Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Weather Report

So it's getting a bit warmer around here. Right now it's sort of a typical summerlike temperature. It'd be pretty hot for comfort if you had to work outside, but it'd be fine for lounging in a hammock or a day at the beach. Trouble is, right now it's midnight; sun went down five hours ago. This afternoon was moderately hellish, around 115, and the wind feeling like God's own blowdryer off the desert. Can't wait to see what 130 feels like. Today we fell again into one of the classic Iraq conversations: don't even mention that there are people willing to fight over this place, it's amazing just that there's anyone still here at all. You could just start walking, pick a direction, eventually you'd end up someplace better. Except South, I guess, because then you'd end up in Yemen. I don't hear good things.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


For those out there who are not yet convinced that we live in a fallen, broken world, comes news from Austria of a man who kept his daughter imprisoned in the basement for 24 years and fathered 7 children by her. Read the story, and notice how confusing it is to keep track of who is who. The perpetrator is both father and grandfather to the children. His daughter is both mother and half-sister to her children. Our language lacks the words to speak of such depravity.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Michael Yon on Iraq

Michael Yon has an awesome interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review. If you read one link of mine, make this the one. As I've said before, nobody else who is free to talk about it is in a better position than Michael Yon to understand the realities of Iraq.

Is anyone out there making "Petraeus '12" bumper stickers yet? Because I'd love to slap one on our HMMWV.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Live-Blogging 10,000BC

While I was up in Baghdad recently I bought a hajivision DVD of Roland Emmerich's prehistoric epic 10,000BC. I didn't so much want to see it as enjoy the experience of tearing apart the anachronism, just a few minutes in, it's as bad as I expected. I do still want to see it, but I don't want to feel like it's a complete waste of my time, so I'll be live-blogging it. Spoiler alert. Like you care, because if you take my preemptive advice, you won't see this movie.
  • I can't quite place the imagined location. Everything would speak of Eurasia to me, what with the mountains and mammoth and such, except our heroes just reached a jungle full of giant, flightless birds of prey. This could work, in South America or New Zealand, except that the bad guys ride horses, which are strictly Eurasian in antiquity. Oh, nevermind. This movie is clearly not trying to be taken anywhere nearly that seriously.
  • Speaking of the bad guys -- tall pale figures with straight hair and aquiline noses who ride horses and terrorize those who don't -- we actually do seem to be looking at a semi-believable imagining of the Indo-European expansion in Eurasia, which many scholars believe was facilitated, if not defined, by the successful (and likely unique) domestication of the horse. In which case, go us. Am I allowed that sentiment?
  • Forget the issue of location, now they're coming to a desert. This within a few days walking of the jungle and the snow-covered mountains, remember.
  • Ooh, and our hero just saved a sabre-toothed cat from a trap, after asking it not to eat him, Aesop's fable-style. Oh, and now it's defused a confrontation with a bunch of Zulus, who conveniently have a prophesy about "the one who speaks to the spear-tooth", who will lead them in battle against the horsemen.
  • I'm already seeing the whole ideal of this film coming together. We've got the standard celebration of primitive society and over and against the degradations of "civilization". It's the same thing we saw in Apocalypto, except that movie was executed with far more depth and resonance. It only makes sense the man who brought us The Day After Tomorrow would be pretty down on civilization. And there are those out there who -- understanding that "stopping global warming", or even any serious attempt to do so, means locking a billion or so people in dire poverty -- have an urgent need to romanticize "traditional lifestyles", by which they mean "abject squalor" and which they, of course, have no intention of emulating.
  • Ooooh, all the brown and black people are joining together to rescue their captives from the evil white horsemen. They're marching across a massive desert to get there. Good for them.
  • Now we've reached the city of the horsemen, which shows some remarkable architectural achievements for the early stone age. I suppose, when you've domesticated the mammoth to help build your pyramids, things are easier. So are these supposed to be the builders of the Egyptian pyramids? Plausible (minus the lingering location issue) except that Egypt always had a surplus of native labor. Most musings about the pyramids wonder about how they managed to get enough people to build them, but never seem to consider the possibility that they were built precisely because Egypt's leaders needed something to consume the excess labor of a heavily populated land whose climate leaves four months of the year free of agricultural labor.
  • So our hero's captive love interest bears scars that mark her as the one prophesied to portend the collapse of the god-king's evil civilization. How perfect.
  • This is feeling more and more like a ham-handed, Hollywood-ized Apocalypto, with precious few of that film's strengths. Sad.
  • Yep, there's the climax, pathetic attempt at meaningful tragedy included. Oh well, there was some nice imagery, it's always pretty cool to see CGI mammoth running amok through a stone-age construction site. I'll pay $1.50 for that any day of the week. Even if it's got that videotaped-in-the-theater look of the lower-grade hajivision.
  • So, wait a minute, where exactly was the city surrounding the temple complex and pyramid? Or were a few dozen priests and a few hundred slave-drivers all that was necessary to constitute a pyramid-building civilization? I can't be the only person who noticed this. I suppose the temple complex could be a ways out of town, I could see that being convenient for the god-king.
  • Nevermind, forget about the pathetic attempt at tragedy, because the person we just thought had died just got saved by a mammoth looking really intently in her direction and sorta waving his trunk. It could only have been a better moment if his trunk had lit up like ETs fingertip.
  • The movie ends with one of the black tribes (from the desert) giving the gift of agriculture (which apparently is nothing more than a handful of seeds) to the hero's tribe (from the snowy mountains) to replace their lost food source because the mammoth aren't migrating any more (for no explicable reason). Does any of my farming and gardening readers not see this working out quite as rosily as the epilogue implies?
  • Ah, credits. God be praised. So yeah, don't see this movie.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The Iranian regime is certainly taking their worldwide PR game wherever they can, and now seem to be fighting it out on Wikipedia. Check out Ethnic Minorities of Iran.
The main ethno-linguistic minority groups in Iran are the Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turkmen, Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians. [...] While many of these ethnic groups have their own languages, cultures, and often literature, their languages and cultures are essentially regional variations of Persian and are all native to Iran.
This claim is practically Chinese in its audacity, and there are many similarities between both nations' needs to justify their empires. Of the above list, only Kurdish is linguistically related to Persian, while the Azeris and Turkmen are descendants of relatively recent Turkic invaders from very far away, indeed. So who counts as native? This is the problem with promoting an ethnic nationalism that tries to erase ethnic differences by redefining everyone into the majority.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Horror!

It is truly astounding what people will eat. Horrifying. Revolting. And I'm fully aware that there are probably people who would be equally disturbed by certain American "delicacies". But really. Check out Cracked's "6 Most Terrifying Foods", if you have the stomach and don't mind the profanity.

Best AFN PSA Yet

Today as I was looking (in vain) for a particular AFN PSA about computer network security to link to my previous post, I came across the best one yet. Hercules and the Power of Attorney. It's amazing. Except that the Golden Fleece is from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, not Hercules. But who's to quibble?


I suppose it is a sign of our times that the "Most Requested Forms" sidebar at the IRS homepage is topped not by the ubiquitous 1040, but by the 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Of course, I would never be filing such a form myself. Certainly not desperately trying to figure out how to e-file it after finding out I have no access to a non-military-networked printer. Information security being maintained by the "air gap" principle (I prefer to think of it as the "cooties" principle), there's no responsible way to get something from the civilian internet to a military printer. People do it all the time, of course, with thumbdrives and such. But this practice is officially forbidden, and for good reason, as those things get lost or stolen all the time.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Basrah Recap

I stopped following the 'mainstream' news out of Basrah once things calmed down over here, so I hadn't realized that the press has been painting the recent skirmishes as a strategic defeat. I was a bit stunned to hear it actually, and happy to see David Frum's excellent rebuttal to the idea that the battle of Basrah was a step back. Here, on the ground, I never would have believed that story could have been sold in the first place. Here, everyone's wishing they could go to Basrah, to consolidate and exploit the success, the success of the Iraqi operation. Everyone's congratulating the Iraqi Security Forces, marveling at their performance, so much better than the somewhat dismal expectations. Jaysh al-Mahdi are wounded, scattered, and thoroughly disenheartened. This was supposed to be JAM's great last stand, and it fizzled in a heartbreakingly undramatic fashion.

And really, what exactly would it have taken for this to be called a victory by those determined to see defeat? The Shatt-al-Arab flowing red with the blood of JAM and their supporters? Any victory decisive enough to be named a victory would have been decried as an atrocity. The biggest stumbling block to understanding this part of Iraq is identifying JAM and its loosely associated militias solely as a religio-political movement, when their day-to-day activities are far more concerned with good old Mammon. Basrah is (and has forever been) a smugglers' den. Will there continue to be well-armed, politically connected gangs operating organized crime rings in the Basrah area for generations? Probably. They've been there for centuries. That doesn't mean there's no road forward; Italy manages, after all.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Little Perspective

The kind folks at Wired magazine have brought us this helpful threat warning, to help us all put things into a touch of perspective. Of course, I think the vast majority of people are well aware that a car accident is a far more immediate possibility than a terrorist attack. At the same time, I'm happy to keep it that way.

Driving off the road: 254,419
Falling: 146,542
Accidental poisoning: 140,327
Dying from work: 59,730
Walking down the street: 52,000.
Accidentally drowning: 38,302
Killed by the flu: 19,415
Dying from a hernia: 16,742
Accidental firing of a gun: 8,536
Electrocution: 5,171
Being shot by law enforcement: 3,949
Terrorism: 3147
Carbon monoxide in products: 1,554

Thursday, April 3, 2008


There's a bit of a housing crunch on our base right at the moment, so the garrison command has changed the housing policy to help consolidate rooms in some living areas (LAs) that were well below capacity. As the KBR billeting employee put it, "there's a lot of people who thought they were somebody finding out that now they're somebody who's got a roommate". Heh heh. The upshot is that I'm moving a few rows down the LA, so it might be a few days before I can get internet set up over there. We'll just have to see.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I really like Wal-Mart. I can't stand the way they lay out the grocery section in Super Wal-Marts, but beyond that, I can generally find whatever I need pretty quickly and cheaply. I appreciate that the "Wal-Mart effect" has lowered retail prices of consumer goods across the economy, saving the average US family around $2,300 annually (.pdf warning), whether they shop there or not. I find it remarkable that despite building their empire on tight supply chains and centralized logistic they have managed to become the nation's #1 retailer of locally-grown produce. At the same time, I can appreciate that some people prefer not to shop there. Everyone has preferences, and it's really not my concern. I do get a bit tired of hearing how Wal-Mart is destroying America, however, particularly in light of significant evidence to the contrary. (HT: Round Unvarnish'd Tale).