Monday, March 12, 2012

The Big Picture

The Big Picture? I would define it as looking at a problem/situation, whether historical or current, as a "whole", that is within a rich and complex (especially political) context. For some reason Americans, in general, don't seem to be very good at this. The reason why we don't excel at this particular skill could have something to do with the way our political parties developed in the 19th Century, the whole Walter Karp argument of "US Nation" versus "US Republic". A specific example of this inability to deal effectively with our own complex social reality is our dubious assumption that Democrats and Republicans represent the ying and yang, the two sides of the coin, the one and the other, of American politics. They don't. Never have. Rather two shop-worn labels behind which various elite and moneyed interests congregate. When was the last real big political shakeup in the US? Nineteen thirty-two? Karp would say 1892 . . . and what followed that was a manufactured war of imperialist pretenses.

I'm not going to attempt to reproduce Karp's argument here, his prose is much better than mine, but rather simply point out that there does seem to exist an almost "genetic" American tendency to avoid the everyday political reality in favor of emphasizing assumed ideological "virtue", although we would be loath to label it "ideological". In other words we focus on the pretty wrapping but don't worry about what is actually inside the box or where it came from or what it took to get it. The important thing is how it makes us feel . . .

And of course, like any other political community in the world, we like to feel good about ourselves and what we do/have done. One blatant example of this are the names given various policies to make them seem something which they arguably are not, such as "Operation Iraqi Freedom", the "Patriot Act", or anything containing the word "strategy". Whenever one sees a label like this it is a sure indication that the level of bamboozling is high and that our great-grandchildren will probably be cursing us for our stupidity, but then what could be more American than constantly scamming and fleecing the "rubes" or rather playing the rube? It's essentially the national pastime at least among our political and economic elite.

And it's probably always been so, at least in terms of our domestic politics (which of course drive our foreign policies in different ways). The difference today is that contrary to the past we don't seem to have a certain number, a minimum percentage of the public who can yell "wait a minute there!" and bring enough of the masses to their senses so that the scam doesn't get completely out of hand. Or is it rather that minimum number no longer has a podium from which to be heard, all the hoopla concerning the Facebook world to the contrary?

Perhaps we need to promote a different way of looking at the world, recapture the real meaning of "strategy".

So, first let's start with my definition of strategy which has been presented before:

Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.

Then let's consider how these various sources of power or considerations fit together. As I mentioned in the previous thread, I think the great Clausewitzian Aleksandr Svechin puts the "whole perspective" well:

Every question the strategist must resolve is extremely simple, but a correct answer requires a great depth of understanding of the situation of the war as a whole; theory can only emphasize the diversity of possible solutions as a function of different conditions. But a strategist cannot limit himself to correct answers for each question individually. The answer to one strategic question will only be correct when it is in harmony with the answers to other strategic questions. We have put harmony in the preparations of a nation for war at the forefront, but it is no less important in the leadership of a war, only the characteristics of harmony in this case are immeasurably more subtle. This coordination, this achievement of harmony, is the essence of strategy and it forces us to classify practical work on strategy as an art.
Strategy, p 306

Which brings us back to "the big picture", but to get what I'm driving at we need a suitable example . . . and perhaps the best example that comes to mind is the current debate about the Vietnam War. The latest round of this seemingly endless discussion involves the trashing of a familiar historical figure associated with the US defeat in Vietnam, General Westmoreland. Colonel Gian Gentile has responded effectively imo.

I am no expert on this subject. In terms of background, I enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve in April 1975, the same month that Saigon fell, and later saw what had become of that branch of the US military post-Vietnam, which for a young and idealistic recruit on active duty for training was hair-raising, but that was the very limited extent of my experience. I have read some books on the subject and have had many discussions with veterans of that war, but nothing like an insightful view through study of the specific history of the conflict. So I profess no specialized knowledge of the subject, but I am a strategic theorist and look at this war - as I look at all wars - from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective.

It is interesting that in a book review of Sorley's Westmoreland, in Parameters no less, the word "China" does not appear even once. This in a book explaining how we lost the Vietnam War?

This is particularly relevant when considering that those in high government positions in the Johnson Administration were taking China very seriously. Without China and Chinese ambitions(those assumed to be such in Washington) what was the reason for US intervention in Vietnam? Surely it was not seen as an important US strategic goal that Vietnam stay divided, or that the South Vietnamese government survive as regards to Vietnam itself or even Indochina. What made Vietnam important was the effect the conflict had on China and these supposed Chinese intentions . . . Thomas Schelling, writing in 1966, put the complex situation relatively clearly from this US strategic perspective:

We need to recognize that China, as a "strategic" adversary, could not be taken care of by "strategic war" planning that was developed during two decades of preoccupation with the Soviet Union. China is a different strategic problem altogether. New modes of coercive limited warfare might have to be developed for coping with the problem. The entire tempo of war would be wholly different from anything contemplated against the Soviet Union; except for a small retaliatory force that the Chinese might possess some time in the future, there would be few or no targets of such urgency as to make the initial moments, even the initial days of weeks, as critical as they are bound to be in planning for the contingency of Soviet-American war. The idea of "limited strategic war" between the Soviet Union and the West is often dismissed as plain impracticable, and those who dismiss it may be right; between China and the United States a war would have whatever tempo the US decided on, or a tempo determined by Chinese actions in some local theater, not the hypersonic tempo of preemptive thermonuclear exchanges.
The need to distinguish a campaign intended to eliminate the regime from one intended only to coerce the regime into good behavior could be supremely important when the Chinese possess a nuclear retaliatory capability (against the US or against any other population center that they might choose). Making clear to them that, the most potent coercion might be a target strategy that threatened the regime - eventually, gradually, or uncertainly, not suddenly and decisively - and such a strategy would require discriminating what it is that the regime most treasures and where it is most vulnerable.

Whatever its effect on the North Vietnamese willingness to support the Vietcong, and whatever the capacity of North Vietnam to control the Vietcong in submission to the threat of continued bombing attacks, the bombing of North Vietnam must have had one implication for China that went far beyond that war in Southeast Asia. Forcible resistance to them outside their borders can never cost the Chinese more than the resources they knowingly put at risk, the troops and supplies they send abroad; but the bombing of North Vietnam is a mode of warfare that the record now shows to be a real possibility, one that the US has not only thought of but engaged in. It is a mode of warfare that, at least with air supremacy and the absence of modern anti-aircraft weapons, can be conducted deliberately over a protracted period. And it is a mode of warfare that, if quantitatively increased, could cause extensive physical damage inside the target country, denying any guarantee that the costs of aggression could be confined to the expeditionary force put at risk outside one's border.

Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence, pp 187-8

The decisive factor in North Vietnam's eventual success was outside support, from both the Soviet Union and from China. With the North enjoying this advantage, at the strategic level, the US could not exercise enough coercion on the North for them to forsake their goal of political unification with the South. Invasion of the North would have triggered Chinese intervention and the US intended to keep this war "limited". Overthrowing the North Vietnamese government was simply not a viable option. And as the war dragged on, even US bombing became unsustainable due to the ever increasing sophistication of anti-aircraft defenses in North Vietnam. It was here from a strategic theory perspective that the war was lost.

Tweeking the tactics on the ground in South Vietnam would have perhaps inflicted higher losses on the North's invasion force, may have bought the Saigon government a bit more time, but to what purpose? Would this US tactical success have changed the character of South Vietnam's ruling elite? Would it have made the people in the South willing to die to save the RVN government? Tactics comes down to the implementation of violence to achieve specific and limited goals which supposedly build on one another to create operational and finally strategic success. Violence has it's uses, and war is essentially organized violence, but it is not going to build a political community. Outstanding tactical virtuosity still would not have translated into a US victory in Vietnam.

At this point the tendency of tactical myopia leading to grand tactical speculation becomes clear and the reason for it as well. It allows us to avoid what the real main questions are and what failure actually entails. It also indicates how limited, and complex, even at times self-defeating, the role of violence is in many wars, especially when used as an instrument by "outside" political players. Which is all very depressing for a society conditioned not to question its ideologically framed motives and endlessly fed the pap that large explosions and massive destruction always lead inevitably to "victory".

For this reason, a lack of sense of the big picture becomes a necessity, actually the possible basis for a career as "snake oil salesman" in the current or even next "war of choice". Much more soothing for the gullible is to instead focus on narrow tactics that we assume that we excel in. All that "warrior" stuff is ever so flashy.

Like cattle we follow the same worn path leading to exactly the same place, but with little consciousness that we have traveled this route before. We share the advantages and disadvantages of any herd animal to our and our decedents' regret.


  1. One factor re: China to recall in Vietnam (and it's brought up in Gentile's observation of "Past-War-itis" that seems to grip both our civilian and military "leaders") is the whole business of "Who lost China?" that tore apart the pre-1949 State Department and was still a pretty serious consideration in Nineteen Sixties D.C.

    No politician or military bigwig could be seen as suggesting we "lose" Vietnam as we had China.

    I think we're seeing something very similar here in southwest and central Asia, only it's "Who lost the Twin Towers?"; the fear of another "terrorist" success has both the public and the "leadership" mesmerized by the chimera of a military victory in a land war in Asia. So you're central thesis is affirmed; our "strategy", what there is of it, is founded on the twin pillars that there is and always will be a violent anti-American cadre in the Muslim Middle East, and that that cadre will have the capability to strike the U.S. - unless the cadre and/or their capabilities are degraded by U.S. military force.

    While the former may be true (our relentless hucksterism for Israel and various Muslim tyrants sees to that) the latter is more than arguable; it is often highly questionable and many times demonstrably false. And the corollary - that the correct response is military - is likewise flawed.

    And the "strategy" that proceed from the above presumptions is by nature, pretty bovine.

    I guess my question would be - is there any chance, or hope, that this beefy procession can be redirected?

    ISTM that our chances are not great. The usual trajectory for declining Powers is downward, and that downward path often results not in reform or rejuvenation but in the production of demagogues, tyrants, and autocrats. My personal conviction is that we're looking at the "crash" that Andy often warns us about, but that rather than producing a re-invigoration of the U.S. we're more likely to see some sort of nasty populist fascism or paranoid militarism.

    Hope not.

    But without a sense of the "big picture" the Dolchstoßlegende becomes damn seductive...

  2. FDChief-

    Agree. Unfortunately I don't think that strategic thinking is going to become widespread any time soon. There are simply too many political/economic interests against it. No one in power gains by looking at events in this way, in fact it puts their very position of power in question. If they were so blind as to lead us to this point in time, what reason do we have to believe in their capability to rectify the situation?

    Instead the same blathering self-serving propagandists who greased the skids for our invasion of Iraq in 2002/3 are still dominating the narrative today in regards to Iran . . .

  3. What if the problem isn't our strategic thinking, but rather, the outcome of our strategic thinking is a victim of our world view?

    For example, Vietnam.

    Our world view prior to the Vietnam war was "All communism is bad, bad, bad!"

    Whereas, we loved us some dictatorial candidates like Iran's Shah, and we were most interested in Sadat's Eygpt as well, so we, as a governmental agency didn't really have a problem with strong-man leaders, we just had a problem with...yeah, communism?

    What was it about communism that put stones in our gall bladder?

    Because Uncle Ho wanted to be buddy pal's with America, and lets face it, he, Ho, was far more stable and autocratic than the pack of bumbling neer-do-wells in the South.

    So, I say it is our world-view, our inability to distance our stupid, mythological underpinnings of "spreading freedom" when the unvarnished truth is that we, America, do not give a fucking toot about freedom, we just care about a nation's leadership being able to keep their populace down while we economically rape them into submission.

    So, strategically, our strategy is tied to our world view, and so, in my opinion, it is our world view that needs to change first, at which point, our strategical view will change with it.

  4. Sheer-

    At present I don't think we have any strategically coherent view at all. Both of our last two wars were essentially "unlimited" in that we were expected to not only overthrow but replace the government/state apparatus of Iraq and actually create the same for Afghanistan. Very radical goals which would have required extraordinary amounts of resources.

    My point was that in 1966 the view from Washington was that this was going to be a very difficult, but limited, war. The problem was that they assumed this close link between China and North Vietnam as well as between the USSR and North Vietnam, all being elements of a world-wide campaign of communist subversion. North Vietnam was seen as operating as part of a wider Chinese strategy, even as a vassal of China . . . the US assumption imo was that they would be able to exert enough coercion on North Vietnam to get them to give up their goal of unification with the South . . .

    Thus we have Sec McNamara asking General Westmoreland, "how many additional American and Allied troops would be required to convince the enemy he would be unable to win.” Notice no mention of "victory".

    So US leaders did have a coherent view in 1965-66. They had a clear (if difficult) goal/military aim and the military resources to accomplish it. The military aim would have supported the achievement of their political purpose.

    The problem was in some of their basic assumptions about the character of the war itself and of the motives behind North Vietnam's actions. Ditto with the actions of China. You may call this a "worldview" if you wish, but that does not detract from the clear strategic chain of ideas they did have. In comparison to 1966, we have looked very weak indeed in this regard since the invasion of Afghanistan . . .

  5. As a vet of that time and place, the only attempt at a coherent strategy that I thought I saw was the mining of Haiphong Harbor in late spring of 72. That turned out to be more of a Nixon re-election strategy though instead of a war strategy. Just several months after his re-election, we started mine sweeping ops of the mines we had placed less than a year earlier. Tricky Dicky had gotten what he thought was a deal in Paris. Not tricky enough I guess.

    Too bad, we should have left them in place. The Navy had laid over 1000 mines, most in the outer harbor but some in the inner harbor also. Shutting down Haiphong reduced Chinese arms shipments to a fraction of what they had been as the throughput over the mountains from Yunnan was a trickle. It also stopped Soviet and Warsaw Pact arms shipments cold. Neutral shipping froze and it had been carrying much East German, Czech and Polish war material.

    Even our so-called good friends the West Germans, Japanese and British had to give up their Haiphong runs which did my heart good. The Brits were trading with the north while their co-Commonwealthers the Australians were dying in Bian Hoa and Phuoc Tuy in the south. The Brit position at the time is interesting considering their blockades of neutral shipping during both World Wars and their open ocean mining of the first of those World Wars.

  6. mike-

    Thanks for your comment. I was waiting for one of the Vietnam vets like yourself to comment and was kinda dreading that. I'm not attempting to refight that war, just make a comparison.

    As I've posted, I don't claim to be an expert on the Vietnam war. My intention is to provide a strategic theory perspective of that conflict and then compare that with the total lack of strategic thinking present post 2001: the exclusive focus on tactics, and destruction/violence, ignoring the "big picture" is part of this problem, even inability.

    Notice that I have deliberately restricted the time frame to 1965-66 and have repeatedly mentioned "coercion", which is the strategic concept, but not "air power" which was the operational means used to attempt to achieve it . . .

    So while I can argue that there was a coherent strategy during this time, that is not the same as arguing that the operations/military means actually fitted that strategy, although in 1966 it was the common view that air power alone could do just that. If you have someone like Schelling accepting that premise, then I think we can say that those thinking in terms of the "big picture" at the time had a rational reason to assume it. Which of course doesn't make it right.

    Another advantage of looking at war/wars in this way gives us the various layers of perspective and how they interact. One can have a coherent strategy and seemingly the military means to achieve it, but find out during actual tactical engagements (as part of a larger operation) that the means are actually unsuitable for the intended task, as bombers designed to deliver nuclear warheads where not the best at precision bombing . . .

    Post "Rolling Thunder" the whole way in which air power had been seen changed drastically.

    Interesting comment in regards to the Brits . . .

  7. Seydlitz:

    I don't claim to be an expert on the Vietnam war either. Being in the trenches is not conducive to seeing a bigger picture. But then I, as every Marine or GI worth his salt, had an opinion of what that picture should have been. Some cheered for Rolling Thunder, not me as I have never been a fan of Douhet and Mitchell. Strategic bombing IMHO can contribute greatly to victory but can never be decisive by itself. Others thought putting US ground troops into the north was the way to success. Perhaps, but there were some cold war restraints to consider, maybe the pentagon and the big-picture guys knew something that guys like me were completely in the dark about.

    I did like the mining of Haiphong Harbor though. In my military mind that mining and also blockading should have been done years earlier. Unfortunately it was undone just eight months later while US ground troops were leaving the south. And then not too long after that Vietnamization failed when our Congress stopped providing arms shipments to the RVN. Why would you allow your enemies to replenish their armaments but cut off armaments to your allies? Does not make sense to me.

    Should we have been there in the first place? Probably not. Many blame Westy, or McNamara, or LBJ, or Tricky Dick for losing the war. But we should not forget that earlier JFK justified his troop commitments there by telling us of the South Vietnamese doctors, teachers, priests and non-communist politicians being assassinated by the communists. It was true by the way, and that is why I went with a clear conscience at the time. I know better now. Acting as the planets police force is not made better because it is done by libs instead of neocons.

  8. Anyway Seydlitz, sorry to get off topic in my above comments. I do admire the Svechin quote you posted. I believe he is on the money with his: "...a strategist cannot limit himself to correct answers for each question individually. The answer to one strategic question will only be correct when it is in harmony with the answers to other strategic questions." My admiration for that may seem out of sync with my previous comments on mining Haiphong. But no, I never meant to imply that single act could end the war favorably.

    And your quote of: "The decisive factor in North Vietnam's eventual success was outside support, from both the Soviet Union and from China." is right on the money also. Which is why I praised the mining of Haiphong to deny them that advantage.

    Not sure I follow on 'coercion as a strategic concept'? Perhaps you are right in the 72 timeframe when Nixon wanted to force them to the bargaining table. Earlier in the 65/66 timeframe that you talk about the intent was IMHO was more in the line of 'bomb-them-back-to-the-stone-age' to deny them the ability to intervene in the south rather than 'coercive'.

    And while Schelling may have been correct in his insight on China, his quote of: "...the bombing of North Vietnam is a mode of warfare that the record now shows to be a real possibility, one that the US has not only thought of but engaged in. It is a mode of warfare that, at least with air supremacy and the absence of modern anti-aircraft weapons, can be conducted deliberately over a protracted period." was wrong in several regards. The absence of modern anti-aircraft weapons may have been true when he wrote 'Arms and Influence' in 1966. But shortly after, or perhaps even while he was writing those words, the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact shipped enough of those 'modern anti-aircraft weapons' to put an appreciable dent in our effort. Propaganda was another factor which over that protracted period worked against and diminished the bombing campaign.

  9. mike-

    In general I think the "big picture" ability is rare, at least for Americans in general. We have a tendency to specialize and then consider ourselves "specialists" in many things, when it actually is more a question of bias and assumptions. One need only consider our politics to see that.

    I remember at the old Intel Dump too often there were military vets of the then current wars - Iraq especially - who would take very extreme views regarding strategy or strategic theory interpretations. Essentially their view was "I was there!, what do you know?, so shut up!". Which of course didn't carry much water with me or most of the others, especially when the person was involved in obvious pro-war propaganda . . .

    A tactical mindset attempting to read a war from that perspective, which covers about 90% of what one reads on the net . . .

    That one does not find this obsession or blindness on MilPub is something of a distinction that we all share.

  10. mike-

    The mining of Haiphong should have happened in 1965-66, along with an embargo, added to the ground force intervention in the South and Rolling Thunder which did happen. LBJ also made offers of economic aide if the North abandoned their goal of subverting the South.

    So, let's look at my definition of strategy again:

    --Focused adaptation of divergent sources of power assisted by control over time in pursuit of a political purpose through methodological theoretical construct (strategic theory) with the aim of creating strategic effect/a strategic dynamic greater than the sum of the individual power sources. For the strong political community, strategy can be an option, for the weak it is a necessity.--

    I think this was happening initially, although other sources of power (mining, embargo) where not taped. The problem was in "adaptation . . . over time" in that by the end of 1966 it should have been clear that the initial assumptions were incorrect and/or the situation had radically changed (Soviet block supplied AAA).

    As to coercion, Clausewitz deals with it early in On War, "If the enemy is to be coerced you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. The hardships of the situation must not of course be merely transient - at least not in appearance. Otherwise the enemy would not give in but would wait for things to improve. Any change that might be brought about by continuing hostilities must then, at least in theory, be of a kind to bring the enemy still greater disadvantages . . . "

    On War, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 4

    This is the second interaction towards extremes . .

  11. As to developing a "strategic mindset", think about how our military officers spend their careers. The bulk of billets that address anything of a "strategic" nature below the Army Staff are the equivalent theater headquarters. No one does repetitive assignments at that level. Graduates of our "strategic level" schools, the War Colleges go predominantly to Brigade Command - tactical formations. There is no general career mandate in "strategic thinking", even though there is a small functional area called "Army Strategist". According to the AWC, "The US Army currently has more than 400 military strategists serving in the grades of captain to colonel, diligently assisting commanders from division to combatant command level." Whippity do! 400 "strategists" represent 0.6% of the officer population.

    We spend the bulk of our careers in tactical or possibly operational level assignments, passing, on occasion, through "strategic level" billets, and wonder why we haven't honed a strategic mindset? As I have said in the past, without a permanent and professional General Staff (perish the thought), there will be no permanent, institutional strategic thinking.

  12. Al-

    Agree. I also think that one of the few military career fields that promotes a "strategic mindset" is overt strategic humint collection. Dealing day in and day out with refugees, defectors, deserters, walk-ins . . . and everything tied to that, does influence the way one thinks.

    There of course would be others.

    At the Clausewitz conference the attendees who had to teach Clausewitz in the various military staff colleges lamented the difficulty of communicating Clausewitzian strategic theory to their students. Part of it is our educational system in general, what we promote and what we don't. A "philosophical frame of mind" is a prerequisite which most educated Europeans gain usually through their years in school, whereas in America?

    Maybe we used to, or maybe the easiest way for us to learn is to leave the country. Perhaps it's the rare one among us who develops the ability to see the big picture while remaining at home?

    Anyway . . . so, what do you think of my analysis?

  13. @Seydlitz -

    "Like cattle we follow the same worn path leading to exactly the same place"

    Of course. No matter how much it is denied, our adventure in Afghanistan and its porous border with Pakistan invites comparison with you know where. How is it possible to defeat an opponent to whom you have granted a sanctuary across the border? We should have left there years ago.

    @Al -

    "...without a permanent and professional General Staff (perish the thought), there will be no permanent, institutional strategic thinking."

    Instead what we have is 23,000 military and civilians sitting in the world's largest office building in Arlington Virginia doing what - primarily fighting each other over budgets and pretending to oversee defense contractors. No big picture there.

  14. Gwynne Dyer has some thoughts about the big picture.

  15. Ael –

    Per Gwynne: ”Stop growing or catching our food, for example, and learn to produce it on an industrial scale through biotechnology instead.”

    Good that we will be all long gone and never have to taste ‘Soylent Green’.

    But aren’t we already halfway or a quarter there already for industrial scale food production? Tofu has been around for millennia, scrapple, souse, and refried beans also. Spam – 75 years. Ersatz coffee is even older but I remember drinking it (postum?) as a boy just 60 plus years ago. My father told stories of drinking a coffee like beverage made of boiled acorns during the great depression. Grandma baked bread using more potato starch and other fillers than she did flour during that depression. And speaking of starch: check your labels for maltodextrin, dextrose, high fructose syrups, maltitol, erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, or hydrogenated starch hydrolysate. I shudder every time I read the label on processed food. But even so-called fresh food is no longer sacrosanct from the food processing gurus.

    And nowadays - pink slime anyone?

    I expect my great-great-grandchildren to be eating haggis like their ancestors and they will consider it a great delicacy if all else they have to eat is Gwynne’s industrial blue plate special. Or perhaps they will be pounding the table for wild mustard greens flavored with the dab of salt pork from a can of beans as their great-great-grandfather did before them when he was a boy.


  17. Ael-

    Wasn't that Al Gore's argument in "Inconvenient Truth"? We've known that globalization was a con job for years. That the pace of rationalization associated with the notion of "progress" was unsustainable. That ever increasing consumption of meat was unsustainable as well in terms of plant protein wasted to produce animal protein and the associated environmental degradation. Yet the number of people in the US who think that global warming is caused by human activity (anthropogenic) has actually gone down from 75% to 44% since 2001 . . .

    Start with the "tree-hugger" arguments and one loses half ones potential US audience and those who do listen already agree on these points anyway . . . that's the paradox of our situation imo. The level of irrational "total" propaganda we are up against is really that overwhelming . . . so instead, imo, talk about strategic theory, hopefully get the attention of people who are open to this approach but confused or uncommitted on the other areas, and work from there, allowing your audience to come to their own conclusions . . . chip, chip, chip . . .

  18. Since the US is a consumption based economy, any hindrance to that is anathema.

  19. mike-

    "I shudder every time I read the label on processed food. But even so-called fresh food is no longer sacrosanct from the food processing gurus. "

    We've gone almost totally bio farming on fruits and veggies, we have a farmer from a rich agricultural area south of where we live who supplies us once a week. About half our chicken and all the rabbit comes from family. Would really like to get a good bio-farmer for pork. We could live without beef . . . Veggie and fish consumption is way up and red meat down from before.

    The last time I came back from the States I felt like I was going through de-tox.

  20. Al-

    We're all a hustling-based economy and our crappy food is one of our biggest exports . . .

  21. Should have been "also a hustling . . ."

  22. One fast food chain restaurant on the island, and that's it. Sort of an upscale McDonalds, just better quality raw materials. No Starbucks either. Just sorry it took so long to find Paros!

  23. seydlitz -

    In Portugal I would think you should be able to get acorn fed pork with no problem???

    Rabbit is not on the top of the charts here, too bad. It used to be served in the mess hall at least once a week in the pre-Vietnam 60s. And I remember my uncle's small farm back in the 50s. I provided free farm labor when on summer vacation and rabbit from his homemade hutch beside the henhouse was one of the major staples. Plus we had eggs, cheese and homegrown veggies. Not too much chicken as I recall, cash crop I guess if they weren't layers. And absolutely no beef, bull calves were raised for the veal market, if a heifer she was saved for the milk line. He had no hogs but we did have occasional bacon, I think he traded for it with his neighbors.

    What kind of food do my kids remember from their childhood? Probably tuna casserole, mac and cheese, or some such; I regret not giving them the opportunity I had.

  24. mike-

    The Iberian pigs you're talking about are more in the south of the country. You can get good meat here, the color of the pork is sometimes as red as beef, but I was hoping on finding something a bit less commercial.

    I can't claim any responsibility for our good eating habits, outside of supporting what my wife does. She's the real force behind our eating what we should, but then she grew up in an actual food culture.

    The kids for instance never drank sodas as kids (or "cokes" as we called them back home), rather only water or fruit juices. They also ate a lot of veggies, fruit and fish . . . The fish sticks and occasional trip to Mickey D's were my dubious contribution . . .

  25. Guys-

    Funny you should mention pork. The pork here is exceptionally flavorful and lean as can be. Throw two nice thick chops in a skillet, and you will get a tablespoon of "drippings". Beef is equally lean, and typically more suitable for stew than grilling. Our butcher will alert us when he gets a cow with enough fat marbling to make steaks. We have to have him ADD fat to ground beef to make hamburgers!

    Of course the lamb is great, as is chicken. Lots of local produce, olive oil from friends' trees, eggs from their chickens (best we've ever eaten) and wine from their vinyards. Great living on a rural Greek island.

    Did I mention the wonderful breads and other bakery goodies?

  26. Al-

    Reading your comments, I have to say the Greece is much like Portugal. Only the bread doesn't compare with what we had in Germany, but it is improving. Our pastry cook daughter is visiting as well, so plenty of deserts . . .

    Btw, the thread got an mention in the latest recommended reading at Zen's . . .

    Thanks Zen.