April 30, 2004

NERDSTAR!!

I got a postcard from Nerdstar today, in response to the birthday card I sent her a while back. It's amazing how the blogosphere can connect two people who would've never met and bring them together to support each other. That makes one letter from an acquaintence soldier and zero from my "best friend" from back home. Perspective.

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MORALE

I've been looking over the results of the morale survey posted on Blackfive's blog. There are two things about this survey that interest me.

1. TABLE 15
Amazing results. UN-sanctioned involvements ranked much lower on the "how do you think [country of deployment] will be after American soldiers leave" scale than Iraq does. In the other missions, the soldiers thought that their involvement meant very little in the long-run, but in Iraq it appears that they believe their presence will make a positive difference. That says something huge! Our soldiers appear to be saying that the Iraq deployment has focus and that, being run by Americans, has a much higher chance of success than if it were run by the UN. Fascinating finding, in my opinion.

2. TABLE 17
There is a big difference between officer morale in OIF and in WWII; in OIF there's a much higher percentage of reported low morale. Reasons for this? Other than the fact that maybe officers feel more comfortable griping these days, I can't come up with anything.

However, this was a survey of only 389 soldiers, so that means only 54 people out of all of the deployed soldiers said they have low morale. I have no idea how they got the results from WWII, but if the sample size is different, then the results mean little. I have not been able to find the original, and Blackfive didn't post a link, so I'm not sure where the WWII data comes from.

See, I did learn something from How To Lie With Statistics!

MORE TO GROK:

Since I am a grokking tyro, I enlisted the help of a bigger mind to check out the numbers. Mr. Den Beste wrote me back last night; as usual, he thinks of things I didn't catch:

Given your specific situation, it's easy to see why you'd be concerned about
this.

I'm not so sure that the difference to which you refer is really very significant or very mystifying. Officers, quite naturally, feel more responsible for a situation than enlisted, and the situation in Iraq is not really the same as it was in Europe. Americans knew more about Europe and understood the local culture much better, for one thing. Iraq is a more alien place.

A different thing I find myself wondering about is just when it was that the WWII survey happened. If it was about one year after VE day, that would be a
lot different than if it was perhaps three years after VE day. Europe was also pretty unsettled in the first year, but by three years things had stabilized quite a lot. Thus officers, feeling responsible, would have indicated greater comfort at the three year point than at the one year point.

Frankly, I didn't really see anything in that report that I found too surprising, or anything that worried me deeply. (Obviously I wish it were better than it is...)


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SPECTRUM

I don't know exactly why reading this at Medienkritik triggered something in my mind, but it did. Back when I was in my Swedish class, our teacher was trying to briefly explain the Swedish political parties to us. She drew a sort of spectrum line on the board and put the various parties along the line from left to right. Someone in our class asked where our American Republican and Democrats would fall on the Swedish spectrum; our teacher put the Democrats on the far right edge of the spectrum and said that the Republicans would be located in the next room. We all laughed.

But it's something to keep in mind. There's no such thing as my sort of thinking in Europe. Well, there are some Americans Born Elsewhere, but for the most part, everyone is to the left of me. My Swedish friend just this year met the very first Swedish person in her life who supports the death penalty. The very first one she's ever met. She's 25. In contrast, we were making a sample outline in my ENGL class the other day, using the generic topic of the death penalty as a sample, and when I asked if they wanted to make the sample as for or against, they shouted For! in unison. No question in their minds. On questions of the government's role in health care and social programs, no one can touch how far right I go. There's just no such thing over here, at least not that I understand (correct me if I'm wrong.)

On a related tangent, Tim wrote the other day about patriotism and flag-pride in other countries. While living in France, we bought the same Swedish friend a Swedish flag patch to sew onto her bookbag. She wore it while she was in France, but she said that it was a little weird to sport it in Sweden. I can't say if she's representative of other Europeans, but I can't think of any other country -- besides flag-drenched Canada -- where the flag means so much.

Our flag means so much that people everywhere burn it. That says something.

MORE TO GROK:

Awesome. A blog in Sweden! With links to other blogs in Sweden. Fantastic -- now I have a way to prevent my Swedish from being completely eaten up by my pathetic German. I'm having tons of fun going through his posts -- did you know that Hans Blix participated in a WMD joke on a Swedish talk show that sounds quite similar to the scenario that Bush got ripped a new one for? Dude, he's so blogrolled.

By the way, he says that there are right-leaning folks in Sweden, but they are even deeper in the closet than I am.

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LINKS

A couple of links:
Lileks is good today, especially if you're one of those recovering young people.
And be prepared to cry when you read the story of CPL Chance Phelps.

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SURPRISING

Andrew Sullivan linked to an article from an embedded reporter in Fallujah. The relevant bit comes at the end:

Well, it's surprising, to be honest. ... I have spoken to a lot [of Marines] who have been engaged in some of these firefights. In fact, I was in one of the combat surgical rooms where they were working on a couple of these guys.

Two of them had been ambushed, not where the main fight is going on tonight, but their unit had been ambushed east of Fallujah. And seven people rolled in. There were two that had gunshot wounds. And they pulled a huge slug, a bullet, out of the leg of one of the Marines. And another one had a bullet wound right through the back.

And, amazingly, they were trying to convince their commanders that they were ready to go and go back out. I have been really surprised at ... the high degree of morale that these Marines have shown. Remember, they have only been here for a month and a half. Many of these units that are here now engaged in the initial invasion last year and were in Iraq for several months.

Now they're back. But they seem to be engaged. They're taking casualties. But it's really surprising. You don't see much head-dragging or anything like that. I mean, you know, what you see is kind of more encouragement for these guys.

And, for example, the one who had the gravest -- the bullet in and out through his back -- was trying to convince his commander that he'd be back. And his commander actually promised him that his spot was still going to be there. Another soldier who was injured in that huge firefight yesterday who I spoke to earlier this morning, he wanted to get back out there. But the only problem was, was that half his shoulder was missing around his firing arm.

But he was convinced he would be able to sit there on a roof and not have to run anywhere and he could contribute that way. So it's been surprising. But ... the Marines that are here certainly appear to be geared up for whatever the future holds.

One of Sullivan's readers makes a simple point:

The line that struck me as most interesting in that piece from the embedded CNN reporter is near the end where he writes 'So it’s been surprising'. I would love for him to further explain why he finds the actions & attitudes of these men 'surprising'. I would take a guess & say that this is this man's first exposure to our men in the military.
I was an Army brat from the day I was born until I was halfway through college, and my father was an Airborne ranger most of those years. This reporter's observations of our soldiers don't surprise me at all. Anyone who has spent anytime around our soldiers would not have expected anything different. These men take their code and their duty seriously. The fact that the reporter is 'surprised' I think reveals more than anything his (and no doubt a significant number of media people's) disconnect from what most people know, either first hand or instinctively, about our military personnel. We have the best military known to mankind and one of the primary reasons is the simplest one: The people who are in it.

Once I got my taste of military life, I never wanted to live any other way. Having taught soldiers, I never want to teach anyone but. I decided this morning that if my husband ever decides to separate from the military, I will require that we live near a military post so I can continue to work with soldiers. Once you see the caliber person the military fosters, you never want anything less.

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EMAIL

Mail takes about two weeks to and from Iraq. Apparently email takes three days. Just this morning I got an email that my husband sent me on Tuesday. Weird.

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April 29, 2004

GRRR

"As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam and President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama," Pelosi said.

This little quote tagged onto the Cheney-is-a-chickenhawk article is disgusting. I don't even know what else to say about it. It makes my blood boil to see such spin.

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GIRLY

A storm's a-brewin' over at RWN where Hawkins is discussing women vs men bloggers. The background is too complex to summarize here -- you can read it on RWN -- but Hawkins goes on to ask an interesting question:

So let me branch out: Why are comparatively so few female bloggers of note in the political blogosphere?

Personally, I have come to suspect it's just a numbers game. On the whole, women aren't as interested as men in politics, so therefore there are a lot less women than men writing about politics, and hence there is a much smaller pool of female bloggers with the talent to move up the ranks.

Some people probably won't like that answer, but hey, why aren't there as many women who are sports fans as men? Why are there a lot more women than guys who enjoy romance novels? Maybe it's nature, maybe it's nurture, maybe it's some combination thereof, but men and women on the whole don't have the same level of interest in politics.

As an aside, I see nothing sexist in that quote at all. I'm reminded of a heated argument that erupted a few years ago when one of my female friends took extreme offense when my brother made an offhanded comment that his college basketball team could whoop any WNBA team. Cries of Sexist! insued, but there's nothing sexist about saying something that's probably true. But I digress.

Maybe that's why I'm having a hard time finding wives who want to talk about this stuff with me. Maybe that's why I was so disappointed to find out Kim du Toit is a man. But you know what -- it doesn't really matter. I started to write "it's too bad women don't want to blog about politics" and then I erased it because it doesn't matter. Who cares if you're a man or a woman; in the blogosphere, it's ideas that count. Reynolds and Green do a lot of recipe blogging, which should be a "woman's" topic. Who cares? They say important things on the majority of their posts, so they can write the occasional post about chicken, or whatever. I don't care if I'm writing back and forth with a man or woman, as long as we have common ground and we a trying to help each other grok.

I sometimes write about girly things like knitting or how I think Stephen Green is cute. But I most certainly will never give up trying to grok politics and current events so I can, as Hawkins joked, "have more time to blog about make-up and house plants." I can't even do make-up -- I've never bothered to learn how to apply it properly, and it shows -- and I have one houseplant that I just remembered to water after reading Hawkin's post. Make-up and plants ain't never gon happen on my blog.

MORE:

By the way, I just got introduced to Cassandra and Debbye through Hawkins' post. So far I like what I see. I need to check back in with them often.

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FALLUJAH

Tim has a good post today about what's going on in Fallujah, from a military strategy standpoint.

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April 28, 2004

LINK

I'm way too young to know anything about the Vietnam era, which is why I found Mrs. du Toit's new post quite interesting. Have a look.

I spent all night last night up sick, so blogging is the furthest thing from my mind. I'm skipping German and crashing tonight. More tomorrow.

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DELIVERY

The secret that I was keeping a while back is now not really a secret anymore, so I can tell you all the good news: my husband is getting his tank! One of my students had to deploy to send the tanks down to Iraq, so that's how I found out about it, but now that it's common knowledge around our post and in the Stars and Stripes, and the tanks are on their way, I can happily say that I kept my mouth shut the whole time.

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April 27, 2004

TIDE

I know there's some expression about things getting darkest right before dawn or something like that, but I can't put my finger on it right now. Nonetheless, it fits me today: I've had two really great conversations today and I feel like the friend situation here is really looking up. It was a tide-turning day.

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WONDER

I wonder if my husband is happy to no longer be in Najaf or bummed that he didn't get a piece of the action? Probably a little of both.

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BEAUTIFUL

Depending on your connection speed, this might take a while to load, but it's most definitely worth it if you want to feel close to our servicemembers...

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PLEDGE

I think this morning I'm going to limit myself to writing about uplifting things. And, man, have I found something that makes my heart sing: the running totals for money donated by bloggers to Spirit of America. Three groups of bloggers, headed by Castle Argghhh!, Dean Esmay, and A Small Victory, are raising money for alternate media sources in Iraq. So far they've raised over $30,000! And bloggers are starting to auction things: an original Cox & Forkum, a picture from Saddam's palace that Chief Wiggles took, plane tickets, bayonets, everything!

I didn't join up with any specific "team" for the competition, and it's probably too late to join in since it ends Thursday. If I had been paying more attention to getting in on this, I would've knitted a sweater for the reader who pledged the most. Instead I will just have to encourage you to go pledge through someone else...

And now that I see how much money everyone else is giving, I have to go donate more! $30,000! Look at the impact we bloggers can have.

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April 26, 2004

SUFFER

I started to formulate a post while talking to Tim over the weekend, and it just came together on the exercise bike. I've managed to nail down more firmly why I feel I have a hard time fitting in, why I relate so well with my students but not as well with other wives.

Soldiers signed up for this; wives didn't.

I realize this will take some generalizing here, but bear with me. Soldiers know what they're getting into when they raise their right hand. They know the risks and agree to take them. Wives, on the other hand, seem to have a sense of "why me" when they fall in love with someone who has chosen to take that oath. There's some crossover of categories -- conscientious objectors, anyone? -- but for the most part, soldiers are willing participants in the war on terror and wives are dragged along kicking and screaming.

The majority of wives I know either suffer in silence or express their bitterness at any appropriate moment. None are hooah the way I am. They look forward to the day their husbands leave this mess behind and get a regular job, and though they feel a vague sense of pride that their husbands are doing a noble job, they would welcome him home in a heartbeat and flip the Middle East the finger if they could. They seem to think that since they never took an oath, they are exempt from any obligations to portray Army Values and to selflessly support the mission.

I don't think I've met anyone yet who feels the way I do (except for Tim, but he raised his right hand a while back.)

I don't suffer. Sure, I miss planting kisses in my husband's dimples, but I don't feel the bitterness many wives feel over the separation. I don't feel angry at the President for forcing us to go through this, nor do I feel like I've been cheated out of 14 months of my life. I don't have any illusions that his return next April will signify the end of our family's involvement with all things Muslim, nor do I plan to inform him that I have personally decided he's leaving the Army when he gets back, as some wives will.

My husband is contributing something to this world in a way that many wives just don't seem to grok. I think that's why I feel more comfortable with soldiers than wives, because there's common ground in the idea that soldiers are supposed to soldier. I'm having a hard time seeing that understanding in the wives I know.

On Saturday, Tim asked me how I cope with the deployment. To be honest, I do most of it alone. But when I need empathy in a rough patch, I turn to Tim or Mike or Carla. When I need someone to be sympathetic and get my mind off of it, I turn to Marc. When I'm down, I turn to the blogosphere for support.

I turn to you guys to help me cope. Thank you.

MORE TO GROK:

Amritas adds some insight.

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COLLECT

Hey, do you collect anything? I collect lots of stuff. Not nice things like china patterns, but real dorky collections. Touristy magnets. Bottle caps. Matchbooks. Buttons. Tourist t-shirts from Las Vegas. Weird stuff. What do you collect?

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LILEKS

The only blog I read where I can remember precisely the first entry I ever read is Lileks'. It was his post on Ed Harris. Ed Harris, you say, Mr. Link on Andrew Sullivan? I like him. Let's go see what this so-called Lileks character has to say about him. How's that, Harris said something moronic? And this Lileks guy writes about this kind of stuff every day? I'm hooked.

That was January 2003. I've followed Lileks ever since; he holds a sweet spot in my heart, though he'll never know it. I listen to all the crappy music he makes. I look at all his regrettable food. And I feel a certain connection with him today when he apologizes for not making more time for his readers. And he means it, you can tell he really means it.

He makes me smile.

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SOCK

In addition to finishing my book on the train, I also finished my current knitting project.
Well, 50% of the project...

sock.jpg

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MOSQUE

I finished reading Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong? on the train, and one thing really caught my attention. I'm no expert on the history or nuances of Islam, but Lewis is, and I trust his analysis when he says

Christians sometimes speak of "The Synagogue" and "The Mosque" to denote the religious institutions of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. But these are inappropriate terms, the projection of Christian notions onto non-Christian religions. For the Jew or the Muslim, the synagogue or the mosque is a building, a place of worship and study, no more. Until modern times and the spread of Christian norms and influence, neither ever had, for its own worshippers, the institutional sense of the Christian term.

When the Marines bombed the mosque in Fallujah, Charles Johnson said

The wire services are already reporting that 40 “worshippers” were killed at one mosque in Fallujah. But the simple fact, borne out by hundreds of posts here at LGF, is that mosques in places like Fallujah are not simply “places of worship;” they are centers of incitement, and hiding places/staging areas for murderers.

Before reading Lewis' book, I thought Muslims were disgusting, hiding their weapons in places of worship. I figured they knew their religion was so intricately tied to jihad that it didn't really matter if they defiled their mosques. Now I wonder if maybe it's just our Christian upbringing that makes us unable to grok how a place of worship could be full of RPGs. If to Muslims a mosque is simply a building, then it's no wonder we see photos like these:

gaza-mosque-bullets.jpg

iraqi-mosque-worshippers.jpg

And now I feel even less sorrow at bombing that Fallujah mosque.

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