Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I’m a huge fan of Toshiro Mifune and the whole samurai movie genre. My travel DVD collection is packed with a few dozen films depicting ancient Japan and battles between tragic sword-welding heroes and villains. Mifune seems to always plays an out-of-work samurai, or ronin, looking get by however he can. The movie plots go to great lengths to describe Japanese society at the time, depicting the vast numbers of unemployed warriors roaming the streets in search of honorable employment.

Laying on my bunk the other night I was watching a particular scene in Samurai Banners, that depicted an unemployed Mifune plotting as to how he was going to secure a job with one of the local lords. I was immediately struck with the parallels between that scene and the direction that the current security contract business is heading.

Before long the entire security contracting business will undergo a sea change and tens of thousands of gun-slinging contractors are going to find themselves without work, ronin if you will. I’ve often wondered what will happen to them, where will they go? If you look at Japanese society after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 I think that you may find a lot of the answers to those questions. Some will always find work, others will turn to alternative professions and trades, and still others will use their skills for personal profit and crime as in Robert De Niro’s movie, Ronin. Interesting parallel I think.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Signs Of Progress?

I haven’t dug my camera out yet, so I still don’t have any photos to post. I hit the ground running here and haven’t had a moment to really settle in. Between the intense jet lag, a cold, and the pace of work, I'm pretty well 'knackered' (British term).

Iraq has become better, or so I’m told. The media is focused on how things are clearly improving, evident in almost every way. The stories coming out of Baghdad are “good news” stories highlighting the improving quality of life for this city’s citizens. I guess I don’t really see any dramatic difference from the last time that I was here two months ago. Police sirens still dominate the soundscape, PSDs and the Iraqi Army continue to insolently clog the roadways, and armored vests and AK’s are the dress du jour. Maybe I’m hoping for too much too fast.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick Stop In Dubai

I’m currently in Dubai, jet-lagged out of my mind, and just finishing up breakfast at 2:00 a.m. The flight from Atlanta was uneventful as always. I’m convinced that if you have to travel to the Middle East from Atlanta that the direct Delta flight to Dubai is the way to go. The 777-200’s are big and roomy and it’s about as comfortable as you’re going to get on a 13+ hour flight.

I only have a handful of hours in the hotel before I push on to Iraq; just enough time to grab a shower, a quick nap, and room service. It seems like such a waste of a very nice hotel room.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Now, Be Careful

A mother’s hands are full as her child runs to and fro at a children’s Christmas party.

Being a parent is difficult at times, almost unimaginably so. Caring for a toddler is like having a walking, talking example of Murphy’s Law 24/7. If it can be broken, marred or, destroyed, it will be. I watched my three year-old son explore a real jet airplane this afternoon, and in the back of my mind I heard myself saying, “now be careful, don’t break it”. Amazing.

I leave tonight for the Middle East. I'll miss my little jet fighter explorer.

Friday, December 7, 2007

MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart's Lament

One of the things that I do with my free time is play the Great Highland Bagpipe. I’m currently working on a classical tune, piobaireachd in bagpipe parlance, called MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart's Lament (No. 1). It’s a wonderfully haunting piece and infinitely complex. Like all piobaireachds, it starts off with a basic theme known as a 'ground' or urlar, and then progresses through several variations of the ground, with each becoming more complex than the last. The piper speeds up and slows down at will adding expression to the tune. In the end, the tune returns to the ground, completing the circle.

Ed Neigh plays the tune in the player below.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


A freshly planted Black Bamboo (Phyllostachys Nigra) backdropped by a reproduction of an ancient Japanese lantern

It’s a huge contrast, returning from the chaos of a conflict zone to our relatively serene home in Atlanta. Our house has several Japanese sukiya elements, which make it a particularly peaceful abode. We’ve installed straw tatami mats in one room, diffused the lighting, painted with a soft earth-tone, and made it into a quiet little getaway where you can sit and play a game of Go over flasks of sake or just stare at the wall for a bit.

This last trip home we planted two different bamboo groves in the backyard, which little by little is taking shape into a traditional Japanese garden. It’s an on-going project that we plan to work on over the years; a project without any end nor goal in mind. It gives my wife and I a chance to talk, plan, and work side-by-side on building something that we both deeply enjoy. What a great adventure life is!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Democracy Wins!

It was one of those times that I wish I had brought my camera and was free to take photos. We spent the night at the Opposition headquarters in Caracas awaiting the voting results from the referendum. Hundreds of students, press, and concerned others occupied a large, walled villa in a fashionable neighborhood. Outside the iron gates others waited in the streets, peering through the gates searching for some sign of how the vote is going.

As the night went on the crowds exponentially grew. The polls closed at 8:00 p.m. and in the subsequent hours more and more people occupied the streets surrounding the villa. We set our gear up in a darkened corner of the courtyard next to the Al Jeezera crew, sharing the same power outlet, and waited along with the rest.

By 1:00 a.m. optimism had grown along with the reveling crowds. The delay in the official announcement of the results was interpreted as good news for the pro-democracy students. Rumors abound of the military generals warning President Chavez to respect the results, and the police surrounding the neighborhood to protect the students from revenge-seeking Chavez supporters.

Finally at 1:15 a.m. the announcement came. The hushed crowds stacked in front of television sets, the world balancing on the head of a pin. All at once a thundering explosion of cheers rocked the night. The pro-democracy movement had defeated President Chavez’s sweeping constitutional reforms designed to move Venezuela to a full-totalitarian state.

The doors and the gates of the villa were thrown open and we were immediately swimming in a wave of screaming and crying people. We tried desperately to protect or delicate position with it’s crisscrossing net of cables precariously linking us to our satellite up-link as the people poured in around us.

The remainder of the night was spent doing chaotic interviews and 'live shots' from the middle of tens of thousands of celebrants. Screaming, crying, waving flags, hugs, fireworks, megaphones; all carrying on through out the remainder of the night. Democracy had won.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Marathon Press Confrence

We were invited to President Chavez’ press conference today. For those that have never been this is truly an event. We were told to be there at 11:00 a.m., Comandante Chavez didn’t show up until 2:15, and he didn’t stop speaking until over three hours later. The entire international press corps here in Caracas was completely wiped out as it dragged itself out of the Palace after the marathon session.

Chavez seems to have taken a page out of Fidel’s book with these long-winded speeches and press conferences. One of the CBC reporters commented, "He's been on the first question for an hour now, and has just now taken the second one".

During the “presser” President Chavez repeated his now-standard bashing of the United States and continued his specific criticism of CNN. In his speech yesterday President Chavez strongly threatened to kick us out of the country if CNN were seen to be trying to influence the vote in any way. We all agreed that it would be a very astute political move on his part if were to deport the “imperialist media” just prior to Sunday’s referendum vote.