Book Recommendation

I finished reading Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer last night.  Great combination– Tillman’s story is truly fascinating and Krakauer is a terrific writer (Into Thin Air remains my favorite non-fiction book ever).  I had remembered that Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire and that there was somewhat of a cover-up, but I had no idea of the depth of the bad faith and malfeasance with which the US Army acted to cover this up, rather than ruin the great political story of Tillman going down fighting as a hero.  That’s actually only the last 1/3 or so of the book, the major portion of the book is really just the amazing story of Tillman’s life until then.  I knew he was an incredible fellow, but had no idea he managed to carry a 3.8 GPA while starring for a major Division I football team.  I also had no idea that he was quite the liberal free-thinker and strongly opposed to the Iraq war.  Krakauer also does a good job giving a sense of the context in Afghanistan without bogging down the narrative.  Still, the extraordinary senselessness of the friendly fire incident that led to Tillman’s death and the Army cover-up are the highlight of the book.  Dexter Filkins’ somewhat ambivalent review summarizes this wonderfully, so I’ll copy:

While most of the facts have been re­ported before, Krakauer performs a valuable service by bringing them all together — particularly those about the cover-up. The details, even five years later, are nauseating to read: After Tillman’s death, Army commanders, aided and abetted by members of the Bush administration, violated many of their own rules, not to mention elementary standards of decency, to turn the killing into a propaganda coup for the American side. Tillman’s clothing and notebooks were burned — a flouting of Army regulations — and he was fast-tracked for a posthumous Silver Star, which, as Krakauer shows, was a fraud. Members of his unit were ordered to stay silent about the manner of his death. Even part of Tillman’s body disappeared. Most important, Army commanders went to great lengths to keep the facts of Tillman’s death a secret and allowed the story that he died at the hands of the Taliban to flourish. The low point came at his memorial service, where he was lionized before television cameras, while officials who knew the truth stayed quiet.

Anyway, wellI worth reading.  And feel free to ask to borrow my copy after I use it for an upcoming book discussion.

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Gilbert & Sullivan and false certainty

I got in a little debate at lunch yesterday about the origins of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Model of a Modern Major General."  I was willing to bet Bill Boettcher $100 that it was from HMS Pinafore, which I recall my dad dragging me to a bunch of times, whereas Bill was quite convinced it was from Pirates of Penzance (which to his discredit, he did not think was G&S).  Fortunately, Bill backed down from the bet in the face of my certainty.  Here's a clip of it from the Pirates of Penzance (notice Kevin Kline)

I was especially abashed as just yesterday I had been having a conversation with David about how I never insist on something unless I am truly certain (after assuring my whole family that surely the bike race coming through Geneva, Switzerland during our 1990 visit could not be the Tour de France, as we were in Switzerland– little did I know then it regularly ventures outside of France).  So, the amateur cognitive scientist in me was really curious as to how I could have been so wrong.  Anyway, I realized that the G&S song I know so well from HMS Pinafore is "He is an Englishman," but since I think "Modern Major General" has more cultural penetration, when I thought "famous G&S song I know really well," that's what stuck in my brain despite my being 100% wrong that it was from Penzance.  Anyway, I will now redouble my efforts to not speak with certainty unless I truly am certain.  We'll have to see how that works.

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