Friday, August 30, 2013

A Syrious Question

Thinking about this Syria tsurris, I have a question for the readership.

Let me start by saying that IN THIS CASE I see pretty much all the military options available to the U.S. as "bad". I don't see how anything short of a fairly massive effort will have any more than a nuisance effect, while anything short of a successful Turkish invasion and occupation (h/t to Sven in the comment thread over at MilPub!) has IMO a fairly serious risk of Somaliaizing this whole portion of the Levant. This particular case is one where the "First, do no harm" rule pretty much comes into force.


That said, what I'm wondering is whether the whole political drive from within the Obama Administration (aided and abetted, of course, by the usual Republican Warhawk Chorus Starring John McCain!) isn't a 2013 variation of the sort of thing that Great imperial Powers have always done to small states and peoples who irritate them?

At least here for the U.S. the actual "risk" is pretty minimal...there's little likelihood of losing three legions in a forest, or an entire punitive expedition in the Hindu Kush.

So while it's frustrating for U.S. citizens to watch our government do this stuff, I'm not sure how you avoid it unless you're sensible enough to not play the Imperial Game at all, and I can't think of a Great Power in history what hasn't, from the Expedition to Syracuse through Crassus' legions in Parthia to Adowa to Isandlhwana to LZ X-Ray...

I'm not trying to say "oh, well, it just is what it is.." or minimize the additional misery this will do to the already-pretty-damn-miserable country or that irritation with the ridiculous way it seems to being ginned up, but I guess I have wonder; is this another example of U.S. geopolitical/strategic cluelessness (as I think my man seydlitz would suggest)...or just a Great Power's instinct to hammer down any nail it doesn't like to see sticking up? Are Obama and his people making a unique mistake, or are they doing the same thing that Kublai Khan did in Java in 1293, Deng Xiaoping did in Vietnam in 1979, or Woodrow Wilson did in Mexico in 1916?

So my "big picture" question would be " there a way for the U.S. in particular to avoid this, or is this sort of thing a feature of being a Great Power, not a bug in this particular Administration or ANY U.S. Administration..?"

Because if the former, well, there would seem to be a way out of this damned rut. But if the latter...

I'm genuinely curious; what do you think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Get Syrious

I honestly have no idea what the hell is going on in the heads of the Very Serious People running my country with regard to this Syrian chemical attack.

First, let's start by assuming that Assad's guys did pull this off and slimed their own civvies.

Yeah, that pretty much sucks. Not exactly Final Solution or Armenian Genocide sucks, but up there on the scale of suckage somewhere.


My country has been happy to ignore this sort of nasty suckage when it wants to. What's magical about this?

Well, it's chemicals.

Now believe it or not, I actually buy that there's an argument that We the People have a national interest in ass-kicking people who throw chemical weapons around.

I don't AGREE with the argument, but I'll agree that there IS one.

To wit: We're the 800-pound gorilla of conventional war. If nothing else, Gulf Wars II and III convinced pretty much every other national leader with a functioning hindbrain that taking on Uncle Sugar in a conventional donnybrook was just stupid. You would get creamed. Period.

But bugs and gas (nukes, too, but those are ridiculously hard to get hold of or make) are great levelers. They're the sleeper hold of warfare. Comprehensively slime U.S. troops and you go a long way to reducing their combat efficiency to the level of just any other gomers.
(Now, obviously, the problem with this is that most Second and Third World troops are WORSE at operating in a CBR battlefield than US forces, but, whatever, if you're Assad you know your guys are just shit on toast anyway, right?)
The U.S. foreign policy (and military policy, since our foreign policy has become very militarized...) is to brook no peer foe. You try and compete with Sammie's Arsenal of Democracy? Here's some incoming for you, Tojo!

U.S. policy, as it currently stands, cannot accept the possibility of some crappy little ruler of some crappy little country trying to use chemical weapons to level the military playing field.

So clearly the U.S. doesn't want to encourage ANYBODY to think that way. So fuck Geneva and international law; it's in the U.S.'s best interest to remind anyone who even thinks of using chemicals that the result will be a massive ass-whupping of the most medieval sort. Peer through the fog of humanitarian bullshit (and that's not to say that some of the speakers don't ACTUALLY want to punish Assad for sliming his own people, assuming that his guys in fact did and in fact did it deliberately, something I consider still speculative at best...) and you'll find there's a hard core of naked self-interest here.

That's fine. Kinda shitty, but that's what nations are supposed to do; suss out their "interests" and act on them.

Again - that self-interest proceeds from the notion that the U.S. defense policy HAS to be based on bitchslapping everyone who even looks capable of cocking a snook at us.

I don't agree that this is a smart defense policy.

But it appears to be the one currently accepted in D.C. So I understand that the "leaders" there see the situation above in just the fashion I've described it. And, therefore, see a burning need to use force to "punish" the reckless foreign leader that crosses the line into chemical war.

BUT...again, here's my problem with this situation; the notion that punitive force is a "deterrent" or a "punishment" in this case is laughable.

Assad is playing the Game of Thrones in Syria; he wins or he dies. And he is, if not losing, at least not winning. So at this point he has little to lose risking American "punishment". He knows that the Yankees have no love for his enemies, and that they cannot do more than give him a love-tap for fear that his chaotic mess of rebel foes (who make Libya's TNC look like the Athenian civic improvement society, from what I can tell...) will up and take over.

Plus, frankly, for the U.S. to do this while ignoring all the other vile crap we've either encouraged (or at least ignored) in "friendly" states or places we didn't care about, from Saddam's sliming the Iranians back in Gulf War I to Rwandan genocide, to "yellow rain", to the Egyptian coup...well, if you're a person sitting in darkness it sure looks less like "justice" and more like the strong doing what they can...
I find it interesting that the British lawmakers aren't playing. They got into the clown car back in '03, and they've seen where this idiot carnival ride ends.
Put all of this together - the sorry record of the U.S. on this sort of "humanitarian" beatdown, the actual win-or-die facts in Syria, the huge mass of "unknown unknowns" surrounding what happens when the U.S. makes parts of Syria go boom - and it damn sure looks like a mug's game to me.

The only reason to do this seems to be so the Good People can say "We did something."

But "something" isn't always the sensible or useful thing to do. The old rule of medicine is Primum non nocere - "First, do no harm" - meaning that if you can't do good, actual good, foreseeable good, than the next best thing is to do nothing if doing "something" might do harm.

Frankly I see no reason why blowing the shit out of some barracks and ministries in Baghdad will do good, or nothing, instead of harm.

The sad and sorry part about this is that the U.S. has blood and treasure to piss away on this nonsense. We will drop a scattering of ordnance on Syria like Lady Bountiful's largesse and walk away whistling. There really isn't a downside to beating down these poor bastards a little further. We'll probably end up doing it and walking away whistling. A couple more dead camel-jockeys. Oh, well.

Except within ourselves, where we go a little further down the road to Iron Rome.

A little smaller, a little meaner, a little stupider. A little more willing to accept idiotic things, brutal things, pointless things, violent and secret things, evils, small and great, done with neither our assent nor our demur but instead with our bovine indifference. We stare at the television screen showing us the deaths and horrors of others as if they were a play, or as if it were a joke, or a sport, like bored children throwing stones at animals.

But as Plutarch says; the boys throw stones at the frogs for sport but the frogs die in earnest.

It seems that someone somewhere in Syria will die soon at the hand of my nation. The death, it seems to me, is unlikely to do anything but add another mite of misery to that miserable place.

And I have absolutely, positively, utterly no fucking idea what to do, or say, about that.

I am as clueless as any Senator or cabinet officer, and ten thousand times more powerless.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hey! Get those nuts off that cat!

I have a thing for soccer scarves. And I SO have a thing for this one:

"The Rose City Riveters have teamed up with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon and we’re selling a scarf to benefit them."

Hell, I'll wield the little kitty-gelding pliers myself... get my hands on one of these sweet mufflers.

The link here, by the way, is that our big-league soccer field has a bunch of feral kitties living down in the bowels of the stands. I blogged about that back in the spring of last year; if nothing else it made for a great two-stick.

And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that our own Nitty Kitty has lost her organs of generation, just in case you were thinking that I was one of those "no foolin' around for you but it's OK for me..." sorts of people.

Right, Nitty?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What whine goes well with salmon?

Driving home from field work up in the 'Couve today and I caught a ginormous version of this sticker on the back window of a pickup truck:

Get the picture? Naughty sea lion, stealing salmon off the hook.

You tend to see these stickers - I think they have a name something like "the salmon thief" - on various places and objects connected to sport fishermen around here, where salmon and steelhead are the grail of most anglers.

I won't kid you; every time I see one of these I either fucking laugh out loud, or sneer and shake my head at the joker flying it.

Because growing up my family drove home to me in the strongest possible terms the conviction that the worst thing a man or woman could do was whine.

If you got the dirty end of the stick you were welcome to rage to the people or person who handed it to you. Anger? Go for it. Fighting? Fine. Scorn? Hatred? Fury? All good. You were welcome to move heaven and earth to the extent you could if you had been wronged.

If that didn't change things, though, you sucked it up and drove on.

(That attitude helped me a lot in the Army, by the way. In case you were wondering.)

I learned that the very worst response to Life bitchslapping you was to sit there and whine about it.

That's what this salmon-thief sticker says to me. It's a pictoral whine; some guy with a boat and a fishing rod and the time to enjoy both of them pissing and moaning about a freaking marine mammal.

Thing is, the western North American coast pinnepeds - the California and Stellar Sea lions - evolved along with the salmon. The furry rapscallions have been gutsing delicious chinook and steelhead since the end of the Ice Age. They're also very bright and adaptive predators, and it was pretty much a no-brainer that when the hairless monkeys threw up a great big ginormous concrete wall to stop salmon swimming upriver that the sea lions were going to show up there for the buffet.


Humans blaming the sea lions for chowing on salmon that humans penned into a big ol' manmade fish trap is like blaming the hammer for hurting you when you fucking hit yourself on the head.

It's pretty damn stupid to whine about that, and it's pretty damn stupid for sport fishermen to whine about sea lions taking the salmon.

For one thing, the sport fishermen are the kaiju monsters of Columbia River fishing. They've pretty much already stomped the gillnetting captains flat and no agency or politician wants to mess with them. They get the real lion's share of the fish coming up the river.

And for another, the sea lions aren't the real problem.

The dams are the real problem.

Don't get me wrong. I like electricity. I would have been right there on the banks of the Columbia in 1934 cheering the first trainload of concrete into Bonneville. I understand why we built the dams and why we still keep them today.

But they're fish killers. The dams - not the sea lions, not the dredging or the pollution or the logging or the development (though none of that shit helped) - killed the great runs that astounded the first white men, the runs that left them awed and talking about "walking from Oregon to Washington on the backs of the salmon".

The dams are the real salmon thieves.

But for the sport fishermen to take on the dams they'd have to actually punch up; take on the huge and powerful interests that line up with the dams here in the Northwest; the Bonneville Power Authority, regional power companies like PGE and every little pud-pulling Public Utility District. Dryland farmers addicted to cheap irrigation water. Cites and towns, industries that loves them some cheap hydropower. Homeowners, rate-payers, state legislators.

That'd take some actual grit, some real cojones, to try and force all those people to make the big changes in the dams that would need to happen to save the wild salmon runs. To rage and fight at the real salmon thieves. Instead of driving around with a silly goddamn sea lion sticker on your truck.

Ain't that America, though?

So when I see these silly sea lion stickers I can't help but sneer, sheeyah, nice, monkey boy, punching down the evolutionary tree you big man, you.

How about some nice baked chinook with that whine?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Morning Talk with Missy

Little Girl - I think I've told you - lives to get up early.

So do I. Or, often, I have to get up early to get to a job site before seven or so.

It isn't unusual for the two of us to share the morning hours just after, or sometimes before, dawn.

So it was the other morning when, sitting at the computer in the front window, I heard the soft scuffle of blankets and the then thumping of small feet coming down the hallway and turn to see Little Miss emerging from the hall; tousleheaded and sleepy-eyed, clutching her favorite pink kittycat blanket in one hand and her beloved "stripey wubbie" in the other. She did as she often does; airborne-shuffled over to the couch, made herself a nest of blankets, wubbie, and pillows, and curled up near the armrest in a warm little-girl pile.

And I did what I often do; went and got a cup of coffee (black as night, hot as sin, rich and earthy and sweetened with cream) and sat down on the couch with her.

She took a moment or two to rearrange herself so she was cuddled up against my side and tucked her glossy black head under my arm. From the way she was sitting I could tell that I was in for a busy morning.

Sometimes the Girl get up but doesn't really wake up. When she does she just drapes herself over me and goes back to sleep. Or dozes on top of me quietly.

Those are very peaceful mornings, but rare. Usually once Little Miss is out of bed she's ready to start asking about the world around her. I enjoy hearing what's on her mind, and we are both more morning persons than not, so I waited for her first question.

Missy is the Girl of A Thousand Questions.

What is air? Why are ducks? When did you live with pre-Mommy? Why was Quinn Dog so dumb? She can and will ask questions about anything and everything. She also asks questions that you know she knows the answer to, or questions to which you have just told her the answer; she seems to do this because she likes making you answer. The Girl just likes to ask questions.

This morning's was: "Why did you and Mommy get married?"

I explained to her about how I loved Mommy and wanted to be together with her, and how we got certain tax breaks for being married, and plus it was a promise we made to each other that meant that we felt a special way about each other.

"What are tax breaks?" asked Little Miss, but before long she got bored with the explanation and asked:

"Why was The Boy in Mommy's tummy when you got married?"

I reminded her about how we had lost Baby Bryn, and how we wanted to have another baby, who turned out to be her big brother.

She thought about that for a while, and then asked: "When DID you make Baby Peeper?"

I tried to think the timing back, and explained that we had made him some time earlier that year, probably in the springtime.

"How do you make babies?"

Hmmm. Okay; well, I explained that grown-up men and women made babies by having sex, making love. From there we embarked on a digression about heterosexual reproduction, which involved discussing plants and animals and how they were the same and different than people. Missy said that she knew how people made babies; by humping. I said that Mommy and I had felt safer staying with the tried-and-true methods, so that was how we had made Baby Peeper.

"By humping?" squealed Missy incredulously, confronting for the first time (but probably not the last) the icky possibility that her mom and dad know...ick!

And I should add that Missy knows about humping because...well, she does. I don't know where kids pick up this stuff; probably from one of her daycare or first grade pals. She does know about dogs humping, since she's seen it, and that Quinn the Dog used to hump his beloved chewie toy Mister Prickles and sort of understands what it means when people do it. I have questioned her and understand that she doesn't know exactly how it works, which is exactly what she then asked me then.

Nothing like a clinical question about sex from a seven-year-old at 6:30 in the morning to jump start your brain. I tried to figure out how to explain this without using terms that Little Girl wouldn't understand.

"Ummm...well, the thing is, the man has his sperm (remember, it's like the pollen from the boy part of the plant..?) inside his 'nards. And he uses his wiener to put it inside the woman's body, into a place where she has an egg called the uterus."

"How does he get it in there."

"Well, he puts his wiener in her puff-puff."

"In her puff-puff! That's GROSS!" the little one cried.

Well, yeah, it's a grown up thing, I said. Right now it seems pretty gross to you and it SHOULD.

But that's because you're little and your body aren't ready to make babies. When you're older, about 14 or 15, though, your body is going to change. You'll get this thing called "puberty". The shape of your body will change, and some things it will do will change (and if you think I was then going to get into the subject of menstruation, you're fucking nuts...), and most of all it will change some things inside your brain. You will start thinking about other people - boys, maybe, mostly, though some girls think this way about other girls - not just as people but as people that you might make babies with."

"Ewwww! I don't want to make babies."

Not now you don't, and that's good; you shouldn't want to make babies. But when your body changes it will change some of the way you think about things and people. It will want you to make babies so it can do with it's made for. So it will make you think differently about some people, even people you probably shouldn't want to think that way about, because it's not smart and just wants to make babies. Sometimes your body isn't very smart about making babies."

"Why does it want to make babies?"

So there will be more people. It's the same with flowers and trees and kitty cats and people; our bodies, like the cats and the flowers, are designed to make new people and cats and plants.'s the thing; we're smarter than cats and flowers. We don't HAVE to make babies unless we want to, or until we're ready to. So when your body says "Ooh! Make babies! Make babies!" your brain has to say: "Shuttup, you dummy! I'm not ready to make babies!" So you tell your body that it's not time for humping.

And sometimes that's hard, because your body gets kinda stupid. So you have to be smarter than your body.

"I don't want to hump anything, so I'm smarter than my body or you or Mommy or Peeper, 'cause he probably wants to hump stuff."

I suggested that he probably didn't and received a skeptical look in return; her brother is often the Root of All Evil. But the answer seemed to satisfy her.

Missy sucked her thumb for a bit, and peeped up;

"Who is smarter, you, or Mommy?"

I looked down at the warm little body curled up beside me, remembering her lost older sister and her mother's grief for her, how her mother cried in the night during the seeming endless fortnight in China, her soul flayed by what I think I described as "...the fraying delicacy of closening exhaustion" as she pursued the dream of a little girl to raise and love.

Of how so much of who this little person is - her warmth, her love, her curiosity, her feisty gentleness - mirrors her mother because my bride's bottomless well of patience and love has instilled them in her or fostered those of them already there.

Of how much of our success as a family is because of my wife, her mother.

Of how bright and curious and intelligent the little girl beside me was growing, and how clever (and know-it-all-ish and independent) her brother has become.

How lucky I am to have a houseful of smart, loving people around me.

I smiled out at the growing light, took a drink and pressed my coffee-warm lips to the cool sheen of her hair.

"I think you are, Little Question. Then Mommy. Then Peeper. Then maybe me."

"Well, you ARE pretty dumb, Daddy." she signed happily, wriggling deeper into her blanket-nest, silent for a moment. I listened contentedly to the silence.

For a moment.

"Why did Quinn like to hump Mister Prickles."

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Painters Arrive

One of the irking things about home-ownership is entropy.

The damn house just keeps wanting to fall apart. Gutters sag, shingles drop, cabinets bind, and most irritatingly the exterior paint keeps getting more and more brittle, cracked, and flaking.

I was thinking about this as I wrote the preceding post about Detroit; one of the things they don't teach you in school is that when you come to own a house how much of your own free time and labor is going to be spent just keeping the sonofabitch from collapsing into a quivering heap of plaster and wood shavings.

Carpenter ants, mold, rain damage, sun damage, leaky pipes, root damage...every damn force of Nature and mankind seems to have it in for your house, and you will end up spending a bloody fortune and multiple hours trying to beat back these various agencies and forces. The labor feels Sisyphean and the results seldom rewarding; you know you'll be back at it again next week or this winter or next year. Entropy is a constant, implacable enemy.

This week Mojo and I finally accepted that the Little House has got to be repainted. The exterior paint was in horrible condition and since we have the old wooden clapboard siding a good, tight paint cover is essential. So we called several of our local painters and contracted with one to strip and repaint the place.

Of course no household work is ever simple, so when the painters tested the exterior coating they found lead paint at the bottom. The removal and cleaning would therefore have to be done to EPA lead-handling standards, which means this:

And, of course, this also meant that the week leading UP to the painters was dominated by removing exterior decorations and any and all items piled, stacked, leaning, or adjacent to the exterior walls; you can see in the right front the stack of garbage and recycling bins, my exercise bike, etc. that had to be dragged away from the walls to allow the painters access;

Today the guys should finish up the cleaning and stripping and be able to start on the white primer. Who the hell knows how long that will take.

Then it's the white overcoat, and the goldenrod and green trim.

Don't make me think about the cost; as with keeping a mistress, the pleasure of painting is transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.

At least it got me and the kiddos out of the house Sunday for a bit of a kickabout.

Oh, and remember I mentioned that I'd been working a bit this summer. Well, my beloved old steel-toe work boots had enough; last week on a paving job up in Ridgefield they finally blew out and died.

I'll miss them; they were good, sturdy boots and alas, where come another? From the Red Wing store, I imagine. Another damn thing to buy.

Honestly. You ought to get a new pair of work boots every time you repaint your house.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Heart of Darkness

I tend to tread very carefully around jim and Lisa's place these days. I try and avoid getting folks' ire up over there. Still, I check in every once in a while and so it was just the other day that I caught jim's two posts on the current devolution of the City of Detroit.

I don't have much connection with that sadly diminished place. I only know largely what you know; it's become a byword for the Third-World-in-the-U.S., it just went officially bankrupt, and it's something of a touchstone for everyone, black or white, with a theory (crackpot or otherwise) on race, society, and the current state of the Nation.

However; Mojolicious DOES have a connection with the former Motor City, and a close one. Her thesis work in "Urban and Regional Planning" was funded by grants from the City and a variety of social agencies and was intended to provide some ideas, and, hopefully, solutions to one of the most blighted areas in the city.

I know my bride is a tough woman, but it took some pretty big stony ovaries for a young white woman to walk around that particular part of Detroit back in the late 1980s talking to people, taking notes, and gathering statistical information on things like demographics, employment, crime, marriage and pregnancy, and personal and family histories. She has some pretty hair-raising stories about encounters with the local gangsters. She also has some pretty amazing stories about what she saw and did there.

The result was a 300-page description of the neighborhood, where it was, how it had gotten there, and where it was headed. The whole macguffin culminated in a presentation of her thesis, methods, data, analysis, and conclusions before the Detroit City Council and the agencies that had funded her.

Before the presentation Mojo went to her thesis advisor, presented her data, and then summed it up. Had Joseph Conrad ghosted her thesis he might have expressed it thusly:

"Exterminate the brutes."

Mojo didn't gloss over the outside factors that had played an immense, often critical role, in the devastation of her study area. The lingering effects of slavery (broken families, poverty, poor education, social fragmentation) and racism. Brutally oppressive policing. Official disinterest. The loss of paying jobs as companies closed up or fled, and the massive, vicious white flight (and educated, middle-class black flight to a lesser extent) that robbed the City and the area of the most capable and engaged citizens.

She reminded her advisor of Detroit's white community's role as massive dickheads who refused to consider their black fellow Americans as, well, fellow Americans.

She also didn't let the black residents off the hook for the problems they had caused themselves, particularly the 1967 riots that had turned white flight from a torrent into a flood and the endemic gangsterism, school dropouts, early pregnancies, and overall assumption of victimization and passive laying about.

But her conclusion wasn't primarily about the past or the present but the future.

And she concluded that the neighborhood as then constituted just didn't have any.

The place was simply a wasteland. There were few paying jobs, and so few residents actually worked a regular job that most of them had no experience or acquaintence with the notion of just getting up five days a week, getting put together, going to work and working eight hours.

There were few parents who were parenting, and even fewer who could parent effectively.

The handful of people who were actively pursuing some sort of enterprise were largely criminals; ironically, drugs and crime were the "job-creators".

Her recommendation would be familiar to any commander confronted with a broken combat outfit; break it up, disband it, discharge the truly wrecked troopers and spread the saveable survivors out as individuals or tiny groups into more confident, successful units in hopes that they would regain their confidence and become soldiers again.


Her advice was that the neighborhood needed to be razed - she left out the part about sowing the ground with salt but knowing my bride it was probably implied. The people had to be parceled out into better neighborhoods, with close supervision and direction from social workers and agencies, where they could be overwhelmed by the mainstream habits of their neighbors and their dysfunctional outlook on life - as with the whipped soldiers - replaced with confidence and the skills to succeed. Many of them would literally have to be returned to life's Basic Training and rebuilt with a completely different attitude if they were to have any hope of even breaking even at life.

And many of them were simply beyond hope. They were doomed for prison, or death, and there was little anyone could do at that point to change that.

Mojo's thesis advisor was horrified. She flatly refused to present Mojo's thesis to the Council or the agencies. Instead she skimmed through her data, omitted the most damning conclusions, and added some (in light of Mojo's hard statistical analysis) pollyannaish conclusions that suggested that some tweaking here and a program or two there would help the neighborhood recover. The Council and the agency reps nodded sagely and proceeded to move on to the next item on their agenda.

Mojo left Michigan that year with a sick and sour distaste for the entire business; her department, her advisor, the people who commissioned her study and had no interest in the actual conclusions enough to actually read it. Oh, and for the entire "science" of "planning", which apparently considered the collection of actual hard data superfluous to their discipline...

Needless to say, her study area is worse off now than it was twenty-something years ago.

Here's the thing; Mojo actually had a working solution to the problems of the City of Detroit. It was hideously expensive and would have created massive hardships both for the governments and organizations involved, the residents of the blighted neighborhood and the residents of their "gaining units" that would have had to pitch in to fix these sorry bastards. It would have required a complete alteration of the ideas and prejudices of veryone involved, black and white, and an acceptance that a) the "culture" of the ghetto neighborhood was broken beyond repair and had to be discarded while b) the "culture" of the white suburbs - hating and fleeing the blacks of the urban core - was broken and had to be discarded, too.

Everyone would have hated it.

The optimists on the Left would have decried "blaming the victims" and "disrespect for African-American culture"; the pessimists on the Right would have snarled that helping negro gangsters wasn't their job and whined about losing their purity of essence.

(And from the wingnut Right there would have been even loonier loons shrieking and flinging poop, loons whose "solutions" would be based on their "life experiences" in suburban malls, intellectual ideals culled from Ayn Rand novels, and an ignorance of actual power vacuums that would have made Thomas Hobbes into Snake Plisskin, but, shit, that's the state of the Wingnut Nation these days...)

And, anyway, who are we kidding?

There was never a hope in hell that anyone was going to spend the time, money, effort, and risk the chance of spreading the negro virus out of the containment areas to "do something" about the people in that neighborhood. In their ghetto the blacks were quarantined.

Doomed, yes, but safely away from the healthy people.

To try and "do something" - something that might have actually worked; changed those people's lives, given them work, culled the herd to separate the sheep from the goats, saved the saveable and exterminate the unsalvageable - would have risked "us", the nice people, the good hard-working, tax-paying Americans, the salt of the earth.

Would have required us to do more than roll up our windows on our Subarus, lock the doors, and drive on.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Late Summer

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

~ Jennifer Grotz

Damn, I'm good

There are all sorts of things I'm not very good at.

It's not that I don't do them, or like them, but a lot of the things I do and like to do I'm just not very accomplished in. I cartoon, but not like a real cartoonist and write but not like a real writer; nobody would pay me money to draw or write for them. I'm fascinated by history and military history (as you probably know) but nobody would hire me as a professor of history or to lecture on the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol.

I love to sing but I'm not a very good singer. I adore my bride but nobody ever confused me with a Great Lover (though I practice as much as she encourages me to...). I love my kids but will never be Father of the Year.

I still try and play soccer and lacrosse to the extent my hip will let me, but I was never better than a mediocre amateur player in either one.

I can cook a mean feojoada but I'm not good enough to be line chef at Denny's.

So I'm no different than most of any of us; I can whittle a bit, splint a fracture, ride a motorcycle, sew a seam, discuss a play, give a foot massage, be gracious when complimented, argue a point, paint a fence, share a companionable silence...but only to my limits which vary from severe to trivial.

But one thing I can do; I can do geology.

Late this morning one of my engineers asked me a question; "What's the age range of Holocene (that is, younger-than-10,000-year-old) sedimentary deposits in the Grays Harbor region of Washington State?"

Now I gotta tell you; I know from squat about the Holocene deposits in Grays Harbor. Never worked there, never really studied the place.


I DO know who has. And so I started chasing down the work of Brian Atwater and Curt Peterson, two geologists who have studied the impact of tsunamis on the Oregon and Washington coast.

When the Cascadia subduction zone detonates it typically does two things; it drops the coastline down anywhere from a couple of feet to a couple of meters, and it generates a big wave, a tsunami, that washes over the now-lower-coastline. This is usually preserved in the stratigraphic record as a layer of ocean-bottom or continental shelf sand over organic bay or even upland deposits. The old forest (or coastal swamp) is dumped into the ocean and then the big wave dumps the sand on top. Oh, and after that there's usually a slow uplift, so above the tsunami sand you get tide flat mud or even marine or beach sand that slowly gives way to upland soils and topsoil.

The two guys Peterson and Atwater have been studying this since the 1980s, and in the process have had to do a lot of drilling and coring along the Oregon and Washington Coasts. So I figured that if I tracked down their research I'd come across something that would point me in the right direction.

And as it happened, within twenty minutes I'd pulled up Peterson and Phipps (2012); a study that gave a direct correlation between sediment depth and age at Grays Harbor.

I provided the information to the engineer less than an hour after he'd asked the initial question.

Life has provided me with the usual number of censorious looks, shaken heads, pursed lips, and drawn-down brows. I've had my normal share of being laughed-at, bitched-out, and cussed at. I tend to think of myself as, I suspect, most mentally-healthy non-flaming-asshole people do; a mixture of accomplished and incompetent, a middling-sort of person with no more than average gifts.

But every once in a while I'm afforded a wave of pure satisfaction; every so often I scare myself by being extraordinarily good at something. Geology is one of those things.

I may never be a great artist, or lover, or leader, or singer, or father, or husband, or human being.

But geology?

I'm like a fucking Zen master at that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Today and Yesterday

We had nothing else to do last Sunday so I pulled out the shotgun, forced the wife and children into the Subaru, and drove out to the eastern edge of the Coast Range to go fossil hunting.

To be exact, we went to two of the locations shown on the map to the left: first, to #6:
"A fossiliferous outcrop of the Keasey Formation occurs in a prominent cut along the Nehalem River on the east side of the road from Timber to Vernonia, 3.0 miles north of the junction with Sunset Highway. The locality is about 3 miles south of Locality 5. Large pelecypods of the genus Thyasira are found at this outcrop."
And, sure enough, that's just what we found.

The little peeps were excited about finding fossils but what was fun was watching them get excited in their own ways.

Little Miss stuck close to her mama, working the talus at the base of the slope along the highway, patiently looking over every rock and shard, exclaiming in her high little voice every time she found a bitty fragment of white shell or rounded thing that looked like a clam shell.

The Boy scampered up the hill right behind me, poking here and there but really wanting something big and gaudy. He got his shoes completely filthy.

Fortunately for both of them Daddy had been there before and knew right where to look to find the Good Stuff.

That's a Thyasira Missy's holding; a 23-million-year-old chowder clam.

Here's both the urchins with some of their finds:

The other visit was to "Trestle Quarry", stop #8 on the map, which is described in Steere (1957) as
"An abundantly fossiliferous zone in the Keasey formation is exposed in the cliffs at both ends of a high-curving railroad trestle which crosses Oregon State Highway 47 between Sunset Highway and Vernonia. The trestle is 6.2 miles north of Sunset Highway and about 8~ miles south of Vernonia. There is a parking space beside the highway at the base of this trestle. To reach the fossil localities at either end of the trestle climb a steep foot trail to the railroad bed above and continue along the tracks for a short distance. Many well-preserved fossil shells of Oligocene age may be collected from outcrops along the railroad. Fossil crinoids have been discovered at both ends of the trestle. About .2 mile beyond the north end of the trestle and adjacent to the railroad is the Smithwick Haydite quarry in which Keasey shale is freshly exposed and fossils are unweathered. Permission should be obtained to hunt for fossils in the quarry."
Yeah, well, that was then.

Today the old railroad grade is part of one of those rails-to-trails parks, and the State of Oregon has put the old quarry off-limits to fossil hunters. I found that out the hard way when, taking my Portland Community College historical geology class up there one autumn I was stopped, lectured, and cited by Mister Ranger. Somewhere I have the ticket I was issued warning me that if I was ever caught fossil-red-handed again I'd be fined and presumably spanked by the Parks Fossil Nanny.

Curiously, since my fighting-the-Fossil-Law-and-the-Fossil-Law-winning the Parks people have evidently give up trying to maintain the trail through the old quarry site. A new, fancy paved trail leads up the bluff and skirts the old quarry and the abandoned railway grade.

The forest is reclaiming the trail and the quarry. There isn't even a sign posting the old trail and adjacent high slope as out of bounds, and both are now very untenanted and becoming overgrown...

...and even the talus along the trail was pretty lean pickings from the glory days of yore when I came back from the trestle with the Dentalium, Thyasira, and Anadara that now sit patiently on my desk waiting for me to return from the field...

But for all their moaning I think the kiddos had fun. I did, oddly, exercising a skill I seldom use anymore and teaching younger people about the yesterday buried deeply in the voiceless hills and silent slope we speed past on our way to some urgently transient today.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vibennius' Revenge

I know, I know. You're thinking, what, has this sonofabitch just wandered off an left the damn blog? Has he up and died, like the poor dude over at Bats Left/Throws Right?

No, and no.

It's just that I don't really have anything to say at the moment on the subject of politics that isn't a profanity-laden rant full of vitriol and bile. The Great American Parade of Stupid seems to be endless, and I see how ranting on this blog will change that. Seriously. I can repeat "Ceterum censeo GOP delendus est" until Michelle Malkin hooks up with Te-Nisi Coates and it will do absolutely not a goddamn thing to change the central reality of my country's politics which is that the "conservative" of the two parties we allow ourselves has gone completely, utterly batshit crazy, gobbling on about Agenda 21, death panels, and deficits while half the country is out of work, living in the back of their Ford Fairmont, and scrounging meals off the Salvation Army.

So. I can't write about politics.

Battles? I've got a piece on the strategic aspects of the Stalingrad campaign I'm working on for the "Battle" in August, but that's a couple of weeks away.

Personal stuff? Domestic bliss? I've had little or no time for pondering the majesty of a Northwest summer what with work and kiddos and you can't possibly want to hear about either one. I don't have any really cute or interesting stories to tell. I have been getting worked up about our local women's soccer team but the product of that is on display over at my soccer blog Slide Rule Pass; gauging from the pageviews you could give two shits about my love affair with Thorns FC...

And speaking of pageviews that's really the other factor.

I don't want to write this blog for pageviews. I'm not Slate (thank God...). This is just a place for me to entertain myself, get whatever writing I have out of my system, and talk to the small group of people who come around to visit. But...

The reality is that it's the "Battles" pieces that are about the only thing that about 95% of the visitors here come to read. If you looked at the stats you'd see that the only posts with more than 100 pageviews is either a "battles" piece or something connected with p0rn, like the one with the Tom of Finland picture as the illustration. Ah, Internet, you ARE for p0rn, aren't you?

Almost every other post has less than 50 views; most of them much, much less, typically somewhere between 10 and 20 views.

So I'm pretty much talking to myself here.

So frankly, unless I have something to say there's no real point in talking.

My mother used to say that if you didn't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all.

Since I can't seem to come up with anything, then, instead let's go to a man who knew how to write when he wanted the venom to positively drip from his pen.

Take it away, Brother Catullus:

A Suggestion: to Vibennius

O first of the bath-house thieves
Vibennius the father, with sodomite son
(since the father’s right hand is dirtier,
and the son’s arse more all-consuming),
why not go into exile, to some vile place?
Seeing the father’s pillage is known
to us all, and the son’s hairy arse,
you can’t sell for a farthing.

Now THAT's poetry.

Esther Williams 1921-2013

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with my appreciation for the films of the Studio Period.

One of the most intriguing and at the same time peculiar stars of that era was Esther Jane Williams, the "Million Dollar Mermaid".

Williams has always held an odd sort of fascination for me because her place in American film is so...bizarre. She said it herself: “I know I can’t act. I know I can’t dance. I can’t sing, but I’m going to keep trying until I get it right.” Her movies were almost interchangable, the only differences the setting or the names of the characters. They were bright, cheerful, accessible, and trivial; in some ways like the lady herself.

She is also intriguing because in a movie world full of tiny, petite little women she was a titan. Like many of the best swimmers she was tall, broad-shouldered, and long-legged. And that wasn't all that was big about her. Look at her pictures; the woman had nature's swim fins on the ends of her legs. I haven't found any sources that will come straight out and talk about Esther's shoe size but I'll bet she wore a women's 10 or 11. Not a bad thing for a competitive swimmer, but I'll bet the studio costumers and camera guys had a hell of a time ensuring that she never got photographed with those big ol' dogs right in the camera. Wouldn't do for the lads to see the girl had some big, strong feet, right?

I wonder if her arch-enemy Gene Kelly cracked wise about her ginormous hooves? He certainly seems to have snarked about all the other aspects of her size during the filming of Take Me Out To The Ball Game...

She had wretched taste in, or luck with, men. The ones that she got on well with were married to other women; the ones she married were frightful - the first was neurotic, the second drunk, and the third, Fernando Lamas, a psychiatrist's poster boy for priapic self-centered egotism. Once when Esther has an argument with him he tells her that he isn't going to do something purely because she wants to do it, and that is what's going to happen every time she wants something other than what he wants.

"Then the best thing for me to do is not to want anything, right?" she says, to which Lamas replies serenely;

"Yes, that would be best."

William's "autobiography" - which is where I culled this gem - is a delight, full of gossip about the Hollywood of the studios and stars of her day. Esther dishes the dirt, too, and for all that she is often elliptical she comes across as a woman who knew what she wanted. Her biggest troubles always seemed to come from men and her weakness for them. She doesn't come right out and say it but you get the feeling that Esther was a bit of a lusty lass who tended to ignore her man's other bad news if her man was good at pleasuring her.

In later life - after Lamas' death - she seems to have found a great deal of satisfaction in her businesses and the "sport" of synchronized swimming. She seems to have finally found a good man who was good to her (and good with her, since though in her autobio she finally shuts up about her carnal escapades after Lamas it's hard to imagine Ms. Williams being happy with a fella who couldn't make her shout when the lights went out...). She died peacefully in her sleep at 91 after twenty-five years with her husband and kids beside her and a happy ending to a busy life.

And speaking of that...for what it's worth, I'm not sure that I don't believe her story about Jeff Chandler and the striped dress. Chandler's people got into a tizzy and Esther sorta-kinda said that she might have made the story up. But no reason that Jeff couldn't have been all man AND a cross-dresser. It takes all kinds. Thank heaven.

Well, Esther went to the big Pool in the Sky this June.

We will never see another like her. She was a creation of a studio system that is long gone, and a public whose taste in entertainment has vastly changed since her stardom. Her films, her family, and her odd little sport, though, remain behind so she will remain a shining smile and a sparkle in the eyes of those who come upon her works.

Not exactly a bad legacy, that.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday Jukebox: Edger Allen Poe Edition

Again with the Celtic/bluegrass/Poteen-American (aka "Scots-Irish") roots music?

Sorry, that's how we roll here at the Fire Direction Center.

Seriously, though, Jarosz has an amazingly mature voice and musical idiom for a woman of (at the time) only nineteen. Her recent material has the same lyricism with more heft. Wonderful musician.

(h/t to the Music Penguin for introducing me to this artist; thanks, man!)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Sky Blue, Blue Skies

(This is a repost of my contribution to the Portland soccer website Slide Rule Pass. I liked it enough to put it up it here, but it is about soccer, and women's soccer, so if you dislike soccer, or women, please feel free to stop reading. Or you might skip to the end, where I do have some observations about the social divide between Portland's soccer cultures I got a little taste of last night.)

Portland woke up gray and drizzly, probably looking very similar to the way Jim Gabarra and the gals from Sky Blue FC are feeling after dropping to third in the NWSL.

Wednesday night Portland Thorns FC did the business they couldn’t last Sunday and hung a 3-1 whipping on the Jersey Girls.

Mind you, in the larger sense all that did for PTFC was set up a huge match this coming Sunday with the league leaders, FC Kansas City. But sufficient to the day is the soccer thereof. Let’s just take a quick look at last night and see what might have made the difference between giving up two points to Chicago last Sunday and hammering three out of SBFC last night.

Portland’s attack continues to be ferocious. That was the biggest similarity between the two matches, the intensity of the revitalized Thorns strikers. PTFC outshot SBFC 25-12, including 13-4 on goal but the numbers alone don’t really give a good sense of how different the two clubs looked last night. Thorns FC threatened from the opening whistle – Shim was desperately unlucky not to score in the first minute – to the final one. Sky Blue did what they could, given the depletion of their strike force, but relied largely on a counterattack that was generally well handled by PTFC.

While I’m here, let me shout out both Meleana Shim and Allie Long. Shim was perfectly positioned to clean up the mess Alex Morgan made firing twice at SBFC’s keeper Loyden at pointblank range.

And Long got some karmic payback for Mautz’s golazo Sunday, crafting what amounted to the identical play with the identical result for Portland’s third goal. Allie has been working her tail off on defense for the past month and it was nice to see her enjoy her beautiful strike.

And Alex Morgan. Let’s just say that the Thorns’ marquee player had a fire and a ferocity I wish she’d display every match. Her first half equalizing strike was beautifully taken, and Wednesday night she was in every way what Rose City supporters dreamed of and opposing fans feared; a game-changer and a force of nature.

Well played, Alex.

Portland’s midfield has been Tobinized. I was skeptical, I admit it; I didn’t see how the addition of a single player, no matter the quality, would fix the problems Thorns FC had been displaying in midfield. Well, for the record, I’m eating my words. Heath has made a vast difference, and Thorns midfield is finally showing the cohesion and composure we’d hoped to see from the opening match.

From what I can see Heath does this both with her own skills and the way she plays off the others. Her dribbling is far and away the most accomplished in the midfield and was really on display Wednesday night. I lost count of how many times she danced between or within a brace or trio of Sky Blue defenders, but the effect was to repeatedly draw pressure, like a black hole in a red jersey, and repeatedly free up space around her.

Then she would deploy her other talent, a gift for accurate passing. Especially to her forwards, Heath is capable of providing the sort of deadly service that makes her every possession a threat to the opposing goal and forces the defenders to concentrate on her as SBFC had to and as a result opening up opportunities for the Thorns around her. But she also makes her midfielders more effective, threading passes to them that would have been picked off three weeks ago. Wednesday night the Thorns midfield was no longer a place where the Thorns’ attack went to die, and I give Heath a huge portion of the credit for that.

I’ve seen other players do this, raise their teammates to a higher level, but it’s been delightful to see it here. Heath makes her midfield partners play better, gives her defenders a reliable outlet when pressed, and provides the service to make her forwards more deadly. That’s pretty damn impressive for one player.

Well played, Tobin.

Portland’s defense did a vastly better job of avoiding the derps that cost them Sunday. Not entirely; the lone Sky Blue tally was a 17th minute own-goal that combined poor positioning by Karina LeBlanc with a head-scratching flick-on from Nikki Marshall jumping above the PTFC wall that looped Freel’s free kick neatly into Marshall's own net.

In the second half Karina made up for her gaffe by stoning SBFC’s Ocampo’s 54th minute breakaway but with the entire PTFC backline puffing along behind thoroughly beaten by the well-placed long ball. Karina still had to make some other big saves, notably in the 13th minute when she dove to her right to palm a Brittany Bock shot around the post.

I have to give credit to Coach Parlow Cone on this, too. She started the match with Allie Long nearly sitting back amongst the defenders; technically the formation might have been a 4-4-2 diamond but in practice it looked like a 4-1-3-2 with Long acting as a sort of midfield sweeper, chasing down the ball and harrassing Sky Blue’s Rangel into insignificance. And that brings up another huge difference…

Coach Parlow Cone’s substitutions looked timely and sensible. Opposed to Sunday, where her choices seemed ineffective at best and actively harmful at worst, Wednesday night Parlow Cone did what she failed to do in the earlier game. Sitting on a 3-1 lead with about a quarter hour to go she pulled Meleana Shim for Courtney Wetzel and shifted to a 4-2-2-2 (or a 4-4-2 with Long and Wetzel deep in the bucket). This allowed the PTFC centerbacks the freedom to stifle Ocampo and a hobbled Lisa DeVanna while the fullbacks and DMs cut off their wing service, played keep-away with Heath and Foxhoven, and generally made nuisances of themselves. The result was a calm and controlled fifteen minutes that saw the game out and secured the victory.

There’s a saying to the effect that the reward for work well done is more work. Wednesday night’s work was well done by the Girls in Red; their reward is a meeting with a surging Kansas City Sunday. Last Sunday I looked ahead with a great deal of trepidation. Today I am a lot more confident. The Chicago clouds that loured upon our house are in the deep bosom of Sky Blue buried, and the hopes for sunny skies Sunday are suddenly once again on the rise.

Briefly Noted – The Sections of the Rich and Famous: For the first time since the renovation I watched part of the match from the East Stand, the “club” section of Jeld-Wen Field. I have to admit; several of those of us who normally haunt the North End call this stand the “Prawn-sandwich Patio” for the supposedly snooty and exclusive crowd it supposedly attracts. So I was curious to see how reality conformed to prejudice.

I tried to pick up a single General Admission ticket for the game but the on-line ticket service wouldn’t let me; the only seat it offered was over on the club side. As noted, these are expensive seats and I’ve never really had the urge to splurge. I wanted to see the match and didn’t have time to run down to the box office and try my luck, so I took the seat I was offered in Section C4, Row C.

And having been there, I have to tell you; it’s probably a very good thing that us unwashed proles standing behind the north goal don’t know how the Jeld-Wen 1% live. We’d be insanely jealous, rooting in squalor as we do.

First, club section seats are HUGE; my ass sighed in air-conditioned comfort as I wallowed about in the enormous bucket waiting for kickoff. Second, there’s a special little cup-holder on the back of the seat in front for your beer.

A cup-holder. For you. Yourself. For your very own beer.

The width of the rows is vast, with leg-room enough between your seat and the seatback in front for an NBA center. You can’t help it; you loll about like a Wall Street CEO surveying your minions with a sort of enormous well of contempt and self-satisfaction.

And the pitch!

So close, if you weren’t lolling about in your ginormous seat swigging your $9 beer from your very own cup-holder you'd feel like you could play a 1-2 with Tobin Heath.

It’s hard to describe the immense gulf between this luxury and the crowded terrace several hundred feet away, but lolling about in my club seat I suddenly understood how one could sweep past some grubby commoners in one’s Jaguar with not even so much as a sneer.


Before the match I kidded a Section 109 (our usual spot under the Shed) friend about practicing my “tennis clap” to fit in with the club stand crowd. That turned out not to be much of a joke. When you’re used to standing and singing, shouting and jeering at the enemy and crying out love for your team it just seems wrong to respond to great play with a polite spatter of applause.

But based on the other night, that’s what you do sitting in the club stand section.

Let’s just say the intensity there wasn’t…intense.

With the game and possibly the season on the line the girls behind me spent most of the first half talking about the cute boys on their rec league soccer team. The young guy two seats over did nothing but catcall the referee. Other than a burst of cheering for the Morgan goal the stand was so quiet you could hear the players shouting on the pitch. When the two teams ran off at halftime 1-1 the entire section erupted in a burst of frenzied…clapping.

So I got up to get a beer, snuck around and into the North End, and spent the second half standing in front of a tiny seat in a narrow row, my warming beer in my hands, singing amid the thunder of drums and feeling thoroughly, vastly, immensely, contentedly privileged.