Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 9

So, I had a "come to Jesus moment" with my dissertation last week.

My plan has always been an ambitious one: to discuss the entire history of the Dhofar Rebellion, and contrast it with just how badly some things got gooned up in Afghanistan and Iraq. The original plan was to do that in a total of six chapters, which would have consisted of an introduction, a chapter specifically on Oman, a chapter on human terrain, a chapter on physical terrain, a chapter on what I'm calling "integrating factors", and a conclusion. I had decided to write whatever I damn well pleased, and then pull one or two of those best chapters from the end in order to get it under the word count.

Last Thursday, I came to another conclusion: focus on Dhofar. The sheer scope of what I wanted to talk about was getting way out of hand, and while the ambition is good, and while I will write the entire thing, the format needs to change. As I enter the home stretch of dissertation season, I've decided that I'll attack it with a slightly modified approach. First, I'll leave my existing introduction intact - and that may even wind up being edited, or chopped up to make an introduction and part of a conclusion. Second, I'll have a chapter on just how backward Oman was prior to 1970, and just how great it's been since 1976. Third, I'll take all of that content that would have compared the Dhofar Rebellion with the Afghan and Iraq Wars, remove the bits about Afghanistan and Iraq, and focus on the specific lessons from Dhofar. Finally, I'll write a conclusion. My one concern in all of this is that many of my sources revolve around the comparisons with Afghanistan and Iraq, but I think that I'll have a sufficient volume of sources even under the new paradigm. I also have a bit of time to adjust if need be.

As I've noted previously, one of my favorite independent journalists is Michael Yon. Yon is controversial, but I've found his dispatches from Afghanistan and Iraq (particularly Afghanistan) to be invaluable. Yon is a former green beret himself, and has embedded as an independent journalist throughout the world, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. I no longer link to his site because it's been subject to some very aggressive virus attacks in recent months, but here are some of the quotes that will eventually make it into one form of my paper or another.
Many Gurkhas can speak Hindi, and so do many Afghans. I’ve been to many dozens of villages from which the Gurkhas are recruited and although their culture is very different from Afghans, the economic and development status are similar. Afghans and Gurkhas can communicate on social levels that transcend language.
- Michael Yon, "Gurkha"

* * *

Gurkhas serving in the British Army have been rotating through Afghanistan. They can converse with many Afghans, at least on a basic level, by speaking Hindi. The Gurkhas also look like many Afghans (especially Hazaras), and in fact many Filipinos, Thais, Nepalese and Hazaras look very similar. As British soldiers, Gurkhas travel the world and see many things and they also live for years in the United Kingdom and Brunei. They travel to Africa, Central America, Europe and often America. Add to this fact that these men tend to come from remote, rugged villages where the terrain will match or possibly even exceed any of the severe difficulties found in Afghanistan, and the insight created from this confluence of experience can be invaluable.
- Michael Yon, "Common Scenes & Common Thoughts"

* * *

We ask Afghans for help in defeating the enemies, yet the Afghans expect us to abandon them. Importantly, Mr. Filkins pointed out that Afghans don’t like to see Americans living in tents. Tents mean nomads. It would be foolish for Afghans in 'Talibanastan' to cooperate with nomadic Americans only to be eviscerated by the Taliban when the nomads pack up. (How many times did we see this happen in Iraq?) The Afghans want to see us living in real buildings as a sign of permanency. The British at Sangin and associated bases live in temporary structures as is true with American bases in many places. Our signals are clear. 'If you are coming to stay,' Afghans have told me in various ways, 'build a real house.' 'Build a real office.' 'Don’t live in tents.' We saw nearly the opposite in Iraq where pressure evolved to look semi-permanent. The Dr. Jekyll–Mr. Hyde situation in Iraq seemed to seriously catch hold by 2006 or 2007, by which time Iraqis realized we were not going to steal oil and might decide to pull out while leaving them ablaze in civil war.

A great many Iraqis wanted to know that we would stay long enough to help them stand, but were not planning on making Iraq part of an American empire. It became important to convey semi-permanence, signaling, 'Yes we will stay and yes we will leave.' Conversely, Afghans down in the south, in places like Helmand, tend to have fond memories of Americans who came mid last century, and those Afghans seem apt to cooperate. That much is clear. But Afghans need to sense our long-term commitment. They need to see houses made of stone, not tents and 'Hesco-habs.'
- Michael Yon "Adopt-a-stan"
* * *

On the afternoon of the 19th, before our election-day mission on the 20th, “Snowy” meticulously cleaned every speck of dust off his weapon. He disassembled the magazines, cleaned the springs, and individually cleaned each bullet.

Snowy then counted every last bullet—twice—and I joked that if his weapon failed the next day, cleaning would not be the issue. The weapon was ready, it seemed.

[...]

There’s Snowy, who had cleaned his weapon with surgical care. He had wiped down every bullet and every millimeter of the magazines. His weapon was working just fine. For now.

[...]

Meanwhile behind me, Snowy’s weapon began to malfunction.
- Michael Yon, "Precision Voting"
I've frequently been pleased with how well my reading and education over the last ten or fifteen years, and various things I've studied in the past year, have come into play in writing this paper.

More to come.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scottish Nationalism Strikes Again

Glaswegian Sensation has agreed to write a guest post about the issue of Scottish secession. In the mean time, here are some additional stories that lead me further into the realm of skepticism about Scottish secession.

Shell's North Sea Fram oil field is 'being reassessed'. A great deal of the SNP's platform seems to be built upon the idea of turning Scotland into a pacifistic, Scandinavian-style state built upon oil wealth; and yet, that oil wealth seems to be repeatedly reassessed. It doesn't exactly build confidence in the SNP's vision for Scotland's independent future.

Another article I took interest in showed up a few months ago: Go-alone Scotland 'faces challenges'. Every country faces "challenges", so this isn't a non-starter on its face; but one would expect that a coherent plan to address these challenges would be part of the SNP's platform. I've seen no evidence that it is; rather, I've seen evidence that the SNP maintains a vague platform because taking any solid stance on an issue would split the SNP's various factions apart.

Being a current student myself, I also took some interest in the secession implications of the following stories: Demand up for university places, and Students as likely to get a place at Aberdeen University as Oxford.

Finally, CN Homeboy - the most rabid secessionist I know - pointed me toward this video: Top 10 Unionist Myths About Scotland's Independence.


The video is unprofessional, factually inaccurate, and extremely flippant about some really significant issues that the SNP has either been intentionally vague about, or simply lied about. To name but one example, watch #7 on the video, then have a look at this image from the Better Together campaign, which is turning out to be much more effectively run than the Yes campaign. If I get bored at some point, I may spend a day picking that video apart, piece by piece.

Also, to update my earlier post on SNP defense policies, The Telegraph recently carried this story: SNP defence and security policies are 'wishful thinking'. I had a conversation about this last week with one of my mates, who's an SNP die-hard. He informed me that "Scotland's threats will be domestic not foreign", which suggests that he either A) doesn't understand the nature of defense and national security threats at all, or B) expects an insurgency to arise within Scotland upon its hypothetical secession. When I pointed out that secession would require Scotland to depend moreso upon Westminster, and to a greater extent Washington, for its defense than it does already, his response was that "[Scottish] cooperation with Europe should do the trick there" - the implication being that he doesn't realize how wholly Europe already depends upon American security guarantees for its defense. Wishful thinking, indeed.

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.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Headline: Hideous Glass Cube Wins Award!

'Tent' among 12 Scottish architecture award winners

The Hideous Glass Cube won some Scottish architecture award. Seriously? The thing is hideous! And if you look at the slide show, you'll see that most of the other "buildings" that received the award were either A) also hideous, or B) not, technically speaking, "buildings" at all. Oh, well. In a country whose national delicacy is chopped up sheep's heart and lungs, shoved into said sheep's stomach with oatmeal, and then boiled, I suppose there's no accounting for taste! Or quality of construction, apparently - in point of fact, they've been doing repairs to the HGC for the last couple of weeks, removing various panels with cranes and such. Seriously? The building is a year old, and it already requires repairs. So much for the credibility of the architecture award!

Royal Baby Excitement!

By now, everyone should know that last week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed Prince George Alexander Louis into the House of Windsor. I've paid a bit of attention to the course of the royal pregnancy, and it was difficult to miss a bunch of the coverage - although I have to say, Facebook indicates to me that it was Americans who were most excited about it, not Brits. I think there may have also been some disappointment about the baby's name, which many Scots including The Director and Glaswegian Sensation had hoped or expected to be James. Scot's love the memory of King James VI/I, and as The Director pointed out to me, the United Kingdom is long overdue for a Prince/King James. (With the pending Scottish secession vote, it may have also been politically expedient for the Royals to have reminded the Scots of the United Kingdom's rich, shared heritage.) Regardless, I think everyone ought to be pleased for the House of Windsor.

Of course, more exciting is a birth to which I'm personally connected: my friends Gus and St. Jen became proud parents once again. Their daughter, Princess Lucy of the House of Lycurgus, arrived on Friday at 7 pounds, 14.8 ounces, and 19 inches long. Mom and baby are doing just fine - in fact, I spoke with Gus and St. Jen on Saturday night, and was stunned (but not actually very surprised) that St. Jen sounded exactly like she always does: upbeat, chipper, and charming. Princess Lucy joins Prince Hank, the firstborn of the latest generation of the House of Lycurgus. I'm really looking forward to the time when I'll be able to arrive back in the States to see Prince Hank and hold Princess Lucy for the very first time. It's such a bizarre sensation to love a little human being you've never met - never even been in the same hemisphere with - but here I sit, thrilled as one can be.

In point of fact, Prince George could do a lot worse than to marry into the House of Lycurgus. It's a strong family, with great values and traditions. If he tries anything, though, he'd best be aware that Gus and I are both fans of, and adept at the administration of, vigilante justice. (What can we say? We're descended from rugged frontier colonists.) Even St. Jen (pictured) is sort of reminiscent of the Gurkhas, about whom it's been said: "a big guy with a little knife and a frown isn't as scary as a little guy with a big knife and a smile". See that picture of her? Isn't she terrifying!?

Although times remain challenging, the births of both Prince George Alexander Louis of the House of Windsor, and Princess Lucy of the House of Lycurgus, remind me of something one of my old shipmates said a few months ago: "Babies are a great sign of better things to come; they are also a sign that parents have not lost hope."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

CN Homeboy Rocks the House

CN Homeboy fancies himself a bit of a folk singer. When he's not kicking drunks out of various Aberdeen pubs, or salivating over various SAS or Navy SEAL memoirs, he enjoys performing in several of those various Aberdeen pubs. He plays both the guitar and the "moothie" (harmonica), and has been encouraging us, his coursemates, to come see one of his gigs since all the way back in October. On a Sunday in early July, I had just gotten back to my room after a long day of doing something or other - possibly working on my dissertation at Starbucks - when CN GBU-16 got a hold of me and asked if I was going to Homeboy's gig. I was tempted to blow it off since it was such short notice, but I decided that I had enough time to get myself put back together and head downtown. When I was waiting for the bus, Homeboy texted an invite; had I been unaware of the gig until then, I absolutely would have blown the gig off.

Homeboy wasn't the night's only performer. Drummond's on Belmont Street regularly hosts live music, and that night featured four performers. First up was Homeboy, most of whose set I was able to witness for myself. Second was some guy who was entirely forgettable. The third performer was a guy from Peterhead who reminded me of a guy I went to high school with, and whom performed attrocious renditions of Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry and All Star by Smash Mouth, but who had great stage presence. The closing act was a lovely young lady, pictured, who claimed to know only three chords, and who performed a couple of songs that I knew, but which I don't remember anymore.

Of course, for my money, Homeboy was the best performer. I could have done without the Bob Dylan song he elected to perform - he did not sing Lay Lady Lay, which GBU-16 swore would have gotten him the attention of all of Aberdeen's fit lassies. Homeboy's just a touch awkward, but - and I still can't believe I'm saying this - it actually worked for him. He also played a pretty decent mix of folk songs, and his own material. This included a song called Twenty-Four Virginians, about Operation Neptune Spear, and another song that was introduced thusly: "My last song is called Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore. It's about a girl named Annie, who doesn't live here anymore. You know, one of those 'hidden meaning' songs." Ohhhhhhh, Homeboy. At any rate, we posed for a quick snapshot before parting ways for the evening. It was a great experience that I hope to repeat at least once more before I leave Scotland.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: Glimpsing Kirkwall, and Final Reflections


On some nights, the lifeline ferry service stops in Kirkwall on its way back down to Aberdeen. Although it was dark, I got to witness the last few minutes of our transit past Shapinsay into Kirkwall and the pier at Hatston. The observation deck was closed - presumably to stop people from jumping into the North Sea after dark - so I wasn't able to get pictures of Wideford Hill, but if you look carefully at the center of that picture, you can make out the red sandstone exterior of St. Magnus Cathedral. As the debacle in Shetland had ended just a few hours earlier, it was a great thrill to get even a few minutes' glimpse of this island paradise.

The next morning, I arrived back in Aberdeen. In the intervening months, my view of Shetland has softened a bit. As I look back at some of the pictures I took, and as I've written this series of posts about my adventures there, it seems obvious that although Shetland wasn't what I was expecting, part of the debacle involved a lack of due diligence on my part, or simple misunderstandings. Regardless, Shetland boasts some truly breathtaking scenery - like this valley north of Voe, pictured - and genuinely friendly people. And, let's face it, Orkney's a tough standard to meet, so my expectations probably set me up for failure. The whole thing reminds me of an old episode of M*A*S*H titled Period of Adjustment, which had a pretty touching exchange between two great characters.
Colonel Potter: "Let's, uh, clear the air, Klinger. I think we both realize you're no Radar."
Corporal Klinger: "So they tell me, sir."
Colonel Potter: "But by the same token, Radar is no Klinger."
Corporal Klinger: "I don't follow you, sir."
Colonel Potter: "Folks were awfully fond of Henry Blake when he ran this fort, weren't they?"
Corporal Klinger: "Well, sure, the colonel was a top-notch kind of a guy."
Colonel Potter: "You bet he was. And believe me, my first days in his shadow were a mite uneasy. Nobody was jumping for joy over me. I was no Henry Blake, never tried to be. That didn't mean I was better or worse, just different. The people here gave me a chance to get comfortable and to make this job Sherman Potter's. I guess maybe I forgot that when you took over for Radar. What I'm trying to tell you is you need the time to take this job and make it Max Klinger's."
Or, if you prefer an example from Saturday Night Live...
Colin Quinn: You know how you go to your favorite bar, and your local bartender isn't there? You ask, "Where's Jeff?" "Jeff no longer works here, I'm Steve." And you're thinking, "Hey, who's this idiot? I like Jeff." But you still want your drink? And even though Steve doesn't mix your drink the same way you're used to, like Jeff, you still like the same bar, you don't want to have to go to a different bar. And even Steve might feel kinda bad because Jeff trained him. Jeff showed him how to work the cash register, where the tonic was on the soda gun, who tips, who doesn't? Well, I'm Steve. What can I get you?
At any rate, my experience in Shetland was peculiar, but in retrospect, I'm glad for it. In fact, I'm glad that Shetland wasn't like Orkney - it makes Orkney that much more special, because it remains unique, while Shetland has a character all its own. And as with most of my trips, I can say that I've been to a place where almost nobody goes. When you go to interesting and remote places, that's where you encounter the unexpected, and sometimes it leaves you with blisters, sore legs, dirty trouser cuffs, and - this is the good part - a great story to tell.

When my friends back home talk about Scotland, they invariably ask about Edinburgh, because that's all they really know. In all honesty, Edinburgh is aboutthe most boring city I've ever been to - nearly as boring as War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450-1620 by J.R. Hale; and despite the Geocaching Catastrophe, or the chaos in the south, I have much more vivid memories of two days in Shetland than I have of multiple trips to Edinburgh - save for finding Waldo, of course. And when you figure in the warm hospitality of Bolts Care Hire, the Glen Orchy Guest House, and the Gurkha Kitchen, plus the great musical selections I heard courtesy of Shetland's radio stations, do I really have that much room to complain? Probably not.

I'd still recommend Orkney over Shetland; in fact, I'd recommend Orkney over just about anywhere else in the world. That said, Shetland's got its charms, and you could do a lot worse for a holiday - Beirut, for example.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Riding The Aberdeenshire Circuit


Navigator and I went to the Highland Games in Inverness on Saturday. On Sunday, it was time for a road trip, and my first occasion to drive on the island of Great Britain since 2004 - in a vehicle with a manual transmission, no less! I got the "hire"/rental car all sorted out, picked Navigator up, and we were off. We had a look at an old Michelin map of Scotland that I'd purchased for my original Scottish adventure in 2004, agreed upon an agenda for the day, fueled up the car, and set out on a southward course on the A90.

Our first stop was RAF Edzell. Edzell is technically located outside Aberdeenshire in what was once Angus County, but which now falls under the purview of the Tayside council district. My buddy Chops was once stationed there while serving in the United States Navy. Mere days after my arrival in Aberdeen, I received the following message (with a Google Maps link) from Chops:
Your mission, while you're over there, is to find this building. I lived in room 13C of Campbell Hall. I doubt it's still called that, and I'm somewhat dubious the building even still stands. If you get some time, eventually, travel down there and take pictures of the barracks. No hurry. Just figured you'd probably get a chance to look at it before I will.
- chops
It probably took us just under an hour to get to Edzell. I'd programmed waypoints into my GPS handset before heading out to get the car, and once we'd used it to find the location Chops had given me, we got a couple of pictures and were on our way. One of my best friends from my undergraduate days bore the last name "Strachan", which I've also seen on some vans running around Aberdeen at one point or another. Our route from Point B to Point D ran through the village of Strachan, so I got a couple of pictures of street signs to send to him. On the way, we saw some fantastic scenery, so we got stopped for photo ops a couple of times. From there, Strachan, it was on to Balmoral Castle.

Located on the banks of the River Dee, tucked away into a well forested area, Balmoral Castle is actually the royal family's hunting lodge and home in Scotland. (This is to say, it's not actually much of a castle.) It was built in the days of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Despite it being a very warm day, we enjoyed a leisurely walk from the front gates to the settlement. In all honesty, it struck me as more of a tourist attraction than anything particularly conducive to either hunting or use as a royal holiday home, but it's a beautiful site. Navigator had wanted to go see it, and although I'd heard the place mentioned, I wouldn't have gone to see it if it hadn't been for meeting her.

The last leg of our trip was from Balmoral Castle to the Stonehead Croft. A "croft" is a small holding, essentially a small plot of land operated as a farm. The Stonehead Croft is located outside the Aberdeenshire village of Insch, near the neolithic Stonehead Circle and Dunnideer Castle. Stonehead/"Stoney" has been blogging in one form or another for nearly nineteen years. I discovered the blog when I was living in Virginia, though I don't remember how. Since I was planning on coming to Aberdeen, and since Stoney writes on such interesting topics that I've had no exposure to anywhere else, I've always found his writing interesting. I won't reveal the exact location of the croft in a futile attempt to protect the family's privacy; for my part, I used Wikimapia to compare the roofs and layouts of the farm buildings in the general vicinity of those two archaeological sites in order to determine the location of the croft. As I mentioned previously, Stoney has already posted about the visit, and I don't have much to add to his account, aside to say that we were humbled by the hospitality of Stoney and the "Other Half", who took us on a tour of the croft. I've been invited back for lunch, and I'll be sure to take a few pictures to share with everyone.

After a total trip of about seven hours and about 170 miles, we arrived back in Aberdeen. Navigator crashed for the evening, and I went to get chips, cheese, and fillet from Lionel's and see The World's End with CN GBU-16 and CN Homeboy. After the film had ended, as I was standing at the bus stop thinking, I couldn't help but think that I'd enjoyed a very successful weekend chock full of great Scottish experiences.

The next day, it was back to work on The Dissertation.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 8

Owing to a variety of distractions, I've made less progress on my dissertation in the last couple of weeks than I may have liked. Even so, I've chipped away at it a bit at a time. For example, I used the first of three thirty-year-old articles on the wars in Oman from Scientia Militaria, the South African Journal of Military Studies, to establish the (alleged) size of a Special Air Service squadron. I also found a couple of passages from Brigadier Ian Gardiner's indispensable book, In the Service of the Sultan, to establish the size of the counterinsurgent force in Dhofar. These are for a section I'm writing on commensurate force strength for my section on controlling the physical terrain.

I mentioned in the last post that I've been going to Starbucks and writing in a dissertation journal. Last week, I transcribed about six pages of handwritten notes on intelligence, small arms, organic language capabilities, field conditions, and troop morale. One of my near-term steps is to go through that section in my worksheet file (labeled "Scratchpad Transcriptions"), edit it, apply sources to it, and then drop it back into my main file. That will have the knock-on effect of identifying some of the remaining gaps that I need to write out.

It's been a while since I posted any selections from my quote bank. One of the strengths of the work that CN Odin and I did for our presentation and Small Wars Journal article was that we looked at counterinsurgent and insurgent/guerrilla sources - and at sources from a diverse variety of conflicts and locales. By my estimation, if you're discussing a concept upon which Mao, Zawahiri, Petraeus, and Galula all agree, then it's probably a pretty solid concept. So, here are some of the quotes from the "enemy" - that is to say, from the guerrilla or insurgent side - that I intend to include. First, there are quotes from Ayman al Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda:
"[T]he strongest weapon which the mujahedeen enjoy - after the help and granting of success by God - is popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries. So, we must maintain this support as best we can, and we should strive to increase it[.]"

[...]

"We don't want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the [Taliban] and the people of Kandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile. Even the [Taliban] themselves had a stronger affiliation to their tribes and their villages than their affiliation to the Islamic amirate or the Taliban movement or the responsible party in charge of each one of them in his place. Each of them retreated to his village and his tribe, where his affiliation was stronger."

[...]

"However, despite all of this, I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don't need this."
- Ayman al Zawahiri, letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, 2005
From there, I've found some pertinent quotes from Mao and Guevara, dealing largely with the combination of human terrain and logistical support:
"Because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation."
- Mao Tse-tung, "On Guerrilla Warfare", 1937

* * *

"Conduct toward the civil population ought to be regulated by a large respect for all the rules and traditions of the people of the zone, in order to demonstrate effectively, with deeds, the moral superiority of the guerrilla fighter over the oppressing soldier."
- Ernesto "Che" Guevara, "Guerrilla Warfare", 1961

* * *

"The guerrilla soldier must never forget the fact that it is the enemy that must serve as his source of supply of ammunition and arms."
- Ernesto "Che" Guevara, "Guerrilla Warfare", 1961

In all honesty, reading Guevara is more of an annoyance than an asset - as I recently said on Facebook, "Mao is to Guevara as Dante Alighieri is to Dan Brown", which is to say, absolute rubbish. I have absolutely no idea how such a feckless guerrilla as Guevara has gotten any attention whatsoever from scholars of irregular warfare, let alone all of the attention he gets from the public at large - for example, the bizarrely Che-themed kebab shop that Gus and I saw in Edinburgh back in November. The guy was a hack who rode Fidel Castro's coat tails, was basically invited to leave Cuba after the revolution was over, and then gooned up potentially successful revolutions in Africa and South America before being apprehended and killed by Bolivian troops. For his part, Mao is a prime example of an adequate military leader whom, upon gaining power through a successful guerrilla campaign, subsequently demonstrated his complete inability to govern or administer (as evidenced by the "Cultural Revolution" and the "Great Leap Forward", both of which were savage, unmitigated disasters). The only thing I can say is to cite Sun Tzu's adage to "know thy enemy"; in that context, it makes sense to study them.

More to come.

Highland Games in Inverness

As I noted previously, the Navigator wanted to go see a highland games while she was in Scotland. Here in Aberdeen, the games in Tomintoul. We agreed on the day before the games that we wanted to go, but when I contacted rental car companies, only one of them had an available vehicle, and it wasn't going to be ready until 3:00 PM - basically, we wouldn't have even gotten to Tomintoul in time. As we were trying to figure out what to do, I ran across this website. Looking chronologically, I discovered that Inverness - a mere two hours away on a train route that runs multiple times daily - was holding its annual City of Inverness Highland Games that day. The choice was obvious.

After grabbing breakfast, we narrowly caught the train, and enjoyed a leisurely ride to Inverness. From there, I drew on my brief experience in Inverness from a few months ago to get us quickly down to the fields. In fact, we were at the games before we could have gotten the rental car. We saw a bit of Inverness Stone tossing before walking further into a car park to have a look at some of the booths. I was a bit disappointed that there weren't any vendors - I realize that the vendors of Scottish paraphernalia in Scotland are literally available on the high street, but still! - but we did find a really cool exhibit of rescued birds of prey. You could pay £4 to hold one of the birds for a few minutes and get your picture taken with it, so I, of course, held the peregrine falcon, the varsity team captain of the assorted birds of prey.

From there, we made our way back to the main event. Navigator went to one of the chow trucks and got chips and cheese - a Scottish specialty, and I was quite proud of her for it! - and took a seat in the stands. We watched the hammer throw, and they had a dance floor with various Scottish dancers displaying their skills. There were foot races, and wrestling (which seemed to consist of a lot of throws). The main event that everyone goes to the highland games for is, of course, the caber toss. Navigator spotted the pile of cabers on the other side of the field, so we made our way over there and sorted out a couple of seats. We watched the high jump competition, which was near us, and watched the weight over the bar event from across the field. When they started taking the cabers to the side we'd come from, we moved and found a couple of seats.

Not unlike Jungle Recon's mustache (Warning: Extremely NSFW), the caber toss is synonymous with everything badass. I hate the Olympics, which I think is a colossal waste of money, a false spectacle of peace and understanding, and packed with worthless games; but as I watched the events of the highland games, and especially the caber toss, I thought to myself, "This is the kind of stuff they need to have on the Olympics." The caber toss requires a thrower to go from a standing position to a sort of squatting position, with the caber (a giant log) upright the whole time; then, they lift it from the bottom, using their shoulder to counter-balance it. At that point, they get a running start, toss it, and - if they've done it right - get it to flip over. If it doesn't flip, it doesn't count. Navigator was starting to get hungry, and it was turning from a warm day into a hot evening, so she set a cut-off: we would leave at 6:20 PM, or after the first successful caber toss, whichever came first. At about 6:18, after one caber had already broken in half and another had been cut down because it was just too heavy and long for any of the competitors to toss, one of the throwers finally got a flip, and we were on our way.

We had some time to kill, so we went to the Filling Station near the Inverness train station (after snapping a picture of a war memorial outside the train station that I'd missed my opportunity to get a picture of back in March, pictured above). We enjoyed, among other selections, an appetizer of fried haggis bites with sweet chili sauce - not exactly what you'd expect at an "American" restaurant, but delicious just the same. We arrived at the train station just in time for the 8:00 train, only to find that the 8:00 train apparently didn't exist. (The train schedule brochures are actually kind of tough to read.) With another hour and a half to kill, we decided to take a stroll and find a pub on the River Ness. We were unable to find any available outdoor seating, but found a great spot inside the Columba Hotel, where we were shortly joined by a fetching young DJ playing some great tracks from the 1980's. After a gin and tonic and a chat with the DJ about how great the music in the 1980's was, we were back up the hill to catch the 9:30 train.

Once aboard the train, we were joined in short order by a big group of drunken chavs, who were allegedly serving troops in the British Army. They were rowdy, and one guy in particular was doing a lot of singing - mainly faux African hits from pop culture, such as Circle of Life from The Lion King - and both Navigator and I found it entertaining enough to record clips on our phones. With a bit of deterrent supervision by a transport police officer (and following a couple of lectures and a booze confiscation by the train's conductor), the lads departed. Navigator and I had a nice, somewhat sporadic conversation until late in the trip, when we were joined by another group of drunken chavs from Inverurie who promptly poured a bottle of "Fanta" - they admitted that it was mostly vodka - into a couple of huge cups. Apparently, Scottish law has recently changed to prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages on trains after 10:00 PM. That original constable, now joined by a second constable, immediately knicked one of the lads. Apparently they'd all lied to the copper about their beverage's alcohol content when coming onboard the train. The guy who got picked up was very distraught, but it was tough to feel too bad for him.

Once we'd arrived back in Aberdeen, Navigator and I made our way back home as quickly as we could in order to get rested up for the next day. We had a pretty big agenda for Sunday, to match our big agenda for Saturday.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Features (and Meeting Stonehead!)

I try to keep a cache of posts plugged into Blogger so that I can just login in the morning, find the next post in the queue, and hit "Publish". This is great for my busy schedule, because unlike my original blog, I don't tend to spend an hour or two out of each day writing blog posts. One of the drawbacks, though, is that posts tend to be delayed - for example, I went to Shetland in early April, and I'm still not quite done with posts from that trip. We haven't even started on my trip down south to raise hell with Captain John! I say this because I had a fantastic weekend of sight-seeing, and I want to give a bit of a preview. The reason why will become apparent by the end.

A couple of weeks ago, while riding the bus, I met three law students from the States. When I meet Americans here in Aberdeen - it's counterintuitive, but we're a rare breed in this corner of Scotland - I tend to give them my card and say, with all sincerity, "We ought to get a drink." Anyway, the law student to whom I gave my card (we'll call her Navigator) E-mailed me, and was eager to go out on a pub crawl and see some stuff in the area since she and her coursemates had different ideas of what to see. I brought her out on a pub crawl with a bunch of the usual suspects. We wound up coming up with a plan for some weekend excursions, and executed accordingly. It will probably be a few days before I can get them written up, at which point I'll probably post them all in short order. Here's a quick list.

Taking Inverness by Storm: Navigator wanted to go see some highland games while she was in Scotland. After a bit of a challenge sorting things out, we ended up taking Inverness by storm and attending the Inverness Highland Games.

RAF Edzell: My buddy Chops used to be stationed at RAF Edzell, and wanted me to go get a couple of pictures of his old digs. So, we did.

Balmoral Castle: Navigator wanted to go see Balmoral Castle, the royal family's Scottish hunting lodge. So, we did.

Stonehead Croft: I've been following a blog called Musings from a Stonehead, and one of my goals has been to drop by and thank the blogger in the flesh. The reason why I'm posting this preview is because the man himself, who goes by Stonehead/"Stoney", has already posted about our visit. I'll obviously discuss the visit in more detail soon, but I wanted to publicly thank Stoney and his bride, "the Other Half/OH", for their hospitality. He was even gracious enough to pose for a photo - with the family's ubiquitous border terrier, Harvey - before Navigator and I got back on the road. I've been invited back for lunch, and that's an invitation I intend to honor - let's face it, Stoney's strapping young lads deserve an hour of unrestricted American Question Time! I'm already thrilled to have met Stoney and OH, and I look forward to getting to know them and the lads (and Harvey) a bit better.

In addition to these posts, I'll be writing on Aberdeen's public gardens (with pictures of all sorts of pretty flowers for the ladies out there), Aberdeen's major houses of worship, my weekend down south with Captain John and his lovely bride, and CN Homeboys's rock concert. There's a lot of content to squeeze in during my waning tenure here in Aberdeen, and a lot of it should be pretty interesting stuff. Stay tuned.

Debacle in Shetland: Fair Isle

As the MV Hjaltland passed by Sumburgh Head, the RGU professor and I were eagerly searching for Fair Isle. Fair Isle is considered the "most remote location in the United Kingdom", although "most remote location in the British Isles" might be more apt since the United Kingdom technically includes overseas territories like Tristan da Cunha (the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world), among others. That said, Fair Isle is pretty remote since regular travel there requires one to get to Shetland first, which is already a chore in and of itself. Anyway, we spotted an island in the distance, west of Sumburgh Head, but neither of us had a map available so we weren't able to figure out what island we were actually looking at. We were disappointed that the island in question was so far away.

In fact, the island we had been looking at was Foula. About two hours into the passage, the 1MC announced that we would be passing by Fair Isle shortly. It turned out that the ship had been pointed almost directly at Fair Isle, and although it should have been visible, our view from the stern observation deck was blocked by the ship's bridge. Once we approached Fair Isle, we were only a few hundred yards off its west coast - so close that once we reached the south end, we could see individual houses within the island's only community, and could have seen its inhabitants if any of them had cared to come out and wave at the ferry. (The ferry passes by daily, so I assume that they're sort of over it by now.) Fair Isle is known for its woolen goods and its bird observatory, which apparently attracts a bunch of transient volunteer workers. You can have an overhead look here.

Like Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle was settled by the Vikings. In all honesty, as we were passing by and I was taking pictures, all I could think about - probably informed by my bizarre experiences in Shetland - was how only a mongrel idiot would sail past Fair Isle and think to themself, "Hey, that looks like a great place to establish a colony!" It sort of makes you wonder whether the colonists were volunteers, or voluntold. The island apparently enjoys fairly mild temperatures, but having experienced the extreme wind you can get through Orkney, I can only imagine what it's like to live on a little scrap of rock in the North Sea with absolutely no shelter from the wind and the rain. I love remote, sparsely inhabited locations, and Fair Isle is too remote and sparsely inhabited even for my tastes. That said, I was thrilled at the opportunity to pass by it - honestly, how many people can say that they've seen Fair Isle with their own eyes? - and can add it to the list of things that I can brag about, but that I'll never feel obligated to do again, ever.

My adventure was almost finished, but not quite. There was one last treat in store...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Songs That Remind You 10: Psy Special Edition!

There's no question that the biggest single of 2012 was Gangnam Style by South Korean phenom Psy. I heard it for the first time a month or so before I left the States for Aberdeen, but it's been a staple of my experience here. We heard it (and I danced to it!) during the bowling night, I rocked out to it in Orkney, and I even heard it while I was failing to get back up to Unst on my second day in Shetland. So how could I neglect to include it in this list? I associate it with my apartment back home, but moreso than that, I associate it with some of my most interesting experiences in Scotland.


A while ago, Psy released his follow-up to Gangnam Style, entitled "Gentleman". It hasn't gotten the kind of attention that Gangnam Style got, but it's kind of a catchy song with an entertaining video.


I also saw another Psy video recommended on the sidebar while watching Gangnam Style. Before most people in the West had even heard of Psy, he and a bunch of his countrymen made a pretty raucous video highlighting Korean culture prior to the 2012 London Olympics. I think that the Olympics are a colossal waste of time and money, but this video's pretty cool.


And finally, Psy's female counterpart in the Gangnam Style video features more prominently in this video, which is... Uh... I don't know, a Gangnam Style remix? You'll just have to watch it to understand what I'm talking about.


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey, sexy lady, indeed. Thank you, Psy, for making my time in Aberdeen that much more... International?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ten Thousand Hits!


Yesterday, this blog hit a milestone - ten thousand pageviews! I'm sure plenty of those are mine, but certainly not ten thousand of them. I was fortunate enough to be working on a post yesterday when the count was 9997, I checked back a few minutes later and it was 9999, and after another couple of minutes I refreshed again and there it was. I think that whoever the lucky visitor was had taken an interest in either my Glaswegian Anecdote, or in the Victorian Royal Cypher. Who knows, maybe it'll hit fifteen thousand before I pack up and head back to the States?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Glaswegian Anecdote

Many people will know the name "Billy Connolly". Connolly is probably Scotland's most famous comedian. Americans will know him from his role in the last season of Head of the Class, his short-lived show Billy, and his role as Il Duce in The Boondock Saints and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. Last year, while I was getting ready to come to Scotland, I stumbled upon this clip of Billy doing stand-up.

Update: Some wanker has disabled embedding on that clip. You can watch it at this link. Trust me, it's worth your time!

Billy (a Glaswegian himself) was talking about the 30 June 2007 Glasgow International Airport terrorist attack. During the attack, several airport workers and bystanders including a guy named John Smeaton set upon the attackers. Here's an interview with Smeaton from after the attack.


Glaswegians have a reputation for being pretty rough folks. When I was in Scotland in 2004, a friend of mine cautioned me not to go to Glasgow "because you'll get stabbed". I ended up going to Glasgow for just one night to meet some logistical needs, and I found the Glaswegians to be some of the friendliest and most helpful people I've ever met. I'm hoping to make a return to Glasgow before I leave Scotland. Who knows, I may run into two of my favorite Glaswegians, Billy Connolly and/or John Smeaton.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 7

I've been making slow progress on my dissertation, but it's been progress just the same. I'm in a really tedious phase, as I'm going through a number of different sources to pull information out in snippets and tidbits to illustrate one section or another. A few days ago, on my way to Paris, I read The Jebel Akhdar War Oman 1954-1959 by John B. Meagher. Next on the agenda are Victory in Hades: The Forgotten Wars of the Oman, 1957-1959 and 1970-1976; The Insurgency In Oman, 1962-1976; Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret; Language, Culture, and Army Culture: Failing Transformation; Irregular Warfare, Village Stability Operations and the Venture Capital Green Beret; Cultural Awareness and Language Proficiency: Critical for Regionally Aligned Forces; and The Third Way of COIN: Defeating the Taliban in Sangin. There's a lot of material.

My goal is to compare and contrast the campaign in Dhofar with the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'm leaning more toward Afghanistan on that effort, since Afghanistan is the campaign that's still going, and it's the one that's a closer corollary to the austere conditions of Dhofar in the 1970's. I've been trying to keep abreast of the situation in Afghanistan for years, so I have a lot of material to draw from. Some of the items I've found most informative over the years have been Michael Yon's Online Magazine, The Texan Who Would Be King by 1LT W.M. Treadway, and In These Deserts: War Stories From Afghanistan by Nathan Bradley. There have also been some great documentaries over the years: Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Ross Kemp: Back on the Frontline, Restrepo, Young Soldiers, Commando: On the Front Line, and John D. McHugh in Afghanistan. I've been reviewing a number of these sources for one purpose or another.

I'm pleased to have had a few excellent teachers in high school, and a few excellent professors in college, and a couple of fantastic bosses in the real world, and they've made me pretty damn good at this - and given me an unorthodox toolkit compared to many of my peers. I'm just young enough to have learned how to write a research paper the old-fashioned way. I've been spending less time in the SOC lately, though the home stretch will be spent in there. What I've been doing lately is sitting in Starbucks, using my Kindle and my two secret weapons: 3'x5" note cards, and a Moleskine squared classic journal. What I've been doing lately is picking a topic - for example, field conditions for deployed troops - and writing it into the journal for later transcription. I type much faster than I write by hand, so this is actually advantageous because it's enforcing brevity on a project that's already going to run way past the maximum word count. For example, those Thesiger quotes were transcribed into the journal. Between the Kindle, the Moleskine, and the note cards, it's kind of nice not to be chained to a desk as I work on this beast.

More to come.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Strategic Studies Archive, Part 1

Over the years, I've repeatedly made electronic archives for one purpose or another. As an undergrad, I made an archive CD-ROM of ancient history resources that I then distributed to my friends and classmates. I've worked to expand it over the years, but it's always a work in progress - and quite prone to "mission creep" as I find additional resources I'd like to include. In recent years, I've assembled several archives and databases for various risk management disciplines, and one of my unfinished projects at present is an overall risk management archive. In the mean time, though, I've started work on a Strategic Studies archive - possibly for a CD-ROM, but probably big enough that it'll require distribution by flash drives - to use myself, and to distribute to my coursemates.

I organize everything in a semi-coherent fashion, as far as files and directories go. Navigation is by way of HTML menus that I code myself - they're simple, but effective. My past archives have followed a pretty specific format, including the following sections:

  • Main Menu: Pretty self-explanatory. There's no actual content on this page, just links to the other sections. On the main menu, I aim for simplicity.
  • Topical Index: I like to figure out various categories for the content in my archives, and then code a special index. This also allows for files in various categories to be listed together for easy access if they're related for one reason or another.
  • Documents and References: This is actually the majority of any given archive. The various files I've collected for one purpose or another are accessible through links that are divided into their major categories, either by location within the archive or by topic. It's similar to the topical index, but there's less or no cross-referencing of files or resources from multiple sections.
  • Additional Resources: In some of my archives, there have been other resources that didn't fit within the other sections for one reason or another. I'm not sure that I'll have anything with this particular archive.
  • Training Materials: On my prior archives, I've included either materials, or links to materials, that provided various training and certification options. That probably won't fit for this particular archive, either.
  • Links: Pretty self-explanatory. I've assembled a lot of links on a variety of topics that will be relevant to me and my colleagues for one purpose or another.
  • About: I also tend to include a short section about the archive that notes who designed and compiled it (me), and includes contact information.

    The immediate purpose of the archive is to provide a point of reference for me and my coursemates to use, both for drafting our dissertations over the summer and for future projects in which we may be involved once we rejoin the work force. Additionally, I'd like to streamline it for possible use as a marketable project at some point in the foreseeable future.

    Once I complete the archive, I'll post an update outlining the various sections, and I may include some of the links for everyone's situational awareness. I expect the project to be well worth the effort, even if I wind up being the only one to use it.
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013

    Published!

    CN Odin and I are published authors! At the behest of The Director, Odin and I expanded our hugely successful team project for Strategic Theory into an article and submitted it to Small Wars Journal. We found out this week that it would be published, and it was posted to SWJ a couple of days ago. We received several positive comments on the site itself. We also made the event known to our coursemates, and received the following accolades on Facebook:
    Hey you! That's right, you. Is your counter-insurgency campaign running into trouble? Are those pesky insurgents ruining your nicely laid plans? Then head on over to the Small Wars Journal, where you can find out how to fix the situation in an excellent article by Tom and [CN Odin]!
    - CN Slapshot

    Big congratulations to [CN Odin] and Tom on getting published in one of those academic journals that I hear so much about.
    - CN Ness
    This is certainly a feather in both of our caps. I'm not sure how it improves Odin's prospects for post-program employment, but it should help in my quest of finding something to keep me occupied once Operation Highlander draws to a close.

    Clean livin'!

    Saturday, July 13, 2013

    Island Paradise: Radio Orkney and Stoats


    On Friday morning, I awoke to a picture of a deceased mustelid posted on Radio Orkney's Facebook page. The picture featured the following caption:
    Scottish Natural Heritage has renewed its appeal for folk to contact them with any sightings of stoats in the county. Earlier this week a cat managed to catch and kill a stoat near the airport and SNH say they'd like to hear from anyone who sees a stoat either alive or dead. The stoat was a juvenile which has confirmed information being gathered by SNH on the spread of the animals in the county. Most stoat sightings seem to be concentrated around a few hotspots including Wideford Hill, the airport and Hobbister in Orphir. Gail Churchill from SNH said that stoat sightings had increased earlier in the year and were on the increase now as well. She's asked anyone who sees a stoat to report it to them and if a dead stoat is found to note its position and if possible photograph it. The SNH number is 87 5302
    As with everything about Orkney, I found it interesting; but in this case, I was a bit confused. The Radio Orkney station manager happens to be an acquaintance of mine, so I was surprised to see the following post - with that same picture - in my Facebook news feed a couple of hours later:
    Apparently in the news headlines this morning I said that a local cat had "nailed" a stoat and killed it. This unconscious slip has been interpreted by some as me expressing tacit approval of the actions of the cat. One person has suggested that it sounded as if I was almost congratulating the cat. I would like to make it clear that I would never under any circumstances express a personal opinion while reading a news bulletin - that would be quite wrong.

    PS. If the cat is reading this "Good Puss, Clever Puss"
    Of course, this left me even more curious than I'd already been. The easiest solution? Get on the horn with my old buddy, Captain John, who lived in Orkney for most of his professional career. We enjoyed the following exchange, plus a bit more that's not fit to print.
    Me: So, I get the impression that Orcadians don't care for stoats?
    Captain John: I do not know about what you are talking. Stoats are not indigenous to the Orkney Islands so of course they won't like them. Is there a specific context for your observation?
    Me: According to Radio Orkney, a cat caught and killed one, but I've been unable to decipher why Scottish Heritage was reportedly on about it. Your response has been more enlightening than R.O. or the station manager's FB, which just assume (probably rightly) that everyone within the sound of their voice is in on the story.
    Captain John: Ah! I am enlightened. Scottish Natural Heritage would be concerned because it'll be the first stoat they've found there and they'll be worried there's a breeding pair because of the threat to the birdlife.
    So, there you have it! Stoats are, then, neither indigenous to Orkney, nor welcome visitors like me or Captain John. (One could make the same observation about the cat that killed the stoat in the first place, but that's another discussion altogether.) You learn something new about Orkney all the time!

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    Around Aberdeen: Rainbow Over King Street


    A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for a bus on King Street. I looked up, saw a rainbow, and decided to take a picture. So, here's a picture of a rainbow over Aberdeen. It's sort of an interesting contrast here in the Granite City.

    Debacle in Shetland: Leaving Shetland

    As my debacle in Shetland drew to a close, I decided to get to the ferry terminal early - not generally a good sign. I was eager to leave Shetland and get back to Aberdeen. In the intervening two months, my opinion of Shetland has softened a bit - it's not that bad. Regardless, there wasn't anything that I could get to and back in just two hours, so I camped out in the terminal with my gear and my Kindle until it was time to board. At that point, I got an Orkney flag T-shirt in the gift shop, secured my gear in my cabin, and then went up to the observation deck. I wanted to watch as I left Shetland.

    Having taken pictures while we were approaching Lerwick, it was interesting to take more pictures thirty-six hours later after such unexpected adventures. As we moved away from the ferry terminal in Lerwick harbor I saw a one or two small ferries running from the Shetland mainland across to Bressay, and we passed back by the Bressay Lighthouse that I'd taken some pictures of before. As we moved south, past a massive cemetery on the south end of Lerwick, and got into more open waters, we passed a small red ship I'd seen on my way down to Sumburgh Head and going back north again. I have no idea what its purpose was, or why it was anchored off Gulber Wick, but it made for a decent picture.

    As I stood on the weather deck, chatting with a professor from the Robert Gordon University - the University of Aberdeen's arch rivals, for some reason - we passed by Sumburgh Head, where I'd been just a few hours before. We had a great view, across the lowland between Sumburgh Head and the hill at the southeast end of Sumburgh Airport, of Foula, the most remote of the islands of Shetland. We had a lot of wind, and it was quite cold, but it was worth it to get some great pictures that I hope never to have another opportunity to take again.

    I was glad to leave Shetland behind, and I can't count it among my favorite vacations of all time. Even so, I'm glad that I went. Most people, even those who bother to travel, don't go to places like Shetland. Shetland is remote, it's not especially exciting, and it lacks many of the charms that Orcadians take for granted. Even so, there's a special quality to a place like Shetland, something that can't be replicated. Even in our modern, connected world, it still takes effort to get to a place like Shetland. For all of the jokes about shagging sheep, the folk in Shetland are all accommodating and friendly, and that's something you don't get in, say, Beirut. Even though my trip became a sort of running joke, I'm still glad that places like Shetland exist - in fact, I'd like to settle down in a place like Shetland. Just... Not Shetland.

    Of course, my adventure wasn't yet complete. More to come.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013

    Scottish Nationalism and Ferry Woes

    One of the reasons why I've become so skeptical of the prospects for Scottish secession is that I pay attention to what's going on in Orkney and, to a lesser degree, Shetland. Over the course of the last few months, ferry service to the Northern Isles has become a point of contention. The Scottish Government oversees what's called the lifeline service from Scotland to Orkney and Shetland, which entails two ferry routes to Orkney (one across the Pentland Firth from Scrabster/Thurso to Stromness, and the other from Aberdeen to Kirkwall) and one (Aberdeen to Lerwick) to Shetland.

    Last year, the Scottish Government considered bids from several companies, including Serco, Streamline Shipping, and the incumbent Northlink Ferries. The bidding process was seen by the Islanders as being inconsistent, and there was a widespread belief that no consistent standard was applied when reviewing the individual bids. Serco, a company best known for its administration of British prisons, won the bid, and quickly announced a reduction of the services previously provided under Northlink Ferries' stewardship. On June 20th 2013, the BBC Radio Orkney Facebook page posted the following item:
    Streamline Shipping plans to claim compensation for the money it spent bidding for the Northern Isles ferry routes. The contract was awarded to Serco Northlink last spring but Streamline claimed the selection process hadn't been properly handled by the Scottish Government. Now, the company has taken advice and believes it has a case to claim back the money it spent on the process.
    Judging from various comments on the BBC Radio Orkney Facebook page, and letters to the BBC Radio Orkney Postbag program, the Islanders didn't actually have any input in the process. Orkney and Shetland are represented in the Scottish Parliament by Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, respectively, both of whom are members of the Scottish Liberal Democrat party - this is to say, they're Members of the Scottish Parliament, but not cabinet members in the Scottish Government. The Scottish Minister for Transport and Veterans is Keith Brown, a junior member of the SNP. In essence, that means that even the representatives for Orkney and Shetland had minimal say, if any, in the bidding process - the entire process was administered by the SNP in Holyrood, rather than consulting with the local councils in Kirkwall and Lerwick.

    The Northern Islanders haven't been thrilled with that. Perhaps the most prominent example of their disappointment with Holyrood's handing of the ferry situation was in April and May, when the MV Hamnavoe (the ferry that sails between Scrabster/Thurso and Stromness) broke down and had to be repaired, a process which took several weeks and left the Orcadians without a lifeline service across the Pentland Firth. The MV Hrossey and MV Hjaltland, which share the Aberdeen/Kirkwall/Lerwick route, don't call at Kirkwall on a daily basis. Pentland Ferries, a private company that runs a catamaran service from South Ronaldsay to Scotland, picked up much of the slack, but Orkney business and tourism took a hit. For their part, the Scottish Government (SNP):

  • failed to secure a replacement ferry for the duration of the Hamnavoe's repairs;
  • charged Serco Northlink a penalty for each day that the Hamnavoe was out of service - funds which apparently didn't benefit Orkney; and
  • neglected to provide any subsidy to Pentland Ferries during the period in which the private carrier was picking up the slack for the Hamnavoe.

    A group of Orcadians have formed an interest group to address these issues, an indication of a greater distrust in the Scottish Government (and the SNP by extension) and its commitment to properly ministering to Orkney's political needs. A further, non-ferry indication of this is a recent move by a combined lobby of the Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles councils to push for more local control over their own resources. This effort addresses Holyrood's lackluster administration of the energy resources, such as wind and tidal energy projects, that have arisen in the Isles in the last decade.

    My perception, based upon these and other issues, is that there's a widespread feeling in the Isles that the Scottish Government is asleep at the wheel whenever it comes time to address their needs. In fact, there have even been suggestions that, if the 2014 referendum produces a "Yes" vote (it won't), Orkney and Shetland could retain their ties to the United Kingdom. It's not exactly the level of confidence one would expect a small but prominent group of constituents to hold in a political entity whose designs on secession and sovereignty are at all credible. And let's put this in perspective: Orkney and Shetland have a combined population of about 42,000, while Scotland itself is slightly smaller geographically and with a slightly larger population than the American state of South Carolina. The Northern Isles are a small constituency, sure; but lifeline ferry service and administration of local energy resources seem like two pretty basic governance issues that the Scottish Government (SNP) has repeatedly bungled. As with the aforementioned defense issues, that betrays a disconcerting lack of national strategy from a political entity (the SNP) whose central qualification is allegedly its mandate and ability to govern a sovereign nation.

    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.
  • The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 6

    I've put together a Photo Bank. I'd like to include a few photos, both on the cover of my dissertation and at various points throughout. For example, Image #1 below will be used to illustrate the effective use of information operations by the counterinsurgent force in Dhofar. The rest - most of which are re-tasked from a list I kept for a work project a few months ago - will help to add some visuals to what will otherwise be a lot of text. Here's what I've got so far.

  • Image #1: British Propaganda - "The Hand of God Destroys Communism"
  • Image #2: Young Sultan Qaboos
  • Image #3: Young Sultan Qaboos
  • Image #4: Lance Cpl. Tyler Langford, anti-tank missileman, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, leads his pack mule during a hike at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Oct. 13, 2012. Langford used skills he learned in the Animal Packers Course, taught four times a year at MCMWTC. The 16-day course teaches Marines how to use animals in the region they find themselves in as a logistical tool to transport weapons, ammunition, food, supplies or wounded Marines through terrain that tactical vehicles cannot reach. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ali Azimi)
  • Image #5: Marines serving with Engineers Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, construct a new perimeter surrounding Camp Hanson in Marjah, Afghanistan using HESCO walls and concertina wire May 4, 2012. Combat engineers have torn down some of the fortified walls to shrink the base's perimeter. The Marines plan to reduce their base's guard posts in half by the end of their seven-month deployment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michael Cifuentes)
  • Image #6: 1st Lt. Michael Moore, platoon commander for 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, crosses paths with Djiboutian wildlife as he walks back to camp after taking part in assault climber training with his Marines in Djibouti, Aug. 29, 2012. The training is a part of a Training Force, or T-Force, package focused on primitive infantry skills. The 24th MEU is deployed with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. Central Command in the Navy's 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Petersheim)
  • Image #7: A Marine with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (2/7), inspects his vehicle on Forward Operating Base Now Zad, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2012. The Marines of 2/7 are currently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
  • Image #8: Marines assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, ground guide their vehicles on the way to provide security for an improvised explosive device (IED) post blast analysis near Forward Operating Base Now Zad, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 25, 2012. The Marines provided explosive ordnance disposal assets to assist an Afghan National Army unit whose truck struck an IED that resulted in several casualties. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
  • Image #9: Sgt. Julie Nicholson, Female Engagement Team leader, Marine Headquarters Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, shakes hands with an Afghan child during a mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Nicholson's team conducts searches of Afghan women and children and gains information from the women who are not permitted to interact with men outside of their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michele Watson)
  • Image #10: A soldier from 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, attached to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion the Rifles, patrols through a corn field in Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province.Photographer: Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Chandler, USN
  • Image #11: A Combat Logistic Patrol (CLP) consisting of EPLS (Enhanced Palletised Load System), Combat Support Tankers (CST), Support Vehicle Recovery (SVR), Mastiffs and Ridgebacks in convoy in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 1 Logistic Support Regiment (1 LSR) provides logistic close and general support to 20th Armoured Brigade, supplying and distributing everything British troops need. 1 LSR currently provides the Close Support Logistic Regiment (CSLR) in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 15. Its role is to provide logistic support through to all areas of Helmand Province by Combat Logistic Patrols. Photographer: Sgt Wes Calder RLC
  • Image #12: U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Brian Zamiska, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), pulls security with a U.S. Air Force working dog, Jan. 6, 2013, during a patrol with the Afghan Border Police in Tera Zeyi district, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alex Kirk Amen
  • Image #13: An Afghan National Army soldier and Soldiers of Combined Task Force 4-2 (4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division) provide security Dec. 6, here, as the commander of 205th Corps ANA briefs his International Security Assistance Force counterparts on the logistics of Operation Zafar. During the two-day operation, ANA soldiers cleared 22 villages in the Sperwan Ghar area and captured multiple improvised explosive device-making materials. The ANA planned, coordinated and executed the operation with minimal support from their ISAF partners. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div. Public Affairs Office
  • Image #14: Blackhawk helicopters fly to Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2012. DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen
  • Image #15: Supplies drop to U.S. Soldiers deployed to the mountainous Paktya province on Forward Operating Base Lightning, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2012. Military leaders coordinated the air drop to resupply the base when adverse weather made roads through mountainous areas too difficult to traverse. U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron Ricca
  • Image #16: U.S. Army Spc. Zackery Cely provides security from a tower on Forward Operating Base Lane in the Zabul province, Afghanistan, Oct. 5, 2009. Cely is assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson
  • Image #17: Soldiers from the Royal Army of Oman, the Oregon Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry Regiment, and the 125th Forward Support Company from Joint Base Lewis McCord, Wash., prepare for a briefing at the Rubkut Training Range in Oman, Jan. 22. The U.S. Army Central-sponsored event was designed to share knowledge and build diplomatic relations. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Cory Grogan, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
  • Image #18: Oregon Army National Guard Spc. Brian Corliss from the 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry Regiment, provides cover with other members of his squad and Soldiers from the Royal Army of Oman’s 11th Brigade, Western Frontier Regiment, during a squad assault training exercise, Jan. 24, at the Rubkut Training Range in Oman. The U.S. Army Central-sponsored event was designed to share knowledge and build diplomatic relations. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Cory Grogan, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

    As for this post's installment from the Quote Bank, I'm going with the words of General James N. Mattis. I had the pleasure of serving under General Mattis for several years, have met him several times, and was once photographed with him while wearing one of my kilts, as I demonstrated earlier. General Mattis, who recently retired, has been surrounded by controversy at one point or another in the recent past because he very carefully but honestly speaks his mind. I want to include multiple quotations from General Mattis in my dissertation, because I believe he and his remarks have demonstrated the best, most concise guidance about the state of contemporary and near-term warfare available. Here are some of the ones I've identified, several of which have already been integrated into my manuscript. Here's the "General Mattis" section from my Quote Bank:
    "I don't get intelligence off a satellite. Iraqis tell me who the enemy is."

    "I would also add that [Al Qaeda] was dumb."

    "I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all."

    "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

    "Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit. For the mission’s sake, our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in the past battles-who fought for life and never lost their nerve-carry out your mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world there is "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" than a U.S. Marine."

    "PowerPoint makes us stupid."

    "[No new technologies or weapons systems] would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But I could have used cultural training [and] language training. I could have used more products from American universities [who] understood the world does not revolve around America and [who] embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."

    "No war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote."
    That last quote may be used to illustrate one of my concluding points: first, that unilateral declarations of victory will not prevent irregular warfare adherents from visiting violence upon the West; and second, that if we don't sweat to implement the lessons of Dhofar and other campaigns in the coming years of nominal peace, our forces will pay for it in blood when they are next called on to wage proactive or reactive counterinsurgency. I have a great deal of respect for General Mattis, who was a great leader, one of the few true strategists in America's officer corps, and an excellent example of integrity in both philosophy and conduct.

    More to come.