Saturday, August 29, 2009

I love the Czechs

First of all I should proclaim a disclaimer that, unlike my partner John, I am not a scientist. My scientific credentials are sketchy at best - a few undergrad classes and a few courses in the military in scientific subjects - so my opinions on scientific topics are not jealously or zealously held. It is easy for someone to sway my opinions on technical subjects if they have better scientific evidence than me. But I do think I know enough to spot weak science - when the facts to back up a conclusion or theory just aren't there, or the scientific method has been short-circuited.

One of the Czechs I love has scientific credentials that are not sketchy (as it were): Luboš Motl. Dr. Motl is a theoretical physicist who was an assistant professor at Harvard until he was forced out - apparently because he angered the mainstream academic establishment at Harvard in many different ways.

One of the things I like about Luboš is that is attitude towards science is a sceptical one: it takes a lot of good hard falsifiable evidence to convince him. I have been reading his writings for several years now (both his blog and his publications in physics), and for years thought he'd probably eventually be forced out of Harvard, for reasons having nothing to do with his scientific contributions, which are significant. He's pretty cranky when it comes to bad science and his sense of humour, while entertaining, is apparently regarded as very undiplomatic. (I get the impression that his sarcasm and irony simply don't translate in to politically-correct-ese.)

This situation reminds me of why I'm not in academics (which I'd like to be, but it wouldn't be in science, unfortunately): that the truth takes a back seat to the consensus of the crowd, which is far too often wrong. It's basic social science: us humans are social creatures, and tend to go along with one another, and reject those who don't - and that rejection is much more aggressive if the outsider is right, because it introduces the exposition that the crowd is wrong.

But this post is not about Luboš, nor is it about Vaclav Klaus, to whom Luboš refers in his most recent post.

Dr. Klaus, like Dr. Motl, is a controversial Czech academic, although in his case also the president of the Czech Republic.

Instead this post is about freedom, and why the Czechs seem to have a better sense for it than some of the rest of us.

Both Klaus and Motl have been vilified (in Motl's case, perhaps ruined) for their scientific scepticism about anthropogenic "climate change" (so called because "global warming" has apparently already become discredited).

Klaus and Motl, like many other Czechs as well as other citizens of former Soviet vassal states, are pretty sensitive to totalitarianism and suppression of intellectual freedom. Both see a lot of it in western civilization these days, and are vocal in their criticism. Both see the politics of climate change as among the most hostile to freedom - intellectual and otherwise - currently threatening us.

A good bit of what little scientific education I have had was in climatology, meteorology, and oceanography. I once passed on the (fully funded) opportunity to pursue an advanced degree in oceano, for reasons that in retrospect are absolutely stupid (only to study politics instead, to compound my already-epic stupidity). So while I absolutely don't claim to be anything like an expert, I probably do have more qualifications in climatology than most politicians.

What I see is much like what I see in many other fields of academia: corrosive groupthink.

Here's an example:

Still, there are incontrovertible facts. We can measure the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. And we do know exactly what they do. It’s simple physics. If you put “X” amount of these gases into the air, the temperature will warm by “Y.” It’s like putting a lid on a boiling pot of water, or like the heat that builds up inside your car when your park it in the sun with the windows closed. It’s clear that global temperatures have increased in recent decades, right in line with what the physics predict.
OK - I'm not the scientist around here, so maybe some of those of you who are can help me. "You put X amount of gas in the air and the temperature will warm by Y"? Where are the other variables? Like "A", the amount of thermal energy transmitted by the sun, or "B", the amount of energy transported by thermohaline circulation, or "C", geothermal and volcanic energy released by the earth, etc? This is science? "It's clear that global temperatures have increased in recent decades"????

My understanding of climatology says that of all the factors affecting the thermal budget of the earth, the sun is #1 by several orders of magnitude, and normal fluctuations in solar activity can have vastly greater impact on earth's climate than anything humans are thusfar capable of doing. Solar energy is followed by geologic energy, e.g. volcanoes, etc., which still dwarf human activity in terms of energy output.

More compelling is the geologic record, which shows the sun is overwhemingly the dominant influence on climate. (Uh, common sense aside: why is this news to anyone?) The correlation of CO2 output on climate appears, to the scientific layman such as myself, to be as much coincidental as anything else, and because it is coincidental, the correlative data seems likely to diverge, which has apparently already happened:

Here's a graphic:

The red line shows the predictions from the "Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change" at the MIT Center for Global Climate Change. (If that name doesn't scare and alert you, I'm not sure what would.) The rest of the lines on the graph show what has actually happened. The name of the organization that produced the prediction pretty much sums up the situation: a pseudo-academic organization created to push a political agenda.

And that's the point - which the Czechs kind of automatically get because they suffered under this kind of crap from the Soviets for decades: It's not about science or truth or reality, it's about some people who want to exert control over, and expropriate resources from, the rest of us.

The whole fuss about "CO2 emissions" isn't about the climate - it's about control of the world, because CO2 emissions are roughly correlated with wealth, power, and influence. Control who gets to use energy and you control the world.

I don't consider myself a conspiracy nut, although I'm idly amused by conspiracy as an intellectual diversion. But I have to wonder what processes are at work here. Who came up with the idea of controlling CO2 emissions as a way of dictating economic policy? How is this agenda coordinated, successfully, in the face of all the science I can find? My point is this whole business is about political science, not scientific science.

Finally, here's another interesting graphic, showing CO2 vs temperature over geologic timescales. The point of this chart is to show where we are today, in terms of the earth's history:

Because this data is geologic, there's no human influence represented. Anyone please let me know what correlation they detect, and how it applies to us.

Finally: I know it isn't scientific, but I also know experience can be indicative. I watch the local temperatures at my house, in particular in my swimming pool, which is literally 8-10 degrees cooler this summer on average than last year. What does that mean? Possibly not much - local variations do not mean much because global climate can vary assymetrically - it can get hotter in one place and cooler in another while the globe warms or cools overall. But dramatic variations in the mid latitudes from one year to the next also tend to get reflected in global averages - and what I'm seeing is the trend is not up.

I'm hoping for an ice age. They're really very nice in the mid-to-lower latitudes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Two Cultures in My Head

This is a re-post of something on my old blog for a debate I'm having elsewhere on the internet. My views about the two cultures are complex and conflicting, but ultimately, driven by my shit-hit-the-fan outlook on life. If space in the lifeboat is limited, would I rather take the physics major or the English major with me? Well, assuming that neither are sociopaths, the choice is obvious - unless the English major is an Eagle Scout or a Civil War re-enactor.

What follows is a post I wrote back in 2006:

This piece by the Big Arm Woman the Blue Collar Scholar got me to thinking about the relationship of the humanities to the sciences in my own life.

Here’s the punchline from BAW’s post:

Academics should be worried, and not about David Horowitz, because it seems to me that--fair or not--we're heading toward a place where "learning for its own sake," no longer justifies the expense, and the consequences will be dire indeed--and not just for the academics.

I’ve heard this sentiment from professors in the sciences, too. Learning for learning’s sake is no longer the primary mission of the Academy, and it has not been for decades. In order for that to be true again, the Academy would have to give back an awful lot of the resources that society tosses its way, especially in the sciences.

Most of us went to college to get useful skills. Maybe not directly useful right away, but potentially useful nonetheless. Most of us dabbled in our interests, too, but that’s not the primary reason for going to school these days. The reasons that I chose not to finish a Ph.D. in Slavic Literature had more to do with the additional time it would have taken from my life and lack of return on that investment, rather than disinterest in the subject matter – I wanted to start a career. But if Slavic Literature had been my only major, what could I have done with that Ph.D. except teach? We as a society are spending an awful lot of resources on students who major disciplines that do not require large numbers of practitioners in order to be viable parts of our society. The most common majors are not ones that one thinks of when one talks about education creating a highly economically competitive society in the 21st Century.

The ubiquity of student loans means that society, rightly or wrongly, sees a university education as imparting skills that society needs, rather than as a provider of interior decorations that make your mind a more interesting place in which to live. My opinion as a taxpayer is that if you want to decorate your mind, do it on your own dime. ROTC programs give a lot more scholarships in technical disciplines than in the humanities, and I’d like to see quotas imposed on civilian student loans, as well.

That’s not to say that I discount the value of the humanities disciplines. An education that ignores where a student and the surrounding culture have come from makes for a very poor sort of person - I’ve seen plenty of those sorts of people from the PRC.* An education totally at the hands of the peckerwoods in the science and engineering departments also makes for a poor sort of voter, and I do somewhat buy into the notion that educated people should be a bit of the salt of the Earth to the Electorate. Just not at the rate we’re turning out English and Communications majors. To take the analogy to a silly extreme, techies and professionals are the sodium chloride in the salt, and humanities majors are the sodium iodide. Without the iodide the body politic will get sick, but you don’t need too much of it either.

Some of the most fulfilling intellectual activities in my own life have been connected with my two passions in the humanities: history and languages. There is nothing like stepping into a historic place that you’ve read and read about, just to feel the ghosts of the personages from your books whisper in your ear. The first time I walked up the hill from the Moscow Metro to Red Square was such a moment – seeing Lenin’s Tomb and Ivan the Terrible’s cathedral to honor St. Basil (and his own victory over the Tartars) in one glance gives one a staggering view into the scope of Russian history. But without that sense of perspective, I’d be a poorer person, but just as valuable an economic actor by virtue of my chemistry degree. If I’d studied history, most likely I’d have needed additional training in law or business to enter the non-academic workforce. If I’d done that, I don’t see why any of you should have paid for my intellectual peregrinations in the form of student loans.

This whole debate reminds me of John Ray’s "Are We Overeducated" :

All education is not of equal value and our investment in certain categories of it may well need critical examination. It will be submitted here that, at both secondary and tertiary levels, too much value is attached today to education in the 'humanities' and that such education does not bring the benefits claimed for it.

it seems particularly hard to justify the demands that are made on the taxpayer to subsidise this form of recreation. Education is hugely expensive and tends to be a form of recreation most favoured by the more affluent sections of society. Why 'Joe the worker' has to pay more for his beer and cigarettes so I can study Chaucer free of cost I do not know. It can surely only be described as a monstrous injustice -- robbing the poor to pay the rich. If justice and equity were our concern, it would be fairer to subsidise horseracing. More people enjoy it.

I do not agree with Ray’s premise elsewhere in that article that there is no fungibility in knowledge. The utility of the study of literature is literature’s ability to distill and humanize human experience into manageable and meaningful packages. That broadens my mental experience to include (vicariously, but still better than nothing) the experiences of many people I would never otherwise encounter in my life.

I remember clearly the overview class in Russian Literature that solidified my views on monasticism. We were discussing “The Three Old Men” by Tolstoy, and I came to the conclusion that those men were holy because they had no temptations, and that was not holiness, but rather laziness and absence of temptation that led to their sin-free life. I also then came to the conclusion, at age 23, that raising kids was one of the hardest and most meaningful activities that a human could engage in, and by severing his protagonists from that aspect of life (this story was written after Tolstoy had fathered his 13 kids and then decided that sex was bad, bad, bad…), he’d taken such a huge part of the human experience away that I could not respect their spiritual pronouncements. Sort of the way I look at the Catholic priesthood now.** All this was a complicated digression to prove my point: my views on this subject would be considerably poorer and less thought out if it weren’t for the literature classes I was taking. I certainly have never interacted much with monks (other than buying their wine), so this was a way for me to broaden my mental life in a concentrated dose. This makes me a more educated voter when issues spiritual spring up in the public domain. But studying only literature does a disservice to the student who is really not mentally capable of sorting wheat from chaff without actually having some experiences in the physical world, and like it or not, that describes the vast majority of humanity. I think most people need to major in something practical in order to make any sense out of literature.

On the flip side, an awful lot of techies don’t give a rat’s about much outside their discipline, and making them take a few classes isn’t going to change that. I was never one of those techies who said “why do I have to take this?”. But I knew a lot of people who did. BAW commented that her advisor used to elegantly argue:

"You can go to any community college or vocational school to be trained for a job. You chose to come to a university, which means that on some level you value the life of the mind. And that means you're bright enough to understand that what I'm teaching you matters."

I don’t think that is an elegant argument at all. First of all, a technical school does not teach one how to become an engineer. It teaches one how to become a technician – the difference is the same difference that lies between an inventor and a tinkerer. I know I would have been insulted by someone insinuating that the only thing distinguishing me from a plumber were a few gut courses in English Lit. And Universities aren’t the only places that value the life of the mind: I attended an Institute of Technology that had a tremendous required load of humanities, and allowed us to take our pick totally free of suggestions***, as long as the course levels were high enough.

Engineers have been forced to take all kinds of humanities classes all through their high school and college lives, and very often have come into contact with Marxist, radical feminist, and many other “ist” teachers whose version of reality is not the same as the one the students, or other rational people, see in their real lives. I’d never assume that students had enough of a background, or a good enough experience in previous courses, to be able to sort a good teacher from bad within the first week of class, when this kind of question usually gets asked. I have a similar analogy for techies. When I was TAing the ridiculously low-level, non-honors General Chemistry course at Big U, I ran into a lot of students who hated math. What they thought they were going to do in a technical field baffled me, but the situation was what it was, and I had to teach them. My usual retort to “why did we have to learn all that crap in high school math?” was: “that stuff is in the cannon because it was used to solve a practical problem, and you might either run into that same problem, or more likely need to use a solution derived from that math, in your career, and you need to understand the basics before you can derive anything”. My retort to “I hate math” was “I’ve banged my hand with enough hammers that I don’t love them either, but when I want to drive a nail, I reach for one. Math is a tool. Either learn how to keep from banging your hand with it (most of the time), or get out of the carpentry business.” What I did not do was assume that their experience to this point had allowed them the intellectual vantage to see that all this stuff would be good for them down the road.

So I think that BAW’s advisor’s line is out of line, and that a little humility is in order from departments that have let the Po-Mo rot set into their disciplines so badly. The fact that our technical departments have to offer watered-down versions of physics or chemistry for humanities majors, while we techies take the real deal in the humanities departments, should also make for some humility in the humanities. Science has made for more human progress than any other discipline in the academy with the possible exception of mechanical and civil engineering. It’s only natural that, seeing this, engineering majors and scientists would say “why do we need this crap?”. The correct answer is not “don’t ask me that stupid question, you’re intelligent enough to understand why”, but “ask me that again when the course is over”. But that last answer requires that at least some of the selection of works to study has relevance to the topics of life that the kids are concerned about, and that the discussion turn to those topics.

If I were a humanities prof, I’d turn the question around: why do you think the authors felt compelled to write these works, and why have so many people found them useful through the ages? Unfortunately that presupposes a cannon. Disciplines that have let the Po-Mo barbarians through the gates to gut the cannon have done a way with a great temporal filter to sort metal from dross. Given the subject matter of BAW’s blog - and the fact that she’s a fellow Southerner ;-) - I have a feeling that she made a good choice of advisors, and that her advisor was on the side of the angels in the debate over the cannon, but even for a good teacher, that kind of retort won’t win friends from techies who’ve been forced to jump through Po-Mo hoops in other classes.

I know of a Physical Chemistry Prof who forbade fiction books in his house for his kids. He led a life almost entirely of the mind, albeit with a mathematical flavor – not a literary one. And he was no less a productive chemist for eschewing literature, although I might argue that he was a bigger peckerwood because of it. In the end, I think that my own proclivities in the humanities were fed more by my own curiosity than by any class I ever took, which somewhat gives lie to that “life of the mind” argument. Either you live in that space, or you don’t. Classes have nothing to do with it. I’ll let John Ray have his say on that with regards to literature requirements:

Initially, one must note that what one learns in such a course is literary criticism, not how to write novels, plays etc. Only a tiny minority of our successful writers are English graduates and an even tinier minority of our English graduates are successful writers. A course in English is not, then, vocational training of any sort. It is supposed simply to help you appreciate existing literature better. I would submit, however, that the number of people who become better trained for leisure in this way is infinitesimally small. Who would undertake a university course in English who did not enjoy reading novels? Who reads more novels because he has done English? Who needs an English course to help him enjoy plays? Who has ever been converted to reading poetry because of an English course? I think there is little doubt that to all these questions only one answer can be given: very few indeed. At the secondary school level, I think that there can he little doubt that the study of English literature often has a deterrent effect. How many generations of school-children have come to hate Shakespeare and Dickens because they were forced to study them at school?

Well, I hate Dickens because I hate melodrama, but point taken.

We are heading for the point where society is going to question the return on the enormous investment we’ve made in education. It’s now not possible to get an entry level job without a Bachelor’s, when those jobs used to go to high school graduates. And one can argue that those people holding the sheepskin are less capable than their grandparents who only got through high school. I really would like to see a quota for the number student loans given to humanities majors. I’m not sure that the consequences would be that dire – for everyone except the humanities departments. And you just know that the politically adept Po-Mo idiots will use the resulting budget cuts to further consolidate their position and kill off what is left of utility in a humanities education: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war; That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men, groaning for burial.

* Not so much in students from the USSR (when there was such a country), where the life of the mind was perhaps too much in the forefront of the culture. But the PRC turned out many, many students who had no idea of their own, or anyone else’s history, and so were easily manipulated. I remember taking one Chinese grad student down to the WWI memorial. It seems that in China they taught that the US had opportunistically joined in WWI to reap reparations form Germany, and that our casualties had been numbered in the hundreds. I took this student to see the memorial, in which the KIAs numbered in the hundreds for the city and its environs, and asked if this student thought our city had been the only one to furnish troops for the war. History is important, perhaps the most important of the humanities. And literature illuminates history.

** Anyone who argues that priests are responsible for their parish as sort of proxy children has not learned the lesson of riding as a passenger in a car to a place they’ve never been before, and then later having to drive back there by themselves without navigation aids: there’s a huge difference in being totally responsible for something and just being along for the ride with some “here’s your street” comments.

*** Therein lies one of the origins of the complaint “why do we have to take this crap?”. Students have to pick from several groups of classes at big state universities, and those requirements are politically driven by the profs. With the exception of Economics as my social science requirement, and a Western History overview class, I took all Russian Language or Russian Literature classes. No one told me I had to go take an East Asian class to fulfill someone’s idea of a well-rounded education – at the time, I could not have cared less about China or Japan and would have been amazed if you’d told me that in 15 years’ time I’d be speaking Japanese and learning Chinese. By allowing me to discover the world through courses I was actually interested in, I picked up a lot of literature and art that I would have just forgotten in a stand-alone required class. A lot of humanities departments force their subjects down students’ throats and offer the worst teachers and most boring subjects to the general education population, so they are reaping the whirlwind when they get the “what the use of this sh!t?” questions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Other Voices, Other Battles

On August 19, 1942 the German 6th Army and the 4th Panzer Army under General Paulus began the assault on Stalingrad, and the beginning of the end of the Nazi threat. It was both a simpler and more brutal time, and I find the taste in music of the day an interesting window into the soul of the peoples who fought that war.

One of the more famous Russian songs from the era was actually composed in 1938. Though written before the war, it has military overtones, taking for its subject the separation of a soldier and his lover. The soldier is admonished both to guard the Motherland and remember the simple girl he left behind. The lyrics mention “the far borders”, which evokes images of the first conflict between Japan and Russia in Manchuria in 1937, which would eventually culminate in the Battle of Nomonhon / Khalkhyn Gol in 1939. However, as pointed out here, the girl sends her song “along the track of the bright sun”, that is looking from East towards the West, meaning her lover was stationed on the Polish border, not the Chinese one.

At any rate, here are the lyrics, in Russian and English:

КАТЮША                                       Katyusha
Слова Михаила Исаковского      Lyrics: Mikhail Isakovsky
Музыка Матвея Блантера           Music: Matvei Blanter

Расцветали яблони и груши,       Apple and pear trees were blooming,
Поплыли туманы над рекой.       Fog crept along the river...
Выходила на берег Катюша,       Katyusha came out onto the bank,
На высокий берег, на крутой.     Onto the high, steep bank.

Выходила, песню заводила          She came out and started a song
Про степного сизого орла,           About a grey-blue eagle of the steppe,
Про того, которого любила,         About the one that she loved,
Про того, чьи письма берегла.    About the one, whose letters she cherished.

Ой ты, песня, песенка девичья,         Oh, you, song, young maiden's song,
Ты лети за ясным солнцем вслед        Fly out, follow after the clear sun
И бойцу на дальнем пограничье        And tell the warrior at the distant border-post
От Катюши передай привет.              That Katyusha sends him her greetings.

Пусть он вспомнит девушку простую,      Let him remember a simple maiden,
Пусть услышит, как она поет,                  Let him hear how she sings,
Пусть он землю бережет родную,            Let him protect the Motherland
А любовь Катюша сбережет.                  And Katyusha will protect love.

Расцветали яблони и груши,        Apple and pear trees were blooming,
Поплыли туманы над рекой.       Fog crept along the river...
Выходила на берег Катюша,        Katyusha came out onto the bank
На высокий берег на крутой.       Onto the high, steep bank.

And here is a modern rendition of the song made in 2005 for the 60th Anniversary of VE Day.

More chilling to American ears are the choral arrangements that call forth images of mass devotion to causes, be they National Socialism or the Komintern. There is no denying the motivational power these songs evoke, but stripped of the lyrics, it is hard to separate Soviet from Nazi propaganda music.

In translation, however, it is apparent that the Soviets were more apt to appropriate religious imagery to motivate the peasantry, as with the song “Sacred War”

Still, the shadowy, moody soul of the individual Russian soldier comes out in some of the other pieces, such as Dark Night:

After the war and the death of Stalin, Russia still struggled with the legacy of the enormous price exacted by the campaign on their soil. The gravel-throated guitar poet Vladimir Vysotsky, of whom Bob Dylan is but a pale imitation, put voice to that struggle in 1964:

БРАТСКИЕ МОГИЛЫ                                         Our Brothers' Graves

На братских могилах не ставят крестов,      On our brothers’ graves stand no crosses
И вдовы на них не рыдают,                             And widows do not sob over them
К ним кто-то приносит букеты цветов,        Someone brings bouquets of flowers
И Вечный огонь зажигают.                            And an eternal flame burns

Здесь раньше вставала земля на дыбы,       Before the earth rose on its hindquarters here
А нынче - гранитные плиты.                       And now granite plates
Здесь нет ни одной персональной судьбы -       Here there is no personal fate
Все судьбы в единую слиты.                         All fates are poured into one.

А в Вечном огне виден вспыхнувший танк,        But in the eternal flame one sees a tank afire
Горящие русские хаты,                               Burning Russian huts
Горящий Смоленск и горящий рейхстаг,       A burning Smolensk and a burning Reichstag
Горящее сердце солдата.                           The burning heart of a soldier

У братских могил нет заплаканных вдов -        At our brothers’ graves are no weeping widows
Сюда ходят люди покрепче.                                Here there come sterner people
На братских могилах не ставят крестов,          At our brothers’ graves stand no crosses
Но разве от этого легче?..                               But really, does that make it easier?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Scott Speicher Found

I'm not positive but I think I wrote about Scott Speicher in my old blog. Scott was a Hornet pilot shot down in the first Gulf War, who is the only missing servicemember ever to have their status changed from "Killed in Action-Body Not Recovered" (KIA-BNR) to "Missing in Action" (MIA). Subsequently his status was changed to "Missing-Captured", which I believe means there was evidence he was captured alive and held by the Iraqis.

His remains were located yesterday, however, near where his aircraft was shot down, and it appears one of the earliest stories about his fate was the correct one: he died shortly after ejecting from his F/A-18 - whether due to injuries sustained when he was shot down, or inflicted after he landed by the Iraqis, and was buried in the desert near the aircraft crash site.

Resolution of the Speicher case follows many years of changing stories and uncertainty about his fate. Originally the Navy reported he had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile, but later a declassified CIA document said he was probably shot down by an Iraqi MiG - a version of the story later supported by CDR Bob Stumpf, who I believe was there. "Stumpy" said that other members of Speicher's strike group saw the MiG-25 and requested permission (from a US Air Force AWACS) to engage, but were denied, and shortly thereafter they saw a fireball now known to have come from Speicher's aircraft.

CDR Stumpf also said he believed Speicher may have been captured and held by the Iraqis, but was inexplicably declared killed only hours after the engagement by then-Secretary-of-Defense Dick Cheney. He said that it might have been that a potential search-and-rescue operation was aborted because the position was that "SECDEF said he was dead, so why go look for him".

In the years that followed, various tantalizing clues emerged that Speicher may have survived the ejection and been captured, which ultimately led to his status being changed to MIA then outright "captured". Some of the most compelling of these clues came from the 1995 inspection of the aircraft crash site, which proved Speicher had initiated ejection from the aircraft prior to impact, and that the Iraqis had tampered with the aircraft wreckage, both shortly after the crash and shortly before the inspection. The Iraqis also inexplicably returned a flight suit, which appeared to have been Speicher's, which had also been tampered with. It seemed highly improbable that the Iraqis would come into possession of Speicher's flight suit without knowing what happened to the man wearing it.

It was expected that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, further information would become available as to his fate, and that is what has finally happened. Perhaps ironically, it appears that the original story told by the Iraqis - that Speicher died at the crash site and was buried in the desert - appears to be true.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions - most notably how he died. Because he deliberately initiated ejection while still in the performance envelope for the ejection seat, the Navy estimated a 80-90% probability that he landed alive. It seems perhaps likely that he was murdered, perhaps while injured, by Iraqis after being captured alive. If that is the case, we still need to know the when, why and how.

Until those questions are answered we do not have final closure on the long, strange case of Scott Speicher's fate.