Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stuff I've been putting off posting

Just for fun...

"The Illustrated President" by Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine):

“Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”

That's the title of the illustration here, created in the early 20th century to illustrate a story in the Saturday Evening Post about a fast talking horse thief whose victims are about to catch up with him.

If you zoom in on the horseman's face, he bears an uncanny resemblance to George Bush. Maybe that's why Bush has it on the wall in the oval office and points to it as an example of the Christian Cowboy, leading his followers to the promised land. Bush calls it "A Charge to Keep," referring to the Methodist hymn of the same title.

How fitting, for the cowboy president who yearns to practice horse-thievery on a global scale. Scott Horton says,

So in Bush’s view (or, perhaps I should say, faith) the key figure, with whom he personally identifies, is a missionary spreading the word of the Methodist Christianity in the American West in the late nineteenth century.
You may see a circuit rider in this painting, but most people would see a desperado fleeing his fate.

Of course, the painting was reused several times and once in a more benign setting: a story in "Country Gentleman," about a young man who inherited a beautiful forest. The story was about his struggles to protect it from rapacious loggers. The irony just writes itself.


When you see "contractors," read "mercenaries."

U.S. Cannot Manage Contractors In Wars, Officials Testify on Hill

Problem Is Linked to Lack of Trained Service Personnel

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008; A05

With even more U.S. contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress yesterday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors' critical involvement in the American war effort.

At the end of last September, there were "over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness.

Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD [the Defense Department] must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," he also said in prepared testimony for a hearing yesterday of the Senate homeland security subcommittee. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors."

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William M. Solis, director of defense capabilities and management for the Government Accountability Office, testified that not enough trained service personnel are available to handle outsourcing to contractors in the wars.

Solis said a military officer with a Stryker brigade deployed in Iraq had told the GAO about a contractor that had mishandled security screenings of Iraqis and foreigners. In the end, Solis said, the officer used his own personnel to accomplish the task, diverting staff from "their primary intelligence gathering responsibilities."

Retired Army Gen. David M. Maddox, who has studied the contracting effort in Iraq as a member of an Army-appointed commission, said in his statement that it "has not fully recognized the impact of a large number of contractors" and "their potential impact to mission success."

Maddox said the Army had five general officer positions for career contracting professionals in 1990 but has none today. The two-star general who runs the Joint Contracting Command for Iraq/Afghanistan, Maddox said, is an Air Force officer.

Maddox added that 3 percent of Army contracting personnel are active-duty and that the acquisition workforce shrunk by 25 percent from 1990 to the end of fiscal 2000. While the contracting workload has increased sevenfold since 2000, he said, about half of the military officers and Army civilians in the contracting field "are certified for their current positions."

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) , the subcommittee's chairman, noted that the Defense Contract Audit Agency has reported that $10 billion of about $57 billion in contracts for services and reconstruction in Iraq "is either questionable or cannot be supported because of a lack of contractor information needed to assess costs." He added that more than 80 separate criminal investigations are underway involving contracts of more than $5 billion.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a subcommittee member who has investigated the contract issue during her trips to Iraq and Kuwait, stressed that "if people are not fired or demoted or if there is not a failure to promote in the military because of massive failure of appropriate oversight and management, things will not change."

But when she asked Bowen and Solis if they knew of anyone who had been fired or denied promotion because of contracting mistakes disclosed in more than 300 reports over five years, they said they knew of none.


We don't torture?

LEBANON: For Iraqis, Treatment for Trauma is Luxury: "A patient of Hamzeh's, Mohammed was a former bodyguard for Saddam Hussein and was later imprisoned by the U.S.-led coalition. 'He suffered torture, unbelievable torture -- they gouged out one of his eyes, and he can't walk properly,' she says. 'He is very, very depressed. Every time I see him I don't know if it's the last, because he's suicidal. But he's also religious and feels that suicide will condemn him to hell, so for this reason he stays alive.' Hamzeh looks down at the ground. 'Every day I think about him.'" (Emphasis mine.)


Here's how we "support our troops":

New Generation of Homeless Vets--New York Times
January 20, 2008

Filed at 11:17 a.m. ET

LEEDS, Mass. (AP) -- Peter Mohan traces the path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a sad cliche: a homeless veteran.

There was a happy homecoming, but then an accident -- car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife's new job but away from his best friends.

And then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest.

He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes place it in his mouth.

''I don't know what to do anymore,'' his wife, Anna, told him one day. ''You can't be here anymore.''

Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife -- a judge granted their divorce this fall -- and he lost his friends and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter.

He is 28 years old. ''People come back from war different,'' he offers by way of a summary.


Two from Scientific American:

January 8, 2008

Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does

Midwestern farms prove switchgrass could be the right crop for producing ethanol to replace gasoline

By David Biello


GRASS GAS: Turning fields of switchgrass like this one in northeastern Nebraska into ethanol produces 540 percent more energy than the amount consumed growing the native perennial.

Farmers in Nebraska and the Dakotas brought the U.S. closer to becoming a biofuel economy, planting huge tracts of land for the first time with switchgrass—a native North American perennial grass (Panicum virgatum) that often grows on the borders of cropland naturally—and proving that it can deliver more than five times more energy than it takes to grow it.

Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the farmers tracked the seed used to establish the plant, fertilizer used to boost its growth, fuel used to farm it, overall rainfall and the amount of grass ultimately harvested for five years on fields ranging from seven to 23 acres in size (three to nine hectares).

Once established, the fields yielded from 5.2 to 11.1 metric tons of grass bales per hectare, depending on rainfall, says USDA plant scientist Ken Vogel. "It fluctuates with the timing of the precipitation,'' he says. "Switchgrass needs most of its moisture in spring and midsummer. If you get fall rains, it's not going to do that year's crops much good."

January, 2008
A Solar Grand Plan: Scientific American
Scientific American Magazine

By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

By Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis

Schott AG/Commercial Handout/EPA/Corbis

Graphic - Key Concepts

  • A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050.
  • A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours.
  • Large solar concentrator power plants would be built as well.
  • A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity across the country.
  • But $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.

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