30 December 2008
29 December 2008
27 December 2008
25 December 2008
23 December 2008
22 December 2008
21 December 2008
Eating Soup with a Knife. And a Fork. And one of those things you whip eggs with. What the hell is that called, anyway?
1) Have you been to Somalia before? If yes proceed to 2. If noproceed to 3
2) Were you kidnapped on that occasion? If yes proceed to 4. If noproceed to 5
3) Have you been to Iraq or Afghanistan? If yes proceed to 7. If noproceed to 6
4) Then you should know better. Don’t go
5) Then your luck is probably about to run out. Don’t go
6) Then what are you thinking of? Don’t go
7) Then you are probably under the impression that you can hide in the green zone and wait for an embed to go somewhere interesting. In Somalia there’s no green zone, and the only embeds are with Ethiopian or African Union soldiers who are being blown to smithereens on a daily basis. There’s no-one you can trust. And no-one who can guarantee your safety. Don’t go
20 December 2008
On 26 December, if you're not returning your presents to the store, please check out a podcast that I conducted with Len Edgerly, host of The Kindle Chronicles. I basically talk about what I'm reading and all the places I've taken my Amazon Kindle.
18 December 2008
Save for the cold, the other night was a perfect night for flying. It was a relatively uneventful flight under goggles. To pass the time, the crew chiefs and I had a long in-flight discussion about the works of Joseph Campbell, a professor of mythology who wrote a number of books on the subject, including The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth. We also got an incredible view (under night vision goggles) of the Gemenid meteor shower, which has been one of the most spectacular meteor showers in recent times.
17 December 2008
I used to think that products like Busch N/A and O'Douls Non-Alcoholic Beer were fads from the 1990s. After all, who would buy non-alcoholic beer? It has the same amount of calories as beer, tastes worse, and doesn't get you drunk. I see no possible benefit. I thought that with the disappearance of the ads for these products from TV within a few weeks meant that non-alcoholic beer (oxymoron?) had gone the way of Crystal Pepsi and New Coke.
16 December 2008
It's good to see that someone as enlightened as Secretary Gates is remaining in place for the next presidential administration. Check out what he had to say about some of the shortcomings of the US military in the next few years. (If you'll note in a number of his interviews, he bestows high praise upon the greatest military strategist of the last few years, Air Force Colonel John R. Boyd).
The secretary expressed frustration over the Defense Department’s budget and bureaucracy, calling them overly committed to conventional modernization programs. He urged balance, as spelled out in the new National Defense Strategy, which gives equal focus to nonconventional capabilities and know-how.
“My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support … for the capabilities needed to win today’s wars and some of their likely successors,” he wrote. Gates extended blame to the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress and the defense industry.
Direct military force will continue to play a role in the prolonged, worldwide, irregular campaign against terrorists and other extremists, Gates acknowledged.“But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory,” he said. “Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit.”
Looks like I haven't posted in forever (a few days).
11 December 2008
09 December 2008
Unfortunately, like many great works, some have been guilty of taking Lawrence's views on war well out of context. Most notably is a line he uses in one of his works advising British service members on how to advise the Arabs during their insurgency, which Lawrence says:
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.
In The War Within, written by journalist Bob Woodward, General George Casey misattributes this quote to Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He also takes the quote out of context and completely misapplies it--the Iraqi government was not operating tolerably in the days prior to the Surge.
Fortunately, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman assists us in placing the story in context, and even provides a little humor on the subject of the book. If you've ever wondered why "Lawrence of Arabia" goes on for four hours and includes several hours' worth of epic shots of Lawrence simply riding through the desert on a camel, you'll find it amusing that the book is little different at times. Only Lawrence could describe himself riding along on a camel through a featureless desert for pages on end.
But with that said, I highly recommend reading the entire book, as it's probably one of the best books I've read not simply for the military strategy involved, but also as a historical framework for the Middle East. Plus, it's a marvelous adventure.
07 December 2008
But there is a group of people even more unsung, unsunger, or something than the crew chiefs. You see, after the crew chief fixes the aircraft, someone has to be the first to fly it.
Enter: the maintenance test pilot.
Of course, the maintenance test pilot has been to school and is highly specialized in performing the checks and tests required to fully validate that an aicraft is ready for flight. Nay, the really brave person is the maintenance test pilot's assistant, the test pilot of the day--the person who wakes up in the morning, sees that he's scheduled to fly an aircraft that was just fully taken apart and put back together again that past week.
And, just my luck, I've been the maintenance test pilot of the day a couple of times this past week or so. At least it makes for interesting flying...I particularly like how I found out that none of the audio warning tones worked. But that's another story for another time.
Cyberwarfare is difficult to categorize and describe, as hacking and other attacks of this nature may be politically motivated, or they may be simple acts of vandalism. Cyberwarfare requires no well-thought-out ideology, simply a challenge for individuals to take on the power of large corporations or governments.
When I was a student at North Carolina State University, I witnessed some of the effects of early Cyberwarfare. In 2001, following an incident in which an American EP-3 aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island, hackers were able to change Red Hat Software’s home page and post pro-China propaganda. The attack was crude and only served to disrupt Red Hat for a few hours, but it demonstrates the effect a small number of individuals might have on the information mainframes of the United States.
America’s technology is its strength, but our over-reliance on technology is our Achilles Heel. Any Generation Y-er can attest to what happens to their workplace (be it military, government or commercial) when the networks shut down—it’s time to go to Starbucks.
And many of our competitors in the 21st Century realize this. China, likely the emerging superpower in this century, has little means of force projection either by sea or air, giving her little ability to confront the US via symmetrical means. However, China does pose a significant technological risk to the United States via the development of anti-satellite missiles and pursuit of cyberwarfare capabilities. According to a report published by McAffee, the Internet security company, China leads the world in cyberwar programs, and cyber attacks have been traced to China.
Cyberwar groups may not be part of an organized government organization—governments can recruit individual hackers, even criminals, and pay them to attack the computer systems of other countries. This not eliminates the need for the overwhelming bureaucracy that would stifle the creative hacking process, but it also gives legitimate governments an air of plausible deniability when executing cyberwar attacks.
Cyber warfare has been witnessed throughout Europe and Asia, most recently during the South Ossetia War of 2008, in which Russian hackers attacked Georgian computers. While not effective, the attacks do show promise. Thousands of years before computers were even invented, Sun Tzu advocated winning the battle before it was even fought by sowing confusion in the minds of the enemy. With governments and militaries increasingly relying on computers for command and control, the potential for disaster looms large.
Cyberwar organizations are a highly evolved form of 4th Generation Warfare, and exhibit characteristics unique from traditional guerilla or insurgent groups. Hacker organizations require a safe haven (the un-policed portions of the Internet), much like terror organizations. However, this safe haven is virtual, not physical--hacker organizations can unite from all corners of the globe, even within the targeted nation itself. Unlike traditional terrorism, which tends to originate in areas where economic opportunities are limited and central government is weak or corrupt, cyberwarfare can originate simply among bored teenagers looking for a quick thrill, those with no real political motivation, simply young adults looking for a challenge. Unlike military organizations, which have a command structure and unity of command, hacker organizations may revolve around “swarming” attacks, largely de-centralized and difficult for traditional military organizations to fight.
The solution is not easy. Just recently, the US military came up with a Cyberwarfare division, aimed at ways of preventing attacks on the US. However, one wonders how a large government organization will remain adaptive in the constantly-changing world of cyberwarfare. For the time being however, it is an important first step for a military realizing the full implications of what a handful of people with a network of computers might wreak on our electronic infrastructure.
It’s nice to see that some good karma has come back to General Shinseki. You may remember General Shinseki as the father of Army Transformation—having the foresight to re-organize the Army into a rapidly-deployable force capable of fighting in the 4th Generation battlefield. He was also the man that suggested to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the US would need several hundred thousand more troops in order to effectively secure and pacify Iraq, contrary to Rumsfeld’s original plans.
Years later, Shinseki has been vindicated in his decisions, and it looks as if Obama is giving Shinseki, a wounded warrior from the Vietnam War, a new lease on life as the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.
05 December 2008
German forces have come under intense scrutiny after several reports had indicated that they largely failed to train the Afghan police as they were originally intended to. Wonder if this has anything to do with it:
The physical condition of [German] soldiers [in Afghanistan] was already in question after a German armed forces report found that 40 per cent of its soldiers aged 18-29 were overweight, compared to 35 per cent of the civilian population of the same age.So, for once, there's an article pointing to a significant portion of the population being overweight that doesn't involve us Americans. Globalization at work, my friends!
The report, published in March, concluded that the Bundeswehr lived on beer and sausages while shunning fruit and vegetables. It said that an overdeveloped bureaucracy was also contributing to a “passive lifestyle” on the part of the soldiers.
Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the German armed forces, concluded: “Plainly put, the soldiers are too fat, exercise too little and take little care of their diet.”
In some cases, however, I get to keep the toys. My Soldiers earmarked this Lego Yoda pen for me:
04 December 2008
Now, a lot of news articles have been written about the local attitudes towards the US based on how many kids throw rocks at Americans. I advocate the point of view that you really can't draw a whole lot of political opinions out of kids throwing rocks at trucks, helicopters, etc. Most kids really aren't expressing profound geopolitical views when they throw rocks at things...they just like to throw rocks at things.
Now, you may ask what my evidence is for my bold claim that kids just like to throw rocks at objects with no obvious political message. Let's just say that I probably still owe my parents a few hundred dollars for broken stuff from throwing rocks, baseballs, etc at things...
Now, the Middle Eastern deserts can get somewhat cold as well. For example, T.E. Lawrence holed himself up in a crusader castle somewhere in either Syria or Jordan (one that he had studied as a college student years prior) during his campaigns in the winter of 1917-1918, as the winter was that cold. Additionally, just last year, Baghdad received snow for Christmas.
But by Upstate NY standards, it really isn't that cold in the mornings...maybe around 45F. Certainly not 5 feet of snow cold. But everything is relative.
I run marathons, so obviously, I run in the mornings. Today was my rest day, so instead of running, I hopped on a bus to get a cup of coffee at base local coffee shop. I was clad in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, and I even brought along my Amazon Kindle to read a bit of Ovid's Metamorphoses at the bus stop.
I hopped on the bus to meet some soldiers from the California Reserves who were mortified that I'd be wearing shorts in this weather, as they were clad in heavy fleece jackets and gloves. I explained to them that this is typical summer weather for Upstate NY.
Plus I pointed to an excessive amount of hair on my arms and legs. After all, you always see Luke Skywalker and Han Solo bundled up on the planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but Chewbacca just runs around in the snow as if nothing bothers him. Maybe this is a case against manscaping, who knows.
"I think there is wide recognition that the role of the United States – the leverage of the United States – has diminished and will diminish further," says a senior Iraqi official. "Some will welcome this but, ironically, those who were so opposed to the Americans before are alarmed by it."
"I want to kiss you," jokes Abu Ibrahim, a jovial Sunni security official to US Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Dalton. Abu Ibrahim, formally known as Mohammad Abu Alaa, heads 300 Sons of Iraq, a neighborhood security force, in Baghdad's Amariyah neighborhood.
His mother, three sisters, and his grandmother were killed when a US cruise missile hit a shelter in Amariyah in 1991, but like many of the other almost 90,000, largely Sunni Sons of Iraq, he has aligned himself with the Americans.
As always, good news, but the reason for the Sunni enthusiasm is a bit disturbing, as the article mentions that the Sunni locals want the American protection from the Shia majority, headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is currently in control of the Iraqi government. The long-running fissures in Iraqi society need to be patched if any long-standing peace is to be achieved. The article concludes:
Concern over Iraq's stability has turned from threats from extremists to more complicated political fissures.
"Politics is partly show but it is also a reflection of the struggles going on within society," says a senior Iraqi official. "If we don't address the underlying political issues the security gains could unravel. If we don't address the political issues we risk a confrontation among the mainstreams as opposed to the extremists."
The SOFA has also sparked fears among counterterrorism analysts and some Iraqi officials that gains made against Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups could be significantly set back as American forces withdraw and are replaced by Iraqi security forces that are still disproportionately Shiite.
"I'm worried," says one senior Iraqi official. "This is one area the Sunnis had major, major concerns about – they say we trust the Americans more than we trust the Iraqi security forces – this is not a statement of confidence in the present state of affairs of Iraq."
For those of you that read a lot of books and newspapers (and I'm one of them), the Kindle really is the device for you. Particularly back in the US where you can get books and newspapers delivered to you automatically over the Kindle's wireless transfer feature. Now I don't have to surf around to buy a copy of the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal...I just get it on my Kindle, along with hundreds of other books.
While the book selection is limited for now, I think I can really see this being the way of the future. Nothing can quite beat the feel of a paperback, but for carrying around a book collection on the go, you'll want the Kindle.
Performance in the desert is still under scrutiny, though. I had a screen issue with my old Kindle (although I suspect it wasn't related to being in Kuwait), but Amazon replaced it for free, so the warranty is definitely a plus on this device.
I was beginning to think, "Only in America", until I saw an article that said that sales of lap dances jumped some 469% or so since the recent economic downturn.
03 December 2008
As is the norm in the 21st Century, the entire world has watched the crisis in India unfold in real-time. The first question on everyone’s mind is, of course, who could have pulled off such a coordinated attack? Recent sources have suggested that an organization in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region known as Lashkar-e-Taiba might be responsible for these attacks.
The rise of this organization represents an interesting pattern in the development of terrorist organizations. Unlike Al Qaeda, which is a “pure” terror organization, LeT is an organization much like Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Organizations such as these may be classified as “terror” organizations, but their military wing is just one aspect of their power. Their true popularity stems from the fact that they, unlike the legitimate central governments in their respective regions, are able to provide essential social services to areas to the local population, typically a minority ethnic community within a nation-state. Their ability to effectively govern their areas has led to “terror” organizations actually becoming an elected body in some countries, as is the case of Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The advent of these hybrid terror groups only further demonstrates the US miltary’s need to support nation-building efforts as simply one arm of national power, combined with economic, diplomatic and cultural power. Unless the US is able to fully complete with these groups in all areas of power, the US will find itself grossly outmaneuvered in the sort of warfare which has dominated the early portion of this century, the type of warfare that we often call "4th Generation Warfare".
The link of the day comes from the New Yorker and it regards the nature of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
02 December 2008
The first is from Lauren at Adopt A US Soldier. My first meeting with Lauren is an interesting story. It begins like most of my stories--on the Internet. At the time, I was in college and posting on what is now the largest (and certainly most mischievous) college message board in the US. Lauren was what you might call an "internet troll", often making fun of people. But she was so rip-roaringly hilarious (and anonymous) that I had to meet her in person.
As it turns out, she had just turned 22 and was celebrating her birthday at a local bar near our college. It was quite a remarkable party, as it seems that half the people on the website came out and literally packed the bar to see who had been making fun of them for so long.
Lauren now volunteers at Adopt A US Soldier, and just sent a care package. Let's see what she sent:
Also in this box were several packs of chocolate bars (which got snatched up by a lot of people).
This is an example of a good care package for a few reasons:
- Toothpaste and floss are always good, but the Gold Bond medicated powder is a must, especially when the hot season rolls around. It's not only good for preventing blisters and athlete's foot, but also a few other moisture-related issues men get in the warm months. Sadly enough, it seems that the local PX is almost always sold out of Gold Bond and other foot care products, but will always have plenty of Crock Pots for sale. I have no idea who buys a Crock Pot in Iraq, especially because no one can cook in the housing units, but they sell Crock Pots.
- Flavored drink mix (sugar free). This is also a must when the summer months come around, as we drink lots of water, and having a powdered drink mix makes the water a little more palatable, plus it provides some electrolytes.
Also arriving in the mail was a care package from Sarah in Syracuse (hey, that almost rhymes). Let's take a look:
Aha! Looks like Sarah remembered my penchant for healthy snacks and added some jerkey snacks, cliff bars and fruit snacks--these I horded for myself. She also added in a pair of decent flip-flops, as my $.99 flip-flops performed like, well, $.99 flip-flops, adding the note "Do you know how hard it was to find flip-flops in Syracuse, NY in November?!"
This package was just as good as Lauren's, but there was one thing that put it ahead of Lauren's package. That was this:
All in all, I reveled in everyone's jealousy over the Darth Vader figurine. Or at least I humored myself and pretended to revel in everyone's jealousy. Don't judge me.