Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fruit of the Poison Tree

So Saddam got turned off today somewhere in an Iraqi prison by executioners who were unwilling to let their faces be shown in public.

Somewhere there's a moral there. I'm just not sure what the hell it is.

If anyone deserved to be hanged it was Saddam. He was surely right up there with Idi and Augusto and Pol Pot and Ceacescu and the other Mean Girls of the 20th Century. I'm sure that outside of a few families in Tikrit the mourning will be brief.

And seems so...wasted. Such an empty gesture, the hanging of what amounts to a living effigy of the once-fiercely mustachioed villian. In the sagging, grizzled cleaned-up-homeless-guy-looking guest of honor for today's necktie party I got no sense of the immense appetite for evil, the Aida-scene presence and Las Vegas taste in interior decor that once made the man such a perfect successor to the flamboyantly murderous despots of the past; Caligula in a pork-pie hat, Hermann Goering with an abaya and a Groucho mustache. Given the bloody chaos enveloping Iraq today the whole business seems like conducting a painstaking forensic murder investigation in one of the extermination barracks at Bergen-Belsen.

And so, Saddam. Self-made despot, once the handshaking partner of Donnie Rumsfeld, scourge of Anfal, now hanged by his enemies in a hidden basement, somewhere in the wreckage of the nation he and his old enemies the Bushes have ruined. I think the theory was that this was supposed to be the official "happy ending" to the original invasion, the part where the hero and heroine (Dubya and...Condi?) clinch (ewwwww!) and fade to black, but events having made it clear that the hero is dumber than a bag of hammers and the heroine and the rest of his hangers on are doing everything they can - including sacrificing our lives, fortunes and sacred honor - to prevent him from receiving the usual punishment for his preternatural stupidity the scene has been overwhelemed by the other, more spectacular and gruesome endings. Sort of like the last fifteen minutes of Peter JAckson's LOTR: The Return of the King only with suicide bombs and sectarian militias. The sendoff for the old bastard just gets lost in the corpse pile...

In ancient times barbarian rulers left ruined cities, piled pyramids of skulls or lined roadways with the remains of their victims so that in the sight of these awful monuments passersby could feel horror at the very name of the departed. Long after, names like Timur the Lame and Attila would have the speaker spit and make the sign of the horned one against the chance that the Devil's Own might hear themselves spoken of and return.

Today the Butcher of Baghdad is gone, and it seems to me that the only appropriate monument to this tyrant at this time is:

"So what...?"

Fred Clark over at Slacktivist has more, and says it better, as well.

Sigh. Well, at least my breath is minty fresh and I'm wearing clean underpants. Sometimes you just gotta concentrate on what you can do well.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Boys in the Truck

Twenty years ago this week we drove the HQ-52 Goat down to Venado drop zone for a simple DZ coverage. And there they are, the boys in the truck, waiting for the C-130 to return to pass another stone or two of paratroops. So, where ever you are, SGT Guerra, Docs Alderson, Varney, Echevarria...hope you and your wherewithal are enjoying a peaceful, well-loved "holiday week".

Meanwhile in the news, our Decider-in-Chief appears to have given what in Arabic is called "the finger" to his daddy's old counsellors on the ISG, choosing rather to throw the iron dice one last time. Who'd have thought there would be a time when we had a Chief Executive who made us long for the likes of Franklin Pierce and Calvin Cooledge? Who knew?

A giant sinkhole opens in the street next to Buckman School, swallows city truck. Cool! Had to have been piping - Buckman Pool has been notorious for leaks for years. What a hell of a big fix, though...wish my firm had a piece of this. Plus it made a great TV news story. Hell of a visual, ain't it?

I've been enjoying the time at home with little Pea, but he's been enjoying having Daddy around so much that I actually had to take Peep to daycare to get some time to just clean the house. What a mess! So the laundry is done and folded and put away, the beds made, the dishes done and the floors are vacuumed and the toys (mostly) put away, I've had some time to just sit and think, to post to Intel Dump, and to try and fight off this damn cold. Ugh. By tomorrow I hope to be feeling better enough to get outside and either bird or hunt the wily duck. Depends on the weather. The good weather for winter birding is poor for hunting, and vice versa. I wonder if those Pine Grosbeaks are still around somewhere? That'd be even nicer than a plump grain-fed greenhead in the oven...

Time to go and lie on the couch and read the new Laurell Hamilton. Parenting is hell, hell, I tell you.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

'Twas the night before...

I was just setting about writing a followup "Tiger Island" story when I realized - I'm not always mentally agile - that it was Christmas Eve. And one of the things that has always been especially poignant for soldiers is holidays far from home. And that, in turn, made me think about my bride and our little Peeper warm and snuggly in their beds, inside our little house strung with lights and full of presents and cards and the other impedimentia of the Season, and contrast that with the last time I was far away from home on a Christmas Eve.

Ft. Kobbe, Panama, December 24, 1985

It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.

It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who would fill his Christmas stocking. Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy. This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.

The upshot was, anyway, that he had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.

The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.

I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion duty runner.

"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.

SGT Chief: "Little you know, lording it up there at Battalion. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."

BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?

SGT Chief: "Why's that?"

BN SDNCO: "Where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"

It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.

This year, as they have for the past three years, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in a faraway place much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two decades ago. And I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.

As do I. Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dead Man's Chest-cold, or, Dangerous When Wet

So this was Coos Bay last Thursday as our first big storm of the winter swept through. Leaden skies, driving rain and a nasty chop on the bay as we tried to drill our first in-water boring. Let's say that the crew were mutinous and the captain not a little overbearing in his efforts to get the work done...


Yarely with that Standard Penetration Test, ye swabs! I'll flog the first scurvy dog what pukes into me sample bag!

So there's barge drilling and then there's barge drilling when the wind works up to gale force and the shallow waters of Coos Bay develop a short, steep little chop. The odd thing is that the barge, for all that it looks like it was pretty lively, actually didn't pitch and roll very much. Instead it had an odd gyrating motion that wasn't particularly nasty (though you weren't going to forget it, either).

Didn't help the poor gang in our support boat who were taking these pictures. They pitched about like a bar of Ivory Soap in a water sports scene from a Marilyn Chambers film. Lots of uneasy sailors there, until they finally had enough of getting the guts wrung out of them and called it a day around 1pm. By that time it looked like this:

Nasty weather, eh? But the storm blew over that night and by the weekend the weather was lovely, if cold.

Here's the salty Chief himself basking in December sunshine three days later, full of self-conceit and a pancake breakfast from the Kozy Kitchen.

Coos Bay isn't exactly hopping, but I had some good books, and spent one pleasant evening enjoying the lights at Shore Acres State Park. Very pretty, if you like that sort of thing. I do, and only wished that Peep had been there - he LOVES Christmas lights, and tends to race around chuckling like a little nut when he sees what he refers to as "Tha muthalode!" of lights - we have several "motherlodes" around our neighborhood...

I should put in a good word for the Coach House Bar and Grill in Eastside. If you're ever in scenic Coos Bay and looking for a good dinner, don't overlook this hidden treasure. Their steaks are perfectly grilled and bursting with rich steakiness, their twice-baked spuds are a cholesterol-laden treat and their mixed veggies are tender, buttery and spiked with a peppery fire. Yum!

But that's all in the past. Daddy's home, much to Mojo and the Peeper's delight. My bride got a foot rub, lots of sympathy for her cold and a full night's sleep (yay!) And the Pea and I cuddled and read stories this morning, and when I dropped him off at his "school" (i.e. daycare) he hugged and hugged me as if he didn't want Daddy to ever go away again. Those little arms reached right down through my shoulders and gave my heart such a squeeze it made my eyes spark with tears.

It's good to be home.

Next: really, truly, more Tiger Island stories, no shit, really.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday morning free-association

That's Jumpmaster Chief on the right, trying to contort myself to look around the ass-end of a CH-47 heavy lift helicopter to clear Venado Drop Zone in Panama, 1986.

Amazing when I think that it was twenty years ago - it seems like I could blink and wake up in the tall tropical billets with Echevarria and Varney and Black and all my compadres from the old 2/187th Infantry. The world changes and we look about us in confusion and dismay. Who is that looking back at me in the mirror, and why has he lost that bright fierce certainty he had...seems like just a moment ago? Where did it go?

Is there anyone who thinks that Dick and Dubya's Big Iraq Adventure is going to end well? It sickens and saddens me to think of the many people: the little Iraqi boys and girls, the American troopers so far from home...all of the men, women, boys and girls locked in this Totentanz that shows no sign of drawing to a close.

Damn, Barbara Stanwyck was an elegant woman.

Why it is that frightens little peepers in the early morning hours? And why can they get back to sleep so quickly, while mommies and daddies lay awake thinking for hours?

Look at this face. This is the face of a little boy who has been told that he will get to ride a big steam train next weekend: not "this day", next weekend. And as any three-year old knows, tomorrow may never come.

Spaeaking of trains - thanks to the good people of the Oregon Railroad Heritage Foundation. We rode "Old No. 700" yesterday and had a wonderful time. If you're in Portland next weekend, stop down at Oaks Park and enjoy the big steamie. Little Pea loved the engine, loved the cool old Pullman compartment, loved the ride, loved Santa, loved his candy cane, loved the little whistle he got at the end...just loved it, period.

Why would a kid need a cell phone? Just thinking, Lorrie over at Clueless In Carolina got her daughters one. God, I'd love to get rid of mine... But I could see the idea of being able to reach out and touch The Pea when he was off running with his little friends, five or six years from now. All I'd need is a distant-phone location GPS function on MY cell - so you guys are over at Joeys, huh? Busted, boyo!

Who spends time thinking up toothpaste flavors?

After "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians", what the hell remains to be said? "Deck the Halls"? WTF!!?? Who the hell thought THAT crap was a good idea?

"Woof! Woof! That's my other dog imitation."

The curving place above her hip; how utterly, sensuously delightful.

Well, the rains are returning and I am leaving, departing for a week and a half of drilling (on all things) a barge moored in the heaving waters of Haines Inlet. So I'll be away for a while. Y'all come back, now, hear?

Next time: Seriously, no shit, really tropical fun with spies...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ahhm...too sexy foh this truck...

But not sexy enough to withstand the creeping crud. A devastating combination of cold germs and construction observation has kept me away from the keyboard this week. I should be back to blogging in a bit - maybe even later tonight if the Peeper gets to bed early enough. He should - he hasn't napped, which means about this time of the evening he turns into a combination of Doctor Evil with the energy of an evil version of Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan...

Speaking of Mini-Pea, he has produced two fascinatingly odd tales this week.

The first is "Scott", a sort of anti-God. Scott lives in the clouds, either that or on the roof (which has me more disturbed as a homeowner than disturbed in the theological sense). Scott is all-powerful, and can be anywhere (except he's invisible, so you can't see him) but what he mostly loves to do is shoot you. There's no appealing to him, and he will do whatever he wants to, and what he wants to do is shoot you, so he's kind of a Peeper version of Set or a divine George W. Bush, if you will. Scott was on the dinner table tonight until the Peep bashed him with his spoon.

The second my or may not be related to Scott. It is the magical poop (let's save space and call it the "MP"), a sort of gastointestinal Loki that leaps from the toilet prior to flushing and lodges itself in your ear. It may drive you mad, or may not, whatever. The connection between the

MP and Mister Hanky, the Christmas Poop of South Park infamy, is also unclear. There is some hint (at least, the Peep hasn't clarified this but certain statements of his might lead a parent to suspect) that the MP may be Scott's poop, thus connecting this malevolent deity to the coprotitic enemy of Mankind.

Frankly, after the past week, I'm okay with that.

But we did get the Hannukah Bush set up and it looks damn fine.