Thursday, 6 September 2012

Recommended viewing/reading

I finally got around to watching Restrepo and cannot recommend it highly enough, emotive, fascinating, moving. It's all these things and more:
RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, "Restrepo," named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
 It's a hard watch, but well worth it.

Coupled with that is a piece I came across in Foreign Policy, an email from Lt Gen (Ret) David Barno addressing his sons after watching Restrepo:
Small unit leadership makes all the difference between good units and bad units, units that get nearly overrun and those that prevail. "Battle Company" had very strong leadership, and that is far more the norm across our units today than the exception…but there are exceptions. Our small unit leadership in this war I personally believe is the very best, by a big measure, of any war Americans have fought in -- a strong commentary on the AVF [all-volunteer force] and its quality of growing great leaders. After ten years of war, this obvious attribute would have been unthinkable in the past - Vietnam is a particular example of an Army destroyed by the ten year war it fought. And I saw first-hand what that looked like afterwards as a new lieutenant.
On another topic, the (lack of) evolution of the Nigerial email scam, says something fascinating about how these types of activities are run and the level of intelligence behind those who operate them:
However, On the Media points us to a fascinating research paper by Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley, and a Wall Street Journal article about the research, which reveal why it still makes sense for Nigerian scammers to say they're from Nigeria:

It weeds out all the non-suckers.

Think about it from the scammer's point of view. With advance fee scams, they need to string along someone for a while. A live sucker can be quite valuable, but also involves quite a bit of work. So, for it to be worthwhile, they actually need exceptionally gullible people and by flat out saying they're from Nigeria, given how closely associated that country is with such scams, they quickly weed out the people who are probably smart enough to realize they're getting conned. Since the cost to them of spamming everyone is close to nothing, you may be confused about why you keep getting "Nigerian prince" emails, but they don't care about you. In fact, in ignoring those emails, you're kind of doing them a favor by not bothering them with time-consuming efforts that won't pay off.
I can't recommend Bill Clinton's speech to the DNC highly enough. It's rare to see someone with this much skill speak, and he's at the absolute top of his game while he does it. Agree with his politics or not, this is amazing public speaking:

And a great summary of why it was such a great speech in The Fix:
Bill Clinton took to the stage Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention to reassure Americans about President Obama’s leadership in tough economic times. And he did that, pointing especially to the tough hand Obama was dealt.
But the former president’s most important lines of the night came when he took aim at the opposition party that he once worked successfully with in the White House: the Republicans.
Littered throughout Clinton’s speech were sharp jabs at the GOP. And each one of them was delivered with an easy smile on his face that belied the stark charges.
As always, Nate Silver is the man to watch if you like the polling/analysis of political campaigns as much as I do. His modelling is often right on the money, and although his methodology is sometimes a little more opaque than I might like (professional envy), he's only grown to be a more effective commentator since moving to The New York Times.
There was almost nothing worth talking about in the polls that were out on Wednesday. So let’s take a quick look forward instead — to about a week from now, by which point we will have plenty of data on what effect the Democratic National Convention had on the polls.
Measuring the bounce the incumbent party gets out of its convention is trickier than doing so for the challenger, which holds its convention first. That is because in a year like this one, when the conventions are so closely spaced, the polls will not have had any time to return to equilibrium after the challenger’s convention bounce.
I think that'll do for now, hope you enjoy. I'll do some of my own thinking soon, rather than sharing other people's. I promise.

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