Thursday, May 30, 2013

Skeptical Inquirer

For some reason my Facebook page has been overrun lately with people posting me things about how eeeeevil Monsanto is.

Now let me say for the record; I'll be the first to suspect Monsanto of any and all of the sorts of corporate malfeasance that corporations have got up to since the first couple of Sumerians got together to lowball the other guys in the Tigris Co-op.

But a lot of this stuff just seems...insensate.

For example, one person posted a link to some beekeeper who had his colonies confiscated by the Illinois Agriculture people. The article stated that this was connected in some nefarious way with corporate Big Ag; Monsanto was mentioned because of a connection between the Roundup pesticide and colony collapse.
"The Illinois Ag Dept. illegally seized privately owned bees from renowned naturalist, Terrence Ingram, without providing him with a search warrant and before the court hearing on the matter, reports Prairie Advocate News. Behind the obvious violations of his Constitutional rights is Monsanto. Ingram was researching Roundup’s effects on bees, which he’s raised for 58 years. “They ruined 15 years of my research,” he told Prairie Advocate, by stealing most of his stock."
Which makes absofuckinglutely no sense at all.

Look, I'll happily convict Monsanto of poisoning wells and sacrificing babies to Moloch. But pollinator and especially honeybee deaths are terrible publicity for the company; every time someone brings up honeybee problems pesticides are one of the major villains.

Why the hell would a company making pesticides want to stop someone from researching how to develop pesticide-resistance in honeybees?

I'm not saying that they didn't. I'm not saying that couldn't.

I'm saying that on its face the charge makes no sense. The saying in geology is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". If you were trying to prove that Monsanto's Roundup was killing honeybees then it'd make sense for Monsanto to want to shut you down. But the article is quite specific; "...they (the bees) could have been turned over to Monsanto to ascertain why some of his bees are resistant to Roundup." Roundup resistant bees? Whoa! Monsanto for the win!

Why the hell would Monsanto want to stop that kind of research?

I'll buy that they could - but you're going to have to produce a hell of a lot of proof before I do.

Along with this anti-Monsanto agitation there was a general irruption of anti-GMO posts, almost all of them talking about the horror of GM organisms. There was little if any actual biology involved. Here's a typical one: GMO Wheat Found In Oregon Field..How Did It Get There?

Well, duh.

A sensible person would answer "It got there the way any other volunteer plant gets anywhere, probably; bird or animal ate a seed, pooped it out in a corner of the field. Somebody dumped a pocketful of GM seed out on the ground. Wind. Act of God..."

The "why" - which is the breathless center of the whole fevered article - doesn't seem to be the real big issue here.

The bigger question that this article doesn't address is "Is there any evidence - hard, scientific evidence - that this GM wheat is a "problem"; that it endangers the mainstream wheat genome, that it produces harmful effects when ingested, that it has problematic genotypic characteristics that, if allowed to diffuse into the wheat genome, might cause trouble down the road"?

And why?

Well, because that's a goddamn hard question. And it probably doesn't have a quick or easy answer. Or one that lends itself to scary headlines about spooky GM wheat suddenly appearing like Freddy Kruger in a slasher movie.

There's a much, much better article tucked away in Scientific American that asks "What DO we know about GM organisms, what don't we know, and why don't we know it?"
"For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects."
Humans have been modifying organisms for millennia. We can now do it in a single generation unlike the previous breeders that had to work in lifetimes. And those changes are and should be daunting; who knows what genetic twist will torque a simple organism into the next Spanish Influenza, a new Potato Blight?

But how is the best way to deal with this to simply fear and forbid them? To demonize and scare-tactic about them, to set up a counter-anti-science in opposition to the GM organizations' anti-science? Is a blanket condemnation any better than the GM companies blanket denial of independent research?

Anyway.

About the same time there was also a flurry of "March Against Monsanto" posts in my in-box, and apparently this past Sunday about one-fourth as many people wandered around downtown Portland marching against Monsanto as turned out to see the Portland Thorns FC play the Washington Spirit a couple of weeks ago.

I didn't go. Neither did this guy, and he has a terrific post explaining why:
"Monsanto isn’t out to poison us or the environment. They are just one part of a system that is meeting demand for plentiful, cheap food. If Monsanto went away tomorrow, our food system would look almost the same, including all the problems. I believe that most people who went to marches today are actually concerned about the same thing I am: how do we produce enough food, fairly, for all with minimal impact on the environment? How do we achieve that? Setting up cartoon villains isn’t the way to do it."
That's kind of the crux of the biscuit, isn't it?

My Facebook friend(s) that post this stuff, and my bride's dear friend who shared her "MILFs Gone Wild" weekend, seem to have the same sort of thing going on. They are concerned. They protest, they agitate about certain causes, they march, the write letters. They do change their own lives; Geochick is a strict vegan and her family is, too.

But for all that they don't seem to be able to go further than "setting up cartoon villains". Wall Street. Monsanto. Obama. FOX News. GM wheat.

But they never seem to be able to actually change the things that power up those villains and their villainy.

A lot of these "villains" are villainous because the world and our society makes their villainy profitable. If it wasn't them it would be someone like them. To change the villain isn't enough. There must be a change in the world that profits the villainy.

But that sort of change?

It won't happen because three thousand of you march around Lloyd Center.

It can happen when tens of thousands of you storm prisons, and palaces. It can happen when you destroy those prisons, those palaces, your life and the lives of those around you. But that sort of change is fearful; it often replaces the bad with the worse, and the Tsar is overthrown only to set Stalin in his place.

The great promise of the U.S. is that it offers the public some of that change without the need to destroy. You can vote. You can woo and threaten and try and influence legislators. Hell, you can even buy one or two; ain't tradition wonderful?

I don't know what the hell to do about GM crops. But I do know that running and hiding in pure fear of them isn't a good option.

And using laws and patents to stifle research on them and prevent skeptical inquiry about them isn't one, either.

And most of all I wish to hell I thought that the U.S. circa 2013 was in any condition to make an intelligent and reasoned decision one way or the other.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dies Irae

I post this every Memorial Day. I don't feel quite the same level of suppressed anger this year as I did in the "Support the Troops" Dubya Years when this weekend became a pep-rally for wars that most U.S. citizens were utterly indifferent to other than as entertainment. But, still.

I have little or no hope that I can ever change the way this "holiday" is celebrated. There will be parades and movie festivals. Warplanes will flyover baseball stadiums. Flags will wave. People will "thank" someone in a uniform for service that was neither done for them nor has profited the serviceman or the civilian.

Few, very few, will visit a war cemetery and ponder the reasons we seem incapable of not making more war dead.

But I will continue to post this every year and hope.


It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.

The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.

The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched, high ground above the Yalu River.

The time it took for the resupply bird to come to FSB Albany for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.

The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.I've been proud to be a soldier, and don't kid myself that there will be a day when the killer ape "studies war no more". But the modern view of war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me. Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a steel nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out a world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to an entire universe, once.

That the price we pay for "forging our national will" is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.

Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want to achieve before we open the doors of the Temple of Janus.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pegging the Moron Meter

Yesterday we finished voting in our "special election" in northwest Oregon.

I've been following this little treasure mostly as a way of checking on the credulity and stupidity level of voters in the Portland metro area, and the final readings of the Moron Meter are now in.

First, on the issue of fluoridation of Portland's water supply, a bizarre coalition of looney Left and looney Right defeated fluoridation because...well, because fluoride isn't natural. God alone knows what these people - about 85,000 of them, by the way - think about pasteurization, immunization, the Germ Theory of disease, and quantum mechanics.

At least we're safe from those goddamn polio monkey serums.

I should note in passing that there are about 446,000 registered voters in Multnomah County, Oregon. And this election was, like almost all elections in Oregon now, done by mail. You didn't have to devote any time or effort to it. You opened the envelope, filled in the little ovals on the form, stuffed the thing back in another envelope and shoved it in the mailbox.

Only about 36% of the electorate - about 160,000 people - even bothered.

But aside from the usual non-interest in the election the real red light on my Moron Meter was pegged to these two guys:

First was a gomer named Lasswell who was running for a position on the Multnomah Educational Service District. Leaving aside the actual role of and value of the MESD, the part that caught me about this guy's ad in the Voter's Pamphlet was is complete and utter incompetence for anything relating to education or any other sort of political administration, for that matter.

The giveaway was his observation about how he was gonna do to the MESD what he'd done in the city of Anfal when he was a'servin' of his Country in Iraq. Because, as we all know, an impoverished Third World city rife with sectarian strife in a former Ottoman province now devastated by war is exactly the political equivalent of the Multnomah Educational Service District.

This goop got 25% of the vote.

Got that? This means that of the some 93,000 people in Multnomah County engaged and motivated enough in the political process to register AND to actually vote in this contest, one in four - 23,382 theoretically-sane individuals - were equally unable to make the same distinction Lasswell could not, between a smashed city in a Muslim state in the Third World and the educational administration of a mid-size American city.

One in four, people. One in four.

But wait; it gets worse.

This goof, name of Morrison, a genuine full-on, rubber-room, unapologetically whackadoodle bull-goose looney whose only issue as a reason for running for Portland Public School board was because WiFi makes your brain all funny (and I tend to agree that someone's brain was all funny here but not that WiFi had anything to do with that) got 18.7 percent of the ballots cast.

Almost 19 percent. Of the people who are probably in the uppermost quintile of engaged and politically aware and socially motivated citizens in the People's Republic of Portland. Nearly one in five. 12,165 people - more than were in the crowd attending that Thorns match I went to watch Sunday.

Voted for a complete and utter tinfoil-hat-grade lunatic.

You can say that, well, fine; the "process worked". The loonies lost.

But think; these are people who shouldn't have gotten anyone's vote. Lasswell, yeah, okay, maybe a handful of people who liked the idea that he was an ex-GI. But Morrison? For fuck's sake, people, the man is certifiable. Around the bend. Ripe for a canvas sportjacket with wraparound sleeves. And yet more than twelve thousand of you fuckers voted for him!

And then you complain about how we can't have nice things.

This is why, people. This is fucking why.

Because a critical minority of you will vote for absolutely goddamn anything no matter how idiotic.

Think about it; if almost one out of five of the most well-informed, motivated, and civically-engaged people in a nationally-known hotbed of social progressivism and intellectual liberalism will vote for a lunatic who is mumbling about electrical radiation melting his brain what the hell is going on out there in places where they think people like Limbaugh, Imhofe, Palin, and Bachmann have a functioning cerebrum?

Jesus wept.

We Are So, so, so, SO Fucked.

Why I DON'T despair

I think I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating; while I look outside my home and family and the Northwest I despair for my country.

But my life with my home, family, and my city in the Northwest is pretty damn good. We had a fairly typical weekend this past Saturday and Sunday and it goes a long way to show why I hesitate to throw that domestic contentment to the winds of political strife.

Saturday was rainy and cold, so we didn't drag out everything we had planned to try and sell to the curb. Instead we played indoors and then went to the Nickel Arcade where both my wife and son utterly spanked my ass at various racing games. The sight of my bride hunched over a pretend motorcycle made the losses endurable; nothing like having one's Fast and Furious fantasies lived out. Mmmmmm.

That evening we watched a film and read another couple of chapters of Ella Enchanted. It's been fun taking in part of both kids' increasing interest in reading, and the Levine "Princess" stories have played a big part (even for the Boy though he prefers Tolkien...)

The next day dawned clear if cool, so we set the yard sale debris outside. We were just bit players in the big production our neighbors and our friend Christine from SW Portland (who returned to her old neighborhood to hawk her junk) had planned.



Business was light enough to give us lots of time to visit with our friend and our neighbors, and for the kiddos to make s'mores on the firepit that warmed the cool morning:



It was a truly pleasant way to spend the morning. We visited with our neighbors all up and down and across the street, chatted with the thin stream of people who stopped off to look. And occasionally buy; our friend Christine sold her kid's bike and well as several pieces of furniture. We didn't make any money but at least got rid of the old black plastic compost bins the City handed out way back before they started curbside composting.



Even Fat Nitty Kitty got involved, doing some crucial sniffing and meowing.



This, by the way, was my favorite item:



And, no, that's NOT Mojo's wedding dress (if your wife's wedding dress turns up at a yard sale should you take that as a good indication that the magic is leaching out of your marriage? A cautious husband might well think so...) but a thrift-shop dress she picked up to cannibalize for the fabric and never did. I suspect that there's a sad little coda to someone's fairy tale there, but...

Mojo and Missy also experimented with tinfoil kite-making. This didn't seem to work well, despite the feather attachments that would seem to provide some sympathetic-magical lift (since birds fly, right?). Seems that there's a problem there somewhere.



Mid-afternoon Mojo and I left for Date Night; first, to watch our Portland Thorns women's soccer club play; you can read my observations here. Even the weather cooperated, breaking into a sunny Sunday just as our team won the match.

One of the things L love about Portland is...well, Portland. Everywhere else the new women's league is having tough times as all women's soccer leagues in this country have since the Nineties. Even the good teams have trouble drawing more than five or six thousand people and in places like Seattle and Chicago they're pulling less than 1,000 as often as not.

Here we may not give our gals quite the love we give the Timbers. But to pull 12,000 people on a sunny Sunday? That's pretty terrific.



After the match we headed back to North Portland to have dinner at our favorite little Korean-Japanese bistro Miho Izakaya. Getting there just before opening we strolled down to Overlook Park and found that the two little 1920's bungalows that had occupied the northeast corner had been Raptured, leaving just the basements and random stonework behind:



The effect was truly rather creepy. The garden that the former owners or tenants had kept up was still there out back full of spring fecundity, the old concrete stairs now leading up to nothing. The stonework was clean and crisp and utterly pointless without the surrounding houses. It was like one of those stories you read about Hiroshima where the people are vaporized and a pair of empty sandals or a shadow on a wall remain. Weird.

Still pondering this little mystery we enjoyed the pork belly and sweet egg, the yaki-imo, and the calimari salad at Miho, all rounded off with the firey nip of the imojōchū (sweet potato shōchū).



And discussed the sort of marital small change long-wedded people enjoy; domestic arrangements, future plans, kid quirks, local oddities. We wondered if anyone would buy anything we'd offered for sale. We agreed that we should do something about the old Ford pickup but not what. We talked of the trivialities that are the daily bread of love.

When we got home we were informed that we hadn't sold anything but that someone had taken the wedding dress off the tree and walked away with it.



What can you do?

Well, we went and played with the kiddos. I made a chorizo omlette for dinner. We watched some kidvid, and read some more Ella. And went to bed.

So you see, that despite my conviction that my country is going to hell in a handbasket, my own little world; my home, my family, my city, even my state are pretty damn fine. I live with good people and I know and am befriended by other good people. Our own little community - bar the occasional wedding-dress thieves - is a good one, a kind and generous one. This, then, is what I live for, to "tend my own garden" as Voltaire's Candide would have said. And perhaps it is there that I can do some good in turn.



But you'll have to excuse me; I need to go out looking for a vagrant wearing an old wedding dress.

We need to talk.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why I despair

One of the things that I find most difficult and at the same time most elidable is the persistence of "conservatism" in my country.

I've hammered away at this again and again; outside of the tiny fraction of people in the U.S. making an assload of money for nothing (and I count things like "investment banking" as nothing; moving piles of money from spot A to spot B should be worth about what you make for pumping gas, especially given that its become pretty obvious to me, looking at the performance of my IRA mutual funds, that you could duplicate the "market wisdom" of my "financial advisers" pretty closely by going to the zoo and taking a random monkey off Monkey Island, setting him up in the middle of a big chessboard and letting him fling his poop, and then moving your investment money around based on which square the shit lands in. Jesus.) the tenets of movement conservatism are bad for Americans and America. Bad socially, bad politically, and especially bad economically.

And yet, there seems to be a steady hard nut of about one-third of the electorate that refuses to budge away from this obvious idiocy. And, infuriatingly, I can neither explain nor understand it.

But along comes one Mr. David Grover who, in his comment on one of Pierce's posts, seems to me to nail it square in the 10-ring:
"30% of every OECD country polls fascist. That's just always been the case, for 150 years. In most modern wealthy democracies those people are afraid to express their opinions, because its commonly understood that people who hold those opinions are generally detrimental to the common good. That was the political lesson of WWII.

In the US however they get their own news channels and one-half of the political power, because for some reason around 1980 we all started feeling sorry for the narcissistic fantasists and sentimentalists that call themselves "movement conservatives," who told us they felt bad because they were left out of what they called "the Liberal consensus."

The Liberal consensus was really just an agreement not to let the aforementioned narcissists do what they do best, which is to monopolize the conversation and claim its all about *me* and *my pain* and what about *my people*, which in general prevents us from confronting actual real live reality, like genuinely poor people and genuine disasters like climate change. And we let down our guard, forgetting that these 30% always feel bad, because they really have nothing more to their belief system than a heightened sense of persecution coupled to a heightened sense of their worth. Everything else - their politics, economics, religion, sociology - is an attempt to rationalize those two basic principles: "I oughta be in charge, but my inferiors won't let me."

30 years later people in the media think they're entertaining and sell eyeballs so they give them a seat at the table, and they don't realize the fascists want all the seats and have bad table manners besides. And while the rest of us would like to pay attention to the reality we've ignored since Reagan first pretended he was President, the media and the conversation is dominated by these 30%, who refuse to give up their fantasyland, just as we should have known they would.

I'm not normally reductive when it comes to people, but that these 30% would hallucinate that they're hard done by and at the same time threaten the rest of us over their perceived injury is as predictable as flowers blooming in spring."
The nut graf is in the second-to-last paragraph: And while the rest of us would like to pay attention to the reality we've ignored since Reagan first pretended he was President, the media and the conversation is dominated by these 30%, who refuse to give up their fantasyland, just as we should have known they would.

Yep.

The connection between "for some reason" and "1980", by the way, is no coincidence. The election of Reagan and the whole "Reagan Revolution" was fundamentally the backlash of white people of both parties against Civil Rights. It was the result of the fraying of the New Deal coalition because the uppity nigras, beaners, wimmens, and other assorted dusky- and non-penile-Americans pushed for a place at the table. The wealthy white oligarchs who had been aching to reclaim what they saw as their birthright were able to use the anger of the poor white working-class who felt threatened by this to turn the national story around into blaming the poor people, the unions, and the Negroes for all the troubles in the world. This hasn't changed much since then. Look at us; mired in the sixth year of the Lesser Depression and talking about...deficits? Cutting people off food stamps and Social Security? While the rich are richer than ever and the stock market soars? While we farkle around fighting phantom "terrorists" in Africa and Asia?

Are we fucking mad?

And here's the despair part; a notional democracy cannot function where a third of the public is fascist. Fascism - that is, the belief in the mashup of political authoritarianism and crony capitalism - is perhaps the most pernicious form of government outside of theocracy. It has a terrible facility for retaining the outward flourishes of popular sovereignty while gutting the workings. Having one third of the nation willing to be openly fascist, having a congeries of Right wingnut "news" media that feeds these fascists their own worldview...the resultant trainwreck should surprise no one.

And I honestly have no idea how we reverse this.

The last time it took a massive global depression and a world war brought on by some of the less sane fascists. Assisted by what at the time was a hugely more vital and aggressive Left, a Left that included actual communists and socialists that controlled entire countries and were powerful in many others. It included "mainstream" news organizations much more committed to the ideals of equality and community and much more skeptical of the oligarchies and fascists. It also included an industrialized world that was insular enough that, while the plutocrats were able to play the poorer sections of the U.S. against the better-off in a race to the bottom of the wage scale, at least the industrial workers were protected from the truly desperate poverty of the Third World. While that sucked for Venezuela and Ceylon it didn't for New Jersey and Liverpool.

None of that remains.

The free global movement of capital and trade means that corporations and their wealthy owners can use the poverty of Sri Lanka to destroy middle-class wealth in working-class Detroit and Oxnard. The acceptance of the wingnut pity party as a "valid narrative" means that the centuries of hardship visited on people with dark skin and no penis can be excused and avoided, that the notion that wealth means human value can be exalted once more. The confusion of unbalanced opinion with verifiable facts as a "he said-she said" disagreement means that anyone and anything can be ratfucked, and the ratfuckers are still the same ones that were sending around fliers for Helen Gahagan Douglas on pink fucking paper all the way back in 19-fucking-50.

But to reverse this trend, to beat back these bastards, would take a WW2-level effort. For someone like me it would mean abandoning my home and family and my work to spend the rest of my life fighting this massive heap of bastardy without anything like the support that the people fighting in 1919 or 1929 or 1939 had. It would be becoming my late friend Charles Gittings whose entire later life was consumed by his drive to right one simple wrong; the "prison" at Guantanamo Bay.

A prison that remains open today.

I don't have Charles' kind of courage, the kind of courage that accepts the suffering and woe of fighting the good fight knowing that it is almost certain that you will lose. And it's that kind of courage multiplied ten hundred thousand times over that would be needed to change the drift that I see taking my nation into a dark place that I do not want it to go, where I do not want my children to go. I can see the dangers, but I cannot see how - short of self-immolation - I can aver them, and not even then.

I desperately WANT to hope. I fiercely WANT to find a reason to believe that those tens of hundreds of thousands of people will find the courage to fight back.

But then I think of the massive indifference that Charles met with, on the simple and easily-understood crime of an America that was and is imprisoning people without trial or hope of trial.

And I cannot.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fools and their fooling

Someone named Michael Knight wants you to know that, while this development gives him big sads because it's so utterly shocking, shocking given the degree to which the U.S. "...laid the foundations for (post-Saddam Iraq's) democratic traditions..., "Iraq is unraveling".

Excuse me while I take a moment to shove my arm in my mouth to keep from becoming hysteric.

You mean that by invading a precariously cobbled post-Ottoman multiethnic kleptocratic peri-state (rich with a tradition of dictatorial strongmen and winner-take-all politics), proceeding to devastate the physical and economic landscape while enabling the Shiite and Kurdish elements that were the last men standing after we defenestrated the Tikriti mafia, we then left behind a perilously unstable entity that is now in the process of deconstructing into a Maliki dictatorship amid the political, social and economic wreckage that "shock and awe" and a horrendously mismanaged occupation produced?

Really? Really?

No shit, Sherlock.

But the best part of the Foreign Policy article is here: "The United States laid the foundations for these democratic traditions, and can still be a powerful voice in getting Iraq back on track."

What Iraqi with a functioning brain cell would want the United States anywhere within the maximum effective range of anything to do with the governance of Iraq? Is this Knight guy completely whack? Does he think that in a mere decade the Iraqis have forgotten Viceroy Bremer and his shambolic Coalition Provisional Authority? Forgotten checkpoint shootings, arbitrary detentions, Blackwater goons shooting up random streets, bags of unmarked cash filling unnammed pockets? Forgotten the massive corruption, colossal ignorance, and hubris we showed turning up with a 30 round magazine and a copy of Atlas Shrugged, ready to hustle the East?

Every so often I am reminded that "we" as in We the People (and particularly We the People in our representatives in the U.S. government) really haven't the slightest clue what we look like from the outside. People like this Knight, who seems to have actually been there and done that, and yet still seem to think that we have anything to say to Iraq and the Iraqis other than "Oops, my bad."

I'll be the first to say that I hope that the U.S. government and its foreign policy agencies have some sort of idea how to help this place that we knocked down because of some lying grifters' lies and then turned upside-down and shook until its face turned red.

But I'll also be the first to admit that we didn't have a goddamn idea when we had thousands of armed soldiers there on how to actually do that. And that for someone, anyone, to try and pretend - and con the U.S. public into believing - that we now have anything more than a whisper of a hope in hell?

In a just world that person would be kicked in the ass so hard that he would be unable to sit down for a week.

But it is symptomatic of the world we have created that the ass of Mr. Knight and those like him in our government and our punditry will remain as soft and pillowy as a fluffy white cloud.

While the asses of those people who paid the bitter price for the lies and the illusions of Mr. Knight and his ilk will be sore as boils assuming that those poor bastards are still alive to feel the pain.

And there is just no damn justice in that at all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From the archives: Bud and Annette, in her Yellow Coat

She found the postcard in the bottom of the box; it was near the bottom, last but one of the pottage of paper inside. Pastel colors on one side, the other scrawled with his familiar backtilted handwriting, the slashing slant of “l” and “h” as familiar to her as the color of the walls around her. She could almost see his hand moving across the cardboard. Strong, blunt fingers, big knuckles. Even after he’d retired, long after he’d moved up from the shop floor, he had a mechanic’s hands.

She moved slightly, seeing not the empty room and the mess of papers spread out but the hard white light of a desert afternoon outside the dim hotel room. The bulk of him against the white doorway writing to his sister in the gloom; her yellow coat folded neatly over the plain wooden chair, spectator pumps primly together on the floor beside him at the table. Just another late afternoon on the road with him, the motels and meals in diners and reading in back seat in the shade of a cottonwood grove outside the plants while he was inside selling hose clamps and thermostats and voltage regulators.

For a moment her body didn’t feel the aches and indignities of eighty years. For a moment her legs remembered the good long muscular stretch after that hard day’s ride, her scalp the feeling of sun-hot silk over clean hair, the rough caress of the back of his hand across her neck that could still then – ten years after that first USO dance – make her belly tighten and her shoulders loosen. Just for a moment, sitting dry-eyed in silence, in her sensible grandma dress, she could feel the way he made her feel when he looked at her slantendicular with those hard mechanic’s hands on the steering wheel in the hot, bright afternoon.

And in that moment she missed him so hard that it crushed her chest, binding on her heart like a hose clamp binding a cracked radiator hose.

“Mom?” came Jeanelle’s voice from the front of the house. “We can’t wait any longer if we don’t want to be late for the service!”

Fifty years since they had last surprised each other, for good or ill. Fifty years leaving in the morning with a hard kiss and a cheerful admonition not to run off with the mailman. Only the last surprise of waking without him beside her, of the empty spaces around her, of the hard, hot pain within her.

“Coming…” she answered. She stood up and placed the paper back in the shoebox carefully.

“Goodbye, Bud” she said, and turned out the light.

(I wrote this six years ago in response to a friend's creation of a piece of art she called a "story box". Here's how I introduced it then: "This little story box is handcrafted by a gal in Texas who's got a whole pantsload of creativity. She calls this one "Bud and Annette, in her yellow coat". The other day she posted this picture on her blog and asked for submissions for a "back story" for the story box."

I liked what I wrote back then, I still like it, and I didn't want it to disappear in the netherlands of Blogger. So, for what it's worth, I'm reposting it. Enjoy. Or not; at the risk of seeming churlish, it's my blog and I'll write if I want to)

If you enjoyed the story you might enjoy the inspiration, as well. Here's the original "story box":

Deus vult

I have gotten to a point where it is almost impossible to number the things about the United States (and much of the larger sphere of humanity, circa 2013) that drive me fucking crazy.

It seems incomprehensible to me that, given the options we have, that we seem bound and determined to drive this goddamn bus back into political and economic oligarchy, social inequity, and intellectual credulity and irrationality. But that seems to be the case in a fairly broad swath of the American and global publics.

Idiocies, ranging from tantrums of anti-science to an apparent longing for Dickensian unregulated capitalism, abound. People whose world-views range from simplistic to outright delusional find it childishly easy to convince the public to elect them to high office. Even our political "scandals" seem more boneheaded and ginned-up than the scandals of just a couple of decades ago...perhaps because we chose to deliberately obscure and forget those earlier scandals rather than look on them with critical eyes.

Obviously a hell of a lot of this that's happening in the U.S. has to do with the congealing of what's called "movement conservatism" in this country.

The U.S. GOP as currently constituted is less a political party as it is a cult. The GOP of my young adulthood believed in things like free markets, low taxes, strong armies, and "personal responsibility" as social goals and legislative objectives.

The current GOP believes in them as dogmas, the difference being that if you have a political position you can reasonably modify it or negotiate over it with people who don't agree with it to find as much of a compromise as you can but if you have an article of faith then it is either that or damnation. You would rather be dead, and your opponent be dead, and everything around you flaming wreckage than accept anything less than everything you demand.

But I think that this is just a symptom of a larger disease; the resurgence of fundamentalism.

The GOP is just one of the organizations that has been taken over by - or has deliberately absorbed within itself - people whose outlook is irrational based on belief rather than reason and conviction rather than questioning.

Human life has always been hard. Human problems have always been difficult; usually complex, often prone to messy, unsatisfactory, unpleasant outcomes. Humans have always been contrary, irritating, perverse, unruly creatures who tend to defy commonsense and logic in pursuit of unreachable and unreasonable desires.

And reasoning or questioning your way through this mess is damn deadly difficult.

It's difficult to acquire bits of evidence, it's difficult to sift through evidence to discern fact from perifact and outright fiction. It's difficult to assess our own best interests to apply this evidence to our potential courses of action to decide on the one or ones that will produce the best outcomes for us. And even more difficult is then trying to apply this to our group; our family, our village or town, our region, our nation, our world. Instead of answers you get more questions. Instead of comfort you find more trouble. You end up feeling small, and alone, and helpless, especially if you're a person who is troubled by things you don't understand or don't like going on around you. You WANT to feel strong and untroubled. You WANT answers, not more questions.

That's where "fundamentalism" helps.

Having a simplistic creed makes those decisions a hell of a lot easier. You don't have to worry about the moral or spiritual or economic or political complexities of your actions; God (or Marx, or the free market, or Allah...) says it, you believe it, that settles it.

There's only one teensy-weensy problem with that; it makes you functionally insane.

If you choose not to apply human reason to human problems, if you choose to instead effectively print yourself a set of punch cards with a small range of standard answers to the Big Questions on them, then you have made yourself into a sort of meat computer and if your inputs are wrong then your outputs will be wrong.

David Atkins does a good job of summing up the immense problems with this approach to human life and human issues:
"Fundamentalism of any nature causes extraordinary harm. Fundamentalists believe that the ends justify the means, and that their ideology cannot fail--only people can fail their ideology. Christian and Islamist fundamentalists alike attribute any ills befalling the world as a sign of inadequate obeisance to their God, and do whatever it takes to remake the world more in keeping with their scriptural dogma. Market fundamentalists elevate the "free market" as a divinely infallible authority, attributing even the most obvious market and corporate failures to intrusions of "big government", and offer up only more deregulation, tax cuts and the occasional military coup as a solution. Even Marxist fundamentalists exist, looking at the failures of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot not as refutations of their dogma, but as inadequate implementations of their ideology. The end result of all of these fundamentalist beliefs is mindless tragedy, violence and death."
When I look around what I see as the basis of a hell of a lot of this Vortex of Fucking Crazy is more than a willingness; an intense desire, almost a need to retreat from cautious ratiocination into simplistic answers driven by "faith".

The problem I have with that is that "faith", by its very nature, is personal. I believe some things because I am who I am and I have seen and done and learned what I have; I cannot transfer that to you anymore than I can slide the scar on right hand I earned by shoving it through a plate glass window when I was eight off my hand and onto yours.

I can tell you about that scar. I can try and convince you that the scar is a good scar, and one that should shape the way you live your life.

But the moment I try and force you to bear that scar - whether by law or might or social pressure - I put myself in a dangerous place.

And more and more I see people who want to force others to bear their scars, for no better reason than that they believe in their scars strongly enough to want to force those others to bear them, too.

That drives me fucking crazy.

What's worse, I cannot see a way around it.

We know more now, and more of us know more, about ourselves, about our world, about the natural processes, about politics and economics and societies of every stripe.

And yet we, many of us, seem to insist not on using that knowledge but deliberately ignoring it; making others' and our own lives more difficult, meaner, crueler, less tolerant, more violent and random and loveless rather than kinder and more rational.

And I have absolutely no idea how - if all that information and knowledge and communications cannot - you change that.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Navel Proceedings

Watched the Disney John Carter again with the Boy last night.



My online pal and commenter mike luuuurves this film, and I have to admit that mostly because of that I really wanted to love it, too. Instead I liked it well enough but not with the same fervor.

I found a lot of the same problems that many of the reviewers had; a fair amount of draggy exposition mixed in with the slam-bang action sequences, and an overall sameness to the general feel of it. Lots of it is fun, there's some gorgeous spectacle, but it's hard to avoid the feeling that you've seen it done elsewhere before.

As this Globe and Mail review pointed out, that isn't really a John Carter problem, it's a Burroughs problem. The stuff that seemed so awesome in 1917; flying machines, ray guns, dying empires on lost planets...by 2013 they've been done to death. We've been there and done that so often that the liveliness just kind of leaches out.

It's not a bad film, though, not at all. It's a good popcorn actioner and both the Boy and I enjoyed it.

The Boy liked the fighting, we both love the Tharks, but I think one of the reasons I enjoy it is Lynn Collins' Dejah Thoris.



And let's face it, why not? Dejah is a fanboy's wet dream. A nubile and gorgeous alien babe dressed in a couple of bits of jewelry and...well, a couple of bits of jewelry
(Here's how ERB describes her costume: "She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure."

Here's cartoonist Frank Cho's version per the ERB description:

Good luck with your PG rating with THAT one, Disney. Sheesh.)
This is pure Slave-Leia-dom; the slavering fanboy inventing his perfect naked dreamgirl.

I'm shocked, shocked.



Getting away from Dejah for a moment her creator ERB was kind of a piece of work, a 20th Century writer with deep roots in the 19th Century, a wanna-be soldier and a vicarious adventurer. After I watched John Carter the first time through I went out and picked up Princess of Mars from our fine Multnomah County Library and tried to read the original story.

I gave up about halfway through.

A big part of the reason is ERB's prose style. It's hopelessly 19th Century, full of the sorts of romantic and heroic conventions that 20th Century wars knocked the stuffing out of. At the time it was written the notion of the hero wearing a "fighting smile" while dueling furiously probably seemed rakish and admirable; with a better understanding of how frightening and stressful fighting for your life really is it seems ludicrous, almost parodic. All the description is florid to a Baroque degree and the way the people interact just seems ridiculous; you can't imagine people, any people, even imaginary people in an invented world, acting like that.

The other is that ERB's values were straight out of his times, and those times are so gone that they might as well be the Paleolithic. His good men are all parfit gentile knights and his good women all chaste and gentile ladies - who are kidnapped again and again and threatened again and again with rape - including our gal Dejah. Not that anybody actually gets raped; it's all good fun and our hero always wins. So the whole notion of making the rape of your heroine a plot device kind of slides by, and that kind of squicks me out; I got the feeling that ERB kinda liked the idea of rape.



He also has a rock-solid certainty that Race is Destiny, and there's no confusing who the White Men are. Even the backstory of the protagonist as a Confederate veteran of the Lost Cause seems kind of skeevy in retrospect; ERB obviously intended it to help establish John Carter as a cavalier, a kind of American aristocrat but the effect is, instead, to loop back to the nasty racism that saturated his timeperiod. You can almost hear the happy darkies crooning spirituals down in the slave shacks in the background.

Gah.

So the original book is kind of a wash.

But Collin's movie Dejah isn't; she's fiery and smart and tough. And funny. And, of course, a total babe; this isn't real life, fergawrshsakes.

Her costume, while more voluminous than a Burroughs original, is skimpy enough that a genuine fighting princess of Helium would have spent most of her time worrying that one of her opponents was liable to snip off a dangly bit or two.



But, here's the thing I kept thinking about watching the film again.

The film stays fairly close to the ERB canon, from the radium pistols to the Thark jezails to the nefarious Therns and so on and so on. So the assumption is that the other aspects of the original story are in there. We see the Thark egg-incubator in the opening Barsoom sequence; the Tharks hatch from eggs, K? That's important.

Because on Burrough's Mars everyone and everything hatches from eggs.

Martian women, regardless of species, are oviparous.


So why the hell does Dejah have one of these;



Nothing that hatches from eggs has a navel.
(Update 5/15: In the comments section Jack Saint raises a good point; some of the non-mammals of Jasoom DO have navels, specifically, some birds have a sort of small scar from the chorio allantoic duct that connects the yolk sac to the embryo. This at least gives our gal Dejah a shot at having a navel, though (as I discuss in the comments as well) the chance of her sporting anything like Lynn Collins' cute little innie is fairly low. Still - at least the possibility's there. Proof, if we needed it, of the awesomesauce of Nature in all Its Works...)
But regardless of the biology of navels, there you have it; the fanboy in me comes out not drooling over naked space babes but niggling over ridiculous petty plot details like who has or hasn't got a bellybutton.

But, damn, Disney...how hard would it have been - how tiny an amount would it have cost amid the ginormous CGI budget - to spackle over Lynn's bellybutton? Nobody but us fanboys would have even noticed it but we'd have nodded knowingly and appreciated the gesture.

Silly? Sure, but then so's making a multimillion dollar picture of a sort of ragtime-era sci-fi version of the Prisoner of Zenda.

Call me nitpicky. But there you go; I can't be other than I am. I'm the sort of person who looks at a gorgeous woman playing an alien princess in a sci-fi action movie and notices Dejah Thoris' navel

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Half a Word

I should note that this is the first time in years that Mojo has gone and left me with the kiddos for any period of time.

It gives me a tremendous awe (and a sort of horror) at the idea of doing this for weeks, months, years.

It's not the work; kidcare isn't really work. It's the inconvenience and the boredom of it. My kids are great kids. But they're KIDS. Meaning that they like kids things and want to DO kid things. I got over that about forty years ago. And without another adult around this place the vortex of kid-energy is hard to escape from; it's all-kid all the time. And unless you're a certain type of fifty-five year old playing with LEGOs, watching Madagascar, and reading Scylla the Seal Fairy gets real old real fast.

At least the Boy enjoys playing basketball and soccer; but then you have the issue of how-long-will-his-little-sister-be-content-making-daisy-chains?

So single parents? My hat is off to you.

And my love? I hope you're having a wonderful time. And I don't begrudge you a moment.

But I'm gonna be glad as hell to see you, and not just for the wild marital-reunion makeup monkey sex.

Sheesh.

Friday, May 10, 2013

MILF Gone Wi...on vacation

Sorry the posting has been so light; the thing is, I'm single parenting for the long weekend and the preceding week was taken up with getting ready for that. Mojolicious is off to St. Augustine with three of her old college chums (now there's a thought...does anyone this side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge call their friends "chums" anymore? They did at one time, anyway, if the pop novels of the Thirties and Forties are any indication. Hmmm.) for a long weekend of fun and sun.

The funny thing is that three of the four are now nice conventional mommies who leave a total of three husbands and six kiddos between them back home. The comic viewpoint nearly images itself:

Which reminds me of a story.

When The Boy was small - about three years old or so - Mojo enjoyed a similar weekend with one of the friends she's vacationing with this time (let's call her GeoChick, since she, too, is in the earth sciences). Now I like GeoChick; she's a rambunctious, earthy gal and visually is most delightfully curvaceous. Since at that time Mojo was also quite buxom it was hard to...ummm...let's say not "talk to their racks" as us doggish guys tend to if not careful with our gazes.



Anyway, little Peep missed his mommy then as he does now, and about 0.4 nanoseconds after the door closed behind her he asked me "Where's Mommy?"

"Mommy is in Seattle with Auntie GeoChick." I replied. "She'll be home in three days." There was about half a second of silence as he digested this. Then:

"Where's Mommy?"

This went on about for about ten minutes on the hour, every hour, for the next two days. Every time I gave him the same answers; Mommy's in Seattle with Auntie GeoChick. She'll be home in three (two, one and one half...) days.

On Saturday we'd gone to the animal prison zoo and had a relatively-where's-mommy-free afternoon. But on the ride home with nothing else to distract him (and wretched traffic, so lots to distract me...) Peep pipes up noisily from his carseat "Where's Mommy?!?" and I snapped.

"Mommy's with Auntie Chris jumping up and down on a hotel bed naked rubbing their boobies together like in one of those Girls Gone Wild videos! Okay? Stop asking where the hell Mommy is! She'll be home tomorrow!"



Peep cries, I growl, by the time we get home he's asleep (the Carseat Magic, yes!) and we go back to "Where's Mommy/In Seattle with Auntie Chris" for the remaining weekend. Mommy walks through the door Sunday evening and thrills the Peep, who fawns and drools all over her in approved toddler fashion, climbs into her lap, snuggles down, sighs, looks up and asks;

"Why did you an' Auntie Chris jump an' rub your boobies together?"

I won't describe the look I got other than if it were knives I'd have looked like the house special at Yoshi's Sashimi Palace in a heartbeat.

"What?! He asked me a zillion times and every OTHER time I just told him you two were in Seattle and you'd be home tonight! How the hell could I know that he would remember the one time I snapped?"



The funny thing is that I think my wife understands guys and our Girls Gone Wild issues. She was madder than hell, though, that I taught him the word "boobies".

Now the kids are older we've actually joked with Mojo about Mommies Gone Wild and she joked back, but with a glance at me that said plainer than words "Yeah, you horndog, you WOULD like me to make one of those videos with my friends, wouldn't you..?"

Sigh.

Busted.

So to speak.

But, as my wise bride also says, the thing about marital desire is that you can work up an appetite anywhere so long as you come home to eat; die Gedanken sind frei - you can think what you want about who you want in the privacy of your own head, provided you both understand that those are just sparks, and the fire you're tending is in the two of you's eyes and hearts. I'm married, not blind; I still appreciate the beauty of a beautiful woman. But the woman I desire is...right now, she's somewhere south of the Georgia state line.

Dammit.



Now I'm missing the hell out of my bride and she's only been gone for a day.

Gotta run. It's Treat Day and my daughter is responsible for her class Oreos.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Astoria, City of Landslides

The coastal city of Astoria should really replace these big wooden signs you pass on the way into town. I don't know what they call themselves now; "Astoria, City by the Sea"? "Astoria, City of Trees, Cheese, and Ocean Breeze"? (That one is really, no shit, the motto of Tillamook County just in case you thought I was really reaching.

Anyway, they should just admit it and call themselves "Astoria, City of Landslides".



This is one, away up in the hills southeast of town. That mossy green tree-trunk-looking thing in the middle? That's the old Navy Heights pipeline that used to be under four feet of soil cover. Oops.

But no matter - there's tons of these things all through the city and roundabouts. The one right behind the Pig n' Pancake has crept so far downhill that it's halfway across Bond Street. Rather than mitigate the thing the City has just closed the westbound side and made it a one-way street. Fah.

Anyway, I didn't really write this to complain about the damn landslides. They put food on my table, so I don't say bad things about them. What I wanted to show you was this lovely Victorian anachronism:



This is the old "Astoria City Water Works" of 1895. The water was piped down from the eastern hills through this pipe, made from wooden staves wrapped with wire and then coated with tar.



Some of these wooden pipes are still in service, by the way, in the older Oregon cities like Astoria and Portland. They are, as you might imagine, a horrible maintenance headache. The old Astoria main has been replaced by steel, however. The old headworks, though, have not, and are still working along mroe than a century old, hidden down in the dell behind the bizarre column that "celebrates" the fur traders, merchants, layabouts, grifters, oddbodies, and assorted refugees, outcasts, and wildmen who turned up at the far edge of North America to see if there was anything to the notion that there was something for nothing.



No moral there, I suppose, other than that it takes all sorts to build something that lasts a hundred years or more.

Si vielleuse pouvait...

On Sunday afternoon I took a couple of sunny hours and did this:



My just-turned seven-year-old daughter did this:



That, by the way, is perhaps the single most critical difference between seven and fifty-seven. It's neither size nor strength; it's raw energy. The little turbines just spin away like a hydroelectric plant during flood season.