Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mila Kunis on BBC1

Continuing with the trend of videos that have gone viral here in the UK (and maybe back in the States, too?), this Mila Kunis interview with BBC1's Chris Stark has gotten a lot of traction over the last few weeks.

At least she's reasonably down-to-earth, amiright?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New T-Shirt?

I think it may be a moral imperative that I get this T-shirt. Maybe two of them. I wonder if CN Warden would be willing to help. Hmmm...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Panic: Semester Transition Point

Hi, folks. I haven't posted very much lately. March has been crazy busy, and it all sort of culminated in this week.

On Wednesday, CN Slapshot and I presented on Persian Gulf security for GSI. I handled the GCC/PSF, while CN Slapshot addressed Iraq's role as an oil producer and provided a comprehensive review of the lengthy history of the Iranian nuclear program. We encountered a few challenges, and had very different ideas of what information to present, and that lack of coordination cost us a couple of points; but, we still did pretty well. I'm taking it as motivation to work that much harder studying for the exam in a few weeks.

The other big item for this week has been the 4-5,000 word essay for SND. I had hoped to write on the potential for Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons should Iran become a nuclear weapon state; but, after consulting with Critical Mass, I elected to go with one of the following topic: "Assess the value of tactical nuclear weapons in NATO’s deterrent strategy since the end of the Cold War." After several days of hard writing and a couple more days of hard editing to get it under the maximum word count, I submitted my essay twenty-four hours early, with 147 citations (compared to the 25 for my Strategic Intelligence essay from last semester), and just over one hundred words under the word count ceiling - a great accomplishment, given that I didn't cut any actual content and was still somehow able to cut it from the original finished length of 6300+ words. I'll probably post it, maybe in pieces, over the next few weeks.

So, where does that leave me? Simple: Easter Break. For those of you who are uninitiated with the Scottish system, they take three weeks off for Easter, as opposed to the single week that we take off for Spring Break in the States - well, that I always got off. I think some places in the States take two weeks, and which week(s) varies from place to place. Anyway, during the next three weeks, I hope to travel a bit, first up to Shetland, and we'll see where else I find myself wandering off to. I'll also need to spend some of that time studying for exams, since we apparently don't get the same block of time between the end of classes and the beginning of exam week that we did at the end of the last semester. I'll probably wind up spending some serious quality time with my buddies Lawrence Freedman, Colin Gray, Albert Wohlstetter, Bernard Brodie, and Laurence Martin. I'm not quite as sure how I'll study for GSI, but I'm also more confident in my knowledge of global security issues than I am with my understanding of strategic nuclear doctrine.

I wanted to come to Aberdeen for a lot of different reasons, though I'll admit that location was probably higher on the list than the actual program - not that the program was low on the list, because it was still pretty high. Anyway, strategy has interested me for a long time. It's long been said that America teaches its officers tactics, not strategy - that's to say, we teach our officers how to win battles, but not how to win wars. One of the things I've been learning about this semester is what the Director calls "operational strategy", which is a sort of middle point between the art of stitching a lot of battles together to get a specific effect, and the art of stitching those effects together to get a specific end state. I've spent some time studying how America in particular has tried to fine tune its "operational strategy" over the last twenty years, and what that has meant for the way America, its allies, and its enemies have conducted warfare. I've found it particularly fascinating not only because it's relevant to the course material, but also because it's influenced my professional life in a big way.

Anyway, now that I'm not worried about editing memoranda about the Gulf down to a particular word count, or writing about NATO's doctrine concerning tactical nuclear weapons, I hope to blog a bit more. And if I can put a few day or overnight trips under my belt, I shoul dhave some interesting stuff to blog about, too. So, for those of you who are still reading since last Summer, or whom are new, thanks for sticking with me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Loch Ness, Part 2

Urquhart Castle is located here, about a third of the way down Loch Ness from its head near Inverness. As I was on Jacobite's Temptation tour - why it was called "temptation", I don't know - I enjoyed a half hour cruise on Loch Ness, followed about about an hour at Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle dates back to the 500's, and whoever controlled Urquhart Castle was said to control the entire area. The Battle of Culloden took place nearby in 1746. Urquhart Castle was critical to the security and politics of the area until it was destroyed by Clan Grant in 1692 to prevent it falling into Jacobite hands. I got around to pretty much the entire castle, and took tons of pictures. I love visiting places like this, because it's fascinating to see how past military engineers have used the materials and terrain available to them to create defensible positions.

The last item before heading up to the visitor's center was a trebuchet. I'm pretty sure I saw something about how trebuchets were used against castle walls, when they were, in fact, intended to fling projectiles over castle walls. A buddy of mine wanted to build a full-sized trebuchet in three or four parts to assemble at our university for launching watermelons... That never actually happened, but he did build a little one out of balsa or something, and we used it to launch M&Ms or pennies or something. So, whenever I see anything related to a trebuchet, I think of my buddy, Super Dave.

After buying a bunch of post cards, and a couple of "FORIEGN STUFFFS" for a particular superheroine back home, I joined my tourmates for a short video in the visitors' center before heading up to the bus. Kenny (still with blue eyes) recited history like an encyclopedia as he drove us back to the Inverness high street. I killed about an hour, and then caught the 18:13 train back to Aberdeen, arriving at about 20:30 after having done some planning and some reading. After about half an hour of waiting for the bus, I finally made it back to my place.

It was a great day, with just a touch of adventure and just enough educational value. It was a good transition from spending far too long in Aberdeen without any excursions, into a new phase of stretching my legs to see more of what Scotland has to offer. More on that to come in the next few weeks.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Writing Samples: Kuwait Security Overview

I'm tied up this week with some writing projects for school. I have a few posts that have been pre-written for just such an occasion, so I'll try to hit "publish" on one every day or two. For now, here's a draft version of my section(-in-progress) on security issues in the State of Kuwait to tide you over. More to follow.

* * *
Country: State of Kuwait
Religious Affiliations: Sunni (59.5%), Shiite (25.5%), other (15%)
Ethnic Groups: Kuwaiti (Arab) 45%, other (55%)

Remarks: Previously a component of the Ottoman Wilayat of Basra, Kuwait was made an independent province by the British in order to limit Iraq's naval access to the Persian Gulf. Kuwait was granted independence in 1961. The Iraqi annexation of Kuwait in 1990, and subsequent liberation by an American-led coalition liberation in early 1991, continue to define its politics, culture, and landscape. Even Kuwait's national monument, the Kuwait Towers, incorporates crudely labeled photographs of the Iraqi vandalism of the monument as its most prominent interior decoration.

Kuwait and Iraq continue to have periodic naval disputes. In January of 2011, a Kuwait Coast Guard patrol intercepted an Iraqi fishing boat in Kuwaiti territorial waters. In the subsequent standoff and firefight, a Kuwaiti lance corporal was killed.[K1][K2][K3] Kuwait is also building the Mubarak al Kabir port on the northern Bubiyan Island, a project whose obvious purpose is to further restrict Iraq's limited maritime access.[K4] Kuwait and Iraq are still engaged in diplomatic efforts of varying sincerity, focused largely on reparations and settlement for the events of 1990/'91.[K5][K6][K7][K8][K9][K10]

In Spring of 2011, Kuwait disrupted an Iranian spy network that had infiltrated the Kuwaiti military. Three Kuwaiti soldiers, including an Iranian national, were sentenced to death, with several others either detained or deported.[K11][K12][K13] Another spy ring was allegedly broken up later that year[K14], and there was also concern about Syrian intelligence activities in the Gulf[K15]; Syria is a close ally of Iran, and Syrians integrate more easily in the Arab Gulf states than Iranians. There was also concern that Kuwait's loose immigration restrictions made it an ideal transit point for the movement of spies.[K16][K17]

In addition to these external security threats, Kuwait suffers from two internal threats. The first and most prominent of these is political turmoil among Kuwaiti citizens relating to the Arab Spring. The second and less publicized is repeated protests by the Biduns, a disfranchised subset of the Kuwaiti population who do not hold citizenship because they failed to sign up for it back in 1961.

[K1] BBC: Kuwaiti soldier killed in clash with Iraqi fishermen
[K2] Arab Times: Kuwaiti coast guard killed in shootout with Iraqi boat
[K3] Khaleej Times: Kuwaiti soldier killed in clash with Iraqi sailors
[K4] Wikipedia: Kuwait Mubarak al Kabir Port project
[K5] Arab Times: Iraq keen to close files of missing Kuwaitis, property
[K6] Kuwait Times: Amir asks govt to iron out pending issues with Iraq
[K7] Arab Times: ‘Need to forget Iraq former regime acts’
[K8] Arab Times: ‘All factors’ exist for good ties with Kuwait: Talabani
[K9] Kuwait Times: Kuwait-Iraq relations move in right direction – Forget the past, look into bright future
[K10] Kuwait Times: Talabani: All factors for good Kuwait ties present – Iraqi president hopes ’90 invasion water under the bridge
[K11] AFP: Kuwait condemns three to death in Iran spy ring
[K12] UPI: Kuwait: Iran involved in spy ring
[K13] Al Jazeera: Iran rejects Kuwait spy cell allegation
[K14] Arab Times: Kuwait Said To Bust Spy Ring
[K15] Arab Times: Govt should monitor Syrian intel activities
[K16] Arab Times: Lot Of Spy Networks Using Kuwait As A Transit Point
[K17] Arab Times: 'Security, stability of Kuwait at risk' - 'Foreign hands at work'

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Loch Ness, Part 1

Inverness is the "gateway to"/"capital of" the Scottish Highlands, and it's right at the head of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is perhaps best known for the alleged "Loch Ness Monster", a cryptid believed by some to A) exist, and B) to be a remnant from the age of dinosaurs. Other than that... Uh... Well, there's not a whole lot going on in Inverness, that's the honest truth of it. I passed through Inverness twice in 2004, once on the way to Aberdeen to board the ferry to Orkney, and once on my way back down south from Orkney. I don't think I ever actually left the train station. Since Inverness is only a couple of hours away by train, I've been meaning to take a quick day trip there for a while now. On Saturday, I finally went.

Anyway, I had a look at the Inverness entry on Wikitravel, which gave me a like to the Jacobite tour company. I called them on Friday, and an extremely friendly and informative woman informed me of their tour times for Saturday, then informed me that my bus driver would be Kenny, and then informed me that he had blue eyes. My response? "Right, got it, if I meet Kenny and he has brown eyes, I'll know it's a trap!"

I didn't get to the train station quite as early as I'd hoped, and ended up having to wait for the noon train. I killed some time, and made it to the train in time to get a table seat. The scenery was great, running from Aberdeen through Dyce, Inverurie, Insch, Huntly, Keith, Elgin, Forres, and Nairn before terminating in Inverness. I called the tour company, confirmed the time when the tour would end, and reserved a seat on the 18:13 train back to Aberdeen, then went in search of the tour bus. The young lady at the counter at the bus station informed me that the bus had just left, but that I could catch it, and gave me a map telling me where to go. I got to the stop literally just in time, met Kenny (it wasn't a trap), and was off on the tour.

The tour started off here, where we boarded the Jacobite Legend. After hanging out on the lower observation deck for a while, I went up to the upper, open observation deck. It was a cold, Windy day on Loch Ness, because it's Scotland and it's March, but I was pretty okay with that. I got some pictures of the scenery, the boat, and myself. Somehow without warning, we arrived at Urquhart Castle, which is where I'll pick up the next time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Gear: Defeating Technology, Now With Maps!

I'm starting to believe that the ability to combine my Kindle Fire with PDFs is either the best thing ever, or pure dagnasty evil. A few days ago, I found myself killing time at Starbucks, and within a mere fifteen minutes, I'd downloaded tons of PDF maps. I have to say, when I use a Kindle with PDF maps, I feel like I'm Jack Bauer.

The whole thing started when I found a map of Orkney - this map of Orkney, and this thing about places to stay in Scotland in 2012 and 2013. Since I was hoping to take some time later that day to plan a trip to Oman, that's what I looked for next, and I found this, this, this, and this. That last one isn't particularly good, but the other three are solid gold. I also plan to go to Shetland at some point soon, which led me to this map of Shetland.

Now, that last one is interesting, because when I went back to look at it in the course of writing this blog post, I discovered that the website where I got it has maps of pretty much every individual geographic/political area of Scotland. I mean, just look at this page - I'm pretty sure that it's a straight up moral imperative that all of those Orkney maps wind up on my Kindle, even if I don't actually plan on visiting most of those areas. I also wanted to get a couple of maps of Scotland itself, so the fact that the website in question has an overall map of Scotland is super awesome, and will make a good addition to the Scotrail routes map. Oh, and I'll probably grab the Britrail map for good measure, too - heck, it's a pretty good map of the United Kingdom in general, regardless of whether it's focused on transport or not.

I also figured I'd download a map of Wyoming, my adopted hope state, and I got my actual home state as well. There's another place, one of my old work locations, that's great for maps, but there don't appear to be any PDF maps of it, so I may work on making one of those myself using Wikimapia and PowerPoint.

I've written before on the JTS, Ltd. blog about learning to navigate. On prior road trips, particularly my 2007 and 2010 cross-country road trips, I've used a 2007 MapQuest road atlas (which I loaned to my buddy Laud for nearly three years at one point). I still have that thing, and it may still be sitting in my vehicle back in the States. I'm really critical of reliance on dashboard GPS, and I'm a pretty staunch advocate of people learning how to navigate with an actual map, and perhaps even with a *gasp* compass (or even a handheld GPS). I realize that my mobile phones have the equivalent of foot mobile GPS, and I've used it a couple of times, so I'm not a zealot about the topic or anything - but I still think people ought to be able to navigate on their own, even if they sometimes defer to some of the technological options. I got that MapQuest road atlas in 2007, before tablets took off, so I guess all of this is to say that I find the options that I have from combining traditional maps with technology. Honestly, it sort of makes me feel like I'm pretty much carrying around the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Having the World Factbook app merely underscores that feeling.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Strategic Studies Dramatis Personnae Revisited

Last semester, I posted about my instructors and peers. All of the folks I described in that first post are still around. We're no longer receiving instruction from E, but we still run into him from time to time - plus, I think we're basically all in the Facebook group for his course to third year undergraduates. Anyway, here are the new folks. Let's start with the new instructor.

  • Critical Mass: Critical Mass has her PhD in Nuclear Deterrence, and teaches PI 5517, Strategic Nuclear Doctrine. Like the Director, she's pretty unapologetic when she thinks that something is nonsense, which is pretty refreshing. She's a very engaging instructor, and instead of assigning a ton of books that I'll never have any hope of reading during the course of the semester, she's been great about assigning actual policy documents that are available online and easy to get through and discuss.

    Four the second semester, the Strategists have been divided across four courses, but everyone but GBU-16 is in Global Security Issues, and GBU-16 is in SND. We've also gotten six new folks.

  • CN Conquistadora: Conquistadora is Romanian, and a postgraduate in Politics and International Relations (PIR). She once joined us for a pub crawl. She's pretty quiet in class, but an absolute sweetheart.
  • CN Wanakum: Wanakum is Sri Lankan, and a postgraduate in PIR. She once joined us for a pub crawl. She's pretty quiet in class, but an absolute sweetheart.
  • CN Herr: Herr is from Köln, and a postgraduate in PIR. He's dating Fraulein, and once joined us for a pub crawl. He's been fairly quiet in class, but as we've gotten to know him, he's demonstrated himself to be a pretty cool guy.
  • CN Fraulein: Fraulein is from München, and a postgraduate in PIR. She's dating Herr, and once joined us for a pub crawl. She's been pretty quiet in class, too, but she's quite the firecracker outside of class. Apparently, we live in the same building, and only found it out a few nights ago.
  • CN Agricola: Agricola's from Barbados, and a postgraduate in Rural Development. He also happens to be one of my flatmates. He's quiet in class, but he's a good guy, and good to have as a flatmate because he's very courteous and, like me, keeps to himself.
  • CN Delta: Delta's from Nigeria, I think he's studying PIR, and he happens to have the same first name as CN Templar, which can be a little confusing since they're both from sub-Saharan Africa. He's been the most apt to speak up in class, and like Templar, we appreciate his outside perspective in an otherwise Eurocentric group.

    It's great to have a slightly larger group this semester.

    In addition to the additional students, and the new instructor, I've met a few new folks who merit mention.

  • CN Bones: Bones is CN Warden's better half. Total sweetheart. She's nicknamed "Bones" because she's studying to be a doctor. She's just spent the last couple of months doing an internship or residency or something in Australia, and we're all thrilled to have her back.
  • CN Governor: CN Governor is CN Warden's flatmate. He's half Irish and half Welsh, quite posh, and was born about seventy years too late. He works at the conveniently located bookshop, and he's engaged to an extremely eccentric French woman. He was in last year's class of Strategists, and is currently working on his PhD in something obscure. I think he may actually feel really depressed whenever he's not hunting foxes, or drinking gin, or leading bayonet charges against the Jerries.
  • CN Baltic: Baltic is CN Ness's long-time girlfriend. She's Latvian, spent a good deal of her formative years in Ireland, and has been in Aberdeen for a number of years, and she's a fourth year undergraduate in (I think?) PIR. she's a total sweetheart, and has a tendency to look out for the well-being of others, which is quite endearing.
  • CN Beirut: Owing to our experience, E sent a German fourth-year to meet with CN Odin and myself to advise her on her dissertation about the Human Terrain System. She wound up seeking a lot of input, particularly from me, before she finished it up and submitted it in early February. She continues to pop up every now and again. I'd probably describe her in comparable terms to the phrase used to describe Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • CN Silverback: CN Silverback is an Irish guy in his mid-thirties, and he won't be offended when I say that he drinks like a fish. A few weeks ago, I got a text from him at 5:32 on a Tuesday morning, and he was still out drinking - that's a Monday night! That said, Silverback's a great guy, and I've had a great time getting to know him and, occasionally drinking with him.

    So, expect some of these folks to pop up in one story or another over the next few months.
  • Friday, March 8, 2013

    Horseburgers! (Revisited)

    I'm attempting to have some fun by experimenting with some media utilities with this post. We'll see how it goes.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about horseburgers! The scandal continues. I haven't really kept up with the whole thing, because there are new developments every day (which is to say, it gets worse and worse and worse every day), but I know that it seems to get worse, and worse, and worse, every day. I posted that poster from one of the local Tesco supermarkets with the original post, and CN Sister, CN Warden, and I saw a new one after we'd been out at the pub on Tuesday night. That's it there on the right. On the plus side, it's generated a lot of comedy. For example, I've been a fan of the Prime Minister's Questions in the British House of Commons for several years, and I try to listen to them weekly. On February 13th, the House of Commons had a few great questions from opposition MPs that exploited the horsemeat (horse meat?) scandal for comedic purposes. Here are the highlights...

    ... and you can listen to the whole thing below, if the player works the way it's supposed to. (If not, here's the mp3.)

    Either inexplicably, or quite explicably, the mobile phone company 3 debuted one of the best advertisements I've seen in quite a while on or around the 28th of February. If I weren't already on Vodafone because of its coverage in Orkney, I'd be tempted to go with 3 because of this advert alone. (On the other hand, CN Warden informs me that 3's network lags behind all of the others, so there's that.)

    Of course, the collective trolling power of the Internet couldn't leave this video alone, and... Well, watch for yourselves:

    For the unaware, that joke at the end, "#minceponymince", refers to mince, and is a play on the #danceponydance hashtag from the first video; and Findus (who apparently don't understand how HTML center tags work) is apparently one of the big frozen and processed food companies in the UK and throughout Europe.

    In fifteen or twenty years, I'm not going to remember what the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that I read for SND said, but I'll absolutely remember the video of a Shetland pony dancing to Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Stuff I've Been Reading Lately

    I have a lot - a lot of stuff to read this semester. If it's a PDF, I've probably put it on my Kindle at some point in the last few weeks. There's no possible way that I can read all of this, but I'm going to give it the good old college try. Here's what's on the list so far.

    First, there's American grand strategy (and I use the term loosely - if I can get enough time, I'll write that in-class essay up into a blog post and go into more detail on that). Here are the most recent editions of the documents that inform American grand strategy:

    American Grand Strategy:
  • 2010 National Security Strategy
  • 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review
  • 2008 National Defense Strategy
  • 2011 National Military Strategy

    In the last sixteen months, there have been several major policy papers released to guidea shift in American grand strategy. There have also been plenty of commentaries. So, being a strategist-in-training, I need to read it.

    American Grand Strategy Adjustment:
  • CNAS - Hard Choices
  • Sustaining US Global Leadership
  • Strategic Agility
  • The New US Strategy, the FY2013 Defense Budget, Sequestration, and the Growing Strategy-Reality Gap
  • Congress and the New Pacific Strategy – Setting Policy by Acquisition

    Oh, yeah, and I've got SND, so that means I have plenty of additional reading specifically for that:

    Strategic Nuclear Doctrine:
  • 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report
  • CSIS - Nuclear Trade Controls
  • Albert Wohlstetter - The Delicate Balance of Terror
  • Albert Wohlstetter - Selection and Use of Strategic Air Bases
  • Bernard Brodie - Strategy as a Science
  • Bernard Brodie - The Anatomy of Deterrence
  • Bernard Brodie - Strategy in the Missile Age

    Researching for and writing that in-class essay, and re-reading part of Sloan also reminded me of a lot of documents and concepts from my brief naval career years and years ago. I have no legitimate reason to read all of this right now, but I sure want to try... Because, who knows? Maybe I'll wind up analyzing naval strategy when I grow up. Anyway...

    1990's and 21st Century Naval Operational Strategy:
  • From The Sea
  • Forward From the Sea
  • General Charles Krulak - The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War
  • Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare
  • MCCP 1 Operational Maneuver from the Sea
  • Operational Maneuver from the Sea
  • Sea Power 21

    Oh, yeah, and there's a bunch of additional strategy stuff that I'd like to read... At some point... Maybe this semester... ? Probably not.

    Miscellaneous Strategy:
  • Caesar - The Gallic Wars
  • Colin S. Gray - How Has War Changed Since the End of the Cold War
  • Colin S. Gray - Strategy and History - Essays on Theory and Practice
  • Colin S. Gray - The 21st Century Security Environment and the Future of War
  • Colin S. Gray - Concept, Failure, COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory
  • Machiavelli - The Prince
  • Thucydides - The Peloponnesian War

    As I've noted, I'm doing my group presentation for GSI on the GCC/PSF, so I probably ought to get up to speed on that particular topic. Or, you know... Further up to speed?

    Gulf Cooperative Council/Peninsular Shield Force:
  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a Time of Revolution
  • Peninsular Shield Force
  • CNAS - Atomic Kingdom
  • 121224 GCC and New Challenges Gulf Security
  • Kuwait - Security, Reform, and U.S. Policy
  • Gulf Roundtable - Iran's Regional Strategy
  • Ismail Khan, Herat, and Iranian Influence

    I'm probably going to do my dissertation on the Dhofar Rebellion, and CN Odin and I are still putting one foot in front of the other on our journal article, which means plenty of reference material on Dhofar, Algeria, and counterinsurgency.

    Oman/Dhofar Rebellion/Counterinsurgency:
  • British Army Field Manual Vol 1 Part 10 Countering Insurgency
  • Country Reports on Terrorism
  • David Galula - Counterinsurgency Warfare
  • David Galula - Pacification in Algeria 1956-1958
  • TE Lawrence - Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  • RAND - Oman and the World
  • Oman - Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy
  • Small Wars Journal - Oman 1965-1976
  • Small Wars Journal - Language, Culture, and Army Culture - Failing Transformation - 2012-03-20
  • FM 3-07 Stability Operations
  • FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency
  • FM 90-3 FMFM 7-27 Desert Operations
  • FMFRP 0-53 Afoot in the Desert
  • FMFRP 12-25 The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him
  • RAND Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations

    Oh, and how 'bout some recreational stuff? 'Cause, y'know... I totally have plenty of time for that.

    Miscellaneous Stuff:
  • Arthur C. Clarke's The Sentinel
  • FM 3-25.26 Map Reading and Land Navigation
  • Ranger School Prep
  • special-operations-nutrition-guide
  • naval-special-warfare-injury-prevention-guide
  • naval-special-warfare-physical-training-guide
  • Orkneyinga Saga

    Ugh. And these are just the PDFs. And this doesn't include the various military risk management field manuals I'll have to start reviewing at some point. Or the traditional/dead tree books. Basically, I have no justification to blog, or to have a social life, or to sleep, or... Ehhhhh, it's all about risk management, time management, and prioritization. On the plus side, since it's on my Kindle, I can read it anywhere, and I can also read the various non-time-sensitive bits once the semester is over.

    As usual, I have my hands full.
  • Monday, March 4, 2013

    A Recreational Project: Container Home Design

    Last semester, I got a notepad for class that was blank sheets. This semester, I opted for an engineering/graph notepad after discovering that one existed in the first place. I love engineering paper, and using it to design cool stuff. I don't really take notes in class, I just try to pay attention as best I can. I find that when I'm concentrating on something other than what's going on, I actually retain more information. I have basically two mental settings: either concentrate entirely on what I'm doing without any distractions, or ignore whatever it is I'm supposed to be retaining and focus on one mindless distraction. For example, during the Long Break, I listened to General Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, and General Mike Hostage, Commander of Air Combat Command, while playing Mega Miner.

    So, what have I been working on with my engineering paper while I've been sitting in class? Well, I'll tell you: a shipping container home. I was first introduced to the concept of using converted shipping containers to build homes while working for the Army in California. As you can see from this view on Wikimapia, and these ground level pictures from Wikipedia (1, 2), the military uses lots of shipping containers to build villages for realistic urban warfare (MOUT) training, or for use as modular, purpose-built structures for locations where the military deploys overseas, or for various other purposes. A couple of the companies that provide these modified containers are CMOUTS and Allied Container. Other companies, like Safe Castle LLC and Atlas Survival Shelters, convert shipping containers for use as various types of emergency shelters. At least one company, Strategic Operations, provides conversion kits to alter the appearance of containers to make them more realistic for military training. Outside of military circles, there's a big Wikipedia article on shipping container architecture, and it's become a sort of darling of the environmentalist crowd due to its low cost and reuse of existing materials.

    I realize that things like "armory", "observation tower", and "emergency shelter" make me seem like a militant survivalist, and I'm really not. As I mentioned in a previous post on my security blog, I don't put much stock in survivalism. I tend to collect a lot of field gear for various activities, and I enjoy recreational shooting, so having an individual room to store that stuff makes sense to me. The observation tower can be used for astronomy, or just for getting a higher view of what's going on around the homestead. The emergency shelter may seem a bit extreme, but keep in mind that it can just be used as a basement most of the time, or even as guest accommodation. These are just a few pieces that fit together for one purpose or another when you take the entire house in context.

    So, based on some previous designs and doodles, I've basically "finalized" my floor plan. It features a basement with an emergency shelter, water, and fuel storage tanks, two main levels, and a small observation tower. I still need to do some work laying out HVAC, plumbing, electrical wiring, and network cabling. For the record, I know nothing about any of these things, but it can't hurt to do some work laying it out. I've wanted to take some time and get this stuff down on paper for a while, so it's nice to have an opportunity to do so while simultaneously learning about topics like militant Islam, Russian security concerns, and the American/British special relationship from the Director.

    Sunday, March 3, 2013

    Scottish Nationalism Update

    I came across a couple of articles that pertain to the ongoing debate on Scottish nationalism/ independence/secession, so I figured I'd keep the series running. Here are the articles, and my thoughts.

    * * *

    In January, The Scotsman reported that a defense expert recommended the Scots to head a hypothetical Scottish military force:

    Professor Ron Smith, of Birkbeck College, London, who specialises in defence economics, told MPs one of the greatest problems faced by an independent Scotland would be finding people who were able to run smaller armed forces after working in the UK armed forces.

    Speaking to the Scottish
affairs select committee yesterday, he likened it to “leaving a large corporation and joining a small firm”.

    He added: “If I were them I would go for a foreigner to run it. Get someone from Ireland or Denmark, who actually understands how to run defence for a small country.”
    As my own background is in defense and security issues, one of my biggest concerns has been how Scotland would handle defense and security matters should the Scots vote to secede. I haven't had a chance to read the relevant information on the RUSI website, but it's the SNP's lack of transparency on plans for substantive matters such as these that have led a number of the Scottish skeptics I've spoken with to doubt whether the SNP leaders are even serious about secession, or just using the whole thing as a ploy to boost their support among the electorate.

    * * *

    The other article I saw recently comes from the BBC: Question mark over oil prospects. I've mentioned this concern before, as some of the secessionists' consternation at England and plans for the economy of a notionally independent Scotland center on the use of energy revenues. In fairness, I saw an article a few days ago that said an Abu Dhabi-based company had located a new oil field in the North Sea.

    This is a topic I've discussed previously at the JTS, Ltd. blog. The idea that any rich source of oil "runs dry", or that we're approaching peak oil, tends to be overplayed by politicians and pundits. As we've seen from recent developments such as Canadian tar sands and the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, unprofitable sources of energy and methods of energy/resource utilization tend to become profitable over time; either because more easily utilized sources are exhausted, or because technological developments make sources easier to exploit. I have no doubt that Scotland could benefit from this trend in the North Sea.

    At the same time, the world has plenty of examples of good stewardship of energy resource income, and poor stewardship of that income. Kuwait, for example, has done a relatively lackluster job of investing the income from their massive energy resources, while nearby Qatar has made a much better effort at investing in its infrastructure and populace. Scotland might be more accurately compared to Oman, which is physically larger but has regionally modest energy supplies and a comparable population size (5.2 million to Oman's ~3 million). I don't know how the North Sea energy resources compare to Oman's; what I do know is that Sultan Qaboos has tried to use Oman's energy resources to improve the country's non-energy infrastructure, industry, and education services, rather than using it to finance things like social services. As an integral member of the United Kingdom, the average Scot enjoys what most would consider a better quality of life than the average Omani, and I think there's a really big question as to whether the Scots could afford that quality of life upon secession or not. The SNP assures Scots that their current quality of life will continue, but there are plenty of skeptics, and it's an issue that the SNP doesn't seem to have addressed with much granularity.

    My bottom line: "We have oil" isn't a viable long-term energy or economic strategy for the twenty-first century.

    * * *

    As I've mentioned before, I remain skeptical of the proposed Scottish secession referendum, but I'm also willing to be convinced that the SNP has a plan and a justification for secession. The wait continues.

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    I Am Not Dead

    I realize I've neglected the blog the last couple of weeks. I'm working on a couple of writing projects, to include turning my outline and notes from my in-class essay into a long blog post that replicates the essay that I wrote. (I got a 19/20, which means that I either scored or tied for the highest grade in the class.) I have some more blog content coming soon, I'm just in the process of sorting out one thing or another and getting myself organized. Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.