Friday, May 31, 2013

What I'm Reading - The Next Decade

The Next Decade by George Friedman

      I am a near-daily reader of Stratfor, the geopolitical research firm that’s been called “the civilian CIA”. Firedman, who founded the company puts his geopolitical knowledge to work projecting wht the 2010’s are likely to bring to the world stage. He does not claim to have a gift of prophecy, or any unique insight; he is applying his knowledge of human political behavior and the forces that move nations. Countries do not always act like persons, and leaders are sometimes compelled by necessity to act in ways that they would prefer not to act.

      Taking the world by regions, Friedman outlines what he sees are the most likely next steps in the always-in-motion world of international relations. Nations always try to act, he says, in ways that benefit what they see as their best self-interest. The trouble comes when a nation cannot decide within itself what its best self-interest is. Speaking broadly, this is explains the instability we see and will continue to see in many nations. Libya, for example, is a nation composed of numerous ethnic and religious sub-groups with goals that are contradictory to one another.

       Friedman, and Stratfor, tries to take what I would call a pragmatic view of politics. They never disregard moral considerations, but these must take second place to the facts of human behavior and what works to achieve a nation’s goals. Or perhaps it is better to say that this is how they interpret the viewpoint of nations and their leaders, including my own nation. I hope that here in America, our leaders will always try to act morally, but according to Friedman, it is not always possible for them to do so. I don’t know quite how I feel about that. 
     How correct Friedman is in his assessment of the future we will see when it gets here. In the present, this book is an easy read, full of information that helps the reader understand what is driving national behavior in places all over the world. Whenever I talk with students at my school, I always recommend that they investigate Stratfor to get past the headlines of what's going on and understand why it's going on. This books does this as well.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What I'm Reading - The Generals

My currently highlighted book, The Generals, is indexed at Open Library. This is the description that I wrote for it.

     Author Thomas E. Ricks is a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
      The Generals is a collection of biographical sketches of general-grade officers stretching from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His assessment of the general’s performance is centered on how well the men have led their forces, and whether they won or lost battles. Ricks’ theme is the development over time of the Army’s attitude towards and approach to generalship. While the cowboy or maverick personality is praised in popular entertainment, the Army prefers leaders who are team players. The problem is that the ‘team player’ mentality can and does encourage cautious and career-protecting behavior, and a reluctance to remove generals who objectively are not successful. This, Ricks argues, has a strong negative effect on a general’s ability to accomplish the main objective which is to win battles. 

     Ricks advocates a return to the Marshall-era practice of relief; removing officers from command when they can’t get the job done. He cites the neglect of this practice as responsible for the overall poor performance of the Army leadership from the Vietnam era to the present day. 

     I'm enjoying this book a lot; it's an easy read even though I'm not all that familiar with the locations and battles being discussed.  I realized some time ago that although I've lived through the Iraq War period, I really didn't know much at all about what happened over there and why. This book came to my attention as one insight into the recent/current war and shows how things got the way they are. I've said in many places that "if you do not understand the past, you cannot understand the present". This book helps me to understand the current situation in the US Army. Time will tell if his suggestions are heeded and how it may help.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Off the Cuff Movie Review - Operation Petticoat

   If you've read many of my off the cuff reviews, you've probably gotten the idea that I like Cary Grant movies. This film is one of his later comedies, set during the beginning phase of World War II, but it ends in the modern day (for when the film was released). It co-stars Tony Curtis - I've already quoted or paraphrased him from this film in another post. 
     Anyway, Grant & Curtis are Navy officers aboard the submarine Sea Tiger, which got sunk in port within days of the war's outbreak. Captain Sherman (Grant) wants to get his boat repaired and back into the war, while Acting Supply Officer Lt Holden (Curtis) wants to get back to Hawaii, so he can marry his rich fiancee. Events conspire to make it difficult for either to get what they want, but Lt Holden manages at every turn to steal or bamboozle his way into "a better deal than what I've got now". By the film's end, one of them gets what he wants, while the other changes his mind about his goal. Along the way, a goofy cast of characters from the crew of the sub to South Pacific locals, to a group of stranded Army nurses create one headache after another for Sherman, and every move Holden makes to get them out of one jam gets Sherman deeper and deeper in Holden's constant scamming. It's hilarious to watch the usually calm & suave Grant play the progressively more perplexed and bewildered Capt. Sherman, to the point you wonder who's really running the boat. Despite the serious backdrop of the war, the film manages a breezy and fun-filled tone throughout. There's romance in the air for both Holden and Sherman, and even the ship's comically misogynist chief mechanic ("It's either her or me in this engine room!" he demands) warms up to the presence of the women. When the boat ends up being painted pink (it makes sense in context) suddenly both sides are out to get the Sea Tiger, assuming it's a trick of the other side. It takes all of Sherman's and Holden's wiles to get them out of this one. 
     There is nothing in this movie that I would caution parents about letting kids watch. A few sailors go shirtless, but it is because they're working, not showing off. The women are stared at appreciatively, but there's no leering or off-color talk. Lt Holden's scamming gets tolerated by Capt Sherman only because it is a practical necessity - the rest of the crew are concerned about getting caught stealing so much stuff, but agree that they will have to give up the ship as unsalvageable without it. Two characters kiss, but only briefly. No one gets hurt any worse than getting knocked into the water by a clumsy nurse. 
    My boy's favorite line from the film, which you'll have to watch to understand: "What happened?"  "We sunk a truck!"

      Now, this movie's setup is a great template for an adventure or even a campaign theme. This idea will work better in a game world with modern or future technology, but I suppose it could be made to work in a low-tech fantasy setting. The setup is that the characters are the crew of a vessel, which by reason of outside circumstances, must keep on the move - finding themselves behind enemy lines seems a good idea. Complications should include extensive damage to the vessel and the scarcity of repair parts, an enemy that harasses them  rather than conducting all-out assaults, crew or passenger issues that force side-trips and unreliable or too-brief access to repair facilities. The movie above plays this for laughs, but it could be made into a very serious scenario. Depending upon how far the vessel has to go, or the danger of the area to be traversed, this set-up could last for many game sessions.