Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

And I'd like to take this moment to reflect on the strangeness of this particular holiday. I mean, I'm as happy as the next guy to take any given calendrical excuse for a celebration, but really, it's just so arbitrary. And it happens every year; one would think the quadrennial February 29 would attract more attention.

Oh well, maybe I'm just bitter because -- as usual for the last few years -- I've got a nasty cold for New Year's Eve, which is always a bit of a damper on the revelry. One of these years, I'll be in a position to throw the large, classy New Year's party I've always pictured myself throwing. You know, the kind of party in the holiday ads for top-shelf liquor brands. Instead, I'm driving down to hit the bars of Milwaukee, a city I love, but of which the infrequent positive mention contains, without fail, the phrase "blue-collar charm". Tomorrow I'll have the inveitable comments on why I'm not making resolutions, as well as photos of my big Christmas project: the Gingerbread Fortress.

Election Thoughts I

I'll admit: I haven't been following the progress of next year's presidential elections with my usual partisan gusto. I've been consumed with a general apathy on the subject, despite the fact that the next president of the U.S. will almost certainly be making decisions on issues of utmost importance to the future of our country and our world. The problem is that I just haven't been able to get very excited about any of the candidates on offer. I haven't been able to pin down exactly why this would be the case, but then a pundit made it all clear to me. (Thanks, pundit). The problem, at least as far as the Republican contenders are concerned, is that the most likely front-runners for the Republican candidacy are polar opposites politically, and their contest for the nomination could well tear apart the Republican party.

One of these days I'll do the obligatory my-thoughts-on-the-candidates post, but before I can do that, I'll actually have to sit down and do some thinking about them.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Local News

I love the BBC Online main news page when you refuse to tell it which regional edition to give you; it's forced to try to give you all of them. There are several upsides to this. One is that I actually get to follow world news, as opposed to just happenings in the countries the media has decided matter to me. Two is that you occasionally pick up hilariously inane local news items from places like the Outer Hebrides, such as this mysterious container which has washed up in charmingly-named Stinky Bay on the island of Benbecula. Awesome. There is no way I could have ever considered myself an informed person without that particular news item.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fitting Responses

The various international responses to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto have been so perfectly fitting, they could hardly be caricatured. The United States has condemned those who attempt to stop the progress of democracy; the United Kingdom has called for unity in the face of terror; the EU has condemned the use of violence; and Russia has stressed the importance of maintaining stability. You wonder if they've all got big files of prepared statements on hand for such occasions.

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan and head of that country's most popular party, has been assassinated. Choosing to participate in democratic politics in a decidedly undemocratic country, Bhutto must have well understood and accepted the dangers she faced. Her courage and commitment to democracy (if not her record of performance in government) are to be commended.

This does not bode well for the future of Pakistan. The scheduled elections for January are now thrown into question, and we have yet to hear how President Musharraf will respond. It had been looking recently that his path back to legitimate rule (following his dissolution of the government and declaration of emergency rule) would intersect with Bhutto's return to from exile. When he finally agreed to give up his uniform and run as a civilian in the next elections, he seemed to be paving the way for the logical coalition between his own great personal popularity and Bhutto's genuine electoral popularity. Now, on the other hand, the possibility of emergency rule looms yet again. Bhutto's assassination took place in the middle of Rawalpindi, Pakistan's "garrison city", the beating heart of that country's enormous military and security forces, and what ought to have been the safest place in all Pakistan. If terrorist forces have the capability of striking there, then no place is safe.

This of course does raise the question of who could have been behind this attack. Unfortunately the number of people and groups hoping to obstruct the democratic process in Pakistan makes it impossible to narrow down suspects on motive alone. Musharraf will almost certainly take some scrutiny, particularly if he can use this attack as justification to maintain his powers. Taliban remnants and al-Qaeda splinters are also possible suspects. My gut feeling, however, makes me suspect the involvement of Pakistani intelligence. One hears now and then shadowy rumor of 'rogue elements' in the top echelons of the Pakistani security and intelligence community: whispers of their involvement in bombings in India, in providing Peshawar safehouses for Taliban and al-Qaeda in transit to and from Afghanistan, in undermining Musharraf's response to the militants who occupied Islamabad's Red Mosque. I continue to suspect that Pakistan, much like Iran, is a country whose power struggles take place deep below the surface, well out of sight of the rest of the world, bubbling up in resignations, firings, exiles, and assassinations that seem strangely out of context to outside observers.

I've held for some time that Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria are three countries that don't get worried about enough, and three countries I would be unsurprised to find myself deployed to before the end of my Army career. I hope I'll never have to look at my little list as having been prophetic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

That Was The Worst Christmas Ever

Or at least, I should hope getting mauled by a tiger puts you in Worst Christmas Ever territory. If not, well, geez dude, remind me never to visit your house around the holidays. Seriously, though, what a terrible thing to go through, at least for the family of the person killed. Seems like the injuries were fairly minor for the other two, in which case, the story value is pretty much off the charts. "Oh, that scar? Yeah, that's from when I was mauled by a tiger. On Christmas."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I was going to write an eloquent and beautiful Christmas greeting, but it appears my sister beat me to it. I don't think she'd mind if I just piggyback on her Christmas message:

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Welcome to the Future

Have robots clean your gutters!

I actually read a review of this in Popular Mechanics, apparently it doesn't actually work all that much better than just cleaning your gutters by hand, but it's still worth it for the sheer entertainment factor. I believe it.

Square America

I've added a new entry to the Blogrow: Square America. It's a collection of photographic ephemera, pictures taken in an earlier time which have mostly lost their context and now stand alone. There's a strange sort of beauty here, sort of a vicarious nostalgia, maybe? It's the sort of thing that tears down a bit of the anonymity of modern life and reminds us that every nameless face in the street has a story. On that note, I should add Found Magazine as well. Same concept, but focused on modern ephemera: handwritten notes, reminders, shopping lists, photos and such that people have found on the street, in library books, or just about anywhere. Some of my favorites.


So I'm sitting in a coffeeshop in Uptown Minneapolis, and I'm reminded again how much I love the Twin Cities. Chicago will forever be my favorite American city, probably my favorite in the world, but I will always feel at home here in the Cities. On my brief and infrequent visits I now regret that I spent so little time up here in the four years I spent in college less than an hour away. I may get my chance, though; I've decided that if I were to go for my Masters, I'm pretty sure it would be here, at the University of Minnesota. And I'd live in St. Paul. I know Uptown's the hip, cool place for young people, and it's a great area (imagine a better-dressed, somewhat more conservative version of Madison's State Street or Berkeley), but I'd still live in St. Paul. It's the quieter, older, more family-friendly of the Cities. Also cheaper. Plus, there are tons of beautiful, huge, early-20th century apartments, built in an era when apartments were for living, not just existing. Many of them have dining rooms (gasp!) and large porches and such. Can you tell I'm ready for a place of my own? After six years in communal housing, who wouldn't be?

'Tis The Season


Monday, December 17, 2007


This recent Wondermark got me thinking. While I was in college, it was a real pet peeve of mine when people would strike up conversations in a shared foreign language, effectively excluding non-speakers from the conversation. This struck me at the time as extremely rude. Later, while studying at a dedicated language school, there was a sort of etiquette for using foreign languages for private asides; for example, using eye contact and body language to keep any non-speakers engaged (and to assure them the side conversation wasn't at their expense). Now out of that environment, I find myself with sarcastic comments to make and nobody to make them to without resorting to murmuring and whispering, which now seems so crass. It's so much more satisfying to make your comments loud, clear, and incomprehensible.

Should Have Gotten a Picture...

Of the nativity scene proudly displayed in front of the Tarot/palm/psychic reading emporium I drove past in Great Lake City yesterday. It's up there with Lutheran Lucciola's Gregorian-chant-piping-Buddhist friend, but more inexplicable.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Real Meanings

Went to my darling niece's Sunday School Christmas program this evening (no, not that niece, rather her younger cousin). Are all pre-packaged children's Christmas programs like this? I guess so. My mom has despaired of finding a decent program for their church's youth, commenting on how they're all the same sentimental message about the "real meaning of Christmas" without ever delving into that meaning to any depth at all. The irony is that a 30-minute program on the "real meaning of Christmas" ends up devoting all of 45 seconds to Christ. And in the meantime, we get to sit through all the kids. who. are. reading. their. lines. for. the. first. time. along with thekidswhocanmemorizebutneedsomeworkontheirelocution and the kids ... who thought they knew who thought they knew their lines but ... just need just need a little reminder. My vote? Stick to the script. Let the kids rattle it off in charmingly memorized unison, let the shepherds hit each other with their staffs, let the angels squirm in their itchy tinsel wings, and let us all be done with it. And maybe, just maybe, let the Gospel be preached to all those parents who haven't been in church since Easter. All the rest is just trying my patience.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My mom's fridge now contains no less than four different types of cookie dough waiting to be baked. And I've got a drawerfull of spoons.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wasting Time

For the first time in, oh, two years or so, I've got more time than I know what to do with for a few weeks. So I finally get to spend as much time as I want sitting at the computer, drinking the beverage of the hour (getting 'bout time to trade coffee for beer), and staring at optical illusions, for example. Hat tip Shane.

I like this illusion a lot. The same thing happens if you've ever stared out the window while sitting in a rear-facing seat on a high-speed train. When the train comes to a stop, the entire world appears to be approaching you. It's unsettling until you realize what's happening. Strangely, the effect isn't reversed by watching things approach. Our brains are apparently hardwired for moving forward.

This one is downright unsettling to me for some reason.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On My Way Home

Now is the time for the long journey back from the lands beyond the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River (all set about with fever-trees). I'm on my way back to the great grayish North for a well-deserved nearly-a-month of leave. My parents came down to Georgia for my Airborne graduation ceremony, and my dad's driving back up with me. This noon we'll stop in at the home of the Elephant's Child for a visit.

I've still got lots of thoughts about Airborne; hopefully within the next few days I'll pound out some reflections on the most distinctive sort of school I've ever been through.

Friday, December 7, 2007


In reference to the Elephant's Child's thoughts on church ceilings, ponder the incredible continuity of something like 3,500 years of gold stars on blue ceilings. Beautiful. This is from the temple complex of Karnak at Luxor in Egypt, the site of the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes.

Monday, December 3, 2007


No jump today. Too windy :(

That doesn't mean we didn't still spend a 12-hour day getting into harnesses, sitting around, getting our harnesses checked several times, getting cleared to jump, loading the first ranks on the C130s, then getting out of it all when they decided it wasn't happening. Kind of frustrating. We're trying again tomorrow. It's supposed to be clear with low winds, so we ought to get both jumps in, which will only set us back a day, then. If we miss another jump, though, we'll have to jump on Friday, which means we'll have our graduation ceremony right on the drop zone. Honestly, as frustrating as being delayed is, that'd be kind of cool ;)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting Real

Yesterday we got lined up in our final jump manifest formation. As in, the lines we'll be in when we load the planes and the order in which we'll jump out of them. So yeah, it's finally getting real that I'm going to be jumping out of a plane on Monday. I'm remarkably unperturbed by that thought, though the fact that I'm not worried now makes me concerned that I'll be more nervous than I now expect when I get on the plane. If that makes any sense at all. In any case, there are concerns, but mostly realistic, manageable ones. The course averages about five injuries (serious enough to prevent finishing subsequent jumps) per class of 360 or so, and that's in five jumps. So each jumper faces a 0.2% chance of significant injury per jump. Pretty minimal, and since most injuries are jumper induced, and I'm performing somewhat above average at the basic tasks, I'm confident I won't be one of those five.