The scent of life and of living
hangs heavy on this place,
Here, where the weight
of memory and first things
lose themselves in the labyrinth
of the mind.
First step, first walk, first smile.
First words – garbled beyond
recognition but finding
the connection between
the proffered body
First leaving, first returning then leaving – the first steps
of a lonesome journey
to a far country, of seeking
the wily welcome of the open world
calling – siren-like – from beyond
the walls that time has built.
The days have their dangers
and the nights their flights of fancy
but in moments of respite and clarity
I find myself here. Home.
Abattoirs have about a week’s supply of gas. It’s a chain: We have constantly got pigs coming out of the breeding herd that need to go in homes. Those homes need to be emptied.
Stumbled on this on the news recently which got me thinking of a couple of my interests of late – systems, resilience and system of system approaches to identifying deep dependencies and potential unintended cascade failures of supply chains. What is a world in which rising gas prices potentially affect the availability of meat via several fertiliser farms having to shut down if not incredibly fragile.
When in the stillness
of the night, sleep
slips away, slowly –
my eyes heavy
with the weariness
of deferred respite –
I remember the road
from there to here,
how it turns
upon itself, snaking
this way and then that
and then disappears.
I remember that leaving
is for the living –
those who have learned
to gift the blessing
to the past.
It seems to me that the central distinction in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering – Bomber Mafia – is that between theorists and empiricists. To boil it down to a binary choice is of course an oversimplification, but it is one that helps frame the difference between Hansell and Le May, the two figures from either camp who loom large in the book. At stake here, as it turns out, were the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who met a fiery fate in the aftermath of extensive fire bombings, topped off by the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hansell, we have the theorist who believed against the evidence – or bad luck – that precision bombing was the way to execute a war that limited deaths. Le May on the other hand comes across as an empiricist who allowed the evidence lead him down the paths it did, albeit with disastrous outcomes for those concerned.
Outcomes and motivations differ for the theorist and the empiricist. The theorist is wholly concerned with what might be possible – subject to the constraints of his/her field (eg Theoretical Physicists who come up with all sorts of currently unfalsifiable claims ) – as opposed to the empiricist or experimentalist who is concerned with finding evidence to prove or disprove the grand, elegant notions of the theorist.
If one accepts that the empiricist follows the evidence down a path that leads to a real world impact and desirable outcomes, there looms the question of what constitutes a good outcome. Is the loss of thousands of lives a good outcome if they are the lives of the enemy/ the other rather than ours? Is a good outcome measured in monetary terms, or is there a way to value non-physical outcomes? These are questions I do not think the theorist worries about too much, existing – at least to me – in that rarefied space of thought.
As I plod along, firmly ensconced in mid-career engineering, these distinctions are ones that weigh heavy on my mind, as they have the potential to inform what steps I take next. I am truly at a cross roads of sort – the question being whether I follow the head into theory or the heart into real world applications.
I am dreaming again
of days gone by,
of nights – heavy
with the weight
of solitude – lightened
by the joy of discovery,
a light born of tumult
in an age of innocence.
This is what the
glow-worms in their
of light a whisper
into the night
to see and be seen.
Hailing, as I do, from a corner of the world in which colonization has left its mark in more ways than one, I cannot help but see the stark similarities between the Afghanistan story and that of my other country. Two podcast episodes from the Rest is History podcast (a general one and one specifically focused on the First Anglo-Afghan War) provided some context to the history of the country, dotted as it has been with inter-tribal frictions and the burden of being prized as a gateway location. The similarities appear to be more than superficial: both countries have had borders drawn on the back of envelopes splitting tribes between countries, have fairly well established Islamic insurgencies and have significant deposits of natural resources. There is also the British (read East India Company / Royal Niger Company) connection too, the tip of the spear by which both regions were economically exploited.
The images coming out of Kabul are stark, and speak to a very desperate situation with the Taliban gaining the ascendancy in very short order after the American withdrawal. Inches of paper and columns of ink have been spent on weighing up the pros and the cons, making moral arguments for remaining and framing the withdrawal as effectively ceding control of Afghanistan’s rare earth metals to China among other takes. Given its reputation for being the graveyard of empires, linked to all the aforementioned interventions which have never really ended well fore the occupiers, it is interesting that the powers that be have never really seemed to learn from history. The human tragedy is huge and, given the attack on the airport, only likely to increase as the Taliban gain ascendancy, which makes for very worrying times for those left behind, the regular folk who do not have the power of being visible working for them. One hopes that the noises being made by the Taliban have some substance, although given their priors, there seems little real hope for that. The question of just why the US and their allies have the right to appoint themselves the policemen of the world is a different one altogether but needs exploration.
The speed at which the Ghani government collapsed would suggest that there is a critical mass that supports the Taliban, for all the noise the public intellectuals make. The irony is that nothing has really changed, not in the last twenty years, and maybe not by much in the last 200 either. Previous Afghan President Hamed Karzai is a direct descendant of the puppet the British installed, Shah Shuja. The Taliban come from the tribe that brought him down. Now and as it was then, deep fissures remain, and only by understanding the history and the local context can these widespread failings be prevented.
One take away from the two podcasts I listened to was that current president Ghani was a very different beast from Karzai, one that was seen as rude and snobbish, failing to keep the tribal leaders onside. That and the manifest corruption (case in point that Instagram post) suggests that in the end, failing to make the country work for everyone perhaps made it unlikely that ordinary folk would stick their necks out and fight. A functioning state that cares for the ordinary person and imbues a sense of ownership in the ordinary citizen has a lot more heft than any outside influences propping it up, it seems to me. Given the state of Nigeria at the moment, and the increasingly disconnected ruling class from the ordinary citizen, I can’t help but have a niggling worry as to what fate might lie ahead.
The difference a few degrees makes never ceases to amaze me, a small mercy I have recently found to my advantage as the morning temperatures, dipping as they have below 30 degrees for the first time since April, have allowed me go for short runs and brisk runs again. Between stress eating in South Yorkshire and not being able to rack up those 10k steps, my weight has ballooned by a cringe worthy amount. In a sudden fit of resolve, I downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app and have now completed one week. Hopefully, that along with some portion control, gets me back headed in the right direction. Frankly though, I would settle for being able to complete a sub 24 minute 5k again, seeing as the chap who ran Parkruns for fun in the ‘Deen seems like a whole different person now.
Another small mercy, or delight really, was making a pit stop at a tea spot a few days ago in the middle of a long journey up north. Between the very short notice to grab my gear and head out – the call came during the morning meeting and I had all of twenty minutes to grab a coffee, defer some other stuff and head out – and the long drive (over three hours and then some of 120km/hr driving each way), making a pit stop to drink in the distinctive flavours and grab some much needed caffeine from a cup of Yemeni tea was a blessing in disguise. Thankfully I didn’t do any of the driving, though I did feel for the guy who did. It must have been shattering to do all those miles!
The other thing that came from being cooped up for so long was a deep dive into some conspiracy theories: 9/11, ISIS and the West’s complicity in the travails of the region all came up. Politics and religion are two things I steer well clear of out here, given the different notions of liberty and freedoms that rule the roost out here, so I did most of the listening, throwing in a few questions here and there to appear interested. I am not sure what to make of the Afghanistan debacle, with the Taliban making great gains in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, though the parallels with Northern Nigeria/Chad/ Niger are not lost on me. Sadly hope, which seems to be all we can do for the Nigerian situation, is hardly a recipe for stability or a solution there.
On a brighter note, our little adventure up north has nudged me closer towards being open to explore the vast expanse of this country. I do have to buy a car first, but with my first year behind me and a semblance of slowly settling in, I am finally mentally able to see myself out here for more than a year.