Jun 28

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

Every now and then, in the wonderful city that I live in (west Los Angeles) and more specifically the hell hole that I work in (Hollywood), I hear something that breaks my heart:

Unattractive women tell me that they want to be actresses.

It kills me, because they might as well say, “I’ll never achieve my dream.” Hollywood loves beautiful women. (More precisely, Hollywood doesn’t cast ugly women.) If it does, they either have to play an ugly woman, be old, or be really fat--not sort of fat, but like fat fat--and exceptionally funny.

Now, I’m not justifying this system; I’m definitely not endorsing it. (Actually, I’ll spend the rest of the post pointing out how stupid it is.) I’m identifying a true fact about the industry I want to work in.

Take, for example, each one of HBO’s big budget, high profile war mini-series, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Generation Kill. In the words of Derek Zoolander, the cast of each series was really, really, ridiculously good looking.

I noticed this quirk when I first watched Band of Brothers. While it didn’t bother me much then, by the time I watched The Pacific, it completely took me out of the series. (Maybe it was because they spent so much time shirtless.) It’s like they cast actors solely by that criteria. The casting call must have read, “good looking southern”, “good looking funny”, “good looking literary” and so on.

The whole thing comes to a head in the last episode of The Pacific. The show ends with a picture of an actor followed by a picture of the real Marine that actor portrayed. At this point, the surreal casting becomes obvious, particularly comparing the photos of “Hoosier” Bill Smith, “Snafu” Merriel Shelton and “Chuckler” Lew Juergens to their real life counter-parts. (Here’s an example of the real actors versus the fake ones in Band of Brothers.)

Not that the real life Marines were ugly. Some were good looking. Some were ugly. Some looked normal. It looked like a cross section of America at that time. But no one on The Pacific is ugly. Hell, every actor looks like he could have stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.

Generation Kill is more obvious, since the real life people are still alive at roughly the same age as the Marines they portray, and they’ve attended functions with their real life counterparts. Here are two glaring examples, culled randomly by looking at HBO’s cast page.


Josh Person.


Evan Wright.

Uh, yeah. You get my point.

Unfortunately, this small problem has real world ramifications.

First, Hollywood is losing out on talented actors. I’ll let Malcolm Gladwell explain, discussing sports and resource allocation:

“How many people do elite professions miss? I think we assume that the talent-finding in the top occupations is pretty efficient. But what always strikes me is the amount of evidence in the opposite direction. There are huge numbers of people who clearly could play pro sports, but don't want to. (Kingston.) And an even greater number who could, but can't. America has one of the highest incarceration rates in recorded history, for example. (We have six times more people behind bars, on a per capita basis, than Europe does.) That works out to about 2 million people — the majority of whom are young men, and a disproportionate share of those young men are young black men. Surely there must be hundreds — if not thousands — of potential professional athletes in that number, not to mention scientists or entrepreneurs or poets.”

Hollywood is doing the same thing. By limiting their pool of actors to the really, really, ridiculously good looking, they’re losing out on, what 75-80% of the possible actors they could be using?

Second, as is evident by this entire post, the good looking cast members take me out of each series. By casting such good looking people, it, if only for just a moment, made me think: I’m watching a TV show. This isn’t real war.

The final problem is more serious, more transcendental. These series, unintentionally, mythologize war, elevating it beyond a pursuit that normal people do, a thing that only the elite, the preternaturally gifted take part in. It makes it extraordinary, amazing, instead of what it actually is: dirty, average. As the narrator of The Things They Carried warns, be wary of people who try to clean up war.

Casting borderline-model good looking actors cleans up war. Transforming G.I. Joes into Sir Lancelots and Prince Charmings. That’s not real war; that’s Hollywood war. And as Michael C will write in a few weeks, it gets awfully hard to tell the difference after a while.

Jun 25

As I (Michael C) am wont to do, I alleged in yesterday’s post that the Army doesn’t employ any operations researchers or management scientists. Since I didn’t see any OR people during in Afghanistan or working at a battalion, brigade or group, I assumed they probably don’t exist.

As I wrote this, though, I knew it wasn’t 100% true.

The Army has a handful, but they mostly do work on human resources or weapons testing, in a branch of careers called “Operations Research/System Analysts”. I mean, it’s right there in the title! (In classic Army form, they had to add two letters to the acronym.)

As About.com describes it:

“The Operations Research/Systems Analysis (ORSA) functional area encompasses the application of analytic methods to the solution of varied and complex strategic, operational, and managerial defense issues....ORSA techniques are important decision support tools, and analysis grounded in objective ORSA techniques provides decision makers with a quantitative basis for the evaluation of decision options. ORSA officers frequently bridge the gap among military, science, and management activities.”

The website goes on to describe how ORSA-selected officers work in personnel, combat and general applications of operations research methods.

While ORSA officers exist, they never make it down to the level which needs them the most: operational levels like division, brigade and battalion. The regular Army (think brigades on down) doesn’t interact or incorporate cutting edge research.

Instead, operations researchers exist in the bureaucratic world of the Pentagon, theorizing about hypothetical conflicts with future (possibly fictional) enemies. Look at the list of jobs on the About.com website: “Military Assistant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Army”, “Analyst in Army Materiel Systems Analysis Agency”, and “Analyst in Test and Evaluation Command (TECOM)”. Those aren’t positions helping the troops; they’re positions writing reports in an office buried deep in some wing of the Pentagon.

The gigantic disconnect between cutting-edge Pentagon research and the troops who who could use that research disappoints but doesn’t surprise me. In a few weeks, I plan to start a series on using statistics, Bayes Theorem and other advanced analytical techniques. I can already envision a lot of commenters saying, “But we used Bayes Theorem to crack the Enigma code!” Or, “I had a friend at the Multi-National Corps Headquarters in Iraq who used logistic regression to plan IED sweeps!”

But exceptions don’t disprove the rule: the U.S. Army doesn’t incorporate operations research into its daily garrison and combat operations.

Yeah, the Pentagon has some cool toys and has some operations researchers and management scientists. But regular units--the ones performing 95% of patrols and providing 90% of intelligence and doing 99% of the work--don’t have those tools. I didn’t have (or use) them in Afghanistan.

That’s why I ask where the management scientists have gone. They didn’t disappear from the Army, but they disappeared from combat.

Jun 24

(Before we start, yes, this is probably the worst reference we have ever tried to pull off in a title.)

Since coming to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, three subjects have made me say, “Goodness gracious, sakes alive, how did I not know this?” The first is advanced statistics (which I will cover in another series). The second is “organizational behavior”. (The military would make a fantastic case study for almost every theory I learned.)

The final field is “operations research” (OR), or its more modern sounding name, “management science”. Wikipedia describes OR as “the application of advanced analytical methods to make better decisions.” (Yes, “OR” is already an acronym; it will fit right in with the rest of the Army’s acronyms.)

Want to know why your paperwork takes so long at the S1 shop? Operations.

Want to know why every single weapon designed by the Pentagon runs over budget? Operations.

Want to know why it takes so long to get a flight to Afghanistan? Operations.

Naturally, before I started business school, I assumed that the Pentagon and the larger U.S. Army didn’t have any experts on operations. In fact, my post, “Hire an Efficiency Expert” basically asks for management scientists to work for the Pentagon, though I didn’t use that language.

So imagine my shock when I discovered this week--while listening to a podcast (“The Science of Better”) on operations research (Yep, that podcast exists.) from the Institute For Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS)--that the Army created operations research. (Well, the British Army, followed closely by the U.S. Army.)

Physicists created OR to improve the use of the new technological tools they were creating. While most scientists were hired to run technology like radar or sonar, Baron Patrick Blackett, who’d already made his physics career and later won a Noble prize, decided that he needed to apply scientific rigour to the defence of Britain. So he started running experiments using mathematics to change tactics--changing anti-aircraft firing patterns, testing depth charges and other experiments.   

Baron Blackett’s commanders credited him with helping save England during the Battle of Britain. (This fantastic blog post on “Survivorship Bias” on YouAreNotSmart.com describes the role of operations researchers in America during the same time period.)

How does this relate to contemporary times? Because British Army officers never trusted Blackett, especially when they first met him. While Blackett created a whole intellectual field and helped defend Great Britain, he had to continually prove himself to military officers. No matter which organization he joined, they always told him, initially, that he couldn’t help. With all their military expertise and experience, they didn’t need a physicist to tell them how to manage (er, lead?) better. Later, after the data proved Blackett correct, the officers embraced OR.

Which begs the question, “Where were the management scientists in Iraq and Afghanistan?” With hundreds of patrols and millions of data points, couldn’t a few OR researchers have really helped out? That war begged for the use of predictive and prescriptive analytics. (The U.S., at best, uses descriptive analytics.) Maybe a Multi-National Corps HQ had some...or deep in some office in the Pentagon they have them...but we didn’t have it at the brigade, battalion, company and platoon level. So I ask again:

Where have all the Management Scientists gone?

Jun 20

Quick heads up:

Michael C just had a guest post published at Tom Rick's "Best Defense" blog titled, "The officer as manager: A reading list."

Check it out.

Jun 18

Quick heads up:

First off, thanks for the link love from io9, who gave a shout out to our post “Appreciating Neo-Colonialism or: My New Perspective on the Martian Chronicles” in their post “Reading The Martian Chronicles in Tehran” on an edition of The Martian Chronicles finally coming out in Iran.

Next, Eric C just had another guest post “Don’t Be Lazy: 9 Ways to Blog Smarter and Harder” published over at problogger.net.

Check them out.

Jun 18

A few weeks ago, at the request of a friend, I made a military reading list. When I finished, it was really long and frankly unusual. (This is On Violence after all.)

So I decided to break my list into three parts. Last Wednesday, I posted a traditional reading list, with books you could expect to find on the Chief of Staff of the Army’s list. Coming soon, as a guest post on another blog (hopefully later this week), I will have a list on the best books for “Officers as Managers”.

The final list is what I am calling my “non-traditional” list, including science fiction, philosophy and non-fiction works that are critical of the military; basically, books that wouldn't make sense on a traditional reading military reading list. Without further ado, the list:

1. World War Z by Max Brooks. This history of mankind’s war with the undead isn’t about zombies; it’s about international relations. Oh, and adapting (successfully) to fighting a new war. (Like Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, but with zombies.)

2. Top Secret America by Dana Priest and William Arkin. By joining the Army (or any branch) as an officer, you likely join Top Secret America. Along with 750,000 other people, you have access to information that a majority of Congress and their staffs can’t get, plus the constant threat of going to prison if you leak anything to a reporter (no matter how illegal or unconstitutional). This book tells as much of the story as you can find anywhere in the world. (Even Top Secret America doesn’t know much about itself.) Watch the Frontline documentary too.

3. One Nation Under Contract by Allison Stanger. I wrote an entire recommendation for this book for the New York Times “At War” blog, so check it out. Stanger describes how, over the last twenty years, the U.S. government outsourced possibly a majority of its work to the private sector, with the Pentagon doing the most. 

4. I have been engrossed in the last year by a trio of books--The End of War by John Horgan, Winning the War on War by Joshua S. Goldstein and Angels of Our Better Nature by Stephen Pinker--arguing that the world is not more violent, wars aren’t more frequent and we can end war as we know it. Over the summer, I hope to publish more extensive thoughts on those books.

5. The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Another book with sly counter-insurgency recommendations, The Ugly American is ostensibly a condemnation of the State Department in the 1960s. Since our military does as much diplomacy as it does warfare, this book is a must read. (We did two posts on this book two years ago and then used it as the basis for a post on Greg Mortenson.)

6. A People Numerous and Armed by John Shy. I have referenced this series of essays in countless On V posts since we launched (here, here, here, and here for starters). A classic in military history, John Shy analyzes how politics intersected with war in a very irregular conflict. He also created a more expansive view of military history that touched on the cultural and social ramifications as opposed to simply describing how generals moved troops on the battlefield.

Jun 13

Michael C and I read comic books. We adore graphic novels, just plain loving the medium. That’s why, a few years ago, I (Eric C, On V’s resident art critic) went out in search of graphic novels about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any.

Actually, that’s not true. I found two. The first, Pride of Baghdad, is amazing. (Check out Matty P’s review here.) As Matty P wrote, “I will not spoil the summation at the novel's conclusion, but the words written are haunting and true. As a graphic novel and as a individual narrative, Pride of Baghdad is an excellent read.” I also found another graphic novel, Refresh, Refresh about the experience of a young boy whose father is at war. Though I read the graphic novel, I never reviewed it.

Along with two recent pieces of war fiction, (Fobbit and Fire and Forget, reviews coming soon) I want to start reading and reviewing war graphic novels. Not knowing what to read after I review Refresh, Refresh, I emailed the hosts of my favorite comics podcast, iFanboy, to get their suggestions. Awesomely, they responded within the week.

I had two questions. First, I asked about graphic novels or comics about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Josh Flanagan summed up the problem right away, “I had a hard time thinking of any.” After they put their minds to it, they came up with...

- The Activity (“Dips a toe in it.”) about the Intelligence Support Activity, though clearly not based on real life.

- Shooters by Eric Trautmann, about a private contractor.

- 303, written by Garth Ennis, which starts in Afghanistan but ends with the Russian main character assassinating the American President. (If you’re confused, so am I.)

- The comments section for the podcast recommended Graveyard of Empires, about a group of soldiers in Afghanistan who have to fight zombies.

Though I hate the title of the last book, it sounds like the best of the four because it depicts regular soldiers. Unfortunately, none of these books--especially compared to Pride of Baghdad--seem to take the wars seriously, or as anything more than a back drop. I’m actually surprised at the lack of comic books about the modern wars, mainly because they seem easy to produce.

Next, I asked the iFanboys about graphic novels from the past that weren’t about World War II. (Why no WW II? Because I think that that war is too over-covered, too simplistic.) Their suggestions included:

- Three book on Vietnam, The ‘Nam by Doug Murray, Last Days of Vietnam by Will Eisner and Dong Xoai, by Joe Kubert. Strange how it seems like writers and artists in the past--when superhero comics were at their most innocent and unrealistic--seemed unafraid to write about Vietnam honestly and realistically, but in today’s modern, deconstructionist, violent comic books world, writers won’t touch the modern wars.

- 300 by Frank Miller, the infamous graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae. The iFanboys started laughing after they suggested this one, and I hope they were joking, because I hate that book. Mainly because it is so inaccurate.

- They also recommend the graphic novels of Joe Sacco, a reporter/graphic novelist who has covered Serbia and Palestine. I’ve got to check his stuff out.

- Garth Ennis’ Battlefield Stories is a collection of war stories in general, mostly about World War II. I also know that they love Garth Ennis’ run on Fury Max, about Nick Fury and the Cold War. This may be blasphemy to some comics readers, but I’m not a huge Garth Ennis fan. He goes to the extreme (read: rape and pedophilia) way too often for my taste.

- Finally, they recommend Crecy by Warren Ellis, about the Battle of Crecy during the 100 Years War, which sounds fascinating because we never see stuff like that. Graphic novels can take place anywhere, at any time, and depict whatever they like; I wish more writers and artists took advantage of this freedom.

Finally, Conor Kilpatrick responded to why most graphic novels are about World war II “...it’s the [war] where you can kind of easily go good guy/bad guy and you’re done.”

Unfortunately, I agree with this simplistic reading of World War II and the media it inspires.

Jun 10

If you run a military blog, there is only one requirement: make a reading list.

I kid. But there are more reading lists on milblogs than Navy Commanders fired for misconduct, so I’ve avoided making one. (The closest we came was this On Violence gift recommendations post.)

Nevertheless, a good friend from my ROTC days recently took command of a company, and he asked me for my suggestions on good books for his new lieutenants. He specified that his unit probably won’t deploy soon, so he wanted a more general military reading list than the hyper-COIN focused lists of a few years ago. And though the world has enough reading lists, I loved the idea of spouting off on my ideas for books to read. I decided to divide my list into three parts: Traditional, Non-Traditional and Management.

Today I’ll tackle the traditional military side; the books I fell in love with before I left to expand my mind at B-school. I tried (with great difficulty and much concentration) to limit my books about counter-insurgency,, whereas my management list covers the books every officer should read to learn about leading.

(Also, I ranked these books in order of priority.)

1. The Defense of Duffer’s Drift by Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton. A 1904 novella about a British officer holding a drift during the Boer War, this book manages to explain the principles behind patrolling and small unit tactics better than any manual, while providing an unintended lesson on counter-insurgency.

2. The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen. Yes, I know this reading list isn’t supposed to be too counter-insurgency heavy, but if you’re going to read one book on irregular warfare/post-9/11 conflict, read this one. David Kilcullen captures the nuances of the motivations behind insurgents, terrorists and globalization.

3. The Art of Maneuver by Robert Leonhard. Shockingly, though this book wasn’t published in the 19th century, it brilliantly captures the principles of war, physics and maneuver warfare. The Art of Maneuver shows how most of the Pentagon’s leaders lacks true strategic and operational creativity. For instance, it describes how the U.S. Army still loves to attack an opponent at his strongest point, instead of his weakest. (That principle applies to regular and irregular warfare too.)

4. A History of Warfare by John Keegan. We should understand the phenomena we practice. A History of Warfare manages to combine a true history of warfare with brilliant asides on the cultural, technological and environmental ramifications of war.

5. Fiasco by Tom Ricks. The best history of the start of the disaster in Mesopotamia and a lesson on leadership in the military.

6. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl. Yes, I know I said I was going light on counter-insurgency. However, Nagl’s text isn’t so much about counter-insurgency, but institutional learning. Specifically how a bureaucratic Army set-up to fight a conventional, maneuver war can learn to fight an irregular, counter-insurgency. I would argue the military never actually learned how to eat soup with a knife during the last ten years, but that’s partly what makes this a compelling read.

7. Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer. A book about an officer who fights in three different wars, it has lessons on bureaucracy, leadership and warfare. A very long, but very good encapsulation of what it means to succeed as an officer. (Oh, and it too has an ironic detour into irregular warfare too.)

Tune in Monday for our non-traditional reading list.

Jun 10

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

Michael C and I are writing the “Our Communist Military” series to point out contradictions. Logical inconsistencies. Cognitive dissonances. Believing one thing, but acting another way.

To me (Eric C), the biggest, most stunningly-obvious example of this contradiction is Tricare, the military’s mostly-free health care system.

Which isn’t shocking if you’ve been in the military, but is shocking if you read conservative milblogs. They hate--absolutely hate!--Obamacare. This Ain’t Hell decries Obamacare and “government-run healthcare” here, here, and here. A Soldier’s Perspective has a whole post on taking candy away from kids at Halloween to teach them about redistribution.

Angered after the initial round of blowback we got from “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”, I started thinking about the military’s government-run health care system, and I had some questions. Like...

First off, what do we mean by government-run health care?

I mean zero co-pay health care provided at zero cost to the employees in the military. Free for every employee--and nearly free for dependents and retirees--it’s the single best health care package for any employee in America.

Why does our red blooded, freedom-loving American military have a free health care system?

Simple. Protecting our country is an incredibly dangerous job. By definition, soldiers put their lives and bodies on the line. We don’t want to make people pay for getting injured, maimed or paralyzed while serving their country.

Other professions are dangerous (like crab fishing). Why do people do those jobs without similar health care packages?

Because they pay well. Arguably, the military could save money by going to this system: pay soldiers a lot more and make them get their own insurance.

Why don’t we go to that system?

Because it’d be political suicide.

Which brings us to logical inconsistency number one, the actual reason we provide government-run health care to our soldiers: what politician wants to tell a soldier who lost his legs in service of his country that he has to pay for the amputation himself? Especially since 30% of bankruptcies come from health care costs. We don’t want our soldiers going bankrupt paying for injuries they receive on the battlefield.

So we’ve instituted free health care for millions of Americans er, soldiers.

Has Congress tried to change this system?

All the time.

Any attempt by Congress to change the Pentagon’s health care system--especially increasing co-pays for dependents or retirees--is instantly pounced upon by conservatives (especially milblogs) as screwing the troops. This Ain’t Hell has a post titled, “Your “free health care” will get more expensive” followed up by “Your free healthcare just got more expensive”.

So conservatives endorse the military’s government-run health care system?”

Actually, they don’t.


Because they believe that Tricare (or government-run health care) doesn’t work. Tricare is a reward we offer our soldiers, except...Tricare is terrible. Don’t take my word for it, because I’ve never used it. Take these three examples, responses to our posts in this series so far:

“And TRICARE? An example of state-run healthcare if there ever was one. Its not as simple as walking in and getting treated as most of us know. Its a great example of Britian's NHS and we see it in the VA. Have a serious issue with your health? Wait years to get that MRI that would detect the problems in your body... then wait another couple of months while the Army decides the best way to fix it... then at least a year to find out if you're going to have a job in a year.”

From Doctrine man’s facebook

“I experienced the military healthcare system as an army brat where I sat in the E.R. for six hours with two broken bones in my arm when I was eight. I also witnessed the incompetence of a botched caesarian section with my second son. My wife still bears the scars and nerve damage twelve years later. The system is garbage and you’re not allowed to sue for malpractice. When Tricare expanded options to include private doctors in the late 90s, troops flocked to this option in spite of higher out of pocket costs.”

R.A. Mathis 

“After having Tricare who would want Govt Healthcare? (I once had a soldier whom had a scalpel sewn inside him after surgery)”


Which brings us to the crux of this post...

If Tricare/government-run health care is incompetent and terrible, why do we punish our soldiers by forcing them to use it?

If Tricare works, it means government-run health care works. If it doesn’t, it means we’re punishing our soldiers by forcing them to use it, hurting the heroes who protect our freedoms from Nazis, communists and terrorists by making them use government-run health care.

We can’t get rid of it, though, without conservatives (especially milblogs) accusing the President and Democrats of hating the troops.

Which forces me to ask...   

Why don’t conservative pundits and politicians and VA groups push for a Department of Defense voucher system? Or a privatized insurance program? Or any option other than government-run health care?

The military, according to conservative/anti-Obamacare logic, should provide insurance to its soldiers, like other companies. Better yet, why not move to a voucher system, like the one Paul Ryan proposed for Medicare? If those are truly better free market options, let’s use them.

And how can you complain about Obamacare--literally write that Obamacare will destroy this country--without arguing against the health care system you used when you were in the military? Without arguing that we need to get rid of it?

These are all inconsistencies. We love the troops, so we give them universal, no-cost health care. But universal no-cost health care doesn’t work, but we don’t offer alternatives. And so on. it’s just another inconsistency.

I’ll close with the words of John Lilyea:

“It doesn’t matter how much the increase is, it’s 100% higher than ‘none’ which is what the government promised when we decided to make a career out of the military and make the sacrifices we made in exchange for this benefit.”

Yeah, health care should be free.

Jun 10

Before we get to today’s controversial main feature, check out Eric C’s guest post on WriteToDone.com with the provocatively titled, “How Miniskirts Will Make Your Prose Sexier: The Golden Rule of Length”. We should have some other guest posts going up around the web in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Jun 05

(A few episodes back, On The Media asked its Twitter followers, “What do you want from news coverage of tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombing?” Our response didn't make the final broadcast, so here it is instead.)

Dear Brooke Gladstone,

Last week, you asked your followers on Twitter what they wanted from the news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Though we follow you on Twitter, we didn’t catch that specific tweet. Here’s our belated answer for what we wanted from the news coverage:   


I would watch the news if, between footage of carnage and talking heads, the anchors interrupted to provide the viewers context. And not “context” completely devoid of facts and history. Context like...

- A graph of all the people who have died from terrorism in the last 40 years. And next to that a line graph of all the people who died from gun violence in that same time period. (Props to Chris Hayes.)

- A reminder of all the forgotten acts of terrorism that occurred before 9/11. (Like the bombing of a Laguardia terminal in 1975 that killed more people than Boston. Or even of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. Or even the Atlanta City Olympic bombing.)   

- A chart showing just how safe the U.S. is compared to almost every other country on the planet.

- An explanation of how many marathons are run every year in the U.S., and how few terror attacks occur during them.

- Another chart could show how safe the U.S. in a chronological sense, showing how much safer America is than 40 years ago.

Psychologists explaining the principles of recency bias, confirmation bias and selection bias to explain that the newscasters themselves are over-interpreting this one event to serve an immediate narrative and drive viewers.


Our news coverage has helped make Americans fear terrorism way out of proportion to its actual danger, exactly what terrorists want. We want news coverage to do the opposite.

Jun 03

(What follows is a letter--or email--we sent to Andrew Sullivan of The Dish following one of his posts. It didn’t get published on The Dish but we thought we’d share it with our readers anyway.)

Andrew and crew,

I love your coverage of terrorism, specifically the emphasis on holding the former administration responsible for the war crimes (torture) it committed (and holding the current administration responsible for punting on the issue). However, I do have a huge issue with a line from your essay last week, “Obama’s Gitmo Disgrace”:

“We also know that some terrorists were captured but with no real proof; and that some have been transferred to other countries. Of those some have taken up arms; some have simply melted back into society.”

Not the case. According to this table released by Director of National Intelligence, of the 603 detainees released from Guantanamo, only 97 are confirmed to have reengaged in terrorism. Another 72 are suspected of reengaging in terrorism. In short, the recidivism rate of Guantanamo is incredible; most U.S. justice systems would love to have over 70% of its convicted criminals never go back to crime. This number is even more incredible when you consider that the bar of “suspected of reengaging in terrorism” is probably exceptionally low, dramatically overstating the case. (The New York Times goes into even greater depth here.)   

So we shouldn’t say “some and some”. We should emphasize that the majority of people kidnapped, tortured and illegally detained at Guantanamo were innocent. We should emphasize the vast majority had nothing to do with terrorism. We tortured innocent people and held them for no reason. We should emphasize that intelligence is much more often wrong than right. We should explain that intelligence thrives off paying people for information, and in dirt poor Afghanistan a lot of people got rich, and settled grudges, by giving Americans bad information.

Americans don’t know that but they should.


Michael Cummings