Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Army Welcomes Felons and Drop-Outs, Anyone But Homosexuals

Glancing at the New York Times today, an infuriating article caught my eye. "Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting", read the headline. It should be well known to anyone that our armed forces are stretched thin with all the international operations we are supporting, with the National Guard having to be deployed overseas, and with active duty members being asked to extend and repeat tours of duty beyond what anyone ever expected. So the Army is going to lengths to staff up, and as this article tells, it is going to new lows, too. Age and weight requirements have been relaxed, minimum scores on aptitude tests lowered, and even high-school drop-outs are being recruited. In the past, a criminal record was a disqualification for military service, but last year, the DoD granted waivers to accept over 8,000 recruits with criminal records, including nearly 900 felons. So it seems the military's "unit cohesion" can tolerate thieves and felons in its midst, but just not any homosexuals. It's hard to imagine what could better underscore the sheer stupidity of the ban on gays in the military. Highly talented, motivated, and decorated servicemembers are being pointlessly discharged for being homosexual, and criminals recruited to replace them.

It's high time Congress came around to the conclusion of former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili, who once supported the ban, but last month publicly declared that it's time to reconsider. As he sees and says plainly, "we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job." Too bad even some of our supposed friends like Hillary Clinton (who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee) aren't doing anything about this. Fortunately, at least 123 House members have signed on to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would do away with this senseless ban.

Farm-Fresh Dining in DC

On a business trip to Washington DC last week, I had the pleasure of sampling some of DC's top restaurants featuring farm-fresh food (a welcome new trend). My first night, my friends Don and Harv took me out to the Blue Duck Tavern, a recent arrival in the Hyatt on M and 24th St NW. The menu demonstrates their commitment to fresh ingredients, changing daily, and with the provenance of each item listed, typically from farms in nearby states. My entire meal was delicious, from the delicate artichoke soup, thru the tender and juicy pork chops (from pastured Pennsylvania pigs) in a bourbon peach glaze, accompanied by a sweet winter squash puree, to an impeccably fresh cheesecake with sour cherry compote. Bites exchanged with my companions proved their dinners equally superb preparations of the freshest ingredients. All this was complimented by a marvelous Chateau Souverain cabernet selected by Don. The only detraction was a rather uninspired selection of whisky and several fumbles getting the bar order right. But it was a top-notch meal, and I would certainly be happy to return.

Another evening, I took my colleagues to Restaurant Nora near Dupont Circle, one of the first restaurants committed to organic food. I had enjoyed a meal there years before, and my return did not disappoint. Here too great care is taken in finding the freshest, wholesome organic ingredients sourced mostly from small local farms. Muscovy duck, raised on pond and pasture by an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, made a double appearance in my meal, first in a duck liver pâté studded with pistachios and intriguingly complimented with apricot chutney and watercress, and then in a roasted duck breast, fanned out over a cornucopia of fresh vegetables cooked just enough to be bright, crisp, and flavorful. A savory cream of broccoli and ginger soup kicked off the affair, and a nice selection of hand-crafted cheeses wrapped things up in style. (Our otherwise competent server was not quite as knowledgeable about the cheeses as she should have been, but then I'm spoiled after Patina with its maître frommagier.) Not only does Nora take great care in sourcing her meats and vegetables, but she applies equal discernment in putting together an extraordinary whisky selection, offering a variety of thoughtfully chosen malts representing a variety of regions and styles, sourced from small distilleries. She sure knows how to make a good impression on the likes of me!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Surge Without Content or Context

Listening to the House of Representatives debate the non-binding resolution of no confidence in the President's "surge" strategy gave proof to Jonathan Chait's analysis in Sunday's LA Times. Chait surveyed the arguments in support of the President's plan, and found none that had any specific content or context. They are all generic, abstract arguments that could apply to any war, making no reference to this specific situation. As Chait sums it up:
So, there you have it, the case for supporting Bush: Trust the commander in chief, don't undermine the troops, withdrawal equals defeat. These aren't arguments to support Bush's strategy, they're generic pro-war arguments. Change a few details and these lines could support Napoleon's invasion of Russia or the Crusader occupation of Jerusalem or almost any war. Generic pro-war arguments may be trite, but that's what you turn to when you've given up on reality.
If you doubt this, just listen to the arguments of the President's supporters on the House floor and ask yourself this key question: what change in the facts on the ground would take the wind out of their argument? If your argument is merely the abstract "withdrawal equals defeat", the facts of the situation in Iraq don't even really enter into it. One might infer (as Chait does) that the pro-surge crowd are making vacuous arguments since they haven't any specific fact-based arguments to make. Though having also read Nicholas Goldberg's "Confessions of an ex-pollster" in the same pages, a more cynical person might wonder whether the pro-surge supporters do have fact-based arguments to make, but just don't think they would poll as well as the generic slogans. But I'm ultimately more impressed with arguments against the surge, grounded in specific context, such as that put forward by Zbigniew Brzezinski. A withdrawal is not a great option, but at this point, it's looking better than the alternatives.