Friday, February 29, 2008

Books you have to say goodbye to

I just finished World War Z, and I have to say I am very impressed by Max Brooks. He obviously really thought about the consequences of a zombie infestation and how it would go. But more important, he manages to create characters that you care about. And when the book is over, you have to force yourself to say goodbye to. Some books you can just walk away from, but a good book forces you to say goodbye to it.

I haven't come across many like that. Hyperion was one, and (I'm kinda ashamed to say it) Harry Potter. Night Watch, too, although I'm still waiting for Book Four to get released.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Well, having now been flagged by an abundance of PSD weapons, I can say that I have a personal reason to dislike them. Apparently they just leave their magazines in the well no matter where they are. I hope to god they're not locked and loaded, too. So I walk in and out of the TOC, and they have their rifles up on the counter, magazine in the well, barrel pointing at the door. Joy. So I get flagged by them every time I walk in and out. Now - I've been shot at in the past, I've even had a couple of ADs in my general vicinity from local nationals (sorry - we changed that, now it's "freedom fries" - err, Iraqis). It is still VERY disconcerting to have the barrel of a weapon pointed at your stomach.

Where's the quiet professionalism here, people? Who are these companies hiring these days? It's like they all watched that scene in Black Hawk Down where the Delta operator holds up his finger and says "this is my safety," and masturbated to it.

As I see it there are two separate issues here:

1) having a magazine in the well - all right, maybe this is their SOP. "We have to always be ready, train how you fight" kind of crap. I can accept that. I still think its kinda dumb, but if that's their rules, fine.

2) lack of proper muzzle discipline - this is the more serious problem to me. You want a magazine in your weapon, fine. But please, God, don't leave it somewhere where its pointed at me. That's just unprofessional.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Romance novels

So, there are a HUGE amount romance novels floating around this FOB. All with labels on them that say something like "Donated by the Springfield Library in support of our troops" or some nonsense. Now - I'm all about equal opportunity Army, and having female soldiers do any job they want. But - let's be honest, there is still a 850 to 1 ratio of males to females on these FOBs. (I made that number up, but it's about right). And maybe there are some guys who really like to read romance novels. But really - the preponderance of romance novels and "book 3 of a 6 book series" is really ridiculous. Plus there are lots of just BAD books - the ones that have been sitting on those library paperback racks since they were published in 1976 and no one has checked out.

So, really, can we start sending some good books? Maybe some best-sellers? Stuff that soldiers would want to read? And don't just send one - send like five or ten copies of a book - especially if its like Black Hawk Down or We Were Soldiers. And if you're going to send a book in a series, send the whole stupid series, you know? That way, someone can actually READ the series. There are these huge book graveyards all over the place, and it breaks my heart. For the soldiers and for the books.

So here's a link, in case anyone should think they want to help out the soldiers over here:

Books for Soldiers

Please note - these are NOT things I need. I have plenty of books. In my usual way, I actually have more books over here than I will be able to read before I come home. But if you can grab a snail mail address for a unit, buy em off amazon (or wherever) and have em shipped.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The "Liberal" Bias

So, I don't know if anyone really pays attention to the news here, I know some people deliberately don't, but if you've been reading, you've probably noticed that there are a lot more stories that cover positive things that have occurred in the country. Now - some people will say (I haven't been listening to talk radio here, but I'm sure the Rushes and Hannities have been spinning it) that this is just because we finally have to admit it. Well, no.

Yes, the surge is probably working. It seems like there is a decrease in violence, crime, all the bad things. This is a positive good. But a lot of the news coverage I think has more to do with the Army finally figuring out that it can release more than a one sentence press release. How many articles have you read that go like this: "The Army confirmed that two soldiers died today when their Humvee was struck by an IED. As casualties mount and there is a call for better protection for our soldiers in this divisive war..." etc.? Well a lot of that comes from the fact that the Army releases to the press words to the following: "Two soldiers were killed in an IED attack today." Well, journalists need to fill up their articles, you know? You can't just have a one sentence, or even one paragraph news story. You need to put something in there to justify the writing of the article in the first place. Now, you'll see stories much more along the lines of: "Two soldiers were killed when their Humvee struck an IED on the way to a local market. This local market is but one of several new markets springing up around the city as the surge spearhead by General Petraeus attempts to bring stability back to the wartorn country..." etc. Much better, and I am absolutely positively convinced it is because the Army is finally learning that it can release more than simple details, fill in the story, and get a positive response from the press. There is no liberal bias, there is just a newsworthy bias, and we just needed to give the press something more newsworthy than basic facts.

I just read a longer article on a unit in Afghanistan, pretty depressing, so don't read it if your not up to it. But at the same time, it's powerful, and shows some of the problems the Army is still going to encounter no matter how "stable" a country is.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small pox vaccine

SO, I'm on week 6, and my small pox vaccine has still not healed all the way. According to all the literature, it's supposed to be a 4-week process. And they only give you enough band-aids for the four weeks. So, I ran out of band-aids and had to buy some from the PX. No big deal, I was actually so happy they HAD band-aids that I didn't have time to be upset that again the Army is forcing me to buy something which is required by them.

But in addition to the moderate frustration of waiting for the stupid smallpox scab to heal up, I have also had a band-aid on the same place on my shoulder for six weeks. Not a big deal, right? Except now I have a pretty bad rash in two small squares on either side of my small pox scab. And it itches. A lot.

I hear it can take up to two and a half months for the scab to actually heal. Joy.

At least I'm ready for the 2012 event...

Friday, February 22, 2008

No water

So, they turned off the water. Not a big deal, my whole time on Victory I pretty much had porta-potties to use. Showers are nice, but they're gonna get everything back up and running in a couple days. I've been a soldier before, I can go a couple days without a shower. What bugs me about this is that when I first got here, I was very impressed by the sheer amount of flushable toilets and other water-based amenities they had available. Walk out of the barracks, there's a trailer to poop in and a trailer to shower in. Awesome! There's even a flush toilet in the building I work. Awesome! Apparently, though, they've been slowly phasing out the port-a-potties as they put in these Awesome! trailers with personal hygiene amenities... So when they turn off the water this morning, I have to walk five minutes to find a port-a-potty just so I can pee. And of course, there are four of them for the use of every single person in the building. Needless to say, that gets pretty rank pretty quick. And I don't even know if they have the infrastructure to clean the porta-potties based on the usage we are going to have for the next couple days... that's gonna get ugly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wordless lyrics

I know, it's an oxymoron. But I really think the use of wordless humming and nonsense words is underappreciated in music. Like one of my favorite songs is "The Walls Came Down" by The Call, and the whole like last minute of the song is "lala la la la lala". Or the final five minutes of "Don't You Forget About Me."

In other news, I'm amazed by how limited soldiers think they're options are. I overheard a guy talking about reenlisting so he could afford to open up a body shop back home (cars, not cosmetics). It's not the ambition which I think is limited. I personally have very simple dreams that involve getting a job, getting married, settling down. That's pretty much it. I like doing good things, and important things, and I think I am doing them now, but I kinda fell into that in my pursuit of a comfortable career. But what upset me about his soldier's statement was that he didn't seem to see any options to make money besides re-enlisting. (His other option was re-enlisting for Special Forces...) There are hundreds of well paying jobs in the States, not to mention well-paying jobs overseas, which pay far above anything a soldier makes, sometimes more in a month than an E4 makes in a year, and you don't have to be necessarily skilled, either. KBR, all the life support companies here, are always hiring people who are willing to come to Iraq and work for a year. Its just a shame that this was this one soldier's option...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Its all relative

So, I overheard a conversation the other night, apparently one of the soldiers' girlfriends caled him and told him that the month before she had gone out, gotten drunk, and slept with a guy, and now she was pregnant. I guess my little problems with loneliness aren't really on the map compared to some.

Nonetheless, it is surprising how lonely it is in fobland. There really isn't anywhere to go or anything to do when you're done with the day. On Victory, there's a couple places to go and hang out, there was this annoying guitar player who would come out to the greenbean and play (not very well), but looking back, there was something pleasant about it. At least it felt like a real place to hang out, like a coffee shop back home. Plus, the camarederie on the last team was a lot better, we actually did stuff with each other when we were done with work. I put some of that down to the dynamics of this team, but its also a limitation of the place in which we find ourselves here.

On a lighter note, its amazing how quickly pogey bait goes here. (For those who don't know, a "pogue" is a fatbody or other person who doesn't stay healthy* - thus pogey bait is the generic term for junk food, soda, or other non-healthy food items consumed by soldiers). The first week I was here we got like six packages of tastee cake stuff, those were gone in a week. I got a package witha bunch of snack cakes, those are gone. We had some M&Ms and other candy bars, all gone. I try and limit myself to one package of snack cake and one soda a day, so someone else must be tearing it up. Not a big deal, I tell people when I get it "Just don't eat the last one" Cause it really sucks when you want a soda, or a swiss cake roll, and you get back to the office and it's gone. Then you're craving it for the rest of the day, or longer if its chocolate since chocolate is rarer than gold here.

* Correction 2/20 - a pogue is a similar term for REMF, not necessarily someone out of shape. My introduction to the term seemed to be based on general slovenliness, apparently my interpretation of the statements were wrong, there's a paper in there somewhere

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rude guests

So, I have a new roommate. He likes it cold. I have two sheets and two blankets on my bed, and I still have problems getting to sleep because he likes to turn the A/C on before going to sleep. Hey, I get it, we share a living space, it's not going to be for that long, we all have to make compromises.

But, we have an outside team here, coming in to "evaluate" everyone. First of all, one of them is pretty much useless. I'm quickly developing an understanding of the inherent problems with this program, based on my interaction with this man who just hangs out in our office and plays on the internet, under the guise of "I don't want to influence the assessment since I'm inside the program." Whatever, honestly, it aggravates me on a higher plane of general aggravation. Not a big deal. But, my officemate (who also likes the temperature to be 30 degrees in the winter), is currently out of the office, and my other officemate and I prefer it warm, so we are very happy because we can turn off the stupid air conditioner. Well, Mr. Useless comes in and just turns on the A/C. I say "We actually like it warm down here." He says, "It will only be for thirty six more hours." So now, he's useless, aggravating, and directly pissing me off. I think I'm testy, but I honestly yelled at him about it. If he comes back and does it again, I probably will.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


So, finally, I am able to put up some pictures.

First is Camp Striker (aka the Worst Place on Earth)

And me at Camp Striker. You can see in the picture how happy I am to be there:

Finally a side by side comparison of my shoes and pants at Camp Striker, and then a picture of my new shoes and clean pants here at the FOB:

This is something I just thought was funny. We have lots of TCNs in Iraq. (What's a TCN you ask? We don't really know, but they do seem to get killed a lot more than other acronyms...). I think this says something like "My barbecue stay the fuck away!" in Hindi.

Last, even the firefighters have to keep a sense of humor here to stay sane:

I'm afraid its a pretty small place, so there's not much else to take pictures of. If something comes up, I'll be sure to get pictures later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New shoes and Pictures!

So, I got my new shoes in the mail today. They're more comfortable than my last ones, which had this irritating mesh in the tongue which came out and poked me in the instep all day. The only problem with these is that the ball of the left foot seems a bit hard or full or something, so that my foot gets a bit cramped. Only when I stand, though, which is kinda weird. I think I stand wrong and need to adjust it.

So - finally hooked up my camera to the computer and uploaded my pictures from Striker (it bothers me even to talk about it *shudder*). Unfortunately, my connection sucks so bad I can't upload anything. So I'll put them up tomorrow.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Raising the Bar

So, Cingular (now AT&T, the company that refuses to die), had that old set of ads, about "more bars in more places." And they have that stupid thing with five bars instead of four. Except that it's not like there's more cell phone power coming through (otherwise my phone calls wouldn't drop as much as they did), its just that they've made the cell tower sensor more . . . sensey. And it always reminded me of Nigel Tufman's speakers.

Just on a side note, my Cingular phone has six bars, not just five, and I still get shitty service over here.

Why this place is poisonous

I was listening to a guy here have a phone conversation with his girlfriend about what address to mail care packages to, it was kind of amusing. Except, I guess he doesn't have internet in his room, because it's so much easier for me to send that information out in an email, I guess he didn't have that available. I can't imagine how difficult that would be, to have people back in the States you care about that you cant talk to regularly because you're dependent on the Iraqna cell phone service. Add to that the stress of being here, the possibility of getting blown up (especially if you're in a maneuver unit and go out every day), and the fact that there are things you just CAN'T talk about. It must be horrible.

Of course, sometimes even those of us with internet get cut off emotionally. When I was in SF a few years ago I saw a sculpture in a show in Haight, the Weeping Buddha. I was in a bad place at the time, and something about it appealed to me. I think it was that even though this figure was curled into a ball, he wasn't curled into a fetal position. You could feel the anguish emanating out from it, but he hadn't fallen over. He was curled up tight, fighting the pain, doing his best to hold on, he's even clinging to himself, which is a great metaphor for Buddhism, but he hasn't fallen over. My mother bought it for me later for Christmas, based solely on my description. It is still my favorite decoration.

But you get in these places here which are difficult to get out of, and because of the wonderful infrastructure, sometimes you don't have the time or ability to communicate effectively, and things get worse. Miscommunication leads to more, and eventually it all feels like its going to shit.

Iraq is poisonous.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Things I am looking forward to when I get home

Finishing my dissertation
Eating breakfast at 8:05
Bread and cheese
Reliable internet
Fast internet
Decent choices of good food
Control of the heater/AC

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Phone calls

So - yeah, considering where I am working at the moment, please send me a quick text like fifteen minutes before you try to call... give it time to get to my phone and for me to get outside so I can receive the call. Everything will probably work better that way, or email and let me know a time to be available. Just be certain to specify a time zone....

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Military vehicles I have flown in

C-130 - the first flight I ever had was in a C-130. I almost threw up, and I had taken two dramamine before taking off. It was ugly. The second time I was in a C-130 I didn't get quite so bad, but it was still a very unpleasant experience. It's dark, you sit in a web seat, you're cramped, overall completely unenjoyable.

C-5 - the only time I flew in a C-5, I DID throw up. For about forty five minutes. That was an unpleasant experience, probably the worst experience I've ever had in my entire life. And I wasn't the only one, about thirty people on my flight lost it, two in the bathroom and the rest in air sickness bags. You sit in the tail section, facing backwards, so your inner ear is all sorts of messed up when the plane refuels. According to the airman in the cabin, it was the worst re-fuel he had ever encountered. Didn't make me feel better.

C-17 - definitely the most enjoyable plane flight I've ever had. It was still loud, but there was space, it felt almost clean, and it was a real seat. Granted, a 1950's era place seat, but a real seat. Luckily I was on the side of the plane and not on one of the pallets they assemble in the middle, cause those kept rocking back and forth with the plane, and that might have given me issues.

UH-60 - a dream. It was a bit loud, and a bit scary walking out under the rotors (I kept trying to remember whether you were supposed to approach it from the front or the side, but since we got in from the side and walked out from the front, I guess it wasn't that big of an issue), but once in and lifting off, the only thing I can compare it to is the skyride at your local theme park. Not as much shaking as I would have expected, and even the takeoff and landing were reminiscent of the little clunks as the skyride car comes in and goes through the gear things across the top.