Monday, July 31, 2006

Burning Down the House

I've been watching and reading the news from south Lebanon with the sick fascination I get from one of those "Faces of Death" videos.

WTF are Dubya and his office wife thinking, that they can ride this tiger and not get themselves and the 140,000 hostages - sorry, troops - trapped in the Iraq Project eaten alive when Sadr forces Sistani's hand the the Shiites in the south and center rise?

The thing that I keep coming back to, the thing that none of the TV talking heads seems to want to open up about, is how much off ALL the misadventures America has been drawn into in the Middle East circle around the drain that is my country's Pavlovian devotion to the nation of Israel.

It seems to come back to the idea that the Arab neighbors of Israel have a problem with Israel's "right to exist". We - ths country - seem to think that this notion is automatically crazy, and that if you think it you are automatically some sort of caveman whose further ideas can be safely discarded.

So I thought...what if you looked at it in a slightly different light.

What if, lets say, and why not, that you are part of a gay couple living in a Victorian house in the NW 23rd Street district of Portland. It's not much to look at now, because the neighborhood has fallen a long way since it's glory days. The former owner was kind of a jerk, but he was kicked out and you've been dealing with the property management company ever since. They're not that easy to deal with, either, but you've been promised that they'll be gone, soon, and you can buy the place yourself.

But you and your boyfriend have tried your best to keep it nice, and you are hopeful, because some nice little boutiques are opening on 23rd, and you've heard rumors that Crate and Barrel (Crate and Barrel!!) may be coming to the old vacant hardware store on the corner of Flanders and 21st...

Then one day you come home to find your partner on the street, distraught. There's strangers in the house, he says, I'm scared. You go inside and, sure enough, there's a couple of rough-trade looking guys with mullets sitting in your kitchen with their tattooed girlfriends.

Well, that's that! You get out, whip out your cell and call the cops.

Imagine your surprise when the cops get there and they inform you that these intruders are refugees. That your property manager has made them promises and signed deals with them promising them part of your house, because a long time ago their great-great-great-grandfathers homesteaded there. And that your house is going to be divided, and that they will live there. And that there was nothing you could do about it.

Well! The hell you say! You get on the phone to your ex, the leather queen, and a couple of his friends, and you all get together to give these dirty white trash invaders the bums rush.



That didn't work out. And neither did your next try. Your cousin managed to kick 'em out of the loggia, but here you are, almost sixty year later, still locked out of much of what you consider your house. The squatters have done some really nice upgrades to their part, while you and your boyfriends pretty much sit around bitching in the torn-up mess that is your bedroom, the family room and part of the hall about what a bunch of assholes the squatters are. Friends have told you to "get over it" and "move on". But your head aches every time you think about what those sons of bitches have done to you. Just wait, you think, just wait...

Do you think if this was your situation, that you would give much consideration to what you consider the squatters' "right to exist" in your house?

Okay, then. So how do you think you'd feel about the rich uncle who helped keep these squatters in beer, cigarettes and rolling papers? Who helped them beat you up, time after time, saying it was because of what the uncle's Hillsboro relatives had done to the squatters?

This is the "unsayable" thing that colors everything we do in the Middle East. It's because the bottom line is that there really IS no "right" for Israel to exist. It was carved out of another people's land by the strong arms of it's founders. Its "right" to exist is the same as the "right" of Montana to exist as a United State, rather than as the Lakotah nation - because the residents of Montana - and Israel - killed or drove away the original inhabitants. Like the Lakotah, those inhabitants weren't cute fuzzy bunnies - they got their kicks, among other things, trying to kill the Jews who were trying to live among them. But the lethality of the residents doesn't make the incomers heroes any more than our mulletheads are any better than the cute gay couple. They're two groups that hate each other, and they both have nasty pasts...

So all I wanted to suggest is that if we really WANT to look away from the Middle East's "Faces of Death" video, we will have to find a way to begin - not by repudiating Israel - but by accepting that BOTH sides are "bloody handed villians" and forcing them to sit at the table and talk, talk, talk. And then put our muscle behind the agreement, if it means putting American troops in the Golan or using the 10th Mountain to tear out every West Bank settlement root and branch.

Will this work any better than anything ELSE that's been tried? I don't know. It may not. We may, eventually, have to just give up and try to "exterminate the brutes". But would that be any worse than our present mealy-mouthed hypocrisy, claiming we want the best for both sides when truly helping only one?

Monday, July 24, 2006


Well, it was a fun Tour. Maybe not as much fun as a hurling match in Ireland, but then I'm sure you could probably have persuaded Tom Boonen to whale Robbie McEwan upside the head with a hurley if the rules of cycling had let him...

Possibly the most interesting story is the one that nobody wanted to mention - what's going to be the fallout from "Operacion Puerto"? Is this the end for Ullrich? Basso? Does it go further, and will the tour committees finally have to accept that the sport is permeated with riders trying to get that extra edge on the competition?

These guys don't ride for the fun of it. This is their livelihood. If you knew that your company's competitors were bribing congressmen and county commissioners and building inspectors in order to shut you down, and the cops were turning a blind eye to it, what would you do? It's happened in every sport since the first Olympian tried shaving his discus to get a little extra loft. If the officials don't control the competitors they will take actions that, while in their own best interests, are contrary to the best interests of the sport itself. You wind up with beanball wars, referee-bribing, point-shaving, steroid-bloated know what I mean.

I love cycling. But the sport needs to figure out what it wants. If it wants the fastest riders possible...then call off the dogs and let 'em dope. May the best team doctor win.

But if the idea is to have the champions of today carry on the traditions of Meryx, Indurain, Hinault...well, the riders can't afford to be honest if they think another rider can cheat with impunity. The race officials must test completely and systematically. Perhaps the willingness to suspend this year's projected Tour winner, Basso, was the first sign that this realization has arrived...

So why start this rant off with a picture of Jose Azevedo of Team Discovery?

Well, the other interesting thing about this Tour was the Wreck of the Blue Train.

For years I wondered if Armstrong was a great champion because Postal/Discovery was a great team, or was the team a great team because Armstrong was a great champion.

Well, Lance Armstrong WAS a great champion. And, at least this July, George Hincapie was not. I'm not sure if Discovery missed its old captain that badly, or if it was a mixture of bad luck and poor form, or what the heck happend in that big blue motor home. But I bet that nobody comes to the start next year with that old frisson of fear at the distant sound of the approach of the Blue Train.

Hope for Funny-looking Guys Everywhere

If Floyd Landis can win the Tour...
There's hope for the rest of us. I mean - I know the guy is a great cyclist, he must have a threshold of pain that would make a Cape buffalo moan with envy, and he has just sewed up a ton of juicy endorsements and assorted cash with his tasteful yellow shirtwear, but...

Look at the guy..!

Lance Armstrong looked like a Sports Hero. Lean, chiseled, he had that narrow-eyed sheriff-of-a-frontier-town kind of look. Won le Tour seven times. Seven. Plus he had Sheryl Crow as his chick (how tasty is that!) and his adoring perfect kidlets and even his ex-wife seemed to get along with him nicely.

The guy is just too frickking perfect.

And then there's Floyd. Start off with the name. Floyd. The dorky kid that sat behind you in Social Studies and used to blow snot bubbles out of his nose? Had to be named "Floyd". Your freshman roomate? The guy who used to forget where the door was when he went to bed drunk so he'd get up at 2, stumble around clueless until he'd get desperate and piss inside the closet?


Then look at the guy. Jug-handle ears. They wierd little chin beard, or was it he just decided to stop shaving around his chin or something? The bad mustache. This guy doesn't look like he's spending the evening after the climb of the Col Ventoux canoodling in the hottub with Norah Jones. He's one of us funny-looking guys, ice-pack taped to his hip as he's surfing the web in a ratty bathrobe. Sharing bad pizza with the other Phonak guys as they watch "Project Runway" and throw peperoncini at the screen.

He's just a dude. A funny-looking dude. Who can ride a 2-pound bolt of lightning 2,000 kilometers with a hip joint that you couldn't sell at Cowboy Bob's House o' Meat.

Here's to you, Floyd. All is not lost for us funny-looking guys as long as you're up there, waving that goofy stuffed lion for all the rest of us.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

It's 108 on the dashboard thermometer...

Jesus wept.

I was working on a big-box construction yesterday - the pipelaying crew had one of those laser thermometers that read 120 on the rock fill pad.

We're tryng to figure out if we have enough food so we don't have to leave the air-conditioned house for the next two days.

Saturday morning 4am

It seems like everyone has an opinion about "What to do about Iraq".

This has been an extremely odd sort of war. It is a red-line issue between lefties like me and righties. My friend Tiger, who is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, has even lectured me about fighting guerilla war. Tiger's total military experience consists of watching "Band of Brothers", mind you. He's a lovely man. Like everyone involved in this debate, he becomes an instant military expert when the subject of Iraq comes up.

Me, too, of course.

My take? Well, IMO The real problem now (as opposed to the real problem up until a year ago, which was that the people trying to "run" Iraq - the CPA - were primarily party hacks chosen for their ideological purity and as fucked up as a football bat as far as actually performing as a civil government) is that the U.S. is neither in a geopolitical position to "win", or, in fact, even to determine the conditions of what a "win" is. The Iraqis are.

They had a nice little election, remember all those purple fingers?

The problem that flows from this is that we are now ostensibly "guests" of a sovereign nation. One, moreover, that is getting heartily sick of getting shot over by American convoys and killed at American checkpoints and raped by American servicemen. This can hardly be considered a shock. Think of how you would feel if your little piece of America was suddenly overrun by a bunch of surly Shiite militiamen who threw up checkpoints at random locations, shouted at you in pidgen English and shot you if you misunderstood. Or their local allies raided your block and hauled off all the military age men, who, quelle suprise, turned up in a trash heap in a vacant lot with a nine millimeter trepanning job.

A nation that we are barely supporting, much less "reconstructing". Um, yeah, that sideshow stopped playing over a year ago. Haji and his unemployed friends are back to hanging on the corner hoping someone will IED those assholes from the 502nd PIR...

A "country" currently "governed" by a bunch of folks whose total experience in running a democracy came from watching old VHS tapes of Mel Gibson's "The Patriot" and the musical "1776" (the part where Mrs. Jefferson sings about getting it on with the Sage of Monticello, especially).

Folks who were held in a single nation by a succession of strongmen, and who, in many respects, lack compelling reasons to cling together:
- the Kurds want what they've always wanted, a nation of their own
- the Sunnis want the whole nut roll back, or at least a bigger share of the Iraqi pie than their demographics would recommend, and
- the Shiites figure that hey, one Iraqi, one vote, right, and there are more of them than anyone else, so it's their game, lock, stock and two smoking barrels.

Anyone figures out how to put these three pit bulls back into the sack and get a working sled dog team wins the Nobel Peace Prize and, no, I don't think that Dubya, McCain, Hillary and Ralph Nader together have that kind of intellectual wattage. The three main groups, plus all the other factions, plus the criminal gangs (lots of them in the mixer, too) are all working under the middle eastern principle - power to my group is power to me. A victory for my faction is a victory for me. And a defeat for my faction is defeat, disaster, destruction and death for me.

Right now the military strength of our Army and Marines is irrelevant to the Iraqis, except as dupes they can con into killing their factional enemies. Our supposed objectives of "democracy" are irrelevant to their goals of increasing their factional power.

We cannot maintain an occupation in this mess, other than by joining a faction (probably the Shiites) and helping them supress their enemies. And our hold on the Shiites fades as we clearly show we have little largesse to give and tilt towards the Sunnis to try and pacify Anbar province. Oh, yes, and make other dumbass geopolitical errors like allow our Israeli ally to paste Lebanese Shiites with CBUs. Sweeeeet. That's sticking your head so far up your backside you can see out through your molars.

We might "win" if we did this in such a draconic way that we made our name a synonym for atrocity, a sort-of 21st Century Attila. I doubt we have the political will for that. I hope we don't.
In short, we have completely screwed the dog through a "perfect storm" combination of pride, sloth, greed and wrath. The only deadly sin we missed was lust (oh, sorry, the boys from the Nickel Oh Deuce caught that one...).

Machiavelli and Metternich together would have a problem putting the Iraqi-Dumpty together. That was probably the most cogent reason I heard in the run-up to war for NOT whacking Saddam. It was because Saddam was Saddam not because he was Saddam, but because Iraq was Iraq. We've painted ourselves into this "Muslim democracy" corner and any effort now to prop up a strongman shoots our national credibility dead square in the ass.

Like I said: we're just screwed. The hard light of dawn is ramming through the tacky motel curtains, our head is pounding and our mouth feels like a cat has littered in it. As we grope and stumble to the musty-smelling toilet we can't quite remember how we got here, or why, but the faint lipstick traces on some pretty startling parts of our anatomy are pretty much a giveaway of what happened last night. And the sick feeling in our stomach is more than just last nights' bourbon, it has a lot to do with the growing horrific realization that our wallet and keys are nowhere to be found, our wife has probably already reported us missing and the meeting we were supposed to make at 8:30 is probably a wash, since the plastic clock-radio is blinking "11:00" in unforgiving red numbers. As we sink down on the nasty, crumpled sheets, head in hands, we are overwhelmed by two single, terrifying thoughts:

"Ohmigod what the hell can I do now..?"

"I am SO fucked!"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Peeper and the Peas (Part Deux)


The punch line of the whole "frozen peas" story?

The kid now asks (every so often, maybe once a week or so) to sleep with his bag of frozen peas. Some toddlers have a wubbie. Our toddler has a plastic zip-locked bag of Fred Meyer's finest icy legumes pressed to his crotch.

In the morning Deb throws them back in the freezer. For next time.

Y'know - one of these days I'm gonna forget, cook and eat the damn things by mistake. But, they were never out of the bag, it doesn't hurt or anything, right?


But now the corn niblets, though...

Frozen Peeper

With the Peeper, sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.

Sometimes, it rains.

There are times I just stare at the little guy in wonder trying to figure out how the inside of his head works. For example: not so long ago Deb (my Domestic Six) and I decided that we a) wanted another child, a girl, and b) didnt want to take another pass at nature's crapshoot. We would adopt a little girl and I would contribute by getting my wedding tackle de-natured

That's getting a vasectomy, gang. What we used to call "Fitting the blank adapter on your love gun".

So to give you the Cliff's Notes version, there I was, supine on the couch watching Newcastle v. Pompey and holding a nice cold bag of frozen peas to my crotch. For several days.

At the time, I thought that little Peeper's only observation was that Daddy wasn't availabile to play with him. We (my wife and I) explained carefully that the doctor had fixed Daddy's "nards" and that Daddy had to rest. No playing. No jumping on Daddy. Absolutely no jumping on, near, or in the same zip code as Daddy's nards.

This is a Domestic Tragedy, by the way. And it sure didn't seem to slow him down, as I found out later that week. Safety Tip: do NOT chase a three-year-old across Fort Vancouver several days after having your tubes tied.

You will pay for it later.

So I was taken somewhat aback a couple of weeks ago when, while changing his diaper, I observed to him that his boy-bits seemed a little red, rough and sore.

"Do you want some Good Medicine for your woo-woo?" I asked him

His answer was immediate and definate:

"No, I want put frozen peas on my 'nards and lie on couch and watch television!"

Well, okay then.

What the heck is a "Graphic Firing Table"

You this is me: adjust fire, over. Request target description...

It's a slide rule.

Actually, it's that thing you're looking at. So it's sorta kinda like a slide rule, only you can't use it to do your taxes. Assuming anyone uses a slide rule to do their taxes anymore (fogy alert: I remember my father using a slipstick to do HIS taxes when I was a kid. His first calculator, a massive Texas Instruments desk model could actually add, subtract, divide and multiply! It was infinitely cool, for 1972..)

A GFT, as it's usually called, is part of what's termed "Manual Gunnery" by the Army schoolhouse at Fort Sill. A fire direction computer (that's a person, BTW) uses the GFT to index range to target for a certain propellant charge to determine the elevation of the gun barrel that will allow me (the FDC Chief) to provide data to the guns. There's actually a lot more of this stuff, like "site" and angle of site and complimentary angle of site (and this is just the up-and-down, long-and-short range thingies - what FA types call "quadrant" - I'm not even going into the left-and-right data we call "deflection") which allow you to spoil somebody's day several klicks over the next hill, but it's only of interest to FA geeks like me and ol' Harry Truman.

Why the hell call a blog "Graphic Firing Table"?

Well, in my experience, a GFT is a simple but useful tool that helps you to commit broadcast mayhem. Kinda like a blog.

Hope that helps. Don't hesitate to write me with all of your manual gunnery questions! I am sort of like Dear Prudence with a chart board...

End of mission. Out.

Monday, July 17, 2006

My Fire Direction Officer (Part 2)

This is my little boy. He's three, and my sun, my moon, my polar continent. He, and his little sister (to be) are two enormous reasons I started posting here. Someday he will come into his world, and if I want to help make that world something worthy of him - and help make him worthy of the charge - I wanted to try and explore some ideas and discuss some of the things that will effect the world around us. And, someday, around him.

And his little sister - or at least his little-sister-we-hope-to-meet - is coming from China. We are adopting a little girl and are currently in our 6th month of what (unless things change dramatically for the better) is a 12 to 13 month gestation period, putting us ahead of elephants but about even with cows and tapirs. And let's not even discuss marmots. Be sure I'll talk more about this later on...

Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out what it will be like to be the daddy of a little Chinese girl. I can't even think about issues like racial identity, attachment and the fact that her mom-to-be is actually thinking about calling her "Mojo". She's got to be kidding, right?

So I'm thrashing around trying to find knowledge, wisdom and strength to impart to this little guy. Not that he cares at the moment. Right now the most important things in his world are trains, BIG milkies, feeding the cat, and construction equipment of every sort.

No matter what else I may write here, this much will always be the paper it's written on: I love you, Peeper...

My Fire Direction Officer (Part 1)

Scary sunflowers!

Getting Started

It's early days yet, but I'm hoping to use this place to talk about politics, soccer and adoption. Hang on while I get myself organized and I'll be back