Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Finger

Back when I was a mere girlish slip of a private, my section sergeant - one Monty Harder, career Specialist Fifth Class and field-grade alcoholic - took me aside as I was organizing myself for some sort of field problem. He inspected my uniform and equipment, quizzed me on my mission and my medical and tactical knowledge of the operation to come, and then asked me what at the time seemed to me like an odd question;

"What's your go-to-hell plan?"

I asked what he meant by that and he explained that it meant I needed to think about what I could and should do if the mission went purely to hell; how I would get the most guys out alive, how I could spread myself and my medical treatment around as best as possible in a total shitstorm."You'll probably get killed, but you can make choices that'll get more of your guys out alive than if you don't think about it now. You need to keep thinking about that all the time you're in the field; what would I do if the enemy turned up there...where should I be if there's an ambush in that defile...where do I blow open a PZ for wounded if we get hit from over here."

This was pretty heavy tactical thinking for a PFC, and it took a while for me to get used to the idea that I couldn't just amble through the woods looking at the pretty flowers. As I got militarily smarter, it became pretty clear to me that a fair number of my fellow sergeants, and a handful of my officers weren't able to think that way, either. But Monty Harder's advice followed me a long way though my military career; never fall in love with one plan or one scheme of maneuver or one operation. Never assume the best. Always have a backup plan. Assume that the enemy is as smart or smarter than you are.

So it give me a pain in the giggy to read stuff like; "Given Karzai's track record, it's tempting to drop him and find somebody else. The problem is, there isn't anyone else. Karzai is the only president of Afghanistan, and no viable alternative seems to be waiting in the wings."

It's obvious to me that there is no chance that my country is going to stop fiddle-fucking around central Asia anytime soon. But I'd sure feel a lot happier about that if I thought that there was someone in my government who is as smart as my old section sergeant, surly old drunk that he was.Because when you have nobody else to give you a hand, what the hell do you do if he decides to give you the finger, instead?


  1. Sounds like the way I drive. It only took one slip of the steering wheel for some bimbo to turn her car sideways in front of my father in law as he was toodling along at 40mph. We T-boned her. I was in the back seat and fortunately no one was seriously hurt. But that taught me to look for the car that wasn't doing something right. To plan for something going wrong and always have an exit route.

    No, in the US today, the only plan for a politician is how to get re-elected. Tactics are: mud-slinging, lying, and duping the mindless masses out of their campaign contributions. Strategy varies but usually ends up with tire-tracks across somebody's back.

    It's why I liked Obama, he actually had an end game that he was shooting for. I've been a little disappointed with the results: not enough on health care, we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. But at the very least, he didn't get elected to sit on his thumb while his cabinet talked him into wars we didn't need, into disemboweling financial regulation, into throwing out habeas corpus, and on, and on. It's actually good to see a politician with any kind of plan outside of what to do win the next election.

  2. FDC says he was a "girlish slip of a private" --
    funny description, but I cannot believe that for a moment :)

    Your section sergeant's lesson is a good one. I cannot help feeling that BP Oil had no such plan, hence the tragedy the Gulf will suffer due to their hubris and rush to profit.

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  4. Lisa: It was actually worse than that: BP, mandated by USEPA regs to provide a detailed blowout prevention/spill management plan prior to receiving a permit for this borehole, managed to evade the regulation. The recognition of the need for such a plan was already there - i.e., both the Feds and the company knew that the pileup was possible - and BP conciously looked the other way whistling.

    It's one thing not to have a plan for a problem you didn't anticipate - quite another, and quite a bit more damning - to know the problem is out there and refuse to plan for it.


  5. And Lisa, the skinny guy with the Magnum P.I.-wanna-be mustache sitting facing you in the upper picture is me. I was a sylph-like young soldier back in the day.

  6. Wourm,
    I can't believe that Obama had a plan or end game beyond election.
    The Obama we got is not an iota different than Bush. 43 had drug medicare plan that benefited the drug companies and O has a health care plan that benefits the insurance companies more than it does the citizen.
    We sure haven't seen the end of endless wars and O pretended that he was anti-war.PRETENDED.
    His policies favor Wall St. rather than Main St.
    He's a train wreck and we are the caboose.
    Just my take as a cheerful Amurican.

  7. Lisa: followup on the BP mess from today's House inquisition:

    1. There were some warning signs in pressure differentials which were documented by the operators well before the blowout. Typically when this happens the drillers case off the overpressured zone. Don't know why they didn't do this.

    2. The BOP maker concedes that the BOP can become inoperable in a number of circumstances, so there’s no basis for assuming it will function as the fail-safe. This means that the claims in environmental statements that in the event a blowout occurred in the well, the BOP would handle it, were false.

    3. Turns out the BOP can be damaged when gas pressure pushes materials up the well through the BOP — the sand and other materials can literally start cutting it up.

    4. The BOP has redundant means to shut off flows, but all failed here. This should be a red flag for other deepwater BOP failure potentials.

    5. And the most valuable test on a BOP can’t be performed under real conditions, because it literally shears the pipe. But while they’ve been tested shearing pipes on shore, they may not sheer the casing, and probably don’t work to shear at the seams/connections between pipes, because that junction is thicker and harder to shear.

    6. The “worst case” analysis BP performed for the NEPA all assumed the BOP works. There’s no analysis of what happens when it fails, even though BOPs had failed in the past. This is clearly a critical error, one that never should have been allowed to get past the NEPA review.

  8. jim: I think we're making the same mistake blaming Obama we did with Bush. The very fact that things haven't changed with the change in the chief executive and 60% of the Congress tells me that it's NOT about the who; it has nothing to do with Obama's intentions prior to the election, with who he is or what he wants or doesn't want. For what it's worth, I think the guy had some vague ideas about changing directions.

    But ISTM that the bottom line here is that the system isn't "working" (to the extent that it ever did reflect the "will of the people" - and any look at U.S. history will tell you that a whole bunch of our political actions did little or nothing to benefit Joe and Mary Lunchpail...) any more than it did back in William Jennings Bryan's day. So it wouldn't have mattered if we'd have elected Ralph Nader. The governing classes have interests and objectives beyond what we have the capability to influence with the electoral process short of an outright revolution and complete defenestration of the sitting powers-that-be. And given our history, that's an unlikely possibility...

  9. Which is not to say that there's NO point in ousting an obvious dumbass cronyist wealth-whore like Bush. Just that the "change" you're gonna see isn't anything like what you'd think you'd see...

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  11. FDC,

    RE. the oil spill, the data coming out in the House Energy and Commerce committee is damning:

    "A senior House Democrat said that the blowout preventer that failed to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a "useless" test version of one of the devices that was supposed to close the flow of oil and a cutting tool that wasn't strong enough to shear through joints that made up 10 percent of the drill pipe."

    Stupak: Oil well's blowout preventer had leaks, dead battery, design flaws

    [I could recognize the fetching sylph :)]

  12. p.s. -- that's me up above.

    RAW wouldn't say, "fetching".

  13. Lisa: That's just as well; given that I shouldn't really be fetching anyone other than my bride, all things considered I'd much rather fetch you than jim...

    And the BOP stack sounds like about the same sort of quality engineering as another Halliburton subsidiary provided to our guys serving in Iraq. Heckuva a job...

  14. You can be admired by another, though :)

    We are all very worried here on the Gulf Coast. All indications are certain ways of life will be dying here.

  15. Chief,
    I don't believe that i made any mistakes with Bush, nor do i feel that i'm doing so with Commandante Zero.

  16. "Girlish slip?" Wow. I'm not going anywhere near that one. We were all once young, dumb and skinny. I managed to burn all of the photos around the house, but wouldn't you know, an old friend from the past recently emailed me some photos from Berlin, circa 1966. Delete button.

    I'm going to line up with Ranger when it comes to the current prez. Election was what it was all about, along with some vague notions of cool things to do. From where I sit, what he's managed to do is drive a huge piledriver into a super majority we the people gave his party in the Congress, to the point where the Dems could actually lose the House. A charismatic dude he is, a politician he ain't. It's all about him. And, as Ranger points out, he's fallen for the whole war on terror schtick, which makes him dumber than I thought he was. And speaking of that, now that he's been in office for a year-and-a-half now, he's outside the permissable range for blaming the predecessor. His domestic security apparatus is still a joke, while his-repeat—HIS wars aren't going so great. He had a choice: could have done something innovative, radical and earthshaking in AfPak. He chose to be just another suit, another nose to the grindwheel, keep on keeping on guy. Meanwhile, people continue to die for no reason, ours and theirs. Iraq? It'll fall apart absent U.S. troops. Look for the troops to be there for a long time.

    I voted for Obama, and I'd do it again, given the alternative. He's better than Bush, but that's like saying FDR was better than Hoover. Faint praise. And here's the really sad part about this whole deal of electing the first black or minority president ever. Millions of those who turned out to put Obama in office while electing a lot of folks on his coat tails won't turn up this year to keep any momentum going. Mid-year elections are always a bitch; expect this one to be particularly brutal for the Dems.

    Oh, and yeah, while we're blaming BP and Halliburton, let's not forget the federal agency responsible for overseeing these matters: the whatever Mining Agency that cut deals and loosened the tethers on the oil boys. That's Obama's agency. The agency where the president didn't get rid of the Bush good old boys. The agency that's biting us all in the ass now. I guess he was too busy with other matters, like going along with offshore drilling. I guess the rest of the "smart" people in his administration were busy doing other importan things, too.

    I knew a lot of smart Spec 5s. Also knew some Spec 6s and even ran into one Spec 7. Now, that Spec 7, he really had his shit together. He could have solved all of this. I could have, too, back in the day. But I suspect that old Spec 7's out there retired now and just shaking his head, while he pops another cold one. Just like me.

    It never gets any better over the mountain.

  17. Publius,
    My take on Obama is from the Who song-
    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
    I will not say -I TOLD YOU SO, b/c the system could not do better, and you fight with what you have , not what you'd like to have.
    I hate to differ with an friend, especially one with a 9 iron, but i cannot agree with your appraisal of Hoover. He really wasn't as bad as you portray or indicate.It was the country that was as much to blame for the meltdown.
    I just read SLAM's history of WW1 and Hoover was prescient in his thoughts about the future of the US /Europe.His financial thoughts were solid.
    Anyway , back to Commandante Zero, all he's done imho is too ingratiate himself with big business/finance/corporate interests to the detriment of the suckers that voted him into office.Yes , i said suckers.
    I am not anti-obama, i'm anti politician.
    As Jackson Brown said in the song cocaine-You take Peggy and i'll take Sue and there ain't no difference between the two. Obama and Bush are the same critters from a common evolutionary tree.
    I think i'll go to the rock and roll museum next week while in Cleveland, ohio. There's more reality there than in the halls of the White House or Congress.
    I think that possibly we should link House elections directly to the Presidential cycle, so that an incoming Prez can have a chance to do something mandated by his platform. Also platforms should be mandatory and adhering to them should be a requisite. As it stands now election campaigns are feel good bullshit.
    As we have it now

  18. jim, and Publius: Couple of thoughts;

    1. Hoover WAS A smart guy. His problem was that he was a 1928-type of smart guy and never really understood the hole that is Kiwanis-and-Rotary-Club banker buddies blew in the social contract the way FDR "got" it. You could make the point that Hoover's economic paradigm would have kept us out of the debt hole we're digging ourselves into today...but you'd have to argue in favor of continuing to work with the poverty that was the norm for 50-60% of the public prior to Social Security/Medicare/etc.

    2. As for the Change-itarian...I'd argue that he's a better politician than a "leader", charismatic or otherwise. He's just another damn DLC pol, comfortable with the comfortable, unwilling to make any move that will queer him with the wealthy donors, the big Money types that get him re-elected. I knew that when he was running for office...didn't you? Did anyone over the age of 25 really buy that "Change!" rhetoric?

    I blame him more for that than for being what he is, just another pol looking for donors and backers. I'd actually have more respect for the man if he'd have come to office loaded up to slam through a national health, defund the wars, re-regulate the banks and clean out the agencies of all the industry whores and fellow-travelers and accept that he'd be gone in one term. But to do that he'd have had to be willing to put his principles before his ambitions, and I don't think he actually has that much principle.

    3. But I think the real point is that we're blaming the dummy (or dummies, if we throw Bush into the mix) and not the ventriloquist. Look at the facts; we replaced a conservative Republican cronyist insider with a supposed moderate Democrat supposed reformer and what happened? Just what you both point out - nothing. The guy has governed like a moderate Republican...and has ignored some of the worst of the Bush stuff, like cramming the agencies with stooges and keeping them from doing any actual regulation.

    He's the boss, so it's fair to blame Obama. But let's take a moment to acknowledge how rigged the game is. It was never designed to directly benefit those of us not in the two-yacht income bracket. But there was a moment, between 1930 and 1980 when the field was a little more level. That's gone now, and I'm betting it'll be a long time coming back. The difference is that for 40 years we were the biggest dog in the pound, and being greedy, authoritarian, nepotistic and stupid couldn't hurt us much. The other dogs are getting bigger, tho. I wonder how long we can keep them from biting us on the ass?

  19. Chief,
    I roger your transmission EXCEPT Bruce is the BOSS.
    That's fact.

  20. When I say Obama's not a politician, I should be a little more specific. He's not an LBJ, FDR type of politician. Sure, he's a politician, but not one whose talents are going to do much for the country. Even his most fervent admirers will have to admit that he's not a change agent. SSDD when it comes to Mr. Obama.

    I stand by the parallel I drew between Bush-Obama and Hoover-FDR. Sure, Hoover was smart. He was actually a very admirable man in many respects, which means drawing the parallel with GWB is a serious insult. But he should never have been president and he ultimately goes down in history the same way as Bush. Whether he was smart or not, the whole damned store burned down on his watch, because he, Coolidge, Harding, etc., all trusted their business cronies.