Drawing conclusions

To say I hold strongly negative opinions of the forces behind the Iraq invasion is an understatement.  Immersing into the world of Generation Kill, it’s been a struggle trying to shoehorn that analysis into this story.


…those types of shortcomings, as well as the ineptitude of some members of the unit—a vital supply truck is hastily abandoned in battle, commanders are obsessed with facial hair, a captain orders his men to go the wrong way on a road—are rooted in systemic faults that predate the election of George Bush in 2000. The Bush team was incompetent and naive—the critics are right about that—but the military had more than enough built-in deficiencies to undermine even a well-planned conquest of Iraq. Snafu, which is a military acronym that stands for “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up,” did not come out of Iraq; its origins are generally traced to World War II.

Of course, it is their fault that First Recon was in Iraq to begin with.  Watching Episode 3 unfold, watching that hamlet burn, I was overwhelmed with the thought that one narrative about one battalion and the damage and death they dealt represented a fraction of the total devastation.

More Maass:

Yet the highest achievement of the miniseries is the way it unveils the disordered workings of the American military and the inevitable destruction of all objects in its path, including civilians whose only offense is to tend their sheep or drive down a road. With its $550 billion budget and 1.5 million troops, the military might seem a mechanized colossus of precision-guided violence, give or take a few bad apples and errant artillery shells. But if you have served in the military or written about it from the inside, you know that on the unit level it is filled with men and women of vastly different motivations and skills. The Marines in Generation Kill are intelligent and dimwitted, panicked, sensitive, racist, comic, homicidal, brave. It is a wonder when things go according to plan. “You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps?” says one of the characters. “You get your brains back.”

Generation Kill is the opposite of a lecture—the paragraph you just read contains more politics than you’ll get in the entire series. Generation Kill doesn’t insist that the military—George Bush’s, Bill Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, or John McCain’s—can only get things half-right on its good days. Instead, it presents the untouched messiness and ambiguity of killing in modern warfare. You can draw your own conclusions.

Be sure and read the rest.

Preliminary thoughts/open thread on “Screwby”

I’ll put up a longer post later, but instead of waiting so long this week, I thought I’d just do some thinking aloud about Episode Three, hoping others will jump in with their own thoughts. Lurkers, don’t be quiet.

This was episode was tough going. That feeling after the RCT troops, aided and abetted by Encino Man, obliterate that little hamlet, after that huge wave of flame engulfs the whole blown-up mess?  That’s how this whole episode left me feeling afterward, though I also found parts of it exhilarating. Each episode keeps taking us farther in, and there’s no going back.

Exhilarating?  Oh Jesus yeah, watching those humvees roaring three or four abreast as they race to the airfield — as full of folly and recklessness as that whole mission was, it was thrilling, after watching this outfit plod and rock along through the dust, to see them, pretty much literally, “hellbent for glory.”

Is it just me, or is anyone else confused by how much Cpt. Patterson (the “good guy” captain of Alpha Co.) and Encino Man/Cpt. Schwetje (imbecilic captain of Bravo Co.) look alike?  I am also distracted every time I see Major Eckloff, aka hotheaded Officer Colicchio from The Wire.  “It’s that guy again, what was his name?  Bad haircut dude…”

How much do I love Lt. “I am assured of this.” Fick?  A lot. It’s a tough role because on one hand he’s so young and idealistic but on the other, he’s pure steel. In the book, Fick says something really thought-provoking at the beginning to Wright, about ROTC units on college campuses being essential.  Not because they militarize the university but because the university has a liberalizing effect on the military, which Fick thought could only be a good thing. It’s probably naive of me to think so, but too bad there aren’t more like him in the Marines.

Speaking of things said in the book, at the very end, Wright quotes Colbert as stating a basic truth, about war, and I guess, about humans in general, which is that people who cannot kill will always be at the mercy of those who can and do. The thing about the book and this television series that I find so powerful is that it dismantles a statement like that, the same way it dismantles the stereotypical soldier. As bad as the worst we’ve seen is, it’s difficult to simply condemn these guys as swaggering barbarians wreaking carnage.  They do swagger, they are barbaric, and they do wreak carnage but they are tasked with killing other humans.  Perhaps this is overstating the obvious, but that’s a profound and grave mission. I think the show and the book do a very good job of laying that truth bare, as well as showing that it’s almost impossible to do it the “right” way, at least in Iraq.

Sir, why did you shoot the car?

The entire battalion, along with hundreds of other troops, is rolling through the wide open desert under a clear sky as Episode Two opens. It’s an impressive display of organized power on the move, a six-lane convoy of all manner of military vehicles moving purposefully onward. The scene recalls a passage from the book:

If you were to look at from the air, you’d see a segmented column of American invasion vehicles—Marines in various units—stretching for several kilometers along the highway. Despite all its disparate elements, the column functions like a single machine, pulverizing anything in its path that appears to be a threat.

The Iceman is even moved by the spectacle, talking about how, less than 48 hours into the invasion, here they are “rolling with impunity on Saddam’s highway.”

It’s a great image but it doesn’t last long. The convoy stalls and … cue the herd of goats wandering through the gridlock.  Bitching commences in Iceman’s humvee, about the jam, about other units and their displays of “moto shit,” and about how their much-trained-for bridge mission appears to have gotten shitcanned by the higher ups. The Iceman cuts it short, reminding his team that they are all Marines, and Marines follow orders.

And that is what this episode is about. Officers, enlisted men, and the glue that binds them together. Judgment. Communication. Orders. Discipline. It’s glaringly obvious that without such, the whole testosterone-fueled enterprise would be chaos.

Wright continues:

The cogs that make up this machine are the individual teams in hundreds of vehicles, several thousand Marines scrutinizing every hut, civilian car and berm for weapons or muzzle flashes. The invasion all comes down to a bunch of extremely tense young men in their late teens and twenties, with their fingers on the triggers of rifles and machine guns.

But what Simon/Burns and Co. takes great pains to show in this episode is that it’s not just the green newbies that need reining in, that are the biggest threat to cohesion.  The ones piloting that unified machine, the brain driving the body,  the officers — they are the ones in a position to really fuck things up.  And in this episode, they do. It’s a key issue in the book as well, but  Simon/Burns depart from the book somewhat noticeably in order to front-load this point before their narrative goes any farther.

In addition, some random highlights:

Are there no limits to The Iceman’s awesomeness?

Very glad that Person is not just source of one-liners. Even after just two episodes, I’m liking James Ransome in this role much more than an entire season as Ziggy.

The scene where Iceman is watching the wandering Marine spoke volumes.  A Marine, alone, unfocused, away from the rest of his unit, was as unsettling as some of the more gruesome aftermath shots.

Likewise, the twilight scene in Godfather’s tent as he muses aloud to his gathered officers was poetry, in addition to adding complexity to whole concept of chain of command.

The bridge

More thoughts on Episode 1, and the story as a whole, to span the distance between what we’ve seen already and Episode 2, The Cradle of Civilization, airing tonight.

Lynette mentions upstairs that GK “is no Wire,” and true that.  And on the whole, I think that’s good.  Things end, things change. There are lots of stories we need to hear.  But we want some kind of map, some way in, so we look for connections, or at least, that’s what I find myself doing.  It’s impossible not to compare and contrast, and right up front we see our testosterone-fueled anti-heroes in Generation Kill treading along some seemingly familiar Simon/Burns ground: the futility of the individual actor in a larger scheme dictated by forces beyond his control.

As we all know by heart now, the thematic structure of The Wire was tragedy: whatever actions the characters took to triumph or make sure someone else fell, were, more often than not, confounded by the larger truth:  the game was rigged. There were a few villains in The Wire, I’d argue there was at least one hero, Bubbles, and most everyone else was in the gray zones between. Their moral differences and character traits served to move the story along, but few of them could be classified as heroes in the literary sense, few fought and triumphed against the larger system. Bunk and Omar had their codes, they understood the system, the game, and chose to hew to their own code of behavior, and that made them admirable, made them stand out, apart from the other poor slobs that were pawns in the hands of the gods, the post-modern institutions Simon often refers to. As for the other characters, some were fatalists, some were opportunists, some were completely unwitting, but in the grand scheme of The Wire, everyone was a just a player on the chessboard.

So, what about our soldiers, and their officers, in Generation Kill?  One of the points made by Evan Wright early on in his book, and I think we’ve seen it already in Episode 1, is that the Marine knows his place in the scheme of things, which is as a tool, a cog in a larger machine, a member of a pack — “Mission accomplishment first, then troop welfare.”  Unlike the futility experienced by our Wire characters who were pawns in a game they often didn’t understand, I would say our Marine are liberated by this, and I think that’s a key, one of them,  to our map.

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Sit-rep: Oscar Mike

This is not the most elegant of first posts, because I still have this big long thing I keep shuffling around and it will likely not get finished, much less posted, until late tonight.

This is the drive-by placeholder, also an invitation for everyone else to jump in at their own level of confusion or clarity.  Probably best to start with an open thread first anyway.

Okay, reading the book helped,  but partly because I probably didn’t retain enough, and partly because the experience of moving through the show narrative is much more demanding, I found myself struggling between the need to open the book up for reference  and the desire to just float along on the rushing current of the show and fill in the blanks later. I chose the latter.

First thing, it was good, it was worth the wait, and even more engaging than I anticipated,  in a way the book wasn’t  (for me).  I’m not a military buff, it’s largely a foreign planet to me, I don’t have a lot of war narratives under my belt. As I read the book, I struggled with keeping the characters straight, not to mention their rank and their relationships with each other, official and non.  Watching characters portrayed by actors was much easier, and for me at least, helped the narrative flow. In addition, this was probably where I saw the most recognizable Simon/Burns signature thus far, that strength of theirs when introducing  a large cast in a short amount of time.

Mostly though, even after twice through, I’m still in the immersion phase. Overall, the main thing that I was struck by repeatedly as I watched last night —and I find this immensely fucking exciting— is how dense and rich the narrative structure is, how much we have to pay attention to in order to understand what’s happening.  There’s dialogue and characterization, sure.  But we get put on watch immediately that all our senses are going to be needed to really get this, which is good, since there’s a cubic shitload of information flying toward us, seemingly unfiltered (though of course, very carefully so), and it’s all meant to tell us what’s really going down. On re-viewing the second time, it’s immediately obvious the opening sequence is a war game,  because it’s too quiet, too orderly, too understandable and logical to be real.

What did that dude on the radio say?  And who was it that said it? Echo Five Charlie?  Who the fuck is that? Why’d they pick up that gun, not the big one?   Oh, this must not be that dangerous, no one is wearing helmets. What is that they yell so everyone knows to put on their masks and mopp suits?  Etc, etc.

It seemed obvious that the show had to begin before the introduction of Wright’s character, and I dug the way the narrative and the new characters and situations were layered up, also where they broke the first episode, basically at the “We are not in fucking Kansas anymore, and you, Toto, are just lucky you didn’t get your ass shot.”

More later. Have some skittles, we’ll be here a while.

UPDATED:  crickets….crickets.  You don’t post, you don’t comment… hello, is this thing on?

David Simon’s ‘Treme’ pilot set to be filmed!

From NOLA.com:

“Treme,” named after the iconic New Orleans neighborhood where many musicians live, will marry one of television’s most prestigious networks with creator David Simon, one of television’s hottest series masterminds.

Simon created HBO’s the “The Wire,” which just completed a five-year run. While not a huge ratings success for the network, “The Wire” was one of the most critically acclaimed shows in television history.

Simon confirmed that HBO will film the first episode of “Treme,” possibly sometime later this year. If HBO gives the green light for more episodes, production would resume in 2009.


UPDATE: Simon says Bunk’s in.

A good man, and thorough

TWOP is going to be recapping Generation Kill, which I find surprising — given the mini-series-ness of the production.

Athenae hooked me up with this news a week or so ago. So why has it taken me so long to post it? Is it because some folks have grown kind of “meh, TWOP sux” lately, especially since the Bravo buyout?

Nope. Because even if those folks are right, and I’m not sure they are, because things change and evolve and time moves on, anyway even if they are, TWOP is still great at the cross-pollinating thing and that will bring the show, and Simon, more viewers. And if that gets 10 more more people talking about this war, and war in general, and politics, and the election, and our country, I’m down with it.  It sucks they aren’t already doing that, it sucks that they haven’t caught on yet, it sucks some will forget it again, but I’ll take what I can get. Different people change and evolve in response to different stimuli.

Which, oh yeah, that reminds me:  Someone who shall remain nameless, a beloved (justly so) commenter, on that elitist politico-economico-cultirati place where a couple of us spend too much time, this someone took a crack at me the other night.  The topic was television, and how we should all kill ours now, and the majority of crackheads commenting agreed that it offered little, toss the fucker out.  Disagreeing with that (plus pointing out that throwing our teebees out the window with one revolutionary fist whilst still hanging on with the other to our computers, ipods, appliances, cars, etc., well it just seems a tetch too symbolic to make our corporate overlords shit themselves) plus seeing a chance to work in a Nupac plug, I said I’d have a hard time letting go of HBO, for one thing.

So this beloved community sage serves up some condescension to me about hanging on to my calming blue screen to keep myself numbed out, sedated, and calm.  Or something like that. I’m not obsessive enough (shut up) to go find the comment but I’m pretty sure the words “numb,” “blue,” “sedated” and “calm” were all in it.

Which brings me back to my n=10 damaged souls ripe for change reacting to the seed of an idea.  Which brings me way back to Friday nights and Homicide, back when it felt like maybe there were only 10 people watching. Then The Corner,  then the first two seasons of The Wire, the uncertainty there would be another after that, but there was, then one more season, and then one more.

Tell me there wasn’t some change happening as more viewers found that show, some things taking hold in people’s skulls, some ideas.

Like, for example:

“America’s broken. No, really. Shot in the head broken.”

Because, see, I’d rather that 10 people really get it, really have that bowel-freezing middle-of-the-night choking up out of sleep panic over how fucked we are than five hundred people snoring like well-fed dogs after the 8,814th ep of Law and Order.

Anyway, the procrastination about the TWOP news was because they put their best dude on the job and it psyched me flat out.  That’s right, Jacob.  TEH Jacob. Athenae’s favorite writer Jacob.

And I couldn’t figure out how to write about how good he is. How he brings it even when the show in question is pure crap.  Or not.

And then, there’s the BSG recaps.

In the stillness and light, with the wind in her hair, a holy smile upon her face, lit from within by the fire of a thousand wrong turns suddenly and violently wrenched straight: all those mistakes weren’t mistakes, they were just the way things had to go. They were just the unfolding, from a funny angle. Whether this has all happened before and will happen again is beside the point, that’s just rhetoric: seen from above, this is all happening. She closes her eyes in the unfolding. The Kore child dances in the light of the abyss, her face clean and joyful, almost too bright to see, free of the constraints of time and what we see. She smiles in absolute peace: how can you look at her, this beautiful, calm girl, this gorgeous peace, this holy calm, this rightness, and think this is a mistake? I believe that Kara Thrace will lead the Fleet to Earth, just as I believe Three will stand and walk and love again, and Caprica will know God’s love, and Gaius will know peace, and Gaeta will bone a dude. Just as I believe that until the bugs stop jumping, the war will never end, because fear and violence create more bugs and more fear and more violence, and the more frightened you are, the more likely you are to both act like assholes and forget that it’s just a game, fail to recognize they’re only toys. I believe these things just as I believe there’s a day all pawns will become queens, and the Chips stop talking, and the angel rejoins what was broken, on a holy anvil that only looks like war, from this joke of an angle.

I don’t know how to write about writing about television that’s that gymnastic and funny and mean and glorious, except to just point at it. Except to tell you these recaps will show up over there, and they will be more than worth our while.  Except to tell you I know they put the best shot they have on it, which is only fitting.

Interestingly enough, he’s never watched The Wire.  Rather than just pretend that of course he has, or cram all five seasons in before watching seven episodes of a completely different show, he asked for some conversation about it here, so go knock yourselves out.

Not Quite Fiction: Headlines Ripped from The Wire

In New Orleans, and in urban areas all over the country, there’s a creepy conflation of the Wireverse and reality. There is surely some local version of Avon Barksdale or Marlo running the Iberville project, or a Bodie holding down the tower on Simon Bolivar Ave. Ray Nagin is just as craven and disconnected as Royce, and among all the developers out there hounding for recovery tax credits, there is maybe a Stringer Bell among them, using laundered money. Obviously, in Louisiana, we have far too many Clay Davises, and lord knows the Times-Picayune misses the real story most of the time. Plus, we have Republicans, and they’re not just in the statehouse..

The connections happen so often that I’m going to try and chronicle some of them here. I’d love for these posts to be a place where we can do some critical thinking about solutions: institutional reform, witness protection, civic activism. Heck, we can even bring in Bunny Colvin’s favorite, academic research. The series is such a gold mine of sociological research that it would be a shame to avoid putting it into praxis. So let’s get busy in the comments section, yes?

First up, a story out of Los Angeles from last week. A 16 year-old girl from Sun Valley, CA, named Martha Puebla, witnesses a violent gang shootout that ends with her friend’s body laying bullet-riddled on the sidewalk. Suspect Jose Ledesma, notorious gangster, flees to Tijuana. Mexican police respond to a separate incident and find out that Ledesma and his buddy Catalan are wanted in Los Angeles for murder.

By nightfall, the suspects had been hauled back to LAPD’s North Hollywood station for booking. Pinner and Rodriguez brought Ledesma, 19, into an interview room and flipped on a tape recorder. Rodriguez read Ledesma his Miranda rights, and Pinner started grilling him. Ledesma, who didn’t call a lawyer, showed no signs of cracking. He mocked and swore at Pinner, repeatedly denying any role in the killings.

“You got the wrong person, buddy,” Ledesma said.

“OK. I don’t agree with you, and I have the evidence to prove it,” Pinner said. “I have multiple witnesses who are going to testify that you were the shooter.”

Pinner told Ledesma he knew the gang member had been on his way to Martha Puebla’s house to visit her the night Vargas was killed outside her house.

To drive home his point, Pinner laid down a “six-pack” — an array of mug shots that detectives often show to witnesses or victims of crimes. On it, Ledesma’s photo was circled, and the initials “M.P.” were written below it. “Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend” was scrawled along the margin, followed by Puebla’s signature.

What will happen next? It’s so hard to predict.

OK, actually, the comparison isn’t perfect. Instead of putting the word out that Martha Puebla was a snitch, Ledesma just cuts to the chase and orders the hit.

The next night, Ledesma reached for a pay phone outside his cell. “Cokester,” he said into the receiver, calling his friend Javier Covarrubias by one of his gang monikers, “do you know the slut that lives there by . . . my house? Her name starts with an M . . . I need her to disappear. She is dropping dimes.”

To the gang, Puebla was a snitch and needed to be dealt with.

“Uh huh, like that,” Ledesma told Covarrubias, using a mix of Spanish and English. “But [keep a] low-pro[file]. . . . Stay on your toes, homie. And don’t get caught.”

Puebla was apparently aware that she had been labeled a snitch. She told a friend that she knew the Vineland Boyz were blaming her for helping police with the Vargas murder investigation.

And just like Herc, these fine LAPD officers had no idea what was going on, because Martha Puebla was killed five months after the original shooting. While investigating her murder, it took the detectives nearly two years to get a correct translation of the jail-cell phone call.

The real kicker here, though, is that Martha didn’t tell the cops anything. There wasn’t even a photo array. The cops made it all up.

Far from helping the police, the reality was that Puebla had actually tried to protect Ledesma in the hours after the shooting. She allegedly threatened her girlfriend, telling her that if she cooperated with authorities Puebla would tell the Vineland Boyz where the girl’s family lived.

Puebla’s girlfriend had told detectives that as the gunshots went off, Puebla had yelled, “It’s Peps!” But Puebla denied it, telling Pinner, Rodriguez and two other detectives that she had only speculated that Ledesma may have been the shooter.

When Pinner and Rodriguez stepped into the interrogation room with Ledesma, they had little real information to work with.

So they made up what they needed.

The photo six-pack was a complete fake. Rodriguez had doctored it, circling Ledesma’s photo and forging Puebla’s statement and signature.

Good thing the Feds stepped in to clean up the mess.

In 2004, federal investigators got involved in the investigation into Puebla’s killing as part of a larger case against the Vineland Boyz. Last year, in a federal plea deal to avoid the death penalty, Ledesma, Covarrubias and the gang member thought to be the gunman admitted to taking part in killing Puebla. A fourth Vineland Boyz member who participated is thought to have fled to Mexico and is being sought, a federal prosecutor said.

With the arrival of federal authorities, Pinner and Rodriguez were phased out as the lead investigators. They soon were separated as partners. Rodriguez was transferred to an auto theft detail and is currently assigned to a vice unit. Pinner remains a homicide detective in North Hollywood.

That’s right; this joker Pinner is still a homicide detective. Maybe if he’d lost some sort of camera…

Let’s shake out the dust, folks

A week few days out from the show premiere, time to start moving, I guess.

Starting up this blog last winter about the final season of a show that was a known entity and a shared obsession was a very different prospect than now. Partly because it’s summer, partly because I can’t fix this fucking italics issue on this fucking template that changes from one day to the next, and it makes my head hurt.  Partly because I hate this war, that we are still mired in it years later, and I don’t know how to scale that huge thing down and just focus on this one narrative about just one part.

And partly because of Ashley.

And partly because, well, this isn’t The Wire. Wait, did I say that already?

It’s not that I’m not excited about GK, but just don’t know what to say ahead of time, other than if it just follows the book, it will be damn good. Of course, this is Simon and crew so I think we can expect more than just damn good.

What say you? Might be a good use of our time to kick around some expectations, posters and commenters alike.

And alli has to write her first post.  No pressure though…

Annnnd oh yeah, found a leaked scene on YouTube, a first look at the considerable vagaries of RoEs encountered as the troops move farther incountry.

SO SPOILERS HO. Minor, but don’t go forward if you want to remain clean, dry, and unwrinkled.

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