Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What's Kurdish for "under the bus"?

The Turkish Army appears to be preparing to throw some additional complexity into the already-eleventh-dimension-chess-game that is post-IS Syria by threatening portions of northwest Syria currently controlled by the Kurdish PYD Party "People's Protection Units" (YPG) armed forces.

The Erdogan government, much like the governments preceding it, sees the YPG as functionally indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, and clearly now that the Islamic State is off the table and the endgame for Syria appears to be closing has decided to take action against the perennial bogeymen of the states of the Anatolian and the Fertile Crescent, the Kurds. Or, at least, one faction of that beleaguered people.

The YPG was central to the US drive to reduce the physical "state" of the Islamic State, providing the only really effective infantry for that campaign. On Tuesday a spokesperson for the "US-led anti-ISIS coalition" tossed the YPG in the Afrin region under the Turkish bus, noting that the YPG in northwest Syria were not within the coalition AO.

I'm not sure how this will work, given that the same article linked above claims that the Trump Administration's cunning Syria plan includes supporting some 30,000 "Syrian Democratic Forces" along the Iraq-Syria border, ostensibly to continue to hunt IS fugitives but strategically to interdict Iraqi and Iranian support for proxies inside Syria such as Hizbullah.

The SDF, however, is pretty much the YPG with ash-and-trash. The YPG fielded something like 50,000 troops, while the Arab portions of the SDF consist of two main groups, the Jaysh al-Thuwar that includes some Turkmen and Kurds but seldom put together more than 2-3,000 fighters, and the Jaysh al-Sanadid militia of the Shammar tribe centered in northeastern Syria and Anbar province in western Iraq. The Shammar could assemble 8-10,000 troops. If the YPG decide to grab their A-bags and beat cheeks there won't be enough "SDF" to provide an interior guard on a porta-potty.

And this is beside the whole "The Kurds get screwed again" meme which seems to be a Middle Eastern thing and one in which the U.S. plays it's own shameful part.

Leaving the YPG units in the northwest to be smashed by Turkish tanks after coopting them to help fight for U.S. political objectives would be in the great tradition of American expeditionary war; maybe the Kurds can find some surviving Vietnamese mountain tribe Mike Force guys who can teach them the Nung term for "buddyfucker".

Once again we're reminded, not so much of Trump Administration incompetence (although that certainly plays a role here), but of the fact that describing the United States' Middle Eastern policy as an actual "policy" - that is, as something developed with a thoughtful consideration of regional realities and American national interests - remains somewhere between risible and tragic.

Friday, January 12, 2018

At ease, disease

So. Here's the thing.

I've spent some time in the sort of less-paved parts of the world we're talking about today.
And I'll be straight-up with you; the term I used to describe them was, typically, "Third World shitholes".


At that time I was a paratroop sergeant, NOT Chief Executive of the world's largest superpower.

If you can't see the critical distinction there, you're a goddamn moron.

Or Donald Trump.
But I repeat myself.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Pearl Harbor Survivor

We went to a memorial Saturday for a World War 2 Veteran who recently died at 92 years old. He was with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks on Oahu on 7 December 1941.  He had always said it was not the worst place to be on Hawaii that day - as the 24th and 25th Divisions combined suffered just three killed and 26 wounded compared to the 2000 plus sailors killed and 1000 plus wounded.  The attack on Schofield happened just after 25 Val dive bombers from the Zuikaku and 14 Zeros from the Soryu and Hiryu attacked the adjacent Wheeler Field.  There they completely destroyed forty P-40 and six P-36 arrayed in a row like a carnival shooting gallery and not behind the revetments that were built for them.  Plus they damaged approximately 50 additional aircraft and inflicted 36 killed and 74 wounded on Army Air Corps soldiers.

After Wheeler the Japanese aircraft flew over Schofield Barracks at low altitude strafing the engineer, infantry, and artillery quadrangles, officer quarters, and the post hospital.  The redlegs at the artillery quad suffered the majority of the casualties.  A bomb hit a corner of the engineer quad and one hit the parade ground (or were they wayward Navy anti-aircraft shells?).  But neither caused casualties which were all due to strafing.  I have to wonder whether our vet had ever met James Jones, author of 'From Here to Eternity'.  I saw the movie version a few years after it came out in the 1950s.  But as a savvy teenager
even I knew that the scene with Burt Lancaster as 1st Sergeant Milt Warden on the roof cradling an M1919 Browning in his arms was complete BS.  His left palm would have cooked off like a well done steak – blackened Cajun style.  But apparently a Technical Sergeant William O. Gower, 27th Infantry Regiment was decorated by the Division Commander for a similar act.  Gower "took a machine gun and ammunition to the roof of the 27th Infantry quad and engaged strafing aircraft, at first cradling it in his left arm, then mounting it on a tripod. He remained on the roof throughout the
attack."   The 27th was also James Jones’ regiment, so he at the least probably attended the award ceremony for Gower if he did not know him personally.  During the attack two Japanese aircraft crashed into the nearby hills of Wahiawa.  It is believed that at least one and possibly both were brought down by small arms fire from Schofield.  Is that true?  Who knows, but those strafing runs were low, slow, and straight with no maneuvering, so perhaps?

The vet we memorialized Saturday was born in 1925 so was only 16 at the time.  A Washington State boy, he was brought up in Yakima and Wapato before enlisting.  When he finally returned stateside in 1944 on rotation furlough he was suffering from his sixth bout of malaria.  And he was wearing four battle stars aka campaign stars - one for Pearl Harbor, another for Guadalcanal, a third for Munda, and the fourth for Vella Lavella.  The 25th earned its nickname 'Tropic Lightning' and the lightning bolt in their unit patch at Guadalcanal.  It is also where their commander
'Lightning Joe' Collins earned his nickname.  Some claim it was Collins who first innovated with the TOT or 'Time-on-Target' technique at Galloping Horse hill on Guadalcanal with the initial rounds of six field artillery battalions landing simultaneously.  Maybe so for the US Army, but the Brits did it earlier in North Africa with all batteries syncing their time to BBC signals.  And I can't believe that concept or something like it was not experimented with 25 years earlier in France by Brits or Germans or French.  Besides, Collins was infantry branch so if he used the idea there it was probably from listening to a smart Division Artillery Officer (who probably got it from one of his even smarter junior officers or perhaps from an Aussie who had served earlier in the 8th Army).

His recollection of Munda was hunger,  He and the men in his squad lived on a single can of C-rations a day for 19 days.

I do not recall him ever saying much about Vella Lavella other than 'spider holes'.  After capture, the SeaBees turned Vella Lavella into a key airfield for degradation of the important IJN base at Rabaul and allowed Rabaul to be bypassed.  But Vella Lavella itself was the first leap in the island hopping leapfrogging strategy.  By going to Vella Lavella they jumped over the 10,000 man Japanese garrison on Kolombangara Island and rendered them useless.  That strategy was developed 32 years earlier in 1911 by Admiral Raymond Perry Rogers at the Naval War College - that despite MacArthur's Trump-like claim that he had invented the theory.  The Japanese themselves had also used it in their earlier drive to Southeast Asia.  Probably the Athenians used it 2500 years ago in their Aegean domination?

Sunday, December 31, 2017


May you all have a healthy, prosperous and lucky New Year.   Eat well.  Hug your loved ones. 

It is time overdue that the planet gets a peaceful year.  Especially for the children of Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. 

May KJu and the Dotard send each other good wishes.

May there be no school shootings, or mass shootings anywhere by whackos with mil grade weapons.

May the guns of the Basiji attacking students in Tehran and Kermanshah turn into kebabs and their truncheons turn into halva pudding. 

May the USA reverse course and re-enlist into the Paris Climate Agreement.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Heartbreaking spread on the Rohingya People at the New York Times here:

Sounds like Kipling's 'Ballad of Bo Da Thone':  rapine and raid - slashing the weak - filling old ladies with kerosene.

I was once told that Buddhism was a religion of peace.  A religion where the doctrine of "Do no harm" (Ahimsa) was above all else.  Apparently that is not the line pushed by U Wirathu, the nationalist Buddhist Monk AKA the Buddhist bin Laden, who is provoking this ethnic cleansing in Miramar.

But Myanmar is not alone.  Similar tragedies inspired by religious fervor happened in recent history appeared in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Are these fundamentalists or nationalists?

All major religions seem to eventually turn into something never intended by their founders it seems.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ceterum autem censeo GOP delendam esse

Well, there you have it.

All I can say at this point is that if all those idiots who bayed about "Second Amendment Solutions" aren't storming Capitol Hill right now then they can just STFU forever after. THIS is what "tyranny" looks like; the imposition of a legislative agenda desired by less than a third of the citizens subjects.

In a true democracy this would result in pitchforks and torches and the Swiss Guard dead at the gates of the Tuileries.

Which is another way of saying that those of us not in the donor class that has commanded this to happen must either utterly destroy the GOP or bow before our New Plutocratic Masters. We will not do the former, so, inevitably, we must do the latter.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oh, tempora! Oh, mores!

The lunatic stylings of Roy Moore and his fanbois reminded me again what a strange world we live in.

For one thing, it's the bizarre upwelling of tribalism in a world where "tribe" functionally means less than ever. Humans are interconnected in ways inconceivable even a generation ago, and yet “Evangelical Christian” has stopped being a religious faith and become a “tribe”. It’s really as simple as that.

So just like the Mongol who could stop on the way out of his yurt to play with his sister’s little kid before mounting up to go slaughter the Polish peasants in the village over the ridge, these folks have convinced themselves that they are a tribe, and the "others" out there are not just another tribe, but not really "people". It's like how tribal societies usually have names for themselves that mean "People"; the implication being that if you're not in the tribe you're not "people".

To top that off, these gomers have convinced themselves that they're not just a tribe, but a threatened tribe in a dangerous, frightful world against which only deadly violence can protect them.

A lot of this is an ugly combination of human nature – we’ve been tribes for a lot longer than we’ve been nations, or religions, or scientists, or whatever (along with human foibles in general – remember that “average” intelligence means that half the human race is BELOW “average”) – and way too much exposure to electronic media, which thrives on fire and murder.

But, still...the degree ti which that combination drives us to stupid behavior sometimes seems beyond any sort of rational sense.

I can’t remember what the actual incident was but I do know that it was one of the usual acts of distant violence, maybe an Islamic State attack somewhere, that caused a friend of mine to exclaim about how horrible and violent the world is today. She’s a smart person – “above average” – and so I bothered to talk to her about this.

“So…had one of those pesky barbarian invasions again last Tuesday, then?”

“No. What?

“Didn’t get the massive pandemic this week? No Black Death, no whole-family-wiped-out-by-smallpox, eh?”

“Wha…what the hell do you mean?”

“So I take it that your city didn’t fall to the besiegers and you’re not currently being raped before being faced with a sort of “bad or worse” outcome of death or slavery? The famine caused by the summer’s crop failure not facing you with a hideously slow death to starvation? The rapacious king hasn’t taken up half your neighborhood in the corvee again?”

“What the hell does this have to do with (violent act in distant place)?”

“What it means is that we, we in the First World, really live in an insanely, historically unprecedentedly peaceful world. We are almost impervious to common disease. Medicine and public health have made pandemics hugely rare. Massive volkerwanderungs that caused continent-wide death, such as the mfecane in southern Africa or the Gothic invasions of western Europe or the Mongol incursions into western Eurasia haven’t occurred for centuries. We live, in general, under a rule of settled law; we don’t run the risk of a robber baron in Salem looting and murdering us on I-5 between Portland and Eugene. There ARE still horrible things that happen…but to those of us not able to afford our own mercenary bodyguards they happen less than almost any time in human history.”

“But…terrorism! School shootings! Urban gangs!”

“Happen. Yes. But…you’ll note that they happen in little bits and pieces in places all over the world. Remember that until probably two generations ago you would never have heard of those places at all, much less of some awful thing happening in them. Think about it; which of these horrible things happened to someone YOU know, personally. Someplace within, say, three days walk from you?”


“Thought so. So the world’s NOT “the most dangerous ever”. You just hear MORE of these dangerous things ever, because that’s what the “news” thinks will keep you watching their broadcasts so they can sell more airtime to the marketers of payday lenders and erectile-dysfunction pills. So your very best option is to chillax and have a nice dark ale with a whisky in abeyance and read something thoughtful.”

Mind you, I don’t think she bought it.

That's a huge part of the problem.

I have no idea what the hell you can do about that.