Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Island Paradise: Kitchener Memorial

I'll spare everyone a recitation of the great feats of Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener. He's a major figure in the history of the British Empire, was highly regarded in his time, and is one of few British figures of his day to still enjoy widespread notoriety to this day. Earl Kitchener perished on 5 June 1916 off the west coast of Orkney after the ship conveying him on a diplomatic mission to Russia hit a German mine and sank.

A couple of years ago, I learned of the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head on the west coast of the Orkney Mainland. I resolved to go see it! After getting some directions from some construction workers who were working on what I think was a hostel, I piloted my intrepid chariot to go see it. Unfortunately, I only got as far as here. Since it was colossally muddy out, I decided that I'd made the effort, and I extricated the intrepid chariot from the muddy road I'd driven up. I later learned from Gray 1 and Gray 2 that there is, in fact, a path, but I expect that I would have been so hideously caked in mud by the time I'd gotten to the memorial and back that the whole thing would have been a fool's errand. To prove that I'd made the effort, I got a couple of pictures of the tower from a distance...

... and I finished it out with a great picture of the Orkney landscape, stretching out across the Orkney coastline toward the Bay of Skaill. I'd seen Skara Brae back in '04 and didn't feel the need to repeat it, so I drove past Skara Brae and back toward Kirkwall. I passed the Ring of Brodgar (to be discussed later) and Maeshowe, and I'm pretty sure that it was on that particular drive back to my digs that I heard that Olly Murs song from The Songs That Remind You 3. It was the end of a fantastic first full day in Orkney.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gear: Everyday Carry

So, I've talked about my sea bags and I've even mentioned my Arc'Teryx Echo Pack. Back in September, I mentioned a few purchases, and that included a 5.11 Rush Delivery Messenger Bag and a 5.11 Rush MOAB 10.

After two months, I've found that I carry the MOAB 10 almost every day. The biggest drawback of the MOAB 10 is that it doesn't have enough room to carry my laptop, which is why I bought the Messenger Bag in the first place. It would have been ideal to get something that was a hybrid between the two, with the agility of the MOAB 10 and the laptop space of the Messenger Bag, but 5.11 doesn't really make one, and I tend to like military-inspired bags because of their versatility. That said, they both have their drawbacks. The Messenger Bag doesn't have much room for anything but a laptop, and it would benefit from some expandability, like the Israeli paratrooper bag. I've had three or four of these Israeli satchels, and they're fantastic. For all of the MOAB 10's agility, its various compartments and pouches lack the expansion space to be really effective. It's a great bag, and so far I've used it for both everyday school carry and occasional travel (all I took to Edinburgh was the MOAB 10), but it would be tough to use it for more than an overnight, and that's packing really light.

Last week, I got some items from home that I'd packed before I left, and it included a super old Eddie Bauer backpack that I received from some family friends in 2000 as a high school graduation gift, and used for my five years as an undergrad. It's about as basic as you can get for a backpack, with a big main compartment, a small compartment on the cover, and a couple of mesh side pouches. It also has the virtue of not making me look like I'm geared up for a not-so-covert insertion into Tamanrasset.

The other item in my cache of stuff was a little number I picked up on my way back to the States from the Middle East back in March: a Hydration Bladder Carrier by Voodoo Tactical. It's designed to be a CamelBak, but it's a great light size to carry a couple of books, maybe a Kindle Fire, or even some Arabic flash cards. I remember being bummed that I hadn't packed it to bring with me, so I'm glad that I actually did pack it and just forgot about it until it arrived.

So... Uh... That's how I carry my stuff around so that my hands are able to do things like fish in my pockets for my bus pass or fumble with the controls to my Walkman.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Remembrance Day

As everyone in the West knows, November 11th is the day we remember the end of The Great War. In the States, we call it Veterans' Day, and in the United Kingdom it's Remembrance Day. In the United Kingdom, the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day see a lot of the population wearing poppies on their shirts or jackets. These can be procured with a donation to the Poppy Appeal, which supports the efforts of the Royal British Legion.

When Gus and I were touring campus on that Sunday morning, we observed the Remembrance Day service of the Army, Navy, and Air Force cadets outside the King's College Chapel. It reminded me of the Joint Service Review ceremonies that I participated in when I was a midshipman in Naval ROTC Unit as an undergrad, many moons ago. Here are some of the pictures that I snapped.

Also impressive was the bagpipe and drum band that provided the military music for the event. It was a great way to observe Veterans'/Remembrance Day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Around Aberdeen: Gordon Highlanders Museum

On Gus' last day in Scotland, I treated him to a shave and a haircut at City Barber, and then we walked two miles, uphill, to the Gordon Highlanders Museum.

The museum is located here, in sort of western Aberdeen. Once we'd paid our admission (£5 for Gus, £3 for me as a student), we were directed into a little theater for a short film about the Gordon Highlanders. Before the film started, we were offered a few remarks by an elderly gentleman whom we assumed to be a veteran of the regiment. The video was informative, it discussed the regiment's formation in 1794 and their subsequent operations during the Napoleonic Wars (including a critical breakthrough at the Battle of Waterloo), the Anglo-Afghan Wars, the Boer War, World War I, World War II, and thereafter. When we emerged from the theater, we were once again greeted by the elderly gentleman named Tom... Who proceeded to guide us, completely unexpectedly, through most of our tour of the museum. This included the main gallery (the Grant Room), followed by the Armo(u)ry, and the regimental silver display room. Throughout the tour, our distinguished guide - himself a World War II veteran of operations in Europe from shortly after D-Day and thereafter - relayed the hallowed lore of the Regiment. The museum and its various collections would have been top tier even without our guide's presence, but his guidance and pride in the Regiment were invaluable. He made an excellent experience truly unforgettable.

Once we'd been handed off, we got to see the museum's dining hall, which is used for formal events (and can be hired out), after which we saw the rotating exhibition hall with a variety of Commando Comics-inspired bits and bobs from the history of the Regiment. Our volunteer tour guide was able to pull in another elderly Scot named Alex, who'd also served in the Regiment in World War II. We talked about General Patton, the Band of Brothers book and television series, Richard Winters, and a variety of other topics. Gus and I were thrilled! Conversations with two Scottish war heroes in a single afternoon!

We made our way back to the museum's entry, and made a couple of purchases - for me, it was a copy of Commando Country, a compilation of three of the Commando Comics editions on the desert campaigns, and a couple of CDs of the pipe and drum corps playing marches and such. Before we left, we got our picture with our tour guide, Tom. We left the museum at closing time - ironically, the first time in my memory that I've closed down both a museum and (subsequently) a pub in the same day.

If you're in Aberdeen at any point in the next week, you're a moron if you don't go to visit the museum. Normally closed in December and January (except for private hire events), the museum will close at the end of next week until April for some renovations. Seriously, folks: if you come to visit Aberdeen, you're cheating yourself if you don't budget two or three hours to visit the Gordon Highlanders Museum. I've been to a lot of museums, including a lot of military museums, and the Gordon Highlanders Museum is comparable in presentation quality and size of collection to great military museums like the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico (though obviously regimental-sized). Like many things around here, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Once we were done at the museum, Gus and I made the two mile hike back to Lionel's so he could enjoy one last kebab shop dinner, after which we went to The Machar for drinks with Sister and Irish Jay. Once we'd shut The Machar down, we said our goodbyes and parted company. It was great to have him here, we did some great stuff while he was visiting, and made a lot of great memories in the process. And now, it's back to work.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Return to Edinburgh

As I mentioned earlier, I went to Edinburgh Friday night. What I didn't mention is that, other than meeting up with sweetthesound, I was there to hang out with Gus. I had three items on my agenda:

  • meet up with sweetthesound and her buddies for dinner and the haunted tour
  • get a grid for my 2004 hostel
  • attend the Scotland vs. South Africa rugby match

    Bam. Nailed it. Gus and I even found some time to enjoy some whisky at the Balmoral Bar and a few minutes in the Prince Street Gardens, where we got some pictures of Edinburgh Castle. From there, we started walking to the rugby match, and ended up walking nearly the whole way with one of Britain's wounded warriors. It was a bit of a hike, I don't mind telling you. As we got nearer to Murrayfield Stadium, a delightful young lady painted our faces with swaths of blue-white-blue to help us cheer on the Scottish national rugby team.

    Still nearer to the stadium, there were a variety of groups hawking for donations for various causes, and I donated to, and got my picture taken with, a bunch of Royal Marines, one of whom had been to my home state! Holy smokes! A bunch of Royal Marines Commandos joining me in a shout of "Go [mascot animal]!" Totally awesome! Have you ever gotten three Royal Marines to shout the name of your school's mascot before? No? That's what I thought! Suck it, [intrastate rivals]!

    The view from our seats (36 and 37 in Section 38, Row UU - nearly the last row!) was spectacular, despite the odd fellow in the salmon-colored jeans and black sport coat who sat next to Gus. We got another couple of pictures of ourselves...

    ... and cheered Scotland to victory! Well, Scotland didn't actually win the game, but the South Africa Springboks are supposed to be a very good team, so I was satisfied with the 10-21 loss, even though a win would have been a scoche better. All in all, it was a great whirlwind trip to Edinburgh, and Gus and I parted company near Haymarket Station so that he could get some food and I could catch the train back to Aberdeen. Then, I wound up joining the first two legs of the One Pub Crawl to Rule Them All (Part 2), before bidding an early (midnight) farewell to the group and finally getting some much-needed sleep. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

    Next stop: Glasgow. (Probably.)
  • Around Aberdeen: Around King's College

    One of the cool things about attending a university that was founded more than five hundred years ago is that there are some really cool old buildings that are still in use. One of these is King's College. The entire area of the University of Aberdeen that exists in Old Aberdeen is the King's Campus, but the rest of the University of Aberdeen's campus in Old Aberdeen is built around the original (semi-original?) King's College. That picture up there is the iconic King's College Chapel, with its ornate "crown". When one goes through that passageway in the bottom right corner, this sign...

    ... is visible on your right. Through the pathway is King's Quad, and at the other end is the building known as King's Quad, because that's not confusing at all. I'm fortunate to have my weekly "tutorial" (what we'd call a "recitation" at my alma mater, but which is basically just another lecture period) in King's Quad, and I'll try to get some pictures of the interior at some point. Outside the door to the building are statues of a lion and a unicorn to represent England and Scotland, respectively (why the unicorn is a national symbol of Scotland is a big unknown for me)...

    ... and some ornate work above the door that notes despecific dates that are relevant for some reason that's not explicitly stated.

    I have to admit, many of the buildings on campus aren't particularly old or attractive, but buildings like King's College and the King's College Chapel make up for it. It's not quite as impressive as some of the stunning neo-classical architecture at my alma mater, but it has its own charms, as you can see.

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    Gus Visits

    So, now that the visit is over, it's time to let the cat out of the bag. Gus, who is one of my best good friends, arrived about a week and a half ago with my other sea bag. I haven't posted this until now in order to maintain his operational security, which I've discussed on the JTS, Ltd. blog here and here. You know what they say, practice what you preach. Anyway, I've been pleased to have my other bag, which contained (among other things)...

  • my kilts and sporran
  • Another Bloody Century by Colin Gray, and The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy by Lawrence Freedman
  • my travel guides
  • a couple of everyday carry bags, which will be discussed in more detail later

    ... but it was even more exciting to have one of my best good friends here to visit for a few days. That's something that obviously never happened in the Middle East (though I did run into one of my old shipmates there, which was fun), and it's something that's only rarely happened in other places where I've lived. Special thanks to St. Jen and Hank for loaning him to me for the duration of his stay.

    During his trip, Gus spent a couple of days with me in Aberdeen, and went to Elgin, Stirling, and Edinburgh, where we met up with sweetthesound, among other activities. Gus packed a lot into his time here alone, and we packed a lot into the time we were able to spend together. There will be more posts about Gus' visit over the next couple of weeks.

    Oh, yeah. And we went to pubs, and apparently he was always on my left and I was always on his right.
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Island Paradise: Earl's Palace, Birsay

    When I was done at Orkney Brewery, I decided to hang a left onto the main road, and it was about that time that the number one song of the year played on the radio.

    That's right, folks: I claim to be the only blog post in the history of the world to combine Gangnam Style with Orkney. At any rate, one of the places where Captain John took me in 2004 was the Earl Robert's Palace in Birsay. Birsay is a tiny village on the west coast of the Orkney Mainland. Since I was already in the neighborhood, I decided to drive my intrepid chariot back to Birsay for another look.

    You know what? I didn't actually take many pictures of the palace itself. I'd taken a bunch of them back in 2004, and it was extremely muddy, and I thought, "You know what? I don't need to take a bunch of pictures here." So, I didn't. If you're really curious about the Earl Robert's Palace in Birsay, you can visit the appropriate page at OrkneyJar, or you can ask me for the link to my original pictures.

    The one picture I felt compelled to take was a recreation of one of my favorite pictures from that trip: my boots on this black grating over what I assume was once the palace well, visible here. I also got a great shot of an iconic red phone box.

    From there, it was off to see the Kitchener Memorial, and that shall be the subject of the next installment of Island Paradise.

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    I Missed The Proclaimers

    So, I mentioned that I was going to see The Proclaimers in Aberdeen, but for reasons that will become clear in the next few days, I was obligated to be in Edinburgh the night they were playing, plus I sort of missed the boat on getting tickets booked anyway. I'll probably survive, and I'm sure there will be another chance to see them play before I leave Scotland next year.

    For now, I'll share another one of their great songs. This one's from their first album, This Is the Story, and I first heard it during the Summer of 2002, on Oregon Highway 126 between Eugene and Florence. Enjoy!

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    What's Your Grid, Edinburgh?

    For reasons that I'll expand upon later this week, I found myself in Edinburgh this weekend. There were a lot of things on the agenda, but one of them was to go back to the hostel where I'd stayed in 2004 and get a grid. From my perspective, all of Edinburgh sort of revolves around Waverley Station, since that's where I've arrived both times I've visited. The hostel where I stayed, as booked through a service on the stairs leading up to Prince Street from the station below (which apparently isn't there anymore), is down the hill that leads northeast from Waverley. I think it must have changed hands and been renovated since I was there, but I found it, and it's currently known as the Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel. Here's the grid:

    30U VH 88551 01604

    Among other items on the agenda was finally meeting sweetthesound and some of her friends for dinner and a Haunted Vault Tour. (Just for the record, the cheesy smiles are the result of an agreement that we should smile like our mutual friend, Brittany, who's the Queen of Cheesy Goodness.) We ate at The Holyrood 9A, and I may or may not have flipped out about how much I hated my trip to Beirut earlier this year to a guy I barely knew who was/is/probably still is considering a trip there. Aside from that little outburst, it was a great dinner, and the haunted tour was a lot of fun, with a fantastic tour guide.

    More details of my excursion to Edinburgh is yet to come.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012


    I've sort of been neglecting the blog this week. Remember a couple of weeks ago, when I said that I had a few busy weeks ahead? Well, I'm up against the tail end of that time. I have plenty of stuff to post, but I haven't had the time to type much of it up this week, and the weekend looks jam-packed. Stay tuned.

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    The Songs That Remind You 3

    It's been a few weeks, and here are a couple of new songs that will remind me of my time in Aberdeen... Sort of.

    One of the songs I've heard on Original 106 is "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons.

    Kind of a neat song, don't you think? When I was talking with Gray 3, he mentioned that when the band came to Orkney, they didn't want to play in a sports arena, so they played in St. Magnus Cathedral. That's about the fourth item on my list of upcoming posts from my trip to Orkney, so when it gets posted, I'll cross-link this post with that post so everyone can see how cool that would have been to see. Rumor has it that Mumford & Sons will be playing some dates in the United Kingdom later this year, and although I don't plan to go to the show, it might wind up being an opportunity to go hang out with sweetthesound before doing some What's Your Grid? work.

    The other song, which also has an Orkney connection (at least as far as your intrepid blogger is concerned) is "Dance With Me Tonight" by Olly Murs. I'm not usually one for upbeat music, and I'm not much of a dancer, but this song is really fun, and I heard it right outside Finstown.

    I'll keep 'em coming as I keep hearing 'em. Until then, enjoy.

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    Housekeeping Note

    I've had two people (Big Red and Samwise) ask me why they couldn't comment without a login. I've adjusted the settings to allow anonymous commenting so that you won't have to log in with a Google or other account. Here's hoping that doesn't open me up for a bunch of spam comments!

    Island Paradise: Orkney Brewery

    Once I'd gotten a grid for Captain John's house, I decided that since I was in the Harray/Dounby/West Mainland neighborhood already, I may as well knock one of my priority items off of my list: attempt to get a tour of the Orkney Brewery.

    It was on.

    I love Orkney Brewery's beer. I discovered it with Captain John in 2009 at The Bier Garden in Portsmouth, Virginia. The Bier Garden used to stock Dark Island and SkullSplitter. SkullSplitter is an interesting story, in that it's Orkney Brewery's highest alcohol by volume brew (except for Dark Island Reserve), and it's named after Thorfinn "Hausakljúfr" Turf-Einarsson, "Hausakljúfr" being Old Norse for "Skull Splitter" because he was fond of straight up murdering people, as various vikings were known to do. Ol' Thorfinn Hausakljúfr's exploits are featured in The Orkneyinga Saga, which I read in late 2008 as part of my continuing post-2004 obsession with Orkney.

    I walked into the gift shop, and was greeted by Joyce, the manager of the brand new Visitor Center that opened in July or so. The tour included a detailed overview of the brewing equipment...

    ... and then a sampling and discussion of some of the ingredients and how they factor into the brewing proces.

    I got my picture taken with John, one of Orkney Brewery's expert brewers! See that grin on my face? I was thrilled! I got to meet the guy who makes some of my favorite beers in the whole world!

    Then, we got to see the fermentation vats where the various brews mature...

    ... and we got a look at the beautiful yeast that does the heavy lifting during the fermentation process.

    After that, I got to try three of Orkney Brewery's offerings that I'd never tried before...

    ... and ate a delicious lunch in the Tasting Hall. See the school desk setup? That's because the Orkney Brewery is housed in a converted primary school, complete with memorabilia from the school and the surrounding area. It's a gorgeous facility, with wonderful meals, and most importantly, some of the best beer in the world. As a matter of fact, Dark Island Reserve won the 2011 World Beer Award for best "strong dark, dark ale".

    My visit to the Orkney Brewery was a dream come true, and a great way to start off my epic return to Orkney.

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Fun With Mobiles

    The last time I was in the United Kingdom, I had an old Nokia that had been used by my boss' son. The thing was reliable, though expensive, mainly because I was constantly texting and buying phone cards at the post office to call people back home - I've gotten a touch better about that in my advanced age). Since I wasn't able to use the Internet in my room during the first few days I was here, one of my first orders of business was to sort out a smartphone. I went to Union Square (some of you may be sensing a pattern here), and after being ignored at the O2 store for about five minutes, I went next door to the Carphone Warehouse.

    Now, a few points of background. When my headset bit the dust in May of this year, I stopped using my LG ENV2, which had treated me well since late 2008, and joined the smartphone craze that's sweeping the world. I got a Motorola Droid 4 (pictured on the left), and I've absolutely loved the thing. I think Apple is pure dagnasty evil, so I'm happy to have an alternative from Google, and I love the Droid operating system. I wanted something similar once I got here.

    What I ended up getting was a Motorola MotoSmart (pictured on the right). The overall design and functionality are similar to my Droid 4, although the MotoSmart is definitely the economy model. Since I'm only here for a year, I also went with the pay-as-you-go (or "top-up") option, vice going through the rigmarole of getting a contract. After a bit of troubleshooting, I got squared away with two sim cards.

    My main functionality is provided through Vodafone, which I chose in large part because the technician said it's the only provider that works in Orkney. Vodafone doesn't seem to be universally adored by the locals, and my mobile Internet coverage is spotty, but it's better than nothing. It seems amusing to think of how far we've come with technology in the last decade or two - what would have once been considered akin to alchemy or voodoo is now mundane, and when it doesn't work perfectly, we tend to get really upset. Since I can remember a time before mobile phones, and I can certainly remember a time before smartphones, I can appreciate what I've got and be patient when it's not perfect. (That said, mobile coverage and quality in the States appears to be both better and cheaper than here in the United Kingdom.)

    Unfortunately, the Vodafone top-up program doesn't allow you to call outside the United Kingdom, because... Wait, what? That's asinine. Well, anyway, that's remedied by another chip from Lebara. It's worth noting that the chips themselves are free, but they require a minimum top-up to acquire - I think it was £10. Lebara allows me to call the States for something like £0.06 per minute, but when you spend half an hour on the phone with your mother (Hi, Mom!), that tends to get whittled away quickly. Ironically, the Lebara entry on Wikipedia - the infallible and undisputed source of all knowledge - says that Lebara uses Vodafone's infrastructure by way of a "virtual mobile network", which means that I need two chips to call two different places through one network.

    Gus will be arriving presently, and as destiny would have it, the massive pile of "Welcome to Campus" garbage that was waiting in my room when I arrived included a free Vodafone sim, and a free Lebara sim. So, what I'm going to do is get a phone (probably not another MotoSmart, though - sorry, Gus!) and get him all set up so that he can call me (or hotels, or disco dance clubs, or kebab shops, or whatever) with a Vodafone sim, and call St. Jen and Hank with the Lebara sim. Then, when he leaves, I'll retain the phone and sims, and establish a secret identity as an intrepid... Uh... Well, honestly, I'll just be a postgraduate with two phones and two sets of sims. That said, I may be able to make use of the additional phone when I travel abroad.

    Thursday, November 8, 2012

    Musings on Scottish Cuisine

    Scottish cuisine isn't known for being of great quality, but there are a few things that are actually pretty decent. Here are a few of the things I've run across.

    Most people have heard of haggis, and I've tried it twice since I've been in Scotland: once in Orkney, where it was fantastic, and once at the Archibald Simpson Pub, where it was tolerable. In both instances, it was accompanied by neeps and tatties. When I was in Orkney, I was informed by Gray 1 that when neeps and tatties are combined, they create an Orcadian dish called clapshot; but, it's not technically clapshot unless the turnips and potatoes are harvested after the first frost, because the freezing process "does something to the sugars or something".

    At The Machar, you can accompany your pint with a macaroni pie. These are also available from the Auld Toon Cafe on High Street, which also sells something I was unfamiliar with until last week: mince and tatty pies. It's sort of like a shepherd's or cottage pie, but with more of a beef/lamb gravy consistency instead of actual chunks of ground lamb or beef. They're awesome, and quite filling. You wouldn't think that two little pies would do the trick, but if you can finish two pies, you won't be hungry for quite a while.

    Pie: it's not just for apples anymore. (But, let's face it, even if macaroni and mince and tatty pies are awesome, apple pies are quite obviously the best pies.)

    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    The Dissertation: The Hague and Geneva Conventions and Modern Warfare

    It's been quite a while since I wrote about any of my potential dissertation topics, so I figured I'd take a much-needed break from reality and talk about one of them.

    Since I was an undergraduate, I've been fascinated by the impact of various attempts to impose limitations on warfare by way of international law and treaties. In Spring of 2004, I took courses from both the Navy and Marine Corps on military leadership and ethics; and a philosophy course that same term on Pacifism, Just War, and Terrorism. Among other topics, these courses discussed the philosophical and historical underpinnings of the movement to mitigate the violent impact of war through legislation and concensus. The most high profile examples include:

  • the Geneva Conventions
  • the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868, otherwise known as the Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight
  • the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907
  • the Kellogg-Briand Pact, otherwise known as The Paris Pact

    At the risk of inviting scorn and ridicule, I would argue that these efforts have been admirable, but ultimately misguided and tragically ineffective. The Kellogg-Briand Pact in particular was entirely discredited by the outbreak of World War II, but it wasn't conceived in a vacuum, and its historical context relative to these other examples is worth studying. My inclination is that the combined intellectual and social forces of the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, , and the Progressive Movement inspired a belief that war could be mitigated or even prevented through this international concensus. Instead, I would argue in this potential dissertation that the combined effects of these laws and treaties have instead pushed warfare to be more violent, and perhaps even more frequent than it would have been without them. Here are a few of the examples that I would discuss at length.

    Weapon and Ammunition Restrictions: As stated in its name, the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 banned the use of explosive projectiles less than 400 grams in weight. Declaration III of the Hague Convention of 1899 banned the use of "bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions" - these include hollow-point bullets commonly used by hunters. While Western armies observe these restrictions, any such restraints are generally ignored by terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents. The practical result is that Western soldiers are left at a disadvantage; and warfare is made more palatable because it's somehow "less horrific", meaning that it has probably made war more likely instead of less.

    Detainees and Prisoners of War: The definition and prescribed restrictions on the treatment of prisoners of war are enumerated in Chapter II of the Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907; this was expanded in the Third Geneva Convention of 1929, which was further revised in 1949. These restrictions were intended to reduce casualties by guaranteeing rights and equitable treatment to prisoners of war, giving combatants an incentive to surrender instead of fighting to the death. The practical results have been mixed. These international treaties have been largely ineffective at preventing "last stands" and "blazes of glory", and high profile signatories have routinely resorted to banned practices such as torture. Misunderstandings of the conventions and their purpose have led policy makers and the public to demand treatment for detainees, regardless of their legal status - a development that has certainly undermined the conventions' legitimacy and efficacy. In addition, a reading of the Third Geneva Convention reveals requirements that betray the obsolescence of the specific text - for example, Article 60 outlines the requirement to provide monthly advances in pay to prisoners of war, to include eight Swiss francs (about $8.50) per month to prisoners below the rank of sergeant.

    Identifying Uniforms and Signage: The Third Geneva Convention outlines requirements to be considered a lawful combatant. These requirements include, but aren't limited to: being a member of the armed forces or militia of a recognized state, or being a member of a resistance movement; being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance (with limited exceptions); carrying arms openly; and conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. In fact, many combatants ignore these requirements altogether. Terrorist groups and "resistance movements" commonly operate without any ties to recognized states, without any accountability to a senior leader or international monitors, without fixed distinctive signs or uniforms denoting their status as combatants, without carrying arms openly, and without obeying the laws and customs of war. Far from preventing combatants from disobeying the conventions, international misunderstanding ends in the practical result of detained unlawful combatants being provided with conditions commensurate with those provided to legal combatants, thus removing the incentive for marginal combatants to obey the laws and customs of war prescribed above.

    Based upon my research and observation over the course of the last several years, the unintended consequences of these international conventions restricting the conduct of warfare have actually made war more violent, less civilized, and more likely to occur. I also believe that many of these restrictions on legitimate combatants have incentivized irregular warfare, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism. When paired with the comparatively overwhelming conventional superiority of Western, Soviet/Russian, and other national armies, the resulting surge in irregular/guerrilla warfare and terrorism during the 20th and early 21st Centuries seems like a foregone conclusion.

    I want to make it clear: I'm not advocating torture, or summary executions for prisoners of war, or doing whatever it takes to make war more horrible (although, as The Director points out, there's a case to be made for making warfare horrible, as watering it down tends to make it easier to justify frequent and persistent resorts to force). The point I'm trying to make is that in 2012, warfare is still governed by laws and treaties that were enacted before World War I; or which are based on philosophies that reflect neither history nor contemporary values; or which have failed to achieve their intended goals and, in some cases, have made matters worse. Contemporary international cooperation being what it is, there are no simple answers to the question of how to fix the problems I've outlined. Were I to devote my dissertation research to this topic, I might eventually be comfortable suggesting a way forward.

    In the mean time, I think it might be time to leave the postgraduate study room and go attempt some sleep.
  • Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    Island Paradise: Leaving Aberdeen

    There are a few ways to get from Aberdeen to Orkney. One of the reasons why I chose Aberdeen in the first place is that Northlink Ferries runs a service from Aberdeen to Shetland, and that service also calls at Orkney several times per week. I pre-booked my passage aboard the ship, the MV Hrossey ("Hrossey" being the old Norse word for "Orkney"), and showed up on Thursday afternoon with my 5.11 Rush MOAB 10, a mini duffel bag, and enough stuff to get me through a long weekend.

    As we left Aberdeen harbor, I went up on the top observation deck and took some pictures. There was a lot of wind up there, but I was able to get a few decent snaps. For example, the University of Aberdeen's Sir Duncan Rice Library (otherwise known as the "Hideous Glass Cube") was visible from the observation deck. (In point of fact, I've only actually been in the Hideous Glass Cube three or four times since we have a dedicated postgraduate study room.) We also sailed through a flotilla of small ships that I'm assuming are related to the energy industry - Aberdeen is considered the "energy capital of Europe" because of its status as the hub for the North Sea's booming petroleum industry. Here's a picture of one of those ships...

    ... and the flotilla of its peers off the coast of Aberdeen. After that, I went back to the main deck, set up shop at a table across from the ship's bar, and did some work. Eventually a bloke from Fife by the name of Chick (Chuck) struck up a conversation, so we chatted for most of the rest of the voyage. He had a lot of stories to tell about Scotland and folk music, and was quite impressed that I knew who The Proclaimers were. In order of least to most important, the three things I was explicitly told to look up based upon that conversation were:

  • Heroes and Villains by the Beach Boys;
  • Ambergris, which has apparently been found on Orkney beaches; and
  • the late Michael Marra, who was Chick's favorite singer and who died a few days before our voyage.

    Interestingly enough, I actually maintained mobile phone reception for far longer than I did back in 2004, and was able to pull down Internet data until something on the order of halfway through the voyage. Unfortunately, the sea conditions got a lot worse before they got better, so for about a third of the trip, I was desperately fighting the urge to vomit all over the deck of the Hrossey. In the end, I was able to fight that urge - great success! The seas calmed down as we got closer to Orkney, and we finally arrived at the ferry terminal in Hatston, where I was picked up by Gray 1 and Gray 5.
  • Monday, November 5, 2012

    A Surprise Visitor

    While I was speaking on the phone with my dad and getting ready for the Ceilidh a few weeks ago, I was surprised to look out my bedroom window and see a visitor.

    Between the failing light and the fact that the camera was zoomed as far as it would go, it's tough to see, but that's a picture of a Red Deer. You can just make out the small antlers, so this one was what the Scots call a "stag", what we in the States would call a "buck" - and, because the antlers are so small, it's what my favorite guide, Grant, would call a "dink". When I left for the Ceilidh, he was still out there grazing and occasionally perking up to check on some noise or movement in the vicinity.

    One morning last week, I looked out the window to see a doe, and a buck was behind her - possibly the same one as before, with slightly larger, forked antlers that could have grown a bit in the ensuing two or three weeks. That first night, the dink was standing outside my window for a good hour and a half before I left. The second time, I didn't get a chance to photograph the dink and doe since they were moving so quickly through the field next to my room. If they show back up and decide to stand around, I'll try to get another picture of them and share it.

    There are also rabbits all around the housing complex (which aren't very exciting), but last night I saw a badger just after walking into the complex. A badger! I haven't seen one of those since I was about twelve years old and vacationing in Central Oregon!

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: Geocaching Part 1

    I've talked a bit about my adventures in GPS ownership. One of the cool things to do with a GPS is called geocaching. Basically, people hide stuff - a "geocache", put the coordinates on the Geocaching website. I've wanted to start doing it since about 2006, ever since I bought my first GPS and my friend Howard AKA "Father Time" told me about geocaching. Now that I'm in Aberdeen, I figured that geocaching would be a good way to practice my land navigation skills prior to my next deployment to some exotic locale, as well as giving me an excuse to do more walking.

    One of the caches listed on the website was "Wells of Bon Accord - Chanonry Well Pump". Since it was near campus, I decided to try it first, and attempted to find it on Thursday morning. Based on the other comments, it appears that this one has been removed, so my first attempt to find a cache was denied.

    Since I was headed to campus again yesterday, I decided to try for another one nearby: "The Zoology Building". I found it! I entered it as a waypoint in my Garmin eTrex Vista, signed the log, and then headed for the "postgraduate study room", which has become the de facto Strategic Studies class tactical operations center. (Strategic operations center?) It was a good accomplishment to start my day with.

    I think the next one I'm going to attempt is "Snow Kirk", which is in a sort of remote corner of campus. As I seek out and find more caches around Aberdeen and elsewhere (it could be a fun supplemental activity when I travel!), I'll note them on here.

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    Island Paradise: What's Your Grid, Orkney?

    A few weeks ago, I posted about my successful quest to get a grid reference for the SYHA Aberdeen hostel. Having stayed in Orkney previously, my previous digs were on my list of places to get a grid reference for during my return trip. I also had to get a grid for this weekend's digs, and I decided to take some additional data that I'll discuss presently.

    Both were great successes. I was already staying at the one place this weekend, and I fortunately remembered to get a grid for it. I found the other place without much challenge using road signs and some Ordnance Survey maps that I found at the Cotswald Outdoor location in Union Square mall. So as far as Scotland goes, that leaves only Edinburgh and Glasgow. I'll be in Edinburgh in about two weeks (sweetthesound, I hope you like Rugby and you're free two weeks from tonight), and I may wind up in Glasgow in early December, so I should be able to get both of those sorted out in fairly short order. To protect my various hosts, I'll refrain from posting the grid coordinates themselves, but pictured are the aerial images from Wikimapia.

    I also took some additional GPS data. In August of 2009, I came across an article on the Danger Room blog (which I don't actually recommend since the Senior Reporter, Spencer Ackerman, is a dyed in the wool twerp) about "Honesty Traces". An honesty trace is a system whereby the routes used by military convoys are compared in order to identify avoidable choke points that could be used by insurgents to set IEDs. They use USB-capable GPS handsets to record the route data. In August of 2011, I supplemented my existing non-USB Garmin eTrex with a USB-capable Garmin eTrex Vista. I'm not so worried about avoiding IED attacks in Aberdeen, but I'd like to use the opportunity to teach myself the functionality so that I can run honesty traces in the future, or use GPS data for other functions. Once I have some time to download and manipulate the data, I'll try to put it in map form and post it.

    Friday, November 2, 2012

    In Retrospect

    I apologize in advance for this post, it's a bit more heady than what I usually write, so if you're going to skip reading a post, feel free to skip this one.

    A lot of my life is organized on 3"x5" note cards. A couple of weeks ago, I was going through them trying to sort, reorganize, rewrite, and consolidate a few of them so that I could swap extraneous cards out for blank ones. One of the cards I keep in my planner lists the goals I've set for myself. I divide these goals up into groups as appropriate. Most recently, my cards have been divided up by:

  • 2012 Resolutions
  • Middle East Goals
  • Aberdeen Goals
  • "30"/"35" Goals
  • 2013 Resolutions
  • Life Goals

    When I look back through them, I tend to get disappointed at what little I've accomplished over the years. For example, by the time I was thirty, I had intended to accomplish the following:

  • kill a wild boar
  • own a Land Rover and/or BMW
  • be in better physical condition than I was at age twenty
  • be fourth year proficient in Arabic
  • own a dog
  • yomp the Falklands in 2012

    I didn't accomplish any of it. Some of those items have been on my list for five years or longer. It would be easy to get discouraged by that lack of accomplishment.

    At the same time, I look at where I am, and what I have accomplished, and where I have been over the last few years. And, when I think about it, I could have accomplished a few of those goals, but I chose to do some things that were more challenging instead. For example, I could have bought a Land Rover or BMW, but I elected to get a master's degree instead - something that will arguably get me more earning power in the long run, allowing me to accomplish this goal later on. I also could have gotten a dog, probably even years ago, but I elected to go to the Middle East, and now to Scotland. Once I get back to the States, I hope to be a bit more settled, which will be better on a dog in the long run. I have some legitimate excuses for the Arabic and the physical fitness, though I'm not happy with them. As I've mentioned, I hope to remedy both while I'm here.

    And when I look at what I've accomplished over the last few years, it's tougher to be too disappointed with what I haven't. Despite the various challenges and setbacks, my time spent in the Middle East was huge. And that was a progression that started with a trip abroad in 2003, which was followed by a summer spent abroad in 2004, and continued with a move a thousand miles away from home in 2006, a move to the other side of the country in 2007, and three years of hard work, patience, and focused frustration while living on the East Coast. Being here in Aberdeen, now, doing this, is something I couldn't have fathomed just three years ago. It's really amazing how far I've come in the last few years, and it's tough not to be proud of that.

    One of my failings is that my ambition often outstrips my motivation - not my aptitude, necessarily, but my motivation to accomplish what I could be accomplishing. That's a big part of the challenge I run into: I set goals for myself that are attainable, but very challenging, and then my motivation fails to get me where I want to go. I could stand to be less ambitious, but I could also stand to be more motivated. I'm working on both... But the motivation should probably receive more work than the ambition! All in all, I think - think - that what I'm set to accomplish in the next year should get me closer, much closer, to the sort of life I want to live during the course of my thirties and beyond, so hopefully that means that despite the setbacks, challenges, and failure of motivation, I'll eventually get myself to where and whom I want to be.
  • Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Updates During a Busy Week

    Okay, I haven't posted in a few days, so here's a quick update on some of the stuff that's been happening.

    #1: Last week, I had my first two graded events: a presentation on Intelligence Agencies of the World in Strategic Intelligence, and an "in-class essay" (what we would have called a "mid-term examination" in the States) in Strategic Theory. I performed well on the presentation, and tied for the highest score in the class on my essay.

    #2: Last night, a bunch of us from the Strategic Intelligence class, including E himself, went to see Skyfall at Union Square. Having absolutely loved Casino Royale, and having absolutely hated Quantum of Solace, I was quite keen on seeing a vast improvement from Eon Productions' latest offering. Skyfall didn't disappoint, it was excellent and I highly recommend it. Mark Kermode recommends it, too...

    ... which is noteworthy since he hated Quantum of Solace as much as I did.

    #3: I finished Modern Military Strategy, and I've moved my school focus to Intelligence Power in Peace and War. At the recommendation of Lady Jaye, I spent a week reading No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer, and will now presumably return to slowly reading Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger in hard copy and In the Service of the Sultan: A First Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency by Ian Gardiner on my Kindle Fire.

    #4: On the topic of the Kindle Fire, I took it on my recent trip up to Orkney in lieu of my laptop, and was thrilled with it. It displays both Kindle books and PDFs in an easily readable format, it's fantastic for keeping updated on news stories using Google Reader, and I had fantastic results planning my daily expeditions using it with Google Maps. At some point, I'd like to download some additional apps and get it set up to use the Google Play store, but that will come later. It's such a disappointment that the University's network won't let me use the thing, because it's such a brilliant piece of kit.

    Alright, it's getting to be late in the morning and I have plenty to accomplish today. Keep fighting!