The problem with the world today is that the smart people are full of doubt and the stupid people are full of confidence --Bukowski
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? -- Willy Yeats
Ah well, what the hell...there is this...
No one is ever going to elect me to public office. First of all I wouldn't run and secondly, if I won, I'd demand a recount. And then defect to New Zealand. I think I'd be a great philosopher-king, but I couldn't put up with the continual salesmanship and bombast that our current situation demands. Although I think a lot of the folks who comment here and some of our writers could benefit from a few deep breathes, some relaxation exercises, and maybe a nice cold drink to calm down, Veterans Today isn't anywhere near as loony as lot of the right wing stuff we're seeing.
I think our editorial positions on a lot of stuff -- most things -- are "This is all screwed up and why can't anyone fix it?" I suspect for a lot of us -- left, right, center, floating above the fray somewhere -- are channeling St Ross of Perot and his rather simple "Don't ignore the crazy aunt in the basement...if the car doesn't work, you lift up the hood and you fix it!" Ross and Jimmy Carter were both Rickover boys in the nascent Nuclear Navy, and they brought an engineering approach to everything. Rational people with rational ideas who, despite differing ideological views, believe that with common sense, honesty and good faith you can accomplish a lot.
Which sadly, doesn't work a lot of the time in the world of government. Especially now, since engineering is based on scientific principles in a way that social science and things like politics and governance and economics are not. So just because there's evidence to support something doesn't mean we have a way to implement it. If you doubt that, I refer you to the last 3 and probably the next three Congresses. Like many observers and many economists, I keep waiting for the confidence fairy to appear and get us back to full employment, high 401Ks and a booming economy. I don't think it's going to happen, and there's some reason to think that the current stock market dip is a sign of another rough ride.
So, ISIL is either below the fold of newspapers or not the lead article on sights anymore. Rachel Maddow was primarily about Ebola last night; Shep Smith over at Fox has been forthcoming and honest in his coverage. This is a complicated problem and
who the hell knows what we're going to see happen in the world. What we're not going to see, in all likelihood, is a pandemic in the United States. But, the usual suspects can hope...and claim there is one. And it's obviously Obama's fault, and the Democrats and the women and the Gays and...no, not really.
What we're arguing about is policy and that hasn't got a lot to do with the disease. For example, the Republicans, especially John "Why do we have all these Czars in the Obama Administration?" McCain demand that there be a Czar so there will be somebody in charge. Fine. Constitutionally, the Surgeon General of the United States, a Cabinet-level appointee is in charge at the direction of the President. We just don't have one. I seem to recall that one of the Bush appointees ultimately indicated that he wasn't so sure about the germ theory of disease, but that may be me oversimplifying again. Since the position has been vacant since 2013, we've had a nominee, Doctor Vitkek Murthy since late last year.
Yeah, we have a nominee, a physician with the usual long list of credentials, Yale Medicine and Business Schools, successful entrepreneur, attending physician and an instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. He hasn't been confirmed because the NRA threatened to score the vote on his nomination because he would like to see more laws and regulations for guns in this country. Given the number of people killed by guns in the US and the damn near universal agreement in public health circles about some additional restrictions being a good idea, a public health expert and scientist who adopted any other position would probably also believe that the sun and planets revolve around the earth and the earth is flat...all those satellite photos being faked.
We don't know what Solomon would have done had neither claimant not opposed cutting the baby in half, but the point of the story was that the wise king knew that the real mother would do anything to save her child. President Obama would seem to be so wedded to some concept of rational discourse and fairness that faced with the same situation, he might still have the baby cut in half. Regardless, the solution here is simple -- if Doctor Murthy still wants to be Surgeon General, make him the damned Ebola Czar and then let him have authority over the empire of the Surgeon General in order to find a solution. Instead, they appoint Ron Klain, a somewhat anonymous White House and Democratic operative. What the hell are they thinking?
Well, I don't know. Most Czars have damn little to do with the problem they're appointed to fix and the one's who do the best jobs seem to be the one's who are highly capable executives and leaders. Murthy is more of a technocratic operator but has some leadership success and does understand public health really well. Klain is a government technocrat who's been chief of staff to two vice presidents, Gore and Biden. The theory here was that he's the guy who can integrate the government response and coordinate all the agencies that will be involved. Unfortunately, most of the agencies doing things will be health care related, and I suspect a lot of the "stuff" of getting this controlled will be pretty highly technical. While I'm sure he's a competent guy, if the Administration didn't know this was going to excite those who thrive on panic and despair and hatred, they're even less situationally aware than I already think they are. When you're being chomped by alligators and nibbled by ducks, you don't need more damn gators or ducks.
Back in 2005, a group of friends and I started The Defeatists. Our basic approach was that defeat and disaster was inevitable so approach it with that in mind. I think we were being satirical, although at times I wonder.
Anyway, I think the correct response to this nonsense by the President and Vice President is to invite John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to the White House, offer them some Merlot or some Wild Turkey, and then hand to the two Republican leaders their resignations.
Then leave the room. Have Chief Justice Roberts dragged in and tell them to wait. Give them a half hour to think of what they want to propose as an alternative.
(To be continued)
As I suspect a lot of us are experiencing, some of my closest friends like Bob Redford and Babs Striesland are convincved the world is going to end tomorrow or on election day or whenever the next planeload of homosexual-lesbian-Ebola-Carrier-Central-American-ISIL supported Islamo-Narco-Fiat Money-Bums lands in McAllen Texas and heads north to steal our precious body fluids. Or, perhaps when the next set of Troglodyte-Fascist-1%-Libertarian-Anti-school-Lunch-pro-gun-Creationist-Koch-Soul-Brother-Malefactors (of great wealth) enter Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court. Or, on Election Day. And only a vote for Jean Shaheen or that Iowan Pig Castrator, for Bernie Sanders' or Ted Cruz's favorite can save us so SEND US ALL YOUR MONEY.
Citizens United --One of the obvious unintended consequences, because I don't think the Conservative Cabal on the Court is that ironically subtle, of Citizens United is that Americans are getting more and more irritated with politics in general and election politics in specific. It's really a sad commentary -- the people doing this or allowing it to be done in their name are then going to have to have a complete psychological and spiritual makeover in order to not be totally incapable of working for the good of the nation or people or world through debate, discussion, imagination and compromise. There are Think Tanks and Special Interests to serve, because the next election is coming...and it starts all over again.
When I saw the Ted Toles cartoon, I realized that he'd nailed the situation in this country for those of us over 40, who grew up on 5:00 PM and Saturday Morning cartoons. I suspect that I'm not the only one who realizes that while much of my thinking might be influenced by priests and nuns, the Founding Fathers, St Augustine, Aristotle and Kierkegaard, Kennedy's Inaugural and Assassination, Vietnam and Watergate, the real drivers of my education were Bugs, and Daffy, and Foghorn Leghorn, and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Popeye and Alice the Goon. However, the real existential fifth columnist was the Road Runner and his ceaseless Sisyphean encounters with his stalker, the Wiley Coyote. What can I say -- the great cartoonists of the mid-2oth Century were literate social commentators who wrote for an audience far more sophisticated than the one today.
And so it goes; we are now faced with a set of situations that require cool thinking, steely determination and self-sacrifice with a more than a little bit of compassion and a combination of life experience and education that was pretty normal then, and is really lacking today. We have politicians instead of statesmen, who are like the Coyote, trying to bag that damned Coyote with the same level of tools, thought and commitment. We have presidents, candidates, and congressional delegations that flit around from idea to idea, problem to problem, issue to issue with the same causal negligence of the road runner. We have "leaders" from the school of Foghorn Leghorn and Fearless Leader; policy wonks like Henry the Chickenhawk and Wimpy; volunteer saviors who resemble Bullwinkle and Dudley Doright, Nell and Clementine. Texas is governed by Quick Draw McGraw who figures that he can go to a marvelous hospital and get marvelous treatment so of course, everybody can because they can all pay for it...yeah. We have a "war hero" Ghost who's response to international problems is the same as Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent -- MORE MOREMOREMORE BPMBS! Jesus could look down over the hill on this new Jerusalem and be torn, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
If I were Barrack Obama, I'd feel justified in asking God what the hell I'd ever done to him that merited this whirlwind of insanity. I think that smart, thoughtful presidents in the 21st Century aare at an awful disadvantage politically, and have been really since the Kennedy assassination. The guy is trying to do good things, but the world doesn't cooperate. It can't -- it's the world and consists of a lot of insane people with guns, money, lawyers, ski masks and a mass of contradictory hidden agendas and open manifestos. In some ways, ISIL is a nice change -- they don't have a secret agenda, they're pretty open. They don't report to the same God that most of us recognize in the 21st Century. A couple of Islamic friends from Teheran have told me that they regard ISIL as not Islamic but Satanist. I think that's a reasonable approach, not unlike the Pope condemning violence in the name of God. However, the fact remains that both Christianity and Islam grew by force, so there's at least a historical connection. The Crusaders killed more innocents in taking Jerusalem than the Romans did in razing it in 78AD or so. Still, they may call him Allah, but I think they worship Cthulhu or some other very dark overlord with a completely different agenda.
This is a good place to mention empire. We don't want an empire and yet history has handed us one. We really don't want to be bothered with the damn thing. Seriously, we'd like to say, we already have too many creatures in our petting zoo, go off and play with Canada or somebody else. Of course, Canada doesn't want an empire either. However, my buddy and occasional co-conspirator Eric Garland has a great piece up on the problem of denying empire in a situation that really makes empires make sense. It's laudable in some ways while hypocritical in others, denying the desire to run thingsto avoid taking responsibility, but then when everything goes to hell, we find ourselves going in to unscrew everything and then rebuild it. Since we planned on leaving Iraq and Afghanistan from the beginning, we didn't pay a lot of attention to making the places livable and functional. Oh, we spent money, and KBR, Haliburton and every other contractor swine in the world made money on it. Cheney made money on it, although nobody likes to talk about that. The Bush family through the Carlisle Group made money on it. Problem is, the money they made came from us and future generations of us. We can't even loot effectively in this silly model.
Eric is pretty clear; doing things in a half-assed way produces a half-assed result. The West needs to man up and decide what it wants to be when it grows up, and empires have been the solution since ancient Egypt and the freaking Sumerians. As a species we got pretty good at it, and what we're doing now doesn't work. Eric sums it up very nicely...
There is, unsurprisingly, zero endgame in sight and zero reckoning with past policies, such as, “Hey, maybe those moderate rebels we armed weren’t so moderate!” or “We are pretty terrible at establishing peaceful nation-states in the Middle East!” Still, we are headed back to destroy the thing that emerged after the last thing we destroyed. The tactics that are currently approved are airstrikes, meaning that once again we intend to destroy things, but building things will be beyond our purview – for now. One supposes that the preferred strategic outcome would be for stable, liberal, Western-style democratic nation-states to emerge in the places where our bombs just fell, (Jeffersonian Democracy anyway? Hamiltonian Federalism? The Third French Republic? )but the national security is far from broaching the particulars of our plan. I have a solution to offer which is out of the current Overton Window of political discourse: Empire...Today, America and its allies are really trying to do Empire on the cheap. There is no dirtier epithet in Washington than “isolationist,” which applies to all elected officials and policy-makers who are hesitant about invading other people’s countries. There is a broad consensus from Maine to San Diego that America’s interests clearly extend from our main streets all the way to the middle of Eurasia....And when they fail, as they usually will given such a design, we will be right back to bombing the newest bad guys. We essentially crave the geopolitical control that comes from Empire, but we skip the step where we keep the infrastructure working and provide security...Again, this has fallen outside of the window of political correctness, but someone needs to do a cost benefit analysis of how much it would cost to just run one of these countries, administer police, courts, roads, and hospitals and just call it East Texas, as opposed to spending thirteen years knocking down power structures and hoping for a suitable, friendly power to emerge. Surely the Rand Corporation can make a detailed model of the cost of running wars versus the cost of running countries. (Parentheticals and emphasis are mine.)
(To be continued)
I've been getting more and more frustrated with the silliness in the national media about the Syria-Iraq-ISIL kerfuffle. There are plenty of random issues abounding of course -- nice to hear that Israel claims to have shot down a Syrian fighter for some reason besides they can. Seems that Bibi really can't stand the news from the region to be all about him and his macho government. Certainly makes you long for the days when Israel had adult leadership.
I'm not interested in the argument about the Islamic State being a false flag operation; a False Flag needs to be part of some truth's bodyguard of lies and I don't see it in this case. Be that as it may, we have some serious issues popping up, and it's getting harder and harder as a citizen to take our government seriously. That's a dangerous place to be, by the way.
We have a guy jump the fence at the White House and sprint across the lawn and through an open door where he's stopped. He's tracked the whole way by snipers and who knows what else, and they make a judgment call not to waste him. In other words, the White House Cops show reasonable restraint and use necessary force to subdue, capture and detain. Exactly what they are supposed to do. Building isn't on fire, no blood on the floor, nobody's dead --sounds like a successful mission to me.
However, to listen to the bleating, this shows the weakness of the Secret Service, the Civil Service and for all I know, the State Dining Room Service.
If instead of the President this was Pope Francis, he'd have already visited the guy in jail and forgiven him. Instead, lots of dithering abounds and the search for blame continues. Oh, the guy was carrying a folding knife with a three inch blade. Most soldiers, sailor, marines and airmen carry a folding knife or a Leatherman tool a good deal of the time. It's standard stuff that goes in the pockets -- wallet, keys, change, cellphone, knife. Did they think he was going to suddenly burst into the door and pull out a three-inch folder to take on people with guns?
OK, moving on. This is somehow part of the larger story of the failure to adequately deal with ISIL. Or something. The guy in DC was a PTSD-affected sniper from Iraq so obviously it's Obama's fault that he's screwed up...which leads to further discussion of the failure of the Congress to actually do anything in it's oversight role except to kind of rubber stamp the President's actions on ISIL. Now, in fairness the Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddows of the world would be as upset if the President was a Republican. Certainly, the congress has been AWOL on its responsibilities on matters of National Defense. But, it's an election year; if it's not an election year, next year will be an election year. It's never a convenient time politically to step up and do what they're supposed to do - Intelligently debate, argue, compromise and respond to the White House's action and recommendations
. It would be in character for the House to demand cuts to social programs to pay for "Son of Iraq's Son War Part II" but they were in a hurry. Money to raise, babies to kiss, media figures to bribe...our congresscritters are busy beavers and can't really be bothered to do what we've elected them to do because they have to campaign for re-election to do what we elect them to do, which they won't. Somewhere, Madison, Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton have said "Screw it!" and are off chasing babes and sucking down rum punch and ale to forget the whole disaster.
Then we have the strategy. "The American people are unwilling to have boots on the ground!" The American people are sick to death of doing stupid stuff, and we know that strategic bombing doesn't work. When John- Lindsay- Graham-McCain-Wolfowitz-Bolton start babbling I tend to ignore it. But, when people like Colin Powell and Jack Jacobs start saying it, I listen. I also am not a great fan of air power as solving all the problems and never have been.I don't think anyone has been since Goering and Curtis LeMay. So, the president keeps saying no boots on the ground; the American people support the policy, want US intervention, but don't think it will do any good. Why? Because no boots on the ground...but the American people want no boots on the ground. Hell.
So, the plan is to arm the Vetted-Syrian Rebels. OK, that should be easy. We can dispatch McCain and Graham and W to look in their eyes and see their souls...seriously. This is a debacle awaiting a plan so it can be really screwed up. At present, our arming the rebels isn't working -- the Covert Military Industrial Complex at it's best. According to FP, all aid has been channeled through something called the Military Operations Committee or "MOC" that seems to be largely there for stamping pieces of paper and counting toilet paper. For example:
"There are now 10 groups fighting north of Aleppo, near the town of Mare, but the U.S. and its allies “offered very little ammunition support, no information, no air cover, and no collaboration in military plans and tactics – nothing,” said Col. Hassan Hamadi, who defected from the Syrian army and now heads the newly formed umbrella group Legion 5. “I’ve gotten a little ammunition, but I don’t have enough to continue our presence at the front line,” said Col. Jemil Radoon, a defected Syrian army officer who dispatched 55 fighters from his Sukhur al Ghab brigade to join battle with the Islamic State. Like others among the dozen or so rebel commanders who’ve been approved to receive covert U.S. aid, Radoon and Hamadi visit this Turkish border town regularly to seek support from CIA officials and representatives of other nations that staff the Military Operations Center here.“Our problem with them,” Radoon said of the MOC, as it’s known, is that it “walks like a turtle, and things on the ground go like a rabbit.”
...The commanders bitterly criticized the Military Operations Center, saying it plays no part in coordinating rebel forces but instead operates as a service bureau for commanders who arrive with plans in hand. Even after the Islamic State captured Mosul in early June and swept through northern Iraq and then Syria, the MOC did not attempt to organize a joint offensive against the extremists, using the thousands of rebel troops benefiting from the aid it distributes in Syria, commanders said.
The MOC did not even ask the advice of commanders, said Capt. Ma’amun al Swed, the commander of the Haq Front. Those running the operation “asked us about the existence of Daash and its spread, but didn’t say we were going to work against it,” he said, using the pejorative Arabic nickname for the Islamic State...Commanders said it was clear to them that the MOC wasn’t designed to conduct military operations. It’s staffed by representatives of the CIA and of the major countries backing the rebels, but it has never held a joint meeting of rebel groups.
“The persons we deal with are employees,” Radoon said. “They are responsible for reporting our opinions and our ideas, but they are not the ones who will make the decisions. The decisions are in the hands of the White House.”The commanders said they don’t know what to expect. “We don’t know what is in their heads,” said Hamadi. “It seems that there is a timetable, and at this time it is not in their interests to put an end to the Syrian crisis. They don’t take the lead. I don’t know what their strategy is.” (Emphasis added)
It's worth pointing out that having some echelon above God figure out who's going to get what and how much is pretty patently absurd. Anybody who can get a few AKs, some RPGs, a Toyota Truck and enough gas to drive toward the enemy with a couple of cases of ammo and grenades can declare Jihad against Assad, ISIL, and the Minnesota Twins. This is not an organized neat bureaucratic battlefield. This is a dirty boots, busted knuckle battlefield and saying that the White House is making tactical decisions does not fill me with thoughts of success.
Then there's our Grand Alliance -- the US, France (France? Oh, yeah, they screwed up Syria and Lebanon), maybe England, Turkey and the various Gulf and regional Islamic countries who happen to be Sunni. That actually is very helpful, since ISIL is a Sunni organization. However, Iran which has a great chance her to gain some rapprochement with the US gets hyper because we didn't coordinate the attacks with Assad. Oddly, Assad then announces that he's cool with it, anyone shooting at terrorists is OK with him. You would think that Iraq with one virtual client state involved would get on board with whatever that client state was thinking. They just don't make client states like they used to. Or Satraps. Tamerlane the Conqueror would have don it better...
Or not. My morning Foreign Policy Situation Report brought the news that our Arab "allies" are now wanting to take out Assad. Now, if we take out ISIL and we take out Assad, are they planning on making Syria a parking lot for Lebanon and Israel? Maybe a mid-eastern version of Disneyland? It would have a beach...and lots of ruins. Crusader Ruins, Phoenician Ruins, Philistine Ruins, Assad Ruins. The A-Plan is starting to look a lot like the old "Bomb 'em back to the stone age, shoot them down and sort them out." I guess the B-plan is Blackwater or whatever they're calling it these days.
I'm not eager to see US Forces patrolling the outskirts of Damascus, but the non-ISIL forces aren't capable of winning on the ground against either Assad or ISIL. The bitter lesson we thought we'd learned in Vietnam, that until the enemy has a boot on it's chest and a bayonet at his throat, you haven't won anything seems forgotten.
In the end, this will be a war of good intentions fought poorly because the powerful don't understand that combat has it's own calculus. You don't control it, you respond to it. And if the enemy is fighting a different war than you are, it's pretty certain that unless you're willing to reduce the enemy to empty fields of nuclear-volcanic glass, you're probably not going to win.
The late Colonel Harry Summers who wrote On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, was assigned to liaison role with the North Vietnamese in 1975, and had a famous exchange with his counterpart, a Colonel Tu. Summers reminded him, " You know, you never beat us on the battlefield." Tu responded "That may be so but it is also irrelevant."
Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst. --Clausewitz
So, not much happened. Congress is willing to abdicate authority again; President “Beware of Unintended Consequences” warns of unintended consequences if we do act, or if we don’t. Talking heads ask irrelevant questions and focus the discussion on the acts of terrorism against individuals. My fellow Holy Cross alum Chris Matthews worries, no agonizes, that if we attack ISIL that they’ll behead more of our people. We’re not really engaged in the War of Jenkins Ear and the fate of one American or two is not justification to kill thousands. It might be good, if we were good and never evil, to say with Lord Palmerston that in today’s world being an American provides some level of extraterritorial protection. “Civis Romanis Sum!” or “I am a Roman citizen “meant a lot in the time of Caesar, Diocletian, Marcus Aurelius and so on.
What is true is that ISIL’s tactics represent a really horrific turn toward the Dark Ages. Bill Mahar was on Matthew’s show tonight, and responding to a Republican complaint that “Gee, Obama has been President for six years, so you can’t blame Bush for what’s going on now!” with a bit weary shock at the stupidity of people. “That’s six years and that’s what we’re going to use as a measure? This has been going on since the 7th Century.!” Mahar pointed out that as a nation we’re not really all that well informed, learning our history and geography by the wars we fight. I tend to agree with Harry Reid that the resurgence of Dick Cheney as the Republican Oracle on Foreign Policy in the middle East is terrifying.
It seems that the President is keeping it all very fine, seemingly well calibrated. I have a T-Shirt on at the moment with the formula for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Theorem on It. The theorem which along with Schrodinger’s cat is what makes us think Quantum Physics is really DA Bomb! as opposed to tired old Newton’s approach, is fairly simple to state : The closer something is observed, the harder it is to describe accurately or to predict. Specifically, that the more accurately you know a particle’s position, the harder it is to know it’s momentum and vice versa. This President tends to be a guy who measures efforts in terms of a micrometer but doesn’t seem to get it that the target keeps moving and it’s really squirrelly up close. I prefer a President who thinks about the things he thinks about, but this measure it with a micrometer and then turn it over to someone else to mark with chalk and then cut the wood with an axe doesn’t really satisfy. Isn’t there a hacksaw or something around to do that?
Matthews had a good point during post speech autopsy on MSNBC, that he heard the necessary steps from the President, but didn’t hear the sufficient ones. Mahar said earlier that he thought the President was going to be in a bind because most Americans are ignorant and don’t pay attention. Both were right and we know it. This is a complicated issue and between Ukraine, ISIL, NATO, the fate of the Wild Cards in the Two Baseball Leagues, the problem of whether it’s worse to choke and kill a dog or beat up your fiancé and on and on and on, how the hell are we supposed to think about this?
Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. -- Clausewitz
OK, here’s my take: It’s really pretty simple –
Oh, they’ll train and advise and shoot and call in artillery and air and do everything else that leaders should do because they’ll be leading and training and advising by doing. That’s what they do. “This is how to blow up a bridge. Now let’s go blow up a bridge.” ‘This is how to laze a target for a drone. Let’s go laze a target or ten.” During Vietnam, there was a corps level organization, Military Assistance Command Vietnam that did just this. Read over Col Jack Jacobs MOH citation to get idea of what training in this kind of environment means.
The Kurds are good fighters as are the Turks. But, I suspect that the Saudis and the rest will sit on their hands and wait for the US and Britain and France to clean this up. Which in a war based on real good gunfights, we could. But, those wars tend not to happen so much any more. We’ll win; and we’ll get to do it all over again.
So, we’ll see. I think this is not what we want to do, or ought to do, or need to do. It’s something that we have to do, and Obama’s outline makes a lot of sense. However, Clausewitz’s disciple Moltke the Elder was pretty clear, “No plan survives the initial contact with the enemy”. In this case, we are engaging in a war with a partisan war and an election that nobody wants to jinx. So, get out the popcorn and the beer and enjoy the show. See if you can get some bets down with the bookies in England and Dublin and New Zealand.
"I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight - brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."--Rust Cohle, True Detective
I have no idea why True Detective didn't take every possible or conceivable award at the Emmys...except that the Emmys are pretty irrelevant to everything. But the persona of Rust Cohle will probably follow Matthew McConaghey to his grace and he'll be fine with that. Not unlike the Duke and the Ringo Kid; Eastwood and Dirty Harry. And, he can have some fun with it as well...possible he's the new Eastwood for our times, burned out on bad X and imitation Don Perrignon, trying to maintain a certain level of gravitas despite knowing it's all a stupid game. Or the post-modern John Wayne, doing the "man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" for the world to wonder at.
If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?--Cohle
So, the guy has some standards. Lots of people in entertainment and sports don't. When A-Rod first was a seeming hero for the 21st Century, i.e., before Texas and the contract, the only ad he got in the Seattle market was a series of spots for Yammi Yougurt, which he jumped at. Sets the bar kind of low for class and establishing a brand. McConaghey has probably done others, but he just made a few for Lincoln SUVs and while I'm not sure they'd sell me a Lincoln if I was thinking about a SUV, I'd definitely pay to have him drive me around and talk about stuff...important stuff, like God and Sin and Beauty and smoked brisket and stuff.
Fuck, I don't want to know anything anymore. This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me, 'Time is a flat circle.' Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again. And that little boy and that little girl, they're gonna be in that room again and again and again forever. --Cohle
Some of the dialogue in the top one ranks with the best cowboy poets and Shakespeare..."I speak bull...1800 pounds and can do whatever he wants...I can respect that...Take the long way...Thanks."On the other hand, it makes me realize something -- we're in a bold new world here that McLuhan saw coming. Soon, all meaning and art will be in the commercials, and the content will be static and Zipadeedodah. But, not just yet, at all times and in all places...but soon.
ISIL, Syria, Iraq and the Illusion of American Power
Once upon a time there were three dog parks. To play in either of the two nicest parks, a dog had to be part of the pack that ran the park and kiss the ass of the Alpha Dog. The third park wasn't anywhere near as nice, but the possibility of being merged with one of the nicer parks, while attractive to some of the dogs, was never attractive enough to enough of the dogs that a merger could happen. To keep the smaller, less nice park from screwing up what was a relatively good thing, the two Alpha Dogs would occasionally send over some extra bones and treats, and the dogs in the crummy park would chow done. The end.
Welcome to geo-politics from the silly perspective of dueling dog parks. But, while I'm hard pressed to think of anything I'd much agree with Vladamir Putin on besides the idea that Pussy Riot are lousy musicians, I do grant him this much -- for the sake of a stable world, the end of the Soviet Union was a tragedy if you wanted a world that had some sort of overall organizing principle. Humans do well with bi-polar situations -- good/bad, black/white, capitalist/communist. We don't do so well with a world where there are multiple polarities pulling and pushing in multiple, incoherent and ultimately opposing directions.
The basic question asked by the McCains and Grahams and Putins of the world is fairly simple -- WHO THE HELL IS IN CHARGE HERE! Well, nobody is, much to the dismay of the various hobbit-functionaries and bureaucrats who think they're really in charge or should be.
This morning's New York Times illustrates this wonderfully. The headlines announce that Egypt and the Emirates are bombing Libya without letting the US know in advance let alone asking permission.The editorial board has a great discussion of what needs to be done to counter the Islamic State and maybe give some coherence and sense to the region. Maybe. However, it also sums up quiet lucidly the problem that the Big Dog in the Dog Park -- the US -- faces; it's not really our dog park. The local dogs all want someone to do something, but in the meantime they keep doing other stuff. Stuff that makes sense given their local interests and religious interests and economic interests but really don't help in the bigger sense of the region or the world.
The prospects of defeating ISIS would be greatly improved if other Muslim nations could see ISIS for the threat it is. But, like Iraq, they are mired in petty competitions and Sunni-Shiite religious divisions and many have their own relations with extremists of one kind or another. ISIS has received financing from donors in Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia funneled weapons to Syrian rebels and didn’t care if they went to ISIS. Turkey allowed ISIS fighters and weapons to flow across porous borders. All of that has to stop...
No matter how many American airstrikes are carried out — Mr. Obama is also considering strikes against ISIS in Syria — such extremists will never be defeated if Muslims themselves don’t make it a priority. To their credit, some leaders are speaking out. Among them is Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, the grand mufti, who called ISIS and Al Qaeda the “enemy No. 1 of Islam.” But they must go further and begin a serious discussion about the dangers of radical Islam and how ISIS’s perversion of one of the world’s great religions can be reversed.
I've referred before to Churchill's analysis of the region as one of tribes with flags. What the Times isn't getting and what the Administration isn't getting is that the primary concern for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates and the Assad family is what's good for the various dynasties. The Saudi Royal Family doesn't really see a difference between the Kingdom and the family -- which is very large, very disorganized and very dysfunctional. Same in Kuwait, same in the Emirates. If Assad was primarily a Syrian patriot, things would be better in Syria. Since that's not his primary reality, this is about maintaining power, control, position and dynastic hegemony as opposed to what's best for the people, the country, the region or the religion.
Militarily, I think most knowledgeable analysts accept that somebody has got to put boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq. I don't see the local powers lining up to do so. Now, from the point of view of stopping the current nonsense, I'd like to see a couple of US Heavy Divisions supported by the Saudi Arabian Army and some heavy forces from Iraq, with Turkish and Egyptian light forces and an Iranian logistics force to provide support and aid. Chances of that happening are slim, none and illusory.
Another problem is that Islam is even less organized than Christianity. The Sunnis and the Shiites aren't equivalent to the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The two most cohesive elements in Islam, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are religious states in a state of ideological and religious conflict for the past 1400 or so years. While it's excellent that the Grand Mufti of Mecca has raised the issue of ISIL and al Queida as an actual threat to Islam, there are other Grand Muftis and Ayatollahs, all of whom envision themselves equally grand. Bin Laden was not a religious figure but he felt perfectly OK issuing Fatwahs, and a lot of Muslims were fine with that. The five fold path involves subjugation to God; no other allegiance is necessary.
So, going back to my dog park parable, what can we do? Consider this -- it's not our damned dog park. We have interests, sure we have interests. But it's their region and they need to work it out, and forcing our interests to the front just adds complications and frustrations. I would say that our best solution in the current world is to stop trying to run their dog park, and stop sending over bones and treats, except in a pure quid pro quo, a formula that should include Israel since they play in that region. Let the fires burn out, because anything we do just fans the flames.
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.
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.)
Wyatt Earp 1928
We’ve built our own contribution to the heroic mythos. Bigger than life guys and occasionally bigger than life gals doing bigger than life things. Marion Michael Morrison hangs around and drinks coffee in the studio with an occasional consultant on westerns, some old fart named Wyatt Earp, and whiskey with the old man and an apprentice director named John Ford and becomes the Duke. The Duke becomes the personification of all things American men are supposed to be. Now, I personally have no problem with that. There are a lot of things about the persona and the man that are a vast improvement over, say, Louis Gomert or Antonin Scalia or Steve 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.
The myth of “that Man” is a bit of the myth of Joseph Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces. It’s not just American, by the way; Michael Collins was “that Man” during the Irish Rising and Civil War. Collins figured out how to beat the British Army and the Black And Tans with pistols and rifles; then, he figured out how to beat the IRA he had built to beat a regular Army.
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.
We see that willingness to step up and take on that role regardless of consequences in the citations of the Medal of Honor recipients in the Afghan and Iraq Wars. None of the men honored have said or indicated that they thought that the deserved the award. No one did it for the glory; they did whatever it was, however insane and crazy not for themselves, nor for their country nor the service but for their friends. They put their own lives on the line and it is brutally personal.
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.
Although in fairness, it seems likely that Cheney will always be “that guy” to the stockholders of Halliburton and the big oil companies.
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.
Novak is now the Executive Director of “Breaking the Silence” an organization of Israeli veterans who have served during and since the Intifada and want to educate the Israeli public as to what the military is doing in their name. I find that admirable, and rather similar to a lot of what we do over at Veterans Today. I’m hoping they are more successful. But, I’m not terribly confident in either case.
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 Provocateur I 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.
The June 14 2014 edition of the NY Times OP-ED was unique in that it also had a column by Russ Douthat, who usually irritates or bores me. In this case, he looks at the Iraq situation with some real historical perspective, pointing out that the creation of the states in the middle East was based on some seriously flawed thinking, and with the goal of preserving French and British hegemony as opposed to providing the basis for coherent and effective nation states. Pointing out how various thinkers since the start of the Iraq war have been re-drawing the map to show how in the best of all possible worlds these various nations could function, Douthat cites Ralph Peters initial effort in the Armed Forces Journal June 2006 issue as the initial draft of a new system of map drawing.
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.
She remains unapologetic about her progressive tendencies and while less whimsical, she continues to write with clarity and fairness. In her column on June 15, she discusses the Republican complaint about Obama's imprecise and indirect foreign policy; while seeing substance in the complaint, she looks at it in a different way, that at the moment vague imprecision the best policy for the US and complaints apart, the only one the nation really wants.
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.
Oliver's rant on Sunday, June 1 resulted in the volume of email in the public commentary mailbox at the FCC to basically explode. We need to keep it exploding. Here's the address: email@example.com.
Now for something completely different....
The Art of the Cover Band
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 Band and 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.
I've never heard the Heartbreakers cover any Rolling Stones. Not sure why in some ways; the Stones may be the Master "Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World!" but they were a bar cover band doing rhythm and blues based largely on Chuck Berry and the Chicago music scene. I first heard this one, Carol, on "Get Your Ya-Yas Out!" a masterpiece from the Stones 70-71 tour that was so overshadowed by Altmont. The Stones do an incredible job on it, as they did on their original "England's Newest Hitmakers, The Rolling Stones" in early 64. It's also the song that Chuck Berry tormented Keith with in Hail, Hail Rock and Roll. Richards is on the record repeatedly saying that Chuck Berry caused him more pain and agony than Mick Jagger ever thought of...but he also inducted Berry into the Hall of Fame, saying it was very hard to induct Berry because he'd stolen every lick Chuck wrote.
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?
The Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans of America have issued a statement on the tragedy at Fort Hood on April 2. In part, it reads
"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 record fighting 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.
So, let's put the Chess thing to bed. The greatest living Russian Grandmaster has the right to do that. As for calling his bluff, that's for another time.
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.
No immigrant came to the United States because they just thought it was a nice day to go on board a coffin ship and take a sea voyage. They did it because they wanted to leave some level of oppression – religious, economic, ethnic or intellectual. In the case of the Irish, they left behind all three. You would expect those of us who come from those roots to respect the traditions that led to the journeys of our ancestors. You are right in slightly over 50% of the population; you are wrong in slightly less. However, the hopeful 50%--plus tend to not be so passionate; the pessimistic 50%--minus are permanently aggrieved. They have a scarcity mindset – they don’t have enough and somewhere someone is getting something that they themselves are not getting, and there isn’t going to be enough. The more optimistic approach, the Democratic approach, is that there is plenty for all if we distribute it better. I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer – Brendan Behan I have no inking nor do I really care whether the Ryan family made its way here in Black 1847 or in the crackdown on the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sein Fein or following the defeat of Father Murphy and the Pikes in 1798. The fact is that Ryan espouses a philosophy long discredited by its practice particularly between 1846 and 1852 or so, when the potato blight destroyed the Irish sustenance while the country exported millions tons of food to England…Ireland was the English Industrial Revolution’s breadbasket, you see, and the absentee English landlords believed that their tenant farmers should live only on potatoes and similar poor man’s grub. Cuts of meat so old and tough and discarded as to require soaking in brine for weeks so as to be edible, some cabbage perhaps, root vegetables – hence, corned beef and cabbage and the obsequious New England boiled dinner of boiled protein, boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, some root vegetables, boiled until as Dennis Leary describes it, “you eat it through a straw.”
Coffin Ship Memorial Croagh Patrick, Eire
Brendan Behan, the poet, playwright, author and IRA soldier who 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.
In much like Isiah crying out in the wilderness, the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell told the House of Commons in 1847 that “Ireland is in your hands, in your power. If you do not save her, she cannot save herself. I solemnly call upon you to recollect that I predict with the sincerest conviction that a quarter of her population will perish unless you come to her relief. O’Connell underestimated the impact because while 1 in eight died, 2 in eight emigrated. So, thank English disdain and neglect for the Irish populations in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
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
I just finished Allen C. Guelzo’s highly regarded book on Gettysburg, Gettysburg –The Last Invasion and 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.
Stuart should not get off too easy. He was a hero to the south as a bold Cavalier, a noble knight; in modern war since the time of the Cavaliers, however, they generally loose. The Confederates had light cavalry, which is best for screening, scouting and harassing the enemy. Day 1 might have been a different battle if Stuart had been there, simply because cavalry would have met cavalry. However, the Union cavalry was better armed and commanded by a grittier and more down to earth General in John Buford who had fought Indians using similar tactics to those he used in the meeting engagement.
Day 1 deserves a better and more thorough examination. In the film Gettysburg, there is a lot of confidence and congratulations among the Union leadership because the quality of the “ground.” Gettysburg had good terrain if you had the right pieces of it; the union did. If they were unable to hold it, they had a planned battleground and realizing Lee’s objective was neither wagons or horses or shoes for his men but the destruction of the Army of the Potomac, Meade and staff already had a trap set down the Emmitsburg Road East South East at Pipe’s Creek. Fate and the commander of I Corps, General John Reynolds, had different ideas. Meade found himself in a Battle he intended in a place he didn’t want that did in fact give him most of what he wanted; Lee found himself in a battle he intended in a place he didn’t want but would make do with.
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.
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.
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?
So, while the Republican party did their people at the Nashville plant a major disservice by lying about the impact of the effort to organize on future industrial growth and continued production, the real disservice had to do with strategic stupidity on the part of the UAW. Go for the low hanging fruit, not the one's where you need to build a crane to pick at it. Or a step ladder. Go after the people the workers don't like, not those they more or less are indifferent to or actually like and trust. Next, the scene referenced above is interesting because the accents are so telling although a rural Maine accent is in a lot of ways not that different than a mountain Tennessee pattern. But, make certain the folks doing the organizing are "from around here." After forever in the Army, I consistently talk in a way that makes people think I'm from 100 miles or so south of them unless I'm in the south where they figure I'm from 100 miles north. If you're not driving a Ford or Chevvy, Pickup or a VW Golf GT, why were you in Nashville as an organizer? If not, at least drive a 5.0 Mustang or a Five Liter Charger if you're headed to a Japanese plant. Get people who drive those sorts of cars, who like country music, and can sing along to Freebird and Sweet home Alabama.
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
(To be continued...)
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 people upset 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...
Well, they called Dylan a traitor for plugging in his guitar in England, which resulted ultimately in the basic statement of rebellious rock and roll ("Play Fucking Loud!") and the classic bit "An anarchist -- I want a cigarette; give the anarchist a cigarette. They had to think about it to come up with that name." Think you've pegged the guy, and he does something else entirely. That's kind of what makes a legend -- people want to put you in a box, and you avoid it...almost without trying.
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?
I checked out the idea of memes and found more than a few. I don't think that this is an example of why the Army doesn't win wars, because in general we do; however this issue is probably an example of how we can make it unnecessarily complex. It also is an example of why so many pretty good soldiers decide to do something else, and why so many ignorant idiots in all services stay as long as they possible can and climb over the smarter, less compliant and more mission focused types using ropes and ladders made of silly rules, useless requirements and shit that's broken by design. The author of this piece had ridden his bike for 18 miles around the greater Fort Drum area on his day off and was pedaling back to the gate, ID card at the ready when the gate guard got upset that he wasn't wearing his reflective belt with his riding stuff...most of which, as I recall, is reflective. Soldier was told that the next time, NEXT TIME, he wouldn't be allowed to enter the post... Soldier was polite and cooperative (been there in the face of ignorance and I suspect most of us have) and then heading home, he thought about what had just happened...
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.
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!