Sunday, July 27, 2008

Born To Kill

Shortly before US troops swarmed into Iraq, the Pentagon embedded Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright with the First Recon Marines, one of the units spearheading the invasion. Originally, Wright was not supposed to accompany the unit into combat, but after making arrangements with their commanding officer (he had to leave his satellite phone behind), he joined the Second Platoon on their run through Iraq.

After a brief round of hazing, the men in the unit began accepting and opening up to Wright, and what resulted was a series of stories in Rolling Stone, a book, Generation Kill, and ultimately, the miniseries currently airing on HBO. Since I'm not a big Rolling Stone fan and I don't get HBO, I settled in with the book recently.

Wright sums up his title early in the book:

They are the first generation of young Americans since Vietnam to be sent into open-ended conflict. Yet if the dominant mythology that war turns on a generation's loss of innocence - young men reared on Davy Crockett waking up to their government's deceits while fighting in Southeast Asian jungles; the nation falling from the grace of Camelot to the shame of Watergate - these young men entered Iraq predisposed toward the idea that the Big Lie is as central to American governance as taxation. This is, after all, the generation that first learned of the significance of the presidency not through an inspiring speech at the Berlin Wall but through a national obsession with semen stains and a White House blow job.

What can you say about a generation that was raised on the scandal du jour, gangsta rap, and Grand Theft Auto? Are they as noble as their grandfathers, charging headlong into combat against the Nazis and Japanese? In their own way, yes, and they're just as human as anyone who has put on the uniform and fought - and killed - for their country. Wright did a fine job showing both the best and the worst of this humanity in action.

Wright spends much of his time with Sergeant Brad Colbert - the Iceman, a "stone cold killer" known for his complete calm in combat who commands one of the Platoon's lead humvees. As the missions progress and they push deeper into Iraq, Colbert frequently hands out food and water to the displaced civilians; he also orders his men to dispose of undetonated artillery in the streets of Baghdad. Many of the Marines are like this - highly trained, dedicated and ruthless in combat, but also deeply concerned about their comrades and the pain and suffering they see during the invasion.

I give Wright a lot of credit for not simply showing the good sides of these soldiers -they're profane, sometimes racist, sometimes ignorant and frequently ineptly led, but they always accomplish their missions and actively try to keep from harming people caught in the crossfire. The men frequently complain about their commanding officers, orders and lot in life.

While I found this candor refreshing and eminently creditable, there was some fallout - many men did not receive promotions and Wright has come under fire for his portrayal of some of the officers. However, if you're looking for an insight into the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a look into the terror of modern combat, Generation Kill is a great place to start.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Counting to Four

Holy crap this is funny. Feist opens Sesame Street's 39th (really? 39 seasons? That makes me how old?) teaching kids to count to, well, four.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's Official

We are the dumbest nation on earth. This story proves it.

Heaven forbid we have journalists in this country who actually spend time studying candidates and their positions on real issues, giving us nuanced, intelligent writing about what we could expect under a McCain or Obama presidency, rather than soundbites breathlessly delivered on the moment. Instead we get dog owners saying they prefer McCain.

Jesus Christ.

This probably shouldn't surprise anyone; with newsrooms shrinking in step with circulation, papers are nearly to the point where only j-school grads are filling newsrooms. And while I'm not saying this is all bad, perhaps a little experience and perspective would help things out. Believe me - I used to be a j-school grad, and I didn't know a damn thing when I graduated. Still don't, but I probably would have thrown up in my mouth a bit when this assignment landed on my lap.

We've reverted to 1800, where people got their news from papers that were fronts and propaganda pieces from the political parties. And while we as a nation survived for 200 years, I'd like to see us maybe move forward rather than backwards.

According to the piece, only a few presidents haven't had pets of some sort, including Polk, Fillmore, and Arthur. Damn that Fillmore; I always thought he was shifty. All these presidents were one-termers; I guess we can now infer that an Obama presidency will end the same way.

At least that's what the tea leaves told me yesterday.