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Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Archive for January, 2011


Posted by middlerage on January 18, 2011

Warning. I’m just gonna admit it, up front, that I engage in armchair quarterbacking. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of criticizing soldiers. You are encouraged to take exception, yea even disagree. This blog is a discussion.


First off, I am on record with my support and concerns about the long Afghan war. A war which was detrimentally ignored by the Bush Administration, and has numbed into the background of our American conscience. Our boys fight and die in a poorly planned, and poorly supported war. They are forgotten in a domestic environment of a dire economy and political squabbles. It’s simply hard to remain engaged, as a supportive citizen, yet I believe in supporting our service men. Thus I was happy to learn about a documentary that brings the day-to-day life of the Afghan war into our living rooms. Sebastian Junger – of The Perfect Storm fame – has teamed up with Tim Hetherington to chronicle their year embedded with a U.S. Army unit in the National Geographic documentary Restrepo – which is the name of the outpost the unit hunkers down in. It is named for a fallen comrade. I fully expected to be floored by the grit and sacrifice these men are going through, and to plead with my readers to watch it. I fully expected to say, “Dear Readers, this is the heroic and patriotic sacrifice being done for our safety. Please watch. It is important that you don’t let yourself forget about their overlong service.”

Instead, I find myself…hmmm…how to say this…unimpressed. As I admitted in my very first sentence, I am armchair quarterbacking. I’m not in situ, fighting like these boys. I must resort to the defense, that in our democracy, the armed forces serve at the behest of the citizenry. We don’t have a military dictatorship. They serve us, and our constitutional right to criticize.

I now say, “Dear Readers, please watch this film to draw your own conclusions. Use those conclusions to agree or disagree with me. Perhaps, more importantly, use those conclusions to petition the government to piss or get off the pot.”

The film itself is excellent – a sweeping high definition chronicling of the sweat and struggle of this one Army unit and their 15 month assignment. The sound, editing, and cinematography are excellent.

Instead, my criticism is with the soldiers themselves.

A) Sun Tzu (The Art of War) probably said it, and if not, he should’ve: Respect your enemy.

Not once did any of these soldiers ever say anything admiring of the Afghan people. Not once did they ever express a desire to know more, in an ethno-sociological way, about the people. Not once did they seem impressed with the hard scrabble life eked out of the harsh mountain terrain. Not once did they grudgingly admire the mysterious mujahadeen who ambushed them.

If you are going to have contempt… you’re gonna lose.

B) Afghanistan is mountainous. Big mountains. From time immemorial battles have gone to those who own the high ground. Always take the high ground. Why oh why does the unit spend their time tromping around in river bottoms waiting to get zapped from above? Even the Restrepo outpost is only part way up a hill. There’s still plenty of hill above to fire down on the hapless Americans. As the unit holes up in their crummy little fortress, they just seem so…ineffectual. And when they do venture out, I am reminded of Redcoats being picked off by the patriots from the woods. We’ve been there, done that, know better.

C) The commander spends a requisite weekly tea with the village elders. Here is this young American swaggering like he has all the answers, trying to tell these elders about how we have all these plans to do economic development (especially construct a road), and life will be grand thanks to American ingenuity, and in the meantime we expect you to tell us when and where the rebels are. Yeah, right. Of course it’s the graveyard of empires, because empires are so oblivious to their patronizing. My prose fails me, but it just felt sooo wrong. I watched the elders watching the whippersnapper, and I just felt, Duh, they’re not listening to a thing he’s saying. It’s all words, patronizing words. Whats the difference between us and the Soviets? The British? The Moghuls? Alexander? Except that we are less ruthless, therefore less worthy of respect and even more likely to fail. Plus, the commander needs to see point A) about respect the enemy.

D) The soldiers were tromping through some of the most incredible beauty I’ve seen. Awe inspiring mountains. Not once did they comment on the remarkable land. It was constantly a “shithole” to them, while without irony, they  slept on flea ridden American bunks, and holed up in crappy, thrown-together forts that were much more deserving of the “shithole” label.They smoked incessantly and then panted up mountains on patrol. When fighting a deadly enemy, TRY to minimize your weaknesses.

E) Realize that war means death. The kids were so emotionally demolished by the death of comrades.

I walk on thin ice broaching the idea of criticizing heartfelt reactions to dead comrades. I realize that. At the same time, an emotionally crippled tool is a useless tool. I’m not sure what the answer is to this. It is devastating. The post tour interviews were compelling. Yet, somehow, the ability  to go on in the face of death needs to be as much a part of training as everything else they learn. Maybe it is.

I am most squirmy about this criticism. I understand I have not walked in those moccasins. I don’t want to be General Patton slapping the soldier with shell shock. I remember Michael Moore, in Fahrenheit 9/11 accosting congressmen who had voted to invade Iraq yet had no sons or daughters serving in the armed forces. His point is well taken, but I don’t think he “gets” that a citizen leadership can’t be bound by military ties. Then we become Libya, Burma, or some kind of military oligarchy.

F) The filmers never really caught an enemy in their lens. It was like fighting ghosts. The boys go to war all gung ho, do some ineffectual fighting, come home damaged. To me, that is losing. After 9+ years we understand the inside of crappy forts, not the land, not the high ground, not the enemy, and not the people. To me, that is losing.

I dunno. Maybe forget all these points,.. it’s just my gut, man. Watching the movie, it just felt wrong in my gut. Like we just don’t get it. And we’re going to lose. Or not “lose” but rather “effect” an unsatisfactory policy condition. Something like, “Strategic withdrawal with native forces replacement of NATO units, resulting in a manageable, but defective, corrupt country with limited ability to foster exporting of terrorism to U.S. shores.” Yay.


I know for a fact that the film is available for instant play streaming at Netflix. Please let me know if you know of other outlets.


Posted in observations | Leave a Comment »

A Wooly Winter

Posted by middlerage on January 13, 2011

It’s been a surprisingly wintry winter, here in the east, what with record snowfalls, early season snowfalls, ice storms, and endless freezing temperatures. Thousands and thousands of airplane flights have been canceled just in January alone. Yes, it’s been the kind of winter to make average people scoff and say, “Global Warming Schmobal Warming.” Ahhh, how easily we forget that the summer of 2010 was blisteringly hot (which, just like one cold winter, is meaningless in confirming global warming), and the year as a whole is tied for the warmest on record (which is NOT meaningless in confirming GW).

It reminds me of a great think piece my friend Dr. Tom Gill, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Texas El Paso, wrote last year, when there were similar grumblings about winter weather and “where are the foolish GW scientists now?” Here are his thoughts :

A good friend of mine- a smart person with an advanced degree- just wrote me “I have a hard time in believing the “global warming” malarkey when I see how cold it has been this winter, I mean, it’s even freezing in Miami! How could the climate possibly be warming?”

It just confounds me that people understand that :
a baseball team can lose four or five games in a row in May, but still be having a winning season and maybe even win the World Series… that it’s rained four days out of the last five, and it’s been a wet month, but we’re still having a dry year overall… that an army may lose a battle, or even lose an entire winter’s campaign, but still win a war… that the price of gas is way down from two years ago, but we still need to be concerned about inflation… that the “most successful” TV network has to cancel maybe half of its shows… that you can be really sick one winter or maybe even for several years but still describe yourself as having had a healthy life overall… that everyone in your family may have a job, and that the unemployment rate in your city may be low, but the country as a whole is having an economic problem… that the stocks you own may have gone up, but the overall stock market has gone down in the last few years… that housing prices in your city and in fact your state as a whole have continued to rise, but that there’s a national real estate crisis… that you can fail one class, badly, or even get straight D’s one semester in college, and still graduate and maybe even eventually get a Ph.D….. that the Oakland Raiders can have a great placekicker but still be a horrible football team… that Tiger Woods has lost >70% of the pro golf tournaments he has ever entered, and that even at the peak of his career he lost 18 tournaments in a row, but he’s still the most dominant golfer of the last dozen years… that there were very few hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean last year but that the global number of tropical cyclones was up due to much higher activity in Asia…

yet still not get that climate change and global warming is about “the big picture.” But one snowstorm or one cold winter and people will say “proves the climate can’t possibly be warming.” HUH?

Rant over.

By the way, I chose the title for this post with a purpose. In these parts lives a big furry caterpillar known as the wooly bear or the wooly worm. Old timers commonly used the wooly bear’s colorings to predict a harsh or mild winter. Quoting from the website for the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, NC:

In some parts of the world, it is believed that the severity of the winter can be predicted by the intensity of the black on the Isabella tiger moth’s larvae (caterpillar). In the American Northeast, it is believed that if the woolly worm has more brown on its body than black, it will be a fair winter. If the woolly worm has more black than brown, the winter will be harsh.

Don’t laugh – it has been shown in scientific studies that crickets and cicadas actually change the frequency of their chirrings in accordance with the air temperature, and said temperature can actually be measured with accuracy.

Well, go ahead and laugh – predicting the temporally long climate of a season is not the same as reacting to the current weather conditions, and as far as I know no rigorous study of wooly-bear, long-range, winter-season, predictive skill (W.B.L.R.W.S.P.S.) has been performed. If anyone knows different, let me know.

In honor of the Wooly Worm here we go…Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Uno, Dos….:

Posted in Climate | 2 Comments »

A Privacy Quickie

Posted by middlerage on January 12, 2011

Mi Hombre, muddledrambler has a new post up about a web directory called Spokeo. Dey aggregates informations ’boutchoo, and den sell it.

Go here to see muddledrambler’s post and a fix.

Posted in Privacy Issues, short ones | 1 Comment »

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