Saturday, December 07, 2002

Money and the Net

AOL has just announced that it's going to put Time/Warner content on the net, and make it available exclusively to AOL users. Since there's been little progress in making money off of content (just ask the people with stock in Salon, to name one of the still solvent content providers who'll never turn a profit), they've decided to leverage their content to get more people using AOL for internet access and to make money that way. This doesn't bother me, since there's so much other content on the net available for free and there are only two companies that could make this play with any chance of success (AOL and MS). I'm guessing that it'll help AOL a little but not a whole lot.

As another way to make money off of content, I've noticed the NY Times and a bunch of magazines that previously made their archives available for free now charge to download articles. Again, this doesn't bother me. It's their content, they can do what they want. Though I doubt that they'll make much money. Slate became a subscriber only site for a while, then switched back when no one subscribed. I see the magazines going through the same thing when they realize that people like me who read old articles on a lark aren't willing to pay for them.

What this all amounts to is a desperate attempt to make money off of content other than porn, and I'm hoping it doesn't succeed. Let me explain.

Right now, the companies who sell internet access couldn't care less what I or you look at. They get their money whether you read big influential newspapers, little influential magazines, or bored liberals with nothing better to do. We're all the same to them. If someone comes up with a universal way to make money off of readership, this will all change. Suddenly, there will be big money for the presumably best sites with the highest readerships and even bigger money for those who figure out how to drive readers to sites regardless of how good they are. This would completely change the rules of the game.

For several years now, people have been predicting a future internet model based on micro-payments. Essentially, every time you went to a site you would pay it some tiny amount of money. Big sites would have a lot to gain. Little sites would still get something for their effort. Even though this would make me a few bucks, I think it would lead to real trouble. Once people got paid for clicks, there would be massive attempts to game the system for maximum profit. Popups, of course, would become even more ubiquitous, but that wouldn't be the real problem.

The shit would really hit the fan when companies like AOL and Microsoft figured out that the easiest way to drive traffic to their sites was to restrict access to everyone else's (and don't think micro-payments or something similar wouldn't lead to exactly this). It wouldn't always have to be a total block of sites, although that would be a possibility. First, the internet providers who also make content would rework their servers so that their customers accessed their content way faster than they could access anything else. Then they would start bribing Google and the other search engines to give them preference, the easiest way would be simply to list every hit for a paying customer ahead of every one for a non-payer (which would mean goodbye to being the #1 hit for my name on google), then you could eventually drop the non-payers completely on the grounds that no one clicks on them anyway.

If this weren't enough, the ISPs would then start cross-licensing each other (AOL and MSN giving each other preferential access, etc). Soon enough, what websites you could access (and how easily) would depend on who your ISP was, with the thousand or so paying sites being accessible to all and the rest of us not. Most people wouldn't mind so much, since all the stuff they were looking for (sports scores, stock quotes, naked pictures of Britney Spears) would still be accessible. You'd still be able to play games online. You just wouldn't see any non-approved or non-paying sites.

The people who did mind wouldn't always have a choice (there are still big chunks of this country with only one or two ISPs). They also wouldn't have a voice, since the big media would be the real winners in all this.

Of course, you'd be able to set up a blog or webpage through MSN or AOL, but I'm sure it wouldn't be free. You'd also have to watch what you say, they do have community standards to uphold. You may think that my blog wouldn't be worth blocking. It wouldn't be, but all of them combined would be (that's millions of hits a day). Those bloggers who played along would be allowed to operate (for a price). Those who wouldn't, wouldn't. If someone really popular didn't play ball, I'm sure that AOL could find someone willing to imitate his style for a nice salary.

Who would stop this? Would the big media conglomerates (who'd stand to make millions) raise a fuss? Would Congress step in, and interfere with the free market? [and it would still be as free as broadcasting is right now]. Would the Rehnquist Court rule against a few companies just trying to make a buck? Sure, new ISPs would open that promised free access, but they would be easy to buy out or marginalize (imagine if those 1,000 most popular sites stopped being accessible from certain ISPs or if the XBOX and PCs couldn't play online through those same ISPs).

I'm guessing that if we ever institute a system by which sites get paid for every reader without subscriptions, that'll be the end of the web as we know it. It'd just be a matter of time before the internet was a bunch of sheep looking at the pretty pictures brought to you by Chevrolet and Time/Warner.

Who's gonna prove me wrong?

To the Women of America

If a man in your life ever hits you or even seriously threatens to, walk out the fucking door and don't come back.
I don't care how much you love him.
I don't care how sweet he is when he apologizes.
I don't care how hard it is to find another man (they are out there).
I don't even care how hard life will be without him (it'll be far easier than putting up with abuse).
Walk out the door and don't come back.

You deserve far better than to have some asshole hit you when he gets pissed off at life. Staying with an abuser not only physically hurts you, but it hurts you psychologically. It makes you feel like like you had it coming. You didn't. Or that you provoked it. You didn't. There are no circumstances in which a man is ever justified in hitting a woman (other than defending himself or his kids against the woman's violence, but that's a situation in which the man should walk out the door and never come back).

You also need to think about the effect on your kids. Not only does domestic violence model bad behavior for them when they're grown, but it's hurting them now (even if the abuser isn't, and he will eventually). Think about how helpless and full of rage a child feels watching his mother be beaten. Think about how this rage will follow him around his whole life. Do you want that for your children? Walk out the door and never come back.

From a societal point of view, this would change the incentive structure for men (not that this should be the responsibility of women). Men would know that a single raised fist meant losing their family. Don't think this would change their behavior? There aren't a huge number of men each abusing one woman. There are a relatively small number of men who abuse practically every woman they get involved with. The sooner these men are left alone the better. We'll all be better off if they can't find anyone to stay with them. They may even change their behavior.

I know that a lot of people are going to jump in with It's more complicated than that or Don't you realize how hard it is to raise kids on your own?. I know, and I don't care. Sometimes there are no good choices, but putting up with abuse is never the best available option. Even moving to a shelter for a while is better than being abused or watching your mother be abused.

Others may balk at a strict zero-tolerance policy. After all, couldn't this be a one-time thing? No, it couldn't. The fact is that the vast majority of men have never hit a woman. Those that have do so more than once. If he hits you and you stick around, he will do it again. Guaranteed. Walk out the door and don't come back.

Note to the men who hit women:
Why? Does it make you feel like a tough guy? Does it give you some sense of power in an otherwise powerless life? Do you just like the idea of pushing around those weaker than you? Is your temper that uncontrollable? Get help. There are programs to help you change your behavior. If that fails, then leave. If you can't control your anger, then you need to walk out the door and never come back. Everyone in your life would be better off if you just got the fuck out. If you neither want to change nor to leave, drop me a line next time your temper gets the best of you. You're probably bigger than I am, but I'd give you a much better challenge than a woman or a child. Or are you afraid to fight a man?

Friday, December 06, 2002

Best of the Web

CalPundit has written a really good review of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Kenneth Pollack. You should read it.

I, for one, hate Saddam and would love to see his head hanging from the national Christmas tree in Washington. However, I think so little of the competence and intentions of the Bush administration that I don't trust them to do things right. If they'd only stop lying to us all the time and make a real case against the bastard......

You should also read Limbs of No Body: World's Indifference to the Afgan Tragedy, which was written by an Iranian before the terrorist attacks that reminded all of us of what was going on in Afganistan.
In this hour, 14 more people will have died in Afghanistan of war and hunger and 60 others will have become refugees in other countries. This article is intended to describe the reasons for this mortality and emigration. If this bitter subject is irrelevant to your sweet life, please don't read it.

Don't worry. It really takes far less than an hour to read.

Meanwhile, Jim wants you to take a look at the man behind the curtain. Despite any impression left by our current dance with the UN, he believes that we are going to war with Iraq, no matter what (here and here).
American citizens might be forgiven for wondering what kind of suckers their government takes them for.

The aggressive movement of Israeli, Turkish, and American special forces into Iraq is another sign that the U.S. and its allies are not seriously engaged in any kind of peace process. In fact, what is going on is pre-war -- not an adjective, a noun.

Pre-war is what negotiation and diplomacy really mean in our modern newspeak. Pre-war is a constant vigilance against peace. It is the Tonkin Gulf and the USS Maine and, when even these kinds of charades are no longer necessary, it is a first-strike foreign policy.
Given the Bush administration's unwillingness to change policies even when circumstances change (see Tax Cuts, Deficits; also Fuel Economy, Saudi Utility Vehicles), I think he may be right.

Jeanne D'Arc give us a rundown of the mess that is Nigeria (the people who brought you Biafra and death by stoning for premarital sex). She's posted some feedback giving more detailed info on Nigeria here. Given its oil, its population, and its position as the strongest military power in a very fucked up part of the world (not to mention its tribal and religious strife), Nigeria is one to watch. A meltdown there (a very real possibility) could not only kill millions of people through war and starvation, but a ripple effect could destroy reform efforts in other African countries, plunge the whole region into even more chaos, and reach out to bite us here in America (plus, obviously, make most of Africa off-limits to Americans and Israelis for the forseeable future).

Lastly, take a look at UggaBugga's flowchart detailing possible outcomes in Iraq. And, yes, pigs fly is listed as a possibility (just under US transforms region into Western style capitalist democracies).

I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas ... . For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves. ... For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society.
- John F. Kennedy

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Mea Culpa

I know I said that I'd ignore other bloggers and day to day politics until I finished spilling my guts on the issues, but man is fallible and weak. I have several wordy, poorly, written, and annoyingly imprecise posts in the hopper on subjects ranging from education to foreign aid. Unfortunately, they'll take some serious work to even meet my exceedingly low standards for publication, and I'm not in the editing mood. Once I get them into a form comprehensible to anyone other than the voices in my head, I'll post them. I promise.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

More Politics

CalPundit weighed in on the Kevin Phillips essay and had this to say:
I think this business of "rebuilding" the old FDR coalition is tiresome. FDR — with the Depression as background — was able to build a coalition based on labor, the poor, and minorities. The problem is that labor and the poor are shrinking constituencies, so focusing there just won't do the job.
I think he's right that a coalition of the poor, minorities, and labor is an electoral loser; I just don't see that as the true New Deal coalition.

As a percentage of the American population, the truly poor (as opposed to those who are simply on the low end of the scale, but are doing okay) has shrunk pretty much every decade since the depression, with the possible exception of the 80's. Their share of the electorate has shrunk even faster, because the poor have always voted in low numbers but now vote even less. Any electoral strategy that appeals primarily to the poor is a sure loser (and this is where I think much liberal rhetoric goes wrong).

Labor's percentage of the vote is also shrinking, and many union members are now well-off enough that they can vote based primarily on social rather than economic issues. Most union voters still vote Democratic, but this is far from monolithic. Minority voters (black, hispanic, asian, and gay) are more reliably Democratic; but discrimination has lessened and enough of them are doing well enough financially that many of them now vote based on their self-identification with the investor class rather than from concern over civil rights. [Note: I don't consider this and a lessening of poverty to be bad things just because they hurt Democrats at the polls. Far from it. I consider these as things that the nation and the Democratic Party can be proud of. They do, however, have electoral consequences, and they cannot be ignored]. Expecting union members and minorities to vote Democratic based solely on their identity as union members and minorities is also a sure loser.

I believe that FDR's appeal was not to minorities, the poor, and to union members just because they belonged to those groups (even in the 30's that wasn't enough to win elections). I believe that his appeal to them was part of his greater appeal to huge chunks of the American electorate. That appeal was more psychological than based on race or other identity. FDR spoke to and for what America as a whole was feeling during the 30's and 40's, and that is still applicable today.

I'd say that FDR had two basic constituencies, with a great deal of overlap: the anxious and the powerless. Speak to those constituencies today and you win elections (a great deal of Reagan's popularity was his appeal to those who felt anxious about the future and those who felt powerless in the face of government).

Whatever the drawbacks (and they're too many to list) of the era, there was a lot less anxiety in the 50's and early 60's than there is now. If you had a job assembling cars, you could be pretty sure that the job would stick around and that you'd be able to support your family with it. If you had a job in middle management at GM or at a bank, you could be pretty sure that job would be there your whole life. If your kids were in college, then you could be pretty sure that good jobs would be waiting for them when they graduated. Things were more predictable, and that made people less anxious.

Compare that to the 30's and 40's, in which the Great Depression and war made everyone anxious. You couldn't be sure that your job would be there in a year. You couldn't be sure your son would be alive in a year. You couldn't even be sure that your way of life would be around much longer. FDr dealt with this anxiety by letting people know that we were all in this together, and by using the government to actively make things better. He knew that when things are bad, people don't want the government to simply step out of the way and let nature take its course (the Hoover approach); they want the government to step in and make things better.

This activist approach to government is very popular and should be just as big selling point for the Democrats now as it was then. While social dislocation and unemployment is nothing close to what it was in the 30's and the War on Some Terror Funded by Some People (none of whom happen to be Saudi) pales in comparison to WWII, the public today is still quite anxious. A factory employee, a middle manager, even a professional doesn't know for sure that his job will be there in a year. If it's not, he doesn't know for sure he'll be able to replace it. He doesn't know if his kids will find good jobs when they graduate college; nor does he know what the world will be like in even a few years. This leads to a lot of anxiety, and elections will go to those who act to calm it and are willing to take steps to make things better. If both parties pretend the anxiety doesn't exist, then elections will go to the party willing to promise the biggest bribes to the most people(and that's usually the party that wants to cut taxes the most).

The second thing in people's minds that FDR spoke to was a sense of powerlessness in the face of the forces controlling events, sometimes these were the market forces which caused the Great Depression, sometimes they were world events spinning out of control. This, too, is still a powerful emotion today, though there are obviously different things driving it. Even those with lots of money often feel powerless in the face of events. Even those who have secure jobs themselves know for a fact that they have little true influence on the way things will go down the line (the people with true power in this country could fit into Madison Square Garden).

People feel powerless in the face of their jobs moving overseas. They feel powerless in the face of HMO's denying them medical care. They feel powerless in the face of their 401k's being eaten away by corporate malfeasance. They feel powerless in the face of international terrorism. Whoever reliably sticks up for those that have little power on their own will win elections. Given their unwillingness to face down corporate donors over economic issues and their unwillingness to do more than slavishly follow George Bush on foreign affairs, the Democrats shouldn't be surprised to see Bush fairly popular. At least he seems willing to stick up for them against terrorists (even though he's dishonest as hell about where the true threat lies).

Speaking for those who feel anxious and those who feel powerless was the true source of FDR's coalition, much more than simply listing its members ethnicities and incomes. That is the sort of coaltion the Democrats should be rebuilding. Give them policies which try to address (rather than just stoke) their anxieties and which give them a collective voice in events they're powerless to affect alone, and you'll win the support of most Americans. Stoking fears without offering solutions and hoping people vote based solely on ethnic identity is sure not to.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Skybox Politics

Kevin Phillips used to be in the mainstream of the Republican Party, but for the last decade or so the Party has moved away from him to the point where he appears further from the Republicans than many mainstream Democrats are. he's written a good thinkpiece for the LA Times, and it's obvious from his tone who he now identifies with.
Greed Is Putting Party in Peril (username=laexaminer; password=laexaminer):
The weakening economy and skewed wealth distribution were obvious rallying points, yet Democratic leaders, despite having the freedom that comes from being out of power nationally, abandoned them, save for cliches about protecting Social Security and providing prescription drugs.

While hardly new, this marked an escalation in the national party's willingness to discard old beliefs and the interests of ordinary citizens in order to woo big-contributor money that has captured the center of U.S. politics -- the new "venal center."..............

.............This is a losing politics, because the dominance of venality automatically favors the Republicans. Innately on the side of money, many, if not most, Republicans are philosophically committed to upholding its principles and some of its excesses. By contrast, the worthy history of the Democratic Party, especially during its periods of dominance, has been to question those principles and to indict related excesses. When abuses mount and Democrats remain mute, they lose both constituency appeal and their historical raison d'etre.

Regaining this balance is not turning left, an implausible description for the great Democrats from Jefferson to Truman. What it has involved is correcting the excesses of plutophile conservatives from Alexander Hamilton through the 20th century and down to the present day. Under current circumstances, it would take years for any such correction to be leftish............

.............What the Democrats have to pursue, then, is neither rightward nor leftward movement but a double-barreled recommitment to Middle America and the party's old Jackson-FDR constituencies. That will require them to forswear both rightist economics and left-chic culture. If any such effort succeeds, what opponents try to label it won't matter. Indeed, we can reasonably speculate that any such new politics able to overcome the venal center would also go a long way toward recreating another vital center.

Armed Liberal has already commented on this, but I can't say that I agre with him when he says:
Until the Democratic Party can wean itself from the golden teat of large donors (primarily from lawyers, labor, technology, and media), they will be transparently captive to their investors' interests.
or with Phillips when he insists that money from Hollywood is the worst of all.

I would first point out that the traditional Democratic donor groups don't scare me, nor do they scare most people likely to vote Democratic. The unions, trial lawyers, environmental groups, abortion rights groups, and socially liberl Hollywood types are the most solidly Democraic donor constituencies. Try as they might, the Republicans have never gotten significant numbers of people to vote against the Democrats because of who gives money to them (people may vote pro-life, but they're not changing their votes if the Democrats stop taking money from NARAL). These traditional Democratic donor groups line up pretty closely with good Democratic policies.

The problems occur when Democrats start relying on money from traditionally Republican groups. When Democrats start depending on money from banks, from insurance companies, from the investor class, and from big business in general, then they find themselves in an untenable position. To keep these donors happy, they must abandon traditional Democratic policies and the political advantages that come from representing the majority of the American people against those with outsized power and influence.

As soon as Democrats start selling access to anyone willing to write a check, they're lost. It's not that Democratic ties to their traditional supporters scare off voters; it's that Democratic reliance on their traditional opponents paralyzes them. This reliance makes it impossible for them to put forth the sort of policies that will truly differentiate them from the Republicans. This is where Kevin Phillips has things wrong. Gray Davis didn't fail to excite California voters because he was too beholden to Democratic interest groups. Davis failed to excite them because he was too beholden to Republican ones. His Skybox Politics were so dependent on big corporate money that he was unwilling to do anything to piss that big corporate money off. In effect, Davis came off as a Republican Lite, and this it what failed to excite voters.

I'd say that it's good news for Democrats indeed that such an unappealing politician as Gray Davis won almost solely because of residual loyalty to the Democratic Party (it's not like most of his big donors didn't secretly want Simon to win). It says something about the Republican Party that they've moved so far to the right that they can't beat an empty suit like Davis.

I'd also say that it's good news for the Democrats that some big money that had straddled the fence in the Clinton years has now gone over entirely to the Republican side. That's right. It's good news, but only if the Democrats learn the proper lessons (and some Democrats, like Joe Lieberman, seem unwilling to learn those lessons).

Since the oil companies now give almost all their money to Republicans, the Democrats now no longer have to give a shit what the oil companies think about anything. They can formulate and push policies that favor conservation and that favor consumers even in the face of stiff opposition from the oil companies. Why? Because the oil companies won't support them anyway, so there's no downside. In fact, they can go out of their way to antagonize the oil companies with almost no repercussions.

Since the drug companies now give almost all their money to Republicans, the Democrats now no longer have to give a shit what the drug companies think about anything. They can formulate and push policies that favor consumers even in the face of stiff opposition from the drug companies. Why? Because the drug companies won't support them anyway, so there's no downside. In fact, they can go out of their way to antagonize the drug companies with almost no repercussions.

You get the point. The Democrats can make a list of every industry that favors Republicans over Democrats, then go down that list getting rid of every policy they ever instituted to favor those bastards. They once opposed price controls fro prescription drugs; they should now favor them. Not only is it good politics in that millions of voters would benefit from Democratic policies, but sticking it to your enemies is also good politics. It gives the big donors a reason to fear you, and may convince some of them to stay the hell out of politics completely. The same is true for sticking to the oil companies, the insurance companies, the big polluters, etc.

Most of the big Republican contributors do scare voters, and it's much better politics to protect the public from those out to fuck 'em than it is to compete for donations by helping to bend the public over. Does this mean the Democrats will lose some more financial support in the short run? Yes. Does this mean that some Democratic politicians will lose elections in the short run? Yes. Both of these are likely true, but they're worth the cost. Actually articulating a message that puts voters over donors, that truly serves the people and not the powerful would make the Democrats the majority party for the forseeable future.

As people like Kevin Phillips and Michael Lind prove, there are a lot of voters disaffected with the direction the Republicans have pushed politics in the last two decades. Those voters, most of them Rockefeller Republicans, are looking around for a choice. The Democrats, by competing for big money donations from those same interest groups that have driven away lifelong Republicans like Phillips, haven't given those partyless voters any reason to support them. The people want politicians who'll stick up for them even when the big money goes the other way. Those policians are unlikely to ever be Republicans, but right now they're not Democrats either. It's not that the people have been given a choice and chose the Republicans, it's that they've been given little choice (at least economically) and are evenly divided. Democrats win elections on economics, but they have to give voters a true choice. Skybox Politics doesn't give the voters that choice.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Gays in the Military

I remeber looking at all the fuss made over Letting gays in the military back in '93, and thinking Are these idiots under the impression that there aren't any gays in the military? If so, were any of these idiots in the military themselves? I can tell you, for a fact, that there are gays in the military right now, just as there were gays when I was in the Navy, just as there were gays when my father was in the Navy, and just as there were gays when both my grandfathers were in the Army. It's just a matter of whether they have to lie about it.

I knew several guys who were almost certainly gay when I was in the Navy. One of them had the bunk underneath mine for over year. I went drinking with others on several occassions. I never knew for sure, because they didn't tell me and I wasn't about to ask. They were simply my friends and shipmates. What they did in their own time was none of my business.

There are laws on the books to handle sexual harassment, and they should be applied to everyone fairly. If no sexual harassment or other violations are actually occurring (ie, if everyone involved is a consenting adult) and if no one violates their chain of command, then I don't see why it's anyone's business what anyone else does with their private parts when off duty.

Women in the Military

I was in the Navy back before women served on combat ships, so I had little interaction with females while in the military. I can tell you that I found them to be as professional and as competent as men when I did come into contact with them. I also happen to be a big supporter of women in the workplace in civilian life, as I've said before. I feel that a huge part of our competetive advantage over backward-ass places like Saudi Arabia comes from the fact that we allow women to contribute to our society both economically and politically in a way that other societies don't. Until big chunks of the globe figure that out, they'll continue to be backward-assed.

So you'd probably expect me to support women in the United States military, and you'd be half right. As I'd said before, we have a huge number of non-combat jobs in the military, most of which I think could be done as competently and much more cheaply by civilians. These jobs, and some that I think should stay in military hands, can be done as well by women as by men. For the several hundred thousand jobs for which there are essentially no physical demands, women should be (and are, as far as I know) be treated equally. The non-combat jobs in the military that I think should become civilian jobs could be done as well by women (civilian or military) as by men.

However, the purpose of the military is not to do paperwork. The purpose of the military is combat, and for that most men are better suited than most women. I'm not making any assumptions about emotional makeup, nor about how anyone would react to combat. I assume that there are plenty of women who would react coolly under fire, just as there are many men who would wet their pants and panic. No, I'm talking solely about physical suitability.

The military has a little-discussed institution known as Gender Norming, which essentially means that women are compared solely to other women when being physically tested. In everything from height, to aerobic capaicty to pushups, women are held to lower standards than men. What's the problem with that?, you may ask Why should women be compared to men? Can't a woman be in good shape even if she's not as strong as a man in worse shape?. I'd agree, if physical standards were simply arbitrary benchmarks which served no real world purpose, but they're not and they do.

As it stands now, a 4' 10", 110 lb woman is welcome in the Army, but a 4' 11" 130 lb man is not. Why is that? Is there some sort of benefit to the military in doing this? Are 110 lb women somehow more physically able to do their jobs than 130 lb men?

This is neither a sports contest nor a test to see how well we're taking care of ourselves, this is real life. Here in real life, the military needs people who can accomplish certain physical tasks, and those tasks don't care if you're a man or a woman. Loading a 5" gun or shouldering a pack won't be easier for women than for men. Ammo will not become lighter, nor distances shorter. Holding women to lower physical standards than men puts lives in jeopardy, and I'm against it.

My ship (DD-980, Da Moose) was a Spruance class destroyer with approximately 300 men on board. all of us were trained for multiple jobs, including firefighting. My main job was operating radar and keeping charts, which required nothing more than the ability to stay awake and to pay attention. I was also in charge of destroying cryptographic material for a few hellish months. If these were my only jobs, then a woman much smaller than me could've done it more efficiently (since she would've taken up less space and eaten less food), but this was not my only job.

At other times I would be:
1) Dragging a fully charged fire hose across a metal deck, through hatches and passageways
2) Carrying a wounded comrade in a stretcher
3) Standing guard on the quarterdeck with a .45
4) Repelling boarders with a 12 gauge shotgun
5) Climbing the radar mast of my ship to do repairs (boy, did that would sway in the wind and scare the shit out of me)
6) Loading 40 lb shells in a gun turret
7) Pulling the Search & Rescue swimmers and anyone they rescued aboard by hand (I turned down the chance to go to SAR school and I still regret it)
8) Maintaining fire equipment
9) Scrubbing nuclear contamination off the outside of the ship

None of these jobs could be done as efficiently by a smaller woman or man, and some of them couldn't have been done at all. A stretcher bearer had to be able to lift someone through a hatch almost singelhandedly (and yes, we practiced this). Someone fighting a fire may have to be on the nozzle by himself because everyone else was wounded. These were not jobs which could be passed off to someone else if inconvenient. The 300 men on board were all we had to rely on, and there's no way to know who would be available and who would be injured if we were in combat.

In my (not-so-humble) opinion, neither small women nor small men belong in the US Navy, nor do people belong who aren't strong enough to perform certain physical tasks. If women are strong enough to perform those tasks, then welcome aboard. If not, I think it's doing a disservice to everyone involved to lower standards for them. If strict physical standards happen to exclude more women from service than men (and they will), I couldn't give a shit. This isn't about being fair, it's about getting the job done.

The Marines have a philosophy that everyone is a grunt at heart, that every single marine could be sent into combat with a rifle whenever needed. Because of this, they should expect every marine to be able to carry a pack and hike for miles, regardless of gender or age. Being a combat rifleman is the very essence of being a marine, and I don't see why it should be compromised. Nor do I see why the Marines would want to recruit those who could never be sent into combat regardless of how badly they were needed there. I feel the same way about women in the Army. If they meet the same physical standards as men, then they're welcome. If not, then not.

Women in the Air Force may be a different matter, since they're the only branch that may very well not be anywhere close to combat. So the Air Force may not need to be as strict for non-pilots, but they should still hold everyone to the same standards (If not, then why have standards at all? Are they just competely arbitrary and unimportant?). Those standards could, however, be more lax and so leave room for more women.

I do have one note about women in combat, they need to be very aware of the risk of sexual assault. This is neither to scare away women nor to give an excuse to keep them away. If taken prisoner, there is a probability that any female captive will be sexually assaulted. Of the two American women captured during the Gulf War, one was raped repeatedly. The Israelis, in fact, no longer put women in front line positions because they were routinely raped if taken captive. They didn't consider it worth the risk. My own personal opinion is that a woman should be able to make up her own mind about running that risk, but that we have a duty to let her know that she is running a risk.

So there it is. The relatively few women who can meet the necessary physical standards should be welcomed into the military, those who cannot should not be allowed in (nor should men who can't meet tough standards). Nor, for that matter, should physical requirements be relaxed for older men and women.

For similar reasons to that stated above, I'd hold women and men to the same standards for becoming cops and firefighters. In fact, I can't figure out why any job with physical requirements at all would have different ones for men and women. If they can be lowered like that for women, why not lower them for men as well? If they really don't matter, then why not do away with them altogether? I'm sure there are some jobs out there that have physical standards for no good reason at all, but the military ain't one of them.