Monday, March 21, 2011

Good for S’Mores, Not for War

When I was in Scouts there was an ironclad rule:  leave the campsite better than you found it.  If there was any litter on the campground when we arrived, it was gone when we left.  It’s a great rule to live by for my personal life, too.

But when it comes to making war the rule leaves a lot to be desired.  The Romans understood this; by the third Punic War they destroyed Carthage and sowed the ground with salt, the ancient equivalent of turning the city to radioactive glass.  For centuries it was understood that war meant devastation; armies scoured the countryside and the winning side looted the defeated for everything they could carry away.

Now, Americans are weird when it comes to war.  We burn hot and fast and want a quick victory.  But we also want everyone to like us when we leave.  It’s like we view B-52 bombing missions as the first step in urban renewal, sort of eminent domain by other means. 

That’s dumb unless you really need the opponent as an ally, like we did with Germany and Japan.  The purpose of war is to force the enemy to capitulate.  After 9/11 we invaded Afghanistan to punish the Taliban and eliminate that country as a haven for Islamic terrorism.  We came in on the side of the Northern Alliance to the extent that “sides” even exist in that country, and quickly drove the Taliban back into Waziristan.  If we had left at that time the point would have been made; mess with the U.S. and we will bring the pain.  Leave us alone and we’ll reciprocate.  Iraq was a different situation since there our stated goal was to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with a more stable leader.

Now we are once again dropping bombs and firing cruise missiles in the name of humanitarian aid.  The stated goal is to enforce a “no-fly zone” to keep Qa-however-you-spell-it from killing his enemies with airstrikes.  We’re going to make him work for it the hard way, on the ground.  Many believe that the unstated goal is to force a “regime change” in Tripoli.  If that happens, will we once again be calling upon Paul Bremer to work his magic from the Green Zone in Ben-Ghazi?

The point is our military is there to kill people and break things.  They are very good at it.  They’re also pretty good at “nation-building” and humanitarian assistance, but that’s not their job.  Nation-building is for homesteaders, not soldiers.   

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apparently, I need to spend more time staring at my female co-workers...

Yep, I did it again.  A woman that works in the same building is already four and a half months pregnant and I just now found out.  I didn't even notice!  A similar incident occurred about eight years ago when another co-worker made it to six months before I clued in; although, in my defense, she did wear very baggy clothes.

I miss the days when the blouses with the ties in the back were a dead giveaway.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Smugglers' Blues

For a couple of years now, the press has been treating us to stories about the frightening number of firearms seized in Mexico that have been traced back to the United States.  Gun-control advocates have pointed to these statistics as proof that American gun laws are too lax and that we must surrender more of our freedoms to help reduce Mexican street crime.

This never really made a lot of sense to me.  Smuggling one rifle at a time seems like a piecemeal method for drug cartels that annually smuggle tons of illegal drugs over the border.  Any licensed gun dealer knows the score, and if you’re selling a couple of dozen AK-47 clones in a week to the same guy, you’d have to be an idiot not to suspect a strawman sale.  And you also know just quickly that activity can get your federal firearms licensed revoked and possibly get you a nice cell at Club Fed.

Well, now the truth is emerging.  It turns out that American gun dealers did, in fact, sell at least a thousand semiautomatic rifles to known strawmen for the purpose of smuggling the guns into Mexico.  But, they were TOLD to do so by the federal agency that regulates them!

Enter Project Gun Runner.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) wanted to research the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico.  That’s the official story; some of us wonder if they weren’t also trying to inflate the number of serial number traces submitted to them by Mexican law enforcement for the purpose of seeking tighter gun control laws in the United States.

Apparently it never occurred to anyone in BATFE management (and I use that term guardedly) that giving a thousand rifles to cartel thugs actively turning the northern provinces of Mexico into a war zone might be a Bad Thing.  Two thirds of the guns known to have been sold under Gun Runner have been recovered at Mexican crime scenes.  The death toll is probably in the hundreds.

This is the same agency whose ham-handed attempt to serve a warrant led to the death of twenty-five children in 1993.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see a much higher bodycount of innocents from this latest debacle.  Congress is beginning to take notice and is asking pointed questions.  Sit back and watch F-Troop and the Justice Department shuck and jive as they try to minimize and obfuscate the details of the operation.  Thankfully at least one BATFE agent possessed a conscience strong enough to compel him to come forward and bring the agency’s activities to light.

If past experience is any guide, expect BATFE to leave the real criminals alone and concentrate on hassling licensed gun dealers for the next year or two.  It won’t reduce gun crime in any meaningful way, but it will keep them out of the eye of the public until their friends in Congress can smooth this over.

BATFE’s technical services division serves a purpose, but their armed federal agents are a joke.  This agency has repeatedly been humiliated by the antics of these cowboys and their utter lack of common sense.  In my opinion, BATFE should be reduced to technical and administrative functions and stripped of armed agents.  If warrants need to be served, let the adults do it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's Worse Than A Crime, It's A Blunder!

A friend of mine turned me on to Sons of Guns, a Discovery Channel show about a Gun Shop/Class 2 SOT.  Since we turned off the cable TV a few months ago to escape The Disney Channel, I've been watching a couple of episodes on the Internet.  After watching "Machine Gun Mania", I may have to stop watching altogether.

In the aforementioned episode, a customer brings the shop a fully automatic Browning Model 1919 machine gun and requests that they modify the weapon to allow the customer to fire it from the shoulder.  Now look, I liked Roadblock just as much as the next GI Joe fan, but messing up a classic example of diplomacy-by-other-means to win a "Mad Minute" contest is just wrong.  And did we mention the collector value?  Until the Hughes Amendment is repealed, that Browning is worth...fifty or sixty thousand dollars?  Dude, I'll admit its cool, but a parts kit with a semiautomatic receiver would have been almost as cool for a fraction of the price.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Helping With Homework

Elder Child:  "Daddy, what's another name for the Industrial Workers of the World?"

Me:  "Communists."

Well, it's true!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mission Creep

NATO has declared that it will not participate in a no-fly zone over Libya unless it receives a mandate from the United Nations.  Since Russia is a permanent member of The Security Council and has already stated that it will veto any such resolution, it appears that Gadhafi will continue to use his aircraft to attack rebels until one of his own officers decides to shoot him in the head.  I’m actually okay with this; let me ‘splain.

NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created in 1949.  NATO is a multinational military alliance originally intended to stymie Soviet aggression and the forcible expansion of communism in Europe.  According to NATO’s charter, an attack on one member is an attack on all, and all members are required to mutually defend each other.  The Soviet Union and its satellite states formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 as a response.

NATO was one of the reasons that the Cold War stayed cold.  The Soviets knew that an attack upon a NATO member would bring the full military might of North America and Western Europe would against them. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO began to quickly expand.  East Germany had already reunified with West Germany in 1989 and NATO expanded to include what had been East Germany.  Several former Soviet client states applied to join NATO and the organization currently includes eleven former Soviet client states with future commitments to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance.

This expansion of NATO has naturally made Russia angry as it sees its dominance in Europe waning and nervous as it sees NATO’s stated mission expand even as the organization creeps closer to Russia’s borders.  And that mission creep is the source of my concern.

What started as a mutual defense treaty organization began operating offensively in nations outside of its own members.  From 1993 until 1999 NATO participated in various military operations in the former country of Yugoslavia, beginning with enforcing an arms embargo and no-fly zones and culminating in the bombing of Serbian cities and the occupation of Kosovo.  Whether or not these actions were morally justified, the fact remains that no member of NATO had been attacked by Yugoslavia or its splinter states prior to NATO taking action.

NATO is currently participating in the conflict in Afghanistan, although this intervention is at least justifiable in that the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan in 2001 and actively aided Al Qaeda while that organization planned and conducted an attack against a NATO member.

NATO has morphed into a multinational peacekeeping force that the West can call upon when the United Nations isn’t willing to play.  Russian accusations that NATO is an expansionist force are hard to deny under the present circumstances.  Ironically, it will ultimately be in Russia’s best interest to seek membership for itself in NATO as a counter to Chinese expansionism into Siberia and the Kuriles.  But for now, I believe that NATO would be best served by sticking to its original mission and avoiding “foreign entanglements” that don’t affect its members directly.  

From the Mouths of Children

Younger daughter and I were watching the riot sequence in "Harry Brown" when she piped up, "The police should be using guns!"  I explained to her that British police rarely carry guns and British laws also prohibit private gun ownership, so the only people that freely carry weapons are the criminals.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Wheel In The Sky Keeps On Turning

In light of the Charlie Sheen kerfluffle, I submit this modified version of an IRON MAIDEN album cover to demonstrate the eternal truth that there is nothing new under the sun:

Cat People

This CNN article on cat ladies provided some entertaining reading this morning.  I've lived with cats in the house most of my life.  My mother loved having kittens around so she never bothered having any of the family cats spayed/neutered.  The amazing thing was that she was always able to place them in homes that didn't involve medical experiments at the local research university.  Since they were all indoor/outdoor cats, their mean lifespan was often depressingly short.  I can still remember waking up for my 8th birthday to find my cat dead on the kitchen floor.  Run over, poisoned, who knows?  But the point is that I got to experience a LOT of different cats.

Right now we have three female indoor cats in a remarkably stable relationship triangle.  All three are rescue animals.  One we adopted as an adult, the other two can to us as kittens.  The adult adoptee is a snow white Turkish Angora that is quite possibly the smartest cat I have ever met.  She reasons things out and is adept at manipulating everyone around her.  The other two are dumb as a box of rocks but they are loyal and friendly.  The youngest has an automatic purr for anyone who picks her up and I can forgive a lot in an animal like that. 

The middle cat is a basket case.  I have never before met a cat as neurotic as this one.  "Scaredy cat" didn't even begin to describe her behavior.  My father-in-law called her "Duck" because she would flinch and run if anyone but my wife or daughter even made eye contact with her.  Last year we had to put her on anti-anxiety medication after I tried to toilet train them.  The drugs worked well when administered but putting an already nervous cat in a headlock to squirt a couple cc's of refrigerated medication down her choking, squalling throat struck me as being counter-productive.  So we got her a kitten friend.  The new kitten came with a complimentary ringworm infection, which necessitated all three cats getting weekly fungicidal baths and we were off again!  Things have since settled down and everybody is happy.

We have had dogs in the past but I just can't warm up to them like I can a cat.  Housebreaking a cat is usually as easy as dropping it in a litter box.  Instinct takes over from there.  Dogs are much more frustrating.  We had a dog that I would take for nice long walks twice a day.  She'd mark territory and pee, but she waited until we were back in the apartment to take a crap.  She was sweet but very stupid.

Dogs are needy.  They follow me with their eyes everywhere I go.  It's live living with Barbara Eden in "I Dream of Genie".  The cats only perk up if I'm in the kitchen.  That's not to say that our cats are the aloof mooches so often portrayed by stereotype.  The bilateral relationship described in the article fits our cats perfectly.  Middle cat tries to herd everybody into bed at 9pm so she can settle down by my wife's feet.  It's a relationship of peers, not a creepy master/servant thing.  I agree with the article's premise that it is possible to have a solid relationship with a cat beyond that of "cat and staff".