Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why was Bin Laden's house so tacky?

Amid all the huffing and puffing in the aftermath of the SEAL team 6 raid that killed Bin Laden (Go SEALs!) there were several comments about the relative scuzziness of the compound that supposedly cost $1,000,000 to build.

Obviously the commentators had never spent any time in the Arab or eastern Asian countries or they'd know more about this.

I worked over two years in Saudi Arabia back in the late '80s and saw some very expensive houses that had pretty much the same appearance that Bin Laden's house did. The stucco over the concrete block was patched or peeling, there was no grass or landscaping in the yards and the overall appearance was of dilapidation and disrepair. Quite simply, that's very normal in those places.

The Saudis didn't do much for external appearances anywhere that I could see. Part of that was the climate and the difficulty of keeping plants watered and thriving in that desert environment. But a lot of it was cultural. The Saudis and Pakistanis and their brethren simply don't have the same aesthetic sensibilities about their living quarters that Westerners do. That sounds pretty xenophobic or racist, but it's true. I saw homes that had to have cost hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars, that were pretty ragged on the outside and very poorly maintained on the inside. I also spoke with Americans who had worked inside the big palaces of the royal family in Saudi Arabia who told me about finding towels that were gray and grungy, not washed properly at all, and of a general level of slovenliness in the homes. The elderly members of the royals who'd never spent time in the West were especially unconcerned with the condition of their personal spaces, unless it was something that the hired domestic help was taking care of for them.

What to blame for this? Could it be that it hasn't been long enough since these tribes moved into what we could consider 'modern' housing from the tents and rude huts that are still the norm in large parts of their countries? That's my guess. They just haven't developed the same sense of housecleaning and appearance that most Americans take for granted.

So I have no doubt that the Bin Laden compound was very expensive to build, and was then allowed to fall apart like so many of the other homes that I saw when I worked in Riyadh. As anyone who's watched American TV can tell you, having money doesn't give you good taste, and it's the same in the Middle East with their homes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Speaking of ammunition testing ...

.... Reminds me of this anecdote from many years ago.

When I got home from the Army in 1979 I got a KSP surplus M65 S&W from my Dad for a carry/home gun, then when I could I got a box of the hot-shit .357 125gr loads from Federal that were supposed to be the end-all of defensive ammunition and were KSP issue at the time. It was popularly referred to as the KSP 'death ray' for the stopping stats they were racking up with it.
Brought 'em home to the farm we lived on, loaded up the revolver and in the waning twilight touched off the first one.
WHAM! and a fireball six feet in diameter and I was looking around for the 155mm howitzer that someone had towed onto the farm and fired at the same time I did the .357. Not finding it, I proceeded to commence again and WHAM! Holy Crap! It was my revolver!!!
I fired the remaining four rounds, observed that accuracy with the gun was pretty dismal, that every cow on the farm was running somewhere - anywhere! - in the fields below and was pondering the utility of that round for personal carry when the air was turned blue around me by the stream of imprecations in French being hurled at me by the petite dame in the doorway of the farmhouse. I wasn't able to pick out much of the high-velocity Gallic content but the tone and volume of it, the words of English and German interspersed into it and the tearful enraged delivery made it plain that she was most unhappy with my taking artillery practice with that damned gun and that damned ungodly ammunition without warning her goddammit!
Since the consensus opinion of the household was that that gun with that ammo (apparently loaded before the advent of flash suppressants in the stuff) was far too unpleasant to shoot and still be able to concentrate on the task at hand, it was forthwith traded for a GI-stye 1911 built by my Dad on an Essex frame and stoked with hardball. Nothing sexy about it, but it worked, was easy to shoot and didn't require EPA certification or sunscreen.
Kinda missed those fireballs at night, though. Kept the cows on their toes.