Monday, July 30, 2012

Booked Flights, and a Snag

Alright, we've hit our first snag. Gus came over this afternoon, and we booked our tickets to Aberdeen by way of Amsterdam. As we reviewed the receipt E-mails, we realized that there had been a mix-up (probably my fault), and that our flight plan doesn't put us into Scotland until the day after we had expected to arrive. Of course, because we booked through Travelocity, the tickets are non-refundable. The question now is how to get to Scotland - or, at very least, into the United Kingdom, earlier than the connecting flight will put us there. I'll post more on this episode of consequence management as it develops.

UPDATE: Okay, so I was able to void the first set of tickets. Unfortunately, the airline may not refund my money for a couple of days. My goals was to immediately rebook the tickets on a different itinerary, but that may have to wait until Thursday morning. It's progress, at least! After all this time, I'll swim if I have to.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Proclaimers in Orkney! Bollocks!

A couple of days ago, I found out that one of my favorite bands ever, The Proclaimers, will be playing a gig in Orkney in August. Curses! If they had waited until November or December, I could have attended! The band is touring to promote their new album, Like Comedy, so there's a good chance that I'll get another opportunity to see them while I'm in Scotland, but seeing the Proclaimers in Kirkwall would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity! I saw the lads in Portland in April of 2004, with less than a day's notice that they were playing, and it was one of the coolest shows I've ever attended.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Travel Destinations: British Isles

This will be my third trip to the British Isles. I spent about four days there in 2003 with Friar Dave, then most of the Summer of 2004 there in my gig as a pallbearer. On the first trip, I got some brief exposure to London, Portsmouth, and Cambridge. I saw a lot more of England on my second trip - lots of West Sussex, some of Hampshire, London, and bits of the Isle of Wight. At the end of the Summer, I took two weeks, and saw as much as I possibly could. After flying from Gatwick to Inverness, my route took me from:

Leg #1: Inverness to Aberdeen
Leg #2: Aberdeen to Orkney
Leg #3: Orkney to Thurso
Leg #4: Thurso to Inverness
Leg #5: Inverness to Glasgow
Leg #6: Glasgow to Edinburgh (with a dip into Cumbria)
Leg #7: Edinburgh to Glasgow
Leg #8: Glasgow to Stranraer
Leg #9: Stranraer to Belfast
Leg #10: Belfast to Dublin

Given that I'll have a year to work with, and better resources than I had in 2004, I expect to revisit some of my previous destinations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and see a few more as well. I've spent the last couple of years working out a list of cities and sites I want to hit, and I'm pretty stoked for the chance to knock some of them off of that list.

I'd like to revisit all of my old haunts in England, and add a few others that I didn't get around to before. I've always enjoyed travelling, but I hadn't done much of it between 2004 and earlier this year. I'm looking forward to getting back into the habit of taking off for a weekend and seeing a few things, then getting back to work, resetting, and then doing it again a few weeks later. In 2004, most of that took place in south central England; this time, it will take place primarily in Scotland, but hitting some of the high points of England is a must.

I'm also excited about the prospect of hitting a few more spots in Ireland than I did before. Belfast and Dublin are fantastic, and I'm looking forward to seeing both of them again. I'd also like to visit some of the former hot spots of The Troubles, as well as Skellig Michael, the history of which is discussed in one of my favorite books, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.

I figure I may as well hit a couple of spots in Wales this time around, but I imagine that will be pretty minor. If I can get myself into good enough shape, I'd like to climb Pen y Fan, centerpiece of Special Air Service Selection; and Ben Nevis, but that's another story.

The Books: Travel Guides

A good travel guide goes a long way. My buddy Friar Dave started me off on the Let's Go series after my first overseas trip in '03. Let's Go does good work, but their scope is geographically and thematically limited to backpacking and tourism in areas frequented primarily by students. During my recent trips in the Persian Gulf region, I tried the Lonely Planet guidebooks for the first time. Lonely planet seems to cover a wider geographic range.

This time around, my travel goals are focused mostly on the British Isles and Europe, so I've purchased the following guides.

  • Let's Go: Europe 2012
  • Let's Go: Great Britain with Belfast and Dublin
  • Lonely Planet: Ireland

    While I'm overseas, I'd also like to make another run at Oman, possibly for some research for my dissertation. Earlier this year, I used the Lonely Planet guide to the Arabian Peninsula. A couple of months ago, during an expedition to Powell's City of Books, I picked up a copy of The Rough Guide to Oman, which is smaller and focuses only on Oman, so I plan to take that instead. In a day or two, I'll post my list of travel goals.
  • Thursday, July 26, 2012

    The Dissertation: Topics

    My degree from the University of Aberdeen will be based upon 120 credits derived from a total of four courses taken over two semesters, and 60 credits awarded based upon completion of a dissertation. The schedule consists of one academic term spanning late September to mid December, and a second term spanning early January to late March, and a third term lasting from mid April to early June. From June through September, students work to complete their dissertation. Based upon correspondence with The Director, I'm aware that I have the option of completing the dissertation in the States by way of correspondence.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you: if you thought you could finish (or at least complete a large preponderance of) a dissertation early, and spend a solid month or two travelling and screwing around in Scotland before having to come back to the real world, wouldn't you do everything in your power to do so? So, my plan (which I'll admit has little or no chance of "surviving first contact with the enemy") is to do as much of my dissertation, or even several different proto-dissertations, as possible during the preceding months. So, I've come up with some potential topics.

    First Tier Topics
  • The Dhofar Rebellion: I had the opportunity to go to Oman earlier this year, and have been studying the country and its recent history ever since. Inspired by Sir Alistair Horne's magnum opus about the Algerian War, A Savage War of Peace, I'm entertaining the idea of writing an equivalent magnum opus on the Dhofar Rebellion. This would form the kernel around which I might build that book.
  • Roman Lessons for Afghan Counterinsurgents: I dedicated a lot of time during my undergrad years to studying the Roman campaigns in ancient Britain (and particularly those of Julius Agricola), and Julius Caesar's campaigns in Gaul. I've been consistently impressed by the numerous similarities between the Roman campaigns against the Celts (and particularly the Celts in modern Britain), and the modern campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I'd like to explore the lessons that ancient warfare have to teach modern counterinsurgents.
  • The Hague and Geneva Conventions and Modern Warfare: I briefly studied the Hague and Geneva Conventions when I was an undergrad, and I'd like to study the knock-on effects that more than a century of the Hague and Geneva Conventions have had on the conduct and character of modern warfare. I would do this through a series of case studies focused on identifying specific aspects of both which have had far-reaching effects on the conduct of warfare since the 1860's.
  • Private Military Companies: Recent wars, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan, have suggested that a rewrite of doctrine on the nature and implementation of private military/security contractors. I'd like to read some of the available literature, study the impact that PM/SCs have had on modern warfare, and what impact they might have on future strategy.
  • Education as a National Security Issue: I'm keenly interested in the impact of education on national security, both the preparation of an informed citizen body that understands national security issues, and the preparation of potential enlisted and commissioned military personnel for their duties. For this option, I would focus my attention on K-12 education, university curriculum, basic and advanced individual training for enlisted soldiers, pre-commissioning training for officers, and continuing education for career military personnel.

    In the unlikely event that none of those topics work out, here are some other topics I might try to pursue.

    Second Tier Topics
  • Chinese Neo-Colonialism in Africa
  • Opportunities and Challenges for NATO in the 21st Century
  • The Influence of the Algerian Revolution on Modern War
  • Strategic Implications of the Decay of the Russian Military Industrial Complex
  • Support for Terrorism from Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime
  • Strategic Implications for Hybrid and Irregular Warfare
  • Irregular Warfare Opposing Force Field Manual
  • North African Energy and Resource Security
  • Defense Contractors in the Post-Cold War Era

    As those of you who don't know me may have gathered by now, I'm seldom accused of insufficient planning.
  • The Books: Textbooks

    When I originally corresponded with The Director (of the Strategic Studies program) a couple of years ago, he sent me the reading list for the program. I began reading a couple of those books before I left the Middle East earlier this year, and have completed several more since then. The ones I've finished thus far are indicated by a tick mark (√), and each book is linked to its corresponding listing on Amazon.

  • Thomas G. Mahnken and Joseph A. Maiolo: Strategic Studies: A Reader
  • James F. Hodge and Gideon Rose: How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War (√)
  • Michael Quinlan: Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems and Prospects (√)
  • Robert Kagan: The Return of History and the End of Dreams (√)
  • John Baylis et al.: Strategy in the Contemporary World
  • Colin Gray: Another Bloody Century (√)
  • Lawrence Freedman: The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy
  • Colin Gray: Modern Strategy
  • John J. Weltman: World Politics and the Evolution of War (√)
  • L. Schoultz: Beneath the United States: A History of US Policy Towards Latin America
  • Mark Ungar: Policing Democracy: Overcoming Obstacles to Citizen Security in Latin America
  • Graham Evans and Jeffrey Newnham: The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations

    When I received the welcome letter for the 2010 intake as a reference document, I learned that the teaching staff had eliminated a course on international security organizations and replaced it with a course on Latin America. I'm sure Latin America's wonderful, but since I've spent most of my time studying the international community or the Middle East, I wasn't excited about the course about Latin America. I decided that, since that particular course would be completed during the second term, I would save the two books about Latin America until I was actually in Scotland. Then, I received the welcome letter for the 2012 intake a few weeks ago, I learned that the second semester's curriculum had changed, and that I would now have the option of choosing two courses from a total of four offerings. Another three readings were also added, and these are listed below.

  • Elinor C. Sloan: Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction
  • Sherard Cowper-Coles: Cables from Kabul
  • Christine Gray: International Law and the Use of Force

    I'm more likely to take the courses that include these three new books, so if I were a betting man, I'd bet that I don't wind up reading those two books about Latin America. I also imagine that having read the books about nuclear strategy will prove to have been time wasted if I don't enroll in the course on nuclear policy, but that's alright because nuclear strategy interests me more than Latin America.

    Carl von Clausewitz's incomparable treatise has been mentioned in several of the books I've read so far, and I hope to read it in its entirety by the time I've completed the program. I'd also very much like to read Niccolo Machiavelli's The Art of War. As neither of them are actually required, only time will tell whether I read either or not.
  • A Long Story, Shorter

    What would you do if, just once, you had the opportunity and the resources necessary to make one of your wildest dreams come true? Hi, my name is Tom, and this will be the story of my final preparations for, journey to, and adventures in Scotland. This being the first post, I'll tell you a little about myself and give you some background on my upcoming expedition.

    I'm originally from Oregon, and graduated from Oregon State University. In 2004, I spent my Summer working as a pallbearer in England, and had the opportunity to visit Scotland for the first time. My stops included Inverness, Aberdeen, Orkney, Thurso, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stranraer. Once I graduated, I worked as an instructor for the Army in California, as a technical writer and risk management consultant for the DoD, and as a security consultant in the Middle East. I've been interested the UK generally, and particularly Scotland, for many years.

    In Spring of 2010, I felt unsettled at my job in Virginia, and started looking for an opportunity to do something different. Knowing that I was interested in Scotland, a friend and colleague who I'll refer to hereafter as "Aunt Jo" sent me the link to the University of Aberdeen and suggested that I look into graduate school there. I found Aberdeen's MSc in Strategic Studies listed on their website, decided that it would be a great match for my interests and background, and immediately began planning. I put together spreadsheets to forecast saving money to finance my studies, and began to make lists of the things I would need to take with me in order to be successful and enjoy myself. Shortly after Aunt Jo and I had that conversation, I was transferred into a different job, and then a few months later I had the opportunity to take a promotion and transfer to a position overseas - longer hours and more demanding duties, but much better pay. I was very careful with the money I made, and by the time that opportunity came to an end, I had saved enough to finance my studies in Aberdeen.

    I arrived back in Oregon in early Spring of this year, and most of my time since then has been spent preparing for Aberdeen. I've read some of the textbooks for the courses I'll be taking, swam laps at the pool and gone on a few hikes to get ready for covering most of my daily mileage on foot, and started purchasing one thing or another to take with me. I submitted my application in early June, sorted out a hiccough with my letters of reference in early July, got official confirmation of my acceptance, and just sent my offer acceptance back this week. There are a few more administrative hurdles to be jump, and then in mid-September, I'll box my life in Oregon up for a year, pack what I need, and make the trek with my buddy "Gus", who's helping me to move my stuff over there.

    While I was in the Middle East, I sent occasional E-mails home to family and friends documenting my adventures, and I intend to do something similar this time, so the blog will probably become the home of most of that content, with some additional items - probably about 85% overlap between the two. Until then, keep checking back every few days to track my progress. Between now and September, my posts will document my preparation and departure, as well as my plans for my time in Aberdeen. Once I've settled into life as a graduate student there, I'll transition into posting about my week-to-week life, academic pursuits, and adventures in Scotland and elsewhere.