24 July 2008

The law is a good thing...


It is a wafer thin barrier between humanity and its most basic and feral instincts.  Someone cut you off in traffic?  You may experience that primal urge to accelerate your Smart Car into the side of that Hummer H2 in a rage blind act of retaliation.  But you don’t.  It could be because of the state trooper you notice at the side of the road, the thought of a substantial hike in your insurance rate or some other mitigating reason.  Rarely is it because the simple weight ration between the offending behemoth and your egalitarian chariot would result in near instantaneous squishiness.


And so it is laws and covenants which keep us from behaving in a totally self interested manner.  Failing the existence of credible laws we would be seeking only to give succor to our individual basic instincts.  With proper societal pressures in place we defer this urge and cooperate.  It is in times of stress and extreme conditions that the barriers stretch and “crimes” occur.  We all have heard the phrase “crime of passion” in which one individual responds to their instinctive reflex and acts in a criminal manner.  It is hard to conceive of a world in which laws are an unnecessary legacy.  Even today, laws exist which are holdover from times in which they were used to control or oppress a population.  Iran still stones “adulterers”, India prosecutes homosexuals, China imprisons dissidents and counties in the United States forbid the sale of alcohol on Sunday.


We are thus enfolded by laws, rules and regulations.  Many of which we are blissfully unaware.


            “Excuse me guvnor, you aware that your article of clothing is in violation of article three section one paragraph A, prohibiting disrespectful display of her Royal Majesty?”


Right, off to jail then.


But there are crimes for which we are keenly aware.  These tend to be very big events.  They are murder, assault, rape and the like.  These crimes, which when committed by a civilian, are terrible; and yet when committed by the soldiery of a nation are completely detestable.  Why is that?  At one point in our existence it was considered a spoil of war for attacking bands to take whatever they wanted.  Vikings were renowned for their warlike deeds of rape and pillage.  Soldiers appropriated property, enslaved populaces and generally did as they pleased.  These violations enter into the realm of war crimes.  There is a good BBC News Article on the topic.


With the handover and arrest, I can not call it a capture, of Radovan Karadzic by Bosnian Serb authorities, the topic of war crimes is resurrected again.  He was one of three active architects responsible for the hell that Yugoslavia devolved into in the 1990s.  Like most international issues, it is complex and not easily understood.  A group of passionate advocates on the left routinely call for the indictment and prosecution of the current President and administration of the United States of America under the aegis of war crimes.  They are misled in their accusations and have been (as Marx noted so correctly) useful idiots.


In 1863, with the issuance of the Lieber Code by Union forces of the United States, the first written protection of innocents and civilians in conflict was defined.  It was not until 1899 that the world began serious discussions on the behavior of armed forces in times of war.  Previously the only international rule was an unstated acknowledgement to chivalric code, in which innocents should not be harmed.  The operative word here is “should”.  The Napoleonic conflict and countless wars in the 19th century reminded the world of the ability of humanity to inflict suffering upon one another.  In World War I, the widespread use of chemical weapons, aerial bombardment and other modern inventions earned the conflict the moniker “the war to end all wars”.  Sadly, this was only wishful thinking.    


Nevertheless, the world forged ahead.  It worked hard, especially after World War II to refine and strengthen the laws of conflict.  The UN was established in the wake of the fading League of Nations.  And yet acceptable conduct from belligerents has been elusive.  The United Kingdom waged a brutal conflict on the northern edge of the emerald isle for decades.  In Cambodia, Pol Pot slaughtered millions.  In Rwanda civilians were incited to take up arms against their own brethren in an orgy of violent tribalism.  And still the world trudged onwards, working to establish clear codes of conduct and behavior for governments when diplomacy turned from the point of a pen to the end of a sword.


This was not an easy path to navigate.  Even as late as 1996, the International Court of Justice had difficulty forming an opinion on the use of nuclear weapons.  I think it is safe to say that the use of such devices is generally considered bad.  And to use them in an unprovoked manner, would be the definition of a criminal act.  Action in response to such an attack, however, is not so clear.


E. By seven votes to seven, by the President's casting vote,

It follows from the above-mentioned requirements that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law;

However, in view of the current state of International Law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake;

IN FAVOUR: PRESIDENT Bedjaoui, JUDGE Renjeva, Herczegh, Shi, Fleischhauer, Vereschetin, Ferrari Bravo;
AGAINST: VICE-PRESIDENT Schwebel; JUDGES: Oda. Guillaume, Shahabuddeen, Weeramantry, Koroma Higgins.

F. Unanimously,

There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

            Reference - International law links


Where are we now? 


The United States, for reasons of its own, is not one of the one hundred and seven signatories to the Rome Statute, convening the International Criminal Court.  They, along with eighty-nine other nations, have not endorsed the court’s broad powers.  If acceptance by 54% of the world’s nations (only by count not population as Russia, India and China also remain unsigned) is endorsement, then it is a slim one indeed.  Almost all of these agreements, treaties, resolutions and other high-minded documents are exclusively applicable to nation states.  To date, there is very little governing the behavior of non-state actors (i.e. Al-Qaeda, etc.).  Their actions tend to fall into garden variety criminal acts and thus not subject to the same rules of behavior as nations.


How do we, as a nation, respond?  My JAG officer would chide me and remind me that it doesn’t matter whether they are playing fair, we have rules to follow.  I was amazed at this friend of mine’s workload in the 5th Fleet Area of Operational Responsibility.  He was a Navy Commander and served as the combatant commander’s (COCOM) JAG.  Eighteen hour days were short ones and routinely he spent nights at the command center preparing analysis, briefs and responding to crises.


On his door was a poster, it showed a carrier battle group deploying towards the horizon.  Below it was the phrase “don’t go to war without your lawyer”.  It reminded us all that we act as a nation.  And as a nation we have a set of laws to uphold and abide.  After all, it is to the Constitution to which the military swears its allegiance – not the government.


I just wonder what poster our opponents have on their wall.

15 July 2008

The Great Supplement Swindle...

I work on a regulated industry.  My civilian career is governed by organizations like the FDA, EPA, OSHA and others too numerous to mention.  Routinely my facility is inspected, scrutinized and I have even had to submit information to congressional committees.  This, I believe, is a good thing.  Someone needs to watch over the firms providing public services.  It is reasonable to check on airlines, food producers and others who possibly could affect the health and welfare of the public at large.  There is a lot of pressure to take short cuts to preserve profits, maintain competitiveness and sustain one's business.  VLC's (Very Large Corporations) are under intense scrutiny to comply.  They represent deep pockets and consumers routinely target them with litigation, complaints and queries. 
The sheer size and scale of the modern corporation is such that it presents a monolithic appearance to the outside world.  It can appear impersonal and intimidating.  Past performance of some firms in the 1970s and earlier has been less than perfect in the stewardship of their constituency.  Even today, scandals rocking the financial world engender a deep distrust of corporate entities.  Without sounding too much like a spokesperson for the entire corporate culture, let me offer some observations from inside.
Earlier in my career I worked for a multi-national which got involved in a consumer safety issue.  Unlike Johnson and Johnson's handling of the Tylenol crisis, this firm took a far more hands off approach to a real threat to its integrity.  As such, the market punished this firm ruthlessly (more than half its market share evaporated overnight) and it was acquired by another firm which collected the remains of a once dominant company.  This occurred almost two decades ago, long before the instantaneous transmission of information via the internet and the twenty-four hour news cycle. 
In the 21st century, corporations are being held to increasingly strict standards of behavior.  Consumers are better equipped than ever and information is only a keystroke away.  And yet there exists a remaining realm of shadowy uncertainty.  Within the United States, nutritional supplements are a realm of para-regulated products which may (or may not) be helpful to the public.  Websites promising fantastic results tread the line between deception and marketing.  Each of these products is marketed with the standard disclaimer that the products' claims have not been evaluated by the FDA nor is their product designed to treat, cure or diagnose any disease.  As a consumer, I would stop and rethink my purchase based upon such a caveat.  And yet the supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. 
Many supplements are manufactured by major pharmaceutical firms (Bayer, etc.).  Some are produced by large, standalone supplement companies such as Boiron.  These companies report expenditures to the financial markets in similar formats.  What is noted is the gap between R&D spending for the traditional pharmaceutical (also known as Big Pharma - oooh, can't you feel the evil!!) and supplement only companies.  In most cases, the sales and advertising dollars are disproportionately high among the supplement only companies.  Why is this?  Wouldn't you expect that these firms would be researching new products, providing benefits to their customers, on a regular basis?
The simple fact is often that there is no research because their is no good effect (typically there is no negative effect either).  The supplement only companies sell hope in a pill, elixir, tincture or powder.  Sometimes there is some basic research to support claims - the body needs vitamins, for example - but most often the claims are vague or even misstated.  These firms count on the public's ignorance of science and desire for self-improvement not involving traditional hard work (diet and exercise) or acknowledgement of a real medical issue (depression, etc.).  Whole industries have sprung up preying upon the public suspicions of traditional institutions.  In most cases these industries are loosely or un-regulated.  They are quick to fan the flames of doubt and dissatisfaction but even quicker to divert objective analysis of their own offerings.
Next time you go grocery shopping, walk down the supplement aisle.  Take some time and really peruse the labels of what is offered for sale.  Look at the manufacturer's claims and then apply a little of Occam's Razor to them. 
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true - it probably is.

10 July 2008

It's a Cluster...

Not really, actually the new DoD policy on cluster munitions is reasonable and well stated.  Cluster munitions are very effective against TIO (troops in the open) which includes perched atop a roof in an urban environment.  What is of most interest in this commentary is the unmistakable involvement of the DoD JAG corps.  The extreme accountability proposed - which makes verification by any interested party simple - is a hallmark of a nation governed by the rule of law.  In the ban the US admits the use of cluster munitions, states reasons why we use them and acknowledges their risk to non-combatants.  It also points out the dilemma when enemy forces are "clustered" among civilians. 
So what is our response to the findings of the UN meeting in Dublin?  We will demilitarize non-compliant munitions (not a free process), we will upgrade our technology to provide surety of safety to non-combatants at the conclusion of hostilities and any use of these types of munitions must be approved by the combatant commander - this is typically a three star flag or general officer.  For the uninformed, this is a signature accountability for deployment of ordnance in the area of operations. 
In the brief time I spent in the Persian Gulf, part of my duties was to sign off on the command portion of time sensitive targeting (TST).  This meant that if we saw a bad guy in a house and needed to rock their world in a hurry, a host of players had to concur.  We looked at collateral damage, forces in the area, allies, legal and several other elements in order to insure there was no blue-on-blue (friendly fire) or civilian injury.  The process was detailed, precise and would not allow the weapon release without concurrence. 
Where in our adversaries' list of procedures does the same accountability and concern exist?  No where.  If the Peoples Liberation Army claims that they will no longer use cluster munitions, how would we know?  Part of the reason that the cold war never blossomed into an apocalypse was due to the ruthless checks, verifications and discussions which took place between the USA and USSR.  Reagan's oft quoted "trust but verify" comment was the safety which permitted each side to point instantaneous nuclear annihilation at one another and still carry out meaningful diplomacy.
Frankly, it feels good to know we play by the rules, even if no one else does and even if no one thinks we do.
Cluster Munitions Policy Released
Wed, 09 Jul 2008 13:57:00 -0500

July 09, 2008

U.S. Department of Defense
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Cluster Munitions Policy Released

            Today the Department of Defense released a newly approved U.S. cluster munitions policy. The United States believes that the new policy will provide better protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure following a conflict, while allowing for the retention of a legitimate and useful weapon.
            Recognizing the need to minimize the unintended harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure associated with unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions, the secretary of defense has approved a new policy on cluster munitions intended to reduce the collateral effects resulting from the use of cluster munitions in pursuit of legitimate military objectives.  The new policy is the result of a year-long Department of Defense review of cluster munitions.
            Cluster munitions are legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat. They provide distinct advantages against a range of targets, where their use reduces risks to U.S. forces and can save U.S. lives. These weapons can also reduce unintended harm to civilians during combat, by producing less collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure than unitary weapons. Because future adversaries will likely use civilian shields for military targets – for example by locating a military target on the roof of an occupied building – use of unitary weapons could result in more civilian casualties and damage than cluster munitions. Blanket elimination of cluster munitions is therefore unacceptable due not only to negative military consequences but also due to potential negative consequences for civilians. 
            Post-combat, the impact of cluster munitions is limited in scope, scale and duration compared to other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  According to the Feb. 15, 2008, State Department white paper ("Putting the Impact of Cluster Munitions in Context with the Effects of All Explosive Remnants of War"), in 2006 fewer than 400 casualties were attributable to cluster munitions out of a global total of 5,759 reported for all ERW.
            A key facet of the DoD policy establishes a new U.S. technical norm for cluster munitions, requiring that by the end of 2018, DoD will no longer use cluster munitions which, after arming, result in more than one percent unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational environments. Additionally, cluster munitions sold or transferred by DoD after 2018 must meet this standard. Any munitions in the current inventory that do not meet this standard will be unavailable for use after 2018. As soon as possible, military departments will initiate removal from active inventory cluster munitions that exceed operational planning requirements or for which there are no operational planning requirements. These excess munitions will be demilitarized as soon as practicable within available funding and industrial capacity. Effective immediately through 2018, any U.S. use of cluster munitions that do not meet the one percent unexploded ordnance standard must be approved by the applicable combatant commander. Previous DoD policy required military departments to design and procure "future" (after 2005) submunitions to a 99 percent reliability rate, but did not address use and removal of current munitions.
            The new policy is viewed as a viable alternative to a complete ban proposal generated by the Oslo Process in Dublin, Ireland, last month. The new policy serves as the basis for the U.S. position in negotiations toward an international agreement at the U.N. Convention of Conventional Weapons (CCW) that began on July 7. The United States has called for the completion of a new cluster munitions protocol by the end of the year. The CCW, unlike the Oslo process, includes all of the nations that produce and use cluster munitions, making any agreement reached there much more practically effective.

07 July 2008

The face of a nation...

It is often hard to sketch out a topic with some regularity for this blog.  Ostensibly it is a military blog with items of interest to the military community.  At times it is a political blog, a skeptic’s blog, a technology blog, a gaming blog, a personal journal and once in a while it is humorous.  It is many things, but most of all it is a collection of thoughts set out for consideration. 


It is a source of validation for my own sanity and reason.


It was my birthday Saturday before last.  It was also the day that Joseph Patrick Dwyer, an Army medic, died in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  Dwyer was thirty-one years old.  A marker I have long since passed.  He is notable for many things, but will be remembered as the image of American fighting forces in Iraq.  The picture of him running with a wounded Iraqi child was a perfect representation of our armed services. 


His battle clad form (complete with eye glasses) topped by a visage painted with concern for the well being of a child sprinted across a war zone – seeking safety and succor for the injured boy.  He joined the Army after the events of September 11th.  His service was recognized with the award of the Combat Medical Badge (CMB).


What I find most compelling about the loss of this young man is the level of sacrifice he offered to his nation, his fellow soldiers and Iraqi citizens.  There are so many messages contained in this one life that it would be worthwhile to reflect upon it in relation to our own.    


I spent the fourth of July in the mountains of western North Carolina.  I sat on the street in Hendersonville and watched their small parade roll past me.  There were no marching bands and only a small color guard from the American Legion at the head of the parade.  The entire parade consisted of beauty queens in convertibles, car clubs, the Salvation Army disaster truck and a trailer full of Cub Scouts.  Ironically, for the whole of the one mile route – no one was on foot.  It was a pleasant, innocent scene.  The event was a striking contrast to operations which are no doubt underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Later while driving to lunch, we passed a collection of Women in Black – protesting the actions of our government in this conflict (actually any conflict).  They stood outside the old courthouse and held their signs.  In their hats and tailored black dresses, they could be any collection of mature women prepared for a solemn outing.  They stood with black placards waving to the odd automobile which passed them by.  Citizen Prime offered an encouraging wave.


I smiled to myself.  It is only through the actions of citizens like Mr. Dwyer that we can engage this open, often painful, discourse.  It is, in fact, this very sort of sacrifice which preserves the rights of the people to question and challenge their government. 


Mr. Dwyer’s actions were undertaken of his own free will.  They were born of a concern for his family and his nation.  His path led him to demonstrate to the world the breadth and depth of American compassion and resolve.  Ultimately, he made the final sacrifice.  Not on the battlefield of a foreign land – but at home in the realm of the mind.  It is possible for someone to give too much of themselves, until nothing remains to sustain them. 


I say to those who are going or have been in harm’s way – look to your own spirit and to that of your comrades.  As much as the flesh will bear, the mind carries wounds as well.  Do not let them fester.


For PFC Dwyer, his war is over.  He now stands in the sacred space of those who bear the burdensome tasks of this nation, willingly and with honor.




02 July 2008

Put your money where your mouth is...

the quackometer: 10,000 GBP if you can show homeopathy works

As we have just been debating in a prior post, not the lack of clothing on one Birtney Spears, but the general lack of clothing covering much of modern media.

The publishing of a challenge by Ernst and Singh in the United Kingdom seeks to draw out definitive proof of the efficacy of homeopathy. As detailed in this post - it is a challenge made by James Randi (albeit in a higher quantity). What is most interesting is the description of a major homeopathic manufacturer's allocation of funds. As a billion dollar company, Boiron has no appeciable R&D funding and yet spends more than 9 times the ratio in advertising and marketing than "traditional" pharmacological firms.

What is equally interesting is that with a little historical research, one will find many of the top pharmaceutical firms had (at one time) produced homeopathic remedies - until, one may infer - they realized that they didn't work.

01 July 2008

Britney Spears Naked...

Cheap and pathetic experiment to attract folks to the blog. Since I can't duplicate Sonic Frog's exceptional ability to draw the attention of the Instapundit crowd, I will resort to tabloid blogging.

After all, aren't my opinions and musings worthy of huge, adoring audiences?

Actually, probably not. As I have observed in the past, blogging is one of the most self indulgent activities of the modern age. It provides the unique feeling of self-righteous confidence with the ruthless editorial ability of a Chinese newspaper. If someone comments unfavorable - zap - deleteorama!

It is remarkably satisfying to me to foist my opinions out onto my site and occassionally in the comment areas of other blogs and news sites. I routinely receive synopsis e-mails from the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post (I can barely stand to look at this site), Forbes and others with a list of topical news and opinion stories.

A friedn of mine formerly worked for Bloomberg as a financial reporter. he is a serious journalist with some extensive experience in China and the Pacific Rim. He confides in me that the print media is in worse shape than is being reported, even by the "alternate media". There are wide spread contractions, layoffs and consolidations coming - the likes of which will alter forever our methods of seeing news and information.

Far from some vast global conspiracy to control all the news through a few easily manipulated media - we are devolving to a niche arena where good information will be provided at a high price while the rest of the world will have to contend with rumor, unsubstantiated gossip and Wikipedia.

I have nothing against Wikipedia, however, time and time again it has proven itself to be seriously flawed, subject to gross error and even outright lies. Long ago our world was linked by travelers who carried news, mail and stories from village to village. Fact was almost impossible to come by and tales evolved into myth as the stories distorted and changed over time.

It seems that we are returning to that time. The failure of a robust and reliable mass media is at hand. Lasting barely two hundred years, a free and objective press is collapsing to a network of dedicated fanaticists and the occassional "big story" discussion board.
Maybe there is hope for my site yet...