Monday, September 29, 2008

It was a Crazy Time...

If you've seen 311 perform live, you know they have an excellent stage presence, and know how to entertain a crowd. Keep that in mind, because it makes the exceeding awkwardness you are about to see all the more hilarious. I'm just going to chalk it up to the fact that it was the early Nineties, and people were still listening to Vanilla Ice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's Like Sherman Said...

The last post was my 200th. Yay! Just for that I'm going to link you back to 100 Post-tastic Blogstravaganza!, which was posted slightly over two years ago... because I feel like it. You can ignore it if you want.

People often decry the horrors of war. In times like these, its an especially pressing topic, as it seems we're likely to be fighting in the Middle East for "as long as it takes," which, considering the history of the Middle East, could likely be forever. Usually though, people express regret and frustration with men killing other men, devestation to local infrastructure, strain put on the economy, and other such immediate measures that spring to mind when we think of war. Today, something I read reminded me of something much more simple, more basic, and what would frankly, for a lot of people I've encountered, be more pressing: cleanliness.

The following is an exerpt from E.B. Sledge's World War II memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. It describes the conditions the Marines faced at the Battle of Peleliu, which occured in the South Pacific in the fall of 1944. The account is gross, and probably not for the weak-stomached. You have been warned.

Occasional rains that fell on the hot coral merely evaporated like steam off hot pavement. The air hung heavy and muggy. Everywhere we went on the ridges the hot humid air reeked with the stench of death. A strong wind was no relie; it simply brought the horrid odor from an adjacent area. Japanese corpses lay where they fell among the rocks and on the slopes. It was impossible to cover them. Usually there was no soil that could be spread over them, just the hard, jagged coral. The enemy dead simply rotted where they had fallen. They lay all over the place in grotesque positions with puffy faces and grinning buck-toothed expressions.
It is difficult to convey to anyone who has not experienced it the ghastly horror of having your sense of smell saturated constantly with the putrid odor of rotting human flesh day after day, night after night. This was something the men of an infantry batallion got a horrifying dose of during a long, protracted battle such as Peleliu. In the tropics the dead became bloated and gave off a terrific stench within a few hours after death.
Whenever possible we removed Marine dead to the rear of the company's position. There they were usually laid on the stretchers and covered with ponchos which stretched over the head of the corpse down to the ankles. I rarely saw a dead Marine left uncovered with his face exposed to sun, rain, and flies. Somehow it seemed indecent not to cover our dead. Often, though, the dead might lie on the stretchers for some time and decompose badly before the busy graves registration crews could take them for burial in the division cemetery near the airfield.
There were certain areas we moved into and out of several times as the campaign dragged along its weary, bloody course. In amny such areas I became quite familiar with the sight of some particular enemy corpse, as if it were a landmark. It was gruesome to see the stages of decay proceed from just killed, to bloated, to maggot-infested rotting, to partially exposed bones - like some biological clock marking the inexorable passage of time. On each occasion my company passed such a landmark we were fewer in number.
Each time we moved into a different position I could determine the areas occupied by each rifle company as we went into that sector of the line. Behind each c`ompany position lay a pile of ammo and supplies and the inevitable rows of dead under their ponchos. We could determine how bad that sector of the line was by the number of dead. To see them so always filled me with anger tat the war and the realization of the senseless waste. It depressed me far more than my own fear.
Added to the awful stench of the dead of both sides was the repulsive odor of human excrement everywhere. It was all but impossible to practice simple elemental field sanitation on most areas of Peleliu because of the rocky surface. Field sanitation during maneuvers and combat was the responsibility of each man. In short, under normal conditions, he covered his own waste with a scoop of soil. At night when he didn't dare venture out of his foxhole, he simply used an empty grenade canister or ration can, threw it out of his hole, and scooped dirt over it next day if he wasn't under heavy enemy fire.
But on Peleliu, except along the beach areas and in the swamps, digging into the coral rock was nearly impossible. Consequently, thousands of men - most of them around the Umurbrogol Pocket in the ridges, many suffering with severe diarrhea, fighting for weeks on an island two miles by six miles - couldn't practice basic field sanitation. This fundamental neglect caused an already putrid tropical atmosphere to become inconceivably vile.
Added to this was the odor of thousands of rotting, discarded Japanese and American rations. At everyu breath one inhaled hot, humid air heavy with countless repulsive odors. I felt as though my lungs would never be cleansed of all those foul vapors. It may not have been that way down on the airfield and in other areas where the service troops were encamped, but around the infantry in the Umurbrogol Pocket, the stench varied only from foul to unbearable.
In this garbage-filled environment the flies, always numerous in the tropics anyway, underwent a population explosion. This species was not the unimposing common housefly (the presence of one of which in a restaurant is enough to cause most AMericans today to declare the place unfit to serve food to the public). Peleliu's most common fly was the huge blowfly or bluebottle fly. This creature has a plump, metallic, greenish-blue body, and its wings often make a humming sound during flight.
The then new insecticide DDT was sprayed over the combat areas on Peleliu for the first time anywhere. It ssupposedly reduced the adult fly population while Marines were still fighting on the ridges, but I never noticed that the flies became fewer in number.
WIth human corpses, human excrement, and rotting rations scattered across Peleliu's ridges, those nasty insects were so large, so glutted, and so lazy that some could scarcely fly. They could not be waved away or frightened off a can of rations or a chocolate bar. Frequently they tumbled off the side of my canteen cup into my coffee. We actually had to shake the food to dislodge the flies, and even then they sometimes refused to move. I usually had to balance my can of stew on my knee, spooning it up with my right hand while I picked the sluggish creature off the stew with my left. They refused to move or to be intimidated. It was revolting, to say the least, to watch big fat blowflies leave a corpse and swarm into our C rations.
- E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed (p. 142-144)

And with that, I leave you to a happy lunch time. Hopefully I'm the only one who's yet to eat. With the Old Breed is a very interesting look at World War II, especially if you're tired of Hitler-centric History Channel style accounts, focused only on the tactical moves of the generals, and the political dealings of the Big Three. In the study of war, it is essential to consider the experience of those in the trenches, so to speak, and Sledge's memoir is a solid and telling example.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nice Move, Idiot: The Bleak End of the Halo Trilogy

I've had this in the drafts folder for a little while. I thought I'd finish it out, clean it up, and post it.

So, I've been playing through some Halo 3 campaign levels recently, (Matt and I have been helping eachother get the scoring achievements) and I realized something about the end of the game.

Warning: What follows is a far too in-depth analysis of nit-picky details in the story of a video game about shooting things. If you haven't played the Halo series, I can pretty much guarantee you won't care. Also, spoilers! Oh noes!

By firing Installation 04 2.0, our heroes basically ruined their long-term prospects. Yes, they destroyed the entire contingent of Flood on the Ark, and with it the Gravemind (regardless of whether or not you accept that the Halos kill Flood themselves, since Gravemind is a sentient being, it falls under the umbrella of the Halo network's ambiguous killamajig). But, if Installations 04 and 05 are any indication, there is a high probability of Humanity (or somebody else) encountering a serious infestation of Flood at some point in the future. Sure, it's all well and good if you can effectively quarantine them on the ring; Master Chief was able to do that with Installation 04. But in Halo 3, we see what happens when a coordinated Flood infestation gets off the ring: mainly, everybody's screwed.

In the course of what can't be more than a couple of days (from the time Regret's fleet arrives at Installation 05 to the end of Halo 2) the Flood manages to assimilate a large combat force, expand its control outside of the ring's quarantine zone, and establish a foothold on its most powerful adversary's most significant vessel. In what can't be more than a couple of weeks, (between the time Truth's fleet leaves High Charity for Earth and the events of Halo 3) the Flood has managed to break the Covenant's quarantine efforts at Installation 05 with at least one infected ship and make a charge for Earth. This is soon followed by High Charity itself, now completely infected, and serving as a mobile base of operations for the Gravemind. While these two threats are contained, with the Shadow of Intent glassing east Africa and the firing of Installation 04 2.0 respectively, it is reasonable to believe that there are other infected ships somewhere in the galaxy. Despite their reliance on the tactic of overwhelming force, it would represent a significant strategic blunder for the Flood to send its entire strength through the Ark portal.

This is the important part. Even if one accepts that the entire active contingent of the Flood followed Covenant, Humans, and Elites to the Ark, and were eliminated by the firing of 04 2.0, there are surely more dormant populations on the other five Halo installations and research facilities like those on the Threshold gas mine as seen in Halo 2, if not more active populations like that encountered on Installation 05. So far, the only successful methods we've seen for wiping out an infestation are the complete destruction of the infested area (as in the case with Installation 04, the Threshold gas mine, and East Africa) and the firing of the Halo network (as was the case in the Flood/Forerunner war). Therefore, to get rid of the Flood means to either destroy the Halos and all related facilities in the galaxy (which, considering the reach of the Forerunners, represents a daunting, if not impossible task), or fire the Halo network once again.

With the Ark presumably destroyed in the premature firing of 04 2.0, there is no way to fire them safely, without wiping out the vast majority of sentient life in the galaxy. If there is a Halo 4 as is rumored, it will be interesting to see how Bungie handles another appearance of the Flood, story-wise. It seems to me that they should leave things where they are, lest they be forced to invent something ridiculous to explain themselves.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cut Through the Crap?

One thing I hate about election season is that there's so much bullshit thrown about. It's convention season, after all, and that means the major parties are busy congratulating themselves and telling you how horrible their opponents are. It's an interesting part of the process, but often the candidates are so full of it, it just makes me sick.

Recently, I heard about, a site run by a non-profit group out of the University of Pennsylvania, that's dedicated to taking the soundbites and slogans of national politics, and basically filling in the holes. Wondering if McCain really considers everyone making less than $5 million/year middle class? Does Obama really want to give up Iraq to the trrists? Well, they try to answer questions like that. For example, here is an analysis of Obama's nomination acceptance speech, and here is an analysis of Tuesday's Republican convention mudslinging.

It is worth noting that most of the articles seem to be pointed at McCain's campain. Whether this is because they're more full of crap than the Obama side, or it's actually an indication of bias, I'm not sure. But as the campaign ramps up toward November, I'm going to be keeping an eye on it. It seems though, that this site could be a good resource to cut through the crap. God knows, they're laying it on thick these days.