March 03, 2003

IRONY WATCH The PR executive


The PR executive the American government hired to rebrand the United States in the Middle East, and who likened her work as a marketer to rewriting the Constitution ("All of a sudden, we are in this position of redefining who America is."), Charlotte Beers, has been shown the door, Marshall reports. (Good riddance.)

The Canadian Prime Minister's magnificent fence-sitting gesture of sending Canadian ships to the Persian Gulf, but only to fight Al Qaeda (a tiger? in Africa? -ed.) falls apart because of a crash of the flagship's helicopter, which he personally refused to replace.

And the only thing that's keeping American hopes of victory in Iraq alive now is that they declined to fulfill their promises of a real Kuwaiti democracy 12 years ago (which would have almost certainly resulted in their being kicked out of Kuwait, just as in Turkey, if implemented), and left the authoritarian sheikhocracy in place.

Who ever said irony was dead?

Posted by BruceR at 11:29 PM



A friend asked me today what advice I'd have for a young person thinking of joining the military, particularly as a reservist. My answer, in case anyone's curious, (and so that I don't have to write it all out again):

My opinion? It would take a really inner-directed young person to go into something like the Army Reserve if they didn't know anyone else in the military. We're all like that when we're that age. A lot of my friends have attempted to join, or considered joining, once they knew I was involved, but going in alone (without even a family tradition of service) is, whenever I see it in the recruits I've worked with, truly worthy of some respect. 17 and 18 year-olds need reference points to bounce off of, and any military career requires a lot of support at home.

I came from an unmilitary family, and I had no reference points among my peers. What I did have was a father who backed me up in my latest half-cocked pursuit, more because he thought I'd otherwise end up an artsy pansy, I suspect (I was pretty flighty); he didn't have any respect himself for the military, but he respected my own wishes, that once. I never really thanked him for that...

So I don't know if anyone that age can be "talked into" military service of any kind. If they get involved, and the unit looks after them right, long enough for something to "click," it can be a huge positive influence on their life (it certainly was on mine). In many cases, it was one of several job applications I sent out the fall of my final high school year; when I dropped by for a visit, everyone treated me as an adult independent of my family... et ca c'est suffit.

I actually think we need to spend even more effort as an organization on pre-recruitment for the cohort [your friend] is in than we do... certainly big organizations like U of T are investing more in this area, increasing the confidence of the prospect, and the comfort level of their support network, before they ever fill out a form, than they ever did when you and I were going to school. That may reflect something unique about that age group, I'm not sure yet.

I'd suggest the best way to get a newbie involved would be to expose them more to the culture, and see if it speaks to them, before ever visiting a recruiting centre (which for all its nifty videos and nattily dressed soldiers, has to be by definition essentially an experience of evaluation of the person as a recruitment candidate, and so a huge initial turnoff). It's like evaluating universities... if you can, you spend March break touring a couple campuses long before you have to make any big decisions.

The other thing I'd add is that the support network needs to be forgiving even if the experience ends prematurely. Retention historically for the reserve has hovered around 24 months average from enrollment. To the army reserve, that's still a success, as we've given one more citizen a heightened understanding of the national organization. Anyone who can stick it out two years before life gets in the way has already made enough of a sacrifice to have my respect.

The final thing I'd say is that recruitment, in addition to being hard on the psyche, takes a little while: all units have recruitment caps, and most of them are bumping up against them by this point. People just starting to look for an army summer job in March are very likely to end up disappointed; even if they get in somewhere, it'll be rushed, ad hoc, and not an experience conducive to long-term retention. The ideal time to start the actual enrolment process, I would argue, is September or October of the year before, as I once did. That gives plenty of time to acclimatize, and maybe to get a little of the initial, duller training out of the way on the weekends, so that the summer can
just be a money-earning blast.

Upshot: if the guy has any penchant for militaria (and few teen boys don't), then it's a worthy suggestion you'd be making if your target for [his] full-time employment is summer '04. It has to be his decision, but a supported one; you have to have a light hand on that rod and line. And to get to that decision point, you need to first sensitize him with prior, low pressure exposure. The ideal way to do this is to hang out on grandfather's knee hearing his war stories. Assuming that's not an option, and if you think it would help, I'd be happy to arrange for the pair of you a tour of a local military facility, with the idea of answering any questions you might have, and encouraging him
to go back and stew it over for a while.

PS: [Following a couple unrelated jokes]...At times, the organization can be thankless, frustrating, and extremely demanding on its members. The lows can be harsh. But the highs are extreme. What you don't know about me is that I got out of the military for six years. But it left a hole in my life, in terms of risk-taking, responsibility, and that feeling of simply having done good deeds with one's life, that I couldn't fill without getting back in. It changes a person, no doubt; but in my experience, almost always for the better. A good soldier will find office work slow, but easily tolerable; a good officer or NCO will find office management a breeze after what they've already done. If someone's looking for the quick path to maturity, this is the best I've found so far.

Posted by BruceR at 02:04 PM



Toronto Star ombudsthingy Don Sellar shows graphically why he should never be allowed back in a real reporting job again:

No doubt, Saddam has mistreated Kurds during his rule. But it's misleading to say, so simply and without context, that he killed his own people by gassing 5,000 Kurds at Halabja.

The only source Sellar can find to support this bizarre statement is Stephen Pelletiere, who as Damian points out, is simply unbelievable on the issue. Pelletiere's counter-theory, which he's never been able to explain comprehensibly, is that the Iranian army, then in undisputed control of Halabja, actually killed those 5,000 Kurds by the suicidal act of using chemical weapons on themselves.

I would actually argue that the point of newspaper "ombudsmen" (and, to a lesser extent, watchdog magazines like Frank and In These Times) more or less ended with the advent of blogs. Sellar shows why: his own quixotic failure to apply common sense or reason, in the form of a supposedly unchallengeable pronouncement from the editorial page mount, has only further confused an issue his paper has been covering, rather than clarified it in any way.

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 PM