The Sea by John Banville

banville_sea.jpgJohn Banville writes beautiful prose, and his Booker prize-winning The Sea is no exception. Even those who disliked the book seem compelled to grant him that (Michiko Kakuktani excepted). In addition to a master of style, Banville also seems like a bit of a jerk:

'It is nice," said John Banville on Monday night, "to see a work of art win the Booker prize."

This, of course, moments after his book had won the Booker. An air of superiority is an expected sin with an artist, though not usually worn so openly as this. Is it deserved in this case?

Banville openly displays the breadth and depth of his intelligence in his writing, but a large vocabulary does not a great novel make (thus Kakutani's complaint that The Sea's narrator "talks like someone with a thesaurus permanently implanted in his brain"). The real question is whether Banville puts his words to worthy effect. The Sea is the second Banville novel I have read, having tangled with The Book of Evidence a couple years back. That novel, short-listed for the Booker, shares the lyricism of The Sea, but is notably more dark and dense, as one might except for a book narrated by a murderer from his jail cell.

The Sea has a more ethereal feel to it, much of it spent in self-conscious memories of the narrator's youth. Max Morden, recently widowed, has recently returned to Ballyless, the seaside village where his family summered when he was a child. He rents a room in a house called the Cedars, which in his childhood had been the vacation residence of the Grace family. After a brief, foreboding meditation on the sea, the narration begins with a foggy introduction to that family:

The first thing I saw of them was their motor car, parked on the gravel inside the gate. It was a low-slung, scarred and battered black model with beige leather seats and a big spoked polished wood steering wheel... The front door of the house stood wide open, and I could hear voices inside, downstairs, and from upstairs the sound of bare feet running on floorboards and a girl laughing. I had paused by the gate, frankly eavesdropping, and now suddenly a man with a drink in his hand came out of the house. He was short and top-heavy, all shoulders and chest and big round head, with close-cut, crinkled, glittering-black hair with flecks of premature grey in it and a pointed black beard likewise flecked. He wore a loose green shirt unbuttoned and khaki shorts and was barefoot. His skin was so deeply tanned by the sun it had a purplish sheen.

After this teasing glimpse the novel begins its jumbled and irregular rotation between three general timeframes: the youthful summer at Ballyless with the Grace family, the final months in the life of Max's wife Anna, and Max's present stay at the Cedars. The setting switches with little obvious structure, reflecting the troubled mind of the narrator in his struggles to make sense of the recent loss of his wife and the memories that haunt him.

It is only later that we get a fuller glimpse of the Graces: Carlo and Connie, their twin children Chloe and Myles, and Rose, the nanny (of sorts):

I first saw her, Chloe Grace, on the beach. It was a bright, wind-worried day and the Graces were settled in a shallow recess scooped into the dunes by wind and tides to which their somewhat raffish presence lent a suggestion of the proscenium... Mr. Grace, Carlo Grace, Daddy, was wearing shorts again, and a candy-striped blazer over a chest that was bare save for two big tufts of tight curls in the shape of a miniature pair of widespread fuzzy wings... The blond boy, the swinger on the gate--it was Myles, I may as well give him his name--was crouched at his father's feet, pouting moodily and delving in the sand with a jagged piece of sea-polished driftwood. Some way behind them, in the shelter of the dune wall, a girl, or young woman, was kneeling on the sand, wrapped in a big red towel, under the cover of which she was trying vexedly to wriggle herself free of what would turn out to be a wet bathing suit.. I noticed too that the boy Myles was keeping sidelong watch, in the evident hope, which I shared that the girl's protective towel would slip. She could hardly be his sister, then.

Indeed, that is Rose, whose connection with the family is only vaguely conveyed. The remaining pair, Mrs. Grace and her daughter Chloe, the soon-to-be objects of Max's boyhood affections, are given more extended exposition over the course of the novel. Indeed, the greater portion of the book is spent in memories of that summer, rather than the more recent scenes involving Anna, or the present return to the Cedars.

At first blush this seems odd: why emphasize that the narrator is recently-widowed if the majority of the novel will be spent in the distant past, before he had met his wife? It appears that Max can only approach his recent loss cautiously, tangentially, and for brief moments. The physical return to Ballyless is accompanied by a psychological return to the summer of his youth, which is basically just an escape from his grief and loss: a physical escape from the home he shared with his wife and a psychological escape from thought of her death. As the story of what happened that summer in Ballyless unfolds, it becomes clear why those particular memories remain especially vivid, and why they are brought to the front of his mind by the recent loss of his wife. Interspersed in this extended recollection are the fragments of Max's raw feelings about his wife's death as they bubble to the surface, the memory of his last months with her, and the state he has been left in by her death and his flight to Ballyless.

This study on the motives and machinations of memory is interesting and largely successful. It does seem to this reader that Banville's vocabulary, while no reason for the scorn heaped by Kakutani, unnecessarily weighs down the text. Banville is right to resist the anti-intellectual populist tendency to dumb everything down, but his overcompensation places esotericism on an undeserved pedestal of its own. This book is worth the effort, but bring your thesaurus.

Arsenal sign Amaury Bischoff

bischoff.jpgJust a few days after Arsene Wenger said he wanted to sign another midfielder, Arsenal has gone and... you guessed it... signed another midfielder: Portugal Under-21 Amaury Bischoff.

Considering this summer's loss of Flamini, Hleb, and Gilberto from the Arsenal midfield, and the general obsession we fans have with the transfer season, this would normally be grounds for great excitement. But let's just say that my eyebrows are raised at this:

He only ever made one senior appearance for Bremen, in a 2007 Uefa Cup tie against Celta Vigo.

Now this was news about four weeks ago, so maybe this is not the signing Arsene Wenger was talking about (fingers crossed). Bischoff left Bremen at the end of his contract, so it is unclear what transfer fee, if any, will be owed by Arsenal.

I like his versatility and his price, but when did we start poaching the Bundesliga bench?

The Color Purple Musical - Fox Theatre

color_purple.jpgMy wife and I have been making the most of my unexpected return from Kuwait, and last night we saw the musical version of "The Color Purple" at the Fox Theatre. The Alice Walker book is a personal favorite, so my hopes were definitely tempered by reservations about how a book with so many richly drawn characters and such a dramatic personal journey for the protagonist would be successfully condensed into a two-act performance.

The short answer is, it was not. The sets and costumes were beautiful, most of the songs hit just the right pitch, and the performances were generally quite good (Felicia Fields steals the show as Sophia). But the novel portrays nearly the entire life of its protagonist, Celie, from the depths of pain and despair at the hands of her abusive father and husband, to the peaks of joy and relief when she declares her independence and when she is reunited with loved ones. The overly-condensed tale told in the musical version severely flattens this emotional range, in sometimes unnatural ways. The character redemption and reunions which provide the dramatic climax and catharsis in the book are quite jarring in the musical, and simply do not ring true. This dislodges the suspension of disbelief necessary to fully submerge into the depths of Celie's journey.

The musical might be more enjoyable for those who have not read the book, although I question whether one can make sense of the plot at all without that gap-filling knowledge. I liked the music, I loved the set production, and Felicia Fields' performance was almost worth the money itself. And it is impossible not to appreciate any evening spent at the Fox. But the strongest feeling I got from the night was the urge to pull the book out and relive the genuine experience of Alice Walker's creation.

Booker Longlist 2008

Now I am not saying that I actually caused this, but can it really be a complete coincidence that just as I was wondering when the Booker longlist would be released (having finished John Banville's The Sea), I find that it was released today? The list:

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress - Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
From A to X - John Berger
The Lost Dog - Michelle de Kretser
Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant
A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie
Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

This list is notably light on the regular "heavyweights," like Carey, McEwan and Coetzee (only Carey actually had a book in contention); Rushdie seems to be carrying the load for the perennials. The shortlist will be announced on September 9, with the winner announced on October 14. I would put good money on Netherland making the shortlist, and decent money on it winning the whole thing.

UPDATE: What do you know, the bookmakers agree.

Vista Reboot

Having heard nothing positive from anyone who has actually used Windows Vista, it is far past time for Microsoft to attempt to re-introduce the product. I was so weary of it that we purposely "downgraded" to Windows XP on the new Thinkpad my wife bought me last year (an option discontinued by Microsoft on June 30). And considering John Cole's initial frustrations yesterday, I'm glad I did. XP works for me. But at least Microsoft is acknowledging the problems:

"We know a few of you were disappointed by your early encounter," the company says on the site. "Printers didn't work. Games felt sluggish. You told us -- loudly at times -- that the latest Windows wasn't always living up to your high expectations for a Microsoft product. Well, we've been taking notes and addressing issues."

That does not mean I am going to run out and get it. In fact, I doubt I will upgrade the operating system at all, so my first experience with Vista will come with my next computer. Considering my last Thinkpad was going strong after five years, Microsoft may well be onto its next product before I come aboard.

The Rise of Japanese Nationalism

sumo.jpgAn interesting theme of A History of Modern Japan is the rise of Japanese nationalism. Not just the jingoistic variety of the 1930s, but the basic sense of nationhood that most of us take for granted. For example, one of America's heroic national myths is that a country of immigrants became a melting pot where we are all Americans first, overcoming our differences. In this post-colonial world, we have seen numerous countries struggle with the tension between nationalism and arbitrarily-drawn borders: think of the break-up of Yugoslavia or the violence in Iraq. We usually attribute this difficulty to the problem of merging such disparate racial/ethnic/religious groups under one umbrella.

It comes as a surprise then that a country like Japan, an island that has had a basically stable, homogeneous population for centuries, did not develop a true national identity until well into the 19th century. In discussing the "unequal treaties," imposed on Japan by the Western powers (like the Opium War treaties in China), Andrew Gordon emphasizes that the humiliation felt by the Japanese did not stem from deeply-felt nationalism:

[I]t would be misleading to conclude simply that these treaties trampled a preexisting national pride and sovereignty. Rather, from the early 1800s through the 1860s, the very process of dealing with the pushy barbarians created modern Japanese nationalism. Among shogunal officials, in daimyo castles, and in the private academies where politically concerned samurai debated history and policy, a new conception took hold of "Japan" as a single nation, to be defended and governed as such."

What this suggests is that national identity is only necessary, or even useful, in an oppositional relationship. It only makes sense to prioritize our status as Americans when our primary comparison is with non-Americans. Thus the revolutionary-era America sees most former colonists identifying strongly with their individual states rather than the new nation, and antebellum tensions inspired the Yankee and Dixie labels.

So long as Japan remained relatively isolated and free of foreign exposure, there was little need to define oneself as Japanese. Japanese as opposed to what? For the same reason, there was no need to explore what it even meant to be Japanese. It was much more important to identify with one's daimyo, the local feudal ruler. Only with the humiliation of the treaties, and the need to come to terms with this treatment at the hands of foreigners, did the Japanese become Japanese and start thinking about what that meant:

Beginning in the mid-1880s, a drive to preserve or revive a so-called traditional Japanese culture emerged in a mood of confrontation with Western-oriented reformers... As this happened, many older cultural forms were dramatically reshaped. Later generations came to view these as "traditional" and typically Japanese. In the process they articulated new concepts of "Japanese-ness." The Noh theater, for example, survived in part because government officials promoted it as a Japanese parallel to Western opera... Modern martial arts such as judo, sports such as sumo wrestling, and arts such as the cultivation of bonsai plants were both transformed in practice and took on symbolic meaning as emblems of Japanese-ness for the first time."

It is safe to say that these efforts were successful: Noh theater, sumo wrestling, and bonsai plants continue to be strongly symbolic of Japanese culture to this day. Of course, the character of this rising Japanese nationalism was not entirely benign. As the Japanese bridled against the influence of the colonial Western powers, many Japanese came to believe that Japan should not just be free of Western influence, but strong enough to emulate their imperialism:

[T]he Meiji rulers accepted a geopolitical logic that led inexorably toward either empire or subordination, with no middle ground possible. They saw the non-Western world being carved up into colonial possessions by the strong states of the West. They decided that Japan had no choice but to secure its independence by emulating the imperialists... As this doctrine took root in a world of competing powers, it contained a built-in logic of escalation. Conceivably Japanese leaders could have defended national independence and prosperity in Asia by promoting trade and emigration with both neighbors and distant nations, without seeking an imperial advantage. But no leaders believed this was possible. The behavior of other powers hardly encouraged them to change their minds.

While this does not justify the Japanese aggression to come, it raises interesting questions about the West's culpability in setting such poor precedents in its treatment of the world. How else should the Japanese have seen the interaction of nation-states other than through the ruler/ruled paradigm with which the Western powers divided up the world? As they developed their own sense of racial superiority vis-a-vis the rest of Asia, why shouldn't they take up the Japanese Man's Burden and dominate their inferior neighbors on the continent? Little surprise then that this is just what happened in the coming decades.

Polls in July

July is a particularly stupid time to be paying much attention to national polling of the presidential election. After all, Michael Dukakis was up by seventeen points in July. But in case you needed more evidence, here are four polls released in the last 24 hours:

Obama (D) 51%, McCain (R) 39% (Research 2000)
Obama (D) 48%, McCain (R) 40% (Gallup)
Obama (D) 48%, McCain (R) 45% (Rasmussen)
McCain (R) 49%, Obama (D) 45% (USA Today/Gallup)

Now that last poll has been filtered through a pretty questionable "likely voter" model (Obama is up 47-44 among registered voters, for a seven point swing between RV and LV). But still, what possible rational reaction can you have to these numbers other than to shrug your shoulders and pray for November to come soon?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

bronte_wuthering.jpgThere seems to be a consensus that Wuthering Heights is a book that must be read. So say high schools across this nation, the New Lifetime Reading Plan, and the authors who voted for the 100 Most Meaningful Books. As this book makes clear, however, just because something must be read does not mean it must be enjoyed.

The surface problem with Wuthering Heights is that the characters are just so horrifically unlikeable. There is simply no one to identify with: Mr. Earnshaw is a doddering fool who overtly favors his adopted child, Heathcliff, to the detriment of his biological children: Catherine, who grows up wild and self-centered, and Hindley, who grows up spiteful and bitter. It does Heathcliff no favors, either, giving him a taste of the glories of monied life before Earnshaw's death and Hindley's return doom him to the subservience his low birth would seem to dictate. The Linton children are weak, vain, and walk blindly into the wicked webs that issue forth from the Heights. Even the primary narrator, the servant Ellen Dean, is unable to fully scrub her own defects from the story, in which she is complicit in the interweaving tragedies that sweep the two families. It is only with the next generation, in the closing chapters of the book, that pity or hope seems at all appropriate.

Heathcliff, the driving force of the novel, defies the expectation that there must be some hidden romantic soul that will eventually break through his troubled veneer and make him the hero of the tale. Instead, his evil simply grows and grows, testing the outer limits of the reader's sympathy with each fresh atrocity.

Though this makes Heathcliff quite detestable by the book's end, it could work. There is, after all, no requirement that characters be likable. The length and depth of his Achilles-like rage is impressively portrayed. So if Heathcliff's thirst for vengeance were justifiable, or even just believable, the novel would really work.

But that's the problem that lurks beneath the surface. The entire plot basically hinges on one point: that Heathcliff and Catherine were truly in love. That is the only way Catherine's marriage to Edgar Linton is such a betrayal, the only way Heathcliff's multi-generational devotion to revenge bears any sense of justice. But it just does not seem true. There is nothing about the way Heathcliff and Catherine interact that strikes me as love. Mutated obsession, yes. But not love. The childhood scenes take place too fast, the shifts in the balance of power too sudden, to get any sense of why the Earnshaw household is the way it is, or how love could blossom under that roof.

And without real, genuine love, this is essentially a book about a bunch of psychological defectives torturing each other and their children. The book does have its strengths. As I said, the endurance of Heathcliff's villainy is breathtaking. The claustrophobic setting of the novel and the incestuous relationships of its inhabitants play off each other quite effectively (it's easy to forget there is even a world beyond the moors, let alone other people). These strengths, however, can not mask the basic defects of the plot.

Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the paralegals in my office has been begging me for days to make some plain chocolate chip cookies for her. This was a bit of a challenge, since all of the recipes I normally use contain oatmeal, or walnuts, or multiple varieties of chocolate chips. Even more so since the chocolate chip cookie is simultaneously one of the most simple and yet most difficult cookies to perfect. Everyone knows what they think a chocolate chip cookie should taste like, but no one agrees. Soft or crisp? Thin or fat?

awardsoftcc.jpg

I decided to search on Allrecipes for their most popular recipe, which turns out to be called Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies (the hyperbolic names on Allrecipes are its one flaw; when I copy a recipe onto my index cards, I leave the name behind).

Based on several of the reviews, I made a few alterations to the basic recipe, adding baking powder, salt, and more vanilla extract (the key to any decent chocolate chip cookie):

2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 (3.4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugar, and then beat in the pudding mix. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and stir until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Refrigerate the dough for 30-60 minutes (this is an essential step with butter-heavy dough like this; it prevents the cookies from baking flat).

Using a cookie scoop to ensure the cookies have a uniform size (ensures uniform baking), place the dough on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. The scoops can be placed pretty close together, since the dough does not spread much during baking. This is helpful since this recipe makes a big hunk of dough (I ended up with 94 cookies, enough to send some to my wife's office as well).

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (10 for darker baking sheets, 12 for light ones), then cool on wire racks. Take them out before they look done, and they will cool just right.

I think they turned out great. They are soft, light, and buttery. The vanilla pudding mix keeps them moist, which is nice when you plan to bake a day (or two) before serving, which I usually do when bringing baked goods to the office. I think my paralegal will be pleased.

UPDATE: They were very popular. So much so that the paralegal who asked for them only got two before they were gone. I even had a gentleman from another office stop by the next day to ask for the recipe.

Managing the Media

Ben Smith posted this a few days ago, but I thought it was so striking (and amusing) that it was worth repeating. As everyone knows by now, Senator Obama recently visited Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a congressional delegation including Senators Hagel and Reed. While in Iraq, he accompanied General Petraeus on a helicopter tour, resulting in a number of striking photos, such as this one:

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While Senator Obama spent the day with the troops, Senator McCain visited former President George H.W. Bush in Kennebunkport, resulting in this unfortunate image:

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Not a good day in image contrast for Senator McCain. Due respect to the former President, but that sign on his golf cart might as well say "Get off my lawn!" (It actually reads "Property of #41 Hands off!"). One candidate looks presidential, the other decidedly geriatric. And remember, it was Senator McCain's idea for Senator Obama to take this trip. Oops.

Arsenal 08/09

Last season certainly had its share of triumphs and disappointments for Arsenal. There was a good bit of despair among fans after Thierry Henry departed for Barcelona without a big-name replacement coming in, and the media fed on this with predictions that Arsenal would drop out of the top 4 (with the cursed Spurs tipped to move up).

flamini.jpgSo when the season started rather brilliantly, there was renewed faith in Arsene Wenger's youth and transfer policies. A particularly pleasant surprise was the emergence of Matthieu Flamini and Manual Almunia as regular first-teamers.

Well, the honeymoon ended. Arsenal were embarrassed in the Carling Cup by hated rivals Tottenham, and embarrassed in the FA Cup by hated rivals Manchester United. Along the way Arsenal was hit by a series of injuries, culminating in the horrific broken leg suffered by newcomer Eduardo. Though the weakened squad rose to defeat AC Milan in the first knockout round of the Champions League, the quarter-final matchup against Liverpool proved to be too much. And it was another draw with Liverpool that signaled the end of Arsenal's fading hopes for a Premiership title, finishing a close third, just two points behind Chelsea and four behind champions Manchester United (some consolation: Spurs a distant 11th place).

The end of the season also saw the beginning of a series of prominent departures from the club. The least surprising departure was that of Jens Lehmann, who had not handled his benching with much professionalism. The free transfer of Mathieu Flamini was disappointing to many, but who can blame the player: with no transfer fee necessary, AC Milan was able to offer him exorbitant wages that Arsenal was never going to try to match. In contrast, I have no hesitation in condemning the behavior of Alexander Hleb, whose £11.9m transfer to Barcelona came as a relief after the ridiculous whining the club had to endure as Hleb and his agent tried to force Arsenal's hand. It makes Gilberto's quiet departure to Greece all the more admirable, and burnishes the luster of his six years of solid service in the Arsenal lineup.

ramsey.jpgAnyone can do the math, and see that Arsenal lost three midfielders in rather quick succession this summer. The club has seen only two and a half players brought in. The half belongs to Carlos Vela, who already belonged to Arsenal but is now returning from a loan in Spain and will compete for a spot up front, all the more important considering Eduardo is to not set to return until September at best, and Emmanuel Adebayor is still trying to weasel his way to Barcelona.

The other purchases both look set for roles in the midfield. The first was teenager Aaron Ramsey, brought in from Cardiff in a £5m move and apparently slotted for a role in central midfield. Whether he can complement Cesc Fabregas the way Flamini excelled at remains to be seen. Out on the wings Arsenal will be featuring its recent £12m signing from Marseille, Samir Nasri. Nasri is acclaimed as an ideal replacement for Hleb, and he fits the bill for a Wenger signing: young, French, relatively affordable. With Abou Diaby, Gael Clichy, and William Gallas, Nasri is another piece in the continuing French contingent at Arsenal (supplanting the losses of Henry and Patrick Vieira).

The Adebayor saga remains to be resolved. He still has several years left on his contract, but the status quo is clearly not going to work. I think he misplayed his hand this off-season, and may be the odd man out after the Ronaldinho and Hleb transfers.

Wenger, on the other hand, still seems to be in the market for another midfielder. Gareth Barry has been prominently rumored after his attempts to leave Aston Villa, though Wenger is typically tight-lipped.

Suffice it to say that there will have to be several new faces in the first team fielded against West Bromwich Albion on August 16, with Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky still out injured. Unlike the start of last season, however, I already have a lot of faith in this squad. The youngsters matured tremendously over the last campaign, and Fabregas and Toure have cemented themselves as team leaders. That William Gallas is the captain in their place is a continuing travesty, but Wenger made that choice and the team is stuck with it for now. I am excited to see Vela, Nasri, and Ramsey in action, and when Eduardo and Rosicky are back in form, this should be a fun team to watch.

Baking Blogs

Somehow, despite being someone who loves to bake and spends an embarrassing amount of time surfing the Internet, I never realized how many blogs there are devoted largely or entirely to baking. I have been a devotee of Allrecipes and Joy of Baking since I started baking during my first year of law school, but somehow failed to stumble upon any baking blogs. And what a loss that turns out to have been.

It should come as no surprise that blogging is a great medium for sharing and discussing the science of baked goods. In fact, my favorite aspect of Allrecipes has always been the user reviews, which can give great recommendations for how to tweak the basic recipe. The ability of an individual baker to write a blog, include a recipe, photos, and play-by-play instructions, and then get comments from readers, is that much better.

I added a new category of links to my sidebar, and will point out Butter Sugar Flour as a particular favorite.

Human Yo-Yo

gabe_ali.jpgBeing pulled back to the States after just three weeks in Kuwait definitely provoked mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is great to be home with my wife. That trumps everything else. On the other hand, I had just settled into a pretty decent routine, the work was interesting, and we were psychologically adapted (or resigned) to the twelve week separation.

The worst part though, without question, was the travel. Even in the best circumstances, sitting aboard a three-stop, fifteen hour flight spanning three continents is going to be pretty taxing. But when that travel originates at Ali Al Salem Air Base, it is that much worse. Normally we try and travel Space A on the R&R flights taking soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan back to the States through Atlanta. That week, however, there had been a number of sandstorms in Iraq which prevented a lot of the R&R soldiers from getting down to Ali until the end of the week. So when I showed up on Friday, the R&R bird was completely full.

Instead, I got manifested on the Freedom Flight which goes to Fort Benning (for contractors and reservists who mobilized through the CRC). Unfortunately, the Freedom Flight leaves only on Saturdays, so I had to spend the night at Ali. Fortunately, I ran into one of my squadmates from JAG OBC, who was on her way back from Baghdad, and we passed the time catching up. I only had my carry-on, since I thought I was only coming back for two weeks, so I was well-positioned to help her carry some of her bags (see picture).

The Army being the Army, we had to report for the flight more than seventeen hours before it was scheduled to depart. Yes, seventeen. Since I had no checked baggage, I flew through Navy Customs, which just meant I got to spend most of the seventeen hours in the vaguely air-conditioned tent rather than outside. By Sunday afternoon, nearly 60 hours after first arriving at Ali, I was home.

Road Race Arifjan, Part 2

After just three weeks of what was supposed to be a three month tour in Kuwait, just long enough to get settled in, I got yanked back stateside to handle a contested court-martial that was scheduled for 14-15 July. However, thanks to the CAAF decision in , the trial has been delayed while a new court-martial panel is chosen. So I'm in Atlanta for at least three more weeks.

I realized that I forgot to post a few photos I took of the Peachtree Road Race in Kuwait, which I ran/walked just before heading back to the States.

road_race1.jpg

As expected, there was a very good turnout. There were definitely two groups: the runners who were pressed up against each other at the start line, and everyone else, who spread out behind the runners.

road_race2.jpg

Since the race started at 0500, we got a nice view of the sunrise during our first lap (the course consisted of two almost identical laps, with a slight dogleg at the end).

road_race3.jpg

After finishing, everyone was directed to the gym where we received our souvenir T-shirts, identical to the ones given in Atlanta except that the sleeve reads "Time Group 12: Kuwait."

It was a lot of fun, and worth getting up that early. I'll likely be in Kuwait next July as well, so perhaps I'll make the effort to run the whole thing then.

Road Race Arifjan

arifjan_peachtree.jpgThere is some definite irony to the fact that after living in Atlanta for three years, the first Peachtree Road Race I run will be in Kuwait. This is especially amusing when you consider that one of my main excuses for never running it before was Atlanta's oppressive summer heat.

Truth be told, I did not even know that they ran the race overseas until I got here. But people here love to run; there are 5k's seemingly every month. So it's little surprise that they are expecting a record turnout from overseas military this year:

A record number of American soldiers in the Middle East will run their own version of the Peachtree, Atlanta Track Club executive director Tracey Russell said Wednesday. Russell said 3,350 soldiers will earn a coveted Peachtree T-shirt in races planned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.

"I've heard so many wonderful testimonials [about the races overseas]," Russell said. "A lot of them are Atlantans stationed overseas."

The Peachtree first added races for soldiers in 2004.

Four races are scheduled, the biggest being at Camp Bagram in Afghanistan, where 1,200 runners will run the 6.2 miles. That race will begin at 5 a.m. Friday Afghanistan time (9 p.m. today in Atlanta).

Another 1,000 will run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait (5 a.m. Friday in Kuwait; 10 p.m. today in Atlanta), 900 at Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq (6:20 a.m. Friday in Iraq; 11:20 p.m. today in Atlanta), and 150 at Al-Asad, Iraq (6 a.m. Friday in Iraq; 11 p.m. today in Atlanta).

I think that is pretty cool. Hopefully the sun will come out in time for me to take some pictures. By the way, the temperature here at 5 a.m.? ~95°F.