Posted by: EMS | 7 October 2010

In memorium

Take a moment and reflect: We invaded Afghanistan nine years ago today.

Recommended reading:

James Fallows on Sec. Gates and war as an abstraction.

WaPo series on traumatic brain injuries.

Posted by: EMS | 7 October 2010

To continue a theme

I was invited to a fairly senior, totally serious interagency meeting at the Embassy yesterday.  Location?  Poolside.  No seriously, that’s what the email said: “3pm, Poolside.”  Sadly there were no cabana boys taking frozen drink orders. 

War is hell.

Posted by: EMS | 6 October 2010


I think I broke my toe. Doing yoga.

War is hell.

Posted by: EMS | 3 October 2010


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.)

Posted by: EMS | 2 October 2010

What I’m Reading (3)

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.

Posted by: EMS | 1 October 2010

For the Friday

Regularly scheduled edition:  Wherein we note that I will be home in exactly six weeks (possibly wearing these).

Posted by: EMS | 1 October 2010

For the Friday

Bonus edition:  Wherein we contemplate form vs. function.

Posted by: EMS | 21 September 2010

In Defense of Books

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.

Posted by: EMS | 21 September 2010

RSS Readers

(For those following the Kill Teams – Stryker discussion via RSS / Google Reader, click here for an updated version of the “Face of Evil” post.)

Posted by: EMS | 19 September 2010

Face of Evil (Updated)

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.)

Update:  Lots of good points being brought up in the comments.  (Thanks to Crispin’s, Tom’s, and Ex’s readers for stopping by.)   A couple points to highlight:

  1. Gulliver at Ink Spots has an exhaustive post from January that provides some really interesting context for COL Tunnell’s command.  (Friend of Charlie, Tintin, was a key contributor.)  Fascinating reading, and not because it’s one-sided.  COL Tunnell is not himself savage; I’m certain he is indeed horrified by the actions of these few soldiers.  But he should also be horrified that none of his officers or NCOs observed or reported such actions.  He set that command climate, and he remains responsible for it.
  2. To follow on from Gulliver, note:  LTC Jenio was relieved from 2-508 for inappropriate powerpoint slides.  COL Tunnell was largely believed to have failed in his mission in Arghandab (a difficult mission, one that his unit wasn’t prepared for as their deployment was switched late in the pre-deployment cycle from Iraq to Afghanistan).  He was allowed to remain in command, receiving a mission set specially designed (read: made-up) for his Strykers.  Add this to the list of things that will and won’t get you fired.
  3. As I note in the comments, Army and ISAF officials may have believed they were doing COL Tunnell (and themselves) a favor by leaving him in command.  They were not.  There are worse things that can happen to an officer than being relieved.
  4. But this is not about a cult of personality.  This was  a failure in command climate, beginning with platoon sergeants and working its way up the chain.  Presumably the Army investigation will look into who knew what and when.  But we can all agree that it’s coming a little late to the party.  (And of course the whole Al-Capone-0n-tax-evasion element to the hash-bust-cum-war-crimes-investigation is but the clearest signal of an epic failure in leadership.)

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