Sunday, March 30, 2008

Passive Aggressive

So, beware of easy-going people, because a lot of times we're just passive aggressive, and our easygoing nature masks the fact that we are slowly building up dissatisfaction without saying anything about it...

I shouldn't be bitter - I think I'm cranky today. But always ask for what you want, or maybe even demand it, don't just let shit simmer.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Well, the gods of travel were with me (Dionysus?), and I managed to make it off my FOB. With any luck, I will get to have some awesome pizza tomorrow, and be home by Christmas... err, next week. (Sorry, watching Band of Brothers, "home by christmas" has a ring to it, doesn't it?)

Army efficiency

So, as is always the case with the Army, things get messed up. On monday, I was on the list. Tuesday I was on the list, they tell me check back after 3 on Thursday. Well, from 3 to god-knows-when, their "system was down." I come in this morning, I'm not on the list. No one sees me on any list anywhere. Lucky me. And don't even get me started on the blank stare from the idiots in the office when I ask "How do I get this corrected?" Eventually, I get "well, we don't see you on the list." Thanks, guys, way to know your job.

So, eventually (after two hours), I find out my mission was scrubbed. Joy. And the Army could really give a shit about you if you're bumped. Its not like they make any effort to reschedule you, or automatically try and find a place for you on some other flight... nope. You need to put in all the paperwork again, and hope for the best. It's ironic that I can't effing leave, and a friend of mine can't effing get here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Life After Incoming

I haven;t posted in a bit, the internet in our rooms is down, and I usually have my thoughts walking home from the office, so it makes it hard to blog.

I did notice one thing, though. After an incoming, or sometimes, when you haven't had one in a bit and you're just waiting for the next one to come in, walking home at night is like walking into a basement, or in the woods, or in a dark alley, right after seeing a horror movie. You feel yourself start to move faster, knowing that as soon as you get to a hardened building your fine... and you move a little faster, and you have to consciously slow yourself down, because you know that every time you step it up a bit, you give in to the, for lack of a better word, panic. It's not really panic, because it's not the down-deep terrifying experience that panic really is, but it's certainly not a happy place to be. And rationally, you know that you're gonna be okay, at least statistically, so that's why I compare it to a horror film, something you've seen on television that isn't really real.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The PX

So yeah, I've griped about this a lot. But seriously. Things the PX has been out of consistently since I got here:

shaving cream

Now - I know that my feelings about chocolate being a life essential are not shared by about 50% of the population, so I'll give them a miss on that one. But, soap and toothpaste??? How can the management of AAFES be so bad that we are short on basic hygiene items???

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nine weeks and counting...

So, no matter what the experts at the CDC has to say about timelines, it appears that 3-4 weeks is not the standard amount of time.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Deleuzian Approach to COIN

So, as I said, I reread Dunlap's article a few days ago, and noticed that it was a lot more faceted than I had previously thought. However Gian Gentileargues that by focusing too much on COIN, we are losing our ability to fight conventional wars.

Now, we will leave the prospect of ever fighting a conventional war again on the side for right now. Let's just assume that it is, indeed, a possibility. A COIN fight is characterized by much harsher restriction on the abilities of soldiers to lay down overwhelming firepower than in a regular war. (Yes, there are lots of other things, but this is my analogy). Soldiers need to restrict their responses, learn to think about more than just overwhelming force, and (this is something frequently overlooked by supporters and detractors of COIN) take more risks and expose themselves to more danger. Now this last is a good thing, by the way. You can't have a commanding officer say to his men: "We're gonna go out there, kick some butt, and accomplish the mission, and everyone's gonna come home alive." It is an unfortunate fact that in war people die. But, when you place equal value on living and accomplishing the mission, neither is going to work out well.

So, that does all this mean? First of all, COIN will teach soldiers and commanders to take risks. Powell doctrine aside, that's what it takes to win, whether in COIN or in maneuver warfare. Great generals have never been made by taking the conservative approach.

Second, soldiers are conditioned to restrict their responses. Sure, SLA Marshall had some things to say about teaching soldiers to conserve ammunition and therefore not firing in combat. All very good points. But, and this is where we get into Messrs. Deleuze and Guattari, it is much easier to remove the restrictions on people than it is to try and enforce them. Soldiers learn to fire every round on single shot. But given the opportunity, every soldiers lives for the few moments he will get to fire his weapon on burst or auto. Rock and Roll, Let Loose, and Get Some! And don't think for a moment that soldiers on the roads don't completely bypass the "Semi" marker on their M-16s and go straight to "Burst" when someone starts shooting at them. We don't have to worry too much about soldiers NOT crying havoc when the opportunity presents itself.

Thus, learning COIN doctrine, and fighting the COIN fight, teaches soldiers to act within certain prescribed limits (which, I would also argue, Basic Training and regular warfare does too). Teaching them to not have those limits, and then trying to enforce them, leads to things like Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and My Lai. Rather, enforce the limits from the beginning. When the time comes, it will be much easier to let slip the dogs of war.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not for the worriers

The following anecdote should only be read by people who aren't given to worry. It's not disturbing, and I'm perfectly fine, but I felt a warning was in order.

So, apparently watching Band of Brothers is kind of a risk here. The other night I was watching the D-Day episode, and there's some incoming, which I can kind of hear past the headphones... its kind of like wathcing the show with Surround Sound, but a little disturbing as you go "What was that?" Well, I relayed this story to my team leader, who said that the same thing happened to him in 2004 when he was here, watching Band of Brothers and listening to it in 3-D


Yeah, so I was completely off-base with my "conclusion." Dunlap's article is a lot more complex than I remember from ten years ago, before I had actually gotten into military theory, history, and COIN. So maybe this would be a better conclusion.

In fact, in re-reading the article, I realized there is a lot to wrap my head around, and I think it might actually serve as good of a discussion today as it did in 1992. Not that I think he's right on everything, there seems to be a very strong similarity between his statements and those of people like Gian Gentile who object to the focus on COIN in the Army. In fact, the conclusions Dunlap and Gentile both make about the focus on non-traditional maneuver combat in the Army are pretty much exactly the same. I think, though, that they miss a couple things. Unfortunately, I'm having a bit of a brain-fry at the moment, and I can't really think about this enough to express it well. Give me a few days, I'll have a better post.

My Conspiracy Theory of the Day

So, take some of:


Add this and this

And you get something which looks disturbingly like this minus the crazy military leader. But you know, when you have this, and this you probably don’t need the crazy military leader, as the military will just sit back and let it happen since it can’t do anything about it. And frankly, considering the existence of Northcom and the legal problems it might raise, it might even feel obligated to help out.

Incidentally, the pharmaceuticals in the water concern has been around a lot longer than the past two weeks, I found this 2000 article.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I am simply happy to report that I realized this morning, after a gruff request from my roommate, that I annoy him with my sleeping through my alarm as much as he annoys me with his constant need to have the air conditioning on (even when it is 50 degrees outside). All is right with the world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Boyd inspired thought

The institution which is the US Army is generally considered monolithic and hidebound. I tend to agree with that, and in reading Swift Elusive Sword, I started thinking about the force structure here. Boyd's main contribution to warfare was the invention of the OODA loop, and the successful commander is the one who manages to "get inside" his opponents OODA loop. Large, technologically constrained organizations will tend to lose engagements because the OODA loop of such organizations is too long, and the enemy can quickly respond and re-maneuver to take advantage of hesitations in the opponent. Now, by technologically constrained I do not mean ones without technology. In fact, it is typically the opposite which holds true. The more technology a force has, the more it is constrained by that same technology. One of the oft repeated mantras of the COIN disciples is "infantry, infantry, infantry." Computers, updates, reports, etc., will actually constrain a force from responding quickly.

The best officer I ever served under called all of the NCOs in a room before our deployment and told us "I will always explain the orders I give, and why I am giving them, and I expect you to do the same with your men." The counterpart to this, of course, is that sometimes orders will be given without time for explanation, but having known that there was a reason before, you will know that there is a reason for the quick orders, too. However, the unspoken element of this is directly applicable to COIN. By knowing the purpose underlying the orders being given, all of us NCOs, and our soldiers, were aware of the overall intent of the commander, and thus we were able to take our own initiative to solve problems and respond to situations without having to ask for orders at each point. Although this is generally an element of US Army doctrine, I have known many commanders who simply put out orders without explanation, leaving the lower officers and NCOs to attempt to interpret and request guidance in unfamiliar situations. This adds to the time it takes that lower officer to complete his OODA loop.

Another problem is the transmission of information inherent in the typical Army battalion/brigade. As it was put by one soldier here: "information goes up the chain, it never comes back down." We have our S2 (intelligence) units compiling information and reports collected from lower levels, and then maybe providing reports to the battalion/brigade commanders, who use that information to design missions. Well, if you really want to minimize friction, speed up your OODA loop, and run an efficiant organization, those reports need to be distributed down to the very bottom level. I remember a number of stories from fellow soldiers who had just gotten back from Afghanistan where they had gone to a village, spoken with people, and only months later found out that they had been having dinner with a high value target. I'm sure it happens in Iraq, too. I think it actually happened with our team a few times.

Now, this all gets to a point which I had intended to start with, but luckily this isn't an academic paper, its just a blog: our current force structure in Iraq is still based on a maneuver warfare, big Army war. We have slowly shifted to COIN, which is a good thing, but we are still organizing our units in traditional ways. We have individual brigades, who are given an area. Then each battalion is given an area, then each company in the battalion is given a smaller area. Sounds all well and good, except that you have Armor battalions, infantry battalions, Engineer battalions, light infantry, heavy infantry, mechanized infantry, etc. I can't tell you how many tankers I've met who complain that they have to go out on foot patrols and fight as infantry, when all they want to do is ride in their Abrams/Bradleys and lay down fire. Now - even though we are much "lighter" in a COIN fight, I think there is still a place for seriously heavy firepower.

Now, each brigade tends to be a combined arms organization. Some light forces, some heavy forces, some armor, etc. But why do we stick this at the Battalion level? This is left over, as near as I can tell, from the days of Mass Warfare, large squares of infantry arrayed against others, and the chess moves of trying to outmaneuver the opponent so that you're heavy infantry hits his light infantry, you're cavalry hits his heavy infantry, etc. And you did this on a large scale. But here, in Iraq, with an enemy which shifts as quickly as the stock market, none of that paradigm holds true. We need to completely break away from the battalion/brigade focused doctrine we currently have.

Abu Muqawama has a blog entry that touches on this, in terms of brigades as advisor teams. And a wonderful analogy with ice cream. To continue the analogy, I would say that if a "scoop" represents a battalion, we need to move away from a Baskin Robbins paradigm and into a Cold Stone Creamery paradigm. We need to mix up our "scoops" at the very basic level - since we know that its the soldiers who are on the streets that will win the COIN fight, those soldiers are the level at which the combined arms approach needs to be addressed. A platoon of light infantry, a platoon of heavier infantry (Bradleys/Strykers), and an assortment of other elements (engineers, MPs, etc.) Since COIN is so often modeled off of SF, look at how a SF team is organized: one/two people have specific areas of expertise, rather than having a "weapons team" and a "commo team" or some other unresponsive system. We should be doing the same for our maneuver units.

Monday, March 17, 2008

One I didn't have to look for

Apparently our floundering economy is bringing down the whole frickin world with it.


Another Stars and Stripes Story

So, I guess its the day for Stars and Stripes to piss me off. Well, not the paper, but the stories in it.

Apparently, we're upset that China is spending so much money on its military.

Well, a quick run of the numbers: China has a 2.68 trillion GDP, and spent 59 billion on defense.

The United States has a GDP of 130 trillion, and spent 419 on defense.

This means that 3% of our GDP is spent on defense, while 2% of China's GDP is spent on defense.

Also, direct from the White House website: "The 2006 request represents a 41-percent increase over 2001, and a 4.8-percent increase over 2005" Now - I call your attention to the "41% increase" - because apparently we're getting bent out of shape over China's 18% increase...

Also, China has been reporting a boom in its economy, and an increase in the GDP for the past few years, while the US... not so much

(I admit, I looked for an article on the bad economy)

Problems at Gitmo??? Really???

So I came across this article in Stars and Stripes, reprinted from the LA Times, about one Omar Khadr, a detainee at Gitmo. Unfortunately, I can't track down the original article, but I found another one with basically the same information. Are we really detaining and torturing people for fighting against us? Does that qualify as a war crime? This man's entire crime was throwing a grenade at US soldiers, which happened to have killed on of them. I remember there was a big discussion about the relevance of the Geneva Conventions when we first went into Afghanistan six years ago, and not with the problems of water-boarding, either. These discussions were how to label combatants in that war, since the idea of "uniforms" very central to the Geneva Conventions didn't really apply. So I guess I know now that the debate was "resolved" - if you don't have a uniform on, you must be a terrorist, and therefore you have committed murder when waging a fight against people who invaded your country. I would take this opporunity to direct you to Convention I, Chapter 2, Article 13, number 6 - the conventions apply to "Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war." No need for distinctive insignia, uniforms, or any of that BS. I don't think anyone would argue that our assault on Afghanistan was fast and decisive enough that the residents of the country did not have time to form themselves into regular units...

Now - I am not supporting the Taliban, or those who fight for the Taliban. That's a political argument well over my head.

I also have no opinion on the issues of water-boarding and other forms of "torture" being used by the US government (well, I do actually have an opinion but its not relevant to this particular rant).

Nor, even, do I care about the travesty of justice in which it is likely that Mr. Khadr wasn't even the man who threw the original grenade.

I am just flabbergasted that we are prosecuting a man for "war crimes" that consist of things that soldiers have done since the first ape picked up a rock and hit another one over the head (presumably over access to a big stone monolith, but that's a different rant, too).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

John Boyd

I'm a big fan of John Boyd. You probably haven't heard of him, hell, Special Forces officers haven't heard of him and he was pretty instrumental in making SF such an important part of the current military. Anyway, I just picked up a new book that incorporates his thinking into a National Defense Review. I've only read the exec summary, so I can't comment on the text yet, but it got me thinking.

In general, everyone thinks that we need a lighter, smarter, faster force. (Including me) And one that is capable of taking on some of the SF missions (like counter-insurgency, stabilization, etc.) Again, totally on board with this. But, unfortunately, this requires the Army to have smarter, better people, who are capable of being trained in counter-insurgency and stabilization.

When I came in to the Army, that would have been incredibly difficult. The Army has basically been a big vocational education program for the past twenty years. Can't afford college? Join the Army. Want to learn a skill? Join the Army. Improve your job prospects? Join the Army.

Even today, we don't have Army commercials that say "Want to put your life on the line in support of a country on the other side of the world?" (Sorry, that was a bit snarky) The point remains, however, this is not what the Army was cut out to do.

And especially as we accept more and more Category IV and V recruits just so the Army can meet its recruiting goals...

Catcher in the Rye

Yeah, didn't like it. I read a bunch of critiques of it online in the midst of reading, and I have to say that anyone who says that Holden is "perceptive" because of his ability to see through people just totally doesn't understand science. Holden thinks everyone is an asshole and a phony. Now, maybe there are characters in the book who are either/or. That doesn't make him perceptive. Just because he can spot the ten assholes in a group of twenty doesn't say anything, its the equivalent of astrology, faith healing, or Airborne. You focus on the correct things and ignore the incorrect.

I just thought he was someone with serious emotional issues. This is not about adolescence, this is about a child who desperately needs help.

It kind of reminds me of the whole Eliot Spitzer thing, actually. Well, in a completely-not-connected tangential kind of way. Except for the fact that Holden and Ms. Dupre both have serious issues. I find it very amusing that the NY Times took most of their article off of her Myspace bio... I am glad that other news agencies are trying to track down a little more information before ascribing to this girl any number of "rags to riches" motifs. Turns out, normal childhood, grew up in a big house in a nice town. It reminds me of a friend of mine from a few years ago who claimed to have been "thrown out" of her parents' house when she was 16. Although I didn't know the situation, I was fairly certain that "thrown out" in this context was remarkably similar to the scene in Parenthood where Martha Plimpton walks out of the house while Dianne Wiest says "if you leave this house don't even think about coming back young lady!" and then after fifteen seconds running out after her daughter and saying "if you ever need someone I'm here for you!" Maybe there were some issues in Ms. Dupre's life, but I think she's in it for the publicity...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eight Weeks and counting

So, I got my small pox vaccine eight weeks ago... still hasn't completely healed. I don't know why the CDC/Army says it will be healed in four. This is getting kind of ridiculous.

Soldiers are disgusting people. I don't think I've ever been around soldiers without a large majority of them spitting. And I don't mean spitting chewing tobacco, although that's pretty common, too. And I don't mean spitting onto the dirt while you're walking or standing (also common). I mean spitting in the shower, into the sink, into the toilet, wherever. It doesn't seem to matter. Maybe I'm too genteel for the Army, but personally, when it seems that soldiers will suck water in through their nose, then hawk up a big wad of phlegm right into the sink, I find that one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen. Especially because most of them then turn off the water ad walk away. They don't try and clean it up, wash it down the drain, nothing. I suspect this is why I will not touch the inside of a sink, even my own, with my bare hands...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gene Wolfe

So, I just finished one of Gene Wolfe's newer books. If you're not familiar with him, he wrote the Book of the New Sun, Shadow of the Torturer, etc. He's kinda famous for being deep and meaningful, and whatever else. I tried to read Shadow of the Torturer a long time ago, and I didn't really like it. Supposedly there was some kind of commentary on human existence and the dangers of autocratic rule, I think someone mention Plato's Republic when discussing it. I just thought it was difficult to get through and pretty boring.

Now, its more than ten years later, and I can honestly say that I just don't like Gene Wolfe. He jumps around, his writing is poor, and he confuses the reader. Not in a "let the reader figure it out" kind of way, more of a "what the hell just happened?" kinda way. Like watching a BBC drama on BBC America, where they've edited out ten minutes of show to put in commercials, and every time it comes back from a commercial you always have this feeling something is missing.

So, I finished that one, didn't like it. Now I'm reading Catcher in the Rye. Don't really like it, either. I never read it in high school, and I think that's a good thing. It's almost puerile. I suppose maybe if I was fifteen and reading it I would identify more with Mr. Caulfield. But I'm 33, and I just find Holden annoying, stuck up, and frankly someone with very serious issues. I do admit that Salinger has a flair for words, and writes very well (although, I would have to argue, not as good as lesser known "pulp" authors like Neil Gaiman or Max Brooks), but I just think his approach to the subject is flawed. Maybe that was his intent, but I don't understand why the book has lasted as long as it has, it seems dated. To bring up another cinema analogy, its like someone saying that Full Metal Jacket is a film that one needs to watch in order to understand the experience of soldiers in Iraq.

Maybe that wasn't the best analogy... Saving Private Ryan?

Nonetheless, there is something intensely ironic about a 33 year old sitting down with a cigarette and a cup of coffee and reading Catcher in the Rye.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

God is Not Great

So, I just finished Christopher Hitchens' new book, God is Not Great. I gotta say, it is not a book I have to say goodbye to. I am pretty much an atheist, and generally agree with the things that Hitchens says. In fact, I generally agreed with everything that Hitchens said in his new book. Unfortunately, he cherry-picks a lot of his evidence, and presents the facts that support his arguments without dealing with the alternative theories. For instance, he discusses the creation of cows as sacred in India so that the priestly class can maintain control over the best source of protein in the area. Well, I guess if you're a diehard Marxist, this is one explanation. However, at no point does he mention any competing theories for the sacred nature of the Indian cow. (Marvin Harris', for example, in which cows are economically more productive in the long run when they are alive, rather than killed for one or two meals worth of food... nothing to do with religion there.) He makes other mistakes more glaring than even these arcane ones, for instance in a discussion of the New Testament in which he makes claims about Mary which would have been acceptable had they been just a bit more nuanced. (Why was Mary surprised when young Jesus was preaching in the temple, hadn't God told her through an angel she would be bearing His Son? Well, yes, except that he states it as a basic fact that Mary was not surprised, when in fact the text of the Bible is not quite as clear as that). As I said, I'm an atheist, and very critical of the Bible as a story, but he fails to accommodate the complexities of his subject matter.

He also has a very bad habit of begging questions and affirming the consequent (I love big philosophy words). He assumes that religion is bad, and then uses examples of religious people being bad to prove his point that religion is bad. Not exactly the strongest foundation to stand on for an argument.

His central point, however, would be interesting to look at a bit more categorically:

1) Religious people do good things because of their faith (charity)
2) Religious people do bad things because of their faith (genocide)
3) Non-religious people do good or bad things in spite of their faith

Since we have both (1) and (2), then religiosity is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain good works, combined with (3), then there is not any reason to assume that religiosity has anything to do with good works.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Salvation at the 11th Hour

So, I'm not religious, but there are a few tenets of various religions which I think are important and good lessons for life. In Christianity, Jesus had a bunch of parables, you know, to get to certain points. Well, one of those parables is the parable of Salvation at the 11th Hour. Actually, it's usually known as Workers in the Vineyard

Essentially, a man goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. He hires some, realizes he needs more, hires some more, still doesn't have enough etc. Now, he's hired them all at the same price, so he pays these guys he hires at the end of the day the same as the ones he hired at the beginning of the day. Now, naturally, the ones he hired at the beginning of the day are a bit pissed about this. Who wouldn't be, you know, they put in a full day's work and get paid the same as the guy who put in a half day's work.

It's interesting how much this particular parable gets glossed over by the free-market pseudo-christians out there. But that's not my point. The point of the parable, which I think I like, is that if you make an agreement at a certain amount, then you should be satisfied with that agreement. I'm happy, you're happy, we should all be happy, even if you sold/paid more/less than your neighbor did.

Cool. Now, the problem is when people start talking about their pay in the workplace, or worse when the amount of pay for your position is discussed in an article online, you start to compare what you're making with what others are making. And when it comes up short, you get a little miffed. First, because you feel like you've been a bit taken advantage of, and second because you realize that you've been doing the same work and taking the same risks as everyone else on your team, who are getting paid almost twice what you are. Then you get pissed off.

So, I'm trying to maintain my objectivity, remember that I agreed to a certain amount and I have no right to get upset someone else is making more than me. Of course, being paid late the past two months and having bounced checks because of it doesn't help either...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Gun Control

In keeping with this afternoon's post, I was thinking about gun control. And now that I'm safely ensconced in the liberal field, I can take up my position and actually support it. Because basically, yes, there is a possibility that had students at Virginia Tech had weapons, the killings wouldn't have been as bad. But, there's a fundamental problem with this approach, and by fundamental I mean a problem with the very basic philosophy behind the "we need guns to protect ourselves" idea. And for me, that fundamental problem is the difference that exists between the liberals and the conservatives, especially with regard to Homeland Security.

Namely - the fundamental belief of the military approach is to find the enemy and hit him with overwhelming force. And preferably, through proper intelligence and planning, before the enemy even has a chance to respond or even begin putting into motion his own plans. Its called an OODA loop (although it was originally an ODA loop, but some brain child in the Pentagon decided that it needed an extra letter. I'll go into my thoughts on this in a different post).

Now - the fundamental belief of law enforcement (as I see it, I don't have the experience with police officers as I do with soldiers) is to meet an "enemy" with the minumum necessary force to subdue him, and (some would say unfortunately) to wait until the criminal has actually committed a crime before arresting him. Yes, we want to prevent him from performing more crimes, but you have to actually do something wrong to get arrested.

Well, or so we thought before the Patriot Act. And this is one of my issues with the government at the moment - they have shifted the basis of law enforcement from reactive to proactive. Some would say that this is the only way to prevent the next terrorist attack. Maybe it is, but at what cost?

Again, though, not the point of this post. As my students know, I tend to ramble. My point was gun control. So, in the context of my conversation with Jeff, we were talking about Columbine, and I started looking that up, plus the Whitman murders in Texas. Now, during the Whitman event they say that all the armed folks in the streets shooting back at Whitman probably saved lives by keeping his sight lines restricted. Sure, I'll buy it. And I'll buy that if someone in the school at Columbine had had a gun, maybe he could have done something about Klebold and Harris. But this is a military response, not a law enforcement one. The police also could have swept the school, cleared rooms, and "taken out" the two boys, but only so long as they were in military mode and not law enforcement mode - where the objective is to kill. But that's not the point of the police! They are not judge, jury, and executioner.

Now - to the gun control opinion. People who want guns have the military mentality and not the law enforcement one. Talk to any of them, and you will get the answer of "I want a gun to protect myself. If someone comes at me with a gun, I'll shoot him." Or something equivalent. They are not concerned with appropriate response, they are concerned with overwhelming force. Now, I know the Second Amendment is thoroughly unclear on the whole "militia" idea, but if the postulate is "guns make us safe" doesn't safe imply civil order, which implies police?

My Liberal Thoughts Finally Solidified

So, I've been having this ongoing argument with one of my teammates about various conservative vs liberal topics. Since my personal political leanings are so bizarre (I describe myself as the only libertarian socialist in the world), sometimes I'm not entirely certain on where I stand. Well, the topic of global warming came up the other day, and I did some research, then we argued about it some more, and I am happy to say that I have finally figured out the insidiousness of the conservative argument.

My thoughts start with Deborah Tannen, who discusses the binary nature of American thought: for any argument, there must be a counter-argument. In the interests of fairness and debate, topics are presented as an either/or choice. Either there is evolution or creation. Either there is global warming or there isn't. (based on human behavior...) So, the problem is that because of our efforts at "fairness" in these debates we present both sides, even when the preponderance of opinion is on one side or the other. So, even though almost every biological scientist in America believes in evolution by natural selection, we feel we have to allow "equal time" to the creationist argument (sorry, Scientific Creationism, I mean, Creation Science, err, Intelligent Design...?). This legitimates the idea of Creationism, et al. Enough on my own peccadillo - we do the same with global warming (err, global climate change?) We have two camps, the "settled" and "not settled" group. And the "settled" group says yes, there is global climate change, and yes, it is a result of human activity. The "not settled" has about 10% of the membership of the "settled" group, and says a variety of things, from "it's not happening at all" to "it's a good thing." But we insist on giving both sides a say.

First off, I would like to point out that in some ways, I myself am in the "not settled" camp, simply because I don't know climatology well enough to read the evidence or know the people involved. After having read about what's happened with AAA and the Human Terrain System, I realize that there are some pretty powerful membership institutions that can quash debate in order to satisfy their own agendas... but that's a different post.

For now - here's the insidious part. You point out to a conservative that organizations like the Natural Resources Stewardship Project are funded by "big energy" (to steal a phrase), their response is "well, yes, but how many of the climate change people are funded by environmental groups or other organizations with a vested interest?" Its not exactly hypocrisy, and frankly, when you're in the middle of an argument, it seems a perfectly rational response that makes you think. But I've finally realized that this is one of the main problems with the conservative viewpoint (so much that I can't be a conservative. I had a friend who once said: "I agree with the Republicans on most issues, social welfare, free market economy, government spending. I just can't get past the fact that the Republican leadership are a bunch of duplicitous assholes" - very eloquent). The conservative movement has taken up the mantle of crazy post-modernist in a way that would make Jacques Derrida proud. Everything is biased, they say. Christian groups, big corporations fund research, the lobbyists inform their delegates how to vote, of course the liberals do the same. Everything is relative, everyone is biased. William Saletan describes this quite well with a Slate article on Rush Limbaugh's view of the universe, and how he can criticize Michael J. Fox and then be perplexed when people get upset.

Which leads me to my final point. John Stewart in 2004 went on Crossfire to tell them to stop. I remember, though, when there was a debate show that presented true debates, and not the Crossfire/Hannity&Colmes yelling the party line at each other. My first introduction to Firing Line was one of those afternoons when there was nothing else on TV. I turned on the TV, flipped the channels, and there were eight people debating evolutionism vs creationism. They were polite, they were thoughtful, and they debated, they didn't argue. Even though I began this rant with a complaint about presenting creationism as the equal and opposite of evolutionism, the tone of that show was always respectful and considered. It was about making a point and defending it with evidence, not taking a side and yelling at the other. There are so few people in this country ready to think about their beliefs and not indulge in blatant partisanship.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

RIP Gary Gygax

Well, the passing of a legend occurred yesterday.

I admit it, I am a geek, and in high school I played what was, in the words of a different obituary "the ultimate geek pastime." I make no bones about it. I watch Battlestar Galactica, I loved Farscape and Babylon 5. Never really got into Star Trek, was more of a Star Wars guy, and frankly, if it hadn't have been for D&D, none of those would have been possible (well, except Star Trek, but really: Who would win in a battle an Imperial Star Destroyer or the starship Enterprise? Silly, everyone knows Imperial Star Destroyers aren't real). And frankly, I don't know if Sharper Image would have existed without D&D (my theory: D&D in the seventies, leads to a bunch of computer geeks in the eighties, leads to the internet boom in the nineties, leads to huge amount of disposable income from people who like the stupid crap that Sharper Image sells - err, sold).

Yeah, Sharper Image is declaring bankruptcy, and no longer accepting gift cards. I hate gift cards - what a huge scam. I'm going to lend money to a corporation, and then I will pay them interest for the privilege of lending them money... and if they have economic problems, this counts as a debt that they have to me, and it gets wiped clean in the bankruptcy proceedings. Now that's the American Way.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

American preconceptions

So, I was thinking about the "oil spot" strategy that is one of the keystones of our current strategy here, and I think that it might be doomed to failure. I hate to say that, because it makes so much sense, but taking a step back, I realize that it only makes sense from our Western, capitalist viewpoint. The theory is that you go to one neighborhood, secure it, get essential services up, etc, and then move to the next. Ideally, other areas will see the benefits of working with Americans and start to help clean up their own neighborhoods so that they can get all those cool things like running water and electricity. Problem is, that is based on our idea that we need rich people to inspire poor people to work harder. I think that that actually works to some degree in the States, although it gets out of hand at times (the rich make WAY too much money compared to what they do, even figuring in the symbolic value). And Iraqis don't have years of capitalist culture to base their decisions on.

This probably combined with my thoughts while reading Denhardt's In the Shadow of Organization, which is predominantly about how organization as a concept forms so much of our lives in America that we can't even think about breaking out of it, because EVERYTHING is organization. The concept itself permeates everything about society. Well, that doesn't really exist here. There are some elements of bureaucracy and organization in Iraq, but much more of the society is based on the person to person interactions and kinship relations. This, I think, is one of the roots of why we can't plant democracy in Iraq. It's not (just) because of the corruption left over from Saddam, or the history of the area (because, frankly, they had representative government before Saddam), but because democracy in our style requires the predisposition to organization, the belief that there is nothing but organization, and they haven't been inculcated in that. Give it forty years, maybe (two generations - this one to get used to it, the next one to grow up in it), but not now.