fact that Obama did not immediately order his generals to begin withdrawing - as some might have expected, given his emphasis during the campaign on refocusing the U.S. military on Afghanistan - is evidence that he recognized, even before assuming office Jan. 20, the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal.
After taking careful note of the hint that a gradual reduction over 16 months constitutes "a precipitous withdrawal," recall that Porter's info is that on his first full day in office Obama ordered the military to come up with a plan for carrying out his campaign pledge. Obviously, I would have preferred if he had said "start getting out right now and finish it as quickly as possible," but since the issue at hand is a PR campaign to make him back off his pledge for a limited withdrawal over 16 months, the difference between the two versions - Porter's and AP's - is what's important. Considering that Obama could easily fulfill that campaign pledge without an immediate start of a withdrawal makes the claim about his having "recognized ... the dangers" suspect and Porter's account clearly the more plausible of the two.

Something that may or may not be a part of the campaign but surely will be used by it was the February 8 publication of The Gamble, Thomas Ricks' new book on the way, as Ricks tells it, Petraeus and Odierno and Keane saved the day in Iraq by making an end run around the military chain of command and pushing for their escalation plan aka the surge, directly to George Bush, boldly overcoming political opposition from across the spectrum along the way - the whole story of which, and its results on the ground, leave Ricks "saddened by the war" but ready to declare "we can't leave" because, of course, things will be so much worse if we did.

Even some overall favorable reviews were given pause by the way Ricks "lionized" some of his subjects and Jeff Huber at savaged it:
It's not pleasant to call Ricks out for prostituting his credentials, but you can't sleep in a general's tent for years the way Ricks has and pretend not to be a camp follower. Ricks has become for Petraeus what Ned Buntline was to Buffalo Bill Cody: his official legend-maker.
Huber notes that two years ago, "when Petraeus became the new commander of forces in Iraq, Ricks described him in an interview as a 'force of nature'" and that
almost the entirety of Ricks' surge saga is told from the perspective of Petraeus, Odierno, and the rest of the surgin' safari.
Huber makes a decent case that what Ricks unintentionally reveals is that "Petraeus was plotting all along to create a situation we couldn't extract ourselves from" and was trying (these are Ricks' words)
not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.
In other words, to pull off, as I said before, a sort of coup to, as Ricks told David Gregory on Meet the Press, put Obama over a barrel and force him to serve the military's desires.

Has the plan, the pressure, the Petraeus plot, had any effect? Perhaps: Reuters said a few days ago that
Barack Obama will make a decision in weeks, not "days or months," on cutting U.S. troop levels in Iraq, a senior administration official said on Tuesday. ...

"We are aggressively working Iraq and we expect a set of decisions on the responsible drawdown forthwith - not within days or months, but weeks," the administration official told Reuters.
The fact that any final decisions are being put off that long - "weeks" taking it at least well into March - is an indication that there is indeed some impact. If there was none, there would be no need to put off a decision that long, if at all. And the longer it drags out, the more the PR campaign can try to do its work.

However, the whole story may not be written just yet. Now, Saturday, comes MSNBC with the statement that
President Barack Obama faces split opinions within the military on whether to make the speedy withdrawal from Iraq he championed on the campaign trail.

Obama's top generals in Baghdad are pressing for an elongated timetable, while some influential senior advisers inside the Pentagon are more amenable to a quicker pullout.
Leave aside the question of if Obama's plan is for a "speedy" withdrawal or even a withdrawal as opposed to simply a reduction and stick to the article. It notes Odierno's desire for a longer, slower timetable than Obama has proposed, but also notes that Gen. David McKiernan, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, "sees his battlefield as an increasingly urgent priority."
At the Pentagon[, it goes on], a more mixed view prevails. The uniformed service chiefs see Iraq as a strain on their troops and, more broadly, a drain on their resources. ...

It boils down to this: How much more effort is the Iraq war worth? What is the risk of leaving too soon?

Is the 16-month timetable too short...?

And is anything substantially beyond 16 months too long...?
The PR campaign is clearly visible not only in the repeated boogeyman of "uncertain stability" but in the claim that
[n]otably absent, at least so far, is even a whiff of public pressure from fellow Democrats to stick to a 16-month timeline. That suggests Obama's party might be satisfied so long as he makes early and clear steps in the direction of ending U.S. combat involvement in Iraq, even if on a somewhat longer timeline.
Thus putting out the message that there would be no political price to pay for submitting to the coup-meisters.

So where is my "however?" It lies in the fact that taken as a whole the article strongly suggests there has been some real pushback of late, both from the uniformed service chiefs concerned about the strain on the military and from those focused on Afghanistan, looking jealously at the resources devoted to Iraq.

Now, of course I'm not looking to draw down in Iraq in order to build up in Afghanistan. But right now that's not the point. How many recent articles on this topic have even raised the question of "How much more effort is the Iraq war worth?" How many have even hinted at the possibility that more than 16 months might be "too long?" So the point is that the Petraeus cabal is meeting opposition both political and from within the military, meeting forces running counter to their dreams of dominating Obama the way they dominated Bush. And for now, for today, I'll take that.

But I still say STDD/GTHO and the sooner the D, the better.

Footnote: The cartoon is from Town Called Dobson: Blue Life in Red America.

Another Footnote: Odierno was quoted in the last article cited as wanting to "lose" no more than two brigades before the end of the year at the earliest because "he sees 2009 as a pivotal year."

Quick quiz, boys and girls: Can any of you name a year in this war which has not been called "pivotal" by the generals?

except it really isn't. I accidentally published this a couple of hours before it was finished so if you read it before something after midnight Eastern time, you didn't read the whole thing.

Stargeek Atlantis

A science post is a good way to ease back in, yes?

Before October 1995 we didn't know there were any. We thought they were there, we figured they sort of had to be, but we didn't know. But then there was one. And then two. And three. And ten. And more. And more. It even turned out that yeah, a few that we saw as far back as 1988 and thought were, actually were. And as of this week, there are about 340 known extrasolar planets, planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.

And the more astronomers look, the better they are able to look, the more they find. In January, astronomers at UCal Santa Cruz were actually able to get information about the atmosphere of one such planet. And in February, the COROT space telescope discovered the smallest extrasolar planet yet known, one just twice the size of the Earth.

What's more, observations from NASA's Spitzer space telescope indicate that the materials making up the Earth and the other rocky planets in our solar system could be common in the universe - so rocky planets could be, too.

How common?
There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard.

Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms. ...

[B]ased on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one "Earth-like" planet.

This simple calculation means there would be huge numbers capable of supporting life.
And scientists are looking for them.
The telescope Nasa is preparing for launch next month won't reveal if there is intelligent life in the Universe, but it should at least provide concrete evidence that there are places like Earth for ET to live.
The mission is the Kepler space telescope, scheduled for launch in less than two weeks and its purpose is to look for Earth-sized and smaller planets.
Once Kepler is in orbit, it will have one primary task: pointing to a fist-sized section of the Milky Way Galaxy and keeping still so that its light-collecting electronic devices, known as CCDs, can do their job. ...

As sensitive as Kepler is, it will not be able to directly image a planet, which would require detectors capable of picking up relative changes in starlight on the order of one part per billion, as compared to Kepler's 10 to 40 parts per million.
Which means that any finds would have to be verified from ground-based telescopes so that electronic noise and other false hits can be filtered out. The advantage of Kepler is that it can monitor thousands of stars simultaneously and so be able to tell astronomers where to look.

One thing to bear in mind is that, as Dr. Boss noted, even Earth-like planets with life are likely
"to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago." That means bacterial lifeforms.
But on the other hand,
[r]ecent work at Edinburgh University tried to quantify how many intelligent civilisations might be out there. The research suggested there could be thousands of them.
G'Kar, are you out there?

Friday, February 20, 2009


I imagine that for the handful of people who actually bother to read this thing with any regularity that my occasional disappearing acts are frustrating. I understand, I truly do: I feel the same way when some blog I read goes on an unexplained hiatus and you don't know if they're even coming back. And I apologize for not being more reliable.

At the same time, I hope you can understand that I'm frustrated too, frustrated by my own shortcomings as a regular blogger. It's just that there are times....

Times. Times I just feel inadequate to the task. Times - frequent times - when I seriously wonder if I'm accomplishing anything, if I'm contributing anything worth the effort. Times when I wonder what it is I might say or notice or observe that is not already being said/noticed/observed by voices with greater and sometimes far greater reach than mine. And most importantly or perhaps better said most stressfully, times when, as I said just the other day at another site, the dark clouds shade the spirit to the point where it will not bear the weight of the desire - and thinking of what I want to write can't provide the energy to actually write it.

And frankly, to toot my own horn for a moment, I do put a good deal of effort into my posts: For one thing, they rarely (not never, but rarely) consist of little more than a lengthy quote from some other source and for another, those on news items often contain links to multiple sources re-written into a single coherent narrative. My two posts on rendition just down from this one contain links to a total of 19 separate sources and references, 21 if you count my comment on Glenn Greenwald's blog and my quote from the print version of Lotus. (I also like to include fun links such as, for example, one to an explanation of the origin of some slang phrase I might have just used, so don't forget to at least glance at the URL the links are to; you might miss something.) This is not criticism of anyone else - although I do get frustrated with sites (and we all know who I mean) heavily featuring posts consisting of something like "Oy!" with a link plus open threads but still get daily hits in five figures - it's rather that for me, there's not another way to do this.

So yeah, this does take a certain amount of emotional energy. But light is energy and for most of my life I've struggled with the dark clouds that sometimes get dense enough to block the light and so drain the energy needed for everything that is neither necessary nor required. And, as much as I want to do it and hope it is of some use, I just can't see this low-traffic blog as fitting either category.

The bottom line here is that I'm back for now, probably not multiple posts in a day back and really in a sense I never left because, again, the desire was there, but back for now. At the immediate moment there are chores to do and an errand to run but there will be more to come later. (Warning: Perhaps much later; I'm a real night owl and often post late at night or even overnight. Unless you are, too, tomorrow might be a better bet for checking back.)

I hope you're still out there and will find this. I do have to add one final warning: Yes, I am back, yes, I want to keep doing this, yes, it does give me a certain sense of satisfaction when I turn out a good post - but I have to be brutally honest with you and with myself and say that the reason I said "for now" is that I can't promise you I won't disappear again for a few days, a week, maybe longer. But for what it's worth, I can promise you that if I ever decide to pack this in, I won't just disappear. I will say so explicitly.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Plus ├ža change

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake is saying that for the purpose of preserving Obama's image, Rahm Emmanuel is throwing the House Democratic leadership (read Nancy Pelosi) under the bus by blaming them for everything the GOPpers are complaining about in the stimulus bill.

I don't know if that's necessarily true, but it did remind me of this from November 20:
Rahm Emmanuel. Hillary Clinton. Tom Daschle. Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General under Bill Clinton. Greg Craig, former Special Counsel to Clinton. David Axelrod, long-time consultant to Democrats.

I feel the tide of "change" just washing over me.
No one can say they weren't told. And with the word tonight being that Senate Dems have again caved to GOPper hissy fits and cut $100 billion in spending from the stimulus, leaving a package that is 42% tax cuts (which are among the least efficient ways to get an economy going), I'm increasingly of the mind that what we're seeing might be called "aeghcn," that is, about the most screwed-up excuse for "change" possible.

Footnote to the preceding

I expect - or, more properly, I hope - what my own convictions about "ordinary" as opposed to "extraordinary" rendition are came though reasonably clearly in the preceding post. But on reflection, I decided I should be more explicit and to make one other point that I did not make there.

Again and to preemptively shut down the legal nitpickers, what is at issue here is not renditions done openly with some form of judicial oversight and in accordance with established laws and treaties. It is what the word "rendition" has come to mean in public discussion, and that is the practice of kidnapping a suspect in order to deliver them into the hands of some justice system. It is illegal, a clear violation of international law.

My belief is simple: It should not be done. It should not be done, yes, because it is illegal.

It also should not be done because it justifies the same being done to you. (After all, "turnabout is fair play" and "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.")

It also should not be done because while it seems that all the "what if"s being spun revolve around Osama bin Laden, in the real world it's more likely to applied to such as, as I noted in the post, Mordechai Vanunu.

And it also should not be done because all too often, the justice system to which the person is delivered is actually a "justice" system.

All of which sums up to something else I said below: Once you cross that line, how do you lay down a new one?

Dan at Pruning Shears had a post covering much the same territory as mine in which he makes a valuable point (which I should have made myself):
Keep it illegal and have a trial if the law is broken. If your exceedingly rare situation comes to pass the jury will be kindly disposed.
The exceedingly rare situation being one in which the true advisability and necessity of a kidnapping or other illegal activity arises.

To which I say yes, absolutely. As I said in a comment there,
[i]f you think that breaking a law - in this case regarding kidnapping - is vital and necessary in a given case, then do it and take your chances in court. If you're not willing to do that, well, then, maybe it wasn't all that damned important.
I said something related not quite a year ago, in that case regarding a president taking extraordinary powers in a time of national emergency, and specifically about Bush's illegal warrantless wiretapping program in the wake of 9/11.
[I]f despite all the options under the law, some situation arises that you as president are convinced requires some action beyond the law, you do it and then you 'fess up and you take the fracking consequences, which should include removal from office and even criminal or civil charges if you can't convince people what you did was necessary and proper. That is, you do it as civil disobedience, as an act which you regard as necessary but which you know is illegal, not an exemption carved out from the law on your say-so, and you accept the legal jeopardy that goes along with that. If the prospect of consequences makes you hesitate when the situation is that desperate, you never should have been president in the first place. ...

[T]here has to be a bright line between what is legal and illegal, between what government officials can and cannot do, and any government official who crosses that line needs to do it knowing there can be a price to pay, perhaps a large one. Smudging, deleting, or ignoring that line makes the difference no longer between legal and illegal, between right and wrong, between what is good for a free society and what injures it, but only between good and bad liars.
And liars - both good and bad - and the policies and practices those lies are used to cover or justify, are something of which have already had too many.

Footnote: Darren Hutchinson, a professor of law at American University, has also weighed in on this, specifically on the point that the O-ba-MA! crowd is trying to rewrite long-standing civil libertarian opposition to illegal rendition as referring only to "rendition to torture." In comments there, Hilzoy links to where she answered his comment at her own place; I found it both interesting and revealing how hard other commenters at her site worked to scrub Obama clean of any hint of continuing something done under Bush (even though it had also been done under previous presidents).

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rendering renditions

Back on January 22, O-ba-MA! issued executive orders related to the detention, interrogation, and torture of suspected terrorists. They were justly celebrated in many quarters because they would close Gitmo within a year and put an end to the worst of the excesses of the Bush administration.

More recently, a few dissenting voices have been raised as to whether or not the orders went far enough, along with lingering (and always wise) suspicion over if this really was as good as it looked at first. Some of those doubts were given form in an article in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, which said that
the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism - aside from Predator missile strikes - for taking suspected terrorists off the street.
But pushback came quickly, sparked by Scott Horton, who wrote in Harper's that
[t]he Los Angeles Times just got punked.
In Horton's wake, major members of the liberal blogosphere - including Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and Hilzoy - all came up with their own explanations as to why there was nothing to the LA Times story.

And they're all wrong. All of them.

Including Horton, who said the problem was a failure to recognize a difference between renditions - which have been going on since Bush Sr. if not before - and the Shrub gang's program of extraordinary renditions, which Obama's order was supposed to halt. ("Ordinary" rendition involves kidnapping suspects with the intention of delivering them into the hands of some justice system, here or abroad. "Extraordinary" rendition, on the other hand, disappeared people, taking them into a web of secret prisons and torture from which they might not emerge.)

But while the article did at one point apparently blur the difference between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" rendition, it did accurately report that Obama's order, while halting the latter by shutting down the CIA's secret prisons, did not touch the former.

The arguments advanced by our bloggeriffic trio against that idea varied and in some ways appeared to contradict each other, but each in their own way sought to absolve President Change of any tinge of guilt.

Digby was the best - or least bad - of the three; having originally overreacted to the LA Times story by interpreting it as describing a plan to "outsource torture," she contented herself with quoting Horton at length and saying she'd gotten punked along with the Times. However, she added an update suggesting that
this more benign definition of rendition as transferring someone to another criminal justice system, used to be called extradition. Can someone explain the difference to me?
Hilzoy took that and ran with it, rather pompously explaining that "lawyers are not most people. They use all sorts of words in peculiar ways." (Emphasis in original.) Extradition, she insisted, is simply a type of rendition and rendition is all nice and legal and anything that's illegal is "extraordinary" rendition. Which may even be technically correct in lawyer-speak - but it's entirely irrelevant because the word "rendition" does not appear in the orders at hand so it's exact legal definition is merely an interesting sidebar, not something useful in reaching any conclusions. More to the point, it distorts the discussion by defying the meanings the terms have acquired in the public mind by shoving what had been called renditions under the heading of extraordinary renditions. While that may be technically correct for the purpose of a legal brief, the only court here is the court of public opinion and the fact is, the term "rendition" has an accepted meaning in that court. And it is not - or, if I'm to be accurate and precise, not limited to - that which Hilzoy would give it.

But that's of no concern to Hilzoy, who earlier sought to absolve Obama of any hint of being involved in any illegal stuff not only by glossing over the difference between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" but by willfully ignoring it: She notes where the article quotes an Obama administration official as saying, she wrote, "The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. ... if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice." She immediately adds that
[i]t's important, here, to note that extraordinary rendition is not the same as rendition proper. Rendition is just moving people from one jurisdiction (in the cases at hand, one country) to another; includes all sorts of perfectly normal things....
But as she herself had it earlier in her piece, the full quote was this, with the omitted words in italics:
The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.
If the term was only meant to refer to "all sorts of perfectly normal things," why would it be controversial? Why would it "kick up a big storm?" Why would referring to it being done "within certain parameters" be expressed as standing in opposition to that "storm" (via the use of the word "but")? Why would it need to be "looked at?" Even Horton admits that "there are legal and policy issues with the renditions program." Issues which Hilzoy seems determined to ignore.

The notion that this official was not saying that "within certain parameters" the Obama administration would be willing to engage in illegal activities such as kidnapping suspects is bullshit, pure and simple.

So, for that matter, was her parting shot:
If you think that the difference between extradition and sending someone off to Uzbekistan to be tortured is just semantics, you probably need to work on your reading comprehension skills.
To which I replied in comments:
And if you think there is no difference between treaty-controlled extradition with court oversight and what was done to, for example, Mordechai Vanunu, you probably need to work on your morality and logic comprehension skills.
For his part, Glenn Greenwald labeled the LA Times story "wildly exaggerated and plainly inaccurate" and argued, in a chorus with the others, that the story was an attempt by elements in the intelligence services to undermine Obama's intention to end torture - as well as adding a string of others long enough to come across as paranoid rather than analytical who, he said, want to make it look like there's been no change from Shrub's policies.

But I know of no one outside of those who argue that Obama is just lying who say that there is no change. That "no one" includes the LA Times, which, again, quoted officials as saying
the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role ... because it was the main remaining mechanism - aside from Predator missile strikes - for taking suspected terrorists off the street,
a comment that makes no sense except in the context of the closing of the secret prison network and the ending of extraordinary rendition.

Worse, Greenwald openly defends rendition with
a question for those who believe that rendition, in all cases ... is inappropriate and wrong:

Suppose (for the sake of discussion) that: (a) the U.S. learns exactly where Osama bin Laden is located in Pakistan; (b) there is ample evidence that bin Laden (i) perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and (ii) is in the advanced stages of planning new imminent attacks on the U.S.; and (c) the Pakistani Government is either unwilling or unable to apprehend bin Laden in order to extradite him to the U.S. for trial. Further suppose that efforts to compel the Pakistanis to do so through the U.N. are blocked (because, say, China or Russia vetoes any actions).

What, if anything, is the U.S. (under current facts) permitted to do about Osama bin Laden...? As far as I can tell, the options would be: (a) drop a bomb on him and kill him with no due process; (b) enter Pakistan, apprehend him, and bring him to the U.S. for a trial (i.e., rendition); or (c) do nothing, and just leave him be.

Those who are arguing that rendition is illegitimate in all cases ... have the obligation to answer that question specifically....
But as I said in my answering comment,
No, we don't. And I won't answer it first because it's a ticking-time-bomb question and second because it's a slippery slope that ends up where George Bush pushed us.

Re first: A ticking-time-bomb question is one where the situation specified is exactly what it needs to be to force the "my way or let the bad guys win" choice.

Re second: Okay, assume we agree to rendition in that case. But then suppose we realize we can't try bin Laden because there's no way in hell we could find an impartial jury. What do we do then? Just let him go? Or, wait, no, maybe send him somewhere not so dainty about legal rights? And what about the information he may have about those "imminent attacks?" We can't just ask him for it, can we? Don't you want to stop potential attacks on us? After all, that bomb is still ticking.

And where are we then? Once you cross that line, how do you set down a new one?
[Note: That is a slightly expanded version of my actual comment, adding a couple of phrases but no additional arguments.]

Greenwald himself tacitly admits to being brought up short by another comment, which simply flipped his example to imagining Afghanistan pursuing charges against Bush and asking why the rules should be different. Greenwald wound up rather plaintively saying that
to ask questions about an argument - as I'm doing here with regard to the view that rendition is always wrong and illegitimate in all cases - is not to embrace or reject the argument; it's to ask questions about it.
Oh, please. I can't imagine that we're really to think that after posting his gotcha question which certain others supposedly had an "obligation" to answer "specifically" that he was thinking "Gee, I wonder what people will say" rather than "Slammer!"

As evidenced by Greenwald's reaction, that reverse argument is a potent one and points to another reason beyond basic morality to resist the temptation to engage in kidnapping as national policy, the same reason that sits among those advanced against torture: You don't do it the better to avoid it being done to you.

But underlying the defenses of rendition is the assumption that it consists of what we do to "them" and never of what "they" might do to us. It's glides on an assumption of US power and US authority, that we can act without retaliation and without regard to the judgment of others, an assumption of long standing that permeates our national culture and infects our political debate.

Back in May 1992, in the print version of Lotus, I referred to the case of Manuel Noriega, a case of "rendition" that was a little more aggressive than a kidnapping:
Nothing he was accused of doing was done within US jurisdiction. But that didn't matter. Indeed, Richard Gregorie, who supervised the framing of the indictment, said after the trial "we aren't going to be able to limit our law enforcement to within our borders.... The message is we will come get you." That "getting" Noriega meant invading Panama and killing thousands of innocent people is irrlevant: "It doesn't matter how he got back here, once here he's subject to prosecution."

But if how the accused is "gotten" doesn't matter, what then of Salman Rushdie? Iran has convicted him of an insult to Islam, a capital offense. Is it then okay that he should be hunted across the world, murdered if he's found, even though no crime was committed within Iran nor is Rushdie within its jurisdiction? If we say no, what's the difference between his case and Noriega's?
(Note that there is no answer in that Rushdie was to be killed, not tried: Remember that he had already been convicted in abstentia and the fatwa allowed any observant Muslim to carry out the sentence. It was all nice and legal under Iranian law.)
We are[, I wrote at that time,] in our foreign affairs a nation afflicted with arrogance and consumed with conceit, a nation whose musclebound commitment to its collective ego has lead it from the hope of being a light unto the world to the reality of being a blight unto the world.
Let it be said that Obama's decisions regarding the CIA's secret prisons and Gitmo are a single step toward reversing that fact. Yes, it's just one step on a journey of a thousand miles, but still it is a step and can be endorsed as such. But the fact remains that the rendition program as is relevant here, a program that is not about delivering someone up for a fair trial in accordance with established treaties and legal procedures but about the use of kidnapping and other illegal actions, has not been halted or even limited: As Digby noted, Obama has yet even to "make clear that he is not going to be sending prisoners to countries like Syria or Egypt."

Despite that simple fact, the discussion of that program has slid back and forth between the poles of "it's all legal" and "it's a necessary tool." The legal, moral, ethical, and practical issues with that program may well not rise to the level of those presented by the Shrub gang's use of extraordinary rendition, but that does not mean they do not exist and acting as if they don't and without reference to what actions we are thereby justifying by others is simply another example of that arrogant conceit, that musclebound ego, that grips too many even on the left half of our political spectrum.

Footnote: The LA Times did slip up a couple of times: Once when it said the European Parliament had condemned renditions per se when in fact, according to Horton, it had condemned extraordinary renditions. Another was when it made too much of a statement in the order, writing that
[o]ne provision in one of Obama’s orders appears to preserve the CIA's ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA's secret prison sites "do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis."
However, I don't think the ability of the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects was ever at issue; it was the techniques used in those interrogations. And I believe that the reference to "short-term, transitory" was intended to allow the agency the ability to hold suspects for transfer rather than to enable the spooks to hold people "as long as it's like, you know, not too long."

On the other hand, even though I don't believe it was intended to create a loophole in the order to close the secret prison system, I also think the possibility that some might try to turn it into just that is a real one. There need to be some follow-up orders.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Okay, just this once

I am against jokes or mockery based on physical characteristics. Maybe it's because I was the target of so many growing up, I don't know. In any event, I dislike them.

That's why I have never referred to Bush as "Chimp" or "Chimpy." (I have called him "Shrub," which I got from the lamented Molly Ivins.) I have never told a "fat" joke about Rush Limbaugh or a "male" joke about Ann Coulter. I prefer to reserve my mockery for a person's positions or politics. (Thus, Bush's Secretary of State was Can'tBe Right and before her, Colin Powerless.)

By day-yum! it is hard to keep from calling Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-1900) "Fishface."

I mean, turn that face sidewards and put it on a wood plaque and would fit right in over someone's fireplace. When he goes swimming, he'd better not do the backstroke because someone might think he was a flounder.

Okay, I'm done now.

Making an exception

I don't normally do this, just post a link without some explanation, but I'm making an exception here. Go read this. Right now. And consider very carefully the meaning and implications of the very last line.

Thanks to Ketchup Is A Vegatable for the link.
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