Thursday, July 30, 2009


I came across this cartoon in an old New Yorker article.*

Because I'm a nerd and find it completely impossible to read, watch, or talk about anything without drawing parallels to counterinsurgency, I chuckled a bit.

*The article, if you're interested, is a June 2004 piece criticizing the grammatical errors made in a book ostensibly written as a popular guide to common grammatical errors. If you're a language nit like me, you'll enjoy it.

And while we're on the subject of grammar Nazi-ism, I can't help but link to "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage," which sounds much more boring than it is and has nothing to do with counterinsurgency, but which you should read because it's by my favorite writer of all time and will make you laugh.


  1. When I was little, I used to play "defend a hamlet" with specially painted SF/CIDG G.I. Joes in the backyard. Hope no squirrels have been hurt by the leftover toothpick/punji stake defensive belts.

  2. When I was little, I used to play "defend a hamlet" with specially painted SF/CIDG G.I. Joes in the backyard. Hope no squirrels have been hurt by the leftover toothpick/punji stake defensive belts.

    I LOLed at this, if only because I read so many Vietnam books when I was a kid that I was probably 16 before I knew the U.S. military wasn't still using the M-79.

  3. Actually one of my Soldiers had an M79 in OIF I. He *thinks* that it was dropped by an ODA at OBJ Curly when 2/3ID was doing its joyride into Baghdad. So, if any reader out there was on an ODA in OIF I and lost his M79 and still has a (Report of Survey / Financial Liability Investigation) hanging over his head, then drop me an email and maybe I can contrive a sworn statement for you.

  4. Just this spring I saw a soldier in an ODA who had a weird, tricked-out M79 (although it had some other material instead of wood)!

  5. Oh, come on, Schmedlap...


  6. "Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers Through Innovative Grammar Instruction (Paperback)"

    Do you own thing, man. Let it ride.

    “I don't like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there” - charles bukowski. punctuation intended.

  7. Gulliver said, "Oh, these damned things!
    "Bad punctuation is taking wings!
    "Why a period and not a semi-colon?
    "Where's the question mark? Was it stolen?"
    And he survived it all, until e.e. cummings.


  8. Do you*r* own thing, man.

    Is all the grammar/punctuation stuff directed at one of your regular commenters, Gulliver? Am I supposed to buy one of those books? On top of a busy medical practice, teaching, writing (technical jargon, so I can fake it), I now have to learn what I slept through and avoided in school? U ppl R strkt.

    To be more serious: what kind of medical training exists in Afghanistan? Links, people, or do I have to over to Registan and ask?

  9. *g*o over.

    Oh, I really give up this time. Later.

  10. Let Gulliver stir his teapot tempest.
    Grammar of comments? He's obsessed!
    "We must have rules set in stone.
    "Think of meat without the bone
    "Or a lemon without the zest!"


  11. Madhu, so yes I found out about this at Registan but here goes anyway:

  12. Not really medical training though so much as service provision...I really don't know where you'd find out about medical training. Quick search (the Google):


  13. Kabul medicine is state of the at
    And even you could play your part.
    You've got your hacksaw to cut
    A COINdinsita's head from his butt
    And acres of poppy for the mind and heart.

    There's the x-ray to divine the craft
    Of all the many Afghan kinds of graft:
    Bone and skin, plus what goes to Karzai's kin.
    And don't forget the what's most essential.
    Yes, goat hygiene, including full dental.

    Stan the Man has his cabinet of Viagra
    Which seems to be for strategic pellagra.
    Well, what else could explain Kabul's direction
    Than Stan and his four-hour erection
    Or the SIGACTs that cascade, our paper Niagra?

    So, yes, there's plenty of ISAF medicine there,
    Enough for Gunter, Klaus, Hans and Pierre.
    But they don't seem to get pills for courage,
    Or at least a dose that might encourage
    Our allies to shoot more and not stare.

    How would you like to help us out?
    We could make you a doc or even a scout.
    A recruiter is here standing by
    Ready to move the earth and the sky.
    But how do you treat a scared little kraut?


  14. Meanwhile, Lil, from the AP:

    Charles Taylor denies cannibalism accusations

    Former Liberian President Charles Taylor said Monday he was sickened by allegations at his war crimes trial that he ate human flesh, calling testimony by a former aide the lies of an illiterate man.
    "I felt like throwing up when I heard that nonsense, and I think even the prosecution were shocked at listening to that foolishness," he told the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.
    Taylor, beginning his third week on the stand, said the stories of cannibalism by a former officer in his militia were "statements of lies, statements of deceit and deception."
    He also denied trading arms for diamonds with Sierra Leone rebels, a central allegation of his indictment.
    Taylor is accused of arming and supplying Sierra Leone militias whose signature crime during the 1991-2002 civil war was hacking off the limbs of civilians to terrorize them into submission. He has denied all 11 counts of murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers in the neighboring country.
    Taylor was responding to testimony last year from Joseph Marzah, who said Taylor ordered his men to eat the flesh of his enemies, including African peacekeepers and U.N. soldiers. Marzah said that would "set an example for the people to be afraid."
    Marzah, also known as "Zigzag," described himself as a former chief of operations for Taylor and commander of a death squad.
    Using maps of the border region, Taylor also testified Monday he couldn't have traded arms because neither of the two roads that led to the Sierra Leone border could support vehicles laden with weapons, as alleged by a prosecution witness.
    "No road existed then, and no road exists now," he told the court. The only access was by rough roads surfaced with rocks and dirt.
    Varmuyan Sherif, a former Taylor bodyguard. testified last year that he escorted pickup trucks to the border loaded with automatic rifle ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades. The court was shown a picture of Sherif with a truck allegedly photographed on the border.
    "I say bluntly, it's a lie," Taylor said.
    He also described as "ludicrous" Sherif's allegation that he accepted diamonds from the Sierra Leone rebels, who sometimes sent them in mayonnaise jars.
    "Liberia is a very rich country" with abundant diamonds, gold deposits and uranium, Taylor said, adding that he had been negotiating with the U.S. company Halliburton to develop offshore oil reserves.
    "It is beyond my imagination that anyone would believe that the president of Liberia would go into Sierra Leone because he wants to terrorize the people and take their wealth," he said.


  15. Lil:

    Thank you so much for the links and sorry to drop a request on you guys and then run off! I found this on medical libraries:

    SNLII: "How would you like to help us out?"

    I don't know. I'm in such a specialized area that I haven't seen a patient in years - only the sampled tissues in clinical/research labs. Basically, I am thinking out loud with the above request. I know one doc around here went to perform eye surgeries in Afghanistan....

    SNL: "We could make you a doc or even a scout.
    A recruiter is here standing by
    Ready to move the earth and the sky."

    Ha! As if. I have one of those annoying little chronic illnesses that doesn't affect me in everyday life, but kind of mucks up the physical. What do you mean by scout?

    *Awwwww, why the stuff about pills for courage and, er, etc? You are only joking, I know, but do you ever worry that people will misread your avatar-ness, brilliant as your avatar is? I just read an article about someone who is getting sued for a Tweet!

  16. So you only sample tissues?
    We need help with military issues!
    You have a disease without a cure?
    Hop on up for your waiver!
    Inhuman? We take kangaroos!

    As for scouts, well, you can't boast
    The spurs or stetsons they love the most
    Without that crucial Y chromosone
    19-Delta can't take you home
    To Fort Knox or any cavalry post.

    But the Army has other jobs for dames
    That don't involve sexist reindeer games
    Like medicine and administration,
    Supply, MPs, transportation,
    And fire fighters who put out flames.

    You're still A-one tops, at least to me
    Even if you can't join the Big Green machine.
    How about enlisting in a medical mission
    To Bagram (hold the special rendition),
    Giving poor Afghans help for free?

    COIN requires soft power too,
    Just watch where you step (goat poo).
    Huff to warm your stethoscope,
    No need for pills (plenty of dope)
    And you get a badge: Dr Madhu.

    OK, so you have to put on the veil,
    A burkha flapping black like a sail,
    Have a man escort you around,
    Everywhere you go, even in town
    At least the Taliban won't put you in jail.

    As for me, they'd lop off my head,
    On the internet -- live, then dead,
    But I guess that's a common fate,
    A Talib's sword poised to amputate
    With nary a hint of dread.


  17. "I just read an article about someone who is getting sued for a Tweet!"

    What is honor stolen by a Tweet
    Compared to the larceny of Wall Street?
    Do you think I need a baby sitter?
    Well he's currently trying to fritter
    His hard earned cash way at Rio All-Suite.

    You see, Gulliver's ass is in Las Vegas,
    Puffing cigars, acting like Noriega
    At the poker table and the roulet wheel,
    Forgetting his duty to Taches d'huile
    And whatever satire trades in my bodegas.

    Come Monday he'll be back in here,
    Glum, poor and reeking of beer,
    "Hey, SNLII, what's with all the venom?
    "What are you, the blogosphere's Liz Lemon?
    "Have I not made myself perfectly clear?"

    "I really want sober prose,
    "Not this verse, such as it goes.
    "I want what you're giving Tom Rid,
    "Dave Betz (K.O.W.'s El Cid)
    "And Abu M, I suppose."


  18. Oh for heaven's sake. Will you ever stop with the rhyming? Do you talk like this now? Because that would be weird.

    I am being asked to cover the VA in the next few months because they lost the medical specialist in my area to private practice (which I am very, very happy to cover), so I'll figure out what's right.

  19. VA hospitals are kinda scary --
    Lots of grumpy old guys (all hairy),
    Warehoused in their living taxidermy,
    Coughing in their wards, kind of germy,
    Redolent of pee and poo, oh so very.

    But if you have a heart of gold
    You won't buy the story that's sold.
    You will listen to the ones who saw war
    And not just linger at the door
    While their memories unspool, then unfold.

    Now, a lot of their sea tails are pure fiction,
    Told in a gruff and unfamiliar diction,
    But you'll probably find a GI gem
    His torn muscles, the stitches that condemn
    The "glory" of battle, and without contradiction.

  20. "You will listen to the ones who saw war
    And not just linger at the door
    While their memories unspool, then unfold."

    Thank you for this advice. Really.

  21. Oh, hey, wait a minute with the VA talk, I will do my best to make my area excellent! The previous doc had stellar credentials (Northwestern, Michigan) and my specialty fellowship was at Stanford. I am actually serious about this.

  22. Most of the guys you meet at VA
    Saw as much combat as LL Cool J,
    You can credit that to 1990s reforms
    That opened up VA's graying dorms
    To non-service related disarray.

    But there are men there who are for real,
    Still reeling from wounds they can't conceal:
    Flayed skin from bone, stitches raw
    Pay homage to the battles they saw
    And for which some shall never heal.

    The VA in my sprawling ville
    Treats psych patients, the mentally ill,
    Chattering away their benedictions
    To unseen voices, drug addictions,
    Tied to all they had to kill.

    The one thing they seemed to surely slay
    Was their youth, the flames of yesterday,
    Burned and blasted from their souls,
    Restrained they try out different roles
    Of jibbering and crying. Some pray.


  23. But you need not tell them of credentials,
    For here are their military essentials:
    School of Armor, Arty, Infantry,
    Benning, Knox, then days of infamy,
    Mastering the arts of lost potential.


  24. "But you need not tell them of credentials"

    Credentials can certainly be meaningless, and I wasn't trying to tout mine, but good training is never meaningless.

    SNLII, one of the worst cases I can remember was a vet who had a kind of misdiagnosis from another place (it's a gray area and hard to explain, but it was a misdiagnosis only after the fact because medicine didn't know as much about such tumors when it was originally sampled). The resident and I figured it out, but this was years later. There wasn't much to be done at that point. That person used to call me all the time, confused about the misdiagnosis. I can still hear the voice.

    If something like that stays with you, I can't imagine what it is like for such young people in infinitely more difficult and trying circumstances.

  25. SNLII - you keep on rhyming. It's still the best commentary around.

    Sorry for the lack of postings, but it has been one of those weeks for all of us (except for the mentioned boondoggling on Vegas). We're getting there.

  26. "If something like that stays with you, I can't imagine what it is like for such young people in infinitely more difficult and trying circumstances."

    We are, in our youth, like Indra,
    Mars, Ares, maybe even Mitra.
    Kings of heaven, kings of battle,
    It's in old age our lungs rattle
    And wheeze like Vayu or baby Putra.


  27. Gunslinger is right, I am only teasing about the rhyming, right? Commentary in any form is great from SNLII and the posts around here are educational and thought-provoking. Good job all around.

    Okay everyone, take care.

  28. @SNLII,

    You forgot phlegmy, also doctors who are so Doctor Phil-ish they are scary.

    "Wow. That's horrible"

    What Dear Doctor think you bought me to your abode.

    [lets's see if this posts. Getting ideological profiling from this host]

  29. Speaking of veterans, check out this group: It is a pretty new, Princeton-based group that Seth Lynn, who recently left the Marine Corps as a captain, founded. The idea is to offer basic courses to young veterans in fundraising, campaigning, and how to run for office at the local or state level.

    There's no partisan affiliation, but a couple of the people who are getting behind the group are Mickey Edwards (formerly R-OK, now teaches election strategy at Harvard and Princeton) and Jim Marshall (D-OK). (Before graduating from Princeton, Marshall he earned a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars in Vietnam as a LRRP PSG in E/52 IN, and is in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.)

    Tom Ricks mentioned the group on his site today, but don't hold that against them; it's not their fault.

  30. What do you folks think of that? I'm not a big fan organizations like this. In my opinion, they only encourage people to join the military for the wrong reasons. Or, if an individual is in the Reserves, to exploit their positions. There were a few individuals in the last election who were sent on deployments that were suspiciously well-timed to coincide with their election campaigns for Congress. Unsurprisingly, the centerpieces of those campaigns was, "I'm so and so, the wife of candidate X. He's in Iraq, so I'm campaigning on his behalf. As an Iraq war veteran, he believes [insert random issue that may or may not have anything to do with experience in Iraq]."

    If I'm a commander and that is one of my staff officers, then I'm going to get annoyed real quick when his campaigning detracts from his work. If I'm his squad leader and he's my PL, well, then it gets downright ugly.

  31. Reposted from the Exum-thread below...

    Soldier no longer in Iraq
    watches the summer ending
    flexes his fingers
    and mourns his dead

    no mere kerfluffle this
    a charge of prostitutes
    the gigolo light brigade
    Mc Chrystals rent boys
    drinking his friends blood
    Dolchstosse for a place
    on the cock-tail circuit.

    All that is left is rage
    rage and unending sorrow
    watching the leaves fall
    outside his DC bunker

  32. Madhu, bless you for your service. Dont know if you have dealt with PTSD cases before. One rule is that 5 minutes of focused attention, of real attention, is worth an hour of social crap.

  33. "no mere kerfluffle this
    a charge of prostitutes
    the gigolo light brigade
    Mc Chrystals rent boys
    drinking his friends blood
    Dolchstosse for a place
    on the cock-tail circuit."

    You don't mean that, do you fnord? Because that's ugly, and I'm seeing it on Abu M, too, those kind of accusations. Good people can disagree - it doesn't mean either side has base motives.

    Anonymous, I'm sorry if I left the wrong impression. I am not in the military, but thank you for the information about PTSD.

  34. You don't mean that, do you fnord? Because that's ugly, and I'm seeing it on Abu M, too, those kind of accusations. Good people can disagree - it doesn't mean either side has base motives.

    Ok, so I'm back from Vegas and I've noticed over the weekend a surge in personal, ad-hominem-ish commentary about individuals engaged in the broader debate (both in limerick form and otherwise). I'm not going to tell anyone else what they can and can't write -- I certainly can't impact what anyone is writing on Abu Muqawama or anywhere else -- and I'm not going to speak for my co-contributors here, but let me make an announcement: from this point forward, I'm not going to tolerate personal shots at anyone on either side of the discussion, made by a real person, an Anonymous commenter, or a pseudo-real, half-identified "avatar."

    I'm not the thought or speech police, but I'm not going to allow this forum to be used for personal shots at people that I think are mostly well-intentioned and honest. Talk about their arguments, talk about potential conflicts of interest, talk about the substance of the issues, but DO NOT TALK SHIT about specific people in specific ways that do not relate directly to their arguments, beliefs, or actions.

    Some examples for clarity:

    ACCEPTABLE: "Andrew Exum's intellectual integrity may be compromised by the fact that his income and fame are largely connected to advocacy for a certain policy course."

    NOT ACCEPTABLE: "Andrew Exum is a COINdinista fucktard! He takes it in the ass from General McChrystal and is getting rich by trading in the blood of patriots!"

    I hope this clears things up.

  35. In other, happier news: I shot an M-79 this weekend, and I thought it kind of sucked. To be fair, this was direct-fire at 15 yards with a buckshot round, which was not what I expected -- I was hoping for indirect-fire on an outdoor range. But at close range, you have to shape sort of weirdly to get the elevated stock on your shoulder and get a good sight picture, and a center-of-mass trigger pull is likely to give your target a haircut.

  36. |Let me just say that my little poem was in defense of Exum and the lads, not against. Thanks. I think we owe them a fair discussion. They may be wrong, but a lot of the recent blogposts have been way over the line.

  37. From ex-IDF Soldier to Gulliver :

    I am very glad that you have made a clear stand against personal/personalised attacks.

    I come from a place where opinions get overly heated, even vicious, and good people, or people who tried to 'do good' but failed, get unfairly attacked and ostracised.

    As I have gotten older, I become even more convinced that that it is absolutely crucial to criticise the argument, not the person making the argument.

    Thank you again.

  38. ex-IDF -- Glad to see you here, and thanks for your comments.

    There's a danger in all of this of taking ourselves too seriously, of imagining that our words have an impact on thoughts and actions that is generally just that: imagined. But I don't think we've done anything but stroke our own egos if we spend time throwing words into the void without at least the faint hope that we're making a constructive contribution to the dialogue, and that contribution is impossible when things descend into petty bickering and personal attacks. If other people want to spend their time on the internet that way, I can't stop them, but this site isn't going to be their platform.


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