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Daily Journal: Thursday, February 15, 2007

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Mercenaries or Criminals?
A Military of Rejects

Be all that your criminal record lets you be

We’ve been hearing it to excess every time the question of servicemen’s quality is raised: The American armed forces are more educated than ever, better trained, more professional, better dressed, better fed, and so on. The old standard—that it’s full of drop-outs and ex-cons—no longer applies. And the Pentagon has no problem recruiting new soldiers despite the prospect of ending up as IED roadkill. Except that, as with most things involving the military, it’s almost all a lie. In the last three years, “more than 125,000 service members with criminal histories have joined the military,” the Times reports. Individuals with serious criminal backgrounds need a “moral waiver to join,” and those waivers have grown about 65 percent since 2003. Add to that the roughly 12,000 medical waivers a year granted those who otherwise could not (should not?) serve due to asthma, high blood pressure, attention deficit disorder (how would you like to be at the receiving end of that sentry’s duty?), out of annual recruiting totaling less than 70,000; add to that recruiting involving, as they may in the Army now that desperation has spiked up the age of eligibility, men as old as 42, add to that the lifting of restrictions on weight, bad eyesight and other formerly limiting factors, and we end up with a military replete with fat, old, unhealthy, criminal elements who shouldn’t be near a gun, let alone responsible for the welfare and safety of others. The military isn’t having trouble recruiting because it has reduced its standards to a tragi-comedy of allowances and exceptions, and because, in the Army’s case, it’s offering up to $40,000 signing bonuses to new recruits, and retention bonuses of $50,000 to $150,000 to long-serving soldiers it doesn’t want to let go (or who haven’t been killed yet). We have people formerly used to prison life now running around with heavy weaponry in their hands, patrolling those Baghdad neighborhoods in the latest “push” to end all pushes, bashing heads along the way and having the time of their violent life with no consequence short of the possible medal and appellation of hero. How, with a military so shoddily recruited, is the Pentagon expecting not to have atrocities on its hands? The question, however, is patently unfair in one respect in current circumstances. It assumes that atrocities are what one soldier, what one platoon, may illegally do to civilians or prisoners of war—a Haditha-type massacre, say, or an Iraqi My Lai. The assumption is convenient for the military and the government that leads it. But it’s hypocritical at best, a conspiracy of sorts, at worst. For in the given war in Iraq what, in the end, is the real atrocity? Haditha is a symptom of it. Abu Ghraib is a symptom of it. But the atrocity is the war itself, it is that so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” that has demolished a society and called it “democracy,” that continues to lock it down in circumstances identical to a prison’s while calling it “safety,” that imposes totalitarian means on an entire populace while calling it the necessity of security. The atrocity is the war and what it has engendered—a military that mirrors it.

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When Galileo Was Still Circling
Jupiter Valentine

Galileo, with 2.5 billion miles ahead

In honor of Galileo’s 443 rd birthday today I thought it’d be fitting to revisit Galileo the spacecraft, which happens to be one of NASA’s most famous suicide bombers: On October 18, 1989, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Cape Canaveral with the 2.5-ton Galileo spacecraft in its cargo bay (the 31 st of what have added up to 117 flights of that sorry program, two of which ended in disaster). Five orbits later, Atlantis opened its cargo bay and released Galileo, a $1.5 billion piece of machinery. Five days later Galileo had already completed one million of its 2.5 billion-mile journey to Jupiter, but in the wrong direction. It headed for Venus. Then it swung around Earth. Twice. (And took this wonderful shot of Earth and the Moon necking). Naturally, because the spacecraft hung around earth too long, its main antenna failed. A smaller back-up antenna did all the work anyway, sending us those terrific pictures of Shoemaker-Levy 9, the suicidal comet, crash into Jupiter, where Galileo then arrived, appropriately, on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1995. Only seven years late. The Jovian welcoming committee was long gone (Galileo had originally been scheduled to launch in 1982. The space shuttle’s endless delays and Challenger’s explosion set things back). A week after Galileo’s arrival the Dayton peace accord ending the Balkan wars was signed. Go figure. A few months later a weather probe was dropped into Jupiter’s atmosphere. That thing’s journey took five months to get to the cloud cover and send back a weather report, which added up to this: dry, windy, hot. Then it melted. The mother ship orbited Jupiter for a couple of years, then discovered the beauty that is Europa, moon of ice and sinuously unresolved mysteries. What we do know is that salt water scours beneath that ice. What we don’t know is the whereabouts of Europa’s Nemo—the captain and his submarine, not the fish and his DeGenerate voice. But to eliminate any chance that Galileo’s earthy machinery might contaminate Europa by crashing there, the spacecraft, on September 21, 2003, nobly sacrificed itself by plunging into the atmosphere of Jupiter, where it burned. The tantalizing mysteries of Europa remain, as does a question: when next NASA or anyone else hopes to explore Europa, and delve into its ocean, how will it be done without risk of doing to that moon what, say, Columbus’s syphilitic men did to America’s natives?

The nobility of Europa


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Soon To Be Old News
Afghanistan, the Next Iraq

Even he only managed to tame the Russians

Didn't Canada and the Notebooks make that point a couple of days ago? From McClatchy newspapers: “ While President Bush and Congress argue over Iraq, experts warn that Afghanistan could slip back into chaos. U.S. commanders are bracing for a spring offensive by Taliban insurgents that'll test the staying power of the fragile U.S.-backed Afghan government. In a sign of the administration's concern, President Bush will deliver a speech Thursday highlighting plans for a dramatic increase in military and economic aid, but skeptics fear that the renewed focus on Afghanistan may be too little and too late. "We have our finger in the dike because our resources and attention were turned toward Iraq," said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former Navy admiral who served in both conflicts. "This is the real front in the war on terrorism. It's a daunting task, more daunting than it had to be because we let the opportunity almost slip away." Administration officials and U.S. military commanders agree that Afghanistan is grappling with potentially crippling challenges. Five years after U.S. troops ousted the Taliban regime and its al-Qaida allies in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still embroiled in war, terrorism, drug trafficking and instability. The government of President Hamid Karzai has a shaky hold on power; the Taliban and al-Qaida continue to launch attacks from their haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border; and opium production has increased dramatically. Attacks by Islamic extremists spiked last year, making 2006 the deadliest year since the U.S. invasion. "A point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people, and the goal of establishing a democratic, moderate, self-sustaining state could be lost forever," Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Government officials and outside experts agree that the biggest threat isn't a Taliban military takeover, it's the possibility that the Karzai government could collapse and leave a void for Islamic extremists.” Which, needless to say, amounts to the same thing. The full story...

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Too Many Chiefs
Presidents' Day

Hendrick Hertzberg in the New Yorker: “According to some of the calendars and appointment books floating around this office, Monday, February 19th, is Presidents’ Day. Others say it’s President’s Day. Still others opt for Presidents Day. Which is it? The bouncing apostrophe bespeaks a certain uncertainty. President’s Day suggests that only one holder of the nation’s supreme magistracy is being commemorated—presumably the first. Presidents’ Day hints at more than one, most likely the Sage of Mount Vernon plus Abraham Lincoln, generally agreed to be the greatest of them all. And Presidents Day, apostropheless, implies a promiscuous celebration of all forty-two—Jefferson but also Pierce, F.D.R. but also Buchanan, Truman but also Harding. To say nothing of the incumbent, of whom, perhaps, the less said the better. So which is it? Trick question. The answer, strictly speaking, is none of the above. Ever since 1968, when, in one of the last gasps of Great Society reformism, holidays were rejiggered to create more three-day weekends, federal law has decreed the third Monday in February to be Washington’s Birthday. And Presidents’/’s/s Day? According to Prologue, the magazine of the National Archives, it was a local department-store promotion that went national when retailers discovered that, mysteriously, generic Presidents clear more inventory than particular ones, even the Father of His Country. Now everybody thinks it’s official, but it’s not. (Note to Fox News: could be a War on Washington’s Birthday angle here, similar to the War on Christmas. Over to you, Bill.)” See the full piece...

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They Feel Good
James Brown and Pavarotti
Thanks to Van


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Tomi Ungerer
Car Tsunami
Thanks to Reclaiming Space


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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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