I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

US Troops

I was reading the article "The Strategist" in the current issue (Monday, Jan. 30, 2012) of Time Magazine and found some information that I would like to share. As it is a small amount of data hidden inside a figure, I am confident I am not violating any copyright law (one cannot ever be careful enough these days...)

I find it interesting because it answers the question: in which country are US troop present and how many?

Here is the list of troops presence (with the countries listed in no particular order):

> 50,000 U.S. (not surprisingly), Afghanistan (again, a well known fact), and Germany.

1,000 .. 50,000 Spain, UK, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Iraq, South Korea, Japan, Bahrain.

100 .. 1,000 Australia, The Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Egypt, Greece, Portugal, Panama, Cuba (of course: Guantanamo), and Canada.

None (at least, not officially ;-) North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Iran, Albania, Belarus, Iceland, Eritrea, Somalia, Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Western Sahara.

All other countries have a presence of between 1 and 100 U.S. troops.

I thought: perhaps Time counted as troops the few marines attached to U.S. embassies. But this is not the case because, according to Wikipedia, sixteen of the twenty countries that Time lists as not having any military presence do have a U.S. embassy (excluded are "the usual suspects": North Korea, Iran, Somalia, and Western Sahara).

This means that U.S. soldiers are present almost everywhere (101,000 further troops are at sea).

I find this amazing. Don't you?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

End-of-year Cleanup

I should have published this story on January 1st, but better late than never.

As you perhaps know, I grew up in Rome (Italy).  On the last day of each year, the busses stopped running a few hours before midnight and retreated to their depots.  But it wasn't simply to give to drivers and conductors the opportunity to celebrate the coming of the new year with their families.  It was to ensure their safety.

Yes.  Their safety, because when I was a boy, it was a Roman tradition to dispose of unwanted stuff by throwing it out of the window.  Literally.

Why bring junk to the tip when you can simply throw it out?  Beside being simpler and more economical, at a time when the majority of people could not afford to buy a car, it was fun!

Can you imagine the impact of an old easy chair when it hits the sidewalk after a "jump" from the fourth or the sixth floor?

You could throw out everything, including old sinks and toilet bowls, with seat and all.  A walk in the early hours of the new year, before the teams of garbage collectors started the thankless task of cleaning up the streets, was a unique experience.  In some quarters you literally had to walk in the middle of the street in order to negotiate your way through.  At least, with all the broken glass and empty cans littering the streets, there was no chance that a car would be around to hit you.

I lived with my parents, sister, and grandmother, on the third floor of Via Alessandria 119, just outside the high wall that the Romans built around the city some two thousand years ago.  It was quite central, and very near the place where the troops of the Kingdom of Italy breached the wall on 20 September 1870 to "liberate" Rome from the Vatican.

Anyhow, here is a nice snapshot of the street "borrowed" from Google's street view.  You can see the entrance door and the windows.

From one of those windows, my family and I enjoyed the view of the "new-year dumping" and, sometimes, threw something away ourselves, although I don't remember that we ever got rid of very bulky items.

One year, when I was between four and seven years old, we had a carton of persimmons who had become a bit too ripe.  Who knows why we had it, but I remember that at midnight of December 31st we used them to bombard a car that somebody, very imprudently, had left parked on the other side of our street.  The fruits were very soft, and I am sure that we didn't do any damage to the car, but I can only imagine what its owner must have thought when he saw it completely covered by a orangey sticky goo.

I wouldn't do it now, and I cannot imagine (but don't know it) that Romans still throw rubbish out of the window on the last night of the year.  Still, at a time when very few families had a TV set or money to spend on fireworks, it was of great entertainment.

Italy is much more civilised these days...