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Sanded Down by Red Sky.

Red sky Al As "Red sky" just means you are not supposed to fly.  There is red, yellow and green like stoplights. In this case, the sky was a little pink.  The picture above is from my window.  It was taken around noon.  By 2 pm, I had to turn on my lights.  Beautiful backyard I have, don't you think?

Yesterday was a down day.   Sandstorms grounded our helicopters aborting our visit to Al Qaim.  I was looking forward to the trip.   We were planning some battlefield circulation as well as appointments at the vocational school and microfinance office.  I have heard a lot about these things, but never actually seen them.  I almost got to the microfinance center, once, but some clowns starting shooting in the air (celebratory fire) and we had to flee, as I wrote in an earlier post.

So I went back to my office to find my computer had crashed.  (It is fixed and mostly restored today, BTW.)  There is not much I can do w/o a computer, no email, no files no nothing – go home.  Most days I could have taken advantage of this breakdown to either run or work from my home computer.  But I hit the breakdown trifecta.   My home computer didn’t work because we lost electrical power to the cans.  I can run the computer on the battery, but not for very long and the electrical breakdown stops the Internet connection.  What about running?  I would like to take a long run, but not today.   The same red sky sandstorm that grounded by helicopters made me unenthusiastic about running.  Actually it may not have been possible.  It was hard to breath and the dust stung my eyes.  I think that if I tried to run I might well have filled my lungs with concrete and more of less turned to stone.   Not willing to risk the Medusa syndrome, I searched for  non-electrical, non-physical alternatives. 

I ended up cleaning up my desk and reading a book.  The desk cleaning was an exercise in futility.  I cleaned it really well & good last night.  This morning it was dusty enough again to qualify as Addams family office furniture.   

The reading was good.  I have a book called “1453” about the fall of Constantinople.  Alex gave me the book for Christmas.  It is a good complement to another book I just finished reading called “Sea of Faith” re Muslim & Christian interactions in the Mediterranean. 

The lost world of the Byzantines interests me. I have been to Istanbul twice and I would gladly spend a month there.  I think it is one of the most interesting cities in the world.   Edward Gibbon short changed the Byzantines and largely thanks to the two-century success of his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” the English speaking world thinks of the Byzantine Empire as merely a thousand-year decadent & effeminate postscript to the virility of the Romans.   (Of course the caveats that Gibbon never used the specific word Byzantine to refer to the Eastern Empire and to the extent that anybody thinks about it at all.  Kids these days don’t know nothin’ about the Byzantines.) 

Gibbon is beautiful as literature; less attractive as history.  I think it is fascinating how his formulations and prejudices shaped historical views even among people who never heard his name or know that Constantinople was the capital of the Roman world for a thousand years.  Gibbon’s assessment of the effect of Christianity and his obvious admiration for pagan philosophers like Julian the Apostate has crept into our comparisons of our own society to that of the late Roman Empire.  It demonstrates the power and persistence of “spin”. You don’t have to know the source to be in its power.

These are the kinds of things you think about when you are sanded down, your computer is crashed & your can is electricity free.

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I also think the early Ottoman period (well, the Ottomans in general) to be fascinating. Indeed, I purchased the books Osman's Dream, and The Ottoman Empire the People Around It a month ago. Is there any other books you would reccomend as good to understanding the period?


~T. Greer


John Matel responds

The book I mentioned "1453" is good. A while back I read one called "Lords of the Horizon" re the Ottomans. A book that is very good re the end of the empire is "A Peace to End All Peace." There are two good books called "The Blue Nile" and "The White Nile" that cover the Ottoman period in Egypt. Very good. I am just starting to read a book I got for Christmas called "Power Faith & Fantasy" re America and the Middle East since 1776. Seems very good so far.

Those are the ones I can think of off hand, books that I liked. I saw a good series on the "History Channel" about a year ago too.

A sequence photos of "the shamal" rolling in were the first pictures that I received from my Marines in Iraq. It reminded me of something John Carpenter would dream up...

Anyway, a few flowers in that backyard of yours will perk things up a bit!

Wonderful, two more titles for me to read. I think one cannot be engaged in living life in this world today, without wanting to see the past and it's follow it's effect on the present...


John Matel responds

I planted some sunflowers and marigolds about ten days ago, but then it turned chilly. I am hoping something will be up soon.

Dear John,

Can I send you a copy of my new book, Byzantium. The surprising life of a medieval empire? (published by Penguin Books in the UK). I think if you like 1453 and want to trace Gibbon's influence, this might be of interest. I hope your sunflowers and marigolds came up,

all best,



The sunflowers came up, but only three of them. We had some construction work and they got stepped on. One actually produced a flower, but then the birds ate that, along with most of the leaves. I hope our agricultural experiments work better than my personal attempts.

It sounds like a good book. Thanks. Below is my address.

John Matel
Unit 42110

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