Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Battle Stations

By Daniel Jackson

Over the last several weeks, Israelis have been mindful of the growing existential threats from the neighbors. This year's Holocaust Day ushered in a quiet change in the usual Israeli bravado to the chorus of promises of armegeddon. Israelis have learned that when it comes to such threats, they will have to go them alone.

So what's different here? Israelis are preparing for incoming rounds.

Civil defense programs are being activated and various neighborhoods are organizing citizen preparedness meetings. A former student who lives in Tel Aviv told me that his building has already had several meetings with the residents--lessons learned from the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missles hit Tel Aviv repeatedly have not been lost.

The Home Front Command has updated its website with an especially informative graphic to inform citizens of how long they have to get to a shelter after hearing a siren by where they live.

So, while the Prez talks of "never again", Israelis know exactly what that means: clean out the bomb shelters and get new filters for the gas masks. Unlike the States, Israelis live in theater where every person is a target to the enemy. In Israel, "never again" refers to reliance on world opinion to stop a madman hell bent on genocide.

Partners for peace

By Daniel Jackson

There was a time in the States when folks were subject to all sorts of local peer pressure for selling property across the color bar. As a consequence of the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability).

Now the concept of property ownership as a basic human right is also enshrined in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 17) along with the implicit right to sell that property.

We can assume that promotion of such rights would be important to US policy here and abroad--except, of course, with the Palestinian regime.

A Palestinian Authority military court on Tuesday sentenced a Hevron Arab to death by hanging for the crime of selling land to Jews in Judea and Samaria, the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency reported. The three-member judicial panel heard the case last week and handed down its verdict and conviction on Tuesday.

Dozens of Arabs have been executed in the past for collaborating with Israel by selling land to Jews, but the court’s ruling is the first time the PA officially has handed down a guilty verdict of treason for the crime. Previous summary executions with the approval of the PA have been met with outcries from human rights organizations.

Jews have spent millions of dollars the past few years to buy land from Arabs in an effort to eliminate all claims against Jewish rights to the land. The PA began fighting the sales in the 1990s, announcing in 1996 that the death penalty would be imposed for selling land to Jews.

Hmm. I wonder what would prompt someone to sell given such negative consequences? Maybe the benefits outweigh the costs. Silly me. I would have thought that real estate sales might be the obvious solution to the Settlement issue. Nope. It would appear that the real estate maven who brought us Whitewater wants nothing to do with land sales to Jews--even though in the US or the rest of the world, restrictions to same are against The Law.

Partners for Peace, indeed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Madrid earthquake risk downgraded

By Donald Sensing

In 1811 and 1812, massive earthquakes along the New Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid, not muh-DRID) fault literally changed American history. Centered in southeast Missouri, the fault triggered one of the most violent earthquakes in historical times in North America.

It was the largest of these earthquakes that served as the signal to American Indian tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border to send war parties to Ohio to unite in battle against white settlers and US troops under the great Shawnee war leader, Tecumseh. (Tecumseh was never a chief, as is oft misstated; see endnote.)

Tecumseh, accompanied by his brother Lowawluwaysica, had been forming his battle coalition and alliances for many years. Lowawluwaysica developed a reputation for prophecy and finally changed his name to Tenskwatawa, which means "One with open [speaking] mouth." Under his and Tecumseh's urging, many Indian tribes became staunch rejectionists of Euro ways and accommodation with whites. In their long-range travels, they told the tribes that they would receive a signal all at the same time, both in the heavens and under the earth.

In March 1811, a bright comet appeared. Tecumseh interpreted it as a sign that his time to lead the combined tribes against the whites was near. Tecumseh had actually been born the same night that a large shooting star streaked through the sky. "Tecumseh" is of Algonquin origin and means, "Goes from place to place" (I have also seen it translated as "panther across the sky").

Then in December of the same year a mighty earthquake shook the eastern half of North America. So powerful it rang church bells in Philadelphia, it was the signal Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa had promised.

With nothing moving faster than a horse in those days, the battle alliance among the tribes did not form exactly quickly. In 1812, the United States became embroiled in its second war with the British, who initially worked well with Tecumseh. Their relationship soured, however, when Maj. Gen Henry Proctor took command in the west. Proctor was not nearly as an astute tactician or strategist as Tecumseh. The result was the Battle of the Thames in October 1813, in Ontario, Canada, in which Tecumseh was killed.

Tecumseh is the most highly-regarded and historically respected person ever to have been an enemy of the United States. During times of peace, he enjoyed excellent relations with white military and civilians alike. He was fluent in English and was regarded universally as a true gentleman, a man of his word and entirely civilized in manner and demeanor. He was fierce and relentless in war, but never cruel, and he never took vengeance against captives. For many decades after his death, the United States heaped honors upon his memory and name. The US Navy named a warship
Tecumseh in 1863; three more would follow. The Canadians have also given his memory many honors.

Tecumseh's body was never recovered. There are reliable reports that he had predicted he would fall in the battle and that, knowing what the US troops would do to his body, he shed all the trappings of generalship and went to battle dressed as an ordinary warrior. He told his close guard that if he fell, one of them would have to come immediately to prod his body with a charmed implement, after which he would return to life and lead the Indians to victory. However, the warrior who was running to Tecumseh's body to do so was shot to death en route. At that, the Indian army immediately dissipated.

Just after the battle, the American troops made a concerted effort to find Tecumseh's body, but almost no one knew what he looked like. They also expected his body to be clad in the symbols of a supreme war leader. Reports are that frontiersman Simon Kenton, employed by the US troops as a guide, was tasked to identify the body since Kenton had personally known Tecumseh for many years. Kenton did locate Tecumseh's remains but deliberately passed the corpse by, then found a body dressed as a lesser war leader and said it was Tecumseh. Immediately, US troops set upon this body and abused it in a sickening manner, stripping flesh to cure into leather and confiscating weapons and regalia. Today, only the elders of the Shawnee tribe know where Tecumseh's body was finally interred.

Now back to the
New Madrid fault.

Scientists have spent long hours and many years attempting to predict the next big earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, but a study published in the March edition of the journal Science suggests that all the hype may be for nothing. ...

Utilizing data acquired over an eight year period from GPS antennas mounted in strategic locations throughout the earthquake zone, research teams from both Purdue and Northwestern found that the fault system was moving about 0.2 millimeters, the width of a fishing wire, per year. Calais said that sizeable earthquakes could only be expected when there was at least 2 millimeters of movement or more.

“There must be enough movement to accumulate strain for a big earthquake to take place and that just isn’t happening here,” Calais said.
As my city of Clarksville is inside the danger zone of a large earthquake from the fault, this is good news.

Endnote: Most references to Tecumseh refer to him as a "chief." However, Tecumseh, a Shawnee, was never a chief. Chiefs were elected by the Shawnee. Although the Shawnees held Tecumseh's skills as a war leader in high regard, most Shawnees rejected his program of strict rejection of accommodation with the encroaching whites. Tecumseh himself never claimed the title of chief.

The minority of Shawnees who allied with Tecumseh completely broke with him after the disastrous result of Battle of Tippecanoe in November 1811. Tecumseh was not present for this battle; it was initiated by Tenskwatawa, who led Shawnee warriors to attack US troops who were trying to recruit neighboring Indian tribes to ally with them. The battle's failure caused Tecumseh to lose faith in his brother, whose influence as a prophetic figure was permanently diminished thereafter.

The best biography of Tecumseh is, in my opinion, Allan W. Eckert's volume, 
A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh. I also recommend his earlier book on the life of Simon Kenton, The Frontiersmen: A Narrative, a history of the opening of the Ohio River valley. 

The latter book includes the untrue story that Tecumseh became enamored with a settler girl named Rebecca Galloway, promising that if she married him he would adopt the ways of the whites and live as a white for the  rest of his life. Ultimately, they parted by mutual agreement. However, Eckert explains in 
Sorrow why this story is untrue, even though he had accepted it as historical in Frontiersman. Even so, the legend still has wide currency.

Artwork break

By Donald Sensing

It's been awhile since I posted an artwork piece by my daughter. (The previous ones are here; I have no idea why the video of the carrier landing comes up in that search.) This original drawing is called "Snow Fox." I told Elizabeth yesterday that I had seen a fox walking down our street this week. At first I thought it was a dog, but when it turned and walked across my field of view it was easy to identify, only about 20 yards away.

So Lizzie got motivated and produced this drawing with her Wacom Bamboo Fun tablet.

Click on image for larger view.

No, there's no snow here. That's just creative license, I guess.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All bow to Mother Gaia

By Donald Sensing

On Earth Day 2009, I invite everyone to read my long essay about how environmentalism long ago became a religion in its own right and what is its religious template: "Environmentalist religion explained."

Who says so? Well, not just me. Freeman Dyson says so, too.

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. [From, "The Question of Global Warming."]
A teaser from my essay:
Modern environmentalism was born in the West, whose cultural heritage and common languages are steeped through and through in Christian tradition, which was itself a daughter of Judaism.

The common themes of both scriptural Judaism and Christianity deal with deity, the natural world (existing first in a purity state), a corruption of the purity state (Augustine: "fall from grace,"), redemption and liberation/salvation. Then follows paradise. A prominent, though not universal, strain in both Judaism and Christianity is a looming apocalypse that in potential or in fact destroys enormous swaths of humanity.

Modern environmentalism has all these elements, with an emphasis on apocalypticism. I'll examine these religious elements in turn.
So, go read!

The morphing of Marxism

By Donald Sensing

Click on image for fullsize view.

The chart is from Dr. Sanity's blog, where an excellent essay accompanies it (link).

It has long been observed that Marxism is in fact a religion, not at all the "science" that Karl Marx claimed it was. Keeping that in mind explains why Marxism's true beievers have been undismayed by the provable failure of every Marxist experiment established: Absolute Truth cannot be nullified by empiricism.

The chart also helps explain why modern environmentalism is also a religion in its own right, which I explained in detail in, "Environmentalist religion explained."

Finally, in addition to Dr. Sanity's essay, go read, "The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing," by Lee Harris in Policy Review. Anti-Americanism across the globe is rooted in Marxist belief in warp and woof:
America-bashing is anti-Americanism at its most radical and totalizing. Its goal is not to advise, but to condemn; not to fix, but to destroy. It repudiates every thought of reform in any normal sense; it sees no difference between American liberals and American conservatives; it views every American action, both present and past, as an act of deliberate oppression and systemic exploitation. It is not that America went wrong here or there; it is that it is wrong root and branch. The conviction at the heart of those who engage in it is really quite simple: that America is an unmitigated evil, an irredeemable enormity.

This is the specter that is haunting the world today. Indeed, one may even go so far as to argue that this America is the fundamental organizing principle of the left as it exists today: To be against America is to be on the right side of history; to be for it is to be on the wrong side.
Harris explains just how this came to be and exactly traces its roots from Marx's work.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shot through her brain, but almost unharmed

By Donald Sensing

An Alabama man shot his wife with a .38-caliber pistol, the bullet entering her forehead and exiting the rear of her skull. Amazingly, it seems to have done little damage. In fact, when police arrived, they found her making tea. She even offered them some.

Sheriff Mike Byrd told reporters,

When the officer got there she said, 'What's going on?' She was holding a rag on her head and talking. She was conscious, but she was confused about what had happened.

"She had made herself some tea and offered the officer something to drink.

"There's no way she should be alive other than a miracle from God. You just don't hear of something like this. Somebody gets shot in the head and they're dead."

He said that her husband had been on probation for domestic violence and officers had been seeking to serve him with a court order demanding he stayed away from his wife and their rural home.

He said the bullet apparently passed through the lobes of the woman's brain without causing major damage. She was rushed to hospital by helicopter where she has been monitored for three days.

Dr Patrick Pritchard, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said: "There is a space in the brain where a missile could pass without doing any major damage.

"Is it possible? Yes. It would be rare."
Rare? I'd say.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday Matinee at the Warner, 1961

By Daniel Jackson

During the winter school vacation in 1961, my brother Tom and I were being domestic hinderances. So our mother dropped us off at the Warner Theater on downtown Washington, DC, to see the movie El Cid. She gave us money for the admission, some popcorn and sodas, and money to ride the trolley home. Tom and I were excited--a BIG SCREEN color-knights-in-armor-epic with Sophia Loren no less.

We were late--the show had already started. We went in and found seats. Only it was not El Cid (those days, there was only one theater to a location). The film was definitely NOT El Cid. Our first clue was that the film was black and white. The second clue was there was a lot of people in a courtroom and the chief judge, looked just like a cross between our father and Spencer Tracy.

"What should we do," I asked brother Tom (3.75 yrs my junior).

"It's a double feature," he said with certainty. "El Cid is next."

Fine. Why not? It was sort of like watching Perry Mason, anyway. What's not to like?

But, then, the guy who played the crazy gangster who pushed an old lady down the stairs laughing all the while, got up and told Dad he was going to show a film as part of his prosecution case.

Suddenly, the innocent twelve and nine year old boys who were sitting in our seats were gone. It was footage of the liberation of Bergen Belson. It was the first time we ever heard of the Shoah, let alone saw anything remotely like those images.

When the film was over, we went out into the lobby and discovered that El Cid was coming next week. This Sunday, Judgment at Nuremburg was finishing its opening DC run. We deliberated and then asked the manager if we could stay to see the beginning of the film--since we missed the opening. No problem. So, we went back into the theater and watched it again.

Tonight and tomorrow, Israel will mark the Shoah. Tonight, places of "entertainment" will close at sunset and tomorrow, mid morning, the sirens will wail. Wherever they are, Israelis will stop, go outside, and listen to that mournful wail.

Stanley Kramer's film is powerful for many reasons, most importantly because it broke the silence. The question of "how did I get here" confounds rationality--how indeed.

When I went a-searching for clips from the work, I wanted to find the liberation footage Kramer used and Widmark presented. Alas, it is not there. Instead, I found this presentation of the liberation and post liberation process of the camp. It is very strong stuff. Perhaps this is why it is not enabled for embedding. It asks the other question of our time, "My God, what have I done?"

The premise of Yom HaShoah, the day to remember the Holocaust, has always been "lest we forget". Today, that risk is greater than ever before. In a complete mockery of history and the real crimes of racism, voices of hatred are once again directed at Jews for the sake of being Jewish. Once again, the world is facing a situation of existential proportions--about the size of the population of an entire modern state. Regardless of the political process, it is the experience of the Holocaust that requires remembering.

Here is the remembering of Ronald Reagan in 1985. It is an audio with the one picture of the open grave before it was closed. It helps if you bow your head, close your eyes, and just listen.

May God send peace to all who mourn and give us strength to not stand idly by.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Susan Boyle Truthers reveal all!

By Donald Sensing

I wrote in my post, "Why do we love Susan Boyle?" that the Britain's Got Talent star "sings extremely well, But let's face it, not exceptionally well. Sarah Brightman need not look over her shoulder."

Now it can be told: the reason Sarah need not look over her shoulder is because Susan Boyle isn't there - she's been ahead of Sarah all along!

In fact, Sarah Brightman lip-synched to Susan's recording of The Phantom of the Opera!

LONDON, UK: A news story just breaking in England states that Susan Boyle has lip-synched for Sarah Brightman on many an occasion. A source connected with Andrew Lloyd Wright and Sarah Brightman's publicity people has said: "It's true. Miss Brightman has lip-synched her way through much of Susan Boyle's singing".

The source acknowledged that Susan Boyle did most of the singing in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. He went on to add: "Of course Ms Boyle had no idea what was being done. She simply assumed that she was singing for charity."
(Boldface original.) Here's Sarah making the now-busted claim that the opera's soprano-lead songs were written specifically for her voice.

Nice try at the coverup, Sarah, but now we know the Truth. And yeah, you sound just like a West Lothian, too! We just never knew why until now!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why do we love Susan Boyle?

By Donald Sensing

Susan Boyle is a a 47-year-old from obscurity, now with tens of millions of Youtube hits of her appearance on Britain's Got Talent.

In the off chance you haven't seen it, don't delay. Click the play symbol below and be transported.

Now, why has she become such an international phenom? Sure, she sings extremely well, But let's face it, not exceptionally well. Sarah Brightman need not look over her shoulder.

I think Sarah Boyle resonates because she has come into prominence at exactly the right time and context for her. In the past several months the masters of the universe have not only fallen from grace, they have fallen, period. In both Britain and in the US, the elites - financial, business and political - have proven to have feet of clay and have tumbled from their exalted heights. It doesn't matter, within this context, that we should have known all along that they were and are only human. They had both claimed from above and had been granted from below their pedestals.

When they fell, where did that leave you and me? What of the ordinary people, who live ordinary lives? The folk who just go to work every day, try to save for retirement while educating their kids, maybe get to Disney World every few years, and for many months have suffered a tightness of the gut, wondering whether they'll still have a job at the end of the month?

You know, the men and women whose equity assets got slashed and burned when the masters of the universe overreached and the economy tanked? Is there a comeback?

Susan Boyle says yes. Forty-seven, unemployed, never married, living the kind of life that Henry David Thoreau would have said was one of "quiet desperation." By her age, the brass ring is not even in sight for most of us. Within our grasp? You must be kidding. We're just trying to get our kids through college, get another year or three out of the clunker and hope home prices recover before we're upside down down on our mortgages.

But take a shot at the top? At forty-seven? Sorry, we missed that elevator long ago.

Then walks Susan Boyle naked onto the international media stage. Not naked as in unclothed, of course, but naked in vulnerability, naked of armor, naked to scorn, naked to ridicule. Naked to derision, which she in fact got at first, though the traditionally reserved Brits choked it down for the most part.  A target with no protection. 

You, Susan Boyle, are an ordinary woman. What do you think you are doing here? You are one of the little people. If you were destined for stardom, it would have happened twenty-five years ago. But today? At 47? Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

There is no way to misunderstand that such is exactly what judges Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell (how well we of the colonies know Simon!) were thinking.

It cannot be overlooked here that Susan Boyle is, shall we say, physically unprepossessing. Her ordinary looks (ordinary? nay, actual homeliness) only reinforced the initial perception that she was a lightweight in the talent department, though not exactly light of weight, if you get my drift.

And then she sang.

And the ordinary Everywoman triumphed.

And everyone knew it within seconds.

They rose from their seats, clapping and shouting in surprise, joyous, celebratory surprise.

Because she was one of them, singing to them, singing for them. Singing about them.

Singing about their lives: her choice of songs can't be dismissed. Of course, she chose one that would best showcase the abilities of her voice as well as hide its limitations. But there are dozens of songs that could have done that, maybe hundreds.

Go read the lyrics to "I Dreamed a Dream." The beginning:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine untasted.
The ending:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...
The song is a capsule of the Ordinaries' lives of the past fifteen years. It is not an inspiring song, but depressing. The words are of dreams broken and hopes shattered. So why did it lift us up and offer not only solace, but inspiration?

Because Susan Boyle in her person gives lie to the words she was singing. The masters of the universe have fallen, but we're still here. And we will triumph.

Update: Susan's Wikipedia entry is here. She has not had an easy life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Think inflation's not coming?

By Donald Sensing

Think again:

This chart shows the amount of money in circulation. Usually, an increasing money supply means inflation, sometimes defined as "too much money chasing too few goods." That really applies to the kind of inflation called "demand-pull inflation" and the key is not so much the amount of money in circulation as the amount of money being spent.

American domestic savings rates have rockets in recent months, "rocketed" being a relative term. From a rate of between 1-2 percent earlier this decade, Americans' savings rate (income minus outlays) has risen to about five percent. In 1985, it was 11.1 percent.

So the main reason the increased money supply has not led to demand-pull inflation is that individual Americans and companies are pulling money out of circulation as fast (if not faster) than the Fed puts it in. We are tying the money up in cash and equity accounts and hard assets.

The result? For the first time in a long time, the government's Consumer Price Index actually fell last year by 0.4 percent. We're in deflation (I posted more in-depth on this in March's "Why hasn't inflation hit?")

But this deflation won't last.

Eventually, demand will increase. Some forecasters I've read think that when the demand dam bursts, it will burst big, especially for housing and autos. No one is willing to be pinned down on just when that will be. I've seen estimates ranging from six months to 18. My guess is about a year.

That will release a flood of currency into the wild, so to speak. Production will lag behind demand for some time. (Housing starts keep getting lower and lower.) With the fed continuing to pump out money, it will be the perfect storm for inflation, big time.

Inflation eats away the purchasing power of dollars. That reduces the value of savings and assets. But that's not all that does so. Dr. Joe Webb explains the impact of taxes:

That's a reminder that the biggest losses of value for savings are taxation and inflation. Neither seem to be taken all that seriously by most people. Taxation seems like a mystery, and very few even have an idea of how to even start to make the adjustment for inflation. ...

There are two economic fallacies that I do my best to fight. The first one is that there is something called “fair” in economics. “Fair” is only what buyer and seller decide is mutually agreed upon for them to exchange things of value ... .

The second one is that someone other than consumers pay business taxes. Businesses pass all of their taxes on in their prices, yes, even the employment taxes, their property taxes, just like any other cost they have. Consumers pay it because... there's no one else involved in the final transaction.
Get ready. Although honestly, I am not sure how.

Update: David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office from 1998 to 2008, explains that more government debt is the same as a deferred tax increase.
Regardless of what politicians tell you, any additional accumulations of debt are, absent dramatic reductions in the size and role of government, basically deferred tax increases. Remember the old saw? "You can pay me now or you can pay me later, with interest."

To help put things in perspective, the Peterson Foundation calculated the federal government accumulated $56.4 trillion in total liabilities and unfunded promises for Medicare and Social Security as of September 30, 2008. The numbers used to calculate this figure come directly from the audited financial statements of the U.S. government.

If $56.4 trillion in financial commitments is too big a number to digest, think of it as $483,000 per American household, or $184,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Bragging rights

By Donald Sensing

The Atlantic Coast Conference's track and field championship started yesterday at the University of Miami. My son, Thomas, is a junior at Wake Forest University and is competing.

Boy, is he competing!

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Junior Thomas Sensing bettered his school-record in the javelin on his way to a second place finish to lead the Wake Forest track & field on the opening day of the 2009 ACC Outdoor Championships at the Cobb Track and Field Facility on the campus of the University of Miami.

Sensing came into the meet with the second-best mark in the conference after he set the school-record of 208-07 at the Auburn Tiger Classic two weeks ago.

On his first attempt on Thursday, he turned in a mark of 222-10 which shattered his previous mark and improved his regional standing. Sensing would finish second in the event behind Matthias Treff of Virginia Tech, who turned in a mark of 239-10 on his final attempt of the event.

This was the first All-ACC honors for Sensing, who also earned points in the shot put last season and in the discus at the 2007 outdoor championships.

"Thomas had a really good performance today," said Wake Forest assistant coach Scott Hall. "He has started to get his technique down the last few weeks and he is throwing with a lot of confidence."

Stephen Castillejo, Jason Raggi and Trey Blanton also competed in the javelin and all three competitors posted solid marks. Castillejo finished 11th with a throw of 172-09, Blanton with 13th at 158-11 and Raggi was right behind him in 14th at 150-10.
Shotput today, discus tomorrow. Thomas did not compete in javelin until this year, which explains why the school's web writers don't have a file photo of him throwing javelin. This is a shot of Thomas throwing discus last year.

Update, 4/18: Discus was today, Thomas placed sixth with a PR of 170 ft, 6 inches. That throw qualified him for the NCAA Regionals, so he'll compete in the Regionals in both javelin and discus.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"When fascism comes to America . . .

By Donald Sensing

... it will look like fascism." Cornell law Prof. William A. Jacobson rebuts and rephrases Sinclair Lewis' line,that "when fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag and carrying a cross."

Lewis was wrong. We have had the flag and Christianity for over 200 years, but we have not had fascism.

To the contrary, when fascism comes to America, it will look something like the reaction to the Tea Parties. I do not mean the lunatic rants of the netroots. That's fine. Mockery, hyperbole, and distortion are not the exclusive province of any one political party or ideology. I also do not mean counter-protests. That is fine too.

Fascism is not the exercise of free speech, even offensive free speech. Rather, it is the attempt to silence others through subversion and physical disruption. Think brown shirts in pre-war Germany, and anarchists at almost any world economic meeting. And that is what the Tea Party Crasher phenomenon is all about.
Funny Prof. Jacobsen should make this post the same day news reports hit of fascist students (for that is what they are) at the University of North Carolina successfully shutting down a presentation by former US Congressman Tom Tancredo, invited to speak by a recognized student organization.

Hundreds of protesters converged on Bingham Hall, shouting profanities and accusations of racism while Tancredo and the student who introduced him tried to speak. Minutes into the speech, a protester pounded a window of the classroom until the glass shattered, prompting Tancredo to flee and campus police to shut down the event.
Here's the kicker:
UNC graduate student Tyler Oakley, who had organized the protest, said he regretted the broken window but not silencing Tancredo. "He was not able to practice his hate speech," said Oakley. "You have to respect the right of people to assemble and collectively speak."
Just consider brass of Oakley saying that fascists enjoy the right to assemble and speak while violently crushing the peaceful assembly of those who were trying to do exactly that. Oh, wait - it was hate speech Oakley was shutting down. Well, okay then. "Hate speech," of course, means to the Left, "speech I don't agree with."

But here's the kicker. A group of student describing itself as children of immigrants wanted Tancredo to speak. Junior "Lizette Lopez, 22, vice president of the Carolina Hispanic Association," urged the fascists to let Tancredo talk. "So we would at least like to hear what he has to say if you want to hear what we have to say," Lopez said. The fascists relented only momentarily.

Afterward, Lopez said,
"We were more interested in an intellectual conversation instead of a shouting match," she said. "Ironically, the people that are trying to get our voices heard silenced us."
My dear Ms. Lopez, you are only a junior in college and understandably haven't yet learned the truth of fascism. They in fact are not the slightest bit interested in trying to get your voices heard, immigrant or not. You may think they are your allies, but you are merely their tools. They have no one's interests at heart but their own. Don't believe me? Easy: let the Carolina Hispanic Association itself invite Tancredo to speak on the campus and see whether the same thing happens.

Convoying past Somalia not a panacea

By Donald Sensing

I linked yesterday to an op-ed in OpinionJournal urging merchant vessels transiting the waters off Somalia sail in convoys, escorted by warships. The piece is worth reading, but author Peter Zimmerman misstates why convoying was done during World War II's Battle of the Atlantic. He writes that the same convoying "tactic which defeated the U-boats can put an end to the majority of pirate attacks."

Problem is, convoying did not defeat the U-boats. Convoys, large numbers of ship sailing together under a unified command, had been devised in World War I as a defense against U-boats. Convoys' advantage lay solely in the fact that the Atlantic is so enormous that a convoy of even dozens of ships was not really easier for a U-boat to find than a single vessel. Besides, there would never be enough destroyers or corvettes to escort single vessels. Convoys grew in size as the war continued. Only very fast ships such as Queen Mary were permitted to cross the sea alone, on the supposition that they were fast enough to outrun any U-boat that might detect them (which proved correct).

In June 1940 Admiral Doenitz devised a new tactic for his boats. He called it Rudeltaktik, or "pack tactic," which the Allies called "wolfpack." Doenitz ordered submarines to patrol in lines to look for convoys. When a U-boat discovered a convoy, it would shadow it and report its speed and heading to "Admiral U-boats," as Doenitz's headquarters was known to U-boat crews. Admiral U-boats would then signal boats in reasonable range to converge on the convoy and make a coordinated attack.

This tactical innovation devastated convoys. Wolfpacks varied in size from only a few U-boats to 20 and sometimes more. Convoy ONS-5, for example, was attacked by a wolfpack that finally amounted to 55 U-boats in April 1943 in a convoy battle lasting two weeks. ONS-5 lost 13 ships totaling just under 62,000 tons. The month before, 43 U-boats sank 93,500 tons of convoy HX-229. These convoy battles were not hit and run affairs. They usually lasted many days, often more than a week. March 1943 was the worst month of the war for the Allies, with more than a million tons sent to the ocean floor.

Yet within two months, the U-boats began to suffer accelerated losses and lose the battle. Four big developments defeated the U-boats:

1. Signals intelligence and British codebreakers, who enabled Allied navy commanders to intercept and read orders to U-boats at practically the same time as the German commanders.

2. Improved technology in submarine detection, especially aircraft-borne radar and "huff-duff," or High Frequency Direction Finding radio receivers.

3. Improved anti-submarine weapons and weapons-employment technology, especially the mass introduction of small corvettes, a purpose-designed ASW craft.

4. "Intentional lethality" - the change of martial attitude of British commanders from neutralizing U-boats' ability to attack convoys to the determination to sink the U-boats. (Americans mostly followed the British lead in ASW.) In this tactical change, aircraft became the key players. German U-boat survivors (they suffered a 75 percent casualty rate) agreed that aircraft were their greatest threat, and none more so than the long-range, heavily-armed B-24 Liberator bomber.

I wrote in detail about the ASW campaign in the north Atlantic back in 2006.

As you can see, convoying was only one tool in the Allies' drawer. It was important but by no means decisive. Moreover, German commanders devised tactics of their own that gravely threatened convoys and had great success in attacking them in U-boat packs, though they came to pay a terrible price.

So convoying past Somalia may be a good idea, but it won't necessarily be a panacea to ward off pirate attacks. Unlike the Atlantic, convoys will not be hard to find at all. The larger the convoy, the greater the number of escort vessels needed to secure it. Since the powers patrolling the waters now are unlikely to increase the number of warships by much, escorting convoys may increase vulnerability of single ships, whose sailings will still be in the majority.

Just as the German commanders adjusted to allied convoying, so will Somali pirates. If pirates adopt pack tactics as the U-boats did, they will likely successfully seize merchant vessels despite the presence of armed escorts. Ships in convoy must keep station, they can't maneuver to escape. Attacks from three or four points on the compass will be very difficult to counter. And if the pirates manage to seize only one or two ships per convoy, they will win.

(We do have a great advantage that our WW2 predecessors did not, though, and that is helicopters and UAVs. Today as then, aircraft will prove decisive in protecting convoys. The responsiveness of helicopters and UAVs and the fact that many men-o-war already carry them gives us a huge leg up in countering pirates. This would be especially true in escorting convoys.)

Convoying ships without the determination to use force to repel pirates attacking them is no solution, unfortunately. The Germans, at war with their strong martial tradition, pressed on despite high losses. Will pirates be as determined in the face of lethal opposition? Let's hope not.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax and Tea Party Day is here

By Donald Sensing

Once again, my annual April 15 cartoon:

I haven't blogged before about the Tea Party movement, but in case you've been living on Mars for the last few months, there are nationwide tax protests planned. Google Maps has even got them plotted.

Michelle Malkin also summarizes the origin and history of Tea Party protests. After being ignored by the media until very recently, I was surprised last night to see that Nashville's NBC affiliate, WSMV-TV, actually had a segment on the Tea Party movement and even listed on the air where they would be held today around their viewing area. Nothing on its web site, though, although it does carry a story of non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste's annual report of federal pork-barrel spending.

Piracy - next steps will be incremental

By Donald Sensing

With the safe return of Maersk Alabama's Capt. Richard Phillips from pirate captivity, the commentati are abuzz with discussion of coming measures against the Gulf of Aden pirates. It has not helped matters that President Obama, feeling his oats, pledged almost immediately to halt piracy in the area. It's a fine sentiment and surely a desirable goal, but it's a bit of an over-promise - and somewhat of an overreach considering all the other things on the United States' military plate and national budget.

(In fairness, from all the accounts I have read, the president's handling of the high seas drama was very well done. He set the parameters and let the commander on the scene call the shots (literally, as it turned out). That's exactly the right way to do it and hopefully will be the model he uses for future events, and there will always be future events.)

The overwrought media euphoria since Sunday's rescue of Capt. Phillips makes me remember Han Solo's advice to Luke Skywalker:

"Don't get cocky." Good advice! So let's take a deep breath, shed the triumphalist jackets we've put on since Sunday, and try to take a cold, dispassionate look at some foundational facts.

1. Piracy off Somalia is not a matter of national security of the United States.

Piracy there doesn't even rate a blip on the screen of international maritime commerce. Barely more than one-half of one percent of ships transiting the waters concerned were even threatened with attack last year, much less actually hijacked. The "piracy tax," or the increased costs to shippers of the piracy, is virtually nil as a percentage of total operating costs. Besides which, what little financial end-costs there are are borne mostly by Europeans, not Americans. Only one kidnapped crewman has died in captivity, and he under circumstances not clear (which does not absolve his captors of culpability, it just means that he might not have been murdered).

This means that combating piracy should not displace, either in urgency or in budget, truly critical security issues such as fighting al Qaeda, stabilizing Iraq, winning in Afghanistan or continuing to discover and shut down nascent networks seeking to bring death and destruction to American citizens or possessions.

At best, anti-piracy has to remain an economy-of-force action.

2. Anti- and counter-piracy measures taken at sea can have near-term effectiveness, but history shows that decisive actions to end piracy have always been on land.

Pirate bases have to be eliminated. Just striking pirate vessels at sea does not solve the problem. There are, off the Horn of Africa, simply too many boats, too large a sea and too much money to be made for piracy to stop just because a pirate boat here and there gets sunk and its pirates killed or captured.

Despite the buzz about taking action inside Somalia, broken by Bloomberg Monday and picked up by other media since then, land actions such as raids or airstrikes will have only short-term success. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out recently (can't find link again, sorry), the success in ending piracy in southeast Asian waters depended on mature, effective governments of local nations, including nations in which the pirates made their bases. No such government exists in Somalia, able to enforce a national will.

While it's true that the pirates want to make money, there's precious little to buy in Somalia, so what's the money for? Answer: to get out of Somalia. A large number, perhaps the majority, of hijackings are done by young men who commit only one or two acts to make enough money to leave Somalia for a better life elsewhere. The AP reports:

Diplomats in Nairobi say many pirates are eager for one-off assignments to make the $10,000 or $15,000 needed to get them out of the misery of Somalia. When they leave, dozens of recruits line up to replace them.
That helps explain why Mr. Gates also said this week that there is "no purely military" solution to Somalia "unless you get something on land that begins to change the equation for these kids." For every pirate who leaves, and for every one who may be captured or killed, many more are waiting in line.

3. The threat level is not higher now than it was before Alabama was hijacked.

Yes, a couple of pirates managed to get quoted by Western media that pirates will now kill crew of vessels of nations that have struck back (meaning the US and France), but this is almost certainly bluster and emotion of the moment. As I've explained before, there's no upside for the pirates to do this. Now, maritime analysts agree.

So despite the president's pledge to crack down, and despite the seizure since Sunday of four more vessels, don't expect an enduring piracy surge in the waters off the Horn of Africa. The AP reports,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he doesn't see any immediate need to bulk up the military response to piracy on the high seas. Gates adds, however, that those decisions are being made moment by moment.
According to Crispian Cuss of London's risk mitigation Olive Group,
"The international community has to decide whether the scourge of piracy is so bad that it is worth intervening directly or indirectly in Somalia or, if insurance companies are happy to pay ransoms and shipping companies are happy to pay premiums, shall we just continue with the status quo."
I think the move is toward changing the status quo, but the momentum may be short-lived. If the pirates look upon their criminality from the standpoint of cost effectiveness (let's hope they do), then a lot of shippers and insurers and national-policy setters are going to do so, too.

Costs of patrolling the waters concerned are already very high. With patrolling governments already running national deficits and a deep recession continuing, there will be no shortage of banker's green eyeshades coming out in government ministries. The question simply will be: is the benefit gained from increased enforcement actually worth the costs? That is, is the marginal gain worth the marginal costs? Don't be surprised if the answer is no.

None of this is to say that nothing much more can be done. Already there has been talk of instituting a convoy system of merchantmen, escorted by American or foreign-flag warships. The class of vessels subject to hijacking so far has been fairly limited. Many merchantmen are simply too fast for the pirates to catch. Others are slow enough but lack the size to carry enough cargo to make the ransom worthwhile. So a convoy system may have considerable merit.

It would not be hard to announce to African nations and to coastal Somalis that a convoy would have a mandatory exclusion zone around it, say 1,000 meters, within which other vessels will be assumed to be hostile and may be dealt with accordingly.

There will be some near-term measures taken, but we really don't know yet what they will be. I don't much look for American action ashore in Somalia. For now, we have a momentum shift, but as operational experts start to take a cold-eyed look at things, they will realize that the parameters are less military than they are political and economic, in America, Europe and Somalia itself.

Endnote: As a proviso, I'll note that history also shows that people are controlled by events at least as often as they control events. After all, "rational actors" would never have let the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand lead to the deaths of almost 10 million people.

If there is a short-term surge in pirate activity, I think the best response is for shippers and navies to step up preventive measures to foil hijackers and not to take direct action against pirates except to save lives. Tribal societies such as Somalia's are heavily built upon honor-shame dynamics. It is not in our interests to catalyze the pirates to strike out to preserve their honor at the cost of their commercial interests. Al la the Godfather, we want them to stick to business, not make it personal. (And so should we.)

Time is on our side. We need to refrain from getting caught up in action-reaction cycles in order to maintain the freedom to plan and act mostly analytically rather than reflexively. We must not become enamored with a "quick fix" under the illusion that the whole piracy problem can be solved as easily or quickly as Capt. Phillips' kidnapping was.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Military victory?" Sorry, no.

By Donald Sensing

Roger Simon writing on The Politico:

The stories that followed the dramatic rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia were the kind the White House staff dreams about. The Washington Post ran the headline: “An Early Military Victory for Obama.”

Military victory? Well, why not? We could use one.
Roger, Roger, Roger. I've been reading you a long time. This out of character for you, but I have to point it out anyway: "We could use" a "military victory"? Three shots counts as a real "military victory?" Please. A job very well done, certainly, and excellent shots they were, but this was not even a real military engagement, much less a "military" victory.

"We could use" a military victory? Did you so quickly forget Iraq?

Let's come down from the euphoric high everyone seems to be on from rescuing Capt. Phillips. Skillfully done though it was, and as good as it is to have the captain safe, there are three things to keep in mind:

1. Piracy off Somalia is not a matter of national security of the United States.

2. History shows that decisive actions to end piracy have always been on land.

3. The piracy threat is not higher now than it was before Alabama was hijacked.

As Han Solo told Luke Skywalker, "Don't get cocky, kid." I'll expand each of these points in detail in a posting to go online later today.

Analysts: Pirates won't start killing crews

By Donald Sensing

Yesterday I posted that after the shooting of three pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips, the smart play of the other pirates is not to shed blood for blood.

Today the AP reports that despite the pirates' talk, and shippers' fears of increased violence, "The most likely outcome, though, is business as usual for the bandits."

The pirates' primary concerns, however, are economic, and they have no interest in escalating violence.

Pirates armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades typically speed toward a ship in skiffs and use ropes and hooks to get aboard without shooting. Within days, a ransom of $1 million to $2 million is delivered, by sea or air, and the ship and crew are released.
As for the widely-cited quote by pirate Jamac Habeb, that, "From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill" the hostages,
[A]analysts say that is bluster that will blow away if heightened tensions are allowed to ease.

Instead, pirates more likely will avoid attacking U.S.- and French-flagged ships, said David Johnson of the British-based EOS Risk Management, which trains ship security officers.

"The pirates don't want to escalate violence because it's not in their interests to keep raising the stakes and it also isn't in the interests of other countries out there," he said.
Remember, the financial costs of Somali piracy to shippers and their insurers is actually minimal, less than one percent; the AP says,
Shipping companies have chosen to risk hijackings by going past Somalia and into the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal — the shortest route from Asia to Europe past ports of oil-producing Saudi Arabia. It's cheaper to take the risk and pay the tens of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums. Only two companies use the longer, more expensive route around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Choong said there have been 74 attacks this year with 15 hijackings, compared with 111 attacks in 2008. About 20,000 merchant ships transit the Gulf of Aden annually.
That last datum is significant. Last year, only 0.56 percent of transiting ships were even threatened, and a smaller percentage successfully hijacked. I'd have to look it up, but I'd guess that losses to shippers because of storms may well be higher.

See related posts: piracy.

Worldwide maritime routes and piracy

By Donald Sensing

Click for larger view.

This is a slide from a PowerPoint presentation put together by Professor Tom Fedyszyn of the Naval War College. The presentation's topic is American maritime strategiy under the Obama administration.

This slide shows why commerical shipping remains so vulnerable to piracy - the major maritime routes are mostly very close to land.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why the piracy page has turned

By Donald Sensing

And why there's no payoff for pirates in seeking blood for blood

Has a page been turned in dealing with piracy off the Horn of Africa? In response to the killing of three pirates holding American merchant Capt. Richard Phillips, some pirates have said they will seek revenge against American crew in future.

Somali pirates, meanwhile, vowed retaliation for the deaths of three colleagues killed by U.S. Navy snipers in the rescue. Their anger raised fears for the safety of some 230 foreign sailors still held hostage in more than a dozen ships anchored off lawless Somalia.

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, told The Associated Press from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "(U.S. forces have) become our No. 1 enemy."
We have to take them at their word, although it's doubtful that the pirates have anything like a unified command. Just how widespread the sentiment revenge is among the pirate population can't be known, but is likely high, at least for now.

I think the urge to take blood for blood will attenuate, though. For the pirates so far, hijacking has been a purely commercial enterprise. Obtaining ransom has been the point. Shippers and their insurers have been willing to redeem freight, knowing that the crew will be returned with it.

Passenger vessels could be hijacked, too, but only at greater risk to the pirates, who would be vastly outnumbered in the attempt, and at much higher overhead costs to the pirates, who would have to shelter, provision and guard many dozens or hundreds of people. And governments would have no patience with kidnapping people for ransom as they have been patient (even complacent) with hijacking cargo.

As Strategy Page explains, the financial costs to shippers is actually quite low. Increased insurance premiums, to cover insurance-paid ransoms, are hardly a blip on the scope of overall costs. Call it a "piracy tax."
The piracy tax is basically a security surcharge on maritime freight movements. It pays for higher insurance premiums (which in turn pay for the pirate ransoms), danger bonuses for crews and the additional expense of all those warships off the Somali coast. Most consumers would hardly notice this surcharge, as it would increase sea freight charges by less than a percent. Already, many ships are going round the southern tip of Africa, and avoiding Somalia and the Suez canal altogether
One reason little has been done to counter piracy so far is that its overall effect on commerce has been basically an inconvenience. Crews of seized ships have actually been treated well, even allowed to call their families from ashore using pirates' own satphones.

But a page has been turned. The problem is, the pirates almost certainly don't realize it. With the attempted hijacking of Maersk Alabama and the holding at gunpoint of its captain, the human element has come to outweigh the financial (at least for now). The focus of the past week on the fate of a single man, who heroically put himself in harm's way to save his crew, has given a human face (Capt. Phillips') to piracy's costs that seizure of mere cargo could never do. The blessed outspokenness of Alabama's crew has amplified broader understanding of the toll piracy has been taking on the crews and their families.

The smoldering resentment of Somali piracy has become an open flame to put a stop to it altogether.

If sane heads prevail among the Somali pirates and tribal elders (whom the pirates cannot ignore), they will understand that resolve against their lawlessness has solidified among shippers and nations affected. Their smart play is not to seek blood for blood. It is to realize that we care little for mere freight, but intensely for our people. Killing crew, especially American crew, will bring down the thunder on their heads (it's already being discussed).

My advice to the pirates would be to release all the crew members now being held, knock off revenge talk and just lay low for awhile. It would be financially costly in the near term, but not nearly as costly as the 1,800 Marines of USS Boxer going into downtown Eyl.

Three shots freed Capt. Phillips

By Donald Sensing

Vice Adm. William Gortney said the shooters who killed the three pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips fired one shot each.

Asked how the snipers could have killed each pirate with a single shot in the darkness, Gortney described them as "extremely, extremely well-trained." He told NBC's "Today" show the shooting by the snipers was ordered by the captain of the Bainbridge after the pirates came into view.

Military officials were widely praising the snipers for three flawless shots, which they described as remarkable, coming at night and from the stern of a ship on rolling waters.
Such shooting at night is actually not very remarkable. The military's night-vision equipment is so good that it is often used even in daytime. The Army's Thermal Tank Sight (TTS), for example, on the M1 Abram tank, is routinely used in daylight to observe or sight on targets.

Furthermore, the range from USS Bainbridge to the lifeboat was only about 25 meters. Seriously, folks, this is pistol range and if it was SEALs who actually pulled the triggers, they literally could have used pistols to make the shot (they are that good) although rifles are obviously the better choice.

Finally, the lifeboat was being towed by Bainbridge,, although only making a few knots. The wake astern of the destroyer would have been smoothed by the vessel's passage, so the lifeboat would not have been bobbing up and down very much.

None of this is to subtract from the skills or preparations the SEALs and the other Navy elements on the scene displayed. But the shooters themselves probably didn't think the shots were especially remarkable. Army recruits, for example, have to qualify with the M16 rifle by hitting targets out to 400 meters, and Marine recruits qualify out to 500 meters.

So yes, the Navy definitely earned a "Bravo Zulu" yesterday, but no one familiar with the training and capabilities of the regular Navy and SEALs is surprised at the outcome of the few seconds that elapsed from Cmdr. Castellano's decision to order the shooting to its completion.

A time for groaning

By Donald Sensing

1. A bicycle can't stand alone because it is two-tired.

2. What's the definition of a will? It's a dead giveaway.

3. A backward poet writes inverse.

4. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

5. In democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

6. She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off.

7. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

8. If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.

9. With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

10. Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft, and I'll show you A-flat minor.

11. When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.

12. The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.

13. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

14. You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

15. Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN downunder.

No trees were killed in posting these puns, however a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Did Navy SEALs board pirate boat before rescue?

By Donald Sensing

Only Saturday I posted a thought experiment on how a Navy SEAL team could approach the lifeboat where Capt. Richard Phillips was being held hostage. I wondered whether an underwater approach by the SEALs to the lifeboat, followed by covertly making it founder, might enable his rescue.

In his briefing via telephone to Pentagon reporters Sunday, Vice Adm. William Gortney, speaking from Bahrain, openly acknowledged that SEALs played a key role, but he was rather unforthcoming as to just what that role was. He seemed comfortable letting the reporters assume that it was SEALs aboard USS Bainbridge, only 25 meters from the lifeboat, who shot the pirates after Bainbridge's commander determined Phillips' life was in imminent danger.

But the SEALs might not have been aboard Bainbridge at all. Judith Miller reports on FoxNews site,

Details continue to emerge. But it seems that hours before his rescue, a C-130 had secretly dropped a team of SEALS and their boats into the waters far enough away from the lifeboat that held Capt. Phillips to avoid being detected by the four Somali pirates who were seeking some $2 million for his release. The team quietly approached the boat and boarded the board [sic] as sharpshooters from the Bainbridge took deadly aim.
If true, the SEALs' boats herein referenced could not have been surface craft. Obviously, a surface craft approaching the lifeboat would have been seen from some distance away, especially during the daytime hours of the rescue.

This is an SDV - SEAL Delivery Vehicle, a small submarine that SEALs use to get around underwater. It is less a manned sub than one the SEALs hang onto for a ride, although the driver does have a station inside. Whether an SDV can be dropped from a C-130 I don't know. I do know that C-130s can fly very low and slow so I would be wholly unsurprised that a pallet-drop system can be used to absorb impact with the water, similar to the LAPES system long-used by the Army with C-130s. The SEALs would simply parachute into the water. (There is another, larger model, too.)

Again, the provenance of Miller's report has not been confirmed. But it makes me wonder whether a SEAL rescue operation was already mostly underway when Bainbridge's captain, Cmdr. Frank Castellano, gave the split-second order to shoot.

It would also explain why Vice Adm. Gortney says the Navy received permission twice from President Obama to use deadly force to save Capt. Phillips' life, the first time Friday, the second time Saturday. Friday may have been explicit permission to shoot if necessary, as Cmdr. Castellano finally did. Saturday's order might have authorized or even ordered direct action to rescue Phillips and would necessarily included using deadly force. (However, as I pointed out earlier today, the president would not actually have need to authorize shooting the pirates to save his life, since that's pretty much standard procedure in any hostage situaton.)

My guess is that the FBI negotiators advising the Navy (over the five days of the ordeal, at least one FBI team would have been able to reach the scene) figured negotiations were going nowhere fast and that Phillips' safety was increasingly endangered. So the status quo had to be changed at our initiative, and quickly. So in went the SEALs. But right now, we don't know exactly how.

Update: The Washington Post reports that there were "dozens of Navy SEALs" involved in the operation overall. Also, during the last discussion US officers had with the pirates on the lifeboat, the pirates explicitly threatened to kill Capt. Phillips.
Soon afterward, two pirates moved to one of the hatches of the lifeboat and stuck their heads out. The third pirate advanced toward the captain, and pointed his AK-47 straight at Phillips' back, the rifle touching it or inches away, the official said.

U.S. military observers believed that Phillips was about to be shot. SEAL snipers, who were positioned on a deck at the stern of the Bainbridge, an area known as the fantail, had the three pirates in their sights. The on-scene commander gave the SEAL snipers authority to fire.

"As soon as the snipers had a clear shot at the guy who had the rifle, they shot him and the other two in the hatches," said the senior military official.

A member of the Special Operations team slid down the tow line into the water and climbed aboard the lifeboat. Phillips was then put in a small craft and taken to the Bainbridge.
The WaPo also says that at least some of the SEALs at the scene had parachuted after dark Saturday into the water near the US warships.

See also: 

Navy rescues Captain Phillips

By Donald Sensing

Maersk Alabama's Capt. Richard Phillips with Cmdr. Frank Castellano, captain of USS Bainbridge, after Phillips was rescued earlier today.

The US Navy rescued Captain Richard Phillips from his Somali-pirate captors today. According to Vice Adm. William Gortney, speaking by telephone from Bahrain to a televised news conference at the Pentagon, three pirates were shot to death by US Navy shooters. The fourth was taken prisoner.


The lifeboat upon which Capt. Phillips was being held was being towed by USS Bainbridge toward calmer waters when the rescue was effected. The boat was about 25 meters behind Bainbridge at the time.

The three pirates who died were aboard the lifeboat while the fourth, who lived, was actually aboard Bainbridge in discussion with US officials about resolving the situation.

At no time did the US negotiate with the pirates in terms of paying ransom. Discussions were limited to measures to obtain the safe release of Capt. Phillips without rewarding the pirates.

Bainbridge's commanding officer, Cmdr. Frank Castellano, had standing authority to use force to end an imminent risk to Capt. Phillips' life. Vice Adm. Gortney said that President Obama had specifically authorized such action if it proved necessary. [Such contingency is routine in any kind of hostage situation, civil or military - DS.]

Navy SEALs were involved in the shooting, but the admiral declined to say where they had been brought from.

Just before the shooting, Capt. Phillips was topside of the lifeboat. One pirate was behind him, pointing an AK-47 rifle at him. The head and shoulders of each of the other two pirates were also visible above deck of the enclosed lifeboat. Determining that Phillips might be shot at any moment, Bainbridge's commander ordered the action.

Capt. Phillips was taken aboard a Navy RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) quickly, then to Bainbridge. Vice Adm. Gortney said he was in excellent health. He called his family, took a shower and was given fresh clothing. (A RIB is basically a Zodiac inflatable boat and is used by various navies around the world. There are civilian models, too.)

The AP's summary:

Gortney says the pirates threatened throughout the ordeal to kill Phillips. Gortney says the pirates were armed with AK-47s and small-caliber pistols, and were pointing the AK-47s at the captain.

Gortney says the commander of the nearby USS Bainbridge believed Phillips was in "imminent danger" when he ordered sailors to fire at the armed pirates.

Gortney says the White House had given "very clear guidance and authority" that if any time the commander Capt. Phillips' life was in danger to take action to make sure it was not.

Vice Adm. Gortney either did not understand the question or evaded it when asked whether Phillips had been pulled from the sea or directly off the lifeboat once the shooting stopped. He answered only that Phillips was taken onto the RIB, thence to Bainbridge. Some early reports said that Phillips had leaped into the water either just before or just when the shooting started, but these may have been conflated with an escape attept Phillips made Friday. However, if Phillips did leap off the boat, the Navy could have used machine guns to take out the three pirates in a matter of seconds. In any event, trained shooters, probably SEALs, had the boat under constant gunsight and needed only a single word to open fire.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Put Phillips and the pirates in the water

By Donald Sensing

So the pirates of the Horn of Africa are holding American merchantman Captain Richard Phillips hostage in a lifeboat of Maersk Alabama, Phillips' ship.

A lifeboat of the type used aboard Maersk Alabama, an update from the earlier photo I used here.

A "pirate spokesman" (pirates do PR? Who knew?) claimed from dry land this afternoon that a deal has been reached with US negotiators to pay a "small ransom" for Phillips' release. The pirates would be flown to safety by a US helicopter that would also carry Phillip away (details).

But the deal could break down easily said the pirate spokesman. Yeah, I guess so.

Let's suppose for a thought experiment that it does break down. Let's be clear about the objective: it is to obtain the release of Capt. Phillips unharmed. That must take precedence over capture of the pirates. Years of weak-kneed responses to Horn piracy mustn't be corrected at Phillips' expense.

But if there is no deal, what then? I would say this: sink the lifeboat. I don't mean blow it out of the water. I mean to send a SEAL team to the boat, underwater, about 3 a.m., to penetrate the hull non-explosively in several places. Boat sinks rapidly. With no overt act on our part, even the pirates won't know why they're sinking, at least at first.

In the confusion, SEALs reach in and pull Phillips overboard, then head for nearest US warship. They can even make way underwater and motorized, Phillips wearing appropriate breathing gear. SEALs and Phillips gain safety, pirates learn how long they can tread water.

The on-scene US commander announces over loudspeaker that we will honor our word not to take the pirates prisoner. Then he bids them goodbye and good luck. Everyone sails away.

This might be a tactic to rescue the hostages of the Italian tug pirates seized today, though with 16 crew held captive, it's more complicated.

Update: Thanks to the a commenter who linked to a merchantman captain's blog whence came photo of the lifeboat, above. I'm not sure this invalidates my proposition, although it would complicate it some. As commenter RebeccaH points out, when the boat starts sinking the exits will come open PDQ.

There are four pirates holding Capt. Phillips. Minimally, the SEAL team would need, IMO:
  • Four SEALS to puncture the hull. Enough opening must be made fore and aft, port and starboard, to bring the boat down on an even keel.
  • At least four designated shooters to take out the pirates in case they made a hostile move toward Phillips or the SEALs.
  • Two assigned to grab Phillips and get him into the water. Maybe two SEALs per side to this task. If necessary, they can buddy breathe with Phillips until they get him outside the boat.
  • One SEAL (or one per side) with breathing gear for Phillips.
  • A reserve team of two or three to intervene if need be.
  • An escape team with motorized underwater transport.
Full disclosure - I was an Army officer, not a Navy man, so if any reader has better credentials for this, chime in.

Telling families of KIA

By Donald Sensing

Norris Burkes is a religion columnist for the Clarksville, Tenn., Leaf-Chronicle newspaper. He is also a military chaplain serving the hospital at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. His weekly column today starts off thus:

As we pulled a family photo from the pocket of one of the three soldiers described in my last column as killed-in-action, an airman said, "I can't imagine what it will be like for the people who will notify their families."

I could imagine all too well. In the next few moments, flashbacks filled my mind with the images of the nearly 25 times I've put on my dress uniform and met a sergeant I didn't know in the middle of a town I'd never visited to deliver the news I never want to hear.
Death notifications are always difficult duty.
I could feel the darkness of the mobile home park where I waited for parents to return from a winning bingo game, only to find out they'd experienced the loss of a lifetime.

I shook as I recalled stopping a family in their driveway before they could leave to pick up their son at the airport. He wasn't coming home. ...

I remember standing in the darkness on the other side of a screen door and the chorus of screams that erupted as someone turned on the porch light to reveal our uniformed team.
Read the whole thing. When my eldest was serving in the Marines in Fallujah, the news reported a deadly attack there. Needless to say. my wife and I stayed glued to news reports for a couple of days until we were convinced that if a notification team was coming to our home, it would have already arrived.

Later that month I posted about the time was assigned as a young officer to find the family of a soldier killed in an accident.
My instructions were simple: "Memorize this paragraph. You are required to state it verbatim, without notes, to the next of kin. That's all you have to do." Unlike the Marines, the Army assigns different officers to notification duty and survivor-assistance duty. An assistance officer (actually a senior NCO) would be assigned to help the dead soldier's parents with the funeral and settling his affairs; the soldier had not been married. ...
Not that things went wholly smoothly.
We set out for rural northwest South Carolina. The NOK's address was an RFD box from a very small farming town. Because it was wintertime darkness had long fallen when we arrived. Absolutely everything was closed for the day; there wasn't even a place to get a cup of coffee.
What happened? Read here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On the road from Galilee to Jerusalem

By Daniel Jackson

This rabbi father with his son travelled from the Galilee to Jerusalem yesterday taking the road not usually taken--the Derech Alon. We had been up north to get several important ingredients for our Passover dinner: smoked fish and wine. We went to Katzrin to buy the best bottle in the house for the First Cup (a Gamlah Cabernet 1999) and to Kibbutz Dan for fresh trout that we smoked in our Oklahoma Joe vertical wood tanur. Then, up to Jerusalem for the Festival.

Along the way, we were dazzled by the signs of Spring--lavender colored hills, Holland bound migrating storks , and vigilant hawks.

There were also surprises that one could only find if the car was stopped, the driver got out of the car, and bent down to look very carefully at the flowers.

Seasons Greetings to you all except to Ann Althouse--to her one can ONLY say Mazel Tov.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Only America fears nukes

By Donald Sensing

In his speech in Prague a few days ago, President Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons. Timing, as they say, is everything. Only five hours before he spoke, North Korea launched a ballistic missile it claimed was putting a satellite into orbit. The missile flopped into the Pacific Ocean somewhere instead.

Rich Lowry takes the rather conventional loyal-opposition stance that "Obama hitched himself to a project as utopian as Pres. George W. Bush’s ambition to end tyranny in the world."

In fact, they are essentially the same goal. The bipartisan congressional Strategic Posture Review concluded in an interim report that to achieve Global Zero would require a “fundamental transformation of the world political order.” All significant geo-political conflicts would have to end, and all untrustworthy governments disappear. The verification regime would have to be so all-encompassing as to constitute a kind of world government.
Well, yeah, but remember that a world government is not really something Obama would oppose. Anyway, what I haven't read in punditry about "Global Zero," as the White House calls the president's proposal, is that the United States is afraid of everyone else's nukes, but no one is the whole world is afraid of ours.

Now, I don't mean that we fear Britain's SLBMs. But we're not actually afraid of Russia's for the very good reason that the Russian government is merely tyrannical, not insane. The Putin regime may be corrupt and self aggrandizing, but it's not a "rogue" government willing to operate wholly outside whatever passes for international norms. The Russians, OTOH, do not fear our nukes for the same reason. We each know our ICBMs are aimed at each other only in retaliation, not for first shot. And neither of us will fire the first shot.

As unthreatened as Russia is by our nuclear arms, Iran and North Korea are even less so. Both the Mad Mullahs and Kim Ding-Dong Jong Il have no doubt we have the capability to pave their countries with alamogordite (the heat-fused ground at ground zero at 1945's Trinity Test Site). But they very realistically do not believe that we would ever do it.

And we wouldn't. Not this president, not another. (I addressed why an American nuclear strike would be morally, politically and strategically bankrupt back in 2003. The context was different, but not by much, and I stand behind it today.)

Iran, though, knows that Israel would retaliate in kind. A few years ago an Iranian mullah dismissed such retaliation, though, pointing out that a mere two nukes would obliterate Israel forever, but Islam could not be destroyed by all of Israel's atomic arsenal. Yet Iran can win an atomic war with Israel with neither side firing a shot.

One also must note that Iran is not threatening the Russians, godless commies though they recently were. Iran is under no illusions about Russia's will to go Roman on its enemies.

The real reason that Obama's goal will not be achieved is that the the US, Britain and France maintain their nuclear arsenals only for symbolic reasons. Only the great powers see their nukes as not basically useful and terrifically expensive to maintain. For every other actual or wannabe nuclear power, nukes are the international Colt .45, the "great equalizer."

"Global Zero" can do nothing to address this fundamental dynamic. If the US, Iran and North Korea all three truly, totally denuclearized, only the two of those countries would be more vulnerable to the third. America alone would be safer. And that is exactly why the rogue states will never disarm.