Monday, March 27, 2006

Zoe ka mo wa I've been sleepin' all day...I'm called Mr. Wombat/Oh oh oh oh...

The week has been eventfully uneventful. I fear this will be the norm of the next three months, and the new role. I am back to being in charge of a few people, and am rediscovering my issues with managing people. I should write an ontological discourse on the reduction of the other required in the process of management and thus file a complaint on my new role and the imposition of reductionism upon a newly ‘liberated’ nation-state. I would get fired, if one can get fired for absurdity. So it’s not that bad. But it is tedious. Rather they are tedious; other people that is. So it’s back to that complaint or issue I had discussed several months ago about being in an odd position as a 2nd generation American of a regional ethnicity. And since I’ll be doing this role for a longer time, I have more to consider, I think, that being longer term working relationships.

So there has been a lot going on in Afghanistan, as the news in the US is surely reporting. And the fighting in the south isn’t making my job any easier. I may get fired (that being the running theme of this post, my insecurities with my new role...and absurdity), if one could be absurdly fired for border fighting between tribes and nations.

We’ve also just about finished our reduction for the extension, and the dynamics of dinner (and the house) have dramatically changed. For the past few days, we’ve only had 5 people at dinner, down from a max of 14, and all this in the past few weeks. So there is that odd transition period where the roles will shift, and the dynamics shift and settle. So far, the conversations have been absurd. The dinner conversations at our house, through out my stay here so far, have usually devolved into the absurd, but usually start with some actual discussion of work and such. Now we skip the trivialities. Part of that has to do with the fact that much of the work we were doing before continues on, except with less than half the expat staff (we found a way to keep the majority of the national staff), so I think the consensus is to just completely revel in absurdity. It all makes sense then.

And so the theme music has been The Police for the past few days, and will likely continue to be (this is just a usual spring habit of mine though). In all my years of listening to them, and believing they are one of the best all time rock bands (I can’t believe I never burned the box set, but luckily I did burn Outlados, Reggatta, (and less thankfully) Ghost...i may have to iTunes Zenyatta and Synchronicity...) I never really appreciated how much the band reveled in the absurd. I mean beside the absurdity of some of the compositions themselves (and the brilliance in making them actual pop songs, catchy as hell ones at that), and the few obvious Copeland or Summers tracks, the likes of “Peanuts” or “Be My Girl Sally“, all of The Police seems to reek of absurdity explicitly, or in the least as an strong undertone, even the instrumentals such as “Masoko Tanga” (one of their best songs ever (along with at least 35 other songs), though Sting must have been high as a kite when he sung that the first time, and purportedly came up with the “lyrics”/jibberish** on the the way does anyone have a live version or heard a live version of the song??? Share dammit!).

So the point being, besides getting fired, is that I think I’m becoming one of those “1st worlders” that think the “3rd worlder” is simply absurd. I hate those people.

** I did find this note at a site when looking for the "lyrics" to “Masoko Tanga”:

(From here)

“NOTE: These lyrics, provided by Jake Keel, were included with the original Japanese vinyl release of Outlandos d'Amour. The Japanese distributer just payed an English speaker to interpret the lyrics, but they are as close to "official" as has been found. The lyrics also contained a footnote warning that the song illustrates the negative effects of drug use.

Actually, I read that Sting was under hypnosis when he "sang" this song. A famous illusionist was in Surrey Sound Studios when they recorded this, so they decided to mess around with that opportunity (that also explains those weird basslines that he's playing).”

Sunday, March 26, 2006

On Offering

for something between atonement and attunement:

Some MP3s from Joe Purdy's last album. Go check him out.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Naw Roz Mubarak

The Gov't of Afghanistan (GoA) has declared 4 days off, Tuesday through Friday. Much, if not most of our national staff is taking a fair amount of time off. Part of my new role involves the GoA employees, so I wont have that to do. I don’t know if we actually get the day off. No one does. Our Chief even asked us at the table if we knew if we had the day off. Yeah, I was tempted to say something, but then I realized I would just get some riposte about my sleeping habits. Smartly, I think, I bit my tongue.

I’m taking on a new role, during the extension. It wont be fun, but at least it will be clear what, exactly, I’m doing here in Kabul (though I really hope to continue doing the random and oddball work). The new role diminishes the existential angst a bit, but for the part that the job entails a fair amount of frustration. The person I took over for did an astounding job, and turned the project around. Stepping in becomes all that much worse. And as he was departing, turning over mounds of files, and sage words of wisdom he noted the best part of the job—all the responsibility and no authority.

And so the New Year begins.

There was an article in the Beeb about a trial here in Afghanistan, currently being tried. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. Especially given the Taliban upsurge and potential ramifications there with the outcome of the trial. I feel no envy for the judge in figuring out both the legal aspects here, the application of Sharia, balancing the Afghan Constitution (particularly Article 2, clause (2), stating “Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law,” and Article 3 stating “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”) Sharia is used here, and more often than not, from what I’ve learned second hand, and only with respect to criminal cases (which I don’t even think this is, at least I hope it isn’t), the Hanafi School.

Given the political climate, I wonder if such will determine this case. Especially since so much foreign media attention has already been thrown on the case. As the foreign interest really pulls both ways (the desire to portray a modern Islamic State respecting religious freedom, versus the potential fuel to the fire provided by such a decision, and surely to be capitalized upon by the Taliban & fundamentalists). God knows which way this case will go. And I haven’t read much about the defendant’s representation. In fact, I feel some sympathy for those (if there is anyone) representing the defendant. I envy no one involved with this case, and would think it best if the case is simply thrown out. That fallout would seem to be the easiest to manage, politically, rather than a decision of guilt either way. Further, that would establish the best precedent too.

Oh yeah, finally the violence has approached a bit closer, not physically though. About two weeks before the Macedonians from Ecolog were kidnapped and later killed, one of then was at our house for dinner. I have to go meet with his coworkers soon for work stuff.

Ahh, the New Year. Somehow Jens Lekman hasn’t been cutting it as the necessary soundtrack. Instead it’s been mid/late 90s DC-ish punk. Monorchid, one of those “criminally underappreciated” bands, has been on heavy rotation (a free MP3 I just found, a classic to boot, or this could just be nostalgia), as has been Sleepy Time Trio, Maximillian Colby, Fugazi, 400 Years, and for light fare, the Pee Tanks.

Blissful college/post-teen angst driven hope is replacing existential/european angst. Sure, it is pining for the salad days. But it is spring and the rains are fresh, and a new year is here in this better time for such.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Naw Roz Mubarak.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bate Your Breaths... longer. The long awaited post is finally here. Music. What you all should be listening to. And not one recommendation is for Camp Lo. So first, where P-fork was on spot: Jens Leckman. I’m a latecomer on this, and grabbed both albums, the better album being ‘Oh You’re So Silent Jens’, collecting his LPs released on Secretly Canadian. And yes, if you love Magnetic Fields (vocals and all...), you’ll dig him, and he holds his own throwing some Morissey and Belle in their for flavor. The track on repeat is “The Wrong Hands.” But the album has become the morning listen. And then there is Tapes ‘n Tapes too. So far they are song by song, but I’m warming up to the album, ‘The Loon’, as a whole. I can’t stop listening to “Jakov’s Suite”, though it needs to be loud, mind you, and a few of the other tracks, particularly “10 Gallon Ascots”. The reviews all name-check the influences, from current to no more than 10 years old, but in general they got a good art-punk edge to them. Their webpage (though it appears to be down at this writing) has a few free downloads, particularly good is “’50s Parking”.

I’ve been watching the first season of “Lost” and after one of the episodes, I had to run out and track down the closing track, “Wash Away(reprise)”, by Joe Purdy. Though, now I prefer the original steel string version. They miked Joe incredibly close and pushed the steel string to the back of the mix, to a nice effect. The album “Julie Blue” (the only one available on iTunes) is quite solid, and the more common morning album, sunny morning that is, and it’s springtime. Nice country folk, finger-picking mandolin and all. And yes, the reprise of “Wash Away” will remind some of Israel KamakaWTF’s (ukulele, mind you) version of “Somewhere.../...Wonderful World.” But the album isn’t trite (nor is Israel’s cover though). Joe’s no beautiful tenor, but he has a pleasant wispy voice (a bit forced at times), and simple, straight lyrics, such as on one of his best tracks, “I Love the Rain the Most”. The album isn’t consistent, but has enough gems to more than make it worth your while, and the recording is stripped down and nice, but not that clean.

And after watching the ad posted on Marty Z’s website, I picked up the song to that too. Decent acoustic indie-folk, nothing special, but if you can't get enough of Kings of Convenience pick up the album, ‘Veneer’ by Jose Gonzalez. The track, “Heartbeat” (which is actually a cover of another Nordic band), used for the commercial is really good, and the hook is catchy as all hell. Gonzalez is a great guitarist, but the melodies are a bit lacking and the multi-tracked vocals and Nick Drakesque delivery hurt the songs with the lyrics being weak. The intimacy doesn’t work.

And lastly, everyone who made it this far should go get “Ta Det Lungt” by Dungen, if you haven’t already, as the album was released some time last year. At least, buy the song “Panda” and for the 5 minutes of searing guitar riffs, “foreign” lyrics and swirling percussion, throw up a double-handed devil’s horns while thrusting around your room. Shut the door and draw the curtains first though. Co-workers/housemates will laugh at you. Especially the second time they catch you.

Well, enough of what all the folks in D.C. missed most about me.

Oh and a side-note, now that nobody is reading, some interesting (to me) and relevant stuff. I’ve been meaning to post this for quite some time, but have been, well embarrassed and shamed. I am a Science Friday addict...and have never donated to them. Yet luckily, through the beauty of podcasts, I have kept my addiction. So about a month ago, they did a report on the engineers electrifying Iraq. Rather, rebuilding what was probably a very well developed electrical system before, you know, the last 15 years or so of bombings, wars, and sanctions. One of our expat team members recently went to Tikrit to work there. Though they face a much more risky situation than us, a lot of the issues and difficulties they face there parallel the work here. The descriptions of the situation, and stories of the engineering and other issues were in many regards similar to the situation on the ground here. This may be common in many post-conflict zones, I'm guessing, and even in just poor countries, but I'm too green to make that call. So if you care, the MP3 version, and if you insist, RA and WMV versions can be found here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Don't Worry About the Government"

Blinders or a burried head? Those are my options as I see them. And, I think rather than dark shaded sunglasses, those are more likely the options when trying to figure out the US administration's motivations. That is, if any motivations or sensibility are there. I just can't really believe that there is an absence of motivation or vision. The people in the Oval Office are just too damn intelligent. And I'm not one to default to conspiracy, or accusations of starting a Halliburton Empire. But I'm coming close.

And so I think David Byrne had the correct insights on the Gov't with the lyrics from the song referenced above in the title. The sentiments and attitude expressed, both about my own life and towards the gov't, may be the only way to respite.

So read this article in the WaPo. It touches tangientially, or rather brings to light, some of the issues I was trying to bring up in a post below about Bush's visit to the Sub_Conti, i.e. about why Bush should have a differing attitude toward Pakistan rather than India, how India is taking a much smarter approach to the region and how, in the end, Bush needs to do a lot more to fix the situaion with Pakistan and thus, and concurrently, with Afghanistan. But he wont. Though I don't think the accusations made by the Minister quoted in the WaPo article are rock solid, I fear that there is some truth to the underlying sentiments. I believe there is some truth to sentiment, and share it.

But I was far from the location of the bombing, luckily, and safely tucked away under armed guard is a well walled compound. So..."I wouldn't worry about me, don't you worry about me, don't you worry about meeeee...."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

And on the 6th Day...

I recall, or have made up, a story I once heard or read about Afghanistan. I’m hoping someone can verify this for me. I remember it being from some TV special or documentary on this country, from years ago, most likely from the early ‘90s. As I recall an old man was relating a joke/proverb about Afghanistan, something to the effect that after God had finished creating the world, on the 6th day, he took all the left over rubble and debris and dumped it here.

After yesterday’s excursion, I can see why they tell that story. Now, there is the literal interpretation of that story, in terms of the debris and detritus all over Kabul, and of course, that is true for many third world cities. The characteristic overflowing trash lining the streets, the stink of sewage and smells of street food intermixed, and the overwhelming dust.

Kabul has the Silk Road buzz, the post-war twist and the faint ghosts of the Ruskis for its own particular version. But I think the story wasn’t meant to evoke this particular scene. It wasn’t meant as a post-modern parable of globalization, the Cold War, and the post-conflict zone. I think it was meant to be about the mountains and harsh landscape. Most of us are familiar with such, at least through the TV and news. But as always, witnessing it in person is dramatically different.

So I had, likely, the best day I’ve had here. And all we did was take an hour and a half drive outside the city. This one-day excursion was as relaxing, if not more, than my RnR to Goa. And if I could do this trip, or others similar (as there are many places to see not far out of the city), with some regularity, I could even forgo the RnRs during the extension (oh yeah, I think I’ll be here till the end of June).

The simple details of the trip, for it was a simple trip, are that we had a picnic lunch prepared by our wonderful chefs, supplemented by some local food supplied by our gracious hosts, and took it along, at the invitation of our Afghan host, to a day-house/picnic area on a mountain-side right above Charikar. Our host, the wonderful “The General” accompanied us to the location and stayed with us there for a couple of hours. "The General" was from Charikar and was the mujahidin commander there for years, allied with Massoud. The sun was strong and warm, and the air was thin and crisp, and not a whiff of diesel fumes. Luckily I brought plenty of cigarettes, lest my lungs get too used to clean air. Pictures are below.

Leaving Kabul...and the dust behind...

...and the convoy leaving us behind

The switchbacks up to the picnic spot, four walls of windows, and a great roof deck...

Being with "The General" meant we got more than the basic picnic spot, but even those were quite nice, even by first world standards.

Even the guards enjoyed the day, I hope...

More Photos of Charikar...

One of my coworkers, the one from Colorado, decided to bound off, and up the hill (the house off below in the left corner...a few of us, not quite bounding, followed.

A guard was sent in chase, after the first coworker, he would run up a bit, stop and look back at me with an exasperated smile, and with a side-to-side nod of the head take off again.

There were some locals enjoying the view, and others like the above, carrying big bundles of sticks across the mountains. But they were merely walking across the face of the mountain...amatures...

The spring carved from the face of the mountain. A pipe from this snaked down the face to the house we were at below.

I did learn that being short and squat helps in getting down mountains quickly...but it wasn't polite to those behind...

Came back down to find this, but at some point, we all ended up taking a nap during the day, so it wasn't really that different than any other work day...

And most thankfully, I got the required "Old Man on Donkey" photo on the way back.

And there was the hazy Kabul at the base of the valley below.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Promise Kept...Kinda

Much going on at time to post, plus I got sick again, and I’ve had nothing interesting to say, and that has finally stopped me from posting, except for the following that is. But there is an interesting discussion going on at Elizabeth’s blog on what/who is an ‘aid worker.’ OK, so no one but a bunch of navel-gazing expats care about such things. But, I’ve never claimed such nobility. I make too much money and live in way to good of a house, and have too many people looking after me to be considered noble. To further the argument that my life is way too good, I’m posting some more pictures from Goa. These ones were stolen from VP. And on recent events, there have been a few happenings here, but I wont rehash the news except to say that during Bush’s four hour visit the extra helicopters circling above Kabul were really bothersome. I mean, “rebuilding a nation,” “securing our future,” “the war on terrorism,” and “spreading democracy” only get 4 hours? Four hours? More importantly, tomorrow is our contract close out party. And I may get out of Kabul on Friday for a picnic in the country-side, there will be pictures of that. Ok, pictures of Goa.

The path to the beach, the dude charged for the picture of his water-buffalo. I shoulda asked for a glass of milk at least...

The Latin Quarter in Panjim/Panaji, where then Panjim Inn is located.

Some empty beaches in Goa, forget the name of the city...I can find it if you need.

Me drooling over the impending pan, and it only got worse once I shoved it in my cheek...the drooling that is.

A sunset in Bogmalo...I guess the trip wasn't too bad...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hastiness and Hope

Both only seem to bring disappointment to my life.

First, so much for this administration laying the groundwork and forging a strong, long-term policy for this area. By the way, does anyone know what India’s capabilities are for enriching uranium? Given how much uranium is littered across and under Afghanistan, how come not too many people are talking about this with regards to long-term policy? It’s not like it’s unknown how much uranium is in the area. But the article didn’t bring much hope today.

And as for hastiness, I think I’m gonna have to figure out a way around our new inventory control list for DHL packages. If I was only more patient with getting the books. Though I’m sure the new Apple hi-fi, isn’t as glorious as it purports to be, my skepticism largely coming from a box that small and self-contained being able to create a good soundstage. It’s just about the ideal solution (size, assumed quality, and price) for high quality audio when stuck temporarily in a compound in the third world. It’ll surely beat my $10, locally acquired, Altec Lansing speakers. So any suggestions on how audiophile equipment will help build capacity, develop gov’t institutions and encourage democratic civil society? Buzzwords people, buzzwords. Those are the terms in which I’ll describe it on the DHL inventory list.

**And then there was this article in Wednesday morning's WaPo. Bush is coming to Kabul in two or so days, I believe. Despite the recent announcement of pulling out troops from the south, hopefully he'll make some productive commitment to this country. Wait, what was that line I typed at the top of the post? Maybe if I get the iPodHiFi and crank it up, I wont hear the IEDs going off down the street.