Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat TillmanWhere Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know the general outlines of the Pat Tillman story, right? A football player who gave it up to enlist in the Rangers after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and the army then covered it up.

What I didn't know was how bad it was. In fact, the Army, from the men involved in the fratricide right up through the chain of command, knew from the minute it happened (or maybe five minutes later) that the cause of Tillman's death was friendly fire. They knew, they covered it up, they ordered the soldiers on the ground not to say anything to anyone about it, they lied to Tillman's family and to the American people, and they destroyed evidence, including tape recordings and Tillman's uniform, to do it.

In Where Men Win Glory Jon Krakauer surveys the life and football career of Pat Tillman, traces his decision to enter the military and his life in the Army, and exposes the military coverup of the circumstances of Tillman's death. He also profiles some of the facts about Tillman and his intellectual life you might not be aware of, like his opposition to the war in Iraq, his refusal to participate in flag-waving publicity stunts, and his atheism, which extended to explicit directions that there be no religious devotion at his military memorial ceremony. As someone who has absolutely no interest in football, I could have lived with a lot less detail about the games, and who made what tackle or interception or touchdown, but I could understand why Krakauer felt the need to include it.

What else does Krakauer cover? Bush administration lies about other incidents, such as the famous capture of Jessica Lynch and the Army's "daring rescue" from a hospital.

The reader also learns facts about friendly fire that were surprising to me:

"According to the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first [sic] Gulf War. Thus far, in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates are 41 percent and 13 percent, respectively. . . . [D]ue to endemic underreporting of fratricide by the military, the actual percentages are unquestionably higher."

Where Men Win Glory is definitely worth reading.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fixing college sports

Fair's fair, okay?

I am the former customer of two big corporations who are prominent in college athletics. One is Michigan State University and the other is the University of Michigan.

Every year around this time I see posts from other people who also used to be customers of those corporations, or other corporations that are essentially indistinguishable from them, cheering on the football teams fielded by those corporations. So why not once again publish my rant about fixing college sports?

A couple of years ago King Coleman posted a story in Salon about the meager efforts to fix college sports, in which he asserted, among other things, that the people who run the NCAA care about education.

I don't get to hang around with the NCAA bureaucrats, but I can't believe King's statement that there are lots of people in the NCAA who care about education, or think education is more important than athletics.

If they did, there are a couple of simple policies they could adopt:

1. No athletic scholarships. This is necessary because history has shown that college sports are hopelessly and irreversibly corrupt.

Okay, they're not going to do that, so . . .

Make the schools invest in academic performance, by:

1. Give coaches tenure and put them on the academic salary scale, with evaluations and compensation based on graduation rate. You object that the best coaches won't stay, and the teams will do worse? Okay. You've just said that athletic performance is more important than academic performance.

2. A scholarship gives the "student-athlete" a full ride until they graduate, even if that takes ten years, or forever.

3. Impose strict limits on the number of athletic scholarships they can award. Once a scholarship is awarded, it is not available to be reissued until the student holding that scholarship graduates, no matter how long that takes.

4. The way schools have need-blind admission policies, adopt athletics-blind admission policies.

They don't want to do these things? They've just told us they don't care about academics.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Big news from the courts

There's a big court decision today. Of course, it's only a District Court decision, but it's one more blow against official discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The subject this time is Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the case is a facial challenge to the federal law. The fact that it's a facial challenge is important: the plaintiffs' position is not that the policy is unfair or invalid as applied to them, but that there is no conceivable way that the policy could be interpreted or applied to survive a constitutional challenge. The District Court agrees.

It's a longish decision, and I haven't read it fully yet, but here are the highlights of the court's reasoning:

1. DADT does not significantly advance the government interest in military preparedness and unit cohesion. (pp. 48-74) While these are legitimate concerns, the court concludes that any claims that gays in the military impede preparedness and unit cohesion are based on assumptions, and that every attempt to actually study the question has concluded that there is no factual basis to the claim.

Foremost among the Rand Report's conclusions is that no empirical evidence exists demonstrating the impact of an openly homosexual
servicemember on the cohesion of any military unit.

Dr. Korb testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on
March 31, 1993 concerning the likely impact on unit cohesion if homosexuals
were permitted to serve openly. According to Dr. Korb, there was no
empirical research to support the view that homosexual servicemembers
would disrupt unit cohesion, and that such evidence could not be obtained
without integrating homosexuals into the military.

In fact, the court finds that not only does DADT not contribute to preparedness and unit cohesion, it actually harms military preparedness by causing the loss of qualified service members, many in critical specialties, by creating additional burdens and costs of recruitment, and by forcing the military to recruit less well-qualified personnel to make up for gays and lesbians who are prevented from serving.

2. DADT infringes on service members' First Amendment rights. (pp. 74-85.) Again, the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that they have First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the right to petition the government, that DADT infringes on these rights, that the infringement on these rights is based on the content of the speech (which subjects the infringement to the highest level of scrutiny, as, for instance, if a town government adopted an ordinance allowing Republicans but not Democrats to post campaign signs in town), and that these restrictions are broader than necessary to serve any legitimate government interest.

The conclusion is that the plaintiff, which in this case is the Log Cabin Republicans, is entitled to a declaratory judgment that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the First and Fifth Amendments, and to a permanent injunction prohibiting the government from enforcing the policy.

There are many steps to go from here, starting with whether the government is going to appeal this decision. It can be a long way from a district Court to the Supreme Court. Still, as with recent marriage decisions, this is another showing that equality is on the march.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bush's Gulf of Tonkin resolution

David Corn has a great review of the Poodle's new memoir in which he recounts a fact, apparently incontrovertible, that Blair completely ignores in his detailed, 700-page book. The only rational explanation is that it proves that everything else Blair says is a lie, and that he knows the war was a fraud from the beginning.

You may remember the time, shortly before the invasion, when Blair flew to the United States to meet with Bush in the Oval Office. The gist of the story is that there are notes from this meeting that demonstrate that not only had Bush already made the decision to invade, but that he broached the idea of creating a phony provocation to give Blair and the U.N. cover to support the invasion.

So this proves what? That Bush is a lying sack of shit? Of course, we all already knew that.

This is a book, though, in which Blair calls Bush the most courageous politician he has ever known. Because of this meeting, Blair knew that the pretense for the war was a fraud, and he observed Bush's thought process in concocting a fraud to support the war.

By failing to even discuss this story, Blair proves that he, like Bush, is a worthless liar.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

More Republican/Conservative hypocrisy, Northern Lights Edition

Interesting profile in the Times of Joe Miller, the teabagger candidate for Senate up in Alaska.

John Hahn, an old friend of mine makes the following observations:

Here is a guy, running for senate on an anti-government platform (ie. Tea party)

Yet he went to West Point - a government school
Served in the Army a government run org.
then Yale Law School on government money
Moved to Alaska & became a local magistrate - a government job.
Then became a Federal magistrate - another government job

BTW he has a family of 10 Each of whom receive the AK resident benefit.

As a lawyer he served as assistant attorney for a county government in AK.
From that job he got health care coverage for his family of 10.
The County also paid for his Masters Degree in economics

I guess the question is which government does he not like? The part that does not employ him?

It doesn't stop there. What does he do for a living now?

Mr. Miller’s private practice often handles cases involving insurance claims made by individuals, according to Ward Merdes, a lawyer who worked on several cases with Mr. Miller.

“David and Goliath stuff,” Mr. Merdes said. “We represented little guys against big guys.”

That's right, exactly the kind of cases that John Edwards and trial lawyers all over the country handle, representing the Davids injured by medical malpractice and dangerous and defective products against the Goliaths of the insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical industries. The ones that Republicans are in bed with; I guarantee you if he gets in he'll be screaming about the trial lawyers like all the rest of them.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Maybe not all Republicans are stupid, but . . . UPDATED


First off, Brewer has finally backed off her claims. "That was an error, if I said that."

If? There's no if about it, that is exactly what she claimed.

Second, and possibly more shocking than anything we've seen so far: Nate Silver has Jan Brewer as the favorite for reelection, with a 97% chance of her winning.

What did I say about stupidity?

Come on, guys. Does the fact that we can populate a diary like this just with right-wing Republican female candidates from out west tell us anything?

For starters, let's take a quick shot at Sharron "Obtuse" Angle, who's running for Senate against Harry Reid. The Republicans have been complaining nonstop about the state of the economy and whether Obama is doing enough, or the right stuff, to fix it. Now we learn from "Obtuse" why unemployment compensation is so unpopular with these guys.
all [Rep.] Shelley Berkeley and Harry Reid want to do is put a band-aid on this by extending unemployment, which really doesn't benefit anyone.

Nothing, that is, except keep people in their homes, enable them to put food on the table, and provide counter-cyclical funds for local businesses. I guess that adds up to "nothing" if you're Obtuse.

Really, though, the star of the week was Jan Brewer, the unelected governor of Arizona. She pretty much flooded the zone with stupid this week. Let's review Jan's week:

She started her week with a gubernatorial debate. Only thing is, when it was her turn to speak, she totally froze. If you haven't watched this, you need to.

She had a good explanation, though. She only agreed to do the debate because if she did she'd qualify for state campaign financing. Incumbent Republican Jan Brewer said Thursday she has no intention of participating in any more events with Democrat Terry Goddard. She said the only reason she debated him on Wednesday is she had to to qualify for more than $1.7 million in public funds for her campaign. Follow the link to the Arizona Star to vote on their poll asking whether there should be more debates. The "Yes" side is winning 97%-3% so far.

Then, Jan wrapped up her week by taking questions from the press. Unfortunately for her, what they wanted to ask her about was her lying claims that things had gotten so bad in the border region, what with Obama's failure to control the border, that multitudes of decapitated bodies were being found in the desert. It didn't take long for those claims to be debunked, but she hasn't backed off those claims. When confronted, Brewer had a creative approach for dealing with press questions.

Maybe you don't have to be stupid to be a Republican, but it certainly seems to help.

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