"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Things I've done on my winter vacation

OK, so I'm sitting here on duty, juiced up on my second giant can of Monster for the night, I'm at a blogging stand-still fighting Matt about race issues and Meghan about whales, and I need an outlet for all my caffeine-driven energy, so I'm going to write about all the things I do when I'm not flying. I don't know if anyone cares or not, but I need to do something to burn extra calories and short of climbing through the duct work in the ceiling, I can't think of anything else. So . . .

There are any number of things I do in my down-time (and occasionally at work, strictly in the line of duty and all). Since I'm at work most of the day I do my PT there; I've amassed almost 200 miles of running in the last three months, which while below what I ran last spring/summer, I still consider fairly decent because back then I was training for a marathon, and now I just do it to kill some time during the day.

I've also plowed through several books, since they're a great way to burn hours during duty or on a slow work day. On the way over here, I read Steven Pressfield's The Afghan Campaign (actually I blew through that one on the plane ride over, since it was a very very long plane ride), a fictional account of an infantryman in Alexander the Great's army during his marches through modern-day Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and back through Iraq (interesting historical footnote: Kandahar in Afhganistan, which you may of heard about on the news as an American base, was actually founded by Alexander and named after himself. Originally it was called Iskandahar, with the "Isk" being the local language bastardizing "Alex". There is another city with a similar name - Iskandariya - in southern Iraq near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates). I also finished Thieves of Baghdad, an account of the looting of the Baghdad National Museum after the initial invasion and the efforts of a Marine colonel to recover the stolen artifacts while dispelling the many falsehoods about the looting perpetrated by a lazy media. Great book: it's part Indiana Jones, part CSI, and part Black Hawk Down all in one. Once my wife sent me a small selection from my library, I went through Bernard Lewis' The Muslim Discovery of Europe, an Arab-eye's-view from primary sources about the contact and conflict of the Muslim world from its creation to its decline with its European, Christian adversaries. I've started the first volume of Plutarch's Lives (as part of a trip through ancient history I've assigned myself, beginning with Herodotus and working its way through the Persian Wars, Peloponnesian War, and now the decline of Greece combined with the ascension of Rome), as well as Triumph Foresaken, the first of a new two-volume history of the Vietnam War written by a current professor at the Marine Corps University who seeks to correct much of the "conventional wisdom" about that conflict that is, based on a review of recently released primary sources, quite often factually wrong. I'm almost done Victor Davis Hanson's The Soul of Battle, a review of three generals from different eras - Epaminondas from ancient Greece, Sherman from the Civil War, and Patton from WWII - and how they imbued the ideologies they personally held into their troops, thereby giving them victory in three different wars of liberation. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I educated myself on global warming - its myths, its facts, its actual effects, and the most efficient way of combating those effects - with Cool It. I'm also keeping up my science fiction fetish: I read A.E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher, a story sort of about a 2nd Amendment society with an all-powerful empress whose might can be checked by ordinary citizens who can purchase highly-advanced firearms from private gun shops. And, I'm re-reading an oldie I went through long ago, Frank Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment, a tale about a twisted social engineering experiment on a planet whose inhabitants are not allowed to escape...until now. And I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention The Real Festivus, sent me by my parents, written by the Seinfeld screen-writer who real-life family tradition inspired that famous episode.

And then, of course, the kid in me still plays video games. I beat Halo 3 on my xBox (after a few late nights, I'll admit), and have connected to a mini-network we've created in our living spaces. Madden 08 is providing more of a challenge, mostly because I have no idea how to read the offensive and defensive plays and end up just mashing buttons to see what happens. Sometimes I complete the pass; sometimes I get intercepted. And I suck at kicking field goals. I've also just beaten my first campaign of Rome: Total War. For those not familiar with the series, Total War gives you a turn-based campaign map in which you plan your moves, conduct your diplomacy, and develop the cities in your empire; all the battles, however, are real-time, allowing you to maneuver your units at the same time your opponent moves his. The resulting battles are reminiscent of the epic scenes from Braveheart or Lord of the Rings: cavalry charges smash through enemy formations, throwing men up in the air, catapults hurl rocks through walls and soldiers alike, archers fire flaming arrows that burn and terrorize your opponent, and your infantry can encircle and annihilate fleeing units. You need to bring you A-ancient-tactics-game to the battlefield every time. I played as the Julii family, starting out in northern Italy and southern Gaul, much as the original Julius did, and conquering much of the same territory. Gaul fell first, and then I pushed the Britannic tribes off the continent, and finally split my forces between invading Britannia and Iberia before it was time to march on Rome and confront my rival Roman factions. Now I'm debating whether to begin a new campaign as a different faction, or start Medival II: Total War, which takes place from 1000-1500 A.D. and allows you to play as either a Catholic, Orthodox, or Muslim faction, waging holy war in a Crusade or jihad, spreading your religion, fighting heresy, and staying on the good side of the Papal States.

And then there's the network shared drive out here, a virtual warehouse of almost every movie and TV show from the last twenty years. I've plowed through all four seasons of Entourage and caught up on Heroes (disappointing ending to the second season; I understand the writer's strike has screwed them, but there was a lot of build-up for very little return). We also, uh, sometimes get movies before they're released to the general public, like Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which looks great in the previews but is actually a horrible, horrible movie. It made the first one look like a masterpiece. It's pretty much only good for the last thirty seconds, which hint at some of the back-story for the original three movies (I don't count the fourth - Resurrection - because as far as I'm concerned, Ripley died in #3 and nothing her clone and the terrible acting around it did in that movie counts). I Am Legend more than made up for it, however; Will Smith might be playing with fire pigeon-holing himself in so many sci-fi movies, but he does a fantastic job as the last man on earth in what may be the sleeper hit of the year.

OK, my caffeine buzz is wearing off. Good night all.


Matt said...

I'm going to leave our most recent debate as is; I think we're successfully talking around each other in that I was criticizing a column where the quote was that the primary race issue in the country is 'illegitimacy and bad choices', which sort of ignores the whole 'racism' thing that many people view to be a problem. That the status of the nuclear family in African-American households is in doubt is clearly a negative thing and I have no problem with someone pointing that out, I just don't think that is the biggest racial issue in the country today, but I think we've completely avoided noting that we're probably in agreement on that and concentrated on arguing over semantics (which I enjoy, but it isn't really productive).

I would like to recommend a couple of TV series for you, particularly in light of you playing Madden... Friday Night Lights on NBC is really good, particularly the first season. Dexter, on Showtime, is also worth watching. If you want to see David Duchovny in a completely different context, Laney greatly enjoyed Californication, though I find it a bit repetitive after a few episodes.

Lastly, the battle scenes in Total War are some of the most impressive things I've seen in a pc game.

Meghan said...

I love how Matt brings the disagreement across blog lines.

So I will too. Gotta save the whales, man. Save The Whales!

Okay, now that is out of my system, I'd like to point out that you and I play Madden the same way. Only I ususally end up running in circles. You can see why I've only played twice. And my claim to fame in Halo is that Andrew and I were once playing King of the Hill against each other and I legitimately won. As in I killed him. HA!