Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lost Languages

Before resuming my brief review of Afghani history, I should make a few comments concerning the Proto-Elamite and Indus Valley civilizations. Both cultures rose to prominence alongside the great civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China. Afghanistan lay at the crossroads of those cultures' trading routes. Although the Proto-Elamite and Indus Valley cultures had significant roles in the development of civilization, relatively little is known about them since their written languages have not been deciphered. The Proto-Elamite civilization developed one of the first written scripts (3050 BCE). This language is unlike Sumerian cuneiform (3300 BCE) even though the two cultures lived in close proximity. However, it is uncertain whether the Proto-Elamite spoken language was related to Elamite and no bilingual inscription like a Rosetta Stone exists. Currently, two elements are needed to decipher a written language: 1) Knowledge of the spoken language and 2) A sample of text translated into a known language or a substantial number of text samples and knowledge of the underlying culture. More than 1500 texts exist but they seem to be accounting/trade records; the text may not correlate well with the actual language. Proto-Elamite script was used over a far larger area than the kingdom of Elam. Samples have been found as far east as Afghanistan, which clearly indicates that trade extended into that region. In the case of the Indus Valley civilization writing, even worse problems prevent decipherment. Only very short samples of text exist in the form of carved stone stamps and insignia on pottery and metal objects. For whatever reason, they did not write on walls, tombs or statues, although it is likely they used some type of paper which has not survived the last 3800 or more years. In addition, the spoken language is almost completely unknown. Linguists might be able to work backwards from existing languages to obtain a "source" language but this is only theoretical. There is a great deal of interest in investigating this language since it may shed much information on the development of Indo-European languages. This lack of information is especially unfortunate since this culture was unique in several respects. Although they controlled an area larger than ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, their rulers did not build huge monuments to their own egos, possibly due to their somewhat more egalitarian society. This may explain why the civilization was not rediscovered by western scientists until 1921. Aristoboulus, an emissary of Alexander the Great, wrote of seeing ruins in 326 BCE, but no other historical record exists. In any case, they preferred to spend their time engaged in careful city planning, and building advanced drainage and sewage systems, granaries, docks, and harbors for their trading ships. Trade was apparently an important part of their economy and Indus Valley artifacts have been found in ancient Sumerian sites. I think there is a tendency to judge a "great" civilization by the size of the monuments that it erects. However, if I were the ruler of a nation, I'd build sewage systems to avoid epidemics before bankrupting the country by erecting large and useless pyramids. Source: Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson, 2002

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

In case you're wondering what's up . . .

T-lady has been reading my novel. Ain't she a sweetheart? Since it's humongous, she wants to read it all in one shot rather than come back to it every few days. At the rate she's reading, she should be finished by tomorrow, and back to blogging by Saturday. Doug (Mr. T-lady)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

T-lady's keppy hurts

Karen has been having bad migraines the last few days. Migraines that laugh in the face of Imitrex. She's planning on continuing her Afghani history; next up, Alexander the Great finds out he isn't well nigh invulnerable. I'll use this political platform to say one thing. George Bush needs to get on with his life. Preferably in the crappiest, most water bug-infested nursing home in Mississippi, cuz that's what he deserves. Thank you ;o) Doug

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Crossroads

Due to its geographic location, Afghanistan occupied a critical junction in the Asian trade routes, in particular the ancient Silk Road system. The Khyber Pass is one of the few roads through the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush region. The name, Hindu Kush, may have originated from the phrase, 'killer of Indians' due the high mortality rate of slaves who died en route to auction. At one point, the pass bottlenecks to less than 10 feet wide, creating an important strategic position for an invading army. The mountains range from 11,000 to 23,000 ft., making them almost impenetrable, particularly in antiquity. In comparison, Mt. Everest is 29,035 ft. Despite the rugged environment, archaeologic evidence shows that Afghanistan has been inhabited for approximately 100,000 years by humans and neanderthals. At Aq Kupruk in northern Afghanistan, there is evidence for domestication of plants and animals dating back many millennia. Remains of early villages date to 7000 B.C. Unfortunately, due to the decades of war, scientific investigation has been severely curtailed. To the west lies present-day Iran. By approximately 6000 B.C, the Iranian plateau, encompassing eastern Iran and Western Afghanistan, was widely settled by small farming villages. Southwest of the plateau was the Proto-Elamite civilization, lasting 3200 B.C. to 2700 B.C. , but with origins several millennia earlier, and the city of Susa, dating to 7000 B.C. To the west lay the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. South of Afghanistan lies the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the Mehrgarh archaeological site, 1, 2, which was settled approximately 7000 B.C. The inhabitants were eventually able to farm wheat and barley, raise domesticated animals, and make pottery, jewelry, and figurines. From the Balochistan settlements, the Indus Valley civilization was founded, 1, 2. The Indus River Valley civilization, 2800 B.C. to 1800 B.C., is also known as the Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley. Its earliest settlements date to 3500 B.C. Over 1,000 villages and cities have been discovered, encompassing Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan and India. This highly developed civilization had a huge trading network with Afghanistan, Persia, Mesopotamia and India. Since approximately 7000 B.C. and the birth of civilization, Afghanistan has occupied a strategic position for trade routes, invading armies, the spread of Islam, etc. Even today, Afghanistan is a geopolitical keystone. In the 1990s, Unocal was interested in building a natural gas pipeline beginning in Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, and ending in Pakistan. In the next few days, I'll be hitting the high points of the last nine millennia. Tomorrow: Alexander the Great nearly bites it at the Khyber Pass.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Working on a short history of Afghanistan

I'll start posting tomorrow starting with prehistoric Afghanistan which dates back to 100,000 BC.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Nothing Today, Tarantula Feeding Day

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What will it take?

Bush's poll numbers on Iraq have spiraled down inexorably. In particular, the recent deaths of 14 Marines from a powerful roadside bomb have eroded public support of the Iraq War. Like the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, huge explosions and casualties can change U.S. policy. If there are successful bombings and mass casualties, the war will become more and more unpopular. Bush will be forced to change course in Iraq. Does that mean I want to see Americans die in battle? No. I've seen the photos that the mainstream media will not publish. I know what an IED will do to arms, legs, and faces, the areas unprotected by body armor. But, I wonder if anything less than widespread public outrage will stop the delusions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the neocons. The general public won't pay attention if there aren't spectacular killings. Remember when the death of one soldier would be prominently displayed in the news? Would that even get reported today? If U.S. soldiers and Marines die at the rate of 1-2 per day, the war will just keep on going indefinitely. How long until it goes past 2,000, past 3,000, past how many more until it ends? How many Iraqi civilians will die? How many children will suffer the agonizing brutality of war? How many of our civil rights will go down the toilet? What will happen to our economy? Will al Qaeda strike in the U.S.? Bush is creating huge numbers of guerrilla fighters with extensive experience in bomb making and urban warfare. It isn't very hard to attack a subway system or a crowded mall. Must it take some spectacularly awful atrocity to end Bush's idiocy in Iraq? I hope very, very much this will not happen, but I fear for the worst.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Two Short Posts Today

Finally Questioning Pentagon Reports on Iraqi Insurgents? From an Aug. 8, 2005 article from UPI: "If the U.S. Army and its Iraqi allies are killing [and detaining] as many insurgents as reports indicate they are per month, why is the insurgency intensifying instead of collapsing? " For God's sake, didn't the MSM realize the Pentagon was spewing pure crap for the last two years? I've never believed goverment statistics on the number of so-called Iraqi insurgents killed or captured. Finally, someone took the trouble to write about it. The reporter, Martin Sieff, takes care not to baldly accuse the U.S. of killing and detaining innocent civilians but I think that's exactly what is occurring. There's been more than a few accusations of unwarranted and/or illegal detentions. If the U.S. is torturing and murdering innocent civilians in Iraqi and Afghani prisons, how can you trust them to tell the truth about civilian casualties on the battlefield? Commemorations of Rascism on the Anniversary of the Nagasaki Bombing I hate Dec. 7th, Aug. 6th and Aug. 9th. I'm Japanese-American and I've had to put up a lot of rascist bullshit, particularly on those days. Guess what. I'm not responsible for what Japan did during World War II. I'm not responsible for the trade deficit or the fact that Japanese cars are better than American cars. Yet, somehow, people feel compelled to argue with me over those issues. Even some relatively intelligent people have done it, which points out that prejudice can infect nearly anyone. On a few occasions, people have spontaneously decided to tell me about Japanese atrocities during WWII; excuse me, but I'm fairly well educated and I already know about it. Those war crimes are often used to rationalize the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 'Japan deserved it because of the Rape of Nanking and Pearl Harbor'. Too bad those Japanese civilians bore little responsibility for those actions. The media always presents documentaries and news reports on the Aug. 6th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing but,to avoid accusations of sympathizing with the enemy, they always feel compelled to trot out the usual stories of Japanese war crimes. Exactly how does one atrocity excuse another? P.S. Please support Cindy Sheehan and her protest against Bush and the Iraq War.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Baghdad Rambo

Frequently, human males overdose on testosterone, especially the now ubiquitous Hollywood variety. That makes them susceptible to stupid, macho fantasies. They don't even have the intelligence of male tarantulas who know they should run away from the large, toothy shadow that DOESN'T have good (or amorous) intentions. The machismo stereotype has probably existed since time immemorial with groups of neolithic hunters bragging about their hunting prowess and the mastodon that got away, continuing through Greek warlords claiming to be the sons of Zeus, and finally arriving in blockbuster films with muscle-bound, steroid-swigging, action stars whose "stunts" are the product of CGI effects. These manly men conquer armies single-handed. The hero needs a suitable villain, one with equal proficiency. And if he doesn't exist, you gotta make him up. Have you heard about Juba, the Baghdad Sniper? He's killed or injured dozens of U.S. soldiers over the past year or so, becoming something of a legend for his skill. So, who is this highly trained expert marksman? A former Republican Guard soldier from Saddam's elite forces? Apparently, he's a former calligrapher and shepherd who deserted from the Iraqi Army several years ago. He picked up his expertise from web searches, playing video games and watching 'Enemy at the Gates', 'The Deer Hunter', and 'JFK'. This is hardly the first time the enemy has been romanticized. For example, the Viet Cong were acclaimed for their hit and run tactics, and the vast tunnel systems they built which enabled them to plan their operations. This elusive and deadly enemy was scared to death of the U.S. Marines who were viewed as gigantic, powerful and deadly fighters. Obviously, it is easy to inflate the abilities of your enemy; your allies are a different matter. During the siege of Tora Bora, the U.S. decided to pay Afghani warlords to capture al Qaeda fighters rather than risk U.S. troops. Afghan mercenaries were less than impressed by U.S. Special Forces who they considered to be cowardly for showing fear. I don't believe that U.S. Special Forces are inordinately fearful; the accusation of cowardice may be more a question of a cultural misunderstanding rather than courage. However, the Afghani people do have a 2300-year history of bravery in battle going back to Alexander the Great's invasion in 328 BC. So, to steal from Sun Tzu, understand your enemy, understand yourself and understand your allies. Since we did't understand the Iraqis or the Afghani people, we were at least half-way screwed from the moment we invaded their countries. Bush has completed the process by continuing our ignorance so now we're totally screwed.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Dubya Plays Limbo

How low can he go? The Ap/Ipsos poll, undertaken Aug. 1-3 , showed support for the Iraq War at 38%; previous polling this summer showed support in the low 40s. Newsweek's poll, Aug. 2-4, had a whopping 61% of the public disapproving of his handling of the war. 34% approved, down from 41% a month ago. 18 U.S. soldiers died on Aug. 3rd which is likely to have affected the Newsweek poll to some extent. The Iraqi insurgent groups have access to media reports; undoubtedly, they know how the U.S. public is reacting. I'm wondering if they're planning another big attack.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Weapons of Mass Delusion

Where did the phrase 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' originate? During the Cold War no one ever used that histrionic phrase in television or newspapers to describe nuclear weapons. It only came into common usage during Bush's public relations campaign to drum up support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I started my research with Wikipedia and discovered it was first used to describe the aerial bombardment of Guernica, Spain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The weapons used were conventional aerial bombs; the amount of damage was massive, not the type of weapon. After World War II, the United Nations categorized nuclear weapons as a type of WMD and the phrase then became common in arms control discussions as a general term encompassing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. However, there is no consensus on a precise definition in the diplomatic community which renders the word useless for any type of international agreement. For example, a good arms control treaty must contain very exact language describing all details. A vague term like WMD cannot be used in such a document or, for that matter, any other type of detailed and substantive discussion. Overly dramatic terms are often used in politics and the media by demagogues who wish to curtail rational discussion. There's even a contest to judge such phrases. In 2003, "Lake Superior State University issued its 28th annual ‘extreme’ List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness", which included WMD. When I first heard the phrase from an ex-alcoholic and cocaine addict, I thought, "Doesn't this sound like an hysterical rant that's designed to frighten and coerce? Why is anyone taking this seriously? Show me some evidence and a detailed analysis, and then explain why no other nation except the U.K. is backing up these statements." Unfortunately, WMD seems to have permanently entered common everyday usage. I briefly watched part of a documentary that ridiculously described a WWII Japanese submarine as a weapon of mass destruction. This versatile phrase seems perfectly designed to demonize an enemy and his weapons. How rovewellian. P.S. Happy Hiroshima Day.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nothing Tonight

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Road to Baghdad

If you watch the news, you must have seen reports detailing the deaths of 14 Marines on Aug. 3rd when a roadside bomb destroyed their amphibious vehicle. The public has become jaded by the steady stream of U.S. casualties but yesterday's attack was unusual. Besides the large numbers killed, using this vehicle seemed like an odd choice for the Marines. The AAVP7A1 armored assault amphibious vehicle, aka Amtrack or Amtrac, is designed to carry soldiers from troop ships to beach landings. The lack of any water did not deter the Marines from using this transport; the military simply does not have enough appropriate vehicles for Iraq's environment. Unfortunately, the Amtrack is more vulnerable than the Bradley Fighting Vehicle due to lighter armor. Not only did the blast kill 14, the entire vehicle was overturned. Photos are posted here. Iraqi insurgents have steadily grown more sophisticated in their attacks, especially in the manufacturing and tactical use of IEDs. The Amtrack weighs approximately 25 tons, which demonstrates the power of the blast. Previously, insurgents attacked an Amtrack on May 11, 2005, killing two Marines. There may have been other attacks against this type of vehicle but it is quite tedious to compile detailed lists of dead and wounded. The humvee weighs approximately 0.5 tons (9800 lbs.). Even the armored version has been successfully attacked on numerous occasions. The Stryker Infantry Vehicle weighs 17 tons. Four soldiers died on April 28, 2005 from an IED. This is a new vehicle which may replace the humvee to some extent. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle weighs 25 tons. An Army staff sergeant was killed Nov. 8, 2003 when an IED hit his vehicle. The M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank weighs weighs 70 tons. On Jan. 10, 2005 an Abrams tank was destroyed, killing two and wounding four. Taking out a heavily armored 70-ton tank is not easy. Even if these tanks were impregnable, they cannot be used indefinitely in a civilian setting. The tanks are too heavy and will tear up roads, bridges, etc. When I first saw a humvee, I thought they were ridiculous vehicles. In order to use the machine gun, the unprotected soldier must stand up in the hole in the roof and expose himself to enemy fire. Why not just paint a target on your helmet to make it easier for insurgents firing RPGs? Obviously, none of these vehicles are perfect but the humvees are a travesty.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Lies That Distort and Kill

For those who are interested in Rovewellian techniques, Republican talking points commonly utilize two logical fallacies, the Strawman argument and ad hominem tu quoque. In the Strawman argument, you mistate and distort your opponent's position, attack the revision, and then claim you have won. For example, Gore introduced legislation that was vital to the development of the internet. The Republicans said Gore claimed that he invented the internet and therefore he was a liar and self-promoter. The ad hominem tu quoque logical fallacy uses hypocrisy to "refute" the argument. I.e., your argument must be false because you do it too. When Bush and his minions are caught in a lie, their supporters immediately attack Clinton's statements concerning Monica Lewinsky. In other words, it doesn't matter if the Bush Administration's lies resulted in 100,000s of deaths in Iraq because Clinton said he didn't have sex with Lewinsky. The links to Wikipedia give a fuller explanation of these techniques and other variations.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Oil for Blood

Today, Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported: "The bodies of the dead Nigerian villagers hadn't yet grown cold when a navy captain presented Chevron with a bill: 15,000 naira, or $165...". The Jan. 4, 1999 raid by Nigerian soldiers killed an estimated 74 civilians, giving Chevron the bargain price of $2.23 per dead body. However, Chevron supplied the helicopter and boats used in the attack so presumably the soldiers' only expenses were the bullets. Nigeria has been severely criticized for the past decade by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc. for human rights abuses in the oil-rich Niger River Delta. Although it has been obvious for some time that oil companies have aided the government and profited from the exploitation, Chevron apparently took it one step farther and gave direct logistical support to the soldiers. Chevron's involvement has been known since 1999. However, due to a federal lawsuit filed by the victims, the company has been forced to turn over documents. I googled the mainstream media and none of them are carrying the story except, of course, the Knight Ridder news chain.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Declaring Victory?

According to this Newsweek article, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and "the Pentagon [have] developed a detailed plan in recent months to scale down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 80,000 by mid-2006 and down to 40,000 to 60,000 troops by the end of that year". Guess what's wrong with this picture. The Iraqi Army and police force have been widely criticized as unprepared to take over security duties. Given the grim picture of a well-entrenched and dedicated insurgency and the threat from extremist-controlled militias, how is it possible to withdraw troops and maintain some security? It isn't. The problem is the U.S. has no other option. A few months ago, the Pentagon announced they would draw down most of the reservist and guard units by the end of this year due to a mandated two year limit on deployment. These units comprise about 40,000 soldiers. The Army said they would reshuffle their regular active-duty units to make up the shortfall. That's a good way to grind the troops into the ground by forcing one tour-of-duty after another after another. As it is, some Army soldiers are on their third tour of duty with some Marines on their fourth. Attentive readers may have noticed that recruitment is in the toilet. At the current rate, the Army will be 7,000 recruits short of their goal by September. That isn't even taking into account the likelihood that many of those recruits will not make it through basic training. The military has dramatically reduced their standards which means more recruits will have questionable arrest records, drug and alcohol problems, lack of education, mental health issues, etc. What will happen when the U.S. soldiers start to leave? If the U.S. tries to occupy the whole of Iraq with fewer soldiers, there will be a dramatic increase in military and civilian casualties. If the soldiers withdraw to the military bases and only protect the oil fields, the rest of Iraq will fragment and explode in genocide, disease, starvation and civil war. I'm sure that the Bush Admin will try to spin the withdrawal in the most positive way but will the public believe it?