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My Tepid Support.

Thursday, November 08, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Blogfriend Callimachus at Done With Mirrors has three excellent, thought-provoking posts on the subject of war. I agree with each in part, and disagree a bit as well.

First, here, an example of a new insight to be gained.

Last week, a co-worker opined out loud, "We defeated Hitler without waterboarding; why can't we survive without it now?" It's the kind of thing that gets said all the time around here, not as an honest question but as something that is expected to be greeted with nods and rumbles of assent. I must have been tetchy because I actually turned around and answered it.

"Because we bombed the living shit out of everything in Germany. We didn't care about specific information. If U.S. troops took fire from a town, they pulled back, called in the artillery, and blew it to smithereens, citizens and all, and moved on. We didn't torture POWs, but sometimes we shot them to spare ourselves the trouble of transporting them."

See? I'll bet you hadn't thought of it in quite those terms. I hadn't. I doubt Cal would want to have to defend that explanation in too much detail -- obviously we'd have liked to know specific troop movements and could theoretically have profited from information gained by torture -- but the larger and more interesting point is that we have drastically altered our view of what is acceptable in wartime.

60-odd years ago we'd stick a wet finger in the air, and once we'd determined the direction of the breeze, we'd lay down tens of thousands of pounds of incendiaries in such a way that the wind would create a firestorm to sweep across a city full of old men, women and children. Now we pull back from waterboarding. Our nickname for the guys who deployed fire to suck the air from the lungs of Japanese children? The Greatest Generation.

And then, there's this. After making the point that we have succeeded in some degree, and failed in some degree in Iraq, Cal writes:

But our main enemies there have succeeded and then failed even more miserably. The various insurgencies have succeeded in breaking the connection of the people to their government, in making the nation ungovernable, in bringing on a moral crisis and thwarting economic growth as well as any sense of personal liberty or dignity. This is classic Maoist strategy, but then they failed to fill the gap, either with their own vanguard of leaders or by educating and steering a popular uprising. They failed so miserably because their juvenile and sadistic leadership cadre had no ability to inspire other people, only to brutalize them.
True. We've been lucky in our choice of enemies in Iraq. Nobody really likes the Al Qaeda types. Their psychopathy shows. They're like the lifer who's so dangerous even the other convicted murderers steer clear. "Oh, sure, we're evil. But those motherfuckers? They are crazy."

Then Cal quotes an Iraqi blogger:

Frankly, I don't understand why so many mock us for wanting a future for Iraq. Is your hatred for George Bush so great that you prefer to see millions of civilians suffer just to prove him wrong?

It really comes down to this: you are determined to see Iraq become a permanent hellhole because you hate Bush. And we are determined to see Iraq become a success, because we want to live.
I have an answer for the gentleman. First: It's not our job to save you. It's our job to defend the interests of the United States. If we can do that and save you in the process, swell. If not, then you're on your own, just like the Darfurians, the Burmese and about six dozen other peoples.

Second: If you, collectively, you Iraqis, were really determined to be free and see your nation a success, we wouldn't have had to handle Saddam to begin with, now would we? We Americans rid ourselves of King George, the French guillotined their ruling class, the Indians managed to eliminate the Raj, the Romanians teed-up Ceausescu . . . A really determined population handles this sort of thing on its own.

Third: It's not hatred of George W. Bush, that's right-wing denialist bullshit. It's mistrust. It's a complete collapse of confidence. A thoroughly justified collapse. The serious Bush-haters, the far left, never supported this war, so their current opposition does nothing to change the math. What's changed is the position of pro-war moderates. We formerly pro-war moderates don't hate Bush, we just think he's an incompetent and a liar and a wee bit of a fascist, and having once been led into a swamp by this jackass we have some doubts about following him any further.

So, bottom line to our Iraqi friend: it's your problem, your failure as much as anyone's, we have zero confidence that you will ever get your act together, and the only leader we have is a baboon. Can you see why we're eyeballing the exit?

That having been said, if we can salvage something useful from this indescribable fuck-up, I'm for it.

Finally, there's this on the Iraqi insurgent learning curve. It seems they get the internets in Baghdad. Pity.

Cal quotes sympathetically from a piece by Robert Charette on "open source warfare." The gist is that the Iraqis have cleverly outwitted us by hooking door buzzers up to mines.

According to some estimates, it now takes Iraqi insurgents less than a month to adapt their methods of attack, much faster than coalition troops can respond. “For every move we make, the enemy makes three,” U.S. Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez Jr. told attendees at a May conference on IEDs. “The enemy changes techniques, tactics, and procedures every two to three weeks. Our biggest task is staying current and relevant.”
So, we're surprised that insurgents used mines? Really? We were expecting what? Stealth jets and space lasers? We're amazed when the bad guys go from jammable radio detonators to hardwired Wile E. Coyote plungers? Really?

First we didn't anticipate an insurgency. Then when it developed we refused to admit it existed. And finally we were stunned that they went to car bombs and IED's. Why won't the bastards line up in a row and shoot at us with muskets?

Going into World War II we somehow anticipated a need for long-range bombers, and long-range fighters, landing craft, floating docks, ship-mounted radar, torpedo guidance systems, bomb sights, flame throwers, and, oh, atomic bombs. Most of which we managed to conceive, engineer, test, build and produce in massive numbers, during the course of about four years.

But in this war we can't figure out we might have a need for mine-resistant vehicles? Did we just get stupider in the intervening six decades? We barely had a professional military going into WW2 and yet, somehow, we ended up with a whole bunch of gear by the time we surrounded Okinawa.

No excuse for this. The failure to provide decent body armor and mine resistant vehicles is sheer, criminal incompetence. Don't tell me that we can build an atomic bomb from scratch in four years but we cannot build a handful of armored troop carriers in the same period of time. It's insulting. And spare me from the brilliant adaptability of the Iraqi insurgents. Figuring out how to hook a flashlight battery to an artillery shell and hide it next to the road, does not make them a nation of Wernher Von Braun's.

The truth is that we screwed up on the intelligence going into the war, screwed up our conduct of the war itself, screwed up our analysis of the likely aftermath, screwed up the conduct of the occupation, screwed up the equipping and training of our forces, screwed up the force levels, screwed up the management of our alliances, screwed up our handling of Iraqi internal politics, and screwed up our handling of American domestic politics. Literally nothing was done right. Nothing.

No, not even the initial conquest, as smooth as it was. We went into Iraq playing a game of maneuver. Like it was 1861. We should have gone in on a mission of annihilation, intending to obliterate Saddam's army. 1865. 1945. Kill the enemy. (See Cal's first post above on our new squeamishness.) Dead guys don't join insurgencies.

On Cal's general thrust, I agree that we are, belatedly, thanks to Al Qaeda in its way, and General Petraeus in his, making some progress. Not progress toward our initial goal. Or even our later, more modest goal. Or the still more modest goals after that. But yes, we are making progress toward our current goal which in the words of Condi Rice is: "Oh, please God, let us get the hell out of here, and don't let us get blamed for a genocide." (I'm paraphrasing.)

I think we should hang in. For a while. Until we can ditch Mr. Bush and replace him with someone more capable. (There's a low hurdle for you.) Let's hold on and see what a grown-up can tell us about the situation.

But I have no unkind words for anyone who looks at the same set of facts and concludes it's time to leave. I'm a long way from being sure I'm right.

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WGA Strike Log - Day 1

Wednesday, November 07, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

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by Michael Reynolds

The Writers Guild of America is on strike. (Some writers blog the strike here.)

I'm not a member of WGA. I write books not screenplays or TV scripts. In the book biz we don't have a union. No health plan, no retirement plan, no union rep to defend our interests. Then again, my ownership in a book is pretty straightforward. I get various percentages of the cover price, depending on whether we're talking hardcover or paperback, big sales numbers or small, generally between 6% and 10%.

I don't think most screenwriters would argue that they deserve as big a piece as book authors get -- in a movie or TV series the director, the actors, the various other writers, and others, all have a claim to a piece of the pie. But right now writers get less than a nickel from a $20 DVD and nothing from a download. Call it a quarter of a point.

A quarter of a point. Versus a book author's 10 points. My cut from my writing work is 40 times bigger than a WGA member gets off his work.

Granted that no one thinks the writers of House or Desperate Housewives have quite the claim on their shows that book authors have on their books, a quarter point is still a travesty.

So, here in the North Carolina branch of the kidlitosphere, we are supporting the WGA. We will buy no DVD's or downloads, and will do what we reasonably can to punish major network ad sponsors, until the strike is settled.

This is simple. The writers are right.

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Mais, Bien Sur.

by Michael Reynolds

Your Inner European is French!

Smart and sophisticated.
You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.

H/T to Randy at Internet Ronin.

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More Blue.

by Michael Reynolds

I love Jet Blue. I've flown them twice now for a total of six individual planes. RDU to JFK, and JFK to California.

New planes. Leather seats. 30 plus channels of live television. Pleasant employees. (Would your son like to have his picture taken in the cockpit before we take off?) Boarding passes you can actually make sense of. Large overhead luggage bins. Plenty of legroom. And they're inexpensive. And their website works.

In terms of everything but food service, a standard Jet Blue seat is better than a business class seat on a legacy carrier.

Why can't the rest of the industry do this? And if they can't, why don't they just crawl off and die and leave Blue to manage the nation's air travel?

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A Surprising Absence of Assholery

Tuesday, November 06, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Had I conducted a survey of Americans and asked them "Should I take my ten-year old to spend eleven hours on a Hollywood set with two rappers filming a music video?" I'm willing to bet 60% or 70% of people would have answered "No." There would have been dire warnings about everything from drugs to sex to runaway ego.

No doubt there's quite a bit of drugs, sex and runaway ego in the music business and in Hollywood. And I'm not proposing that a single experience should be taken as representative. But this one experience was a wholly positive one for me and for Jake.

During the course of eleven hours Jake was exposed to no drugs, no sex, and no temperament. In fact, the only questionable material came from the South Park episodes I'd allowed him to download. And the only F-bombs he heard were from me. (Sorry, it's useful punctuation when telling some stories.)

What the kid saw were dozens of professionals working smoothly, overcoming numerous obstacles, rising above frustration and remaining unfailingly courteous and considerate. There was a great deal of laughter. No raised voices.

Master P, far from being the preening egomaniac that I suppose people expect a rapper to be, was thoroughly down-to-earth, soft-spoken and approachable, and could just as easily have been an insurance executive or US Airways vice president. (Except that the insurance industry and the airlines do hire extensively from the Satanist community.)

Romeo, an eighteen-year old who was brought up in Hollywood and in the music industry, could not have been a nicer kid. Seeing Jake taking photos he volunteered to take one with him. He checked back a couple of times to make sure Jake was getting some good shots of all the action.

The electricians, the grips, the food service people, the make-up people, the director of photography (Andrew Dryer,) all working a hard eleven-hour day in a very un-California chill, were so well-behaved that I'm forced to deploy a word as noxious as "sweet." And the lesson imparted to my kid was not "Turn away from the depravity of the whore of Babylon," but rather, "See, this is how professionals behave, and how you should behave."

Yes, it's embarrassing but true: I was using directors, cinematographers, actors and rap stars as exemplars, and implicitly contrasting them with a certain temperamental, foul-mouthed kid's book writer Jake knows extremely well. Actually two temperamental, foul-mouthed kid's book authors.

The sole exception? A teacher, who went ranting around the set for half an hour bitching that we should have a teacher on the set, (but not her, she was on her lunch break,) and giving me the evil eye for taking my kid out of school for the day.

In fact, the shoot was a recreation of a Civil Rights era march. So the kid learned some history, observed movie-making, absorbed some technique, heard some music, met some celebs, took some pictures, and came away with a first-hand appreciation of the work that goes into filming. Tell me he would have learned anything like as much in a typical day in 5th grade.

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My Hollywood Hip-Hop Adventure.

by Michael Reynolds

My friend Alex Lemay (the director of Conversations With the Enemy, our in-progress doc, as well as Desert Bayou, in release now, and the guy I used to do political commercials with,) asked me to come out to Hollywood to be a second set of eyes on the set of this rap video shoot with Master P and his son, Romeo. (Formerly L'il Romeo.)

The video will be included in the Desert Bayou DVD.

On the Sony pictures lot, Jake and I walk past the
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy sound stages.

Jake watching inapropriate videos
while we hang out with the extras.

Master P and Romeo playing to the camera.

Romeo getting some body make-up.

That'd be me. No body make-up.

(All photos courtesy of my son, Jake.)

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Where's Mikey?

Sunday, November 04, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

If I gave you a week to think about it, you'd still never guess where I am and what I am doing.

(Answer in comments.)

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