"I think they are all homosexual communists in Satan's army...I espect as well they all live together and bathe together every morning and have the anal sex with one another, with the fisting and the guinea pigs." - Manuel Estimulo
"You two [the Rev and el Comandante] make an erudite pair. I guess it beats thinking." - Matt Cunningham (aka Jubal) of OC Blog
"Can someone please explain to me what the point is behind that roving gang of douchebags? I’m being serious here. It’s not funny, and doesn’t really make anything that qualifies as logical argument. Paint huffers? Drunken high school chess geeks?" - rickinstl
The first thing I heard about Ferguson, Missouri was a tweet from my buddy and occasional c0-conspirator Eric Garland, alerting me to an atrocity in suburbia. Said the kid was a neighbor of his, and that obviously he'd been robbed of equal protection under the law. While generally aware that everything there was going to hell, when I sat mesmerized, stunned by the coverage. Eric had asked me what I thought about this disaster, and this was my response.
What exactly is the state song for Missouri? After this snake rodeo goat f**k snake rodeo of a mess, it should be Sympathy for the Devil...something about every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints.
OK, I watched quite a bit on what's going on in Ferguson. Simple analysis is --The police and the authorities are out on Desolation Row "off sniffing drainpipes while reciting the alphabet." (Hey, first song I wanted to learn to play was Like a Rolling Stone, HW 61 Revisited is implanted in my DNA) They're doing everything wrong. Everything. More people are going to get killed.
OK, there is a difference between riot control and combat. Big difference. In combat, you close with and destroy the enemy through fires, maneuver and close combat. In riot control, you ideally just want the people to go away and calm down. You do everything you can to not turn things into pitched battles, create grievances or escalate. Now, what I'm seeing in Ferguson as I watched the video is the use of overwhelming combat power -- relatively speaking -- against a really soft and inappropriate target.
The classic maneuver, since Hannibal at Cannae has been the double envelopment, where you lure the enemy forward, surround them, and destroy them in detail. The Schliffen plan was based on that concept. Alternatively, you can do other things, the dumbest of which is to stand off and just lob ordnance at the enemy. But, in Riot Control situations, you want the bad people to run away. In order to that you show force and then get them to run and you make it easy for them to run. This isn't the enemy, especially in this case. Who the hell is calling the shots for these morons, Dick Cheney and Tommy Franks? They better hope Jeffersonian democracy doesn't break out in Ferguson and St Louis County, because all those clowns will be out of a job and headed to jail.
The use of rubber bullets is interesting, as are the use of both tear gas and stun grenades. One of the reporters interviewed on MSNBC by Lawrence O'Donnell had been shooting live video and then started running while continuing to shoot because he was being hit in the back by rubber bullets and possibly gas canisters. Kudoes to the people working this, by the way. They aren't war correspondents, but this is pretty freaking close. Rubber bullets are not the best non-lethal munition available, and stun grenades work in indoor situations. Outside, the flash/bang is not contained by the structure. Rubber bullets can be pretty dangerous. Especially to children, and it looks like they took this fight into a local neighborhood.
The overuse of CS2 or CS3 or whatever tear agent they're using. The big problem with using chemical weapons in vapor or aerosol form is that you can't control where it goes. You put it on target, but it will linger, go straight up in the air or just blow away depending on the wind. How long it will linger depends on the temperature situation; well, my guess is that it was relatively calm winds, with high humidity and high temperatures. The conditions would be favorable for the stuff to hang around and slowly dissipate, mainly as the aerosol in this case filters out of the air. (Tear agents are generally aerosols of a solid form, think spray glitter only smaller). So, there's a residual hazard.
(CS story, one of many I have. I used to train and teach using the crap. One time, I got it all over my boots. Brushed them off, deconned them lightly but didn't care. Wife decided to help me get ready by polishing my boots for me. Did not end well for me. She never did my boots again.)
While compared to nerve agent or white phosphorus, RC agents are pretty mild, we're not talking about a combat zone. We're talking about suburban streets in the middle of the United States. In those circumstances, the stuff is a nightmare and everytime it gets stirred up in the neighborhood, bad things will happen. People with respiratory problems, old people, young people, pets and other small animals like birds and squirrels have some risks.) Since the crap is powder, it will get in peoples' eyes and they'll rub their eyes. This can scratch the cornea and screw up the retina. Food and water contaminated can't be consumed safely unless you're a freaking honey badger.
As I look at the lines of cops standing around looking like idiots, I thought of the Colin Powell doctrine, which I still remember him articulating on national TV for the first time. You don't use American troops and resources unless you have overwhelming force, a set of clear goals, an exit plan and some level of buy-in from the people. It would suck to be one of these cops in a nearby small town or in Ferguson and have friends or family watching this display. Or have a beat in a black or Latino neighborhood. Now, I'm a fan of that doctrine and believe that ignoring it was one of the endless chain of Bush's mistakes. Technology per se don't make up elements of combat power, it can enhance it. But all the high tech gizmos and flashbangy thingees don't help if you can't bring them to bear on the target, use them properly on the right target or even figure out the target.
But, this isn't a damned invasion of enemy territory. It's not even a "Police Action..." It's crowd control following a tragic use of deadly force. Have those fools on standby; put out checkpoints and patrols with guidance to be freaking polite and friendly and helpful Cigarettes, candy, and such crap should be distributed. Since the atmosphere is so poisonous and not from the CS, this is a case of hearts and minds as much as anything. Unless they want to keep doing this...everytime something happens between the majority of the local population and the overwhelming majority of the police force. (Wanna bet the three cops that are Black on the Ferguson police force have their resumes out..."
Speaking of cops, arrest the goddamned cop. Hold him as a material witness somewhere else if they are honestly concerned about his safety. A Holiday Inn in Rolla for example. (Stayed in one 34 years ago moving to Arizona from Germany. It was nice.) Couple of guards per shift, and so on. Announce that he's under arrest and being held elsewhere for both his and the cities best interests. Oh, move the family too, if they're local residents.
The police chief keeps stomping on his dick with cleats. He whines that he doesn't want to be part of the problem, and then he handles the crowds at night in a half-assed manner, violates the constitution repeatedly, lets his idiots on the force target journalists and on and on and on. The mayor is as bad. Where the hell is the governor? Where the hell are the Senators? The congress-ctitters -- what the hell? You're a Republican trying not to look like you're one of the stupid party (although that's hopeless, i.e., Todd Akin -- at least in Missouri...), so go out talking to local people about how awful this is and how we need to find better ways. You're a Democrat and you want to get the vote out -- do the same thing. There's hay to be made here, all you political parasites! Is this crisis conflicting with their vacations? Back to school shopping?
(Note: To be fair, Governor Nixon held his first press conference on the problems and outlined a number of changes in the way things are being done that probably should have been implemented several days ago shortly after 3PM EST. Just prior to this, Al Sharpton was on Alex Wagner's show on MSNBC and he pointed out that the President had made his first statement about the case on the weekend, and had beaten the governor again after yesterday's debacle. I watched the conference on MSNBC, and the two guys who made sense were the Captain from the State Police who is now in charge of "Security" in Ferguson and the Mayor of St Louis, who for the first time didn't say that Michael Brown, the victim, had been fatally shot, not "had lost his life." To be honest, the rest of it was word salad, platitudes, and "we're looking forward, not backwards...")
Police started to riot -- because that's what happened -- because someone threw something at them. Seriously, what does that even mean?A rock, a bottle, a Molotov cocktail, a paper airplane? You take a bunch of people, get them hyped up for hours, and then turn them lose with no real restraints. You give people a lot of fun toys -- MRAPs designed for Iraq, M4 Rifles, Rubber Bullets, Stun Grenandes and Tear Gas -- and they'll look for a way to use them. What did the leaders expect to happen?
Quoting our mutual 500 pound Samoan attorney, I strongly recommend you try and get your wife to buy into moving someplace civilized like, oh, Falls Road in Belfast.
You know, Americans are blessed with a lot of indispensable men and women. Without George Washington, the Revolution failed. Without Lincoln, we’d have either become two weaker and even more warlike countries over the issue of slavery; without Grant, the war would have ended differently. Without Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy would have been overwhelmed a couple of years earlier by the industrial might of the North. Without Andrew Jackson, the moneyed oligarchy would have taken over the country completely in 1830 as opposed to whatever we have now. Without Sam Houston, no Texas. Without Martin Luther King, no civil rights movement. (Without John Wilkes Booth, reconstruction probably comes out better for everybody and no need for Martin Luther King.)
Ford finds a feisty red head and part of the persona of the American woman is born – Maureen O’Hara is the role model for the future in films for decades, whether Rio Grande (which is a helluva film that we usually skip over in the Cavalry trilogy and are mistaken to do so in sense of understanding the myth); Wings of Eagles; The Quiet Man (where the Irish American returns to County Clare and through horseracing, drinking, marriage and the machinations of the IRA and the local pastor, fixes everything that’s gone wrong since the Norman Invasion); McClintock, ( where that Guy fixes his marriage, children, wife, family and the Comanche’s oppression through a barbecue, fist fight and riot); and Big Jake (where that Guy ultimately shoots one of his descendants, Paladin, who mutters “ I thought you were dead..” and that Guy responds “Not hardly.” )
Maureen O'Hara, Duke, John Ford and Friends
The problem isn’t John Wayne, or the indispensable man; the problem is that we have people like Louis Gomert and Antonin Scalia trying to be "that Guy" or "that Man". We have Rand Paul and Ted Cruz trying to take up that mantle as well as the various right wing lunatics like Cliven Bundy and Rick Perry trying to be John Wayne, with Anne Coulter and Michelle Bachman trying out for Maureen O’Hara. By all accounts, Wayne was a helluva guy, and Ms O’Hara a talented and beautiful actress who adored Wayne and dealt well with Ford. (Whom, in recent history, Dick Cheney tried to play. Failed.)
But, the Duke never thought he was in charge of the world, and while a conservative’s conservative Republican – although he and Barry Goldwater would be be labelled Rhinos today – he was primarily a patriotic American who used his movie star status sparingly in real life but was generous to charities and folks down on their luck. A realist, he was asked his opinion on Jack Kennedy and he said, “I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job,” a sentiment to get him drummed out of the Orange County GOP today.
More recently, Irish Rugby was ruled for fifteen years by "that Man" Brian O’Driscoll whom I didn't get to see play that often until toward the end of his career. Despite an incredible run of injuries and constant foul play directed against him, “Driko” was still an amazing player and athlete. He made everybody around him a better player, notorious for 90 meter runs, blind passes, finishing tries and general magic. In one key game in the 2012-13 Heineken Cup, Leinster was down a man in the scrum, and O’Driscoll scrummed down as outside flanker. If you’re a Rugby fan, you know that’s really odd for a star back to do; it’s kind of like a half back in American football volunteering to go in as Center. Or middle linebacker. Leinster won the scrum.
Brian O'Driscoll Try
O’Driscoll was an incredibly talented player, but what made him that guy was the combination of skill, vision, stubbornness and pure physical courage He left the field when he was younger only when unconscious or otherwise on a stretcher. He did what he had to do for the team.
Well, he’s moved on. The Duke and Michael Collins are dead. Obama isn’t excited about being “that guy,” and the world is probably better for it. But, there are times when somebody needs to step and be that guy.
That’s what makes it so obvious when someone in a position of leadership and power tries to be the guy. George W. Bush wanted to be the guy so badly that he could have tasted it, and he made a fool out of himself. He tried to be a man of the people, our war president, our leader and our inspiration, but when we could see him clearly through the tears, he was lacking. Cheney wanted to be the guy up to a point, but that point wasn’t to where it inconvenienced him.
Getting the Damned Dogs of War Back in the Kennel –Trying to Retake the Moral High Ground, If Anyone Cares
It's hard times in the new milleniumGettin' by on just the bare minimum
Everything to lose and nothing to spare Going to hell and nobody cares
Ain't the future that Kennedy promised me In the 21st century
Finally come to the age of Aquarius And if we live through the Mayan apocalypse
There'll be pie in the sky above lemonade springs
A goddamn American utopian dream
If you believe that, you're more optimistic than me--Steve Earle
You know, events overwhelm me at times and the on-going military crises-circuses we have blasting around the world make my getting a handle on them especially difficult. It occurs to me, however, that the old Buffalo Springfield line about “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear/ There’s a man with a gun over there, Telling me I got to beware’ really telling in the 21st Century.
If you caught the John Oliver Show, Last Week Tonight, on July 27, you caught an excellent piece on the utterly screwed up US Nuclear Program. While the problems with officer morale and performance, failure to do systems maintenance or upgrades, and general nuttiness – talking about an Air Force General who was relieved for a variety of things culminating on his activities on a trip to Russia where he was pretty much continually drunk on his ass, Oliver pointed out that he’d been “too drunk for the Russians…the Russians!” Telling of one escapade when the general demanded that his staff accompany him to a Mexican Restaurant because he wanted to see the Beatles cover band there and then got them basically thrown out for demanding to be allowed to play guitar in the band, Oliver pointed out that we should consider the chain of bad decisions leading up to that event – drunk, in a Mexican Restaurant in Russia someplace, vomiting a half-eaten Chimichanga over the drum kit of a White Russian Ringo. Of course, his boss – a Vice Admiral -- had been relieved for trying to use counterfeit chips in a tribal casino in Council Bluff, Iowa. Oliver again pointed out that any Vice Admiral should be smarter than an Iowa Pit Boss.
The most telling point in the bit was a brief segment of Colin Powell saying that after 30 years of involvement with the planning, deployment and potential use of nuclear weapons, he had become convinced that they were useless. So, we have over 4800 of these things, capable of blowing ourselves and everyone else to ash, and we can neither protect, maintain, nor figure out a rationale for them.
Reminds me of the old Davy Crockett jeep mounted nuke – you’d orient the jeep so that you were facing away from the target with the missile pointed out the back of the trailer, light it off and drive like hell to try and get out of the blast zone…what exactly was the genius who invented it thinking?
Well, one thing he was thinking was that the actual use of the thing wasn’t his problem. When Generals and Colonels talk about the strategic corporals, they’re thinking that that two-striper is going to be doing their job and “Ain’t it Great?” However, the most critical tool for that grunt’s ruck sack, a strong moral compass, is probably missing, broken or poorly designed.
The United States Army used to be proud of its moral stance. We didn’t torture prisoners, we liberated them. We didn’t kill children, we fed them. We didn’t kill civilians, we freed, fed, clothed and took care of them. Somewhere that went wrong. We held ourselves up as a role model, and some people paid attention. That ethic matched where they were at – the IDF, for example, prided itself on minimizing collateral damage and civilian casualties. And then, they also lost the way.
There’s an interesting article in The Guardian this morning. Yuli Novak is a former pilot and operations officer in the Israeli Air Force, and she comments that when she was a young captain, the Israel Defense Forces prided themselves on being the “most moral military in the world.” She describes an incident where the Israeli Air Force employed a 1000 pound bomb on a house in Gaza to take out a Hamas military commander. She says that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider what that weapon did to the building and the target. They killed him, but they also killed twelve civilians including eight children. She describes the outcome this way:
After the assassination, Israel shook. Even when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) insisted that there was operational justification for the attack, public sentiment could not accommodate this assault on innocent civilians. Israeli intellectuals petitioned the supreme court, demanding it examine the legality of this action. A few months later a group of reservist pilots criticised such elimination actions....As soldiers and officers used to carrying out our missions without asking unnecessary questions, we were affected by the public reaction…my friends and I trusted our commanders to make the right moral decisions, and returned our focus to the “important things” – the precise execution of further operations.
She goes on to point out that such trust is utterly impossible today. She sees what’s happening in the Gaza Strip as nothing less than a series of war crimes originating at the operational planning level, with no effort to minimize casualties, collateral damage and maintain the moral high ground. Israel Armed Forces are to her mind no longer able to claim any moral suasion; they have become as amoral as any other invading force and are engaging in things that remind her of the SS or the Red Army rampaging in Eastern Europe.
Interestingly, she places the responsibility for regaining a moral force not on the shoulders of the military but on the public. That in fact makes a lot of sense in Israel, where everyone serves except those religiously exempt. Those exempt are largely the most bloodthirsty, which is something I find amusing, of course. In a nation that sees itself as living in a continual state of Total War, those most reluctant to find a peaceful solution are a permanent class of REMFs. Anyway, Novak sees it as a public as well as a military challenge:
I know how hard it is to ask questions during times of conflict as a soldier. The information that the officers get in real time is always partial. That’s why the responsibility for drawing the red lines, and alerting when we cross it, lies with the public. A clear, loud voice that says that bombing a house with civilians in it is immoral must be heard. These killings cannot be accepted without question. Public silence in the face of such actions – inside and outside of Israel – is consent by default, and acceptance of an unacceptable price.
One of the problems that we face is the inability to define end-states. What exactly is the end state for Israel and the Palestinians? What is the end state of our involvement in Iran or Afghanistan? What do the Russians want to accomplish in Ukraine? What do the separatists want to accomplish; what do the Ukrainians want to accomplish? If you have some sort of idea as to where you want to go, you might get there. But otherwise, you’ll get wherever you end up, and it will undoubtedly be pretty lousy.
For example, as I was writing this, news broke that the Israeli Air Force has targeted a hospital and a park where children were playing. Israel denies this, claiming that Hamas had hit these targets due to malfunctioning rockets. Frankly, I don't care -- my initial reaction was that the targeting team at IAF HQ was operating off some intelligence that the hospital was being used for storing rockets and ammunition, and that the kids playing in the park were really Taliban soldiers training on the monkey bars.
Based on the casualty data available from the Gaza authorities, I tend to think the Israeli story is probably correct, but the result will remain; they are already convicted in world opinion. This is really madness --
Convergence of Liberal, Moderate and Conservative Writers Agreeing on Iraq
Universe Coming to an End!
Mike Farrell, Veterans Today Columnist, Futurist and Socratic ProvocateurI haven't been writing a lot lately, largely because events in areas that I'm interested in are moving so fast that any comment by me would be overtaken by events almost before I could complete a sentence. A great case in point is the situation in Iraq. At some point, people will stop, look at each other and say, "Joe Biden was right!" about the loose federation concept. Same approach might work for Afghanistan since that place is made up of groups of people who really hate each other; geographic divisions might at least let them cluster into bombs of intolerance and rage which could be turned inward. It's a thought.
But, when I initially saw the excerpts from Pope Francis' interview with a Spanish magazine and then tracked down the complete text, I figured that it along with several other articles, should be tossed into the intellectual cauldron at Veterans Today and anyplace else that will have me.
What I'm seeing is a weird convergence of thought on the role of America in the 21st Century and the role of thought. There were some great columns in the weekend's NY Times and then the inimitable Ana Marie Cox had a marvelous insight over at The Guardian. When Friedman, Douthat, Kristoff, Cox and the Pope are all basically saying the same thing, maybe we ought to listen. Now, to steal a phrase from Molly Ivins, it's probably too much to hope that the Congress-critters obsessed with a misunderstood version of machismo and "American Exceptionalism" can drag their heads away from looking at their own prostates, but as citizens perhaps we should.
Pope Francis first: In many ways, he is really the most interesting man in the world as opposed to a guy from Queens who sometimes drinks Dos Equis. Bit by bit, he's chiseling away at the accrued bat guano of greed, insanity, power and privilege stretching back to the Milvian Bridge and Constantine's vision. Helluva challenge; since I don't believe in God, I can't see him succeeding ultimately but as one of his predecessors as prince of Rome, Marcus Aurelius wrote, "Any improvement, no matter how small,is no mean accomplishment." Besides, how can you not find interesting someone who in his position can say something like this, when asked about his legacy..."I have not thought about it, but I like it when someone remembers someone and says: “He was a good guy, he did what he could. He wasn’t so bad.” I’m OK with that." I have trouble imagining recent popes saying anything like that or using common language, or, for that matter, having the interview in the first place. Popes are diplomatic, slow and deliberate; Francis is gentle, quick thinking and open.
The interview is worth reading but his comment on fundamentalism is critical, and extends further than he perhaps consciously intended. Responding to the interviewer on the issue of faith-based violence in the world and the nature of fundamentalism in the world, he said this, which should be required posting on all political, religious, economic and social magazine mastheads. Not, of course, that anyone pays attention to the masthead anymore...
Violence in the name of God dominates the Middle East. It's a contradiction. Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time. It's something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions. Fundamentalism, for example. The three religions, we have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to all the rest. And, what do you think about fundamentalism? A fundamentalist group, although it may not kill anyone, although it may not strike anyone, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalists is violence in the name of God.
Now, I think it's worth noting that Christians continue to practice fundamentalism in various places and times. But, the nature of fundamentalism is the idea of absolute adherence to established doctrine, and the elimination of any dissent from that doctrine. The nature of violence is such that it can be intrinsic as well as extrinsic, psychological as well as physical, social as well as military. My old friend Mary E. Hunt, co-founder and Executive Director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) has written repeatedly of the intrinsic, economic and psychological violence directed against women and the LGBT communities in the Catholic Church specifically.
However, we see fundamentalism at work in the Republican Party, where the Tea Party has its own thought police run by Glenn, Rush, Laura and Annie, Sean and Bill. When politicians talk about litmus tests for the Supreme Court or for nominations for office, they are reacting to a form of fundamentalism. The idea that there are multiple sides to issues simply doesn't compute with these folks.
Of course, what we see in Iraq today is a conflict over a different view of fundamentalism. The Sunni fundamentalism of ISIS and al Quaida is matched by Shiite fundamentalism of Maliki and Iran. Now, this is in many ways the old Churchill dilemma of putting nations where what we're really dealing with are tribes with flags, or tribes forced into flags. Interestingly, the religious argument between them has it's roots not in the Holy Koran but rather in the succession of the Caliphs in the 7th Century. Everything else springs from that -- clerics, politicians and people in general feel fine with slaughtering each other over what in fact is a conflict over the drawing of an org chart but doing so in the name of God.
Now, Christianity has had it's share of these orgies of blood, hate, bile, and self-satisfaction. But, over centuries the perpetrators of such insanity on the violence side have been marginalized. However, what religion has done in Iraq is cover for tribalism. The middle east is really a number of ethnic groups largely captured by a single religion with multiple warring denominations and agendas that are fine-tuned with regional, ethnic, and socio-historic divisions. The US has responded to it as if it's a collaborative of rational actors, in sort of a geo-political application of the idea of rational markets. So, not only are we using the wrong mental model to look at the area, we're using a mental model that doesn't work. What could possibly go wrong with that sort of intellectual foundation? Besides everything?
It's rare that I can read Tom Friedman without having my eyeballs bleed. However, in his column on Sunday, Friedman was perceptive, reasonable and direct; we have no dog in the Iraq fight except the dog we've largely ignored. He writes:
... in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy. Other than the Kurds, we have no friends in this fight. Neither Sunni nor Shiite leaders spearheading the war in Iraq today share our values.
The Sunni jihadists, Baathists and tribal militiamen who have led the takeover of Mosul from the Iraqi government are not supporters of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, the only Iraq we have any interest in abetting. And Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has proved himself not to be a friend of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq either. From Day 1, he has used his office to install Shiites in key security posts, drive out Sunni politicians and generals and direct money to Shiite communities. In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk. Besides being prime minister, he made himself acting minister of defense, minister of the interior and national security adviser, and his cronies also control the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism. We owe him nothing.
He goes on to discuss the two places that are in fact working well in the region: the Kurdish region in Iraq and Tunisia, pointing out that we've pretty much left these areas to their own devices while we've been being "geo-political" somewhere else. They have functioning, somewhat inclusive and effective governments, and the people aren't trying to kill each other. They reflect in so much as any Islamic nation can those values of Jeffersonian Democracy that we had planned to impose on the region by forcing them on Iraq and then having a "thousand blossoms bloom." From this, Friedman comes to an interesting revelation: it's not about the US or the West or Russia and the Geo-Political stuff we love so much. It's about the people of the region. As he says, "Arabs and Kurds have efficacy too..."
This leads him to another major insight:
The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.
Friedman then wonders about Iran, and comes to the conclusion that the Iranians who plotted with Maliki to get us out so they could "help" weren't quite so smart. They're looking at a long, involved period of support in a nasty, sectarian civil war with the inherent explicit and implicit costs as opposed to having US and NATO propping up their henchmen in Baghdad. Interesting issue, and one that I find very ironic. I envision the US and some other nations providing logistical, intelligence and related support to a largely Iranian "Peace Keeping" force for a long time. If we're smart, we'll get Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai to pay for it along with the Iranians; that's probably a bit to Jesuitical for the State Department and Congress, but it makes a lot of sense.
Friedman finishes on a very high level of perception, especially for him. He surveys the situation, and asks a couple of very telling questions and gives a somewhat unexpected answer for someone usually so conflicted about Iraq and the Islamic world.
Finally, while none of the main actors in Iraq, other than Kurds, are fighting for our values, is anyone there even fighting for our interests: a minimally stable Iraq that doesn’t threaten us? And whom we can realistically help? The answers still aren’t clear to me, and, until they are, I’d be very wary about intervening.
I think that Friedman has the root of a new US doctrine of global involvement; if you're not fighting for something that fits in our values or in our true strategic interests we shouldn't consider getting involved. And, if we can't figure out a good way to help effectively, we shouldn't get involved either. I'm a retired soldier and an activist by nature, but after 63 years I've finally learned that there's no need to save the bad guys from destroying themselves by uniting everyone against US! Be nice if we all learned that...sometimes we're the windshield, but we can always make like the bug if we're not careful.
Peters was accused by some of flacking for the Pentagon, which given Peters relationship with the Defense establishment is kind of funny, that he had drawn the map the way the US wanted it redrawn. Actually, as Douthat points out, Peters felt and still feels that US policy makers have a vested interest in keeping the old Franco-British lines in effect, and he thinks that's stupid. Douthat agrees, and has a clear, concise and effective argument as to why but shows the rational side of letting the status quo stands.
While the USA values diversity and inclusion, the facts don't belie that. In Europe, the tendency has been toward exclusive states; states that are more cosmopolitan in their makeup -- Yugoslavia, the Austria-Hungary Empire, the Ottoman Empire -- have largely failed and been split. More coherence has allowed for more national identity and success and what we observe in Europe is the result of several generations of Ethnic Cleansing and two World Wars. While it might make sense to redraw the map in western Asia and North Africa, Douthat points out that process is not going to be peaceful and believes it's underway now. Are we ready for generations of bloodshed and chaos to get there? In the long run, perhaps we should be, but it's always worth remembering that in the long run, we're all dead. Douthat writes:
This was true even of the most ambitious (and foolhardy) architects of the Iraq invasion, who intended to upset a dictator-dominated status quo ... but not, they mostly thought, in a way that would redraw national boundaries. Instead, the emphasis was on Iraq’s potential for post-Saddam cohesion, its prospects as a multiethnic model for democratization and development. That emphasis endured through the darkest days of our occupation, when the voices calling for partition — including the current vice president, Joe Biden — were passed over and unity remained America’s strategic goal.
This means that Iraq is now part of an arc, extending from Hezbollah’s fiefdom in Lebanon through war-torn Syria, in which official national borders are notional at best. And while full dissolution is not yet upon us, the facts on the ground in Iraq look more and more like Peters’s map than the country that so many Americans died to stabilize and secure...Our basic interests have not altered: better stability now....But two successive administrations have compromised those interests: one through recklessness, the other through neglect. Now the map is changing; now, as in early-20th-century Europe, the price of transformation is being paid in blood.
Douthat is one of the more conservative writers on the Times OP-ED and he takes the opportunity there to take a slap at the Obama administration. Since I have a different lens and see this as the fruits of an absurd policy to begin with, I think his analysis is dead wrong. You deal with reality as it is, not as you wish it could be and demanding doesn't make it so. The US may have wooed the Sunni warlords during the Surge but in reality, we were all in on the Shiites, and they wanted us out. And so we left and here we are. Ana Marie Cox seems to think that was not only inevitable but a good idea.
Cox is an interesting writer. She started the satirical blog Wonkette, worked for Time starting their Swampland Blog while covering the McCain Palin campaign; she left Time and worked briefly for Air America before that enterprise cratered; wrote a blog and column for Gentleman's Quarterly and since 2011 has been a correspondent, blogger and columnist for The Guardian. My theory is that she no longer appears on the Rachel Maddow show because of the famous "tea bagger" incident where she reduced Maddow to blushing giggles and tears. She still appears on the rest of MSNBC.
Cox has the same yearning for clear choices and a certain trumpet that many on the right argue for but, she points out very lucidly, we really need to be careful in what we wish for. Iraq is a mess, largely of our own making and we need to step carefully, not ape Uncle Teddy in Arsenic and Old Lace, charging down the stairs to bury more laborers on the Panama Canal in the basement. Rather, she asks us to remember how we got into that mess in the first place.
But let's remember the way we got in too deep: it wasn't by underestimating the threat Iraq posed to US interests, it was byoverestimating it. "Overestimating" may even be too generous. We created a threat when there was none, not out of whole cloth so much as a web of pride, avarice and insecurity. Obama's haters on the right – and maybe even some formerly hawkish apologists on the left – need a refresher course on just how much of the Iraq invasion hinged on ego and imagined taunts.... That the Bush administration misled the American people about the reasons for invading Iraq is now all but common knowledge; what we talk about less is why Americans were moved so easily from concern about possible attacks from overseas into almost pornographic nationalism. Clearly, we were intoxicated by some heady perfume of testosterone and saddle leather that pulled along George W Bush by the nose. When the Iraq war began, nearly 80% of Americans thought it was a good idea.Almost as many approved of how the president was handling it. Irrational exuberance is not just for markets. How we have sobered since then!
Cox points out that governments are not people, and that the mechanisms of government are supposed to grind slowly, not jump on the first impulsive concept that comes to mind. She believes that Republicans think that Americans want smaller government, by which they understand governments that act like people. Fortunately, that isn't possible. T
he more we expect government to produce magic beans capable of solving some immediate problem, the less capable the government ultimately is to respond to the next one. Using the economic analogy again, if the rational actor in the marketplace is your drunken uncle Bernie or schizo cousin Pearl, you can't trust the market to make rational decisions. Thus in government -- the idea that, as some Republicans claim, the administration considers all options and chooses none strikes her as superior to the alternative -- grabbing the first option that fits you underlying desires whether or not it's going to be effective and going all in on it.
Cox sees an almost metaphysical transformation in the American electorate. After Bush, as a group we no longer see the President as the personification of the state. Part of that is probably due to the difference in attitude, intellect, personality and race between this President and most of his predecessors. A large part of it is due to the results of the Iraq invasion; as a people, we're sick of conflict with no end, no logic, no goals and no plausible outcome. Leaving Iraq was inevitable and Maliki screwed himself because he made out exit so abrupt and complete; Afghanistan will probably be slower but still, inevitable. The Islamic world will figure it out or not. As Cox says with much the same insight as Friedman and Douthat, and the Pope, "It is most certainly a function of having seen so many lives lost, but the American people are comfortable with inaction. Barack Obama's foreign policy is less of a doctrine than a stance – guarded but cautious, careful but alert ... just like us."
The problem with irony is that not everybody gets it. -- Ray Wylie Hubbard
John Oliver is a British expatriate doing satire in the United States. He'd been interesting on The Daily Show before subbing for John Stewart, and now he's got his own gig on Sunday nights for HBO. I realize that some of our readers will read "Jon Stewart" and "British Expat!" and rush to a default position blaming Zionists and the House of Windsor for everything. Don't do that, at least for a moment.
You see, Oliver has exposed a great truth of 21st Century existence -- if you want to announce something evil, make the announcement in the midst of something incredibly boring...and then discuss it only in talking points and make use of absolute bullshit in most of the talking points. Like it or not, musicians, poets, fiction writers, historians, satirists and some academics are the only ones in public life actually saying things that we should hear. And, because you might" not be able to dance to it", or "who wants to read some poetry" or "I'll wait for the TV shows"or" the books are too long or too complicated" we just read the commentary if that. Which is largely made up of talking points based on lies and absolute bullshit. One of my friends, economic analyst and musician Eric Garland tweeted recently that after reviewing Piketty and some of the complaints against him, he no longer believed that the complainers had read Capital in the 21st Century. I asked him if he had only recently learned that there was no Santa. Sshocked to hear that I didn't believe in Santa anymore.,Eric was concerned that I won't believe in the confidence fairy either. (I don't.)
So, if you don't like Healthcare and loathe Barrack Obama, don't complain about the affordable care act on its merits, but rail about the need to vote to repeal the "Job-Killing, Economy-Busting-Medicare-Killing Death Panel Obamacare Bill" which is a nice way of saying absolutely nothing. If you were to go into the Congressional Record and review the legislation introduced since 2010 in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act, you'd find lots of such titles. Silly but that's what they've been doing; this is Karl Rove/Lee Atwater crap played out legislatively -- attack the other guy's strengths by denying them, and troll them downwards. It may or may not work in the short run, but if you're basically a spiritual ORC, it works well at degrading the public debate and making our civil society something more akin to the French Assembly of 1793 than Hamilton, Jay and Madison's vision of how a Democratic Republic is supposed to work.
The issue that got Oliver wound up as shown in the video above is Net Neutrality. As is typical with changes to Federal Rules and Regulations, the briefings are incomprehensible and full of jargon, acronyms and legalese. It's boring, violates all the rules of rhetoric, and makes about as much sense to most of us as four or five pages of organic chemistry. However, in this case it's fairly simple -- Net Neutrality requires that internet access by providers be equal. You put your stuff online, and it goes out at whatever speed your modem and network can handle and it gets downloaded and read at whatever speed your customers, readers or the NSA is currently handling. The current effort to change the rules is pretty simple -- you allow the providers of internet services to charge extra for premium speeds.
The big online providers contend that this will make the people paying for that additional speed get a faster connection to the consumer, but will not put those buying the basic distribution system at any disadvantage. To ensure this, we have the FCC which is now run by the guy who used to be head lobbyist for the CABLE and WIRELESS industries, and of course, we all know that we can trust lobbyists. And, the cable companies and internet providers...which already exist with monopoly basis and use all sorts of bizarre tricks to maximize profits while shafting consumers. We all have our horror stories about how lousy these firms are, and now we're going to trust them to do the right thing by us all. How bad could it be? (Very...extremely...totally!) What could go wrong? (Everything...)
Yeah -- problem is that in their Ayn Rand-derived world view, screwing us is not only their right but their civic duty. In the vulture capital world of cable-broadband-Wall Street-and big time politics, there should be no consumer protections, no truth in advertising protections, no guardians for the guardians guarding the rights and well-being of the people. The FCC does have a couple of problems though --it has to convince Congress and it has to get through the public rule review and commentary period. Frankly, this is a chance for those of us who complain about the failure of democracy to at least twist a few tails here. Oliver's piece reveals the address where you can email you comments on net neutrality. He has fun with that, addressing internet trolls and encouraging them to step up to the plate and tell this bunch of politicians, bureaucrats, thieves and whores that you're not happy about this. You will hold the agency and the elected officials responsible for this attempt to stifle competition and reduce freedom of expression through the use of money to deny access to free speech.
Now, the Cable-Broadband industry are major players in our dysfunctional political financing and politicianing whoring black market. So, both sides of the aisle are pretty vulnerable here. The only way this works is if we actually exercise that free speech and scare these people. Regulators and Congress-critters are shy, timid things when the voters actually make noise. As a progressive Democrat, Secular Humanist and Skeptic there are few things I can agree with some of my colleagues here at Vets. Vets by the way, is not so wealthy that we could pay the freight for high end access or else the editors have been kidding me. But, we can all get behind this idea -- the internet is one of the most democratic things we have in terms of leveling the playing field. Granted, one of the problems with democracy is the lack of quality control, but when left and right and moderate and downright scary extremists can agree on something, and make some noise, the bureaucrats and politicians tend to jump on the me-too train.
Be aware, of course, that eternal vigilance will be necessary to make this a permanent state of affairs, but that's OK. One thing that I've figured out is that if we want to protect liberty and freedom in the expanding chaotic democracy that is the 21st Century is that evil keeps coming back. Figuring out a way to banish it forever may well be impossible. But, that is no reason to accept it as inevitable. Actually, eternal vigilance is almost cliche these days-- protecting freedom and equality requires a rare level of being OCD...and, not boring.
The E-Street Band could, and probably should put out an album of covers. Tonight, we got the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love,” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Instead of being distractions, they were highlights. -- Evan Schlansky, AMERICAN SONGWRITER, April 18, 2018
It's hard to think of something as silly as seeing someone as neglected by the critical public if they're members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, there are two bands with their front men who are in fact neglected, at least in awareness, of their absolute mastery of the heart of Rock and Roll. Cover songs. I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Bandand Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Every musician in the worlds of Rock and Roll, Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Blues and on and on began doing this stuff because they wanted to sound like someone else, because they wanted to play something and affect people the same way other people they heard or saw or heard about did. It's really that simple.
I've joked that every boy who ever picked up a guitar in the 60s did so because they wanted to get girls. That's true to a point, but a lot of girls picked up guitars. It's more primal than that -- someone said something, sang something played something that resonated totally with you, and you just wanted to be able to recreate that and maybe get other people's attention, respect and love. Yeah, love. Music is about vanquishing demons and reaching out for the other side, and I can't think of a better definition of love.
Again, we are always, at heart and on some primal level, 15 and two young to drive. We seek an escape and a way of transcending our mundane existence. I did it by writing in a cynically idealistic style and learning to play the guitar because I wanted to hit that emotion I grasped in listening to "Like a Rolling Stone." We all began -- pros, amateurs, weekend musicians and woodshedders -- trying to capture somebody else and subsume them. Along the way, interesting things happen. The comment has been made by numerous critics and historians and commentators that the Velvet Underground only sold about 68000 original recordings of their first album, but everyone who bought one started a band. In my experience, that's actually pretty close.
So, Tom Petty and Heartbreakers wandered out of Gainesville, Florida and went out to California in the early 70s, calling themselves Mudcrutch. Got a contract and the band then went sideways and went back to Gainesville to refit, recruit and recharge, staying away from the Cypress Lounge of course.. They went back to California, were labeled kind of punk-new wave but what they really were and are is the traditional, American Kosmic Music that Graham Parsons proclaimed with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Rock and Roll with country, blues, and R&B influences.
Of course, we need to remember, they began playing in somebody's garage, graduating as all great bands do to playing parties and then high school dances, and then bars. Bar Bands and High School bands don't get work because they do such great original stuff; they get gigs because they played stuff that was popular with the crowd. In Florida that would be Rock, Rhythm and Blues with a strong Country and Pop.
The E-Street Band came up on the tough streets of Asbury Park New Jersey, beginning with a spark in Bruce Springsteen's eyes and the response from the grin of Steven Van Zandt, Little Steven of The Sopranos, Wicked Cool Records, Lillehammer and Lead Guitar with Bruce and the boys for 45 years. In fact, Steven is so busy that he has to occasionally have a substitute while he's being a TV star in Norway or scoring a James Gandolfini and that role is being filled or supplemented with Tom Morello, Harvard Poly Sci graduate, Rage Against the Machine Graduate and Political Activist. Interesting tidbit I overheard listening to Van Zandt's radio show on his XM Network, Underground Garage, is that Asbury Park banned Rock and Roll music in public during the 50s...and he chuckles.
Their bread and butter was New York and Philadelphia based Rock, R&Bs and the Bar Music Scene. You can't hear a chord from this band without hearing that sound. When Courtney Love chose not to scratch out Dave Grohl's eyes at Nirvana's induction at the Rock Hall, she then babbled that while she likes Bruce Springsteen, "saxophones don't have a place in Rock and Roll." That's kind of like saying banjos don't have a place in country music. Before electric basses were the standard, sax and the stand-up along with the drums were necessary to lay down rhythm. The Sax is a key part of R&B music; it's key in jazz. Heck, Mark Linsday of Paul Revere and the Raiders was recruited to do vocals and play SAX, and is a sought after session musician in New York and New Jersey for that reason.
There’s nothing like going to a live concert. It’s not like going to the bank. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Everybody’s in a great mood and there to have a good time. No one’s fighting with their significant other, no one looks bored or impatient. Everyone is focused and in the moment and smiling. Or, as was the case during last night’s acoustic show-closer “Thunder Road,” rocking out in their own private bliss and singing along. --Schlansky, 4-18-14
The piece in American Songwriter struck me because of the material mentioned by Evan Schlansky. I haven't heard a lot of people cover Satisfaction in a satisfactory way -- actually, nobody, except for teenage bands on stage at various dances in the 60s. The Stones don't even play it correctly on stage and haven't for years. It's one of the first songs in the garage rock logos, along with Louie Louie, and everybody learns it, usually incorrectly, early in their playing career. So, while I'd put even money on this one being staged, the little blonde with the Rolling Stone logo on her sign requesting Satisfaction is right in keeping with the history. I'm pretty sure Springsteen and the Salamaders or whatever he called his first band played this one. WE ALL PLAYED THIS ONE, just normally not well. Someday, someone will do it as a ballad, because it's as poignant and angry for a middle aged man as it was for a teenager in 1965. This captures it really well...and, it's really close to the original, if they'd done it with three guitars, piano, keyboards, drummer and sax.
This version was done a couple of years ago in Cologne. Petty's nasal draw really fits and reminds you of Chuck Berry and early rock and roll. Benmont Trench the band's keyboard player is an exceptional contributor here. Berry had a great pianist named Jimmie Johnson, and during the filming of "Hail, Hail.." Richards learned that Berry had screwed Johnson out of songwriter credit and royalties for his contributions. Johnson was the stereotypical illiterate bluesman who had a piano instead of a guitar. Richards did some things to help the guy out.
In a cameo in "Hail, Hail..." Bruce tells the story of the night the E Street Band got to play backup for Berry. This was the dream gig for an established bar band, backing a musician who toured incessantly and played with whomever the promoters stuck in front of him. This is why a lot of videos lifted from TV performances of people like Eddie Cochran have the musician playing in front of a band of pimply faced parochial high school backups, or so it seems. Anyway, Bruce said it was an amazing experience,about the time of "Greetings from Asbury Park." When they arrived and set up, Chuck showed up just as the show was supposed to start, stuffing money into his pockets (Berry always demanded being paid in advance when he arrived, in cash!) and just nodded at the Band and said "Johnny B. Goode." That was how the show went, he'd call out the song and expect them to play along for him. Usually not knowing the key, which could be a challenge. Berry has monstrous hands and primarily uses barre chords, and thus likes to play in some really strange keys. A#minor for example...for Roll Over Beethoven. So the E-Street Band was there, no idea what was coming next and no clue what key while he did his 50 minute set and duck walked off into the sunset. Here they are with Berry, about 20 years later --and, about 20 years ago.
The article mentions that the Bruce and the band did "Shout', by the Isley Brothers. The Heartbreakers have a pattern of doing cover songs as their encores, and Shout works exceptionally well. I think it may be the southern bar scene, beach music flavor of the song. It could just be that it's a great Call and Response, driving party song, and really fits well as the band ramps the crowd up for a final good night. This performance is actually kind of raw, 1978, because it pre-dates the "Damn the Torpedoes" explosion of the band and its leader into the mainstream. But, it's a great example of an excellent bar band doing it's thing in front of a big crowd, having fun and dragging the audience in. At it's best, transcendent and isn't that what we're all seeking?
"While we still don't know the details about what motivated yesterday's tragic events, it's important we remember that our men and women currently in uniform and the veterans who have returned home from the wars are amongst the finest and most dedicated people in America and the actions of one individual don't diminish or change that fact. In moments like this, there is a tendency by some to paint a broad brush across the entire veterans community and it's important to guard against that mistake. We encourage everyone--especially those in the media and political positions--to be thoughtful and responsible in their reactions and to remember that correlation does not imply causation..."
This evening I spent some time talking about this to my wife over dinner. I served as an Army NCO for 23 years, and I told her something she already knew -- that despite dealing with the complete gamut of the Army in leadership roles and occasionally having to say and do very tough things to these folks, I never felt afraid of my soldiers. Part of this is the bullet-proof feeling that most NCOs have; but more to the point, it was confidence in my soldiers to act in their own best interest and in the relationship I forged with them.
They knew that I would go to bat for them; so, if TOP was pissed off and doing the first reading of an Article 15, they knew they in less trouble than if somebody else was reading it. That wasn't because I was a great guy; that was the way I was trained, coached and mentored by the Senior NCOs who I blame for the good things I did and hold harmless for any thing stupid, ignorant or evil that I did. I knew that if I had a problem, there were people who would listen to me.
More to the point, I reflected that the soldiers I dealt with of all ranks, faiths, educations, races, genders, national origins were representative of the the middle, working and poor classes in American Society. There weren't a lot of upper class and wealthy soldiers, although there were some. Children of refugees were more common than children of the wealthy, privileged or elite. I am still an American soldier, and I still feel that bond. Since the youngest soldiers I served with are now approaching their 20th year, I feel reasonably comfortable saying that there is nothing wrong with these kids that makes them different than the rest of society, and I felt safe and comfortable in that community as did my wife who also had served on active duty.
But, since becoming a civilian and spending most of of it as a working manager in HR and Executive positions, I have been threatened frequently and credibly so. I have had rocks thrown through windows at my home and other vandalism. I have had to defuse potentially violent situations in the workplace.
I have, in fact, found myself almost in a fist fight when a disgruntled former employee decided to attack at a funeral Mass for the Dad of one of the people whom I had the honor to lead in that civilian role. (I probably didn't help the situation all that much by laughing at the situation, but seriously, we're gonna throw down in the nave of the Church with the deceased on the way out of the sanctuary?) This has convinced of one thing -- there are a lot of angry, unbalanced and disturbed people in society, and they aren't getting the help they need. As a result, there is a lot of workplace violence and related violence that is not obviously tied to but is the result of workplace issues.
So, a truck driver under some action that may feel very adverse, loses it in an argument with somebody and gets his privately owned weapon, probably out of his car, and proceeds to shoot, injure and kill a number of people. Happens more often than we want to admit; in this case, it was a soldier. A 34 year old Specialist Four from New Mexico who had a family there in the greater Fort Hood Community. I do not know what drove Specialist Lopez to do what he did; I do know that the Army per se isn't at fault here.
My guess, evaluating this as an incident of workplace related violence, is that Lopez felt intense pressure, had not found someone to listen who could and would help, was very frustrated and someone got in his face, and the bad things resulted.
We are learning more. He had been stationed at Fort Bliss, had arrived at Fort Hood in February, and had just brought his family there from El Paso and moved them to an apartment sometime in the last couple of weeks. He was on Ambien and possibly other anti-depressants. He passed the basic background investigation, had no criminal record and seemed "normal" to his new neighbors. He had been a New Mexico Guardsman for ten years as an infantryman, and left the Guard for active duty in 2008 or 2010 depending on the source, at some point changing his MOS to Truck Driver. Now, it's possible to take forever to make rank in the Guard and the Reserve; 2010 was not a great year for the economy in New Mexico. At 34, he was well behind the power curve in terms of rank; he was probably facing money problems; the whole downsizing thing is really hitting junior enlisted soldiers hard, and I'm guessing he faced financial pressures in bringing his wife and daughter from El Paso or New Mexico to Killeen.
But this is all either superficial or informed deduction. At this point, we don't know why.
I don't agree with the NRA about very much but I do think that they are correct if one dimensional in their complaint that there is a psychological health crisis in the United States and it is not being addressed. I happen to think that registration is critical as are detailed background checks. I suspect that if as the media has reported SPC Lopez was being treated by a Military Treatment Facility while being evaluated for PTD, TBI, anxiety and depression, he would probably not have turned up in the checks. But, he might have -- and that is worth considering.
It would be interesting to know if Lopez was considered able to function at this point with a weapon or was he regarded as a risk to himself or others? It appears that he had been evaluated and considered not to be a risk, but having watched that process, it's harder to be considered such a risk than not. If you are in one of those risk categories, it has an adverse effect on unit readiness. Can anyone say Bradley Chelsea Manning?
Regardless, it's critical to understand that workplace violence is not incidental -- it's part of a chain of events and the workplace is seen by the perpetrator as a source of his anger, disillusion, torment. Torment is a good word. Again, this is not an original bit of brilliance from me. The FBI conducted a study in 2013 on incidents of workplace violence and highlighted this conclusion it the introduction to their report.We need to reflect deeply on this; situation has not changed, except the problems have multiplied. People feel more stressed, more threatened, more disrespected and this is as true in the military combined with the additional stresses of service in uncertain and changing times.
Army wives reaching out while waiting to hear.
Mass murder on the job by disgruntled employees are media-intensive events. However, these mass murders, while serious, are relatively infrequent events. It is the threats, harassment, bullying, domestic violence, stalking, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of behavior and physical violence that, if left unchecked, may result in more serious violent behavior. These are the behaviors that supervisors and managers have to deal with every day. FBI report 2013 (Emphasis added)
I am not sure how to prevent any and all incidents of this type. I do think that leaders need to focus on taking care of their people and become more involved if possible in their lives as we have for over 200 years.
To the families and the victims, including the family of SPC Lopez, I offer my condolences and heartfelt thanks for their service, and your service. To the Officers and NCOs of the Army, make certain that there is no causation, that soldiers are provided all the emotional and psychological support possible while continuing to make tough calls on discipline and performance. T
o the American electorate, anyone who does not think that these problems are in part due to the fraying of the feelings of worth, security, hope in the overall community is wrong; we have gone down a very bad road in terms of the social fabric of the country and it will years, money and dedication to change back from the "Takers/Makers" nonsense to one that rewards work and guarantees human dignity for all.
To our elected leaders and politicians, start doing what is needed for the country not for your campaign donors or supporting special interests. This is still a pretty good place, but as a community and nation, it used to be better. Let's try to rebuild that better world and improve on it, for the sake of all.
The Economist says pretty much the same thing only about the Ukraine, Putin, Obama and plain old reality. "There are influential people in the Kremlin who want an open conflict with the West, in part because it enhances their internal political power. This presents Barack Obama with a challenge similar to the one he faces in dealing with Tea-party Republicans, for whom compromise with the president is in itself a defeat. Mr Obama has not proven himself very adept at dealing with opponents who do not want to negotiate a reasonable deal that secures each side's objective interests." No shit, although this is probably more in his stars than in him.
You can't play the same game if you can't have basic agreement on the consequences; Putin isn't worried about ANYTHING we can do. And, in any contest, the guy who doesn't have to go through a committee or worry about rules and pleasing others will probably win. As the article Game Theory in the Ukraine: Monopoly v. Chess points out, lots of Obama's critics have unflatteringly compared the stand-off over the Crimea and what happens next to Putin playing chess while Obama plays checkers or Fish or something.
Well, that oversimplifies the situation radically, and deserves some revision. Putin is not a chess player; as a kid, he was a teenage miscreant screwing up his permanent recordfighting the teachers and the bullies and establishment in school who was admitted into the inner sanctum of the KGB officer corps probably because both mommy and daddy were agency veterans serving through the Winter War in Leningrad. Since he's a Russian, he probably had to learn how to play chess like most American kids had to learn how to play basketball. So he may think he's playing chess.
But, he's playing against himself; and in this case, that's a great advantage. As the Economist explains:
In fact, in game-theory terms, chess is fairly simple: it is a two-person zero-sum game, where one side wins what the other side loses. More complicated games have multiple players and more than one dimension of play. In Monopoly, for example, money and territory are not the same thing, and players may form shifting alliances to maximise common interests. (Of course, in the end, one player gradually sucks up all the money and strangles the others, which may be how Russian nationalists see the West these days.) It might be more helpful to say that the West is playing Monopoly, while Mr Putin is playing chess. Mr Putin has responded to Mr Obama's offer to negotiate a possible trade of Marvin Gardens for Indiana Avenue by advancing his rook and taking an exposed pawn...The West might have preferred to play a non-zero-sum, multiplayer game with Mr Putin, but if he keeps playing chess, we will eventually have to start playing too.
In a recent post about Gettysburg, I commented to the effect that if you can't see the terrain, you damned well better look at the map. If you take a look at the map of eastern Europe, Eastern Ukraine is pretty much like Poland -- flat to rolling, but with a lovely flat corridor between along the vertical axis from Belarus to Kiev and then south. While there are lots of indications that the problems that plagued the Soviet military continue in the Russian Army, they have the guns, the troops and the ground in their favor. We have moral oppobruim to counter tanks. The German and Russian tanks in the 40s had no real problems here...ate it up, as I recall.
Our tanks, the Brit's tanks, the French tanks, the German tanks are all better. But, our tanks aren't in Ukraine, and our Army isn't likely to be there anytime soon, nor is the EU nor is NATO. If we had the same Army we had in 1989 or even 1995, located in the same places with the same commitments, it would be possible to support both Poland and Ukraine with boots on the ground. But, with the end of the Cold War, we decided that there was going to be peace thanks to Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. Colin Powell sounded a cautionary note, talking about the new reality wouldn't decrease the workload, and in fact, a lot of us who experienced that new reality figured that we'd gone into hyper drive. But, that was then, and this was now.
So, we're left with economic sanctions, and condemnations, and Visa restrictions, and finger-shaking. At least winter is almost over, so the natural gas leverage Russia possesses over Europe is going to be less critical. But, we have an exhausted and downsizing force, the belief that there is no need for a large, land-based force which is starting to look more and more ridiculous, and no desire to spend any money to get there.
The EU and NATO allies started cutting troops and costs long before 1989 and gutted their armies and air forces. Where there were British Divisions, there are new divisions made up of regiments that were divisions under the old structure.
Where Defense once was king in terms of funding, now it's not. That's just a reality; but the economic crisis followed by a crappy economy and the Tea Party ascendancy means that even if we have an appetite for meaningful intervention, we can't pay for it. So, we're playing some complex digital game against a guy who for the moment is playing king of the mountain.
In struggling for my own metaphor, I had thought that Barrack Obama is a digital guy dealing with a digital universe and Putin, the Tea Party, and so on analog guys dealing with reality as an analog creation. This is where current plans to downsize the force, cut weapons systems, avoid troops on the ground and use Special Ops for everything bumps into the base reality, the pre-analog reality. Mind over matter, you don't mind, it don't matter. In Putin world, what we can do doesn't matter.
The article mentions that Gary Kasparov, Former World Grand Champion, Hero of the Soviet Union, and Chess maven who is and has been one of the faces and leaders of the Russian opposition to the point that the Russian have blocked his www.kasparov.ru website since the Crimean debacle began. Kasparov has suggested really stringent sanctions, sufficient to make Putin stop, to the point of some level of force. Kasparov is in exile in Croatia it became impossible for him to live and work in Russia. Kasparov has been pretty clear on the Chess/Checkers thing, telling Fox as its interviewers asked him how he'd checkmate Putin, "I could do that if he was playing chess and playing by the rules. “He’s playing poker. Has he a weak hand but he knows how to raise the stakes and knows how to bluff. And it’s time to call his bluff.” Kasparov sees that best applied through strong economic efforts, seizing the assets of the Russian Oligarchs key to Putin's structure which he compares to the military use of snipers; then seizing Russian government assets in the west, which he compares to using artillery; escalating to seizing Russian government financial reserves in the US. That, in the globalized world, is the nuclear option.
Behind a web of bottles, bales Tobacco, sugar, coffin nails,The gombeen like a spider sits,Surfeited; and, for all his wits, As meagre as the tally-board, On which his usuries are scored. —Joseph Campbell, The Gombeen Man This is a great day to be Irish-American. Barrack Obama is of Irish descent, which I suspect might bother a large number of his critics almost as much as his Kenyan ancestry. Joe Biden is of Irish descent, and embodies the stereotypical Irish post Tammany East Coast Irish politician. On the FOX right, pundits Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity show that we have an exceptional capability to kiss the ass of the establishment while on the progressive left, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes and Alex Wagner (Half Irish, Half Burmese!) show that we can still be critical, and open to more inclusive approaches. Ireland won the Six Nations, and Brian O’Driscoll was reduced to tears as a result. O’Driscoll is the greatest Center and possibly player of his generation of Ruby players, and is retiring this year…so far.
And, then there is Paul Ryan, our national Gombeen man. Sigh. Paul Ryan is a weasel. His family was in construction and remains there; he’s wealthy on his own and has been, even though his mother thought nothing of signing up for survivor’s benefits for the family after his father died…and, she shouldn’t have. That’s the idea behind social insurance; you pay into the system and you draw benefits from it. Everybody who draws wages earns it for his family. What makes the Ryan thing obnoxious is that he now spits at the whole concept…entitlements are anathema in his world, things to be cut down and treated like leeches on the body politic.
Those F*CKING GOMBEEN MEN, SCHEISTER,CON-MEN GANGSTERS They've ruined the country , they've ruined the people and they took away the future of any young person in this country They should be in F*UCKING Jail This song tells the story of the whole F*UCKING thing , BANANA REPUBLIC—Bob Geldorf
Of course, we did pay for them – Social Security is paid for; pensions are deferred earnings. There are demographic pressures, but those seem largely based not so much on population decline as on income inequality and a progressive tax system that has rapidly become regressive.
\ Mr. Ryan was a right wing bonbon tossed to the Republican right by Mitt Romney and his handlers. Since no matter what amazing nonsense he of the perfect coif and big teeth and dancing horse tossed to the crowd, he was still considered a “Moderate Republican” – whatever the hell that is, Abby Huntsman, maybe? – and Ryan was intended to shore up his bona fides as a supply side, budget-hawk, small government slasher of the true Freddie Kruger style. He’s a Laffler curve type of guy who realizes that the true drivers of the economy and success are the rich, and those who work for a living are just drones. Venture capital man; if you blink at the cost of a bottle of wine or an elevator for your cars, you’re just not getting it.
Well, there are some serious problems with Ryan. Besides being factually wrong, he’s a hypocritical, treacherous bastard with a Eddie Munster haircut. There is a pattern to the immigrant experience, and the Irish have mirrored this quite well; in fact, the Irish are the model of this pattern at certain levels. The Kennedy’s are a good example – first generation in the Potato famine, followed by Pat Kennedy who ran a bar and was involved in the Irish political machine, then his son Joe who went to Harvard and resented being snubbed by the WASPS and then Joe Jr.,Jack, Bobby, and Ted who could charm and woe the Protestants and such but never forget what they were and where they came from. The pattern deviates when the political machines driving the local politics were Republican and the Irish just sort of joined in. Then the Irish worked harder to forget where they came from, and adopted the patterns of behavior and political judgment that betrayed the Irish reality.
Brendan Behan, the poet, playwright, author and IRA soldierwho wrote Borstal Boy and The Quare Fellow often cited the story of Queen Victoria who donated five pounds to Irish famine relief and then donated five pounds to the Chelsea Dog and Cat hospital because she did not want to be seen as favoring the Irish. On the BBC on Sunday evening, “Ripper Street” portrayed a MP in his club babbling that the “Irish were blacks turned inside out…” to applause.
Timothy Egan in his column this weekend “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia” puts Ryan in an ethnic and valid historical perspective. Eagan points out that while the English lasiez-faire, Malthusian approach to genocide by the stuff, Victorian-Anglican establishment doesn’t equate to the modern US conservative attempt to dismantle the safety net and poverty programs in this country, there is a certain resemblance because they have the same roots – a misreading of Adam Smith, a misunderstanding of social dynamics and the desire on a large part of humankind to blame others for their problems while regarding those happy accidents of birth to be earned. Egan is scathing.
In advance of St. Patrick’s Day, I went time traveling, back to the 1840s and Ireland’s great famine. On one side of the Irish Sea was Victorian England, flush with the pomp and prosperity of the world’s mightiest empire. On the other side were skeletal people, dying en masse, the hollow-bellied children scrounging for nettles and blackberries. A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”
And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated “culture of dependency” is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England’s excuse for lethal negligence…The Irish historian John Kelly, who wrote a book on the great famine, was the first to pick up on these echoes of the past during the 2012 presidential campaign. “Ryan’s high-profile economic philosophy,” he wrote then, “is the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine — and hurt them badly.”
What was a tired and untrue trope back then is a tired and untrue trope now. What was a distortion of human nature back then is a distortion now. And what was a misread of history then is a misread now. Ryan boasts of the Gaelic half of his ancestry, on his father’s side. “I come from Irish peasants who came over during the potato famine,” he said last year during a forum on immigration. BUT with a head still stuffed with college-boy mush from Ayn Rand, he apparently never did any reading about the times that prompted his ancestors to sail away from the suffering sod. Centuries of British rule that attempted to strip the Irish of their language, their religion and their land had produced a wretched peasant class, subsisting on potatoes. When blight wiped out the potatoes, at least a million Irish died — one in eight people...
“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine,” wrote the fiery essayist John Mitchel, whose words bought him a ticket to the penal colony of Tasmania…
As Ryan has started his earnest if hypocritical, ingenuous and ignorant poverty tour, a number of commentators have pointed out that his numbers and estimates are as ludicrous as his budgets and deficit projections. Ryan knows what he thinks he thinks, and damn the facts. It’s interesting because the economy has to add up somehow or another. And saying that gaps and problems and shortfalls will be made up by “American exceptionalism” or the “market dynamics” is absolutely absurd.
That basic, blind love of absurdity drove the economic theory of the Bush years, of course: Greenspan, Cheney et al looked at the ten year budget projections, observed a growing surplus and cut taxes a lot. And then started a war and then another war…of course, the further out the budget projection or any projection, the less likely it becomes in direct relation to how optimistic it is. A pessimistic projection may not come true if we decide it’s unacceptable and decide to do something about it; but if everything is beautiful, well, what’s to do about nothing, ehh?
In addition to the hypocrisy and rejection of history while claiming his Irish roots give him some legitimacy in the discussion of poverty, Ryan’s comments are also a dog whistle. Talking about entitlements is a way of talking about minorities; we all know this. Ryan somewhat illegitimate wonk reputation depends on seeming to be all about logic and numbers and reality; in fact, his routine is taken up by racist troglodytes as a way of slapping at the poor, the hungry, the undereducated. It’s their fault they…don’t live in Scarsdale?
The anger at the school lunch program that is being touted by so many on the right is absurd. In the old days, farm subsidies supported the school lunch program by providing subsidized food to schools. In poor communities, a hot breakfast and lunch may be the only full meal the child gets. By demanding that idiocies like the spiritual enrichment of knowing mom stuck a couple of pieces of bologna and some stale bread into a bag for you as opposed to the hot spaghetti and meat sauce being offered by the lunch program is mindboggling. This is not even Malthus, this is Oliver Twist and the workhouse…
“When I came back to Dublin I was courtmartialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.” ― Brendan Behan
In appealing to the racial dog whistle, Ryan betrays his Irish heritage in another way. Now, we Irish bow to no other country in our own xenophobic and racist approach to other cultures, ethnicities and faiths. As ignorant and racist clowns go, we have produced some great examples. But, a significant portion of us, possibly most, have accepted that we’re all god’s children and she expects us to be good to each other.
Our clannishness and callousness proceeds from 800 years of English exploitation and imperialism. We should recall that the Irish and highland Scots and Welsh as well were seen as sub-human scum with the equivalent of “weighing 100 pounds and having 30 inch calves from carrying bales of marijuana.” I’m sure Ryan has done his gym time this morning and has a nice green tie and maybe socks as well. Possibly some Donegal tweed…and is very satisfied with himself.
We can do a helluva lot better. Erin Go Braugh and Up the Republic!
Scott Adams is annoying, but he does allow us moments of great clarity --treasure all such moments, actively seeking by just letting them arise...
Next, it appears that Don Williams is releasing a new record. Williams was huge in country music in the late 70s and early 80s, part of the unfolding Oklahoma crew that included Ray Wylie Hubbard, Delaney and Bonney and Friends, JJ Cale and so on; he then seemed to vanish completely. Now he's 74 and has done a couple of albums in the last two years. New one will be released tomorrow...
From 1980 --
Personal favorite from 1982 --
And released tomorrow -- courtesy of Townes Van Zandt...
The Map Isn’t the Terrain, but if You Can’t Look at the Terrain, Better Look at a Damn Map
Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Lee. The first day's fighting was so encouraging, and on the second day's fighting he came within an inch of doing it. And by that time Longstreet said Lee's blood was up, and Longstreet said when Lee's blood was up there was no stopping him... And that was that mistake he made, the mistake of all mistakes. Pickett's charge was an incredible mistake, and there was scarcely a trained soldier who didn't know it was a mistake at the time, except possibly Pickett himself, who was very happy he had a chance for glory. ...William Faulkner, in "Intruder in the Dust", said that for every southern boy, it's always within his reach to imagine it being one o'clock on an early July day in 1863, the guns are laid, the troops are lined up, the flags are out of their cases and ready to be unfurled, but it hasn't happened yet. And he can go back in his mind to the time before the war was going to be lost and he can always have that moment for himself…Shelby Foote
WikiMap -- Pickett's Charge
I just finished Allen C. Guelzo’s highly regarded book on Gettysburg, Gettysburg –The Last Invasionand from it relearned some lessons that are worth considering today. I’ve been quiet on a number of issues because frankly, I’m not a journalist but a critic and a commentator, and it’s embarrassing to be constantly overtaken by events. Best to shut about things like the emerging Defense Structure or the Ukraine until you have something to say.
But Guelzo’s book, which is somewhat revisionist and with which I don’t agree in part, makes some really cogent points worth considering as we try to understand what’s going on and as we consider what might happen next. Gettysburg is not something you can see in isolation as a battle, or as a phenomenon or as an event. It’s part of the general unfolding of the United States. There’s a great piece of dialogue cited in the book where a British Liaison officer comes on Longstreet after Pickett’s Charge and says something to the effect of what a great day, what a great event, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and Old Pete who was sitting on the top of a fence, watching the debacle he had foreseen said, “The Devil You Wouldn’t! I would have liked to miss it very much; we have attacked and been repulsed. Look there!” The British officer observes the field in the now fading smoke, sees the men limping and straggling back; the wounded horses seeking their now dead riders; the litter bearers carrying away those lucky enough to be found and evacuated; the psychologically overwhelmed and broken men who had gone forward expecting victory and found this; the leaders, like Pickett staggering around, lost and heartbroken, and realized that it hadn’t actually been so great a thing after all.
Guelzo spends a great deal of the text describing the search for a villain – who screwed up? Frankly, this was not a terribly new exercise; the North was actually fairly used to this drill, largely because the commanders of the Army of the Potomac had generally been so useless. Meade was only just appointed to command, and wasn’t all that interested in fighting at Gettysburg. Lee didn’t really want to fight at Gettysburg. It just kind of happened, and unfolded from there. Gettysburg needs to be understood not as planned campaign, since Lee’s campaign was intended to force the North to decide to sue for peace. His strategic goal was to bring the Army of the Potomac to battle on terrain favorable to him, with his Army intact and with the commanding terrain.
We forget that Lee was first and foremost an Army Engineer. He understood things like observation, fields of fire, cover and concealment better than most of his opponents and all of his own generals. If his forces had taken Culp’s Hill initially and then the ridges and Little Round Top and Big Round Top, things would have been different; quite possibly they wouldn’t have ended up fighting a battle there. However, Meade was also an engineer as was Hancock and most of the other Corps Commanders who had any business leading troops in battle. They saw the ground, the enemy and realized that if they could close and hold Culp’s, Seminary and Cemetery Ridge and as the battle unfolded, Little and Big Round Top, they’d beat Lee or force him to abandon the field of battle. Remember, Lee had to destroy the Army of the Potomac to accomplish his strategic aim; all Meade and the Army of the Potomac had to do to win was not lose. Normally, that is not the situation for the stronger force and certainly was not the way Lincoln saw it or the generals commanding until Meade. And, for political reasons, the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia was critical to the war effort, just not important.
Lee realized this, and tried to remain focused on it. Unfortunately, after Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded at Chancellorsville, the other Generals in Lee’s Army either did not understand that or did not accept it. Longstreet seemed to have a feeling that the Army needed to survive, but could not see the overall big picture as well as Lee, and that was his tragedy. It made no difference as to what Longstreet did; he was powerless. Escape and get back to Virginia, and the war would drag on until the Confederacy was exhausted, worn down sooner or later. Longstreet had a marvelous gasp of the tactical situation, and a great understanding of the operational realities. However, using the Calculus of Battle, the failures of Day 2 following the misfortunes of Day 1, made him unable to see any solution.
Jeb Stuart gets a lot of blame for not being there to provide Lee with a better screen and better intelligence. That would have helped, but at some point Lee’s intent was to bring the Army of the Potomac to battle, and destroy it. Despite the general uselessness of the Generals Lincoln had appointed to that point, Gettysburg presented the best opportunity. If Meade consolidated his command and had more than a week to be in charge, the odds are the Union Army would have been operating on a firmer operational basis. At Gettysburg, they had the objective of fighting a defensive battle and holding the commanding and ominous terrain. With the entire Army united in command and control and without idiots like General Dan Sickles commanding III Corps, it’s very possible that Lee might have faced a tougher opponent.
Lee’s time in Mexico and as a Cavalry Officer had been not periods of engineering but of reconnaissance, pursuit and aggression. He was probably most the aggressive General in his Army, with the exception of Stonewall Jackson. If I were to name the reason for the immensity of the defeat at Gettysburg, or select a villain, I would select the Confederate pickets who mistook Jackson and his aides for Northern Cavalry and fired on them without identifying them.
But, Jackson was dead. The meeting engagement, which are usually pretty sloppy and deadly affairs, was a draw leaving the union in occupation of the key terrain. Due to problems of communications, coordination and staff work as well as logistics, the maneuver phase trying to take Culp’s Hill, flank Cemetery Ridge and occupy Little and Big Round Tops failed. So, the Army of Northern Virginia was left on day 3 to try a frontal attack, across an open plain with unseen obstacles that would slow, disrupt and canalize attacking soldiers into killing grounds. It didn’t help that Pickett’s soldiers were exhausted; it didn’t make it simpler that George Pickett was a bellicose idiot, lacking even the reptilian sense of self-preservation that Dan Sickles exhibited. It didn’t help that Longstreet who had the option to cancel the attack if the Confederate Artillery was seen to not be successful in driving the Union Forces off Cemetery Ridge. It also didn’t really matter– the Union Army was struck by the grandeur of the Confederate forces, their unity and dedication. The 19th Century had a number of battles – the Charge of the Light Brigade for one with a similar although smaller result – where the comment “It’s magnificent but it’s not war!” was most appropriate but this one was probably the most obvious example. Gettysburg and Pickett's charge foreshadows the Somme to a frightening extent.
Several relevant learnings for our time are apparent here. First, the idea of the “ground.” Lee did not know what he was getting into in Pennsylvania. He hadn’t served there, didn’t know the ground and neither did most of his generals, although at least a couple had served at Carlyle Barracks, home today of Dickinson College and the Army War College. However, information didn’t flow well in the Army of Northern Virginia. There were a shortage of dependable maps for both sides, but the Army of the Potomac had a lot of Pennsylvania soldiers and had a better understanding of the terrain, the roads, the environment. Stuart would have done his chief a lot of good by dragging along some engineers to at least provide sketch maps had he been content to do what a Cavalry division should do in unknown territory – find and fix the enemy and report.
Next, after becoming used to Jackson and his ability to get his soldiers where they needed to be when they needed to be there, Lee was hamstrung by the inability of his generals to move their forces. Part of this was decreed by fate – his logistics was a very weak factor in his plan, and the Army had to advance into Pennsylvania and across it along a very wide front with a limited number of roads allowing them to link up as needed. One of the reasons for the exhaustion of Pickett’s division was that they had to march all night to get to the release point in the woods facing Cemetery ridge, arriving after twelve noon for an attack that was supposed to have happened closer to dawn.
There has been a great deal of discussion in other books and articles as to the reason for Lee’s indecision and failure to process information. He was a brilliant soldier with a lightning fast mind, but this battle was something else. There have been suggestions that he had a mild heart attack or a slight stroke sometime between day 1 and day 3. Various memoirists discuss his problems with diarrhea and headaches, and in the winter of 1862-63 after Fredericksburg he had suffered a mild heart attack. I suspect that he may have had a health incident; his health by this time was ruined and he piled work and stress on himself without mercy. However, he also saw what he needed to have happen possibly in front of him, and his soldiers hadn’t failed him before; how could they do so now. He saw what he wanted to see, there for the grasp. What could go wrong?
Well, the answer was the field between the woods and cemetery ridge. The difference was that neither McClellan nor Hooker nor Burnside was in command. George Meade may not be one of the great Captains of the Union Army – that probably would be the triumvirate of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan – but he was a competent general who had avoided getting in the way. So he did not panic.
It is my belief that Arnold’s Dover Beach captures the battle well despite being a predominantly daytime battle fought in the Pennsylvania summer – 'And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night... '
The news that the United Auto Workers lost a union election at a Nashville VW plant has sent the labor movement into something of a what the hell just happened spin. Unfortunately, I think that the results were preordained, back in about 1863. We have an interesting history in this country of well meaning northerners going into the backward and dirty south to enlighten these poor sons and daughters of Dixie, and it just doesn't work because the Northerners aren't trusted and the track record hasn't been all that great.
Hell, the post-union industrialization of the South wasn't by VW but it was by Northern Manufacturers who realized that they could make a lot more money moving steel from Pittsburgh to Birmingham and screw the workers in Birmingham a lot less than they were being screwed by their own boss class, but screw them a lot more than they were screwing over their own workers in the North. One might write an interesting history of American Expansion and Exception as a race to exploit the more easily exploited at cost to the somewhat less exploited. Now, the industrialization of the South screwed over a lot of people, and the big companies took the blame; it was possible to find Southern bosses and they did. Reconstruction ultimately turned out OK for the Southerners although not ideal from their point of view; hence the 100 year affiliation to the Democratic party although not necessarily the party of Roosevelt and Johnson but something else entirely.
Corn in the fields. Listen to the rice when the wind blows 'cross the water, King Harvest has surely come I work for the union 'cause she's so good to me; And I'm bound to come out on top, That's where she said I should be I will hear every word the boss may say, For he's the one who hands me down my pay Looks like this time I'm gonna get to stay, I'm a union man, now, all the way The smell of the leaves, From the magnolia trees in the meadow, King Harvest has surely come -- Robbie Robertson, the Band
Billy Yank and Johnny Reb compare resumes There's a wonderful moment in Gettysburg when an Officer of the 2oth Maine is talking with some Southern prisoners, primarily with a private. It's pretty interesting in that I think it's incredibly real and captures something that we miss at times. They ask each other where they're from, and the Rebel says, "Tennessee. How about you?" The Yank says, "Maine. I've never been to Tennessee." The Reb says, "Don't reckon I've ever been to Tennesse either." The Yank officer says, " I don't mean no disrespect about you all fighting, but I have to wonder, what are you fighting for?" Reb private responds, "What are you fighting for?" Yank responds, "Why to free the slaves, of course. Preserve the union." Reb says, "I can't talk for anyone else, but I don't care about no darkies one way or the other. I'm fightin' for my Raaattts." Yank has no clue what he means, and says "What?" Rebel says, "My Raattts. That's what all of us are fighting for." The conversation continues, they agree that the war is an awful thing, they wish it was over and the Rebel admits to some acceptance that since he's a prisoner, he'll get to sit the rest of it out. They wish each other good luck and say "See you in Hell, Billy Yank." "See you in Hell, Johnny Reb." And one marches off to prison camp, and the other to Little Round Top.
If people like the UAW realized what that private was telling us and them, and what the scene was telling us, they might have been far more successful. First of all, we have radically different understandings of why we do things and what we're doing. Lots of reasons for that, and I've talked about some of them before. But, we don't understand each other -- the UAW can talk about industrial democracy and having a way to influence the company through the union; the Southerner doesn't understand Industrial Democracy (Of course, neither does the UAW) and since he knows his bosses, he trusts them. The VW plant management may not have been actively opposed to the union drive, but they've treated the workers well and haven't lied to them too much. The workers want to be left alone and allowed to work and be treated fairly. The Germans have done a good job of that. So...
Now, I've had a checkered career, and have talked to a lot of people over the years in a lot of professions, including those in State Workforce Development Programs. A few years ago at a Conference, I was chatting with fellow Vet who a honcho in the Alabama Workforce Development Department and a guy who was working in the South Carolina Workforce Development. They told both told me that BMW in South Carolina and Mercedes Benz in Alabama had far lower turnover, fewer problems, lower unemployment insurance rates and lower employee incidence of lawsuits than the Honda and Nissan plants in both states. The Alabama guy said the same thing about the Koreans and Hyundai. Far more success than Honda with their workers. The reasons were simple; the German and the Korean attitudes toward the workers and the resulting culture were really far more attractive. At Mercedes, the workers all basically dress the same on the floor -- the blue lab/worker coat that those of us who've spent time in Germany are familiar with. There is no reserved parking for the bosses, it's all first come/first serve except for handicapped parking. The example that they both shared vigorously was the subject of litter -- at the German and Korean plants, if one of the bosses passed some litter, he'd stop and pick it up, either put it in his pocket or toss it in the trash. No big deal. At the Japanese plants, it was the opposite; before a Japanese manager would pick up a piece of litter, he would go find an American to have him pick up the litter.
Consider that. As an occasional management consultant, I can tell you that outsiders offering opinions about all the crap " you all are doing wrong" doesn't work well -- "It's the stranger with a stopwatch, brief case asking to borrow your watch so they can break it"- syndrome built large.So, the UAW goes south. They pick a plant that generally has good relations with the workers and where the company sees a union on the German Works Council model as a way to have better relations and produce higher quality. However, the company wasn't doing the organizing drive; the UAW was. I trust Bob, but who the hell are you?
The key thing about the South is the importance of family. Since they've been so embattled over time and so battered by various outsiders who mean well, the importance of "kin" among working class Southerners is a key thing. I was trying to enforce some simple Army regulations and found myself accused while in exile with the Reserves in Texas of being " a goddamned outside Yankee agitator." I made a point of being culturally nonsensitive despite which I still managed to make some friends for whom I still care deeply. Last time I cried over someone's death who wasn't family was when I heard that the S3 Secretary in the Brigade I was assigned to died from cancer. But, I was there long enough to lead by example and develop some expert and referent power. Just show up and start preaching, especially about what "the union is going to do for you..." without that and the native Texan or Alabamian or Tennessean hears some Yankee saying, "We're gonna take your women, corn and horses, and there's nothing much you can do about it." If the meaning of the message is what the receiver hears, well, nothing much you can do about it by shouting it louder.
This isn't any different than the spirit that grows up in military units -- there's me, my team, my squad, my platoon and my company. Everybody else is the damn enemy until proven otherwise.
Rod Serling was a TV writer and producer in the 50s and 60s. He got fed up and since he was rich, he kind of left it all and spent a lot of time on his yacht going up and down the Erie Canal and the Finger Lakes as well as other places. Used to berth at a Senaca River Restaurant outside of Baldwinsville and drink beer and talk Syracuse Football with my Dad in the 60s and 70s after the Twilight Zone went off the air.
The Twilight Zone was his major TV product as well as a ton of independent TV productions. He gave the censors fits, unintentionally at first, by trying to write stuff that was intelligent, current and culturally challenging. I found an excerpt of this interview online and decided that the whole thing was worth providing. Public intellectuals used to speak this way -- imagine Ed Schultz and Sean Hannity having to use this level of logic, clarity and vocabulary. We are all fellow travelers in the great conspiracy of mediocrity. The story of the time that Lassie had puppies and the show got hate mail over showing puppies and the miracle of birth is worth the cost of admission alone, especially since it's free.
(I pulled the interview from The Internet Archive. I generally use it to look for and listen to concert footage, but it's an incredible asset -- kind of like browsing a really good library or book store with a lot of everything. It's one of my leading bookmarks, and I recommend it to anyone who might suddenly want to watch an Eisenstein film with the Greatful Dead playing in the background. https://archive.org/)
Speaking of public intellectuals, one that very few people think of that way is Ray Davies co-founder of the Kinks and cultural provocateur. Davies and his brother Dave made the Gallagher Brothers and the Everly Brothers look like the Brothers Four with their fights, feuds and general hair-pulling. However, they well deserve their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Ray has just been elected to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. This was a 2006 commentary on "Yob culture" and fits with Serling in an odd way...
"Jack the lad has become Oscar Wilde And the followers of style say, "It's the latest thing" And William Shakespeare is the schmooze of the week And anyone who says different is a fuckin' antique And Noel Coward has become very hard and the comic says "Bullocks" and everybody laughs and that's that
"Style, I mean, never was much, never has been But the little bit that was was all that we had And the clown does a belch and we all belch back And that's that.."
In a conflict that exemplified the military axiom that soldiering is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror, the blue and the gray called timeouts from opposition to trade tobacco for coffee, share food, relate war stories and converse about home, or play cards during downtime on the battlefield.It is easy to see these truces as moments of humanity, when men demonstrated that despite their differences, something kind and brotherly remained inside them. “They forget that they are enemies and a kind of chivalric honor and courtesy are strictly observed,” meeting “in so friendly a way that one would have thought they were the best and most loving neighbors in the world,” according to The Soldiers’ Journal of Oct. 5, 1864. But according to Bearss, “the older the war gets, the more the soldiers move toward hatred.” By the time the war moved onto northern soil in Gettysburg, “They really don’t like the sons-of-bitches,” he says of the armies, and the powwowing dropped off. --Sue Eisenfeld, Disunion:Breaks in the Action" NY Times, Feb 7 2014
The New York Times has had a series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War called Disunion running on the OPED pages a couple of times a week or more since 2010, and it's well worth reading. Most of the Times OPED series are well worth the effort, whether The Stone which addresses contemporary issues in Philosophy, Disunion, or Measure for Measure which allows various musicians, producers and critics to reflect on the craft of songwriting, traditions and so on. Occasionally, there are some weird juxtapositions that make you wonder if the OP-ED staff is prescient, incredibly lucky or just very good at what they do. In the Measure for Measure Piece, on February 7, 2014, Rosanne Cash discusses the problems inherent in approaching the past in song and art while providing some marvelous examples of how it's best done. In doing, she highlights one of the songs from her most recent album,The River and The Thread. In many ways, this album completes her period of mourning the death of her parents as well as June Carter and other members of the extended music family of Johnny Cash. At the same time, it addresses some fairly timeless and really important issues in the on-going history of the United States, and what in fact the relationship of the South to the North is, should and can be. She does so through a series of road songs of trips she and her husband-producer-co-writer and musical director John Leventhal took from her home town of Memphis in recent years; but in fact, it reflects a spiritual journey that she has taken through the history of her family. I consider it a masterpiece...a travelogue of miracles and wonders to steal a phrase from another New York based poet and writer, Paul Simon. Days of Miracles and Wonder.
I had been utterly unable to crack the code of how to write these kinds of narrative ballads myself until I was writing the songs for my new album, “The River and the Thread.” In the past, I was intimidated. I felt self-conscious drawing characters out of thin air, or presuming to reassemble the life of a real historical person. I couldn’t find my way in. In the fall of 2012, my son was working on an eighth grade Civil War project. I mentioned to him that he had Cash ancestors on both sides of the Civil War, and I went to the Civil War database to research it with him. There materialized before us a photograph of one William Cash, lieutenant in the Massachusetts Eighth Infantry. He had enlisted on April 30, 1861. April 30 is my wedding anniversary. A little spark of an idea. I looked further and found William Cashes in several Southern regiments as well: Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee. This all made sense, as my family genealogy records the arrival of the first Cash, also a William, in Salem, Mass., in the 17th century, and the next generation spilling down to Virginia, where my direct line begins. -- Rosanne Cash, Time Travel and the Ballad Tradition, NY Times, Feb 7, 2014
Rosanne Cash has written in number of other places about her relationship with the south. She was born in Memphis, moved as a child to California, visited John during the summers, bonded with June and the Carters, lived in Nashville until her marriage to Rodney Crowell disintegrated and then moved to New York City where she met John Leventhal and has become a member of the singer-songwriter-artist-knitting community of Manhattan... So her relationship to the South is intriguing at least. She sees herself as a New Yorker (she got to sing Tumbling Dice at a well known annual concert in NYC benefiting local charities, and blogs from Zone Five.) but she is by blood, birth and mind a Southerner, with a broader, and somewhat amazing perspective. The cover of the album was taken by John Leventhal standing behind her on the Tallahasse Bridge. She sings of starting at the beginning in a world of strange design.
Well you’re not from around here/ You’re probably not our kind It’s hot from March to Christmas/ And other things you’ll find Won’t fit your old ideas/ Their line is shifting sands, You walk across a ghostly bridge/To a crumbling promise land If Jesus came from Mississippi/ If tears began to rise I guess I’ll start at the beginning/ The world of strange design
So, the album is an American with Southern Roots dealing with what it means to be "American by Birth and Southern by the Grace of God" as the old T-shirt put it. I think she might reverse them, but the issue is there to be dealt with, by her and by all the rest of us. She acknowledges how hard this can be metaphorically by discussing the writing of the song. John Leventhal and Rodney Crowell collaborated on a number which she finds hard to explain. (I actually don't find it at all hard; Crowell often tells the story of Johnny Cash looking at him unhappily when he drunkenly challenged the old man about not being willing to act like "no damn hypocrite" with the response, "Son I don't know you well enough to miss you when you're gone." Crowell always prefaces it with a statement of respect to Rosanne and John Leventhal, adding that if you ever want to sober up a man, think of him weaving drunkenly in front of Johnny Cash and hearing that. Kind of like God telling you that you were really kind of irrelevant to the conversation, weren't you?)Robert Hilburn mentions how John tried to be loyal to his daughters when their marriages dissolved with people he'd become fond of by keeping his distance but that illusion always broke apart. He proudly claimed that if he could get his son-in-laws and ex-son-in-laws to agree, he could form a hell of a band. -- Crowell, John Leventhal, Marty Stuart, Nick Lowe for starters.)
In an January 2014 interview with American Songwriter, Rosanne addressed the issue of being Southern.
There’s part of me that’s always cared about the South and felt at home there. During these trips, as I said, the physical and geographical connections to place came alive again. The rich, beautiful, dense, and weird South is the South I love. Do you ever read that magazine Twisted South? (laughs) I love that magazine because it captures these aspects of the South. This new album explodes the stereotypes about the South and embraces them at the same time. You know, all these things happened that made me feel a deeper connection to the South that I ever had. We started finding these great stories, and the melodies that went with those experiences.
Rosanne mentions that her daughter, Chelsea Jane Crowell who is making a lot of noise in Alt Country circles also wrote a civil war ballad entitled and it has a unique and special feel, discussing the effects of the war on people trying to survive in the world..."Momma took a gamblin' man and let Daddy hit the fan/And Salty bet our land and lost it all on one hand...All that's left is one oak tree, a swaybacked mule and a cotton see, and where the hell is Robert E. Lee?" This is a sharper, angrier song that raises the question what the hell was this war all about...and, even 150 years later, it's hard to separate the results from the purpose on both sides.
Roseanne's song, When the Master Calls the Role, is less about anger and more about sorrow, love and resolve. When it was ready to record, friends worked sang with her while John manned the producer's desk and got it together. The song is a superb piece of historical balladry and a great performance by Ms. Cash, Mr. Crowell, John Prine, and Kris Kristofferson. The link is to a performance she did during a 2013 residency at the Library of Congress. (After the song, John Leventhal resolved the whole issue of his relationship with Rodney Crowell, saying that Rodney is his "husband in law...")
Girl with hair of flaming red Seeking perfect lover/ For to lie down on her feather bed Soul secrets to uncover/ Must be gentile, must be strong With disposition sunny/ Just as faithful as the day is long And careful with his money And so the open letter read The news boy did deliver/ Three months later plans were made to wed Down by the King James river
Know the season may come Know the season may go When love is joined together With whoever be made whole When the master calls the roll
Oh my darling will you leave? Take me to the altar/ I don’t have strength to watch you as you leave/ But my love will never fault her Oh my darling Marry Anne The march to war is calling/ Somewhere far across these southern lands/ The bands of brothers falling
My tender bride, the tides demand That I leave you with your mother With my father’s riffle in one hand Your locket in the other
Know the season may come Know the season may go Beware the storm clouds gather Take heat in warm of soul When the master calls the roll
But can this union be preserved? The soldier boy was crying / I will never travel back to her But not for lack of trying It’s a love of one true heart at last That made the boy a hero/ But a riffle ball and a cannon blast Cut him down to zero Oh Virginia once I came I’ll see you when I’m younger/ And I’ll know you by your hills again This town from 6 feet under
Know the season may come Know the season may go A man is torn asunder But someday we may know When the master calls the roll
A worried man with a worried mind No one in front of me and nothing behind There’s a woman on my lap and she’s drinking champagne Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes I’m looking up into the sapphire-tinted skies I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed
This place ain’t doing me any good I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood Just for a second there I thought I saw something move Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove
Lot of water under the bridge, lot of other stuff too Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed
I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road If the Bible is right, the world will explode I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can Some things are too hot to touch The human mind can only stand so much You can’t win with a losing hand
Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed
I hurt easy, I just don’t show it You can hurt someone and not even know it The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity Gonna get low down, gonna fly high All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie I’m in love with a woman who don’t even appeal to me
Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake I’m not that eager to make a mistake
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed --Bob Dylan
(FYI, links are mainly to music!)
On Saturday night, my wife announced that she needed more Alfredo sauce for dinner and I was to go get it. Fine, into the car I went and wandered into the local grocery store. Found the stuff she wanted, a few other things except things I wanted, of course and went to pay. The guy at the checkout who's about my age --60s -- asked me what I thought about the Super Bowl. I immediately announced that I was some kinda communist by saying, "Don't know, don't really care, not that interested." I wasn't; I respect Peyton Manning's skill, of course and I thought the safety for the Seahawks got a raw deal on the kefluffle about that final play in the San Jose 49s game, but in general since my last tour in Germany, I just don't have that much interest in it as a sport or spectacle. I'm very interested in Rugby because I've played it and the game is far better regulated than American Football. A flagrant foul that puts an opposing player at risk is often rewarded as in Soccer with a red card and a couple of weeks or more off. The players are less armoured than they are in baseball, and the sport is faster and far more demanding. For the record, Bath beat Leciester this weekend in the Anglo-Welsh LV tournament while France beat England, Italy almost upset Wales and Ireland handled Scotland in a really great game. Brian O'Driscoll, at 35, had several assists as well as making 13 tackles. He's retiring after this year which given the nature of the game makes sense, but the fact is the Irish Outside Center is looking and playing like he did five or six years ago.
OK, who cares. Well, that's why I didn't catch any of the Super Bowl except the Budweiser stolen dog retrieved by Clydesdales commercial and the loan Denver touchdown. The Denver team handled the loss like pros, and the various scripts and memes have played out. OK, who cares....I didn't. However, I immediately began hearing about the Obama-O'Reilly nonsense and then that Bob Dylan had come out in favor of roasting Asian babies as a way of supplementing the world's protein supply. Curious...this got even more interesting as my Malcontent and Defeatist coven kicked in with complaints that Dylan was irrelevant, had been arrogant, and was a jerk because he said "Germany can make our beer." ( In fairness to the beer thing, the guy upset is both a beer connoisseur and a wannabe micro brewer.) Since I'm the sole Dylan worshipper at that stable, I had to react. So, I pointed out that it was a fucking commercial, not a new version of Luther's 95 Theses or a repudiation of the First Amendment. If you haven't seen a Chrysler commercial for the last couple of years, you've missed people like John Varvatos -- fashion guru to the rock world and hip -- and Iggy Pop --grey eminence of the Punk Rock movement which is odd since he long predates punk! -- as well as Snoop Dog back when Iaccoca was involved just prior to the sale to Mercedes in about 2000 all making Chrysler commercials. Eminem made a damned Chrysler commercial for the 2012 Super Bowl. All of them have been about how wonderful the Chrysler brand is, calling up memories of Ricardo Montalban babbling about rich Corinthian leather in the Chrysler New Yorker. Dylan's commercial was different.
Dylan's approach was different -- this was a traditional, lunch bucket, pro-union commercial. Dylan was not on the screen when they showed the Chrysler trademark and the shot of their Chrysler 200; in fact, the only functioning vehicle I recall was James Dean screaming down the road on what I believe was a Triumph motorcycle. While he did a voice over, the screen showed shots of Hemi-engines and his hands fiddling around with his guitar, what looked like a Gibson Jumbo acoustic. When he moved through the scene, he was kind of channeling an old David Leary commercial for Nike and kind of channeling the Boondock Saints and kind of channeling Johnny Cash and kind of channeling himself in myth and in "Duquesne Whistle." Most people who work with their hands for a living -- like my GM autoworker brother-in-law, Murph Cowmeadow -- loved it and are having trouble figuring what the problem was. Well, there really wasn't one...
Well, I enjoy Alex Wagner's show, but she went on a humorless politically correct rant that we could have skipped. Basically, Dylan's paean to the ingenuity, history and spirit of the American worker in general and autoworkers in Detroit in particular was "jingoistic:" his argument simplistic because "Asia is not a country," and so on. She made the comment in the beginning that Dylan was "once legendary..." Yeah, she needs to slap her producers, because this piece just made her look like the progressive version of people like Anne Coulter or Michelle Bachman. She talked about how Germany was an economic powerhouse and how Switzerland is an economic powerhouse so it was absurd to reduce them to brew masters and watchmakers. And then there was Asia...
Hilarious. The script said, "So, let Germany make our beer, let Switzerland make our watches, let Asia assemble our phones but we'll make our cars." When he said that, he was in the union hall, playing pool and standing with the folks who were playing, and probably were Chrysler autoworkers.So much much the "Progressive" take on the commercial, along with claims that Dylan is a sell-out. Well, that's funny; when you think you've figured out what Dylan is doing and going to do next, forget it, he's faked you out again. However, the fact that Chrysler did such a positive commercial and showcased an authentic American voice and American workers made his song which provided the musical theme really fit --" Things have changed..." Watch and learn.
The other commercial which does not have peopleupset had a beer terrorizing a store in search for Chobani Greek Yogurt, with the Dylan song from 1966's Blonde on Blonde, "I Want You"playing in the background. Of course, yogurt is more favorably seen on the left than cars except hybrids, and Greek style yogurt is definitely not jingoistic. Plus, the Bear not only gets his yogurt but he befuddles the people who've ruined his habitat and makes a fool out of the law. So, I guess they'll give him a pass on this one. although I did see at least one guy complain that he sold out one of his best songs for yogurt. For the record, I've never heard anyone describe "I Want You" as one of his best songs, even on the Blonde on Blonde Album. But...
The Army Times has an interesting article in today's Daily Brief that brought me back to a better time -- well, for me. I was younger, healthier and far more optimistic about the future of the nation and my Army. Now I'm older, broken and beaten down physically, and a bit less optimistic about the whole thing. I was always cynical, but as you age as a cynic, you realize that you can err in lots of ways...people do amazing things, good and bad, important and meaningless. Entropy increases, but no where does it say we have to go along gratefully with that process.
Anyway, the services added reflective belts to PT uniforms a few years ago, and for a variety of reasons, the regulations for the wear of these things have become -- shall we say -- somewhat excessive. If you're running at night or at dawn or at sunset, the reflective belt may let some motorist realize that he's going entirely too fast. If you're in the gym, it's just another thing to get in the way or get in trouble for not having when the gym Nazis decide to exert their authority. The current generation of Army uniforms are supposed to have some reflective qualities by design, but like the old IR defeating capability of the BDUs the Army prefers not to test them in practice. So, on the roads good idea; in periods of bad visibility, good idea; in sunlight, inside or in a freaking swimming pool or something, really stupid idea.
Now, the Air Force has figured this out, and has dropped the requirement to wear the silly things. Fine. But, the Army seems to want to make it even more complicated; the Uniform Regulation, AR670-1 is due for a revision, but that's running late...which makes me think that berets and blues may be on the way out if they can figure out a justification besides "these were a really bad idea..."Anyway, the regulation makes the wear of the things one of those elements that the installation commander has control of..which in reality probably means the CSM -- all of whom by definition are rational, balanced and totally non-egocentric megalomaniacs, it says so in the regulation! -- or maybe the General's wife. Anyway, no problems here. ( I remember bobbing and treading water at the position of "Present Arms" in one of the Fort Clayton swimming pools during Reveille, so of course this is a given...)
That’s right — the fly boys, on Friday, 86’d their reflective belts, at least when it comes to physical training. Service leaders, apparently riding a radical streak, also said airmen can wear black socks and any color of athletic shoe with the PT uniform. While this does not exactly push the boundaries of good order and discipline, soldiers would see such a move as an unauthorized use of common sense. The issue is a running joke among troops who are required to wear this dastardly device whenever in PT gear. Even in broad daylight. Or indoors. Or on a parade field. Or in a swimming pool, one might assume.
Just do a search for “Army reflective belt” and you will be treated to an endless library of memes and satire. Here’s the irony: Army Regulation 670-1 isn’t as rigid on reflective belts as one might think. Its guidance is that commanders determine whether the belt is required. But that policy doesn’t seem to translate very well.Leaders of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea in August said unit leaders would decide whether soldiers needed to wear the belt during physical training. One day later, 8th Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens shot down the new-found freedom. Changes to AR 670-1 are in the works. In fact, they were expected one year ago. But nowhere has there been any indication that reflective belt rules would lessen...
I don't know CSM Devens but I suspect no one bothered to staff this thing with him, and as soon as the division decided to do one thing, he got calls from so many people either wanting the same thing or wondering if this might be a North Korean plot that he decided to simplify things. This is not a big deal, until someone makes it a big deal, and I suspect the CSM was just trying to keep it simple; on the other hand, he is the MACOM Command Sergeant Major so... It is Korea, and I can see some protocol weenie getting uptight because "what will the Koreans think?" if the soldiers aren't uniform in PT gear or some nonsense; maybe the J3 Safety Guy was concerned that without the reflective vests, the Koreans will figure it's ok to run into formations on the roads in villes because...they can't see them?
Here I was a guy who joined the Army out of a sense of duty, a married adult, with kids, a former cop who arrested people for real crimes–never because American citizens weren’t wearing reflective material–being told by some retired military fellow longing for his glory days that I couldn’t get back to the place where I lay my head because I didn’t have a green belt on. Yeah, I know. He was just doing his job. Which is why I nodded my head and rode off without arguing with him. Then it occurred to me that a general officer probably made the dumb reflective belt rule. Someone responsible for an entire division in the most deployed unit in US military history actually made a rule this inane. All the same time, General McChrystal was issuing rules of engagement in Afghanistan that said we couldn’t fire illumination rounds during firefights at night if we thought there was the smallest chance an empty illumination canister could fall on a farmer’s hut. Never mind that we can’t see the enemy that’s shooting at us.
And so as I see it, this is a symptom of why America can’t finish off its modern day wars. Its military is incredibly small minded. We have the brightest, shiniest toys any Soldier could hope for. We just have no idea what we’re doing strategically. As I once said to an analyst buddy of mine in Afghanistan: “Stupid people place equal importance on all things.” (My emphasis)
A long time ago, I was the G3 Training Division Sergeant Major in I Corps at Fort Lewis. Our G3 SGM was James Voyles, known to a lot of soldiers as Ranger Voyles or Pappy. Contrary to rumor, Pappy had notbeen a Ranger since Rogers formed the original regiment -- his Dad had been a Ranger climbing the cliffs at Normandy, and he'd eventually been CSM of 2/75th. Health and politics conspired to get him into G3s in the 80s and he had been the G3 SGM in the 4th Infantry and then in I Corps. He was notorious for telling people in pretty straight forward language what he thought while doing everything he could to take care of any soldier around him who needed anything. I think the soldiers who came up under Pappy Voyles -- officer and enlisted -- got a great education in what wearing the uniform meant. A great soldier and a fine man.
Pappy was a stone cold killer, all 5'5" of him. When I knew him he looked sort of like St Nick without the beard. If you walked in his office, it was "What you want, Ranger Farrell? Sit down, have some of this cake my wife baked for me..."and then he'd teach, coach, train and mentor. Exactly what Senior NCOs were supposed to do. (For the record, I was not a Ranger but if you worked for Voyles, you got called that...regardless of rank. Unless he was trying to pump you up to a superior or about to kill you.)
Now, we went through a run of musical chairs for CGs at Fort Lewis during this time, until they settled on one. This particular General was a Citadel guy which made our HHC Commander who had been a Captain in G3 training before being promoted and who was a great guy and an excellent officer nervous because "he might be one of those Citadel guys" -- which, since Al was a Citadel grad himself was intriguing. When I asked for some more information, he told me that a lot of the older generation of Citadel grads had strange obsessions about things like uniforms.
Anyway, the CG seemed pretty normal. His previous assignments had included a Light Infantry Division Command and Command of the Infantry School so he was very fitness oriented. Healthy stuff appeared in the Corps snack bar, for example. But then, he decided to have HHC I Corps PT which was interesting...we'd done it before, of course, with what amounted to a battalion plus of old farts running around but he wanted us to do this once a month. Fine.
Well, it was Fort Lewis in March; not exactly cold but humid as all hell and the old Champion PT uniforms were soaking up moisture since it was Fort Lewis in March and raining at or near dawn when we fell in. Formed up and took off around the installation -- CG set a good but reasonable pace, and except for the heat it wasn't a bad run. Of course, the uniform had raglan sleeves so you could push them up and a zippered front so you could ventilate it. You could take off the watch cap and carry the gloves using reverse tricks to reduce the heat. And we did...got back to the start and the steam steadily rising from us all made the parade ground even foggier.
We were going through the ritual for ending one of these -- stretching and then falling out -- when the General's driver snuck up to the company commander to tell him that the general wanted to address the troops. Company commander had the First Sergeant form up the company ( Poor Guy --A job I was considered for and dodged gratefully, by the way -- had a couple of brigade HHCs along the way and that was enough of that nonsense!) and the CG took over. Hilarity ensued...
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am appalled. Look around (we were at attention, but what the hell, eh?) what do you see that's wrong? " Well, it was dark and raining with some glimmers in the east so we could kind of see between the fog and steam from our bodies..."None of you are in uniform! When you come out for PT, you will finish in the same uniform you started with, with the zipper of the jacket no lower than 3/4s and the sleeves down' if you start with cap and gloves, you end with cap and gloves! This will be the rule installation wide! When you do PT, you will do it looking like me! Exactly like me! Got it?"
Of course, Pappy was in the Platoon Sergeant's position and I was in the center of the first rank, so he could hear me. "Pappy.." "Shut the &^&*( up Ranger Farell!" "Pappy, when do we get pretty little lime green belts like the General is wearing..." " Shut the (*&*&^( up before you start me laughing, damnit Farrell!" After we were dismissed by the general (Yeah, "Dismissed" not returned to the First Sergeant or the Platoon Sergeants, but what the hell...we understood.), Pappy told me that "As soon as he started talking, I knew I was in trouble and that one of you wise asses was going to jump in with something that would make me laugh. Figured it'd be you..."
Well, it took a while for them to issue belts to everybody, and it didn't happen while I was still being all I could be. But, I'm glad to see that nothing changes really...and I'm sure that there are First Sergeants and Sergeant Majors and W4s and W5s all over the Army chortling about this too... And it was interesting to note that the General in Question and Pappy were inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in the class of 2010.
I yield to no one in my appreciation of the general perversity of human beings in groups. However, looking at things rationally, I tend to come to the Conan Doyle understanding -- when you eliminate the possible, the impossible however improbable is probably true. Hamlet was only half right -- the fault is not with our stars but lives among them!
Earlier in the week many tribesmen fought against the government, following the arrest of the Sunni lawmaker and the dismantling of the protest tents, but when Al Qaeda returned many quickly switched sides. “We don’t want to be like Syria,” said Sheikh Omar al-Asabi, who led a group of fighting men in an area east of Falluja. For many men of Anbar over the last several years, fighting has been a constant, even as the enemy has shifted. “We fought the Americans, and we fought the Maliki army, and now we are fighting Qaeda,” said Firas Mohammed, 28, who is an engineer when he is not at war. “We will not allow any outsider to come here and impose his will on us.” -- NY Times, January 3, 2013
Falluja and Ramadi are the Iraq wars' on-going versions of Stalingrad, Hue and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. These were brutal battles, and while individuals and units of the Marines and the Army covered themselves with glory, they did so at a tremendous cost in blood, treasure, truama and moral authority. There is nothing measured or glorious inherent in battle - but urban conflict and clearing cities of insurgents, aggrieved locals and perceived threats are inevitably brutal, costly and vicious. Anbar province was not so much an al Qaeda issue as a Sunni issue. As the times points out, a third of US casualties in the Iraq war occurred here. Suspicions of US use of tactical nukes, white phosphorous rounds as anti-personnel weapons, and other complaints justified or not indicated that this was a problem area. Then, of course, Anbar province became the home of the Sunni Awakening, the proof that Petraeus was the greatest military genius since Giap and that COIN was the greatest thing since C-rations. Yeah -- it proved that if you gave the Sunnis in Iraq a certain level of autonomy, armed them, bribed their leaders and then let them go about their business, outsiders would have very little sway. Outsiders being broadly defined as Shiites, Qaeda, and anyone else except those bearing gifts of money, weapons and stuff...
One thing we should have learned and that should be mandatory headings on briefing papers and slide shows throughout the high end of the military industrial complex anytime someone decides to do something in the Middle East and Central Asia is a quote from an anonymous British officer briefing a bunch of American officers on the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the resulting unpleasantness during the 90s --" You need to remember that they are all guilty bastards!" That can be the top heading; at the bottom, the legend should quote Egyptian diplomat Tasheen Bashir's quip on the Arab World that " When the chips are down, there is only one real place in the entire area – Egypt. All the rest – forgive me – are tribes with flags. " with a parenthetical sub-text that reads "Who Really Hate Each Other!"
Of course, what's happening in Egypt now should probably make us stop for a second and evaluate the mess more stringently -- frankly, Egypt is pretty much shattering. The less homogeneous Arab states are in absolute turmoil -- Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine. In a March 2013 in Foreign Policy titled Tribes With Flags: How the Arab Spring Has Exposed the Myth of Arab StatehoodAaronDavid Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Institute makes some very interesting arguments that should have been made and listened to ten years ago:
...it may be time to ponder another proposition: In the wake of the Arab Spring, we're witnessing the beginning of the end of another Arab illusion -- the functional and coherent Arab state.
Forget democracies. What's at stake here is basic coherence and governance (My emphasis)
....understand that however empathetic we may want to be, it shouldn't willfully blind us to certain realities either. And perhaps one of the most disturbing is the accelerating trend -- long present in the Arab world -- toward decentralization and weak state control. The political turbulence of the past few years has only deepened this lack of coherence. And it raises serious questions about whether even basic governance is possible...
To move beyond the challenges they now face, Arab states need three things they seem unable to produce.First, they will need leaders willing and able to think and act in truly national terms, transcending their narrow sectarian, corporatist, family, and religious affiliations. Name one leader in any Arab country that fits that description.Second, Arab states need inclusive and legitimate institutions that aren't hostage to political intrigue or playthings of the elites that compete for power. Their primary objective should be representing the nation's citizens -- not the perpetuation of their own perquisites and those of the ruling elite.And third, the Arab world needs a mechanism for negotiating differences and accommodating polarization without it spilling into the streets. As the recent riots in Egypt and the killing of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid show, the alternative to this is violence and murder.
Since March, of course, things have continued to go down hill. The Times article cites the presence of a Hezbollah Office in Anbar, which makes as much since and is about as sensitive to local realities as putting a US Marine Corps recruiting office there. Egypt has been doing its continuous remake of the Battle of Algiers, Syria is looking less like a revolution than a Capone reply from the Chicago of the 20s, and on and on and on. Miller points out that the monarchies seem to be holding their own but the other Arab nations are pretty much bordering between anarchy and...well, different anarchy. He also reminds us that the potent political states in the region are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. It's probably worth pointing out that all three have strong, somewhat dictatorial governments; in Israel's case, the more conservative religious parties have the ascendancy; Turkey is starting to struggle with the conflict between a modernist but Islamic government in a secular state; Iran is dealing with issues related in some ways to the tension between the Persian culture and fundamentalist Shiite approaches to governance and law. ( I'm tempted to go all neo-Marxist on describing the problems the three nations face, but that's for another time. Still, the conflict between secular and religious pressures sure looks like an iteration of thesis/antithesis to me). However, compared to who's running the neighborhood, who's the boss of me sort of issues facing Eygpt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon et al, these are sophisticated problems concerning application of law and governance. The chaotic nations of the Arab world are faced with trying to put out the fires and get the blood off the floor while burying the dead -- when everything is going to hell in a hand basket, is really sucks to run out of baskets.
So, it's reasonable to say that the prognosis is not great for the outbreak of region wide Jeffersonian Democracy. Anbar Province is a particularly nasty reminder of a totally bankrupt -- morally, philosophically and practically -- approach to working our will or the will of any outside agency in the region but it's not unique. It's just louder -- civil wars tend to be noisy. They are also best handled internally. So, before someone decides to head back in to help -- and I'm sure the words Al Qaeda in Iraq will incite all sorts of Republican orgasms of anger and demand for blood and treasure to pour all over Iraq again -- we need to look long, hard and if it seems at all like a good idea, look hard again.
JJ Cale was one of the Delaney and Bonnie and Friends generation of musicians from Oklahoma who wandered out to California, said why do I want to be here when I can be at home, and returned to Oklahoma to produce, direct, and record. He did wander back to California, but stayed out of the spotlight, letting his music speak for him in a quiet, controlled and mesmerizing kind of way, influencing people as diverse as Lynard Skynard, Eric Clapton, John Meyer and Grace Potter. There’s a Cale groove in some of Dylan’s work these days and earlier. He’s not going anywhere, except deeper into the American psyche through other players.
The Times article addressed the problem of Cale as to “why he never became a star.” It’s fairly simple, I think – he didn’t care to do the things needed in the way of promotion and self-aggrandizement that seem necessary. Cale was not a flash of fiery brilliance like Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers that resulted in instant cachet. He was a steady burn, influencing and exciting musicians and discerning audiences in a way that will outlast people who sold more records and made a lot more money.
The article tells a story of Cale’s invitation to be on American Bandstand. He said ok, got his band, climbed in the trucks and cars and drove from Oklahoma to LA. They got there and started to set-up, when the director came over and stopped them, telling them not to plug in their instruments because they were just going to play the record. Cale said something laconic like “Well we know how to play it, it will sound just like the record.” The director said something like, “No, you just need to lip synch it…” Cale said “I’m not going to do that,” and they started packing up the amps and the chords and the pedals and the instruments. Well, being a big corporation by this time, Dick Clark Productions panicked because he was supposed to be on the show and he wasn’t going to be on the show, and they called out the big gun, Mr. Clark. Clark raced downstairs from his offices and said, “J.J., your record will be number 1 after you play American Bandstand.” Cale politely said, “I don’t care about that,” and they drove off.
This illustrates in some ways that other examples might not the second article. The Times publishes articles weekly in a series called “The Stone” where contemporary philosophers reflect on issues of interest to them. This week’s piece by Texas Tech philosopher Costicas Bradatan, In Praise of Failure fits well with the story of JJ Cale. Bradatan indicates that failure is intrinsic to the human experience and that without failure, we would not be fully human and be limited in not only what we become but actually cut off from a lot of what we are.
Bradatan begins by reflecting on the role of failure in philosophy and points out that the philosopher and by extension, the practice of philosophy knows failure “intimately. The history of Western philosophy at least is nothing but a long succession of failures, if productive and fascinating ones. Any major philosopher typically asserts herself by addressing the “failures,” “errors,” “fallacies” or “naiveties” of other philosophers, only to be, in turn, dismissed by others as yet another failure…Failure, it seems is what philosophy thrives on, what keeps it alive. As it were, philosophy succeeds only in so far as it fails.” He then discusses three reasons why failure is significant in our thought, work and lives.
First of all , he says that Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition. When we fail, either dramatically or incrementally, we see the possibility of our own contingence. We really don’t have to be here, and without out our presence this debacle wouldn’t have happened. Contradicting Goethe who indicated that thinking being can’t reflect on the possibility of non-existence,” the experience of failure tells us that we really contingent on a lot of things –
Self-deceived as we are, we forget how close to not being we always are. The failure of, say, a plane engine could be more than enough to put an end to everything; even a falling rock or a car’s faulty brakes can do the job. And while it may not be always fatal, failure always carries with it a certain degree of existential threat.
Now, Sartre would respond that this is what makes existence nauseating, but Bradatan has a totally different perspective – while failure is the “eruption of nothingness into the midst of existence” we should see it as an indication that we are simply by existing a miracle. There is nothing pre-ordained about our presence. We are free to do that which we want in all areas because we really don’t have to be here at all.
In fact, Bradatan reflects that failure can be therapeutic – if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that we’re not the center of the universe, and that we’re just all bozos on this bus of existence. While he brackets the “most self-aware or enlightened” we are all if not poorly, sub-optimally adjusted to the reality we encounter every day. Failure might be a window into a different, more properly grounded future.
I find that somewhat optimistic. We are so overwhelmed with choice that the realization that what we’ve just done was a really bad idea doesn’t necessarily lead to us not doing that again. Education, awareness and technology allow us to keep making the same mistake again, blissfully assuming that the outcome will be different this time because, well, we’re different. We aren’t the problem – reality is. Our ability to ignore reality, to misunderstand it, to deny it gets us back into the mess we were originally crawling out of.
The next reason that he sees failure as philosophically significant is that “Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are.” Our ability to create rests on there being holes in what could be that we fill with our efforts. Some succeed, some fail but that’s due to our nature as evolving, imperfect and incomplete creatures. We are necessary as a species in so far as there is a need for continued motion; if perfection is achieved, then we’re not really necessary anymore. It’s in the gap between where we are – as individuals, as societies, as a species – and where we want to be and where we need to be that the possibility of the better exists. Steve Earle says it exceptionally well in his song, “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” when he sings
Last night I dreamed I made it to the promised land
I was standing’ at the gate and I had the key in my hand
St Peter said, “Come on in Boy, you’re finally home”
I said “No thanks Pete, I’ll just be moving along.
Citing More’s Utopia as a reaction to what’s wrong as opposed to a blueprint for an ideal society, he goes on to say that the dreams of perfection are what keep us going. If we fail to seek something better, we will become victims of our own success. Should we achieve perfection and have nothing greater to strive for, well, as he says, “we may be something interesting but I am not sure we will have what to live for…virtually perfect and essentially dead.” Bradatan indicates that our ability to fail lies at the possibility of any achievement because if we couldn’t fail, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Failure doesn’t just imply lack; it points to potential.
Finally, Bradatan says that “We are designed to fail.” This insight is really fundamental to the Western Philosophical and Religious tradition, although most of us might not initially see it that way. Our bodies, minds, energy and organs will all wear out someday. The essential question is not whether or not we’re going to die, but rather how to live with that in mind. He uses the model of The Seventh Seal where Bergman’s Knight is faced with Death in the guise of a man and challenges Death to a chess match. Death has nothing to lose because he will inevitably win, but the Knight knows that too. He’s not concerned about victory, he’s concerned about how he is going to lose. He is politely and resolutely refusing to go quietly into the good night. As Bradatan says, “He not only turns failure into an art, but manages to make the art of failing an intimate part of the art of living.”
One thought might be a full-employment for Congress act, requiring that while in Washington no time be spent on fund-raising and that no pay be allocated for Congress when not in session. There's more than enough work to be done. Why aren't they doing it? Well, doing the things that need to be done would require some sacrifice of comfort, security and wealth on their part. The Financial-Military-Industrial Complex gets snippy when its interests are at stake.
Yeah. Tell that the men and women beneath the tombstones and snow at Arlington. I'm sure they'll understand.
Just finished Robert Hilburn's Johnny Cash -- The Life. Still thinking about it, but there seems to be a theme to his life -- he had the ability to hit peaks of accomplishment, and then would risk it over silliness, again and again and again. I can relate because his addiction was both part of the risk and he fooled himself with it. But, turns out June had some addiction problems as does his son and most of the people around him. No fairy tales here -- talented man with a lot of integrity but definite feet of clay, at least up to mid-calf... I'd heard before of how there were two Johnny Cash personalities -- JR when he was right with himself and Cash when he wasn't it. Seems like a waltz. And, he was incredibly sick at the end -- Parkinson's , broken jaw that was not fixed properly, arthritis, diabetes, and you name it, family dying around him and the fear of being irrelevant... So, that makes his work with Rubin even more amazing...guy had a wicked sense of humor when he was right...but when he was in the throes of his addiction, he was pretty well screwed up as a human being. So, I'd recommend it, but with the proviso that you have some of his music handy to soundtrack it and get perspective. He also seems closer to Dylan than I had realized -- seems that since they were both such strong introverts, they'd get together and play a little but not talk too much...could have stood more from people like Kris Kristofferson, Rodney Crowell. Nice pieces from Marty Stuart, the family, and so on. I always thought Larry Gatlin was a Houston artist, but appears the first time John heard him was at his local church when he went with June and then between the despair, the singing and the companionship, he once again answered an altar call. The secret to understanding Johnny Cash seems simple -- see the good, accept the bad and evaluate as opposed to judge. Of course, if you were having to deal with doped up crazy Cash, that was hard to do. Lots of people did it well, like Billy Graham and Kristofferson because they weren't there all the time. Cash was very vulnerable to emotional judo; and, some people got more out of him artistically and professionally than others. Hilburn indicates and cites examples of Cash saying that the first producer he really trusted after Sam Phillips and Cowboy Bill Clemens was Rick Rubin...30 plus years after leaving SUN. Go figure...
Christmas Time With Some Spirit --- Sheri Miller and Neko Case
I discovered Sheri Miller a few years ago largely by accident, and have never been sorry for it. Sheri is an exceptionally talented young singer-songwriter and has been growing in popularity and impact since the release of her first album. Anyway, one of the songs she had out on YouTube was a Christmas piece that really spoke to me and a lot of other people. However, it wasn't really in line with what she was doing on her CDs really -- she's not happy, happy, happy like some artists her age, but she's not a despairing female goth trying to channel NICO from Velvet Underground or Leonard Cohen's feminine side either. I've written about it before and encouraged her to publish it more formally, and she's gotten around to doing it, which is an excellent thing, and is giving away downloads of Merry-Christmas (Jesus it's been a helluva year!) and Diamond Christmas here. Visit, tell her what you think and tell her I sent her...or not. But, download the music. The one that I've done everything but beg or bribe her to release is Merry Christmas (Jesus it's been a Helluva Year.) Here's the You Tub Version) --and some other stuff. She's great, and will be around for a while...her last album included a session with Steve Cropper of STAX and Booker T. and the MGs fame, and Cropper is notorious for not wasting his time ....She's also willing to do a lot for her music, as Mantra's sel-inflcited semi-drowning attests...
And then there's Neko Case. Ms. Case is the exceptionally talented, fellow-NW self-exile that I've occasionally written about but follow closely because of her excessive talent, interesting story and odd take on life, love and the baseball game. She's an incredible singer, good guitarist and an exceptional songwriter. I suspect that at some point she'll write something other than lyrics, and when she does, I intend to pre-order it where ever she sells it. She's fascinated by history -- ask her to tell you how she feels about George Armstrong Custer, for example, and she'll cite a list of things making him obnoxious and vastly overrated that most professional soldiers and objective historians can sign on to without hesitation. I follow her on Twitter, and she's got a someone rough attitude toward Christmas celebrations. I think it's a combination of sad memories combined with no longer wanting to endure the ShoppingPorn and general absurdity of the season. I think that's sad because she's entirely too beautiful in body, soul, heart and mind to be that bitter. That doesn't, however, make her wrong. If anything, probably makes her more right than not...Anyway, she covered a Tom Waits classic a couple of years ago, and I discovered it by accident, trolling You Tube for something else entirely, and fell in love with it. In it's own way, it expresses what Christmas should be about, even though we lose sight of that in contemporary culture.
And then there's some kind of reality.The House-Senate Conference Committee appears to have reached a compromise that both sides will hate but will at least keep us from Son of Shutdown until after the mid-terms. As most Progressives and Republicans will be pissed off by it, I suspect it can pass but only as everyone holds their noses. Well, at least it will make them actually do something over the next 10 months or so besides cry about the budget. Maybe they'll actually do something in the House besides vote to repeal Obama care!
I blame the vain for what we wear And I blame the blind when we can't see I blame it all on someone else 'Til there's nobody left, then I just blame me
I blame her mind for the thoughts we share Whoa, and I blame her heart for the time we cared I blame it all on how we used to be 'Til she's finally gone, then I'll just blame me
So go ahead and blame Anything that you want 'Cause it all ends up the same When everything that you've been claiming is wrong
Oh, and don't you know that blame Is always never enough It just keeps you in the game 'Til you've only got yourself left to bluff
So I blame the vain for what we wear Yeah, and I'll blame the blind when we can't see I'll blame it all on someone else 'Til there's nobody left, then I'll just blame me 'Til she's finally gone, then I just blame me
The above referenced piece is from a presentation by Larry Smith a Canadian economist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. It's a lot of things, but what I primarily found it to be was sort of self-affirming, if you can find a negative, arrogant, hopeless negative-inspirational talk about career, jobs, life and the likelihood of complete and other failure positively exciting and self-affirming.
The thing is, most motivational speeches are absurdly self delusional and positive to the point of nausea. Interestingly, most self-talk is either that or totally enervating and hopeless. We bounce back and forth between ecstasy and despair like deranged gerbils in a maze. This mirrors a lot of negative self-talk and says basically face facts and ignore your tendency to make excuses. As Smith says early in the piece, "I'm an economist, I do dismal..."
I've been in a lot of conversations -- internal, external, overheard, playing a role -- that mirror some of the ideas in this piece and wish I'd had the wisdom to say, "What the hell am I/you/they talking about." Still, there are some things to be conscious of that I took from the piece.
"If you want a good career, you'll fail because all the good careers are gone. There are great careers and then there are awful soulsucking, high stress low rewards hate you life careers. There are very few great careers and there are a lot of really awful careers, and then there are a very few in between." A lot of current research in career management indicate that most folks will have multiple careers in their lifetimes. Why the change? Reality intrudes' mistakes were made; you get old; you have kids. Don't expect to validate yourself with a job. Look for that in other places. If you are happy and enjoy what you do to make a living, you're lucky. If not, you can decide not to make it a curse.
"Do you want to look at your spouse and kid for the rest of your life and see your jailer..." This is sort of the Terry Malloy dilemma. You remember Terry, the Brando role in On the Waterfront. "I could have been a contender but..." and someone else is at fault. I'd be happy if I'd never met you, if I never had you, if I never did X, Y, and Z. You know, that reminds me of a line from an old Lewis Black routine from I think Bush's first term. He was sitting in his health club, the local "I-Hop" and overheard a pair of young women talking when he heard the oddest and craziest and dumbest statement he every heard, "If is wasn't for my horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college." It drove him crazy when he heard it and he still has flashbacks...what can that mean? Well, poor horse. Well, we've all heard that comment or it's equivalent.. Many of us have had to escape it... My wife, for example. She heard it from her mother for 30 years; she's been gone from her home for 40 years and her mother's been dead for 20 but she still hear's it in her head. And, if anything goes wrong in the world, it's obviously her fault. Well, it's not. Blaming herefor my problems, of which there are a few, is absurd and I don't; but I blame other things. We all do -- if we are radically honest with ourselves, there are things done by chance and there are things done by other people but most of our problems are a result of our own bad choices. It's called existential freedom. Live with it; you may be as miserable as you are now, but you know, you'll spread less misery and maybe even feel better.
So, watch it, and let me know what you think. Better yet, let yourself know what you think.
After a day of reading, responding to comments wanting to know if my blog mentor and favorite Zimbabweian Food Expert Crispin Sartwell was some kinda outside Jew Agitator because I recommended his work at Veterans Today, we were hungry. Cupboard was generally bare. Even bear would probably have sufficed but...not really. So, not caring for IHOP and wanting eggs for dinner, we ended up at Denny's in Lenwood, the upscale retail area of this awful place. It's a Overstock Mall...with some national restaurants.
While there I heard a criticism of Barstow that I need to respond to. Guy came in -- huge guy as tall as wide and he was wide-- and wanted to know if they had liver and onions on the menu. Hearing no, he was upset. He had left wherever he was this morning and thinking of his mother, he wanted LIVER AND ONIONS. Waitress -- a prison-tatooed Harley rider named PennyPam or something like that -- suggested he go to Chillis...yeah. (Guess she's never been there -- in about 100 yards away.)
The crowd Chillis markets to is definitely made up of people who might want liver and onions if and only if the alternate is live puppy and kitten flambe. Guy decided to go to Victorville and find it there...now, the idea that Barstow is restaurant, cuisine, culture, economically and educationally deprived is one I endorse, defend and publicly advocate. But, the not having a restaurant in town that has liver and onions on the menu is a plus, as far as I'm concerned. For centuries, children have been forced to eat organ meat -- liver, kidney, tongue, lungs, testicles --because their parents had had to eat it and what they had to do as kids was what they inflicted on their children.
But, we Boomers and our spiritual heirs in GenX have refused to force that crap down the throats of children...and soon, no one will eat organ meat unless in some exotic restaurant or when so old they know longer know what they're doing. We have fucked up a lot of things in our time -- but by the God that I don't believe in, that's one thing we got right.
Of course, things like Chicken nuggets are made from organ meat, skin and anything else lying around the factory floor, but at least it doesn't taste like liver, kidneys, testicles, tongue or lungs. It tastes like battered library paste...
I originally posted this over at Crispin's place and am putting it here in case somebody reads this site still. Crispin and I disagree about a number of things, people, trends and so on. I thought his advocacy of argyle underwear matching your socks was a bit off, and he has always mocked my preference for Gibson guitars over Silvertone instruments made and marketed by Sears in the 60s. Anyway, one of those things that we disagree on is Bob Dylan.Crispy admits he doesn't get Dylan and he doesn't like Dylan and he doesn't get people who like Dylan and he wishes Dylan would just go away and die. I have a different perspective.
I'm a few years older than Crispin and I remember discovering him as a road to something else...he doesn't really want to be an anything to anybody, but he is still best summed up with his line in Don't Look Back. "They called me an anarchist, man...give the anarchist a cigarette..."
I get why Dylan makes people like Crispin crazy. At his base, Crispin is a very grounded type of thinker and human being. Fundamentally, Dylan calls into question the entire purpose of being grounded. This new official video of "Like a Rolling Stone" seems based in that. If you don't like the video you're looking at or are curious about other views, well, change the channel. But ultimately, it's all the same...ungrounded, full of angst, confusion and possibility. (Although Drew Carey lipsyncing along while doing The Price is Right is a shattering metaphor in some ways...and bizarre in others.)
Dylan obviously didn't do this project by himself. But, he's been pretty fierce about artistic control of his music and his vision. (The way Al Cooper's organ got into the original was based on Dylan's demand to turn up the organ, saying "I'll say who's a keyboard player" to an apologetic and slightly irritated producer.) So, he had a lot of control of the vision and I'm sure had to approve the execution. This is what Dylan is at his best -- challenging us to push through the doors of perception not to ecstasy but to acceptance and maybe a bit of tea and sympathy...he makes other musicians better, he makes other writers better and he makes other thinkers better. Him, he's still on the road, headed toward another choice, challengng us to feel the same but see it from some other point of view...
Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts. The American civil war's General Sherman once said that "war is hell", but unfortunately today's politicians in Britain use past wars to bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good...Still, this year I shall wear the poppy as I have done for many years. I wear it because I am from that last generation who remember a war that encompassed the entire world... But most importantly, I wear the poppy to commemorate those of my childhood friends and comrades who did not survive the second world war and those who came home physically and emotionally wounded from horrific battles that no poet or journalist could describe...However, I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy.Harry Leslie Smith, The Guardian, 8-11-2013
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. -- John McCrae, Colonel, Royal Canadian Army
My Orange County Systems Administrator friend Conrad is currently sitting in a waiting room with his laptop, waiting for his Vietnam Vet friend Bob to leave the MRI and was wondering what happens when you do a MRI on someone whose body is full of shrapnel. The responses on Facebook including my own were basically "nothing good" and best wishes to Bob. Conrad also sent a link to this piece with the comment that "This has heart." It does, heart and mind and guts and sinew...
The British experience in the last 13 years is almost as miserable as our own, and in some ways, more so. My intellectual hero Jerry Harvey wrote an article "Organizations as Phrog Farms" once pointing out that it's better to be raped than seduced because if seduced, you are equally at fault, you conspired against yourself. If raped, you're innocent. Well that is probably insensitive, but there's a lot of truth to the observation as part of organizational dynamics if nothing else. And, in a case that models Plato's Republic to a certain extent, by looking at the organization, we look at ourselves as well as the larger world. The whole Iraq-Afghanistan-BombIran meme of the past 13 years has been a case of governments seducing nation states into being Phrog Farms. The first step in shedding the frog skin is to say loudly that THIS IS WRONG AND I AM NOT GOING TO BE PART OF IT ANYMORE.
In his article, Harvey points out that we have a choice, we can become Phrogs or refuse to go along. Most of us, at one time or another, are Phrogs. (It's called Phrog as opposed to Frog because Phrogs don't want to know that they are frogs. Read the article. You may laugh a lot, and you might cry when you contemplate your fate.) Harvey points out through a number of hypotheses that all organizations exist to do two things -- make stuff and turn people into Phfrogs. As you become more the company man, the organization man, the party man, the "my country is never wrong so my country right or wrong" patriot, the unthinking apparatchik of left or right, you become more of a Phrog. Ultimately, at your apotheosis of Phrogdom, you vocabulary shrinks to one word -- Ribbit. Doesn't mean anything so communication is a problem but it makes acquiescence universal. (Hooah, Hoorah and Hurrah can all be misused this way, but tone helps interpreting these.)
Harry Leslie Smith is 91 years old. He lived through his teens during the Great Depression which in working class England was worse than here, served with the the RAF in WWII and has worked for causes of economic, social and political justice since. He's still going at it, in the way that certain breeds of intellectual activists and autodidacts have demonstrated over the centuries. Eric Hoffer, Daniel Berrigan and Lord Russell all come to mind here as do Socrates and Thomas More. Anyway, he left Britain, moved to Canada, had a very successful business career and then returned to Britain to write, think, reflect and probably be a total pain in the ass to the comfortable and unafflicted. More power to him, and to the people who are like him...and, those of us struggling to escape the Phrog farms. Or, learn to speak Phrog, follow Fox News and the View and the TV Guide.
I disagree with a lot of my colleagues here about a lot of things, but we all tend to be actively working at not being Phrogs. Harry Lewis Smith is frankly my newest hero...no Phrog he, but a guy who understands.
Don't sell out those left behind, don't sell out those fighting against organizational, political or national stupidity. When confronted with stupidity, and the last 13 years of it have been rife with it, don't fail to call the question. Or, let me hear you say RIBBIT.
As Harry says so well and thus gets the last word:
For many of you 1914 probably seems like a long time ago but I'll be 91 next year, so it feels recent. Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second. Next year, I won't wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn't be left to die on the battleground of modern life.