The story in Afghanistan

Very nice story yesterday in the News & Observer about how the diversion of military resources from Afghanistan to Iraq has allowed for a dangerous resurgence of the Taliban.  It's not a pretty picture:

Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they
were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a
new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic
tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than
they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001.

By
failing to stop Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden from escaping into
Pakistan, then diverting troops and resources to Iraq, the Bush
administration left the door open to a Taliban comeback. Compounding
the problem, reconstruction has been slow and limited, and the U.S. and
NATO didn't anticipate the extent and ferocity of the Taliban
resurgence or the alliances the insurgents have formed with other
Islamic extremists and with the world's leading opium traffickers.

There
are only 42,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops to secure a country that's
one-and-a-half times the size of Iraq, where 150,000 U.S.-led coalition
troops are deployed. Suicide bombings have soared from two in all of
2002 to about one every five days. Civilian casualties are mounting.
President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers have become hugely
unpopular.

Though I'm sure conservative readers would like to complain about the liberal bias of the article, I'd argue that is has a reality bias (as Stephen Colbert says, “reality has a well-known liberal bias).  It is refreshing to have a reporter just call things as they are, rather than rely on a facile “he said, she said” style of reporting in which objective reality has no place.  And as for the substance, it really speaks for itself.  There can be no doubt among sensible people (i.e., those outside this administration and their apologists) that the war in Afghanistan was far more important in preventing future terrorism than the war in Iraq.  Yet, by the use of our military resources, this administration has made the opposite (and wrong) judgment. 

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Insectopia

David and I just finished watching a great nature documentary, “Life in the Undergrowth.”  This terrific documentary following the lives of insects, spiders, slugs, and other creepy-crawlies is the latest in a tremendous “Life of” series of documentaries by Sir David Attenborough (earlier efforts included Birds and Mammals).  In quite a interesting coincidence, by favorite podcast, Quirks and Quarks, back from a summer hiatus had a feature this week about one of the insects featured in the series, the blister beetle. 

In an amazingly complex and sophisticated feat for an insect, here's what they do… the tiny beetle larvae climb up the stem of a small desert plant, they group together into roughly the size of a female solitary bee and release pheromones that mimic those of the female.  The duped male comes into mate (psueudo-copulation being the scientific term for this) and soon discovers he's covered in beetle lavae.  He recovers, flies off, and when he finds a real female to mate with, the beetle larvae jump on her.  She unwittingly takes them into her desert burrow where they feed off the food she brings for her own larvae, before devouring it, becoming adults, and starting the whole cycle over again.  Pretty amazing. 

As amazing as that is, I found the amazing adaptation of a particular ichneumon wasp even more fascinating.  The caterpillars of the blue alcon butterfly mimic both the pheromone and smell of ant larvae so that they are taken into ant nests and fed and cared for along with the ant larvae.  They are reasonably good uninvited guests, only taking the food and care before becoming butterflies, not eating the ant larvae.  While the ants are completely fooled by this, the ichneumon wasp is not.  Somehow it detects which nests have the caterpillars inside, flies in, and when attacked by the ants releases a pheromone that makes them attack each other instead (perhaps the military should be investigating this).  Once the ants are busy attacking themselves, she lays her eggs in the caterpillar.  A few months later the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and what emerges is not a butterfly, but an adult wasp.

“You're writing about the bugs?” Kim asks looking over my shoulder.  But I just thought these were such amazing things in the insect world that more people should know about them.  If you don't agree, you probably didn't make it to this point in the post anyway.

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