Happiness is…

…a big bone…DSCF8758-001 DSCF8739 DSCF8738 DSCF8737 DSCF8736New World Taumarunui was selling these for a dollar each – great for ‘staff’ morale and they last a lot longer than the average chew.

A couple of nights after they got these, Kirk woke me up around 3AM, whining at the front door. Sometimes he will does this when he thinks there is something outside – usually a deer – or when he needs to ‘go’. It was a clear moonlit night so I followed him outside to see what had piqued his interest.

We went up to the top of the house driveway and then a wee ways down the long driveway that runs further down the hill. About 20 metres along the way, Kirk stopped, and shovelled some leaves out of the way with his head. Satisfied, he turned around and trotted back to the house…no stray trampers…no dodgy deer…just checking that his bone was still where he had hidden it.

 

Crisis in Syria and Iraq: All-in or all-out?

Manstan 231014

Josh Wineera is having a busy week…a successful engagement at the New Zealand Association for Training and Development Conference, followed by this op-ed for Fairfax. For me, a most refreshing change from the ‘usual suspect;’ domestic talking heads that are being trotted out to ‘comment’ on the developing situation in the Middle East. Read on…

To use the Texas Hold’em poker analogy, Islamic State (ISIS) is ‘all-in’ to seize the major cities on the Syrian-Turkish border as well as swathes of regional areas in western and central Iraq. The actions are clinical, calculated and surprisingly conventional. The approach is one of simple arithmetic and follows an important principle of war – mass, or more plainly ISIS has the numbers. Unlike poker however, the stakes are not casino chips but rather millions of innocent victims caught up in yet another cycle of Middle Eastern violence.

While the much-vaunted precision-guided munitions continue to be dropped by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, the unrelenting nature of ISIS ‘boots on the ground’ is the decisive factor. Attrition of its fighters is not a concern. Thousands are ready and better positioned to be ordered into the fray. To coin the phrase, ISIS is currently the side that is the fastest with the mostest and many battles throughout history have been won this way.

So, if the tactic is to seize and hold the likes of Kobani or Anbar province on the other front in Iraq, how then might this contribute to the ISIS strategy? First and foremost a narrative is likely being developed to expose the limits and ultimate failure of the ‘West’ to effectively support the likes of the Kurds and even the Government of Iraq. This is certainly being helped along with media commentators such as Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn asserting the ‘U.S. strategy is in tatters as ISIS marches on’.

Second, and more chilling, is the perception that there is no safe place in the region to escape the onslaught. While some fight, the vast majority living under threat of mortal danger are not soldiers nor capable of putting up meaningful resistance. Capitulation and being resigned to the fate that awaits them under a barbarous regime appears inevitable.

But even with air power and small contingents of international land forces can anything really be done to roll back ISIS? At one end of the spectrum there are those that still believe this is not a fight for the West. Continued intervention is not the answer they decry.

Taken further, supporters of Edward Luttwak’s ‘Give War a Chance’ proposition argue that sitting on the sidelines and waiting until all belligerents become exhausted is a better plan. Standing by while foes battle each other is one thing, however giving a free hand for systematic cruelty and genocide is quite a different argument.

On this issue, if widespread butchery and carnage is the trigger for international reaction then according to Canadian journalist Neil MacDonald intervention in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo is more warranted.”ISIS’s acolytes are just apprentices at atrocity compared to some in the Congo”.

The other end of the spectrum leads to an all-in approach by countries that have the tenacity and dedication to endure what would be another long and frustrating campaign. The 2014 all-in version should include the familiar political, economic and military assistance. The time frame for favourable conditions would need to be measured in years not months. So how will these be different, have better outcomes, than the 2003-2011 version applied in Iraq? Politically, positive change has already occurred with Haider al-Abadi confirmed as Iraq’s Prime Minister. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed al-Abadi’s formation of a new inclusive Government in Iraq.

Oversight of political reform is paramount to ensure balance and avoid marginalising the Sunni population in particular. Economically the impact of change will be less disruptive as Iraq’s southern oil fields maintain productivity and buttress the financial markets. Inter-Governmental Organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are not expected to have to significantly intervene.

Which leaves the lingering question of military assistance. Right now the prime means of international intervention is air strikes and combat advisors. At best these immediate efforts will help the Kurds and the Iraqi Government stem the ISIS advances. Wishful thinking might even result in a stalemate. There is no quick fix. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby has said “people need to understand we need a little strategic patience here…it is going to take a bit of time”.

While western governments continue to debate the merits and risks of deploying ground troops, a ready-made force is already being brought into action. A U.S. Government contract issued in August called for interested vendors to provide security assistance mentors and advisors. The private security community is naturally abuzz with new possibilities.

Eric Prince, founder of controversial security contractor Blackwater, has waded into the conversation. Calling the Iraqi Army inept after billions spent on training and equipping them, Prince suggests, “if the old Blackwater team were together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade size unit of veteran American contractors or multinational force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be the necessary ground combat team”. He goes on stating, “a competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces”.

There is much irony in calling for private security companies to fill the void of trainers and mentors to the Iraqi security forces. A number still stand accused of delivering poor training last decade.

Whatever arrangements are put in place by international military forces or private security companies, the processes and methods of training Iraqi’s and even the Kurds must be transformed. Doing the same thing and expecting different results cannot be allowed to prevail. While a focus on technical skills is expected, installing a sense of duty and ingraining societal values to repulse the long-term intentions of ISIS will be essential.
What is clear is this is a poker hand that nobody except ISIS wants to play. Folding and forfeiting interest in the situation does not appear to be an option for those governments already committed. It’s time to ante up or move on. In the meantime millions across the region continue to bleed and live in fear.


Josh Wineera is a member of the New Zealand National Forum for the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific. He is also a PhD candidate with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. His doctoral research is on training foreign security forces.

Dinner Dates

I had an attack of the late night sweet munchies a few nights ago and wanted something quick and simple to satisfy the urge. There has also been a large jar of dates in the pantry that has not been getting much attention recently and the last thing I need is a jar of time-expired dates…

The winning contender was this recipe from The Whimsical Wife

Ingredients:

The Pudding

10-12 dates, roughly chopped

1 1/2 Tbsp Boiling Water

1/8 tsp Baking Soda

11/2 Tbsp Butter

1 1/2 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp Flour

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1 Egg (originally this was one egg between two desserts but was too dry)

1 Tbsp Walnuts, roughly chopped

The Sauce:

4 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 Tbsp Butter (originally only a teaspoon but not caramelly enough)

4 tablespoons of cream (originally this was only a teaspoon of milk or cream but this led to a sauce that was more fudge than sauce – the extra liquid makes all the difference).

Method:

Place the chopped dates and water in a large mug and microwave for 50 sec until the dates are softened.

DSCF8748Add the Bicarb soda and let it sit for 30 seconds before mashing the dates roughly with a spoon.

DSCF8749DSCF8751Add the butter and place again in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to soften and melt.

DSCF8752DSCF8753Add the sugar, egg, walnuts and flour and mix to combine thoroughly. The original recipe called for only half the walnuts and for these to be sprinkled on top – I think I get a better result mixing more walnuts throughout the mix.

Place in the microwave on a sauce for 1 minute. It may need a further 10-20 sec to finish it off completely, depending on your microwave.

For the caramel sauce, place the the sugar, butter and cream into an ovenproof ramekin and microwave for 20 seconds.

Remove and stir and repeat another three times.

Shake the sticky date pudding from the mug into a dessert plate, and add ice cream.

DSCF8755…and cream and drizzle the sauce over it all. you can see from these pics of my first attempt that there simply isn’t enough sauce to be useful…

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…and that it is quite fudgy…not the desired effect at all. I didn’t have any cream handy for this go-round so it was even drier…DSCF8756

…whereas my modified version has a rich caramel sauce that soaks into the sticky date pudding and mixes with the cream…DSCF8759-001

Finished!!DSCF8760-001

Definitely a keeper but very very very rich – even I could only eat this maybe once a week at most…the pudding itself is a lot less gooey than the other similar cake in a  cup desserts that I have tried so I intend experimenting with it further to see how it goes in the chocolate, banana and golden desserts in a cup that I have played with previously…

Jandalman and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – a cautionary tale

By now some of you may have heard the tale of Jandalman, or seen it on some of the local guiding Facebook pages and sites. The story has been hammered pretty hard locally to get the mountain safety message out there…

This is the tale of the tourist who was found on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a week or so ago, trying to walk out in bare feet having lost his jandals in the snow (yes, you did read that right!). Of even greater concern was that the same guiding parties turned back four other similarly ill-equipped (at least they had shoes) walkers after this.

Jandalman

Jandalman, in black, sitting on the blue thermal mat, being worked on…

This is the story as posted.

“…TOURISTS – PLEASE USE THE RIGHT GEAR AND GUIDES

This guy missed out on his Darwin Award this weekend…… by an ultra slim margin.
We found him on the Tongariro crossing, he attempted it in Jandals (thongs, Flip Flops), that jacket and jeans. Lost his jandals and jumper in a fall, what a surprise, No gloves, no hat, no food, no water, no over trousers, no map, no compass, solo attempt etc. …

When we found him he was on his way down, trying to get to his car in bare feet (He had made it to the top and fallen down Red Crater I think) and having fallen his hands were well cut up. His brain had switched to survival mode and he was focused on walking the last 5+ km of snow, ice and sharp volcanic rock to his car.

NOTE TO REMEMBER – His brain was so focused on survival, survival instinct kicked in, that I had to insist he stopped and let us help him. He was initially refusing help.

Stopped him, gave him warm chocolate drink, bandaged his hands, put socks on feet and hands and then another Kiwi party came down (also dragging down with them two more terrified, bleeding, Frenchmen who at least had sneakers on, not much use). A member of this other Kiwi group had a spare set of boots and agreed to take our guy down as well so that I could carry on.

Had to put the boots on him, he could not do it for himself.

Had to fix his hands, he could not do it for himself.

We then started up again and found two more idiots coming up behind us, also in jeans, sneakers etc. We turned them around too, they were Polish.

This guy is from France. Very close to being “…his name WAS from France…”

It is quite scary that people are still regularly ignoring or not even seeking the advice available from I-Sites and DOC Visitor Centres, and that there remains a strong perception that the mountains are safe and benign environments. Many of them only here what they want to hear and so the slightest hint that a walk may be walkable is all they need to start off. Even after being warned about winter conditions on the Crossing, a number still try to bluff their way through although many are stymied when shown a picture and asked to point to the crampons.

To assist with education and information on conditions and activities around the Park, DOC has established a Facebook page on which its posts updates on daily conditions around the Park.  So if you’re visiting, maybe check this before you head off..? A free helicopter ride is not all it’s cracked up to be…

Silhouette | The Daily Post

Silhouette | The Daily Post. This week, share a photo with a silhouette.

DSCF8711Having a large dog that likes to watch TV is often like getting the last seat at the movies – right behind the guy with the big hair…

This is Kirk…his habit started with dogs shows like It’s Me Or The Dog and A Dog’s Show and we could always tell with shows used real dog sounds and which relied on canned noises by the level of interest he would show. His taste has slowly broadened over the years to include animal shows, especially Country Calendar; reality shows – possibly because of the uncanned emotion they display; and the lower end of ‘B’ science fiction movies – basically the cornier the monster costume, the more he likes it….

When we let the dogs inside, Lulu will smooch around for cuddles and attention but Kirk will race around to the TV. If it’s not on, he will sit up straight (because that’s how good dogs get what they want) in front of the screen if it’s not not and cry until it’s is either turned on for him or he’s gets the messages and slouches onto his mat to sulk. If the TV is already on, he will watch for a few seconds and pass judgement on the content by either going to sleep – with the standard of modern TV, he sleeps a lot – or arranging himself so it can watch from his mat…

There are three scratches on the screen. That’s from when he preemptively protected me from an on-screen polar bear. So he’s not allowed to watch TV on his own anymore…

Islands in the Mist

This was yesterday’s a recent challenge in WordPress’ Writing 101 workshop a month or so ago (how time flies when you have work): “…today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about…”

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One of the reasons that I like living here so much is that it can feel so isolated from the world and its issues…some times this can be a jungle moon of Endor, or a secluded part of Pandora’s Hallelujah Mountains…DSCF8560

The mist deadens sounds of the world and creates our own little world…free to imagine and wonder…DSCF8561

Last night when I came home, just on sundown it was like this…

DSCF8645OK, so the actual challenge was to write 400 words but doesn’t each picture speak a thousand? And it’s Friday night and we need to get fed before Coro…and I am also looking forward to ending Phase I of my retro TV groove, with the final episode of UFO already lined up in Plex. Phase II arrived in the mail tonight so the Space 1999 marathon will start tomorrow…

I always thought that Space 1999 was so much cornier than UFO which was the first grown-ups programme I was allowed to watch on a regular basis…type faster, type faster…no typos, no typos, I can already hear Jim Hickey making up the weather for tomorrow…looks like rain and lots of it…only 30 minutes now to get dinner ready…no pressure…but type faster, no typos…

Phew! Can smell dog poo on my boots…poo patrol on Monday I guess…so between UFO and Space 1999, maybe I already grew up enough to start to lose my suspension of disbelief…already between ten and twelve…? But I still like the purple wigs and tinfoil body suits – did they scratch? – and, as always with Gerry Anderson, the toys machines rule…UHU02 has made the SHADO Interceptor: is Sky 1 on the cards.. although I still have the Imai one of variable scale in the works…Probably not, I think the next Interceptor he will design will below to the Angels…

And speaking of Angels, PRIME TV, where is our Doctor fix now that the fez-wearing ‘custard and fish fingers’ idiot is gone…? And speaking of idiots, I can hear Seven Sharp prattling now…Dad, Dad, we want dinner…OK, OK, coming, coming…”let’s feed the dogs” (words never spoken out loud in jest) and there we go: 400-ish words and the challenge done…

Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rockin’ | The Daily Post.

Banana bread in a cup

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Start with a big mug and a long spoon…

It’s been a while since I visited my 30 Cake in a Cup Challenge…I either haven’t had the late night munchies, or when I have, hadn’t had the makings…The stars aligned the other night when I found some bananas frozen in the freezer…

I found the recipe at Pass the Sushi…I couldn’t see what to do with the extra teaspoon of sugar on the original recipe so I left it off and it doesn’t seem to have hurt it at all…

The makings

3 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/4  teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon milk
1 ripe banana, mashed

The making

In a bowl, or right in the mug, whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and soda.

Add egg and combine until just incorporated with dry ingredients.

DSCF8633Mix in vanilla, oil, milk and mashed banana.

Pop into the microwave for 3 minutes.

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It will seems to go a little crazy…

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…but will turn out OK…

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A tad plain alone…

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…but more social with ice cream…

DSCF8640First impressions were good, tastes much like a butterscotch pudding with banana instead of golden syrup…think it’s a keeper…


Happy Dinner

DSCF8606After quite a few weeks of rice-based dinners, I’ve gone a little conventional for a while…O also participating in a taste test for tomato sauce and, quite frankly, tomato sauce and rice are not the happiest of combos…

To provide a consistent taste testing environment for the next eight (of ten) days of testing, it’s sausages for dinner…Having forgotten that I had applied to do this testing, the cupboard was a little bare but tonight they had some chicken and tarragon sausage packs on special at the service station that also acts as out closest dairy…very nice with corn fritters and a couple of eggs…simple and tasty…

 

Training the Iraqi Army: The Sequel

Manawatu Standard 1 Jul 14

A sequel often fails to live up to the success of the original movie. A rehashed storyline, tired characters and predictable dialogue often make for painful viewing. Some things are simply best left as they are.

So what then to make of the recent announcement by U.S. President Barak Obama to send some 300 military advisors to help train the Iraqi Army to defeat the forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Certainly the light footprint, rather than deploying tens of thousands of American combat troops, represents a more pragmatic approach from a nation still battle-weary from Afghanistan and Iraq Part 1 (though some could argue this new commitment is Part 3 when considering the Gulf War of 1990-1991). During the past seven days many western media and security experts have had to resort to hourly news cycles, such is the speed of this fast-moving crisis.

While there is no stated intention for U.S. troops to engage in combat, the rapid advances by Islamic militants and the chaotic environment of this intensified and new insurgency may, in some circumstances, make that very difficult. No doubt once on the ground the advisors will be careful to keep out of the battle but as all veterans know, when you’re caught in a fire-fight everybody fights.

Within the United States, there are furious accusations and blame concerning the training and resources dedicated to raising the Iraqi Army. As reported in the New York Times, “training the Iraqi Army and other security forces was a seminal mission for United States forces before the last American troops left in 2011”. $25 billion has been spent training and equipping Iraq’s security forces, according to a report by the special inspector general on Iraq.

Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Lieutenant General James Dubik, both former senior U.S. commanders who served in Iraq, defend the training of the local security forces despite the recent losses. Blame appears to be directed at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s, with claims of purging some of the most talented commanders and using the military to target political rivals. Dubik is reported to have panned the political interference of the military, simply stating “they are crumbling”.

Questions will now be asked of the training of foreign security forces and undoubtedly the preparation of the trainers themselves. Was cultural awareness and language proficiency sufficient to teach indigenous forces? Did it matter that ones teaching style might be different to the learners learning style, especially if the skills such as firing a rifle are more akin to rote learning? Certainly ‘mechanical’ skills are taught quite quickly, and remaining competent is more about repetition than critical thinking.

But, what then of developing such things as morale, esprit de corps, and defending both the state and the individuals of the state – regardless of ethnicity? What about ingraining an understanding of the rule of law and subordination of the security force to its civilian leaders? Leaders, that scholar Marina Ottaway reasons “should not try to impose common identities on deeply divided peoples but to organise a state that can administer their territories and allow people to live together despite differences”.When conditions such as these are met, meaningful reform and increased and enduring capability of the indigenous security sector has a chance for success.

Ironically, many commentators seem to have forgotten Obama’s speech at the West Point Military Academy just five weeks ago. “I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnership fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines”, said the President. His speech was either prescient or coincidental. Irrespective, from a foreign policy standpoint, the training of foreign security forces will be a long-term objective. American historians will no doubt hear echoes of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at West Point, “In the years ahead, some of you will serve as advisors to foreign missions or even to foreign governments”. Kennedy further impressed on his audience the need to understand the utility of military power and also the limits of military power.

The intervention of American advisors, even in concert with airstrikes requested by the government of Iraq, will not bring closure to this current crisis. For the U.S. or even the U.N. the dilemma remains familiar. Do something, which could turn out to be counter-productive, or do nothing which might seem counter intuitive. Regardless, as the intervention of advisors has already occurred the focus must be on helping arrest the threat of total civil war and establishing the necessary space for political dialogue, negotiation and ultimately reform.

If this is the outcome achieved, then perhaps this whole situation is not so much a sequel but rather an epilogue that is desperately needed by all the people of Iraq.

____________

Josh Wineera is a former irregular warfare lecturer with Massey University. He is a PhD candidate with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago. His doctoral research is on training foreign security forces. 


Wear sunscreen…

 

…and other handy things to know…

Yes, winter has finally hit the Central Plateau…and with it, the usual outbreak of idiots…

Handy tip #1. Snow is wet, hard and cold. Just because it is sunny, does not mean it is warm. Dress appropriately and, yes, that does include wearing sunscreen…

Handy tip #2. Your big 4WD does not make you immune from the laws of physics, or the road.

Sub-tip 1 to #2: when you crest a hill on the ice-covered road and you see the flashers on the Highway Patrol car at a breakdown, don’t hit your brakes. Score SH47 3, 4WD idiots 0.

Sub-tip 2 to #2: Chains are not equal to 4WD, nor do they make you a world-class rally driver. If you are not used to driving on ice, get the bus. If you miss the bus, get out of bed earlier.

Sub-tip 3 to #2: The absence of signs saying ‘slow down’ does not equal a defence when you are in the ditch. Use of the defence may justifiably be taken as provocation by the guy you hit on your way into the ditch.

Handy tip #3. Your quad headlights that can blind a possum at five kilometres will not melt ice on the road. Bridges and shaded corners may be treacherously slippery all day – drive appropriately.

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DSCF8580 DSCF8579 Cautionary tales and idiots aside, heavy snow fall often sucks all the moisture out of the air and makes for beautiful days…The lower level tracks in the Park are all accessible and walkable but the higher levels of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing remain restricted to those with equipment AND experience above the snow line – those without should seriously consider signing up with one of the guided tours because a. it is safer, b. the Crossing in winter is a totally different experience to the Crossing in summer, and c. it is an experience not to be missed.DSCF8583DSCF8584DSCF8585 DSCF8586