Thebastidge: 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
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    Monday, April 30, 2007

    To sleep, perchance to ...

    ...wake up really quickly and unexepectedly with the whoosh/crack! of rockets coming in somewhere damn close. Roll out of your rack, don your IBA, and huddle next to the wall (closer to sand bag berm on the outside of your trailer's wall, which is a laminate of sheet aluminum and 2 inches of styrofoam.)

    I'm tellin' you, there's no god damn respect for quiet hours in this trailer park!

    Saturday, April 28, 2007

    Nothing much going on

    Towards the end of last week, I saw an agency here getting their pay. I haven't seen that much cash in years, even if it was dinar. An entire armored truck being unloaded, one sack at a time. Large sacks, mind you, like 50-pound feedsacks with stacks of dinar filling them completely up.

    Things that make you go hmmm...

    If that truck were to go missing, that money would be gone. Unrecoverable. There's a cost involved in risk, and cash-only economies pay more transaction costs than modern economies. It's not a very noticable cost per transaction, that is, one guy giving another guy some money doesn't notice it. But over time and many transactions, having to pay cash, with its attendant costs of transportation (a large truck, gas, driver, guards etc.) and the risk involved (might be stolen) cost money. The first bit of that cost (salaries, equipment etc.) is mostly cycled back into the economy, but the cost of the risk is lost. It's an inefficiency, unrecoverable. This is the opportunity cost- if they didn't have to do it this way, what else could they do with it that might be better?

    The gas might be better spent on an ambulance, or even on a vacation. The guards and drivers might work somewhere else.

    In other cash-related news, they're screwing us on how much cash we can get. There's no ATM. Well, actually, there is one in the palace, it's just not hooked up to anything. And has no money in it, presumably. The finance department in the palace will only let us cash one $200 check per calendar month and the PX has just started doing the same. You can only get $20 cash from a debit card transaction at the PX. Sucks if you want to buy carpets, which is about the only thing they make here worth taking home. Actually, they don't even make them here, they just import tham cheaper than we can get them at home.

    Biffed it on my bike yesterday. Drinking and biking don't mix, even if it's only a bottle of water. It wasn't too bad tho- just a couple little bruises and an inch or so of minor road rash. I managed to hit a speed bump already out of control from some broken pavement, and ran into a T-wall. Felt ridiculous more than anything else. Grown-ass man crashing a bicycle.

    More seriously, one of my co-workers' kids got hurt pretty badly riding his bike at home in the states- his 7-year-old broke his jaw pretty badly, with stitches, a surgery already, and more to come, with probably metal plaes in his jaw for the rest of his life. Poor kid- in pain, discomofrt, and eating through a straw for the foreseeable future, with more pain and discomfort to come. Best wishes.

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    How low can you go?

    How low do choppers fly overhead? Well, they vibrated the smoke detector off the wall mount in my trailer last night.

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    Added a link

    I just discovered the link to No Man's Blog and added it on the side bar there.

    Though we've had our personal differences at times, I think we have managed a grudging bit of respect for each other. And he's always been a well-spoken bastard.

    Nice to 'see you' again, boss. Hope you're well.

    “COMPLACENCY KILLS”

    That should be a motto for all of us. Complacency Kills, not just in Iraq.

    It kills people on the roads of America as people carelessly run into each other on the road.

    Complacency kills in America, as people expect others, the police, the 'government' to do the heavy lifting of making society safe and keeping liberty secure.

    Complacency kills in politics, as people make excuses for disenfranchizing themselves (failing to vote) because "the system is corrupt" or "my one vote won't matter". "Abstention as protest" doesn't work. Some act as if "winning" and "losing" in a politicsal race is all that matters: I say that resisting evil is important even if you "lose".

    Complacency kills in politics, as idiots, idealogues, and narcissistic egomaniacs and self-serving crooks pursue policies of ruination for western civilization. standing by and doing nothing makes you complicit.

    The system of republican democracy we enjoy hasn't fallen down overnight because it's inherently robust. But it needs regular maintenance, or eventually it all grinds to a halt. Don't be complacent.

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    On Natural Principles

    I posted this first in comments over at Mrs. Dutoit’s site. I’ve expanded a little bit here with some thoughts that didn’t occur during my first draft.

    Once you understand that people react rather than think probably 90+ percent of the time, you understand why people are the way they are.

    Rigid deductive analysis is “expensive” in terms of time and effort. Habits (particularly of thought) influence us far more than we typically realize.
    The difference between conservatives and left-liberals is that conservatives have chosen to ‘practice’ certain habits of thought, and left-liberals have chosen to practice others. That’s why it takes each of us very little time to come to conclusions, and they are fairly consistent. We’ve already done the calculations and now have a short-cut to conclusion. Left-liberals mostly choose to ‘practice’ literature, and social ‘science’, “art” and feminist theory, etc. These are things that arguably have value, but do not, of themselves, give a good grounding in rigid analysis of how the world works.

    Leonardo Da Vinci was a natural scientist, not just an artist. His art grew from his drafting skills, honed through practice and apprenticeship. He didn’t just paint whatever took his fancy, he painted what he could observe, and then adapted it to a commercial venture- his art was never “pure” in the sense that most “modern artists” would use the term- he painted portraits for commissions, and made people look better than they did in life, for financial consideration.

    Non-deist conservatives (what Drumwaster's Rants calls "Rational Conservatives") mostly choose to practice mathematics, and engineering, and mechanics. Natural Sciences. This gives us grounding in natural principles, thus we have a habit of thinking in terms of these natural principles. The other major difference applies to financial investment strategies as much education: the more you invest up front, not only the more benefit you reap down the road, but it is also compounded along the way.

    [Aside: I have actually had people wonder what I am talking about when I say “natural principles”. Morality and ethics obviously involve some value judgment, but are worthless if they don’t align with natural principle. This goes for conservative morality as well. However, leftists always seem to think it is code for some kind of whacko fundamentalist theocratic commandments. This would seem to say more about their projected worldview and tendency to use dishonest crypto-speak than anything else. When I say, “No, it means things like ‘water is wet’ and ‘economics is about incentives’ they say, ‘of course’ and breeze on without thinking about it any further or applying the principle.]

    The time to challenge idiocy is as early as possible, in as non-emotional a venue as possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible. You have to create new habits in the place of the reflexive childishness (as in lack of self-reliance and responsibility, lack of analytical reasoning, intellectual laziness, and lack of life-competence) before you will change someone’s opinion. Even still, those old habits are easy to slip back into.

    Most leftists have good reason to be afraid of conservatives. We’re the engineers, the police, the military, the farmers and ranchers, the people who get things done. Essentially, they are dependant upon us and do not understand how things work. Children are most disturbed by their world being unpredictable.
    This is not to say that there are no left-wing engineers, or that no one who has a socialist bent has any technical knowledge. But the preponderance of the population divides along these lines.

    They are afraid because they are still in the dark ages- everything around them really IS the result of vast shadowy forces they neither comprehend nor control. Individual choice in economics really is a vague and indefinable, hard to predict quantity. They are still ignorant, superstitious tribesmen (identity politics anyone?) praying to the great gods Electricity and Science to keep them warm and safe, though they understand neither. Thus junk science- a glossy patina of rationalization over fundamentally flawed ideas. If you've never had to move more than your own weight, or fix something that was broken, you probably don't instinctually understand the principle of leverage, or feel confident of your own competence, or realize that you don't have the right tools. If you've never done a profit/loss assessment, you may not know when to write off sunk costs and start over without wasting resources on a lost cause. There is a reason why communism was more attractive to the peasant serf than the master craftsmen. A person with any skill or education is not likely to buy it.

    Nor are we on the right immune to it. We’re just more likely to be called on it and admit it, because we do value that analytical deconstruction and we empirically test our theories through application of the principles, because we are the do-ers in society- the business person, the engineer, the cop, the soldier, the farmer and mechanic.

    We do have that grounding in natural principles and thus we experience cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling of something not being quite right. We do have that moral belief and peer-pressure context that honesty and honour are more important than expediency. We conservatives value questioning and skepticism, particularly about new things. We try to see how the known facts fit into a context. Not all of us, but the preponderance.

    If you have little to no awareness of natural principle, then there’s nothing to be uncomfortable about. The world is a collection of random observances, unrelated to each other, and you don’t expect it to make sense. Thus any interpretation is as valid as any other.

    If you’ve been taught that the end justifies the means; that there is no underlying principle that makes one thing work and another thing fail; then intent is all that matters. Feeling good about intent is the highest possible good, because you can’t affect it in any meaningful way no matter what you do.

    As an aside: This is one reason why I like Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, btw. It focuses on relationships, and being in congruence with natural principle, and emphasizes that ‘personality ethic’ and facile sales technique avail nothing if not based upon natural principles, and investment in developing oneself. Mutual prosperity therefore flows naturally from developing relationships based upon this foundation of moral integrity and natural principle. Good will is a vital and natural part of this, but is properly incentivized by mutual prosperity, and not the other way around. It’s just good economics.

    This left/right dichotomy between understanding and applying natural principles reflects in discussion (or argument, if you prefer) styles. My natural response to inaccuracies is to refute them with references. I would expect anyone on my side of the argument to take the same tack with anyone. I would hope that someone on the OTHER side of the argument would do the same, but I am largely resigned to the fact that they rarely do.

    Inaccuracies in detail tend to make arguments less persuasive to me, because I think correct belief follows from correct grounding in the basics. An argument that contradicts the principles it is based upon, or an argument lacking in principle is worthless. Thus I invite people to do the research for themselves and try to always point to my sources.

    This is not an absolute reference, but does discuss some of the ideas I hold, and expresses some of it better than I know how to: Den Best on Inductive Logic. The preamble is about religion, but the meat of the matter is about how people come to conclusions.

    Here he talks about Science and Theory. I’ve heard a lot of the more ignorant people on the fundamentalist end of things do what he talks about ‘laymen’ doing; specifically thinking that because science labels a body of conclusions about the way the world works a ‘theory’ that it’s just a guess. (The Theory of Evolution comes to mind.) Well, I’ve run into far more people on the left end of the spectrum that treat rigorous analysis and deduction as no better than a guess. They may give lip service to science, but they really don’t ACT is if they believe in the best explanations we have for the way things work. In economics, that is known as ‘revealed preference’, and it is a better clue to what people really think than any poll.

    Status report

    I've been trying to get an established routine going. I've been here just over two weeks, and I've been mostly wasting my 'free' time. I have certifications to study for, and I haven't been focusing on anything. Trying to get my Arabic a little better, play my bass more, get together with people to play, just generally make the most of my time here.

    It hasn't magiacally gotten to be any more fun here since I left, damnit. The weather heated up a good bit yesterday, something of a precursor to summer weather, I think. Then we got a good bit of wind yesterday evening, and if it hadn't been for all the concrete, tall buildings, and the rivers around us, I think we might have had a sandstorm ala "The Mummy", huge gaping mummy face in the cloud and all. It was kind ugly. It's better today, but this has been happening a good bit lately where the gate guards have dust masks on and you have to squint to keep the grit out of your eyes. It's just good to stay in at these times. It's cooled off again today, but there's still a little bit of wind that seems like it might kick up a bit this evening.

    Tomorrow, most of the guys are off, but I think I might just stay home and play my bass. I got a book of tablature for about 250 songs, so I wanna try and memorize some bass lines, and go to bed somewhat early.

    I've skipped the gym for the last 3 days. About all I've done is bike to and from work, about 2 miles round trip at most. I've been hanging out at work a little late, and just haven't made it. The chow hall closes at 8, so if I don't leave until after 7, I don't really have time to work out before going to get chow, and I have a hard time doing it on a full stomache. Sometimes I'll get a take-out sandwich for dinner and leave it in my fridge til I'm done, but that gets old too.

    But everything's going as well as expected, and around here, boredom is good compared to the alternatives.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Commentary from Mrs. Dutoit

    I found a couple items by Connie Dutoit worth commenting on:


    Politics as usual

    and

    You can't get there from here.

    Raising sheepdogs is a good one as well.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Interesting link

    Seumas points out an interesting article on Metropolitician. I've read him a couple times before, but never linked him. I really shold have, as Korea is one of my interests, and I have had soe similar experience as a teacher in Korea, though mine was a much more informal situation than his seems to be.

    Anyway, good take on some important things to consider in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting. Take-away point:
    There will be a lot of things worth thinking about, social problems worth looking at – but at the end of the day, Cho was an individual. And "Korea" can no more be held "responsible" for this horrible crimes than it could have been for Hines Ward winning the Super Bowl.


    And, I might add- neither can abstract "America".

    As far as I can tell...

    ... nothing prohibits me from carrying a weapon in a Washington college. Just not on the grounds of primary and secondary schools (except for picking up and dropping off kids. Glad I re-read that thoroughly, I thought I wasn't suppoed to do even that.)

    Part of the reason for getting my concealed handgun license (and practicing with my weapon, and carrying it with me) was to not be helpless in random situations. Not that I expect something bad to happen. It's not that I want something bad to happen.

    I just don't want to be one of those people who end up telling a therapist how helpless and stupid I felt and how I don't feel like I can go out in public any more.

    From what I've read, rape victims who didn't fight back and mugging victims who didn't struggle are the most likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    I know from personal experience what it feels like to have your home robbed. It's a violation, and causes you to lose sleep, distrust people, feel uneasy in the one place you should be able to relax (your home).

    Don't be a victim. Don't promote victim behaviour in others. Promote strength and independance. Be a part of your community by being a strong contributing individual.

    Develop yourself. Just as strength training develops your body, warrior training (whether with a handgun, a rifle, in the marital arts studio or wherever), strengthens your will.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Yo Tambien

    I fully sympathize with this guy.

    There's probably TMI in my comment.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    Mosquito time

    I have welts on me from mosquito bites from LAST Saturday. I don't normally have such as hard time with it- I think because I don't eat as much salt as the average American.

    But the nasty little bastards have been eating me alive lately. And the bites swell up and turn purple. It's still humid and moist enough to let them breed, with plenty of little puddles here and there. I hate to think what kind of nasty germs they carry around in this pit. West Nile virus comes to mind.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Whoa there

    Someone needs to get his facts straight before he shoots off his mouth.

    Full discussion here.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    3 am attack?

    Nope, just scattered raindrops hitting the tin roof so hard that I groggily considered putting on my armor for a few seconds before I realzed it was not bullets coming through the roof.

    Then the skies opened up and it was obvious.

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Newbies

    So I managed to get myself locked out of my trailer last night while I was at the gym- forgot to take my key with me.

    When I went to check out another key, there were a couple ladies checking in. In Army PT gear, something immediately told me they were officers. As I was waiting, they were talking to the people at the counter about necessities like transformers and such. One lady expressed major disgust at the PX's limited offering.

    I mean, we all bitch about it. That's one of the inalienable rights of the soldier from time immemorial; to complain about things. But mostly we do it with a sort of black humour: we don't really expect it to be better.

    This soldier seems to have missed the memo. You know, the one about the war...

    After explaining to her that you take what you can get, and buy necessities for at least a month or two when they come into the PX because they may be out for 6 weeks at a time. I explained how to get to FOB Blackhawk where they have stuff that sometimes doesn't appear in the PX, like transformers and adapters for the electrical outlets.

    With great skepticism and maybe even a little disdain for my advice, she asked me, "But is it safe?"*

    WTF?!

    I didn't lose it though. I didn't even laugh. I pointed to the wall and asked her if she saw the picture of the nice lady there. "That lady was killed a few days ago when she stepped outside this very shack to take a cell phone call."

    Hell no it's not 'safe'. I saw her in uniform today in the palace- how do people make it to the rank of Lt. Colonel with such naivete?

    (*Note: The place I pointed her to is across the street behind the PX- a distance of maybe 50 meters.)

    Saturday, April 07, 2007

    Saturday night lights

    Managed about 5 miles on the bike yesterday afternoon. The weather was great. Only had to go crouch in a ditch once when the sirens went off for an attack. The new guys are obvious, they stay in the shelter until the all-clear, which can be a while.

    Went to Salsa night last night. Ran into a bunch of folks I met when I was here before, but nothing much else going on.

    Stupidly, I forgot that the chow hall by work doesn't serve breakfst on Sundays.

    Saturday

    I have today off, managed to get a bike (the guy who left my room before me quit his job in a panic when those people got killed in the IZ last week. He left a bunch of stuff, including his bike, with a flat tire. Oe of our Iraqi guys waqs nice enough to fix the tire and now I have wheels, though I may have to share with my room mate.)

    I'm going to hook up with some dudes who have a jazz combo tonight and go play some music at their practice session. The keyboard player (my neighbor) just bought a bass (from the guy who quit) and needs some pointers, so I now have a hobby as well as a bike. Now I just need to connect with the guy who gives bagpipe lessons to get started on that. I brought my bagpipe practice chanter and book.

    The neck of my bass got warped on the way here- I almost panicked. But I managed to locate some hex wrenches and was able to adjust the truss a little bit, which seems to have mostly fixed it. I'm afraid to do any more until I can take it to a real technician back home, but it's playable the way it is. Honestly, it probably needed a bit of adjustment before, now that I'm doing some research on the subject.

    My old room mate has someone in our old trailer, so I couldn't get back in with him, unfortunately. He's a cool dude, and his new roomie is apparently kind of a goof. My new hooch is smaller, and has a bullet hole in the roof- it's okay though, because it has been patched. My new room mate works nights, so I don't see him much except on our days off (his Thursday night, mine Saturday). He's pretty laid back so far. His team mates aren't taking very good care of him though- he's been here 6 weeks and hadn't even heard of the Baghdad country Club. He's an IT guy as well, for a different company.

    Went to the gym when I got up this morning. Now that I'm getting settled in, I'm trying not to make excuses about not going. I went the other morning at 5 am, after lying in bed thinking "the only thing keeping you from going to the gym right now is your own laziness." Since I'm not traveling out of th eIZ this time around, it should be easier to get into a routine.

    Well, I'm off to study for a Microsoft exam.

    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    Back in Baghdad

    So, this is the end of the blog hiatus for a while. I was pretty tired of geeking out online when I left Iraq, but now that I'm back in Baghdad blogging looms large in my entertainment options again.

    First I have negative press for United Airlines. I left thursday morning. I can't believe how badly they screwed up on the way here. On top of that, they just outright lied to get out of paying for my hotel. I left P-town and arrived in Chicago right on time, to find blue skies and fair temperatures. However, to my surprise and consternation, I find my flight is delayed by over an hour and some other flight is taking up the gate I'm supposed to depart from. Then a second plane takes that gate before I get to leave.

    So I go stand in line at customer ervice, because I will clearly miss my connecting flight to Kuwait if I don't leave earlier. over 90 minutes of standing in line later, I'm next up at the counter and final boarding call for my flight is announced. I ran to the gate and almost didn't get on the plane- they'd given my spot away and now *I* was on standby for the flight I was already booked for! They squeezed me in- (I was very irate at this point and not being shy about it.) so I got to Dulles 25 minutes after my connecting flight to Kuwait had already left. Then I stood in line at (so-called_ customer service again for another 2 hours and 45 minutes, only to be told that weather had caused my delay and therefore I was not due compensation for a hotel, and by the way, there are no more flights to Kuwait for 2 days. This screwed me doubly because it caused me to miss the connecting Mil Air flight I was booked on and now I had to go on standby to get from Kuwait to Iraq.

    When I attempted to escalate the problem, United very conveniently told me that there is no 24-hour telephone number I could call, I ould have to send an email through the website. Apparently, they can't be bothered with customer complaints.

    Throughout the process, United personnel were scarce and couldn't be bothered much to stir themselves. I can almost sympathize, given the LARGE volumes of pissed-off people they had managed to create through their incompetence, that the front line employees would have frazzled tempers and tired attitudes. However, there's a root reason for all those pissed-off people and it lies squarely on the airline's mismanagement.

    United claims it was weather that delayed me; but I had clear skies the entire length of my trip. They CHOSE to expedite other flights that were already late over my flight which could have been on time, and then they lied to me about whay it happened, and stuck me in Washington DC for two days with no compensatory effort. I'll be telling people about United's poor service for months, at a minimum.

    when I finally left Dulles, late Saturday night, it was a 12 hour flight into Kuwait, and then off to the Air base nearby. Since I missed my military flight from Kuwait, I had to go on standby and go to the passenger terminal every hour or so to see if I could get on the next one leaving, which finally happened around 4:30 am. got into BIAP and had a few hours to kill until I could get transportation to the IZ, but I finally made it in early in the morning on Tuesday.

    That pretty much catches me up to my first day of work.