Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wednesday: No BAILOUTS Act Open Thread

My Congressman, Pete DeFazio (OR-3)

has introduced a piece of legislation called the "No BAILOUTS Act" which appears to be a first effort on the part of the House Democrats to address the financial sector collapse bar the Paulson/Bernanke Plan voted down in its revised form Monday.

I've got some thoughts on this, but it's late, I need to get home and I'll be drilling up in Longview, WA, all day tomorrow.

So - consider this a place to discuss fiscal governance past, present and future.

Pluto, I'd be interested to hear, in particular, your take on the implications of what you describe as a "rebellion" that overwhelmed the original TARP bill Monday.

I know that you're on the road, but Jim, Lisa? What do you think?

And how about my ALTadoption crew? I know that W is busy with her twins, but Red Sand? YK? Kelli? Beeb? Atomic Mama? My Portland pals - Brent? Janelle? Hell, I can't list everyone, you know who you are - you guys are among the best and the brightest I know. Where do you think we should - or we CAN - go from here?

I'll be back Wednesday night and check in!

Sonnet for H and C

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Edna St. Vincent MillayI thought of this as I watched our friends agonize over worrisome questions emerging through the opaque morass that is the Chinese public health system, about the little boys that they desperately want to love and raise as their own.

Love may not be all. But sometimes it makes everything else bearable.

My thoughts go out tonight to my dear friends. I can do no more than hope for the love you want to be true.

Decisive Battles: Ain Jalut, 1260

Ain Jalut Date: September 3, 1260

Forces Engaged:
Egyptian Mamluk: roughly 20,000 under the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Saif addin Qutuz. One of Qutuz' subordinates was the mamluk al-Malik al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Bunduqdari or "Baibars", whom we will hear more of later.
Mongol: Either one or two tumens; between 10,000 and 20,000 horsemen under Kitbuqa Noyan, Turkish Christian and lieutenant of Hulagu Khan.The Situation: It is difficult to overstate the impact that the Mongol invasions of the West had on the minds and bodies (and cities, towns, farms and villages!) of the peoples they encountered.

The Mongol Empire is one of the amazing stories of Eurasian history.
From a band of horse nomads in the 12th Century the Mongols literally burst out of Asia in two generations.

Ghenghis Khan led the horsemen west after 1218 until his death in 1229; by 1240 his son Ogedai's forces were hammering on Poland and eastern Germany and were poised to push into southwest Asia and destroy the Abbasid Caliphate.

No contemporary army had found either the tactical solution to the Mongol combination of mounted archery and mobile heavy cavalry or an answer to the Mongol operational art, a modernist combination of highly mobile war and outstanding command and control. Long before Napoleon the Mongols perfected the art of moving along separate axes to a central position for battle.

The descent of the "Tartars" must have seemed like a 13th Century slasher flick to the Europeans; sudden, bloody and supernaturally unstoppable. The little horsemen from central Asia must have been the Michael Myers of Kievan Rus: popping up put of nowhere to slash your throat, and nothing and no one could stop them. The flower of mittleeuropean chivalry tried to halt Subutai's invasion of the central European plain and were brutally defeated at the battles of Sajo River and Leignitz

that left what is today's Hungary, Poland and eastern Germany helpless against Mongol invasion.

And then Great Khan Ogedai died.

The Mongol tumans turned back into the steppes to raise a new great Khan. The next twenty years were marked by a succession of relatively strong but short-lived Khakhans that affected the political stability of the Mongol Empire if not the military skill. The northwestern border stabilized while major advances were effected in southwest Asia. Mongol forces under Hulagu overran Persian and much of the northeast edge of the Black Sea in the 1250's. Baghdad fell in 1258 and the Abbasid Caliphate was destroyed. The next year Hulagu pushed in Syria, with the eventual goal of the rich delta of the Nile. Waiting there were a new breed of Muslim soldier: the Mamluks.

The Mamluk system was originally designed by the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad - trust Iraqis to come up with something simultaneously clever and dangerous - to replace an older slave-soldier setup (the "Ghulam") that had proved a trifle difficult when the Turkish POWs of the Ghulam whacked four caliphs in a row in the 9th Century.

The new organization was staffed by captured children, often from the Caucasus or Kipchak Turkey, raised as soldiers and loyal retainers of the Islamic ruler...at least that was the plan. Four hundred years later the Mamluks, given their monopoly on disciplined military force, were vying for power in several Islamic states. They got in in Egypt in 1250 through a complex and murderous scheme that involved marriage, assassination and drowning in a bathtub. The Egyptian Mamluks were a fun, if lethal, bunch of folks.They were also hell on hooves; former steppe riders, armed and organized as light horse archers and medium- to heavy lancers. Their organization was as good as the Mongols, and they were close to the champions' weight in the saddle. In 1250 the Egyptian Mamluk forces bitchslapped Louis IX

and diced up his 15,000 Crusaders at the Battle of Fariskur.

This battle predates the Further Adventures of the Mamluk Guys, but I hope I'm not giving anything away if I tell you that the ended up driving the Mongols out of Syria, crushing the last remnants of the Crusader state and even resisting the Ottomans for a while longer than most. Tough bastards.

But the main point here is that by 1259 they were ready to meet the Mongols head-on.

The Campaign: Key to the Ain Jalut campaign was a dead guy: Mongke, former Great Khan of the Mongol Empire and surprised corpse in August, 1259; either shot by a Song archer, smooshed by a trebuchet projectile (my personal favorite: I have this Wile E. Coyote image of the shadow growing as Mongke looks up and has just time to mutter the Mongol equivalent of "What the..?" before the Acme Trebuchet Stone reduces him to road pizza) or possibly cholera or dengue fever or...Whatever. The Khan Hulagu, who had been intent on driving into Egypt, had to turn his riders around and head for the steppes for fight out the succession. He left the Mongol equivalent of a corporal's guard under Kitbuqa to finish the Mamluks. What was to worry? No one had stood up the tumens before.The weeks preceding the battle were a novel's worth of scheming and double dealing. Kitbuqa tried to enlist the Crusader states against their old enemies but was frustrated by a papal envoy. In turn, the sad little rump of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (now with 100% less Jerusalem!! and, in fact, based along the Levantine coast around Acre and Sidon) allowed the Mamluks to use their territory to swing north and west around the Mongol tumens advancing into the valley of the Jordan River. The two forces met just south of the old city of Galilee in the first week of September, 1260.

The Sources: We have only one source for infomation about Ain Jalut: Jami'u't-tawarikh, the "Compendium of Chronicles". This history was comissioned near the turn of the 13th Century by Khan Ghazan, the Mongol ruler of what was known as the Ilkhanate, the brief-lived Mongol principate which encompassed most of what is today the central Middle East and Turkey.The author, high in the court of the Ilkhanate, likely had access to official Mongol correspondance, and given the proximity of the writing to the battle could have interviewed Mongol survivors. Elsewhere in his manuscript Rashid is a reliable reporter and his historical accounts of Genghis Khan's time tally with his source material known from Chinese records. His pro-Mongol bias is apparent from the text, but the events of Ain Jalut were so straightforward that he could do little to make the outcome look better for his patron. One should take the speeches of Kitbuqa with a grain of salt, however, given how unlikely the chance that any of the Mongol commander's close associates survived to report these orations.

The Engagement: Here's how the Compendium describes Ain Jalut:
"Quduz stationed his troops in ambush and, himself mounted with a few others, stood waiting. He clashed with Kitbuqa and his several thousand cavalry, all experienced warriors, at Ayn Jalut. The Mongols attacked, raining down arrows, and Quduz pulled a feint and started to withdraw. Emboldened, the Mongols lit out after him, killing many of the Egyptians, but when they came to the ambush spot, the trap was sprung from three sides. A bloody battled ensued, lasting from dawn till midday. The Mongols were powerless to resist, and in the end they were put to flight."

Plain enough, and consistent with steppe warfare of the day: the forces engage, the Mamluks feign flight, draw the Mongols into the kill zone and then close the kill sack. Qutuz seems to have used the terrain of the valley of Ain Jalut cleverly to conceal his ambush force.From the comment in the Compendium noting the bloody progress of the "feigned" retreat ("killing many of the Egptians"), it has been surmised that the Mamluk flight may have been, or have become, as much real as tactical. The Wiki article states that "(t)he Mamluks drew out the Mongol cavalry with a feigned retreat, but were almost overwhelmed by the savage Mongol attack." I am curious to know what source this assesment is based on, since the Compendium makes no such claim, but from the original some degree of tactical disintegration seems plausible. Even when they weren't at the top of their game the Mongol horsemen were mad, bad and dangerous to know.

The other rather surprising aspect of this battle is that Kitbuqa, no fool and an experienced Mongol officer, would have fallen into the old "feigned flight and ambush" trap. We are told by Rashid elsewhere, though, that he was "hot-tempered" and had lost a grandson to the forces of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem that had caused him to take and sack the city of Sidon. Perhaps he was overconfident, or made the un-Mongol mistake of getting too close to the actual fighting and lost control of the tactical situation.

Whatever he cause, he certainly paid for it. The Compendium continues:
"Kibuqa Noyan kept attacking left and right with all zeal. Some encouraged him to flee, but he refused to listen and said, "Death is inevitable. It is better to die with a good name than to flee in disgrace. In the end, someone from this army, old or young, will reach the court and report that Kitbuqa, not wanting to return in shame, gave his life in battle." (However his horse is brought down and he is captured by the Mamluks)
Near the battlefield was a reed bed in which a troop of Mongol cavalrymen was hiding. Quduz ordered fire thrown into it, and they were all burned alive. After that, Kitbuqa was taken before Quduz with his hands bound.

"Despicable man," said Quduz, "you have shed so much blood wrongfully, ended the lives of champions and dignitaries with false assurances, and overthrown ancient dynasties with broken promises. Now you have finally fallen into a snare yourself.""If I am killed by your hand," said Kitbuqa, "I consider it to be God's act, not yours. Be not deceived by this event for one moment, for when the news of my death reaches Hulagu Khan, the ocean of his wrath will boil over, and from Azerbaijan to the gates of Egypt will quake with the hooves of Mongol horses. They will take the sands of Egypt from there in their horses' nose bags. Hulagu Khan has three hundred thousand renowned horsemen like Ket Buqa. You may take one of them away."

Quduz order his head severed from his body."
We have no real idea of the losses on both sides. The entire Mongol tumen(s) was destroyed; probably 80-90% of the 20,000-some Mongols were killed. Mamluk losses were described as "heavy", suggesting that several thousand men were killed, probably in the initial Mongol penetration and pursuit.Ironically, while Quduz was the boss of the Mongols, Baibars was the boss of him, supposedly having him whacked while the luckless Quduz was out hunting. Baibars went on to expand and consolidate Mamluk power in the Levant, crushing the sad remnants of the Crusader kingdoms and establishing Egypt as a major center of the Islamic world.

Outcome: Complete tactical Mamluk victory; part of strategic Mamluk success (with Homs and several other Mongol defeats in the 1260s) in pushing Mongol Ilkhanate back to the northeast out of Syria and the Palestinian Levant.

Impact: While relatively minor in itself, the real implications of Ain Jalut came later, when Hulagu was unable (because of intercene warfare between the Ilkhanate and the delightfully named "Golden Horde", carefully fomented by the Islamic powers of Egypt and the Gulf region) to avenge the defeat. In fact, the three tumans he despatched were decisively beaten by our treacherous friend Baibars at the First Battle of Homs, the two defeats between them costing the Ilhanate most of what is today Syria.

In particular, Ain Jalut was the "high water mark" of the Mongol period. Before Ain Jalut the khanates were pushing out everywhere in the Middle East and Europe. Afterwards, the empire disintegrated into competing khanates that were unable to keep up politically or militarily with a risingly vigorous and expansive Europe. The battle did not accomplish this as much as it signalled the end of the "Mongol Era" in European history.Touchline Tattles: One of the fascinating little snipbits I read about this engagement was that the Mamluks used "hand cannon" - probably an invention passed from China to the Middle East by the Mongols themselves - to some effect(?) during the battle. The textural references speak of the cannon frightening the Mongol horses, which would be unexceptional given the surprise effect of a masked battery of these blunderbusses on an unprepared horse and rider.The real oddity is the appearance of gunpowder weapons during the "high water mark" of the Mongol empire. Within another four hundred years the descendents of these "hand cannon" would prove the first effective solution to the steppe nomad combination of pony and compound bow. The revolution that would end the day of the man on horseback was very inaccurate and very new at Ain Jalut, but the powder smoke drifting away on the wind that day was the first hint of the bonfire of the knightly vanities.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Tarpeian Rock

After all the shouting and tumult died; after all the whipping and hectoring and Bushie rhetoric and McCain posturing and Obama opining and Palin fucking cluelessness and idiotic Republican "revolts" and Democratic quivering and bloviating from the usual talking heads; after all the "compromising" and deal-making and softening of punitive measures against the poor CEOs that orchestrated this mess......the "bailout" bill died in the House this afternoon.

Ezra Klein sums it up here. But the bottom line, for me, anyway, is that this is a defining moment in American history. The problem is clear, the solutions available. All that was needed was fourhundredsomething individuals to figure out a way to stop vying for petty advantage - to put their nation's fortunes first, and their own political fortunes second - and they could not do it. Our Chief Executive is plainly a gormless idiot. And now our Congress is exposed as a cabal of puling fools and cretinous timeservers, more worried about their acess to the malefactors of great wealth and their filthy lucre and the tools of power than their nation's well being. As Paul Krungman says:
"I don’t think the Dem leadership was in a position to craft a bill that would have achieved overwhelming Democratic support, so make or break was whether enough GOPers would sign on. They didn’t....So what we now have is non-functional government in the face of a major crisis, because Congress includes a quorum of crazies and nobody trusts the White House an inch. As a friend said last night, we’ve become a banana republic with nukes."

Even though my damn representative voted against the thing, make no mistake. Sixty percent of the Democrats gritted their teeth and voted for this ugly baby. Sixty-seven percent of the GOP whined and held their breath and drummed their heels and voted no. They chose their policies over expedience, the best over the good. The damned meeching traitors should all be hurled from the Tarpeian Rock.

So everything from here on is just the long imperial sunset. Our economy is showing signs of breaking. Now our political system has shown it is broken.

But imperial evenings can be long and luxurious, and I plan to stretch mine and my chidren's as far as I can. I hope you are well placed for yours. Because, like Ezra, I can think of nothing as appropriate as this:

Update I, 9/30: Many, many observations and amendations in the comments section. What appears to becoming clear to me is that:
1. The primary reason for the failure of politics here was an attempt by the House Republicans to ratfuck the House Dems in an election year.
2. The House Dem leadership, with which I typically hold little brief, appears to have, for once, outtricked the Republicans and let them sink a bill that they otherwise MIGHT have wanted with their stupid politican tricks.
3. There does seem to be some legitimate groundswell of hatred for this bill. The problem I see with it is:
..a. The opposition from the left seems to be based on fairly hardheaded suspicions of the Wall Street shenangans that got us into this mess, but
..b. The opposition from the right seems to me, frankly, delusional. You people are worried NOW about "government interference in private business" when it was your messed-up deregulation and inattention that CAUSED the mess? You want to abolish the capital gains tax? Why? You want to "solve" this using private commerce?

WTF?

Frankly, my personal opinion is "fiat justicia, ruat caelum"; let the damn larcenous banks and hedge funds and investment houses fail. Let the theiving, greedy petty men and women who helped engineer this disaster go broke, and then the adults will move in and sweep up the pieces.

But. But.

We saw this before - the Nineteenth Century was filled with these "boom and bust" cycles. And I suspect that this time, as before, the malefactors of great wealth and their wealthy enablers in business and politics will get away just fine. It will be the farmer who needs a loan, the small grocer looking for a mortgage, the individuals who need jobs but will lose them when these businesses fold, that will be hurt. The oligarchs will just sell off a yacht or three.

I wish I thought that the righteous anger of the American people would cleanse these moneychangers out of the temple. I don't. I think that the NEXT "bailout" (thought they'll get wise and call it something different) will be WORSE than this one. That's what happens when you're the mark and the people who are supposed to be your "leaders" are in on the con.

Update II, 9/30: I have to agree with Krugman here:
"But putting myself in Barney Frank or Nancy Pelosi’s shoes, I’d look at it this way: the Democrats could start over, with a bailout plan that is, say, centered on purchases of preferred stock and takeovers of failing firms — basically, a plan clearly focused on recapitalizing the financial sector, with nationalization where necessary. Maybe such a plan would have passed Congress; and maybe, just maybe Bush would have signed on; Paulson is certainly desperate for a deal.
But such a plan would have had next to no Republican votes — and the Republicans would have demagogued against it full tilt. And the Democratic leadership cannot, cannot, be seen to have sole ownership of this stuff. So that, I think, is why it had to be done this way. I don’t like it, and I don’t like the plan, but I see the constraints under which Dodd, Frank, Pelosi, and Reid were operating."

But what does it say about our "democracy" that the adults in the game have to play by these idiotic rules?

Double Happiness!!

Two bits of terrific news for a sunny Monday.

First, two of our friends from the ALTiverse have received their long-awaited referral: twin boys! I won't link to them - they're password protected - but we are entranced and a little in awe of their energy and creativity. And now, they're parents!Their little cuties are from north-central China, fraternal twins, and are already the Light of their mommy's and daddy's lives. And here they were thinking they were all busy with their new doggie!

(For the record, I don't want to give away the boys' actual images so I hunted around the internet for something that said "twin boys", found this, and was entranced that anyone would have written - or read - a story entitled "The Boy Ferret Among The Dagoes".)

Some parts of our past just don't translate well.

But this post isn't about pasts - it's about futures.

We're thrilled with the good news, and want to shout out public congratulations to the Walterniverse and the two brand new little stars in their domestic firmament.

The other good news has a bit of a bittersweet taste to it.

If you remember our China trip to little Miss Shaomei almost exactly one year ago you probably remember the little girl

we went to embrace, and left without, Baoxin..."Yun-yun".

Her story has always been the corona of darkness around the giggling little Sun of Dongguan (apologies to Willie the Shake) who is our sweet Missy.

So we have been trying to find out what had happened to her in the year after we left her with her ayis at the shabby little hotel in downtown Guangzhou.And here's the result:
From: [Mojolicious] [e-mail redacted]
Subject: Question on Fate of Child
To: brianstuy@research-china.org
Date: Thursday, September 25, 2008, 2:11 PM
Hi Brian,
I have seen your work and thank you for all that you do to keep us educated and informed. I have what I hope is an unusual question. I adopted a little girl, Lian Bao Xin, from Lian Jiang Social Welfare Institute, in September last year. She was born March 13, 2006. We had the adoption dissolved because she had brain damage; she went back to her orphanage. How might I find out her fate/if she got adopted/is still “paper ready” and waiting? There are a lot of services available on the internet, I don’t mind paying for a service, but I don’t know where to start. I’ve combed the internet for her specific information and found nothing. Any suggestions you might provide would be much appreciated.
Thank you for your time.

[Mojolicious] [Businessaddress, LLC]

From: Brian H. Stuy [mailto:brianstuy@research-china.org]
Sent: Friday, September 26, 2008 9:48 PM
To: [Mojolicious]
Subject: Re: Question on Fate of Child

I called the orphanage and talked with the office manager in charge of international adoptions. She told us that Lian Bao Xin has been adopted by an American family two weeks ago. She seemed to be doing very well with her family, and I think it has turned out well.

If this family contacts me for her finding ad, I will put them in touch with you.

Good luck!

Brian Stuy
Research-China
www.research-china.org


So we hope, and think, that Yun-yun's story may be lighter and happier than we had feared and mourned. I wish we could have helped you, Yun-yun, I wish we could have been bigger and better than we are. But I am glad that you found a mommy and daddy who love you and want you, and I wish you joy and peace and love all the days of your life.

Last Weekend in September

It started with this, way back in April.Over the next five months we've slowly kept working on Missy's little back bedroom, evenings and weekends, whenever we had the time, the money and the energy - the latter not a given with two fractious youths leaping about the place...Just in time for autumn, we completed the exterior of her room this weekend.Mojo wanted something a little dressier than the plain rectangular mouldings built on the rest of the house (remember this was the Gimcrack Tract House of 1922 - while it's practically Street-of-Dreams quality for 2008, it was the cheapest and quickest means and methods at the time it was built) hence the crown moulding at the top and the trick ledge moulding at the bottom. Fiddling little bit of woodworking and not anywhere near cabinetry standards, but then, it's also outside the house.Peeper and I stopped at Portland Nursery on Saturday and picked up the beautiful chain downspout and the workmanlike black plastic rainbarrel.We all are pretty happy with the finished product!The interior drywalling is pretty much complete, too, so this fll we can pick away at things like the wood ceiling, taping and plastering, fixtures, flooring and painting. Still LOTS to do!One more look before we go.But that wasn't all we did on this busy last weekend of the summerhere's Missy in the car going to dim sum with our friends Brent and Janelle - yay, we love Brent and Janelle! (the Peeper has got a little crush on Janelle and a little man-crush on Brent.)

And we ALL loved Janelle's "No War on Myrack" T-shirt. We're convinced, Janelle; an attack on your rack would be a Boob-boo that would Live in Infamy!

And the dim sum was, as always, mighty tasty.

We were multiethnic this weekend - on Saturday Peeper and I (and our friend M, along with the endlesly adaptible Brent and Janelle!!!) went to North Portland's annual Polish Festival.

This was along the way of going to Laurelhurst Park to play, Portland Nursery (described above), Happy Valley (because I was @!#!%%^! working AGAIN this weekend), Oregon City (to put my work equipment up), "Toys R Us" in Clackamas (for a present for Peeper-friend Harry's birthday) and then back to NoPo for the Polish...

We had a pleasant brief Polish visit. Once you've seen a polka and had a pieroge and a cabbage roll you've pretty much done Poland (charging tanks with lances, while all very cultural, isn't the sort of thing you can really do for entertainment).

So we played with the wooden zloty for a bit, had a roll in the grass or three, said goodbye to M (always cheerful and fin despite the fact that her inamorata was laid out by the Horrible Creeping Crud that we all got this spring - ugh!) and rolled on home to get ready for Harry's birthday party!

We found little Missy cuddling in the laundry!(Seriously, this is from Friday night - what a cutie!

But we had a great time at the party.

Missy discovered Smarties.

Peeper puffed out his birthday puffer repeatedly.

We all swam (we were the only parents who did save one. Are we dorks, or what?) d had fun in the pool - Missy even swam a little!

And we all had cake and ice cream - yay!

Here's the Peeper as he was all evening - blowing on his party puffer.

He's going through the difficult, awkward five-year-old time, half devil and half child. Old enough to know that there's a lot he isn't allowed to do but too young to understand why he can't. He gets very angry and frustrated a lot, and we've been doing a lot of "NO, Peeper!". It gets wearing, I think, for all of us. I'm hoping that six will be better, but he's a dominant Peep, not a submissive one, and I'm not sure.But these two sure look happy, don't they?

The summer continues to wane, with the last roses forcing out against the cooling nights.

I'm starting to see fallen leaves on all the side streets. The mornings are crisp, even after a hot day like yesterday.

But out tomatoes are still going like mad. Lovely to have them, and we keep putting off uprooting the plant (which got so lush it knocked the tomato frame over) because it seems like we get little bit more garden bounty each week.

Here's the cutting board last night - a crisp summery weitzen and the tangy red explosion of flavor beside it.

Mmmmmmm.

I stuggled a bit - between the work and the play there was little chance to have time to myself this weekend. But overall it was good. We grew a little more as a family. We all had time together: Mojo and I, Peeper and I, Peeper and Missy, Mojo and each of the kids.

And there was even a little time for me and my Baby Girl.And we even got to see Thor and her Mommy and Daddy!

But that's another post.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Empty Cup

I know a cyberpal who is going though some serious renovating: personal, physical AND home-improvement-ological (she's removating and lookng for a new roof!). Part of her regimen includes giving up hot showers. Now let me say, for the record, that in the course of 20something years working for Uncle Sugar I've taken my share of cold showers. Panama? Honduras? The Sinai? Yeah, baby..! Bring on the good cold stuff. But New England? Oregon?

Brrrr. Not so much.

I remember having a conversation about something like this with the old Japanese sensei at my kendo school.

He was doing a drill with me where he made simple cuts at my head. I was supposed to parry them and immediately cut back at him; the purpose of the drill was to learn to riposte without thinking, to respond immediately to an attack with a stronger attack.

But I hadn't understood the instruction - I wasn't completing the parry and as a result was allowing him to hit me on the head. He was this tiny, wizend Japanese, probably 90 pounds dripping wet, but he'd been fighting with a shinai since Hirohito was a stripling and his arms and wrists were like steel springs. He snapped the tip of the shinai like a cracking whip; it stung every time it hit and he hit every time. Finally he lowered the tip of his sword and just looked at me.

"Why do you not defend against the men cut?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

I was puzzled: "Sensei, I thought we were not supposed to."

"Suffering you will get without trying," the master said to me sternly, "to make yourself suffer without need is to waste the lessons that suffering will teach you."

I get the deal about stressing the body to improve the body and mind. But cold showers sound so...hair-shirt. Brrrr!And yet...for all that my sensei expected me to protect myself from avoidable pain, the kenjutsu tradition is that the students practice until they drop and the sensei gets to whale the tar out of them with a bokken (wooden sword) when they screw up. Or not: some of the great kenjutsu training stories involves the sensei sneaking around and whacking the students at random just to get him all cat-like and quick. Remember, this is zen we're talking about. The nutshell of a good koan is that it makes absolutely no sense...until it does.

So do you find that self-imposed "suffering" - fasts, physical strain like yoga or types of training, minor deprivations like forgoing meat, sugar or taking a cold shower instead of a hot one - helps to focus the mind and tauten the body in the way that, say, great suffering and tragedy can bring about a sort of enlightenment? In what ways? What's your experience?

I'm genuinely curious. What do you all think?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

WooHoo!!

So it turns out that our bank - and the bank my company uses, too - has failed.WhooHoo!

But the FDIC has our back, right? This isn't 1929, we don't have to run down to the North Portland WaMu and get our money in cash to hide under the mattress or lose it, right?

WhooHoo!

But...what's backing up the FDIC..?

WhooHoo?

(Author's Note: I think one of the really open questions nobody is talking about is the potential effect of the massive consolidation of the banking industry occurring during this immense-public-failure-of-lassiz-faire-capitalist goat-rope. Now that WaMu is J.P. Morgan Chase and everyone else is Bank of America how close are we to having a monopolized banking system? What wil this mean for commercial and personal credit and finance? Will this make credit more difficult for struggling small businesses and individuals? To me the bottom line is: we don't fucking know. As John Travolta famously says in "Look Who's Taking: "Could be lunch meat! Could be peaches! Who knows?" But it COULD be one of the single most life-changing and long-lasting effects to result from the latest blowup of the "free" market system. And yet there has been little if any discussion of this in the Roman circus that is the "mainstream media".)

WhooHoo!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Was So Much Older Then...

Lisa left a comment on an earlier post to the effect that based on my appearances in this blog

...versus my earlier incarnation as a Lebanese taxi driver (or possibly a Turkish drummer. But I don't know much about Turkish drummers...) that I appear to have..."aged well", I think is the term I'm looking for.

I would like to think that were true, and the witty and fetching Lisa is a gentlewoman and a scholar for saying so.

But.

The camera, though it may shade the truth a teensy bit, doesn't lie like Tony Snow or a Baghdad PAO. It is not true.

I am a pale imitation of the fierce rascal I was in my burgeoning youth. Ah! What a burning devil I was then...all hard corners and hard muscle, sharp enough to cut with, full of the juices of arrogant life, immortal, irrepressible...bulletproof and invisible. I was like a human tequila advertisment.

And the odd thing is...I don't think I'm that much different from that younger man. It's like I'm trapped inside this meatsuit that has a 40-inch waist and creaky knees and a stiff back and failing eyesight. I look in the mirror expecting in vain to see that dark hatchet face staring back at me. William Manchester says something similar in his memoir "Goodbye Darkness": he meets his younger self in dreams, and the younger man is horrified by the gray, portly old feeb he has become.

I've never asked her, but I'll bet that my beloved Mojo feels the same way; who snuck in and put this domesticated Mommybot in the place......of the pixie-faced girl who was so witty, sexy and alluring?At least she lured a Gray Jay or three in her time.

(For the record: I think my love is still a witty, sexy, alluring adorable. Maybe not so much "pixie-faced". But how many fourtysomething pixies do you know?)

So I'm afraid that the whirligig of time has brought in its revenges on me, and my Love. But for every loss there is a gain to balance it, for every success a little sorrow to even the scales. I am kinder now, wiser, slower to judge. If my fire burns less fiercely it burns longer, and the coals give a warmth I did not feel when I was all flame and light. I have lost the desire to love madly for the delight in loving well. If the lovemaking is less...athletic...the touch of soft skin is more delightful, and breathless moment more lingering.

I am content.

And my love?

She will always have this moment to relish: her birthday, 1999, when her then-ex (left) and two then-friends provided cake and candles before a celebratory bike ride.When I asked her why she loved this photograph so much, she replied: "Because I'm the only one who looks good. And I do. And you all look like such huge fucking goobers."

I love you, honey. As you say it; so shall it be.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

366 Days

...ago we met the little harbor town girl for the first time.

Honestly?

It was appalling. We were headbutted, still reeling from the nightmarish fiasco that was our original referral. She was terrified, snatched up from her orphanage, her nannies and everything she'd known in her short life. It's a miracle that one of us didn't just swandive out the window of the White Swan.

Somehow the three of us managed to make it through the chaotic free-verse maelstrom that is Guangzhou traffic, Chinese and U.S. government paperwork and intercontinental travel.But I'd be kidding you if I said that it was easy or fun.

We arrived home a mess. Missy sick with giardia, jet-lagged, terrified and fearful even to sleep. We were emotional Love Canals; covered over but toxic inside with anger and fear and shredded by exhaustion.

I was not sure if we would ever connect with this brush-cut little homunculi that cried and clung and said and evinced nothing. She seemed not a year-and-a-half but half a year old. Our hearts and our hands were heavy.But little by little our baby girl started to emerge from the frightened toddler unable to play and afraid to speak. We began to see, first, small, bright flashes of personality.

And then whole moments of a loving, giggling little girl who gave hugs and wanted "more!"

Here she is the past Saturday; a year past the first french fries at Lucy's on Shamian Dao but still a girl with a taste for junk food, playing with her balloon and bouncing in her booth, vying with "Shea-Shea" (her name for her big brother) for toys and hugs and almost anything she can clutch in her little hand.

The girl who was too terrified of the outdoors to even walk on the grass in her shoes now flings off the shoes and socks to run barefoot on the beach, wriggling her toes into the sand to feel the cool, wet grittyness of it.We've lived through to much to think that we're over the Troubles, dear one. The world and time will aways bring troubles - not in single spies but in battalions.

But we've beaten back the first of the Troubles. We've found you, the happy little girl inside the frightened child we met that hot September day above the Pearl River what seems so long ago and so far away, and you've come back out to our world with us. We've climbed out from the Hills of Hell, my love, and though we don't know where the journey will lead us or how far we will go, we will take it together as long as we can, searching for all the love and happiness that we may, until the time comes for us to part.To "Missy" Shaomei Gellar on the first anniversary of her adoption;

Your daddy loves you, baby girl, and he always will.