Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Go Go PowerPoint Rangers (Updated)


Starbuck of Wings Over Iraq brought my attention to this: a PowerPoint presentation, presumably affiliated with the U.S. Army in some way, about online etiquette and operational security (OPSEC). And lo and behold, Kaboom is mentioned on slide three!

I'm more amused than bothered, for a few reasons:

1) The PowerPoint Rangers that put this together clearly don't realize what brought Kaboom down. It wasn't OPSEC - in fact, my strict adherence to OPSEC saved my ass and ensured a promotion to captain still occurred a month after the blog got shut down.
2) They insinuate that Kaboom violated UCMJ in some way. That may be true, but I know some JAG lawyers that would loudly, and vehemently, disagree. Methinks they know a little bit more than UCMJ than the PAO clowns who likely put this slide together.
3) Neither Osama or my Mama were bothered by Kaboom. The former, because he doesn't care about an American platoon leader mocking his superior in mid-2008; the latter, because even the sweet Scot-Presbyterian that she is has a bit of a pirate in her. So, I got that going for me. Which is nice. But hey, that slide is funny. Or something. Because it rhymes. Get it? I'm sure that quip brought the whole air-conditioned office down with laughter.
4) The screenshot of Kaboom they captured was of City Girl's short-lived rendition of Kaboom, which was mainly to keep readers up-to-date on the state of injured solider Hot Wheels. City Girl was and is a civilian. The clowns couldn't even be bothered to use Google Cache to find a screenshot of the right Kaboom site. Not only are they clowns, they're lazy clowns.
5) Points 1-4 remind me why PowerPoint is such a detrimental tool in the military. It simplifies complex scenarios and situations for the lowest common denominator, often by individuals who are simply regurgitating information themselves. It stifles research, analysis, and debate. Further, no author is cited for the slide, beyond the much vaunted U.S. Army emblem - it's simply passed through the ranks, shared over and over again, until someone recognizes just how dated and incorrect it is. In this case, expect such to occur sometime in 2022.

Now, as Starbuck points out in his comments section, the "save it for your memoirs" line is a cheap shot. And it's quite possible the person that typed that line could fit their deployment memoirs into a PowerPoint slide themselves. (Burn!) Spencer Ackerman (congrats on your move to the Danger Room, Spencer) calls it "classless." I'll admit to being a little ... annoyed. But the truth is, like all PowerPoint slides, no one will spend more than 30 seconds on this, because all too often, PowerPoint is there to check the block, not to learn.

(Well, us milblog Internet nerds will spend some time on it. But that's about it.)

If any PowerPoint Rangers (or otherwise) actually want to use the rise, fall, and resurrection of Kaboom as a teaching tool for young soldiers, email me at kaboomwarjournal@matt-gallagher.net. I'd be happy to provide some real teaching points, in whatever format you want. Even PowerPoint.

Update: A new thought regarding PowerPoint Rangers and Kaboom. It's free advertising. Keep up the libel, clowns, Daddy's got tuition bills to pay!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Hastings got wrong in Rolling Stan

Like many Americans, I’ve spent the last few days observing the fallout from General Stanley McChrystal’s Rolling Stone profile with a mix of fascination and perplexity. Facetiously nicknamed “Rolling Stan” and “McClusterfuck” on the Internet, this public relations nightmare blends all the melodrama of reality television with the actual realities of war. Uncouth commentary about superiors? Check. Drunken aides dancing at an Irish pub in Paris? Check. Direct access to the most powerful fighting man in our military? Check. A significant impact on the war effort in Afghanistan? Not quite. There’s no doubt Michael Hastings’ article will go down in the annals of journalistic star-makers, as it effectively ended General McChrystal’s career. However, it seemed clear when reading the article that Hastings also wanted to deride the current counterinsurgency strategy undertaken by military leaders in Afghanistan. President Obama stressed a shift in approach won’t occur when naming General David Petraeus McChrystal’s successor. Nor should it. For all the unsettling, flashy quotes Hastings’ article contained, his cursory analysis and dismissive tone of counterinsurgency (COIN) as a whole diluted an otherwise fascinating profile piece, and offered no feasible alternatives. COIN is never a good option, as Hastings points out – but sometimes, it’s the best option.

Counterinsurgency is a trendy term amongst Defense circles now, but such wasn’t always the case. Back in 2006, before General Petraeus took over command in Iraq, it was actually something of a revolutionary concept at the Pentagon. David Kilcullen, a noted counterinsurgency expert and current U.S. military consultant, describes this era as “a time when misguided leaders banned even the word ‘insurgency,’ though busily losing to one” in the inscription of his new book, Counterinsurgency. While Hastings attempts to portray COIN as a fringe strategy unleashed by a “runaway general,” historical paradigms are in abundance for the approach. The recent tactical (if not strategic) success of Iraq stands out, as do the British “victories” in Malaya and Northern Ireland. (One thing about COIN that the general public still has a hard time grasping: victory isn’t defined by winning, it’s defined by not losing. Don’t like it? Ensure that our political leaders don’t get the military involved in messy, guerilla land wars.) Hastings claims advocates of COIN operate with “a cultish zeal” and writes that “the theory essentially rebrands the military” as some kind of cross between the Green Berets and the Peace Corps. While those quotes certainly pack some pizzazz, they don’t speak to the success or failures of COIN, which is the purpose of military strategy, after all. It’s important that readers of the article understand that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal and their COIN disciples didn’t invent the wheel so much as they updated it for a modern world.

Hastings then trots out quotes from active duty soldiers in Afghanistan who complain about the restraints of COIN, and he infers that the war would go more smoothly if the rules of engagement for these soldiers were eased. Again, don’t hate the player, hate the game – General McChrystal had plenty of reasons, both historical and current, for his obsession with minimizing civilian casualties. France’s epic 1950’s failure in Algeria stands out most prominently in this regard, and we had seven years of cowboy tactics in Afghanistan with very limited success, where we pursued more of a counter-guerilla technique instead of the population-centric COIN now in place. Further, finding a soldier who isn’t angry and complaining in a war zone is about as rare as finding a journalist without an agenda. Combat soldiers will do their duty, and they’ll do it well, but they’re rarely happy about it. My scout platoon and I often complained about the rules of engagement in Iraq during the Surge, but once we got some perspective and time away from the perils of the moment, we better understood the whys of it all. Soldiers are trained to kill, and sometimes will do so even in a COIN environment, but that doesn’t mean they always should. It’s not an ideal solution, and leaves a lot of room for confusion and error, but ambiguity pervades every level of guerilla war, from the tactical to the operational to the strategic.

Vague references to a counter-terror strategy pepper the Rolling Stone article, usually advocated by Vice-President Biden. Again, Hastings does the reader a disservice by suggesting that COIN and counter-terror are mutually exclusive approaches. Anyone who doesn’t think we’re conducting counter-terror in Afghanistan right now, and a few other nations across the globe, is fooling themselves. It’s likely that no one understands this better than General McChrystal, given his background in Special Forces’ black operations. Saying someone is “pro counter-terror” is akin to stating someone is pro-education. That’s swell and all, but who’s going to disagree? There’s a matter of degrees and numbers application, with regards to counter-terror, that Hastings avoids in his piece.

Hastings’ article was provocative, enthralling, and, apparently, accurate. But he overreached with his equating of General McChrystal and counterinsurgency. The article in question won’t change the trajectory of the war, though it has changed the career trajectory of one general and his staff. When President Obama said this was a change in command, and not in strategy, he meant it – General Petraeus literally wrote the COIN manual, and his leadership and planning will certainly resemble, if not mimic, what occurred in Iraq from 2007-08. If there’s a place counterinsurgency can’t and won’t work, it’s Afghanistan; it’s not known as “the graveyard of empires” without reason. It’s definitely not a good option. But, nine years after an invasion without an exit plan, it’s the best one, as we creep towards the July 2011 withdrawal date.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Pritzker and RISK!

Been a whirlwind couple of days for the artist formerly known as LT G. Went from DC, to New York, to Chicago, back to New York, and I'm off to North Carolina later today for a wedding. Insert something punny here, I'm too jet-lagged to think of a good one.

Anyways, while in Chicago, I spoke at the Pritzker Military Library, which was both an honor and a privilege. The Pritzker people couldn't have been nicer, and I saw just enough of Chi Town to know that I need to see more. I even got picked up at the airport in a black Escalade - I guess this now makes me the Kanye West of miblogging.

Despite storms wreaking havoc on Chicago's air travel, Nancy at the Pritzker was able to get me to New York in time for something completely different - a live show called RISK!, run by Kevin Allison, of the famed comedy show The State. Of the five speakers, I was the only dude and the only non-comedian, but people were nice enough to laugh at some of the funny parts of Kaboom, anyways. It was a really cool experience, and hope to do more things like it in the future. Like Method Man recommends, "diversify that portfolio, jigga!"

Enjoy your weekend, interwebz.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Like a Rolling Stone

I'm off to Chicago today for this event at the Pritzker Military Library, but of course the hot issue of the day is General McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone. Now, I haven't read the whole article yet, but considering General McChrystal has already apologized for its content, the fears of an unnecessary distraction - and the pending fallout - seem valid.

While the public and DC is mostly going to focus on the political nature of McChrystal's/aides' comments, and use them accordingly depending upon their own agenda, the strategic implications for Afghanistan will unfortunately be put on the backburner. (What evidence do I have for this? Just nine years of the American public largely ignoring the war, and politicians' reactionary diatribes. That's all.) A central tenet of any military organization is unity of command, and this reads like the exact opposite of that. It was no secret that McChrystal and Eikenberry weren't buddies, but this is something else altogether. Everyone, from the POTUS to Biden to the Muppet Babies, get trotted in.

We're fighting in a land Alexander the Great described as the graveyard of empires, trying to defy all historical precedence on an accelerated timeline. Any distraction - let alone something like this - is going to be legitimately magnified. I don't know if it'll cost McChrystal his job - though it may very well do just that - but I do think this makes that July 2011 pullout date more concrete. And more importantly, it has made the job for the soldiers and Marines on the ground even more difficult, while calling into question the clarity of mission passed down to them. Tough day for the war effort.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kobe Bryant - the Hipster Anti-Christ?

First, an apology. This is a second straight hipster-related blog post. Too much time in Brooklyn for this cracka', clearly.

Second, a disclaimer. As a Sacramento Kings fan, I loathe the Lakers, and enjoy loathing them. And a day after the Lakers won the title (sigh), I'm taking solace in the damage Kobe did to his legacy in the process (6 for 24! Jordan would never do that in a Game 7, as MJ's son pointed out on Twitter) and watching the mania that was Ron Artest's press conference. So yeah, haters gonna hate and all that jazz. That doesn't make this wrong, though, so keep that in mind if the bandwagoner in you wants to type "LAKERS #1!!!!"

So. Hipsters and Kobe. At first glance, they don't have much in common, other than a bizarre fashion sense. There's also that grating sense of entitlement, but even that's just perception. The real link between the new Millennium's counterculture staple and the NBA's most divisive player is the word "contrived." And I'm not talking about personality.

According to this ESPN article, Kobe spends a lot of time studying film of former great ballers and then mimics their moves. I think that's swell, and a testament to Kobe's devotion to the game. But it got me thinking ... is there anything Kobe does that we haven't already seen? His dream shake? Stolen from Hakeem. His scoop shot? Dr. J's invention. And his whole image, from the day he entered the league at 17, has come across as a structured replica of Michael Jordan's, all the way down to the relentless tongue-wagging. (You make millions of dollars, dude. Buy some chap stick.) Many could (and should) argue that Kobe perfected what other players only began. Fair enough. But where's the originality? The genius of creation? It's just not there, in either Kobe's game or his (public) projection of himself to the greater world. Artest may be batshit crazy, but it's a genuine kind of batshit crazy.

Kobe entered the NBA in 1996, roughly around the same time hipster culture started building their Mecca in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ever since then, there's been a constant need in societal circles to define just what "hipsterdom" is; in my estimation, this Adbusters article comes the closest, describing it as "an amalgamation of its own history." The short version of the article is that hipsters have simply copied the style and trends of earlier counterculture movements (the punks, the Beats, etc.) without incorporating the soul and substance of these movements. An egregious lack of originality - just like one Kobe Bean Bryant.

The Adbusters article gets pretty esoteric, eventually reaching the conclusion that the rise of hipsters "represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new." A little melodramatic, to be certain, but what if the author is right? And what better way for these skinny-jeaned devils to usher in a cultural Armageddon than to plant one of their own in the NBA, where he can brainwash a new generation into nicknaming themselves after snakes and mugging the underbite? Would this not make Kobe the hipster anti-Christ? I'm willing to connect that dot if no one else will.

So, here we are. Indubitably, Kobe Bryant is the hipster anti-Christ. Help us Chris Childs, you're our only hope.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Day I met the Perseus Books CEO dressed like a Hipster

About three months ago, as the Kaboom launch date neared, the stellar marketing team at Da Capo and Perseus (Da Capo is an imprint of Perseus) asked if I'd be cool doing a podcast for the book's website. I thought it was a great idea, but there was one catch - I couldn't do it on a cellphone. Clarity and garble and all that. Like every other Millennial/Gen whYer I know, I don't utilize a landline - what other communication tool does one need, beyond a cell and Facebook? Usually, for radio interviews and such, I use my agent's landline, but he was out of town for the week. The solution - head to Perseus Books headquarters, located in lower Manhattan, and conduct the podcast interview there.

Now, perhaps this was shortsighted of me, but I thought this was going to be an in-and-out deal. I had a contact there, whose office I'd conduct the telephonic interview in, and that'd be that. I already had Happy Hour plans, post-interview. Comfort took precedence over style, in terms of dress. So I threw on a plaid shirt and a pair of blue jeans and called it a day.

Now, I'm definitely not a hipster. (Even real hipsters say that, I know. My defense? I detest V-neck shirts and don't rattle off a pretentious list of nobody bands when asked what music I listen to. I also don't wear scarves, in either the winter or summer. So there.) But I will admit to appearing slightly hipsterish on this day - the jeans I wore were on the skinny side (a Christmas present!) and a plaid shirt is either pragmatic or ironic, depending on the wearer. But I gave it no mind at the time, because as City Girl and my family will attest, I don't give a damn about clothes.

So, I walk into the Perseus building and get buzzed up to their floor. It's all very chic and modern-looking, and I'm suitably impressed. Definitely not in Brooklyn, anymore. Peter, my contact and all-around awesome guy, ushers me in and shows me around the place. A large placard of Kaboom's cover - it probably weighed 80 or so pounds - is on one of the walls. I ask, only partly-kidding, if I can get it when they're done with it. People laugh, but there's no answer, so I presume it's a negatory. Peter shows me to his office, tells me he'll be in the conference room, and then off-handedly informs me that the CEO of Perseus, David Steinberger, would like to meet me after I'm done with the podcast.

Through my parents and friends' parents, I've spent enough time in corporate offices to know that you don't meet the CEO of a company dressed like a hipster, even if you do qualify as a creative type. I also had my now normal four-day patchy beard/pirate look going. But, short of stealing an outfit and a razor, I had no choice. So, I conduct the podcast, find Peter, and am escorted into Mr. Steinberger's office.

He couldn't be nicer. His coffee table sports a brand new copy of Kaboom, which either means he genuinely enjoyed it, or his secretary is efficient as hell. I'm cool with either, actually - efficient secretaries mean efficient companies. We talk for a few minutes, and when he finds out about my grad school plans, he gives me a copy of an Arab history book from his bookshelf. That's that, and off to Happy Hour I go.

Surreal moment, to be certain. Would've been easier on a casual Friday or something, but still, a positive experience.

Summer in the City

Though one wouldn't know it from today (rain, drizzle, all around dreary), it's officially summer time in NYC. Temperatures have already hit the 90s, with a mugginess I've found surprising. All the containment, concrete, and smog of a city certainly doesn't help matters.

But I'm not sweating off the pounds like I was two years ago. (Has it really been that long?) Bars of soap don't melt here. I'm not taking shots of chai to cool down. And I'm not walking around with half my weight in body armor.

Perspective.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Neptunus Lex review

Good reviews of Kaboom always feel swell, but I think it means more to me coming from those in the veteran and/or milblogging community. This is likely because they've been there with me from the beginning, back when I was shocked to find a comment from someone who wasn't a friend or family member. So, glad to hear you enjoyed the book, Lex, and I may very likely steal the Guinness donation button on the side of your page.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Franklin Park reading series

Brooklynites, unite! As part of a great group of writers, I'll be reading tomorrow (Monday) at the Franklin Park reading series, in Crown Heights. Join us for a brew or two if you can. Festivities officially kick off at 8pm.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pissing on the Third Rail

According to New York City subway lore, the third rail contains the electricity charge that power the cars. And, after eight or so months of living here, I've had friends and acquittances share stories - always third- and fourth-hand, of course - of drunk bums pissing into the tunnel, while waiting for the subway. The bums' urine streams, these stories go, eventually strike the aforementioned third rail, and the world's most painful electric shock follows.

Now, I have no idea if the urban legend of death through penis electrocution is scientifically possible or not, but I've never felt inclined to prove or disprove it definitively. (One of the side benefits of going to war - you lose that young man's compulsion for trying stupid stuff just for the hell of it). But today around noon, while waiting for the A Train, I noticed a middle-aged derelict pissing into the tunnel and onto the rails.

I wasn't the only one. As I walked over to the guy, an older woman started imploring him to stop from across the way. I managed to spit out a "dude, please stop doing that." Two young "hoods," for the lack of a more descriptive term, came up from the man's other side and told him to stop. "Why?" asked the bum. "Because your dick will get blasted, bro," responded one of the young men.

This proved logical enough advice for the urinator, who stopped, mid-stream, and then finished the job in the corner by a trash can. The old lady, two hoods, and I shared a smile though, and continued about our days. In an odd sort of way, I think we all felt like we had just participated in a form of humanitarian aid. Whether possible or not, the very thought of dying like that sends shivers down the spine, and this guy certainly did not deserve such a fate.

And people say New Yorkers are selfish.

TNR reviews Kaboom and KABOOMKLYN

Just when I thought all the book chaos was winding down, and I could go back to chillin' like a villain, The New Republic comes out with this excellent review of Kaboom.

Also, mad props to Josh Landon for putting together a very successful KABOOMKLYN dinner party last night, good times with good people. And yes, the rumors are true - props are best when angry.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Perma Soldier Skillz

No sleep till (guitar riff) ... Brooklyn!

A couple months ago, I got off the subway in a not-so-nice part of Brooklyn, and gunshots rang out from down the street. Gang violence, I later learned, but I didn’t know that at the time. I rather calmly sought cover, and took a knee behind a parked car. Mentally, I estimated both the distance and direction of the shots and determined them to be handguns of some sort. Then I grew frustrated that my old radioman in Iraq, Private First Class Das Boot, wasn’t right there to relay my contact report to headquarters. Meanwhile, most of the people around me ran around, pointlessly flailing their arms and screaming, looking for neither cover nor concealment.

As the shots ended, I quickly regained my bearings, remembered I didn’t need to send up contact reports in New York, and chuckled at myself. I rose up from my crouched position to find a middle-aged man in the street staring at me like I was mad, probably because I had been looking around only seconds earlier for PFC Das Boot. Momentarily embarrassed, I shuffled off and joined the throngs of people on the sidewalk, now returning to their days. But upon further reflection, the question must be asked: with gunfire occurring maybe a block away, why is the person finding and taking cover the crazy person, rather than the guy frozen like a statue in the middle of the street?

Predictably, the paperwork for my Combat Action Badge- Brooklyn campaign got lost by those admin fucks.

Small Wars Journal Fundraiser

The Small Wars Journal, the online den of the military intellectual crowd, is currently holding a fundraiser. Donate here, if you can.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From the Department of It's About Damn Time...

Kaboom is now available for the Nook.

Kindle - check.

Nook - check.

iPad - working on it. Pouring more coal into Steve Jobs as I type this.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Iraq/Afghanistan fatigue in the book industry

About once a week, I receive an email from an enterprising writer looking to publish his (or her) war tales from Iraq or Afghanistan, seeking advice on how to accomplish such a goal. Of those that share some selections, most really are excellent - after nine or so years, a lot of insanity has ensued that needs to be shared with the larger world.

The problem though, is the marketplace is "fatigued with Iraq and Afghanistan stories." (I could attribute this quote to about ten different people in the publishing or literary industry). And for everyone not named Sebastian Junger (whose book, WAR, I loved) it can be a struggle to get the right people to read their manuscript, let alone purchase it.

The obvious question is - why is the marketplace fatigued? It's certainly an indictment on American society in general, but that's nothing new. In times of economic turmoil, people don't tend to like being reminded that others are suffering far more than they are. They want to laugh and be distracted. Hence the success of fratire slop like Tucker Max and Sh*t my Dad Says.

Where does that leave the warrior-poet, then? I wish I had a definitive answer. A huge reason why Kaboom got published is because of "The Washington Post" article, I know that. It was up to me from there to weave a quality narrative - something I'd argue I accomplished, given Kaboom's sustained success since publication. (Au contraire, says a couple dissenting Amazon reviewers!) But I'm not about to recommend to other writers in the military that they should give their command the proverbial middle finger. (Well. Unless said command really, really deserves it and no operational security is violated in the process.) In lieu of that, here is some advice that I can effectively offer, though I'm certainly no expert on the whims and desires of the book world.

1) Make it different - If this is vague and evasive, it's purposeful. If an outline to "different" existed, it wouldn't be different anymore. Colby Buzzell achieved great success with My War because it was the first Iraq book written from a grunt's perspective. Dr. Dave Hnida's Paradise General comes from the perspective of an Army surgeon. These stick out from the "typical" - and I use that term hesitantly, because there is nothing typical about going to war, especially in modern America - story of soldier goes to combat, fucked up things happen, soldier goes home.

2) Find the right agent - This may take a lot of groundwork on the writer's part. The right agent can make all the difference for a project - if he or she believes in its potential (and salability, which yes, is in fact a word) they can make things happen writers' pea-sized brains can't comprehend. There are a lot of agents out there though, and it's vital to remember that if a few aren't interested, that doesn't mean the next one won't be. Agents rejected Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn for thirty-plus years, for Allah's sake, so they aren't infallible. (Except for mine. Hi, William!)

3) Wait - and perfect - It took Marlantes thirty-plus years to pen his recently-released-but-already-classic Vietnam novel. Joseph Heller labored on Catch-22 for about fifteen years. And just because the current marketplace is oversaturated with Iraq and Afghanistan war stories (be them fiction or non-fiction), it won't always be. At some point, that American pup known as capitalism will wake up and be ravenous for all things GWOT.

Keep the faith, my people! Good things come to those who wait, and such. If it's good enough, it'll happen. In the mean time, in times of tribulation, watch Eminem's "Lose Yourself" video. It'll pick you up. Rapping to yourself in front of the mirror, optional.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Re: the Wikileaks Kid

Wired has an excellent rundown on the recent arrest of the Apache video (amongst others) leaker, Specialist Bradley Manning. Outed by a hacker of all people.

Admittedly, I'm torn on this. My initial reaction is to tear this kid a new one, because security violations of this type cannot happen. (Though, of course, they will in this digital era). But ... though obviously bright, it sounds like he's not right in the head and been ostracized in a way that can cripple the psyche of a young man. He's also only 22. What 22-year old kid isn't a bit self-possessed and guilty of viewing the world in black-white, right-wrong telescopes? It certainly sounds like from his viewpoint, he felt like he was doing the right thing. Was that viewpoint totally screwed up and asinine? Sure, but from what I've read thus far, I don't believe he realized the possible far-reaching effects of his actions, and that is a crucial differentiation - if not for the military, at least in the court of public opinion.

Don't get me wrong, Manning is a fool and deserves to get punished. (Which, uhh, he will be, indubitably). But where were his NCOs and platoon leader? I know intel geeks structure their units differently, but leadership at that level requires and demands direct oversight. That's why they're there - to provide guidance and mentorship in times of need.

Further, I find the real villain in all this to be the sanctimonious Julian Assange, Wikileaks' director. (Yes, that Australian dude that looks like a lesbian from Seattle). Wikileaks uses people like Manning, purportedly to make the world a more transparent place. But as we witnessed with the Collateral Murder video debacle, it's more than obvious that Wikileaks wishes to use leaked information like this the same way governments are accused of using information - as propaganda.

Orwell often wrote that "all art is propaganda." And if you're willing to make a logic jump that edited, digital videos can qualify as a form of art in this crazy modern era, it seems self-evident that Assange and Wikileaks are no better than the governments they criticize. They use people, like Manning. But it'll be Manning, and Manning alone, who faces the consequences of his actions. To wit, I somehow doubt that Assange will be sharing a cell with Manning at Leavenworth.

Sure, this story has new faces and new twists. But it's the most classic story in the world. Old men using young men for their own ends. Nothing new. Nothing new at all.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Loony Tunes

There's always one.

It seems at every book event that discusses Iraq or Afghanistan, be it mine or someone else's, there's always one individual who turns the question and answer session into their very own pulpit. Sometimes, they're crazy professors who think that my pro-bacon stance in Kaboom is somehow anti-Islam; others are old hippies still angry about the 2003 invasion/Vietnam/life. No matter the type though, they all try to bait the author into saying something sweeping in nature and inflammatory.

My latest dalliance with the bookstore fringe occurred at Politics & Prose in DC, with a Loony Tune of the aging hippie variety. (And BookTV got it all!) Despite the fact that I had already definitively stated I was anti-invasion in 2003, but in 2010, not anti-war, because you know, things change, the aging hippie wanted a less complex answer. He began by buttering me up for a minute or two (always a warning sign), and then launched into a rambling mess of "I thinks."

People in the audience started getting restless, and the bookstore manager, having seen this before, said "that's enough, sir!" Aging hippie - described by Gulliver of Ink Spots as a member of the "old-hippies with straw-hats-shorts-and-sneakers-with-white-socks brigade" - disagreed. I responded to his "question" with an attempt at reconciliation, pointing out that history will do plenty of judging, but here in 2010, we're better off focusing on action and solutions. Not being a counterinsurgency expert myself, I pointed him in the direction of those that are. "There's a broader context!" aging hippie shouted in defiance, as he walked out of the bookstore in a huff. Uncomfortable silence followed.

Now, I know I give off a bit of a devil-may-care slacker vibe. And rather than shouting down aging hippie Fox News-style, I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed him off. But maybe I should've gone all blowhard on him. Because yeah dude, there's a broader context. I know this better than most. But I had already offered my macro analysis, despite the obvious fact that the point of my book (and hence, the event in question) is an exercise in the micro.

As I asked Lieutenant Colonel Larry many blog posts ago, while still in Iraq, "I roll out of the wire everyday to bask in a Third-World cesspool craving my attention for nothing more than the most basic human need - hope. Is there a bigger picture that, or just different vantage points from safer distances?"

That's broad enough, methinks.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Hate to Love Blogging (and Love to Hate it) (and such)

The love-hate relationship with blogging is nothing new to modern writers, but I've (finally) hit that point in my development. I mean, Christ, I owe my entire writing career (whatever that means) to blogging and the benefits of reaching a mass audience instantaneously. Write quick, descriptive pieces, then move on to the next one when something happens worth telling. And that style worked for Kaboom, even in book form, because war is nothing else but a collection of insane episodes that shouldn't - and don't - fit together. Don't trust a combat memoir that flows too smoothly - fa rizzle.

But as I've taken up the keyboard again, I've been trying to blog and simultaneously develop my writing in more traditional forms. The Great American Novel, yo. And it's killing brain cells. Some days, blogging seems like a chore and I can't stop weaving the narrative for a book certainly destined to be better than anything Fitzgerald and Salinger put together. (Facetious liar alert) Other days, it's the exact opposite.

I think this is my version of the Artist's Reward, delayed as it may be. I never doubted that Kaboom is/was damn good. It has its weaknesses, certainly, but it has some mad cajones. Can I write another one? Something grander in scope, better in form, sharper in focus? Fuck, I don't know. I hope so, for sure.

Damn you blog, for taking away precious words from the magnum opus I'm supposed to be writing. And damn you, worthless manuscript, for taking away precious words from the blog that is instrumental in spreading the word about the book that actually got published.

I'm on the train to DC right now, and yes, I had too much Coke (the cola, not the Bolivian marching powder.) Ping ping ping!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Politics & Prose, Washington DC

DC peeps - I'll be speaking at Politics & Prose tomorrow (Thursday), at 7pm. I promise to ramble in person the same way I do in Kaboom. Also, rumor has it that CSPAN's BookTV may be there as well. Thismuchcloserto fulfilling my lifelong dream of acting a fool in British Parliament!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Day on the Brooklyn Bridge

If there's a better way to spend Memorial Day than walking the Brooklyn Bridge with the illustrious City Girl, I'm not allowed to vocalize it. We started on the Brooklyn side, and thus walked straight into picturesque view after picturesque view of lower Manhattan. We got our sun on, then our grub on, and then (finally!) our beer on.

Idyllic in a place that supposedly doesn't allow for it.

I thought about old comrades, especially those that fell, or have since gotten lost. Remember and honor, like Reagan talked about, because it's all we can do. It's not enough of course, but it's never enough.

I hope everyone had an equally peaceful and relaxing Memorial Day weekend.