Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Big Iron On His Hip

 Back in November I wrote a short piece discussing the latest firearm atrocity. I had exactly the same effect on firearms in this country as every other opinion piece, editorial, blog post, and survivor plea after another nutjob takes his bullet launcher and sends another bunch of poor sods to join the Choir Eternal.


But today I was thinking how utterly weird the current insane gunlicking going on at the American Right is, and, in particular, how sudden it has arrived.

This isn't some sort of trace-it-back-to-the-Revolution thing. It's basically been invented out of whole cloth over about the past forty years. Contemporary with the rise of the modern GQP (hmmm...what an odd co-inky-dink, Bug Bunny would say).

The whole hyperammosexualization of firearms is only about twenty or thirty years old and how freakishly weird is the notion of living in a modern industrial democracy and wanting, NEEDing, to be strapped at all times.

I was a medic in an infantry battalion in the early 1980s. 

 It was legal for a GI to own a personal weapon (mind you, not many did - certainly nobody in my platoon, and infantrymen, even infantry medics, ain't exactly your soy-boy peacenik hippies...).
Keep in mind that this was an airborne infantry battalion. Infantry. The kind of people who, y'know, made their living with firearms.
And the ironclad Armywide rule was that IF you had a personal weapon, whatever the make and model, that weapon lived in your company arms room at all times 1) unless and until you signed it out to go to the range and 2) was immediately returned to the arms cage when you returned to the company area.
The notion that you the individual Joe would keep your bang stick leaning up against your bunk? Or your hogleg in your desk drawer? Your First Sergeant would square your young ass away most quick smart.
So here's a bunch of people who are thoroughly trained and experienced using firearms - whose trade is using firearms - whose first, last, unbreakable rule is that unless you're going to shoot at targets you don't get to keep and bear the sonofabitch. 
It stays locked up with the rest of the weaponry.

But here's some idiot Joe and Molly keeping their nine-mil in the bedside drawer where their whacked-out sprog can use it to work out his testosterone issues.
This whole business is completely whacko.
And as always on this subject, I refer you to Jim Wright for a bit of bang-bang-sanity.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Not A Day Goes By

I woke late this morning.

Well, late for me, used to the cold and dark of 4:00 or 5:00am on days when a drill rig or contractor was waiting, but I'd had another night of broken bad sleep. Between the knees and the Little Cat (who continued her tradition of rising loud and proud several times a night) I was still tired and disoriented as I made the coffee and checked my phone to see what had happened overnight.

I found that I no longer shared the Earth with Stephen Sondheim.

It's strange-funny how life and time transmute us and the world around us.

The Girl is a high school sophomore, and if she can be categorized as part of a high school clique - and I assume there still are cliques; jocks, nerds, stoners, normies - she's a "dramat", part of the thespian society which is delightfully strong in her otherwise-fairly-sketchy-urban high school.

She's not a dramat-dramat, not an aspiring actor with all the baggage associated with that. She's a  "techie", running her sound booth or light board for the shows. In fact, she has a fairly side-eyed view of actors, whom she blames for insisting on missing their cues or marks and messing up the tech. After the fall musical she came home cussing the actors so vituperatively that we ad to watch the Mel Brooks The Producers for the moment that Zero Mostel tells Kenneth Mars; "Here! Take the pistol! Go to the theater! Kill the actors!"

Because of her enthusiasm I've been pulled back into a world I left forty years ago; musical theater.

When you stop to think about it, the American musical is a very weird thing. How do you explain a particular subset of live drama where at random moments the actors break into song? Is there anything even remotely similar in real life?

But if they're good, musicals can be powerful in ways that no straight play can be.

Stephen Sondheim created those sorts of musicals.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties I was, like The Girl, a sort of peripheral member of the college Green Room and the people who hung around it. I had a bit part in Romeo and Juliet, not for my acting chops but because I fenced and the director wanted some realism for the opening fight scenes.

It was though the Green Roomers that I found musical theater, and the towering figure at that time was Sondheim.

Keep in mind that in the Seventies and early Eighties a Broadway ticket was an expense, not an investment. You could get a pass to a matinee for twenty bucks, and if you hit the TKTS booth in Times Square even an evening performance for maybe twice that - a bit of a stretch for  a college student but not insane, not the eighty or hundred dollars (or more..!) you'll pay now.

So I learned musical theater at the feet of Sondheim.

Oh, sure, I went to see the other sorts of stuff showing in the late Seventies; Nine, Side by Side, Barnum, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (and is there ever a property that has worn less well..?) and, in 1979, Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney was a thunderbolt, a revelation, that you could tell a story - a grim, dark, convoluted, intensely gripping story, through song alone. Dialogue was minimal, just bridges between the numbers, and the songs themselves were jewelboxes; rich, melodic and harmonic while at the same time jarring and atonal and as dark and twisted as the tale itself.

I was enthralled, in my cheap matinee seat in Row GG.

So, a convert to the Church of Sondheim, I waited impatiently for his next work of genius. That came two years later, and I couldn't wait for Opening Night. I scored preview tickets for Merrily We Roll Along.

I knew that the original was a Kaufman and Hart property from the Thirties, something about a dramat who makes it big by selling his soul, but that was all I knew other than it would be Sondheim and Hal Prince, those colossi who bestrode the Broadway world while we petty men crept between their legs to marvel at what they wrought.

So, dressed in my "business casual" that was as dressy as I could afford to fit in with the Broadway crowd, I waited eagerly in the dark for the curtain to rise.

It did...and that was the high point of the show.

What's peculiar is that Merrily seems to have grown in the telling. It's been revived several times, successfully, and is supposedly considered among the better Sondheim/Furth properties - perhaps not up there with Pacific Overtures or Company but better than The Frogs...

The 1981 production was a resounding disaster. 

Even a theater noob like me could sense it coming, as the muddled story and interchangeable cast struggled through the backwards-chronology towards the first act curtain. The intermission applause had a tentative quality that boded poorly for the second act which turned out to be as poorly received as the first. Along with the rest of the audience I was sort of stunned. This was a Stephen Sndheim show? The book, not the songs, was largely the problem, attempting to lift the story from the cynical opening to the sunshine-y final curtain and largely producing, instead, the sort of grim, forced brightness of a Hallmark commercial pitch.

The original run notoriously closed after 16 performances, the worst a Sondheim show had ever done up to that point.

I read that the failure of Merrily hit Sondheim hard. He considered abandoning Broadway altogether. And, indeed, his Broadway work was greatly reduced; Sunday in the Park with George in 1984, his first collaboration with James Lapine and Into The Woods three years later.

In a life that has featured as many failures as successes - as I imagine many, probably most lives do - it may sound odd that the immediate memory the news of that Sondheim would never again write the music and lyrics for a musical play brought to my mind was that of one of his great failures.

Even in failure, though,the enjoyment of musical theater I'd come to, largely though Sondheim's talents, never left me so that so many years later I could sit and enjoy Wicked and In The Heights with my neo-dramat daughter.

Is there a point to this ramble?

Perhaps only that we touch each others lives in odd and unpredictable ways; that the life now ended touched me, and mine touched my child's, and here we are, waiting in dark for the curtain to rise on another production for another day.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Get Strapped or Get Stripped

I'm not going to go deep into the weeds on the Rittenhouse verdict. It was prima facie from the moment the trial opened. Between the trial judge's Trumpkin antics to the jury selection, the odds were tilted towards getting the little bastard off.

But when the result of this decision produces crap like this:

Let me phrase it this way. Do you believe liberals need to bring guns to their protests?

Carrying a firearm is a personal decision, and more people on both sides need better education about what it means to carry a firearm in the public sphere so that they can make those decisions for themselves. I’m not trying to get around that question. That is a big, complicated question. And my answer to that is everyone needs more training. country has a serious goddamn gun problem. And politics problem.

Yeah, it's Slate. I get that. And I have no idea who "Lara Smith" is other than she's a gormless nitwit.

But one of the most misunderstood Bob Heinlein quotes is that damn "An armed society is a polite society" one from Beyond This Horizon. The context - that the speaker is essentially advocating a sort of eugenics through firearms "kill(ing) off the weak and the stupid" - is never mentioned any more than the "well-regulated militia" part of the Second Amendment is cited alongside the keep-and-bear-arms part.

Because an armed society isn't "polite". It's barely a society at all. When you have to back your political ideas with armed force, every debate will inevitably degenerate into a gunfight. Smith basically admits that; ""everyone needs more training"? Seriously? That's your recommendation when your political opponents come at you armed? Spartakists versus Freikorps in the streets of Portland?

The Rittenhouse verdict sends a clear message to the political opponents of the Three Percenters, Proud Boys, and Oath Keepers - you have two choices; arm yourselves or be at the mercy of being shot down whenever the armed wingnuts show up.

I know what my choice would be.

I also know that if I brought the bullet launcher to a protest that the Portland coppers would be all over me and not to pal around comparing cool rifles. 

As the Homestead strikers or the Stonewall rioters or the Freedom Riders could tell you; the police are the natural allies of the Right. If you're out there raising hell against the Authority the cops are your natural enemies, anyway, and when the Rittenhouses turn up armed and looking for trouble they will get a tongue-bath from the Blue that you, the dirty antifa BLM radical commie hippie bastard, will never receive.

Just like the murderous little bugger did in Kenosha.

Regardless of the circumstances of the individual case, the Rittenhouse verdict presents the American Left with a stark choice.

Arm yourselves, or be destroyed whenever your Proud Boy enemies choose.

And that, my friends, is not a sane way to run a nation.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Eleventh Minute of the Eleventh Hour

Frankly, I can't say it better than Jim Wright did, so instead of wasting your time blathering on about this, my forty-second Veteran's Day, I'm just going to hand you over to him.

I do want to emphasize Wright's point about the politically dangerous business of "heroing" soldiers in a notional democracy.

To lionize the military as we do, to exempt soldiers - because that's what "hero" does; it takes the object of that veneration out of the sordid business of daily living and makes them a shining object of veneration - from criticism and scrutiny is to make them the idols of your society. 

That's not "democracy". It is "militarism", the heart of totalitarian doctrines like fascism and soviet-style-communism.

Like Wright, I'm not vauntingly proud of what I did in the Army.

I did my time, and did it well. I had some good times, some bad time - though not as bad as the troops who had to fight real wars had - had a good laugh and came home sound.

Which is a damn "good war" all things considered.

I'm good with my past.

But I'm concerned for my and my children's future. So I want you to think - just as it made me think - about what Wright says about this day.

For as he has said elsewhere; if you want a better country, you have to be better citizens.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Trail of Tears

Just to the west of the Little House there's a City park, the Peninsula Crossing Trail, that runs along the east bank of what we call "The Cut", the immense railroad cut that runs through North Portland from the Willamette River side - where the vast Albina freight yards are located - to the Columbia.

The Bride and I discovered it soon after it was opened in 1996. Back then I could still ride a bike and we did, enjoying the quiet wooded trail between the busy and largely-bike-lane-free-at-the-time North Portland arterial streets.

That's actually a pretty good picture of how the trail would have looked for, oh, about a decade or so.

Then Portland's "homeless problem" metastasized. 

Today the trail looks more like this:


Most housed North Portlanders won't stray onto the trail anymore; it's not worth the debris and the random whacko and the ride is no longer peaceful and pretty.

Like most Portlanders, I'm frustrated and angry. Almost every public space is now inhabited, and nearly all the habitations are a sour sprawl of...well, everything; filthy clothes, bags of trash, broken bicycles and cars...they're trashpits. There's a reason nobody ever went for a walk in the city dump.

But, like most Portlanders, I'm also baffled by what to do about these camps.

I mean...I know the real answer. It means building a mass of cheap, low-cost rental and housing units. It means staffing organizations that will provide support and structure for the people moved out of the camps and into the housing - both in the form of "support" like addiction programs and medical and/or psychiatric care - and "structure", like nannying them to take their meds and go to the job training programs.'s a good example of why even with all this - and I should note that "all this" is a fever dream; nobody in Portland will vote the taxation it would take to do all that - I despair of figuring out a way to deal with this homeless mess.

The link above takes you to the tale of one "Gary O'Connor", who lived and died - violently - along a similar trail in Southeast Portland. 

The article tries hard to make O'Connor into a sympathetic character, but can't avoid noting that:

"O’Connor couldn’t read or write and resorted to stealing...(h)e struggled with addiction...Court records show O’Connor had burglary convictions in Multnomah County and at the time of his death had a warrant out for his arrest in Clackamas County, where he was accused of giving police a false name and criminal trespassing."

So let's assume you get this guy into a subsidized house. You get him a into a drug addiction program. You get him back in school - at 45 years old, mind - to learn to freaking read and write and do simple math.

What then? Who's going to hire this guy? A former crook and tweaker who lived half his life illiterate? Frankly, I'm guessing you'd have to assign a sort of parole officer/social worker/nanny to the dude full time to keep him from deciding that stealing bikes was less difficult and demanding than his job stocking shelves at Kroger.

Multiply that by thousands or even tens of thousands; people with health issues who need medical help, people with drug issues, people with emotional issues or mental health issues. People who, honestly, prefer to steal rather than punch a clock.

I be brutal, if this guy was a pet you'd take him to the vet and have him put down. He'd just be too much trouble.

But he's not a pet, he's a person. A troubling, troublesome person, but a person. So you kind of have a moral dilemma on your hands. He's a huge sink of time, money, and trouble, and one who is very like to reward all that investment with...very little. 

But if you don't make that investment, there he is, with his tent and his trash and his stolen bikes and his encroaching on your public space with all of that and his personal problems. You drive him away and he just becomes some other Portlander's problem and the people those Portlanders drove away come to camp in your patch.

So I still don't have a good answer to the "homeless problem"; the solution will take time, money, and interest we aren't willing to invest, and without the solution we're stuck with these filthy camps in every public space.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting on with things

Today is four weeks post-op for Knee #2 (nearly two months for #1). The aftermarket parts are...settling in; still stiff and creaky (the right obviously a LOT more than the left) and requiring lots more work to approach anything like normal walking.

But I can walk. It's not fast and it's not graceful - I'm still pretty stiff and tottery, particularly on the stairs - but it's doable with just a cane or even without, if I go slowly enough.

Sleep is still a huge issue which is why I'm typing this at 3am on a Friday morning. I've gotten into a weird sort of routine where I turn in about 11ish and then spend the next four to five hours just lying around. Occasionally I can sort of drift off into a doze, but seldom for more than a quarter-hour or so.

Until about 4:00 to 5:00am; then I drop into a light sleep. It's not a great sleep, it's like when you're so exhausted that you don't so much "go to sleep" as "fail to stay awake". When I wake - usually around 8:00 to 9:00 - I feel mazy and disassociated, wanting to get back to sleep but unable, but still not very "awake". As you can imagine, this shit is getting very old, and I sure wish I could do something about it.

I'm slowly beginning to re-engage with my job, with the intention to return to indoor work at the end of October. This past week I was yanked back in abruptly by a minor crisis and not happily.

I am the "Radiation Safety Officer" for my office. We have several machines - "nuclear density gauges" or "nuclear densometers" - that are used to test soil (or asphalt) density and, as the name implies, use radioactive isotopes for the measurement. Needless to say, they're expensive and have to be handled with great care; the isotopes (Cesium and Americium) are quite radioactive for the small size of the sources.

That's me in 2009 with one of them - it's the orange thing just behind me. The long black rod sticking up is the "probe"; it's all the way retracted so the source is enclosed in a little lead box with a sliding lead "shutter" on the bottom. When you use it you push the rod down into a pre-driven hole in the soil - the shutter slides out of the way - take your test, and then pull the rod back up to shield the source again.

Well...I got a call from one of our senior engineers who had been dragged out to the field because we're short-staffed. He described a litany of problems with the machine, the worst of which being that the sliding shutter that is supposed to close when the radioactive sources are in the "safe" position was jammed open.

This shutter thing is kind of a kludge. It needs to be decently clean to function, but it's used in all sorts of filthy soil materials which, unsurprisingly, will build up inside the shutter well and cake the thing and make it stick.

The solution is to remove the cover plate and remove and clean the shutter and then put everything back together again. It's a pain, but it's fairly safe (you face the bottom of the machine away from you and reach around to clean the shutter well...) if you know how to do it right. the seven or eight weeks I've been out our two staff-level people have thoroughly trashed two of the three gauges, the worst problem being that the shutters were both jammed open with crud.

I spent a frustrating evening trying to solve the problem before deciding that standing a foot in front of an unshielded radioactive source was a fool's business. I shoved the things back in their carry boxes and sent them off to Seattle for our depot maintenance person to fix.

But I can see I need a little wall-to-wall counseling with the staff people involved. That sort of negligence - hell, they could have called me at any time and I'd have come in, knees and all, to try and clean and repair the things - is truly culpable. These aren't $1.49 gadgets from Radio Shack, but because of the staff guys' laziness now $8,000 worth of density gauges are both useless and dangerous.

How freaking hard is it to clean up your damn equipment..?


Oh, and the other excitement is that Little Cat has started scratching herself again.


She was doing that when we adopted her; clawing out bits of fur and injuring herself for no reason we could see. It wasn't fleas, and we went to a vet allergist for several months, spent a shit-ton of money including this horrible "rabbot-and-pea" food that Little One hated, and got nowhere.

Well, she's at it again, so this time we went to a little kitty-cat ER and got some corticosteroids and a special flea treatment and she seems to be better. Still a goof, and very sweet and affectionate - she's our lap-kitty now that Drachma is too proud to let himself be mauled by hairless monkeys.

One last note; for some reason I got interested in a bit of history I'd pawed over and kind of tossed aside; the 1071 Battle of Manzikert; Seljuk Turks versus Byzantines for control of the Anatolian heartland. So that should be coming along here not too long.

I'll probably be back before then, though, with something.

But not I have gotta try and sleep.


Sunday, October 03, 2021

The thieves of glory

One of my passions is soccer (no, really..?) and particularly the local soccer teams, the Timbers on the men's side and the Thorns on the women's.

Laid up as I am I spend a fair bit of time watching both teams - and the Timbers are, after a pretty awful start, on a bit of a tear so Howay you Timbers! - as well as thinking and writing about them over at my other gig, Riveting!

So it was with sickened horror I read this past week that the Thorns' coach during the 2014 and 2015 seasons was a loathsome rapey scumbag who was savaging his own players while we all cheered and sang for him and them and then got away clean after being fired for fucking up the 2015 season on the pitch.

It's a sad, tired, familiar old story, but carries a heavy blow because it comes so close to home.

Anyway, I'm still immersed in this mess as I go through the boring daily round of my rehabilitation, and though I don't want to go any deeper into it here (you can read my full thoughts on the mess over here), I just thought I'd mention it briefly. 

I'm sick, sad, and angry at everyone - in my club, in the league - who had a role in this desecration of the young women of my beloved Thorns and, through them, many of my own happy and cherished memories.