Thebastidge: 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
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    Friday, December 29, 2006

    Ding- Dong, The Dic(tator) is dead

    They hung Saddam this morning. May this be the beginning of a beautiful new trend.

    Upcoming events: Mugabe anyone?

    Thursday, December 28, 2006

    To Sire Gods

    I found this somewhat inspirational and well worth reading. He's one of my favourite modern authors, as well.

    h/t Econlog

    Wednesday, December 27, 2006

    Ineffective Intelligentisa

    Check out interviews with Adonis, which aired on ANB TV on November 26, 2006 and on Dubai TV on March 11, 2006.

    The poet Ali Ahmad Sa'id (b. 1930), known by his pseudonym "Adonis," a 2005 candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, left his native Syria for Lebanon in the 1950s following six months' imprisonment for political activity. In 1973, he received his Ph.D. from St. Joseph University in Beirut; in 1985, he settled in Paris, where he now works as a writer and literary critic. Among other occupations, he has edited the modernist magazine Mawaqif (Viewpoints), and translated some of the great French poets into Arabic.


    He'd have done better for his people by translating works on economics, classical political theory (starting with Locke, Adam Smith, etc.), and secular philosophy.

    I mean, come on: poetry? I'm all for poetry, but I'm not trying to change the world through interpretive dance, either. If there's anything the Arabic world doesn't lack, it's poetry.

    The most-read non-Arabic book translated into Arabic is Mein Kampf, a favourite of Ba'athists everywhere. The UN reported that about 330 books are translated into Arabic annually. Mostly they seem to be shite like David Duke's anti-Semitic ranting.

    The Christian Science Monitor on Books translated into Arabic, from 2004:

    Nouri Bookstore, one of the main book dealers in Damascus, bulges and buckles with Arabic translations of Western texts - mostly books on computers, medicine, and cooking. On prominent display: a book by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke with the very loosely translated title "My Awakening, the Jewish Control over USA"; a copy of Hillary Clinton's autobiography, and other works on Sept. 11 and the Iraq war. But writers like Rousseau and Descartes are relegated to a small corner in the back - symbolic of the Arab world's lack of access to the West's great thinkers and philosophers. According to a United Nations report last fall, Spain translates in a single year as much as the Arab world has translated in the past millennium.


    Note, even these intellectuals quoted in this article engage in the blaming of others that Raphael Patai notes as characteristic of Arabs in his book "The Arab Mind".

    According to many observers, to the extent that Arabs have time and money for purely intellectual pursuits, most are focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until America's foreign policy changes, many Syrians say, few will be curious about American philosophers.

    "I don't really foresee a possible new renaissance unless real peace is established [in the Arab countries]," says Nafez Shammas, head of the English department at Damascus University.


    How does refusing to research your notional enemy's philosophy make sense? Those of us with any serious interest in world affairs pay attention to what Jihadis say, you betcher ass! True, some frivolous and shallow thinkers in America may engage in moral equivalence and say "they're just like us" without bothering to pay attention to what they actually say, this is one reason why we disagree along that left/right continuum, but anyone with a grip on reality makes a point of studying the philosophy of our enemies. Bing able to predict what types of things they'll do, if not exact actions, is important.

    This is one place where the rest of the world consistently screws themselves. America is fairly open about what we plan to do, and why we're dong it. Their miscalculation is in not believing that we do most of the things we do because we firmly believe that it's the right thing to do.

    I'll not make the same mistake of failing to take it seriously when Jihadis openly threaten to rain down destruction upon us.

    On a broader note, and more in line with the beginning of this post:

    (Click "Read More" to see some quotes from the Arab Human Development Report)

    Achievements by the Arab region on the Human Development Index (HDI) in the past decade were lower than the world average. Relative to other regions, the Arab world does better on income indicators. Thus it can be said that the Arab region is richer than it is developed. Although income poverty is low compared to other parts of the world, the Arab region is hobbled by a different kind of poverty – poverty of capabilities and poverty of opportunities. These have their roots in three deficits: freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge. Growth alone will neither bridge these gaps nor set the region on the road to sustainable development.

    [...]

    Arab countries have made tangible progress in improving literacy: adult illiteracy dropped from 60% in 1980 to around 43% in the mid-1990s; female literacy rates tripled since 1970. Yet 65 million adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women – this is not expected to disappear for at least a quarter century.

    As a group, Arab countries spend a higher percentage of GDP on education than any other developing region. By 1995, over 90% of males and 75% of females were enrolled in primary schools, and nearly 60% of males and nearly 50% of females were enrolled in secondary education. However, about 10 million children between 6 and 15 years of age are out of school. Enrollment rates in higher education remain limited to 13%. Though higher than the average for developing countries (9%), this rate is lower by far than those prevailing in industrialized countries (60%). Moreover, the share of girls is noticeably limited, at the third (higher) level. Despite the rise in the number of children enrolled in pre-primary education in Arab countries, enrollment ratios are below their counterparts for developing countries, especially for females.

    [...]

    The Arab region also has the lowest level of ICT access of any world region: only 0.6% of the population uses the Internet, and personal computer penetration is 1.2%.

    [...]

    In addition, there are factors widening the digital gap within each Arab country, with language being the decisive factor. Current Arab policies to address the divide focus on infrastructure, especially in the field of communications. Although helpful, such attempts will not yield the desired benefits unless equal attention is paid to the element of content. Most of the material on the Web is in English, a language spoken by few in the region. The dearth of Arabic material on the Net will continue to deprive Arabs of the benefits of the information age even if access itself improves.

    [...]

    The Report argues that the most important component of the information industry, the element of content, has so far not been taken seriously by policymakers in the Arab world. Hence, it calls for concerted efforts to develop content in Arabic. It suggests that digitizing aspects of cultural heritage such as text, film, music, radio and television recordings should become a priority. It argues that the way forward lies in giving Arab artists, professionals, scholars, students, entrepreneurs and other social groups incentives to publish and popularize their work on the Internet, rather than in trying to decree certain types of content. Freedom to choose what to publish and to associate with other users will drive the Arabization of information content faster and more surely than any type of compulsion. The media has already taken the lead in this respect by placing Arabic newspapers on the Web.


    Monday, December 25, 2006

    I have to admit

    I did find this amusing:



    If only I had someone to say "Merry Christmas, Baby" to...

    Benefits for Defense workers

    I recently found out that there are some benefits for non-military (civilian) Defense workers who are injured or disabled as a result of their participation in the war effort. It's not huge, but it ain't a kick in the head, either. Good information to know...

    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    Update to last-minute planning

    So I'm covering for a colleague who unfortunately had a family emergency.

    I'll be here for at least two weeks beyond my original date.

    Last minute planning

    I hate being left hanging, but unfortunately, it's happening.

    Right now I am acting 99% as if I'll be leaving after the New Year to go home (well, a few days in Scotland first and then home) but there's a slight chance of staying.

    Which means that I can't mail my stuff out until just before I leave. I'm only planning on carrying a change or two of clothing with me at most, and everything else will be posted home.

    I haven't sealed a deal with anyone back home on a job yet, so I at least have the freedom to accept an extension here.

    On anther note, my travel arrangments are not going smoothly either. I have a reservation to Kuwait, but nothing from there on, even though I requested it nearly two weeks ago. In Kuwait, the only place to stay will be a tent, so I may end up pushing back my travel from here to there to match a later date for the flight out to the UK. Only, those flights are all booked up on the coalition website for several days past when I need to leave. Travel in this place is FUBAR'd.

    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Xmas season

    One good thing about being far from home during the Christmas season: we haven't been bombarded with Christmas crap.

    No commercial advertisments on TV. No Christmas decorations until just a few days ago, no Christmas music blaring from every doorway.

    It's blessedly peaceful, even with the occasional mortar thrown in.

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Am I still evolving?

    D. Harrington comments:

    " The header on your blog says "An evolving viewpoint". How has your view point evolved as a result of your experiences?"

    Specifically about Iraq? I'm more pessimistic now. About being able to reconstruct this place, about Iraq joining the community of nations as anything more than an unwanted beggar anytime soon. I'm more pessimistic about 'mainstream Islam' and believe that 'Islamism' is more representative than people would like to admit.

    Read 'The Arab Mind' by Raphael Patai (make sure you get the latest publication). I'm in the middle of reading it now. I started once before with an earlier publication, but the experience here has made Mr Patai's points more immediately and practiclly. It's spot on, from my perspective. As is:

    Why Arabs lose wars: Fighting as you train, and the impact of culture on Arab effectiveness.

    And:

    Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States

    I had read these two articles before I came here, but the visceral impact of seeing this culture up close and personal has rammed the lessons home much more forecfully than just reading ever could have done.

    I used to be a lot more positive that American military force and economic practice could bring Iraq into the 'Core states' (ref: "The Pentagon's New Map" by Thomas Barnett) but now I am not so sure.

    I still believe that it was necessary to stop the status quo thinking that had so long dominated our Middle Eastern policy, and I thnk that military intervention here was inevitable and long overdue. But, having come and concquered, we should perhaps, have behaved more as conquerors. Current thinking here seems to lend itself to the line that Iraq almost needs a strong benevolent dictator along the lines of Pinochet or some of the military leaders of South Korea.

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    cross-pollinating

    There's a great post on India here. Most of what is said there applies to Iraq as well.

    As I commented on that site:

    "This rings very true for Iraq as well. It’s a fundamental truth about the way the world works. We’ve lost sight of what it took for humanty to pull itself up from the dirt, because we’ve acheived so much that a vast distance seems to lie behind us. However, that vast distance is more like a vast height- a laborious climb can easily turn into a quick fall."

    home sweet trailer park

    Safe and sound back in Baghdad after 10 days out and about. It feels good. You can adapt to almost anything, given enough time, and my trailer back here in the IZ at least has its own bathroom.

    Talil was a mess, soupy mud everywhere. The Aussies were great hosts though. Those guys crack me up- would be nice to share some beers with'em.

    It took far too long to get bck here. Spent last night in Balad, in the pax terminal. Managed to crash out for a couple hours on my body armor on the floor. The concrete was just too cold to sleep on directy. I felt about 90 ears old this morning though. After all night there, getting in and taing a shower was heaven, athough I barely managed before crashing out again, this time on the softest, loveliest single bed with springs exposed I've ever had the priviledge to sleep on (back in my trailer).

    Well, to be fair, you can't actually see the springs on my bed here, just the outlined imprint of them. It's like sleeping on a pallet of cans, with a sheet over the top of them. But it felt great this morning, and I slept until 16:30 or so.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Rainy days

    It's been raining off and on all day.

    I've essentially finished all the work here. There's a couple minor tasks to complete, but the main work is complete. The last of the equiment just showed up, so I'll be off to to do that in a few minutes.

    It's been a lazy day- After another MRE feast last night, I went back in and worked until almost 1 am. I had a headache most of yesterday afternoon (recurring today) and I just wanted to finish this site.

    Slept in a bit this morning (nothing much to do until the stuff got here anyway) and I've been listening to the rain and Jack Johnson on my laptop.

    Thinking about going home, mostly. It's got me a little bit homesick.

    It's pretty snug here in the pre-fab shack we've been staying in. No noticeable leaks at least. We keep the door closed on the room where all five of us are staying and the heater keeps it warm enough.

    At least this facility has concrete walks around it, broken up though they may be, it keeps the mud down a bit.

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Back online

    We got the new site functional this afternoon, so I have Internet now. It's been an interesting couple of days. We couldn't get here direct, so we took a flight to Basra, then the flight we had sched from Basra to here got diverted to Balad, for a medical evac mission. So we came not quite as far south as you can go in Iraq, to further north than Baghdad, then back down south again.

    We left on Sunday evening, and got here Wednesday mid-morning. The whole south of the country has apaently been getting rain for the last few days. The ground is mud soup- and the mud here in Iraq is the worst I've ever been. These camps look like something out of the old west, with boardwalks to *try* to stay out of the mud. It doesn't work.

    Got to ride in an Aussie Bushmaster- armored personnel carrier. Which was pretty cool. Also, on the multiple flights to everywhere, chatted with some Scots from the Royal Army, and ended up field stripping our weapons on the plane, handing them back and forth and comparing. (Hey, it's boring in a C-130 after hours in a canvas sling-seat!)

    We're staying in an Iraqi camp this time with no coalition personnel permanently assigned here. The Aussies patrol, and we're being most graciously hosted by them in a shack they have out here, but they aren't here 24/7. We're dining on MREs and have access to the Iraqi chow hall for the basic training recruits. Boy, do those guys stare when they see us walking around. Half of them look like they just got off a camel from old man Achmed's farm. Ate there for dinner last night- not too bad, some chicken, some cucumber/tomato/vinegar salad, and some macaroni with Arab tortillas. I asked about the names of stuff in Arabic, and they were surprised to learn that Macaroni is the same in English, lol.

    We had the typical crap about no one being around with keys, and the power going on and off unpredictably, but managed to make quite a bit of progress today. Strung a extra cable over to the next buiding, so I'm writing this from the dubious comfort of my aluminum framed army cot.

    So, in the life-changing events category, I have now seen the ziggurat at Ur, the biblical city. Local rumour has it the oldest structure in the world. :)

    Chatted with one of our co-workers, the one I'm closest to, a little bit about the war, and Iraqi perspectives on Americans, the first war, this war, what we're doing right and wrong. Nothing conclusive, but interesting in the personal life experience category nonetheless.I ased him what he thought about my opinion that we did a poor job in the first war and we should have continued to take Saddam out of the picture. He said, "My English would be very good now." Our marine gunnery sgt asked him today why he doesn't pray 5 times a day. He said, "Got work to do. I'm just go to hell later." This guy is someone I would like to see get out of the shithole country and make somethng of himself and hs family. He's one of 4 brothers, all of whom have worked for this company, and 3 of whom still do. They're all decent cats- the three that I've met. They work frickin' hard- harder than the American guys on my team, including myself. They support their mom and dad and ther wives, and have a non-nonsense attitude about work. They get paid a pittance by American stadards but it is a fortune for an Iraqi- and they deserve it, because they risk their lives every day that they come to work. They're at more risk than I am, because they have to go out from the IZ into the red zones every day to go home, and going in or out of those gates makes you a target.

    Still no word on contract extensions, so I'm just making my plans to go home in January. starting to ask my personal contacts for referrals now, so I'm getting into the territory of not wanting to burn a brudge, even if a job here comes up. If I accept an offer back home, I won't renege. I've had good interest, but no offer letters yet.

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    Another mission

    I've been working on a site in the IZ for the last week, but I've got some travel coming up tomorrow. As always, my tenuous connection to the 21st century will become even shakier while traveling- Internet and telephone access are spotty.

    Depending upon how things work out, this could be my last mission on this contract. There's another site after this on the list to be done, but continuing power problems have pushed back dates on many sites, and computers don't run on redbull like we do. Trust me when I say, I won't relax or get careless before I go home.

    Speaking of going home, I've looked for more work over here, but some places seem to be downsizing, or at least holding their breath until they see what the dhimmicrats do. My company hasn't given me anything in writing to make me think that I'll have work here after December 31st, so I'm interviewing with companies back home, and seeing some interest there. I haven't fallen back on any personal contacts yet, but that's coming up pretty soon. One telephone interview got cut short because of a whole lot of bullets in the air- I was almost surprised when they emailed again to set up another time to continue. I thought they might have called BS on it- I felt kinda silly even saying, "Hey I gotta go get my armour and cut this short." Turns out Iraq had beaten Thailand in a soccer match Wednesday night, and who knows how many dumbasses were out shooting into the air in 'celebratory fire'. There were hundreds, maybe in the low thousands, of bullets in the air.

    Anyway, if you don't hear from me for a couple days at a time, don't worry, I'll get back to you soon.

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    John Scalzi's alright

    (Via Samizdata) John Scalzi is giving away free copies of his book to military members. This is an excellent thing he's doing.

    Since I'm no longer in the military, I'll be ordering my copy from Amazon.com.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Be safe during the Holidays

    This simple statement of tidings we hear so often, must take on a vastly different and somehow more ominous ring to those who for what ever reason, find themselves outside the seemingly more safer surroundings of home. So many here in our home, take the words *Home for the Holidays* for granted and give narry a thought as to what it means to be deprived of that.

    Hearing about the loss of a co-worker and friend takes on a more stark meaning when told by someone who is there. I, among many others, offer condolances to those feeling the concern and grief.

    I heard it best expressed in this way:

    "It is not the critic who counts nor those who point out how the brave person stumbled or the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit goes to the ones who are actually in the arena; far from the comforts and safety of home, ones who's faces are marred with the sweat, dirt, and blood of the task at hand. Those who know the joy of achievement and the anguish of failure. Those who when they do fail, fail while daring greatly."

    Bastidge...to you and all the others there in Baghdad and all over Iraq during this Holiday season:

    Be ye blessed with safety, health, comfort, and the knowledge that you are close in our thoughts and in our hearts.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all !

    Some mourning going on here

    One of the Iraqi guys we work with was killed this week. He went missing and was later found executed.

    I couldn't really tell you details even if it were more clear what had happened. But the important part is he was a young guy with a family, and was well-liked.

    He was killed possibly for working with the Coalition, possibly because of his religion, or maybe just because the criminal gangs that go under the guise of militias wanted to.

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Cold pizza

    Dammit.

    The 'dumb cop' had some cold pizza in the fridge, and told me I could have it,but when I finally got lit up and needed that cold pizza, it was nowwhere to be found.

    Never trust a cop.

    I'm choking down a 'power bar' at 2 am with some bottled water, just to feel better in the morning. That cold pizza would be brilliant right now. And not so fuckin' crumbly.

    Guiness warm-ups and JD power laps will get you where you're trying to go. Espcially if you'e watching "robots" the animated movie and then Will Smith in "I Robot" and then some other robot movie on Arabic television (which has absolutely no volume control) while comparing geo-politico-economic views in your trailer.

    (Imagine I said that last paragraph or two in a Scots accent- it's much sexier.)

    (Ignore the fact that I had to type it 6 or so times because I been drinking "fortified vegetable juice".)