Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't Panic: Exam Review Strategy

I've been reviewing for my upcoming exams. I have my Strategic Theory exam on Monday, 14th January, and I have my Strategic Intelligence exam on Wednesday, 16th January. The drawback is that I have to study for both up front, because a day and a half isn't enough of a gap to justify putting one off. The flipside is that my colleagues and I will have about two weeks between the end of exams, and the beginning of the second semester.

I've made a bit of progress during the time I've been in Aberdeen. As I mentioned back in September, none of the textbooks I read prior to arrival were the actual textbooks that would be assigned for the first semester. That'll help me next semester, as I've already read most of the books that I'll be assigned, but it means picking up the pace in the next couple of weeks. So, where am I at this point?

For Strategic Theory, I was "assigned" Strategy in the Contemporary World, Modern Strategy, and Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction, with the acknowledgement from The Director that reading all of these and the various articles in the syllabus ("course guide") is impossible. The Director also keeps PDF files of "clippings" - articles that he's clipped from newspapers and magazines over the years and scanned. There's also the matter of reviewing the slide decks that The Director and my fellow Strategists have presented on the various topics we've discussed. At this point, I've finished Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction, though I plan to do a bit of review of some of the key sections. The next book on the docket is Modern Strategy, and I hope to finish it next week. I think Strategy in the Contemporary World will have to be saved as a reference for next semester - triage, if you will.

As for Strategic Intelligence, the recommended textbooks are Secret Intelligence: A Reader , Intelligence Power in Peace and War , Intelligence in an Insecure World , and Intelligence in War. I finished Intelligence Power in Peace and War - one of the densest books I've ever read in my life - on Friday. At some point prior to the exam, I'll go back through it and type up the end-of-chapter summaries to study from. As I just mentioned, my next reading choice is Modern Strategy. Assuming I finish that up, my next read will be Intelligence in an Insecure World. I'll also need to review the slide decks from the various presentations by E and the other Strategists. That means that Secret Intelligence: A Reader and Intelligence in War will probably be sacrificed as well.

It's a lot - a lot of work to do, and a limited time to do it, but exams and regurgitation of minutiae into a booklet have always been some of my greatest academic strengths. It's time for a strong push in these last couple of weeks to make sure I'm prepared to demolish whatever The Director and E decide to put in front of me on the 14th and 16th, respectively. After that, it's time for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas in Aberdeen

For a number of reasons, I don't actually make much effort to observe Christmas. Even so, it's been interesting to observe the holiday observances here in Scotland. One that surprised me was the sight of two different Christmas trees on campus, one next to King's College, and the other at the Old Town House (pictured). Most of my fellow Strategists cleared out by the 21st and headed for their various homes. My digs have also been pretty quiet, as the student population have evacuated the area as well. I figured that, even though the holiday isn't big for me, I may as well do something that night. I thought to myself, "When's the next time that I'll have an opportunity to attend Christmas Eve service at a cathedral?"

So, I decided to go to the service at the Cathedral Church of St. Machar. I'd never been inside the building before, but I've walked past it a number of times. It's really a gorgeous cathedral, though smaller than other cathedrals I've been to. (It probably has more seating than St. Magnus up in Orkney, but probably not as big.) The service was consisted of about fifteen songs and carols, sung alternately by all in attendance or by the choir. These were broken up with lessons from the story of Christ's birth, which were read by some of Aberdeen's leading citizens. The Reverend Jane Barron, minister at the cathedral, gave a beautiful sermon about the Gospel of St. Luke and the universal lessons and impact of the life and ministry of Christ. The service ended with the recitation of the Nicene Creed - it had been a long time since I'd had an opportunity to recite the Nicene Creed with a congregation. As I left, I snapped a picture with my phone - not fantastic, but hopefully it gives you an idea. (I'll be featuring the Cathedral Church of St. Machar in an upcoming post.)

And, as with any Western city, you get various places decorated for Christmas. Here in Scotland, the politically correct American practice of trying to avoid offending anyone by calling it "the holidays" seems to be replaced in local vernacular with "the festive season" - for example, the convenience store nearest my digs, and the affiliated bakery on campus, are closed for the "festive season", which means lots of trips to Lionel's for me. The picture of the bagpiper in white lights is over Alex Scott Kiltmakers on Schoolhill.

Overall, my Christmas break has been spent studying, but it's been nice to soak up just a bit of the local culture as well.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Around Aberdeen: The Gordon Highlanders Statue

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trip with Gus to the Gordon Highlanders Museum. One of the items in the museum is a maquette of the Gordon Highlanders statue that resides at The Castlegate. (It's not visible in that satellite shot because it was only installed last year - by Charles, Prince of Wales, whom some of you may have heard of!)

Anyway, I decided to take a few pictures of the statue, which features two figures: a kilted Gordon Highlander reflecting the early days of the Regiment, which was originally formed as the 92nd Gordon Highlanders in 1794; and a figure depicting a more recent soldier in the Regiment. This, of course, is a beautiful testament to the storied history and heritage of valor and sacrifice from one of Scotland's storied units. Its location in Aberdeen's city center is appropriate, as the Gordon Highlanders defended Scotland and the United Kingdom at large, and are especially deserving of a prominent position in the city.

The sculptor has mercifully portrayed the modern soldier as carrying the L1A1 SLR, although the Gordon Highlanders would have carried the SA80 before the Regiment was amalgamated first into The Highlanders, which was subsequently reduced in strength to battalion level and incorporated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. As a result, the statue is somewhat reminiscent of the statue of The Yomper at the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney, Hampshire.

On the One Pub Crawl to Rule Them All, I took a few night shots of the statue, so I'll share those, too.

It's really a gorgeous, majestic statue. We have statues back home, but we have a tendency to commission horribly gaudy statues that look like a foundry vomited. It's nice to see that the Scots haven't made the same mistake, because the statues they've commissioned actually look like humans and aren't completely hideous.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Around Aberdeen: Geocaching Part 2

Since I last wrote about geocaching, I've made several more attempts at finding caches. I've had some mixed results.

Since I attempted to find it, the Wells of Bon Accord - Chanonry Well Pump cache has been suspended. I'm bummed that I can't count that as a find, but I figured out that I actually found the spot where it was supposed to have been hidden. On the morning of December 10th, I attempted two more caches and came up empty on both of them: Brig O' Balgownie, and Snow Kirk. Early in the afternoon on the 17th, I made another attempt at Snow Kirk and still came up empty despite knowing that I was in the right place and spending about ten minutes looking around trying to find it. There are still a lot of decomposing leaves around there, so I might try again in the Spring. Similarly, I'm pretty sure I know where Brig O' Balgownie is, but it was still pretty slick and snowy in places from the snowfall on the 4th and 5th, so I elected not to get caked in mud or risk falling into the River Don right before class. I may make another run at Brig O' Balgownie during the long break. However, on the night of the 17th, I found The Royal Cache - without even needing the GPS, as luck would have it. This was a good pick-me-up after two failures at Snow Kirk. A few days later, I made a run at two other caches in the Wells of Bon Accord series: Wells of Bon-Accord - Corbie Well in Union Terrace Gardens near City Barbers and the William Wallace statue, and Wells of Bon-Accord - Castlegate Well near The Archibald Simpson. I couldn't find the former, but I found the latter.

There are a few more spots near places where I frequent, or within walking distance, where I may try to find some caches in the near future. Up near Old Aberdeen, on the south side of the River Don, are Carlotta's Cache and Watch the birdies. Hopefully I can bring my average up a bit!

I've also decided that I want to try to add some geocaching adventures to some of my travels while I'm over here. I think I've scaled down my travel expectations a bit due to cost and time constraints, but I'd like to get back to Muscat, and I definitely plan to head back to Orkney once or twice. With all of the GPS work I did in Orkney, I'm actually sort of disappointed with myself for not having looked up a few caches in advance, because I could have found some in locations like the Earl's Palace, St. Magnus Cathedral, and Wideford Hill. In Oman, there are caches in a number of places I hope to visit, like Salalah, Masirah, Jebel Akhdar, Musandam, and of course, Muscat. Given that Oman is a bit more of an ordeal to get to than Orkney, I'll be sure to arrive prepared!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Island Paradise: Haggis, Etc.

After my trips to St. Magnus Cathedral and Wideford Hill, I went to the south end of South Ronaldsay (which will be discussed in the next Island Paradise post), then made my way back to my weekend digs. Gray 2 made a delicious dinner that consisted of haggis, some other sort of white pudding...

... mince (I'm not sure that link is actually representative of what we had for dinner)...

... and neeps and tatties.

According to Gray 1, the actual name for the mixture of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) is clapshot, but it's technically not clapshot unless you're using ingredients that haven't been harvested until after the first frost, because it does something or other to the sugars in the vegetables. I'm not sure how actual clapshot could have been any better than what we enjoyed that night, because it was fantastic, and I have to say, the haggis we enjoyed was way better than the haggis at The Archibald Simpson. It got me plenty ready for next day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Gear: Little Ceramic Bowl

I benefit from the generosity of a number of people who have decided that despite my shenanigans and occasional melodrama, I'm actually worth taking care of. I try to make an effort to express my gratitude to them and do whatever personal favors I can when the opportunity arises.

One of those folks is Joanne. Joanne was my boss for a little over two years, but really, she's still my boss. She's been very generous over the years, and has provided me with excellent advice and moral support during some of the most challenging times in my life. One of her hobbies, other than doting on her adorable son Zach, is pottery. I've been fortunate to receive several of her pieces over the years, and when I visited her and the family in August, she gave me a piece and told me in no uncertain terms that I'd be taking it with me to Scotland or else I'd be in trouble. I made sure that the thing made it into one of my bags. Once I arrived, I decided that since Joanne and I worked in IT, that I ought to use the bowl to store my flash drives and SD cards.

And, of course, it reminds me of Joanne and her family, who have become an adopted extension of my own family. When a person embarks upon great adventures and attempts to accomplish great feats, like going on a one year expedition to get an MSc in Scotland, it's important to remember the folks who got you there. Thanks, Joanne!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night of the Crazy Maps

After class on Thursday evening, I found myself in the SOC with CN Warden and CN Ness, CN Sister and CN Homeboy having vacated the place earlier. We found ourselves looking up a variety of interesting and/or hilarious maps. Here were some of the highlights.

  • Ralph Peters' Proposed Solution to the Middle East: Visible to the right (and originally found on Wikipedia while researching Ralph Peters a couple of years ago), we all found this one quite interesting. It's fairly Wilsonian, in that it seeks to divide the countries in the Middle East and South Asia into sovereign states delineated along ethnic and/or religious lines. Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and writer who now works as a novelist and foreign policy pundit.
  • The World According to Reagan: I'm sure that this political cartoon on steroids bears no resemblance to President Reagan's actual views, but it's pretty entertaining nonetheless. It was especially fun to watch CN Warden and CN Ness seeing it for the first time.
  • Maurice Gomberg's Outline of the Post-War New World Map: The Gomberg map (see here) is pure lunacy, apparently assembled in 1942 by some private citizen and/or State Department employee. To look at his plans for how he expected the post-World War II world to be divvied up is hysterical and tragic, and betrays a complete and total ignorance of the way the world works and worked.
  • Frank Jacobs' Big Think: The Great European Shouting Match: And finally, from Frank Jacobs' Big Think blog, which has many, many, many maps. One of his posts is a series of comedic maps based on how individual nations and groups in Europe (and America) view the rest of the countries in Europe. For example, the Italy map labels Romania as "thieves". It's pretty entertaining.

    I love maps, and I really enjoy our cadre of Strategists, so it was fun to spend an hour or two combining them. After that, the lads left to attend a lecture on Scottish independence, and I got back to work blogging... Well, in my defense, I did some actual work after that.
  • Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Late December Weather Report

    Having been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I'm pretty used to weather that most others would consider to be "inclement". I also spent five years walking on my university campus as an undergrad, and made fun of people who owned umbrellas (I still do that). After nearly a year and a half in the Middle East, I was ready for a change of climate. For the most part, Aberdeen has been what I was looking for.

    That said, this winter has been intense. I mentioned the snow from the 4th and 5th of December. For several weeks in November and December, it was bone-chilling cold here - I actually slipped and fell in the park on two separate occasions. Now that we're in late December, it's inexplicably warmer than it was just a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, I went to the city center to run some errands, and it was rainy and extremely windy - not Orkney windy, mind you, but pretty windy for Aberdeen, and more windy than it usually gets back home. The last time I can remember Aberdeen having wind as strong as what we've had the last couple of days was the day of my first meeting with the Director, and people were stunned that I'd been out in the elements. We've even got flood warnings, apparently!

    They even had to charter a Hercules transport plane to restock the supermarket in Shetland because the weather and sea conditions are disrupting ferry passages. Orkney benefits from a couple of ferry lines across the Pentland Firth, but even these have been subject to disruption. The weather and sea conditions have also disrupted travel across the Churchill Barriers, which I discuss here. It sort of makes me glad that I didn't wind up making plans to head up to Orkney for Christmas, but actually, I still sort of wish that I was up there, hunkered down in a cottage. Huh. There's a sentence you don't hear too often.

    All things considered, I'll take Aberdeen weather over Mojave Desert weather, which I'd take over Middle Eastern weather, all of which I'd take over the weather in the South.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: No Bill Posters

    In mid-October, I was walking around the Aberdeen City Center, a couple of blocks off of Union Street - I think it was either Shiprow or Trinity Lane - and I stumbled across this gem.

    I'll be quite honest with you, ladies and gentlemen: I was amused, hence the effort to snap a picture of it.

    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Island Paradise: Ward Hill, South Ronaldsay

    On Saturday, after various other adventures previously discussed, I decided to head as far south as I could, to the southern tip of South Ronaldsay - as one person termed it, "the furthest point south in Orkney without getting your feet wet".

    The tip of South Ronaldsay is home to a little boat landing and the Tomb of the Eagles, as well as an old, seemingly abandoned kirk and kirkyard. As I was driving away, I saw a location that looked like South Ronaldsay's answer to Wideford Hill: Ward Hill.

    As I mentioned in that post about Wideford Hill, many of the hills in Orkney - notably the tallest point in Orkney, located on the southwest island of Hoy - are called Ward Hill because they hosted warning beacons, as noted in the Orkneyinga Saga. South Ronaldsay's Ward Hill offers a stunning panorama of South Ronaldsay, and even on a fairly drab day you can see out to Flotta and Hoy. It also features a "trig point" like Wideford Hill. At some point I'd like to get to the top of a few more of Orkney's hills and see how common these actually are. this website has some of them, but the list obviously isn't comprehensive because it doesn't include Wideford Hill. (That said, it appears to be a good website to have accidentally found while working on this post.) The grid for Ward Hill is:

    30V WL 03268 15787

    The top of Ward Hill includes some transmitters like Ward Hill, and what appears to be a bunch of farm junk that's sort of endearing. It appeared to be adjacent to a couple of active farms. To be quite honest, South Ronaldsay strikes me as the kind of place where I could see myself retiring, and hiking up to the top of Ward Hill with my trusty Scottish Terrier or Labrador (or both?) each day. In fact, there's a busted up settlement down near that southern tip, near the boat landing and abandoned kirk, that would make a great remote cottage. It's not hard to imagine rugged Viking warriors standing watch on a cold, windy Orkney night, hunched over a fire and singing songs about Odin and Thor.

    At any rate, Ward Hill also became the site of another self portrait, along the same lines of the ones I took at the top of Wideford Hill earlier in the day. My Orcadian hosts were repeatedly apologetic about the weather, but I couldn't have been more thrilled to be pelted with rain, swept by the wind, and chilled to the bone. Maybe it's because I'm from a comparably cold and rainy part of the States - in fact, it's definitely because I'm from a comparably cold and rainy part of the States - but as far as I'm concerned, inclement Orcadian weather is definitely one of the elements of an island paradise.

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    CN Templar and the Sense of Humor

    A couple of weeks ago, I got an E-mail from CN Templar, who was in the SOC.
    To: Tom
    From: CN Templar
    Subject: IMINT

    Message: Mh interesting, I see a present from colombia


    Just to be clear, that's sugar that CN Sister and I use in our tea when we're studying late into the night. I sent CN Templar the following text in response:
    It's for medicinal purposes!
    I have to say, I have some pretty cool classmates.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    The Dissertation: Peninsular Shield Force

    As I've mentioned a few times, I spent some time in the Middle East. While I was there, I kept track of security issues in the region, and learned a little bit about the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its security subsidiary, the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF). The GCC currently consists of Bahrain, the Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and may expand to include Jordan and Morocco. There are several different ways that I could approach a potential dissertation on the PSF. I've spent a lot of this week collecting links and some preliminary sources from a variety of sources.

    There are a variety of topics that would have to be covered, such as the PSF's history, the member nations' various national threat concerns, and other relevant issues. Overarching issues include maritime security concerns, the Iranian nuclear program and Iranian espionage efforts, energy and resource security, economic diversification, local population density relative to security and economic needs, youth engagement, largely expatriate workforces, and pervasive Chinese influence. Other environmental concerns, like water supplies and desertification. (I'm generally skeptical about environmentalism concerns creeping into strategic or security studies, but it's worth noting if only for the human factors.)

    Beyond these overarching concerns, some regimes also suffer from internal questions about regime legitimacy. Others, like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, are concerned with internal sectarian tensions that have allegedly been agitated by neighboring Iran. Oman is concerned with maritime security, to include piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden; Kuwait is concerned with maritime security relative to Iraq; and all of the GCC/PSF nations are concerned with free access through the Gulf of Hormuz. Saudi Arabia and Oman are naturally concerned with continued instability in neighboring Yemen, while Qatar and the Emirates are likely concerned with potential fallout from their increased influence outside the Gulf in places like Libya and Syria. Meanwhile, the Emirates are at perpetual odds with Iran over several strategic islands between the two nations. Internal security concerns include the Shia populations in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the Bedouns/Biduns (not to be confused with Bedouins, who are different) in Kuwait and the Emirates. There have also been internal disputes between the GCC nations themselves, such as an alleged Emirati spy network operating in Oman, or a Saudi cleric who claimed that the Kuwaiti Emir was "not qualified".

    There are a wealth of recent incidents to discuss as well. These include the Emirates' attempt to hire former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince to organize a Colombian mercenary army, the PSF's deployment to Bahrain in March of 2011 to guard Bahraini infrastructure during the height of the Bahraini civil unrest, and the break-up of several "foreign"/Iranian spy rings in the Gulf during the early months of 2011. This topic would also allow me to rely on several big open source resources, like the CIA's World Factbook, the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism and international travel resources, and the BBC's Country Profiles.

    There are a lot of different directions I could go with this particular topic, many different resources I could use, and many different incidents to discuss. The other potential benefit could be that, if I were to make a serious attempt to get a job at the ECSSR, writing my dissertation on this topic would be a good start toward that goal, and I could expand on it if I were hired to work there. Otherwise, it would also be a great way to demonstrate to potential American employers that I have expertise in the Persian Gulf Region, potentially recommending me for work involving the Gulf.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    The Long Break

    My last day of lectures was last Thursday, and my fellow Strategists and I have been playing hard to celebrate. As most of my comrades are in the process of heading home for the long break, I find myself settling in for the long haul. Our exams are in mid-January, which leaves me to my own devices for about a month.

    I had considered heading back up to Orkney for Christmas, hiring (renting) a little cottage, and studying. I had also considered a hop to Oman for some sight-seeing and research on the Dhofar Rebellion. Instead, I think I've decided to make one or both of those trips later on.

    So, what to do with a solid month "off"? Here are a few of the things I'll be working on.

  • Studying for Finals: I have a lot of material to review - or, as the Brits say it, "revise" - in that month I have off. I have yet to plough through Strategy in the Contemporary World, Modern Strategy, Secret Intelligence: A Reader, and Intelligence in an Insecure World, and though I finished Modern Military Strategy: An Introduction in November, my attempt to conquer Intelligence Power in Peace and War has been brutally slow-going. I also have a bunch of PowerPoint presentations to review, as well as the Director's "clippings" of various articles in PDF form. My biggest priority is to review/"revise" as much of this information as I can, in as orderly a fashion as possible, in order to prepare myself for exams in January.
  • Studying Security and Arabic: During this semester, I've somewhat neglected studying for my PSP certification. I've done slightly better with my Arabic, but I'd like to really hit it hard over the break. I've been doing well with doing both a run-through of my current stock of eighty Libyan Arabic flash cards and listening to either a BBC Xtra podcast or Sultanate of Oman Radio.
  • The Counterinsurgency Paper: CN Odin and I will be working independently on our respective portions of a paper on counterinsurgency. Our presentation for Strategic Theory was on the Director-provided topic "Scrutinize the major requirements for successful counter-insurgency in the modern world", and we used examples from the Dhofar Rebellion (me) and the Algerian War (Odin) to illustrate six key requirements. We'll be combining the information in our memorandum with the information in our slide deck, and expanding them into a formal paper.
  • Photographing Local Sites: There are some local sites that I want to get pictures of for the blog. This one won't be particularly time intensive, but the month off from class should give me some time to accomplish this.
  • Day Trips: I have a few spots that I might try to see, if the completely asinine RMT strike doesn't stop me in my tracks - literally. My buddy Chris wants me to revisit his old digs in Edzell, I want to go harangue Captain John down in the Borders, and I'd like to get a couple of things at Edinburgh's Army/Navy store.
  • More Planning: With the first semester almost over, it's time to go back through my spreadsheets, find individual points where my strategy needs adjustment, and adjust accordingly.

    So, there are plenty of things yet to do. Fortunately, I have twelve more posts already written (or mostly written), which should allow me to focus on some of the bits I've listed above.
  • Monday, December 17, 2012

    The Spreadsheets: Let's Get Employed!

    In theory, the ultimate purpose of higher education is to increase one's job market competitiveness, overall employability, and hopefully one's salary as well. Once, when I was considering a postgraduate degree in history, my mentor - a history PhD himself - told me that unless a postgraduate degree would definitely pay for itself in higher wages, I shouldn't pursue one because it would be a waste of time. Despite jokes like I've already posted here and here, I'm fairly confident that my MSc in Strategic Studies will facilitate long-term professional success.

    I'm currently on a leave of absence from my company, but the entire defense industry is holding its breath over the current "fiscal cliff" crisis and the impending drawdown following the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to find a position in my company once I'm ready to return to the workforce, but my life is all about risk management. In a case like this, managing my risks means preparing in advance to saturate a number of potential employers with my credentials just prior to graduation. Those who have known me for a long time (or just followed this blog for the last couple of months) will know that I'm an inveterate planner - whether it's spreadsheets or 3"x5" index cards, I'm constantly making and adjusting plans in one manner or another. One might even say that I'm reminiscent of Brian Boitano...

    "What would Brian Boitano do if he was right now? He'd make a plan and he'd follow through. That's what Brian Boitano'd do."
    - South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, 1999
    So, I've put together a spreadsheet with a bunch of potential employers. I've divided them into several categories to keep them straight. Based on my current background, and the additional credentials and experience I'll be able to offer in late 2013, I think these are probably among the best prospects. I also intend to keep expanding the list as additional prospects reveal themselves, as well as adding some additional companies and organizations that some of my multinational classmates might benefit from. As I mentioned, it's all about aiming for my preferred option - returning to my current employer and doing risk management (and, in fact, I have another spreadsheet that includes the contact information for a number of hiring managers and recruiters from my current employer) - while managing the risk that they won't be in a position to offer me a job.

    One potential employer that's grabbed my attention is the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. Thus far, I've specialized in the Middle East, and I've spent fifteen months of my life in the Gulf already. Another stint in the Gulf region, particularly working on international security issues at a think tank like the ECSSR, could be a really good opportunity that would allow me to continue developing some key credentials after graduation. The Director also happens to have some ties to the ECSSR that I could benefit from if I were to apply there (particularly if I continue on my current track to be among the top graduates in the course). The ECSSR is located here, in Abu Dhabi, which benefits from being a bit less socially austere than other Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or even nearby Sharjah. The Emirates are also located next door to Oman, which could facilitate my goal of writing the authoritative history of the Dhofar Rebellion. Since the ECSSR prospect is fresh, it's prominent in my mind, but it would also be nice to spend some time back in the States after having spent a couple of years abroad.

    I suppose the bottom line is that it's good to have some prospects, and I'm glad that I have sufficient forethought to start planning for this well in advance.

    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    The Songs That Remind You 4

    It's that time again. One of the songs that's been getting a lot of airplay since I arrived is "Titanium" by David Guetta featuring lyrics by Sia.

    I actually saw some of the video for the first time while sitting in the barber's chair, probably on the day that Gus arrived. I don't usually go for whatever music this is (I don't even know what the genre is called?), but this one's kind of catchy. Much better than the last time I was in the chair and the music channel was playing a Nicki Minaj marathon. God forbid Nicki Minaj would burn out and disappear like Lady Gaga finally did.

    Anyway, the other song that's been catching my ear lately is "Some Nights" by Fun.

    The harmony/wall of sound technique is kind of catchy. I remember wondering who was singing this when I kept hearing it, and then hearing it announced on the radio or the television or something. It's not quite as catchy as their first single, "We Are Young", but it's worth a listen, and if I hear it later on in life, it will remind me of the Winter of '12, when I was in Scotland.

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

    More Thoughts on Scottish Nationalism

    A couple of weeks ago, I stirred up some controversy with a post about Scottish Nationalism and the upcoming 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Never one to shy away from controversy, here are some more reasons why I'm skeptical about what's known 'round these parts as the "Yes Campaign".

  • The Security Implications of Scottish independence: RUSI has some items discussing the security implications of a "yes" vote. I haven't had a chance to review them yet; I suggested to CN Homeboy that he ought to write on that topic for his dissertation, but I imagine he'll probably write something about the Special Air Service. (I think he may need an intervention for his obsession with special forces units, but whatever.)
  • Ferry strike dates are announced: Remember when I took the ferry to Orkney? Well, the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne (which later formed a company called NorthLink Ferries Ltd. to run the services to Orkney and Shetland) lost the 2012 bid to Serco Group. A company previously known for its management of prisons, Serco has a reputation for bidding low on contracts and then eliminating staff and reducing services once they've received the contract. Serco announced a few months ago that they intended to cut positions and reduce sailings - precisely what Orcadians had been wary of. As I understand it from following the story on Radio Orkney's daily program and Facebook page, the Scottish Government awarded the bid without much (any?) consultation from the Orkney Islands Council or the Shetland Islands Council, and Serco's actions once awarded the contract seem to be entirely consistent with the reservations that Orcadians expressed when the contract was awarded earlier this year. Now the employees are going on strike over these issues, and the Scottish Transport Minister's response is that this is "disappointing".
  • First Aberdeen bus pay strike ballot: 'Yes' vote of 90% announced: I'll admit up front that I'm not sure who handles this action, the Scottish Government in Holyrood, or the Aberdeen City Council. Either way, I don't enjoy the prospect of being consigned to foot travel all across the city in December because politicians can't sort something like this out. At the moment, the strike is on hold after "productive" talks took place on Tuesday, but that's not really a super awesome worry to have hanging over my head for the next three or four weeks. And this comes amid a ScotRail workers' strike that's also scheduled for the Christmas holiday.
  • North Sea oil production 'will rise but then decline': Following up on a point from the last post, a big part of the economic argument for Scottish independence appears to be based upon the North Sea's energy resources, but as the article states, there are indications that those resources may already be on the verge of diminishing in the next few years. And, as noted before, most petroleum-producing states are already trying, with varying levels of success, to diversify out of that market because it's not seen as a stable source of long-term economic growth. As I've mentioned previously, I would be very reticent about voting "yes" for a proposition whose long-term prosperity is based upon such short-term strengths. What happens when the energy resources run out? Does Scotland then go crawling back to England (and presumably Wales and Northern Ireland) with cap in hand?
  • Abdelbaset al Megrahi: Another foreign policy item I omitted from my last discussion was the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's decision in August 2009 to release Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie Bomber, on "compassionate grounds" due to al Megrahi's terminal prostate cancer. This decision was made contrary to the wishes of the Scottish electorate specifically, was disapproved of by the British people generally, and sharply criticized by the American government and people. Some also believe that the decision had more to do with securing Libyan oil contracts than it did with al Megrahi's medical condition. I can't speak to that. What I can say is that the Scottish Government's most prominent foreign policy move has been met with disdain locally and condemnation internationally, and that doesn't bolster the SNP's claims to foreign policy competence.

    I'd imagine that I'll come up with more of these over the next few months. I'll reiterate that I'm trying to remain fair about this, but so far the best anyone's been able to come up with has been about the equivalent of telling me I have Yankee cooties, so I'm still pretty skeptical. I'm far more encouraged by the Better Together campaign, which I was introduced to by a Facebook post from E on the night of the One Pub Crawl to Rule Them All. The Better Together campaign seems a lot more mature and cogent... But, I suppose the Yes Campaign has a year and some change to convince the rest of the Scots, and possibly even outsiders like me, that they actually know what they're doing and have a good chance of making the whole thing work. I suppose we'll see.
  • Friday, December 14, 2012

    Jack the Wonder Dog

    So, when I've left home before, I've missed a lot of different things. The first time I came to live in the United Kingdom, by the time I was getting ready to head home, I really wanted a vanilla milkshake from my favorite burger joint in my home town. When I lived in California and Virginia, I missed temperate weather. When I was in the Middle East, I really missed women who weren't covered from head to toe in flowing black abayas. And sleep, I missed sleep a lot. So, what do I miss now that I've passed the two month mark here in Scotland?

    The dog. I miss the family dog. He's a seven year old Labrador named Jack, and he's awesome, and I miss him. I'm fond of pointing out that I actually like Jack more than most people - maybe even all people, but the jury's still out. That's not so much an indictment on people as it is an indicator of how awesome Jack is.

    One of my favorite memories of Jack is from right before I left in September. I was visiting my parents at their vacation home, and I was sitting in the chair right next to Jack's rug. Jack absolutely refused to let me do whatever it was I was trying to do (probably messing around with my Kindle Fire), and kept nudging his nose under my elbow until I succumbed and spent ages rubbing his belly, or between his ears, or wherever it was that I could reach. He didn't really care very much where I was scratching him, just that I was doing it. We'd been through this exercise on previous visits to the vacation home, so Jack knew exactly what he was doing. I'm not much on insistent or high maintenance people, but with Jack, it's endearing.

    I miss the dog. I miss sitting in the family room or at the vacation cabin with him there, I miss going on walks and playing fetch with him, I miss stopping by in the middle of the day when my folks are out of town and refreshing his water. I knew I'd miss him, but I didn't expect that spending time with him would be very nearly the only thing I'd miss. I'm bugging my folks to send me some pictures of him, and I took some pictures off of my phone that I'd taken while I was living back in the States and used them to update the "Jack the Wonder Dog" album I keep on Facebook. One of my favorites is the one up there with him and the drumsticks. I added a caption to that one on Facebook that says:

    "What do you mean, 'You're not in the band, you're a dog'? I'll make you a deal. You worry about keeping those groupies away from Chris Isaak, and I'll worry about laying down the beat."
    Oh, well, I guess the hardship of being separated from Jack is just the price I have to pay - after all, it's not as if the actual coursework is proving extremely difficult. Still, I'll be quite glad to see Jack when I finally make it back home, whenever that may be.

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Work Hard, Play Hard

    It's the end of the semester, and the Strategists have been working hard. We've always enjoyed going out and having a great time together. This week, we're hitting it pretty hard. Here are some of the things we've been up to.

    On Monday, CN GBU-16 and CN Chatti orchestrated a "Christmas Social/Feud". It involved walking to the Codona's fun park (location) for bowling. And bowl we did! Because it's the end of the semester, this event was particularly well attended. In addition to all of the Strategists except for CN Slapshot, who was ill, and that unnamed bloke (who never socializes with us anyway), CN Warden, CN Vlad, and CN Templar were finally able to make it out with us. We even got CN Black Sheep to join in the fun! CN Homeboy, CN Ness, and CN Vlad brought their girlfriends, and CN Vlad also brought his flatmate. It was a great group, and we had a great time bowling before heading for TGI Fridays (the second Jimmy Chung's location was closing for the night) for more food and drinks. At that point, we split company, and CN Warden, CN Sister, and I went to the SOC... But not before popping in to the The Bobbin (location) for a few more drinks. There was this tool who was standing at the bar bugging me, so when he tried to chat up the girls at the adjacent table, I decided to torpedo his attempt. My effort was successful, and the three of us rejoiced. We wound up hanging out in the SOC until after 2:30 AM before parting ways and heading to bed.

    On Wednesday, at the completion of our last lecture in Strategic Theory, the Director was unable to join us for drinks, but handed CN Sister a £50 note - the first one most of us had ever seen - and sent us off to the Machar for drinks on him. I had already been scheduled to head over there to meet with my friend Anthropology Jules for lunch before she heads back home for the long break, so the two of us wound up hanging out with the majority of my classmates. Once we all began to break off, a number of us went back to the SOC to attempt to study for a while before heading to the Bobbin for drinks, chow, and a few games of weird British pool. About halfway through that debacle, some creepy old dude took a liking to CN Sister (not the first time it's happened, and probably won't be the last), so CN Templar, CN Ness, and I had to initiate a combined arms defense on her behalf. CN Sister, CN Templar, and I then retired to the comfort of the SOC, where we were rejoined by CN Warden and his main squeeze, CN Bones for an hour or two. CN Sister and I finished out the night with a nip of Highland Park at the Machar before parting company for the evening.

    In retrospect, although I would have liked to have accomplished some Arabic and reading on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll probably survive. It's been a great semester with these folks, and I'm looking forward to more opportunities for socialization and group study with them in the months yet to come. For now, we're in the process of going our separate ways for the next few weeks, with me trying to decide between staying in Aberdeen to spend a month cramming for finals, or going on a few excursions in an effort to prevent cabin fever... While also cramming for finals. Stay tuned.

    Island Paradise: Wideford Hill

    In 2004, Captain John took me up to the top of Wideford Hill, which overlooks Kirkwall. I'd had a really hard time figuring out where it was using Wikimapia, but with the help of Gray 1 and a couple of maps, I was easily able to find it. I plotted my course - the A965 - and set out in my intrepid chariot to conquer the hill, which is apparently 738 feet high. It's also home to the chambered cairn, but that wasn't on my agenda this time around. On the dirt road up the hill, I saw and spooked at least one sheep into sneaking back under the gate it had snuck out of.

    Aside from providing a fantastic view of Kirkwall, the summit of Wideford Hill was cold, wet, and windswept. As the highest point above Kirkwall, the location is dominated by big radio antennas. There's also a "trig point", and a big disc showing the direction to a bunch of other locations within a few hundred miles of Kirkwall. I remember Captain John telling me in 2004 that on a clear day, you could see from Wideford Hill to the Scottish mainland and Shetland, but October wasn't forthcoming as far as clear days go. (I didn't mind, though, because I'm actually most comfortable when it's cold, windy, and rainy - that's why I came to the University of Aberdeen instead of going to Namibia State Polytechnic Institute or the Saharan Postgraduate School.)

    A few yards from the summit, there's a sign from the Orkneyinga Saga Trail. As I've mentioned before, I read the Orkneyinga Saga in 2008 or so. It frequently discusses beacons that were readied at the top of hills like Wideford for use as warning signals in the event that one group of vikings attempted to move against another. The sign recounts an incident from chapter 74 of the Orkneyinga Saga in which a spy on Fair Isle (between Orkney and Shetland) doused the beacon. According to the saga:

    But that man was set to watch the beacon in the Fair Isle whose name was Eric. And when Uni had been a little while in the Fair Isle, he came to Eric and said: “Wilt thou that I watch the beacon? since I do naught else, and I may well sit and spend all my time on it.” Eric accepted that. But as soon as ever no men were near to the spot, Uni threw water on the beacon, and made it so wet that fire had no hold of it anywhere.
    This act of sabotage allowed Earl Rognvald and his forces to sail to Westray unopposed, at which point he moved against the territories held by Earl Magnus. To this day, many of the hills in Orkney and Shetland are known as "Ward Hill" or "Wart Hill", and this denotes that they hosted beacons of their own.

    I left Wideford Hill on Saturday morning and came back on Sunday night to get a grid - 30V VA 98425 38585 - and take a few night shots. Unfortunately, none of them turned out - a true shame, because despite the nearly overwhelming wind that night, the moonlit view of Kirkwall and Scapa Flow was truly breathtaking - truly one of the great experiences of my life.

    Of course, any spot in Orkney is a good spot for a bit of self-photography, so I snapped a couple of shots of myself looking every bit as windswept as the hill upon which I was standing. When I've completed a few more months of long walks up Aberdonian hills, I'd love to put on my Marine Corps combat boots and a rucksack and hike to the top of the hill. (Yes, I realize it's only 738 feet, and that even if I do hike to the top of it, Big Brother Caleb will still make fun of me.)

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    The Five Mile Stroll

    Since I had a scheduled day off from classes, and since I'm trying to be more physically active now that I'm a bit more settled, I decided to put some repetitions on my feet I departed from my undisclosed location and walked to the vicinity of campus, then set out for The Archibald Simpson for lunch I had a great "bacon" (ham) carbonara and a pint of Foster's. When I had finished, I walked to the well-defended barber shop to have my head shaved, which was outstanding - as usual, they took great care of me, and I felt like a million bucks afterward.

    As I was walking, I was also taking pictures for the blog. These pictures will be turned into posts about several prominent Aberdonian statues, as well as a prominent kirk in the city center.

    Once I'd finished taking the last of the pictures, I decided to head back to Old Aberdeen. It was getting later in the afternoon, and because Aberdeen is so northerly, it's been getting dark (and cold!) a lot earlier here than it was when I first arrived - the Islamic Qibla for the day that I'm writing this post says that tonight's sunset in Aberdeen will be at 3:27 PM! I took the next major right onto Bedord Road, toward Aberdeen's Staples (mentioned previously!), and then followed that road to the Hideous Glass Cube. From there, I went to the Edward Wright Building to consult with the Director, and then spent the rest of the evening bugging CN Sister in the SOC.

    View Larger Map

    And then, while we were sitting in the SOC, it began to snow. CN Sister was quite excited, while I was less excited. However, since I'd walked a total of 5.1 miles, and since it was snowing, I felt all the more justified in taking the bus back to my digs.

    While I was out and about, I listened to my Walkman. (By "Walkman", I mean an mp3 player purchased in 2010, rather than an ancient machine for playing audio cassettes.) I listened to two podcasts: a recent CSIS event featuring General Raymond Odierno, and Iran's Voice of Justice program from a day or two prior. I'm not a big fan of General Odierno's, but he came off as pretty coherent in his remarks about the Army's adjustment for reduced defense budgets in the coming years. As usual, the Voice of Justice was hilarious propaganda with little or no basis in fact.

    I'd like to get to the point of walking at least two miles per day. It will be tough during December and January while it's freezing and icy outside, but I'll make the effort as I'm able and as things start to warm a bit in a couple of months, I expect to get more consistent. This scouting mission was a good start!

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: King's College at Night

    A few days ago, I posted about King's College. Another great thing about King's College is that it's absolutely stunning when lit up at night - and since Aberdeen is about as far north as the southern bits of Alaska, and since I'm often on campus late into the evening, I end up with a lot of opportunities to see it in that condition. The bus stops happen to be right outside King's College, so I often get a chance to enjoy the view before heading back to my room to catch some sleep. It's a great reminder of the rich history of the University of Aberdeen - certainly one of its best selling points. The University was founded in 1494 - that's more than five hundred years ago! That's older than America! And every night that I have the opportunity to walk down High Street at night, whether leaving the campus or possibly The Machar, it's a great reminder of how special this year is for me.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    The Gear: Little Plastic Army Men

    I love little plastic army men*. I bought a whole bucket of them when I was in the Middle East to use in sand table exercises that never happened, and they were awesome - the Brits had bagpipers! I can't describe how much I squealed with glee over the discovery of those bagpipers, in among Brits in khaki shorts and pith helmets with Bren guns and Lee-Enfields, Americans with bazookas and M2 machine guns, and so on.

    When I left the Middle East, I gifted a bunch of those toy army men to a bunch of the folks I worked with. A handful of my favorite folks (like Big Sister and L, both of whom may be reading this) got the bagpipers. The machine gunners or bazooka shooters went to folks (like Sergeant Mike, who may be reading this) who were always there to support me when I needed help. A few useless folks received tactically useless ones like the waving binoculars guy as a sort of backhanded compiment. I thought about packing a bucket of them to bring with me to Scotland, and I thought about ordering them to be sent over by some friendly compatriot back home - there are always practical, non-practical, and diplomatic uses for little plastic army men.

    Well, no need: I found an extremely cheap, extremely low quality bagful of them at Poundland. Unlike the bucket of plastic army men, which isn't of particularly high quality, the bag of army men is of exceptionally poor quality. Regardless, I'm quite pleased to have them, and I may even go back for more of them - particularly if I can convince some of my classmates that we ought to do map and/or sand table exercises, or play Risk, or possibly militarize a game of Settlers of Catan.

    I tell you what, between these little plastic army men and my note and/or index and/or record cards, the only other thing I need at this point is an entrenching tool!

    * Reader discretion advised.

    Saturday, December 8, 2012

    Island Paradise: St. Magnus Cathedral Interior

    One of the measures of a "city" by British standards is that cities contain cathedrals. (For the record, Aberdeen's is the Cathedral Church of St. Machar, which was the site of my first attempt at geocaching.) The most beautiful cathedral I've ever seen - and I've seen quite a few of them - is St. Magnus Cathedral in the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall. On my second full day in Orkney, I went into Kirkwall. I had several errands to run: buying an Orcadian sweater (unfortunately, knitted in Orkney, but not from Orcadian wool - I still love it!) from a shop on Victoria Street, grabbing a Giddy Limit 2013 calendar from the Orcadian bookshop, and of course, a trip back to St. Magnus Cathedral.

    St. Magnus is constructed from gorgeous red sandstone, and contains many, many epitaphs from the kirkyard outside. A lot of them have the skull and crossed bones icon visible in the attached picture. There are also numerous other items from Orcadian history, plus the crypts of William Balfour Baikie and Dr. John Rae. (I actually remember Captain John telling me the story of Dr. John Rae back in 2004 when he took me there during our grand tour of Orkney.) There's a memorial to the men lost in the 1939 sinking of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, which contains the ship's bell. Originally erected in 1137, the cathedral is named after St. Magnus of Orkney, whose life, martyrdom, and legacy are recounted in chapters 39 through 60 of the Orkneyinga Saga. He's also the subject of the novel Magnus by Orcadian author George Mackay Brown, and let me tell you, the book shops in Orkney are quite fond of George Mackay Brown.

    If you take the tour on Tuesday or Thursday, you'll find yourself led up into the into the central bell tower. In addition to seeing the bell apparatus and some of the older bits of the cathedral that have since been shored up or added to to preserve the structure, you'll get to see one of the original glass windows (pictured) dating back to the cathedral's early days. My tour was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Orkney. Unfortunately, I took sixty pictures of the St. Magnus Cathedral interior alone, which is too many pictures even for one of my blog posts. Hopefully I've given some of you the motivation to go check it out for yourselves! Oh, and for anyone who's interested, I got a grid for the front steps of the cathedral: 30V VA 98425 38585.

    Remember a few weeks ago, when I posted a Mumford & Sons video in The Songs That Remind You 3? Well, Gray 3 told me that when Mumford & Sons performed in Orkney, they didn't want to perform in a sports venue, so they actually performed in St. Magnus Cathedral. I can think of a few bands that I'd love to see perform there, so I have no doubt that it was a truly amazing night for everyone in attendance.

    Coming up later in the Island Paradise series, I'll post some day and night pictures of the St. Magnus Cathedral exterior, because it's every bit as gorgeous as the interior. There are reasons why it's my favorite cathedral of all time.

    Once I'd finished with my missions for Kirkwall, it was off to Wideford Hill.

    Friday, December 7, 2012

    Don't Panic: Late Semester Update

    I'll be honest, before I came to Aberdeen, I was nervous about graduate school. For example, postgraduate programs in the States require applicants to take the GRE or other entrance examinations. I never took nor studied for anything of the sort, so even though I thought I'd be able to do alright, I was still concerned that I might not be able to perform to the level necessary to succeed.

    I mentioned some of my solid work previously. As of Wednesday, here's the tally of how I've done so far.

  • Strategic Intelligence Tutorial Presentation: Non-graded, but I was told by both E and some of my classmates that I did well. My topic was Intelligence Agencies of the World.
  • Strategic Theory "In-Class Essay" (Mid-Term Exam): I tied for the highest score in the class with an 18/20. My essay discussed changes in the conduct of war between 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic Wars) and 1914 (the beginning of World War I.
  • Strategic Intelligence Essay: I turned mine in a week early, and received a mark of 18/20. E was particularly pleased that I had used examples from John John Le CarrĂ©'s The Looking Glass War and the 1992 Tom Clancy film Patriot Games to illustrate some of my points.
  • Strategic Theory Team Presentation: CN Odin and I finished our slide deck and memorandum for this requirement a full five days early, and we were both quite pleased with both. We presented Wednesday, and scored 19/20 - the highest score in the class. We discussed requirements for success in modern counterinsurgency campaigns, and used the Algerian War and the Dhofar Rebellion as contrasting examples. The Director recommended that we turn it into a formal paper and submit it to the Small Wars Journal.

    So, that leaves final exams in January. I would have liked to have gotten more reading done during the rest of the semester, but I'll try to get another couple of books completed in the next few weeks. As it turns out, I've performed very well this first semester, which will hopefully be an indicator of my performance over the course of the entire year.
  • Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Around Aberdeen: The SOC

    The University of Aberdeen has bestowed upon its distinguished social science postgraduates a hallowed chamber of enlightenment and learning: the Strategic Operations Center. Actually, the room is called the postgraduate study room, but because most of its occupants on any given day are Strategic Studies (or Strategic Studies and International Law) students, I opined that we should start calling it the "SOC" (pronounced "sock"): the Strategic Operations Center. With the help of CN Warden, it's starting to stick!

    Located in the bowels of the Edward Wright Building annex(e?), the SOC has become our de facto social and intellectual hub. It boasts ten desks, eight computers, a bookshelf, a bunch of coat hooks, a couple of non-functioning telephones, and a set of drawers we can't get into. As you can see from the pictures, we've elected to customize the place and really lay claim to it. In addition to calling it the SOC, we've added a laminated world map, which we've marked with those little tabs you can put on book pages; and we also got a folding map of the Middle East and North Africa (though whoever designed it put North Africa on the opposite side, so that part of the map is pretty much worthless). The Director bequeathed to us a map of Africa, and there's a folding road map of Oman on order - once it arrives, the Middle East map may move to above CN Warden's turf so that I can put the new one up above my own turf.

    I also contributed the Wyoming flag, CN Sister has stated an intent to bring a couple of her own flags, and CN Ness has stated his intent to bring in a North Korean flag - I'm starting to get the impression that he has some sort of odd fixation on North Korea, but in this particular group, it works.

    At any rate, on any given day, and particularly before exams or essay deadlines, you could walk into the SOC to find as many as eight Strategists working on one thing or another. The computers are ancient and prone to temporary freezes, and the heating ranges from inadequate to completely non-functional, but we make a good go of it. It's also common to run into our Anthropologist cousins in the hallway. I've become fond of walking through a gaggle of them and saying "Look, a group of anthropologists in their natural habitat!", which tends to get a few grins.

    As we get into dissertation time, we expect to spend hours upon hours upon hours burning the midnight oil to get our dissertations sorted out.

    Wednesday, December 5, 2012

    Meeting Terry Waite

    As part of the Remembrance Day observances, the Chaplaincy Center sponsored a visit by Terry Waite CBE. Mr. Waite has spent his life working in conflict resolution with a focus on hostage negotiation. While working as an advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980's, Mr. Waite was taken hostage in Beirut by Hezbollah and spent nearly five years in solitary confinement. He spoke at the Remembrance Day service in the King's College Chapel, later that evening in King's Quad, and again the next day in King's Quad. I attended both events in King's Quad, got a copy of his book Taken on Trust autographed, and had my picture taken with him.

    Before the second event, I also had the chance to speak with him briefly, and during the Q&A period I asked him to provide his thoughts on hostage rescue missions by military and law enforcement personnel. Given my credentials, my occupation, and the training I received prior to my time in the Middle East (which included mentions of his experience and what he did to keep his morale up), it was really a special opportunity for me.

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    Strategic Studies Dramatis Personnae

    Normally a larger group, this year's intake consists of thirteen students from seven countries. In this first semester, we're taught by two Scottish instructors.

  • The Director: I began corresponding with The Director back in August of 2010, and have been in touch with him every few months since then. The man knows strategy, the man knows history, and he's just an overall outstanding guy. His enthusiasm and expertise are central to the strength of the program, and I'm thrilled to be studying under his expert guidance.
  • E: E is a PhD and intelligence enthusiast. His research expertise is in microstates and intelligence, and he teaches security and intelligence courses to third year undergraduates. This is the first year he's teaching a postgraduate class in Strategic Studies. One of the hallmarks of E's lectures is his ability to illustrate concepts with entertaining anecdotes from the history of intelligence operations - the current class favorite being the story of the missing Soviet suitcase nukes. E is also a fan of Rangers F.C., and thinks that cricket isn't a sport, but rather, "dancing". His unhealthy obsession with Iceland is akin to my unhealthy obsessions with Orkney and Oman, so I'm not in a position to be judgmental.

    This year's program has fewer students than usual. Most students are involved in the MSc in Strategic Studies, with a minority involved in the MSC in Strategic Studies - International Law (SS-IL). There are nine of us in the former program, and four in the latter, and the courses overlap by one course this semester (Strategic Theory), and several elective courses next semester.

  • CN Warden: Warden is from near Newcastle, in Northern England. He did his undergraduate studies at Aberdeen, so beyond benefiting from his general friendly demeanor, I've also benefited from his knowledge of the area.
  • CN GBU-16: GBU-16 is Italian, and an SS-IL student who also completed undergraduate study at Aberdeen.
  • CN Homeboy: Homeboy is an Aberdonian, born, raised, and educated. He's keenly interested in politics, a staunch Scottish nationalist, and extremely critical of Red Clydeside.
  • CN Ness: Reminiscent of one of the best sketches in SNL history, Ness isn't actually from Inverness, but he's from near Inverness. Like Homeboy, he's also keenly interested in politics.
  • CN Odin: Odin is Norwegian, the oldest student in the class, and the only member other than me with any overseas/topical experience. His major interests are intelligence and counterinsurgency.
  • CN Black Sheep: Black Sheep is from a small town on England's east coast, in the area "that looks like a face". He's also keenly interested in politics, both domestic and international. He's quite fond of spending time alone.
  • CN Sister: Sister is the only other American in the program, so we seem to get on well. She's interested in the Middle East, comfortable in extremely cold weather, apparently good with horses, and drives the largest vehicle of anyone in the program (when she's not driving the Model A she restored herself). Sister also completed her undergraduate studies at Aberdeen.
  • CN Slapshot: Slapshot is Canadian, and enjoys alcohol and travel. He has some experience working in Canada's diplomatic corps, which allowed him to attend some events in Washington, DC.
  • CN Templar: Templar is from Tanzania, and is so named for his fascination with the Knights Templar, the Roman Catholic Church, and the concept of the Roman Catholic Church as the earliest and most widespread intelligence apparatus in the world. Behind his back, Templar is universally lauded for bringing an extra-Eurocentric viewpoint to the class, which we all find extremely valuable.
  • CN Vlad: Vlad is Romanian, and an SS-IL student. He told me himself that he's "from Transylvania, where Dracula is from". He completed his undergraduate studies at Aberdeen, and based on my limited experience, he's very Romanian. He's also never met a pint he didn't like!
  • CN Chatti: Chatti is half Irish and half German, and one of the SS-IL folks. He and I have had a couple of excellent, cordial disagreemnts in class, and we non-SS-IL types have been pleased to have him participate as a member of our social group.

    There's one other guy from the SS-IL program, but none of us have really had much exposure to him for one reason or another, so he doesn't have a code name and isn't really worthy of mention yet. In the event that I get to know him a bit better, I'll write more about him.

    Overall, it's a very cordial group, we all seem to get on very well, and I'm thrilled at the opportunity to study and socialize with them.