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June 2010 Archives

June 30, 2010

People You Should Know: Don Ritchie, OAM

By Joe Katzman at 21:05

Lovely story about a true warrior:

"In those bleak moments when the lost souls stood atop the cliff, wondering whether to jump, the sound of the wind and the waves was broken by a soft voice. "Why don't you come and have a cup of tea?" the stranger would ask. And when they turned to him, his smile was often their salvation.

For almost 50 years, Don Ritchie has lived across the street from Australia's most notorious suicide spot, a rocky cliff at the entrance to Sydney Harbour called The Gap. And in that time, the man widely regarded as a guardian angel has shepherded countless people away from the edge...."

The Primal Heroic Response, in action.

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  • rithanna: It depends on the public place. Church is no time read more
  • David Blue: That's what it is. read more

June 26, 2010

Heading To Japan

By Armed Liberal at 15:46

So we're heading to Japan for a bit on Monday.

Blogging will obviously be low for a few weeks (OK, it's already been low, I'm hoping my batteries will be recharged when I'm back and it will get better).

We'll be visiting TG's family in Tokyo, Hiroshima (go Carps!! - we'll catch a game while there), Miyashima (and the tram), Okayama and the Musashi museum, Kyoto, the Five Fuji lakes, and back to Tokyo with a possible side trip up to Takayama.

I'm working on a piece on Afghanistan - it's depressing and so hard to do - tied to the excellent film Restrepo, the McCrystal flap, the Yon/milblogs flap, and On Strategy - to me somehow they all are hanging together in one pattern...if only I can get it down in words.

Meanwhile, as always, be nice to each other and don't blow anything up while I'm gone.

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  • Armed Liberal: Sigh. Sadly it would involve getting on the wrong train read more
  • Glen Wishard: Okayama and the Musashi museum ... A detailed post about read more
  • Armed Liberal: I saw them; I've got a short list of things read more

June 22, 2010

A Letter From Afghanistan

By Armed Liberal at 15:44

I don't think I've ever reposted anything BG has written me while he's been overseas. But he sent this yesterday, and it seems like the kind of thing that ought to be shared. Here are some thoughts from a front-line soldier in Afghanistan:
saw somewhere the government is looking at cutting 1billion in aid to iraq. i also read somewhere that south vietnam didnt really fall until congress stopped sending them money and materiel. what is the point of all this fighting if no one is willing to give support to the countries we tried so hard to build?
In the next week, all of the commentariat will be transfixed by the soap-opera of McCrystal and the Administration and who said and did what to whom. Meanwhile, my son carries a machine gun and his friends get shot and blown up. If we're not going to act like these countries matter - why should he?

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  • toc3: By the Way, I not only feel that this soldier read more
  • toc3: Jarc, My comment #8 was in reply to M. Simon's read more
  • Armed Liberal: No, toc, it's what a soldier in Afghanistan seems to read more

June 20, 2010

The Associated Press: Troop pullout in Afghanistan set for next summer

By Armed Liberal at 23:06

From today's AP feed:
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

President Barack Obama's chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

That's not changing. Everybody agreed on that date," Rahm Emanuel said, adding by name the top three officials overseeing the policy girding the war: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.
OK, eff it. Let's just take our ball and go home.

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  • Roland Nikles: Glen: Ultimately the personality in the office of the president read more
  • Glen Wishard: Roland: My concern here is not to defend Obama but read more
  • Fred: But it still seems to me that Obama's handling of read more

June 19, 2010

Did That Orangutan Just Flip Me Off?

By Joe Katzman at 00:43

Well, Clyde sure did in the movie Every Which Way But Loose. Orangs are quite clever, and we always knew they were by far the best tool users among the great apes. Their feats of intelligence and escape artistry at zoos are near-legendary, and have included hiding improvised lockpicks in their lower lip - then successfully using them. They've also shown the inclination to make one tool using another tool, which is no small water.

Clyde was a trained ape, of course. So was Chantek, who showed the ability to master sign language, invent new words, lie successfully, and absorb human cultural notions at the level of a young child.

All pretty cool - and potentially disruptive to our notions of where the term "reasonable creature" (which defines some states' murder laws) might begin and end.

Another brick in the wall comes from Erica Cartmill and Richard Byrne at the University of St. Andrews in the UK. They studied orangutans in zoos, but the study focused on how they interacted with each other, not with humans. The kicker? The orangs were consistently using sign/body language among themselves, for specific things, and using the same signals both consistently, and with more emphasis when a response isn't forthcoming (the sign equivalent of talking slower and louder - guess that reflex goes pretty deep).

The use of zoos introduces some complications to the conclusions, but without some kind of anti-grav pack, that stuff is going to be very hard to observe in the wild. If we ever do establish the existence of a similar behaviour pattern in the wild, without human intervention, I think the case will pretty much slam shut on the notion of orangutans as, effectively, "people."

I'm there now. Right beside Philo Beddoe.

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June 18, 2010

War, by Sebastian Junger

By Armed Liberal at 05:48

Kanani, from the Kitchen Dispatch sent me a copy of War almost a month ago.

The book sat on the dining table for a week before I sat down to read it. To be honest I was scared.

Not so much of what the book itself would show - I've read a lot about war and talked to a lot of people who have been in them - but because right now I'm a war parent - my son is at war. Today, right now, as I write this about a book about war, he is living it. And one of the ways I have dealt with the fear of it is through rationalizations. It's just a camping trip, with guns. It's no more dangerous than me riding my motorcycle, statistically. I box the fear up - the fear that he'll be killed or wounded, the fear that as I sit here comfortably on my sofa listening to music and writing on my laptop, he might be bleeding somewhere 12,000 miles away and that there is nothing, nothing I can do for him...the fear that he'll come back with his heart broken. Those fears have been put away, wrapped in my trust of his skills and smarts and luck and character, and I have gone on with my days.

But in truth, there's a better way to deal with fear and that is simply to take the box off the shelf, open it, and look inside.

So I picked the book up and read it in an afternoon.

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June 17, 2010

Cordesman On Afghanistan

By Armed Liberal at 06:45

Anthony Cordesman has an important piece up on where we are in Afghanistan today.Shockingly, I disagree with him in many areas. But possibly, just possibly, not in his conclusions.

His piece has seven sections:
The Strategic Importance of Afghanistan and the Case for Staying in the War

Can This Mission Be Successful? Can We Win?

Estimating the Enemy

Deadlines and Expectations

Accepting Afghans as Afghans

The Civil-Military Side of the War

The Reality of Continuing Risk
Let me talk about the first one now, and move through the rest as I have time.

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June 16, 2010

The Muquama On Journalism - A Must-Read

By Armed Liberal at 19:56

Abu Mookie (Andrew Exum) has about the best, clearest, explanation of what blogging means to the practice of journalism that I've ever seen (and I read most of that stuff):
You want to hasten the end of your industry? Then by all means, keep doing what you're doing: consider yourself unaccountable and scoff at the blogosphere. Yes, I understand bloggers are changing the newspaper industry in fundamental ways. (Ezra Klein, to use one example, does not blog with the same tradition of objectivity in which the Washington Post's print journalists report. How that changes the culture of the newsroom, then, is interesting.) But if you think you don't need to answer to bloggers, some of whom have spent years doing field research or working in Central Asia and now blog as a hobby, the invisible hand of the market is going to find you out. And before you know it, you'll have taken a buy-out from the New York Times and be teaching creative writing in Maryland. And, let's face it, probably blogging on the side.

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Obama's Not-Very-Well-Received Gulf Oil Speech

By Armed Liberal at 06:01

I missed the speech, but have been bouncing around the responses.

Not only does Kevin Drum hate it, but his commenters hate it. That's not good news for the President.

(note that I don't object to flaying BP; from the documents out to date, this wasn't an 'act of God' event, but instead an 'iceberg? what iceberg? we're drinking here...' kind of event. They deserve pretty much all the grief they are going to take and then some.)

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  • toc3: I have to admit the malaise speech came to mind, read more
  • mark buehner: And am I paranoid to think that if somebody from read more
  • mark buehner: I'm worried. Obama has been living in a dream world read more

BP & Obama As Morlocks And Eloi

By Armed Liberal at 03:45

Instapundit and Althouse pick up the 'smart kids working with their hands stories'; spinoffs of the trend that 'Shop Class As Soulcraft' talks about.

Being me, I think there's something deeper there. I'm watching both the emerging history of the BP disaster and Obama's reaction to it with a kind of sick feeling. Thinking about it I realize that this situation - the disastrous performance by a major corporation and the equally disastrous performance by a politician neatly sums up a lot of what I think is wrong with our country and begins to align my compass on what we have to do better - something that makes these degreed artisans a hopeful sign..

It's the simple matter of the growing disconnect between talking about stuff and actually doing stuff. Note that it's not just 'talking' and 'doing'; the greatness of the post-Enlightenment West is largely attributed to 'talking about stuff' effectively - which let us organize larger and larger groups of people to do bigger and bigger things, and also let smaller and smaller groups do cooler and cooler things. But that effectiveness - that ability to tie words to actions and to the stuff acted on - has seemed to be eroding lately.

We're becoming a kind of cargo cult nation, swept up in the amazing power of words and brands and theoretical icons, and forgetting that at some level, in some place, those have to take root in the world where you can't talk your way out of problems, and where people with dirty hands have to actually move the stuff of the world.

We're becoming Eloi and Morlocks, and as the Eloi become more and more powerful, either the Morlocks get shoved aside, or they, themselves give up and try to live in the world of ethereal things where a well-turned phrase is more valuable than the basic engineering skill needed to drill a hole.

Because, at root, we're somehow forgetting that the basis of our lives is at some level to drill holes in things (and shape things and make things); we've been seduced by the power of making things out of words (software) and forgotten how important the 'stuff' of our lives really is. I think there's a discipline there that keeps all the other things in check (the discipline of stuff) and one of the things that happens to the very rich and very powerful is they get shielded from it to a large extent. Maybe that's why Lady Di didn't think it was necessary to wear a seatbelt; when you've spent your hole life surrounded by people who bend stuff into whatever you want, the fundamental realities get pretty hazy.

As a nation, we've let them get pretty hazy. We made crap cars, and destroyed our industrial base. Now it looks like we've drilled a crap well - and had crap plans to deal with the inevitable disasters. Maybe in a generation, when we have smart kids who have become mature artisans again, we can recover.

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  • Joe Katzman: I'm leaning toward toc3 here. But this was bang on, read more
  • toc3: I agree, Mark. Have you heard coherent statement of political read more
  • mark buehner: Being me, I think there's something deeper there. I'm watching read more

June 13, 2010

Charlie Company Under Fire

By Armed Liberal at 05:46

Hard for me to watch, but proud as I am scared...

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

I owe my review of Junger's 'War.'

Update: Smart people tell me this is another COP than my son's, and thus one of his brother platoons...

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June 13, 2010

Jimbo Is On The Absinthe Again

By Armed Liberal at 02:20

You know Jim and I have a history...

...and now, he's at it again, with a bunch of rich-ass "no bullshit, there I was" talk about - wait for it - his CELL PHONE.

Now, I've gotta point out that status-seeking through possessions is kind of lame to begin with. I have a friend who pays more than my mortgage in monthly payments on his hopped-up Turbo Porsche. It's embarrassing; he won't drive it anywhere because it might get stolen. But damn, he owns a TURBO PORSCHE. I'm trying to talk him into getting a Prius so he can actually leave the house. So I admit that bragging on owning stuff is a lame characteristic that (we) guys sometimes have.

But Jesus and Mary the weeping Mother of Christ...bragging about your CELL PHONE? That's like being the kid in fifth grade who brags about his lunchbox.

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Afghanistan As A Strategic Sinkhole

By Armed Liberal at 01:51

I've been scarce on the blog front for a while; both this blog and my work blog have suffered badly. Sorry about that - work has been ridiculous (which is a good thing) for the last few months, and I have a client who wouldn't be happy with me blogging too much about what I'm doing. We're leaving for three weeks in Japan in a week, and getting work squared away, planning (and budgeting!) for that has been intense.

Plus there's the malaise...just looking around at the scenes (California, the nation) that interest me - it's all bad news all the way down.

But BG got Internet, and we've had some great chats, and - I'm embarrassed - I look at the fact that he goes to work every day and risks everything when he's as upset about everything as I am and get pretty deeply ashamed. It's not like I do much, but throwing the seeds of ideas out there and trying to trigger discussion is what I have and can do. So I need to do it, and - once I get back from Japan, I will. Or maybe even a bit before then.

Right now, I'm thinking about Afghanistan and Vietnam, and while no it isn't Vietnam, the parallels to the way we're approaching it are becoming frightening to me.

So I'm thinking about working my way through 'On Strategy' and seeing what maps to what we're doing today. My gut answer is: a lot.

What to do about it? I honestly don't know. I know smart people who think we withdraw now, and smart people who (frighteningly) seriously think we withdraw through Tehran.

But we can't keep doing what we're doing. We're spilling blood and treasure and don't know why or what for.

Here's Summers quoting Clausewitz:

Not every war need be fought until one side collapses. When the motives and tensions of war are slight we can imagine that the faintest prospect of defeat might be enough to cause one side to yield. If from the very start the other side feels that this is probable, it will obviously concentrate on bringing about this probability rather than take the log way round and totally defeat the enemy.

- On War 1:2


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  • toc3: I think the problem is sending troops to a country read more
  • mark buehner: A fair question. I think kicking the Taliban into a read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: But in all seriousness, Mark, what does success look like, read more

June 10, 2010

Brendan Neenan, KIA

By Armed Liberal at 00:10

Neenan_deploy_small.gif Godspeed to Brendan and all our sympathy to his parents.
Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.
- Archibald McLeash - 'The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak'

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  • Grim: I remember that photo. I'm sorry. read more

June 5, 2010

The Hate of Helen Thomas: Jews Should Go Back Home To Germany

By Joe Katzman at 01:49

You simply couldn't make this up. I give you Helen Thomas, acknowledged Dean of the White House press corps, at a White House Jewish Heritage Celebration:

And the thing is, it's not really surprising. Just someone who chose to say out loud the logical endpoint of Islamo-leftist opinion about Israel, and the way many on the left feel.

Back to Poland and Germany. Just let that sink in for a second.

Of course, Helen Thomas issued a statement later:

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  • Glen Wishard: Daylight in the swamp: Howard Kurtz gets it right with read more
  • Barry Meislin: ...should have such a primitive view of Israel. I would read more
  • Phil Smith: So, basically, she was a reporter and a pundit for read more

June 4, 2010

Israel's Real Strategic Failure

By Porphyrogenitus at 00:56
My cold-blooded and deranged response to Walter Russell Meade's post on the subject.
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  • Barry Meislin: More Gaza Misery. read more
  • Glen Wishard: And there is absolutely no way that Israel will not read more
  • Barry Meislin: On part 2: Again, Hamas has a stranglehold on the read more

June 3, 2010

The Zen Of Not F**king Up

By Armed Liberal at 06:26
The attention to detail at a base like Restropo forced a kind of clarity on absolutely everything a soldier did until I came to think of it as a kind of Zen practice: the Zen of not fucking up. It required a high mindfulness because potentially everything had consequences.


In the civilian world almost nothing has lasting consequences, so you can blunder through life in a kind of daze. You never have to take inventory of the things in your possession and you never have to calculate the ways in which mundane circumstances can play out - can, in fact, kill you. As a result, you lose importance of the importance of things, the gravity of things. Back home mundane details also have the power to destroy you, but the cause and effect are often spread so far apart that you don't even make the connection; at Restropo, that connection was impossible to ignore.
From "War" by Sebastian Junger. I just finished it and will try and do a review before I travel this weekend. Let's just say it's good enough that I need a day or so to process before writing about it.

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  • Armed Liberal: There's a whole Pirsig line of thought I'm taking from read more
  • Phil Smith: I'm reminded of a line from Pirsig. Zen is the read more

June 1, 2010

Mickey Kaus

By Armed Liberal at 09:06

If you're a Californian, and a Democrat, I want to ask for one vote - for Mickey Kaus for U.S. Senate.

It's gonna be a symbolic vote - Boxer will crush him. But if he gets a decent percent...5 or even 4 percent, given the thinness of his self-managed campaign, it'll send a message to the Democratic powers-that-be that there's an audience for a message that isn't trimmed to suit the institutional powers that own the party.


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  • Thorley Winston: I don't think 5% is going to do much read more
  • tagryn: Considering you can get ~20% support for either 9/11 or read more
  • Glen Wishard: juliet - I guess you've never heard of Mickey Kaus read more
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