Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

A New Blog & Recollection

There’s a new blog in town, Forward Movement, authored by Jules Crittenden.

Jules regularly “columnizes” (I like that) Sundays at The Boston Herald; I’ve linked to several of his columns. He writes aggressively, and knowledgeably on military matters and Iraq, having first hand experience via a tour as an embed in Iraq.

I recently posted on Jules review of the Alessandro Barbero’s The Battle, “A New History” of the Battle of Waterloo, review courtesy of Norm Geras. A great introduction to Crittenden’s writing, although his kickoff post Swimming with Anvils reads well too (aided by a highly effective metaphor).

The object of Jules post is Tony Blair’s recent foray into the “new direction for Iraq” debate. Yesterday I observed that “wayward Tony Blair” showed poor timing – or perhaps was intentionally sandbagged by several leaks, on Iranian influence on Al Qaeda, and AQ plans for a nuclear attack on the UK.

Jules’ objections with Blair’s plan run along the same lines as mine, and summarily dismisses Blair’s two key points: negotiating with Iran and Syria when these countries are primary sponsors of Iraqi violence; and tying the Israel-Palestinian problem to Iraq:

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians has nothing to do with Iraq. Its pursuit is a goodwill gesture that theoretically gets everyone else in the region on your side and puts pressure on the recalcitrants, but in fact is unlikely to bring over anyone who wasn't there, or headed there anyway. That conflict has long been a convenient cause of grumbling in the Arab world, a bloody shirt to wave, but peace in Israel tomorrow would have no effect whatsoever on the ambitions of Iran, Syria, or their proxies in Iraq. The Israeli-Palestinian war existed for decades before our present difficulties in Iraq, and the trouble there will no doubt continue long after. Pinning hopes for peace in Iraq with peace in Israel makes as much sense as using an anvil as a swimming aid. At a minimum it complicates matters, and it is more likely to drag you down than help you get to shore. On the other hand, Lebanon and Israel might be aided by peace in Iraq, if that peace is achieved by neutering Syria and Iran as regional meddlers. That will not be achieved by talks unless those talks occur in concert with forceful action in Iraq and a credible threat of action against the regimes themselves.

You’d almost think the guy’s a MILBLOGGER, no? Hey, it’s like he’s embedding as a MILBLOGGER! We’ll have to see how the rest of the MILBLOGGERS take to that.

(Since starting this intro on Jules, he’s since alerted me to a somewhat less serious introductory post.)

Best of luck to Jules, he’s as pro-Victory as the best of us, and a serious critic of the critics. Can’t have enough of those, as we have all too many first order critics, and too few second order ones.

I’m surprised to discover that Jules is the City Editor at The Herald. Few people know that I did a three day try-out at the Herald when I returned to the States, coming off Active Duty in 1987. Turns out, the entire direction my whole life since then changed because of a well-intentioned secretary, a hard nosed City Editor, and my own youthful ignorance.

When I first enlisted Active Army, I did so with six years of Russian language studies in Junior High and High School. Finishing college, needing a job, having some added responsibilities for others, I saw the Army as being an employer who might value Russian language studies. They certainly saw me as a valuable recruit, and pointed me at Defense Language Institute (DLI) and Military Intelligence.

After a year and a half of training, and in the middle of a 3 year assignment in Augsburg, Germany, I enjoyed my job, living in Bavaria, analysis and report writing well enough, but knew I’d never make a career of the Army. (Kids, whatta they know.)

I sent out over 50 resumes, went to Army-hosted job fairs, I only got one lead before my ETS: a letter from the Managing Editor of the Boston Herald. I wish I remembered his name. He wrote that, when I was stateside and ready to go to work, to call his office and set up a standard three day try-out.

I did, which was a big surprise when I turned up, as only the Managing Editor and his secretary were aware of the offer, and he was out of town the week of my try-out. I was handed off to an obviously perturbed City Editor, who grumbled a bit and remarked that it sure was convenient of the Managing Editor to saddle him with me while the City Editor was busy covering both their jobs.

It didn’t go too well, although I think I made some headway by day three. Day one was watching everybody else in the press room working, checking out the edition goijng to press. Day two was a jump in the car and run across town with a photographer to check out the annual Clam Chowderfest and interview the chef responsible for that year’s winner. No byline on the one paragraph accompanying the photo.

Day three was more exciting. This day’s beat covered an ongoing eviction of a disabled tenant for failure to maintain a minimum in hygiene or apartment upkeep.

The stench was opaque, the apartment an absolute shambles, the wife of primary occupant, a nurse, completely disinterested from engaging police, landlady or reporters, let alone helping her partner, and the tenant himself grossly obese, showing signs of mental illness.

I interviewed the tenant, the police, tried to interview the quickly departing spouse, and the landlady, who gave me a very difficult tour of the apartment, pointing out an appalling amount of health and resident building code violations in great detail. Insects and vermin everywhere in evidence, the sofa bearing a distinct, outlined impression of its former occupant, who went for days without getting up from it.

True to what has become my pattern in such things, I wrote a “gotcha” story with a lead something like this:

A poor, disabled tenant, struggling to make ends meet, tossed to the street by a greedy and uncaring landlord, who couldn’t care less who difficult life is for this poor unfortunate. A sad and familiar story, right?

Not quite.

What followed was a recounting of the incredibly long and frustrating effort by the landlady to work with her tenant, and eventually, have him evicted.

I figured it was the perfect dog bites man story, and perhaps it was. I think I saw a change in the City Editor’s demeanor and attitude, as he told me, “good, but we can’t use it.”

When I first arrived, the Managing Editor’s secretary mistook my invitation from him as more of a VIP invite, and put me up at a hotel the paper used for more distinguished visitors. It was in Copley Place I think, very nice.

Later, when I was trying to find out what was customary for expenses, the secretary asked me where I was staying, and when she heard, said, “Live it up! Get room service. Everything’s covered.” You’d think I’d have had more sense, but I had 6 years of college followed by 4 ½ years in the Army, so I was unaccustomed to the business world. She also told me that getting the try out was the hard part, 9 out of 10 of try outs get hired.

I did exactly what she suggested.

Months later, I still hadn’t received the 3 days of pay, and was still working out from under debts, though finally employed. I contacted the paper, and got put through to that same City Editor.

“I was figuring you’d call if I didn’t pay you.” He then proceeded to curse me out for charging meals and a movie to the paper. Chagrined, I apologized and tried to explain. He would hear none of it. I quickly calculated that, even minus the charges he refused to pay, he still owed me over half of the pay, and it was enough to mean something to me. He grudgingly agreed to approve it.

In the course of this conversation, he made very clear that my actions had meant there was no way I was going to be offered the job, which I think back then paid about $25,000 a year in Boston, which would have been tough, job too, but I was desperate and thought that I’d be a journalist.

The job I ended up with took me on a path I’ve never regretted, I am starting my 20th year with my employer. If I found work in the Albany area, I never would have met Mrs. Manly, and I’d have missed all the blessings our marriage has borne.

If I’d been offered the job, I would have been in Boston, possibly found a career in journalism (!), who knows.

But it occurs to me, as I think back. Thanks, Mr. City Editor. I owe my life to you.



(Cross-posted at MILBLOGS.)

UPDATE: Greyhawk takes note of Jules new blog over at Mudville Gazette. Greyhawk notes that, being an Editor at the Boston Herald, Crittenden does us Bloggers one better, in that he can "self edit" as a professional!

That may make the Great Grey One dizzy, but makes sense to me. I've often remarked that I NEED a good editor, as I write and speak WAY too much for any one person. Unless it's personal, about emotions, with Mrs. Manly. For her, it's sometimes like pulling teeth. So she says.



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