The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places: The Junk Yard Bar Granjeno, Texas

Super Bowl Sunday is a big day for dive bars across the land but none are closer to the crisis at our southern border than the Junk Yard Bar in Granjeno, Texas. The hamlet of Granjeno is located south of the Military Highway just east of the Anzalduas Bridge, outside of Mission in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s a one road town with a population of 303 people pinned between a string of industrial parks to the north and the Rio Grande River to the south . On Super Bowl Sunday as you drive into the village you can see dozens of vehicles spilling out of the Junk Yard parking lot onto the shoulder of the road because the Junk Yard always has a full house on Super Bowl Sunday

A portion of the Border Wall is right behind the bar and there is a gate in the border defenses just to the left which is now in constant use by the Border Patrol.

The Junk Yard Bar caters to two easily identifiable subsets of the Rio Grande Valley population called Winter Texans and old bikers. Both groups are from the tail end of the boomer generation, the bikers live here year round and the Winter Texans flock into the gated retiree trailer parks that dot the Rio Grand Valley every winter. They are the remnants of a generation that expected a steady job would deliver them into the American middle class. They expected to own a home with two cars in the garage, kids who went to college and annual vacations and they were not disappointed. The system worked for the American worker back in the 70’s and 80’s but that changed when our industrial elites moved their manufacturing plants overseas .

These rust belt refugees are mostly white, mostly married, and they like to party. The elites hate them because they own recreational vehicles and guns they don’t want to register and they’re prone to cluttering up the wilderness with dirt bikes or snow mobiles. They all smoked cigarettes for years too so now they look hard, flinty, and mean in their old age.

You can see the border wall behind the Junk Yard and a Border Patrol truck sitting on the levee in the upper right of the picture

There isn’t just one border wall along the McAllen section of the border fence but several bands of wall that appear designed to protect the valuable farm land adjacent to the river. There are thousands of acres under cultivation in this area of the valley all of it extremely sensitive to large groups of migrants trampling through them. It’s important to realize the border wall is an obstacle that forces friction into the equation for illegals crossing the Rio Grande. There is no such thing as a wall that cannot be climbed, humans can climb up and over anything if they really want to, so the border wall is not a magical impenetrable barrier. It’s an effective obstacle that forces illegals to take the path of least resistance to areas where they can be collected for processing before they can trample planted crops or wander onto private property.

The continued cost to local farmers from the massive influx of illegals may well explain why the RGV went from dark blue democratic strong hold to riding the Trump Train during the last presidential election. And Trump will dominate the Rio Grande Valley this election cycle too in a landslide, that will trump the RGV democratic politiqueras who are paid big bucks to harvest democratic votes.

Here is one of the white buses used to collect illegals and this one is heading for the gate behind the Junk Yard.

The Junk Yard Bar is not a dangerous place because of illegal immigrants, it’s a dangerous place because the clientele consists of old bikers and skinny hard drinking winter Texans. The locals mix well with the Winter Texans and not because everyone down here has a gun on them. An armed society is indeed a polite society but the old boomers partying at the Junk Yard have a bigger nemesis – slips and falls.

Do you notice how clean and level the entrance is? It’s the same on the inside – craftily engineered to remove all slip and fall hazards that could cost one of these old coots a hip replacement. All of us Boomers know what happens once you get your hip replaced – you’re toast.

The people filling this place hours ahead of the Super Bowl don’t nurse their drinks because they’re afraid of all the law enforcement constantly driving by their afraid of taking a hard spill and breaking a hip so they watch the booze and tend not to get too rowdy. At their age all the crazy bastards are long gone and the survivors seem to prefer dive bars with level floors and packed full of people standing around which reduces the chances of slipping and falling. And there is the added coolness factor of hanging in an outdoor dive bar right on the border with our friendly neighbors in Mexico.

Hanging out on the Mexican side of the border was the original draw for the Winter Texans. They like to drink booze and smoke and Mexico was a great place to do both on the cheap. Nobody crosses the border to party anymore but the Junk Yard Bar remains open for the last of the boomers who love quirky, one-of-a-kind bars tucked in out of the way places.

The FRI Guide to Dangerous Places – The Salang Pass

In May of 2012 my team of Afghan cut throats and I were dispatched to investigate persistent rumors concerning ISAF vehicle convoys transiting the Salang Pass. The complaint was that ISAF units would close the pass causing Afghans to wait up to 24 hours in the freezing cold before they could get through. The international community was up in arms about that and wanted a boots on the ground report which meant me, or my boss (call sign Bot) would have to go, and I was up. This would be my 10th and final trip through the Salang and I was not happy about going, the pass scared me.

The Salang Pass tunnel entrance in 2005

The dangers from being trapped inside the Salang Tunnel were obvious. The lights inside the tunnel didn’t work, nor did the closed-circuit TV cameras that were installed to warn of problems. The tunnel roof leaked massive amounts of water turning the pot-holed roadbed into a mixture of icy mud, broken concrete, and pieces of asphalt.  Ventilator fans in most of the tunnel were broken resulting in such high levels of carbon monoxide that the Afghan government was reportedly exploring ways to pump oxygen into the tunnel. 

History is always a good guide to potential problems and the history of the Salang Tunnel had some grim milestones. On the 3rd of November 1982 two Soviet military convoys collided inside the Salang tunnel causing a massive traffic jam. A fuel tanker in one of the convoys exploded inside the tunnel, unleashing a chain reaction of fiery explosions and death. The cause of the explosion remains in doubt, the Russians claim it was an accident, and the Mujahedeen claimed it resulted from a successful attack. Drivers of cars, trucks and buses evidently continued to enter the tunnel after the explosion. Soviet troops, fearing that the explosion might have been a rebel attack, then closed off both ends with tanks, trapping many inside. Some burned to death; others were killed by smoke or by carbon monoxide poisoning. Although records from the era are suspect up to 700 Soviet troops and 2,000 Afghan soldiers and civilians may have died in the 1983 tunnel fire.

The Salang Tunnel entrance in 2012

What we found in 2012 was ISAF had indeed started to use the Salang Pass for logistic convoys. We did not find any Afghan worker who remembered ISAF closing the tunnel to civilian traffic and suspected that reporting in local media was rumor mongering. We did determine that ISAF convoys routinely hit civilian traffic in the tunnel and did not stop or acknowledge the accidents. The tunnel was only 16 feet high (at the centerline) with a sloping, concave roof over a two lane roadbed and it was routine for overburdened trucks, MRAP’s, and fuel tankers to get pinned to the tunnel wall when trying to pass each other.

Typical minor traffic jam in the tunnel

It was also routine for tankers to tip over inside the tunnel due to the poor roadbed condition. When this happened a giant Soviet Era bulldozer was sent in to drag the truck out.

Dragging a fuel tanker full of fuel was an obvious fire hazard

During the trip we interviewed The Director of Maintenance and Protection of Salang Pass, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Rajab, who claimed that overloaded trucks were destroying the tunnel adding that less than 5% of those trucks were civilians – the rest belong to ISAF. Judging from the traffic we observed in the tunnel that statement was questionable, nobody overloads Jingo Trucks better than Afghans.

The Salang tunnel is one of the few places in Afghanistan where the American Army cannot force all traffic away from their convoys. The open air ventilation to the right is blocked by avalanche rubble for 10 months of the year.

Attempts to interview or even talk to any of the American soldiers transiting the pass were unsuccessful. As usual we found the soldiers to be agitated and aggressive, and completely freaked out when a fellow American in civilian attire walked up to chat with them. The refusal to interact with American citizens in Afghanistan was something new for me, when I was on active duty we did the exact opposite no matter where we were in the world.

This was the preferred method for traversing the tunnel – hauling ass on an empty road but by 2006 finding the tunnel empty like this was not going to happen.

The Salang Pass was a dangerous transit for well maintained vehicles which was a problem in a country famous for its inability to maintain vehicles. Mechanical failures were routine inside the tunnel which cause long delays stranding motorists in subzero temperatures for hours at a time. In response the Salang Pass Department of Maintenance and Protection of the Salang Pass Route constructed a purpose built shelter that provided assistance to 6,700 people during the 2011 -2012 winter. When Gen Rajab told me that it surprised me, Afghans can be incredibly altruistic at the individual level, especially with us foreigners, but at the government level we were conditioned to look for a catch and we detected none.

The Salang Pass Department of Maintenance and Protection of the Salang Pass Route (its official title) had taken the initiative to provide life saving aid for thousands of Afghans because it was the right thing to do. The few locals we talked with confirmed that graft in the pass was a thing of the past. That pithy explanation was met with laughter by the diplomats who funded the trip which was gratifying. It’s not easy to be pithy when working for foreigners.

I’ve done many reckless things in my life but eating Salang Pass crabs is not one of them.
I was partial to the fresh trout served al fresco and I got a discount by providing the frag grenade used to harvest the fish.

In 2019 the Russian film Battle for Afghanistan was released and is now available on Amazon Prime. The movie is reportedly based on true events surrounding the withdrawal of the Soviet Army through the one chokepoint they could not force – the Salang Pass. It’s a good film that captures the craziness of Afghanistan and well worth a watch. You can’t help but notice how Soviet troops frequented local bazaars and Afghan restaurants while off duty. That never happened with ISAF units who were restricted to their FOB’s (forward operating bases). Only a small percentage of the troops deployed to Afghanistan ever got outside the wire, for most perceptions of the land and its people were distorted through the prism of electronic warfare collection, boredom induced gossip, and questionable media reporting.

The force protection mentality of ISAF was made possible by their (American taxpayer funded) unlimited budgets which they used to completely isolate their troops from the local population. In a country famous for its melons every bit of fruit consumed by ISAF soldiers was flown in at enormous expense. Something the Soviets and every other nation on the earth would be unable and unwilling to do. The only reason the pass was being used in 2012 was the number of American units operating north of the Salang Pass after the Obama surge. That forced ISAF into running a lot of logistical convoys over the pass for a couple of years. I don’t think the logisticians in Kabul liked the pass any more than I did but I wonder what the soldiers who made those runs thought about the experience.

Old Soviet combat outpost on the plains north of the Salang Pass
In the early days of our Afghan adventure there were still many abandoned Soviet bases north of the Salang Pass. with all sorts of interesting Soviet army messaging directed at both their soldiers and the Afghan Army. These propoganda paintings were long gone by 2007.

In the early days of the Afghanistan conflict it was easy to see that the money pouring into the country was being used to start business’s like restaurants or to buy used vehicles to be used as taxi’s for another income stream. But Afghanistan is a wild place with wild rivers that often overflow their banks and when they destroy a new business there is no insurance money to collect thus the common refrain Inshallah (if God wills it).

This new restaurant was a great place to stop in 2005.
By 2007 the restaurant was destroyed by raging flood waters.
This gas station lasted about two years before the BTR’s became unstable and it started to wash away. Now the Afghans have HUMVEE’s, MRAP’s and M1 tanks to use as river weirs, maybe they’ll work better.

The biggest surprise I found in Afghanistan over the years was their high regard for Russians. If you could speak Russian you could talk with most Afghans in any part of the country. If you asked about the difference between the Soviet military and ISAF you got the same answer in every part of the country. The Soviets were brave and supported the local people but the ISAF soldiers are cowards who hide on their bases and never interact with local people when off duty. The Afghans never understood that and it infuriated me to hear it because I knew cowards among American infantry were astonishingly rare. I’m a retired grunt myself and know. our infantry well.

The number of American soldiers who could speak Dari or Pashto numbered less than 100 for most of the war. The number of American soldiers who spent enough time to learn the country, its people, and the limitations of its central government cannot be counted because there were none. Check that, there was one – Commander Baba D turned special contractor Baba D who worked directly for the ISAF commanders for several years in RC East .

And there he is Baba D photo bombing me during an interview with ABC news. Ms. Raddatz taped an hour or so of Baba Tim explaining in detail why we were losing the war and never aired a second of it.

It is impossible to gauge the consequences of our humiliating retreat from Kabul. The military/political leadership responsible for that fiasco remains in charge of our depleted military to this day. The only military leader held to account over the Kabul evacuation fiasco was a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel who was thrown out for pointing out the disgraceful lack of accountability of our flag officers (generals and admirals) responsible for the mess.

The northern side of the Salang Pass and yes that herd of goats was heading up and over the pass but I’m not sure how because they weren’t allowed on the roadway inside the tunnel.

After spending 20 years floundering about in Afghanistan what is the senior leadership of the uniformed military concerned with now? Fixing the force? You wish . . . the real emergency our country faces is climate change according to the Army War College.

Watching a great power implode is unpleasant because there are bills that will come due. There is a price to pay for rampaging around the world sending “carefully calibrated messages” with killer drones just as there will be a leveling for the folly of introducing women into the combat arms. The military/government duopoly used brute digital force to try and alter reality in Afghanistan to construct a reasonable narrative. Here’s what that looked like:

It’s important to note that I supported our approach throughout most of my time in Afghanistan. I once battled the media contention that Marjha was a bleeding ulcer by driving to Marjah and blogging about it. I was not an impartial observer but a retired Marine and my friends were the running the show in the Helmand Province allowing me to embed with their units and write really cool blog posts.

In time the average Afghan correctly deduced that the Kabul government was installed and maintained at the point of infidel bayonets. And that was all most Afghans ever knew or needed to know. They hadn’t heard of 9/11, they had no idea why we showed up and spanked the Taliban in 2001. The Afghans supported us at first because we appeared to be the strong horse but any chance of maintaining that perception ended with the invasion of Iraq.

Get some Army! This is how you fix recruiting woes

What I learned in Afghanistan (besides don’t drive over the Salang Pass if you can avoid it) was our senior military and government leadership have lost sight of the stewardship function integral to their posts. That was reflected by their inability to define a coherent military mission or articulate a reasonable end state. They were incapable of vigorously defending the interests of the United States because those interests were never adequately defined. When unable to determine or accomplish what is important the unimportant becomes important. A lesson the smartest kids in the room never learned while supervising a war we could not lose . . . or win.

FabFi on the front page of New York Times

Here’s an update in an attempt to counteract the thoroughly depressing news of Tim going silent. (Anyone who knows Tim in person knows that you can’t actually silence him; he’s still ranting but we’ve turned off the blog-mike). With Kanani’s help, I’ve put this post in Babatim format.

This weekend’s New York Times has several photos of FabFi Afghanistan in this piece on subversive community communication networks. (We’re in the slide set). To be clear, the FabFi project in Afghanistan was not one of those secretly funded projects described in their article (see here where I itemize the bulk of the costs and how they were funded – mostly through personal savings accounts of those who participated and in part through a National Science Foundation grant.) However, the urgency and significance of the project are the same. As long as there’s pressure from those seeking a reasonable life where they can go about their business, there’s hope we can throw a lifeline with these so called undermining capabilities.

New York Times Sunday July 12, 2011
New York Times Sunday July 12, 2011

< Insert non-sequitur rant about donkeys and hearing crickets. >

As the director of the Jalalabad Fab Lab and Fab Fi project lead, I’ve been asked several times about how to scale the Fab Lab and Fab Fi experiences to more fully saturate a city, as well as spinning this off into more cities. While I can provide a technical, programmatic answer, Fab Lab/Fi doesn’t solve everything. It’s only one piece: the rest have to develop at the same time. Infrastructure like roads, power, water, schools, teachers, and systems maintenance as well as the user terminals (laptops and computers), people who use them, and the content they’ll consume. It’s crazy to think that there was no cell phone service in the country in 2002 and now it’s pretty solidly working in every major population center (at least when the tower isn’t turned off or bombed). From roads to power to water, the task at hand (officially US or not) was to set off a program that could go from zero to servicing 30 million people in a few years. Imagine colonizing Mars by sending 30 million people first, ahead of the infrastructure. < Insert photo of BabaTim on Mars >

As requested; Baba Tim on Mars
As requested; Baba Tim on Mars

I think there are maybe three kinds of places in Afghanistan:

1. There are safer, quieter places that have known better times and whose residents are working to get back to those better times. There’s still crime and killing but it’s a shocking event when it occurs. 2. Poor, forgotten places that have never known modernization and are harder hit by economic problems (some of which we’ve unwittingly caused). 3. Places like Kandahar with an almost insidious infestation of crazy. Remember those boys you grew up with that would pull the wings off of bugs and set ants on fire? Beliefs aside, an environment like Kandahar doesn’t provide the social pressure that prevents them from growing up into full fledge people-hurting psychopaths.

In the first group are cities like Herat, in the western sector of Afghanistan. BabaTim went to Herat in 2005, and since then it’s continued to grow. It’s plainly ready and asking for a Fab Lab and associated wealth of possibilities. You could imagine a Fab Lab and Training Center there augmenting and strengthening the communications infrastructure with a parallel or overlaid subversive mesh, perhaps through the school system which I hear is quite healthy and respected.

The second group of towns, like Jaghori in Ghazni province, need only to follow the good examples of the first so much the better if there is strong municipal leadership that both welcomes business activities while keeping them in check < insert Big Government vs. Liberal rant here >.

Big government can't do this because it only costs a few thousand dollars to dig concrete drainage ditches which isn't enough money for them to even think about.  Liberlas can't do this knd of work because it involves work.  No talking, no sharing of emotions, no community organizing just work.  Dig the ditch, build the forms, mix and pour the concrete and you have flood and some pestilence control.  It isn't sexy it isn't fun its just work and the work here never ends
Big government can't do this because it only costs a few thousand dollars to dig concrete drainage ditches which isn't enough money for them to even think about spending. Big Government talks money with a "B" as in billions. Liberlas can't do this knd of work because it involves work. No talking, no sharing of emotions, no community organizing, just work. Dig the ditch, build the forms, mix and pour the concrete and you have flood and some pestilence control. It isn't sexy it isn't fun its just work and the work here never ends.

The third are places like Kandahar, which is our biggest opportunity. Mel King, famous community organizer in Boston, often says that the wheels in the back of the bus never catch up to the wheels in the front unless something extraordinary occurs. Fighting over raisins, road tolls, heck, fighting over fighting, these are the things that they know about. New doesn’t always mean good on it’s own right, but in this case new can simply bewilder long enough for the skinny gimpy-legged kid to grab the football and run. Mixed metaphors, I know. It’s late. Another recent article from educators highlights how the labs are excuses to try something new with rewarding results.

In a recent round of catch-ups with the Afghan collaborators who helped start Fab Lab and the Fab Fi projects in Jalalabad (many of whom were university students when we met), I’m thrilled to tell you that all are gainfully employed in technically enabled positions. A (surprising?) majority have taken the plunge to starting their own technology, logistics, or consulting companies, bravely negotiating the bewilderingly paperwork intensive contracts with ISAF and providing jobs to Afghans. I believe in the need for the private sector to create jobs. < Insert anti-union rant here, take non-related pot shot at Anthony Weiner >

What is the difference between Anthony Weiner and a dead chicken?  Nothing - they're both disgusting.
What is the difference between Anthony Weiner and a dead chicken? Nothing - they're both disgusting when stripped of their plumage and they are both full of shit

With the depressingly slow rate of new job creation at home in America, it’s hard not to be extra proud and amazed at their optimism and willingness to give it a go and make forward progress in their little corner of the world. I won’t take credit for their success they were shaped by a long chain of parents, family, teachers, and other opportunities but at least one was nice enough to say that it was his experiences of previously unexpected self-enabled successes in the Fab Lab that was his inspiration.


ps – join me in whining at Tim san to add some unrelated but interesting photos to this wordy piece. Thanks to edits by Kanani Fong of the Kitchen Dispatch.

A Fat Chicken Does Not Lay Eggs

The place I’ve been calling Mudville, vaguely in the eastern part of Jalalabad, is known as Base Eckmunblahblah. It means “military logistics area” and is owned by the Department of Defense. I’ve forgotten the word exactly – today’s new vocabulary includes reshwat (bribe), tofa (gift), bakshish (tip, alms, gift-for-something-you-did-or-’cause-you’re-poor) – but just like the name implies, the residential population are considered squatters and not welcome to rebuild.

It’s the kind of story that just makes you sigh because what else can you do? Long long ago the land was government owned military use land, then during the time of the war – during the mujahadeen times, the folks that seized power gave the land to people who promptly built houses. The recipients were already wealthy people and continue to be even wealthier now. These recipients don’t have the cleanest hands but no one will talk about that stuff outright. But now you get why I was learning the subtle differences among gifts, bribes, and tips.

After the legitimate government was restored, there is a stalemate because the military / government can’t or won’t bulldoze these large, expensive houses and the residents have no reason or desire to move. They didn’t pay for the land and don’t have deeds for land rights, so they also can’t sell their biggest asset. But as far as they are concerned, they were given the land and have every right to be there.

We see a cross section of people in the lab and I ask them about the flooding and damage. No one seems too broken up about “those people with the ruined houses” because they refer to them as “They are rich people. They have big SUVs. “. There are complaints about them exploiting the situation – “Even if they have 1 or 10 million dollars they will stand there on the street and say to the UN or USAID, ‘I am a poor person and I have no house. You must help me.'”

But what about the people I see who’ve hung up sheets and mats and who’ve thrown their soaked bedding on to the street?, I ask. And I show them pictures. More shrugging. Those are only the kids. I’m aware that the pictures tell the story and I’m just not seeing. The windows alone in those houses cost over $100 and some of the debris is super ornate mirrored tile. There are beds and mattresses, not simple carpet and floor cushions. They are rich people, they can fend for themselves. One groped for the right words, then said a fat chicken will not lay eggs, that is they are so wealthy they need for everything to be given to them, they will not rebuild on their own.

The municipality sent out 500 workers again today to help remove the mud and debris. “Since the elections there is no government”, one of the residents told me when I asked him what he would do, “there is no organization, no plan. No one can make a decision.” People have sent their families to live in other houses or with relatives while they wait for foreign donations and help. Waiting is a past time here. “You people must help us, you must give to me.”

mudistan

It’s now two days after the storm and the water level has dropped amazingly. I don’t know where it all went, Pakistan, I’d guess. The brick and concrete structures still standing have marks from the high water level – dried mud and flotsam on the walls about waist high. Now the unpaved side roads are that special clay-mud-mush which is super slippery and which it is difficult to extricate anything that gets stuck in it (like your shoe).

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The residents – some men but mostly young adults – pulled me to the places that had been their homes. The Afghans are fanatics about walls and there wasn’t a structure with four intact walls. A lot of the walls were simply gone – presumably washed away “down there somewhere” – whereas we were standing on the mucky remnants of others. Several buildings had big gaps and cracks because the ground on which they were built had shifted down the street too. All the rocks you see in the pictures were once part of walls.DSC_3444

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Afghan homes (here in the rural/suburbs) are often built with enclosed rooms along the outside edge of the property so that there is an enclosed courtyard on the inside behind those tall walls. A compound may have only one enclosed structure with one or more rooms and then a series of porticos for cooking and lounging. When you are invited “into” an Afghan home in the suburbs, depending on the weather, you will probably be received in the courtyard or under the shade of a large tree or corrugated roof portico. There is usually a gate or door in the wall that opens in to the courtyard, and sometimes a door directly in to a room from the street.

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I described all this for you so you can study the pictures and see if you can figure out what was what … and where it was once. The yellow cabinet on that white and blue wall is a clue – it should be on the “inside” of a room.DSC_3428DSC_3406

 

I think I’ve been here too long – my initial response was to avert my eyes from that cabinet in the wall. You’re not meant to be looking in to someone’s house (or courtyard) and seeing the details of their private lives and the innards of their homes without their invitation.

This is two days after the storm and the residents have already removed their belongings, more or less. The ruined textiles and such are in heaps on the side of the paved road.DSC_3465DSC_3463

 

There are hazards everywhere, from downed electrical cables to huge cracks in the walls that stay standing. The drainage culverts are full of mud and rocks so even a small rain before they are cleared will damage things further.DSC_3436DSC_3450

 

The affected areas were pretty wide spread. Alley after alley was the same story; a short drive away we saw high brick walls of large compounds… missing.DSC_3482

 

These were not refugee-camp-style poor people’s housing and people have lived in these neighborhoods for 7-12 years, so they tell me. But “they” say that these people are all illegally squatting on military land and so the government is not rushing to help – they want the people to move anyway. Ah, TIA.

You can download an extended set of photos of flood damaged houses in east Jalalabad. (54 images, 16.3MB)

flash flood

I’m cross-posting this here at FRI because there seem to be more interest in the Saracha Bridge collapse than my little server at MIT can handle. You can find the original post at amy.fablab.af. Update: Download an extended set of photos from the collapsed Saracha Bridge (49 photos, 13.4MB).DSC_3361

 

Early in the morning of 8/31 a giant thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a stunning amount of water on us. High winds blew open my window which woke me up briefly enough to see the absolute solid wall of water as if Shem’s house had been moved under a waterfall. Lightning lit up the sky with such frequency it was nearly daylight.

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The next morning Logan asked if it had rained the previous night. The concrete houses are sound insulated enough that on the first floor I would have slept through the storm too had my window not blown open. The front yard didn’t look too different but once the front gates were opened we could see that Jalalabad had been flooded.

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All over Jalalabad culverts overflowed, low areas became rushing rivers, mud walls melted, and houses were damaged or destroyed. The biggest casualty was Saracha Bridge, about 1 km east of FOB Fenty towards Torkham. Tim and I went out to see the bridge a day later and found two and three story tall bridge footings washed down river and most of the bridge completely gone. The river looks innocent and small, only the near opaque turbidity gives away upstream mischief. Brick archways and stone footings are stranded on dry rock in what now looks like a dry river bed.DSC_3045

 

The initial ANSO report implied some damage that would be fixed within a day, which in Afghanistan usually might mean a week or so. I couldn’t remember a significant bridge to the east of the customs house because the road bed is wide and the approach to the bridge is long and gentle. We were unprepared for what we saw and initially I didn’t even realize that the enormous expanse had a bridge suitable for heavy truck traffic spanning it only a day before.DSC_2974

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There were trucks everywhere, pulled on to the side of the road on both sides of the bridge. Some tried to use smaller roads to the north or south as bypasses but upstream and downstream bridges were questionable themselves. The bypasses were not necessarily a great choice because the heavy trucks made big muddy ruts in the small dirt roads. So most cars and trucks opted to try their luck simply driving across the river after the water level went down.DSC_2995DSC_2959

 

Several bulldozers had arrived and were making ramps down and up the banks to make it easier for the vehicles to get down to the stream bed. While we watched, about 2 in 3 cars or trucks made it through ok, sometimes with a little help from the masses of Afghans who had collected to watch and see if anything exciting might happen. A handful of jingle trucks seemed to be pretty stuck.DSC_2983

Want A "Digital" Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

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Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

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I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

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No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

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There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

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Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

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To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Want A “Digital” Silk Road in Afghanistan? Let Them Build It

Editors Note:   One of the topics frequently mentioned by ISAF, NATO, and US AID is the need to get Internet and computers into educational facilities, schools, and ultimately homes in Afghanistan.   There is a NATO Virtual Silk Road program which is the closest to actually installing hardware and internet – they have been planning for years now, spent millions, but have yet to install anything (judging from the google search I just did.)   In the post below Amy Sun describes exactly how to get a virtual Silk Road up and running using what is the most efficient model I have ever heard of and one which should be recognized, funded, and expanded not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.

The Fab Folk may be academics but as you’ll see below they (like all good academics should) have proven their concepts in the field – specifically in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.   Read the post below – understand how absolutely incredible it is that Afghan kids are designing, building and installing high speed internet hotspots all around the city and then send this post to your congressmen (or the appropriate equivalent for those who live outside the US.)

An additional point – this internet is fast.   It is, in fact, much faster than the systems our military is using – the only way to get a fatter pipe in Afghanistan is to spend 15k a month for your own satellite feed.   Another point   – these people come here on their own dime.   Not one penny of tax payer money has been spent to accomplish in 7 months something which our governments have been unable to do in seven years. Somebody needs to fund the Fab Folk effort in Afghanistan – it is ridiculous that a group of PhD candidates are spending their life savings to come here and do a task they feel to be vital when that exact task in one all the coalition countries agree is a priority.   Also note the frequent use of a key word by the author; “leadership.”   We sure could use more of that around here.

FabFi now has  five fully operating  nodes with two more  coming online in days – they’ve already got the config all down but haven’t done the final strapping down.   That’s  seven, SEVEN, high speed comms “hot spots”  for Afghan use delivered  and working in  about 5 months serving an estimated 500-1,000 users.     Of  those seven,  only the first four were installed with international FabFolk help.   The remainder were  built, configured, and installed, end-to-end, by and for “ordinary people”.

dsc00867

Because the end points are made for and by the users, access is completely based on individual will and merit.   Meaning, you can have it if you do the work.   So while the “usual suspects” continue to propose connecting hospitals, universities, and government buildings, with FabFi, regular people are connecting those places AND a small orphanage, an NGO, and a public school in a small village.   And  they’re doing it now.

dsc00863

I can’t emphasize enough –  the key to FabFi isn’t the technology, it’s the implementation where everything is developed specifically to allow  regular people  the ability  to solve problems.    If  you don’t already know the  tech term “viral“, look it up.     This is the way these projects need to be done,  you have to  involve and employ absolutely everyone you can, especially the very population that you’re targeting. If it’s important to them, they’ll do it.

dsc01274

No caveats. Want to go to the moon? There’s only one way to get there and it’s not handouts or coddling from Vulcans.     Otherwise you’re just a tourist along for the ride, and you still won’t be able to get there on your own. We’re there to guide and make available the collective knowledge and lessons learned of the developed world.   Mentor, not suppress.   Lead, not micromanage.

dsc01277

There does have to be leadership and focus.   Open source projects fail if they are literally open loop frenzied parties of undirected work.   FabFi is not a new idea within the Fabuniverse but you need someone to pull together resources, funding, and a timeline – and hold even volunteers to their word.       To be effective, that  leadership needs “street cred”  –   out there slugging through the heat and mosquitoes, or ice and  snow,  or late night geeking sessions with everyone else.     I said leadership, not finance manager.

Because good leadership and mentoring begets good leadership and mentoring.   South End Boston Fab Lab has a tremendously successful “Learn to Teach / Teach to Learn” program where grad students teach undergrads who teach high schoolers who teach middle schoolers.     They don’t just teach rote skills or what to think, they are teaching young teens how to think.   That program started with a handful of kids and has grown to hundreds, nearly a thousand confident young adults that any parent would be proud of.

And you know what’s just as  wild?   These labs  lead and support each other.   We’re just begininng to foster the relationships in Afghanistan – these kids are shy! – but the Pabal, India (7 years old)  and Soshanguve, South Africa (3.5 years old) labs are reaching out to Afghanistan to share their projects and design files for the things they’ve developed over the past several years.

Their most valuable contributions to each other aren’t the machines or product – those change over time as needs and people change.   It’s the collective mentoring in how to think, how to approach problems.   It’s a slow process because it’s a journey for the user, not an answer to memorize.

dsc_1834

Here’s what’s next: it’s called the thinner client. Basically about $10 in parts, it’s the bare minimum of what you need to connect to the internet for things like email and access to Wikipedia and the like. Two way information stations with crazy low power consumption. A group of Pretoria, South African Fab Folk are heading up the implementation and distribution of these in South Africa, and both projects will trade around August with the South Africans learning and implementing FabFi and the Afghanis learning and implementing Thinner Client, with help from each other.   And the whole rest of the world watching.

dsc_1839

To keep the semantics simple, I’ll describe with the Jbad-appropriate words. Pashto native character map, plugs in to PAL or NTSC TV or any other display device you can find (just load in different software).   Requires 3.3 VDC – 5VDC in pretty much any way you can get it to it (including through the comms, keyboard, etc.).   In Jbad we’ll intentionally promote the text-only or vector-line-drawing-only versions so the units are acceptable for non-chaperone use (no effective net-nanny in Afghanistan!).

They connect to each other, they connect to FabFi. The connect wired or wireless, over RF, IR, and even acoustically. It’s all just different drop in electronic  bits and different software modules, but it’s totally cut-and-paste. Don’t think they can do it? Watch young Valentina of the Ghana Fab Lab make and show you her circuit “Efe”, which means “it’s beautiful!” in Fanti.

She started by making something that was already designed, then she modified it, both the hardware and software. That’s the way “real engineers” learn stuff, start with something that works, understand it, modify it. And that’s basically the  Fab Lab secret power.

Watch for this  to explode – the combination of device and network is like, well, cell phones but without having to wait for the  provider  company to invest millions in the initial infrastructure.   The learning curve is steep – it doesn’t help that the router kernel is in English – but once these things get translated in to local languages and processes, it’s going to go wild.   The interest and requests are already overwhelming.   People are bewildered when they ask who to ask to get an antenna to find that there is not an authority, they simply  “must to do”.   The biggest hurdle at the moment is people actually believing that is true!

It’s not just Afghanistan.   The rate at which  FabFi has spread  is phenomenal.   We released the FabFi 1.0 distribution in mid-March, essentially we got our act together and finally zipped all the files together with a little documentation and threw it up on our website.    Not even a month later,   I’ve heard from folks all over –  from Soshanguve, South Africa  to South Bronx, New  York.    The Heads On Fire Fab Lab in San Diego has  endeavored to  make antenna pairs to connect San Diego with Tijuanna, and I’ve even heard from the GATR folks who just want to connect to their work net from home.

Let me summarize: provide mission  orders and appropriate funding.   Trust  the folks who know  both the tech and understand how  to engage the target population.   Stand out of the way.   Taking credit is optional.

Technology Development Stemming from 9/11 and the Wars In Afghanistan and Iraq

The title above will be the basis for a series of articles I will write over the coming weeks outlining some cutting-edge technologies that are just being placed in the field, or will soon debut in the next few years. The events surrounding  September 11th 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been the catalyst for major defense research, as well as the development of some interesting and unique technologies. This series will primarily focus on technologies that will assist the soldier or tactical operator on the ground.
The majority of these new technologies are designed to reduce the fog of war by giving better situational awareness, improving the ability to track, designate or hand-off targets to other weapons systems, along with the key benefit of saving soldiers’ lives. The advantages of this research and the new technologies developed from these two wars will permeate into the civilian world at some future date.
Being a former Tactical Police Officer from 1990 through 2002, I’ve personally seen the transfer of military technology into the unit that helped us better carry out our missions to save lives. Off the top of my head, these are examples of some of those technologies introduced over that period: Thermal Imagers, Night Vision Scopes for Sniper and Assault Rifles, Gen II and Gen III Night Vision Goggles, and Digital Radios with encryption.
My first topic in this article focuses on a transformational technology that will penetrate the military, law enforcement and civilian world in a profound way. The most important aspect of this technology is that it is designed to save lives.
Blackhawk's Integrated Tourniquet System

Blackhawk’s Integrated Tourniquet System
THE INTEGRATED TOURNIQUET SYSTEM (ITS)
The ITS system was the brainchild of a Texan surgeon by the name of Dr. Keith Rose. In 2006, Dr. Rose was in Afghanistan conducting a humanitarian medical mission in the field, doing surgery to repair children’s cleft pallets. Upon returning to Kabul from the field, he encountered a US military up-armoured Humvee that had been hit by an RPG round. The vehicle’s damage caused the doors to jam and to trap a soldier inside with a femoral artery bleed. The soldier was finally freed from the vehicle a few minutes later, but died because they weren’t able to reach him or free him in time to save his life. Dr. Rose was very affected by this tragic incident and felt it a senseless loss of life. It sparked an idea that eventually lead to the Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS). To develop the product, he teamed up with Blackhawk, a US based manufacturer of tactical equipment and clothing. Dr. Rose’s invention essentially pre-locates tourniquets within garments to stop blood loss if an extremity suffers from severe bleeding.
With the core of the body and head protected by body armor and a helmet, battlefield injuries to the extremities (arms and legs) have increased significantly. Reports indicate that vascular injuries accounted for 50-70% of all injuries treated during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that extremity wounds were the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. This new technology will go a long way to reduce the incidents of preventable death from basically bleeding Each garment includes a total of four (4) tourniquets, with two (2) for each limb.
With an arterial bleed, time is of the essence. Someone could die in less than four (4) minutes if the bleeding is not stopped. The beauty of the system is that tourniquets are pre-located in the correct medical positions. There is no need to waste time looking for a tourniquet in the first aid kit. The system can be self-administered or, if the victim is unconscious, his/her teammate automatically knows the location of the tourniquets and simply activates them immediately.
This technology has already been adopted by the US Navy Seals, and I suspect other SF teams around the world will want to have access to this technology in their uniforms as well. Although the SF community is an early-adapter of this technology, my prediction is Defense Forces around the world will incorporate the system into their uniforms within the next 3-5 years. Law Enforcement will also adopt this technology, especially within the world’s Tactical Units. To the Australian and New Zealand Defense Forces, talk to me and I can steer you in the right direction regarding this technology I have a line straight to the top!
It’s a simple design invention repackaged into a functional system addressing a specific need on the battlefield. This technology will save lives…. period. This is not only a technology for military and law enforcement tactical teams, but also for the civilian market including extreme sports like hunting, mountain climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding and diving. Watch this space.
Blackhawk has a YouTube video demonstrating the technology, which I’ve linked here.  Blackhawk also released their “Warrior Wear” line of clothing. which incorporates the ITS technology. Check out their website for more details.

Women's Resource Center / Work For Cash

Tim invited me to submit some ideas for ways to spend the Work For Cash program he’s administering this spring. There is a focus on getting the money into the hands of women. Many of the traditional WFC programs are things like digging out the sewers or sweeping the streets, and those are inappropriate for burqa clad women who are likely to have small kids they must keep with them.

Tim reminds me that the program is bound by constraints that he doesn’t yet completely know, he’ll find out this week, so he won’t make any promises or plans yet. If the WFC thing doesn’t work out, we’ll still do most of these things but will have to raise funds otherwise and the program will stand up more slowly (ie, we’ll have to sell the product and generate some revenue to reinvest in more raw supplies).   If you have more ideas, please comment!

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In the Work for Cash program, women will be invited to the FabLab to be paid to do the following :

1) Document scanning. Digitize paper records using bed scanner or camera. May be public records such as the mountain of land title deeds or possibly similar types files (we will have to solicit customers).

2) Make flash cards for school children. (Mostly basic arithmetic). Women learn to use the printing press or wood / rubber stamp making.

3) Make educational props. Clocks with movable hands, giant rulers, large painted flash cards with Pashto / English alphabet.

4) Sew book bag / satchel / purses, with custom embroidery or markings or prints.

5) Sew / embroider (by hand, machines, or with computer controlled machines) “A [picture of apple]” kinds of quilts and fabric books in Pashto. May use other machines in the lab to make the objects out of felt or other material instead of embroidering with thread.

6) Make wind lanterns from empty water bottles. (Requires collecting and cleaning bottles). Wind lanterns spin in a breeze causing internal lights to light up. They can be strung up outside doorways or near wells and other hazards.

7) Make and configure FabFi antennas for long range wireless internet connections terminating in umbrella wireless hotspots. Install on site, possibly, depending on mobility of women.

8) Create and perform puppet / shadow puppet theater show on topics of basic health, local fables, IED (Improvised Explosive Device)   and UXO (Baba Tim Comment: unexploded ordinance is a huge problem and they kill hundreds of children per year in Afghanistan – France has the same problem with ordinance left over from World War I.   For those of you schooled under Jimmy Carters Department of Educatuon that happened in the early part of the last centruy and was a very bad war even though mostly white European males were killed in it – by the hundreds of thousands mind you.) awareness or just entertainment.

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In addition to immediate pay for work described, in some cases women will gain a skill that may be employable in the long term. I propose giving away the product to the local schools or selling at a very low cost. These products and services were requested by locals and the Fab Lab mentors can help these women establish small cottage businesses from these activities.

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The Fab Lab is an existent infrastructure at the edge of Jalalabad. In addition to raw supplies for the above projects, the Woman’s Resource Room needs to be fitted out to provide a safe and comfortable place for the women to work and sanctuary when there are users of other genders visiting or using the lab. This room is approximately 25′ x 18′ with windows on two walls and an en suite bathroom with sink and toilet. One set of windows opens onto a small concrete walkway which is up against an interior compound wall. The other set of windows looks out small concrete walkway/porch leading to 1/4-1/2 acre vegetable garden. There is a split air conditioner and heater installed in the room. The room is currently empty but clean and freshly painted.

We need to add: Thick wall to wall carpet, comfortable couches and floor cushions. Some low tables. A computer controlled embroidery machine, a sewing machine, some computers, a bookshelf and whiteboard, a projector or TV for lessons. All the print and video educational material we can find. One wall of open-front cubby holes. A shared supply of sewing and knitting needles, scissors, rulers, and so on. An endless supply of female sanitary products, soap, and general toiletries.

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