Postmodern classic?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Summer getting warmer in the ME

I put another post below the previous with a picture of an Iraqi river, but messed up on the timing of it and couldn't change it. Someone more computer savvy could probably fix it, but I'm not bothered. It's getting hotter as the summer comes on- been up to 115, and I'm promised it'll soon be up to 140. I always thought home was hot during the summer, I've been roughly disabused of that! Looking forward to the humidity, sort of...

Iraq is constantly in progress. Not easy to explain, although if you put together pieces of it here and there it starts to make sense. Iraq the Model explains the recent political developments in the progress of the Iraqi government, while Westhawk explains their strategic importance. Bing West at Slate provides a close look at developments in Ramadi, which I can affirm the verity of based on my own experience. Why is that the best coverage is by former military people who actually know what they're talking about, I ask rhetorically.... here's another interesting post by Westhawk on what fledgling democracies under attack should consider in the case of Colombia.

'Hell in Haditha' has been on the news the past couple of days. I've been up in the area and know it's reputation, although I haven't been into the city. Knowing that I have mixed feelings, as many veterans do. On one hand, if they're guilty they should be fully responsible. But on the other- how can you prosecute a war if people don't defend themselves? The truth of the matter is that we don't know the details yet. The best bet in this incident will be to wait and see what the inquiry produces- no matter what Murtha or Chris Matthews and the Talking Heads on TV say. However, it's going to be hard to get a fair airing of the facts with the political importance this case is taking on. The more I hear their two-faced hypocrisy the more I feel that Ghenghis Khan is probably a better model for human rights than them...

The linguists have some more victims- aforementioned Iraq the Model has an interesting post on how CNN (mis)translated an official speech and what that means. Kind of disappointing, but not unexpected. Hugh Hewitt got into Iranian president Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush as well, probing experts on it's meaning. Not too hopeful, let's put it that way. Here is an extremely interesting article on Chinese strategy- Tao Guang Yang Hui, 'Hide brightness, nourish obscurity' (I hate the fact I can't write zi with this computer!) For more Chinese subjects, especially economics, check out Sun Bin, always supplies a thoroughly educated view with facts.

Anyhow, it's been an interesting day.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Back in Al Anbar

Life in Iraq goes on- the minutes seem like hours, although the days are like minutes. A warped perception of time, for sure. It's been a long two days, battling with the different weather conditions and how it affects our mobility. When the choppers can't fly due to sand, it affects our movements as well. So we sometimes get long hauls which can be even longer when stuck behind a convoy or other conditions detain us underway.


As some people know, I'm a bit of a China buff. Here is an abbreviated history of China in 4 web pages, for someone who wants to understand this country a little deeper. Minxin Pei in the Weekly Standard attacks the idea of gradual political development alongside communist leadership in China's booming economy. And the Christian Science Monitor looks at China's history, particularly the Battle of the Bridge at Luding, where the Long Marching Communist Party fleeing from Chiang Kai Shek's (Jiang Jieshi- I hate Wade-Giles romanization!) KMT forces. Fact is a little different from the official story of the Chinese Communist Party.

In domestic news, today is Memorial Day. Tigerhawk takes a look at how military servicemembers have been portrayed in the media as of late. As a veteran myself, the last thing we need is special treatment of some sort. But to put it lightly, I do get a bit sensitive when feel that I am being condescended to. As descriptions of military people as brainwashed victims of manipulative administrations might do...

Harry Reid calling legislative efforts to make English the official language 'racist' might have been a bit uncalled for? Here is an interesting piece of punditry on what passes for intellectual discourse in some circles, elaborating on the rule that a 'racist is just a conservative who won an argument with a liberal'. I think the word 'liberal', used in the context of 21st century American politics, warps the English languge (Adam Smith and his peers had a far different meaning than we use). But check it out anyhow.

And for some humor, here is a candid look at what goes on at Fox News Channel.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Real Writing

I must have really bluffed college, because I can't write.

Sure, I can write, organize my ideas, that kind of thing. But when you read good writing, you know it. It's one thing to organize your thoughts into coherent and easily followed thoughts, another thing to do that AND make it interesting to read.

Take Chicagoboyz- a bunch of good stuff, but they have contributors like this woman Ginny who often posts there. I assume she's a teacher in Texas somewhere, but about everything she writes seems to be just fascinating. She recently wrote about 'Hard America' and 'Soft America' as it pertains to the American educational system, in 2 parts (1, 2). It's really great stuff, makes you think about the different routes people take in their life. I don't, and a few others don't as well, buy fully into this artificial separation of 'Hard' and 'Soft' American, but it does make you examine things a little closer.

A little closer to my present station is Midnight, a USMC lieutenant in Fallujah (don't read to much into the 'hushed casket' thing, evidently it has something to do with video games and not politics). Better pictures and writing than here for sure- I guess he previously did an editorial in the NYT or something. His post on Port-a-John graffiti echoes a previous one of mine, although he includes pictures and mine is far shorter.

Here is an interview with Blackfive, of the famous Blackfive site. A great place for veterans and military issues, among other milblogs.

Blogs are a great medium for bringing a voice to people who you would otherwise miss out on. You hear about different people on different subjects through these various networks which are quite fascinating in how efficiently they transmit sophisticated data.

All these people have a lot to say and are quite successful in how they say it. I probably have something to say as well, just haven't figured out how to do it quite yet.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Posers and problems

Got the day off! Yay! So I can waste time on the Internet!

One interesting thing has been the Swift-boating of antiwar hero Jesse MacBeth. Who is Jesse MacBeth, you ask? Ah, I guess it has not been in the papers. Jesse MacBeth is the former Special Forces/ 3rd Ranger Battalion slaughterer of Iraqis, now working as a conscientious antiwar advocate in the Seattle/Tacoma area, Washington State.

Let me just stop there before I make myself sick. This loser made a few webpages and put a video up on 'The Socialist Alternative' site and other antiwar affiliates. I guess he thought he could put out these easily checked lies and no one would catch him? Well, didn't work out that way. I first read of him the other night at Blackfive, a great milblog (where the stories are at least 50% more truthful, haha). Now he's an internet superstar, even has his own Wikipedia page. Another comprehensive collection of links to people dissecting this story is found at Hot Air. Interested parties all across the vast Web are getting all up in this guy's various frauds and mistakes, such as this thread at QandO. I don't think anybody reading this site would need to know, but for reference, here are some tips for fraudulent impersonation of military folks. Iowahawk has the first draft of Jesse's response. Here are some other 'fake but accurate' stories circulating around the Internet about the military and Iraq.

Anyhow, enough about that. There are enough interesting things going on in the world. Like Iran: wonder how that place will end up. Evidently, in the midst of these high oil prices they are having money troubles. Maybe it's not much, but their 'allies' in the Lebanese Hizbollah are also disavowing them. Doesn't look good for them. I'm reading an interesting book called 'The Case for Goliath' at the moment, about America's present dominant role in the world, and one of the interesting parts is how bad we are at nation-building. Which kind of refutes the whole 'imperial' accusation, we really don't have the desire or experience to do it, as a traditional empire would. One of our threats could be- don't make us pay too much attention to you, you don't want us to 'fix' your country. If the Iranians could've just kept a lower profile with their terrorism and regional aspirations, they would be in a very easier place than bordering US-allied countries to their east and west, but I digress.

There's always something about China being the next superpower, ran across this one at the Futurist, a blog devoted to following the trends of the future. Broad predictions are fun, but there needs to be something to support them. Here's an interesting perspective on the Korean/US relationship, something a bit troubled in recent days. And domestic political observers might be interested in the ramifications of this article on Google's information control...

I can't end this post without a link to the Belmont Club. IMHO, this site just has a great grasp on bringing events together, putting them in the political context of our times. How these cultural and intellectual trends battling in the papers affect the world we live in. In the post I linked to, they are discussing how modern countries fight and what for- using the interview of a current author to compare his outlook to what's going on in the world. Check it out.

Now I'll relax a little- watch some movies, go to the gym, etc. Enjoy!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Negotiating with terrorists

Found this image at OPFOR, discussing the efficiency of the UNSC. Doesn't do too well for itself, I'm afraid. It seems there is much benefit to be made in this kind of thing, you know. Of course, for the in-depth analysis, go to The Belmont Club.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

'Adventurists', 'Mercenaries' and 'China Hands'

Book reviews for May '06

Finished a few books this month, the two most notable being Robert Young Pelton's 'The Adventurist' and A.J. Venter's 'War Dog: Fighting Other People's Wars, The Modern Mercenary in Combat'. Interesting stuff for an amateur Polisci like myself trying to make sense of the world. And not dull or overly dry academic either. Also fun is 'Mr. China: A Memoir' by Tim Clissold.

Robert Young Pelton, 'The Adventurist'

RYP is an interesting guy. Lived a tough childhood in Canada before settling in California to make his money. Real tough; after his parents divorce him and his brother went to this Christian boarding school in Alberta, Canada, that sounded a lot like training I went through in the military (known as the 'Toughest Boys School in North America'). He reflects on it a little when he reads that people were killed there recently, doing crazy things like canoe trips in blizzards.

Later on he settles down and is successful at what he does, but somewhere along the line he develops this itch to travel. And not normal travel either- he starts going to war zones in Africa, Asia and other areas. Soon enough he takes it up professionally. Makes for some interesting reporting as he develops his rough style of 'survival reporting' in places like pre-9/11 Afghanistan and Africa, among others. For someone like me, and others similarly impressed by these stories, it is pure 'travel porn'.

As 'The Adventurist', he proceeds with his storytelling and minimalist style to places of ill repute and dispute. He starts to develop this almost Nietzchean 'will to power' ethos of survival and flourishing amidst the suffering and danger he encounters. Entertaining, yes; but ultimately to me it's empty and hollow. A few episodes stand out for me- an encounter with the SEALS in Coronado, California and later on a plane; his interview of Filipino revolutionary/hitman (one of his victims being the CIA chief at the time); and another interview with guerrillas in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea where he lionizes their leader. But as you can imagine, he loses me in his condescension and incomprehension of the military. His encounter with the SEALs he soliloquizes on their differences:

"I feel at home with these men. Clear-eyed, focused men who wait for their moments. Nevertheless there is a difference. They wait for someone else to unleash them. I've never had a leash."

Can I get a psycho-therapist for that one, what what... nah, don't bother. I wanted to like this book and his work, based on his impressive exploits. But ultimately his nihilism was too much for me. Entertaining stuff for the magazines, but don't think I'll buy more of his books.

A.J. Venter, 'War Dog: Fighting Other People's Wars, The Modern Mercenary in Combat'

A.J. Venter's tome on mercenaries was a bit longer to get through, but good material for an overview on mercenary involvement in African wars over the past decades. The book focuses mostly on Sierra Leone, Angola and a few pages on past developments in the Congo, as well as looking forward to events in Sudan and Iraq. A lot of it was about the controversial 'Executive Outcomes' group, composed mainly of South Africans, but also British, American and a few other Westerners.

Not encyclopedic, but quite thorough- much of it based on personal experience, as well as quite a bit on illuminating interviews. 90% of what he said was true to my reckoning- with many of the people being fought were cannibalistic, rapist savages left to do what they want by an impotent international community hiding behind the ineffective UN. Revolving revolutions in many of these countries, different only in their destruction. A bleak picture for Africa in that way. In the end, those 'crude' but professional soldiers working for money can do way more with much less. Not theoretically- but proven over and over. And as a result, PMC's (private military companies) are on the up and up, as seen in current places like Baghdad and the Sudan. However, why are people so skeptical of these mercenaries? What has lead to this situation?

Not acknowledging the drawbacks directly weakens the overall point. Although my 'academic instincts' (for lack of a better word- those who know me will be hard-pressed to acknowledge any academic authority on this) kind of cringed at the one-sided presentation of things. For a guy who was intimately involved in some of these events, it makes it difficult to acknowledge the other side. Not the cannibalistic insurgents, hard to defend them or their backers in places like Taylor's Liberia or Ghadaffi's Libya, but the drawbacks of having to hire foreigners to enforce a nations sovereignty.

It's kind of funny, while I disagreed with P.W. Singer's 'Corporate Warriors', in a weird way it's more respectable. I'm deliberating over whether the reason for that is style or substance- but one must notice Singer's book is annotated and organized as a project for the Brookings Institution. He puts the issue in a more theoretical perspective which I disagree with, focusing on the centrality of the nation-state, something a cursory reading of Africa will quickly disabuse the reader of. Unless you mean nation-state only to apply to Western-style democracies or their authoritarian variant a la the Cold War and present-day Russia... but I digress.

The truth of the matter seems to me- as long as nation-states, or multinational organizations such as NATO or the UN or EU, etc., fail to provide some manner of security, someone will exploit that. You can expect that in a situation where many who are poorly educated will continue to push some old Soviet/Marxist people's war. Of course with some type of local characteristics (a la Africa, Nepal, and more- in places like that, discredited communist ideology can be an improvement from current conditions), unless given a reason not to. And for most in situations like these, policymakers and local statesmen are limited to few options- the primary one being military force of some type, depending on resources. The rational discourse of representative democracy and free-market economics won't 'spontaneously occur' without reasonable stability. Why work and educate oneself for years with a poor chance of success, when you can kill or rape and take it today. That's part of the curse of the 'Third World'.

Tim Clissold, 'Mr. China: A Memoir'

What's not to like about this book? It's a story about a guy who gets involved in China's business and foreign financing debacles in the 1990's. He, of course, wants to be 'The Old China Hand' (Zhongguo tong- putonghua de tong), the expert on the area. But there are problems during this crazy time China is 'discovering capitalism'.

The book is enjoyable, even if it doesn't go too in depth. Although it's lightness and vagueness is part of the story, I think. He travels there as a student, gets hooked. Comes back as a businessman after being bored in London and wants to see it again. Gets hooked up with a venture capitalist eventually who tours the country with him to pump some money into China- straddling Wall Street and the Great Wall he gets his hands dirty in post-Mao/post-Tiananmen China.

As you can imagine, people steal money, try to cheat the owners, pull bureaucratic strings and other debacles. The troubles encountered almost kill him with stress. But during this duress he realizes he has to provide a Chinese solution, rather than traditional business as we know it. He ends up staying out there, bringing his family along. Not mentioned much in the book, but 4 kids! That alone would be interesting.

An interesting look at the times- also a bit of insight into the crazy westerners who get caught up in the whole deal. A few things same and others different. A weird lot, for sure. I'll probably go out there again sometime, so it's nice to read books like this.

A few good reads, got more on the way.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Magic Tuesday?

Not really. Feels like the tempo has kicked up a bit, we've been busy. Don't know if it's just me, but it seems like the selection of the Prime Minister and the breaking of the political stalemate in Baghdad has stabilized things. Less uncertainty. We've still got the 'long hard slog' ahead, but with the factional stuff and some local developments it was looking pretty messy the past couple of months. The IP and ING are back out on the roads, that's for sure.

In the meantime, a lot of stuff going on- work, bureaucratic infighting, sandstorms, new people, etc... hard to fit time for my reading, watching movies and sunbathing, not to mention fitness! Family traveling, graduating, working and all that too. Life is tough... guess you all know that.

Here's a few interesting reads- if nothing else, read this Mark Steyn article in The Australian. He really gets at the heart of things in a logical way- why is it so difficult to do something for Sudan? Choice quote: 'The UN kills.' His main point? 'At some point, the Left has to decide whether it stands for anything other than self-congratulatory passivity and the fetishisation of a failed and corrupt transnationalism.' Tough one to swallow. Let me know if you're persuaded (I know 'The Left' is a bit broad, but we must make some compromises for punditry).

Additionally, VDH is interviewed on Hugh Hewitt's show about recent happenings in Iran, while recovering from a burst appendix he had in Libya. He's always interesting with the Classic perspective he brings.

In other news, a minor editorial on Chinese debt. Who knows how it'll turn out, but ignore it at your peril. And an editorial in San Diego on Mexican influence on their home election, kind of interesting as a side issue. Even if not a particularly great editorial.

Always got more to do, but I'll have to stop there for the moment- good hearing your thoughts as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What? Another Dust Storm?

This is a picture from Al Asad last year. I saw something similar to this today, this afternoon. Couldn't see 4 feet in front of the car at it's worst. A guy in Taji took some photos of what he saw at Dave's Not Here. Hopefully I'll put up some that a teammate took up soon. Eventually I'll get those oasis pictures from the camel trip, but waiting until my buddy downloads them...

Peace out- catch you in a few months hopefully!