Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Perhaps one of the most beautiful sights of a Northwest autumn is the Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), the common hardwood of our hills and coastal forests.All through the Oregon Coast Range these maples fill the openings in the coniferous forest that covers most of these hills.

For most of the year, and in most autumns, the tree merely contributes to the thick leaf litter and duff that carpets the forest floor.

Now, in most years the rains arrive in late September or early October and the fall colors are brief and muted. Rain knocks the leaves down quickly, and the wet churns them to the muddy brown that colors most of our autumns.

But when the rains don't arrive, and the Indian summer pushes well into October, as this one's has...then the maples take the opportunity to blazon the hillsides with the gold peculiar to the species.The forests blaze with this golden light, and the dark coniferous hillsides seem to be lit from within, a lumineria spilling down the steep slopes of the Coast Range.

So for your enjoyment, a bit of autumn color from the sunny Northwest.

Enjoy it, for, as the slave holding the laurel crown over your head is whispering; like fame, its time is fleeting and soon the rains will fall.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Driving at Night


Silent house. Only light from the streetlamps, and that damn security light in the neighbor's backyard that stays on all fricking night. I carry my boots so that my footfalls don't wake Mojo. Children tussled in knots of jammies, blankets, lovies and stuffed toys. How does Missy kick off her ENTIRE blanket without waking up? Tuck it around her - she rolls on her side, sighs, sleeps again. Her cheek is like warm velvet.

Chilly outside, scent of smoke, dew, cold iron. Fog forms on the windshield immediately. Slow rhythm of the night traffic elides me, dark houses, empty lawns. Glare of St. Johns, pale green bridge arching over the broken glass reflections of the Willamette.

Linnton; relict of the mill town useless neon and idle storefronts. Cavern of dark highway spooling out before me. Tire hiss. Forties memories from the radio, brassy beat eight to the bar.

Urbanity retreats; scattered houses in farm and field, sheds and barns ghostly in the yellow gleam of a single sentinal light. Black trees, arching branches pale-lit from underneath like white arms raised in dancing pose.

Cluster-shot of towns: Scappose, Rainier, Goble. Decadent civilization has reached St. Helens with a Starbucks. Hot coffee, dark as sin and bitter as grief and sweet cream steaming in the paper chalice. Into the bigger darkness as the Great River shrugs northwards around the Coast Range.Radio fades in and out, accepts strange crackling invasions from Canada or Montana. The Jesus station is playing militant hymns full of Roundhead passion enveloped in lush harmonies. His blood-red banner streams before, who follows in his train? I can feel Covenanter blood responding, face flushing with the sweet desire to smite the Godless. And here's the news...

Nothing now but dark hills, dark earth, dark sky and the moving tunnel of headlights. Gnat Creek, Clatsop Crest. Single light at Alston Mayger: former home of sour Rick and loving, giddy Mona and wise little Octobriana Marie...lost friends, where are you now? The long hill down into Clatskanie, cold wind from the marshes to the north seeps through the cracked window. Back into the night, long stretch of winding hills, past timberlands, inverted bowl of stars diamond-bright above the ragged sleeve rising south, gleam of the river flowing west, all the compass rose stretching away in the hissing night of empty road and silent forest.

House. House. Two houses, a shed, a motel. Slowing, the road rises winding to meet me, false dawn to the west the lights of Astoria, hotcakes at the Pig n' Pancake, streets slick with washing. I yawn and stretch, and the pink and azure glow behind the hills to the west promises the coming day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Campaign Issues: Nuclear Power Generation

Almost lost in the past month of economic terror is one of the weird little sub-issues that I find most curiously and fascinatingly divergent between the bread-and-butter GOP policy line and the national Democratic platform: nuclear power as a form of "alternative" energy. [Content Alert! For those viewing at home - there is a nekkid lady further down the page. Yes, she's very pretty and "artsy" but she's wearing nature's drawers, gang. Nude. Buff-o.

I include this to warn viewing parents and as a way of stimulating readership: not work safe!

So; unless you want to explain to your two-year-old the difference between a "woo-woo" and a "puff-puff" (and yes, these are actual terms heard here at the Fire Direction Center and, no, I did NOT devise them), now's the time to shift over to "Go Diego"]

I have a peculiar connection to nuclear power. The southeastern Pennsylvania region where I spent much of my young adulthood was ringed with nuclear plants in the 1970s: Three Mile Island along the Susquehanna to the west, Peach Bottom to the southwest, Oyster Creek in New Jersey to the east. Those Mickey's "Big Mouth" cooling towers were as much a part of my high school and college years as avocado green Pinto hatchbacks, Chevy Chase and "Disco Duck".

My most immediate connection with nuclear power was an unplanned Spring Break in March of 1979; my college was located less than twenty miles east of TMI, and in the panic ensuing after the accident the school was evacuated and closed.

Clueless as a lad could be (having avoided the television news during a visit home) I arrived back on campus to find the dormitories locked and the place deserted. A bored campus cop informed me that the nuke plant at TMI had melted down and classes were cancelled due to potential radioactive death. Simultaneously pleased with the unexpected vacation and disappointed at the lack of a mushroom-shaped Cloud of Doom I drove back down Highway 42 wondering what the heck all the fuss was about.

Anyway, the panic of Chernobyl and TMI seems to have comprehensively abated. The national Democratic website contains a link to something called the "Comprehensive New Energy for America" plan. In it, the Democratic candidates specify that potential problems involving "security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation" are so serious that any future plans for nuclear generation will depend on successfully solving them. The Democratic attitude towards nukes seems to be characterized as: "Enh, well..."

Over at the Straight Talker talks straight about lovin' him some nukes: "John McCain Will Put His Administration On Track To Construct 45 New Nuclear Power Plants By 2030 With The Ultimate Goal Of Eventually Constructing 100 New Plants." Damn the Russians and Chinese, full speed ahead. The GOP will also ensure that those dusky furriners don't get to build our nukes, either. Their website says: "It is also critical that the U.S. be able to build the components for these plants and reactors within our country..."

Thinking about this I'm not sure why McCain seems to feel the need to go all aggro about building nukes. ISTM that most Americans - and I include myself in this group - view the nuclear industry through the Duff Beer goggles of the Simpsons,to include our current Chief Executive's (and his XX-chromosome sister Caribou Barbie's) penchant for pronouncing the name of the damn thing "Nuke-U-lar". I don't get the sense that he's winning anyone's confidence outside the "drill, baby, drill" crowd and they're his anyway.

The other odd thing is that what I remember from TMI and from our own ill-starred Trojan plant is that one critical difference separates U.S. nuclear generation from the much more accepted, much more widespread nuclear program run by France's EDF.

U.S. nuclear plants were, historically, and still are as far as I know, always one-offs: that is, they are designed new from the ground up. With some minor exceptions, the design of almost every nuke plant in the U.S. varies, from slightly to wildly, from every other plant.

Part of this is a bug - nukes were all local power company projects, were all built independently of each other, and usually through a bid process that favored individual design teams from the big power plant contractors.

The other part is a feature - a principal aspect of the free market system. Nuke manufacturers were in competition with each other, and each one would retool their design for each new bid.

This inevitably led to problems, since each new reactor was, in effect, a beta-test version of the last reactor v2.0. Babcock & Wilson, the designers of the TMI reactor, had undoubtedly solved the problems that led to the 1979 accident. But that did nothing to solve the steam-tube failures that made our Trojan plant such an expensive white elephant.ISTM that there is a case to be made for nuclear power generation. But the first thing you need to do - before you make any sort of case that includes discussions of waste disposal, security and environmental concerns - is make the case for a nationally standardized set of designs for the reactors. That works for France, that works for the world's nuclear navies. Why don't either of the current candidates, as they wrestle with Peak Oil and Alternative Energy, make what seems to me this very simple, commonsense suggestion?

Interestingly enough, here's Matt Yglesias spotlighting a McCain stump speech in which he mocks concerns for the safety of nuclear plants. And yet, there IS a safety component to nuclear generation lacking in conventional coal or gas- and oil-fired plants. There IS a serious discussion to be had regarding reprocessing wastes (costs versus benefits) as well as final disposal (how, where and how long). For the candidate that touts nuclearization as the way out of the fossil fuel trap to "blah blah blah" his way around these discussions is to treat the voter like a child. For Obama to simply mention these issues without providing his proposals is also to treat the voter like a child - as Lisa points out in the comments section, neither candidate is talking to us like we were grown-ups

Could it be that neither one intends to have an adult conversation about this with the American voter?

Hmmmm....ya think...?

(A hat tip to Matthew Schneider, for his lovely juxtaposition of the sky-clad lass and the sky-high phallus of a cooling tower that once thrust impudently from the banks of the Columbia outside Rainier. Ah, Trojan, we may have hardly known ye but PGE is gonna try and make us pay for ye's ass if it takes them until 2023.

Or not. Hey, hey, maybe sometimes you CAN fight City Hall!!



You know me, and you know that I don't buy all this Obamessiah "Change" bullshit. Dude's a politician, the country is vaporlocked with debt and the expected results of twenty years of dumb choices and bloated crony capitalism politics. I don't honestly think that if the D's win next week the next four years will be that much better.


The alternative is SO much worse. And, besides...

...this is flat out fuckin' funny.(h/t to Nancy Nall!)

Scariest. Jack-o-lantern. Ever.

So this weekend we went to visit our friends Brent and Janelle to carve pumpkins. Our friends provided a wonderful time, and lots of kid- and grown-up fun was had in the process.Here's a selection of the spooky jack-o-lanterns that resulted from everyone's artistry. I'm not sure which one I like the best, they're all cleverly different as an approach to what is scarey about life this Halloween.The only guest who isn't represented one way or another is little Missy, who loved her little pumpkin too much to let me hurt it; instead she carried it around like her wubbie until I gave up. She did enjoy drawing on the pumpkins with the Sharpie pen, though.I have to say that Brent's "Mutual of Omaha" pumpkin is my personal favorite, with the storm threatening the happy home with it's 360-degree rail fence. Not sure if the image is a metaphor for the mortgage crisis or a more direct depiction of a rare late October electrical stormThe other beauty is Janelle's "autumn flowers" pumpkin with the cleverly carved amoeba-like blooms draped over the side of the big orange squash. I think the scariness of her creation is more muted yet more ominous in its very obliquity, don't you think?And, of course, when you think "scarey" there's really only one thing that comes to mind in this electoral season. So, with utter horror, I give you "W, the Pumpkin".

Native American Summer

Strange October we're having.The last week has been positvely tropical. Yesterday we were all outside in our shirtsleeves, and I mean T-shirt sleeves; the Peeper was racing around on his bike practically nude. Today's high is supposed to hit 70. WTF? This is the Pacific Northwest in late October?Not that I'm not enjoying the lovely weather, but still...we've got a rep to uphold here. So c'mon, rain; get off your dead ass.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Decisive Battles: Saratoga 1777

Author's Note: One thing I couldn't help but wonder at as I was researching this article was a historical parallel between the North American campaigns of the late 18th Century and the southwest Asian campaigns of the early 21st.

The colonial Americans (beyond the cities) were a rude people, prone to violent action, turbulent and throughly armed. In the cities was a contentious, proud and stiff-necked bourgeousie that disliked and distrusted external rule (and much internal rule as well...). Great power fighting on the continent since the early years of the century - and for the outlying villagers constant tribal warfare with their aboriginal neighbors - had created an armed society that had martial tradition hammered deeply into the grain of American colonial life.

So between April 1775 and October 1777 - a span of roughly 30 months; two and a half years - the English-speaking residents of the North American continent hammered themselves an Army (with covert assistance from their enemy's Great Power foe) whose mix of regular infantry, local defense volunteers and frontier rregulars was capable of meeting - and defeating - what was then among the best infantry forces in the European world.Today we find ourselves in something of the position of the Bourbon government in 1781; we are sponsoring proxies - two proxies, in the case of the Iraqi Government and the Afghan Government - in war. Our enemies are not a world power, however, but a band of ragged irregular fanatics and Islamic neoconservatives. Poorly funded, badly trained, haphazardly armed, this enemy force hasn't the slightest hope of defeating us in open warfare anywhere in the world, including their own homelands.

Despite this, we find ourselves not, as the Count de Rochambau found himself in 1781, assisting and advising a vigorous and soon-to-be-victorious native polity whose forces were at least respected by their compatriots and their enemies alike and trusted by our own...but still struggling to field a reliable native proxy force whose failings are manifest and whose competence and discipline is questionable despite being formed from - at least in the case of Afghanistan - from some of the fightingest peoples on Earth.

How our colonial forebears were able to accomplish this phenomenal military success while our own efforts today in Asia bear such bitter fruit is a question that Saratoga raised in my mind that I am unable to put to rest; the contrast between the fighting in the Hudson Valley in 1777 and the Korengal Valley in 2008 is too powerful to give me much solace.

Why the descendants of the patriots and revolutionaries of 1777 have gone from being perhaps the most successful and gifted rebels in history to being the enablers of foreign petty tyrants, corrupt oligarchs and brutal "he's-an-SOB-but-he's-our-SOB" warlords is a question that bloody sacrifice of the heroic patriots should raise in our minds as well.

Saratoga September 19 – October 17, 1777

Forces Engaged:
American: September 17 - 23 battalions of the Continental Line (regulars), 2 battalions of New York militia, 3 enormous (250 man!) companies of Connecticut militia, a small battalion of cavalry, 22 guns. Roughly 7,000 troops in 6 brigades under MG Horatio Gates.

By October 7 add 20 battalions of New York and Massachussetts militia, 5,000 effectives; between 11,000 and 15,000 in all under Gates and MG Benedict Arnold.

British: 8 battalions (“regiments” in British usage) of British regulars, 4 battalions of Brunswick mercenary regulars, 1 battalion of Hesse-Hanau mercenary regulars. About 600 various auxiliaries including Loyalist Americans, Canadian irregulars, British-allied Mohawks, voyageurs and sailors. No cavalry, 29 guns. Beginning at roughly 6-7,000 in September rising to nearly 8,000 by October under GEN John Burgoyne.

The Situation: The American rebellion against Hanoverian Britain can’t be considered to have been in terrific shape in the spring of 1777. The initial patriot euphoria of the Massachussetts victories of Concord and Bunker Hill had been dispelled by the failure of the Canadian invasion scheme, the bitter defeats of on Long Island and at White Plains and the loss of New York City. Victories like Trenton and the good showing against the British rearguard at Princeton just proved that throwing out the British would be a long and difficult process. The professional army and navy, deeper purse and stronger logistical tail that belonged to the British Crown was intimidating, and independence must have seemed very far away.One key to Saratoga is to remember that, regardless of what anybody else thought, John Burgoyne thought of himself as a military genius.

It’s one thing when other people tell you you’re a military genius. When you’re the one telling yourself? Usually not a good sign.

So the initiative was with the British in the spring and summer of 1777. With the only navy in being they controlled the borders of their rebellious colonies (as well as controlling the only quick and efficient way of moving large bodies of formed troops). From their central position between Philadelphia and New York the British Army was in position to drive a wedge between the central and New England colonies, or between the central and southern colonies. The only question was: where to go, and how.

One somewhat less-than-unique difficulty facing the British was their chain-of-command. It was dysfunctional, to put it mildly. Lord George Germain,

the “Secretary of State for the American Department” was not an active government officer, and his three major generals in America were decidedly cool towards each other. Germain, who as their superior must bear the responsibility for their failures, did little to enforce their cooperation; he did not lead and from 3,000 miles distance could not drive. The American campaigns suffered for Germain’s lack of insistence.

At Saratoga Germain’s incapacity to enforce unity on his commanders set the disaster in train. For the British 1777 campaign was based on a fatal misconception, one that Germain could and should have rectified.

MG William Howe had delivered a plan of campaign to his superior in November 1776 detailing a strike up the Hudson to Albany followed by a coup de main on the rebel capital of Philadelphia; Howe revised this plan in February 1777 to omit the Albany maneuver – Howe felt that the rebel retreat into east central Pennsylvania made Philadelphia too tempting a target.

But MG Burgoyne also had a cunning plan, this one to strike south from Quebec down the Hudson, take Fort Ticonderoga (the key to the lock on the upper river) and then sweep down to Albany to meet Howe surging north from New York as a third force under COL St. Leger demonstrated in the Mohawk River valley to draw colonial attentions away from the main effort.

Germain could have approved one or the other. He could have devised a third plan incorporating elements of both. He could have asked for or devised an entirely different plan.

He did none of the above; instead, he did the worst thing he could have done: he approved Burgoyne’s plan without telling him that he had ALSO approved Howe’s plan. Howe would be nowhere near Albany when Burgoyne needed him. Neither British force could support the other – both risked defeat in detail if the Americans could take advantage of a central position and move their forces to achieve local superiority.

By the time Howe set off from England in May…long before his troops marched out of St. Johns in June…his plan was in ruins.

Burgoyne took three months to move from St. Johns to Saratoga. His initial moves were quite successful: Ticonderoga fell without the expected battle on July 6, and then pursued the retreating American forces under St Claire, defeating them at battles near Hubbardton, Fort Anne, and Skenesboro. Burgoyne, arriving in Saratoga about August 10th, should have and probably did feel fairly satisfied with his troops. What he didn’t know was that things were already going wrong.

First, the reinforcing column led by St. Leger had achieved nothing like the diversion it was supposed to have effected. While a column of New York militia was decimated at Bloody Creek in early August St. Leger had not managed to detour any substantial rebel forces. Benedict Arnold and 800 Continental line bluffed St. Leger, which withdrew in late August.

Meanwhile, a thousand man foraging detachment (a disorganized mess of dismounted Bruswick dragoons, loyalist Americans and Canadians and assorted native American tribesmen) had been destroyed at Bennington on August 16th. Literally not a man returned to Saratoga; over 700 captured, 200 KIAs, and the critical supplies the raid ws intended to secure not obtained.

And when Burgoyne finally moved south, across the Hudson, he found, not Howe, but MG Gates and Arnold strongly entrenched at Bemis Heights. Burgoyne’s campaign of maneuver was over: the battles of Saratoga had begun.

The Sources: Both Continental and British Army records, returns and dispatches contain a wealth of detail about the Saratoga campaign and the battles of Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights. Both the U.S. Army and the Royal Army have official histories that provide excellent discussions of Saratoga, the campaign and the geopolitical consequences. In addition, Saratoga has been recognized as a “decisive battle” nearly since its occurrence; it was discussed in Edward Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World from Marathon to Waterloo published in 1851, les than a century after the battle. I personally recommend Fortescue’s monumental History of the British Army. His Volume 3 contains a very comprehensive account and analysis of the entire Saratoga Campaign.

Perhaps the most personal, and certainly the most engaging, documentation of Saratoga is contained in the "Letters and Journals" of Frederika Charlotte Louise,

Baroness von Riedesel, who went into the bag with her husband in 1777 and was an involuntary guest of the revolutionaries until 1780.

Here’s the little Baroness on a bad day at Saratoga:
“The rain fell in torrents. . . . On the 9th, it rained terribly the whole day; nevertheless we kept ourselves ready to march. The savages had lost their courage, and they walked off in all directions. The least untoward event made them dispirited, especially when there was no opportunity for plunder.

My chamber-maid exclaimed the whole day against her fate, and seemed mad with despair. I begged her to be quiet, unless she wished to be taken for a savage. Upon this she became still more extravagant, and asked me, "If I should be sorry for it?" -- "Surely," replied I. -- She then tore her cap from her head, and let her hair fall upon her face. "You take it quite easily," said she, "for you have your husband; but we have nothing but the prospect of being killed, or of losing the little we possess. . . .”

The Engagement: What we think of as “The Battle of Saratoga” was, in fact, two engagements, one fought in mid September, the second in early October, with periods of waiting or maneuvering between.

The Battle of Freeman’s Farm (First Saratoga) was a meeting engagement fought September 19th. A British force of three brigades (Fraser’s and Hamilton’s British, Riedesel’s Bruswickers) attempted to flank the American position on Bemis Heights. MG Arnold, correctly anticipating the British maneuver, was prevented from moving to the left in force by his superior, MG Gates. He did manage to swing Morgan’s riflemen and two Continental brigades (Poor’s and Learned’s) over to meet the British. The engagement consisted of a series of advances and retreats until the British pushed the American troops back about a mile, holding the field. But the important outcome was Burgoyne’s inability to turn the Bemis Heights position, and the loss of 500-600 British troops. Burgoyne’s men dug in around Freeman’s Farm to wait for a better day.After almost three weeks, during which time Burgoyne held his position in hopes of relief (in the form of MG Clinton’s force at New York which did not sortie beyond the Palisades), the British attacked again over almost the same ground and again with Fraser’s and Riedesel’s brigades. MG Arnold, again, led and rallied Learned’s and Poor’s Continental brigades, Ten Broeck’s New York militia brigade, Morgan’s rifles and Dearborn’s lights.This Battle of Bemis Heights was indecisive but the British were falling back, the Breymann Regiment routed and their redoubt stormed, as both evening fell and Gates’ staff officer arrived to relive Arnold, who had been officially relieved with cause earlier in the month but rode to the guns when the British troops attacked. Any hope Burgoyne had of breaking though died with the light on October 7th.

And that was pretty much that. Burgoyne tried for several weeks to escape but the Americans had him bottled up on the lower Hudson, running our of food, powder and healthy bodies. Finally he agreed to a “convention” by which he surrendered without actually, you know, surrendering. Aside from Burgoyne and a handful of officers about 6,000 troops went into the bag at Saratoga. The Continental Congress, suspicious of the willingness of the North Administration to honor the Convention, refused to exchange them and instead consigned them to a set of fairly wretched camps and barracks where many died of disease and neglect.

GEN Burgoyne suffered in public and private society for his failure, only returning to public life after the fall of the wartime cabinet in the late 1780s. His plays, which include “The Maid of the Oaks” and “The Heiress” are considered well-crafted; it may be that as a general he was a competent playwright.

MG Gates went on to an undistinguished career that culminated in losing the Battle of Camden to the eventual loser at Yorktown.

MG Arnold’s story is well known.

His critical role and his heroism at Saratoga are undebatable, as is his later treason. For that reason his monument depicts not the man or the general but his leg, through which he was shot at Bemis Heights. In later days during his exile among the British a regimental wit claimed that were Arnold to be captured by the rebellion they would first cut off the leg that had shed blood in their cause and bury it with full military honors before hanging the rest of the man from the highest tree.

The Outcome: Strategic American Revolutionary forces victory with geopolitical implications.

The Impact: Militarily substantive; the British never seriously threatened New England or the north-central colonies again, instead shifting operations to the southern states where Loyal sentiment was reputed to be stronger. While the British Army was not seriously damaged – of the total losses in the Saratoga Campaign less than half were British troops – the impact on British strategic thinking was marked. The British never again tried any sophisticated maneuvering above the tactical scale. They had learned a hard lesson about the difficulty of campaigning in a wilderness at the end of a 3,000-mile-long supply line.

Geopolitically decisive; France, which had been sitting on the sidelines hoping to cock a snook at their old enemy, decided to intervene directly. French money, French troops, but most decisively, French warships, now threatened British strength not just in North America but globally. To gain back their American colonies only to lose, say, India, to the demmed Frogs just wasn’t worth the trade. The fight against the American rebels went from being an existential struggle to being an economy-of-force operation. While I find it unlikely that the British could have won outright in America they could have made the struggle much more difficult. French military power combined with American political determination resulted in a new nation.

Touchline Tattles: Hard to say which is the “best” human interest story from Saratoga. There’s the gruesomely appropriate for Halloween like the tragic death of Jane McRae.Hero stories like the stand of General Herkimer at Oriskany. The frontier tall-tale aspect of the death of Simon Fraser, shot down by a rifleman named Murphy from over 300 yards away.

The generals of Saratoga are almost all good stories. Arnold’s decline from the height of glory at the Breymann Redoubt began here to descend later into treason and shabby gentility in exile. Gates appears to my latter-day gaze as an almost Cheneyesque figure, scheming and plotting and running away to hide after the sky falls at Camden, an oleaginous little manikin of a politician of a general.

Burgoyne himself is almost too operatic and histrionic to seem real; he is the general with the snowy cravat and the superfine weskit; the pluperfect Georgian gentleman. Here is Bernard Shaw taking him on in “The Devil’s Disciple”:

BURGOYNE [coolly] I believe I am Gentlemanly Johnny, sir, at your service. My more intimate friends call me General Burgoyne. [Richard bows with perfect politeness]. You will understand, sir, I hope, since you seem to be a gentleman and a man of some spirit in
spite of your calling, that if we should have the misfortune to hang you, we shall do so as a mere matter of political necessity and military duty, without any personal ill-feeling.

RICHARD. Oh, quite so. That makes all the difference in the world, of course.

They all smile in spite of themselves; some of the younger officers burst out laughing.

JUDITH [her dread and horror deepening at every one of these jests and compliments] How can you ?

RICHARD. You promised to be silent.

BURGOYNE [to Judith with studied courtesy] Believe me. Madam, your husband is placing us under the greatest obligation by taking this very disagreeable business so thoroughly in the spirit of a gentleman. Sergeant : give Mr. Anderson a chair. [The sergeant does so. Richard sits down]. Now, Major Swindon: we are waiting for you.

SWINDON. You are aware, I presume, Mr. Anderson, of your obligations as a subject of His Majesty King George the Third.

RICHARD. I am aware, sir, that His Majesty King George the Third is about to hang me because I object to Lord North's robbing me.

SWINDON. That is a treasonable speech, sir.

RICHARD {briefly] Yes. I meant it to be.

BURGOYNE [strongly deprecating this line of defence but still polite] Dont you think, Mr Anderson, that this is rather — if you will excuse the word — a vulgar line to take? Why should you cry out robbery because of a stamp duty and a tea duty and so forth? After all, it is the essence of your position as a gentleman that you pay with a good grace.

RICHARD. It is not the money, General. But to be swindled by a pig-headed lunatic like King George —

SWINDON [scandalized] Chut, sir — silence!

SERGEANT [in stentoriau tones, greatly shocked] Silence !

BURGOYNE [unruffled] Ah, that is another point of view. My position does not allow of my going into that, except in private.
One rather gets the feeling that Burgoyne himself would have had something languid and witty to say about his portrayal by a latter-day playwright; more than a gentleman, if rather less than a Great Captain.

As always, it was left to his soldiers’ to suffer from the great misfortune that he did not see this then as clearly as Shaw did 150 years later, or we do today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oregon! Measure 63! We're REALLY effing stupid here!

I've been discussing how we seem to have lost our collective minds here in Oregon. I've talked about our messed up tax situation, and about how this year's ballot measures represent the extent to which we've allowed an antitax manic and irresponsible fucknozzle named Bill Sizemore to capture our public discourse.

I didn't talk about the WORST of this years initiatives: Measure 63.

This...this...I honestly can come up with a term bad enough to describe it. This thing proposes to exempt $35,000-per-year worth of "home improvements" from permits and inspections, except for electric wiring.

Always wanted to build that cantilever deck over the ravine? Engineering? Who needs it? That's what Home Depot is for!! That new bathroom? Get your "Plumbing for Dummies" and your plumber's snake and drill, baby, drill! Roofing? FUCK!! MEXICANS DO IT!! SO CAN YOU!!!

I never write letters to the editor; waste of time, especially here given The Worst Newspaper in the World. But this dog? I had to. So:

To the Editor:

This year we Oregonians are presented with yet another in the series of ballot measures presented by Mr. Bill Sizemore; in particular Ballot Measure 63.

This proposal, exempting homeowners from getting building permits when house improvements made each year are less than a self-declared $35,000, sounds seductively commonsensical and moderate. I am here, as a professional engineering geologist and homeowner, to tell you that professionally and personally, these typically deceptive Sizemore claims are flat wrong.

Professionally, much of my business results from unanticipated problems which develop after poorly planned, poorly constructed, usually unpermitted and uninspected “home improvements” are performed by the homeowners or their contractors. Personally, my own house in North Portland was “rebuilt” and “remodeled” by former owners whose incompetence as electricians was matched only by their inability as carpenters.

Building planning and permitting rules are usually crafted by our elected governments as the result of past experience with fires, building damage and financial losses incurred by dangerous and unsafe construction. Measure 63 insists that we should ignore these lessons, instead depending on every individual homeowner to decide whether to spend the extra time and money doing the job safely…or whether to work cheap and just hope that nothing goes wrong.

The electrician who repaired the unpermitted, uninspected wiring “work” done by the former owners of our home summed this up pretty well: “You didn’t have a fire. You were very lucky.” The former owners’ “home improvements” – exactly the sort of thing that Measure 63 means to make legal – forced me and my wife to pay out of our own pocket to protect ourselves and our children. The former owners saved a couple of thousand in permits and inspections. Their “work” could have cost us our lives.

Measure 63 asks us all to roll the dice and hope we all get lucky. We’ve seen this before from Bill Sizemore; he gets lucky and we all pay the price. As a professional geologist I am bound to consider your safety, the public’s safety, first in doing my job. Mr. Sizemore seems to think this is a luxury we can’t afford.

Explain to him why he’s wrong. Please vote no on Measure 63.

F.D. Chief, R.G., C.E.G.
Oregon Certified Engineering Geologist
Portland, Oregon

It never got printed.

We. Are . So. Fucked.

Oregon! Hey! We're Stupid Here! (Pt. 1)

I love Oregon.We have this beautiful state, rich in all the bounty of nature and human artifice, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, at the height of technological civilization. What could be wrong?

Well. Um. We are.

Oregonians are stupid. In all the ways that people are stupid the world over, we are pig-ignorant stupid. World-class stupid. We're stupid to all fields; we can run stupid, hit stupid and field stupid. We're All-Stupid.Now this hasn't happened by accident. Our "leaders" have helped us down the well-lit, smoothly paved path to abject stupidity. But we've gone ourselves, skipping and singing, because to think and act responsibly, like adults, would have caused us suffering and some hardship. We might have had to sacrifice, or even had to have a difficult discussion about wants and means.

Here's a great example. Take a close look at Tuesday's Oregonian cover.

Enlarge the little blue pie chart in the lower left corner of the box in the center, that goes with the story titled "Oregon fears even deeper cuts". The story, mind you, is about why the coming Great Recession is going to slam my state with the Big Hammer of Budgetary Doom. Now look at the little blue pie chart.

Got it?

Okay. Now; what percentage of Oregon's state income is derived from personal income?
Go ahead, do the math. I'll wait. Hummm hummm de humm. Humm. Got it yet?

Did you get 82% give or take a percent? Then you're right. Eighty cents on the dollar of Oregon's revenue comes out of your and my pocket.

Now here in the Beaver State we have two big offices of the three or four tennis shoe giants in the world: the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, and adidas' North America office right in my own home of North Portland. Plus dog knows how many other corporations. Okay, now look at the little blue pie. How much do those corporations kick into the pot. Got your calculator?


That's not an error. Four fucking percent. That's it.

This wasn't always so. But for more than twenty years, for the entire time I've been here in Oregon (eighteen years this Labor Day), the "business community" here has worked tirelessly to shift the cost of bridges, cops and junkies onto the individual and off of the businesses.Did you notice the NEXT biggest slice of the blue pie after personal income?

Yeah. The goddam Lottery. Now THERE's a hell of a productive revenue source: The Tax On Stupidity. Thank the Big Sky Beaver that there's no shortage of that here in Oregon!

One change that you DON'T see is the massive shift from property taxes to income taxes. Back in 1990 we passed something called "Ballot Measure 5". This beast capped and then lowered property taxes to a penurious point, a point where counties without real property, especially urban and rural areas, couldn't pay for their schools. The Oregon Legislature has become the default School Board for the state.Meanwhile the usual coalition of business and political conservatives rolled back corporate taxes - the property tax limitations helped immensely; I saved $400 on my tax bill for 1995, while Portland General Electric saved 400 million - and along with the usual tax dodges many Oregon corporations pay the legally mandated minimum corporate income tax.


No shit. Ten bucks. The corner shoe store? Ten bucks. Multi-billion dollar Flavr-Pac frozen foods?

Ten bucks.

Not surprisingly, this hugely-income-dependent state treasury is utterly fucked. The economy tanks, people get thrown out of work, get stressed, get sick, get foreclosed, thrown on the street - need help, food, medical care, a place to stay...and the state's got nothin'. Those same incomes were floating the fiscal boat. Economy tanks, income tanks, Oregon tanks.Over the years all sorts of ideas have been suggested to fix this. Every one has foundered on Oregonian's impenetrable solid bone skulls. We want our parks. We want our roads, bridges, zoos, policemen, firefighters, we want our kids to be healthy and smart, we want our businesses to be safe and competitive.

But we don't want to pay for any of this.

And we have a system that ensures that we can have it all, everything we ask for, all the goodies we need, and the Magical Pony Miracle Happy Bunny Wuffy Santa in the Sky will pay for it.

It's called "ballot measures" or "The Oregon System", and that'll be the subject of the second part of this post.

Oregon! Hey! We're Stupid Here! (Pt. 2)

So, having shown that we have no clue as how to pay for what we want, let's take a look at what we want, or at least what this year's ballot measures SAY we want.

Oh, sorry. Ballot measures?

Okay. For those of you from out-of-town, let me explain about ballot measures.

These animals have been part of Oregon democracy since Nineteen-freaking-Oh-Two, when someones called the "Direct Legislation League" (a very "Progressive" Era name if ever I've heard one) bullyragged the Oregon legislature into enacting this process into law. I think it's instructive that one of the first ballot measures enacted was for recalling elected officials; most of the people involved in this business were the ancestors of today's "small government" conservatives. They profoundly distrusted elected officials and had an almost religious faith in "The People".

In Oregon's case the People reciprocated this trust with the sort of touching savagery that has always rewarded those individuals who live convinced of the naive goodness of children and animals: they passed Prohibition five years before the rest of the country voted for perhaps the most boneheaded social legislation in U.S. history.

Mind you, Oregonians haven't always been so stupid. We outlawed the death penalty by referendum back in 1914, got the vote for women in 1912, made the Senate a popular franchise in 1908. In 1930 we enacted Public Utility Districts, a good idea that predated Enron by sixty years. We voted in things like eight-hour days, and tried to get people the right to get a job by taxing the estates of rich people - always a good idea, taxing rich people! - and other social welfare ideas. The history of these things, like most histories, is a mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime.

Until the 1990s.

The Gingrich Counterrevolution exploded here in Oregon in the Nineties in the form of ballot measures. The poster children for this revolt of the elites were these two characters; Bill Sizemore, a theologianwith a checkered history of failed businesses from Aberdeen, WA, and Don McIntyre, a Californian whose property tax limitation Measure 5 is widely credited with breaking the public education bank here in Oregon. They and their organization, "Oregon Taxpayers United", have helped immensely in advancing the now-widespread acceptance of the notion that paying taxes - any taxes - is bad and harmful and the political equivalent of molesting farm animals.

Their moneyman, an Alzheimer's-ridden old bastard named Loren Parks, has fled the state but continues to funnel jack into their campaigns to return Oregon to the Gilded Age.

This year's crop of initiatives is as good as any way to look at the sad state of Oregon public discourse as it has been reduced after eighteen years of Sizemore, McIntyre, Parks and their ilk. Let's look at them, shall we?

There's twelve measures put to the voters this November.

Three of them are what I call "housekeeping" measures; things that someone (usually the Legislature) wants to tidy up some ravelling in the Constitution. This year's housekeeping measures include Measures 54, 55 and 56. The only one that will really impact the state is 56.

Measure 54 brings Oregon's school election laws in line with Federal statutes, Measure 55 rectifies a technical issue associated with redistricting.

Measure 56 repeals the damage done by the moronic Measure 47 of 1996, a Sizemore product which required, amongst the usual "starve the beast" tax cuts, a "double majority" for any taxation-related measures - that is, 50% of all reqistered voters had to turn out and of that 50.001% had to approve the measure. Since getting the American voter to get off his fourth point of contact to vote for anything not involving free sex or alcohol requires a hell of a long lever or high explosive this measure pretty much guarenteed that no revenue could be enacted in Oregon short of divine intervention. M-56 is designed to return our state to that halcyon period when those people who deigned to turn up to vote got to, you know, decide what won or lost.

You see the fine hand of Sizemore at work?

Wait. It gets better.

Measures 57 and 61 are two of these things that look similar but are actually fighting each other fiercely.

Measure 61 sends heroin, ecstacy and meth cooks and dealers, burglars and ID thieves to jail for 3 years. Every one. No exceptions. No deals. Three years hard. Period.

This little treasure is a Sizemore product - a turd for the pocket of every Oregonian. To keep the junkies out of our glove boxes and the burglars out of our garages, we're going to have to spend something like eleven zillion dollars to lock these larcenous bastards up for three years in the Oregon State Home For Wayward Boys.

After which they will emerge, presumably still larcenous (since, after all, if they could have gone to work as a union plumber they would have, right? They're not gonna learn a trade in stir and there's no money in this dog for job training, anyway), presumably still broke (since they still have no job and now, as an ex-con, are even LESS likely to get one), presumably still junkies (since there's no money for treatment, either) and since they need some quick cash for their rent and their crank they're going to get it where..?

Yeah. Duh.

Measure 57 is the Oregon legislature answer to M-61. It still costs an assload, just less of an assload than M-61. It still means money going to prisons rather than bridges, schools and jobs. But, believe it or not, this is the BEST we can hope for, since the predictions are that us idiot Oregonians are going to pass M-61, and only if we ALSO pass M-57, and by more votes, will the latter become law.

Oh, and did I mention that neither one of these dogs has a funding provision attached?

Oh, yeah, Sweet.

Measure 58: or "Fuck Them Beaners", requires a maximum of two years of ESL. No exceptions. You got two years to habla de Ingles, Paco; to sprakh Angleski, Ivan; to whatever the hell "speak English" is in Farsi, Cambodian, Ugihur and Inuit. Then you're on your own. Teachers and everybody else who has to deal with the immigrant communities here hates this one-size-fits-all monstrosity, but we love these punish-the-furriners measures here, and this is just another Sizemore treat that tickles our white boy tummies.

Does anyone know if this works? Does anyone have a hard basis for two years rather then three, four or six? Who cares! It sounds good to the goobers in Vernonia who get pissed off every time they drive by the little panaderia or see the sign reading "Se Habla Espanol" in the payday loan place in the corner.

Chief Petitioner?

Bill Sizemore.

Will it pass? Probably not. But watch - I predict it'll get at least 45% of the vote.

Measure 59 is a real sweetheart. Pass this one and you get to deduct you whole Federal tax bill - every sweet penny - from your state tax return. It'll net me about a couple of hundred bucks. It'll give Phil Knight a couple of million. And it'll bust the state budget like a Southeast Portland sheetmetalbasher going through 40-ouncers on a Friday afternoon. It’s a good idea assuming that Phil needs workman’s comp, unemployment, public health, education or law enforcement before I do.

Chief Petitioner?

Bill Sizemore.Measure 60 substitutes “classroom performance” for seniority as one of the bases for public schoolteacher pay. In the past, this has meant that teacher pay is tied to student performance on standardized tests. Oregon conservatives have been trying versions of this for some time, in hopes that one will stick and cause public school teachers grief.

Back in the 1980’s one of my troops asked me what would happen if we did poorly on the IG inspection we were preparing for. I patiently explained that such a failure would be the result of poor leadership on my part, that it would be reflected on my professional evaluation and I could be denied promotion because of it. And that, as the inevitable result of such a disappointment, I would ensure that everyone else involved in said failure died a hideously painful and horribly prolonged death involving sharp, probably barbed, metal objects as well as open flame.

So let’s say that putting this measure into law will be likely to alter the student-teacher relationship somewhat.

Chief Petitioner?

Bill Sizemore.We’ve talked about M-61. Measure 62 is the brainchild (to use the term loosely) of a fellow named Kevin Mannix, a Republican four-time loser for public office. It snares 15 percent of the state lottery money for law enforcement. While as a measure this dog is not much worse than most and better then some, as an example of what’s wrong with Oregon’s revenue system it couldn’t be better. Imagine a society where the public weal rests on the willingness of the dumbest 10% to squander their wealth on a rigged game of chance;

“Say, Falling Water, what say you give that deer haunch to the tribe is this tree falls in the forest and makes a sound? IF it doesn’t , I’ll give you TWO deer haunches. Whaddya say?”

“Gee, Porcupine Quill, that sounds like a GREAT idea!”

No wonder the Calapooyas went the way of the passenger pigeon. We're hooked on the Lottery like a broken-down dogtrack bettor is on getting two bucks down on that brindle dog with the shortcoupled legs. And the problem is that the Oregon voters don't seem to have a problem with that...

Measure 63 is so bad, so wrong, so completely and utterly "how much crack do you have to smoke to think this way" fucked up that it needs a complete post to itself. I'll do that.

Chief Petitioner?

Bill Sizemore.Finally, Measure 64 is one of these "God I Hate Public Unions!" measures that the Oregon GOP comes up with every so often. It doesn't do much other than make life a little tougher for these unions by preventing them from using public facilities. So the AFSCME folks couldn't meet at the town hall, the firefighters at the firehouse, the teachers at the school if they collect money or lobby for anything.

Update 10/23: My friend Meghan points out (in the comments) that one of the unintended side effects of this measure, though, would be to make it extremely difficult to organize charity fund drives in these same places, thus driving a nail in her EarthShare (and other charitable organizations) donations. I should note that this is a typical feature of these Sizemore initiatives: piss-poor construction. And I mean piss-poor on the order of intending to dynamite the little treestump in your backyard and instead setting off a massive explosion that completely destroys the church and preschool eight blocks away.

Did I mention that I think Sizemore is a total fucktard?

Anyway. Is it a horrible measure? No. Is it the sort of petty, spiteful "I Hate Unions" thing that you expect from some sort of nasty little WalMart manager or officious boss's stooge?

Chief Petitioner?

Bill Sizemore.

I almost forgot Measure 65, which opens our primaries so that nasty people like me can cross party lines and vote in clotheads to run against the people we WANT to elect. This measure's daddy is Phil Kiesling, one of the boggest policy wonks in the state, so, really, who gives a fuck?


So do you get the picture? Oregonians: we're stupid. We want our stuff but we don't want to pay for it, and because this Sizemore idiot says we can, we've let him grab our "direct democracy" by the man-root and lead it around wherever he wants it to go. Of the twelve measures on the ballot this year, three are more or less housekeeping. One is open primaries (repeat after me: Phil, who gives a fuck!?)

Of the remaining eight, six are from the Sizemore mill and one is from his intellectual siderunner, Kev Mannix.

What. The. Fuck?

As Lear in the play - we have mad'st this fool of a Sizemore our mother; "for when thou gav'st them the rod, and put'st down thine own breeches,

then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep
And go the fools among."

Because this is Oregon. Hey! We're Stupid Here!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


So I'm wondering why I'm feeling so headache-y, sore and generally less than sparking tpday when I get a phone call from my Beloved Wife reporting

that our little Peeper has been dragged retching down to the school nurse's office having spewed all over his classroom (there's a D-minus waiting to happen, kiddo) and is now home with some generic loathesome kid disease.

What IS it with kids and illness? I swear, I never got colds until we had kids. Never. Now? Two or three a winter, at least. It's like they're adorable little vermin swarming up the hawsers to bring their plague fleas onboard my immune system; sweet, loving and loveable vectors for germs and disease, the Anopheles mosquito of the Fire Direction Center.

I love you, Peep, but you gotta start slamming some B-vitamin or something. Or I gotta. Or we BOTH gotta. These colds...ugh. I'm so done with them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Waiting for the Weekend

Lots going on, even if I DID have to work Saturday morning...

Here we are ready to go out to St. John's Pub for some FINE Tater Tots and a chewy Porter or three on Saturday night. Note My Little Pony, Missy's new friend. Girl loves her some little ponies. Sigh.Here we are about midday, me and the Peep out at Kelly Point Park, digging for corpses buried by the local gangstas. Seriously, KPP used to be a significant hangout for the local G's. Not so much now.What it WAS was freakin' cold, with a raw wind blowing off the Columbia. So we hustled back to the truck and went to Home Depot (more of which later).

Here's Little Miss in her stylin' leopard outfit and flirty Little Black Skirt chowing down on some megadelicioso Curly Fries.

She's a cutie, all right.

Think about her, you little toddler boys, and her daddy will take your wubbie and make you cry.

Please note that I dressed her in her adorable little outfit, giving the lie to Mojo's claim that I cannot be trusted to dress the Baby Girl.

The Peeper loves him some Curly Fries, too.

...our Missy is an often-early riser, and Sunday she wanted to wear my B-robe.

Scary how this little girl can be cute in just about anything...

...and everything.

She's been a real delight all weekend, constantly having fun, giggling and playing and being silly. Tonight she "helped" me with the laundry by climbing on the bed, leaping into the clothes, climbing the overturned laundry basket and jumping off of it, too, rolling and and hiding under the pile of clothes, and finally flinging handfuls of socks off into the aether. All the while giggling and chuckling like a madwoman.

What a nut.

Here's a fun little sequence with Missy and Mojo: the girls at supperDaddy's taking our picture. Should we do something?Okay.Silly rabbits.

Mojo brought home a huge sack of Mardigras beads, which the sprouts had fun trying on and playing with.

Here's missy capering in front of the mirror...

I liked this one because while Peeper was turned away she went totally bugnuts, and you can see the result in the picture.

Today the Peep went to the birthday party of a little girl from daycare. Frankly, I don't think he knows Lucinda from Eve, but he made up important toy-giving numbers.

And the party was fun, whether at Columbia Pool......where Peeper met Henry, an old buddy of his who's now going to another preschool.

At least this time I wasn't the only parent swimming, as I was at the last pool party. THAT felt wierd, I'll tell you.

But what was wierd was that there were THREE parties at the pool, and (not knowing the child or her parents) we wandered into the wrong one, dropped off our prezzie and bags and went out to swim.

Thankfully, the surprised dad brought out present out BEFORE she opened it. Oops...

But the party was the most tolerable kid party I've been to, with actual adult food and drink, a really casual attitude and lots of fun for the kids. The unicorn-donkey(?) pinata was worth the price of admission. I'm sorry that Mojo stayed home with Missy; I think she would have had fun with the cool moms there. There was even an alumna of the Breakneck Betties, last year's Portland flattrack season champs! Hooooaaahhh!!

Much jollility was had by peepers and moms, dads, grands and grams alike. The pinata was destroyed - note to parents: those little plastic boxes of orange tic-tacs? Will NOT survive bludgeoning with a baseball bat. So think before stuffing them in a pinata. I'm just saying.

Oh, and dogs WILL lick orange tic-tacs. Repeatedly.

Peeper had a great time, and was a generally great kid. Fun party.At one or another time during the weekend I managed to finish Missy's bedroom vault ceiling; all 2" cedar tongue-and-groove. And started the taping and plastering for the drywall. Go, Home Depot!I really like the effect of the high ceiling, evethough it means a LOT of filling, sanding and finishing the hideous old truss beams.Okay, so I have a survey. We're looking at several styles of crown moulding for Missy's bedroom.

This is the most complex and formal,the "braided rope" style:This is what I call the "Home Depot Common" style, a very plain and standard crown moulding:This is a little more complicated and fun, what I call the "Venetian" style moulding:And last is the very delicate "Vine" style:What do you think; which do you like? Let me know in the comments, I'd appreciate whatever reaction you have; the more input, the more better.

Anyway, have a great week. And I've been posting my ass off today - be sure and scroll down if you have the time and a yen to read. Thanks!