Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How Iraq Is Like Reconstructive Knee Surgery

I think I understand the deeply-rooted dreams of my fellow citizens, and the vision is not encouraging. The only acceptable military goal today seems to be the Powell Doctrine of military engagement: take a sledgehammer ("overwhelming force") to the international problem, but only provided that-

a) no one anywhere in the world objects, and
b) you can be assured of “total clean victory”, complete with dancing in the streets and V-E celebrations, in less than a year.

That’s a great strategy- it avoids all the tough problems associated with those enemies who simply refuse to cooperate. As in, well, they fight back. Or refuse to surrender. Or, pretend to surrender, but also covertly fight an on-going guerrilla war.

Unfortunately, the bad guys in Iraq have decided to be obstreperous and resist. This has led to the usual American reaction- if the millennium doesn’t come by the day after tomorrow (we aren’t so bad as to expect the millennium in the morning; we’ll give it at least two days), we quit!

Our time horizon is measured in biennial terms- every election cycle brings out another occasion to find excuses to declare victory and go home. Sort of the way the Russians did in Afghanistan after a decade of fighting the mujahideen. And these are the same people who (correctly) criticize corporate CEO’s for making strategic decisions based on quarterly financial reports and the associated effects on the company’s stock price.

Look past the fact that a lot of the “more (American) troops” fervor is fueled by some members of the careerist general officer class of the US Army (not the Kaplanesque "Imperial Grunts", but the high-ranking heavy armor bureaucrats who got passed over for promotion), in its ongoing war against Rumsfeld to prevent military transformation (that is, a shift from 1975 European warfare doctrine and force structure to something a bit more useful in today’s world); the logic simply doesn’t hold.

Read all the arguments of those who are supposedly in favor of the GWOT- from Lowry to Kristol and beyond, and note that almost every proposed “new” strategy is based on wishful thinking in the attempt to speed up the clock by turning up the heat. Win now, so we can declare the war over and get back to border security and reducing government spending (fat chance). Or, understandably, focus on Iran, as though that were somehow a severable issue. Or made easier when you don't have a few airfields and divisions right next door ready to pounce if needed.

I have a secret for everyone: if you want to bake bread, it takes 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Running the oven at 600 degrees doesn’t bake the same bread faster, it simply produces something very different. Something inedible.

A better analogy is recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear of the knee, the dreaded “reconstructive knee surgery” you hear about so often in football. In this case, a small bundle of collagen fibers woven together sort of like a guy wire cable, runs from the back of your thigh bone (femur) to the front of your shin bone (tibia). It is small, but has a very important job- when you straighten out your leg, it prevents the quadriceps muscle (the big “one”- actually four- on top of your thigh) from pulling the shin bone forward and locking the joint as the kneecap serves as the lever fulcrum for the contraction. The hinge joints for the knee are on the side- the medial and lateral collateral ligaments. For a variety of reasons, they can get injured, but they heal very nicely by themselves simply left alone for about six weeks. The ACL is the Big One; God simply didn’t make it to deal with some of the stresses applied by modern athletics.

When the injury occurs, the time scale is unforgiving. The good news is that we can come back and be about as strong as we were before getting hurt. The bad news is- it takes a year to get all the way back. Period.

No matter who your doctor is, no matter what you do, you won’t be yourself athletically for just about 12 months. There are some few freaks of nature who may come back sooner, taking a big risk on revision surgery (check the story of Rod Woodson), but for all of us “normal people”, we are looking at a year of recovery to get back to what we did before the injury in the same way.

Why? It is simple- tissue healing is all biochemistry, which simply requires the chemical elements, and the time, in order to work.

When the knee is first injured, everything is swelled and inflamed. You almost cannot see the injury because of all the extra fluid and blood, so you wait a few weeks before surgery to get the knee to “calm down”. When all of the trauma except for the torn ligament has subsided, you can have the procedure, usually by replacing the ACL with tissue from a cadaver, or from the middle third of your patellar ligament (often wrongly called the patellar tendon), or a piece of the hamstring muscle folded over to get to the right length. At each end, a little plug of bone is cut out and left on the new graft, because the easiest way to heal it is to drill a little hole in the bone of your femur and tibia, and tap the graft bone plug into the hole, fastened further by a titanium screw, rather than try to heal “new”collagen onto bone.

When you wake up and the anaesthesia wears off, it hurts, but at that point the graft is about as strong as it will ever be- theoretically, if you could forget pain, and the inflammation was gone, you could go do almost anything at that point, provided the screw holds.

However, the body also immediately starts to tear down the new ligament, literally dissolving it biochemically and turning it into a different type of collagen (sound like Iraqi society yet?). After about 6 weeks to three months, it is very weak, as the tissue breakdown process is almost done, but the conversion to the right version of type 1 collagen is still in process, and that goes on for about a year to get to 90% and much longer for more.

This doesn’t change or speed up, no matter what you do. The National Football League has lots of money ready for the genius who figures out how to heal and rehab an ACL repair in six weeks. But you can apply heat, ultrasound, prednisone and other antiinflammatories, hyaluronic acid, glycous amino glycans, insulin, alkaline phosphatases, TGF beta, HGH, you name the growth or metabolic factor.

You can hire the world’s best physical therapists, bring in the best exercise machines. But if you overdo the rehab exercises, you actually damage the repaired joint.

No matter what you do, there is a natural process that only plays out at its own pace. Just like baking bread.

So, throw money at Iraq (or not- Speaker Pelosi would owe a lot to a lot of constituencies). Some added cash might help somewhat in some places, or it might also cause more corruption opportunities, create a colonial-style addiction, and permanent dependency.

Go ahead, send “More Troops! More Troops!” Fine, add more US targets to shoot at; but the US military believes that what they need are more Iraqi troops- who are not infiltrators or beholden to bad guys. Cleaning that group out and training more and more takes... time.

The government? After several decades of direct ethnic and religious subjugation, building trust and believing in the democratic process while fighting against the agendas of the bad guys (Sadr’s Mahdi Army, Iranian-linked SCIRI, former Baathists, etc.) takes... time.

The message is that everything here that needs to be done to produce something in the end that is better, takes time. At least another five years, more likely ten.

And, as we see frpom the polls, America may not be ready to pay that price. We may not believe that it is necessary- we forget now, but we weren't ready in late 1944, or 1864, either.

And looking at home front today, it is clear that the price in blood and cash is nothing like it has been in any prior war, but we are still whining, louder than ever. As the sainted Dr. Sowell said, “frivolous politics”. I have news for you- if you really believe that fighting back against the fundamentalist Salafist and Wahabi terrormasters causes more terrorism long run, you also believe that the NutRoots only oppose Bush because of Iraq.

It is times like this that you can be happy to be 50 rather than 20, so you have a better shot at avoiding dealing with the long term consequences of failing to seriously address terrorism, social security reform, and the like. Just remember- I told you so.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Song of the Disenfranchised

If you enjoy cheering for an underdog – for the sort of pathetic soul that doesn’t have a chance in hell of coming out on top – then join the Washington, D.C. Republican Party. I don’t think anyone from their headquarters would take offense at that – they pretty much admitted in their letters soliciting volunteers and financial contributions this fall that they had no real hope of victory, and therefore wouldn’t be making any promises.

Of the voting population of the 550,000 or so residents of the nation’s capital, about three-quarters are registered Democrats. This means that the outcome of yesterday’s Democratic primary elections actually decided all the races. (The Republicans held a primary yesterday as well, but as none of the candidates were in contested races, nor do they have any hope of winning, it received little attention and little press.)

What this means for me, a registered Republican and resident of Washington, is that I’ve never had a say in the election of my city’s leadership. All the races are decided before I ever get to vote.

Of course, I’m likely not getting much sympathy on this point from registered Republicans living in other heavily Democratic districts, but my situation is different for one very important reason: local government is all we’ve got. There’s no turning one’s hopes to the Senate or the Gubernatorial races, which even in the most solidly Democratic or Republican states can still be turned after a few years of electoral discontent. Remarkably, D.C. government has never been vulnerable. No matter how many times our schools fail, we top the charts in murder rates, or our leaders get arrested, this city is safe for the Democratic Party. It boggles the mind.

It should be evident, above all else, that the two party system with primaries and general elections has failed in DC. What we need instead is something more fluid, that allows all the candidates to run simultaneously and be judged on their merits, with no party monikers attached. A primary could narrow the field to a handful of candidates, then elected by plurality in a run-off election. This is the only way I can think of to get someone eminently qualified like Tony Williams, Republican candidate for Member of Council in Ward 6, his due consideration by the voters.

Running the local government doesn’t require a commitment to national party platforms: a stance on Iraq or musings on global warming. The solutions Washington needs actually don’t have much to do with the famous institutions we house – they’re much closer to home, and deal with things like getting kids to read, taking lead out of the water, and stopping the omnipresent violence. On security issues, we cooperate with the federal government anyway – it is, after all, their fault we’re such a hot target and their institutions that need protecting. What we don’t need is the two-party system restricting our voting, narrowing our choices, and preventing the (sadly vast) numbers of knee-jerk, party-line voters from thinking about what’s best for our city.

For the left, the solution to all of DC’s many and varied ailments is statehood. “Taxation without Representation” claim our license plates, co-opting the familiar revolutionary refrain for the cause to get two extra guaranteed Democratic seats in the Senate. I can’t imagine why else they would think statehood for an area so small – with portions of it necessarily the domain of the federal government – is a good idea. And speaking of taxes, I can’t even imagine what it would take to support a full “D.C. State” government, even in miniature. I already pay out to the district at almost the same rate as I do as the feds, and that’s just to support our cancerous city council.

In fact, statehood would solve none of our real problems and create plenty of new ones, but without that step, we are left with a conundrum: we in the district don’t have voting representation in Congress. And the rare District Republicans, well, we are likely among the most disenfranchised voters in this country. So little to vote for, and no choices to make.

What I’d like to propose in place of Statehood is the partial annexation of D.C. by the state of Maryland. Now, I couldn’t really blame them for not wanting to take us on, but ignoring that objection for a moment, consider how it might work. Historically, there’s a sound argument for such a move: the land that is D.C. now was carved out of Maryland. It was to be a perfect diamond-shape, but Arlington and Alexandria were never ceded (as they were promised to be) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So in terms of our neighbors, Maryland makes more sense geographically. Politically, Maryland also tends to go Democratic. Sticking D.C. into politically more conservative Northern Virginia could only lead to resentment, as our population tried to vote the state out of the government of its natural inclinations. But our votes backing up the Senate races in Maryland would only serve to widen the margins, not change the outcome.

My plan is not for us to simply re-join Maryland. Instead, I would propose that we share her Senators (and perhaps her Governor as well, though this is by no means necessary): we would vote for them, and they would act on our behalf. We would then be given our own, voting member of the House – we would be “the District district.” Our local government would then continue to run our schools, city government, police force, etc. This way, we get a say in national issues, but we are not turned into a mini “city-state” (heh), with all the questionable repercussions that could entail.

Republicans would still be in the minority, of course, but even in Democratic strong-holds, things can happen that change the balance and lead to the occasional Republican senator. Consider Norm Coleman, for example: a Republican senator from the only state in the Union to vote for Mondale.

I see real solutions here – compromises that could take away the overwhelming sense of disenfranchisement felt by many of the people of D.C., of either party. What’s more, these two systems combined would give us Washington Republicans something that we haven’t ever had before: hope.

Friday, September 08, 2006

2996 Tribute: Billy Tselepis, Jr.- Cantor Fitzgerald

I never met Billy Tselepis. In fact, I never even knew his name until I got a frantic phone call on the morning of September 11, 2001, from my friend and his big brother, Peter Tselepis.

Billy worked as a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald (www.cantor.com) in the World Trade Center, just like Peter. He had moved to New York, just like Peter, from Chicago, where the big, warm, Greek family always welcomed them back for visits.

"Duane, pray like you have never prayed before! My little brother Billy works on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center and the building is on fire below him! There’s no way to get out, and we can’t get through to him!"

Foreign exchange options traders generally are not prone to panic. They like the action, the risk, and the intensity of the situation where millions of dollars can swing on one decision. Over the long run, you had to be right a lot more than you were wrong, and Peter thrived on the excitement. He relished the life, leaving it earlier than he had intended when his wife wanted to take a job in her hometown Minneapolis area. So Peter moved to the cold Northland, but still got back to New York whenever he could- to spend time with Billy.

They hung out. They played golf. They spent time with Billy’s wife, Mary. They played with Billy’s toddler, Katie. Then Peter would go back to Prior Lake, Minnesota and wish that Billy lived in Minneapolis.

On September 11th, 2001, Mary Tselepis was about eight months pregnant with Will. And then she, Katie, Will, and, yes, Peter, were robbed of love, a lot of life, and a lot of happiness by a gang of kamikaze assassins carrying out their conviction that if you were not conforming to the nihilistic legal creed of Sayeed Qutb, you didn’t deserve to live.

The New York Times profile of Billy Tselepis is here, where photograph originated: http://www.legacy.com/Sept11.asp?Page=TributeStory&PersonId=94766

God loves you Billy, even though thugs robbed you of life, and robbed your loved ones of you, allegedly in His name. The best tribute is to put them all out of business before their successors can destroy other lives.

And God loves Mary, the kids, and Peter, as well. May His blessings soothe the pain and loss as you go on- but never, never forget.

For more on the 2996 project, go to http://www.dcroe.com/2996/ to see how each 9-11-2001 victim is being honored.