Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quickie from home

Unfortunately I have no internet access at my apartment right now despite many attempts to hack into the wireless routers in my building. Instead I'm typing this entry from my neighborhood Starbucks (doesn't every neighborhood have a Starbucks?).

As you can see from my profile picture I went in to visit the guys at Ducati Omaha a couple days ago. They could not have been a better bunch of dudes. And they all ride the bikes they sell, and are really into it. I got to meet the sales manager (well duh, that's the guy I handed the check to), the service manager, the owner, a couple of their club racers and their shop dog Cedric.

They had a demo bike available in the model I want (it's the one I'm sitting on) but it's actually already been sold to a guy. I was still offered the chance to ride it around but I haven't been on a bike in awhile and I didn't want to crack up this guy's ride. I'll take that chance with my own bike, but not a fellow ducatisti.

On a slight down note the red paint scheme isn't currently available in North America, so I had to settle for the brushed titanium color. Jim (the sales manager) placed the order asking for red if at all possible, but it doesn't seem likely. The shop was great, and they're expanding soon for more display area for both bikes and apparel.

Bottom line, if you're in the market for a new motorcycle and don't want to be on the same thing that everyone else is riding then look these guys up at Ducati Omaha. Tell 'em Jeff sent ya'.

Well, I'm off to finish Christmas shopping. I no longer feel awkward with cartfulls of princess barbie stuff, since my nieces are just the most adorable kids in the world and if someone has an issue with that, well....good luck to 'em.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Well I made it home...

So the trip wasn't TOO bad. Lots of hurry up and wait, which is typical of any military operation. We got out of Iraq fairly quickly, but were stuck in Kuwait for a little over 24 hours waiting on a flight. Of course we had all the mandatory briefings, don't beat up your family, don't drink too much, DO show up for your flight back to Iraq on time. That kind of thing.

From Kuwait we flew to some airport in the back of beyond in Germany. We sat in an empty terminal for several hours while they refueled the plane and waited on the new crew. Once they got there it was take-off time and we were headed for Atlanta. That was VERY quick and easy. In and out of Atlanta before we really had a chance to adjust. Then we were in Chicago. The last stop before home. We found our gate, made sure we'd be able to get on the plane (we had reserved tickets so no concern there), and then I suggested we find one of the out of the way bars and grab a quick beer. My buddy I was traveling with thought it was an OK idea, so on we went. We walked around the corner, ordered a beer, and someone offered to buy it for us. Very nice. But like anything else relating to the Army the joy didn't last long. I had barely put the cup up for my first sip when someone tapped me on the shoulder… "Excuse me Sergeant, you're not really going to drink that beer are you?" He was a short guy, in a funny looking hat, but as he was addressing me he whipped out an ID card identifying himself as a Major.

"Sir, we just want to have one each quietly in the corner here, then we're going to go catch our plane. We just got home on leave from Iraq."

"So did I, but rules are rules, now put it down and just walk away."

Well, unfortunately he's an officer and that was a pretty direct (although chickenshit) order. I complied. Of course the very nice bartender asked me if the beer was OK, and I said "Oh yeah, it's great, but this guy back here is a Major and he says I'm not allowed to drink this. Sorry about that, but you'll have to talk with him." Then out we went. It seems that civilians can support the troops, but sometimes we forget how to do that ourselves.

The plane landed on time, and we made it into Lincoln just fine. The nieces are HUGE, and talking in sentences. The nephew is nearly as big as the nieces at only six months old! It's crazy!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Are we pot committed in Iraq?

In my last apparently controversial blog entry my mom mentioned the 'gambler's fallacy' regarding whether or not we're continuing in Iraq because we fallaciously believe we're committed to doing so.

I'm going to attempt to work that out a bit here. As I start typing this I'm trying not to hold any opinion, and you'll be reading me working the problem out on paper. I sincerely doubt I'll be able to arrive at an answer, but it's an interesting intellectual exercise at 6am while I'm watching the Steelers beat up on the Browns (10-0 at the half).

Re: the gambler's fallacy. In poker we call that being 'pot committed'. Essentially you have so much already invested in the hand that you must continue to play. But the decision to continue play isn't made in a vacuum. It's a function of the amount already invested vs. the amount needed to continue, the odds of the hand you're playing, and the history/behavior of the player with whom you're contending.

Are we pot committed in Iraq? First, what must we continue to invest, and what are the potential gains?

The continued investment is difficult to conceive. The Iraq working group chaired by James Baker listed several options. I think however the option put forward by Senator McCain of increasing troop strength for a time would be more likely to gain us success. That and a shift back to more offensive tactics. Certainly a strong continued presence in the country would be required, with at least present troop levels maintained.

The potential gains are even more nebulous. To be honest we wouldn't gain much through any perceived victory. But we stand to lose a great deal. The end result could be a religious civil war across all of Islam. And since Islam sits on the largest centralized oil reserves in the world that would be bound to have a disastrous effect on the global economy. The reality probably wouldn't be that extreme, but you'd certainly see Iraq split into three factions along Sunni/Shia/Kurd lines. The Shia majority would likely leave the Kurds alone. The Peshmerga are fierce and brutal fighters who wouldn't pander to public opinion the way we must do and would crush any insurgency in their territory utterly. The Sunni would probably be subjected to attempted genocide or secular/tribal cleansing. The enmity between Muslim, Serb and Croat was neighborly disagreement compared to the level on which these people can hate.

How much have we invested thus far?

The last monetary figure I saw was on the order of 387 billion dollars. Additionally the lives of 3000 Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen (some of whom were my personal friends), and the countless man-hours of individual service members and contractors.

Can we afford to cast this aside? Not easily. Much national pride and political capital sits in the pot. To fold now might lose us a great deal of respect in global affairs and cause us to have to bargain from a weakened position later.

What are the odds of us winning?

This is much more difficult. I'd almost be likely to say it can't be done at this time. To truly engage and defeat the insurgency would require tactics so barbaric and violent that US public opinion would have us on the way home and on trial for crimes against humanity, and would damage our military's social standing probably beyond repair.

The tactics required would in my opinion be Alexandrian/Roman/Nazi. Entire villages known to support the insurgency would have to be 'depopulated'. Either through just putting the people on the street and plowing the village under, or driving in and killing everything that runs, walks or crawls. You can't buy these people off. They don't stay bought, and there's no concept of loyalty outside their tribe.

Which leads to the last point. How has the player we're contending with played hands like this in the past? The answer is, very well. The Arabs are particularly skilled at insurgency and preservation of their culture despite pressing influence from the outside world. They've only historically succumbed to brutal totalitarianism in the past, and are unlikely to ever accept a democracy foisted upon them from outside their society.

Sorry, no answers here in the end. It's a problem who's complexity is beyond my ability to solve. But I hope I've shown enough of my work (yes, I'm making a calculus analogy) that maybe someone smarter than me can work the other analogy (the poker one, thanks mom) a bit further.

Less than a week and I'm on my way home. I have today off so I'm doing some packing and getting a box shipped off. I'm also going to hit the gift shop on the east side and see what other fun goodies they might have. Also my last chance to really hang out with my friend Dan as he's an IRR soldier who'll rotate home for good while I'm home on leave and if history is any indicator I'm unlikely ever to see him again.

Be well all, and may the force be with you.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

So I got a myspace mail today...

And the subject line was 'Hello from San Francisco'. This was my first clue, for while San Francisco is a beautiful city I've not seen a political or social decision come out of there that I thought even bordered on logic or rationality.

The text of the e-mail was this:

I am so sorry that you are stuck in Afghanistan! I went to every protest against the war hoping that people of this damn country will wake up and do something to bring our entire troop home! It didn..t help!



Now the front of my profile pretty clearly states that I'm in Iraq. If you bother to read my blog you'll see that while life over here is sometimes difficult and most often dull I do believe in what we do here, and have no love or respect for the people I'm fighting.

What sort of misguided liberal naievete' would make someone think comments such as this are at all appropriate or likely to be positively received? My politics are tough to pigeon-hole, on some issues I'm extremely left wing, on others I'm farther right than those guys with jack boots and swastika arm bands. I like to think that most of my political and sociological opinions are based on observations, experience, and logical reasoning. More importantly when I'm wrong about something I have a pretty solid history of admitting such and seeking information to help me reform a better opinion.

I'm not going to let something like this bother me too much. I post this here not to invite attacks on the person who sent me this message, rather to point out the unbelievable gall of persons who have so much faith in the 'rightness' of their own position that they will cross any line in order to put that message out there (Fred Phelps, I'm looking at you here).

Hope everyone's doing well. Less than ten days and I'll be flying home on leave. I can't wait to relax on the couch watching TV, and use the bathroom without having to run outdoors.

See you all soon!