Take a moment and reflect: We invaded Afghanistan nine years ago today.
James Fallows on Sec. Gates and war as an abstraction.
WaPo series on traumatic brain injuries.
I love Hunter S Thompson: Hells Angels is great gonzo-anthropology; Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is one of the most searing analyses of American politics ever written; and I read The Rum Diary in an afternoon (hungover). The Rum Diary is shockingly underrated. (And being turned into a movie?!)
But his cover letter for a job at the Vancouver Sun is really quite something…
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
So I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I don’t really have anything insightful to say (I don’t read much literary fiction), other than it was the first book in quite a while that I stayed up at night to read. (Yes, Mom, still blaming you.) I don’t know that it exactly captures how-we-live-now, but it is compelling, and I liked some of the not-quite-post-modern narrative devices. I imagine I’ll pick-up The Corrections before I get home.
On the iPad front, I managed to get through all 500+ pages and not really even notice it. It is a little disorienting not to know in an immediate, tactile way just how many pages are left in a book. (Kindle has a status bar across the bottom, but it’s not quite the same as knowing it’s 1:27am and you’ve got 87 pages till the end.) But since you can buy another book within minutes of finishing the preceding one, this is a tactical problem, not an existential one. (There’s nothing quite like the panic I feel when I don’t have a book to read myself to sleep with.) I will say that reading outside leaves something to be desired. Direct sunlight + polarized sunglasses = no dice.
Now on to a spy novel set in North Korea.
And violent opposition to Powerpoint*.
From The Millions review of Ken Burns’ The Civil War on its 20th anniversary**:
Which makes The Civil War pretty book-like, in the best sense of the word. As novelist and professor of law Stephen L. Carter wrote, “Books are essential to democracy… Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing—and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share. And if we are willing to work our way through difficult texts, we are far more likely to be willing to work our way through our opponents’ difficult ideas.”
In other words, The Civil War simply relies on a constant immersion in a world of challenging and complex ideas. And that makes it just like the best books out there.
*I’ve spent the last few days cramming a book’s worth of ideas on corruption and counter-narcotics into Powerpoint. First into four slides, then two. (TWO!) I’d have an easier time doing my dissertation in two slides. So yes, complex ideas, books and democracy. Charlie votes, aye.
**If you’re into Ken Burns and / or the US Civil War read the whole post. Good for historiography, and what not. Despite studying dozens of other civil wars, I’ll admit to not being at all interested in our own until I read / taught McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom (one of the great single volume histories out there). Chalk up another vote for books.
I wish I had something insightful to say about this.
The U.S. soldiers hatched a plan as simple as it was savage: to randomly target and kill an Afghan civilian, and to get away with it.
But frankly, it just strikes me as evil.
How do we keep this from happening again? This a failure of leadership and moral courage, but also banal bureaucracies.
(One note: we worked extensively with this brigade while I was in RC South earlier this year. And I have little doubt the permissive, savage command climate emanated from the top. There were multiple opportunities (and calls) to relieve the brigade commander following a disastrous performance in Arghandab; instead the RC South commander reassigned the battalions and developed a new mission for the brigade. Had the Army (or Generals Rodriguez or McChrystal) relieved the CO in November or December 2009 these horrific abuses may have been thwarted.)