Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Thomas Ricks knows "transition" is not verb

"Petraeus and Odierno reversed some of Casey’s directives. ... formally demoted `transitioning' to Iraqi security forces from the top American priority to number seven on their mission list. Replacing it as the number-one task was the mission of protecting the Iraqi people."
 As I take my leave of the most thrilling, important, trenchant book that I've read since The Man Without Qualities, I highlight a small but significant additional reason to treasure it: The author, Thomas E. Ricks, clearly thinks good writing important, and he is unafraid to say that others should do so as well.

The sneer in those inverted commas around the odious transitioning above made me cheer, and it's worth noting that Ricks sneered in the context of commending two generals who de-emphasized "transitioning" in their effort to salvage a sloppy, directionless U.S. military effort in Iraq.

Ricks concludes his analysis of U.S. military leadership since World War II with an  epilogue of suggestions for undoing the damage wrought by incompetent generals and the diseased culture that the Army had become. Among these is better education (as opposed to training) for generals.
"As an added benefit," Ricks suggests, "many would learn to write clearly, a skill notably lacking in many American generals in this era of PowerPoint bullet-point briefings that lack verbs and causal thinking and all too often confuse a statement of goals with a strategy for actually achieving them."
Thomas E. Ricks, you are the man.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Dana King said...

I understand people who read this blog--as well as its author--are more likely to hard core about such things; that doesn't mean we aren't right.

The biggest thing I've learned since I started writing seriously is how much better formed ideas are when they are written out, either by hand or on a computer screen. Not just notes--though that's better than nothing--writing out what you want to say forces you to think in a manner that conveys meaning, and does not assume understanding. I can't say how many times I've had what seemed like a good idea for something as simple as a Facebook post, then take the time to draft it. Sometimes it leads to a much better crafted argument; sometimes it shows me it's best to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than to speak and remove all doubt.

October 09, 2013  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, understanding the generals is likely going to become even more important for us, what with the way local municipal police forces are starting to look more and more like paramilitary units.

October 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, we are right. If I had to pick twenty-five smart people from among a group of 1,000, and I was under deadline pressure, with no time for discussion, questions, or intelligence tests, I'd establish one principle: Anyone who uses "transition" or "partner" as a verb is weeded out as an idiot, easy prey for verbal fashions and more interested in sounding important than analyzing the matter at hand.

One of the landmarks in my thinking about my newspaper happened the day a high-ranking editor, thankfully since departed, used "impact" as a verb.

Ricks does use "reach out" as a verb once, but buried deep in his end notes. probably around page 500. I assume fatigue is to blame, and I absolve him of guilt.

October 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, that sounds like the beginning of a dystopian story in which empowered but disembudgeted local police forces take charge.

Paramilitary-style local police may be more a matter of tactics than of strategy--of immediate local aims rather than big-picture thinking. Ricks is big on this, criticizing officers who focused on one when the other was called for.

October 09, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

It has always been a source of puzzlement to me to find people who insist of writing even though they have little regard for the impact and importance of words.

But then... it is a free world.

October 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My view may be skewed because of my profession, but I think part of the problem is that everyone thinks he or she can write, whether or not he or she can in fact write. This is especially true in my profession.

Also, you know that old complaint that people can't write as well as they used, and its corollary: Older people write better than younger ones? They are absolutely true.

October 12, 2013  

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