Monday, January 28, 2008

Rounded with a Sleep

I meant to post this Sunday, but life intervened and put me here Monday night, thinking about this again and writing it to blog...It all started Saturday with a blog post here, where our correspondant - along with some delicately lovely pictures of frosted windowpanes - used the term "furkids" for her pets.

It's not the first time I've heard this, or the alternative version, "furbabies" (which for some reason grates on me harder). And I had to admit, in my comments on what was really a terrific, honest-as-hell post, that the pets-as-kids euphemisms are like fingernails on a blackboard for me. What was irritating was, for someone who prides himself on his capacity for rational thought, my inability to pin down the why. Why does hearing somebody describe their border collie as though the dog was enrolled in Portland French School and wore Groovy Girls underpants burn my biscuits?

It's certainly no skin of my ass what someone wants to call, or think about, their pets. If they are buying gourmet food (for critters that happily eat poop) or embroidered bedspreads (for critters who evolved sleeping on the ground)...well, fine. Their life, their pets, no blood, no foul, right?

And then I got an e-mail Sunday morning from our friend, let's call her..."Krissy". Her beloved kitty, who had been failing since December, had collapsed with kidney failure. He was in pain, and in the way of animals, unable to understand why his body that had served faithfully for so long, was betraying him. She took Kitty to the vet, who confirmed what she knew. She asked them to give him release, and they did.

She was brokenhearted, and, in particular, distraught over her role in ending Kitty's life. "I hate 'playing God'". was her term for it. I saw the time-stamp on the e-mail, knew she was home, and quickly called her. We talked (while the Peeper fumed that I wasn't serious about playing trucks...) about pets, and loss, and grieving. I reminded her that...well, I wrote it later in the response to her e-mail. Here's what I said:

"Like I said: you can think of this as "playing God" in the sense that you decided when to end P-----'s life. But you can also think of it this way: as a feral, P----- would have had the ultimate Hobbesean life; nasty, brutish and short. He would have been hungry most of the time, cold, wet, frightened, and the end would probably have come after a short, hard life in a flurry of pain and fear.

Instead, he had a long life, was loved and cared for, warm, happy, peaceful, and died in the arms of people who loved him, quietly, ending the suffering and pain he could never understand. That's a pretty good "God", for my money - better than the life and death the "real God" would have given him. Instead of hardship and fear, you gave him love and a warm lap and soft hands to hold him.

Grief is hard, and sure as falling rain. But grieve knowing that you did the right thing, now, and all of P-----'s life."

And this is where I come back to the original blog post and my reaction to it. Would you - or would I - would anyone - give birth, nurture, raise, love and care for an infant knowing that in ten or fifteen years you would be faced with the reality that that child was now a tottering, often sickly, old man or woman? What's more, one without the ability to understand their own illness, or debility? How would you deal with having to choose to end the life of your child or watch him, or her, suffer ceaselessly as you were helpless to comfort them?

Mojo and I had to do that. Once. With our own daughter. We don't ever want to have that choice again. Which is why we live in muted terror of all the things we know - choking, trips and falls, risk-taking, drunk driving, drug overdoses, fast cars, dumb choices - that our kids will do. But living and breeding means giving those hostages to fortune. So we do. In fear. In hope. We do.

But to stake that kind of love in these little lives that are so brief, like fireflies in the pull these small souls so close to you that that "God" moment becomes not just a wistful sadness but a gutwrenching, heart-shattering horror...

And I realized that what I feel when I hear someone call their dog or cat a "furbaby" isn't irritation or impatience or frustration.

It's the slightest hint of what I felt, like a sliver of crystal still ringing after the shattered vase has come to rest, when I held my own daughter and felt her tiny heart run down and stop.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Nice Day Out

Carrie asked about this cartoon back in the posting for 1/14/08.

Fact is, I used to cartoon a bit, back before I went wrong, went over to the Dark Side of Reproduction and snatching heathen orphans and such.

This is back from the days of what we call "Pre-Mommy" here at the Fire Direction Center; said P-M being my ex-wife, since explaining how there was a mommy for daddy before The Mommy is hard for a four-year-old (hell, it was hard for a forty-four year old). But before things went to hell we had a great ten years, and my cartoons were a big part of our marriage. So this is both artifact and entertainment. As I recall the point of this one was to tell a story without using a single written word.

I think it worked, the joke is pretty obvious and I won't mar it with explanation other than:

1. My ex had an odd poufy perm forelock for a while - that's the cauliflower-looking thing on the front of her head, and

2. That thing in the word balloons at the bottom right of page 1, and in my word balloon on page 2, is "slug". The rest should make sense from context.

Suffice to say that we DID go hiking and had a pretty good time. But my ex never did understand that the Army had made hiking a trifle pointless to me unless there was an ambush at the end...
W're having a pretty rotten, cold, rainy Saturday. How 'bout you?

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Inconvenient People

Whattya know?! It's Friday, and I'm actually posting a think piece! Must be another sign of the Apocalypse...

Tonight I've been thinking about the news from Gaza, the toppling of the Egyptian Walls of Jericho that have kept the Gazans impounded since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, and even more tightly since the Hamas takeover this past year. As of this evening the border remains open, although everyone from Condi Rice to Hosni Mubarak to Aunt Jemima seems to be having a fit trying to get the Gazans back into their box.I've talked about the problems of the Israel/Palestine region before; as far as I can see this latest event doesn't really change the basic physical facts. Two groups of people with fundamentally unreconcileable outlooks want exactly the same piece of real estate. This is about a newsworthy as cooking a pot of spaghetti. Humans have been doing this since the first australopithecene bashed the second across the base of the skull for the best place at the waterhole. Greeks versus Trojans. Spanish versus Basques. Pilgrims versus Indians. Britney versus KFed.

Back in the Good Old Days all this land ownership squabbling was settled pretty easily with a bit of casual genocide. A little butchering here, some raping there, a lot of burning and pillaging everywhere. And before you could say "knife", the old owners were no trouble at all! Ask any Carthginian...oh, wait. You can't! The Romans killed them all. Silly me.

So if the Arab former owners of what was British Mandate Palestine had lost to the Israelites of, say, David's time, we wouldn't even be here talking about this and the IDF field sanitation teams would be trying to figure out what to do with all those foreskins. But we're "civilized" now, so instead of wreaking bloody-handed extermination we try and find a way for the lion and the lamb to lie down together, even though we know that the lamb isn't going to get much sleep.So it is that as the poor Gazan bastards scramble out of the reeking toxic waste dump that is Gaza looking for cement and cooking oil Israel has to pretend to be scratching under the yarmulke trying to figure out a "land for peace" deal when it really wishes these annoying former tenants would give up squatting on the lawn and move to Vegas or Reno or something, maybe get work as a blackjack dealer, nu?

And the Arab former residents of Palestine have to...well, actually, they DON'T pretend to cut Israel any slack. Instead they do the bobblehead-doll-nod thing when some dumbass American senator asks them if they support Israel's "Right to exist" while spending the rest of their time hanging little Chaim Weizmann voodoo dolls and channelling their inner Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. But, again, these are the people who, as a friend once described them to me, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,

And the rest of the world has to pretend to work with one or the other or both of these knuckleheads to find a "roadmap" for peace, when what we'd really like to do is knock their skulls together and shout "What the FUCK is WRONG with you people!?" until they stop squabbling over one of the shittiest parts of the Levant, a piece of real estate that practically every empire since the Hittites has used a a dumping ground for the politically unreliable, social deviants and the people they just don't like; useful for spontaneously generating homicidal religious nuts and flatbread and damn all else.

Soldiers - the most frequent visitors here - have loathed it since the first file-closer for the X Legio Fretensis carved "Copula is locus" on the windowsill of his billet in Galilee.So the thought that occurs to me is; why doesn't everyone see this unexpected union as a good thing? Let's just knock down the whole freaking wall and make Gaza part of Cairo, 90210, right? Such a deal!

Fatah gets rid of Hamas, who is, like, their irritatingly radical little cousin who always makes the big scene shouting slogans at the elders at the Eid party and getting everybody pissed off;

Gazans get to be Egyptians again and get a regular shot at cooking oil, jobs, and paid vacations along the Egyptian Riveria (a strip of muddy beachfront outside Alexandria);

the Israelis get to NOT have anything to do with the Gazans, since neither likes the other anyway, so they can go back to worrying about freaking Hezbollah, and;

the rest of the world has one less miserable trouble spot to worry about so Darfur or Zimbabwe or Burma or East Timor instead can lead off tonight's fire-and-murder news. Like it's so hard to find other bottomless-human-misery-anus-of-the-universe-type-of-places that we can't spare one...

And then I realize: as much as all the players want Gaza to be somebody else's problem - they all want it to be somebody else's problem. Israel wants the Egpytians to take the strain so they don't have to do something about all those freaky ex-Russian settlers going all ultra-orthodox on the West Bank; the Egyptians are saying "Not me, pally..." and worrying about bullying other Arabs and about the Islamic threat to the Mubarak LVXII Dynasty; the other Arab states want to keep shoving the Palestinian stink-bomb down Israel's pants; and the former colonial powers and the U.S. want to look concerned but don't want to, y'know, actually DO something, like well-to-do diners staring appalled at the reeeeally stinky wino dying of respiratory arrest outside the door of Le Pan Bleu - mo, really, I don't remember ANY of my CPR, it's been years, I'd love to help but we have a 6 o'clock curtain getyourcoatONhoney..!!!

So, like so often in human history, those with power and skill find reasons to leave the poor and inconvenient struggling, weak and suffering. Because as much as it's human to help those who need help, it's also very human to turn our heads when figuring out a solution that would help would mean real pain, real work and real sacrifice for us.

But noble words are so easy to speak, make such a pretty sound and let us walk away with our backs so straight and our heads held so high. And they're so, so, so cheap.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What I'm reading: The Golden Compass

Usually I try and avoid the hype around the "now-a-major-motion-picture" kinds of fiction. The last time I succumbed was waaaay back in the Eighties when I chased down the original material desecrated by the Sean Penn/Madonna excresence "Shanghai Surprise" and found the cleverly entertaining "Faraday's Flowers" by Tony Kenrick.This year's model appears to be "The Golden Compass", adapted from the first of Phil Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. I honestly don't have much of an interest in seeing the film until it emerges on DVD. While I don't mind seeing movies of books I enjoy - I'm no book-to-movie purist - I just can't see how you fit all the density of TGC the book into a flick and keep it under three hours. There's just too much there. I understand that the movie-insider world is full of talk about an "extended cut" DVD, which makes perfect sense to me.

Funny - after getting a couple of chapters into TGC it dawned on me that I had read this as a younger man, probably some time in the Nineties when it was first released. It was as rich and complex as I remembered, with an enjoyably flawed heroine, Lyra "Silvertongue" Belaqua, whose adopted surname is a self-tribute to her most polished trait - her ability to instantly invent a lie that will fly. All the other elements were as I remembered them...the gyptians, panserbjornen, witches, daemons...and the subject of this post, the Bad Guys, the "Authority" - the "Church" of the Dark Materials world.

So the public face of the film, and to a lesser and earlier extent the book, has been clouded by some sort of odd religious fooforaw from the Catholic League, supposedly because of the anti-clerical and atheistic content of the film, drawn from the text it is based on.

What's fascinating to me about this is what it tells me about how we (Americans, Westerners, Euro-Americans) as a culture tend to be so easily fixated on the simple comic-book versions of things. I have no idea what the movie says about religion or churches, but I understand that the antireligious content is considerably suppressed relative to the book. And in the book, which is one of the most entertaining things about the book, the question of "Who is The Authority, what is it doing and why" is complex and deeply woven into the story. There are no cackling, drooling heirophants or burly inquisitors bursting with dark energy. What does emerge from Lyra's adventures is that there is an entity deeply committed to its agenda, that is, its beliefs, and that to protect and advance those beliefs this organization is prepared to make great...efforts. To the point, as I'm reading now, of committing crimes; physical violations of people the organization sees as dangerous, as threats to its' beliefs and the power those beliefs provide.

And...I would ask; what is so shocking, so heinous, about asserting that? From the Albigensian Crusade to the silence of the Vatican about the Nazi genocide, when hasn't power and temporal gain warred - and often won - over righteousness in the history of the Christian Church? And don't think I'm letting Islam off the hook. Monotheistic religions in particular tend to spend a LOT of time chasing down and smashing heretics, apostates and nonbelievers in general. This "controversy" seems to me to have more to do with the incapacity of our ever-less-literate society to comprehend that there is usally more to any conflict than "good-guys-bad-guys". I'd use the term "fatheaded" if I didn't think it an insult to Dora the Explorer's immense, football-shaped head.

But, regardless of the faith of the reader, the writer in this case has produced something worth reading. Give TGC a try - I think you'll be pleasantly diverted spending some time in the world of the dark materials.


Sometimes real life is kinda like a movie.

Take yesterday.

I was working up in North Portland, across the interstate from my own St. John's, on a project that involved doing something called an "infiltration test", which in the City of Portland involves sticking a 5-inch diameter pipe in the ground, (note that it HAS to be a 5-inch pipe, not a 4- or 6-inch pipe, bacause what fun would that be to use a pipe that any Home Depot carries instead of one that you have to go and buy from a specialty fucking well supply store...!!!) filling it with water and sitting around in the chilly January sunshine watching the water level drop.

This is how I earn a living. Sometimes. Trust me, I make up for it on other days drilling hand augers through broken concrete in the freezing rain.

So I'm sitting on the tailgate reading, chilly, contemplating getting in the truck and starting the heater when up drives this woman in a BMW. Nice car. Nicer woman - think "Queen Latifah in an ankle-length leather coat". Terrific shoes. Teh hot and doesn't she know it.

In about a tenth of a second she's out of the car like a mad cat with her tail on fire. "What are you doing here?!" she snaps. Luckily I have the job proposal with me, I show her, she's nodding.

"Okay! Okay! You're good. What do you know about these other ve-hicles?" she's pointing to the three older Chevys and Pontiacs parked on the vacant part of the lot I'm working on. We pretty much both know who belongs to the ve-hicles: the construction crew across the street.

So I gotta admit; I get up to watch the Queen sashay across the street, shouting "You! Yes, you! What's you' name?! Pablo? You belong to this car, Pablo?! 'Cause I got the tow company on the phone right this very minute...!!"

You'd think somebody exploded a Latino Bomb inside the jobsite: suddenly about a dozen hispanic guys are flying out of the uncompleted townhouses to bail their rigs off of the lot they will now be too terrified to park near, much less in.

The Queen comes back with a smile and a little extra oomph in her step, pleased with herself and the fear-up she just put on the naughty construction crew. And, unrepentant male that I am, I enjoyed the sight as much as she enjoyed providing it. You could almost see us both thinking:

"Here comes a HELL of a damn fine woman..."

Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything as pleasing as someone who is just as happy as can be at being themselves, right here, right now.

Yes, ma'am: a damn fine woman.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rub Her Feet

Did I mention that I like Brooke McEldowney's style?I think I enjoy this particular strip on a number of levels: first, there's nothing that says "I love you" like a footrub; second, I get a chuckle out of Amos' contrast between "marriage" and being "...fused only by our sweaty passion for each other..." (I think we know where he stands on the whole "Mother, he proposed! I'll never have to have sex again!" thing); and last, you could write a dense, allusion-studded, thorny diatribe on the whole business of marriage-versus-civil-unions, "gay rights" and who gets to decide who is a couple or not...but then again, you could just draw a cartoon where one lover points out to the other that no matter what label you slap on it, the staid marriage and the sordid fusion quite often lead down the same path, to the same place.

And that's kinda the point, isn't it?

Oh. And I like Edda's socks, too.

MLK: On the Impact of War

I didn't get the day off today - I like to think that I celebrated Dr. King's birthday in a way the man himself would have approved: working at my job, on a project to benefit the public.

But it's worth a moment to reflect on the man and his meaning. Here's some selections from Dr. King's speech "On the Domestic Impact of War", given in November, 1967."Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti-humanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events."

Sound familiar? Here's some more:

"Second, the government will resist committing adequate resources for domestic reform because these are reserves indispensable for a military adventure. The logical war requires of a nation deploy its well fought and immediate combat and simultaneously that it maintain substantial reserves. It will resist any diminishing of its military power through the draining off of resources for the social good. This is the inescapable contradiction between war and social progress at home. Military adventures must stultify domestic progress to ensure the certainty of military success. This is the reason the poor, and particularly Negroes, have a double stake in peace and international harmony. This is not to say it is useless to fight for domestic reform, on the contrary, as people discover in the struggle what is impeding their progress they comprehend the full and real cost of the war to them in their daily lives.

And finally the whole nation is living in a triple ring of isolation and alienation. The government is isolated from the majority of the people who want either withdrawal, de-escalation, or honest negotiation. Not what they now given, steady intensification of the conflict. In addition to the isolation of the government from its people there is our national isolation in the world. We are without a single significant international ally. Every major nation has avoided active involvement on our side. We are more alone than we have been since the founding of the Republic. Lastly, and more ironically, we are isolated from the very people whom we profess to support, the South Vietnamese.

The war that began with a few thousand Americans as advisors has become almost totally an American war without the consent of the American people. This is an historic isolation that can not be rationalized by self righteousness or the revival of unproved dangers of imminent aggression from China. China's incredible internal turmoil suggests it presently threatens only itself. The war domestically has stimulated a profound discussion of the nature of our government. Reported members of Congress and distinguished political scientists are questioning the trend towards excessive executive power."

We forget, because of his status as a martyr, that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a leader and a politician, often a brilliant political leader. He saw then what none of our "leaders", including most of the candidates running for President this year, are willing to admit: that regardless of the potential costs of "defeat" in our Middle Eastern wars, the cost of "victory" will likely be higher. Too high, perhaps, for our Republic to bear. And remain a Republic.

And then there's the financial axe poised to fall tomorrow...

We certainly live in uneasy times.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bored of This Dingus, or, Travels with Dopey McFlightSuit in Search of the Lower Middle-East

It's worth celebrating that exactly a year from today we will have a new Chief Executive. Unfortunately, it's also worth mourning that we still have another 365 days of this dildo.But, no, I mispeak. A dildo is a harmless instrument made of wood, plastic or metal capable, in the right hands, of providing innocent pleasure. This miserable bastard may well be the most malicious, ignorant and troublesome occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since Buchanan or possibly Franklin Pierce, who provides pleasure to no one but the wretched C.H.U.D.s that populate the proto-hominid (a.k.a "Cheney") wing of the Republican Party.

I have lived through some pretty pathetic excuses for "leadership" in the past seven years. I can ever remember Bush the Daddy's weaselly single term, Reagan's amnesiac tenure in the Oval Office, Carter attacked by a rabbit...Christ, we've had some pathetic excuses for Presidents lately, eh? Reminds me of the old joke about the difference between the U.S. Army and the Boy Scouts?

Boy Scouts have adult leadership.

But the lamest thing I've seen emerge, blinking, from the Office of the POTUS in a long time was this idiotic parade through the Middle East.
I was skeptical at the time of the Annapolis Conference that the Bush Administration would actually be able to accept a "win" if it couldn't dictate the exact terms. Pat Lang spells this out better here. And, sure enough, the combination of Dubya's typical short-bus-level inattention to detail and Dark Lord Cheney's utter subserviance to whatever crackpot expansionist Likud policy is being supported in Tel Aviv managed to ensure that whatever happened in Annapolis - as the saying goes about Las Vegas - stayed in Annapolis.

For all the recent hipwriggling little victory dances the Iraq war lovers have been doing in the wake of the dampened fighting actuated by the "surge", the utter lack of results from Dopey McFlightsuit's recent peregrination through the Middle East surely points out the difference between our capacities there today and where we were fifty years ago.In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower called off a Middle East war. That's right. Flat out called out his French and British chumlies and told them to put their little soldiers back in the box. And Israel? Back to the Negev, Moshe, and be thankful we don't cut off your supply of Sherman main gun rounds...

Now we couldn't get four Arab soldiers to follow us to a brothel. Bush begged for a little more cheap gas; the Saudi oil minister told him, in effect, I got your cheap gas right here, jackass. The Deciderer's speech in Dubai, greeted with yawns of enthusiasm by his Arab hosts, was more of the usual balloon juice about "freedom" and "democracy" spoken from a podium in a land where women still can't drive and the "government" is whatever the Emir is whack about that morning. As well as more of his usual craven cozying up to Pharoah Mubarak I and his other aristocratic pals in Saudi and Jordan. I mean, we have to deal with these guys, I get it. But does W have to act like he's been pantingly tongue-kissing them out behind the VIP foyer? Ewwww...

Let's not forget the Bicycle Chief's commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, so vividly shown by the twenty minutes he spent in the Occupied Territories shaking hands with the Palestinian officialdom with the other hand over his wallet...

The thermonuclear - excuse me, nucular - level of political moronity this man has presided over during the past seven years would seem implausible if written as a novel or seen in a film. And we still have another year of this B-picture to sit through, unless the American political class unexpectedly grows the integrity to impeach the skeevy SOB and rescue the reputation of our republic.

I'm not counting on it.

Sunday Pictures 2

So I didn't take the camera around with me this weekend. We did a number of the usually adorable kidlet things but, alas, there is no record of them and they will therefore disappear like footsteps in the surf. But we've been a busy little family lately and I did want to post a reflection of that. The snapshot below is a pretty good barometer of the FDC family these days. Mojo the balanced one, smiling appropriately for the camera. Missy looking distracted, Daddy cracking wise and the Peeper in a semi-sulk, probably becuse he was warned not to clout his baby sister upside the head, again...I know I make it sound like Missy and the Peep fight all the time. But, honestly, there's the glimmer of a family there.Here's one of their sweeter moments, tubbing together last Wednesday night.Another dim sum picture, this one the "after" shot of the face-buried-in-the-rice-bowl picture from last Sunday's post.Mmmm. Pork Rinds - not just for breakfast anymore - but still part of this unbalanced breakfast...note the unusual sun break up on the hill above I-5. Mud? Still bottomless.Another last-Sunday shot. Peep is begging for the lacrosse ball. Missy says: g'wan and beg me, monkey-boy.

Here's the feared enforcer for the Red Wings, Missy "The Hatchet" Shaomei, ready to do some carvin' on an opposing forward. Girl has neither fear nor remorse, and you can guess that the Peeper's due for a hidin'...

This was just too good to resist. I don't know why this makes me think of Bella Abzug (maybe the hat?), but it does. This was the Peep as he left the house to go to dim sum. You can talk about your divas...but show me the Forties starlet or Madonna wanna-be with this kind of style.

This boy is either going to grow up to be a fashion designer or some sort of freaky street preacher. I'm not sure which one would irritate me more - probably just as well, because he'll go that way just to piss me off. What an awesome outfit.

Is this adorable, or what is it?

I gotta say - when the kids are going utterly apeshit they have the most astonishing capacity for driving me to distraction. But when they are sweeties, and they can be, more often than I think, sometimes...they are worth every hair I wrench out of my scalp when I'm buggin'. And I don't have many hairs to spare up there...

Thanks for reminding me, you two.

Retracing the Silk Road 3: A New Hope

And so it ends: USWNT 1, China nil this afternoon in Guangzhou. A rewarding finish - and a promising beginning to the "new" look of the USWNT. Congratulations to the women of the U.S. squad, and especially to Coach Sundhage, who has taken a team that visibly lacked game skills, attacking confidence, and leadership in the WWC only five months ago and turned them around.I should state for the record that Abby Wambach is a great striker and a terrific asset to the USWNT. My issues were never with Wambach, her skills or her game play. My problem during the Ryan period was that she was usually used as the team's only weapon, an ugly one-dimensional "target man" offense that would have embarassed a relegation-bound British Third Division side. It's nice to see her freed up to play a more distributive role, the sort of game that Michelle Akers played late in her career.The USWNT now returns to Southern California to prepare for the Olympics - again in China - this summer. I think the team is shaping quite well.

Again Hope Solo played in goal, again she kept an easy clean sheet, handling the one shot (!) China managed on goal. I can't help but feel for Brianna Scurry, whose career must be coming to an end. Her inclusion in this squad has to be classified as an oddity. Although "veteran keeper in reserve/young keeper between the pipes" is pretty conventional, after this September the relationship between them has to, at best. I can't see Solo patiently receiving Scurry's keeperly wisdom, or Scurry patiently tipping her rival off to game situations. Scurry is, finally, a player descending from the heights. Soon she will be the fourth keeper on a three-deep chart. But the situation has to be complicated by the reality that for a woman player cut from the USWNT there is no "tomorrow". There is no pro league for her, no future.

For Scurry, the last time he walks up the ramp to the field for the U.S. team is probably going to be the last time she ever plays competitively. Hopefully Coach Sundhage will find a way to release this great veteran while sparing her pride.
Special shout-outs to Lindsay Tarpley, for taking the Golden Boot, and Heather O'Reilly for the well-deserved MVP. Terrific. Outstanding. THIS is the USWNT I love to watch...

And - as I mentioned back in October - the other story here is the Steel Roses. China, although playing at home and playing their oldest rivals - a team they should know how to beat, that they should feel confident or at least hopeful of beating at home - pretty much admitted defeat before kickoff and bunkered up almost from the start. They never seriously threatened. They never even really showed much energy. The lack of confidence was justified: look at their line for the tournament; a win over hapless Finland (who never should have been there - more damn FIFA makeweight), a draw against the Canadians, who have proved again and again that they have gone nowhere since 2003, and this loss to the U.S. And they're OLD - this team is mostly in their thirties. If the Chinese want some soccer to celebrate on the Olympic field this summer, something needs to be done, and soon.

Coming tonight: fun with Peepers, and Travels will Dopey McFlightsuit in Search of The Lower Middle-East.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Retracing the Silk Road 2: USWNT v Finland

No surprise: the U.S. women's national team beat Finland 4-1 today in Guangzhou.Again, the match report suggests that the entire team contributed to the barrage of shots - 19 to the 4 the Finns managed to produce - and goals: two by Lindsey Tarpley and one each by Lauren Cheney and Portland's own Angie Woznuk. Abby Wambach, clearly instructed to change her play from the "target man" style favored by Greg Ryan, assisted on both of Tarpley's goals! Another bright spot - again - for the U.S. was Heather O'Reilly, whose hard work on the right outside midfield won many of the U.S. 16 corner kicks.

So it's down to 90 minutes against China on Sunday. Great work, good soccer (from the game report, anyway) from the U.S. gals, and a promising start to Coach Sundhage's tenure in the USWNT job.Only one problematic note. The match report comments that: "In the second half Finland gave the U.S. a scare, cutting the lead in half in the 54th minute on a rare foray into the USA’s defensive third. The ball ended up at the feet of Essi Sainio just inside the penalty box at the right of the arc, and her spinning shot squirted through U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry’s hands and into the net, giving Finland its first goal against the USA since 1999 and only its second-ever score in 13 all-time meetings."

Keep in mind: the Finns had only four shots on Scurry, only three on goal, and of the three one went in. Through her hands - a cardinal sin for a keeper.

I'm trying to stay objective in the Scurry-Solo issue. But it looks less like a contest and more like a script. The veteran grimly hanging on, the rookie showing increasing poise and skill. I feel for Scurry - she was a great keeper - but the results look more and more telling. Soon...if not now, then, will be time for her to go.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Retracing the Silk Road: Four Nations Tournament

You may remember that back in September while Mojo and I were losing one daughter and gaining another there was a little sporting event played in China. The U.S. women's national team had a pretty rough time there: losing to the eventual champions Brazil in the semifinals and, effectively, losing their coach when Greg Ryan pulled possibly the boneheaded coaching move of USWNT history, benching young keeper Hope Solo for former keeper Brianna Scurry, whose horrible outing against the cariocas contributed mightily to the team's defeat and the eventual loss of Ryan's job.

Well, the USWNT is back in China this week, playing in the Four Nations Tournament in the swingin' uptempo town of Guangzhou, the hipster capital and lead-paint emporium of Guangdong Province.

So far the results of the Pia Sundhage era look promising. Admittedly, the U.S. has pretty much owned Canada since 2003, but the 4-nil win over the CWNT yesterday looks better than the scoreline indicates.

For one thing, the four U.S. goals were scored by two players, neither of them Abby Wambach. And for another, Heather O'Reilly appears to have sparked real creativity in the U.S. midfield, especially after Lindsey Tarpley came on for Carli Lloyd in the 64th minute.

It sucks that we can't see these games anywhere - I would have loved to watch whether the U.S. midfield played as fluidly and creatively as the match report sounds. But is the game report is any hint it looks like Coach Sundhage may have the WNT headed back to the exciting style of play of the '91 era. That'd be nice.
The second game is tomorrow against Finland, the weakest of the Scandanavian sides, already wounded by a 2-nil loss to China, followed by a game I'd love to see, China, on 1/20/08.

The CW on this U.S. squad is "youth", although most of the players are returning to China after their WWC visit in September. Notably missing is former captain Kristine Lilly, whose supine performance after the Solo benching was, in my opinion, another big problem that contributed to the sad performance against the Brazilians.

And Hope Solo?

Between the uprights in Guangzhou, Solo made 6 saves and kept a clean sheet.

Somewhere in San Diego, Greg Ryan grinds his teeth wih rage. Sometimes just outlasting your rivals is the best revenge.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yum yum dim sum

No deep thoughts for this post - just a memo of a real good morning with our friends Millie and Floyd and little Thor the Thunder Goddess going out for dim sum in Portland Chinatown. They ARE a cute little nuclear family, for the Lords of Valhalla, aren't they?Here you see Loki (dressed as Thor's handmaiden) and one of the Valkyries cleaning off the hands of the Goddess her own self.Missy does what she does best: eats everything within reach: I think the gauge had reached "F" in this shot.And the Peep even finds some "clean" white rice to tempt his tummy (dim sum was too wierd for this all-American boy...) American Dad, though, would inject here that Fong Chong's dim sum totally kicks ass.And later that day we went down to Astor School and played in the fierce, cold, January sunshine. Threw the lacrosse ball back and forth, or rolled it for Missy to chase; kicked the playground ball, or just chased each other. Peep played and played until dark!He learned enough lacrosse to use his stick to commit personal fouls on Missy like this one: two minutes for slashing, Peep!!

Taken altogether, a lovely Sunday.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Mojo Did

So you remember how I spent the night on the town Saturday? do I.


So my good friend C over at Walternatives (she's password-protected so don't even THINK it...) asks "Sounds like a great evening, enjoying the game and then luxuriating in a late steak dinner. Curious - what does Mojo do on her nights off?"

Good question, C!!

Here at the Fire Direction Center we firmly believe that getting the goose sauced is saucy for the gander. Erm...that is, what's saucy for the gander is...well, we believe that Mojo's turn comes before the Chief's. So the week before my evening out my bride got TWO evenings sampling the rich savor of life in the City of Big Bridges.The first was Wednesday, and that one was a bit of a mystery. There are no pictures, and none of the survivors are talking except Thor, and all she says is "ya ya na na". So the above drawing is a court reporter's attempt to reconstruct the scene over at the Dirt Pile that evening, where Mojo, Kelli of Waiting for Sprout and the Millicious Mommy of Thor rode the range like wild cowgirls.

Or something.

The only firsthand report I got came late that night, when Mojo slid in. IT went something like this:

Me: How was your evening, sweetie?
Mojo: Good. We had fun. (This is Mojo's idea of a detailed description, BTW)

A pause

Mojo: Thor is a pretty amazing kid.
Me: I know, she's terrific. What did she do tonight that was so
Mojo: Well, Millie took her and put her in her crib,and...(in the sort
of voice that Balboa must have used on that peak in Darien,
transfixed by his first view of the immense and majestic Pacifc
...and she just WENT TO SLEEP.

Another, longer pause

Me: Wow.
Mojo: Yeah, I know.
Me: Wow.
Mojo: Christ, I wonder what that feels like?
Me: Wow.
Deb: I love Missy...but how the hell can we get her to do that..?

Funniest part: I talked to Millicent later on and she said that Thor had NEVER done that before. She was as amazed as Mojo. I told my bride, who is still scheming of ways to convince our daughter that Sleep is Good. To make matters even tougher for winning this round of competitive mothering, Thor also PEES IN THE POTTY!!!

Ohmifuckinggod. Our little girl's orphanmate is a freaking genius at two.

OK. So Friday night, Mojo goes out to Meriwether's with her pals from Fit Sisters, has a lovely meal and delightful conversation at one of Portland's most charming bistros.My contribution to all of this jollility was to care for Peepers and Missys - who contributed by generally being very sweet, loving, and going to sleep without (much) of a fuss...

But in general I'd say that this has caused me to rank right up there with St. Joseph as one of the true saints among husbands and daddies. Damn, I'm gonna buy myself a see-gar.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Give 'em the axe, the axe...

...go get 'em, Lumberjax!!
Back when I was just a slip of a lad, living back East, I used to play lacrosse. Helluva great game - probably the only real "American" game, if you want to split hairs, since what we call "football" was originally rugby and our baseball descended from a bunch of at-and-ball games but probably principally "rounders". Fast, exciting to watch and play, requiring considerable skill but easy enough to understand: ball, stick, goal. Easy, right?

I still have a love for the game that has survived age, increasing slowness and a move to the Pacific Northwest, where LaX is just catching on. I've even scrounged up a little stick for the Peeper and played catch with him this summer (he calls it his "hawk" stick - for "hawkey"?). Tonight my lovely bride gave me the night off to go play, so I took in the first game of the season of our Portland Lumberjax.

The Jax looked pretty ragged tonight, losing to New York 14-11, with a better second half salvaging possibly the worst single period of lacrosse I've seen in twenty years: Portland trailed 7-1 at the end of the first fifteen minutes and even pulled their starting goalie, perennial All-Star Dallas Eliuk, who was getting shelled.

Portland's defense was...mmm...sketchy at best, and the team looked out of shape and disorganized at times. I have to say I was embarrased for the Jax, and that's saying something since I still remember the fucking child-abuse comic book...

One thing I noticed tonight is that I really HATE the "offense/defense" style of play that appears to dominate the NLL. This involves a complete turnover of players on the floor everytime possession of the ball turns over. It's not necessary, it looks idiotic and it slows down play tremendously. Ted Montour at e-lacrosse called it back in 2006: "O/D lacrosse is no longer "the fastest game on two feet". Field lacrosse middies run possibly several thousand yards a game, every game...surely an indoor "transition" can run more than a couple of hundred feet!

And, Angie? (Angela Batinovich is the team owner and husband of one of the players) The damn dancers don't really add anything. And it's really OK for there to be times in the game where there isn't any canned music, fakey chants and hyped-up crowd noisemaking announcements. Lacrosse is a great game - but if you act like you don't think it an work without the hokey "professional sports" crapola, well...we won't either

But minor bitching aside, I still had a lovely evening; I enjoyed watching skilled players play the Creator's Game, luxuriated in a late steak dinner at the Widmer Gasthaus at N. Interstate and Russell and home to a sleepy house. A little blogging and a little internet surfing and it's time for bed...I love my wife, my kids, my home and my life.

But it's nice to take a couple of hours and just be me.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cool Things in North Portland: Alleys

Alhough my little girl seems to have...ummm...issues with getting back to sleep early Thursday morning, Blogger seems to have been having issues with uploading pictures, which makes blogging hard for a daddy up in the darkness trying to reaquaint his daughter with the idea of "get in my crib and go night-night".

Mmrnph..! (dissatisfied noise somewhere between a grumble and a sigh)Other than sleep, I've been thinking about what makes living in North Portland cool, and it led me back to this little series of photos I was working on right before we got our original referral in July, 2007: the alleys of North Portland.

One reason is that right now North, like the rest of Portland, is wretchedly cold and wet. I've been working outside most of late December and now all of January. These pictures made me remember the lovely warm days of late July. Nice.

The other is that the City of Portland has a terrific online resource - PortlandMaps - that allows you to see things like your tax lot map and political detail about our neighborhood. Here's ours, courtesy of the nice people at what a friend of mine used to call the "City that Meets"...

Notice that although we're all just "Portland" now, just rectangular city blocks full of little brick houses for you and me, back in the day we were "subdivisions" just like the monstrosities now devouring the Tualatine Valley: "Owen Addition", "University Heights", or the "Brazee's Addition" in the Town of Portsmouth, said town being a legal fiction that, if it ever existed, exists now only the maps themselves.

Each of these additions was laid out a little differently, but most of them have a similar feature - the narrow alley that runs through the center of the block.

Another cool thing is that the layout is a ittle different in each subdivision. Check out the picture below. Do you see how the alley in the "Owen Addition" block between N. McKenna and N. Wall has a T-shaped alley that doesn't connect with McKenna, but the next block over, part of "Brazee's Addition" the alley runs straight from N. McKenna to N. Montieth?It's actually cooler than that, since the left-hand leg of the "T" in the Owen Addition block doesn't really exist. It's a notion, another artifact, like the "Town of Portsmouth", that is on the ground just part of the lawn at 6004 N. Amherst Street (an odd sort of little house on a double lot, currently inhabited by an irascible old woman who fills the position of local "crazy lady")...

So in fact the alleys vary wildly, from tiny, hidden, ovegrown paths that recall the rural St. Johns days, to virtual roadways, paved and guttered in concrete urban style. The example below, near North Syracuse, is very close to the question about the presence of the alley here.Here's another example of the paved version, this one the extreme endmember down across Portsmouth near University of Portland. No foofy sissy plants and gravel here: this is AutoWorld, by and for our wheeled masters.Okay, now scroll down. This is a pleasant little shaded alley south of us, near "The Bluff" (scroll down the link for some nice pictures of the Portland Marathon winding through NoPo). Not quite a street, but not really the little abandoned alleys we see in U PArk, eitherThe example below is a lot more like it: this is actually the alley between N. Yale and N. Amherst that runs behind our house. We've got lots of undergrown alleys like this between N. Portsmouth and "The Cut". These are the kind of alleys we found and loved when we moved in here.

A little known fact of City of Portland parking law is that it is technically illegal to park on the street for more than a 24-hour day without moving. Really. No shit: here's the regulation - the City considers you're storing your property on the street, and the term used for this violation is "in lieu of garage". Most of these alleys are associated with older platted additions like ours (platted out before 1920) and I assume were planned to serve the function of what a Londoner would call a "mews" - a service street used for stables, or in North Portland, keep the Portland police off your ass for parking the car on the street.While most of our alleys have some pleasing feature, I really enjoy finding the most "unimproved" of them, like this little hillock. The sad fact is that this isn't an "alley" at all: it's N. Saratoga Street between N. Borthwick and N. Willard. Another artifact of the "subdivision" system used to develop Portland was that the City let the developers decide whether to bring the streets up to code. This developer clearly...ummm...didn't. North - and Southeast - Portland are full of these "streets" what the residents would now have to pay to improve. Despite what a Republican will tell you, there are some things the market doesn't do well. This street sure looks like one, doesn't it?

But based on the dual tracks someone has driven this mountain path. WTF! Who? And why?One of the joys of summer and the Peeper has been taking walks with my little guy along these quiet lanes. He has his favorites, and we venture down them, behind the houses, between the fences in search of ripe blackberries on hot late summer evenings.

So stop for a moment and let yourself feel the warmth of an autumn afternoon on your arms like heavy golden sleeves. Listen to the hum of the mowers and inhale the green smell of late-cut grass in the air as you savor the taste of the fruit of the hidden grapevine you've discovered burying the fence beside you, sweet and warm, the flavor of earth and sun in your mouth as the day fades around you.