“Mad Ghosts in the Triangle of Death” Article in Soldier of Fortune

I finally did get to read the “Mad Ghosts in the Triangle of Death” article about my old unit the other day.   Most of it had to do with a platoon in my company that was detached from us to become a CAP (I forgot what the acronym actually is) platoon.    Basically they went all over the place either training the Iraqi Army, working with engineers and some civil affairs stuff.    It did put them into some interesting situations and thus they have a lot of cool photographs which made it in….the main paragraph of the story is the platoon posed in front of a controlled demolition, which looks really cool.

The story is basically that we showed up in 2004 to this area south of Baghdad that didn’t get a lot of attention in the earlier days and it became a hotbed for the insurgents.    We started being very aggressive with patrolling and making a presence through the area as well as some big operations and shows of force and activity went way down.    When we left the other units that replaced us didn’t run as tight of a ship as we did and lost a lot of soldiers.  A few were captured and killed out of this area and it was the site of the massacre chronicled in the book Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death , which was really gut-wrenching for me to read. Sometime in the future maybe I’ll share some of my “Triangle of Death” stories and thoughts but today isn’t that day. Oh, the author did make the ISIS/Triangle of Death connection as I expected.

Reading SOF was fun, its probably been twenty years since I’ve picked up an issue. I remember ads for all kinds of cool stuff, but I didn’t see much that jumped out at me (although a ‘be a man among men’ Rhodesian army shirt would be cool). Like a lot of magazines it did see stripped down (although it is going all digital). I remembered the infographic with the map of the world and little snippets of news about conflict around the world, which was cool.

I don’t know if I’d pick up another issue of SOF. It was cool to read about something I was a part of and I’m sure they get some good articles here and there, but it didn’t seem quite like how I remembered the magazine. I saw a lot of gun ads (I have no problem with guns, they just bore me – I know, that’s my problem), a few editorials that boil down to “political correctness is bad” (yeah, yeah, I agree) but there was a little bit from these exotic conflicts around the world that makes the magazine what it is. I don’t know. I might at least like their facebook page to see if something comes across that interests me.

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Week Two With Chickens

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I can’t believe how much these things have grown in two weeks.   It seems like they’ve doubled in size and they’re starting to put on feathers.  The yellow chicks just started getting red feathers today.   They’re climbing and making short flights in their cage.

They’re messy.    You can change their water and then minutes later it’s full of their bedding and cleaning their cage is kind of a pain in the ass.  They like to scatter things all over.   Mary can’t wait until we can put them outside.    I really like sitting and watching them though.  They are kind of cute and entertaining.  I don’t want to get too attached though because it’s likely that they’re not all going to make it to adulthood.

I’m also amazed at how much they eat.  I’ll fill a mason jar full of food in their feeder and it’ll be gone within the day.

So yeah, so far everything is going good.

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So Our Exploits in Iraq Made Soldier of Fortune…

SOFMadGhost

I always thought Soldier of Fortune was a cool magazine when I was a kid… articles about guys going to the far corners of the earth to sling led with ne’er-do-wells, advertisements for the Anarchist Cookbook and other exciting things, Vietnam POW conspiracy theories, etc.    Just the kind of things that a young red-blooded American boy needed in the post-Soviet era.

Anyways, looks like they’re doing an article about my old unit in Iraq.   Even though it won’t be about me personally or anything like that, I’m still like “whoa, cool, I’m going to be in Soldier of Fortune!”   I guess that’s because we’re talking about a small enough unit to make it personable to me, not just “Marines in Iraq” or whatever, it’s specific to my battalion on my deployment.
This might have something to do with my old battalion commander making the rounds on some second and third tier media lately (maybe I can get an interview??? ha. ) talking about how we dealt with the ISIS guys there before they were ISIS and how we need to go back to the Middle East.   Can’t confirm/deny that, but it could be true.   I think he goes over well in some circles because his foreign policy stance makes Dick Cheney look like Gandhi.  He gets high marks from me as a Marine officer, but I can’t say I endorse his foreign policy ideas.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to seeing what they say.

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Jade Helm!!!

Ok, to be honest I don’t know a lot of the details about this military operation that will take place in the Southwestern US this summer but this evening my neighbor stopped me to ask my thoughts about it.   I told him that I knew the basic idea that it was a military operation and they made a couple states into indian country and a lot of people were spooked that it was a precursor of martial law and that’s about all I knew.

He told me about Chinese and Russian troops (as well as others) taking part of the operation under the guise of the United Nations and that someone who lived next to a military base said they’ve never seen so many vehicles as they’re currently seeing.

I’ve always had a soft spot for this kind of thing ever since I was young.   I thought it was funny because the things my neighbor was telling me (that he heard from Alex Jones and others) were the same. exact. things. I remember reading/hearing during the 90’s when Bill Clinton was going to bring in UN troops to turn the US into a massive police state.   I had a relative who was totally into that kind of thing and would send us tapes and newsletters and every year at the State Fair I’d make a point to hit up the John Birch Society booth and get some of their literature so I saw a lot of this kind of stuff.

I just thought it was funny how some of these urban legends keep coming around.     Some obscure base is crawling with secret Russian soldiers, some group of European soldiers did a mock invasion of a US town and raised the UN flag, some guy who lives by a base has seen more equipment being moved than he saw there during ‘Nam and Desert Storm, military bases next to rail lines are being outfitted as prison camps for dissenters, grid coordinates on the back of street signs are there to guide invading troops, etc.

I told my neighbor I’d look a little deeper into it.   My thoughts after reading up on it a bit?   The military always likes to re-fight the last battle and the type of training sounds an awful lot like the way the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan went.    During the early days of my enlistment (late 90’s, early 2000’s) they had us training basically to take on Charlie in the jungle.   When we actually had to go to war, it looked totally different and we had to learn a whole different skill set.   I have a feeling the military will be focused on this type of training for a while considering it was the type of thing that was necessary over the past decade and it’s now the way things have always been for a large chunk of the NCO and officer corps if you consider the fact that 9/11 was about 14 years ago.

Maybe someday soon they’ll have to dust off the playbook for conventional warfare, but until that day comes the kinds of things covered in Operation Jade Helm will be standard fare.
In other words, I don’t think it’s as alarming as people are making it out to be…

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Armenian Noah’s Ark Silver Coins

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I recently picked up some of these coins from JM Bullion for myself and a few to start a silver collection for my infant son.   I think these are quite possibly the best looking silver coins I own and the tiny Republic of Armenia really knocked it out of the park with this one.    The picture doesn’t do justice to the sun and I think the Armenian alphabet just looks cool.

There’s a lot of good reasons to invest in precious metals, but one that gets overlooked is how it’s nice to be able to hold your investment in your hand and in some cases, be able to appreciate the beauty of it and/or the story behind whatever is on it.   You can’t do that with shares of the growth and income fund in your 401k.   The downside of that is that you wind up with a little bit more of an attachment to your metals and it might be a little bit harder to part with them when it comes time to fold ‘em.     I guess it’s good I have some that are only there for the metal and then some that have aesthetic value to me too.

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Aronia – The Next Big Thing?

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The nurseries in town have been bringing their plants out and I’ve noticed a lot of aronia so far.   This is a plant that not a lot of people have heard of, but it’s one that people really should start planting more of.

It’s native to North America, but Eastern Europeans have done the most work with it to date and it’s most widely known there.   It grows easy here, it even seems to be semi-shade tolerant.  I have some planted in the corner of a privacy fence that doesn’t get a whole lot of sun.   These plants’ growth is a little stunted, but they still produce.

Aronia is a superfood.   I forgot exactly what they have in them, but the berries are packed with nutrients.   I think they’re ok for fresh eating out of hand, but they’re better used in recipes or smoothies.  The taste is hard to describe other than giving the bullshit “it’s unique” answer.

I’m glad to see this plant pick up some steam with home gardeners.   It’s ornamental enough (especially in the fall) to fill the role of a landscaping shrub but it gives you healthy berries too.   I’ve also noticed that there’s a few more farms in the state growing aronia as a cash crop and anything to break up the corn/soybean monotony in this state is a plus for a ton of reasons.     We have some kind of aronia council or something in the state that has been promoting it.   I talked to those people for a while at the state fair last year and got a lot of good info on growing and using the berries.

At any rate, it would be cool if aronia does really pick up around here for the health benefits and to keep some fruit production local.   Looks like a good start…

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Check Out My New Chickens

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I finally got some chickens.   It’s something that’s been on the backburner for over two years, but finally pulled the trigger.  I had everything ready two years ago but wound up putting off getting chickens in order to take care of other things that needed taking care of.

So I have four red sex-linked and four barred rock chicks here.   Why did I pick these breeds?  Pretty much because that’s what the store had available but fortunately these are both good layers, cold hardy and tend to be docile (good for novice chicken owners).

For some reason I planned on getting full-grown layers later in the year and not dealing with chicks.   Turns out dealing with chicks is cheaper and easier than I thought.   I really didn’t have to buy much except for about $20 on a lamp and heat bulb.   A big bag of food was $11 or so and the chicks were a little less than $3 each.

The dogs have been kind of funny about them.  When Murray first saw them he got this serious “what the fuck…” kind of look on his face.   Juno is just really curious.   They’re blocked off from them for now but I let them down there every now and then.   Murray seems kind of protective of them from Juno, which might be a good thing down the road.

I want four chickens, give or take one.  I figure I’ll lose a couple along the way for whatever reason.   If they all make it, great, I’ll make adjustments to handle that many.

The laws for chickens in this city are pretty good.   You can have up to 25, no roosters and you have to keep them 20 feet from the neighbors and I think there’s some clause in there as long as they’re not causing any problems, everything is fine.   My neighbors don’t care and if anything I think they approve.   I know a few people on my block already have chickens and occasionally I’ll hear a rooster from the area.

They don’t do much besides sleep and eat so there’s not really much to say about them so far.   I watched one of them catch an ant the other day and carry it around while the others chased him and then he swallowed it.   That’s about the extent of the excitement so far.   It is kind of fun to have the sounds of cheaping chicks in the house though.

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China’s Weapons of Mass Consumption

China’s Weapons of Mass Consumption

 

Similar to China’s style in some other realms, they’re hitting the arms market hard with many products that don’t compare well with high tech American (or European or Russian) stuff but are “good enough” for a fraction of the price and allow other countries to get modern military equipment at bargain-bin prices.   I’m sure this is probably a nice niche considering how expensive this shit can get and how especially in today’s climate, a lot of nations want to have some of the capabilities of the big boys.

I suppose it’s kind of like buying tools.   You can spend a lot of money on Craftsman, Snap-On or what have you, but sometimes you can get the same job done with a tool you paid a fraction of that price for at Harbor Freight….and sometimes you can’t.   While some of these things are certainly inferior to the US/Russian products, there’s something to be said for quantity and anything that increases military capabilities just makes the potential cost of conflict that much higher.

Also I’m sure it’s a lot easier (and quicker and cheaper) to train someone to use China’s gear over the more complicated systems we have.

One side note that I thought was interesting was that Turkey purchased a non-NATO compatible missile system from China recently.   It sounds like there’s been some unease within Turkey about their NATO membership and/or Western orientation.  Recently they’ve been getting closer with Russia through some business deals and probably getting frustrated with the European Union’s snuffing of Turkey jumping through more or less all the membership hoops asked out of them.   Is that a sign of Turkey beginning to look eastward towards Russia and China or maybe even just trying to put some distance from the West without getting completely into bed with Russia and China?    If they did go down the Russia/China route, that would be a pretty big blow to Team West.   Turkey is about the only other military in NATO that takes fighting seriously and it’s the second largest.

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Saudi Arabia Becomes World’s Biggest Arms Exporter

Saudi Arabia Becomes World’s Biggest Arms Exporter

 

This year Saudi Arabia surpassed India as the world’s largest arms exporter.   They’ve always been good customers of the US defense industry and willing to purchase the high-dollar stuff like state of the art fighter jets and tanks.     Saudi Arabia’s military is pretty big considering the population (something like 30 million) and it’s very well equipped due to all the excess wealth they have from oil revenue.

Saudi Arabia has the money to spend on arms, but they also have surplus population to field a relatively large military.   About the only thing they do there is produce oil.    They make so much money off oil that they’re able to import low-skilled labor to do all the dirty work in that country and free up a lot of people to do other things.

Even though Saudi Arabia takes defense seriously, part of the plan is that the United States keeps Saudi Arabia free from outside interference via the petrodollar agreement (in short, they price oil in US dollars, we provide military/diplomatic assurances that their neighbors won’t attack them, they put excess profits into US government securities and buy weapons from us).    Is this a sign of that petrodollar agreement weakening?    Earlier this year the Saudis were pissed that we even entertained the idea of cooperating with Iran over ISIS and that we were considering loosening sanctions and talking with them over the nuclear program.   Some people say that the low oil prices are partly due to Saudi Arabia flooding the market to make US oil production (aka “fracking”) less viable.   Some experts have said that Saudi Arabian oil production has peaked.    Other powers are rising in the world (China, EU, Russia and a cast of second-tier players like Iran, Turkey, India, Brazil, etc) and their money is just as green as ours.

I’m not sure whether to take this rise in Saudi Arabia’s military spending as an acknowledgement of the fact that they live in a rough neighborhood and would be responsible to do some of the heavy lifting alongside the US if war broke out in the region or if this is a sign of a decline in confidence in the United States or a sign that they’re decoupling from the petrodollar arrangement and trying to be as self-sufficient as possible in the realm of national defense.   In the book Twilight’s Last Gleaming I recently reviewed, the author has a scenario where the Saudis are forced to turn to Turkey in order to gain protection against the Iranians, who in the book want to retake some holy cities in Saudi Arabia and acknowledges ominously that they might find some other interesting things (oil fields) along the way.     The idea that they have to make “deals with the devil” in order to keep the neighbors from taking over is probably pretty unpalatable to the Saudis, even though their government is about as close to the proverbial devil as it gets on this planet.

When you combine the military spending of Saudi Arabia with the United Arab Emirates it accounts for 1 in 7 of the dollars the world spends on military stuff – pretty impressive for a couple of small countries.   They spend more than all the countries of the EU on this sort of thing.   I think this is also interesting considering that oil prices and thus government revenues are down in Saudi Arabia.   You would think they would hold on to their wallet a little tighter in this climate.

Anyways, it’s hard to make heads or tails out of this development, but it sure seems like the Saudis have something on their minds.   Are they going to move away from the petrodollar system?   Maybe trying to dump dollars into something tangible?  Do they think it’s not viable to depend on us?   Are they anticipating war with Iran?   Are they anticipating an uprising within Saudi Arabia or something from ISIS or some other group?   Is it a little bit of all of the above?   We’ll see.

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Hoarding in Venezuela – Stockpiling Food Banned!

Stockpiling of Food Banned in Venezuela

I saw this article a week or two ago and have been thinking a little bit about it.   Recently Barack Obama’s administration slapped new sanctions on Venezuela and plummeting oil prices have put a hurt on Venezuela’s economy.  I forgot exactly where they rank in the world’s oil production, but they’re the fourth largest supplier to the US market.    Oil is pretty much all they have to offer, besides world-class supermodels.   I saw  one article that said that oil is 95% of Venezuela’s exports.

Venezuela has a command economy and the government kicks back a lot of oil profits to the people in the way of subsidized food, energy and health care.  Now that the oil revenues are down, they’re in the red and it’s really hard to take things away/say “hey, we can’t afford it” to the populace.   Food isn’t as plentiful as it used to be due to stable foreign currencies not coming in (their currency has tanked) and people are getting worried and grabbing up everything they can (understandably).

Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, launched a rationing program involving a nationwide system of finger scanners in order to limit people from buying more than their share.   They claim that the problem stems from Colombians (the “bad guys” – the conservative US ally in Latin America) crossing the border and buying up cheap, subsidized food in Venezuela and then selling it on the black market.   I’m sure that *does* happen, but I doubt that’s what’s actually causing the problem, which is that Venezuela has their balls in a vice due to low oil prices and a lot of “unfunded liabilities”.   I heard somewhere that their system banks on oil being at least $80 a barrel, especially considering that the cost of extraction down there is a lot higher than it is in other major oil producing states.

Maduro went on state TV (in a sweet Venezuela track jacket!) and demonstrated the program in a modern, well-stocked supermarket.     He also blamed the US, the Colombians and the right-wingers in Venezuela who wish to undermine the government by hoarding food.   Fortunately for him, he really does have a lot of formidable boogeymen to choose from and made a pretty compelling case that it’s due to outside interference.   I have no idea if this is causing “national solidarity” or if the food shortages are undermining Maduro’s regime (which of course is a regime the US government would like to undermine).

This story is getting some mileage in prepper/survivalist circles as a warning that some day this could happen here in a pinch and that some day it may be illegal to buy/have more food than it’s decided that you need.   Perhaps.   I think the bigger picture is a little more about the way governments can act in a tight spot as far as rolling out new controls, blaming outsiders and fostering the “us vs. them” mentality as well as the economic turbulence low oil prices are causing in some volatile places in the world right now, like Venezuela (and Iran and Russia).   Drastic times usually get dealt with by drastic measures.   We’ll see how this all pans out…

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