The Iraq War: 10 Lessons Learned During My Brother’s Deployment

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.*

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

 

*This was written in 2005. This size restriction is no longer accurate.

A word of thanks to President Bush

ulysses-grantI would like to take a moment to thank President Bush for the great service he has rendered me personally. I have been a fan of Ulysses S. Grant for much of my life. I have always admired Grant for his perseverence during devestating personal set backs as well as his sense of personal honor — honor in the sense of needing to uphold his good name through good acts. Sadly this sense of honor lead to his greatest downfall. He believed that others were as straighforward and honorable as he was. As a result he presided over one of the most corrupt administrations in US history. It is well-documented that he himself was not corrupt and was one of the few in his administration who didn’t personally profit. As a result his administration was long considered one of, if not the worst in US history.

The debate is now over! Mr. Bush has set a — hopefully — all-time record for incompetence and idiocy by a US president. If the soon-to-be ex-president has not redeemed Gen. Grant, he has certainly given historians a better sense of perspective on what being a bad president truly involves.

BTW, while it IS true that President Bush spent his final few hours in office calling other world leaders, I do not believe the rumor that they all said, “Lose my number.”

10 things a satirist gives thanks for

  1. The Bush Administration
  2. GM’s “leadership” (What’s the difference between the cub scouts and GM? Adult supervision.)
  3. Sarah Palin and her handlers sarah-palin-turkey-slaughter-big
  4. The voters of Minnesota. Jesse Ventura! Al Franken! (someone’s spiked the 10,000 lakes).
  5. Jaguar Land Rover for applying for a bailout.
  6. Barney Frank: “These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.
  7. The Chicago Cubscub curse
  8. Alan Greenspan
  9. The phrase “too big to fail.” Econ speak for: About to bite the dust.
  10. Joe Biden: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed. He said, ‘look, here’s what happened.’”

Penguin seal

Rebranding America

A post from Marketing 2.0 where I am also a contributor:

I cannot think of another brand that has had the total image change the US is attempting. It’s like trying to turn the Pinto into a Volvo. There’s no doubt that we need a rebranding. While there are no world-wide poll numbers on dissatisfaction with George W., it is safe to say they are at least as low as they are here at home.

Cynics will tell you — not incorrectly — that branding is all about image: New chrome, new font, new scent, new claims. The cynics are correct because they have seen this happen with repeatedly. (My favorite example: Anyone actually believe BP as an environmentally friendly oil company?)  (Read the rest by clicking here)

Can you help a couple of friends of mine?

When Big Brother Sergeant First Class CollateralDamage was in the sandbox many friends sent him stuff. On his birthday or Christmas or something he got so many cards that he actually cried. (He does it once a century whether he needs to or not.) I have two buddies currently serving in the George Bush Desert Classic. One is in playing on the course in the mid-east, the other is on the course in the far east. (Full disclosure — one is a buddy of SFC CollateralDamage whom I’ve never met but who he says is really neat despite being a lieutenant.) Both could use some care packages. If you have a moment and would like to help make a soldier cry for a good reason then please post a comment below or drop me an email.

My further thoughts on the topic, below:

IRAQ: My 10 Lessons Learned

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

Let the Munich, er, moral, er, Beijing Games begin!

Today is the start of the most odiferous Olympics since the widely boycotted Moscow games of 1980. It is difficult to catalog the extent of the Chinese government’s horrors — even just since Tienanmen Square — so allow me to quote someone else:

China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

And this wording is the cleaned up and diplomatic version put forth by the US State Department, an organization not generally known for its willingness to call major trading partners to task on these issues. Thankfully Mr. Bush has undercut even these slight words of criticism (as well as his own tepid comments on the subject) by attending the games.

The most fascinating thing to watch will unfortunately not be in the athletic sphere but the contortions performed by the sponsors and the media to play up allegedly idealistic goals of the games while minimizing the facts on the ground.

You can get an idea of the depth and seriousness of the journalism I am expecting by this selection of headlines from today’s USAToday:

It’s a fascinating moment when sites like OhGizmo are doing better coverage than the MSM: Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee Bans “Professional Camera Equipment” For Non-Press Visitors. It’s not a big story, but it is an indicative one and one which is based on that oh so difficult task of actually examining the record.
Also there was this one which mostly got covered by the MSM as a crackdown on prostitutes:
I should temper this rant slightly, a few MSM stories of note:

Huzzah to our dear, dear irony-free friends at Google for this inspiring post on their official blog:

I’m happy to present the 2008 Summer Games on Google, a site that features a number of our products to help you stay updated on Summer Games happenings. And it’s available in 66 countries and 31 languages, from Australia to Uruguay, and from Arabic to Vietnamese. We collaborated with a data provider to make it easy …

Given the circumstances “collaborated” is definitely not the word you want to use. How about “worked with”?

Well, since these are supposed to be a particularly environmentally friendly games (don’t breathe the air), I will reuse and recycle something written earlier under the headline Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

Graphic via ClaudiAx.net.

Remarks by the President at Ceremonial Groundbreaking of United States Institute of Peace

Cry Havoc, and Loose the Penguins of Irony!

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your kind introduction, and thank you for inviting me to join you to break ground for the United States Institute of Peace’s new home.  I’m really pleased to be here.  I appreciate what you do to resolve conflict and support new democracies and to build peace by promoting effective diplomacy.

‘Cuz I sure as hell am not going to.

Prez sez if he were younger he’d go to Afghanistan; an opinion apparently not shared by his daughters

I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed… It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger.” — The Clueless One during a video conference with civilian & military personnel who are facing real danger in Afghanistan. At no time did he say, “Dang, I knew I should have gone to Vietnam.”

You read it here first: Media, Pentagon getting their ideas from me & CD jr.

From The NY Daily News: CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT – IN BAGHDAD?

Where did they come up with this one? The Multi-National Corps-Iraq press desk sent out a release today about a new operation targeting insurgents in Baghdad, which succeeded killing two insurgents and locating a cache of “artillery rounds, mortars, cell phones, weapons, propaganda, ammunition magazines and other bomb-making materials.” The clever name of this mission? Operation Bull Run.

From CD in February 2006: The Iraq Civil War, or Operation Bull Run

Last Sunday, Secretary of State Rice made the TV rounds and dismissed an “impending” civil war. And, technically, she’s right: It’s not impending if it’s already here. Her comments sound like Gen. Westmoreland’s December 1967 dismissal of the North Vietnamese’s ability to launch an offensive anywhere in South Vietnam. The following month the North launched the Tet offensive everywhere in South Vietnam.

Two points for the Pentagon to keep in mind:

  1. It was a JOKE.
  2. There have been two previous battles of Bull Run. We lost ’em both.

Y’know, Tom Lehrer once said that irony died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Oh Tom, if only you’d been right.

(Mad props to Flagrancy To Reason for finding this.)

From Wired: How to Take Money From Kids: Sell Toys Both Physical and Virtual

Webkinz kick-started a trend in children’s gaming that ties virtual environments to real-world merchandise. Online games for kids aren’t new. Sierra Online had tot-focused games in the early ’90s, and Neopets proved a hot product six years ago with a similar concept. But the unprecedented success of Webkinz is inspiring everyone from Barbie to Disney to get children invested in both the digital and the physical.

From TheWhatchamacallit: Neopets a neoscam?

The NC Mall was the final blow though. Needing to use real money, to buy virtual items on a kids site? It should not be! I am going to write a twelve paragraph letter to neopets on this subject, after seeing how few people actually realize neopets is being taken over!

From Reuters: Program Reveals Where Wikipedia Entrees Come From

A new tracing program that reveals where Wikipedia entries come from is stirring up controversy. People using FBI and CIA computers edited entries on such topics as the “Iraq war” and the prison at “Guantanamo Bay,” presenting a conflict of interest for the nonprofit online encyclopedia, according to a company spokesperson.

From today’s New York Times: Seeing Corporate Fingerprints in Wikipedia Edits

Collateral Damage: See here & here.

Collateral Damage: Today’s sarcasm is tomorrow’s news.

Having decided to accept less qualified applicants, Army also decides to give them less training

clipped from www.boston.com
“We are doing everything we can without jeopardizing the quality of the training to make it more efficient and compress it,” Colonel Joe Gallagher, chief of plans for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, said in an interview earlier this month. “The whole intent is to get the soldier into the unit where he can be used faster. Time will tell if something is missing.”

  blog it

This is spin talk for we are so short of warm bodies that we will do anything. Unfortunately the proof of whether something is missing is … horrible. This is far too reminiscent of what the military did in the late 60s/early 70s. And look how well that turned out.I take this a bit personally as these are the people who are going to be next to Staff Sgt. Big Brother Collateral Damage should he ever have to play another round in the George Bush Desert Classic.

Any senior officer who signed off on this should resign or face a court-martial.

And, by the way, congrats to Jenna Bush on her engagement. Since she’s not in the service. I assume her fiance is.

Remember: Army Strong is Army Dumb

U.S. escalates war on concepts: “The enemy is extremism”

pogoIn an interview on NPR Gen. David Petraeus showed that logic is not a required course at the Army War college:

Q: A simple question that many in America are now wrestling with: Who is the enemy and what is the U.S. fighting for?

A: The enemy is extremism, we think, and it is extremism that comes in various forms.

I forget, is it the infantry or the artillery who are trained in extreme combat?

Isn’t moderation the best weapon against extremism? But if you do it too well you run the risk of being extremely moderate.

If the enemy is extremism does this mean we’re about to attack the X Games?

Maybe we could attack marketers who use the word extreme when ever they want to appear “hip” and “down” with the kids these days?

I look forward to the Armed Forces blowing up statues of Sen. Barry Goldwater who famously said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Isn’t going to war a very extreme act?

One definition of extremism is “any political theory favoring immoderate uncompromising policies.” Invade the vice president’s office immediately.

This reminds me of something George Bush the elder said during the first Iraq contretemps: “We are fighting to prove that might does not make right.”

The war on extremism makes the war on terror look good.

Iraqi city terrorized by giant badgers — on the lookout for mushrooms, snakes

There is a new hazard at the George Bush Desert Classic

BASRA, Iraq (AFP) – The Iraqi port city of Basra, already prey to a nasty turf war between rival militia factions, has now been gripped by a new fear — a giant badger stalking the streets by night. Local farmers have caught and killed several of the beasts, but this has done nothing to dispel rumours of a bear-like monster that eats humans and was allegedly released into the area by British forces to spread panic.

Great now we face an additional threat from RUS.

Buttercup: What about RUS-es?
Wesley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t believe they exist.

Doesn’t Wesley already sound like he works for the administration? (Earlier in the movie he proves he isn’t aware that one of the classic blunders is getting involved in a land war in Asia.)

Remember: If we don’t fight the giant badgers in Basra, soon we will be fighting them here. This syllogism so favored by the Administration was also used during Vietnam. In Dispatches, Michael Herr has the perfect response: Well maybe we could beat them here.

BTW, if the headline doesn’t make sense CLICK HERE and prepare to laugh. A lot.