Thursday, September 2, 2010


True terror--Afghans behind the wheel!

 Afghan Sgt. Maj. Barakatullah Kolistani, who trains army recruits, is confident that his fledgling soldiers are learning the discipline, strategic skills and marksmanship needed to defeat the Taliban.

But Kolistani, one of the base's senior enlisted soldiers, is worried about their proficiency in another key skill: driving. Particularly when it comes to the 8,000-pound-plus U.S.-supplied Humvee, the vehicle of choice in the nascent Afghan army.

Afghan and American trainers at the NATO-run Kabul Military Training Center, where 10,000 recruits receive instruction at any given time, are shocked to discover just how bad the Afghans drive.

"We're losing them faster from vehicle accidents than combat," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the 22,000-acre training center, a former Soviet base that still houses a graveyard for Soviet tanks.

More than half of Afghan army injuries result from vehicular accidents. Since 2005, 141 soldiers and recruits have died in rollovers and collisions, many caused by excessive speed, inability to negotiate curves or an unwillingness to yield to other vehicles.

About 80 percent of the recruits are illiterate. Many are from rural villages and have never steered a vehicle more complex than a horse-drawn cart. Those who have driven a car have, in many cases, done so primarily in the clogged, chaotic streets of Kabul, the nation's capital, where traffic resembles a demolition derby.

Even for vehicle-savvy young Americans, the Humvee is a challenge. It is wide and top-heavy and difficult to drive around corners; the braking system is demanding and the ride jarring.

Pickup trucks, also supplied by the Americans, present their own problem: Many Afghan soldiers seem oblivious to their comrades riding in the open bed. A common accident involves a driver hitting a bump at high speed, ejecting the passengers in the back.

 Kolistani, who fought beside the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud in his unsuccessful effort to keep the Taliban from taking power after Russian troops withdrew from Afghanistan more than two decades ago, knows that mastering the intricacies of the M-16 assault rifle is important.

But he would like even more hours devoted to driver training.

"To fight," he said, "you must drive."
--Tony Perry in The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 29, 2010

A state of masochism (home of The Scenery Tax)

News item:  "Wisconsin dodges top 10 tax list again."  Turns out the Dairy State ranks 13th, with11.8 percent of state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income." 

The "leader"?  Alaska, where residents pay a whopping 34.7 percent--more than a third of personal income--in such taxes.  That's in addition to paying a lot more for consumer goods (18 percent higher in Anchorage, 28 percent higher in Fairbanks and 36 percent higher in state capital Juneau, according to "The Alaska Almanac") and living in fear of The Big One," the mega-quake that top geologists are not just always predicting but are surprised hasn't already happened!

(No wonder alcoholism is rampant in that state.  Do people drink so much there because of the conditions . . . or do they put up with all this because they're too inebriated to notice?)

But there are benefits--or are they bribes?  Residents receive Permanent Fund Dividends annually, ranging from $600 to $1,500, according to Wikipedia.  But in 2008 they each got $3,269 per person when a one-time $1,200 Alaska Resource Rebate was added to the dividend amount.  2009?  It was a mere $1,305, which probably doesn't make much of a dent in the higher living costs. Alaskans probably pay that much more than consumers in the pejoratively labeled Lower 48 in three months' worth of groceries or dining.

How do you say "You don't have to be crazy to live here, but it helps!" in Inuit?

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