Friday, February 27, 2009

Private Time

Ah, they grow up so fast...Little Miss, as you can see, is becoming quite the Big Girl. In fact, she'll tell you just that; "I'm Big Girl!" she'll announce when you ask "Who's my baby girl?" "I'm not little - I'm big!" she crows.

I'm beginning to think she may be right.

The other morning we were rushing about getting ready for work, school and daycare when the Peeper flew into the bathroom needing to drain the hose. This, of course, meant that young lady immediately attempted to seize the porcelain high ground, shrieking "I gotta pee!", an arrant falsehood. I restrained Little so that Big could do his thing, and then told her that she could go about her business.Keep in mind that she's only been using the big toilet seat for a couple of months now, and we are accustomed to helping steady her on the seat. NOT that morning. She wriggled and struggled, her little pink pants around her knees, until I leaned back to see what the problem was.

"Do you want some help, sweetie?" I asked, and received a stern little headshake.

"No!" the watering can announced, "Private Time!"

I stepped back. "Are you sure, little Max?"

An impatient hand flipped me towards the hallway.

"Close the door!" she barked. I did.But daddies aren't quite obsolete yet. After urinating and wiping and flushing, she still had her pants down around her knees and I had to pull them up.

Curse you, Red, Vile, Murderous, Islamofascist Scum!

Okay, from the sublimely sad to the ridiculous.

The last post made me check Facebook. I find that a friend has been going completely berserk be-fanning various bands and has even written a note asking what were the 10 albums that changed your life.

Okay, now I have to admit that for me music is pretty much background noise. I LIKE music, listen to a fair bit, played in orchestra and sang in chorus...but music has never touched me for more than a moment or two. For me it's ephemera, whether it's stirring, moving, lovely, disturbing, motivating. I can listen to "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" or the 101st Airborne Division song or Cuban son or a bunch of monkeys playing the 5-gallon bucket drums. I get a little chill listening to Madeline Peyroux do "Dance Me To The End of Love", but I got a little chill listening to the damn marching music they used to play over the loudspeakers on Ardennes Street during PT, too. I'm a musical moron.

So, being naturally a moron AND a smartass, I left a comment on the note that the only album that changed my life was The Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron", and that's because I was nine and it was my first vinyl. Which, of course, prompted my squirrel mind to go to Wiki and check to see if that was, in fact, the name of the album (I knew it was the name of the song). It was.But that wasn't all.

Seems that our Guardsmen have updated their oevre for the Global Phony War on Terror.

So, without further ado, and with trembling horror, I give you "Snoopy vs. Osama"
Key: E
Words: Francis John Burdett
Music: Barry Dean Winslow

"Out in the desert in a real bad land
Some people want to see the end of man
Al-Qaeda took over from the Taliban
Terrorizing all they can.

Now Snoopy's in the motor pool but wants to fight.
He wants to keep his friends all safe at night.
Charley drives the Bradley an' Snoopy makes her sing.
Waitin' for the orders just to go do their thing.

Osama Bin Laden keeps runnin' away.
Snoopy's gonna find him one of these days.
And when he does...(and when he does)...
ya know we're all gonna sing;
Good bye Bin Laden and the end of your terrorist ring.

When the orders came down, they were short one man.
So Charley asked Snoopy "would ya join the band".
It's off to the hills and follow the map.
Just get Bin Laden don't ya take any crap.

Headin' down a pathway when a bomb blew up.
The tank was out of business an' ol' Charley was hurt.
Snoopy said to Charley "you just sit tight,
I'll fix everything it's gonna be alright."

Then up ahead in a cloud of dust.
Stood ol' Bin Laden just lookin' at us.
Snoopy smiled and aimed then he fired his gun.
TAKE THIS Bin Laden now you won't have to run!

Osama Bin Laden won't be runnin' away.
Snoopy finally found him and this was the day.
He took him out...(he took him out)... now the world can sing;
Good bye Bin Laden and the end of your terrorist ring

It makes me want to find Osama's cave and surrender to the sonovabitch to prevent the RG's from going further with this...My love's been baby is a neoconservative centerfold..!There's a CD that may just have changed my life..!


Not sure what to say other than I had to make a public acknowlegement of the many friends I've made...and are now slowly slipping away...through the strange and wonderful electronic intimacy of the internet.

It really hit home today, when I went to check in on some friends and their newly adopted sons and found that she is thinking of pulling herself in a little, retiring (or at least semi-retiring) her blog and connecting mostly through Facebook.

And she's right - the blogging takes time and energy that you just don't have after a long day of parenting. Or a long day of pretty much anything, but the little peeps in particular are special black holes of love and attention. There's no such thing as "too much". I manage because I spent the better part of twenty years going on four hours sleep a night for weeks at a time. I blog and blogread in the early mornings, or late at night, while my family is sleeping. I can understand completely the desire to pull yourself in, to restrict your confidence to the small group that you truly love, to devote the time to your close friends and family...and sleep!

I'm truly happy for her, and her husband, and their kids. It will be great for them, and for her.

When my grandfather was dying I was just a kid in school. I was frightened by death, and frightened by his appearance of age and sickness. So I asked him: aren't you scared? Aren't you sad?

My maternal grandfather was a very devout man, and I'm sure he'd thought a lot about his own death and the manner of his meeting it. And he was also a pastor, an "officer" in the Salvation Army, which is to say an ordained minister in an organization whose congregtion was the poor, the sick and the young. So he knew what to tell a scared kid.

Yes, he said, I'm a little scared, because I worry that it may hurt. And I don't want to leave your mom, or your Grandma, or you. But only a little.

And I'm not really sad, not for myself, because I hope and believe that I'm going to go on to a great adventure, to a place I've always hoped to see and never have. And because so many of my friends have already gone there, and I believe I'll see them again, and that makes me happy. The only thing I'm sad about is that I'll be leaving you, and you will be leaving me, for a long time. And I love you. And I'll miss you, and that makes me a little sad.

So I missed my Grandpa when he died, and tried not to be sad. But he was gone, and I loved him, and I missed him. And I would never be able to see and hear and talk to him the same way ever again.

The thing is, this friend, and other friends I've made through adoption, are "out there" on Facebook. I'll spare you a rant on Facebook, I've said my piece and it's not worth rehashing. But suffice to say that for me Facebook after blogging is like going to My Brother's Barbeque and getting a fucking McRib. It's like only being able to talk to my friends about shoes, or baseball, or crocheting. I can talk to them, but it was like "talking" to my Grandpa in prayer, the way my Grandma suggested. It just wasn't the same. There's always somebody else on the line giving someone a mojito or becoming a fan of the Most Bestest ABBA Cover Band Evah!


So another friend begins to slip away from the blogiverse, seperated by time and distance and the lack of one and the excess of another. So C, I know you'll be making more time for yourself and your DH and your adorable little guys and that makes you happy, and well it should. The only thing I'm sad about is that I'll be leaving you, and you will be leaving me, for a long time. And I love you. And I'll miss you, and that makes me a little sad.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Little Brick Houses

Mojo's night out tonight, so I gave the Peeper the call: where do you want to go for dinner. He took about a nanosecond:


Missy immediately chimed in: "McOnald's!" (she'll want anything her idolized big brother wants).

So after a quick Internet search we were off for Fourth Plain in the 'Couve to get our deep-fried dinner at L'Arc d'Or.

We're eating our meal (Missy and I) or alternatively dashing up the play structure AND eating our dinner (The Peep) when in comes The Large Family. Seven of them (or eight, it was hard to tell exactly); Mom, Dad and kids from diapers to video games.

My first clue was the toddler. I'm not exactly a fashionista but, pal, unless it's August in Brownsville OR you're a gen-u-wine shitkicking redneck, the overalls-and-no-shirt thing? Makes you look simple. Deliverance-level simple.

We returned to eating and playing until I spot Large Dad, redneck toddler in arms, is backing up to the side door of the play area. The door designed as a fire door only? The door wired to prevent kids racing out into the parking lot or stranger-danger abductions? The door plastered with the huge red-and-white signs reading "Not An Exit" "Alarmed Door" "Attempt to Exit Will Cause Alarm To Sound"?

Yep. That door.

You guessed it. The best part was the gobsmacked look on Dad's face as he steps back into the room amit the screaming sirens, looks at the door, looks at his wife, looks at the toddler in his arms and announces to the room at large: "You can't get out that way."

Give us all credit - no one said "No shit, Sherlock" until after he'd ambled out the other door. But after that I laughed so hard I was almost in tears by the time the harassed manager showed up to key off the alarm.

Ain't that America? You and me, baby...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cool Things in North Portland: Jantzen Beach Carousel

It's been a week sort of week. You know, nothing special, but a crosscut through daily life: a little rough, a little smooth, a little fun, a little flat, but all in all the sort of everyday family thing that Tolstoy blew off with that bullshit about happy families all being alike?

Yeah, count on an author to go with the quotable rather than the facts.

So we had a sort of hereandthereian weekend, a little home improvement, a little yard work, a little Caillou and a little Kai-lan and some pasta noodles and a toy or three. By Sunday afternoon we needed some out-of-the-house fun and the result was a trip to the Jantzen Beach Mall to ride the great old classic carousel there.Hayden Island today is a tawdry tumble of big-box stores and the Mall, a Seventies atrocity first-generation shopping mall that always looks half deserted and ready to close. Possibly the tawdry-est of touches was the Tale of Waddles.

Waddles was some sort of freaking iconic diner place off of the interstate on Hayden Island. I ate there a couple of times in the Nineties, enh, it was belly timber in an odd little kitschy setting, nothing spectacular. But when it died its natural death it was replaced by...a Hooters.


The original "Excuse me, waiter, but there's a nipple in my buffalo wings" place. The ginormous Hooters sign towers over the approach to the Interstate bridge like a Great Horned Owl perched over a vole run, if a Great Horned Owl was required to wear "nude" colored pantyhose under its teeny, tiny, owl-ass-grabbing, orange short-shorts. Typically, Portlanders piled up a huge thunderhead of emotion over the galvanization of the beloved, yet deserted, Waddles into one in a chain of overpriced breast-themed redneck Budweiser joints and then, when the hurly-burly was done and the day lost and won went back to ignoring the place (outside the rednecks who went for the salty, dry wings, spendy beer and inaccessible young lovelies).

Hmmmm.But Hayden Island's heyday was back between the Wars, when the Jantzen Swimwear company opened the "Jantzen Beach Amusement Park", the biggest Disneyland pre-Disney in the West Coast. It had the whole bijoux: roller coasters, midget racers, a midway, dance hall, name it. Along with the famous carousel. It survived depression, war and flood but was unable to cope with age and the decline of the non-princess-themed amusement park. By 1970 it was Six Flags Over Nothing and was buried under the blacktop of a typical Disco Era mall. Which, in turn, was mostly razed in the Nineties for a big box parking lot. A small part of the old mall lives on, anchored by those retail outlets beloved by those of us who love cheap plastic crap: Burlington Coat Factory, Ross Dress For Less and Target.

The carousel remains, last of the amusement rides, remnant of the old mall, a whirling delight of grandiloquent carved horses and antique showmanship of an earlier time. The Peeper was once terrified of the horses and now clambers aboard with the aplomb of a kindergarten-size gaucho, reeling and bouncing with the music, the speed, and the colors. Little Miss had her first rides today; the very first was a little scary - she wedged in firmly in front of her mommy, clung to the fixed pole, and looked about a little nervously, unsure about all these loud noises and lights and excited people. But by the time it was Daddy's turn she was sold. She chanted "Up and down" every time the wooden hayburner went...ummm...up and down. And when we were done she chanted "More horse rides!" until long after we were back in Bob the Subaru and on the road home. For two bucks, it's a hell of a fun trip; Missy will even tell you so!I didn't bring the camera, more's the pity, so I've thrown in some compensation in the form of little Peep at Columbia Park Annex swinging, and Little Miss in her adorable tractoralls, hand-me-downs from big brother. They sure were sweeties this weekend.

They're dreaming now, hopefully of the twirling horses and the fun of wheeling to the carnival music, and I should be, too. But if you're ever travelling between Seattle and San Francisco and needing a carousel break, now you know where to look.

And tell the girls at Hooter's I sent 'ya.

Update 2/25: Interesting little piece of historical trivia about the carousel I forgot:

Turns out that several of the horses were originally carved with "good luck" swastikas somewhere on their harness or apparel. I was unaware until well into my adulthood of the long pre-Nazi history of the device, although I had seen it on the endpapers of several older volumes of Kipling's writing (he used it as a personal emblem/charm probably because of it's long association with India and Hinduism). So no real surprise that amid all the fantastic ears of corn, shields and animal pelts the carver(s) made a few swastikas.

But after WW2 the swastika-horses were removed from the carousel. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I understand why it was done, but regret the way the owners chose easy capitulation to public sentiment over trying to explain historical fact.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Country For Young Americans

...or British, or Canadians, or Germans.Or Russians, as the Soviets learned to their endless sorrow back in the 1980's.

My battalion commander over at Ranger Against War has had a series of blisteringly deadly five- to seven-round bursts targeting the Obama Administration's apparently reflexive continuation of the loyal Bushies' drive to civilize and Christianize the heathern wilds of The Grave of Empires. We've seen the latest installment of the "We Can't Not Escalate Because Failure Would Lead To Failing" announced this week. Where we go from here seems to be up for grabs, and the apparent Revolt of the Generals doesn't seem to be helping us any.

Now I don't pretend to be a good tactician. As an NCO my tactics never took me above platoon level. And, besides, Jim pretty much has papered that grid square.Nope, even as a buck sergeant my interest in war outside my lane was at the strategic and political levels. And all my reading and studying on the conduct of this latest of American military affectations, counterinsurgency (or "COIN"), keeps leading me back to the same conclusions:

First, foreign armies don't beat native insurrections without massive, ruthless, overwhelming violence.

Which leads directly to:

Second, if you don't or can't apply this heinous level of savagery, either accept that you cannot win or find a reliable local proxy who can and will.

Where does this leave us in Afghanistan?

The piece of the Central Asian massif we dignify with the title "Afghanistan" has never been a particularly easy or worthwhile place to rule. The Mughals did it for a while, though they pretty much forgot about it once they had India (a much more desirable address), and Alexander kept the pot from boiling over by marrying one of the local royals and then grabbing a hat as soon as possible, although the effects of his conquest may well have been the most long-lasting of the various outsiders who have transited the place.Add to that the reality that the Afghan plateau is poor in resources, politically and socially so divided as to make the designation of the place as a Westphalian "country" risible, and a logistical and strategic nightmare to successfully attack, conquer and defend. It has little or no value as a geopolitical asset; indeed, it's only real value is denial - preventing it from becoming a center for regional mischief is more value than controlling it directly.

So, in effect, every dollar, every soldier, every element of military or economic wealth that is put into Afghanistan will produce, at best, a geopolitically neutral result; it might, if correctly employed, deny a potential enemy the use of the land and peoples of the Afghan region.

And, what's more, the employment of those elements of foreign power are likely to provoke a vicious backlash from a region known for its distrust of and resistance to outlanders.So 17,000 troopers (which, by the way, actually translates to less than 5,000 trigger-pullers, assuming the reports of this deployment as composed of two maneuver brigades is correct - figure six infantry battalions for a total of 2,400-3,000 marine and Army infantrymen plus the brigade DS artillery battalions for another 1,000 and the ash-and-trash aviation and mech elements) are being sent, at vast expense of time and steam, to slay Afridis where they run.

And what will this buy us if they succeed?

Well, we'll own that portion of Waziristan, or the Black Mountain, or Swat. As long as we can pay for and replace our soldiers there.


Waziristan provides us no treasure, unless we desire its opium or its goats. It yields us no strategic advantage, no jumping-off place for Asian conquest assuming we were mad enough to desire such a thing. It yields, if it yields anything, a stony wilderness populated by the most warlike peoples on Earth.

And why in the name of Eblis would we want that?

Well, these fellas here say that if we don't hold this place it will "allow al-Qaeda central, which intelligence agencies identify as the greatest national security threat to the United States, to operate with impunity under a resurgent Taliban."

So, in essence, we will be holding that the Bad People don't hold it. We'll be buying the flophouse with our blood and treasure not to renovate it and flip it (we can't bar an insane expense, since the foundations are rotten to nonexistent and the neighbors sullenly or violently hostile) but just to keep the gangsters and druggies and whores out.

Forever. Since there will ALWAYS be gangsters and druggies and whores...and Taliban...and al Qaeda. An American ground force. Forever. In Central Asia.

This is almost the definition of insanity.

Back in November we talked about this in this post over at RAW. It made a HELL of a lot of sense to me then and it makes even more sense now. We don't need to send three fucking maneuver brigades to fight an enemy and a war that, if it is ever to be "won", needs to be fought by Afghans. Any success we can win can and should be won by 5,000 Jedburgh teams, SF-type trainer/leaders organizing the so-called "Afghan National Army". The fact that this clusterfuck is less then three divisions is criminal. A former ambassador to Afghanistan points out:
"During the Korean War in the 1950s, the United States helped build a 700,000-man (ROK) army in a nation with a population only about two-thirds that of Afghanistan. In the Greek civil war in the 1940s, we helped build a Greek security force of 182,000 soldiers in two years. These armies were not as sophisticated as today’s forces, and they did not require new body armor, high-tech communications equipment and armored Humvees. But they were sufficient to overcome threats greater than those Afghanistan now faces."
Ambassador, let me let you in on a little secret: the Afghans don't require all that high-tech crap anyway. They did pretty damn fine against the Soviets armed with donkeys and a bunch of old Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles. Lend 'em a couple of AK-47's and a Land-River or two and, if we've got 'em anywhere near where and what they want to fight for they'll do just fine...Because the alternative is...

An American ground force. Forever. In Central Asia.

And we would want that...


Update 2/22: Here's John Robb over at Global Guerillas making essentially the same point. One thing he stresses which I don't think is being hit on hard enough is the recent CW that the "success" in Iraq is a result of the "new" COIN methods employed in 2007-2008 (i.e. "the surge"). Coincidence isn't consequence, guys, and the notion that we've "won" and that somehow suggests we do anything but organize a bug-out as expeditiously as possible is fucking nuts. And the parallel notion that we can duplicate the lower level of chaos in Iraq in the 'Stan using the same methods?

Complete fucking nuts.

And check out this particular bit of creative insanity from Tom Ricks, who compares the occupation of Iraq to...wait for it...the Reconstruction of the South after the civil war and demands, although he points out that after six years of occupation that Iraq is essentially politically nonfunctional and the Iraqi Army, the only real "institution" we've spent any time "building" is both dangerously sectarian, unsable and fundamentally undemocratic, that we keep tens of thousands of troop maneuver units there because the haven't fought their civil war yet! Because...being a foreign soldier on the ground thousands of miles from your base of logistics in the middle of a multi-sided foreign civil war in a traditionally treacherous and unstable land is...a Good Thing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nice Work If You Can Get It

There are times - and yesterday was one of those times, as I sat on my field bucket in the soft sunshine of a deserted road outside Rosburg, Washington, on a warm February afternoon; listening to the sounds of the Gray's River bottomlands all around me as my drillers raised the rig mast towards the pair of bald eagles gyring lazily in the blue, blue sky - when I think to myself, damn, slick, you've gotta keep this stuff to yourself or they'll stop paying you to do this job.And then the rains return...

But it sure was a lovely day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

a common penchant for the scenic view

In the midst of the ire of the preceding post I recalled an entertaining little blog I had wandered across several years ago and had nearly forgotten.If you have a spare moment or two, stop by the Dark Lord of the Sith's blog "The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster". Scroll through the musings of the evil henchman of the vile Emperor Darth Sidious. You may find something like the following:
"I was meditating on this new information when a call sounded at the door. It was Moff Jerjerrod stopping by to tell me the Emperor commanded my presence. I made a mental note to crush his trachea with my mind at the first politically reasonable opportunity, and made my way to my master's tower with the snaggle-toothed idiot loping at my heels.

We rode the elevator with a junior lieutenant whose skin prickled at the sound of my respirator. He seemed on the verge of passing out for most of the ride, his adam's apple working in his throat. Just as the door slipped back with a hiss and I moved to leave he managed to call, "Lord Vader," in a pitiable squeak.

I paused, and turned back to him.

He took a deep breath. "I just wanted to say, sir, my Lord -- well, that I've always looked up to you. I don't know if people ever take the time to say...thanks. Thank you, Lord Vader. You're an inspiration to us all."

I hesitated, uncertain what to say, and in that moment of silence the young lieutenant began to stammer an apology. I stopped him by holding up one gloved, open hand. "Thank you, Lieutenant," I said evenly. "I hope to see you one day commanding the fleet."

"Yes, my Lord!" he grinned, saluting smartly. The elevator sighed closed and he disappeared. How charming!

"Shameless sycophancy," grunted Jerjerrod with that little smirk of his pulled tight over his mouth. "Let's not dawdle now, Lord Vader."

Using every ounce of self-control I barely avoided simultaneously breaking every bone in the Moff's body with a spasm of pointed thought. He continued to make light banter as we walked, endangering his life. We paused at the threshold of Palpatine's tower. "Recognize this, Jerjerrod," I said, pointing my index finger menacingly in his face. "Had the Emperor not specifically requested that your life be spared for the time being, you would even now be holding your own quivering giblets in your hands."

Jerjerrod wet himself mutely."
Indeed.I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the diverting musings of the Dark Lord of the Galaxy.

And if not, there's always the REAL Dark Lord - Dick Cheney's forthcoming memoir: "How I Did It"...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In defense of the Emperor Palpatine

I think I mentioned before here that I'm not a nice person.

I'm not an "evil" person, either. In the sense that I do and enjoy doing unmitigated wrong for its own sake.

But I'm not a sweetheart. I'm not a "nice" person, being kind to strangers and pets and generally making safe and pleasant sounds to make the people around me feel better. When unprovoked I'm generally pretty civil, but I've done wrong, knowing it was wrong, for my own safety, or for my benefit and the benefit of those I loved. Or to further an end I desired, or for spite, or out of the pure pleasure of bringing the lightnings and hellfire and destruction. The last was in my youth, mind you, before I understood, deeply, truthfully understood the meaning of grief and pain. I was young and stupid and thoughtless, which explains but does not excuse my evil. But some of the wrong I've done I'd do again, eyes open, because I had reasons of my own for doing that wrong.

In my defense I will give you fair warning before I try and do you down. And I will admit myself in the wrong, the villian, and then do my best to do you the dirty.

There. Now we understand each other. Like I said: I'm an honest man, overall a decent man, but not a nice man.

Right now I'm frankly furious with someone, someone I considered a friend or at least the friend of a friend, who is acting out of pure lust, selfishness and greed and, in the process, hurting another friend and someone who should have been her best friend.

But y'know what?

That's not what I'm furious at her about.

Lust, selfishness and greed I can understand. "Lechery, lechery, wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion." They are three of perhaps a dozen of the most simple and profoundly human reasons for action. Love, hate, lust, despite, self-esteem, self-interest, self-loathing, greed, vanity, honor, fidelity...all of these are more often as not at the base of the things we do and say, even if we try to ignore or deny them. I may not like them, I may not enjoy them - or I might, depending on whether I am giving or receiving of their often dubious but sometimes splendid largesse. But I can hardly pretend that they are not particularly human and as such pervade the entire world around us.

I can even understand deceit. How many of us would rather face blame and obliquy if we could lie our way out from under them? Human. Despicable but very, very human. I can condemn deceit while uderstanding and, to a degree, sympathising with the deceiver.

But what I cannot understand is the cravenness of self-deceit, in the form of moral cowardice.

Are you going to act in your own self-interest and give your dearest friend a hard kick in the balls? Kick away, darlin', but don't pretend you're on some delightful journey of self discovery. Don't talk about ow bad YOU'RE hurting. Don't try and excuse yourself, don't try and whine and whimper about your feelings. You are being a right bitch and in the best of causes: your own self-interest. Kick and be done with it. Walk away from those you've hurt, go on about your business and let them get on about theirs. Which may be revenge on you, mind you - and there you've no cause to complain. Just the knowledge of the vast stupidity of embarking on a quest for revenge. Kǒng Fūzǐ knew: "Before you seek revenge, first dig two graves."

Kick with a will, and own up to the fact that here, now, in this case, you are the villian. You will all live another day and then you can be as douce and kindly as your self-respect demands. But right at the moment you are as wrong as a person can be, and you need to be okay with that.

My little Peeper has been caught up in a fascination with all things Star Wars lately, and as a result I've been revisiting the movies I haven't seen for decades. And, interestingly, I found myself watching the "Return of the Jedi" with a particularly reversed sympathy. Instead of feeling the love for Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker when he finally turns on his master, evil Emperor Palpatine, and hucks the Sith Lord down the central cooling shaft of the New and Improved Death Star II, I was having a certain wry appreciation for the bad, mad Emperor.

Yes, he was a villanous bastard who killed millions. But you knew where he stood. He wasn't afraid to do wrong and stand up and take the blame for it. In his mind, his crimes were for the best reason in the world: his best interest, and he did what needed to be done and didn't ask you to love him for it. Darth only reforms when his own son is threatened. Palpatine is a rotten bastard, but at least he's a rotten bastard on his own terms and doesn't need to feel the love, of his son, his apprentice, or anyone else. He's an honest man, in his evil way.

It seems to me that, rather than be an outright son-of-a-bitch (or bitch, gender applying), way too many people - like the woman involved in this sad incident - want to have it both ways. They want to cut you like a razor, and then, as you stand bleeding, want to hold up their hands and cry "But I'm not the bad guy here!" They're the woman who sends out the racist e-mail and, when busted, doesn't say "I'm sorry, I was stupid" or "Yeah, well, that's how I feel about those #@%$$!" but instead mewls something like "I regret if my innocent prank offended some people" as if the real wrong is the taking offense rather than the being an ignorant racist prick. It's like the murderer who cries and tells his victims' families that he's sorry but still fights every death sentence to the Supreme Court, slinging as much mud on his victims as he can in desperate attempt to save his worthless, murderous life. It's like the Vice President who lies, orders tortures and breaks his own government's laws and, when questioned about it, snarls questions back accusing the accusers of treason and cowardice.

Evil is evil and you cannot refine it. But give me an honest villian before a sanctimonious hypocrite, with the one hand stabbing me and the other cadging me for my sympathy and good opinion.

Do your villany and be done. I will not love you better for your quivering self-justification or your pathetic pleas for understanding.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Plain Tales from the West Hills

Had a job of work up on S.W. Montgomery Place the other day. Portlanders would recognize the address as up in one of our our tony West Hills neighborhoods, and indeed it is. It's a lovely old turn-of-the-last-century house in Portland's Vista Heights neighborhood that's having some slope issues - not a terrific shock; many of the developments cut into the slopes in our Southwest do.

(As an aside, here's a nice post from a fun little blog that, along with food, fire stations and Japanese kaiju flicks, talks about the cablecar lines that used to run into - among other places - the West Hills in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The houses in the picture below are along Montgomery Drive, the larger street just east of my client's place. Fun blog, and the old car lines are kind of amazing - the Vista Trestle must have been a hell of a fun ride!)As I went about my business outside the beautiful home my surroundings prompted a couple of thoughts, and prodded up from the varves of my mind a couple of memories.

My main thought, sadly, was a question: "Hmmm...I wonder how long it would take two tweakers to strip all these gorgeous, chi-chi copper gutters and downspouts off this freaking barn to sell at Dirty Eddie's down in Lents for crank?"I have a dangerously low-rent mind. But copper downspouts,'s like tweaker candy. Good luck with that.

The memories were of the early days of my time in Portland. I was in grad school and working on a grant for the Oregon state geological survey, doing seismic refraction field work up in the West Hills.

This involved carting around a portable seismograph and geophones in my old Mazda hatchback and setting them up along the streets in hundred-foot-long arrays. I would - or Barry, the other grad student who was my field assistant would - then strike a steel plate with a sledgehammer to generate the noise source that would travel down and along the soil and rock layers beneath us and back up to the geophones.

We desperately wanted to use the small dynamite charges that are more common and more useful for seismic work - they generate a stronger and far sharper noise source. But the state geologist in charge of the project took one look at the two of us and clearly imagined the effect on the public of turning us loose in the affluent West Hills with a sackful of quarter-sticks of dynamite.

We were told that we would use the hammer, instead.

So we spent all the summer of 1992 doing this, up and down the streets of the Vista and Burlingame and King's Heights neighborhoods. It was hard work but fun, in its way, and I got to know the wealthy heights pretty well for a poor mook from Beaverton.

Barry, who was even more poor and desperate than I, truly loved discomfiting the well-to-do residents of the Hills. He'd throw the steel platen down on the sidewalk to make it ring in the quiet of an August morning and grin; "Time to wake up some rich people..!"

So it shouldn't have surprised me when I got an angry call from the state geologist I was working for.

Seems that I'd been down at one end of a block of S.W. Vista when the homeowner at the other end walked out to see what Barry was doing setting out the "pots" (i.e. geophones) in front of his house.

"What are you doing?" he asks in his polite, well-bred fashion.

Barry looks up and sizes up his questioner. "We're doing some seismic research for the state geological survey." he replies.

"What are you researching?" asks his interrogator

"Oh, you know, the soils here and what's gonna happen in the next big earthquake."

(Mind you, this was before the 1993 "Spring Break Quake" that alerted everyone in Oregon to the hazard of earthquakes. At the time a lot of people believed that one of or big advantages over California was that we never had them.)

"Earthquake?" says the homeowner "What earthquake?"

So Barry explains about subduction zone earthquakes and what happens to homes on hills during eight to ten minutes of strong shaking, fire, landslides, the dead rising from their graves,dogs and cats living together, total disaster. His listener becomes increasingly horrified and agitated as he goes through all this. Finally he can't wait any longer - he has to find out the REALLY important thing.

"Ohmigod that's awful!" he cries to Barry "When do they expect this earthquake?!?"

Barry looks thoughtful. "I dunno...could be any time. Could be today." he says. "In fact...what time is it?"

Barry said that the panicked scramble of the guy for his cell phone and his insurance agent was worth the ass-chewing that Matt at the Survey gave us for being smartasses and scaring the rich people.

Update 2/14: Just because I can't resist showing y'all how smart and literary I am, my Valentine's present to you is the Gutenburg link to the Kipling book that shares the title of this post. Hard to say which is better: the tragedy of "Lispeth"? The magical realism of "The Bisara of Pooree? The domestic farce of "Miss Youghal's Sais"? Regardless - go, read it. Kipling, though he knew almost nothing of Indians other than the racist fantasies of a middle-class Victorian, genuinely loved India and his fellow Anglo-Indians. Outside The Jungle Book, his early tales of Anglo-Indian life may well be his best work. And the best of Kipling is, well, pretty damn good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Decisive Battles: Pavia 1525

It's been a bit of a break for the battles, neh?

Couple of reasons for that.

One was the Christmas-New Year's follies and the awful weather that went with it, plus a crazy work schedule.

The other was that there just aren't that many battles for December, January and February.

Prior to the development of agriculture nobody really fought in the winter outside the tropics, anyway. Food didn't keep so you had no rations, travel was crap and the weather sucked bad enough without someone trying to kill you. Sod that for a game of soldiers.But even after the development of organized armies and logistical trains, winter campaigns were hard to start, hard to manage and hard to get a real result out of. Certainly there were winter battles in the preindustrial age such as Trenton and Eylau. But the list of truly decisive battles in the northern hemisphere in winter is pretty slim. November yields Bun'ei/Hakata Bay in 1274. But although a pretty decisive Japanese win the long-term effect is questionable, since the Mongols were back again seven years later. December is vacant, and in January there's really only the fall of Granada in 1492, which as a battle is minor although the Reconquista itself is one of history's enormous watersheds.

So we come to February, and one of history's most problematic "decisive" battles. Those of us who believe that sometimes war does in fact solve things are well advised to look long on this engagement, a testimony to the ugly reality that you can do something really, really well, and get what to all appearances is the outcome you want and still end up, in the end, with absolutely nothing. This, then, is the Battle of

Pavia Date: February 24, 1524Forces Engaged: French: initially about 21,000 footsoldiers (including 10,000 Swiss and 5,000 German mercenary [landsknechte]) and an estimated 6,000 handgun-armed infantrymen (arqebusiers); 3,500 cavalry, of which 1,500 are what we would call armored knights (French “gendarmes”, noblemen and their armed retainers) and 2,000 are lance-and-sword-armed light to medium cavalry; 53 cannon. Roughly 28,000 total under Francis I, Valois king of France.

(Note: somewhere between 2,000 to 6,000 troops – the “Black Band” mercenaries of the Medicis (not the "Black Legion" mentioned later!) and some 4-5,000 Swiss mercenaries of the Grison cantons - decamped from the French force before the battle, leaving about 23- 25,000 troops to face the Imperialists before Pavia)

Imperial: 19-20,000 infantry (including 11,000 landsknechts, 3,000 arqubusiers and 5-6,000 Spanish tercio combined arms infantry – more about which later); about 5,000 cavalry, mostly Imperial men-at-arms, 17 cannon. Also roughly 25,000 under a group of divisional commanders: nominally Charles of Lannoy but particularly with the cooperation of the Spanish professional officer Antonio de Leyva commanding the 6,000-man garrison of Pavia.

The Situation: There is probably no more forgotten (and even less understood even when recalled) set of conflicts – to an American audience, especially – than the dynastic wars that consumed Europe pretty much from the fall of Rome the late 5th Century AD to the Concert of Vienna in the year 1815. It seems to a latter-day dweller of the Western Hemisphere that the Europeans did nothing but fight each other, catch plagues and fornicate when they weren’t writing plays and persecuting Jews. The permutations are baffling and the personalities and polities even more so. Which pope did what (other than the Borgia popes who were doing all the fornicating)? What the hell was the Holy Roman Empire? It wasn’t Roman, that’s for sure, and its holiness is pretty questionable, too. What the hell were they fighting about? It all seems way too European, quaint, peculiar and dated to an American observer.

The sixty-year period (1494 to 1559) that contains the so-called “Great Italian Wars” is like a poster child for these wars. I mean, here’s the opening two paragraphs in the Wiki entry for the Italian War of 1494:
“Pope Innocent VIII, in conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples over Ferdinand's refusal to pay feudal dues to the papacy, excommunicated and deposed Ferdinand by a bull of 11 September 1489, then offered the Kingdom of Naples to King Charles VIII of France, who had a remote claim to Naples through the Angevin line. Innocent later settled his quarrel with Ferdinand and revoked the bans before dying in 1492, but the offer remained an apple of discord in Italian politics. Ferdinand died in January 1494, and was succeeded by his son Alfonso II. In October 1494, Ludovico Sforza, who had long controlled the Duchy of Milan, finally inherited the ducal title. He was immediately challenged by Alfonso II, who also had a claim on Milan. Ludovico decided to remove this threat by inciting Charles to take up Innocent's offer. Charles gathered a large army of 25,000 men and invaded Italy.”
Ludovico Who? An apple of what? WTF? Why the hell were these mooks fighting, and for what? And keep in mind that this is only the FIRST of the six or seven of these damn things – the players and the stories get MORE complex in the 16th Century!
Perhaps the best way to think of this mess is to stick to the basics:

1. France was the biggest and meanest power in Europe at the end of the 15th Century. Her Capetan royalty, never famous for their military acumen – let’s face it, this was the gang that kept charging English longbow formations – was feeling pretty cocky and wanted a piece of everybody’s action, especially in Italy, their weak and divided neighbor.

2. The Spanish (fresh from the Reconquista) and the Holy Roman Empire saw France as their natural enemy and ganged against her whenever possible.

3. The ankle-biters: the princely states of Italy, England, later the Dutch, kept an eye open for ways to discomfit France whenever it looked cheap and easy. The Italian states, of course, feuded interminably with each other. It was their pastime, and a more disastrous one can barely be imagined.

4. As always, the Ottomans lurked over the horizon, ready to make trouble whenever possible.

In this particular case, Charles Hapsburg of Spain was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Francis I of France had wanted the job. The bribery and chicanery involved in the election were Chicagoan in scale, and eventually Charles got the nod because he bent the electors the old fashiond way: he marched an army to Frankfurt, where the electors were meeting, and let them know that they could receive silver externally or steel internally (what any Columbian drug lord would recognize: plombo o plata). They got the hint, he got the job, Francis got pissed and it was game on, muthafucka.The Sources: As befits a historical event in the midst of the High Rennaissance we have several good sources including the correspondence of the commanders involved. Francesco Guicciardini, servant to the Medici, published the Storia d'Italia, a political history of Italy covering the Italian Wars to the mid-1530’s that is a valuable summary of the period, though Guicciardini’s faults as an author are nearly as prolix as his failings as a man.

The Campaign: The North Italian campaign of fall 1524 and winter 1525 was a confusing as all the rest of this Italian Wars nonsense. I could tell you about the French capture of Milan, the retreat of Lannoy and the Imperial army towards Lodi, Francis’ diversion from the pursuit and destruction of the Imperial field force to besiege Pavia.

Or I could discuss the movements of the French detachment under Montmorency, or the brief, odd intervention of a Spanish force under Moncada that landed at Genoa in December, was immediately cut off by a combination of French land force and a Genoese Italian-but-in-Valois-service fleet and surrendered. Or Lannoy’s skittish maneuverings towards Pavia in January and February, 1525. But why bother? They are, as a better writer than me would say, but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The bottom line was that at nightfall on February 23rd things in and around Pavia looked like this:

1. Leyva and his 5-6,000 were still hemmed up in Pavia, but were in close contact with Lannoy and prepared to move to support him.

2. Francis and his entire force were camped around the north side of Pavia within an immense walled park or forest preserve of some sort called Mirabello. Francis, for some unknown reason, apparently believed that the walls of this park were a functional barrier without observation; he does not appear to have set listening or observation posts on the wall itself or close enough to the wall to detect a breach. Within the park his troops are spread out in seperate cantonments beyond supporting distance of each other

3. Lannoy and the main Imperial force was camped just outside the east and northeast walls of the Mirabello park. The sources do not say whether Francis knew where the Imperials were, whether he cared, or not.

At any rate the Imperials were convinced that they were already beaten. They began a night attack merely to disarray the French long enough to retreat unmolested. As Murphy’s Laws of War would say: when both sides are convinced they will lose, the may both be right. But for the Imperialists, today was their lucky day.

The Engagement: After what must have been a truly shitty night march in a drizzling rain and fog the Imperial sappers knocked a hole or holes in the Mirabello park walls sometime after midnight on 2/24; a force of some 3,000 arquebusiers under the mercenary leader d’Avalos were first through the breach and headed directly south to attack the castle or lodge in the centre of the park – this was where Lannoy assumed Francis and the French nobility would be camped.The main French force, however, was posted well west of the breach, so the actual battle probably began sometime before dawn, about 5:00 am, with a meeting engagement between French light cavalry and Imperial horse near the opening in the wall. The imperialists had been sent in behind the handgunners to attack targets of opportunity and generally f-up the French encampment to prevent the besiegers from organizing. Instead, the French cavalry tied up the Imperialists until the sounds of the fighting dragged in a force of Swiss pike, which in turn overran a Spanish battery while in march order passing the breach. The entire north end of the park was a bloody, confused mess as Georg Frundsburg’s 6,000 German mercenary infantry piled into the scrum.

By sunrise (7:00am) a flailing mass of infantry was hacking and slashing away at each other near the opening in the wall.Francis of France was in a pretty bad way: his troops were scattered all over the Mirabello park, and, to make matters worse, de Leyva sortied his tercios from Pavia, pinning the French forces nearest the town.

The troops in the best position to hit the advancing Imperials were those camped near the Francis’s headquarters, his gendarmerie and a small artillery reserve. Moving up in support were the mercenaries in French pay: Swiss pikemen and German landsknecht infantry including the so-called Black Legion, “renegade” former Imperialist landsknechts turned by the French.

The more numerous French artillery went in battery and began firing on the Imperialist right and rear, doing some damage there. Francis then led a charge into one of the Imperialist cavalry units, killing the commander and putting the unit to rout. But in true wooden-headed knightly fashion the charge masked his own artillery (which had been doing good bloody work on the Imperial infantry) and when Francis’ gendarmes found themselves unable to break through the Imperial mercenary pike they were at a dead stymie.

The French heavy cavalry could not defeat the pikemen without support, and Francis had charged into battle at the head of his knights like a good storybook hero, failing to organize that support. The result of a failed cavalry charge is a mess; tired men and blown horses, their ranks ragged and their impetus lost. The gendarmes found themselves useless in what was rapidly becoming an infantry melee.

And there, the French were failing rather spectacularly. To the left of the gandarmes, the Swiss mercenaries in French pay were not enjoying their sortie against d’Avalos’ arquebusiers and musketeers. It seems that these unsporting little bastards were making use of whatever cover was available in the hunting park and then falling back as the Swiss drew near; shooting and moving, causing casualties but taking few of their own. The Swiss had already learned the lesson polearms against firearms made for a long day unless the polearms could get within arm’s reach. Having taken losses from the gunfire, a brief ‘push of pike’ with Pescara’s Spanish infantry convinced the Swiss that “hier schlagen wir nicht”; they began to fall back.

On the French right, things were even uglier. It was landsknecht versus landsknecht in a chopping match. The French mercenaries were outnumbered and enveloped – the Black Legion was butchered to the man.Without the footsoldiers to cover their flanks, the Spanish handgunners closed in around Francis’ gendarmes “in small units all over the field without a definite battle line according to the long experience and the new precepts of Pescara.”

The French knights were bought and sold: hemmed in by copses, hedges and blocks of Imperialist pikes, the heavy bullets punched through the knightly armor, breaking bones, gutting and splattering lungs, braining and ensanguinating. Francis himself was shot off his horse and captured.

Leyva’s garrison had smashed the 3,000 Swiss holding the siege lines; their panicked flight took them into the Ticino River, where they were butchered and drowned in job lots. The remainder of the French forces, the French rearguard, under the Duke of Alençon, had been unengaged and southwest of the Ticino. Realizing the magnitude of the disaster, Alençon immediately began retreating towards Milan.

By 9:00 am, the battle was over.

The Outcome: Decisive tactical Imperialist victory; however, the long-term effect of Pavia were almost negligible – see below.

The Impact: You would think that Pavia should have been hell and fucking disaster for France. The King in chains. The nobility decimated: Montmorency and Flourance captured; Bonnivet, Le Tremoille, La Palice, Suffolk, and Lorraine dead. The French army butchered, all of northern Italy prostrate before the Imperialists.

You’d think that.

But then you read that a mere eleven years later Francis was BACK, capturing Turin and making a general nuisance of himself in north Italy. Again.

And six years after THAT…this time, he’s allied himself with the fucking Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, capturing Nice, fighting the English and Imperials in the Low Countries.

Francis finally quits messing around in Italy in 1547. Only because the pigheaded persistent bastard finally fucking dies.

Really. Some people...

Pavia is worth considering purely for the light it sheds on the entire concept of a “decisive battle”. Few engagements were won more decisively by the victor or lost more completely by the defeated; Francis famously wrote “..all is lost save honor and life” and that pretty much sums it up.The French were still fighting with steel, and, more importantly, thinking like they were. The Imperialists had begun to learn the lessons of powder and shot. The Imperial and, particularly, the Spanish while hardly that much technically or tactically superior to the French had two great advantages.

First, their command and control was infinitely better. Lannoy and Leyva worked their mousetrap like, well, a mousetrap. Francis couldn’t even coordinate between his own cavalry and his artillery a short round away.And, second, they were learning to fight as a combined arms team. Pavia is usually cited as the arrival on the European military stage of Spain as a military power, and the Spanish tercio as the dreadnought of the 16th Century battlefield. From Pavia in 1525 to Rocroi in 1643 the tercio was the Queen of Battle, and the Spanish Empire the power to reckon with in European politics.

Touchline Tattles: Supposedly Francis, who had lost everything except honor, had also lost any belly timber for his tum-tum.

The story goes is that after the brawl was done all he could find was a bowl of soup in a peasant woman’s hut, and the poor old girl shoved some bread and a couple of henfruit in the soup to make it a little more fit for a king, thus creating Zuppa Pavese.


Who knows.

Good soup, though!

Monday, February 09, 2009

You're Welc...hunh?

Remember the time I told y'all about Facebook?

OK, well, there's a group on Facebook called "Thank A Soldier". It seems to be run by some nice, well, meaning people (from Canada, interestingly enough) who genuinely want to say nice things to squaddies.

A "friend" of mine on Facebook just joined this group, and, like everything you do on Facebook, a little note popped up on my page: "So-and-so just joined the group "Thank A Soldier".

I thought that was very nice of her, because I'm not sure what soldiers have done for her or hers lately, but every time I see that little pop-up I end up wandering over to that page and I read the first line of their blurb:

"We Believe in thanking soldiers for our freedoms we enjoy"

And every time I get a pain in the giggy. And every time I post a comment to Facebook that goes something like this:
"I served 22 years in the U.S. Army. I cannot in all honesty think of anything I did anywhere to anyone that contributed materially to the freedom anyone in the U.S. enjoys today or did at the time. I certainly served U.S. "interests", helped further U.S. geopolitical aims and did some things that helped people in other countries.

Every time you voted, Kelli, you did more for "freedom" than I did in 22 years of armed service. Every time you wrote your congresscritter you did more. Every time you protested, wrote a letter to the editor, signed an initiative petition. YOU were the mover and doer. Not I.

I love soldiers. I loved being a soldier. But what I did had very little to do with "freedom" or "justice" or "proclaiming liberty throughout the land."
I never get any comments or discussion back. It's like a black hole; things go in but don't come back out. I get that feeling that when I talk about soldiers and soldiering - outside a handful of people, many of whom comment on this blog and you know who you are, hat-tip to all o' ya - the nice people who've never really had much to do with us GIs (which, these days, is most people) look at me like Barfus the Dog-Headed Boy.

Hey, look. The guys in VIIth Corps who sat in the Fulda Gap from 1945 to 1991 helped defend freedom against the Soviets. The guys who sat in the boomers under the Arctic Ocean, in the silos in Minnesota and Tucson, who cycled out of Minot and Elmendorf. THOSE guys, you can throw a snappy salute to and buy 'em a drink. They kept you from being Red and/or dead.

Me? The guys in Saudi and Iraq and Panama and Grenada and Kuwait and Kosovo?

Not so much.

It's not that I don't want gratitude. It just seems to me like we use it, this automatic, casual "We support our troops" yellow-ribbon bumperstickerish reflex instead of really thinking about soldiers, who we are and what we do and why, and the implications of how we use our soldiers now that they're mostly "them" and not so much "us".

Just sayin'.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Hey! This isn't a quesadilla...!

I can only imagine the scene at Shanghai's swinging-est Mexican cantina. But apparently I wasn't imgining quite far enough:

Maybe I'm being unreasonable, here, but...shouldn't you know whether you're a prostitute or not?

And if YOU don' does the bouncer know?

Ths must be one of those cross-cultural things they don't explain at the Families with Children from China get-togethers. Lion dances? Yes. Kung fu? Yep. Moon Festival? Gotcha covered.

Figuring out whether or not you're a prostitute?

Not so much.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Saguaros and Trogons and Titans, oh my...

Well, we're all booked. This March Mojo and I will be in Tucson, enjoying the sun and a break from rain and all things parent.We're looking forward to purely relaxing, of course, but hopefully getting out to see some of southern Arizona's beauty, including perhaps even an Elegant Trogon or two...

...I have to tell you that I visited Madera Canyon in the late 1990s with my ex looking for these little rascals. It was an odd experience: the campground was full of yay-hoos (my favorites were the potbellied kids who were chasing the family purse dog around hosing the poor beast with their super-soakers until the mom snatched up little Bubbles and started chasing THEM around. Dad's comment [when he took the time to look up from Wrestlemania on the 96-inch-teevee-powered-by-their-RV's-generator]? "He ain't scared - he's just WET!" Love it.) and the only other birders we encountered were on a Victor Emanuel tour led by a guy with the t'ickest Joisey accent Oi've eveh hoid.

"Trogons?" he leered, "Oh, yeah, dey're floi'ing arount up dere by da uppa poikin lot like pigeons!"

We never saw a trogon.

But we saw a missile!Anyway, we're looking forward to a sunny March window from our rainy Portland home...

Who's Your Daddy? - a political morality tale

Taking a break from all things work- and domestic emergency related - we had yet ANOTHER WonderKids Rescue, this time of the Baby Daddy from the Ford-Ranger's-Clutch-Is-Tits-Up-Emergency trip to our mechanic in Sellwood - to settle down with the advertising-rich pages of the World's Worst Newspaper to find...

...yet another "news" item detailing the venereal stylings of one of our public - or should I say "pubic" - figures, in this case the newly-elected Mayor of Portland, Mr. Sam ("No, Not THAT Sam") Adams.

Seems that the randy Mr. Adams was dipping the mayoral wick in someone named, appropriately, Beau Breedlove (Mister Adams is out and proud - there are some things that you really gotta love about Portland). Question in this case being, when Sam decided to emulate the Greek Army and never leave his boy's behind, was said behind attached to a "boy" (i.e. someone who was under the Oregon age of consent of 17) or a "man"?

Apparently this question came up during his election campaign and was violently quashed, to included making the question-asker (an opponent of Da Mare's) a byword and a hissing. But love and a cough cannot be hid, and now the beauteous lad is babbling like a brook and everyone is full of righteous ire that our City Father lied about being the Sugar Daddy of the little twerp. And, again, we're supposed to be fascinated and appalled by the genital posturings and the lying and...

Well, crap.

I'm frankly tired of all this nonsense. I think we've firmly established that some of history's greatest political leaders weren't going to win the Purity League Order of Truth and Decency First Class. They weren't where they were because their publics trusted them not to try and have sex with their sons or daughters. They were there because they were smarter, more practical, more ruthless, better at governing than the alternatives.I've talked before about how our nation - and I have to say that this is beginning to apply to many societies and nations across the globe - seems to be showing the signs of senilty or, at least, an advanced return to juvenility. And other than the popularity of such utterly moronic dreck as "American Idol" (and what passes for "news" on the networks), ISTM that this sort of utterly vapid fixation on the copulatory activities of our leadership is as good an indication as any that Elvis has left the building.

Dubya can run a whole country based on his idiotic "gut". Dick Cheney can deny that the VP is part of the Executive Branch, order torture and lie about it. Legions of officials from city councils all the way to the capitol building are complicit in chicanery, influence-peddling, shilling for malefactors of great wealth and betraying the People of this nation. And yet our "news" media, and we, would rather talk and worry and fuss about who put whose totem pole in whose donut hole.

Did I mention Teh Stupid?

The whole thing makes me vaguely ill and yet makes me think of another time, when we were another People.

In 1884 the Republican Party - whose place as the spoilt children of the victory was assured by the defeat of the Democrats and Confederates in 1865 - ran a nastily corrupt congressman from Maine. James G. "The continental liar" Blaine was a fairly typical mid-Victorian U.S. Representative, thoroughly in the pocket of the wealthy and involved in the sorts of unsavory deals that pretty much defined "politics" between the end of the Civil War and the reform movement of the turn of the century. This guy, though, was SO nasty that even the other Republicans couldn't stomach him; the contrast between the Mugwumps' loathing of Blaine and the current gang of GOP idiots obesiance to Rush Limbaugh proving that Republicans have descended a long way down the evolutionary scale since 1884 from true humanity to somewhere between the lemurs and the more developed species of fish.

But as luck would have it Blaine's opponent, Grover Cleveland, had handed the GOP a gift when ten years earlier he had danced the horizontal mambo with a rather...difficult...young woman named Maria Halprin that resulted in a strapping lad that Cleveland provided with child support.

Naturally - since Americans then loved a spicy sex story as much as we do now - the tale came to light. And the GOP, who had belatedly realized that their dirty candidate was as popular as a Palestinian oompah band at an AIPAC convention, siezed on the story and ran it round the wires. Blaine campaign crowds marched past Cleveland supporters chanting "Ma, ma, where's my pa!"The horrified Dems ran to Cleveland: was this true? Yep, ol' Grove said, and I'd swive her again and twice on Sunday. Oh dear, oh dear, what shall we do? wailed the Dems, to which Cleveland simply replied:

"Tell the truth."

What an amazing concept! Tell the truth; our candidate has genitals and uses them. So what? You're electing a president, not the proctor of morals at a girl's school. As a smart American, who'd you rather have - the bought-and-paid-for lackey of your plutocratic masters, or a decent man who once decided to do the nasty with an attractive woman?

The story goes that the day after the election Cleveland's supporters marched past the dejected Republicans chanting:

"Ma, ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House! Ha, ha, ha!"

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is.

Do I want my "leaders" thinking with their little head(s)? But, then again, what the hell do all these connubial conniptions get us, other than a fixation on the groins of the people that we hope and expect will get us from point A to point B by using what's above their shoulders rather than below their navels?

Overall, I suspect that what this stuff really tells us is something about the cognitive abilities of ourselves, our fellow citizens and the people who own our news media.

And I suspect that the story it tells is less encouraging to our continued political health than the cautionary tale of our new Mayor Adams and the boy across the Willamette with a bottom like a peach.

Who swam quite well, thank you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Still Crazy

...between work and kidstuff.

Last night I picked up the littlies at daycare and we got home just as night was falling. Everyone got a juice (OK, I got a beer) and the two little settled in to watch some Scooby-Doo and the one big got to work boiling pasta noodles and spuds. Just then the phone rang: it was Mojo, working late and worried about the dark and the cold and the long bike ride home...could we pick her up?

I turned off the stove and went out to the front room and announced that we had to get back in the car and go help the Mommy.

Those of you with kids know how dicey a moment this is; there's a world of possible whining, refusals, tantrums and delays in sudden changes of plans when you have five-and-a-half and two-and-a-half.

But the little folks sprang to action like heroes. Shoes and coats went back on and we drove downtown singing the WonderPets song ("We're on our way/to help the little Mommy and to save the day!"). And after we rescued the Mommy we all went to dinner at Widmer Gasthaus, where the little peeps were adorable and so good that they were instantly punished by many savage hugs and kisses.

Anyway, I'm still slammed, so here's a quick update: playing Bingo at Astor School on "Bingo for Books" night -My little sister sent us this conex-sized box of citrus fruit for Christmas and I hadn't the slightest idea what to do with it - we just don't eat THAT many oranges and there's no real constituency for grapefruit at all around here. So for $2.99 the old-fashioned juicer was the best deal I've made in a long time. And the fresh-squeezed OJ and grapefruit juice were puckeringly tart and sweet...No real message here - just two kidlets snuggling in their "nests" on the couch.Little Miss HAD to get a Hello Kitty sticker book, and as a result I was branded with the Mark of the Beast.