The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Music ... Personal Reflections ...

I recently met up with a guy from college who I hadn’t seen since the late 70s. His name is Al Lacki (hi Al!) and he reached out to me after accidentally coming across this web site! We had a good chat over a few beers, with lots of reminiscing, catching up, and pondering the world in a way that only engineering school graduates can ponder it. He’s got a great web site dedicated to Corvairs and other rear engine cars. If you’re into Corvairs it’s definitely a must-see site. And even if you’re not, it’s worth a visit.

In other recent doings, I got hooked on a band that started out over 20 years ago, not long after Al and I had last seen each other. They’re called Sawyer Brown, and they’re known as a modern country and western act. I was never big on country and western; it just gets too twangy and weepy and harmonic for me (although it does bring back memories of younger days when I used to cruise the hinterlands of Pennsylvania and Ohio and Maryland and Virginia on photo expeditions). Sawyer Brown is still pretty twangy and weepy and harmonic. But they mix a lot of rock and roll into their music, so it isn’t so hard for an old time rocker like me to relate to it.

I recently picked up their album “The Hits – Live”, and I have to say that it’s an easy album to listen to, with elements of evocative story-telling, good-time foot stompin, honest sentimentality, and sly humor (something that rock and roll doesn’t even try to do). The song that best combines humor and country-style narrative is called “800 Pound Jesus”. It’s hard to say if the song is a parody of the typical country faith song, or whether it still has a theological agenda (or maybe both). But it does have a catchy refrain, one that you can sing while walking in from the parking lot in the morning. The basic premise of the song is that a guy stops at a yard sale and buys an eight-foot high concrete statue of Jesus. The refrain obviously claims that this statue weighed 800 pounds.

Having been trained as an engineer (in the same class with Al), I decided to investigate the weight claim; would an eight-foot tall human statue in concrete really weigh that much? OK, first question: what is the cubic volume of a human body? A science web site suggested that the volume of our bodies depends mostly upon our weight, and suggested using a conversion factor of 1 cubic centimeter per gram. Let’s assume that Jesus was relatively tall and thin; I’ll guess that he weighed around 140 pounds, since he did a lot of walking and ate mostly fish and figs and wheat berries. Remember, there were no Big Macs or three-meat pizzas back then. There are 453 grams per pound, so we shall re-state Jesus’ weight in metric, as 63,420 grams. Then using the cubic centimeter-to-grams conversion factor of 1, we can say that Jesus’ body filled about 63,420 cubic centimeters of space.

Next, I’ll guess that Jesus was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall; an average height today, but back in the old days of malnutrition, relatively tall. No one in the New Testament bothered to describe what Jesus looked like; he could have been a shrimp. But the Gospels do indicate that Jesus had a very charismatic personality, and guys like that are usually pretty tall. So, I’ll go with 5 feet, 11 inches, which can also be stated as 5.9 feet.

Sawyer Brown points out that the statue in question was 8 feet tall. We will assume that the statue is correctly proportioned for a tall, thin human (as most Jesus statues are); so, in order to estimate its volume from the 63,420 cubic centimeters for the actual Jesus, we need to scale up each dimension (depth, height and width) by a factor of 8 / 5.9. The volume increase factor is thus (8/5.9) x (8/5.9) x (8/5.9), which is about 2.493. So we multiply 63,420 by 2.493, and get 158,106 cubic centimeters for the concrete Jesus. That’s a lot of concrete. Another web site estimates that dry concrete weighs at least 2.3 grams per cubic centimeter. So, the concrete Jesus must weigh around 363,643 grams, which is 363.6 kilograms. Each kilogram equals about 2.2 pounds. Multiply 363.6 by 2.2, and we get . . . 800 pounds !!!!! (Actually, it could be a bit more, since I didn’t account for the added volume from the statue’s robes.)

(The question remains, however, how the guy in the song got this statue home; even if he had a heavy duty pickup truck, as a lot of country-western fans do, he would still need an industrial hoist to load and unload the statue.)

I hope that Al Lacki is proud of me for quantitatively investigating the weight issue! But despite our marvelous mathematical intellects, Al and I must bow down before the greater power involved here. As the refrain to “800 Pound Jesus” goes, “he’s a bigger man than you or me.”     :^)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
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Just a few notes —

1.) Pearl Jam has just released a song as the leader for a new album, called “Worldwide Suicide”. No doubt it’s a comment on modern times. I must comment, however, that Eddie and the boys are going out of their way on that track to sound like the Offspring. And that’s not necessarily bad, but . . . . if I want the Offspring, perhaps I should listen to the Offspring, and not Pearl Jam.

2.) In recent blog essays I’ve supported a rather strict and even militaristic approach to the Mexican border problem. I’ve argued that having an open border with Mexico was fine in 1920, but in a world full of anti-American terrorist threats, we have a right to take control of our borders. However, I definitely cannot support the border and immigration bill that’s now in the House. It would turn illegal alien status into a felony criminal offense (versus a civil offense subject to deportation, as at present). Now that’s going way too far; that’s playing with facism. I believe that we need to become more strict about the border, including more walls and guards; but we also need to be more understanding about the great majority of people who want to, or have already crossed it.

3.) The next mayor of Newark, NJ: Long-time mayor Sharpe James has decided not to run for re-election on May 9, which hands the election over to a young (36 years old) reformer named Cory Booker. Sharpe, now 70, was a traditional huckster-style politician who grew up in one of Newark’s gritty neighborhoods. But the people of Newark loved his act, giving him five terms in office and a State Senate seat. Booker, by contrast, is a Rhodes scholar and a Yale law graduate who grew up in the affluent suburbs thirty miles north of Newark. (He’s also a vegetarian, like me.) Nonetheless, he’s worked hard for this moment, having nearly beaten Sharpe in the mayoral election in 2002 after serving one term as a city council member. With Sharpe deciding to bow out while still undefeated and no other real opposition, it’s the start of a new day in Newark.

But I really wonder how Mr. Booker is going to do over the next four years. He reminds me of other idealistic and intelligent young reformers who tried to take the reigns of a troubled big city in the east: e.g., John Lindsay in New York (late 1960s), Dennis Kucinich in Cleveland (70s), Dr. Paul Jordan in Jersey City (70s), and Wilson Goode in Philadelphia (80s). Booker is going to take on a system of unions and council members and police directors and school officials and neighborhood leaders who know only one kind of political game: a bare knuckle, down-and-dirty stuggle for power and short-term spoils. Most urban reformers don’t do all that well in such an environment. They speak in terms of intelligence and unity and positive change, and find only stupidity and tradition and ethnic divisions and short-sighted power grabbing. They usually survive only two terms (in Philly because of term limits), by which time their popularity, charisma and idealism is gone. Then they try to run for state or federal office, but usually don’t get too far with that. They pretty much just fade away.

Well, I hope Cory does better. But from what I know of Newark, I can guarantee that he’s in for a rough ride.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:47 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

Kevin Phillips has a new book out called “American Theocracy”. If you’re a fan of current affairs and foreign policy, this is old news to you. American Theocracy is quite a hit amidst the wonk crowd. I haven’t read it yet, but I did see a couple of good book reviews. So I know that Phillips has three major themes in his book. One theme is that the true reason behind President G.W. Bush’s Iraqi campaign is OIL, and our continuing dependence upon it.

Well, that would help to explain Mr. Bush’s recent statements that our troops are gonna be in Iraq for a long, long, long time. (We shall see how well the American public likes that idea this fall, in the mid-term Congressional elections.) It seems quite clear to me that Iraq is now having a civil war, and there’s not much our troops can do to stop it. About all we can do is to continue training the Iraqi military and police forces, and pray that they will act as referees and not as combatants. After that, it’s up to the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis of greater Mesopotamia whether they want to share a nation or not. In my opinion, our troops should be out of there by year’s end, other than a few training brigades. OR, we should leave it at the United Nations’ doorstep; let’s see if they want to organize a truly multi-national peacekeeping mission in Iraq. (I know that France and Germany and Russia may well cop out on this; but until we ask, we can’t complain about their hypocracy).

But if oil is the thing, as Mr. Phillips argues, then you can see why our President wants to keep our guys billeted in Iraq indefinitely. As one oil analyst said, think of it as a US military base over a huge oil reserve. World oil prices continue to creep upward past $60 per barrel, despite the energy optimists’ predictions that expanded exploration and production inspired by high prices would soon have us drowning in “Texas tea” (anyone remember the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies?).

So I agree with Mr. Phillips that Mr. Bush was never serious about weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda ties as a rationale for going to war in Iraq. It was quite convenient, but not really all that relevant, that Saddam Hussein was a bona-fide bad guy; but you can find plenty of similar bad guys in places like Sudan and the Congo. Mr. Bush has no intention of sending our troops over there (except perhaps Nigeria, where there is a lot of oil). Our bottom line in Iraq was and still is OIL, the oil that we crave like junkies crave heroin. We’re running out of affordable fixes, and Iraq is the last big score. NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman has urged Mr. Bush to make energy independence the theme of his second presidential term; but GWB appears to have no intention of putting the American energy junkie into rehab. Junkies can be so difficult to deal with. Just get them another fix, it’s so much easier (in the short run).

Just to crow a bit, I said pretty much what Mr. Phillips is now saying about three years ago. Here’s the PROOF.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:53 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
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WHERE DO I GO NOW THAT I’VE GONE TOO FAR — ah yes, that classic line from Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone”. (The refrain from that song has been misheard by many as “when the bullet hits the phone”, quite amusingly.) This question basically sums up my religious life at present.

I was brought up in a fairly devout Roman Catholic family. In college, when most kids gave up on church, I kept on going to mass. I was searching for some meaning and relevance to it all. After college I found a group of priests and parishes and ministries that made up for all the unquestioned ritual and closed views that I experienced at Sacred Heart, the family parish. Sacred Heart was pretty much unfazed by the whole Vatican 2 thing. Sure, they changed from Latin to English and moved the alter away from the wall in ’66. But other than that, there was very little interest in ecumenical outreach or boning up on cutting-edge Catholic thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin or Thomas Merton. If you mentioned Dorothy Day, they would think you were referring to Doris Day. I haven’t been to Sacred Heart in a long, long time, but I’d imagine that things haven’t changed much. If anything, the Roman Church has been “coming home” to the little world of Sacred Heart over the past 20 years. (And why not — a former pastor there hooked up with Cardinal Wojtyla in Poland long before he became Pope John Paul 2).

After my divorce in ’87, I decided to expand my religious views. I tried out other kinds of churches, including the Episcopalians, the Unitarians and the Quakers. THey all were quite groovy, but my mind wanted something more. I needed to go on an intellectual journey into the heart of the Bible, especially the New Testament. I needed to go as far as intellectual rigor would allow me to go (or at least my own sloppy version of “intellectual rigor”). So, in the early 90’s, I started a course of personal research into a variety of topics including mythology, Christian history, early Judaism, the Roman Empire, comparisons between the world’s great religions, and ultimately, the “historical Jesus”.

I wondered if all this would eventually shake my belief in the basic Christian doctrines. Could I “go too far” and reach a point where the Trinity and the Resurrection no longer made sense? Or where even the need for God no longer existed?

The answers, in a nutshell are: Yes to #1; No to #2. Close study of the Bible and the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth and the early Jewish-Christian church has convinced me that Jesus was a man; perhaps a very extraordinary man, but not the Son of Man. If you study other myths from other religions, you can similarly take the air out of them. But what you ultimately can’t do with any integrity is prove that God does NOT exist. And the inverse holds just as well: rationality cannot prove that God does exist, either. The rational process can take apart the complicated, imaginative myths regarding how God is related to humanity; but it cannot wipe God off the map either. In the end, the question is left in the fog of mystery.

Most believers would like some form of rational proof of God; the fog of mystery scares them, after a while. Thus the push amidst modern fundamentalists for “intelligent design” and creationism. After I lost my belief in the Resurrection, I put my stock in two other “Godly manifestations”: the fact that a majority of humanity expresses a belief in God; and the experience that mystics have of other-worldy union (which I myself briefly experienced back when I was practicing meditation regularly).

Unfortunately, scientists have recently shot these rationales down as empirical evidence supporting God’s existence. They’ve found that our minds were wired through evolutionary accident to make us believe in a Great Spirit (or tend to believe in one, anyway). So much for a rational grounding for faith; but at the same time, no reason NOT to believe either.

I realize that a majority of scientists and scholars do not believe in God. They seem to believe that they possess the ultimate world view. But they also seem to forget that whenever scientists in the past thought they knew it all, something came along to prove that the world is really bigger and more complex than they had imagined. As David Hume said back in the 18th century, science continually pushes back the veil of ignorance, but never eliminates it. And as Shakespeare said way back in the 16th Century, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5).

Here in the 21st Century, we can say that everything comes from the Big Bang; but where does the Big Bang come from? Right now, we don’t know. Maybe someday, string theory will push beyond the veil of mystery surrounding the Big Bang; perhaps it was due to the collision of “branes” floating in an 11-dimension realm. But then someone will ask, so where did the branes and the 11 dimensions come from?

In my opinion, atheistic scientists need to learn a bit more about the virtue of humility. (But so do Christian triumphalists and Islamic fundamentalists.)

So, my journey into logic and rationality has stripped away everything except God. It’s a lonely place; there aren’t many fellow searchers here. Most seem content to envelope themselves within communities of unquestioning believers or unquestioning atheists. But for those who do make the journey into this, the truest of Twilight Zones, the question becomes: can a person believe that the miracle of their own consciousness — something that the researchers and philosophers have tried to explain away but haven’t, despite various pretensions (e.g., Daniel Dennett) — does this miracle somehow point to the miracle of an ultimate consciousness (as Descartes seemed to be getting at)? The leap of faith is available to us yet, even at the Land’s End of an intellectual quest.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 18, 2006
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WHAT AMERICA NEEDS TO HEAR: The mood of the Democratic Party seems to have improved lately because of the Bush Administration’s recent mixture of bad luck and stupid flubs. The Dems could arguably re-take control of the House of Reps. during the Congressional elections this fall. The Senate is a harder proposition; most commentators see that as ‘one bridge too far’ for the Dems. Still, the GOP’s margin in the Senate may be reduced to 2 or even 1.

I think that’s generally a good thing, but not all that good. What do the Democrats stand for these days? About all they’ve got going is that they’re not Republicans. They don’t have a plan or a vision for the country, as they arguably did back in the 60s and 70s.

I know what I’d like to hear them say. But they won’t. No one that wants to gain political power would ever say what America desperately needs to hear right now. But just for laughs, let me tell you what it might sound like:

Over the past 6 years, really since 1980, we’ve been cutting taxes mostly for the rich and dismantling much of our federal government. When we tried to use what’s left of that government recently to rebuild a nation (Iraq), we saw that it wasn’t ready for prime-time. Had we gone into Iraq with another 100,000 troops in ’03 and brought with us enough resources to quicky recover the basic infrastructure, re-open the schools, and jump-start the economy, our dream of a unified, democratic, secular liberal government over there might have come true. But it’s too late now.

As to Katrina and New Orleans, we again saw that our federal government didn’t have the capability to respond quickly and keep the situation from becoming dire. And if that bird flu mutates and becomes a human pandemic, heaven help us all. As to rising gasoline and energy prices: this time it’s not just a spike because of world politics; despite our technology, the planet is running out of cheap oil. We need to get our economy off the oil standard without passing thru a great depression. Big business is not set up to do that; the stock market forces business to think mostly in terms of quarterly earnings. It’s going to take long-term government leadership.

And as to health care, just look what happened when we decided to help seniors out a bit recently (the drug plan) but tried to do it without government coordination. Then compare our current space program to what we had in 1970; who would imagine back then that we’d someday have to send our guys up in Russian capsules. And think about the mistakes that our lawyers made in the Moussaoui terrorism case (coaching witnesses in violation of a direct court order); once upon a time, being a federal lawyer meant being the best of the best. Now, apparently, it doesn’t.

To get back the kind of government institutions that we need and once had is going to take a commitment on the part of both our leaders and our citizens; but realistically, it will also require money. That means higher taxes. We can’t keep borrowing; we’re already in debt way over our heads to foreign nations, including that big one in the east that now dreams of unseating us in ten years as the most powerful nation on this planet (i.e., China). We will spread the burden of these higher taxes fairly, asking those who have benefited the most from our unbridled economy over the past 30 years to contribute the most. But everyone is going to have to help out at least a little if America is going to regain its greatness. Oh, and while we’re in the mood for cold, hard reality, we’re probably going to have to re-establish the draft, although we may be able to put in a public service option such as the Peace Corp or Americorp coupled with Reserve training.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for anything like this. Even Howard Dean isn’t crazy enough to be this honest!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:27 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
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Michelle Bachelet: Now this lady is a winner. Ms. Bachelet, a trained M.D. (pediatrician), was just elected President of Chile. She’s agnostic, divorced, a socialist, and a relative newcomer to the world of politics. Sounds like my kind of gal! Well, it’s good to see that a conservative place like Chile, which was content to be led by a monster known as General Pinochet for 17 years, now trusts its future to a person like Ms. Bachelet. I’ll be cheering for her. Go Shelly!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:54 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 12, 2006
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Here’s a pic for you dog lovers:

I wonder if the cops would give the dog a ticket if the meter runs out?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, March 10, 2006
Art & Entertainment ... History ...

I don’t have any grand themes in mind tonight, so I’m just babble a few words about two disjointed topics. Earlier in the day I wrote these topics down, hoping to derive something meaningful to say about them. Unfortunately, I never found that meaning. But for lack of anything more meaningful, I’ll say something about them anyway.

1.) Jerry Lewis (the entertainer). I could never relate to his slapstick humor. Nor to his one-time buddy Dean Martin (although Mr. Lewis’ routines were a bit more palatable when played against a straight-man like Dino). Nor to the Telethons. I agree with the critics who say that Jerry Lewis degraded people with MD in order to raise funds for them. Whatever good the money that he raised did for people with MD was probably weighed off by the bad that he did for their self-image. The way that Mr. Lewis portrayed them and the public images that he created (MD victims as pathetic cripples) probably prevented some from getting jobs and being active in the world.

Mr. Lewis has had a bumpy life. He grew up in and around Newark, New Jersey (pretty near my part of the world) and flunked out of Irvington High School back in the early 40’s. He tried to commit suicide about 15 years ago. He had a heart attack that almost killed him. He nearly crippled himself in a backflip on stage in Las Vegas. Some guy was stalking him for a few years (can’t imagine what that guy was thinking . . . . ). His son had a pop band that put out a hit single called “Everybody Loves A Clown (So Why Don’t You)”. I guess it wasn’t easy being Jerry Lewis’s child. Mr. Lewis did have his “social concern” years in the 70s, during and after the Vietnam War. But one result of his “blue period” was a strange movie made in 1972 where Mr. Lewis plays a clown in Nazi Germany who dies in a gas chamber with a group of concentration camp children. Not surprisingly, the movie was never released.

Overall, I find Jerry Lewis to be a sad character, probably more in need of pity than the wheelchair children on his annual telethons. His overcharged attempts to make people laugh were clearly a defense mechanism designed to divert attention from his own pitiful condition. Ditto for his attempts to help the crippled. I’m not trying to insult Mr. Lewis. A lot of people did find him funny, and he arguably tried to help the less fortunate. Deep inside he probably did and does have a heart. So I honestly feel sorry for him. Which is exactly what he doesn’t want. Well, sorry Jerry. Consider this a sympathy blogathon for you.

2.) Maimonides. Another Jew (like Jerry). I don’t know too much about the good rabbi from 12th Century Muslim Spain. But I do know he was one of the great ones. He was a bit of a neo-Platonist philosopher in addition to being a theologian and Jewish scholar. His emphasis on the use of reason in seeking God, and his trust in the abilities of the human mind, were clearly good things. He didn’t bind himself within the usual rigors of Jewish Talmudic scholarship; he was willing to try some fresh approaches in the search for holiness and ultimate meaning.

But the blessed rabbi had little time for mysticism. In a way that was good; he didn’t get obsessed by “pop mysticism”, including witchcraft, astrology, mythology and magic. But there is something more to mysticism than that, something ultimately irrational but not anti-rational, something that lies deep within us. I think that THAT is the source where religion and faith ultimately come from. The rational can only get us so far (although it is worth every inch that it takes us). Ultimately, faith is a matter of “the dark night of the soul”, as fellow Spaniard John of the Cross (a Catholic mystic from the 16th Century) realized. Perhaps Maimonides also eventually saw this, as his contemplative reflections on the Songs of Solomon (Song of Songs) might indicate. As someone said, religious faith without intellect and reason is mere superstition, and reason without religious faith is . . . . . well, not good either.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:31 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 5, 2006
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JOIN THE FOREIGN LEGION: There’s an article in this month’s Atlantic Mag by Kenneth Pollack of the Brooking Institution about the situation in Iraq. Mr. Pollack agrees with the “oil spots” philosophy of Andrew Krepinevich, i.e. the idea that US and British forces should play a mostly defensive role providing reliable security in selected areas, versus continually launching offensive missions against the insurgents in their strongholds in western Iraq. Ever since modern armies became mechanized and highly mobile in the 1930s, standard military doctrine says that when you are attacked, you don’t just stand there and defend your ground; you counter-attack, take it back to the enemy’s turf. Pollack and Krepinevich are saying that in “asymmetric” wars against guerrilla / insurgency forces, such as Iraq has become, things are different. Because insurgency groups melt away into the small towns and villages so easily, it’s a waste of time for a modern army to try to attack them on their own territory. The best thing to do is to just stand your ground. That way, you stop the insurgents from inflicting an atmosphere of fear in the populace that you are trying to defend. Once fear sets in, normal life comes to a halt and it’s just a matter of time until the guerrillas win.

The problem with this doctrine is that it takes a whole lot of soldiers to do it. Pollack estimates that to do it correctly in Iraq would take about 440,000 troops, based on historical ratios of needed forces to population. However, counting American, British and trained Iraqi soldiers, we have about 220,000. So we can only control half of the country. However, once we secure an area, according to this theory, we should be able to move our troops over a few miles over into bordering unsecured areas. By doing that repeatedly over the course of many months, we should be able to spread out the secured zone, similar to the way that an oil spot slowly spreads. The US Army and Marines are aware of this theory, but thus far have refused to implement it.

I’m not a military expert; I was never in the service. But I would guess that if we concentrated our forces in half of the populated areas of Iraq, the insurgents and militias would embed themselves pretty firmly in the other half. If we then tried to spread out into hostile regions, we might not do so well. At the same time, we’d risk losing the security that we had previously established in our safety zones. It’s hard to stop car bombs and suicide bombers even if you have a soldier on every street corner; and once they leave, it’s that much easier.

The bottom line here is that we probably don’t have enough troops in Iraq to beat the insurgency. Three years ago, General Eric Shinseki said that we would need “several hundred thousand” soldiers to stabilize post-war Iraq. In his 2004 book, General Tommy Franks said that 250,000 troops were needed. It sounds as though we were at least 100,000 troops short of getting Iraq under control after the invasion. Now that the insurgency and militias have grown and gotten stronger, the gap is probably more like 220,000 soldiers, as indicated by Mr. Pollack’s analysis.

But even the 150,000 or so troops that we now have in Iraq (and that we can’t bring home anytime soon given the worsening threat of civil war) are straining the capacity of the US military and endangering our ability to cover other potential hot spots in the world (such as Korea). I would definitely conclude that our military is too small for us to become both the world’s policeman and the conqueror / re-builder of rogue states. We’re pretty much getting all the usable people that we can get thru voluntary recruiting. It’s fairly obvious that if we want to expand our military, we need to re-institute the draft. But college kids would go ape-s**t if that were to happen. The days of campus activism would be back, with chants once more of “peace, pot, microdot”. (Imagine all the creative energy that would be unleashed again from our youth, as in the late 60s). Mr. Bush and his friends certainly don’t want to see that happen.

So what can the US do? One idea that makes rough sense is to start a foreign legion aimed at men and women under the age of 35 from Spanish-speaking countries. We supposedly have a lot of Spanish bi-lingual officers in our military today that could staff and train such a legion. But why would young Latin Americans want to join such a force and do America’s dirty work overseas? Well, we could give them a deal — serve five years honorably and you get American citizenship, along with your legal wife and kids (or if you die in action, the wife and kids still get in). Disclaimer: I didn’t make this idea up. I saw it on some right-wing “war on terror” blog (www.windsofchange.net).

To raise the incentive, we could militarize the Mexican border and seal it tight (as many Republicans want to do; and I don’t entirely disagree). And at the same time, we would spread the word throughout Mexico and Latin America that there are still two ways into America — 1.) do the paperwork and get a five year workers visa, as Mr. Bush proposes and I agree with; 2.) join the foreign legion, do your time in Iraq or where ever, and get full citizenship. Right now, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that about 485,000 people cross the border illegally every year. If 100,000 of them took the foreign legion deal, then before long we’d have an extra 500,000 in our military. We’d have our southern border back under control, and maybe we’d have enough military force to get involved in places where we could really do some good (like Sudan).

Again, this idea makes “rough sense”, but I’m sure that it would make a lot of people unhappy. And it probably would be harder to accomplish than it sounds. But if Bush and his Republican cronies had the guts to pull something like this off (I know the Democrats could never do it), I would have to take my hat off to them. For once.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, March 2, 2006
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OUT IN SPACE: I read today that NASA is eliminating many of it science satellites and planetary probes over the next five years because of President Bush’s mandate that we keep the Shuttle going for a while longer, finish the Freedom space station, and build the new CEV to go back to the Moon.

Oh great. NASA is eliminating some of the most exciting, far-reaching science missions, the cutting edge stuff that could help answer the biggest questions about the universe, just so that we can re-do what we did in space 30 years ago. Just send people whirling around the planet, and then back to the moon to pick up some more grey rocks.

Come on. Back in the 1960’s, at least it all had some military usefulness; it helped to scare the Soviet commies. But what’s the point today? The Shuttle is an old, dangerous piece of junk, and the space station is not a real science lab. It doesn’t have any true usefulness. It’s in the wrong orbit to be of any help in launching or recovering space probes from other planets (or from asteroids or comets). And it’s now well known that being in space for long periods is a major health hazard.

People just weren’t built to be in a weightless environment for more than a few days. (OK, the Moon has some gravity; but from what I’ve read, people will still be subject to bone and muscle problems due to the low gravitational force up there). Nonetheless, Mr. Bush thinks we should use our rockets and highest technology to put on another big space opera, instead of pushing our science where no one has gone before.

Well, maybe it’s just a part of Mr. Bush’s Christian viewpoint; maybe he sees astrophysics as the modern apple and scientists as the serpents. Perhaps we should just stay happy and dumb (and injured) in the garden of earth orbit and on the lunar Eden.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:08 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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OTHER THOUGHTFUL BLOGS:
 
Church of the Churchless
Clear Mountain Zendo, Montclair
Fr. James S. Behrens, Monastery Photoblog
Of Particular Significance, Dr. Strassler's Physics Blog
My Cousin's 'Third Generation Family'
Weather Willy, NY Metro Area Weather Analysis
Spunkykitty's new Bunny Hopscotch; an indefatigable Aspie artist and now scolar!

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