Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Still Life with Fire Truck

Here's this month's Vanity Fair cover models:
Thor of Different Dirt - two in April, 2008
The Peeper of Graphic Firing Table - five in May, 2008

Many thanks to Millicent (Thor's Mom) for the studio quality portrait. I'm beyond impressed. You are the Sargent of the digital camera.

Update 5/2: Millicent points out quite correctly that the funny hidden within this picture is that these two solemn revelers are at Thor's birthday party. Do those faces say "let happiness and joy be unconfined", or what? But she also correctly adds that they loosened up a bit later on. The foam rockets helped.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ballroom Blitz

Because it's Monday.

Because it's 6 a.m. and I'm on the road to Lincoln City and it's raining.

Because sometimes you need to be loud and goofy.

Because I love these flicks because they're loud and goofy.

Because...well, just because.

Happy last week of April.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Birthday Girl

The last weekend in April was bursting, both with Missy's second birthday and the first real warm weekend of Spring.

The dogwood and the cherry are heavy with bloom, the lawn is at the perfect Spring equinox between winter's hoar and summer's sere, all the borders are bursting out and the house looks its best.

(Okay, except for the hideous freaking Christmas lights STILL above the door. I'm going to get them down next weekend. I swear. Honestly...you screw one sheep...)

The point still remains: the weekend was lovely.So of course, everyone wanted to get outside and play.

Missy and The Peeper got out in the yard or on the porch at various times all weekend. Although they both enjoyed the mild days, their styles of play are very different.

Little Miss is still in the "if I can pick it up it can be thrown/I can hit something with it/I can use it to hit something. Occasionally this is ever appropriate - she certainly went after everything that didn't move and several cats that did move (but slowly) with Shea's plastic hammer. Her aim is erratic but her style is consistent.

Peeper has moved to the "line up all the trucks" phase. He doesn't actually come up with much in the way of scenarios. He just likes to get them ALL out and...ummm...line them up. I've tried to work with this but there's not much to start from. He has a hard time understanding Daddy's rapid boredom with lining up the trucks.

When lining up trucks finally palled, Peep and I went to the Zoo and Children's Museum Saturday:
First stop, the Children's Museum. Peep had made some money cleaning and vacuuming the cars and it was burning a hole in his pocket. He searched for, and found, the backpack-and-truck set he'd thrown such a tantrum over when we didn't buy it for him, oh, say, six months ago. Child has a memory like freaking Rain Man for a toy half-glimpsed in the middle of a maelstrom yet has no idea where his shoes are ten seconds after he's taken them off. Wassupwitdat?

After a quick dig in the Dig Pit and a fast splash in the Splash Tank it was off to the Zoo.

Peeper loves the zoo, and I was pleasantly surprised that, though crowded, Portland's wild animal jail wasn't the mad crush we'd experienced for Zoolights. So we zipped through the "members" line and headed off down the hill to the train station.Peeper loves the little steam train he calls "Old Smokey", and by good luck we got there at the right time and caught the Wabash Cannonball around the zoo, waving with equal and indifferent enthusiasm at patrons, elk and elephants alike.The train ride was followed by an entertaining visit with the sea lions, who were going through their feeding-time performance with the effortlessly polished mushin of a Republican appointee lying to Congress. A brief visit to the sea otter and it was a Peeper-skip and a dash to the sandbox, where we had a lovely dig (for the Peep) and half-doze (for the Daddy) before ankling along to the "Africafe" for some tuck-in.

Here's where I give the Peeper his big boy props. All the way down to the bottom of the hill he's talked about getting some animal-cookie-shaped french fries. But the moment we walk in the door we see a sign that tells us the animal fries are gone, lost, verloren, verkakt, verraten. Pining for the fjords.

I wait with some trepidation for the resulting meltdown, but the Peep just shrugs and says; "Well, let's share some popcorn, instead..."

Hurray for grown-up almost-five-year-olds!! We did get our poppy and a yellow elephant-shaped water bottle before sauntering all the way back up the hill and home. What a lovely day!I should add that we also enjoyed a very pleasant evening with our friends at the Timbers game - terrific game! - and then a stop for sweets at "Saint Cupcake" afterwards.
A warm, sunny day, good kid fun, hellacious good soccer (some of the best I've seen at any level),with the Timbers Army giving us a little taste of Champions League spirit (a special shoutout to the guy in the TA who brought the best banner of the night: a Suzuki-tribute, Kyokujitsu-ki battleflag [only in yellow and green Timbers colors]); and then home to a quiet house and sleepy children.

Today was Missy's actual birthday - at least, it's the best guess the orphanage people in Dongguan could come up with. Two years ago (plus or minus) a woman we will probably never know brought our little Miss into the world. We don't know why she couldn't keep her, although we might guess that poverty and a cleft lip may have had an effect. And we don't know why she chose to leave her rather than foster her, or, even more frightful, expose her or do away with her. We know that for every happy adoption story there is a grief, and though we cannot know yours, we are grateful, 生母, for your gift of our little girl.


But before the cake and prezzies - the first panel of drywall went up in Missy's future bedroom! Insulation, cutouts for window and outlets, and finally the drywall itself! Yay! Now it's just some fine finish work before we get the corner windows and we can really start to finish the room. We feel like the thing may actually be coming together

So Mojo and I measured and cut, drilled and nailed, stapled and screwed. Hey, hey, drywall screws, getcher mind out of the gutter. Besides, we're parents of preschoolers. We only get to do that on the random occasion that the children are more tired than we are. Do the math. God knows how these fundamentalist families manage to pop out fourteen or more of the little grunions. They must have exterior locks on the kids' room doors or something.

Not that we are looking for anything like that level of fecundity. The Fourth Rule of Fire Direction: Your Vagina Is Not A Clown Car.

So at the insistence of the Peeper we had cake with an inexplicable four candles (two in base one?).

And we blew them out, since Missy was utterly clueless.

But she did like the cake.

And then we all went out for dinner where both kids bounced around like total maniacs and ate gravel (OK, she ate it, he just threw it) and raced around the Blockbuster and came home and watched "Air Bud" which is like torture only with torture if you get lucky you eventually die.

And then she went to bed, a two-year-old.

Good night, my little daughter. Good night. Happy Birthday, my little girl.

May we share many more together.

And the red leaf looks to the hard gray stone
To each other, they know what they mean
Somewhere, their future is still yet to come
In ways that are yet as of now unforeseen

Friday, April 25, 2008

Kings go forth

I won't comment overlong on the recent announcement of changes at the top of the Army food chain: Chiarelli to VCS, Petraeus to CENTCOM and Odierno to MNF-I. Enough has been said over at Intel Dump and Abu Muquama. Suffice to say that conventional wisdom seems to believe that this means that the Bushies mean to "stay the course" in Iraq while using GEN Petraeus's famous counterinsurgency ("COIN") mojo to include the 'Stan.

My sole observation would be that, while creating a set of COIN grand tactics, neither GEN Petraeus nor anyone else in theatre has come up with a "strategy" beyond whack-a-muj/strategic hamlets in Iraq. With the creation of the Sunni "Concerned Local Citizens" we (in the person of the theatre commander, GEN Petraeus) effectively conceded national sovereignty over the Sunni parts of Iraq (as we already had, de facto, in the Kurdish north). Now we've gone beyond this to actively joining the Shia Malikist faction in suppressing the Shia Sadr faction for the only reason (as far as I can tell) that the Sadrists are against our eternal squatting on their turf. This isn't any kind of "strategy", let alone a COIN strategy; it's the Eight-Trey Crips against the Hollister Bloods only with tac air.

Afghanistan's perennial problem has been that it isn't a state - it's a collection of warlords with tribal fighting tails nominally "ruled" by the warlord in power in Kabul. I fail to see how tapping the guy whose geopolitical cluelessness (or domestic political sycophancy) made him deaf, dumb and blind to the strengthening of sectarian warlordism in Iraq will help in the place where an already-entrenched warlord problem is part of the crux of the biscuit.

Update 4/25 pm: Actually, I do want to generalize a little with this. Back in Imperial Russia there was a saying for this:

"The Cossacks work for the Czar."

The sort of thing we're seen GEN Petraeus represent, both in his daily bulletins and on both occasions of his testimony before Congress, or we've run up against with the "military pundits" story, is the heart of the reason that so many of the Founders were dead set against a professional military. When fighting becomes your profession it becomes difficult to seperate the tactical imperatives of combat from the geopolitical objectives of the nation. And, inevitably, professional officers become tightly bonded to those politicians espousing the policies that support their particular military visions or needs. So you forget that you're supposed to support and defend the Constitution and get mesmerized by the idea that you're defending your Army, or your policy or your own personal insight. You find yourself saluting Authority and moving out smartly, just like you did when you were in uniform. And Authority, in the 21st Century U.S., comes dressed up as the "Commander in Chief".

The Cossacks work for the Czar, remember?

We like to dress up our profession in the robes of honor and discipline, but the fact is that when fighting is your profession the daily mechanics of your business aren't that much different from any other tradesman. The bloody work of making living flesh into meat can obscure the reasons for doing so, or whether the reasons make sense, or are in the best interests of the nation we serve. Therefore the willingness of these uniformed tradesmen to sell themselves to whoever - in this case the GOP - lets them grind the hamburger becomes an active danger to the political health and vitality of the Republic.

So whenever you hear or see Petraeus or Odierno or any one of the "retired military" talking heads pontificating, remember:

The Cossacks work for the Czar.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why would anyone say this...?

Let me say that, beyond holding the unshakeable opinion that the GOP of 2008 combines all the enlightened social compassion of the North-American Man-Boy Love Association with the economic acumen of Kenny Boy Lay's Enron and the geopolitical cunning of a Palestinian police brass band, the Chief holds no brief with either of the Democratic contenders in this year's race. It is his fixed opinion - as will be discussed in "SPQR III" - that the political system in the United States is broken by lucre and influence, and the personality of whatever tribune survives the hideous talk-show version of our cursus honorum will be utterly immaterial to the broad reach of U.S. policy. So Hillary or Obama - whatever...That said, the only real difference offered in this race is between the parties rather than between the individuals. "Straight Talk" McCain offers us Dubya's Third Term with more botox and less...I'm not sure what less. Fiscal sanity?

While either Democrat offers a chance to reconsider whether trying to become some sort of half-assed empire while mortgaging the imperial treasury to the Chinese and dividing the country between the have-mores and the have-diddly-squat is a really good idea.

So who the hell in their right mind would say this:

"Perhaps the only disturbing news for Obama in the survey is that most Clinton voters (56%) say they are not likely to vote for the Illinois Senator in the general election against John McCain. A month ago, 45% of Clinton voters said they were not likely to vote for Obama against McCain."

Have you ever spent any time arguing with a drunk? Not a knee-walking, high-schooled, ready-to-pass-out-type drunk, but one of those had-just-enough-beer-to-be-stupid drunks? This is like that kind of stupid. This is an adolescent you-won't-let-me-go-out-with-Bobby-so-I'm-hooking-up-with-Mr.-Riddle-the-paroled-rapist-and-registered-sex-offender kind of stupid. I used a Clinton supporters quote but this isn't just a Clinton thing - Obama's people have said something similar.

This is nuts, folks. Nuts. A Democrat - ANY kind of Democrat - picking Dubya's Prison Punk over another Democrat? WTF??!! Am I smoking crack? What the hell is wrong with you people?

Jesus wept. As I said; the system is broken, broken beyond repair. But I want to talk more thoroughly about this a bit later, it's 4:20 and I have to get back to wall building.

On the upside, I did get to see my daughter awake and laughing last night, and an adorable little tyke she is. And I am sorry I couldn't take you to work with me, Peeper; you are the sweetest little guy EVAH.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chilly April on the Oregon Coast

Lots of stormy weather.Lincoln City had snow - snow! - Sunday. First snow in over ten years in April. Freakish.This is my nuke gauge.

There are many like it. But this one is mine.

They call me...The Dirt Nanny.

Mending Wall

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

(On the job, Lincoln City, Oregon, 4/22/07)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gotta fly

I may be off-line for a while.

I'm back to playing the Dirt Nanny again for the next week, so I'm off to Lincoln City and may be there for some time. The commute is a bee-yotch, and the option of staying overnight is attractive when the weather is bad enough to add to the ugliness of the drive.

While I'm busy berating contractors for their sloth and other Deadly Sins, here's a sort of open thread question to discuss:

"China - future economic colossus, world power player and producer of adorable toddlersor future existential threat to the U.S.?"

Oh, and picture at the top is me (hard to tell, yes, I know) jumpmastering a CH-47 over Venado Drop Zone in Panama, 1986. The 'hook was a fun bird to jump - you just walked off the tailgate - but a bitch to JM. I can remember squinting into the rotor wash while hanging over the edge of the tailgate thinking "I can't see a fucking thing and I wouldn't blame me if I put myself into the trees and I need to remember that if I do."

Good times. Good times.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Every so often you get your nose rubbed in exactly how much you DON'T have a life when you are a parent.

We had planned today around having a sitter in the afternoon so we could work on Missy's bedroom together. In all the time we've been working on it we haven't ever actually worked together - it's always been Mojo doing the child care and me working on the remodel (mostly because it's been heavy work better suited for the one of us with the bigger body mass).

But now we're getting to the finish work and were looking forward to doing some teaming on the bedroom. Until the sitter called in sick around noon.

Well. Fucketty fuck. That shot any hope we might have of doing anything. Not that we didn't have a pleasant day and I got to cook a good meal (spinach ricotta ravioli in a mushroom sauce, definately a keeper) and we went for an idle walk around the neighborhood in the surprisingly mild evening.But it grates, when something like this happens and rips away the veneer of order and control we pretend to have over our lives and exposes their irretrievably kid-centric nature. We're Slaves to Genetic Inheritance and we need to somehow smile and be okay with that. It's not easy and it's not fun and I won't pretend otherwise.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Decisive Battles: Shanhaiguan, 1644

Before I go on, a bit of background.

I've always been a military history buff, going back to being a kid playing with toy soldiers: I was odd about making the uniform and equipment details "right" and finding out about who did what to whom where and why. Didn't stop me from trying to see the elephant, but I said I was a historian of sorts, not a genius.

Old as I am, as much as I know about battle and war, I still find the human inclination to settle issues with violence intriguing in a rather inhumane fashion. You don't have to like it to accept that battle has decided human lives in a most declarative way for thousands of years.

So I'm going to begin posting on my collected list of "Decisive Battles": where DID someone do something to someone else that changed history. I emphasize that this is my own collation, and I am not Creasy or Fuller. Differences of opinion, or comments on my analysis are thoroughly welcomed!

April's first engagement (I have a second battle planned for later in the month - be warned!) is:

Shanhaiguan (or Shanhai Pass) Date: 19-22 April, 1644Forces engaged:
Han China:
Old Han regime ("loyalists"): ~40,000 Ming Chinese troops under Wu Sangui
New Han regime ("rebels"): ~80-100,000 Shun Chinese troops under Li Zicheng
Manchu: ~100,000 Manchu (later Qing) Banner troops under Dorgon

Situation:: In the middle 1600's the Ming imperial system, which had ruled Han China since the fall of the Yuan Dynasty founded by Genghis Khan, was faltering in a storm of imperial incompetence, vicious infighting and economic disasters. Zhou Youjian, the Chongzhen Emperor, was a hard man known for his quick anger and suspicion. While this might not have made him a disaster as Emperor in other times, with the late Ming poised on the edge of implosion his paranoia and rash actions made him a problem too great to be overcome. He himself probably drove the nail into the Ming forehead by executing Yuan Chonghuan (family relationship note: Chonghuan is Missy's homeboy, born in Dongguan some time in the late 1500s), probably the most capable of the Ming officials at fighting the rising Manchu threat from the northeast.

The year 1644 was an endless disaster for Ming China: first, the rebel army led by Li Zicheng stormed Beijing. The Chongzhen Emperor hung himself from the "Guilty Chinese Scholartree"and the empire all but collapsed in the resulting chaos. But Han empires had dissolved before and had risen again under a new dynasty. Shanhaiguan would ensure that this would not be the case.

The Engagement: A confusing three-sided siege/melee between Great Wall garrison troops (notionally loyal to the former Ming Dynasty), "rebel"/newly installed Shun dynasty troops led by the new emperor Li Zicheng, and the Manchu Army (known as "Bannermen" from their thicket of personal and unit flags).

Attacking the Great Wall from behind, the Shun forces apparently tore into the Ming soldiers - perhaps not a great shock given that Li's rebels had spent years campaigning against and beating Ming soldiery like red-headed stepchildren (and Wu's mob were essentially Maginot-style garritroopers) - taking three of the four gates to Shanhai Pass. With his troops backed to the sea and the Shun hammering at the walls,Wu agreed to "surrender" to the the Banner Army and the following day the Manchus descended on the rear of the Shun army as Wu's troops sortied from their front. The Shun troops appear to have stayed in order long enough for Li to escape to Beijing, but beyond that it was over for the Two-Months' Emperor. The Manchu Banners flew over the Forbidden City in May, 1644, and Shunzhi Emperor - the first Qing emperor of China - was proclaimed.Outcome: Geopolitical/grand strategic Manchu victory.

Impact: Replaced Han Chinese rule over the world's then-most sophisticated polity with a foreign occupation. Although the Ming dynasty had fallen into desuetude by the early to mid-17th Century, it continued to resist the incursions of northern barbarians such as the Mongols. Given time, the new Shun dynasty might have stabilized into an ethnic Han administration and reunited the empire. As it was, the Qing did effectively halt the social disintegration begun in Ming times, but at the expense of dividing the nation between Manchu occupiers and Han occupied. The fierce rigidity required to maintain Manchu hegemony made the Qing extremely conservative and resistant to change. In particular, the Banner troops became garrisons in hostile Han cities, removed from their original citizen-soldier origins and rotted by corruption and inactivity. Their Han counterparts, the "Green Standard Army" never attained any real competence or trust. Rebellion and invasion in the 19th Century exposed the Qing as hidebound, antiquated and brittle.

We will never know what would have happened if Li Zicheng had managed to trust Wu Sangui (AND just maybe kept his dickbeaters off Wu's squeeze - see below), or if Wu had taken one for the team and refused to turn the Manchu loose through the Wall. But the possibility of a united - and potentially vigorous - Han China meeting the Western colonialists, Japanese imperialists as well as domestic rebels like the Taiping remains one of history's more intriguing "what-ifs".

Touchline tattles: To make the whole business more bodice-ripping, one backstory of this battle is that Wu was at least partially motivated by the capture of his inamorata (a member of the defunct Ming imperial court) by Li Zicheng. There seems to be a real question how much of the story is true, whether Chen Yuanyuan was even an actual person, a political invention to justify Wu's defection to the Manchus, or a Maid Marian-level ballad and folktale invention. No culture in history has let irritating facts get in the way of a good story and, let's face it, even the goriest violence loses traction without some juicy sex: "Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion."

Next time: The Battle of Panipat

SPQR II: O tempora! O mores!

Missed my deadline for the Friday "think piece" - got home, had dinner, played with little peeps and within fifteen minutes of getting the older one into his high bed I was pounding my ear. Ah, sleep. Sleep is good.

But I have been following the news and thinking about...not so much the individual news items but what our headlines and the national interests they purport to represent are telling me about the State of our Union.

Domestically our economy continues to misfire in an ominous fashion, but the principal public response seems to be no more than a nervous glance or three. Certainly the so-called "stimulus" tax giveaway seems to be a ridiculous sop to a credulous public, as useless a tool for halting the deflation of the retail bubble as a tampon in a typhoon.

In fact, no one in power seems to be particularly concerned about the frailty of an economy driven mostly by retail spending this mess exposes. Ah, well.And our foreign policy remains mathematically compounded of "ambition, distraction, uglification and derision". Given the feeble mix of Congressional self-importance and inanity on display at the Petraeus-Crocker hearings we can now rest assured that our pilgrim's progress in the Middle East will remain on track to do to the incoming President and the 111th Congress what in the Army we used to call "putting the turd in your pocket."

So. Rather than flog these motionless geldings, I thought I'd talk a little about something I ran across on a China adoption bulletin board.

Last week one of the correspondents - let's call her "A" for short - wrote this:

Someone just set off an M-80 in a stairwell at my stepson's high school. No one was injured, but the school was evacuated and all the nearby schools are on lockdown.

Apparently a few kids where quite shaken up. Today is the anniversary of Virginia Tech, various schools have been either closed or locked down in Chicago with week with different threats, and the NIU shootings 2 months ago are still very fresh in everyone's mind around here. A couple of the students in that shooting were from our
immediate area.

I don't know what the answer is to this. Schools are incredibly vulnerable, and most of the safety procedures in place can't prevent things like what happened at Andrew's school today.

Now first, let me explain that "A" is neither foolish, credulous nor a hysteric. Her posts have constantly shown her to be a bright, capable person with a full compliment of morals. She is probably in the 90th percentile for civility, the sort of person that the republican system of government was practically designed for.

And yet, here she is, shaken and almost panicked ("schools are incredibly vulnerable") because of a firecracker.

Last summer I wrote a long essay on the fall of the Roman Republic. I promised that in Part 2 I'd talk about how the present United States reflects these same failings. And this panic-in-the-classroom is where I want to start.

Fabius Maximus has a good discussion of his opinion of the two most dangerous enemies the U.S. faces: paranoia and hubris. We'll leave hubris for next time. Let's talk about fear.

Think about the fear expressed in "A"'s post. The evacuation and lockdown of her stepson's school. Virgina Tech. NIU. School shootings. Incredibly vulnerable. Safety procedures. This is the language of a city under siege, or a dangerous frontier. The underlying sentiment is a dangerous, frighteningly out-of-control world, where violent death is an everpresent danger and "safety precautions" are imperative to prevent the faceless but powerful enemies from harming us.

And is this conclusion surprising? Visit your local news channel. Watch a snipbit of the morning infotainment - sandwiched amid the celebrity gossip and the live-from-the-local-animal-shelter-adorable-pet segment most of the news is about fires, murders and assorted domestic horrors - many of them far from your local area. A shooting in Tumwater. Child killer in Bethesda. Home invasion in Los Angeles.
Given the relative sizes of our populations, 21st Century America is a fantastically peaceful nation. We have no Mongol Invasions, no Black Death, no Servile Wars. As an American citizen of middle class aspirations and late middle age, circa 2008, I have about the same ridiculously tiny, statistically insignificant chance of being: immolated in aerial bombardment, ventilated by a crazed gunman, perishing of a pandemic plague, being crucified by rebel armies or getting lucky with Lucy Liu.But you'd never know this if you didn't venture outside television news and newspaper articles.

OK, you'd get the "Lucy Liu" thing if you've seen my pictures. Sigh.

But our principal sources of information are dominated by death and violence to the point where I suspect that most Americans truly believe that we live in the most perilous times that have every been.Whether your terror is Islamofascism, global warming, invading Meskins...I believe that many, many citizens of my country are hypersensitized to fear. I find it hard to believe, for example, that America in 2008 is truly more brutish and violent than America in 1808 or 1888, what with the earlier combinations of frontier war and raid, lynching, easy access to weapons and liquor, poor hygiene and rudimentary medical care and little or no access to nonlethal redress in the form of courts, newspapers, mediators, Judge Judy and Montel Williams.

The difference? The madman who butchered six strangers and himself over in the next county was, at most, the subject of distant gossip in 1808 or 1888. What happened the next state over was ancient news, the next country? Wild rumor. We weren't hammered with images and sounds of carnage. We didn't have CNN - we had Goya.

So here's why I see this as a problem. Let's take "A"'s school. First, any bodyguard will tell you that if some jerk wants to hurt you and doesn't care about paying for it, he can. So the ONLY way to prevent the sort of violent disturbances in schools is to provide them with the kind of security we now reserve for prisons and airline terminals.And - if we are convinced that the world is so frightening and vile that the ONLY choice we have is the level of this protection we will provide - we will end up seeking and spending more for all kinds of expensive gadgets up to and including weaponry to defend them.

Or to attack. And so we pursue ever increasingly expensive solutions for ever less critical problems - foreign wars, antimissile systems, F-22 fighters and metal detectors for schools - while closing our eyes and ears to things that can truly harm us: a dysfunctional economy, foreigners furious with foreign occupation, graduating poorly educated kids - usually minority kids - with just enough marginal skills enough to fail in a technological society, thus insuring a semi-permanent underclass and a widening gap between those wealthy enough to succeed, prosper and rule and those who are not.

"What kind of a crisis was it in which it was not Roman society that fell apart, but Roman reality - the sense of shared security in an order that was essentially unquestioned?" Christian Meier, Caesar (1982)

It is in this way that great nations decline. But the foolishness, fear and ignorance of the plebians isn't enough. Greed and pandering of the popular press isn't enough. There must be stupidity, blindness and greed amongst the equestrians and the senators.

Next time: SPQR III: Tribunes of the Plebs

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Light Housekeeping

Still here, still busy. Only Wednesday and I've already billed 40-some hours. Uff da.

Ha! Found an old GFT to go behind the blog title. I do like the header with the picture better, although as usual Blogger is way behind Wordpress and the slicker blogging platforms in terms of being flexible about altering the template.

And, speaking of templates, I fiddled with the "stretch blue denim" template for a while and didn't like the colors or the unrelieved whiteness of it. I greatly prefer the current style ("Son of Moto") with its green background and the narrow column in the center. Let me know if any of you have a strong feeling one way or the other, tho; in particular if you feel that the stretched full-page style is easier to read.

I'm going to try and have something substantive for Friday, but work may intervene. If any of you see an adorable Asian toddler in North Portland, hug her for me, it's probably my daughter. I haven't seen her in three days - she's probably learnt to ride a tricycle and/or date already. Sigh...

(Hey! Pity party at my place!)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ave atque Vale

The Last Post - if you'll excuse the pun - has been sounded over at the "old" Intel Dump

I've enjoyed posting and discussing and arguing political and military topics there since back in the early Oughts. Phil Carter, the site's host, provided the topics and the forum, but it was the literate, crafty, opinionated and contentious crew of commentors that made it my cyber-corner-bar for many years. Too many great people made the discussions there a fierce delight to name them all: if you're reading this, you know who you are. Thank you.

PC has moved over to the "new" Intel Dump at the Washington Post and I hope you visit him there. I hope that I will also continue to meet and palaver the issues with my online battle buddies there and at JD's fine blog "buggieboy".

And to that great humorist Franklin Drackman: you're hot, hot, hot, girlfriend! Two snaps in an oblique formation for being the very, very last poster to the old "Dump" ever.

But sic transit gloria Dumpi. Here's to us, who's like us, damn few and they're all dead.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mars and Venus: The Ugly Truth

This post over at Rangeragainstwar got me thinking: why ARE us Y-chromosome types so frigging stupid when it comes to love and sex?

As opposed to the lower animals? Because, honestly? Guys are generally a) stupid about relationships, and b) too stupid to know we're stupid. We are. IF we're honest we admit it and work on improving our behavior. If we don't, we generally blunder through life making some poor woman's life more difficult.

We hit puberty and we're pretty much a life support system for a penis. We have little or no emotional subtlety and usually don't want any. Most of us, if we're under 40 - and a LOT of us if we're under 90 - will be lying to you if we saw we want "emotional intimacy". Mostly what we want is to get laid, and after that have some sort of meal involving meat.

Whenever one of those scandals comes up, a Clinton or a Gary Hart or something like that, my wife just can't get it. "How could he be so freaking stupid about some booty!?" she snarls.

I explain it to her this way: in a lot of respects, a man's mind can be very complex and powerful, like the electronics suite of a multibillion dollar Aegis missile cruiser. But every once in a while something shapely flies past and a $1.98 heat-seeking warhead on a moisture-activate muffin missile comes active and fires itself, slaving the entire vessal, hardware and software, to that utterly moronic cheap little warhead. The result is usually bad for all involved.It's not that we CAN'T do better, it's that it would take character, resolve and maturity to resist the hardwiring of that stupid little gadget and many of us don't want to be that grown-up.

I'm sorry, women of the world, but this “...truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” (Winston Churchill)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Blowing hot and cold

I'm not sure if any of the childless readers will understand this, but we had a very busy weekend where we ended up doing very little.

We cleaned house, did tons of laundry (including the loathsome folding-and-putting-away part that is the worst of it) and a little prodding at Missy's bedroom, planted the strawberries and mowed and took a load of demo debris to the dump and made a Winco run for groceries (Missy and Mommy) and played on the beach at Kelley Point Park (Peeper and Daddy) and had our friends the Wilsons over.

All in 48 hours. But we didn't really accomplish anything in particular. No major renovations were completed, no big decisions made, nada. So in retrospect it feels like it was same-same all kid all the time.

The really odd part was the weather. This weekend was supposed to be mild and sunny, generally a rarity for Oregon in April. Saturday more than lived up to the forecast. By noon the temperatures we in the high 60's and we had filled up the plastic kid pool for the Peep and his friend Josh to play in, by five it was in the 70's, all the windows were open and the fans running and we were all in our shorts...except one. We looked forward to a similar sunny Sunday.

Not. Missy and I went for our Sunday morning Starbucks in a chilly overcast. Peeper and I enjoyed a bit of sun during our long fun noonday wander along the beach at the very end of North Portland* but by two the day was cold and windy and grew steadily colder and nastier all afternoon. By the time our guests arrived we had the heat on and everyone was in their sweatshirts.

Which proves again that if you don't like the weather in northwest Oregon just wait five minutes. But I didn't post to tell you that story; I posted to tell you this one.

Late in the afternoon I was on Missy duty as Mojo rested and the Peep and his pal played in the pool. I went outside to help them with something, carrying Little Miss as is her wont after she wakes from her nap. I did whatever Daddy task was needed in the backyard before returning inside. We had no sooner crossed over the lintel when Missy started thrashing and fussing; I took her over to the couch.

"What is it, baby girl?" I tried soothing her. No deal. She yanked off one small shoe, then the other. Next came the socks, then an increasingly frantic tugging at the straps of her little overall-shorts. I had to help with that as with the pink long-sleeve shirt in order to reveal The Naked Baby beneath (hence the picure above - I left the camera at work this weekend, dammit).

Said baby who promptly eeled off the couch, grabbed my index finger and towed me back out the door, down the porch and into the backyard up to the side of the pool.


So, being the good Daddy I am, I helped Missy climb into the pool, where she discovered for the first time in her short life exactly how cold the meltwater from Mount Hood comes out of a hose in Portland sixty miles away.

Fucking cold, is what it is.

Give the tough little harbor town girl credit - it took her two full up-to-the-thigh immersions to give up. And even then she kept paddling her hands and feet in the water to enjoy the lovely cold on a hot day.

Funny thing is: the girl had never seen that pool before - I am guessing that they did not have anything similar in the orphanage in Dongguan. So where did she get the idea to go skinny-dipping on a hot day?

Girl is scarey smart. I'm just saying.

*(Did you know that the juncture of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers - now known as Kelley Point - was originally known as "Nigger Tom"? True fact. I first saw it on the 1906-edition Portland U.S. Geological Survey quadrangle mapsheet. Frigging amazing. In this year 2008 where the presence of a mixed-race candidate for President has started many discussions of race in America I think it's important to remember where we started: where a vile racial slur could be found in cold print in as unemotional and unpolitical a place as a topographic map sheet.

This is all beside the point of the post, but...Jesus wept!)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Radio Check

I'm still here.Just takng a little break - I billed 65 hours last week, the house is a disaster after Mojo had to spend the week single parenting and there was SO much to catch up on.

I do have some posts in my head: thoughts on a movie we watched the other night, a family update and one of those things I write about just because it fascinates me.

Oh, and I want to tell you a story about the Sinai.

So don't go away - I'll be back tomorrow with a couple of posts.

I did have a thought: I enjoy a lot of different things and I have a lot of ideas, some of them as current as a headline, others bits of useless old rubbish that I find fascinating but most of you could care less about. I also like to talk about my home and family, which is fun for me and may provide a a sort of "The Osbournes" entertainment for the rest of you. Ummm. I hope. BUT..is far and away from the politico-military commentary I do. It sometimes seems a little jarring to me. How does it work for you?

Specifically, what would you think if I split the subjets on this blog: moved the political and military stuff over to, say, JD's blog "buggieboy" and kept Graphic Firing Table the way it's been - family, local interest, random things that interest me - only with 40% less politics?

Friday, April 11, 2008

And speaking of digging a hole...

I wasn't able to hear any of GEN Petraeus' and Ambassador Crocker's testimony this past week. I suspect that I pretty much know how it went:

Typical GOP Senator "question": "Well, I just wanted to personally thank you, and as I reminded my constituents in my very last newsletter here at SenI'mrichwhyaren'tyou.gov, my dear, dear, heroic American General, for your sacrifice in travelling here from your air-conditioned trailer in the Green Zone to tell us the truth that those lying, traitorous Democrat Party rats will deny - that freedom is on the march in Iraq and the only way to stop it is for unAmerican cowards to "betray-us", isn't that right?"

GEN Petraeus: "Ummm, yes, certainly, well, that may obtain, Senator, yes. I'm not here to talk politics, but, we are making progress and we want the American people to understand that our wogs are nicer and better than their wogs, who are probably Iranian and certainly do not bathe as much as they should. Oh and did I mention Al Qaeda?"

Typical Democratic Senator "question": "Now, General, and not that I'd ever even imply that our problems in the Middle East may reflect our foreign policy choices or possible but not very likely errors mostly caused by an excess of good intentions, isn't it possible that your troops are just possibly the teensy-eensiest involved in an Iraqi internal squabble that has nothing to do with the eeeeevil Islamic enemies that threated our very precious bodily fluids?"

GEN Petraeus: "Yes, Senator, it IS all the fault of the skulking Persian dogs. Thank you."

What did we learn? Fred Kaplan sums it up pretty well: nothing. Dubya's still the Man and the Man say - kiss my ass, I'm not goin'.

Is there anything to be saved from this mess? Well it beats the fuck out of me. But I can tell you this: I don't know of a single functional democracy in what used to be the old Ottoman Empire. Not one. Not a damn one. Turkey - the closest thing to one - needed a ruthless dictator (that's what Ataturk was, though his intentions were good his methods were pretty hard) to get even that close. They didn't call that bastard the "Sick Man of Europe" for nothing.

I'm not even sure how you'd go about making an impoverished former Ottoman province with a long history of despotism and corruption into one.

Makes you wonder why I'm not the President. At least I'm smart enough to know when to stop digging a hole for myself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When You're In a Hole...

...stop digging.Or not.

If you need to build a big honkin' wall on top of it you KEEP digging.

Sorry posting's so light, but it's almost midnight Thursday and I'm still working. This is not a Good Thing and I try to keep a lid on it. But this week there's no help for it.

I've just embraced the suck.

Calgon, take me away...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Who's on first..?

One of the most difficult things about this "war" we're enjoying in Iraq is that not only is it difficult to tell who the players are, the scorecard is constantly being revised, printed backwards, stuffed with loaded terms, and outright falsified by the scorers, both managers, the second assistant groundskeeper AND the ballpark organist.The most recent example of the seems to be the recent fighting between the Maliki Metal Mulisha (a.k.a. the "Iraqi Army") and the Jaysh-al-Mahdi of Muhammad al Sadr.

Conventional wisdom has it that:

1. The JAM "won" - as much as anyone won - the latest round, and
2. The two sides are in a holding pattern "truce" as the Malikists (Dawa and SIIC) and their allies try and figure out a new approach.

But is CW right?

Over at missing links, our man the Badger is sniffing out a change in the wind: a Green Zone confabulation between the Occupation, our Malikist running Chihuahuas, and their Sunni rivals in the Iraqi Accord Front to crush the Sadrist militia using the military power of the American supermilitia.

Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. Nobody's sure.

What DOES seem to be the case is that the narrative being prompted from, among other places, the current Administration is that Sadr is a "radical cleric" and his militia is made up of fierce Muslim baddies who would roll you for a nickel and stab you for an extra dime.

As opposed to the Badr Corps and the Kurdish peshmerga, who love peace, the writings of Tom Paine and cute, furry puppies, I understand.

So among my questions for Ambassador Crocker and GEN Petraeus this week would be:

1. Assuming that you can help the "government" of Iraq crush the JAM militia - and I assume you can - will this mean that the poor Shiites it claims to be fighting for will instead become partisans of the current government and U.S. plans for Iraq, or, since Sadr (take away the Muslim claptrap) is sorta Juan Peron in a turban, will they become the descamisados of Iraq and present the same sort of long term disruption that the originals did in Argentina?

2. Is there any reason to assume that the JAM is more harmful to long-term Iraqi political stability than, say, the Badr Corp or the peshmerga?

3. If the JAM needs to be disarmed by force, what should we do about the OTHER militias in Iraq?

4. Does this risk becoming a "Lebanon moment" in Iraq for U.S. troops?

I'l be the first to admit: I don't know the answers to these questions. But I sure hope someone asks them. And I sure hope that our Iraqi proconsuls have some really, really, good answers.

Update 4/8 p.m.: I may not know the answers...but it doesn't stop me from bloviating - my guesses in the "Comments" section.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Embracing the Suck

It's a window!

My buddy Brent came over this past weekend and held my hand and led me through the process of putting a new window in an old wall.

So - now Missy's future bedroom has...no, not insulation, drywall, a ceiling, lights or electrical outlets...a window!

What's good is that it opens the house up: you can see from the front room all the way to the plum tree in the back yard. Light can flood (or trickle, as happens this drizzly week) in from the south. Nice.

The really trick thing is that it's weathertight and...ummm...fairly plumb. We did manage to bend more than a few nails. And I know that things have changed since the 1980's, but, still; a 2 x 6 is still a fricking 2 x 6. So how the hell come a 2 x 6 installed by The Former People is about 5.75 inches wide and a 2 x 6 purchased at the Janzen Beach Home Depot in 2008 is about 5.95 inches wide? Hunh?

Wussup wit dat?

But the good news is that the first window is in. Now we just need Mojo to settle on the windows for her little bank of windows in the corner and we'll be ready to start on the finishing; drywall, fixtures...

Missy may be sleeping in her bed for as long as a month before it's time to leave for her freshman year in college.

We christened the new aperture with "He'Brew", the Chosen Beer. All the tchochkes aside, the mensches from San Francisco make some pretty good suds. And appropriate, for work consisting mostly of carpentry, after all.

'Cause for a newly hired civil engineer my pal Brent is a pretty nifty carpenter.Meanwhile, Little Missy and Mommy and the Peeper watched TV, played and made Artwork.

Clearly they didn't know that Daddy had declared the static visual arts dead. Missy just wanted to scribble...While Mojo was making a Treat Board for the Peeper, to try and corral the Boy's raging lust for all things sweet.

We're working on that.

Sunday was a lazy sort of day until the afternoon, when we got ready to go visit our friends Millicent and Floyd and newly-two Nola!

As always, a big part of the journey is to arrive well dressed.

Missy, on the other had, believes that the best way to cycle around the house is "sky-clad".

Except for the mittens. Wouldn't want to chafe anything sensitive...

So - we went over to Aasgard, home of the God of Thunder who, despite her mom's publicly expressed fears of the effect of Processed Sugar On The Daughter, was a delightful hostess, played happily and smiled at everyone.

The cupcakes were good. And the little hand-held foam rubber rockets were a hoot.

But the "French 75s"? Mmmm...

Let's say that there was some darn good beer.

So - here's just some random images of the Birthday Girl having fun in the backyard.Nola had a lovely little dress on when we arrived (and played quite demurely in it for a bit) but changed into her rough clothes for some outdoor fun later on. I'm sorry I didn't get a shot of the dress - it, and she, were adorable.

I had come across a kiddie ride-on "loader" at the toy store earlier in the week and decided it would make a good Nola-toy. She seemed to enjoy scooting around on it in the fitful afternoon sunshine. Her dad sure liked the hard hat.

The Peep desperately wanted to play with it.

Missy wasn't sure, but it seemed oddly fascinating. So she hung around the job site. This may be a "nature" thing, being a girl from a rough, tough harbor town.

There was more than just digging!

Peeper had his fire truck. And there were stairs to climb, and dark doorways to explore. And gardens to run in (and over, sorry...).

There was also a tiny jungle gym/playset, that Missy, being the Queen of the Slide, had to try.

And there was a hose for spraying.Peepers, that is. And mommy's roller blades to wear on ones' hands.Anyway - this may be the last post for this week. I have a 24/7 gawdawful-hours job in Lincoln City. Playing the Dirt Nanny, too, in the rain, which is always entertaining. Ugh.

But we used to say in the Army that when things get really sucky you have to just let go and embrace the suck. So - for the record - I'm hugging as hard as I can. And it's up a 4 tomorrow to get back to the jobsite...so...