Depleted #3TC

Three Things Challenge: PL19

m1a1-wiki_c45-0-705-385_s885x516

 

uranium moss dancer

It was getting late. Slowly the officer laid the photo on the table. “Do you recognise what those are?” she asked me with a smile.

On the stage the one dancer started circling the pole. I looked down, and knew. “Hardened tank shells, probably depleted uranium. Fallujah?” I asked. She smiled again, “a little further West I suggest.”

“There is a say…” I replied: “Rolling stones don’t gather moss.”

“Thought not” she replied.

Image source: M1 Abrams battle tank, Wikimedia

Beginnings #writephoto

Beginnings

dawn

 

He knew where they had met, but he was less certain of when that was. He remembered the small town, and the woods, above all the woods, where they walked, kissed, watched the sun rise, the freezing dawns, enlaced, forever at one, with each other, and with the trees.

She was the one, and those were their beginnings. They watched the sun set, the skies on fire. Her grey eyes reflected the light. He had felt so strong then. He was, so they called him. She watched him go, such a breakup in her heart…

Now, after all the death, the sand, the blood, he was back. Alone, at the end, a fallen hero.

 

T-Rain, and a girl named Zula: a reading of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde #amreading

Neil Stephenson 77f9262fbf.jpg

Every other thing that he had done for the company – networking with money launderers, stringing Ethernet cable, recruiting fantasy authors, managing Pluto – could be done better and more cheaply by someone who could be recruited by a state-of-the-art head-hunting firm. His role, in the end, had been reduced to this one thing: sitting in the corner of meeting rooms or lurking on corporate email lists, seeming not to pay attention, growing ever more restless and surly until he blurted something out that offended a lot of people and caused the company to change course. Only later did they see the shoals on which they would have run aground if not for Richard’s startling and grumpy intervention.”

Reamde is a tough, long, and interesting novel. I had to interrupt my reading several times during this year, and this made following the plot as hazardous as the story itself. I acquired Reamde initially as an e-book. The version I had was poorly edited, and after some four hundred pages I could no longer find my way through the various geographies and characters. Finally I purchased the paperback (in the Atlantic Books edition available in the UK.) This helped me to come back on tracks, as the good ones were getting deeper into serious trouble, and the bad ones were… getting more horrible than ever.
Richard Forthrast is a wealthy entrepreneur, and the soul at the core of T-Rain, a world-class multiplayer (MMORPG) game and metaverse, that transcends all predecessors. Richard is the head of the Forthrast clan, an expanded family of gun-totting characters who include his adopted niece, the beautiful Zula, a refugee from Erithrea. The world of T-Rain is, one day, disrupted by the double event of an internal war – the Wor – and the advent of what turns out to be a deadly virus, Reamde. The plot then develops into two parallel, but eventually convergent, lines: what happens in T-Rain, and what happens in “reality”: much of the book’s interest arises, in this reader’s view, from this double narrative, the journey in T-Rain, and the journey in this world, from Idaho to the Philippines, via China and various airfields and oil tankers, and back again, as Bilbo Baggins used to say. Both are rich in deadly traps, of the explosive and other varieties, such as magic spells.
A good first tier of the book is devoted to a description of T-Rain, its design, history and creators, a medley of British and US genial weirdos, recruited by, and under Richard’s influence. I must admit having lost the thread more than once (a fuller understanding would require a second reading, at least.) The real world’s thread centres on Zula and her companions, and their odyssey. For Reamde, the virus, cuts across the machinations of a criminal gang from the East, whose extortion racket is disrupted by the virus. The consequences of the gang’s brutal intervention, and a chance meeting with a bunch of jihadists, make up the second half of the novel, as the separate trails slowly converge back to the US-Canadian border, and Richard’s eagle nest.
There are hints of Snow Crash, Stephenson’s earlier novel that introduced a proto-virtual world, and multiple references to the world of hacking and virus developers. There are peripheral characters, some roughly inspired by the “war on terror”, and of course, the very nasty, and yet noble jihadist, the infamous Jones.
I only caught up with the female characters, all three of them, once I had acquired the paperback, having to backtrack through the 1044 pages! I think, now, that sometime I will re-read Reamde, when I have some uninterrupted three or four weeks of quiet vacation (maybe when we visit Seattle?) Stephenson lives in Seattle and his geographical knowledge of the region is evidently vast. I struggled with the trails through the mountainous area above Richard’s Schloss! A map would be as useful to the reader as it would be to Zula and her friends.
Reamde is, in turn, hilarious and tragic, a great read, and a milestone for Stephenson’s aficionados.

Photo: [By Ryan Somma – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideonexus/6191024454, CC BY 2.0, Link]

My reading of Cryptonomicon

Teufelsberg, or, of the Vanity of Wars…

dsc_0750

 

The woods are silent, high above the hills a hawk observes the few walkers: we are aware of what we are treading on: a still intact Nazi building that resisted attempts at destroying it, on top layers after layers of rubbles from ruined homes and monuments destroyed by the war. We admire the views, the lakes on the horizon, the stadium’s tower above the trees, the white city and its domes.

We approach the site through the naked trees, past the climbing rocks, along the double fence. Everything has been vandalised, rubbish strewed over the once well ordered roads. What remains is enough to show the extent of the buildings here, and there is more underground.

What did they listen to? What did they learn? Was there a sane reason for them to be there, for nearly forty years… Was there a sane reason for the division, the pain, the fears?

What do the ghosts think? Or have they given up since the devil persists in haunting those hills?…

dsc_0749

From a visit to Teufelsberg, former NSA listening station in West Berlin.

#AtoZChallenge2015: Képi

Ah, le sable chaud… This incomparable military hat evokes La Légion, Jean Gabin, and so much of French lore, cinema… and military disasters!

“The kepi (English pronunciation: /ˈkɛp/ or /ˈkp/) is a cap with a flat circular top and a visor (American English) or peak (British English). Etymologically, the term is a loanword of the French képi, itself a re-spelled version of the Alemannic Käppi: a diminutive form of Kappe, meaning “cap”. In Europe, this headdress is most commonly associated with French military and police uniforms. In North America, it is usually associated with the United States Civil War, as it was worn by soldiers on both sides of the conflict…

The kepi was formerly the most common headgear in the French Army. Its predecessor originally appeared during the 1830s, in the course of the initial stages of the occupation of Algeria, as a series of various lightweight cane-framed cloth undress caps called casquette d’Afrique. These were intended as alternatives to the heavier, cloth-covered leather French Army shako. As a light and comfortable headdress, it was adopted by the metropolitan (French mainland) infantry regiments for service and daily wear, with the less practical shako being relegated to parade use. In 1852, a new soft cloth cap was introduced for campaign and off-duty. Called bonnet de police à visière, this was the first proper model of the kepi. The visor was generally squarish in shape and oversized and was referred to as bec de canard (duck bill). This kepi had no chinstrap (jugulaire). Subsequent designs reduced the size of the cap and introduced chinstraps and buttons. The kepi became well known outside France during the Crimean War and was subsequently adopted in various forms by a number of other armies (including the U.S. and Russian) during the 1860s and 1870s.

In 1870 when troops were mobilized for the Franco-Prussian War large numbers of soldiers either refused to wear the issued shakos or threw them away. The Emperor abolished the infantry shako for active service and replaced it with the kepi on 30 July 1870[1]

In 1876, a new model appeared with a rounded visor, as the squared visor drooped when wet and curled when drying. The model used in World War I was the 1886 pattern, which was a fuller shape incorporating air vents.

By 1900, the kepi had become the standard headdress of most French army units and (along with the red trousers of the period 1829-1914) a symbol of the French soldier. It appeared in full dress (with inner stiffening and ornamental plume or ball ornament) and service versions. Officers’ ranks were shown by gold or silver braiding on the kepi. The different branches were distinguished by the colours of the cap – see the table. Cavalry normally wore shakos or plumed helmets, reserving red kepis with light or dark blue bands for wear in barracks. General officers wore (and continue to wear) kepis with gold oak leaves embroidered around the band.

In 1914 most French soldiers wore their kepis to war. The highly visible colours were hidden by a blue grey cover, following the example of the Foreign Legion and other North African units who had long worn their kepis with white (or more recently khaki) covers in the field. With the adoption of sky-blue uniforms and steel Adrian helmets in 1915 to replace the conspicuous peace time uniforms worn during the early months of war, the kepi was generally replaced by folding forage caps. Officers, however, still wore kepis behind the lines.

Following the war the kepi was gradually reintroduced in the peacetime French army. The Foreign Legion resumed wearing it during the 1920s; initially in red and blue and then in 1939 with white covers on all occasions. The bulk of the French army readopted the kepi in the various traditional branch colours for off-duty wear during the 1930s. It had now become a straight sided and higher headdress than the traditional soft cap. This made it unsuitable for war time wear, and after 1940 it was seldom worn except by officers. An exception was the Foreign Legion who, previously just one of many units that wore the kepi, now adopted it as a symbol.”

Image: “1970-Legion-sapeur” by Jp.negre at fr.wikipedia – dessin de jp Négre d’aprés une photo de la revue “Képi Blanc”. Licensed under FAL via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1970-Legion-sapeur.jpg#/media/File:1970-Legion-sapeur.jpg

In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleIt is a rare writer who can combine the spectra of recent history in its full horror, the dreams of love, and the mysteries of the soul. So is Monsieur Murakami.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was published in Japan in 1995, and once again, I regretted my inability to read the novel in the writer’s language. Yet Jay Rubin’s translation is a wonder on its own right. This was perhaps, for this reader, the most difficult Murakami’s novel so far, considerably harder reading than 1Q84 or, my all-time favourite, Kafka on the Shore. Kafka’s influence, among many others, is there, for the central character, Toru Okada, has to endure a metamorphosis of his own, once the house cat disappears, shortly followed by mysterious and fragile Kumiko, Toru’s wife.

However I won’t spoil this read for my followers, those who haven’t yet read this extraordinary work. The story is rooted in the memories of the atrocious war fought on the periphery of the Asian continent, in the country Imperial Japan named Manchukuo. There the Japanese army faced the might of the Soviet Union, from the late thirties, before the war extended to the whole of Asia and Europe.

Perhaps uniquely in its descriptions, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is pitiless in plunging the reader in the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature. Toru, surrounded by strange women who may not all be human, just about survives the metamorphosis imposed on him, through the grace of friendship, and the skills of his protector, unforgettable Nutmeg. The truth, factual or not, is to be found at the bottom of the well.

In the strange loops that link the characters, across time and spaces, humble objects such a red vinyl hat, or a baseball hat, there resides the mystery of the human soul. And a small cat’s tail…

 

#DailyPost: Dream Teacher

Any person from history…

BushidoAs he entered the room he saw her: a diminutive woman of about his age, wearing her kimono tight, and a white belt, both immaculate.

Before his first step on the tatami he paused and bowed. After all, he had not forgotten his manners on the battlefield.

From the corner of her eyes she saw him, moving gracefully despite his stature. Captain Yves Legrand, formerly of the Fusiliers Marins Parachutistes, now training in preparation for a most secretive mission.

She bowed in turn, as he approached her, at that instant a little too stiff, not quite controlling his military demeanour. She smiled, the man was attractive, in an old fashioned way, with the face of a soldier or a priest, serious and a little sad. She knew of his record, had read his commendations.

They bowed again. In a low melodious voice she said: “Captain, I have been asked to teach you the art of fast killing without weapon. I know you know a thing or two on the subject. But please listen.”

He was a good pupil, strong and fast. He would learn. The more she could teach him, the longer he would live. Maybe.

For two hours he tried to guard against the fireworks of blows from her small fists and feet. He was tired, he knew he would have died many times, had the combat been real. Her control was stupefying. He was aware that using brute force would be pointless: there was little to do against fluidity and speed. And her knowledge of the human body…

His training would last four weeks. She was the dream teacher.

Later he would remember. There, on the high mountains, alone, hunting the merciless enemy, with no other weapons, than his big hands and feet.

 

 

#AtoZAprilChallenge: (On) War

Vom KriegeHe wrote from a position of knowledge: that of people who have been there, who stared defeat in the face, felt the icy lips of Death, and, later, much later, realised the sweetness of victory. He’s an officer’s officer, the strategist of the European legend.

When Carl von Clausewitz started writing his book, “On War”, shortly after 1806, the proud Kingdom of Prussia, the successors of the Great Frederic, had seen the most humiliating defeat of her history, at the hands of Napoleon, the French Emperor, then at the apogee of his power.

When the book was published, in 1832, Prussia, and her ally Russia, had defeated Napoleon, and was on her way to play the leading role in the German unification, thirty years later. The monument to the extraordinary battles of the “War of Liberation” are still to be seen today all over Brandenburg and Saxony, and in the German capital, Berlin.

On War is the bible of all officers schools worldwide, and despite having been written in the age of cavalry charges and bayonets, is still a key reference of modern warfare, consulted by the great warriors of our times, from the German and Russian generals of WorldWar II, to general Vo Nguyen Giap – he of Dien-Bien-Phu‘s fame – to US General Petraeus, author of the “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” of the US Army and Marine Corps.

Read also:

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

The US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, General David H. Petraeus & al.

War of the Flea, Robert Taber

Daily Prompt: Always Something There to Remind Me

A song comes on the radio and instantly, you’re transported to a different time and place. Which song(s) bring back memories for you and why? Be sure to mention the song, and describe the memory it evokes.

Indochine You, my love, are in this song, all of you, your voice, your soul, and all my heart.

We walked along the riverside, hand in hand, before they dragged me away, away from you, for whom I was born.

And there, in that hell humans made for other humans, I listened to the song, and cried.

In that hell I remembered: the Riverside. And I remembered you.