Monday, July 30, 2012


Fascinating little website on the history of Soviet atomic weapons.
The Soviet experiment is kind of intriguing and mostly appalling.

It's difficult for an American of 2012 - whose nation is only now beginning to exhume some of the worst aspects of one of the worst periods of governance and social economy (for those of us not in the two-yacht families) in its history - to really understand how for its entire fucking history the polity that is Russia and was the USSR does not have, and never has had, anything remotely approaching a political and economic system that had the sort of responsiveness and approachability that we associate with our own, as corrupt and ridiculous as it is.

Pre-Soviet Russia was an autocracy typified by a vast and brutal clumsiness. When the Soviets overthrew the czar, sadly, they adopted many of the czarist ways. When the Soviets fell they retained much of their economic crudity while devolving back into czarist kleptocracy.

What this has tended to produce is a society and a nation where - though many people have lived decent lives in decent circumstances (as in any society) - the sort of brute-force solutions that often were and are the Russian style can make things very bad for very many very suddenly.
You could extrapolate a lot from the picture at the top; a land that produced a nuclear weapon held together with rivets and assembled by men whose lives came straight out of a novel by Gogol.

(h/t to Lawyers, Guns, and Money that posted this link today)


Thinking back at this month's posts, the thing I note is that I didn't talk one - not once - about this year's Tour de France.
And it wasn't because I didn't watch, or didn't enjoy, this year's Tour. Both Mojo and I are "Tour fans"; that is, while we sorta-kinda follow the sport the rest of the year, we only really get the fever around late May. Watching the Tour is a morning/evening ritual at the Fire Direction Center, and what's kinda of nice is that our kiddos are getting the fever a bit, as well.

This year we all started out sort of hoping that Cadel Evans would do well, perhaps even repeat his win of 2011. When it became clear sometime in the middle of the second week of racing that 1) Cadel just didn't have it, and 2) Bradley Wiggins and the monster that is Team SKY were going to roll over everyone we fell apart, each developing our own favorites. The kids fastened on to Vincenzo Nibali because we had nicknamed him "Nibbles" in the first week and they loved the image of this lean Italian as a little mouse on a bike.
Mojo just enjoyed the racing and the incredible power of the British cyclists. Think back - how many times has a team come to the Tour with two riders who could easily have won the general classification? I'll be intrigued to see what happens with Chris Froome this winter.
I turned to following van Garteren, the young man from BMC who ended up winning the young rider white. He looks like a hell of a promising guy, and perhaps he will turn out to be the Luke Skywalker that brings a new hope to Team BMC next year.

This year's Tour was the story of a team, and a rider, that were head-and-shoulders better than everyone around them.
Sports - hell, history itself - is often a tale about powerful groups or individuals. Us hairless monkeys like power, strength, and so we tend to go all that about those "great dynasties" from the safe distance of our armchairs.
But I think that we forget that drama tends to come from great rivalries, from tense encounters between opponents of nearly equal ability and strength. The great dynasties of history tend to make quick and boringly brutal work of their enemies. It must not have been a whole lot of fun to be, say, a 1st Century AD German warrior. Sure, every so often you get a Teutoburg Forest or two. But usually it's the same old-same old; meet Roman troops, get ass waxed, wash, rinse, repeat for about three centuries.
Every time you hefted the ol' spear and shield there must have been the thought, well, shit, this is gonna suck.
Great teams and great individuals tend to do that to their opponents.

This year it was SKY and Wiggins who put Britain on the podium in the sort of casually brutal way that those great powers do.
Next year? Perhaps not; unlike Rome, cycling teams tend to be quicksilver, and the tension between Wiggins and Froome is almost certain to explode this SKY team very soon.

As always, this year's Tour was a great spectacle, a great athletic event, and a great human story. We enjoyed the hell out of it, warts (doping) and all. Vive le Tour!
But this year the drama was all about the dominance rather than the rivalry. All about the greatness rather than the tension. This year it was Britons first, the rest nowhere.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Geeks bearing gifts

I sort of bumped into this by accident, but the discussion is kind of fascinating. It's about the whole question of "what is geekiness, and who gets to decide?"

Let me start by nailing up my qualifications.

I was a sort of geeky nerd dork in high school and college.
I was fairly introverted until my sophomore year in college, had a decent but very limited set of social skills, and was clueless as to the value of physical exercise and sports in general not so much as a path to mens sane in corpore sano but as a route to wider social skills and adulthood in general.

I was a geek in the John Scalzi sense; I was a deeply immersed fan of militaria and tabletop wargaming (at a time when war in general - this was the Seventies, remember - and gaming were both in deep cover). I was a comic fan and cartoonist, and a science-fiction freak at a time when both genres are still pretty much outside the mainstream.

I got decent grades (without throating, though - I was stunned to find out that you actually had to WORK hard to get decent grades in college, and my GPA reflected that).

I loved women (hmmm...still do. Must be something to think about there) but between my social ineptitude and intellectual immaturity was unable to do much more than fantasize about having female friends, much less an actual "girlfriend".

And in that I'm sure I was in a hell of a lot of company.

So one the Scalzi Scale I was, oh, probably about 64% geek, 5% nerd, and 31% dork.

But I grew up, and out of my awkwardness. Found that my passions had worked their way into the mainstream. Figured out how to talk to women not as life support systems for vaginae (vaginas? What the hell is plural of "vagina" and does anyone every have the occasion to use it?) but as people, and found out that they're often - not always; it's kind of shocking that for as nice an example of structural design a woman can be as compared to us hairy Y-chromosome type how they can be just as big a jerk as we can be - fascinating as people. People in the have-interesting-ideas-about-things sense and in the enjoyable-as-companions sense.
I even found a woman (well, women, actually, but no more than one at a time; I am not from Havana!) who I liked and liked me enough to form a long term relationship with.

And that was nice.

But in some ways, I'm still that geeknerddork.
I still enjoy wargaming, which is something that I fortunately share with my son. I am an uncloseted science-fiction fan, which is something that I fortunately share with my wife.

But...I'm NOT a big enough geek to go to comic or sci-fi conventions without feeling horribly self-conscious about it, though.
If I were, though, and if I ran into the "booth babes" that this character "Joe Peacock" ran into in San Diego I would a) probably react with a mild sort of "gee...I sure hope she doesn't feel silly having to dress up like that to make a living..." and b) simply enjoy the pretty lady's pretty prettiness.

But, then, I wouldn't be "Joe Peacock".
(Is it me, or does that sound like the name of some guy playing one of the non-non-fucking roles in one of those softcore (i.e. non-fucking) porn films? [Have you ever seen one of those things? They tend to turn up on some of the weaker cable channels, places like Showtime. There's never any actual, y'know, sex - or, for that matter, any actual male or female junk visible - but the lead actors get naked and rub their junk-areas together and moan a lot.]
Perhaps the most classic of the genre is something called "Tarzeena; Jiggle In The Jungle" and should you care you can say I said so. Hell, the scene in which the mad doctor bursts into the prison-break scene and instructs the actor in the mind-controlled-Tabonga-the-gorilla costume to "Kill them all before they escape! And make sure you do a good job; nobody appreciates sloppy work!" alone is worth the price of admission.)
Anyway, this Peacock - sorry, I promise to try and not giggle the next time I say that - guy is all pissy about these pretty costumed ladies because, apparently, they're not there to be all geeky at all!
Now, like I said, I just don't have the stones (or the obsessive level of fandom) to go to a comic convention dressed up like Batman, or a 501st Legion trooper from Star Wars, or Erwin Rommel, forchrissakes.

But I understand that some of us sometimes have to let that Inner Geek go wild. And that some of us are sometimes women(like the gal at the link - she's fun, and funny, and her site is well worth the visit, trust me). And that some of those women like to go wild with the costumes at the conventions.
(The image below is one of Amy Mebberson's "Pocket Princess" cartoons, BTW, and as a Disney-movie-raised-kid and a lover of all things adorable they just tickle the ass offa me. I've GOT to show them to Missy, the princess-lover...)
And, frankly, that's fine. The world's too big to get all inquisitorial about what other people do with their time, their money, or themselves.

But apparently this isn't OK with this Peacock...okay, OKAY, I said it'd try, I didn't say I wouldn't giggle...guy unless they're TRUE geek-girls. The dress-up-booth-babes apparently offend geek-boys because they're there to...tease them, or something. They're not "real", meaning, I can only suppose, that the fact they're there somehow...cheapens? Degrades? Mocks? the true spirit of uber-geekiness that this Peacock (snort! SORRY!) dude and his fellow genuine-geeks represent.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the genuine but bizarrely human...need, is all I can come up with, to find some reason for slagging off on other people for things that those people do that do no material harm - neither break the leg nor pick the pocket - of the slagger-offer. Sometimes it's harmless, like Joe Peacock (mmmrphmsnert! I give up...) ripping on women he doesn't approve of.

Sometimes, it's not.

Sometimes it's about preventing lovers from ever being together in public. Sometimes it's about "slut-shaming" other lovers, or witch-hunts for imaginary religious enemies, or finding reasons for afflicting the "undeserving" afflicted, or hating on and bullying people who don't have the ability to successfully fight back.

But trivial or malign, it's beyond just a crime. It's a mistake.

Because I'm convinced that the sort of person who can spout this sort of self-justifying inanity is the sort of person who can be persuaded to acquiesce and eventually participate in, first, injustice and then, perhaps, even cruelty. OR atrocity.

Because first they came for the cosplayers...
Anyway, I can't say it better than Scalzi, so I won't try:
So what if her geekiness is not your own? So what if she isn’t into the geek life as deeply as you believe you are, or that you think she should be? So what if she doesn’t have a geek love of the things you have a geek love for? Is the appropriate response to those facts to call her gross, and a poacher, and maintain that she’s only in it to be slavered over by dudes who (in your unwarranted condescension) you judge to be not nearly as enlightened to the ways of geek women as you? Or would a more appropriate response be to say “great costume,” and maybe welcome her into the parts of geekdom that you love, so that she might possibly grow to love them too? What do you gain from complaining about her fakey fake fakeness, except a momentary and entirely erroneous feeling of geek superiority, coupled with a permanent record of your sexism against women who you don’t see being the right kind of geek?

These are your choices. Although actually there’s a third choice: Just let her be to do her thing. Because here’s a funny fact: Her geekdom is not about you. At all. It’s about her.

Geekdom is personal. Geekdom varies from person to person. There are as many ways to be a geek as there are people who love a thing and love sharing that thing with others. You don’t get to define their geekdom. They don’t get to define yours. What you can do is share your expression of geekdom with others. Maybe they will get you, and maybe they won’t. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s their problem and not yours.

Be your own geek. Love what you love. Share it with anyone who will listen.

One other thing: There is no Speaker for the Geeks. Not Joe Peacock, not me, not anyone. If anyone tells you that there’s a right way to be a geek, or that someone else is not a geek, or shouldn’t be seen as a geek — or that you are not a geek — you can tell them to fuck right off. They don’t get a vote on your geekdom. Go cosplay, or play filk, or read that Doctor Who novel or whatever it is you want to do. Geekdom is flat. There is no hierarchy. There is no leveling up required, or secret handshake, or entrance examination. There’s just you.

Anyone can be a geek. Any way they want to. That means you too. Whoever you are.
Are we good? Great, because you gotta excuse me; my son has got my 3rd Guards Tank Army caught in a hell of a pincer and I've gotta get some Sturmoviks airborne, and quick.
Ni shagu nazad!, damn it, boy...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Jukebox II: Massacre Boogaloo Edition

More bloody doin's, this time with a score from the Seventies hair band "Sweet";Don't know why, because I'm not a particular fan of the man's work in general, but I get a chuckle out of the ridiculously over-the-top gorefest called "Kill Bill".

And the song is a hookily brilliant piece of power pop. I was all of sixteen when this turned up on FM radio, and I remember jumping around shrieking along to the chorus like a manic suburban white boy.

Have a terrific Friday.

Friday Jukebox: Heathen Massacre Edition

Well, the guy WAS a Sith Lord, after all...Kinda fascinating, the bizarre horrors concealed in the deeps of history.

(h/t to Ed at Gin & Tacos for this oddity. "Zen moment", indeed..."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hot fun in the summertime

Here's the soundtrack for this one, by the way...)

[five six seven eight...]

All: End of the spring and here she comes back
Hi Hi Hi Hi there
Them summer days, those summer days
That's when I had most of my fun, back
Hi hi hi hi there
Them summer days, those summer days
Rose: I "cloud nine" when I want to
Freddie: Out of school, yeah
Larry: County fair in the country sun
Sly: And everything, it's true, ooh yeah
All: Hot fun in the summertime
Hot fun in the summertime
Hot fun in the summertime
Hot fun in the summertime...

(Just a couple of notes:

The eighth picture down (after Freddie sings "Out of school, yeah) is the great little soccer bar on Hawthorne 442. My friend Janelle and I went to watch the Timbers' awful debacle at Dallas (see the "Nibbled by Goats..." post down the feed) and met the couple on the far left of the picture. They were young teachers, moving to Idaho for their new jobs and getting married this fall, and were just ridiculously and painfully adorable.)

Two pictures below that is the truck cab on the way to work on a hot summer day, with everything I need to make things happen; phone, camera, notebook, lunch, vis-vest, reading glasses, novel (for the down times), coffee.

And I think the rest pretty much speak for themselves. How's your summer going...?)


Have I mentioned lately what a cruel game soccer is?

Okay, okay, sorry.

But have I mentioned lately what an odd game soccer is?

Where else would you see the American actor Tom Hanks, British heavy-metal bass player Terence "Geezer" Butler, and two dozen guys from everywhere around the world on the same patch of greensward?
But all in all a fun and funny evening yesterday; just a meaningless "friendly", but enjoyed seeing the young players - with any luck a bright future for the Portland Timbers - having a bit of a kickabout with a visiting side, and spending time with my friends in the stands without needing to stress about scores or shout at whichever of our players is jakin' it to quit farkling about.
Seeing the streets of Portland awash with thick eddies of Aston Villa's claret-and-sky-blue; who knew there were so many closeted Villa supporters here? Not me.
Trying desperately to sing the Army Reserve into unison. I take the skills of our capos - the song and chant leaders - for granted. Until they're not there. We sounded...ummm...random might be the best way to put it.
Watching the little guys enjoying soccer their own way - whether it was FIFA 12 on the i-phone...or the match on the pitch;
Because there's a party in Portland; no one's sleeping tonight!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


My friends Jim and Lisa have a good post up over at Ranger Against War discussing the recent Colorado shootings I was fulminating over in the preceding post.

And - though it's not really the subject of their post - something came up over there that reminded me of a point of American politics that has always driven me fairly batshit.

That's the whole mythology centered around "Second Amendment Rights".

Now I'm not going to kid myself that Americans will ever give up their private firearms. We've had a pash for them since before we WERE Americans and that's not going to stop now.

And as a guy with two shotguns and a rifle in the gun safe, well, that'd be pretty hypocritical, anyway.

But that's not what bugs me.

The thing is, we WILL pay a price for private firearms. A blood price, different in causation but no different in effect than the one we pay for being able to get from Portland to Seattle in three hours, or for being able to eat food that other people prepare.

Those activities carry not just the risk but the certainty that at some point the brakes on the truck behind us will fail and the e. coli will lurk inside the hamburger. A statistical percentage of us will die, or be maimed, or injured, because of those things we want, and we accept that without a murmur because we consider our lives richer because of those things.

So with private firearms.

But automobiles and supermarkets are a practical necessity for our modern lives. We don't have to invent justifications for them.

Firearms aren't.

We don't hunt for survival any more. And the chaos inherent in a vigilante society is why we armed and empowered policemen and soldiers.

So our private firearms are really just toys, and it's hard to find a reason to keep a deadly toy around the house. We certainly would let our kids play with an exploding Etch-a-Sketch, would we?

So the people who build bunkers around private firearms for a living - and, yes, I'm looking at you, National Rifle Association - have to fill their sandbags with pure-D, 100% straight-from-the-feedlot bullshit, and the stinkiest of the pile is the one about how Our Guns Will Defend Us From Tyranny!


But here's the things that make this utterly ridiculous.

1. The vast majority of the people in the U.S. who keep and bear arms are politically anywhere from mildly conservative to foaming-mouthed-Michelle-Malkin-wanking wingnuts. There's a relative handful of armed liberals in this country, and we tend to be a rare and lonely breed; there is no Liberal Militia.

2. Let's be honest with ourselves - the New Deal breed of U.S. nanny-state authoritarian is as dead as the dodo. Any "tyranny" that will arise in the U.S. in some future scenario will be wrapped in the flag, quoting Ronald Reagan, and carrying a cross.

3. All those wingnuts will lay their customized-fully-auto-AR-15s at the feet of this dictator like the goddamn freikorps. Even the "moderate conservatives" will be unlikely to take to the hills to resist the New Corporate Overlords, because
4. Is anyone willing to argue that the U.S. circa 2012 isn't already about 80% of a functioning oligarchy? Hell, even the GOP is willing to openly fight for a return to the economic and social policies of the Gilded Fucking Age. Most of us that still have our jobs are wage slaves, too frightened of losing our homes, our medical care, and our jobs, to do more than peep helplessly as the elites regain everything they lost in the Thirties.

How have all those liberty-givin' guns done with that, anyway?

5. And with the red-meaters goin' all fascists those of us liberals, those who would fight, will be as helpless against their U.S. Army and the new freikorps as the old Rotfrontkämpferbund was against the old SA and their stahlhelm buddies. Not to mention that

6. To be a guerrilla fighter is to die. Silly movies aside, regular troops kill dozens of irregulars for every trooper they lose. Look at the WW2 statistics for the partisans in the occupied Soviet Union, for the maquis, for the Yugoslav and Greek partisan bands. The sorts of people who make good guerrillas are tough, brutal peasants whose "good life" sucks hard. Pampered Americans raised on television and McDonalds? We'd be lucky if one in a thousand of us managed to survive more than a week and bit more than wing one of the "oppressors" before buying it.

So...nope, the whole "guns keep us free" trope?

Utter horseshit.

I loves me my old Lee-Enfield rifle. I still enjoy going to the range even though I no longer hunt with it.

But it's a toy. A luxury.

A toy that can kill one of my fellow Americans at half a mile.

And if I want to keep it - and I do - I should be willing to act the adult and stop coming up with ridiculous bullshit Wolverines! fantasies to make my case.

ISTM that the problem here is that we want to have our guns and our nobility, too.

We let people like the NRA promote these ridiculous fantasies when we know full well that we're not going to use our firearms to fight a desperate guerrilla war against the Nicaraguan or Chinese occupiers, or to overthrow the fascist dictator we elected in a fit of Limbaughism.

They're our toys, our security blankets, and our hobby.

And so that we may enjoy ourselves people will have to die.

We should have the balls to say that straight out.

In fact, I just did.

See? Isn't that simple?

Monday, July 23, 2012

War and Peace

I do everything I can to avoid video and audio news.

The level of fatuous idiocy on display is really depressing; it reminds me of one of the most culpable and easily-fixable factors in our national strain of Stupid.

Here, with the nation in the throes of fighting fucking land wars in fucking Asia and the economy and society of the Land of the Free sliding back into their Gilded Age forms (to the frenetic cheering of a good 30% of the idiot public who seem to have learned nothing from the high school history classes...), ridiculous freaks like the movie-theatre shootings in Colorado become the focus of a vasty deep of feckless punditry, typically revolving around what these talking-heads have decided are the Critical Issues of the Day: vaginas and what people do with them, heavily-armed lunatics, and "entertainment".

The Colorado shootings catch two of three; boxcar!
The frustrating thing is that this crap is capable of ensnaring the most intelligent amoung us. A friend of mine put up a long blog post about this shooting - she lives in Colorado, so she felt particularly tied to it - and in it called this "another shattering event".

And that made me reflect on these sorts of mass-killings and how they fit in the human scheme of "mass-killings" and, y'know what?

What it makes me think is that we really are a nation of trembling nellies living in an immense and placid domestic tranquility.

And that's a wonderful thing, and I wish we'd realize it and grow the fuck up.

Because for most of the past 10,000 or 20,000 years humanity was regularly wrung out by real, monstrous, inescapable, awful horrors.


Barbarian invasions.

Truly appalling wars - wars like the Thirty Years' War, that made central Germany an utter wasteland.

Pogroms. Famines.

And the daily toll of the microscopic pathogens that injured and killed us that we had absolutely no understanding of or control over; dysentery, tetanus, childbed fever, smallpox, typhus, syphilis...

We died or were maimed in droves; thousands, tens, hundred of thousands, and had little if any expectation of anything better.

And here we are, screaming and shouting, making great matter because a single nutter managed to kill a dozen or so innocents.
Not exactly St. Bartholomew's Day, is it?

So here we are, in the midst of one of the longest spells of unbroken peace in Europe and North America since the Long Peace of 1815-1914...and we seem to be all aquiver about these little killing sprees and yet utterly unwilling to actually, y'know, doing something about preventing them.

Because there's a very simple solution; make it insanely difficult for insanely murderous people to get their hands on insanely efficient killing hardware.

Restrict the sale of multiple-shot ordnance to zero. Return to the arms that the Founders wanted us to "keep and bear"; flintlock muskets and pistols.

Mind you, I don't think that this is desirable or even possible.

But it would solve the problem.

But we don't - at least probably a good 40 to 60 percent of us don't - want to do that.
So, at the very least, we could act like adults and accept these little embarrassments as casually as we do the other deaths we're willing to shrug off; the immense tolls from highway accidents, drownings, bad parenting, and wars of choice.

But that would be expecting We the People to act like sensible adults, and as far as I can see we prefer to act like whiny titty-babies and always have, reacting to grim Fate with a combination of outrage and self-pity.


And our little cat is dying of cancer.
What a fucking world we live in, neh?

Nibbled by Goats, Gored by Steers

My beloved Timbers are not having a good July.

First the original first-division coach got the sack a couple of weeks back.

That wasn't entirely unexpected. John Spencer, good man that I believe he was, simply wasn't coaching for the 21st Century. His "tactics" seemed to be designed to see how much like the St. Mirren side that barely avoided relegation to Scottish Division 2 in 1963 we could play. Direct, naive, crude...that was Spenny. Nice guy; funny commercial. Just not ready for U.S. first-division prime-time.


His replacement was this guy.
I'd watched Gavin Wilkinson coach the USL Timbers back when we were in the Second Division. He was, fundamentally, Spencer with 90% fewer overlapping fullback runs. Crude? Yep, he was crude. Direct? Like a 2 by 4 upside the head his teams were direct.

So when the owner put him in place of Spencer I have to admit that my hopes weren't...high.

But I really didn't expect anything like this.
Or - worse - this.
As I've written before this; the 2012 season looks to be a truly awful one for the Timbers and, therefore, for us, their fans.

Now let me say this; I still love my Timbers. There's a song we sing after the enemy scores; "Rose City 'Til I Die, Rose City 'Til I Die, I Know I Am, I'm Sure I Am, Rose City 'Til I Die."
And that's how it is; win or lose, I and the other true supporters I know will be there singing for the Boys, for brighter and better days. We have to hope and believe that those days will come.

But it hurts. It hurts to see them play like this.

Onward, Rose City!