Thursday, March 29, 2007

Did the earth move...for you?

Check this landslide video out!

(Update [Thursday p.m.] - my tovarische over at Walternatives reminds me (spasiba!) to identify this thing. All I know is that it's somewhere in Japan, and it's a massive translational landslide - probably a bedding plane slide, and obviously one that had been moving slowly for a while - notice the jersey barriers are in place. This is not unusual, and for the Japanese it might even qualify as business as usual - the place is packed with landslides!)

But the bottom line is - geology is still just too freaking cool.

Pink Snow

Suddenly, it's Spring.
Mind you, it's still cold, and it's still raining; this is an Oregon spring. We've had one warm Sunday, like the huff of warmth out of the freshly-opened drier door, between the continuo of spring rain. But only one.
We went out and about in this blossomy spring last weekend, starting with an early morning run to Starbucks with the Peep so that Mommy could sleep in. Bursting with the chance that there might be firefighters getting their morning java, the little guy had to get into his full firefighter rig complete with helmet to ride down to the spendy coffeehouse. So it took a while to get out to the truck and get in, and work through the wriggling, and get our seatbelts on. And somewhere between wriggling and belts we noticed the Pink Snow.
The corner house on McKenna has three big cherry trees - Portland is right up there with D.C.'s Mall for cherry blossoms in the spring, BTW... These trees were passing through blossom time and the petals were swirling down into a pink dusting all along the northeast corner of the block. We ran over and kicked through the soggy petals and tried to catch a pink flowerflake as they corkscrewed past us, whorled by the damp wind.
I was entranced, the Peep merely entertained; as is so often the case the daddy is the more juvenile of the two of us. Fortunately my almost-four-year-old was there to sober me up and head me towards Starbucks and a responsible adulthood.
I apologize for using text color instead of paragraph breaks - Blogger is being difficult this morning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Civis Romanus sum

You scored as Augustus.

You are Augustus! First emperor of the Romans and one of the greatest statesmen in the ancient world. You brilliantly eased the old Republic into the Principate and set the path for an empire that would last for centuries and form the underpinnings for all western civilization. Hail Caesar!

Augustus 89%
Marcus Aurelius 82%
Antoninus Pius 61%
Tiberius 50%
Vespasian 50%
Hadrian 50%
Claudius 46%
Nerva 39%
Domitian 36%
Trajan 32%
Vitellius 25%
Nero 21%
Commodus 0%
Caligula 0%

While I'd rather have thought I was the Vespasian type, at least I avoided any similarity in the loathsome Commodus/Caligula category...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Night Watch

It's early Saturday morning and I can't sleep.

Nothing serious, no nightmare awakening, just sore muscles - I used something called an "electric hammer" to drill three three-inch diameter holes in some street pavement out in Beaverton Friday which was about as much fun as it sounds - and minor wakefulness. And a little too much thinking - I managed to depress myself with my Iraq post from yesterday, a little...

So I come downstairs, to websurf, write and think.

I'm so busy during the daylight hours: working, playing, husband- and fathering, planning for the future, remembering the past...there just doesn't seem to be time to just slow down and think about things. Wonder about the future. Marvel at the inanities of the present (imagine that after watching Tricky Dick Nixon take that last helicopter ride as a young man I'd live to see another president impeached for lying about a hummer...and a second not impeached for lying about a war...!) and just hunch idly in the dark, letting my mind do what it does when I'm not watching it; wander around peering into corners and collecting odd bits of this and that to turn over and speculate about.

This woolgathering circled around a conversation I had with my parents Friday morning - about cremation, of all things. They are at an age where they can see their own deaths. Not too close - I get no sense that they are withdrawing from life yet - but in the distance, like the first peak of a mountaintop on the horizon. They know that they're travelling there, that the aches and discomforts of age are already whispering "...not too long, now..." in the quiet of their own night wakings. It doesn't loom over them, white and cold. But the shape is clear and they know it will only get nearer.

They asked me if I had any strong feelings about what they should do with their bodies, and if I felt they should be buried or if buried, in some particular place. I told them I could not decide - their deaths, their bodies - but could speak only for myself. And that I couldn't imagine anything more poignant...more futile, than an untended grave, left behind by the descendants long-ago moved away, as in our rootless way we Americans so often do.

I thought - as I said this - that, mirable dictu, I am truly a domiciled Oregonian. I rode into Portland seventeen years ago this summer, in a rented truck full of furniture with the pre-Mommy (what we call my ex-wife) and pre-Mommy's brother. The longest I have lived anywhere...

Which is when I realized that in my last years I've been thinking of my future - of all my true wealth - as biological. The need I once had for a body of work, or some physical remnant - the 21st Century middle-class American version of a pyramid or a mansion or a temple - has changed, or fallen aside. I honestly don't care what happens after I go to my dirt nap. When I no longer need this body I will be beyond all concerns of place and form, so burn my husk, scatter it in the sea, plow it under and let it nourish kale.

The work of my hands will be in the minds and hearts of our children, and our children's children. If I can help them grow strong and good and loving, I will have built a monument to match the Great Pyramid of Khufu. If they remember me as a good man, then I will have all the immortality I need. There will be no death where my spirit lives in theirs.

So in a way, the future - my future - is curled warm and toddler-soft in his blankets, under an IKEA leaf, in his "big boy bed"...or is being laid down in a crib in an orphanage in Guangzhou...
And with that I can lay down quiet and go to sleep.

Friday, March 23, 2007


I thought I wanted to post something about the war in Iraq, about how we got where we are, about the dangers ahead and the reeking, charnel mess behind. I thought I wanted to provoke some comments about what we as citizens of a fading republic could do to prevent the crash I see coming, the tangle of hopes and fears and the end of dreams as we sink into a mire of exhaustion. I wanted to tell you about what I see for us in the years ahaead

But so far...all I see is an endless gory tunnel leading...nowhere.

And, besides, I get the feeling that we're all talked out on this subject.

We can see the iceberg. It's huge, it's gouging its way deep into the hull, and we've spent the last four years pounding the manic helmsman on the back of the skull, shouting "Turn, you idiot! You're ramming a fucking iceberg!" only to have him slew around and stare at us with that skeevy grin and babble some inanity about "staying the course" and "no substitute for victory". We know that the water is going to be cold, and the bottom is a freezing blackness that we will never feel at the end of that long, spiraling drop into the abyss.

And we know, because we can hear the clink of glasses and the bray of the band that on the saloon deck that most of our fellow passengers are still gobbling the meal, charging their champagne flutes to the soothing sound of the bandstand crooner. Nothing we've said has touched them. No scolding, no pleading, no explaining will make them tear the lunatic helmsman from the wheel. The fear may be hidden in their hearts, but they won't stand up and act, won't admit that the damage is already done, that the black water is already pouring in, the ship is already doomed, and that whatever illusions of "victory" they have will end when the icy sea closes over their heads.

All I’m left with is the words of Brian Turner, who said it earlier and much better than I ever could:

To Sand

To sand go tracers and ball ammunition.
To sand the green smoke goes.
Each finned mortar, spinning in light.
Each star cluster, bursting above.
To sand go the skeletons of war, year by year.
To sand go the reticles of the brain,
the minarets and steeple bells, brackish
sludge from the open sewers, trashfires,
the silent cowbirds resting
on the shoulders of a yak. To sand
each head of cabbage unravels its leaves
the way dreams burn in the oilfires of night.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Four Years Ago...

We let slip the dogs of war.

Where the hell are we now...?

And why?

I want to talk about this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wrong. Just wrong.

Laura, you need to have a little talk with the hubs. Or, hell, Condi, your "office hubby" should know that this is not OK. Just because these poor women are about half the size of a minute and Guatemalan to boot doesn't make this OK. Even Dan Quayle knew that when in foreign lands you keep your carrot in your pants! Talk about your Ugly American...

Dear God in Heaven, is this what our "diplomacy" has come to??!!

I could go on but my eyes are burning and I really need to shower.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Go tell the Spartans

Lots of controversy about the new Frank Miller flick "300". Not just the thing itself...questions regarding the timing of this picture and the war in Iraq...and Iran. Lots of people in the blogosphere drawing lines between Leonidas' crusade against the Persians and Dubya's crusade against the...ummm...Persians.

I can see the crux of the biscuit: here's a movie celebrating a band of muscular Westerners fighting and slaughtering hordes of scary, dusky Easterners. The whole Greek homoerotic thing is downplayed to make the Spartans the ultimate Culture Warriors, standing alone - since let's face it, chicks and homos and asian beardie-wierdies and crips and other non-six-pack-ab-types just can't stand the heat - against the forces of Evil and Alien Menace.

Right? But here's the point of this post. We Americans - and I suspect most postmodern people - are as ignorant of history as we are of quantum physics. We therefore tend to take up ideas and issues one at a time, puzzling or obsessing or anguishing over each one as an item, rather than trying to fit it into the overwhelming mosaic of time, places and peoples. Plus, we tend to think of war as "war", a sort of social dies non, where things happen, or people do things, unrelated and utterly divorced from regular, peaceful life. And, I think, because so few of us now have seen the face of war, we tend to find it either scarier, or more fascinating, or more important, than it should probably be...

For example, my comrade-in-arms Jason over at Armchair Generalist loved "300". From his comments:

“Favorite part of the movie - the Spartans meet up with the Athenians, and the Athenians are shocked by the small number of Spartans. The King says, "Hmmm. What's your profession, Athenian?" "Potter." "And you?" "Sculpter." "And you?" "Blacksmith."

He looks behind to his men. "Men of Sparta! What is your profession?" The 300 raise their spears as one and shout "AARROOUUUUU!!" The King says, "I think I have more warriors than you." Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known. “

I'd consider that a typical response to the emotional heart of "300". It is like a stirring military march, or a hoo-ahh cadence well called. It quickens the blood, and makes you want to be a part of that sort of tough, hardcore band. It makes you forget everything but the thunder of the captains and the shouting.

Well, I like the part with the Athenians, too, but not for the same reasons.

Sure, the Spartans were the baddest mo-fo's of the Greek world. That's why, three thousand years later, we remember Leonidas and...ummm...let's see...hmmm...I know there's got to be something...

Athens? Socrates, Plato, Thucydides, Solon, Militides, Themistocles, not to mention all those characters like Hippocrates, Aristotle, Xeno who were inspired by Athenian learning. Oh, and the guys who beat Xerxes? Google the "Battle of Salamis"...

And speaking of battles let's not forget the Battle of Leuctra...

As good as they were, the Spartans wanted to be - and were recognized by their peers - as no more than the attack dogs of Greece. Even in their own time, citizens of other Greek city-states recognized that as a people they were...incomplete. Not really "civilized" in the way that Athens or Syracuse or Thebes were civilized.

They were so good at being warriors they failed to realize that there are many things needed for civilization other than potters, sculptors, and blacksmiths...

I love Frank Miller, and I enjoyed "300". It was good adventure fiction in the dark, twisted Millerian style.

But as a history lesson? Or, as many people seem to want to argue, as a parable and a parallel for our time?


Thursday, March 01, 2007

A ma fille

"Puisque vos yeux se sont fermés, le démuni de mine a cessé de pleurer." You should have been five today.

You should have been all over the little house, shouting with joy, giddy about your new toys, driving your mother and I wild with your out-of-control little girl excitement.

But there will never be any hair pretties for you.

No cuddles while you cry over an owie.

No scolds after you chase the cats.

No smiles for your first grade graduation, no cheers for your soccer team, no wisdom for your first break-up, no tears at your wedding.

You will forever be one day old.

We miss you, darling, and we always will.

Bryn Rose Gellar 3/1/02-3/2/02