Slacker Friday


Eric has a new Nation column here called "It Ain't Necessarily So," about the unnecessary tabloidization and conservative-ization of the news business.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"The kids would all sing/He would take the wrong key."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Hey Pocky a-Way" (Wild Tchoupitoulas): Once again, I have neglected to hack into the NSA satellite database to broadcast to the entire planet and the surrounding regions of outer space how much I love New Orleans.

You can't have missed the fact that the president this week gave the dumbest speech in the history of that office. You would not think you could stuff that much stupid into a single human being, but they managed to do it. Turns out, Iraq is Vietnam after all, if it's not Korea, and it's still World War II, unless it turns out to be World War IV. It's a dessert topping! It's a floor wax! Our inexplicable quitting of Southeast Asia after dropping the 500,000th ton of bombs on the place is the reason we lost the World Trade Center nearly three decades later. Ayman al-Zawahiri said so, and if you can't trust his grasp of American political history, who can you trust anyway? Oh, and we're all Alden Pyle, who turns out to have been a much sweller feller than Graham Greene thought he was. I swear to almighty god, if they'd put in his text that we're all really the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he'd have read that. And CNN would have broadcast it, verbatim, without its anchors falling off their stools in helpless laughter. Have I mentioned recently that we're freaking doomed? Mind you, I think he has a point about Vietnam. One more trained pilot from the champagne unit of the Texas Air National Guard, and we'd have kicked Charlie's ass all over Indochina. Shame there wasn't one of those available.

I greatly admire Nick Lemann, and I'm glad he's training young people, but what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer was he thinking by going so soft on Karl Rove in The New Yorker this week? Any piece summoning up Rove's career that doesn't mention that he never drew a public breath without being enormously destructive to everything that matters about this country, and that he should be watering the flowerbeds at Allenwood until halfway through the Chelsea Clinton Administration, is only telling half the story. Alas, though, I see in the "objective" postmortems for him, and in his ubiquity on last Sunday's gasbag festivals, and in the sudden liberation his old boss seems to feel on the stump, and in the collective failure of the entire Democratic Party, a narrative being born in which the utter catastrophe of the past seven years is going to be softened into (at worst) a tale of guys handed unprecedented crises and, damn it all, trying as hard as Jesus allowed them to, and who can blame them if they were a little too damn vigorous? For the people who write our politics, presidents don't fail. They simply succeed less than some of their successors. Watch this happen. Tell me I'm wrong. Just the other day, Justice Stephen Breyer popped onto our local NPR station to talk about the anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, saying he thought it was the most destructive decision in the history of the country.

Guess again, Steve.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

LTC Bateman:

I'm not that surprised that African Americans are not enlisting in the Army like they used to. This has been covered a lot by the media recently, with the talking heads blaming the Iraq War as the main culprit behind the dropping enlistments. While the Iraq War is undoubtedly a major reason, the media seems to accept that conventional wisdom without looking at other possibilities by linking falling enlistments to stories like this or this.

It seems logical (to me at least) that African Americans who grow up in the poorest, gang-ridden, drug-infested slums of our cities want to join the military to get away from those type of people, and more so than others join the military as a way to improve their lives. Why would they join the Army when they might have to deal with the same type of people that they struggled to get away from? There are even isolated stories that I've read about of white supremacist groups using the Army for military training and to recruit new members. Undoubtedly, this is not a welcoming environment for any minorities.

Regardless of whether we get out of Iraq or not, these problems will continue to be a barrier to recruiting minorities unless the Army does something to fix them.

Name: Lou Cabron
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Ever wonder what CNN's covering instead of our (dismal) progress in the war in Iraq?

Name: Terry
Hometown: Alexandria, VA

I had hoped Lt. Col. Bateman would address the recent New York Times op-ed by some enlisted men giving their take on the fiasco in Iraq. He did. I'm disappointed. When you pull away the flourishes and backflips of his always masterful writing -- the great general, Mel Gibson, the First Amendment etc. -- he's really only picked a couple of nits.

He believes these soldiers spoke too assertively about bigger matters on which their knowledge is limited to only their personal experiences -- they should have "stayed in their lane." (Including the one who got a bullet in his head before publication date. That's one lane he should have avoided.) I think building a false proscenium for nitpicking amounts to an ad hominem attack.

Perhaps these soldiers needed to stray from their "lane" because they clearly were responding to the reckless NYTimes op-ed of a few weeks ago by Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution.

I'm sure everyone here knows that those two were portrayed as anti-war despite their having beaten drums for war from before Day One. To see their op-ed dissected, with the cooperation of O'Hanlon himself through subsequent interviews, please read what Glenn Greenwald did on this at Salon.

O'Hanlon and Pollack got the rah-rah Green Zone tour with the brass and lots of bodyguards and spoon-feeding from Army spinmeisters. Their "lane" was no more than an amusement park ride with pretend thrills.

And while the soldiers' op-ed might be "rocketing around the Internet" on the left as Bateman points out, it fizzled everywhere else. The MSM ignored it. But O'Hanlon and Pollack's piece has rocketed through the MSM noosphere, even after it and their touted anti-war backgrounds were debunked.

I suspect those op-ed soldiers strayed too far out of their lane only to those who believe they're wrong.

The way Democrats are now cowering as Miracle September approaches and the surge spin is totally Maytag, and the way we're forgetting the one needy spot called Afghanistan as we play B'rer Rabbit to an even bigger and more gooey mass of tar called Iran, I expect those of us not in harm's way will get to see whether or not these op-ed soldiers put their ordnance on the right coordinates.

Name: Chris Chrisenberry
Hometown: Daytona Beach, Fl

Dear LTC Bateman,

As the son of a U.S. Army Colonel and the nephew of two Generals (all of whom served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam) I read your posts with particular interest and often find your insights on military matters illuminating. However, today's post referencing the N.Y. Times op-ed by the seven enlisted men left me in disbelief and not a little angry. Leaving aside the rather tenuous nature of the point you seem to be trying to make -- that these soldiers should have somehow modified their writings to satisfy your particular view of what is properly said by infantrymen serving in wartime -- I was dumbfounded by two of the statements you make in support of your dubious thesis.

You said:

"But the point is that these soldiers do not know that because of their own presence on the ground, they know of it in the same way that you and I know of it, from reading it in the paper or online."


"....their opinions on strategic issues are no more, or less, than any civilian living in, say, San Francisco or the Bowery."

No disrespect intended sir, but you gotta be f

g kidding me. Do you really believe that? Did you really think about those statements before putting them in your column? Are we to believe that these soldiers are no more knowledgeable in their strategic analysis than jerkoffs like David Brooks or Jonah Goldberg, or the average Fox News viewer, or that we are to read their words with the same suspension of disbelief that hacks like O'Hanlon and Pollack have so richly earned? I don't think so.

According to your thesis, we were as likely to receive a fuller understanding of the true nature of the Vietnam War, five years into the conflict, by listening to Gen. Westmoreland as to the tens-of-thousands of returning grunts. Sorry Colonel, but that's just asinine.

Please forgive me, as I am in no way questioning your fine service, or your obvious love of the Army, but the point could just as easily be made that you have forgotten a central dictum that all good officers know, as that the seven soldiers have violated Col. Moore's guidelines. Namely, that if you want to know what's going on in your unit, in your AO, and in the Army, you don't listen to the officers ... you listen to the sergeants. In this case, I'll listen to the sergeants, however much you might feel they should have diluted their hard-won opinions.

Again, with respect, but ... In a way, it is a shame that you wrote your essay in the way that you did. You could have been much more powerful, while conveying the same opinion, had you "stayed in your lane."

Name: Tom
Hometown: Seattle

As always, I appreciate the thoughtful critique from Lt. Col. Bob regarding the servicemen's essay on Iraq. I would like to make one proposition in their defense. It seems to me that the current administration has effectively created a Catch-22 for anyone criticizing their position on any topic - especially Iraq. That is, if you "stay in your lane" you are effectively dismissed as being limited in your understanding and unexposed to the reality of the bigger picture. And if you make broader extrapolations based on your personal experiences, then you are dismissed for using too small a sample size in an effort to bolster a political position. Since you can't win either way, you try to make the biggest impact you can with what you have.

It may very well be that their position would have been better served by "staying in their lane," but I still appreciate the fact that they did it and that they would have been vilified by some no matter what they wrote.

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA

LTC Bateman,

I think you've mentioned Article 88 before on Altercation.

Enlisted members also do give up the same right. Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 includes a prohibition for all active duty members against using contemptuous words against officials defined in United States Code 888, in language almost identical to Article 88. Enlisted members cannot, of course, be punished under Article 88, but they can be punished under Article 92 for failing to obey an order.

Fortunately, my Airborne brothers didn't cross that line, but it bears mentioning since an enlisted member might be empowered to cross the same line in ignorance if he/she reads "officers only."

Name: Fydor
Hometown: Ridgewood

Excellent tutorial on rhetoric. But, precisely what you criticize them on is what most people will, and should, give them a pass for. They are firing widely like someone nervously qualifying with an M-16 for the first time. The point is that they feel the need to try a new weapon, and that makes their point.

Name: Ian Randall Wilson
Hometown: Los Angeles

As the author of Hunger and Other Stories, it pains me to read articles like the one lamenting the lack of a reading public. But let's turn it around: 75% are still reading so that's not a bad thing. Maybe if schools don't turn kids off to reading by making it a chore, something that's necessary to teach to the test, and if parents put a book in their kids' hands and take away the videogames, we might produce a new generation that does actually like to read. Though I'm no big fan of Rowling, the response to the Potter series is a cause for hope -- provided they act as gateway books.

Name: Davis X. Machina
Hometown: Maine

We have many demands on our non-working hours...

Daniel Pennac, in his delightful 1996 book about reading, Better Than Life, makes the point that all the time spent reading has always been stolen time.

Name: Jim Carlile
Hometown: Burbank, California

I have to take issue with Siva's claim that we were not once smarter and wiser as a culture. Just last week I received a huge shipment of old magazines I found on EBAY. Things like 'Life,' old movie mags, 'Popular Photography,' most from the 30's and 40's. The first thing that struck me about them was the absolutely huge amount of copy they contained. Articles ran four of five pages, huge in size, long paragraphs were several column inches at the least.

Remember, we're talking about magazines written for the general reading public. Many of the articles they featured would be considered impenetrable these days by most readers. They wouldn't even make the effort to get through them.

So I'm not as sanguine about the state of our culture as perhaps I would want to be. I've seen the evidence and it's not looking too good compared to days gone by.

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