Friday, December 22, 2006

Back in Kabul

First, look to your right. On the webpage. Photos.

So I've been back in Kabul for nearly a week now. During that week, just about everyone else has left.

The holiday period will be quite a stretch, as Eid holidays coincide with this season. So our national staff get around 6 days off. We get at least 2. But the remaining 4 will be slow, if not the whole stretch from now until a week or two into January.

It's getting cold too. As usual with the winter onset, and thankfully, it's been quieter in the country overall and remains quiet here in Kabul.

So I've had to change the template. I put that little sidebar gizmo thing linking to my flickr account. You'll find photos of Kabul and Singapore up there. I have no clue how often I'll update it, but I'll try to remember to post something if I put up photos of Afghanistan.

All: Merry Xmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Apologies...

...especially to the regulars who check the blog for updates. It's been quite hectic at work, especially so since I've been trying to tackle a few high priority things, fighting a few fires, and getting things straight before my R&R.

So yeah, I get a short break for 7 or so days. Will be much appreciated, especially after the last few weeks.

I'm off to Singapore, so I'll hopefully pick up a camera too and get back to posting pictures.

To those comments I haven't replied to, I apologize for that as well.

See you all soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hunting Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Last year the cooks managed to find a turkey in the city markets. This year they had no luck. So we decided to go hunting for turkey on Tuesday. It took about three hours, but we came back with about 30lbs of bird.

At about 1pm, about 9 of us loaded up into two SUVs, 5 of us with rifles at the ready. Ok, so they were AKs, and not the ornate Enfield elephant guns one can find in the tourist shops of Kabul (though we were looking for what translates from Dari as “elephant chicken”). And true, the 5 armed men were our usual security detail, in uniform, just along for the ride to keep us safe...and it’s true, that we were just going to the expat grocery store.

So we had to trek down the infamous Jalalabad Rd. (a few 2-3 meter craters are still readily visible in the road, i.e. a nice reminder that a car was blown up right where you’re driving over), but the calculus of the moment said it was OK to go down the road. Plus, since the PXs can’t sell alcohol anymore, one would think the road was less frequented by foreigners, and thus less of a “hot” road.

But there are still ISAF patrols on the street, but our drivers kept their distance from the one that was there. Also, I saw an ISAF foot patrol on a off street along the main road. That was a first, and I’m wondering if it is a new tactic. The soldiers are less concentrated, which is a good thing, but I’m wondering how the Afghans feel about it. But if any people are used to armed men in their midst, it’s surely Afghans, and especially Kabulis.

So after finding no luck at the first Aussie run store, at the second we found a 30lb bird in the freezer of the Italian run store. When standing in the kitchen with the cooks, all of us circling the frozen bird, marveling at it, they started wondering where it came from. The wrapper had Cyrillic, Arabic, Spanish, English, and what I now assume is Portuguese writing on it.

See the bird came to us, in Kabul, via an Italian run store, from Brazil; “Producto de Brazil” clearly written on the back side of the bird. [Delete “aaaah, the globalized ‘flat-world’” comment here.] So now the Brazilians are beating the U.S. out in the citrus AND the poultry market???

However far the bird traveled, our cooks did a masterful job of cooking it up, fixins and all. We had a quite, family style, dinner this year, as opposed to the T-day party we had last year. Our style this year reflects the changes that our project and company have gone through over the past year, and the dynamic of the house now versus this time last year. All in all, a great holiday. Plus I get tomorrow off. This two-day weekend thing is phenomenal. Gotta make sure my next job has that deal.

Also, and much more importantly, and something to truly give thanks for, I found some new live Modest Mouse on line; and not just any old bootleg. This is from a show earlier this month in LA. And yes, those that are fanboys of the band as I am, you know what this means.

Johnny Marr is playing guitar with the band. Hell, not just “with” the band, as now he’s “officially” part of the band. For those not in the know, yes, this is that Johnny Marr. For you all really not in the know, and I should ban you all from reading my blog, the Johnny Marr that played guitar in The Smiths, the Johnny Marr that wrote all the beautiful music of The Smiths.

MM’s new album was supposed to be dropped some time this year, but that is no longer the case. Though the sound quality isn’t too good, several new songs available on the web page. It’s enough to make any loser hipster very very happy—and thankful. And you need not ask if I think they are at least a few that are brilliant.

So, just to make sure: go get them here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Another Article

From the LATimes comes an article on the Afghan National Army (ANA). Particularly interesting is the discussion about the focus on making a multi-ethnic army, aimed at providing a unifying symbol for Afghanistan. This is something, as the article notes, that never existed before. Something I still find confusing is the "Afghan" identity and what it means to those claiming it. Similar issues, of course, come up with may nations in the region carved from colonialism. But Afghanistan, with it not being under the brits or any other recent colonizers, I find particulary interesting and difficult to understand.

The article discusses some of the disparities between the US soldiers training and operating with the ANA, and are somewhat expected. More interesting to me was the info and insights on the internal issues of the ANA and how the soldiers are dealing with the "unified army". The aspirations seem noble and provide some hope, though as the article notes, achieving that will depend on the actual existence and growth of the ANA (which goes back to the more technical issues the ANA faces).

Either way, and interesting read. I'd love to hear what some Afghans think about the article and the aims of the ANA for providing a "unified Afghan" identity (Hamesha?, HIK?). Also, I wonder if the US army is using it's own history of integration efforts and lessons learned there, and also the benifits of such, in its work with the ANA.

More Photos...from others of course.

The WaPo is featuring an interactive photo essay, "The Women of Afghanistan", on their front page today. The stories of 5 women are presented against the photos of Paula Lerner. Lerner is a photojournalist volunteering with the Business Council for Peace and has been documenting the work of the NGO, which is working with women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

The photo essay is framed by an intro and an epilogue by Lerner. At first, listening to only those, I was a bit disappointed, partly thinking it was another doom and gloom piece. But after going thorugh the whole presentation, I find it to be incredibly well done. The features on the women contain photos of them, their work, and some random photos of Kabul, providing good context. The narration is either by the women or provided via a translator ( I believe). They tell their stories, their stuggles and their success all within 2 minutes each.

The lack of detail perhaps helps to leave one finding the stories incredibly inspiring, at least I did. That feeling, balanced by the more macro-level insights on the recent developments provided by Lerner at the beginning and end, comes across more even keeled. It's quite nice to see a story on Afghanistan so well tempered.

Friday, November 10, 2006

And so...'s been one year here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tempered Temperaments

Despite the fact that heavy amount of news from the other current concerns would have overshadowed much of the news from Afghanistan, the truth of the matter is that despite a few headline worthy events, and one fairly tragic event, there hasn’t been much to spotlight here recently. Even the German soldier gaffe didn’t spend too much time in the news.

I’m happy for that. Event wise, Ramadan went fairly unnoticeably, and the subsequent weeks have gone by quietly too—at least here, for me, in Kabul. (Though, a week or so back, nightly, one could hear the jets taking off from around the area. I assume this was tied to the activities in the south and along the western border). Mullah Omar promised a continued assault, by the Taliban, through the winter. Though it’s too early to make a call the veracity of that, as maybe they’re bedding down for that assault, there hasn’t been much news regarding them on the assault recently.

The recent dearth of front-page worthy news (with the few noted exceptions) and the press’ focus shifting, headline wise, may have to do somewhat with the apparent shift in temperament. Apparent to me at least. Through the spring and summer, everyone was spelling doom. It felt like this place was on the verge of a doom-laden spiral. I both believed and felt it true, at least the part about it being at a precipice. Despite there not being any singularly significant events, it seems like there is a noticeable shift here. The military transitions have gone fairly well, and what was to be a slow and grinding war in the south seems to have been a quelled insurgence in retrospect. I hope I’m not hasty in saying that.

Hopefully the headlines and attention of a few months past were just crying wolf. That is not to say that they were false, the wolf was (and still may be) there. Just rather than raiding the chicken coop, it was circling the hills. The failures, difficulties and problems chronicled in those articles and stories are true, and the problems still remain.

The tone, though, was maybe a bit more apocalyptic than what has come to play. In the least, my temperament at the time was a bit over the top. As for what I’m working on, despite how problematic it is, and how difficult things are, they are moving. Crises are being averted. Perhaps the take on this place, and at least my thoughts and disposition, got caught up in the tragedy to the west of us, but thankfully, things are nowhere near the same, both institutionally and governance wise, and simply in the day to day life of everyone here. All may not be functioning well, but they are functional.

The nip at the heels this past spring and summer (I hope that isn’t too diminutive) may have been, and will hopefully be, a necessary dose of reality as to the current state of this place and what is still so desperately needed over here. Hopefully expectations are a bit more realistic now. Hopefully the rhetoric, from all spectrums (and especially after the shake-ups in D.C.) will be tempered a bit. Hopefully the donors will start to get their act together and priorities can be aligned. Hopefully the blunders have taught some lessons.

There isn’t much rose-glassed hope here anymore. But for the work I’m involved in, there are at least positive expectations for the next 5 to 6 months. I hope that’s true on the larger scale for what’s going on here and with a tempered hope things are turning for the better.

As a complete side note, I am very hopeful about what may be to come from a new band I’ve come across. I’m still loving the recent finds, though today I came across this track, “Brittle Britches” by Quien Es, Boom! via Salon’s Audiofile. The EP (though called a full length release, it’s only 7 tracks), which I promptly downloaded from iTunes, “Cast Your Burdens Aside” is titled well for the current mood. The music captures and conveys the current temperament quite well, so it’s been on repeat for the past several hours.

The band is from Austin, with some strong links and ties to Chicago (may have been recorded there? and the producer is from the Chicago scene). Listening to a few tracks reinforces both of those locales' sounds. The album is fairly heavy on the alt-country and Americana sound of a few of the Austin bands like Calexico. There are nearly equal measures of Chicago post-rock of several variants, such as the bluesy Califone to the jazzy Pele or Joan of Arc. A few of the songs have well done math-rocky time signature and/or tempo shifts. The guitar lines are largely clean and melodic, the hooks simple and repetitive in a good way.

That free song linked above sounds like it coulda been the intro to a Joan of Arc or Don Caballero song, shifting to a lyric verse instead of distorted guitars and breakbeats. The drumming is largely sparse, and fills the space incredibly well. In many ways, this does sound like the Chicago (?) band Pele with lyrics, and a new found country/Americana fixation. The songs, over all, are composed really well, crescendos and codas and other musical terms I don’t really know how to correctly define, let alone identify.

And the dude's voice is quite good, a slight gruffiness, and a slight drawl, with good phrasing and delivery for poppy songs. One song in particular, "Twenty Eight in Twelve", with a quick sunny poppy cadence, the dude sounds like a smoked out Paul Simon. Though the plucky guitar line may make that reference to "Diamond on The Soles..." era Simon easier.

Regardless of my incompetence, or perhaps largely because of it, I’m hopeful that this EP bodes very well for things to come from this band.

On it’s own and with an affable ethos, the band crafts balanced and nearly languid songs while displaying solid musicianship and well placed electronic/experimental flourishes...why's all tempered well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Action Returns

Today everything came back in full swing. I didn't notice much of a post holiday lull, the kind so common after New Year's in the states. The laundry guy was at least quite busy...having one weeks of laundry from me (though I did skip his mid-week visit) and a lot from the other expats, I assumme.

So in escaping from work, and in trying to find some music more aggressive than Rogue Wave, I went digging through my hard-drive...internal and then external. Couldn't find much and I knew what I wanted to listen to...some good college-days hardcore punk. So I went to the web, looking for some Pee Tanks (btw, that myspace link will take you to a brilliant cover they did of "With or Without You")...and look what I found: The Action Patrol. If any of you readers were around Richmond or Roanoke in the early and mid 90s, you may remember them. Best yet, it appears their whole discograpy (well at least enough to make any returning fan happy) is online, all free MP3s to download. If you're reluctant to believe me regarding their unquestionable brilliance. Start here with "Tube"...unquestionable.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Updates and Changes...

As you may have noticed, there had been less and less of the "on the ground" perspective of what going on in Afghanistan. I think it was partly subconcious, as I was preparing to disengage from this place and move on. I was looking at returning in December. Yeah...that preceding sentence was written in the past tense.

Our contract got extended again, till March '07, and there are a lot of things that may continue on past then. Even as this current extension was developing I was still planning on coming home in December and getting ready to give the bar exam another shot in February, get a normal job, move on with life, a year here was enough, etc... Just yesterday I told my boss I'll stay on...kinda indefinately, and more accurately that I've dropped the solid plans on coming home in December.

So maybe I'll become reengaged with this place again, and rather than just passively take it all in, start thinking and writing about it more. In the least, I'll be updating the blog roll on the right hand side. There are a few new Kabul/Afghanistan related blogs, some have dropped off, and some are posting again (well one Hamesha...hopefully he'll start posting about Afghanistan again).

The Long Promised

Here it is. The post about regional issues, focused through Balochistan, rather than Kabul.

Though originally I was going to write a long post, in the end (due to laziness, distance, or even myself paying less attention to the regional news), I think this will be a quick post. At least I’ll try. Besides, you all come here to read about my musical discoveries, not my political theories and armchair observations.

(On that note, it’s been Rogue Wave out of the Bay area. Heard “Eyes” (listen here on their Myspace page) while watching NBC’s Heroes, tracked them down quickly. Four free MP3s on the left on their Subpop page.

So over the past year, as you all know, I often end up talking to the Afghan nationals in Urdu. They ask me where in Pakistan I’m from and I ask them where they lived and if they still have family still in Pakistan. Many times I’ll ask them directly if they were in Peshawer, the primarily Pathan/Pashtun city and area in Pakistan. What has surprised me is how many have answered that they were in fact in Quetta.

Quetta is south of Peshawer, and though apparently different now, was (in my mind at least) a Balochi town, it being in the Balochistan province. I’m not sure about the linguistic roots of the language Baloch, but as I understand the ethnic roots, they are a long standing Persian rooted ethnicity. How distinct they are from other Persian ethnicities and the Pathans, I don’t know, but there has been a continuous independence movement post-colonialism, and marked autonomy before then. Either way, there are a large group of Balochi people both in southeast Iran, and traversing the border, in southwest Pakistan and a small amount in Afghanistan.

Over the past several years, the central gov’t of Pakistan has been trying to develop the resources in Balochistan and exploit the geographics of the area. There are gas and other natural resources in the area, and the coastline has a key deep-sea port, Gwadar, that is being heavily invested in. The area is also key to the Iran-Pak-India pipeline. Supposedly, as I’ve recently learned, China has heavy interests in Gwadar, both as an export route for NW China and an import route for energy resources.

Iran is in a particularly rough spot, balancing fighting the US/NATO alliance in Afghanistan via the Balochis and Taliban residing in and around Quetta, ensuring their energy/resource export routes to India and China and making sure their Balochis don’t get too many nationalist aspirations (also, it seems like the deep sea port in Gwadar contends w/ Persian Gulf ports of the Iranians and the Gulf Arabs). India, of course, is in constant power checks with Pakistan while desperately trying to make sure they get their energy they need and keep their export routes and battling China for economic dominance.

So you have three countries with strong economic and/or geographic empire building interests, Iran, China and India battling it out over an area inhabited by a traditionally autonomous and apparently fiercely independent people. Then you have two sub-player/proxy countries (and their contending internal power players), Afghanistan and Pakistan, keeping their selves alive and their provincial interests and exploits continuing...all while figuring out how to play off and around all the long-term promises.

I imagine it’s like picking a skirt to hide under while there is a square dance going on. How do you hide when there are constant positional and partner changes? Maybe this has a lot to do for explaining the apparent intransigence of the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in dealing with the tribal issues they share. Maybe just pick a place and wait till the skirt comes to you. It seems like the Balochis may face the fate of the Kurds. It may be unfortunate and a constantly forgotten issue that will just make everything more difficult.

As far as keeping up with the news on the area, Ahmed Rashid seems to mention the topic quite a bit when talking about the regional issues. I think I’ve linked to or mentioned his writing on the issue before. Here is a “Live Online” discussion from two weeks back where he answers some questions related to Balochistan.

Google news searches always work well, and just a few days ago some Balochi militants blew up the pipeline there. Besides Reuters, it seems like only regional newspapers picked up the story. Though I’m lacking Nexis, so I’m limited to Google’s news sources/search.

A really good resource on the issue can be found here, provided by the Hindustan Times. Titled “Battleground Balochistan”, with a distinctly US media feel to it, I find it’s presentation style comforting.

In the end, I think with all the long-term promises, always made in general terms, with the obvious and incredibly contending and complex regional and global self-interests, these promises may stay long promised.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eid Mubarak

We're upon the holiday season here and a week or so off. We're not sure yet how long the holidays are supposed to be, so preemptively we gave the national staff tomorrow off. Eid will either be Sunday or Monday, depending on the moon sighting here. I'm used to a calendar dictated Ramazan and Eid, so the "traditional" moon sighted style is kinda nice. Nice in that it got our national staff a day off, and though expats have to work tomorrow, when there is no national staff around, it makes for slow days. The best part is we have 6 days of slow days. Eid being a 3 day holiday starting either Sunday or Monday (for the Gov't, but we are doing a 4 day holiday) till Wednesday and with Friday being the weekend, the day between is a holiday. I think we're celebrating Columbus Day, so expats get that day off too. No jokes about colonialism part of that holiday and the irony of celebrating it in Afghanistan.

Though I'm guessing the majority of the readers don't celebrate it, and aren't in places that it's an official holiday, Eid Mubarak nonetheless.

Back to the pictures theme. Slate did another retrospective centering on women in Afghanistan. There was some big Afghan-American women's conference in Kabul last week. I heard nothing of it till I read Slate's note on it. Also, there is some "Woman's Day" as part of the Eid holiday. I think that is purely regional, as I'm not familiar with such being part of the larger muslim culture or holiday. Anyone know anything about that? Also, to celebrate "Woman's Day" there are supposedly aboout 15 or so women, who recently crossed the border from Pakistan, that plan on celebrating the day by blowing themselves up in Kabul and various other places. go take a look at those pictures of women covered in the birdie burkas.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Vote Is In

Less music, more photos. But I'll keep my promise nonetheless, and talk about music later....for now though:

Slate has a retrospective of Magnum's photos from Afghanistan in 2001, this week being the 5 year anniversary of the US's & GB's attack of Afghanistan.

They are found here. The photos are quite stark. The first one looks to me more like a charcoal than a photograph. The series focuses on Northern Alliance soldiers and the IDPs of the time.

In general, conditions here are getting worse, as most know. The headlines and coverage on that side of the globe, finally, seems plenty. The phrase "at least were not in Baghdad" is said much more often. Except now the humor in it is gone, replaced by a sad comparative sincerity.

Also, there has been more talk about how Iran is affecting what is going on here. I'll do a round-up of some of that coverage soon, and maybe discuss my crack-pot theories on that. Most of that coverage doesn't seem to be coming from US sources though. And of course Ahmed Rashid had mentioned that issue several months ago, tying it into the troubles in Balochistan (which I can't seem to find much news on these days, anyone find anything?).

Monday, October 02, 2006

At Your Behest

No no...don't worry this isn't a music post.

Chad Hunt, who some of you may have seen posting a few questions and comments before, just sent me a link to his collection of photos taken while embedded with some soldiers here in Afghanistan.

They can be found here.

Largely, they are of the parts of this country (outside of Kabul) and a part of a particular life here (the foreign soldier) that I will likely never see. And they are great photos too. Go look.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Martial Arts of Mayhem

It was a day for fights. All blows pummeled through smiles, laughs, smirks and some judo too. Well a lot of judo—others may call it diplomacy.

My day started with some sparring with our security chief. For others, including him, the day started with the bombing today. It killed a dozen or so and injured even more. My day, though, should have started with the meeting I needed to go to, it’s location not far from where the bomb went off.

I did go to the meeting, after some posturing, positioning, and a little bit of tussling. (Though, not much, as I deeply respect and trust our security folks, and consider them personal friends beyond colleagues...moreover, at the end of the day, and after all the sparring, my life is often in their hands. I trust their better (than mine, surely) judgment. However surly they or I may be in conversation; a rare occurrence, truth be told.)

The condition for me being allowed to go was the alternate route mapped by my driver and security chief. We were to take a chase car, i.e. the “making ourselves the obvious target” phenomenon and duly avoid any congestion, i.e. the “avoid being the sitting target” phenomenon. See, everything is a matter of judo here.

On the way to the meeting, there was a crowd outside the Red Cross/Crescent (I believe, but it may be UN) mine victims hospital. There was a lot of jostling to get in the entry gate, and a lot of jostling to get around the entry gate. Eventually we did get around. At the moment I didn’t want to think much about the people trying to get in the hospital. I still don’t.

Then there was the sparring at the meeting. It was a bid opening for a large contract. I, as a neutral observer, had to sit at the same table as the bid evaluation committee. I’m glad I put on the blazer (though no tie) as there was a Minister, and a few Deputy Ministers up there. I still think I should have gone with the black mock turtle neck and black jeans this morning. The only problem there being that I not having those items in my wardrobe since 1989.

So the vendors/bidders sat there in front of the panel as we opened the bids. It was nearly mayhem, and there was some jostling, and a good amount of contention. But it went, not to well, but it went. At the end of the event, the smiles, laughs and smirks became a bit more sincere, or in the least a little less restrained.

Finally, the bid opening was followed with a debrief/meeting with a Minister and a Dep. Minister. Since we were all aiming for the same ends, the posturing and positioning was actually fruitful. But the martial arts were deployed nonetheless. It seems, today, that nothing was not a matter of diplomacy.

As limited and difficult as it may be these days, there are still systems in place here. As frustrating as this day was, especially as it was one milestone on what I’ve been working on since spring, I ended the day more hopeful than when I started.

On the way home much of the morning mayhem had subsided. The city was in it’s usual Ramadan calm. Hopefully the optimism and relief I felt at the end of the day are not simply because there were no more bombs that went off today.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ramadan Mubarak

I wish everyone a happy and peaceful Ramadan.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stone Throwing In Kabul...

...well rather Stones Throw in Kabul. I know it’s probably inappropriate these days to make jokes about that subject (given the return of the Ministry of Vice & Virtue, the resurgence of the Taliban, and Ramadan being right around the corner). Further, I realize it is inappropriate to imply or infer that the above title and tail is a joke, given its complete lack of anything approaching humor. And finally, I realize as this is a music post, and given such posts’ lack of audience, this lead was a complete prophylactic to the text below. But I’ll move on.

See, just yesterday I downloaded “Shine Through”, Aloe Blacc’s new solo album on Stones Throw Records (home of Madlib and all his ‘a.k.a.s’). And I’m a giddy little 12 year-old girl again, making bad and awkward “jokes”. Yes, again, and as always.

Where to start? Where to end? Well in a recent email to a friend, I conceded that though the whole album isn’t brilliant, it surely shows that Aloe Blacc is—even if he produces no other music in his life. Truth be told, I still think the album is brilliant, in scope, concept, and nearly in execution. P-fork did a recent review of one of his singles (though the album was apparently dropped in July), a Madlib produced track, which meant I was buying it regardless. (Sidenote: and reminded me to check if any new Madvillain had been released (which it has), I'm reminding you here.) The spectacular track is “One Inna” and hooked me immediately.

Again, Madlib creates a perfect vehicle for the artist he’s working with, blending and adapting a beat drenched w/ telltale Madlib signatures to the artist. The track turns out to be a nearly 4 minute version of Madlib’s catchy-hook/repetitive/chilled beats, which generally work best as shorter beats (i.e. ‘Accordian’, ‘Green Power’, etc.). Yet the beat moves a lot over the 4 minutes and when the melody comes on stronger towards the end, the song takes off, gently and without swelling or becoming overwhelming.

Thealbum is a brilliant showcase and exploration of all of Blacc’s influences, which he does both explicitly and creatively. This concept/premise is made clear on the first track, “Whole World.” He name checks Simone, Jobim, Cooke, Gaye, Davis, Fitzgerald, and Coltrane, through an intoned delivery of a nearly chant like lyric “And the whole world reminds me of...” He produced the beats on all but two of the 16 tracks. And the two tracks, one of which is Madlib’s, don’t really stick out. That says enough, I think.

There are at least two covers, one of which is "Gente Ordinaria", sung in Spanish (he bounces seamlessly between Spanish and English throughout the album), covering John Legend’s “Ordinary People.” I like Blacc’s version better. There is another cover--Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” done incredibly well (multi-part harmony gospel like refrain) and titled “Long Time Coming”. The title track, “Shine Through” is what’s best described as a ‘tribute’ to Marley’s “Chances Are”. The guitar line immediately sounded familiar, but it was made clear when I did the headphone listen and heard a faint voice in the studio singing “chances are.” The track is a rough/live studio cut, which much of the whole album sounds like, except for the constant “digital soul” flourishes found on many tracks (not far from Jamie Lidell, but so much more on the hip-hop beats).

The album is drenched in Blacc's latin background (he's Panamanian-American according to the bios) with the percussion, the horn lines and the piano. There is salsa, bossa nova, and dub/dancehall and calypso infused throughout, and on "Genta Ordinaria" he does a call out to people of several (all??) Latino countries.

His voice isn’t the smoothest, especially at the upper range, but his sincerity and minimalism in delivery make up for it. And his flow on the rapped lyrics more than compensates.

And I’ll try to keep this site from having full on “reviews” like the above, once I get through this awkward giggling pubescence.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Maintaining Caddies and Kittens

It seems like I’m coming back to Kabul with the tourist mentality that I surely didn’t have when I left before my break.

Today, our day off, my coworker (who covered my job while I was gone) and I went to the Kabul Golf Club to play three holes. We followed that by a trip to the Babur Gardens. And finally stopped by Chelsea (the “western”/expat grocery store) to pick up cat food for the kittens he’s adopted.

The course is on the outskirts of the city, up in the hills next to Qargha Lake. As can be seen on their website, they pander to the imperial cowboy expat crowd in Kabul (“Extreme Golf With an Attitude”). The air was nice, the weather was wonderful, and watching my two armed guards hand me their AKs so they could take a few swings and putts was amusing. I skipped the souvenir shirt and hat and opted for a few key chains.

The Babur Gardens were quite nice by Kabul standards. It was great to see the restoration efforts. But not seeing the fountains flowing and seeing the 400 or so year old gravestones of historic Mughals pockmarked by bullets was somewhat disappointing. They don’t really compare to the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore, but not much can.

This and a quick stop at Chelsea to pick up canned cat food ended the tourist/expat day in Kabul. Though I regret leaving my (well my parent’s...) camera at home, I’ll maintain that such makes the day a little less touristy for me. I’ll maintain that despite the fact that all the Afghans that were at Qargha Lake and Babur Gardens were snapping away with their cameras.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Good Morning Sunshine

It’s my third day back in Kabul, and I just watched my first sunrise since I’ve been here, since last November that is. The jetlag has been getting me to bed at 8pm, and up much earlier than my usual.

I’m sure this will all change soon enough, as I already feel like I’m settling in. In fact, I had a sense of settlement as soon as I was being driven back from the airport on all too familiar roads. They seemed a bit more empty than usual, lacking the usual afternoon rush. It may have just been me, as I was getting accommodated to the constant rush hour back in DC, but I asked our security folks if there was less traffic after the recent bombing in Kabul. They seemed to agree somewhat. The lack of traffic will likely stay as Ramadan is approaching, and generally things slow down during that time of year.

As I was getting ready to return I was telling my friends that I was somewhat dreading my return. I’m not so sure now if it was dread, but rather just a lack of excitement that I usually feel whenever traveling and just the gloom of an impending end to a wonderful and relaxing break.

But here now, I’m fine and comfortable. A certain sense of home has quickly settled in. But coming from “home home”, rather than just a vacation or other spot as was the case on the other RnRs has clarified something, I believe. The contrast between how this place figures as my “home” versus how where my dear friends and family are and where I’m from figures as “home home” has certainly become starker.

Either way, as work starts to settle in and my sleep returns to my normal sporadic insomniac patterns, I’m sure I wont be worry about definitions of home so much. Unfortunately, besides because of Ramadan, I wont see sunrises in Kabul so much either. But for now, I’m enjoying a beautiful morning sunrise.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reassuringly Pavlovian

I was partly packing up, and partly watching the “Arrested Development” Season 1 I had just picked up. Then I heard some noises coming from outside my window. They were loud noises and my mouth started salivating. Well I wasn’t so much salivating, but I did immediately pause the DVD, take a second, and then go for the camera. I’m kinda disgusted by that. The going for the camera part, but it’s not the first time, and probably wont be the last time. And as terrible or even disgusting as it may be that I want to take pictures when I hear explosions going off, I’m kinda happy that the response is somewhat Pavlovian. If only for the reason that it means that I’m not completely acclimatized to living here, or even rather that I am correctly acclimatized, in that I notice explosions.

Usually when I’m sitting at my desk, in front of my computer with the music playing, and I hear what later turns out to be a door slamming or an engine backfiring my middle finger finds its way instantly to the mute button. The circumstances were slightly different tonight, but the ends were pretty much the same.

This time though, it was fireworks going off. Yeah, I know, I had the same “wtf” response when I got out on the patio, camera in hand, and saw what was going on. Tomorrow is Independence Day. And well, there has been a weeklong continuing “wtf” response to the holiday too. Since not much of the local staff can explain what/whom the “independence” was from (the day of celebrating the defeat of the Soviets is in spring), and assuming that it’s done in correlation with India’s and Pakistan’s Independence Day celebration, i.e. from the Brits) and I can’t seem to find much info on such, or rather get a satisfying explanation, I hoping someone else here can provide info on that. After all, even the Durand Line is still in place.

Anyway, I got to see some fireworks. And as far as that particular “wtf” response, even though I’m all for celebrating one’s independence from occupiers (please, no irony/hypocrisy comments here...I’m well aware), are fireworks, exploding off TV Hill, the smartest thing to do in Kabul? A parade, showing big guns and waving kids—that I would have thought as much more appropriate these days. The time of the display going off would have been an ideal time to drop some RPGs or set off some IEDs. I think some tracers even went off from the side of town opposite where the fireworks were launched from, at least they looked like tracers.

My reservations notwithstanding, I got to see some nice fireworks. And once again, right around the time I’m leaving Kabul, explosions are going off. In celebration this time, thankfully. And hopefully tomorrow, any explosions will be for the same reason.

Last, but not least: Happy Afghan Independence day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fighting Time

Its been a while since I’ve last posted, and since I’ve been home. Both are being remedied. At least one, thankfully (and I'm posting pictures, but I don't think they really count). The posting and the trip home, to me, both seem intrinsically tied. The first few weeks after my arrival here, though I could watch it fade, there was the immediate excitement and newness. Then for the intervening time, there has still been the uniqueness. As familiar as I am with much of this culture, it's not what I had been living in for the whole of my life. That uniqueness, or perhaps better stated as "distinctness" (as every place has its own mix of the universal and unique) at nearly 10 months, isn’t quite there anymore, and so less things get noticed and thought about.

And work has become nearly all-consuming over the past few weeks especially, besides just the new roles I’ve taken on in the past few months. Without trying to say too much, as things are politically sensitive these days, there was an article in the WaPo that discussed much of what we’re involved in and working on. There are a lot of concerns, and thus stress, and so I feel somewhat guilty about leaving at this juncture. But I need it, and soon enough I’ll be overdue on the trip home.

In the mean time, to help curtail the “I’m gettin’ the hell out” sentiment, I’m trying to be appreciative of the things that are quite nice here. After all, I’ll be coming back to them after a few weeks. So on the list, and excuse my superficiality, are daily laundry (though that got annoying so I’ve switched to two or three times a week, but the dude still comes to my door every day asking for my laundry) picked up from and delivered to my room—folded and ironed to boot. See, look below. That, I need to appreciate.

And speaking of my room, I nearly never have to leave it, the exceptions being meetings and food. If I could only get them to bring my plate to my room too... So this all facilitates my laziness way more than is healthy. Spending 20 hours in a room has its pros and cons. The laziness and only having to move a few feet to do most of what I need to do in a day being the main pro. The laziness and having to spend 20 hours in a room being the main con. It is a zero commute, but I wake up and see my desk. Then at the end of the day, I go to bed, and see my desk. You too can see my desk below. Yeah I know, freshman year dorm. But I’m approaching 30 now, and don’t play computer games all day. Yet, there is no commute. At all.

While I’m home, even visiting friends, I imagine I’ll be fighting DC area traffic. Right now all I have to fight is black hole like gravity of my bed...actually, I may be worse off now on that regard.

I’ll be busy, and likely not posting for a while (and I don’t know why I’m putting that point up as it’s been several weeks since the last post) as I get things ready and in place for my absence of a few weeks. Then I’ll be home, and probably not posting much. Not caring about time. Not noticing that the time since something has been too long, or the time till something is too short. Not caring about time, for a time of three weeks, will be nice.

Will be seeing many of you (OK...most of you, besides the random Sudan and Ireland readers) soon.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Barely a Metric for Pressure

The good news is that I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to make the Davidoff Magnum cigarettes I got in Dubai last for almost 10 days. Ignore the fact that I’m still smoking way too much these days, and that I had to intersperse one of the most pristine cigarettes manufactured with crap Swedish Marlboros, likely manufactured in Korea. Davidoff Magnums are heavenly. I dare say, even better than Camel Wides. So I swing, sometimes within the hour from some of the best tobacco one can smoke to some of the worst.

And that is the general mood too. Around February, spring was knocking on the door, we got our first extension and a few big projects were rolling around and I was transitioning into my current role. Then it was July...all of the sudden it seems. The current role has the ups and downs I was warned, and prepared for. I can normally handle such well, with my stoic and annoying abstraction of everything. But now I’m seeing it reflected in my mood day to day.

My usual barometer for my mood is the music I’m listening to. Back in February, I got the Stone Jack Jones album "Bluefolk,” but as good as it was, its bluesy, Armageddon drenched, Appalachian flavored country wasn’t what the jet streams were calling for. Now they are. But my stoicism is still there.

Today at the dinner table while talking about what the lot of the world is talking about, and how it may affect us here, we had trouble recalling the last time there was an incident in Kabul. (For Kabul, it’s been nearly two weeks, though the South, by some measures is getting better (less total killing/fighting reported), and others, getting worse (Taliban took over two small towns).) I’m not sure if that is stoicism, on the part of all four of us sitting at the table, or just simple desensitization, on the part of all four of us sitting at the table. Either way, we quickly started talking about how the chicken that night was particularly good.

So back to the barometer, as the other end of it is that the summer crop of songs is coming out. It looks like it will be a good season. So when I get tired of the foreboding (with odd tinges of hope though...go check out ‘Vivid’) Stone Jack Jones, I’m all about Lily Allen and her new single “Smile.” Via p-fork, I found out about it a few weeks ago. And they put up a full album review, which paints a good picture. Sadly, iTunes only has the above-mentioned single's EP.

So I’m down to only one more pack of Magnums, and I’m probably wearing out 'Smile' and 'Vivid'. Maybe whats going on proximately and distantly will settle down too. Though there seems to be no causation between my smoking habits, the music I listen too and/or life outside Kabul, there may be a correlation.

I’ll have to keep an eye on those barometers.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Back to, But Not Into, The Swing of Things

Got back to Kabul today. But feel completely out of the loop. The quick trip to Dubai was good, cause I really didn't do anything noteworthy at all: went to restaurants, smoked shisha, read, watched movies, sat by the pool, etc... Though, I think it just made the dislocation worse. Kept up with work there, but in coming back I feel completely out of the loop. And it was basically 48 hours that I wasn't here for.

But I did get to decompress, and sleep, and laize about. So the energy level should be back up for a bit, and will hopefully last me through to the end of August.

Work is largely the same. Though my affection for it had, or has changed. In the least my attitude towards it has changed. I'm giving it the 'it's not you, it's me' line these days. Maybe me and work can get back to the way we were before now that I've had this little break.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

(Car) Bombs Bursting In Air

Happy 4th everyone.

I thought I was gonna miss out on the fireworks. It's been a running tradition for nearly 10 years for a group of us high school friends to have a BBQ/Picnic, and then go watch the fireworks from the Mall. I obviously am missing that this year. Hello to all of you, wish I was there.

But fear not, I got to at least hear some explosions. Seems like the Taliban felt like commemorating the 4th as well. Though their explosives don't have that neat multi-color star effect. Maybe we'll at least get the ISAF to launch some tracers tonight or something.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Wisdom of Sorts or of Sorting

It could just as likely be tinnitus too. Because this next band has, as one of my former housemates used to say, "that annoying indie tinny sound." Upon saying such, and after yelling at me to turn the shit off, he would usually follow on with an explitive and command them to: 1) get decent recording equipment, or 2) learn to tune their insturments properly, or 3) stop letting tone-deaf singers join the band--and on the especially prideful occasion, I'd get him to say all three.

So this is for you Brown Bear: The Cold War Kids.

I've been sitting on them for a while. At first I dug them a lot. Then they seemed like good recyclers of many of the current crop of indie-stars (especially the NYC New Wave/Garage Rock/Blues-Soul crews). But now I'm settled to liking them a lot again. Once again, a provisio on the singing voice. So you got there sound.

If I were you, I'd start here, with "Hospital Beds", and then move on to here, with "The Soloist in the Living Room." Their website has two other downloads. Otherwise, they seem inaccessable from remote locations.

**But I found some more Cold War Kids songs. Here they are. A thank you to So Much Silence for posting the songs from a KEXP set.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Addressing Complaints

And there have surely been a few. OK like three. Since there are four readers. But at least 2 have been that I don't post enough pictures. This is because I haven't taken a picture here since our last excursion out of the city. I never was a picture person.

But today, Slate's Magnum Photo feature is running a series of photos of Stokeley Carmicheal (aka Kwame Toure). Today is his birthday. They're great photos.

My favorites being the opening photo, the seventh photo, and this photo tops the list.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

“As long as it’s talking with you, talk of the weather will do.”

The afternoons have been filled with what’s best described as a flat warm wind. Oddly, I don’t find it refreshing, as I do for most breezes. I still find a certain type of placidity brought by the wind, though the breeze isn’t calming by any means, and I don’t want to say that it brings a sense of apathy.

So every afternoon an odd dislocation sets in, and when not so removed, maybe one day I’ll find better words to describe it. But as for now, as a subsequent line in the BTS song “The Weather” advises, “Nobody's hoping for better days/ No one knows what to do./ You're okay in your secret place,/ No one bothering you,” I’ll leave it alone.

Work, as stated many times before, chugs along. It’s providing the continuity and pace that is necessary to allow me to cocoon myself to what’s going on down south. Occasionally, something that floats across the wires (or gets emailed to me from the security staff) affects my work. Largely, I can float along, in my office/bedroom enjoying the afternoon’s dislocation.

Also, as I’ve stated many times before, we’ve continued to wind down the project. So we’ve consolidated houses and offices. I’m taking over the wrap-up of another project as one of our expats heads home. That may involve some scurrying across town, so I may not be able to cocoon myself so much in my secret place. I’m definitely going to be bothered by more people too.

To buffer that (and I’m getting a little “escape envy” as coworkers [even the Chief is taking some, well deserved, time off] are coming or going), I’m trying to get out of town for a few days in a week or two. Go to Dubai just to leave here for a while. Not much of an exchange as it will be intolerably hot there with hot winds. But it will be not here, and that should be good for a few days.

So, in the end, I’m going to say it’s the weather that I blame for me not posting links to some articles and news on Afghanistan. Also, there seems to be a lot more news that is readily available to everyone. There were two recent articles on by Fred Kaplan. He dicusses the opium conundrum and NATO's Afghan strategy. There was also this good article by Ahmed Rashid, a book review that has a great “introduction” before getting to the review. Cut the man some slack on the self-serving aspect of writing an article that is 3/4s background and exposition, and 1/4 review, because it’s really good background and exposition.

Parts of Rashid’s article, which is largely on current issues and the climate here reminded me of a recent find, Peter Lamborn Wilson’s “travelogue”/article. Wilson, otherwise known as Hakim Bey for those familiar with Bey and all that entails, visited Afghanistan many times in the 60s and 70s and returned in 2003. This piece covers all that. Something struck when contrasting what was evoked in the above Rashid article with this Wilson quote:

The fact that the Taliban succeeded in taking over Afghanistan has always seemed to me a certain sign that the Afghanistan I knew was completely smashed to hell by the Russians and civil war. I never heard any Afghan, however pious, praise "fundamentalism" or mullah-inspired bigotry. No one had ever heard of this perversion of Islam, which then existed only in Saudi Arabia. Afghan Islam was very orthopractic, but also very pro-sufi; essentially, it was old-fashioned mainstream Islam. The idea of banning kite-flying would probably have caused hoots of incredulous laughter. It must have taken 20 years of vicious neo-imperialist ideological cultural murder and oppression to make Talibanism look like the least of all available evils.

In the last post, I noted that the discontinuity of this place was a tired cliché, especially as this place is and these people are constantly on the move. There may be even too much continuity and history here. In following my own advice, I'll search for something else. So maybe through “dislocation”—physically, temporally, cognitively, every which “-ly,” can this place be better understood. In the least, dislocation is helping me understand my current state here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Late Again And Blaming Kabubble

It really is that odd 30 extra minutes added in this timezone. That's the reason, a discontinuity...that maybe explains too much, or rather is such a ripe metaphor, it's cliche. Anyway...

Another 'new to me artist', that apparently blew the charts up in Europe and in G.B. late last summer, Mattafix. So I was in the US then. Whatever...minor point.

I just saw the video of "Big City Life" on the South African sat channel we get. And the thing is, there is so much wrong: the video was at times quite trite (the homeless man vignette, though the pregnant woman thing and the accountant/skateborder i just don't get), the lyrics are painfully simplistic (i.e. not unlike The Streets or Audio Bully, but there is nothing really personal nor just "fuck all" as they say, about the lyrics. This particular song is just generic and universal.), the carribiean/dancehall emcee is a bit forced, the male singing is downright bad with its atonal falsetto, and it totally cops the feel (I think the cymbals and bass line in the beginning) of Primitive Radio Gods "Phone Booth" song (had to google that, as I was chatting w/ a friend and neither of us could remember that info, but I remembered vague and odd snippets). And it's so mid-90s trip-hop, with a few 2-step beats thrown in.

But I love the song.

I can't stop listening to it. I've even grown to like the signing voice, terrible as it is.

I love this song.

Dowload/Listen to some of their stuff here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not Quite Quiet or Quite Not Quiet?

The reason I still think it’s fairly quiet here, I’ll chalk it up to the distance and mountain passes between Kabul and Kandahar. Despite my few recent post titles proclaiming the quiet, and the music I've been listening to, the editors at seems to think there is an "unquiet" here, or at least in the east. They even put it on Wednesday's front page. As for the news accounts, even the daily ones I receive from our security folks, I should be counting them in the same log, but I’ll still insist upon my claims of quiet. Here is the fairly pessimistic, but well written, article in Though to me, with my biases fully acknowledged, the tone seemed a bit sensationalist. Don’t ask me to justify that, else I’ll have to think about it more. And if you haven’t noticed, either by the dearth of posts, or the nature of the posts recently, I haven’t been thinking much about the situation here. Futher, if the sensationalism gets more public care/awareness of the situation here, I'll thank the press.

A lot has been going on, work wise, and the continuing extension and scale-back makes for a weird work environment. Luckily, of late my job has largely been operational. There are daily tasks to be done, things to be monitored, keep things running and such. So, though tedious at times, it keeps me moving. But in general, project wise, we’re in a glide pattern. And as we step into another three months, it’s somewhat frustrating. It’s especially frustrating because it seems like the whole of the donor/aid world is entering that pattern. Though I may be just imposing my sentiments, it nonetheless seems that the riots and the preceding and continuing escalation of military action and violence has a lot of groups and people in a "wait and see" attitude.

The problem--that is probably the last thing that is needed here. What is sorely needed is not only a redoubling of military/security measures, especially from the ANA (not just foreign troops), but also a redoubling of actual efforts and plans from aid groups (as the article linked above notes). Of course, the Afghan compact, and plans are all fine and dandy, with actual shovels to the ground being much better. Yet, the reality, as it seems to me, is that it will be a while before more can be done, physically. So it’ll at least be some good paperwork that needs to be done in the mean time.

Tangentially, yesterday, after getting our daily headline/news update via email, I was about to immediately post it. The humor of it struck me, and then it just got kinda disappointing. The irony of the first two headlines being concurrently true now gone, and the reality sinking in, my (essentially trivializing) motivation to share the headlines slipped away, thankfully. Now, I’ll still post the headlines, as I think they better capture the current moment here:

Afghan President Denies Forming Militias
June 11, 2006 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai today denied media reports that he is forming militia forces in southern Afghanistan to fight the...

Afghan president: Tribal fighters will help battle Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday his government will give weapons to local tribesmen so they can help fight the biggest increase in Taliban violence in...

Karzai says between rock and hard place on reforms

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday his government was trying to follow a moderate path in the face of competing pressures from the international community and his nation...

So as many are commenting now, and a few started sounding the warnings signals before, the situation is slipping further into factionalism. Motivations are becoming individual again, and though they may have been so all the while, actions towards such are now more transparent.

So mine is a sense of apathetic frustration towards the politics and such going on here. Thus the lack of news, well, rather sharing of news and posting and such. I still keep up with the news. I’m just not excited by or vested in much of what I read, news wise. I still have a job to get done, and will try to and hopefully give my best effort on that. I still see more than enough to inspire hope—the markets are still busy, construction still goes on, many folks aren’t at the point of running scared yet, and there is a recently launched CF/ISAF offensive in the south. So, maybe it’s that I just don’t care to hope much right now. We’ll leave hope for when the fighting slows down again.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

In Desperation...

...I'll fall back to a music post. Again via's Audiofile (so yeah, this page has nearly become a proxy for that least becoming one of my primary sources), I've been introduced to a new to me artist, Carl Hancock Rux.

His new album, on Thirsty Ear (which, with the few recent Blue Series releases I've really liked (El-P's jazz album and DJ Spooky's release), may be put the "must buy" label list), is really strong. A neo-soul/blues/jazz/hip-hop album, along the lines w/ the two other name drops above. Some of the piano work does strike some similarities w/ Matthew Shipp's efforts on El-P's album.

And then there is the singing. The voice isn't spectacular, but rather a really solid baritone. Rux's lyrics (especially, which makes sense given his apparent literary talents) and delivery make the album, and really fill in and carry the sparse compositions. Think Chocolate Genius, with less experimentation and more gospel influences and generally uplifting, rather then wretchedly miserable, sentiments and tone.

Here's the free song "Lies", and a "video/add/interview" off of the Thirsty Ear site. The album, "Good Bread Alley" is on iTunes as well.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Quiet As Curfew Should Be

Today, thankfully, went with apparently no major incidents. At least I heard nothing, and heard of nothing.

The city, all of it, has been under curfew. And even during the day it seems a bit more subdued. But I haven't left the house. We are allowed to move around, essential travel only though.

Of my national coworkers that I've talked to, they seem apologetic and angry--at the riots and rioters and the US military for the accident, all of which is understandable. And with the lack of incidents and the anger towards the destruction of parts of the city, **we wont see any repeats in the immediate future.

**Hopefully, I meant to say.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Quiet As It Shouldn’t Be

Today it didn’t sound like a 3rd world city. I could hear the birds singing and leaves rustling with the wind. This at 2pm here, when all one normally hears are bleating car horns, street chatter and the busy sounds of poverty’s overcrowding.

It was oddly serene. Odd because the serenity was continually broken by the sounds of passing rioters chanting, and exchanges of gun fire and whatever else was on hand and would explode. There would be the stillness of a shallow breeze. All the sudden broken by a few gun-shot claps and the swelling noice of a crowd passing. An exchange of gunfire echoing off the hills and buildings. And then quiet. Quiet like you never hear in the center of Kabul.

It’s been even quieter for the past few hours or so; a few sporadic gun shots at most, not full on exchanges. The cars are returning to the streets, a few at least, and not the military/police vehicles or ambulances-rather a few honking taxis and speeding motorcycles. I can hear my neighbors’ children’s voices again, venturing a few steps into their courtyards now.

I’ve heard a few reports that a couple expat guest-houses were ransacked and looted. The fire I saw this afternoon from our rooftop, which may have been one of those houses, is no longer raging though.

I imagine it will be quite a few days more of protests here and there—hopefully without gunfire. And Juma and the funeral processions will be the real test of whether the powder keg is still volatile.

I imagine it will be even longer before the anti-American/West/Karzai sentiments that exploded today will calm down. That is only if things don’t get worse here in Kabul and in the south.

In the least, I hope the evening will be serene, and not oddly so.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Better Said Than I Could Ever...

Ahmed Rashid has a new article in the Yale Global Online.

The article is titled "A Taliban Comeback?" (I approve of the use of the question mark, and finally am praising an article headline!) Not surprisingly, given the author, it discusses the some of the issues I've been trying to touch on much more intelligently and articulately than I could ever. Obviously, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Learning Lessons

I hopefully have learned mine, especially since the lesson was so fresh (surely to be later forgetten as always). So I wont critique the headline of this WaPo article.

The article discusses the same topics that showed up in the AP article mentioned a few posts below. The WaPo article, at least briefly, touches on some of the contending issues. The issues I wish were mentioned, at least briefly, in the AP article. Though the WaPo avoids discussing the warlord/druglord/gov't official issue in depth, which is understandable, given the complexity and contending issues.

So, yeah, a lot of deaths this past week in the fighting. The Taliban are surely making a showing. But whether or not it was just that, a show, was quickly mentioned at lunch. I'm venturing towards that camp, thinking it's a show, rather than a strengthening. Partly, because I suspect the Taliban were dispersed rather than destroyed over the past few years (the NWFP being the well known sanctuary), and with things boiling up in Balochistan and other areas bordering, it's an opportune time to come back across the border and stir things up. And Iraq has been dominating the headlines for way too long now, the Al-Qaida here and in Pakistan are probably feeling left out.

Interestingly, the WaPo article mentions a public disapproval of the ISAF/CF tactics in rooting out the militants here. That brings me back to the lesson part. As is also mentioned, there are more troops here now than there were in the initial invasion and attack. It seems like the lessons applied then are now forgotten. Moreover, the same lessons, which should have been reinforced in the Iraq fighting seem to be ignored. Namely, from what I've read, part of the success of the initial attack in Afghanistan was due to the "small-scale" and integration of outside forces with the allied Afghan parties, i.e. the heavy use of integrated special forces. The other part, of course, being the fact that there were allied parties, and a common enemy.

That may be the problem this time around, and the cause of the necessity for the heavy-handedness. In these recent lurches towards democracy, we've gotten, or at least seen, factionalism (which most likely reduces to the long-standing tribalism of the region) rather than pluralism. And so there may no longer be a broader alliance and dominant or sigular enemy, such as was apparently present before 2002.

Of course, my perspective as a contractor is highly limited, and only compounded by the compound walls, and the hills that completely obscure the horizon beyond Kabul.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

We See Where That Went This Time

A mere 6 or so hour later. It looks now like it'll be the end of September.

In no way a comment on Kunitz, but those recent sentiments below will now have to be short lived. At least the title of the poem will be more appropriate at the next round. So it'll be a new season and not home that will get me through dust storms and itchy eyes.

In continuing with the theme, I leave you with three (apparently appropriately) unremitting Robert Creeley pieces.


On such a day
did it happen

by happy conincidence
just here.



Back a street is the sunken
pit of the erstwhile market
first century where the feral

cats now wait for something
to fall in and along the
far side is the place where

you get the bus, a broad
street divided by two
areas for standing with a

covered provision, etc. Antichi!
Zukofsky'd say--all of it
humbling age, the pitted, pitiful

busts someone's sprayed with blue
paint, the small streets laboring
with compacted traffic, the generous

dank stink floods the evening air
Where can we go we will not
return to? Each moment, somewhere.



Hard to be unaddressed-
Empty to reflection-
Take the road east-
Be where it is.

The End of Something

Work has calmed down a bit. We're back on that close-down/wrap-up cycle. For certain, some things are ending. Around the house there is certainly the air of something ending.

We'll see where that goes this time.

But, I've had a bit more free time. So, upon reading that Stanley Kunitz just passed away, I was able to go spend some time reading his stuff again. Here is the obit from the LA Times.

Below is one of his most famous.

Feels appropriate right now.

End of Summer

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was forever over.

Already the iron door of the North
Clangs open: birds,leaves,snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

There Is No Chicken, There Is No Egg

Since figuring out which is which, or even if there is a chicken/egg situation here is impossible and fruitless. Further the situation is obviously cyclical and intertwined and well known, today, what AP put up is largely a non-story. So it's about the violence and joblessness, and has an odd title, at best.

Jobs, a lack of, lead young muslim men to terrorism. Terrorism makes it impossible for a stable and growing economy to take root. Thank you for stating it again. Except this time the AP writer didn't belabor, let alone mention the point. It drifted there, nonetheless, and was more than implied in the quotes.

I would have loved to see the journalist mention the kick-up in the poppy eradication programs of this season, and of late. Some research on how that is effecting the job market would be interesting too. Any of the Afghan folks or -philes see anything about that of late? I cant find anything.

E has a post about an interesting, odd and altogether sad incident in the Afghan Parliment. As terrible as it is, I did chuckle when I read the article off the listserv. But I was nodding my head side-to-side to, not tilting my head backwards. Oh yeah, I seem to be forming a habit of late...the incident involved a very courageous Afghan Woman MP getting attacked for her comments during session.

And relating to the above violence thing and "the big O" (as I'm now going to refer tothe spring offensive...ok maybe not, we'll see) I got this tid-bit today:
Rocket/Mortar fire: 08 May, Kabul Province, Kabul City, Presidential Palace Area – (0730), a typical fruit and vegetable cart, loaded with eight 57mm helicopter rockets on a remote controlled launcher, was discovered near the Presidential Palace....a disconnected control wire caused the remote control to malfunction...instructed to be on the lookout for carts, bicycles and motorbikes left unattended.

Eight 57mm rockets, on a fruit cart?? Look below, they aren't the smallest thing (that picture is/was actually a weapons store in Maymana). Eight...I definately woulda seen that smoke plume from my roof.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming....

Folks—dear, dear, loyal folks—sorry about those last two tangential posts. Excuse my vagrancy. Temporary as it was.

So now a post about music, oh wait...this blog was never supposed to be about...well never mind...

J---, who probably doesn’t read this blog anymore because of all the annoying music posts, pointed me to yet another band I’ve missed the past few years, and an album from last year that completely flew under my radar. (I blame it on my ineptitude and utterly un-hip High School friends that drag me down. I surely don’t blame it on J, besides J doesn’t even read this anymore so blaming him would do no good. N-mode, can you paint that crying tears mime make-up on my face and I’ll do that ‘tearing your own heart-out and crushing it’ act right here.)

Oh the album. The band is Stars and the album is “Set Yourself On Fire” (maybe I should go all performance artsy and mime the sewing of my heart to a string, raise my arm as if I’m holding the heart on a string, hang my head, mime that one movement light a zippo trick, and set my heart aflame. Get it myself = my heart. So profound.)

Beautiful and restrained chamber indie-pop, even when they go all grandiose on your ass. Dizzying and dazzling at times, especially after a few listens. So they’re up there w/ The National now. Take them, remove the ‘sobering up after a one-night stand while away on a business trip’ pathos, and keep the regret and misery. As the p-fork review put it, it's "the moments right after you hit your emotional nadir and start getting your shit together." Not as cacophonous as Arcade Fire, but as swelling and climactic.

Go get the album and listen to ‘Reunion’ over and over and over and over...

P.S. I hope all the Mudville Gazette readers enjoyed this post. Seriously though, welcome aboard.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tattletaling on the Taliban

I'm going to stay after class and tell Ms. Condi that the Taliban, espcially with their more recent changes in operational style, are...umm...terrorists by any (of the many) standards the current administration has employed. They've killed civilians for political purposes.

In trying to improve my foot speed to dodge bullets when I'm kidnapped and my Taliban captors are shooting at my feet making me dance the jig for their own entertainment, I was looking up Salsa steps and came across this. At least the Taliban will be playing some hip-shaking rhythms for me.

The Taliban aren't terrorists. See, the State Dept. seems to think such.

"In the latest State Department report last Friday, one item went unnoticed by the press, until now: the US doesn't classify the Taliban as terrorists -- and haven't for the last six years.

The find was made by's Tom Regan. The US does classify other groups on the US hit list as terrorists -- such as Hezbollah, al Qaeda and Hamas."

Though I'm not expecting consistency on this front. I'm not consistent in my own "definition" of "terrorism" or "terrorists". I don't believe it's even appropriate in foreign relations. But come on now, 6 years running? All the while, as iocaste212 points out here, the Earth Liberation Front gets tried under domestic terrorism laws and put on the DHS terrorist list?

I can see why before 9/11 the Taliban weren't put on the terrorist list. Largely, they weren't on our radar as national security threat. And the Clinton and Bush administrations had other political/economic motivations to engage with them. So is the current reason for leaving them off the list simply to justify the current administration's view that Afghanistan is a decreasing threat to US national security? That we've won the "war on terrorism" here? That we can pull our combat troops out of the southern parts of this country and put in NATO troops with more restrictive rules of engagement?

I'm gonna go watch that Colbert bit again.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Motorcycled

Finally, Afghanistan makes some front pages, or at least one, as noted by’s TP. NYT has a summary article on the annual the Taliban spring offensive, which every reader here is familiar with now. The article paints a good picture of how this offensive is a bit different than previous ones. This one not just consisting of rogue or guerilla attacks, but rather offensives for control of areas of the country.

TP also mentions an older news item, the ban on motorcycles in Ghazni, as they are often a Taliban mode of transportation. (The preceding link's article links to an IWPR article.) The news on that ban had made its rounds here after it was issued, one article, if I recall correctly, even including a quote extolling a certain powerful Mullah’s ability to ride 2-up and hit his targets w/ an RPG. But, the subsequent ban by the Taliban on all motor vehicles in the same area and the effectiveness of that ban is news to me. Though that article that discusses it is a few days old, I haven’t seen anything referencing it (haven’t looked hard though). The effectiveness of that ban, and the quotes are quite foreboding.

A few rockets and kidnappings are one thing, and even an increase in their frequency, though indicating a rising threat, wasn’t terribly concerning to me, given a lot of the current political and military context. The Taliban being able to shut down a whole region of the country, indicating their effective control of the area, is quite a different matter. The former only requires a safe house here and there or a couple of caves to duck into. Keeping all traffic at bay shows that the Taliban are the de facto authority in that area. Whether true or not, meaning whether or not they have the means and ability to be the de facto authority in the region, it doesn’t matter, as the locals seem to believe it.

That belief is the primary concern for me. I recall often reading coverage after the Taliban was ousted where the sentiment often expressed was to the effect of “we didn’t want them, but what could we do?”—in other words, a sentiment expressing a belief in the de facto authority of the Taliban—a sentiment of hopelessness. I hope it’s too soon for hopelessness. And of course, there is the actual possibility and fact that support for the Taliban is rising again.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Join the Masses! Join the Multitude!

Get yourself on The Ark!

...fine, I sincerely apologize for that. I just couldn't help myself. It was just so...I know, I know...OK, I'm sorry. Deeply sorry.

But the are that good. I'm moving to Sweden and becoming a groupie. A free track here.

But just buy the album.

If the world was right, "Hey Kwanogoma!" AND "Clamour for Glamour" AND "One of Us Is Gonna Die Young"(the free song above) would be the song of the summer.

Thank me in the comments.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Pinko Card Expired...

...obviously, as is evidenced by the fact that it's nearly midnight (here), and I haven't put up a happy May Day post. I'll call it a strategic choice, which my safety in mind, seeing as there is generally a strong distaste for those even remotely associated with Marx. And that distaste comes from two opposing groups here, one well armed, the other crazy. Getting those two factions to unite as they hunt me down in the hills of Hazarajat wouldn't be good. Nonetheless, my 18 year-old self would be ashamed of my 28 year-old self.

Perhaps more importantly (and in dismissing the holiday celebrated around the world), and definately quite interestingly, as N-mode points out, today is Natonal Law Day. And yeah, so he's right on how lame it is. (Any significance to them choosing May Day to celebrate Law Day in the US?) BUT, he also found that the ABA site lets you buy Law Day t-shirts.

Take a look at those law-day revolutionaries. Soon the masses will be taking the streets and chanting "Our heritage of liberty under the law and the rule of law makes our democracy possible!", as the ABA suggests. And you don't even have to silk screen these t-shirts in the basement of your punk-house.

One click-shopping...take that 18 year-old self!

P.S. Completely foiled by blogger, or perhaps the powers that be conspiring to make a point, some javascript error wouldn't let me publish the post on May Day...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'll write something about Kabul in

I’ve never really been tempted to start a myspace site. It’s bad enough that I’ve entered the realm of bloggers, but myspace is a whole new low (unless, of course, you’re just trying to get some). But they have those band sites, such as BTS’s, and more importantly you can stream music.

This is only now pertinent cause I found a theme song. And this is only relevant cause I’m name-dropping another new album. I finally got around to downloading the new Madlib album. I know, I know, it’s a shameful fact. I mean, the dude named a pseudonym after me, and I don’t have enough gratitude to buy each and every thing he puts out (and dude has diarrhea of the DAT) as soon as he puts it out. Add to that the fact that he’s pure genius, and the best beat maker (I mean, konducta, beat konducta) on the face of the earth. The best.

So...too little too late, but, he’s released a new album, ‘Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes’. More importantly, he’s dropped the track "Electric Company (Voltage-Watts)" (warning, that’s the iTunes link). The deep ‘electric hum’ that serves as a bass line, the clicking train track beat that evokes a meter switches deep in the generator, the interspersed warning chime/bell, and the monotone 50’s ‘electric company’ voice sample...all that, make for a perfect soundtrack to the current work.

It’s not even the best track on the album.

P.S. There is even a track with cowbell on it! Come on everyone, all together now: I need more...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Circling Towards Summer

It’s hard to have your nerves frayed when the weather is as amazing as it is currently in Kabul. But I think a lot of the expats on our team are in such a state; partly from the project and work itself, and partly from the upswing in attacks and violence.

There was this past week’s rocket attack close to the embassy. Luckily the house I’m in is quite some distance from there, 2-3km or so. I was up at the time and went to look at the smoke plume with a housemate that woke up. I think my skills at sleeping through earthquakes would extend to rocket attacks too. So it’s reassuring to know that my housemate in the room across from is a light sleeper.

Then just a few days ago, our security director walked in to dinner a few minutes late, reporting that there was another attack. A co-worker in the house quite close to the embassy and ISAF had called him reporting a blast and hearing ISAF sound the alarm. (We found out later it was just a gas cylinder that had gone off.) Our Chief immediately started discussing and working out the logistics of getting all the staff into the (safer, distance from target wise) house I live in. Then after about two minutes, and a few sighs, we all carried on, thick with sarcasm, insulting and ribbing each other and everything else as usual. The next day, when the other co-workers were to move to our house, not one decided to bother.

I’d like to think that decision was made because the spring weather brings hope.

P.S. In the past few months, whenever I would hear, or hear about attacks or gunfire or such, my thoughts would always soon race to the nationals and locals that live with this in much different circumstances than us well-walled expats, and moreover many of whom who lived through much worse for many years. I realized just a few days ago, even after reading about the Afghan national that was killed in the recent attack, that I didn’t pay much mind to the national’s/local’s situation. I’m far from settled on how I feel about this fact. Since in many ways, it was a patronizing empathy, but in the least it was an empathy, however misplaced or misguided or mis-rooted it may have been. And it’s absence implies some callousness and/or complacency towards certain things. Yet those two things, in then end, are somewhat useful in this environment.

... next time I write a paragraph like the above, I’m just gonna do a big circle flow diagram, with an appropriate legend. It’ll be easier to read and likely make the callousness point that much more strongly...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Seeking Srinagar

On this last visit to Pakistan, my father, mother and I went to Faislabad/Lailpur. My dad had studied and taught there years ago. Had he stayed in Pakistan, he would have likely taught there for years on end, as his classmates and former co-workers who he went to go visit there did. They asked him to come back for a month for a stint as a visiting professor. This, which he is contemplating, launched the line of conversation about why he left, and emigrating and such between him and his old friends (who have children abroad now, and have visited them).

This, of course, brought the conversation to a salient point for me, and my choice to come back to this part of the world to work, and my contemplating finding a job for a few years around these parts. My dad’s friends, of course, thought it was somewhat ironic that I chose to come back here to work, Kabul too rather than Lahore or Karachi or Dehli or Banglore or such. So one of his friends decided to relate a joke he heard second-hand from his son when he last visited him in America.

After the trip back to the ‘watan’ and a recent conversation with a friend about somewhat similar throes they find themselves in, the issue has become more prominent. With the rising of India and the subcontinent, the rebuilding of Afghanistan, I’m sure a lot more folks are in similar straits too, as the options and opportunities for and benefits and value in returning for many 2nd gen folks have increased in these parts (parallels probably apply to China too as one of my college buddies is pursuing that right now). And I think this situation is separate from the “reverse brain-drain” of foreign students in the west electing to not pursue a life in the west. This is particular to 2nd gen folks electing to return to their “watan” or “Kashmir” (as Hamesha related a wonderfully apt pathan proverb in a recent comment).

The joke (retold with my special ability to make everything not funny) goes:
A man had been in paradise for some “time” now; all rivers of milk and honey, rolling green hills, gardens, serenity and peace and beauty. One day, kinda bored of all this routine paradise, he goes for a stroll. He came up the gates of paradise, and caught a glimpse of the other side. Raucous fun they were having in Hell; all partying and dancing and gambling and films and women and drinking—all things debauchery and fun.

So he asked the gate-keeper for a visit, and was told to put in an application for a visit. The application snakes its way up the bureaucratic machinery, finally to the higher authority, stamped and approved. Tourist visa in hand, the man crosses the gates, and has an un-righteously good time in hell—pure fun and enjoyment and rewards. The pleasures are endless. But his tour comes to an end and he leaves. Returning to oh so serene paradise, boredom, and placidity and all. He decides then and there that after a life of solemnity and steadfastness on earth, it’s time to have some fun. So his immigrant’s visa is filed. This one goes straight to God, who calls him in for his immigration interview. Only one question is asked, “are you sure you want to emigrate?” The man says yes. So he packs up his things, says his good byes and crosses the gates.

Lo and behold, it’s hell—fire and brimstone hell, demons and devils, boulders on the backs and lashes, serpents and servitude. So one day he finally makes it back to the gate-keeper and he asks, what happened to the hell that he first visited. The gate-keeper immediately starts laughing and says, “my friend, the first time you came, you came on a tourist visa, and this time my friend, you’ve come on an immigrant’s visa.”

Now my father’s friend related this joke in talking about immigrating to America, and in suggesting to my father that perhaps it’s time to come back to Pakistan. My father responded that yes, he does think about returning occasionally, and was even thinking about it on this trip back. He immediately followed that with saying (in Urdu with a poignancy that can never be truly translated) “sir, we must remember that this time, I’m in Pakistan on a tourist’s visa.” Heads nodded side to side, and a laugh was had all around.

As I think about the next few years, I need to remember what my father said that day.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Making The Runs

And I mean that in every sense of the word "runs". Got sick from the wedding food the day before I was to leave. So I did get to spend some quality time with the parents and sis as I was bedridden. Followed by a 4 hour car ride up to Islamabad at 2 am. I caught the flight, and my stomach survived.

Had a wonderful time. Saw the family, almost the whole lot of them. And there is a whole lot of them.

Welcomed some more folks into the family. Some crazy desis, and some crazy "pakhtoons" (two cousins got married in one week). When I saw the barat of one wedding coming and it was about 10 men in white shalwars and black waistcoats, for a second, I thought I was back in Kabul. It was urdu/punjabi and pushto bantered all around. Got to see some places I hadn't been in 15 years (my dad's childhood house).

Most importantly, my mom brought me my new speakers. They are divine. I can actually hear bass lines now.

Perhaps even more importantly, I really had a sense of ease when coming back to Kabul this time. I was not only happy, but even a bit relieved to be back, the kind of relief you get when coming back home. I think I'm really gonna miss this place (or more correctly the compound and the little else I see) when I finally have to leave.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ashes to Ashes, Diesel to Dust

So a few days in the Watan (homeland, I believe in Dari or Pustho). A few days to go. Its been dusty, and not too hot, just around 100F. Pleny of donkey carts, rikshaws, lorries with beautiful decorations, beautiful to someone at least...and dust. Plenty of dust. And dancing monkeys. Ahh Punjab. Yesterday I was in Faislabad (aka Lailpur) that is punjab central, even had a tandoori pratha. But luckily, not too much on the deisel fumes. My cigarettes are tasting funny here.

Untill a few days...q.a.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Luckily We Have Armed Guards

Else, my off-key tone-deaf singing, and the impending rioting of our neighbors would be an issue. Our secruity director and his 9 is a concern. But he wouldn't shoot a man with a grin as big as mine is right now, I hope.

So more Built To Spill:

Doug Martsch is around the 40 mark after all, so I guess it's not surprising that he chose VH1 over MTV. VH1 is supposedly streaming the new album. Frustratingly, it wont play for me.

But, alas, all is not lost. I'm quite content with either streaming 'Conventional Wisdom' from the BTS myspace site.

And since I have some concern for my coworkers and our shared bandwidth, I've been listening to 'Liar' (a demo, I believe cause of the vocal reverb effect on the beginning). Find it here. Found it thanks to this site.

Hopefully Warner Bros. realized that I'll be in Lahore on the Apr. 11th release date and is shipping copies to the music stores there. least there is iTunes.