Thursday, June 28, 2007

26 June, more email.

It must be a relief to get your Hotmail back; we depend so much on e-mail these days (to beat up a cliché). As for spam, which do you prefer: announcements from a UK contest org that you’ve won ₤1,000,000 or an invitation to be the long-lost relative of a deceased millionaire from Nigeria? I get a lot of spam: all types- Nigerian money, contest winner, and all types of medicines and treatments.

Your 126 degrees beats Virginia by a long shot. I was sitting here feeling sorry for myself after a grocery trip with the temperature in the mid-90s (and the interior of the car around 100 before the air conditioner got going). As we move into July and August, I may consider moving to Finland or Greenland - or Antarctica! The heat here is not unbearable. At least I am inside most of the time, with the computers. If you just keep hydrated, and don't over exert yourself in the outdoors, you get used to the heat eventually, after all, people have been living in this part of the world, for over 4000 years.

You’re probably lucky that the generators hum instead of clattering. At least you say that you can get to sleep easily (unless Jeopardy runs late?). The generator noise is bad, but you get used to it, it is the price you pay for having air conditioning. I am able to fall asleep fairly easily. Jeapordy is on Mon-Fri at 1230pm, and I never miss it. Most of the time I watch CNN,FOX,etc.

Too bad the Army doesn’t control your dress code. What’s wrong with loose, baggy clothing? It doesn’t sound short or labeled, and it would make sense to wear something that doesn’t hug the skin. The Army could care less what civilians wear on this base. My firm has put the law down, with regard to clothing, and we live with it.

The idea of non-stop flights between Baghdad and airports in the US surprises me, but I can see that it makes sense politically as well as in terms of convenience. Let’s hope the airport remains open. I haven’t read about any threats in that direction, but that doesn’t prove anything these days. The Baghdad air port has been open, since the US forces took it over back in 2002. The only civilian carrier flying in or out, is Royal Jordanian air lines. It is very important symbolically, and politically, to keep the air port open and functioning. The air port is in the Baghdad suburbs, and the road between the airport and downtown ,is very dangerous. Busses run with blck curtains on the windows, and only under armed escort.

What a convenience it must be to be able to order directly from the States. I’d consider being without books a major hardship. APO Mail is terrific, it is my "lifeline" back to the USA. The little micro-PX here is hardly adequate. I get personal care products from and I also get clothing and other personal items from the on-line stores. There is a fine library here on the post, and several crates of paperback books arrive every week. I order books from and as well. There’s been a lot of talk in the Washington Post lately about a biography of Hillary. Have you run across that? It’s not exactly flattering (though far from an attack), but I doubt that it will make any difference in the elections; so many people have already made up their minds. It way it looks at the moment, Obama has the more enthusiastic following, but Clinton has the stronger backing. For myself, I like what Obama has to say, but who knows how that would play out if and when he has to act according to his stated beliefs (not a reference to religion). Clinton is a little too political and veers too conveniently toward the middle of the road for my fancy. Thompson is making quite a splash, but who knows how that will work out. We’ve had actors in positions of political power before, but not any with political backgrounds, as he has. I have heard about the new biography of Hillary. I read a lot of biographies. I have just finished biographies of Tip O'Neill, Sam Rayburn, and Douglad MacArthur. I have ordered biographies of FDR, Truman, John Adams, and a new biography of Tip O'Neill. I study comparative religions as a pastime. I have just read "Religious Literacy-What every American needs to know about religion, but does'nt". When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I read extensively on Islam. I ordered a new copy of the Holy Qu'Ran, as well as the Hindu Scriptures" The Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Dhammapada.

I’m pretty comfortable in French (with a half Swiss, half Moroccan accent, in addition to my first French teacher being Russian) and have studied German and Italian, but I’d be in trouble if I had to hold an intelligent conversation in either of the latter two. Too bad Esperanto never had a real chance. I have a bunch of tapes on signing, but so far they haven’t gotten off my shelf; I need to find CDs. For reasons I’ve forgotten, I learned the alphabet in sign language back in grade school, but that’s it. Do you have a musical background? I’m supposed to have a talent for languages, though clearly I’ve never pursued it, and I’m told that a musical ear makes a big difference. My mother was a concert pianist (Juilliard graduate) till she married her first husband. I have some musical ability, but I never did much with it. I played the clarinet and the Bass clarinet in the school band. I also learned basic piano.

I wonder how Russian became so noun-happy while Chinese stayed so concise. Also, I wish we knew more about cuneiform worked orally, though languages have diverged so widely since then that I doubt it could tell us anything – back to the tower of Babel. English is such a mish-mash of languages that it’s a wonder there’s any consistency at all. We should all be grateful to Webster. The silent letters are just one more obstacle to logic, not to mention to different ways in which we pronounce the “ough” words and others. If you expect to be back in the States Sept/Oct of this year, does that affect your plans to stay in Iraq for another year, or would it just be a leave/vacation? You deserve to spend a few nights in your new house. I have put in a request for three weeks of personal leave in the Sept 15-Nov 30 time frame. It is a major hassle to get any time off here, because I work alone, and the firm must fly in a replacement to do the work while I am gone.


22 June 2007. Email from the USA

>Cloudless skies sound wonderful until you realize what they can entail. >It's >good that you know what signs indicate a need for fluid. I've never heard >of >dark urine as an indicator, but then I've never lived anywhere so hot and >dry. (Thailand was hot but humid, even in winter, and India (around Delhi) >and Nepal were entirely pleasant.) it sounds bizarre, but you must force yourself to drink water in this desert. The temp reached 126 yesterday, and the heat is dry with zero humidity. I spend as little time as possible outdoors. I have programmed the thermostat on my trailer air-conditioner to come on at 600pm, so that the trailer will be cool when I arrive at 700pm. > > > >It's good that you've trained yourself to shutter out noise. Given too many >years in busy editorial offices, I learned to do the same thing until I >reached a point where I could work comfortably in a boiler factory. I am still not used to noise. There are two 10-kilowatt generators about 100 yards from the trailer. They run 24 hours a day. I can usually get to sleep quite easily, but when I wake up at 0400am, I can hear them humming. > > > >This whole dress-code business is so nonsensical. I was with Unisys when >they first decided on casual Fridays and then all-week casual. Fine - dress >appropriately when it's appropriate for a business meeting, but for the >rest. no way. I suspect the influence of Joe McGrath, the CEO who came >after >Weinbach, who seemed to be a more open-minded, rational person. > The firm has a dress code for all engineers here in Iraq. And I can see their point. When an engineer has to meet with some Colonel, or some high-ranking civilian, you want to present a professional image. Too many of our guys were going "over the top", so the firm banned short pants, football team jerseys with numbers and team names, and loose-baggy clothing. I made some informal inquiries around here, and the Army doesn't care one way or another what the civilians wear. When I am climbing on a roof in 126 degree heat, I can wear anything I like, and the Army will not object. > >There's clearly an advantage to being a computer geek, especially if the >nearest town has no interest for you. Baghdad may have been interesting a >few years (or centuries) back, but it's not a place I'd care to visit these >days either. Baghdad is the last place I wish to go. Our firm does not permit any of us to use the airport there. I just found out that there are direct non-stop flights from Baghdad to Chicago. (There are other non-stop flights from Baghdad to USA destinations as well). The only civilian carrier flying in/out of Baghdad is Royal Jordanian. I suspect that the US military keeps the airport open, even with only one civilian carrier, as a political statement. It would be a propaganda bonanza, if the terrorists succeeded in closing the airport. > > >As best I can tell from the ancient maps I've tracked down on the Internet, >Tall'Afar is probably near Kish, which isn't of any particular importance >in >Sumerian history. So much for that idea - especially since you don't want >to >get involved in any "flak'n'kevlar" activities. Going off this post, to the civilian areas nearby is not on my list! I can see civilian buildings off in the distance, but I have no desire to visit any of them. > > > >I was going to make a joke about the unlikelihood of your being able to get >Amazon to send books to Iraq, but now I'm impressed. Do they send them >through a military address in the US? I'm trying to recall what my mother >had to do when she send packages to my brothers. That's clearly one good >thing about your posting - having time to catch up with your reading. Oh yes! We rely on APO mail. (Army post office). Anyone can send a letter or package to us here. You pay only the cost from your residence to the collection point at Fort Dix New Jersey. Then the packages/letters are placed on a military aircraft and sent here. You can mail almost anything that you can send through the US mail. NO lighter fluids or combustibles, etc. I get all kinds of books and videos from I also buy some personal care items from . I have done more reading in the past 6 months than in the past six years. I just finished reading biographies of Tip O'Neill, Sam Rayburn, and Douglas MacArthur. I have ordered biographies of FDR, Truman, and John Adams. > > > >It has to be difficult to find colleagues who share your interest in >politics - not to mention other areas in which Mensans enjoy debating. Are >you aware of any Mensans nearby? It isn't that hard to get a political discussion. We are watching the races with intensity. I think Hillary Clinton may go for all the marbles. If she can do all right in Iowa/New Hampshire, and then put forth a decent showing in Fla/Calif,etc. she can have the nomination. > > > >This next election certainly has an interesting field of candidates. Small >wonder Larissa hasn't decided yet. Before I start bashing candidates, I >should ask you where your party allegiances (if any) lie so that I don't >turn up the heat in your trailer with my comments. I am wide open when it comes to politics. I am watching everyone with interest. I like Fred Thompson, because I am from the south. I like McCains personal integrity and political independence, problem is he is too old, past the prime. Obama is a charismatic person, but so far he has shown little substance. Larisa is brand-new at this. She got citizenship in June 2005, and she watched the 2000 election with much interest. She will not get lathered-up about anyone. She may not even vote in 2008. Feel free to make any comment you like, maybe you even have a favorite. > > > >Kameel, as the son of an Egyptian (now a long-time American citizen) >married >to my very-New-England cousin, is fluent in Arabic, but I have no idea what >kind of clearance he may have had. Most Americans do better with languages >that use the same alphabet, which is why we have such trouble with Arabic, >Chinese, etc. Sometimes I think that if I had the classic one wish, I'd >choose the gift of tongues. The Tower of Babel was a very bad idea! Then >again, American English can drive learners daft with its inconsistencies >and >illogic - the various pronunciations of the "ough" words being only one >glaring example. I speak French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and I am a qualified American Sign Language interpreter (I do not have a certification, so I cannot interpret in court,etc). Language aptitude is inherent, some have it, some do not. I can handle the Russian Cyrillic alphabet fairly easily, both the printed form, and the cursive. Westerners generally can handle the alphabets, but the grammar and sentence structure are a hassle. Chinese has a very simple grammar, the entire rules can fit on one sheet of paper. Arabic has an incredibly complex grammar. Russian has 12 (twelve!) different words for "pencil" (and all nouns) depending on how the word is used in a sentence. True- English spelling is a tough nut to crack even for Americans. You see- Before Noah Webster, there were no rules. You would often see the same word spelled three different ways on the same page! Webster decided to standardize the spelling, and we went on from there. Personally, I cannot see the need for silent letters: Knight, Knife, Phlegm, etc. > > > >Being an American is something too valuable to lose - no matter how many >foreign countries we may have lived in. I'm with you there. I have been in Iraq for 22 months (except for three weeks in Moscow). I will not see the USA again until Sept/Oct 2007. It will be good to get back home.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

21 June 2007

HOT HOT HOT. The summer is here, and it is merciless. Not a cloud in the sky, and there will be no rain until December. I have been through two Iraqi summers, and one Saudi summer, and the heat never lets up. Just drink your water, and stay indoors when possible.

The firm changed my schedule, so now I must make a report at 0830am. I used to do the first report at 1000am, so basically, I have to forfeit 90 minutes of sleep. This is not a bad thing. Now, instead of getting up at 0900, I get up at 0730am. The morning heat is not too intense, and there is no line in the shower house. I just roll out, then stroll the primrose path to the shower house, take my shower, and then get dressed, and take the bus to the computer room.

I do the morning reports, then I can stroll over to the dining hall, and get a breakfast. They have not had a fresh egg since April. So I have not had any eggs since April. I just get a couple of bagels and some oranges and grapefruits, and some milk and juice.

By noontime, I have no interest in eating any lunch. I just watch Jeapordy at 1230pm, and then watch a little more TV, and then get back to the computer room, and monitor the systems. Fortunately, the equipment here is indestructible.

I took a class on how to be a mail clerk on Monday. I got my mail clerk ID card, and I keep it in my ID holder. I can get all UNISYS mail, anytime the post office is open. I have a couple of small items on the way from the USA. Fortunately, the order of personal care items, I ordered last month arrived on Tuesday. Now I have some deodorant, and some Alka-Seltzer, and Advils. I must keep a high level of personal cleanliness in the desert. I shower every day, and brush my teeth vigorously.

I have made a deal to purchase a satellite dish antenna. This is great, I already have a down-converter, and a decent TV set. I can relax in the trailer, and watch Jeapordy. HEE HEE!

I am still waiting to hear if I will get extended for a third year under the Iraqi sun. I like Iraq just fine, the company treats me fair, what's not to like? Besides, it is better to be working here, than unemployed back home. I still find it odd, that I have never spent even one night, in my own home! I bought a trailer, back in 1978, and lived in it for five years. But I have been living in apartments ever since. The first fixed home I ever bought was in Lorton VA in 2005, and I have never spent even one night there!

If I am approved for the third year, I will ask for vacation in Sept/Oct. Then it will not be too sweltering in Washington DC. Good Luck, if I can get this time off. If I am not approved for a third year, I will go back to my town-home and seek a job.

I am reading "Rayburn" the biography of the man who was the Speaker of the House for 17 years, longer than anyone else. I am sure he is spinning in his grave. I finished the biography of Douglas Mac Arthur last week. I am sure he is spinning in his grave, over this Iraq solution. He only understood victory, and there is no victory in this conflict.

Monday, June 18, 2007

From an Iraqi man interesting

I received this email, and it is a little difficult to follow, but interesting:

Hello brother
How are you doing?
I have many ideas regarding the situation in Iraq but the most important one is to release youth and people of iraq from islamic relegious guys (clerks) who control minds of young people specially illiterat by name of islam which is itself filled of conspiracies, hatness and killings alonge the history and push them to fight the development and kill innocents and fight US and coalition forces which are released us from sadam and by this they push iraqi people to work against its interests and trying to put a line to seperate people to shiite and sunni while both of these groups are living together since longe time and they are relative to each other but it is the interest of those clerks which demand separation because by this each of them can control partition group easily without interruption from the other side because here in iraq muslims sunni and shiite used to negotiate islam and criticize each other but not to a level of fighting and these debate bother ! clerks who fear of conversion of their followers to other side (most propabley from shiite to sunni because shiite sect constitute alot of gaps and is built on legends ) by this i find our problem is mainly relgion in origin and destruction of my country and killing of my people occure according to this relegion myth so in order to release people from this we should work to learn them that there is nothing holy in this world other than human life and those clerks are liers and all of the clerks who are living in the past are not holy guys and they are not a messengers from god in other world we should educate those illiterate and young to respect human being and working to undress all the lyings mentiond in islam about hatness of others and killing of others who diffrent from muslims and we can do this by establishment of paper or magazin talking about secularism to learn people about separation of islam from politic and social life as i t! hink secul;arism is the only way to safe iraqi people from sectarian v iolence and releasing people from clerk guys. Waiting for your opinion and comments
accept my best regards

Thursday, June 14, 2007

14 June 2007. An interesting email from a fan

I got an email from a reader this morning:

Hi there, I just wanted to tell you that I very much enjoy reading your blog and am especially interested in your accounts of daily life at your base in Iraq. Last week I signed up for Soldiers' Angels, a non-profit organization started by a soldier's mother when she heard that some soldiers did not receive any mail or support from home. I have been assigned a person at FOB sykes. I just completed my first letter to him and put it in the mail yesterday & am sending out a care package in a few days also. It would be helpful if i knew what is desperately needed, or even creature comforts so I do hope that he will let me know and if you can give me any ideas it would be greatly appreciated as well.Thank you and take care,AmandaPS- what kind of lightbulbs do you need?

I really have no idea, who is reading this blog, no one has to "check in". If what I put down here is interesting, then I am delighted!!

Fact is, we can always use "care packages" for the soldiers here. If anyone wants to donate toothpaste and hard candy, and shampoo, then send it to me, and I will distribute it at the Rec Hall.

My firm got renewed for the project, so they will be here for at least one more year. I do not know if I will get an additional year. I applied, for an additional year, but it has not been approved yet.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

6 June 2007

An ordinary day. Got up, took a shower, collected my clean laundry. Rode to the Rec Hall, did the reports. God bless the SAVI corporation, their computers are foolproof. Ran into James Bender from the warehouse yard, and he indicated that the system was fine there.

Got a lunch of a sloppy-joe sandwich and fries. My diet here is a train-wreck, but I take a multi-vitamin each day, to compensate.

Got a scare on Saturday morning. I went to the PX to purchase some vitamins, and my credit card was refused. "Call bank" came up on the screen. I called the bank, and someone has been using my credit card! They ran up $400 dollars worth of charges. I called one of the firms, and had 5 bad charges removed and credited. The biggest one was for $249, and the firm was not open. Will call them later.

I cancelled the credit card, and arranged for a replacement. Let's see how long it takes. Been waiting on my new checks since January. Larisa ran out of checks and did not order any new ones.

Went back to the Rec Hall after lunch, watched "O'Reilly". Did some net surfing, and I filed the afternoon reports. There is a new format for time reporting, and I filled out the time sheet.

Last night I saw "My super ex-girl friend", got laugh. Not much to laugh about here. The theater shows two films pernight because the light bulbs are expensive. I asked one of the lodges back in the USA to send us some new light bulbs. In a couple of nights, they will show "Hannibal rising", the beginning of the hannibal lecter series. People can't get enough of the cannibal.

The heat here is unbearable. When I get up in the morning, the heat has already begun. I walk back from the shower house, and I am already dry. There is no point in running the A/C all day in the empty hooch, so when I return at night, the hooch is an oven. Just open the door, and run the A/C full blast. Fortunately at night, the desert cools quickly. No need to run the A/C at night. But I can hear the humming of the generators all night long. My hooch is the last one in the row, and it faces the morning sun. By the time the sun rises, I am out of bed, and no need for the alarm clock. Sun, heat, loneliness. This is the desert of Iraq.

I have submitted my paperwork for a third year in Iraq. Approvals used to be automatic, but the firm has changed policy. They will review my work, and make a decision. The old senior engineer left the project and returned to the USA. He has returned to Iraq, and will be back on top again. I wish him luck! He approved my request for a second year, saying that I had done "exemplary work". A truer statement has never been uttered. I always do exemplary work for all of my employers. To work at a level less than 100% is unacceptable.

I am working an angle to get a CONEX container. They are in short supply on this base. But I might get lucky. I have also requested a cell-phone and air time. That is science fiction, the firm will never approve a purchase like that.