Friday, May 30, 2008

Reasons Why The Oregonian Sucks #3: The Mocha

This is almost too easy.

At least the dog was dead, and the cat was all freaky choosing the dead.

There wasn't anything dead or dying involved in this one unless you count the standards of print journalism. And, again don't be mislead by the image: the idiotic "mocha" story was above the fold on page one this morning (complete with ginormous picture of foamy mocha goodness...).

Do these people have either shame or pride?

I'm guessing no.

So: I'm opening a contest to you, the reader - what's the stupidest news story you recall that your local paper ever printing? Mind you, it has to be a legitimate paper - no supermarket checkout stand rags or news-and-advertisers. I think that the Big O may possibly be the World's Worst Paper Ever. But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

Have at it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Regrettable Incident

This is my version of my Wednesday "stuff that interests me" post, only it's Thursday. OK, I'm off by a day. It has been a hard week and that not over yet. Cut me some slack!

Anyway, I ran across this little website while reading about "Operation August Storm", the Soviet flattening of Japan's Kwantung Army that occured sixty-three years ago this summer in what is now the Manchurian part of the People's Republic of China.

The site is well worth a visit, if only to remark on the wonderful and strange way people experience what life visits upon them.Our narrator, Kiuchi Nobuo, was a - I'm guessing - private soldier in the Kwantung Army in 1945 when he went into the bag with about 600,000 other Japanese, many of them just kid conscripts. Transported to Siberia, Nobuo and the other prisoners found everything from hardship and death, sickness, work, play...even friendship and, as difficult as it may be to understand, love.Even long after the young man returned to Japan he seems to have treasured this time, and his memories of it. While I know that the combination of grinding work, bad food, careless Soviet bureaucracy and the apalling weather must have made Nobuo's life a misery, the cartoons he draws to memorialize his captivity are...well, happy. Almost cute, with a fine eye for the combination of tragedies, indignities and comedies that accumulate in life at the far edge of human decency.So I don't want to editorialize about this; I have no deep thoughts or serious intents about it. I simply enjoyed the author's loving memories of a time long ago, and I hope you take a moment and visit his site, because I think you will, too.

Reasons Why the Oregonian Sucks #2: The Dead Dog

Last time we were here it was the freaking "death cat"

Today its the dead dog. Here's the story. Basically, one numbnuts has a dented fender. The other has a dead dog. They're both in court. See ya.

There. I've told you all you really need to know about this silly story in nineteen words. But to the Big O, this is PAGE ONE NEWS!! ABOVE the fold (don't be mislead by the picture at top - that's the p.m. edition. The morning edition had a immense photo of the ex-dog all over the cover page with the headline in screamer type at the top.) For a moment I thought that the Trappist monks had bombed Norfolk Navy Base and the freaking dog was their Admiral Yamamoto.

Oh. And this little silly human interest item?

Page 5. I shit you not.

Worst paper in the world. I mean, at least crap like the "Weekly World News" has batboy or pictures of topless girls.

Update 5/29: I found the morning edition with the ginormous picture of Admiral Dogamoto (excuse me..."Cindy"), the dead center of all this Oregonian ink spillage. See what I mean. Jesus, no wonder participatory democracy is dead.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Doc Nelscott and the Obscure Object of Desire

Introductory Note: If you are confused by the setting or the nature of this post, you might look here for an introduction and explanation.)

The tale begins at Sector Control North, where the commander of the company in sector and his bobos keep tabs on the Jacobin marching societies that are the individual squads of six men, two sergeants and a staff sergeant squad leader on the OPs. Compared to an OP, a sector control is a pretty cosmopolitan place, with Dutch communications troopers, American grunts, support and supply types, Egyptian liason and interpreter bodies as well as the occasional passersby from the host nations and the vest-pcket-UN that is the MFO: Aussies, Kiwis, Columbian infantrymen, Fijian grunts and French pilots.

Into this mix strides, or rather, lumbers, our hero: Doc Nelscott. Doc Nelscott is a sergeant, specifically a staff sergeant (E-6) assigned to the battalion aid station. Doc is a gangly countryman with the big, angular head and the hands of a farmer, a shambling, uniformed reminder of the how low the bar was set for promotion during the VOLAR years of the 1970’s. He's a nice, simple man, the possessor of an extremely goofy laugh and a happy, friendly personality.[Note: this is NOT our hero. But let's let it stand in for him, shall we?]

Unfortunately, Doc is also dumber than a bag of hammers. Industrial grade dumb. A goober at the professional level, while kind and sweet-tempered, he is aggressively, cluelessly dopey. He is unable to keep out of anything and will stick his head in everywhere and anywhere, immediately laying down a furious barrage of inane chatter and moronic questions that eventually put even the kindest of well-wishers to flight.

The Battalion Aid Station can’t stand him. They have taken advantage of the shortage of field medics to station him up at Sector Control North, as far physically from the BAS at South Base as possible without violating several international accords and catapulting him into Israel proper.

Here he has taken to pestering the Dutch commo guys, whose neverending job it is to try and keep the radios – FM, AM, UHF, microwave – up and running 24/7. It’s an impossible job, and that’s without the huge goober face of Doc Nelscott exploding into the commo shack at 5am, with a thundering “Hi Hi Hideho, Dutchies!! Guten Morgen!!” The Dutch have tried to explain that “Guten Morgen” is German, not Dutch, but Doc Nelscott is impervious to correction. He is slowly and certainly driving them individually and collectively mad.

One thing you quickly adjusted to in the Sinai was the constant arrival of “distinguished visitors”. The peaceful vistas, summery climate and proximity to the civilized watering holes of the eastern Med made the MFO a favorite junket of uniformed and civilian gatecrashers of all sorts. This week the big excitement was for the Dutch, whose most senior enlisted man, the Sergeant Major of the Dutch Army, was visiting all his MPs and commo types throughout the area. As is always the case, this entails a clothed orgy of scrubbing, painting, sweeping, hiding, arranging and memorizing, as everything not strictly military is hastily stuffed into a locker or into a bag buried in the wadi. Uniforms are ironed, boots shined.

And into this organized chaos emerges Doc Nelscott like a dimwitted Lord of Luna, bawling cheerfully to his Dutch “friends” and asking more off-the-wall questions. He is even MORE underfoot than ever, even more maddening. In this case, he is pestering his Dutch “friends” to teach him how to say “Welcome to Sector Control, Sergeant Major!” In Dutch.

I know not what fiend prompted Sergeant Ten Boom to send him to Korporaal der 1e klasse Osterhuis, the section wise guy. But send he did, and the corporal taught Doc Nelscott a useful phrase. Doc was seen wandering all about the SC that morning, mumbling the phrase over and over.

So. Picture the scene, if you will: another sunny MFO afternoon. The trailers are scrubbed to a fine metallic sheen, all available rocks painted orange and white and arranged in a zen-like military order. The flags are waving, the troops are waiting in decorative ranks and, like a great aluminum Zeus arriving to fecundate some fortunate Leda in the compound below, the white-painted MFO Huey arrives bearing the Distinguished Visitor And Party.The Dutch SMA is the usual grizzled character, his bootstrappers and dogrobbers are fewer than his American equivalent would require, and he gets down to business with soldierly dispatch. He greets all his fellow Dutchmen first, inquiring about needs and wants, homes and families as appropriate. He then strides down the ranks of the Americans, Italians, Kiwis and whatever other polyglot ash and trash has drifted in for the occasion. He stops for his moment in front of Doc Nelscott, who salutes with a vigor that wrings his entire body, shoots out a hand and announces loudly:

“Ik heb een ontzettend dikke ochtend lul”

Now I don’t speak Dutch. No, really, I don’t. But later I was told by one of the commo guys that this is some sort of slang term indicating that you have a really outstanding morning erection. A “piss-hard”, “morning wood” or, in Britian, “standing for the Queen”. It’s not a particularly rude phrase, but not one you normally spring on perfect strangers, either.

The Dutch SMA twitches and turns slightly to Sergeant Ten Boom. It is their misfortune that Korporal Osterhuis is standing in the front rank right behind them and hisses several sentences in Dutch, to the effect that; sorry we didn’t warn you, smage, but the big Yank is a huge homo, he’s come on to everyone on post, you need to watch your ass.

The Distinguished Visitor’s smile congeals to a grin frightful to behold. He hurries on as Doc Nelscott smiles and nods, looking after him with a benevolent possessiveness that clearly tightenes something in the Dutchman’s posterior.

Poor Doc Nelscott, thinking he’s made a new friend, keeps trying to follow and speak to the Dutch Sergeant Major, who, when sighting the big American, turns to put his backside to the wall and scuttles towards the nearest exit at a pace almost too rapid for dignity. Doc, not understanding why his new pal doesn’t want to chat, scuttles after, and the entire thing degenerates quickly from comedy to farce, with the Sergeant Major loping out to the helicopter with the briefest of salutes to a utterly gobsmacked Captain Mattes, practically winding the engine up himself to get aloft. The little scene only lacks his aides clinging to the helicopter skids to be the Return of the Rump Rangers of Lam Son 719. Oh, dear.

Poor Doc Nelscott. He is so very sad that his new friend hadn’t wanted to stay and chat. He so wanted to learn more about Dutchland.

Sergeant Ten Boom comments that he can learn ALL about Dutchland from his new VERY BESTEST best friend, Korporal Osterhuis.

And the sun goes down over the mountains to the west.

Doc Chief and the Djinn of the Desert: The MFO

So when I said I wanted to tell some stories, what I meant was I wanted to tell some “war stories”.

What’s the difference, I heard some of you ask.

Well, the smartass answer is a story begins “Once upon a time” and a war story begins either “This is no shit,” or “I swear, this really happened.”

The real difference is that a story usually has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a plot, or even a moral, and is expected to take you from here to there and leave you a little wiser or happier or something. A war story often just picks up in the middle of something, meanders around peeking under rocks or stops to stare off into space before just stopping. If it has a moral the moral is usually pretty twisted, and if you expect it to take you anywhere but a barstool you’ll probably be disappointed.

What I want to do is tell you about some of the people and places I met over 22 years as a soldier. Some are funny…many are funny, because soldiers, like most of us, usually enjoy telling and hearing funny stories. Some are a little sad, or a little grim. Some are just odd, because of all the places I’ve been and all the people I’ve met, few are as downright odd as GIs and the people who hang around GIs. We're just oddballs. Or we just attract oddballs. And some of the oddest stories are the best to tell.

The first series of stories takes place in the Sinai peninsula during the winter and spring of 1984. At the time I was an enlisted medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) of the 1st Battalion, (Airborne) (Light) 325th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. My battalion was tasked, as one battalion of the 82nd was every other six months, to serve as the “USBATT”, one of the three infantry battalions with the Multinational Force & Observers (or “MFO”) then performing the job of enforcing the 1978 Camp David treaty between Israel and Egypt. We spent several months doing some pretty notional “training” for the mission, which everyone pretty much admitted (if pressed) amounted to six months loafing in the desert, flew from Pope Air Force Base to Ras Nasrani airfield in January, spent five months and change in sector and then back to Pope and our Ft. Bragg home in June. So one cold morning in January, all dressed in our “chocolate chip suits”, the old five-color desert camoflage uniform you now see only on raggedy-assed Iraqi jundis, and sportin’ our sexy orange MFO beret, we climbed the ramp to the charter jet, stowed our rifles (or pistol, in my case) in the overhead compartments and ensured our seat backs and tray tables were in the fully upright and locked positions. We were on the way to the Sinai.My first impression of the recently re-Egyptianized landscape was “Who the fuck would fight over this” before realizing that people had been wandering through and fighting over these deserts, wadis and mountains for millenia. That was a sobering thought, even for a dumb GI. The overwhelming sensation was heat, aridity and wind. Distances had no reference: that thing might be a rocky hill a klick away or a monstrous jebel dozens of miles in the interior. The lack of human scales, no trees, no houses, just desert and the mountains beyond, made the Sinai seem endless and a little intimidating. The ride to South Base Camp in the familiar-yet-odd white painted deuce-and-a-half trucks was pretty silent.But American soldiers are pretty irrepressible. After a couple of days hanging around SBC doing PT and generally “acclimating” to the iron cold nights and hot, windy days we were more than ready to get out into sector and start working.

First let me explain how the job worked. There were three “sectors”: North, Center and South. Each had a major fixed base consisting of a huddle of prefab trailers and buildings inside a zariba of barbed wire that constituted the “command and control” of the sector. There was one of these “Sector Control Centers” for each; SC North, Center and South.

In the sectors were individual outposts called Observation Posts or “OP”s; a couple of trailers inside a wire ring. Each had a sector number and an OP number, for example: OP3-2 was the #2 OP in North Sector (sector 3). Several OPs way out in the boonies were appropriately called “Remote Sites”, and OPs located along the major road that ran the length of the southeast shore of the peninsula were called checkpoints, or CPs

That’s the picture. Got it? Okay. Let’s turn to the first Tale...

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Old Lie

A cyberpal - I'm not going to link to her, since she enjoys her privacy a bit, but she knows who she is - is a fine poet as well as a mom (and her little girl is where I hope our little girl is in another year). Every Monday she blogs a poem that speaks to her in a certain way. Today it was a war poem by David Hernandez, a striking and strange poem, but one that I couldn't really access. I think the imagery was almost too strong, the setting too odd for me. (But note to L: I can respect the hell out of a poet who can link Wile E. Coyote and the Four Noble Truths). Good poet, not the right poem for me.

[I should note that in her post she asks: "Is there really any other kind of war poem (than the anti-war poetry of Owen & Co.)? I'm not sure." And in reply I'd argue that the anti-war poem is an absolute latecomer, a PURELY 20th and 21st Century peculiarity dwarfed by the monstrous edifice of battle hymns and paens to slaughter. "Pro-war" poetry probably started with Paleolithic campfire chest-beating, graduated to Homer, migrated through viking sagas and medieval chansons de geste to the apalling Classical bombast of the Eighteeenth Century and the Victorian middle class rubbish of the Nineteenth. There actually is some patriotic drum-beating poetry from the Great War, but 99.9% of it is so utterly awful that no one even teaches it anymore. Here's an example of the sort of WW1 "fallen warrior" poetry that manages to scent the hideous trench slaughter with patriotic rose-water. Gaah. And for modern "pro-war" poetry, I direct you to freakin' country music. If you can listen to "Iraq and Roll" without vomiting a little in the back of your mouth, you a sterner man or woman than I am.]

Sorry. Back to the topic.

I think of war and I think of anger, fear and boredom, and the smells of dust, heat, shit, blood and wet cloth. The writers who capture this for me are still the horror-poets of the First World War: Owens and Sassoon. Remarque's prose is to stilted and Nineteenth Century to reach out to me. Brooke is too romantic, Graves too verbose. So who - if not Mr. Fernandez - would I consider a "war poet" for OUR time?I know I've talked about this guy before, but: I would like to direct you to Mr. Brian Turner. His stuff isn't perfect. There's a little "high school lit mag" to some of it. But when he hits, he hits like a fucking 8-inch HE round. So while I'm not trying to compete for Monday poems, L, really! this is a one-off - just for Memorial Day, here's Brian Turner from "Here, Bullet":

AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)

Thalia Fields lies under a grey ceiling of clouds,
just under the turbulence, with anesthetics
dripping from an IV into her arm,
and the flight surgeon says The shrapnel
cauterized as it traveled through her
here, breaking this rib as it entered,
burning a hole through the left lung
to finish in her back
, and all of this
she doesn’t hear, except perhaps as music—
that faraway music of people’s voices
when they speak gently and with care,
a comfort to her on a stretcher
in a flying hospital en route to Landstuhl,
just under the rain at midnight, and Thalia
drifts in and out of consciousness
as a nurse dabs her lips with a moist towel,
her palm on Thalia’s forehead, her vitals
slipping some, as burned flesh gives way
to the heat of the blood, the tunnels within
opening to fill her, just enough blood
to cough up and drown in; Thalia
sees the shadows of people working
to save her, but she cannot feel their hands,
cannot hear them any longer,
and when she closes her eyes
the most beautiful colors rise in darkness,
tangerine washing into Russian blue,
with the droning engine humming on
in a dragonfly’s wings, island palms
painting the sky an impossible hue
with their thick brushes dripping green…
a way of dealing with the fact
that Thalia Fields is gone, long gone,
about as far from Mississippi
as she can get, ten thousand feet above Iraq
with a blanket draped over her body
and an exhausted surgeon in tears,
his bloodied hands on her chest, his head
sunk down, the nurse guiding him
to a nearby seat and holding him as he cries,
though no one hears it, because nothing can be heard
where pilots fly in blackout, the plane
like a shadow guiding the rain, here
in the droning engines of midnight.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dies Irae

I post this every Memorial Day.

I hate what this holiday has become, especially in the "Support The Troops" Dubya years. It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.

The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.

The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched, high ground above the Yalu River.

The time it took for the resupply bird to come to FSB Albany for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.

The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.I've been proud to be a soldier, and don't kid myself that there will be a day when the killer ape "studies war no more". But the modern view of war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me. Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a steel nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out a world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to an entire universe, once.

That the price we pay for "forging our national will" is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.

Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want to achieve before we open the doors of the Temple of Janus.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tired again

It's early Saturday, and I didn't post last night because, frankly, I was whipped. I have a ugly cold that's been kicking my ass (my right facial sinus has, apparently, been replaced by a large wet sack of concrete), I had two loooong days of hard, grinding physical labor this week(and it's sad to admit that at 50 I no longer have the capacity to hump up and down hills all day and shake Daddy's little moneymaker all night; ugly, but there it is) and the usual kidlet-and-domestic needs...I'm tired. Tired of being desired. Tired of love uninspired...OK, sorry. I'll stop now.

(Apropos of nothing but the preceding number...wasn't Madeline Kahn effing brilliant? There was a time in the Seventies when she was probably the funniest actress working. No big thing, just saying.)

Plus, Fridays are supposed to be my day to think deep about the Big World out there and come up with some insight, a soupçon of wisdom or two, a witty epigraph to liven your day and make you want to return again and again to read the Les Propheties de Table Graphic de Feu.

And to save my life I can't think of anything.

Domestically the primary season drags on and on, enlivened only by the occasional gaffe and the increasingly goofy, "horse race" centered, personality-driven crap that passes for political discourse in this country. The inability of both the American public and our chattering class (who continue to blabber on about Obama's "problem with the white working class" as if this was anything else) to confront the nasty reality that many of my peers will refuse to vote for a black man even if it is in their own political, economic and social best interest is making me sicker and tireder than the damn head cold.We bicker about trivialities, watch our "leaders" fight to cut our own throats and ignore the vampire in the corner. Jesus wept.

And abroad, our government - OK, let's be honest and call it what it is, this fucking idiot administration - makes me feel like Charles Laughton in the old 1935 "Mutiny on the Bounty", who surveys the unpromising lot of handless dopes he's been handed by the Admiralty and drawls in his wonderfully sneering Laughtonish way: "During the recent heavy weather, I've had the opportunity to watch all of you at work on deck and aloft. You don't know wood from canvas! And it seems you don't want to learn! Well, I'll have to give you a lesson!" But I feel at a standstill. I've written and called my "representative", dropped H&I letter-rounds on the newspaper...the only thing that's kept me from going to work for the local Democratic party organization is that I simply don't have another minute in the day. I feel like nothing I do, or can do, can prevent my country from doing something suicidally stupid, like continuing to whistle past the fiscal graveyard, or insist on miring itself further in the Middle Eastern tarbaby by, say, bombing Tehran.

So the bottom line is: I don't have a soupçon or any other kind of wisdom right now. I'm feeling particularly un-wise, unhelpful and, honestly, feeling pretty fuckin' grumpy about that.

So, like any good announcer, when the game is boring and crap and the audience is getting restless I'll just have to tell some stories. And I'll be back with those in just a bit.

Friday, May 23, 2008

March of the Falsettos

I have to tell you: the world changes when your little peeps make it out of the crib.

Mornings are my time. I love the quiet hours before the world rises. I make the coffee and lean on the counter and smell the rich roasted beans. I sit by the window and watch the day go from blue to gray to light. There is time to read, or just sit and think.

Normally we control how long this moment lasts. When we're ready: coffee'd, dressed, fed...we open the door to the Peeper's room (since he and Missy are sharing until her's is ready) and pick up warm, snuggly little folks and carry them out to the living room to begin their day.

Not today.

Mojo and I were sitting talking quietly when we heard the "thump" of Peep's door opening and the marching feet coming up the hallway; Missy stumping along in front with a grinning Peeper following behind.

"I got her out of her crib!" he announced, before the two burrowed in with me to cuddle, play and drink their chocolate milk breakfast (Bad Daddy, I know...sigh). As much as I realize that this means we're now on Peep's schedule instead of ours, the little morning parade was so cute I can't feel upset.

And the band played on...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

They Only Kill Their Masters

A bunch of us on our China adoption board have been discussing "How do you successfully - and happily - wrangle two (or three) kidlets when there's only one of you"?The answer:

Sometimes, you don't.

Sometimes they wrangle YOU.

Out of bullets

I got back from a long day working downstate in Lebanon, Oregon (which is like Lebanon of the Cedars in the way that Hostess Twinkies are like rich homemade, lemon-y and creamy hummus) in time to catch the last ten minutes of regulation, overtime and the penalty shootout of the 2008 UEFA Champion's League final.What I saw was an "exciting" game, in that both sides had several good chances at goal in the short time I watched, and (much as I hate to admit it, not being a fan of ManUCorp) both sides played fast, flowing soccer or as fast as the present enthusiasm for rough, grabby play allowed.

And I have to admit that from what I saw the result wasn't unfair. Manchester looked the better of the two sides by a smidget.

But what it particularly reminded me was how much I loathe the awful lottery that is the penalty kick "shootout" FIFA has settled on as a way of deciding final matches. All season, and all game, teams have to stay focused, play hard and smart, show their skills and mastery of the game and all its aspects.

Until the end, when a rigged-up round of end-of-practice-time drills makes a crapshoot of the whole business.I'm too young to have seen one, but I know enough of the game's history to know that before the greedy hand of success closed around football's throat championship draws were replayed.

That's right. Played over again, whistle to whistle. All ninety minutes, full sides, giving the two teams another chance at actually deciding which side has the better of the other. No, it's not impossible. The English FA still replays draws in the lower stages of its Cup competition.

I know all the objections, yadda, yadda. They all come down to what's better for the TV network, the viewer and the "fan", who supposedly wants a "winner". But speaking as a fan it still seems to me that after playing their heart out that a team like Chelsea, losing in the crappiest of crapshoots, is damn hard done by and we should look to find a better way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Missy: Girl of Many Moods

After almost ten months home with us, our little girl has shown us many different faces.

Intent......silly......serious (note the signs of the mysterious overnight nosebleed), and sometimes solemn. Quiet around strangers and places she doesn't know......happy and giddy: (Break my Pickle - tickle, tickle!)......willful! This girl wants to do everything for herself, from eating to driving the car......and even frightening!("You put these whalespouts in my hair? Well, your ass is grass and I'm the lawnmower now, Giacomo..!!")

But no matter what your mood, we love you a little more each day, giggly girl. We're very glad you came home to grow up with us.


It began with a hot, HOT Friday.What didn't help is that we didn't figure out that the electricians had turned off the circuit breaker to the A/C when they rewired Missy's room. So things never did cool off inside the house until we grew brains late Saturday. Og like shiny pretty. Duh.

We all dressed as undressed as possible. Probably the most extreme was baby girl; you can see young Miss sporting the popular "Little Miss Streewalker" bottomless look - it's very in along SE 82nd Avenue this year.

It was damn hot. Did I mention it was hot? Fuck, it was hot.The next day we had planned a fairly domestic sort of Saturday indoors with the A/C, with the emphasis on drywalling Missy's room. But that morning the sitter cancelled, sick. Gaaah!!!

In desperation I called all our friends and two of Portland's real-life heroes responded: Brent and Janelle.They came by that evening and helped entertain the kidlets and kept the place lively while Mojo and I worked in the back room (no pictures, since it's very dull, interior demo, framing and drywall). I think the Peeper has a cute little man-crush on Brent, and Missy loved Janelle, who played "Break My Pickle" like she'd been born to it.Later that evening Mojo and Peep took their scooters out for a scoot along the front sidewalk. (Mojo's is a special adult-size Razor that was her Mom's Day gift, BTW. Daddy knows what The Mommy likes...) So thank you, Brent and Janelle, not just for helping but for being such fun AND good friends, too! You rock!And away they go...All weekend it looked like Summer had arrived:
The iris exploded like an IED along the road to Ramadi...The tomato and basil zoomed up...
...and the salad greens - although the slugs hammered the arugula pretty hard.


The Peeper's strawberry bed looked promising for June bounty, although a surprising number of potato shoots reminded us that the spuds still lurked beneath.

Sunday the heat ws a little easier, and we played outside as well as did our chores (groceries, lawnmowing (ugh), general cleanup). Peep went to his friend The Poet's birthday as something called Safari Sam's, which is a kind of miminum security prison for children only with skee-ball. It's better than Cheesy Rodent, I'll say that.So a lovely, warm summery weekend, right? Of course, last night the rain had to remind us that spring isn't gone yet. But, hey, Summer?We're ready for ya.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hark! Hark!

One of the nice things about the past weekend's weather - ranging from uncomfortably hot to merely unseasonably warm - was that everyone got to get out their summer clothes and pretend that we live in Sauselito.

Friday morning I stopped at one of my breakfast spots, the Madrona Hill Bakery, on the way to work downtown. This pleasant little bakery/cafe is right on North Greeley in the Overlook/Arbor Lodge frontier, and always offers a light, airy space and tempting pastries to go with my mornng coffee.

As I sat waiting for the latte machine and eyeing the headlines with caution the first of the morning's Greeley boulevardiers strolled in, got her drink and sat down with books, laptop and croissant. She was perfectly and sleekly turned out, and my eyes were drawn to the most unlikely of places: her feet.

She had a perfect pedicure; her feet buffed and lotioned to a rosy glow, nails shaped and immaculately polished a bright, cheerful red. Comfy sandals and her relaxed posture said louder than any words that she was ready for a satisfying day; happy to be here, now, pleased with herself and the sunny morning.

The sudden summer day mercilesly exposed who had been taking care of their dogs and who hadn't; flip-flops and sandals revealed some nicely cared for feet along with some that had obviously just been shoved into sneakers all winter.

And, guys? We're just hopeless; most of those dogs are BARKIN'! In seven years as a grunt medic I've not seen such a mess. At least cut your toenails before breaking out the Tevas, geez! Half of us look like Hindu fakirs. Eek!

Speaking of which - I've gotta go put mine into my work boots. It's another busy day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

20,000 Years in Sing-Sing

Now there's a smart idea.

Uh. Yeah.

I can see it now:

U.S. interrogator: "OK, Hamid, do you see now how it's in your best interests to work with the government in Kabul?"

Hazara Interpreter: [Pushtu] "Are you ready to rally to us, noseless son of a Waziri dog, or shall I tell the boys in the back room to warm up the testicle clamps for when this clueless get of a Chicago gangster and a Hollywood whore departs?"

Prisoner: [Pushtu] "Go ahead, apostate boot-licking scum of the Yankee heretics. My sons will toast your testicles on your own torture implements."

Interpreter: "The Taliban says that he will speak with my commander later this evening about cooperation with our government, sir."

Interrogator: "See what I've been telling you, Abdullah? Fair treatment and humanity will always work better than stuff like putting some guy's nuts in a vice. I'll go tell Captain Amir."

[he leaves]

Interpreter: [Pushtu] "Farewell, testicleless one... [turns out the light] ..we will be waiting."

Signs of the Apocalypse: The Beast of Revelation

Rev.13: 1: And I sat upon the seat of the theatre, and saw a beast rise up out of the screen, having seven heads and ten tails, and upon his head ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of entertainment.
2: And the beast which I saw was like unto a dog, and his feet were as the feet of a dog, and his mouth as the mouth of Jay Z: and the Mouse gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority, and 10% of the gross.
3: And I saw one of his heads as it were generated by computers; and his CG mouth spake like a playa: and all the world wondered after the beast.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Razor

I usually try to take some time to just stop and think about the events of the week to develop an idea for Friday's post. This week has been more difficult than usual, what with Peeper being ill yesterday and myself the day before that, the weather (brutally hot today and threatening more for tomorrow) and the usual distractions of work and worry.

What has helped me has been two discussions: one with an on-line acquaintance and fellow adoptive parent about race and power and the twisted legacies of the imperial and colonial pasts that still tangle both the old colonial powers such as England, France and the U.S.

The other was over breakfast this morning with another debating partner, this one about U.S. politics and power, the way we've been led, the choices we've made and the choices we have soon to make.

And it occurred to me that this autumn we are going to be - bar a freak of man or nature - presented with perhaps the most stark and divisive choice the electorate of this country has had to make since the election of 1860.

The past eight years have been a watershed. All the contradictions that have been splitting our nation from itself have been sharpened by the conservative ideologues that have run the nation so badly for nearly a decade.

What began as a rebellion against taxation has become a mindless refusal to pay the price of civil government no matter the need. What was once a longing for the comforting pablum of Sunday School religion has become an aggressive demand for hierophantic supremacy. The one-time desire for economic liberality has become acephalic deregulation, fiduciary recklessness, unleashed – and unpunished - criminal greed and peculation. Disgust with the protests against American misdeeds had become a fierce desire for others, mostly poorer than ourselves, to fight enemies in part created by those deeds and wrath and hatred toward those who dissent with these policies.

It’s almost as though in the space of eight years the GOP has become a freakish example of the parodistic effects of age, as ideas often become stiff and shrill exaggerations of the richer beliefs formed in our maturity.

So the Republicans will offer us Senator McCain. Ignoring the eyewash about this man as some sort of “maverick”, he brings us more of what his faction has provided for the past eight years: red war, crony capitalism, fiscal recklessness, religious rhetoric, the old, hard, iron ways of the rule of the strong, the rich, the well-born and the able.

The Democrats reply with Senator Obama. To my eyes he summarizes everything wrong with the present opposition party in this country. Given the multifarious misdeeds, lies, deceptions and evasions of the preceding eight years it should be possible to stand up for a handful of simple truths; freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from hate. Rejection of the sneaking, the torturing, the greed and the foolishness that have stamped the previous administration as perhaps the worst since Buchanan’s. Instead we were forced to choose between two candidates with many flaws and weaknesses, whose most prominent characteristic was their savaging of each other rather than the ability to remain focused on the Republican enemy of both.

But now we have the choice. It would seem that a nation of honorable and decent people would have little to decide: on the one hand, decency, on the other, deceit. One the one hand, promised judgment, on the other, moronic wrath. One the one hand, the future, on the other, the past.

BUT…hand in hand with the deceit and the wrath is the past in the form we are most comfortable with: a pink and white Caucasian grandpa, rosily well fed and sleek with inherited wealth.

Decency and judgment and the future takes the form of the despised slave, the wretched freedman, the mocked minstrel and the frightening underclass, who represents all the things that so many of our ancestors taught us to hate and fear.

I love my country. And because I love my country I am not blind to her faults. And one of her greatest has been her heritage of race hatred and racial oppression. The very Founder who wrote the immortal words that in this land "all Men are created equal" was at the very time he wrote those words the owner of human souls for no better reason than the color of their skin. The legacy of race hate and fear is a powerful force right this very minute. And to break with the past eight years of mendacity and hidden brutality by rejecting the candidate that stands for them - as I believe we must do - we as Americans will have to fight and defeat the force of racism in the most difficult terrain of all: our own hearts.

I still believe that our system is badly broken, perhaps irretrievably so. But this isn't about the long view. This is about today. About the weight of so much proven wrong against an untried but hopeful right. But a right that will demand that we, those of us who have been raised in the America where (if we were white) we never needed to think about or fear the consequence our race, will need to place a man with a dark skin above ourselves, in the rostrum of our Capitol, and say: "There. There is my choice. There is my representative, and the Chief Executive of my nation."

Now the razor's sharp edge of the last eight years’ contradictions has been laid against our throats.

I believe – I truly believe – that here we are offered the choice of Satan on the mountaintop: on the one hand the past, with all it’s comfort and wealth, if only we but embrace the man whose ideas speak to the social, racial and political smallness in each of us, if we but choose to make our nation a meaner place founded on the principal of “I’ve got mine, fuck you, Jack!”

On the other, a man who gives us at least the hope of turning to embrace an uncertain future but one which provides an alternative to clanging Roman wars and ratlike scrambling greed. And – to choose this path was must START by crossing the great racial divide that has been with us since before the first African slave set foot in the New World.

For if we cannot bring ourselves to place a man whose skin is darker than our own in a place to lead us; if our fear of the dark "other" is greater than our shame and hate of the things that our current "leaders" have done in our name...

Well, perhaps we have indeed lost our souls.

Do you think we can choose the future by choosing to reject one of the deepest division of our national past? Is that too high a price to ask?

What price the soul of a nation?

Update 5/20: In case anyone questions my characterization of the GOP spear-carriers as racist morons, here is George Packer:

"John Preston, who is the county’s circuit-court judge and also its amateur historian, Harvard-educated, with a flag pin on his lapel, said, “Obama is considered an élitist.” He added, “There’s a racial component, obviously, to it. Thousands of people won’t publicly say it, but they won’t vote for a black man—on both sides, Democrat and Republican. It won’t show up in the polls, because they won’t admit it. The elephant’s in the room, but nobody will say it. Sad to say it, but it’s true.” Later, I spoke with half a dozen men eating lunch at the Pigeon Roost Dairy Bar outside town, and none of them had any trouble saying it. They announced their refusal to vote for a black man, without hesitation or apology. “He’s a Muslim, isn’t he?” an aging mine electrician asked. “I won’t vote for a colored man. He’ll put too many coloreds in jobs. Colored are O.K.—they’ve done well, good for them, look where they came from. But radical coloreds, no—like that Farrakhan, or that senator from New York, Rangel. There’d be riots in the streets, like the sixties.” No speech, on race or élitism or anything else, would move them. Here was one part of the white working class—maybe not representative, but at least significant—and in an Obama-McCain race they would never be the swing vote. It is a brutal fact, and Obama probably shouldn’t even mention it."

These people are planning to vote for the party that promises to shower benefits on the two-yacht family because that party promises them it will keep the niggers down and jail anyone providing someone, somewhere, an abortion. This kind of thinking is the thinking of a moron; I cannot put it any more cleverly than that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lady of the Dance

We're having an fun discussion over at Self-Styled Siren:

Astaire or Kelly?

I have to admit to loving movie musicals. My little guy comes by his taste biologically; I have favorites and preferences, but almost anything from Gold Diggers of 1933 to Sweeney Todd is grist for my entertainment mill. So when I stumbled into Campaspe's discursion on "Dance as Soliloquy" I followed with fascination her dissection of probably the two best known movie hoofers: Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

I've always enjoyed Gene's work more than Fred's, probably because I just don't have the feel for the ballroom basis of Astaire's style, and the technicolor musicals of the late Forties and Fifties are more kinetic than the black-and-white Thirties versions. But even in the Sixties Fred was the Thirties; you could almost see him looking around for his white tie and tails. Kelly is more the modern, and his dancing has a "West Side Story" sort of muscularity to it that makes Fred seem slight by comparison. The singing voices match: Gene a little rough at the edges, Fred wispy and croony, a sort of Rudy Valle' in tap shoes.

But I didn't actually post this to talk about the guys - Campaspe's doing just fine on that subject. I wanted to talk about Ginger Rogers.

First, because I've always enjoyed the hell out of her as a dancer and actress. And second because she's usually thought of - when thought of at all, these days - as "Mrs. Fred", the other half of Astaire and Rogers. But she did good work, both before Fred and after, and she's a hell of a tough, sexy woman who should be respected for her own work, not just as the arm-candy of half of the Great Dancers of Movie History. Gene Kelly has never really been "paired" with another dancer, although I understand his favorite partner as Cyd Charisse. Ginger is linked with Astaire in a way that none of Kelly's female leads has been. Which, IMO, is kind of unfair. Ginger was a good, solid working actress, and has chops of her own.

She worked all over in Hollywood, as chorine, as the wisecracking sidekick in "gold Diggers" and "42nd Street". She did comedy as varied as "The Major and the Minor" to slapstick "Monkey Business" with Cary Grant. You haven't seen World War Two homefront pathos until you've seen Ginger jerk tears as the "Tender Comrade" (although I've always been suspicious of her fervid denials of the "socialist" subtext there. C'mon, Ginge: either you're in on the gag or you're just that dumb - you can't have it both ways).But...because my mind is always on sex (being male)...the one thing I've always thought curious is the idea that Ginger "gave (Astaire) sex", that is, made their dancing believable as courtship and/or consummation.

First of all, Ginger wasn't - couldn't be, really - physically the sort of woman Hollywood typically casts as "sexy". She was slender and relatively small (she had to be, to dance comfortably with Fred, not himself a big man), and in common with dancers lacked the mammilary opulence we think of as conventionally sexy. She only seems "oomphy" next to Fred; her body isn't insistently female. If anything, her sex appeal is generated as much in her head as in her loins.

(If you get the chance, try and catch "Monkey Business" - it shows every so often on Turner Classic Movies. It's notable for the pairing of Ginger in her maturity with the latest ingenue starlet - Marilyn Monroe. For my money, Ginger plays La Monroe off the screen. But go, watch, see what you think.)

While the later Rogers did fill out nicely, even then her physicality was as much attitude as pulchritude. It always was. Go back and look at her earlier work, cornball stuff like "Rafter Romance" in '33 or "42nd Street". She's just a slip of a girl but she's all woman. It's the cocky, tough little showgoil attitude that makes her seem like such an earthy hoyden.She and Fred are a terrific dance team and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that she consciously worked to soften her edge and let Fred "lead", if you will. With Kelly, you're left thinking that all this sweaty dancing is going to lead to something else...sweaty. You never see Astaire sweat and you suspect that he probably doesn't...sweat. And I think that has a lot to do with Ginger lending him a certain authority without ever becoming his doormat. And she had to do some pretty good acting to make him into a plausible "romantic" lead in that sense; he's almost asexual although "charming" in a Thirties way.

The often-quoted line about her bringing the sex, BTW, is from Kate Hepburn, who claimed that Fred "gave her class", which I think it a rotten slur on Ginger. Yes, she was a difficult, Red-baiting Republican with some serious mother issues, but on screen "Feathers" was always my ideal of Hollywood class and professionalism.But as for the "she gave him sex" thing?

I've always thought that Ginger just seemed a little TOO sexy for Fred.

Picture if you can the honeymoon "epilogue" of a Fred-and-Ginger picture (not easy, given the wan sexuality Fred projects on screen): there's wispy little Fred in his boxers, hands clasped protectively over his groin, standing by the turned-down bed staring transfixed - a midnight deer in the headlights, Balboa gazing upon the vast Pacific from that peak in Darien - at Ginger, emerging from her frou-frou nightie like a great pink-and-cream battleship emerging from the sea-smoke.

You can see by his rabbit-eyes he knows, and by her knowing smirk that she knows he knows, that the shattering blasts to come are going to sink him without a survivor.

Touch 'em all

Great story.As the ESPN announcer notes, under NCAA rules she would have been credited with the HR anyway. But the players didn't know that.

We forget, what with the hype and the money and the nonsense associated with it now, that the ideal of sport was that it helped us reach for something bigger than ourselves. Every once in a while it still happens.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thug Life

So there's a "truce" between the Sadrist Mahdi Army and the Dawa/ISCI "government" of the Maliki trend.Or maybe not.

The real question to me as an American is what the hell our armed forces are doing in Sadr City and elsewhere in Iraq with regards to this Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence.

Keep in mind that this isn't "Al Qaeda" we're talking about here. This isn't an Iranian proxy. Take away the Twelver Shiite religion and Sadr is basically Juan Peron in a turban. He's the front man for the poor crapped-out Shiites that first Saddam and then the middle-class Shia of the Dawa party and the Iranian-friendly ISCI have persistently shat upon.

So far no one on either side of the political aisle seems to be asking the most critical question about U.S. participation in this sectarian squabble:


Why is this a must-do operation? This isn't mostly empty desert and mud-hut villages. This is Fallujah writ large. We might have to "destroy it in order to save it".

And this is because...we want to disarm the JAM?

(And why is disarming the JAM so much more important than disarming, say, the Iranian-affiliated Badr militia? Or the ex- and maybe-not-so-ex-AQ-subsidiaries now going under the moniker "Sons of Iraq"?)

Because...Sadr and the Sadrist trend are Islamists?

(And the gang we're supporting are called the "Rotarian Supreme Council of Iraq"?)

Because...the Sadrists are Iranian allies?

(And our boys the Malkists, Dawa and their ISCI pals are...ummm...not?)

If we were asked to intervene in Sri Lanka to fight the Tamil Tigers we'd laugh. We have no dog in that fight, and, frankly, the Sri Lankan "government" is less vile but no more democratic and no more an ally than the LTTE. If the British asked us to bomb the Provos in Belfast we'd scoff. This isn't the U.S. as the LAPD fighting the Eight-Trey Crips - this is the Crips versus the Bloods only with U.S. airpower backing one group of homies against the other. Making them part of the "Iraqi Army" doesn't turn Badr Corp thugs into Audie Murphy. It just puts the stamp of officialdom on the thug life.Plus, why is it suddenly so bloody critical that NOW we fight our way into a Shiite slum so that our Shiite "allies" can eliminate one of their sectarian rivals?

Looking at this from the "power politics" perspective I can see how the defenestration of the Sadrists serves three objects for three different groups:

1. For the Maliki kleptocracy it allows them to use their U.S. ally as a proxy to eliminate an internal rival without being the "bad guy" having to trust their own troops who may or may not be happy about fighting Maliki's gang war (the heavy lifting in Basra, Baghdad and Mosul seems to have been done by foreign troops and fire support). It eliminates the JAM as a potential counter-state enemy of the Malikist trend like Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also makes the point to the Sunni muj that the Shia government isn't "sectarian" (See? We're not JUST killing y'all - we kill other Shiites, too!)

2. For the U.S., it eliminates embarassing evidence of unrest in the form of daily barrages into the Green Zone, and (for a certain GOP faction in our government) continues the original "strategy" that got us there - the pursuit of long-term basing rights and a Status of Forces Agreement that secures a "central position" for U.S. forces in the Middle East.3. For Iran, it eliminates Sadr as an Iraqi political power and especially an Iraq-for-Iraqis irritant, while keeping him alive and in place as a potential anti-U.S. influence.

For me, the downside of all this is for my nation as a whole: it welds us to ONE faction in the dysfunctional Iraqi "state". We now cannot ever allow a Sadrist to be elected, or if elected, to serve - they will be even more committed to ejecting us from Camp Victory et al. We make this mistake over and over: Musharraf in Pakistan, Mubarak in Egypt, Karzai in Afghanistan. We buck these tigers and then have to keep them in power, becoming the props for dictators and earning the justified loathing of every local outside the ruling elites. In pursuit of...what? Petroleum? Influence? Great power props?

We have become what our Founders despised - just another Big Power stomping about the less-paved parts of the world. Just another playa in the global Thug Life, using guns to get the bling and the ho's. Just another gangsta, thuggin' it on the mean streets of Baghdad.Somewhere in Elysium, Thomas Jefferson just threw up a little in his mouth.