Friday, July 29, 2011

An example of be-here-now-Stoicism-in-the-moment?

My summer read "Matterhorn" has many things to recommend it, chief among them is the author's ability to portray the sort of concentrated survival mechanisms or methods of coping that we tend to fall into in times of great stress and/or pain, methods that often sound very much like things Epictetus suggests in his Discourses.

These methods are things that human beings discover again and again when in extreme pain or stress, and can be resorted to in like circumstances once learned. We read about them not only in philosophical texts, but in religious texts, biography, autobiography, and works of fiction, (Matterhorn being a case in point).

In Matterhorn, the example is a character nicknamed "Hippy" He has very bad case of "immersion foot" (aka "trench foot"). Yet, he had no choice but to tolerate it during Bravo Company's long hump through the jungle to an objective that had to be met in an impossibly brief period of time, with no food or water resupply for days. The pain he endures is incredible, the smell of his feet nauseating. How did he manage to walk on two badly distended and painful feet?  From the book:

Hippy kept thinking of the girl who had first told him about meditating one night when he was on liberty from Camp Pendleton. He tried to concentrate on the now of the pain. She had told him that if he was uncomfortable on his knees in meditation, it was only because he was thinking about the time stretching before him. "Are you able to stand it now?" she had asked him. "Yes," he replied. "And now?" "Yes" he had replied again. And now the pain of putting his foot down hit him, but he could stand it. And now, on the other foot, but again, he could survive. And now. And now. The hunger was nothing.
And later..

Hippy's feet grew worse. He took his bootlaces off to accommodate the swelling. He looked like a sleepwalker. He would murmur to himself, "Can you take this step now?" and then take the step. He repeated this procedure hour after hour, a spirit carried by crippled feet.
By focusing on the moment, Hippy is able to endure that one moment. By doing this the next moment, he is able to endure that moment. If he thinks about the future, something that he has no control over, because it is out of the grasp of the moment so to speak, he becomes prone to distress and thoughts that he cannot endure.

So, we have an interesting admixture, one element of which is Stoicism's remonstrances that we should be very aware of the distinction between those things we can control, and those we cannot, focusing only on those things we can control, that is, basically, our attitude toward our situation (whatever it may be). If we can discipline ourselves to do this and ask questions very like those Hippy asks, we will be subject to less perturbation.

The other element is a sort of 60s era Zen Buddhist, Baba Ram Das Transcendental Meditation inspired ingredient, the "be here now" aspect of the girl's advice. By focusing only upon the single and momentary portion of our life that we presently inhabit (attitudes toward which being the only things over which we can honestly say we have complete control) we can endure, if we do this serially, for each successive moment, where, if we focus on the future, we cannot, or are less likely to succeed. We are more prone to perterbation.

Admiral Stockdale says as much in his accounts of survival in Hao Lo. Men that looked to the future, either with pessimism or optimism, were more prone to distress. If, on the other hand, one focused on enduring, one day at a time, to use the well worn cliche, one was better off.

Phil Harris, Alice Faye Show 3-13-1949: Phil convinces Mr. Scott to rehire Remley. a probationary dishwasher.

VIA OTR Classics:

Listen HERE. Right click to own.

Carl Prine to Hippie-Lettuce Weekly: Retract and Apologize already.

A while back HLW published a laughable "blockbuster" that supposedly blew the lid off a major effort at mind control by the U.S. military, aimed at visiting U.S. Senators in Afghanistan. Who was deploying the mind control wave guns? CENTCOM, and in particular, U.S. Army LTG William Caldwell.  According to the original story, by Michael Hastings, apparently one of Hippie-Lettuce Weekly's rising stars, Caldwell recruited "PSYOPS soldiers" to manipulate the visiting Senators with Jedi mind tricks, ray guns, Vulcan mind melds, or whatever those guys do.  Problem with the story was that the alleged Jedi, LTC Michael Holmes, was in fact not trained at all in dark Jedi Ways.

But surely, there was something to all this? Surely Hastings must have been on to SOMETHING?

Well. Yes, the good LTC did prepare briefings on the visiting dignitaries.


Yes. You read that correctly.


Wow! Holy Batstuff! That's apparently considered to be a very major and damning revelation in Hippie precincts.

Well, it didn't take long for several people, including Prine, to call Bullstuff on that article. It has been some time now, and HLW has yet to admit its error, or to explain its deliberate or accidental origins.  So, Prine, in his inimitable style has written them a letter, asking that they retract that story along with another, called "Kill Team" alleging atrocities reminiscent of Mai Lai. 

Well, maybe the good mutton-chopped, pechuli scented folks over at HLW can put down the bongs long enough to give it a read? 

The possibility that they might have been in error is evidently beyond their ability to comprehend. Not surprising really, when you consider the HLW found its origins in the Vietnam era. Coursing through its veins, as much a constituent of its blood chemistry as is THC, is an unquestioning and automatic moral disdain toward and distrust of the U.S. military. Why anyone would approach anything written by HLW on that subject with anything less than a healthy dose of salt is beyond me. (And yes, I am aware of the Stan McCrystal story having been largely accurate. Lesson to learn: Don't grant freaking free access to HLW reporters. It will not turn out well for you. Reference Stan.)

Prine's missive in its entirety:

Dear Rolling Stone,

The time has come for you to do the right thing.

Retract “Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators,” a bit of fable haplessly ginned up by your star reporter Michael Hastings in late February.

In his story, Hastings and his editors quoted sources who claimed that U.S. Army LTG William Caldwell “repeatedly pressured” PSYOP soldiers working in “information operations” at Afghanistan’s Camp Eggers to target with arcane mind control the brains of Senators visiting the war zone.

The truthiness of that core contention quickly fell apart when we learned that LTC Michael Holmes — the purported ringleader of the jedi mind trick project — wasn’t trained or tasked as a PSYOP (errrr, MISO) officer.

The federal laws that bar using propaganda and psychological magic on American citizens weren’t triggered by the activities of Holmes, which amounted to preparing briefs about dignitaries visiting the facility.

The whole point was for the military to persuade lawmakers to buy into CENTCOM’s pet projects, perhaps the dog-bites-man revelation of the century. I suspect that a quarter of the Pentagon — and perhaps half of the Marine Corps — is doing that at any given moment.

I say this as a former Marine.

This isn’t the first time I’ve publicly taken issue with the reporting or editing that led to this lamentable and preventable Rolling Stone debacle. In March, I termed “Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators” tantamount to “journalistic poison” and urged the magazine to retract it.

I also scribbled that it “might have been the low mark in reporting about defense issues this year, and that’s a real shame because I believe the reporter who vomited it onto Rolling Stone’s blog, Michael Hastings, shows talent that should be cultivated.”

I also called on Rolling Stone to acknowledge the numerous mistakes in fact, analysis and judgment that undermined another effort at war reporting by the magazine, “The Kill Team.”

That story about a rampaging platoon in Afghanistan I wrote off as “borrowed war porn” designed merely “to titillate a readership in the cheapest, most dishonest sort of prurient journalism possible.”

I nevertheless will defend a previous piece by Hastings, “The Runaway General,” a study of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that got more right than wrong, even if I think most readers outside the military missed the big point about command climate and the questionable civil-military affairs the piece exposed.

Let me just say that when a general’s most junior soldiers know how he voted in recent elections, the Army and his civilian overseers might need to rethink how he’s leading and influencing troops.

And it doesn’t help when he’s caught trying to box lawmakers and the president into foreign policy choices far outside his jurisdiction. That challenges our most treasured beliefs about the subservient role our commanders must take to both the Constitution and civilian control of our military.

He didn’t do it well, but Hastings exposed some of that, perhaps because it was so obvious. His story also made me wonder what other reporters were doing in Kabul. Were they serving their readers, viewers or listeners? Or currying sources and making their own own jobs easier by engaging in stenography?

But none of that matters now. The issue at hand is the “Psy-Ops” story.

The Inspector General reportedly has exonerated Caldwell after determining that the magazine got it all wrong, but that shouldn’t be the reason for doing the right thing, Rolling Stone.

There are good IG reports and incompetent hack efforts. Just because it comes from IG isn’t determinative and every reporter should strive to be more accurate than any investigation the military runs.

But in this case, IG so easily savaged the story about Caldwell because the reporting and editing of Rolling Stone had been so bungled.

It’s important that reporters talk truth to power. But they must start with the truth, and Rolling Stone didn’t do that.

They must marshal facts, make every effort to balance their perceptions with other voices that challenge them, and then fairly portray the subjects being presented to an audience in the most objective way possible, but I’m also not convinced that the magazine tried all that hard.

Rolling Stone failed the publication’s readers in February. And that’s a shame because there remain legitimate questions about the general’s statements concerning the recruitment, retention, competence and future efficacy of Afghan National Security Forces — reporting journalists should be doing now because they have an obligation to our democracy to do so.

No general is beyond scrutiny just as no war policy should be given a pass by reporters simply because it’s championed by an affable three-star.

Rolling Stone today must realize that the reporting and editing of the “Psy-Op” and “Kill Team” pieces were fundamentally flawed. When a publication makes no apparent effort to clarify, correct or remove those articles we must ask more questions about the magazine’s ultimate dedication to the important craft of journalism.

These shouldn’t be political questions – The Nation, Granta, New York Review of Books, Harper’s and Mother Jones, while often coming at stories from a lefty perspective, nevertheless almost always manage to follow the rudiments of fair journalism.

Most publications with conservative opinion pages also tend to do that, and when they get something wrong they make some effort to fix it.

So I’m left wondering why Rolling Stone won’t do any of that with the Caldwell story. And I’m flummoxed about why I should trust anything your magazine prints until you do.

I guess I shouldn’t. And neither should anyone else.

Most Clemently,


P.S. Please print more photos of Beyonce.

Closing philosophical question: If a letter is written and no one responds to it, did it exist?

Say it ain't so Mo.

From the Capt. Louis Renault department of the WaPo: U.S. accuses Iran of aiding al-Qaeda


Documents filed by the Treasury Department accuse Iran of facilitating an al-Qaeda-run support network that transfers large amounts of cash from Middle East donors to al-Qaeda’s top leadership in Pakistan’s tribal region.

A Syrian national who directs the network has been allowed to operate in Iran since 2005, and senior Iranian officials know about money transfers and allow the movement of al-Qaeda foot soldiers through its territory, administration officials said.

Although Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda are theologically opposed, Iran’s ruling clerics have occasionally aided al-Qaeda, particularly in permitting its operatives to travel through Iranian territory. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the Obama administration’s new choice to head the CIA, told Congress last year that al-Qaeda was using Iran as a “key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al-Qaeda’s senior leadership to regional affiliates.”

“And although Iranian authorities do periodically disrupt this network by detaining select al-Qaeda facilitators and operational planners, Tehran’s policy in this regard is often unpredictable,” Petraeus said in written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.. Is this surprising to anyone? And, where does the money come from? An equally predictable answer:

Individual operatives collected large amounts of cash, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the money passed through Iraq by way of couriers or informal transfer systems known as hawalas, U.S. officials said. Much of the money was collected in Kuwait and Qatar, two countries that administration officials say have been relatively lax about stanching the flow of money from wealthy Arab donors to al-Qaeda.

Kuwait and Qatar are not in the same league as the Saudis or the Emirates when it comes to having the capacity or the will” to crack down on illegal money networks, said a senior U.S. official familiar with the case who insisted on anonymity in discussing sensitive diplomatic matters.
Way to show appreciation for our rescuing you from Saddam Hussein's clutches Kuwait. Thanks. Thanks a whole lot, Clyde.