Saturday, March 29, 2014

Improvise, Adapt, and…

Last spring, I was talking with this one retired Marine - his business wasn’t doing too good, and I was encouraging him to make some changes to it, but to persevere. He should “improvise, adapt, and be victorious,” I said.

He stopped me in the middle of what I hoped was an inspirational rant and said: “Overcome. It’s ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome’.”

Rant: over. Moment: gone. Marine-turned-business-owner: not victorious.

This is how I learned the phrase “improvise, adapt, and be victorious”.

The context: The year was 1981 or 1982 1979 or 1980. Jimmy Carter was the asshole in office. It was a couple of years after the asshole gave the Panama Canal away, and a year or so after the asshole Peanut Farmer in Chief decided to impose draft registration on all men 18 and over. Asshole.

The scene: I was in downtown Akron, Ohio, my hometown. There was a man holding a sign that read “Don’t Register for the Draft”. He was a few years older than me, light brown curly hair, wearing a red checkered shirt. He wasn't part of a group or anything, just a one man protest.

He was being harangued by this one woman. She was right in his face, in an emotional state somewhere past furious, past apoplectic, and bordering on homicidal. The man with the sign stood there, perfectly calm. It was irresistible force vs immovable object, and it was the best show of restraint I have ever seen!

The lady saw me. I don’t remember exactly what she did next, but she walked away.

The man and I started talking. I had already made up my mind not to register. I was having trouble finding the words explaining this decision. It would be years before I would phrase it as: “because I’m a free man, and I intend to stay free.”

I asked him “what can be done?” He replied: “all we can do is improvise, adapt, and be victorious.” I remember thinking that that was a strange phrase, but didn't inquire.

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to the man with the sign. Did he survive? Yes, I’m sure of it. Did he survive intact? No: none of us did. The treatment we all got was, and continues to be, quite rough. 

Getting through all that will leave one with enough anger, enough rage, to last a lifetime. And, enough pride for 10 lifetimes. Exactly the ingredients needed to overcome and to be victorious.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How "No" Becomes "Hell, No"

It doesn't take an army to change the world, or an average-sized militia group, either. All it takes is one individual to say the word "No". Be it a man refusing to register for the draft, or be it a gun owner refusing to register his weapons in Connecticut, it is the same: defiance in the face of arbitrary authority.

However, unless that individual wants to live the life of "Bartleby, the Scrivener", follow-up action is required.

Gene Sharp has written extensively on techniques of non-violent resistance. Here's two samples:

List of specific techniques:

Specific methods and why they work:

Many of the techniques that Sharp describes require a large number of people to implement. Also, some of the methods are aimed only at "raising awareness" instead of achieving results. As such, instead of non-violent "propaganda of the deed", those specific methods are "propaganda of the wussie".

We can do better.

Here's a 32-page OSS manual from 1944 called "Simple Sabotage Field Manual." Chapter 5 (the last and longest chapter) is great, especially the part on organizational sabotage! All the techniques listed there can be carried-out by a single individual. Some of the ideas are out-of-date, but can be adapted to present day situations.

One of the most important parts of the OSS manual is the creation of a "feedback" loop, where "the citizen-saboteur acquires a sense of responsibility and begins to educate others in simple sabotage".


In 1983, the CIA airdropped copies of "The Freedom Fighter's Handbook" over Nicaragua. The techniques in this 15-page handbook, while being more modern, aren't nearly as creative as those found in the OSS manual. Also, the CIA manual doesn't include a "feedback" loop like the OSS manual does. The cartoons don't help either.


It is with techniques like these that "No" becomes "Hell, No"!

Monday, January 27, 2014

With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Detroit's problems are numerous:

All of this has left the city dilapidated. Detroit has all the ruin of Dresden, but none of the firebombing. In fact, the phrase "ruin porn" has been applied to photos of the state of decay, and "ruin tourism" (what used to be called "slumming") is now a business.

No politician in Detroit is fit to manage their own bank accounts, let alone that of a whole city. Which means... outside help.

Rick Snyder, Michigan's governor, proposed on January 22, 2014, that the state provide $350 million to cover city pensions. "This is not a bailout of paying the debts directly of the city of Detroit. This is not a bailout of banks and other creditors," Snyder said. No, it is a bailout of retiree pension funds, using other people's money, of course.

To follow this bad idea with a worse idea, Snyder then proposed bringing in 50,000 skilled immigrants over the next five years to revitalize the "motor city".

In other words, Detroit is now the equivalent of a third-world country, and the politicians are now trying to populate it with third-world workers.

Snyder is yet another Republican, abandoning working class people. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bracken's Books on Amazon, Free on Jan 15th and 16th

Matt Bracken will be making all three e-books in his "Enemies" series available on Amazon for free on January 15th. Hooray, and thank you Matt!

The impact of dystopian fiction is sometimes weakened because of "scifi" aspects (think of the movie versions of "V for Vendetta" or "Logan's Run"). There is little of that in the "Enemies" trilogy, and the result is that the novels strike close to home - sometimes too close! Here's a review (titled "One character's plight...") I posted on Amazon on February 4th of last year.
Matthew Bracken's "Enemy" trilogy is well written, but I am attaching this review to the third installment, "Foreign Enemies and Traitors" because of one particular scene... 
There is a character named Doug who describes how his university tuition was tripled as a means of coercing him to join the military. The same thing happen to me in 1984 in Ohio. Unlike that character, I resisted, and left the university. However, the fact that an event like this was mentioned at all literally brought tears to my eyes - and that doesn't happen often! 
Politicians of both parties, though they have their (staged) disagreements, like to pretend that we're all one big happy country. We're not, but the way they maintain this illusion is by marginalizing and ignoring those who question authority, demand accountability, and care about individual rights. Over the course of the trilogy, Bracken presents how this marginalization and "sweeping under the rug" occurs, and what the consequences not only could be, but actually are. 
I'm not sure the power of that particular scene would have on somebody who hasn't been in that character's position, but it was certainly quite moving for me.
Two of Matt's other books, "Castigo Cay" and "The Bracken Anthology" will be available on the 16th. I've not read "Castigo Cay", but the anthology is a mixture of short stories and essays, mostly essays, that are worth reading. One of the essays, "When the Music Stops", describes a scenario that starts when the back-end to the EBT card (food stamp) system goes off-line for an extended period of time. This essay was written in September 2012, over a year before the EBT system really did crash; many of the consequences predicted in that essay didn't occur - but the system was offline for only a few hours. Prescient, no?

Here's a link to Matt's author page on Amazon.

Kindles ready?!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Robert M. Gates' 'Duty': a Pre-Review

Like many wonks, I'm eagerly awaiting the January 14th release of Robert M. Gates' upcoming memoir, 'Duty'. Gates was deputy director of the CIA under Reagan and Bush 41, director of the CIA under Bush 41, then Secretary of Defense under Bush 43 and Obama. In between the last two positions, he was president of Texas A&M for just over four years.

Gates' publicity machine is working overtime, dropping snippets that promise insight into those four administrations. Personally, I'm interested in his time at Texas A&M - the revolving door through which politicians/regulators/administrators and academia pass deserves as much attention as the revolving door between the regulators and lobbyists.

After leaving the Obama administration, he accepted - and still holds - the chancellorship of the College of William and Mary.

The memoir, being written by a beltway insider, has also generated pre-release panning by Gates' detractors. A fine example of this is "Robert Gates's Narcissistic 'Duty'" by former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman. Previously, Goodman attributed the CIA's policy of "sexing-up" intelligence reports to Gates. In this latest essay, Goodman describes Gates as a "sycophant in all of his leadership positions" and "[f]or the most part, Gates has been a windsock when it came to policy decisions and typically supported his masters."

It gets worse...
"Regarding Gates’s selection in 2006 to head the Defense Department, I encountered many key Senate staffers who opposed his appointment but believed that it was important to abort the stewardship of Rumsfeld. At that time, I labeled Gates the 'morning after' pill."
We don't need to wait for the memoir for certain insights, though...
"In many ways, the most stunning aspect of Gates’s national security stewardship was his reappointment at the Defense Department by President Barack Obama in 2009. Indeed, the appointment of Hillary Clinton and the reappointment of Bob Gates were rather cynical gestures, naming Clinton to keep the Clinton Foundation (Bill and Hillary) inside the White House tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in. 
"Gates was left in place so that the President could signal to the uniformed military that there would be no significant changes at the Pentagon. Gates's Cold War ideology (which caused him to miss the end of the Cold War) and his politicization of intelligence were completely forgotten."

Will 'Duty' be a rationalization of and apology for his actions and those of his bosses? Perhaps. Will it be a fount of insight? Maybe. Will it be easy to separate the former from the latter? No.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How Chris got his Groove Back

If "Grizzled Veteran" were a term in the dictionary, a picture of my friend Chris would be next to it. People would approach him, shake his hand, and thank him for being in the military.

Now Chris usually wears a yellow Army jacket when weather turns cold, but when he visited here in early November, though, he was wearing a blue jacket that belonged to his late brother. Apparently, the zipper on his Army jacket broke.

No stranger thanked him for being in the military while he was here in Pennsylvania, nor while we were in New York City.

A plan was formed!

When I was at his house over Thanksgiving, I broke into his car and stole his Army jacket - not as exciting as it sounds, the car was unlocked. The jacket then made a trip back with me to Pennsylvania where it was repaired and dry-cleaned. Then it was wrapped in bubble wrap, put in a box with the lint-roller the dry-cleaner provided. Add some wrapping paper and a bow, and you have a great Christmas gift!

We exchanged gifts at Chris' house in Columbus. He opened the box, was puzzled by the lint-roller, then opened the bubble wrap, and unfolded the jacket. He was speechless for a moment, then tried the zipper.

The day after Christmas, we did dinner and a movie. In the brief time we were out, two complete strangers came up to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for being in the Army.

And that is how Chris got his groove back!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Money Quotes for 2013

1. "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan"
- Barack Obama. Actually, Obama has been using this or a similar line since 2009, and continued to use it well into September 2013.

2. "Every journalist has an agenda. We're on MSNBC now where close to 24 hours a day the agenda of President Obama and the Democratic Party are promoted, defended, glorified. The agenda of the Republican Party is undermined."
- Glenn Greenwald, being interviewed on MSNBC.

3. "I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."
- George Will, discussing Obamacare on NPR's "Morning Edition".

4. "[Insurance companies] are being bossed around like extremely subservient public utilities, to which I say: it serves them right. They've been collaborators in this from the first. They looked at this plan back in 2009, and they said: 'well, the government is going to mandate that people buy our product; they're going to punish them if they don't; and they're going to subsidize them if they have trouble buying it.' This looked like a big business model for them. Now they're finding out what it's like to be in the bed with the government, and as I say I'm a compassionate conservative but not compassionate enough to feel sorry for the insurance companies."
- George Will, on the dance insurance companies are doing with the government in implementing Obamacare.

5. "Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be."
- Edward Snowden, proving that he has a far deeper understanding of the Fourth Amendment than do certain judges.