Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The High and the Mighty

Wretchard at Belmont Club relates the story of Randy "Duke" Cunningham's heroics in the skies over Vietnam 33 years ago. In 1972 he was a marvelous hero, having shot down three MIGs in a single engagement.

Today he stands disgraced for tax evasion and accepting millions of dollars in bribes as a Congressman. He has resigned his office and will probably go to jail.

The level of his corruption is staggering, and he should go to jail for it, but, even so, it's a terribly sad story of human fallenness.

Circumscribing Harsh Measures

Charles Krauthammer writes with much more clarity on the subject of torture than he does on Intelligent Design. Indeed his recent piece in the Weekly Standard provides excellent insight into the debate over the McCain Amendment.

At the outset he draws some important distinctions between three kinds of prisoners. He distinguishes between the ordinary soldier caught on the field of battle, the captured terrorist, and the terrorist with information. Krauthammer discusses what each is entitled to and how each should be treated.

He also dispenses with the "torture doesn't work" canard and puts McCain's own inconsistencies in his defense of his amendment in bold relief.

Krauthammer is careful to stringently circumscribe both the conditions under which harsh measures should be employed and the people who should be allowed to use them, and his recommendations make a lot of sense. All in all it's quite a good article for someone interested in the moral and practical aspects of the question.

We naturally and rightfully recoil from the thought of employing pain in our interrogations of our enemies. We want to banish the idea from our minds, but Krauthammer argues cogently that in a world in which we are confronted by a mortal enemy bound by none of the rules that have at least partly constrained "civilized" nations, we cannot ban it absolutely. There must, he insists, be exceptions. The real argument should be over what constitutes a legitimate exception.

Strings Good, ID Bad

Slate has a piece on Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who has been critical of the scientific bona fides of Intelligent Design and modern string theory. Here's an excerpt:

Krauss' book is subtitled The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions as a polite way of saying String Theory Is for Suckers. String theory, he explains, has a catch: Unlike relativity and quantum mechanics, it can't be tested. That is, no one has been able to devise a feasible experiment for which string theory predicts measurable results any different from what the current wisdom already says would happen. Scientific Method 101 says that if you can't run a test that might disprove your theory, you can't claim it as fact.

When I asked physicists like Nobel Prize-winner Frank Wilczek and string theory superstar Edward Witten for ideas about how to prove string theory, they typically began with scenarios like, "Let's say we had a particle accelerator the size of the Milky Way..." Wilczek said strings aren't a theory, but rather a search for a theory. Witten bluntly added, "We don't yet understand the core idea."

If stringers admit that they're only theorizing about a theory, why is Krauss going after them? He dances around the topic until the final page of his book, when he finally admits, "Perhaps I am oversensitive on this subject ... " Then he slips into passive-voice scientist-speak. But here's what he's trying to say: No matter how elegant a theory is, it's a baloney sandwich until it survives real-world testing.

Krauss should know. He spent the 1980s proposing formulas that worked on a chalkboard but not in the lab. He finally made his name in the '90s when astronomers' observations confirmed his seemingly outlandish theory that most of the energy in the universe resides in empty space. Now Krauss' field of theoretical physics is overrun with theorists freed from the shackles of experimental proof. The string theorists blithely create mathematical models positing that the universe we observe is just one of an infinite number of possible universes that coexist in dimensions we can't perceive. And there's no way to prove them wrong in our lifetime. That's not a Theory of Everything, it's a Theory of Anything, sold with whizzy PBS special effects.

It's not just scientists like Krauss who stand to lose from this; it's all of us. Einstein's theories paved the way for nuclear power. Quantum mechanics spawned the transistor and the computer chip. What if 21st-century physicists refuse to deliver anything solid without a galaxy-sized accelerator? "String theory is textbook post-modernism fueled by irresponsible expenditures of money," Nobel Prize-winner Robert Laughlin griped to the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year.

Quick question: According to Krauss and many other physicists string theory is not science, it's metaphysics, so what's the difference between string theory and Intelligent Design?

Answer: You can teach string theory in public school science classes without precipitating a national outcry over the damage being done to science education in this country. It may not be science, it may be pure metaphysics, but it doesn't imply that there might be a G-O-D. Thus all the objections that are raised against the teaching of ID are set aside with a great gaping yawn when string theory is mentioned in physics classes, even though those objections all pretty much apply as much to string theory as they do to ID.

The Iraqis Are Stepping Up

ThreatsWatch has a good summary of the fighting in western Anbar province in Iraq, particularly Operation Steel Curtain.

Of particular interest amidst all the talk of the need for the Iraqis to "step up" and shoulder the load is this:

The western branch of the Euphrates River, what is known as the Al Qa'im region, which spans from Husaybah on the Syrian border to the town of Ubaydi, at a heart-shaped bend in the river, has long been a haven for al-Qaeda and the insurgency. While the problem was well known, for some time the right mix of forces was not available to address the problem.

Until these forces were on hand, the Coalition conducted a series of raids to keep the insurgents off balance and from gaining too strong a foothold in the region. Operations Matador, Spear, Quick Strike and a host of others are examples of such targeted strikes. Many insurgent and al-Qaeda commanders and foot soldiers were killed in these attacks, but until the Coalition could muster the forces to stay in the towns, their impact was limited.

The inclusion of Iraqi forces has been seen as vital to the efforts. These forces would have the knowledge of the local customs and language, as well as the ability to discern between domestic and foreign fighters.

The development and deployment of the Iraqi forces in the peaceful provinces of Iraq has also freed up U.S. Forces to conduct combat operations in Anbar province. As Iraqi units took responsibility for security in the Shiite and Kurdish regions, as well as in Baghdad, excess U.S. Forces became available to clean out the rat's nests along the Euphrates River. What was a limited Coalition presence in the Al Qa'im region in March of 2005 has now transformed into a major presence of Coalition forces, and allowed for the successful execution of Operation Steel Curtain.

There's an interesting phenomena unfolding on the domestic political front. For months the Democrats have been calling for timetables for withdrawal and the administration has been countering that when the Iraqis are ready to take over the task of providing security we'll step back. Now the Iraqis are assuming more of the burden and thus there will be a reduction of troop levels in Iraq following the election just as the administration has planned.

Look, however, for the Democrats to portray any future troop draw-downs as Bush caving in to their demands that the administration start bringing the troops home. The Democrats will seek to score political points from the fact that Bush will do exactly what he has said he will do all along.