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Just stick to the manual

July 22, 2007|David L. Ulin; Nick Owchar

JUST in time for the renewal of the war debate in Congress, the University of Chicago Press has released "The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" (420 pp., $15 paper), a thick guide to strategy -- military and otherwise -- with forewords by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. James F. Amos. It's a nifty volume, not only because it gives you a sense of what our most highly regarded military theorists are thinking but because sometimes what they're thinking is the last thing you'd expect. Especially interesting is a section called "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency Operations," which tells us: "Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction" and "Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is."

In conjunction with the "Field Manual," University of Chicago has also put out "Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II" (44 pp., $10) -- a historical oddity that sheds a certain unintended light upon our current woes. Among its suggestions? "Manners are important"; "Avoid offering opinions on internal politics"; and "No preaching." Most of all, "use common sense on all occasions. And remember that every American soldier is an unofficial ambassador of good will."

-- David L. Ulin


The month's other R-word: Rushdie

At the expense of J.K. Rowling, a little space should be given to a novelist whose difficult situation has been forgotten in all the Harry Potter hype: Salman Rushdie.

Sign and Sight ( is posting that a German writer is seeking permission to hold a reading of Rushdie's 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses" -- which led to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's pronouncement of a fatwa calling for his death -- in a Cologne, Germany, mosque after its construction is completed. Journalist and author Gunter Wallraff ("The Undesirable Journalist") casts this reading as a crucial part of an open dialogue between East and West that would have "an extremely liberating effect. Just imagine the scene in the mosque: The reading takes place, some find what they hear to be not bad at all, and some even laugh. That would open a lot of doors."

-- Nick Owchar


A street-level look at life in L.A.

I'm not sure what FourStory ( really is -- a website dedicated (in its own words) to "fact-based housing advocacy with a human perspective" or an online magazine. The site, which went live July 8, features a manifesto and loose personal pieces about the vagaries of city living, but the real draw is the first installment of "The Underbelly," a serialized crime novella by Gary Phillips, author of the Ivan Monk mysteries and a longtime activist in L.A.

"The Underbelly" is not political fiction per se -- except in the sense that all of Phillips' work is political, deeply rooted in his own sense of community -- but it does encompass downtown development and grass-roots advocacy, all filtered through the story of a skid row murder that reverberates in unexpected ways.

It's not clear how often new installments will appear, but it's worth checking out because Phillips is a true Los Angeles original, a local, born and raised, with a nuanced sense of the layers of the city, of how it works at the level of its neighborhoods. (Full disclosure: He has written, on occasion, for The Times.)

His writing also offers a compelling example of the way fiction can touch on larger concerns. Indeed, if "The Underbelly" has anything to tell us, it's that Los Angeles remains a character in its own ongoing drama, a city (to borrow a phrase from Raymond Chandler) "no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness."



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