Monday, June 29, 2009

Fading Away

My understanding is that as of tonight the U.S. maneuver units will be permanently relieved of the task of policing the mean streets of Baghdad, Ramadi, Kirkuk and every other town and city in Iraq.

This seems to have been very popular with most Iraqis.

Now that we have achieved the "mission accomplished" dream of the Bush presidency; our Iraqi Shia allies are in place, ready to make further arrangements with their other allies in Tehran, the Israelis are even more hostile and paranoid than ever, Hezbollah has been awarded the Starbucks franchise for south Lebanon and all the Maliki grandkids have brand new Hummer H3s courtesy of U.S. AID...can we make EVERYbody happy and quit fucking around in south-central Asia now?Was there really a time when we thought we could "make our own reality"? That with our tiny, undermanned colonial-period expeditionary force we could reshape the lands of Asia without butchery at a genocidal level? When we dreamed the dreams of the Caesars with the army of Marlborough and de Saxe, the political hardheadedness of Jefferson Davis and the economic discipline of Lindsey Lohan?

And now the dreamer wakes to the cold light of a cheerless dawn.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not so thrilled...

I had an odd sort of reaction to the news that Michael Jackson had gone to the big Neverland, the one in the sky.

The first was, honestly? a sort of shrug. The man has been a has-been for half a decade or more - geologic time, for the mayfly world of celebrity. Even before that he had become a sort of freakish parody, not of himself, but of some incomprehensible grotesque that existed somewhere in his clearly badly damaged imagination. Add the very real likelihood that he was a pedophile, and a rather unpleasantly self-delusional one, at that?

So. Enh.

Then I got to thinking of the Michael Jackson I "knew", the "King of Pop", the mega-star that lorded over the airwaves and the then-ubiquitous MTV/VH-1 video world (God, remember when music videos were actually important? When they mattered, when having a killer video was as critical to a pop song as a great hook? Christ, stuff like that makes me feel older than dirt...), the singer/dancer/songwriter/icon who was supposed to be the Elvis of the 80's, the Beatles of his generation.

And taken in those terms, you have to look back on the man's career and feel...disappointed? Unimpressed? I'll give him this - he did manage to bring dance-pop over to where it has influenced rock and R&B, and grafted his Motown roots onto dance-pop. But...

Where was "Thriller" or "Billie Jean" playing on FM radio Monday? Who was watching "Moonwalk" last week? Where was the comedian riffing on him, or the musician stealing from him?

In the end, the man was a talented musician who wrote some decent pop songs. Had he been willing to live with that, he might now be remembered the way Prince or George Michael or Madonna will probably be remembered; as a talented artist fixed in a certain time and place. But by insisting on the ludicrous "King of Pop" grandiosity, by first creating and then believing his own publicity machine, he could really only have failed, was doomed to fail, because who COULD succeed on those terms.

So my other reaction was a sort of pity. Now the man will never be a Paul McCartney, going down to the grave full of years and honors; done and gone, as faded as an old newspaper, yes, but with the glory of his youth and strength still clinging faintly to him. Instead, his demons drove him, rode him, until he will be remembered as the freakish albino travesty he became - Whacko Jacko - and the self-created hoopla that overwhelmed his talents will be his memorium.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wi'v a little bit o' luck... can beat the best soccer team in the world.

Today's victory over Spain has to be considered one of the most stunning results in U.S. soccer history. While beating Mexico was considered miraculous in the day, the USMNT has pretty much owned El Tri over the past ten years, suggesting that the level of play in CONCACAF (while still pretty much wallowing down there with Asia and the better teams in Oceania) has levelled out, with the U.S., Mexico, El. Salvador and Honduras the pick of the litter.But this wasn't Mexico at Azteca; it was the monster, the red-and-yellow beast that has swallowed European soccer whole and been chewing on it for the past three years, the Seleccion d'Espana. This isn't just David and Goliath; this is David whipping the Giant of Gath's feet out from under him and then doing one of those Buffy under-the-arm-backhand stabs to the heart.

Not since the days of Joe Gaetjens has the USMNT done anything like this. Admittedly, the goals were freakish (mind you, Gaetjens' was, too); Altidore got away with some pretty dicey pushing and then managed to riccochet the shot in off the Spanish keeper's right hand, Clint Dempsey should, frankly, be hunting up Ramos, the Spanish defender who managed to completely lose his composure six yards from his goal and tee the ball up so the Clintster could turn on it and slot the thing in, a shot a U-6 would have had a hard time missing. And, yes, the Spanish had most of the run of play, most of the shots, and Howard and the U.S. backline had to play like madmen to keep the clean sheet.

But the point is, they did. They DID. For the first time in history, a USMNT will play in a FIFA championship final.Somewhere where the fields are always green and level, the referees always knowledgable and fair, and the fans always rowdy and happy, Joe Gaetjens is juggling a ball with a little smile on his face.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Queen of the Night

Speaking of Missy the Zombie Slayer, have I ever mentioned that I was and am a huge Buffy fan?

Yup. Secret vice and all that. Has nothing to do with a skweechy crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, despite her lovely surname, I find entirely too Hollywood-skinny and affected. Haven't seen her in much of anything else, don't really care too. I'm not interested in the woman as a celebrity or even an actress at all...but I love the hell out of her Buffy. Which probably means that I actually have a crush on Joss Whedon, in a hot, manly, totally het-guy way, of course. Ahem.

Vampires being all the rage, I couldn't avoid the recent publicity surrounding the release of the "Twilight" movie. Twilight, for me, combines all the things I find irritating about the recent young-adult vampire trope; the looming atmosphere of adolescent gothy angst, the patronizing theme of the hunky prince "awakening" his princess' sexual nature with his, ahem, kiss (which, of course, seals her to him in a sort of icky, vampy "covenant marriage").

So here, thanks to "Rebellious Pixels", is a real treat for me: Buffy versus the panty-sniffing Edward Cullen from "Twilight".

Gotta love how the cool, confident, competent Slayer proceeds to flip off Mister Cool Sparkly Broody Heathcliff Vampire and his wierd stalkyness before settling the entire icky business with the business end of a tent peg.

Did I mention how smart, cool, confident, competent women are utterly and infinitely devastating?

You can keep your emo arm candy. I'm down with the Slayer every time.

Slayer? Slay? Er? Y'know, the Chosen One?


Monday, June 22, 2009

Missy of the Dead

[looking through Shaun's LPs for suitable records to throw at two approaching zombies]
Ed: 'Purple Rain'?
Shaun: No.
Ed: 'Sign o' the Times'?
Shaun: Definitely not.
Ed: The 'Batman' soundtrack?
Shaun: Throw it.
Ed: 'Dire Straits'?
Shaun: Throw it.
Ed: Ooh, 'Stone Roses'.
Shaun: Um, No.
Ed: 'Second Coming'.
Shaun: I like it!
Ed: Ahhh! 'Sade'.
Shaun: Yeah, but that's Liz's!
Ed: Yeah, but she did dump you.

So she did, both of them, slam, right on the floor. No zombies can mess with my baby girl - such a tough little Miss!

Out with the bad air...

Incredible: Sarychev Peak in the Kuril Island chain, northeast of Japan, on June 12.From MSNBC: "The main plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam, according to a NASA statement. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance. The surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption. The smooth white cloud on top may be water condensation that resulted from rapid rising and cooling of the air mass above the ash column. This cloud is probably a transient feature, which the eruption plume is starting to punch through."

Volcanoes, the OJ Simpson of nature - powerful, sexy, fascinating, but you trust them and they'll flat-out kill your ass.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Preplanned Fire

I don'know who this woman is.

I know that she lives somewhere in Tehran. I know that she is young, and attractive, that she voted against the incumbent in Iran's national election last week and is now exercised that her vote, and those of the other Iranians who think like her, does not appear to have been counted.

I know that she is Muslim, or, at least, sensible enough to concede to the public mores of her Muslim state by covering her hair (though she seems to be a trifle rebellious, in the minor way that attractive young people often are by letting her headcover slip back to show some fiendishly arousing hair and a stylish little green hairband).

There's a lot about her that I don't know but that I hope. I hope she is smart, funny, a good companion, loving and loved by those who know her. I hope she is kind, and brave, and a decent human being.

And I know this: I know that there are people, people who control a great deal of power and influence in the U.S., people whose writings I loathe to the point where I will not link to them beyond mentioning their names and the places where other, better writers than I can deconstruct their vileness, people like Ralph Peters, and Michael Oren, and Jonah Goldberg. And people who, despite their multiple failures, despite the record of their long history of stupidity, lies, deceptions and corruption - people like Dick Cheney, John MCain, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Perle, Newt Gingrich - are still given time and public space to influence other Americans and persuade them towards the toxic view that if this young woman's protest fails and the leaders her tyrannous rulers have foisted on her refuse to bend to the will of my country the only correct action that my country should take is to attack her country, bomb her cities, and in the process likely destroy her home, and her workplace, and her foodmarket, and her friends and neighbors.And I know this. The day that I allow that to happen, the day that my nation attempts to make her nation do what we want because we are too foolish, too afraid, or too angry to be patient and use the negotiation of the large and strong, by sending the aircraft, bombs and missiles I have paid for with my taxes and, in doing so, kills or tears this woman or someone like her tobloody rags, without my trying my utmost to stop them, is the day that I become a smaller, weaker person, and my nation beomes smaller and weaker, as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Turning Japanese (or, "私達口腔性交")

The other night big boy Peeper and I caught something called "Wipeout" on one of the nets (I had to look at the Wiki entry to figure out - it was ABC).

Peeper loved it and I got a chuckle out of it while, being a responsible Daddy, ensuring that the Peep understood that it was a sad, pale little imitation of the genius original, "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge" (itself being an English overdub of the Japanese game show "Takeshi's Castle".

Genius too strong a word, you say? Nonsense. I find no other term that expresses the sheer terrifying comedic brilliance of the Rotating Surfboard of Death:Of course, the "commentary" of Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano are part and parcel of the perfection. The best the "Wipeout" crew could come up with was some weak jokes about the "Party Girl" hugging the toilet.

Um. Yeah.

The U.S. didn't seem too concerned when we lost our semiconductor industry to Asia. Or steel. Automobiles. Appliances. Hello Kitty shirtwear.

But when your #2-rated network TV game show is a sorry imitation of a two-decade-old Japanese original?

Damn. We suck.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fuck the Earth

Today is the second of my involuntary holidays this week (business went crazy for two weeks but we're back to a slow crawl again, unfortunately). Yesterday Baby Girl and I went to the dentist and breakfast, wandered the shops along Hawthorne Boulevard (where she fell in love with a 招き猫 (Maneki Neko, the famous Beckoning Cat from Japanese folklore)

...and wanted one so badly I almost relented, but $21.50 for an adorable plastic toy with a waving movable arm? Too spendy! We went to Anzen instead and she fell out of love with Mister Beckoning Cat and into love with a pretty little Chinese temple bell now hanging in her room), played in Laurelhurst Park, read stories, played games and went down, the both of us, for three-hour naps. It was all-day, 24/7 adorable toddler all the time. Fun. And a little tiring.

So today was my day to entertain my self. I've been reading, from both paper and LCD, preparing for some Chicken with Sweet Onion Riata and barbecued asparagus, took a leisurely bike ride down to our little Madrona Hill Cafe and had a breve' and read the paper...lovely, languid day. If I'm going to be poor and unemployed I want to at least enjoy it.

The only task I set myself was mowing the remainder of the lawn. I'd gotten most of the damn grass mowed the previous evening, the only remaining bit was the very back of the back yard. So I stowed the bike downstairs, checked the oil, primed the carburetor, pulled the cord...

...and the fucking thing wouldn't run. Oh, it'd start OK. But after burning through the fuel I'd pumped in through the primer, it'd die. I checked the throttle, checked the fuel, nothing. The likely problem is that the carb is laquered or the jet is clogged, and I don't know enough about little Briggs engines to fix that. So off went the old clapper to the little mower shop on Lombard and went next door to borrow the good neighbors' push mower.Every so often I see them mowing, or hear the "whirr-whirr" of the old-fashioned rotating blades and think how cool it is to have this totally gasless, nonpolluting, human-powered mower. If you have to have grass (and we're too lazy to get about killing all ours and replacing it with some sort of artistic landscaping) what more Portlandy thing to have than a Green Mower, saving the Earth while getting your exercise and keeping the lawn suburban trim?

So, okay, now that I've used the thing to cut, oh, about one-sixth of my yard?

Fuck the Earth. It's gonna have to die beneath the smog-cloud of my power mower exhaust, because I'm not going to spend the remaining few years I have left trimming the grass with a goddam push mower. Leave aside the brutal ramming effort needed to cut down the long grass, the thing had to be re-run over any single patch of grass two to four times to actually cut the stuff. And the tall weeds? They laughed haughtily at it, surviving my most savage attempts to cut them down. I took me a good hour to trim probably less than 500 square feet of a 5,000-square-foot lot.

Sorry, Earth. You're a great planet. But I'm loving my dirty little Sears Lawnmaster. It just wouldn't have worked out between us.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

God and the Soldier we adore...

We sort of hijacked a very worthwhile discussion over at "buggieboy" about the hard times that veteran troopers of the U.S. fights in south-central Asia have had after returning to the supposed safety of the Land of the Big PX.

I don't have much to ad to enlighten or inform, other than to wish that the vicious neglect and callous indifferent to the plight of those who have given their youth, their strength and their hopes in service to a nation that considers them a commodity and a people who prefers their own trivial pleasures was a new and unanticipated thing.

Here's an observation from over 100 years ago discussing the same problem:

"The Last of the Light Brigade"

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an, we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made-"
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

R. Kipling

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ignorance Abroad

Back at the end of May we talked a little about why it seemed that the United States had spent much of the preceding forty years flailing about the hustings of the globe, expending blood and treasure for reasons that appeared...specious at best and dubious at worst.

We concluded that the U.S. reputation as a rough beast was overblown, product of a unique confluence of political and social inequities. But we also decided that one real oddity was that although much or most of this foreign war was not really beneficial to the bulk of the American people (the supposed sovereign entity in their own polity) that said People seemed apathetic and even actively inimical to attempts to stop the wars or even, through questioning, enlighten the debate about their causes, conduct and goals.

Because on the face of it, a pretty large proportion of America's wars and police actions don't make a lot of sense if you're an auto salesman in Des Moines.Let's look at where we've fought since the end of our active roles in Vietnam.

1972-1983: For the decade after Vietnam we had a pretty quiet time, militarily. You can pretty much lump the Mayaguez Incident in with the fighting in SE Asia that was the "halo effect" from Vietnam (which includes the internal wars and genocides in Cambodia and Laos as well as the border wars between China and North Vietnam). The American people had pretty much had it with war for half a generation. For the first part we had His Accidency, Gerald Ford, who would have been dismembered by enraged soccer moms if he'd started a foreign war, and a Congress largely occupied with fighting inflation and the pernicious political effects of the Nation's Most Evil Presidency (Pre-Dubya Division).

Then we elected a peanut farmer who ran on the time-tested slogan "he kept us out of war" but whose entire administration was consumed in the gasoline fire of the Fuel Crisis and stagflation.By the time we remembered how we were supposed to be the Chosen People and elected a Hollywood cutout of a hero whose incipient Alzheimer's confused him about whether he actually fought in WW2, we were in no shape to fight the Maryknoll School For Girls and it took Ronnie several years to find a couple of patsies for us to bitchslap.

1983: Well, we finally found them. One, at least, in the form of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, up to that time known only for nutmeg and having the world's most endearingly whack dictator, Sir Eric Gairy, who ran his tiny country as a one-party state when he wasn't using his fifteen minutes of podium time at the UN to pass a resolution to welcome the UFO aliens. Grenada was in the middle of some unusually exciting political upheaval when Mr. Reagan sent in the gunboats; between political chaos and the typical Caribbean schlamperei the walkover took about four days longer than it should have. I should add that Grenada was my own little war, a disorganized tropical muddle only temporarily enlivened by the sudden arrival of the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, LTG "Fat Jack" MacMull to bitchslap my division commander, MG "Fast Eddie" Trobaugh, for - given two and a half brigades of airborne infantrymen to subdue a raggedy-ass band of Cuban construction troops and the elite Grenadian Army - moving like stagnant pond water on a cold day. (Not to say that Fat Jack had a point, but Eddie DID retire as a two-star, so obviously others up at the Five-Sided Fool Farm shared his opinion of Eddie's military genius.)

Nobody I've talked to or heard from really believes the Reagan line of "rescuing" the students from the cereal-box-top-quality "medical school" in Grenada, whose primary hazard was losing their bottle of Coppertone, and the military risk that Grenada, or Cuba for that matter, posed was always minuscule. The official Ronnie line was that the Point Salines airfield was a supposed "lily pad" for Soviet power projection, although where this power was to be projected to in the middle of the American lake of the Caribbean God alone knows.No, there was no profit for the American people in Grenada, as the subsequent 26 years have proved; outside of Disney Cruise Lines and myself nobody knows the place exists. In a moment of intensely private irony, the Grenadian and Cuban governments announced last autumn their intention to erect a marker to the 24 Cubans waxed back in October of '83 to match the similar geegaw honoring the 19 Yanks who bit the dust.

So far no one has proposed anything for the thirty or so Grenadians who were blown away as a cost of doing foreign policy business. Oh, well.

Mind you, the OTHER little adventure Ronnie dragged us into in '83 was Lebanon; an appallingly idiotic goatrope of a clusterfuck inside an enigma wrapped in a decorative tinsel of abject geopolitical fucktardry. What was the purpose was never clear.The Global Security website, parroting the official U.S. government line, says that "MNF forces returned to Beirut at the end of September 1982 as a symbol of support for the government." How squatting at Beirut Airport providing target practice for a pack of savage Muslim guerrillas on the roof of the Holiday Inn with a box of RPG rounds and two cartons of Camels is unclear, but what became of the moronic mission was a complete Fail for the U.S. along with the two-hundred odd Americans killed standing around while the government of Lebanon - in which we had no real geopolitical interest and no conceivable economic or social stake - went to hell.

So compared to Lebanon, Grenada seems like the Gadsen Purchase in political terms...

Everything was quiet on the western front for another six years until...

1989: Then President George Bush I sends in U.S. forces to eliminate that global threat to peace and stability...ummm...Panama.

Yeah, I know. It had The Canal. Which it was about as likely to use as a lever against the U.S. as Omar Torrijos was to rise from his dirt nap in the flossy mausoleum out on Fort Amador and do the Funky Chicken.

Manny "Pineapple Face" Noriega, while a loathsome dictator, was certainly no worse than a bunch of other Latin and South American leaders we were all kissy-huggy with in 1989, including Vicino Cerezo of Guatemala and Pinochet of Chile.

Drugs were going to go up noses in Brentwood and Grosse Point no matter who ran the show in Panama. Freighters were going to transit the canal. "Los Rabes Blancos" - the "white asses" - who owned and operated Panama were going to be the HMFIC regardless of who sat in the big chair in Panama City. The international bankers who used Panama as a piggy bank to cheat their nation's tax collectors and play Masters of the Universe were...well, given the past twelve months, who wouldn't want to see 98% of all international financiers hung up in hell being sodomized by a thousand burning devils employing their ruinously barbed erections, eh, so who gives a rat's ass about them, eh?The point is...what did the U.S. public get out of "Operation Just Cause" other than the lifetime cost of the care and feeding of Pineapple Face and the beginning of the idiotic Pentagon tradition of giving these things "code names" that wouldn't deceive a retarded gorilla? ("Operation Iraqi Freedom"; that'll fool the Iraqi intelligence services, boys - think they'll guess it's a plan for the liberation of fucking Andorra? Shrewd!)

1991: Financed by the freedom-loving sheiks of Kuwait, we trounced Saddam's sorry little army and made Kuwait free. -Ish. Democracy-like. Monarchy-lite-ian.

Whatever. The point was that finally we were fighting a war for the best reasons: economic gain and the defense of access to vital natural resources. And because of Daddy Bush's bold - though not election-winning - "line in the sand" we not only solved the Middle East's problems, chastened that Evil Saddam and protected the poor Shiites, and ensured that our gas prices would be low forever because we didn't have Saddam holding our commodities prices hostage.


Well, at least we got "Three Kings" out of it.And in the end we got more out of the Kuwaitis (the Second Gulf War pretty much paid for itself) than we got out of the Somalis (1993) and the Bosnians (1995) and the Kosovars (1999). Nice folks, good people (OK, except for the Somalis, who are like the Scots in their delight in tribal war, treachery and murder) but beneficial to Joe and Mary American Lunchpail?

Not so much.

Which brings us up to today, and the apparently endless efforts to turn Iraq into Framingham, Massachusetts, with a tidy little democratic government, clean streets and plump, well-scrubbed schoolchildren, and to remake Afghanistan into...well, whatever isn't a barely-medieval, cordilleran pesthole ridden with factionalism, warlords, ancient tribal and religious animosities and the world's richest opium poppy crop (makes you wonder what "Harvest Home" is like in the Kandahar Valley, doesn't it?)

Clausewitz famously described warfare as a way of continuing a political argument once words had become ineffective. So the implication is that a war, to be worth even the loss of a single life and the expense of a single penny, should be for some purpose that benefits the polity, that is, the People of the nation involved.

Repelling invasion is a pretty straightforward one. Or defeating an enemy that presents an existential threat. Of course, this doesn't have to be a "hot" war; the U.S. managed to outlive the Soviet Union without ever going nuclear warhead-to-nuclear warhead with them. Punitive blows against those who have hurt you and show evidence of willingness to continue unless soundly beaten.

There are more subtle, less immediate reasons for fighting. Securing a political or economic advantage, such as control of (or the prevention of a threat to) some place that can choke off your goods (canals, say, or straits, or air routes) or throttle your economy (natural resources such as petroleum, minerals or even foodstuffs). Helping a strategic ally. Containing instability, war, or similar human disaster.

But think about it.

Did the fight in Grenada involve any of these things?
Panama (and recall that to close the Canal would have impoverished Panama before it even tickled the U.S. economy)?

Kuwait? Yes, indeed, it did, as I discussed.

Afghanistan? (I mean by this the Occupied Afghanistan - the initial punitive strike on Afghanistan is defensible in the "war as political argument" sense.)
Iraq certainly has strategic petroleum resources, but I would say that the combination of the fucking mess we've made of the occupation and the fundamentally disastrous post-Ottoman mess that is Iraq makes the probability of a happy ending - which is to say a stable, democratic, Western-allied, peaceful nation - coming out of the Third Gulf War no better than an even chance.Now ALL of these wars and police actions are valuable to, and understandable as the acts of, an economic and political ruling class; the sort of logic that drove the English kings to spend 116 years spending blood and treasure to rule France.

I'll wager that the average man-at-arms from Colchester, the archer from Little Doddering, the camp follower from Devon could have given half a nanoshit who sat on the throne of the Capets. But, being subjects at best and serfs at worst, they didn't have a choice but to follow their betters to war and hope to come home alive and perhaps with a bit o' loot. But the overall effect of the Hundred Years' War, for 99.7% of the people who fought in it, or were fought over, was useless and wretched if not actually fatal.

The single biggest factor in precipitating the foundation of the United States was the colonists' anger and resentment over their belief that they were having to pay for, as well as suffering the ill-effects and none of the benefits of, the French and Indian War. To the American colonists, this "cabinet war" was forced down them in a toxic brew of royal pride and noble venality. They resolved, once down to the business of setting up their own country, to prevent this sort of private cabal.

So our Constitution is written so that ONLY the People in Congress can declare a war. That being the case, the notion that the U.S. is a monstrous armed camp, a Leviathan bristling with weapons and engaged in fighting anywhere in the world for political aims either so vague, or without any discernible sane political end at all, that no air-breathing mammal could countenance them, should have by now produced a furious storm of public anger. Such a wind of rage should blow that no political figure should be able to stand before the demand that the United States - the putative Beacon of Liberty, the City on the Hill - cease rampaging about foreign people's homes, release those foreign peoples it has snatched up without charge and without explanation, leave those foreign people to their own business, and come home to live in as much peace as can be managed in a world without law above the selfish law of nations.
We seem to be spending a great deal of time and trouble to turn central and southwest Asia in Fragmingham, Mass. only with more goat kebabs. Just looking at the benefit to the U.S. public this would seem to be quixotic at best and MOronic at worst.

So - why DO we fight?

To this I can only perceive two explanations. They aren't "reasons", in that they are hardly reasonable to any hominid possessing a living brain. They don't really make sense, in the meaning of the term of making a coherent and logical case for a course of action. But they do explain the otherwise inexplicable passivity of the American electorate in the face of this obscenely expensive and moronic debacle so valueless to the body of the American public.

The first is IGNORANCE.And, by this, I don't mean stupidity. I don't think that Americans, on the whole, are any more or less intelligent than any other residents of any country on Earth. We certainly have our share of dummies - any listen to the call-ins to a Rush Limbaugh radio show will prove that - but no more than we deserve. We send our kids to decent schools - although I do wish that they spent more time learning HOW to think rather than WHAT to think - and we have unparalleled exposure to ideas and opinions.No, I mean ignorance. Lack of experience, vision, applied knowledge of the world, the people and places in it, and ideas about it.

Americans are, by and large, ignorant of the world around them. We can afford to be; in fact, our geography dictates that we are almost bound to be, unless we take the effort to transcend our limits. Perhaps only an Australian, a Chinese or a Russian are as isolated. A European, a Middle Easterner, a South or Central American, and most Asians can't drive or ride a train more than a day without being Somewhere Else. a place where the people speak at least a different dialect, if not a completely different language. Dress a little differently. Listen to different music, like different foods, play different sports. The closeness of these differences forces people in these places to pay closer attention to those who aren't like them. They may not like them - in fact, this proximity may contribute to cherished old loathings - but they can't act as if they are something in a TV war movie. No matter how far we go, we can't escape our Americanness. IT's vast, it's all around us. I think this is a huge factor in explaining, for instance, why we're still farting around in the Afghan Kush. The people driving the bus have their own agenda. But the rest of us, the plain, simple, ordinary Americans who aren't writing to their Congresscritter asking why the hell we're fighting over the fucking Korengal Valley...we just don't GET how really, truly, genuinely, fundamentally different a Hazara tribesman is from Jay Leno. We don't. We, a lot of us, subconsciously think that the whole world is like America - after all, OUR whole world is, isn't it? - and that all those "other" people are like Americans (only a little dirtier and smellier). We want peace and a nice lawn and Viagra and Angelina Jolie in buttless chaps...he does too, right? So, like the cartoon American tourists, if we just speak English LOUD enough and SLOW enough they'll "get" it and BE like us, right?We're also ignorant, pig-ignorant, criminally ignorant, of war and the effects of war. We were ignorant enough back in the Eighties, but by now the draft era has so far receded that only a handful of us have Seen the Elephant. And none of us, not even our Greatest Generation moms and dads or grandparents, really understand war the way the Europeans who lived through or were raised by the generations that survived the First and Second World Wars.

I chuckle bitterly when I hear some war-porn addict mocking the French for their pusillanimity. You just don't get it, do you, jackhole? You're talking about the fiercest beasts of a bestial continent, the Butchers of Europe, the blood-gluttons of History, who carved a gory trail of corpses from Tours to Verdun before the horrific nightmare of the Western Front knocked the savagery right out of them. Try offering some Freedom Fries to a sunken-eyed man-at-arms of Rocroi, a loot-burdened old grognard of Smolensk, a filthy poilu of Chemin-des-Dames and see what that gets you. No; we can warble along to "Iraq and I Roll" because we don't have a Dresden or a Verdun or a Somme or a Coventry or a Stalingrad in our memories of war, just idiotic Mel Gibson films and bad country music.

The second is SLOTH.We're just lazy.Our Framers handed us down a nation they intended to be run by the rich and the well-born. Men and women worked and fought hard, from 1789 until 1968 (When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law), to roll back the privilege and entitlement of the wealthy and the well-connected. Since the 1960's we could have taken the warning we were given by the example of Mister Nixon and his cronies, whose intention it was (and is) to return the power to the hands of the powerful, and continued the fight, continued to hold the wealthy, the famous and the powerful at arm's length with the skepticism of a born republican.

Instead, we, most of us, have chosen to abandon the public fora to the malefactors of great wealth, their corporate enablers and the bathtub scum they have purchased to do their legislating for them. We have more interest in the doings of Jon and Kate (and bad cess to me for even knowing who these worthless idiots are) than in compelling our own rulers to tell us the truth. We choose to be comforted by lies rather than be shamed by the truth.We are truly well on our way to becoming subjects rather than citizens.


Are we monsters? Savages? Bloody-handed Huns rampaging throughout the weaker world around us because......we glory in slaughter and conquest, lust to crush our enemies, drive them before us, to hear the lamentations of their women?

No.We are, most of us, luxury- and trivia-loving lotos-eaters, slothful and ignorant followers along for the ride that the real rulers of our country are taking us on.

That doesn't call for much fire and brimstone, perhaps.But it doesn't say much praiseworthy about us, either.


Three-quarters of the way to 1,000 posts. Jesus wept, how the hell do I manage to have a real life.

Anyway, huge project blew up Thursday and Friday. That's done, now it's kidlets and Mojo and the weekend. I'm hoping to get back to the question of "What the hell are we doing overseas" but there's also a decisive battle for June. More this weekend.

Oh, and for those of you who remember the old "Intel Dump", there's a bunch of us (I hope that more of you will pull up a stool and start more conversations) who are looking to start a sort of "Intel Dump v2.0". It's over at a place called "MilPub", and despite the name we're hoping for a place where we can put our feet up and wrangle over everything from military policy to gardening to who invented liquid soap and why. If you want to be a bartender, drop me a line at, and I can get you in.

Tell 'em Clausewitz sent ya.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Up or Out

Nine months is a long time. Enough time to bring forth a child. Or, in this case, grow one through kindergarten. They were busy months, sometimes bleak with heartache and frustration, sometimes rich with learning and love. But good ones, overall.

Now there he stands, no longer, as of today, a little kindergartner, but a big, all-grown-up First Grader.

Of course it doesn't just stop here. Tomorrow is a daycare day, there will (hopefully) be some summer camps, and time to play, and then, of course, First Grade come the autumn. But today is the day to just kick back and enjoy the feeling of having summited the first of a lifetime of academic challenges, of having completed the first stage of the journey from childhood to adolescence.

Of learning how to color inside the lines, write your "R"s frontwards and trudge slowly towards less creative spelling. Learning these things moves us towards a greated role in the world around us, while at the same time our lives get a little less...uncomplicated.

But that's the price we all pay, every day we live - every choice we make cuts off the other choices unmade; every path we take leaves untrod the paths behind, unexplored, forever dim with the dusk of unanswered questions.

From my spot well down those paths the Peeper's vista looks broad and bright; from his, I'll bet it seems more than a little overwhelming, confused and imposing. The "freedom" of childhood never seems so free when you're a child, I recall.But none of that matters today. Today the only righteous thing to say is: Congratulations, Big Peeper. You done good. Take a break in place and smoke 'em if you got 'em.

The Price Is Right

Some random ruminations from WinCo as Baby Girl helps out with the week's Class I resupply run:

Like life, grocery shopping is a 24/7 deal.

Plastic is cheap and easy, but it takes about a gross to encompass what you need and makes you look like you don't care. Paper seems sensible and responsible, but it has hidden drawbacks. Reusable cloth is the most practical and conscientious but you come off as a bit earnest, which is just fine if you don't mind the looks you get.

If you check the labels you'll often find that many things described to you as "choices" are illusory.

Apples are always good.

The world has waaaaay too many "flavors" of dog and cat food when you consider that the end users involved employ their tongues to clean their asses.

The visual and auditory cacophony of our system of food supply is pretty intimidating when you just stop and let it overwhelm you.

Mind you, there's something to be said for fewer flies on your goat haunch.

If you're cute, you can take a lollipop right out of the bin and start licking it, and people will smile at you. The same goes for apples right off of the shelf.Which, when you think about it, explains a lot about cute people.

Looking around the meat and poultry aisle goes a long way towards explaining why most most of us can't connect the dots between the wars we see on TV and real slaughter and butchery, either.

Did you ever stop and think how strange it is to have salad greens, cob corn and oranges on sale in an Oregon June?

Small things matter. It's flip-flop season, gals, but a pedicure and $80 nails won't make you look deliciously attractive if you don't wash those feet. And guys? How about wearing clothes that cover your peniculum and your gluteal cleavage? I know it's only WinCo, but, really, what would it hurt?

Marshmallow Mateys?

It takes longer to get the shopping done with a little person to "help". But it's not as much fun without her.

No matter what, you almost always find that you forgot something when you get home.

No matter what it is you forgot, it's always good just to get home.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Voting with their index finger?

One of the wierd things about blogging - or any of the peculiar forms of electronic intimacy, from e-mail to porn sites, that characterizes our early 21st Century - is the completely unpredictable, almost random way that these "relationships" ebb and flow.

I was thinking about this because of the comments, or lack of same, for the four preceding posts below.

The Friday 5/29 post about American world policies and our domestic character? 22 comments, and a pretty lively discussion of the subject.

The Tuesday 6/2; the Screwtape letter to Randall Terry and his merry band of Christ Crackers? 14 comments, although the discussion was mostly between Sheerahkhan on the side of the angels versus the rest of us - sorry, Sheerah...

The Friday 6/5 killer-diller Forties music post? Even that one got 9 comments.

Saturday's adorable kids-and-Portland post?

Zero. Zip. Nada. As in, nadagoddam thing.

When I started this thing almost three years ago my audience was pretty tiny, and almost exclusively limited to those people I knew through international adoption ( especially the Yahoo group "ALT-DTC06"; Walternatives, Millicent from Different Dirt, Atomic Mama from the long-gone and sometime mourned Atomic-Ranch. Linda from the old Singing Bird of distant memory; Wzgirl, from Buttercup; and Red Sand from Spitting Wooden Nickels. Beeb from Moonbeam) and a couple of local Portland friends.

At the time I got few comments and almost none on the political posts. The feedback, when it came, was all for the domestick-y stuff; home improvement, kids, waiting for (and then living with) a little person from China.

Since autumn 2007 I've noticed a lot of changes. The old adoption group has nearly disappeared; Red Sand drops in pretty regularly, and I've heard from Wzgirl and Beeb once or twice over the past couple of months. On the other side, I gave the Different Dirt crew the Cut Direct after they disrespected my Little Miss. But Walternatives, Atomic Mama and Linda have decided to unblog themselves, and seldom leave the confines of Facebook. I've noticed that with their absence the home-and-family posts get very little reaction now. I wonder if I've helped contribute to their flight with a larger diet of posts about politics and war...I hope not; I miss them - Facebook is a dry pretzel stick of a connection after the banquet of images, ideas and opinions that was wordpress or blogger...

But into the space opened by the departure of the old aquaintences have come other ones, many old friends from the old Intel Dump: Al, Publius, srv, fasteddiez, sheerah, Charles (and I hope this finds you doing well, Charles!), basilbeast and (every so often) seydlitz - as well as newer friends like mike, and Lisa and Jim from Rangeragainstwar. This group is a lot more in tune with politics and things opinionated, and that, too, mitigates against the domestic stuff.

But I enjoy the domestic stuff...

So I hope that everyone is willing to bear with me. I enjoy interacting with you all, my electronic extended family, but I am too old and to cussed to reinvent myself, like Madonna. To say nothing of how I'd look in a bustier and heels. So even though the old adoption-mom-and-family crew has almost gone, I'm going to continue to resist making this into an "opinion" blog. There will be politics and opinion, but there'll be adorable-kid glurge and "Cool Things in North Portland", too.

Because, as the Peeper would say, that's what fifty-one-year-olds LIKE.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

No pity in the Rose City...

Big fun today at the annual Rose Festival. It must have something to do with having kids...

"Rose Festival" is one of those Portland things that identifies you as a real Portlander (as opposed to some freaking yahoo from somewhere southeast of Gresham) by the degree of total disregard you have for it. I think that before this year it must have been almost a decade since I "did" a Rose Festival event. This isn't a Cool Thing in Portland like the Rose City Rollers or the Adult Soap Box Derby. This is Portland's "official" springtime whoopdey-doo, a grab-bag of crap ranging from parades (at least three) to an airshow, rubber duck races (not nearly as cool as it sounds, believe it or not), and a visit from various flavors of warship.

The only reasonable approach to most of this stuff is to ignore it; it's fairly ridiculous, corporate "fun", the parades the usual bagatelle of bands, floats, princesses and clowns set amid a seething mass of underclothed, overfed white people from places like Roselawn and Happy Valley and everything else is overpriced and overpopulated. You get a pass if your participation has something to do with a sport or sport-like enthusiasm, like running or paddling in the dragon boat races.

But for the most part I desperately try and avoid the mess that is the Rose Fest downtown. In the Nineties it was worse than just bohick, it was downright dangerous; the combination of beer sales and packs of urban gangsters made the "Fun Center" (as the Festival committee insisted on calling the nasty little carny that takes over Waterfront Park) like Dodge City without the four fingers of Ol' Red-eye. Our local alt-weekly ran a pithy little essay entitled "Facedown in the Fun Center" or something to that effect, detailing the disaster that was this wretched carny.

Well, time, death, and the jails cleaned out the gangsters, the beer sales were curtailed and the place is now less skanky, but generally we still try and avoid the mess that is downtown during "Fleet Week". But this time Uncle Brent was holding the steering oar for Team Macpaddle, and the Peeper wanted to go see his hero steer to glory, so bright and early we got on the Maxine Train (as little Miss and I decided it should be called) and rode down with the crowds to the waterfront.

We walked - Little Miss rode her little umbrella stroller - down past the massively fenced, gated and securitized U.S. Navy DDG and the Canadian corvettes (you can't tour the things unless you want to stand in line for hours, and what with the fences and gates you can't really see them all that well, I don't see the PR value for the USN or the RCN and why they still send them is beyond me...) and the open, friendly and businesslike Coast Guard cutters, past the carnival, under the Hawthorne bridge, and there we were, amidst thousands of dragon boaters and an acre of goose shit.We met Brent and had a nice coze before he had to go with his team to get ready to race. The kids and I went down to the riverside to throw rocks in the water, play with sticks and lost goose feathers, watch the people, the geese and the boats, and wait for Uncle Brent to race.

Well, Brent steered very well - the Macpaddle boat went straight as a die - and the team paddled...mmm...a lot. But...just not very fast.

Brent was very manly about it, and it didn't seem to diminish his friend Heidi's respect for him any.

So, having duly cheered him, we walked back, past the ships, past the carnival..."the strong man Sampson lifts the midget little Tiny Tim way up on his shoulders, way up, and carries him on down the midway, past the kids, past the sailors, and the ferris wheel turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop..."

On the way we stopped for the Peeper to ride some of the rides, and eat a cookie at Saturday Market, and then back on the train again and up to North, and Bob the Subaru, and home and naps and TV and lunches.No crying. No meltdowns. No bickering, snapping, tantrums, or fussing. Just two sweet kids and a happy daddy. Nice."And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind"

Update 6/8: Like a good Hollywood story, the Macpaddles (whose Saturday was one of those montages where the hero boxer staggers and ducks, trying to stay upright as the evil heavyweight smacks him around as the flashbulbs pop and the hero's adoring girl and fight-film eye candy [that'd be you, Heidi] wrings her handkerchief in anguish...) came roaring back, paddles flashing, on Sunday, took two second-places in the heats and then won in a frantic sprint to the line to take their division, with Uncle Brent filling in for an injured paddler (OK, he just had to bail at the last minute) to power the team to victory. You know the script: "Cinderella story, former groundskeeper...about to be...the Master's champion."Yay, Uncle Brent!