Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Language Warrior’s Manifesto by Anton Treuer

The Language Warrior's ManifestoThe Language Warrior’s Manifesto by Anton Treuer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a rare day when I get a review copy that hadn’t even made it into the Goodreads database yet. I received access from the publisher Minnesota Historical Society Press through Edelweiss.

Dr. Treuer has written histories of the Ojibwe and this is a localized history of the efforts to revitalize and preserve the Ojibwe language (and culture.) He explains how he learned the language from first speakers and then purposed to pass it on. And, he explains in detail how he and others established an Ojibwe primary language environment. He also writes extensively on the lessons learned, hurdles to overcome (and how to do so), weaving in lessons from other language restoration efforts (Hawaiian being a prime example.)

Unfortunately, right after I finished this, I lost my iPad with all my notes. The book is well composed and well-written. I recommend this to anyone interested in First People languages (it’s not a dictionary), First People, or even just language preservation.


View all my reviews

After Isis: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East by Seth J. Frantzman

After Isis: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle EastAfter Isis: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East by Seth J. Frantzman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a review copy through LibraryThing from the publisher Gefen Publishing…from their Jerusalem office! It took more than a month to get to me after I was notified by LibraryThing and a funny thing happened in that time…somebody decided to announce a withdrawal from Syria abandoning the allied ISIS-fighting Kurds to the Turkish regime. I’m not sure if the title needs rethinking, but certainly, there might need to be another chapter or two. Frantzman opened his Preface with “The war on ISIS is now largely behind us.” and my note read “Enter October 2019”.

Frantzman is a veteran conflict journalist and he’s written a comprehensive analysis of the fight against, and decline of, and the claimed defeat of (I have no expertise, but I wonder if it won’t resurge) ISIS from 2014-2019. In his second chapter, in 2015, he and a colleague Lura Kelly had an opportunity to get “to a frontline position near Mosul Dam (site of a major battle in 2014). He had contacts there and they “decided to risk it.” That struck me, because the good field journalists are always at risk.

Too much to synopsize…as I usually do, here are some observations. One is that this book could have benefited from some maps. I suspect my copy is a final version because it was published September 30th, so it looks like there won’t be any. I would have also appreciated a glossary of the players – there are so many acronyms from the multiple units, it was hard for even this retired military man to keep them all straight.

Frantzman keeps his chapters reasonably short and focused and this is not just a chronology. He provides the history of relations and events that preceded and caused the topics he covers.

A Kurdish copmmander told him, after receiving aid from Bulgaria, “Everyone knows we are not just fighting for ourselves but [for] the whole world, and we need their support. […] Why is the US government’s interest more with the Arabs than the Kurds?” Frantzman said he had no answer. I have an answer, but mine is speculation.

In 2015, Brig. Gen Sarhad “mocked Europe’s fear of terror, ‘They had one attack in Paris; we had seven car bombs here.'” They live that every day.

Frantzman on the Iraq town of Sinjar occupied by Yazidis: “It’s hard to describe a landscape so torn and broken. Leaving the mountain behind, ones sees the terraces and old stone houses at its base.” The Yazidis suffered ISIS genocides and have little trust for the Arabs who supported ISIS. ISIS was calculating in their use of social media to “broadcast its mass killings”, and the Twit-ter, on which ISIS members bragged of selling women.

The epigraph for Part III, The Struggle for Iraq, 2016 reads

“How would you rate American, Russian, and Iranian policies in Iraq?”
“It’s like this. If you work on a project with the US, they ask you for a progress report in three months. The Russians want it in six months. For Iran, it’s ten years.”
Conversation heard in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Tanya Goudsouzian on Twitter, February 2019

American politics and diplomacy seem to have no idea of the long game some countries can play.

I like the literary tone of Frantzman’s description of Mosul Dam: “The water looked unnatural, as dam lakes always do, as if it were computer-generated imagery in some badly made movie about water on Mars.”

General Sa’adi al-Obaidi said of ISIS’s targeting of Sunnis in Fallujah, “The government had mistreated the Sunnis, and they flocked to ISIS.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend was a common theme in the incredulous support ISIS garnered.

Kurd betrayal was not far off from the initial T banning of certain travel – Kurds with Iraqi passports were caught up in the ban, “…citizens from Iraqi Kurdistan, the closest ally to the US in fighting terrorism.”

When Frantzman wanted to visit the camp of Hamam-al-Alil IDP (Internally Displaced Persons), he grew fearful when Shi’ite militiamen began shouting at his driver. “These were the wrong people to mess with in the wrong place, in the middle of nowhere near Mosul, where people can disappear.” He said, “I hadn’t been scared in the battles against ISIS; what always worried me was being detained, kidnapped.” Serious stuff for the journalist, and any foreigner.

Frantzman intimates at an Erdogan attack on the Kurds many times in his book, outlining an inevitable that happened right after publication. In early 2018, T crowed about victories over ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa, and talked about leaving Syria…making good on his arrangements with Erdogan in October, 2019. Frantzman notes that DoD and State appointed staff advised him against the withdrawal. They seem to have tried, but failed. Mohammed bin Salman “was cultivating the Trump administration.” So easily manipulated. Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told the Manama Dialogue confab that T defeated Daesh in Iraq. But…the Kurds did. Makes me wonder again what the business interest in Saudi Arabia is.

Frantzman rightly speculates “the large picture of reduced US involvement means that other countries will step in to fill the vacuum. That may mean Russia, Iran, Turkey and other s in the Middle East.” Yep…Russia filled that vacuum quickly. And Turkey launched its offensive immediately.

This is a hard look at a hard subject that is too far over the horizon for most Americans. Israel has to be more than concerned…and Frantzman lives in Jerusalem. He said he had an addition to conflict after his first trip to Iraq in 2015, but “then one day I was home. And I wanted to stay home with my family and sons.” I hope he can stay there.

View all my reviews

Learning War by Trent Hone

Learning WarLearning War by Trent Hone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I am retired Navy and worked in my career with all of the other services – years, not just a weekend, in case there is a question. I have seen how they operate and I’ve experienced how the Navy operates and the Navy of my career benefited and embodied the learned lessons Mr. Hone expertly captures in this book. While this focuses on the operational elements of warfighting, the culture is embraced throughout all areas of the Navy. I was in a staff corps (Civil Engineer Corps) and experienced the strategic planning, learning and adaptations necessary to evolve in a modern world that the warfighting Navy has to respond to at an accelerating pace.

This is detailed, specific history with deep dives into the Naval War College (and education in general), creating a professional officer corps, gunnery improvements, tactical changes necessary with the evolution of warfare between the world wars, creation and development of the Combat Information Center and the lessons learned from the victories in the Pacific. Hone talks about the officers that effected changes when needed: William Sims, William Pratt, Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, “Bull” Halsey, Raymond Spruance.

To many notes to summarize… Some nuggets:
Vice Admiral William Sims’ instructions to his new command, American Naval Forces in Europe, March 1917, the first being “the concept of a mission and general plan to focus the attention of subordinates on critical objectives, promote mutual understanding, and foster individual initiative:”

It is manifestly impossible for the Commander of the operation to give detailed instructions in advance that will cover all emergencies; it is equally impossible for the Commander of an operation to give these instructions on the spot to meet adequately a local situation suddenly developed. Hence the importance of having the immediate Mission and General Plan clearly understood in advance, and the necessity for leaving as wide an area of discretion to subordinates as possible

and the second

No officer should fail to exercise his initiative and judgment in support of the General Plan when confronted by unexpected conditions.”

Train to think on the spot. Obvious flexibility …within the structure of command. That may be self-evident now, but understand that warfare in the 19th century played by different rules. (And even in the early 21st century, every Army officer I worked with below the rank of Colonel seemed to have to ask their CO for permission to do things. Still stuns me to this day that a titled Officer in Charge had to “ask my Colonel” if it was okay for me to change out the batteries in their communications backup power supply – the Navy encourages its junior officers to make decisions.)

Hone observes several times that the Navy, as it developed solutions, and doctrine, “avoided prematurely converging on any specific approach”, leaving options open to modify doctrines as required. With respect to weapons systems, Hone said the “Navy avoided a common problem for organizations pursuing innovation: premature convergence. [Yes, same words] It did not attempt to identify a ‘good’ approach quickly; instead, it allowed time for an excellent approach to emerge from the collective work of many individuals.” I have mixed thoughts on that. I agree in principle, but 25 years of engineering thinking have taught me that sometimes close enough is not only good enough, it can be preferred to “excellent”. An “analysis paralysis” is a real thing, to be also avoided.

Minor catch: I like that Hone took a different perspective on the common position of the battle of Midway being “the turning point of the war in the Pacific; less a “turning point” than an opportunity to take the initiative.

Final paragraph of Hone’s conclusion, he notes that when evaluating a variety of potential solutions simultaneously in a combat situation, failures were “the subject of harsh – and deserved – criticism.” And this:

However, without the possibility of failure, evolvability would not have been preserved, Those early setbacks were essential to ensuring later successes.

Tom Peters, a favored thinker of mine, said innovation should have us fail often, but fail fast. Not ideal when counting war losses, but sometimes unavoidable. The vision is that evolution is necessary to remain vital.

Other observations:
Some of the technical elements described (a range projector, for instance) could have used illustrative photographs.

Some of the writing came off as elitist academia … think Alan Sokal and the post-modern hoax. I am a fan and when appropriate, a practitioner, of concise writing. I am also a fan and practitioner of accessible writing. But those parts do not take away from the excellent work of this book.

Excellent book. I have never read a Naval Institute Press publication that was not excellent. (That’s not to say there aren’t any, but I’ve never read any!)

View all my reviews

The Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society by Robert B. Denhardt and Janet Denhardt

The Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and SocietyThe Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society by Robert B. Denhardt and Janet Denhardt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I pulled this from a shelf in my office (leadership books acquired over time, more than a few I’ve not gotten to yet) and had hopes. In the first chapter, the authors observe “we think leading is something people do at all levels of society and in all areas of human endeavor.” While that should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, a quick survey of the body of work out there returns a majority targeting traditional leaders and how to improve. I find the best books on leadership are not the academic overwritings of say, Kouzes and Posner, or the annoying parables of Blanchard or Lencioni, but the ones that bring a different perspective, a non-traditional perspective (thus, my hopes). correlating the qualities of good leadership with dance, music and other arts should have been a winner.

To play the hands dealt, this falls short of having any real contribution to the repertoire. There are takeaways, but there is little depth. These are basics, with the difference of anecdotes culled, or more probably created, from the arts world.

Still, here are a few margin notes. Each chapter has four pseudo-anecdotes setting the expectations of the chapter topic. For the chapter titled “The Interplay of Space, Time, and Energy”, one was

An executive, sensing that where she sits in a crowded meeting will make a difference in the way people respond to her, moves instinctively toward the “head” of the table.”

Bad example. Or, rather, good example of an immature (sadly, traditional) leader. “Instinctively” is a problem. Good leaders think about things like that. For me, depends on the purpose of the meeting. If it is my meeting and I don’t want my presence to influence, I’ll sit to the side or back. I’m more interested in productive conversations than seeking my concurrence (well, it’s still needed, but not during the process!) It it is my meeting and I want my presence to influence – maybe I need to establish a direction, convey expectations, etc. – I will sit where I can “command” attention.

Artists see the world differently from other people. Their italics, and spot on. I like to populate the table with as many brains as needed plus more (one of the things I do is manage design and construction of capital facilities.) I value different perspectives.

In that same chapter (this is where the most value is, it seemed when I was done), the authors use a metaphor of moving between boxes and making an assumption moving steadily from box to box results in success, and making the mistake of thinking time stands still while in the various boxes. That they acknowledge boxes is good (and they fall into the trap of saying leaders need to “think outside the box”, not knowing there is always a box!)

In the chapter titled “Communicating in Images, Symbols, and Metaphors, the authors bring up Howard Gardner and his book Frames of Mind. Gardner posited multiple intelligences. I wasn’t totally on-board with Gardner, considering some of his “intelligences” skills rather than, well, intelligence, but that was just my take.

And my take here is that despite that different perspective, this does offer much.

View all my reviews