Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lions for Lambs

Photo from
I have to thank whoever had the notion to include this film in the care package for our platoon.  It's very wordy and probably doesn't appeal to most soldiers who use action and comedy movies just to relax here.  The tone reminds me of the best episodes of the West Wing; articulate in-character discussions of important issues.  The characters are grounded with their own motivations, though; all executed with talented performances.  The film is from the same writer who wrote "The Kingdom," which I've heard unfairly called "Syriana for dumb people."  Apples to oranges, really.  The author began thinking he was writing a play, since the sets are very limited and it's almost all dialog.  I think it could succeed as a play, with some changes in presentation.

Spoilers below.
I really enjoyed it, but I have a few issues with the film at are primarily related to the Army portion.  Firstly, the two characters decided to go to infantry OCS after graduating from USC.  Reasonable with their motivations, but then we're just supposed to accept that both of them go through ranger school and are 1st Lieutenants in the same company in the 75th Ranger Regiment?  The senator repeatedly referred to the Rangers as "special forces" which is common for colloquial use, but unlikely for a character with 8 years experience in military intelligence to equivocate the two.  Lastly, I have a serious problem with the fact that one Lieutenant jumped out of the damaged Chinook after his buddy fell out.  Sure following after your best friend was all heroic-looking, but they were officers in charge of the operation. Their platoons and airlift crew had taken many causalities and would be making an emergency landing somewhere other than their intended LZ.  These platoons are now shorthanded and dealing with casualties without either of their officers and perhaps without communication with the command point.  In the DVD commentary, Redford says the Lieutenant acted on instinct to jump out, but I don't think that's good enough.  He jeopardized a lot more lives with that action and was derelict of his duty toward his men and the mission.

Overall, it makes me hope that Redford will eventually be able to follow through with the Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance project mentioned in Lila.  It wouldn't be a blockbuster, but I think he'd give the book the pacing, dignity, and articulation that Pirsig and the book deserve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

MWR & Spades

When I was without internet back at Fort Hood, I used the USO facilities on post to keep in touch with you all.  But out here, we use the MWR much more, which stands for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.  We have a small MWR operated by our company with computers and internet phones to use.

The one plus side of this curtailed internet access is more platoon-bonding in the evenings instead of retiring to our personal computers.  The chief for of evening entertainment is playing cards, a variation of the game Spades specifically.  I'm pretty decent at it, but I haven't developed the ability to read my opponents or partner the way some guys can.  I just use the logic of the game and let the cards fall how they will.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Basketball and Blackened Voodoo Lager

Convenient, pay-as-you-go wireless internet will be shutting off at some point in the near future.  I don't know if the phone or computer banks on base will still be operating or if I'll simply be out of touch again.

I'm not good at Basketball.  As an altitude-disadvantaged youth, I actively avoided the sport and related skills.  Despite going to Pitt, I never went to a game at the Pete or owned a Zoo t-shirt.  Most of what I know about the rules and strategy comes from watching Space Jam.
Nevertheless, I've been playing a lot more basketball here than I have since middle school gym class.  This began as mandatory squad PT, just a break from cardio machines and weightlifting.  It was good to do something not army-related as a group, even though there was a wide range of skill levels and experience and almost zero penalties called.  Since then I have occasionally stepped up to make even teams in non-mandatory games, but that can be less fun with pick-up game egos and such.  Mostly, I cannot shoot or dribble, so I'm only really useful alongside people who can.  That way I can focus on finesse defense, rebounds, and passing.  I don't know if my techniques would be legal in a normal game, but it works well enough here.  My flailing arms have earned me the nickname "Octopus" on the court.

The Dixie Brewing Company is the last of the old brewers from Louisiana and they almost didn't make it through Katrina.  Their Blackened Voodoo is a Schwarzbier is one of the last beers I tried before leaving the States.  It has a bit stronger hops profile than I usually go for.  Far from a hops-demon, though; the balanced roasty malt flavors came through while staying rather light in body.  I'd like to compare it head-to-head with Shiner Black which I remember being a bit sweeter and less hoppy.  
Photo from

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jack Pine

This is the Jack Pine, a simple and scrappy-looking bike the folks at Hammarhead Industries of Philly have made out of a carbureted Triumph Scrambler. The engine internals are pretty much untouched, but suspension, carburetion, and exhaust have all been lightened and improved with performance parts.
This is how road bikes were converted for off-road use before specialty enduro and motocross bikes became commonplace.  It's cool, but a bit too light and spartan for me, not to mention the cost of those performance upgrades.
Discovered via BikeEXIF

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Heat Management & Shiner Light

I think the weather is finally turning; not that it's cool by any stretch, but I think the 130 degree days are behind us.  Some email questions urged me to go into more detail about how we manage in the heat here instead of snarky posts.  I'll be referencing the Heat Injury Prevention Guide (HIP) we were handed as well as my own observations.  The HIP guide gives recommendations for policy and behavior at different "heat categories."  Comically, the highest is category black at only >90 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think it's only below 90 here from 0200 to 0500 or so; so all references will be to heat category black.

Clothing.  The HIP recommends that we unblouse our pants from our boots, unbuckle our belts, and remove our tops when working at that temperature.  Sometimes we'll take our ACU tops off while working, and often while hanging out within our barracks area, but boots and belts stay tight and tan undershirts are always tucked in.  A full uniform must be worn while traveling around the base, so you'd have to put the top back on to go to the latrine or chow.  Fortunately, a Physical Training uniform consisting of light shorts and army t-shirt counts, so most guys are eager to change into that after 'work.'  Of course, this only accounts for what we wear inside the base.  Outside we're authorized to wear the moisture-wicking Army Combat Shirt which does help cool your torso, but those benefits don't outweigh the extra burden of a combat helmet, gloves, body armor, ammo, and maybe a radio.

Acclimatization.  The HIP says it takes 2 weeks for soldiers to get accustomed to the heat.  I haven't been a heat casualty yet and 80 degree room feels quite refreshing now, but I'm not sure I'll ever acclimate to 120+.

Drinking water.  It comes in dozen-packs of 1-liter filtered, disposable bottles from Kuwait and on a hot, active day I'll easily go through 6 plus Gatorade or juice at meals.  This is one thing I think the HIP is accurate on with their recommendation of 1 Liter per hour.  Chilled water is preferred and our camelbaks are usually loaded up with potable ice for missions.  We are officially dissuaded from soda or energy drinks like Monster before missions or long workdays because they supposedly dehydrate you faster, but in practice they are widely used.  I mostly prefer the powdered Tang mixes available at the chow hall and occasionally small energy shots if it's going to be an early or late day.

Air-conditioning.  When available, we'll be in it.  This is especially true when it comes to our barracks rooms, so long as the power is on.  The only exception to that is when it cools down to about 100 in the evenings and folks gather outside for conversation and such.  During the heat of the day, though you try to stay inside.  The gym where most folks do PT is air-conditioned, as is the chow hall.  There is a reason that the air-conditioning unit in our trucks is called the life-support system.  Those armored boxes get pretty darn hot in the sun without the engine running.

Heat Casualties.  I haven't seen anybody pass out, but there are several steps to look for before that. Profuse sweating, obviously, then confusion and weakness developing into nausea.  We try to check up on each other, but I've seen someone get disoriented and vomit just from the heat.  Supposedly, one is more susceptible to the heat after being a heat casualty in the past, but I can't say for sure.  It a kind of vague concept to diagnose.

This light lager is advertised with “Munich malt” and aimed squarely at the territory of the major macrobrews.  It's not bad for a light beer, more flavor than Coors light, but well behind it's brothers in the Shiner household.  Nothing too remarkable and I have little interest in light beer, though.  The difference in calories is negligible for someone with a normal diet and exercise regimen.  People get beer-bellies from the high-fat, high-calorie foods they tend to binge on while drinking, not the beer itself.
Photo from

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Care Packages and Warsteiner Dunkel

Our platoon got a care package from Soldiers' Angels nearly a month ago now after my squad leader applied for it. There were several large boxes containing mostly snacks but also playing cards and crossword puzzles and smallish toys. Included with the Package was a stack of postcards from a high school in Florida; probably where the snacks were donated/collected.

More recently, I personally received a care package from my Grandparents' newspaper.  They also had a collection and our unit was selected; there was more than enough for our platoon.  The 5 packages were full of books, a few movies, puzzles, lots of sunflower seeds and jerky, various trail mixes, soaps, deodorant, disposable razors.  I had the guys go through my room and take what they wanted, but there's still 3 boxes worth of stuff left.  The jerky, gum, and bodywash were most popular.

-- Edit 10/Aug --  2 more boxes have arrived from the newspaper.  Holy peanut butter cheese crackers, batman.  I'm spreading the wealth around to other platoons now.  Unfortunately, I've already sent the thank-you note back to the editor.

-- Edit 12/Aug -- Another box arrived.

I've never been on the other side of such charity/support before.  It's good to know and appreciate that real people took the time and money to collect and send us these items.  Of course we always "know" people care, but it's more tangible when your holding a postcard from a high school kid or a novel someone thought you'd enjoy.

I found it similar to the Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale, but with less hops and slightly more roasty malts.  Upon reflection, it's a rather strange association (Golden Ale to Dunkel Lager), but that's what I wrote when I tried both back in February.  The Warsteiner brewery of Germany is better known for their brews with citrus fruits added.  Adding grapefruit to a lager doesn't sound very unappealing, but I'm curious nonetheless.
Photo from

Monday, August 8, 2011

Naked Goldwing: Condor

"What's this?" you say; "Honda Goldwings are fairing-encased full-dresser touring machines.  Surely there's been a mistake."  Well Goldwings are usually comfy tourers that come in conservative colors like wineberry red and metalic blue-black.  But "usually" doesn't apply to the folks that populate the online community Naked Goldwing Club.  They specialize in restorations and customizations on older Goldwings that "release the thoroughbred from the plough."
This particular machine stared out as a crusty 1000cc '76 belonging to forum member HOTT.  Behind the dirt and plastic he found this elegant cruiser waiting to be released.  Gone are the front fairing, seats, and saddlebags.  The new seat and headlight/instruments were fabricated to fit.  Everything else has been stripped down, cleaned and repainted.   The paint job is obviously custom, but takes design cues from earlier Hondas and BMWs to give it a classy retro look that befits its age.  This simple seat is probably not as comfy as the old one, but the suspension is just as smooth and the 4-cylinder boxer engine is still the king of the road.
My grandfather's '86 Goldwing is completely stock and currently does not run.  It's far too much bike for me to handle as a rider or mechanic right now (and belongs to my mom), but doing something like this would be a cool heirloom project to work on sometime down the road, either with my parents or with my own future offspring.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Questions, Google+, & Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

In the past few days I've been asking folks via email what questions they have about me/Iraq/the army/the deployment.  I still have to be doubly careful what I publish since it's a public site.  Everything published here is out there for all to see which includes "bad guys," but also members of my platoon and folks up the chain of command.  Still, it can't hurt to ask questions if you're curious about something.  Let me know in a comment or email and I'll fill you in as best I can while fulfilling my Army obligations.  Some of the questions I've already received will be turned into updates here in the next few days.

I've been on Google+ for a while now and while refreshing, I'm not too impressed.  It reminds me of the earlier days of facebook, before the latter became cluttered with ads and games and twitter updates.  The best improvements for me are a) the circles system which lets me sort people and follow semi-famous folks without a digital handshake and b) embedded gchat.  Gchat now works better in google+ than it does in gmail.  That's strange for me; leaving a gmail window open for chat had been a fixture of my browsing experience for several years.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
This is a well-wrought hefeweizen that comes off with a hint of Belgian sophistication.  The main flavor I got out of it is banana and it was bewildering for me at first.  It's not a harsh banana, though, and there are clove and malted wheat flavors to remind you it's still a beer.  I'm glad I got the 6-pack; trying a single bottle would not have been enough let my palate adjust and appreciate the flavors.  I haven't seen it since, but I would probably get this again especially for Sarah to try.
Photo from

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gear Update 2 & Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

A few words on more of the items I've brought with me.  I dunno; is this something people like to read about?
Many of you probably know, I don't like to wear watches.  I think they're a) largely unnecessary in a cell-phone age and b) a silly and potentially expensive exercise in man-jewelry/status symbols I don't care to partake in.  However, cell phones are not a viable option and wall and dashboard clocks are in short supply here.  A watch was a mandatory item for our deployment so I had to get one.  This Casio has been alright; it's not huge, the buckle band is tough and not failing like a velcro one would have.  Plastic magnifying face is unfortunately raised and staring to scratch, but otherwise going strong.  I don't think this is destined to become an heirloom "the watch grandaddy wore in the war," though.
I was never issued a liner for my snazzy silicon-impregnated nylon poncho the way everyone else has since Vietnam (it seems).  So when I finally got frustrated with using the lightweight sleeping bag I was issued, I order a military-spec one from Amazon for myself.  It's just as nice and useful an item as people have said.  Keeps my torso warm, while letting my feet air at night.  Provides insulation from my hot-running laptop. Can easily add several degrees of survivability to the 3-piece sleeping bag system we were issued and packs down really small.
Hector, like my laptop, occasionally shows his age.  So far his fits have been alleviated with normal troubleshooting and patience.  I don't use him/it much here; I don't need music to work out or sleep.  It will be quite handy when/if I get R&R.  The pink leather case still draws comments, though.

From Yorkshire’s oldest Brewery, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a classic and proper English brew complete with a white rose as part of their logo.  I liked it a lot, but I think by their nature brown ales don't wow the palate enough to warrant the specialty bottle/price treatment.  This is the brown ale with the highest pedigree, but if I ever stumble upon it again, I may just pass it over to try something new or stock up on something cheaper.
“Samuel Smith’s of Tadcaster has the richest, maltiest and nuttiest of brown ales”
~Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ramadan, Rivale, & Celis White

Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, which is why it's earlier each year.   This year it falls from August 1st-29th.  The month commemorates the length of time in which the Quran was revealed to Mohammed in 610.  It is a time of fasting and religious mindfulness for Muslims.  They will abstain from eating, drinking anything other than water, or activities evoking strong emotions during the daylight hours.  After sundown, they will break their fast with a date just as Mohammed broke his fasts.  Iftar is a big meal with family that follows.

This is the Rivale from Italian custom motorcycle builder Roberto Rossi.  It began life as a 2003 Triumph Bonneville T100, but has been worked over to be intentionally scruffy, home-grown, and scrambler-like.  Highlights include the tank and mirrors from 70's Triumphs, finessed to fit the modern frame.  The seat and detachable saddle bag were custom creations for this bike as were the high-exhaust and fenders.  More details at Bike EXIF.

I'm not a fan of the intentionally-scruffy detailing, but I like the bike overall.  I'd like to see a larger speedometer and tachometer and the seat could have easily been extended a couple more inches for passengers' comfort.

Celis White
I'm reaching back into the archives for this one.  I'm not exactly sure that the beer in the link is the one I tried, since there is an awfully similar brew from Austin.  Regardless, I was not a fan. Similar to the continental hefeweizens, which is a bad thing for me.
Image from