Monday, December 25, 2006


...and peace on earth to all the people of good will! And if some minor glitch like cold soup, a slight case of the flu or getting a book you've got already for present "spoils" the evening, remember you're still much better off than those chaps were at the time:

Christmas 1944 - Ardennes Forest - Belgium - 82nd paratroopers

December 25 1944, Ardennes Forest, eastern Belgium. Paratroopers, for as far as I've been able to find out of the 82nd All American Airborne Division, who during the course of the Battle of the Bulge successfully fought against at least four German divisions including a Waffen SS panzer Division. The person sitting to the left is a certain Cpl. (?) Ben Rouse. Look at this photo: for a number of these men, it would, unfortunately, be their last Christmas. Eternal Gratitude and Eternal Respect for them .Thanks to their sacrifice, Western Europe was freed and, indeed, the whole free world could breathe again. Some background info from a guy who was actually there, check out this link.

I never gave much for poetry, but over at the neighbours of Warm 'n Fuzzy Conserva-Puppies I came across a beautiful poem by a certain Michael Marks. Hat tip is for Conservapuppies' Anna, who also posts at A Rose by Any Other Name. She in turn learned about the poem by David from Echo9er. Here goes:

The Sands of Christmas
By Michael Marks

I had no Christmas spirit when I breathed a weary sigh,
and looked across the table where the bills were piled too high.
The laundry wasn’t finished and the car I had to fix,
My stocks were down another point, the Chargers lost by six.

And so with only minutes till my son got home from school
I gave up on the drudgery and grabbed a wooden stool.
The burdens that I carried were about all I could take,
and so I flipped the TV on to catch a little break.

I came upon a desert scene in shades of tan and rust,
No snowflakes hung upon the wind, just clouds of swirling dust.
And where the reindeer should have stood before a laden sleigh,
eight Humvees ran a column right behind an M1A.

A group of boys walked past the tank, not one was past his teens,
Their eyes were hard as polished flint, their faces drawn and lean.
They walked the street in armor with their rifles shouldered tight,
their dearest wish for Christmas, just to have a silent night.

Other soldiers gathered, hunkered down against the wind,
To share a scrap of mail and dreams of going home again.
There wasn’t much at all to put their lonely hearts at ease,
They had no Christmas turkey, just a pack of MREs.

They didn’t have a garland or a stocking I could see,
They didn’t need an ornament–they lacked a Christmas tree.
They didn’t have a present even though it was tradition,
the only boxes I could see were labeled “ammunition.”

I felt a little tug and found my son now by my side,
He asked me what it was I feared, and why it was I cried.
I swept him up into my arms and held him oh so near
and kissed him on the forehead as I whispered in his ear.

There’s nothing wrong my little son, for safe we sleep tonight,
our heroes stand on foreign land to give us all the right,
to worry on the things in life that mean nothing at all,
instead of wondering if we will be the next to fall.

He looked at me as children do and said it’s always right,
to thank the ones who help us and perhaps that we should write.
And so we pushed aside the bills and sat to draft a note,
to thank the many far from home, and this is what we wrote:

God bless you all and keep you safe, and speed your way back home.
Remember that we love you so, and that you’re not alone.
The gift you give you share with all, a present every day,
You give the gift of liberty and that we can’t repay.


Saturday, December 23, 2006


It was a bit of a shocker to read recently that the Vice President's daughter, Mary Cheney, and her longtime partner, Heather Poe, are expecting a baby for next spring. O'er here, the press had a lot to smirk about the issue since Papa Cheney happens to be one of those vile American Rightwing nutters whose homophobic administration has done everything in its might to turn gay people's lives into hell.

Dr. Kyle Pruett

What they apparently fail not to understand is that - for as far as I can see - it's actually that more and more state administrations seem to endorse the Bush Administration's point of view: indeed, the very state where Mrs. Cheney and Mrs. Poe are living in, Virginia, last month adopted a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. So, it's not just the White House, and while Euro MSM tries to spin the symbolism of the news as a sign things are moving in the "right" direction in America, the bottom line, for me at least, is that we have yet another state where it is understood how dead wrong the policy of same-sex marriage is, and all that inevitably will follow. I'm talking about gay adoption, children conceived in gay relationships, multi-parent gay relationships with children etc. etc. etc. If you think I'm kidding about that last one, in a TIME October 9, 2006 issue, "Europe's New Frontiers", a story could be read about 4-year old Parisienne Louise, daughter to Nathalie Jobard, 42, who with Sophie Rajzman, 38, forms a lesbian couple, and Joël Bedos, 41, who with Gilles Kleitz, 42, forms a homosexual couple. They form thus a 5-strong "family" of 4 gay people and one child. I suppose I am to include here a couple of examples to prove that I am not homophobic, but I'm convinced I will still be branded one by the leftozoids no matter how many examples I'd bring up. So to hell with them, and I don't mean the examples.

But while I am moderately optimistic about the continued existence in America of the Classical Family, which has been proven throughout 5,000 years of recorded civilization to be the most sound environment for raising children, I am downright pessimistic about that kind of Family in my own continent, Europe, and especially in my own country, Belgium. Indeed, Belgium, together with Spain and The Netherlands, allows not only gay marriage but also gay adoption, and I fear this is just the beginning. Curiously enough, in exactly the countries where birthrate is at its lowest - Spain, e.g., has a birthrate of 1.32 (2004) - legislation is the most liberal. But back to the United States.

In a December 12, 2006 TIME column, James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family>, cites well-known Dr. Kyle Pruett, Child Psychiatrist of Yale Medical School to back up his defense of traditional marriage and the essential role of a father and mother in raising kids. Now, Dr. Pruett has indeed written Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Personally, I'd be a bit more cautious about hiring the advice of the good doctor since imho he's still too much inclined to take the soft approach and see how things pan out. True, he argues a.o. that dads are critically important simply because "fathers do not mother."

But on the other hand, in an interview Dr. Pruett gave in 2004 to Religion and Ethics' Betty Rollin, he sounded as nuanced as your run of the mill euro politician:

Dr. Kyle Pruett
...I think it's naïve to think this is a piece of cake for either the parents or the kids, but I also think it's inaccurate to think of it as a form of automatic trouble. But so far, the cautious read of the research would be that these kids who are growing up in these families are basically not at risk. They don't show increased rates of mental illness. They are not very much unlike the other kids that they are going to school with.

...these children may fare better than children of single-parent families... Two-parent families, even when the two parents are of the same gender, do seem to provide a somewhat more supportive atmosphere for kids than single parents..."

According to Dr. Pruett, the evidence about what happens to children raised in same sex households is incomplete. There has been no long-term, 20-year follow up, something the child psychiatrist says is much needed.

Well, maybe America can afford to await the final results of Dr. Pruetts research, but Europe can't. I don't want to brag, but Europe can do with Outlaw's research right now, and its conclusion is that kids have to be raised by two heterosexual parents of different gender, basta. Living in Europe, I could easily narrow down the whole issue to a matter of simply preserving our precious species of white caucasians and their olive skinned spaghetti, tortilla and tofu brothers further south. After all, last month it came out that Mohammed was the most popular name given to newborns in the Caliph.., erm, Capital of Europe, aka Brussels. In the top ten for boys we find, apart from Mohammed, also Ayoub at 3, Rayan at 4, Mehdi at 5 and Zakaria at 8. For the top-10 for girls we spot Yasmine at 3, Aya at 4, Rania at 5 and Imane at 6. Try to compete with that using the Joël Bedos + Nathalie Jobard + Gilles Kleitz + Sophie Rajzman = Louise Bedos-Jobard-Kleitz-Rajzman Designer Kid Method and you end up, well, at the end. Probably faster than you think because the more kiddos like Louise Bedos-Jobard-Kleitz-Rajzman there are the more they may think a family like the travesty they grow up in are the norm, which might lead from the impressive birthrate of 0.5 of said family to 0.25 in the course of one generation. Waiting for yet another generation to have that evolve towards 0.125 will in all likelihood not be necessary, because it can be rather safely assumed that Europes postmetrosexual environment's tolerance for fancy social experiments will by then be somewhat less than the one shown today by the dwindling number of rightwing madmen like me, myself and I. But it's not only that. It's that Outlaw, after a 20-year research of his own, has established beyond doubt that the equipment used by men and women to procreate differs a goddam heck of a lot, e.g. a woman sports curved secondary equipment higher up that has the potential of driving a man totally bonkers while, curiously, it does not seem to be of direct relevance to the act of kid production. Also, it's that he suspects that men and women are, because of these differences, but not only just therefore, totally different human beings. And it's that he suspects very strongly that in order to keep these differences intact - after all, we are all for diversity, aren't we - it's best to have a man teach a boy what it means to be a man and a woman teach a girl what it means to be a woman.

I guess most who read DowneastBlog have by now come to the conclusion that waiting for Outlaw to disagree with President Bush is like waiting for Ted Kennedy to admit he screwed up badly in that Oldsmobile, and guess what? You're right. Still, while I do think the President may be right when he says that "Mary Cheney is going to make a fine mom, and she's going to love this child a lot,", I'm goddam sure Heather Poe can never make a fine dad. Don't get me wrong. I think Mrs. Poe is a decent person, as is the Vice-President's daughter. But pity the boy - if it turns out to be a boy - whose role model for manhood has him nothing more to offer than his mother. And I am being polite, mind you. I'm not even adressing the extremely insulting, underlying message of our newest celebrity couple that us males can be reduced to anonymous sperm suppliers whose task in a kid's life ends after jerking off in some sad cell over an old Hustler.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


John Bolton

This news is already two weeks old, but its implications will last longer than two weeks. I am talking, of course, of the resignation of John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN since August 2005, when the President used a recess appointment to get Mr. Bolton on the job. I guess I won't have to tell Americans that Mr. Bolton could have stayed in function, even despite the changed power balance in Congress, had it not been for Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island), who refused to lend his vote to the Republicans in the Senate's Foreign Relations committee. Outgoing Secdef Donald Rumsfeld once remarked that if you are not criticized, you're not doing your job well, and by that standard Mr. Bolton must have been doing a hell of a job. Read, for instance, how a certain Spencer Boyer of the Center for American Progress, whatever that may be, comments on the Ambassador's departure:

WASHINGTON, D.C. - John Bolton's resignation today as the US Ambassador to the United Nations is a positive development for the United States. Mr. Bolton was a diplomat who lacked diplomacy. His antagonistic ways tarnished the United States' relationships at the UN and denied him the political support in Washington he would have needed to keep the job. President Bush now has an opportunity to nominate an ambassador committed to reform of the institution in a positive way and who understands why the UN matters and how it can advance the national security goals of the United States

... committed to reform of the institution in a positive way... but, IIRC, it was Bolton who, upon assuming the function of UN Ambassador, threw on the table 750 amendments to a 29-page blueprint aimed at restating the ideals of the UN and proposing necessary reforms. 750 is a huge number and may indeed suggest contempt for the UN rather than a serious will to come up with valuable suggestions for reshaping "the world's government". At the time the media preferred to highlight the sexier amendments - like, e.g., the US's proposal to delete all references in the new UN chapter to the Holy 0.7 Per Cent of GNP To Be Set Aside By The Rich Countries For Third World Development. Picking out this amendment is, of course, a not so thinly veiled stab at America - because, after all, if the man in the street reads that the US does not even want to put a cipher that low on a development goal, it surely is the birthplace of heartless capitalism. In my opinion, and I do not say that to flatter DowneastBlog's US readership, the 0.7% Holy Cow is a hoax and the States have long since discovered that. Donations to developing countries do not help. The act of giving a drunk a buck he'll very likely spend on a Bud, will not lift him out of poverty, though it may give the donator a warm and fluffy feeling. It is no different with the 0.7% of GDP to be donated by the richer fellas at the UN Table. I can tell, because I could tell you a (nasty) thing or two about Belgian development aid. On the other hand, introducing free market reforms, privatizations, implementation of capitalist principles: these are the tools that will lift developing countries out of economic misery. And indeed, Bolton's amendments referred to the so-called Monterrey Consensus, a 2002 summit in Mexico that focused on free-market reforms and which required governments to improve accountability in exchange for aid and debt relief (can't see what's wrong with that, btw). Free market reforms are a proven means to make countries wealthier - as a matter of fact, a little known free market feat which happened only recently, namely new free trade legislation between most arab countries, immediately led to surging trade volumes and investments. It's things like that which will lift countries out of poverty, not some ludicrous vow to spend some stupid percentage meant to help, so to say, but in reality to cheaply buy one ounce of good conscience and two and a half ounces of frikking moral superiority.

Among those 750 amendments were also US suggestions on the Milennium Goals, the International Criminal Court, Climate Change and Nuclear Disarmament, but like I said, all of these sexy topics offered MSM at the time plenty of shooting opportunities to depict the US's UN envoy as a bully. The ICC? Golly, what sane person could possibly be against something noble as an ICC? But the folly of the ludicrous universal jurisdiction law in Belgium and Germany led thus far to Powell, Bush I and now Rumsfeld being threatened with lawsuits. Can someone possibly imagine what an ICC with jurisdiction over US citizens or US military personnel would be capable of? But what MSM wisely chose to ignore was that the UN Draft for Reform was at times written in such poor English that Bolton himself had to correct typos (changing "accordin" to "according" on one occasion), or that from the start he profiled himself as a champion for more ethics in the UN alleys (indeed succeeding shortly thereafter to revise the upper limit for gifts to UN employees from 10,000 US$ to just 250 US$.)

Now, all that was late summer 2005. We are sixteen months down the road now, and Bolton has to go. But in the sixteen months of his tenure, he was able to leave more than an imprint, indeed, proved himself to be an essential thriving force, in three domains:


Bolton has worked tirelessly to push for greater action by the U.N. Security Council and the international community over the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, which has claimed over 250,000 lives. He played a key role in UNSC negotiations, pressing for more protection for the refugees against the Janjaweed and for targeted sanctions against Sudanese officials implicated in the murders. He also steered the US away from joining the UN's new Human Rights Council (the successor to the UN Human Rights Commission), on the grounds that it makes no sense to talk human rights violations with human rights violators: the council's members included experts in the field like Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

2003: Libya voted Head of the UN Human Rights CommissionThis summer and fall, the UN's Human Rights Council proved itself to be a worthy successor to its predecessor (the UNHR Commission, which included murderous regimes such as Burma, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe), since in three consecutive "Special Sessions", Israel was lambasted while the real agressors and provocators got a blanco check. And then we do not even talk about the Council totally ignoring the continuous state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, China, Iran, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.

Some may argue that Bolton was wrong in not securing a seat for the US in the UN Human Rights Council. I disagree. By participating, the US would at the same time have been blocked and vetoed time and again. By contrast, painful though it may be for the sufferers from human rights abuses in the countries mentioned, a policy of non-participating has (hopefully) shown the world what a freak cabinet a Human Rights Council is when it is run by butchers.


Bolton helped establish a General Assembly consensus on reforming the U.N. resource management and budget process, improving oversight, reviewing United Nations mandates, and reforming human resources management. He led an effort to cap the U.N. budget at $950 million, pending progress on U.N. reform. Partly due to Bolton’s efforts, the U.N. created an Ethics Office, mandated financial disclosure for U.N. officials, and increased resources for the Office of Internal Oversight Services.

G-77A little known fact is also that Bolton was able to build coalitions in the UN. He forged one of 50 nations in the face of strong opposition by the so-called G-77, the Group of 77 Nations, some kind of a developing world counterweight against the G-8. Keep in mind that Ambassador Bolton's coalition was responsible for a staggering 87 percent of the U.N. regular budget, which made their demand for management reform all the more reasonable. Unfortunately, G-77 opposition ultimately succeeded in delaying and blocking the reform effort, with the General Assembly eventually approving a U.N. budget beyond the $950 million limit. Be that as it may, that does not diminish Bolton's qualities. I can't imagine someone else from the western world standing up like he did and demanding rightful transparence for usage of its funds.


Since becoming US Ambassador at the UN, John Bolton has been at the forefront of the battle against proliferation of nuclear arms technology. He was instrumental in the adoption of three key UNSC Resolutions, 1695, 1696 and 1718. The first one, 1695, condemned North Korea’s test-firing of long-range ballistic missiles and urged an immediate return to the six-party talks. With regards to Iran, he played a key role in warning the international community of Tehran’s continuing enrichment of uranium and has tirelessly pressured the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to toughen its position on Iran’s nuclear activities. This led to UN Security Council Resolution 1696, which called on Iran to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development" by the end of August or face possible sanctions. Then, when North Korea tested its first nuclear device on October 9, 2006, John Bolton successfully led U.S. efforts to rally international support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed military and economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear test in October.

Of course, these days getting resolutions passed seems an excercise in futility. On the one hand, we have a Middle Eastern dictatorship of which the leadership, and not just Ahamdinejad, have vowed to destroy Israel. On the other hand, we have an Asian dictatorship which has actually tested a nuclear bomb and which also has launcher systems available. It is as good as certain that there are profound links between both regimes - Iranian military personnel is said to have been present at the missile launching over the Sea of Japan. And then one sees how difficult it was to even get the UN impose restrictions on NK buying luxury goods.

That said, one cannot but admire the tenacity with which John Bolton tried to stomp to life the dead hippopotamus which the UN had become under Kofi Annan's reign, especially so during his last months in office. Sadly, it is not his countless working hours and frantic coalition building trying to contain two dangerous maniacs, which we remember from last summer. Rather, it is the speech of yet another madman, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who, before the UN General Assembly in September, referred to President Bush with: "Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here." And yet again, after crossing himself: "Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today."

And to top it all off, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain, the usually somber president of the General Assembly, adding: "He's quite a character..." And laughing.


Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa, Sudanese UN AmbassadorThe killing in Darfur began in 2003. By summer 2004, there were an estimated 70,000 dead and 1,000,000 refugees (the numbers would rise to 250,000 and 2,000,000 respectively by fall of this year). Countless eyewitnesses confirmed the same scenario over and over and over again: villages bombed by the Sudanese Air Force, the survivors machinegunned by Sudanese gunships, then ethnic cleansing by janjaweed, including murder, rape and the burning alive of their victims... all of this with the support of the Sudanese Army. In Turtle Bay, in that same fateful summer of 2004, now more than two years ago, the UN Security Council voted in favor of a resolution threatening to impose sanctions if the Sudanese government did not stop atrocities in Darfur by the end of August. Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa, Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the resolution for failing to recognize "improvements on the ground" and for pre-judging efforts by Sudan and the African Union to resolve the conflict peacefully, adding "The intention is there, the will is there, it's the pre-judging I'm worried about.". Earlier that year, in May, after Sudan had been elected to the UN Human Rights Commission, that same Erwa, before his appointment a.o. a Major General in the Sudanese Army and a Sudanse mukhabarat bigshot, had commented on the American Abu Ghraib PR snafu "that he was very concerned about human rights abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib."

In a perfect world, it would be Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa leaving the scene, preferably covered with tar and feathers, and with the Mother of All Spiked Boots planted squarely in his fat ass, and not John Bolton.

But, obviously, this is not a perfect world.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Barely one month after the US midterm elections, it is clear that the Democratic Party wants to declare defeat in the War On Terror. The Democratic members of a Select Club of one hundred Senators, Congress members of the world's most powerful nation, a country with 300 million inhabitants, a GDP of over 13 trillion dollars, and a defense budget amounting to 40% of the planet's military expenses, literally can't wait to give in to maybe twenty-thousand semi-illiterate headchoppers and wifebeaters who wash perhaps once a year, don't clip their toenails, defecate in pits and can't figure out how to replace the batteries in their night vision binoculars. A man would get down from less.

It is therefore good to now and then step into an alternative universe, which in this case happens to be the real one. The following video shows Dutch Commandos in Uruzgan Province, Central Afghanistan, who mark a Taliban-held hilltop with a Ma Deuce, whereupon a US Navy F-18 blasts the Holy Warriors to their own private lovefest. It's in Dutch, but I'll let the images speak for themselves. If there is any quaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagmire in the War On Terror, it's in the senators' heads.

The video ends with the commenter saying that "on the Taliban radio, a certain Nasim does not respond anymore. The rest of the Taliban fighters flee into the valley and is shot at by Afghan Police."

Hat tip CDR Salamander. It's good to have great neighbours.



Groeningekouter 1302A few words about the Dutch presence under NATO-umbrella in Afghanistan. With 2,000 troops, The Netherlands is one of the main contributors to the ca. 20,000 strong ISAF-mission (not counting the ca. 11,000 US troops still operating within the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom - so ISAF and OEF count, taken together, some 31,000 troops). Over the past year, the Taliban have resurged again, mainly in the south, the centre and the east, and while US troops are mostly active in the east, the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan's centre and its south is borne by the Canadians, the British, the Dutch and the Danes. The Canadians have about 2,000 troops (with armored support of 20 Leopard I-tanks), mainly in the Kandahar region, the British 6,000 (1,500 in Kabul, 4,500 in the southern Helmand province) and the Danes some 400, in Lashkar Gah, Helmand and Kandahar. As for the Dutch mission, four focal points can be distinguished:

a.) URUZGAN PROVINCE - Tarin Kowt.

Dutch Apache LongbowCamp Holland near Tarin Kowt is the biggest Dutch base. Ultimately, some 1,000 Dutch and 400 Australians will be stationed here. The main component of the Dutch troops is infantry: two companies of airmobile and armored infantry, supported by specialists of other branches. Camp Holland is also home to the staff of Task Force Uruzgan, the Provincial Reconstruction Team, and the Apache-detachment (six Apache Longbow helicopters). Medical support is provided by a Role 2 enhanced hospitaal with operation room, intensive care, blood bank, pharmacy and röntgen laboratory.


Dutch Bradley AIFVCamp Hadrian in Deh Rawod is the smallest of the two Dutch bases en lies in Uruzgan's southwest. Hadrian refers to the Roman Emperor who built a wall in England's north (Hadrian's Wall) to keep out the Picts. The Dutch chose for the English spelling to emphasize the cooperation with the international (read Anglosaxon) partners. Camp Hadrian houses some 370 soldiers: one infantry company comprising three airmobile platoons and one armored infantry platoon, supported by specialists from other branches. For patrols the Dutch use Patria wheeled APCs and Bradleys. Artillery support is provided by a mechanized 155mm gun (in Dutch a "pantserhouwitser") and 81mm mortars.

Dutch Armored HowitzerA few words about the newest artillery platform on the Dutch Army's inventory: the "Pantserhouwitser 2000", a literal translation of the German "Panzerhaubitze 2000". The PzH2000 is indeed a German development using the chassis of the trusted Leopard MBT (Main Battle Tank). Specs are: length 11.7 metres, width 3.50 metres, height 3.46 metres; weight is 55.5 tonnes (battle-ready), speed 62 kloms per hour (on hard road, cross-country some 40 kloms per hour). The engine is an eight cilinder diesel developing 1,000 HP. The PzH2000 has a crew of 5 and is armed with a 155mm gun and a machinegun for self-defence. It replaces the old M-109 A2/90 and the improvement over this Cold War era artillery piece is vast: e.g., whereas the 109's range was a mere 18 kilometres, the PzH2000 can throw a charge away over 40 kilometers. The shells weigh 40 to 45 kilograms, but this poses no problem for the crew since charging is automatic. Apart from that, armour and speed are better, cross-country performance too and especially rate of fire. The Dutch Army has currently two Pantserhouwitsers in Afghanistan, of which one was used in September to provide artillery support during the Canadian Medusa operation.


Since August 1, 2006, the Dutch Air Task Force operates from Kandahar Airfield (KAF). Its main components are eight F-16 fighter bombers and five Cougar transport helicopters. Over the past few months, the F-16’s saw a great deal of action. They have proven essential to provide the groundtroops with freedom of movement. Kandahar is also home to the international Regional Command South, an ISAF HQ with 200 Dutch among its staff. Finally, there's also a Logistic Support Element.


Some 60 Dutch are stationed on Kabul International Airport (KAIA).

Monday, December 04, 2006


Kristallnacht, 1938In the night of November 9 to 10, 1938, tens of thousands of Jews in Germany and Austria had their windows smashed out, as "ordinary" German citizens and SA-men went on a rampaging tour with sledgehammers, leaving the streets covered with shards of glass. This infamous assault against a peaceful and contributing minority got to be known as the "Night of the Broken Glass" - Kristallnacht in German, and it was a foreboding of something much worse and evil to follow a few years later. Almost seventy years later, all over Europe the number of anti-semitic incidents is again on the rise. And last week, the small Belgian town of Beringen had its own Kristallnacht.

From the newspaper "De Gentenaar":

BRUSSELS - Last Thursday, November 30, a group of Jewish orthodox youths was pelted with stones and chased away from the youth hostel they were staying in. The agressors were Belgian "youths" of Turkish origin.

On Thursday evening a group of around sixty youths from an Orthodox Jewish school in Antwerp arrived at 8.30 pm in Youth Hostel "De Kompel" in Beringen, an old mining town in the province of Limburg, eastern Belgium. They had been mountainbiking in Valkenburg, right across the border in Holland, and wanted to stay in Beringen for the night, planning to visit Beringen's Mining Museum the next day before resuming their journey.

At 9pm a group of Turkish youths gathered in the vicinity of the youth hostel. They shouted anti-Jewish slogans and besieged the hostel, throwing stones and pieces of concrete through the windows. Police arrived on the scene "to ease the tensions" and by 10pm "the situation was under control". Thereupon a school teacher accompanying the chassidic youngsters decided not to stay for the night in Beringen and fetch the boys back to Antwerp by bus.

Ten youths of Turkish origin, six of them minors, were arrested and led before a Court in Hasselt, where "alternative punishments" were meted out: they must pay for the damage, offer apologies to the jewish youths and were sentenced to 30 hours of community service.

Selahattin KoçakOffer apologies to the Jewish youths.... Beringen is a community with a lot of Turkish immigrants. In fact, during the municipal elections the main contest for the mayor's seat ook place between Marcel Mondelaers, of the Christian Democratic Party CD & V, and a resident of Turkish origin, Selahattin Koçak, of the Socialist Party SP.a. Koçak stood a very good chance of becoming the first mayor of immigrant origin of a Belgian town, but his socialist party was in extremis beaten by the christian democrats with a difference of... 0.3%. Given the fact that indigenous Belgians, with a fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman, are on the road to extinction while the Turkish community with 3.5 children per woman is on the rise, Marcel Mondelaers may very well be Beringen's very last native Belgian mayor. Note, also, that Mr. Koçak preferred to throw in his lot with a socialist party. As I have already mentioned ad nauseam on these pages, it's striking how immigrants from a culture with archconservative views on the role of women in society, homosexual people, abortion and euthanasia and what not, time and again choose the side of leftist parties with views and values diametrically opposed to theirs.

So, although Mr. Koçak narrowly lost, in Beringen he remains the pater familias, so to say, of the Turkish immigrants, who voted massively for him. In my humble opinion, and knowing that this gang of racaille will offer excuses to the Jewish boys the day Eid-al-Fitr falls on Easter, it would have been a proper reaction of Mr. Koçak to apologize for the behaviour of the little stinker buggers.

But instead, it was Mayor Mondelaers who apologized. Again, from newspaper "De Gentenaar":

BERINGEN - "The town of Beringen offers her apologies to the Jewish community... We offer the group of teenagers the possibility to resume the planned visit to the town of Beringen. We want to prove that in spite of this incident the town remains a hospitable and tolerant place." - dixit Marcel Mondelaers, Mayor of Beringen.

Yup. A gang of semi-illiterate muslim youths chases away peacefully mountainbiking Jewish schoolboys with stones and concrete blocks, and the town apologizes. Sounds logical to me. Not. I wrote that a Jewish teacher decided to transfer the youths back to Antwerp by bus the same night. Belgium's top blogger Luc Van Braekel, who is a very reliable source and who I owe the hat tip for this story, reports that the teacher did so "because Belgian Police in Beringen told the Jewish group they could not guarantee their safety."

At first I thought this claim was so outrageous I could not believe it, but I did find a story quoting the deputy chairman of the Belgian Forum of Jewish Organizations. From the newspaper "Het Belang van Limburg":

"The worst of all is that the police could not guarantee our safety and sent our group back home in the middle of the night", says Pinkas Kornfeld, Deputy Chairman of the Forum of Jewish Organizations. "We should be able to walk around calm and freely in all of Belgium." Kornfeld emphasizes that the orthodox jews themselves definitely did not provoke the Beringen youths. "We want a strong signal from the authorities", says Mr. Kornfeld. "We certainly expect an encounter with the responsible Minister."

Too bad Mr. Kornfeld. The Belgian authorities are in the thick of the fight against the Nazi Stormtroopers of the Vlaams Belang.












P.S.: second and third photos via the site of Claude Marinower.

Sunday, December 03, 2006



France got It.

Photo of CEA in Cadarache with simulation of ITER, backgroundIter, I mean. Which stands for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. OK, the decision to build ITER in France - more exactly in Cadarache, some sixty kloms north of Marseilles - was taken back in June 2005 already, but implementation of that decision is only now speeding up, since halfway November 2006 ministers from the EU, US, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Russia signed an agreement to establish the international organisation that will oversee the Iter fusion energy project. ITER's goal is to generate at least 10 times the power needed to sustain the hot heavy hydrogen mixture during at least 400 seconds in order to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion. Now, usion, as opposed to fission, will cause a certain percentage of people following the energy debate to smirk, if not scold. After all, it has been called the energy project of the future for half a century now, and fusion research has consumed billions of dollars without yielding significant results, or so it seems. Indeed, it's almost 50 years since EURATOM was founded, back in 1957, with the aim of coordinating national fusion research and finding ways of using controlled fusion as a source of energy. This European cooperation resulted in the construction, starting in 1978, of the JET, or Joint European Torus, in Culham (UK), and to this day, JET is still the largest experimental fusion reactor yet built. Towards the end of the eighties, the European Community intended to build JET's successor, which was to be called NET, or Next European Torus. But soaring costs led to the EU reaching out to other countries to help fund NET. However, the then-Soviet Union, Japan and the US, all of which had their own fusion experiments, gave the EU the cold shoulder as long as NET would remain a European undertaking, and this is how the "international" ITER project was born.

Ironically, fifteen years later the ITER Project does strongly look European, and this despite the involvement (and funding) of India and South-Korea, despite strong competition from Japan to have the new fusion site erected on its territory (Japan lobbied hard for the Rokkasho site), and despite China having joined the club in early 2003. As French President Jacques Chirac said in June 2005, after the decision had finally been made to construct ITER in Cadarache, birthplace of France's atomic energy programme in 1959: "It is a big success for France, for Europe and for all the partners of Iter." The French cannot be trusted.

When the search for fusion energy is still going on after half a century and when all the world's powerbrokers are involved, it's hard to dismiss the whole idea of creating a sun on earth - because that's what fusion is - as a pipe dream, as so many have called it. True, even the most successful of the fusion reactors to date, JET, still absorbs more energy than it yields, and true, with an estimated cost of 10 billion EUR (some 13 billion US $) Iter will be the most expensive joint scientific project after the ISS. But in today's world, the decision to continue with it is spurred more and more by the converging realities of the ever increasing global hunger for Megawatts and the necessity of finding a non-polluting energy source. The world's Energy Consumption is scheduled to rise 54% over the timespan 2001-2025, and its Carbon dioxe emissions over the same period by an estimated 55%. I am very reluctant to go along with the Al Gore hysteria and think that the whole climate scare is horribly politicized, but you don't have to be a greenie to realize that 28,000 tonnes of CO2 pumped in the atmosphere every minute can't be a good thing to the earth, even if it would appear that it does not cause global warming. For the time being, a mix between fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable energy allows humanity to soldier on, but with the first being limited, the second causing radioactive pollution for tens of thousands of years and the third downright insufficient, the idea of fission seems like the only long-term answer to earth's energy needs. Especially knowing that one kilogram of fusion fuel can theoretically produce the same amount of energy as 10,000,000 kg of fossil fuel.


Excuse me, but I will now have to resort to some physical shorthand if I want to explain the quintessential difference between fission and fusion. In a fission reaction, a heavy Uranium 235 atom is shot at with a neutron – a small electrically neutral particle - with the aim of breaking it up. Indeed, really splitting it so to say, the way an apple is supposed to be sliced in two halves if you shoot at it with a broad arrowblade.

FissionWhy split it? Because energy is freed in the process. Think of a U235 atom as a core made up of 235 little balls. 92 of them are loaded electrically positive – they are called protons, the red balls to the left. The remainder, 143, are electrically neutral – we call them neutrons, they are the yellow ones. When you look at the drawing you see the denomination U235/92. It's not the most correct analogy, but try to think in terms of weights relevant to a truck. That would be its maximum authorized weight (the sum of its own mass plus its payload), and what really matters, the payload itself. In the same manner, the atomic weights relevant to this particular Uranium atom are 235 (its maximum weight), and what really matters, the 92 protons. So you really have to understand that the 92 "weight" is also included in the 235! Or put differently, the maximum atomic weight, 235, is the sum of the "protonic" weight, 92, and the "neutronic" weight, 143. Well, when a neutron similar to the ones in that Uranium core is shot inside that core, the core becomes a 236-ball constituency – but only for a splitsplitsplitsplit second, since unstable. It breaks up. It breaks up into two smaller cores, one with 144 balls and one with 89 balls. The former is called a Barium atom (Ba), the latter a Krypton atom (Kr). But hold it! Oops, 144 + 89 = 233??? That’s right, the breakup process produced two lighter cores and 215MeV of energy but… three little balls went missing. All three of them neutrons again, flying away at a mighty speed and as luck will have it smacking into three other U-235 atoms, which will again split and produce 3 x 215MeV = 645 MeV! Which is what is called a self-sustaining chain reaction. More details with excellent graphs here.

Now, if one can somehow control this proliferation of loose neutrons flying away at high speeds you have a controlled self-sustaining chain reaction. You get a reliable, stable source of energy. If you don’t give a hoot about controlling the chain reaction, you get an atomic bomb. That's it in a nutshell, except that if you belong to the latter category, like Ahmadanutjob, you need uranium containing at least 90% of U235, which is called weaponsgrade uranium. Don't worry, he's working on it.


Now fusion. Fusion is the process whereby energy is released not by splitting atom cores, but, on the contrary, by fusing them! The cores to be fused are Deuterium and Tritium, and please, don't run away now, it really isn't that complicated! Above we have already met the Uranium atom, one of the heavier atoms, consisting a.o. of 92 protons. Well, the very simplest atom has just one proton, and is called Hydrogen (H). Coupled with two Oxygen (O) atoms, Hydrogen forms a fluid we use tens of litres of each day - water: H2O. Now, while a Hydrogen atom thus consists of a core with just one positively laden proton (and one negatively laden electron circling around it), there are hydrogen atoms with heavier cores, because the sole proton is accompanied by either one electrically neutral neutron, and then we speak of Deuterium, or either two, and then we speak of Tritium. Deuterium and Tritium are the two isotopes of Hydrogen: the core's electrical charge is the same (in all three cases only one proton), but the weights differ. See the picture above, which is from the UC Berkeley, Nuclear Department's site. If you ever heard the phrase "Heavy Water", well, here it is: a heavy deuterium or tritium core can also combine with two Oxygen atoms, and then you have either D2O, or T2O - heavy water! One of the main dead ends the Germans entered in their development of a nuclear bomb is that they focused on heavy water to sustain - moderate - their controlled experimental fission reactions (which makes the diring Telemark Raid, albeit spectacular, to some extent an exercise in futility). The American effort used graphite for moderator, which is why the US was the first country with a working atomic bomb - but I digress.

When deuterium and tritium fuse, for a brief instant they form an unstable nucleus of two protons and three neutrons, or a Helium atom with a mass of 5. This bursts apart as seen in the figure to the left, in a stable 4He helium nucleus (core consisting of two protons and two neutrons) with 3.5 MeV (1 MeV = 1 million eV) of kinetic energy swerving off in one direction, and a neutron with four times as much energy, 14.1 MeV, going off in the other. With its positive charge the helium 4He nucleus, also called an alpha particle (the so-called alpha rays, with a very low penetration ability, are merely rays of helium atoms), interacts strongly with surrounding material and stops rapidly, depositing 3.5 MeV of heat close to the site of the fusion reaction. The electrically neutral neutron can only slow down by colliding with other nuclei, transferring small amounts of kinetic energy to each just as a cue ball when it hits a pool ball, until finally the neutron is absorbed by some atom's nucleus, potentially several meters from the original fusion reaction. Thus, fusion results in kinetic energy transforming in heat. So far so good. However, in order to make Deuterium and Tritium to collide like that, one needs to put much more energy first. E.g., while not exactly a reactor, the so-called RTNS (Rotating Target Neutron Source), developed by Lawrence Livermore Labs and commissioned in the mid-seventies needs and input of thousands of watts to produce just two (2) watts of fusion energy - and this for a process in which six trillion fusion reactions take place every second! (note: the RTNS was actually merely a source of so-called 14.1 MeV neutrons necessary for the actual fusion energy programs of the US and Japan - the fusion phenomenon was only used to generate neutrons). The drawing to the right, from a Dutch textbook, shows once again the fusion principle.


NOT!!! Only kidding, thank God. The graph above shows, in fact, what is in se quite obvious. Fission is something for heavy atoms and fusion something for light atoms. See the principles above. I scanned this graph from a course Electrical Engineering I took some 18 years ago, when I was a student Electromechanical Engineering in the town of Aalst. So yes, the handwriting is mine. Pops likes to say I have the ugliest handwriting on the whole planet, but I don't agree. I think the would be nuke scientist to the right's scribbles are far more puke-provoking. The good thing is, I don't think he will ever be a second Abdullah Qadeer Khan. The bad thing is, he may have enough gray mass to fabricate IEDS. But I digress again! That graph. The horizontal axis depicts rising atomic mass numbers. So the more to the right you go, the heavier the atom. To the extreme left on that axis you'll find thus Hydrogen and its isotopes, to the extreme right heavy atoms like Uranium. The vertical axis stands for the energy binding together protons and neutrons in a core. This is thus also the energy freed either through fusion or fission. On the fusion "side", the higher the graph goes, the higher the binding energy, and you can see that the "ideal" zone corresponds with a mass number between 40 and 100. On the fission side, towards the right, the graph goes downhill. This is all theory of course. Theoretically, if you'd fuse somewhat heavier atoms than the ultralight hydrogen isotopes, you'd get more power ouput. Similarly, if you'd split lighter atoms than Uranium, you'd also get more output. In practice however, for a variety of reasons, uranium is used for fission and deuterium/tritium for fusion. Keep in mind though that a mixture of Deuterium and the heavier Helium is also considered to be a possible fusion fuel.


Compared to fusion, economically extracting energy from fission seems like small beer. The first nuclear fission powerplant dates from 1957 already, and forty years later the latest technological development is the so-called PBMR or Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, a Generation IV-development. But fusion... that is another matter. After all, you need to attract non-opposites: fusing a deuterium and tritium core means essentially forcing two particles with the same electrical charge together. Try to imagine forcing trillions of tiny horsehoe magnets together with the repelling ends against each other. However, it does happen in nature: in our Sun's core and in all other stars. There, unimaginable gravitational pressure allows fusion to happen at temperatures of about 10 million degrees Celsius. Naturally, on Earth it is impossible to simulate a gravity of that magnitude, so the only means to make fusion happen anyway, is at temperatures even far exceeding the Sun's core temperature - above 100 million degrees Celsius. Fusion is thus actually creating something even much hotter than a mini-Sun on Earth. No materials on Earth or possibly in the entire Universe could withstand direct contact with such heat. Scientists have come up with two solutions: on the one hand the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) devices, like the US's Shiva laser or Japan's GEKKO XII. While it was at first thought ICF could move beyond the experimental stage and provide the working principle for, it was hoped, Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) plants, that hope has now been largely been abandoned, due to the ICF's laser's very low efficiency (1 - 1.5%). On the other hand there are the magnetic confinement devices, whereby a super-heated gas, or plasma, is held and squeezed inside an intense doughnut-shaped magnetic field.. In a plasma, the electrons have been separated from their atomic nuclei, so it's all charged particles (except the neutrons of course) whirling through each other. Examples are the EU's JET, the US's Alcator C-Mod, Japan's JT-60 or Russia's T-15. The last one is very important, because the T-15 was the first fusion reactor based on the Tokamak configuration. "TOKAMAK" is an acronym of the Russian words "TOroidalnay KAmera ee MAgnitaya Katushka", which means: "Toroidal Chamber with Magnetic Coil". The Tokamak principle was invented in the fifties by Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm and... Andrei Sakharov, father of the Russian H-Bomb. Both elaborated an earlier idea of a certain O.A. Lavrent'ev. In life, there are a great number of things you should never do and one of them is never, ever, underestimate the Ruskis.

In a Tokamak the hot plasma is held in its place, not touching any solid matter, by strong toroidal and poloidal magnetic fields, see figure to the right. Absolutely necessary for the toroidal field is the huge central solenoid magnet. The poloidal field however... is generated by a large current, up to several million amperes, which flows through the plasma. This current is first induced by transformers and, after that, must be maintained "by non-inductive current drive or by self-generation of currents inside the plasma". Actually it's crazy: imagine that with a couple of colleagues all wearing isolating gloves and standing in a circle all of you try to hold an incredibly hot donut shaped balloon in place, one which writhes frantically to expand/explode, and you are still far off.

So, what does a Tokamak reactor look like from the inside? The photo shows the interior of an American Tokamak, the TFTR, or Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor, an experimental built at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey in 1980. With TFTR, Princeton PPL hoped it would achieve fusion energy break-even (energy input = energy output). Unfortunately, like with all other Tokamaks, this did not happen. The record holder thus far is still the EU's JET, which began operation in 1983 and which in 1997 produced a peak output of 16MW (an absolutely sizeable amount of energy) with a Q-value of 0.7. Q is the ratio of fusion alpha heating power to input heating power, which means that during this test input power was 16MW/0.7 = 22.86 MW. Personally, I think this is an amazing result.


ITER - which in Latin means "the way" - is now the next step. Or, for optimists, the last but one step before starting commercial energy production through fusion. Fusion has already been achieved a thousand times. It is up to Iter to prove that fusion is also economically viable. After ITER will, it is hoped, come the prototype of the first commercial fusion reactor. Here would be an energy source acceptable to all, except Chavez and oil sheikhs. Using fuel derived from seawater (100 kilograms of deuterium and tritium would be sufficient to fuel a one-gigawatt (1GW) fusion plant to operate for a year), not polluting the atmosphere, and not emitting greenhouse gases. And while fusion does irradiate the reaction chamber, the only waste would come out in the open if that reactor chamber would be scrapped. And even then, the radioactivity would decay and become safe after about one hundred years. As for safety, I found this hard to believe, but it seems there can't be anything like a blowup, and certainly not a meltdown. It seems that if the magnetic fields holding the plasma in place would fail for some reason, contact of the plasma with the reactor's interior would immediately stop the process. Not without simultaneously melting that same interior, I figure, and I wouldn't want to be near when it happens. But a disaster like Chernobyl badly affecting half Europe seems to be out of the question. Well, let's hope for the best. ITER won't generate electricity yet, only heat, some 500MW. There's no turbines and generators attached to the complex. But it will determine for good whether we can count, by 2040/2050 or so, on an inexhaustible and clean energy source. If the answer is no, then the future looks bleak, so it better work. In the meantime, look at the ITER simulation below. Compare the reactor's size to that small figure below. Yes, that's a human size. See how big it will be? Say to yourself, if the brightest minds would not think this thing has a serious chance to fly, would they build a mammoth like that?



Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Danish Soldiers Take Pride

Hat tip CDR Salamander and Celestial Junk.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman, 1912-2006

Free market economist Milton Friedman dead at 94

Sorry, no Michaelesque efforts on this post, as today is insanely busy for me, but I had to put something up about the passing of Milton Friedman. This man was an absolute giant in his field. He has forgotten more about economics than Paul Krugman could ever hope to know. Want to solve the world's economic issues? Put down that Socialist manifesto and check out Friedman's work. The answers are in there.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


As all of you know by now, the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has been dismissed after 6 years of faithful service. The President's farewell message contained, apart from the obligatory praise, the explanation for this sudden change of guard, and it is that new perspectives in the Iraq war are needed. A curious explanation indeed when one considers that not two weeks ago the President said that he intended to stick with Rumsfeld till the end of his Presidency. The real reason for the dismissal is, of course, that public opinion needs a blood sacrifice. It seems that if a nation is handed the tools for Democracy and Rule of Law on a silver platter but prefers to use tools for drilling holes in skulls instead, not that nation is to blame but a bearer of the silver platter.

It is very likely risky to draw conclusions from secluded events happening thousands of miles away in military HQ's, the Green Zone or the power corridors in Washington. Plus, there was the simultaneous publication, in the first week of November, of an editorial in all three issues of the Army Times asking that Rumsfeld should go. Then, of course, the many times I read that Mr. Rumsfeld was arrogant, stubborn, and not willing to listen. All of these elements make one cautious, if not reluctant, to take up the Defense of the Secretary of Defense. But I'll do it anyway.

I'll do it anyway, because I know that Mr. Rumsfeld served in the Nixon administration as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity - one of the youngest US ministers ever. Which means the man must be damn intelligent.

I'll do it anyway, because I remember that General Franks' original plan to liberate Iraq called for an invading army of 500,000, but it was Mr. Rumsfeld who for months prior to OIF kept poring over Project 77, as the preliminary draft was called, interfered in operational details, and insisted Franks downgrade the troops to a quarter of the original total. And as we all know, Saddam's Iraq was cut down in three weeks. Which means the man's grasp on military affairs is not to be underestimated, to say the least.

I'll do it anyway, because even prior to 9/11 Rumsfeld was known for his emphasis on Special Operations and his willingness to cut down on costly Cold War era weapons systems, such as the unwieldy 80-ton Crusader mechanized artillery combination. Which means the man was intent to not let the American taxpayer foot unnecessary multibilliondollar bills.

And I'll do it anyway, because the criticism I heard thus far has come from only a couple of retired generals - Batiste, Zinni, Swannack, plus a few others. I figure there must be tens if not hundreds of retired US generals. Why do we not hear them asking for Rumsfelds head? Why is Tommy Franks not asking (as a matter of fact, the few occasions in which I have read about Franks on the Secretary it was always with a lot of respect). Why is Raymond Odierno not asking, who two years ago was described as a rising star in the top brass?

The criticism on Donald Rumsfeld mostly seems to crystallize around two main charges. The first one is that the current mayhem in Iraq is his fault because he ignored General Shinseki's recommendation that in order to maintain stability in Iraq "several hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed". Rumsfeld may indeed have underestimated the number of "occupation" troops, but your most obvious question which is never asked with regards to Shinseki's estimate is: where would he get them? As far as I know, the US Army numbers some 480,000 troops on active duty. Plus, perhaps 350,000 in the Army National Guard. Add to that the Army Reserve, give and take 200,000, plus some 70,000 Marines. Adding these four branches together one arrives at a grand total of 1,100,0000. Now suppose that Shinseki's goal was 350,000 men on the ground. I am not a military expert, but I gather that in order to maintain a field strength in Iraq like this, you need at least three times that number - or, 1,350,000, since I assume a working and bearable rotational plan involves three shifts whereby one shift is in the intended Theatre of Operations, one shift is resting and/or refitting, and one shift is readying itself to go. Well, as we have seen there simply are no 1,350,000 ground troops available! Moreover, I do not suspect all of these 350,000 National Guard troops can be mobilized all at once, and I suppose the same goes for the reserves. Then consider the troop requirements all over the planet from Europe over Afghanistan to South-Korea, which - quick guess - account for possibly 120,000 men. And you have a situation where you have to make do with a far less impressive personnel pool to provide for a permanent presence in Iraq. I haven't followed the particular topic too closely, but I read news flashes every once in awhile about it being always the same units that return, always too quick, second Iraq tours for the National Guard etc etc etc...

...all of which leads me to believe the Army is actually doing all it can just to maintain the troop level at the current 130,000! You want 350,000 boots on the ground? Fine, but are you then prepared to foot the bill? IIRC, Bush asked Congress in October 2003 for an additional 87 billion dollars to fund the Iraq bill in 2004, of which almost 94%, or 82 billion dollars, were meant for the US Army presence alone, then scheduled to be, as it was in 2005 and 2006, around 115,000 - 130,000. That's roughly one third of Shinseki's 350,000. It is easy to say that Rumsfeld should have put in more troops, but my question is, would even a Republican-controlled Congress, and would the American people as a whole, have approved of a troop bill of 82 billion US$ x 3 = 246 billion US$??? You doubt it? Then don't blame Rumsfeld! Rumsfeld once said that you go to war with the army that you have, not the army that you would want, and that is pretty much what he did.

The second criticism revolves around Rumsfelds personality. I must confess that time and again I have read that he is arrogant, stubborn, not willing to compromise, and rough with subordinates. Look, from a human point of view one can deplore such traits, if they are true - which I assume they are to a great extent. The point is, do you let emotion take priority over function? Donald Rumsfeld is, I fear, arrogant. So what? Patton was arrogant too. Moreover, Patton could be near inhumane towards subordinates. In August 1943, after his succesful Sicily campaign, he came across a soldier, a certain Private Kuhl, who was suffering from shellshock. Patton cursed and struck him and threw him out of the hospital tent the soldier was lying in. One week later, a very similar event took place involving another soldier. This time it was a Private Bennett, and when Patton asked him what the problem was, he got the reply that "it was his nerves, he couldn't stand the shelling anymore." Patton then burst out: Your nerves. Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a ***!!! To a British war correspondent, Patton later said: "There is no such thing as shell shock. It’s an invention of the Jews." Stories like that make one cringe, and there are worse tales to tell about Patton - his anti-Semitism, his encouragement to not take prisoners. Plus, of course, his numerous memorable quotes: Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. Which is one I certainly do not subscribe. To cut a long story short, Patton was imho a far less amiable character than Rumsfeld. But both men were essential war leaders. And here lies the difference. Back in WWII, Patton was allowed to go and carry the fight to the Nazis. Which he did: his Third Army was probably the most feared by the Germans on the Western Front. It gave them hell in Normandy in summer 44, swept them back inside their country in fall 44, cut off their salient during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 44, and was first across the Rhine in Spring 45. Sometimes, you do need a son of a bitch to do the dirty work. By which I do not mean to say Rumsfeld was a son of a bitch. But like Patton he probably is not your ideal father-in-law. The difference is that Patton was allowed to continue a job he was good at. Rumsfeld however, is sent home, so to say in the middle of the Normandy battle.

He is sent home, and it is an ignominous return, but like a good soldier Rumsfeld accepted the order to leave. Regular reader da 12th Anon probably captured best what a patriot the man is when he wrote in the comments section: Rummy did one hell of a job and he is being a man by stepping up and taking one in the chest for his country. He has volunteered to be the scape goat for what ever goes wrong.

Thus it is indeed an ingnominous return requested by far too many Americans, who curiously want to blame one of their own when it is actually the Iraqi government which has shown thus far a marked incompetence to quell the now mostly sectarian unrest engulfing their country. An advisor to Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki told a TIME reporter: "We're not going to make a big deal of [Rumsfeld's departure]. We're going to hope that his replacement benefits us. We're hoping the change will mean better execution of the plan to train Iraqi security forces to take charge of the security situation". In other words, it is the fault of the Americans, never mind the dungeons in the Ministry of the Interior or Iraqi policemen and soldiers basically acting like death squads in Baghdads streets.

Nastier comments coud be heard across the globe. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez hailed Rumsfeld's resignation and suggested that President Bush should quit as well. The whole 200-strong Socialist faction in the European Parliament applauded both the Democrat's victory - which they said was "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world" - as well as the Secdef's dismissal. Another hateful message with the express intention to hurt came from Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, AQ's successor to Zarqawi in Iraq, when an Islamist website posted a recording from him "Calling President Bush a "lame duck" and telling him not to "run away as your lame defense secretary ran away". Chavez, Euro socialists and an Al-Qaeda bigshot... in other words, if you feel delighted in the Defense Minister's departure, know that you are in fine company.

Being a Belgian though, the after-kick which most drew my attention was the one administered by Belgian Defense Minister André Flahaut, see below. André Flahaut, aka BOBA FAT, in which BOBA stands for Butcher Of the Belgian Army and FAT for, well, see for yourself, was quoted by the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws as saying:


"The firing of the American Secretary of Defense is another victory, on top of the one achieved by the Democrats."

Flahaut is everything that Rumsfeld is not. He is a prominent member of the Wallonian Parti Socialiste , the "party of 1,000,000 scandals", and under his "able" leadership, the Belgian armed forces have basically been neutered and morped into possibly the world's biggest association of motorized, obese and ageing teddy bears with a fourteenth degree in first aid. E.g., the tank force which during the height of the Cold War still numbered some four hundred quality German Leopard tanks, but which is largely obsolete now, will be completely disbanded. In its place will come only 52 (fifty-two) wheeled Piranha III's armed with a 90mm gun. So, while the global standard for MBT guns is 120mm, the Belgian Army is actually downgrading from 105mm (now on the Leopards) to 90mm. Curiously, the only 90mm gun variant withheld by Flahaut is fabricated by the Liège-based CMI company, and even more curiously, only one company in the world can make the ammo for it: Mécar from Nivelles, which coincidentally happens to be in Mr. Flahaut's electoral district. The process by which the Belgian Army is now in its final death throes - as a combat force anyway, not as a folkloristic geriatric scouts band - will, I hope, one day be the topic of another post. For now, it perhaps suffices to quote a key Belgian Christian Democrat MP (one of the saner ones), Pieter Decrem, who last year remarked that:

"André Flahaut is the biggest disaster happening to the Belgian Army since the defeat against the Germans in 1940."

In a perfect world, it would be André Flahaut leaving the scene, preferably covered with tar and feathers, and not Donald Rumsfeld.

But, obviously this isn't a perfect world.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006


GET OUT THE VOTE. VOTE RIGHT. VOTE GOP."Americans can already see what their country’s future will be if they vote for Pelosi and her band. They only need to watch Europe. That is what America will be like 20 years from now if the Liberals succeed in turning the U.S. into a European-style welfare state. The latter is the cause of all Europe’s problems. It has led to secularization, because people who are catered for from the cradle to the grave no longer need God. It has led to the immigration debacle, because Europe has attracted welfare immigrants who only come for the benefits and not to contribute to the host country’s wealth creation. It has led to the loss of the citizens’ ability to care for themselves, because they expect everything from the state.

However, the current American elections are relevant for Europe, too. If they lead to the American withdrawal from Iraq, Europe will face a widespread intifada. The withdrawal will be perceived as a defeat of the West and the Muslim “youths” in Europe’s cities will become even more arrogant. They utterly despise the Europeans, whom they perceive (not entirely without reason) to be men dressed up as ballerinas, and they hate America because it fights back. In a world ruled by men who only understand the language of power it is better to be hated than despised. If America withdraws the Islamist fanatics will despise America for it. They will take this as a sign that the West has been defeated and that the world is theirs."

An excerpt from another brilliant Paul Beliën post on The Brussels Journal.

I am a European. I live in a part of the world where conservatives - the real ones, not the fluffy types like the UK's David Cameron, or the false ones like France's Jacques Chirac - are vilified. No matter how people vote here, it's always the Left that wins one way or another. It shows.

I live in a society where you are forced to swallow the belief that limitless immigration is the answer to the problems of a greying native population - even though a child can see that the immigrant part of the population does not produce scientists, engineers or technicians.

I live in a society where the Leftist Bible says that the State can manage the economy and create jobs, even if unemployment is actually twice, or sometimes thrice the official figure.

I live in a society where non-offspring producing means of living together, like gay marriage, are heralded as the summum of civilization, even if fertility is as low as 1.3 children per woman.

I live in a society where the Family is regarded as an unwanted and outdated institution, even as articles in newspapers say that one-parent families are increasingly poor, or that there are half too few child psychiatrists.

I live in a society where it is OK to mock God, but not Allah.

I live in a society which prides itself for its moral superiority over the United States, even as the mayor of the UK's capital can boast unpunished that Mao's rule, which killed 70 million Chinese, was good because it ended the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding.

I live in a society where common wisdom is that Bush is a genocidal dictator, even as every single move of the man in the street is increasingly coming under scrutiny and control of an almighty EU bureaucracy.

If you want to live in such a society too, then vote Democrat today.


Saturday, October 28, 2006


With all the crap going on here and all the doom an' gloom around, a man would tend to forget there's still plenty of other, more pleasant things around to grab your attention. Like - if you're susceptible to knight stories peppered with some history - the movie adaptation of the old Celtic legend of Tristan and Isolde.

Tristan and Isolde on the Irish coast

Which is what Outlaw and the wife did last weekend, a bit unplanned since looking for Mission:Impossible III and finding all dvd copies rented already. So we picked "Tristan & Isolde" by Kevin Reynolds, and never regretted it. It's not a tearjerker like Titanic, and its combat scenes are a far cry from Troy. It doesn't have the historical accuracy of Barry Lyndon, nor will it glue you to your seat the way Lord Of The Rings does. But almost as soon as we flicked off the dvd player, our appreciation started to grow.

The film is a loose adaptation of an old Celtic legend of which the origins can be traced back to either Irish or Welsh folk tales, and of which the story proliferated practically all across Europe, whence the multitude of versions. One of the best medieval authors to put the legend in crafty prose was the German poet Gottfried von Strassburg (died c. 1210). His Tristan is considered - together with Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and the Nibelungenlied - as emblematic cornerstones of the great romantic narratives of the German Middle Ages.

The film's storyline follows the version whereby Tristan (James Franco) is a young Cornish knight (Cornish, from Cornwall, a region in the southwest of England) adopted by King Marke (Rufus Sewell) after a battle with the Irish invaders. The timeframe Tristan and Isolde takes us back to is (very) early medieval, say around 600 AD. The Roman Empire perished 200 years earlier and unity is lost among the various English tribes, which weakens them so that they cannot withstand repeated Irish invasions. In the course of a battle in which Tristan successfully repels an Irish raid and kills the enemy commander Morold, principal warlord of the Irish King Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara), Tristan himself is mortally wounded. According to Cornish custom his body is posed for dead on a boat and delivered to the sea. However, the currents take the boat across the Irish Sea and it is King Donnchadh's daughter, Isolde (Sophia Myles) who discovers it and its precious cargo, still clinging to life by a thread. Isolde then carefully nurses Tristan back to life in a hidden alcove on the seashore with the silent knowledge of her servant maid Brangnae (Bronagh Gallagher). Because she doesn't want to reveal her identity to Tristan, nominally still an enemy warrior, upon asked her name she gives that one of her servant. By the time Tristan has regained his strenght again, the two have totally fallen in love, but then the boat's wreck is discovered by Donnchadh's men who now suspect an English knight is around. Sick with fear for her father's reaction, Isolde, who was promised as wife to Morold, urges Tristan to regain the sea and sail back to England, and thus happens.

CaughtThe consternation in King Marke's camp upon seeing their hero returned from the dead quickly makes place for joy, but the young knight can't forget his Irish heartthrob. One day, King Marke receives a rather incongruous - given the state of war with Ireland - invitation from King Donnchadh for a tournament to be held at Donnchadh's residence, supposedly to herald a new era of cooperation. The price will be Donnchadh's daughter, Princess Isolde. Tristan, not knowing Isolde is actually his savior, volunteers to be King Marke's champion, who is a widower and to whom he feels indebted for having been adopted as an orphan. As could be expected, Tristan wins this tournament, and only then recognizes that he has won his lover for his Lord. Back in England, after King Marke's marriage to Isolde, the two try at first to suppress their emotions but soon see each other again secretly. Word of their affair spreads, and eventually reaches Donnchadh through Wictred, a renegade English knight who envies Markes' kingly rule. The two craft a plan whereby during a visit of the Irish Court to Marke, the latter will be publicly humiliated through disclosure of Tristan and Isolde's affair, and Donnchadh reckons that then is the time to dispose of a weakened Marke and replace him with the more trustworthy Wictred.

Thus happens. Marke, upon finding out he has been cheated on throws the two lovers in jail but it's too late: a number of his men, judging him a fool, have changed allegiance and Donnchadh's troops overrun Marke's stronghold. At the last moment Marke learns of the circumstances under which his first knight met his young wife, and forgives them. Even though Tristan and Isolde are set free and allowed to go wherever they wish, Tristan, not wanting to be remembered as a man who brought down a kingdom through a love affair, throws his weight into battle and narrowly tips the balance by killing Wictred. Although he himself is mortally wounded, the rest of Marke's men take courage and finally beat the Irish.

From then on Marke will oversee the ascent of a strong and unified English kingdom, undisturbed by Irish invasions. His young wife however, beside herself with sorrow over Tristan's death, fades away. So sorry, there's no happy end.

By and large I found Tristan & Isolde quite entertaining. It was also the third movie I saw with Kevin Reynolds as director, after Fandango (1985) and The Beast (1988), and I'd say that Reynolds lacks just that little bit that would make him a real powerplayer among directors. It's not that his productivity is low; Kubrick's was lower. But there seems to be lacking some drive. Either he chooses mostly mediocre scripts, e.g. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), or he isn't a tyrant enough on the set. Possibly a bit too much intimacy too (especially in Fandango). And then there's the fact Reynolds seems to have trouble finding budgets with clout to finance his films - you can see that Tristan & Isolde is really, really low budget. Not surprisingly perhaps, since the only time he really did oversee a huge project, Waterworld (1995), it flopped terribly. That said, Tristan... gets the green light from yours truly, not in the least because of the fine acting. Both James Franco (who was also in both Spidermans) and Sophia Myles (Underworld) glow in their roles - watch out for those two - and Rufus Sewell too plays a very plausible King Marke. The producer of Tristan and Isolde is Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven).

To dwell a little longer on Reynolds' curriculum, the one movie that really, really left a lasting impression on me was The Beast (1988), which came out here in Europe as The Beast of War. It tells the story of a Soviet tank crew who, after having destroyed an Afghan village in 1981, get lost in a dead-end valley and are chased by mujahideen. Not surprisingly, Reynolds too calls The Beast his best film. I saw it first in 1989 IIRC at the International Film Festival of Ghent, and back then it was really trendsetting as far as combat scenes go, if you discount Platoon (Platoon was very good for combat scenes and general atmosphere, but I absolutely disliked the pathetical way Willem Dafoe went down as well as the PC message that "the enemy was inside us"). Actually, I'm surprised that The Beast received comparatively little praise since all of it - crew, director, story, special effects - were top notch. After the performance, I walked into the lobby of Decascoop, Gents main movie theatre, and bumped into Mr. Reynolds, a guy from Decascoop and George Dzundza, who plays the bad sergeant Daskal, the tank commander. Dzundza, who I believe is from Georgian origin (that's Georgia in the Caucasus, not in the Bible Belt) is a chap who also played in Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. I was able to exchange a few words with Mr. Dzundza about the tank which is more or less a star too in the movie, the way the F-14 Tomcat was a star in Top Gun. As a tank geek, I don't like it when directors fail to come up with "correct" tanks in depicting historical battles, think Patton tanks for Tigers in movies about the Ardennes Offensive. But the T-55 in The Beast was goddam real. I asked Mr. Dzundza how on earth they had managed to get a genuine Russian tank at their disposal (remember, it was still the Cold War) and it turned out it was a Syrian army tank captured by the IDF. For the tank nutters among you, see the poster to the left. The gap between the first and second wheel identifies it as a T-55, not a T-62. I read somewhere that Russian tank designers put in that space to allow for easily making a tank with a blasted track roadborne again in case spare tracks were missing. The idea was that the crew would simply omit "the missing links" and drape the remaining track along the shorter wheelbase.

OK, enough about adultery in the Middle Ages and Soviet Cold War era tanks.

British actress Sophia Myles

Sorry, I can't help it. Like The Beast, The Beauty also seems to have made a lasting impression on me. Sophia Myles, you are a sight for sore eyes.


P.S.: it's useless to try to warn Mrs. Outlaw. She's computerphobic and doesn't even want an email account.

P.S.S.: for the ladies among you, sorry, but as long as there are no female staffers here at DowneastBlog (Kerry where are youuuuuuuu????), don't count on hulk pics anytime soon.