Thursday, March 31, 2005

He Ain't Talkin' About a Beach Boys Album 

Like many submariners I was somewhat struck by the title of James Dunnigan's Strategy Page piece on the USS San Francisco (USS San Francisco Heroes and Villians(sic)). For those who do not know, Mr. Dunnigan is a legendary wargame designiner and the founder of SPI. As such I doubt his intent was to insult anybody, but I still took the liberty of sending him the following e-mail:
Dear Mr. Dunnigan,

While it is an honor to address one whose work (most notably Patrol, Sniper, Mech War ’77 and Foxbat & Phantom) has given me so many hours of enjoyment, I regret that this contact has been precipitated by my contention with elements of your recent Strategy Page article "USS San Francisco Heroes and Villians(sic)".

In this article you allude to "leaks" that the crewmembers awarded non-judicial punishment (NJP) "could have detected the approaching sea mount and taken evasive action if they had followed proper procedures." While I am not privy to the source of the referenced leaks, I find a more accurate conclusion based upon the reports published in Navy Times and other papers is that the crewmembers punished failed to perform duties that may have either routed the ship away from the navigation hazard or may have provided sufficient grounds to warrant greater caution in operations. The first is important, as the most preferable way to avoid an accident such as this is to avoid navigating through the potentially hazardous waters in the first place. The second is important since there is no way to say for sure the grounding could have been avoided, but it is almost certain that had it occurred at a lower bell the loss of life and damage to equipment would not have been as great.

I also feel your assessment of the choice of NJP over Courts Martial is in error. While the decision to charge a service member under Article 15 (NJP) may be driven by a lack of sufficient admissible evidence to successfully prosecute, my experience is that it is usually based upon an assessment of the apparent severity of the offense and an absence of willful malice. For example, had any of the charged members seemed to have actively contributed to the accident (by knowingly withholding key information or intentionally hazarding the vessel) I have no doubt the matter would have been referred to Courts Martial vice NJP.

Further to your observations on NJP, both assessments that "[t]he non-judicial punishment hurts, but does not destroy, the career of a submariner" and that the Navy’s difficulty in "recruiting qualified people for this kind of work" played a roll in the punishments handed down. While junior enlisted members often do weather NJP with relatively little impact on their future careers, the actions taken against the Chief Petty Officer (removal of Navy Enlisted Classification code) and officers (Letter of Reprimand) are coffin nails in the truest sense. While the Chief likely has sufficient time in to continue to serve to full retirement, I would wager a paycheck he will never again be promoted. Neither officer has any viable future in the Navy. And while the Navy indeed is concerned with recruiting, training and nurturing qualified submariners, it has never been prone to coddle or otherwise enable those who demonstrate their incompatibility with the rigors of the service. Just ask any of the multitude removed from nuclear power duties every year for "demonstrated unreliability."

Finally, my greatest discomfort comes from what I feel to be a particularly poor choice of words and most likely stems more from professional pride than any real slight. I refer, as you may have guessed, to your chosen title. The implied characterization of the members charged at Article 15 proceedings as "villains" is completely inaccurate and underserved. While the characterization of an individual such as Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who killed two sleeping officers with a grenade in Iraq, as a "villain" can be understood, this word seems unduly harsh when attributed to those whose "crimes" appear to be more of omission than commission. This may seem trivial to some, but you are speaking of service members who, for the most part, are still part of a crew that performed probably one of the most extraordinary acts of seamanship in recent history. This crew has worked hard and suffered greatly and mischaracterizing these crewmembers denigrates the amazing work done to return the ship to port with the loss of only one soul. They collectively deserve more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Importance of the Schiavo Case 

I read an excellent editorial by a Harvard student who just happens to also have Cerebral Palsy that really zeros in on some of the larger issues brought to light by issues surrounding the Terri Schiavo.
The case of Terri Schiavo has been framed by the media as the battle between the “right to die” and pro-life groups, with the latter often referred to as “right-wing Christians.” Little attention has been paid to the more than twenty major disability rights organizations firmly supporting Schiavo’s right to nutrition and hydration.
The reason for this public support of removal from ordinary sustenance, I believe, is not that most people understand or care about Terri Schiavo. Like many others with disabilities, I believe that the American public, to one degree or another, holds that disabled people are better off dead. To put it in a simpler way, many Americans are bigots.
In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers assert that the disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had little or no experience with disability before acquiring one—"would not want to live like this."
Wesley Smith recently debated bioethecist Bill Allen on Court TV and some of the conversation centered on the concept of "personhood," or, frankly, that some humans are not, based upon their cognitive, awareness or interactive abilities, people. It's important to note that the person arguing that Terri Schiavo is not a person since "I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood" and that "there should be consent to harvest her organs, just as we allow people to say what they want done with their assets" is the Director of the Program in Bioethics, Law, and Medical Professionalism at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

I share Wesley Smith's position that this is not a matter of Religion vs. Science but a profound question of human rights, what degree of control a guardian is allowed to assert over a disabled person and upon what basis the control of life and death may be exercised. I have often asked on other blogs, what is the difference between the Terri Schiavo case and the guardian of a disabled person choosing to not feed them. If you ask Bill Allen, perhaps there is no difference provided the disabled person isn't sufficiently aware to be considered a person.

Prediction 05-2 Update 

The net is resounding with rumblings about the Iraqi Insurgency and their desire to come in from the cold, such as this brief piece in the Financial Times. If this represents a trend toward Prediction 05-2 or not is unclear, as it could just be a rehashing of the events that intially informed the prediction.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Let's Have a Snarkiness Contest 

At one time I read Andrew Sullivan fairly regularly. At that time I felt he was a well considered and thoughtful writer. Well, he seems to have gotten over that and fallen victim to Professional Writer's Snarkiness Syndrome. You know, that disease that causes an otherwise intelligent person to extract isolated events or statements in order to intentionally misrepresent the meaning and afford themselve's the opportunity to play the "look how stupid they are and how brilliant and witty I am" act. While this affliction used to mainly manifest itself when discussing some aspect of "Same Sex Marriage," it has spread to other areas of his commentary, most recently anything dealing with Terri Schiavo. Actually I may be over specifying here, as the peaks of his PWSS are seen directed toward "religious zealots."

First a thoughtful comment by Glenn Reynolds that the methods "conservatives" have employed in support of Terri Schiavo closely mirror the same tactics they have deplored when used by "liberals" is twisted by Andrew into a confession by Glenn about "what the religious right is doing to conservative principles." This is further expounded upon in the now typical Andrew hysteria as proof that "religious zealotry cannot be incorporated into conservatism." Of course, considering that "religious zealotry" is certainly unwelcomed in the liberal camps I can only conclude that Andrew's point is that those he considers these zealots simply should not be represented at all. (OK, that was a bit "snarky," too. God, I hope it's not contagious.)

But Andrew reserves the big guns for those who support Terri Schiavo's parents in their desire to sustain their daughter's life. A refusal to unquestioningly accept Michael Schiavo's word and prefer a stricter standard (i.e. a properly executed living will) to demonstrate Terri's wishes is, in Andrew's view, a hypocritical attack on the "religious-right's" avowed belief in the "sanctity of marriage." Perhaps he hits this so strongly because it not only plays against "religious zealots" but also relates to his other sacred cow. Granted, I'm not plugged into conservative Christianity, but I don't think it's all that hard to believe that the "sanctity of marriage" does not necessarilly mean that one spouse is allowed to unquestioningly speak for the other with no further legal documentation required. Further I'd wager a tidy sum that by the standards of many on the "religious-right" Michael Schiavo voluntarilly gave up his moral rights to speak for his wife once he decided to take on a defacto new wife, including starting a completely new family. While there is certainly room for disention on the validity of Michael Schiavo's claims, trying to depict questioning it as some sort of hypocracy on behalf of a large and nebulous religious group on the basis of the concept of the "sanctity of marriage" just doesn't fly.

The final example is probably one of the efficient uses of snark, based upon a line to snark ratio:
"I just heard Terri Schiavo's brother say on CNN that his sister is speaking to him. What did she say? Or is he lying?"
I didn't see the event, nor did Andrew provide a link to any source transcript, but might there not be a third possibility? Maybe a metaphorical use of the verb "speaking"? Something like the lawyer who claims the dead to be "speaking from the grave" through the evidence presented? C'mon Andrew, is it really that important to you to make fun of a man whose sister is dying while he is powerless to stop it but others could? Have you really become so myopic, mean spirited and small minded?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

When is a Person Not a Person? 

In the face of several "all Terri Schiavo, all the time" blogs I have left a trail of various comments and thought I'd repeat my main thoughts here.

I'm big on understanding assumptions and stripping an issue to its basics. When I do that with this matter what it seems to boil down to is that a severely mentally disabled person is having their nutrition and hydration witheld so they will die and that the basis for this decision is what amounts to hear-say evidence offered by a party whose motives have been questioned by some. There is understandably much emotion surrounding the matter, but I have been most surprised by the vehemance with which some feel the decision is 100% right. There are several points, though, that these most ardent supporters seem to either be ignorant of or intentionally disregard.

First, there can be little doubt that there is a fundamental difference between a "feeding tube" and what is commonly thought of as "life support." There are many people who basically lead completely normal lives with the exception of requiring a feeding tube to supply nutrition due to esophogeal or other problems. By a similar token, would a colostomy bag be considered "life support"? There are even more who suffer some degree of disability including the need for a feeding tube. My nephew, for example, has what I consider fairly severe Cerebral Palsy and had to have a feeding tube installed due to problems with swallowing and reflux. The main differences between him and Terri Schiavo (besides sex and age) are the source of their disability, their relative ability to communicate and the attention and desires of their designated guardian.

Second, there is also a fundamental difference between a mentally disabled person and someone suffering from a terminal medical condition. Leaving aside the fact that we are all dying at one rate or the other, there is nothing physically wrong with Terri Sciavo that threatens imminent death. For this reason, while I can understand their feelings, I cannot accept the numerous personal accounts of relatives dying of cancer or 90 year-olds refusing to eat as relevent to the matter at hand. If anything it is more akin to a hunger strike.

Except, of couse, that a hunger strike is something one undertakes of their own will and action. In this case one of the few undisputed facts is that we do not positively know Terri's desires and wishes nor were they ever unequivically recorded for our review. A common argument made is that "I wouldn't want to live like that," an argument I also largely dismiss as irrelevent. I do not doubt that individual's sincerity at this moment in time, speaking from a position of health, but there are also many men in the VA who once just as strongly felt it would be better to never come home than to come home "half a man." We can make predictions and assumptions, but I don't believe you can really know where the line between lack of quality and love of life itself lies until you find yourself at the crux. And in any event, the question was never what would these people want to do in this circumstance, but, rather, what does Terri want to do? And we can't answer that for sure.

In watching my nephew grow and develop I have often returned to a thought I first had as a child when I began realizing that in addition to me and my (generally) smart friends there were other kids at school who fell on the other side of the bell curve, some quite far on the other side. To what degree does a disabled person recognize their difference as a disability? For those who are higher functioning, people with Down's Syndrome, for example, the difference is more accutely recognized and we know this because the individual is able to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a way we understand. For those with greater disabilities, though, this communication is less perfect and more guessing is required. In the case of my nephew, I think he probably knows we function differently and he seems at times frustrated he cannot do some things he wants, but if that frustration is related to an understanding of his disability or simply based upon his inability I can't tell. As the communication becomes less, for example as in Terri's case, at what point do we cease caring about their perceptions? The whole "I wouldn't want to live like that" argument rests upon the assumption that should you be in her condition you would be aware of the difference between what you once were and what you had become, an assumption that is completely unfounded and without basis.

So what I really see in the Terri Schiavo matter is an assumption of non-personhood based upon a lack of communication. While we may agree that a kitten or puppy does not posess self awareness like a human we would still shy away from purposefully withdrawing nutrition and hydration simply because it could effectively communicate its discomfort and its desire to live. Terri, in the eyes of the court, can do neither and is therefore not afforded the same consideration.

I wonder, based upon this precedent, what would be the difference between this and if my sister just stopped putting food in her son's feeding tube? In both cases the legal guardian would have made a decision that the disabled person was better off dead. And neither disabled person is in a position to effectively argue otherwise. Once we cross this Rubicon what other non-terminal situations could conceivable merit withdrawal of nutrition and hydration? In the absence of clear evidence the action is in compliance with Terri's wishes, the witholding of nurishment and hydration from an otherwise physically healthy person feels too much like passing a death sentance against one simply felt to be less than human and therefore one whose life is of lower value and importance. I have a severe discomfort with any government willing to make those decisions concerning its law abiding but disabled citizens.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Shameless Whoring 

OK, now that I'm a year old I can be a shameless whole like the rest. Actually, I have decided to sell my soul and engage in the most open, transparent pyramid-like scheme on the net. Specifically, I am referring to the Free iPod button in the left column.

I've done a bit of reading (including this Wired article) and this is really a kind-of Frankenstein monster melding of a pyramid scheme with a marketing tool. The way it works is that you go to the link and sign up for a promotional offer (i.e. the marketing part) and if you can get five more people to do the same (i.e. the pyramid part) they'll send you the iPod. I signed up for some home improvement thing for a $1 one-month trial membership. Since it comes with a $20 Lowe's gift card it should be a net gain. After 7 days I'm supposed to get iPod credit and then I can cancel (if I forget it's $8.99/month, so I'd better not forget). Other offers included the omnipresent BMG and Columbia record clubs, a couple of 0% credit cards and a free 30-day eFax trial.

So, the bottom line is that if this looks like something you'd like to try (or if you have five friends you think you can convince to help you get a nice present), give a click. It doesn't have to cost you anything. If you don't want to, that's cool too. I wanted to give it a try but just didn't want to come off like some of those other wankers who beg for PayPal tips simply for doing something they enjoy.

Maybe the Lancet Was Right! 

Yes, after rolling my eyes at the (in)famous study in the British medical journal Lancet that estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths resulting from the invasion, I have finally seen something that makes me think they might be close in their numbers. Sure, this study was popularly debunked by Slate and others (such as Shannon Love) have gone to great lengths to show how ridiculous the claims are, but a single comment on Brendan Nyhan's post has made me shift my focus. The problem may not be with the data but, rather, that the data in the report is simply being advertised as something it is not.
Arrgh: "THE STUDY DOES NOT COUNT CIVILIANS! It estimates excess deaths. It does not distinguish between combatant and non combatant."
In this light, if one takes into account the size of Saddam's army and the unmerciful pounding dished out upon those who did not desert whole scale, the 100,000 estimate may not be far off. We haven't talked about it much, largely because we don't want to look like cruel bullies, but we literally erased entire divisions in the charge to Baghdad. We applied the first rule of war-fighting and killed the other guy before he could kill us, and we did it extremely well.

Obligatory Blogiversary Entry 

OK, technically I crossed the one-year point on 3/10, but since that was just the "obligatory 'testing' post" I'll count my 3/22/04 entry as the first complete thought expressed. In honor of this day, I took an online English test on commonly confused words. It had some tricky questions, but considering this 'gear managed a pretty good score maybe it wasn't such a tough test after all.
English Genius
You scored 100% Beginner, 86% Intermediate, 93% Advanced, and 77% Expert!
You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Forget Diversity in Blogging, There's More Important Matters 

The latest hubbub and indictment levied against the blogosphere by the MSM (namely Steven Levy) is that it is not only not diverse enough, but nothing is being done to attain and ensure diversity. Jeff Jarvis has already pooh-poohed this notion, but given his admitted xanthachroid credentials we all know he's just part of the problem. But at this point, I must slightly shift focus from diversity in the blogosphere to a few other key areas where the lack of diversity is truly troubling.

For example, while Brother Jed and Sister Cindy are doing their part by taking their five daughters on the road to help them, my personal experience has been that street preaching is a decidedly male bastion. Likewise for remote-control airplane enthusiasts. And can you remember the last time you saw a Science-Fiction convention remotely approaching a 1:20, much less a 1:1, ratio? On a more economic vein, I can't remember the last time I met a freelance computer repair technician that, regardless of testoterone level, wasn't universally recognized as a male of the species. What are these communities doing about their lack of diversity?

OK, Dave, so how do you tie blogging in with street preaching, Sci-Fi or anything else in the last paragraph? It's intuitively obvious to the most casual observer once you recognize that every endevour I mentioned, including blogging, is a voluntary activity that anyone can freely engage in. This does not, however, address any individual's particular desire to do so, though, and that is the falicy these diversity bean counters always seem to step in. In my entirely unscientific and non-comprehensive research on the matter, while I can fully agree that the percentage of "big-name" political blogs that are clearly authored by women is much less than 50% my experience has also been that the percentage of "this is what I did today and how I feel about it" blogs I've seen that are clearly authored by women far exceeds 50%. Since blogging is a voluntary act, largely for recreation, perhaps the latter is, for whatever reason, more interesting and of greater appeal for more women.

Before anyone jumps me as anti-woman or sexist, my perceptions in the preceding paragraph are made in a non-attributional manner. I do not perceive an individual's interest in one topic over another as a "good/bad" thing, just a matter of a difference in taste. Some women obviously like talking politics (and many do it well), just as some men like talking fashion (and do it well). The reasons for this apparent variance among women in their areas of interest can be discussed all day long. Some, like La Shawn Barber, may feel it's greatly societal in origin while others may see it as a result of the widely accepted less confrontational, more nurturing and communicative nature attributed to women. Most, like me, probably feel it's a bit of both. In any event, it seems a bit silly for anyone to even insinuate the blogosphere is organized enough to effect some sort of diversity policy to make sure women's voices are heard.

Perhaps the next time Mr. Levy is at one of those fabled posh liberal dinner parties he'll take a moment to stand back against the wall and observe how many little groups of only women or only men gather to discuss topics of common interest. And there will probably be a few groups including both men and women engaged in discussion. Would it occur to him that the circle of mostly men discussing the March NCAA basketball tournament needs more women's voices? For the most part the blogoshpere is a giant never ending dinner party. This group is talking about Iraq, that group is talking about getting dumped and the participants are free to move back and forth, to listen and contribute where their interests lie. Even among the "big players" this is still something they choose to do and it is something anyone else can try. In short, Mr. Levy, go peddle your egalitarian gender-neutral utpoia elsewhere.

Post Script: It doesn't really fit into the flow of the above paragraphs and I didn't want to make a separate post on it, but I did want to say something about a difference of opinion I do have with Jeff that was highlighted by this issue. Namely, his seeming acceptance of the left meme that Harvard President Summers "got in some hot water for [making gross generalizations based on gender]." In my analysis, Larry Summers "got in some hot water" for challenging the dogmatic assumption in academia that the under-representation of women in certain disciplines is necessarilly a result of discrimination and bias. Anytime you are discussing human behavior and conditions that largely depend upon individual volition one must take into consideration the effect of self-selection. Like I touched on above, under-representation by a definable group may be a result of self-selection within that group based upon the desirability of the goal. Physical differences between male and female brains is a documented scientific fact so it seems reasonable to ask if these physical differences may manifest themselves as differences in either inclination or aptitude relative to specific mental disciplines or skills. To ignore this possibility seems, from my engineering perspective, the height of nonacademic pursuit. To attack anyone even mentioning this possibility seems to me not unlike reactionary defense of religious dogma.

Day Late / Dollar Short - USS San Francisco Follow-up 

This is why I'll never be a pro at this. The Diveblog honors me with linkage and much traffic over the weekend, and it takes me this long to capitalize on it and offer thanks. Thank you for reading. Given the relative interest in this topic over almost anything else I've written, I thought I'd try and clear up a few ideas that seemed to be expressed in Diveblog's comments. Chief among these is the question of how the San Fran's movement orders related to the accident. I will briefly touch on the ideas of Mutual Interference and submerged operating areas in this discussion and while I don't think the overview I've provided touches on any classified information it has been a while since I've read the pubs, so any needed bitch-slappin' from NAVs or ANAVs is welcome.

The submarine world has always relied heavily upon the "big ocean - little ship" rule, with the marked exception of something called Mutual Interference, or MI. The idea of MI is that if every submarine were assigned specific areas of water in which it was safe to operate submerged and no other submarine was assigned the same area the potential for underwater collisions is reduced to either unknown submarines (i.e. non-allied) or a result of navigation errors (i.e. someone operating out of area). Even if you do want two submarines operating submerged in the same area (e.g. training exercises), MI can still be avoided by specifying separate safe depth ranges for each submarine in the area (e.g. sub X operates from 0 - 300 Ft and sub Y operates from 400 - 600 Ft). This is all managed by the Submarine Operating Authority (or SUBOPAUTH) for the theater (COMSUBGRU SEVEN in this particular case), coordinating the movement not only of US submarines but acting as the honest broker with allied submarine forces to best ensure safe submerged operation.

There are generally two ways to assign water to a submarine: the operating area and the moving haven. As the names imply, the major difference is that the operating area assigns a static geographic region to the submarine while the moving haven assigns a "moving haven" of safe water along the submarine's track. The moving haven is obviously more restrictive for the submarine, but in cases where the SUBOPAUTH is routing a submarine through waters with lots of other submarines or desires greater control over where and when specifically the submarine will be it has its advantages. From my experience, though, the Pacific is a particularly large ocean with relative few submarines and as of a decade ago the norm was to use operating areas. For this reason, it has always been my assumption that the San Fran was transiting its assigned operating area and not operating in a moving haven as some reports stated. The only bearing this has upon the accident is that if the San Fran had been assigned a moving haven it should have been carefully checked for hazards to navigation by the SUBOPAUTH prior to being assigned. While that would not obviate the Captain and Navigator of their responsibilities for safe navigation, any moving haven that routed the San Fran over the reported "discolored water" should have resulted in the SUBGRU SEVEN Ops boss standing in front of the green table right beside CDR Mooney. On the other hand, if the submarine was assigned a large chunk of ocean in which to operate advising them of hazards to navigation, like some commenters have mentioned, would be an exercise in the ridiculous and a terrible waste of time for the SUBOPAUTH considering that the submarine would likely never have been anywhere near 99%+ of the potential hazards.

So where does this leave us in understanding the findings against CDR Mooney? I must reiterate that I have neither reviewed the charts in questions nor do I have insider information on the investigation. Based upon the statement from COMSUBGRU SEVEN, however, I believe the Admiral's decision was likely based upon a lack of good sounding data in the area, the reported "discolored water" and the availability of alternative courses or routes that not only avoided the discolored water but also made better use of available charted soundings. To some the question of alternative routes may seem like Monday morning quaterbacking and 20/20 hindsight, but the Admiral obviously thought there were steps that could have proactively been taken to either avoid or reduce the risk of the accident. Again, this is just one long-gone boat driver's opinion who hasn't stood OOD in over ten years and then just as a JO, so I definitely do not consider myself the authority but, rather, more of an informed pundit.

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