The 9lives US Tour: Update 2, Days 2 & 3

Hello friends of the world. Thank you for your comments on my previous blog. To take up Lesley’s point on the last blog I hope not to make this a *yawn* situation with updates on what colour socks I’m wearing.

They’re navy.

Rest of day 1
So day 1 finished off with me hitting San Fran about 10pm on Saturday night. We were a half-hour sitting on the tarmac at O’Hare with no clue as to what the delay was. The pilot comes on and says “Uh, we’re not really sure what’s going on here folks. No one is telling me anything.” And this is why we should have full and unwavering faith in the aviation industry.

The biggest thrill of the day (outside of imaginging us losing a landing gear wheel as we set down on the runway and then skidding to a safe stop after crashing through parked cars and a chicken-wire fence) was being introduced to Sani Seat. Sani seat is a public toilet seat cover that is fitted to a controlled mechanism presenting you with a clean toilet seat every time. I didn’t even need to go but sat down a few times on it. Fantastic.

I was picked up at the airport by a small man in a big car with tinted windows. I’ve never had someone stand there with my name written on a card before – I felt like a rock star; the guy from Status Quo or someone like that.

So I got to my mate Noel’s place and met his two lovely pugs and hit the sack for about 10 hours.

Day 2
Not much happening here. Went for a jog and then Walked the dogs for a while and spent a few hours with our colleague, Emanuel. He’s got the world’s biggest keyboard. Seriously this thing could double up as a simultaneous surfboard for a football team.

Went out for dinner that night with a whole bunch of people and by 10.30pm I was dead to the world, perhaps expedited by my three glasses of pinot noir. Looking forward to a long and comfy night’s sleep.

Day 3
3am. Wide awake in America.

By 6.30am I’d had enough. There’s only so much tossing and turning can be done. So I hit the streets for a run and then got to the office for my first American work day!

3pm. As my eyes rolled to the back of my head, I could have drilled holes through my cranium and looked behind myself.

But I found my energy again on Monday evening as my mySpace friend Orin took a 20 mile trip over from Fremont to unleash her professional massage technique on my disheveled body. I get sports injury massage treatment every week back home so even though this was a different technique my body reacted quite well to it (right, Orin?). My ability to not shut up for an hour reared its head again – something my weekly therapist normally counters with the well-chosen but good-humoured phrase ‘shut up you dickhead’ – but I think the inherent originality in the scenario led Orin to embrace it. And besides my silence could be purchased by one good pinch at any time.

Finally, my exam results arrived on Tuesday morning. I don’t know how they corrected them so quickly but they did. Talk about speed-read. Anyway, it was all good. I picked up one A and three B+’s in my exams and my final higher diploma grade is a H1 with a 3.45 GPA. Can’t really spit out the dummy there *punches fists in the air triumphantly*

I’m heading off to play tennis now I believe. After that I think we’re going out for dinner. Perhaps following that I’ll yawn for a while. The life of a vagabond.

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The 9lives US Tour: Update 1, Day 1

I thought it might be exciting to blog from an airport. Never done it before.

It’s 5pm central time – I’m getting used to the lingo already – here in Chicago and I’m in the middle of a four hour stopover on my trip from Dublin to San Francisco.

Got to be honest I can not even remember sitting at the boarding gate in Dublin this morning – seems like 7000kms ago. So much has happened today. We had to get off at Shannon airport (22 minute flight from Dublin – could have almost run it) and do the US immigration thing. Have to say it was a relief to do it there because it’s my least favourite part of visting this fine country. I had to fill in a few forms, get my fingerprints taken, have my picture taken and account for my future movements in the US. She got a bit nit-picky about the fact that I was going over on business because apparently if I was doing anything operational I’d need a visa. Gimme a break. Anyway I convinced her it was just training, which it is.

Another queue, more questions, then my carry-on bag got searched for liquids. This was followed by an hour of sitting around before boarding for the 7 hour plus flight to Chicago. That passed uneventfully. American Airlines is actually a bit rubbish. Singapore Airlines have tvs in the seats in front of you so you can settle down and watch movies if you like. AA (which is where some of the guys sitting near me are going judging by their drinking habits) put a few small 12″ screens up at a height and in the central aisle, and expect you to get immersed in it from there. Rubbish.

No hassles from customs when I landed which was a pleasant change. Picked up my bag and then, uh, checked it in again. Odd. So now I’ve been kicking around O’Hare for the last few hours. Had my fingerprints and picture taken again but I think the guy just had a crush on me.

Already spoke to Jenni in Chicago *waves* and we’re going to part-ay next weekend if I’m not half dead (or too fat to get on a plane*).

So that’s update one. More to come as other stuff happens, perhaps.

PS The department of Homeland Security has raised the aviation threat level to orange. At least that’s the message that I’ve gotten every five minutes for the last 120 minutes.
*I’ve already eaten twice on the plane including some odd chicken dish and pizza; couple of little biscuits/deserts and now I’ve had a noodles/vegetable thing as well as a Starbucks at the airport. Boredom does this to me. Thank God for MySpace.

Look where being on Bush's shitlist gets you

Saddam Hussein is dead.

Kind of weird isn’t it?

Iran-Iraq war
When I was about 7 or 8 years of age his name was on every newscast, accompanying rather violent pictures from the Iran-Iraq war. Despite Hussein’s use of chemical weapons and his human rights abuses, actor Ronald Reagan sent senile Donald Rumsfeld over to shake hands and make friends with him. At the time the US government were afraid that Iraq and the Middle East were going to be over-run by the Iranian Islamic Revolution so they sided with Hussein, giving him tons of weapons and economic aid – a real life example of how “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

The war claimed 1,000,000 lives and achieved absolutely nothing for either side.

Gulf War
Hussein – who was armed to the hilt with conventional and chemical weapons kindly provided by the Soviet Union, France, China, Germany, the UK and the US – “gassed” thousands of Kurds in the north of Iraq and then decided in 1990 that invading Kuwait would be quite a good idea. By this point the US had begun to tire of Hussein and was a bit worried about his huge arsenal and open hostility towards those Israeli friends of theirs (whose nuclear arsenal is of no concern to any of us of course).

Oil was the primary concern. The worry in 1990 was that the powerful Iraqi army would choose to also invade Saudi Arabia and take control of a number of their oil fields. George Bush Snr spun a few fibs about troop build up and why it was necessary to “check that aggression” and on January 17 1991 (right in the middle of the Spurs v Chelsea League Cup match on ITV) the first ever 24-hour TV news war began.

It might be dull today but it was compelling viewing back then. Regular programming was shelved and busy newscasters introduced feeds from the battlefields while updates scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Who can forget the CNN reporters Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett crouching under tables, dangling their microphones out of windows so we could hear the air attacks on Baghdad?

I digress. The point is that on February 28th 1991 the war was over. George Bush was criticised for leaving Saddam in power after the war. His hope was that an uprising would remove Hussein and save American lives in a ground war in Iraq – with a 1992 election coming up that would be rather unpopular with voters. He still lost the election to Bill Clinton, one of the reasons given being, ironically, that he didn’t finish the war properly in Iraq. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The Nineties
So Saddam stayed in power through the nineties although he was somewhat “in a cage”. It was a gold-plated cage though – while UN sanctions caused hardship for his public, Hussein lived in palaces and was said to be worth $7bn. Hussein grew more and more arrogant as the years went on and regularly defied UN resolutions and sanctions. Bill Clinton – under pressure because of a stain on a dress – sent fighter planes to Baghdad to distract everyone. It was kind of like this: “I did not have sexual relations…uh…hey! Look! Planes! Bombs!”

Post September 11th
Post September 11th 2001, Saddam returned to the news by doing, well, nothing at all really. George W Bush finally got his reason to start another war and lined up the reasons why Saddam Hussein must be stopped.

1. Weapons of Mass Destruction – Loads of them and they were going to be used against America before too long.
2. 45 Minute Claim – The time it would take for Saddam to mobilise weapons of mass destruction against the west after the order was given.
3. Uranium – Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to build an atom bomb and blow up innocent people like us.
4. Harbouring terrorists – Saddam was harbouring and funding the terrorists that flew planes in to the twin towers.

Saddam was once again promoted as public enemy number one ahead of all the other tyrannical despots out there in the world. The four above claims were either proven false or never proven at all. It’s nearly four years since the invasion of Iraq and not one weapon has been found – something arms inspector Hans Blix repeatedly told the US before the war started. The “45 minute claim” was simply untrue, documents proving Iraq was trying to buy uranium were forged and no terrorist cells or evidence of them was found in Iraq.

Within three weeks the war was over and by the end of the year Saddam was captured – very convenient for a President who was facing stinging criticism for the amount of American lives being lost in what had become a dirty guerrilla war. As has been proven since, it was an unnecessary and illegal one too.

Death
Hussein was put on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and on November 5th 2006 he was found guilty. A month later his appeal was quickly rejected and 25 days after that Saddam Hussein – a man who has been pretty much a constant figure in my life since the early 80s – was executed by hanging.

Conclusion
There is no denying that Hussein was a tyrant of the worst kind. His presence on the planet did no one any good but the manner in which he was sent to die is something that irks me. Saddam was sent to die not because he was a murdering, nerve-gas using dictator but because he would not play the game the west wanted him to play like the rulers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait do.

He used conventional and illegal weaponry supplied to him by the west against his enemies but when his antics threatened the cosy oil-enriched lives of the powerful, they had to act. They saved the oil fields in 1991 and again in 2003.

Bush hunted down Saddam on the back of outright lies and embellished claims (turning the once-respected Colin Powell in to a deliverer of those lies at his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5th 2003). Bush’s actions were not for the benefit of America (to which Saddam was no threat) but for the benefit of himself, his family (“this one’s for you Dad!” he might have said) and his powerful friends.