Random Thoughts

Why post-WWII Germany is not 2007 Iraq

I occasionally checkout the online paper of Michigan State University when I need to send some white noise through my brain and recover from the last dissertation writing session. The Editorial on April 13th by Jacob Carpenter got me thinking, and over a cappuccino those thoughts turned into some ideas that’d like communicate concerning the current situation in Iraq – specifically the interconnection between the US and USSR, how lessons from the Afghanistan War can be explored to explain the foolishness of the US government heading into Iraq, and why Iraq 2007 is not Germany – post World War Two (WWII).

Jacob wrote that Iraq can not be abandoned via a US troop withdrawl.

“To better understand the democratization of a country, which is the current mission in Iraq, it helps to reach back into the history books and revisit an example of a similar case.”

His reasoning sounds nice and has been echoed before, essentially that the US must stay in Iraq because after WWII the US pumped billions into then-devastated Germany and Japan, which eventually lead to their stabilization and democracies.

This Blog Post shouldn’t really be taken as a response to the State News Editorial, these are just some things to consider on the current state of geo-political affairs.? His editorial just gave me some motivation to write them down.

“Following the end of World War II, the United States didn’t abandon enemy Germany in its vulnerable state of disarray ? relatively equivalent to that of modern day Iraq.” – Jacob Carpenter

First, and this should be crystal clear to any half-interested Generation XY wannabe historian, Iraq is not Germany.? The circumstances surrounding the current Iraq War shares little with World War II, and the problem in Iraq is not so simple as staying the course or pumping money into the country or simply pulling out.? Using the post-WWII Germany/Japan analogy to rationalize the current US strategy in Iraq is dangerous and shot-sighted because it does not shed light on the current problem, which is:

How can Iraq move foreword in the current political situation?

Now some background on where these thoughts are coming from. I like to read, and if history is to be learned from, you have to move beyond the classroom and seek out your own facts. For an understanding on why post-WWII Germany is not Iraq and why it shouldn’t be treated as so, I recommend reading the following books:

Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times
America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies
The Kite Runner

Some history notes (as I know them), prior to the establishment of the German state and national borders, Germany was a collection of different kingdoms and princes and landowners, which eventually formed into a set of German States. Then, with Bismarck in 1871 the various states were united into what is now (minus a few border changes) Germany.? Prior to WWII Germany had a functioning democracy with elections and checks and balances (which were to fail and allow Hitler to take absolute political control of the country).

The pre-WWII German scientific-industrial contribution to the world was massive. Most of the Nobel Prize winners prior to 1940 came from Germany, in addition, companies such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Zeiss and others started and still thrive globally. I think it’s often ignored or understated just how powerful German was, but the concept is easily illustrated by remembering that the division of German scientists after the war essentially defined a number of current global political situations.

Prior to WWII Europe was the Well from which scientific discoveries flowed. After its destruction the US realized it would need to establish its own Well and the federal funding of research in the US with public funds began in the 1950’s.

How did the US and USSR develop the ability to shoot long range missiles at one another and at any other country? What was the enabling movement which allowed the USSR to send cosmonauts into space and the US to land men on the Moon? Simple, after the defeat of Nazi-Germany the US picked up Wernher von Braun (the head of the Nazi V-2 Missile program) with a truck full of rocket research documents. Around the same time period, the Soviets forcibly transplanted every German rocket scientist they could find in occupied Germany to Siberia, where they reenacted the work they had done on the Nazi missile program. Dr. von Braun eventually became the head of NASA while the US and USSR began the Nuclear Arms Race and the Space Race.

The point here is that Germany had the knowledge base, collective will, and stability to rebuild after its destruction – because many of those elements were in-place prior to the devastation.? Hitler was really only in total control for a short while (compared with Iraq).? He took over more or less around 1933, and Nazi-Germany was defeated in 1945. Saddam Hussein was in total power from about 1980 until 2003. During this time he was able to build a lasting framework for keeping the people down and eradicating the notion of a real democracy.

The most important difference from my view is that Germany was united by language and religion. Iraq is mostly united in language, but for sure very divided by religious and ethnic traditions. Also, I think that in general, Germany has maintained a social tradition of working for the common good of the country, because the internal conflicts between different ethic groups and religious desires were more or less worked out in the centuries preceding the First World War.

Currently the fragmented factions and ethnic groups in Iraq have had to fight for the survival of their own entities, therefore a unification of the country is a monumental task even without the instability of the war to prevent rebuilding.

Ok you say, but still it was all the US military personnel in Germany that made the difference between chaos and rebuilding. Let’s just keep the troops in Iraq, and do the same as with Germany post-WWII and Iraq will be ok in 20 years.

Coming up next: Why imitating the US military strategy of post-WWII Germany doesn’t easily translate to stability for 2007 Iraq.

Drugs and Brain Hugs – a Recollection of Sobriety

I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

(Hunter S. Thompson)

It’s still interesting to look back on my life are realize that far too many of my role models were drug fiends. Jim Morrison and Hunter S. Thompson – two rather influential figures in my development, both with historical personas fully ripped to the hilt on psychedelics. As were Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane. Howard Hughes was addicted to his meds and his need to succeed. There’s a Richard Feynmen and an Ursula K. Le Guin thrown in here and there for balance, and a Lynn Hill opposite a Mia Hamm, but the big influences were famously portrayed as drug freaks.

I’ve often wondered why I never got into the drug culture – that mythical component of society we hear about, are at times fascinated by and sometimes want to imitate. Would Pulp Fiction be half as cool if John Travolta was on a sugar high instead of pumping heroine into his body.

Oh, lord, set me free of my worldly senses and drop my mind down a rabbit hole that I’ll never want to crawl out of.

The thing is, although there’s some sort of dangerous allure, like wanting to take up smoking cigarettes – rage against societal conventions, it just seems like too much work to really get into drugs. Even the dead-head culture, those hippy souls born twenty years too late that wear their colorful drags and talk in aluff tones, the ones you see at the University of Michigan head shops and trip over at any number of open air concerts – that look isn’t by accident. It takes thought and determination to appear that spaced out.

I’ve seen some of the drug scene – you have to go to parties and know people to buy drugs from, and then there’s the paraphernalia investment.

Accessories like three foot Joker bongs don’t come cheap, and what kind of gutter college kid degenerate wants to toke from a plastic pipe? Yes you "can" fashion a pipe from an empty tube of M&M-mini’s (or an apple), but why go to the trouble? If you’re going to take a hit, you want to do it in style – and I’ve seen the prices of those colorful handmade glass smoking accessories. The thought of dropping $50 on a piece of glass to smoke from just doesn’t compute.

Probably the allure is so docile in my brain because I do more or less act like I’m "on" something from day to day. Nothing serious, it just looks like I’m on a mild tranquilizer most of the time. The thing is, I’m just naturally mello, probably due to low blood pressure and a weak heart.

Maybe my body is too sensitive, if you’ve never gotten into drugs in the first place, then a cup of Star Bucks still gives your heart a stiff kick and one beer makes the head swim like a nymph in Bacchus’s cup of ale. So what’s to be gained from escalation?

"Dude, I’m taking drugs to expand my mind."

"Oh, really?"

I’ve actually heard a searching-for-purpose prelaw student drop this line before. If that’s the argument, wouldn’t you want to be expanding your mind on a continual basis? If it’s really to gain some new perspective, wouldn’t it be better to have that ability all the time, not just after you pop a pill? If you rely on a drug to do all the work – you’ll never have any hope of reaching Nirvana, just brief windows of enlightenment that close before you can crawl your lethargic mind through the opening.

I suppose you have to get into the habit of taking drugs. I tried this with cigarettes. I was stressed out doing a Master’s in Materials Science and thought I’d take up smoking to bevel the edges of my twisted head – but I’d never finish my pack of American Spirits and the cigarettes never really fit that well between my lips.

I also smoked cigars for a time – and never inhaled again after nearly vomiting my brains out one fine afternoon while sunning myself on the outdoor patio.

All of this doesn’t really make sense, my parents both smoked for over thirty years and both my sister and I grew up in a smoking environment. Most kids I know in such a situation grow up puffing with their parents, or hiding it when they go home for Thanksgiving. Is this undesire to get my head twisted around a drug addiction just my quiet way of rebelling against my parent’s cigarette habits?

I hear it’s more colorful to get twisted in this world, but my mind has too many turns as it is. I pity the fool who need a hit to see the light – and the equally uninspired pious minion who never even considered the option.

"My attorney had never been able to accept the notion — often espoused by former drug abusers — that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them. And neither have I for that matter."

-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Movie Script

Toy Vault

In his keynote talk at the 2006 EMPA PhD Symposium, 1991 Nobel Chemistry winner Richard Ernst said that if you want your children to grow up with a creative mind, then they should grow up in an old house full of rooms to explore filled with things to discover. It’s cool that my parents still live in the house that I grew up in. Cool because when I come to visit, as I did over Thanksgiving 2006. I can walk the paths I used to follow and explore perspective, the contrast between where I was and where I am. Part of the reason that I am as I am is due to the toys I grew up with. Just as most of my clothes came from second hand stores, probably 90% of my toys were procured from the half-off bins and church rummage sales. This meant that I had at least three times as many toys as anyone else I knew. And while I had a plethora of the standard Legos, I also had a lot of G.I. Joes, Star Wars, as well as random things most Michigan kids had never heard of, like Playmobil.

Toys large

My walk down contrast lane lead to me photographing various toys, still sitting on shelves in my room and haunting the shadows of the basement.

Star Wars et. alMask close up

 First, I should say that while much spunk is made about violence in toys and on TV, it’s a sad pathetic short-cut in thinking to say that these things directly lead to violent children. Because by all accounts, if you really look at what I grew up with, I should, by that logic, be some sort of CIA mercenary. While the thought did cross my mind once or twice, I must have just gotten it all out of my system playing with "toys" like a belt of dummy .50 caliber machine gun ammunition.

50 Cal toy

Star Wars toys just look cool, you can replay every scene from the movies and make up storylines that include G.I. Joe. Or you can mix the Star Wars miniatures with the Vietnam era plastic warriors that are driving a WWII era German truck.

Micro imaginations

And who didn’t want plastic army guys to fight miniature wooly mammoths while getting accosted by Muscle Men?

Plastic universe

My room is an interesting place, because it’s present form was set up after college. The alcohol influence is apprent, and fits quite well with the childhood day dreams. She Ra was always hot, and standing in front of an empty Jim Beam bottle she just drives Hawk Eye (from Mash) crazy. Probably the reason he was laying back in the Beam shot glass.

She Ra and Sesame Street

I don’t know the connection between Superman and Papa Smurf, but Ernie seemed to be inciting a confrontation between the Japanese super hero dudes and their tiny monster.

Superman and Papa Smurf

For some reason the Flash was sitting in a shot glass and my teddy bear was chilling beside a tank that used to be commanded by my 1967 vintage 12 inch G.I. Joe.

The FlashTeddy and Tank

In the end the Rancor hooked up with Barbie, she was turned on by the soft side of the beast inside.

Rancor and Barbie

Two of my most influential virutal role models were also represented, the cool headed badass Yoda sits atop a copy of Hell’s Angels, written by the eternal Gonzo demon, Huter S. Thompson.

Yoda a-la Thompson

Toys Star Wars Barbie Rancor


I like to live my life in quotes. Tiny bits of inspiration and demise that ingrain in my brain and refuse to leave no matter the medicine. A woman’s look, a jagged teacher’s scowl, unintended slivers of approval and rejection weave their way through your spider web and form the silk fabric called your life. How to handle the bleak vastness of it all?

Come as you are.

Taken out of context, out of the original environment, placed into a new sphere, movie quotes, lyrics, bits of spoken words, they inspire no matter the journey. Part of getting through life is just figuring out ways to keep your inspiration burning hot and to maintain that lust for continued existence. That clique, that over done plot line, that thing that gets me up in the morning.

The Gods envy us.

How does watching Natalie Portman blow up Parliament with a train load of explosives in V for Vendetta make the challenge of my PhD easier to handle? She’s fighting political oppression in a 1984-Orwellian future London and I’m sitting in a present day office enjoying a well paid PhD job and depressed with screwing things up.

But somehow it works.

Somehow watching her beaten down by V and reborn without fear makes the fool stress and confusion abate.

Abstraction, take an element of one thing, and transpose it onto another. Like tracing an image of the Earth on to the shadow of the Moon.

Where’s your will to be weird?

Take Edward Norton’s character from Fight Club and transpose it onto my situation. Replace a boring insurance job with the mundane details of a research project. Take out the influence of loveless fathers, replace with indifferent teachers, and use mountaineering instead of bare knuckle boxing.

Instead of physically challenging myself with destructive acts like bare knuckle boxing I climb mountains and balance on rock ridges.

All the elements are there to form a transition from the mundane to confident researcher, morphed into weekend mountaineering warrior. For some reason, things just click.

Does this mean you should take all the elements from your favorite movie and mold your life around them? Ah, no…that’s like stalking the person you think you’re connected to, the one who doesn’t love you back. That’s like falling for Mary, she only makes you feel good about yourself, but it’s not love that you feel, it’s just an unhealthy obsession.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Find those elements of inspiration that work and extract what you need to make your journey through life easier to bear and figure out.

Then the mountains and the work and the broken flowers don’t seem so fatal and maybe the vastness of your life becomes digestible.


Much spunk is made about decisions. To survive you have to get involved and make choices in life. Maybe you stay up at night wondering if you should make one or not, because, of course, you have to make one or two eventually. After all, they make the world go wrong. You make one and then wonder if it was right or not.

All those factors, those variables to consider, what if the camera cost too much? This bike doesn’t have shocks, but it does have the disc brakes. Should I run the fatigue test with a median strain of 0.10% or 0.20%? And maybe I’ll buy a mountain bike later, which would make the shock variable moot. Hey, let’s go find Osama, no wait, ok…invade Iraq.

There’s right and wrong – good and evil in the world. We’re taught this from birth, and it’s the basis for many beliefs and books. But when are choices really black and white? How do you know if it was the right decision? You think you know, but do you really?

If something goes wrong it generally just means you did something that your boss didn’t agree with. You know for sure it was the wrong course of action because your ears are physically being assaulted by his voice. Or maybe it’s more subtle, the wife throws something in your direction or the guy walks off in a huff.

But what does it mean if something is right? Well, no one yells at you or says that you screwed up. They’re silent because there’s nothing to complain about. You still get a paycheck and everything goes on, da doom, da doom doom doom.

In most situations you can’t understand and anticipate all of the factors that will eventually establish the criteria for that lonely little decision being the Right choice. But if things start to go wrong, just change the game, rewrite the future history – and make some new decisions.

Break the original decision up into manageable pieces. The path from black to white has a maximum of 256 shades of Grey (if you’re looking at a computer screen) and you can lean very far in either direction without being totally black or blown-out bleached white. If things start to wrong, just make some new decisions and swing back to the correct course.

Above all, don’t be afraid to fail. When you get the fear of failure inside you start to hesitate and second guess yourself. With the exception of those universal moral truths, the only real failure is letting fear cripple your ability to choose between Pepsi and Coke.

But the only thing on my mind at the moment – the decision, the question to be answered, you know the conflict: should I try to solo the Fusshorn (and possibly the Aletschhorn as well) over the weekend or safely stay home in Zurich?

If there’s no post by next Friday, we’ll be able to convincingly say – in hindsight, that it was a poor course of action to follow.

Red tie on yellow

Lazy Swiss Saturday

For one of those weekends when you don’t know what to do with yourself, here’s my suggestion:

1) Wake up at 5 am, let the alarm go until 5:15, think about it again, and then get out of bed.

2) Find your way to the main train station in Zurich and take the 6:12 train to Ziegelbrücke. Curse yourself for not getting to the station early enough to buy a coffee, then ask yourself why you had the idea to get up so early to go hiking in the first place. Praise the Gods when the guy with the food cart comes by on the train, get yourself a coffee and chocolate croissant. All will then be well in the world.

Switch trains at Ziegelbrücke and get off at Braunwald. Hike two hours towards the Eggstöcke, your goal is to do a Klettersteig (protected climbing route) to the summit.

Extra Credit: take the wrong path, look up and realize you’re quickly becoming lost, trail blaze up the side of the mountain and after crossing the scree (loose rockfall from the mountain) and basic class two unprotected climbing, get to the start of the Klettersteig.

3) Do the Vor Eggstöcke Klettersteig, pass all the slow people and take 10 minute breaks here and there for energy bar consumption. Finish the first Klettersteig and continue to the next, more difficult one. Extra Credit: Climb halfway up the second Klettersteig until your arms start shaking and your feet become unstable, debate about continuing, look down and imagine loosing your grip and falling 2 meters before the rope catches you. Climb down and have another energy bar. After watching two other sets of climbs do the climb you just retreated from get up off your lazy ass and climb it as well. Summit the peak and feel good for doing something that means nothing.

4) Follow the blue alpine ridge trail off the summit and start descending from the Eggstöcke. Extra Credit: loose the path and start down a section of half solid, half crap crumbling rock.

Bonus Points: Grab a big handhold in your right hand and watch helplessly as it breaks away from the mountain and gets deflected by your right knee and leg before free falling through the fresh alpine air and joining all its other friends on the slopes below.

Double Bonus Points: Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and should have died in the mountains years ago, climb back up and find the trail. Descend along the alpine trail, at times balancing on a rock ridge with a width twice as wide as your boots. Look to your right and notice the multi-hundred meter straight-down-drop that ends in jagged rocks. Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and climb down to your left so you don’t fall to your impending death.

4) Leave the ridge and descend through the field of giant boulders and smooth rock left by the last glacier. Imagine Kate is hiking next to you and singing the chorus line from the Sound of Music. Look across the boulder field to the snow dusted ridges of the Ortstock and think about climbing it instead of getting hiking back to Braunwald and catching the next the train. Remind yourself that you’re a dumbass and take the trail back to Braunwald.

5) Change into your Chaco sandals on the train and relax.

Extra Credit: Sit in the dining car and drink a beer while recounting the day in your Moleskin journal. Bonus Points: Have the bright idea of turning your Lazy Saturday into a blog entry. 6) Get back to your place, bake a fresh mozzarella pizza, reflect on the fact you went hiking for 9 hours. Go to bed. Double Bonus Points: Mess around with the digital camera Sunday night after cleaning your room.

Journals in Motion


Climbing Switzerland Alps Braunwald