Dispatches from Wolf Country — Surrender to the Void

The whole attack on the Syrian base was an absolute debacle. By letting the Russians know 90 minutes in advance, the place was pretty well cleaned out. By not cratering and mining the runways, the base was ready to go back to flying missions the next day. By not targeting the weapons dumps where Assad's Air Force has this stuff stored, they can do it again. While Tillerson will do his thing next week, and Nikki Haley will do her thing at the UN and the President will get in 18 to 36 holes next weekend over Easter, there's really nothing here.

National Symbol Contemplates Nesting Material and Possible Dinner

Expectations of people in general were tolerant

Expectations of people in authority astronomical

Reverting to an ordinary president who just blows stuff up! — Olbermann

I generally enjoy  Brian Williams as an anchor and a facilitator, but it’s with a constant reminder of his flaws. Those of us who remember the maxim that “The difference between a fairy tale and a war story is that one begins ‘Once upon a time…’ and the other, ‘There I was…” can find some of his hero-worship both tiring, irritating and kind of amusing. Get it out of your system, Brian, and do what you do so well — lead in, facilitate, and get out of the way.

Before going on a penitential sabbatical to mediate on the sins of excessive hero-worship and envy, Williams was involved in a lot of work with various military organizations and Veterans Groups, including the Medal of Honor Association. His appreciation of people like Colonel Jack Jacobs, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for action as an adviser in Vietnam that still lets him set off alarms when trying to get through TSA at airports or General Barry McCaffrey is sincere. Williams has a consistent routine when appearing with Barry McCaffrey, citing his combat tours in Vietnam and division command in Desert Storm, his awards for valor and purple hearts.

It is hero worship and while sincere, someone needs to tell the lad that guys like McCaffrey don’t particularly enjoy having their wounds, awards, and achievements paraded like a prize pig every time he’s on television. Anyone who’s every spent time around McCaffrey knows that he got an insidious sense of humor that he avoids revealing combined with a tolerance for idiots that surprises you, until you realize he won’t tolerate idiots in positions of authority or responsibility. Anyone who’s been around that generation of generals — Schwartzkopf, Waller, Shalikashvilli, McCaffrey, Shinseki, and so on –appreciates that. Their expectations of people in general were pretty tolerant; their expectations of soldiers and of people of great authority pretty much astronomical.

So, when I became aware of the brouhaha about Williams and the “beauty of the Tomahawk” missile launches bit, I just shook my head. If you see the damn things take off from a perspective that allows you to see more than smoke, they’re impressive; and anyone who wants to put iron on target will find their accuracy and destructive power pretty amazing. But what the viewer sees on TV is something less exciting.

That monkey is tied, now let’s skin it! — Bo Diddley

The New York Times this morning has an interesting article in it’s OP-ED weekly feature, The Stone. Professor Stephen Asma of Columbia College in Chicago asked the question, “Was Bo Diddley a Buddha?” and it’s a very relevant question. It applies to Williams fawning over people who deserve it but don’t like it; it applies to Trump and his version of SGT Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Chowder Society trying to negotiate the rapids and vortexes of politics. It applies anyone who has strapped on a guitar and suddenly realized that they were now supposed to solo in front of a crowd…

Now, Asma is a philosophy professor, but that’s his day job. He’s really a rhythm and blues guitarist, playing with people on tour like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and KoKo Taylor and Buddy Guy as their paths crossed. His first opportunity to back up one of these heroes was with Bo Diddley. He got the opportunity, and studied all of the guy’s catalog, charting the songs and making certain he knew the keys and following that Bo Diddley rhythm in it’s variations. He met Bo Diddley about five minutes before the show, and tried to show him that he was ready. He describes it this way…

He just looked at me blankly through his Coke­ Bottle glasses, plugged into his amp and launched into a loud, rhythmic riff on his trademark rectangular guitar. He never bothered to tell me what song we were playing, what chord changes were coming, what key we were in, or anything. But, as every blues and jazz musician knows, that’s how it goes…a hair-raising on-­the-­job education. These musicians never told me what was coming next, partly because they didn’t know themselves. They were masters of the art of improvisation. (emphasis added)

Asma goes on to discuss the issue of improvisation, and it’s both important and illuminating. By not knowing what comes next, you have to trust yourself to make what you’re contributing work by just working. You have to be alert to what’s going on, watch for clues and get into the flow.

There’s a lot of talk about flow in business theory, quality, management and other places in social science. You achieve flow by becoming so competent that you can get out of the way and let the process happen, playing your part in it with little thinking and lots of doing. You’ve already done it before, so you can go with it as you need to and follow the contours of this particular space and time to get where you’re going…

If you are interested in music theory or theory of knowledge or social science, this article provides an insight into those instances where things just seem to work the way they are supposed to. Those moments come together not by act of God but by hours and hours of practice and thought and living. If you’re a performing genius — a Jeff Beck playing Bolero, an Ozzie Smith taking a toss from third base while covering second and then making the throw to first, a David Tennant doing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare or Doctor Who for a Christmas Special — you live for the variations in time, temperature or space because that’s where brilliance comes.

There’s a moment in The Last Waltz, Scorsese’s documentary of the final concerts of the Band, where Eric Clapton’s guitar guitar slips out of the strap and everything goes to hell — except it doesn’t. Clapton is playing  his solo, but Robbie Robertson picks it up without a misstep, and when Clapton gets his instrument back together, he finishes  and they set the stage on fire in an incredible piece of musicianship that happened only because they were so practiced, so fluent and so into the moment that they didn’t need to think, they just needed to do.

So, Williams needs to try less hard with people like McCaffrey and just let him speak. Something like, “General, you’ve lived with the reality of battle for almost 50 years and then ran the Drug War for President Clinton’s second term. What do you think about this? ” McCaffrey will tell him; the joy of working with professionals of that polish and experience is that they don’t need a lot of encouragement to say what they think; they just need to be allowed to

Might have been preferable…Berke Breathed Bloom County T-shirt, 1986

Having said that, the whole attack on the Syrian base was an absolute debacle. By letting the Russians know 90 minutes in advance, the place was pretty well cleaned out. By not cratering and mining the runways, the base was ready to go back to flying missions the next day. By not targeting the weapons dumps where Assad’s Air Force has this stuff stored, they can do it again. While Tillerson will do his thing next week, and Nikki Haley will do her thing at the UN and the President will get in 18 to 36 holes next weekend over Easter, there’s really nothing here.

In order to improvise, you need to know what the score is; what the scale is; where the notes are; what you can play; what you can skip, what you add? Who besides H.R. McMaster and SECDEF Mattis does Trump have advising him that knows this stuff? What does Trump really know about it? What was the intent? Was it to embarrass Putin? Dissuade Assad? Stop the killing of sweet little babies? Or was it a spasm, an itch that needed to be scratched? What’s our policy now? What happens next…there are a lot of people waiting for the leader to pick up the tempo and point them the way, and it hasn’t happened yet. Nothing meaningful can happen — just noise.

The improvisational mind is typically an underappreciated source of wisdom. It can sense subtle unconscious cues in others, and can, in the words of Evans, show a person “a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise.” Maybe that’s why some of the great blues and jazz improvisers I’ve spent time with seem like roughneck Buddhas. They train first, then create spontaneously. And when they make mistakes, they learn from them. Good improvisation is empathic. It is not just unrehearsed innovation, but apt and fitting contributions to a social or collective project. You cannot improvise well unless you’re a good listener — a fact as true in politics as it is in music.

There’s a classic moment in Bloom County where Blinkley and Milo are jamming, and Blinkley goes off on some wild blues, scat thing that runs for several panels and then yells, “Take it Milo!” and Milo stops, stares and says, “Take it where?” So far, that’s the point of this entire Syrian debacle, mixed metaphors, missed cues, no rhythm and no idea what comes next by a band of neither brothers, nor rivals nor competent operators.

Policy is a bad place to improvise without a plan. War has a lot of improvisation inherent, but not at the strategic level where things like goals, purpose and so on are critical to success and to the achievement of something other than dead bodies and burned fields and smouldering ruins. In this case, we burned a lot of wealth to do a mad minute for the masturbatory self-adulation of Big Donny that he had done more than Obama had done…which, of course he hasn’t. He made some noise, and now expects love, adulation and obedience. What he has actually done is remind Putin of how ignorant he is and how little vision he possesses beyond his own welfare and desires.


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Posted by on April 10, 2017, With 0 Reads, Filed under Corruption, Military, Of Interest, Wars. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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