Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 5

Work continues in earnest on my dissertation. I've been somewhat socially distracted lately - partly by choice, partly under duress - and that's been pulling my attention ever so slightly away from work on my essay. Even so, I've chipped a bit away each day, and got a single really solid day of work in on it last week. I worked on that equation I posted a couple of weeks ago, in great detail, and ended up converting that original list that CN Odin and I came up with into three individual sections: Owning the Human Terrain, Owning the Physical Terrain, and what I'm calling Integrating Factors. I'll talk about each of these individual categories, and what I'll be saying about them, in subsequent posts about my dissertation.

In early June, I finished reading Arabian Sands. A about a week later, I pulled a series of eight quotes from chapters two and thirteen, then scrawled out the first few words of each on a half note card along with its basic topic. Then, I numbered those note cards, arranged them into a narrative order, and wrote them up into a couple of paragraphs to describe describe southeast Arabia, Oman, and Dhofar during the late 1940's. You can learn more about Wilfred Thesiger and his adventures in southeast Arabia at the following sites: Journey Interrupted: Al Ain, Thesiger, Buraimi, Sohar and Ras al Suwaidi, and Three Views of Oman: Wilfred Thesiger. So, which quotes did I pull? These first few...
"Oman is largely inhabited by the Ibadhis, a sect of the Kharijites who separated themselves from the rest of Islam at the time of Ali, the fourth Caliph, and have been noted ever since for their condemnation of others. The Ibadhis have always maintained that their Imam or religious leader should be elected. The Al bu Said dynasty which ruled Oman from 1744, and to which the present Sultan of Muscat belongs, succeeded, however, in establishing an hereditary succession, but its neglect of the elective principle had always been resented by its subjects. The growth of Omani sea power between 1784 and 1856, overseas conquests, of which Zanzibar was the most important, and especially the removal of the capital from Rustaq to Muscat on the coast, weakened the hold of the Al bu Said rulers over the interior of the country, while foreign treaties and outside interference added to the fanatical resentment of the tribesmen. In 1913 the tribes, both Ghafari and Hanawi, rebelled and elected Salim bin Rashid al Kharusi as their Imam. The Sultan of Muscat rapidly lost all control over the interior and by 1915 the Imam was threatening Muscat. His forces, however, suffered a serious defeat when they attacked a British force outside Matrah. The Imam was murdered in 1920, and Muhammad bin Abdullah al Khalili was then elected. In the same year the Treaty of Sib was signed between the Sultan and the Omani sheikhs, not between the Sultan and the Imam. By this treaty the Sultan agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Oman."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 273

* * *

"The present Imam, Muhammad bin Abdullah, was now an old man, a fanatical reactionary and bitterly hostile to the Sultan and to all Europeans. The interior of Oman was consequently more difficult for a European to penetrate in 1948 than it had been when Wellsted went there more than a hundred years before; for both Wellsted and his three successors had travelled under the protection of the Sultans of Muscat who were recognized by the tribes in the interior."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 273-274

* * *

"Zayid, as Shakhbut's representative, controlled six of the villages in Buraimi. The other two acknowledged the Sultan of Muscat as their nominal overlord, as did the tribes who lived in and around the mountains northward from Ibri to the Musandam Peninsula, although in fact this area was independent traibal territory. Ibri itself and the interior of Oman was ruled by the Imam. His authority was strong in the mountains and in all the towns, but was weak among the large and powerful Bedu tribes of the Duru and Wahiba who live on the steppes bordering on the Sands."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 271

* * *

"Each of the Trucial Sheikhs had a band of armed retainers recruited from the tribes, but only Shakhbut had any authority among the tribes themselves, and he maintained this authority by diplomacy, not by force. There was no regular force anywhere on the Trucial Coast nor in Buraimi which could be used to support the authority of the Sheikhs. The Trucial Oman Scouts had not yet been raised, and although the R.A.F. had an aerodrome at Sharja it was only a staging post on the route to India."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 272
... were very helpful in illustrating the state of affairs in the region as a whole during the time of Thesiger's expeditions. Meanwhile, the second set of four demonstrate the state of affairs in Dhofar itself prior to the outbreak of the war.
"Dhaufar belonged to the Sultan of Muscat, and he had insisted, when he allowed the R.A.F. to establish themselves there, that none of them should visit the town or travel anywhere outside the perimeter of the camp unless accompanied by one of his guards, and that none of them should speak to the local inhabitants."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 43

* * *

"About 1877 Dhaufar had been occupied, after centuries of tribal anarchy, by a force belonging to the Sultan of Muscat, but in 1896 the tribes rebelled, surprised the fort that had been built at Salala, and murdered the garrison. It was several months before the Sultan was able to reassert his authority, which, however, has since remained largely nominal except on the plain surrounding the town."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 43

* * *

"It was obvious that, although the Qarra lived only a few miles from Salala, the Sultan of Muscat had little control over them. Arabs rule but do not administer. Their government is intensely individualistic, and is successful or unsuccessful according to the degree of fear and respect which the ruler commands, and his skill in dealing with individual men. Founded on an individual life, their government is impermanent and liable to end in chaos at any moment. To Arab tribesmen this system is comprehensible and acceptable, and its success or failure should not be measured in terms of efficiency and justice as judged by Western standards. To these tribesmen security can be bought to dearly by loss of individual freedom."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 46-47

* * *

"Salala is a small town, little more than a village... When I arrived fishermen were netting sardines, and piles of these fish were drying in the sun. The whole town reeked of their decay. The Sultan's palace, white and dazzling in the strong sunlight, was the most conspicuous building, and clustered around it was the small suq or market, a number of flat-roofed mud-houses, and a labyrinth of mat shelters, fences, and narrow lanes."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 44
The next step is to discuss the early exploitation of oil in Oman and the subsequent Jebel Akhdar War. More on that later. As I've noted before, I can't post actual passages from my paper until it's been submitted through the plagiarism checker, but the quotes shouldn't be a problem. (In fact, I only used a single section of one of those eight paragraphs as an actual blockquote, and used most of them to inform my own writing on the topic of Thesiger's narrative about Oman.)


As it turns out, I'm really fortunate that while I was back home for six months in 2012, I was able to sit in on a course on religion and politics in the modern Middle East taught by one of the history professors whose courses I had taken as an undergraduate. It was in those lectures more than a year ago that I first learned about Thesiger, before subsequently ordering a copy on Amazon. I still remember a warm afternoon last July when I decided to treat myself to a gin and tonic at one of our local brew pubs - obviously not a good indicator of the quality of their beer - while reading Arabian Sands outside on their picnic tables. I'm thrilled to be able to include it in my dissertation, even if it's only for a couple of important paragraphs.

More to come.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Travel Destinations: Continental Europe

When I was in the Middle East, one of the ways I stayed sane was to plan for where I would travel once I got to Scotland. I had originally planned to revisit a bunch of the places where I'd gone before as part of my What's Your Grid? mission. Most of the urgency of that mission ended when I figured out how to use Wikimapia and/or Google Maps to get the grid coordinates of the various places I've been in the past. I've also scaled back some of my travel goals because I'm starting to develop some alternate goals for my finances.

I've decided to prioritize a few spots in northwestern Europe. When I was planning my European excursions a couple of years ago, the agenda included Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Switzerland. Switzerland might make it back onto the list, but for this particular trip, I think the rest have been conclusively ruled out (except for Romania, if CN Vlad follows through on an invite from earlier this semester). So, where am I headed if all goes according to plan?

First, I'd like to revisit Paris and see some long-time family friends whom I haven't seen since I visited back in 2004. I'd also like to spend a few days in neighboring Germany - possibly Düsseldorf, where I have some distant family members, but certainly Berlin. I've also been interested in Denmark for a few years now, and I'd like to go see Copenhagen. Aside from that, there are a few spots I'd like to visit, or revisit, in Great Britain and Ireland... But that last bit was covered last year.

Oh, yeah, and I want to revisit a certain island paradise. At least once. Maybe twice. But that's another story.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Lions Tour


RUGBY! WOOOOOOOOOOO!

Longtime readers of the Operation Highlander blog will remember that in November, Gus and I went to a rugby game in Edinburgh. Rugby is a game that's far more interesting than soccer/"football", which in turn is almost as boring as War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620 by J.R. Hale - almost. A few weeks ago, my buddy CN Queequeg invited me to join him and a buddy of his - whom I'd actually had a bit of a row with during a televised rugby match earlier in the year - to watch the rugger at a local pub. What does that entail? Some yelling, some chatter, some food, and plenty of pints.

The British & Irish Lions are a team of the best players from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Every twelve years, they tour Australia. We've been at the Illicit Still for the last three Saturdays, and the Lions have won every match that we've watched - although the 22 June match against the Qantas Wallabies of Brisbane involved great play by the Lions in the first half, and just plain sloppiness in the second, resulting in a narrow 23 to 21 victory for the Lions. In fact, the game came down to an eleventh hour penalty kick by Wallaby Kurtley Beale, and the Lions only won because he missed the kick. (Of course, the Lions had already been denied a thrilling goal when the scoring player - Sam Warburton, if I remember correctly - was ruled to have touched the boundary line before getting the ball across the line.) Thus far, the Lions have only lost one match during the tour despite a concerted effort by the various Australian teams.

In all honesty, the whole thing has been a bit odd. I haven't traditionally enjoyed sports, but I rediscovered baseball in 2006 when a friend dragged me to a minor league game in California, and I discovered hockey when I was living on the East Coast. I've been interested in rugby for a few years now, and it's been a lot of fun to enjoy it down at the pub with the lads. My uncle is a part-time sportscaster, so he in particular has found it entertaining to watch me learn to enjoy sports of any kind - even though I still think that the two sports he announces for, basketball and football, are really lame. I guess there's no accounting for taste, though.

I also walked to a rugby shop on George Street, a few blocks from the Gurkha Kitchen and that first George VI post box, in an attempt to get a Lions jersey, but they'd closed ten minutes before, so I'll have to try again another day. Oh, and by the way, the folks on the ship in that commercial up top? Those are the Lions and their management staff! Here is a "making of" clip.

GO LIONS! WOOOOOOOOOOO!

The Royal Cyphers: G VI R

The search continues! A few weeks ago, I was riding the #19 bus from downtown (the "city centre") to campus, and traffic was diverted for road construction or something. Having learned in the Boy Scouts (except, no, I was never a Boy Scout) to remain vigilant and observant at all times, I was thrilled to see a post box with a cypher I hadn't seen before! Well, actually, I thought that it might be another E VII R, but I decided to go check it out... Later. As it turned out, it was weeks later.

In the mean time, I was walking down King Street to attend a function that CN Wanakum invited me to at her church - which she didn't even show up for! - and I stumbled across another George VI post box. Except, since I hadn't actually found out what the cypher was on that one off of George Street, this was the first time I'd gotten a confirmed George VI, which took a bit of the wind out of my sails when I went back to check on that first one. That means that at this point, I have confirmed sightings of post boxes from the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII, George V, and George VI, leaving only the brief reign of Edward VIII as the only gap. Will that gap be filled? Stay tuned to find out.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Songs That Remind You 8 - Shetland Special Edition!

I don't have any of my CDs with me in Scotland, so on the rare occasion when I rent ("hire") a car, I have to listen to the radio. I caught a bunch of news on BBC Radio Scotland when I was in Orkney. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, during my debacle in Shetland, I found myself listening to the radio - mostly SIBC - during which time I heard a lot of new songs. Aside from Taylor Swift song I mentioned in an earlier installment, here were some of the highlights.


CN Warden poked fun at me for having enjoyed that song, but who cares? It's a good song!


I was horrified to learn that I'd enjoyed a One Direction song, even if it was a cover of the Blondie classic. (Something tells me that most of One Direction's teeny bopper fan base has no clue who Blondie are.) If you need a palate cleanser after that one, have a look at this One Direction parody.


That one has sort of gotten on my nerves since I first heard it, but it's the kind of song that could get air play for years to come, and it will remind me of Shetland.


Yes, I know. It's the Call Me Maybe chick. It's a little bit too electronic for my normal tastes, but it's a great song, with great lyrics, and we've all been there. And finally...


I'd actually heard that Katy Perry song (and seen the video) months ago, before I left the States, but from here on out my mind will associate it with a southbound drive on a stretch of road north of Lerwick, headed south toward Sumburgh Head.

Once I was back in the real world, I did some looking, and I came to the conclusion that SIBC may have just had an advance copy of the NOW That’s What I Call Music! 84 album, and was playing it on shuffle. I can't confirm it, but I think most of the stuff I heard is on that particular album. In fact, the memory of these songs makes my overall memory of the first day in Shetland tolerable, and the memory of my second day in Shetland borderline good.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 4

I was tempted to use this particular dissertation update to post all of the quotes I've found so far for my quote bank. However, there are pages upon pages of them because, let's face it, I'm awesome at this (oh, yeah, and it's gonna be a super long paper anyway). So, I'll drop a section of them into each installment in the next few posts about my dissertation.

Following up on that last post, I went through the second chapter of Arabian Sands and got some quotes from Wilfred Thesiger about Dhofar in the 1940's. I need to go through one more chapter - one of the ones I read about a week and a half ago - and pull a few more quotes about the political situation in Oman prior to 1970, and then I'll be able to shelf Arabian Sands again. (In fact, let's just assume that I've finished that by the time this gets posted.

I also utilized Excel - as I've done in several of my writing projects this year - to sort some of my sources into various categories. At the moment, my sources number over two hundred, and the master list is divided up by type, not by subject. So, I went through my master list and moved the individual citations into individual columns to divide them up by topic. I'm not done yet - that particular effort was begun before I wasted more than two hours of my life seeing Man of Steel. Eventually, I'll have a master list divided up by type (book, article, treaty, and such), and then alphabetical by author within the individual sections; and a secondary list by topic. I may even figure out a way to do it so that I can plug it into Excel, move a column or two around, hit sort, and have them line up automatically by category. I'm sure that there's a way to do it, so I'll work on it. So, here's an example of one of those citation sub-sections, this one being on American and Afghan small arms in my section on logistics.
Small Arms:
[] Bowden, Mark; Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War; Atlantic Monthly Press; Berkeley, California; March 1999; pp. 208

[] Chivers, C.J.; Afghan Marksmen - Forget the Fables; New York Times At War Blog; N/A; 26 March 2010

[] Chivers, C.J.; The Weakness of Taliban Marksmanship; New York Times At War Blog; N/A; 02 April 2010

[] Christian (pseudonym); The Myth of Afghan Marksmanship; Military.com Kit Up! Blog; N/A; 12 April 2010

[] Cox, Matthew; Newer carbines outperform M4 in dust test; Army Times; N/A; 17 December 2007

[] Cox, Matthew; M4 may get tougher barrel, better mags; Army Times; N/A; 17 December 2007

[] Emanuel, Jeff; The Longest Morning; The American Spectator; Samarra, Iraq; 01 November 2007

[] Hambling, David; Taliban Seek Rifles with More 'Punch'?; Wired.com Danger Room Blog; N/A; 02 September 2009

[] Lowe, Christian; M4 Carbine Fares Poorly in Dust Test; Military.com; N/A; 18 December 2007

[] N/A; 7.62 mm Versus 5.56 mm - Does NATO Really Need Two Standard Rifle Calibers?; Global Security/CSC 1986; N/A; 1986

[] N/A; Environmental Exposure Report: Depleted Uranium in the Gulf (II), Tab H: Friendly-fire Incidents; Office of the Secretary of Defense; Washington, D.C.; 13 December 2000

[] Phillips, Michael M.; Sniper in Afghan Town Puts Marines on Edge; Wall Street Journal; Sangin, Afghanistan; 19 August 2010

[] Yon, Michael; Precision Voting; Michael Yon Online Magazine; Helmand Province, Afghanistan; 31 August 2009

[] Ward, Carroll; Could This Be Your Next Carbine?; Defense Tech; N/A; 27 December 2007

[] Wilson, Royce; SMLE: The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III; Australian Shooter Magazine; Unley, South Australia; September 2007; N/A
So, the work continues. Once I have those at least mostly sorted, I can move them section by section into the tentative outline I got sorted out last week. I'll also move those quotes into individual sections as well. As for quotes, let's start the quote series out with a long quote from Colin S. Gray's Modern Strategy, which will inevitably be cut down and sectioned off within the actual paper:
The domain of strategic effect, purposeful or otherwise, is not confined to 'civilized', as contrasted with 'savage', warfare. There are two principal errors to avoid. The first is to regard the realm of real war and 'real soldiering' as coterminous with symmetrical conflict, at least as roughly identical to the experience of regular forces fighting regular forces. This error can promote the idea that 'small wars', in Callwell's meaning, are irrelevant, perhaps dangerously irrelevant, diversions from the mainstream requirement to prepare for real war (i.e. grande guerre). Armed forces that decline to take small wars seriously as a military art form with their own tactical, operational, and political - though not strategic - rules invite defeat. The second error is to regard small wars and other forms of savage violence as the wars of the future that will largely supplant the allegedly old-fashioned state-centric 'regular' wars of a Westphalian world. There are some grounds for identifying a contemporary 'transformation of war' that favours irregular forces and violence, just as there are some grounds for claiming that the state, at least in the forms promoted by Westphalia, is in sharp decline, even if it is not quite ready to fall.

The errors cited immediately above are errors only of emphasis. Small wars can detract from the readiness of regular forces to take the field against other regular forces. Good tactical habits for frontier warfare in Waziristan can be lethal if carried over to the killing-fields of Flanders. Furthermore, the would-be practitioner of a small war, on either side of the combat, would do well to study the closest approximation to the (fairly) modern bible on the subject, Mao Tes-tung's (and collaborators) corpus classicus on guerrilla warfare and related topics. Mao is crystal-clear on the complementarity of irregular and regular forces and irregular and regular warfare. Indeed, he reminds any candidate romantics about guerrilla warfare, those who are seduced into the folly of what can be called 'guerrilla-ism' where guerrilla warfare is praciced and valued almost as an end in itself, that such a character of struggle is only instrumental. Writing in 1934 about the anti-Japanese struggle, though with the Nationalist foe in mind, the Maoist school observed that 'if we view war as a whole, there can be no doubt that our regular forces are of primary importance, because it is they who are alone capable of producing the decision'. Moreover, some elements among regular forces can operate as guerrillas, though not if they function in regular ways - irregular war is a state of mind, an approach, as well as a set of tactical skills - and they can operate in an anti-guerrilla mode. Regular armed forces today are not being atavistic when they resist political pressure literally to 'lighten up' for duty focused on the lower end of the scale of violence. There is much that regular forces trained and equipped for 'heavy' regular warfare can do to adapt to the demands of small wars. By way of contrast, regular armed forces scaled back in equipment and mass to cope with operations other than war (including peacekeeping duties) and small wars proper, would be all but useless if confronted suddenly with a requirement from policy to wage major regional combat. Given the lead time for procurement of ships and aircraft, that argument applies even more strongly to navies and air forces than it does to armies.

The second error, the heralding of a transformation in war with most belligerents comprising sub- or trans-state groups, is an error only if one exaggerates the evident contemporary trend away from state-to-state conflicts. The 'trend' is real, but it may prove short-lived. Small wars of various kinds are preoccupying many military professionals today because these conflicts are extant and appear most probably for the next few years. There was a notable 'trend' towards peace, even political peace, in the 1920s. Contemporary trends in favour of sundry forms of violence between 'civilizations', and - to take a further example - in favour of a nuclear taboo that delegitimizes nuclear coercion, are both possibly the products of passing contexts only. Although small wars and other variants of savage violence are widespread today and seem likely to enjoy a healthy future, they are only one strand in future strategic history.

Small wars, terrorism, and other low-level nastiness demonstrate the interplay between theory and practice. They are a set of options (sometimes available) within the growing complexity of modern war. They illustrate just how difficult it is to register superior strategic performance. They share hallmarks throughout strategic history, even as the technology of war has changed. These savage 'peacetime' wars can present political demands for guardianship of a peace with security scarcely less challenging than is the menace of more regular, militarily symmetrical aggression.
- Colin S. Gray, Modern Strategy, pp. 279-281
Notably, that book was published in 1999, before 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq... And, of course, Gray is entirely correct.

Alright, folks, stay tuned.

Debacle in Shetland: Radio in Shetland

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I derive a lot of pleasure from listening to radio stations in interesting locales. One of the highlights of spending some time in Shetland was listening to the radio as I drove my hired car around the islands.

Folks in the States will be familiar with NPR/PBS, which you can find in most areas of the States. Of course, NPR/PBS tends to carry a lot of local programming. In the United Kingdom, the BBC is sort of like NPR/PBS on steroids. It's available pretty much everywhere, with multiple stations catering to a variety of audiences and tastes. It's sort of difficult to describe, because it's so different than what radio is like in the States.

Shetland has its own BBC radio presence, and you can listen to their morning bulletin and Good Evening Shetland program(me)s online. In addition to BBC Radio Shetland, there's also the Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company, which plays current hits (more on that tomorrow) and regular Shetland news updates - I can't remember whether or not those updates are the Shetland morning bulletin. When I was in Shetland, the hourly bulletin was focused on a British television drama about Shetland that was going to be continued. The bulletins combined local news with a sort of collective excitement that anyone outside of Shetland would know that Shetland was still there.

One of the cool things that I remember from listening to Radio Shetland was a song that was played a few times while I was driving around. It's by the local band Toxic Flames, and it's called Catch a Shadow. I was sort of skeptical at first, but it turns out that the band consists entirely of high school students who have written, recorded, and distributed their music, and done it all in Lerwick. Have a look at the video:


I, for one, downloaded the mp3 from their website, and was glad that SIBC had brought the song to my attention. In fact, as I'll note tomorrow, SIBC Radio brought several songs to my attention.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Royal Cyphers: VR

Of course, my favorite post box and/or royal cypher is on Spital, going south from King's College toward the city center. BAM! VR! Queen Victoria! Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, remains legendary, and many Brits consider the Victorian Era to be the height of British culture, society, and national prestige. (Some of you may remember Queen Victoria from her prior appearance here on the blog.) Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until her death in January of 1901, making her Britain's longest-reigning monarch (a record due to be surpassed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2015). That means that the post box dates back to at least 1901, and I'd be willing to bet £5 that they didn't have little red post boxes before 1837, so I'm almost positive that I'll never run across one with an older cypher on it.

Except... What's that!? Another VR!? That's right, ladies and gentlemen, there's another of Queen Victoria's post boxes just down the road, right here, next to the University of Aberdeen's Taylor Building (right across the street from the bakery where I get my pies, and just a hop, skip, and a jump from the St. Machar Bar and Blackwell's). I actually discovered it after I had written the original version of this post, but since I hadn't posted yet, I figured that this was well worth an edit. Being one of the giant cylinder post boxes, vice the in-wall box post boxes, it even has the signature version of Queen Victoria's royal cypher, instead of just block letters. Outstanding! And as it turns out, I've actually dropped mail into this particular post box before, without even realizing how old it actually was. Pretty cool, huh?

Queen Victoria was a pretty amazing woman, who reigned during a very dynamic and challenging era. Her reign played a massive role in shaping the world we live in today. You can learn more about her from my friends The History Chicks: here, here, and here. As for me and my royal cypher quest, there are more, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Gear: Radio Overseas

I've always been a big fan of radio. One of the things I like to do when I travel is to listen to different stations that aren't available back home. For example, I can remember Splash FM (and a few of the songs I heard on Splash FM) from when I spent the summer of 2004 in southeast England. When I lived in the Middle East, I enjoyed listening to the BBC World Service in English and Arabic, as well as the local stations (most of which were in Arabic). I also tend to listen to a lot of streaming radio - for example, Oman's Arabic General Channel, or the Around Orkney Listen Again stream - and podcasts. My old Walkman has a radio receiver in it, though I don't use it very often.

Here in Aberdeen, the two local radio stations I tend to listen to the most are Original 106 - what we'd call a "Top 40" station back in the States - and Classic FM. There's a wide range of BBC stations, but most of what they broadcast is rubbish. I also brought one of my Grundig Mini World 100 PE shortwave radios, and I've enjoyed listening to such long distance broadcasts as the English services of Radio Romania International and the Voice of Russia. Unfortunately, it's developed a loose connection, so since I don't have the resources here in Scotland to fix it, I went to ASDA - WalMart, except with a nonsensical British name - to get an expendable AM/FM set.

As I travel a bit during my remaining months here, I may post a couple of updates on what other stations I tune in.

Strategy Finally Clicks

Over the course of the last couple of years, I've offered various reasons for why I wanted to come to Aberdeen to get an MSc in Strategic Studies. I've told people that I wanted to get better at chess (which I haven't actually played in years), or at Risk (which I only ever played once, in April, and was quickly bored with). In actuality, my primary goal was to improve my existing credentials to help me keep climbing the corporate ladder, and my secondary goal was to spend a year in Scotland. That said, I wanted to better understand the strategic level of warfare.

Most people don't really understand the specific definition of "strategy", and it's generally just associated with a plan. In non-military vernacular, it often refers to a long-term plan, or is sometimes used interchangeably with the word "tactic". In fact, military scholars generally agree that there are three levels of warfare. The tactical level is the "lowest" - for example, when a platoon engages a hostile enemy position. The "middle" level is the operational level, sometimes referred to as campaigning - that is, combining a series of parallel tactical actions to produce a larger effect. Strategy involves the "highest" level, and combines operations and their subordinate tactical actions to produce a political effect.

The concept of a political effect is often lost on those outside the realms of either warfighting or military scholarship. For example, liberal journalists are quite fond of quoting policy-makers and military officers who say that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan must be political, not military, in nature. In the minds of journalists, who are typically ignorant of the realm of military theory, this is a tacit admission on the part of military and political leaders that the use of force is incapable of solving the world's problems. In fact, military leaders (and some political leaders) understand that warfare involves the application of force to create the conditions for a desired political end state, vice producing that political end state. Military force is an instrument of policy, not a policy in and of itself. All of this is actually germane to the point of being a cliche, but it's lost on many journalists, politicians, and even many warfighters.

As I noted in an earlier post, I read a lot of documents this last semester about so-called "grand strategy", as well as a number of documents about what The Director calls "operational strategy". It's commonly said that the American government (and by extension, most Western governments) don't do strategy. When one considers warfare, and the way in which military force is applied by Western states, it becomes readily apparent that Western policy-makers are fixated on ways and means, but have a more tenuous grasp of how to apply those ways and means to facilitate political ends.

So, why do I say all of this? Simple: it's all well and good to speak in broad theoretical terms like this, but true mastery requires the ability to analyze theory, mix it with history, and apply it to solve contemporary problems. A few days ago, as I was sitting on a bench waiting for a delivery from Lionel's, I wrote the following in a notebook:
"Balkanization": Held up as a success story ("They paved the way for how we fight now." - Robert Kaplan, quoting Lt. Col. Thomas Wilhelm), actually a failure, long commitment for no tangible political benefit, the very definition of a failure to enforce political cohesion among people who were formerly forced into political cooperation. The Afghan example of combining precision strike and unconventional warfare, followed by foreign internal defense, was similiarly limited in the scope of its success because a long-term pre-war unconventional warfare approach produced a Northern Alliance who could fight without producing a shadow government that could gain the support of the people and govern. If the operational strategy is not complemented by a political strategy - that is, a plan for a political end state complimented by the use of force as applied by the warfighter - then the operational strategy cannot produce success.
And this, of course, ties into my dissertation, which involves drawing lessons from the Dhofar Rebellion for the purpose of applying force more effectively in order to facilitate a desired political end. Over the last week or so, I really feel like the various lessons of the past nine months have "clicked", or possibly congealed, in the last week or so. That's a great feeling. All of what I've learned here is valuable, but it's great to be able to tie it all up together and apply it. That's the whole point, right?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Aberdeen on Facebook

There are several Facebook pages that have made my time in Aberdeen a little bit more entertaining.

I'm not sure why, but Aberdeen has a reputation as being kind of a dive. (In actuality, Aberdeen is the "Energy Capital of Europe", which means that the city is not only fairly affluent, but has also been largely immune from the global economic chaos of recent years.) There's a trend here in the United Kingdom to make pages for particular cities or counties that showcase the behavior of either the white trash element of society, or the uncontrollable party animal element. Here, we have The Only Way Is Aberdeen. It's not really representative of Aberdeen as a whole, but it's kind of entertaining to see a picture and say to yourself, "Hey, I know that dumpster that the drunken twerp in that picture is sleeping in!"

Another one that's popped up recently is Things Aberdeen University Students Don't Say. It's a touch of snark, as all of the items posted there are sarcastic reversals of the general sentiment of the student body. One example that I posted a few days ago - and you can see the context on that post - is as follows:
I guess the library is designed in the current way to avoid students jumping from the the 7th floor out of exam stress.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has actually tried to jump from the seventh deck in anguish over pending exams. However, another quote from the same page indicates another critical design flaw of the Hideous Glass Cube...
On day's where I can't find a seat in the Library, I go to the cafe, look up, and think what a brilliant idea putting a massive hole in every floor was.
Finally, there's Aberdeen Uni Tell Him/Her, a page for Aberdeen students to send anonymous confessions and messages. AUTH/H is sort of a spiritual successor to another page, Spotted: Aberdeen University Library, which featured anonymous notes about people studying (or not!) in the Hideous Glass Cube. S:AUL was taken down in late January. According to an article in The Gaudie, the worst university newspaper ever:
Allegations of sexual assault posted on the page led to police involvement and the administrators of the page eventually agreed to deactivate it.
CN GBU-16 and I particularly enjoyed a recent entry, as one of our friends shares his name with the individual whose exploits are noted thusly:
Oliver I'm pregnant. Your little swimmers got there!
So, I'll likely keep following these pages (the latter two of which have been pretty quiet since the end of the semester a few weeks ago), even once I head back to the States.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Around Aberdeen: Sunny Day Snapshot

Throughout the year, I've tended to take the bus a lot - sometimes because of the weather, sometimes because I hate hills and Aberdeen's thick with 'em, and sometimes on account of time. As the weather has gotten a bit more mild (warmer than I like, but more conducive to walking), I've found myself hoofing it more often than I had before. As I've done this, I've discovered a few really cool spots that I'll plan to write about in the next couple of months. A few weeks ago, I was walking in to campus on a sunny day, and I was just about to the SOC when I came to the crest of a hill on St. Machar Drive. I was greeted by a fantastic view, all the way out to the sea. I snapped a couple of pictures and was on my way. I don't think the picture quite does justice to the view that day, but it gives you some idea. Aberdeen is really a pretty neat place to spend a year.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 3

Work on my dissertation continues in earnest. I've finished Arabian Sands, and will go through a couple of chapters today or tomorrow to find some quotes to use in my section about Oman and Dhofar prior to the Dhofar Rebellion. I also went through my list of what I've been calling the "Big Seven", as well as that equation that I outlined in my last post on the topic, and decided that I needed to work on refining my equations. The original system took one of the Big Seven - Control of the Physical and Human Terrain - and split that into two independent items, then filed the rest of the items and a few others under each of them. As I tried to simplify the equation over the weekend, I decided that the whole thing wasn't quite encompassing the connections I wanted to get across. So, I spent the first couple of days this week trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing.

I may do a bit more refining. After the last couple of days - and breaking out the note cards like my eleventh grade English teacher taught me - I've made a little bit more sense of the equations and/or categories. I think there's some work left to do, because it doesn't all fit together as neatly as it ought to. I probably need to come up with some sort of diagram, so I may add some strands of paracord to link various pieces together. Once I have that matrix put together, I can go through my already-too-lengthy(-and-still-growing) list of sources, assign case studies and references to particular sections, assemble quotes, and start stringing it all together.
I don't tend to do much studying in my room, although Sunday was spent screwing around with my sources. I haven't spent much time in the SOC, preferring my nearest Starbucks. I was there on Tuesday (prior to the fawn incident), and a friend snapped a picture of me hard at work with my note cards. It turned out pretty well, and was entirely candid. Depending on how busy Starbucks is, I've found that the dull roar of humanity is actually good background noise for working on one piece of my dissertation or another... Plus they have these really good paninis there.

I'll try to put most of my good quotes together and post them. A lot of them are from one of my heroes, General James Mattis. You folks are in for a treat.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Ubiquitous Super Puma

Aberdeen is called the "Energy Capital of Europe", and Aberdeen Airport in Dyce plays a big role in the offshore energy industry by serving as a base of operations for multiple commercial aviation companies servicing oil rigs in the North Sea. The most common vehicle used by companies such as Bond Aviation Group, Bristow Group, and CHC Helicopter, is the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma. That picture above was taken during my infamous trip to Shetland, while I was waiting for the ferry that I eventually gave up on. Aside from the energy industry, I'm not sure what other purposes they serve at Shetland's various small airports, but they're omnipresent in Aberdeen. When I see them - often flying directly past my block of flats - they're generally flying on a southeasterly course headed out to see, or a northwesterly course headed back to the airport in Dyce. I have no idea what the standard helicopter in the States must be - maybe the Bell 206 JetRanger (the only helicopter I've ever flown on)? - but I've never been anywhere other than Aberdeen where I saw so many of them going at any given time.

There have been several high profile accidents involving Super Pumas over the last several years. One in 2009 caused a number of deaths, while less costly accidents in May and October of last year have caused lengthy and costly flight suspensions while the aircraft in question were examined and the remainder of the fleet was inspected. Having experienced rough seas during my October passage to Orkney, I can imagine that taking a helicopter out to an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea must be a lot more comfortable than taking one of the small ships - much smaller than the Hrossey or the Hjaltland - that the oil industry uses to transport men and equipment to and fro.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Songs That Remind You 7

It's time for another couple of songs that will remind me of my time in Scotland. Although I heard it least once when I was in Shetland, I'm reasonably sure that the first time I heard DNA by girl group Little Mix when I was in Aberdeen.


It's not normally my kind of music, but in all honesty, a lot of these selections in Songs That Remind You are from genres I don't usually listen to. The second is a song that I probably heard before I left the States, but from now on I'll remember hearing it in the Boots location in Union Square. It's 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train.


I get the impression that Train frontman Pat Monahan is kind of a tool - after all, who in their right mind would write a laudatory song about San Francisco? - but the tune is catchy, the video is funny, it features David Hasselhoff (whom I hear Germans love, though CN Herr and CN Fraulein contest that stereotype), and we've all been in a position where we needed to explain away a break-up in a fashion that bypassed the actual situation. Also, I really liked Calling All Angels and Hey Soul Sister, and Drops of Jupiter always reminds me of this girl I dated when I was nineteen, so the band's got some cred with me.

The next two STRY posts will both be special editions! Holy smokes!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Around Aberdeen: Day of the Fawn

For some reason, I was extremely tired late in the afternoon on Tuesday. After a lengthy conversation with E (E's not really known for brief conversations - in fact, neither am I), I caught the bus back to my digs, got into the fridge to get some leftover Gurka Kitchen chow, and as I was going to my room I saw a red deer out the hallway window. Once I got into my room, I kept an eye on the deer. I live near a river, and on the outskirts of my neighborhood, so seeing deer out my window is common enough that I look for them whenever I wake up and probably see them two or three times per week. I had some news to call my parents with, so I called, and almost immediately told my mother that I needed to call her back. Why? Simple: I noticed that I wasn't just looking at a single doe (apparently a "hind" in the local vernacular), but a doe/hind and her newborn fawn.

I watched the pair for a few minutes, and snapped a few pictures at the extreme range of my camera's zoom capabilities. I called my folks back for a few minutes, and then got off the phone with them and continued watching them, figuring that I'd keep checking on them throughout the afternoon. If they're undisturbed, the deer tend to hang around for a while and graze. The fawn wasn't walking very quickly, and stayed close to its mother, walking to catch up whenever it fell a few feet behind. The mother was extremely alert, as one would expect. At a couple of points, the fawn walked directly under the doe/hind, which was always cognizant not to step on the fawn. The doe/hind was repeatedly licking the fawn, suggesting to me that it may have even been born earlier this afternoon.

A few minutes later, I looked up to see the doe/hind bolting away. I didn't see the fawn following - not surprising, since it was moving slowly to begin with. I looked out the window from another angle, and was shocked to see that one of my neighbors - a young Chinese woman who was obviously born without any common sense - had gotten to within about thirty feet of the fawn, and was continuing to walk up. I opened my window and yelled at her to leave them alone, and she turned around and said "Sorry!", but then kept walking forward, finally stopping. She had her camera up, and apparently didn't understand that spooking the doe/hind so that it ran away from its baby meant that she was too bloody close. I sat there, monitoring her and continually motioning urgently for her to leave whenever she'd look up at me. After standing there with a stupid grin on her face for a few minutes, she finally left. I kept an eye out for the doe/hind, and posted the following Facebook status (to unanimous support):
Dear stupid Chinese student,

If a doe runs away from her newborn fawn because you're getting too close, the correct course of action is not to walk closer to the abandoned fawn and keep taking pictures.

Sincerely,
Everyone with Common Sense
I plugged a search string into Google, and was relieved to find the following information on the "Leave the Fawns Alone!" page:
3. Often does will not return to their fawns until well after dark.

4. Keep yourself and pets far away from the fawn. It may take a good 24 hours for a doe to feel safe enough to return to her fawn. If a mother were to return to her fawn prematurely, she might risk leading a predator directly to her fawn.

5. Do not touch the fawn! This could cause the mother to reject it. If the fawn has already been "handled", wipe the fawn off with a clean towel rubbed with dirt, put on a clean pair of gloves, and return the fawn to the site of origin.

[...]

8. Fawns are born late May through the end of June, with the peak number born in early June. Mother deer often give birth at night in areas (such as people's front yards) which may seem perfectly safe at night but differ drastically during daylight hours.

9. For the first 5 days after birth, fawns will not run when approached. Instead, they will exhibit "freeze behavior". They lie still when approached, even permitting handling with little resistance. From the 7th day on, fawns will exhibit "flight behavior" when approached. By one month of age fawns venture out to browse with their mothers.
The doe/hind was back in sight a while later; fortunately, the Chinese girl didn't touch the fawn. At twilight, the doe/hind was still sort of hovering around the vicinity, never getting any closer than about fifty yards to where I think the fawn must have bedded down. The next morning, the doe/hind was still bedded down, then got up at about 8:00 AM, did a bit of grazing, and then finally went over for a quick pass at the fawn. I saw movement from the fawn, which was on the other side of a big clump of vegetation from me. After just a minute, the doe/hind walked about ten yards away and bedded down - presumably for the day, since deer are nocturnal.

Hopefully, they'll be around over the next few weeks. I'm still absolutely gobsmacked not only that the Chinese girl could have been so stupid and selfish, but also that she could have been so oblivious as to keep approaching the fawn and taking pictures with a stupid grin on her face when she'd chased the mother away from its offspring. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: Chaos in the South

After my trip to Sumburgh Head, I needed to head back north to Lerwick in time for some chow, and to catch the ferry back to reality. I had made pretty quickly for Sumburgh Head in the first place, but I decided to snap a few pictures on the return trip. The first occasion was just south of Sumburgh Airport, Shetland's main air artery. So, what would make this particular spot worthy of photographic attention? Simple: the road intersects the runway! And when I say "intersects the runway", I mean that they have barriers that get lowered whenever a plane needs to take off. No, I'm not making it up. You can see it here. Un. Believable. As a terrorism expert myself, I couldn't fathom that there was actually just a meager barrier between a vehicle and the airport. Then again, to paraphrase Deputy Travis Junior from the hit comedy Reno 911(!): "I think any terrorist who would wanna do some kinda thing in Shetland... Has never been to Shetland."

What else was going on the entire time I was at Sumburgh Head? Oh, nothing but a Super Puma doing touch-and-goes. Why? Because it's Shetland, and the rules be damned!

One of my favorite things to do while I'm overseas is to send post cards to friends, loved ones, and even random strangers if the opportunity arises. I needed to get both post cards and postage so that my friends and family could join me in commemorating my debacle in Shetland. I had seen a combination convenience store/post office (many of the United Kingdom's post offices are run as private franchises) on my way down to Sumburgh Head, so I kept my eye out and turned into the car park once I'd gotten back there. Once I saw the sign for the place, I decided that it was a moral imperative that I photograph said sign. Just have a look at all of the different functions that this particular shop in Dunrossness serves! I want to be quite clear, though, that although the sign had me shaking my head, everyone in the shop was extremely friendly and helpful, as was everyone in Shetland. As I noted earlier, Beirut is my epitome of a bad vacation, and one of the things Shetland can consistently boast that beats Beirut like a redheaded stepchild is the friendly and helpful attitudes of its residents.

I can't remember any more chaos off the top of my head, but I will always remember the southern end of Shetland as a sort of Bizarro Orkney, where nothing makes sense and the laughs just keep on comin'. Once I had left the vicinity of Sumburgh Head, it was back to Lerwick with me!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Royal Cyphers: E VII R

Studying the royal cyphers has revealed my complete ignorance of the recent history of the British monarchy. I initially suspected that the prior royal cypher, GR, belonged to Queen Elizabeth II's father. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II's father was George VI - portrayed by Colin Firth in the 2010 film The King's Speech - which meant that the GR cypher belonged to his father, the current monarch's grandfather. Before figuring this out, I had seen a pair of cyphers that I assumed must have belonged to Her Majesty's father and grandfather. As it turns out, the second cypher - E VII R - belonged to George V's predecessor, his father, Edward VII. Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II's uncle, famously abdicated after less than a year on the throne, so I doubt I'll run across any post boxes with his cypher on them - in fact, he was never crowned, so I'm not even confident that any exist.

At any rate, that means that there's a minimum sixteen year gap - 1936 to 1952 - between the E II R post boxes I've seen elsewhere, and the George V ones. But earlier than that are the Edward VII ones, which actually date back to at least 1910, when Edward VII died. So, that means that at the corner of King Street and University Road, and at Schoolhill, and probably elsewhere in Aberdeen, there are post boxes that date back to before World War I - in fact, to before the sinking of the Titanic. It's amazing to think what's happened in Aberdeen, and around the world, since those things were installed. It's amazing how durable they are - they don't make 'em like that anymore!

Also, I was corrected by my neighbor, whom we'll call CN Glaswegian Sensation. According to her:
In Scotland there is no Queen Elizabeth the Second. The current reigning monarch in Scotland is Queen Elizabeth. There has never been a second up here. It is different for the rest of the UK. You will never find a postbox in Scotland which says ER II. It is only ER. Most of the postboxes with ER II were set on fire. :)

[...]

You can look at the case of MacCormick v Lord Advocate and the pillar box war which started in 1953. :)
So, I stand corrected. Of course, she's right. As I've noted in my various Scottish Nationalism posts, Scots take their own history and culture very seriously, and the political union with the rest of the island that took place in 1707 didn't erase prior Scottish history.

For the uninitiated, it gets a touch confusing at that point, because what happens is that the generational titles become different for the Scots than for the rest of the United Kingdom. The most famous example of this is King James - known to most, perhaps, as the commissioner of the King James Bible - who reigned as James I in England and Ireland, but as James VI in Scotland. England and Scotland were, at that time, independent sovereign states, so the rule of James and his successors would be akin to a modern Arab monarch ruling both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates simultaneously. Hence, two different generational titles for two independent thrones. This is relevant to our present discussion of the royal cyphers on post boxes because - as Glaswegian Sensation points out - the current British monarch is the first monarch named Elizabeth to reign in both England and Scotland, as the prior English monarch of the same name, the famous Elizabeth, directly preceded James VI/I, and James VI/I was the first monarch under the current union to reign in both England and Scotland. (If I remember correctly, this was because Elizabeth produced no issue as she was the "Virgin Queen", and the result was that James was the next in line to assume the English throne.) Of course, this whole thing opens up the fascinating pandora's box of Tudor history, but the key point is that since Elizabeth I of England didn't reign in Scotland, the current monarch is Elizabeth II of England, but Elizabeth I of Scotland.

So, there you have it. More to come!

* * *

Oh, and by the way, if you're at all interested in catching up on Tudor history - which is actually pretty fascinating, particularly to any of you readers who enjoy the personal and political intrigues that I hear they have quite a lot of on that Game of Thrones show (I don't watch it, sorry!), you can learn a lot more from my friends The History Chicks, who have the following episodes available for streaming or download, along with their shownotes: Minicast - Teeny Tiny Tudor Tutorial (podcast/shownotes), Tudor Grandmothers (podcast/shownotes), Katherine of Aragon (podcast/shownotes), Minicast - Anne Boleyn (podcast/shownotes), Last Four Wives of Henry VIII (podcast/shownotes), and Lady Jane Grey (podcast/shownotes). The History Chicks is one of my favorite podcasts, because I love history, and because the two hostesses, Beckett and Susan, have a great "radio presence" and really make the content interesting. When I was working in the Middle East, I found their site and was reticent, but listened to their podcast about Mary Shelley, and was hooked, so to speak. If you're at all interested in Tudor history, or English history, or even just history in general, you should really check them out.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 2

First, a point of proper decorum: the picture to the left is an early picture of His Majesty, Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman. He was the architect of success in the Dhofar Rebellion, he has been the architect of the Omani Renaissance, and Oman's success under his leadership is the driving force behind my dissertation.

As I've mentioned before, CN Odin and I did our team project for Strategic Theory together, and subsequently expanded it into an article for Small Wars Journal, publication of which is currently pending. That research is informing the content and structure of my dissertation on the Dhofar Rebellion. Our original prompt was to "scrutinise the major requirements for successful counter-insurgency in the modern world". We identified six major requirements: a credible host nation counterpart; a clear mission and mandate; control of the physical and human terrain; an effective logistical system; effective information operations (meaning both strategic communications out and intelligence coming in); and an ineffective enemy. A seventh element that we discussed a bit in the article, but not in the ST project, was an appropriate employment of special operations force. Odin's work covered the Algerian Revolution, while mine covered Dhofar.

My plan has always been to write an introduction detailing the current strategic environment and the counterintuitive omission of Dhofar from recent studies of counterinsurgency; discuss the state of Oman and Dhofar prior to the war; outline the war itself in some detail, to include its long-term impact on Oman and Oman's role in the world; and then discuss the relevant lessons the Dhofar Rebellion offers for current and future conflicts. The article that Odin and I wrote was about 8,300 words, including references. My initial expectation was that the dissertation would have a word count limit of about 18,000 words, which would omit footnotes but include the bibliography (which, for the record, is a slightly different concept in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States). I checked the dissertation guide a few days ago, and it turns out that the ceiling is actually 15,000 words, including all references.

Uh, oh.

So, my plan initially shifted. I would write as much as I cared to, on as many topics as I cared to, and then cut that manuscript down to 15,000 words by omitting entire sections and streamlining the introduction. The added benefit is that this might facilitate turning the total amount of work into a book-length manuscript, at which point I could seek out a publisher. I still think that this is what I'll do.

However, while I was headed down to Starbucks a few days ago, I was caressed by the warm hand of inspiration. All of the various items that Odin and I discussed in our paper feed into one another, but they can be sort of clumsily divided into two main categories: Owning the Human Terrain (e.g., winning the hearts and minds), and Owning the Physical Terrain (e.g., defeating the enemy militarily). As I was sitting on the bus, I scribbled out some notes which subsequently became the following equations:
Equation A: [Credible Host Nation Government + Coherent Operational Mandate + (Effective Information Operations = Control of Narrative)] + (Organic Language Capability = Good HUMINT) = Own the Human Terrain

Equation B: [(Population *or* Geography Determinant Troop/Civilian Density Ratio = Starve the Insurgent's Logistics) + Deny Maneuver] = Own the Physical Terrain

Equation C: Own the Human Terrain + Own the Physical Terrain = Win the War = Great Success

Of course, this probably looks like blatherskite* to the unitiated, and many of the individual variables carry a lot of additional baggage and/or meaning along with them, but the equation covers most of the seven items I listed above. I think my goal, then, is to write the paper the way that I want to write it, get it to the book-length manuscript point that I want it, and then cut it down to include the abbreviated introduction and conclusion, along with a narrative about the Dhofar Rebellion and a following chapter focused on either Equation A or Equation B, probably Equation A. If I work the whole thing to within an inch of my life, I should be able to get that notional essay down below 15,000 words.

Less critical, but still relevant, was another revelation I had. I was thinking about how, in a modern campaign, one might have expected the Dhofari rebels to stage individual terrorist attacks throughout Oman in an effort to destabilize and undermine the national government. However, I remembered that the goal was to take Dhofar before moving further into Oman; this realization and its repercussions will allow me to bring Maoist, and possibly Guevaran, guerrilla warfare theory into the narrative of my essay, and that's a good discussion to have given both the circumstances of the Dhofar Rebellion, and the impact that Maoist guerrilla warfare theory in particular has had on both insurgents and counterinsurgents in contemporary conflicts.

Questions?

* I'll send a post card to any reader who can identify that reference.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Around Aberdeen: Inside the Hideous Glass Cube

A few months ago, I showed you the Hideous Glass Cube (HGC) (otherwise known as the Sir Duncan Rice Library), both in daylight and at night. The thing is, the HGC isn't just a massive modern art sculpture (more on that later); in fact, it was designed to be a semi-functional building, by Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen - apparently the worst architects in the world. According the HGC's homepage:
The building... was conceived to mark the ice and light of the north. It received a rating of 'excellent' in the leading industry measurement of environmental standards, BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).
Translation: the building really isn't very functional, at all. There are a handful of computers on the library's seven functional floors - nowhere near the number available at the university where I got my bachelor's degree - and there are a handful of breakout rooms and areas that, again, are nowhere near as functional as their equivalents where I went to school in the States. The other exceptionally bizarre thing about the interior of the HGC? Each floor has a giant hole in it, reducing the available area for students to study, and pretty much serving as a gaping suicide risk. As someone recently noted on the Things Aberdeen Students Don't Say Facebook page:
I guess the library is designed in the current way to avoid students jumping from the the 7th floor out of exam stress.
My colleagues and I have also encountered difficulty actually getting books in the library's collection - including books we needed for essays for which we had tight deadlines. For example, they had a copy of Thinking About Nuclear Weapons by Michael Quinlan - my copy of which is back in the States - but it was in storage, and wouldn't be available for pickup until several days after a student had requested it. The alleged justification for not having actual books available in an actual library is that the library's focus is on online media, but let's face it: the same Internet that's available at the library is available everywhere, while the whole point of a library is to store books for students to come check out.

Because I tend to study in the SOC, and because the HGC isn't really very functional, I don't tend to spend much time in there. I had originally expected to buck the trend I set as an undergrad and spend a lot of time studying in the library, but to date I've never checked out a book (mainly because most of my sources either aren't available from the library, or are available online), and I've only ever studied there once or twice. From what I gather, I'm not missing much. In fact, other than serving as a giant, hideous landmark, and being a bizarre place to take out of town guests, the only practical use for the HGC I've found is that it's a good place for taking pictures of Aberdeen - to include this one of either the MV Hrossey or the MV Hjaltland leaving Aberdeen on its way to Kirkwall and Lerwick.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Books: Summer Reading

Between now and when I head back to the States, I want to read a few books for leisure (and one that hits both the "leisure" and "work" categories). I rediscovered recreational reading as a young undergrad (after doing almost no recreational reading whatsoever in high school), and I don't read as much as I'd like. With reading for classes over, I hope to finish a few books. Here's what's on the agenda.

Arabian Sands: Arabian Sands is my leisure/work combo book. I've been working on it, quite slowly, since late last summer. It's the monograph of Wilfred Thesiger's travels in the Rub al Khali, and discusses Oman, Dhofar, and Salalah in extensive detail. It will work into my dissertation as a record of what Dhofar was like before the Rebellion and the Omani Renaissance.

Starship Troopers: A few weeks ago, I decided to purchase a copy of this, one of my favorite books of all time. I haven't read it since I was a senior in high school. It's not very long, and I'm already about a third of the way through it, so I hope to finish it in short order - maybe over the course of a couple of evenings.

American Sniper: A few months ago, at the urging of somebody back home, I read No Easy Day. The same individual was bugging me to read American Sniper by the late Chris Kyle. I've read three or four SEAL autobiographies over the years, and they tend to be pretty repetitive, but I figured I'd give American Sniper a shot... Once I finish the other two.

Saving Private Sarbi: Knowing that I love dogs - for example, Jack the Wonder Dog - and having spent some time in Australia earlier this year, CN Bones recommended that I pick up a copy of this book about an Australian military working dog (MWD) that was captured by the Taliban for over a year before being recovered. (You can read a brief account of the story here.) My brother recently lost his dog to a chronic illness, but while the dog was alive, I used to make cartoons using pictures of the dog. One such cartoon involved... Well, I'll let the picture speak for itself. (By the way, if you're interested in MWDs, check out Kevin Hanrahan's website and blog.)

If I finish those, my standby books are as follows:

Quantum of Solace: I started reading this when I was in Beirut in January of 2012. I read about half of the stories in the book in 2006, in the form of Octopussy and The Living Daylights. (As I read this, I realize that the beautifully covered Bond collection published by Penguin in the mid-'00's appears to have been superceded, so I may need to order the old ones to complete my set before they're no longer available.)

Where the West Ends: Independent journalist Michael Totten is an acquaintance of mine, and in 2012 he expanded a number of his best articles and published them as a book. I'm probably a quarter of the way through my copy, and it would be great to finish it before I head home.

I obviously have a lot of quiet hours ahead of me... Hopefully.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: Sumburgh Head


During my waning weeks in the Middle East, I started planning my invasion of Scotland. Since I had been to Orkney in 2004 and loved it, and since Shetland was even further out, it became one of my major travel goals. If only I knew, ladies and gentlemen, if only I knew. At any rate, one of the spots that I zeroed in on was the extreme south end of Shetland, Sumburgh ("Sum-burra") Head. I even had a look at it using Google Street View, took a screenshot, and posted it to Facebook as my profile picture. (This was before Mark Zuckerberg and his minions cursed us with Timeline; I say this because the GSV screenshot would have made a decent cover photo.)

My initial plan for my second and final day in Shetland was to drive back to the top of Unst, since I hadn't had a chance to take pictures after the geocaching debacle the day before. I got to the ferry landing for the float from the Shetland mainland to Yell, and waited... And waited... And waited. I just missed one ferry, then waited ages for the second ferry (and didn't make it on because the queue was too long), and finally decided that I didn't have time to keep waiting and do both the north end and the south end. Since I had already done the north end, I decided to pull out of the queue and head south.

The drive south was pretty decent, and included a brief stop in Hillside/Voe (north of Lerwick) to take some pictures. Something like an hour later, I arrived at Sumburgh Head, a peninsula and hill that's famous for its lighthouse and its bird sanctuary. (I was hoping to see some puffins, but I was apparently too early to see them this year.) The hill was much easier to walk up than Hermaness Hill (or Herma Ness Hill - Shetland can't seem to figure out how to spell it), and the view was fantastic. I spent about ten minutes walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying some pretty permissive weather. After walking about as far south as I could, I stood at one location and took enough pictures to make a big panorama from (and I may post it once I actually do it). One of my most vivid memories of my time at Sumburgh Head was the helicopter that was doing touch-and-goes at nearby Sumburgh airport - but more on that in a later post.

By now, my trip to Shetland had become a sort of running punchline, but my trip to Sumburgh Head was certainly one of the highlights. It's always nice to set a goal of somewhere to visit, and then actually pull it off - even if that location is in Shetland. Of course, there were a few more adventures for that particular day...

The Royal Cyphers: GR

One of the perks of being the reigning monarch in the United Kingdom is that you get your name on everything. For example, it's not just the British government, it's Her Majesty's government. The Royal Navy doesn't just have ships, and they don't just call them "United Kingdom Ship" such-and-such - they're Her Majesty's ships. I imagine it seems pretty antiquated and anachronistic to most Americans, but it's actually kind of... I don't know, "quaint" doesn't seem like the right word, but it's kind of comforting, and provides a bit of stability and continuity in a way that we don't really enjoy in the States.

One of the manners in which this manifests itself is in the royal cypher. Seeing as how a title such as "Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" is awesome, but sort of long, they shorten it. Pretty dramatically, actually. As such, they abbreviate it - a lot, actually - in the form of the royal cypher, which includes the monarch's initial, their generational title, and an "R" - "Rex" (Latin for "king") for men, and "Regina" for (Latin for "queen") for women. So, for example, the reigning British sovereign's royal cypher is "E II R", for "Elizabeth II, Regina".

The Royal Cypher appears on a lot of stuff over here. One of the places it appears most prominently is in the Royal Mail, particularly on post boxes. They're all red - like the phone boxes - and they're ubiquitous throughout the country. The thing is, when the Sovereign leaves the throne - typically upon their death - not everything gets replaced. Stamps, for example, switch over, but they don't go out and replace all of the post boxes with the former sovereign's cypher. I imagine they eventually do, should one post box wear out for some reason - but let's face it, a metal box with conspicuous red paint to weatherproof it? Something maintained that well could hold out for decades - and, in fact, they do.

For a long time, I figured that all of the post boxes just said "E II R" on them, but I've recently found several much older ones around Aberdeen. The three pictures in this post display the royal cypher of George V, who reigned from 1910 until his death in 1936. That means that there are post boxes outside the Cathedral Church of St. Machar, another one next to Mounthooly Roundabout, and a third on Union Street that date back to at least 1936. The world, and Aberdeen, have gone through a lot since then.

That one at the top is the first one I noticed in Aberdeen that wasn't "E II R" - in fact, I figured it must be a fluke! The thing is, once I noticed that one, I started looking at others. There are tons of old post boxes around Aberdeen, and these three of George V aren't anywhere near the oldest ones. So, what was the oldest one I found? Stay tuned to find out!