A bit over a week ago, French naval special forces cherry-picked the crew of a Somali pirate vessel from their base after the hostages of the luxury yacht Le Ponant. You can read about the story here. Now said pirates are on their way to trial in France, which means, of course, it’s not too late to screw things up.

Piracy is undoubtedly one of the world’s oldest professions (if not as old as prostitution), as old as water-born trade. It has been making a comeback in a big way over the last decade or so. Given the sheer amount of ship traffic these days—especially with containerization, which has reduced the size of merchant crews—it makes sense. Right now the big area of piracy is around the Horn of Africa, an area that sees lots of ship traffic. This, too is predictable. The Horn has been a lawless place for a few decades now and piracy thrives in places where there are many young men with lots of guns with nothing else to do except pilfer from the ships off shore. In other words, it’s the nautical version of crime anywhere else. More traffic, unemployed young men, and no law leads to more piracy. The Horn has had issues with this recently. For example, the cruise ship that was hit by an RPG from a pirate vessel in 2005.

The big, blue water navy—descendants of the careerist battleship admirals of old—isn’t what’s needed for anti-piracy patrol, though as the French raid shows, blue water ships such as the aircraft carrier Jeanne d’Arc are helpful for making brown water and coastal operations possible. Modern pirates, like old ones, often use stealth and smaller vessels. The Somali pirates are somewhat extreme in this regard as they often engage in daylight raids and are heavily armed, but even so, they’re using relatively small vessels and infantry weapons.

Because the military can’t always be there, anti-pirate tactics and devices make sense for civilian ships: Speeding up is a good one, as is staying away from coastal waters in areas where pirates are known to frequent. Various non-lethal (or less-than-lethal) weapons such as the LRAD have also been in development, though such things always seem to have more promise than they deliver. So it makes sense to make harder targets. However, it’s not always possible. Sometimes you have to slow down, e.g., in the Straits of Malacca, which is one of the most heavily traveled waterways in the world, and, until recently, overrun with pirates, until the local governments (Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore) decided to put their own quarrels on pause and get serious with the pirates.

If you ask me, the most visceral solution is old school: A push in the water after which the proper authorities will take care of the cleanup. They won’t even charge a penny of taxpayer dollars for the service! If you feel this is too old school, machine gun bullets first add a bit of metallic piquancy and crunch. I don’t think the proper authorities are all that discriminating.

The UK, however, has really jumped the shark, deciding that pirates might well be good asylum candidates! The Royal Navy had a long tradition of piracy suppression. In fact, the “classic” era of “arr, matey” Long John Silver piracy was brought to an end in the 18th Century by the anti-piracy patrols of the Royal Navy. Piracy is, after all, not good for business. The Barbary Pirates (this is the “shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps’ Hymn) were finished off by the US Navy and Marine Corps in some of their earliest engagements precisely because of the loss of Royal Navy protection after the Revolution. Now, the UK seems to be willing to offer asylum to pirates. Whoever is responsible for this policy—I’m sure it’s being foisted on the RN by someone else—needs to be sent to an asylum. Hearts of Pulp, indeed. Of course, perhaps Britain is simply waxing nostalgic for the piratical past of Hawkins and Drake, in effect looking wistfully on the early history of the Royal Navy rather than the glory days of Nelson?

In sum: Vive La France! Special forces were used for what they do best, bad guys got bagged, and collateral damage was kept to a minimum. Unlike the bangers-and-mash eating surrender orangutans in London these days, Sarko’s brass monkey seems to have some balls.

The Soviets loved their “five year plans,” much imitated by other Communist nations back in the day, though often with slight variations like the “seven year plan”. (ObFascism: Five years was too long for Germany: The Nazis had four year plans.) It seems that some Democratic primary voters are touting the “sixteen year plan.” This is a plan dreamed up by people who say things like:

Imagine the possibilities…

  • A generation of progressive leadership in the White House
  • A new era of global cooperation to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS
  • A lasting commitment to protecting the environment and combating global climate change
  • A new progressive balance of power on the Supreme Court
  • Enough time to begin undoing the damage caused by 8 years of George Bush

In other words, people who are blowing as much sugary sunshine the back door way as a delusional modern progressive can stand without going into insulin shock, in a nice way that makes Barack Obama look Rush Limbaugh-mean.

In a nutshell—which is about all there is here, and it’s one of those disappointing empty peanuts—the Sixteen Year Plan is:

  1. In 2008, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  2. In 2012, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.
  3. In 2016, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  4. In 2020, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.

This plan, therefore, neatly side-steps that 22nd Amendment, which states that a person is eligible for two terms as President, c’est tout, you’re done. I admit that it sounds “hinky” to me (thanks Abby) and probably violates some constitutional thing or another, but it’s on the edge of plausible, legally. I recall seeing this touted on the Washington Post forum by a poster (not one of the columnists) and thought it was ridiculous then but, it has taken on a life of its own on the intarweb much like other dumbass ideas. It’s the sort of plan that a smart high school civics student might dream up, with no notion of just how amazingly damaging to the all-too-fragile system and the norms that hold the entire electoral edifice up it would be. Such an idea was bandied about on the Republican side in 1976 when they were facing a split convention… Ronald Reagan wisely rejected such a deal, and waited four years to win a legitimate victory. We don’t need plans like this, not after the 2000 election, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, invented notes about George W. Bush’s service record (thin as the real one was), Karl Rove’s shenanigans such as accusing John McCain of fathering a black child out of wedlock in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and whatever other sleazy shit from the pile of digested Alpo from the last several years you want to pick up. No, right now what we need is a nice, clean “by the book” election, not this is freakin’ stupid and profoundly anti-”little d” democratic idea.

It’s wrong but not close to wrong enough to be “so wrong, it’s so right.” No, it’s just plain wrong.

W-R-O-N-G.

W-R-O-N-G.

Never mind the fact that this would be a clear case of “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” (two too many, given the unelected presence of Bill Clinton throughout the whole process).

Never mind the fact that it’s ludicrous to believe it would be a “credible commitment” for whomever went first—Hillary, obviously, given that this is a cheesedick way for wavering HRC supporters to get Obama to back down. Sure, I believe that you’re going to step down after being president, sure. It’s with that property in Florida and the Brooklyn Bridge….

It makes a total mockery of the electoral system and is, in essence, a throwback to the smoke filled room in the worst sort way. And I’m somewhat a fan of the old days of the smoke filled room, but this is pathetic.

It’s the kind of scheme that elected dictators of the likes of Vladimir Putin dream up when political pressure gets high enough that they need to step out of the office. Wait… Vladimir Putin IS ENACTING it!

It’s the kind of thing that shows up in Latin America, cf. Puntofijismo. It might have been OK for a while but lead to the inevitable stagnation down the road that gave the world my buddy Hugo Chavez.

I’m sure Karl Rove got semi-hard when he was hanging in Dick’s secure, undisclosed location thinking about this sort of thing, but then laughed when he realized that one’s never going to the altar with him….

This is America. We can, and should, do better than this pathetic scheme.

guy_fawkes_portrait.jpg

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Most Americans know this rhyme only vaguely from the movie V for Vendetta because, of course, we went through rather a rough patch with the British monarchy before our recent love affair with certain Royals and the fairly recent Special Relationship. It has a deep resonance in Britain to this day as an act that saved the monarchy from the evils of Popery and assorted other things, as this rhyme makes plain:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Now, however, it seems that one of the quintessentially British holidays—the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes, patsy, decidedly back-to-the-future jihadist, not-so-skilled master bomb maker, and symbol of Protestant hegemony in Merry Olde England—is possibly being regulated out of existence.

  • Burn the Guy?
  • Time to stop celebrating centuries of religious intolerance?
  • Classic bureaucratic over-regulation?
  • Parallels to the regulation of fireworks in the USA? (Lots of people do get hurt, start fires, etc.)
  • Something else?

Have your say!

The Chief debate at good old U of I is finally over and I can’t bring myself to much past a yawn, but I suppose I’ll rise to the occasion with yet another sarcastic essay about what I think the real issues are. While I do not speak for anyone but myself, I think this is a reasonably accurate representation of what many faculty do think, though they might not be brave/stupid enough to say so in public.

In short, the Chief was retired, not without acrimony. There is, no doubt, a hard core of loyalists who will be offended to the end and will doubtless declare firm intention to send their children to that great, unrequited rival, Michigan (where, despite what some people at Illinois desperately want to believe, they don’t actually give a rat’s solid waste orifice about Illinois, reserving the real hate juice for Ohio State). There are also many more people who weren’t exactly Chief boosters before who have suddenly discovered—for the time being, anyway—a certain romantic, I don’t know, je ne sais quoi? about the Chief. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” indeed. This is not unlike the losing side in an election, combined with the inherent and understandable dislike of having someone else be “The Decider.” The first few months afterwards are often a bit dark for the losers, but most people end up moving on after the initial sting abates. (Maybe fans who feel their favorite band “sold out” is a better analogy?) In the event the football team is actually good in the fall, all will be forgiven. Unfortunately vociferous partisans don’t move on. Heck, entire societies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) form their identity around decades- or centuries-old grievances.

The entire “debate”—I hardly feel this extended pathetic episode deserves the appellation, but I guess it will have to do—was started by a bunch of “new left” types playing the current national pastime, identity politics. (See also.) Identity politics used to be primarily a pastime of the new left, but has metastasized to other areas of the body politic, e.g., demands for ideological balance in the academy through affirmative action of… you guessed it, “certified conservative” professors. (Naturally such a demand could only come from a a former new leftie turned neocon who swapped one extreme for another.) Intellectually, I understand identity politics (perception being part of experienced reality, after all) but essentially loathe it on an emotional level. By no stretch of the imagination am I a Marxist, but I think the Marxist critique of identity politics, stripped of verbiage and boiled to the essence as “a waste of time,” is fundamentally correct. You always have to look at the opportunity cost. There is only so much room in the political sphere at any one point and only so much political capital to spend. You have to choose wisely. Here is a very nicely written piece by veteran civil rights leader Joe R. Hicks about exactly why constantly playing “the race card” doesn’t lead to productive outcomes.

The opportunity costs of the Chief debate were high. There are many things the administration and Board of Trustees (who certainly didn’t ask for the debate) could have done to make U of I better. Most important on my list is trying to deal with the constant pressure turning the University into essentially a private school due to chronic—and borderline unconstitutional—underfunding from the state that has left buildings on the Quad to rot, caused tuition to increase dramatically while cutting financial aid, which lead to the recent drop from 8 to 29 in Kiplinger’s rankings of best buys in public colleges, and so forth. The “upgrade” to the university-wide IT system which worked out spectacularly well—picking the pockets of many campus units in the process in mass quantities of lost staff time—is perhaps another. Instead they were forced into wasting a bunch of expensive time and effort on the Chief issue. It is a counterfactual to speculate whether either outcome could have been changed, but I sure as hell know that the many hours spent on the Chief issue weren’t going elsewhere.

Way to go, new leftist whiners, you win: You won a pointless symbolic victory and left the real problems behind, pretty much just like you always do. Let me give you a hearty “F— you very much” for it.

My guess is the administration decided to bite the bullet and get out of the whole sordid business while the getting was good. That’s because, like administrators everywhere, they’re first and foremost interested in peace, quiet and a steady cash flow, not justice (whatever that is—it’s so hard to decide, much like truth). Alumni donations are important but I’m not sure that canning the Chief is going to affect big donors the likes of Beckman, Grainger, Krannert, Siebel, etc., at all, or the big corporate money that gets their attention. And if these guys don’t want to pony up, UIUC can look to its most famous alum. I’m betting that even current students and recent grads will forget their resentments by the time they make enough money to start donating. Furthermore, new students—more and more of whom are from other states or are international and have no preexisting attachments to the University—won’t really know or care.

Given the correlation of forces (Marxist language, again? what is the world coming to?) in this debate, once the NCAA ruling came down, it is hard to say how else it would have gone. Lest we forget, the pro-Chief people—who weren’t exactly fantastic at playing their cards, unlike some other schools such as Florida State—managed to hold off the anti-Chief people for a long time, but once the University administration felt the wind blowing in the direction of “we’re not going to be able to partake in the big bucks of college sports fully anymore,” it was over. The NCAA is horridly inconsistent about application of their policies and I have a hard time discerning any rhyme or reason to what they do or fail to do but, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Big money college sports has become a scam corroding the mission of the academy many ways. Consider how distance learning has been abused to keep money sports players in uniform. The connection between alcohol sponsorship and college sports isn’t trivial, either, and don’t think for a minute that bucks coming from the likes of Anheuser-Busch doesn’t affect decisions made by school administrations. As we saw with the Don Imus dustup, advertisers like controversy, but only controversy they manufacture or, at least, can control.

Honestly, I’m just glad l’affaire Chief is over. It went the way it went and ultimately it won’t mean a hill of beans, but the institution’s lost a bunch of time forever to this ridiculous issue. I’m even happier that I’m departing the whole school spirit/athletic department gravy train environment, so, very soon, it’ll be NMP… not my problem.

(I fully anticipate the hate mail. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get some from both pro- and anti-Chief people!)

Heart of oak are our ships,
Jolly tars are our men,
We always are ready,
Steady, boys, steady,
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer
Again and again

Once, the Royal Navy was rightly feared throughout the world. Even at the end of the 20th Century, while stripped of much of its granduer and power, it was still an aged bulldog—able to occasionally lash out and bite the incautious. And even in its relative weakness, it seemed to have maintained its spirit and tradition, long the pride of the naval world.

No longer.

Now we have been treated to the shameful and degrading spectacle of watching 15 British marines and sailors meekly surrender to Iranian motorboats. Now, if this had happened in some deep insertion mission after days dodging Iranian patrols, it would be one thing. But it happened under the guns of a British frigate not 5 miles away. Literally under its guns, since the frigate’s main gun has a range of at least twice that.

And as fast as they are, Iranian speedboats don’t just appear. The British must have tracked them for minutes at least, and yet nothing was done before, during, or after the capture of a boarding party executing a standard mission they’d done dozens of times before. Small groups of troops are always in danger of being overrun and captured, but for their ship to stand by and do nothing? Oh, Nelson, if you’d lived to see this day! From its origins as pirates to the sad state of prey—surrendering its sailors to the first thug happening by—how the Royal Navy has fallen!

The British understood, once, that allowing petty tyrants to push your navy around means your navy isn’t worth spit. In those days, there was a simple phrase for what the Iranians pulled off: Act of War. And a simple response: inflict superior damage on the enemy so that he learns the error of his ways. Sadly, the Royal Navy long ago traded that tradition in for touchy-feeling multi-culti bullocks, narcissistic self-esteem rubbish, and soft-hearted European idiocy. “Acts of war” have become “public relations issues”, to be managed and spun and packaged. Respond to a blatant hostile action by threatening Iran’s navy? Barbaric, sir!

When the Navy’s policies force an officer of the hardest, most competent marines in the world to explain that he avoided fighting back because people might have been, well, hurt, and there might have been, gosh, an international incident, you wonder what the point of having a Navy is anyway. Surrender doesn’t really take much in the way of training, technology, or tradition. It’s certainly not what the marines and sailors signed up for.

Let me emphasize that: I don’t place blame on the marines and sailors captured. Rot this deep runs up through the ranks. And, in this case, it’s clear that the commanders on the scene failed utterly to defend their men. From the First Sea Lord on down, there’s a disgusting uniformity of spin and denial. When your top staff is this rotten, you can’t blame Jack Tar. This rot spread from Whitehall, and it’s turned the once-proud Hearts of Oak into a pulpy mess.

It’s a dangerous world, full of petty tyrants, dangerous fanatics, and unbalanced despots, and if the Royal Navy is unwilling or unable to protect its men—and its honor—it should do the right thing: mothball its fleet, sell off its assets, and close up shop. There’s no room for a Navy whose admirals have lost the will to fight.

Pointless euphemisms bother me for all the reasons that George Orwell, in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” despised them: they are obfuscations, and, as often as not, intended to cover up something beastly. Whatever else they may be, they are definitely there to stop listeners from facing reality. (If you haven’t read Orwell’s essay, go read it first. It’s far better than anything we’ll ever write.) Enter Neuticles, prosthetic testicles for neutered (dare I say “altered”?—nah, “castrated”) pets.

It is a silicone implantable euphemism.

When I showed this web page to my roommate, her first reaction was “This must be a joke.” Upon being assured that, these are the real, well fake, deal, she said “Who is this really for?” It seems that some owners—unable to own up to the fact that they’ve had Fido’s doghood docked—won’t do the right thing. (Does anyone actually name a dog Fido?) According to the company’s web page, various organizations like the ASPCA support the use of Neuticles. I’m sure the ASPCA’s position is really: If you feel so squeamish about doing the right thing for the animal for which you have taken responsibility, by all means spend some extra $$$ to alleviate your misplaced guilt. I understand because I do feel a bit squeamish (most people do), but I would still take Fido to the vet to be neutered (sans Neuticles). It’s the right thing to do for all sorts of reasons. But I also think that it’s important not to be a moral coward and to face squarely just what you have had done to Fido for his own good.

Their tag line is “It’s like nothing ever changed.” I have my doubts. You see, first of all I don’t buy that a young animal knows all that much after he’s had his doghood, cathood, etc., removed, though I’m sure he wasn’t too happy to have to go to surgery. Neutering is traumatic because it’s surgery, and Neuticles won’t change that fact one bit. He’s just not that smart and thinking that he somehow misses their absence is engaging in crass anthropomorphizing. And you are making fundamental behavioral changes, which is the entire point: Fido won’t be interested in Fidette anymore, and he’s not going to be doing all the nasty stuff around the house that a dog filled with testosterone will do to get at Fidette. Some of the comments seemed to indicate that neutering was somehow “messing with God’s plan.” Big duh. Of course you are messing with God’s plan, because God’s plan said good old Fido should have a built-in source of testosterone and spermbank so he can propagate the canine species. (Freely replace “God’s plan” with “evolution” if you’re so inclined.) Putting lumps of silicone in an empty scrotum to fool yourself doesn’t change that fact. You haven’t really done anything, but you sure gentled Fido down by removing his source of testosterone and the little swimmers of doggie DNA that testosterone is telling him to spread. (They don’t do vasectomies for pets. What’s the point?) You can buy the low end model for under $100 but surely Fido deserves only the best, and thus needs to have the “ultra” model complete with fake epididymis that costs quite a bit more. As if he, or you, could tell, unless you gave Fido a testicular examination. Do not read me wrong. I think that cosmetic surgery is often justified. For instance, a woman getting reconstruction after breast cancer surgery makes sense to me and I’m libertarian enough to believe people should be able to make up their own minds about it. Perception is an important part of experienced reality. I don’t even think Neuticles is wrong. In the big picture of odd things people do, it’s pretty small beer. It’s not wrong. No, it’s pathetic.

You know how I know this is for Fido’s owner (who is probably a somewhat neurotic male with that age-old Freudian fear of castration), not Fido: Fidette doesn’t get the benefit of silicone teat implants.

Want more? Watch this Penn and Teller video.

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