Tag Archives: The Atlantic

A heartbreaking, hugely important book on soldiers returning from war. Dialects from across the U.S. in one video. And U.S. corporations act classlessly in Bangledesh

david-finkel-02-jpg-20131003

Quick housekeeping note: Probably no blog on Thursday, so Happy Thanksgiving! Will be back Friday with our regular Good News Friday post.

A few years ago I read a remarkable book by Washington Post reporter David Finkel called The Good Soldiers, in which Finkel embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in the U.S. Army, following them to Iraq for a harrowing tour of death, fighting, and misery.

It was an incredible book, maybe one of the best on war I’ve ever read, and as I wrote back then, Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, truly made you feel like you were there with the soldiers.

Two years later Finkel has written an even better book, about what happens when our soldiers come home, broken, battered, and severely psychologically damaged. Thank You For Your Service is shocking, like Finkel’s previous book was, but in two very different ways.
Here, the shock comes from just how mentally destroyed these men who saw such awfulness are, and how difficult it is to try to re-adjust to the real world. And the other sad shock is how incredibly disorganized and often hapless the U.S. government is in trying to help these men, from pushing them from one case manager and therapist to another, to offering inadequate answers to why so many soldiers have come home from this war and killed themselves.

The book goes deep into the lives of these men, like Adam Schumann (above), who still has nightmares and guilt about men in his command who died in battle (after not being on the scene when one of his men died, another comes back and says “This shit never would’ve happened if you’d been there.” That one comment haunts him for years.”)
There’s Tausolo Aieti, who wakes up screaming nearly every night after dreaming that another dead soldier is blaming him for his death.
Finkel also shows us the whole spectrum of recovery, from some success stories inside therapy programs the VA runs, to the awful toll the psychological damage takes on the soldiers’ wives and families, and he even takes us inside high-level Pentagon meetings, where the incredible rash of suicides is examined case by case, to try to see exactly what’s wrong.

This book is absorbing, and hard to put down. The details are extraordinary; Finkel lives with these men and their wives and families for months, and we get to see all the stops and starts, the fights and the successes, like we’re right there in the room.

One sample passage: Of one soldier, Finkel writes: “He began to take sleeping pills to fall asleep and another kind of pill to get back to sleep when he woke up. He took other pills, too, some for pain, others for anxiety. He began to drink so much vodka that his skin smelled of it, and then he started mentioning suicide.”

The true devastation of war isn’t always known when the tanks pull away and the helicopters leave; the tragedies continue at home.

This is a hugely important book, and not an easy one to read, because you’ll probably come away angry, like I did.

It’s also a book I wish every politician would read before blindly sending Americans into battle. Check it out on Amazon here, and here’s the NYT Review of the book.

**Remember a few weeks ago in this space when I wrote about a survey that reported which American regional accents were the best and worst? Well, time for something even cooler; this video, put together by the great folks at The Atlantic, is four minutes of all the different dialects of the U.S. spoken together.

We hear about grinders, subs, and hoagies; of Coke, pop, and sod-er, and all kinds of good stuff.

Part of the glory of America, don’t you think? But you people who say “grinders” are just strange to this New Yawker.

bangladeshfire

**Finally today, a really embarrassing story out of Bangladesh, that ought to shame the American corporations involved.

Surely you remember the awful factory collapse in that country last year, when awful working conditions resulted in the deaths of 1,200 workers.

Now, American companies whose products were being made there, companies like Walmart, Sears, and The Children’s Place, are refusing to offer ANY assistance toward victims compensation funds. Several European companies are helping out, but Walmart and the rest are showing a pathetic lack of concern.

From this N.Y. Times story: “Walmart is the one company that is showing an astonishing lack of responsibility, considering that so much of their product was being made at the Tazreen factory,” said Samantha Maher, a campaign coordinator for the British arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European anti-sweatshop group.

Just awful. These people died making your products in an unsafe factory, and you don’t have the decency to offer their families compensation. Disgusting.

The 14-year-old under house arrest for a ridiculous reason. A quick rant about a new salesclerk trend. And funny/dirty news anchor banter

Two quick suggested readings about the government shutdown that I’m trying hard not to rant about in this space: 1, A terrific piece from James Fallows in the Atlantic about the media somehow equating the shutdown as a “failure of Washington on both sides,” and him calling them out on that bullshit. And 2, a great story from Anne Applebaum, a foreign correspondent at the Washington Post, about how this ridiculous shutdown looks to the rest of the world.

I get a lot of emails from the American Civil Liberties Union, since I donate to them every year and am on their mailing list.

Most of their emails, frankly, I ignore, because they’re about things I already know  and am equally distressed about.

But every once in a while they help bring to light stories like this, where the punishment goes so far over the line compared to the crime that’s sickening.

Kyle Thompson is a 14-year-old Michigan kid who loves football and video games. His school principal said if he had a school-full of Kyle Thompsons, he’d be very happy.

Last spring a teacher caught Kyle passing a note that said “hit list” on it; Thompson later explained that it was a list of people he wanted to hit at football practice, anyway, that’s not why he’s in the news now.

The teacher and students were apparently laughing about the note and the tug of war, but a short time later Thompson was pulled out of class, and then handcuffed by police. He was expelled from all Michigan public schools for a year, and sentenced to house arrest, for allegedly “assaulting” a teacher.

This model student who had ZERO history of any untoward activity, has been barred from schools for a year under a “zero tolerance” policy.

Sometimes, the lack of common sense among people in leadership positions is astonishing. Watch the video above to hear Kyle’s story.

walgreensclerk

**OK, just a quick pet peeve that I’ve developed lately. Have you noticed that whenever you want into a bank, a drugstore, or anyplace you’re making a transaction, the store employee calls the customers “guests?”
It happened again Wednesday when I was in Walgreens; while I waited on line the lady behind the counter said “Can I help the following guest please?”

When did we all become “guests?” Am I staying over at the store and having a meal, or taking a shower, or sleeping there for the night? Was I invited into Walgreens or Bank of America by invitation, and therefore I’m a guest?

I just think it’s weird. I’m the customer, you’re the store, and I’m not a “guest” in your store. So stop calling me a guest.
OK, end of my Seinfeld-ian rant.

**Finally today, the 9-year-old boy inside of me always finds these things funny, especially when news anchors say them and have no clue why everyone else is laughing…

Renting white guys in China. And the dog who survived being blown away

There are lots of countries in the world I don’t think I’ll ever understand. Whether it’s the culture, the people, the laws, whatever it is, I’m terminally confused and baffled.
China’s one of those places. It’s such a strange place that the more I learn about it, the more confused I become.
Take this goofy story I heard about on NPR, based on a tale first written in The Atlantic.
Businesses over there have been, basically, renting white guys. They pay Caucasians a good chunk of change to dress up in a business suit, come to dinners and conventions, shake some hands, and then go home.
Apparently it creates the kind of image the Chinese companies crave; showing how multi-national and important they are.
The writer of the story, Mitch Moxley, was one of the “fake” employees and made some good money. He did all kinds of “work” for his company, took his paycheck, and then moved on to “work” for someone else.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in.

**I had to read this story a few times before I really believed it. A small Hungarian dog was blown away in a storm, 20 miles away, and somehow managed to survive.
Somehow the dog survived the huge trip and was found by a man who lived 20 miles away from the home of the dog’s owner.
The dog was still in his dog house when the wind swept him away. Amazing that the little guy made it out OK.
And what a story the pooch (since renamed “Lucky” will have to tell his friends at the dog park.
Spike, you think you had a rough week? Please. Wait till you hear what happened to me!”

And how about this: Imagine living in this town in Hungary, Gesztered, and seeing a dog house flying through the air. I think that might be a little unsettling.

The dog survived the huge fall and was found by a man named Kalman Csutor, located 20 full miles from Tamas’ house, the dog’s owner. The noble man was looking for a away to bring back the poor dog to his owners, so he contacted a local radio station, that was able to locate the Tamas.

Tamas said that while in the house he saw how his all house is ripped apart by the storm. Later on he found out that not only the dog was gone, but the dog and the dogs house while he was in it.

The dog’s owner decided to change his dogs name to Lucky, which is without a doubt a suitable name for a very lucky dog.