Sunday, January 27, 2008


There's a lot of impulse these days to cast futurism as a hopeless exercise and mock self-styled futurists as pie-in-the-sky dreamers. This is invariably accompanied by sardonic references to flying cars, atomic kitchens and robot maids. Thing is, a lot of mid-century futurists weren't that far off, as the Paleo-Future blog regularly notes. And a few of them were almost reassuringly accurate. Consider this piece from 1950 predicting the year 2000, posted on Paleo-Future's sister blog Older Than Me. A few excerpts:
A new world unifying power - the United States - will have taken its place in the center of international affairs: forging a new "empire," different from Britain's, different from Rome's, indeed not an empire at all in the old sense, but a new core, a new catalytic force.
Rather prescient, no?
By the year 2000 some sort of world federation idea should have taken real form, with the United States, because of its commercial interest in the development of other lands, because of the blood it will have shed in their behalf, holding a lot of votes.
Or, as it happens, holding exactly as many as every tin-pot kleptocracy and failed state. Sigh.
The first man-made star will be circling around the earth by the year 2000.
Amazing that they failed to foresee that Sputnik was only 7 years away!
The nation's industrial and agricultural plant will be able to support 300 million persons 50 years from now - twice the present population.
U.S. population according to the 2000 Census? 281,421,906. Not bad.
Medicine by the year 2000 will have advanced the length of life of women to an expectation of nearly 80 and of men to over 75.

Some movie theaters of A.D. 2000 may be dome-shaped, with ceiling and walls arching together like the sky. These surfaces would be the “screen.”
I could keep quoting this forever. It's a pretty long article, and most of it is quotable. Read the whole thing, if you're into that sort of thing.

This sort of thing really feeds my internal struggle between my affinity for this sort of mid-century optimism about mankind's ability to craft a better future and my Dark Lutheran conviction that we must not put our hope in this world doomed to the flames. Not to mention my deep-seated distrust of any sort of optimism that approaches utopianism, realizing that no force has unleashed more horrors on humanity than the vain conceit that man can build a perfect world. So where should I find a middle ground? As terrible of a film as it was on so many levels, one line from The Day After Tomorrow sums up my understanding of a Christian's proper orientation to the future of this world: "save as many as you can". Our mission is not to "save the world", or endeavor for any grand solution to society's ills, political or otherwise, but rather to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and comfort the dying, never forgetting that this. world. will. burn.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Well, the day has come. After over two years in training, I've finally inprocessed my first real unit. And not just any unit, I'm now part of the 82nd Airborne, the All-Americans, America's Guard of Honor, and our nation's Quick-Reaction Force. Oh yeah, I'm already drinking the Kool-Aid. I know full well that every unit in the Army probably talks itself up, tells their new soldiers how they are so much better than every other unit out there. But here, I actually believe it, though with obvious qualifications. I'm sure that there are units out there that are better at their particular missions than the 82nd would be, just by dint of specialization, but as far as traditional big-Army conventional-warfare operations go, I think we're probably right to brag that nobody can match the 82nd.

I think I'm going to be very happy with my time here. In one afternoon of inprocessing my brigade, I've already had the chance to be impressed by the leadership of the rear detachment. Which is telling, because it's not not exactly the cream of the crop who generally get left behind to hold down the fort while the unit is deployed. Also, it's very refreshing to get a sense of how much difference there is in the atmosphere in the real Army, versus in a training environment, particularly regarding political correctness. I couldn't count the number of times someone briefing us said something along the lines of "and if anything I've said today has offended you in any way, well, you can kiss my ass". Ahh, it's like a breath of fresh air.

A few choice quotes from our in-briefings:

  • "Other units deploy their troops to places; to Iraq, to Afghanistan. We send our troops to War" (capitalization inferred).
  • "We don't go to Iraq, we don't go to Afghanistan. Wherever we are, we're in Braggistan."
  • (Responding to a new soldier's troubles obtaining on-post housing). "No, you're not going on a waiting list. We're the 82nd Airborne, our needs are simple. All we demand is special treatment."
Nice. As I said, I think I'm going to like it here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Army Limbo

It's a terrible reality of life in the Army that the units that govern transitions from one station to another (and as such present the first impressions of any new unit or duty station) are invariably dreadful, mind-numbing places staffed by the dregs of the Army, the proverbial "cream of the crap". From the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where initial enlistment processing is completed, to Reception battalion where soldiers are in-processed to Basic Training, to the Replacement Detachment where I'm currently awaiting my in-processing into the 82nd Airborne, this limbo status presents one of the least attractive faces of the Army. In conversations on what I love about the Army, I've often mentioned the fact that the Army is far better than civilian society at pigeonholing incompetent people into dead-end positions where they can do little damage. Unfortunately, one of those pigeonholes seems to be the cadre positions in these sorts of processing units. And there is certainly damage to be done, not least to the careers of far too many young soldiers who, knowing nothing of the Army and unaccustomed to looking beyond the next day or three, end up going AWOL because they can't see what Army life is beyond Limbo. Now, if it sounds like all the cadre in Repo are total dirtbags, let me assure you, this isn't the case; several of our platoon sergeants seem like excellent NCOs. Good soldiers can certainly end up as cadre in Limbo as well, apparently just through terrible luck. The problem is that good leadership works more slowly than bad; a good NCO simply cannot make the sort of impression in a week that a bad one can. The reverse is true as well: since hundreds of soldiers process through every week, the only soldiers who will ever become personally known to the cadre are the trouble-makers and dirtbags, leading them to treat all in-processing soldiers as trouble-makers and dirtbags.

All in all, this seems to be really sticky systemic problem. Fellow soldiers have had similar experiences at MEPSs, reception battalions, and replacement detachments all across the Army, which leads me to think it's a fairly intractable problem as well; if there were an easy solution, the Army would have implemented it by now. The one upshot is that life in regular units always seems brighter after going through Limbo. That's a pretty crappy upshot.


My romantic side cannot help but feel that the snow that fell in Baghdad yesterday is a sign of hope. I mean, I don't know why it should be, but it's important not to underestimate the symbolic power of something like this, either. In any case, the thought makes me happy.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Back In Army-Land

It's a bit of a shock, after nearly a month of leave, to be brought back to the (sur-)reality of my life by a sign like this one:

Awesome, huh? The acronym, by the way, is shortened a bit, and pronounced "swick". Why not "swicks"? Who knows. The same reason BNCOC is pronounced "bee-knock", probably.

In other news, turns out I reported early for no reason. Today we had a formation to turn in medical and personnel records to start the process, but they called out 20-some names to the side. Turns out they just took the last people to have checked in, and we won't be inprocessing until next week. So this week we'll just be sitting around doing casual details and such. Which is pretty frustrating. I had been consoling myself with the fact that I'd only be stuck in the replacements company for a few more days, but apparently that is not to the be the case. On top of that, we don't have any wall lockers in our barracks room, because the barracks is so full with all the people inprocessing. So I'll basically be living out of my car for the next two weeks. Awesome. Welcome back to the Army.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Body Armor

Michael Yon puts in what I hope will be the last words on the body armor "controversy". In this Army, in this war, our top leadership in the field has faced the same sort of danger as every other grunt out there. If they don't want Dragonskin for themselves or their own sons, then I don't want it either. Simple as that, right? I'm really tired of hearing my leaders slandered as evil scheming corporate puppets willing to trade my safety for a lucrative contract. And should it surprise anyone that this slander is being led by the manufacturer of the rejected armor design? Really, is this all that difficult to see through?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Thoughts From The Road

Here are a few observations I've made on the trip to North Carolina, as well as a few from other recent long solo trips:

  • Ruby Tuesday's salad bar is by far the healthiest and tastiest quick meal to be found reliably along interstates throughout the South.
  • Washer fluid is probably your second-most important fluid after gasoline for winter driving.
  • AM radio gets progressively worse as you approach the Appalachians. I didn't even bother trying the FM dial.
  • The Appalachians are beautiful, however, even the parts visible from the interstate. I can only assume they're even better elsewhere.
  • Ron Paul has apparently cornered the "people willing to wave signs from overpasses" demographic.
  • When a car's roof is covered in ice, eventually it will warm up to the point that it all lets go at once, flying off in a huge ice explosion on the freeway and making it look like a surgical strike with some sort of ice missile. This is totally awesome.
  • North Carolina stoplights have the longest wait for a left-turn arrow that I have ever experienced. This is not awesome. Pretty much the opposite, in fact.
  • Our nation boasts an incredible selection of strange, intriguing, and potentially hilarious tourist traps and dubiously-named "attractions" along her highways. I've been to Wall Drug and the SPAM Museum, and neither disappointed. Some day I will take a trip and stop at every one I see.
  • If the young women working at the burrito place where I had dinner tonight are anywhere close to a representative sample, I like North Carolina already.
That is all.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Heading Out

These weeks have leave have flown by, and now I can't quite believe that I've heading out today on the road to North Carolina, and I probably won't be back to Wisconsin for most of the year. Strange, too, to think that much of the meantime will be spent in Iraq. Well, I ought to be packing rather than blogging. There will probably be some more thoughts from the road later this week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gingerbread Fortress

At some point in the middle of December, a friend of mine casually mentioned that she was planning to build a gingerbread fortress and invited me to help out. Well, it never worked out for me to help her out with her fortress, but I sat down a few days before Christmas to build one myself. About an hour and a half into cutting out templates, I began to suspect that my job in the Army probably isn't using quite making use enough of my creative energies. Once I get settled into a schedule, I'm really going to have to take up a hobby or three. In any case, I spent most of a day designing, mixing, cutting and baking the gingerbread pieces, then enlisted the help of the Elephant's Child in assembly and decoration. Between the two of us, well, you can see the results.

I present, Gingerbread Fortress 2007:

This is in my parents' church's kitchen. My mom doesn't have orange countertops.

The attackers seem to have the upper hand. That battering ram is serious business, and nobody expected the siege towers.

Or the grappling hooks.

It's been a long, tough siege, and the infirmary is full. Grandma thought it was the firing squad. If it were the firing squad, they'd have frosting blindfolds, not frosting bandages. Don't think I didn't think about it.

Perhaps a thorough interrogation of the captives ("Not my gumdrop buttons!") may reveal a way out of this mess.

The situation is getting desperate. Will the walls hold?