Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam is Dead, so what next?

Saddam is dead. Why don't I feel elated? I did when he was captured. I did when we killed his sons. I was excited to be within 100 feet of him one day as he was led to his cell. His location was the worst kept secret in Baghdad at the time.
Today I just feel like it was a cheap revenge killing. I don't think the Iraqis got enough coverage out of it. Maybe he should have been tried at an international court like the Bosnian Serbs have been in Den Hague. Maybe it should have been at the UN. For whatever reason I just feel like it was kind of rushed and amateur.
When I think of all the bad things he did I don't feel anger anymore, I just feel like it took to long to get it over with. It makes no difference now in the monster we have unleashed in Iraq. In fact, even though he was a horrible man with a horrible mind he kept the lid on simmering factions much like Tito did in Yugoslavia. Maybe some societies need a strong man to keep them in check.

Don't get me wrong. I condone nothing he did. He was a meglomanic of the 1st sort and was a threat to the entire world. He was able to scare us all and maybe his saber rattling is what did him in. He could have had a literal dynasty if he had not made huge mistakes. HUGE mistakes mixed into enormously intriging and Machiavellian moves of brilliance.

He was part of a coup attempt against the Iraqi Monarchy. It failed and he was jailed. He was part of the overthrow of the monarchy after that. He was part of the coup of that government. He was part of the assasination conspiracy of the new government leader. He took absolute power. He called out the names of "traitors" at a Baath Party meeting, They were led out and shot.He invaded Iran. The war took 8 years and cost millions of lives. He borrowed billions of dollars from Arab nations and when they called in the loans he invaded Kuwait. He was bounced out and could have just rolled up tight and stayed quiet and in power but he did not count on a steel willed Texan being placed in the White House. A man whose father he tried to assasinate in liberated Kuwait.

We joked that Operation Iraqi Freedom should have been called Operation "You tried to kill my daddy". Maybe we were not so far from the truth.

He was loved by a few and hated by many. He granted enormous power and wealth to a few at the expense of many. He was the epitome of the adage that "Absolute power corrupts absolutely". He was a loathsome figure in a loathsome regime in a loathsome part of the world

Whatever he was, he was. Was. Not is, not anymore, Dead. Killed by the hands of Iraqis after an Iraqi court tried and convicted him, after an Iraqi judge pronounced a death sentance. Swinging with a broken neck, or strangled slowly as the life left him. Maybe he went quick, maybe not but dead is dead.

He killed thousands. I am here becuase of him. Friends of mine are dead because of him. He caused untold misery and suffering and was responsible for a modern fascist state while squandering the greatest fortune every placed in anyone's hands. Why then do I feel nothing? I feel no remorse but I also feel no joy. I actually feel let down more than anything else because there was no flash bang quality to any of it.

He is gone. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Friday, December 29, 2006

English Only for Fast Food

Yes that is a Burger King sign in Arabic. It is weird to see so many American fast food places here and with signs in Arabic. This is doubly weird considering that almost none of the staff in these places speaks Arabic. They all speak English and that is how everything is ordered. If a local who does not speak English comes in they invariably have to find the one member of the staff who can speak the language.
This to me is proof more than anything else that English is indeed the lingua franca of the modern world. The fact that it is the international language of air traffic, business, and now fast food is the triumverate of proof to me. When a person has to use English in their own country to communicate it is another form of proof that it has become so. Many languages have been at this point in the past and they have all been supplanted by another but we are in the Golden Age of English language usage.
Greek was at this point for about 1000 years and then was followed by Latin for another 100 years. Once Rome fell many languages flirted with this status and French made a good run in the 19th century but the fact that WWII was won by the English speaking Allied Powers is what really caused it to take root.
Sure, there are more people who speak Mandarin and I think Arabic is in the mix but they are not truly international languages. They have geographical or religious influence only.
So, have a whopper and fries with a Coke but you better be ready to order in English because if you don't you get nada. The only place I can think of where this language rule does not apply is in San Ysidro, California. There you have to use Spanish but that is another story altogether.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Haji come, Haji go

Haj is upon us. One of the 7 pillars of Islam is that every able bodied Muslim who can afford it is supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca to toss stones at some pillars, walk in circles around a cloaked rock, pray a lot and trample to death at least 300 hundred people in the rush to do all of this. In a lot of ways it is like the crowd at a Who concert in Cinncinnatti back in the 70's. Anyone remember that little jewel of a marketing plan? All tickets were General Admission and when they opened the doors people were trampled to death trying to get the best seats.

There are a couple of million bearing down on Mecca right now and the Saudis have the equivalent of the entire population of Boston coming to Muslim Disneyland. Lot's of other people don't go for one reason or another and they party on elsewhere. Here in Kuwait they set up tent cities, drive 4 wheelers like madmen and try to get "Back to their Bedouin roots."

If you look in the photos you will see light sets, generators, latrines, and water tanks. The bedouins must have had it pretty good by those standards. My ancestors made do with covered wagons and outhouses with candles for lights.
These tents are all over the country along every highway and byway. Mostly they are what we call "Bedouin Tents". They are OK for keeping out sand and wind but they suck when it rains, not that it rains all that much here anyway.
There are all sorts of tents. This one is obviously a party tent as it has colored walls and low pieces of sitting furniture the same color. I like how the shocking pink walls contrast with the sea blue of the porta can in the back ground.

Finally, just for my friend Mike in California, I found a real Yurt. he has always dreamt of living in one of these, tearing it down and transporting it across the endless steppes of Asia while following his herd of ponies. Drinking fermented mare's milk and laying in warm horse dung while looking up at the stars is the life he dreams of. Just for you dude.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bah Humbug

4 out of 5. 10 out of 25. That is how many Christmases I have worked in my adult life. All in all it is a pretty dismal record and I am really worn out on it. Last year I spirited off him for a 7 day break and while it was a trailer park Christmas in many ways, at least I was with my family. They know that Christmas has never meant that much to me but now it does since I have a son.

He was so excited when I spoke to him on the phone two days ago. He was going on about how good he had been and how much Santa was going to bring him. I am missing his excitement. There is no way to get these days back. As I type I am listening to him on speakerphon e while he rips open presents. It is Christmas morning at home and my wife was up first because the new puppy was up. I called about 10 minutes before my son got up so at least I did share it in some ways.

It is easy to lapse into melancholy during the holiday season but this year I am not in Iraq, cold and waiting to hear if we have any enemy activity. I do worry about my friends up there. Some of them are in 3rd or 4th tours. I am so much better off than so many other people and even though I am sad that I am not at home I know that my Christmas is still so much better than many others.

It is better than that of a single mother with children who could not afford to buy any presents. It is better than that of Christians in Gaza or Iraq that are now openly persecuted. It is better than that of a homeless man under a dark bridge in the Northeast. It is better than that of a Speedy 4 pulling checkpoint duty in Anbar Province. It is better than that of Megan McClung's family who miss her more today than yesterday.

Christmas is many things to many people. In my past I have tried to just make it a day on the calendar but I know that as I get older and see more of the cruelty that the world offers on a daily basis; it has becoem the one day when we all should be a little nicer to each other. A day when we should all give something to those less fortunate than us. A day when we should be with family, even if for a short while.

Not today, not for me. I will make it through this one like all the others. I worked just like all the others because the mission does not stop. The Army is like a shark that can't stop swimming because if it does it will drown.

Anyways, here is a photo of the extent of my Christmas decorations. It is a 18" tree my wife snet me that arrived two days ago, a bear from Camp Arifjan and a Christmas Tree ornament I bought at the Royal Mews Horse Stable at Buckingham Palace.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Bah Humbug Indeed!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cars and Dumb Drivers - The Results

I see these crashed vehicles all the time. I never have stopped to take photos before but this one was located on a fairly remote site and off the beaten path. How the hell three cars could be involved out here in the middle of nothing just boggles my mind.
Kuwait is infamous for it's horrific car crashes. The combination of high Speed Limits (120 KPH = 75 MPH) lots of high performance cars, bad drivers, zero law enforcement, and terrible weather conditions leads to the worst accident record in the world.

I see the aftermath of these crashes every day. Unlike the US they don't just whisk the cars away after the accident. They leave them in place for weeks as reminders. It seems to me to be counterproductive at times as it leads me to believe that they are just trying to find new ways to wreck the vehicles.

I drove up on this mess the other morning and stopped to get these shots. This was a three car collision and the black car (or what is left of the black car) seems to have gotten the worst of the deal. This is at a U-Turn on one of the main highways.
The black car leaning on the light post was on the left side of the road and these two cars were on the right side. You can see a metallic blue sedan in the foreground and a white sedan further back. The cars are left right where they stopped or are just towed off the road and left there unitl a Detective arrives to investigate. Yep, a Detective. It seems that there is so much litigation involving foreign drivers and Kuwaitis that they assign Detectives to this. It does not take long here to figure out that the whole process is thinly designed Wasta. (Wasta being "Influence".) If you have Wasta it is always the other persons fault. What this really translates to is that the foreigner is always at fault.
Notice the stickers all over the car. Those are placed by all the different agencies who have to investigate the accident and there are color codes. I don't know what they mean but I am trying to find out. There is a website out there that a Kiwi places these car crash photos on. He has made a hobby out of this.Looking at this one I get the feeling that some one is having a very bad Christmas. Not that Christmas means a damn thing over here.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Water Water Everywhere

Building styles differ all over the world as do building standards, methods, grades, and quality. Kuwait is your typical Middle Eastern country when it comes to that. Nothing is truly square, standards are lax and you have to stay right on top of the local contractors to make sure they don't slip in shoddy products.
While all of this is a concern it is still a very interesting place to look at methods and designs. Things that we would never see in CONUS or Europe are common place here just as things common to us would be alien here. You never see an LPG tank in the yard like you do in the rural South and you don't see water towers with local sports teams names painted on them.

What you do see are individual water tanks. Water from the municipality is low pressure and won't hardly drive a shower head. The locals build pumps at ground level and pump the water up to these roof tanks. This provides gravity fed head pressure and gives them some storage capacity in the very likely event that water and/or electricity gets shut off at some point. Since it is gravity fed they don't have to rely on the city for water or power to have running water.

Neighborhoods can be drab and dreary or colorful. This shot shows an example of some of the color that is seen in some neighborhoods. If you look very carefully you will see the Persian Gulf (Arabian, as the locals insist on calling it) which is the saltiest body of sea water in the world.

This last photo is of the mosque you can see in the middle part of the second photo. Just after I took this shot the muzzein call to prayer began. Some of these are course and short but this one was a haunting melody. I believe it was probably taped and played through loudspeakers.
I really like the way the white of the mosque brightens the whole picture with all those sand colored buildings. There are splashes of color on some green building trim and the gulf is much clearer than in the previous photo.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A better blog is out there

Michael Fumento wrote a piece yesterday about Megan McClung that is much better than anything I could have written. I am attaching a link for those who knew her so that they can read the epitath of an amazing woman. It is still kind of strange to think that she was killed. This was a woman who had this awesome future. She was a future Senator or better. She was a leader too. Anyways, read the piece and you will see what others thought of her.

FYI - I did not know the others who were killed with her but it was a very bad day fro the Marines. Every casulaty hurts but some more than others. One of the things about being over here is that I have met and worked with so many amazing individuals. I will never be able to replace the lost time with my family but I hope they understand that this has been the most incredible thing I have ever been involved in. Fumento quotes people who also say that you just can't understand why we come back until you have been part of it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I knew her

This email just came in and all of us are just stunned.

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Maj. Megan M. McClung, 34, of Coupeville, Wash., died Dec. 6 while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. McClung was assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, I MEF, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
For further information in regard to this release the media can contact the Camp Pendleton public affairs office at (760) 725-5044.
I'm still kind of shocked. She and I used to stand out on the steps of an unfinished building with other Left Coasters' and talk PAC10 football. She went to the Naval Academy but she was still a West Coast girl at heart. The world is a more empty place because she is gone.
She is not the first I have know to die over here but she is the first female I knew. War becomes a personal thing when people you know die in it. People I know have died in it. People I know will never be the same because of it. I won't be the same either.
I grieve for her family especially since it is the holiday season. This time of year is hard on all soldier's families but more so on those who have suffered casualties. If I were at home I would be inviting some folks from Ft. Hood over for Christmas Day. This year though I will go with two of my LNOs and make the rounds of personnel who are on 24/7 rotations. I will have over 150 of my charges on duty that day and it is my duty to make sure that some one gets out to them to wish them a Merry Christmas. This is the kind of thing Megan would have done. She really cared about people and most importantly, she cared about the truth.
She was about the best PAO I have ever seen. Even Talking Salmons has a way to go to meet her skill level. Losing Megan is a loss to OIF, the Marines, her faimily and the world at large. Rest In Peace Megan, you have earned it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dubai Minaret

I'm sitting and waiting on word from a mission my guys are on. I can't be everywhere and sometimes I just sit and wait to hear what has transpired. It's worse than being there. You have no control, no real time info, no feel for what is going on.
Even though I know that what they are doing has minimal hazard and risk I still worry because I am not there to watch over them. I guess I act like Mother Hen sometimes but that is just my nature. I think I picked it up from my Grandmother.
While I sit and wait I am filing old photos. Some old, some not so old. This is a shot I took in Dubai a couple of years ago. It was dusk and I saw the golden light radiating from this mosque minaret. The long rays of the sun had just ceased and there is no direct lighting but there is still enough ambient light to detail everything during that brief twilight period when everything is blue before going black.
I like the striping effect on the lower rim of the eave where the gold light shines from through the arches. Also there is the sunburst pattern under the ledge where there is a decorative penetration.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Beauty in Baghdad

I was scrolling through some of the photos I took in Baghdad and came across this one. It is from the Winter of 2003 and is a snap I took of one of the lakes and palaces at Camp Slayer. At that time this was the home of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) which was the agency looking for WMDs. It is a compound of palaces and man made lakes located adjacent to the Baghdad Airport (BIAP). Baath Party HQ and The "Victory Over America" palace are also located here.
The building pictured is what we called the "Perfume Palace". This was Uday and Qusay's private party lodge. At this time it served as the HQ for several Acronym named American Federal Agencies. It had a HUGE indoor swimming pool in the middle of the ground floor and had an atrium which went all the way to the top of the dome. The floors were circular and the inside ring was designed with quest rooms and the outside rings were the rooms for the women they had stashed there.
They entertained Baath Party members and others they wanted to recognize by having alcohol fueled extravaganzas of Baccahnalia which would have made Rome blush. The women mostly were not there by choice. There was the occasional professional hooker from Europe or Asia but for the most part these were pretty Iraqi girls who had made the mistake of catching the eye of one of these power drunken demagogs.
I love the photo though as the sun is setting and I managed to capture all those pink tones reflecting off of the water. A beautiful photo of a terrible place.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What the hell happened in Pasadena?

I woke up and checked the news and found out that USC had lost to UCLA. I told everyone that I was concerned that USC was not taking them seriously and was looking past them to Ohio State. Of course the TU fans came out of the woodwork again to cheer and whoop about USC losing. I can't figure them out. They got punked in their own house by their most bitter rivals (Texas A&M) and I didn't say a word about it. They were pummeled by Ohio State and froze up against K-State and I didn't even whisper but when USC lost to Oregon State and now UCLA they wanna talk smack.
I remember being at the last game in the 8 game losing streak at the Rose Bowl (with Carson and Scotty Bob) and then being at the Coliseum for the first in the 7 game win streak. UCLA-USC games are fun because the entire city of LA chooses sides and roots for their team. Even though USC came out on the short end this time there will always be another chance.
At least USC gets to go to the Rose Bowl as PAC-10 Champs. I think TU is going to the Tidy Bowl to play the #9 seed from the MAC.

Friday, December 01, 2006

From Baghdad, With Love

My good friend Fritz sent me a couple of books one of which is the title of this post. I saw the cover and read the jacket with the byline of "A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava." Being a dog lover I had to read it.
I could not put it down. It is hands down the best thing I have read that deals with the War in Iraq. It offers a no hold barred view of the mess through the eyes of a human being who just needed something to believe in. Something worthy, something that could give back, something that could help get him through the mental struggle that everyone there goes through.

This book brought back memories, smells, sounds, and sights that I have long repressed. I felt emotion about all of this that I have kept hidden from my friends and family. I laughed in parts, felt dread in parts, felt anger in parts, and actually cried at the end. Bringing Lava home made sense of all of this to Jay Koppelman. I applaud what he did and think of another little dog I know of named Lucky who made it out of there.
Command is a lonely business and Jay knows it well. When you can't show weakness or emotion to anyone beacuse they all look up to you it begins to wear you down. Jay found his release in Lava. Some men turn to drink, some become reclusive, some run away from the responsibilty because it is too much of a strain. Lava took all the pain away and Jay repaid him by saving his life. Without saying so I get the feeling that Lava saved Jay's soul.

Jay says what many of us want to but don't because maybe we are afraid people would think we were lesser men for it. If a USMC LTC can say it then so can I. I was SCARED. I did not know what to do sometimes. I was afraid of failure. I was sent down a dark alley at night with a pocket knife to protect me and a penlight to guide me. No amount of training or education prepares you for the harsh reality that is a modern war.

Some how I have made it through and even though some of the greatest friends I will ever know were there with me, I try and get away from anyone who had any connection with the War. When I do run into some one who has been through it we are instant brothers but I still don't seek them out. I try to make sense of it and just know that all I can do is what is in my immediate AO. He saved a puppy from certain death. Me....?

I have not found my "Lava" yet. I know there is some good coming from this but I have not yet found the "one" thing, mission, activity, or artifact that gives me that closure. Jay did and his story should be read by anyone who has loved ones who either were there, are there, or are going there. Some how he makes more sense than all the politicos, journalists, bloggers, and diplomats ever will.
Thank you Jay for writing this. Thank you Fritz for sending it to me and for continuing to be my Jimminy Cricket. I have no idea how you knew but it just what I needed.
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