Postcards from Tradocia

Category: general (Page 1 of 11)

Ten Years

Ten years ago yesterday, I made my first post on this blog. It wasn’t much of anything; I started it on a whim, just in case something interesting happened and I wanted to write about it. A month later, I found out I was going to Iraq, turning this into a “milblog,” placing me among a growing wave of servicemembers writing about war in the 21st century.

After I returned from Iraq in September of 2005, I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep writing; after all, daily life isn’t nearly as interesting as war stories, even if the war stories themselves were portraits of mundanity. I sputtered along, though, writing in fits and starts, about whatever came to mind, posting pictures here and there, commenting on a few things whenever the mood struck. Mostly, though, I wrote about the Army, and the places I went, and the dumb things I saw.

Ten years on, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about. I often have thoughts or opinions and think they might make good posts, but they rarely make it to print; for some reason, I consider few of my opinions or ideas interesting enough to share even with the tiny audience that I have here. Maybe it’s a change of perspective; being older now and having seen and experienced and read more, my ideas seem less original, less outrageous, less noteworthy than when I was younger. Being of a retiring nature also affects my desire to write – as in real life, when too many voices are raised, my instinct is to clam up, as if to concede the field of discussion to everyone louder than me. Considering the cacophonous millions of the internet, it’s a wonder I say anything at all.

“Why write?” is a question I’ve struggled with often over the years, and I’ve never had a satisfactory answer. I don’t do it for fame, or for an audience, or to influence anyone; and yet I wonder what the point is if no one reads the things I say. The thoughts are already in my head, fully formed, so it’s not as if I’m resolving things for myself by writing them down – my inner monologue is fully developed, so I suppose I do it for the “audience,” whoever that is. I love telling a story, so I guess that’s what it’s about: writing in hopes that the story of my thoughts, ideas, and life comes through in my disjointed postings.

In the next decade of blogging, I’d like to write more, about anything and everything – turning off (or at least dialing back) my internal censor and just putting my thoughts and opinions to words. Who cares if nobody reads them? Somebody will, eventually – and if one person does, that’s good enough for me.

I’ll check back on this post in 2024 and see how things went.

Hand me that Dremel

Ordinarily, when a dark-skinned man opens your mother’s chest with a power tool early in the morning, one might be inclined to reach for his sidearm or other instrument of revenge.

In this case, though, we’re all writing him a fat check. Metaphorically, of course – my mom’s on Medicare and we’re talking about heart surgery.

A little more than two weeks ago, a surgeon buzzed through my mom’s sternum, stopped her heart, and inserted a valve from a cow into her aorta. He then sewed her back up, wheeled her out, and washed up – all in about the time it takes to watch one of the extended Lord of the Rings movies. “Routine surgery,” he called it, though anything that looks like an autopsy in progress is hardly routine in my opinion. I couldn’t help but marvel at both the state of medicine and the resilience of the human body; the former for its precision and mechanical approach to the flesh, the latter for sustaining abuse in the name of healing more gruesome than nature had ever intended.

Her recovery seemed excellent, and within two days she was to be moved out of the ICU. Moving her into the wheelchair, though, she reported that she felt faint. Oh, you’re fine, assured the nurse. Then faint she did – and her heart stopped, triggering a “code blue,” summoning the entire ICU staff to her room. They performed CPR on her for several minutes and were able to revive her, but at great cost to her recovery: she’s still in the hospital, eighteen days later.

That Sunday wasn’t the first time this year that I had stared down shinigami at my mother’s bedside; the first was just after Christmas, when her COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) laid her low, bringing her within a hair’s breadth of death by respiratory failure. This was brought on, of course, by her smoking – a habit that she’s unwilling (and unable) to break, even up to the day of her heart surgery. I’m hoping that these hospital vigils don’t become a regular occurrence, but with her history as a serial boundary-pusher, I can only think that this won’t be the last time that I find myself at her bed, wondering, “is she still unkillable? Has she used up her nine lives, or does she have yet one more to bring forth with her iron will?”

Hell is Home

Halloween in the war

Halloween in the war

Happy Halloween from the geeks in Kuwait! (If you can’t read, the shirts say: “No! I can not give you access to YouTube!,” “DISTANT END’S FAULT,” “If @ first you don’t succeed, CTL-ALT-DEL,” “Jean-Luc Picard is my co-pilot,” and “JUST SHUT UP AND REBOOT”)

Add to but not take away from

Home of the secret squirrels

Home of the secret squirrels

Believe it or not, I got hassled for taking the picture here. In case you’re wondering, it’s a photo of the secret squirrel headquarters food court; hardly considered to be a sensitive location under the most restrictive of circumstances, but apparently enough to draw a young sergeant’s attention. After I snapped the photo, he approached (both of us in civilian clothes) and introduced himself. He politely informed me that we weren’t allowed to take pictures anywhere, and so I shouldn’t make it so obvious that I was doing so. I equally politely informed him that the photography policy letter was posted right by the entrance to the DFAC, and that photos were explicitly allowed as long as they didn’t include any sensitive areas (like the perimeter, entry points, secure areas, etc.). He said that he was just repeating what he was told, and we went our separate ways.

It illustrated a classic problem in the Army: the idea of “adding to but not taking away from” policies, directives, and regulations. It works like this: some level of command issues a policy that says X. When viewed at that level, the policy seems entirely reasonable and appropriate, so it’s sent down the chain. The problem is that each successive layer of command, in an effort to meet the higher echelon’s intent, adds its own interpretations and restrictions to the policy, figuring that by narrowing the boundaries they can make sure everyone colors inside the lines. By the time some policy from on high reaches something like a platoon, the thing that started as X ends up looking like (((((X)+1)+Y)+2)+Z). Thus, a policy that limits photography to non-sensitive areas only becomes a policy that bans all photography (easier to enforce) and logically leads to making cameras contraband items and inspecting barracks to ferret out such devices. After all, you can’t be wrong that way, right? It sounds ridiculous but such is the mentality sometimes. It’s also an example of “second and third order effects” that everyone needs to be aware of when making decisions that will be carried out by people far away and not under your direct control.


Meanwhile, more and more people arrive at the camp; maybe new units, maybe some rotating out of Iraq already. The DFAC is a madhouse at lunch now, with lines stretching out into the hot sun from both doors for almost the whole lunch period. It’s a minor irritation, since the line moves quickly, but I can’t help but direct my silent ire at the wearers of each new unit patch that shows up, as if they’re each personally responsible for the delay.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen in Iraq (and even if I did, I couldn’t tell it here), but strangely our brigade’s job might not be much different in 2012 after our withdrawal is complete. Bases will still need to be guarded, convoys will still need escorts, camps will still need command and control; the end of this eight years of war might be a giant anticlimax for us who are still in it. For the other units, based in Iraq, the change will be drastic, but for us REMFs, life at Fort Hood East Campus will go on much the same as before.

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming

Saturday brought the first taste of winter, with a storm that was poo-poohed on the news Friday morning but ultimately dumped well over half a foot of snow on us. At first I was excited – I love the first snow – but later my excitement turned to rage when I managed to get the car stuck at the end of the block (just visible in the photo).

Luckily it was a quick job to get it out, and I was able to get the ol’ Human Transport Ark Eltreum back into the garage and venture out in the truck. Guess it’s time for new tires…


Last weekend was the Days of Ice and Fire event, hosted by Fantasy Flight Games – conveniently headquartered in Roseville. It was a three day event of geekery revolving around George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, including appearances each day by the author himself. It also was a showcase for the three games set in the world of the novels: a card game, a tactical war game, and a board game. Mrs. Melobi and I have been playing the card game and the war game, and to her great credit she came to the event with me. I’ve spent many hours in the geek world, hanging out at dimly-lit game stores with men of questionable hygiene and worse social skills, playing obscure games until all hours of the night, so the environment was familiar for me (and indeed, a bit of a homecoming as well – a topic for another post). But Melobi, while fairly well-versed in geek lore (being a huge fantasy and sci-fi

Signed by the man himself!

Signed by the man himself!

fan in her own right, combined with the education I’ve given her in anime and gaming), had never attended an event of this sortbefore. As it turned out, we both had a great time. We even got cards for the game of the author himself, and had them autographed. I’m not much for autographs, but when I saw the author card in the swag bag, getting that signed was too cool to pass up.

I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire (or ASOIAF, as it’s known on the internet) a few months ago, and it’s fantastic. It builds momentum like a freight train – slow to get started, because of the massive weight of the numerous characters and the Byzantine plotting, but becomes an unstoppable force by the end of the first book. It’s not mind-expanding, galaxy-encompassing stuff like Frank Herbert’s Dune series; nor is it a sardonic, contemporary destruction of fantasy tropes like Glen Cook’s Black Company books. Rather, it’s gritty, brutal, and amoral, a world where almost no one (even the children) is good (even the kids are killers and are brutally killed in turn). It’s packed with mind-blowing twists and bizarre gut-punches – ASOIAF is one of the very few book series that has made me put down the book and say “whoa” after reading a doozy of a passage. If you have any interest in fantasy (or just brutal shit in general), you owe it to yourself to read it – but don’t fall in love with any character, because they might end up dead or worse.

The card game is awesome too, but that’s another post.

HTTP error when uploading pictures

For those of you on 1and1 hosting and running WordPress, you’ve probably run into a few problems with PHP version 5. 1and1 isn’t running PHP5 by default yet, so to get it to work, you need to create an .htaccess file with “AddType x-mapp-php5 .php” in it, to force php files to be processed as version 5 instead of 4. This fixed the problem I suddenly developed when uploading pictures to posts.

Shouting into the Void

For some reason, I’m often gripped with a sort of paralysis regarding my writing here. One might chalk it up to writer’s block, but I think it’s more existential than that. I’ve written about the echo chamber effect of blogging (or Narcissistic Blogger Syndrome); this is an offshoot. It’s a sense of shouting into the void, a screaming against the blackness in the vastness of the internet. Scale out further, though, and the mind reels; just as I’m one tiny voice among billions, so is our world a mere speck in the unfathomable universe, all of our joys and struggles ultimately amounting to nothing in the cosmic calculus.

Thus is born religion, a search for meaning as the mind’s eye zooms out to encompass the universe and finds reason lacking. Not being of the religious sort, though, I risk falling into the classic atheist’s trap: of placing supreme faith in the flawed entity of man. For if there is no supreme being, no higher force, then what else is there but man’s reason, intellect, emotion? But to have faith in man means continual disappointment. Our flaws make us unsuitable as objects of worship, or even as dependable actors; for if nothing else, every man disappoints in the final act of dying. And so, we find ourselves back at religion again. But, as Han Solo said, “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything.”

I wrote about this denial of a universal “plan” here, at a soldier’s funeral.

The only part of his sermon that I remember was the usual part that chaplains and pastors and such like to give at a funeral of a young man or woman. There’s always a bit about “God’s plan,” which I inevitably find absurd and offensive. The same thought shot through my head as he spoke the words: God’s plan? It’s in God’s plan that this young soldier – not even twenty-one years old – is dead now, while so many others, unworthy of living, still walk? If that’s God’s plan, well…

After all this pontificating, though, I come to the meat of this post: all of the preceding words seem terribly trite and unoriginal. Men were debating these very issues before the birth of Christ, and here I am, two thousand+ years later, typing the same stuff. Everything’s been said already! By an accident of birth, I’m a latecomer to civilization – it’s all downhill from here!

Maybe my real problem is that my thinking is too large-scale and I should concentrate on contributing to Cute Overload.

Open Dash Surgery

What happened?

I think there's something missing here

What you see at left is not an accident but rather the culmination of JoKur’s 5-year quest to install a computer in his car. He first had the idea when we were in Iraq, and began the epic mission when he purchased this car after our return. I have fielded countless tech support calls about this damn project, and listened to his endless descriptions of his various crazy schemes.

He was so close to completion – he finally had the right hardware, and the right software, and everything was installed and working – but that only lasted for about five days. Then he got the idea to remake his dash with Bondo.

You’ll notice that not only is the radio missing, but also the heating & air conditioning controls. This means that he needs to fiddle with various cables under that mess (if you look closely, you can see the little blue cable on the left of the dash…hole, which, when pulled, apparently does something).

It's under here somewhere

It's under here somewhere

Here you can see him reaching for something, which didn’t help and we had to drive with all four windows down so we didn’t roast. I just hope that he wraps this up before winter comes again…

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