Cognitive dissonance


We've got a new "Think Again" column called " Iraq Isn't Vietnam, but America Is Still America," which is here. My Nation column is called "The Lies of Quinn-Broderville" and is here.

This just in: "Israelis are savvy folk." You'll never guess who.

This also just in: "What a complete lunatic is our Andy Sullivan ..." Read on, here. Read the commenters too. Smart folk, and funny ... God, I love the Internets. (And remember, this crap was good enough not only for Time; The Atlantic is apparently proud of it too. The MSM is doomed, no?)

OK, that's it, we're giving today to LTC Bob.

Greetings, Altercators, LTC Bob Bateman here. I know that many of you are, like Eric, wrapped up in the primaries. Please excuse me if I do not join in. That is not my role. But in this small gap of time (between New Hampshire and Michigan), I thought I might lighten the mood with a fairly current observation from my world. It is an observation that puzzled me at first. I think I have a handle on it now. I recently noticed a change that took place between 2004 and the present. There is, you see, a lot more hugging going on nowadays where I work.

I work in the Pentagon.

Yeah, I know.

The realization of a definite shift in behavior did not really hit me until late October this year. But in hindsight, as is normal with an epiphany, I could look into my mental rear-view mirror and see the outlines. What precipitated my thoughts was that inside of the space of a single week I received (and I must admit, somewhat awkwardly returned) three hugs from brother officers. One of them was a full colonel.

The other two were generals.

Yeah, I know.

After the third of these hugs I felt a little disoriented. Reeling through my mind was the scene from the movie A League of Their Own in which, after making one of his female baseball players cry, the coach (Tom Hanks) is flabbergasted, then exasperated, finally shouting, "There's no crying in baseball! There's no crying in BASEBALL!!" But in my head the words were swapped. "There's no hugging in the Pentagon! There's no hugging in the PENTAGON!!" But, quite obviously, there is now.

I seem to notice things like this. Anomalies. Outliers. Whatever you want to call them. And then, sometimes, I figure them out. This one took a while.

During my first tour of duty in the Pentagon, from the middle of 2002 through the end of 2004, there was no such phenomenon. That is easy enough to understand, because although the "guy hug" had become fairly common in the civilian world (I suspect it leaked over from professional sports) by the late '80s and early '90s, mine is a somewhat more restrained sub-culture. Indeed, there are aspects of Army culture that are clear throwbacks to the 1950s.

For example, when you move in to "quarters" on a military post, even as the moving trucks are unloading all of your worldly possessions into the cramped government-constructed housing and your children are running hither and yon exploring their new environment, your neighbors arrive. They will, all of them, bring food. Traditionally this will be casseroles of some sort, with baking directions and their name and address taped to the bottom of the dish. Casseroles are the norm because they can feed the whole family, need only be warmed, and can be served on paper plates -- essential since you will not yet have unpacked your own plates. Within hours you have sufficient food to sustain the family for the week it will take you to get unpacked without the need for major grocery shopping, and a convenient reason to visit all of your neighbors in return. (Usually with beer in hand.) It is, in other words, the essence of life in 1955. That is what I mean about us being a tad retro in our sub-cultural changes.

So why the sudden change in the Pentagon? Why has our culture made this leap? As I said, it took me a little while to puzzle this one out. I think I have it now. There are certain rules that seem to apply, and I should note that I am speaking only of what I have seen, and that is only within the Army.

Rule #1: A hug is only appropriate between two men who have not seen each other in at least a year. It only occurs on the first meeting of those two after such a gap.

Rule #2: During that period, one or both of them have been to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Neither has died or was crippled beyond repair. Both now know too many who have been so.

Rule #3: The hug occurs in conjunction with a forearm gripped handshake. It is brief. Right arm in shake, left arm over the other man's shoulder, two or three hearty slaps or punches to the back. No more. Release. The sentiment is as direct as the action: "I am glad you are not dead."

In other words, what changed us was war.

That seems to make sense.

No grunt left behind: In his State of the State address yesterday, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) did something that I hope the other 49 states follow, since it seems we cannot muster the will for such an act at the federal level ...


There is one group of guests I would especially like to recognize, New York's combat veterans. Here with us today are Sgt. Esther Rodriguez and Sgt. Jeffery Lord, who served with the Army National Guard in Iraq, and Sgt. Miguel Torres and Master Sgt. Donald Morrell, who served with our Air National Guard in Kuwait and Afghanistan, respectively.

New York has always been so proud to play a part in our nation's defense, and that role is growing. Starting this year, 1,400 additional soldiers will call Fort Drum home.

In addition, next week that tradition of service continues as roughly 2,000 of New York's citizen soldiers will be shipping out to Afghanistan. On behalf of the State, I will be there to wish them well, share our pride, and offer our prayers for their safe return.

And when they do return, we owe them our gratitude, but also something more - we owe them the chance to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities at home they have so honorably fought for overseas. In the name of all of those who have served on our behalf, I will send you a bill guaranteeing New York's returning combat veterans a benefit that covers the full cost of SUNY or CUNY tuition, and that can be used at any college or university in New York State.

I am not from New York, but I appreciate his gesture.

Your local gas company, Baghdad edition:

There are two lessons to be learned from this story about the in-security company Blackwater:

A. Blackwater is not filled with professionals. The evidence that it has more than its fair share of yahoo yellin' cowboys continues to pile up. (Watch video, too.)

B. Do not assume that because somebody is close to an event, in a combat zone, they know what the hell is going on. I was 400 yards away from the things described in this story, at most. But I was in a different unit, one separated by layers upon layers of command echelons. And so I did not know from that day until this one why I smelled a light whiff of CS that day.

A belated holiday present for journalists.

You can write to LTC Bob at

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Scott Goldman
Hometown: Norman, OK

Hey Dr. A,

You asked: "How can an entire industry continue to exist when the product it provides is both unwanted and defective, and proven repeatedly to be so?"

Punditry is just like e-mail spam-- all of us hate it but someone is profiting from it so it continues to exist.

It's also a matter of options. If spam were my only source of information about single women in my city, I would read it instead of automatically sending it to the trash bin.

I really am not sure what *good* election coverage would look like at this point. I like all the fancy graphics and high-tech feel of the MSM, I just hate the terrible journalism. But what other options do I have? Even NPR seems more interested in drama than issues.

Keep up the good work!

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Now we in Nevada have the blessing (?) of the MSM paying attention to us and trying to develop a new storyline for Clinton-Obama. Here's one they won't pursue:

The other morning, at the gym, the CBS morning show was on and Harry Smith was discussing that day's New Hampshire primary with Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield, both of whom I really liked ... until that moment. One of them brought up Bill Clinton criticizing the media for giving Barack Obama a free pass -- not challenging him the way they have gone after Hillary Clinton. They agreed that when you're losing, you attack the media, and scoffed at the mere suggestion.

Well, if Messrs. Schieffer and Greenfield were real journalists, they might ponder the truth of that assertion. They are part of the problem. I am not saying this to be pro- or anti- any candidate, but when the question came up of whether the media played a role in the outcome in NH, it wasn't just Hillary choking up. It was the media choking on their opportunity to do their jobs.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Your economist friends might not like the per capita income comparison, but you could use other measures that could be used to compare standards of living. In 2006 the UN Human Development Index ranked the US 8th, behind Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, and Japan. Using the UN Human Poverty index, the US ranked 16th, right behind Great Britain.

The rankings for 2007 are likely to be considerably worse given the falling dollar, the mortgage mess, and consumer debt crunch.

Name: Wade Bartlett
Hometown: Monrovia, California

Your question of the day regarding the absurd existence of the political news industry reminds me of what the very wise screenwriter William Goldman said about the movie industry: "Nobody knows anything." The utter irrationality that drives the movie/entertainment industry applies to what we know as "the news" because it has all become the same pablum spewed forth by the same self-perpetuating beast. That is why someone like Diane Sawyer can move so seamlessly between third-rate celebrity interviews and tabloid stories and then, with a straight face, act as our television tour guide through the intricacies of the political process. This demonstrates nothing if not an institutional contempt for the American people and the way we choose our political leaders. In reality, the typical political journalist plays a role no different than that of a clown juggling in a circus, the difference being that a clown is at least honest about what he is doing. Attempting to remain a thoughtful and informed citizen in such an atmosphere is a frustrating and exhausting exercise.

Name: Rolf Embom
Hometown: Cerritos, CA

Re: Chalmers Johnson's review: In his book, "Ghost Wars," Steve Coll disputes that Zbig wanted to provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Coll states (endnote 17 for Ch. 2), "[H]is contemporary memos -- particularly those written in the first days after the Soviet invasion -- make clear that while Brzezinski was determined to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan, through covert action, he was also very worried that the Soviets would prevail ... Any claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism."

Per Coll, Zbig wanted to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan simply to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another SSR. It was only 20 years later that Zbig started implying that he intentionally setup the USSR's own Vietnam.

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