Friday, February 29, 2008


If I could have anything I wished for...then tonight, after all the birthday fun, I would sit quietly at the bottom of your big girl bed with you all cuddled up, bright-eyed, with your plush friends and warm jammies and cozy blankets and read this to you:

"So -- here I am in the dark alone;
There's nobody here but me
I think to myself
I play to myself
And nobody knows what I say to myself.
Here I am in the dark alone
what is it going to be?
I can think whatever I like to think
I can play whaver I like to play
I can laugh whatever I like to laugh
There's nobody here but me."

Darling, I'm sorry you are in the dark alone. Daddy and Mommy couldn't stop those stars from going out inside your head one by one until the last little glimmer of light faded away. You left us so soon; you left us with an empty place inside that will always bear your name.

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

The Empty Stroller

Yes, I know it's Friday and yes, I had a very pointed, witty discussion of this year's election campaign and how foolish it makes us look as individuals as well as a country. But, honestly, I just can't post it. I'm sick of the poisoned politics of America 2008.

And I'm missing some friends.

Let me explain.

Thursday and today I had some work in the town of Lake Oswego. For those of you who don't know Portland, Lake O is the Beverly Hills or Palos Verdes Estates to our Los Angeles; the Grosse Point or Scarsdale to our New's the "good" part of town, where a better class of people live (than alongside us up here in University Park, anyway...). Sadly, the Portland knickname for the place is "Lake No-negroes", which says something about Lake O and probably more about Portland.

Before my divorce pre-Mommy and I had some pretty good friends whole lived in Lake O. Karen was a co-worker of my ex's and Greg and I both enjoyed baseball and hockey and were old enough, similar enough and shared enough of a sense of humor to get along pretty well. It's not like we were BFFs, but we were both childless couples, enjoyed similar entertainments, saw each other several times a year and enjoyed it when we did.

After the divorce Greg and Karen were good friends, scrupulously fair to both my ex and I, and after Mojo and I became a couple we became friends and continued to socialize, less often but fairly regularly. In the past several years, however, two issues began to get between us: our child and Greg's Parkinson's.

Obviously, we love the Peeper. But even the most doting parents will admit that it's fiendishly hard to find things that appeal reasonably equally to two- and fifty-two-year-olds. One of the first real casualties of our parenting has been our childless friends. We have all the usual difficulties getting kidless (lack of babysitters, nuclear tantrums...) to do adult things, and they have childless-couple lives totally divorced from our reality of Bob the Builder and naps and playgrounds and Winco expeditions. We find ourselves on the far side of a vast canyon carved to impassable depths with sandbox buxkets and plastic baby spoons...

Karen and Greg were no exception. Only in their case, the differences were exascerbated by the creeping advance of Greg's medical condition, which made it increasingly difficult for him to do many of the things we'd enjoyed, things as demanding as cycling to as simple as going to a ballgame. Greg and Karen, who had found each other later in life, refused to allow their love to be cut short by the disease without a fight. Greg tried several experimental Parkinson's treatments, including a complex experimental shunt directly into his brain. They put a tremendous amount of time, effort and money into their Lake Oswego home, in part to create a living place that Greg could enjoy as the Parkinson's reduced his mobility, but also because it WAS their home, a place they crafted of love and partnership as much as plywood cladding. Almost every time we visited they had something new and splendid to show off, usually quietly proud and pleased with their home and the way its burnish reflected their lives together. Good people. Good, bright, loving people.

So it was almost a shock to think of them this past Christmas, wonder about missing a Christmas card from them - the second year in a row - and realize that with one thing or another we hadn't seen them for over two years ! I was embarrased; how could we have let two of our friends just drift out of our lives? Children, among all the other excuses, didn't justify our thoughtlessness. So I thought I'd take the opportunity of my work nearby to drop in, say hi, have a look at all the changes in their home they'd made in the past year or so. Or, if no one was home, leave a note and invite them to call or visit.

So I finished my work across the main street in the busy, prosperous lakeside portion of the town and crossed over "A Avenue" into their quiet, tidy tree-shaded rectangular street grid.

I rolled to a slow stop in front of the house. Killed the engine. Spent a moment leaning on the truck door enjoying the calm lines of their house set in the narrow street, listening to the wind and the distant traffic noise and thinking of how to re-introduce myself.

When I noticed the stroller sitting empty on the porch.

Bright red. Big knobby tires, almost the duplicate of the one sitting at that moment in our basement beside the framed redtail print and the box of too-small baby clothes Mojo loves too much to discard. A jogging stroller. For a older baby or toddler.

Greg is the father of a grown son, and Karen was happily childless and past the desire for any.

The stroller meant that my old friends were gone.

Someone else is living in their house.

They loved that house - they loved their life together in that house - so dearly that the only way I can imagine them leaving was if one or the other was to die. Or become so ill or injured that they required full-time medical care. And the only way I can imagine that happening is that Greg's Parkinson's worsened; badly, rapidly.

So while Mojo and I weren't paying attention, our friends probably endured a terrible spiral of weakening days and painful, sleepless nights that ended, soon or later, with a vigil outside the ICU room. Parkinson's doesn't kill you quickly or easily. We will probably never know, but I cannot imagine what happened was easy or happy or good. We weren't there when they needed us most.So tonight I'm feeling pretty low. My friend may be dead, or so incapacitated that he is no longer recognizable as my friend. And I, his "friend", whom he helped through the death of my infant daughter six years ago almost to this very day, was not and is not there to hold a candle for him in the dark.

Friendship should be better than this. I should be better than this.

I was not.

I'm sorry, Karen. I'm sorry, Greg. I miss you.

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora uectus
aduenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cloud Streets

I can't help it. I'm a weather nerd.So when I saw this "cloud street" video over at Pink Tentacle I had to post and link to it.

"Cloud streets".

Truly, there's more in this world than's dreamed of in your philosophy...


Not sure why this caught my eye, but I saw this on the Fred Meyer checkout stand and actually had to go back and look again to see if I got it right the first time.

I know that Cosmo is still the glossy-rag-of-the-hip-thirteen-year-old, but..


And Ralph Nader is running again.

Maybe the fundies are right: the End of Times is closer than we think.

P.S. Extra "eeeewwww" credit for the use of the term "lovely lady parts".

Update 2/26 p.m.: So now I'm curious...what is the oddest knickname you've ever heard for the...umm..."bikini area"? Boy or girl bits, whatever...ever heard one that really stayed with you?

Snuggli(TM) the Surveillance Bear

In case you've forgotten the principal difference between the candidates running for federal office this coming fall, here's the official Republican take on why we need to be able to find out what you're saying to someone in Brussels without anyone's knowledge, right this very minute, without all those annoying warrants:And here's Snuggli(TM), the national security bear, to remind you why this would be a problem for people like Jefferson and Franklin, who believed that Americans needed to know what their government was doing and why. And that, as Franklin famously said, those who want to sacrifice liberty for security deserve and will receive neither.
(h/t to Glenn Greenwald over at Salon)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Up from the Ghetto

Remember this?

Yes, it's Missy's closet-crib, our version of her "bedroom" in the back hallway closet.

Yes, it's ghetto. Yes, I know, it's Britney-level trailer-trash lame putting the poor little ex-orphan to sleep in a freaking closet. In the back hallway. I am pretty sure that it will turn up around page 23 in the "Mommy Dearest" tell-all book she will write about us twenty years from now.

I can live with that.

What we couldn't live with was the inconvenience of living out of poor Missy's "bedroom". So the last month or so we've been talking about yet another home improvement project - converting the back hallway into this airy vision...

Still working on the part where the whole house gets transported to Aruba. Hmmmm...

So. Friday the nice people from Portland Garbage & Recycling dropped of The Skip at the curb and the demolition commenced
Probably my favorite part of these DIY projects is the demo. This probably says something awful about my personality or the effect of a Y chromosome in general, but getting to attack your own home with a sawsall and sledge?

BIG fun.

The plan was to just rip out all the interior (closet) partitions AND the exterior drywall down to the studs. We're still working on what to do with the low ceiling and how we want to open the exterior wall up - i.e. windows - but the initial demo plan was pretty well fixed.

We didn't count on the Mad Carpenters.
Every time we do something to this house I end up ripping and cursing the former owners, whose notions of interior construction varied wildly between "let's save the insurance money on this and blow it on mojitos and Hooters girls instead" and "We must build this to stand long after the Cascades have eroded to mere nubbins."

The closet wall construction was done in the latter, an incredible, fortress-of-solitude-like massiveness that would have looked more appropriate had it been made of mud brick rather than dimension lumber. Look at the photo above (Peeper for scale) and picture that as the corner post of the hallway closet. Look at it! These people welded SIX two-by-four studs together. Ten inches of solid wood.

With that much wood you knew somebody was gonna get screwed.

Here he is, one of the screw-ees, toting yet another dense hunk of lumber off to the skip.

Saturday morning and early afternoon was devoted to sawing, ripping and tearing. Load after load of wood and drywall came out, across the sideyard and down the front steps to the skip.

Finally the major work of demolition was pretty much done and the kids were feeling neglected (and making that feeling very clear) we stopped work and had a little fooling around time.

At Mojo's wise suggestion, this involved doodling on the to-be-demo'ed drywall with sharpie pens. She and I and the Peep made all sorts of grafitti, from abstract art (the odd thing below and right is Peep's picture of a dead baby - vicious little rascal, sometimes...) to tic-tac-toe.

Finally we celebrated the nice sunny day and the hard work with a trip to "Mommy's Ice Cream House" (Dairy Queen).

Sunday dawned a little grayer with a lot of sore muscles and aching joints.

Also a few less tolerant children. But the last closet remained to be attacked, and the exterior drywall. So Mojo entertained the masses while I tore into the still-inexplicably-monstrous walls of Troy.

We swapped off duties regularly, with Mojo doing some of the yard work - hey, we've got a ginormous skip, who cares what goes in it? - that she's been putting off for so long.

Again, the real bonus was the nice day. The idea of repeated trips to the curb loaded with junk - in the pouring rain - makes my giggy hurt. Ugh. But no problems, mate! Missy and I toddled around in the lovely sunshine while Peeper refused to dress and insisted on remaining motionless in front of the television watching God alone knows what mindless crap.
Finally about one p.m. the tumult and the shouting died...

The topboards of the old closet walls remain in the ceiling, mostly because we're afraid to tear them down before we can figure out what's above the drywall...the freakish wiring - don't get me started on how the Former People did interior electrical wiring! - dangles in the open space...and the nasty linoleum floor is in place.


The biggest part of the destruction is complete.

It was time to put the baby to bed.

Actually...the Peeper and I went to Columbia Pool where he played in the water until his little lips were blue...then to my office so I could do my timesheet and some work I'd put off...then a hearty dinner of fast-food curly fries (Peeper ambrosia!) and home to Mojo and Missy (who had been, uncharacteristically, the Toddler from Hell. Lesson learned - neglect your adoptee for home improvement at your peril), tub and snuggles and bed.

A long and busy weekend, but a good start to the future Missy's Room and (in the far future) Mommy's sewing room and sun porch. Sometimes our family does pretty decent work as a team. Sometimes...

Next up: the Hard Part - windows and ceilings

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Good Housekeeping

I've got a moment before I have to run up to The Hill to work to get a few housekeeping issues dealt with.

I know that our legion of readers out there in blogsylvania is all sideways about the glamorous life we lead as parents and adoptive parents. "Gosh golly" you sigh, "...just think; waking up every morning to a likely lad and a adorable moppet just bursting with love and cuteness. Ah, quelle the life!" (At least, I assume you talk this way. No? Hmmm...)

And, yes, it is Utopia, Limited here at the Fire Direction Center. But be warned - I try and spare you the uglier details, like the stuff that happens when both kidlets are sick. Like my proto-blogging pal Willie the Shake, I believe in keeping the really nasty business offstage. Let's just say that a sick toddler with a full diaper at 3am can test the strongest of wills and leave it at that.

Speaking of feeling yucky, Millicent and Thor (and Floyd, too, I think) are down with the same creeping crud we have. Drop by and give them some cyberlove or digital sympathy, hey? This cold is truly shitty. If you have it, my condolences. If not - don't get it! Mojo's co-workers literally won't enter her office to keep away from the cold-leper. They stand in the doorway and shout across the room.

What is it about the Peeper and Kellies? The Peep is so over his pash on Kelli of Waiting for Sprout (a big relief for her) but his current inamorata is Teacher Kelly (or Kelli, not sure...) at his daycare. He is SO jazzed about her coming to sit with him this weekend it's painful - he's already made her a picture and was insistant we make her "something pretty". So we had to go look for some faux jewelry for her. But when, during the process, it came down to a gift for Kelly versus a toy for Peeper...the toy came home with us. He may be in love but he's still four and four is fundamentally all about the greed.
Gotta run. I'm thinking about the political process we're seeing (or suffering might be a better word) and I want to talk more about that in the next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Sorry for the hiatus but it's not a good week: everyone at the Fire Direction Center is ill (and I think I broke my pinky toe stomping on a bundle of 2x2's - don't ask...), work is mad, my back's bad and my leg's queer and then the Indians attacked...

At least little Missy is still the happiest toddler in the contiguous United States.

I'll try to post more in a bit.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Days and years ago

Funny how time passes and you forget.

Not just things and places and people, but yourself.

I know in my mind that I'm not the young man in this picture anymore. Oh, he's there, somewhere, inside the older, grayer, heavier man sitting down in the basement at the computer listening to his wife and little boy baking, half an ear cocked for the sound of a little girl waking from her nap...
But the problem is that I don't feel all that different from that slim younger guy. The mirror tells me different but it's hard not to think that the mirror is lying and not my own mind.

Among the things I forget is how different things were twenty years ago. Twenty! My was twenty years ago this coming fall that my ex and I flew across the Atlantic for our honeymoon. Ohmilord, were we kids...

We had NO money - put the whole trip on credit cards we spent the next year paying off. Lived cheap and travelled light - and depended on my parents, then living in Dusseldorf, to help by putting us up for free during our time in Germany. (That's why my daddy is in the picture, C!)
It was a good time, a young time and new for us, sunny and hopeful things that we were. We loved the tea shops of London, ancient Roman ruins and shiny new Dutch hotels (where the locals took their pets on holiday - we kept the "Hondseveekend" brochure from the hotel at Kirkduun for a long time). Delft and the Mosel valley in autumn and a long walk in the "stadtwald" marvelling at the the pin-neatness of German forests...
It was a long time ago and that journey is over and done. I'm on a different road now, travelling another way. But the old trip was as full of happiness as grief in its time, and I'm not sorry we took it.

The Silence of Daddy Rabbit

Rotten long day yesterday culminating in a dark drive home from Longview, which is about forty miles north geographically but a civilization's worth away culturally. So, being bored by the long drive I called my parents on the cell and wound up having a long talk with the Master Chief, a.k.a. my daddy.

Here were are in the Mosel Valley on my honeymoon trip with pre-Mommy (the First Ms. Chief) back in 1988. The almost scary thing is that the Master Chief still looks like he does in the picture, while I look nothing like the Lebanese taxi driver I seem to have been back in the 80's. Was I ever that swarthy? Wow.

My father is the living embodiment of the old Southern saying that "When Daddy Rabbit talks all the little bunnies listen." He's an Ivy Leaguer, chemical engineer, husband and daddy and now grandpa, one of the sharpest, most public minded people I know. He's been right on things more often than I've had hot dinners. It's amazing how the older I get the smarter he is, so when he talks, I listen.

Anyway, the Master Chief is as political as I am, and after Grandma Chief said night-night the conversation turned on the events of the past week.

There's a lot that Master Chief and I agree on: Bush 43 is an idiot and his coterie of neo- and paleo-cons are the political equivalent of those bachelor rhesus monkeys on Monkey Island, alernately beating their meat at the prospect of a New American Century and flinging their poop at anyone questioning whether fighting an endless war against anything carrying a Koran is a good idea; that the only question still open is whether the idiot is worse than Buchanan (Master Chief) or Franklin Pierce (me); and that we will need decades to recover from the damage he and his poop-flinging monkeys have done to the republic, to our foreign and domestic policies, and to the nation's fiscal foundation.

What I found most interesting - and most chilling - is that we disagreed strongly on the issue of impeachment.

Y'see, it seems pretty self-explanatory to me: if Dubya walks out of the Oval Office in January 2009 under his own power we have lost a fundamental assumption required for a republic - that we live in a nation of the rule of law, not of men. That Dubya and Dick and their cronies have lied and, when not actually lying, deceived, broken laws and governed based on their own will and not the laws written by the people in Congress is not in dispute. They themselves have stated openly that they will not be bound by those laws. Their excuse is that the laws they defy are preventing them from "protecting us"...but the reason is not an issue. If I have to kill a man to rush into a building to save others I cannot claim to be innocent of murder. I can hope that a jury of my peers will sympathize and aquit me; but to claim that my need supercedes the law shatters the foundation that the law rests upon. If I break the laws today in urgency, what is to prevent me from breaking the law tomorrow out of sheer laziness and the day after that from venality and selfish interest?

That is why we have such law, and why we expect our executive agents - policemen, prosecutors, judges, soldiers - to obey them even when they disagree with them.

To compound the problem, this administration has elevated secrecy to an uncommon virtue, denying us as citizens the very knowledge we need to assess the validity of their arguement for extralegal urgency.

All of this lying, hiding and lawbreaking has gone unpunished. If that remains unchanged a year from now, we will have set a precedent no future government can ignore, and can push even further if it desires.

The Master Chief, with sixty five years of adult life behind him, did not agree with this. He thinks that impeachment is not going to succeed and, as such, is not worth fighting about. In that he has given up, ceded the ground to the Bushies. He will not speak up to bring down the Decider.

And I fear that his silence on the question is a majority silence. I fear that we will enter the second decade of the Twenty-First Century with a republic further crippled with public secrecy, official unaccountability and the wide acceptance of one set of rules for "us" and another, less strict, set for those who rule over us. The irony is that the GOP, having fought so hard to free this President and his bobos from the rule of law, now find themelves with what should be the horrifying possibility that they may have sown the wind of an imperial presidency to reap the whirlwind of...President Hillary Clinton.

Remind me again...why were we so pissed off with George of Hanover?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dance me to the end of love

For the jazz gourmets who flit in to the chowhall here at the Fire Direction Center, and for my bride - who came to mind when this played on the radio today - here is Madeline Peyroux covering Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To The End of Love".

Only you, my love.

For Mojo on the day after St. Valentine's Day

You are what I've been looking for my whole life. And now I've found you.

Dance with me to the end of love, my darling.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

This is your choice

h/t to Slacktivist, and, of course, the original Obama video over here at Youtube.

This is what you can choose this November. If you want it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

China and the West 2: The Chángmáo

When we left Ming China, Admiral Zheng He, that ballsiest of nutless adventurers, had sailed the ocean blue for the greater glory of the Imperial Throne.

It turns out that he didn't sail around the world - but given the relative sopistication of China compared to the fractious upstarts coming out of Europe - why didn't he...or someone else from China?Certainly the technological and military balance was pretty even, and politically the organization and discipline of the Ming administrators has to get the nod over the greedy, quarreling nobles of Western Europe.

We also talked about Diamond's "guns, germs and steel" hypothesis, which posits European dominance over Africa and the Americas resulting from a fortuitous combination of better food production, better domesticated plants and animals, better metallurgy, better weapons and military techology (e.g., cavalry), better transport and communication, and better political organization.

But none of these really apply to China, do they? Perhaps the single real advantage the Europeans had was military: the Western troops, small as they were in numbers, seem to have little difficulty defeating the Qing banner armies whenever they meet them. But nothing in history, and nothing in Diamond's formula, explains why we today look at China as struggling to emerge from the Third World while the United States and Europe are the very definition of the First.

What seems to have happened at the end of Zheng He's voyaging were multfarious crises in Ming governace: Mongol, and then Manchu, pressure in the north and military defeat in Vietnam in the south, fiscal difficulties, famine and crop losses driven by Little Ice Age cold. The Ming state could no longer afford the outward-seeking policies of the Yongle Emperor. The fleets were laid up; the great voyaging dwindled and stopped. Qing succeeded Ming as the Manchu banners flowed south over the Great Wall, and China's journey outwards slowed, a sluggish dragon outpaced by the hungry wolves from the West.
So my next volume brings us more than 400 years closer to the present: to southern China in the mid 19th Century. It is "God's Chinese Son" by Jonathon Spence, a biography of 洪秀全; Hóng Xiùquán, the "Heavenly King" of the Taiping Rebellion

The rebellion itself has been heavily researched, and I don't have much to add to the historical record. But if the last voyage of Zheng He is the end of the beginning for Imperial China as a global power, the story of the Changmaos, the Coolie Kings, is in its way the beginning of the end. Before the Changmao, Imperial Qing was shaky but upright, after the horrific carnage in the south that may have killed 20 million the Manchu rule was finished; only the timing of the end was in question.

The real revelation of the Taiping was the utter incapacity of the Chinese Imperial Troops. In less than a decade the peasant rebels grew to a disciplined army of over a million. The Taipings regularly beat Imperial forces for a decade, until the 1860's and Imperial reorganization following the arrival of Western officers like Ward and Gordon. With this assistence the Taiping army was destroyed and the Heavenly Kingdom crushed.

No matter: the Manchu banners still proved consistently incapable of stopping Western troops. The second half of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th is a sorry tale of Chinese defeat and humiliation. Vast areas fell apart, into the hands of warlords, into poverty and desuetude. China became the "sick man of Asia", an image that still hangs on in Western thought.
So, if the physical and economic strengths of China and the West were so well matched, why did China lose in the first direct confrontation between the two? Why did China become the Third World,not central Europe?

I think that there a host of causes, but two were paramount:

First, - as one commentor has already suggested in the comments section of Part 1 of this post - Imperial China was self-centered: Thousands of years of thinking of the Middle Kingdom as the center of the world, and the imperium as the center of the Middle Kingdom meant that China tended to turn inward, rather than outwards, under stress. Central rule made for more organization but tended to suppress the Columbus', the Cortezes, the Wards, who would otherwise might have taken Chinese culture rudely to the heathen. Chinese experience made it difficult for Chinese to imagine a conqueror who didn't want to become Chinese, only looking for spoil. This made China's "weternization" pretty halfhearted (compare it with Meiji Japan) Only after the Imperial throne was soundly defeated could Sun Yat-sen, Mao and their contemporaries begin truly adopting western ideas. And,

Second, Confucian values put very low worth on hard men and women. Confucius is said to have stated; "A man does not use good iron for nails, nor good men for soldiers." Looking through Chinese military history what jumps out is the number of truly incompetent officers placed over Chinese soldiers and sailors. Usually underpaid and underfed, outgeneraled, outgunned and outmatched, Chinese troops, even fighting for their homes, were usually a minor irritant to Western, or Japanese, attackers hungry for gain. This makes Confucius a good man to consult in time of peace, but not so much in hard times. And having no structure to accomodate the soldier into society helped lead to warlordism: all but useless in wartime but a plague in peacetime...

And so.

What makes the failure of late Imperial China to continue looking outward so poblematic is what a Chinese world might have meant for the peoples of Africa and the Americas. The Chinese wanted trade and obesiance more than rule; most tributary states were left alone bar a token embassy to do homage to the Emperor. Both China and Europe would have brought the germs - but the Chinese would have been unlikely to follow with the steel. A world dominated by Imperial China would not have been of neccessity "better" than the Eurocentric world we have now, but it would have been very, very different.
Update 2/14: an anonymous commentor asserted; "It turns out the Chinese did sail around the world". But my point was't - and isn't - to dispute claims for individual Chinese mariners making landfall in the Americas or Africa. I'm sure that some did, both before and after the great Ming treasure fleets. It was - and is - to point out the historic anomaly that the most advanced culture in the world never impacted the world as it probably should have...and was eventually invaded itself, and humiliated, by us Western upstarts. I have no doubt that somewhere buried in the sands of the Western Hemisphere is the wreckage of a Chinese ship older than Columbus. But that's not the point. The point is that the English the Dutch, the Spanish, French and Portugese built new nations on the wreckage of the peoples of Africa and the Americas. China - which was rich in science and culture when these Europeans were feudal savages - did not.

Si jeunesse savait...

This comes off a post to our China adoption support board - and with it a shoutout to the ALT-DTC06 gang: all of January in March!! A guy an dream, can't he?Anyway, the theme was; you can go back and tell your 14-year-old self three things. What are they?

1. Get off your slacker ass and study. Those books won't read themselves y'know. You're gonna slide through on a "C" and end up getting out of the Army working at Jiffy Lube. See if I'm lyin'.

2. That damn girl who keeps pestering you? She's doing it 'cause she's sweet and cute and she's crazy about you. Ask her out. Buy her a flower. Go dancing. She's a great kid and you should be good to her, because love is a gift you won't receive very often - when you do, you need to cherish it.

3. Go out for lacrosse. Write a story. Sing. Kiss your Mom and Dad - you won't have the chance soon enough. Clean your room - it's a goddam pigsty. Quit dreaming and DO. You can sleep when you're dead.

Oh, and those porn mags under your mattress? Your mom knows about them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

China and the West 1: 1421

Did I mention that I've been reading about China?

And did you know that the Western Hemisphere - North America and all that lot - were contacted by a massive Ming Chinese flotilla more than seventy years before Columbus?


Okay, back up...what's got me thinking about this was the New Year's storms in China.

One of the most "themes" of the stories was the widespread underdevelopment of the country and hardship of the Chinese people.

(I add that since we're such morons that the news media usually doesn't simply state the facts - they package it into bite-size chunks to prefit what they believe is our mental landscape. So for, say, a China story there's always teeming hordes(TM) of ordinary Chinese people (since we all know China is jammed with humans) amid smoky industrial-revolution machinery (since China makes everything from plastic toys to tower cranes in dire, Upton-Sinclairish misery) and scenes of wretched, biblical poverty - remember "Eat your vegetables, dear, there are people starving in China..?" I do.)
So conventional wisdom is that much of China is poor: real Victorian poor, starving-children poor, Third World poor. We Westerners accept this in the same way that we accept the idea that there's nothing odd about Americans adopting Chinese orphans. Try and think about that in reverse...difficult, isn't it, the notion of wealthy Chinese leaving LAX with little Americans while desperate Angelinos sell native crafts - hip-hop T-shirts, bootleg 50Cent DVDs - in the street outside?

So let me break off for a moment to talk about this "China discovers America" thing. The book I read is called "1421: the year China discovered America" by someone named Menzies. He's got a website and everything.

The crux of Menzies' biscuit is that a Ming treasure fleet led by this guy, the Rambo of eunuchs Zheng He, circumnavigated the globe in the first quarter of the 15th Century. This notion has actually been named: the "1421 Hypothesis".

In the book "1421" Menzies writes breezily (it's a quick read, for history), does well enough describing the adventures that a 1420s Chinese expedition could have had and lays out some pretty fantastic claims for Chinese landings on much of the globe - except, crucially, Europe. Fun reading, and a thought-stirring idea.
Unfortunately, Menzies' work turns out to be a tissue of poorly supported assertions, outright deceptions or mistakes. No historian of any weight, Chinese or Western, accepts his ideas. Even I went through a lot of head-shaking and lip-pursing: naah, that couldn't have happened, we'd have found the wrecks and they're not there. Uhuh...this doesn't sound right...

The facts appear to dismiss the "1421 Hypothesis" out of hand. So, no, the Western Hemisphere - North America and all that lot - was NOT contacted by a massive Ming Chinese flotilla more than seventy years before Columbus?And yet...

...when you really think about should have been true.

IMO that's what makes the 1421 Hypothesis so attractive - China should have been the civilization that spread globally after the 15th Century. Think about this - consider the relative conditions of Western Europe and Imperial China in 1000AD. The Europeans are a menagerie of illiterate military states squabbling over the corpse of the Roman Empire - the time is called "The Dark Ages" for a reason - while in China the Song Dynasty bubbles along with printing, a civil service, organized armies and navies, art, music, poetry...

Four hundred years later, who would you have picked to be the dominant world culture: the fatheads still burning heretics at the stake, just beginning their emergence from the long medieval sleep, or the sophisticates of Ming China, with their literature, art and science? While not as fecund as the Song, Ming science certainly kept pace with the West, including astronomy, agriculture and black-powder armaments.

Jared Diamond talks about why the Europeans ended up with all the "cargo"; but China had much the same advantages Jared argues for in 1492: a huge reserve of disease-resistant people, metals technology, domesticated crops and anmals, advanced military techniques.


What happened? Why do we speak English and eat beef and wheat bread, not Mandarin, pork and rice? Why don't news stories talk about the problems facing impoverished American peasants? Why doesn't China bestride the world like a colossus? Why isn't some Chinese husband and father writing this because of his fascination with the America of his adopted American daughter's world - instead of the other way around?

Some thoughts on this tonight.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tune in, turn on... "SexyBeijing".

In the sleepless pursuit of all things Chinese pop-cultural - see the preceding post for details - we here at the Fire Direction Center present Su Fei and her Chinese New Year special asking: Beijing man or Hong Kong man - who should I marry?

Yes, I know it's silly.

But isn't it funny? Yep.

I have absolutely no idea how true to either the fact or the spirit of mainland Chinese culture Anna Sophie's creation is. But...she is fun, and she has the goofy knack of getting people to say offhand, stream-of-conciousness things. Smacker? Boo-ya..!

Right now my little girl is a bit too little for Su Fei. But I hope both she and SexyBeijing are still chattering away in a couple of years. I think my little laughing Missy will enjoy this odd sideways look at her Auld Sod.

Islamist Nutjob(TM) Sweetie Treats!

And what goes better with your Chinese New Year High School Bratzwurst than...

...a delicious Osama bin Laden coconut flavor kulfa ball!

I couldn't make this shit up. I swear.

And don't get me started on the Dick Cheney sourballs...

While I've got you here - let me do a little blogrolling: check out The Shanghaiist for some pretty cool China (specifically, Shanghai) pop culture, news and pictures. And bin Laden kulfa balls, natch. Luuuuuurve the snowy CNY pics here! Joe Bob says - check him out!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Prom Queen(TM) Pork Sausage!

So I was just going to post the Lunar NY greeting and get back to bed (it's early Sunday and I've been up since 3ish when Missy had a hiccup or a bad dream or something...I love you, sweetie, but we need to talk about this "self-soothing" thing) when I decided to stay up and cruise the 'net and came across this.I'm sorry but even for Japan, land of the rising sun, pornographic comics and similar freaks of nature, this is wierd. GothGirl(TM) gyoza? Cheerleader(TM) meat pie? Tell me someone at Ito Ham has a helluva sense of humor. 'Cause otherwise? I'm speechless.


Not much partying here at the Fire Direction shack: Mojo has a huge project that's Eating Her Brain (and caused her to work yesterday), and I'm trying to just keep above water level with housework. Our celebration consisted of my Pork with Black Bean Sauce for dinner and a box of Fudge Stripes for dessert. Boo-ya! That said: may you, and I, and all those we know and love enjoy a happy, healthy, prosperous 2008.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Today, like most days, I was all over the place and at highway speed; busy with work, trying to figure out how to keep Wendy the Truck from breaking down (the nice man at the Oil Can Henry's found an entire gear's worth of metal shavings on the transmission drain plug...that's an expensive sort of surprise...) and what to do if she does, how to prevent the sugar ants from coming back, what to do next to clean and cook and laundry for two hungry, messy little peeps, in the midst of reading this and that (about which I want to post a bit later), frustrated and distantly angry over our miserable excuse for a President and his arrogant, insolvent budget, thinking about everything but my own life: rain and kindergarten and leak tests and where to get Lily the cat some flea powder...

When without warning, I get home early and have a warm shower, get the laundry in and find a new book I've been anticipating in the mail...get to read the first chapter in the kitchen with the smell of baking salmon and saffron rice...Mojo and the kids pile in laughing and excited, playing with the box of toys Grandma Gruthie sent. Everyone tucks into the salmon and rice and salad, plays with the silly punching clown and hide-and-seek in the bedroom before all splashing into the tub, where Peeper and Missy play happily together like little seals, kicking and rolling. Missy snuggles warm and sweet in my arms as we rock before bed, pointing drowsily towards Nitty and pronouncing her "Kee-ka" in her sleepy baby voice. And finally the house goes quiet, with just Mojo reading in bed and Nitty curled beside the keyboard down here, still, content, readying for sleep.

Sometimes I forget, in the hurrying, turning world, in the stress and stretch of work and bills and children squabbling, these moments of uninvited happiness so bright and intense that I feel transfixed like Saint Teresa pierced by the dart. They don't come often, or surely, or on demand. But when they bubble up, satori-like, they lift me above the rush and business of my rainy day to a high, clear bright place where I can feel love vibrating within me like the skin of a drum.

Billions for defense...

...not one cent for sanity.

The proposed FY2009 budget has been sent to Congress by the barely functional lame duck Bush White House. You can read it here, or just read what others have been saying about it.

In my opinion it's a disaster, the most massive military budget since the Cold War. You all know my background: I'm not one to believe that "war is not the answer" - it depends on the question, and sometimes, as the Carthginians and the Nazis discovered, war IS the answer. But this budget is completely, moronically irresponsible, the final product of the past seven years of fiscal and geopolitical faith-based policymaking.And the real obscenity here is the comparison between the budget request and the global situation of the United States.

Twenty years ago we faced the Soviet Union; what at the time seemed to be a hostile colossus, bristling with attitude, angry over a defeat in the same Afghan mire we are now swamping in, armed and armored with nuclear missiles. Today we bestride the narrow world like a colossus, ourselves; our most "dangerous" enemy a band of raggedy-ass Islamic dreamers, nutjobs and theocrats. And yet, our Chief Executive and his band of jolly imperial starwarriors sends us this massive handout to the armed services and their remora school of contractors, advisors and lobbyists.It would be enough to make you laugh if it wasn't enough to make you weep.

This is madness. This is foolishness. This is the kind of thing that sends nations spiralling down to burn on the rubbish tip of history, that Paul Kennedy called "imperial overstretch": a common endstate of Great Powers, where military committments to geographically distant possessions or spheres of interest overwhelm the empire's economic strengths. Capital is poured into ever-decreasingly productive imperial wars, deficits become the standard, financial and rentier sectors replace production...finally the state declines into desuetude, defeated by the weight of its own hubristic ambitions.

Try as I might, I can't get this image out of my head.

Dubya as Philip II of Spain; on his knees on the Great Seal carpet in the Oval office, praying intently for the defeat of the heretics and infidels, as the economy craters, the other world powers, frightened and angry at the empire's military adventurism close 'round to harry and spoil...while in the cabinets of the capital the royal counsellors, desperately trying to keep the entire ramshackle edifice from collapsing, mortgage the country to the Rothschilds and the Lombards.
And what about us? What are we doing to shake the dreamers awake from their limitless dream of a new American Century? Will we, too, like the Romans before us, be caught rising too late from our entertainment and self-voted largesse as the first of the bloody-handed Goths swarms over the wall?

Or - a more chilling prospect - is the entire question immaterial, as the Goths are already within the walls, sitting in the curial chair..?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Snow Day 2 (and a cry for help from China)

The fun in the snow didn't end after Missy's nap time!

Mojo, who had stayed in with Little Miss Can't-Be-Wrong while big brother Peep and his buddy Rush the Short Bus Kid and I played in the snow, was completely bughouse stircrazy by early afternoon.

So despite the change from lovely large drifting snow to nasty mizzling rain we all suited up and went for a walk outside. Peeper pushed his dump truck while Missy toddled ferociously through the slush holding my hand, or our hands.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor puddles nearly as deep as she is tall deterred this terra-cotta warrior. I think she was inspired by her big brother, who is apparently weatherproof, running ahead with his toy. By the time we got home her little feet were soaked with cold slush. Brrrr! But she seemed to enjoy her first real snow, and we'll have a toddler-size snowsuit for her by next time.

Weird fact: I think that only the very far St. John's tip of North Portland got more than a handful of flakes of snow. Mojo and I went out for dinner last night. We drove Bob the Subaru out of a slushey snowy street but by the time we got across Portsmouth there was no more than a jot and tittle; Kelli's Overlook neighborhood had no visible snow at all, and a friend of ours who lives in Southeast told us that they had nothing but rain all day.

Portland weather ! Go figure...

So we enjoyed our snowy day. But across the Pacific there's snow that's not so much fun.

Don't take my word for it: here's CNN on the winter storms hammering central, eastern and southern China. From the sound of the news stories it's looking like a Katrina-style meterological disaster, and there's more on the way.

And as we learned from Katrina...wait, I'll let Jenny Bowen from "Half the Sky" tell us what we learned from Katrina:
" The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in the US taught us that no matter how wealthy a country might be, its vulnerable citizens (old, poor, ill, and orphaned children) are the ones who suffer most when disaster strikes."

Ahem. I'm sorry, Jenny, this cynical old sergeant would say that these most vulnerable people are, rather, the ones thrown under the bus by the wealthy and powerful who make polite decisions in quiet green silk rooms that determine who lives and who dies. Who worry most about the other rich, and powerful, and those whose votes or actions may affect those in power. Who spare only afterthoughts for the little girls and boys unable to do more than 吃冤苦 the bitterness of suffering.

We can help these little people. And - also as we learned here from Katrina - often the only help that the poor, weak and orphaned can truly depend on comes not from armies and governments but from the rest of us; small families, friends, neighbors, prospective parents and parents already.

Here's the link to the "Little Mouse" emergency fund to send things like quilts, diapers, formula and warm clothes to the little peeps who need them.

A portly, fiftyish urban daddy isn't much of a spokesmodel for charity. But you could close your eyes and picture me a sylph-like anorexic with a surgically-augmented bust, click the link and help you some poor orphans, couldn't you?

Nobody'd have to know but us.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Snow Day

Snow doesn't venture as low as the 50 feet above sea level that is North Portland very often; in the seventeen-some years since I drove west down I-84 in the rental truck with my ex-wife and ex-brother-in-law in the cab I've seen snow in the Willamette Valley maybe once a year, every other year.And to get real snow, snow that cover the ground and "sticks", is even more unusual.
So when we DO get snow, we go out and play in it...

Without further comment, here's snowy North Portland of Saturday, 2/2/08