29 February 2008

An Alum responds to fellowearlimites "counter-recruitment " in our Highschools.

edit: Earlier when I posted this I forgot to take out a bit involving my suspicion about why the article I responded too was not in the online version of The Word specifically I called it Orwellian. I apologize as I did talk to the editor of the paper and we worked out why that was. It was a misunderstanding on my part. Again I apologize for not deleting that portion when I orginally posted the artcle earlier this morning.
I am told that the article that I am responding to will eventually be up at link above.
Recently in the Earlham Word I foud an article on Counter-recruitment (military recruiters) that was just badly written and clearly biased and in no way interested in helping students get solid info on joining the military. It seems to me as if the article is against the idea. Anyway here is my response.

An Alum takes issue with
“Counter-recruitment” and its heroes
It was with great disappointment (if not great surprise) that the lead story in the February 15th edition of The Earlham Word should be a negative one about the military. Specifically that it should be about that most mythical and evil beast, the military recruiter, is even less surprising.

The maligning of military recruiters is one of the older maneuvers of the anti-war movement. It is such a stand-by I suppose that the heroes of Bennett Murray’s article, Stephanie Scheurich and Mica Whitney, are permitted to present the most negative opinions as if they are facts. “Recruiters are allowed to say anything,” for instance slides by Murray with nary even “an according to.” While it is certainly true that recruiters are salespersons for the military one might look deeper into their biases toward the institution than the Michael Moore style of analysis adopted by Murray Bennett, Stephanie Scheurcih and Mica Whitney. In any event recruiters are not “paid to lie” and, as anyone who has visited MEPS (Military Enlistment and Processing Service) will tell you recruiters can find themselves in quite a lot of trouble for having done so. It isn’t that recruiting isn’t high pressure, or that recruiters aren’t salesmen. It is and they are. It’s a tough business and they sell a product that requires serious commitments of time, and effort attached to a concomitant ration of risk. The problem with the Murray article and the analysis of Scheurich and Whitney is that it is shallow and at least as biased as they claim recruiters are.
Adding to their credibility woes is the fact that this the article rather disingenuously represents the motivations of the Scheurich and Whitney and as such has them talking out of both sides of their mouths. At times “they want to represent the other side” (of what I wonder), and “provide them [recruits] with information about other scholarship programs, programs…so they can get money for things other than killing people.” In the next paragraph they accuse recruiters of exaggerating and misrepresenting the educational and vocational benefits of the military, while in almost the breath they engage in the very same thing with AmeriCorps and these “other scholarships.” Later in the article Murray thinks he is providing balance by noting that Scheurich “never actually took a stance against enlistment. ‘It’s OK for people to go into the military. We just want them to go into the military knowing exactly what they’re expecting, and knowing more than military recruiters tell them.” Never mind, I guess, that this is categorically not what the counter-recruiting organizations claim to be about. The AFSC’s Youth and Militarism (www.afsc.org/youthmil/counter-recruitment/default.htm) and the Washington D.C. based Counter-Recruitment (www.counter-recruitment.org) are both openly and simply anti-war. It will not be lost on you that being “OK” with people joining the military and being part of the established anti-war movement (“Stop War Where It Starts!” was one slogan I found on the D.C. based site) is either an example of extra-ordinary cognitive dissonance or a calculated obfuscation of the truth. It could be that Whitney and Scheurich are creating their own counter-recruitment movement but it would be hard to tell since they seem to spout the same bromides.
What is really infuriating about the piece is the level of condescension and hypocrisy exhibited toward the poor not just Whitney and Scheurich but with the entirety of counter-recruitment movement. They accuse the military of disproportionately targeting the poor while they themselves cravenly use the wretched poor to garner sympathy for their case and their cause. They cite various statistics on what tax brackets get the most representation without any analysis as to why this might be the case. It is impossible to miss their unstated implication that poor people are obviously too stupid to figure out what a scam it all is. Their worry about Wayne County and its contingent of poor people could not possibly contain more condescension or shallowness. Why poorer families, and poor people might join military just isn’t a question counter-recruitment is interested in asking. The benefits of military employment are not reviewed, I would guess because neither the author, nor the proponents of counter-recruitment have a clue what those consolations might be.
They toss around ideas like AmeriCorp, or college scholarships as if that will solve the problems of people who may have squandered high school, have no skills or need health insurance right now. The military appeals to poor people because it will train you and pay you modestly well while providing a host of benefits. Honorable discharge is a strong reward, or twenty years followed by a decent retirement package. Recruiters have more success with poor people because the military-risks and all- is a good deal for poor people. It isn’t that poor people don’t know the risks; most of those people accept those risks as part of the deal. The hollow pretense of the anti-war movement’s concern for poor people is itself a deeply depressing joke. The movement is itself biased enough to force continued poverty on the poor to further its own morally bankrupt pacifism.
Scheurich and Whitney are of course correct that the military has lower representation in the upper middle and wealthier classes. The reasons for this are plentiful but also unexplored. It is easier for the wealthier of our societies to pay for college, health care and all the other little perks that come from proximity to wealth. Certainly many parents in such homes actively discourage enlistment. Such people have less to gain, or at least perceive fewer gains from military enlistment. It is easier to sit on the fence about the military when you sit from the comfortable vantage point of security. It is easier to see its faults. It is easier still to find fault when looking through the myopic lens of a wooly-headed ideology.
I am always struck by this poverty deflection when it is offered by my rabidly anti-war/anti-military friends. It is one of the default talking points designed to show how evil, callous, cruel, and let me not forget racist the military, in fact, is. The military doesn’t use poor people because it regards them as expendable cannon fodder. They use them because the wealthier members of our society won’t enlist. I suspect this is terrible for the military and terrible for the defense of our country. My challenge to my fellow liberals when they complain about the rotten way the military hires the poor and the “disenfranchised” is to go take their place. The military is in desperate need of people with formal education. You would be welcome. On the following point I do agree with Whitney and Scheurich go into the recruiter informed and knowing what it is you want to do. And if you can’t get what you want walk away. It isn’t for everyone, and you want to give it more thought than any other job you may want to consider. For advice and information on the military visit: http://military.com .
Earlham’s stance against allowing recruiters on campus is at odds with its mission to provide exchanges of ideas and opportunities to its students. This is especially so if it is going to allow organizing and speaking against the military. Earlham’s stance represents a tacit admission that its own mores are not up to the task of dealing with the arguments that disagree. It proves itself insular, incapable, and frightened of change. In so doing it deprives the military, and the country of valuable leadership, knowledge and experience in an institution that is constantly in need of fresh insight, and ideas. I understand that Earlham’s history is deeply steeped in Quaker religious tradition. But tradition especially religiously derived, is in no way a guarantor of right, or just action. It is simply a recipe for unthinking, reflexive stances and sanctimony. But not only is it depriving students a chance to hear ideas that might make them think more thoroughly about their own position, it is depriving military institutions highly qualified leaders, leaders that might make a crucial difference between a bad policy and a just one. The military benefits, like most institutions do, from a diversity of backgrounds, educations and perspectives. Earlham in particular and the liberal arts program in general offers a wide and comprehensively deep education to any potential officer a designation for which all college grads are eligible.
The military needs smart, worldly officers that know, or can quickly come to understand the conflcts now flaring across the globe.

edit: Earlier when I posted this I forgot to take out a bit involving my suspicion about why the article I responded too was not in the online version of The Word specifically I called it Orwellian. I apologize as I did talk to the editor of the paper and we worked out why that was. It was a misunderstanding on my part. Again I apologize for not deleting that portion when I orginally posted the artcle earlier this morning.

26 February 2008

The Best Light Saber fights in the Star Wars Films

My daughter and I were having a discussion the other day after watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It centered on what must now be one of the more important questions of modern cinema.
What are the best light saber fights in the Star Wars series?
This of course is no small matter and required a great deal of thought. She is still working on her list but I think I have, tentatively made mine. Starting from the bottom and working our way to number one.
7. Yoda vs Palpatine Revenge of the Sith (Okay this isn't all light sabers but still qualifies.)
6. Obi Wan vs Darth Vader/Anakin Revenge of the Sith
5. Qui-Gon Jin + Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul Phantom Menace(It is one of the great emotional edge of your seat moments when Obi-Wan rushes out of the red-whatever-it-is to face Darth Maul. And it seems to me that Lucas never thought to note that when he defeats Maul he has essentially cast aside the Jedi tendency to jettison anger and aggression. He sprang out of that corridor and dropped the hammer. He was angry and he clearly was after a bit of that dish that is best served cold.)
4. Obi-Wan vs Darth Vader A New Hope (It isn't as flashy as any other duel in the series but it is still emotionally engaging and the first time we see a serious fight with the sabers.)
3. Luke vs Darth Vader The Empire Strikes Back (Luke loses the fight, but succeeds in his final trial on the path to Jedihood. And he uncovers the first in a series of lies orchestrated by that little demon Yoda. It will be Luke's first experience with post-modernist thinking. Luke is not unique in finding post-modernist ideas...uh..wanting. Plus we see the first glimpse of Vader's own obsession. I think his offer to Luke, "Join me Luke. Together we can overthrow the Emperor" was absolutely genuine. What we see over the course of the six films is that Vader is a deeply scared, and lonely boy who desperately wants to control those factors that can cause him emotional pain. That isn't all there is to say about Vader's selfish psychology but it will do for now.)
2. Mace Windu vs Palpatine Revenge of the Sith (This is a turning point in the film where it leaves behind its silly juvenile humor, and distressing dialogue and becomes a serious attempt at drama. It is also a unique hint that Palpatine is falible. His keen mind and machinations almost fail him with Windu.)
1. Luke vs Vader Return of the Jedi (I don't know how you can beat at least two aspects of the climax of this film, the other being the space battle led by Lando and his vagina faced co-pilot. Vader's brinksmanship with Luke is something to behold. Does he want Luke to kill him? Luke rejected his offer to overthrow the Emperor and perhaps he knows he won't be able to kill Luke to protect Palpatine. Why goad him on like that if the Emperor simply wants another servant? Clearly it isn't just an attempt to demonstrate to Luke the power in his anger. The subtext of Vader's badgering is something interesting to ponder.)
I could be convinced that 2 and 3 should be switched but I like this list. Ani's is still in progress but so far different than mine. I will post it soon.

15 February 2008

MMA at the National guard armory

Another friday of training MMA at the Armory. Tim led with drills for our Thai Boxing, lots of conditioning, lots of sore thighs. Punching our way into the take down was next followed by some Brazilian Jiu-jitsu with boxing gloves.

04 February 2008

CNN UFOs and Garbage Topics

I'm not sure why Larry King is on board with this UFO business, or why he is content to have a gaggle of credulous, conspiratorial morons on his show but he seems to positively get off on this kind of silliness. Just youtube search Larry King UFOs for loads of stuff that look like the following clips.
In one of the clips you will see, the documentary film maker asks a skeptic, "Why can't we just shrug our hands and say we don't know what these things are? Why do we need to find a prosaic explanation for these things?"
Shermer has a nice response, lets exhaust what we know, before we start positing new novel explanations.
These guys have strange ideas what constitute evidence.

This is hardly a good, and certainly not effective, marshalling of evidence on the part of the UFO believers. It would be nice if a show like this would have physicists, and astronomers on this along with an evolutionary psychologist like Shermer, just to give the show a little fucking balance. Shermer is very nearly alone on the show as a voice of reason. He battles it out with these witless folks who talk over him. Its not until Buzz Aldren comes in and with a down homeyness helps dismantle these characters. By the time Buzz appears it is one unsupported anecdote after another. It was kind of nice when Aldren said, "It looks like we have alot of illusions here."

What is strange is that these people who want so much for their theses, that we are in fact being visited frequently, have this gem of an exchange to bolster their point.
Shermer says, "Where's ship?"
"They hid it."
"Where are the aliens?"
"They hid them."
"Why are all our astronomers and scientists unable to verify these phenomena?"
"They are very good at avoiding detection."
So their proof is that they have no proof?
Why is it that no astronomer bolstered by sharp, rather expensive optics never see these things? Shermer is right. This would be the most incredible discovery in the last one thousand years. There is no way you could engineer a conspiracy among such a contitious lot of people all eager for tenures, research funds.
Listen to Buzz about the magic analogy. "Larry could you explain everythign Chris Angel did?" Larry, of course, said "no."

I really wish Larry would have allowed Shermer to illustrated what terrible observers we really are. But since he wouldn't I'll let Michael do that now.
Here is his talk at TED. Watch him closely!

What the UFOologists and the rest of their ilk (ID theorists, Bigfoot shippers, Lock Ness monster shippers, 9/11 truthers ghost hunters) don't seem to understand is the scientific use of the word proof. They have no evidence (why won't the weird bearded author say what his trace evidence is I wonder). Why does the filmaker think its okay to call his sightins craft (repeating over and over its a fact doesn't make it so) and the occasional radar anomaly means nothing unless it is repeatable, and verifiable by independent sources.

S.E.T.I. is a diligent scientific study, utilizing radio telescopes searching the skies for signals from space that can't be explained by natural phenomena. Repeating signals of prime numbers say or other such pattern's that defy normal patterns, but that don't seem to be produced by established phenomena. Carl Sagan has described two instances in which the S.E.T.I. researchers have recieved unique signals that seemed real. They were evocative and had the researchers a flutter. However they were not able to repeat the results. Telescopes pointed in the same area of the night sky failed to pick up similar results. Sagan's conclusion? It wasn't repeated by independent researchers or even researchers in the same lab. Was it chill inducing? Spine tingling? Sure but it didn't constitute any kind of proof whatsoever. This was the response of person who really thinks it incredibly likely that we live a galaxy, indeed a universe that is likely teeming with life. But he followed the evidence. Science works because it carries just the right blend of conservative tendencies (it will take proof to offset established theories) and an openness to new evidence, and new ideas. The tendency of the UFOologist to explain away every hole in their data as a conspiracy.
My question is always the same what is their p-value? They never present any kind of sophisticated analysis.
Enjoy the debates.