Category Archives: Culture

Renewable Energy ≠ Afghan Right

With the reconstruction of Afghanistan in progress, there are countless Good Idea Fairies circulating renewable energy as the solution to peace and harmony for Afghanistan and the Middle East at large.

Unlike the satellites that support the video phones NTM-A is buying, at least Afghans can feel the wind and see the sun, so solar and wind power would seem logical possibilities to the enthusiastic do-gooder.  Enter the solution:  a combination windmill and solar panel built within the past year.

Set against the idyllic Little Ghar, the energy farm looks like a picture of environmentally responsible modernity.  Closer inspection reveals that the solar panel is caked with dust preventing even a small amount of electrical generation.  What you cannot see is that, in spite of the breezy day, the windmill was frozen.

But someone was able to get a generator installed and running!  Afghans practice the time-honored method of break-down maintenance.  With U.S. funding, that usually means repair-by-replacement.  The one renewable energy solution the Afghans implemented themselves–other than the U.S. dollar–was working quite effectively (a formerly common American fixture–the clothes line).  In a dusty environment with equipment that requires regular attention, renewable energy is not a great solution for the technologically dearth Afghanistan.  Ultimately, Afghans resort to what they know and trust–clothes lines and generators.

Assuming a 30kw generator, the nearly $1,000,000 ‘renewable energy farm’ could have purchased enough fuel to power the generator at full load for 4 years. . . and pay for the generator!

The reality is that,  if/when Afghanistan becomes self-sufficient, their growing affluence will be able to afford and sustain advanced technologies that are better for the environment.  While academics may discount Kuznets curves (because of the belief that ‘dirty’ industries are just exported by richer countries to the poorer), as society at-large has progressed it has moved to cleaner forms of energy; free markets incentivize the reduction of waste in delivering any product, including power (at least in free-market societies), as it makes that product more affordable and attractive over a dirty, wasteful option. 

On the bright side, renewable energy does make us feel good about ourselves while enhancing a great corporate welfare program.

It ain’t easy being green.

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Afghan right ceiling fans

There is a simplicity about Afghanistan that is sublime.  Ask for a ceiling fan and you get a ceiling fan:

The advanced safety features will keep the Afghans (and manatees) from hurting themselves when they try to turn it on an off.  I see an update to the MIL-SPEC coming.  Until then, there are will always be plenty of “Redneck Right” solutions.

One last problem the Rednecks can’t provide a solution for;  Someone needs to request doors f0r the shower stalls so the men can have privacy with each other.

In a sense, it’s what we do

ISAF has huge challenge building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while fighting a war, a COIN operation, navigating corruption, and a drug trade.  Complicating matters is that this is being done with a coalition of about 40 countries.  To quote an NTM-A alum:

An American Air Force Officer designs an Army unit that is trained by a British Armor Officer, validated with Canadian and Jordanian Officers, and later mentored in the field by Turkish Officers.

It could also be added that each of the people listed above change-out every six months so forget anyone knowing what the previous people were thinking!

This EDS commercial pretty much summarizes the task IJC and NTM-A have undertaken:

There are a few improvements that will make this commercial a truly authentic metaphor for NTM-A:

  1. The pilot continuously asks the workers to leave.
  2. The airline keeps requesting a different fleet of planes.
  3. The passengers extort money from the workers.
  4. The flight attendants steal tools and materials.
  5. The workers change-out every few weeks.
  6. The workers union requires the workers to come from different countries.
  7.  The designer changes the style aircraft every year in the following order:  Jet, Turboprop, Helicopter, Glider.
  8. The flight school insists on changing the aircraft from a Cessna 182T to an Airbus 380.
  9. The investors dump bags of money out the back of the plane.
  10. The only fuel available is nitrous oxide and a chase plane is constantly telling them to buy ethanol.
  11. The plane is taking anti-aircraft fire.
  12. Air Traffic Control redirects the plane every few hours to a different destination.
  13. No one knows what the final airplane will look like until 2014.
  14. The plane will be complete in 2014 whether or not it lands.
  15. In the final scene, the place crashes.

 In a sense, that’s EXACTLY what we do.

Ranger graveyards swelling in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is taking it to the Rangers.  Not the U.S. Army Rangers or the Texas Rangers but the Ford Ranger.  Unfortunately, many of them are ending up in vehicle graveyards.  Maybe this is a method for improving the mineral wealth of Afghanistan:
Any redneck would be proud of this boneyard.  If your Ford ever needs a part, you’ll probably be able to find it in Afghanistan.

If you ever wondered how Ford Motor Company survived without the bail-outs given to GM and Chrysler, it may have had something to do with the sky-rocketing demand.  At $50,000 for a crewcab and $30,000 for a 2-door, it doesn’t take much uptick in business to keep the balance sheet in the black–even if the product was built in Thailand.

According to BG Tim Ray, the Afghans have suitable “stick and rudder” skills.  Unfortunately, their ‘wheel and brake’ skills aren’t quite as advanced.

Bubba could retrofit this for his parts hauler. . . too late

Not to be left out, the Afghans haven’t had much success driving International Harvesters either.  But there aren’t quite as many to wreck, so their numbers are a little lower. 

Of course, every boneyard must be colocated with a bar–it keeps supply AND demand booming.

Honky-tonk on a box:  Just add neon

Southern Afghanistan Economics:  Combine a drinking establishment with a boneyard and Class IV yard and you have a recession-proof business.

How do you say “Bubba” in Dari?

The Fog of Peace

The quickest way to end a war is to lose it.”  –George Orwell

It should come as no surprise that this blog is not especially optimistic about the sustainability of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.  A new blog at www.foreignpolicy.com doesn’t shake that pessimism.

Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason hit the nail on the head with their article “The Fog of Peace.”  Discrediting any optimism embedded in the United State’s peace talks with the Taliban, they list three reasons why the optimism is not just unfounded but delusional.

1.  There is no “Taliban” in the sense the proponents of talks envision it.

Just as the Knights of Malta did not agree on policy matters with the Knights Templar [in the First Crusade], and carried out radically different strategies in the Holy Land, so the various groups of the jihad often fundamentally disagree with one another on how to achieve their common goal of establishing religious rule over disputed territory.

2.  The enemy is interested in pre-withdrawal concessions, not a settlement, in an alien culture in which seeking negotiations to end a war is surrender.

The motives of any such representatives simply do not now and will never coincide with our own. The Quetta Shura has no genuine interest whatsoever in any “peace talks” or negotiations except to gain concessions such as the release of their comrades in Guantanamo Bay.

3.  No understanding with senior clerics in the Taliban movement has ever outlived the airplane flight back to New York.

 The Taliban of 1996-2001, which was infinitely more centralized and controllable than it is today, never kept a single such agreement for more than a week.

 Johnson and Mason strike a serious blow with a startling comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam.  Noting that the Afghan National Army has maybe 100,000 under arms in a country 4 times the size of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese had 1,000,000 under arms with a modern air force and yet collapsed after just 3 weeks of fighting.

Afghanistan is like a boat; It’s just a hole the U.S. government is pouring money into.

Afghan women gaining respect 9 millimeters at a time

The cover of the December 2011 edition of NTM-A’s magazine Shohna ba Shohna (Shoulder to Shoulder) shows Dutch female police officers training Afghan women in pistol marksmanship.

Both Shohna Ba Shohna and the Netherlands Ministry of Defense reported  the graduation of several women from a two-week security course in Kunduz Province last October.  Since men are unable to touch women according to muslim law, women are vital to ensuring security at check-points around the country.

With the women learning to use pistols, handcuffs, and conduct body-searches and pat-downs, their husbands may not need to ask American medics how to get them pregnant.  

Don’t expect a sexual revolution to overtake Afghanistan anytime soon as there is a catch.  Afghan women are also being taught GIRoA law, human rights, and self-defence which may introduce Afghan men to a truly miserable existence!

Big Boy visits Afghanistan

Someone must have been on their last day at Camp Eggers; something is just not right about the automated announcement from the NTM-A JOC.

If you aren’t in the military, this will not be funny one way or the other.  But for anyone familiar with military installations, this is funny, especially for Afghanistan. 

If you’ve been in Afghanistan and understand the affinity for boys, this announcement takes on a whole new meaning.

Hopefully, the exercise helped prepare the Embassy because when they use their their “Big Boy Voice” there is likely to be an uptick in interest from Afghans.