Atomized junior

Dedicated to the smallest particles of meaning on the web
Atomized Links:

Usual Suspects:

(A search engine for Wikipedia)


Atomized junior

Monday, August 30, 2010
Brownian Motion

 In life things happen. Childhood ends. It happened more or less to me, and most of the people I knew. And now, most distressingly, it has happened to my niece who has gone off to college.  

 Nicole; I've know her since she was born, the day after to be precise. My sister Ann's oldest child.  I've seen her almost every week or weekend since then, these last eighteen years. She is in the very top ring of my favorite people. I remember her as a self possessed little girl sitting in a tree in the back yard of the Chincoteague beach house. I recall reading Magic School-bus books to her, reading them in her requisite thorough manner, not just the word balloons, but all the accompanying text. All the words and everything it all meant. I remember her as a "Piccadilly Pip-squeak" in a Washington Revels presentation of "A Dickens Christmas." I remember middle school moments those tween to teen years when you first get a locker in school. It brought me back to days when you join the familiar yards and streets in your neighborhood, to  all the continents and oceans of the world. Not just as places in pages, but a suddenly vast and very material world. In that same moments I could briefly see the world again through such eyes.  I saw less and knew less of her the last few years of high-school. The busy Nicole years. On the other hand I can still recall those years fairly well from my own life, and could sketch in a reasonable impression of it. Her last year of high school the most lasting impression I have of her was in a Glee-inflected staging of Shakespeare's "A midsummer nights dream" by the Wilson players of Wilson Senior High in DC. as "Titania, Queen of the Fairies."

 Now she's leaving home. Gone to keep an appointment made with a man from the motor trade. What Nicole's leaving represents is the end of a certain type of family togetherness. The end of the possibilities to certain types of experiences. The meta experiences of childhood. A break-point in life when your direct influence in their development is at an end. Of course, for her it is the beginning of everything! The moment where she takes possession of her independence and her own being. Still I'm feeling the departure for myself, and feeling empathy with my sister.  

 There was difference between this week and last week in how I felt and perceived all this. I work at a university, the university where I almost completed a degree (114 useless credits accumulated) once. Last week, the week before labor day, with all the parents and incoming freshman milling about. I could see my niece Nicole in every one one of them. I could only think of how I would miss her. Perhaps because I could read the family relationships and strains of separation, the letting go in every glance, pause, and overheard comment between those children and their parents. I habitually feel a little diffident at this time of year anyway -- the dread specter of seven credits. It was easy to feel overly conscious.

 This week registration opens, classes start. The parents are gone and it is just the students. Graduate students, a peculiar tribe: thin fuzzy different. Impatient. The returning student - a dozen different looks all converging on a hunger of sorts. The freshmen are the ones who stand out. Well mostly they just stand about, looking wide-eyed lost and happy.   

 Brown University, that's where she is. It's up in Providence. I wiki'd it,  Brown University - Wikipedia.  and google mapped at it,  Brown University Providence RI - Google Maps. I did the same thing last year when she went on a DC school sponsored trip to Paraguay. Its how I keep up.  Looking over Brown, a real university, I had a minor, tardy but genuine epiphany that Maryland, at least my Maryland was not where I ever really needed to be. No, I wasn't heading to the Ivy league out of the Navy, but there were smaller-scaled places than a state university and I knew it.      

  I never liked college much. Never as much as I thought I was going to. This was a mystery and a disappointment to me. Still UMCP always seemed the best of all possible places.  Too late a skepticism about college formed, of a romanticism of college life, a romanticism of education. I tossed aside at the outset hard won lessons from four years in the Navy on how tricky in is to live inside a large impersonal institution and still have an individual purpose and direction. Without wanting to create the wrong impression I wish I had been more aggressive about college, about learning, less arrogant about what I knew, which was very very little, less in denial about that. Less attentive to distraction like the radio station or $4/hr dining hall jobs. It isn't about money not made, a practical education. I was a government and politics major; practicality never entered into it. It is about getting to a place where you can effect a difference. Have an opinion that matters, that you can trust because you know how a process works and can communicate that to others.

 There is something more I should say in recognition that today's college students are not just younger editions of myself, to which I can apply an updating of my experiences and world view. They are not simply a generational splice or increment but an entirely new generation. There were Dj's I listened to from the college station here at U. Maryland a few years back, before I switched over to listening to WFMU primarily. I found myself seeing these DJ's as types and markers of prevailing zeitgeists and of stations in life. The DJ who has broken out of the pop music (including indie pop) wadding pool and seen the immense world of music beyond. Dj's whose tastes and knowledge were cool for high school but never developed further on any day after. Dj's whose playlists included oddly large amounts of video game music,  in all its 8-bit polyphonic splendor, because that's what they grew up with. Pong didn't really have theme music.  A Dj named Mai Nguyen doing her last radio show as she graduated and headed out to the twenty-something working world. In these I learned that times and outlooks had changed.

 What any college is, is the teachers, not football, or buildings brick or ivy covered. Anciently sedate as they may be. It is not about all-night studying, nailing deadlines, and developing networks, because you can reproduce all that elsewhere. It is about teachers and dialogues; with the living and present, the distant and removed. It is briefly about the ideas of things. And you can't really do that anywhere else.

11:01:10 PM    ;;

Thursday, August 26, 2010
the Long War

 Normally I'm on the side of more information than less. More clarity than less. Hidden information isn't valuable in the same way as free information but it is still power for someone. The majority of government classified information is the very definition of bullshit, not the information but its classified status. My first take on the WikiLeaks Afghanistan declasse was simply that generally disclosure is good, even forced disclosure (Forced Disclosure - that'd make a great name for a punk rock 'zine ). Learning more about it changed my mind, though. Leaking raw intelligence that still identifies methods and sources is dangerous and irresponsible Taliban Study WikiLeaks to Hunt Informants - The Lede Blog - It compromises and puts people in mortal jeopardy. The notion that these sources put themselves in danger which Julian Assange, persona prime for WikiLeaks, tried to put forward is a tissue thin post-hoc rationality, a banal self-serving question-begging that dissolves in its own ambiguity. All the same Wikileaks seems never to have dealt with this size of data pool or type of information before. The sheer size of the WikiLeaks record dump precluded any sort of manual review or redaction. Nothing they've dealt with before needed it. Up to this point; though, WikiLeaks has had a short noble history of standing up forthrightly if self-righteously to various dangerous assholes Wikileaks - Wikipedia . I can not damn them  yet

 Those whose war this is - in and out of the formal government - and those charged with prosecuting it, are aware that the continual adjustments of fortune and approach of a long campaign of attrition require that the war, and the military be kept mostly out of the public scrutiny. It is a matter keeping the tarp on and tied down. Leaks and even basic reportage can't be tolerated, only public relations Army Investigating Rolling Stone Story That Led To McChrystal Ouster | TPMMuckraker.

 Looking through the media at least as far as Google and Bing news cache it, you don't get much sense of how the professionals see the war, aside from various guarded statements from General Petraeus Gen. David Petraeus says Afghanistan war strategy 'fundamentally sound' or Secretary Gates. Still there are a few things out there beyond the tethered sources View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan - The current falling support for the war is not caused by the considerable recent increase in casualties or lack of elite support. This is from one of those Army War College studies Endgame for the West in Afghanistan? Explaining the Decline in Support for the War in Afghanistan. For many in the establishment this one was the "good war" the one that had some measure of justification and necessity. Mostly this author claims the effort suffers by the sense it is not part of the President's core agenda, and that its final disposition lies years and years away.

 A recent article (Couch; Terrorism or Insurgency) in the online Small Wars Journal establishes that what we face is not a global war on terror so much a a series of counter-insurgency fights as the world moves through a period of weak and failed states, and radical ideologies operating in the vacuum.  This must not rely on Department of Defense (DoD) assets alone. No matter how easy and attractive a solution it is to just start shooting people. Rather on State Department (DoS) led efforts tailored to the history and culture of the nation trouble is occurring in. My paraphrase of what I think he is trying to say. Insurgencies are a political problem. They are a force (a quest for political power) against an existing regime (national, even supra-national) feeding on dissatisfaction and perceptions of illegitimacy corruption and moral turpitude. They should approached the way fires are approached. Fire can be extinguished by taking away one or more of the parts of the Fire Triangle: Fuel Oxygen and Heat (apparently fire tetrahedron now, the chemical reaction a part in itself). The nominal government can with the assistance of the US can reclaim their legitimacy and authority. The insurgency can be shown to deficient in legitimacy and moral authority itself. These things are political problems not kinetic ones. To the extent military expertise and means are involved it is always towards political ends, and steered by political logic. Allowing the self-determination of other peoples even if of spare cooperativeness and palpable hostility is less costly and disruptive, more sustainable (existing in a productive normalcy) than insurgency and armed struggle.

 The Brookings Institutes Saban Center still maintain their Afghan and Iraq Indexes Afghanistan Index - Brookings. Which are compilations of a large number of infrastructure and war related metrics. A pdf document running to 30 or 40 pages, they come out periodically - every quarter at least possibly every month, and have for the last six or seven years. The longitudinal record provided by this make it perhaps the best single source to measure the course and progress of our efforts in Afghanistan. For me a few of these stood out from the rest. First the number of US troops in country, less than the number of troops left in the "withdrawn from" Iraq until a year ago. After that it ramps up significantly. There is a table on the type of attacks occurring: the majority are small arms fire, thrown grenade, and rocket propelled grenade (because the Soviet RPG-7 is almost as ubiquitous as the AK-47). Followed closely by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and antipersonnel land-mines, though the data shows the number of these found and cleared is equal to the number that go off. A greater percentage of soldiers between 25 and 35 are being killed in Afghanistan compared to Iraq. More critically a greater percentage of Officers and Non commissioned officers are being killed. This may reflect a greater competency to the Afghan insurgency. The production of a native Afghan security force is increasing in a nominal additive manner. They are not multiplying as are their enemies, nor increasing on a log scale as is the violence. A table on modes of dispute settlement shows the formal state judicial apparatus holding at a third or often higher against tribal adjudication with "other", which I am assuming includes Taliban justice, a distant segment consisting only around ten or twenty percent of cases. Throughout the progress of this war Afghanistan has come to be origin of an astoundingly large percentage of world poppy and heroin production -- virtually all of it. Perhaps because of that the price seems to have fallen a great deal. A last fact which the Washington Post picked up on with a recent article Afghans blame civilian deaths on U.S. despite spike from insurgent violence, is that attacks initiated by the Taliban are overwhelmingly responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths.

 A long war may be a low grade conflict, but no long war is a small war, by any measure: loss, cost, or national security. A war's real nature needs to be measured by its size under the curve.  This war is also beginning to engender some bad opinions born of frustration. On a radio street interview (WFMU's "the Dusty Show") I heard a women claim that the problem was that the Taliban were cheating, because we were following the rules and they weren't. But there are no rules in war. War is measured only by extremities of violence and death. Each side determines what affects their ability to rule or control a populace (and other concurrent considerations) and acts accordingly. If you think someone is cheating, you have tragically confused war with a game. There is confused thinking on timetables. Timetables to withdraw recommend to the opposition a strategy of harassment and attrition, to outlast an external force. With a main effort against the near enemy to occur later. However, they also inspire the nominal government to organize and take responsibility. and settle diffferences Similarly, insistence on open ended commitment removes the special advantage of selective engagement from the insurgency, but little else. But it inspires the government and attendant elites to forego hard or costly decisions and infrastructure work, and settle into directing the largest part of their energy into economic rent-seeking activities. At most it's a wash. 

 A rough estimate used by planners even the White House is that it costs $1 million per soldier per year to keep troops in Afghanistan High Costs Weigh on Troop Debate for Afghan War - A cost that certainly shapes the rest of the militaries structure and positioning. A cost in the individual and collective lives  of the service members caught up in this. There are no direct routes into Afghanistan everything and everyone comes in overland through Pakistan or through Kazistan through Turkey or Russia. The bases even the large ones are artificial and alien places, islands of spare enmity outside and apart from the country and people we claim to be acting for. My four years in the Navy, 30 years ago, encompassed  two years in the fleet and two years state-side duty. This translated to only one sea deployment. I cannot comprehend the meaning of returning to a war zone year after year.  

 The United States is a very large nation, we have the ability to create a large foreign service sector: contractors and carpetbaggers, but not as easily an acultured one. One patiently brought out of a society and educational system designed to produce the bureaucracy of an imperial order. Compare our foreign service structure with United Kingdom's. Foreign service management as a primary service sector, an army organized for long-term exterior deployment, a navy organized for keeping critical sea lanes open. These tasks shaped England to them over the course of a number of generations. They chose to let it go when they understood it might continue to change them; out of enlightenment. The US cannot shape itself inside a single generation of unilateral power to imprint and maintain our image and manner on the entire world. Nor does our laissez faire ideology even require it.  

 A generation has grown up inside this decade long war. A war as long or longer even than Vietnam war. The Tonkin gulf incident was August 1964. President Johnson obtained permission to start sending divisions in within days. The war ended for the U.S. nine years later with the Paris Accord of 1973 (although my friend Huyen-Tran Nguyen marks the  end to two years after that, May of 1975 when she was a three and a half year old in Saigon). The outlook of this millennial generation of suburban middle class towards the military is estranged. Regarding foreign involvement and national security, it is tempting to regard it all a clash of civilizations out there on a vast Apache desert. Children of this generation point out they grew up in the shadow of the falling towers and a constant state of war against various Arab nations. Guided by adult horror it is seen as a marker of some unique sort. The Civil War, and World Wars one and two reached far deeper into America's towns and homes, if not our psyche. The Cold War hung a thermonuclear bomb on a strand of hair above everyone's head.  Unique only in that for the first time an enemy who was not also us had landed a blow on our own contiguous ground. But if one inquires whether the average upper middle class teenager will claim that marker and go into the military or the foreign service. The answer is generally no, we are a big nation and it can be someone else's war. Several years ago the Washington Post wrote an article noting that the Virginia's tidewater counties had some of the highest recruitment rates in the nation. This is not changed much (Table 6: Active-duty Army Recruits: Top 100 Counties by Recruitment Rate, FY 2008 | National Priorities Project  ,  Army Recruitment Rates Across the Urban to Rural Range | National Priorities Project). It is still whose wars these are.

 Beyond the administrative ease of contracting, subcontracting, and applying a self-selective professional military service to unrest around the world. These fights belong to all Americans. If the world is being ordered for us; arranged for our way and standard of living, our sense of propriety and democracy. It cannot be left to a matter of hiring leadership that will keep us vaguely informed, un-implicated in foreign affairs and "do what needs to be done." A future of wars that are a constant background to life and no more real to most than mid channel reality television.

11:44:37 PM    ;;

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website.
Click to see the XML version of this web page.
Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
2010 P. Bushmiller.
Last update: 10/4/10; 11:57:28 PM.