Sunday, July 27, 2008

All generalizations are bad...

and all fanatics should be killed!

OK... just kidding. WEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

But seriously, I think we may have messed up big time here. Let me explain:

After hanging out in the heart of the former Soviet Union, using their technology, studying their tactics, and getting to know the guys that grew up under the red star... I don't think the USSR and USA are all that different. Granted some cultural differences, but nothing to major. At least, they are certainly not some evil empire that they were portrayed to be when I was a kid.

Playing devils advocate here: Lets say back in the day, instead of the US aiding all the fractured mujahadeen forces and religious wacko groups to help kick out the Soviets, we had left them alone. Maybe the USSR would have still left Afghanistan, maybe not... Maybe the USSR wouldn't have fallen apart. For the purposes of this discussion, lets say that we helped the folks that kicked out the Soviets... Ironically we now we find ourselves fighting in the same freaking country. Maybe if we had left things alone, the USSR would be here instead of us. Maybe the USSR would have gotten the insurgents under control and now in this country people would be studying russian in high school and eating delicious domestic apricots... instead of begging for rebuilt elementary schools and fighting skirmishes to get rice in from Pakistan. (I know a lot of maybes... but bear with me)

Now a short discussion about if people are inherently good or bad... I say neither. All you can do is trust people to act in what they perceive is their own best interests. Weather it is doing homework, dating a guy just to piss off your mother, speeding/not speeding, cleaning the bathroom, having premarital sex, going on the Jerry Springer show, and going church... all these actions are based purely on what one perceives is in their best interests.

What is Civilization? It is not a mater of technology, roads, and indoor plumbing... it really comes down to the scale one sees his own being as. Remember my discussion on organisms... what is the difference between you and your cells verses your country and you? Civilization seems really just to be the scale and cohesiveness of that larger organism. You can't have a civilization if people don't act at least somewhat in a with each other. Civilization doesn't exist because the people build indoor plumbing and roads... the roads exist because the people in the civilization work together to improve everyone's situation.

So, how does this all fit together? Lets go back to the current situation here. Almost undoubtably the average person would be better off here if the Soviet Union was still around and running this place. As it turns out, the average soviet is a fairly reasonable person... were as your average taliban or mujahadeen is not. So who the hell did we help when we were assisting the "Freedom Fighters?"

Maybe what we should have done when the US and USSR were the two biggest supper powers, is worked together. Imagine if the US and USSR had joined forces in the 70's and 80's. I am not saying become one country, but lets say they had stopped fucking with each other's shit. Each let the other run their sphere of influence how ever they wanted...

The civilizing influence of the super powers is not so much in that it directs the people to do as they say... the civilizing influence is that it changes what people perceive is in their own best interests. Though at first that might start out as making the consequences of a particular action negative... like if you shoot your neighbor and take his land you will get sent to jail. Eventually everyone ends up with a stake in the civilization and the self interest is expanded to include the larger group. As in, I don't want shoot outs on my block because I have a shoe store to run... or I don't want to start a tribal squabble with the valley over because all my workers will be fighting and I need them here to work on my farm... The immediate self interest is not worth the disruption of the larger society, thus the self interest becomes supporting the cohesion of the civilization.

Civilization isn't about the big super power telling people what to do, it is about changing what people believe is in their own best interests. The more civilized a person or group of people are is dependent on how large a view they take in what they consider their own best interests.

So, we should have worked with the USSR, divided up the world, made it in people's best interests to improve and strengthen the larger organisms/civilizations they were apart of, then worked together to improve the human condition as a whole.

(My opinion only... sometimes I am not even coherent to my self!)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I was just getting good at checkers... then I realized we are playing chess. Son of a bitch!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Entomology expedition successful!

Perhaps one develops a peculiar sense of what is fun around here. (Actual Conversation)

Notorious: "Hey, you want to go look for giant carnivorous arachnids in the dark?"

S*: "Sure! did you bring extra magazines..."

Notorious: "Always! also, lets go with 20 meter spacing, just incase."

I took these pictures tonight. I recommend clicking on the pictures to enlarge them. They are pretty spectacular animals... and much easier to study in a picture where they can't chase and jump at you.

Just for reference, the grating is about 3-4 inches deep...

A closer look. (Definitely expand this picture!)

These are actually different ones. Once we knew what to look for, you can find them all over.

To learn more:

Camel Spiders, My new favorite Solpugid!

As a standard, every blog from our countries current wars must contain at least one post about the infamous CAMEL SPIDERS! (que sinister music)

No doubt about it. These things are worthy of every post they get! As far as land dwelling arthropods go... Holy Shit! There are quite a few myths about them. They are the size of dinner plates, they are venomous, they attack running camels and tear out their stomachs... etc. To dispel some of the myths, They aren't the size of dinner plates... maybe smallish cafeteria salad plates. (Much better right!) Are they venomous? My intertube research indicates they are not... but just like Mack trucks, they don't need to be to get the job done. I really don't want to get bitten any more than I want a chunk of flesh torn out with small pliers. Last of all, do they attack running camels tearing out their stomachs? I will need more data to answer that... my guess it depends on the camel and it depends on the camel spider. This was my encounter:

So there we were... walking back toward our particular stack of shipping containers. Suddenly! "Whoa!" My friend stops in her tracks. "What is that?" I look down. It was a camel spider about the size of the palm of your hand. It was one of those things that instantly you know not to fuck with. I crouched down to get a better look. My friend circled around it. The camel spider, (who we will call Ralph-Konn from now on,) watched her walk around, then it turned toward her and charged. It literally looked at her, sized her up, decided he could win, and charged! At a normal walking pace Ralph-Konn could easily overtake a person... maybe at a jog too. He was very fast. After a short circling chase, my friend and Ralph-Konn had a stare down. For a moment they both just stood there looking at each other. I was sure that out of this confrontation only one would emerge alive, though I didn't know which for sure. Just incase the Army (she is army) needed some air power intervention I had my 9 mm ready. After a few moments of looking at each other, Ralph-Konn ran to the side of a bunker, lifted the flap door, and went inside.

It was probably the most aggressive animal I have ever seen... including angry stray dogs and UP mosquitos. You could almost see it thinking it's situation over... Amazing! There will be an expedition tonight to try and find more and bigger ones! I'll post pictures if I get any good one!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

World population be damned! I need to make some babies

Alright, I have a mission for some of your reproductive systems... but first a little doctrine.

A few months ago Brohiem suggested the book "Starship Troopers" to me. Believe it or not, it is much more a political commentary than anything else. According to my interpretation, the book makes two main points. First, only those proven to be altruistic should be eligible to participate in the governing of humanity. Second, biologically it is imperative to expand your own population or you will be exterminated.

The first point, I will leave alone for now, the second I will explain the ultimate Catch-22.

Those of you that have ever had the thought, "Shit, the earth is way full of people, to many people in fact. Maybe I should make the world a better place and not make a bunch of babies that will over burden the planet." You are exactly who needs to produce babies! Let me explain. Any population that does not expand, eventually gets over run by ones that do. Right now, it seems to me that the ignorant and fanatical are breeding the crap out of the reasonable and enlightened(ish).

It is obvious that the world would be a better place with fewer people in it. There would be more resources available for everyone, higher standard of life would be more universally available, and an overall healthier planetary environment would be the result. So, many people after thinking these thoughts decide to do their part for humanity and only have enough children to replace themselves... or "better yet" have no kids at all! Initially this seems excellent! You are doing your part for the future of the world.

Now lets be realistic for a moment. Let's say that you decide not to have any kids for the good of future of humanity. Does this mean that the world's population will be any less in future generations? I say not at all! It will still be exactly the same only it will be without your genes in it. The genes that produce people that are rational and observant enough to come to the above conclusion will have now been removed from the gene pool. What does this leave us... the result is that it increases the percentage of irrational people that are capable of believing ludicrous things and decreases the percentage of the population that are observant rational people.

Humanity right now is choosing it's future. It is choosing it with it's reproductive choices every day. So, if you are having sex with ignorant, bigoted, stupid, or irrational people... stop! You are part of the problem... or at least use birth control! If you have thoughtfully come to the conclusion that there are to many people on the planet, consider yourself an enlightened observer of the universe, or if you have a PhD, it is your duty to the future of humanity to reproduce. If you don't someone else inevitably will!

How are we going to progress as life if we are selectively breading out the smartest, most rational, and most altruistic among us?

In conclusion... It is time to "ops check" your pluming, then go get a grad-student pregnant! Or if you are female, don't let your vagina become a clown car... make it into an egghead factory!

Anyone with questions, thoughts, or requests for sperm please leave a comment!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Holy Facebook!

I don't know how many of you cats are into the facebook thing, but this is an ominously impressive program. I was just looking up an old friend of mine, googling their name. The most promising result was in "facebook." I opened it up to see if it had the contact info I was looking for. It wouldn't let me just look without a profile so I figured that I could make a quick profile and get the info I needed. All I did was put in my name... make up a password...


The screen says something like, "These maybe friends of yours." Indeed... I was looking at a page of pictures of people that I do in fact know. Some very well, some vaguely, but still. How did it know? What information did it use? How did it take my name and make the connections to people from my life? My best guess is that anyone that had done a search for my name came up. I don't know what else it could have used. Later there was a page that used my email contacts to make more connections, but the initial volley of people was very shocking and seemingly out of the blue.

It was one of those moments like when you find yourself in a totally unexpected place for you, and someone in a suit comes up to you and says, "Mr. (NAME), We have been expecting you for some time now. Please come with me."

I had done the myspace thing in the past. I shut that down for a few reasons... but myspace has nothing on facebook. I am pretty sure that it is going to evolve into the real "SKYNET."


In other news.

Some little kids threw rocks at me from over the airfield fence as I was out running. I would like to say that it was my calm perspective on life that made me take it in stride and not throw rocks back at them. In reality, I pretty much just didn't like any of the rocks that were nearby me. Throwing rocks? What the fuck! I wouldn't take that from little kids in the US.

To be fair, there was some other little kids along the fence that kept saying "Thank you." I suppose it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are thanking me for being here. Probably they are trying to get me to give them stuff.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Apparently I have totally misunderstood the Koochee...

Before all the females reading this start to think "Great! maybe he now will understand me..." no, not at all. You are still a mystery.

What I did find out is that the local nomadic tribe, the Koochee, have a totally different thing going on than I had originally expected. Normally I would not have expected the people sleeping in the dirt, that don't have a wall to their name, and spend their life mostly outside the established society to be the local financial and social geniuses. Apparently they are the richest tribe around here.

I found someone that knew about them, speaks enough english, and was willing to talk about them.

"They come into Kabul, sell two sheep, and they make my entire month's salary..." From the conversation, It sounds like because the animals they tend are so valuable, they actually have the most "capital" of almost anyone in the country. A dude owns a few dozen sheep and goats, a few donkeys or camels, and basically he is finically independent for the rest of his life.

I hadn't thought about that. It pretty much comes down to the fact that they have stayed in control of their own means of livelihood. They come into town to sell a sheep or two and a bucket of yogurt, buy some food, put some minutes on their cell phone, and roll out again. They don't have rent or mortgages, almost no expenses, politics and law don't apply to them, everything they own is self propelled. Now that I think about it, they really have their shit together.

The more I think about it, the better the whole life seems. Now, if I could figure out how to milk a Buick, I would be most of the way there.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Now is a good time for some Classical Archaeology

I took quite a few Archaeology classes a Michigan. I probably would have ended up as a classical archaeologist if the Air Force hadn't been the ones paying for my school. (Maybe Philosophy...) Anyways, in the spring of 2001, I first heard of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan. The reason I heard of them was not as most Americans did because of Sep 11, but because of their active systematic destruction of everything that could be construed as blastfamous or against their brand of Islam. I remember seeing pictures and hearing descriptions of hundreds of men going to work for weeks in museums in Afghanistan, smashing every artifact. Then of course the crown of heritage destruction, the reducing of the 1500 year old giant buddhas in Bamyan to sand. There were debates about what could be done, if wether it was a worthy enterprise to spend millions to rebuild the buddhas and preserve an archaeological site when there were starving people nearby... etc.

All this was before Sep, 11... the war in Afghanistan, the ousting of the Taliban, etc. Shit, I was 20 years old. It was even back when I thought flying something pointy and fast was the way to go. I saw the pictures of the artifacts being smashed, felt sick to my stomach, and went on with life. What could I do about a bunch of shit heads in the middle of Asia that want to destroy stuff. So their are assholes in Afghanistan. That won't effect me.

Fast forward 7 years... as it turns out, I am in Afghanistan. I am here and need a place to train the Afghan pilots in tactics and navigation that will keep them safe from what ever threats they might encounter. The problem with "training" in Afghanistan is that nothing is simulated. You plan a training route, and you don't have to say things like, "we are going to assume for training purposes that this route has the threat of ground fire and possible man portable surface to air missile..." because it actually does! So I am faced with the problem of where can I fly with these guys where we can practice before we go play with the real bad guys. As it turns out, the one of the more secure areas of Afghanistan is the nearby province of Bamyan! (It is probably secure because it is almost entirely made up of gigantic continuous 15,000 foot desert mountains... but the Hazara tribe that lives there gets plenty of credit too.) Either way, it is a good place to warm up your defensive skills with relatively low threat. Of course I didn't forget about the buddhas in Bamyan, so conveniently I urge a training route to be planned past them. I figure I might get an interesting picture of the empty holes from the air. Actually... we planned sort of a practice air assault to the gravel runway there. Hey, I'll take a relatively secure patch of flat gravel around here any day!

We had just made the last turn and were IP inbound.

Suddenly, "Dari, Dari, Dari..." on the radio.

My Flight Engineer says to me, "Mr Nick, Aircraft other, he have fuel leak."

We did the auto lead change, became the chase ship, and followed our wingman in. Already lined up to land at the gravel strip so we continued strait in for a roll on landing. On the ground, no problem. They didn't explode, but we need to investigate where and why the fuel is coming out of the aircraft. Secretly I am thinking this is great! Now we have a legitimate excuse to shut down and look around Bamyan instead of the one I was trying to make up.

Just as we shut down, i.e., cut the fuel and no longer have our engines available to take off again... two trucks roll right up to our helicopters and a bunch of guys hop out.

We are pretty committed now... What could we do... I might as well continue the shut down correctly.

After finishing shut down, we lower the stairs and step down the ladder to the dusty ground. I now know exactly what aliens feel like when they lower their ramp and encounter humans for the first time. All these dudes just stared at us with no sound... just stared. Granted the tight tribalness of the Hazaras might make the Taliban unwelcome here, but it isn't super friendly seeming to me either. Well, lets drop some Dari on these cats!

"Salam Alekum." I say. (With appropriate gestures)

"Wah Alekum a salam." is the reply. (Accompanying appropriate gestures.)

That worked! Great! I'll try some more! After all the standard greeting phrases that I know are exchanged... we are at least friends enough to exchange the cheek-kiss-hand-shake move. (note: this is well past the hand up, palm out transition to hand on heart move)

"Hey! where is our interpreter!" By the time the interpreter makes it out of the helicopter, everybody is cheek kissing, hand shaking, and talking in Dari way faster than I can keep up with anything.

After a few more minutes, talking to the lead guy through the interpreter, we are now invited to the provincial governor's house for tea.

I figure it would be rude not to go... Who am I to refuse the provincial governor's invitation to tea? After figuring out the fuel leak we pile into the trucks and head down into the main part of the village. The guy that was driving the truck that I was in seemed to have absolutely no sense of self-preservation when it comes to driving. The primary means of vehicle control for this guy was the horn. A tight blind corner at high speed, no problem a few angry horn honks can't solve! WEEEEE!!!!!!! It's not like the road was gravel, edged with cliff. I think the horn actually increased traction for the tires too.

Gravel ricochetting off the wheel wells, children leaping out of the road like pigeons being harassed, the horn blasting to warn trees to get out of the way... the interpreter, Sophi, shouts to me, "we go now, Buddhas!"

Fuck Yea! I am really going to get to see them!

We drive up to the base of them. I am more than a little trilled! Never did I dream when I was in school discussing the Taliban destroying 6th century monasteries did I ever expect to actually find myself there in person. It didn't stop there. The crazy driver guy has the keys... the keys to the archaeological site itself! Granted he had the key to what amounted to a chicken wire fence with a few posts that is meant to keep keep trespassers out... but either way, we were about to get the grand tour!

This is the base of the larger, female, Buddha.

Me, in front of the male buddha. I have pictures of other people, but for security conserns, I don't post them.

Up inside the monastery. These carved stairways into the rock are pretty steep. They must be about 60 deg or so. It is like being in a giant ant farm. This place is not for people with bad knees or shortness of breath. The entire mountain seems to be tiny crumbly sandstone stairways, all at 8400 feet. It seems designed to make you dizzy and fall to your death.

Looking out on Bamyan Valley from one of the carved caves.

To end the day, we came back with no further problems.

I am pretty sure that this is the area that gets described in the Christopher Moore book, "Lamb."

As I have been thinking about it. It almost seems that the buddhas are more powerful in their destroyed form. I am sure they appreciate that.