Sunday, April 29, 2012

You must have dreams to reach them...

WARNING: I've consumed over 2 cups of green tea.  Read with caution.

Matt and I are headed to THAILAND!!!!  In February of next year we are making dreams come true and hopping over to yet another continent.  We've been wanting to travel to Asia for some time, and it just happened to work out.

We are BIG Groupon fans (a website that offers incredible discounts on products, services, trips that many people would otherwise not be able to afford), and I came across a steal a couple of weeks ago.  You guessed it - it was for a resort in Thailand.  Koh Samui, to be exact.  Sigggggh, I can't believe it!

We will be staying at Elements Resort for five days.  This would have never happened without the terrific 75% off deal as advertised on Groupon.  

Even better, since we saved so much dough on the hotel, we are going to be able to stop over in Bangkok for a few days.  AHHHHH!!!!  I feel like this blog should be titled "Dreams Come True".  

Matt and are a perfect pair for so many reasons ( I often liken us to the Clintons, without all the infidelity, hehehe).  But seriously, we both share a love for travel and new experiences.  Never before have we been somewhere you must eat with chopsticks.  I told Matt he better get on it, as I've upped my use of the Asian utensils to thrice a week.  It will be embarrassing if he asks for a fork!!

There are so many things we plan to do :)  There are elephant rides (which I'm not convinced on yet...have to do some research to determine the ethics and humanity of the whole deal), wats or Buddhist monastery/temples to tour, jungle tours, Big Buddha (Wat Plai Laem) - a landmark in Koh Samui, beaches, waterfalls, and so many cultural opportunities!!!  We have NEVER been so excited to vacation somewhere.

We haven't decided where to stay in Bangkok yet, though I am pulling for this quaint ditty - Old Bangkok Inn.  It's sustainably built, run, and maintained, and is located in the historic district.  Swoooon.  And if there is one place to travel where the dollar rules (besides Greece, which we will see in August), it would have to be Thailand.  The dollar dominates the bhat.  

In Bangkok we'll have to hit up markets and buy TONS of stuff to decorate our home, to include a tea pot, perhaps a tea set, cushions, pillows, lamps, vases, shoes, jewelry (those last two are for me, hehe). And SPICES!!! TONS of spices! I also plan on purchasing traditional Thai garb in which to dress on a particularly special night in Koh Samui.  

The Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw shall be graced by our presence, along with Wat Arun (poor Matt, being drug to all of these temples), a foot massage and fish spa (where little fishies eat all the dead skin off your feet, heedles!), and of course we'll have high tea by the river prior to rooftop cocktails and partying Bangkok style :)  Just so long as we don't repeat a scene from The Hangover 2.  Hear that, honey?  

Hysterical anecdote: One of our couple friends visited Bangkok (and Koh Samui) a few years back (actually during the December tsunami in 2005???) and ended up playing Connect Four with hookers in a square in the capital city.  BAAAHAHAHH!  I can so see Matt and I doing this.  I'd probably spend the entire evening attempting to convince them to get an education along with questions of awkward moments in the shame.

I would even love to take a cooking class  (like this one) to learn how to make traditional Pad Thai and the like.  This trip will add at least 10 pounds to each of us, as we eat Thai, particularly in the form of curry, at least once a week.  Which makes me wonder - how do Asians stay so skinny (stereotype much?)?!  I would weigh 230948lbs if I lived anywhere from India to Japan.  True story.

Besides Thailand, Matt and I have at least one more exotic vacay on the list to hit up before we head back to the motherland...MOROCCO.  Marrakesch or Fez, bitte.  Though, Marrakesch is my first choice.  And though Israel isn't really exotic, hopefully it will happen this summer :)

These are all frequenters of our Wanderlust list and daydreams....

Along with:

*Burning Man!  Have you heard of it?  It's an annual social experiment/eccentric art and culture phenomenon that takes place in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.  Here, intellectuals, artists, adventure seekers, outdoors lovers, and those who are curious, set up camp in a desert for a week or so to try their hand at self-reliance and self-expression.  There is no electricity, food stands, running water, etc.  You bring a skill or trade with you to barter for necessities.  We would make food for sure :)

*Visit India!  We would make a stop in Bombay, perhaps Delhi, and of course, see the Taj Mahal.  But one thing in particular I want to make happen is a stop in Goa at the Ashiyana - a yoga retreat.  Can you imagine practicing yoga in the very place it was created?  Mind blown.

*Visit Dubai!  This seriously comes up in conversation once a fortnight or so.  If we happen to visit when we're ballers (dad, that means if we're rich, smile), the Coles would stay somewhere like The Atlantis Palm.  Words cannot express how insanely happy we would both be to step foot in the UAE.  

*Visit Australia and New Zealand!  I'd love to, of course, but this is probably the top of Matt's list.  After he saw a commercial on New Zealand, he was sold.  Kudos to their marketing director.  Both are a perfect destination for people who love the outdoors and adventure.  Perhaps I would even attempt to overcome my fear of deep water and submersion to dive what remains of the Great Barrier Reef?  Sydney is a must, along with Bondi.  We have friends we met in Rome in Queensland, so that would be on the list, as well.  We want to see (NOT EAT) a kangaroo and maybe even a koala if we can find a good reserve.  Matt has more of a feel of what to do on this trip.

*Visit Bali! Duh.  Who the hell wouldn't want to?  If you answered that question with "me", remove yourself from my life.  Danke.  This one speaks for itself.

*Spend a weekend at an Observatory!  This is ALL Matt.  He loves space, stars, astronomy, and is quite learned on the subject.  He found a place in Virginia that is a B&B as well as observatory and has told me it is happening as soon as we make it back for his schooling.  I cannot object - sounds fascinating.  I really love to see him on fire for something, and this is an ever growing passion of his.  Seriously, he watches Morgan Freeman's "Through the Wormhole" and other mind bending documentaries on string theory and parallel universes daily.  We fight over Discovery Channel and History (I ADORE history docs, particularly WW I & II and the US Revolution).  Such nerds.

*See the Northern Lights!  It has to happen.  Just has to.  I don't care if it's on this side of the world or in Alaska.  I'm quite positive I will bawl like a small child.  

*Visit where we come from!  This should happen sooner than later.  As many of you know, I did an extensive Family Tree search via  I found quite a few links to our past.  For me, I'd like to visit Dunlace, Ireland where many of my ancestors come from on my paternal grandmother's side, along with Stair and Glasgow Scotland (though they come from about ten different cities/towns/villages in Scotland).  This would include a visit to the Highland Games in a region my family would have participated in.  I am so proud of my Scottish (and Irish) heritage (so is Pace)!  Matt actually has family that lived in the Kaiserslautern area!  Crazy, huh?  Though he is more interested in visiting his British roots, in Gloucestershire, Sommerset, and Sussex (Brighton).  Curious how we come from the same part of the world, though our family members probably detested the other nationality.  Also curious, my family has more recent immigrants than Matt's, who it seems have been here since before the Revolution!  Talk about American :)

*Visit a warzone.  This will probably happen for Matt, unfortunately, but it is something that is strangely on my list.  After taking a class about Afghanistan, I developed a strong urge to visit the country and report/write about it.  More so the women and their struggle, and absolutely immerse myself in their culture.  This probably won't happen, for a few reasons.  To be honest, though I want to do it, the very thought of being dropped among warlords and Taliban scares the very life out of me.  It would be an amazing opportunity, though, and I don't know how one could pass it up.

*Live in DC! The biggest of all my pipe dreams is to live in our nation's capital.  There, Matt and I would both have relevant and inspiring jobs.  I've expressed to Matt that upon his retirement, this is where I would like to FINALLY pursue my career.  We absolutely love the city and all that it offers - history, culture, entertainment, knowledge, inspiration.  There is no other place I'd rather be :)

We are ever adding to our Wanderlust list, working our best to cross them off with each passing year.  In just two years of marriage (can you believe it!?), we've done so much.  

Well, that seems to be it for now.  Make this day great; YOU and only YOU have the ability to make it so.  Don't ever forget that you're in control of your destiny.  Dream lofty dreams, and reach for them to the best of your ability.  Never stop learning.  And above all,  love and be loved.

peace and dreams,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Warning: Great Read (and my summary)

Hello there.  As I've noted, my life has been consumed by all things Afghanistan.  I recently read a book by Ahmed Rashid called Descent into Chaos, a must read for all soldiers headed to Afghanistan, or spouses and others interested in the subject matter.  Obsessed.  Seriously, it's phenomenal.  

If you love reading biographies, history, political novels, or all things Central Asia, check it out.  Compelling, to say the least.  

Here is my critique, which started as 10 pages, whittled down to six:

           After reading Ahmed Rashid’s book, Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, I saw that my views pertaining to the subject matter had evolved. In his personalized yet fact-filled tome, Rashid covers everything about the region and the United States’ involvement.  Because of his personal ties to the area, Descent into Chaos was not only an interesting read, but also one with fact, in addition to opinion.  Being a Pakistani journalist familiar with the territory explored through the chapters, Rashid reports and writes objectively.
In this critique, I list which points I found most helpful in understanding the current conflict taking place in Afghanistan, and the role my country has played, through Rashid’s analysis.  The three points I highlight, as noted in the subsequent paragraph, spoke to me more so than others, allowing a personal decision on the matter.  Though I struggle to remain impartial, it must be known that I support most of what Ahmed Rashid contends.  In my personal opinion, I find his analysis uninhibited and genuine.  A vehement supporter of rapid withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and all foreign nations, I was left stunned at money wasted, with so much work to be done.  More confused than ever, I question our presence in, as well as a speedy exit from, Afghanistan.  And so, let us begin my critique of Descent into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid.
As previously stated, though Descent into Chaos is teeming with relevant anecdotes and information, there are three topics that appealed to me, all of which overlap one another at some point.  First, we’ll review the encompassing subject of the US in Afghanistan. I focus on American mistakes (Tora Bora and the like). Second, I move on to a topic that is ever infuriating to me – the role of Pakistan in this conflict.  Most Americans have no knowledge of Pakistan, and it is an absolutely irreplaceable piece of this puzzle. I’ll brief how the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) have pretended to be helpful while playing “double-agent.  All Westerners should know about Pakistan’s part in this play, and I shall try to do my best to explain why in a limited forum.
Last – corruption.  If there is one word that epitomizes all the issues we have seen in the region, it is corruption.  By the Afghan government, Pakistani government, Afghan warlords, and the most vexatious to me – the United States. We like to think a country like Afghanistan is full of corruption, and while many Americans joke about the venality that takes place in the Capitol, no one expects the pure depravity (in my opinion) that the United States has involved itself in, with regards to Afghanistan.
Let us begin with the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, fast-forwarding to the months following 9/11.  Most informed Westerners are aware of the travesty we call Tora Bora – the exodus of many terrorizing leaders and soldiers, including Osama bin Laden, from Afghanistan to Pakistan.  “Between six hundred and eight hundred Arabs were escorted out of Tora Bora by Pashtun guides from the Pakistani side of the border, at an average cost of $1,200 each” (Rashid, p.98).  A few weeks prior to this, however, was another major mistake.  Taliban forces offered to surrender, but American State Department/Pentagon/Intelligence entities refused to accept.  Had we put troops in Uzbekistan awaiting their surrender, there would have been a major shift in the direction of our mission.  However, “The absence of U.S. troops [Rashid believes], led to the deaths of thousands of Taliban prisoners…[and] the leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda escaping” (p.91).  There was even an airlift to aid escapes, approved by the Bush Administration.  “Hundreds of ISI officers, Taliban commanders, and foot soldiers belonging to the IMU and al Qaeda personnel boarded the planes” (p.92).
The biggest mistake of all?  In my opinion: the Iraq War’s effect on distracting from the mission in Afghanistan.  Rashid put it best in Chapter Four: “The distraction of Iraq, which materialized just hours after the 9/11 attacks and continued indefinitely, was first to undermine and then defeat both U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the struggle to capture al Qaeda leaders” (p.64).  Donald Rumsfeld, the ultimate stooge behind this entire operation, even said, “Sweep it all up – things related and not” (p.64). The Bush Administration was on the warpath.
In the fall of 2003, the international community found itself at a turning point.  Would the War in Afghanistan be deemed a failure or success?  “In those critical … a few thousand more U.S. troops on the ground, more money for reconstruction, and a speedier rebuilding of the Afghan army and policy could easily have turned the tide against the Taliban and enhanced the support of the population for the government” (p.248).  Why didn’t we have more troops on the ground and more allocated resources?  Oh, that’s right.  We were fighting the “terrorists” in Iraq. 
Slighting allies, pursuing a mission though it is not backed by anyone but conspirators. Sigh, cowboy politics at its best.  Pair the interferences of the Iraq War with all too common American unilateralism, and you have, well, the fruits of the Bush Administration.
Even our allies became cross and unsupportive.  The United Nations called for a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) in Afghanistan.  This program would clean up the country, and offer alternatives to violence.  The United States, however, “Put up major obstacles, refusing to fund or support DDR or allow U.S. troops to help the UN carry out disarmament” (p.209).  In fact, this very issue tore our alliance with Europe even further apart.  Unilateralism at its finest.
A change of pace leads us to Pakistan and its repulsive role in the region. I find it humorous that Pakistan told us over and over again, “Yeah, he’s not here.  And how dare you think we’re harboring terrorists?!”, only to concede in May of last year, “Oh, yeah.  You found him in Pakistan?” 
From the beginning, Rashid portrays Pakistan playing a double agent.  The CIA went through ISI repeatedly for contacts and intelligence, exchanging data and tips.  Besides helping guide them out of the country to the FATA region in Pakistan, “ISI officers were warning Taliban families not to return home”, because if they did, they were under obligation by the Americans to hand them over (p.242).  Though they weren’t physically helping them out at this point, the ISI was giving terrorists a heads up. 
I have a scribbled, barely legible tidbit written in my notes from our class discussion on Pakistan that reads, “Evidence ISI funded Taliban”, along with an expletive not suitable for an academic evaluation.  So, I went to my favorite media outlet, BBC News, in an attempt to fuse pieces of the puzzle.  An article titled “Pakistani agents ‘funding and training Afghan Taliban’”, notes that “Support for the Afghan Taliban was official ISI policy” (“BBC”).  Why is this so important, besides the fact that they are supposed to be helping us rid the region of Taliban and al Qaeda?  Because we have given them billions of dollars in aid, essentially funding the very extremists that seek to destroy the West.  Though Pakistan is formally known as our major ally in the region, I question it, to say the least.  Notwithstanding their blatant concealment of the Taliban and al Qaeda, particularly Osama bin Laden.  Without FATA’s safe haven, the Taliban wouldn’t have been able to regroup and prepare more attacks. 
Finally, we’ve made it to corruption.  It has been tied in with the previous two points, but lets explore it in more depth.  Whether the CIA, ISI, Afghan warlords, or the Taliban initiated it, venality has been prevalent in this conflict.  Most people are aware of the poppy/opium problem in Afghanistan. Poppy cultivation is often found as the root of the warlord and corruption problem in Afghanistan.  In the chapter titled “Afghanistan II”, Rashid ascertains, “The Ministry of the Interior, which ran the police after 9/11, became a center for drug trafficking, with police posts in opium-growing regions being auctioned to the highest bidder” (p.204).  President Karzai’s own brother has been suspected of involvement in the trade.  Poppy cultivation, as we discussed in class, involves intimidation of civilians, and whoever is involved in its development or profits from such, allow warlords and effectively terrorists to become wealthy.  It’s a vicious cycle of dependence and exploitation.
The United States is just as involved, donating billions upon millions of dollars to Afghanistan, its warlords, and Pakistan.  This money often never makes it into civilians’ hands.  Just a few days after the atrocities that took place in September 2001, “Bush signed an order giving enormous powers to the CIA, allowing it to conduct the war in Afghanistan and make foreign policy decisions…Up to $900 million and perhaps more than $1 billion was allocated to the CIA for covert operations” (p.62).  On the adjacent page, Rashid continues, writing that CIA agent Gary Schroen flew to Tashkent with “$3 million, which was immediately dished out to NA [Northern Alliance] leaders…another $10 million was quickly flown in so that the CIA could pay off other warlords” (p.63). 
Again, our European allies were livid.  Euro officials told the U.S. to halt all support of warlords.  Rashid pensively states, “U.S. protection of the warlords had become a major constraint to Afghanistan’s ability to move forward and a growing bone of contention between Europe and the United States” (p.143).  Were American taxpayers aware that they were funding dissonance in Afghanistan, perhaps even incubating a movement that wanted nothing more than to destroy us?  I feel it’s safe to say no. 
Even Mr. BFD himself, now Vice President Biden, warned in 2002, “America has replaced the Taliban with the warlords.  Warlords are still on the US payroll but that hasn’t bought a cessation of violence.  Not only is the US failing to rein in the warlords, we are actually making them the centerpiece of our strategy” (p.134).  Our friend Rummy, however, felt that the highly compensated warlords should share power with the Afghan government. Was he drunk for years on end?  Rashid continues, “Rumsfeld’s determination to legalize warlord authority against the wishes of the Afghan government and the people was the most fatal mistake he was to make.  It gave the Taliban just the propaganda excuse they needed to reorganize themselves” (p.135).
I could go on for days about the corruption taken place throughout the modern conflict in Afghanistan (not to mention RPGs and money handed out during the Soviet conflict, later used against our own soldiers), but I believe I’ve made my point.  The three most compelling arguments, to me, made by Ahmed Rashid in Descent into Chaos, are those surrounding the U.S. in Afghanistan, the role of Pakistan, particularly the ISI and FATA region, and corruption committed by all parties involved.  Let this serve as a lesson, something we should always take from history, so that we may progress as a country and a planet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My peeps

Lovin on Papa

Sticking her tongue out. Reminds me of a bulldog we once had named Sugar.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

What have I done?!

This is my Saturday:

Truth - I love learning about Afghanistan, now more than ever after my last class. But the work load is unreal. Why did this little bitty think earning a masters in a year would be fun?

Oh - that's right. I'm insane (and increasingly drunk on politics and international affairs).

Though my assignment is due in a week, I have to get done because I have this colossal collection of tomes to navigate:


School is great, and I'm probably going to be a lifelong academic, but what blooooows about school is that reading for pleasure gets kicked to the side. Sad day for Brittany!

I recently ordered "Ghost Wars" (SQUEEL!), "Obama's Wars" (gotta love Bob), and "How to Eat Soup with a Knife". The latter is about the history of counterinsurgency, and I'm now having buyer's remorse after reading it was endorsed by Newt Gingrich. Really? Who would want that endorsement?

But seriously. This whole learning business is taking over my life. Living for Greece!!!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A lot has been going on over here is sleepy 'ole Sembach.  As posted earlier, we adopted a 10 week-year old West Highland Terrier that is keeping us all (Patton included) on our toes.  Isn't Puppydom delightful?

We also, per the use, having been watching documentaries.  A few notables are PBS's pieces on prohibition and Robert E. Lee, but the best was "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead".  It's about an Australian man that comes to the United States to endure a 60 day fast, juicing and making a special friend.  The men change their life by drinking renewing/rebooting juices, clearing their mind, soul, and body.  Fantastic.  Check it out!  Matt and I plan to start one this weekend, as the first two days are rather difficult.  We're amateurs, so we're starting a 5 or 10 day fast.  Check out the website for more information.  If you are interested is safely fasting to improve your mental clarity, compassion, and renew your body, let me know! 

I suggest first watching the film, which gives you the motivation.  I'm not going to lie, I'm terrified.  Matt is more behind this than me, as it was his idea.  I love to cook and absolutely adore food, so this is going to be interesting.  EEK.  Wish us luck!


Monday, April 9, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

World's Worst Blogger

It's true. I'm terrible.

Alas, I have good news!

Welcome to the family Pace Prudence Cole :)

Pace is a baby girl West Highland Terrier and we finally adopted her today! It was only a 12 hour car trip (wah wah wah).

Her name, Pace (pa-ché, or pa-chay) means "peace" in Italian. Her middle name, Prudence, was picked by Papa Bear and represents one of our favorite bands and songs - "Dear Prudence" by the Beatles.

Here she is with big brother:

Patton being a giant goober, per the usual. It looks like he's going to eat her!

We are elated to have another little lovey in the house, and I'm so glad the male to female ratio is finally 2:2.

I'll try to be better about blogging. Though I'm quite certain it will all be pictures of pups :)


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